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The Case of the Unexpected Guest

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“What is it?” Sherlock demanded, scowling at the greenish-grey wad of fluff that Lestrade had just produced from a small cardboard carrier. “Pocket lint? Did it belong to the murder victim, is it supposed to be a clue?”

“Don’t be ridiculous.” Lestrade cupped the object a little more protectively in his palm, prodded it gently with one finger, and it opened a pair of beady black eyes and gave a tremulous cheep. “It’s a bird. Nice little one, too. Thought you might be willing to give it a home for a few days until the victim’s family can pick up her effects--they’re coming from overseas. It’s only a baby, needs more attention than I can spare at the moment. I’ll owe you one.”

“You’ll owe me thirty-eight,” Sherlock grumbled, but he didn’t say an outright No, which was encouraging, Lestrade decided.

“Young birds require a lot of care, don’t they?” John said, peering over Lestrade’s shoulder at the cross-looking little bundle. “And shouldn’t it have, I don’t know, a cage?”

“No more care than Sherlock takes with one of his experiments. And it can’t fly yet, so you can keep it in a box with a towel in it for now. It needs hand-feeding every few hours, but it’s not hard to do--my Gran used to rear them.”

John looked doubtful. “Just for a few days--you’re sure? What sort is it, anyway?” He stretched out a tentative hand, and the bird made a small angry sound and clamped its beak onto his fingertip. “Ouch!”

Agapornis,” Sherlock said, striding over and placing the edge of his forefinger against the creature’s breast; it stepped hesitantly up onto the offered perch, fluffed its pinfeathers, wobbled a bit, and appeared to fall asleep. “Agapornis roseicollis, to be precise, if I’m not mistaken. Lovebird. My grand-mère used to keep them, too,” he explained defensively to the other two men, who were now sporting matching sets of raised eyebrows. “Useless things. Noisy. Messy. Amusing specimens for dissection, though.” He raised the bird up to eye level and tilted his head at it, looking thoughtful.

“He won’t,” John assured Lestrade. “He wouldn’t. Well. I don’t think.”

“Not unless it decides to die on us,” Sherlock said complacently.

“I’ll come and collect it at the weekend if the family hasn’t arrived to claim it by then,” Lestrade warned him. “If you hand me back an ex-parrot, I’ll have you banned from crime scenes for a month.”

Sherlock rolled his eyes and made a dismissive sound as if to say he couldn’t possibly care less, but he was already stroking the little bird between its eyes with the back of one finger, Lestrade noticed, and he decided it was safe enough to leave him to it.

*

“A lovebird,” John said, after Lestrade had gone. “That’s funny. Shouldn’t there be two of them? I thought they came in pairs.”

“Not necessarily.” Sherlock was rummaging through the kitchen drawers, pulling out tea towels and flinging them into a pile on the floor. Apparently none of them was the right thickness, or softness, or something. “Best to get a single bird if you’re looking for a pet, actually. That way they’ll bond with you instead of with a mate. Here’s one that should do. Hold this for a minute, can you?” He plucked the bird up from the bottom of the box he’d deemed suitable as a temporary home and deposited it into John’s hands. John wasn’t sure which of them was more startled.

“If it bites me again, I’m going to drop it,” he warned Sherlock. “Oh, this is weird. Its feet feel like lizard feet. It’s not going to try and bond with me, is it? What exactly does that entail? Ouch! That bloody hurts, you little--”

“Don’t drop it!” Sherlock came and rescued John and the bird from each other. It bit Sherlock as well, John was gratified to see, but Sherlock took no notice, just rubbed it under the beak and around its neck in a placating sort of way (much more roughly than John would have dared to handle such a tiny, fragile-looking creature), then lowered it carefully into the towel-lined box.

“I think it drew blood that time,” John said, examining his hand. “And it’s crapped on me. Lovely.”

“Well, go and wash, for heaven’s sake. Are you always this useless with animals?”

“I’m quite fond of dogs. Never met a dog I didn’t like. Cats, cats are fine. Birds are outside my frame of reference. I’ll leave you two to...bond, then.”

“Hardly,” Sherlock said. “I’m not in need of a pet.” He waited till John was nearly out of the room, then added, “I have you.”

“Heard that,” John called back from the stairs.

*

Lestrade was used to being greeted with wary trepidation by John Watson whenever he showed up at 221B--the oh god what fresh hell am I about to be dragged through this time look. He wasn’t sure he’d ever seen John look as utterly crestfallen as he did when he answered Lestrade’s knock on this particular Saturday afternoon, though.

“Oh,” John said. “I suppose you’re here for--right, of course, knew you would be. The family’s come for the bird, you’re here to collect it?”

“Well,” Lestrade said. “Not exactly. Why? Got attached to it? They are fetching little things. Could I come in?”

John stepped aside to let him pass through the doorway. “Of course. Sorry. No, I can’t say I’m fond of birds, to be honest, and I’m afraid the feeling’s mutual in this case. Sherlock’s fascinated with it, though, made quite a study of it--it’s been a godsend, these past few days. He hasn’t had a proper case in weeks, and you know what that’s like. I nearly had to move out the last time.”

They’d gone upstairs and into the flat while John was speaking, and Lestrade went over to have a look inside the box on Sherlock’s desk. The bird was huddled up in a corner, sleeping, but it definitely appeared larger and glossier than it had when Lestrade had last seen it.

“Feathering out nicely,” Sherlock said, coming in from the kitchen. “She’ll need a proper cage soon. The hand-feeding’s nearly at an end, too; I’ve started her on millet seed and fruit.” He brushed past Lestrade and reached down into the box, nudging the bird, who gave a sleepy chirp but stepped up readily enough onto his hand.

“‘Her’?”

Sherlock shrugged. “Just a guess. Most varieties of agapornis are monomorphic, as I’m sure you know, impossible to tell the sex until they exhibit breeding characteristics, which won’t happen for another few months at least. So. You’re here to tell me that the owner’s family can’t collect the bird after all.”

“I--well, yes, as a matter of fact. I won’t ask how you know that, your answers give me a headache. No, they’ve had most of her things packed and shipped, whatever we’re not holding for evidence, but the bird would have to be quarantined, and they’ve no interest in dealing with it--they didn’t even know she had a pet, in fact. Standard procedure would be for me to turn it over to the RSPCA, but--”

“Tell me about the murder,” Sherlock said abruptly, stretching out on the sofa and transferring the bird from hand to hand, then letting it run up to his shoulder, where it nestled in beneath his chin. “There was a break-in, I take it? Any leads, any arrests?”

“The prime suspect’s in a coma. No positive ID yet. The victim tried to fight him off with one of her kitchen knives, looks like, nearly gave him as good as she got. In fact we’re not entirely sure she wasn’t the initial aggressor, though there was evidence of forced entry, which suggests he attacked her--could be an angry boyfriend or ex, but none of the victim’s associates can ID him, so more likely a robbery gone wrong. Funny thing, though, she didn’t appear to have much worth stealing, and there’s no evidence at all of sexual assault.”

“The murder weapon was a knife, as well--she was stabbed?”

“You’ve read the file,” Lestrade accused him. “How did you get hold of it?”

“You wound me, Inspector. I thought you knew me better by now. There were flecks of blood on the bird’s feathers when you delivered it. Two different blood types. Has anyone made enquiries about the creature, apart from the family?”

Lestrade blinked. “No. Not to my... Hang on a minute, you think this murder had something to do with the bird?”

“That would be highly unlikely, wouldn’t it?” Sherlock said, lifting the little bird up off his neck and holding it up to the light. It gave a squeak of protest and fluttered wildly, nearly becoming airborne, and Sherlock caught it and returned it to its preferred perch on his collarbone. “I’m not sure yet,” he admitted. “I’m working on a theory, but I need more data. Send the case file over to me on Monday.”

“It’s an open case. You’ll have to come in and look at it in person. I take it you won’t mind retaining custody for a bit longer? Better take care, though--if your hunch is right, that’s crime scene evidence you’re handling there.”

John cleared his throat. “No worries,” he told Lestrade. “You should see him with it. It spends more time on him than it does in the box, he’s been cuddling it like a--”

“Really?” Lestrade started to grin. “Cuddling?”

Sherlock scoffed. “There is no cuddling. I’m merely trying to keep the creature warm. It’s native to the subtropics, you do realise, and London in March has an average temperature of--”

“Get pictures,” Lestrade suggested to John, who grinned back at him.

*

Sherlock continued to spend improbable amounts of time gazing at and handling their new feathered flatmate. He purchased a cage for it, but John wasn’t sure why, since the bird still seemed to spend most of its time on Sherlock. It rode around on his shoulder, ate scraps from his plate, and drank from his water glass--falling in on one occasion, to its own outrage and Sherlock’s mild amusement. It was, well, cute, if not exactly up to John’s standards of hygiene, but no worse than the biological and chemical experiments which had largely ceased since the bird’s arrival. It would be cuter still once the thing grew a few more adult feathers; right now it still had a mangy, mottled appearance, with a few brightly-coloured patches spiking up out of its grey baby fluff.

“You really think this funny little scrap was responsible for two stabbings?” John asked. “Don’t tell me you think it’s got a, a crop full of stolen diamonds or anything like that.” He wasn’t fond of the creature, but that didn’t mean he wanted to see it snipped open in search of smuggled goods.

“Don’t be fanciful, John,” Sherlock said dismissively.

“Well? What, then? Did it cause a domestic dispute? Bird-lover versus bird-hater? Huh. Hope it’s not a pattern. Can you...I don’t know, train it to talk and get it to repeat the victim’s last words?”

Sherlock gave him a Look.

“Joking,” John said. “That was a joke. Supposed to be. These ones don’t talk, as such, I know, you’ve said.”

“You know absolutely nothing about anything, do you?” Sherlock said, apparently speaking to the bird, although John wasn’t sure which of them he was really addressing. “Hacking into the murder victim’s mobile records and email would be much more to the point,” Sherlock went on. “I’ll go down to the Yard today and see what I can find out. But the relevant data I’ll need for this case doesn’t exist yet, I suspect.”

John decided not to give him the satisfaction of asking what he meant. Anyway, he reminded himself, the bird was less of an annoyance to have around the flat than a caseless Sherlock.

“Get some more millet sprays from that pet shop near the surgery,” Sherlock said, as John got ready to leave for work. “...And perhaps a good upholstery spot cleaner.”

Marginally less of an annoyance. Probably.

*

The bird’s former owner, Lily Cameron, aged 29, American, had been entirely off the radar, it turned out. No computer, no known email address or online identity, no mobile phone. “But that’s...amazing,” Sherlock said, when Lestrade showed him the case file. “That’s beyond improbable, it’s nearly unbelievable. Why didn’t you tell me about this one right away? The crime scene’s been cleared, I’m going to have to go on pure inference with nothing but your department’s pathetic attempts at documentation...and the body? Tell me you still have the body.”

“We don’t have the body,” Lestrade said, and shrugged. “What? I assumed this one would be beneath the notice of the great Sherlock Holmes. Single victim, obvious cause of death, suspect’s in custody. It’s all but open and shut. And I don’t actually go about my working week looking for random cases that might amuse you in the event you’ve got nothing else on, you know. I do have one or two other things on my mind, most days. Here, have a look at the coroner’s report, it’s comprehensive enough.”

Sherlock glanced at it and threw it back down on the desk with a disgusted noise.

“Well, you like a challenge, don’t you?” Lestrade said cheerfully. “How’s the bird getting on, then? Got a name for it yet?”

“I don’t name evidence. What about the suspect? Still comatose, still no ID? Let me know at once if there are any changes, any enquiries. And I do mean just that--at once.”

“I will, I will,” Lestrade assured him. Soft spot for birds, who’d have guessed? he thought, amused, as Sherlock swept out of his office. Reminds him of his grandmother, probably. That, and he’s gone a bit daft from the lack of activity. Everything’s a drama with that one...sooner or later he’ll learn that there actually is such a thing as a cut-and-dried case that’s exactly as mundane as it appears to be and nothing more.

It was two nights later, as he was on his way home from an evening jog around the park, that Lestrade was attacked.

*

“Bittums,” John suggested. “Tweetie-pie. Fluffybuns?”

He was attempting to goad Sherlock into settling on a name for the bird, hoping that if he came up with enough truly awful ones, Sherlock would be forced to call it something else just to put a stop to John referring to it as Cuddlekins or Wuvvy.

So far, no luck, but he kept at it, glancing over at Sherlock every so often, noticing with satisfaction that at least he’d managed to set his teeth on edge. He’d crack eventually.

“I know. Perfect, perfect, oh, genius, are you ready for this one? Here it is--no, hang on, wait for it--Mister Cheepers.”

Sherlock tipped his head back, closed his eyes, and gave a long, very audibly disgusted sigh. “Lilian,” he said finally. “Call it Lilian, if you must call it anything. There. Happy now?”

“I--wow. All right then,” John said, taken aback by his sudden success. “Lilian it is. What, as in Lily, Lily Cameron, the murder victim? I don’t know if that’s very gruesome or rather sweet.”

“Not at all,” Sherlock said, but just then the buzzer downstairs went off, loud and long. He leapt up, seizing on the distraction, and went to answer the door. “John!” he called back up, a minute later. “John, I need you!” The cry never failed to send an automatic jolt of adrenalin racing through John’s system, even though he heard it often and knew full well that it could mean anything from I’ve just sustained a serious acid burn and require urgent medical attention to We’re out of butter for the toast.

Today, apparently, it meant Lestrade is bleeding to death on our front doorstep.

“Quiet, both of you,” John said, when he got downstairs and was able to triage the situation in a glance. “Sherlock, back off, you’ll get your answers a lot sooner if you don’t smother him to death. In fact, go, go upstairs, now, and get my medical bag and some clean towels. Lestrade, sit down--yes, right here on the floor--clearly you’re not perfectly fine, there is rather a lot of blood. Presumably yours, from the gash on your neck. Are you injured anywhere else?”

“No, and I am fine, it’s just a scratch,” Lestrade insisted, but he seemed glad enough to sit down and lift his chin so that John could get a better look. “Bastard had a knife--”

“Save it,” John said. “You’ll only have to repeat it. Wait and catch your breath; your pulse rate’s skyrocketing. What did you do, run here? With an open throat wound? Very nice, very clever of you.”

“Very clever indeed,” Sherlock agreed, coming back with the supplies. “You’ll have led them right here. I won’t have to go looking for them now.” John glanced round at Sherlock to see if he was being sarcastic, but he appeared genuinely pleased.

“Glad to be of service,” Lestrade said drily. “Perhaps you can return the favour by letting me know who they are and why they’re so keen on tracking down a dead woman’s pet bird?”

“How about after I get this cleaned up and bandaged?” John said. “Unless you’d rather end up going to A&E for stitches and a transfusion. No, really, it’s all the same to me.”

Lestrade looked at Sherlock. “Does he always fuss this much?”

“Not always,” Sherlock said. “He must have taken a liking to you. Inconvenient, I know, but in this case I have to agree--you do look somewhat alarming. Better let him do his thing.”

*

Half an hour later, Lestrade, now bandaged, showered, and dressed in ill-fitting borrowed clothes, was helping John finish off some leftover takeaway from the fridge while Sherlock paced at the window and the bird--Lilian--fluttered wildly in her cage. Sherlock opened the door and took her out, scratching absently at her neck, and she crooned and closed her eyes, rubbing her beak against his hand.

“Tell me, at least,” Lestrade said to Sherlock, “that you didn’t actually know I was going to be attacked. Because a bit of advance warning might have been a nice thing.”

“I didn’t,” Sherlock said. “Though I’m not entirely surprised. Oh, don’t look at me like that--I knew you could hold your own in a fight, and you can, you’ve just proved it. Anyway they wouldn’t have wanted to kill or seriously harm you, just to scare you into coughing up some information about where the bird was being kept. I did think there might be an early warning, though, some anonymous enquiry about the case, either at the station or at the hospital where the suspect’s being held.”

Lestrade cleared his throat. “Actually,” he said.

Sherlock stopped pacing. Stopped scratching, too; Lilian shrieked and bit him on the thumb until he resumed. “When?” he demanded. “Who? Tell me.”

“It was late this afternoon, I was going to phone you after I got home from my run--it was just that, an anonymous phone call to the hospital asking about the condition of the man who’s being held. Hung up before anyone could trace the call. Who are they, then, do you know?”

“Of course not,” Sherlock said. “That is, not their identity, no. But I suspect both your attacker and the anonymous caller have some connection to the two men sitting in the blue Lexus parked down the street. Don’t look out the window,” he said sharply, when John leapt to his feet. “They’re waiting for something, either for reinforcements or for us to turn the lights out for the night before they attempt to break in. When they do--”

Lestrade’s hands flew to his borrowed pockets. “I don’t have my warrant card on me!”

“No?” Sherlock transferred Lilian to his shoulder and rummaged in a desk drawer. “Ah. Here’s one,” he said, and tossed it to him.

“You’re incorrigible,” Lestrade said. “I ought to use it to arrest you, right now. And you, Dr. Watson,” he added, raising his voice, “I have a very strong feeling you’re not casually heading for the stairs because you suddenly want to brush your teeth. If I see you with certain items in your possession, I will be forced to bring charges, regardless of the circumstances.”

John smiled, all wide-eyed innocence. “Oh?” he said. “Well. Hopefully I won’t need to use my...toothbrush, then, if it comes to that.” He disappeared up the stairs.

*

“Why the bird, though?” Lestrade was asking when John came back downstairs. “What do they want with the thing? That’s what I’d like to know.”

“Let’s go over what we know about the murder victim,” Sherlock suggested. “We’ve got time; I don’t imagine our friends out there will make a move until after midnight. Lily Cameron. According to the file you showed me, she came to London on an au pair visa in 2005. Made quite a career of applying for different visas after that--her current one would have expired later this month, though, looks like her luck was just about to run out.”

“And her money,” Lestrade said. “Her parents got fed up with supporting her six months ago and cut off her allowance. Which wasn’t a lot to begin with.”

“Nothing of value in her flat, you said,” John interjected. “And no computer. Dead broke, sounds like.”

“And yet she managed a surprising amount of overseas travel in her time here,” Sherlock went on. “Mexico, 2006. Costa Rica, 2007 and 2008. South Africa last year, and just recently she’d been to Malawi. All trips paid for in cash. Suggestive pattern, no? Plus the fact that she was careful to transact all her business offline, no email records of any kind...”

Lestrade shook his head. “I see where you’re going with this, we thought so too, at first, but her flat was clean--no drugs, no goods, no cash. Unless she’d already made her delivery and there was a dispute over payment; that was the most likely scenario, but without any evidence of communication with an outside party--”

“Supposing she hadn’t made her delivery,” Sherlock said. “Supposing it was still in the flat?”

John and Lestrade looked at him, then at Lilian, then at each other.

“It’s an ordinary pet bird!” Lestrade protested.

Sherlock gave him a patronising look. “Really, Lestrade, I know your powers of observation are weak, but I never thought you were blind. Although, to be fair, I wasn’t entirely certain myself until very recently. Have you even looked at the creature since you arrived here tonight?”

“Bit difficult to look at it when you keep the thing practically inside your shirt,” Lestrade complained, and Sherlock sighed, extricated the reluctant little bird from his collar, and placed her on Lestrade’s knee.

“There,” Sherlock said. “You see?”

“See what? It’s a perfectly nice, normal little peachface. Bit of a darker shade orange coming in around the beak than you usually get, but-- Oh. Well, that’s unusual.”

“You do see it, then.” Sherlock sounded pleased. “Excellent. Given the circumstances, it was the only thing that made the facts add up, but I’ve spent so much time staring the evidence in the face--quite literally--that I wasn’t sure I could trust my own observations for once. And John is useless, of course--”

“Of course,” John said. “Useless. Entirely. Only good for making tea. And patching up the occasional stab wound.”

“Useless with birds,” Sherlock amended. “Surely you know I don’t mean...stop being tiresome, John, you’re making me lose my train of thought.”

“Do you want to explain this one to me?” John asked Lestrade. “You being slightly less useless than I am in the matter of bird-related mysteries? Since we’re apparently about to be under siege by armed thugs here, and I’d love to know why. Mr. Dramatic Reveal here is just getting warmed up, I’m afraid.”

“It was the bird,” Lestrade said. “Oh god. It’s not a common peachface at all, is it?”

Agapornis lilianae,” Sherlock pronounced. “Very similar in appearance to roseicollis, but the Nyasa variety develops a distinct white eye-ring as it matures.”

“The murder victim was a bird smuggler?” John still sounded sceptical. “How lucrative can that be? Just because it’s got a bit of white round its eyes--”

Lestrade groaned. “Some of the African lovebird breeds are very rare, notoriously hard to breed in captivity,” he told John. “Especially in colder climates. Bird dealers would pay thousands of pounds for a healthy young breeder--this could be the most valuable bird in London, and I turned it over to you two on a whim!”

“Well, cheer up,” Sherlock said, retrieving the most valuable bird in London and returning it to its cage just in time to save Lestrade from needing to borrow a second change of trousers. “She’s been in good hands, after all--one pair of them, anyway. I think John might have been happy to see her in a dissection tray after all by the second day. And with any luck, you’re about to be responsible for capturing a few men who can lead you to a highly profitable animal smuggling ring. Shall we put out the lights now and see if we can entice them in to play?”

*

The would-be bird thieves were almost embarrassingly easy to defeat, in the end. The worst of it was waiting around in the darkened flat for them to make their move. As Sherlock had predicted, they struck after midnight, breaking in through a window in 221C. They were expecting the premises to be inhabited by an injured DI and the building’s registered owner, one Martha Hudson, sleep-dazed and frightened; they looked very disconcerted to be confronted instead in the front hall by three wide-awake men who seemed to have been expecting them. One of them sized up Sherlock and made a dash for him as the most likely-looking target, but John stepped forward confidently.

“I wouldn’t,” he told the burglar. “Clearly you have no idea what you’re about to take on.”

Lestrade looked away, feigning a sudden interest in the cabinet of knickknacks Mrs. Hudson kept in the hall; when he turned back, Sherlock had one of the men up against the wall, and the other was down on the floor with John’s knee in his back. There was nothing left for him to do but make the arrest and summon the squad cars he’d alerted to stand by.

“That must be a really convincing-looking toothbrush you’ve got,” he said to John.

“Military issue,” Sherlock agreed, struggling to hold his man, who still had a bit of fight left in him. “Though I dare say we could have managed without it. I’m rather offended, really; I don’t think they’ve even heard of me. They can’t have been in business for very long.”

Mrs. Hudson chose that moment to appear in her doorway, clutching the neck of her frilly dressing gown in one hand and a golf club in the other. “Another one? Oh, boys. I hope they haven’t broken the downstairs window again. Perhaps we might consider just leaving it open a bit, in future?”

*

“Lily Cameron’s suspected murderer is awake, on the mend, and under arrest,” Sherlock reported a few days later when John came home from work. “Apparently all too eager to talk. Are you still interested in the case at all?”

“What--of course, of course I’m interested! What’s he have to say?” John pulled up a chair.

“Nothing that wasn’t already completely obvious. He claims there was a dispute over payment. Ms. Cameron wanted more for the bird than they’d first agreed on; they argued; she threatened to take it to a different buyer. His story is that he pulled the knife just to frighten her, and then she attacked him, so he stabbed her in self-defence. Doesn’t explain why he felt the need to break into her flat to begin the conversation, but it could be basically true. It’s dull enough.”

John scratched his chin. “You don’t know?”

“I never saw the crime scene, or the body, or the suspect,” Sherlock pointed out. “I’m sure I could find out easily enough, but it’s of very little importance now.”

“I suppose not. What about Lilian, then?”

“She’s a rare bird,” Sherlock said, opening her cage door. She hopped eagerly out onto his hand with a trilling chirp. “As we knew. Female, too--very valuable indeed. Ms. Cameron had had her DNA tested, sent the results on to the potential buyer. I suspected as much when I noticed one of her toenails had been clipped. There’d be no reason for a casual pet owner to do that to a run-of-the-mill peachface.”

“All right, brilliant, yes,” John said. “But do you get to keep her? That’s actually what I was getting at.”

“Of course I don’t get to keep her,” Sherlock told him. “Never crossed my mind that I would. She’s illegal, she was taken from a foreign nature preserve in the egg, she belongs to--oh, to the government of Malawi, I suppose.”

“They’re not going to release it--her--into the wild, surely,” John said, alarmed. “She’s been tamed! Well. After a fashion.”

“I wouldn’t have thought so.” Sherlock didn’t sound terribly concerned. “She’ll go to a zoo, or a sanctuary somewhere. There are people who take care of these things, government people, do-gooders of some sort, I don’t know.”

“But she’s, what do you call it, bonded to you!” John gestured accusingly toward the bird, who was biting playfully at Sherlock’s fingers while he fondled her beak absently with one hand. With the other he was busy texting.

“What?” Sherlock said. “Sorry, distracted. I think I may have found my next case. And Lestrade says he’s on his way over to pick up the bird. What were you saying? Bonded? Oh, she’s just a baby still. And I’ve only had her, what, a week and a half, two weeks? She’ll bond again. You seem concerned, John,” he added. “I’d have thought you’d be only too glad to get the noisy little annoyance off our hands.” He was petting the noisy little annoyance with what looked like genuine affection as he spoke. John raised his eyebrows, lowered them, and then shook his head and left the room.

When Lestrade turned up, he was apologetic. “Really sorry to have to make off with her so quickly,” he told Sherlock. “The case has gone high-profile; those blokes we dealt with the other day were only a small-time fence for a massive animal smuggling operation, just as you predicted. There’s at least three exotic bird dealers involved--all the animals are being rounded up for quarantine and investigation. I could try to call in a favour, get someone to find out where this one’s going when it’s all sorted--”

“Not necessary,” Sherlock said. “I’m sure she’ll be looked after. Goodbye, funny little thing,” he told Lilian, tapping her one last time on the beak, and then put her back in the cage and handed it over. He was absorbed in flipping between websites again before Lestrade had even left the room.

John saw him out. “How’s the neck?” he remembered to ask.

“Itchy.” Lestrade put down the birdcage, lifted his chin and peeled the bandage aside to show him.

“Healing up pretty well, looks like,” John said. “Might scar, though.”

“Another one for the collection, then. Good luck keeping Sherlock out of trouble without the distraction around anymore. How’s he going to take it, losing his rare bird?”

“You saw him.” John shrugged. “On to the next thing.”

“Well, you’d hardly expect him to cry over it,” Lestrade said. “Anyway, thanks for helping out with this one.” He lifted the cage again and headed out the door. “See you, then. Be sure and keep your teeth clean.”

*

“We could get another one,” John suggested, when he went back upstairs.

“Another bird?” Sherlock looked startled. “Good god, whatever for?”

“You seemed to like her,” John said accusingly. “Or was it all just about the mystery? Of course it was. Never mind. What was I thinking?”

“You’re upset about this? Why? I liked the bird. Obviously I liked the bird. I knew all along I couldn’t keep her. Even if I’d been wrong about her origin, I can’t commit to caring for an animal long-term. My work--”

“Yes, I know, your work, yes,” John snapped. He was about to say more, but he happened to glance at Sherlock just then and catch him in the act of raising his hand to his collar, reaching for the empty bird-shaped space there. Sherlock dropped his hand quickly and walked over to scowl out the window.

“It wouldn’t do any good to miss her,” he said crossly.

“I know,” John said. “Sorry. I mean, well...sorry.”

They were both silent for a bit.

“Do you want a pet?” Sherlock said, uncertainly, turning to look at him. “You said you liked dogs. I suppose, if you wanted...”

“No, I don’t want a dog.” John had to laugh. “At least--no, I don’t think so, not now. Like you said: What do I want a pet for? I’ve got you.”

Sherlock made a scoffing sound, but he had a half-grin on his face as he bent his head to his work again, John noticed, and it didn’t fade for quite some time.