Few knew it, but John Watson hated being bored as much as his flatmate did. Almost.
There were times when a whole day without receiving unexplained instructions or a few consecutive nights of uninterrupted sleep wouldn't have come amiss—perhaps one single week in which Sherlock Holmes' various homemade remedies for cognitive ennui didn't put either of their lives in danger or threaten to condemn the flat as a biohazard.
But it had been far longer than a week between decent cases, and even John was beginning to wonder if the interesting half of the criminal element of London had taken an extended holiday. He couldn't even bring himself to complain, much, when Sherlock stocked the fridge to overflow with spare parts from the morgue and used John's gun for target practice in the living room at all hours.
He did complain when Sherlock began distilling unspeakable liquids on the kitchen table, but only because Mrs. Hudson cornered him on the way to work. "Find him something to do that won't bring the roof down on us," she said, "or I will take steps. You would not believe what dripped out of my light fixture this morning or what it did to my lino."
John would. He left an urgent message for Lestrade and another the next day. Two days after that, he was thinking of contacting Mycroft to keep things from escalating out of control—or perhaps to tip it over the edge once and for all—when a text finally came.
Two texts, in fact—for once, John received a personal invitation:
**Body found at Tottingham Station. Please come with him. Need your expertise. —L**
John would have come along anyway—Sherlock expected it—but the message made it impossible to refuse. He was well aware that his own abilities, while useful enough, didn't often translate into the sort of expertise needed by Scotland Yard—unless it was to keep one consulting detective running just this side of amok. And Lestrade had never bothered to text him about that before.
"A tube station murder," said Sherlock as a uniformed policeman let them into the half-refurbished building. "And the busiest one in London as well. Not exactly a locked room, is it?" But his haste to the stairs belied his contemptuous tone.
"It's been closed to the public for two months," said John as they descended, stretching his own legs to keep up.
Lestrade met them at the bottom.
"What do you have for me?" said Sherlock, in a drawl that few but John would know masked hopeful anticipation.
Lestrade shook his head. "You tell me," he said. "Down that way, to the left."
As they rounded the corner, John saw the expected dead body on the platform, a young woman from what he could see, and the usual complement of officers, detectives, and assorted charter members of the Sherlock Holmes Fan Club.
Anderson's nasal tones echoed. "That's all we need. The freak and his blogger."
Normally, Sherlock would take this as an invitation to drive the forensic technician well away from the crime scene before he "contaminated the area with his aura of profound stupidity." But for once, Sherlock seemed more interested in the living.
Specifically, the woman across the way who was shouting at Sally Donovan.
"I don't remember," the woman said. "That's what amnesia means." Her raised voice was irritated rather than scared. "I don't know who I am or where I'm from. I assume by my accent that I grew up in the northern two thirds of North America but I can't imagine that helps. And it shouldn't matter. It's obvious she was strangled and even more obvious that I couldn't have done it." She thrust a hand towards Sally's face. "Look at my handspan. Look at the bruises on her neck. Do the geometry."
Sherlock had drifted next to Sally and was observing the woman with an intent look on his face. John followed and did the same.
She wasn't beautiful in any conventional sense. A bit taller than John, a bit heavier than Sherlock, her figure hidden in nondescript skirt and blouse swathed in a shapeless, porridge-colored cardigan. Her features were strong in a square face bare of makeup and her hair, an ordinary light brown, was coming loose from the slide that had held it at the nape of her neck, the freed locks hanging limp over her shoulders. But her eyes—her eyes were an extraordinary pale gold, beneath heavy lids, and so intense that they seemed larger than they likely were.
She turned those eyes on him, giving him a piercing once over before doing the same to Sherlock. John had a strong sense of déjà vu, though he knew he'd never seen her before.
"You're a doctor," she said, returning to John. "Please tell the sergeant what happens when the back of someone's skull is smacked with a blunt object."
Sally gave Sherlock and John a quick, startled glance. "How did you know he was a doctor? Is your memory coming back?" From her tone, she didn't believe it had gone missing.
"It's obvious," snapped the woman. "Could you please take a look at the lump on the back of my head, doctor? All the medics did was give me an ice pack and a blanket, for shock. I'm not in shock, I'm angry."
John stared at her, then at Sherlock, whose own extraordinary eyes had gone as wide as hers.
Déjà vu, indeed.
"I'm sorry," she said, frowning, flicking a glance at Sherlock as he inhaled sharply. "Do you still use your rank now that you're back home?"
"Ah, no," said John, moving forward with a reassuring smile. "Doctor is fine."
She nodded and pulled the slide out of her hair, putting it in the pocket of her cardigan. "It's on the right, behind my ear."
"Miss," said Sally, clearly trying to gain control of the interview, "are you sure you don't know—"
"Of course, she's sure," said Sherlock, in his brusque baritone. "If nothing else, few murderers would be stupid enough to lie next to their murder victims for the length of time it takes for post-mortem bruising to form and then claim loss of memory. They'd give a detailed false report or run for it."
Sally folded her arms. "I still say it's suspicious—"
"It's not suspicious," said the woman. "It's a murder. You might try looking at the body instead of harassing me with questions I can't answer. Can't," she added. "Not won't. Ouch."
"Sorry," said John, probing the large knot behind her ear. "You have a substantial contusion." He glanced at Sherlock. "A sharp blow from a blunt instrument, I'd say." He looked around at the construction materials. "No shortage of those, here."
"Would you say from the bruise that the blow was enough to knock out a woman my size?"
"Oh, yes." He was surprised she was up and about, though he'd had some recent experience with the effects of adrenaline and pure, stubborn irritation. "How is your vision?"
"Fine. Thank you, doctor."
John knew a dismissal when he heard one, and he moved away, but not too far. He'd had considerable experience with the inevitable aftermath of adrenaline and stubbornness as well.
Sally huffed. "Miss—"
"No. I'm done talking to you. Fine someone with different questions. Intelligent ones. And tell your boyfriend to stay away from me. I'm tired of his insults and innuendos."
Sally recoiled from Sherlock. "He's not my—"
"Not him," said the woman, jabbing a finger at Sherlock and then pointing in the direction of the body. "Him. The one who looks like a constipated rabbit."
Sherlock made a delighted sound as Sally muttered something that sounded ugly. The woman ignored her and looked at Sherlock. "Would you please help me figure out what the hell is going on? Except for the Detective Inspector and your partner, the rest of these people are useless."
"I believe I'd like an apology first." said Sherlock. His tone was one John hadn't heard before—the sort a parent or teacher might use to prompt a bright child who could figure out the answer themselves.
She blinked. "I'm sorry?" She blinked again and cocked her head to listen to herself. "Sorry. Sorry, sorry. Oh, not ah. Canadian? No, I'm being rude and I can't be Québécois or I'd be raging in French by now. American, then. North Midwest—west of Chicago . . . maybe Wisconsin?" She smiled at Sherlock. "Thank you. That's a beginning."
He nodded. "Sherlock Holmes. John Watson."
She opened her mouth, then paused as if the words were stuck. Her smile turned rueful. "Damn. Almost. Would you do me a favor, Mr. Holmes?"
"If I can."
"Would you take a look at the body before the rabbit destroys the evidence?"
Sherlock's mouth quirked. "Would you care to accompany me, Miss Doe?"
Her smile widened. "Please call me Jane. Yes, I would."
John looked from one to the other, out of his depth and fascinated. "Jane Doe?"
She smiled at him, too, and he wondered why he hadn't thought her beautiful. "I'm an unknown American woman, Doctor Watson. It'll do, for now."
She and Sherlock turned as one and stalked toward the body. Anderson saw them coming, tried to stand on his authority, and retreated on what was left of it within ten seconds.
John couldn't help but chuckle. The man did look like a constipated rabbit.
"I didn't think there could be two like that in the world," said Lestrade, appearing at John's side. "Even one is a stretch."
"There should have been some kind of anti-matter explosion," agreed John, watching the singular pair explore the corpse with the air of children at play.
"Does she have amnesia, do you think?"
"Someone hit her hard enough on the back of the head to render her unconscious. I doubt she did it herself. It might be enough—waking up next to a dead woman would have done it for me."
"Uh-oh." Lestrade and John hastened to the body.
"Of course I'm not showing the usual upset," yelled Jane, glaring up at Anderson and Sally from her position near the corpse's head. "I don't know who she is and I don't know that I ever did. You prove to me that I've just lost my best friend, or even a fond acquaintance, and I promise to have an Oscar-worthy emotional breakdown for your benefit. Deal? Until then, emotions will get in the way."
"They're both freaks," said Anderson. "Total psychopaths."
"Tell me, Detective Inspector," said Jane, peering at something on the dead woman's jacket. "Do they have slander laws in the UK?"
"Anderson, why don't you and Donovan go check the other exits," said Lestrade.
"But, sir, a suspect can't look over a victim!"
"She's not a suspect, you utter imbecile," said Sherlock, without looking up from the corpse's throat. "She's a witness."
"She's a liar and even if she wasn't, she isn't marginally qualified to—"
"I sincerely doubt you're qualified to judge. For all you know—for all she knows—she could be the top ranked forensic scientist in the state of Wisconsin."
Jane lifted an eyebrow. "The State of New York would be more impressive."
"I didn't want to scare him."
Jane snorted. "Liar."
"Sir! This is ridiculous!"
"Go on," said Lestrade in a weary voice. "Get some air."
Anderson stomped off, though not, John noticed, out of sight.
"Go eat some lettuce, Anderson," called Sherlock.
"And take your honey bunny with you," added Jane.
They looked at each other and snickered.
"You, too, Donovan. Please."
Jane glanced up at John, golden eyes dancing. "I'm sorry," she said. "I know giggling over a corpse isn't acceptable behavior."
"Don't mind him," said Sherlock. "He does it all the time."
"Untrue," said John, enjoying the byplay.
"I don't see how we're connected," she said, sitting back on her heels. "I don't think I'm a prostitute. Not even a high class one. But I don't think I'm some sort of social worker, either."
"I doubt you'd last long in either position. So to speak."
Lestrade choked. "Holmes, really—"
Jane looked at Lestrade. "I'm not offended—he's right. Either way, the clientele would bore me out of my mind." She sighed. "Okay. We know she and I are both from the States."
"We do?" asked Lestrade.
"Teeth," said Sherlock.
"And the tan." She frowned. "But that's not how I know. I just . . . know." She rose to her feet, and swayed, putting a hand to her head. "Whew! Stood up too fast. She's American. But how do I know what I know that I know?" She staggered back. "Oh, God, don't let me fall on the—" She started to slump.
John sprang for her an instant before Lestrade and sat her down on the abutment of a pillar.
"Don't strain your shoulder," she mumbled.
"Let me worry about that," he said, pulling a penlight out of his pocket. "Open your eyes."
"I'll get the medics," said Lestrade, hovering. "They'll take her to—"
"No!" she said, her eyes opening wider than needed. "No hospitals. They aren't safe. People die there."
"You have a concussion," said John, checking her pupils. "Not severe, which is a wonder, but someone will have to wake you every two hours to make sure there isn't any internal bleeding."
"I suppose I could put her in protective custody,' said Lestrade. "There's a medical centre we use for—."
"You can't lock her up," said Sherlock, sounding indignant. "She hasn't done anything wrong."
Lestrade gave him a level look. "Are you sure about that?"
Sherlock hesitated. "She didn't kill this woman."
"All right," said Lestrade. "But she's still a witness, sort of, and she has nowhere else to go, until we figure out who she is. The staff at the centre will take care of—"
"No. She's coming home with us," said Sherlock. "I'll take responsibility."
"You?" scoffed Donovan, who had apparently surged forward with all the other officers when Jane had collapsed. "Take responsibility?"
"That'll save the Crown the expense of a trial," said Anderson.
Sherlock ignored them. "I have a doctor on hand at home. And comfortable surroundings might jog her memory."
"Comfortable. Right. I've seen your place, you know." Lestrade sighed. "John?"
"Hmmm?" He eased his thumb from Jane's left eyelid and turned off the light. "Yes, fine."
"Good," said Sherlock. "See to it, please, John. I've more to do, here."
John nodded. He'd expected as much. "Don't move," he told Jane. "I'm going to arrange transport."
Jane sighed. "Whatever you say, Doctor Watson."
He patted her shoulder. "It's John."
He straightened and went over to Lestrade. "Is it all right if I take her with me now?"
Lestrade nodded. "Are you sure about this? Two of them? Under one roof?"
He wasn't. Not at all. But he thought it might be good for Sherlock to interact with an intellectual equal who wasn't a close relative. Whether the flat—or London—would ever be the same was another question. "It won't be boring," he said.
"No," said Lestrade. "It won't be that."
Sherlock materialized next to them. "You should be less concerned with our domestic arrangements and more concerned that the murderer will find out he failed to kill Jane and try to finish the job. Even if he discovers she's lost her memory, he won't risk it coming back."
"He?" asked Lestrade.
"Obviously," said Jane, who appeared to have exceptional hearing. "The angle and span of the bruises on the neck, the powder on her left lapel and underwear. That reminds me, John—we'll have to pick up some personal things on our way to your place. If you'll give me a small loan?"
"Shouldn't be a problem," said John. "We'll stop on the way."
"Why not ring Sarah instead? She won't mind doing it for you," said Sherlock, all innocence. "She's very understanding."
John sighed. He'd finally hammered out a truce between his friend and his . . . other friend, but the verbal barbs continued on both sides. "Sherlock—"
"Really?" asked Jane, opening an eye. "I'd mind like hell, regardless of what I understood. Of course, she's in the medical profession and I'm not—or I don't think I am. " She grimaced. "Does anyone have some Tylenol, or whatever you call acetaminophen here?"
"Anderson!" barked Sherlock. "Make yourself useful for once and find some paracetamol."
"Not him—his girlfriend," said Jane. "There's a reason both of them are so cranky this week, though I doubt they're ever a cheerful couple. His wife should be pleased about that."
"I'll, ah, just go find a taxi, then," said John.
"I'll help you," said Lestrade.