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A House Built Out of Stone

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Joan opens her eyes and the room is overly bright. The smell of disinfectant is so strong that it takes her only seconds to realise where she is.

She is so used to these kinds of rooms, with their sterile, LED lighting and thin sheets on flat beds that as quickly as she realises she is in a hospital, she also comes to another conclusion. Something is wrong. Something vital is missing.

Turning her head to the side, she relaxes as she focuses her gaze on the man sitting next to her. Marcus is asleep, his chest rising and falling slowly, peacefully. She smiles as she’s reminded of the few times he’s fallen asleep around her. In the precinct, once, when he’d worked on a case three days straight. In the Brownstone, he’d ended up sleeping on their couch twice. His deep snores always irritated her, but she would never deny him a few hours sleep, not when he so needed them.

But she frowns. Why is he so peaceful now, when he had always been so loud in his sleep?

Panicking once again, she opens her mouth and hisses, ‘Marcus!’ But no sound seems to come out. She repeats it louder, he stirs, and then she sits up and more desperately shouts, ‘Marcus!’

Joan must have actually spoken out loud, because he jumps out of his chair and his eyes shift about the room wildly.

But she didn’t hear herself say it, doesn’t hear what comes out of his mouth as he calms down and reaches out to her.

His lips move but she can’t hear anything he’s saying.

She can’t hear.

-

While Marcus writes something down on a sheet of paper, Joan composes herself enough to remember how she ended up in the situation she is in now. He’s probably writing down what happened; but she doesn’t need it anymore.

She can’t hear, but that’s not important right now.

‘Sherlock?’ She says, trying to ignore the fact that she can’t hear the words coming out of her own mouth, ‘where’s Sherlock?’

Marcus looks up at her, frowns, turns the piece of paper around and starts writing again.

-

He’s Ok - Alive.

Joan reads this, feeling faint with relief, then turns the page around to read the unfinished message,

You were in an accident. Ur ears are damagd. hearing loss, 3 brokn ribs, a concussi

She gives him back the paper with a shaking hand, and he starts writing again.

-

They let her go see Sherlock after a while. Not before Marcus writes another note.

Turns out Sherlock’s not as ok as she had assumed.

She feels the vibrations of hysterical laughter coming from herself when they tell her what happened to him. It’s the opposite of funny, but the irony makes her feel dizzy. She knows the nurse and Marcus are both looking at her like she has gone insane, but she doesn’t care.

Deaf and Blind. It’s almost poetic. She manages to subdue her breathless laughter and asks to be taken to see him.

-

Sherlock turns to her and his head is wrapped with bandages. They cover his eyes. Recently re-applied, she notices, and she presumes he removed them himself, untrusting of the doctor’s verdict that he was really blind.

His face is expressionless now, though.

‘Sherlock.’

He twitches his head sideways, but otherwise he is still.

Then he mouths Watson.

He must know she cannot hear, someone must have told him, because she can tell no sound escaped from his lips.

She mentally replaces the silence with what she knows her name sounds like on his lips. The deep, meaningful way he always managed to say it.

Joan limps over to him and slowly wraps her arms around him. For the first time ever, he reciprocates. A loose embrace; their bodies barely touch. Her body is in pain and she imagines, by the many visible cuts and bruises on him, his is too. They both acknowledge each other’s injuries silently.

It is only a few seconds later that they mutually let go, and then she scoots up next to him on the bed, sitting right on the edge.

‘So,’ she mumbles, ‘deaf and blind, huh?’

He grins up at her, and she feels a smile tug at her lips. She’s grateful he cannot see the tears pooling in her eyes.

-

Do you know how long we’re going to be stuck in here?

Sherlock hands her her laptop with that little message typed in. She doesn’t know, but she would guess she at least has to stay here for a week or two longer.

She can’t place her finger on what, but there’s something irritating her about the words he typed out, so she only says,

‘No.’

-

The world has changed in so many ways. Joan awakes the third morning of silence and doesn’t get up from her hospital bed to go see Sherlock. She doesn’t want to sit next to him for hours awkwardly, as they both mourn what they lost, as they both struggle to communicate.

She can’t understand the conversations people have around her.

And there are things he can’t understand either now, she knows.

Marcus and Sherlock spoke, and she sat there, pretending not to care, pretending she didn’t need to know what they were saying.

When Ms Hudson visited, she cried. It made Joan want to close her eyes so she could be blind to it as well as deaf.

She spoke to Sherlock, then typed something for Joan, then resumed spoken conversation and again she twirled round to Joan and typed something else.

Eventually Joan stood and left, realising with shock that no one would manage a conversation with both of them at once, ever again.

They live in separate worlds now, she and Sherlock. They’re both separated by what they feel, what they see or don’t, hear or don’t hear.

Without words, he cannot understand the world now, but words will never have an effect on Joan again.

So she doesn’t go to his room, and he doesn’t come to her. And she gets rid of her visitors by feigning sleep and then when it actually comes, she sleeps for as long as she can.

-

Her mother isn’t dissuaded so easily.

She comes every day, sometimes with Oren and sometimes alone, and almost always starts speaking before catching herself and taking Joan’s laptop to type something out.

She’s a slow typer, but Joan doesn’t mind, because Joan takes just as long to force herself to respond.

-

im bng st free 2mo

Her game of candy crush is rudely interrupted by the text. She smiles as she tries to discern what his nonsensical typing style is trying to get across (I’m being set free tomorrow, is what she guesses) and she hurriedly types back, ‘Lucky. I’m not being let go 4 another 3 days’

It’s dawned on her what irked her so much about his previous communications to her. He was trying to make life simpler for her by typing everything out properly. Sure, she would love her life be simpler, but now that he has gone back to typing like a high school student, for some reason, she feels like going down and visiting him again.

ill brk u out if u wnt - I’ll break you out if you want.

‘I can last 3 more days’, she texts back.

She puts the phone down and pushes herself out of bed. Shoves her slippers on, grabs her crutch, and begins the torturous walk down the hall and up the stairs to his room.

-

She never thought about how much the Brownstone meant home to her until she and Sherlock walk up the stairs to it three days later.

They had offers of help from everyone around, all of them begging to be allowed in for the first few days, to help her and Sherlock with the return home.

They had both refused so forcefully, even Joan’s mother had accepted it.

Of course, Sherlock almost trips on the ten or so wrapped up bowls of casserole and stews left right in the entrance. Joan reads the notes on each container, all some variation of best wishes, snorts at the one that says ‘get well soon!’ (as if they would eventually recuperate their lost senses) and starts packing them away into the fridge.

When she finishes, she walks back to the sitting room, where she thinks Sherlock went to, and sees him sitting on the sofa, motionless, facing forward. He refused to put on the glasses they gave him at the hospital, so his damaged, pale eyes are visible and wide open.

She thinks he probably heard her come in, but he doesn’t acknowledge her, so she sits on the chair across from him and leans back. She gazes up at the ceiling for what feels like an age, what is probably an hour, knowing she should say something, wondering if he has said something, fighting the urge to scream.

She wants to speak to him, but if she did, he would have to take out the laptop from her bag, plug it in, wait for it to turn on, and then type out his response.

And anyway, she doesn’t like speaking and not hearing her own voice.

-

There’s a lot to do, and she can’t seem to do any of it. They left the hospital with pamphlets and informational videos, appointments and books and lists of research. She knows she should learn sign language, knew it five minutes after waking up with hearing loss. But she can’t get started. And while she does nothing Sherlock struggles to find time in his day to fit everything in, learning braille and walking with a cane and counting steps and teaching himself every other requirement of being blind.

It should make it easier, having all these tasks set ahead for her. She knows that’s what helps you get out of bed in the morning sometimes; just having a clear, simple task to do. That’s what she was lacking all those years ago, when she left her career in medicine. When she spent months struggling to shower or brush her teeth because there was no need to, because she had no mental to do list and no obligations or responsibilities.

She knows it should be easier, but it isn’t, and she showers sometimes but she doesn’t pick up a single of the recommended list of books, and she postpones her appointments.

She can’t hear the spray of the shower, she doesn’t know when the kettle boils over, she struggles to wake up when her alarm vibrates but doesn’t ring. But she still showers and makes tea and gets up in the morning, and that’s something.

-

Joan’s not jealous of Sherlock. If she finds him curled up and surrounded by piles of books in braille, she turns around to head back where she came from.

While she makes herself a sandwich he struts the house, sorting out shelves and cupboards, so that, she imagines, he can better navigate it. In the time time she takes to do her laundry, he has bought equipment to narrate a computer screen for him and set up a machine that can print braille. She’ll take a nap and wake to find the kitchen utensils arranged into neat, easily accessible groups.

She’s not jealous of Sherlock. She’s not.

-

Once, Joan walked into the brownstone to find Sherlock surrounded by three mangy looking cats.

‘Should I even ask?’

‘Ask what?’ He responded without glancing up at her, petting the cat with a scratched out eye while hand-feeding the sickliest looking one.

She rolled her eyes before hurriedly stepping back when the third one hissed at her. He really was quite menacing. An ugly little thing, brown patches of fur and claw marks on its thin body, he looked like a veteran of war.

‘They’ve been keeping me up with their fights and their incessant screeching. I decided enough was enough.’

They had kept her up as well. She had never been fond of cats, and for good reason. She’d been woken in the middle of the night far too many times since she’d moved in with Sherlock, and when he was not to blame, it was them.

‘So you invited them in for tea?’

The ugly one was sullenly glaring at her, as if he understood how much she disliked him and wanted to prove it was mutual.

‘I wanted to calm them down,’ was all he said.

By the end of the day, she managed to get rid of the newly christened Macavity, Crookshanks and Ugly, but by the next morning, she regretted it.

‘You should leave them some milk outside at night,’ she acquiesced, drinking her third coffee and yawning.

Since then, every time either one of them remembered to feed them, they ceased their ear-splitting screeches. For a few hours, at least.

-

She goes out to pick up the newspaper and spots Ugly watching her from a few feet away, crouched as if about to pounce. He looks worse for wear since she saw him last time. A new bloody scratch adorns his gaunt face and he seems to have lost even more fur.

She pauses, bent down halfway, and stares. Then laughs triumphantly when his face scrunches up to hiss at her. The hiss that used to intimidate her doesn’t faze her when she can’t even hear it.

‘That won’t scare me anymore, Ugly,’ she whispers, immediately feeling foolish for taunting a cat and turning back to go inside. But Ugly doesn’t know defeat, it seems, because he darts into the house and blocks her entrance. He hisses again.

‘What do you want?’ She hisses back.

They are caught in a staring match until she sighs and closes the door behind her. The cat backs away warily, but she sidesteps him and heads to the kitchen.

Once there, she takes out some milk from the fridge and pours some into a flat bowl. She places it at her feet and backs away. Ugly isn’t shy about it. He dashes forward and Joan sits at the kitchen table, watching him lap it up eagerly.

She hates cats. She’s glad Ugly and his companions don’t keep her up at night now. Not even Sherlock can, anymore. Although more than half the time she doesn’t even know where Sherlock is, or what he is doing. Right now, for instance, he could be anywhere in the house, or he could be out.

It hits her that it isn’t familiar at all, for Sherlock to be so inconspicuous. Even when he wasn’t loud, he was always a strong presence in the house, moving about, destroying or creating things, experiment and changing everything around. He was always there, he was always a presence, even without the noise, she was constantly aware of him.

Ugly finishes the milk and glares at her, but she barely takes notice. She tries to think of the last time she spoke a word to Sherlock, and she can’t. She doesn’t know when they last conversed. They’ve been both of them stuck in the strange new worlds they’ve found themselves in. No matter how physically close they are, living under the same roof, their worlds barely overlap.

In fact, apart from Sherlock, who she has only existed around, she hasn’t connected with anyone in the past few weeks. Or with anything.

She rests her head on her hands and watches Ugly prance about, investigating the kitchen. Has this really been the most she’s connected to anything? Has she really been so caught up in her own silent universe that she only talks to an alley cat she hates now?

-

It’s not even a few hours later that Joan is proved correct. She returns with a bag of groceries to a sight that causes her to panic for a few seconds, reaching for her phone to dial 911, before she realises it’s not an emergency.

Except in a way, it is. Sherlock sits in the middle of the front room, his head half bowed. Around him lie books torn to pieces, objects smashed, a shelf broken, lying pathetically on its side. Shredded and thrown about haphazardly are bits of paper, like snow. The storm has clearly passed, the pages now lie still on the floor. When Sherlock hears what must be her heels clipping on the wood and stopping in front of him, he stands up, shakes his head.

It is an emergency in the way an infection becomes an emergency, only because it was left to fester untreated for so long.

He shakes his head at her and turns to leave, and Joan knows in that moment he is thinking what she would have thought only this morning, this doesn’t concern you, this is my problem, we are not able to help each other anymore.

‘Sherlock,’ she whispers urgently, or she thinks she whispers it, but she could have shouted it for all she knows.

When Sherlock turns to face her, she sees he is as confused as her.

‘I’m sorry,’ she says, and his confusion is more apparent, ‘I’m here for you,’ she says, and he looks broken.

Joan feels something crumbling inside her when he turns away from her, feels her knees struggling to hold her up instead of buckling.

But he crouches down and spreads his hands out on the floor, feeling around for something- a piece of paper, and from his pocket he produces a pen, one of those generic cheap blue pens.

On the torn page he scribbles something. He jumps up, his back straight as a rod when he hands her it.

As am I for you, it says.

-

Sherlock is not ok. And why would he be? He is as not ok as she is, and it is only because neither of them have bothered to understand each other that they thought otherwise.

I cannot see, Watson! He types out for her (without the exclamation mark, but she reads it as an exclamation), and once she has read that he takes the laptop back quickly.

I am sure eventually I will manage, yes, I am not so boring as to believe that a loss of something so simple as a sense will make me any less of a genius, but it is difficult. As I assume it must be for you. When I awoke to find myself in perpetual darkness, I was afraid. And that fear has been lessening over time, but it is not altogether gone.

Joan reads this while he goes to the kettle to make a cuppa, and even though the kettle has only just started boiling, and the tea is not done, she already feels warmer inside.

‘You assume correctly, oh mighty genius,’ she says to him, watching curiously as he takes the milk from the fridge, sorts tea bags into cups and adds sugar, all without seeing. He’s taught himself a lot. But that doesn’t diminish the fact that he has been struggling, just like she has.

‘It’s so different,’ she says, and he angles his head towards her while pouring hot water into the teacup, ‘it’s like the world makes no sense,’ it’s like she’s navigating uncharted waters, she doesn’t say, thinking it will sound too dramatic.

He nods seriously, and she takes it to mean he feels the same way.

They end up drinking tea in companionable silence. Joan vows not to forget that they are both dealing with losses. They owe it to themselves, and to each other, to feel those losses. And that they might as well pull through together.

-

Joan and Sherlock work hard for the next few months. Separately and together. Joan finds herself immersed in a new culture, in new ways of thinking and doing and learning. It is as if she has gone back to medical school, or has started her training to become a detective again. There is so much to learn, she finds herself occupied from the moment she wakes up to the moment she passes out from exhaustion on the couch or on her bed.

It is beautiful. She struggles, but not in the same way as before. She spends hours on the internet, finding groups of people who are like her, learning lip reading, sign language, she learns how to deal and cope and she learns that it can be an Experience.

There is a community, and she feels like she is back to being a child, with her mother pulling her and her brother along to Mrs Li’s house for dumplings and tea. Mrs Li spoke Mandarin and Joan’s mother looked disappointed when Joan could barely keep up a conversation, but still Joan liked going there. It was similar, and it was different playing with Mrs Li’s grandkids than playing with the kids at school. They looked like her and Oren, they liked the food she was teased for eating at school; they were like her. Going to Mrs Li’s house was like going somewhere you knew you belonged, even if you didn’t know why.

And Joan feels that now, with the people she meets to learn sign language with, even though they have less in common with her than those Chinese kids she used to play hide and seek with. She belongs to their world. They are in the same world as her.

There is a girl who reminds her of Kitty, well, not a girl so much as a twenty year old. She is so young but so full of determination and passion. She approaches Joan a while after Joan joins the group and immediately decides to teach her all she knows. Tamika, she writes out her name for Joan, but then shows her how to sign it.

And just like that Joan is part of it all.

There are so many things she misses. The gravity of her loss attacks her sometimes when she least expects it, like when it pours rain and she can’t hear the pitter patter of droplets on her window, or when it hits her she won’t hear Marcus laugh again, and she simply watches his mouth move with glee.

But by the time she learns most basic phrases in American Sign Language and knows how to hold a simple conversation with it, she feels so elated that she has managed to create a home for herself in this new world, that she almost doesn’t think about how it was before anymore.

-

Sherlock and her learn together too. Sherlock needs to learn to navigate his world and they need to learn how to bounce off each other. She buys books and consults the internet, and they buy gizmos and gadgets, some of them superfluous, like that ridiculous braille rubik’s cube or the colour sensor that was far too expensive. But, he types out for her while grinning, I have the money, Watson. And she supposes it is fun, trying to sort out a rubik's cube with the little knowledge of braille she has acquired, when Sherlock got bored of it two minutes after purchase.

Steering their way through the world together is now a puzzle much like that impossible cube. They work their way through things with just as many senses as before, because while she lacks hearing and he sight, they each complete the other. He warns her at a crossing that he can hear a car coming, while she, that the light blinks red.

Of course, the minute he finds out there is a tv show about a blind lawyer superhero, they have no choice but to watch it. And he can hear the dialogue but she must describe everything else that goes on. He complains far too much about how ridiculous the whole premise is, but she can tell he likes it, because they finish seven episodes that day.

-

She looks up from where she is sitting with a book in her lap, sensing movement out of the corner of her eye. Sherlock has put his own book down and gotten up, he gestures towards the front door and she doesn’t know how he knew she was watching him, but she also gets up. Together, they head towards the front of the house, and he opens the door.

Outside stands a portly man in an expensive suit, who nods his head slightly and says what looks to be ‘good evening.’

Sherlock nods politely, then tips his head sideways, enquiring.

She makes out that he needs their consulting services, although it’s hard to tell; by the way he moves his lips he has a strong brooklyn accent, which is not an easy accent to read, she’s learnt.

She can sense that Sherlock is waiting for her to decide. They haven’t talked about this. They haven’t consulted on a case since the accident that left them both disabled, partly because they weren’t ready, and she thinks, partly because neither of them are sure they’ll ever be ready. Mostly, she’s tried to not dwell on it, dreading that she might realise she can no longer observe as well as she could before, without all her senses.

Joan thinks this is the perfect chance to find out. ‘Come on in, mr. ...?’

The man says his name on his way inside, so she doesn’t catch it.

Once they are seated in the kitchen table, he begins talking, and fast. She reads a few words from his lips, but can barely make out a single sentence.

‘If you’ll excuse me,’ she interrupts gently, ‘I didn’t catch that. I’m deaf, you’ll need to speak just a bit slower.’

It doesn’t go over well. The man sputters, his lips fumbling for words. After a few seconds, he frowns, and his mouth moves slow as molasses to say, ‘my apologies.’

Then he turns to Sherlock as if she is no longer there, and continues his babble.

Joan is less insulted than she is amused, because Sherlock’s face has turned to shocked horror. He is furious, although the man does not seem to notice. He keeps blathering away, while Sherlock’s hands have curled to fists and he glares at the man’s forehead.

It is even more amusing when the man lifts up his briefcase and removes from it two pictures, both of young men in suits as expensive as the one he wears, and sticks them under Sherlock’s nose.

When Sherlock does nothing but to keep glaring into the air, the man waves them, and this time Joan catches that he says, ‘you see?’

Sherlock is crystal clear when his lips move to say, disgusted, ‘no, I do not see, for I am blind.’

For the next few seconds all she can read from the man is ‘elaborate prank?!’ And ‘waste of time!’ And a few vulgar words that raise her eyebrows.

Sherlock looks to be losing what is left of his calm demeanour, and she does not want this to turn ugly, so Joan says loudly, ‘Sir,’ and he stops talking to scowl at her, ‘I know it must be shocking for someone like you to believe two people with disabilities can be intelligent, seeing as you yourself got ahead in life by cheating your associates out of the companies they worked for instead of using your own intellect, and you are completely abled, both mentally and physically. And I know, since you are going through a divorce that might mean losing all your money, you must be stressed, but please, don’t speak like that in our home.’

Victory surges through her when his face goes red and his mouth falls shut, and then Sherlock smirks a little, and she knows he too is about to come out victorious when he opens his mouth.

He speaks a bit too fast for her to understand, although she knows Sherlock mentions his shoes because the man subconsciously starts moving his feet back, something about the noise they made, although Joan could not hear it, so she doesn’t know what Sherlock is deducing. And then his accent is brought up, and by the time Sherlock finishes talking the man gets up, glares at them both, and shows himself out without another word.

She doesn’t hear Sherlock's ‘ha!’ But she feels it, deep inside her, and she herself is almost giggling with triumph.

Seems they won’t have to find new careers.

-

Two months later, they are welcomed back to the NYPD as consulting detectives. Marcus wants to throw them a party, but is satisfied with hiding balloons in the brownstone. Sherlock makes cake and they drink bad coffee. Maybe it counts as a party.

-

Sherlock will never let her live it down. ‘I didn’t adopt him,’ she denies, while fixing up a bowl of milk for Ugly.

This mean I can adopt the other two? He signs, and she glares, putting down the bowl and petting Ugly on the head before saying, ‘you wouldn’t dare.’

Then she stops, her hand on Ugly's half-shaved head, because she realises what just happened. Sherlock communicated through sign language. They didn’t needed a laptop or a phone or pen and paper. It was a whole conversation that months ago, she would not have believed she could ever have again.

When had he even learnt to sign? Maybe to surprise her, he had done it in secret. Built this bridge between them, for her, for them. Their universes collide, full force, and suddenly Sherlock feels closer than she ever imagined possible.

‘When did you learn to sign?’ She asks him, and his chin lifts and the corner of his mouth pulls up, and she doesn’t regret a thing.

 

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