So there I was, in a strange bed, in a strange bedroom that was all decked out in 1800s bullshit, with a strange man staring down at me. Most people reading this probably know who I am already, but if you don’t, here’s the deal: my name’s Arabella Grimsbro, I’m fifteen, and apparently getting trapped in the plots of old, out-of-copyright books is my entire fucking life now.

When I didn’t return home after my first adventure, I thought I had just screwed the whole thing up. The magic shoes that were supposed to transport me home just brought me to Depression-era Kansas, at which point I freaked out and made them whisk me back to Oz (and promptly fell off a hot air balloon into a tornado). Then the second book took place on Mars with giant, four-armed warriors and naked princesses and whatever, and I literally DIED at the end. Neither of those two dramatic conclusions freed me from my public-domain misery, though, and now I was pretty sure I was in a fucking Sherlock Holmes story.

“My dear Holmes, surely you don’t mean to keep your client waiting in the sitting room, as distressed as she appears to be.”

See, that was my first clue right there.

“When young ladies wander about the city at this hour of the morning,” he continued—I went ahead and decided this guy must be Watson because, you know, BRILLIANT ANALYTICAL MIND—“and knock sleepy people out of their beds, their business must be very pressing, indeed.”

You know what? Fuck it. I could be Sherlock Holmes. Compared to the brutal, shitty wastelands of Barsoom, Victorian England might as well be a luxury cruise. And if I had learned one thing in my literary adventures so far, it was that everything was stupid and nothing I did mattered, so I decided to solve whatever dumb mystery I was supposed to solve as quickly as possible and then either tornado off to the next god-awful thing or hang around until my time ran out, enjoying my vacation as a rich, middle-aged white man in Victorian London.

I climbed out of bed and puttered around by the wardrobe for a moment, but Watson gave no sign whatsoever that he intended to leave the room.

“So when I get dressed in the morning, do you traditionally just stand around and, like, watch?” It wasn’t the getting naked part that bothered me—when people looked at me in these things, they saw whatever character I was supposed to be playing, so he’d just get an eyeful of pasty white guy. But in real life, I was wearing my trusty hoodie and jeans, which meant that changing clothes—

Wait, hold the motherfucking phone. “Watson, who does the laundry around here?”

His eyes lit up. “This is one of your logic puzzles, I presume? I shall play along, of course. As to your first inquiry, I may only state that two bachelors sharing rooms have nary a shred of privacy between them and might commonly observe every—”

“THE LAUNDRY, Watson.”

“Why, Mrs. Hudson employs a service, of course, which—”

“Ha!” Watson fell silent, waiting patiently for me to explain. The guy was clearly accustomed to being rudely interrupted. “Uh, just go downstairs and tell the client I’ll be down… you know, presently, or whatever.”

His dejected glance told me that partially undressed bro times were probably the highlight of his day, but he nodded dutifully and left the room. Something about the guy was oddly charming—even attractive, maybe? Of the two of them, Sherlock Holmes would usually be way more my type than Dr. Watson (even though my friend Madeline had forced me to watch one episode of the modern-day BBC version, and I just couldn’t get past that guy’s weird face).

This Watson was quite a bit different from the one on TV, though. For starters, he was tall and somehow absolutely rocking a goofy-ass 1800s mustache. It was the twinkle in his eye, though—his adoring gaze—that was really getting to me. I had seen that look before, and recently. That was the way Dejah Thoris looked at John Carter, Warlord of Mars. Something about Dejah’s utter devotion had always set me on edge, though—everything about her was essentially created in a lab to cater to teenage boy fantasies, and even though there turned out to be a surprising amount of overlap with the fantasies of a mostly straight teenage girl, the underlying dynamic always felt pretty gross.

This, however, was just two forty-something pals sharing an apartment together with no creepy power differential to get in the way. And one billion fanfic stories notwithstanding, as far as I knew, this guy was only created to, like, marvel at Sherlock’s cleverness or chronicle his exploits or whatever the fuck it was Watson even did in these books.

Whatever. The part I was genuinely excited about was getting clean clothes. And not just surprisingly-less-filthy-than-you-would-assume-considering-I-wore-them-for-weeks-on-end-in-a-desert-and-got-stabbed-through-them-multiple-times clean but ACTUALLY CLEAN FOR REAL. I considered taking about forty baths as well but ultimately decided they could wait until after finding out whatever the hell kind of mystery was waiting for me downstairs in the sitting room.

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