Late evening, and Joan is in the kitchen washing up her cup.
There is a pause as the darkness descends. A surprised silence and only the sound of the water running.
"I have a torch, Watson," calls out Sherlock, appearing in the kitchen with a flashlight. Its yellowish glow sends eerie shadows spidering across his face.
Joan stands still at the sink, hands under the running tap, remembers to turn it off. "Is it just us?" The brownstone has ancient wiring. Only the parts required to maintain Sherlock's high tech hobbies have been renewed. Less vital aspects - heating, stove, lighting - are probably a hundred years old.
"No, the whole street. I'm going up to check the bees, want to come?" He is dancing from toe to toe in T shirt and scruffy jeans.
"No, I'm good, thanks. I'll look for candles."
"We haven't got any," he says casually, leaving the kitchen, and her in darkness. "They're a fire hazard!" he calls back, haring up the stairs.
She sighs. Ask him if there is milk, and he has no idea. But of course he knows immediately that candles do not exist in the house. He probably used them in some experiment which required hot wax.
In the dark, hands dripping as she fumbled for the towel, Joan has an instant thought of an activity which might require hot wax. Startles herself - she generally tries not to think about Sherlock's sex life, even when a girl in obvious professional gear turns up with a bag which clanks ominously- but accepts that it is indeed a possible reason why he knows there are no candles.
Ok, rational thought now. Dry hands. The kitchen is dark and Sherlock is on the roof with the only known source of light.
She steps cautiously into the living room. All TVs off, a very faint glow from the IPad, running on battery. Thinking this, she takes her phone out of her pocket and uses its dim blue light to navigate the room, figuring it is worth checking the breakers anyway in case Sherlock is wrong about it being a general power cut.
"There's a torch app on your phone - but better not use it as it runs down the battery," Sherlock says, close behind her.
She jumps. He has crept in, silent as a cat, the flashlight switched off.
"Conserving power," he says, as if he can see her glance at the unused torch. "Don't know when we're going to get a chance to charge it up again."
"What? When the power comes back on, presumably."
"I have a rather pessimistic feeling about that. Come and look."
He reaches out, finds her hand, wraps his calloused palm around hers. "The eyes adjust surprisingly quickly to low light levels," he says. "It has been less than six minutes and already I can make out your face quite clearly."
She rolls her eyes as he leads her up the stairs. Trust him to start cataloguing blackout phenomena.
"For example, you just rolled your eyes," he says, ahead of her.
"You have your back to me."
"I felt the gesture through your fingers. You clenched. There are many ways of seeing, Watson, of perceiving, of knowing." He is gleeful.
It is no surprise to disover that Sherlock relishes a crisis, even a mundane one like a power outage.
They reach the roof. "Mind the apiary," says Sherlock and guides Joan around the various vents and skylights making lumps in the flat roof.
They stand at the parapet.
New York is dark.
"It's not just our block," breathes Sherlock. He is leaning forward, drinking it in, the strangeness of seeing their city without lights. "It's everywhere."
Joan sees twinkles in the sky - planes circling over the airport, unable to land. She wonders what they do when the power goes at air traffic control. They must have generators. Like at the hospitals.
It is very dark without even streetlights. There is noise, raw noise, people only noise, sharp and undamped by the normal background hum of the city.
Cars' engines are individually audible as they pass.
"Look how people turn their faces towards the headlights," says Sherlock, pointing. Some people along the street have come outside and are standing looking around, uncertain, no plan now that the tv and computers are off. Their faces are lit briefly as a car passes. "A natural human impulse, to seek out the light."
When there are no cars in the street, it is hard to see the people there at all.
Joan shivers. "I hope this doesn't last too long," she says.
Sherlock laughs, sweeps his arm around to indicate the horizon. "Look at it, Watson. The whole of New York is without power. It will take them a while to fix this."
She feels him take her hand again, the movement sure and quick. "Want to go for a walk?"
"In the city? In total darkness?" She thinks: danger, looting, crime. Misrule.
Sherlock lives for misrule. "Of course!" He grabs her shoulders, swings her round and round. "Adventure, Watson! Anything could happen. And anyway, it won't be in total darkness. We have a torch."
"Put warm clothes on," Sherlock says, pushing open Joan's door. "We could be out for a while."
She lets go of his hand - had not realised that she was holding him rather than the other way around - and enters the room. Goes to the wardrobe. She is wearing sweats, post her evening shower, and it would be better to be in jeans, sweater, coat. She reaches to pull her sweat top over her head, then turns round. "Do you mind? Don't watch me!"
Sherlock has followed her into the room and is sitting on her bed. "It's dark," he says. Not denying it.
"My eyes have adjusted and I can see that you're watching me."
"I'm a male, following a natural male urge to watch females," he says in reply and flings himself back on her bed, hands behind his head and with his face turned deliberately up towards the ceiling as she peels off sweats and climbs into jeans, long sleeved tee, sweater. Sherlock is right. If they are out longer than intended (misrule!) they could get cold. It is not even midnight yet.
Maybe another sweater. She reaches into the closet again and pulls out an item of unfamiliar texture. Squints at it in the monochrome darkness. Some kind of pattern running all around the shoulders and neck. Fair isle.
"This is your sweater!"
Sherlock holds out a hand for it.
She drops it onto him. "Why is your sweater in my bedroom?"
"I got too warm, took it off."
This in a tone of total honesty. He does lie, obviously, constantly really, but he can also be completely honest. It makes him hard to figure out. OK, impossible to figure out. Joan knows he uses the honesty to disarm her, to get under her guard because she has been expecting lies.
"What were you doing in my room?" she asks calmly, keeping her voice slow and even. She doesn't want to have an argument about it, but they have had this boundaries conversation a few times and Sherlock still does not get it. There are no boundaries, there is only him and the world.
She thinks, if he says, Watching you sleep, she is going to have to ... do something. Too creepy. Too close!
"Fixing your sash window," he says. "It never closed properly before."
She looks, can't see it clearly in the dark. Has not opened the window in ages because it is impossible to get shut again. "Oh. Thank you."
He sits up, puts on the sweater. "Can we go now?"
They walk out onto the street and they are not alone. Lots of other people are outside, have come out to see what's happening, swap amazement with their neighbours, look around and see if anywhere is still functioning.
The shop on the corner is still open and the owner has flashlights on inside. People are congregating, their voices loud with the excitement of the unknown, but also tense.
Joan can hear a baby crying.
"OK," she says, "where are we going?"
"Over the bridge. I want to get a good look at what's really happening."
He has his hands in his pockets, strolling along as if everything is normal.
"Sherlock, remember that flashlight?" she says as they pass between two tall buildings and it is really very dark. "I don't want to fall and break an ankle because you're saving the battery."
"And I don't want to be the only people with light in a darkened world," he says. "Attracts too much of the wrong sort of attention."
She thinks this is a little melodramatic and says so.
"Watson, there is a saying that every dog is only three missed meals away from being a wolf. Regardless of the heartwarming spirit shown during the great blackout of 1973, most power outages which last more than a day result in extreme behaviours of one form or another. I don't want to get caught up in anything extreme unless I have to."
Unless he has to? Joan wonders if this unlit wander has been such a good idea after all.
She runs every day and is used to the scale of the city. At walking pace it is even bigger. On the bridge they stop, look down towards the water. It is not visible, just audible, an expanse flowing around the various islands which make up the great city. "It's like Copenhagen" says Sherlock. "Water between the buildings, and the sea is never far away. Listen."
They stand, hearing the waves against the bridge pillars. "We never do this," says Joan. "It's just not possible normally."
"I've been waiting for something like this for a long time," says Sherlock. He looks up. "Let's move."
He holds out his hand to her and she takes it.
She listens to him as they walk briskly along. She is listening with her ears - he is talking, he has to talk, it is his default state - and he is detailing the statistics of the post -Sandy fallout, the part which relate specifically to no power as opposed to flood damage - but she is also listening with her hand, as he did to her earlier.
His hand is warm. Sherlock is always warm, when he is thinking heat radiates from him as if his furnace has been stoked to the maximum - and never still. He is full of nervous energy, his fingers transmitting excitement as he tells her about the awful things which people resorted to in the crisis. She can feel tension in his fingers, rising and being released as he has a thought and then speaks it. He cannot contain all the nervous energy he is capable of. It is one of the things she loves about him.
Her own hand grips his tightly as she thinks this, tries to unthink it, tries to stop herself but of course this has only meant that he has definitely felt her think something extreme.
"Nothing, I'm fine."
He peers at her curiously. They walk on.
Joan leaves her hand in his but tries to make it still, passive, a hand being held for purely practical reasons. Now she is very conscious of his skin against hers, the lively fingers curling and releasing around her own.
She loves him. Of course she does, she acknowledged this a long time ago. sShe cares for him as a friend, as a human being, has risked everything to protect him, stay with him, look after him.
But here in the dark, her own thoughts told her that she also loves him as a man. For his energy, his strangeness, his pure physicality.
That is slightly more awkward.
Also, temporary. It is the crisis. Sherlock was saying just a moment ago that danger engenders atypical behaviour. Here is hers. The combination of darkness and skin on skin contact with Sherlock, told her subconscious that desire is required. Ok. Moving on.
"Hey, you need a ride?"
A guy on a road cleaning truck slows down beside them, his headlights the only bright thing, dazzling them. "You two stuck out here on the bridge? Hop on."
"Thank you, says Sherlock. "That's very generous."
"No problem," says the guy as they clamber awkwardly into the high cab. Joan is squashed against Sherlock's knee, his long legs bent up in the footwell. "People have to help each other in a crisis." The truck driver is a large man, spread over the seat of the cab, and Joan feels uncomfortable being pressed up against him. She shifts a little as the truck trundles away, its engine sending vibrations through the entire chassis. In order to move away from the driver she must press closely against Sherlock. They are not physically in proximity like this usually. But this is not usually.
She can feel how warm he is, the solid muscles in his leg. Knows that her own leg is growing warm at the contact. Blushes furiously and is glad of the darkness.
Sherlock looks at Joan by the dashboard light and she sees his eyes wide, bright, calculating, wondering.
She looks straight ahead as they drive over the water and into the heart of the city.
"Now we approach it, Watson." They are in the financial district, Wall Street, smooth shiny skyscrapers on all sides, interspersed with bleak concrete plazas proclaiming the levels of wealth which can afford to have thirty yards of nothing in the heart of the most expensive city in the world.
"Not even tenth most," corrects Sherlock to her comment. "Sidney, Tokyo, Osaka and Oslo are the most expensive."
Joan has to think where Oslo is. Finland? "Norway," says Sherlock without being asked. They are using the flashlight now.
He insisted on coming this way, wants to see something, even though there is, Joan thinks, a smaller likelihood of excitement among these steel and glass fortresses. She is pleased at least that he has not led them into the subway or across some wind-scorched parking lot thronging with unseen muggers. There are limits to misrule.
Her limits. And her limits are always stretched, sometimes snapped, by his. That is how this works. He needs, they do.
She is sure there is something deeply unhealthy about this. And yet here she is.
There are, surprisingly, people around. "All night financial traders," says Sherlock.
The workers have taken the opportunity to stand outside and smoke. There is a sense of a crowd, but only their cigarettes can be seen, orange dots in a haze of smoke. A low chatter, stamping of feet and restless movements.
"Wait," says Joan. "What about trading?"
"Exactly," says Sherlock. "What about it? America's markets have just experienced a hiatus. Normal service will be resumed... not shortly at all." He gives a hollow laugh.
He is squinting up at the dark towers around them. There is light, now, inside - a dim glow. "Emergency generators," says Sherlock. "Not sure it will do what they hope, however."
As they watch, the lights inside the building before them flicker, grow dim, flare up again. "Yes," says Sherlock, "rather unreliable, these emergency plans."
He is scanning the darkened plaza in front of the stock exchange. Joan can make out nothing beyond the glare of the flashlight but Sherlock's eyes are roving.
"There," he says suddenly, and takes off, the flashlight's beam bouncing and juddering.
Joan exclaims, pounds after him, fearing the unseen surface of the plaza, the low concrete benches, the occasional abstract sculptures. Sherlock is a silhouette against the yellow beam, bounding over an ornamental oblong pool, leaping to grab the arm of a man in a suit making a phone call.
"Evening!" he says, keeping the flashlight in the man's face with one hand. Joan gets a glimpse of a thin face, compressed mouth. With his other hand Sherlock holds up his phone and takes a photo. "Must dash, bye."
He leaps away again and Joan, almost running straight into him, has to dodge and veer off after him in the new direction.
He leads, she follows. Will it always be like this?
They find a stall open and selling coffee to what would have been the theatre crowds milling about on Broadway. The stall is doing a roaring trade, running hot water off a generator, one of the little pools of light left on the streets. Suddenly, market traders are the kings of the retail world as shops and theatres have closed their doors.
Joan hands Sherlock his coffee. He takes it, watches her face.
She sighs, moves out of the light a little. Sherlock's attention is knife sharp at normal times, and tonight it is as if he is pure blade, slicing up the possibilities offered by the blackout. "OK, what was that about?"
"A burgeoning interest in low light photography," says Sherlock. His voice, light and careless as ever, nonetheless holds a bite.
Joan shook her head. "You recognised him, took his picture."
Sherlock is standing with his face half lit by bulbs around the awning of the coffee stall. It gives him a fairground air, like a showman barking the punters into his tent. "That man is the disaster recovery consultant for the New York Stock Exchange. And yet he was outside taking a break during what I think fully qualifies as a disaster."
"You know him," says Joan.
Sherlock curled his lip disdainfully. "He asked my advice a while ago. I refused to give it."
She thinks. All around them people are doing what she and Sherlock are doing: wandering, living the crisis, on edge but still OK, it is temporary, the power will soon be back and meanwhile there is plenty to marvel at in this city gone dark. "He wanted your advice on a total blackout."
Sherlock is watching her. Waiting for her to make the connection.
Oh. She feels her face drop in realisation.
"My thought exactly, Watson."
The first sign of trouble comes as they walk along Broadway. The street is crowded, and theatre goers and restaurant customers, having given up on continuing their evening, are trying to get home. Joan ducks aside from a scuffle over a vacant cab when two groups spot it simultaneously. Joan steps aside straight into a woman close beside her, apologises, and when she looks round Sherlock is gone. After a moment she spots him, a head backlit by the flashlight beam, and yells. He comes back, working through the press of bodies.
"If we lose each other, hold up the flashlight," she tells him. "I can find you."
"Then stay close by me," he says. "It's no good if I haven't noticed you've gone." He takes her hand again with a slightly grim look.
There is yelling where the taxi is refusing to take either set of passengers, and others have joined in, suggesting that they'll take the cab if these people don't want it...
"Where are we headed?" Joan asks Sherlock.
"The substation by City Hall. Given that it provides access to one of the key power hubs in the city, we can expect to see some action there."
They are walking next to the park, a well of deep blackness in an already black world. Fewer people are around this area. Joan wonders if this is cause or effect: more light towards Wall Street, so people have moved – or more people there, so light has moved. She imagines light following humanity around through the ages, fire, then electricity illuminating everyday lives.
Sherlock keeps glancing at her, his profile lit by the flashlight beam. "Might be a bit of trouble," he says with a distinctly guilty air, as if he knows he ought to have told her before.
As if he is certain of it.
She narrows her eyes, not that he can see this in the dark.
"Just so you know," he adds. Duty discharged. Now it is her fault if she continues to walk with him. As if she has a choice.
Joan can hear more clearly now they are out of the throng. The park, which is a blank in vision, is very audible. She can make out voices, footsteps, unseen movement, and the trees moving in the breeze. She cannot remember ever having heard trees blowing in the wind, in the middle of the city before.
There is a sense of much activity just the other side of the railing.
Homeless people, she thinks. There are meant to be no homeless in New York's parks, but of course this is a fact created by elected officials. Their eyes must have adjusted completely to the darkness.
"I can hear people moving around in there," she says.
"When you live in subways and abandoned buildings you are accustomed to regarding electricity as a bonus, not a right," says Sherlock.
They reach the substation, an oddly grand building in miniature, as if a Greek temple has been shrunk and placed opposite the City Hall park's north exit. There is a utilitarian metal door under the portico, and steps descending to a basement level and another door.
Sherlock checks both doors but they are locked. "Nobody here," he says, and Joan cannot tell if he is surprised.
They walk around and establish that the building is in darkness and apparently empty.
"It's late," said Joan. "What are you expecting to find?"
They are standing in the narrow alley between the substation building and a red brick office supplies store to its right.
Sherlock has the flashlight directed at the substation walls, close to the ground, but then he stops, lifts his head, listening. A minivan roars up to the front of the substation and stops with a screech of brakes and tires.
"That," Sherlock says on a note of alarm. He flicks the flashlight off and shoves it into the back of his jeans.
"Why -" Joan begins as they hear but don't see the minivan's doors open and shut. Footsteps coming swiftly along the alley towards them.
Sherlock slams her against the shadowed wall, her head flying back towards the brickwork, saved at the last second from concussion by his hand grabbing the back of her head. His hand makes contact with the wall instead and he bites back a yowl, pressing his body tight against hers and raising his finger to her lips as she starts to protest.
She stops. His face is just a silhouette against the dim glow from the braziers but he is breathing heavily, nose breathing, mouth tight shut: fear.
Why is Sherlock afraid? She cannot think of anything he fears.
He presses his cheek to hers and breathes into her ear, "Silence."
She stays still, crushing her shoulder blades on scratchy bricks, feeling his heart beating wildly through his chest to hers.
Three men walk past them then pause. Sound of a cigarette being lit. Joan can see over Sherlock's shoulder in the light thrown out by the minivan headlamps. Two of the men are wearing high viz vests, peaked caps and work boots with the cuffs broad and open at the calf. They are carrying metal tool boxes, the kind shaped like a small house. Electricians, she thinks. The third man is in a suit.
They are standing ten feet away in the alley, their own flashlights creating circles of light at their feet. They are looking at the substation, not the building where Joan and Sherlock are pressed together.
"You know what's needed," says the third, suited man.
"Go to fix the problem, don't fix it. Yeah, I think we got it," the first electrician says sarcastically.
"Hey. I asked you a question is all. I'm paying you, and you'll be wise to remember that."
He has an accent but Joan cannot place it. Sherlock has gone still, that poised mode he has when accessing memory. She can feel it, the knife- edge readiness in his hand on her arm, his hips resting on hers.
"We got it," repeats the contractor sullenly.
"So go do it."
The electricians walk past Joan and Sherlock, six feet away, and go round to the back of the substation.
The man in the suit watches them go.
"He's going to see us when he turns round," breathes Sherlock, hot in her ear. "Are you ready to run?"
She nods, loosens her hands, which she realises have been gripping his shoulders.
The next second, bright light swings in their direction. Suit man has pulled out a flashlight.
"Hey you, lovebirds! Get outta here!"
He is coming closer.
"Run," says Sherlock, and they run.
Author's note: More poetic licence with New York locations... I am shrinking time and distance in a Tardislike way but this is to move the story along and so they don't spend all night just walking. Hope you like where it's going and please let me know your thoughts! -Sef
They run through anonymous streets. Sherlock pulls the flashlight out of his jeans once they turn the corner, and guides them, holding Joan's hand tightly, until finally they stop in a street where there are people again, a throng of power outage defiers who have stepped into the city to party while the lights are off. There are restaurants and takeout places, plus travel agencies with the signs in Chinese, and a festival atmosphere which Joan finds somewhat shocking after the tension in the alley.
The restaurants are open - candles on the tables. "Come on," says Sherlock, heading for a Chinese place.
"No," he says, "Light. More light."
He tucks the flashlight under his arm and leads her up the steps into the restaurant. He looks around, sees what he is after in a jar on the counter. Brandishes a handful of glowsticks at her. "They give them to the children." He offers the owner cash for them. The man smiles, accepts the note, gestures goodwill at them both.
"Just a backup," says Sherlock, outside again in the fresh night air. "In case we get separated. No batteries, reasonable life, and easier to put in your pocket than a candle." He gives her a bundle of them, puts some for himself in his inside jacket pocket.
They sit on a low wall beside a parking lot, people swirling through the street, and get their breath back properly. Candlelight illuminates the scene, giving it a medieval aspect.
Joan hears many languages, and laughter as people from different cultures swap cheery greetings in the near darkness. Thumbs ups and the smile which says, We are New Yorkers and this? This doesn't even slow us down.
Sherlock looks around in satisfaction. "There is insufficient diversity in modern urban life, Watson. We are too infrequently exposed to the new and the strange. Society wraps us in the familiar and the routine and we embrace it. We have lost our fearlessness."
She remembers the alley. "You were scared back there. I felt your respiratory pattern change. Why?"
He gives her a look - pleased that she detected this. "I hoped that this would turn out to be a software thing," he says. "A system interference. The kinds of people who would do that are certainly linked to more unpleasant types, but the unpleasant types remain in the background."
He calls out in Mandarin to a street seller with LED Christmas lights draped around her body, and purchases two sodas. Cracks one open, hands it to Joan. "But it is more than that. They have taken out the power and also they have committed to keeping it out for a period of time." He drinks. "I need to find out why before that reason is thrust upon us."
"We need to," she says.
"Yes. We need to. Although I am starting to regret bringing you with me. It may be dangerous." His eyes are on her, brooding.
"When has that ever stopped me?" The drink is cold, sparkling, and sending chills through her stomach.
"It's not about you stopping. It's about me stopping you. Safety, Watson." He gulps at the drink. He is not much for savouring. Eating, drinking, duties to be carried out in order to maintain his body so that his mind can function.
"It's too late for that now," she says. "We're here and there's no taxi back."
"True. We must make the best of it."
They sit and drink. Joan thinks again about the alley. Ignores the heat in her face as she remembers his body against hers.
"Sherlock," she says, "if you're scared I am too."
He turns to her, and with curled, hesitant fingers touches her chin. Snaps his hand back like a dog meeting a wolf. Shakes his head. "I know you, Watson. You're not scared of anything."
Joan finishes her soda and throws it into a trash can. The force sets the can rattling. Sherlock's eyes turn to her, then away. She says, "So when you said you were waiting for something like this to happen-?"
"That was the literal truth, yes."
They are sitting in the ethereal blue light of one of the glow sticks, clutched in Sherlock's hand like a wand. Joan has pink, green and yellow sticks stowed in her coat pocket.
"Who would want to take down New York? Terrorists?" Her heart goes cold, thinking of the kind of group who would want to do this.
"Of a sort, yes. But not, I think, the sort who invoke God or political ideology. No, I think this particular terrorist only wants one thing although it is quite a big thing."
"What," says Joan.
"Control of the money markets."
She stares at him. Lit in blue, he could be an expert in anything. And is, as she knows. He sucks up knowledge, is brimming with it, how does his brain stay in his skull?
He speaks. "If you knew that the New York Stock Exchange was going to be out of action for a while, you could make some trades which rely on some New York players being out of the game." He is twitching, the lip-shrug which shows he is coming to conclusions he does not enjoy. "Or you could use the confusion to carry out some shady system changes behind the scenes. Imagine if you could get the exchange out of sync, even by a minute, think of your power, knowing already which trades were happening across the world and being able to react, apparently before anyone knows about them."
"You'd be caught instantly," says Joan.
"I speak hypothetically. What I'm saying is that this man has done something, and that people are being paid - perhaps by him although there is no proof of that as yet - to continue it, extend it. And we need to get proof of exactly what." He gives a muttered curse of frustration and hurls his own empty can at the trash. It misses. He jumps off the wall, picks it up, puts it in the trash. Comes back frowning. "And the truly annoying part is that I have no record of my conversation with the man who sought my advice. If I had, I could prove that this was premeditated. But I dismissed it. I was not interested on helping him to do his job and I never took notes."
"Ok," says Joan.
She reaches into his jacket pocket and takes out the pink glow stick. She snaps it and candy coloured light spills onto her fingers. "We can find proof," she says. "But first there's something I need to do."
He is looking at her curiously. Sits back down on the wall.
Joan takes Sherlock's right hand and holds the glow stick over it. The skin on the back of his hand is ripped and bloody, with grit and dust trapped in the tears.
"We need to get you cleaned up," she said.
"Don't fuss, Watson."
But he allows her to turn his hand over in her fingers.
"Let's find a drugstore," she says. "This really needs cleaning up or it could get infected."
He makes a sulky face.
She bends close to the wound. It is not deep, a graze, but it has damaged his skin and she wants to get at the dirt and dress the wound. Her fingers automatically check the rest of his hand and wrist for damage.
"You have amazing hands," he says. "Hands which can part ribcages, discover organs, snip sinews, repair veins." He speaks dreamily.
"That wasn't my specialty," she says.
"Strength and delicacy," he says, not listening. "Wasted hands." He darts a look at her.
"No," she says mildly. "They're not wasted. And they're just my hands, now." She gives him his own hand back. "Let's use the restroom in one of these places. If you won't let me stop and dress it properly at least let me get the dirt out for you."
They are walking. Sherlock has a plan but he is not saying anything yet. This is what he does, walks the plan even as he is still forming the plan in his mind. Joan sees they are heading back towards the water's edge.
There is a glow there, lights are on.
"This district has its own supply," says Sherlock. "Or more accurately, the manufacturing plant there insisted on a supply separate from the main grid. To ensure the production line never stopped."
They aim for the glow. It draws them nearer, a primordial drag.
They are not alone. People are on the streets, even more than before, but away from the restaurants there is a different atmosphere. Groups of young men are gathered, strolling, looking around speculatively. They have flashlights and bandanas on their heads and some of them carry sports bags.
They are... shopping. Eyeing the storefronts.
"Opportunists," says Sherlock in a low voice as they pass one group outside an electrical store. "Keep walking."
Joan has no intention of stopping.
Sherlock is carrying the flashlight with his fingers wrapped around the barrel in a way which means he could twist the flashlight up and use it as a weapon. He sees Joan looking and briefly grins. "Maglite," he says. "Not always the best, but usually the heaviest." He hefts it in his hand.
"And thank God I've got those glow sticks," she says.
She sees figures out of the corner of her eye, grouping together, moving in their direction. She slips her right hand into Sherlock's left. "We should walk quickly," she says.
"They're not interested in us," he says softly. "Just keep moving."
The classic city manoeuvre: outfacing the unknown, playing cool, showing no fear, walking on past the threat. If a potential threat sees weakness it becomes an actual threat. But if it sees strength, the threat becomes weakness.
She read that somewhere. Now she walks tall, confident, a woman out walking with her man, they are going somewhere they are expected, and they are not worried about being mugged. There are no threats.
The group close in behind Joan and Sherlock. Joan looks around for where to run. They are in a run down district, ex industrial mixed with some low rise manufacturing. The power plant of the lit up factory, where she assumes they are heading, is by the water. She can make out its forest of transmission towers and transformers behind their safety fence.
Sherlock's fingers clasp her own in a pattern of downward taps. Alert. She looks at him. "We may need to run," he said. "Our companions seem a little too keen on us."
"There's a subway exit there," Joan says. "We could get inside."
She squeezes his hand and is poised to run when the sky overhead explodes into dazzling white light.
Joan shrieks and Sherlock tugs her towards the subway. They stagger forward and reach the steps, stumble down into blackness now flicker-lit by millions of volts, and drop to the ground. Sherlock has been hit, and Joan presses her fingers onto his head to stop his burning hair and then wraps her arms around him, crouching with her hands over both their heads, blinded by lightning as sparks rain down silver fire all around them.
The spitting fire has stopped and the subway exit steps are dark again. Joan lifts her head and looks around but there is no light at all. She can hear people, outside: yells, cries, footsteps.
She is sitting with her arms wrapped around Sherlock and her chin resting on his head. She thinks he has been stunned, needs to check him over (again), this time for concussion and burns.
Sherlock's fingers flex against her back. He mumbles something low and sweet into her sternum, then freezes. Gingerly moves away. "Watson?"
"I'm here. Are you OK? You got hit."
Movement. She cannot see him at all. Hands in hair noise.
Joan gets a glowstick out of her jeans pocket, snaps it. Greenish light appears. Sherlock is running his fingers over his scalp.
"I got it," she tells him. "I think only the ends got singed." It smells though - a terrible acrid odour which takes her back to an awful night in the ER and a fire which scarred a woman's life forever.
Sherlock fumbles for a glowstick of his own. "Where's the torch..."
It is gone, rolled down the steps into the blackness of the station itself. Two glowsticks will not help them find it.
He rubs his jaw with both hands, the glowstick in one hand casting shadows all over his features.
"What happened?" she asks. "What was all that - lightning?"
"Substation blowing. Probably not planned. If someone interfered with the load balancing software then there could be too much power for a given part of the network. Happened in August 2011. The system automatically redistributes power to unaffected branches in the event of a cable breaking or some other mishap. But the load needs to be balanced, or else the extra power being carried by the rest of the network causes those lines to fail, and so on and so forth. A cascading failure." He looks grim.
"Too much power in the line actually makes it sag," says Joan. She read it some place. "Electricity is heavy."
"Yes. And once the system becomes unbalanced it is very difficult to rebalance the load again manually. My guess is that too much power tried to come through this substation and has fried it to a very definite crisp." He feels his head again.
She has a strong sense, again, that he feels out of his depth. It feels odd, to imagine any situation where he does not know what to do. Yet three minutes ago he was clinging to her like a - no, nothing like a child would cling to its mother. Nothing like that at all. He clung to her like a man would hold his lover. She shifts on the steps. "You think a deliberate act of vandalism is now getting out of control."
"I think we may be in trouble, Watson."
He takes out his phone and switches it on. Swipes rapidly. "Ah. Look."
She sees a news headline: "New York Blackout - Looting Spreads." It is just past midnight, she notices. Without her phone, computers, store displays, train and bus stop signs, she has no sense of the time.
"Interesting, don't you think?" says Sherlock.
She frowns as he switches the phone back off again. "What looting?"
There is a crash outside. Shattering glass. Yells.
"Ah," says Sherlock. "That looting."
They creep from the subway, hand in hand again, Sherlock holding Joan's hand carefully, as if he could do it wrong. She grips his firmly, to prevent any unannounced bolting.
The glowsticks are next to useless. But this may be a positive: they do not want to be seen by the people across the street who are using baseball bats to smash in shop windows. Those people have flashlights and are busy, and Joan hopes that she and Sherlock can slip past them in the street unnoticed with their dim glows.
"They're not even really looting," Joan says as they reach an empty street.
"Just smashing," Sherlock agrees.
"Sherlock. We need to get home."
They walk quickly. Joan is tired and overwrought. She thinks longingly of her bed, their house. Even in the dark she can feel her way around the familiar rooms. She would not be afraid. But out here, exposed, with not even a flashlight now, she feels horribly vulnerable.
Walking home will take all night. But perhaps on the other side of the Brooklyn Bridge things will be calmer. Perhaps.
"What time is sunrise?"
He presses his lips together, calls it up from his memory bank of details on every aspect of life. "Six twenty. But it won't be fully light until half an hour or so after that."
The night seems very long.
The next hour is spent walking and running and ultimately heading in the wrong direction. Joan gets disorientated but Sherlock's head contains a map of these streets and he is always sure where they are. They see more groups of people, men and women, young and old, helping themselves to stuff from shops. It is as if they have been given permission.
"Did you see that woman?" Joan asks as they duck down a side street to avoid a particularly lively scene. "She was wearing a fur coat. And grabbing packs of chips from a convenience store."
"Crisis, Watson," Sherlock says. He is scanning this street, looking for options. "People - all sorts of people -give themselves over to it, embrace the alternative self they can see is possible here and now, where it is usually buried and forbidden." He glances at her with those big dark eyes. "A crisis is not real life and all thought of real life consequences can be set aside."
"I get it," she says. "Bu I don't feel any inclination to start stealing."
"Perhaps that's not the alternative self you keep inside," he says. "Perhaps your hidden self is deeper and darker and less mundane." He smiles quickly to show that he is joking. "This way. I have found transport."
He leads her to an antique minivan parked on the street. "Sherlock..."
"It's not locked." He opens the door, proving his point. "Get in. It belongs to the group of college age men we saw heading into the computer store. They want to get in and out quickly with armfuls of plunder. They didn't lock the car. And now we're stealing it."
"Don't worry Watson." He is fiddling under the dash. "Hold this glowstick." She watches as he actually hotwires a car in front of her eyes. Of course he knows how to do this. But it is still theft. The engine starts. "Good."
He checks mirrors and the car pulls away.
"Sherlock!" She is now a fugitive in a stolen vehicle.
He glances over at her. "Plug my phone in, would you Watson? And then can you check traffic reports?"
She obeys while giving him a dirty look.
"If it makes you feel better I will leave a note on the dash afterwards saying that we are truly sorry."
"This is just wrong."
"And I commend you for your strong sense of morality. But this is expedient, and we need to get home."
She has his phone. "That could be awkward. The Bridge is blocked."
"Ah." He drives, swerving to avoid people in the road, and swinging down side streets where there is looting happening up ahead. "Then I propose a change of plan. Let's hide somewhere until it gets light and then go home. Discretion is the better part of valour and all that."
"Somewhere comfortable," says Sherlock. "I don't know about you Watson, but I find I am tired."
"I'm exhausted," she admits.
"Well then. We have a plan."
His hands are on the wheel lightly, wrists flexible, shoulders relaxed. He drives fast - of course - but with deft precision. The minivan is not really equipped to keep up with his reflexes.
He navigates to a street which is lined with designer shops.
Sherlock parks the car in a tiny space between two others, without really looking. He gets out and slams the door. "Here we are."
Joan climbs out too. She recognises the street: she used to shop around here, on her surgeon's salary.
There are some people around, but Joan and Sherlock are back where the crowds just want to get home, and there does not appear to be trouble. Trouble is between them and the bridge. Trouble, though, is moving this way, according to the news on Sherlock's recharged phone.
Sherlock crosses the street to a large department store, dark doors beneath a polished brass sign.
"This is it," he says.
"It's shut," Joan points out.
"Yes, what with it being one a.m." He raises one eyebrow at her sarcastically.
"You can get us in," Joan says.
She knows he can.
"I'm not your pet housebreaker," Sherlock says. "But yes, I can."
"It's trespass," says Joan. She tries not to think of sinking into a large soft chair, perhaps relieving the cafe of some of its pastries. She will pay for it, put money in the cash register.
"This is improvisation," says Sherlock.
They stare at each other outside the doors, and then Joan hears sirens. And gunshots - one, two, a pause, then a third.
"That's not good," says Sherlock.
A din of chaotic noise is building up towards the financial district. Shouting, screaming and more siren wails reach their ears.
"I think getting inside could be a very good idea," he says.
He goes to the array of store doors, picks the end one and gives it a careful push and kick, and it gives way.
"Fire door," he says. "They like to open."
He holds the door back for her with his uninjured left hand and they slip inside.
Sherlock roams the home electricals section, picking up a new flashlight and some batteries.
"We're no better than the looters," says Joan.
"I assure you Watson, that nothing will leave the premises."
He has supplies. She has put a dressing on his hand, over his protests. "Now come with me." Sherlock led the way between towering stacks of dead TVs. "We need to find the home furnishings department."
They climb the stairs to the top floor. The gunfire and looting seems very far away. No one saw them come in and the doors are locked. Not everyone will have a Sherlock with them in their wanderings through the streets.
She is as safe as she can be given the situation.
And she is very tired.
They emerge into a darkened shop floor. The flashlight beam shows armoires, enormous chests of drawers, giant oak beds and nightstands with elaborate gilt lamps. Price tags dangle from the furniture and every price is outrageous.
"Ok," says Joan. They are going to do this, shelter in the bedroom department of a very exclusive store, and wait for morning. As Sherlock says, they will be comfortable.
Sherlock kicks off his shoes and drops his coat on the rug beside an eight foot oak bed. "This is the one."
He stretches out, his bare feet on the No feet please plastic strip which lies across the bed. "Oh Watson, this is bliss. I've always wanted to lie on a thirty thousand dollar bed and here I am."
He raises his head to look at her. The flashlight is propped on the ten thousand dollar nightstand. "Come on, get in."
Joan stands, arms folded. She is looking at his feet. They are like his hands - taut with nervous energy, never still. There is something vulnerable and exposed about them that she finds... Exciting. Tempting.
The feet make him look naked, and there is no way she is getting into bed with him.
Sherlock sits up and starts wrenching off the decorative bedcovers, dragging out of its box the month's-paycheck goosedown comforter he has found on the way up here.
"I'm not sleeping in the same bed as you," she says, hearing her own voice as whiny, petulant.
"Oh don't be so egotistical. I'm not going to molest you. This is a crisis, Watson, a night of anarchy." His eyes gleam.
"And you're loving every minute."
"This is freedom, Joan," he says, jumping on the bed and pulling back the covers, making an empty space for her on his right. "This is a lapsing of the rules which fasten down our lives into the patterns chosen by society, and money. This is a chance to be other than what we usually are. Sharing a bed is honestly the very smallest of examples of this."
She purses her lips. Does not say OK, but kicks off her boots, removes her coat. He is watching her. Those eyes, soaking up everything they touch upon. His eyes inhale vision, and she knows that his memory absorbs layer upon layer of detail.
She scowls at him to break the tension, and climbs gracelessly into bed, hauling the comforter up around herself.
He gives a brief nod, then slides down under the covers, coming to rest on his back. He stares up at the ceiling for a moment. So does Joan.
"Shop ceilings are a lot higher than you think," she says. "Just a grid and some lights to give the illusion of a house."
"All of retail is but a fantasy," he says. "Their dream of how your life could be. You have to see past it, ignore the artificial ceiling, see your own dream."
He rolls sideways, props himself on his right elbow and looks down at her. Calculating. Says abruptly, "Do you mind if I take my shirt off?"
It is weird to hear him ask permission to do anything.
"It's your shirt," she says. "Do what you like."
"Thank you." He sits, peels it off, flings it on the foot of the bed. lies back down, on one elbow again.
His skin is pale, marked with many scars, and of course the ink which spreads over his left shoulder. Joan feels that the tattoos ought to make him look dangerous, mean, angry. But she thinks they show him raw, damaged, invaded, and she wonders why these ideas are so appealing.
He is looking at her face. His eyes flicker.
She closes hers.
"One more question."
She sighs. Opens her eyes.
"Light on or off?"
"Off," she says at once, and he thumbs the switch on the flashlight.
She feels him settle beside her. He is still looking at her though, lying on his side and looking at her. She can feel it.
"Joan," he says on an outbreath.
"Yes," she says.
No answer. She can hear his breathing. They need to rest but she is awake and so is he.
She lies still, brings to mind the meditative things she thinks in order to gain sleep.
"I would never seek," he says, and stops.
She opens her eyes in the dark.
Nothing more from him. But he is tense, vibrating with how tautly he is holding himself still. She can feel it through the springs, like a sound which exists at the very edge of hearing.
That's right, she thinks. He would never. Has never treated her with anything less than respect in this matter. Has never been more than distantly fond.
She is safe, lying next to him. Maybe not from looters. But safe from him.
For as long as she wants to be, she realises.
Those hungry eyes.
She rolls onto her side, swings her hair back over her shoulder.
The artificial ceiling is invisible. Everything is darkness and she cannot see Sherlock at all.
She reaches out her right hand and finds his elbow. Smooths her palm down his forearm, over many fine hairs, to his wrist, then takes hold of his hand.
His fingers instantly grip hers, hard. She hears his breathing change. Hers too.
Misrule, she thinks, and lifts his hand to her lips. Kisses his knuckles, then uncurls his fingers and kisses them, just fingertips, then thumb.
It is not the kind of kiss you do by accident. This will be hard to deny in the morning. Impossible. But it is not yet morning.
She presses his thumb against her lower lip, tasting its rough warmth.
He moves, so quickly that she gasps. He slides his body to her, right arm going under and around her waist, left hand in hers spreading around her cheek and drawing her face close to his.
She can't see him but his presence is as vivid, in the dark, as it ever is. He is breathing quickly, waiting, then when she does not move, he leans in and kisses her mouth. A brief kiss, lips, then a pause.
She lets go of his hand and slips her arm around his back, touching delicious warm skin and the dipped line that runs from nape into the small of his back.
"Joan..." He has his hand on her back too, the fingers spreading and closing against the fabric of her tee. She wishes she could see his expression.
She kisses him this time, and feels the tension run out of him. His lips explore hers, touching every contour. She knows, from the intensity, the precision, that he is memorizing.
And with that thought, she can see him. He absorbs detail with his entire body, not just those starving eyes. His fingertips feathering her cheek, his hand working inside her tee and up to her shoulder blades, they are soaking up sensation.
This is not just about desire, this is about data.
He wants to know her.
She thinks of his bare feet. His inked shoulder. She wants to know him too.
Total darkness in the store.
Breathing and movement under the sheets.
Joan brings her hand up and buries it in Sherlock's hair, holding his head steady a moment. Instantly he pauses everything, but she does not want him to stop, just stay still.
She parts her lips and touches his tongue with her own, drawing him closer. He tastes bitter, like coffee and woodsmoke, like Guinness. His tongue rolls over hers caressingly and he holds her very tight. They are both breathing quickly and she knows his eyes are open too, as if to see whatever can be seen inthe blackness and heat of this pretend bedroom.
He is willing, more than willing, but he is waiting, following her lead. A strange reversal of their pattern.
She kisses him more deeply and feels him respond,more of that passion which he is holding in restraint, letting a little more out each time to match hers. He is concentrating and she holds his absolute focus.
She feels no hesitation. No doubt. She feels free to touch him, free and powerful. The city is upside down, awake in the dark where it should be asleep with the lights on, and she can touch him as she has longed to.
They are lying side by side with his hips pressed to hers and her right leg flung between both of his. She runs her right hand down from his hair and over his back again. She cannot feel the tattoos on his shoulder, and is surprised, draws her hand back for a further look. He occupies himself with cataloguing her teeth with his tongue, which is no stranger than she would have expected from him. She wants all that strangeness. He has brought her to awareness, these last months, of her own chaotic impulses.
She draws her hand down his back and pushes her fingers under the waistband of his jeans. His hand on her back clutches at her skin and he says quickly, "I know eleven ways to unfasten a bra."
"And yet I've only ever needed one," she says. Tugging his belt free.
He laughs in surprise.
"Maybe two," she concedes, thinking about it, and he kisses her, a breathy kiss between laughter and arousal.
They tussle a little under the goosedown, removing jeans, and the bra. Joan sprawls on Sherlock's chest, luxuriating in skin to skin, and he lies beneath her with his hands on her ribs and his mouth open, breathing rapidly.
Joan runs her left hand down to his hip, feels underpants. Cotton jersey, snug, and still on him. She thinks he can stay that way for the moment, but has a question. "What colour?"
"My first guess. Lucky red?" She is nuzzling the muscles under his right arm.
"It would appear so." His hand travels up her rib cage, the thumb and heel of his hand passing over the edge of her breast.
She tightens her arms around him and starts the roll which ends with her lying flat and him propped to her right, his right hand now free to roam. She kisses him, and it lasts a long time, as long as she can bear it. He seems inexhaustible.
She places his hand on her belly, his fingertips stretching down, and says, "Yes."
"You allow me," he confirms with great clarity, speaking against the corner of her mouth.
He hovers close to her, mouth almost touching hers. Still waiting for permission? But then she feels his hand, hot, gentle, sure.
"You're so beautiful," he whispers.
She says, "Don't stop."
In the dark she admits that this is what she has wanted: him, his intensity, his focus, all that energy turned to passion. His mouth on hers, mirroring his hand. His eyes, even though she cannot see them, open, drinking her in.
She wishes she could see his face but now she is at the end, and she is saying, "I want to see you," but all she can see is colours.
Now her hand is on him, her mouth on a sensitive place she has found below the pit of his outstretched left arm, and she is leading again. For long moments he made her see lights, red and yellow and white pressing against her eyes and the sound of her own heart rushing in her ears, and now it is his turn. Her eyes see only black again, but her fingers can see him perfectly well.
He is talking. Words come from him in a stream, his mouth against her neck. "You're beautiful, I will never hurt you, I promise, I will only do what you want, I want this, I have wanted this, your skin, your voice, your hands, all over, you're beautiful, I want you, I will never hurt you I will never hurt you."
His thoughts, unfiltered from his brain and they are caring and anxious and passionate and all about her.
She has always imagined him to be a confident, domineering lover, and she can feel that expertise in his movements... but this, the string of words, is his vulnerability, and this is his appeal, this is what keeps her at his side, what has made her crazy to touch him and hold him - possess him, the sweet mix of strength and weakness that she cannot resist.
She can feel that he is close to the edge, but not close enough. Insufficient diversity, she thinks, and picks up his left hand in hers and licks from fingertips to wrist, across his palm, swirled with the ridges and whorls of his unique life.
He shivers, and she puts his fingers into her mouth and works her tongue in between each one.
His other hand clenches around hers on his body. "You're beautiful, don't stop, don't stop, Joan, Joan, you're beautiful don't stop, you're beautiful, I love you. Joan."
She doesn't stop even though she is hearing the echo of his words long after he gasps into her neck and clutches her so hard she yelps too.
They sink back down together, her hand still on him and his on her, and Joan listens to his heart racing, tastes sweat on his shoulder, feels the slipperiness that coats them (oh my God, thousand dollar sheets), breathes in his hair, his neck, his jaw, his cheek, his lips.
He lies barely responding for a time, although she can feel a smile. Then his arms move, he writhes his hips and adjusts so that she is lying sprawled with one leg over him, her face in his left shoulder, his left arm tight around her back, his right hand wound through her left. He is holding her and she cannot remember ever feeling so cherished.
The city is dark outside. Guns, sirens, looters, danger. The store is dark too as Joan gradually feels Sherlock's grasp on her lessen and relax.
Joan wakes and sees daylight through the shallow windows around the top of the shop floor. It is morning.
She becomes aware... remembers last night...feels an arm around her waist and her face resting on a warm chest, hair against her nose.
Her hair is being gently smoothed down in rhythmic strokes. A touch of calloused palm scrapes her neck: Sherlock's hands, his body, smelling of him and her combined, an intimate reminder of all the things they did last night.
But now, if she lifted her head, she could see him. She wants to see him, see him like this, before reality breaks too far into these moments and the passion seeps away into mundanities and tasks and duties.
She doesn't move. If she wants to see the look on his face as he lies caressing her, she will have to be fast, because Sherlock can mask his expression more quickly and completely than anyone she's ever known. And she is certain that she does not want to see him blank her out.
"You're awake," Sherlock murmurs. His hand on her hair stops. His body grows tense beneath hers, even though - she can feel it - he is trying not to change.
Joan feels loss grow within her. Over already.
If she sits up now, last night will never be spoken of again.
She rubs her face against his chest and kisses his skin. He may want to put this in the past but she will not allow him to, not quite yet. It is daylight but she is not afraid of acknowledging what has happened. Or rather, she is, but that won't stop her.
He remains frozen.
Oh well. Joan can be stoic. But for now she will steal one kiss from him, and look at his face, and that will be the end of this strange and wonderful insanity.
She lifts her head and sees his eyes, bright hazel and soft, unguarded. Watching her with naked affection.
She is amazed. But takes her chance: stretches up and presses her mouth to his. Just lips, just a touch, just warmth and the memory of passion and a thank you. His eyes are open, and then he closes them and matches her kiss, lips closed but body radiating pressure. His arms squeeze her tightly.
She breaks apart and moves away a little.
"You are so generous," he says, looking at her again. His face changes as she watches, becomes smooth and blank. "Even when you know that I - cannot." His eyes flicker. He means, I cannot have a relationship, cannot return your generosity, cannot care for you.
Don't stop you're beautiful Joan I love you.
"Its fine," she tells him, and sits up. "We should move."
In daylight, the city looks both normal but is alien.
The noise is of voices and not machines. There is an echoey quality to the streets. The spaces between the buildings seems larger and emptier.
Joan and Sherlock walk side by side, no longer any need to hold hands, and stare as the grey light in the sky grows brighter and shows an overcast spring day.
There are bodies everywhere - not dead, but slumbering. People have camped on the broad steps of City Hall, in shop doorways, benches, anywhere they can lie or curl and shut their eyes. Their handbags, shopping bags and coats are clutched around them and they look awkward, uncomfortable, exhausted.
It is an outbreak of mass homelessness and Joan is stunned as she walks between the sleeping forms.
The sidewalks are strewn with ice cream cartons.
"They gave it all away," she whispers. "Before it melted."
Sherlock gives an upwards nod. "An unusual example of the avoidance of waste."
He glances down at her hands as if remembering his comment from yesterday - her wasted hands.
"So many people," she says. "Who couldn't get home."
"Eight point two million people reside in metropolitan New York alone," he says without thinking about it. He knows so much.
And now he knows her too, her body, her movements and cries, her nakedness and skin and sweat.
She wonders what his brain is doing with all that new knowledge.
What is her brain doing with her new knowledge of him?
His skin. His careful hands. His breath on her neck, her stomach.
She is smiling smugly, that's what, and it is daylight now and he will notice and they have bigger things to be thinking about and oh God there he is now staring at her with his neutral expression, just a hint of anxiety around the corners of his eyes.
There is smoke in the air. Sherlock smells it first, head lifted like a hound scenting a rabbit. A second later Joan tastes mattress foam, rubber tires, many sour foul things which ought not to be burning.
There are frequent sirens in the distance. The sound carries far and is difficult to position.
They walk back towards the bridge as the morning lengthens towards noon. They pass gas stations with signs saying, Cannot pump gas. There are many abandoned cars - and plenty with people waking up in them having given up on beating the traffic.
The streets throng with people on foot, moving slowly, at the pace of the slowest, almost in synchronised step. The stream of people ahead looks like the start of a marathon, like paintings of factory workers trudging to the mills.
Joan can sense Sherlock's frustration. She imagines him leaping up into the roofs of cars to run along at his preferred gallop. He cannot stand delay, and he has to get home to solve this mystery.
-Except he believes he has already solved it, but cannot prove it. Does proof lie in the brownstone?
"I can't stand this, Watson," he mutters. "At this rate it will be dark again before we even reach the bridge."
"We don't have a lot of options," she says.
As they make their way through residential streets, there is evidence of normal life trying to continue.
Stores are open and display signs indicating their own special circumstances: Cash only no cards. No fresh milk. We GOT candles. Mangos free!
Joan crosses the street, seeing this last. The grocery store has boxes of fresh fruit on the street, over ripe, beginning to turn. It is hours since they had breakfast, stale pastries from the store cafe, and she picks through the fruit box and finds two mangoes.
She hands one to Sherlock. He looks at it dubiously. She rolls her eyes.
They perch on the hood of a car outside the store, and Sherlock produces a small pocketknife and peels his mango with deft strokes. He glances at Joan, then gives it to her, holding the blade away, his other hand outstretched for her own unpeeled fruit.
She bites into the soft flesh and it tastes sweet, a little too watery, but good. Juice runs down her chin. She wipes it off, sucks moisture from her fingers and sinks her teeth into the mango again.
Sherlock holds his mango up to his mouth, his hand covering the fruit, taking small nips from the flesh. Joan sees his eyes slide over to her, that wary dog gaze again, as she catches a drip from the mango and licks her lips.
She discards the fibrous core into the store's waste carton and wipes her hands on her thighs.
They walk on.
Some citizens are more prepared than others. Joan hears a TV in in one house, as they pass.
"Generator," says Sherlock, pointing to the juddering engine crouching in the tiny yard. "And -"
He dashes up the steps and bangs on the door. A woman answers. Joan follows as Sherlock, in a couple of sentences, outlines his urgent and undeniable need to watch the television news, right now.
They are admitted to the woman's front parlour and she turns the TV from kids' programmes to news. The children howl but Sherlock brushes this aside and stands focused in front of the TV soaking up information. Joan smiles awkwardly at the woman and hovers nearby.
The whole of New York is out. Trading has been suspended on the stock exchange. People have been rescued from subway tunnels. Sick people have been helicoptered to other regions. Emergency services are struggling but getting through the jammed up streets. And there is no indication of when the power will come back on.
Sherlock takes the TV remote from the hands of a toddler and changes channel.
The outage started at a substation in Manhattan and cascaded through the local area. As infrastructure became overloaded the outage spread, systems shutting down as automatic safety protocols kicked in. Sherlock gives a, Told you, look at Joan.
The anchor expresses amazement that the power has not yet been restored. "Until it comes back on, the city remains a high risk area for looting, vandalism and unsafe sanitation."
Sherlock gives the toddler back the remote, showing him the Pause button. The child squeals with delight and races off, pausing and playing the action on screen as his siblings try to grab the controller back.
"Thank you for your trouble," Sherlock tells the woman gravely, and races back outside.
Joan catches him up.
"No trading," says Sherlock, sticking his hands in his jacket pockets "Our entire economy is at risk, Watson."
"You can tell Captain Gregson about the conversation you had," Joan says.
Sherlock heaves a sigh "Without proof I am just wasting his time."
Moving through residential districts, Joan sees TVs on, hears more sounds of regular life. Generators are being pressed into service all over the city, to keep TVs on and freezers going.
"Where's theirs?" Joan asks suddenly, and turns back to a house they just passed.
She listens. The TV is blaring. No sign of movement in the house. She looks at Sherlock.
He opens the gate in the chain link fence and steps into the yard. No dogs appear. He calls out - no reply.
Joan can hear the TV.
The generator is running, somewhere in the house. The windows are closed.
Sherlock bends, picks up a child's bike from the yard and hurls it through the front window.
Glass flies everywhere and he is shouldering the front door, shouting at Joan to call 911.
She does so, hunting for rocks to break the upstairs windows with, even as Sherlock bursts into the house. "Don't go in there," she yells, but too late.
She focuses on getting air into the house, pitching rocks into the windows, explaining to the call handler.
Sherlock staggers down the front porch steps, with a boy of nine wearing pyjamas, in his arms. He drops the kid on the grass next to Joan. The boy is unconscious but breathing. Joan bends over him and Sherlck takes gasps of air.
She thinks he is done but he makes for the door again. On catching her look he says, "Adults have better resistance." He takes a big gulp of air like a diver going underwater, and plunges back into the house.
"Come quickly," Joan says into her phone. She gives the address. "A child and at least one adult. Yes. Carbon monoxide poisoning."
Sherlock lies on the grass hyperventilating as Joan tends the boy and his mother. The paramedics are on their way.
"I have trained myself to hold my breath for long periods," he says to Joan without opening his eyes. Gasps again.
"That also leads to oxygen deprivation," she says.
The woman is drowsy, semi conscious. The boy lies still but breathing steadily. "Crazy," says Joan. "Running a generator indoors."
"People run gas barbecues indoors every summer," says Sherlock. "When it rains. Carbon monoxide deaths increase in line with overcast summer days, every year."
He sits up and looks at Joan. "People are stupid," he says.
"They sometimes do stupid things," she replies. "Stupid, reckless things which could get them killed even as people who care about them are yelling at them not to do it."
Sirens drown out the street sounds and Joan kneels on the grass in this stranger's front yard and gazes at Sherlock, and he gazes back.
At last, the bridge. Joan feels her spirits rise even though it is late afternoon and the light is fading from the sky. "We should get candles," she says as the approach a row of stores on the Brooklyn side.
"Mmn." He has his hands in his pockets and is mooching along, eyes on the ground in front of his feet, head occasionally whipping up as he catches sight of something in peripheral vision.
She is about to say something about dinner, a shower, rest, when he whirls round and stares down the hill towards the city.
She turns too and sees a beam of light strike the sky, travelling upwards from the pinnacle of a city tower. It shivers and then becomes steady.
Sherlock grabs his phone and starts swiping.
His eyes widen. 'They've resumed trading," he says. He shows her the news article. "The stock exchange has restored power. Just that sector."
As they watch, lights flicker on in the windows of buildings around that beam of white light. The rest of Manhattan remains grey and unlit, but now there is a focus, a point of light and hope and the promise of a return to normality.
Sherlock is frowning and peering across the cityscape. "I need my binoculars," he says.
"Why? What's wrong?"
"I don't think the Stock Exchange has its lights on." He is squinting and huffing in frustration.
"But the news just said." She stares at him in the twilight. The news is wrong.
"Yes," says Sherlock, "odd, isn't it." He gleams at her. He loves odd.
He grabs her hand and starts dragging her up the hill towards the brownstone. "Come on, Watson!" he cries. "I think we may have our proof!"
They run, hands gripping awkwardly, as afternoon fades into night.
The brownstone is dim but filled with familiar sounds. Even without the whine of the TVs or the hum from computers, even without the background noise which is half the fabric of a city, there are noises here, creaks as wood expands and contracts, the house itself shifting, clocks ticking, running on batteries. The kitchen is odd: no refrigerator noise.
The stairs make the right sounds though and Joan walks with relieved confidence to the bathroom. She needs a shower.
"Bath!" yells Sherlock up the stairs, as if he has heard her thought.
"Oh. Right." The shower is electric. The hot water tank is insulated; there may still be enough hot water for a bath. One bath.
She sighs. Counts to three.
"In the spirit of energy efficiency, Watson..." His voice, smirking, floats up the stairs again.
He gives a short laugh and retreats to the kitchen. She hears him running water. "Still warm," he calls. "Go ahead, Watson, I have much to think about."
"So do I," she says, but quietly. He will not hear. And she does really want to get clean.
The daylight fades completely as she lies in the bath in half the depth she would usually draw for herself, conscious of saving some for him. The window pane grows black and she wishes she had thought to bring the glow sticks in here with her. It does not matter. She is at home, safe, and she can find her way with no light.
She is wrapping herself in a towel when the door opens and Sherlock's hand juts into the room, holding a candle on a plate.
"Fire hazard," he says. "However I concede that they are useful under certain conditions."
Joan takes the plate from him and opens the door, securing her towel around her. Sherlock is hovering in the passage, holding a second candle.
"I have lit the fire downstairs," he says. "We can work beside it. If you're not too tired."
"I'm fine," she says. "You should bathe."
She looks at him but his eyes are everywhere else. He is shifting from foot to foot as he does when he wishes the awkwardness would pass, even when he is the cause of the awkwardness. She is not sure whose fault it is in this case.
The candle casts shadows over his chin and jaw and bounces light up into his eyes. He looks even more otherworldly than usual with the shape of his face masked by the flickering darkness, and his eyes glittering.
Joan steps into the passage. "I'll see you downstairs," she says, completely unnecessarily. Now he feels uncomfortable too. Is this because – she is in a towel? He has seen her in a towel, in PJs, asleep in bed, dozens of times. He is king of failure to acknowledge inappropriate dress.
"Hmmn. Yes." More shuffling and evasion. He seems unwilling to shift from the spot.
Joan raises the candle to him as a kind of toast, and retreats to her room. She stands in the towel, holding the candle, staring at her closed door. She hears water running in the bathroom. Sherlock has finally moved, then. Unfrozen.
She thinks of him pressing her against a dark wall to hide them from pursuers; his fear. She was getting that sense from him just now, that discomfort which goes beyond the merely social.
He is damaged. She knows this, of course she has always known it, it is the reason she came to him. All that chaos, running around in his brain, all that hurt and pain and the fear. Damage.
He is afraid of hurting her. It came out last night in his stream of uncensored words. She has thought he was afraid to connect in case the other person was hurt, in case he drew danger down to them... but now she knows that he fears that he is not just the magnet but the danger itself. He fears himself.
She understands this. When you take a step into the chaos you cannot be sure that you can get back again. That is what chaos is.
He is capable of very dark things, she knows: unbound by the morals which hold society together. Yet he works to catch the bad people, to stave off the boredom which might lead him to become one of them.
Now, looking at him in her mind's eye, she can see fear leaking out of him in all directions. She felt it as he shielded her from view against the wall in the alley. She heard it in his breathy whispers into her ear, naked in skin and mind. She saw it in his eyes as he greeted her next morning. If she were to walk into the bathroom now and kiss him she would taste it. He is made of it, held by it, trapped by it
Yet she felt no fear in approaching him. She has never been afraid of him in all the time she has known him. Even at his darkest moment she was only afraid for him, that his own pain would lead him to do a wrong which could never be made right.
How can she stop him fearing himself? Should she even try?
She wants to help him. But she wants to keep him as he is, too, for her own sake. He allows her to be who she truly is. He does not judge her or try to sway her actions to suit himself. He simply accepts what she is. It is liberating and she cannot imagine wanting that to cease.
It is as if he is her crisis, her freedom, her blackout.
She dresses in her room, mostly by texture, and then follows the sound of crackling logs down into the front room.
They crouch, with still-damp hair, by the fire, munching on sandwiches made from everything in the fridge which would spoil otherwise. The map of New York is spread on the floor. Joan covers Manhattan with her palms. "This went first," she says. "But you think – what?"
"This," says Sherlock. He has string and wooden clothes pins, the snappy kind that children play at crocodiles with. Sherlock lays a length of string on the map as Joan lifts her hands clear. "Here is the power plant. Here, as far as I can remember from my work with our disaster recovery expert, is the rough line of distribution into the financial district. It's muddier than this, of course, because of supplementary feeds from other power supplies around the island, but this is the general drift."
He lays more string, connecting power supplies to parts of the city.
"Now," he says. "We know – we think – Wall Street was taken out first. For this to happen in the normal course of events, this power plant here –" he gestures at the area close to Brooklyn Bridge on the Manhattan side – "would have to fail, or for there to be a severe disruption on the lines between the plant and Wall Street. Let's say that this is, in fact, what took place."
He clips pegs rapidly onto the strings. "These are the electricity load. All is well until - Bam, this plant goes down." He removes all the pegs on the string connecting the plant to the financial district. "The system has failsafes, and reroutes the additional power away from the parts which can no longer carry it." He pegs the surrounding strings with the ones he took from Manhattan's supply. "Then, as I've described, it's possible that these lines cannot cope, and so they fail in turn, and the burden is passed on and on, ever increasing, around a system which no longer has the capacity to withstand it."
"Cascading failure," Joan remembers. She studies the map. "But that's not what happened."
"No," he says. "And how do we know that?"
She frowns. Leans over to get a closer look at the power plant. He is watching her. Then she realises. It is obvious. "Because that power plant was still in operation hours later. It blew as we were trying to walk away from the looters."
"Exactly! So it was not the result of a cascading fail. Which brings me to my second point. Those looters. When did we see them actually doing any looting?"
She thinks back. "They were wandering in groups, ready for trouble..."
"But we only saw them looting after the news item saying looting was widespread."
She sits back on her heels and their eyes meet. He looks serious.
Sherlock says, "Whoever is running this - whether it is my would be client or some people he has become involved with – they used the remaining primary method of contact – the cellphone network - to feed suggestions to a worried and edgy population about what behaviours would be acceptable in a power outage."
"Psychology," says Joan. "He gave them permission to loot by apparently demonstrating that others were already doing it."
"Yes. But anecdotal evidence alone will prove that at the time of the news article, no looting had actually occurred," Sherlock says.
They sit and stare at the map, and then each other. The fire crackles and Joan feels her skin contracting in the heat. Her hair is dry now. Sherlock's is sticking up all over his head.
"So what do we do now?" Joan asks at last.
Sherlock, cross-legged, rests his elbows on his knees and his thumbs against his mouth, curling one palm over the other fist. His gaze roams over the map, Joan's face, settles on the flames. He droops. "Joan," he says on a sigh. "I don't know."
Sherlock droops. He runs his hand over his hair, which is now dry. "Nothing," he says. "We do nothing right now. Our best plan is in fact the same best plan as for the populace in general: stay safe, conserve light, and hope that things look better in the morning." He stretches, and stands, holding out his hand to her.
She takes it and lets him pull her to her feet. He damps down the fire while she clears away the evidence of their supper, and then they head for the stairs.
Joan finds she can see her home just as well without light, now that she is used to it. The darkness is a guest she has invited in. She does not need a hand to hold.
Sherlock is behind her with a tray of his own candles.
She pushes open her bedroom door, and stops.
Sherlock stops too. "What is it, Watson? Do you want me to check the room?"
"No. Yes. Come in."
Joan sees the bright circle around his tray wobble. He enters her bedroom ahead of her. She follows him, then stands between the window and the bed.
He lifts the candles, casts brightness all around the room. "It's fine, Watson. There's nobody here and nobody has been here. This is just an irrational fear arising from the burden of unusual stresses from the last twenty four hours. "
Joan frowns. Sherlock sets the candle tray on the chest of drawers. There is a pause.
Sherlock takes a step towards her. Stops with the corner of the bedstead between them. "I know that I have been responsible for some of those stresses and I apologise," he says. His hand hovers over the bedframe, lands on it, clutches.
"What? No. I walked out into the city with you of my own free will," she says. "It's not your fault things happened out there."
He goes on: "I am concerned that I may have contributed ... personally."
He is flicking his fingers against the bedframe.
Joan looks at him. As usual his gaze is on anything but her face. She knows, though, that the instant she looks away, his eyes will be on her, searching. "Do you mean, in bed last night?" she asks steadily. One of them has to be able to refer to it.
He tilts his head left and right.
How did he ever meet girls, she wonders, with this inability to face facts? Then she thinks: he doesn't. He had this one girlfriend, maybe ever, who knows, and since then he's closed himself off completely.
Sex as pure physical maintenance; attachment as a thing to be avoided.
She relents a little. "You did not add to the stress," she tells him. "If anything, I think last night helped us deal with it. And, you know – "
She stops herself. Her mouth was about to run on and say something like, it was driving me crazy wanting to touch you after all this time.
He is looking at her directly now, with narrowed eyes.
She clams up and stands looking back with as bland a face as she can manage.
"I knew," he says then. "I knew all day that you wanted to be ... intimate with me."
His voice is low. There is a rumble through it which her lizard brain translates directly into desire. She fights it back so that she can listen properly. "How?" she asks.
"Several things actually. But most noticeable was when you took a glow stick out of my coat pocket. "
She spreads her hands.
He sighs lightly. "When you had a pocket full of them yourself."
"So... you could have avoided it," she says slowly. Instead of which he'd found the most expensive empty bed in the city and invited her into it. That puts rather a different complexion on events.
He is open mouthed in surprise. "Why would I want to avoid it?"
"Um ..." She does not want to suggest reasons.
He still has the bedframe under his hand. "I was surprised," he says. "But." He shakes his head as if ridding himself of something clinging. "Glad."
"It was fun," she says. "And you were ..."
She can only think of clichéd words which don't fit.
"You saw me," she says at last. "You saw me with touch, and you absorbed me with your mind, you memorised me."
He lets go the bedstead. "Not entirely," he says. His voice shows his ragged breath.
He reaches and pinches out the nearest candle on the tray. She flinches. That has to hurt. He maintains eye contact and snuffs the next one between finger and thumb.
He is still gazing at her, and a dark look is gathering in his eye.
The next one. Only the last candle, on the corner of the tray, is left.
He twitches an eyebrow at her and gives that lopsided smile.
-And she understands what's going on.
He is making darkness. Making a moment for them.
His hand hovers beside the flame. He looks at her. His hand drops away. "Perhaps it would be better to leave this one," he says, turning away at last. "As a precaution."
He glances up. She sees hope on his face.
Joan steps forward and lifts the candle. She looks into his eyes in its ultimate glow and sees desire, can hear his breathing speed up. "I can still see you in the dark," she says, and blows out the candle.
He gives her no time for her eyes to adjust. His hands are on her arms, his lips on her neck then under her jaw, beside her ear, across her cheek bone and back down to her throat. His fingers open and close on her arms one two three four.
She slides her arms around his waist and pulls him against her body. He smells of soap and candlesmoke, and his hair is soft and fine against her ear.
"Desire is a natural state," she says. "A human urge to make connections and form new alliances."
"Procreation," he corrects her automatically, his mouth still on her skin.
She shakes her head and presses her fingers against his shoulder blades. "The societal urges are the more powerful in the long term."
"I am not really a society sort of person," he says. "Those things mean nothing to me." But he moves his hands from her arms, placing the heel of his left hand into the small of her back as his right hand finds her left and he slips his fingers between hers, holds them, warm hand, strong grip.
She smiles and strokes the back of his neck. "I know." She feels a rush of affection for his mix of confidence and nerves, and stands on tiptoe and kisses his lips. He sighs against her mouth, and she expects passion, intensity, but he surprises her with gentleness, soft mouth, everything held in restraint, stroking her hair, his hand still in hers.
She pulls him towards the bed, and they lie with arms and legs around each other, kissing slowly and easily. "You kiss as if every time is the first kiss," Joan says. It is rather wonderful and she could tolerate a great deal more of it.
He does not reply, just inches away a little so that he can rest his hand on her hip.
"It's good," she tells him.
"Hundred and forty seventh," he says. "Give or take."
"No." He has been counting. She should not be surprised. Is not surprised. Of course he counts. He cannot help it.
"You and data," she says.
"You and me," he says. "Joan –"
She waits, invisible in the dark as he is to her.
"We should sleep," he says.
They kick off shoes and climb under the comforter. He arranges himself around her with possessive familiarity.
"Sherlock," she says, aware that sleep is not a likely early outcome, "when you have gathered all the data, once you know me, is that it?"
She expects him to fidget and demur but he just says "No," and then stops further questions by kissing her. "People," he adds after a moment. "Data on people is never fixed, never finished. It's what fascinates me the most."
She finds his hand, sneaking around her rib cage, and presses his knuckles against her lips. "Here's to new data," she says, and he laughs, and takes off his sweater, nothing underneath, and her t shirt, and they giggle and kiss and wrestle under the covers trying to take everything off and there are too many arms and legs and it is hilarious and then serious.
Sherlock's mouth is on her belly her hands in his hair tugging at him, her words almost gone and his just starting, when there is a crack and a clunk and the lights come on.
The house fills with noise: TVs downstairs shout and babble, the heating clanks back into life, the refrigerator shudders and whirs up to its regular buzz. Outside, too, there is a racket as people switch everything on and prove that there really is power.
Joan's bedroom light was off when the power went out but the passage light was on and is burning bright into the room. They never shut the door and are now squinting, breathless under the covers, as the end of the crisis declares itself in a yellow glare.
Sherlock sits up, his hair sticking up all over his head. "Work," he says, "I can work."
Joan scrabbles for her T shirt. She pulls it on and he slides out of bed and scoops his jeans off her floor. "I'll get coffee," she says.
Everything happening between them five minutes previously has fizzled away. They hustle into clothes, not looking at each other. Joan feels stunned, as if the light were a taser and not an innocuous low watt bulb.
She is also angry, with him for abandoning her, them, at such a moment, and with herself for expecting anything else. Of course, the work. The work comes first. It always has and it always will. She ought not to wish for any other reaction from him.
And now that the power is back, they can do so much, can eliminate many possibilities, quickly, can contact the police, can act upon whatever they find. This is a good thing. This is why she is here with Sherlock at all, to work like this, to place solving the puzzle above all else. She loves it too, even if right now she is still heaving in breaths from how his mouth was listening to her desires and how her hands were drinking in his need, even if she is wishing the power could have stayed off for another – eight hours or so, so that they could finish what they started and maybe even get some sleep...
She pulls her sweater down over her head and as her eyes emerge she sees that Sherlock is standing by the door of her room, clothed except for bare feet, staring at her.
She tries to read his face but he has put up his barrier, a distortion filter of neutrality so that she cannot read anything except bland disinterest. As she focuses on his eyes they move and look beyond her to the window, where lights are flickering on across the hillside, creating her familiar view. “Coffee,” she repeats. “It’s fine. I’ll be down in a moment.”
The bland mask sharpens into a frown. Sherlock says, "Ha," and goes downstairs. She hears his bare feet on the wooden floor of the front room. The volume of the TVs increases.
Joan composes herself and dresses properly, in fresh clothes. Treat it like a new day, a day which has started with disappointment and no sleep and coolness between herself and her partner and friend. Great.
They sip coffee, which is comforting, and Sherlock looks at many things on the computer. He clicks through so rapidly that Joan cannot watch and instead looks again at the map showing their imagined chain of events through the city. Beside her he clicks and taps and stabs the Enter key, the sounds of his frustration with the case and himself.
They can prove that it was sabotage. They believe they know the identity of the main instigator. But they have no proof of his connection, except for Sherlock’s unrecorded interview with him, and no idea why the thing was done at all.
After half an hour Sherlock gets up and begins pacing. His feet slap the floor and Joan can hear the rasps of his jeans as he moves, even over the newly restored house-noises. Lack of sleep has drawn in her senses, so that movement seems fuzzy, but sound is harsh and shocking.
"We don't even know what he's done," says Sherlock, facing her in the bay window, the wall of TVs behind him, volume down. "Apart from damage the power supply." The screens show scenes from the blackout aftermath, but Joan cannot focus on them.
"Isn't that enough to arrest him?" Joan asks, and gets a stony stare in return. Of course it is not enough. The criminal might be caught but the puzzle would remain, and Sherlock cannot exist beside a puzzle.
"Ok," she says, "how can we find out?"
Sherlock walks up and down, never passing within two feet of where Joan is sitting at the desk. "What was meant to happen yesterday? Something was supposed to happen, that was prevented or altered by the power cut. We need to find out what was scheduled."
Joan considers the sack of newspapers which arrives at the house each day, the mountain of internet data, the endless events which take place in New York every day of the year.
"There's too much," she says. "Starting from nothing, there's just too much."
"We have to try," says Sherlock. His eyes are shadowed, his chin dark with two days’ growth. Fatigue has added sourness to the sanguine twist of his mouth. Joan can feel her own need for sleep dragging at her. It is not surprising that inspiration will not come, when exhaustion smothers the room.
Joan sighs. "I am starting to think my old job was the easier one." She is trying to be flippant but cannot get the tone quite right. Too tired.
Sherlock's head snaps up. His eyes are bright again. "Watson, that's it."
He returns to the desk, squeezing onto the chair beside her until she gets up and gives it to him. He starts rummaging on the internet.
"What?" She is standing at his elbow, unable to follow what he is checking. He has fifteen pages open.
"His previous job. Our disaster expert. I've been focussing on how his current job links him to this. But it doesn't, of course it doesn't, the security in place at the stock exchange is too good. It's his old job which matters. Look." Sherlock points to a business networking website.
Joan looks. The guy's online resume lists a number of firms named for their chief partners. They mean nothing to her.
Sherlock raises one eyebrow but then sighs and explains. "Stockbrokers," he says. "Specialist stockbrokers. They deal in stocks for materials used in high tech industries, especially new materials, specifically, silicon carbide."
He drums his fingers in a complex rhythm on the desk, his eyes wide. "The power outage. It's a sales pitch, Watson, a terrible, dangerous, effective sales pitch."
A sales pitch. From an ex stockbroker-? Joan waits but Sherlock does not explain.
She can be patient. But to help with that, she could use some more coffee. Or, a better idea, some cocoa.
Sherlock's eyes flicker as he considers the possibilities, but still he does not share his thought with her. He scowls as if some other idea is intruding on him.
Joan gets up and goes into the kitchen, remembers that the milk for cocoa will be spoiled, and hunts about for herbal tea instead. As she stands sorting through the box of teabags on the kitchen table, Sherlock comes in and stands by the chair on the other side. He places his hands on the back of the chair and looks down at the table, rocks back and forth on his toes.
Joan waits. Whatever is bothering him, he will say. The refrigerator hums and the clock ticks and Sherlock cannot be silent when he has something on his mind.
She pauses with her hands in the box of sweet smelling infusions, watching him. His shoulders are bunched and the muscles on his arms stand out, the tattoos half exposed by the short T shirt sleeves.
Sherlock raises his head and meets her eye. His expression is cold. “I don’t appreciate being lied to,” he says.
“What?” Joan jerks back from the box of teabags and scatters chamomile across the table.
“I do not require the cushion of a lie in order to function,” Sherlock says. “I expect you, I want you, to tell me the truth. Even if you think it is unpalatable to me, do me that courtesy. Do not belittle me by attempting to predict what I might think about something without giving me the chance to make that judgement for myself.”
He is holding the back of the chair in a white knuckle grip.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” says Joan.
“Think!” he snaps.
She narrows her eyes. “I don’t lie to you. I haven’t.”
He glares at her. She has never seen him angry like this, not with her. And not just angry – he is trembling. He is upset. All this emotion, it is not what he needs. He just needs to be able to focus on the work.
And then she realises her lie.
“I told you it was fine,” she says. When the lights came back on, she told him it was fine that he should go and start work immediately, even though she wanted him to stay in bed with her and forget work at least for a while. She could kick herself. Of course he would notice that she was fibbing. He might not be the world’s most socialised person but he is one of the cleverest, and highly attuned to deception in every form.
His eyes acknowledge that she is right. “When clearly it was not fine. You chose to tell me a lie.”
She takes a breath and lets it out slowly. She is not angry with him. But this needs to be fixed. “I wanted to let you do the thing you wanted,” she says.
“You could not stop me doing what I want, and it is not for you to try,” says Sherlock.
He releases the back of the chair and stalks away. She hears him go past the kitchen into his bedroom. The door shuts.
She hesitates, unsure what to do. She is sorry that she made a mistake, because she really ought to have known better than to apply the usual social rules to any situation involving Sherlock. But she does not think an apology will help. She could go in, guns metaphorically blazing, and demand that – what? That he never speak to her like that again? Pathetic.
She is still standing by the table when Sherlock’s door opens again and he comes back in.
He stands in the doorway, still quivering, strung out, and says clearly, “Do not try to predict me. If you want to know what I want then ask. When I want to know what you want I will ask. There is no requirement for guessing and no benefit to anybody from introducing falsehood. We are both adults and can communicate without recourse to behaviours which artificially prioritise the needs of one person over the other.”
He stares at her, blinking rapidly, then turns and walks away again. This time the door slams.
Joan drops into a chair and rubs her hands over her face. She still does not know what she ought to say or do. Perhaps nothing.
She does however have one piece of old news, and one thing just learned: she is bad at this relationship business, and Sherlock, strangely, is good.
She stands up and treads the creaking passage to his bedroom. Knocks on the door.
It opens as if he has been standing right behind it waiting for her.
“What do you want?” she asks with carefully balanced inflection. “I’m asking.”
His shoulders relax and the corners of his mouth turn up. “I want things to be like they were before.”
She gapes at him. The stress had fallen away and now he is looking at her with steady eyes and no trace of tension. The thing that he wants, now expressed, has soothed him. “Oh,” she says. “Well.” Since they are doing total honesty. “That might be a problem,” she says. “Because I don’t know if I can do that.”
She maintains dignity as she walks away and climbs the stairs. Her room is blissfully quiet and dark. She locks the door behind her.
Then she lies down on her bed and Sherlock’s presence, his scent, is still on the sheet, and on her and she does not want to wash it away. She pulls the covers up around her neck and closes her eyes. She is tired. She needs sleep. Tears will not help anything.
Unhelpful tears leak onto her pillow and her hair and run down annoyingly into her ears until she has to sit up and scrub her face with her T shirt. Then she forces stillness upon herself and deliberately thinks of nothing, listening to the background noises of a relieved city, until sleep comes.
The subway entrance is crowded with litter. Trash spills down the steps, smoothing the slope and making every move treacherous. Joan picks her way, grateful for the heavy heels on her boots, following the path taken by Sherlock, who is bounding towards the vestibule.
People are gamely trying to get to work, but there is a festive air down here, as if time remains unimportant, irrelevant, as it has been for the past day and a half. The debris, the half-staffed ticket office, the handwritten sandwich boards proclaiming delays to all services, all point to the hangover of blackout strangeness. Joan and Sherlock descend to the platform and stand among the excitable crowd, waiting for the next train.
Joan is aware of the lights, electric yellow overhead in this beige tiled tunnel, the only thing between this mass of hyped-up bodies and chaos. There are signals too, green and red, at the platform end and again, in the distant blackness of the tunnel, where the next station must be. Without those signals, the trains have no hope of stopping on time, in the right place.
The lights are bright but nothing is clear to her. Her power and freedom have drained off with daylight, or perhaps, with the argument with Sherlock and their decision to return to their pre-blackout friendship. His decision, Joan thinks. Like everything they do, that decision came from him.
She respects it though. He has been clear. What else can she do?
She wishes she could feel that clarity, but everything feels fuzzy and out of kilter, even under these relentless lights.
Sherlock rocks back and forth on his toes beside her, his hands thrust into the pockets of his bodywarmer. He is wearing the fairisle sweater again, the cheery red white and blue which contrasts with his pale skin and ruffled brown hair.
He spent an age in the shower this morning, the heat now back at full power, but remains, as always, unshaven. Joan waited without complaint in the kitchen, made coffee, fetched fresh milk - and cleared out the refrigerator, although this is supposedly Sherlock's task.
She drank coffee and steeled herself to face him as if it were two days ago: nothing said, nothing shared, no touch exchanged. She is an adult and she can do this.
He sauntered in eventually and fetched cereal, setting his bowl down on the kitchen table, sitting, pouring milk, eating mechanically, eyeing her over the rim of his spoon.
“Morning,” she said with careful inflection.
“It is indeed,” he said. “Watson, are you ready for another foray into the heart of this great city?”
“I am. Though I might go better equipped today. Just in case of emergencies.” She took her pepper spray out of her pocket, plus the glow sticks.
A shadow passed over Sherlock’s face, seeing the glow sticks, but he made no comment.
“And my phone is fully charged,” Joan added, putting everything in her jeans pockets.
“As is mine,” he said. “If you’re ready, let’s go.”
He helped her on with her coat, and she treasured his natural courtesy, his hands firm on her shoulders as he patted the coat into place. She smiled a thank you and his gaze rested on her for a moment, wary, and then he turned to open the front door.
Now they are on their way back to Wall Street.
“I made a few calls,” Sherlock says airily on the train, swinging one handed from the pole as the train sways side to side.
When, she wonders? Maybe from the shower. She wouldn't put it past him to have a waterproof phone.
“We'll be meeting Captain Gregson at the offices of my dubious friend the disaster expert, whose name, by the way is George Lilly. I invited the good captain to come over and make the arrest of his already exemplary career.” Sherlock grins briefly, switches back to his neutral-alert face, watching everything around them.
Joan grabs at a hanging loop as the train reels round a bend, misses and clutches the pole instead. Everyone leans, no one makes eye contact with anyone else. We are New Yorkers, and nothing gives us pause.
Sherlock's eyes dart about, avoiding Joan, watching the other passengers, devoid of expression. By contrast, Joan eyes him without reserve. She is not ashamed or embarrassed at anything that happened. She will not reference it if he does not want to, but she has not forgotten what they shared, and will not pretend she has. She has seen him naked, with her hands and mouth if not her eyes, and her knowledge of him has not been wiped out by a little daylight, or the restoration of electric power.
She studies the stubble between his coat collar and the sharp line of his jaw, and knows that she still loves him, in all the ways she always has, plus some more she has lately discovered. This ... separation, this return to pure friendship, has not changed that. She did not need to go to bed with him to care for him; she holds him as dear now, afterwards, as she ever did.
She does wish they had at least finished what they started. A purely selfish wish, born of desire and the fact that until the blackout it had been a very long time. She grimaces, and removes her gaze from his neck before he notices.
She can do this.
The lights in the train are bright white, bleaching the faces of everyone in the car, making all colours acidic. Joan thinks it must be to keep travellers awake so that they don't constantly find themselves at the end of the line, woozy and out of cash to get home.
The lights flicker and go out, then immediately back on again.
The car falls silent as everyone looks up at the lights.
“Hard to rebalance an entire system swiftly,” says Sherlock, careless of being the only voice.
The train still moves, the lights remain on, but the rest of the journey has a nervy edge to it as people consider what it would be like to be stranded underground in the dark.
There is never that much lively conversation on a crowded commuter train, but now there is none. Sherlock leans close to Joan, his free hand closing over hers on the pole, and whispers, “Don't worry Watson, I still have the Maglite,” and looks pleased when she snorts laughter.
The train pulls into the station at last, and as they prepare to disembark Sherlock lifts his hand from hers and puts it back in his coat pocket.
Wall Street is the usual welter of uptight chaos. Gleaming cars deliver important people to the entrances of aggressively expensive buildings. Phones ring, people yell into them, break into a trot to get to the deal before it makes or breaks. And that’s just in the street.
Sherlock leads Joan to the foyer of one of the less ostentatious buildings. Joan sees a long list of company names engraved on a sheet of glass affixed to the wall behind the receptionist. The names are partnered firms: Joan sees the name of the specialist stockbroker which they uncovered last night.
Gregson is there with Bell, showing badges to the startled receptionist. “This better be good, Holmes” growls Gregson, pocketing his badge. “I got a million pieces of fallout from yesterday.”
“Then you should be most anxious to meet the man who created it all,” says Sherlock. “And he is upstairs in this very building.”
“I thought he worked at the Stock Exchange” Joan says.
“And so he does. But when you get a triumphant call to review the soaring value of your rather fortunate investments, you might make time to pop across and gloat a little at the profits you have made from others’ misfortunes.” Sherlock glances around innocently.
“And did he get such a call,” asks Bell.
“Possibly,” says Sherlock. “It may have occurred.” Joan suppresses an eye roll because he can sense one at a hundred paces and she is standing right next to him.
Gregson jerks his head towards the elevators. “Let’s go.”
They take the elevator to the seventh floor, not a spectacular location, just an average looking corridor with closed-door offices off to either side.
A man in a dark suit and camel trenchcoat is leaving the nearest office. “Well if you didn’t want me, don’t waste my time!” he says.
That unusual accent. Joan recognises him: it is the man in the alley. It is also, she sees in daylight, the man Sherlock took a picture of outside the Stock Exchange.
“George Lilly,” says Sherlock clearly, advancing with his hand extended. “What a pleasure to bump into you here today.”
Lilly is thin and foxy faced, in a neat suit and very elaborately patterned tie, a stiff, expensive looking shirt. He is also instantly suspicious. “You,” he says.
“NYPD,” says Gregson briskly, holding up his badge. “We’d like to have a word with you.”
Over Lilly’s protestations they enter the office and find a balding man with rimless spectacles whose office is decorated with diagrams of chemical structures. He has the air of a professor rather than a stockbroker, although the three monitors on his desk show flashing rows of coloured numbers on a black background. Surely the stock exchange is the only place in the world still to use that non-graphical software on a daily basis.
“Mr Skandler,” says Sherlock with great joviality, as if to an old friend. He is shaking Skandler’s hand and sitting in one of the chairs in front of Skandler’s desk before Skandler can exclaim.
“I hope you can help us, Mr Skandler,” says Sherlock. “I have recently become interested in the progress of certain specialist materials, particularly the new breed of semi conductor. Silicon carbides, Mr Skandler,” he breathes. “They fascinate me and I wish to become more heavily invested in them
He glances at Lilly. “As I believe my friend here, already has.”
“I can’t discuss the investments of one client with another,” say Skandler awkwardly. “What is all this?” He goggles at Lilly as Bell closes the door and the room becomes very crowded. “George? Do you know these people?”
“Just answer the questions,” says Gregson, and there is the badge again, “and we can all move on with our day.” He casts Sherlock a dark look.
“Silicon carbides, Mr Skandler,” repeats Sherlock.
Skandler shuffles in his chair. “Ah, yes, the material of tomorrow, happily for my firm, available today and selling extremely well right now, A solid investment should you choose to make it.” He presses keys, clicks his mouse. Numbers appear and Skandler twists a screen so that Joan and Sherlock can see.
“A remarkable boom in this kind of stock,” Skandler says. Lilly is glaring at him.
Joan glances at Sherlock: either he understands the screen or is doing a very good impression of someone who does.
Of course: he is an excellent actor. Right now he is playing the role of a man who did not spend part of the previous night wrapped up in bed with his friend and partner, squeezing and tickling and giggling with her until they began the kiss which led to bare skin and breathlessness and shared pleas for more, for yes, for right now.
He can pretend that without a thought; faking an in-depth knowledge of the stock exchange software would be as nothing.
“Can you tell me a little more about the history of silicon carbide,” Sherlock asks disingenuously. Joan is sure he could give Skandler the history, and suspects this exposition will be for her, Gregson and Bell.
“Of course.” Skandler settles in his chair with his hands folded over his gut. “Manufactured by a few firms in the US, silicon carbide has many functions but recent interest is in the production of a particular type of semi conductor.”
“Developed by the University of Arkansas,” supplies Sherlock, glancing at Joan. Skandler is clearly not moving fast enough for him. “A research project, rather underfunded to begin with I believe, to develop silicon carbide semi conductors for potential use in a new kind of fault current limiter.”
Joan sees it then. “They have lately acquired some good funding,” she suggests, and sees Sherlock’s gratified glance. “But not from the power companies.”
“No,” says Sherlock. “From some private individuals. One of whom is in this room. Mr Lilly!” He spins round and faces Lilly, who has been affecting boredom beside the closed door. “Would you like to tell us what inspired your generosity towards this worthy research project?”
Lilly snarls at him.
“Could it be,” suggests Sherlock, “that your recently purchased stocks in the firm which produces this very specific type of materials, influenced your decision to become a benefactor?”
“It’s my money and what I choose to do with it is my business,” says Lilly.
“This is true,” says Sherlock.
Gregson is looking at his watch.
“However,” Sherlock goes on, “your faith in the future of this remarkable technology would be a little more heart-warming were it not for the fact that you planned and executed a plan to make the products of your investment invaluable to the most high profile electricity suppliers in the country.”
He jumps up and stands close to Lilly. “Witnesses report you far from your post at the sharp end of disaster recovery at the Stock Exchange, during the power cut. There is photographic evidence placing you completely outside the building, and witnesses can attest to your presence at a substation some distance off a few minutes later. Your conversation with two city employees was overheard.”
Sherlock glances at Joan. She knows that look. Something he never told her at the time. “Your conversation was recorded,” Sherlock says, taking out his phone, and now Joan understands Sherlock’s fear in the alley by the substation: not of being caught, per se, but of being caught recording. She thinks of Sherlock, conserving phone battery all night, charging it in the stolen car, using Joan’s phone at every opportunity.
Sherlock plays the conversation Lilly had with the two electrical engineers. “Go to fix it, don’t fix it,” says the engineer. And: “I’m paying you and you’ll be wise to remember it.” Lilly’s distinctive voice.
Gregson raises his eyebrows at Lilly. “Care to say anything Mr Lilly?”
“No, says Lilly. “I want my lawyer.” He rallies. “And that conversation, if it is me and if it took place, could have been recorded at any time, or put together from different sources.”
“Hmmn,” says Sherlock. “Well... When I said recorded. I should probably have said filmed.”
Of course. His sudden interest in low light photography.
He holds up the phone. Shadowy figures appear in the alley, plus a timestamp in the corner of the screen. The picture is partly cut off – the top of Sherlock’s jeans back pocket.
Joan thinks of Sherlock holding her still and insisting on silence. Any noise, any rustle of movement, would have ruined the recording.
He had evidence all along, but no motive. That was his frustration last night.
She smiles and he smirks back at her. Once again he has solved it.
“Mr Skandler,” says Sherlock brightly, turning back to the stockbroker, “is it safe to say that shares in the firm which produces these silicon carbide semi conductors have increased in value since the power outage and the resumption, the remarkably swift resumption, of trading at the New York Stock Exchange?”
Skandler looks ill. “Yes,” he whispers.
“Thank you,” says Sherlock. “So to sum up: Mr Lilly’s plan was to make the new technology invaluable. He did this using the somewhat blunt instrument of engineering a massive power overload on the existing system. He exacerbated the situation by manipulating the news feeds to make everything seem more desperate than it was, so that power firms would have no excuse not to buy into the new technology to protect themselves in the future.”
He curls his lip at Lilly and adds, “The University gets their funding for more research into his promising area of technology, Mr Lilly gets a ton of cash from the increased value of stocks in the firm producing the component parts, and the government gets a smarter, more reliable power grid. In theory, everyone wins.”
“Except all the people whose lives were affected by the power outage,” says Joan. She thinks of the people whose shops were damaged by incitement to loot, of the woman and her son passed out through carbon monoxide poisoning, of all the people stranded and afraid in a darkened city. She glances at Sherlock.
“Yes. Except them.” Sherlock moves to stand beside Joan, their shoulders brushing. His hand curls around hers for a second and then slides away.
She blinks, trying to keep her face blank. Gregson is three feet away, looking from Skandler to Lilly with narrowed eyes. He does not appear to have seen anything.
Bell steps towards Lilly with the cuffs.
“Well, Captain,” says Sherlock, rubbing his hands together. “I imagine you’ll be wanting a long conversation with Mr Lilly.”
Sherlock and Joan move past Lilly to the office door. Sherlock opens it.
“Wait, wait,” says Lilly. “I need the bathroom. Can I just go to the bathroom?”
“Bell, go with him,” orders Gregson. Bell takes one step towards Lilly but Lilly is faster.
He grabs Joan by the arm and jerks her into the corridor, saying in a low calm voice, “Don’t try to stop me, I have a knife.”
Warm metal presses on Joan’s throat. She sees Sherlock’s face, horrified, as Lilly drags her across the beige carpet of the corridor and into the elevator. He punches the Doors Close button before she can even cry out.
And then she, and the man who created the blackout, are alone.
Lilly lets go of Joan almost immediately and pushes her across the elevator. She staggers and catches herself. Stands, brushing hair out of her face. Lilly pockets his knife, a glint of metal, and jabs the Down button on the elevator wall beside him.
“No offence,” he says to her nastily. “But I really have not the time for this nonsense.”
“I understand,” says Joan. “I know you would not have hurt me,” she adds.
Lilly looks alarmed. “Don’t bet on it,” he says, but Joan does not believe his threat.
“You won’t,” she says calmly. “And I can give you a couple of reasons.”
Lilly opens his mouth to speak but she interrupts him. “First,” she says, “that’s not a knife. I know the ambient temperature of steel in a normally heated office building, and what you threatened to stick me with was nowhere near cold enough. It’s a cheap alloy, nickel plated brass at best. I'm guessing a pen, or a very shiny metal phone case which you held in your hand in such a way to show the flash of metal but not the shape of the implement. Am I right?”
“Shut your face,” says Lilly. He lunges at her and his punch lands on her cheek as she flings herself away. In such a small space it is an uneven fight, and she is quickly overpowered, his right hand twisting viciously in her hair as he forces her against the elevator wall. Her head is numb from his blow. Her cheek has split and hot blood is trickling down onto her neck. But life with Sherlock has shown her how to roll with the punches, including the literal ones, and she already knows what she is going to do
Lilly is panting, tugging her hair, his eyes wild. Joan kicks his shins with her spike heeled boots and he yelps and shoves her hard against the wall. “Bitch.”
She makes a face at him. Her face is throbbing but she does not care because she is now where she wanted to be. She puts one hand down into her pocket and tries to ease away from Lilly’s grip on her hair, edging along the wall of the elevator towards the controls. “There’s also the second thing,” she says, and slams the Emergency Stop button on the wall beside her.
The lift jolts, Lilly is momentarily surprised and that is all she needs to take her hand out of her pocket and blast him with the pepper spray. He lurches back, clawing at his eyes, and she knees him in the groin, still spraying, and pummels him to the ground. She gets a firm grip on him, pins him, and pockets the spray.
“Sherlock!” she yells. “Sherlock!”
A creak behind her makes her whirl round. The lift doors are being forced. Still crouched, holding down a struggling, half blinded Lilly, Joan sees daylight, and the ground floor foyer, through the bottom half of the door. She had pressed the Stop button four feet from the end of the journey.
Sherlock is there, breathless, the receptionist and an overweight security guard peering in too. "Are you all right?" Sherlock calls, his eyes anxious.
"Yes - help me get him -"
Lilly surges to his feet and tramples Joan aside. She falls sideways with a moan. Lilly launches through the open lower half of the lift door, legs first, punching Sherlock's chest and sending him staggering back. Lilly lands, sprawled onto Sherlock for a second, then springs up and smashes his forehead into the security guard's face. The guy drops like a sack of cement.
Joan is struggling to move, to get out of the lift, to see if Sherlock is Ok.
Lilly takes the guard's gun and waves it around. He opens his mouth as if to deliver some smart line, then thinks better of it and sprints away across the gleaming marble, clatters through the glass revolving doors and onto the plaza outside.
Joan sees Sherlock, through the gap, haul himself upright and start after Lilly.
"Sherlock!" Lilly has a gun. He is desperate. This is not a good combination.
Joan climbs awkwardly out of the lift as Bell, and then Gregson appear. Gregson bends to the security guard; Bell says, "Which way?" and Joan points. Bell races for the door and Joan follows him into the lunchtime throng.
She and Bell are outside on the crowded plaza, when two shots ring across the busy space. There are shrieks, and people scatter to the sides.
Joan feels the chill in her heart before her mind can truly process what she has heard. Bell did not fire - would never fire in a crowded public place - and Sherlock does not have a weapon.
The crowd parts and there is a body on the ground. Lilly is disappearing into a melee of office workers. They leap back as he approaches, unintentionally easing his path.
Joan sprints. Every day she runs, measured paces around the block or along the edge of the park overlooking the water. She runs like clockwork, even, steady, regulating breath and muscles, keeping her arms tucked and her legs in tight stride.
This is nothing like those morning jogs. She is flying, flailing, stumbling over the patterned paving with arms flung out and her scream leading the way. And ahead of her Lilly is vanishing and the figure on the ground in the red white and blue sweater lies very still.
She drops to her knees beside him, trying to think CPR, blood loss, trauma but her world is full of Sherlock, no, not you, no, no, and she has not even reached out to touch him as Bell pounds past her, pauses, and fires his weapon. More screams and then a collective gasp, and then a New York silence, not quiet in absolute terms, but only a well of stillness in the midst of hubbub and motion.
Sherlock is still. There is no blood. This fact reaches Joan's brain only after she has wrapped her arms around his fallen form and is shrieking, sobbing, saying his name over and over. There is no blood, says the deductive part of her mind, and whatever felled Sherlock, it was not a gunshot.
She lifts her head, gasping, and see Sherlock fling out his right hand. In it is clutched Lilly's gun.
"Safety on Watson," says Sherlock faintly. "Put the... safety on..."
Gregson says behind her, "I got it." He bends with a handkerchief in his hand and takes the gun. "You ok?"
Sherlock grunts. Groans. Gregson says, "Bell got him," and heads off, with the gun, in the direction of Bell.
The moment of stillness has passed and now the noise is increased, shriller, brimming with adrenaline.
Sherlock opens his eyes, inspects the sky, levers himself upright. He stands swaying for a moment and then Joan attacks him.
Unknown words fall from her mouth. She hammers him with her fists, shrieking outrage and horror.
Sherlock steps behind her and pins her with his arms around her waist. He is strong. All that single stick. She cannot free herself. "Watson," he says. "Watson, stop. You're safe. I've got you. Joan."
She is sobbing and thrashing and she cannot calm down. "I thought you were dead," she says, and it comes out with an undignified squeak. She struggles and tries to turn around and carry on hitting him, battering him into the understanding of what he did to her.
He just stands holding her steadily, saying "Joan, I've got you, the gun went off as I grabbed it, I'm just winded, it's all right," until she subsides.
She takes breaths and wobbles as he releases her.
He sets her feet on the ground but his arms are still round her - to stop her running or maybe just to keep her uptight.
"Joan," he says into the back of her neck, and this time there is pain in it. "I will never hurt you, I will never hurt you."
She stops. She has heard those words before.
She wriggles round in his arms and looks up at him. He is pale and as breathless as she.
"Are you ok?" she asks. He is not dead but is he hurt? Her heart pounds as she realises he could have been bleeding this whole time, trying to cure her hysteria.
He searches her face. His eyelids flicker as he takes in her tears, her torn cheek, her messed up hair. He lifts his right hand and smooths hair from her forehead.
She feels his rough palm on her skin. Oh. He strokes her hair back again, and again, and then she is pressed against his chest, her face in his sweater as his hands cradle her head, and his warm breath against her scalp. He says, "Joan. Joan. You have misunderstood me all day."
"What do you mean?" But she knows.
"Like we were before," he says.
"I thought you meant before we - had sex," she says. She will not be afraid of those words, as bald as they are.
He cannot possibly be afraid either, but he winces as she speaks so bluntly. "That was not what I meant when I said it," he says. "I was talking about earlier in the evening. Before the power came back on. I wished we had not stopped."
He smiles ruefully. "I knew at once that you had misunderstood me. But when you said you couldn't, I -"
He falls silent.
He takes her hand and leads her to a sculptured bench, the one he leapt, the night of the blackout. They face each other. He still has her hand.
"I had hope then," he says. "Hope that you, that you had the same feelings I do."
She feels her eyes widen. She cannot stop looking at him.
"You thought I wanted to go back to before ...we..." He is stilted, frustrated with himself.
"Sex," she says. Brutal. Still feeling a need to punish, why, why is she so awful at this when he is being so nice? Suspicious, she realises. She just can't believe his words can be what she wants to hear so much.
"Before we made love," he says.
He purses his lips and looks at her - daring to question his use of that phrase.
She feels the fight drain out of her, leaving only exhaustion, and her throbbing cheek, and ... promise. "I never expected a euphemism from you," she says weakly.
"It is not a euphemism," he says softly. "Love can be created by the generation of certain chemicals... bonding occurs... but also," seeing her eye roll begin, "also, when you engage in sexual activity with someone you care for deeply. When you fall in love, when you can share your feeling for someone through touch and taste and smell, that is making love, maintaining love, and that is not a euphemism. Is it?"
"No," she says.
There is a pause. There is no one nearby. The stone bench is hard and narrow. Joan remembers Sherlock's stream of words. Were they true then, and known?
She has never told him anything of her feelings.
"You said - you couldn't," she says. Couldn't have a relationship, couldn't... love.
His hand tightens around hers, relaxes and becomes soft. His eyes dart side to side. "That may not have been empirically true." At the last word he meets her gaze.
Her heart beats rapidly.
"We should go home," Sherlock says. He does not move. The plaza hubbub ebbs and flows around them.
"Yes." Joan curls his fingers into her palm. "Love," she says.
She has been with him in well lit spaces all day and has not seen him at all.
She longs for darkness, where things become clear and the truth burns brightly.
"Say nothing you are not sure of, Watson," he says quickly. "I am not a child."
She smiles a little. It is the start of the smile she knows she will have all day, and for a long time. "I never told you,' she says.
He is staring. Quivering. His hand in hers is hot.
"I thought it when I held your hand as we crossed the bridge at midnight," she says. "I thought it when you used your hand to stop me bashing my head into the wall. I thought it when you went back for that boy's mother. -I - I thought it when we were in the thirty thousand dollar bed." Touch and scent and taste and gasps and cries.
She is bad at this. "Sherlock -"
"The words are not the point," he says quickly. "What prompts them, is the point."
She owes him more than that. She lets go his hand and puts her hands on his shoulders, leans towards him so that her mouth is beside his left ear. "I love you," she whispers, and his arms slide around her and hold her tightly, strong and sure, and she rests her palms on the back of his neck and knows calm certainty.
She leans away, and rummages in her pocket; finds the bundle of glowsticks. Picks one, and snaps it to set off its dim apricot glow.
"That's as much light as I want," she tells Sherlock. " Any more and things start to get fuzzy."
She puts her hand to his jaw, drawing his fingers over his bristles, brown mixed with silver, evidence of his years. She touches his left eyebrow, wiry hair there too, then trails her fingers down his jaw and throat and to the rough round collar of his sweater, and rests her hand on his chest with her fingertips just touching his skin.
His eyes are huge. "Can you see me now?" he whispers.
She smiles. "Yes." She pauses, his heat transmitting to her skin, and hers to his. "Let's go home."
There is a thing he does, holding her hand crumpled in his, completely enclosed, and rubbing her knuckles across his lips, kissing, nuzzling, really. He does it sitting up in bed, watching TV news, or he does it while eating cereal with his other hand, careless of the fact that this leaves her struggling with her spoon in the wrong hand. Sometimes he does it sitting in front of Gregson’s desk, listening intently, nodding, making sarcastic comments and then his hand is warm on hers and she feels his lips on her fingernails and she has to stare straight at Gregson, or out the window because Gregson still cannot cope with public displays of affection from Sherlock to Joan. She wonders what Gregson would do the other way around. One day she will have to find out, but for now the PDA is all on Sherlock's side, astonishing but true.
He likes to hold her hand as they walk. It helps him think, he says. A steadying contact, he calls it. She gets that. His calloused palm against her own, a reminder all the time of reality, of love, of hope in a world where crime and distress can come in at any moment to wreck what you have built. And sometimes she feels heat rising from his skin, and stops, and he stops too and turns to her with a look of such longing that she leans across and kisses his cheek, and he grabs her hard and begins an exploration of her back and bottom, and she pushes him away and says, Not here, later, and he complains but knows that it is a promise as well as a deferral, and satisfies himself with a little ear nibbling and perhaps saying into her ear what he expects them to do later on in return for her making them wait.
And at home, in the kitchen, she will sometimes walk up behind him and kiss the soft back of his neck, and he will not even look up from what he is reading, but wave his hand at her in acknowledgement. Or maybe she will pull his feet into her lap on the couch and sit stroking them, his silly socks, his elegant, sensitive feet which are as sensual as every other part of him once bare. If there is no case or it is time for them to sleep in the middle of a case, she will reach for him and pull him down beside her on the couch and kiss him until the blankness goes from his eyes and he is here with her in the present moment, kissing her too, shoving his notes away and manoeuvring to get a better grip on her sweater. He pulls it off and when her arms are free she undoes his belt, all in the name of becoming more comfortable for sleep, and then jeans are removed and underwear disappears to be found days later in the back of the couch, and goodnight kisses become deep and slow and extend beyond passion into whole realms of wordless communication, and after a tussle for protection, which either of them has available in an instant these days, they arrange themselves for sleep, that is, not to sleep at all but eventually there is the possibility of sleep with him panting into her neck and saying “I love you,” and her hands clenched on his shoulder blades, dragging him closer, so precious, and kissing her reply because she is the repressed one and finds love, the three words about it, too hard to express most of the time. And finally there is sleep, on the couch with a blanket thrown over them both, and it is not perfect sleep, but better than none, and at least this way they are on hand for the case, or at any rate, more non-sleep in the morning when they wake up and one or both of them is feeling keen.
It cannot last, of course, this wonderful period of exploration and learning and permanent excitement. But he seems determined to keep surprising her, and she will do whatever it takes to make this continue to work, and so even when one day the newness has worn off and they are established as some kind of regular couple, however that will work, Joan has hope that she will always be able to see him, to know him, and he her, no matter what, and even, especially, perfectly, in the dark.