AUTHOR'S NOTE: Hello there, and welcome to my newest story. I plan to make this a multi-chaptered, which isn't something I'm accustomed to, so I hope you'll hang on for the ride. The story is going to be a VERY LOOSE interpretation of one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's original Holmes stories, but mostly it'll be John and Sherlock's relationship and the stress placed on it as it develops. If anyone can point out the story I'm basing it off of, and tell me how they figured it out (although you can't tell by the first chapter) I'll write them a plotbunny-esque mini oneshot of their choice!

Oh, and there will be smut! So bear with me, please!

When John Watson wakes from sleep, it is to the sight and scent of thick, black smoke.

He sits up in bed and immediately wishes he hadn't, his face now completely immersed in the sooty air. Coughing, he sinks back down under the cover of the dark cloud and looks for its source. He traces the smoke to a point downstairs where he knows Sherlock's study to be located. Of course. John grunts disdainfully. At least he didn't set the kitchen on fire—again.

A year ago, John might have considered calling the fire station. Today, he rises from bed, covering his face with the sleeve of his nightshirt, and heads towards the bathroom.

A shower, he knows, won't do a thing about the fact that he now smells like an expired campsite, but still, it's nice to relax under the warm water for a moment, pretending his flat-mate isn't the frequent cause of minor house fires. After a wash, he dries himself and emerges from the bathroom, a towel around his waist.

By this time, the smoke has mostly dissipated, leaving a wispy layer of gray ash-dust hovering just above John's ankles. He pulls on his clothes and heads down to the kitchen.

With his usual morning mug of tea in hand, he walks over to Sherlock's study, gingerly poking his nose through the doorway, in case Sherlock is feeling grouchy. The man in question is hovering over a desk strewn with beakers filled with various powders and what are very likely actual human organs. A glass in his hand contains long, thin strips of an unidentifiable dark substance. In his other hand is a lighter, its end aflame, and Sherlock is about to set the substance ablaze when John enters the room.

"Oh, good, you're here," says Sherlock, quickly snapping off the lighter and setting it down next to the beaker. He gets up, iconic blue silk robe swishing around his calves as he does so. He strides into the other room, continuing to talk to John over the sound of undressing and redressing. "I'll need you to set substances fourteen through twenty-six on fire and record the resulting flame colors. The beakers are labeled, and there's a log for recording your findings under the lung fragments."

John peers across the table, noting the pinkish-gray, fleshy substance, stretched thin and pinned to a small wooden board. Sherlock reenters the study, fully dressed in his coat and scarf and tugging on his gloves.

"Be careful with the even numbered ones—be sure and hold the flame above the beaker, not into it. Meet me at Angelo's in an hour."

"Sher-" John begins in protest, but Sherlock is gone. John hears the slam of the door to their flat and then another. He sighs, defying Sherlock's wishes for all of six minutes before cracking his knuckles and getting to work.

"It was the copper sulfide," Sherlock concludes, thrusting out the chair opposite John with vigor and seizing John's notes. "Brilliant, I knew it!"

As Sherlock sits down at the table, eyes focused on the notebook, John notices a thick scratch mark running from his jaw to the height of his cheekbone. Beneath it is a small cut, black and crusted with dried blood, and right next to Sherlock's ear lays a dark and painful looking bruise.

"Ambush," says Sherlock, noticing John's eyes on his injuries. "Can't exactly present the solution to the client if the client is dead, can I? I figured her attackers would try something before I met with her, so I thought I'd show up early. Turns out they had the same thought."

"If you knew she was going to be attacked, why didn't you bring me along?" John asks, feeling rather offended. He takes an exasperated sip of his iced tea. Sherlock tilts his head and quirks an eyebrow before taking his phone from his pocket and opening a blank text message.

"I needed you to finish the experiment for me," he says matter-of-factly, writing a text to Lestrade. "The client's husband was killed in an explosion involving a blue flame. I needed to figure out which material matched the powder present at the crime scene. Assuming you've completed the experiment correctly—I'm sure you did, any idiot could have done it—I can confirm the victim's brother's claim that he wasn't the cause of the explosion, as he's a pyrotechnician and would have known that copper sulfide creates a distinctive flame color. That leaves only the sister capable of committing the crime, and I've just texted Lestrade to arrest her."

Sherlock finishes, his guttural baritone receding as his mouth curls into a proud grin. The pasta arrives. Sherlock unfolds his napkin and prods his lasagna with a fork, as if contemplating if eating is necessary today.

"And the organs?" John questions, biting quietly into a breadstick.

"Personal data," responds Sherlock. Setting down his fork, he steeples his gloved hands, producing the faint sound of stretching leather.

John makes a vague disgruntled noise that turns into a laugh halfway through. He stares admiringly at the man across from him, chewing a forkful of alfredo. What they must look like, John wonders; two men, looking entirely mismatched, one not even eating, instead engaged in John's tidy notes. They must seem ridiculous to passersby. As John contemplates this, another thought comes to his mind.

"So why didn't you send me to tackle the ambushers?" John asks, and Sherlock turns to fix him with a questioning look. "I mean," John continues, "you're just usually so adamant about doing your own experiments. Why have me finish this one?"

Sherlock scoffs. "Honestly, John. Are you saying it would have been better to send you directly into a fight?" The detective averts his gaze to the notes again, leaving John blinking.

It takes John a minute to register that Sherlock had been trying to protect him by going himself. John doesn't say anything as they get up to leave for the flat; he just tries to stop feeling so damned happy about it.

Naturally, it rains.

The weather, at least, has the good grace to take its turn for the worse when they are merely a block away from Baker Street. They run the last stretch, but the two are still thoroughly soaked by the time they appear at the doorstep to their flat. Sherlock reaches a gloved hand into his coat and pulls out the key. As he moves to unlock it, however, he catches something with his eye. Sherlock freezes.

John doesn't see anything, fixing his gaze just under the door knob where Sherlock is looking. Sherlock's hand fidgets a bit, and he lets out a "damn" that sounds more like a growl before inserting the key into the lock and pushing the door open.

"What's wrong?" asks John worriedly, but Sherlock is several paces ahead of him, stomping up the stairs two at a time. John follows as quickly as possible. When he gets to the top of the stairs and hurries into their flat, he runs face first into Sherlock's back.

John is about to give a cry of protest when he stops dead, for there, standing before him and Sherlock in the middle of their living room, is Irene Adler.

She's lost weight, John notices, and she's changed her hair, now cropped to just below the chin and dirty blonde. Even her make-up is different, softer and more subtle, but despite these changes, she is unmistakably the woman. She sits pertly on the back of the sofa, long legs stretched in front of her, protruding from a blasphemously short skirt. One of her hands waves, lazily.

"What do you want?" Sherlock snaps, but John cuts across his speech.

"You're dead," He says, more confidently than he should probably sound.

"Am I?" she lobs back playfully. She twists a strand of hair between her thumb and index finger.

"You're dead," he repeats, as if the extra emphasis will make it true. "Dead. As in no longer living."

Irene slinks off her perch and across the room, approaching Sherlock and John with slow, hard steps, as if to exemplify the stupidity of his statement.

"Hmm, dead," she purrs, now standing directly in front of them, twirling her hair flippantly. "I was. Or at least, I was supposed to be. You didn't tell him, Sherlock dear?"

John turns, flabbergasted, to Sherlock, tries to read his face, but Sherlock's features are unyielding and vacant. By now, Irene has snaked an arm up to Sherlock's shoulder, causing him to twinge slightly in discomfort.

"This man came to my rescue," says Irene, barely audible. "You could say he's my hero." She whispers the last word, and Sherlock snaps a hand around her wrist and wrenches it from his neck.

"I'm not your hero," he snarls into her face, and she responds with a snide grin. "I only kept you alive because you're-"

"Interesting?" she interrupts for him. Sherlock gives no sign of whether or not this was what he was going to say. Looking satisfied, she turns to John. "And how have you been, Dr. Watson?"

John opens his mouth to speak, but finds it quite dry, and so he closes it again before answering exasperatedly, "I'm sorry for being so frank, but what the bloody fuck is going on here? Mycroft told me you were dead! And if he thought that, then why aren't his security cameras picking you up? And Sherlock, how did you know someone was in the flat when we were at the door?"

Irene giggles lightly. "I think it's best if you sit down."

With a hand on the small of his back, she leads him towards an armchair. John has half a mind to resist, but recognizes with a start that all the strength has been sapped out of him. He falls weakly into the chair and turns his eyes to Irene, who has taken a seat on the couch. Sherlock towers behind her, refusing to sit and instead standing in that bird-of-prey way of his, like he could swoop down at any moment.

"Honestly, Sherlock, I'm offended you haven't told the doctor anything of our little—affair in the terrorist cell."

"Dropped the formality, have we?" Sherlock drawls from behind the couch, eyes affixed to a point off in the distance. His stance is guarded, arms crossed.

"I hardly think 'Mr. Holmes' is acceptable after our, shall we say intimate meeting in Karachi." Sherlock huffs, and Irene turns back to John. "I was sentenced to die, Dr. Watson, but Sherlock here decided to give me another chance." She gives him an affectionate glance. "I've been in America, you see, in Newark. I've even managed to make a name for myself, although of course it's not my name. I'm officially Maria Caldwell now. I started off as a stage actress, but when they discovered I could sing…" Her mouth takes the form of a sly smile. "I'm a bit of an opera star now, one could say, and it's only taken me—hmm, what's it been, Sherlock, dear? A year and a half?—to establish myself. As for the cameras, well, I didn't manage a fairly large surveillance network in London for nothing, you know. It was child's play to detect and disable them. I'm sure the elder Holmes is already alerted and has men on their way to fix them, but for the moment, we're completely unwatched."

"As to the next part," adds Sherlock, slinking over next to John, positioning himself opposite of the woman, "I've been placing one of my hairs in the crack of the door when we go out. If it's not there when I come back, it means someone's come in the door. I've been doing it since…"

Sherlock trails off and looks to the floor.

"Mrs. Hudson was held hostage?" John supplies helpfully, vaguely touched that Sherlock was as affected by her trauma as he was.

"Yes, that," Sherlock spits, as if cursing the names of Mrs. Hudson's malefactors. "Anyway, mostly it's you or Mrs. Hudson who opens the door. This time, however…" He holds up a wavy blonde hair. "This time, someone had the gall to replace my hair with one of their own. The length suggested a woman, and there's only one woman who could have seen through my ruse. The only question now seems to be," he turns to Irene with piercing eyes. "What is she doing here?"

Irene opens her mouth, but before she can get any words out she is interrupted by a car door slamming, men's voices and the distinctive click of dress shoes on pavement. John recognizes the creaking swing of the front door, the voices growing steadily louder.

"I do believe your brother has caught on to my little camera trick," says Irene, standing up and reaching into her purse. She pulls out a thin folder and lays it neatly on the coffee table. "Not much to go by, I'll admit, but I'm sure the great Sherlock Holmes can handle it. And his faithful, ah, companion, as well."

Irene grants John a very visible wink before darting quickly to the window, opening it, and sticking a leg outside, stretching her skirt to a near dangerous extent.

"Ta ta, boys. I'll be seeing you soon."

With these parting words, she slips out the window, landing gracelessly on the air conditioning appliance positioned a story below her. John hears the loud crash as she makes impact, followed by heels scurrying across a hard surface, and finally the screech of car breaks. John guesses the car is right in front of the building, driving fast away, when Mycroft's men burst into the flat. There are four of them; they immediately split up to search for the source of the problem.

John looks over at Sherlock, who appears to be waiting patiently for the men to leave. When they finally do, Sherlock grabs John by the wrist, file in the other hand, and pulls him, to John's utter horror, into the bathroom.

"What are we-" he starts, but Sherlock silences him with a 'shh!'

"This is the only place in the flat without surveillance," Sherlock whispers, pulling out the file and cracking it open. John watches as his eyes dart side to side, shuffling through the sparse documents and absorbing every word. He wants desperately to ask Sherlock what the hell is going on. Why had Irene, whom John had for the past year and a half thought dead, suddenly appeared again? And what does she want from them?

(And do you still want her, John doesn't let himself think.)

Sherlock exhales loudly, startling John from his contemplations. The detective holds up a sheet of white paper with two printed boarding passes. John takes the paper and sees, hands steady, that the names on the passes are theirs.

"We're going to America," Sherlock says, and sits on the ledge of the sink, crossing his legs at the ankles. He closes his eyes and folds his hands under his chin and doesn't say anything for a long time.

AUTHOR'S NOTE II: Fun fact! Irene Adler was originally from New Jersey in the Arthur Conan Doyle verse. She was also an opera singer, so I tried to restore her to her original position.

Thanks for reading, and please stick around-for the sake of the boys!