Sometimes John forgot that Sherlock lived in a completely different world.
“Cousin Samantha?” He repeated incredulously. “She’s your cousin?”
He put his paper down on the chipped formica tabletop, the broadsheet folded across the photograph of a brunette smiling for the camera. The sheets fluttered unsteadily in the sharp November air so John placed his coffee spoon in the middle of the photo to keep the newspaper still.
“Who?” Sherlock’s eyes were glassy, a sure sign that he was bored out of his mind and not actually listening. They had not had a case for two weeks, and Sherlock had taken to dragging John out on a crawl of his favourite haunts, on the off-chance that they might accidentally stumble into a massacre or kidnapping.
That particular afternoon – an afternoon John should have spent playing locum, but was evidently destined to be lost babysitting – they had taken a break from crime-hunting to refresh themselves in a quiet café tucked away off Queensway. Despite the chilly air, nearly all the patrons were outside, sipping strong, thick Turkish coffee and occasionally chatting to each other animatedly. John didn’t care about the shisha, but the coffee was vital, and he was already on his second cup. A bored Sherlock, it turned out, was also an insomniac Sherlock, and an insomniac Sherlock tended to play the violin at all hours until John stomped downstairs and threatened to shoot him.
“But you like listening to me play,” Sherlock had eventually responded in a piqued voice.
This was true enough, but ‘like’ and ‘play’ are both subjective terms at 3am, and Sherlock, true to form, had been working his way through the Chaconne. It was one of John’s least favourite pieces, which of course had sent it right to the top of Sherlock’s repertoire.
“Don’t be obtuse,” Sherlock had said disdainfully when he brought it up. “I haven’t chosen it simply because you dislike it.”
“But that does feature as a reason?”
“Not the main reason.”
“But a reason.”
“Must I have a reason?”
“It’s cacophonic, Sherlock, it sounds like you’re torturing that poor violin.”
This had elicited a flush. “I have not yet mastered it. A little torture is inevitable.”
John had not responded to that. On the fourth evening spent listening to the fifth movement and contemplating yet another sleepless night, he had snapped. Marching downstairs past an oblivious Sherlock, he had looked up the piece online to check what it was meant to sound like. John was certain that Sherlock couldn’t get something to sound quite that awful through incompetence; it must have been written poorly. The violin sounded faint and tinny through his cheap speakers. John concentrated. Nearby, Sherlock raised an eyebrow at the sound and paused to let the recording catch up.
For a moment, the flat was suddenly, blissfully silent.
Suddenly, Sherlock started up again, in perfect time with the electronic noise. John realised that Sherlock had been working his way through the entire fifth movement very faithfully indeed. The bits that sounded particularly strangled were most certainly intended to sound that way. John had thought he simply must not have the ear for such things. Or maybe Bach was pissing in someone’s tea by that point.
When the fifth movement finally finished, Sherlock had grimaced at some unnoticeable error and examined the violin as if it had personally slighted him.
John had taken the opportunity to escape. “I’m going to bed now,” he’d informed Sherlock with as much decorum as he could muster in a t-shirt and pants, and had stomped off upstairs. Downstairs, Sherlock had paused precisely ten minutes before, once again, starting from the very beginning. John had buried his head beneath his pillow and resolved to wait until morning.
So there they were the next day: Sherlock, irritated and bored, casting about for something to do, and John, just this close to committing caffeine-induced homicide. Sherlock’s hair was messy above the raised collar of his coat, the heavy camel fabric tucked haphazardly around him like a blanket. His gaze was fixed about three inches above John’s left eyebrow, as if he could compel whoever was pulling John’s strings to be more entertaining.
John, meanwhile, had other concerns. “Samantha Cameron,” he said again, shaking his head. He squinted at the photograph again, looking for the familial resemblance. Maybe around the eyes?
“Who?” Sherlock was definitely not listening.
John brandished the paper, folded so that the photograph was centre-stage.
“Your cousin Samantha! Samantha Sheffield, I suppose you’ll know her as, rather than Samantha Cameron. So, do you still keep in – what am I saying, of course you don’t. Your mother probably has to do all that on your behalf. You don’t even know who she’s married to, do you?”
He was suddenly filled with the urge to call Sarah. Sarah would understand. Sarah would find the whole thing as bloody ridiculous as he did. Sarah would know, he was sure, that this wasn’t normal, that normal people didn’t –
Oh, who was he kidding? “You really have no idea,” he said, shaking his head. Un-fucking-believable.
Sherlock seemed not the least disturbed by his incredulity. “The man sitting at the table in the corner,” he mused instead, “He’s not allowed here. I think I need to report him. I read somewhere that I need to report him. This is definitely one of those non-optional things.” He held out his hand expectantly. His cuffs hung loosely around his bony wrists. “I need your phone.”
John had his phone out and slid it resignedly across the table, avoiding the scatterings of sugar left by a previous patron. With Sherlock, you either kicked up a fuss every time you made the tea, or you learned to fetch and carry on autopilot. John didn’t have anywhere near the level of resistance towards tea-making that Mrs Hudson seemed to have abruptly developed, choosing instead to yield with as much grace as possible to a life of Jeevesian dimensions. However, this matter he was not prepared to let go. He continued, pouring exasperation out into the cold air.
“You don’t know who the Prime Minister is, but you’ve had Christmas dinners with Samantha Cameron!”
He shook his head again and took another sip of his espresso, making a face when he realised it was stone cold. He looked around the café, trying to find a waiter. A large family had wandered in and had crowded around the cake counter, the children gesturing exuberantly at the sticky, syrupy sweets on display. The youngest was still strapped into her pram and was making her displeasure known by kicking her father’s shin with increasing vigour.
On the other side of the café, the waiter was clearing away some cups and plates and studiously avoiding John’s gaze. Damn it. “Excuse me,” John said, as loudly as he dared. “Could I –” The waiter seemed determined to ignore him.
“Finjan qahwe, min fadlak,” Sherlock said sharply but without looking up. He was texting one-handed whilst waving in the direction of the brightly-coloured decorative bottles around the counter. “Wa-shisha aydun.”
The waiter nodded, resigned, and returned behind the counter to the coffee machine, the newly-arrived family still undecided between the vast array of sweets available.
As he gesticulated, John saw that Sherlock’s left arm was more or less covered in nicotine patches: John had learned to pick his battles so didn’t mention this.
“Who are you texting?” he asked instead, liberating his phone from Sherlock’s careless grip where it dangled, lazily.
“What?” Sherlock looked a million miles away, his lips pressed together so tightly they had all but disappeared. “Oh, the hotline.”
“There’s a hotline?” Of course there was. It was what you had nowadays instead of direct contact with the public and the police: call centres. For thousands of busybodies, nimbies and other “concerned citizens” to vent their concern. Which nobody would then do anything about. There was probably a hotline for burnt toast.
John stared at Sherlock’s pinched expression for a moment, hesitating. He lifted his spoon as discretely as he could manage, angling it carefully to look at the reflection of someone seated several tables behind them at the far corner of the room, almost hidden inside the café. There, a middle-aged, balding white man sat in a plain blue suit with a red poppy pinned to the lapel. He was reading the Financial Times and emptying what looked like his third packet of sugar into a tiny espresso cup. Ordinary enough, he thought, but then, they always are, aren’t they?
“He doesn’t look like a sex offender,” John said eventually.
“They don’t tend to wear badges.” Sherlock looked rather pleased at John’s leap of deduction, then suspicious. The pinched look wavered for a couple of seconds, eventually yielding into half a smile.
“How did you work it out?” He asked, his nose wrinkling. “You didn’t look at him when we came in, and you haven’t turned around once.”
“I might have turned around when you weren’t looking,” John pointed out, amused. He hadn’t, actually, but nevertheless he had worked it out without that.
The surrounding area was known for good cafés, poor parking, and the high cost of housing – a sure sign that it was within the catchments of at least a couple of good schools. Add to that Sherlock’s certainty that the man wasn’t allowed here – and the fact that he drew Sherlock’s notice at all - and there were only a limited number of conclusions he could have drawn. Limited number of conclusions, he thought to himself, and had to stop himself from smiling. Sherlock had been rubbing off on him; even his patterns of thinking were starting to change. Would he have thought of it quite like that a year ago? Would he have even thought to look?
Sherlock shook his head, then grinned widely. “Backwards induction is a poor man’s game.”
“In this instance,” John stretched slightly, clearing space on the table for the waiter to set down the espresso refill and the lip of the shisha pipe, “beggars can’t be choosers. Shukran.”
“Hmmmm.” Sherlock rubbed the lip of the pipe between his fingers, warming it up. The shisha bottle was bright green and slender, twisting to sit neatly against the edge of the table and out of the way. “It’s not a good habit, though.”
John did not actually care overly much about the reasoning behind Sherlock’s deduction, satisfied that the matter had been dealt with. “So, you seriously don’t know who she married?” He asked again.
Sherlock sighed and finally gave him his full attention. “No, John, I have no idea who my cousin married. I know that Mummy was in a frightful state about it, she wouldn’t shut up about poor old Sam marrying so far beneath her, but she eventually decided that he was decent enough, even if he is dull as dishwater. Are you happy now?”
John digested this in silence. “She married beneath her? On second thoughts, no, don’t tell me.” Far better for my peace of mind that I don’t know.
Sherlock was already bored with it all, and trying to work out if any other café patrons were wearing electronic tags.
Typical, John thought, with the ease of one slipping into self-parody. Of course it was. Any minute now Sherlock would look around impatiently and John would find himself inexplicably opening the door for him, playing the role of butler as if he had been born to it. “I’m tired,” he said abruptly, struggling to his feet. “I’m going to go home.”
Sherlock blinked up at him, startled. “All right,” he said after a moment. “I’ll go with you.”
“No, it’s fine. I’ll enjoy the walk.”
He was out of the door before Sherlock’s expression could resolve into something recognisable.
“I’ll enjoy the walk.” I’m a bloody idiot.
As it turned out, Queensway to Baker Street was a bloody long walk, and what with the November weather nearing Siberian levels, he spent most of the walk wondering whether his leg would pack it in entirely, or if he’d capitulate and get a cab. Sherlock would notice, though, and comment which would make him more annoyed with him than he already was.
He struggled on, his limp becoming more pronounced as he made his slow way past Regent’s Park. He didn’t even know why he was so annoyed. Something had rubbed him up the wrong way, obviously, but he couldn’t put his finger on what and was frankly too tired to try to figure it out.
Needless to say, it started raining.
By the time he got in, it was going on 5pm and already dark. The streets were still full to the brim with tourists struggling through the freezing drizzle, the evening spill of office workers not yet sufficient to force them back to the shopping districts. John burrowed his way further into his coat, clenching his hands in his pockets to force a little bit of circulation to them. His keys felt like a small collection of knives as he tried to wrap his uncooperative fingers around them, clumsily working the lock and letting himself in.
Inside – blissful silence.
I’m just going to grab a bite, he thought, heading up to the first floor. I’ll grab a bite and have an early night.
He made it as far as the sofa.
Someone had thrown a blanket over him during the night. He could feel the warmth of morning sunlight on his face, where the curtains had been left open. He could hear the low strains of Sherlock’s violin from above, slowly working his way through Finzi’s Requiem de Camera. He recognised it and lay silently listening, his body too tired and befuddled to do anything other than absorb the sound.
I should tell him to stop it, John thought, and continued to do nothing of the kind. His leg ached, his shoulder throbbed, his head swam and still the violin played, and played, and –
Outside the window, London’s noisy, unrelenting traffic slowed to a standstill. The television filtering up the staircase from Mrs Hudson’s endless parade of soap operas and Countdown faded away.
As the clock ticked past 11am, John opened his eyes, blinking.
A few minutes later, Sherlock came downstairs, his violin tucked under one arm.
John sat up on the sofa. He still had his outdoor clothes on, the zip on his coat had left an imprint of the tag on his left cheek. He rubbed at the twinge in his shoulder and winced.
“I can do that,” Sherlock said, and put his violin down. He dropped down uninvited on the sofa, scrabbling up on long legs to perch on the backrest, his bony knees framing John’s back.
John tensed at the first touch of fingers on his shoulders. “You don’t need to –“ he started, stung. The violin had been a nice touch, he’d be the first to say – of course, of course he’d say it, he wasn’t going to sulk like a child, but –
“I know,” Sherlock said. He put his hands on John’s shoulders, fingers closing over flesh and scar tissue. “But I want to.”
John paused a beat; two. He could feel himself wavering, his anger seeping away. “Samantha Sheffield,” he said after a moment, unwilling to let it go. “You really have no idea who this Cameron chap she married is?”
He could feel Sherlock’s breath on the back of his neck in an impatient exhalation. Then, “no; I really don’t.”
“I...” John began again, his shoulders tensing as he tried to sit up.
Sherlock pushed him down firmly but gently, keeping him on the sofa.
“Wait. That’s not – oh, fuck it, John. That doesn’t mean I don’t know anything else about the... I mean -”
He stumbled to a halt.
John held himself perfectly still. Feeling the argument brewing, the one about how Sherlock was just so wilfully disconnected, paying no attention to the things that concerned everyone else because he was too busy paying attention to the things that no-one else saw. And he knew how stupid that argument was, how pointless it was to say those things and how badly it would end.
Sherlock seemed to be thinking too. No doubt about the patterns of comets and their relevance to Niger Delta folklore. His hands remained on John’s shoulders, loose, light and cool.
Finally, he spoke.
“I don’t know who she married. You’re right, it doesn’t matter to me.”
A pause. His hands recommenced their practiced and professional untangling of John’s aching shoulder.
“Except it does, of course. Of course it matters to me, because it matters to you. And because you matter to me.”
He reached out one fine-fingered hand and touched the poppy pinned to John’s coat, smoothing down the crumpled petals.
The traffic had picked up again, and the paused conversations outside had resumed. John could hear Mrs Hudson downstairs, clattering around the kitchen and humming The Archers in an off-tune soprano.
The world turned. John exhaled, unaware he had been holding his breath.
“Would you play the Chaconne again?” He asked abruptly.
He felt Sherlock shift from behind him and slip away to stand in front of the window, his violin raised. The bow jerked across the strings in the broken, ragged opening phrase, more cacophony than music.
John closed his eyes. Outside, it began to snow.