Fandom: Sherlock (BBC)
Characters: Joanna (John) Watson, Sherlock Holmes, Harriet Watson, Mycroft Holmes, Anthea, Mrs. Hudson, Lestrade, James Moriarty, Original Characters
Summary: Sometimes, her grandmother has said, in the simplest, strongest of magics that’s all that’s required – a sacrifice and an intent. Her blood, and his words: I want to forget.
In which Joanna Watson is a witch, Sherlock Holmes is himself, and every spell has its price.
Chapter One Chapter Two
She returns to the flat the next afternoon to find Mycroft Holmes sitting on the sofa, wearing a pair of latex gloves and flipping casually through her grandmother’s recipe book.
“Good evening, Doctor Watson,” he says without looking up from the time-yellowed page in front of him. “Did you enjoy your walk?”
His assistant sits at Sherlock’s desk, her legs crossed neatly at the ankle and her eyes fixed on the Blackberry in her hand. Joanna shrugs off her jacket and tosses it over the arm of the sofa. “I did, thanks.” Her voice sounds like it belongs to someone else, pleasant and impossibly steady. “I see you found something interesting to read while you waited.”
“Very interesting,” Mycroft says. His gaze lifts to meet hers. “You don’t mind, I hope?”
“Not at all. That one belonged to my maternal grandmother – she was a bit of an eccentric, bless her. Excellent cook, though.” She hides her hands in her trouser pockets. Her left is perfectly steady. “Sherlock said he’d be out for most of the night. I’ll tell him you stopped by, if he doesn’t deduce it from the mud on the doormat.”
“The position of the sofa cushions, more likely.” He looks down at the book again. “Do sit, Doctor. Your leg must be paining you.”
“My leg is fine.”
“I’m sure it is. For the moment.” He brushes his fingers across the page open in front of him. “It seems,” he says, “that quite a few men and women in your family have been ‘eccentrics’, and for a not inconsiderable number of generations.” He turns to the last pages of the book and holds it up for her to see, his gloved fingers splaying the pages wide. “And this looks very much like your own handwriting, doesn’t it, Doctor Watson?” He smiles, shark-like. “What a puzzle.”
To Restore the Dead, Joanna reads at the top of the page. Beneath that, in the same young, stiff hand, it says, Caution: Untested.
Joanna’s calm slips. “What do you want, Mycroft?”
“Nothing. Just a friendly chat about a common interest.” His smile expands, showing teeth. “We are friends, aren’t we, Doctor Watson?”
Joanna gives him a sharp smile of her own. “The gloves are a new look for you. Planning to dust for prints?”
“A simple precaution,” Mycroft says, tapping one finger against the book’s spine. “Metaphysically-imbued items can become quite…” He pauses, rather dramatically. “Volatile when handled by strangers.”
“Maybe you shouldn’t handle them, then.”
“Sir,” the assistant says. Her expression is smooth, her posture perfectly poised, but her eyes stare through the screen of her Blackberry as if she’s seeing something else entirely. As Joanna watches, a bead of sweat slips down the woman’s temple. Mycroft closes the recipe book and sets it on the coffee table.
“Better?” he asks.
“Yes, sir,” the assistant says, but her voice is still strained. “I don’t believe she knows she’s doing it.”
Mycroft’s eyes narrow. “Is that possible?”
The assistant frowns, still staring through her Blackberry. “Certainly. What little magical control she once learnt she’s clearly forgotten.”
“Whatever you think I’m doing, I’m not,” Joanna says. “I haven’t in years.”
Mycroft peels the gloves from his hands and drops them to the table, beside the book. “I’m sure you haven’t. At least, not intentionally.”
“I’m going to quite intentionally boot you out of my flat in a minute if you don’t tell me why you’re here.”
Mycroft sits back against the sofa cushions, his hands folded in front of him in an eerily familiar gesture. “I understand your reticence to discuss these matters, but such circumspection is unnecessary. I already know everything you might wish to hide.”
“I doubt that,” Joanna says.
Mycroft tips his head slightly to one side, studying her with the barest hint of genuine amusement in his cool eyes. “Your grandmother’s name was Helene Elisabeth Russell, and she was a witch. As are you, Doctor Watson, despite the lengths you’ve gone to deny it.” He turns to his assistant. “Witch is a rather charged term, politically. A more appropriate alternative?”
The corner of the assistant’s mouth twitches. “Shaman, strega, magus, or thaumaturge. Haruspex or sibyl.” She pauses. “Cunning or wise woman.”
“Cunning woman,” Mycroft repeats, lingering on each syllable. “I quite like that, don’t you?”
Joanna picks up the recipe book, tucking it under her arm. “Are you going to tell Sherlock?”
Mycroft’s expression turns serious. “Do you want me to?”
“If I wanted him to know, I’d tell him myself.” She looks away, toward the clutter of books and papers on his desk. “Not that he’d believe me.”
“He might. If you were able to offer him irrefutable proof that such things are possible.”
Joanna takes a deep breath, and the spine of the recipe book presses hard against her side. “Whatever you want to call it,” she says, “it isn’t part of my life anymore. Sherlock doesn’t need to know.”
“No,” Mycroft says slowly, as if coming to a decision. “Perhaps not.” He stands, buttoning his suit jacket. “I do so enjoy our little visits, Doctor Watson, rare though they may be.”
“I suppose I should just be glad you’ve downgraded from kidnapping to home invasion.”
“Sir,” the assistant says through her teeth. Her face is flushed, her breath fast. Her Blackberry lies abandoned in her lap, but her eyes are still fixed on the empty air just over her clenched hands. “We really should be going.”
“You’re ill,” Joanna says. “Let me—”
“That won’t be necessary. Her discomfort is only temporary, I assure you.” Mycroft walks to the door and opens it. He turns back, his hand on the doorknob. “You have a remarkable gift, Joanna. I hate to think it might ever be used against you.” He leaves, closing the door behind him.
“Fuck,” the assistant breathes, profanity shaped from a sigh of relief, and then there’s a loud crack as her grandmother’s cane rips free from its place above the mantle and shrieks across the room, past Joanna and directly through the empty air where Mycroft stood just a moment before. It slams into the wall and stays there, buried inches deep and quivering.
The assistant slumps back in her chair with a small, self-satisfied smile. “I told him you’d react badly if he touched the book. He underestimated you.”
The cane shudders, like it wants to bore through the wall and follow Mycroft out into the street. Joanna swallows. “I didn’t do that.”
“Of course not. It was the family of invisible elves who live in your fireplace. They love a good javelin toss.” The assistant pushes herself out of the chair, Blackberry clutched in one hand. “That was sarcasm, by the way. It was definitely you.”
Joanna tries to pull the cane from the wall. The wood prickles with heat, and it refuses to budge. “How do I—”
“Ask it,” the assistant says. “Nicely – you’ve worked it up into quite a state.”
Joanna grips the cane by its handle, as if shaking a stranger’s hand. “Um. If you wouldn’t mind?”
The cane falls easily from the wall, leaving behind a gaping hole. Mycroft’s assistant steps up beside her. “Think your flatmate will notice?” she asks, her face so entirely without expression that for a moment Joanna thinks she’s serious. She isn’t.
Joanna steps back from the wall, the recipe book beneath one arm and the cane under the other. “I suppose I’ll have to come up with a story.”
“Hmm,” the assistant says, and presses her palm flat over the hole. She holds it there for a brief moment, perfectly manicured nails and pale fingers splayed across the wallpaper. When she lowers her hand, the air smells slightly of wood smoke and the hole is gone.
“Impressive,” Joanna says.
The assistant raises an eyebrow. “Not really.” Her Blackberry chimes, and she reads its screen. Her thumbs tap across the keyboard in reply. “I’ll be leaving now,” she says, as if Joanna is somehow in her way.
“Right,” Joanna says. “Well, it was nice to see you again.”
The assistant gives her an utterly blank look. “Sorry?”
Joanna sighs, unsurprised. “Goodnight, Anthea.” She walks over to the fireplace and returns the cane to its spot above the mantle. In the mirror she can see the assistant standing in the open doorway, watching her. “What?”
“You shouldn’t lie to him. Sherlock. Not about the magic.”
“Did Mycroft tell you to say that?”
The assistant shakes her head and smiles, a Mona Lisa in black Manolo Blahniks. “My name isn’t Anthea,” she says, and leaves.
Two days later Joanna finds the listening device hidden in their sitting room.
She’s looking for the television remote when she knocks a stack of Sherlock’s papers to the floor and hears the tinkle of breaking glass. And a voice.
Now, Sherlock, the stack of paper says, sounding remarkably like Mrs. Hudson, you know how I enjoy your playing. I’m only asking you to choose something more cheerful.
And by cheerful, a voice like Joanna’s adds, she means something with a melody. Or actual notes.
Pedestrian, Sherlock says; Joanna can remember his sneer, the arc of the violin bow as he snapped it through the air. Waste of my time. I play to clear my mind, not to satisfy the vacuous expectations of— The sound of his voice flickers, then fades entirely. But the conversation hadn’t ended there. Mrs. Hudson had told him that if he was going to act like a child, she was going to treat him like one. She’d confiscated the skull again, as well as every corrosive chemical compound in the kitchen.
Sherlock had slammed out the door minutes later in a great sulk, and Joanna hasn’t seen him since. That was three hours ago.
The stack of paper doesn’t seem to have anything else to say. Joanna crouches beside it and shifts through the mess until she finds a battered wooden cigar box with a Post-It stuck to the top. Soil samples, it says in Sherlock’s spidery handwriting. Closed cases, 2009.
Joanna opens the box and finds something else entirely.
Through a cloud of sawdust she sees a delicate network of amber glass tubing, twisted in complex configuration around six empty amber vials plugged with cork and copper wire. The glass is warm to the touch, almost pleasant, but beneath it all there’s the sour clockwork hum of unfamiliar magic, like the weight of a penny on her tongue. It’s not like any spell she’s felt before.
The seventh vial is broken, shattered when she knocked the cigar box to the floor; she gently pulls the cork from the intact vial beside it.
Very well, Mycroft, the vial says in Sherlock’s voice, which sounds unusually weary. What do you want me to say? That you were right and I was wrong? Well done. Congratulations. I hope you choke on it.
There’s a silence. Mycroft’s response, she assumes. She’d heard Sherlock speaking to someone on the phone last night while she was trying to sleep, but the conversation had gone on much too long to be with Mycroft – Sherlock rarely lets his brother distract him for more than thirty seconds at a time, if he answers at all. Or so she’d thought.
Absolutely not, Sherlock says, and if you insist on interfering – oh, don’t embarrass us both by pretending otherwise. I can still see the imprint of your ever-widening arse on my sofa cushions.
Another silence, shorter this time.
I don’t need to know the topic of your little ‘chat’ to know you were sticking your nose in again, Mycroft. If it had been of any importance whatsoever she would have told me; I can only assume—
Mycroft interrupts, and through the amber vial she hears Sherlock’s low growl of annoyance.
I trust her about as much as I despise you, which should tell you all you need to know. Goodnight, brother. Don’t call again soon. She hears the clatter as his mobile hits the table, and then nothing.
Joanna takes a hammer from the pile of tools at the back of the hall cupboard and smashes the vials, each one quickly after the other. A jumble of voices spills out of the box – hers and Sherlock’s, Mrs. Hudson’s and Mycroft’s and others, lost in the cacophony – and she holds her hands tight over her ears and waits. When it’s done, she returns the box to the table, hiding it again beneath the stack of paper.
Sherlock’s mobile is still on the coffee table; it only takes a moment for her to type and send the text.
I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about, Mycroft replies a moment later. Joanna deletes both texts, rolling her eyes.
If he’s hidden other spells in the flat, she doesn’t find them.
Joanna wakes in the middle of the night to see a boy at her bedroom window.
His hair is dark, his child’s face moon pale. She sees his fingertips pressed against the glass, tapping. Trying to reach her from the other side.
But you can’t, she thinks, not anymore, and she almost forms the words aloud before the dream fades and she recognises Sherlock, trapped outside on the fire escape. He’s crouched at her window, trying to free the latch.
Joanna slides out of bed, and he looks up. He nods politely. “Hello, Joanna,” he says, the depth of his voice muffled by the glass. “Enjoying your evening?”
She stands in front of the window, arms crossed over her chest. Her mouth is dry, her tongue thick with sleep. “Sherlock, is something wrong with our front door?”
“Not that I’m aware of.” He gives her the charming almost-smile he only ever uses when he wants something. It’s been a while since he’s directed it at her. “Are you going to let me in?”
She undoes the latch and opens the window. Night air prickles along her skin, her exposed arms and legs. She steps back, shivering, and he slips into the room, graceful despite his height and the narrow window. His shoes squelch as they hit the floor.
Joanna switches on her bedside lamp. “Sherlock—”
“A minor mishap,” he says, his sodden coat and trousers dripping onto the rug. “Though I turned it to my advantage in the end.” His teeth are chattering slightly, his lips almost blue. Joanna shuts the window with a definitive snap.
“You’re lucky you didn’t turn it to hypothermia,” she says. “Clothes off. I’ll get towels.”
Sherlock frowns. “Satisfaction of your neurotic nursemaid tendencies aside, that’s hardly necess—”
“Shut up and strip,” she says, and walks out of the room.
Sherlock’s pyjamas and dressing gown are in a pile on the bathroom floor. She scoops them up into her arms and grabs two of the cleanest-looking towels from their racks. When she gets back to her room, she finds Sherlock still in his shirtsleeves and trousers, his suit jacket a wet lump behind him on the floor. His coat is spread carefully across her bed, leeching muddy water into the sheets.
Sherlock’s fingers are too stiff with cold to manipulate the buttons on his shirt with any sort of accuracy. Joanna drops the towels and pyjamas onto a dryer part of her bed and steps up to help. “Fall into the Thames again, did you?”
Sherlock watches her fingers as they move briskly down his chest, opening his shirt. “No,” he says. “Koi pond.”
“Classy.” She tugs the shirt off his shoulders, and it drops to the floor with a splat. She unbuckles his belt and pulls it free. “I thought you went out to hound Dimmock about General Shan’s autopsy.”
He nods, and then after a moment adds, “Yes. I did.”
She undoes the button and zip on his trousers and reaches for one of the towels. “And how did that turn into a midnight dip in a koi pond?”
Sherlock blinks down at her, expressionless. His hair drips into his eyes. “What?”
“The pond, Sherlock. How did you manage that? Have they installed one at New Scotland Yard since I was last there?”
He shakes his head, as if to clear it. “No. I was – something came up. Another case. Jewel thief.”
She moves close again and tips his head down, looking into his eyes. “What’s wrong with you? Did you hit your head when you fell?”
He takes a large step back, nearly colliding with her bedside table. “No, I’m fine. My head’s – fine. Just cold.” He takes the towel and buries his face in it, scrubbing it over his hair. “Lost my keys in the water,” he says through the towel. “I didn’t want to wake Mrs. Hudson.”
Couldn’t wake her, more like. The woman sleeps like a rock. “And I suppose your mobile is ruined?”
“Of course.” His head reemerges, his hair wild, and he rubs the towel over his chest and arms. He smirks at her. “But I did catch the thief.”
“I’m sure jewels all over Britain sleep easier tonight because of you.” She frowns; he’s trying to hide it, but he’s still shivering. “Do you need help with your shoes and trousers?”
“I need tea,” he says firmly. “Lots of it. Very hot.”
“You need to get into dry clothes,” she says, but she pulls her dressing gown from its hook on the door and goes downstairs anyway. She’s seen Sherlock undressed before – modesty is not one of his virtues, in either sense of the word – but if he wants some privacy, she’s happy to give it to him. She’d like a little of her own, come to that.
They haven’t had time to straighten up the kitchen since the madness of the smuggling case, and there isn’t space enough on the worktop for a mug, much less the kettle. She stuffs a few things into the empty cupboards to make room and starts the tea.
Sherlock pounds down the stairs a minute later in his pyjamas, his dressing gown swirling around him like a ratty blue cape. He dumps an armful of dripping clothes into the kitchen sink. “Here, hold this,” he says, and shoves his coat into her hands. It’s sopping wet and smells vaguely of fish flakes. Sherlock begins to dig through the pockets. “I lost my favourite set of lock picks as well as my keys. I need to know what else is missing.”
Sherlock makes a low, dismissive sound – clearly he finds fault with her priorities. “Still in my trousers. It’s fine.” He pulls out a sticky, congealed lump of what once must have been nicotine patches and drops it onto the table. He begins his attack on the coat’s inside pockets, finding in quick succession a blue biro, a round tin compact, and his pocket magnifier. He shakes the water out of the magnifier and grins. “Excellent.”
“What’s that?” Joanna asks, pointing to the compact. “Emergency rouge?”
“A mirror.” He flicks it open with his thumb. “Good, it’s intact; I’d worried the fall might’ve cracked it.”
She hangs his coat on the back of a chair. “That’s a relief,” she says. “A broken mirror is the last thing we need.” Sherlock looks up from the compact, his eyebrows raised.
“Seven years bad luck, if you believe in that sort of thing.” Sherlock gives her a pitying look, and she smiles wryly. “Which of course you don’t.”
“Neither do you, really. You’re much too sensible.” It should be a compliment, but Sherlock makes sensible sound like a mild but potentially embarrassing disease. He closes the compact mirror with a snap, and as he does Joanna catches a glimpse of his reflection, long face and dark hair haloed by the light overhead.
Joanna sees his reflection, and then remembers where she’s seen it before.
Memory hits her like a rush, a sudden, concussive explosion of sound and – I never want to see you again, he’d said, but now he stands like a ghost in front of her, barefoot and damp and slightly flushed from the warmth of the flat, and it can’t be him. She would’ve known.
But they were children then, and she lost him years ago.
Sherlock takes a step closer, frowning. “You’ve gone pale. Why?”
Joanna turns away, toward the sink. “It’s nothing,” she says, and starts sorting through the soggy pile of his clothes. “A twinge in my leg, is all. It’s fine.”
“You’re lying,” he says, but he doesn’t sound sure. “Joanna—”
Her fingers clench around heavy fabric of his trouser pocket and his wallet wedged inside. “What do you need a mirror for, anyway? I’ve never seen you use it.”
“A small mirror is useful in any number of situations. I’ve always carried one.” He moves closer, a sharp-angled warmth at her back. Lingering in the periphery of her vision. “I’ve done something to make you angry. What is it?”
You forgot me, she thinks, the words pressing hard against the back of her teeth. You left me behind. “Nothing,” she says. “I told you, I’m fine.” She pulls the wallet free from the pocket with a sudden jerk of her arm and turns to face him. He’s standing too close; she has to tilt back her head just to see his face. His eyes go directly to the cut on her forehead – a souvenir from the smuggling case and its climatic abduction. He pushes the hair at her temple aside with the slightest touch of his fingertips, uncovering the wound. He studies it, his expression distant and analytical.
“It’s healing well,” he says. “Will it scar?”
“No. I don’t think so.” She takes a steadying breath, pinned open and exposed under his gaze. “I should go back to bed, Sherlock. I’ve work in the morning.”
His hand drops to his side, and he draws back, away from her. “Dull.”
She tosses him his wallet, and he catches it. “I certainly hope so, yes.”
Sherlock flips the wallet open, closes it, and throws it onto the worktop. He drifts to the other side of the kitchen, tying the belt of his dressing gown firmly around his waist. “I have a new case. I leave for Minsk in a few hours.”
Joanna almost laughs, though it’s not remotely funny. “Minsk?”
“I shouldn’t be long. I doubt it will be worth my time.”
“Then why are you going?”
He stops pacing and stares at her, his eyes narrowing to slits. “You want to come with me.”
Her heart pounds unpleasantly in her chest. “I want to be sure you won’t fall into a Russian fishpond and freeze to death.”
“Minsk is in Belarus.”
“Not the point, Sherlock.” She can’t look at him now without seeing the boy she knew, his too-long, too-young face and the winter afternoons spent in alone her grandmother’s attic, surrounded by schoolbooks and empty bags of crisps and his cluttered desk, just on the other side of the glass.
He was always so far away, before. It never occurred to her to wonder what she would do if she could touch.
The kettle beeps twice and shuts off. Sherlock recovers the tea bags from beneath the wobbling tower of books on the table, and she passes him a mug. “You know I couldn’t afford to go with you, even if I didn’t have a shift at the surgery.”
“I’d make the client pay.”
She looks down. His bare feet and hers, in her white cotton socks. The floor needs sweeping. “I can’t, Sherlock.” She smiles, her heart in her throat. “Anyway. It’s not as if you’ll need me.”
“No,” he says, “I don’t suppose I will.” He scoops up an armful of books from the table and holds them to his chest, tea mug clutched in his other hand. He walks out of the kitchen without another word. A moment later, she hears the soft click of his bedroom door as it closes.
Joanna’s sheets are still wet, soaked through in a muddy, coat-shaped stain, but she finds a dry corner at the far side of the bed. She spends the night curled on her side, watching the slow progress of shadows and sunrise across the wall. When she finally drifts off, it’s to the sound of his pacing footsteps in the rooms below.
When she wakes the flat is quiet, and Sherlock is gone.
In Joanna’s dreams, her grandmother is alive.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Gran says. She shifts in her lawn chair, the seat creaking beneath her. “I’m as dead as I’ve ever been. You don’t need to be a bloody detective to see that.” She lifts her cane and points it at the patch of weeds Joanna’s pulling up. “You’ve missed one.”
The sun is hot overhead. Joanna squints up at the sky, trying to guess the time. It’s early morning still, but soon the heat will be unbearable. She should get Gran inside.
“I’m not an invalid,” Gran says, “and you’re not my doctor.”
“I am, actually,” Joanna says. She stands, brushing the sand from her knees. She isn’t sure why she bothers; her uniform is filthy. “You’re not used to the extreme temperatures here, Gran. You need time to adjust, and you need water. If we go inside now—”
“We’re not finished with today’s lesson.” She taps her cane hard against the bare ground. “Meadowsweet.”
“Filipendula ulmaria,” Joanna says, familiar syllables slipping easily from her tongue. “Queen of the Meadow, or Bridewart. Best when used to treat stomach aches, diarrhoea, and the pains of true love’s heartbreak.”
“Good,” Gran says. “Datura.”
“Datura stramonium. Devil’s Weed, or Moonflower. Used as a hallucinogen or lethal toxin. Symptoms include delirium, hyperthermia, and severe sinus tachycardia; overdose can result in coma and death.”
Gran nods. “I have one more.” She leans back in her chair, fingers steepled in front of her. She smiles a stranger’s smile, wide and hollow and white as chalk. “Botulinum toxin.”
The shot slams Joanna down face first into the dirt, and she feels the force of it long before the pain. I’m hit, she says, lips moving soundlessly against earth, and even through the shock some distant, reflexive part of her mind notes the fire of the penetrating bullet wound to her left shoulder, the shattered bone and warm pooling of blood. She breathes in dust.
“Nicked the subclavian artery,” Joanna says, the ground cold beneath her cheek. “She’ll bleed out in ten to fifteen without immediate attention.”
Murray rolls her onto her back, and her vision goes white with pain. “You fucking idiot,” he gasps, terrified. “Bloody Saint Jo and her glorious fucking death wish—”
“Be nice,” she says. “Dying.”
“You’re not,” he says, but he hasn’t touched her shoulder, hasn’t reached for his kit or dragged her back to cover. He kneels at her side, burying his face in his hands, and she realises that it isn’t Murray at all.
“You’re just a child,” she tells the boy. “You shouldn’t be here.”
The boy lowers his hands and looks at her, colourless eyes and pale, unreadable face. “And you should know better,” he says, in a high, posh voice she’s never heard. “By now you really should.” He touches her face, pushing the hair at her temple aside with the slightest touch of his fingertips. “There isn’t a door in this house,” Sherlock says, “that wouldn’t open for you the moment you asked.”
Joanna wakes up on the sofa in Baker Street, her breath white in the cold.
“You were having a nightmare.” Sherlock’s voice from a chair on the other side of the room. He’s watching the news with the sound off, his back to her. The pink phone sits beside him on the armrest, within easy reach of his twitching fingers. “I didn’t want to wake you – once we hear from him, it will likely be some time before your next opportunity for a nap.”
The bomber. Joanna sits up, rubbing her hand over her face. The flat is freezing, but early morning sunlight streams in through the cracks in the boarded up windows. She tugs the blanket close around her. “Did I say anything?”
“While I was dreaming, did I say anything?”
His fingers still. “I spoke to you, and you responded.” He picks up the television remote and clicks on the sound. “It was only nonsense, of course.”
“Of course,” Joanna says, and trudges off to the bathroom. She cleans her face and teeth, re-plaits her hair and changes her clothes. When she comes back downstairs, there’s footage of a bombed out block of flats on the television.
12 dead in gas explosion, the screen says, and Joanna sits in the chair beside Sherlock’s, listening to the reporter’s even-toned account of the destruction. Faulty gas main, he says. A tragic accident.
She looks at Sherlock and sees him staring down at the phone, a light like wanting in his eyes.
Her first thought after regaining consciousness is, Oh hell, not again.
She doesn’t open her eyes at first – instead she feels the car moving beneath her, smells the leather seats and the subtle sting of a man’s expensive aftershave, sitting close. The Chinese smugglers had knocked her out with a blow to the head and tossed her in a van, but this is a considerably more refined operation – a jet-injected dose of a fast acting sedative to the neck and a getaway in a bloody limousine.
Joanna wishes she were dim enough to think, even for a moment, that this was Mycroft’s doing.
She opens her eyes and sees Molly Hooper’s closeted boyfriend watching her from the other seat, a bottle of spring water in one hand and a leather-bound book in the other. He smiles, close-lipped and sharp as his suit.
“Hullo, Jo,” Moriarty says, singsong. “I don’t mean to be overly personal, but you’ve got a bit of drool—” He taps his own chin, “just here.”
Her wrists and ankles are bound tight with plastic ties. She forces a smile. “Ta.”
“No trouble. Just thought you should know.” He sits back, crossing his legs at the knee, and drops the book onto the seat beside him. “I thought we’d take this opportunity to have a bit of a chat. You must have questions.”
Joanna licks her lips; her mouth tastes like dust and a lingering sourness from the sedatives. “Is Molly dead?”
His forehead furrows, and it almost looks like genuine confusion. “That’s your first question? Really?”
“Yes.” She shifts in her seat, testing the give of the plastic ties. The car windows are tinted near black, but the coloured lights of the street outside flicker as they pass, distorted and indistinguishable. “Are you going to answer it?”
He laughs, shaking his head. “Well, look at you. The girl glares daggers at your back whenever you get within three feet of him, and you still—”
“She’s alive, then.”
“Yes,” Moriarty groans, the way Sherlock says dull or waste of my time. “Last I saw her, she was in perfect health. Pink-cheeked and cheerful. I haven’t touched a hair on her empty little head, and I don’t particularly intend to.” He slides forward to the edge of the smooth leather seat, his knees bumping hers. “Your hair, on the other hand—”
“What did you want from Viola Seostris?”
He gives her a playfully severe look. “You’re going about this all wrong, Jo. I mean, I didn’t quite expect you to throw yourself at my feet and beg for your life, but I did hope we’d stick to some sort of script – ‘why are you doing this, you’ll never get away with this, oh god help me help me please,’ etcetera. The classics are classics for a reason, you know.”
“I would beg for my life if I thought it would do any good,” Joanna says.
Moriarty studies her for a long moment, eyes dark, his face stripped of any pretence of emotion. “You would beg for his life, I think. I’m not certain you would for your own.” He reaches out and touches her cheek. Two fingers, warm against her skin. “Joanna, don’t you want to know what I’m going to do with you?”
Her jaw tenses under his touch. “I’m the fifth hostage. Sherlock’s last puzzle.”
“Yes. Yes, you are.” His hand moves to her hair, the plait at the back of her neck. It settles there, a long-fingered weight against her spine. “Do you know why?”
Joanna’s fists clench behind her back, and the plastic bites into her wrists. “Seostris had something you needed, and she refused to give it to you. What was it?”
Moriarty stretches his legs, pushing himself away from her and back against his seat. He takes a long drink of water, his throat working as he swallows. He licks his lips when he’s done and holds out the bottle. “Thirsty?”
He knows she is; the sedatives have made her head pound and her throat feel like sandpaper, raw and desert dry. She swallows and feels the grind. “It was something in her books, wasn’t it? Something you wanted to know.” His grip tightens on the bottle, and Joanna grins. “I’m right, aren’t I? Seostris knew, and she killed herself to keep it from you.”
Moriarty tips his head to one side, feigning polite curiosity. “Remind you of your dear dead gran, did she?” He smiles, showing teeth. “Oh, Joanna. How sweet.”
For the first time since she regained consciousness, Joanna feels the panic beneath the rising adrenaline. She refuses to call it fear – not now, with her hands and feet bound and his hungry, mocking eyes fixed on hers. She meets his gaze evenly, unflinching. “My dear dead gran would have ripped you to pieces.”
“Perhaps,” Moriarty says. “But you can’t, can you? You turned your back on it. Gave up your inheritance for a glamorous life of sand and blood and shit.” He leans toward her, his elbows resting on his knees, like an old friend inviting a confidence. “Is that why you never told Sherlock you found my name at the crime scene? Because you knew that if you told him about the magic, he’d find out how utterly useless you are?”
She grits her teeth. “Untie my hands, Mr. Moriarty, and you’ll see for yourself exactly how useless I am.”
He laughs, delighted. “Oh, much better. This is what I like to hear. You, Doctor Watson, are my most-improved hostage of the week.” He raises the bottle to her in a mock toast and downs the rest of the water. He drops the bottle to the carpeted floor, empty. “You deserve a reward, don’t you? I’ve never kept pets for long, but even I know that a good doggie gets a treat.” Moriarty takes the book from the seat beside him and opens it to a page marked by a withered silk ribbon. He spreads the book over his lap, brushing his fingers over dense lines of narrow script that turn the pages black in the low light. “All those books burned, decades worth of research and study, and the one thing she most wanted to keep from me was charmed against fire.” He looks up, a quiet smile in his eyes. “Sounds a little like fate, doesn’t it?”
“That was Seostris’ book?”
“One of them. The one I needed.” He coils the ribbon around his finger, loose at first, then tight enough to bleach the skin white. “The late Madame, while an unremarkable Seer, was quite the talented historian. Her passion was genealogy – bloodlines and inheritances.” He twists the ribbon again, and the book groans with the strain. “But magical genealogy is a difficult business, what with the secrecy and the paranoia and that tricky period last millennium when most of you were hanged or burned at the stake. Or drowned.” The ribbon rips free in a hiss of old silk. “The innocent sink, and the damned rise to the surface – that’s how it goes, isn’t it? It’s been so long since I saw a proper drowning.”
Joanna sits back against seat, wrists pinned tight between her back and the leather. “What about the boy? Carl Powers. Was that a proper drowning?”
Moriarty shrugs. “Carl sank like an innocent. But then, I did help him along in that, didn’t I?” He leans forward, Seostris’ book open in his hands. “Do you believe in fate, Doctor Watson?”
“Why would you want a book of witch genealogy?”
“Answer the question and I’ll tell you.”
“No, you won’t.”
“No,” he says, grinning. “I probably won’t.” The pages of the book are dense with names and dates and meaningless acronyms; Moriarty tips it toward his chest and gives her a wink. “Fate or free will, Watson. What’s your call?”
Joanna grits her teeth. “Free will.”
“I thought all witches believed in fate.”
“I’m not a witch.”
“Oh, aren’t you?” He closes the book with a snap. “Well, never mind, then. I was going to ask you to read my palm, but I suppose I won’t bother now. Killjoy.”
The car slows and comes to a stop. There’s a knock on the window, and Moriarty slouches back in his seat.
The door opens, and a man in dark fatigues and a black facemask ducks his head inside. “We have arrived at the set location, sir,” he says in crisp, slightly accented English. “Everything is in place.”
“Holmes?” Moriarty asks, all cool disinterest.
“Thirty minutes out,” the man says. It’s hard to see in the dark, but his right hand is tucked close against his body; he must be the one who grabbed for her first. Idiot.
“Two of your fingers are dislocated,” she tells the man, leaning forward a bit to catch his eye. “If you don’t see a doctor soon, there might be permanent damage.”
Both men turn to stare at her. “Permanent damage?” the man in fatigues says, and she can see the sceptical twist of his frown even through the mask.
“I can’t be sure without a proper examination, but it felt like I wrenched your first and second fingers fully out of joint. Is there any discolouration?”
The man glances down at his mangled hand. “The skin is blue at the knuckles, yes, but I thought—”
Moriarty pulls a flick knife from his breast pocket and opens it with a practised jerk of his wrist. In a single, smooth movement he leans down and cuts the plastic binding her ankles together. “Get the good doctor inside. If she tries to dislocate anything else, shoot her.” He opens the other door and steps out, the book tucked under his arm. The door slams shut behind him.
Joanna looks at the man in the mask. He has a SIG 9mm in his undamaged hand, and it’s trained on her. “My aim is not so good with my left,” he says, “but at this range it would make little difference, I think. You should get out of the car now.”
It’s difficult with her hands still bound behind her back, but she manages to climb out the car door and onto the pavement. The building in front of them is squat grey concrete, nondescript and entirely unfamiliar. There’s a chipped plastic sign on the door that says Please Use Student Entrance, and another just below it: No street shoes in pool area. Thank you.
Joanna looks to the sky, the slow roll of clouds on the horizon and the rare light of the stars. If she’d looked before, she might have known. All witches believe in fate.
Joanna smiles, rueful. “‘Fear death by water,’” she says, and the man nods.
“T.S. Eliot,” he says. “The Waste Land.” The door opens, and another masked man stands inside, with another gun. A corridor dark and echoing behind him. The man with the broken hand moves close behind her. “But the water is not what should frighten you,” he says, and together they take her by the shoulders and pull her into the dark.
“Once upon a time,” Moriarty says through the earpiece, “there was a man who was dying, and Death came and stood outside his door.” He pauses, letting the silence fill with static. “Stop me if you’ve heard this one.”
The pool waits on the other side of the door; Joanna can hear the low hum of the filters. The gentle sounds of water against tile. The corridor is dimly lit and cool, and the air tastes harsh, like chlorine and industrial cleaners. She takes a deep breath and feels the vest expand with her ribs, shifting beneath the weight of the Semtex. A stray wire curls loose at her side, sharp against her left breast. She closes her eyes.
“You know, your Madame Seostris used to tell me stories,” Moriarty says, his voice soft in her ear. “She knew all the good ones – cursed boxes and poisoned cups, hands of glory and the wasting rings. All the nasty little things hidden away in cellars and crypts, unwanted and forgotten. She’d tell me where to find them, and I’d pay her such a lot of money. Until that inevitable day when she found the one thing I really wanted, and then decided she didn’t want to share.” For a moment, all she hears is the hiss of his breath, deceptively close. “Joanna, do you know the story of Agamede’s Mirror?”
Joanna shakes her head once, her eyes still closed. The sniper at the far end of the corridor must see, because Moriarty sighs in her ear a moment later. “Oh dear. I thought for sure you’d remember. I thought it would be one of your favourites.” He pauses, a brief crackle of silence. “You’ve forgotten it, I suppose. Like you’ve forgotten so many things she taught you.”
Moriarty’s men unplaited her hair before dressing her in Semtex and wire, and it hangs loose around her shoulders, tangled inside the collar of the anorak and down her back. A strand has fallen into her eyes, but she can’t brush it away, not with a rifle’s red light shuddering across her chest. Her hands hang stiff at her sides.
The frailty of genius, Sherlock once called it. Moriarty will give her the opening she needs; she only has to wait.
“You’re probably thinking of ways to save him,” Moriarty says, sounding amused. “I can hear that cracked little misery of a mind just crank-crank-cranking away. You’d detonate the bomb yourself if you thought you could catch me in the blast, but there’s no way to be sure, is there? Lover boy could be here now. He could be just on the other side of that wall.”
In the distance a door opens and slowly creaks shut, and Joanna hears footsteps against tile. The muted depth of Sherlock’s voice.
“He’s not here for you,” Moriarty says, low and suddenly vicious. “It isn’t you he wants. I could kill you now, burn you alive and let him watch, and it would only be part of the game. He’d have his next move ready in minutes, and your ashes would be dirt under his feet.”
Joanna opens her eyes. “Then do it.”
Moriarty laughs quietly, into her ear. “Oh, I would. But the curtain’s up, Jo, and we’ve such a show planned for him. It’s time for your entrance.” The sniper at the end of the corridor moves closer, an unsubtle, unnecessary threat; Joanna opens the door and steps through.
The room is high-ceilinged and half-lit, echoing with her footsteps and the last bell tone reverberations of Sherlock’s voice. He stands at the water’s edge, looking away, and in the moment before he turns to face her she sees his reflection.
The surface of the pool is as smooth as a mirror.