oh, my beautiful idiot (rosa_acicularis) wrote,

Fic: Arcana 4c/4

Title: Arcana

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.

Also, this is apparently the longest chapter in the history of livejournal. Apologies for the multiple posts.

chapter one chapter two chapter three chapter 4a chapter 4b


A gibbous moon is rising over Baker Street when Sherlock finally texts.

Sleeping rough tonight. Reconnaissance, not case; your assistance is not required. SH

“Oh, I know that face,” Mrs. Hudson says, and dishes another spoonful of peas onto Joanna’s plate. “Wants you to go running off to another one of his crime scenes, does he? With your poor shoulder and the chill in the air—”

“My shoulder’s fine, Mrs. Hudson.” Joanna turns off the phone and tucks it back into her pocket. “Anyway, he doesn’t need me. He only texted to say he wouldn’t be home tonight.”

Mrs. Hudson takes a second helping of the roast for herself and tries not to look too pleased. “Did he? Very considerate of him, to let you know.”

“Very unlike him, you mean.” Joanna sighs and leans over her plate, her elbows wrinkling Mrs. Hudson’s embroidered tablecloth. “We had a sort of…strange encounter last night. That’s actually what I wanted to talk to you about.”

Mrs. Hudson’s eyebrows arch suggestively toward her hairline.

Joanna flushes. “With the bomber, Mrs. Hudson. We had a strange encounter with the—” She stops and takes a breath. “He’s dangerous and he’s obsessed with Sherlock. We could be putting you at risk living here.”

Mrs. Hudson reaches across the table and pats her hand. “You needn’t worry about me, Joanna. I have some experience with dangerous men.”

“But—”

“Eat your veg, dear. It’s getting cold.”

Joanna tucks into her meal, and they eat in easy silence for a few minutes. Mrs. Hudson’s kitchen is warm and the food is filling, and for the first time in the last few case-crazed days Sherlock isn’t there to watch as she takes each bite, the great detective either twitching with impatience or silently congratulating himself on the proper feeding of his faithful sidekick.

But then, people do get so sentimental about their pets, says an echo from the dark of her mind, and she quite calmly stands, walks away from the table, and gags into Mrs. Hudson’s kitchen sink.

“Oh, Joanna,” Mrs. Hudson says, her voice trembling and kind. A hand settles between Joanna’s shoulder blades, rubbing in small, comforting circles. “You’re home, love. You’re safe.”

Home is what’s going to kill me, Joanna thinks, and gags again.

Eventually the fit passes; Joanna spits the last of the acid from her mouth and lifts her head to run the tap. The water sounds louder than it should, a roar inside her ears, and she shuts it off again. “Sorry,” she croaks. “Got a bit carried away.”

“Nonsense,” Mrs. Hudson says. “Brave girl like you – you’ve nothing to apologise for.” She presses a clean tea towel into Joanna’s hands. “Now: cup of tea or nip of something stronger?”

Joanna shakes her head. “No, I—” She coughs, covering her mouth with the towel. Her throat is raw. “There’s something I need to do, and to do it properly I need your help. Your blessing, at least.” Her leg is steady beneath her, and she walks back to the table. She sits. “I know a way to protect us from Moriarty, but when I tell you what it is, you’re going to think I’ve gone mad.” She glances at the ceiling. “Well. Madder.”

Mrs. Hudson smiles, but her eyes are worried. “A little madness doesn’t bother me, dear.”

“That’s sort of what I’m counting on.” She leans forward, resting her elbows on her knees, and takes a deep breath. “Mrs. Hudson, I want to cast a spell on 221.”

There’s a silence. Mrs. Hudson stares. “You want to—” She hesitates. “A magic spell?”

Joanna nods.

“Like—” Mrs. Hudson raises her hand and wiggles her fingers in Joanna’s direction. “Magic magic? Abracadabra? That sort of thing?” 

“Yes. Except for the—” Joanna wiggles her fingers. “Not really my style.”

“No, of course not. Silly me.” Mrs. Hudson looks away, and then looks back again. “That’s more than a little mad, love.”

Joanna winces, and the towel twists in her hands. “I know. I wouldn’t have said anything, but the house is yours and that kind of thing, belonging – it matters. A lot more than you’d think.” She swallows and ignores the ache. “It might save Sherlock’s life, Mrs. Hudson. It might save yours. I wouldn’t lie about that.”

“No,” Mrs. Hudson says. “I don’t think you would.” She sinks into her chair, a delicate hand curled over her mouth. When she lowers it, she’s almost smiling. “Well, then,” she says. “I suppose that means it’s time for us to do some magic.”

++

It doesn’t take long to gather the necessary materials.

A blue thread snipped from the sleeve of Sherlock’s dressing gown. Black stitching from Mrs. Hudson’s favourite housedress, and white wool from Joanna’s softest, oldest jumper. Three silver sewing needles and three lengths of thread and three slivers of yew wood, sharp-edged and polished red in the low light of the lamps. Mrs. Hudson arranges it all on a tea tray and stands at the foot of the stairs, waiting.

Joanna hesitates on the landing, stuck halfway between the flat and the front hall. She licks her lips. “You don’t have to stay for this part,” she says. “Not if you don’t want to.”

Mrs. Hudson gives her a knowing look. “Gets a bit private, does it?” Her eyes widen. “Ooh, do you dance about with your clothes off? I saw that on telly once – though that was probably a different sort of magic, now that I think of it.”

Joanna laughs, but it comes out strange. “No, it’s nothing like that. I just—” She starts down the stairs, barefoot and slightly unsteady. “I have a spell book, but I’m – I’m improvising, really, and it’s been almost twenty years since I did anything like this.” She reaches the last step and stops. “Actually, I’ve never done anything like this. Not by myself.”

“All the more reason for me to stay. You shouldn’t be alone if you don’t have to be.” She points to the half empty glass of gin in Joanna’s hand. “And what’s this, then? A little liquid courage?”

“Accelerant, more like.” Joanna looks down at the tea tray. Mrs. Hudson has threaded the needles, the threads black and blue and white; Joanna touches the blue thread, the loop of it through the eye, and then tips her head back and finishes the gin in one gulp. She doesn’t feel the sting as it goes down. “I haven’t told Sherlock.”

Mrs. Hudson takes the empty glass. “You think he won’t believe you.”

“I know he won’t.” Joanna shrugs, tipping a bit to one side. “But hiding things from him is impossible, so I’m not going to bother. I’m not going to lie to him, and I’m not asking you to, either. Mostly because it wouldn’t work, but also—” She stops. Frowns. “Also because it would be wrong.”

Mrs. Hudson sighs. “Joanna, love. You’re drunk.”

Joanna steps off the last stair. “Not for much longer. The fire’ll burn the booze right off.” She takes the tea tray from Mrs. Hudson’s arms and sets it down on the little table near the front door. “This is probably going to look awful, but you have to promise you won’t do anything to stop me. As long as I finish, everything will be all right.” She turns and looks at the other woman over her shoulder. “All right?”

Mrs. Hudson’s fingers are clenched around the empty glass. “Joanna—”

“Do you promise?”

“Yes, I promise,” Mrs. Hudson says. She takes a few steps back, flustered and flushed with concern. “But any damage is coming out of your rent.”

“Sounds fair to me,” Joanna says, and lets herself fall forward until her hands hit the door.

The front door of 221 is dark wood, solid in its moulded frame and cool against the skin of her palms. Joanna has walked through this door hundreds of times, maybe thousands. She has locked and unlocked it, turned tumblers and thrown bolts, has crossed its threshold time and again and lived for months within the walls of its house – the house that rises around her now, a body of wallpaper and wood and brick. She has counted its steps and scuffed them with her heels, has shouted up to the flat above and down to the basement below and slept and bled and dreamt beneath its tiled roof. A house has bones and flesh, the joints of its floorboards and watching eyes set in window frames and as much as any house has ever been, this is her home. Her bones and her flesh.

James Moriarty would burn it.

He has already tried; he will try again. He will send his man (Sebastian, the house repeats, remembers, Sebastian Moran) and he will break down the door and kill Mrs. Hudson and take Joanna, and all of this only to make Sherlock burn.

The house loves Sherlock the way Sherlock loves his violin, the love of an artist for his art and of a keeper for what is kept. The house will not let Sherlock burn.

Thank you, Joanna says, and places the first splinter of yew on her tongue.

It had taken a full glass of gin and Sherlock’s sharpest bone saw to cut the slivers from her grandmother’s cane; the first sits light on her tongue, sour with lemon polish and jagged at the edges. She closes her eyes and mouths the spell around the wood.

Martha Anne Hudson, she says, andswallows.

The second splinter scrapes teeth as she slides it past her lips. Joanna Helene Watson, she says without sound, and when the muscles of her throat clench and rebel she claps a hand over her mouth and forces herself to choke it down. She swallows, eyes streaming, and the second splinter joins the first.

She feels the rip and the tear of it, feels blisters of heat beneath her skin like the sparks of a flame yet to catch (a flame that wants only for fuel) and she stumbles, reaches blindly for the tea tray and the final sliver of wood.

Sherlock Vernet Holmes, she says, tasting blood and the poison bitterness of old-growth yew. The sacrifice and the intent. She swallows, and inside her a flame lights. 

We are each of us little more than a candle to burn, Gran had said, and Joanna knows it to be true – knows that her body is wax and wick for a flame that consumes, a flame that burned once in the chests of her mother and grandmother and in the hearts of ancestors unnamed and innumerable. Magic passes from mother to daughter to father to son, and a long line of blood and bone and candle flame descends from deathless, ancient Agamede to simple Jo Watson – the broken soldier with a stolen gun. The woman who forgot. 

And yet, Joanna burns.

Fire curls around the fingers of her left hand, rippling over the faded scars of her open palm and singeing the sleeve of her shirt. It moves more like water than flame, really, waves of blue-white heat drawn over skin by the tidal pull of the greater conflagration burning inside. Joanna raises her hand and watches tendrils of fire bloom and wilt and bloom again as they twine about her fingers and thumb. She breathes deep and the flames rise, casting an impossible shadow on the dark wood of the front door.  

Get on with it, a voice like her grandmother’s says, and Joanna takes the black-threaded needle from the tray and stitches it through the skin of her burning palm.

The world shifts.

Martha Anne Hudson sits on the staircase, holding tight to the banister and half in tears. Joanna sees her face through blind eyes and hears her voice with deaf ears, hears her gasp, “Oh, oh my—” as Joanna makes two more neat stitches with the black thread of her housedress. “Joanna,” she says, “Joanna, that voice—”

The shadow on the door moves, guiding Joanna’s hand to the dark silhouette of its face; she presses the fire-threaded needle into the wood, just between its eyes. She shudders, bound to the shadow by the length of black thread and flame stretched between them, and reaches for the next needle.

Three stitches of white jumper wool beside black thread and suddenly Mrs. Hudson is gone. Instead she sees herself – sees Joanna Helene Watson standing in the doorway, fair and bright-eyed and burning, sees her face and hears her gasp of breath as the house shifts beneath her naked feet.

I am yours, a voice says – a voice like her grandmother’s, a voice like bone and wood and brick. I am yours, and you are safe within these walls.

The shadow on the door offers Joanna its left hand, palm outstretched; Joanna stabs the sewing needle deep into its open palm, and the silver disappears into the wood. Two threads hang between them, white and black and both burning.

Sherlock’s needle is the third, the last, and when she sews the first blue stitch in the skin of her palm Baker Street disappears. She sees Sherlock Vernet Holmes crouched beneath a bridge in a rain-soaked circle of huddled strangers, his familiar features disguised. She sees his face and hears his hiss of breath as he startles, miles away through the city and the dark. His lips form the silent shape of her name.

She sews three stitches of blue thread in the palm of her hand, blue beside white beside black. When it’s done, the shadow on the door points her needle towards its heart.

Joanna hesitates, and the house trembles.

He is yours, says a voice like the groan of floorboards. Like the creak of seventeen stairs. He must be safe. He must be kept.

She touches the shadow’s heart; the wood is smooth beneath her fingers. “Must he be kept there?”

Foolish girl, the voice says. He already is.

The third needle pierces wood, sinking deep into the shadow’s chest. Three needles and three long threads of flame and the circuit is complete. The splinters of yew-wood within her light like kindling, gin-soaked and meant to burn, and they feed the fire until it swallows her whole – until her clothes char black and peel from her skin and she stands before the door naked, aflame.

“James Moriarty,” she says, and there is the echo of another voice beneath her own. “Sebastian Moran.”

I remember, the voice says, and the door burns.

Fire licks across her stitched palm, flows through thread and needle to a dark wood that drinks in waves of light like a man dying of thirst. Joanna falls to her knees and the door shudders in its frame, burning bright enough to blind and still hungry. It feeds on her, on the fire inside, and she feels her body grow cold. Slumps to the floor and hears her heartbeat as it slows.  

He is mine to keep, she thinks, and lets her eyes close.

There is darkness, and then someone slaps her hard across the face.

“Joanna, can you hear me? Oh, I should have known – you’re as bad as he is, and don’t you dare bloody deny it. You might have warned me—” There’s a rush of air as the hand draws back to slap again, and Joanna opens her eyes.

Mrs. Hudson is bent over her, hand raised, face frantic and pale as chalk. The front door is whole and untouched, the skin of Joanna’s palm unbroken; there’s no sign of needle or thread or fire. Except—

“’m naked,” Joanna says, sounding drunk, though she isn’t anymore. “It’s cold.”

“Obviously,” Mrs. Hudson says with such a familiar note of scorn in her voice that Joanna can’t help but wheeze a laugh. “This isn’t funny, young woman. I’m phoning for an ambulance.”

“No, no, no,” Joanna says, and tries to push herself up. Her arms collapse beneath her, and she falls again. Her mouth tastes like ash. “No, no hospital. Sleep. I only need sleep.”

“It’s either the hospital,” Mrs. Hudson says, “or Sherlock. Your choice.”

“I always choose Sherlock,” Joanna says without quite meaning to, and passes out.

++

When she wakes, the room is dark.

The bed is unfamiliar, but the sheets smell like her laundry soap – like Baker Street, and subtle extravagance of Sherlock’s shampoo. She lies curled on her side, facing the faintly lit outline of the bedroom door, and underneath the blankets she’s wearing her dressing gown, a pair of woolly socks, and absolutely nothing else.

There is, of course, a perfectly reasonable explanation for this. If her head would stop pounding, she’d probably be able to remember what it was.

The facts, then: she has a really terrific hangover, she’s mostly naked, and she’s in Sherlock’s bed.

Occam’s bloody razor, she thinks, a little hysterically; behind her, a lamp switches on.

“Good, you’re awake. Another hour and I’d have been forced to phone Stamford and request a house call.” Sherlock is sitting beside her, his back against the headboard and his long, pyjama-clad legs stretched out on top of the sheets. He appears to be fascinated by the glowing screen of her mobile. “And no, we didn’t have sex.”

“Oh god.” She shifts to her back and closes her eyes again, tightly. “Are you sure?”

His huff of breath is almost like a laugh. “Quite.”

She stretches a little, testing the stiffness in the muscles of her back and arms. Her bad shoulder aches. “How long have I been asleep?”

“Just over nineteen hours. I can’t be more exact than that – Mrs. Hudson was less than forthcoming with the details. By the time she thought to phone me, you were already unconscious.” He pauses. “Well. Unconscious, nude, and sprawled like a debauched university student across the floor of the front hall.”

Christ, the warding spell. She isn’t hung-over; she’s half-dead with magical exhaustion. She turns her face into the pillow and groans. “Mrs. Hudson. She must hate me.”

“Not the first time she’s been forced to deal with the intoxicated ramblings of a naked tenant, and almost certainly not the last. At least you didn’t vomit.”

“I did, though,” Joanna says miserably, into the pillow. “In her kitchen sink.”

“Then yes,” he says, “she probably hates you.” She feels him shift beside her on the bed, and a moment later he presses a cup of cool water into her hands. “A half bottle of gin and you’re sicking up into your landlady’s sink. So much for that famed Watson tolerance.”

“Fuck off,” she says without much venom, and opens her eyes. Sherlock is a blurred wall of blue dressing gown and disinterest to her left; to her right is the bedroom door and freedom. She tries to sit up, but her arm refuses to support her weight and the cup tips, spilling water down her front. “Sherlock—”

He doesn’t look away from the mobile. “Sorry, can’t help – fucking off.”

“Oh, so you’ll sit there and watch me sleep for nineteen hours, but you won’t help me take a drink of water?”

The mobile is forgotten. He glares down at her, his mouth twisted in an unattractive sneer. “Why should I? This is your weakness, not mine, and I’m not in the habit of coddling drunks – however pathetic they might be.”

“I appreciate your honesty,” Joanna says, and dumps the cup of water into Sherlock’s lap.

There’s something distinctly gratifying about his shout of surprise. “Joanna!”

“I’ll just take my horrible human weakness and go, shall I?” She slides out of the bed and manages a single step before her legs turn to jelly and she falls to the floor in an undignified, half-dressed heap. She presses her cheek to the floorboards and sighs. “Bugger. That was a good exit line, too.”

“One of your better attempts, certainly,” Sherlock says, and before she can object he’s scooped her off the floor and into his arms, carrying her back to the bed like she’s a newly-wed sack of bloody potatoes. She covers her face with her hand and groans.

“Please,” she says, “kill me now. Before the humiliation takes me.”

“Shut up.” He sets her down on the bed entirely too gently, her back against the headboard and the blankets tucked around her hips. His expression is anything but gentle. “You’re an idiot.”

She crosses her arms over her chest. “Fine. So are you.”

Fine,” he says, almost spitting, and stomps out of the room. He doesn’t go far; she hears him in the kitchen, banging through the cabinets and running the tap. Then the tap shuts off, and he stomps back in and thrusts another cup of water at her. “Mrs. Hudson was terrified.”

Joanna blinks stupidly at him. “What? When?”

“When she phoned. She said you’d had too much to drink, but you actively avoid alcohol when under stress. I’d anticipated a number of likely responses to the incidents of the past few days, but a bare-arsed, gin-fuelled binge wasn’t one of them.” He looks down at the cup of water still in his hand. “Mrs. Hudson was frightened for you, and I thought—” He stops, his jaw clenched. “I formed a conclusion without sufficient data.”

A light dawns. “You were worried.”

He hesitates, and then meets her eyes. “I was – concerned. For your safety.”

“You thought it was Moriarty. That he’d got to me somehow.” Again, she doesn’t say, but of course he hears it. His gaze flinches away, but only for a moment.

“Before I examined you, yes. I wasn’t sure Mrs. Hudson would be able to recognise the symptoms of some of the less obvious poisons.” He sits on the edge of the bed, his hip against her knee. “I know you very well, Joanna.”

She takes the water. “You know everyone very well. It’s sort of your thing.”

“You are deliberately missing the point.”

“Sherlock, right now I have all the muscle strength of a malnourished kitten; I’m not deliberately doing anything.” The water is cold, and it might be the best thing she’s ever tasted. She moans into the cup. “God, that’s amazing. I had no idea how thirsty I was.”

“I did.”

“Doesn’t take a genius to deduce that someone with a hangover might be a bit dehydrated.” She nudges him with her knee. “Thank you for the water.”

Sherlock sniffs. “Don’t get used to it.”

She takes another long drink from the cup. “Right. Because you’re not in the habit of coddling drunks.”

He scowls at her. “I already apologised for that. You can’t bring it up if I’ve apologised.”

“An apology – a sincere apology – usually includes some variation on the words I’m sorry or I was wrong. Believe me, I’d have noticed if you’d said anything like that.”

“Obviously not.” He looks at the ceiling, takes a deep breath, and exhales in a long hiss of annoyance. “You’re not honestly going to make me – Joanna, I thought you were in danger. I was concerned. I was wrong.” He meets her eyes again. “There, I’ve said it so simply even an unusually dim child could understand. Are you happy now?”

“Ecstatic.” She sets the empty cup on the beside table. “You said you didn’t expect the drinking. What ‘likely responses’ did you expect?”

He ticks them off on his fingers. “Violence, camaraderie, or sex.” He pauses, considering. “Or some combination of the three. The man very nearly immolated you, after all – a bit of hedonistic excess on your part is hardly outside the bounds of probability.”

Joanna snickers. “Yeah, you know me and my hedonistic excesses. I’m an animal.”

Sherlock pauses, a twitch of a smile at the corner of his mouth. “Do you doubt my reasoning?”

“No,” she says quickly. “No, not at all. I just—”

He raises the first finger. “Violence soothes you. You have a particular talent for it, and indulging that talent gives you a sense of concrete purpose and control that you crave during times of uncertainty. But you can’t simply start a fight – not with that pesky moral code of yours and its pedestrian distaste for collateral damage. No, you rely on your rather less than pedestrian flatmate for your fix, and while normally I would have obliged with an appropriately dangerous case, my attention was needed elsewhere. So – camaraderie or sex.”

“Or both, I suppose,” Joanna says, a wry note of warning in her voice. Sherlock continues, tone-deaf.

“Yes, but not from the same source – your options for friendly companionship are considerably more limited. You do think of me as a strange sort of comrade in arms, but as has already been established, I was otherwise occupied. That leaves Mrs Hudson, Mike Stamford, or Lestrade. Good souls all, but none of them likely to welcome you into their bed any time soon.” He smirks. “At least, not until Lestrade’s wife leaves him again. Bit of a wait on that one, though – two months, minimum. Not sure he’s worth it, honestly; you’ve seen the man try to open a packet of crisps.”

Joanna closes her eyes and very carefully doesn’t smack him. “Sherlock, I’m dating Sarah. If I’m going to sleep with anyone—”

“Please. Sarah isn’t an idiot; she’s seen what our life is like, and she isn’t going to let your relationship advance any further than it already has: the sofa. No – as I’m sure you’ve realised by now, you’d have far better luck with a one-night stand. Something amiable and anonymous and emotionally undemanding – possibly with a woman, more likely with a man.” She opens her eyes to see him sweeping her body with a long, dispassionate look. “You’d want to be the dominant party in either case, and I doubt you’d hear any complaints. You may not be a conventionally beautiful woman, but your high level of sexual confidence and proficiency makes you an unusually stimulating partner.”

The pounding ache in her head has returned. “Jesus,” she says, almost laughing. “I really don’t want to know how you think you know that.”

“The same way I know everything. I pay attention.” He climbs over her legs and settles on the other side of the bed with a huff. “Your reactions to stress are entirely predictable, and yet you spent last night alone in the flat drowning yourself in a bottle of cheap gin. There must be something, some piece of information I’ve missed.” He slumps back against the headboard and scrubs his fingers through his hair. “What am I not seeing?”

Joanna turns over her left hand and looks at the faded scars there, the old wounds crossing the creased lines of her palm. “I don’t think you’ve missed anything,” she says. The words are slow, almost careful. Dream-like. She feels their weight on her tongue. “You’ve seen everything you need to see. You just haven’t found an explanation that fits the evidence.” 

Sherlock stills beside her. “What evidence?”

She holds out her hand, offering him her scarred palm. “You’re the detective,” she says. “You tell me.”

For a long moment, he says nothing. He doesn’t look away from her face. “I saw those scars the day we met.”

“You didn’t mention them.”

“They weren’t relevant.” He cups her open hand in his, circling her wrist with two long fingers. “Last night you used my favourite bone saw to cut into your grandmother’s cane in three places. You hesitated before the first two cuts, but your hands were steady – you didn’t want to do it, but you felt you had no other choice.” His index finger settles over her pulse. “I don’t know why.”

She swallows. “Are you asking?”

The mattress moves beneath them as he shifts, easing closer. “The clothes you wore yesterday are gone. Shirt, trousers, bra, pants, everything. If you’d stripped naked in some sort of drunken haze, your clothes would be scattered about the flat. Instead they’re just – gone. Not in the bin, not in the wash, not flushed down the toilet nor burnt to ash in the fireplace. You disposed of them somehow, and I don’t know why.” The circle of his fingers tightens around her wrist. “You texted my brother and asked him my middle name.”

His grip is strong, but she could pull free if she wanted to. Instead, she leans into his side. Their shoulders touch, lightly. “I did. It would have been better if you’d told me yourself, but I didn’t think you’d want to be disturbed.” She flexes the tendons of her wrist, and they move in his grasp. “How do you know what clothes I was wearing? You were gone when I woke up.”

“I followed you to Mycroft’s office.” 

She smiles, unsurprised. “But you never saw me leave.”

He shakes his head. His gaze is still fixed on their hands. His skin against hers. “No,” he says. “I didn’t.” The calloused tip of his finger maps the scar tissue of her palm, the touch impersonal and maddeningly light. Her breathing changes, deepens, and her knuckles brush the soft underside of his wrist. She watches the rise and fall of his chest and marks its rhythm as it slows to match hers. “These scars are from self-inflicted wounds,” he says finally, his voice low. “All more than twenty years old, none of them serious. Some were made with a small knife, but most with a sharp, slender tool with a pointed tip.” He looks up and meets her eyes. “A sewing needle.”

She holds his gaze and nods.

“They would have been difficult to hide or pass off as simple clumsiness. You were a child; someone would have intervened. Your sister or your grandmother – if you were hurting yourself, they would have stopped you.” His eyes darken with understanding and disbelief. “Unless,” he says, “you had their approval.”

“Never Harry’s,” Joanna says, and just stops herself from saying more. She looks down at their hands, at his fingers cupping hers in a gentle parody of palmistry or affection. “Not all the cuts were self-inflicted.”

His index finger follows the longest scar where it crosses the heart of her palm. “What was it? The edge of a broken bottle?”

“No,” she says. “A mirror. He smashed it with a hammer.” She smiles and feels the bite of the glass. The boy’s hand folding hard around hers. “I’d hurt him, so he hurt me.”

For an inexplicable moment, Sherlock hesitates. “Who was he?”

“A boy I knew.”

“What happened?”

She shrugs a little, and her shoulder bumps against his. “Nothing. He forgot me.” She slides her wrist free from his long-fingered grip. He lets her. “I hate to say it, but I’m going to need the toilet soon.”

His hands fall back to his lap. “I can carry you.”

“Yeah, that’s not going to happen.” She slides slowly out of the bed and gives her legs time to adjust to her weight. After a minute’s patience, she’s standing. She cinches the belt of the dressing gown tighter around her waist. “If you hear me fall, don’t come after me. Either let me crawl to the toilet on my hands and knees like a man or leave me in the corridor to die.”

“Irrational pride and melodrama,” Sherlock drawls. “How charming.”

“Well, I did learn from the best.” She shuffles to the bedroom door. “The ‘best’ is you, in case you were wondering.”

“Joanna,” he says, and she stops just inside the room. He sits stiff-backed against the headboard, his pale face framed by the long shadows the bedside lamp casts on the wall. She thinks of the wonder in his eyes when the warding spell touched him. The shape of his lips as he silently spoke her name. “If I asked,” he says, “would you tell me?”

She’s going to die for him, one day. That’s the only secret she truly needs to keep.

“If you asked,” she says, and leaves him alone in the lamplight.

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