Rain. Typical English summer rain. Absolutely pouring down. John cursed himself for getting the tube; it wouldn't be too long before he'd have to leave the Underground and get utterly soaked. The rational, non-lazy part of his brain reminded him that the flat was across the road from the tube station, but right now, after that absolute overload of patients with hayfever, he wanted nothing more than to just leap out of a cab and right into 221B.
At least he had his coat, he mused.
He was nearing the exit (after a minor dispute with the turnstile) and preparing himself for the rain that he could already hear, when he spotted a young girl dithering in the opening. She was about sixteen, wearing a bob of red hair and a blue school uniform. She might have been waiting for someone, but she had clearly been crying, and carried nothing with her except a piece of paper that she was scrutinising so nervously that it was a wonder she hadn't managed to screw it into a trembling ball.
Please don't think I'm a creep, he repeated to himself as he approached her. She looked up at him, her eyes like headlights, and shrank backwards.
'It's all right,' John said gently, 'I'm a doctor.'
She raised her eyebrows at him.
John huffed and rolled his eyes, but secretly he was glad. She clearly wasn't soft. He pulled out his ID card from the surgery, suddenly glad of the red tape that made him wear something he considered stupid, really (and especially ironic given Sherlock's liberal attitude to identification). He took it from around his neck and held it out to the girl.
After careful deliberation she handed it back, seemingly satisfied, but still said nothing.
'Are you all right?' John asked, wondering if she was in shock.
'I'm lost,' she said quietly, a gentle Scottish lilt to her words.
'Do you need help finding your parents? Do you have their phone number?'
The girl shook her head vehemently. 'That's why… that's why…' She flapped the piece of paper uselessly at him and gestured towards the exit out onto Baker St. 'I need to find Mr Sherlock Holmes. He lives at 221B Baker Street.'
What were the chances? John inwardly groaned at the same time as thanking the heavens that he'd found her before someone else did. 'As it happens that's where I live as well,' he said warmly. 'I'm Dr John Watson.'
The girl's eyebrows disappeared into her ginger hair. 'Really?' She squinted at him. 'So you are. I really like your blog,' she added shyly.
John nodded. 'Come on, I'll take you to see Sherlock.' He started towards the road, but the girl just carried on eyeing it tentatively. John sent up a frustrated mental cry to every weather deity that ever existed in every culture or folklore known to mankind, and took off his coat.
Five minutes later, John and the girl were seated in Baker Street. Mrs Hudson had provided her with a blanket, tea and biscuits; John, meanwhile, got a cup of tea (begrudgingly) and a firm 'not your housekeeper' in place of a blanket, and was shivering in his usual chair.
He had managed to ascertain from the girl that her name was Olivia Flaversham and her father ran a toy shop that she would one day take over. An honest-to-god old-fashioned toy shop. That was all he could glean; John would have been offended if he weren't so used to it.
'Is Mr Holmes going to be in soon?' she asked.
'I'm not entirely sure that he's out,' John confessed. 'It's best not to look, really - he can be rather… volatile. He'll be here soon, I'm sure. He knows that I finish work around now.'
Olivia frowned. 'So it's true, what you say on the blog about him being a diva? I thought it was just for publicity.'
John winced. 'Well, I didn't say he was a diva, although the word sort of suits him - don't tell him I said that.' That earned a laugh, for which was John was more proud than his dignity would let him admit. 'But yeah. I didn't start the blog for publicity, it was personal. And then we started getting clients, and then we were in the papers, and then there was all that Moriarty fiasco…'
Olivia looked as though she were on the brink of articulating a very awkward question when a flurry of footsteps distracted them both. The imitative whirlwind burst into the room in the form of Sherlock Holmes - wearing his tartan dressing gown and sporting a face mask. Complete with cucumbers. Olivia gasped dramatically.
'John, we have a mouse problem.'
John's jaw dropped. 'What on earth are you dressed as?'
'Testing the strength of the chemicals in different brands of face mask by seeing how long I can keep them on for,' Sherlock drawled, breezing across the room to his laptop.
'How long have you had that thing on your face?' John spluttered.
'You're supposed to take them off after three minutes,' Olivia put in, shyness forgotten.
Sherlock, predictably, ignored her. John watched, transfixed and horrified, as he checked something on his computer. It was times like these that made John occasionally scared to go to work.
Olivia wasn't as easily deterred. 'Mr Holmes, I need your help—'
'All in good time,' Sherlock declared, snapping the laptop shut again and flouncing into the kitchen. 'John, could you pass me my phone?'
John did a double-take. 'It was right next to your computer!' he protested.
'Phone,' Sherlock repeated simply.
With a weary sigh, John heaved himself out of the chair and grabbed the phone, stomping into the kitchen to hand it to Sherlock brusquely. The detective's fingers began to fly across the keys as usual. John glared at him. 'Sherlock, this girl needs to talk to you. Her father—'
'Tea would be nice, yes, thanks,' Sherlock sang.
John stamped his sodden foot with a squelch. 'Sherlock, I have been at work all day and have come home in the pouring rain. I could use someone making me a nice cup of tea myself once in a while, rather than coming home to a potentially dangerous experiment.' John reached up and snatched the cucumbers from Sherlock's eyes. Trust him to be able to hold them there while standing up.
Sherlock blinked down at him, affronted. 'Mrs Hudson made you some just as you came in,' he replied without missing a beat. 'And it's your own fault.'
'My fault?' John gaped. 'How is it my fault? I didn't put it on your face!' He jabbed his hand exasperatedly in Sherlock's direction.
'You went out. I was bored.'
He swanned back into the living room and John stared at his retreating back, dumbstruck. 'You don't do anything but lie on the couch and ponder when I'm in!' he stammered after him.
Sherlock, when John returned with tea, was indeed lying prone on the couch, violin in hand. 'John,' he called, 'could you wipe this thing off now, please?'
John looked at Olivia apologetically. She was staring between the two of them with hesitant incredulity. She looked as though Sherlock was some sort of alien species she was scared to approach. John felt like that sometimes. He opened his mouth to protest before deciding it wasn't worth it. 'I'm going to get a bowl,' he sighed. He nodded to Olivia and gestured towards the detective.
'Mr Holmes?' he heard as he was wetting a tea-towel. 'Mr Holmes, my name is Olivia Flaversham.' No response. 'Erm, Mr Holmes?'
'Sherlock, what's with all this cheese on the counter? Have you put different chemicals in each one or something? Or are you extracting mould?' John yelled. 'Can I put it in the fridge?'
'Told you, mouse problem!'
John frowned and looked at the cheese suspiciously. That wasn't how people dealt with a mouse problem. 'You what?'
'Hurry up, John, it's starting to itch and if I touch my face I'll get face mask on my violin.'
'All right, all right,' John muttered, rushing back in. He smiled at Olivia and started dabbing at Sherlock's face in between the strokes of Sherlock's violin bow. 'Go on,' he whispered.
'Mr Holmes, my father's gone,' Olivia blurted out passionately.
'Gone? What, he's lost?' Fortunately, most of Sherlock's energy was being spent on the violin, so that remark wasn't as disparaging as it perhaps might have been. John thanked heaven for small mercies. 'Surely your mother must know where he is?' Sherlock continued.
'I don't have a mother.'
John winced. Sherlock's tuneful violin playing dissolved into an ear-splitting squawk and he opened his eyes abruptly. He swung his legs around the side of the couch, flung the violin down next to him and grabbed the tea-towel, wiping his face in one swift motion before handing the sopping cloth back to John, who stared at it numbly. Sherlock cleared his throat and laced his fingers together. 'What happened to your father?' he asked gently.
Olivia shot a stunned glance in John's direction. He shrugged at her and nodded for her to continue. 'He was taken,' she explained. 'We had just closed the shop and we were tidying up when someone started rattling the door-handle.' She paused, took out an embroidered handkerchief (John had to blink twice to check that was really what it was) and dabbed her eyes. 'He told me to hide in the store cupboard. I heard a scuffle, and when it went quiet, I came out and he was gone.'
'Have you not been to the police?' John interjected.
Olivia shook her head vehemently. 'One of my father's friends told him that if he was ever in trouble he should go to Sherlock Holmes.'
John put this utter stupidity down to the girl's nervous state; Sherlock, of course, looked flattered.
'We'll take you to the police station,' John said kindly.
Olivia looked aghast. 'But Mr Holmes has to find my father!'
Sherlock smirked. John rubbed his temples. 'Well, he will do, but if we don't take you to the station first, we'll get in trouble. All right?' She nodded at him, eyes brimming. 'Get dressed, Sherlock,' John barked unceremoniously.
The detective stood up with a flourish and shod his dressing gown. It fell with a grace of its own onto the couch, revealing an immaculate shirt and trousers beneath. Sherlock grinned at John triumphantly and sped into the kitchen to retrieve his jacket. 'Come along, Miss Featheringshaw.'
'It's Flavisham,' Olivia objected.
'Dull?' Olivia repeated, looking at John in complete confusion.
'Don't worry,' John replied, 'he's always like that.'
'If you don't hurry up and tell me what's up there I'm going to drop you!'
'Quiet, David, would you? I'm trying to get a good view of this girl.'
'Girl? What? Why?' The pair swayed precariously. 'I thought that Mary girl was the last of them!'
A pause. 'Mary?'
'Yes, Mary! You remember Mary! The one whose toe you nearly cut off with that bat-trap. Obviously on purpose.'
'That was a complete accident, David, I am wounded at your lack of faith.' A smirk and another pause. 'Wait. Was her name Mary?'
'You declared we had to celebrate when she left and you don't remember her name?'
'It was unimportant. Never mind, whatever.' The taller of the two interlocutors tottered on the smaller's shoulders. 'Would you hold still!'
'I'd like to have a look too, you know! All I get to see is your legs flailing around in front of me! You could at least tell me what's going on!'
'All in good time.'
Sherrinford Basil heaved a frustrated sigh and hopped down from his friend's shoulders, smoothing out his elaborate dressing gown. 'It's no use. I can only see her feet. I shall have to adapt this periscope.'
His friend, David Dawson, folded his arms and blinked at him expectantly. 'Well? What was she doing?'
'It appears,' said Sherrinford mysteriously, 'that her father has gone missing and she has come to ask for Sherlock's assistance in finding him. The girl is Scottish. The father is a toymaker.'
'A toymaker!' David repeatedly eagerly. 'If they succeed, maybe we can get new furniture! We need new cushions. Since you shot the last ones.'
'Furniture, furniture, Mrs Judson can deal with that!' Sherrinford paced up and down the room. 'We have far more pressing things to attend to. This is the first girl to come to Baker Street alone in some time. We must ensure that she does not prompt a rebound.' He threw himself into his armchair and took up his violin.
'Rebound?' David sat across from him, bewildered. 'I thought those two didn't really do jumping. They have cabs.'
Sherrinford covered his eyes with his violin bow. 'It's a metaphor. If you listened to them talk as often as I did, you'd know!'
'I can't listen because you're always using me as your stepladder!' David retorted.
The violinist sighed, twirling the bow absently. 'A rebound is when one attaches oneself to the first person who comes available, simply because one misses the companionship that was previously a regular feature of one's life.'
David frowned. 'So this girl could be… a romantic conquest?'
'You've got it!' Sherrinford started playing his violin.
'Well what are we going to do about it?'
'We're going to put her off the place, of course.'
'How are we going to do that?'
'I'm working on a plan.' Sherrinford continued to play, eyes closed, before opening one of them to peer back at David, who was scrutinising him. 'I can't work if you keep asking me questions. Go and ask Mrs Judson for some cheese crumpets.'
David huffed and placed his hands on his knees before making his way to the living room door. He paused and looked back at the form sprawled out in the chair. 'Will it be dangerous?'
Sherrinford flashed him a wicked grin. His tail swished in time to the bow. 'Most assuredly, my friend.'
Baker Street definitely had a mouse problem.