When Joan walks into the brownstone, she nearly garrottes herself on a skein of yarn strung across the hall.
"Hello?" she calls, lifting the hot pink thread and stepping under it, nearly tripping over some dark blue tied across at ankle-height, and belatedly realising that as far as she can see is covered in haphazard amounts of yarn and ribbon and string, laid out like lasers in a heist movie, only considerably more... cuddly.
"This is... different," she muses aloud, carefully picking her way through the woollen jungle, strands of her hair sticking to the various strings, trying to figure out if she needs to report a break in of some description and if so, how she's going to categorise it.
She finds her new charge, Sherlock Holmes - which is not a real name, no matter who tries to convince her otherwise - sitting on the floor upstairs, six televisions blaring, half-naked on a sheet of paper big enough to cover most of the floor, marker pen streaks on his face, bare arms looped with yarn.
"Is this some kind of relapse?" she asks, carefully, because she's been a sober companion for a while now and this is just... well, weird.
"Do you believe in love at first sight?" Sherlock Holmes responds, unblinking, fingers wrapped in strands of dark blue.
"I..." Joan stumbles.
"What about nylon?" he adds. "Do you believe in nylon?"
Joan briefly wonders just what on earth she's agreed to take on.
Sherlock has an entire room of his house full of clothing. Woollen clothing. It's warm and fuzzy but also kind of unsettling.
"It's like you're a weirdly specific serial killer," Joan observes before she can stop herself. Sherlock still hasn't put any more clothes on, despite the fact he clearly has more than he knows what to do with. She's torn between wanting to study the tattoos, and not wanting to react to this man who so clearly wants a reaction.
"Serial killers don't display their trophies like this," Sherlock says disdainfully, tugging a dress out of Joan's hands. It has long flowing sleeves and an asymmetrical hem and it might be gorgeous and it might be hideous.
Joan's already swabbed him for drug usage, but she's momentarily tempted to do it again.
"...okay," she says carefully. "Well. I guess that's good to know."
Over the next few days, Joan learns that Sherlock knits most of the time, keeps bees on the roof, runs a knitting website with incredibly complex patterns on it that he sells for pittance and then gleefully watches the people who attempt them crying on his message boards, and periodically helps out the police department when they have unusual crimes.
She learns about the last part when a stranger turns up on their doorstep, shows Joan his police badge, and then tells Sherlock that Gregson wants to see him.
Sherlock is at least wearing a t-shirt today, hair scruffy, a little too much stubble. "You're Bell, I assume?" he asks, giving him an appraising onceover; Joan's learned to be wary that kind of look, since Sherlock has already deduced a little too much of her life with it, as well as getting them kicked out of three different yarn stores.
"...yes," apparently-Bell says carefully. "He said to tell you there's fresh coffee."
Sherlock leaves abruptly; Joan hears him going upstairs.
"Does that mean..." Bell trails off, wearing the disconcerted expression people tend to get around Sherlock.
"I have no idea," Joan admits, holds her hand out for actual introductions. "Joan Watson."
"Detective Marcus Bell," he replies; his handshake is firm but not too firm, and his smile is kind. "Are you...?"
Joan would prefer to die than refer to herself as Sherlock's personal valet, but she can at least add: "I'm not his girlfriend, no."
Sherlock appears in the doorway with a coat and shoes on, holding that butter-soft olive green scarf he was knitting yesterday that Joan's kind of got her eye on. He hands it to Bell; "not your colour," he tells Joan, before adding: "well, let's not dawdle, murders to solve" and leaving.
Part of the reason sober companions live with their clients is so that they are available at any time of the night or day for any crises or needs or other things that may arise.
It's dark when Sherlock's voice breaks into her sleep, and she hastily gropes her way into consciousness. "What's the matter?"
She clicks the lamp on beside her bed to find Sherlock looming over her in the clothes he was wearing yesterday, brandishing a deep blue knitted dress. "I need you to try this on," he says.
Joan looks at her alarm clock. "It's four a.m. she says."
"Yes," Sherlock agrees. "But this is in your size, and I need to see how it hangs."
"No," Joan says, and pulls the blankets up.
"Oh dear," Sherlock says lightly, "oh dear, I think I may relapse from your rejection."
Joan sighs, and takes the dress from him. "Fine. Out."
It's soft and warm, with a cowl neckline and cap sleeves, a waistline that skims neatly over her hips. It's really kind of lovely, actually.
"Excellent," Sherlock says when she lets him back in again, "well, that's a success."
"I can't believe you woke me up for this," Joan mumbles, but he's not asking for the dress back, and she's inwardly kind of pleased about that.
"Why don't you sell some of these things online?" Joan asks; Sherlock is watching tapes of a police interview and furiously knitting a sweater without looking at it. There's cream-coloured yarn all over the floor. "You could make a fortune from hipsters."
Sherlock just tuts and turns up the volume on the television.
During her third week, Joan opens a drawer to find a tortoise inside. A live tortoise, sullenly chewing on a leaf of lettuce.
"Sherlock!" she yells.
He appears eventually, cereal bowl in hand, hair pushed up like a little boy's. "Yes?" he demands, just a little graceless.
"There’s a tortoise in this drawer,” Joan explains.
“That’s Clyde,” Sherlock says dismissively. “He was a gift from a grateful acolyte.”
It probably says a lot about how much time Joan’s spent with Sherlock that she doesn’t even bat an eyelid at his choice of words, and instead replies: “I’ve been here for weeks, how did I not know you have a tortoise.”
Sherlock shrugs. “You see, Watson, but you do not observe.”
Joan rolls her eyes. “You’re just saying that so I won’t tell you that you’re abusing him.”
“I’m not!” Sherlock protests. “He likes it!”
Joan rolls her eyes and reaches inside to carefully remove Clyde from his newspaper-lined prison. He lets her, still docilely eating his lettuce – which at least appears to be fresh – and her fingertips brush something soft.
Putting the tortoise down on the desk, Joan reaches into the drawer and brings out a small woollen bundle, trailing little straps of twisted yarn.
“…did you try and knit him a shell-warmer?” she asks.
Sherlock gives her his most disdainful sniff, which Joan takes to mean ‘yes’.
Sherlock lets Joan accompany him to crime scenes, try on his creations, study his knitting patterns and even have a go at some designs herself (though he mostly sniffs at her dropped stitches and refuses to hear about the surgeons’ knitting circle she used to be a part of that Carrie set up; all he does is mumble amateurs), but he doesn’t open up about his past.
Joan is sure that the only way to stop him from relapsing to get him to do exactly that, but he absolutely refuses to help her in any way, shape or form.
It’s concern for his welfare that sends her snooping through his room of sweaters, dresses, scarves, hats, socks, shirts and blankets, looking for a clue somewhere in all the knitting. Underneath a pile of weirdly hideous orange things is a chest; after a moment’s hesitation, Joan opens it to be greeted with a selections of sweaters and dresses. They’re beautifully crafted, all in the same colour spectrum, all made in the same size, for someone taller and curvier than Joan is. They’ve been carefully folded and stored in a way that nothing else in this room is – she keeps telling Sherlock that he’s going to attract moths, and he keeps ignoring her – and they smell of something faintly sweet, faintly floral, a perfume that Joan can’t place.
She gently replaces them as she found them, hands shaking slightly, and is downstairs sipping tea with her iPad when Sherlock gets back from the store, bags full of soft, soft yarn dripping from his fingers.
(A few hours later he abruptly stops talking to her, grunting in only the most necessary of monosyllables.)
Marcus asks Joan out for coffee after a case and she agrees to go on the understanding that Sherlock can never, ever know; she’s learning all about body language, unconscious signals.
He wears the olive scarf when she meets him and she can’t stop herself from laughing aloud.
“Hey,” he shrugs, hands in his pockets against the chill, “it’s warm, okay?”
Joan comes downstairs to find Sherlock rocking back and forth on his feet, surrounded by hats, eyes wide as they only ever are when he’s been up most of the night.
“This looks…” she trails off. “Well, pretty incriminating anyway. Do you want coffee?”
“Watson.” His voice catches her at the door; she turns. “I’ve noticed that you favour berets. So. I made you twenty-seven of them.”
Joan blinks. “Okay,” she says slowly, because she’s learning about Sherlock, about how he expresses himself, expresses affection, expresses respect. “Well… thanks.”
He nods, abrupt. “Good, I’ll take that coffee now.”
Sherlock thinks that he hides his smile from her, but he isn’t quick enough, and he doesn’t.