This is it! The last chapter! Hope you all enjoy it!

Chapter Thirty Nine: Moving Forward

"Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards." Søren Kierkegaard

December 10th, nineteen months after the Fall at Saint Bartholomew's Hospital.

Ms. Hudson smiled to herself as she sat on her couch, simultaneously watching her favorite afternoon soap opera while wrapping the last of the gifts she had bought for Christmas. She knew that it was still a few weeks away, of course, but already she felt her mind race as she pondered how to make this particular holiday truly special.

After all, she had a lot to be grateful for. This time last year, it was just her and John, without any plans and few reasons to feel festive. John had been so depressed then, and she was still grieving. For the first time since leaving her abusive husband, she failed to put up any decorations.

But this year was going to be so different! One of her boys, John, was happy again, with a bounce in his step and a smile on his face. Her other boy, Sherlock, literally came back from the grave. The Baker Street Family was back together.

Now that Sherlock had returned, Mrs. Hudson had to deal with unexpected visitors dropping in. After Lestrade and Donovan had come by, the news apparently went out that Sherlock was well enough to see people, and thus Mrs. Hudson found herself entertaining various guests.

The Sherlockians came by, of course. Lawrence and Kenneth, in particular, were happy to see her again, and they waxed phyisophical about how great her food was. She made sure to bake some biscuits for them before they left.

A few other people dropped by, too. That young Inspector Hopkins, who helped clear Sherlock's name, came by, as well as that nice young woman Molly. She came with her boyfriend, that American lad named Clarky.

Mrs. Hudson wasn't sure what to make of Clarky. On one hand, he seemed like a nice young man. However, she managed to overhear him making plans with Sherlock to "borrow" some fingers in the name of science.

Also, he went a bit loopy when he saw the orange blanket that Inspector Hopkins had given Sherlock as a get-well gift.

Mrs. Hudson just couldn't understand Clarky's agitation. Ok, so maybe Inspector Hopkins should have made sure that whoever had tailored the blanket made sure that they put an "S" instead of a "T" on it, but it was the thought that counted, right?

Still, the joy of having her boys back was such that she didn't dwell on the American's odd reaction for very long.

And if that wasn't enough, she had gained a new daughter in the form of Mary Morstan, soon-to-be Mary Watson. When it had been just the three of them, Mrs. Hudson sometimes entertained the notion that Sherlock and John were more than just flat mates. She thought that perhaps a romance would blossom.

She was wrong about the romance, but not about the fact that John and Sherlock were not mere flat mates. They were friends. Perhaps one could go so far and say that they were like brothers, like those Duncan boys who worked with the Sherlockians and stayed with her last year to keep the press from hounding her.

With Mary and John, it was obvious those two people were in love. This was fine with Mrs. Hudson, as long as they continued to stay in the flat in the basement.

After all, someone had to help her keep Sherlock in line. Who knows what that boy would do if left to his own devices?

But then again, Sherlock was hardly alone anymore, was he?

Mrs. Hudson smiled to herself as she recalled that she also had a new grandchild. After all, if Sherlock was her boy, it only made sense that Sheri was her granddaughter, and no one was going to tell her otherwise!

So her family not only came back together, it practically doubled.

This meant that Mrs. Hudson had a lot to do before the holidays approached.

John was out, taking care of a couple of errands. Mary was at work. Those men that Mycroft had sent to watch over the flat had left two days prior, as the press had finally given up and left. So it was up to Mrs. Hudson to watch over Sherlock until they returned.

She was somewhat relieved that Sherlock was still obeying John's orders. It had been seventeen days since he returned home, poor man, and even though he was no longer confined to his room, Sherlock was still as weak as water and found it difficult to move around.

Perhaps she should take a break and go upstairs to check on him. And maybe make him some tea.

But just this once. She was still his landlady, not his maid.

Her hip hurt a little as she carried the tray up the stairs and onto the landing. The door was slightly ajar, so she didn't have to knock to come in.

"Sherlock!" Mrs. Hudson called out. "I brought up some tea and biscuits for you." She glanced around the room. Now that her boy had returned, the flat was no longer in the impeciable state it was when John lived there alone. Sherlock's lab equipment was brought back in and set up in the kitchen, no doubt awaiting her boy's return when the opportunity arose to use it again.

That microscope, too, was sitting on the kitchen table, along with a few slides. Once Sherlock was able to walk more than a few steps without falling, he spent a few hours yesterday going over the slides with Sheridan.

It was truly touching to see the normally aloof detective sitting beside his daughter and patiently going over how to spot the difference between two sets of carpet fibers.

Mrs. Hudson could still see them there in her mind's eye. Two identical heads of dark curls, one large and one small, bent over the eye piece of the microscope as Sherlock adjusted the setting while Sheridan hung on his every word.

However, much to Mrs. Hudson's eternal chagrin, there was now two skulls, one on either side of the mantle, staring at her through their empty eye sockets.

I am going to have to hide those things somewhere! They will scare visitors away!

Sherlock was not on the couch, where she last saw him, wrapped in a blanket and propped up on several pillows, including the one with the Union Jack flag etched on one side. Setting the tray down, Mrs. Hudson cupped her hands around her mouth so that her voice will carry. "Sherlock Holmes! Where are you?"

No one answered back. Frowning in annoyance, she proceeded to check the rest of the rooms. There was no sign of the lanky detective anywhere.

Mrs. Hudson started to grow concerned. Where was that infernal boy? Surely he didn't leave the flat? It wasn't like there was anywhere to go, and she rather doubted Sherlock would decide to go out and buy milk.


Frowning, Mrs. Hudson walked over to the hall closet and opened it.

Sherlock's long black coat was missing.

And that wasn't the only thing missing...

Frowning in annoyance and concern, Mrs. Hudson limped back down the stairs, so that she could get to her phone to call John to tell him that Sherlock was gone and where she suspected he was heading to.

The air was cool and brisk with the smell of damp and car exhaust. Nevertheless, the sky above was only partly cloudy, with the sun shining down and the sky a light shade of blue. In short, it was a perfect afternoon.

Sherlock, clad in a pair of black slacks, his trademark purple shirt (though regretably still a little bit too loose), his scarf, and his black Belstaff coat (a new one, as his old one was damaged beyond repair) strolled down the streets of London, intent of reaching the Yard before those idiots succeeded in messing things up further.

Not much had changed since he "died" a year and a half ago. London was still the same as it ever was. Beautiful historic building, modern skyscrapers, dilapidated building, and businesses still existed together, each one filled with the promise of a new, challenging problem to which he could set his mind to. People walked by him (a few of them pausing to stare, wondering why he looked so familiar), each with the potential of being a person in need of assistance, or a cold-blooded villain.

London, with its unending variety, always changing, but always staying the same.

Sherlock frowned.

Where, exactly, did that leave him?

He paused to stare at himself in a store window. He may have looked the same; dark hair, alabaster skin, stormy eyes, unsmiling features. Certainly he was thinner, and his face had a few more lines, but overall he hadn't changed much.

If he could delete the memories of the past few years, he could almost fool himself into believing he was Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective for Scotland Yard. A man who needed and relied on no one. A calculating bastard who enjoyed the thrill of the hunt and blocked out all emotions because they were a liability. A brilliant genius. A machine without feelings.

But Sherlock could not indulge in pointless "what-ifs." He knew he was different. Under the scarf, a fine line, only slightly darker than the rest of his skin, showed the place where he was stabbed, a parting reminder of his game with Moriarty. It would fade over time, of course, but it would never completely go away.

And that was not the only thing altered.

Sherlock had spent the last few years lying to himself. He told people he didn't care.

But it wasn't true. He allowed people to get closer to him.

John, Lestrade, Mrs. Hudson, Sheri.

And now he was no longer invincible. He was beset with worries, fears, and worst of all, emotions.

What if he could not protect them? What if those close to him got hurt? Should he consider walking away and finding a new line of work, one that poised less risk for them?

Lost in his own thoughts, Sherlock did realize he was being watched.

Until it was too late.

"You aren't supposed to leave the flat! Uncle John said you couldn't!"

Sherlock sighed.

Why was he not surprised?

Despite his irritation, however, he couldn't help the small sense of pride that raced through him. It was him, after all, who taught Sheridan how to hide in shadows and observe people at a distance without them knowing. "And what are you doing? Didn't John tell you the same thing?"

Sheridan shrugged. "He said I couldn't leave the flat alone! He said you couldn't leave the flat at all!" Sheridan reached up to arrange her scarf to where it was more comfortable. "So, are we going to work on my deduction skills, or are we headed to the Yard?"

Sherlock looked down at the expectant girl. "I'm headed to the Yard, which is why you can't come!"

Sheridan's face fell. "Why not? I helped you with Moriarty! And that's far more dangerous than anything at the Yard!"

Sherlock tried to think of an appropriate response. "Because the Department of Protective Services may get upset about a child looking at crime scene photos!"

Sheridan scoffed and folded her arms across her chest. "I saw three men get shot in front of me when I was four! If I'm not traumatized by now, then I doubt a few crime scene photos are going to do it!"

Sherlock frowned.

Of course, how easy it was to forget!

Sheridan had scars from her own encounters with Moriarty too. Hers were just not visible. And yet she was a survivor. She refused to let any hardship destroy her.

"And what if the Department doesn't see it that way?" Sherlock asked.

"Then Uncle Mycroft will deal with it!" Sheridan reasoned, smiling sweetly.

Sherlock frowned. "Stop doing that!"

Sheridan smiled wider. "Stop doing what, Dad?"

Sherlock looked at his daughter sternly. "You know very well what you are doing! Now go back home! I'll be back in an hour."

"You would send me, a little girl, to go home on her own?" Sheridan asked, doing her best to look pathetic. Her blue-grey eyes stared mournfully up, and her bottom lip trembled.

Sherlock rolled his eyes.

What's the point? He wasn't going to win this particular battle.

And besides, it was probably time to teach Sheridan the basics on how to break into Scotland Yard without anyone knowing.

"Oh, very well! You may accompany me to the Yard. But you are still not allowed to investigate cases on your own yet! Any cases you look at must first be approved by me. Do you understand?"

Sheridan nodded eagerly, her face aglow with excitement.

"Good! Now come along. Since you have shown improvement in your ability to blend in and go unnoticed, we will test that on the idiots at the Yard…"

Lestrade should have known this was going to be one of those days.

All the signs were there. His alarm clock didn't go off, so he overslept. He arrived to work late, only for Donovan to share the news that they had three new priority cases.

It was getting closer to the holidays, yet the criminal population of London seemed to have no concept of "Peace on Earth and Good Will Towards Men." Two murders this week, and one missing child case just this morning.

So soon after the Slasher, too. Lovely way to spend the afternoon, Lestrade thought sarcastically. "Ok, Anderson. What have we got so far?"

Anderson paused, looking back at his colleague. "Three bodies found in a deserted second storied building at South Kingston. Preliminary findings show no obvious trauma to any of the victims. There are no wounds or broken bones. Toxicology tests have not come back yet."

Lestrade sighed. "Do we have any preliminary reports?"

Donovan nodded. "I put it on your desk, Greg. Along with the files for the missing child case."

Clarky looked less than enthused. "I take it we are going to be here until late?"

"I'm afraid so, Clarky." Hopkins replied.

Clarky nodded his head ruefully. "And I had big plans for tonight!"

Anderson barked out a laugh. "What? Going to the morgue at Bart's?"

Clarky crossed his arms in front of his chest. Suddenly, he smirked. "With the beautiful Molly, goddess of the dead? Uh, yeah!" Clarky said, smiling broadly. "If I was dead, she would be the one I want to do my autopsy!"

Lestrade groaned, rubbing his head. "And, with that, I have officially lost my appitite! Clarky, why did you have to go and do that for? I didn't eat anything since breakfast this morning!"

Clarky shrugged. "Shaggy here started it!" He said, pointing at Anderson.

"Stop calling me Shaggy!" Anderson growled. "I look nothing like Shaggy!"

"Yes you do, mate!" Hopkins smirked. He looked at Donovan. "How about the other case?"

Donovan shrugged. "Roger Harold, found in his bedroom, hanging from a rope hung from the ceiling fan."

Lestrade nodded. "Well, we might as well get started. First priority is the missing child case. Then we will go through the other two. So give me a few minutes to read over the files, and then all of you come to my office in about fifteen minutes."

Clarky looked mournful. "Why can't criminals be more considerate about other people's schedules?"

"What would you have them do, Clarky? Have all the thieves in London contact their victims and let them know when they plan on burglarizing their homes, so they can arrange to be away, and maybe leave the door unlocked for them?" Hopkins asked sarcastically.

"No need to be snarky, Stanley!" Clarky grumbled.

Lestrade shook his head wearily as he made his way to the protective confines of his office. The idea of presiding over his bickering underlings was about as unappealing as the time he was once stuck in an elevator with Sherlock and Anderson.

It's amazing I got out with my sanity!

Smirking at the memory, he opened his door and stepped into his office.

"Ah, Lestrade! Come in! I see you overslept this morning, and arrived late to work. How careless of you!"

Lestrade froze at the entrance of his door, mouth hung open in shock. "Sherlock! What are you doing here?! You are supposed to be…"

Sherlock chuckled as he viewed Lestrade's reaction. "It has been several weeks since news of my survival has circulated in the news, Lestrade!"

"Should we let Greg have the couch so he can take a nap, Dad? He looks really tired and stressed." Sheridan asked her father. "He didn't shave this morning, and he has a stain on his shirt where he spilled coffee in his hurry to arrive."

Lestrade gaped at the sight of the consulting detective and his daughter sitting on his couch, Sherlock with a case file, and Sheridan holding some crime scene photos. "You know what I mean, Sherlock! John said you are not cleared to work until Janaury! And why is Sheri with you?"

"She followed me." Sherlock muttered, turning his eyes back to his file.

"Then the same logic applies! Why would your daughter follow you to the Met? Especially when you aren't not supposed to be up and about yet?" Lestrade asked, looking bewildered.

"Because I was bored." Sherlock muttered. "I have been stuck in the flat for a month! I could feel my mind start to decay from the inactivity."

Lestrade groaned as he walked past the two visitors and sat back behind his desk. "John is going to kill me!"

"Uncle John won't kill you, Greg! He may kill Dad, though!" Sheridan pointed out.

"And what about you, Sheri?" Lestrade asked.

"I'm too young! And I'm a girl! Uncle John won't kill me!" Sheridan stated smugly.

Lestrade groaned again. "You know, Sherlock, if I didn't know any better, I'd say you brought Sheridan with you because you knew that if I caught you here alone, I would have locked you up until John came to get you!"

Sheridan giggled. "Why do the Yarders have an obsession with locking you up, Dad?" Sheridan asked, looking at her father curiously.

"Because they are idiots!" Sherlock answered matter-of-factly.

At that moment, the office to Lestrade's office opened.

"Hey Greg! Hopkins had an idea about…" Donovan stopped short at the sight of Sherlock and Sheridan. "What are you two doing here?" Her voice, surprisingly, carried no hint of rancor.

Behind her, Anderson, who had followed her in, stopped to gape wordlessly at the trespassing pair.

"Dad was teaching me how to break into Scotland Yard without being caught!" Sheridan said proudly. "Then we saw the files on Greg's desk…"

"And my day officially went from bad to worse!" Lestrade muttered sadly.

Anderson and Donovan simultaneously rolled their eyes with a mixture of annoyance and sympathy. "And here I thought we were going to have a normal afternoon for once!" Anderson muttered.

"Normal is boring!" Sherlock and Sheridan responded simultaneuously as they continued to pour over the case file.

Anderson rubbed his temple. "I thought the Freak wasn't cleared to be back until January!"

"He isn't!" Donovan groaned. "John was quite clear about that!"

Lestrade beat his head against the edge of his desk. "John is going to kill us!"

"You do know I can hear you." Sherlock said serenely from his seat on the sofa as he quietly thumbed through the case file. He then handed the file to his daughter. "Ok, Sheri, this file is about a missing girl. Look over it and tell me who took her!"

"Sherlock, you can't expect an eight year old to be solving cases! And if you heard me, then you also heard John tell you that you shouldn't be working on cases yet!" Lestrade protested, looking up to glare at the consulting detective. "Bloody hell, do you want John to kill us all?!"

Sherlock raised an eyebrow, but remained silent.

The door to Lestrade's office opened again. "Greg! Hopkins just got a call…" Clarky started to say, then spied the detective on the couch. "Lucky!"

Without warning, the tall American strode across the room and grabbed Sherlock to embrace him. Sherlock froze, looking shocked by the American's exuberance, while Anderson and Donovan smirked at his discomfort.

"Damn, Lucky! It's great to see you! I thought you weren't supposed to be back for another few weeks!"

"And I won't be if you keep squeezing my ribs!" Sherlock hissed stoically.

"Oops!" Clarky said, abruptly letting Sherlock go, allowing him to collapse back on the sofa. "Sorry about that!"

"It's fine!" Sherlock said, wincing.

"You see what I mean, Sherlock?" Lestade pointed out. "Now go home! Now!"

"The child is with her father." Sheridan said quietly, setting aside the case file of the girl who went missing the night before.

The Yarders turned to stare at Sheridan in astonishment. "How do you know that?" Hopkins said. "Her parents reported her missing!"

"True, but I think that if you will talk to Mrs. Strauss alone, you will find that Mr. Strauss is not her real father." Sheridan replied.

Sherlock glanced over the file and gave an approving nod at Sheridan. "Correct."

"How do you figure, Lucky?" Clarky asked, curious.

Sherlock held up a picture of the missing girl and a crime scene photo. "See the yellow patches around the girl's eyes? Do you observe the cholestrole medication bottles on the child's nightstand? She suffers from familial hypercholesterolemia."

Lucky frowned in concentration. "But that means…oh! I get it! So Mrs. Strauss has been a very bad girl!"

"Oi! Body Farm people! Explain!" Hopkins protested.

Clarky grinned. "Familial hypercholesterolemia is a genetic disease that is characterized by the body making excessive amounts of low-density lipoprotein, or 'bad cholestrole.' But it is passed directly from parent to child!"

"So?" Hopkins replied.

"Well, the child had to have gotten it from one of her parents! And since neither of the Strauss parents have it…"

"Then how did the girl get it!?" Hopkins realized. "Of course! So we need to bring in Mrs. Strauss for a follow-up interview."

Lestrade nodded. "Just keep her separated from Mr. Strauss when you ask her."

Sherlock groaned and threw his head on the back of the couch. "I'm bored!"

"Well, why don't you try this one?" Clarky said, handing another file to Sherlock. "Three bodies found in a deserted building. No obvious injuries, no sign of struggle, no evidence any of the bodies were moved. We know they died of poisoning, but we can't figure out what yet until the tox screens come back!"

Sherlock nodded as he took the file.

"Clarky, don't encourage him!" Lestrade grimanced.

"Why not?" Clarky asked.

"Because I actually want to live and see the New Year without being massacred by one aforementioned Army Doctor, that's why!" Lestrade yelled. "Now take him home right now before John finds out!"

"And how exactly do I get him to stay?" Clarky asked. "Do I handcuff him to the radiator and leave some water out for him?"

Lestrade groaned and slumped back into his chair, but he didn't dispute Clarky's argument.

The door to Lestrade's office opened, and Dimmock entered, looking worried.

"Uh, Greg…"

"What is it, Charlie?" Lestrade mumbled.

"John called. He knows Sherlock's here. He's on his way."

Lestrade nodded weakly. "Thanks, Charlie." Dimmock nodded and left the office.

When he closed the door, Lestrade groaned and began to beat his head on the edge of his desk again. "We are going to die, aren't we?!"

"Lestrade, for the last time, John is not a homicidal lunatic! There is no need to get upset." Sherlock said, not even bothering to look up from the file. "Your paranoia is eclipsed only by Clarky's inate desire to spend the evening with Molly tonight."

"Lucky!" Clarky protested.

"So you do have a date with Molly tonight!" Hopkins declared triumphantly, looking at Clarky, who was blushing furiously.

"Correction, Clarky is going to propose." Sherlock explained. "Oh, and by the way, this case is not murder. It is a suicide pact, in which the fourth member decided not to go through with it, and thus fled the scene, taking the poison with her. Look for a university student who hung out with the victims and majors in veternary science, and you will find I am correct."

"Wait! Hold on!" Hopkins grinned. "Clarky, is it true? Are you going to propose?"

Sherlock frowned. "I just solved a case, and all you are interested in is Clarky's relationship with Molly? How juvenile!"

"How do you know he is going to propose?" Donovan asked, curiosity winning out.

"Because he has a small box in his coat pocket! I felt it when he tried to suffocate me earlier! Judging from its size, it probably contains jewelry, which I deduce is an engagement ring." Sherlock growled, looking annoyed.

"But how do you know it's an engagement ring?" Anderson asked. "Maybe it's something else, like a pair of earrings!"

Sherlock groaned. "I don't know how you all survived this last year without me! No wonder the crime rate in London went up! Anderson, look at Clarky! He is wearing the same cologne he only uses for special events, and he is wearing trousers that are neatly pressed. Not jeans. And Clarky always wears jeans to work in, because he doesn't want his good clothes ruined at crime scenes!"

"Oh!" Donovan said. "Well, congradulations, Clarky!"

"She hasn't said 'yes' yet!" Clarky shot back.

"She will!" Sheridan said confidently. "She likes you!"

Sherlock nodded in agreement before he turned to Lestrade. "Do you have anything else?"

Lestrade sighed. "Donovan, could you get the Harold file? Might as well use our time wisely, since it will likely run out once John gets here."

Donovan nodded as she walked out of the office.

Anderson grinned at Clarky. "So, the gun-carrying redneck is going to settle down?"

Clarky glared at Anderson, but kept his mouth shut.

Stan smirked. "Are you going to get married at the morgue? Because you know you need to do it in the presence of witnesses, and dead bodies don't count as witnesses!"

Lestrade looked towards Sherlock, who was still sitting on the couch. "I never thought I would be saying this, but I actually found people that are more annoying than you!"

Sherlock smirked. "So you missed me, especially after dealing with the combined idioticies of Anderson, Clarky, and Hopkins!"

"Oi!" Anderson growled.

Donovan chose that moment to enter the office.

And she didn't enter alone.

"Good afternoon, Greg." John greeted Lestrade politely. His calm voice belied the fact that some heads were about to roll. "How are you today?"

Lestrade pointed over to Sherlock, who hadn't moved an inch from the couch. "It wasn't my fault, John! He left the flat on his own! And she followed him! I didn't call either of them!"

"Don't worry about it, Greg. Only one person in this room is in trouble." John said ominously, turning to glare at Sherlock.

Sherlock smirked as he looked at his daughter. "Did you hear that, Sheri? You're in trouble!"

The rest of the adults in the room groaned in usion.

"I stand corrected. Two people are in trouble!" John muttered under his breath.

"I think he means you too, Dad." Sheridan mumbled, looking properly abashed.

"Me? What did I do?" Sherlock protested.

"Up! Now!" John ordered, reverting to his military voice. Sheridan jumped up quickly. Sherlock was a little slower.

John stared them both down. "Do you two have any idea how worried Mrs. Hudson has been? And you two decide to go galvanizing around London?!"

Sheridan chewed on her lip nervously while Sherlock kept his expression impassive. "We just wanted to help the Yarders get out early! And Clarky is supposed to propose to Molly tonight!" Sheridan said, looking up hopefully at John.

John looked back at Clarky, whose face was now a bright crimson. "Is this true, Clarky?"

Clarky made a noise that was a cross between a groan and a cough. "Oh, hell! By the time I ask her, half of London will know anyway!" Clarky complained.

"And he can't leave early unless they finish up with their priority cases." Sheridan added helpfully.

John grinned despite himself. He looked over at the rest of the Yarders. "How many more priority cases do you guys have?"

"We just got one left. A murder that was disguised as a suicide." Donovan answered, holding up the case file.

John rolled his eyes in exasperation. He turned to glare at the two delinquents. "One more case! You have fifteen minutes!"

Sherlock smirked in victory and grabbed the file out of Donovan's hand before flopping back on the couch. "You know, if I wasn't driven to boredom, then this would not be necessary."

"Shut it, Sherlock!" John muttered angrily. "You are already in trouble! You know very well you aren't allowed to leave the flat yet! What if you passed out in the street, and Sheri didn't know what to do?"

Sherlock didn't respond, yet his posture betrayed a hint of embarrassment.

"And what about you, Sheri?" John said, looking back towards Sherlock's partner in crime. "Do you have any idea how much you worried Mrs. Hudson?"

Sheridan had the grace to look properly chastianed. "Sorry, Uncle John."

"Who determined this case was a murder?" Sherlock asked abruptly, holding up the case file.

"I did." Anderson admitted hesistantly. "When I did the measurements, the height was too high, even with the chair we found at the scene. I thought it looked staged."

"Your deductive abilities, miniscule as they are, have shown improvement." Sherlock said reluctantly.

Anderson frowned. "Did he just give me a compliment, or insulted me?"

Sherlock continued his analysis before Anderson could figure it out. "Your killer is someone who works as a gardener. The victim's gardener, actually. The rope has minute traces of black, organic-based dirt on it. Particularly around the noose. But someone helped him, as you didn't find dirt anywhere else, suggesting someone cleaned up the crime scene after the gardener left. Who reported the body?"

"The victim's wife." Donovan said. "She was pretty upset when we talked to her."

"Then she's lying. I suggest you locate where she keeps her vacuum cleaner. Once you find the same traces of dirt that she vacuumed up from the carpet, then you should have her as an accessory, and she should give you the evidence you need against her lover." Sherlock answered, then threw his head back on the couch. "Well, that was incredibly simple! Maybe Gregson and Dimmock have a burglary case that Sheridan can work on…"

"No, no, and for a final time, no!" John yelled, sounding remarkably like a drill sergeant. "Now, both of you, get up! We are going straight back to the flat! No arguments!"

"You're no fun, Uncle John!" Sheri pouted.

"I'll be less fun if you don't do as I say! Now march!" John ordered.

Clarky gave the three a mock military salute as they walked by, while Donovan used her hand to hide the amused grin on her face.

"John! Wait a moment!" Lestrade called from his desk.

John turned around at the doorway. "What?"

Lestrade cleared his throat. "I was just wondering…are you planning to join up with the Yard? Be another consultant?"

John smirked. "You are asking if I'll be around to keep Sherlock in line, am I right?"

Lestrade had the grace to look embarrassed. "I didn't mean it like that!"

"I'll be here." John answered. "If I don't, then Sherlock here will get himself injured or killed again! Or bring Sheri with him to crime scenes!"

"Oh, happy day! The Freak and Freak Spawn!" Anderson muttered.

"Anderson!" Hopkins protested.

"It's ok, Stan!" Sheridan said, smiling. "I love being a freak! Freaks are people who can do things no one else can do! So Anderson can call me Freak Spawn if he wants to! I like it when he does! I just hope he doesn't mind when I call him Shaggy!"

Grinning, Sheridan skipped out of the room, leaving many dumbfounded adults in her wake.

Sherlock groaned and shook her head. "Sheridan, don't bother explaining things to the primate! You could draw it in crayon, and he still wouldn't be able to understand you!"

Clarky and Hopkins laughed as Sherlock followed Sheridan out the door. "So does this mean I need to order some child-sized gloves for Sheri?" Clarky snickered, looking towards John.

"I hope not!" John said, cringing at the thought. "Though if she is anything like Sherlock, she will find a way to follow us! Even Mycroft is having a hard time keeping tabs on her!"

"She could come in handy, though! I mean, she's good with weapons…" Clarky said.

"NO!" Lestrade shouted. "No children at crime scenes! Period! End of story!"

"Sure, Greg!" Clarky laughed. "Why don't you go and tell the little girl that? See what happens?"

Lestrade glared at Clarky. "Don't you have a proposal to plan for?"

Clarky blushed. "Oh! Right!"

John smirked at Clarky's obvious discomfort. While corpses and shoot-outs failed to sway the American overmuch, the idea of proposing seemed to have him slightly on edge. "Clarky, take a couple of deep breaths, alright! You look like you are going to pass out."

Clarky grinned shakely but inhaled and exhaled deeply. "Do you have a few moments to give me some pointers, John? I mean, you proposed to Mary a few months ago. How did you handle it?"

A few minutes later, John was just finishing up giving Clarky tips for the big moment when Dimmock stuck his head back in the office door. "Uh, Greg?"

"Now what?" Lestrade groaned.

"I think you need to get out here! There's been an incident! Sherlock's arguing with Porter. You know, the guy who got transferred to us? He said something about Sheridan being Morairty's niece, and was rather rude to her. Sherlock went ballistic and started insulting him by deducing that he is sleeping with prostitutes and is trying to get in his desk to get the proof…"

A loud scream emanated somewhere behind Dimmock.

"And it appears I am too late!" Dimmock noted, closing his eyes.

"SHERLOCK!" John yelled as he hurried out the door, desperate to forestall Sherlock's impending arrest.

"Sounds like everything is back to normal around here!" Donovan noted calmly as she replaced the files on Lestrade's desk.

"And what is 'normal,' Sally?" Lestrade complained.

"Well, the Freak's back, we're solving cases, he's insulting us, and he's already back to breaking the law! I say things are back to normal!" Donovan replied, looking satisfied with herself.

"If this is normal, then I can't wait for something exciting to happen!" Clarky remarked.

"GREG!" Dimmock yelled, rushing back to the door.

"Dimmock, are you trying to be the harbringer of doom or what?! Don't you know what happens to messengers?" Clarky joked. "Are you asking for Greg here to shoot you?"

"But it's an emergency! John just punched Porter in the face!" Dimmock gasped out.

The Yarders stood, immobile from shock.

"Let me guess! Porter insulted Sherlock, didn't he?" Lestrade finally said.

"It doesn't take a Holmes to deduce that one, Greg!" Hopkins noted.

"Well, what am I doing in here when I could be filming this stuff!?" Clarky exclaimed, fishing out his phone from his trouser pocket. "The guys back home would love to see this!"

"You mean your friends back in Knoxville are not enthralled watching corpses rot?" Hopkins shot back.

"Shut it, Hopkins!" Clarky replied evenly. "Or Porter won't be the only one nursing a sore face!"

Lestrade slowly rose from his chair. "Dare I ask what Sheridan is doing?"

"Last I saw of her, she was standing on Bradstreet's desk, cheering John on!" Dimmock replied.

"Uh, Greg…" Anderson stuttered. "Doesn't Bradstreet always keep a spare gun in his desk?"

Lestrade rubbed his temples as he fought off an impending headache.

Now was the time to prove why he was promoted to the position of Detective Inspector in the first place.

"Clarky, call Mrs. Hudson and inform her that her tenants are here! I hate for that poor lady to worry any more than what she has to on a daily basis! Anderson, go and run some tests on any vacuums that may have been seized as evidence in the Harold case! Hopkins, call Mrs. Strauss and tell her we need her to come to the station for some follow-up questions about her missing daughter! We'll deal with her when she gets here! And Donovan, run a cross-check for any students that may have come into contact with our three suicides! Cross reference any of them that may have access to a veterinarian office or medications!"

"And what are you going to do, Greg?" Hopkins asks, curious.

"I'm going to call Mycroft and tell him to be prepared to come down here to post Sherlock's and John's bail! I'm also going to find a few 'child friendly' cases for Sheri to work on so she doesn't get bored waiting here and decides to get a gun to break them out of holding!" Lestrade answered wearily.

"Good idea! I'll see if I can find anything in the cold case department!" Dimmock replied, leaving the doorway.

"And now we can safely say that things are back to normal!" Donovan noted.

Various ringtones suddenly went off, and all the Yarders began fumbling for their phones. When each one finally retrieved his or her cell, they found that they had each just received a text.

To: Greg Lestrade, Stanley Hopkins, Sally Donovan, Silvia Anderson, Edward Clarkson

From: Sherlock Holmes

Re: Back to normal?

Wrong! SH

Author's Note: Well, that's it! That's the first fan fiction story I have ever published!

Before I continue, I want to thank the following:

To all of you who followed my story-aindarayshin, Alex455, Aria Grey, Artemisa-arcanum, bbybyrd, bunies, chaoticmom, dianaj2w, Dreamingmydaysaway, eeekabee, Griffing07, Lady Iapetus Roving Wanderer, Missy the Least, monkeymail, .Namikaze, Rawiya, Rouge Singer, scifigurl720, Scottish Bluebell, silky0670, Space Symphony, StArBarD, StrongerThanThat, SWBloodwolf, and TheGirlWithTheOnyxRose.

To all of you who favorited this story-aindarayshin, chaoticmom, dark-phile-slayin-angel, eeekabee, Imagination Queen, Jesse Bryans, Lady Iapetus Roving Wanderer, monkeymail, MoonlitIvy, MsSherlocked, .Namikaze, Rawiya, SaFlame, Scottish Bluebell, SillyMongoose, and StrongerThanThat.

To all of those who posted a review for this story-ravenoak21, TravelingMan, Scottish Bluebell, Feyfangirl, chaoticmom, bbybyrd, MoonLitIvy, nioha, unnamed guest-(chapter 2), crazy-about-books, marye, MsSherlocked, Missy the Least, StrongerThanThat, SillyMongoose, Anon, Shizhika, TheGirlWithTheOnyxRose, and monkeymail.

And finally to all of those nameless individuals who took a second to click on "The Meaning of Sacrifice" and paused to read part or all of the story (Mycroft wouldn't release your names to me! Sorry!)

To all of you, I give my most sincere thanks. It took me longer to decide to post a chapter than it did to write the entire story, so I thank you all for making me feel like I can actually write something interesting. It means so much to me!

Now that I finished my tale, I am debating my next project. I may do a series of one-shots that will answer some of the lingering questions left over from the story. (What was John's and Sherlock's first actual case back? Where did Danielle actually have her body buried after she died? Will Danielle's organization continue? What happens at John's and Mary's wedding? Will Molly say yes to Clarky? Will Mycroft get in trouble again? Will Chase continue to wreck havoc?). If there is enough interest, I may do it. Or I could post a new story altogether, with new characters, and a new take on the "Sherlock" universe. I don't know yet, but any feedback is always welcomed.

Disclaimer: I don't own "Sherlock." But I do own the PDAs!

OC Chase Douglas-PDAs?

Peaceful Defender-My special "Peaceful Defender Awards!" Ok, first category! To the Reviewer Who Makes the Best Chinese Food…Missy the Least!

Mycroft Holmes-Ah, yes. The nice young woman who filled in for you when you were indisposed after being concussed after a game of pool! She was kind enough to overlook Mr. Douglas's inane ramblings.

OC Chase Douglas-Hey! No fair, DMP!

Peaceful Defender-To the Reader with the Best Left Hook…ravenoak21!

John Watson-The fan fiction girl who popped Moriarty on in Chapter 10?

Peaceful Defender-Yep. Also, the award for Best Spying Operation goes to Missy the Least, MoonlitIvy, ravenoak21, chaoticmom, and MsSherlocked, because they managed to out-smart a world famous evil mastermind and got away unscathed in "Chapter 10-Return of the Darkness." Maybe someone should be paying attention to that. (cough) Mycroft! (cough).

Mycroft Holmes-Let's not start with that again!

Peaceful Defender-To Best Supporting Character, the award goes to Fan Fiction, because they knew what was going on from the beginning and helped to set the record straight!

OC Chase Douglas-Go Fan Fiction! We rule!

Peaceful Defender-My reward for Most Favorite OC goes to Clarky!

OC Clarky-Really? Wow!

Stanley Hopkins-Good job, redneck! Although I don't know why! You are kind of creepy! With the Body Farm and everything! As I said before, you are one certifiable nutter! But still, good job!

OC Clarky-Thanks! I think.

Peaceful Defender-My reward for Most Destructive Character goes to Chase!

OC Chase Douglas (grabs award and gets behind podium)-OMG! OMG! OMG! This is so unexpected! I didn't even have a speech prepared! (quietly pulls out a sheet of paper) But seriously, thanks to my fellow Sherlockians, to Fan Fiction, to the DMP, who took a chance on me and employed me, even after my unfortunate incarceration, and to all of those who produce, make, and sale coffee every day! Thank you! (wipes away tears)

James Moriarty (as a ghost)-No fair! I demand a recount!

Mycroft Holmes (looks to Not-Anthea)-Dear, please call the nearest paranormal experts to deal with that…abomination.

Not-Anthea-Right away, Sir. (starts to type on her Black Berry).

OC Chase Douglas-Oh, Anthea-my-goddess! Tell them we need an old priest and a young priest! And if we can't get them, then who are we going to call? Ghostbusters!

Peaceful Defender-Everyone, for the love of all that is holy, stop giving Chase coffee! Now he's quoting the "Exorcise" and "Ghostbusters!"

James Moriarty-I hate you all! And Peaceful Defender, you will pay! (disappears)

John Watson-Well, that was…unexpected.

Sherlock Holmes (rolls his eyes)-Why does he keep coming back?

Peaceful Defender-I wish I knew! And that's an empty threat! He already stole my underwear! What else can he do? Anyway, award for the Best Birthday Gift, to Sherlock Holmes!

Martha Hudson-Sherlock! That was real sweet of you, my boy! It must have been a good present, for Peaceful Defender to give you an award for it! Any chance you will give any of us the same present?

Sherlock Holmes (groans and tries to slouch farther into his chair so that he can hide) I doubt it!

Peaceful Defender (giggles)-I doubt you would want what I got, Mrs. Hudson. My gift was…personalized. Just for me. But he's a consulting detective, so I'm sure he will figure out what you would all want in time for your birthdays! Anyway, Award For Best Foot In The Mouth…Sally Donovan!

Sally Donovan-For accusing Sherlock in the first place?

Peaceful Defender-No! For what you said in the Character Commentary at the end of "Chapter 18-The Secret." On how Sheridan's father must be a wonderful human being, and he has the parenting thing down, and that he should teach a class on it!

Sally Donovan (blushing)-OH!

Sherlock Holmes (looks over at Sally Donovan in shock)-You did!?

Sally Donovan (nods, embarrassed)-I, may have…said something to that effect.

Peaceful Defender-For the award for Most Inappropriate Comment

Silvia Anderson-Fine! I'm sorry about saying that Sherlock should be sterilized! There! Are you happy now!?

Sherlock Holmes (eye twitches)-WHAT? What did you say!?

John Watson-You don't want to know, Sherlock. Trust me!

Sherlock Holmes-I should have stayed dead! It was safer for me! First you, Mycroft, and Irene threaten to have me subjected to a public whipping, and now this!?

Peaceful Defender-Breathe, Sherlock! If anyone tries to hurt you, I guarantee that a legion of fan girls will come and stop them. And finally, for Most Suffering Inflicted on a Character Award, Mycroft Holmes!

OC Chase Douglas (applauds loudly) YAH! That's my boss! GO DMP!

Mycroft Holmes-I would have thought that Sherlock or John were more deserving of that award.

Peaceful Defender-It was close, but you won by virtue of your car being bombed and having to deal with Chase all the time.

OC Chase Douglas-So…the DMP won because of me!?

Peaceful Defender-You were a big part of it!

OC Chase Douglas-Whoo hoo! Do you hear that, DMP? With me at your side, you are invincible! I'll never leave you!

Mycroft Holmes (sighes in defeat while simultaneously glares at Peaceful Defender)

Sherlock Holmes (grinning)-Any chance of us reading "The Further Adventures of Mycroft Holmes and Chase Douglas"? Now that is a story I would condescend to read.

Mycroft Holmes-Watch it, Sherly!

John Watson (giggling)-Or what? Are you going to tell Mummy?

Peaceful Defender-Well, that's officially the end! Thank you everyone!