“Boys, would one of you get the door? My hands are full!” Mrs. Hudson’s voice floated up the stairwell through Sherlock and John’s open door. Both men sighed.
John stared at Sherlock for a beat as the bell at 221 Baker Street rang a second time.
“Guess I’ll answer that,” he muttered when the other didn’t move.
Sherlock ignored John and drew his book closer to his face. He slouched even lower in his chair, if such a thing were possible.
Rising from his spot by the fire, John clattered down the stairs. The wind blew the door in with a force that pushed John back and froze the tips of his ears. A swirl of snow fluttered onto the tile.
“Ack!” John exclaimed with a shiver.
He gripped the edge of the door with both hands and shoved against the offending breeze. Once he’d gotten control of the willful door, he glanced up, then stared. Waiting patiently before him was a mountain of brown, fuzzy fur with two thin, black-stockinged legs poking out of the bottom and a heavy hat on top. A pair of twinkling eyes peered out, but he could see no more of the figure’s face deep within the huddle of fur coat.
“Can I come in?” asked a muffled voice. “I’m ever so cold; I just need a spot to warm up before I continue on my way.”
“Um, sure,” John answered politely, brows drawn together.
He moved aside to let the furry figure in and shut the door behind them. Snow shook off in all directions, but the figure made no movement to remove the outer garment.
“Can I ah, dust you off a bit?” asked John.
“Ooh, I’d appreciate that,” came the grateful answer.
John pounded the edges of the coat with his hands, knocking snow this way and that onto the hallway floor. Puddles immediately began to form in the warm building. He had no doubt he’d be back later helping Mrs. Hudson with the cleanup for his sins.
The pair made their way upstairs. John was sure that the unsteady heap of fur tottering on pins would fall backward at any moment, crushing him on its way down, but they came safely to the open door of the flat. The lumbering figure made straight for the fire and sat on the floor.
Belatedly John called out, “Wouldn’t you like a chair?” but the bear (as John was starting to think of the person) just shook its head.
“Floor’s fine! A little tea would be nice though, if you have it?”
As if on cue, Mrs. Hudson entered with a tray. “It’s a nice evening for a cup by the fire, if you boys don’t mind me joining you - oh! Who’s this?”
“Haven’t had a chance to ask yet,” muttered John.
But he took the tray from Mrs. Hudson’s hands and proffered his good seat to her. Sherlock remained engrossed in his book; you could trust him to tune out when manners were involved. John set the tea tray on a small table between the two good chairs and dragged a kitchen chair over for himself. The bear turned itself until it was facing away from the fire and sighed.
“Oh, this smells heavenly! I don’t suppose there’s enough for four?”
Two tiny black leather gloves emerged from the coat. Mrs. Hudson placed a cup and saucer in one, and a plate with a sandwich in the other. John sat across from the bear, staring, brows still drawn. Did no one find the infiltration of a complete and unknown stranger into their house on a snowy evening remarkable? He switched his gaze to Sherlock, who had finally turned his open book over one arm of the chair.
“What have we here?” Sherlock murmured, but his attention was turned to the sandwiches.
John bit back a sigh of exasperation.
“Sherlock, have you noticed there is a guest?” He indicated the heap in front of the fireplace with a wave of his hand.
“Ah, so there is! Good evening, Ms.-”
“Turnabout, to be sure,” replied the bear. “Ursula Turnabout. I was walking in the neighborhood, and my feet were nearly frozen, and then I saw there was a light on upstairs, so I thought I’d knock.”
John’s suspicious gaze bounced back and forth between the bear and Sherlock. Something had to be amiss. The story was patently ridiculous. Sherlock sanguinely poured a cup of tea for Mrs. Hudson and himself. John was left to his own devices. He creamed and sugared his tea the way he liked it and grumpily took a sandwich from the pile.
“Too right. It’s a howler out there. Are you warming sufficiently now?” Sherlock asked solicitously as he took a bite.
“Yes, thank you. And the tea is an unexpected pleasure, Mrs. Hudson.”
John’s internal alarm went on high alert. Had he introduced their landlady? He didn’t think so. He opened his mouth to ask, but was interrupted.
“You’re very welcome, Ms. Turnabout,” Mrs. Hudson assured her.
“You’re probably wondering what led me to the domicile of the great consulting detective Sherlock Holmes,” the bear continued, her tone high with humor.
Ah, that’s it, John thought, his shoulders relaxing. She’s a fan. He leaned back and sipped his tea quietly, soon caught up in the woman’s wild tale of a Friday night in London, and laughing along with the other two. Their conversation turned to other topics and Ms. Ursula Turnabout proved to be charming and clever - clever enough to satisfy even Sherlock’s conversational vicissitudes.
Comfortable with warm food and a spot by the fire, John startled awake later that night. The fire had burned nearly to embers. Its soft glow illuminated Ms. Turnabout’s hulking silhouette, stretched out in a comically lumpy fashion before the fireplace. Mrs. Hudson and the tea tray had disappeared. Sherlock still sat in his chair. His dark eyes glittered as he stared thoughtfully.
“Who is she?” John asked quietly. He stifled a yawn, stood and stretched.
“No idea,” Sherlock murmured.
“Well, I’m off to bed. If you figure it out, you can tell me in the morning.”
Both men woke to find the apartment empty and the fireplace cold. Sherlock gleaned a tuft of brown fur from the rug as John put the kettle on. Neither had any particular place to be on that Saturday morning, so John suggested they do the shopping.
The mid-morning air was brisk as they walked back from the shop, toting bags of groceries. John lifted his head high, peering quizzically down the sidewalk.
“Sherlock, is that your brother?” he asked.
Sherlock nodded, having indeed noticed Mycroft standing at the front door of 221 Baker Street. The older man reached for the ground, then straightened upon noticing them. He brushed down the front of his lapels and smoothed his hair.
“Sherlock,” he greeted them with a nod, lips pinched tightly as he stared down from the top of their stoop.
John rolled his eyes.
“Good morning, Mycroft. What brings you?”
Mycroft stood in the way of their front door, not moving. John was about to tell him to shift over so he could unlock the door when Mycroft made an awkward wiggle.
“Are… are you stuck?”
“No!” replied Mycroft, eyes blazing, “Or well, only barely… my rear suit quarter is caught in your door.”
Sherlock and John stifled chuckles. Mycroft’s lips pinched ever tighter.
“Tell me, Brother, is your shoe also adhered to the ground? You haven’t moved your foot since you noticed us coming up the sidewalk.”
“Well, I’ve barely any room, haven’t I?” Mycroft griped. “My elbow’s nearly in your doorjam.”
John set his bags on the ground and came up the steps with his key, but found that Mycroft was exactly right. He’d managed to shut the door on his jacket so completely that he had literally no forward movement to get out of John’s way.
“Mrs. Hudson’s not home. I’ll have to climb the drainpipe out back. It’ll take a few minutes,” John offered.
He tried his best to sound sympathetic, but Mycroft’s apoplectic expression caused him a great deal of personal joy.
“No! I’m late for a - I have no time - I can’t be bothered with one of your juvenile solutions- wait! What are you doing?!” roared Mycroft.
John held up his pen knife, the blade flipped out.
“Quickest solution,” he muttered, teeth gritted.
Over Mycroft’s loud protests, John sawed through the expensive wool thread by thread until at last Mycroft’s own pulling and yanking allowed him to burst free. The man fell forward, mouth opening and closing like a fish. Sherlock swooped down and quickly retrieved a small item left on the stoop. He stood and extended his palm to return a black and silver jump drive.
“My suit!” Mycroft cried. “Look what you’ve done to my suit!”
He twisted, attempting to grab a fistful of the mangled fabric for inspection. Then, suddenly remembering where he was, he took a deep breath and exhaled through his nose. Expression composed, Mycroft opened his eyes and considered his brother. He took the jump drive and dropped it into one intact pocket.
“Thank you, Sherlock. I must be off now, but I’ll return later to discuss some... business.”
A shiny black sedan appeared out of nowhere and waited patiently at the curb, tailpipe blowing clouds in the cold air. With a wintry smile that didn’t reach his eyes, Mycroft disappeared into its depths and spun off. As soon as it turned the corner, Sherlock held up the black and silver jump drive, chuckling to himself. He tossed it up one handed and snatched it out of the air.
“Why, you sneaky son-of-a-” began John.
“I know what type of thumb drive Mycroft prefers; I keep a few extra in my pocket. C’mon, John, let’s see what he was so eager to hide from us,” Sherlock urged, long legs making short work of the stairs.
The drive was encrypted, as Sherlock had expected, so he sent it off by courier to a mysterious but assuredly trustworthy associate hidden somewhere in a shadier part of London. Once all the groceries were put away, John settled down to update his blog. He grimaced; the seat in front of his laptop was still warm from Sherlock’s recent occupancy. The man never could use his own computer! John sank into his small world of words, twisting their most recent investigation this way and that until it resembled in text (somewhat) the adventure they had experienced in life. The story’s true ending had been very satisfying; he was sure the readers would feel similarly. John sat back and took a deep breath. Time for a first draft edit.
A knock at the door interrupted his train of thought. Irritated, John’s head snapped up.
“Sherlock! Get that, please!” John called.
The man was nowhere to be found. How long have I been sitting here alone? John wondered.
He rose and got the door, only to find the awkward bulk of Ms. Turnabout, still wearing her heavy coat, surprising him for a second time.
“Dr. Watson! Lovely to see you again,” the woman enthused, gliding past him and entering the flat.
“Errr, you too, Ms. Turnabout? I’m sorry, but Sherlock doesn’t appear to be home?” John turned and followed the woman with his eyes.
She still wore the huge hat over her eyes, but now, in daylight, he could see her small nose protruding. It lessened the bear impression - a bit. Looking this way and that, she elected to sit in Sherlock’s great chair with a daintiness that belied her voluminous garment.
“Please call me Ursula. Really, I just wanted to come by and say how much I appreciated your hospitality last night.”
“Quite all right. If I can be honest, we were a little disappointed you left so early.”
“Oh,” laughed Ursula, “Well, if that’s the case, I promise to stick around longer next time.”
John laughed with her, unaccountably charmed by her clever tongue and cheerful demeanor. “Is there any chance, I mean - have you eaten lunch?”
The large black hat shook no. “Sounds wonderful, Dr. Watson.”
“Please, call me John.”
And so it was, when Sherlock returned home, that he found John and Ursula laughing into their teacups and generally having a marvelous time. When it was clear that Sherlock wanted to discuss Mycroft’s now-decrypted files, Ursula made herself at home on a corner of the couch and busied herself reading. The long, cold Saturday passed quickly in her presence.
Mrs. Hudson came up at teatime. She asserted cheerfully that her sixth sense had led her to place four settings on the tray.
“Now, mind you, Ursula, I’m not their housekeeper. It’s just so cold none of my friends can come ‘round for tea. And with you here, we can get a proper game of bridge going!” Mrs. Hudson clapped her hands with delight.
“I’ll do my best to contain my paroxysms of joy,” Sherlock deadpanned.
But the group convinced him to participate in at least one round, and he at least pretended to enjoy it. Mrs. Hudson was gathering the cards for a shuffle when a shout came from the staircase.
“Why, who could that be?” Mrs. Hudson wondered, but Sherlock and John were already at the bannister.
Both men burst out laughing. The women ran to join them.
Staring up, helpless to rise, was Mycroft. His shoe had stuck somehow in the third stair of the staircase and he had fallen forward. The other men rushed down to help him, but it was no use. Unable to stand, he set himself as well as he could along the wall. John knelt to inspect the shoe.
“Mrs. Hudson, this staircase is a disgrace! My shoe has cracked the wood and now my toe is wedged inside!” Mycroft bawled.
John grabbed ahold of Mycroft’s heel, but he couldn’t get any leverage.
“Just untie his shoelace, get the foot out, and then work on the shoe,” advised Sherlock from his vantage point two steps up.
“Smart,” replied John.
“Of course I am,” Sherlock agreed.
“Idiots,” hissed Mycroft. “Don’t you think that was the first thing I tried? The shoelace is wet from the snow and too tightly knotted. It’ll never come undone.”
“Only one option, then,” sighed John, reaching for his pen knife.
“No! No more assaults on my wardrobe, Dr. John Watson! This is completely unaccepta-”
At that moment, John cut through the shoelace and Mycroft’s foot slithered out of the shoe. Off balance, he slid backward on his bottom and bumped down the last two steps onto the floor. Quiet titters of feminine laughter filtered down from above as Mycroft rubbed his rear.
“I assume you expect my thanks for this disaster. And don’t think I didn’t notice your little trick from earlier, Sherlock. I knew you’d zero in on the flash drive. Did you manage to decrypt the files?”
Sherlock gaped a bit before getting himself under control. “I did.”
“And you see that the contents have to do with your current guest?”
“Are you satisfied that they pose no problem? It’s a full dossier, as I understand. I would have preferred to review it myself, first, but I needed a more...circumspect method of collecting my treasure, so to speak.”
Sherlock glanced up. Beside Mrs. Hudson, Ursula gripped the bannister with her tiny black gloves. He nodded, and she relaxed. “One step ahead, as ever, Mycroft.”
John followed Sherlock’s gaze in time to see Ursula remove her oversized hat. An unexpected cascade of golden hair fell down past her shoulders, giving her features a gentle glow as the strands caught the light of their open doorway. Eyes still on Ursula, John helped Mycroft to stand. They re-entered the flat.
Ursula stood in the center of the room, twisting the brim of her hat in her hands. “A dossier on me? I suppose that means the fun’s over, then.”
“Well, you’ve not committed any official crimes, Ms. Turnabout. At least, none with enough evidence to prosecute you. You’re a free citizen here, as far as I’m professionally concerned. Personally, however, I feel it is only right that my brother have a clear understanding of the company he keeps,” Mycroft stated, one shoe held in his hand.
Ursula nodded. She tossed her hat onto the couch, shook out her hair, then unwrapped her layer-upon-layer of brown fur coat, throwing the heavy mass on top of the hat along with her gloves. John winced for the fate of the hat. He was quickly distracted by the crystal blue eyes and gentle smile of the woman revealed to them, however. She held her hands tightly in front of her. Despite her discomfiture, John thought she looked like an angel.
“Well?” Ursula asked, turning to Sherlock.
He shrugged. “I take no issue with what you’ve done in the name of queen and country, or even on your own authority. I’m not the only one who lives here, however.”
John felt all eyes on him. He also felt confused. “Wait, does that mean Ursula Turnabout is an alias? What are we to call you?”
Ursula laughed. It sounded like bells ringing to John.
“An entire confidential file, and Sherlock didn’t bother to mention my name? It’s Mary. Mary Morstan.”