8th September, 1916
“Joan Helen Watson! Downstairs, now!”
“No!” Joan yelled from behind her closed door.
Hannah Watson buried her face in her hands. What was she supposed to do with that child? Rebellious, stubborn, and so bloody lively. She was driving her insane.
“Harry please, would you go upstairs and see what’s the matter with your sister?”
Her eldest child chuckled, “Oh mother, you perfectly know.”
Mrs. Watson sighed, “I don’t care if she doesn’t want to wear a dress for her cousin’s wedding, she must!”
Harry pulled a face, “The words ‘must’ and ‘Joan’ don’t go very well together.”
“Harry why does she do this to me? I can’t possibly bring my daughter in church with trousers!”
Harry chuckled again, amused. Hannah glared at him.
“You find everything funny Harry, but this is not the case. What will people think?”
Harry opened his mouth to say something, but then changed his mind. “I’ll see what I can do,” he said. He bent to kiss her cheek and then he trotted up the stairs.
“You’d better open the bloody door monkey, I’m comin-”
“HARRY!” Hannah yelled, “language!”
The woman sighed deeply again, then turned to glare at her husband, who was currently sitting on his plush armchair, pretending to read the newspaper, a half-suppressed smile on his lips.
“Your daughter is a savage,” she said, and Mr. Watson’s smile widened.
“She’s your daughter too, I remember you were there when we made her,” he commented, keeping his eyes on the newspaper.
Mrs. Watson blushed bright red, “George!” she yelped, smacking his arm. The man burst out laughing, and after a few seconds, his wife joined in.
He looked up from his reading, looking fondly at her, and Mrs. Watson bent to place a kiss on her husband’s hair.
“You’re a clot,” she murmured, and he snorted.
“Mom!” Harry called, and seconds later he was entering the sitting room.
“Joan is dressing up, but she’s afraid everyone will laugh at her. Please, do not utter a word when she gets downstairs.”
The Watson parents both nodded solemnly.
“Good,” Harry said, visibly relieved, “Now I’m gonna tell the same to the people at the wedding.”
He turned on his heels and ran out the door.
“That boy really does love his sister,” George smiled at the door.
Hannah nodded, “Usually seventeen year olds are only interested in girls, not in their twelve year old siblings. Those two have something special.”
George grinned up at her and squeezed her hand.
“Go away Harry,” Joan grumbled, wiping at her damp eyes.
She had done what her mother told her; she had worn that horrid white dress and sat among the other girls in church. But they kept giggling and staring at her scratched knees (didn’t they play at pirates too? You can’t not get scratches if you play properly) and the bruises on her arms (well, she’d fallen in the stream while fishing with Harry, surely it happened to everyone to fall sometimes?). While the boring priest talked and the girls chatted, Joan’s gaze was drawn to the boys sitting in the opposite aisle. They were all chewing something, and Joan stifled a laugh when her cousin James spat a small paper ball on his hand and passed it to Arthur, who had a small blowgun hidden in his pocket.
Arthur bent a bit, aimed, then blew in the little cylinder. The saliva-slicked ball ended right in Aunt Dolores’s curly hair, and all the boys burst out in mad laughter. The priest glared at them and they tried to suppress it, to no success. Uncle Arthur had to get up and hit them all on the head with the newspaper he kept folded under his arm.
Joan desperately wanted to be there with them. Some of her female cousins were fun, like Isobel, or Mary Ann. But they were sat far from Joan, and she found herself beside that imbecile of Jane, who kept laughing at her and had sighed like an idiot when she saw the bride’s dress.
“Joan,” Jane murmured, a few minutes after Uncle Arthur had smacked the boys.
Joan cocked her head, faking a smile.
“Yes, Jane?” Joan replied with faux cordiality.
Jane turned towards Halley, and both girls giggled. Joan rolled her eyes. What a couple or morons.
Jane turned back to Joan, tilting her head to whisper in Joan’s ear, “Nice dress.”
Joan set her jaw.
Joan tried to push aside the feeling of annoyance and hurt that the harmless comment aroused. It was stupid, to get that furious for two words, but Joan couldn’t restrain her emotions. She knew why Jane’s words upset her that much.
Embarrassment. She didn’t need someone else reminding her how silly she looked in that awful dress, how much her scratches and scars made her feel uneasy. How little that dress represented her.
She crossed her arms and stared pointedly somewhere else, pouting and seething with rage. She’d have her revenge.
“And now a moment of silence, for our brothers, husbands, friends and sons who are fighting for our glorious country,” Father Williams said, and everyone dutifully bowed their head. Joan smirked. It was her moment.
She took advantage of Jane’s distraction to tear a piece of paper from the Holy Bible in front of her and stuff it in her mouth. She chewed and worked it with her tongue, spitting on her palm a quite big paper ball, soaking wet in her saliva. Quickly, Joan retrieved her slingshot from her stupid purse, taking one step away from Jane, almost ending in the aisle. She aimed at the girls soft, blond hair and shot.
Jane looked around baffled, and Joan promptly hid the slingshot behind her back. She looked up with an innocent look, and it was only then that she noticed a pair of piercing grey eyes staring at her from above. Joan realized in horror that the stranger was sat among the Holmes, the noble family that owned the fields around the village. She was probably the youngest daughter. Joan knew that the eldest (Miriam, or something like that) was fifteen, while the youngest (Sherlock? Yes, that was the name) was eight. Oh, no! The girl must have seen everything, and what if she told her aristocratic parents? Joan could end up in too much trouble. But then Joan noticed that the little girl looked utterly amused, and she winked at her.
Joan parted her lips in surprise, suddenly understanding why she remembered Sherlock’s name immediately. Everyone in town knew about Sherlock Holmes’s little getaways. That girl was only eight, and she had managed to escape her parents and servants four times. No one knew where she went, just that she usually came back a couple of days later, strolling around the village like nothing had happened.
She was one of the most common topics in the villagers’ conversations. Everyone speculated about her future debut in society, what with her temper (it was said that she had drove five nannies mad) and escapes. People wondered what man in his sane mind could ever want a girl who was (apparently) cleverer than all her private tutors. Some whispered that she played the violin, and not the piano, as it was ladylike. Others, the eldest women and men who gathered out of the church every afternoon, murmured that perhaps the girl was cursed by the devil himself.
Sherlock Holmes. Trouble for anyone at the Holmes’ manor.
Joan’s mom had often told Joan not to listen to any gossips about Sherlock Holmes or her family, that people just needed something unusual to talk about, that was all. She reminded Joan (almost daily) that the Holmes were good people, who had helped them when they were in trouble.
That was why Joan smiled back at the little girl, making Sherlock giggle.
“Watch this,” she mouthed at her, then turned to Jane once more.
The moment of silence had just ended, when Joan tugged at Jane’s sleeve.
“What, dimwit?” Jane asked with a sneer.
Jane’s hand went up to her head at incredible speed, and when her fingers found the paper ball, she froze, then screamed. The boys turned their head and laughed at her, while she stared in horror at the paper in her hand, emitting panicked little cries. Joan’s tummy was hurting for how much she was laughing, and she almost didn’t hear a twinkling giggle from above. She looked up, to see Sherlock Holmes giggling with a hand covering her mouth, and any hilarity Joan might have felt died. She found herself hypnotized by the little girl, unable to look away, unable to even realise she was being dragged away from her seat, except when she lost sight of Sherlock.
“Let me go!” she yelled at Harry, who was holding her arm in a death grip.
He didn’t, but kept walking till they were out in the chilly British weather of September.
“I said let me go, you dunce!”
Harry stopped in his track and rounded to face Joan. They stared at each other for long seconds, before they both started laughing.
“Come on monkey, let’s ankle a bit,” Harry eventually said, offering his hand to Joan.
Before they could take one step, the bride’s parents came out the church, and glared at Joan.
“Harry Watson, tell your sister that she won’t be allowed to attend the dinner party tonight,” Mrs. Wilkins hissed.
Joan looked up at Harry, and saw his jaw tighten.
Mr. Wilkins took a step forward, “We just don’t want any troubles,” he added, resting his big hand on his wife’s shoulder.
Harry nodded tightly and Joan felt the burn of betrayal in her gut. Why wasn’t Harry defending her? Before they could see her eyes fill with tears, she turned and ran away, ripping her clothes off as she did. She arrived at her tree and climbed atop it, where her little wooden house rested, secure and isolated, among the leaves. She sat on the edge, letting her legs sway in the air and leaning with her elbows on the wooden railing.
A loud sob ripped through her, and she hid her face in her naked arms, shivering a little in the cold air. Stripping down to her gown hadn’t be the wisest idea she had had in her twelve years of life.
And now Harry was touching her shoulder, lending her his coat and she was too pissed to be thankful.
“Monkey,” he repeated for what Joan thought was the thousandth time.
She still didn’t reply.
She heard Harry sigh and sit behind her, resting his side on her back.
“Listen, I know why you’re mad at me. And I’m sorry I did not stand up for you, but trust me, that was for the best. At least now we can stay here on our little house and you can avoid wearing that stupid dress, right?”
Joan kept on staring at the fields in front of her.
She felt Harry’s legs snake around hers, his feet swaying beside hers. He held her tightly to his chest, resting his chin on her hair.
“What are you looking at that's so interesting?”
She sniffed, feeling her anger slowly melt away. Her brother had always had the power to soothe her when he used that warm voice.
“N-nothing,” she replied, the word broken by an unintentional sob.
“I’m looking straight at a very interesting thing,” Harry murmured in a conspiratorial tone.
Joan shrugged, but her body shook with unrestrained curiosity, her eyes scanning the landscape ahead.
“You see that big big hole over there?” Harry asked, pointing with his finger at a depression in the soil, about a mile before their eyes. Joan nodded, and Harry continued.
“A long long time ago there was a lake in its place, and there used to swim many ducks. One Winter night, the lake froze completely, and the sleeping ducks’ feet were trapped in the ice. The next morning, they all flew away, bringing the lake with them.”
Joan had listened to the story in awe, imagining all those ducks flying away with a frozen lake.
“Where’s the lake now?” Joan asked, gazing up at the grey sky, following an imaginary trail the ducks might have left.
“Some say it’s in Africa now. The ducks landed in a desert, and around it there’s an oasis now. Thanks to those ducks, now there exist a place where adventurers can stop and find some rest in their wanderings.”
“Can we go one day?” Joan asked, more than a little eager.
“Where’s your helmet, explorer J?” Harry asked seriously, and Joan gingerly stood up, almost tripping over as she ran towards the inside of the tree house.
She rummaged through the papers scattered on the floor, until she found two explorer helmets and a pair of binoculars.
She turned and walked back to Harry, one helmet bouncing on her head, the other securely tucked under her arm, the binoculars hanging off her neck.
“Here, explorer H,” she grinned up at her brother, handing him the second helmet.
He secured it on his head. It fit him perfectly, and Joan felt a pang of jealousy. She was still so little compared to her brother.
“Well done, explorer J. Now use your faithful binoculars and tell us, can you see the ducks?”
Joan approached the edge of the tree house, leaning with her stomach against the railing. She pursed her lips in concentration, her eyes searching the horizon.
She loved playing with her brother. She stopped believing in his crazy stories a while ago, but that didn’t mean she found them stupid or childish. She adored them, and they were always an excuse to start playing explorers, or pirates.
“There!” she exclaimed, pointing at a far, isolated tree in the distance.
Her brother squinted his eyes, then nodded solemnly, “That is where we shall go,” he sentenced.
Joan barely held an ecstatic squeal, and climbed down the tree, her brother’s coat falling off her slim shoulders.
When Harry’s feet touched the ground, he knelt in front of her, fastening the buttons of his coat.
“Wouldn’t want our bravest explorer to catch a cold,” he explained, touching the tip of Joan’s nose with his finger.
She smiled and him and then turned, running towards the tree, almost tripping over the too long coat.
That night she lay in her bed, smiling as she played over and over in her head Harry’s stunned expression when they did find a duck hiding beneath the tree, or her father’s booming laugh when they came back covered in mud, her mother’s mouth trying (and failing) to suppress a smile.
She fell asleep with a content grin on her lips, a pair of grey, smiling eyes haunting her dreams.
2nd December, 1917
Joan hung Harry’s sock on the fireplace, beside hers. She leaned back a bit, careful not to fall off the chair, then nodded at her handiwork. The dispositions of the socks turned out not to be as wobbly as she feared, but it still didn’t convince her. Harry was the one who had the task of decorating the house. But this year, Joan had to do all the work.
Harry had been summoned by the army five months before, just weeks after his eighteenth birthday.
The house was silent. Far too silent without Harry's explosive personality.
Joan hopped down the chair she was perched on, her tricorn hat wobbling on her head.
Gladstone, the family dog, entered the living room with his usual air of boredom and sleepiness.
“En garde!” Joan yelled, pulling out her wooden sword from its sheath. Gladstone merely yawned at her, flopping down beneath the newly made Christmas tree.
Joan sighed, tucking the sword back in its case.
Harry wouldn’t be home for Christmas.
He’d sent them a letter a few weeks before, telling them that none of his corps were getting a leave, since the generals had ‘plans’ for them.
Joan didn’t care. She’d hung the damn sock and bought a present, and wrote Harry a ‘Welcome home’ letter, that she’d left on his pillow. She’d never spent a Christmas without Harry, clearly such a thing was not possible?
Mom often cried, these days. Dad didn’t laugh that much anymore. Joan had no one to play with.
Joan watched from the window as her father opened the door and took a letter from the postman’s hands.
She then snuck behind the sofa, and sneakily crawled towards an armchair, hiding behind it, so to have a perfect view of the kitchen.
“No,” her mother said, her voice trembling worryingly.
Joan’s father sat down and took her hand, bowing his hand to touch their twined fingers with his forehead.
Then he shifted to sit better, taking the letter in his shivering digits.
“No!” Joan's mother yelled, and Joan gasped, before muffling the sound by placing a hand on her mouth.
“It’s a telegram, George, do you know what... what-” her voice broke, and the woman started crying.
Fear clutched at Joan’s stomach. Didn’t the Wilsons get a telegram too when their son died at war? But that telegram couldn’t be about Harry.
She’d hung the damn sock and bought a present, and wrote Harry a ‘Welcome home’ letter, that she’d left on his pillow. Harry was safe and sound. Harry was coming home.
“Hannah,” Father murmured, “We need to open it.”
He was crying too. Father didn’t cry. Never.
He had been a soldier too, in a war in India, and he was wounded. His knee could tell if it was going to rain, because he was hit by a magical bullet. He was brave, and steady and he did not cry.
Slowly, painfully slowly, Joan’s father opened the telegram, as her mother hid her face in her hands, murmuring a prayer.
“Ave, Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum.”
She was praying in Latin. Father told Joan she did it because she was Catholic. Joan thought she did it because it made her feel safe.
“Benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Iesus.”
“Hannah,” her father started, pale as a sheet, shaking from head to toe.
Her mother shook her head with force, raising her wobbly voice.
“Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc et in hora mortis nostrae. Amen.”
Her father was downright sobbing now, and her mother repeated the prayer. Again. And again. And again.
The telegram fell from the table, and Joan crawled towards it. Neither of her parents noticed her approaching.
On the top was the Post Office Telegraphs stamp, and on the right a little box that said, “I certify that this Telegram is sent on the service of the WAR OFFICE”, along with a signature. Other thing were written, but Joan didn’t care about those.
Shivering, she read below.
“TO George and Hannah Watson.
OBJECT (Deeply) Regret to inform you that Harry Hamish Watson died of in action on November 29th. Lord Holmes expresses his sympathy.
FROM Secretary, War Office.”
That wasn’t possible. She’d hung the damn sock and bought a present, and wrote Harry a ‘Welcome home’ letter, that she’d left on his pillow.
Joan threw the telegram away and ran out of the house. No one followed her.
26th March, 1924
“Joan! Mr. Morstan is here!”
Joan grinned at her mirror, splashing some perfume on her neck. She stared at herself in the midnight blue dress, the first she had worn in years. She felt a bit naked, without her trousers and boots, but she wanted to impress Mark.
She flew down the stairs on unsteady feet, not at all used to the uncomfortable heels attached to the shoes she was wearing.
She got to the bottom of the stairs breathless, and her mom shot her a filthy look.
“Inappropriate!” her eyes seemed to yell. Joan winked at her.
Then she turned her attention to the tall, blond man in front of her.
He was looking at her with a raised eyebrow, a playful smile on his thin lips. Joan couldn’t help but notice how the man seemed even more handsome, now that he wasn’t standing under the dim, unflattering light of the tavern.
It was there that she met Mark Morstan. He was twenty-five, moderately rich, and damn good at poker. Joan managed to win nonetheless, and the man was so impressed, that he offered her a beer and asked for another game. She won that too, and the man had let out a roaring laugh when she showed him her bluff.
Joan was stunned; men usually didn’t take that well being beaten by a woman. Joan’s friend usually had to step in and physically protect her. But Mark was different.
He just laughed and handed her the money, ordering a drink for both of them and paying for hers.
Her friends laughed and whistled, noticing Joan’s flushed cheeks and Mark’s flirtatious looks.
At 11pm, the local band started playing, and some of the regulars began dancing. Talking to Mark had become almost impossible, over that noise.
“Come on, it’s full of boozehounds here, let’s blouse,” Mark eventually said, staring at the men dancing in the middle of the tavern in disgust.
Joan didn’t tell him that those were her friends. She felt, somehow, ashamed. For the first time in her life, she was ashamed of her friends, of who she was. She couldn’t decide whether that was a positive or negative thing.
She merely nodded, and they exited the tavern together, since Mark had offered to walk her home.
They had seen each other almost every night at the tavern since then, for three weeks. Her friends were already betting on the wedding date. Joan didn’t listen to them.
She loved her friends, really, she did, even if they could be damn well nosey. They were all Harry’s age, and initially, they had been his friends. Apparently, before he left, Harry had asked to all his friends who lived nearby to look after Joan if anything happened to him.
They’d kept that promise.
They went fishing with Joan, played explorers with her and taught her how to play poker. They bought her first beer, went to the tavern with her, played cricket with handmade sticks in the tavern backyard.
And now they wolf whistled when she and Mark hid in the darkest corner of the tavern, and jokingly made kissing sounds when she walked in front of them.
“Joan is in looove,” they teased, and she laughed and shoved them aside.
Perhaps they were right. Perhaps she really was in love.
Well, she had to be, because otherwise, why would she have started to wear nice dresses and learnt to dance and stopped hanging out with her friends so often? Why would she be so eager to please a man she had just met, if she weren’t in love with him?
Louis, one of her dearest friends had once tried to warn her off, claiming that Mark “was nothing but a drugstore cowboy”. Joan had felt positively outraged, yelling at Louis to stay out of her business. He tried to reason with her, saying that Harry wouldn’t have approved either, if he were still alive, but that gained him a slap right on the cheek. Joan hadn’t spoken to him since.
She and Mark had started to date officially a week back, and Mark had already proposed, just the night before. It had startled Joan a bit. Was it happening too quickly? She wondered. But Mark had looked at her with his blue eyes and toothy grin, and Joan had nodded.
That was why now Mark had come to meet her family.
“Hello, Mark,” Joan whispered as she passed by him, and calling him by his first name made her feel a bit giddy. It was all so new. And sudden.
Mrs. Watson sat in her plush armchair beside her husband, Joan and Mark in the narrow couch in front of them.
Mark and Mr. Watson immediately found shared interests, such as cricket and fox hunting. Joan fidgeted in her chair. God, she wanted to participate in the discussion about who was the best player nowadays. But Mark seemed to prefer her when she behaved more ‘ladylike’, and her mother (the most feminine person Joan knew) just sipped the tea their cook brought with a polite smile.
Joan tried to imitate her but, dear Lord, it was hard. She knew what horse was best to successfully catch a fox, she knew the names of all the popular cricket players of the last ten years. But she said nothing, and Mark seemed pleased about this, shooting appreciating looks in her direction, looks that had Joan’s stomach churn and her cheeks flush.
After the tea, her father went to his studio with Mark, and she knew the reason why.
He was going to ask her hand.
She breathed in deeply. Her mother smiled at her.
“He seems a good man,” she said, and Joan nodded.
“But you don’t look like yourself when he’s around.”
Joan’s head snapped up, to meet her mother’s worried gaze.
“I don’t want you to marry someone who doesn’t love you for who you are.”
“Mother, he met me at the tavern, after I beat him at poker. He knows what kind of woman I am.”
Hannah Watson nodded, “That’s good. But you still... You weren’t yourself moments ago.”
The cook, Mrs. Patmore, came to their dining room to retrieve the cups and the teapot, then disappeared.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Joan lied, slumping back in the couch.
Her mother huffed, crossing he arms.
“Listen, I like Mr. Morstan. He has good finances, and can provide for you. He accepts and cherish your... flaws we may say, and he gave me the impression of being a good man. Now, I have nothing against this union. My only condition is that you’re happy.”
“I will be,” Joan muttered.
“Aren’t you now?”
“Not with you pressuring me!” Joan snapped, and Mrs. Watson shut up.
Hannah Watson stomped around the village raging with fury.
George had immediately accepted. Stupid man. He should have told Mr. Morstan he’d think about it, then the three of them could talk about it. But no, her husband could be a downright moron sometimes.
There was something wrong with Mark Morstan, Hannah thought. Something she couldn’t quite grasp, something lurking behind the friendly surface, something sinister. Her daughter’s behaviour was enough to lead her to think that Mr. Morstan was probably that type of person that could manipulate you without you noticing.
She didn’t like the thought of Joan, her free spirited child, married to that man.
But it was done. They were officially engaged, Joan was smitten and George as well. She’d have to fix that.
Maybe keeping Joan away from Mr. Morstan for a while...
She snorted. As if that would have been easy.
A car pulled up beside her.
“Mrs. Watson!” a cheerful voice chirped, and Hannah twirled her head to greet its owner.
Lady Holmes was smiling broadly at her, her blue eyes shining amicably.
The Holmes had always been good friends to them.
Lord Holmes had fought in India during the Tirah Campaign with George.
After the war the men had stayed in touch, mostly through mail. Then George had mentioned in one of his letters his intention of moving his practice to the countryside. Without missing a beat, the Holmes had immediately offered him the place of their former doctor, now too old to continue in his practice.
Since they moved to Hollen, the Holmes family had been more than welcoming.
George was often invited to dinner at their manor, Hollen House, and had quickly become their most trusted doctor.
He’d helped Lady Holmes give birth to their youngest child, Sherlock, and the Watson family was reserved an important seat in the church for the girl’s baptism.
The Holmes always sent ‘Merry Christmas’ cards and greeted them when they passed by on the streets. Hannah felt a deep feeling of affection and admiration for them.
“Good afternoon your ladyship,” Hannah grinned, bowing her head.
“How is good doctor Watson?” Lady Holmes asked politely.
Hannah internally snorted at the mention of her impulsive husband, “He’s fine, your ladyship. I hope his lordship and your beautiful daughters are feeling well?”
“Most certainly, too much so in all honesty. His lordship is driving me insane with his newfound love for these silly cars and I’m so busy organizing Lady Mycroft’s wedding!”
Lady Holmes shook her head. In the previous year, she had often shared her problems with Hannah, and considered her a real confidant.
“Lady Mycroft is getting married? How fortunate! My Joan received a proposal just today,” Hannah exclaimed, deciding to inform Lady Holmes about the wedding as soon as possible, before her husband wrote a note to Lord Holmes. She didn’t think her ladyship would forgive her being informed after her husband.
As expected, Lady Holmes let out an excited squeal, clasping her hands in front of her.
“Joan? Oh Mrs. Watson, I am so happy for you! Who is the lucky man? Someone from the village?”
“He’s not from the village, your ladyship. He’s staying for a few weeks visiting an old aunt who is very ill.”
Hannah frowned. While speaking, she noticed that Lady Holmes had pursed her lips in thought, and was now looking at her with the face of a person ready to ask a pressing question.
“What was Joan wearing today when she received the proposal?”
Hannah’s jaw dropped. Lady Holmes was known for being cryptic but... Had she heard right? What did she mean?
“Sh-she was wearing a blue dress?” she answered, not wishing to disrespect her ladyship by not responding but seriously, that was an odd question.
Lady Holmes nodded, narrowing her eyes in thought. Suddenly, she snapped her head around.
“I really must go now, I’m sorry I kept you from your errands. Do wish the good doctor and Joan my best.”
“I... I will, your ladyship.”
Lady Holmes smiled one last time, before the car started moving again.
That afternoon, when Hannah came back home, she found a note addressed to her on the kitchen table. The note stated that a servant of the Holmes manor had passed by while she was away, and had left written that Lady Holmes was inviting Mrs. Watson for tea before dinner. Behind the note was a post scriptum:
“This may help your situation with Joan’s fiancée.”
Hannah did not know what to make of that. She was aware of Lady Holmes’s remarkable observation skills and intuitiveness, but it still amazed her how the woman was always able to understand everything with just one glance.
It was clear that Lady Holmes had spotted Hannah’s uncertainties about Mark Morstan.
Hannah took a deep breath.
She trusted the Holmes, and they had offered their help in delicate situations before. For example when all the farmers started getting the flu, and her husband had visited them all for free.
The Holmes had paid him for his trouble, sparing George weeks of extra work in richer houses.
The memory of the Holmes’ kindness helped Hannah clear her mind.
She’d accept Lady Holmes’s invitation.
She glanced at the clock, noticing she was already late. Hannah called Mrs. Patmore up and told her she had been invited to the Holmes, and to alert Mr. and Ms. Watson that she would be late for dinner.
She ran out of the house and trotted towards Hollen House, the Holmes’ huge manor. She walked through their immense garden, breathing in the fresh smell of the green trees.
After about twenty minutes, she finally arrived to Hollen House. She rang the doorbell and Philip Anderson, his lordship personal valet, opened the door. Hannah was a bit taken aback; valets didn’t usually open doors.
“Yes, Mrs. Watson?” Philip asked, and Hannah smiled at him.
“Good evening, Philip. Her ladyship has invited me for tea before dinner.”
Philip frowned, but let Hannah in. Always the discrete servant.
“Your coat, ma’am?”
Hannah shrugged off her coat and handed it to Philip, who hung it beside the door.
“May I lead you to the library?”
Ten minutes later, Hannah was sipping hot boiling tea in the Holmes’ library, Lady Holmes watching her silently from behind the brim of her fine teacup.
“I have a proposition,” Lady Holmes suddenly said, putting the teacup back in the saucer and placing all on the arm of her armchair.
“I have always seen Joan as a free spirit. Indomitable, we may say. Now, I find that my Sherlock is exactly the same. Only one aspect makes them different; I always see Joan around town with her friends, and now she has found a husband. She has also recently changed her attitude. She is still the same old Joan, but for her engagement she did not wear inappropriate clothes. Sherlock has no friends. I want her to be happy, Mrs. Watson. I want Sherlock to have a friend, someone who will bring out the best from her. I want someone who is able to preserve their personality uncorrupted, but who can adapt to society’s requests. I want Sherlock to have someone like Joan in her life. And I know that you don’t particularly like your daughter’s fiancée, and spending some time here might make Joan refocus her ambitions. Therefore, my offer is: would you be willing to let Joan come live at Hollen House for the summer?”
Hannah blinked, stunned. She had never heard her ladyship talk like that. So earnestly and heartfelt, almost without etiquette.
She did not have to think long about the offer.
“I’d be honoured, your ladyship.”
28th June, 1924
Joan sat on the grass in the giant park around the Holmes’ manor, wriggling her bare feet in the cold pond. She stared helplessly at her reflection in the water.
“What now?” she murmured.
She didn’t know what she was doing. In eight days she had been at Hollen House, she still had no idea on how she was supposed to lure Sherlock out of her bedroom.
The girl would stay in there all day, doing God-knew-what, not even bothering to go out to eat dinner with her family. And dinner was, as Joan discovered, a major event amongst aristocratic families like the Holmes.
Every night, Joan had to call up her (personal!) maid, let her choose her clothes and dress her up (like she was five) and then head downstairs, where initially she would chat with the other women, to then join the men in the dining room. There were often guests.
In eight evenings, Sherlock never participated to a dinner. Joan had seen her only the day she arrived at Hollen House and a couple of times at breakfast. Lady Holmes said that her youngest daughter usually spent her days holed up in her room or in the library. Joan had tried to go to the library to “casually” meet her, but she never found her.
How was she supposed to become Sherlock’s friend? The whole idea was stupid anyway. What could she, Joan Watson, say to catch the fleeting attention of Lady Sherlock Holmes? It was an obvious ploy.
She knew that her mother had just sent her to the Holmes to keep her away from Mark. The woman still didn’t like him.
Well, fine. The Holmes would send her away soon enough, when they realized she wasn’t interacting with Sherlock at all.
Mark hadn’t seem happy when she’d told him about her plans for the summer. But he eventually relented, and they set their wedding date on the 4th September.
Joan looked at her engagement ring, playing absent-mindedly with it.
A movement in the corner of her eye caught her attention.
She looked up from her hand, and saw a bee struggling in the water, just beside her feet.
“Hey little one,” Joan murmured, grabbing a fallen leaf and using it to lift the bee from the water. She eased the yellow insect on a smooth pebble beside her thigh, letting the bee bask in the sun. The bee weakly batted its wings, but it appeared strained.
“Come on little one,” Joan tried to encourage the little animal, but it kept batting its wings in weaker and weaker attempts.
“It’s a lost cause,” a voice from above her sentenced.
Joan looked up, startled, and found Sherlock Holmes sitting on a branch in the tree beside Joan. She was wearing a light outfit, composed of a white shirt and white trousers. She had a stylish straw hat, and there were about four books tucked under her arm.
“A lost cause you say? They’re my favourites,” Joan grinned at her, then turned back to the dying bee. Sherlock Holmes had been described to her as a very curious girl, so Joan didn’t look up at her again, but kept looking at the poor bee.
After a few seconds, Joan heard a light ‘tump’, and a figure sat down beside her.
“Did you find her in the pond?”
Joan frowned, “How do you know it’s a she?”
Sherlock scoffed, blowing out some air to move an errant curl that was blocking her view of the bee.
“Oh, please, it’s plain as day.”
“You seem to know a lot about bees,” Joan commented, at loss of anything else to say.
Sherlock nodded, but she was chewing on her lower lip, watching in apprehension at the bee, who was now still.
“We need sugar water,” she sentenced, then got up and rushed towards the house.
“Take Lulu and follow me!” the girl called.
“Who’s Lulu?” Joan asked. Sherlock stopped in her track and looked at Joan in annoyance.
“The bee. She needs a proper name, doesn’t she?”
Joan tried not to laugh. Really, she did.
But a giggle escaped from her mouth nonetheless. Sherlock scowled at her.
“I’m sorry,” she apologized, trying to regain some composure, “Just... Lulu?”
Sherlock looked vaguely offended, “If you have a better proposition, then let us hear it.”
“No no, Lulu is fine.”
Joan grinned at Sherlock, and the girl weakly smiled back. Joan stuffed her feet in her boots and took the leaf on which the bee (Lulu, Joan corrected in her head) was now laying still, and walked up to Sherlock.
“Where are we going?” Joan asked, following Sherlock through the park.
“To get some sugar and help Lulu recover, do keep up.”
“I thought you said this was a lost cause?”
Sherlock looked down at Joan and smirked.
“I thought you said those were your favourites.”
Sherlock was amazing. Truly, truly amazing.
Joan had had the time of her life that afternoon.
After managing to sneak into the kitchen, they had stolen some sugar, water, a towel and a small saucer. Then they had run upstairs, and hid in Sherlock’s bedroom.
There, Sherlock had mixed sugar with water in the plate, and placed Lulu on the towel, which she then carefully put on the brim of the saucer.
In silence, Sherlock and Joan observed as Lulu slowly reached the sugary water and drank.
“Turn off the lights,” Sherlock commanded, as she approached her window and opened it.
Joan did as Sherlock said, then rejoined Sherlock in their previous position, sat on the floor, eyes glued to Lulu.
“You have the gift of silence, Joan,” Sherlock whispered in the darkened room, after endless minutes of bee-watching.
Joan shrugged, “It’s not compulsory to fill silences. Sometimes it’s better saying nothing than saying too much.”
Sherlock turned her head then, a small smile tugging at the corner of her mouth. Joan grinned back at her and winked, making Sherlock’s eyes widen and her cheeks flush.
A soft buzzzz caught their attention, and they both turned in time to see Lulu batting her wings with renewed energy, and they held their breath as she walked towards the brim of the saucer.
Then Lulu left off, and flew confidently towards the open window.
“How did you know that would work?” Joan asked after a few seconds, getting up and staring down at Sherlock.
“I’ve read many books about Apiology. Lulu just needed to gain some energy back, she had tired too much struggling in the cold water. We’re lucky the water didn’t damage her wings irreparably.”
Joan frowned down at Sherlock. The girl was still sitting on the floor, looking... wrecked?
She passed the back of her hand on her eyes.
“You’re not... You’re not crying, are you?” Joan asked in horror.
“Of course not,” Sherlock snapped, getting to her feet and stomping to turn on the lights.
She was, though. Her cheeks were damp and her eyes red, her breathing uneven.
“You know... You know that bees aren’t pets, right? We couldn’t keep Lulu away from her hiv-”
“I know that,” Sherlock snarled, shutting the window with force.
Then her arms fell limp to her sides, “Listen I’m just... I was worried, okay? I’m just happy she made it.”
Joan felt a pang to her heart and a shiver ran down her spine. Without thinking, she approached Sherlock and hugged her.
“She’ll be okay,” she whispered soothingly, running her hands up and down Sherlock’s back. The girl relaxed against her and clang on to her for dear life.
To hell everyone who had warned her off, told her that Sherlock was cold, that she never spoke to anyone, that all she cared about were her books and her (not) secret get-aways to London.
Sherlock was human, Sherlock was flesh and blood, Sherlock had given a name to a bloody bee, Sherlock was hugging Joan tightly in her bedroom.
They spent the rest of the afternoon together, talking, reading, laughing. Oh, so much laughter. Joan didn’t think she’d ever met anyone who made her laugh that much.
And as dinner time approached, Sherlock had promised Joan she would come down for dinner.
Joan grinned at her mirror, as Sally, her personal maid, helped her step in her dress for dinner.
“Are you happy madam?” Sally asked softly, smiling at Joan in the mirror reflection.
Joan smiled back at her, and winked, “Oh, yes.”
She really liked Sally. It had been a bit awkward, at first. Joan had never been served by anyone that way, and she’d never seen a black person before. People like Sally weren't many in England, and always victims of vicious crimes and harmful prejudices.
The first times Sally came to her room, Joan and kept staring at her, and often said “I’ll do it.”
Sally had mistaken her pointed looks and refusal for her help for disgust, but one night, while Sally was helping Joan wear her gown, everything was cleared.
They became pretty close since then. Sally was very good at listening, and always had a wise word of advice.
She’d been the one to tell Joan about Sherlock’s interests, who told her it was fine if she still hadn’t captured the girl’s interest.
“May I ask why?”
“I think Lady Sherlock and I can call each other friends now.”
Sally clapped her hands together and let out a happy, small giggle.
“I’m so happy! Lady Sherlock really did deserve a friend as special as you are, ma’am.”
“Thank you, Sally,” Joan replied, touched, watching Sally go and retrieve a long necklace.
Joan sat down in front of the mirror, and Sally positioned herself behind her, slipping the golden chain around her neck.
“This also means that you’ll be allowed to stay in Hollen House longer,” Sally continued, visibly delighted.
Joan smirked, “And you’re happy about that? That means you’ll be stuck with me longer.”
Sally straightened up and patted on her maid uniform, “Ma’am, you’re the best person I’ve ever had the good fortune of serving.”
Violet Holmes stood in her eldest daughter’s doorway, her hands on her hips.
“Yes, mother?” Mycroft replied, slipping a long, black glove on her arm. Meanwhile Anthea, her personal maid, was choosing her jewels.
Violet cleared her throat, “Your sister is coming down to dinner tonight, and I don’t want shenanigans. Especially not in front of our guests, the Granthams.”
Everything froze. Mycroft midway on her second glove, Anthea on her way to Mycroft’s side.
“Have I misheard?” Mycroft questioned, lifting an eyebrow.
“You heard me perfectly.”
Anthea frowned at the floor, then shrugged and approached Mycroft, slipping a golden bracelet on her wrist.
“May I ask what caused this happy novelty? Or better, who?”
Violet pursed her lips. Mycroft already knew it was all down to Joan Watson.
“Listen to me very carefully, Mycroft Margaret Holmes. Your sister has got herself a pretty bad crush, and I don’t want you to embarrass her.”
Mycroft feigned a look of innocence and surprise, “Me? Embarrassing my little sister, who has never embarrassed me herself? I thought you knew me better, mother.”
Anthea sniggered, and Mycroft shot her an amused look. Violet scowled a them both.
“I hope you’ll behave, Mycroft. The Granthams are related to the Lestrades, do I have to remind you that you’re marrying their son? Or the reason why you’re doing it?”
Mycroft looked down at her feet, suddenly serious. Anthea left the room.
Mycroft was already twenty-seven, and everyone in Hollen thought she’d never get married. Then she had had met the Lestrade family at a party, and had fallen in love with one of them. Not the one she was marrying though, but his sister, Greta.
James Lestrade knew about Mycroft and Greta’s secret relationship, and being quite old and loving his younger sister (so young he treated her like a daughter), he had accepted to marry Mycroft and leave the two girls live in his house as married.
The marriage was a delicate business though. After the Great War, there were tensions in Europe, and the Lestrades, who were linked to France, had had some troubles in England, and were thinking of moving, forcing James to marry a French aristocratic, and not Mycroft.
“If the Granthams put a good word on you for the Lestrades, they won’t probably force Lord Lestrade to marry some French no one. And you and Lady Greta will have you happy ending.”
Violet smiled softly at her daughter as she nodded.
“And I also think that Ms. Watson may be an excellent friend to your sister, so please don’t scare her off.”
Mycroft scoffed, “She’s spent the whole afternoon with Sherlock, didn’t she? I think that little would deter her from pursuing their affiliation.”
Violet chuckled, and Mycroft followed.
“Ready?” Violet asked, when the laughter died down. Mycroft nodded, and together, they descended the stairs.
Dinner went marvellously. Sherlock had it so bad over Joan that she spent the whole dinner blushing furiously and glancing sneakily at Joan, who was sat beside her and kept smiling in her napkin whenever she noticed that Sherlock was staring at her.
Mycroft was brilliant, keeping the conversation interesting and away from controversial topics, and everyone had a good time.
After dinner, they all moved to the library to continue their conversations.
Violet was talking to Lady Grantham about their respective possessions in Sussex, when she heard Sherlock’s voice murmur something about a “younger mistress” who “worked as a prostitute in Hamburg.” Alarmed, Violet excused herself from Lady Grantham and rushed towards the secluded corner in which Sherlock and Joan where laughing softly.
Violet stopped in her track. She had been afraid that her daughter’s “gift” would have scared Joan off, but the young girl was laughing behind her stem glass, trying not to choke on her sherry as Sherlock pointed at the various hosts.
“That’s amazing, Sherlock!” Joan suddenly exclaimed, grinning up at Sherlock, who blushed furiously.
“You are amazing,” Joan added, lowering her voice a little, but Violet could perfectly hear her nonetheless. She watched in amusement as Sherlock stuttered and her cheeks flushed an even darker shade of red. She then grumbled something in her glass, and Joan let out a booming laugh, which made Sherlock smile fondly at her.
Violet felt her heart burst with joy. She whirled her head, looking for her husband. When she found him, she walked towards him and tugged on his sleeve.
“What, my dear?” he asked, excusing himself from Lord Grantham and his son.
“Look, Siger,” she whispered in awe, cocking her head towards Sherlock and Joan. She watched as her husband’s eyes widened and his lips parted.
Then he smiled softly.
“She’s not alone anymore,” he murmured, sheer emotion in his voice.
“No, she isn’t,” Violet gripped his arm, squeezing lightly, and thanked God for the existence of Joan Watson.
18th July, 1924
Joan woke up to someone insistently knocking on her window pane.
She turned on her side, slowly cracking one eyelid open.
Out of her window, Sherlock Holmes was smiling at her, swinging her legs from the branch of the wide oak outside Joan’s bedroom.
Joan grinned at her friend, hiding her face in the pillow. After another three impatient knocks, she got out of bed and padded towards the wide window.
“Ya know what time it is, right?” she asked, amused.
Sherlock rolled her eyes, “Of course I do, it’s 6am, not that early.”
“Oh, not that early, she says. Who slept till 11am yesterday though?”
Sherlock waved one of her long, elegant hands in front of her face.
“Irrelevant,” she mused.
“So, is there a reason why I have been woken up at 6am on a Saturday?”
Sherlock beamed at her, crawling closer on the branch.
“You want to go and have a picnic, Joan? I stole the keys of the Ford from Mycroft, we can go by car!”
“That’s why you woke me up this early?” Joan asked, arching one eyebrow.
“Yes!” Sherlock chirped, literally shaking with excitement.
Joan shook her head, “I don’t wish your sister’s wrath on me, I’m already lucky your family is allowing me to spend the holidays her-”
Sherlock snorted, crossing her arms. Joan’s heart jumped in her throat. “Sherlock! For the love of God, hold onto the branch, you might fall!”
Sherlock seemed to consider Joan’s words, then she smirked wickedly, “If you don’t come with me, I’ll let myself fall from the tree.”
“That’s moronic,” Joan commented, taking a step closer to the window nonetheless.
Sherlock’s smile only widened, and she slid closer to Joan, where the branch was thinner. Then she raised her arms high above her head, “You have ten seconds to say yes, Joan, or I’ll fall.”
Joan huffed, “Don’t be silly, Sherlock.”
“One... Two... Three...”
“Sherlock that’s not funny, get down.”
“Alright, alright! I’ll come.”
Sherlock let out a tinkling laugh, clapping her hands in front of herself. Joan found herself giggling with her. God, Sherlock was so young, so full of life. It always swept Joan off her feet.
“Will you give me the time to dress at least?”
Sherlock pretended to think about it, tapping with her index finger on the side of her mouth.
“Three minutes,” she finally said, flashing a blinding smile at Joan.
Joan chuckled, “You’re ridiculous. But I’ll see what I can do.”
Joan turned and walked to her suitcase. She knelt beside it and started rummaging through her clothes.
“Oh, and Joan!” Sherlock called, sounding much closer than she was supposed to be. Joan turned and found Sherlock sitting on her bed, staring at her expectantly.
“Yes, torment of my life?”
Sherlock stuck her tongue out at her and Joan winked.
“I just wanted to tell you to wear nothing fancy,” Sherlock said.
Joan frowned at her, “You’re kidding me, right? I literally only own dungarees and trousers.”
Sherlock shrugged, “Who knows, maybe you wanted to dress properly for once,” she muttered, trying (and failing) to suppress a smile.
Joan took one of her shoes and threw it at Sherlock.
“Idiot,” she said, smiling.
Sherlock giggled her tinkling, delighted laugh again, throwing herself on the bed.
“Well, I guess that at least one of us should have a decent fashion sense,” she commented, and Joan snorted.
“You can be so charming sometimes.”
Sherlock drove them to a field nearby, one she had discovered a few years earlier. It was a lovely place, Joan had to admit, with a little downfall that poured itself in a crystalline stream. Around it were dozens of round, smooth pebbles.
Sherlock took the blanket from the car and laid it on the grass, while Joan splayed their food on it.
As their breakfast progressed, among buttered bread and sweet strawberries, Joan noticed that Sherlock was acting a bit... mysterious. She said nothing though, letting Sherlock ramble on and pour her more coffee.
“Joan,” Sherlock murmured after a few quite minutes of them enjoying the summer sun.
“Yeah?” Joan prompted, turning her head to Sherlock.
Sherlock was staring at her, her bright, grey eyes boring into Joan’s with intensity.
“If I showed you a thing, would you promise me not to tell anyone?”
“What do you wanna show me?”
“Swear it first.”
“Alright, I swear I won’t tell anyone. What is it?”
Sherlock grinned at her, her eyes crinkling at the corners. Joan found it was impossible not to smile back.
“You’re gonna see in a minute.”
Sherlock jumped up so fast that Joan almost didn’t see her move, and when she sat up, Sherlock was already rummaging through their picnic basket.
Joan watched as the breeze made her green dress move all around her long, cream white legs. She stared at Sherlock’s long, black, curly hair, the soft curve of her hips, so narrow and lovely.
“Ah-a!” Sherlock exclaimed after a few moments, holding an empty jar of glass high above her head, in a victorious gesture.
She winked at Joan, “Come on,” she said, starting to walk towards the woods.
Joan stared after her for a few seconds, then she sighed and got up, following the mad woman through the woods.
They walked for almost one mile, and Joan was about to ask Sherlock where the bloody hell they were going, when Sherlock stopped and turned to flash a smile at Joan.
“There it is!” she exclaimed, pointing at a tree.
“That old oak over there!”
“Ah,” Joan commented, puzzled.
“It’s a... erm, a nice tree?” she offered, seeing Sherlock staring at the tree with what looked like fondness.
“Don’t be silly, Joan. Now, whatever happens, promise me you’re not gonna move from this spot,” Sherlock said, a serious expression on her beautiful features.
John passed a hand through her short hair, huffing out a long breath.
“What are you doing? Is it dangerous?”
Sherlock shook her head, “Not for me. You just... stay here, and look. And be quiet! Don’t make any noise, promise me that.”
Then she turned and walked towards the tree, leaving Joan there, speechless and confused.
Sherlock walked barefoot, her dress dancing around her like it was made of air itself. When she was about three feet away from the tree, Sherlock turned towards Joan, checking whether she still had her friend’s attention or not. Then she did the strangest thing Joan had ever witnessed. She started to tiptoe towards the tree, singing.
Her voice was carried by the summer breeze to Joan’s ears. It sounded like an ancient song, a lullaby perhaps. Sherlock was singing softly, as if to soothe someone who lived inside the tree.
Joan was not wrong. Sherlock slipped the hand that held the jar inside the tree, and in that moment, Joan heard an almost deafening buzz of insects, and the sky was suddenly obscured by a swarm of bees.
Joan stared in horror as the bees surrounded Sherlock’s body, drowning her. She had bees on her head, her arms, her torso, her legs. There were bees even of her feet. And still Sherlock sang, and held the jar inside the cavity. After few, agonizing minutes (which Joan spent wondering how could she help Sherlock without being killed by the bees as well), Sherlock took the jar out of the tree, and began walking towards Joan again. She kept singing as she walked, a huge grin on her bee-covered face.
As she walked, the yellow insects started to fly off her and back to their hive.
When Sherlock finally reached Joan, there was no bee on her body. Joan gaped at her.
She hadn’t been stung. Not even once.
Sherlock offered Joan the jar, now full of wild honey.
“For you,” she said, smiling happily. And that was it, Joan thought. She’d never seen Sherlock so happy, breathless with giddiness, her cheeks flushed, her eyes sparkling.
That didn’t mean that Joan wasn’t bloody furious.
“You utter idiot!” she yelled, throwing her arms around her friend’s waist, holding her tight against her.
“You could have died, you understand that?”
“They don’t sting me,” Sherlock explained, a bit confused by Joan’s vehemence.
“How the hell did you do that?” Joan asked, taking a step back and placing her hands on Sherlock’s shoulders.
Sherlock chuckled, “If Mom only heard you talk like that.”
“This is no time for jokes! What the hell, Sherlock?”
Sherlock sighed, “I don’t know, they just seem to like me. They sort of recognize me, and they never sting me, never.”
“How many times have you done this?” Joan asked, already fearing the answer.
“Uhm... Around twenty times?”
Joan shook her head in disapproval, taking her hands off Sherlock’s shoulder and stuffing them in her pockets. “This is dangerous, Sherlock.”
Sherlock lowered her gaze, staring sadly at her feet.
Joan sighed, cursing her weakness in front of Sherlock’s emotional side.
“Hey, you,” she said, placing her finger under Sherlock’s chin, so that their eyes could meet.
“Can I have a taste of that honey?”
Sherlock’s expression changed in a instant, and she beamed at Joan with such a joyful look that Joan let out an amused laugh.
Sherlock took Joan by the hand and ran back to their blanket. Joan kept laughing, yelling at Sherlock to slow down.
They lay back on the blanket, breathless and completely happy.
Sherlock opened the jar, slipped a finger in the golden, clammy honey and offered it to Joan.
Joan stared at Sherlock for long seconds, but Sherlock kept smiling at her, prompting her to eat the honey by wriggling her finger under Joan’s nose.
Joan rolled her eyes and then dipped down and took Sherlock’s finger in her mouth. She looked up at Sherlock, who was staring at her without breathing, a flush on her pale cheekbones. Joan smiled around the finger, sucking lightly, and Sherlock gasped.
Joan let Sherlock’s finger go with a loud ‘pop’, “It was good,” she commented.
Sherlock seemed to be frozen in her place, and Joan smiled softly at her. She was so bloody young.
“Should we eat some of that honey of yours on the biscuits Mrs. Hudson baked?” she asked, rummaging through the food left in the basket.
Sherlock shook her head, seemingly snapping out of whatever thought got over her.
She nodded, “Good idea, Joan.”
It proved to be a really good idea indeed. Mrs. Hudson’s biscuits, along with Sherlock’s honey were the most delicious thing Joan had ever eaten.
After they were full, Joan leaned with her back against the tree that was casting a fresh shadow over them. She felt sated, content, calm. She closed her eyes, and was startled when she felt a weight settle on her lap. She opened her eyes and found Sherlock, laying with her head on Joan’s thigh, a smile on her full lips. She too had her eyes closed. Joan looked at her for a few seconds, bewitched by the young girl’s beauty. Noticing she was staring, Joan leaned back against the tree once more, and stared up at the leaves above her head.
“You know, Joan,” Sherlock suddenly said, “I would kill for you. If someone hurt you, I’d kill them, and I wouldn’t think twice about it.”
Joan looked down at Sherlock, and saw that the girl was staring at her.
“That’s a terrible thing you just said.”
“Not at all!” Sherlock exclaimed, “Better to kill for love than for hate, right?”
Joan sighed, threading her fingers through Sherlock’s soft hair.
“Better still not killing at all.”
“Well, then I’ll die for you,” Sherlock said resolutely, nodding at the foliage above them.
Joan said nothing.
“You don’t think someone can die for love?” Sherlock asked.
Joan shook her head, and Sherlock jumped up, kneeling in front of Joan.
“I could die here, in this exact moment, and I wouldn’t care, because I’m with you. I’d be the only corpse with a smile.”
“Stop being silly, Sherlock.”
“But it’s true!” Sherlock said with urgency, her eyes conveying an almost desperate need to be believed.
“Today I could have died, ya know? I wouldn’t have care-”
Joan took her hand, wishing to stop that rambling.
“My Sherlock,” she murmured, and Sherlock closed her mouth, staring at their joined hands.
“My bee charmer.”
A slow smile spread over Sherlock’s face. “Is that what I am?” she questioned, and Joan nodded.
“I had heard of people who could do that, I just never saw it.”
“Is it... a bad thing?” Sherlock asked, suddenly self-conscious.
“Oh no, Sherlock! It’s a beautiful, beautiful thing. How could you doubt this?”
“I thought it was weird,” Sherlock shrugged, lowering herself on Joan’s lap again, but keeping their entwined hands on her stomach.
Joan smiled at her, feeling her heart burst with fondness.
She lowered her head, whispering in Sherlock’s ear, “You’re a bee charmer, my dear Sherlock Holmes, an adorable bee charmer...”
Sherlock smiled at nothing, keeping her eyes closed and gripping a bit more tightly onto Joan’s hand.
Joan sighed with happiness, resting her head against the trunk behind her. She felt happy like one can only feel when falling in love on a summer’s day.
1st August, 1924
The club was buzzing with life. Joan looked around in awe, as she watched men and women dance in fast movements that she’d never observed before.
“What is this place?” she asked, as a huge grin spread over her face.
“Can’t you guess?” Sherlock replied, winking cheekily at her.
Joan sucked in a breath. Sherlock was gorgeous.
She was wearing a sleeveless black flapper dress that ended with a fringe around the hem. It was decorated with little silver gems that reflected the lights pouring out of every wall. The dress was barely knee-length, and when Sherlock took her coat off, Joan nearly fainted at the sight of those pale, pretty gams.
Sherlock took Joan’s silence as a no, because she shook her head in mock disappointment, making her curly hair dance all around her silver headpiece.
“It’s a jazz club!” Sherlock exclaimed, waving her arms around ecstatically. The white feathers attached to the side of her headpiece bobbed happily with her.
Joan’s jaw dropped.
“Sherlock!” she yelled, smacking her arm.
“Your ladyship is going to kill me, oh applesauce,” she whined, hiding her face in her hands.
“Now now Joan, where did you think we were going, seriously? Why did you think I got you all dolled up for?”
Joan looked down at her turquoise short dress.
“Excuse me, you did not get me ‘all dolled up’, ta very much.”
Sherlock huffed, leaning closer to Joan to adjust the foulard around her neck.
“Let’s dance,” she said, grinning like it was Christmas.
Joan hesitated. A jazz club. Everyone knew what kind of people went there, and that certainly wasn’t the right place for someone of Sherlock’s lineage. But Sherlock’s eyes were sparkling with barely restrained enthusiasm, almost childlike in its spontaneity.
Wordlessly, Joan reached over and took Sherlock’s hand in hers, linking their fingers together.
Sherlock gasped softly, before tightening her grip on Joan’s hand. Then she pulled her in front of the band that was playing a very animated song.
Joan found herself enthralled by the sight of a handsome man playing a trumpet, and one of the prettiest girls Joan had ever seen singing beside him. Both of them had dark skin, just like Sally, and were dressed with clothes that did not match the English taste.
“Americans,” Sherlock murmured in her ear, placing her free hand on Joan’s hip.
Joan hummed thoughtfully, “Did you deduce that?”
Sherlock let out her adorable, twinkling laugh.
“Initially, yes. They’re my friends, I want you to meet them. They’re fun.”
Joan let Sherlock move around the dance floor, swaying her hips and giggling whenever Joan’s uncoordinated knees bumped with hers awkwardly, ignoring the pointed stares of the other dancers.
When the third song ended, they both leaned heavily on the wall in the darkest corner of the room.
They stood there side by side, Joan clutching her stomach with her hands, both of them panting, exhausted from their dancing.
Slowly, they turned their heads towards each other. Seeing how utterly worn out the other was, the girls started giggling. Joan’s tummy hurt for how much they were laughing, and just a look at Sherlock’s amused face was enough to make her laugh even more.
Eventually, the laughter died down, and they both rested their heads against the wall behind, their faces turned towards one another.
“You’re the bee’s knees, Joan,” Sherlock whispered, suddenly serious, a pretty flush on her high cheekbones. Joan couldn’t breathe, couldn’t cope with the intensity of Sherlock’s stare.
She tried to huff a weak laugh, “Coming from you, that’s saying something. You don’t take bees lightly.”
Her miserable attempt at a joke failed terribly, when Sherlock’s face crumbled, and the younger girl suddenly looked crestfallen.
Joan sighed and turned her head, staring out at the other people dancing.
It was so easy for them, dancing with the person they liked.
Joan thought of Mark’s kind blue eyes, his fair hair. She thought of evenings spent chatting at the kitchen table, of parties with their friends, of endless nights playing poker in the bedroom. She thought of blond, faceless children running around an anonymous house, of a fat dog dozing off in the warm sun.
She thought of a lifetime with him. A life in which she was happy.
But she knew that couldn’t be true.
As she felt Sherlock’s fingers card through hers, Joan knew that she would’ve never, ever forgotten Sherlock Holmes.
Unwillingly, new images filled her brain; she saw curly, dark brown hair splayed on a pillow next to hers. She saw a gramophone playing a sweet music, two bodies swaying in rhythm, hugging tightly. She saw an impossible woman tiptoeing towards a swarm of bees, singing soothingly for them. She saw miles and miles of creamy skin against dark pools of hair, she saw eyes of ice, bright with youth and wonder. She saw long, elegant fingers carding through short, golden hair. She saw tanned limbs meeting paler ones in a sweet mingle. She saw plump lips stretched in a smile, a long nose scrunching in distaste.
Joan closed her eyes and shook her head.
Sherlock was young, far too young. Only sixteen and starving to have a bite of that enormous world, that she could take, having the privilege of a life without needing to work. Joan was just the novelty, she would wear off, eventually. What wouldn’t pass was Joan’s need to settle down.
She was twenty, and she could already see her parents struggling to provide for her, that people in the city tattled about her.
She squeezed Sherlock’s hand.
She’d miss that crazy girl, but it was best they went their separate ways. Sherlock devouring the world, Joan settling for a boring life as the wife of a retailer.
Boring? Dear Lord, she shouldn’t say things like that about her future life.
She’d enjoy Sherlock’s company as much as she could, then, on the 4th of September, she would marry Mark, keeping Sherlock’s memories locked away in her mind.
“Victoria!” Sherlock suddenly called, letting go of Joan’s hand and waving her arms above her head.
“Victoria!” she called again, and Joan tried to follow Sherlock’s line of sight.
The beautiful jazz singer Joan had seen earlier was smiling brightly at Sherlock, and was now approaching them. Joan couldn’t suppress the intense feeling of jealousy that the sight of Sherlock hugging this Victoria aroused in her.
They hugged for long, terrible seconds, and when they separated, they kept their arms around each other’s waist, their faces just a breath apart (too close, Joan thought, white rage buzzing in her head).
“Who’s this?” she asked, a little bit too harshly, shooting a fake smile at the two girls, who seemed to have forgotten there were other people in the room.
“Oh, right,” Sherlock shook her head, disentangling from the tall girl’s embrace.
“Joan, this is Victoria Trevor. Victoria, this is Joan Watson.”
Ms. Trevor gripped the hem of her dress and bowed slightly.
“Pleased to meet you.”
Joan stared at her, speechless. She was so pretty.
Her dark skin looked smooth as silk, her eyes shone with unrestrained enthusiasm for life, and were the colour of onyx. She had full, smiling lips, and a lovely, tiny nose.
She looked like a fairytale character, and Joan felt suddenly self-conscious. She was short, her hair wasn’t as rich as Ms. Trevor’s, her nose wasn’t as pretty as hers. She couldn’t sing, she didn’t come from the far America. She was just Joan, the doctor’s daughter, a retailer’s betrothed, destined to nothing. No wonder Sherlock had forgotten she was standing right beside her when Ms. Trevor appeared.
“Joan? Joan! Are you listening to me?”
Joan shook her head, trying to concentrate on what Sherlock was saying.
Sherlock shot her a weird look, raising her eyebrow in a silent question.
Joan shrugged, Nothing.
Sherlock did not look convinced, but after a few seconds she smiled and said, “I asked you if you minded if I danced with Vic.”
Sherlock was grinning toothily at Ms. Trevor and Joan felt nausea build up in her stomach. Vic.
“I’m not your mother, do what you want,” she snapped, crossing her arms and leaning against the wall.
Sherlock winced, “Joan-”
“Just go, have fun. I’m gonna be here when you’re done.”
Sherlock furrowed her brow, but Ms. Trevor gripped her arm and tugged her towards the dance floor.
Joan let out the breath she didn’t she was holding, and rested her head against the wall behind her, shutting her eyes.
She felt as if she was being crushed down by an unsustainable weight, that sucked all the air from her lungs and made her eyes fill with tears.
She was just being silly. How dared she be jealous when she was marrying another man in a month?
She straightened up and fixed her headpiece, a fine silver thing that Sherlock had lent her. Sherlock had helped her tying the cloth underneath her head, and had fixed the shiny pin on the side of Joan’s head, while they were on the train.
“You look swell,” she had said, leaning down to place a small peck on Joan’s cheek.
Joan huffed at the memory and stomped towards the bar.
“Gin please,” she ordered, and the barman filled a stem glass that she emptied quickly.
It was strong. Perfect.
“Another,” she asked, and gulped down the second glass as well.
Feeling her head at least ten times lighter than a few seconds before, she looked around the dance floor, trying to spot Sherlock and Vic in the crowd. They were nowhere to be seen.
Joan asked for another gin, then she went wandering around the local, occasionally taking a sip of her drink.
Suddenly, a head of black curls caught her eye, and she watched as a slim silhouette disappeared through a door. She followed, frowning slightly. Where was Sherlock going? If she lost her, Lady Holmes would have probably guillotined her.
She opened the door and froze, her stomach dropping to her feet.
A few steps ahead, Sherlock and Victoria were kissing passionately. Victoria had pushed Sherlock against the wall, and was gripping her hips, while Sherlock ran her hands through Victoria’s hair.
Joan’s heart beat faster and faster, and her head couldn’t stop spinning. That wasn’t real. That wasn’t happening. She shut her eyes, and when she opened them, Victoria and Sherlock were still kissing.
Joan gasped, suddenly hit by the reality of it, and her drink fell.
The noise of the shattering glass startled the two girls, who turned their heads towards the sound, looking terrified.
Victoria didn’t say a word, she just ran away, disappearing in the dark. Sherlock stared at Joan in horror, and swallowed guiltily.
“Joan,” she started, taking a step towards her.
“Are you out of your mind?!” Joan exploded, throwing up her hands.
“What were you thinking? Do you know the impact this could have on you? Do you have the faintest clue, Sherlock?”
“Please don’t tell my parents,” Sherlock begged, and Joan bit on her lower lip, to stop herself from yelling more at her.
“Of course I won’t tell anyone but, seriously, Sherlock. This ends here.”
Sherlock’s expression changed from relief to rage in the span of a millisecond.
“I beg your pardon?” she hissed, taking a step in Joan’s direction. Her knees wobbled. She shouldn’t have drunk.
“You heard me perfectly.”
“This does not end here. Vic has just asked me to go to America with her, and I intend to accept her offer.”
“Y-you can’t,” Joan couldn’t breathe, please Sherlock say you were joking, please, pl-
“Yes I can! Nothing holds me back here, anyway. Just watch me.”
“You can’t run away, Sherlock! Not with her.”
Sherlock gaped at her, then narrowed her eyes, outraged.
“I thought you were better than them.”
She sounded angry, disappointed and... hurt? Joan steeled herself.
“Better than the people who care about you enough to prevent you from doing something extremely stupid?”
“Better than someone who judges people for the colour of their skin!” Sherlock yelled.
Joan staggered back, startled. “What-”
“Oh please, let us not pretend this is not about that. I’ve already had my fair share of ‘stay away from her, you know what people like that are like’.”
Joan shook her head, and felt the headpiece loosen around her head.
“It’s not about that.”
“Isn’t it?” Sherlock sounded like she didn’t believe her, like she was on the verge of tears. Joan felt sick.
“Then what is it? Tell me because I really don’t get it.”
They were both a mess.
Joan was going to marry a man she barely knew, Sherlock was going to run away with an American girl that promised no stability whatsoever, not with the kind of job she did.
And Sherlock was a Holmes, for heaven’s sake! They would have found her in a week. Scandal would have ruined her life.
But it wasn’t the fear of an imminent scandal that pushed Joan to take a step forward.
Joan had drunk three glasses of gin. Joan was madly jealous of pretty Victoria Trevor. Joan loved Sherlock.
Joan loved the sound of her laughter, the way she explained things, her intelligence. Joan loved the colour of her eyes and the smell of her skin, she loved how Sherlock’s hair was a mess in the morning, even after her maid had worked on it. She loved her enthusiasm, her spirit of adventure, her endless curiosity. She loved her, end of the story.
Joan didn’t have the words. She had always found it difficult, that sort of stuff. So she just acted.
She cradled Sherlock’s face in her hands, and pulled her down slowly, so to give her the time to pull back.
Their lips met for a brief moment. It was just a touch of skin against skin, but Joan shivered nonetheless, when she felt Sherlock’s warm breath in her mouth when the girl sighed.
Joan pulled back a few centimetres. “Okay?” she asked, stroking Sherlock’s cheekbones with the pad of thumbs.
Sherlock nodded, her eyes wet with unshed tears, and when their lips met again, it wasn’t as gentle as before.
It was a battle. It was tongues dancing together, teeth clicking, hands grasping desperately at light fabric. It was tears, and relief, and murmured promises, and fear, and hope.
It was just Joan and Sherlock, together, against the rest of the world.
“Please, tell me you’re not marrying Mr. Morstan,” Sherlock begged against Joan’s mouth, her hands running wildly through her blond hair.
“Only if you promise you’re not leaving for bloody America,” Joan replied, biting down on Sherlock’s lower lip, eliciting a moan.
“No no no, I won’t, I swear, I’m staying with you. I promise. Please, promise?”
Joan stared up in Sherlock’s imploring eyes, full of fear and need and hope. She couldn’t lie to her, so she just crushed their mouths together again.
Sherlock said nothing.
23rd August, 1924
Sometimes people don’t notice that they’re falling in love until it’s too late.
Not Joan. Joan had immediately understood that she was in love with Sherlock, and felt for the girl a love, an affection so deep it was hard to restrain. She couldn’t resist stealing a kiss over their breakfast, or holding her hand as they walked through Hollen House park. She would link their ankles under the dinner table, and sneak into Sherlock’s room at night.
She loved her. She made Joan’s head spin and her heart beat faster.
She loved her so much that she understood what Sherlock had meant that day they ate wild honey in the shadow of an old tree.
“Well, then I’ll die for you.”
Joan loved Sherlock fiercely, like she’d never loved anyone before. And deep down, she knew she could never love someone as much as she loved Sherlock.
But it was because of that love that she felt compelled to leave. Sherlock was a rebellious sixteen-year-old with a crush, and she surely had no idea of what she was talking about. She had no idea of what she was asking Joan, when she begged her to stay and live with them.
But Joan knew, and that was exactly why she had to leave.
She had prayed, asked God to enlighten her, but she saw no other solution. She and Sherlock had no future together. In another world, another time perhaps, but not there and then.
She had to grit her teeth and do the only sensible thing: marry Mark, who had done nothing wrong to deserve someone like Joan, and try to forget Sherlock. Well, forget was the wrong word.
Cherish and lock away the memories they had made together, that she could do.
The day she told Sherlock that the next day she would have left, Sherlock despaired.
Right now, she was locked up in her room, and (judging by the noise), she was wrecking everything. She was also screaming.
Joan sat on her bed, twisting her hands in her lap, when someone knocked lightly on her door.
“Come in,” she croaked, and then cleared her throat, blinking back her tears.
Lady Holmes opened the door, looking ten years older.
“Joan, talk to her please? She won’t let anyone in. Not me, or Lady Mycroft, or her father. Not even Molly. I’m afraid she might hurt herself.”
“What makes you think she’ll let me in, your ladyship?” Joan asked tiredly.
“You know it,” Lady Holmes simply stated, then waited for Joan in the doorway.
Joan sighed and got up, a sour taste in her mouth, her legs feeling heavy.
She walked up to the door under Lady Holmes and Molly’s worried gaze.
Something heavy hit the door, and Molly flinched. That maid was scared of her own shadow.
“I said LEAVE ME ALONE!” Sherlock screamed.
Joan knocked again. “Sherlock, it’s me. Open the door.”
The noise inside the room stopped.
“Go away,” Sherlock croaked. Joan closed her eyes. Hearing Sherlock so hurt made something break inside her.
A small crowd was now gathered around the door.
Lady Holmes, Molly, Lady Mycroft, Lord Holmes, Anthea and Sally. All looking sadly at the scene in front of their eyes.
“Sherlock, let me in.”
“No. I want to talk to you.”
“Just leave me alone, please!”
The way Sherlock said “please” was so broken that Sally and Lady Holmes gasped, while Joan let her head fall against the door.
“Don’t do this, come on.”
“I said go away!”
“Let me in.”
Joan forgot that the Holmes family was standing behind her, blinded as she was by annoyance and guilt, mix that made her feel unjustifiably angry at the girl behind that door.
“SHERLOCK, YOU OPEN THIS GODDAMN DOOR THIS INSTANT! I MEAN IT! HAVE YOU HEARD ME?”
Silence fell, deafening.
Slowly the door opened. Sherlock tugged Joan in and shut it again in her family’s and servants’ faces.
Joan looked around. Sherlock had broken everything.
The lamp was on the floor in a thousand pieces, the curtains pooled in a shapeless heap right beside the bed. The pillows had been ripped, and feathers were flying everywhere.
All of her books, her belongings, her jewels, where thrown on the floor.
“Why would you do this?” Joan yelled, not even bothering to lower her voice. She hadn’t heard anyone move outside the door.
“I don’t want to talk to you.”
“Sherlock,” Joan began, but found herself with an armful of desperate sixteen-year-old.
“Please, stay,” she begged, hiding her face in Joan’s neck.
Joan fought every instinct that pushed her to wind her arms around Sherlock.
“You know I can’t.”
“WHY NOT!” Sherlock screamed, turning and kicking the broken lamp.
“Will you stop shouting?”
“I bet every person in Hollen can hear you.”
“I don’t care.”
“Well, I do. Why are you behaving like a child?”
“BECAUSE I LOVE YOU AND YOU MUST NOT LEAVE!”
Steps could be heard walking away from behind the door. They were finally giving them some privacy.
Joan did not answer, but started scooping up the various objects that had been spared by Sherlock’s wrath. She did not know what else to do.
“Why do you want to marry that man?” Sherlock suddenly asked, her voice a barely audible whisper.
“I have already told you.”
“TELL ME THE TRUTH!”
“Because I want to.”
“You don’t love him, though.”
“Yes, I do.”
Joan said it a bit too harshly. She was still trying to convince herself.
“No, you don’t. You love me and you know it, then why are you-”
“Sherlock, stop it. I love him and I intend to marry him.”
At this point, Sherlock really did go mad. She slammed her flat hands against the wall, screaming at the top of her lungs,
“YOU’RE A LIAR AND I HATE YOU! I HOPE YOU DIE AND I NEVER WANT TO SEE YOU AGAIN! I HATE YOU, I HATE YOU, I HATE YOU!”
Joan took her arms and pinned them against her back, “You’ll hurt yourself, stop it!”
Sherlock wouldn’t stop thrashing in her grip, trying to kick her. Joan was terrified.
“Stop it I said!” she yelled, turning Sherlock so that they were staring at each other, Joan’s hands shaking her shoulders.
“I HATE YOU! I HOPE YOU ROT IN HELL!” Sherlock cried, her cheeks damp with tears, her voice hoarse and her eyes blood-shod red.
All Joan wanted to do was to cradle Sherlock in her arms and hug her tightly, murmuring soothing words in her ears.
But she knew that if she did, she would have never let Sherlock go. She would have probably tried to melt their skin together, to find a way to crawl inside Sherlock’s body and become one.
So Joan did the hardest thing she had ever done in her whole life.
She turned her back to Sherlock and left, closing the door behind her.
27th December, 1926
“Go away,” Sherlock hissed, refusing to meet Joan’s eyes.
They were hiding in a huge cupboard in Buckingham Palace, where Joan had dragged her not two seconds ago.
“Sherlock, Sherlock please look at me,” Joan pleaded, the desperation in her voice ripping Sherlock’s chest apart.
It was her debutante ball, and Joan had to come and poison yet another memory.
“Why should I?”
“Please, please, Sherlock, I’m sorry, Sherlock look at me.”
Sherlock felt hot, white rage tugging at her mind.
“How dare you.”
“How dare you show up after two years and say sorry? It’s too late for that, don’t you think?”
She heard Joan suck in a hurt breath, and she laughed bitterly.
“How come you look so desperate? I remembered another story.”
“I came all the way here, from Birmingham, because I needed to see you, and-”
“Shut. Up.” Sherlock said through gritted teeth. She closed her eyes, memories of the last time she and Joan had talked flashing through her mind. She’d hurt her so much.
The day of Joan’s wedding, Sherlock went to the ceremony. She hid behind a wide tree outside the church, and waited for Joan to exit. When she did, Sherlock felt something hit her in the solar plexus, and she had to double over under the sheer intensity of her pain.
Joan was as beautiful as Sherlock had imagined her, with her white dress and a blinding smile on her face. She and Mark Morstan ran out of the church holding hands, laughing, as their friends and relatives threw the ceremonial rice at them and smiled at their evident happiness.
Sherlock turned her back to the scene and ran away.
On her way home, she had to stop multiple times to throw up on the side of the road.
“Sherlock...” Joan whispered, nudging Sherlock’s chin up with her finger.
Sherlock felt sick like she had on the day Joan got married. With a wave of nausea, she shook her head, remembering the night she went to the jazz club.
The night Joan left, Sherlock sneaked out of the house and ran to the train station. She jumped on the first one and fidgeted for the whole ride. As soon as she was in London, she hailed a cab and gave the coachman the jazz club address.
When she entered, her stomach sank. Another band was on the stage. Victoria had left.
Sherlock felt like she was suffocating. She had no one anymore. No one.
She didn’t love Victoria, but she was funny and beautiful and tasted like danger. And she had offered Sherlock an opportunity to leave all that aristocratic nonsense behind, to be just Sherlock, and not a Holmes.
But now, not even Victoria could help her.
“Sherlock!” a happy voice shouted from behind her.
“Irene,” Sherlock said with relief, hugging the girl tightly to her chest.
“Hey noble girl, are you alright?” Irene asked, worried, running her long fingers through Sherlock’s hair.
Sherlock straightened up and forced a smile. “Yeah, all is fine.”
Irene eyed her sceptically, but before she could say anything, Sherlock was running towards the bar, ordering “The strongest giggle water you have.”
She drank and drank, then danced, and drank some more, all under Irene’s worried, watchful gaze.
“Are you sure you’re alright?” Irene asked for the millionth time, and Sherlock huffed, annoyed.
But as she was about to answer, the band started playing a song about a lost love, and Sherlock found herself crying. Irene winced, before cradling Sherlock in her arms and holding her tightly against her.
“Oh, baby,” Irene murmured, crying with her.
After a while, Irene took Sherlock by the hand and guided her towards her room, where she’d usually have her encounters with men.
She lay Sherlock down on the neatly made bed and kissed her forehead.
“Love will kill me, how does one survive this?” Sherlock sobbed, and Irene caressed her cheek.
“It’ll pass, little bird,” she whispered soothingly, “Try to calm down, everything will be alright, Irene is here for you...”
Irene may not have ever been in love, but she knew everything about it.
Sherlock couldn’t look Joan in the eye, so she snatched her head away, letting her gaze drop again. It was then that she noticed Joan’s small bump for the first time.
“You’re pregnant,” she whispered in horror, and Joan had the decency to look away.
“Never speak to me again,” Sherlock hissed, and exited the cupboard.
12th January, 1927
Just ring the doorbell. Just ring it. Come on, Sherlock. Ring it.
With a last deep breath, Sherlock closed her eyes, and before she could change her mind for the thousandth time, she pressed the pad of her thumb on Joan Watson’s (Morstan, her mind corrected) house, in Birmingham.
In the long minute it took the maid to open, Sherlock thought of running away and changed her mind twenty-nine times.
“Yes?” the maid asked, smiling.
“Is Jo-” Sherlock’s voice broke when she said her friend’s name.
She tried again. “Is Mrs. Morstan home?”
The maid nodded, “She’s upstairs.”
“Would you mind telling her there’s a bee charmer from Hollen village for her?”
The maid seemed taken aback.
Sherlock sighed. “Just tell her there’s a friend of hers from Hollen village.”
“Would you want to come in, ma’am?”
“No, thank you. I’ll wait outside.”
This said, the maid nodded one last time and disappeared inside the house.
Sherlock fixed her hair and straightened her dress. Her stomach was somersaulting in her body, and she kept fidgeting on the spot.
When Joan appeared in the doorway, she froze.
Sherlock tried to look indifferent, even if her palms were sweating and her ears were on fire.
“Listen, I don’t want to bother you. I know you’re happy and all the rest, but I just wanted to tell you that I never hated you and I never will. I still love you and I always will, and I’ll always wish for you to come back to us, but I understa-”
“Who’s that?” Mark Morstan shouted from somewhere within the house. He sounded drunk, and when she heard his voice, Joan flinched.
Sherlock narrowed her eyes, “Is everything okay?”
Joan didn’t answer, and Sherlock started walking backwards towards her car.
“I’ll go no- I just wanted to let you know that I... And if you need anything... I have to go now.”
She jumped in the car. “Oh, and congratulations,” she added, waving at Joan’s swollen belly.
Sherlock started the car and took off, barely holding back her tears.
Joan hadn’t said a word.
28th February, 1927
Sherlock read the letter for the fifth time since she had entered Lord Lestrade’s car.
God, writing this letter is harder than I thought it would be.
I want to start by saying that I know I have no right for to ask for your help, and that I’m sorry if this letter feels like a slap in the face after all I’ve done to you. And trust me, if it were for me, I would have never dared writing you. But that is the thing: this is not about me. I have another life to take care for, a life that depends on me and me only.
My child will be born in two months (the doctor estimates in late May) and I find myself scared. I can’t allow my baby lives in this house.
Let me explain.
As you know, Mr. Morstan and I met at the tavern. We got to know each other over pints of beer, and I have never had anything against his drinking habit. It was no worse than mine.
But recently, his habit has turned a bit... excessive, we may say.
I wish I could keep you in the dark, but as I already told you, I owe my child a safe environment.
He has started to beat me.
Initially I thought his rage was directed towards me only, so I took it all in silence. I thought perhaps he’ll stop, eventually. And he had stopped, when I told him I was pregnant. He cared about the baby. Please notice the past tense.
Last week he pushed me down the stairs. I lost some blood and had to run to the doctor. Luckily, the child is fine, but that was the last straw. When I came back home I asked Mark if he loves our child. He was almost sober, and yet he said he didn’t. He has beaten me other times since last week and now I’m sure: he’ll hit the baby too in the future. I’m not naïve, nor a fool. I know men like that will never change.
If I were the only one living with him, I’d grit my teeth and shut up. I was the one who got herself in this mess. But Sherlock, I need to take care of my baby.
I’m writing you not to ask for protection, or a shelter. I’m asking you to merely come and pick me up. I’m scared of his reaction should he find out I’m leaving.
Maybe your father could scare him off? He doesn’t care about me, he’ll probably accept a small bribe for his wounded honour and then he’ll tell everyone I got locked up in some madhouse or something.
I’m sorry, so sorry. I don’t want you to think I’m writing you just because I need help.
I love you, Sherlock. I know I don’t deserve forgiveness and I’m not asking for it.
I just thought I needed to tell you.
I love you, my bee charmer.
Sherlock crumpled the letter in her fist. Beside her, Mycroft placed her hand on her arm, soothing her with her strong presence.
Ten minutes later, they were in front of the Morstans’ house.
Lord Lestrade got down the car with his chauffeur (Mike Stamford, maybe), who opened the back door for Sherlock and Mycroft, who was gripping onto Greta’s hand as if her life depended on it.
Another car pulled up beside theirs, and seconds later Lord and Lady Holmes, along with their chauffeur, Sam Weems, a quite large and threatening man, were standing behind Sherlock.
Her father placed his large hand on Sherlock’s shoulder.
“Ready?” he asked.
Sherlock nodded. In that instant, a very pregnant Joan threw the door opened. She had a black eye, and multiple bruises on her arm. They were shaped like fingers.
Sherlock had never felt so angry and disgusted in her whole life.
“Where’s your luggage?” she asked, and Joan looked up.
“Mycroft, Greta, you go with Mike and get Joan’s stuff. Father, Lord Lestrade, Sam, you come with me. Mother, you take care of Joan.”
This said, Sherlock ran inside the house, ignoring Joan’s weak attempts to hold her back. Her mother wound her arms around Joan’s waist and dragged her towards the car.
“What’s going on?” Mark Morstan growled from his armchair.
He was pathetic.
“It looks like your wife is leaving you, sir,” Sam said politely, crossing his huge arms in front of his muscular chest.
Sherlock watched in sick amusement as Mr. Morstan paled at the sight of Sam.
Her father took a step forward, “Now, may we introduce ourselves? I’m Lord Holmes of Hollen, and this is my daughter, Lady Sherlock Holmes. This gentleman on my right is Lord Lestrade, and he lives in London. Forgive my rudeness for telling you in all frankness that meeting you is not a pleasure. Mrs. Morstan, you see, is a very old and dear family friend, and it has come to our attention that her husband wasn’t behaving rightly towards her. We wanted to let you now that your wife is now under our protection, and we would be glad to offer you some money to promise us you will never come looking for her.”
Siger took out of his pocket some banknotes and threw them on the floor at Mr. Morstan’s feet.
The man tried to stutter something out, but nothing came out of his mouth.
“I’m glad to see we are all on the same page,” Lord Lestrade chirped happily, patting Lord Holmes on the back.
Greta poked her head in the room, “The luggage and Joan are all ready to leave,” she said.
Sherlock glared at Mr. Morstan one last time, “If I ever see your face again, I will kill you,” she threatened, then left the room.
She went on the car with her mother and Joan, and they took off. They could hear Mark screaming from behind them.
“Joan,” Sherlock started carefully, but the girl shushed her.
“Before you say anything, know this: I’m not some damsel in distress. Don’t you dare tiptoeing around me from now on. Don’t you ever, ever think you have saved me, that you’re my protector. We’re just Sherlock and Joan, alright? And I am not broken. You can wipe that stupid look off your face this instant.”
Sherlock stared at her. She wasn’t a victim, as Sherlock had pictured her while she was driving to Birmingham. She was a survivor, Sherlock realised.
“I just wanted to tell you that you look like a hot-air balloon.”
Joan laughed, and Sherlock knew she’d never been happier in her life.
Joan walked down the familiar stairs, passing her hand on the handrail.
Home, she thought. She finally was at Hollen House and she felt completely, utterly at home.
Slowly, she approached the library, where she knew Lord and Lady Holmes were probably sipping their post-lunch tea.
She knocked on the door, and Lord Holmes’s voice answered, “Come in.”
Lady Holmes appeared surprised to see her, and immediately got up to help her walk to the armchair.
“I wanted to thank you for giving me my old room back,” she said, after Lady Holmes had fussed over her, offering he at least fifty pillows and a cup of tea.
“Don’t mention it, silly,” she replied, smiling warmly at Joan. How could they still smile at her after all she’d done?
“I have no money and nothing to offer you. But I can work. If you allow me, I promise I’ll never leave again. I was foolish three years ago. I was insecure and scared, and I was wrong. Of course I’ll understand if you don’t want anything to do with me anymore, but if you let me, I can promise you I’ll never hurt her anymore. I will try to make up for all the pain I know I have caused her. You have my word.”
While speaking, Joan hadn’t looked up from her steaming tea.
When she finally did, she found that both Lord and Lady Holmes’s were on the verge of tears.
“Joan,” Lady Holmes said, after a few moments, “We wouldn’t like anything more than for you to come back here.”
Joan had hoped to hear those words, and yet, when they were uttered, she felt breathless.
“And of course you’ll have to do nothing to be here. You and your child are under our protection. Aren’t they, Siger?”
Lord Holmes smiled at his wife, then he turned towards Joan once again.
“Absolutely. And please, Joan. No more ‘your lordship’ and ‘your ladyship’ nonsense from now on. We are just Siger and Violet to you.”
Joan didn’t know what to do, what to say. She was overwhelmed.
Lady Holmes (Violet, Joan thought, she was allowed to call her Violet) nodded emphatically.
“You’re family, Joan. And we couldn’t be happier in our daughter’s choice of companion.”
A sob ripped through Joan, and seconds later she was enveloped in a bone-crushing hug by Violet.
“We have taken the liberty to invite your parents for dinner tonight,” Siger said, “We haven’t told them why you’re here, we thought you might want to tell your side of the story yourself.”
Joan thanked them countless times, hugging and kissing them. It was all a bit ridiculous, but Joan had never felt more relieved, more accepted.
Then she ran out, where Sherlock was waiting for her lying on the grass.
“Have you cried again?” she asked, arching an eyebrow at Joan.
Joan sat down beside her and kissed her. God, it felt amazing.
She leaned back, leaving Sherlock staring at her with a dazzled expression.
“I remember you once cried for a bloody bee, silly.”
Sherlock laughed her twinkling, magical laughter and Joan silently thanked God and all the saints for giving her a second chance.
18th July, 1994
Joan listened to the bees buzzing in the field through the open window. She smiled when, along with the familiar chorus of the insects, a beloved voice started to sing.
She could listen to those sounds forever.
Joan fell asleep.
She woke up some time later, when the afternoon light was long gone and Sherlock was breathing evenly on the pillow beside her. With great effort, she tried to turn on her side. After a while, she finally managed to face Sherlock. That small movement caused her head to spin, and she was panting, breathless.
“You shouldn’t move like that,” Sherlock mumbled, and Joan smiled weakly.
“You could have helped, moron.”
Sherlock cracked one eye open, “I thought that we learn from our experiences,” she said, trying to sound innocent.
Joan laughed softly, then whispered, “I love you.”
“I told you to stop, stop saying it like every time might be the last time-”
“Shush love. We have already discussed this. Now stop talking, I need to sleep.”
“You’re insufferable,” Sherlock scoffed, but placed her hand on Joan’s cheek, her eyes bright with unshed tears.
Joan fell asleep.
When she woke up, it was to a hand holding hers. She blinked and found Hamish’s worried eyes staring at her.
“Mom,” he murmured, caressing her face with his other hand.
“My Hamish,” Joan whispered back, smiling at him.
“Sherlock said you have been asleep for sixteen hours.”
Was it a bad or a good thing? Joan couldn’t remember.
“Where is she?”
Hamish smiled at his mother, then cocked his head towards the window.
“Where do you think she might be? She’s out there singing to her bees.”
“I wish I could go outside,” she said, and Hamish suddenly looked sad again.
“Do you need anything?” he asked, staring at her with a serious expression.
“No dear, I have Sherlock.”
“Yeah Mom but, I mean, do you need me to change your catheter or mix your meds?”
“I have Sherlock,” Joan repeated.
“Mom, I was a doctor before I retired, I am perfectly capable to hel-”
“Let her help me, it makes her feel better.”
Hamish sighed, passing a hand through his grey hair.
“Were you always so old?” Joan asked, and Hamish laughed.
“I’m not even seventy, mom.”
“You’re an old man, Hamish.”
“Says who,” he muttered, and they both burst out laughing.
When the laughter died down, Hamish murmured, “If you ever need anything-”
“Honey,” Joan interrupted him, “I have Sherlock. I don’t need anything else.”
Hamish smiled sadly then nodded.
Joan fell asleep again.
When she woke up, Hamish was gone.
“These bloody meds you keep insisting shooting in my veins,” she grumbled, staring at Sherlock changing into her pyjamas.
“What about them?” she asked, without even turning to look at Joan.
“They make me so sleepy I fucking feel I’m narcoleptic.”
Sherlock turned slowly, “Did you just swear?”
“Sod off,” Joan hissed, and Sherlock laughed.
She approached the bed and slid inside beside Joan, snuggling in her side.
“Good night, Joan.”
Sherlock peered up at her, “Mmh?”
“I love you.”
Sherlock narrowed her eyes, but before Joan could hear what she had to say, she fell asleep.
A chorus of voices woke her up the next morning, and she found her four grandchildren all gathered around her bed, while Sherlock talked to Hamish and his wife Elizabeth in a corner of the room.
“Hey there,” Joan grinned at her four grandchildren, all between the age of twenty and thirty-seven.
“Where are your beautiful wives and children?” she asked the two eldest, Eric and Charles, and they pointed at the garden. She turned her head and saw three children playing among Sherlock’s hives, while two women chatted amiably on the grass.
“And you Scott? Where’s your boyfriend?”
Scott, twenty-nine years old and still looking like he was sixteen, smiled at his grandmother, “He’s in New Zealand for work.”
“And why on earth aren’t you there with him?”
Scott shuffled awkwardly on his feet, and Joan rolled her eyes, miffed.
Why were they all dancing around it like some idiots? She fucking knew she was going to be dead soon, why the hell were they tiptoeing around her like that?
“And what about you Marie, no boyfriends or girlfriends?”
Her youngest grandchild shook her head, swallowing hard. God, not the tears. She wasn’t dead and they were all grieving her already.
“Come on, tell me everything. How is life going, my beautiful buttercups?”
They went away a few hours later, after having updated Joan on their lives and fussed over her. She also managed to play with her great-grandchildren for a while. They lay on the bed with their toys and Joan helped them build their lego constructions.
When they all went away, Joan was exhausted. Sherlock had talked to Hamish and Lizzie for the whole afternoon, and now they had moved the conversation to the kitchen.
Joan rang the bell on her night stand.
Sherlock arrived immediately, followed by Hamish and Lizzie.
“Joan, what’s it? Are you alright?”
“I missed you.”
Sherlock let out a relieved laugh, then sank on the chair beside Joan’s head.
“Silly woman,” she said, petting Joan’s hair. She stared at Sherlock’s beautiful eyes, remembering the first time she saw them, in that little church, so long ago. They had lost their young brightness, and were now opaque, but they still told endless stories to Joan.
“I love you, Sherlock.”
Sherlock took in a painful breath and lowered her head, touching their foreheads together.
Joan closed her eyes and leant into the touch.
She fell asleep.
She was woken up by a kiss on her cheek, but she was still too tired to react and open her eyes.
“Bye bye mom,” Lizzie murmured. Joan always loved it when Lizzie called her mom.
“Goodbye Sherlock, and remember our offer,” Lizzie continued, her voice a bit far from Joan now.
“Sherlock please, think about it. She’s dyi-”
“She’s not!” Sherlock snarled.
Joan heard only silence, and all she wanted to do was get up and cradle Sherlock in her arms.
“I don’t know how to live without her,” Sherlock finally whispered, and Joan’s heart broke a bit. Why couldn’t she stay for Sherlock? She needed her.
“That’s why we offered you to come live with us after... ya know,” Lizzie said.
“We have a nice garden for your hives, and Marie comes home from uni for every holiday and long weekend, while Eric and Charles leave us the children to baby-sit almost every day. You wouldn’t be alone, and we would be more than happy to hav-”
“To what? To take care of an old woman and her bees? Just because you pity me? Just because you think you owe Joan to look after me?”
Silence stretched on. And on. And on.
“Sherlock,” Hamish said, his voice trembling. He was crying, Joan realised.
“You’re my mother too.”
Joan smiled. Sherlock wouldn’t be alone. Sherlock was going to be fine.
Joan let go.