Strange hours, snatched catnaps, the adrenaline rush of being suddenly jolted awake. Joan complains, but her body remembers the routine of it all. It adapts quickly.
Her mind is slower.
They stepped out of the house together; Sherlock bounded up and down the stairs while she locked the door.
"New neighbours?" she asked idly as the tumblers clicked.
Sherlock glanced at her sharply. "Well spotted, Watson," he said.
She had to run down the street to keep up with him. On the subway, she realized: the garbage at the curb had smelled different.
Sherlock was still watching her. She raised her eyebrows at him.
"I will be interested to hear your thoughts on this crime scene, Watson," he said. "Captain Gregson assures me it is one of the more interesting to which he has summoned me. Tell me, how are you with dismemberments?"
She turned her head away in disgust.
She's stopped dreaming coherently again, due to her erratic sleep schedule. Another thing that used to be normal. Even when she completes multiple sleep cycles, she only dreams in disjointed chunks. Sounds and images float through her brain with no clear referent. She tries to piece them together on her runs, but she's distracted by the rhythm of the city.
She doesn't ask Sherlock whether he dreams, or what about – she's afraid he'll tell her – but she wonders whether he's as obsessed with observation in his dreamscape. Does he solve mysteries and pick locks in his sleep? Or does his obsession let him relax?
All of Joan's personal statements – for college, for med school, for her residency rotations, even for the treatment centers she's aligned herself with as a sober companion – always said the same thing.
I want to help people.
Cliché? Sure. But backed up by her GPA and her photogenic contribution to diversity, it got her places. It was true, too, for the most part. Just – it wasn't the only reason she was so focused on becoming a surgeon.
Surgery was a challenge. It engaged all her senses; so many different inputs, all emanding her attention. The scent of an opened stomach – had the bowel been perforated? The sight of the intestines coiled neatly inside the abdominal cavity – was one of them discoloured? The feel of muscle and viscera under her gloved fingers – there was the herniated loop. The sound of the heart monitor, even the coppery taste of blood behind her paper mask – she had to keep all of them in balance in order to perform a successful operation.
It was like running: there as a rhythm to it, an instinct. Was there a surgeon's high? Joan thought so.
The roar of multiple televisions reaches her in the shower. She's dressed and made up before it cuts off.
"Anything interesting on 'The View' this morning?" she asks when Sherlock comes into the kitchen to forage for cereal.
"Surely if you could make out the program, you could hear what insipid topics occupied their time." He grabs the milk and sloshes some into his bowl. She takes it back to add to her smoothie.
"I didn't hear anything. You just usually watch it on Tuesdays."
"I hadn't realized I was so transparent." Sherlock frowns.
"Patterns are very important in the recovery process. They represent stability, comfort in your surroundings. And they suggest long-term planning. You're less likely to use again if you have a routine, with something to look forward to." She smiles at him. "It's nice to see."
"Are you suggesting that Barbara Walters is instrumental to my continued sobriety?" Sherlock's lips twist in disgust.
Joan shrugs. "If the shoe fits."
The blender drowns out Sherlock's response.
She'd had patients die before.
Every doctor did: those who were too sick to make it to the surgery or those who just didn't have the reserves they needed to recuperate, those who just gave up as if the effort to get better wasn't worth the reward... she'd seen them all.
But she'd always been able to point a finger at the cause and say That. That was why.
"Can you tell us what went wrong in the operating room?" the doctor chairing the board of inquiry asked, not unkindly.
Joan went through it again in her memory. Nothing had seemed out of place at the time. Everything had been in order – until the blaring alarm of the heart monitor had shattered the normal chatter of the OR.
She shook her head. "No," she whispered, and the board muttered.
They recommended the minimum suspension, the report said, in recognition of her previous record and dedication to the hospital. She made her first visit to the grave that afternoon and couldn't imagine trusting another human being to her instincts ever again.
Sherlock leaves Liam's file behind untouched. Joan's not sure whether he's mocking her or goading her. She picks up the file anyway.
Everything in her experiences – with addicts in general, with Liam in particular – says there's no reason to assume he's innocent and every reason to assume he's guilty. She knows firsthand that addicts will say anything to excuse their behaviour.
But that doesn't explain her gut.
She weighs the file in her hand. It can't hurt to have a look, can it? Just on the off chance? She's been screwed before by addicts chasing a high, but she wouldn't do what she does if she didn't believe people could change.
Joan second-guesses herself throughout the entire exercise. Does she only notice the missing keychain because she wants to think Liam still cares about her? Her brain says yes. Her gut says no. And she goes with her gut.
It was starting to get weird how much time she spent wondering if Sherlock was screwing with her, Joan thought, staring at her phone.
Everything's fine. Phone was off, my mistake. Heading back, see you soon.
"So everything's okay?" Gregson prompted.
See you soon.
Sherlock could have switched to proper English to make fun of her annoyance at his textspeak. He could be mocking her frantic series of texts. He was probably halfway to the brownstone already.
He never turned his phone off, though. And Joan couldn't see him actually going out of his way to make fun of her. It was too inefficient.
"Miss Watson?" Gregson asked again.
Joan straightened her spine and called up her emerg management training. "Actually, Captain," she said, "everything's not all right. Sherlock's in trouble. Can you track his phone?"
Gregson frowned. "The man's an adult, whether he acts like it or not. Even if he's relapsing, I can hardly use police resources – "
"He's not relapsing," Joan interrupted. "He's been kidnapped." She held her phone out to him.
Gregson skimmed the message log. "Are you sure?"
Joan took a deep breath. "Yes."
Her mother doesn't stay long, but Sherlock has disappeared into his room by the time Joan says goodnight. She locks the door, shuts off the lights, and makes her way up to her own room. They don't have any plans tomorrow, barring any violent crimes being committed. She should be able to get a full night's sleep for a change.
But sleep won't come. She keeps seeing her mother asking her if she's happy.
Joan rolls onto her back and stares at the ceiling in the dim light. She hasn't lined up her next client, though she's had queries. She hasn't followed up on Sherlock's sponsor, even after the carjacking session with Alfredo terrorized the neighbourhood. After working with Sherlock, the idea of going back to dealing with typical addicts seems almost... boring.
Closing her eyes, she remembers finding Peter Saldua's phone, getting Liam released, even saving Sherlock's life.
Your detective skills are not unworthy of further development, he told her once, and later, directed as much at her as at her family, You can measure her impact in lives saved.
She holds her hand out in front of her face. Steady as a rock. She smiles.
Maybe it's time to start trusting her instincts again.