There was something intimate about looking into Sherlock’s unsolved case files. It was almost like seeing someone’s daemon for the first time after only knowing them through phone calls or emails. A sudden feeling of Oh, of course. She was seeing something that he refused to show to anyone else: that Sherlock could fail.
Sherlock wrote in cramped handwriting, with his thoughts invisible between the notes. When he wrote the work schedule of one of the witnesses to a homicide, going back and forth two weeks around the crime, she had to make the connections herself. Most of the cases were thick volumes, handwriting growing messier as he grew older and fought off the training of public school. Some cases he’d clearly worked on for years.
She chose the slimmest one, which also happened to be a local case. Reading the emails associated with it, she could see that Gregson had contacted Sherlock while he was in London, and had sent over photos and notes.
After a stretch, Corcoran settled at her feet, scratching his chin against her thigh before settling into a low, rumbling purr. She read, absently petting the leopard’s sleek fur. The case was full of details about the city and she could read in his clipped sentences, his single word emails, how frustrated Sherlock was at his inability to see the crime scene.
The email train abruptly ended, and she had a feeling based on the date stamps that it had happened right as Irene Adler had disappeared.
She heard someone fumbling with keys and slid the file under a stack of other files just as Ms. Hudson opened the foyer door. Corcoran’s nose twitched and he whispered what he smelled. He used to pretend to sleep when new people came into the room, his breath just slightly off from real sleep.
“Oil from the street, water. Rainwater, you can smell the chemicals and dirt from the sidewalk that came with it. People. Other people. Coffee, organic from Colombia. Left over ions. Subway.”
Sherlock had opened and closed his hands several times, his lips pursed together into a frown, when he realized that she never asked Corcoran for that sort of information.
“You have one of the best noses on the planet in your daemon. He can smell hundreds of times better than any human on earth. And you both think that pretending to sleep is the best use of his abilities?” he bit out. He’d opened his hands again, and behind him Sephronia had paced, back and forth, her teeth just slightly bared.
Corcoran had reached out and rumbled, one of his calls that didn’t sound quite like a cat, but was definitely not the howls or yips that Sephronia preferred.
Now, Joan turned her head a little and smiled at Ms. Hudson as she slid off her knee length coat, the red complementing the black rubber soled high-heel boots she usually only wore on rainy days.
“Joan,” Ms. Hudson greeted, smiling. “If you’re busy, I can start in the kitchen.”
She had on what Joan had come to realize was one of her cleaning outfits. Something cotton and easily washable. It was a darker color, and made her hair look like it glowed. Reaching down, she casually opened Maslin’s traveling cage, and took out the stoat. He was white, his winter coat, and he easily crawled up her arm, adjusting her hair so he could fit tight against the back of her neck.
“No,” Joan said. “I should get up anyway. Want some tea?”
“That fruity blend from last time?” Ms. Hudson asked. “Little less honey, please.”
“Sure,” Joan said. Corcoran followed her, butting his head against the back of her knee when they passed the threshold to the kitchen. He leapt up on the table and settled across the papers that Sherlock had laid out.
“I don’t think Maslin likes me,” Corcoran said. He lazed back, tail switching back and forth.
“You’re a lot bigger than he is,” Joan said. “And we don’t know Ms. Hudson that well.”
“He lets Sephronia touch him,” Corcoran said, rolling to his other side.
“Don’t be a brat,” Joan said. “They’ve known each other longer.”
When she first started being a sober companion, the only one who’d been on her side was Corcoran. He’d been the only one who told her it was a good fit, that she could really help people being a companion.
There was something most people found soothing about the way he met their daemons. He was at his most gentle when he would touch noses with a new daemon, when he would let himself curl around them, rubbing his scent over them.
By the time Joan met her clients, they were long over withdrawal, but sometimes it echoed in their subconscious, especially when they were at meetings or talking to their sponsors. Then, he would lean against their daemons like he sometimes leaned against Joan, letting their daemons be the strong ones, letting them lean against him until they were strong enough to support themselves.
Sometimes, sometimes, he would be hard where she was not physically strong enough to be. She could never restrain her clients if they got aggressive. She could never say, “You don’t get to go out with him because he is your dealer and because I’m here to keep you sober.”
That was when Corcoran was all strength and muscle and bearing their daemon to the ground, his teeth at the daemon’s throat. That was when he was at his most controlled, the spots on his fur shimmering as he moved.
Early on, when she was working with her second client, she had seen him take down her client’s elk daemon in seconds. The elk had stayed quivering on the floor, its massive horns ripping holes in the wall, exposing the pink insulation and multi-colored wires. Joan could feel more than hear him talking to the other daemon. She could feel it like a low chord that echoed in her heart.
She had talked her client down, then, reminding her how much better her life was now that she was clean. How she had all the tools to make good decisions, and the woman had given in, panting and crying through her fingers, reaching out for her daemon as soon as Corcoran had let up.
After, when Corcoran was compulsively cleaning himself, wiping his paw over his face over and over again, he would tell her what he had said.
“Just that he’s not helpless. That his human is weak and that the addiction will never go away. And that he has to be strong,” he said.
When he realized that even after becoming his partner, Joan and Corcoran hadn’t begun to utilize Corcoran’s senses, Sherlock’s frustration developed into a compulsive need to train them both into the sort of relationship that he had with Sephronia.
Joan had seen daemons post-addiction before she became a companion. But when she was a doctor, she often saw patients for only a few hours or days or weeks. She hadn’t realized that it was permanent, the toll that addiction took on daemons.
Sephronia had likely once been considered beautiful. She was tall for a female coyote. Joan had seen a picture when they were in London, and had realized that Sephronia’s fur was once a tawny brown, with a deep black stripe running down her back.
Now her fur was patchy, ashy gray spots patterned her hide. The fur was thinner at the gray spots, too, and during the winter she would develop sores. At first, Sherlock looked over during the winter, when they were somewhere icy cold and Sephronia was shivering. He would reach out then, almost subconsciously, and Sephronia, equally as distracted, would yip and nip at him, dancing away from the comfort he seemed to forget he was offering.
Once, early on, when she was still Sherlock’s sober companion, when she and Corcoran knew that they were still training both human and daemon how to live sober, Corcoran had immediately jumped in, putting himself between Sephronia and escape. He’d shoved her back into Sherlock’s hand where it hung limply between them.
“Having natural, consistent contact with your daemon is important,” Joan had said, calmly. The trick was to make it sound like a fact, not an accusation. “Like sex, it releases endorphins and other chemicals your body needs to function.”
The touch had only lasted a few seconds before Sherlock and Sephronia had both separated, Sherlock saying harshly, “Well, thank you, Watson for opening my eyes to that garbage daemon-pseudo-science.”
Sephronia had nipped at Corcoran, but after that she had stood still, trembling with the effort not to run whenever Sherlock reached out to her, his fingers trembling just as much.
Alfredo brought with him a large presence. When she first met him, Joan had felt a kinship. She knew what it was like to work somewhere where being who you were meant swimming upstream. She wasn’t the only Asian American girl at Harvard medical school, but it was there under the surface when Brad from her Molecular and Cellular Physiology class asked, “So, where are you from?” in an oversized voice like she might not speak English. It was there when she beat the curve and she saw a couple of girls rolling their eyes, mouthing, “Of course,” to each other.
Finding Carrie had made her feel less alone, and even if they never talked about it, she knew that every time Carrie smiled when a professor called her, “young lady” or “a fine example,” it was because the other option was screaming.
Most people in medical school had raptor demons: hawks and eagles. Some had snakes or owls. A few had dogs, but they were always the people who’d entered medicine to help others. Carrie had a golden retriever who would lay quietly under her chair, and never showed his teeth. No one else had a big cat, and Joan found herself spending too much time working to make that difference not matter.
But where she’d worked hard to fit in, to wear clothes that made her blend and made the white coat look natural, Alfredo had gone in the opposite direction.
He wore clothes that made his tall frame bigger, and fashions that screamed where he came from, like a microphone being used in a board room. “You will never change who I am,” he seemed to say with his oversized designer jeans and one-of-a-kind hat.
Corcoran liked his daemon, too. Adonia was usually fairly quiet, even for a fox, but she would immediately curl next to Corcoran and close her eyes, her chest rising and falling quickly even in sleep. Her fur was long and a dark red, almost rusty. Alfredo’s addiction had taken its toll on her in a different way than it had on Sephronia. Adonia was lame in one foot, and the fur there was a sickly gray. The rest of her paws were black and she had keen green eyes. Corcoran would lick her face and tell Joan that she smelled like leather and oil and gasoline.
“She’s beautiful,” Joan said, once.
“For a few months when I was first boosting, she wasn’t fixed. She played at a cheetah and a horse. We used to race,” Alfredo told her one day, when he was waiting for Sherlock to take a break. “She’d run along side. We pulled pretty hard back then.”
Joan smiled, looked up to where she could hear Sherlock talking to himself on the next floor. She turned back to Alfredo.
“Sherlock wants me and Corcoran to practice separation,” she said. She glanced across at Corcoran – he’d hooked a paw over Adonia’s chest as they both napped.
“And why does that make you uncomfortable?” Alfredo asked. He leaned back a little in his chair and really looked at her. She broke eye contact first.
“Because I don’t think it would make me a better detective,” she said, and reached out to run a hand along Corcoran’s fur. He nuzzled her hand.
Alfredo waited, his boots even on the floor. Adonia’s tail flicked out and hit his leg. It seemed accidental, but it happened twice more before she relaxed.
“I think he wants me to do it because he did it,” Joan said. “But Corcoran is... I can’t imagine being without him.”
“You know, sometimes newcomers try to rely too much on their daemons, when they’re first sober.” Alfredo leaned towards her, holding her gaze. “And we have to learn again to trust that they’re not ever going to go away. No matter how much we pull, even if you did separate when you were using. Your daemon will never leave you.”
Sherlock clattered down the stairs, leaning over the bannister to shout at them, “I’m at the ‘break’ your timer has imposed upon me, Watson! Alfredo, I trust you are still here?”
Alfredo got up, nudging Adonia with his boot. She rose, stretching and yawing so that all of her teeth were visible. She trotted awkwardly behind him as he went up the stairs, Sherlock already talking too fast about something that Joan and Alfredo both knew was a distraction from the real work they were going to do.
“You know, when I was a kid,” Ms. Hudson smiled with one side of her mouth. “I used to think no one knew that Maslin was a boy.”
Maslin looked up at her from where he was curled in her lap and let out a chittering laugh that sent Corcoran into giggles.
“For how long?” Joan asked, taking a sip of her tea.
“Oh, I don’t know. Until I was eight or nine. Nothing like public school to teach you that everyone will make fun of what they think is different.” She ruffled Maslin’s fur.
“Yeah,” Joan said, looked at his white fur and Ms. Hudson’s red nails.
“I used to hide him for a long time, he would only be small animals. A mouse or a lizard,” she nudged his chin. “I think we both missed out on a lot of stuff, when we were hiding.”
Joan smiled, let herself be quiet.
“So, now onto the fridge,” Ms. Hudson said. Joan made a face, and Ms. Hudson sighed. “One must boldly go, as they say.”
Once, Joan came home, balancing groceries, Corcoran pissy because of the rain and the way that the cabbie’s daemon had hissed at him, two feet of angry raccoon, aggressive because Corcoran refused to sit on the floor.
Alfredo and Ms. Hudson were laughing in the foyer, and when Joan got closer, she could see the tears at the edge of Ms. Hudson’s eyes and how Adonia was rolled over onto her back, laughing in sync with Alfredo. Corcoran went to butt heads with Adonia, his mood still hanging over his gait like a dark cloud. He stopped short, and sat back, immediately going down on his stomach when he saw Maslin stretched out next to Adonia.
After an awkward moment, Joan said, “What’s so funny?”
“I am just here to clean!” Ms. Hudson said, raising her hands in innocence. Maslin moved suddenly, up onto his feet and then, assertively, he nudged up under Corcoran’s chin, rubbing himself there for a moment before settling down and letting Corcoran nuzzle him.
“I had a new car that Sherlock said he wanted to see before I gave it back to the manufacturer,” Alfredo said. He nodded his head just slightly towards the living room and Joan put the groceries down before peeking around the corner.
“Oh my god,” Joan sighed. “Sherlock.”
“I will have everyone in this flat know that I am perfectly capable of escaping,” Sherlock said, defensively. Sephronia looked up moodily from where she was padlocked into a cage across the room. She gave a soft wuff of annoyance.
“Please show us how,” Mistress Felicia said, tapping her riding crop against her heel as she sat cross-legged on the couch.
“Well, I would prefer not to dislocate both my shoulders, even if there is a doctor in the house,” Sherlock said.
“Nice to see you again,” Joan said to Mistress Felicia. She tried for polite, but couldn’t hide the blush spreading across her face at the desire to laugh.
“I can’t leave until I untie him,” Mistress Felicia said, tapping her leather boot again. “Safe, sane and consensual.”
“Sherlock, just admit that she beat you,” Joan said. This set off a new round of struggling and Joan sighed when she heard a crack and realized that he’d broken his thumb attempting to loosen the knots.
“Okay,” she said, rolling her eyes. “We’re done here. Mistress?”
The title fell awkwardly from her lips, but calling the woman Felicia felt more awkward, and Joan settled for a bland smile. Mistress Felicia stood and with a few quick tugs, loosened the knots. Getting him out of the knots was a process and when it was done, he made a face and fisted his hand.
“Well, then,” he said. “I concede nothing.”
“I’m going to start in the bathrooms,” Ms. Hudson said, picking up Maslin from the pile of daemons.
“Come on,” Joan said. “You and Alfredo can talk while I’m looking at your thumb.”
She couldn’t look Alfredo in the eye without going off into giggles again, Sherlock’s shoulders going tight when he bent to unlock Sephronia’s cage clumsily with one hand. Alfredo nudged her with his shoulder, a soft affectionate reminder that she’d never be alone in dealing with Sherlock’s absurdity. There was someone else holding him up, too.
Later, later when she’s a little older and when Maslin greets Corcoran with tentative affection, and when she’s learned how to ignore the alarm, how to let Alfredo’s advice become her only thought when she’s breaking into cars, she sees something for the first time. It’s in one of the photos of the crime scene, a slightly darker smear of paint in the graffiti in the background. It’s only a single line, like someone had started to trace over old work, and stopped.
Then it’s tracking down the artist, and finding out that they had been there, that they had seen it and then it’s more work, finding a silver car with the only clue the first letter of the license plate and some looking through records, with Bell bringing her coffee and Sherlock mumbling advice, while trying not to jump over her to solve everything.
It’s Ms. Hudson mentioning that it’s interesting they’d use a butchered version of Latin, because it’s nearly nonsense, but you can tell they tried to translate some of the Iliad. The scenes where Achilles abuses Hector’s already dead body.
It’s finding the grad school drop out, the kid who’d driven a silver caddy in the early 2000’s. It’s watching Bell cuff him and read him his rights and feeling Corcoran purring against her leg.
“Very-” Sherlock pauses. “Very good work, Watson.”
Alfredo, who’d helped her track the guy, puts a hand on her shoulder, he squeezes once, then follows Sherlock, talking low. There’s a comfort there, and she can tell he sees what she does: the case reminds Sherlock that if he hadn’t been doing drugs the killer might not have remained free.
Bell stops by and congratulates her, tells her he can give her a ride home. When she gets inside, gets up to her room she puts the case away and can’t help but thumb through another file folder. Not as local, but a little older, one that keeps tugging at her memory. After a moment, she takes the case out and closes the chest behind her.
Joan smiles, ready for the next day.