The noise woke Josephine Watson before the pain registered in her brain. She opened her honey colored eyes and blinked back remnants of unshed tears, recognizing what was now an every morning routine. A quick look around informed her she was in her room, sprawled on the floor, sheets tangled with her limbs. She had fallen from bed again, like a schoolgirl.
Untangling the sheets and throwing them on the bed again, she stood up and made her way to the bathroom. She tried her best not to stare at the closed door in the hallway when she passed it just as she tried to ignore the faint pain on her knee. Inside the bathroom, she looked at her face in the mirror. Her hair was exactly what it should be; the sandy blonde strands reached her chin in a very bed headed way, and her bangs pointed everywhere. The rest of the image didn't look so normal, even though it wasn't anywhere different from what she saw everyday for the past year.
Josephine barely noticed the tiredness of her features before stepping in the shower, the running water finally washing away the remnants of the nightmare that got her on the ground once again.
Just as she was entering the kitchen to prepare a cup of tea, her phone vibrated on the kitchen table where she left it the night before. Cursing in a whisper, she picked it up.
“Hi, Harry. What is it?” She absolutely hated it when her brother called like that, the first thing in the morning. It was never good news.
“Mother wants you to come back home, Josephine.” She flinched. Her brother never used her name like that. Tapping her fingers carelessly on the kitchen table, she breathed in.
“I am at home, Harold. I have a home, I have a job, and I have better things to do than to listen to your ramblings in the morning, thank you very much.”
“Oi, Jojo! Don't be difficult… It's just that we've been reading your blog and-” Josephine grunted and cut him off.
“Don't go there, Harry, please. I'm fine. I like to blog my cases, that's all. And now I have to go to the hospital, if you don't mind.” She heard Harry breathe out on the other side, defeated.
“She's not coming back, Jojo. Please, you know, everybody knows she's dead, so just come back home. It's been a year!” He sounded exasperated, and Josephine knew he had nothing but best intentions. It was just that… She couldn't leave. She couldn't live somewhere else and not look at the punctured smiley face on the living room wall, or the burn stains on the kitchen table, or the deep blue scarf still on the hanger behind the door. This was their world, and she would never give it up, no matter how foolish this might sound to everybody else.
“As I said… I'm home already. Leave it, Harry, that's all I ask from you. Oh, and please tell mum I love her, okay? Stop worrying about me. I'm fine.” And with that, she cut it.
With her teacup in hand, she fell to the couch. She knew Harry meant well, but oh, she hated those weekly calls so much. 221B Baker Street was her home now, and she wouldn't leave it no matter how much Harry and her mother told her to. And what was with people telling her she wasn't coming back? They didn't know her like Josephine did, they didn't know how much of an actress she was sometimes… And this past year was exactly that, wasn't it? An act… For whatever reason she had to jump off the hospital rooftop into the cold pavement, she wasn't dead. Josephine was absolutely sure about it. It didn't matter in the least the fact that there was a body in her grave. It wasn't her.
“Josie? Are you listening?”
Josephine looked away from the microscope for the first time in two hours and met Milo's face. He stood there staring at her with a quizzical look on his face; the light red hair looked like it'd been messed up during a thinking process. He was nice enough though, Josephine thought. Milo Hooper was always helpful and friendly towards her, even if she knew he was also worried about her sanity just like everybody else. He didn't express it all the time though, which made her insanely relieved. She smiled kindly at him.
“Oh, I'm sorry. I was a bit distracted with this… thing.” She pointed her head in the direction of the microscope. “What was that?”
“I asked if you wanted a cup of coffee. I was just heading upstairs to have a cup myself…” She noticed he was looking down at his hands, which seemed agitated. He seemed agitated, she thought.
“I'd like that, if you don't mind… I'd go with you but I really want to finish this.” Milo nodded and walked around the lab counter, finally reaching the doors.
“That's okay; I'll be back in a few minutes. Black, two sugars, right?” He asked as he was leaving, and Josephine froze. She looked at him, and he covered his mouth with his hand. “Oh, Josie, I'm so sorry! It was-“
“That's fine, Milo. Black with two sugars is fine.” She smiled faintly, trying to reassure him. There was that look again, the one people kept throwing at her. His eyes were flooded with concern, sick worried that she would break down from the calm life she'd built around the fact that her best friend and flat mate was dead.
Milo left the lab and closed the door behind him, leaving Josephine to her work. She was almost finished with the tissue analysis when her phone vibrated on the lab counter. She recognized the number as Lestrade's and opened it, thinking that if there was a new case going on, it might be a good thing to keep her mind at.
“Hi, Greg.” She greeted him while mindlessly writing down her findings on the tissue at the microscope. Reaching a period, she started doodling.
“Hi, Josephine… I was wondering if you could come by in maybe 2 hours.” She noticed he was fidgety; he sounded like he was hiding something, probably something big. Something about his voice sounded off.
“Yes, sure. I could go now, if that's okay… I've just finished my last analysis for the day.” He breathed out, and then she was sure something big was going on. She turned off the microscope lamp and put the sheets of paper together on the counter, the phone stuck between her ear and shoulder.
“That would be great.” He sounded relieved, and Josephine rushed for the door, almost knocking Milo down on her way out.
“I'll be there in 5 minutes.” She ended the call and tucked the phone inside her jean's back pocket. “Oh, I'm sorry, Milo. I've got a call. See you tomorrow!”
The words left her mouth in a hurry as she ran across the hall, leaving a very confused Milo holding her cup of coffee behind. She could feel it in her bones, there was something really big going on, and it wasn't just a case. She tried her best not to let her hopes up, but Lestrade's tone made it go mad inside of her, bubbling with the perspective of progress.
One minute later, she was in front of the hospital calling for a cab. Another minute and she was inside one, giving the cabbie precise instructions for him to lead them to her destination.
For the next 3 minutes, she let herself get lost in thought.
She'd been working hard with Lestrade in complete secrecy for the last 7 months to clean up her best friend's image. The last thing she'd left before jumping off that rooftop was that absurd of a suicide letter, and Josephine never bought a word of it. Her best friend just wasn't a fraud, just as she wasn't a sociopath or whatever other crap she'd said to avoid people and intimacy. And that's what she'd been working so hard to prove. They'd been looking for evidence and testimony on her behalf, everything to gather enough information to publish a first page article or maybe even a book—if she was being really optimistic—proving that her best friend and the best consulting detective in the world had actually been a good person. Still was a good person, she thought to herself. She wasn't dead, Josephine was positive about it. However, she wasn't as positive about her ever returning. Well, if she ever succeeded in cleaning up her best friend's name, it would be almost good enough for her. It was her project and the reason she woke up every day from those terrible nightmares involving blood and cold pavements.
The cab finally reached its destination, pulling Josephine out of her reverie. She jumped out of it and threw the cabbie a few notes from her wallet not even bothering to count them. The anticipation rushed in her bloodstream as she climbed the few steps to her destination. Less than a minute later, she was facing Lestrade's empty table and wondering where he was with whatever news he'd had for her.
“Third door to the left.” Sally Donovan's voice sounded right behind her, and Josephine turned to meet her disapproving expression. It wasn't a secret that she never liked the girls and absolutely did not approve of their involvement on the cases. She actually tried to warn Josephine when she first started working with the consulting detective, but Josephine never listened to her. And never regretted it.
“Thank you.” She said, rushing once again to the hallway with the closed doors. Counting three, she couldn't bring herself to knock and just opened it, closing it right behind her as she entered the room.
There, she met Lestrade sitting on the desk, blocking her view from the other person seated on the chair behind him. He looked… Nervous. More than that, actually. He looked fidgety yet cautious, like he was somehow afraid of her or what she'd say about the subject at hand. He eyed the door one more time, probably making sure it was indeed closed. Josephine huffed.
“Well…? What is it, Greg? Who's there?” She tried to sneak a peek behind him to see who was seated there, but he immediately changed his position to block her out. With both hands on her hips, she stared at him defeated.
“First of all, I think we've managed to gather enough information for the article. Also, with the right encouragement, we can make that Kris Riley tabloid journalist write it and rectify all of the damage.” Lestrade spluttered, his hands tangled in his lap. Josephine frowned, still not convinced.
“Right. And where exactly did this new flood of information come from? We had nothing of importance two mere weeks ago.” She buried her fingers in her sandy blonde hair, pushing the strands behind her ear. This, whatever this was, wasn't right. She wanted to make it right and believable, for her. It had to be big so people wouldn't dare to doubt it. They'd have one single shot at this, and Josephine didn't mind spending another 10 years just to make it accurate.
She saw Lestrade open his mouth to reply, but another voice interrupted his motion.
“Leave it, Lestrade. I might as well explain it since I'm here.” Lestrade nodded, giving an uncertain step to the side to finally show the identity of the third person in the room.
The white lights in the room ceiling turned in circles in front of Josephine's eyes as porcelain white skin, shoulder length dark curls and icy blue eyes came to view. Shelley Holmes was seated behind the desk with the littlest smile playing on her rosy lips.
The white lights in the room ceiling turned in circles in front of Josephine's eyes as porcelain white skin, shoulder length dark curls and icy blue eyes came to view. Shelley Holmes was seated behind the desk with the littlest smile playing on her rosy lips.
Josephine opened her eyes and stared at the white lights on the ceiling. Why was she staring at the ceiling? Her head hurt… She felt like she had bumped it, but she didn't remember it happening. She was… At the DI's office. She remembered now. Lestrade called her and she came to hear the news. Which turned out to be her best friend and flat mate staring at her from the other side of the desk.
She jumped at the realization, ignoring the fact that she'd probably bumped her head when she fainted. It gave a painful twinge as she lifted it from the chair's headrest, and she had to close her eyes again to minimize it.
“Easy there, Jo. You've bumped your head. The disorientation might last for about 2 more minutes.” She felt cold fingers caressing her temples in butterfly touches, but didn't dare opening her eyes. Shelley's voice was exactly how she remembered; deep and full like a singer's. And she was the only person in the world to call her Jo, while everybody else preferred cute nicknames such as Josie or Jojo. Josephine groaned faintly, the pain in her head slightly better while her eyes were still closed. Shelley chuckled. “I'm not your imagination, my silly Jo.”
She opened one honey colored eye and got used to the white light before opening the other, and then she met her best friend standing right by her side.
“Yes, well, your silly Jo's imagination has been playing tricks, so better be safe than sorry.” Josephine rubbed her eyes and lifted her head at last, the pain barely registering in her brain anymore. She felt Shelley's eyes all over her, and knew that her best friend was in fact taking in all of the past year's changes.
“But you know when they're nightmares, and still you wake up on the floor after falling from bed. You've also lost about 7 pounds, which means you've been working extra hours beside the insufficient sleeping schedule. Since you don't stay at the hospital or the practice for more than 8 hours a day, this means you've been working on something else, something only Lestrade knows about, a secret.” Josephine rolled her eyes, but still couldn't stop that tingle to go down her spine; that one she usually felt when Shelley spoke in that deep and rushed tone about her findings. It didn't matter in the least that this time she was deducing her. “He told me the last bit, so nothing new here. But it's already four in the afternoon, and you didn't have lunch, only half a cookie about 2 hours ago. And you didn't drink your daily cup of coffee, I might add, but must've bumped into Milo when he was bringing it for you since there's a little coffee stain on your jumper.”
Josephine let out a sigh and tried to stand, putting her hands on the desk surface for leverage. Now that Shelley brought it up, she actually felt a little hungry. And to prove her point, her stomach growled audibly in the silent room, which brought a smirk to Shelley's face. She blushed lightly.
“Yes, I am indeed hungry. Why don't you finish explaining, or better yet, start explaining whatever you've been doing all this time while we eat something?” She stood and walked to the door, turning her back on Shelley who was now leaning against the desk and had that little smile on her lips again. They both knew that Josephine wasn't behaving like herself in the slightest, but Shelley decided it was best to let her closest friend and former flat mate be the closed book she thought she was for a while longer until she got used to her returning.
Josephine looked back at Shelley and huffed, opening the door for their exit.
“Well?” She placed one hand in her hip in what she hoped to be an annoyed look.
Shelley chuckled and stood, patting nonexistent wrinkles away from her fitted black coat. She met Josephine by the door and eyed her, full merriment displaying on her emerald blue eyes. There was something odd about her reaction, and even though Shelley couldn't see right through it like she always did, it was still fascinating. She'd chosen to meet her in the DI's office because she was worried maybe Josephine might shoot her if she just appeared in the living room of their flat.
She pushed a rebellious dark curl behind her ear and smiled reassuringly.
“Eating something sounds good.”
They sat at the same table at Angelo's they'd sat when they first met and were out on their very first case as partners. It was also the same restaurant where someone else had thought they were out on a date for the first time. Josephine almost laughed at the thought, but managed to keep her face neutral. There was still too much to be explained. The cab ride had been too silent and awkward while her mind had been screaming.
The waiter offered them both the menus, and she eyed her options without much thought. She was hungry, her stomach was still growling from time to time, but she just couldn't set her mind on food right now. Her eyes travelled up the menu to find Shelley staring at her, both her hands intertwined under her chin in her usual thinking face.
Breathing in, she asked the question that popped in her head first.
“So, where are your things? I mean, are you staying?” She trained her eyes on the other side of the street through the glass, noticing it had just started to rain. People walked carelessly, carrying on with their lives under umbrellas. She didn't notice how Shelley's lips turned upwards in an almost imperceptible knowing smile.
“Yes, I'm staying. And my things are already conveniently placed in my room.” Shelley saw Josephine's head violently turn in her direction, honey colored eyes meeting blue with fury.
“What? You've been in the flat and didn't even bother to tell me you were back?” She dropped the menu on the table causing the candle in the middle of it to fall to the side. “This is so typical of you! Plotting and scheming without considering people might get caught up in the middle of it. So bloody typical!”
At last, the girl I know, Shelley thought to herself. It was about time Josephine let everything bubble up inside the little bottle she called self-control. It now poured out of her like champagne on New Year's.
She let herself take in the sight before her eyes for the briefest of moments, noticing how fast Josephine raised her voice in defense of people's feelings on the subject. But she didn't know, she couldn't know the reason behind Shelley's actions one year prior. If only she knew, Shelley thought, but just a millisecond later discarded the idea. If Josephine had known, she would've wanted to help and be on the run with her. It had been already insanely dangerous being alone. She couldn't even begin to imagine how dangerous it might have been if she'd had someone else to worry about.
“I've been in the flat earlier today to drop my things, that is all.” She exhaled, wondering how to bring up the subject of her departure and reasons behind it.
Josephine ran a hand through her hair, unsettling the blonde strands. If she was to be honest with herself, it didn't matter whether Shelley had been in their flat earlier today or a month ago. This was how her friend's mind worked, so precise but yet lacking the basics of human interactions. She knew every possible human thinking process, but not the emotions behind them.
“So… Where have you been?” She picked up the golden candleholder and put it back in its original position in the center of the red-and-green check tablecloth, trying to make herself busy and occupy her hands.
“Oh, everywhere. Around the world, in fact.” Josephine could hear the smile in her friend's voice, but didn't look up to meet her eyes.
“So you took a vacation, that's good. I guess.” Shelley chuckled at her phrasing and the slight movement of her shoulders.
“Oh Jo, you see but you do not observe.” Her merriment was evident dripping from her deep voice, and suddenly it made Josephine feel very out of place. She'd been used to being called simple minded before, but it had been a year ago. For a whole year, she had to think alone and learn to notice things she generally didn't. Luckily, her newfound and still untrained skills had been enough for her to find her way in a few cases here and there. She crossed her arms on the table and looked at Shelley with furrowed brows.
“Yes, silly me. Why don't you enlighten me then?”
Shelley exhaled, running both her hands through the dark curls around her head. It was so obvious! Yet Josephine refused to notice, still stuck in her self-consciousness.
“I was hidden.” She whispered in a hush, and Josephine leaned in so she could hear the words clearly. “Mycroft has this net of people he knows, and they hid me for a while. It was far from what I'd wanted because then he would know my every step, but it was the only way I could stay in safety and do what needed to be done.”
Shelley paused for a moment, seeking her friend's eyes. She knew Josephine was still hurt, she could see it in the honey depths of her eyes, but she also knew she had the best heart ever seen. It wasn't in her nature to hold a grudge when it came to Shelley and her idiosyncrasies.
“Okay…” Josephine started, trying to sound a little more relaxed than she really felt. Her arms suddenly felt very wrong in their positions, and she uncrossed them. One of the napkins on the table soon found its way into her fingers and soon she was playing with it just so she could keep her wandering hands busy with something. And what is this impossible thing, which needed you supposedly dead to be done?”
“Getting rid of Moriarty's net, of course.” She stated, smoothing the tablecloth with both her hands. “Come on, Jo. You knew he wasn't dead. You knew I wasn't dead as well.”
“I guessed you weren't dead, that's very much different.” The last three words left her lips as if they were separated by commas. The napkin laid forgotten as her fingers tapped at the table's surface strong enough to produce noise. “That didn't make your being alive any more possible! How-“
Josephine pressed her eyes to her skull with the tips of her fingers, sensing a headache soon forming. She then continued.
“How do you think it was around here? People just assumed I was crazy or, or obsessed or anything else! Honestly, Shelley, I gave up after the first month of telling people to have faith in you. My therapist was the only person I could talk about you, and even she told me I should deal with my acceptance issues!”
At this point, half of the restaurant had their eyes glued on them. Always the one to seek discretion, Josephine couldn't bring herself to care at the disapproving glances thrown at them. In fact, she wanted to climb on top of the table and throw it in their faces that she had been right all along.
Shelley waited for Josephine's outburst knowing better than to interrupt. She was right at the most part, but still there were details concerning her departure unknown to her best friend. Shelley could wait as long as Josephine wanted, but the truth would have to be out at some point.
Josephine breathed in, taking small gulps of air into her lungs. You have to stay calm, she said to herself. She had to remember herself that Shelley still wasn't over with her story. There had to be a reason other than her disregard for other people's feelings. She was the best human being she'd ever known. There had to be a reason.
“There is a reason, Jo. I promise you this. You just have to let me explain it.” Shelley's gray-blue eyes burned into Josephine's, and that single fact was enough to make her nod in agreement. “My being here now is that last miracle, Jo.”
Josephine exhaled in a long breath, a little knowing smile finally taking place at her lips. Of course, Shelley had to be spying on her on that last day at the graveyard. Every day on the first month after Shelley's supposed death, Josephine walked the ten blocks from their flat to the graveyard just so she could seat on the grass next to her best friend's gravestone and talk to her. The grief took a month to subside, and then her secret project took shape inside her mind. There was that littlest part of her that actually believed Shelley was alive somewhere, as the great actress she really was. It was Josephine's faith in that little voice inside her head that made her stop going to the graveyard. On that last cloudy afternoon, she looked at her best friend's name engraved on the dark stone and asked for a last miracle. In return, she promised to clean Shelley's name so everybody knew how amazing and human she actually was.
“It may be difficult for you to believe, but there was indeed a gun pointing at you.” Shelley stated, interrupting Josephine's train of thought. “And at Mrs. Hudson. And most likely at Lestrade too. Moriarty was the only person who could stop the snipers, and he made it perfectly clear he wouldn't when he shot himself. It was all a trick to force me to jump, of course, and I wasn't unaware of that. I had a few tricks of my own and so was forced to use them.”
Josephine felt the air being forced out of her lungs as if she had fallen down on her stomach. Every color seemed too bright and every contour was sharp against its background. A bloody sniper. There'd been a sniper pointing a gun at her, and she hadn't even known about it before now. It didn't matter how much she tried to find the connection, she still couldn't see why it would've made Shelley jump, or pretend to jump, from St. Bart's rooftop.
Shelley's eyes read the shock and then the confusion going on behind Josephine's, and she felt somehow relieved to be able to see her best friend's emotions written on her face again. She'd known Josephine wouldn't believe her attempt at faking her own death, but there was that little nagging part of her that was scared of finding her best friend permanently broken or lost. The past year hadn't been easy on her, and she could barely imagine how it would have been to someone as driven by feelings and emotions as Josephine was.
She cleared her throat before continuing.
“Come on, Jo, this is very simple… Too simple, actually. Mostly like every plan of his.” She sounded anxious, as if the realization of one year prior were downing on her all over again. “He instructed the snipers to aim and shoot every person that was somehow close to me unless he told them not to.”
“Or… Unless you were d-dead.” Josephine completed, feeling her hands starting to shake on the table. She tucked them on her lap and held her fingers together waiting for her calm to return, but it didn't.
She hadn't realized her own state until she saw the tear stains on her jean-clad lap.
It took her by surprise for two single reasons; first, she'd thought she'd lost the ability to cry after the first month after Shelley's supposed death, and second, she'd been at a gun's point a few times before, and it had never affected her like this.
She squeezed her eyes shut and a few more teardrops made their way down her flushed cheeks. This wasn't right. She shouldn't be crying over something that'd happened a year prior. She'd been really close to dying that day while she was standing on the pavement and holding the phone to her ear. Her eyes were on the hospital building rooftop instead, stuck on the dark figure about to jump. She remembered the flow of hot tears down her cheeks, the erratic beating inside her chest and her own voice coming out in a desperate plea. No, Shelley, please, stop it, don't… Don't jump…
A pair of hands made their way to her shoulders in time with her next memory, which was Shelley's limp body lying on the sidewalk in a puddle of thick crimson blood. The slight shake snapped her out of it, and she looked up to find Shelley's gray-blue eyes looking intently at her. Her breathing was sharp and shallow, and it would take more than a few minutes of staring into her best friend's eyes to calm herself.
“Jo.” Shelley spoke in a serious manner, her deep and full voice reverberating through her arms and reaching Josephine's fragile frame. “I'm right in front of you. The snipers are gone, Moriarty is gone, and it's all over. Breathe. Please.”
Josephine blinked, the last trail of tears almost dry on her cheeks. She felt the air entering and then exiting her lungs in slow waves, and the quivering of her hands almost gone. Worry was almost palpable coming out of Shelley's eyes, and she gave her a little reassuring smile.
“Oh no!” The sound of another voice broke their stare, and both looked up at the man standing right by their table, an almost heartbroken look tainting his greasy features. “Don't tell me you girls are breaking up, and in my restaurant of all places!”
Shelley chuckled lightly while letting go of Josephine's shoulders and readjusting herself on her chair. The man looked at them quizzically and crossed his arms. Josephine flinched in her defense.
“Jeez, Angelo, was that really necessary?” She tucked a strand of her sandy blonde hair behind her ear and glared at him. He then turned to Shelley, realization downing on him.
“Shelley! I thought you were dead!” He wiped his hands on the somewhat white apron hanging on his hips as she smiled almost fondly at him. “Well, I'm sorry, I just thought… Uh, never mind. I'll let you girls alone to enjoy the rest of your date.”
“Thanks, Angelo. That'd be good.” Josephine replied, trying to ignore the slight flush in her cheeks. She looked back at Shelley and noticed her best friend had one raised eyebrow and just a slight glint of mischief in her eyes. Right! “And this is not a date, honestly, how many times do I have to…?”
Angelo laughed and waved at her.
“Right, that's okay Josie, you know I'm fine with it.” He chuckled as he turned away, leaving them alone at last.
Josephine tossed and turned in bed for almost three hours before she finally fell asleep that night. The talk she'd had with Shelley that evening haunted her, turning her attempts at closing her eyes into full on disasters.
It still wasn't very clear to her what exactly happened one year prior. She couldn't understand just why Shelley hadn't told her about her plans and hadn't invited her along. Of course, she wasn't anywhere near as brilliant as Shelley, but they were a good team when facing criminals together. Wasn't there anything she could've done to help her best friend on her one year journey and perhaps make it shorter? The unanswered questions kept playing inside her head as if they were actually screaming, and every time she closed her eyes, a very mean and disdainful little voice told her she'd be left behind again at some point and when the time came, it would be for good.
When sleep finally took her in, she fell into a dreamless slumber that did nothing for her tiredness.
The first morning hours came and passed, and since it was a Saturday, there was no need for Josephine to wake up early. The practice was closed, and she only made an appearance when there was an emergency surgery and Sean called asking for her. She usually spent Saturdays sleeping in, and cleaning the flat in the afternoons; a habit she'd got from Mrs. Hudson. In fact, she'd spent the Saturday before helping their thoughtful landlady pack her things for a rushed trip to the countryside.
It was right in the middle of the foggy state between slumber and consciousness that Shelley burst through the door with a never-ending flow of words that punctured Josephine's still sleepy brain. Lying on her stomach, she pressed her face to the pillow as if it could make her best friend stop talking and go away for at least two more hours. Shelley crossed her arms in front of her chest and huffed audibly.
“I'm not going anywhere, and it's 10 already. We have a lot of things to do.” She stated, eyeing Josephine on the bed. The duvet was tangled in her limbs and her back lifted and fell in a sigh. She groaned.
“I don't have anything to do today, Shelley. Please let me sleep. I went to bed really late yesterday…” Her voice came out muffled by the pillow, but it still kept its crying tone.
Josephine raised her head from the pillow and found her best friend standing by her bed with a very serious expression on her face. She rubbed her eyes while rolling on her back so she could sit up.
“I said your statement was wrong.” Shelley started, pacing around the room in the annoying detective mode Josephine knew so well. “You do have things to do, such as cleaning the flat, which had been your Saturday routine for a while, and helping Mrs. Hudson up with her bags when she returns in the afternoon. In addition, your notion of your sleeping schedule is misguided. You went to bed exactly at 3:35 this morning, which is not yesterday as you previously stated. It is very acceptable that you get up now, since you've had approximately 6 hours of sleep, which are quite enough to recover your body and mind functions.”
She finished with a little flourish of her hand and stopped by the window to look outside, a smug smile playing on her lips. She'd been pacing around in her own room until dawn, unpacking the few items she took on her journey and listening to the shrieks of Josephine in her bed and the rustle of sheets coming from her room upstairs. She'd been worried about Josephine for so many reasons, and somehow thought that maybe her returning could put her best friend's mind at ease enough for her to have a good night of sleep. She was disappointed to find it wasn't enough at all.
Josephine sat on the bed, crossing her legs in front of her. She frowned.
“How do you even know Mrs. Hudson is coming today? I don't know that…” Shelley looked back at her bed headed best friend and smiled.
“She left a week ago because her Sunday newspaper is still on her front door rug. Also, she parted in a rush considering she forgot to water the flowers on her windowsill, so it leaves me to think it was a family emergency, which I believe it was her former sister-in-law. She'd been sick for years and got worse a month ago, and so they called up for Mrs. Hudson so she could say her proper farewells. With all the arrangements made for a funeral, it must have taken her about 4 days to finish everything, and another day for her trip back home. She wanted to arrive on a Saturday so you could help her unpack, and she took to consideration the fact that you usually sleep in on Saturdays and she didn't want to disrupt that. Probably because she thinks you work too much, don't eat enough, and should sleep more.” She stated, the words leaving her lips fast and without a pause for breathing.
Josephine blinked back the remnants of sleep from her eyes and stared at Shelley for a few moments, taking in her slender figure against the white light coming in from the window. Her hair was pulled back in a messy bun, and a few dark ringlets fell down around her face. There was a gleam of excitement on her features, which told Josephine she was extremely happy to be home again, even though she never put her emotions on display. She felt the beginning of another round of tears swelling up in the back of her eyes, and for the first time dismissed it. Everything was fine now; Shelley was fine, and alive, and right in front of her. This reminded her that there was something she still wanted to do.
She stood, untangling her legs from the duvet, and crossed the distance between them in a few uncertain steps. She stared at Shelley's eyes for a moment, finding that her best friend was currently trying to read the reasons behind her actions. A questioning look appeared on the pools of her gray-blue eyes, and Josephine smiled kindly. Is this okay?, hers asked. Shelley nodded almost unnoticeably.
Josephine took a deep breath and stepped forward before her own reason talked her out of it, and wrapped her arms securely around Shelley pulling her into a hug. She held her best friend close and pressed her now flushed cheek into Shelley's prominent collarbone. She had never hugged Shelley before, or even held her this close for any reason. Unlike what she'd thought, Shelley wasn't all sharp angles and absence of warmth. In fact, now that she had her arms around her lanky frame, her best friend didn't feel like the untouchable and cold consulting detective everybody else thought she was.
She shut her eyes closed and buried her nose in the little gap above Shelley's collarbone so she could inhale deeply, never wanting to let go of her scent again. Oh, how she'd missed that scent, the warmth she'd only imagined until now… She felt a light pressure against her shoulder blades and realized Shelley was actually hugging her back very softly, her marble pale hands tracing slow patterns on the expanse of her back in butterfly touches.
The taller girl brushed her cheek against Josephine's sandy hair and sighed contentedly, a soft little smile on her face. It was the first time the girl in her arms ever tried to establish physical contact with her, except for the times they'd run holding hands –and handcuffed- through the streets of London. It had been all good to Shelley; she'd never known how to be someone else's friend in the physical sense, and had actually never bothered to learn. People are dull and predictable, she said. They were never different or surprising, and so Shelley learned to keep her distance to avoid further disappointment. But that girl was very different; the detective had been able to tell the story behind her restrained exterior and psychosomatic limp by looking at her shorter frame only once, but that had been the last time Shelley succeeded in deducing Josephine at all. She'd had lucky hunches and half-formed information, but never the exact mirror of reality she'd been able to guess from everybody else but Jo. She wished she could, she wanted oh so much to know the exact thoughts going on that beautiful and simple mind as her best friend nuzzled at her collarbone.
It was only when Shelley felt her best friend's body shivering underneath her fingertips that she realized the girl was crying. She disentangled her arms from Josephine's grasp and curled them around her trembling petite frame; in reality she didn't know what she was doing, it just seemed the right thing. It felt the right thing to do at the time, she thought.
One hand traced Josephine's spine slowly, just a slight brush of Shelley's fingertips over the barely noticeable crease on her back as she explored it, going up to her neck. She finally found the soft strands of her hair and ran her fingers through them carefully as the girl in her arms still writhed in pain she'd been holding back for a year. Shelley cradled the sandy blonde head and rested her cheek against it, breathing in her scent of flowery soap and something else that was only and entirely Jo.
The shorter girl lifted her face from Shelley's collarbone and rested her chin on the other girl's bony shoulder. She sniffed audibly and blinked back the last of her tears as calm finally settled in. It never occurred to her that one day she'd get to hold Shelley as she was doing now; let alone the fact that her best friend was actually hugging her back just as enthusiastically and letting her sob all over her silken blue robe. She chuckled lightly, and felt Shelley's cheek move against the top of her head in what was probably a smile.
“You try disappearing on me again, Miss Shelley Holmes, and this sobbing mess will be the least of your problems.” The breathy tone of Josephine's voice was enforced by the straightening of her hold around Shelley's waist, and the other girl hummed contentedly.
“I won't.” She reassured her, running her hands over the shorter girl's arms and unclasping them, breaking free from their almost iron hold. “Now don't be silly, Jo. Where would I go without my blogger?”
Josephine caught on the playfulness of her tone and knew right there and then that her best friend was trying to ease the tension that had formed mere seconds before. She stepped back and crossed her arms in front of her chest, suddenly very aware of the fact that she was wearing only a thin oversized cotton shirt. A slight blush tainted her cheeks as she stared at the window, as if there was something other than drizzle happening on the streets that Saturday morning.
Shelley got up from the windowsill and turned to leave the room, the same soft smile still playing on her lips. Their interactions were different from before, she thought, but it was expected, if she was being honest with herself. The touching, though, was something she couldn't bring herself to grasp; it was beyond her expertise field and all the chemicals released made her annoyingly dizzy. She almost missed a step by the doorframe and stopped on her track, resting her hand on the wall for balance.
“I'll be downstairs in a minute and then I'll make some tea, okay?” Josephine stated as Shelley turned around to meet her eyes. The detective felt a sudden flood of uncertainty bubbling inside, to which Josephine smiled sweetly. “It's all good, Shelley. I'm fine.”
The taller girl nodded and tucked a dark curl behind her ear, as she finally made her way down the stairs. It was different, she thought. But it was okay.
Again, huge thanks to my betas Eli and Lucy. :)
The rest of the weekend passed without further incident.
Mrs. Hudson returned from her trip to the countryside on Saturday afternoon and tried her very best to disguise her surprise at Shelley’s return. They hugged for a long time, and all the while Mrs. Hudson tried to assure Shelley that she had not been fooled. Shelley laughed and patted the older woman’s back, not at all convinced by her vehement demeanor. She knew their landlady had been deeply affected by her apparent death, but they’d been together for so many years before that she really should’ve known better. At least that's what she'd expected of her elder; not to believe Shelley would remain dead. That, of course, didn’t stop Mrs. Hudson from crying copiously into the younger woman's shirt after the detective declared she’d missed their landlady very much as well.
Josephine eyed the exchange unfold in front of her and wondered if all that emotion had been pent up and locked inside since day one. She felt her eyes begin to water and a melancholy smile play on her lips as she stood watching Mrs. Hudson embracing Shelley like there was no tomorrow. She tried to hide her flushed face behind the newspaper she was pretending to read. Shelley had always been warm to their landlady; Josephine could still remember how she’d thought the young detective was untouchable and cold until seeing her at their door hugging Mrs. Hudson the way she’d hug and kiss a dear grandmother.
That Sunday morning Josephine woke up to what she thought was an empty flat, just to find Shelley’s lanky frame curled up on the sofa, deeply asleep. She then proceeded with her usual Sunday routine: put the kettle on for some tea, clean the dishes from the night before and make some toast. When the kettle finally whistled, Josephine had a plate with toast ready and a mug with a tea bag just waiting for the boiling water.
“Get me a mug.” Shelley was standing by the kitchen table, the oversized tee-shirt she wore hanging off a shoulder and exposing an expanse of marble pale skin and one protruding collarbone. Her voice sounded thick with sleep as she rubbed an eye with the back of her hand.
Josephine complied, and soon filled another mug with steaming water, a tea bag and the correct amount of sugar, before getting her own breakfast and going back to the sitting room. She sat cross legged in front of her laptop and perused her e-mails mindlessly while she ate. There were a few new comments on her last post, two of them from Mrs. Hudson. She wondered briefly what people would think about Shelley’s return; she’d received all kinds of e-mails and comments on the blog over the past year, some of them supportive and others –mostly anonymous- insisted her best friend was indeed a fake.
“You should do it.” Shelley’s voice sounded right behind her, a clear sign of the taller girl’s actual location stealing a view at Josephine’s laptop. She snickered at her sly behaviour and turned to meet her friend’s gaze. “Think about it, Jo. Do you really think blackmailing some tabloid journalist into writing an article on my behalf would be a better course of action than revealing the truth yourself?”
Shelley held the mug securely with both hands and blew softly at it, sending curls of steam through the air. It was… Logical, if Josephine was willing to consider it. Sensible even. She worried at her thumb nail for a while, and bet Shelley could actually see the gears turning inside her skull. To be honest, Josephine felt honored. And in the back of her mind, she felt out of her league. Writing the blog started as part of the therapy, and soon after it became part of their everyday life; going through the cases and the adrenaline, and then writing it all down for people to see just how amazing Shelley Holmes really was. But that was it. Josephine Watson was just the assistant, the help. A mere human with common abilities and slow thought processes like everybody else; someone who could be easily replaced as soon as she started to bore the consulting detective. And to top it all off, she didn’t even have professional training in writing to be able to come up with a decent 'The-famous-Holmes-is-back-from-the-dead' article. Or should that be infamous?
“It would serve him right, for being the one who started with the fake accusations anyway.” She folded her arms across her chest and faced away from Shelley, knowing full well that her thoughts must have been written all over her face. All in all, the screen of her laptop seemed as good a place as any to place her gaze upon.
The only sounds Josephine heard from Shelley after were a tired sigh and her lazy, dragged footsteps towards her room, from which she didn’t reemerge for the rest of the day.
Jo, I need you to come home immediately. SH
It was Monday, ten thirty in the morning, when Josephine finally got the time to check on her cell phone, which had been lying inside a drawer and buzzing incessantly during all of her morning appointments. Three new texts and God only knows how many more to come, judging by Shelley’s tone on the last one. It buzzed again, to Josephine’s dismay, and she opened the text.
Jo. Come home now. SH
A tired sigh escaped her lips. She considered closing the damn thing and tucking it inside her drawer again, but then the buzzing might never cease. Clearing her head, she typed I can’t, Shelley. I’m working! and stared at the letters for about twenty seconds before the mobile buzzed again with the other’s reply. But I’m bored. SH it said.
“Of course.” Josephine muttered under her breath, shut the phone with a little more force than she probably should, and shoved it inside her white coat pocket.
She hid her face in the palms of her hands for a second, shielding her eyes from the artificial brightness of the little office. She could hear coughing outside. Patients lined up for her to see. A huge pile of files stared back at her from the top of the desk. She ran her fingers over the first one and pulled it, reading the information regarding Mrs. Barnes. More coughing.
She hung the stethoscope on her neck and crossed the distance to the door in one stride. Considering the pile waiting for her on the desk, there was no time to lose if she wanted to leave the practice before two in the afternoon.
Josephine was late.
Well, not late exactly, since she didn’t have strict schedules or an official agreement with Milo, but she’d never arrived at the hospital, the morgue more specifically, after three in the afternoon. It was already five.
She’d eaten a sandwich Sean got her before leaving the clinic, which meant she actually swallowed the whole thing in one bite in the cab. Sean was a nice guy, she thought with gratitude, nice and caring and sweet. It was really a shame they hadn’t worked out together. Sean had spent a great deal of the past year resenting Josephine. Even though she came to work every day on time, never leaving before all her patients were taken care of. Still, Sean had begrudged her for all the times she’d left the practice without a plausible explanation and he had to take over the patients she had left. But now… it seemed that he was finally letting go of the hurt Josephine had unintentionally inflicted. She stared down at her hands and the crumbs covering her lap and smiled. If Sean could consider forgiving her, letting him down wasn’t something she planned on, even if it meant she’d leave the practice late for the next decade or so.
Still with that thought in mind, she jumped from the cab and threw a few notes inside, before running through the hospital doors. Patients and staff stared quizzically at her as she flew through doors and hallways as quickly as possible. She ran so fast, in fact, that the imagined pain in her knee that had been bothering her for the past month was simply ignored.
When the doctor approached the door that separated her from the morgue lab, a very distinct and repetitive noise caught her attention. She touched the doorknob very quietly, still not pushing the door open, and listened. The slapping sounds continued for a few seconds, and then stopped. The doorknob turned inside her grasp and escaped from it, revealing the presence of a much disheveled consulting detective on the other side of the door.
“Hello, Jo. Do come in.” Shelley stepped aside and motioned for Josephine to enter the lab with a flick of the riding crop she still held, a clear sign that the detective had probably resumed her research on post mortem wounds. Or another way to treat her chronic boredom. Most likely the latter.
Josephine eyed her best friend suspiciously, but entered the lab anyway. It was then that she also realised there was a mass of papers piled high by the microscope, a few of them scattered over the pristine counter surface. The microscope was on, and she could see that Shelley had worked through a few slides already. She didn’t know she’d been standing somewhere between the counters until a familiar male voice woke her from the reverie.
“Josie?” She sighed and turned her head, finding Milo’s eyes staring deeply into hers with a heavy shade of concern infused in them. He brought his hand to the nape of his neck and scratched lightly in a nervous manner. “It’s… You know. I should have called earlier, I’m sorry… But Shelley came here a few hours ago and she asked me for something to do and…”
The world had been upside down for a moment, Josephine figured. Things weren’t exactly clear, as if there were details lurking in every corner, just waiting for her to figure them out and finally see the bigger picture. She hadn’t been looking, couldn’t bring herself to care about the details before. But they’d just slapped her on the face.
Milo didn’t seem to be shocked by seeing Shelley alive and walking about, making demands and whipping cadavers to know how their injuries behaved when they were inflicted by a riding crop. No, he looked… embarrassed. Josephine couldn’t for the life of her understand why. He should’ve been ecstatic, he’d harbored a crush on Shelley for as long as Josephine knew him, and was devastated when the detective died. The fact that he’d been responsible for her best friend’s autopsy still wasn’t something she could understand, he’d been so attached to her and… Then it all made sense.
Josephine brought a hand to cover her own mouth as realization dawned on her. Milo made an attempt at approaching, but she stepped back, still looking at him in disbelief.
The two words weighed heavily in the silent lab. Josephine narrowed her eyes and crossed her arms in front of her chest, still waiting for an explanation that may or may not come.
Shelley broke the silence at last.
“Well, of course he knew. I had to find an available and convincing corpse, and also someone to make an autopsy accordingly. This had to be convincing!” She threw the riding crop on top of the counter, and motioned emphatically with both her hands in the air. “Who else could I trust to do this?”
The last few words left the consulting detective’s mouth before she could evaluate their meaning, and Josephine felt defeated at last. She dropped her hands to her sides and turned around, intending to leave the lab.
“I understand. ‘Who?’ you say. Well, just so you know, I’ve been in the army. I know a thing or two about strategy.” She muttered while walking to the door and opening it. As she stepped outside of the thick atmosphere, a sad smile tainted her expression.
“I take you won’t be in need of my eyes for the tissue analysis for the time being, Mr. Hooper. Shelley.”
With that, Josephine Watson left the building, silently blaming the sandwich she’d eaten earlier for the heavy feeling at the pit of her stomach.