On the bright side, her limp was gone.
It had all begun with an enormous misunderstanding and an even bigger series of stupid mistakes after that. She had chiefly misunderstood when the lookout shouted "Don't go!" and heard it as "Go! Go!" along with three corporals and a lieutenant. That was when she'd been shot. The four with her had died after three weeks in a hole in the ground. Then she had been shipped to a military hospital in Kabul, where she had failed to inform the overworked and understaffed nurses that she felt unwell until the infection and malaria had set in. Once she was completely unfit for duty, shooting arm wrecked and flesh eaten away right down to the bone, the army sent her home like doing anything other that shooting her like she wanted was a huge favor.
The first thing she'd done when able to drag herself out of bed without falling was to get ridiculously drunk at some seedy nightclub near the bedsit. She didn't have anything "nice" to wear so had stuck with jeans and a now ill-fitting jumper and limped her way to a stool at the bar. Even looking like death warmed over some creep had decided to hit on her, "accidentally" knocking her cane to the floor when she told him to piss off. When she had retrieved it and got back to her stool he eagerly pushed an apology-drink at her. He hadn't mixed the drugs in very well, too rushed for time, and she threw it into his face. Had her shoulder been in better shape, she would have hit the bastard too, but the alcohol burning his eyes seemed like enough. She didn't make a fuss or call for the police, didn't want the attention or the speculation. All too familiar with the "wait...he wanted to rape you?" attitude toward ugly girls like her, she was.
Instead, she had ordered a new drink, just as strong but not as fruity, and spent the next hour shutting out the universe. Her shoulder was hurting, and though the doctor in her screamed not to mix pain medication with alcohol she swallowed a pill, because shit, it made her feel so good. The world went fuzzy and grey around the edges, cotton filled her ears and muffled the horrendous noise people started to call music while she was overseas, and everything became rather funny. She laughed for the first time since Afghanistan.
"A man in his early forties wearing a bespoke suit and aubergine tie attempted to drug you," announced a new voice on her left, echoing as though it were underwater. She looked around and found a devastatingly handsome man sitting on her right, with curly dark hair, prominent cheekbones, and bright, bright, bright eyes. Then she thought of that song, that "turn around bright eyes" song, and started laughing all over again. "Though it appears you've finished the job for him," added the new man, the handsome one, his lip curling slightly.
She brushed the fringe from her eyes and jerked her good leg upward - her shoulder bad was looped around her ankle so it could be out of the way without getting stolen - and clumsily pulled out her bottle of pills. "S'all legal, mate, if you're a copper," she tried to say, though there was a lot more slurring and giggling involved.
The man plucked the bottle easily from her trembling fingers, briefly inspecting it before tucking it back into her bad for her. "I don't care," he announced. Were she sober, she would have noticed how fucking huge his pupils were and how much his voice was actually shaking. "I was going to try to find him, the man drugging you, but I don't have to any longer. You threw your drink at him. He's going to go to the A&E for his eyes or the police to try having you charged, and they all have his photograph in the database. Now I've nothing to entertain me for the evening." His luscious mouth twisted into the most beautiful pout she had ever seen; she'd never known petulance could be sexy before.
"Sorry," she shouted over the din of buzzing in her ears, feeling stupid and reckless, which in turn made her leg hurt less. "Maybe I can help with that."
He glanced at her from the corner of his eye and smirked. "Afghanistan or Iraq?"
The next morning she'd woken up in the bedsit alone, sticky with sweat and come, with a pounding headache, no recollection of the night before, and the name Sherlock scribbled in her untidy scrawl on the notepad by her bed.
Over the ensuing weeks the memories seemed to come with her in sync with the nausea and headaches. It was only what she deserved, really, being so stupid to get into a situation like this with some random bloke in a club who, in hindsight, was probably high off his arse. The rest of her was recovering well: she was putting on weight, though still not nearly enough, and her shoulder was gaining strength. But six weeks after her disastrous time in the nightclub she was tired, achey everywhere but in her shoulder, spotting, and vomiting halfway through each day. She needed to see a doctor; she wouldn't trust an OTC test with this.
Of course she would be placed with Mike Stamford doing locum work, because the surgery she decided to visit was short-staffed due to the flue season and he liked to volunteer his free hours. For a few moments she was convinced she might be able to laugh the whole ordeal off as a surprise visit to her old uni mate and escape after a bit of gabbing, but once they'd exchanged the necessary platitudes about how they simply must go out for coffee sometime, Mike asked: "So what brings you in, Jo?" with a smile. She swallowed past the sudden dryness in her throat, and her old friend seemed to sense something was wrong. "Why don't you sit down?"
She sat. Her hand was trembling. Nausea rolled in her gut. "I'm going to take a jab in the dark and guess you're not here for a check-up on your shoulder?" he softly asked. Mike had always been the best friend to talk to, never demanding information but always open to offer an ear.
Shaking her head, she swallowed and choked, "I did something really stupid, Mike." He listened silently, face quietly grim, as she recounted what she remembered of the night six weeks previous, and the symptoms that had started up days ago. "I don't even know his surname; it's going to be impossible to find him." She didn't cry, didn't shed a single tear as she voiced her worries and fears. Her hand had stopped shaking at come point.
Mike awkwardly offered to get another doctor to examine her, perhaps a woman to make her more comfortable, but Jo declined. She had seen how short-staffed the surgery was, and felt just as safe with Mike, her best friend since they were kids, than she would with a woman. If anything, it guaranteed she would be treated with care and respect. With a comforting professional detachment he ushered her up onto the examination table, prodded gently at her abdomen - still pliable, but definitely bloated - and measured her blood pressure and temp. There wasn't much he could do as a GP without being a certified gynecologist, but it didn't much matter. Part of her already knew.
"I'm just going to take a bit of blood now, run all the STI screens to be safe," explained Mike as he pulled out a syringe. "I'll put a rush on it for you. You should get the results-"
"In the post, yeah, I know," she finished for him with a tight smile, closing her eyes against the pinch. It was less fun on the other side of the needle.
Before she could pull on her coat when they were finished, Mile put a hand on her good shoulder. "You take care," he told her with a stern warmth. "Lots of sleep, eat your veggies, and you call if ever you want to talk. I'm sure the wife would love to have you over."
She nodded and pulled him into a brief embrace. "Thanks, Mike. You take care too." As she hobbled out on her cane, she heard Mike sigh in disbelief behind her. She could sympathize; he'd really gotten fat since they last saw one another.
Within four days there was a manila envelope in her postbox, containing the results of her basic screening for STIs and other easily-identified problems. She was clean for the more general infections and diseased, which was a relief, but she would have to wait to know about more complicated things like HIV. And she was pregnant. Jo was momentarily paralyzed with shock and terror, but then shook herself, packed up her bag, and went for a walk. Adrenaline was making her heart race and her limbs restless.
On the bright side, her limp was gone.
"I know you didn't ask me to call, but I got the results," she told Mike over her secondhand mobile after thirteen blocks. "Clean for STI, and definitely pregnant."
Mike let out a low whistle. "Jesus. You okay?" he asked.
"I'm fine, just..." she shook her head. "I mean, I figured I was, I just didn't know what to do. I'm going to try Googling this bloke at the library, see if I can find his MySpace or something."
"Yeah?" Mike sounded like he was trying not to laugh.
"Yeah, I might as well. Even if I haven't decided on anything, he still deserves to know. I'll talk to you later." She rung off before he could say goodbye, knowing that the librarians wouldn't let her in on her mobile. Hunkering down in one of the little computer kiosks, she Googled the name "Sherlock," and got just about as much as she expected to with only an absurd first name to go on: an outdated baby name database, a Wikipedia page on some writer from the late 1800s, and a website for some private detective.
Hadn't he been a detective or something, that Sherlock bloke? He'd been going after the creep in the bar, and then he'd looked at her and known all about Afghanistan without her saying a word. That was what had hooked her in the first place, yes, she remembered now. He was definitely a detective, even if he hadn't said it in so many words. Too bad there wasn't a photograph. Venturing into the site forum, she found several lively debates involved in the conclusions of cases. Farther back Sherlock Holmes had participated in these discussions, mostly to tell people they were wrong. His tone on the forum and the way he pieces together his statements into long stiff-structured mechanical narrative were strongly reminiscent of their conversation at the club. At least she was fairly confident she'd found the right Sherlock.
Without measuring her words first Joanna opened up a new private message to Sherlock Holmes and typed, I don't know if you remember me, but my name is Joanna and we met at the Vesuvius Club a few weeks back. Before going any further she sighed and ran both hands through her messy short hair. Telling him via email would probably not be the best idea, but she definitely had to get into contact with him and talk about their situation. Because it was their situation, not just hers; it taking two to tango and all that. We really need to talk. Please email or call me ASAP. She added her mobile to the end of the message, entered her email, and clicked Submit. A message came up on the screen telling her she would have a confirmation email in her inbox. Just to be certain she logged into her Hotmail account.
There were two messages in her inbox from the Science of Deduction website, one being the typical Thank you for your submission message and the other being You have a new email from. Her heart jumped up in her throat; surely he couldn't already have seen...?
This is an automated response from SHolmesscienceofdeduction:
I will not be answering emails for the time being. My brother has locked me up (again) and suspended my domain. This message reaches anyone to send me an email. I will look over your case when I return on 20 January 2010 and hack back in.
It was the twentieth of January. He could be back to her by the evening. Jo logged off and left the library, feeling relieved. It had started raining while she was inside. She pulled out her mobile again; it was the most she'd used it since coming home. "Mike, do you think I can come over and think aloud at you?" she asked.
"Of course!" insisted Mike. "What library are you at? I'll tell Annie we're expecting company and pick you up in the Boat."
She laughed aloud. "You still have the Boat?" The Boat was what they called Mike's car. It was rusty and ancient the day he got it, and that was when they were both seventeen.
"Yes, I still have the Boat! The old beauty's never failed me once! Now come on, where are you?"
Not about to turn down a free ride in the rain, Jo gave him directions to the library and was climbing into another childhood friend fifteen minutes later. "Oh, I've missed this car," she sighed as she threw her bag into the backseat. "I feel like when we were teenagers and you used to drive us home from school because you were the oldest in the class and wanted to show off; everyone was so jealous."
"Yeah, well, I also fancied the hell out of you," he added, and they both grinned. It had been common knowledge that when they were little kids Jo had fancied Mike, and when they were teenagers Mike had fancied Jo, but they never had overlapped and were now closer than Jo was to her own sister. As the car wound its way through familiar streets Jo leaned against the window. She was tired, she realized. She was really, properly tired, and dozed off until Mike pulled up at his house. "Okay?"
Rubbing her eyes, she nodded, "Mm. Think I'm having an adrenaline crash."
Mike smiled sympathetically and heaved himself out of the car, making his way around to her side before she could even muster the energy to get herself unbuckled. "Personally, I think you're pregnant," he teased, giving her a hand up onto the pavement. "You should've seen Annie with our first, probably slept twelve hours a night at the beginning. We have three now, by the way."
"Three little girls," nodded Mike. "But they're at a birthday party until tonight, so you'll have to settle for photographs. Come in, come in, please."
Once Jo had met Annie and exchanged all the niceties, they retreated into the sitting room with cups of coffee. Mike gave her water. "You shouldn't have caffeine in your state," he scolded her when she complained.
She scowled at him. "I don't even know if I'm keeping it, you know."
"Well if you decide to keep it then you don't want it growing a second head now, do you?"
That made her laugh and sip her water with no further complaint. They sat quietly for a long time while Jo sorted her thoughts, still uncertain of herself, then remembered the reason she was there was to think aloud. "The thing is, Mike," she haltingly began, "if I'm going to have a kid I'm going to need a new place to live. And if I'm going to get a new place to live I'm going to need a job. And if I'm going to get a job it's going to have to be someone who will take me while knowing I'll be on maternity leave before they know it - which is no one. Which means I won't be able to get a job unless I, you know, take care of it. But if I'm not pregnant then why am I getting the new place and new job anyway? And...oh, Christ, I'm in trouble, aren't I?" She moaned and dropped her head into her hands.
"You've got a lot on your plate," Mike agreed. "But listen, in terms of a place, I do actually have a friend looking to go in on a flatshare. Pretty affordable, from what I hear."
Smiling to herself, Jo shook her head and put her water down. Her hands were trembling again, but it didn't feel like her tremor. All of her felt shaky and warm. "Mike, who in their right mind would want to flatshare with me? You remember what I'm like, none of my flatmates at uni lasted more than one term. And then of course there might be a baby involved at some point, depending on how it goes with this Sherlock b - Mike!" she shrieked as her friend spewed coffee halfway across the room. "Mike, what the hell-?"
"Sherlock?" Mike sputtered, still coughing. "You said a man named Sherlock got you in this mess?" She nodded dumbly and he wiped a hand across his mouth. "You're absolutely certain? Tall bloke, skinny, dark hair, and a really deep voice?"
"Yes," she said, "when I Googled him I got his website, the-"
"Science of Deduction, oh Jesus," sighed Mike. He looked like he was going to be sick. Jo felt like she was going to be sick, too, but for completely unrelated reasons. To her pleading look Mike pointed her toward the loo, and she tottered in.
Leaning against the edges of the bathroom sink, Jo had to squeeze her eyes shut against the feeling that the floor was swaying underneath her. It felt like when she was twelve and had been on a boat for the first time, and threw up all over her uncle Edward. He hadn't minded much, but she had felt utterly miserable and Harry laughed at her all the way back to shore. The whole floor was rocking back and forth, her head was spinning, and suddenly everything hurt. Then she remembered being in a surgery chock-full of people with the flu, and Mike knew Sherlock, and suddenly things were a bit not good because she was on the floor and Mike was trying to break the lock.
Jo didn't remember the car ride to the hospital, but did recall her head on Annie's lap and the nurses pulling her out of the car to Mike's strained, "Oh, please be careful, she's pregnant!" She was in the hospital for five days while her fever refused to go down and her fluids had to be carefully monitored. By the time they let her out again she was back down the five tenuous pounds she'd gained since coming home and very weak, but at least was out of danger.
After a few days puttering around the bedsit, getting sick of feeling nauseous and tired, she called Mike and said she was ready to meet Sherlock - again.