At Right Angles (PG-13), Part ii

Jun 17, 2012 21:56

Title: At Right Angles
Characters: Joan, Sherlock, Molly, Mycroft, others
Rating: PG-13
Length: 5800 words this part
Beta: the wonderful yalublyutebya
Summary: In which Joan's world is turned upside-down, Mycroft and Molly are nosy, and Sherlock is the last one to find out (for once). Preg! Fem!John.
Notes: Originally written for this prompt on the meme. Click for disclaimer.

The hospital corridors were silent and deserted when Joan arrived at Bart’s nearly an hour later. It ought to have been creepy, but for some reason Joan found the quiet comforting. It was a soothing counterpoint to the frenetic, heated worry that had lodged itself inside her brain. She’d sat in the taxi stewing all the way from home, her mind stuck on repeat as visions of her worst fears played and replayed inside her head:What if someone found out? What if she couldn’t find permanent work? What if there was something wrong with the baby? What if she didn’t love it? What if-it didn’t love her?

But the halls of Bart’s were quiet, and the gentle drone of the sanitizing equipment and ventilation fans hummed like a lullaby in her ears. Joan moved trance-like towards the door to the morgue, where the frosted glass glowed bright with light from inside. The one lit room in a sleeping city.

She reached the door and stood there for a moment, her fingers curled around the smooth, cool metal of the handle, before she twisted it open. Then she pushed forward.

The tall man standing with his back to the door turned around when she entered.

It wasn’t Sherlock.

“Doctor Watson,” the man said graciously, as though welcoming her to a private party. He looked like he might be dressed for one, too: the elegant three-piece suit he wore like a second skin couldn’t have come from anywhere but Savile Row. Joan felt suddenly self-conscious in her ancient tracksuit bottoms. “Won’t you sit down?” He indicated a pair of plastic chairs that had been placed at the centre of the lab. On one of the post-mortem tables nearby, a china teapot, two cups and a plate of biscuits sat waiting.

Joan opened her mouth to make a witty retort (or at least a retort of some kind-she could be excused for not being witty at two o’clock in the morning), but what came out instead was: “Who are you?” It didn’t even sound particularly angry.

The man smiled at her. “Please, do sit down. You must be tired-my brother has an unfortunate tendency to keep his associates on their feet.”

“Your-brother?” The man just smiled, pointing again toward the chairs with the tip of his umbrella. Joan shut her gaping mouth and moved to sit in the farther of the two chairs. Why the hell does he have an umbrella? It’s not even raining.

“Tea?” the man asked once they were both settled. He lifted the china teapot. It had a design of pink roses painted on the side. Joan decided that the situation couldn’t get any more surreal.

“Why not,” she sighed. “Milk, no sugar, please.”

He nodded gravely, and set about making their tea. Soon they were both sipping from dainty china cups, the saucers balanced on their laps. It was delicious.

“So,” she said, lowering her cup to its saucer slowly. “You’re Sherlock’s brother.”

The man smiled again. “And you’re Dr. Joan Watson, recently of the Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers, currently employed by St. Bartholomew’s mortuary. You are on voluntary leave from the army-not a permanent discharge, I believe. Do you have hopes of returning after your convalescence?”

Joan blinked. “What do you want?” she asked warily, carefully ignoring the final question. “And I don’t think I heard a name in all that.”

He laughed. “You’re quite right, how very rude of me. I am Mycroft Holmes. Pleased to make your acquaintance,” he replied amiably. “As for what I want…that is based entirely on what you want.”

Joan watched as Mycroft took another sip of tea. Now that she knew his identity, she thought she could see the familial resemblance. The hair was similar, though Mycroft’s was tamed where Sherlock’s was unruly. They were both tall and angular, but while Sherlock had the malnourished look of an ascetic, Mycroft seemed like a man who knew how to enjoy life. He wasn’t fat, not even overweight in the strictest sense of the word, but the edges of his figure were softer. Though that might have been simply down to age; Mycroft was clearly the older of the two-there were a few strands of grey in his dark hair, and his eyes looked tired. His intense, penetrating gaze, however, was just like Sherlock’s.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Joan replied finally. “Look, if you’ve got something to say, just spit it out. It’s the middle of the night, and I don’t do riddles.”

Mycroft lowered his cup, and his eyes hardened momentarily. “What is your connection with Sherlock?”

“I barely know him.” It was the truth, for the most part. “We met less than a week ago.”

“And now you’re planning to share a flat and solve crimes together. Are we to expect a happy announcement by the end of the month?”

The question sounded like a joke, but Joan heard the truth in it. “I haven’t agreed to the flatshare,” she said.

“But you’re considering it.” He watched her face carefully, looking, Joan was certain, for evidence of a lie.

“Yes.” She surprised herself with the honesty of her answer. She was considering Sherlock’s offer seriously, but she hadn’t decided yet.

He seemed satisfied with her response, and she found herself relaxing a bit. Until his next words blew every bit of composure she had to the four winds.

“He’ll find out eventually, you know,” Mycroft said quietly. “About your condition.”

Joan stared at him, her tea frozen partway to her mouth. “I-I…what are you…”

“You might be able to hide it for another few weeks, but once you begin your second trimester, the signs will be unmistakable. Even Sherlock, oblivious though he is in certain…areas, couldn’t fail to notice.”

She clenched her teeth so hard her jaw creaked. “How do you know about that?”

Mycroft sighed. “Medical records are very difficult to keep private, Dr. Watson, as I’m sure you know,” he said, pulling a Blackberry from the inner pocket of his suit jacket and scrolling down the screen. “It says here you are in your sixth week, and in perfect health, aside from an understandably high level of stress.” He looked up at her. “I do hope you’re taking care of yourself. It wouldn’t do to fall ill.”

“I don’t see how that’s any of your business,” Joan hissed, every muscle tense.

“It could be.”

“It really couldn’t.”

“If you move in with Sherlock, everything about you will be my business,” he said, tucking the Blackberry away again.

“A little overprotective, aren’t you?” she retorted, her anxiety injecting the words with a more venom than usual.

“I take my fraternal responsibilities very seriously,” he responded calmly. He reached behind them for the teapot, refilling both their cups and taking a sip before continuing in a sober tone, “Sherlock is a genius. He possesses almost infinite analytical capabilities-as I’m sure you are aware, having witnessed him at work.” Joan nodded silently. Mycroft continued. “But he is limited in certain ways. His naïveté can be…astonishing.” Mycroft paused, looking down at his tea. “I am at least partially to blame for that,” he said, the regret clear in his voice. “Though I did what I believed to be right at the time.” He cleared his throat, raising his eyes to meet hers again. “The salient point is, Sherlock is inexperienced in the art of maintaining relationships. He sees in you the perfect assistant-loyal, capable, hard working-and won’t understand, or be capable of fulfilling, your need for further commitment.”

Joan considered Mycroft’s words, turning them over in her head. She could understand his worry, even if she thought his method of assurance was over the top. She herself had noticed that Sherlock’s knowledge had definite boundaries. He had no familiarity with astronomy or literature, and only the vaguest notion of politics-he couldn’t even remember the current Prime Minister’s name. The idea that he had no experience dating didn’t really come as a surprise.

“I know,” she said finally. “I don’t have any expectations like that. I’m not interested in a relationship with Sherlock. Or anyone, right now.”

Mycroft studied her. “And what about eight months from now?”

Joan sighed. “I don’t see why I should feel any different from how I do now. But if something changes, I’ll let you know.”

He smirked at her, leaning back in the plastic chair with a squeak. “My dear, what makes you think you’ll know before I do?” he said, laughing softly. He turned and retrieved the plate from the dissecting table behind them. “Biscuit?”

“Sherlock hasn’t come by in a while,” Molly sighed sadly. It was Tuesday, Molly’s last day at the morgue, and she and Joan were taking a much-needed afternoon gossip break.

“Yes, he has,” Joan replied. “He’s here all the time. Nearly every day.” A little too much, she thought privately, remembering their conversation the day before. Sherlock had renewed his offer of a flatshare, and Joan had asked for more time again. She still hadn’t made up her mind.

“Really?” Molly sounded surprised. “I haven’t seen him once! Do you think he’s avoiding me?”

“I doubt it,” Joan said, but she wasn’t entirely sure. Now that she thought of it, Sherlockdid have an uncanny ability to appear just when Molly was out of the room. She wasn’t sure what to make of that. “I don’t think he cares one way or another, as long as he gets to see the bodies.”

Molly sighed. “You’re right. But still. I wanted to see him before I left.”

Joan raised an eyebrow over her cup of milky decaf coffee. “You’re married, aren’t you?”

“And very happily too,” Molly retorted, mock-glaring at Joan. “But just because I’m married doesn’t mean I’m blind. Come on, Joan, tell me he isn’t gorgeous.”

Joan cocked her head thoughtfully. Sherlock was fit, in a tall-dark-and-handsome kind of way, and he knew how to dress to his advantage. But he was too pale for her taste and far too thin. He made her want to mother him, “feed him up good and proper” as her mum used to say-not hop into bed with him. And he gave off this aura of untouchability that turned her off. No…while she went a bit weak at the knees for a tall man in a suit just like any other woman, Sherlock Holmes was not her type.

The thought of tall men in suits reminded her of someone else. “Have you met Sherlock’s brother?” she asked Molly, taking another sip of tea.

“His brother?” Molly frowned. “No, I don’t think so. Greg has though. He works for the government, right?”

“Does he?”

“Yes, ‘a minor position.’ I’m pretty sure that’s what Greg said,” Molly replied. She smiled suddenly. “Why, have you seen him? Is he gorgeous too?”

Joan rolled her eyes, but smiled. Didn’t Molly think of anything other then attractive men? Maybe it was the pregnancy hormones talking. She was about to say so, when a wave of nausea crashed over her and she clapped a hand to her mouth, rushing towards the staff toilets. She barely made it.

“Joan?” Molly knocked on the door, sounding worried. “Are you okay in there?”

Joan wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, feeling shivery and sick. “Yeah, I’m okay,” she called back. She stood unsteadily. Morning sickness, the doctor in her diagnosed promptly. Brilliant. She took a deep breath in an attempt to settle her stomach. If anything, it made her feel worse.


“One moment,” she said, flushing the toilet.

Molly was waiting by the sinks, her lips turned downwards in a concerned frown. “Are you feeling alright? Maybe you should take the rest of the day off.”

“It’s fine, I probably just ate something a bit off yesterday,” Joan lied. She was reaching for the taps when another wave of nausea hit her. She doubled over, hand pressed to her mouth.


Joan swallowed, fighting the urge to vomit. This was awful. All she wanted was an afternoon sitting around gossiping, drinking bad coffee, giggling about men, not thinking about the ticking time bomb in her belly counting down the days until her life would be turned upside-down. But it seemed her traitorous body wouldn’t even let her have that little bit of normalcy.

Unbidden, a lump rose in her throat and Joan was horrified to feel tears burning in her eyes. She never cried in public, since she’d been old enough to understand that she had to be the strong, sensible one in the family. She heard Molly step away, probably to give her some privacy whilst she bawled. God, she probably thought Joan was an emotional wreck. She squeezed her eyes shut.

“Here,” a gentle voice said, and Joan felt something cool and damp against the back of her neck. She opened her eyes. Molly was standing beside her, still concerned. “It’s just a paper towel,” she explained, rubbing a circle on Joan’s shoulder. “Relax, it’ll pass in a moment.”

“Thanks,” Joan said in a small voice. She turned the tap on, scooping up a handful of water to wash out her mouth, and felt a bit better. Still queasy, but the need to throw up was gone.

“I was lucky, I never had to deal with morning sickness,” Molly said conversationally. “But I’ve heard it can be bad. If you ever need to take a break and lie down, I can show you where they keep the lilo in the staff room. God knows, I’ve used it often enough.”

“Hopefully I won’t need it,” Joan said, straightening with a sigh. “The one good thing about morning sickness is that it usually only lasts for the first trimester. I should be fine in a few weeks.”

Joan stopped suddenly, and the silence pressed heavily on her ears as the content of what she’d just said caught up with her. She turned, stunned, to face Molly. “Wait, you-”

Molly dissolved into giggles. “Your face!” she cackled into her hand, trying ineffectually to smother her laughter. “Oh god, so funny…”

“How did you find out?” Joan asked, trying to sound upset but failing utterly. A reluctant smile touched her lips. It was hard to feel like the world was ending with Molly laughing so infectiously beside her.

Molly took a breath to calm herself. “I didn’t, until just now,” she admitted, wiping her streaming eyes. “I guessed, but I didn’t know.”

“That was sneaky,” Joan accused.

“Yes, well.” Molly’s eyes sparkled mischievously. “You don’t watch Sherlock Holmes for five years without picking up a few tricks.” She beamed up at Joan. “But now that I know, we’re going to have so much fun! Have you picked out names yet? Do you know the gender?”

Joan tugged her ponytail. It was a nervous habit of hers. “It’s too early for that. I’m only six weeks in,” she said eventually, throwing caution to the winds. What the hell, Molly already knew anyway.

“I hope it’s a girl,” Molly said. “Then our kids could get married.”

Joan couldn’t stop herself from rolling her eyes. “I hope you’re joking. Your son’s not even born yet, and you’re already setting him up? Poor kid.”

Molly smacked her lightly on the arm. “Of course I’m joking! Besides, gay marriage will probably be legal by the time they’re old enough, so it doesn’t matter.”

Joan nodded distractedly. She wasn’t sure what to say. She wasn’t sure she was ready to joke about the future like this, or think about what the world would be like when her baby grew up. She couldn’t even imagine what the world would be like in eight months, let alone years from now.

“Joan?” She looked up to see Molly watching her, her face serious. “I know there’s probably a lot of stuff going on that I don’t know about, and maybe you don’t want to talk to me about it. But-if you do, I’d be happy to listen. As a friend.” She smiled. “We girls have to stick together, don’t we?”

It was funny to hear Bill’s offer on someone else’s lips, but coming from Molly it sounded different. Joan found herself smiling back at the brunette. “Yeah. Thanks Molly.”

Molly grinned even more broadly. “Men just don’t understand what we have to go through,” she complained dramatically. “One day, they’ll invent a way for men to get pregnant, and I bet they’ll all be wimps about it. Like my husband-he’d be a total crybaby once the hormones got to him, I’m sure of it. And can you imagine Sherlock pregnant?”

“God, let’s not,” Joan groaned. “He’s a menace enough as it is.”

Molly led the way out of the bathroom, joking all the way. Joan was feeling well enough by the time they reached the door to the lab that she was actually considering having another biscuit. All the vomiting had left her stomach empty, and she was beginning to feel hungry.

But when the door swung open, they were greeted by two visitors: Sherlock, and a stranger in a black trench coat. Both men looked grim.

“Greg! What are you doing here?” Molly exclaimed in surprise, quickly moving towards the second man. Joan looked back at the silver-haired man with dawning realisation. He must be Greg Lestrade, Molly’s husband. But, didn’t he work for Scotland Yard?

“Sorry Mols, I can’t stay long,” he said, planting a kiss on his wife’s upturned cheek. Joan thought he looked tired. “But there’s something you should see.”

He pointed to a cardboard box sitting open on the table. Joan and Molly peered inside. The box was filled with salt, and lying atop the salt was-

“A head.” Sherlock had come up behind them and was looking over Joan’s shoulder. “Jane Downing’s, to be precise.”

Joan was recognized her. “Isn’t she-”

“The woman you diagnosed with Reynaud’s Syndrome, yes.”

“I remember her too,” Molly whispered. “She should still be in cold storage. We haven’t finished processing her paperwork.”

“So,” Greg began, frowning, “what was her head doing in a cardboard box on the steps of 221B Baker Street this morning?”

The rest of the day was spent in a frenzy of activity. Jane Downing’s head wasn’t the only part of her missing from storage: her entire body was gone. Molly went off to make some calls to other city morgues. “Maybe someone put in an expedited viewing request, and we just missed the paperwork,” she said, without much hope. The only other explanation-that someone had stolen the body-wasn’t something anyone wanted to consider. Security hadn’t reported any forced entries, so the thief must have had an employee card. The hospital’s basement level lacked a permanent security guard; conceivably, anyone with a Bart’s ID and the ability to slip past the cameras unnoticed could have gotten in (Joan thought guiltily of Sherlock’s illicit employee pass, and wondered how many other people were wandering around with similar IDs in their pockets. Ought she to have reported him?).

But why steal a body? Especially one that had already been processed, the cause of death identified, case closed. Joan thought she could understand why someone might steal a body to prevent an investigation, but after the fact? What was the point?

“Do you think this is connected?” she asked. They had removed the head from the box and placed it on one of the post-mortem tables for examination. Joan rolled it over carefully with gloved hands. The salt had already begun to have a dehydrating effect on the flesh: one side of the woman’s face was puckered and discoloured. It wasn’t pretty, but luckily, Joan didn’t feel sick anymore. Amazing that a few biscuits turned her stomach, but the sight of a partially-mummified corpse had no effect. Small mercies,she thought.

“Connected to what?” Greg said. He was standing just behind Joan, and when she turned the head over she distinctly heard him swallow at the sight of the ruined tissue. “Christ,” he whispered.

“No,” Sherlock answered brusquely. He pulled the head roughly out of Joan’s grasp and flipped it upside-down to inspect the severed side. “Ms. Downing’s brother has been in police custody for the past several days. He was responsible for the initial murder, but he has nothing to do with this.” He lifted the head close and sniffed loudly.

“So it’s just a coincidence that the sender took her body,” Greg said, managing somehow to ignore Sherlock’s odd behavior. “A prank?”

“I hardly think it’s coincidence that the victim is related to one of my most recent cases,” Sherlock retorted, still sniffing at the head. Suddenly, he thrust it back into Joan’s arms and stalked back over to the cardboard box. Grabbing a handful of salt, he lifted it to his nose. His eyes widened fractionally. He grabbed the box, and, with a surprising show of strength-the box must have weighed at least 25 kilos-dumped the whole thing out onto the floor.

“What the hell!” Joan yelled, as the spotless morgue tiling was doused in greasy salt. She dropped Jane Downing’s head back on the post mortem table and rounded on Sherlock. “Are you insane? What are you doing?” It would take ages to clean that up, not to mention he’d just contaminated the evidence. They kept the floor clean, but notthat clean.

Sherlock was already pawing through the pile of salt on the floor, and didn’t even register Joan’s outraged shout. She sent an exasperated look at Greg, but the DI was concentrating on Sherlock. “What is it?” he said urgently, watching Sherlock’s movements with sharp eyes. “Did you find something?”

Just then, Sherlock stopped and pulled a small slip of paper from the pile, a triumphant grin splitting his face. Joan leaned forward. It looked like a small packing slip, printed on cheap paper. “It’s a receipt,” Sherlock explained gleefully. He placed it carefully on the counter, and Joan and Greg crowded around to get a better look. “This isn’t just any butcher’s salt, it’s Sel de Mer, and the sender was hasty.” He jabbed at the receipt, pointing to the address at the bottom: White & Perry, one of the most expensive gourmet shops in London. Joan bit her tongue looking at the price on the receipt; it was close to the cost of a month’s rent.

“Sloppy work, forgetting about the receipt,” Sherlock muttered quietly, almost to himself. His forehead creased.

Greg was staring down at the receipt too. “60 kilos of salt,” he said, frowning. “There can’t be more than twenty here.”

“Our sender must anticipate delivering several more parcels. I expect you’ll have the rest of Ms. Downing within the week.”

Greg’s frown deepened. “Are you sure this isn’t just a prank, Sherlock?” He waved his hand, taking in the salt-covered floor and the severed head on the table. “It’s bloody awful, but I can’t see why else someone would do this. It looks like they’re baiting you.”

“Baiting me,” Sherlock murmured, narrowed eyes still locked on the receipt. “Yes, definitely. But a prank?” He stalked back to the now-empty cardboard box and bent down to flip it over. Scrawled across the side in red permanent marker were the words:

Joan felt a chill rise up her spine, and Greg cursed softy. “Do you know who might’ve sent this, Sherlock?” he asked, turning back to the detective.

Sherlock shook his head jerkily, frustration knotted in the tense line of his shoulders. “No.”

“Well, it looks like he knows you,” Greg said, looking pointedly back down at the box. He pulled out his mobile with a sigh. “I’ll get the team over to White & Perry. Maybe we can find a lead on the salt.” He tapped out a message, whilst Joan slid the receipt into the evidence bag Sherlock passed her silently. Greg looked up in surprise when Joan held it out to him. “Ta,” he said, smiling at her for the first time. “Will you say sorry to Molly for me? Tell her I’ll give her a call later.”


“Thanks.” Greg looked down at Sherlock, who was still crouched over the salt on the floor. “If you find anything else-”

“I’ll get in touch if there’s anything you need to know,” Sherlock said without looking up. He was sifting through the salt again, grinding the fine crystals between his fingers with great concentration.

Greg rolled his eyes. “If only I believed you,” he commented dryly. “Alright. See you later, then.”

Once the DI had left, Joan turned back to Sherlock. “You’re not going with him?”

“No,” Sherlock replied briefly. He had gotten his pocket magnifier out, and was examining a pinch of salt on the tip of his gloved finger.

“Why not?”

Sherlock gave a long-suffering sigh. “Because the sender left the receipt on purpose. It’s a false lead.”

Joan’s mouth fell open. “You just sent the police out on a false lead? For God’s sake, why?”

“They were in the way,” Sherlock whinged. He held out a hand, palm up. “Pass me a slide.”

“No.” Joan glared at him. “I have to call Greg,” she said, already running through her options. She didn’t know the DI’s number, and while Sherlock obviously did, it was equally clear he wouldn’t help her. Molly would have it, and she was probably still in the office…

“Joan,” Sherlock interrupted her thoughts. She glanced down at him, suspicious. “I need space to complete my observations without idiots constantly breathing over my shoulder. And as Lestrade would tell you, the Met needs to follow up on all possible leads anyway,” his lip curled. “That’s part of the reason why so-called ‘official’ investigations are so inefficient. Now, the slide.” He held his hand out expectantly.

Joan let out a deep breath. “You’re a complete dick, you know that?” she said, pulling a sterile glass slide from the set on the counter and slapping it into his waiting palm.

Sherlock smirked. “So I’ve been told.”

He sprinkled a pinch of the salt on the slide, then added a few drops of water as a suspension liquid. Joan followed him over to the microscope as he set it up.

“If the receipt was a plant, what are you looking at the salt for?” she asked.

“The neck,” Sherlock replied cryptically as he adjusted the focus on the microscope. “That much is obvious.”

“I didn’t see anything strange about the neck.”

“Obviously,” Sherlock sneered. “You see, but you do not observe.”

Joan bit down on her lip, but stalked over to the table where Jane Downing’s head still lay on its side. She raised it gently, cautiously turning it over to look at the severed end. It was barely tacky to the touch, a result of the prolonged salt exposure, though a few crystals still clung to the exposed tissue. The cut was relatively smooth, but the ridges in the bone suggested the implement used had been serrated-probably a surgical saw. As she turned the head, something glittered in the flesh. Frowning, she held it up to the light. Something sparkly was embedded in the cut: tiny particles, too dark and too metallic to be salt crystals.


Sherlock leaned back from the microscope, his hands pressed together beneath his chin in a prayer position. “Rifle grained fine. For some reason, it’s been added to the salt.”

“Are you sure they aren’t just random carbon or mineral particles?” Joan suggested. “Salt comes from mines, doesn’t it? Maybe something got mixed in.”

Sherlock rolled his eyes. “Sel de Mer, Joan. Sea salt,” he translated waspishly. “And I know what gunpowder looks like under a microscope. It was added on purpose, as a message.”

Joan raised an eyebrow. “Bit subtle for a message,” she said. “Don’t you think the sender might worry about it being overlooked?”

“He sent it to me,” Sherlock retorted. “I don’t overlook things.”

Yes, you do, Joan thought, but she kept that to herself. Instead, she reached down and picked up the battered cardboard box, turning it over in her hands to see the message printed on it one more time. “Who do you think could be threatening you?” she asked.

Sherlock looked annoyed at the sudden change of topic and frowned at her. “I already said, I don’t know.”

“Oh, so you weren’t lying about that part.” Sherlock gave her a black look.

“If I knew, do you really think I’d be here?”

The answer was, of course, no. If Sherlock had any idea as to the identity of the criminal, Joan had no doubt he’d be halfway across London in hot pursuit already, the hospital, the victim, and herself all left forgotten in the dust. That was just the way he was, she reasoned.

“True,” she replied, and her voice was steady. “It just seems weird that he knows so much about you-where you live, the cases you’ve worked on, all that-and you don’t know anything about him.”

Sherlock’s lower lip pushed out. On a lesser man, it would have been a pout. “I know plenty,” he sulked.

Joan cocked her head, silently prompting him to continue.

“The box is cheap, generic,” Sherlock began, standing and moving closer to take the box from Joan. He ran a finger along the red lettering, tracing his name. “Block capitals, clearly meant to disguise the sender’s handwriting. The parcel was hand-delivered, suggesting either that the sender was unsure of my exact address or, more likely, that he wished to intimidate me by implying his access to my personal living space.” Sherlock frowned at the box. “Stapled shut with a staple gun, by someone left-handed. Not the same person who left the message on the side.”

He sighed, letting the box fall again to the ground. “Very little information, aside from the obvious. The secret is in the salt.” He ground his heel angrily into a patch of salt dotting the floor, crushing it to a fine powder. Joan hoped he wasn’t about to start pacing again. It would take even longer to clean up the morgue if he started tracking salt all over the place. He groaned in annoyance. “Joan, tell me about salt.”

“What about it?”

“Just anything! Whatever comes to mind.” He glared at her. “Come on, we haven’t much time.”

“I don’t know,” Joan said desperately. “Cooking?” It sounded stupid, even to her. “How is this supposed to help, exactly?”

“You might be dull yourself, but as a conductor of light, Joan, you’re quite invaluable,” Sherlock replied. Joan twitched. It had been a long time since she’d heard such a backhanded compliment from someone who wasn’t related to her. “Now go on, tell me more.”

Joan rolled her eyes. “Let’s see…crisps. Seawater. Salt mummies. That woman in the Bible, can’t remember her name…umm. Fish and chips. Mostly I think of food, really.”

He looked up sharply. “What was that about the Bible?”

“Oh, there was a woman in the Bible who was turned into salt-I think it was in the Old Testament. I can’t really remember anything else.” Joan’s last Sunday school lesson, the only real religious education she’d ever received, had been a while ago. The Watsons were, on the whole, both atheist and traditional: stubborn about customs like church on Christmas, Sunday school attendance and baptism, lackadaisical about everything else. Belief in God was beside the point.

Sherlock huffed his disapproval of Joan’s ignorance, already pulling out his mobile to search the internet.

“Well, it’s not like you’ve read the Bible either,” Joan protested. She sighed. “Maybe we’re looking at this wrong. No, hang on, just hear me out,” she added when Sherlock seemed ready to interrupt. “The head was sent to your address. The box has yourname on, and the gunpowder-salt mixture was something only you would notice. The message is obviously for you…so why would it have to do with something you don’t know much about? Think about it.”

“Perhaps,” Sherlock said in a voice that suggested he wasn’t considering her proposition at all. “But that would assume the sender is aware of the weaknesses in my knowledge base, and there are very, very few people who are.”

“Well, I didn’t say anything.”

Sherlock’s lips turned upwards slightly in a smile, and it was not his usual wolfish grin, but something softer, and a little more human. “I never said you did.” Joan smiled back at him.

There was an awkward little cough, and Joan looked up to see Molly standing in the doorway, giving her a knowing look. Joan blushed. “Molly, I didn’t hear you come in.”

“She’s been standing there for the last three and half minutes,” Sherlock stated, still tapping away on his mobile. “Since you started talking about salt.”

“Ah,” Joan said, and she felt her blush deepen. She cursed her fair, easily-flushed skin. It always made people misinterpret things.

“About that,” Molly said, coming up beside Joan. “I think you were talking about Lot’s wife. When they were escaping from the cursed city of Sodom, she looked backwards and God turned her into a pillar of salt. It’s in Genesis. I don’t see what that can have to do with Jane Downing, though.”

“I didn’t realize you were religious, Molly,” Joan commented in surprise.

“I’m not. But Greg likes to go to church, and there’s not much else to read in the pews.”

Sherlock snapped his mobile shut. “Family outings, how lovely,” he quipped sarcastically. “Now, any news about the body?”

Molly sighed. “Unfortunately, no. It looks like it really was stolen. I had Mike request the security camera footage from the past two days, and there’s a tape missing from Sunday night. No one’d even noticed it was gone.”

Joan licked her lips nervously. Sunday night.

Sherlock nodded as though this information didn’t come as a surprise. “I thought so.” He closed his mobile with snap and began re-wrapping the scarf around his neck.

“Are you leaving?” Joan asked.


“Where are you going?”

“Home. There’s no point in further analysis until more evidence appears,” Sherlock replied, now buttoning his coat and turning towards the door.

Joan frowned after him. “What about the salt?”

Sherlock shrugged, his hand already on the door handle. Then he was gone.

“Ugh,” Joan groaned. She could feel a headache coming on. It was like that sometimes-actually, most of the time-with Sherlock. He was so utterly, unselfconsciously selfish, that she couldn’t really blame him for it. She could only reproach herself for being the idiot who went along with him time after time.

“I hate it when he does that,” Molly said, glaring at the closing door. She had her hands on her hips, framing her rounded belly. “You know, when he swans about in that ridiculous coat, looking all dramatic and not explaining anything. Drives me round the bend.”

“Yeah,” Joan agreed. Sherlock’s inability to explain his mental leaps to others was a constant source of annoyance, but it was also his most captivating quality. She sometimes thought he did it on purpose.

“And Greg left without saying goodbye. Not even a text for his pregnant wife,” Molly grumbled. She moved forward, looking down in confusion when the floor crunched beneath her step. “Joan, why is there white stuff all over the floor?”

Joan decided to skip over the question. “Greg says he’s sorry, and he’ll call you later.”

Molly arched an eyebrow in her direction. “I’ll…get the mop,” Joan muttered, and headed towards the store cupboard.


sherlock bbc, au, friendship, casefic, genderswap

Previous post Next post