She's not a surgeon, not any more.

What a waste, everyone tells her. What they don't say is, you could've gone so far, maybe even private surgeon to the blood royal, were it not for that.

Just a mistake, others say and their sympathy worms its way under her skin, lies between veins and nerves and broods and festers. You'll get opportunities elsewhere, perhaps.

By opportunities elsewhere, they usually mean something dignified, something more befitting of her talents. Yes, Joan thinks, it's a pity all that studying and training was all for nothing; what she's doing now is a mockery in microcosm - not only to Victoria Gloriana, but to the Hippocratic Oath, to the Rod of Asclepius she wears on her shoulder as a mark of onetime pride.

.

It wasn't an accident, not like she lets everyone believe.

He had no claim to the throne, for his blood had been watered down through generations of mixing with humans; under the glare of the surgical lights, his blood was a muddy green. It smeared on her gloves, dark and sludgy, green and red and green again; he'd have been human, were it not for the whispering triple-beat of his hearts, ba-da-bump, ba-da-bump, humming beneath her fingers. Nobody would miss him, for there were many of the Queenkin with stronger ties to the blood noble than he did.

She blamed it on exhaustion; a slip of the hand; malpractice. The consequences were not as serious as they could have been. She was sent away, discharged from her position; she only took on another job when she tired of her mother's despairing glances, at the murmured verses of being a surgeon never made you happy, Joanie, it's all for the best that you didn't have to carry on with a job you despised.

.

It hadn't been the same, back when she'd been in college; it had been about saving lives, watching the bloom of colour return to paling flesh.

It should not have been about cold, clammy skin and myriad eyes glazed by an anaesthetic stupor, or triple-beating hearts beneath cartilaginous ribs, the cardiac tissue cool and gelatinous in her hands.

.

Being a sober companion, she thinks, is hardly better because she knows of the vices of the rich and the powerful; the ones with blood more human than Dagonite. Theirs is a pitiful existence, for their minds are too human to understand the whispers and prophecies afforded by their bloodline, too fragile to understand the truth of the Great Ones.

.

Her next client, they tell her, is from Albion. They also say he was exiled by his family for his Restorationist ideas - influenced, perhaps, by the drug they call Reichenbach.

Joan knows better.

.

(she's tasted it before but knows it's all in their minds because what it is, the word they're really looking for is

freedom.)

.

The brownstone Sherlock Holmes lives in is unremarkable, staid. It squats and broods amongst a row of similar buildings; and Joan thinks, fleetingly, of shadows beneath the floorboards, spreading viscous and inky underfoot, crawling to the ceilings and blotting out the lights.

She knocks on the door, one, two, three, in time with the beat of three pale hearts sliding in a shell of surgical steel.

.

"I don't need," Holmes says calmly, "a minder."

Joan thinks of the Dagonite secretary, bleeding green-black as the machines around him whine in protest at her inaction. She thinks of the weight of the scalpel in her hands, the severed arteries and rupturing capillaries, the pallid cardiac tissue stained emerald.

"I'm not taking no for an answer," she says.

.

"You lost a patient," he says. Joan recoils and he smiles thinly. His eyes are pale and nigh-colourless, unwavering as the stare of a fish on a slab.

"Lost-" she begins, and checks herself. The crowd swirls around and past them, flowing and ebbing; Holmes is watching her, watching her watching him. The lie, she thinks, sounds better than the truth, so much less blasphemous. She remembers the files she has on Holmes, jumbled in her room - a madman, they'd called him, but dangerous. A sympathiser of the Restorationist movement; user and abuser of myriad drugs, most notably cocaine and the experimental number they dub Reichenbach. She wonders if he's as good as they say, if he sees the unseen and knows the unknown.

"How did you know," she says instead, letting the falsehood sink into her bones.

Holmes gazes at her, searchingly. "It was unavoidable," he says, slowly, then, "wasn't it?"

"Yes," Joan says and her voice sounds fathoms away, beyond star-strewn space and saltwater and the whispers of the Great Ones.

"I'd have done it too," he says, and strides into the crowd. It washes over him as a tide swallows a raft and she follows.