oh, my beautiful idiot (rosa_acicularis) wrote,

Fic: Arcana 4a/4 (for now)

Title: Arcana

Fandom: Sherlock (BBC)

Rating: Mature

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 chapter three



Joanna’s grandmother died on a clear morning in early spring, just before dawn. Joanna sat by her bed for a long time afterward, fingers pressed to the paper-soft skin at her grandmother’s wrist. Then she walked down to the kitchen, phoned for an ambulance, and went to find the soldering iron.

The floor beneath the kitchen table was cold and unswept. Joanna knelt on stiff knees, her head tipped at an awkward angle as she burned her grandmother’s name into the wood. H. Russell, she wrote, just below the record of her mother’s death. Of lung canc

Her hand slipped, and the burning tip of the soldering iron caught the soft flesh of her thumb. She hissed and dropped the iron to the floor. She unplugged it with a jerk on the cord, but not before it scorched a small, black-edged hole in the lino.

Joanna sucked at the burn, thumb aching between her teeth, and heard the words so clearly Gran might have been standing beside her, cane tapping impatiently against the floor.

Do it properly, then, her grandmother did not say, would never say again, and Joanna burnt the rest of the inscription into the wood with the tip of one finger, smoke curling around her skin. H. Russell. Of lung cancer, 1991. It would be her last piece of magic for nearly twenty years.

J. Watson, she thinks as Sherlock raises the gun and aims for the explosives, his face like marble in the rippling light of the pool. J. Watson and S. Holmes. Lost in fire, 2010. Sherlock looks to her, a glance from the corner of his eye, and she nods.

Moriarty grins, wide and hollow and white as bone. “Fear death by water,” he says, and Sherlock fires.

++

Joanna is drowning.

She feels the hot press of acid at the back of her throat, the air-starved ache in her lungs, but she can’t fight her way to the surface, not yet – fire swells in the air above the pool, distorted by water and the creeping darkness at the edge of her vision. If she doesn’t breathe soon—

But the snipers, she thinks. Snipers and the fire and Sherlock—

Sherlock has slipped from her arms and is sinking limp and motionless toward the pool’s floor. He’s unconscious. A long shadow drifting in the light.

She kicks hard to the surface, sucks in a single smoke-filled breath and dives again. An arm hooked around his chest and she drags the dead weight of him up to the air, breaking the surface with a gasp. Sherlock’s head slumps forward, his hair dark in his eyes. He isn’t breathing.

It takes all her strength to pull him out of the water and onto the tile. His mouth is cold beneath hers and her breath shudders, stops (what if a sniper fired before I got him to the water, she thinks, what if he’s been hit—) but she finds the strong speed of his pulse and breathes again, her air in his lungs. He chokes, and his eyes open, water-pale and fixed on hers.

“You absolute prick,” she says, and rips open his suit jacket, feeling for injuries with shaking hands. “I could kill you myself.”

“I’m not shot,” he says, his voice faint. “Blacked out when—” her searching fingers find the fourth and fifth ribs on his left side and he hisses. “When we hit the water.”

She laughs, wiping the sting of chlorine from her eyes. “When I tackled you and fractured two of your ribs, you mean.”

“Bruised,” he says, “not broken.” He pushes himself up onto his elbows with a poorly hidden wince. “I’m fine. You?”

I thought you were dead, she thinks, and some small part of what she feels must show in her face, because he grabs hard for her arm, his eyes wide.

“Joanna, are you—”

“Yes, yes, I’m all right. Don’t start tearing my clothes off again.” She stands and helps him to his feet. Her gun lies abandoned on the tile not far away. She picks it up, checks the safety, and shoves it in the waistband of her trousers.

Moriarty and his snipers are gone, and the only sign of the explosion is a long tower of flame rising behind them, a fire stretching from the ashes of the vest to the high ceiling above. There isn’t even much smoke, now – just the single fire, burning impossibly bright. “Definitely not Semtex, then,” Sherlock says, and the madman’s about to step closer to the flame when Joanna jerks him back with one hand on his arm. He scowls. “I only want to see what sort of accelerant he’s used. It would have to be fairly unusual to sustain such a controlled burn.”

It’s all-saint’s fire, of course; Moriarty must have hidden the spell in the fake explosives. The impact of the bullet would have been more than enough to set it off.

She could have started the fire herself, if she’d realised. Could have taken Moriarty with her and left Sherlock unharmed. Safe.

Sherlock stands beside her and watches the fire, his face unreadable, half in shadow. Joanna tightens her grip and leads him away.

++

They’ve only walked a few blocks from the sports centre when a black town car passes them in the street and pulls up to the kerb. Joanna tenses, reaching for the gun at her back; Sherlock stops her with a small shake of his head. The car door opens and Mycroft’s assistant steps out, mobile in hand. It chimes, and she glances up at them, looking rather bored. “Which is it?” she says. “Hospital or home?”

“Hospital,” Joanna says. “Sherlock’s ribs might be fractured.”

The corner of Sherlock’s mouth lifts in a strained sort of smile. “Well then,” he says, “it’s a lucky thing I’ve a doctor for a flatmate.” He pushes past the assistant and into the car. “To Baker Street, please, Alice. Before poor Doctor Watson collapses in a fit of pique, if possible.”

Joanna gives the assistant a pointed look. “Alice?”

The assistant ignores her, attention fixed on her mobile again. Joanna climbs into the car and sits beside Sherlock, her wet clothes squeaking against the leather seats. Alice takes the seat opposite and closes the door hard behind her.  

Joanna feels the single-minded focus of Sherlock’s gaze as the car pulls away from the kerb. His eyes are fixed on her face. “He took you in a car like this one.”

“Yes,” Joanna says, “he did.” She turns to Alice. “There’s a fire at a sports centre three streets from here, and the alarm system’s been disabled. Someone should probably phone the fire department.”

The assistant taps at her Blackberry, a small part of her face illuminated by its light. “We notified the authorities as soon as we learnt your location. They should arrive at the pool in approximately two minutes.”

Sherlock shifts forward in his seat. “Mycroft?”

“Gathering what information he can before the trail goes cold.” Sherlock makes a derisive noise and turns to the window. Alice looks up from the mobile and meets Joanna’s eyes. “If you’ve learnt anything that might be useful in the search—”

Joanna shakes her head, phrasing her response carefully. “I doubt I could tell you anything you don’t already suspect.”

“I see,” Alice says. She taps a button on her phone and lifts it to her ear. Mycroft answers immediately. “You’ll want me at the scene,” she says. “I’ll return as soon as the flat’s secured.” There’s a pause as Mycroft replies. “Yes, sir.” She rings off.

“You know you won’t find anything,” Sherlock drawls, his head tipped against the window glass. “He’s much too clever for that.”

“Of course he is,” Alice says, her tone mild. “I assume that’s why you so enjoyed his attentions.”

Joanna waits for the usual lecture about the dangers of sentimentality and his tireless dedication to The Work, but it doesn’t come. Instead Sherlock stares silently out the window, his lips pressed together in a pained line.

“I’m looking at those ribs the moment we get home,” Joanna says, but if he hears her, he doesn’t respond. They sit in silence until the car turns onto Baker Street twenty minutes later.

Alice’s mobile chimes just as the car comes to a stop. She taps out a reply and then looks up. “Your flat is clear.” When they simply stare at her for another moment, she adds, “So you can go now.”

“Right,” Joanna says, fumbling for the door handle. “Thank you, Alice. For the ride.”

Sherlock slips out the door on the other side and slams it closed behind him. Alice gives Joanna an amused, slightly pitying look. “Not Alice either, I’m afraid.”

“No,” Joanna says. “Of course not.”

Sherlock opens the door on Joanna’s side and leans down until they’re nearly face-to-face. “Alice, Anthea, Anita, Augusta – whatever her name, she isn’t interested. Now would you please end this pathetic attempt at flirtation and get out of the bloody car?”

“Excuse me,” Joanna says through gritted teeth, her face hot with embarrassment. “I have to get my flatmate upstairs so I can break the rest of his ribs. Goodnight.”

“Goodnight,” the assistant says, almost smiling. “We’ll be in touch.”

“I’m sure you will,” Sherlock says, and whirls off towards the front door of 221. Joanna steps out onto the pavement and closes the door firmly behind her. The car drives away.

Joanna turns, ready to indulge in a good, cathartic shout, but the fight goes out of her when she sees Sherlock’s face. His hair is still damp, drying in frizzing, awkward corkscrew curls, and his mouth twists with frustration as he searches his pockets.

Joanna sighs. “Don’t tell me – you’ve lost your keys again.”

“Probably when you dragged me out of the water with all the grace of a trained gorilla. I can already feel the bruises.” He gives up the search for the keys and slumps back against the locked door. “I don’t suppose you still have yours?”

“Yeah, a funny thing about kidnappers – they don’t tend to be terribly conscientious about returning one’s personal effects.” She climbs the steps and leans against the doorframe, loose hair falling over her shoulder. She pushes it back again, wincing as her fingers catch in the wet knots. “Should we try shouting for Mrs. Hudson, do you think, or go ‘round to the fire escape?”

He closes his eyes. “We could just stay out here. Enjoy the evening. Watch the sunrise.”

“Freeze to death. Get abducted again.”

His hand darts out blindly and grips her forearm. Joanna jumps, startled, but when he speaks his voice is perfectly normal. “Unlikely. Twice in one night would be excessive, Joanna, even for you.” He opens his eyes. “The fire escape, I think. Mrs. Hudson’s herbal soothers are surprisingly potent; we’d wake half the street before our voices penetrated the haze.”

Joanna’s not tall enough to reach the ladder to the fire escape, so it’s left to Sherlock and his bruised ribs to leap up and retrieve it. The climb to her bedroom window is easy enough, but the latch presents something of a problem.

“An annoying habit of yours,” Sherlock says as he tries to coax it open with little success. “Locking things. Being responsible.”

Joanna shivers, her arms wrapped tight around her. Their clothes are nearly dry, but the damp and the cold and the slow, creeping exhaustion are taking their toll. They both stink of chlorine and smoke and Sherlock’s wincing now, every time he breathes too deep or lifts his left arm. She needs to get them inside.

“Let me try,” she says, and pushes him gently aside. It’s her latch, and it’s locking her window – a simple piece of steel bound to wood, atoms and electrons and the silent, ever-listening space between. This is my home, she thinks; let me in, and when she pushes the window slides open easily, without so much as a creak.

“I loosened it for you,” Sherlock says, and slips past her into the dark bedroom.

She wriggles through the window a moment later, cautious until her feet touch the floor. Sherlock has already stripped off his suit jacket and is starting work on his shirt cuffs. She closes the window, locks it, and switches on the bedside lamp.

The bruise loops dark around the left side of his chest, its colour deepest where her shoulder slammed into his side. She sees it all again – the challenge in Moriarty’s grin, the gun, and that first flare of light. The explosion that never came, and the open splay of Sherlock’s hands as he drifted to the pool’s floor.

“I still have one of Stamford’s stethoscopes,” he says. He’s watching her warily, his shirt crumpled in his hands. “It’s in the cabinet beneath the bathroom sink.”         

“Klepto,” she says, letting affection mask the tremor in her voice. “Sit down. I’ll go fetch it.”

He sits on the edge of her bed. “You’re shivering.”

“I’m cold.” She rescues his abandoned suit jacket from the floor and holds a hand out for his shirt. He gives it to her. “Don’t move,” she says. “I’ll be right back.”

His eyes follow her as she leaves the room, and for a moment her chest aches as it had beneath the water, too full and painfully tight. She stops in the corridor, breathless.

She thought he was dead, but she was wrong. He’s just on the other side of the wall, listening for the sound of her footsteps.

The bathroom is wonderfully warm. She strips off her wet cardigan, her shoes and her socks, and dumps them all with Sherlock’s things into the bath. She washes her hands with hot water and soap, trying not to look too closely at her reflection in the mirror. Her hair is a tangled mess, her face raw and bruised dark beneath the eyes. She shuts off the tap and crouches down to open the cabinet.

The shelves under the sink are a jumble of scientific equipment, hair care products, and junk. Even so, it only takes her a moment to spot Stamford’s pilfered stethoscope. Sherlock’s left it on the top shelf, coiled neatly on top of her grandmother’s sewing kit.

When she returns to the room he’s still sitting on the bed, shirtless and moon pale even in the warm light of the bedside lamp. She moves close, until her knees touch his. “I’ll have to palpate the area around the bruise. It’s going to be painful.”

“Not a problem.” Sherlock opens his legs, letting her step between. He tips back his head and looks up at her, a smirk curling at the corner of his mouth. “I have a very high tolerance.”

“I don’t doubt it,” she says, and begins the exam.

He's right, of course – the ribs are only bruised, and even when she presses hard on the affected area his expression stays smooth and untroubled, a perfect mask.

“Sherlock, stop shamming. I need to know if it hurts.”

Sherlock sighs his why must you be so tedious sigh. “Oh, the pain,” he says. “The agony. It’s terrible. Oh god, the pain.”

“Git,” she says, and doesn’t bother to warm the metal diaphragm before pressing the stethoscope to the goose pimpled skin of his chest.

Christ,” he hisses, jerking back. “You could have warned me.”

She smiles beatifically at him. “Deep breaths, please. I’m going to listen to your lungs.”

His chest sounds clear, so she crawls behind him on the bed to listen at his back. She rests a hand on his shoulder and feels muscle tense beneath her palm. “Lean forward, just slightly.” After a moment’s hesitation, he does. She slips the stethoscope’s eartips back into place, muffling the sounds of the room around her, and sets the diaphragm high on his back. “Breathe for me.”

He inhales, and it sounds marvellous – a clear, clean rush of air that drowns out every other sound, any lingering doubt or fear. It’s easier now that he can’t see her face, and Joanna closes her eyes before she asks him to breathe again, working her way left to right down the lean breadth of his back.   

“Your pulse is a little fast,” she says when she reaches his heart. Her voice sounds strange through the seal of the eartips, and she swallows. “Everything all right?”

He nods, but now that she’s looking she can see that his fingers are clutching the edge of the mattress, his knuckles almost white.

She tugs the stethoscope from her ears. “Sherlock, if you’re in pain—”

“I’m fine,” he says, and sounds it. “The bruising is uncomfortable, but I’ve had worse. All it needs is paracetamol and an icepack.” He turns and fixes her with a close, calculating look. “I’d like to see your wrists now, please.”

She leans back a bit, putting some distance between them. “His men used plastic ties, and I pulled at them more than I should have. I doubt there’s any useful evidence there.”

“I’d still like to see them. Your ankles too, if you don’t mind.”

She studies his face for a long moment, the tension in his jaw and careful blankness behind his eyes. “I really am all right, Sherlock. He didn’t hurt me.”

“And my ribs were only bruised,” Sherlock says, “but you still needed to hear me breathe.” 

There’s a moment’s silence, and then she slips off the bed and stands in front of him. Her shirt buttons are small, white, plastic – they slip easily through the buttonholes until she can shrug the damp shirt off her shoulders and onto the floor. She still hasn’t regained all the weight and muscle she lost while she was ill, and she wears her belt buckled tight to keep her trousers from slipping down her hips. She sets the gun on her bedside table, then opens the belt and her trousers and pushes them to the floor, leaving her naked but for her sensible cotton pants and bra.

She doesn’t look at his face. She admires his mind for all its cold brilliance, but she doesn’t think she could bear to see indifference in his eyes now. She stares over his head at the empty wall. “Well?”

Long fingers circle her left wrist, lifting her hand. “They bound you while you were unconscious. Not tightly enough to cut off circulation, but the skin’s still raw where the tension in your arms pulled against the plastic.” He returns her hand to her side, and his fingers slip away. “You lost your temper with him. What did he say?”

She licks her lips. “I’m sure you can guess.”

“He enjoys exposing and manipulating weakness – my weaknesses, certainly. I suppose he did the same with you.” Sherlock pauses. “Which did he choose? Afghanistan or your father?”

“Afghanistan,” she says. He nods, a dark dip of his head from the edge of her vision.

“Step back,” he says, and when she does he slides off the bed and kneels at her feet. His hair brushes her thigh, and she can’t stop the gasp that hisses through her teeth. “More sensitive here,” he says, and she nearly stutters a denial before she feels him gently probing the bruised skin around her right ankle. “You must have injured one of his flunkies, if they felt the need to bind your feet as well as your hands.”

“Two flunkies, actually. Instep and dislocated fingers.”

He looks up from her feet, and she can’t help but meet his eyes. He’s smiling. “They always underestimate you.”

“You never did.”

Sherlock stands, the bruise a shadow across his ribs. “No, I didn’t. But then, I am rather clever.” He lifts his hand until his fingers hover over her left shoulder, just above the scar. “May I?”

She nods, unsure what her voice will reveal if she tries to speak.

His touch is delicate, clinical; she hardly feels it. “You’ll be sore here tomorrow. This joint absorbed most of the impact when you sent us into the water.” A damp strand of hair falls in his way, and he brushes it back over her shoulder. “Your hair was plaited when you left for Sarah’s. When did they undo it?”

“Before they put me in the vest. To unsettle me, I suppose. More psychological warfare.”

“Could be,” Sherlock says, and for a brief moment his expression turns rueful, almost self-mocking. “Though not, I think, directed at you.” He steps back, his hand falling to his side. “Turn around.”

Joanna thinks of his face in the moments after he turned and saw her standing by the water. Looks at him now, at the impatient purse of his mouth and his wild hair, and remembers the fear in his eyes when she opened the anorak and showed him the explosives beneath.

She turns.

Joanna keeps a wooden comb in the top drawer of her bedside table. She hears Sherlock reach for it, the creak of the drawer as it opens and closes, but she still tenses when he steps close and gathers her hair in his hands.

“I’d like to,” he says. “If you’d let me.”

Some change in her posture (the dip of her shoulders, the curl of her open hands) must give her answer for her, because he lifts the wet weight of hair from her neck and begins to work the comb through, one knot at a time.

He’s almost too gentle – careful to hold the hair at its root, his grip too sure and his fingers too steady to jerk or pull. He eases each tangle free with the slow precision she’s seen him use with fragile fibres, with glass slides beneath microscopes and the taut strings of his violin. His touch is so light, it’s almost as if her hair unknots itself.

She jerks her head forward sharply, just to feel his grip.

The pull surprises him, and he drops the comb. She hears it fall, but he doesn’t bend to pick it up. He stands close, and for a moment she can feel the warmth of him at her back. He drags his fingers through her hair, and they slip through easily, unimpeded by tangles or knots.

“He took you not far from the flat,” he says. His voice is cool, detached; it sounds strange through the rush of her pulse in her ears. “No farther than three streets away, because you consider that home territory and he wanted to make it clear that he can take you anytime, from anywhere he likes.” He pauses, and she feels a familiar tug at her temples as he begins to plait her hair. “Am I right?”

He knows he is. “It was Glentworth Street,” she says. “Outside that coffee shop.”

He makes a small, satisfied noise. “A miscalculation on his part. I would’ve chosen a spot closer to Sarah’s.  You’ve lived in a war zone before, but an implicit threat to a civilian, to someone you care about – that would’ve made for a much more effective message. He missed an opportunity there.”

“Maybe,” Joanna says. “Or maybe the message wasn’t meant for me.”

His fingers still. After a moment’s pause they continue, weaving the plait down her back. “The thought had occurred. I only have so many attachments to exploit; as my flatmate and colleague, you are the obvious choice.” He finishes the plait with quick, economical twists of his forearms and wrists and ties it off with the snap of an elastic. “No sane person would risk her life for a convenient flatshare.”

She smiles. “No sane person would call sharing with you convenient.” She turns her head to look over her shoulder at him, but he stops her. Brushes two cool fingers over the forgotten sting of the injection site at her throat, the welt and the bruise. She feels her pulse under his fingertips.

“Joanna,” he says, like the sound of her name is an argument in itself. “He would have burned you.”

The classics are classics for a reason, she thinks, and remembers the ashes of the vest, swallowed by flame. “He was playing with us. He never intended for me to burn.”

“And next time?”

Her eyes close. “Next time we’ll stop him.”

“Joanna, I—” He goes silent. She listens to the sound of his breath in her ear. “I meant to thank you, earlier. For what you did. What you offered to do.” Die for me, he doesn’t say, and the touch at her throat disappears. “I meant to thank you, and to say that if you ever do it again, I will cut you from my life so completely I won’t even be able to remember your name.”

“Sherlock—” She turns to face him, but he’s already backing away, moving toward the door.

“I’ve made myself perfectly clear. I see no reason to discuss it further.” He stops with one hand on the doorknob, his expression shuttered. “You won’t see me tomorrow. I’m going out.”

She folds her arms over her bare stomach. “If you need—”

“I’ll text,” he says, and leaves her standing alone in her bedroom, her hair still damp in its single, perfect plait.

++

Sherlock is already gone the next morning when Joanna leaves the flat. Which is just as well, really, considering what he’d think of her destination.

The room outside Mycroft’s Whitehall office is small and rather beige, its only decoration a murky painting of the ruins of a Greek colonnade and a lone, ruthlessly uncluttered desk. The new nameplate at the desk’s edge says simply: Adrienne Mordus, Assistant.

“Let me guess,” Joanna says, standing in the open door. “That’s not your name either.”

Adrienne almost smiles, her eyes still fixed on her computer screen. “You don’t have an appointment.”

“I came to see you, not him.” Joanna pulls the wooden cigar box from her shopping bag and sets it down beside the keyboard. “Open it.”    

Adrienne continues typing. “No, thank you. I’m trying to quit.”

“I found it in our flat almost two weeks ago, under a stack of old papers.” Joanna lifts the lid, revealing the sawdust and shattered amber glass bottles inside. “At the time, I thought it was one of yours.”

The smell rises from the sawdust, and Adrienne’s fingers go still on the keyboard. She slowly turns her head and looks down at the box, her eyes slightly wide. “This was in your flat.”

“Alarming, isn’t it?” Joanna says. “Someone was spying on us, and for once it wasn’t you.”

Adrienne snaps up the box and pushes open the door to Mycroft’s office. She strides inside, and Joanna follows a step behind.

Mycroft is seated at his desk, on the phone. He presses the receiver to his chest, frowning. “My dear, I—” He looks again at Adrienne’s face and stops. Returns the phone into its cradle. “Good morning, Doctor Watson. This must be urgent indeed, if Adrienne’s let you through without an appointment. Or knocking.”

Adrienne steps up to his desk and shows him the open cigar box. “This was in your brother’s flat. It’s Moran’s.”

Something complicated happens behind Mycroft’s eyes, though his expression reveals nothing more than mild interest. “A weapon?”

“A bug,” Joanna says, resting her hands on the back of one of the visitor’s chairs. “It was recording everything we said in the flat and bottling our voices in that glass.”

“Not just voices,” Adrienne says, still looking at Mycroft. “When retrieved properly, the information inside these bottles would include a rough psychic impression of any mind within a certain radius. Basic emotional responses, some surface level thought—”

Joanna frowns. “It was reading our minds? How is that even possible?”

Mycroft lifts a sardonic eyebrow. “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,” he says, demonstrating an undoubtedly genetic ability to say the most irritating thing possible in any situation. He turns back to Adrienne. “If the bottles were destroyed before Moran could retrieve the information—”

“There are flakes of dried blood in the sawdust,” Joanna says. “I’ve never seen anything like this before, but even I know that means she maintained a direct connection to the spell. Whoever she is, this Moran person heard what we said as soon as we said it. Which reminds me.” She steps up to Mycroft’s desk and gives him a distinctly unfriendly smile. “Who is she?”

He,” Mycroft says, sitting back in his chair, “is Sebastian Moran, a devoted confederate of the man you know as James Moriarty.”

“His kept witch,” Adrienne adds, and takes a broken shard of amber glass from the box. She holds it up to the light. “Just as I am Mr Holmes’, and you are his brother’s.”

A muscle in Mycroft’s cheek twitches, a flinch so subtle that after a moment Joanna wonders if she saw it at all. “Kept, are you?” he says to Adrienne, his tone carefully light. “And here I was under the impression that you lived life free as the proverbial bird.”

Adrienne drops the glass shard back into the box. It lands with a muffled clink. “With access to Moriarty’s resources, Moran is a legitimate threat. I’ve suspected for some time that he’d returned to England, but I couldn’t be sure until I saw the all-saint’s fire at the pool last night.”                   

Joanna looks at the cigar box and its broken tangle of copper wire and glass. “Has a distinctive style, does he?”

Adrienne closes the box. “Everyone does, when you know what you’re looking for.” She turns to Mycroft. “This device was active during at least one of our recent visits to Baker Street. Moran knows I’m working for you, and he knows Doctor Watson is unable to defend your brother or herself.”

Joanna’s hands clench into fists at her sides, but Mycroft breaks in before she can disagree. “As I recall,” he says, “one of those visits ended with a near skewering by walking stick. I’d call that a fairly strong defence.”

“That was one of Helene Russell’s old spells; Watson had no conscious control over it. She wouldn’t last thirty seconds against Moran.” Adrienne looks Joanna up and down with a now-familiar expression of benign disinterest. “We’ll start by recasting the protective wards on your flat. They’ll be more potent if you do them yourself, and we can work from your grandmother’s book.” She sighs. “Better to begin with the familiar, I suppose, since you’ve so effectively crippled yourself.”

There’s a flare of pain in her leg and Joanna stumbles, leaning hard against the desk. “That’s…great,” she says through clenched teeth. “Well done. Really sensitive choice of words.”

Adrienne’s eyes go wide with exaggerated innocence. “Oh, I am sorry – I didn’t realise you were so delicate. Shall I call for a doctor, or would you prefer to lick your imaginary wounds in private?”

Joanna shoves her shaking hand into her trouser pocket and forces herself to stand upright, pride overruling the pain. “I know what you’re trying to do, and you’re wasting your time.”

“Why?” Adrienne says. “Because you’ve denied yourself for so long that you’d rather let a homicidal maniac strap explosives to your chest than use magic to stop him?”

Mycroft looks back and forth between them like a spectator at an unexpectedly violent tennis match. “Ladies, if I may interject—”

Adrienne drops the cigar box to the desk and steps in close, her heels giving her the advantage of height. Joanna has to look up slightly to meet her eyes, and she finds that the one thing more unsettling than the other woman’s indifference is the chilling depth of her undivided attention. “Magic is not a hobby, Joanna, and it is not a toy to be tossed aside once you’ve outgrown fairy stories and your fear of the dark. You made your mother’s mistakes, and now out of sheer bloody-minded stubbornness you’ve reduced yourself to this – a doctor who knows nothing about healing, and a broken soldier with a stolen gun.” She sneers. “You’re a liability, and if James Moriarty gets what he wants, it will be your fault.”

With anger comes clarity, a pulse-slowing stillness that silences the screaming muscles of her leg. Joanna smiles. “I agree completely,” she says, and twists her finger into the thrice knotted piece of string in her trouser pocket. The rug beneath them ripples like a wave in water, and with a sudden, sinuous snap of hand-woven wool Joanna knocks the other woman off her feet and into the nearest chair. Adrienne lands hard, gripping the armrests with both hands, and the brief flash of genuine surprise on her face is just as satisfying as Joanna hoped it would be.

Her victory is a fleeting one; a moment later Adrienne gives her a cool smile, crosses her legs at the knee and leans back as if she’d simply been waiting for an excuse to sit. “Bit weak, but not bad after a twenty year sulk. Cotton or jute?”

Joanna takes the knotted string from her pocket and tosses it to her. “Cotton. It was all I had in the flat.”

Adrienne tests the first knot, and the edge of the rug twitches. “Not bad. I prefer coir when I use mass-produced. It has a nice spring to it.” She drops the string into Joanna’s open hand. “I could get you some, if you’d like.”

Joanna tucks the string back into her pocket. “Thanks. That’d be nice.”

Mycroft clears his throat, and they turn together to look at him. He leans forward and rests his elbows on the edge of his desk, amusement in the slight purse of his mouth. “When last we discussed the issue, Doctor Watson, you told us in no uncertain terms that the Craft was no longer a part of your life. May I ask what inspired this dramatic change of heart?”

Joanna sits in the empty chair beside Adrienne’s and meets the challenge in Mycroft’s steady gaze. “It’s pretty simple, actually. If I had used magic, I would’ve known the bomb was a fake. If I’d known the bomb was a fake, Moriarty would be dead.”

Mycroft inclines his head in a slow nod. “And if Moriarty were dead, Sherlock wouldn’t be out there now, readying himself for their next engagement. How wonderfully rational.” He sits back, hands folded over his stomach. “No doubt even Sherlock would approve, if all this weren’t such a terrible secret.”

Joanna looks at the cigar box on the desk. She can still smell the bitter mix of sawdust and magic and blood. “You have to tell him about Moran. It’s too dangerous for him not to know.”

“And you think he’d believe me?”

“Maybe not, but at least he won’t try to get you sectioned.”

Mycroft tips his head slightly to one side, watching her with a bland sort of curiosity. “He trusts you, Joanna. Don’t you think he deserves to have that trust returned?”

I want to forget I ever saw you at all, the boy had said, and in the simplest, strongest of magics that’s all that’s required – intent and the sting of fresh-spilled blood. Joanna looks down at the long-faded scars of her open palm and says, “I can’t, Mycroft. Don’t ask me again.”

She can feel Adrienne’s gaze fixed on her face. She doesn’t look up to meet it. “Sherlock has spent the last few hours trying to gain access to Moriarty’s official file on our secure server,” Adrienne says. “It lists Moran as a likely associate – that should be enough to start with, I’d think.” She stands, takes the cigar box from Mycroft’s desk and tucks it under her arm. “Shall I give him a nudge in the right direction, sir?”

“Yes, I think so. Subtly, please.”

Adrienne gives him an arch, insulted look. “Of course, sir,” she says, and leaves the office. She closes the door behind her.

“Moriarty has an official file?” Joanna asks.

“Not as promising as it sounds, unfortunately. What we know of the elusive Mr. Moriarty makes for a disturbingly short read. I intend to change that in the coming weeks.” He sits forward, smoothing a hand over his tie. “Much as I enjoy your company, Joanna, it’s time we came to the point. You didn’t come here today just to show us the box.” 

Joanna shifts in her chair. “No.”

“You need a favour.”

“I need to retrieve some of my grandmother’s things, and I need to do it without Moriarty or Sherlock knowing where I’ve gone. Can you help?”

Mycroft nods, impassive. “I can.”

He doesn’t say anything more, and Joanna grits her teeth. “Will you help?”

“Happily. All you need do, Joanna, is ask. After all, you’re very nearly family, aren’t you?”

Joanna sighs. “Mycroft, you know perfectly well that Sherlock and I—”

An expression of genuine amusement flickers across his face. “Yes, of course. I was only speaking of family in the figurative sense. I’m sure Sherlock thinks of you as the sister we never had.” The corner of his mouth twitches. “Your feelings, I assume, are equally sororal.”

“Of course,” Joanna says, perhaps a little too stiffly. “We’re all like one big, happy family.”

“I’m so glad you think so.” He stands, buttoning his suit jacket. “A car will be waiting for you at the exit. Just tell the driver whether you’d prefer to go to the house or to your sister’s self-storage unit in Haringey.”

“How do you—” Joanna stops, shaking her head. “Never mind. I don’t want to know.” She pushes herself out of the chair. “You’re sure I won’t be followed? Those town cars aren’t as inconspicuous as you think.”

He frowns. “You believe that one of Moriarty’s men followed you here.”

“If he did,” she says, “I didn’t see him.”

“Which makes you all the warier. Very sensible of you.” He walks to the door. “I don’t make many promises, Joanna, but I will promise you this – Moriarty will know neither where you have gone, nor what you have gone to collect. At least, not through any fault of mine.” He opens the door, revealing the empty outer room beyond. “Lovely to see you as always. Don’t hesitate to phone if I can be of any further use.”

Mycroft’s careful composure is as difficult to read as ever, but it has a forced quality that unsettles her. She pauses inside the doorway and meets his eyes. “You’re frightened for him, aren’t you?”

Mycroft looks away. “My brother has many fine qualities, but for all his efforts, he has never quite mastered the degree of ruthlessness required in these situations. His new playmate suffers no such handicap.” He gives her a grim smile. “Which is why I’m glad he has you.”

Joanna steps through to the outer room. “Thank you, Mycroft. For the car.”

“Anytime, Doctor Watson,” Mycroft says, and closes the door behind her.

chapter 4b

Tags: arcana, fandom: sherlock (bbc), fic
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