DISCLAIMER: "Sherlock", its stories and characters were created by Steven Moffat Mark Gatiss and are the property of the BBC. No copyright infringement is intended.

The novel "The Sign of the Four" was written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and is the property of the public. In the spirit of the show, this is my modern adaptation of that story, complete with a whopping dose of angst. Essentially written as a theoretical 'next episode' of the show after 'The Reichenbach Fall'.

NOTE: This first chapter is a bit light-hearted and is more of a prologue, but the drama will come up quickly. The story's rated T for violence, language, drug use, and themes.

Reviews are much appreciated! I reply to all comments and really enjoy the chance to discuss the story and characters more. Concrit is welcome as well. Aussi, si tu est francophone, je parle fran├žais et tu peut laisser les commentaires en fran├žais si tu aime.

Chapter 1

For the first time in his 18 months of working at King's College Hospital A&E, John Watson had got off work early. This put him in such a good mood he didn't really mind lugging groceries up Baker Street. He'd picked up quite a lot of them at the Tesco's down the block, winding up with four bags, which honestly, was far too many bags. Not that it was his idea to buy this much stuff. The list texted to him had been frankly outrageous. But he was more than happy to oblige.

As he reached the front door of 221B, he struggled to free at least two fingers from the bag handles to get the key in the door. It was precarious and on another day might have been more frustrating, but today was a good day, John had decided. None of his patients had died, no one had vomited on him, and he'd made his 30 minute tube ride in 26 minutes. Bags semi-securely slipped over his wrists, John entered and made his way up the 17 steps to his flat.

As soon as he opened the door, John sensed someone's presence around the corner in the kitchen. He smiled, calling out ruefully, "I'll have you know, I got everything on your list and somehow have managed to make it up the street without dropping a single bag." The presence in the kitchen stilled as John approached. "Which I think deserves a sizeable reward, don't you?" The last words trailed off as John stepped into the kitchen and saw who was standing there.

"You're early," Sherlock Holmes remarked, frozen in the middle of steeping some tea, and completely inconsiderate of the fact that he'd been dead for a year and a half.

All four Tesco bags clattered to the floor. They were followed by John Watson, who suddenly found his legs incapable of supporting himself. He sank down, grabbing wisely at the edge of the counter for balance, and wound up on his knees in a stream of apple juice that was now flowing freely all over the kitchen floor. "Oh my God," he managed between suddenly shaky breaths and rapid heartbeats. Some part of his brain was aware that he was in shock. "Oh my God," he repeated, wiping a hand over his eyes slowly. It didn't erase the image of his supposedly dead friend taking a knee across from him.

Sherlock remained silent. Once John's eyes focused properly, he was able to see a measure of apprehension on Sherlock's usually passive face. A face that seemed slightly thinner and, if possible, even more pale than Watson remembered. But a face that was there. Really, truly in front of him, not just a dream or nightmare. John's throat felt like lead, but he somehow managed to gasp, "You're alive."

"Glad to see the powers of observation I taught you are still intact," Sherlock commented with a quirk of his lips that for him counted as a smile.

"I don't... how? And where have you... Jesus," John stammered. Without really expecting to, he suddenly grabbed Sherlock into a slightly awkward kneeling hug. Sherlock, never much one for contact, remained still. After a few moments, he patted John lightly on the shoulder, silently signalling the end of the hug.

"As I was saying," Sherlock started in that familiar clipped way he spoke, as if he were always running out the door to an important engagement. "You're home earlier than usual. I wasn't quite prepared..." he trailed off, glancing down at the puddle of apple juice and soggy crackers mixing on the floor. "You look ill. You should sit down. I'll get the mess."

John laughed and drew in a long, shaky breath. "Now I know you're not real, offering to clean up."

"Really, John, you're sweating, pale, your blood pressure's most likely low. You're in shock. Have a seat," Sherlock commanded as he swiped a dish rag off the counter and threw it into the puddle.

After staring blankly at the ghostly presence cleaning his kitchen floor for a few moments, John managed to grab the edge of the counter and pull himself to his feet. A rush of blood flooded his head, and he felt like he might collapse again. Lucky he had the counter for support. He drew a few calming breaths, then took a couple steps to the sofa, where he promptly collapsed.

John watched Sherlock mop up the bulk of the mess with the dish rag and unceremoniously toss the whole thing in the bin. Sherlock then took the two cups of tea he'd made from the counter and walked towards the couch. He held one out to John, who could only look up at Sherlock with an expression of utter bafflement. "Tea," John stated flatly. "You come back from the dead, show up in my flat miraculously, and your solution to this situation is tea?"

"There's scotch in yours."

"Right, then." John took his tea and downed a healthy gulp. Sherlock blew on his own cup in a leisurely manner that drove John insane. How could he possibly be so calm about this? And - hang on, had he said...? "You know what time I usually get home." Sherlock said nothing. "How long have you been spying on me?"

"A couple weeks, perhaps?" Sherlock said, a shrug in his tone as he chanced a sip of his tea.

A couple weeks? Blimey. Well then, John thought, that means he'd know about Mary. Just as this realization and some of its most prominent implications were growing in Watson's mind, the door in the kitchen to Sherlock's old room opened and out stepped the subject in question.

"I thought I heard a noise. Do you need help with- " Mary Morstan stopped, noticing the man standing in front of the couch. "Oh, didn't realize we had company."

Sherlock had paused mid-sip, turning slowly to stare at this woman in sweats, her sandy blonde hair thrown into a lazy ponytail, kind but tired round eyes suddenly wide in recognition as she stared back. John could only imagine all the calculated and unfiltered observations forming in Sherlock's brain as he squinted suspiciously at Mary. John was about to say something to rescue her, but Sherlock was faster to practically spit out, "Who are you? And how long have you been here? No one besides John's come or gone from the flat for two days, and that was the latest of John's dates, who looked completely different from you."

John balked, standing up. "The latest...!" His eyes darted to Mary, who was still staring slack-jawed at the tall, dead stranger standing in her living room. "There haven't been any other women here, I swear."

"Oh, please," Sherlock snorted. "I've counted four or five women in the last few weeks. Par for the course, I'd say, John."

"The only woman who's been in this flat is Mary," John insisted.

"Who's Mary?" Sherlock asked, but didn't wait for an answer. "In any case, all the women coming and going looked different."

"Different how?" John demanded.

"I don't know. Hair styled differently, various manners of dress," Sherlock replied impatiently.

"Different faces?" John challenged, locking his accusing eyes on Sherlock's.

The erstwhile detective's indignation wavered. His cheek twitched in annoyance. "Well I can't be expected to remember all the faces," he half spat, half grumbled.

"Unbelievable. You still can't tell women apart." John wasn't sure if this was funny or tragic, but was beginning to feel in either case that he had entered a bizarre French comedy. He managed to hiss instead of shout, "Those were all Mary, you git."

Sherlock didn't manage the same restraint. "Who the hell is Mary?" he shouted.

"She's Mary! The only woman in the bloody room!" John gestured to the woman who was standing still in what he belatedly realized must be the same kind of shock he still felt shaking his limbs.

"Perhaps we could all take a breath then discuss how and why Sherlock Holmes is here," Mary suggested calmly. She'd taken a good minute to form that sentence, and as usual John was impressed with not only her seemingly inhuman ability to remain calm in any situation, but to make others settle down as well. It was one of the many things he loved about her, and it drew him back to his senses as usual.

Unfortunately, Sherlock seemed utterly immune to her pleasantly anaesthetic effect. "You know who I am," he stated accusingly. "And you were in my room. Why were you in my room?" Without waiting for a response, Sherlock swept towards his old bedroom, gracefully depositing his tea cup on the mantle before gliding through the kitchen and opening the door to his room.

John followed after him, a knot of dread forming in his stomach. He knew exactly what Sherlock's reaction would be. The man might have been dead for a year and a half, but he expected the world to stay precisely as it had been.

"Where are my things?" Sherlock stated flatly, not raising his voice. His eyes took in the desk, the bookshelves, the altered paint colour, and most likely a hundred other little changes only he would notice. "This isn't my room. You've got rid of everything." He turned around, a despair in his eyes that took John by surprise. He'd seen Sherlock irritated and impatient on a daily basis. He'd rarely seen him fragile. When was the last time, Baskerville? No, that call from the roof of- John quickly suppressed the thought. It didn't happen. He's right here, so it didn't happen.

John was now looking at Sherlock as if seeing him for the first time. His slightly wild eyes were ringed with dark smudges. He was, bizarrely, wearing jeans, sneakers, and a long-sleeved t-shirt, all of them flecked with dirt. His naturally pale complexion had an almost yellowed tone that made him look rather unwell. "Sherlock, it's been a year and a half," John reasoned softly. He could see all that time hanging on his friend and he began to wonder, properly ponder where Sherlock had been those eighteen months and what the hell he'd been doing.

"A year and a half," Sherlock sneered mockingly. "Plenty of time to chuck my things out and get a lodger."

"I would never throw your things away. They're fine, they're- wait, lodger?" John glanced back over his shoulder at Mary, who was trying her very best to remain out of the way, but looking like the restraint was difficult. It occurred to him that this had to be a unique sort of baffling for her, having a dead man she'd heard so much about but never met materialize in her flat. John gave her a sympathetic look to tell her they'd talk about this later before turning back to Sherlock and his accusatory stare. "Mary isn't a lodger," he intoned slowly.

"She's living in my room."

"No, this is her office. She's working on her dissertation, so she's in here a lot." Evidently the glaring social cues were still missing from Sherlock's powers of deduction. John sighed. For all the things he'd missed dearly about his friend, this blindness to normal human interests wasn't one of them. "Mary is my girlfriend. She lives here with- we live here. It's our place now."

Sherlock stared between John and Mary for a few moments. Then he pushed past them into the living room, calling out loudly, "Mrs. Hudson!"