John plodded up the stairs with his head bent, water dripping from his hair and the collar of his jacket. He could hear Sherlock's voice and someone else's, a woman's, very posh from the sound of it. A client, then. John heaved a mental sigh. Well, whoever she was, she was just going to have to put up with John dripping on the rug a bit and banging round in the kitchen while he put on the kettle. God, he was absolutely gasping for some tea.
He reached the top of the stairs and stopped short.
Queen Victoria was on their sofa.
No, seriously, Queen Victoria, who'd been dead for, oh, over a hundred years. And there she was, looking just as she did in the photographs, only without the tiny crown or all the frippery, and also in colour. But she was dressed all in black anyway, skirts spread out over half the sofa.
She was surprisingly short. And she appeared to be drinking tea out of John's mug. Sherlock was seated on the other end of the sofa, his knees turned towards her, hands steepled in front of his face.
"Oh," said John. "Er. Your Majesty." Was there something he was supposed to be doing? Bowing, maybe? Kneeling?
Queen Victoria nodded at him quite regally, and John wobbled his way over to the armchair and sat, forgetting all about his tea. The Queen was drinking out of his mug. John gave Sherlock a helpless look.
"Ah. Yes. Your Majesty, this is Dr. John Watson, my flatmate. John, this is Queen Victoria."
John opened his mouth and found that some words fell out. "Pleased to meet you."
"My pleasure," she replied. "Mr. Holmes tells me you are his Boswell."
It took John a moment to recall who Boswell even was. He blinked. "Really? He said that?" He swivelled his head round to look at Sherlock, who was carefully observing a point just above Queen Victoria's head. "Wait, why do you know about Boswell? Didn't you delete that?"
"Queen Victoria is staying with us on a very temporary basis, while things are sorted out in her universe," Sherlock said, very loudly.
John immediately forgot about the Boswell thing. "I'm sorry, did you just say her universe?"
"Well, she's clearly not from our universe," said Sherlock, looking at John now. "In her universe there's a Sherlock Holmes. Contemporaneous with her. Also a consulting detective." He said this with great satisfaction, as if there was no greater joy than discovering that alternate universe versions of himself were just as gainfully employed.
"I have not met him in person," Queen Victoria interjected. "But I have employed him, on occasion. Even if I had not, it would be difficult to miss the tales of his exploits, as they are very popular reading. They are also chronicled by a Dr. Watson," she added. "An excellent writer, might I add."
John hiked his eyebrows up. "Oh. Oh, really?"
"Oh, yes. My favourite is the one about the hound. Very masterfully written. It was most chilling."
"Really." John sat up a little straighter. Sherlock merely looked bored.
"Yes. I greatly look forward to his account of Holmes' reappearance, as well." She paused to take a sip of tea. "We're all very curious as to how he did it."
"Survived the fall."
She said it so carelessly and without guile that John didn't know why sudden anxiety gripped his chest like that. He dared a glance at Sherlock, who seemed to be frozen. "What fall? Where?"
"In Reichenbach." The Queen appeared taken aback. "Surely you know?"
Before either of them could question her further, the air was rent by an ululating screech that went on and on and on. John clapped his hands over his ears, but it seemed to be coming from inside his skull; he saw Sherlock sitting up on the couch, eyes narrowed, gaze fixed on a point the middle of their sitting room, where something was just fading into--into, rather than out of--existence. John saw the word POLICE first, and a light at the top, and then a tall, boxy shape, painted bright blue. How it fit in the sitting room he didn't even know; it wasn't as if their space was generous by any means.
The door flung open. "C'mon, Your Majesty!" a voice called from inside. "We can't be dilly-dallying!"
Queen Victoria set her mug--John's mug--down with great haste. "I do beg your pardon, gentlemen," she said, "but I have a matter that requires my attention." And with that, she gathered up her skirts and hurried into the booth. The door slammed shut, and it disappeared with more of that grinding, wailing noise.
What felt like minutes later, John said, "What the hell was that?"
"Nothing that will ever happen again, I hope. It's disrupted my schedule horribly." Sherlock picked up his violin, threw up one leg on the couch while leaving the other on the floor, and began to produce the most awful sounds, which was actually not dissimilar from the noise the police box had made as it arrived and left.
John suddenly remembered that he was still very damp, that his collar was wet, and he hadn't yet had any tea. He shook his head and picked up his mug, which still had an inch of rather cold tea in the bottom, and took it into the kitchen. He set it on the counter and stared at it. Should he throw it out? After all, it wasn't every day the Queen drank tea out of your mug. Especially dead Queens.
"Sherlock," he called. "About what she said. About the fall."
The cacophony of strings stopped. "What about it?"
John went back into the sitting room, needing suddenly to see Sherlock on the couch, scraping the bow across the strings of his violin. He put his hands on his hips. "The fall in Reichenbach. Doesn't that." He paused and ran his tongue across his teeth. "Isn't that the painting you just recovered? The Reichenbach Fall."
Sherlock snorted. "That's just a painting, John. Surely you don't expect me to plummet from a painting?"
"No, of course not, I just." That clenching feeling in his chest wouldn't go away. He tried to push it down with his chin.
Sherlock looked up at John, his eyes weird and pale in the afternoon sunlight. John expected him to say something scathing, but instead he said, "Whatever it is, clearly I survive it. There's no need for concern."
"You expect me to believe that on the basis of, what, because your Victorian alternate universe self survived it?"
"Yes," Sherlock replied. At John's shocked look, he added, "and on the authority of the Queen. Surely you of all people can respect that." And he set bow to strings again, albeit in a more musical manner this time.
John shook his head. Well, there was no use worrying about it, he supposed, and went upstairs to change.