Date: (n) an engagement to go out socially with another person, often out of romantic interest.
There's an awkward moment as they step out of the coffee shop - awkward and inevitable. The moment when he leans in and Joan turns her head just so, and his lips land on the hard slant of her cheek bone as opposed to the soft mouth he was hoping for. She smiles politely and they exchange a stiff good bye that leaves her feeling more relieved than it should. She sighs as she watches him check his watch and make a phone call.
Another one bites the dust.
Above her, the sky turns a colour somewhere between grey and sickish green. Two cabs pass by as if she were invisible, and she swears under her breath. The walk to the brownstone isn't more than twenty minutes, but she isn't sure she wants to risk the looming downpour. She lifts herself on her toes, attempting to make herself noticeable, when she feels the intangible, magnetic pull of the body that has appeared next to her.
"You know, if you had a whistle, this would be much easier."
She almost laughs. Almost. "He did that with you too?"
"To my eternal vexation."
When Joan does turn round, she finds herself caught in a starburst moment of breathlessness and exhilaration - as if stabbed with an unexpected shot of adrenaline. If she had any flair with words, she'd have described Jamie Moriarty as casually decadent. In a tight-fitting (undoubtedly designer) jeans and flimsy blouse under a jacket, the blonde looks as if she's been torn off the pages of one of the glossy magazines Joan indulges in when she gets her hair done. She allows her eyes a moment to rake over the pull of the pale green shirt and Moriarty's mouth, bright and red, twitches into a sleek curve of a smile that is both charming and infuriating.
"That colour suits you," Joan says in a resigned voice.
What she should have said was 'What are you doing here?' 'What do you want?' 'Why are you looking at me like I'm a seal and this is shark week?' but these things have been asked ad nauseum the first two, three, four times Moriarty had shown up after Joan's dates, and by now, she's well versed in the strange, evasive, flirtation that would present itself as an answer. So today, she takes a different route, and tries a language that even the multi-lingual Moriarty finds difficult to speak - honesty.
Moriarty, who stands a good 3 inches above Joan in her Louboutins raises her eyebrows at the unexpected compliment, and that smile, which was at first, sharp and predatory, softens.
"Thank you, Joan," she replies with genuine warmth. "Shall we walk? There's a charming little bistro just around the corner. My treat." Joan knows the place she's referring to, and dammit if it isn’t charming and if she hasn’t been wanting to check it out for weeks. But suddenly that whole honesty thing seems more dangerous than she'd anticipated, and her well-worn mask of self-denial, which fits so very comfortably, slips back into place and she says, "I've already eaten, and besides, I've got to get back. Sherlock-"
"Is most likely engaging in various sexual misadventures with the lovely young thing who entered your home, not twenty minutes ago. So, unless you're keen to join them, I doubt you'd be of much use." She scrunches up her nose in a curiously childlike manner. "Knowing Sherlock, as I do, I'd venture we have at least an hour or so."
Joan doesn't ask how she knows this. She doesn’t want to know.
Sensing her resignation, Moriarty grins that feline grin and loops her arm through Joan's before steering them in the direction of the bistro. Joan doesn't know how pull out of her grip without looking as uncomfortable as she feels, so she allows herself to be led by Moriarty, who, up close smells like vanilla soap and something spicy... cinnamon perhaps.
"I read about the arrest of Pierre Duluth. No doubt you and Sherlock had a hand in his capture. I'm impressed."
Joan doesn't quite know how to take the compliment, so she says, "Thanks. It was a pretty tough case." And it was. Hours of staring at Sherlock’s murder collage, hours of interrogations and false starts before they finally managed to bring down the man connected in, if not personally responsible for, the murders of at least six high-ranking industrialists.
"I imagine so," Moriarty says, leading them around a corner. "He's a vile man."
Joan stops walking, which causes Moriarty to falter in her steps before turning to look back expectantly.
"You knew him." It's not a question.
"Used him," Moriarty corrects. "Only on very few occasions," she seems compelled to add. As if sensing Joan's displeasure, she takes a step forward, effectively snuffing out the wisp of space that exists between them. "It was a necessary evil, I'm afraid."
A necessary evil.
The words sound hollow coming from her, and suddenly, she's too charming, too witty, too close. And Joan steps back, out of that swirling vortex of confusion.
"Look, I should really be going. I can't..." she tries to articulate something she can't even explain to herself. "This is a bad idea."
"Oh Joan. Don't spoil our date." Moriarty looks a second away from pouting and Joan frowns.
"Date? This isn't a date."
“Oh?” An eyebrow raises in challenge. “And what would you call it then?"
"It's... a... meeting, an encounter..." Joan splutters. "You ambushed me." It sounds ridiculous even as she says it.
Moriarty tsks. "Come now, darling. You're hardly an unwilling participant." She searches Joan's face for objection before continuing. "What about the gallery opening last month?” Neither of them mention the fact that they've resumed walking in the direction of the bistro.
“You appearing out of nowhere and buying me overpriced drinks doesn’t make it a date.”
“The quaint Indian place we went to a fortnight ago?"
"We didn't go anywhere. I was there with a guy, who mysteriously got food poisoning and left a second before you conveniently showed up."
"And yet you stayed."
Joan feels decidedly uncomfortable. "You can't keep stalking me on actual dates," she says finally, and Moriarty huffs, in a petulant manner, that reminds Joan acutely of Sherlock. "Well, you can hardly blame me, Watson. You did look so awfully bored by those dullards."
"And you must admit, our dates are exponentially more stimulating."
"They're not dates. We’re not dating."
Moriarty puts a hand to her heart dramatically and says, "You wound me, Joan. And on today of all days."
Joan's eye roll might possibly strain a muscle or two, but she bites, "What's today?"
"Well I was going to broach the subject of exclusivity," a teasing smile tugs at her lips.
This is all a game to her, Joan reminds herself. She's an actress, a pretender- this is her role and I'm the captivated audience. For Sherlock, she was Irene, for me, it's... this, this cocky, charming socialite, quick to smile and say all the right things. It's a pretty veneer. Subtle and polished. Attractive, undeniably so... but slowly wearing itself thin, becoming not-quite enough.
"You're delusional, you know that?"
"It's just that you're still putting up this pretense of being interested in other people, and really, I do think we've been dating long enough for us to be honest with each other." They've stopped outside Maple, but neither make a move to enter, despite the ominous growl of clouds above.
When Joan laughs, it's oddly painful. "You're talking about honesty?" She doesn’t miss the annoyed twitch of Moriarty brows, before they’re schooled back into their usual, perfect arch. "Besides," Joan continues, "It's not a pretense. I enjoy meeting new people."
"Hmm, and what was the name of the fellow you so coldly rejected just now?"
Joan blinks. "His name was Randall...um Raymond. And I did not coldly reject him."
"Well it seems to me, that if you had truly enjoyed your time with Randall-Raymond, you'd at least have allowed him a kiss goodbye." Moriarty takes a step forward, and the toes of her heels make contact with Joan's pumps. The air has taken on that specific damp, humid quality that precedes a storm, but with Moriarty's face so close to hers, Joan feels as if it’s being slowly sucked from the world itself. Her breathing comes out in shallow puffs as her gaze drifts from slightly narrowed eyes, shining with intent, to that mouth that moves and twists with words, as it stops, just a whisper away from Joan’s. “It is customary, is it not, Watson? To seal a successful romantic encounter with the pleasure of a simple-"
So close. Too close. "Kiss-"
Joan's head snaps around in pure reflex, while Moriarty leans back slowly, those arctic eyes twinkling.
A short brunette steps out of the bistro, with a wide, if slightly perplexed grin, her eyes flicking curiously between the two women. "I thought it was you!"
Joan wills her lips into what she hopes is a smile. "Emily!" Oh god, she sounds breathless as she struggles to swallow down her pounding heart.
"I can't believe you're out in daylight!" Emily pulls Joan into a quick, tight hug. "God, it's been ages. Jeremy’s mom is here,” she rolls her eyes, “Nightmare, let me tell you. But she offered to watch Paige for the morning so we could pretend to not be parents for a while.”
Joan’s laughter is paper thin.
“Anyway,” Emily continues without taking a breath, “We were just saying how we haven't seen you since Carol's birthday."
"I've been busy," Joan says, feeling slightly defensive.
"Yeah, yeah, saving the world, I know," Emily replies, not unkindly. Her smile stays, as her gaze shifts to Moriarty. "Hi, sorry, how rude of me. I'm Emily."
Joan blinks as she looks between the two women. It's unsettling, somehow, seeing Emily and Moriarty occupy the same space. An unwelcome clash of worlds.
"Oh, uh... Em, this is Jamie." It slips off her tongue and she feels strangely exposed, like there is some unknown meaning in the name, an intimacy she's been trying to avoid.
Jamie for her part, offers her hand and a charismatic smile. "A pleasure." She oozes charm and Joan watches Emily fall under the spell.
"I'm glad Joan found someone interesting enough to tear her away from her crime scenes," Emily says, her voice laced with implication and Joan feels queasy. She saw, Joan thinks. She saw us almost-
Jamie's laugh is pretty and fragile. "Unfortunately I may be more of an enabler than a distraction. Joan and I are colleges. It’s all business I’m afraid."
"Oh? So you also work with... whatshisname," she clicks her fingers, "Um, Shylock."
Jamie's lips quirk in amusement, but she doesn't correct her. "In a manner of speaking."
"Jamie's in town for a... case and I offered to show her a bit of the city," Joan cuts in, feeling like she should add something to this ever fattening lie.
Emily looks to the sky. "You could have picked a better day."
Joan nods in agreement, but Jamie says, “Oh, I quite like storms. There’s a certain… violence in them that can be very attractive.” Her eyes flicker to Joan. “Don’t you think?”
“I suppose.” Her voice is flat.
An awkward sort of silence falls over them before Emily, ever chirpy, says, "Well, Jeremy's probably wondering where I've disappeared to. Wait, are you guys coming in? There's like a thirty minute wait. You're welcome to join us." She looks at Joan with pleading eyes, "Come on, we can catch up, and Jamie can regale us with tales of your glamorous detective work."
Joan struggles to keep her face from looking pained. "Actually, we should probably get going."
Jamie’s eyes are on Joan as she says, "Joan's right, I'm afraid. I've got a flight in a few hours."
Emily looks between them, as if trying to understand whatever unspoken language is being communicated. "Well I'm booking you for coffee soon!” she says, “No excuses." She shoots Joan a meaningful look that seems to imply that the next time they see each other will not be unlike the Spanish Inquisition.
"It was great meeting you," she says to Jamie, who smiles and responds with, "Likewise."
With a parting smile, Emily returns to the bistro, leaving Joan Watson and Jamie Moriarty alone once more.
"I take it you don't want to go inside then?”
"I've lost my appetite," Joan says, feeling unhinged. It's not about Emily, not really. It's not even about the almost-kiss. It's the fact Moriarty has suddenly become Jamie. Jamie, who she's just introduced to her best friend. Jamie, who's standing beside her, looking beautiful and expectant, and strangely less confident that she did a few minutes ago.
“Let’s keep walking,” she says, and Jamie wordlessly follows, their destination unknown and unimportant.
"Thank you,” Joan says softly after a few seconds.
"For,” Joan turns to look at her, “For not making that more awkward than it needed to be."
"You mean for not mentioning that we're dating?" There it is. And despite every inclination, Joan smiles.
“We’re not dating.”
“Aren’t we though?”
"You know, just because you say a thing, doesn't make it true."
"Ah, but if you say a thing often enough, people will start believing it."
"That's your plan?" She tries to ignore the way their shoulders touch as they walk. "You're going to talk me into dating you?"
"There is no plan," Jamie replies simply. "This is what it is.” She motions to the almost non-existent space between them.
What is this? Joan wants to ask. Explain it to me, so I don't have to kill myself trying to understand it.
At the same time, she’s terrified of what Jamie would say, at the truths she'd reveal. So she says nothing, and they walk in silence.
Finally, Jamie asks, "How is your mother?" And Joan, so deep into her thoughts, blinks and looks at her with bemusement, not quite sure if she'd heard correctly. "You mentioned during our last meeting that she was ill, I just..." Jamie shifts, somewhat self-consciously as Joan continues to stare at her in puzzlement.
"She's fine," Joan replies slowly, having forgotten her mother had been sick at all. "It was one of those forty-eight hour bugs. You remembered that?"
Jamie stares straight ahead, clearly uncomfortable, which fascinates Joan even more. "You seemed concerned at the time. You’re close to your mother and so… I was merely making sure that all was well. One can never be too sure at her age." This is real, Joan thinks suddenly. This haphazard attempt at sympathy or compassion, or whatever it is, is real. It's too clumsy not to be.
"Thank you," she says again, unable to take her eyes off Jamie, who looks decidedly perturbed. It's dangerously refreshing, and is perhaps the impetus for Joan's next question. "Hey, have you ever had a real New York hotdog?"
The shift in conversation has Jamie frowning. "I can't say I have."
Spontaneously, Joan tucks a hand under Jamie’s arm and navigates her towards a vendor, who grins through gapped teeth as they approach. "I'm supposed to be showing you the city, right? You can't get more authentic than a hotdog."
"I'm a vegetarian," Jamie quips, not bothering to hide her distaste as Joan asks for two dogs with mustard and ketchup.
"You ordered the poached salmon last month at that overpriced French place," she counters.
Joan thanks the vendor and holds out a messy hotdog. "Shut up and put it in your mouth."
Jamie's quick smile and raised eyebrow has Joan blushing, but she maintains a challenging gaze until Jamie parts those red lips and takes a hearty bite from the hotdog. Ketchup squirts from the sides and stains the corner off her mouth. It's the most inelegant thing Joan's ever seen her do and she's enraptured.
"It's not... terrible," Jamie mumbles, with a partially full mouth, as she wipes her chin with the paper napkin she's handed
Joan smiles in triumph.
They stroll a bit further, quiet as they focus on the tricky task of walking and eating, and when they come to a park and a bench, it is Joan who suggests they sit for a while. Besides, they're close to the brownstone now, and five more minutes of walking would see her home. She's not sure if she's ready to be home yet.
“Hotdogs remind me of Saturday mornings and baseball,” Joan says as she balls up her napkin.
“How so?” Jamie’s elbow rests on the back of the bench, so she can turn and face Joan fully.
“When Oren was a kid, eight or ten, he joined little league, and every Saturday, we’d go watch him play. I’m pretty sure my dad only went for the hotdogs. He’d order every topping imaginable.” Her lips curve in fond remembrance. “My mother would turn up her nose and drink herbal tea from a flask. It was one of the few things I remember us doing as a family. Though I suspect they were just so thrilled to see Oren do any sort of physical activity.” She laughs to herself softly, “He was a tubby kid.”
There’s a strange intensity in Jamie’s expression when she asks, “And you? What were you like, Joan Watson?”
Joan meets her searching gaze, before looking away, “Oh, I was all elbows and knees. Gangly until well into my teens. Oren and I were like Laurel and Hardy. Then by college, he slimmed down and I filled out - sort of. My dad still calls me Grasshopper.”
When she looks back, she’s startled by Jamie’s look of fascination, or maybe it’s adoration. Either way, Joan is suddenly embarrassed. She didn’t mean to go on about her childhood, she has no idea where it came from, but it feels so easy, just sitting and talking, like there aren’t a thousand reasons why they shouldn’t be.
She wants to ask about Jamie’s childhood. She wants to ask about siblings and parents, about nicknames and fond memories. She wants to ask about everything that didn’t fill the pages of a police folder. She wants to, and so she doesn’t, because the more she knows, the realer Jamie becomes. Not Moriarty, not Irene, but Jamie. It terrifies Joan.
So instead, she looks down and for no reason that she can think of, gently runs her thumb over the band-aid covering the first joint of Jamie’s index finger.
Jamie’s nails are neat –short and unpolished. They say efficiency, practicality, not leisure and luxury.
"What happened here?"
"Curling iron injury," she answers, seemingly transfixed by the sweep of Joan's thumb over her bandage.
Joan’s laugh is a rueful thing as she pulls her hand away, before the urge to intertwine their fingers becomes manifest.
"What?" Jamie looks amused by her reaction. "You expected it to be something more dramatic?" She raises her eyebrows theatrically, "A knife wound? A gunshot burn perhaps?"
Joan doesn't reply and Jamie's teasing grin softens, until she's barely smiling at all. "I can be terribly banal, I’m afraid. It’s not all murder and mayhem.”
Joan nods, but doesn't quite meet her eyes. "I know." This, thing between them, is so very fickle, so easily swayed by memory, common sense and truth. She feels Jamie's eyes on her, piercing and unapologetic, as if sensing the disconsolate direction of Joan’s thoughts.
"This," she waits until Joan's eyes meet hers, until she’s certain Joan understands what she means by this, "- is not the worst thing that could happen." Somehow, it sounds tentative, like a question. "There are far more terrible things out there than whatever's happening between you and me." It's Jamie's voice that sounds fragile, so why does something in Joan feel as though it's breaking?
"Then why can't I think of any?"
“I bought you something,” Jamie says in a lighter voice that seems out of place in their current conversation.
“You didn’t have to,” Joan answers automatically, her mind screaming that gifts are territory she cannot cross into.
“I wanted to,” Jamie says silkily. “It’s silly thing, a trinket really. Only,” her lips push into a pout before she says, “Well I seem to have forgotten it in my hotel room.”
Joan’s expression is half amused, half-disbelieving. The invitation is thinly veiled at best. “I’m not following you to your hotel room.”
“It’s not far at all, in fact-”
“Jamie.” It’s the first time Joan’s used her name directly and it seems to pause whatever clever coaxing the other woman was about to deliver. “I’m not going back to your hotel room.” Joan says it gently but with conviction. More conviction than she feels.
Jamie shrugs a shoulder. “Well,” her smile is wide and unrepentant, “I had to try.”
And, despite the insanity of just being propositioned by Jamie Moriarty, Joan finds herself rolling her eyes, with a smile tugging at her lips, which lifts whatever fog has settled between them.
“I really should go.” She places her hands on her knees and pushes up.
Jamie stands as well, and motions towards the path. "I'll walk you."
"I'm not sure that's a good idea. Sherlock-"
"Are you worried he'll come out brandishing a shotgun, warning me to leave his Watson alone?"
Joan cringes, "Something like that."
"I'll just walk you to your door. Nothing sinister, you have my word."
“Of course he will." Jamie holds out her arm for Joan to take. It's a dare, a challenge. Don't let Sherlock dictate this, the gesture seems to say. If you object, do it because of your convictions, not his.
And as if turns out, Joan’s objections are becoming more and more difficult to formulate, and so, she takes the arm Jamie gallantly holds out for her.
They're two minutes away from the brownstone when a fat, warm raindrop plops on Joan’s cheek, splattering over freckles, followed by another and another, until, within seconds, they're both absolutely drenched. Jamie's once perfectly styled hair is now plastered to her head and hangs limply around her shoulders in scraggly clumps. Joan imagines she looks no better. And yet, as they half run for the cover of the brownstone stoop, she finds that the laughter ringing in her ears is her own.
They find themselves outside the door, both looking like drowned rats. Jamie grins at her, soaked and breathless, water dripping from her eyelashes, the tip of her nose, the strands of her hair. She looks so young like this, Joan thinks, and something about this pure, unexpected, almost indulgent experience, is incredibly cathartic. Maybe that's why, when Jamie reaches out to push the wet strands of hair behind Joan’s ear, she arches into her touch. Perhaps that's why, when Jamie leans forward, Joan closes her eyes and parts her lips in anticipation. Perhaps that's why she's surprised and profoundly disappointed, when she feels Jamie's lips against the shell of her ear, and not her mouth.
"It's a pity..." breath, hot against her cheek.
Joan’s own breathing is ragged. "What is?"
"That this wasn't a date."
Jamie pulls back and regards Joan with solemn eyes, darker than usual, as if reflecting the storm around them. "If this was a date," she begins, "-well, then I would kiss you goodbye.” Her tongue darts out to catch a raindrop on her lip. “As is customary."
"Oh." Joan replies, somewhat stupidly.
As if by magic, a black town car appears from around the corner and Jamie nods at the driver. “Well,” her face is a canvas of undisguised appreciation. “It seems our time has come to a conclusion.”
The kiss she places against Joan’s cheek is chaste and barely-there, and then she’s turning to leave and Joan’s left feeling empty and unfulfilled… the worst kind of regret.
Jamie’s eyes are big and blue and expectant. “Yes, Joan?”
“I, um…” She takes a breath before saying. “This Thursday, uh, there’s a restaurant in SoHo, Morstan’s Place. I’ll be there at about seven.”
A raised eyebrow. “Another hapless suitor?”
Joan shakes her head. “No. Just me.”
A moment of silence, punctuated only by the pelting rain.
Jamie nods slowly. “Right. I-” then she frowns and pinches the bridge of her nose, “I won’t be in the country on Thursday.”
“Oh, well, that’s-”
“The Tuesday after,” Jamie says quickly. “Next Tuesday, seven ‘o clock.” In hope, there is vulnerability, Joan thinks as she studies the face, awaiting her answer.
“Okay,” she replies softly. “Okay, next Tuesday.”
Jamie Moriarty’s smile is bright with victory. “It’s a date then.”
This time, Joan doesn’t argue.