(Happy Birthday Mel! - from Triple E, your best friend)

For all of Holmes' determination, he was not the one to next meet his elusive oddity. That honor fell to the good Doctor Watson, who returned home from the surgery to find three street urchins waiting in the stairwell. Mrs. Hudson was keeping a stern eye on them that they did not track mud about, nor make off with anything valuable, though even the matron could not help but glance with concern at the red stains on the sleeves of the younger and smaller boys. Watson's first thought had been that they were there for Holmes, given that the tallest boy was one he would have called one of Wiggins' lieutenants in the Baker Street Irregulars, but the injury brought to mind the second consideration that his own skills might be in need.

Mrs. Hudson greeted him with a relieved nod. "Doctor. These were waiting for you," she confirmed his thoughts. "Will you be needing anything else?"

"No, thank you, Mrs. Hudson, that should be all. Thank you for waiting," Watson said absentmindedly, already ushering the three boys upstairs to his and Holmes' rooms as he recalled the state of his medical bag. The doctor was running low on plasters, but he'd restocked his antiseptic that very morning. "I don't recall these two, Samson. Are they recent additions to the Irregulars?" he asked as he closed the door to the living area behind them.

"Nah, Doctor," Samson replied. Watson was amused to note the way one of the strange boys, the one with startlingly bright blond hair, pointedly nudged the smallest boy to sit down on the settee. Once upon a time, Watson would have winced at the thought of the none-too-clean boys sitting on Mrs. Hudson's furniture, but said furniture had already undergone nearly everything Holmes could throw at it and survived mostly intact. A little dirt would not hurt it, though he would need to remember to take especial in cleaning their wounds. "They run wit' t' Tottenham Boys, owed a mate a favour an' bringin' 'em here is squarin' t' deal."

"I see." Watson moved towards the settee himself, intending to kneel to tend to the boys and already anticipating the ache that his leg would take up later that night. Instead he found that he could not take another step, as the blond child's gaze swiveled at his movement and pinned him in his tracks. His eyes were remarkably blue, wary and nearly feral as they studied the man carefully, and Watson was surprised to find he did not feel safe to move until they softened and the boy stepped away from the settee. He nodded once to the doctor, and then gestured towards his companion and the settee's open seat.

Understanding that he was meant to treat the younger boy first, Watson hastily sat and deployed his medical bag. Gratitude for the consideration- for he had seen the boy's gaze linger on his leg and the old war wound concealed by his trousers- warred with wariness, as Watson kept a careful eye on the boy in turn. For a moment, he had felt as dangerous as any man as Watson had ever known, and in a life spent frequently in the company of Sherlock Holmes, he had met many of London's more dangerous residents. While Watson found the boy's protectiveness of his companion to be commendable, given that the second urchin could be no more than nine years of age, nevertheless the doctor would not turn his back to him this night.

The wound was revealed to be a dog's bite, teeth marks clearly showing in both skin and clothing. Some of the punctures had already ceased to bleed, and Watson was forced have the child suffer their reopening to be cleansed. The boy might have squirmed away, protesting the sting of the iodine, but blue eyes stared at him until his movements subsided. Then Watson was wrapping the thankfully shallow wound with clean bandages, wishing idly that he might have the blond boy for an assistant with some of his more fractious patients at the surgery.

That task completed, he turned next to the blond, who shook his head. "I am not hurt," he said in slow, heavily-accented but clear English, and Watson was startled to note for the first time the unusual slant to those blue eyes that indicated he was not the native that Watson had first assumed. Something about that description seemed briefly familiar to him, but the thought was passing, as his irritation was a more compelling emotion.

"Come now, I can see the blood and the tearing in your sleeve," Watson protested sternly, catching the boy's eyes with his own. Dangerous or not, Watson would not allow anyone, let alone a young boy, to go with a wound untreated. Given the boy's likely living conditions, it would be septic inside two days.

"Not my blood," the boy replied, shaking his head again and gesturing to his companion. Watson assumed that he was meant to believe that the blood had transferred in the course of helping the other urchin, but he refused to believe. One could not spend much time in the company of the famous detective without picking up a few observational skills of their own, and he could very clearly determine that the tearing in the sleeve had to have resulted in similar wounds.

"Nevertheless, I would prefer to examine the area to be sure," Watson said, preparing to rise from the settee if the boy refused again. Any reply, however, was cut off as the door downstairs slammed closed, and footsteps raced up the stairs. Holmes burst through the door, a sheaf of papers within his hands, and he hardly slowed at the sight of Watson accompanied by three street urchins. Only his long experience with Holmes let Watson catch the way his eyes flick over his medical bag and the freshly-applied bandage, and understand how the detective reached the undoubtedly simple conclusion of the evening's events. Somewhat more surprising was the startled glance of recognition Holmes gave the blond, but Watson was determined that he would succeed in his goal, and pushed off his curiosity for later.

Using the distraction of Holmes' entrance, Watson reached out and snagged the blond boy's sleeve, pulling it aside to clear his view of the wound. What he saw so surprised him that he gave no resistance when the boy tore away from him, and all three boys were out the door and down on the street before the doctor thought to protest.

"How peculiar," he said at last, to Holmes' back as the detective stood at the window.

"I have thus far found him to be so, yes," Holmes replied, his face pensive as he at last turned away. No doubt the boys had moved out of sight. "What is it that you have noted in this particular instance?"

Holmes really had met the boy before, then. Likely it had been on one of those cases that took place when Watson was busy with his duties to his patients and thus unable to attend. "The younger boy had been bitten by a dog, and I cared for the wound. The second one, the blond, appeared to have also suffered a dog's bite. His sleeve was torn in precisely the same way, and there were spreading blood stains on the cloth."

Holmes nodded approvingly. "Spreading stains to indicate a bleeding wound, as opposed to smears indicating transfer, very good, Doctor. And the peculiarity?"

Watson closed up his medical bag, considering his words and what he had seen. "He was reluctant for me to treat him. He was insistent that he bore no wound- and you know he is not English, of course?- and it was only when you returned that I was able to examine it, for a bare moment." He paused again. "…Despite the tears in his clothing, and the blood stains, and that there indeed was blood on his skin, in a pattern consistent with a dog bite, there was no actual wound. I cannot for the life of me think of how or why it could appear so."

Holmes seemed surprised, and then thoughtful as he crossed the room to his accustomed chair. "Peculiar indeed. The mystery deepens each time I chance across him, it seems."

He reached for his pipe. "On the next occasion, should there be one, I shall be sure to obtain some answers."

A/N: In this edition of RL News, the author has been promoted at work, leading to more interesting tasks, but fewer hours a week for anything else. Thank Evil D. Evil for requesting this chapter.

Said chapter went through three plot revisions, only in the last incarnation turning to the good Doctor for aid in storytelling. Holmes just wasn't solving the problem. There is also a ridiculous amount of research that goes into these, given their infinitesimal lengths and the fact that I doubt anyone really, truly cares but me.

6 July 2011