She’s pre-med and she’s got her whole life ahead of her, made her parents proud and got a date with a boy in law school the week after next. She stays in the library until ten at night, plays for her college hockey team, and her future is one paved in gold. She turns out the light one cold October night and goes to sleep and it hits her like a bullet wound to the chest, aeons of power stamping through the centre of all that she is and clawing its way through her veins like a virus. She went to bed human, and she wakes up something else.
When she went to sleep she was just a girl, and it’s ten years or more until she learns her harshest lesson: there is no such thing as just a girl.
“Do you know what you are?” says what she’d thought was a frat boy, his face twisting wrong in the low light of the streetlamp, and she cuts off his head with a piece of scrap metal, stares at the long gashes left in her hands by jagged steel, does not know the word, but knows -- dust on the ground and fire beneath her skin -- that the answer remains stronger than you.
The Watcher they send her is cold and efficient and never kind. He demands that she calls him Mr Holmes, and does not smile when she learns her lessons. He does not care about civilian casualties and orders her repeatedly to move further south. She ignores him, focuses on the girls whose necks run red and the boys whose bones are broken. She is a Slayer, the Slayer, but she is not only a killer. She is not a weapon to be aimed and fired.
One sunny June day, she tells him so, and Edmund Holmes smiles for the very first time before his Slayer, and shoots her in the heart.
“You were useless to the Mission,” he tells her, and when he walks away he does not look back.
She wakes up and she’s still not human, her chest stitched up and now she’s not the only Slayer in the world. Someone called 911, but she knows in her bones that it wasn’t Edmund Holmes. Her parents cry at her bedside, and she tells them the same story that she’ll shortly tell the police: the scar she’ll wear forever is the result of a mugging gone wrong. She drops out of college and moves back in with her parents, and six months later she joins the NYPD.
She’s not the only Slayer in the world, but Joan Watson’s still the only Slayer in town.
Three years go past pretty fast, and there are vampires in the sewers and werewolves in the low rises and demons in Manhattan. The Council never come back for her, and eventually she learns that they’ve got a skinny little blonde kid down in California, and it’s always in the back of her mind that if she can get the firepower she’ll rescue this Buffy girl herself. (She shudders to even think about what it must be like to have the Council’s claws in you at just sixteen years old.)
They leave her alone for three whole years, and then a Scottish man in a leather jacket knocks at her door and tell her that the Slayer’s gone rogue.
“Buffy what’s-her-name?” asks Joan, and he cocks his head, says, “No. There are two of them.”
“No,” she says, zipping up her boots, “There really aren’t.”
She never even makes it to the border, finds herself in a diner in Texas at eleven at night, tinny country music on the radio and every person in the joint pretending not to stare.
“Reckon only about half of them are lookin’ at you, pet,” says the man who slumps down opposite her, and his nails are black and his hair is bleached and he is not at all a man.
“I’ll kill you even with everybody watching, if you were wondering,” she says, calmly, and he leans back, grins, says, “Never knew there was another one of you. Word was that trick they pulled with that bint in California was the first one of its kind.”
“I doubt that very much,” says Joan, and William the Bloody taps a lacquered fingernail on the table, smirks fit to bust, says, “I’m comin’ back for you, love, don’t you fret.”
“I’d like to see you try,” says Joan, and, for once, it’s her turn not to look back.
She goes back to New York, still the Slayer spare, one of her sisters in prison and the other still resolutely under the Council’s thumb -- and she’s heard about Ripper, heard about what he did in another city with a demon tongue on his lips and an awful lot of blood on his hands -- and it’s just another day on the job when she looks up from an arrest form and says, “Holmes?”
“Indeed,” says the man with a long, thin scar through his eyebrow, slit through his right eyelid and clean through his cheekbone, too, and both of his eyes are very wild and very, very clever, “Oh, dear. Have you met Daddy?”
She lets her face go cold and guarded, and he rolls his shoulders, keeps his cuffed hands clasped together, says, “Of course you have, because you were his Slayer. I’d apologise, but you know Daddy. It’s much too late for saying sorry.”
“You’re Edmund’s son?” she hisses, and he raises the eyebrow not marred with scar tissue, says, “I’m a Watcher, too. Or I used to be. Now I, er, consult.”
“You’re a junkie,” she says, flatly, “You’ve been arrested for possession four times in the past three years. How are you even still in the country?”
“My big brother’s a diplomat,” he says, “By which I mean he is the head of MI6’s Occult Division, and he could kill the President of the United States just by thinking about it. They’d have better luck trying to deport the Statue of Liberty. Can I go now?”
“No,” says Joan, “No, Mr Holmes, you can’t.”
She pulls up in front of her apartment, and says, “I don’t have a Watcher anymore.”
“I feel like this goes beyond stating the obvious,” says Holmes, and she meets his eyes, says, “But I’d like one. Your father taught me almost nothing. I can’t do magic. I can kill vampires but I couldn’t tell you a single genus of demon. You can.”
“Obviously,” says Holmes, like she just said something terribly stupid, “In my sleep. But I’m not a Watcher anymore.”
“I’m not the Slayer anymore,” says Joan, “But go to rehab, get clean, and we’ll sort something out.”
“I--” says Holmes, and then slumps in his seat, a flash of ink at his wrist, a nod.
He gets out and he’s manic, his hair filthy and in t-shirts he bought in a job lot from a thrift store the day after she picked him up from the hospital. He brings nothing to her apartment but two heavy trunks; one full of books and the other full of weapons. It turns out that when he isn’t high he fights dirty-- filthy, in fact, exactly like the wild thing she once saw lurking behind his eyes. He can use every hand-held weapon to a proficiency level that astonishes even her, favours a thin silver-tipped sword of Japanese steel and a crossbow which he loads with metal and wood in equal measure. When he speaks in Ancient Greek her entire building shakes; and what he raises from the earth in Latin makes even demons nervous.
Two weeks clean and they’re climbing out the sewer, his t-shirt torn and all the ink of his chest laid bare, and she says, “Did you do that with magic?”
Holmes looks down and shrugs, says, “You can. But buying something with blood is the oldest sort of magic there is.”
“It had to hurt?” says Joan, and instantly regrets it, and he rubs at the tattoo on the inside of his arm, says, “Yes. Exactly.”
She is not the Slayer and he is not the Slayer’s Watcher, but their roles are almost as old as human civilisation and they fall into them without even truly having to try. She kills twenty or thirty vamps a night, and he stands at her shoulder, twisting cheesewire between his fingers that he’s cursed with a spell five centuries old, a stake in his belt and blood between his teeth.
She looks dangerous and she always has, but he only looks dangerous to the sort of person who worries that he might have a knife under his battered jacket and be thinking about using it to demand money from them in a dark, dark alley. He looks street but not deadly, and time passes and time passes and he gets them into places she’d never have got into alone, old scars in the crooks of his arms and he knows all the right things to say, to pantomime, and no one ever thinks that the junkie could break your neck with his bare hands.
“I could snap you in fuckin’ half,” snarls the leader of a vampire nest in the Bronx, and Holmes grins, giddy and nasty, at Joan, pulls his holy water-wrought knife out of his boot, says, “It’s so very charming that you think so, old boy.”
“He’s my CI,” she tells her boss, and, miraculously -- “No such thing as miracles, Watson,” says Holmes, cheerfully, “And I would know.” -- it seems to stick.
Six months, and Holmes gets a cross tattooed across his collarbone; the words of the vade retro satana curling up his neck like ivy. Joan settles for a tiny tattoo at the small of her back, another cross, which matches Holmes’s in style if not in size. The ink contains miniscule traces of the Host, and every vampire that touches them burns. (Holmes, bless him, still laughs every single time.)
Seven months and Joan kills a vampire Angelus made, or so it’s told, and she tells the story of the Texas diner to Holmes, who smiles, impressed -- but all for her -- and says, “I hear he prefers Spike, now. If he comes here, I’ll kill that bastard myself.”
Ten months and every horror in the dark of New York City knows for sure that there’s a Slayer in town, and the crime rate drops by 2%. The Mayor takes all the credit, and Holmes curses every single one of his official vehicles. Joan pretends to be annoyed, but not very hard.
A year becomes two, becomes three, and they’re poor and the world is getting badder by the day. Holmes remains the best warlock she’s ever met -- and by now, she’s met a few -- and he says that any wind which comes from the South is tinged with hellfire.
“We could be the last frontier, Watson,” says Holmes, blood dripping down his face from a head wound, and Joan shushes him, remembers what her hands were taught to do, almost seven years ago, cleans him up and knocks him out and stands at her window, knows that if they come to take her city they’ll have to kill her properly, this time around.
“Move and you’re dead,” says Holmes, and the two most famous vampires in history roll their eyes at each other until the dark-haired one says, “We’re here to help.”
“Yeah, right, mate,” says the other, flopping down on Joan’s couch, “We come in peace, and all that wank.”
“You told my Slayer that you would kill her,” says Holmes, and Spike’s grin melts off his face, and he looks away from Angel, whose face is setting into a rictus of familiar frustration.
“Er, yeah,” says Spike, “But I didn’t have a soul then, did I?”
“Allow me to illuminate this situation for you,” says Holmes, closing his fingers around the pulsing, bloodred stone in his hand, “We are the last stronghold of this city. Every Slayer that misguided woman in California created is long gone. My Slayer is not here because I required her to leave the building in order to allow me to perform a spell so dangerous it could level Brooklyn. You have precisely one minute to justify why I should not kill you in payment for four centuries of human suffering, or you will discover how I got this scar.”
“Fuckin’ hell,” says Spike, who does not even seem to have noticed that Angel’s hand has gravitated to his shoulder, “All right, son, put the pin back in it, we’ve got one of you back home and one’s more than enough.”
“Wesley Wyndham-Pryce says that you know more about the Shanshu Prophecy than anybody else alive,” says Angel, hurriedly, “Two vampires, both got souls, care to illuminate that?”
“You know,” says Holmes, musing, “I only asked you in because I knew how much it would amuse Joan to kill you, but I can smell the soul on both of you. Oh, well. I shan’t ever win them all. Sit down. And do be quiet. I haven’t seen Wes in a year or two, but he must be becoming significantly less intense if he can listen to the two of you jibber-jabber non-stop. Now, which of you has been to Hell--”
Joan watches the vampires leave, Holmes at her back with a crossbow in his hand and his eyes wide and deadly, and she does not ask him what he told them, because it is enough to know that they’re gone.
“I’ll tell you, anyway,” says Holmes, and Joan puts the kettle on, waits for him to finish drawing Enochian on their living room windows, and when her back is to him, smiles the smile she knows that he knows she’s wearing just for him.
“That was Father on the phone,” says Holmes, and Joan could swear that his eyes are red from crying, “He says Wesley Wyndham-Pryce is dead.”
“Lock-down, then,” she says, and Holmes starts to shove at their couch, so he can get to the weapons cache they keep beneath the floorboards, says, “I am the last Watcher in the continental US.”
“And I’m the last Slayer,” says Joan, “We were born for this, Sherlock. Isn’t that what they taught you? That there only ever has to be two of us.”
“Still,” says Holmes, “An army wouldn’t go amiss, I’m sure you agree?”
“Not at all,” she says, and pushes the coach out of the way with a flick of her hand, just to prove her point.
“Los Angeles is burning,” says Holmes, his eyes gone black with magic and his tattoos swirling over his skin like the streams of a river. He’s been drunk on the magic of the city for days, the scar through his eyebrow running as black as his eyes, and he’s started seeing things before they happen, smelling death on the wind, moving as fast as Joan does, and she’d worry that it was going to burn him out, a new addiction, another thing that might drag him down into the dark-- but she knows better now, knows that warlocks are born, not made, and that to rip this out of him would be much, much worse than letting him let loose with his chaos.
“You’re not in Los Angeles,” says Joan, patient and quiet, and he smirks, says, “Quite. Maybe Spike’s dead. We can but hope. What a prick.”
“Hold my hand,” says Joan, and Holmes does without even thinking about it, then turns his obsidian gaze to hers, says, “I do hope we can play doctors and nurses later.”
“If we get out of this alive I’ll tie you to the bed with those chains you think I don’t know about,” she says, and it’s not even a little bit of a lie, years of frustration and longing and delicate balance breaking inside of her, and Holmes smiles, the mirror that she never knew she needed, presses his nose into her hair, says, “No need, Watson. No need.”
“Hmmm,” says Joan, and he grins against her temple, says “But it would be rather fun.”
“This is our city,” says Joan, as the Manhattan skyline crumbles, a sword in her hand and her hair hacked short, and Holmes stands, as ever, at her back, rolls his shoulders, lifts a hand full of magic so hot it makes the rain around him turn to steam, says, “What’s the phrase I’m looking for? Oh, yes-- come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough.”
The city answers them with the hiss of demontongue and vampire growls, and Joan grits her teeth, Holmes snarls, and it is probably too late, it is probably too late-- but they were born to this, for this, and if New York isn’t theirs, it damn well isn’t going to be anybody else’s.
“I’ll die doing this,” Joan had said once, long ago, and so had Holmes, and it’s only ten years later that they both learn that knowing your own fate is anything but a curse.
“You will,” Edmund Holmes told them, because he didn’t understand-- war is about soldiers, not battles.
“I love you,” says Sherlock Holmes, in a New York City sewer, with blood in his hair and black shot through his scar and broken bones that are never going to heal, and Joan Watson answers him with the gun he’d loaded that very morning, because if someone must kill him-- if someone must kill her-- well. He’s spent the past ten years knowing that there is no situation in which he will not pick her, regardless of the cost.
“I know,” says Joan Watson, the last of her kind, and pulls the trigger.