She's used to her body betraying her. Drugs, withdrawal, anatomy, stubble, the need to do things like eat and sleep when she has work to do. One type of betrayal is really no different than any other type, except for the part where it is.
The body is just transport, she tells Mycroft, tells Lestrade, tells Gregson, tells anyone who will listen. One day she's going to believe it.
The sleeve is her first tattoo. There's a high and then there's a crash, and she feels vaguely like she ought to be doing something self-destructive as usual. The hyper-sensitivity that comes along with her highs is making everything about her skin feel tighter, more painful, more everything than normal. So she goes and finds somewhere to get an image pushed under her skin, because it'll hurt and it'll be something of hers on a skin that isn't hers at all.
In the end, it doesn't actually hurt as much as everyone says and she likes the way it looks. Her arms are frustrating to her, shoulders and muscles making it difficult to pretend. Now she can focus on the ink instead.
The next time she gets the urge to cut out a part of herself, she goes to get it imprinted on.
She tells herself it's reasonable, cold hard logic she can't deny: easier to do her job as a man, easier than surgery, easier than paperwork, easier than the inevitable disappointment as everyone lives down to expectations. She's lived her entire life according to that strain of efficient logic, and she doesn't intend to stop now, even if her body is telling her she should.
Transport. Transport. Transport.
Joan Watson walks in on her when she's shirtless; memorizing TV in a too-stuffy apartment, because in some ways New York doesn't feel much different to London. First impressions are important. It's hard to erase them. Joan is professional- she doesn't even blink, but it creates an image of Sherlock that won't be going away any time soon.
Which is good. It makes things easier.
To distract herself, she recites the show off from memory, then gives an introduction. Joan looks bemused and impressed at the same time as they shake hands, and that's that. Sherlock Holmes, thirty seven, male. Hello, nice to meet you.
Cases help. Joan thinks she means with the cocaine, and they do with that as well, but she almost believes the lie about transport when she's on a case because her mind catches fire, her eyes focus, nothing else matters but what she can think. She doesn't always like where those thoughts lead her, to corpses and worse, but that doesn't matter so much. As long as it works.
It's just like any high, though, and after a case is done she crashes just the same. It's a combination of things, exhaustion being the foremost. Joan drags her home and shoves something in the microwave after the third case they have together, already used to it. She grumbles, but half-heartedly.
"This is why you should eat on cases," she's saying, watching the microwave mutinously. "You know, I'm not your damn cook."
Sherlock would reply but her bones feel like they've been lined with lead and the effort seems wasteful, so she just makes an inarticulate sound of agreement.
"And sleep every once in a while. I'm supposed to be discouraging self-destructive habits," Joan continues, sighing.
"Good luck," Sherlock says, managing a grin.
"God help me," she intones, an edge of humour creeping in, and Sherlock laughs, almost wants to tell her there and then why her body will never be a temple to her. But she doesn't, in the end.
She'd never told Mycroft, but somehow he had gleaned it in between arguments and sending her to rehab.
Then he claimed that it had always been obvious, really, except that Sherlock is pretty sure that the idea Mycroft knew before she did (waking up at three AM on her twenty fifth birthday with an urge to vomit and claw her own skin off-) is enough to make her want to knock him out.
The day after their third case Sherlock stays in bed and tries to remember if she'd warned Watson about the black moods she had. Well, she'll find out either way, she supposes.
Her body is sore, she's tired, everything feels twice as sensitive and therefore twice as wrong. She rolls on her back and lies facing up, breathing deeply, arms away from her sides, her chest.
Some period of time later- her internal clock is normally excellent but right now she really, truly cannot be arsed- she hears Joan's heels clicking their way down the hall. "Holmes?"
"In here," she calls, because Joan will probably kick the door down in a mix of panic and anger otherwise.
"What happened to meeting me?" Sherlock can hear her but not see her, because rolling over would require a kind of effort she's lacking the motivation for right now.
"Sorry," she offers.
The bed depresses somewhere near her leg. "Are you all right? No- you hate obvious questions. Okay, how about: do you need anything?" Joan's voice is unusually gentle. Sherlock wonders just how rough she looks; Joan is normally much more... steely.
"You're learning," is all she says.
"Except for someone to be a smartass at. You'll need a willing volunteer, and they're not me."
She manages to pull herself up onto her elbows and frown at the other woman. "Tea?" she asks hopefully.
"Stereotype," she says, but she rolls her eyes and stands up. "Just this once."
"I look that bad?"
"Think you can manage a shave? Because, well."
Sherlock runs a hand over her face and winces. Stubble is bad, but shaving is worse. What to do. "I'll see."
"Uh huh," Joan says, moving off. Sherlock collapses back on the bed and thinks about how Joan Watson's existence is quite possibly the most eloquent argument against her self-inflicted isolation Sherlock has ever come across.
Joan wears skirts, heels, blouses. Sherlock doesn't care about clothing in the slightest and mostly views this fact in terms of, well, facts: they're expensive but a little out of date, as expected from a woman who lost her well-paid career. They're careful and stylish in the way that women who don't want to have to worry about whether their clothing fits the situation tend to dress.
Nothing she cares about at all, but she still itches to ask if she can borrow something, just to see how Joan would react.
One night, they get slightly more tipsy together than either would have planned or liked. Neither of them is the happiest drunk.
"You hate your job," Sherlock offers out of the blue.
"You hate yourself," Joan responds. "No mirrors. We should work on that. That's why you can't shave right, you know."
"No mirrors," Sherlock says firmly.
"What do you have against them?" Joan says, taking another pull of her beer.
"Thought you had all the answers there."
"Go on, I won't laugh or anything," Joan says, pleading, and all right, they really shouldn't be getting drunk together because Joan never sounds pleading and Sherlock, Sherlock is so tempted to just say it. Fuck logic, fuck mirrors, fuck lying on a bed trying not to scream because her chest is the wrong shape.
"I just don't like them."
"I wasn't right, though, was I," Joan says, suddenly sitting up and looking at Sherlock intently. "I can tell."
"You weren't far off," she mutters, avoiding that gaze.
Sherlock rubs a hand over her face, her hair, her eyes. "Call it insecurity."
Joan is silent, obviously waiting for elaboration. Sherlock drinks again, and then again to stall for time. Joan stays quiet.
"Did I ever tell you about this tattoo?" she says eventually.
"Go on," Joan says, and Sherlock opens her mouth to begin.
The next day, Joan shaves for her. The arrangement works out much better, and if Sherlock were a poetic woman she'd find some sort of metaphor in that. She's not, but she thinks she can manage 'grateful'.