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She’s there for him and he’s there for her. They don’t voice these facts, that’s as unnecessary as saying that Nuneaton is a horrid place, but they know it. They both know pain and grief all too well, and they are both wise enough to know they wouldn’t have gotten as far alone as they got together. And often, one of them takes advantage of this fact. Sherlock asks Joan to monitor his sleep every now and then, and she asks him to please accompany her to a family gathering, and they go, easily, quietly, and without ever questioning.  

But it’s on a stormy Saturday evening, when the town is quiet and the cases are scarce and Sherlock is going stir-crazy, that Joan decides it’s time to understand what is it that’s happening. He’s sitting next to the fireplace on his favourite armchair, striped sock-clad feet plopped over an ottoman, Summa Theologica resting on his lap. A cup of tea – most certainly cold judging by the amount of time it’s been there – rests next to him on the coffee table, and she takes a moment to wonder if she’ll ever be able to remove the stain that cup is leaving on the wood. She takes a brief glance at him, hoping she didn’t linger long enough for him to notice, but she’s not rapid enough. He notices her there, and closes his book on his lap before glancing up at her.

“Watson, why don’t you just say whatever it is that you want to say and preserve your shoe soles?” he asks, and she considers just dropping it.

But she won’t. She needs to understand this co-dependent relationship they have, needs to understand if they’re still just partners and friends, or if the nights he slept on her floor and held her hand after a particularly frightening case got the best of her have changed their relationship. She recognizes that her own need for labels is rather pathetic. They’re adults, they don’t have to explain what they have to anyone, but for some reason, she feels like she needs it explained, not for any third-party, but to herself.

She hesitates for a moment before asking him. “What are we?” she blurts out, eyes glued on the sheer pulchritude on his face, trying – and failing – her best not to look too nervous.

“What part of our existence are you referring to?” he asks, and she can’t tell if he’s being serious or just pulling her leg, but decides it’s best not to intervene with his response “We’re beings in the macrocosm. Sapient creatures, some of us. Consumers of oxygen. We’re…”

“You and me, Sherlock.” She says “We as in us. Holmes and Watson. Joan and Sherlock. What are we, the two of us?”

He ponders for a moment, before taking his feet off the footrest and reaching for the cup of tea. He seems annoyed by the question, confused even, which is something she’s sure she’s never seen before.

“I do not understand what is it that you plan to achieve with this inquiry, Watson.” He tells her, setting the cup back on the table “I fail to see both your point and what caused you to pursue this, and I’m honestly gobsmacked at the blatant ignorance of it.”

“Excuse me? Ignorance of what? I’m just trying to understand the kind of relationship we’re harbouring.” She says, and it’s almost a whisper. She’s not normally fazed by never-ending rudeness, but this is not exactly a normal situation. “God, Sherlock, can you not see it? Something has changed here. Between us. You fall asleep by my side so often I’ve come to startle when you’re not there. You have been observing me. Not just normal Sherlock Holmes observations, but personal observations.” She tells him, and he shifts uncomfortably in his chair. “You bought me flowers last week. My favourites.”

She looks at him, pleading, begging him to just tell her what he thinks, explain what he’s doing, where they’re going, what he wants.

But he doesn’t. It takes him a second, and then he’s dashing off to lord knows where, his coat and shoes disappearing alongside him through the front door.

She’s not entirely sure what she expected, but that certainly wasn’t it. He ran from her, almost literally ran from her, and as always, there she stands, confused, annoyed, and so, so very intrigued. Accept the fact that Sherlock Holmes is and always will be a mystery, she says to herself, before she can drag her feet up the stairs and into her bedroom. He will not be there tonight, that much she’s sure of, but not much else is clear.

 


 

 

It’s well after one when she hears the doorknob turn. A faint light comes from the hallway, and she sees a shadow, his shadow, standing on the doorway.

“Sherlock?” she calls, her voice drowsy with sleep.

“I don’t know.” He responds, shifting on his heels.

“Don’t know if you are Sherlock?”

“Don’t know what we are.” He tells her “I’m not a common man Watson, and you can’t expect my relationships to be common. I enjoy your company, there’s no one else I’d rather spend time with, and I’d go to any length to protect you, but I doubt there’s anything in these words you don’t already know.” He continues “Therefore, I invite you, Watson, to tell me what we are, for I do not know.”

He’s right. She knows all of that already. But for some wicked reason, she needs that affirmation.

“We are whatever we want to be.”

“And what is that?”

“I don’t know.” She really doesn’t. Sherlock is a chaotic, careless, infantile, completely crackers prick, and a romantic relationship with him sounds in no way desirable, and yet, a future without him seems unfathomable. She can’t fight for that relationship alone, and she’s bloody near sure he won’t fight alongside her.

“Well, be sure to inform me once you do know.” He says, and turns around to leave the room.

“Sherlock.”

“What?”

“Stay.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 2: Bach and Porridge

Joan doesn’t sleep well. Sherlock sleeps on her bed instead of the floor, but since they still haven’t really agreed on what their relationship is, that’s all he does. He lies next to her, back pressed firmly against the mattress, arms glued to his sides as if he had been dared to pretend he was dead. He’s painfully stiff and she mirrors his behaviour, but doesn’t succumb to slumber. She just lies there for the whole of five hours and stares at the ceiling, thinking about all of the things she wants to say to Sherlock but still hasn’t had the opportunity to do so.

He’s up before seven, as per usual. She doesn’t indicate that she’s awake and he doesn’t seem to notice, and makes an effort not to disturb her when he leaves the bed. She falls asleep almost immediately after he leaves, managing to get a full two hours of uninterrupted sleep until she’s awoken by the sound of someone playing the violin. It’s Sherlock, obviously, and she recognizes the melody as Bach’s Allegro Assai before she can reach the hallway. It’s beautiful, it always is. Sherlock is perhaps one of the most talented violinists she’s ever heard, and she tells him so every chance she gets.

She ties her robe around her waist and descends the steps into the foyer. She doesn’t see him immediately. Allegro Assai has ended and she doesn’t recognize the next melody, but follows its sound into the kitchen. Sherlock is standing next to the stove, where the kettle is boiling and a saucepan is simmering. He’s not in the clothes he wore to bed – which is ironic, since he wore jeans and a shirt to bed – he’s wearing pyjama pants and a white cotton vest. She’s never seen him dress like that before, but it’s a nice surprise. She can’t really tell from the angle she’s standing, but he appears to be smiling – smirking is more likely – and quite content, and if she didn’t know better, she’d probably think he had several rounds of exuberant sex first thing in the morning.

“Sherlock?” she calls, fiddling nervously with the sleeves of her robe.

“Watson!” he replies, halting the music and setting the bow down “Good morning.” If she had any doubt in her mind that Sherlock is bonkers, she doesn’t anymore. He’s definitely smirking, the contents of the pot do not look disgusting, and he’s jovial. All the things you could attribute to just anyone BUT Sherlock Holmes now seem an intrinsic part of his personality. “I made some coffee for you, I know you didn’t sleep very well.”

And suddenly she’s scouring the room for cameras and the Prank Patrol crew. She doesn’t find either.

“Thank you.” She chokes out “what are you cooking?”

The coffee pot is hot but not too hot, so she gathers that he knew when she was coming down and warmed it for her. It’s sweet and domestic and utterly terrifying.

“Porridge.” He tells her, taking the bow from the table and starting a seemingly improvised melody. It bores him after maybe seven or eight seconds and he sets both the violin and the bow back on the table, taking a wooden spoon and stirring the porridge.

“You should play more often.” She tells him, taking the coffee mug and settling across the violin and bow on a chair with an odd leather seat. “It’s nice.”

He offers her a smile and goes back to stirring, and she senses he’s a wee bit uncomfortable.

“I…” she’s ready to say something, but he stops her before she can get past the pronoun.

“The porridge is ready.” He announces, quickly pouring it in two bowls.

He sets one in front of her and the other next to the violin and bow, where he sits.

“I don’t suppose it’ll taste terrible, but if it does, please don’t feel complied to eat it.”

“I’m sure it’s great.” She assures him, lifting the spoon from the bowl and scooping some of it, and putting it into her mouth.  

She absolutely loathes porridge. She always thought of it as something you either grow up loving or taste in adulthood and hates it, like peanut butter or Jerry Seinfeld, but she’s not about to rain on his efforts.

She knows he’s going to notice the faint twitches in her face and the way she swallows it before she can really taste it, but does her best to hide her distaste from him anyway.

And that’s when she notices something quite odd. His own face twitches and he too, swallows the thing without tasting it. He scoops too much porridge at once as if he wants it to be over soon, and takes it off the spoon with his teeth rather than his tongue, as if he’s doing everything he can to keep it away from his taste buds.

“Why did you make porridge if you don’t like porridge?” she asks, and he lifts his eyes from the bowl to look at her.

“What?”

“You clearly don’t like it.” She says “You’re eating it like a kid eats Brussels sprouts.”

He drops the spoon into the bowl and plops his elbows on the table, entwining his fingers together.

“When I was a young child Mycroft and I shared the same nanny.” He told her “I was four and he was eight, and my father judged it correct to try to make us… bond, if you will.” He waves his hands, dismissing it “she was an extremely elderly Scottish lady, and our fights drove her insane. So she invented this rule. Important discussions should be held over porridge, never without it.” He continued “It took us both quite a bit of time to understand why. I always thought she was just old and senile, but then I realized she managed to attenuate the intensity of our spats. While she was making the porridge, we both had to sit quietly, which is surprisingly effective in calming the nerves of young children.”

He smiles at her and she smiles back, taking the opportunity to push her own bowl away from her.

“She died after a few months taking care of us, probably because Mycroft was a horrid child, but I never stopped doing it. I do hate porridge. But it seemed to me that the sacrifice was worth it.”

She grabs his hand over the table and puts a spoonful of porridge in her mouth, swallowing it a bit more easily.

“Are we about to have an important discussion?”

“Yes, Watson. I do believe we are.” 

Chapter Text

Chapter 3: Tell Me

“I don’t really know what to say.” She confesses, and it’s perhaps the most perfect thing she could have said.

It’s a chilly Sunday morning and they are at their most vulnerable state. They both know they are being observed, scrutinized, analysed to the very core of their existence. She’s looking at a side of him she’s never seen before and he’s looking at a side of her no one – not even herself – knew existed. It’s confusing and messy and quite frankly, a wee disturbing.

“You’ve only had one meaningful relationship with your life, and that relationship was with Irene.” She states, matter-of-factly.

“Moriarty.” He corrects, and she sees a faint shade of sadness go through his eyes.

“Yes.” She agrees “But before she was Moriarty, before you knew who she was. I want you to tell me about the relationship you had before that.”

“I don’t see the point.” He tells her “It was all a lie.”

“It wasn’t for you.” She says, giving his hand a light squeeze. “I want to know what it was like for you.

“Alright.”

June 23, 2011

Irene Adler’s Flat

17 Three Kings Yard, London

“Hello? Irene?” he calls, setting a medium-sized paper bag on the floor. He takes a second to look around before taking the bouquet of lilies he brought her to the kitchen. He makes a point to bring her flowers once a week, even though he knows they’ll be dead in less than three days. He removes the – dead – roses he brought her the previous week from the vase and tosses them on the rubbish bin, careful not to drip too much water. The lilies are a bit short for that particular vase, but it’s the only one he finds, so he leaves them there nonetheless.  

“Up here!” She yells, and he follows the faint sound of a song playing.

“Hello.” He repeats, and plants a kiss on her hair. “What’s this?”

He knows what it is. Knows who it is. She’s a brilliant painter and the picture looks almost identical to the photo he has. The dark fur, the snout and those unmistakable expressive yes. He sits on the grass at a location he promptly recognizes as the Richmond Park, surrounded by tall trees. It’s a sunny day and the sky is clear, and somewhere, far in the back, he notices a little boy. He doesn’t have a face and yet he seems scared – something he’s positive only the most talented of artists can accomplish – and lost. He appears young, but the sombre colours he wears age him a few years. He wears a single-breasted dark grey jacket and trousers the same colour, and black cap toe balls. It wouldn’t be a very distinctive outfit, not if he weren’t wearing the brightest, most scandalous lime green socks in the planet.

He glances at his watch, and it marks 6:47 PM. Years later, he’ll remember that moment as the day Irene Adler crawled into his brain, his life, and lodged there, like a bullet that doesn’t leave an exit wound, forever.

“She painted the dog I had as a boy.” Sherlock tells her, in a choked-out almost whisper.

Joan struggles to understand why he seems so disturbed by a painting of a childhood pet. She can’t think of clear answer as to why this would upset him so much, so she waits for him to continue.

“One our servants – one of my father’s drivers, likely – ran over the animal.” He says “Redbeard, I had named him, died almost instantly, but not before he could produce the most horrid sound I have ever had the displeasure of listening to. I was six years old.”

She gives his hand another light squeeze and offers him a compassionate smile, but the sentiment doesn’t seem to vitiate his feelings. It’s a brand-new virgin ground, and she’s not entirely sure what she’s supposed to do.  

Cont’d

“Irene.” He cries, and she turns around on her stool to look at him “What is this painting?”

“I thought you’d like it.” She says, innocently.

“Why would you think such a nonsensical thing?” he says, and for a second, wishes he hadn’t been quite so harsh “There’s a reason why I didn’t tell you about him, and there is certainly a reason why I’m upset. I don’t know how you found out about this bloody dog, but I don’t want to remember it, don’t want to talk about it, and I positively, one hundred percent do not want to see a painting of it!”

He doesn’t linger in the room and she doesn’t follow him, and he’s out of her flat and walking towards the tube in less than five minutes. Redbeard is a distant, painful memory, and Sherlock Holmes is not one to allow painful memories to surface and affect him.

“It was not… she did not have the right.” He says. “Of course I didn’t realise it back then, but she meant to… hurt me.” He says “She meant to hurt me all along.”

“I’m sorry.” She mutters, and doesn’t manage to think about anything to say.

“It’s a perfect metaphor of our relationship, the painting.” He concludes “It’s destructive, but very discreet. And both introduced a confused part of myself.”

He’s the one who smiles this time, rising to his feet.

“I want you to see it.”

“See what?”

“Redbeard and the Boy Who Lost.” He responds “That’s what she named it. Redbeard and the Boy Who Lost. She had it sent to me a few days after she lost her liberty. It’s in my bedroom.”

It’s very typical of him, to keep something that keeps on causing him pain. Leaving it there, staring, scaring, scarring.

They go up the stairs and down the hallway and she realises she’s never been in his bedroom before. It’s astonishingly clean, spotless really, and not at all what you’d expect of the great Sherlock Holmes. A king-sized bed with a cushioned headboard lies against the wall, covered in all-white linen. A light-blue comforter rests on a nearby armchair, and she presumes he sleeps on the chair more often than he does in the bed. It’s not a particularly beautiful room, it’s actually quite dull, but she likes it. The dresser is low and sturdy, the wood very dark, contrasting with the light-coloured bed. The closet is closed and its door is also dark, and right next to that door, she sees it.

It’s gorgeous, that’s not a matter of discussion. The colours are balanced and the strokes and both soft and decisive. The dog is absolutely stunning. It could be put in a museum, and most people would mistake it for a Reynolds.

 “It’s beautiful.” She says, reaching for his hand.

“That’s one thing she did not fake. She is indeed an exquisite painter.” Their fingers entwine, and she leans on him, head resting on his shoulder.

“It’s not always like this, Sherlock.” She assures him, even though she knows he’s well aware. “We are not like this.”

She lifts her head from his shoulder and turns to face him, taking his other hand into hers in the process.

“Irene, and only Irene, is responsible for the failure of your relationship.”

He sighs, and she understands. She can’t heal those wounds, she can try, but she can’t fix them. No amount of love or comprehension will never heal those wounds. And that’s okay, she concludes, because she too, has wounds he cannot heal.

“I think she did love you, Sherlock.”

“That hardly matters.” He says, leaning closer to her “I did not want to be loved. I wanted to be understood.”

She chuckles, not because she finds it particularly funny, but because it’s the first time she really understood what the sentence meant.

“Did she understand you?”

“I don’t know.” He whispers “It’s not important. Not anymore.”

He brushes his lips against hers softly, chastely, delicately. It’s not a lusty kiss and that’s probably best.

They’ll figure it all out, she concludes, as she rests his forehead against his. In their own time. 

Chapter Text

Chapter 4: Heart Full of Soul

It takes them one month, two weeks, and three days to tell anyone they’re dating. Oren’s wife comes down with a bad bout of the flu while he’s in Beijing, and Joan gets a desperate call for help. They have three-year old twins who are wayward enough without being bed-ridden, and she agrees to babysit them for the two remaining days of Oren’s trip. She’s weary, not only because she doesn’t often tend to children but also because she’s not sure whether or not she can count on Sherlock’s help, or if she should expect to count on it. He’s not home when she gets the call, and she’s too busy taking off all sorts of dangerous experiments out of reach to ring him.

Anna’s sister – a sixteen year old who could really benefit from some clothes that fit her – drops Daniel and Amelia off at the Brownstone at around 3:45 PM, a couple of hours after Oren rang her. It’s been a few months since Joan last saw them and they’ve grown so much ever since. Amelia’s hair is much longer and Daniel no longer looks like a little baby.  The kid doesn’t loiter and Joan brings the twins – and their seemingly exaggerated amount of luggage – inside.

She placed a few thin mattresses on the floor of the living room so that they would have a – hopefully – clean place to play. She’s not sure where they’ll sleep, but brief calculations tell her it’s best to put them both down on her bed and spend the night in Sherlock’s room. She sits on one of the mattresses and pulls Amelia to her lap, watching as Daniel takes a Hi-Ho Cherry-O box from a large duffle bag.

“What are we playing?” Joan asks, ruffling Amelia’s hair. It’s a lot like hers, black and thin and very smooth. Amelia looks a lot like Oren and she IS Oren’s sister, so it’s not that much of a surprise.

“Hi-Ho Cherry-O” Daniel answers. “We can teach you how to play, if you don’t know.”

“Oh, thank you.”

He sets up the game quickly, placing all the cherries carefully on the tree and assigning each of them a colour.    

“Aunt Joan, you’ll be green.” He says, “Amy, you’ll be yellow. I’ll be blue.”

“I don’t want to be yellow! I want to be red!” Amelia cries, turning the board so that the red basket is in front of her.

“No! You’ll be yellow!” Daniel yells, turning the board again.

“Hey, hey, don’t fight.” Joan warns, “Daniel, let your sister be red. Come on, let’s play.”

He explains the rules quickly, pointing at the wheel several times to inform her what each section means.

“Whomever gets the most cherries wins.”

Sherlock bursts through the door exactly when Daniel finishes his sentence. He carries a large paper bag and one smaller, but not necessarily small, plastic bag. The kids stare at him, mouths agape, as he takes off his coat and shoes without glancing at them.

“Watson, I stopped at the precinct and…”

Yeah, now he has noticed them for sure. No one really knows what to do, and surprisingly, Sherlock is the one who breaks the silence.

“Watson, mind introducing me to your new friends?”

“Mm, yes, sure. Sherlock, these are Amelia and Daniel, Oren’s twins.” She informs, “I’m babysitting them for a couple of days. I was going to call you. I’m sorry.”

“You needn’t be.” He tells her, and she could swear she saw a faint smile appear on his lips “What is it that you’re doing?”

“We’re playing Hi-Ho Cherry-O!” Daniel responds. “Do you want to play with us?”

“I don’t see a reason not to.” He says, taking a seat on the floor, next to Joan.

He doesn’t think before he leans to press a kiss on her lips, and she doesn’t think before she returns the gesture. It’s natural, usual, and neither of them gives it too much thought.

Oh, if only they did.

“Aunt Joan, is that your boyfriend?” Amelia asks, bursting into giggles.

Bloody hell.

“Mm, uh…” Joan mutters, failing to find the words to explain the situation. Are they boyfriend and girlfriend? They certainly don’t call each other that, but given that they are in a relationship and that they do live together, it’s not a particularly odd assumption. Yet, it’s a surprising one.

“Yes. I’m your Aunt Joan’s boyfriend.” Sherlock replies, resting a hand on her knee “Sherlock Holmes.” He says, offering her a hand.

It’s a ridiculous sight, really. A fully-grown man sitting cross-legged on a flimsy mattress, polka-dot sock clad feet contrasting with his dark brown slacks, offering a formal handshake to a three year old in a Dora the Explorer tee.

It’s even more ridiculous when she does shake his hand and smiles, saying “My name is Amelia Grace Watson. Nice to meet you.”

“I do not believe I’m familiar with this game, Daniel.” Sherlock says, letting go of Amelia’s hand.

“You spin that wheel there,” Daniel tells him, pointing at the wheel in the centre of the board “and then you take your cherries.”

“But you also maybe have to give your cherries back.”  Amelia added.

“I was going to say that!” Daniel bellowed, crossing his arms across his chest.

“I see they are prone to altercations.” Sherlock remarked, “We shall have lots of fun.”

 


 

 

They manage to put both kids in bed by 9:30, after much effort. Amelia doesn’t want to brush her teeth and Daniel thinks sleeping before 10:00 is a “baby thing”, so she and Sherlock take rounds reading them stories. Sherlock reads Tom Tit Tot and Cap O’ Rushes, and Joan reads Titty Mouse and Tatty Mouse and Molly Whuppie, all four stories complete with voices and sounds. Amelia dozes off after Cap O’ Rushes, but Daniel lasts all the way until the very end of Molly Whuppie. She leaves the hallway light on in case any of them needs the loo in the middle of the night, and she and Sherlock retreat to his bedroom shortly after.

They are absolutely knackered. Between getting them to eat their supper and bathing the two of them, a lot of effort was placed in trying to make sure they were okay.

“I’m exhausted.” She sighs, throwing herself on the bed.

He drops next to her and rubs soft circles on her back, pulling the comforter up.

“You were great today, Sherlock.” She tells him, turning her body around to face him. She presses herself against his chest and feels the warmth of his arms wrapping around her, as his fingers draw lazy patterns over her sweater.

“And you were absolutely brilliant.” He says, pressing a kiss against her hair. They fall asleep after maybe three or four minutes, not bothering to change into pyjamas or even take off their sweaters.

They’re abruptly awoken three-odd hours later, by the tapping of little feet coming into the room. There are whispers too, several little “shh, don’t make any noise’s”, “do you think she’ll be upset?’s” and “I saw it, I saw the monster under the bed. It was sooooo big!’s”. Sherlock is the first to take heed of the children.

“Amelia, Daniel, what’s wrong?” he asks, sitting up.

“There’s a monster under our bed!” Amelia says, still whispering.

“I’m positive there is not.”

“There is!” she cries, clutching the teddy bear she brought with her “Can we sleep with you? We don’t want to sleep with the monster!”

Sherlock looks at Joan for a second, wondering if he should wake her and summon her help to put the two of them back in bed, and concludes that’s best to simply sandwich Daniel and Amelia between the two of them and go back to sleep.

“Alright.” He says “Come. Be careful not to wake your aunt.”

He assists the two of them into the bed and adjusts the comforter over the four of them, smoothing Amelia’s hair before closing his eyes.

“You’d be a great father, Sherlock.” Joan says, without opening her eyes.

He’s not entirely sure what that’s supposed to mean, but smiles at the thought nonetheless.

“Goodnight, Watson.” 

Chapter Text

Chapter 5: ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas...

He is awoken by a loud thud and a muffled scream. He reaches for Joan – whom he assumed was lying next to him – and panics when his hand pats the comforter. Okay, all right, time to freak out.

He jumps out of the bed and rushes down the stairs, racing mind accompanying racing feet. He’s scared, really fucking terrified, until he reaches the landing. From there, he can see just where the thud came from.

He sees a tumbled Christmas tree – a real one, too – and underneath it, an array of ornaments. The chocolate snowmen, shiny tinsel, fairy lights, tiny wooden nutcrackers, a few glass balls… and then he sees her. She’s sitting to the right of the tree, next to an also tumbled stool, rubbing her foot. She holds a glittered golden star in one hand and rubs arnica on her foot with the other, grimacing at the touch.

You didn’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to deduce what happened. Joan Watson, five feet nothing, tried to put the tree topper on the tree, perching herself atop a very wobbly stool, and the rest is told by the scene in front of him. He descends the rest of the stairs and clears his throat when he gets down, crossing his arms in front of his chest.

“Watson?” he calls, taking a few steps closer to her.

“Sherlock, no.” she whines, placing both her hands on the floor and lifting herself up. “No, go back to bed.”

“What is it that you are doing?” He asks, ignoring her pleas “Why is there a toppled-over tree in our living room?” 

“I was…”

She tries to lift the tree in the hopes of avoiding telling him her plans, but really, she knows him better than that. It’s futile, and she knows it. The tree is almost as heavy as she is and at least a foot taller, and there’s no way in hell she’s going to put it back up without help.

So he helps her. He’s strong enough to do it on his own but she insists on helping him, and takes to collecting the fallen ornaments once they finish the initial task.

“Explain.” He demands, taking a box from his armchair and passing it to her. She tosses a few ornaments in it, without looking at him “Watson?”

“I was trying to teach you.”

“You were trying to teach me?” he asks, adding a flourish to the word ‘teach’ “What were you trying to teach me, if you don’t mind explaining?”

“Christmas.”

“You needn’t teach me anything about it, Watson. One of my father’s requirements was the weekly Sunday school attendance.” He told her “Christmas is the day in which we celebrate the birth of God’s most loved disciple, Jesus Christ” he said, obviously doing an interpretation of the person who taught him in Sunday school “Mary wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn, as written in Luke 2:7, and we celebrate this holy day on December 25th.” He continued.

“I’m not talking about the story of Christmas.” She says “I’m talking about the traditions, Sherlock. Eggnog, mistletoe, stockings, putting up the Christmas tree, reading Dickens. I wanted to give you the Christmases you lost as a child. I was going to make peppermint bark and candied yams, and I found that Twinings Christmas Tea you once mentioned you liked…” she blurted, throwing a few more ornaments on the box “and now it’s ruined.”

“It is most certainly not ruined.” He told her, picking an ornament from the floor and hanging it on a branch “Don’t just stand there, Watson. Help me decorate the tree.”

 


 

 

She will never find a mystery more intriguing than Sherlock Holmes. Never will she find someone odder, more brilliant, infuriating, tiresome, complete, as Sherlock Holmes.

She will never understand why the world’s first consulting detective, a self-proclaimed sceptic, a connoisseur of truths, a unbeliever of magic and the greatest prick Great Britain has ever produced, is sitting cross-legged under the Christmas tree, THEIR Christmas tree, in a knit jumper that’s the very colour of Rudolph’s nose, reading a copy of A Christmas Carol. He has a cup too, a steaming one, pretty patterns in green and red stained on white porcelain, and she can see a plate with peppermint bark scraps next to it.

She will never understand why he’s listening to the Sussex Carol, or why he helped her decorate the tree, or why he made them tea when she went upstairs to shower, she will not understand why he has chosen to embrace the traditions pertaining to a holiday he does not celebrate. No, Joan Watson will never understand just how much Sherlock Holmes has changed because of her, for her.

No, she will never understand his reasons why. She understands him, however, or at least knows him enough to try and not fail miserably. And deep down, she knows he understands her, too. Her idiosyncrasies match his, and she’s really, positively, absurdly happy they are together.

She sits across from him on a chair that’s as uncomfortable as your first plonk hangover, and pulls her tea mug to her lap. Attached to the mug, is a note.

“Love is born into every human being; it calls back the halves of our original nature together; it tries to make one out of two and heal the wound of human nature.” 

Halved I stood, Watson, for too long.

Not anymore.

-SH

Yes, he understands her, and when she looks up at him and their eyes meet, she realises that she does understand him. She might not understand some of his actions, might not understand everything he says or why he says them, but she does understand him. Sherlock Holmes is an enigma, that’s a fact, and facts don’t change. But he’s an enigma she’s done trying to solve.

Enigmas are beautiful, she reflects, and he’s beautiful. She has the map, and if she ever decides to follow the yellow brick road that leads to the full understanding of his soul, it’ll be there, ready to lead her to Mecca. But for now, loving him and being loved by him is enough.  

Chapter Text

Chapter 6: The East Wind, Part One

There’s an east wind coming. All the same, such a wind as it never blew in England yet. It will be cold and bitter, Watson, and a good many of us may wither before its blast. But it’s god’s own wind none the less, and a better, cleaner, stronger land will lie in the sunshine once the storm has cleared.

His Last Bow, 1917

 

She’s awoken by the sound of a ringing phone. At 3:47 in the morning. On a Sunday. Sherlock doesn’t get up to get it, he doesn’t move at all, so she rolls off the bed and walks to the corridor, where they keep an extension of the phone, and picks the nuisance from its cradle.

“Hello?” she says, trying to mask the tired tone in her voice.

“Joan? Hello, it’s Mycroft.” The voice on the other end of the line says, his tone sombre and bitter.

“Mycroft, what’s the matter?” She asks, turning the corridor light on. The brightness hurts her eyes and she grimaces, walking back towards the bedroom.

I need to speak to Sherlock, if you don’t mind.”

“He’s asleep, Mycroft. It’s ten ‘til four.”

Would you be so kind as to wake him up?” he asks, and she can tell it’s something serious “tell him it’s about Edith.”

“Alright, give me a second.” She hates waking Sherlock up. Absolutely loathes it. He sleeps in his own time, on his own particular cycles, and interfering with those is never a good idea. “Sherlock.” She calls, nudging his arm lightly “Sherlock.”

“No.”

“Sherlock, Mycroft’s on the phone. He wants to speak to you.”

“Gargantuan no.”

“He says it’s about Edith.”

And then he’s up. It strikes him like a lightening, and in less than ten seconds, he’s out of the bed, snatches the phone out of her hand, and is out in the corridor. She doesn’t hear much of the conversation, but she picks up a few things. Something about Wales, something about a nurse, another thing about getting in the next flight, and then he’s back, opening drawers quickly and tossing clothes on the bed like a madman.

“What happened? What’s wrong?” she asks, ducking from a scarf.

“My presence was summoned.” He answers, robotically “to Presteigne.”

“I don’t know where that is.”

“East Wales.”

“Summoned by whom? Is it a case?” she questions, but he doesn’t answer. He’s still moving around frantically, selecting pairs of socks, folding trousers and yanking jumpers out of hangers. “Sherlock?”

“It is not a case.” He says “I have been summoned by my mother.”

“Your… your mother?” she blurts “I thought your mother was dead.”

“Dead, no. Severely impaired, yes, since the 80’s.” he tells her, pulling a small suitcase from the back of the closet. “It’s the first lucid moment she has since 1986, at least lucid enough to request something.”

“I didn’t know. Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I honestly cannot discuss this at present time, Watson.”

“Are you going?”

“It’s my mother.”

“I just thought…”

“I’m going.”

She gets up from the bed and walks to the door, turning to face him.

“I’m coming with you.”

He looks at her for the first time since he got the call, and she notices the sadness in his eyes. It’s intense and deep and very rare, and she fights a strong urge to scoop him into her arms and hold him until he’s alright. He opens his mouth to say something, but she cuts him off.

“It’s not a question. Give me fifteen minutes to pack.”

 


 

 

The echoes of her screams ripple through the halls of a house once called a home. The guttural, soul-wrenching, heart-breaking wails enter his bedroom and fill the space. He tries to muffle the sound, plays a song on his violin and then drops to his bed, pressing a pillow firmly to his face. It doesn’t work. He can still hear her, hear everything she’s saying, hear her as she shuts off his father, his brother, her mother.

He drops to his knees and does what gran always told him to do – even though he knows it never works – asks the nice man up in the sky to help his mum. But the nice man up in the sky doesn’t hear little Sherlock Holmes, and his mummy is escorted off to an asylum the following week.

He too, is sent off. To a nice boarding school in Grenoble, Switzerland, where he spend most of his teen years. His father doesn’t allow much contact between Sherlock and his mother – “it’s futile. She’s long gone.” He’d say, and his sons had no choice but to accept his decisions – but he is allowed to take a small box with him. It’s small and white, with little green gemstones forming a circle around the name ‘Edith’ imprinted on the top. It has three thin drawers and a bigger compartment with a small mirror, in which he stores a pearl bracelet and a locket.

The bracelet is very simple – a string of exactly twenty-six Tahitian pearls - and the locket isn’t very posh either. There’s a picture of a very young Sherlock being held by a grinning Mycroft, and a monogram with the letters MHS composes the other side. He doesn’t know their value, doesn’t care about their value, but he always, without fail, kept the box in the safest place he can find.

The real treasure lies on the little thin drawers. The first one holds four pictures. One, a young Edith in her Christening gown on her godmum’s lap inside a church. Two, a picture dated January 26th, 1975, Edith and Mycroft grinning to the camera, the little boy hugging her oversized stomach. Three, a picture with a note on the back that reads “Sherlock William Holmes, 4 days old” which is torn on the sides, as if removed from a photo album, of Edith holding a teensy baby.  And fourth, one of his favourites, a picture of her lying in her bed on mother’s day, Mycroft carrying a tray with tea and scones, while Sherlock stands behind and clutches a small envelope.

The third drawer hold two things. A shortbread recipe, typed in 1985 with a Memorywriter and a paper with the writing ‘Edith Margot Annabeth Dasburg-Holmes, Room 83’

The second drawer is hard to open. The little knob has fallen off and the hole it left is not big enough for the average finger. But he knows how to do it, with a sharpened pencil and a clear ruler, and it holds the most important of all possessions. It’s a post-it note, faded yellow, with a few scrabbles in the footnote – probably from trying to get the pen to work. The handwriting is not very clear. It’s distinctive, aristocratic, clearly the penmanship of an educated woman with training in cursive, but uncertain, faint, ugly.

January 6th, 1986

Hello, sweetheart. I hope you haven’t forgotten all about me. I don’t like it here too much. Too many pills, too little tea. You’re ten today, aye? Happy birthday, lad. May you always be happy, and never forget about me. May you grow strong, and never succumb to insanity. May you always remember there’s nothing wrong with getting help.

And also they let me get a tortoise. I named it Angus.

Love, Mummy.

The book, Measure for Measure – and the post-it attached to it – didn’t arrive until his birthday had long passed, but he didn’t care.

The moment she wrote that note was her last one lucid one. Until now, that is.

 


 

 

They arrive at the Birmingham airport at two AM the following day. The seven-hour time difference and the rubbish seats on the plane did absolutely nothing to Sherlock’s already compromised mood. He’s stiff, his hands deep into his pockets as they leave the plane and walk out of the airport, their duffle bags bouncing on his back. She wants to say something, desperately needs to say something, but she can’t. She can’t imagine what he’s feeling – actually, she can, but things don’t affect Sherlock as they affect regular people – so she grabs his hand and entwines their fingers together as they enter the car Mycroft sent them. He squeezes her hand and glues his eyes to the back of the passenger’s seat, motionless, speechless, numb.

It’s not long until they arrive. She doesn’t know what to expect, up until twelve hours ago she could’ve sworn Sherlock’s mother was dead, and yet, she’s taken aback by the place the motorist drops them off. The cottage is small, but very charming. There’s a garden in the front yard and a stone path leading to the front door. Smoke comes out of the chimney and she hears the soft noise of classical music. He lets go of her hand and walks to the door, taking small steps and deep breaths.

He pushes the knocker three times and waits for an answer, and she also walks to the door.

“Hiya.” A young woman says, cheerfully. She has long blonde braids and a reddish composition, and Joan wonders if she’s the nurse. “You must be Mrs. Holmes’ son.”

“Yes. Sherlock. Hello.” He says, offering her a hand “This is my partner, Joan.”

“Hello.” Joan says, and the woman nods her head with a smile.

“Come on in. Kettle’s just boiled.”

She leads them to a small kitchen, where a copper-coloured kettle whistles and the smell of freshly baked bread fills the air.

“It smells great in here.” Joan says, as she helps Sherlock set their bags down.

“Thank you. It’s apricot and raisin tea loaf. Slice?”

“Yes, thank you.”

“No worries. I’m Julie.”

Joan offers her a warm smile and eyes Sherlock, who’s staring fixatedly at the adjoining sitting room.

“Sherlock?”

“Is that her? In the rocking chair?” he asks Julie.

“Aye, that’s her.”

He walks out of the kitchen and into the sitting room, his heart pounding as fast as it never did before. He circles the chair and crouches in front of it, placing his hand on Edith’s lap.

 She doesn’t notice him at first. There’s a moth flying around a lamp in the coffee table that seems to fascinate her, and she stares at the insect with interest. But when she places her hand on top of his and feels the warmth of his hand underneath hers, she seems to be attacked by an avalanche of emotions.

“Is that my Sherlock?” she asks, her voice cracking

“Yes, mum. It’s me.”

“Is that really you?” she yells, flying her arms around as if trying to embrace him “My baby boy!”

“I’m here, mum. I’m here.” 

Chapter Text

Chapter 7: The East Wind, Part Two

She never shed a tear for those who died, but cried rivers for those who lived. She never lit candles for the deceased, but rather held the hands of those who lost. 

Sherlock was an exception to nearly every rule, but not this one. 

She held his hand as they wheeled Edith away, her lifeless eyes glued to the ceiling. She cried in the waiting room of Knighton Hospital, once she thought he couldn't see her. She packed both their bags and set a change of clothes for him aside - grey trousers, a white vest, navy jumper, and light blue/orange striped socks - and got everything else ready for their trip back to New York. He didn't utter many words, none other than a few 'thanks's' and single-syllable adverbs, but she knew he was thankful for everything she was doing. 

She also knew regret was destroying him, bit by bit, as pain and sorrow settled in his bones, his heart, his brain. He went on, from the hotel to Edith's home to the airport to the brownstone, words abandoned in his tongue. She stood by his side as he and Mycroft finished the arrangements for the service, assuring him that no, she didn't think he needed to go to the funeral if he didn't want to.

She's left alone for the first time nine hours after they get to New York, when Sherlock goes out for a walk. She cries again then, alone in her bedroom, before walking down the stairs to make tea. She waits for him, steaming mug in her hand as she sits, cross-legged, in his favourite chair. 

And she wonders what makes a great man. The people he helped? The money he earned? How loved he was? For Joan, a great man was composed of all the things that brought all kinds of reactions and emotions. Idiosyncrasies, habits, discourse marks, personality traits, a humongous amount of details, often overlooked, that made a man a great one. Sherlock is a great man. That much she’s sure of.

They don’t sleep in the same bed that night. She drags herself to bed around midnight, when the jet-lag finally gets to her. He isn’t home when she goes to bed, and she doesn’t know for sure if he’ll be the Sherlock he once was upon his return.

 


 

Thirteen hours earlier

“So that was good.” She says, kicking off her boots.

They managed to find a room in one of the city’s few accommodation facilities, a bed and breakfast called The Old Vicarage, a few minutes from Edith’s estate. The room is quite big, with a large post bed and a huge window, and very cosy. It doesn’t matter much, but the flight was long and a good bed was a nice luxury to have.

“Good?” he asks, entering the bathroom.

“You don’t think?”

“I would not necessarily call it ‘good’.” He tells her, leaving a trail of dirty clothes behind him as he moves to take a shower.

“But not bad?”

“It was not bad.” He agrees, mostly to get her to stop asking.

“Your mom seemed good. Healthy and well-cared for.” She comments “I think Julie’s good at what she does.”

“Mmm.” He murmurs.

“What?”

“Far too young.” He says, turning on the water “Clever, but far too young.”

“Well, I like her.”

The buzzing of Sherlock’s mobile interrupts the conversation. It’s not a good sign, she thinks. Alfredo knows he’s not in New York, Captain Gregson and everyone else in the NYPD do too (Sherlock made a point to tell every single one of them not to muck everything up while he was gone). It’s not like many other people would be ringing him.

“Sherlock!” She calls “Your phone is buzzing.”

“Get that for me, will you?” he shouts back.

She walks towards the spot in the floor where his trousers are pooled and fishes his mobile out of the left pocket, bringing it to her ear.

“Hello?”

“Joan?” a girl murmurs, her voice heavy “It’s Julie.”

“Julie? What’s the matter?”

“Joan, Mrs Holmes…” she stops to take a deep breath “she’s gone.”

“Gone? She’s dead?”

“They just came and…” another deep breath “she held her arm and it was so fast. I tried to help, but she just fell to the floor. I rang Mr. Holmes, just like he told me to, before dialling 999. I thought… I thought they were just going to take her to the A&E and then she’d be back. But she’s not. She’s not.” Julie blurted out.

They say death may be the greatest of human blessings.

She’s not so sure.


 

He’s not going to cry. That’s what he repeats to himself, alternating it with that “queer times in this strange mixed affair” Moby Dick quote. He has walked up and down the same three streets repeatedly, hands in his pockets, wondering why losing his mum is so hard, especially considering he lost her long ago. He thinks about his father, thinks about Mycroft, Watson, and eventually, himself. It didn’t hit him until right then, how protected you can feel with just the idea of someone being there for you, and how vulnerable you feel when this idea is shattered.

He’s not alone, not physically, not any more alone than he was when his mum was still alive, but somehow, he feels… wrong. He can’t exactly pinpoint why though, and that bothers him. He likes answers, concrete ones, and Edith’s death failed to give him some.

A part of him died with her, but he doesn’t know that right then.


 

It’s well after three when she hears a noise coming from downstairs. It’s gradual, coming first from the kitchen, then from the hallway, then from right outside her door. She turns to face it, and smiles at the sight of Sherlock.

“Hey.” She says, reaching towards him with her right arm.

He doesn’t answer. Instead, he closes the door behind him and slides next to her under the quilt, settling himself in her arms.

And there, he cries. 

Chapter Text

Chapter 8: She Comes Undone

Two, the number of lines

White, the colour of the plastic object sitting on the bathroom counter

Light pink, the shade of those lines

Three, the amount of minutes she waited to get a clear, definite answer to a question she asked herself on a transatlantic flight eleven days before

Eight, the distance in metres she sits from the place where Sherlock is currently sleeping

Panic, noun meaning "sudden uncontrollable fear or anxiety, often causing wildly unthinking behavior", also one of a myriad of sentiments Joan Watson is experiencing.

She had thought about it, sure. Thought about what they'd look like, if she'd be good to them, if Sherlock would. But it was always just a thought, a distant, perhaps ridiculous thought.

Until it's not.




He's not surprised to see she's not beside him when he wakes up. His schedule has been erratic for the past few days, even more so than usual, and Joan prefers to keep a sensible sleeping pattern.

He is surprised however, when he goes downstairs to look for her in the kitchen, and she's not there. He doesn't worry though, she's been taking long walks and deep breaths a lot lately, in some sort of failed effort to look and be alright. He knows she knows best than to blame him for the way he's dealing with his mother's death. She wouldn't judge, he doesn't think, but even the least talented of detectives would notice she's pulling away.  He calls out for her, as he walks across the brownstone, but she doesn't answer.

It takes him a moment to find her, wrapped in a thick quilt sitting cross-legged on the floor, next to the window, in her bedroom.

She's crying when he finds her.

 




She doesn't know exactly when she formed the abstract idea that she would never be a mother.  Perhaps year 3 of med school, when she realised time would be forever scarce. Perhaps when she became a doctor, when time was even scarcer. Or maybe once she decided to switch careers and get into sober companionship, a career most certainly not suitable for a parent. Or maybe, most probably, when she and Sherlock became a couple, when she came upon the knowledge their lifestyle was much too odd for a child.

She didn't mind the idea too much, honestly. Parenting is excruciating, expensive, exhausting and time-consuming, and well, she was just never the mother-type.

Funny how an angry shag, fuelled by Sherlock being his usual self, paired with an old condom, led to a sudden change in paradigm.

 




He's unsure of what to do once he enters the bedroom. Fight or flight, fight or flight, fight or flight...

Fight it is.

"Watson?" He calls, standing next her bed. "Are you alright?"

His words seem to release a whole new torrent of tears. She clutches the end of the quilt, bringing it close to her faces, and sobs until he walks up to her.

"What's the matter?" He asks, crouching in front of her.

She pauses for a second. One breath, she exhales. Two breaths, another exhale. Three breaths, yet another one.

And then she hands him the test.




He too, had a clear idea in his head that he would never be a parent. This idea was, to him, innate. Kids need constant watching, constant warmth, and mandate all sorts of sacrifices he's just not willing to make.

Until, that is, Watson falls pregnant with his child.

There's something different about the idea once she does, something that makes it sound a tad less bleak, little less scary, bit less undesirable. They've created that, together - in an angry stupor, of all ways - and, in a sense - certainly not the usual "everything we make together is beautiful" sense - this thing, with her, sounds doable.

To him.

"What is it that you want to do?"

        




It's not her decision to make. It's theirs, undeniably and unchangeably theirs, together. It isn't even a question - regardless of his utter disdain for emotions, Sherlock is a man of honour, a man of word, a good (for lack of a better word) man. She can't do it without him, doesn't want to do it without him.

It's the uncertainty that scares her the most.

"What do YOU want to do?"




He can't answer her question right away, so he opts for taking her hand and leading her to her bed, where he hopes she'll be a bit more comfortable.

That's instinct, he says, to himself. There he is, alpha Sherlock, protecting his female and cub-to-be. The thought makes him nauseated.

He sits down next to her, clutching the pregnancy test firmly in his hands, fingers tracing every length of every corner of every centimetre of the test.

It's surreal. One minute they're fine, settled, smooth sailing across an ever-inconstant sea. The next, they're sitting on the deck, watching as salt water floods the cockpit, and they sit there, motionless, powerless, weak.

Boats. That's what's in his mind, as he tries to think of something clever, strong, reassuring to say. Boats, sterns, starboards, life jackets, and the feeling of drowning, drowning, drowning.

He brings his mind back to the brownstone, back to her, and closes his eyes for a second. He once thought he had all the answers. He now realises he doesn't even understand the questions.

"There's a tide in the affairs of men,"

He begins, without looking at her

"Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune."




Her mind too, wanders off. Not to the sea, or boats, or Julius Caesar, but to snapshots of a distant past, and a future yet to be lived. She thinks of apple juice, sandboxes, knee scraps and nappies. Bake sales, Clifford the big red dog, slaps on the bum for coming home after curfew and the smell of fresh rain, bringing puddles to jump on and mud to build castles with. Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Lala and Po dance around her mind, whispering educational songs and waving goodbye to the baby trapped inside the sun. She thinks of CBeebies, prams, tiny baby jumpers and how much she hates Dr. Seuss.

She can’t see important snapshots, however.

Sherlock holding a newborn, kissing her forehead and congratulating her on a job well done, that, she can’t see. She can’t see herself pushing a pram around central park, her hair on a bun, walking to Gymboree, then mum + baby yoga class, then to the Brooklyn Children’s Museum.

But she also can’t see the important – but not pleasant – snapshots that would take them far away from the tiny socks and sleepless nights.

She doesn’t even know where the nearest Planned Parenthood is.

“Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea we are now afloat, and we must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures.”

She finishes the quote, taking the test from him and looking at it one more time, just to be sure.

Yeah.

Still positive.


 

 

He doesn’t know an awful lot about children. Nothing but general knowledge, the kind you absorb in school, books, and documentaries. Practical knowledge? None.

He doesn’t even remember being a kid. He remembers being bullied by kids, sure. Beaten by them, absolutely. Intimidating, rowdy, persistent, mean, abusive. Those are the adjectives he associates with children.

He has few – very, very few – good memories of children and childhood. This boy named Gregory, whom he met at age 11 at boarding school, was a good kid. He was clever, sharp, liked crawling through dusty airways and sneaking into the headmaster’s office after dawn, and also had absent, borderline negligent parents. He went away pretty soon.

He remembers going to the aquarium with his gran, when he was around 7, and being so excited about it he tried to hug her, but instead just ripped her brand-new pearl necklace and made tiny little pearls fly everywhere. He remembers thinking she’d be very upset and would never speak to him again. He remembers her warm, throaty laugh as she asked for his help to pick them up “before a plump Welshman comes in and goes pift-poft on the floor”. He remembers feeling happy around her. He remembers missing her when she was gone, and asking his father to take him to the cemetery, so he could lay some flowers on her grave, but he never did.

He knows he’ll never be the kind of father his was.

That’s enough to go on.

“I do believe we are capable of handling this, Watson.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 9: Ego Sum Perdidi (Part One)

No-one could’ve seen it coming. It’s how it goes, it’s how most things go, taking you by shock and throwing you against an inconstant wall of pain and misery. There isn’t a bit of her that doesn’t blame herself. There isn’t a bit of him that blames her.

And that’s just the thing about blame.

It tends to find a host.

 

Six weeks earlier…

“I mean it Sherlock, quit it.” She yells, from the kitchen, finding yet again her usual Earl Grey replaced by decaf Lady Grey – less aggressive, he’d said.

“I haven’t done a thing, Watson.” He shouts back “What seems to be the problem?” he asks, walking into the expansive kitchen.

“My tea. Where is my tea?”

“How should I know? Ask Mrs. Hudson.”

“Mrs. Hudson is not systematically hiding caffeine-based goods from me.” She says “Did you bin it?”

“I would do no such thing!” He retorts, balancing his weight on his heels.

But of course he would.

 

 

He’d never given much attention to the properties of blood. It’s a very dark crimson, it’s bold, bright, oddly alluring. Its smell is remarkable, the iron prevalent in the distinctive odour. The stench is so strong it allows you to taste the substance, flavours dancing on your tongue as you struggle to keep it away from your body and mind.

He can’t keep anything away from his mind.

Blood stains. He wonders what can be used to remove them. What is blood? Acidic? Alkaline? He doesn’t know anymore. He fears he’s given up on caring.

The black and white picture still sits on his nightstand.

He hasn’t cleaned the bedding, the mattress.

He chooses to lock the door instead.

 

Five weeks earlier

“Watson, we’re going to be late!” he yells, from the landing.

He would never admit to it, but he’s excited. He wants to see it, the baby, even though he knows it’ll look exactly like every single other ultrasound in the planet. It’s not rational, he knows it, but he can’t help it.

“I’m here.” She says, appearing on the stairs. “Let’s go.”

“You look… lovely, Watson.” He blurts out, analysing her newfound curves as they’re hugged by her plum-coloured dress.

It shows. Perhaps not everyone can see it, but he’s an observer by heart and a Watson admirer by formation. Her pronounced – gorgeous – cheekbones take on a rosy composition, her slender face growing a tad less slender each passing day. He notices her fingers first, as she wraps them around her familiar mug. Her hips come second, followed by her breasts and feet.

He loves her just that way.

“Thank you.” She smiles “Ready?”

“When you are.”

 

He cannot stop replaying the very moment in his head. His hands finding her stomach, as they always seemed to. His hands not finding it. His heart racing. His mind processing. His tears, his sweat, mixing with the humidity of her blood as he carries her body down the stairs. Her hair against his chest.

Her eyes on a brief moment of consciousness inside the ambulance, as his hand found hers in a fleeting moment of hope.

The paramedic’s hands as his found her stomach, where lay not life, but the very opposite of it, in a haze he could only describe as a destructive trance.

He wishes he could forget, if for a brief second, the still silence of the sterile room where he sat when he saw her again.

 

Four weeks earlier…

“Sherlock, this is truly unnecessary.” Joan says, as she runs her hands idly by some thousand dollar cot.

“What is?”

“Getting a cot right now. We have enough time, and I was thinking maybe Oren’s wife could give us a hand? She does have two of these.” She says, resting her hand on her stomach.

“Nonsense. I’ve done plenty of research.” He tells her, throwing a leg over the rail of a walnut-coloured cot.

“Sherlock!” she reprehends, lowering her voice a few moments later “What on earth are you doing? Get out of there!” she tells him, watching as wiggles inside the cot.

“Sturdy.” He says, getting out of the crib. “We’ll take this one. Hello? I’m a paying costumer and I’d like some help here!” He shouts, to no-one in particular.

“No! We’re not! Sherlock, let’s go.” She says, just as a tall blonde woman approaches them.

“Hello, and welcome to Giggle! My name’s Kitty, what can I do for you this afternoon?”

 

He cleans the blood drippings from the foyer with white coloured tea-towel. He sees it everywhere. On the staircase rails, the hallways, the unsuspecting cloths. He doesn’t know if it’s her blood, their blood, or his blood.

His.

Should a child who never got to live be named? One who was put in a coffin but never in a cradle, who lived nowhere but the uterus of a woman it would never come to call mother, and who knew no home beside the hearts and bodies of its makers?

He couldn’t tell.

 

Three weeks earlier…

“And this right here is the head.” Dr. Lowry said, circling the blob with her mouse “those right here are the arms.” She tells them, moving the cursor “and here you have the legs. I can’t accurately predict the gender just yet, but I can give you an educated guess, if you’d like to know.”

He looks at her, as if to say “your call”. She nods in understanding and turns back to the doctor.

“I think we’d like to wait, thank you.”

“Alright, then!” she smiled “Well, this it then. I haven’t any further recommendations, none other than the ones I’ve already given you, Ms. Watson.”

“Cut down on sugar, work less and eat more regularly, got it.”

“Good. I’ll see the two of you in four weeks four your sixteen week ultrasound then. Have a good day.”

“You too.” Sherlock responds, and Joan flashes her a smile.

Doctor Lowry makes her way out of the room and the two – three – of them are left alone, staring at the screen.

“Wow.” She breathes.

“Wow.” He agrees.

 

He opens the book she was reading that night, Reaper Man. He opens it on the page where she’d placed her marker, and reads the highlighted sentence.

“Light thinks it travels faster than anything but it is wrong. No matter how fast light travels, it finds the darkness has always got there first, and is waiting for it.”

He knows light travels at three hundred thousand kilometres per second. He hasn’t a clue how fast darkness travels. But he knows the quotation is correct.

Darkness has a shortcut to all destinations.

 

Two weeks earlier…

“Llywelyn is a ridiculous name.” she tells him, wiggling her socked feet on his lap.

“It is not! It is a perfectly traditional Welsh name.”

“For spinster aunts.”

“For perfectly proper lads.”

“Absolutely not.”

“I’d like to hear your suggestions, since you seem to find all of mine so terrible.” He tells her, passing her The 2014 Complete Baby Names Almanac.

“Your suggestions were Llywelyn, Cymbeline and Teasag.”

“All very appropriate monikers.”

“Disagree.” She tells him “Llywelyn and Teasag are impossible to pronounce, and I’m not naming our kid after the most obscure of Shakespeare plays. We also don’t know if it’s a girl, and all three of yours are girl names.”

“Llywelyn is a boy’s name.”

“You’re joking.”

“I’m not.”

She rolls her eyes at him and opens the book, scouring page 143 for a good idea.

“How about Porter?”

“Are you going to birth an eighty year old law firm associate?”

“Keegan?”

“Preposterous blonde football player. Inclined to date girls who find ignorance appealing.”

“Eugene?”

“What has our baby done to you?”

 

He goes back to the hospital as soon as he manages to gather enough things to get them through two or three days.

He slips the key in his pocket as he walks down the steps of a home he’s not sure it’s his anymore, clutching the carryall firmly in his left hand.

He makes sure there’s no more blood anywhere, but texts Mrs. Hudson so she can double check and fix any mistakes he might’ve made.

The ride to the hospital is long.

He doesn’t know what he’s going to do once he sees her.

 

S eventeen hours earlier

The world seems to turn slower around him as he leaps from his bed to the floor. His feet can’t seem to accompany the fear in his heart, his hands tremble as they find her neck, looking for signs, signs she’s not leaving him.

“Watson, Watson stay with me.” He begs, kneeling beside her on the floor as he fumbles to dial 999 on his mobile. “Hello? I need an ambulance, my partner, she’s pregnant, there’s a lot of blood”

He gives the attendant the brownstone’s address and takes his head to her heart, looking for both a heartbeat and comfort.

“Please don’t leave me.” He pleads, his tears mixing with the blood staining her sleepshirt.

It takes him a few seconds to gather the strength to carry her downstairs. He hears the faint siren of the ambulance just as he reaches the foyer, walking weakly towards the door.

It all gets really fast from there.

A paramedic takes her from his arms and asks him a few questions, before placing her on the back of the ambulance and offering him a place beside her.

He wishes there’s an omniscient being who has enough mercy to take him too if she has to go.

 

Hospital hallways are cold. He always thought so, but that hospital, that day, seems particularly chilly.

He doesn’t think about anything as he walks towards her room, he only hopes there’s enough strength in him to carry them both on his back.

He opens the door.

The carryall falls to the floor.

His eyes and hands find hers.

His tears find her tears.

His soul finds her void.

His void finds her soul.

 

 

[TRIGGER WARNING]

GRAPHIC DESCRIPTIONS OF MISCARRIAGE. PROCEED WITH CAUTION.

Chapter Text

Chapter Ten: But He Told Us Where We Stand

A rift opens between them after Liam’s sudden passing – Liam, meaning “resolute protection” was the name they’d chosen, after they were told they had to choose a name for the death certificate. She becomes distant, withdrawn to her room for the largest part of her days, and he, as per usual, avoids his own feelings by burying them in work.

He nearly relapses the day they bury their child inside one of those macabre baby-sized coffins, but opts instead for a fight with a gigantic tattooed bloke outside a pub west of the river, spending the night in jail, carefully tucked away from any triggers.

The very next morning he hails a cab back to the brownstone, with every intention to apologise profusely for his misdemeanour, but she doesn’t say anything about it, doesn’t confront him at all, so he lets it go.

Later that same day, he trots up the stairs with a steaming mug of tea to offer her, hoping – with every fibre in his body – that she’ll speak to him. Not exchange pleasantries or obscenities, as they’ve been doing for the past month – four weeks and two days, to be precise – but to actually talk. She’s the cornerstone to his foundation, and he can feel her crumbling beneath his body, and he knows – oh how he knows – he can’t stand without her support.

He knocks softly on her door, and from where he stands, he can hear the muffled sounds of sniffing.

“Watson? May I come in?” He asks, shifting his weight on his heels.

“Just a minute.” She chirps, her voice stuffy and synthetic.

“Watson, I’m coming in.” He yells back, pushing the door open.

She has her face buried in a pillow when he comes in, her left hand firmly clutching a piece of paper with an official government symbol on it.

She’s not herself. She hasn’t been herself in a while. But lying there, wearing an old tee-shirt with the words WELCOME TO BALTIMORE – TRY THE CRACK printed on the yellow cotton, black capris hugging her slender legs, her auburn hair sprawled across the pillows, he knows she’s still in there somewhere.

“Watson, what is that?” he asks, setting the mug on the nightstand

“Nothing, it’s nothing.” She spits, sliding the piece of paper under the covers.

“Watson, let me see.” He pleads, offering her his open palm.

“Sherlock, forget about it.”

“Joan” he breathes “please.”

She passes him the sheet, sitting up on the bed and turning her back on him.

“Watson…” he whispers, upon identifying the document as Liam’s death certificate.

Liam Scott Holmes

Mount Sinai Beth Israel

March 12, 2015

9:51 PM

Male

He had never seen it before. It was shipped to their brownstone by captain Gregson, who they relied upon when it came to the legal matters of the situation. It’s a fucking tragedy, he thinks, that this is a thing that happens.

He knows there’s no-one to blame, no-one to scream at, no-one to guilt-trip, but shit, does he wish there was.

He also knows she’d be disgusted at the thoughts roaming around his mind right then, thoughts about having to save her, to restore her livelihood, her very spirit, but he has to – has to – find a way to do all of these things.

He lies heavy besides her, placing the certificate next to the mug, and brings her hot body to his cold one.

“I will fix this, Watson, I promise you I will.”

 

 

He calls Seamus O’Connor, his contact at the Gardaí, that same night. He was quick, straight to the point, asked for a position as a consultant detective and informed him that he would be taking a partner – sharp, talented, and with a knack for diplomacy. O’Connor said he couldn’t promptly offer a paid position, but that he was more than welcome to come and help out, and he’d grill his superiors on permanently hiring him a little further along the road.

Sherlock was thrilled – well, not thrilled, Sherlock Holmes was never “thrilled”, but thrilled-ish. He made the arrangements quickly, two tickets to Dublin three days away, a small flat on the outskirts of Dublin city centre, a well-thought out speech to convince her to board a transatlantic flight to Ireland and he's set. They need this, he knows they do, a fresh start somewhere their past can't find them. He prints out the tickets, finds his passport and faxes the landlord his signed lease, and gathers enough courage to walk to Watson's bedroom and talk her into going, carrying the printed tickets with him.

"Watson, I need to speak to you." He barks, from behind her closed door.

"Come in." She says, just loud enough for him to hear.

"I'm here to ask you," he begins "if you think you can trust me."

"Of course I trust you." She answers, staring at him.

"Then please hear what I have to say, and let me know what you think after I'm done." He explains, dropping on the armchair beneath her window. "This" he says, motioning around himself and the room "has been scarring for us both. We lost a child, Watson, and we can't get him back." He hears her suck in a deep breath "I want to restore the bits of our lives we are - realistically - able to. I highly regard you, Watson, more than anyone, and I have no desire to lose you." she lets it out "I have every intention to smooth this transition, and I have come up with a plan I judge fit."

She rises to her feet and walks to the window, beside him, and gazes at the city. It's gorgeous, bare, infinitely mysterious and remarkably honest.

She loves it, but Joan Watson wants a home.

They say home is where you hang your hat.

Hers has never left her head.

"What do you reckon?" She hears him ask.

"Mmm?"

"Would you come to Ireland with me? Work as a consultant detective for the Gardaí?"

She reflects for a moment, and it strikes as the most perfect of plans.

A blank sheet of paper.

A bloodless history.

"Yes."

Chapter Text

Chapter 11: If You Could Keep Voices Like Flowers

 

Object #1 - Day 2 - Bunch of Tulips

 

It appears on her bed, a bunch of purple tulips carefully held together by a single white ribbon. The ribbon is wrapped into a neat bow, the stems of the flowers contrasting in deep green against the dull cream colour of their duvet. 

 

Their duvet, because the flat was roomy, but boasted a single bedroom, a spacious suite, with an enormous bathroom with a lovely bathtub and a pair of porcelain sinks. The flat is gorgeous but really, truly, she would’ve liked her own bedroom. 

 

She sighs happily and picks up the flowers, heeding the handwritten note with the word ‘’1.Fly”.

 

Object #2 - Day 5 - Picture

 

It’s sitting on the nightstand on her side of the bed when she arrives home from an autopsy. Sherlock’s away wrapping up another case, and the flat feels still and cold. Her heels click heavily against the floor before she drops to the bed and spots the picture. 

 

The backdrop is in black-and-white but the subject itself does not lack colour, bright stripes of yellow adorning the small body of a bee - one Euglassia Watsonia, she’s well aware. The picture isn’t dated but she knows the bee is indeed Finlay, the first ever bee of that species, named by her godson. 

 

This time, the note reads: ‘2.never’.

 

Object #3 - Day 12 - Tahitian Pearls 

 

She wakes up groggy on a friday morning with a piercing headache and absolutely no will to get up, but crime waits for no woman and Sherlock comes barging in with a tall glass of orange juice and a bagel and she appreciates not only the effort, but also the cream cheese. 

 

“Up you get, Watson.” he says “Murder not too far from here. You should be back home in no time, if we play our cards right.”

 

She murmurs a faint ‘okay’ and sets off to find acceptable clothing, hurrying out of the room before she can spot the bracelet. 

 

It’s still there when she gets back, hanging loosely over a table lamp in the living room, the third note attached to it by yellow string. 

 

It reads ‘3.alone’.

 

She makes a mental note to ask him about the notes and gifts. 

 

Mental notes are rubbish. 

 

Object #4 - Day 13 - Quilt 

 

It’s a really, really nice quilt. 

 

A deep red colour, crimson, and the softest thing she’s ever touched in her entire life. 

 

She asks him about it, in passing, over supper, but he just shrugs as if to dismiss her and she lets it slide. 

She’s learned not to push him. 

 

The note attached to the quilt reads ‘4.Freedom’

 

She keeps the notes inside her underwear drawer and doesn’t give them a second look. 

 

He’ll tell her what they mean, in due time. 

 

Object #5 - Day 21 - Milk Chocolate HobNobs 

 

She finds her favourite tea biscuits sitting on the kitchen sink. They’ve been hard to find in the area, and she missed them. 

 

The familiar orange wrapping leaves her with a warm sense of happiness, further enhanced by the melting of the chocolate in her mouth. 

 

He hasn’t gotten home yet - he’s at a meeting - and this time, she leaves him a note of her own, with the words “grateful. you.”, replacing the one that reads ‘5.here’. 

 

Object #6 - Day 32 - Ruined Sweater

 

The little old lady at the cleaner’s had apologised so profusely it was quite impossible to be mad at her. It had gathered lots of lint and lost most of its colour, aside from losing a bit of its original size. She took it back home anyways, a tad disappointed but not altogether upset, relegating it to the very back of the closet. It didn’t trouble her terribly, it was just a sweater, but she knew she’d miss the comfort of the tiny memories it held. 

 

Waking up to Sherlock and wrapping herself cosy with it, protecting both her pride and her body. 

 

Knowing of the Euglassia Watsonia bee for the first time.

 

Its coverage of the the bulging baby bump that never really bulged. 

 

It smelled like New York and happier days. 

 

He brought it all back, because of course he would. 

 

She finds it folded on the coffee table, with the 6th note over it. 

 

‘6.Strength’

 

Object #7 - Day 35 - Flashdrive

 

It’s plugged in her laptop when she wakes up one morning. A blue and silver stick, “8GB” printed on its side. She finds the shortcut named “OPEN NOW” and double-clicks it, revealing a set of pictures. They’re the basically the same picture, seventeen times over, but there are subtle changes in their expressions and positions. Last christmas, she thinks, on the 25th. On the first few pictures, she has reindeer antlers on and a wide grin, and Sherlock spots a shy smile and ‘thumbs up’. Over the course of pictures seven, eight and nine, she moves to remove the antlers from her head and move towards him. Picture number ten shows his face of surprise. Pictures eleven and twelve illustrate the placing of reindeer antlers on a head belonging to one Sherlock Holmes. Thirteen looks like a still from “The Office”, the two of them staring still at the camera, emotionless. Photos fourteen to seventeen are the loveliest of the bunch. 

 

She sits there, doubled over with laughter, Sherlock watching her with the daftest of smiles plastered on his face. 

Note number seven can be found taped on the fridge. 

 

It reads ‘7.not to’

 

Object #8 - Day 41 - Wind and Window Flower

 

The painting is hanged beside his framed print of “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”, in the study. 

 

It’s an excerpt from “Wind and Window Flower”, also a Robert Frost poem. 

 

He’s always been her favourite. 

 

“Lovers, forget your love,

And list to the love of these,

She a window flower,

And he a winter breeze.”

 

The note carefully balanced against the frame and print reads ‘8.fade’

 

Object #9 - Day 50 - Clyde

 

There’s no particular gift or trinket that time, just a yellow post-it taped to Clyde’s shell. 

 

‘Put the notes together in order’, it read. 

 

And so she did. It was a wee poem, probably written by Sherlock himself.

 

Fly

Never

Alone

 

Freedom

Here

We stay

 

Strength

Not to

Fade

 

But the poem itself was not important, no. What was in fact important was what was written on the back of the notes, tiny words written down in cursive with neat calligraphy. 

 

“Watson, would you like to marry me?” they formed. 

 

And crickey, did the world feel short on oxygen once they did. 

Chapter Text

Chapter Twelve: Don’t You Know That I’ll Never Fall in Love Again

 

He doesn’t get home until much, much later. She’s quite sure he’s avoiding her, which somehow makes sense, because he’s Sherlock, and when it comes to Sherlock it is indeed infinitely possible that he’d propose and then avoid her, that he would bury himself in work for a while and then come back to face the music, the music he chose to dance to, the one he continually chooses. 

She considers finding him, she has questions and wants answers, but ultimately decides against it, because he likes plans and likes them to go just the way he expects them to, and she obliges, mostly because she also doesn't feel like interacting just now. 

She FaceTimes Emily for a chat, a quick “oh good lord what do I do what do I say” chat, which manages to calm her for a short while. Emily tells her it simply makes sense for them to get married, for several reasons. She tells her there are the sentimental, silly reasons, and there are the pragmatic reasons involving visas and work and the not-so-practical ones of wanting to be with her forever - a version of it, anyway - and wants her to be his and his only - Watson sneers at that. 

Emily has that best friend kind of answer-inducing, presenting her with facts and simple questions. She reminds her of the many ways in which Sherlock has changed for and because of her, tells her she’s at her happiest, her fullest, and asks her if she sees herself married to him. She tells Emily that yes, she does, of course she does, god, she was going to have a child with him for heaven’s sake, it’s quite clear she trusts him and wants to be with him. 

And then it hits her, like Emily thought it would, ‘yes’ is the only possible answer to it. She wants to be married to him, she wants a commitment, and if he wants one too, then absolutely, marriage is the step to take. 

It’s not until almost eleven that she finally hears him unlock the door, from the spot on the couch where she’s sitting. 

He finds her there, his eyes glistening, with a silent plea for an answer. 

She offers a question instead. 

“Why?” she asks “Why do you want to marry me?” 

He sighs. “Because I want you to be my wife. Because I want you to have full protection under whatever it is that I can offer you, because I can’t imagine going forward without you. Because I never thought I’d fall in love with anyone again and you, you proved me wrong. Because I want you as a partner at work, at home, in life.” he inhales “Because I’m here offering you this pathetic little speech because I honestly cannot begin to imagine what I’ll do if you say no.” 

She smiles at him, gets the velvet box from her cardigan pocket, and slips the ring on her finger. 

“Yes.” she whispers “Of course I’ll marry you.” 

She gets up from the couch and navigates towards him, like she always seems to, and holds his hand. The kiss they share is chaste and quick, just a peck, like their first. It’s the type she seems to cherish the most. 

 


 

She FaceTimes her mum a while later, to chat and share the news. Her mum is positively giddy, as Watson thought she would, and insists they have a Spring wedding in New York. She lets her know that they haven't made arrangements yet but that it is unlikely they’ll choose a traditional large wedding. Mary expresses her disappointment and assures her she’ll tell the rest of her family, but insists she calls her father and gets Sherlock to participate in the conversation. 

She doesn’t want to, but gives in to the fact that it’s necessary. 

“Sherlock?” She calls, from the living room. 

He appears before her shortly, carrying an open laptop and cosied Clyde. 

“You summoned?”

“I need to ask you something.”

“Go on then.” He urges, taking a spot next to her on the couch. 

“My mom things we should FaceTime my dad. To tell him about the wedding.”

“I was under the impression you were already doing so.” 

“I am, but…” she sighs “she thinks we should do it together.” 

There’s a long, pregnant pause before he finally says something. 

“You reckon he’d appreciate that?” He asks her, closing the laptop and placing Clyde on it. 

“I think he would.” 

“Suppose we could do that, yes.” he tells her “Would you like to do it now?” 

“I guess, yeah.” She answers, taking her own laptop and opening FaceTime. 

She hears him suck in a deep breath and presses her dad’s picture, bracing herself for a very, very awkward conversation. 

“Joanie!” He shouts, suddenly appearing on the screen. “It’s so good to hear from you, sweetie.” 

“Hey, dad.” she smiles “How are you?” 

“I’m good, honey. Better now.”

She grins at him and adjusts her laptop on her legs, adjusting the camera. 

“Dad, Sherlock’s here too.” 

“Hello, Mr. Watson.” Sherlock says, with a smile. 

“Hey, chap. You good?” 

“I’m alright sir, thank you.” 

“Good, good. Ireland treating you two well?”

“It is. Very well.” she tells him “Dad, we actually called to say something.” 

“Everything alright, Joanie?” 

“Yeah, dad, everything’s great.” she chuckles “Actually, dad,”

She grabs his hand. 

“We’re engaged!” she yells, holding up her right hand. 

Her dad doesn’t say anything she can make out, but he laughs and shouts and half-yells. He throws his arms and hands up, and she’s pretty sure he cries too. 

“Dad?”

“Honey, that’s great! Amazing!” he laughs “What are your intentions with my daughter, mister?” 

“Only the best ones, sir.” Sherlock answers, squeezing her hand. 

“Welcome to the family then, son.” 

“We should get going Daddy, it’s pretty late around here.” she tells him “We just wanted to be the ones to tell you.” 

“Yeah, yeah, I have to go too. I’ll have drinks for the both of you tonight. Congratulations!” her dad clicks off and she looks at Sherlock. 

“That went well.” 

“Reckon it has indeed.” 

 

Chapter Text

On their wedding day, they exchange simple vows, she writes her own and he borrows from Robert Frost.

She wears a simple, short, cornflower blue dress. He wears a suit, a respectable polka dotted tie, and on a warm morning in July, at the register office in Chelsea, they are married.

She decides to hyphenate her last name - NOT because she thinks women should - but because she wants to and thinks it sounds nice. And thus, Joan Rebecca Watson becomes Joan Watson-Holmes.

They fall into a rhythm, working together as consultants to the Gardaì and Police Scotland with occasional stints at the Met, always short and always quick. She regains her medical license and works infrequent shifts at the St. Barts A&E, and he teaches a class on body language reading at the UCL. It’s both a little numbing and quite rewarding, and they meet no major problems or hit major hurdles in their first year of marriage.

It’s a joke, really, how they both thought the calm would be a constant.

She’s the first to wake up. She climbs out of bed, ignoring his murmuring pleads for her to stay, and heads to the kitchen in search of a warm cuppa and some buttered simple carb for her to munch on. But alas, that wasn't in the cards, and instead of an early breakfast she got a very unexpected visit from a very large, very ginger man.

“Sherlock.” She said, a lot lower than she expected to “Sherlock!” she said, louder, picking up the first object she could get ahold of, her Kindle.

“Lass, you needn’t be scared. I’m Graham Clatcher with the Interpol.”

“Sherlock!” she yells then, angrier than scared. “What are you doing here? How did you come in?”

“Miss Watson, is it?” he asks, ignoring her question “I require the assistance of your partner. And yours, should you see fit to help us.”

“It’s actually…” she begins,

“What is it?” Sherlock interrupts, walking into the room “Who are you?” he asks, pointing at the man sitting on their couch.

“Graham Clatcher,” Clatcher says, getting up “I’m an agent with the Interpol.”

“Were you invited in?” Sherlock asks, eyeing him.

“I need your help.” Clatcher says “I’ve got a case for you.”

———————————————————————————————————————————

“It’s a child prostitution and trafficking ring.” he tells them “We’ve been on their heels for years, but they always manage to get away. They’re in Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia, probably in other Eastern European countries as well. We can’t tell for sure, but we estimate they’re responsible for the kidnapping and selling of over three thousand young girls over the past decade.” he sighs “I wouldn’t ask for help if we didn't really need it. We’ve intercepted four girls being smuggled to Canada and the US this week. Lord knows how many made it there.” He crosses himself then, quite unprofessionally but very honest, before continuing “We’ve got a few leads, but nothing consistent. The constant movement within ranks and their geographical location doesn’t help.” he says “I understand you’ve a good track record with tough cases.”

“What sort of leads do you have?” Watson asks him, curling her legs under her body “Anything solid?”

“We’ve a couple escaped girls in refuge in Scotland.” he tells her “Both Belarusian, both scared out of their goddamned minds.” he takes a deep breath “We have a name. A woman. It’s unlikely that the name she goes by is her real one. We do have a place of birth though. That information didn't do much for us, but might do for you.” he says, slipping her a manila folder she never realised he had.

“Lisa Mikhailov?” Watson says aloud “Sounds familiar to you?” she asks Sherlock, leafing through the file.

Sherlock audibly snorts and gets up to stand behind Watson “Mikhailov was quite a famous name in the Bratva. Certainly not her name of birth, perhaps by marriage, but I doubt it.” he points to her first name “Lisa. The Russian word for “fox”.” Sherlock points at her hometown.

“Tuva. Where have I heard that before?” Watson asks.

“It’s a rough place.” Clatcher says “Low life expectancy, incompetent police force, horrible weather, the triad of trouble.”

“You said you’ve got two victims in Scotland?” Sherlock asks him, moving back to his seat.

“Yes. In Glasgow. They’re under protection.” He tells them “Will you help?”

“We’ll let you know.” Sherlock says, abruptly “Off you go now, it’s rather early for visits.”

Clatcher seems genuinely confused, and Joan flashes him a compassionate smile.

“Alright.” he says “My number is in the file. Please do let me know.”

“We’ll be sure to do just that.” Sherlock tells him

“Here,” Joan says, standing up “I’ll walk you to the door.”

———————————————————————————————————————————

“So, what do you think?” Watson asks him, walking back into the room.

He grunts in response, and she takes that as a cue to leave him alone for a moment and goes to make herself a cup of tea.

“Watson,” he says, walking into the small kitchen “do you wish to work on this case?”

“That’s not really my area, Sherlock.” she says, pouring hot water over a cluster of tea leaves “It’s your call. It does seem like something we should do, though.”

He takes a deep breath “Do you reckon you’d be alright?”

“What do you mean?” she turns to him.

“It’s a rather difficult case.”

“Most of them are.” she places one of the mugs in front of him, taking the other one for herself “What do you really mean?”

“This is different, Watson.” he sighs “It involves children.”

“Many cases do.” she shrugs, taking a sip of her tea.

“Not at this extent.”

“Some to a higher extent.”

“Not usually battered and trafficked.”

“You know what, Sherlock?” she snaps at him “It would be a lot fucking easier if you just said what you mean.”

“I just want to make sure this will not have any lasting negative effects.” he says “It’s very soon.”

“He’s been gone almost two years now, Sherlock.” she says, from behind the rim of her mug. “We can help those kids.”

“And if we can’t? If we lose them too?”

She doesn’t know how to respond to that.

———————————————————————————————————————————

They board the train to Glasgow the following morning and six hours later, following a short delay, they’re sitting in the makeshift living room of flat in Cumbernauld.

They’re joined by Agent Clatcher and his partner, Agent Mazur, a stout Polish woman a whole foot taller than Watson, who spoke both English and Russian with flawless accents and perfect flow, and had the sort of warm, matronly appearance that got victims and witnesses alike to open up, and the two young girls, no older than twenty, Olga and Julia.

“Olga, Julia.” Mazur begins “These are Mr. Holmes and Mrs. Watson. They’ll be helping us with your case.”

Olga offers them both a trembly hand, and Julia shies back offering them a weak hand wave and a small smile.

“Hello.” she says, avoiding eye contact with Sherlock “I’m Olga.”

“You can call me Joan.” Watson, says, taking her hand “This is my partner, Sherlock. He only looks angry, I promise.” she laughs.

“Olga, if you’re alright today, I’d like you to please tell the two of them what you can remember of what’s happened.” Mazur says, touching Julia’s arm “Julia and I will be waiting outside.”

“Yes, that is okay.” Olga says “I will tell.”

Mazur gives her a knowing smile and leads the other girl outside, looking at Clatcher.

He follows her outside, leaving Olga alone with Holmes and Watson.

“We were taken.” Olga begins “From our mothers and fathers. They didn't have much money.” she continues “Girls don't do much good in Belarus. More trouble than help, my papa said.”

Joan urges her to go on, touching her shoulder.

“They said to our families “we take care of girls”, and our families believed them.” she let out a watery cough before continuing “it was very, very awful. They told us we had to do those things to get money, but we never got any money. There were a lot of men, very old men, who would come and do things to us. Some of the girls would cry, and that made the men angry, so they hit them. If we were bad they wouldn't give us food or water or let us sleep. Then they told us we would be going to America, that we could make money there.”

“Do you know how long they kept you for?” Joan asks her, motioning for her to sit “Were you kept with other girls?”

“Nikola,” she begins “Agent Mazur, says it was around one year that I was there. Julia more.” she takes a breath “There were many girls in the house. There were,” she pauses to think “trinadsat. Three and ten, girls with me in my room, sometimes more, and sometimes less when some girls went away, before they got new girls.”

“Can you recall any names? Maybe a particular face you could describe well?”

“No. Not from there.” Olga says “There were many. I can only remember the woman who took us from them.”

“What woman?” Sherlock asks, taking a step towards the two of them.

“She was blonde. She had a nice car. She got us with money, from the woman who gave people the girls.”

“She bought the two of you?” Joan asked.

“Yes.”

“Do you suppose you could describe her?” Sherlock asked her, opening the ‘notes’ app on his mobile.

“Just that she was blonde. We only saw her from back.” Olga said “But she had a voice like yours.”

“A voice like mine? What do you mean?” Sherlock asks “You mean my accent?”

“Accent?” Olga looks at him, confused

“The way I say the words.” he explains, pocketing his mobile “Did she make the words sound like I make them sound?”

“Yes!” Olga responds “Same accent.”

———————————————————————————————————————————

His heart skips a beat and he walks away from the two of them, walking hurriedly out of the room and into a small hallway “Sherlock! Sherlock!” Watson calls “I’m sorry, Olga, we’ll be right back.” she tells the girl, turning to follow him “Sherlock!”

He stops, turning around.

“It’s her, Watson. She brought the girls back.” he says, rapidly

“You don’t think…?”

“I’m positive.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 14: Reckoning

The case progresses with serious difficulties. The two witnesses are young and severely traumatised - which rendered them unreliable and of little help to intelligence officers and their consultants. Sherlock’s erratic nature only worsened after his learning - educated guess, really - of Moriarty’s involvement, his mind racing to and fro worst case and best case scenarios. Joan stays mostly in the background, gives him space, lets him lick his wounds and feel sorry for his own personal shortcomings.

She busies herself with extra shifts at the A&E, exchanges frequent messages with the Interpol agents responsible for the case, shops for things they don't need and stews over the information they have, however inconclusive it may be, hoping she'll be able to spot something they missed.

It’s agent Mazur who informs her of the first serious breakthrough in the case - a third rescued victim who’s able to work with a sketch artist and provide an actual image of the woman they’ve been looking for, the mysterious blonde with an English accent who Sherlock swears is Jamie Moriarty.

The agent texts her a picture of the facial composite the artist drew from the girl’s information at around nine am - half an hour later Joan was still cursing entities she didn't believe in and trying to muster up the courage to tell Sherlock his evil mastermind of an ex has been traipsing around Europe saving young girls from the sex trade.

“Sherlock?” she calls, finally resigning herself to fact that the burden of the information befell her

“Yes?” he answers back, in a loud scream that signals his lack of desire to be bothered

“Can you come here a second?” she shouts “Please?”

He stomps towards the kitchen in a huff, a noisy remembrance of his near-constant annoyance that has plagued him - and as a consequence, her - ever since he deduced Moriarty’s involvement in their current case

“What is it?” he asks, eyeing her

“I have something to tell you.” she says “It’s something you already sort of know but aren’t really sure of yet and now I…”

“You’ve found evidence of Moriarty’s involvement,” he interrupts “as I said you inevitably would.”

“Yes.” she confirms “A girl who was recently rescued from a Latvian cargo truck bound for Wales sat down with a sketch artist and the final composite is…” she inhaled “Moriarty, with very little doubt to be had.”

“I see.” he says “Is that all?”

“No. Agent Mazur is with the girl at the Interpol regional office in Manchester. She asked us to come and speak to her.”

“I see.” he stands still for an uncomfortably long amount of time before he says anything else “I’ll procure our train tickets.”

———————————————————————————————————————————

It’s around three in the afternoon when they get to Manchester and almost four by the time they get to the Interpol building. Joan texts agent Mazur and she meets them at the door, taking the two of them to see the rescued victim as soon as they get to the building.

Her name is Kristiana. She’s a tiny but imposing presence, all lithe limbs and long hair and the kind of spiritual strength that emanated from her body and filled the room around her as she sat silent in a chair by the corner of the waiting room she had been assigned to.

Joan walks in first, in an effort to establish a compassionate presence before Sherlock can establish a mercurial one, hoping - to gods uncounted - that he would keep it together in front of her.

“Hi, Kristiana. I’m Joan and this is my partner, Sherlock.” she says, gesturing towards him “It’s lovely to meet you.”

“Hello,” Kristiana answers, and Joan wonders if the raspiness in her voice is mere nature or the kind of engineered sexiness people who have worked - voluntarily or otherwise - in the sex industry all seem to possess “agent Mazur told me you were coming.”

Sherlock chooses not to speak at first. He understands his social ineptitude well, comprehends that Joan is infinitely better at making victims feel comfortable than he could ever dream to be, and because this case means so much, he chooses her calculated empathy and humanness over his characteristic brashness

“We saw the composite sketch and we think the woman you described is someone we know.” Joan tells her “Do you think you could tell us a little bit more about what you noticed when you were around her?”

“Yes.” Kristiana answers “I was not with her a long time.”

Kristiana shrinks then, her body seemingly reducing in size as she sinks further into her chair, observing the two of them sitting across from her

“She came at night, told us to come with her.” she says “We learned not to ask too much questions.”

“Was it the first time you saw her?” Joan asks, leaning forward

“Yes. We only thought she was taking us somewhere else.” Kristiana told them “It happened a lot of times.”

“Right.” Joan affirms “But she didn’t.”

“No. She took us three, all in her car, and told us she was going to take us to see police.” Kristiana said, sounding equally thankful and dumbfounded “She did not say much things, only that we had to say everything we remembered to police.”

“Three? Where are the other two girls?” Sherlock asked, finally intrigued beyond his desire to sulk

“I do not know.” Kristiana said “Agent Mazur said they will be okay.”

“I see.” Sherlock said “Watson, may I speak to you outside for a moment?”

“Sure.”Joan responded, turning to Kristiana “Thank you for speaking to us.”

“I did not mind,” Kristiana answered “only one more thing.”

“Yeah, what is it?” Joan asked

“The woman had this drawing,” she stopped to think “a tattoo, you say. Like a bird. On her…” she pointed to her shoulder “there.”

“Okay. Thank you for your help.”

Sherlock hurried outside and Joan quickly followed, closing the door behind her.

“It’s her. There is no doubt whatsoever of that fact.” Sherlock affirmed, clutching his fists at his side
“I know. But why?” Joan asked, retrieving her phone from her pocket and making notes of the new findings

“I don’t quite know yet. But I do have every intention of getting to the bottom of her involvement with this case.” he said

“Well, I’m sure we will.” Joan told him “I’m thinking we’ll be in the city for a little while. I’m going to get us a hotel room so we’ll have somewhere to go when we - well, I - need a break.” she said “I’ll be back in a little while, okay?”

He nodded briefly before making his way to an empty desk.

———————————————————————————————————————————

She procures them a room at the Gotham Hotel, the only nice hotel she can find in the area that actually has an available room and runs a few errands, in the process of which she receives a text from Sherlock letting her know that he’ll be late getting back and that she should, to which she responds the name of the hotel and room number and wishes him goodnight, expecting, with certain disappointment, that she'll already be asleep by the time she gets back.

She walks back to the hotel wondering about all the things that could possibly be influencing this case, all the people, the girls who trafficked and abused, the role she and Sherlock were playing in this scenario. The building wasn't far from the city center and it didn’t take her long to get there, however much she would’ve enjoyed a longer stroll.

The first thing she noticed when she got to their room’s door was that someone had been there just before she arrived - minutes, if not seconds, before - and that they’d let themselves in not with a key, but by picking the door’s old-fashioned lock. She sets down her shopping bags and reaches for her baton, unlocking the door and simultaneously flicking her wrist to let it be known that she was armed.

She saw Moriarty sitting on the bed moments after Jamie had noticed her entrance.

“Joan, dear.” she said “You needn’t worry, I’m not here to hurt you. I just wish to relay a message.”

“Ever heard of texting?” Joan snipped, turning to get the backs she’d left outside

“Far too gauche.” Moriarty responded “Again, I don’t wish to be a bother, but I do have something important to say.”

“What’s that?” Joan asked, shutting the door behind her and setting down the bags next to it “Make it quick, before I regain my senses and take the expected precautions one would when dealing with an escaped prisoner.”

“I understand you are investigating my involvement with that Eastern European sex trafficking ring.” Moriarty said “I’m going to spare you some time - my involvement begins and ends with making sure you and Sherlock are on the case.”

“Why should I believe that?”

“I have absolutely no reason to lie, Joan.” Moriarty smiled “If I hadn't wanted you to know about my involvement in this, you would not.” she got up from the bed in a sudden movement that elicited a defensive reaction from Joan “Easy, I’m just leaving.” she said, walking towards the door “One more thing,” she turned “you need to speak to the girl who’s at the hospital. Her name is Daria.”

Joan watched as she opened the door to leave

“Oh and,” she said “go alone.”