When Joan was six, her family rented a cabin in the woods somewhere up north and spent a week camping. Joan didn’t mind it, really, though it wasn’t her favourite family vacation ever. She enjoyed the loud silence of the forest, with the cacophony of nature that nonetheless seemed far quieter than the city ever was. She climbed trees and waded in creeks, and generally had a ton of fun.
On their last day there, Oren told her he wanted to show her something cool in the woods, and so she followed him. Joan never got to find out what was so interesting, because on their way there, she tripped over a log that happened to be filled with bees.
She was stung five times, Oren nine, and since then, she’s never been particularly fond of bees.
Of course Sherlock Holmes keeps bees.
She’s only been with him for a handful of hours, and he’s already proven himself to be, quite possibly, the most difficult of any of her clients. He’s implied that she’s going to clean his house (which- no), has called her his personal valet, discovered a corpse that she wasn’t expecting, dragged her to watch an interrogation, immediately discounted the interrogation, and proven that he really doesn’t understand the concept of boundaries. At all.
Of course he keeps bees on his roof. Of course he does.
She isn’t scared of bees, not like she was when she was six, and nine, and fifteen. But she isn’t a huge fan, and she prefers to keep her distance whenever possible. Given that there is honey dripping through the ceiling and that she’s going to be here for six weeks, she suspects that avoiding the bees won’t be a possibility. Especially when they make Sherlock almost calm, for him.
He gives her some bullshit speech about how he doesn’t need her, that he’s better, the same speech she’s gotten from recovering addicts both better and worse off than him, and walks away, leaving her to look at the hives. She doesn’t step any closer than she has to, but she still takes a look.
The bees in the woods were in a log, hidden away where they couldn’t be easily seen. Here, Joan can watch them work, even at this hour, their buzz an almost reassuring white noise beneath the city traffic. They’re industrious, very hard working, focused. Obsessively focused, even.
She thinks she can see why Sherlock likes them.
“You don’t like my bees,” he says, apropos of nothing. Joan looks up from her book in surprise. He’s sitting at the table, working on dismantling a bomb. A fake bomb, anyway, something that a consultant of his worked up so he could practice. At least, he told her it was a fake bomb. She hopes it’s a fake bomb. She wouldn’t put it past him to play with real bombs. She’s only known him for just over six weeks, and after the whole M fiasco, she really doesn’t put anything past him. She glances down at the floor, checking again that Clyde is safe.
“Clyde is fine, Watson,” Sherlock says, not taking his eyes from the bomb. “You needn’t check on him every five minutes like a petrified parent.”
“You’ll understand if I get a little nervous for him, especially since you considered making him into soup,” she replies dryly. Sherlock gives her a hurt look, as though he doesn’t understand why she would ever believe he would do that. She ignores it. He knows why, and it always comes back to butterfly knives and ice picks.
“You don’t like my bees,” he says again, pushing the point. Damn. She had hoped he’d get distracted.
“I don’t dislike your bees,” she says, switch her focus back down to book. It’s a Poirot novel. She used to really enjoy Christie novels, but ever since she started working with Sherlock, they seem rather bland.
“Perhaps not, but you don’t like them.”
Joan sighs and closes her book. She’s never going to be able to read it while he’s acting like this. “What makes you think I don’t like your bees?” she asks, ignoring the fact that he’s right. If he’s going to pull deductions out of midair, he needs to explain them. His figuring out that she was worried about Clyde was easy- she looked at the bomb, frowned, and then looked for Clyde, anyone can figure out that train of thought. Deducing that she isn’t exactly excited about his bees is another, especially since she’s never avoided Sherlock when he’s on the roof.
“You never visit them by yourself. Whenever we’re up on the roof, you give them a cursory glance, enough to establish where their hive is, but you never go closer and in fact keep a very clear perimeter around them. When I suggested turning your room into an apiary, you were less than pleased,” he lists automatically. She can tell he’s watching her out of the corner of his eyes, probably gauging her reaction, but he keeps his gaze fixed on the practice bomb, hands carefully moving in a precise, ordered fashion.
“Sherlock, I think the whole room into apiary thing had less to do with my feelings about bees and more to do with the fact that you were only suggesting it in order to make me feel unwanted, and possibly to piss me off,” she says.
Joan feels her temper fray, a quick hot spike of irritation under her skin. She’s exhausted, up all hours playing detective with Sherlock. That isn’t what is wearing her thin, though. She’s been lying to Sherlock for almost a week now, pretending that his father is still paying her bills. It is grueling, trying to keep him from deducing her lie. It takes every last bit of her energy, and she has none left to spare at the end of the day. So she does not want to argue about stupid bees, of all things. “Nevertheless what, Sherlock?” she snaps.
Sherlock finally looks up from his toy bomb, eyes wide with surprise. “Nevertheless, whatever my motivations were for creating an indoor apiary, you don’t like my bees.” He considers her for a moment, tipping his head to the side. “Are you afraid of them?”
“No,” she answers shortly, because she’s not. If she were afraid of bees, she wouldn’t even go up on the roof, no matter how many fertilizer and chemical bombs he sets off. Besides, caution and fear are two very different things.
Sherlock purses his lips and his leg sets to jiggling underneath the table. She opens her book again, trying to enjoy Poirot revealing the villain of the piece, even if he isn’t nearly as interesting now that she knows Sherlock. She can’t watch Columbo reruns, either.
“Not fear, then,” he says after a bit. “Respect. Wary respect. Cautious respect.”
She refuses to look up from her book and give him the satisfaction of a victory. She might not have bothered. Her refusal to confirm is confirmation in and of itself. “Ah,” he says. “I see. Might I ask why you are… cautious… around bees? You aren’t a woman prone to silly fears, and you deal quite capably with reasonable ones. You’ve certainly never flinched in the face of an investigation.”
“You don’t like planes,” Joan says, turning a page. She didn’t read the last one, but if she doesn’t keep turning, Sherlock will know she isn’t reading. “And I’m not thrilled about bees. Doesn’t have to make sense.”
“My distaste for planes makes sense,” he counters immediately. “I have already told you, I see far too much when flying, enough to make any person distressed. Bees, though, are magnificent creatures.”
“That sting,” she says flatly.
“Only if you are so injudicious as to aggravate them.”
“Sherlock, a six-year-old tripping over a log full of them didn’t really make a judicious choice either way.”
“You were stung?”
“Five times,” she tells him, setting her book down again. He’s watching her, face still and calm, but his hands are moving, carefully exploring the surface of the table and touching his tools. “They stung Oren nine times.”
Sherlock winces. “Are either of you allergic, now? A number of stings in such a short time can create an allergy.”
Joan shrugs. “I don’t think so. I don’t know about Oren, but I’ve never been stung since then. My ‘cautious respect’ for bees doesn’t lead to me seeking them out very often.”
Sherlock brightens, and Joan immediately wishes she had forced him to drop the subject. That is the look of a man who has an idea, one that she isn’t going to like. “Watson,” he says, giving her his most charming smile, “have you ever had an allergy scratch test?”
Which is how Joan finds herself spending her Friday night getting small needles poked into her, because of course Sherlock has an at-home version of the scratch test, which he put together years ago, he tells her, specifically to test a client’s alibi.
“The alibi fell through, naturally,” Sherlock tells her, staring at her arm with a level of concentration that is a bit strange, even for him. “The client was in fact the villain, and their entire alibi rested on their being allergic to a rare form of pollen.”
“Not allergic, then?” Joan asks. She doesn’t know why she puts up with Sherlock’s experiments, except that in this case, she’s actually a bit curious to see if she’s allergic to bees after all. Also, she’s watching him like a hawk, and he seems to know what he’s doing.
“Oh, deathly allergic to all sorts of things. The man puffed up like a red, blotchy, pus-filled balloon. Unfortunately, the one thing he wasn’t allergic to was that rare pollen. Only patch of skin that was an unblemished, smooth white.”
She can’t help it. She starts to laugh. It’s a ridiculous story, much like so many of Sherlock’s other cases, though she doesn’t doubt that it’s true. He tends to attract the weird ones. “If he wasn’t allergic to the pollen, then why did he rest his entire alibi on it?”
Sherlock hums thoughtfully, never taking his eyes off her arm. “I suspect that he was allergic to so many other things that he just supposed that this pollen had to be on the list. The final count was twenty-seven allergies. Had to go to the hospital before they arrested him.”
Joan keeps laughing, amused by the image in her head of the hapless criminal, and then Sherlock hums again and nods. “You have passed your scratch test with flying colours, Watson! An hour with no reaction. You are not allergic to bees- not my bees, at least.”
“Oh,” Joan says, feeling somewhat disappointed. If she had been allergic, at least she would have had an excuse for keeping her distance. Although she supposes the bonus is that she doesn’t have to fear for her life whenever she does go near them. “Good.”
“I suspect that rather than encountering the somewhat benign Apis mellifera as a child, you instead met with a nest of Vespula maculifrons.
“Which in English is…?”
“Yellowjackets,” Sherlock concludes succinctly. “Imagine, all those years frightened of bees-”
“I was not frightened-”
“- when in fact it should have been the yellowjacket wasp you feared. Wasps are nasty creatures, Watson. Your fear is most understandable.”
Joan starts to object again, but stops herself. If Sherlock wants to believe she was scared- which she wasn’t, healthy caution is not the same as fear- it doesn’t actually matter much. Although she should probably let Oren know, especially if he did get tested for a bee allergy.
She stands and starts to go up to her room, where her cell phone is waiting, well away from Sherlock, but Sherlock’s voice stops her. “Watson!”
She sighs, turning. “Yeah?”
“Well, now that we know you aren’t allergic to bees, and that your fear is unfounded, would you like to come up to the roof and learn a little something about them?”
His eyes are wide, eyebrows high and mouth pressed into a thin line. He’s bouncing a little, hands clasped in front of him. It’s his hopeful look. He’ll never come out and say that he wants her to join him- something that straightforward is almost beyond Sherlock- but this is as close as he comes.
She considers. He’s going to find out that she lied to his father eventually, and who knows how he’ll react. There won’t be many more opportunities to just sit quietly and watch bees, to sit with Sherlock and enjoy his company, as strange as his company is.
She’s going to miss him, when she finally leaves.
“Sure,” she says. “Let me get a sweater.”
“So, what are you going to do with box bee?” Joan asks him after he manages to seal the bee away in its little hexagon again. She’s still feeling flush with excitement and success, and she thinks that the gleam in Sherlock’s eyes isn’t just from managing to capture his bee again. He’s proud of her. Excited for her. “I mean, can you keep it with your other bees?”
Sherlock watches the little bee fly around in its box, his hands perfectly still and steady where they’re wrapped around the wood.
“I must admit, Watson, the possibility of ever owning Osmia avosetta never occurred to me. I shall have to engage in some research,” he says. He looks up and gestures down at the box with his chin. “I know you are somewhat disdainful of ‘box bee’,” he pronounces carefully, “but would you like to observe him for a moment?”
Joan considers. Sherlock has encouraged her to become at least comfortable with his bees, given that she’ll be living alongside them for the foreseeable future, and while she can’t say that she wants to spend hours on the roof staring at them, she can see the point of watching them from time to time. And box bee is different. It’s alone, and its entire world is one hexagonal box.
“Yeah,” she says, surprising herself a bit. Sherlock nods happily and sets the box down on the coffee table he has set up in front of a decrepit looking green couch. She walks over and sits next to him, leaning over to watch the bee fly around.
It doesn’t look all that different from the honeybees on the roof, in her eyes, but she supposes Sherlock could list a number of differences and would scold her for her inability to make detailed observations. But frankly, it’s a bee. It’s a bee like any other bee, except that it makes Sherlock lose his breath and stare with his mouth open, which makes it slightly different. She can appreciate it for that quality alone.
She leans back after a moment, Sherlock still lost in his thoughts while he watches the bee; she thinks she sees hearts in his eyes. She takes a moment to glance around his room. She saw it when he gave her a tour of the brownstone, but she’s somewhat surprised to see that it hasn’t changed much in the ensuing months.
“Why haven’t you set your bed up?” she asks, looking down at the couch he apparently sleeps on.
“I rarely sleep in a bed, Watson,” he says, sounding distracted. “I find that the sofa does admirably when I feel like resting. One can train their body to sleep wherever it is necessary.”
“Yeah, but it’s not necessary to sleep on a crappy couch right now, so why are you doing it?” she asks. Then she frowns. “Do you even own a bed?”
“I- I do, but the body must be kept in training.”
Joan watches him, looks at the way the veins are standing out on his neck and his relentless focus on the box bee. “Do you know where your bed is?”
“I say, Watson, while I admire your ability to pursue a line of interrogation to the very end, I-”
“Oh my god,” she interrupts, laughing. “How do you lose a bed?”
“I did not lose a bed, I merely… forgot which of the storage units it was, in fact, stored in. My father has numerous all around the city. When I first moved here from London, I didn’t bother getting it out because, well. Because of the state I was in. And after junkie jail, there just seemed to be very little point.”
Joan tilts her head so it rests against the back of the couch and lets out a sigh. It’s been a long day. She solved two cases, one completely on her own, even if it was a small case. She wants to go upstairs and take a long, hot shower. No- a bath. She’s pretty sure Sherlock didn’t use all of her bath oils in his latest flammability experiment.
“Tomorrow, Sherlock,” she says, “we are going to buy you a bed. If your solitary box bee can have a home, then you should at least have a bed.”
“That was a very convoluted analogy, Watson, but I see your point.”
Of fucking course.
(She still has to spend an hour convincing Sherlock that keeping a particularly aggressive species of bee in the house is not going to work for her, no matter how fascinating he finds them and no matter how careful he promises he’ll be.)
Joan groans and grabs blindly for the second pillow that she keeps just for occasions like these, when Sherlock descends upon her at- she cracks an eye open-
“Sherlock!” she yells, or attempts to yell. It comes out more like a croak. “It’s three thirty-seven in the morning. We are not on a case. In fact, we have specifically been told to take a break for right now. Why, why are you waking me up at three thirty-seven in the morning?”
Sherlock is standing at the foot of her bed, swaying. His eyes have a glossy, distant look. She knows he hasn’t been sleeping very well, and he hasn’t gone back to his bedroom since Moriarty stayed in there. She doesn’t blame him for that. But he does need to sleep.
“I made an error, an unthinkable error, when I said that I would name the bees Euglossa watsonia,” he says. “That was- I do not- it of course would not be Euglossa, it would be either Apis or Osmia, I know that, and-”
“Sherlock,” she says, exasperated now. She does not want to discuss bees at three thirty-seven in the morning. She’s touched and everything, but it’s too early to be discussing bees. “Go to bed.”
He doesn’t say anything for a moment, just stands there and sways, eyes focusing on nothing at all. His hands are tapping out a staccato, frantic beat on his leg. “I can’t,” he finally says, sounding miserable.
Joan takes a slow, deep breath, and sits up, shoving her hair out of her eyes. “Why not?” she asks, forcing patience into her voice that she doesn’t necessarily feel. Joan can be patient any time of the day, except for the hours between one am and six am.
“Because,” he replies, “my room still smells like her perfume.”
Joan takes another steady breath, suddenly sick. She didn’t even think about that. Before Sherlock came home from the hospital, she and Ms. Hudson scrubbed away all the bloodstains, picked up the broken wood from where Marcus apparently kicked in their bathroom door, and carefully unpinned Moriarty’s drawings, the ones that Sherlock hadn’t torn down himself. While Ms. Hudson retiled the television room- apparently she has a passing interest in carpentry- Joan changed the sheets and did the leftover laundry. She tried very hard to make his home a home again, and not just one more place that had been violated by Moriarty’s cruelty.
She forgot about the perfume.
“Do you want to sleep?” she asks, careful.
“Yes,” he breathes out, hard and desperate. “And the sofa hurts my shoulder.”
Joan nods. “Okay,” she says, and kicks the covers off her legs. Sherlock watches her carefully as she stands up, feeling around for her slippers. “So you’re going to sleep in my bed tonight. Tomorrow we’ll figure out what to do about your room.”
“Watson, I cannot take your bed, you haven’t trained yourself to sleep wherever, and I know how you value your sleep-”
“First of all, I was a doctor- believe me, I know how to sleep anywhere and everywhere, at any time. We wouldn’t get along nearly so well if I couldn’t, with how often you wake me up or expect me to pull all nighters. Second, shut up and get in the bed.”
Sherlock complies meekly, which is as good a sign as any that he’s dead on his feet. He sits down awkwardly on her bed with the look of someone who feels like they’re crossing a line of some sort. She rolls her eyes. Her bed isn’t even technically hers. All the furniture in her room belongs to Sherlock, or Mr. Holmes, whomever. “Are you quite certain?” he asks a final time.
“Yes, Sherlock. Lay down and close your eyes. It hurts to look at you right now.”
“I am exceptionally tired,” he says quietly, lying down.
“I know,” she says, just as quiet, feeling sad. She thinks his exhaustion is more than physical. She needs to call Alfredo tomorrow, make sure he’s updated on everything. She’ll text Ms. Hudson tonight, though, see if she has any ideas of how to get the lingering scent of perfume out of a house. She may not get an answer until the morning, but at least she’ll get it sooner rather than later. “Go to sleep, Sherlock.”
“I prefer the sound of Osmia watsonia,” he says as she starts to walk out of the room, “but I suspect that Apis watsonia is more accurate.”
“Very well. Good night, Watson. And thank you.”
She closes the door behind her and heads downstairs. The couch isn’t entirely comfortable, but it’s served her as a bed before, and it will do so again tonight without complaint.
“Sherlock,” Joan replies, not bothering to look up from the medical journal she’s reading. There’s something about their latest case that has her feeling like the answer is in one of the medical journals she never quite got around to unsubscribing from, the ones that she still reads on weekends. She can feel it, and it’s frustrating her to no end that she can’t remember what it is that she read.
“Watson, your birthday is in two days,” Sherlock announces, as though it’s a surprise.
Joan does look up now, raising her eyebrow. “Yes?”
“You did not tell me,” he replies, looking wounded. He’s wearing one of his t-shirts (this one has a picture of a test tube with text that says ‘if you aren’t part of the solution, you’re part of the precipitate’. He’d actually giggled when he saw it, and bought it immediately.) with a vest over it, and is holding-
He’s holding a box, covered in a multitude of limp ribbons and sparkling wrapping paper.
“No,” she says instantly, standing up and dropping her journal. “No, Sherlock. I didn’t tell you because I didn’t want it to be a big deal.”
“It isn’t going to be a ‘big deal’, as you put it,” Sherlock says. “I won’t throw you one of those surprise parties that are so ubiquitous on American television, I shan’t tell Captain Gregson or Detective Bell, and I have not informed Alfredo or Ms. Hudson. In fact, the only people I have told are Clyde and the bees, whom I think you will agree are the picture of discretion.”
Joan hesitates. “You told the bees?”
“We do converse, Watson,” he says. Then he pauses and bobs his head to the side. “That is to say, I converse, and they listen. They’re far better than any therapist.”
Joan doesn’t question that. Even though she still sees her therapist every other week, she’d be the first to admit that therapists aren’t the best for everyone. She’d encouraged Sherlock to consider seeing one after Moriarty, but he’d assured her he was doing just fine speaking with Alfredo about matters, and she trusts him. And she also trusts Alfredo to manage to drop some hints if things aren’t all right.
“I simply want to express my happiness that you are on this planet and, more specifically, my friend,” he continues, and shoves the box at her.
Joan takes it carefully and sits back down. Sherlock stands in front of her, thrusting his head forward and staring down at her, clearly eager to see her reaction to… something. Whatever his gift is.
She tugs off the gratuitous ribbons, putting them next to her so that Clyde doesn’t chew on them. Then she gently removes the truly ugly wrapping paper- which looks like it’s been cut into asymmetrical shapes and then plastered on with chewing gum, if she’s honest- and folds it next to the ribbons. She takes the top off the box.
“It’s a beekeeper’s suit!” he announces, grinning widely. “Since the firstApis mellifera watsonia was born, you’ve been spending more and more time on the roof, watching the start of a fledgling subspecies. I thought that, perhaps, you’d like to take a more active role in raising them.”
Joan stares at the rather scary looking white costume in the box, the hood with its netted mask staring up at her. She reaches out and rests her fingertips on the very edge of the netting. “You don’t wear a suit,” she says. “Gloves, but… not the rest.”
Sherlock pulls a face. “I have been an apiarist since I was in university. You have never been anything more than an admirer of beekind, and even that has been a recent development. When you have been working with bees for almost twenty years, we can discuss dispensing with the suit.”
She doesn’t quite know how she feels about this. Gifts, in Joan’s experience, are all too often an expression of what people think you want or need, and they usually miss the mark. Sherlock’s gift is… unique. She thinks some would see it as self-centered, but Joan knows him too well for that. This is Sherlock’s way of inviting her one more step into his world. This is him asking her to come and play.
“I- thank you,” she chokes out around a suddenly tight throat. Sherlock beams at her.
“Excellent! Now, go get dressed. We’re having dinner out tonight.”
“Not takeout?” she asks.
“No, no, that wouldn’t do at all. Ms. Hudson despises takeout, and Captain Gregson has a limited palate for it, given that he’s used to eating with his family. They would never stand for it.”
Joan frowns. “Sherlock-”
“Well, it’s not a surprise party if I tell you about it, is it?”
Joan starts to spend more time with the bees.
She’s still not always comfortable around them, even with her suit that makes her look like a low budget astronaut. But she likes to watch them, in their frantic scramble for food, in their obsessive devotion to the queen. Sherlock has set aside a hive just for their fledgling subspecies, and Joan spends most of her time there, watching them construct meticulous honeycombs. She changes the sugar water most days, even if Sherlock handles the collecting of the honey and the inspections for parasites. But she changes the sugar water, and it feels like she’s helping them. Like she’s contributing to the hive in her own small way.
Joan’s never had pets. A cat or two as a child, a dog with Liam. She likes pets, but when she was working as a doctor, it wasn’t really fair to keep one, and when she became a sober companion, her nomadic lifestyle didn’t really lend itself to owning even an ant farm. The bees aren’t really pets, not the way Clyde is, but they’re something. They’re familiar, and they’re something that she comes home to and looks forward to seeing. Even if they don’t run to greet her, or even know her, her contributions are noted and appreciated in their own way.
She checks out some books on beekeeping and reads a bunch of articles on-line, and then she makes a decision. She checks out more books, gets some graph paper and rulers, takes a tape measure up on the roof, and drafts out her plans, wearing pencils down and destroying erasers. Finally, it’s done. She gathers up her papers and goes to find Sherlock. She finds him in the living room.
“I think I’m going to keep a garden on the roof,” she tells Sherlock. His body is on the sofa, his head resting on the floor, listening to Judy Collins on his record player. She’s singing something in French- Joan can just make out the words je t’aime encore. She pauses, looking again at Sherlock. “Is that comfortable?”
Sherlock opens his eyes. She thinks she can see them almost swim for a moment. “I’m trying to see if listening to Judy Collins while doing a headstand changes anything.”
“You… realize you aren’t doing a headstand, right?”
“I am quite aware, Watson. Unfortunately, despite my pleading as a child, my father did not approve of gymnastics when I was a little boy, and so I never learned how to do a cartwheel, let alone a headstand.”
“I’ll teach you how the cartwheel later,” she says offhandedly. “Is it all right if I keep a garden on the roof?”
“This is your home as well, Watson. Far be it for me to refuse you equal access in all areas.”
“Yeah, but- the garden would be for the bees.”
Sherlock shifts and goes crashing down onto the floor. He reaches over with one hand and lifts the needle off the record even while using his other hand to push himself upright. Joan watches him, feeling somewhat anxious. She knows the bees are his, that she’s just an assistant, but… she’d hoped. That maybe…
“Watson,” Sherlock says seriously, “I think that is a superb idea.”
She blinks. “Yeah?”
“Of course. I have always kept closed in hives because it is too much effort for me to care for both the bees and their food source, especially given the nature of our work. It was a lamentable decision, especially since we’ve added a few specimens of Osmia avosetta to our collection, but a necessary one. But with both of us, we can expand our hives! I had not considered- I didn’t think you were actually interested,” he admits.
She smiles, sheepish. “I thought you were just indulging me.”
Sherlock snorts, dismissive. “I don’t indulge people, Watson. I think you know me better than that.” He sits up, propping his back against the coach, and pats the ground next to him. “All right, then. Let’s see the garden plans.”
She sits on the couch, just to annoy him.
The first time she gets hurt, seriously hurt, on a case, Sherlock puts pressure on the wound, her hands over his and she stares up at him, dazed, while he babbles, “No, Watson. No, no, you can’t do this, no, no, no, the bees- the bees- they need you, we’re so close- only six or seven more years until we have a viable subspecies, you aren’t allowed to leave, not yet, they can’t be named after you posthumously, no, Watson.”
She’s feeling somewhat fuzzy, and she can’t really see straight, so all she can do is reach up and pat Sherlock gently on the cheek. “’m not going anywhere, Sherlock,” she mutters. “Can’t have the bees sad.”
Later, when she wakes up in the hospital, Sherlock is sitting by her bed, a bloody handprint still on his cheek. Joan swallows around the dryness in her mouth and twitches her fingertips until they’re resting against the edge of Sherlock’s hand.
“Bees okay?” she asks.
“The bees will be fine, Watson,” he says gently.
Joan has been working with Sherlock for five years now, and she has never gotten used to his way of summoning her in the morning. She groans and rolls over, shoving her head under her pillow. Maybe if she ignores him, he’ll shut up. Or go away. Either would be good.
“WATSON YOU’RE MISSING IT.”
It’s amazing how he can shout in all capital letters and without punctuation, but he manages it. Joan groans again and sits up, letting one hand reach for the pair of unlaced running shoes she took to keeping by her bed in year three.
“I’m coming,” she says loudly, trying to at least sound like she’s excited about whatever he’s bellowing about. He bellows about a lot of things. Detective Bradstreet, their latest detective, hadn’t taken too well to it, at least at first. He learned to cope with it. That, and Sherlock banging on interrogation room windows. He even dealt fairly well with Sherlock climbing out of the third story window in order to demonstrate how easily someone could come in and out of the bedroom. She’s pretty sure he had a small heart attack, but he brought Sherlock a cup of coffee later.
She follows the sound of Sherlock’s (continued) bellowing, a constant stream of encouragement for Joan to hurry up and how it, whatever it is, is very exciting and she needs to see it now. He’s up on the roof. She snags one of his shirts off the banister as she goes up, wrapping it around her. It’s chilly out.
“What?” she asks as she steps onto the roof, and immediately knows what he’s talking about.
The hive of Apis mellifera watsonia is swarming.
She and Sherlock have been carefully breeding the hive over the past four years, introducing new queens and ensuring that she only bred with other watsonia bees in the hope of making her a viable subspecies. They’ve never had a swarm before, in part because they never had a large enough hive, and also because they always clipped the queen’s wing in order to manage their hives. She’s seen the regular Apis bees swarm, once or twice, when she and Sherlock weren’t able to tend the hives in time, but this is the first time the watsonia bees have had a natural swarm.
“Wow,” she says, watching as a new queen takes flight. They keep a few empty hive boxes around in case they want to split a hive, and she can see that Sherlock has pulled one into the open in order to encourage the new hive to build there.
“Would you like to learn how to do a swarm capture?” Sherlock asks her, not taking his eyes away from the new queen. She can’t blame him. She’s seen the flight of new queens before, but it’s completely different when it’s a swarm.
“Yes,” she says, not even having to think about it, and goes to dig out her suit.
A case in year nine takes them out of the country for a week. They leave the bees in Bruce’s care, with detailed instructions on how to handle their four Apis mellifera watsonia hives. She and Sherlock have left the hives in Bruce’s hands before, without a qualm on her part, but for whatever reason, this year the idea makes her extremely nervous. It might be because they’re only a year or two away from having a purebred watsonia subspecies, or it might be because Bruce has been sick recently. Or it could be that this case, more than any other, makes her anxious.
Moriarty is out in the world, and they know where to find her.
Sherlock is rigid next to her on the plane. She puts her hand on top of his, and he grips her wrist gratefully, keeping his eyes fixed on the seat in front of him. If it weren’t dire, if it weren’t Moriarty, they would have taken a boat. But Moriarty is in Switzerland now, and they can get her, they have a chance, if they get there in the next two days.
“I’m worried about the bees,” she says. Sherlock closes his eyes, and then twists his hand in such a way that they end up winding their fingers together. His grip is still tight, the pulse in his wrist beating hard enough that she can feel it against hers, can feel her pulse start to lull his into a slower, gentler tempo.
“I am as well,” he says.
“I don’t want anything to happen to them.”
“They are in very capable hands. But I suppose we must entertain the fact that something may occur that is beyond our power.”
Joan looks at Sherlock’s profile. She’s memorized it, over the years. The slowly receding hairline and the pointy nose. His eternal stubble, since he refuses to either shave consistently or let it grow out into a real beard. The small scar on the right side of his neck from when a desperate executive tried to slash him open with a fountain pen. The crow’s feet and smile lines. She knows that face by heart. She knows when it’s hiding something from her.
She’s pretty sure she even knows what that something is. She understands him too well.
“The bees better be alive when we get home,” Joan announces, tightening her hold on Sherlock’s hand, “or I’m not going to hesitate to punch Bruce.”
Sherlock’s mouth twitches in a small smile. He, too, understands her.
Underneath Sherlock’s note is one from Moriarty.
It says, I win after all.
Sherlock’s note has a small illustration of a bee underneath his signature, a cartoonish, childish thing, something a preschooler would draw.
She keeps it in her pocket on the flight home. She keeps it in her pocket when Ms. Hudson picks her up at the airport, tears brimming in her eyes as she wraps Joan into a hug. She keeps it in her pocket when Alfredo gets out of the car and gives her a brief, sideways hug before he climbs into the backseat, ceding the passenger seat to her. She keeps it in her pocket while Marcus explains that they’re going to keep a security detail on the brownstone for a while, until they’re sure (that they’re both dead) that she’s safe. She keeps it in her pocket while Gregson chokes out his apologies that they failed to keep Moriarty under lock and key for more than a year or two at a time, each time, that they never were able to build a jail that could hold her. She keeps it in her pocket as she quietly escorts everyone out of the home she once shared, and she keeps it in her pocket when she goes to lie down, placing Clyde gently on the pillow next to her.
When she gets up, almost two days later, she keeps it in her pocket as she trudges up the stairs to the roof.
The bees need her.
“You could become a sober companion again,” Emily suggests, her smile sad. “You never lost the qualifications for that.”
The idea of having to leave behind the brownstone fills her with dread, and she shakes her head. “No. I don’t- that’s not something I want to do anymore. I’ll keep on with the detective work. I was Sherlock’s partner. Not his assistant.”
Her mother comes over sometimes to make sure she’s eating right, or just eating at all, and Ms. Hudson takes to spending weekends in the brownstone, engaging in light, cheerful conversation with Joan. On the fifteenth such weekend after Sherlock dies, Joan walks out in the middle of an explanation about Ms. Hudson’s latest adventure in academia and goes up to the roof.
The bees’ monotonous drone is reassuring, as it always is. Comforting. The bees are a constant in her life, at this point. They’ve been there since she met Sherlock. They’re still there, after Sherlock. And as long as she’s still breathing, she’ll keep them going. Just like being a detective, Joan has come to love the bees for the bees’ sake, for her own sake, not just because it was something that connected her to Sherlock.
She smiles to herself as a regular Apis mellifera lands on her shoulder and then flies away, searching for the planters all along the edges of the roof. Their hives are fine, well tended by Bruce while they were away, and kept going by her own knowledgeable hands. The small number of Osmia avosetta they still have are doing well, too, three flower petal nests constructed in her absence. It’s the watsonia that she’s worried about, the special breed that Sherlock named after her in a fit of sentimentality. They didn’t exactly thrive under Bruce’s care, and she hasn’t been tending to them nearly as well as she should have since her return. She’s learned about bees in the past nine years, but she doesn’t have the instinctual talent for them that Sherlock has. Had.
She goes through the basic checks and reassures herself that they aren’t going to perish today. The problem is that the watsonia has a particular preference for certain plants, and in her efforts for the hives, she hasn’t had as much time to devote to the gardens. It was easier, when it was two of them.
When they left, they thought the watsonia would be an independent breed within two years. Now she’s worried that they’re going to fade away and die.
Joan looks up from checking the honeycombs. Ms. Hudson is standing in the roof doorway, looking awkward and unsure of herself. Joan waves her in, but Ms. Hudson remains where she is.
Oh. Apparently Ms. Hudson isn’t a big fan of bees.
Joan doesn’t blame her.
“I wanted to see you smile, and I forgot that sometimes… it’s hard to smile, isn’t it?” Ms. Hudson offers her a small, weak grin, and Joan tries to give her one back. She suspects it’s strained, but she also thinks Ms. Hudson will appreciate even the effort.
“Sometimes, yeah,” she admits. “But sometimes, I’ll think of the screaming arguments we had, about the stupidest things, and I smile.”
“He really was the most aggravating man,” Ms. Hudson says, taking a few more steps onto the roof, glancing nervously at the hives.
“The worst,” Joan agrees. “But the best. He loved humanity, even if he thought people were assholes.”
Ms. Hudson’s laugh is sharp, a surprised bark that erupts from her throat. “Oh, God yes. You sum him up perfectly.”
Joan laughs with her for a minute, and then finds that she’s crying. She hasn’t cried since she found his note and his stupid little illustration, not once. She’s kept her spine straight and her head held high because Joan Watson has lived through the world crumbling around her ears before, and she can do it again, but this- this is different. It isn’t just that Sherlock, her closest friend, died.
It feels like half of herself was cut away and lost, and she knows there is no way to get it back.
“Oh, Joan,” Ms. Hudson says, and steps into the cloud of bees to wrap her arms around Joan as she tries to keep the tears in. “Oh, Joan, I’m so sorry.”
“He was the best person I’ve ever met, even if he was a complete jerk sometimes,” Joan whispers. “I don’t know what to do without him anymore.”
Ms. Hudson pets her hair and holds her tight, making soothing, gentle sounds. “Well, honey,” she says finally, “I say you keep solving mysteries, because you’re good at it. And you go on keeping bees, because Sherlock said you both had this exciting new breed that was so close to being recognized. It would be a shame for all your hard work to just be thrown away.”
“I need help,” Joan admits, still crying but quieter now. “It’s at least a two person job.”
“So ask,” Ms. Hudson replies immediately.
Joan swallows the lump in her throat and looks up at Ms. Hudson. “I need help with the garden. Would you help me?”
“Absolutely,” she says. “But only if Alfredo can help, too. There’s something about a man gardening that just gives me a little tingle.”
Joan can’t help but start laughing again.
On the first anniversary after Sherlock’s death, Joan observes it by spending all night on the roof, watching the bees, his notes on Apis mellifera watsonia surrounding her.
On the second anniversary after Sherlock’s death, Joan watches movies that Sherlock would hate, her head resting on Ms. Hudson’s shoulder. She is halfway through writing an article on Apis mellifera watsonia, and is certain that she can get it published. The hive is flourishing, and she’s reduced the number of regular Apis mellifera hives in order to make room for the nine watsonia hives that she keeps now, cultivating and grooming them to an almost obsessive level. A few more months, and she’ll work out the process for declaring a new subspecies.
On the third anniversary after Sherlock’s death, Joan cries herself to sleep, alone, clutching Sherlock’s final note in her hand, because she has managed to get the Apis mellifera watsonia recognized as its own distinct subspecies, eleven years after Sherlock told her about the new bees, and he’s not by her side to celebrate it.
She walks into the brownstone, checking to make sure she has the tickets to the play she’s going to see with Ms. Hudson and Alfredo that night, and immediately freezes.
There’s something wrong.
Her mother likes to say that she’s paranoid, but Joan has certain feelings about spaces where something has changed, where things are different somehow. And something about the brownstone has changed. She reaches into her purse and pulls out the baton that she’s carried with her ever since Sherlock insisted that she learn self defense, snapping it open. She glances around, but nothing is out of place.
But something is still wrong.
She walks into the living room, walking as quietly as she can. She doesn’t think any criminals that she’s put away have been released recently, and Marcus would have texted her immediately if there had been a jail break. She isn’t investigating anything at the moment, and she’s pretty sure that no one is holding any grudges against her. She can’t figure out who would be in her home, unless it’s just a random burglary.
She goes through the entire ground floor and doesn’t find anyone. She checks the lower level, the second floor, the third floor- and nothing. Finally, confused and working hard to control her breathing, she goes up to the roof.
She steps out, and there’s a flash of movement. Joan doesn’t even think. She brings the baton down, hard, across the intruder’s back. She swings her arm to the side and catches them again in the ribs, and then a third time in the back of the knees. They go down, and she brings it down once more, just to make a point.
Sherlock gapes up at her. “My dear Watson,” he says in a strained voice. “I had no idea you would be so affected.”
“You stupid fucker,” she says flatly. “I had to handle the Apis mellifera watsonia by myself, you asshole.”
They go downstairs. Joan needs tea to deal with this, and besides, she really doesn’t want to kill Sherlock in front of the bees.
“You faked your death,” she says, slamming the kettle on top of the stove. Sherlock winces and walks over, trying to take over, but she bats his hands away. “No, you don’t get to make tea. Dead people don’t get to make tea.”
“It was necessary,” he says quietly.
Joan snorts and goes to dig out the tea bags. She still has some of the tea that he likes, and she pulls it out of the cupboard, tossing it to him. “Why? Why was it necessary to put me through that? Why was it necessary to relegate me back to assistant instead of partner? Explain that to me, Sherlock. Explain why it was necessary.”
He looks pained, and takes the mug she offers him, careful not to touch her. “Moriarty was- obsessed. You’d successfully thwarted her three times, and she… she had it all planned, you see? She didn’t really care who died, so long as at least one of us did. And I had to choose. I- I couldn’t. You- I couldn’t let her kill you. I had to protect you.”
Joan stares at the kettle, willing it to boil. She folds her arms over her chest. “Why?”
Sherlock looks pained. She doesn’t care. “What do you mean, why?”
“Why? Sherlock, you know I’m capable of taking care of myself. I had to nearly behead the stupid singlestick dummy to prove it to you, but I did prove it.”
“I couldn’t bear to see you die,” Sherlock says, throat working. “I had to keep you safe.”
The kettle begins to whistle, and Joan fills their mugs with hot water. She doesn’t trust herself to say anything just yet. Some hot water sloshes over the edges of her mug, spilling onto the table. Her hands aren’t quite steady.
“No,” she says finally. “No, you had to keep yourself safe, Sherlock.”
“Poppycock,” he retorts immediately. “Moriarty would have killed you without a second thought. She loathed you, Watson, loathed you as equally as she was fascinated by me.”
“Sure. I know that. But making sure I didn’t die had nothing to do with protecting me. It was about protecting yourself, because you couldn’t handle the possibility of me dying. But apparently, I got to deal with that. You got to live with the knowledge that your friend and partner was safe and alive; I was the one who had to bear seeing you die. Do you see the hypocrisy?”
He stares down into his tea like it has all the answers he’s seeking. Joan takes a sip of hers. She opted for chamomile. She didn’t see the point of adding caffeine to her anger. She doesn’t even know why she’s still talking to him right now. He left her behind and didn’t trust her enough, apparently, to be in on the plan.
“My actions were perhaps motivated out of emotion,” he says finally. “I have found that when it comes to you, my reason can be clouded by an instinctual reaction against allowing you harm.”
“But we’ve had this conversation before, Sherlock,” she says, rubbing her eyes. “I can’t be your partner unless you allow me an equal amount of the risk. I can’t work with you if I’m worried you’re going to act like a martyr whenever danger happens. I know what I signed up for. I am a fully informed adult, capable of making my own decisions. I need you to start treating me like it.”
She stands up and pours the last of her tea down the sink. She doesn’t feel like drinking it anymore. She can feel Sherlock tracking her every movement, and ignores him. She knows what she needs to do.
“Do you still remember how to take care of the bees?” she asks.
Sherlock nods slowly. “Of course. And I read the paper you published on the watsonia, so I am well informed about their needs as well. Why?”
“Because I need to get away for a few days,” she replies.
“No,” she says sharply. “You made a choice; your choices have consequences. I’m too angry to deal with you rationally right now, so I’m going to go stay with a friend for a little while, until I can look at you without wanting to punch you in the face. If there’s an emergency, you can call either Alfredo or Ms. Hudson. They know how to reach me.”
Then she walks out of the kitchen, collects a few of her things, grabs Clyde and his terrarium, and walks out.
She goes to stay with Alfredo, because Ms. Hudson has a roommate (Pam had gotten a divorce last year, and Ms. Hudson offered her a place to stay; from what Joan understands, the two have become quite good friends) and because Alfredo is calmer, in general. She tells him what happened, and while he’s processing that, she calls around to the relevant people, figuring they shouldn’t have to deal with a miraculously risen Sherlock Holmes appearing on their doorstep.
To her relief, they’re all about as angry, and relieved, as she is.
“How you holding up?” Alfredo asks her, after she’s done with her calls.
“I’m angry,” she says honestly. She sits down next to him on his ugly couch. Ms. Hudson has begged him to replace it many times, but Alfredo has a strange attachment to it. “And I’m hurt. And I’m so, so happy that he isn’t dead.”
“Kind of a mess right now, isn’t it?” he asks rhetorically. He’s gazing down at his hands.
“Yeah,” she agrees. “I want to hit him and hug him and then hit him again.”
“I’m gonna go see him,” Alfredo says decisively, standing up and running his hands down his jeans. “I don’t know if any other sponsors have ever had to deal with their sponsee returning from the dead, but I gotta at least check in with him, see if he still wants me around. Make sure he didn’t slip while he was- away.”
“I think that would be good,” Joan agrees. “Let me know if you need anything.”
He leaves. Thirty minutes later, Ms. Hudson is on Alfredo’s doorstep, mascara running down her face. “We aren’t going to talk about that man,” she announces and walks inside, draping her coat across a chair without looking. “We are going to watch Legally Blonde and give each other manicures and pedicures, and we’re going to discuss your latest case, and I am going to spoil Clyde- I brought the good lettuce.”
Joan spends four days with Alfredo, sleeping on his couch and reading his books. Marcus and Captain Gregson visit a few times, and Pam brings by muffins that she and Ms. Hudson stress baked. Alistair brings her a book to read, one he picked out for her personally, and she doesn’t even stop to think why he knows where to find her. She just invites him in and pours him a cup of tea, the way she remembers that he likes it.
It feels like the funeral all over again, with people she has strange connections to showing up and offering her comfort and commiseration.
On day five, Joan goes home.
“The bees missed you,” Sherlock tells her. He is lying on the floor, listening to Jacques Brel wail on his record player. His voice makes Joan ache.
“They missed you, too,” she says, watching him.
“I’ll be sure to tell them I’m sorry,” he replies.
She sits down next to him, rests a hand on his calf, and listens to Brel beg, again and again, ne me quitte pas.
“What are you working on?” Joan asks, balancing a bowl of cereal on one knee and a book on the other. Sherlock is sitting at the table in the lock room, tapping away on his laptop.
“I have finally finished my book, Watson, and am now transcribing it into written words in order that it may be enjoyed by the masses,” he says, sounding pleased with himself.
Joan raises her eyebrows. “You mean the- what did you call it- practical handbook thing?”
Sherlock nods, tapping his feet in a syncopated rhythm. “A Practical Handbook of Bee Culture; with some Observations upon the Segregation of the Queen.”
She shifts, lifting her cereal with one hand so that it doesn’t spill onto the couch. She’s a little surprised, honestly. What with her work with Sherlock over the past thirteen years, even if he was in absentia for three of those, she had thought that they would end up finishing Sherlock’s bee opus together. Especially since she’s the acknowledged expert on Apis mellifera watsonia.
“No need to trouble yourself, Watson,” Sherlock says immediately. He gestures to his computer. “This is merely a handbook; when you decide you wish to write the final word on Apis mellifera watsonia, you need not worry that I shall have stolen your thunder. This book shall not even mention your namesake.”
It reassures her, somewhat, though she is still disappointed she can’t contribute. “Can I read it when you’re done?” she asks.
He shoots her a peevish look. “I have been offering to let you read it since our first day together,” he says.
Joan snorts and puts her bowl on the table. “No, Sherlock, you offered to recite passages from it. I’d prefer to read the hardcopy.”
“I have an excellent voice for recitation,” Sherlock sniffs, with the tone of someone who is repeating something he’s heard a lot over the years. Joan rolls her eyes and goes back to reading. He is actually very good at recitation, but she isn’t going to feed his ego.
“Were you going to tell me that you are taking your medical licensure exam?” he asks abruptly. “Or were you waiting for me to deduce it?”
Joan keeps her eyes fixed on her book, forcing herself to remain calm. “Neither, actually,” she says, and turns a page.
Sherlock shifts in his seat, types out a swift sentence, and then says, “Then I presume you were going to tell me after you took it.”
“After I passed it,” she corrects. Because there is no guarantee that she’ll pass on the first time. She hasn’t been a practicing doctor in… almost fifteen years. She hadn’t realized it was that long.
Sherlock finally gives up the pretence of typing and spins in his chair to face her. “Might I ask why you are returning to medical practice after all these years?”
Joan shrugs a shoulder self-consciously. “I missed it,” she says simply, though that isn’t the whole truth. “And I was good at it.”
“Yes, but your mother has been saying that for years, as have Emily and Hope and Carrie and a lengthy list of people who parade through your life, seeming only to stay long enough to tell you that they think your detective work is a waste of time, never mind that you’ve been a successful consulting detective for nigh unto a decade now.”
Joan bites her lower lip, not entirely sure what to tell him. She can’t tell him the truth, even though she knows he’ll deduce it sooner or later. And she can’t tell him an outright lie, because Sherlock is better than a lie detector, and he knows her too well besides.
But Sherlock, being Sherlock, susses it out before she can even decide which direction to go. “It’s because of me, isn’t it?” he asks, stricken. “It’s because of what I did.”
They don’t speak of his three year disappearance very often, a mutual decision that they came to without discussion. Joan isn’t angry anymore, and Sherlock knows, now, that he was wrong, but it’s a painful topic for both of them. They sometimes try to make it into a light-hearted joke, with Sherlock referring to his Lazarus trick, and Joan calling it his vacation, but generally, they leave it to silence.
But he’s right.
“While you were away,” she says carefully, “I realized that being a doctor again was something worth pursuing.”
He stands up and walks over to her quickly. He looks like he’s on the verge of panicking, his breath coming in short, little gasps. “But you like being a consulting detective!” he argues, his voice pitching high into a thin whine. “You enjoy it, you’re excellent at it, you think it worthwhile, and-”
“And I’m not quitting,” she explains, tipping her head back so she can look him in the eye. “I’m not going back to being a full time surgeon, Sherlock, not even a full time doctor. I’m getting my license again, and there’s a clinic a few blocks away that could use an extra pair of hands for a few hours on the weekend. That’s all. I’m not leaving you.”
Not like you left me hangs unsaid in the air. Sherlock stands in front of her, hands twitching spasmodically, eyes looking everywhere but at her face. Then he takes a deep breath, nods once, and forces a ghoulish smile onto his face.
“I am happy for you, Watson,” he says. “Truly, I am. Medicine was your first love, and I respect its importance to you. If you should wish for any assistance studying for your test, do let me know. I make splendid flash cards. If you will excuse me.” He turns and walks up the stairs.
She sighs and drops her head into her hands.
After an hour, when it becomes clear that he isn’t coming back down, Joan gets up, stretches, and goes to his computer. She saves his work for him and closes it. Then she grabs Sherlock’s sweater, his ugly one with alpacas on it, tugs her own more closely around her, and goes up to the roof.
Sherlock is sitting and staring at the hives. She walks over and drops the sweater in his lap. “It’s cold,” she says unnecessarily. “Put that on.”
He does so in an automatic, robotic fashion, not looking at her.
“I’m not angry at you anymore,” she tells him, sitting down just behind him. Whenever Sherlock’s upset, it’s easier for him if he can’t see her when they talk it through. She’s never seen a problem in indulging this little quirk. “I haven’t been for months. And even though my decision to renew my license was prompted by your little stunt, it wasn’t motivated by it. Do you understand?”
“Meaning,” he says dully, “that my hiatus from the world created the original thought, but something else made you decide to follow through; yes, I understand how the English language works, Watson.”
“It was the bees,” she says. In front of her, Sherlock adjusts his weight from one hip to the other.
“I don’t understand,” he replies.
“When I first met you, I didn’t like bees. They made me nervous. Being around them for too long made me edgy. But you basically forced me to get over it, in your own clumsy way, and now beekeeping is something I love.” She licks her lips, trying to figure out how to say the next part. “And when I first met you, the idea of holding a scalpel in my hand made me freeze up, and being a doctor again was an idea that made me feel sick.”
“But if you could handle bees,” he says softly in realization, “surely you could conquer your trepidation of returning to medicine.”
Joan nods, even though he can’t see her, knowing he’ll feel her agreement. “I’m doing this for me, Sherlock,” she says. “I need to prove to myself that I can.”
Sherlock is quiet for a while, and Joan turns her attention to the hives. It’s getting chilly again in New York. The bees’ winter cluster can’t keep them safe from the deadly cold of a New York frost, and once again they’ll need to find a way to keep the hives warm for those months. They’ve done it a few different ways over the years, including space heaters, tents, and even carrying each hive inside, one at a time, to stay in one of the unused rooms on the third floor. Joan hopes they’ll find a better solution soon. The hives are heavy, the stairs narrow.
“Very well,” he says finally, and turns. He looks calmer. “How can I help?”
“I’m going to murder him, and no one will blame me,” she mutters into her pillow. “Marcus will help me hide the body. Gregson will direct police eyes elsewhere. I could get away with it. I could.”
“I fear I must disagree, Watson,” Sherlock says, his voice close enough that he must be standing in her doorway. “Detective Bell is admirably devoted to justice, and the newly promoted Deputy Chief Gregson has always played by the rules. You shall go to prison, and your unjustifiable homicide of my humble self will be splashed across the tabloids. Now, get up, we have work to do.”
Joan doesn’t open her eyes or move. Fourteen years with Sherlock and she can count on one hand the number of uninterrupted nights she’s had. “It’s Saturday, Sherlock,” she mumbles. “Saturday is when normal people sleep in.”
“But not the apiarist! Hurry up, into your clothes, I’ve already started without you.”
That sounds ominous.
He drops a bundle of fabric on top of her head and disappears. She considers, for a moment, just going back to sleep, but the last time she did that he ended up deciding to test the efficacy of water torture on her. At least, that’s what he said. In reality, he just poured a glass of water on her head.
She gets up.
When she finally tracks him down, he’s on the third floor of the brownstone, tools strewn everywhere. She steps gingerly over a sawzall, wondering when he managed to sneak that into the house, and finds him, without a shirt, in the unused room.
“What are you doing?” she asks.
Sherlock looks over at her and beams. She braces herself immediately. “We, Watson, are converting this room into an observation hive!” he announces.
Joan folds her arms. “Did you do any research on how to convert a room into an observation hive?” she asks.
He looks crestfallen. “Well, no, but-”
“Put on your shirt,” she says. “We’re going to see Bruce.”
“I thought you’d like the idea,” he pouts.
“I love the idea,” Joan replies. “But do you know what I don’t love? The idea of accidentally cutting a hole in the wall because you seriously thought that using your sawzall was somehow a good idea.”
He doesn’t argue, which is as good as an agreement from Sherlock.
They spend the afternoon with Bruce, sketching out blueprints and plans, and when they come home, they have a much better idea of how to proceed. Joan orders Chinese takeout and pulls the plans out of her bag, skimming over them as she sits down on the couch.
“What made you decide that now was a good idea to build the observation hive?” she asks, propping her feet up on the ottoman.
Sherlock hums and steps over her legs, sitting down next to her and peering over her shoulder. She moves the plans so they’re between them both. “After we lost the two hives last winter, I felt that we needed to make a change in how we approached the cold months with regards to our bees.”
She gives him a wry look. “What, you mean that hauling nineteen space heaters onto the roof isn’t the most efficient solution?”
“I did admit that was not one of my better ideas.”
“And you’ve realized that knitting hive warmers is just dumb?”
“I may have thought of that after several nights without sleep, and I did learn to knit from the endeavor, so it wasn’t entirely purposeless.”
Joan laughs and lets herself sink down further on the couch, relaxing. She’s tired but, despite the abrupt start to the day, she’s pleased about the whole thing. An indoor observation hive means that she can show her friends the bees when they visit, and that Gregson’s daughters will finally get to take a closer look at them. Little Kelly- who isn’t so little anymore, she’s almost seventeen- has always been interested in bees. Or, at least, interested in the Bee-Man, as she used to call Sherlock.
“I have a shift at the clinic tomorrow morning,” Joan tells Sherlock, shutting her eyes, “but when I get back, do you want to start?”
“That sounds like an excellent plan. I shall put in a call to Ms. Hudson and Alfredo; they renovated their house and may have some ideas on how to begin. Also, Alfredo is probably wondering where his sawzall went. Did you remember to get the moo goo gai pain?”
Joan smiles and tips sideways until her head is resting on Sherlock’s shoulder. “Please. As if you’d ever let me forget.”
They’ve never slowed down as consulting detectives, even though Captain Gregson is Deputy Chief Gregson now, and Detective Bell is Captain Bell, and Joan has gray peeking into her temples while Sherlock’s hairline begins the recession that it put on pause in his forties. The detective they work with the most these days is a young woman named Stella Hopkins, who, Sherlock likes to tease, worships the ground Joan walks on. Joan disagrees, but she has to admit that Detective Hopkins does have a tendency to follow her around at crime scenes and write down everything she says.
But despite all the changes and their advancing years, Sherlock and Joan keep at it without even thinking about giving it up.
Until the senator they’re investigating hires some people to beat Sherlock, rather thoroughly.
It isn’t that he’s hurt, Joan thinks, sitting by his hospital bed. Or at least, it isn’t just that he’s hurt. They’ve both been injured too many times to count at this point, from simple scrapes and sprains to the occasional gunshot or stab wound. It’s just that, ten years ago, Sherlock would ignore a gunshot wound and be able to keep going, and Joan would wrap her cashmere sweater around her stab wound and grit her teeth. Now, though…
Sherlock’s been in the hospital for a week because of a concussion and complications from broken ribs. He isn’t bouncing back this time.
“Do you ever think about retiring?” she asks suddenly.
Sherlock gives her a fierce scowl, made all the fiercer by his two black eyes. “Never,” he declares. “My body may be slowing down, but my mind is as sharp as ever. The same can be said of your brain, Watson. We cannot allow our bodies to dictate our activities.”
“Says the man with fluid in his lungs,” she says dryly. Before he can argue, she continues. “I’ve heard your speech before, Sherlock. The body is just transport, we can transcend our bodies, yadda yadda yadda. I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed, Sherlock, but your brain? Inside your body. And it’s currently swollen.”
He gives her a proper sulk for a minute, and Joan waits it out, playing Tetris on her phone.
“Perhaps we should contemplate allowing Detective Hopkins handle the more physical aspects of an investigation,” he says finally.
“At least let her confront the criminals, Sherlock. That’s all I’m asking.”
He agrees, albeit reluctantly, and they manage to find enough evidence to put the senator in jail for a long, long time.
Things continue as normal until, four months after Sherlock’s little mishap, Joan gets shot.
She doesn’t remember it happening, and she doesn’t remember much afterward, just remembers Sherlock’s terrified face dissolving into rage, remembers holding onto his arm and telling him, over and over again, not to kill the man. Remembers Sherlock finally putting down the gun, remembers him saying, “If you had killed her, I would not hesitate to bring down upon your head every hellish nightmare that I can imagine. And Mr. Evans, I have an excellent imagination.” Fragments, that’s all.
The doctors explain that the bullet splintered when it hit her, and the damage caused to the muscle was extensive. “You’ll probably have chronic pain,” they tell her, “and it is unlikely that you’ll ever regain a full range of motion in your leg.” None of that surprises Joan; she’s a doctor, she can tell superficial damage from something worse. No more jogging for her, she knows. She’ll miss it, but there are worse things to lose.
In a drugged haze, she focuses on Sherlock’s nose and says, “I’m sorry.”
“For what?” he asks quietly, gently tucking her hair behind her ears.
“Looks like I’ll be leaving you after all,” she whispers, and falls asleep before she can say anything else.
Joan spends more time in the observation hive now than she did before. With her leg still weak, it’s hard for her to maintain the hives and manage the gardens, so she spends her time with the bees as best as she can. A few more weeks of physical therapy and she’ll be able to work with the hives and work with Sherlock. She’s looking forward to it. She’s been acting primarily as an armchair detective lately, which has its perks, but mostly she finds it boring. Solving cases from photographs reminds her of the days when Sherlock was teaching her. Ms. Hudson tells her, over the phone, that she should be thankful he hasn’t gone back to reenacting crime scenes using paint and glue.
She hears a noise behind her and turns around. Before, she would just twist to look over her shoulder, but the muscles in her hip still protest to such motions. Sherlock is standing in the doorway, looking lost.
“You okay?” she asks.
Sherlock rocks from side to side, studying the floor. Then, in a rush, he says, “I retired from consulting today.”
Joan inhales sharply, but manages to stop herself before she says anything. “Why?” she asks, holding back the stream of words that press against her teeth.
“It has been brought to my attention that I am perhaps not as young as I once was. That while the mind is willing, the flesh is weak, to misquote the Bible.”
“I see,” she says.
“Gregson and Bell have said that the precinct will be throwing us a retirement party next week. I loathe such events, but given our relationship with the NYPD over the years, it is the least we can do,” Sherlock continues, starting to bounce. “Detective Hopkins was crushed, but I suspect she’ll recover and carry on our practices.”
“She shouldn’t be crushed-”
“Well, you know the nature of hero worship-”
“- because I’m not retiring.”
Sherlock freezes in mid-bounce. He slowly lowers his heels to the floor and folds his hands in front of him. “May I ask you to repeat what you just said?”
“I said,” Joan says, as calmly as she can, “that Stella doesn’t need to be upset about my retirement, because I am not retiring. Which I would have told you, if you had bothered to ask me, instead of just assuming that you knew best.”
Sherlock’s mouth tightens at the sides, but he remains still. It’s a façade, just like her calm demeanor is a façade. “You could have been killed, Watson. As it was, you were very badly injured. The doctors have told me repeatedly that you will be in pain for the rest of your life. It makes sense.”
“I know,” she says. “It’s still my life. It’s my decision. I’m not ready to retire.”
“You were already ready to retire! You were ready to retire five months ago, when it was me lying in that hospital bed!” he explodes finally, flinging his hands into the air. “And now- what does it matter, when I simply handled what was already inevitable?”
“Because I didn’t go and retire for you while you were recovering!” she yells back. She can’t even remember the last time they yelled at each other like this. Not since Sherlock faked his death, she thinks. And that was five years ago, now.
“I thought you would be pleased!”
“Pleased?” she shouts, incredulous.
Sherlock deflates quite suddenly, his hands curling and uncurling down by his sides. It’s hard to continue yelling at him when he looks like that, though Joan is pretty sure she could manage it. “I thought you would appreciate that I am finally recognizing our limits, that I am finally conceding that the body has a role in our lives.”
“Sherlock,” she says, putting her head in her hands and squeezing, trying to make it all make sense, “this is the same problem I had when you faked your death without letting me know the plan. You can’t say I’m your partner and then not talk to me about major decisions like this.”
“It hurts me, to see you in pain,” he says faintly.
Joan struggles to stay calm. She snaps her head up and gives him the sharpest, angriest glare she can manage. “But I’m the one in pain, Sherlock, not you. Which means this is my decision. Not yours. Didn’t you learn anything the last time you pulled this crap?”
He reels back, but Joan doesn’t care. She steps toward him, presses into him, letting him feel her anger, forcing him to see that, once again, he took away her autonomy without thought. “Sherlock, if you still think of me as someone you can manipulate like a puppet whenever it suits you, then clearly the past seventeen years I’ve spent with you were a lie. And if we’re not partners, that means that you can continue on with your resignation while I keep working. Now, if you’ll excuse me, the flowers on the roof need tending.”
She storms away as best as she can on a busted leg, and grits her teeth on the way up the stairs, ignoring the complaints from her hip and resolving to bury herself in the simple, mindless task of weeding.
Sherlock stays out of her way for the next five days, which suits Joan just fine. She spends her time either in her room or with the bees, trying to distract herself and figure out what her next move is.
She’s been with Sherlock for seventeen years now, and while she doesn’t honestly believe that he regards her as just another person to manipulate, she does feel that what he’s done is unforgiveable. Joan was already working to deal with the reality of chronic pain; she didn’t want to add the career she loved into the pile of things to mourn. And while she could just call Gregson and let him know that she isn’t retiring, she can’t just yet. Not until she’s certain that the pain will recede to tolerable levels, rather than the somewhat excruciating ones she finds them at right now.
On Wednesday afternoon, she hears their printer making the obnoxious noise it makes when it’s printing a large file, but she doesn’t pay it any attention, instead focusing on her physical therapy exercises, lifting her leg up to hip level and setting it back down again. It burns, and she has to grit her teeth to get through it, but she thinks it’s getting better.
On Wednesday night, Sherlock taps on her door. She sighs and pulls her headphones out of her ears. “What?” she calls.
Sherlock opens the door and cautiously walks in. He’s holding a bundle of papers under his arms. “Good evening, Watson,” he says.
“What, Sherlock?” she asks, sighing.
He clears his throat and thrusts his pile of papers at her. “You- you said, a few years ago, that you wanted to read this, when it was done. And I do not know if that is still true, but nevertheless, I thought you should read it. It is- that is to say, it is not, perhaps, the book that I intended to write, originally, but- but I had not yet met you. So. I wrote it.”
Joan raises an eyebrow at his unusually ineloquent monologue, but takes the pile of papers anyway. Some Observations Upon the Segregation of the Queen: A Practical Handbook it says. Joan bites her lip. “Thank you, Sherlock.”
“Please read it,” he says softly. “Even if- if our association is to end, please read it.”
“Okay,” she replies. “Okay.”
He leaves, closing the door carefully behind him. Joan falls back on her bed, groaning. Then, against her better judgment, she sits up, digs out her reading glasses, and starts reading.
It isn’t what she was expecting. She was expecting a dull, but thorough, guide on how to be an urban beekeeper with notes on things that he learned about bees over the almost forty years he’s been keeping them. Instead, she finds philosophical musings upon humans, upon crime, upon the fact that bees and humans are both incredibly predictable and yet an eternal mystery to the careful observer. The last three chapters are devoted to the queen bee and… her.
She has come to recognize Sherlock’s sometimes grandiose descriptions of various people, has spent seventeen years rolling her eyes at the nicknames he gives criminals and victims and witnesses. She knows how to figure out who he’s talking about in just two or three key words, and the last three chapters, while being a remarkable look at the role of the queen bee in a hive, are also almost entirely about her.
Joan stares at the pages, continuing to read, not sure what to think, or what she’s going to say to Sherlock when she’s done. The last three chapters comprise half of the book, about seventy pages in total. And it’s a seventy page ode to their friendship, to her, to her role in his life.
Much as the hive perishes without its queen, the individual person, without their chosen partner(s) in life- for with people it is a partnership, not the unequal power dynamic present in the hive - fast wilts away, succumbing to a stagnation of the spirit.
Joan doesn’t bother to finish the rest. She tosses the pages aside, puts on her slippers, and goes to find Sherlock.
She finds him right where she expected: on the roof, watching the bees.
“You finished, then,” he says numbly, not turning to look at her.
Joan nods. “I did.”
“I hope it meant something to you.”
“It’s an interesting book, Sherlock. Not at all what I expected.” She waits for a moment, expecting him to take the opening, but he doesn’t move or say anything. Finally, Joan sighs. “You know, we need to learn to communicate without using bees to tell each other something significant.”
“I thought you knew,” he says, turning around at last. He looks like he hasn’t slept in days. He probably hasn’t. “I thought you understood your role in my life. I thought you understood that I learned after I made so imprudent a decision as to fake my own death without consulting you. But you stood there and said I knew nothing, that I didn’t consider you a true equal and- and that wasn’t true, was it? And you couldn’t see that. I had to make you see. I wouldn’t have resorted to bees otherwise.”
“You retired me without asking if that’s what I wanted,” she says, throwing her hands into the air. “How was I supposed to believe you think of me as your equal when you pull shit like that?”
“You were the one who decided to retire!” he snaps. “And you didn’t ask me how I felt!”
Joan blinks. She has no idea what he’s talking about.
Sherlock lets out an explosive breath and slams the heels of his hands into his eyes. “You said,” he grits out, “that you were going to be leaving me. And I assumed it was because you had decided that you were going to retire from detective work. And I thought about it, and decided that rather than try to talk you out of it, I would respect your decision as a fully informed adult. But- I cannot- I do not know how to be without you anymore, Watson. I tried to imagine it and I failed. So I retired, too. So that I could be with you, and you would not have to leave me, and I would not have to learn how to function as half a person.”
Joan takes a step forward, startled, and immediately gasps, the pain in her hip flaring up suddenly. Sherlock’s chin jerks up, instantly worried, but she waves his worry away, walking over to a chair and sitting down. He’s by her side in a flash, hands hovering anxiously around her shoulders.
“Oh my god, I’m fine, stop it,” she says, trying to sound irritated and failing. She settles in the chair, smacks his hand away, and then bites her lip. “When did I say I was leaving you?”
“You said in the hospital, ‘looks like I’ll be leaving you after all’,” Sherlock says promptly. It sounds like he’s said it over and over again, the words have the well worn tone of something that has been analyzed continually with no new answers found.
She starts to laugh. “Oh my god,” she repeats. “We were talking at cross purposes.”
Sherlock gives her a baffled look. “What?”
“I was drugged, Sherlock,” she says with exasperation. “I was thinking that I wasn’t going to be doing a lot of running anymore, which meant, to my drugged self, in case you’ve forgotten that part, that I wouldn’t be able to chase after you anymore. That’s all I meant. So while you were off retiring both of us, because you thought that’s what I wanted, I was thinking that you had retired us because I wasn’t useful to you anymore, or you were trying to protect me. We were talking,” she concludes, “at cross purposes.”
Sherlock looks abashed. She decides to take pity on him. She wraps her fingers around his wrist. “I’m still mad at you, because you still went behind my back without talking to me. But the fact that you decided to retire in order to keep us together? Says a lot, Sherlock. That- means a lot. To me.”
He watches her face, eyes seeking something. He relaxes after a while, his other hand reaching out to cup her face.
“You are everything to me,” he says quietly.
“And you’re everything to me,” she replies, just as quietly, and knowing it to be just as true. “That being said, you are no longer allowed to make decisions based on things I say while I’m in the hospital. Agreed?”
She slides her hand down and tangles their fingers together, smiling up at him. “Are you hungry?” she asks. “I feel like Thai.”
“Watson, I have a proposition for you,” Sherlock announces, walking into the living room. Joan tips her head back so she can see him over the pillow. She’s lying down on the couch, her bad leg propped up under some pillows, reading the latest draft of Sherlock’s book, her red pen in hand. Clyde is on the floor next to her, and Edith Piaf is blasting from the record player, her Rs rolling beautifully whenever she sings regrette rien. It’s as close to paradise as Joan can imagine.
“I’m not going to let you add that paragraph back in, Sherlock, you can drop it now,” she says. Sherlock falters, pouting, but then sits down on the edge of the couch, his back against her waist and his feet on either side of Clyde.
“It’s not about that, Watson, though I still contend that you’re wrong. No, no, my proposition has to do with real estate.”
Joan raises an eyebrow. “Real estate? Please tell me you didn’t invest in something without consulting-”
“No, Watson,” Sherlock says again. “Not that. I wanted to discuss the possibility of moving.”
Joan stays still for a moment, and then struggles to sit up. Sherlock reaches out and places his hand on her back, giving her something to brace against so she doesn’t move her hip the wrong way. “What do you mean, move?” she asks once she’s upright.
“Well, we’ve been retired for a number of months now. All of our friends are either retired or well on their way. And while urban beekeeping is a worthwhile endeavor, I cannot help but imagine how we could expand the Apis mellifera watsonia if only we had more than a single roof and an observation hive with which to work. Also, I feel like Clyde is no longer flourishing here,” he says, looking pointedly down at where Clyde is trying to navigate his massive body through the narrow space between books.
“Where would we go?”
Sherlock hands her a book marked with post-it notes. “There are a number of properties up north that have admirable acreage combined with everything we could ever need in a house.”
Joan flips the book open and looks at the properties he’s marked. They’re all sprawling one story houses- no stairs in sight- with spacious blueprint designs and, as Sherlock said, all large plots of land. Some of them are very functional in design, and she plucks the post-it notes from those without thinking about it, knowing that, after living in a place as unique and handsome as the brownstone for just over seventeen years, she could never live in houses that are boring.
On the third to last page, she stops. There’s a house with a skylight, and open floor plan, French windows, window seats, mahogany paneling… in the pictures, it looks ancient and lonely, dark and welcoming. Joan points. “That one. I want to live there.”
Sherlock makes a pleased noise. “Yes, that one was my favourite as well. I rather hoped you would like it.”
“How are we going to afford it?” Joan asks. She’s always been the one to manage the practical aspects of their lives. Like money, since Sherlock seems to think that it will just appear whenever he needs it.
He waves a hand dismissively. “It was one of my father’s properties. This book is all the properties that Mycroft is putting up for sale, and he offered to let us each choose one as a retirement home. I assured him we would only need the one.”
Joan considers scolding him for making that assumption, but then, it’s not really an assumption. It’s a simple deduction. “Is he selling the brownstone?”
Sherlock shakes his head. “No. It is still ours, to do with as we please.”
Joan looks around. This has been her home for so long it’s hard to imagine leaving it, but Sherlock is right. Ms. Hudson and Alfredo moved a year ago, out to the Catskills. She and Sherlock visit them every month or so. Gregson retired not long after they did, and Marcus was making noises about doing the same in another few years at their last dinner together. The brownstone is really too small for Clyde these days, and the bees… the bees really deserve to have hives in a field. And she’s been contemplating crossbreeding another species. Make an Apis mellifera holmesiana to go with watsonia. She’s got enough years left in her to make it a reality.
“What do you say?” Sherlock asks. “Shall we while out our retirement years in the countryside?”