Joan Watson certainly did not believe in love at first sight, and for a brief moment she wondered if her new client was having some sort of psychological break, and if she needed to get him back into residential care. Then he revealed his hand as a smartass, and she regained her footing. He wasn’t in crisis; he was embarrassed and defensive and frightened, although he was probably in denial about that last one. Her very existence in his life was the symbolic reminder of his addiction, and therefore he wanted nothing to do with her. It was a good sign, actually. A hopeful one. The clients who were too happy with her companionship tended to struggle a lot more with the process of reclaiming responsibility for themselves, had a hard time moving forward. This one clearly intended to be out the door, metaphorically and literally, as fast as possible, preferably leaving her behind as soon as he could get away with plausible deniability. Which he proceeded to do, the very next morning.
It was going to be a long six weeks, she thought, after seeing his text about being at the police station, and she staggered on sleep-stiff legs to her suitcase. Challenging, though. Invigorating, even. The shock of that poor dead woman notwithstanding, the process that unfolded at the crime scene was fascinating. Then later, she hadn’t exactly felt comfortable walking around a hospital again, but there was the distraction of trying to figure out whether the administrator was lying about his relationship to the victim, and she actually forgot about what she’d done, before. Forgot right up until Sherlock — god, was that name ever going to sound normal? What were his parents thinking? — needled her about it last night, just before he attempted to bribe her into taking off and leaving him alone.
He was certainly more entertaining than her last few clients. More work, too, obviously. She hurried down the hall and didn’t bother to hold back her wry grin until her bare toes sunk into the little puddle of tacky honey on the floor outside the bathroom, and she swore. Somebody was gonna be tidying this place, she thought with a grimace, hobbling the last few steps to the tub on her heel to avoid tracking the honey any further. She hesitated before pulling back the shower curtain, suddenly dreading what she might find on the other side. The bathroom’s ambiance wasn’t at all improved in daylight. She took a deep breath. It was going to be a very long six weeks.
Of course Sherlock Holmes didn’t believe in love at first sight. The very idea was preposterous. It was 5 a.m., he’d confirmed that his house guest was still sleeping when he passed her room on the way upstairs, and he thought maybe he’d turn the volume up a bit for this morning’s memory practice. Considering he’d missed it the day before while languishing in his jail cell.
He didn’t believe in love, period. Not that it was even a matter of belief: it would be something akin to not believing in fairies. He mentally waved a hand to dismiss the inner quibbling over word choice. The point was, any given situation may be or become workable or unworkable, desirable or undesirable. In the moment, one makes choices out of expediency or deliberation, assessing which next step may be most fruitful in the ultimate goal of achieving one’s ends. Deducing a motive. Solving a case. Keeping a roof over one’s head. Using heroin.
Well. More to the point, not using heroin. He cleared his throat. Et cetera.
And so, he was left with the lesser of two undesirable situations: Joan Watson, addict-sitter, was in fact preferable to homelessness. The necessity of enduring her presence was accepted, albeit reluctantly. The Brownstone may be the least valuable of his father’s properties, but it was of immense value to him, and certainly worth the price of some short-term tedium. Even if he did have to remind himself of this fact repeatedly, and sometimes hourly.
On the other hand, Miss Watson’s utility beyond the scope of housing surety came as something of a surprise. A silver lining to his temporarily curtailed liberty. He had no doubt he would have found ways to make use of her for his own ends, as he did with everyone who crossed his path as a matter of course, but that she should volunteer her own usefulness with his work and be successful in that effort? That was something of a shock, if he was to be honest. He was hard-pressed to come up with other examples, certainly not in his adult life, outside of the occasional tip from a dealer that led to a criminal he sought. He tapped a contemplative finger against his lips, remembering. A year ago, he’d been more likely to seek criminals for tips to find a dealer, actually. But all that was behind him now. He meant what he’d told her that first night. He was through with drugs. Eventually she’d recognize he meant it. And at some point after that, he’d be finally on his own again.
He hit the remote’s on-button and punched the volume up as all seven screens blared to life. He winced a little and angled his head slightly toward the open door behind him. The acoustics of the old house really were remarkable. He sighed. If Miss Watson was as good as her word to his father, it was going to be a very long six weeks.
Cool goo oozed between her toes, and Joan yelled, “Sherlock!”
He came halfway down the stairs from the third floor and bent over to peer at her through the railing. “What now—“ She extended out her leg so the sole of her foot jutted in view. “Ah.” He bent further and contorted his neck to peer up at the ceiling where the honey usually dripped.
“Don’t you ‘Ah’ me. You told me you took care of that. Twice!” She hopped into the bathroom and stepped into the tub, angrily twisting both handles. Sherlock hoped he’d remembered to turn the control back from shower to tub that morning but Watson’s “Dammit!” and the rough scrape of metal fixtures suggested otherwise. He straightened, tugged his waistcoat back into place, and headed into battle.
“Watson, although I admit I was less than forthright with you in our early days, I did in fact address the problem when it arose again last year, to the best of my ability.” He stood at the bathroom threshold looking straight ahead, as if to preserve her modesty, although he knew full well (and could easily see in his peripheral vision) that she hadn’t removed her pajama shorts to rinse honey off one foot. She twisted the handles again to shut off the water, and he wordlessly stepped forward, pulled her towel off the rack, and held it out to her. She jerked it out of his hand, folded it in half, and began swatting him with it.
“Would you just get out? I can’t wait until you leave and I have six weeks of a bathroom all to myself!” She slammed the door after him. “And that honey better be gone before you are!”
He paused a moment to consider asking if he could just get his own towel to use for the clean up, but thought better of it, turning to make his way to the kitchen for honey-removal supplies. He really had thought he’d taken care of that leak. It would be difficult to fix it again before his flight this afternoon.
He had breakfast ready by the time she made her way to the kitchen half an hour later. He set her tea down on the table as she reached her chair, and she sat down, slumping back a bit.
“Sorry for snapping at you like that. I overreacted, with everything…” She gestured vaguely and took a sip of tea, followed by staring into the cup. He gave a quick nod in acknowledgment but focused on plating the omelettes and bringing them over, then crossed the room again to get a couple of forks. She took hers from him and held it up a moment. “Sorry for hitting you with my towel, too.”
“You’re concerned about Mary. There’s been a lot of disruption to our plans lately, and your natural equanimity has reached its rather prodigious limits.” He pointed his fork at her plate. “You’ve also been subsisting on burnt coffee and vending machine snacks for a week. You need actual nutrients. Eat.”
She did feel better after the meal and insisted on washing up to make up for her freak-out. He was right; she was worried about her mother, who was recuperating from surgery for a broken hip. This was Joan’s first day not spent at the hospital since it happened, thanks to Oren and Gabrielle visiting for the weekend. They’d all ganged up on her to take the day off. She was trying, but being at the Brownstone only reminded her of their imminent trip. Which was now Sherlock’s trip, since there was no way she could leave her mother for six weeks. So he was off to London to work on their special assignment for MI6, leaving her behind. Standing at the sink, she squeezed her eyes shut, trying not to think it, but the word slipped through her defences.
She knew it wasn’t the same. This was no “again”: he wasn’t leaving her, there wouldn’t be a note, they’d be in contact by text and video every day. And he’d be back in just six weeks. But the part of her who knew too much about the life expectancy of patients over 75 with hip fractures was also intent on reminding her how alone and betrayed she’d felt the last time Sherlock had gone to MI6.
Back then, she’d faltered. She’d already been questioning what she was doing with her life: She loved their work, but there was supposed to be more in her life than work, wasn’t there? How much did it matter if the whole picture was incomplete? How do you choose between what you have that’s good-enough, the risk of settling for something that’s merely not-wrong, and the fantasy of finding what’s actually right?
Medicine had been good-enough for her until she couldn’t do it any more; addiction counseling was not-wrong. But being a detective and Sherlock’s partner was absolutely right. And yet when her world imploded, she convinced herself she was wrong. Being right hadn’t kept her safe, and it hadn’t saved the men who died while she was kidnapped. She had wanted to run and hide, but the Brownstone was a place for observation and deduction, where mysteries were solved and secrets eventually came to light. The last place she wanted to be. The last place Sherlock wanted to be, and for similar reasons, as it turned out.
It took a year and another tragedy to bring her back. No wonder it stressed her out to think about this. She rubbed her forehead with the back of her hand and tackled the backlog of dishes.
When she was done, she dried her hands and went back to sit at the table after refilling her cup with tepid tea. Sherlock had gone up to the study, pulling files to pack, and came back down with his arms full. He dumped the stack on the couch in his room next to a pile of clothes she hoped was destined to be washed first. She’d suggest he take her wheelie suitcase, except he had a strange prejudice against them. She walked over and leaned against the open door frame. “That’s gonna weigh a ton. You should swallow your ridiculous pride and take my bag.” He made a disgusted face, about the bag or about its necessity, or both, she couldn’t tell. After a moment, a different thought smoothed his expression.
“You know she’s strong. She’ll not be a statistic, your mother.”
“And when you have time, you’ll consult. On the case, with me. No shirking, Watson.”
She bit her lip and nodded again, blinking. “Okay,” she said in a small voice.
“O-Kay,” he exaggerated the vowels in a terrible American accent, turning back to his piles so she could wipe her eyes in privacy. She watched him sort both papers and clothes simultaneously, and as the mess expanded around him, the tightness in her chest eased. Her mother was going to be fine. Sherlock wasn’t leaving her, and he was going to come back. And at least this time, she knew what was right.
“When did you know?” She asked.
“Hmm?” He half-turned toward her, holding a sweater in both hands.
“Us. Our partnership. When did you know it could be this?”
He was silent a moment, but his face contorted and twitched as he considered his answer before settling into something wary, as if expecting she’d object. “I had an inkling the first time you stayed.”
She nodded with a knowing half-smile. “When you found out how good a liar I was, you mean.”
“No.” He shook his head. “Lying about the extended contract was the second time you stayed. How soon we forget, Watson,” he mock-chided, and she frowned, confused, before her brows raised in surprise. His mouth stretched into a flat, slightly smug smile.
“Really? But that was like—“
“The second day. Well, late evening, by the time you came to my holding cell. But you stayed, and you wanted to solve the case. However, you also saw right through me, which was somewhat disconcerting, to say the least. I was not at all convinced the benefits outweighed the risks. And of course there was the little matter of vendetta clouding my judgment. Certainty came a bit later.”
His eyes blinked wide in incredulity, and then he snorted. “You should have some people over. A party. While I’m not here to stop you. I’ll regret that.”
“I just might. Alfredo and Marcus and Gregson. He and Ms Hudson can regale us with stories about when they knew you when you were young. Emily can complain about all the times I stood her up for work. Her kids can play with your skeleton collection.”
“I’m so sorry I’ll miss it.”
“We can Skype you in.”
“Excellent; I’ll use the opportunity to catch you up on the case. And quiz you on my skeleton inventory.”
“It’s gonna be a very long six weeks.”