Joan’s father takes her to the opera for the first time when she is six. Her dress is navy blue with a white bow near the collar and white lace around the arm opening. It itches and her shoes pinch, and she wiggles around in her seat until her father places a hand on her knee and very sternly says, “Stop.” The bottom part of her seat keeps trying to bounce back up, but she tries to sit quietly. The music is too loud and the singers are too shrill. They remind her of how her mother and grandmother sound when they fight; she keeps her hands over her ears the entire time.
Lie: Her mother disposes of all her father’s old LP‘s when she discovers his affair. She calls on Joan to help her empty his things from the house, pack boxes and toss them to the curb.
Truth: Joan takes the boxes of records home with her, stores them on her shelf and plays them when she wants. Even after most of her father’s stuff ends up back in the house, she keeps the records.
Nothing is more comforting than the scratch of a needle, the fuzzy noise before the music starts. Opera, in her opinion, hasn't done well in the digital age. She tells Liam this over day old pizza, Mozart playing in the background and her notes on median sternotomy stacked on the floor next to her, color-coded post-its facing out.
Two years later, on their anniversary, he buys tickets to Eugene Onegin. She waits in the lobby, under the dimmed lights, eventually sitting on velvet lined benches when her legs start to feel sore from standing, but he never shows. She misses the opera, spends the hours with her head tilted against the wall, listening. If she cries a little during the third act, when Tatyana sings about unrealized happiness and lost love, that’s a secret between her and the usher. Liam stumbles into their apartment the next night, slurred speech and bloodshot eyes. And that’s when she knows it isn’t going to work.
Lie: She has given up on Liam.
Truth: She will never give up on him, and she hates herself for that.
Her mother loves Ty. Of course, her mother loves anyone who isn’t Liam, which Joan finds hypocritical since her mother took her father back after the affair. Ty is everything she needs after Liam: solid, upstanding, dull. He takes her to fancy restaurants, and doesn’t complain about multiple viewings of La Bohème.
Her mother loves Ty, and Joan loves him a little less than that.
"Do you like opera?" Mr. Holmes asks. It’s her fifth interview, which seems extensive even in her line of work. Normally by now she would have given up, decided the job wasn’t worth it. But the money is good and Joan Watson doesn't give up, not anymore. It had been a New Years resolution.
"I like Kaija Saariaho’s Emilie,” she answers. Mr. Holmes doesn’t like yes/no answers or vague responses. He likes precision and answers that are one step ahead of the next question.
He hms, "There is a certain art to the classics," and moves on. She wonders if she has blown it. The sour ache of self-disappoint as she hangs up the phone is a familiar feeling.
The next day she gets the job.
Music is numbers. Music is structure. Music makes sense. That's why Joan likes it. It’s why, she suspects, Sherlock likes it too.
And it's good for his recovery. It's therapy in a lot of ways: there's tragedy and communication and penance.
Baseball is nothing like opera. It's acceptable, for one thing, popular and comfortable. It's easy finding someone to debate scores with, argue favorite teams. Nobody wants to discuss the ending of Aida.
(Despite what Holmes says, baseball is chance, never knowing what will happen. In opera, the tragedy is a comfortable expectation.)
Lie: Joan never asks for details about Irene because she is waiting for Sherlock to confide in her.
Truth: She already knows who Irene was.
It's hard not to know who Irene was. Joan saw her perform two years ago.
So, yes, she knows perfectly well who Irene is. The newspaper reports of the blood drenched apartment, and the missing body that washed up the river weeks later. She wonders if the undead come with Sherlock.
Lie: She has a meeting every Friday with her therapist.
Truth: She only sees her therapist on Wednesday afternoons, twice a month. The Friday nights are reserved for Alistair who takes her to the opera. It’s something else they have in common, something beyond books and music and Sherlock.
Sherlock likes to think he's indestructible. He's not. Joan plays Rusalka in the car just to watch him flinch.
It's not Irene's version.
But it could be. She has that copy, too, stored in her glovebox. She’s saving it for when he’s particularly insufferable because she isn’t the nice person everyone assumes she is.
She wants to know what it is about Sherlock that makes all her exes crawl out of the woodwork. Because it has to be Sherlock; he is the only common denominator and New York City was never this small before.
Joan doesn't need them now. She didn't need them then, either, just thought she did. Another thing to have, on the list between parental approval and a successful career. She doesn't need anyone but herself.
There’s Philip Glass on her iPod, and she puts her earbuds in, stretches her legs back and runs.
Her father calls her.
"I'm busy with a client," she says. She's leaning again the kitchen counter watching Sherlock burn water for pasta. It's going to be another night of take-out; she already has the menu for the Indian place on the corner at hand.
"I have tickets to the opera," her father says. Joan sighs, watches as a large bauble of steam boils up from the pot and hot water scatters across the burner. Sherlock pokes at the handle with a wooden spoon, and does a shitty job of pretending not to eavesdrop.
Life, she's realized, like the stage has its intermissions. Her mother still hopes that being a companion is an intermission. Joan's more practical: Sherlock is her intermission. Except-- Except working with Sherlock is like an opera: loud, crescendoing, a tragic disaster, an adrenaline rush leaving her wanting more, more, more until it finally crests and leaves her bereft.
It's a night at the opera; her skirt is constricting her waist and her heels pinch her toes. There is a bottle of pepper spray in her clutch. It's the second-to-last act, and Sherlock sits next to her, silent. Normally, she would count that as a blessing, but his index finger is twitching on the seat between them which means that he's thinking, and if he's thinking then he's going to speak.
"You know, Watson," he says. "I rather think I underestimated you."
Onstage, Tosca stabs an unsuspecting Scarpia. It’s lies and deceit and holding your own in a world of men. Joan’s gaze doesn’t move from the scene.
take the genie and put her in a jar
put her in a jar
wrap the sky around her
listen to her sing.