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Muse Evidentiary

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Sherlock Holmes, contrary to popular conjecture, is not a family name. Not exactly.

She looks him up. Not before she takes the job, oddly enough. Only after she’s unsettling enamored of his presence. His absurdity. The way he makes her want to scream for all the things she feels and can’t name because they contradict each other; because they make no sense.

There are no other hits for Sherlock Holmes in her Google search, save ones that seem very much related to genuine article downstairs: police blotters, small mentions in passing in relation to crimes both here and abroad; one article in a human interest story with an adorable photo of him in his youth, at what looks very much like a swim meet.

But that’s it.

There is only one Sherlock Holmes.

Typical.

 

(( His father’s given name—despite all attempts to use his more palatable second name—is Sherrinford: yes, after the Duke, and his father, and his father before him. Ad nauseam.

Tedious.

His mother’s maiden name was Elleslock. Sophisticated. Elegant. Full of cadence, like a song.

Much like the woman.

His father, to this day, struggles with even numbers. A strange and particular bit of arithmophobia. Mycroft, in that way, was always destined to be the favoured son.

His mother, to the day she died, struggled to piece her marriage together from all of the fragments she’d collected over the years; tried to make a whole from the shards.

She was exquisite, in that way. Always taking the remnants and sculpting something new and full of yearning.

Sherlock called her foolish, in his darker hours. Called her selfish: naming him in a last-ditch effort to stitch the quilt of her marriage bed when more than just the seams were unravelling.

In truth, though, he thought her brilliant, and far more fierce in the face of the universe than he.

In truth, he loved his name, because it was everything she was and everything he would strive to be and fail, and ache for it; ache unending, so as never to forget. ))

---

Sherlock Holmes is more at home in New York than Joan is.

It’s in the way he swans through the streets, and never looks twice at crosswalks. It’s in the way he sees it all with a kind of wonder that’s escapes simple gawking, simple touristy stares. It’s the way that the entire city is a canvas, a battlefield, his personal domain.

He owns it. It owns him.

He hates it a bit. It understands.

He loves it unreservedly. It loves him in kind.

He doesn’t see the past etched in sidewalk cracks. He doesn’t feel something personal, something visceral when they happen past Freedom Tower. He doesn’t feel like anonymity and lack of self walk hand in hand against the streets and avenues, caught in the intersects.

She envies him, that, just a little.

 

(( It’s not as if he’d have come to New York of his own accord, and perhaps that is the beauty of his strange and glorious circumstances.

Sherlock took the pieces and shaped something oblong, not so much aesthetically pleasing, but functional. Something that shone in the bright dawn and glittered against the never-sleeping lights.

He finds that New York is novel, and yet predictable. The grid can be traced and yet never remade without variation. The people are callous and cautious and made of wonder. Their footsteps are heavy and thoughtless and infused with ambition and care. The shoreline is dark and the scents overbearing, fleeting, fickle. The ocean is wide between the coast and what lies beyond.

New York is away. New York is his own.

New York has traces of what he despises in himself for how it reflect the worst of his bloodline, the harshest edges of his genetic code, and yet there is room, somehow. Room for gasping if not proper inhalation. New York is inviolable because it is built of violation, on too many people breathing too little air.

New York is where he learns to be without limitations or expectations at the forefront of his mind, for all that they linger in copses, in small rivets at the hem. New York is where he learns to trust again, in small portions. New York is where he drinks the wine of brevity and the injects sheer apathy into his veins. New York is where he walks around, giddy with potential and the smiles of strangers. New York is where he meets his own skin stretched over different bones and recognises his own self in the world around him without feeling ill for it, without disgust overcoming his palate, his pulse.

New York is where he makes a friend. New York is where he answers a calling long-found. New York is where he finds a partner.

There is a saying about home, and organs, and localities. There are t-shirts on every corner with three letters and a splotch of red.

New York is something altogether untested. New York is catastrophic and mundane and uncivilised; New York is made of terrors nightmares and all of his wildest dreams.

And that is ever so thrilling. ))

---

Sherlock Holmes loved Irene Adler for a great many reasons, not least for her mastery of color theory.

It’s not just how he steals the priceless artwork and hangs it on their wall for shits and giggles.

It’s more in the way he speaks in colors, the way he describes things based on their shades: Ripe ones, he’ll chide, like the sunrise beyond the Bridge. As she died, he’ll say, she faded like ink does in the rain.

It’s more in the way he has a set of oil paints—Michael Hardings, which the Internet tells her are far from cheap; over 60 tubes of them in every imaginable shade—a proper palette, an easel, for god’s sake.

He has a brush set that feels like it’s made of silk against her skin. She has top-notch makeup brushes that are rougher than these.

Thing is: there isn’t a canvas in sight.

 

(( He sees everything, on a good day, and everything is drenched in colour and light.

He sees everything, on a bad day, and the monotony is deadening.

When he first sees her, bent over a restoration, taking such care with every shade of every hue, Sherlock believes that Irene Adler possesses an unnatural light, sparks something within him to transcend mortal boundaries and broadens the visible spectrum to reveal something unimaginable, unnamable.

Unbearable.

She runs a brush across his cheekbone and kisses cobalt from his skin, toxic, deadly: the boundless, breathless sky.

She comprehends his contrasts, his sharp breaks, and names them after masters: Van Gogh, Monet, Renoir.

She makes him glow for all the cracks in him, for all the bits he can’t fit on the ends.

Picasso never needed things to fit just so, she’d said. Genius comes with sharp bits. That’s how we recognise it when it blooms.

Sherlock falls in love. With her.

With the sharp bits. ))

---

Sherlock loathes the taste of strawberries, despite the fact that it’s one of the few things he makes a point of stocking their refrigerator with, regardless of whether they’re in season.

It’s not hard, really. The man doesn’t dislike eating, but he’s not usually too picky. Fuel for the machine, he’ll say, or something like that.

Except for the goddamned strawberries.

And it’s not a secret that berries are only good in season. However, wherever he seems to find them at all times a year is a bit of a secret, but it’s all relative.

Thing is, Joan knows all about self-flagellation. She knows what it’s like to take punishment into one’s own hands.

The look on his face when he eats them—every morning, every night, the plump ones, juicy and sweet and the dull ones, more white than red, wilted at the leaves, one and the same to him, all the same: when he eats them, Joan can see it.

There’s something he loathes more than the strawberries.

 

(( He remembers—when he closes his eyes and bids the world to leave well enough alone; when he reins the constant stream of data that drags tortuous across his consciousness, etching itself in ice on charred flesh—he remembers a warm hand across his middle, holding him steady on a lace-covered lap. He remembers a deep chuckle running like the rain against the spine of his tiny frame where he pressed against a warm chest, a warm heart. He remembers his mother’s lips at his ear, humming as she took the tip of the berry and coated the deep crimson in granules of sugar, twisting it round and again, stray flecks catching the sun through the windowpane as he reached and she giggled, Wait, love, just wait.

He remembers the taste of summer and living and care upon his tongue.

He remembers the funeral, and the scent of strawberries everywhere when he dropped before a toilet and retched. And shook. And sobbed.

The last words he said to her—over a phone, teetering on an overdose that would only come after, right after—were You married a worthless waste of cells and blood, you deserve everything you get. ))

---

Sherlock Holmes doesn’t despise fine dining, merely what it stands for, what it lies twined with in his mind.

She took him to Butter one night. She had a reservation she’s made months ago, when things were very different, when she was very different.

It never fails to make her feel a little bit ill, a little bit giddy, when she thinks on that. How much a person can change in so very little time.

But the reservation was there, and she’d be damned if she passed the opportunity to dine there. She’d watched Chopped, damnit—it took up half of her DVR for months; like hell she’d cancel that table.

It was early in their acquaintance, relatively speaking, and she didn’t wholly trust him on his own just yet. She invited him to come.

He’d accepted.

He’d also sampled half the menu. With three orders off the raw bar and what he assured her was a memorable bone marrow gremolata, their bill was pushing $300 before the tip, without a drop of alcohol.

The way Sherlock had savored the bites, rolling the tastes around his tongue, failing to hide the quirk of his lips at the first sample of his dry-aged filet: it was obvious he enjoyed the meal.

She doesn’t think much of it, afterward.

But then she meets Mycroft. Then she tastes Mycroft’s cuisine.

Then she see the same face that Sherlock wears for strawberries as he picks reluctantly at the masterful panna cotta.

When Mycroft comes to New York, violates the sanctity of Sherlock’s chosen domain, he looks nearly murderous in the face of Mycroft’s home cooked meal. He has to be starving, he’s barely eaten in days, the case overtaking him as they do, but he bolts, appetite unsatisfied.

She can deduce well enough.

 

(( Sherlock remembers holidays his father worked through, tucked into the Riviera at his mother’s mother’s chalet. He remembers ten courses and cheeses that seemed to melt against his tongue and his first sip of Grandmère’s wine from her great uncle’s cellar, labeled with the family crest and tasting of wide fruits and deep thoughts.

Sherlock remembers when Grandmère died, and the holidays tasted of ash ever after.

Sherlock remembers his mother’s tea, remembers it just on the precipice of bitter but full, flowering as he tasted, as he swallow and let the warmth of more than water, more than herbs and spices sink into his bones.

Sherlock remembers when he used to think he might replicate it, one day, on his own, if he tried hard enough. If he tried.

Sherlock remembers Mycroft’s first position out of university, low-level government work; promising. Remembers Mycroft finding it ill-suited before he turned to fine cuisine and entrepreneurship.

Sherlock remembers his father’s approval of Mycroft’s initiative. Remembers Father’s praise of Mycroft’s first Michelin Star.

Sherlock remembers nothing of the kind when he realised his tutors were brainless and his time better spent outside the hallowed halls of academia. Sherlock remembers nothing of the kind when he solved his first case for Scotland Yard.

By the time he wakes in rehab, and the stale trays of hateful nourishment taste to him like disappointed agony, Sherlock doesn’t rightly give a damn. ))

---

Sherlock Holmes loves the company of Mary Watson. Far more than Joan does, for that matter.

She’s never quite seen eye-to-eye with her mother. Joan loves her, of course she does, but that doesn’t mean that anything more than an hour in her presence doesn’t grate on her nerves like anything.

Because Joan’s mother wanted her to be a doctor, and she was, and that still didn’t make the woman happy.

Now, of course, she’s not a doctor, and her mother’s disappointment has charted new depths.

And anyone with half a brain would assume such a set of circumstances would result, quite naturally, in Joan not see all that much of her mother. This makes sense. This is logical. This would be preferable.

Of course, Sherlock takes to Mary like a fish to fucking water.

So there are lunches. There are dinners. There are matinees and excellent Broadway performances that Joan can’t help but cast sidelong glances all the way through because why, why is this happening.

And then there are the days she comes home to find Sherlock brewing tea her mother brings, the two of them settled in the kitchen, Sherlock half-smiling, though no less genuine in the halfing, as Mary chuckles through one reminiscence or another.

On those days, Joan usually makes a point to leave the house again and go somewhere she can have a vodka tonic in fucking peace.

 

(( The fact is: Sherlock misses his mother. Desperately.

And for all that she seems to disapprove, Sherlock knows what that truly looks like. For all that she seems to judge, Sherlock knows how it feels to be condemned. And Mary Watson wishes her daughter spoke better Mandarin because she is a traditionalist. Mary Watson appears to disapprove because she doesn’t understand, and her eyes speak volumes to how much she wants to, aches to, wishes to try and Sherlock knows, better than most, that a situation cannot be changed in stasis: clues are catalysts, and data is required.

Mary Watson only judges one thing: her daughter’s happiness. It’s written in the way she walks, in the way she stares, in the way her gaze pierces then jumps, the way her pupils dilate to take in and shiver as she processes. Joan’s mind is not an anomaly among her kin.

It’s in the way she brews her tea; the way it catches in Sherlock’s throat and makes him blink, and blink, and blink.

Mary Watson gave birth to Joan Watson, the promising mind, the compassionate caregiver, the capable hands, the beautiful—

Joan. His Joan.

Mary Watson begot his Joan, and Sherlock cannot help but love her.

And Mary Watson: she embraces him, once she has all the facts, once she reads more signs than even Sherlock can parse, and Sherlock falls into it for all that he tenses, and lets himself hope that whatever lies in the gaps he can’t fill, that it’s good.

He hopes beyond all rational justification for that silly, lying, whimsy-feathered thing called hope that it’s good. ))

---

Sherlock Holmes is less of an addict than he is a perfectionist.

She may not know the exact words that Rhys says to him, but she doesn’t need to.

Because the truth has been fairly clear for a while, now. It’s in the way he’s so meticulous, so precise, so controlled. It’s in the way he breathes in deep around fresh air but not around smokers, not for the second-hand nicotine and a small buzz.

It’s in the way he struggles for a hit more during a case than in the lulls between.

Mind over matter, yes, that’s part of it.

But Joan thinks there are better tells to heed.

 

(( The drugs were, and always had been, a means to a greater end.

Sherlock remembers, quite vividly, the first time, the time that led to all the other times and set him down a path he never could have envisioned, not before: not for lack of foresight, or attention, or folly, but for simple lack of any indications, any inclinations, any warning sign at all.

Mycroft—lover as he was of edible confections—was the one to inherit the addictive personality. Sherlock, on the other hand, had long been married to restraint.

But he remembers the first time: long before NSY, long before Irene. He’d wanted distraction. He’d wanted enhancement. Drudgery lived up to its name, and it lay thick, everywhere. It was suffocating.

He’d only been looking for a breath of air, a beam of light.

It had been both, and so much more.

And he’d quantified it: the efficiency it leant, the undeniable increase in his accuracy. It made him just this side of flawless.

It was beautiful.

It was a tool.

He wielded it. It did not wield him.

It was only when the flaws multiplied, viral and acidic. Only when feeling became a fatal defect. Only when his chest felt heavy; only when his eyes blurred and restraint abandoned like a lover, like a friend.

He came back from Mummy’s death.

Irene’s, well.

Perfection eluded him, after that, and the master became the slave.

It’s what keeps him from turning back to it, now: the need, the desire for control.

That, and the observation that perfection is a kind of drudgery, in itself.

There are better ways. ))

---

Sherlock’s strange and inscrutable fondness for Joan may be attributable, in part, to her use of Burt’s Bees hand salve.

She won’t pretend she doesn’t enjoy his attention. It would be silly, to deny that.

Because she does. She very much does.

She wonders, sometimes, if that’s part of why she stays. The thrill, of course, and the pleasure of his company—he’s interesting, more interesting than anyone she’d ever known.

But she thinks maybe the once-uncomfortable sensation of being so seen is starting to feel like the most comfortable thing in the world.

In any case.

Sometimes he’ll reach for her, and she doesn’t think before she reaches back. Sometimes, he hands her a glass, or a cup of tea, or a ruler or a pen, and their fingers will brush. Sometimes he offers to ease the tension in her shoulders and trails down her arms, and it feels lovely, really, it feels absolutely fabulous and it won’t be until she’d nearly boneless with this most innocent of touches that she realizes he’s taking her manicurist’s job and rolling the pad of her thumb across her knuckles: careful. Practiced.

And if, when that happens, any way that it happens: if her heart contracts just a little bit harder in response, well.

That’s something to bring up with her PCP, maybe.

 

(( His name was Miles.

As far as groundskeepers go, he was what Sherlock envisioned at the time, and knows now to be fact, rather ordinary.

Except for the bees.

Miles was kind when his peers were indifferent. Miles never asked questions as he dressed wounds, small and large, when Sherlock’s peers were less than indifferent. Miles remembered him on birthdays and Christmas.

Miles died a year before Sherlock left for university, and the bees left with him.

The sound of their buzzing, the scent of honeycomb still calms him, makes his heart dance in anticipation before the whole of him seeps into something like peace.

Wax, and sweet, and earth.

Absolutely stunning. ))

---

Sherlock is a puzzle, a mosaic, a battlefield of shards in the dust. And for reasons she can’t name, he seems ashamed of it.

They’re at the MOMA. She’s always been oddly partial to the Boccionis.

She speaks before she thinks.

It reminds me of you.

He blinks, swallows, and walks away without a word.

It takes Joan weeks, months even, before she learns enough, before she sees the strands and makes the connection, identifies the set of his chin in that moment for what it is.

And what it is settles heavy and uneven in the pit of her stomach, a nagging regret that catches when she breathes.

He shouldn’t look like that.

He should never look like that.

 

(( She is broken. She is broken, and the scarring’s made her strong.

That is the very first thing he notices about her, his “sober companion.”

That is the very first thing, and it is fascinating.

Joan is nothing like him, and yet she is his mirror image. She is what she is and all she is not, all at once. She embodies paradoxes and embraces opposing polarities and somehow is whole for all the faultlines, is beautiful and aching and enticing for all that she is made of wrongness and loathing and deficit: she expands, she inhabits, she fills and overflows and he craves her in a way that is familiar, yet not; yet more.

He could paint the horizon on her skin with just a look, with just a breath, if she bared the flesh to him; he’d suck the sunset into her cells if given a chance.

He would give her not life, nor colour, because she is in possession of them both, of them all: he would raise them to the surface and beg her to shine.

And the bruise of being would flush across her, and she’d breathe, and she’d never say Monet but instead venules and capillaries and he’d suck those syllables from her lips and she’d taste not of linseed but of the sugar on the tip of a berry, the warmth of perfect tea and broken piece, they’d draw more blood and it would be magnificent, he knows, and maybe for the brokenness of the both of them they could exchange small pieces that would fit contortions anew inside their bones—for all the edges they could sharpen and soften in turns, perhaps they could inhabit one another and sink low so they would stay.

She is broken, he is broken.

She despises that fact, and he doesn’t want to. Doesn’t want her to. Wants to whisper all the beauty and expose all the potential to her in sonnets and scientific notation.

Wants her to want, as he does.

So yes: it hurts, when he has to look away. ))

---

The heart of Sherlock Holmes is a dangerous, deafening, wonderful thing. And Joan’s seen her share of hearts.

It wasn’t meant to happen like this.

The murder they were investigating was looking like involuntary manslaughter at best: all the signs pointed in that direction. They’d taken the proper precautions, nonetheless.

It wasn’t supposed to happen like this.

He takes the first bullet in the shoulder, the left shoulder.

The second, aimed at her: he takes that in the chest.

So when Bell and Gregson come in, guns drawn, suspect incapacitated, Joan’s bent over Sherlock’s trembling frame as he gasps, as blood spills, as she feels faint in a way she’s never known at the sight of trauma, at the threat of loss. Her hands shake, and she can’t breathe, but the pressure she puts on the wounds doesn’t falter, never lets up.

Hold on, she says, doesn’t plead so much in her tone as she does with everything in her, every drop of blood she has because he’s giving it, offering, fading as he struggles to breathe, struggles to speak and can’t, can’t, and she wants to cry but won’t: puts all the wanting into the hands she keeps against his chest as she measures, musters the very beat of his heart: thready, faltering, but strong, so goddamn strong that she feels hope in the wilderness, because she cannot lose him.

She cannot lose him, not now.

 

(( It’s not entirely new, really. The sensation of it, the tightness, the pain inside his chest. It’s more intense now, this, yes—like fire and iron and death and losing, surging and tingling through his veins until the veins themselves end in frays, live wires exposed—but the heavy pounding of his heart and the wrenching, no, that is something he’s relatively familiar with.

That’s just something that happens, now, when she’s near him, when she enters the room.

He can feel his awareness start to slip as the air grows ever thicker, ever more viscous as it tries to seep, to flow into his lungs and illuminate the room, the contours of that face, her face, her dear face: can feel his pulse start to slow and it’s relief and terror and impossibility and he can’t, he won’t,

No, he hisses in the caverns of his throat, the chasms of his mind.

What he wants, he does not deserve: that was never a question.

What he does deserve, however, is a chance.

No, he breathes shaky, and it sears, but the beat: it grows louder, before he loses track entirely. ))

 

______________________________________________________________________

Joan Watson has a marked aversion to stuffed bears.

He insists on bringing a few of the arrangements—unexpected, all of them—along when he’s recovered from the gunshot wounds enough to warrant discharge. The lilies, because Joan obviously likes the scent of them—they’ll last another week, he suspects, at least. And the irises, for Mrs. Hudson. She’s partial to the colour.

Joan sorts the rest, but pauses at the strange bouquet from Gregson and the still-estranged wife: white carnations with a small stuffed animal; a bear holding a silky heart with a plaster across it, urging him to Get Well Soon.

Obviously, the wife picked it out.

Joan stares at it for more minutes than it warrants, eyes it warily, her posture rigid.

Leave it, Sherlock tells her, prepares a response for her inevitable protestation that it’s rude, it shouldn’t be left to the hospital staff, etcetera and so on.

But it never comes.

Odd.

 

(( His name was Theodore. Oren had had the teddy for as long as Joan could remember. It was worn, and smelled of warm milk and baby powder. The fur was matted and frayed.

Joan had loved it from afar.

So when the day came that Oren became angry with Theodore, with childhood, with baby-trappings and sissy toys, Joan had watched horrified as her brother tore the bear apart, as tufts of stuffing bled from that small body and fluttered to the floor. She’d gasped as Oren raged, as he pulled to ripping, as his chest heaved with the passion of destruction.

Joan hadn’t understood.

Joan couldn’t have said then—wouldn’t say, now—why the bits of Theodore hurt more than just the loss of something, the erasure of a thing beloved.

She’d stepped out from behind the chair and held her blanket tight against her chin, sucks carefully at the nail on her thumb before she’d offered, I can help you fix it.

She’d watched every bit fall to the floor, she knew Theodore like a fingerprint, like her mother’s voice on a lullaby.

She could piece him back together again, she was sure of it.

Her brother, though, had simply laughed, and the sound that should have been round and warm as it rolled about the room was sharp instead, cut harsh.

Joan flinched, and again, it was more than just the loss that felt like cold, like sickness on the inside, in the chest she clutched her blanket to.

Something more. ))

---

Joan Watson wears her shoes a size too small. Consistently.

He’s grateful not to be on bedrest. Honestly. Very grateful.

Still, with one arm in a sling and his chest still aching—compressions, insistent, and he knew his encouragement toward self-defence training would come in handy, increasing stamina and building muscle tone, if he hadn’t, at the time, quite envisioned this as the application—he’s of limited use for anything practical. He can review evidence, but it’s slow going. And of course, the criminal population seems somewhat lax of late, though it may be a case of keeping things from him, until he heals.

Dull, of course, but he’s not a child.

There exist infinite distractions for a cultivated mind.

So he takes the opportunity to indulge. He seizes it with both hands and revels a bit, quietly, secretly, in the freedom to observe Joan as she hovers, as she rarely puts too much distance between them, as she cooks for him and he eats because he can’t bear the look that would overtake her face that he can picture—flawlessly—should he refuse. As she tends to him, cares for him.

The ache in his chest is twofold, he admits, and he wants to scowl, wants to rail against it, save that it feels too warm, too inevitable.

Bollocks.

So he allows himself to catalogue the minutiae he’d told himself was indulgent, irrelevant, save that there is no part of Joan Watson that is irrelevant. He counts the breaths she takes in a minute. He times the pace of her blinking as she pivots on the cusp of sleep. He takes measure of arm, gauges the proportion of her physique in comparison with the length of her foot.

A foot, he finds, that is a fair size larger than the shoes at the door.

 

(( Med school does it. Shocker.

But there’d come a day, and then another, and then a whole string of days she could not afford to lose where caffeine was not enough. Force of will was not enough. Her tried-and-true squat routine was not enough.

And she tried everything she could think of. Loud music. Bright lights. Power naps. Cold showers. Sugar overload. Protein intake. Yogic breathing. Peppermint. Earlobe pulling. Improve acupuncture. Chewing gum. Water, water, more water. Aimless chatter. Task variation. To her shame, she tried her roommate’s brother’s Ritalin, once.

Nothing.

And then, as she nearly fell asleep on the grassy quad outside the library, she was stung by a wasp.

And felt wide awake.

Of course, the sting wasn’t something she could replicate on demand without consequences, but the pain was something she could control. She tried poking herself with a pin, the sharp edge of her fingernail, the point of her Bic, but it was hit and miss. Sometimes it worked wonders; others, she was too far gone and only realized it once she swam back to waking from the uncomfortable pillow of her OChem text.

She needed the sharp reminder of the pain to sit straight, to focus up, to persevere through the angry haze of exhaustion where it threatened to close in.

It takes her a week before she stumbles upon an answer, entirely by accident. She’s drowning in the way her eyelids droop, and she doesn’t mean to shove on her roommate’s sneakers, doesn’t notice, really, until they start to ache, a size and a half too small, around her toes.

She blinks. She breathes.

It hurts.

The pain grounds her.

She never gives back the shoes.

She graduates top of her class.

It’s not enough. ))

---

Joan Watson hates hospitals.

It’s not obvious, not to the untrained eye, but then again, it’s very doubtful that anyone ever bothers to look for it. Not here. Not in her.

A doctor.

Sherlock himself nearly overlooked it, in all honesty: a fact he is most embarrassed of, truly, because of all people, of all people, he knows quite a bit about hiding in plain sight.

But she tenses. The light in her eyes changes. The white of the walls and the sheets and the coats draws something brilliant from her, tests it and puts her on edge. Her gait shifts. Her head tilts. The cadence of her breath changes entirely.

He doubts she notices.

Fight or flight.

She never flees.

Yet still.

 

(( She’d sprained her ankle. Oren had been trying to teach her to rollerskate. It had gone well enough, until she tried to stop.

They’d waited in the ER for hours: she’d cried into her father’s elbow as patient after patient was seen before them, before her. She remembers the smell of chemicals and clean that tingled at the back of her throat, remembers all the white, remembers too-cold hands listening to the sounds of her, secret sounds on the inside—testing her ankle and making it hurt.

She remembers a man in the hall, whiter than the walls on a bed with wheels, gasping. Remembers very much hating anything blue for a very long time because he’d shuddered, his eyes had gone wide and latched onto hers before they rolled back, and the code that blared across the speakers, in Joan’s blood, had been colored.

She never put on a pair of skates again, for fear that she’d end up back in that awful place.

In the end, of course, she has to wonder what changes. She has to wonder if anything changes at all.

The litany of not good enough not good enough not good enough that overwhelms her on bad days: she’s not blind enough to place the two together, to wonder whether or not it’s penance, where she ends up.

Except for the fact that she doesn’t hate herself that much. Except for the fact that it’s more.

It’s more than just that. ))

---

Joan Watson was a promising clarinettist, in her youth.

He notices her hands, the way they move. They press invisible keys on the skin of her inner arm, following blue veins like staves, like notes in the pulse of her blood. She lilts, dances below consciousness, she barely seems to think: reflex. Nervous habit.

There doesn’t have to be any music; she senses the rhythms that inhabit life on the whole.

He can’t help but smile when she does it, when he sees. Can’t help but think that maybe she hears the same wonder in ordinary things that he does, and sways accordingly.

 

(( She’d been walking home. The clocks had just fallen back. She hadn’t expected it to be so dark.

The boy: he lived above the corner store off St. Mark’s. The boy’s father was a grocer, and he always looked at Joan’s mother with hunger in his eyes, which Joan thought was strange, because who could be hungry with so much food around them all the time?
The boy’s mother sold tofu, according to Joan’s mother, but Joan thought it was more likely that his mother sold eye makeup, for all the colors she wore, always heavy, always bright.

The boy, though: Joan didn’t know his name, just that she didn’t like the sound of his whimpers from the alleyway, didn’t like the way his voice caught when he breathed; how it echoed off the bricks, skidded on the mortar in between.

Joan stared at the glare of the streetlamp off the polished toes of her Mary Janes for just a moment, just two, before she rounded the corner.

The man looming over the boy was tall, but thin, and the set of his hips was all wrong. He was weak. The boy was weaker.

The handle of Joan’s clarinet case was slick against her palm, hot like a brand, and her heart was the kettle drum at the back of the orchestra, rumbling: full of warning and shivering and woe.

She almost turned away, almost: she almost turned when the man turns to her.

Her heart is a bass drum: heavy, but too grounded to go back.

She swings her instrument in its case with all the strength she has. When the blood pours forth from the man’s nose, when the hungry boy cries out—huàidàn—her palms weep where her eyes can’t and she lets go: lets her beloved clarinet escape her along with her courage and she runs, then.

She runs.

Her father punishes her for the loss of her instrument. Her mother punishes her for the scuffs on her shoes.

She never sets foot in the music room again. ))

---

Joan Watson adores Mycroft Holmes, and Sherlock hates her just a little for it.

She is entirely unavailable the entire time Mycroft comes to the city. Not physically, of course, she doesn’t spend every waking hour with his tit of a brother, but she’s distracted, unfocused.

Removed.

Sherlock can quantify what it means, what the signs point toward: the deductions he favours at a stretch; the ones he despises that come easier, fall into place just so.

He hates it.

He hates it.

He doesn’t know what it means, but he damn well suspects.

 

(( Her relationship with Oren requires effort.

It’s not that Oren was a bad brother. It’s not that Oren was unsupportive, or belligerent, or gave her any more grief than the typical older sibling gives his kid sister. It’s just that Oren and Joan were different and similar in all the most difficult ways. It’s just that everything that made Joan special, that made Joan important, seemed to consist of things Oren had already done, already proven himself remarkable in doing.

So as an adult, she’s had to consciously rein her resentments, her feelings of inadequacy in relation to a brother who only loves her; only looks out for her wellbeing and thinks the world of her, for all intents and purposes. She knows that, were Oren to discover her secret battle, her hidden feelings about him, he’d be crushed, and she doesn’t want that, she’s never wanted that, so she works hard, very hard, to be Oren’s sister, and to excel at it, because she loves her brother.

Because being a good sister is one thing Oren will never be able to surpass her at.

And of course, Joan can see why Mycroft’s difficult. She can see where he and Sherlock chafe. But she cannot fathom how Sherlock can’t see the way Mycroft is reaching, the way Mycroft is wanting. She can’t imagine how Sherlock can’t see his brother’s brokenness, so like his own, so…lovely, somehow, and terrifying, and find some solace, some comfort in being less than alone.

She can’t, for all of Mycroft’s charm and talent, possible fathom how Sherlock can feel inadequate in comparison to his older brother.

With Mycroft, it’s easy. It’s a wonderful meal, a kiss on the hand, and warmth between sheets that means precisely what it means, and nothing more, nothing less. It’s refreshing. It’s simple. It feels good, all things considered. It doesn’t leave a residue on her skin when it’s done.

It is easy. Joan cannot fathom why Sherlock shies from it so fiercely.

Doesn’t want to fathom. Fears, a little, what she might find. ))

---

Joan Watson was madly, wholly, heartbreakingly in love. Once.

She owns a locket that she does not wear, and does not open.

She holds it, though, sometimes. Holds it, strokes a careful finger down the hinge, and puts it away.

If he cared for her less, he’d look.

She regularly visits a grave that does not belong to Gerald Castoro, a grave that bears a name that is not that of kin, and he doesn’t need to see the locket, to see what’s inside.

He’s a detective, after all.

 

(( Gary.

His name was Gary.

They’d met in high school. They bickered. They teased. It was heartbreakingly typical.

They both wanted to be doctors. Both chose the same program by sheer chance.

Joan remembers the first night she slept held against Gary’s skin; remembers it often, so as not to forget.

They talked about the future. Talked about marriage. Talked about children: maybe, maybe not, not a deal breaker for either of them. They’d talked about where they might like to be interns. Talked about never going back to New York. Talked about retiring abroad. Talked about advances in medicine. Talked about the universe and its wonder.

Made love.

Joan remembers the way that bitter laughter mixed with joy when they both got placed in New York. Together, in a tiny apartment near NYU that cost them every penny they could spare after buying milk and bread, they learned to love the city, to make it their own. They began to build careers, felt out their specialities, found their passions in the OR as they relished the precious few hours they both could find to hold and touch and taste. They laughed a lot, Joan remembers. Somehow, through everything, they still managed to laugh.

And then the Towers fell.

Joan remembers the chaos. Joan remembers the thickness in the air. Joan remembers the way her heart didn’t stop pounding for days, for weeks. Joan remembers very little else with any real certainty, until the day Gary came home, and she could read horror and heartbreak and loss all over his face, and her heart stopped pounding.

Her heart just stopped.

He enlisted in November.

She got the letter the following March.

Three letters.

K. I. A.

Her heart stopped at those letters, and for a very long time, she wasn’t sure if it would ever start again. ))

---

Joan Watson meets with Alistair every other week. Sherlock wants to hate her just a little for it, but can’t.

She’s not nearly as crafty as she likes to suppose.

She puts it together well enough, considering. She has enough friends with names beginning with ‘A’—or else, former friends, friends she claims in turns that she wants to reconnect with, wants to try to salvage at least as friendly acquaintances, and he can’t fault her, much as he thinks it folly; much as he resents the fact that what already is apparently fails to be sufficient for her; but that is how the meeting is listed in her calendar: A.

Alas: hiding in plain sight.

Only works once, really.

 

(( Sherlock is invigorating. Sherlock is a force of nature. Sherlock is a supernova.

Sherlock breaks Joan’s heart a little, just by breathing.

It made her feel warm, made her breathe a bit easier when she learned that Alistair wasn’t merely an actor, was someone Sherlock could call, could depend upon to some extent. Someone he could trust, if only a little, if only for the small things.

It made her feel hopeful, and a little bit daring, when she realized she had an in, had a resource to learn, to see, to pick apart the enigma that was her client. So she called Alistair, and asked him to coffee.

He said no.

So she began frequenting his bookstore . Began observing his habits. Brought him a half-caf at quarter after three for days on end until he caved.

Until he recognized before she did that Sherlock wasn’t just a client.

He tells her small things, and it gives her a certain peace to know that Sherlock has this person who refuses to break his confidence too dreadfully. Some things are off limits. As well they should be.

But it’s helpful. It’s useful. It makes her feel better, to know what fits in some of the gaps. ))

---

Joan Watson is afraid of broken things.

When Angus was in pieces, it didn’t bother him to terribly, really. Joan had survived.

Angus was a good friend, in that way.

Putting him together again was a labor of love, and Sherlock, truthfully, was almost enamoured of the cracks, the bits that had shattered off too small to find, the little gaps. Character, he thought. Purpose.

Battle scars.

He’d found her, days later, the smell of epoxy drawing his attention from elsewhere. He’d found her bent over the bust with surgical precision, filling the gaps.

As he considers Angus, better for the wear, he feels small, somehow. Weak.

He reaches his palm around the curve of that fractured skull and traces the rough lines, and wishes, wishes the world were different.

Wishes to touch something else. Wishes the fragments were beautiful in the world’s eyes as they’ve always been in his.

 

(( The vase had belonged to her great-great grandmother. It was beautiful. It reflected the light like starshine on water.

When her father threw it in rage, in hate, and it broke, Joan remembers sobbing.

After that, she realized: broken things were made from disdain. Bones. Hearts. Teddy bears.

Broken things like her. ))

---

Joan Watson craves approval, danger, mint tea, and bed linens with a thread count exceeding 1,000. In that order.

She’s a wonder, really. Regardless of whatever attachment, whatever emotionality he’s come to harbour with regard to this woman, Joan Watson is something of a marvel, by any objective standards.

Forty three hours she’d managed, this time. She’s getting better.

He finds her face down, respiration even and deep, her cheek pressed against the newsprint, the letters transposed against her skin.

She is exquisite.

He doesn’t resist running a hand across the curve of her head, smoothing her hair and relishing the small hum that escapes her just before he pulls back, just before she blinks to waking.

Up, then, he murmurs, just behind her ear as he rests palms upon her shoulders, eases her to standing. Bed with you.

She groans, shakes her head

The case, she protests, but it’s a small thing, a weak thing, and she’s very light against his hold.

Will keep, Watson, he says, urging her away except she turns, sips from her cold cup of Moroccan tea before she allows him to guide her away up to bed and yes, he smiles to himself.

The sheets come last.

He’d suspected as much.

 

(( Joan was always a star pupil. Joan always outshone her peers, outscored her classmates. She was at the top of every summit, performed flawlessly, dazzled universal.

Only she did it too late.

Joan won the spelling bee, graduated valedictorian. She was student council president, 1st chair clarinet, all-star volunteer at the neighborhood soup kitchen. She tutored kids in reading, she starred in the school musical. She was so fucking well-rounded she could have been a goddamned sphere.

But Oren.

Oren did it first.

It takes her a very long time to learn that being enough for anyone else was a tall order to command; to learn that being enough for herself would be difficult enough. She makes a point to treat herself for no reason—makes a point to find a therapist she doesn’t want to strangle who helps her work through the nagging guilt when she does that, the self-care thing. She imports teas and refuses to pay any real attention to their actual price. She asks the woman at Saks to give her the softest imaginable sheet set and not to tell her the price, just to run her credit card and fold the top over so she couldn’t see when she signed.

She sleeps better at night.

Better. Not well.

She cannot admit, even to herself—not even to herself as she knows—that when Liam started using, it was a spot of intrigue amidst the monotony, in the haze of everything else. It was horrible, and he was suffering, and it hurt.

But it was something.

And the truth—the shameful, joyous truth she only whispers to her own heart in the dark—is that she’d never felt more real, more glowing, more whole than she did that one night, so long ago, in shoes that fit just right and her tiny body thrumming not with knowledge, or training, or skill but with certainty, certainty of a sort she knew in the shadows when a boy was crying, and a man was cruel, and her music was lost in the finding of her soul.

She’d never felt more real.

Not until this. Not until here. Not until brown stone and Brooklyn and music again. Music.

Not until now. ))

---

Joan Watson is far too like painting, awaiting restoration; Joan Watson is far too bathed in colour for Sherlock to miss all the similarities, all the signs.

She is a work in progress, and that scares him. It scares him, because he knows what it’s like to fall in love with long swaths of colour that overcome the blank spaces.

He knows what it’s like to fall in love with the tears in the fabric of a soul.

And he knows, quite intimately, too intimately, more intimately than he’ll even admit aloud but he knows it’s obvious, because for all that he’s tried he is built of sentiment, he is immersed with it at the cellular level and he cares, he cares and he has always cared and to be flayed spare against the elements of human cruelty and disdain means that he knows: he knows how it feels when the tears split wide and suddenly, they’re not elsewhere. They’re wrung from the inside out.

But Joan is different. Joan is prismatic. Joan should be ordinary and she’s anything but.

And to be flayed against the universe means to be sensitive, to be bathed in the splendour, the ecstasy, the genuine and absolute joy of being when it descends from the heavens, when it deigns to settle and stay.

And oh, but she is wonder and inevitability. She is clear cut clues and nothing known without allowance for error. She is the polyester fluffed of a stuffed children’s toy and she is the gold of light on the River, on more rivers than he can know or name. She is clever and unclever, she is resplendent and rudimentary.

She is the cracks in ceramic and she is the sour taste in the back of the throat. She is regret and she is longing. She is addiction and what it looks like overcome. She is broken and she beckons for it, all her imperfections only brilliant, only fascinating.

She is beeswax and strawberries and sunrise and broken glass and she cuts as soon as she heals—her nature; she cuts so as to heal again and he will be scar tissue breathed through with life by the time this is done, they both will, but he suspects it might be worth it.

The evidence, he thinks, as his heart pumps deep and his limbs grow warm: the evidence does not lie.

 

(( The truth is: she never could have left The Brownstone. Never could have abandoned the rush of cases and information and piecing together all of the data, and him.

She never could have left him.

The truth is: when she saw the gun point toward her, she made her peace with the universe in her own heart, and she’d closed her eyes. She hadn’t seen him move, didn’t know what he’d done until he’d already fallen.

She doesn’t know if she’ll ever quite forgive herself for not looking, for not seeing, for abandoning him there for that instant, that life-changing instant where he refused to abandon her.

The truth is: as he bled on the ground beneath her hands and she did all she could to stop the bleeding to keep him this side of stable until help arrived, until she had the tools to fix him, to save him, to take the shredded bits of his skin and reform them, reshape them to keep his blood where it belongs, to keep his heart how it belongs: beating, beating, beating, always.

The truth is: she’d stopped breathing on that floor, when his eyes closed, when his breath faltered, even though she knew better, even though his heart still thrummed with such stubborn, god-given force that she wants to sing, wants to sob.

The truth is: he makes her feel full and right and good even as nothing is certain, and it’s just short of a miracle, really.

It’s just short of the missing pieces realigned, and she wants, needs—aches—to reach for what lacks, for what calls, for what her heart shivers and her skin burns against.

He’s just short of something necessary, something crucial to her being, to the marrow in her bones.

So when he comes to her, when he steps close and breathes, she moves so that her chest knocks against his chest.

When he exhales, and his lips part, his pupils wide like the midnight sky—when he exhales, it’s an invitation, his breath warm where it hits her skin.

It’s an invitation, and so she leans.

She accepts. ))