Title: Yin and Yang
By: karaokegal Fandom: Elementary
Pairing: Joan Watson/Ms. Hudson
Characters: Joan Watson, Ms. Hudson, Marcus Bell, Sherlock Holmes, Tobias Gregson
Rating: PG13
Written for Dytabytes
Notes: Canon compliant through "On The Line." A million thanks to my hard-working betas rose_cat and beta_goddess.
Summary: Sherlock is out of town. Joan handles a murder and brings people together, maybe even herself and a certain divine muse.


"Hello, Ms. Hudson," Joan said. Their housekeeper was standing in the living room, tensely polishing Clyde's already shining shell. Joan glanced at her watch, but didn't mention the time.

"Joan! I didn't expect you to be up so late." It wasn't unusual for Ms. Hudson to show up long past midnight or to begin cleaning within minutes of her arrival. Joan had grown accustomed to coming downstairs for a morning run to find Sherlock's usual environment of frenzied chaos replaced by perhaps a bit too-neatly arranged order.

Tonight, things were different. For one thing, Joan was awake. She was learning to keep the same hours as the criminals (or "miscreants" as Sherlock would have it) that they were hunting and had been out past midnight tailing two suspects in a "murder for hire" conspiracy. Their attempt to up the ante with a blackmail scheme had ended predictably, although hiding the loot in a tapestry at The Cloisters was somewhat original. Sherlock might like that, if he were here, which he wasn't. Another anomaly, and the one that appeared to be the cause of the concern on Ms. Hudson's face.

"Where's Sherlock?" she asked, pursing her lips in a way that made Joan think she was resisting an impulse to chew on her lower lip in order not to disturb a recently applied coat of lipstick. Based on the time and the brief glimpse of a limousine receding into the darkness, Joan guessed that Ms. Hudson had just flown in, probably from somewhere in the mid-west. Although clearly upset, she'd still taken the time to perfect her mask of make-up.

Rather than sharing her deductions and probing for further details, as she suspected Sherlock would, she placed Clyde in his enclosure, greeted Ms. Hudson with a hug, and invited her into the kitchen for some of Alfredo's pear pancakes, along with a cup of the White Darjeeling that was always kept on hand for her.

Joan wasn't sure if Ms. Hudson and Alfredo had been properly (or improperly for that matter) introduced, but she operated on the assumption that they hadn't. Sherlock specialized in compartmentalization, the recent revelation of Mycroft's existence being a case in point. Alfredo had been her partner on the hunt for the killers that night, maneuvering the car through nighttime Manhattan like a sleek python.

The pancakes were a reward for both of them. Light and fluffy, sweet and filling, certainly a culinary miracle that Joan herself had never been capable of. Alfredo, it turned out, was a man of many talents, including the ability to suppress any surprise or untoward reaction he might have had to Ms. Hudson's entrance into the kitchen. He reacted to her looks as any living, breathing man or woman might and his smile reflected a properly appreciative attitude, but nothing lewd or derisive.

Instead he busied himself making a new batch of pancakes and explaining Sherlock's absence, saving Joan the bother of going through the whole thing again.

"Well, if I got this right," he said, running a Bartlett through the slicing mandolin, "Sherlock, he's off to Manchester, England, to present a paper to the British Beekeepers Association about his new breed that he named after Joan here."

Joan nodded modestly. She'd been genuinely touched by Sherlock's gesture and perhaps the formal registering of Euglassia Watsonia would turn out to be her greatest claim to fame.

"What I still don't get," Alfredo continued, as he sifted flour into a mixing bowl, "is how come you ain't on the plane with him, Doc."

Joan sighed, trying to hide her irritation with the question, which she knew came from her own doubts about her role in Sherlock's life. Last time, he'd made it clear that he needed her to accompany him, using the possibility of an obese seat-mate to cover up the reality of his dependence on her.

Now, just a few months later, Joan's passport was safely tucked away in a desk drawer, and Sherlock was on his way back to whatever emotional perils and temptations lay in the land of his birth without his Sober Companion-turned-partner.

"He's not alone," she explained, as much to herself as to Alfredo and Miss Hudson. "Captain Gregson has an aunt in Ireland, County Durham, I think, and he had vacation time, and Sherlock felt...he thought..."

Ms. Hudson nodded, maybe a bit too sympathetically. It made sense of course. Anyone could fill the seat next to Sherlock and save him from the curse of the bloated tourist, but the choice of Captain Gregson left Joan wondering exactly what sort of amends Sherlock felt he still owed the Captain, raising certain suspicions about the nature of their relationship at Scotland Yard. The fact that Sherlock claimed to be rethinking his views on "partnership," if not his actual disdain for institutional monogamy, made the timing curious as well. Was this a way for Captain Gregson to continue giving his wife the space she needed, or was it an acknowledgement that no amount would be enough?

The fact that she'd been left in the States while Sherlock presented what Joan had come to think of as her bee, also made her wonder if Sherlock wanted her separated from his brother by an ocean and as many miles as possible. If she ever had the opportunity to meet the senior Holmes in person, she would use every deduction technique she'd learned from Sherlock to find out what on earth he'd done to create such animosity between two equally gifted, if disparately motivated, sons.

At that moment, the batter hit the griddle, filling the kitchen with sizzle, steam, and the delicious aroma of pear slices.

Talk was replaced by cooking sounds and then appreciative reactions, although Joan imagined that Ms. Hudson's thoughts were already on the post pancake-orgy clean-up. Although maybe she was giving the OCD too much credit. Perhaps Ms. Hudson had been on personal business in the Chicago area, which was now concluded, allowing her to fulfill her professional obligation as Sherlock's housekeeper, and the odd hour was just a quirk, rather than a symptom of a new upset.

That was sensible, pragmatic Dr. Joan Watson talking. The voice of reason was quickly drowned out by the voice of Sherlock, wondering what new drama had appeared in Ms. Hudson's complicated personal life and whether there was a mystery involved that might engage his intellect.

"Shut up," she muttered, only realizing that she'd said it out loud when both Ms. Hudson and Alfredo stared at her.

"What?" Alfredo demanded, belligerently, "You don't think Bullitt has the best fucking car chase ever? Sorry, Ms. Hudson."

"No problem," she replied, looking more genuinely relaxed than she'd been since her arrival. "The chase is brilliant, it's just physically impossible. I've been to San Francisco. I've even been in those tunnels under San Francisco General, where they filmed part of it."

She stopped for a second, leading Joan to make some immediate guesses about what exactly Ms. Hudson had been doing at San Francisco General, and even which surgeons might have been involved. This time, she stifled the Sherlock impulse without a verbal ejaculation.

"Anyway, it can't be done."

Alfredo demanded proof, and thus, despite the approaching dawn, and Joan's yawning, the big screen in the living room was soon showing Steve McQueen in all his cigarette-smoking, cool-to-the-point-of-frigidity glory. Joan found herself more intrigued by the corruption and chicanery attributed to the politicians and higher echelons of the San Francisco Police Department, with a fleeting thought for the appeal of Jacqueline Bisset, before the day and night caught up with her. She fell asleep long before the chase scene under discussion made its appearance. Presumably Ms. Hudson and Alfredo, being longer-standing denizens of the night, did a better job.

All she knew when she awoke was that they were both still there, Ms. Hudson in Sherlock's "thinking chair," and Alfredo wedged in the corner of the couch. It looked as though he'd taken care to make sure there was plenty of space between himself and Joan, and yet her feet hand ended up in his lap.

Luckily, there was no time to express any awkwardness , as the immediate need was to answer the rude, insistent door-bell. Joan blinked and stretched, finding an annoying knot just under her right clavicle. She also noticed that her cell phone was buzzing, which told her it wasn't just a door-bell, but Detective Bell outside. A case, presumably, and she wasn't exactly covering herself in glory as Sherlock's second (if only) in command.

"Sorry," she said, when she finally got to the door, and wondered briefly if perhaps he and Gregson shouldn't have keys as well. They both seemed to be there enough, and there was that odd closeness between Sherlock and Gregson...

"Man, I should really Tweet a picture of this. Worst slumber party ever."

She tried not to smirk, although there was something about Bell's state of nearly perpetual aggravation with everything having to do with Sherlock that tended to amuse her.
"Bullitt," she said, by way of explanation.

"Right. I like The Getaway better myself. We got a murder downtown. Might be up Holmes' alley. If he's not too preoccupied making popcorn or something."

"He's not here," she said, wondering why Bell didn't know that, assuming he did know where his own superior was. Wouldn't he know that Gregson and Sherlock were en route to...no, by now they'd have arrived at Heathrow.

"Yeah, everybody's taking a little vacay, I guess. You want in on this? It's kind of gross."
She didn't remind him of her medical credentials, since they didn't formally exist anymore, and she was learning that while her experience and education helped, they didn't always give her any additional insight into the case or pathologies at hand.

"Let's go. Where is it?"

"Not that far. It's Grimaldi's Pizza."

"Yum," Joan replied, only half ironically. Sherlock mostly lived on delivered food, and Joan had decided that Grimaldi's was the best in their section of Brooklyn, although it was just far enough away that they charged extra for delivery.

"Yeah, well, it's a little early for pizza and this might just kill your appetite."

"Is it Grimaldi's or Juliana's?" asked Ms. Hudson, who in the time that Joan had been talking to Bell, had managed to shake, brush and mascara herself into whatever condition she deemed necessary to face the public.

"That's part of the...who are you, exactly?"

"This is Ms. Hudson. She's a friend of Sherlock's," Joan said. It sounded insufficient. "She's our housekeeper," Joan finished, thinking the truest bit sounded the lamest.

"Excuse me, Detective, I am sorry to interrupt, but I have a great fondness for Grimaldi's pizza. Patsy and I share an interest in Roman architecture from the post-Claudian era. I was actually going to see him last night; I had a craving. But I got sidetracked. It's not Patsy, is it?"

At least she didn't mention the pancakes, which for all Joan knew never had been cleaned up.

"No, it's not Patsy, but if you're a friend, you might want to tell him that clamming up isn't the way to go."

"I'll see what I can do."

Joan rode to the crime scene with Bell, who gave her some background on the "pizza war" that had been brewing under the Brooklyn Bridge ever since Patsy Grimaldi retired and Frank Ciolli purchased Grimaldi's Pizza.

"Apparently Patsy got tired of shuffleboard in Miami," Bell said, glancing back at the Renault that was tailing them a little too effortlessly through the Brooklyn traffic.

"Your friend's good," he added drily, doing an admirable job of not asking questions about either Alfredo or Ms. Hudson.

Joan appreciated his tact and decided to let Bell know that she was already up to speed on the pizza situation.

"Patsy comes out of retirement, opens up business two doors down as Juliana's and things get ugly," she said. "As far as I know it's mostly been legal stuff. Injunctions and lawsuits."

Bell let out one of his patented sighs.

"Mostly legal, but it's been heating up...Patsy's been sending his guys over to Grimaldi's trying to get people to come over to Juliana's. Lots of name calling, most of it Italian. Some gestures you may be familiar with. Then shipments getting hiacked from one to the other and tomato sauce in the streets."

"Better than blood," Joan commented.

"This sure ain't."

They'd arrived at the end of Fulton Street where a small crowd of curious onlookers were craning their necks to see past a police cordon. The deceased had been covered, but apparently that wasn't keeping representatives of both establishments from communicating mostly in those gestures that Bell had mentioned.

Although not as widespread as the battles over "Ray's Famous" and "Ray's Original", the situation on Fulton Street had certainly gotten ugly, in a way that only a Sicillian vendetta could.
Speaking of ugly...

Bell escorted Joan to the body and indicated to the ME that their victim should be revealed. She'd been expecting something reminiscent of the Godfather, perhaps an overabundance of bullet holes or the distinctive marks of a garroting. None of that would have been particularly disturbing, a fact that was disturbing in itself, she now realized.

"Wow!" she exclaimed when the corpse was uncovered.

Sherlock was going to be sorry he'd missed this. Joan resisted the temptation to send a picture just to rub it in. He might take one look and solve the whole thing from a single hair fiber and Joan was determined to solve this one on her own.

She shook her head and tried to absorb the details of what she was looking at.

The deceased appeared to be suffering from an extreme case of eczema, which Joan at first took to be acne scarring from his recent adolescence. The discoloration that had spread over nearly every inch of exposed skin, but that wouldn't account for the missing extremities. The right hand and the lower left leg had been reduced to gangrenous stumps. The victim was face up and the eyes...they were bloodshot, but also held a vacancy that could have been just the emptiness of death, but seemed deader than dead, if such a thing were possible. The flesh closest to the stumps had the kind of track marks she'd expect to find on a hard-core junkie. What she didn't see was anything that would connect this corpse to the bad blood engendered by Patsy Grimaldi's return to the pizza business.

The cops would run that down, of course. And then there was Ms. Hudson, and her somewhat tenuous connection to the case, or at least to Patsy. That bore some consideration, but also some distance. She could see Mr. Grimaldi in the back seat of a police car, shaking his head emphatically while Ms. Hudson spoke to him.

Joan and Bell exchanged glances, followed by shrugs.

"Who found the body?" she asked.

Bell shook his head.

"Anonymous tip. Italian accent," he said, drily.


She wondered if this case was starting with any information besides the distinctive state of the victim. Sherlock relished those mysteries above all others, but Joan preferred to have a bit more to go on than a corpse that appeared to have been eating itself from the inside.

"Plenty. License and cards say he's Forrest Armbruster."

Joan almost expected the name to be followed by a number. Very old money, by the sound of it. Not the sort one would imagine ending up like this, or here.


"Yeah, I know, but the ID matches what's left of him." She raised her eyebrows. Their victim's face wasn't in much better shape than the extremities. "There's not much left for prints, but we're checking dental records right now. Man, I'd hate to be the family member who has to identify him."

"Do we know cause of death?"

It felt like an odd question, but Sherlock had taught her to take nothing for granted.

"ME says no bullets, no stabs, but he'll need to do a full exam plus tox screen."

That made sense, especially the tox screen. She was already forming a hypothesis as to what it might turn up.

"What was he doing down here?" she asked, expecting and getting some sass from Detective Bell.

"Being dead, mostly." It was Joan's turn for an eye roll. "Well, that's where the Pizza Man comes in. The body was found in front of Juliana's and when the uniforms came around for a chat, Mr. Grimaldi went all Omerta on them. He hasn't lawyered up yet, but he did a full banshee act when he saw our friend here. Then he stopped talking. So far we got no connection except proximity, but something's definitely hinky. What the hell could do that to someone?"

'Hinky' barely touched it, but Joan didn't feel the need to unload all her deductions the second they occurred to her. She knew Sherlock found it especially gratifying to show up the police, most of whom he held in contempt, at the scene of the crime, but it also alienated the same personnel he occasionally needed for the case at hand. Even though Sherlock was usually right, he could be led astray by a mixture of intelligence and hubris. Joan had a good idea what had happened, but needed more information to be sure. For instance, the connection between a pizza feud in Brooklyn and something far more sinister with criminal roots in Chicago and chemical ones in the West Indies.

"When you're sure this is Armbruster, you should check to see if he's been out of the country lately."

"I don't think this guy could have gotten past TSA without raising a few flags," Bell pointed out.

"It depends on how long he's looked like that."

"True. OK, so am I looking for him to have been any place in particular?"

Joan tried to keep the exhilaration of crime-solving out of her voice. She was sure she was right, but just in case...

"Maybe Barbados or the Dominican Republic."

Bell stood his ground without moving or replying. Maybe he was waiting for her to do a "full Sherlock" on him, complete with arcane mythological references or some bit of trivia relating to the political history of the Caribbean.

"You look a lot cuter being coy than Holmes does."

Joan chose not to be offended. She liked Bell and could only imagine the frustration of working with Sherlock and now being saddled with his neophyte partner.

"Thanks," she replied, then decided there was no reason to be all that cagey. "Once we know where..."

She was interrupted by the striking sight of Ms. Hudson running over from the police car, which shouldn't have looked nearly as graceful as it did, considering the tight skirt and high heels. Joan shared a moment of appreciation with Detective Bell before Ms. Hudson arrived with the news that Patsy Grimaldi was now willing to make a statement.

Since her theory of the case had Patsy as a very minor player, Joan declined the offer to sit in on the interview. Again, she got the sense of Bell being shocked by all the ways she wasn't Sherlock. She hoped he'd hurry up and get used to it.

What she wanted was to get back to the brownstone. There were some emails and medical journals she needed to access. Bell would quickly realize this had nothing to do with pizza and Patsy would be free to go, and hopefully confide more fully in Ms. Hudson, who could then divulge the information that would give Joan the full picture of how young Forrest Armbruster had ended up in his current state.

Speaking of pizza, she really could use a slice, but this might not be the time, or at least not the place.

"So what are you thinking?" Bell asked, giving her one last chance to dazzle him with her insight, or maybe make his interview with Patsy Grimaldi a little easier.

"I'm hungry," she answered honestly.


"Can't deduce on an empty stomach. Let me know how the interrogation goes."

Sherlock would be appalled on both scores, but the cat was away and Joan couldn't help enjoying the reactions she was getting to her own way of rolling.

She walked away from the crime scene, secure in her deductions and with a craving for chicken parmigiana, which had long been a comfort food, going back to the days when her mother would make an approximation for her during long study sessions. It was nothing like "real" Italian food, but it was different enough from the family's usually meals to be special.

There was a small place a block from the brownstone called Giovanni's. The ambiance was extremely "old school" New York and Sherlock had once rendered his most scathing verdict of "adequate," but it served Joan's purposes, with comfortable booths and, in their one concession to modernity, WiFi. The obligatory Sinatra and Jerry Vale music was played at levels that wouldn't disturb her work and there were hardly any customers. Ever. So either they did a booming take-out business or it was a mob front, but neither concerned her.

Joan did take a moment to wonder what Mycroft would think. He had a refined palate, but also a generous heart, although perhaps not when it came to a restaurant so very different from his own ideal. She smiled at the thought of Mycroft, then tucked it away in the section of her mind currently reserved for pleasant memories with a question mark next to them.

For now there was the case, centering on the horrible condition of Forrest Armbruster and what might have caused it. She'd immediately been reminded of emails she'd received and mostly ignored a few months earlier. They'd all come from "friends" from her days at Hofstra who'd apparently never lost the med school student's obsession with grossing out the general population as thoroughly as possible.

What could be more effective in that department than a drug with the catchy name of krokodil (pronounced "crocodile"), and the even more alarming epithet of "zombie drug?" According to articles that had been forwarded, the drug was actually called desomorphine, and it was an extremely addictive, injectable opioid. That alone gave her a bit of a shudder, seeing as far into the heart of the junkie as she had. She knew what people had been driven to, just to obtain standard street heroin. Krokodil added several layers of horror to the usual addiction narrative. Even its name - which came about, at least in part, because users reported black or green scaly skin as a side effect - was horrific.

The first batches had been created by combining codeine with easily available chemicals like iodine, hydrochloric acid and paint thinner.

Other details gleaned from medical journals and tabloids included the fact that five people had been hospitalized in the Chicago suburb of Joliet with symptoms similar to cases reported by health care providers in Arizona and Oklahoma. One patient had lost most of her legs, and the photos bore a striking resemblance to what Joan had seen that morning at the crime scene, although not so much the scaliness. That didn't matter. She was sure that whatever turned up in Forrest Armbruster's blood, it wouldn't be the original krokodil, but some newer, more potent, and far more deadly version.

Krokodil had come out of the kitchen and was about to hit the streets of New York in a big way, unless Joan could find out who'd put it into Forrest Armbruster and stop them.

She said a silent thanks that Sherlock had managed to get clean before this particular temptation became available. Between his generally addictive personality and the possible thrill associated with trying something so extreme, she wasn't sure that he would have been able to resist if the drug had shown up when he still believed that chemically altering his consciousness with anything stronger than Oolong was an option.

At that point, her chicken parmigiana and a Diet Coke arrived. She chose to focus her attention there. Eating a few meals with Mycroft had been a revelation in the appreciation of food, as much as working with Sherlock had opened her mind to seeing the world in a different, if sometimes disturbing way. Sherlock would pooh-pooh the idea of taking any amount of her consciousness away from the case at hand for any amount of time, whereas Mycroft would wonder why she should concern herself with something quite as seedy and potentially dangerous when there was a world of sensory pleasures to experience, not the least of which were the ones they'd shared in his flat, as well as the cold pressed duck in a Chardonnay reduction they'd enjoyed afterwards.

The brothers were so very different that they were nearly a perfect distillation of yin-yang, leaving her to muse again on their upbringing and what exactly the elusive Mr. Holmes had done to produce this result. Nature, nurture, potato, patahto? She had her eyes closed, savoring the richness of the parmiagana and letting her other concerns percolate on a mental back-burner when she became aware she was being looked at. Not feeling particularly threatened, she did a mental exercise that Sherlock had taught her to try and deduce from other senses who the watcher might be. The scent made it almost too easy, but a certain faint jingling of a nervously rattled bracelet was the actual clincher.

"Hello, Ms. Hudson."

Joan opened her eyes to verify her deduction and practice the art of not looking smug. Ms. Hudson didn't seem inclined to notice. She was probably used to Sherlock pulling off various feats of mental acrobatics, although "not looking smug" wasn't part of his repertoire.

"Joan, I...."

"Please sit down. Would you like to order something? You said you'd wanted pizza."

Joan stopped herself. She was going to ask some questions that were likely to be uncomfortable and she honestly hated the idea of causing Ms. Hudson any pain. It couldn't be avoided; the investigation had to come first.

"What really brought you to New York?"
Ms. Hudson nodded, but didn't answer. Clearly Joan had jumped to the salient point. There was a connection between Ms. Hudson's arrival at the brownstone and what had landed in front of Juliana's.

Before Ms. Hudson had even arranged herself comfortably in the seat opposite, a waiter was hovering with a menu and his pad at the ready. Without bothering to look at the menu, Ms. Hudson rattled off something in Italian and Joan thought she might be seeing cartoon hearts and flowers coming out of the waiter's eyes. He hurried away, clearly willing to hop a jet to Milan or anywhere else in order to provide his new customer with her culinary desire. It was quite an effect, one that Ms. Hudson was clearly aware of -- perhaps the greatest of her many gifts.

Or maybe she was just worried. She twisted a noticeably sparkly ring around her fingers and then rattled the bracelet again. Luckily, her earrings were studs, rather than chandeliers, or they would have been the next target.

Joan broke the silence. "How was the interview?"

"You mean the interrogation?"

Joan hadn't thought they'd be especially hard on Patsy Grimaldi, assuming he told the truth about his small part in the krokodil trade and led them to the major dealer, but maybe Ms. Hudson was protective of her friend.

"Was it bad?"

Ms. Hudson sighed. "No, not really. He's just not happy about telling tales. He's never been involved in anything criminal, no matter what people assume about Italians, especially his generation. Obviously he knows who's who and what's what and there's been plenty of made men who like his pizza and wanted a piece of the action, but he says he's always been legit."

Joan avoided making any comment, using her garlic bread to sop up the sauce that was eluding her fork. Even in her formative years, there was still enough prejudice and misinformation for a few schoolmates to assume that her stolidly upper-middle class family had doings with some sinister tong. Not to mention the out and out idiots who'd asked if she was in the Yakuza. On the other hand, there were friends of family friends who did have criminal connections either in the States or back in China, so nothing was impossible.

A plate of something sizzling and garlicky appeared, along with a generous glass of wine, and Joan gave Ms. Hudson time to eat while managing to keep a single drop or smear from ruining her perfectly applied make-up. On close observation, this included lip liner, a bright red matte lipstick, base, blusher, well blended eye-shadow and mascara. It went without saying that her red nail polish didn't show a single chip. Joan's mother would have heartily approved, although perhaps not if she knew all the details. Although, to be honest, her mother had surprised her many times in the past year with what she would accept.

It was almost reassuring to hear the faintest burp, and share Ms. Hudson's slightly embarrassed smile.

"You're being very patient."

The unspoken point was that Sherlock wouldn't have been. Joan decided that was her cue to move things along.

"It's krokodil, isn't it?"

Ms. Hudson smiled appreciatively, and even though Joan knew it was about her having made the intellectual jump, there was something about the smile that made her feel a bit warmer than she had been, even after a hearty dish of Italian food.

"It was krokodil. Now it's....well, someone thinks it's funny to call it Alligator, but there's nothing amusing about it. And I wanted to stop the whole thing, but I just....there was a friendship at stake. A family. People who care about each other."

"The Armbrusters?"

"And the Grimaldis. They go back a long way. Back to Chicago. Back to Naples. Back to ancient Rome possibly. I've seen carvings that reminded me of them, but that's just my romantic feminine nature overwhelming my academic rigor."

Joan found Ms. Hudson's voice, with the slight emotional quaver, extremely compelling, but she needed to put that aside, as Sherlock would.

"What happened?"

"It's an odd series of events, starting with a brilliant chemist in Kiev. She's been trying to emigrate, but ran into trouble with the new regime and ended up seeking assistance from the Russian Mafia, who put her in touch with some associates in Chicago who needed a problem solved regarding a new drug they wanted to bring to market sooner rather than later."

They could have been discussing a legitimate pharmaceutical, rather than a deadly, addictive poison, and Joan was well aware that the ethics involved weren't all that different. When a drug company screwed up, there was legal recourse; when something went bad in the underworld...grotesque bodies ended up on the streets of Brooklyn.

"What's the connection to the Armbrusters?"

"A good and dear friend of mine, one of my patrons. Vanessa Carlyle, who was born Vanichaya Migatrofsky and was a third cousin once removed to the chemist, Sondra. They thought maybe Sondra could come over as an arranged marriage with one of the Armbruster boys, and the thugs in Odessa would expedite the papers."

Joan could see where this was going, and depressingly enough, where it had gone.

"In return for a small favor?"

"Yes, they needed this formula tweaked, which Sondra, being brilliant, was able to do, but Forrest, I knew him, he was a beautiful boy once, he was so weak, and....oh god, Joan, I just wanted to get to New York and tell Sherlock, so he could stop the whole thing, and now it's too late."

She wanted to be strong, the way she thought Sherlock would be. It was too late for Forrest, but not too late to bring down the rest of the operation and hopefully extricate Sondra from the worst of it. Ms. Hudson was trying to be strong too, but Joan saw a tremor reflected in the swirl of a wineglass and the incipient quiver in Ms. Hudson's perfectly outlined lower lip.

"We can still make this right. Who is the New York distributor?"

"I don't know."

Ms. Hudson's pain in her failure was evident. Joan wanted so much to alleviate it that for a second she felt herself truly channeling Sherlock in all his rude and sometimes brutal eccentricity. She closed her eyes and made everything vanish except the facts of the case, including the personalities, history and traumas of those involved... and then it all made sense, and for once she understood why Sherlock felt he had to be such a prick to do what he did. He was wrong, of course, but hopefully she'd have the time it took to convince him it was possible to be a great detective and a decent human being. She could put the Sherlock yin and the Mycroft yang together.

"That's OK. I do."

Ms. Hudson's smile and raised glass were nearly reward enough, but she couldn't bask. Instead, she was on her feet, ringing Bell and not minding in the least that she'd been completely wrong about Forrest Armbruster's recent itinerary. He'd been to Ukraine and Belarus, trying to save Sondra, but losing his sanity and eventually his life in the process.

Once the damage was done, he'd been transported and dropped in a place where suspicion would fall at the almost-right-but-completely-wrong door and everyone would know not to mess with the new King of the New York Streets.

Patsy might appreciate the irony, except that Frank Ciolli had once been a good friend. Business had come between them, and Patsy honestly thought that giving Frank a commission on a new kind of delivery would help make things right. He hadn't realized that he was being set up and that Frank would let a horrible drug be distributed from Grimaldi's just to prove who was the bigger man... and maybe taint the Grimaldi's name a bit more.

"How do we prove it?" Bell asked, sounding aggrieved, or maybe just confused. Joan understood. It was how she used to feel watching Sherlock come to what sounded like some ludicrous conclusion based on what seemed like the thinnest shards of evidence, and expecting everyone to follow him down the Yellow Brick Road, arm in arm, when they couldn't see the actual road, much less the Emerald City.

"Follow the rainbow over the stream...."

She stopped herself before that came out of her mouth, feeling as if the seasoning in her chicken parmigiana was something stronger than oregano.

"The Armbrusters of this world don't take taxi-cabs from JFK, even if they're strung out on a zombie drug. There was a limo to meet him at baggage claim and whoever made that reservation knew what was about to happen and why. They held him until the drugs finished him off and then made the drop. I think that car service will lead right back to the Brooklyn Bridge."

Bell sighed over the work ahead, but he could probably see the case being put to bed by the end of the day.

"You're narrating your own cases now."

"Someone has to do it."

"Maybe you need a muse."

Joan wasn't sure that was a proper use of the term. It still made her smile, because there was a muse she needed to see, once she knew that Patsy Grimaldi had been released and the Case of the Krokodil laid to rest. It would be nice to bring the movie-watching group of the previous night back together. She liked having a family-like group around her again. Maybe she could add one more.

"Uh, Detective Bell, would you like to drop by tonight? Bring a Steve McQueen movie."

His reticence was palpable even through the imperfect medium of the cell phone, and yet at nine that night, he was in Sherlock's big chair with his shoes off, enjoying a bowl of garlic/chili popcorn and a Budweiser, along with McQueen's performance opposite Paul Newman and the best pyrotechnics the 70's had to offer.

Alfredo appeared to be half asleep in spite of the surround-sound effect of a burning building, but by that point they'd already watched all of The Great Escape and started The Towering Inferno haven given up early on The Sand Pebbles. Even Ms. Hudson had to admit that the charms of Steve weren't enough to redeem such a boring script.

Joan and Ms. Hudson had their own bowl of popcorn where their fingers occasionally met. Joan didn't think much of it the accidental contact or the way their shoulders kept pressing together,until she realized that without her or the others noticing, Ms. Hudson had taken her hand and delicately placed Joan's pinkie in her mouth, licking it clean of the hot, salty, pungent coating in an act that was either kittenishly innocent or completely provocative. It certainly produced a sigh, but Joan felt like she was watching herself rather than giving in to the experience. The whole thing felt more like a dorm party than anything particularly naughty or erotic. Maybe some privacy was called for.

She looked at Ms. Hudson through lowered lashes and they stood as one, Joan retrieving her hand in the process.

Bell had the remote, but when he raised his eyebrows, Joan shook her head. The Inferno could continue without her.

She walked to the kitchen.

Ms. Hudson followed, still wearing her heels, while Joan was barefoot, which made her feel even shorter, and younger and more vulnerable: things she generally worked hard not to let the world see.

When they were alone, with the faint hum of the refrigerator and the coffee-maker's burble and a flickering light from across the street that Joan didn't know why she was noticing at the moment, Ms. Hudson took a single step closer.

"I'd like to kiss you," she said, softly.

"What about your lipstick?"

Not the most romantic thing that had ever come out her mouth, but it made Ms. Hudson smile and that made Joan smile, and suddenly the whole thing felt a bit less fraught.

"What about yours?" Ms. Hudson shot back, and Joan had forgotten she was wearing any. Joan generally put what she thought was a reasonable amount of time into her physical appearance, but as a doctor and now as an investigator there were times when the urgency of a situation meant going out sans make-up and wearing the clothing nearest to hand. She couldn't imagine Ms. Hudson doing any such thing. Perhaps they were yin and yang as well.

She was certainly attracted as one could only be to an opposite; in this case physically pulled into the embrace, and then the kiss itself, slightly overwhelmed by the richness of sensory information. Ms. Hudson's perfume, a deep floral tang, the expected waxy lipstick with its faintly acrid taste, and then the very moment she managed to shut off deduction and enjoy the lips and tongues touching, tasting, meeting, melding and melting, as if her body and brain had surrendered totally to the experience and there was certain deep need rising within her, a shudder that didn't want to stop.

Joan felt herself clinging to Ms. Hudson's broad shoulders, moving her fingers over the beautifully defined scapula, and yet being pushed ever so slightly away at the same time. She would have protested, but in the second it took to force open her eyes, she already knew what had happened. They'd been seen, and not by Alfredo or even Bell.

She didn't particularly want to see the smirk on Sherlock's face or the painful mixture of embarrassment and titillation on Gregson's, but the only way around this was brazen effrontery, a phrase she must have picked up from Sherlock at some point.

"Sherlock. You're back. How were the beekeepers?"

"Tedious, but laudatory. Euglassia Watsonia will be featured in the next issue of The Beekeeper's Quarterly."

"Am I going to have a cover bee?"

"Yes, I suppose you will. I must say Watson, I am rather disappointed in your behavior."

Joan was building up a head of steam to tell Sherlock off, suddenly not feeling the least bit vulnerable. His snide comments about her relationship with Mycroft were bad enough, but if two consenting females, neither of whom was an actual relative of Sherlock's, wanted to have a snog, as he might call it, in the kitchen, what business of it was his?

She looked over at Ms. Hudson, who had her arms crossed in a defensive posture, but seemed inclined to give no quarter. Joan smiled to herself. Sherlock Holmes was about to find out that women didn't have to be criminal masterminds to be formidable.

"My behavior?" she repeated, drawing out the word with all the sarcasm and defiance she could muster.

"Yes. I thought that Captain Gregson could use a hot cup of coffee following our long flight and upon our arrival here, Detective Bell briefed me on the Armbruster case. You had a situation where the condition of the body alone would have easily piqued my interest, not to mention the dramatic back-story, replete with pizza, blood feuds and chemical innovation, and yet you left me completely out of the picture. Really, Watson, how could you?"

Joan narrowed her eyes. Another phrase she'd learned from Mycroft, was "taking the piss" and this whole spiel could be a classic example of Sherlock doing just that. Either way, he was focusing on the case and not on the kiss. Perhaps it was time to be grateful for small favors.

"I didn't want to bother you while you were having a moment of glory." A minute look of concern passed between Sherlock and Gregson. "With the beekeepers, I mean."

"It sounds like Ms. Watson had the situation under control," Gregson said, taking a cup of coffee from Ms. Hudson. Joan winced. The coffee had been made much earlier in an evening that was now a late night. On the other hand, it might be better than what he was used to at the station. It might also be a prop to keep the conversation on mundane matters. "Bell is going to brief DEA tomorrow morning and they've asked for Ms. Watson to be there."

"A triumph all around then," Sherlock announced, a hint of pride in his voice.

Two for two, Joan thought. Feeling emboldened on all fronts.

Gregson declined an invitation to join the McQueen-athon, and the party broke up shortly after the final cataclysm of special effects took the building down along with everyone but Newman and McQueen, the icons who would survive everything.

Bell offered Gregson a ride home, and Alfredo roused himself up and out the door, after mentioning that he and Sherlock were due at a meeting in Crown Heights the following morning. Joan wondered what the odds were that Sherlock would actually make it, before reminding herself that getting Sherlock's ass into those seats was no longer her primary function in life.

Sherlock was already making himself comfortable in the chair recently vacated by Detective Bell, absent mindedly picking up a bowl of popcorn and grabbing the nearest manuscript from the couch, one of Ms. Hudson's galleys, in this case the latest opus by Richard Castle. Joan imagined that if Sherlock made it past the first page, his howls of indignation would be heard in Queens.

Ms. Hudson had, perhaps instinctively, starting bringing order to the living room yet again, although how much she could accomplish with Sherlock there remained to be seen. Joan knew the next move was hers. To invite Ms. Hudson up to her room, to bid her good-night, or to take them both to a place safely out of Sherlock's nearly supersonic hearing.

She decided against it. The night with Mycroft had been magical and she didn't regret a minute, in spite of Sherlock's attitude. However a second relationship with someone Sherlock might consider a quasi-family member probably wasn't the best idea. The kiss could be relived, relished, and used as a springboard for a more elaborate fantasy, at least for the time being.

"Good night, Sherlock. Good night, Ms. Hudson."

She tried to shake memories of Walton's reruns and "Goodnight Moon" readings from her mind as she went upstairs. Those were not the images she wanted right now.

Locking the door was pointless if Sherlock really wanted to get in, but generally he saved his little invasions for the early morning hours, so she felt safe risking it, and she'd already learned to be quiet if she wished to keep any modicum of privacy for her personal pleasures.

Soon she was brushed, flossed and in bed with a few friendly toys, which did the trick without the need for batteries and the possible sounds that electronics might generate.

All right, Ms. Hudson. Where were we, exactly?"