Characters: Joan Watson, Sherlock Holmes
Word count: ~2000
Summary: This is how they understand each other, through the places they love and the things they have lost.
Notes: Thanks to merisunshine36 for making me kill my darlings. Apologies to China Miéville for stealing the title of his book.
When Joan first met Sherlock, she thought he might be crazy. Well, no, she thought, oh boy, not another crazy one. That's what you think when a half-naked guy watches five different TVs at the same time and then babbles nonsense at you about falling in love.
Sherlock, by most standards, really is a little crazy. He does things that no sane person would probably do, like raise bees on the roof of his apartment and sniff people's fingers before he's actually met them and watch TV with the sound off so that he can guess the plot twists before they happen. There are times when she suspects that he's a robot. (A government conspiracy to create English crime-solving robots. It sounds like something she'd read in the National Enquirer.)
But then he'll do something that's surprising. He'll laugh at one of her bad jokes or he'll remember her birthday or he'll apologize for being callous and insensitive. He has a nice smile when he's not being smug. He is capable of sadness and pain and -- in his own strange, twisted way -- love. There is something else there, underneath his obsessions and his inanities and his difficulties, something almost human. She wonders if he even realizes that it's there.
He is a puzzle. He is filled with secrets. She solves a new part of him every day.
"You've always lived in New York," Sherlock says. They're in Central Park because he needs to move his body in order to keep his mind running as well. He thinks better when he's on his feet, and when he keeps himself cooped up in the apartment, he prowls like a feral cat. It drives Joan bonkers. At the first sign of one of his moods, she shoves him out the front door before he can really work himself up into a frenzy.
The other nice thing about getting them both out of the house is that Sherlock has a weakness for food cart hot dogs. Right now, he's scarfing one down while holding another in his left hand. It should look more undignified than it does.
"Yes and no," Joan says. "I grew up in Dobbs Ferry. New York State, not New York City."
Sherlock makes a noise from around a bite of hot dog. "Close enough," he says after he swallows. "Your entire life has revolved around the city as it is. You went to Columbia for your undergraduate studies, and then you attended NYU for your medical degree. You even did your residency at New York-Presbyterian. With a background like yours, you must have gotten offers from out of state, but you didn't take any of them, did you? No, you couldn't leave. You belonged here, in this city." He makes an expansive gesture with his arms. Some mustard from the hot dog drips onto his fingers.
Joan says, "Like you and London, right?" She nibbles on her own pretzel and watches some pigeons go flying by, diving at a half-eaten bagel that's been left near the edge of the fountain.
Sherlock blinks in surprise, startled. He's still not quite used to the way she's learned how to read him. "That's not an entirely inaccurate assessment, no," he says. His expression is guarded, as if he's waiting for her to pick him apart.
Joan doesn't even try. One day, he'll tell her the whole story. She doesn't need to figure it out from the way he folds his hands or the shows he likes to watch or the suitcase he keeps locked in his closet. It'll all come out in its own time. "I know people like to complain about it," she says, "but I've always loved the way New York smells."
Sherlock makes a face. "Do you honestly find urine, car exhaust, and decomposing food that appealing?" he asks.
Joan smiles and closes her eyes. "Yes," she says.
She refuses to call him Holmes, the way he clearly wants her to. To her, Mr. Holmes will always be the cultured British voice on the other end of her cell phone, the one who always remembers to ask after her sister and who can't quite keep the worry for his son out of his voice.
"Come on, Watson!" Sherlock yells up the stairs every few days. He always sounds like a six year old when he has a new case, eager for his friends to come out to play. For six weeks, this is what she gets paid for, so she follows him.
After those six weeks are over, she quits her job. She paints her room orange, because it gives the place a bit of warmth it was lacking when she moved in. The fact that Sherlock hates this particular shade and is less likely to snoop through her things because of it, well, that's just an excellent side-bonus. She moves in her favorite standing lamp and desk. She claims half the bathroom sink for her girly things. She gets a microwave for the kitchen after Sherlock explodes a pig liver inside it. They get into arguments about cleaning the common rooms and about whether or not Sherlock's eating habits are bad for his health. These days, Sherlock introduces her as his partner, or, if he's feeling mean about it, his flatmate. It's more or less the truth.
Now when she hears him yell out her name, she follows him for no other reason than she wants to. He's not the only one who's developed a craving for the thrill of the chase.
The route that Joan likes to take for her morning run brings her right through the heart of Central Park. There are plenty of other people who have the same idea, and she recognizes the regulars, like her, who do this day after day, week after week.
It's a habit she acquired in high school, but back then she was chasing her way through quiet suburban streets, nothing like the vibrancy of an actual city all around her. The sound of traffic, the rumble of the subway underneath the sidewalks, the lights that are always on, even in the earliest of mornings, the latest of nights. Sherlock was right about that much. She could never be anywhere else.
After she starts working cases full time, her running changes. There's a new power in her step, and a depth to her breathing. The cases are good. She remembers what it was like to save people's lives as a surgeon. Now she's learning how to save people's lives in a different way.
She's made up of all these pieces, doctor, daughter, sister, lover, friend, partner, detective, and she's beginning to understand how they all fit together. Maybe Sherlock's not the real puzzle here. Maybe she's really been solving herself.
It's a rainy day, and they stay inside, combing through old case files for one that matches the profile of their current murder. Joan keeps one of the windows open, so that some of the outside breeze can clear out some of the humidity and stuffiness that lingers inside their apartment after a hot summer's day.
Sherlock doesn't distract easily, but there's a wistful expression on his face that he can't quite hide. Like he's remembering something, maybe something he'd rather forget.
Joan closes the folder that she's been reading. She sits back. "Are you ever going to tell me about what happened in London?" Now or never, Watson. Might as well go whole hog with it. "What was her name?"
He gives her a level look, steady and sure. It makes the back of her neck prickle. "His name was James," he says, and his voice is too quiet. "He was brilliant, and I loved him." He straightens, almost imperceptibly. "Does that answer your question?" There are razors in his tone, ready to cut.
There once was a time when people trusted Joan to take them apart and then put them back together, trusted Joan to reach inside of them and touch their most fragile, their innermost places. And now Sherlock can barely even give her a name.
"Her name was Suzanne," Joan offers. "You already know the rest of the story, but I just thought you should know. Her name was Suzanne. She just wanted to live long enough to see her sunflowers bloom one more time, and I thought I could give her that, but I couldn't."
Sherlock stares at her face, as if he were cataloging each expression that passes over it. "James liked numbers," he says, finally. "I thought we were alike, but we weren't. The drugs were just a way of proving it, that's all."
They don't say anything else after that. They open their folders. They listen to the rain outside. They live. They breathe.
One morning, Joan finds Sherlock waiting for her on the front steps just as she's about to start her morning run. He's jittery, already, wearing a pair of track pants and a t-shirt, bouncing up and down on the balls of his feet as she steps outside. "You seem to enjoy doing this every day," he says as if that's any sort of explanation, and Joan almost laughs in his face.
"Sure," she says. "Just try to keep up."
He grins at that. "Is that a challenge, Watson?"
"If you want it to be," she says before she takes off. She glances over her shoulder to see if he's changed his mind. He hasn't.
As a running buddy, he talks too much, yammering on about the latest discovery he's made in their case or about how driving on the wrong side of the road screws up his calculations or how his mother thinks that he's wasting his life solving crime when he could be studying theoretical astrophysics like she is.
They stop when they get to the reservoir because Sherlock is out of breath from all that talking. He's huffing and puffing, holding onto his side as if it's cramping up. It probably is. Joan does him the courtesy of pretending not to see it.
Instead, she looks out over the water at the Manhattan skyline, gripping the metal railing so that she can lean in and get a closer look. The sun is bright today, and autumn is in full color. The trees are covered in golden leaves. The windows of the buildings catch the light.
"This is your favorite place in this city," Sherlock says. He's watching her again. There's the faintest hint of a grin on his face. His breathing is still rough and a little unsteady from where he's half-collapsed on the ground.
"Yes," she says, and she doesn't tell him about how it's always been here for her, through thick and thin, about how she always feels a little calmer right here in the center of things. Maybe he's already figured that out. "I love it."
She likes the way it sounds when she says it, like maybe she can teach him how to love this, too, not just the running in the mornings but the rest of it, the skyline and the trees and the sun and the smell of decomposing food. This is how they understand each other, through the places they love and the things they have lost.
She waits for him to stand up again, and when he does, he stares at the city the way she is, like he's trying to absorb it all at once.
"It's not London," Sherlock says eventually, "but it'll do for now."
It's not much of a concession, but Joan can work with that. "C'mon," she says. "Let's go." She takes off again, and she doesn't look back this time. She knows he's keeping up.