Chapter One

Stray dogs exist. Everyone knows that.

And quite unfortunately there are areas that are overrun with them, areas where pets are abandoned heartbreakingly frequently, and the uncontrolled populations keep spreading to the point that they are everywhere—in the street, in the alleys, in the parks…lost dogs, abandoned dogs, rejected dogs. There are places where such things are unfortunately common.

John knew this to be true. But he also knew Baker Street wasn't one of them.

And yet here he was, a scruffy little dog, skinny as a bone. He wasn't wearing a collar. He looked lost, abandoned. John Watson knew that look when he saw it. And it made him sad.

So—partially out of basic compassion for all life, and partially because John was a sucker for dogs—he walked up to it. The dog glanced at him but did not run away. He must be used to humans, John thought. He used to be a pet.

"Hello there," John said around an armful of brown paper grocery bags. Again the dog simply glanced at him as he sat on the sidewalk. It was then John noticed that the dog seemed to be staring at something. Coming closer, he tilted his head to see at the dog's angle, and saw: the dog was staring straight at the door labeled 221B. And that's where John lived. That's where he was taking his groceries.

There was something unnerving in the intensity of the dog's stare. The dog looked so determined, as if expecting the answer to some unsolvable doggy question would come waltzing out of there at any moment.

"Hello," John said again, kneeling this time. The paper bags crinkled loudly in his grip and the dog leaped away, tail swishing apprehensively. John froze, staring, wishing the dog would stay. Stay, stay, his brain whispered; I want to help you. He couldn't bear to think of this poor little dog roaming the streets on its own. There were too many cabs—too many cars—too many things that could run this little dog down.

The dog stayed. He stared at John, then settled back down on his haunches, and cocked his head.

Was that an invitation to try again? Gingerly John laid his bags on the front step of 221B and crouched next to them. Slowly he extended his hand, allowing the dog to come to him if he wished. The dog regarded him a moment. The he rose slowly, neck stretched toward the strange hand and nose crimping as he inhaled the scent of John. John held back a giggle as the dog's hot breath tickled his wrist. The cold, moist nose then pressed into his palm, as if accepting him as a possible ally. John carefully positioned his fingers under the dog's chin and gave him a scratch. The dog leaned into him, eyelids drooping, which John took to mean he liked it.

"Good boy," he said quietly. He dog's ear's pricked up at the sound. He knows those words, John mused. What kind of family had the dog lived in before being kicked out? Who would have the heart to praise a dog and then chuck it? Not very nice people, John reasoned.

There was, of course, the possibility that the dog was simply lost, looking for his home. In that case John was obligated to help him. He could turn him in. There were people who knew how to reunite dogs with their families. But what if he had been abandoned? Or—and this a possibility as well—what if the dog had run away from a cruel owner? In that case the last thing John wanted to do was reunite them.

What should he do?

The dog broke free of his massage and looked to the door. 221B. Of course. Home of the world's only consulting detective, Sherlock Holmes.

John grinned at the dog, flabbergasted. "Now how on earth did you know that?" he said. The dog's tail swished through the air at John's voice. Let's go in, he seemed to be pleading.

Well, why not? If anyone could solve the mystery of this dog's origin, it was Sherlock Holmes. He'd been bored lately, restless. He needed a challenge. He could probably tell who owned—or used to own—this dog just by looking at it.

John rose—slowly so as not to frighten the dog—and stepped up to the door. He wondered briefly if Mrs. Hudson had a "No Dogs" policy. I suppose I'll find out, he thought.

He unlocked the door, opened it, and glanced inside. The dog watched him expectantly. The hall was empty and there was no one on the stair. John stepped in. "Mrs. Hudson?" he called.

He heard a skittering behind him and turned to see the dog scampering into the house. "No—wait," John whispered fiercely, trying to catch him. But the dog evaded him merrily and danced down the hall, nose darting to and fro as he tried to smell everything at once, tail whipping back and forth.

John started after him, then remembered the groceries and turned around. But couldn't the groceries wait? There was a dog on the loose. He turned back. But no—he had to get the bags. Besides, he couldn't leave the door open. He darted out, grabbed the groceries, darted back in, tried to close the door, and promptly spilled the contents of his bags on the floor.

"Stupid!" he growled at himself. Now what?

He heard a yelp from the kitchen. Oh dear.

"Mrs. Hudson?" he called with trepidation.

"John!" came the high-pitched reply. John started for the kitchen. "There's a dog in here!"

"Coming," John called out. He stepped quickly into the kitchen to see Mrs. Hudson staring down at the dog, which stared up at her. Her clenched hands were held near her face as if to ward off an impending attack. The dog grinned and swished his tail.

"Sorry, Mrs. Hudson," John said, "he slipped in while I was carrying in the groceries…"

Mrs. Hudson glanced at him fearfully. "Will it bite? Does it have rabies?"

"No," John said quickly, "I'm sure it doesn't have rabies."

Mrs. Hudson relaxed. "Oh dear, it did startle me though!"

"I'm very sorry," John said ruefully. He reached down to place a hand on the dog's back, as if that would somehow restrain it. The dog flashed him a smile. "I didn't mean to frighten you."

"Is it a stray?" Mrs. Hudson asked. "It looks…" she seemed to search for a polite description. "Peaky," she said.

"Ah, yes, well, it does appear to have been abandoned," John said. "I was just about to…" he stopped. He'd been about to say "have Sherlock take a look" but suddenly it occurred to him how ridiculous that idea actually was.

"Well, if it's got no home," Mrs. Hudson said—then finished her thought by turning to the fridge and pulling out a plate of something leftover from a previous night's meal. "Here, girl," she said coaxingly, lowering the plate to the floor. The dog sniffed it carefully, then began to gobble—he obviously hadn't eaten in days.

"Poor girl," Mrs. Hudson crooned. "Left alone, were you?"

"Boy, actually," John said—"It's a male."

"Oh." Mrs. Hudson nodded. "Poor boy," she corrected herself.

Suddenly John remembered his groceries. "I seemed to have made a bit of a mess in the hall," he said apologetically. "If you could watch the dog a moment…"

"Of course, dear," Mrs. Hudson said, distracted watching the dog devour its lunch.

John slipped out and managed to scoop the groceries back into the bag. Hurrying upstairs, he thought of how to word his request. "Found a dog," he pictured himself saying. "So?" came the immediate imagined reply. Of course. Even in his imagination Sherlock always got the better of him.

"What is it?" Sherlock snapped as John stepped into the room.

John jumped and became immediately defensive. Of course his plan had been to ask Sherlock a favor, but that his flatmate was automatically assuming the second John entered the room—and that it was bound to be an unworthy request—set him on edge.

"Nothing," he said back to the pajama-ed man sprawled on the couch. "Just bringing in the groceries—anything wrong with that?"

"Not at all," Sherlock said. He rolled over to prop his elbows on the back of the couch, following John as he made his way to the kitchen. "But the manner in which you have been 'bringing them in' is rather suggestive of something's having happened."

Of course that was true but John found himself demanding "How so?"

Sherlock smirked. "First, there was something at the door holding you back. You had trouble opening it, which is unusual—"

"With an armload of groceries?"

"That typically you are able to balance without trouble. I could hear you struggling with the key." John noted the window was open to let in the summer breeze. Of course Sherlock would hear what had happened. "Furthermore, you called Mrs. Hudson's name as you entered, which you would not do unless seeking assistance for something. After which you dropped the groceries, and as you are usually more competent than that"— John had to remind himself that was a compliment—"there must have been something else demanding your attention that caused you to start. In that case it must be fairly pressing. And as you hurried away from Mrs. Hudson after that and up to me it is obviously something she could not resolve for you. Am I not right?"

John finished putting the groceries away and turned to stare at the smug detective. "So you heard me drop the groceries and didn't bother to come help me?" he demanded.

Sherlock waved a hand. "Obviously it didn't bother you that much, as you ran into the kitchen rather than cleaning the mess you'd made."

John couldn't smother his irritation. "Well, if you know all that, why don't you tell me what it is I want?"

"I deduce, John, I do not read minds."

"Well then, deduce what I want."

Sherlock leaped over the couch and grabbed John's arm to keep him from running. "There's the hairs of a small mammal on you shirt sleeve," he said. "And your pants are dirty at the knees from kneeling. You've been playing with someone's pet, perhaps you met a friend walking their dog and stooped to pet it? No—you don't have any friends. "He brushed off John's protest. "Don't dilute my train of thought! No, that doesn't explain the kitchen. Aha, you let it in the house, didn't you?" His look of triumph receded almost immediately, replaced by a furrowed brow, which was replaced almost as quickly by a hard glare.

"You're not keeping it," he said sullenly.

John broke free of his grip. "Never said we were," he shot back. "I just want you to look at it."

Sherlock scowled. "What for? Does it have a pressing case for me?"

"No, but—" John searched his mind. If he used the right words, it might intrigue his friend. "It is a mystery," he said tentatively.

Sherlock snorted. "I don't save lost pets. You ought to know that by now."

He always saw through him. "No, I mean, yes, I mean—" he sighed in frustration. "You had fun just now, didn't you? Figuring out what I wanted? Why not just stretch the deductive muscles a bit and find out where this dog came from?"

"What will it bring me?" Sherlock turned and flounced across the room. "Dogs are dull."

"It's a stray. It's lost. I just want to find its home."

"Try the pound."

"Sherlock," John said, exasperated, "it's not going to hurt you."

Sherlock sighed petulantly. "Perhaps it will be more interesting than you are," he said.

John leaned forward, surprised. "So you'll look?"

Sherlock rolled his eyes. "It will be so obvious," he muttered. "Honestly, what has happened to all the good murderers? I'm too efficient for my own good."

John didn't like that mutinous look, and the words he spoke were too similar to those spoken right before a certain criminal mastermind decided to blow up their flat just for fun. "Sherlock," John warned. "It's better than shooting the wall."

"In your opinion," Sherlock snapped back.

John glanced quickly at the wall but was relieved to see it had no new wounds. "Come on, Sherlock," he said. "Just do it for me—and then…"

"I'll be bored again." Sherlock growled in frustration. "Alright, it's better than nothing. Where is it?"

John relaxed. "In the kitchen."