Abashed the Devil stood,
And felt how awful goodness is, and saw
Virtue in her shape how lovely.
Saw, and pined his loss.
- Paradise Lost
Twelve weeks after the Kayden Fuller incident, Jamie Moriarty is granted a full acquittal, quietly and without fuss.
Joan is in the kitchen when she gets the call. Her head is buried in the refrigerator, as she loudly bemoans the fact that half of the condiments she had bought the week before have mysteriously disappeared. “If you’re going to use the mayonnaise for your weird little experiments, you need to tell me so I can replace it!” There’s a strange, muffled reply from the living room, which she is about to go investigate when her phone rings.
Gregson doesn’t say much. All he knows is that Moriarty’s out, that the trial was less of a trial and more of, what the Feds call, ‘mediated discussions’. He knows she’s been allowed to leave the country and that the majority of her funds have been unfrozen.
Joan cannot fathom how any of this is possible, when three months ago the woman was one terrifying face mask shy of the full Hannibal Lector treatment. And now, now she’s free.
For a moment, Joan closes her eyes and is filled with an odd kind of anticipation and then a resulting sense of panic.
Briefly, she wonders why Gregson called her instead of Sherlock, but he says, “I thought you should tell him. You’re better with…” he trails off and Joan says, “Yes. Thank you.”
Sherlock is in front of the fireplace, bound to a chair with three different kinds of rope. As her footsteps approach, he squirms slightly and squints against the blindfold, tied tightly around his head. A year ago, this sort of performance would have startled her, now she doesn't blink. Without ceremony, she walks towards him and rips the black duct tape off his mouth.
“You needn't have done that,” he huffs. “I was seconds away from-”
She lifts the blindfold and says, “She’s out.” He blinks once. Twice. Then stands up quickly, and the ropes which had seemingly bound him fast, fall slackly to the ground.
She proceeds to tell him exactly what Gregson told her, but in a softer tone, her eyes carefully assessing his expression, which remains utterly unreadable.
He doesn’t say anything for a long time, then mumbles something about the world’s corruption before rubbing his hand over his mouth, where some of the adhesive from the tape remained.
“Right,” he says, with a clear voice and eyes that don’t quite meet hers. He walks past her without another word.
“Where are you going?” Her voice is heavy with concern she doesn’t bother to hide.
“You said we were out of mayonnaise.”
“Don’t wait up.” And then he’s gone and the quiet click of the door signifies an unnerving kind of resolution to the conversation.
But she does wait up, because it’s cold out, and he didn’t take his jacket. Because it’s been seven hours and he hasn’t answered his phone. Because she can't stop thinking about Jamie Moriarty out there, free to resume her empire of murder and mayhem.
When he comes home at 11pm (without the mayonnaise), he looks impossibly weary. The tea she makes him grows cold. And she finally asks, “Do think she’ll stop?”
The fire splutters and gasps for oxygen and he says, “I don’t know.” And then, “No.”
Seven weeks after, a letter arrives at the brownstone. The return address is to a little known island off the coast of Crete.
Sherlock doesn’t open it. He wants to. Desperately. In fact, he’s already considered at least three ways to open and reseal the envelope without rousing suspicion, but in the end, is swayed by the recently instilled notion of ‘respecting someone else’s privacy.’
When Joan arrives back from her coffee date with Bradd with two d’s, Sherlock hands her the envelope with a blank expression and a letter opener - sharp and silver. “It’s addressed to you.”
She frowns at the handwriting on the paper. She’s seen it before, except never spelling out the specific combination of letters that make up her name.
The envelope is thin, and she holds it between two fingers, half expecting it to explode or disintegrate like something out of a Bond film. But it doesn’t, and Sherlock bounces impatiently on his heels before her, hands clasped behind his back until eventually he says, “Well? Are you going to open it or not?”
She takes the opener from him and slowly slides it under the thin flap. It tears easily.
In the envelope, folded twice, is a single sheet of paper. Not white. She doesn’t really know what colour to call it. Maybe bone or ivory. But it’s subtly textured and feels heavy and expensive.
In the centre, written in that same rounded, almost girlish script that, according to Joan’s recent reading of “What Does Your Handwriting Say About You?” suggests the writer has great imagination, enjoys freedom and is profoundly detail-oriented, are three lines:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead;
I lift my lids and all is born again.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)
The words are vaguely familiar, like the refrain from a song she used to know, and it takes her a second to place them. Still, Joan has no idea what to make of it, until Sherlock, whose scruffy head has appeared over her shoulder, makes that “Mmm” noise that usually precedes a lengthy exposition of some sort. Except there is only the raspy sound of nails on skin as he scratches at his chin.
And she turns her head to him to say, “Mmm, what?”
“It’s an excerpt from a poem by-”
“Sylvia Plath. A Mad Girl’s Love Song.” Joan finishes, and he looks at her with surprise. “I dated an English professor in college.” She gives a half shrug. “I guess some of it rubbed off.”
His eyes narrow for a second, searching for the story in between the lines of her scant explanation. “Indeed. Then I assume you know the rest of the poem?”
“Not off by heart,” she confesses. She scowls at the page, as if staring harder will compel more sense from it. “I'm more interested in what it means.”
“Analytically speaking, it touches on themes of longing and regret. A love that is desired, but never quite actualized. Quite raw in emotion. I believe the poet was quite young when she wrote it.”
She exhales an exasperated breath. “No, not the poem, this, the-” Joan twirls a finger in the air as she searches for the word… “-sentiment behind it. Why send this to me and not you?”
“May I?” He plucks the letter from her hands and holds it up against the light spilling in from the kitchen window. “As far as I can tell, there is nothing irregular about the letter itself. At least not superficially." He brings the paper to his nose and inhales deeply. "Of course we’ll have to read the poem in its entirety to unmask any veiled message, should there be one.”
“I shut my eyes and the world drops dead,” she softly repeats.
“I suppose it is vaguely sinister,” Sherlock confesses as he squints at the paper.
Joan looks at the envelope again, her eyes keenly drawn to the name above the return address. The loop of the ‘J’, the curved slash of the “M’ and finds herself thinking, even her handwriting is beautiful, and that particular sense of unease and anticipation twists itself around her spine and clenches.
“Should we… report this?”
Sherlock hands the letter back. “Unless it proves to be a threat of some sort, I cannot imagine it would be of much interest. Of course we could run it through the lab, but finding her fingerprints would only confirm that she is indeed alive and well, and though I may beg to differ, that is no longer a crime.”
“But-” Joan is unnerved. It should be a crime, she thinks. To just- just harass people with words and poetry and, and paintings so beautiful, you see them when you close your eyes at night as if they've been painted behind your eyelids.
It’s at this moment their phones simultaneously buzz with a message from Bell and Sherlock says, “Speaking of crime…”
At 3am, she goes downstairs for a drink of water and Sherlock’s on the floor, pouring over dusty volumes. “The poem's a villanelle,” he announces, not bothering to lookup. “Six stanzas of three lines, except for the first and last, which constitute of four. Not necessarily as sophisticated as say, Elizabeth Bishop, but clever nonetheless.”
“Yes, but what does it mean?” she asks. What does it mean?
He shuts the book in his hand with a definitive thud and says, “I cannot fathom. Perhaps it means nothing at all.”
It’s a tidy lie, one she wishes she could accept.
I dreamed that you bewitched me into bed
And sung me moon-struck, kissed me quite insane.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)
She knows it all now, even the parts omitted in the letter. Forty-nine hours, a successful arrest and a cancelled movie date with Bradd later and the words still flit around her brain like flies on a fresh corpse.
The letter is exiled to her nightstand drawer and she does not think about it, does not try to analyse or dissect it. And she certainly, definitely does not spend sleepless hours speculating what compelled Moriarty to send it to her.
And they successfully pretend to forget about it.
Until three weeks later, when the next letter arrives.