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 perfume 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 appreciated."
The text message from Lestrade read, Ready to kill him yet? and John 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 Lestrade.
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, before he went back into the living room where Sherlock was screeching on his violin. Somewhere in there, John detected bits of Schönberg and Penderecki, all in cacophonous disharmony with Sherlock's own composition. Fingernails on a blackboard would have been more pleasing.
"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 far away."
"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 tone.
"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 resembling normalcy.
"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 appeal.
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 patience.
"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 hear.
"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 thin metal.
"Greg, we're due for a party in," John checked his watch, "five minutes."
"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 heaven-sent."
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 cleared.
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 clichéd," 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 twenty-eighth floor.
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 here."
"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 past.
Mirth lit the man's eyes for a microsecond. "Our tenants pay for privacy."
"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 silently agreed.
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'œil 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 text someone.
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 concealed amusement.
"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 you?"
"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," Sherlock declared.
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.
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 own very valuable time with a false report or any sort of 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 everything.
"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 other students.
"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 protest.
"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 evidence."
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: "C5H14N2." When no one got it, he glared at John. "1,5-pentanediamine, 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... what he said?"
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 asked.
"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 out.
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, clichéd," 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 consulted it.
"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 Sayid al-Zaiid."
"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 affair?"
"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 untrained 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 anyone else.
"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 by now."
"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 doing here?"
"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 cheese icing.
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 bomb?
"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 kitchen.
"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?"
"The theft, of course," Mycroft replied as though talking to a very slow child. God, John hated it when that tone of voice was directed at him. "The origami is a signature of a world famous forger and art thief and the mouse clearly stands for the stink bomb he used."
John narrowed his eyes, ignoring the former in favour of the latter. How the hell did Mycroft know about the stink already?
"A thief!" Mrs Hudson echoed, sounding horrified. "But he seemed like such a nice young man." To John she said, "What is the world coming to?"
"Of course," Sherlock continued as though he hadn't heard Mrs. Hudson's outburst, "I knew it was him as soon as I realised the smell was from an artificial chemical."
"Of course you did," Mycroft said, sarcasm tinting his voice a shade darker.
"Of course I did," Sherlock replied, "because this fellow is quite soft-hearted and would never kill an actual mouse just to pull a theft." His lip curled in unveiled disgust.
"I – " John looked between Mycroft and Sherlock. "You know who this thief is?"
Sherlock steepled his fingers, tapped the fingertips together. "Certainly I do. I just didn't think he'd go to quite such lengths to send his regards for my birthday. Then again, he did get a Constable out of it, didn't he?"
"Why," John exclaimed, then caught Mrs. Hudson's shocked look and lowered his voice. "Why are you not on the phone to Lestrade to tell him?"
Sherlock sat back down and poured a fresh cup of tea, completely ignoring John in favour of a scone. When it became clear that Sherlock's attention was all on the task of spreading clotted cream on the open scone, John prompted, "Sherlock?"
Sherlock threw the knife down with a bored huff. "Because he'll be long gone, of course."
Mycroft raised an eyebrow in a way that looked a lot like agreement.
"Not that Interpol, Europol, or Scotland Yard have or ever will come close to catching him," Sherlock added with no small amount of disdain.
"What about him?" John nodded toward Mycroft.
"Don't know about him," Sherlock shrugged, "but it's certainly not in my remit. I'm not a thief-catcher."
John threw Mycroft a sharp look. "He's a forger and a thief. He could break into the Home Secretary's office and steal top secret information. Doesn't that alarm you at all?"
Mycroft's eyes sparkled with amusement, though his mouth barely twitched. He, too, sat down and reached for a scone. John noticed, fascinated, that he and Sherlock had exactly the same way of holding the knife and of spreading the clotted cream perfectly even before adding the raspberry preserve. "Doesn't it?" John repeated.
Gingerly, Mycroft set the little bowl of preserve back on the cake stand, rested the scone on his plate and wiped his fingers thoroughly on a napkin. "Our friendly thief is brilliant but ultimately harmless; certainly no threat to the Crown." He took a sip of tea. "He is, how shall I put it, a little beneath my notice. Or, as our American friends would say, I have bigger fish to fry."
Sherlock snorted. "He only ignores him because his goons could never catch him." He snatched a piece of cake and licked his finger clean of the icing before continuing. "They can't even uncover his real name."
Mycroft leaned back in his chair, strangely at ease in the face of Sherlock's repeated ribbing. "Have you?"
"No." Sherlock shrugged. "But only because I can't be bothered."
"So, ehem." Mrs. Hudson, who'd been quietly watching the entire conversation as though following a tennis match, noisily poured another cup of tea for John. "If you're all finished, maybe it's time for presents."
"Oh, presents," Sherlock said, fake-bored. "Who needs them, anyway?"
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 person."
"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. 'Sherlock-English, English-Sherlock'."
"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 from it.
"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 the rack."
"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.
That 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 snapped.
"You're being difficult."
"And you're very demanding."
A slight pause, then the pout was accompanied by a scowl. "It's my birthday."
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 asked.
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 forced sad.
Passive-aggressive little bastard, John thought fondly. "All right, all right."
Damn Sherlock 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 John's heart. It took nerves of steel some days, but he 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 Sherlock's 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. God, no, he hadn't needed that particular mental image. From 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 snorted softly.
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's present.
Mycroft raised a brow at John, and this time, it was John's turn to shrug.
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 here?"
"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 possibly – "
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 cake? Unless...
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 humanly possible.
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 around him 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 unison.
"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 of cake."
"Doesn't need it." Sherlock sing-songed.
"Sherlock!" Mrs. Hudson thundered, before whisking herself off to her kitchen.
"Yes, well." Was Sherlock actually blushing? Wonders 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 reaction.
"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 thief."
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 cake, John."
"Thank you, Mrs. Hudson."
"John!" Sherlock interrupted. "We are all waiting on you."
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.
Happy Birthday, love.