John gets into Sherlock’s bunk at three a.m. Sherlock isn’t sleeping, wasn’t expecting to sleep tonight, but sometimes shutting the curtains and closing away the world (his band) is preferable to the alternatives.
Sherlock doesn’t like physical contact and John knows this, but he doesn’t mind it as much from John as he does from, say, Molly, and John also knows this. It would be exhausting, if Sherlock would allow it to be exhausting. As it is, it’s merely irritating with an undercurrent of disquieting.
They lie in uncomfortable, cramped silence and Sherlock contemplates the logistics of shoving a bandmate with a known shoulder injury and a part-time psychosomatic limp onto the tourbus floor, and how hard he’d have to push to ensure there would be no consequent further injury. John is warm and smells of sleep and it’s too much in a confined space.
John exhales slowly. “You don’t write love songs,” he says. “You write about other things and people misinterpret them because in the right lighting they look like love songs. But they’re not.”
Three albums and four years and hours and hours and hours of living on the road and John is only asking this now. It’s significant; Sherlock isn’t sure how yet, but he will be. It’s something to do tonight, at least.
“No,” he says because John expects it. He doesn’t usually bother with other people’s expectations, but John taught him early on that the way to manage a tour without it descending into chaos and psychological torture is to concede just enough.
John makes a little humming sound and slides back out of the bunk again without saying anything more. The blanket is warm from where he was lying, and Sherlock shifts away from it, closing his eyes and knitting his fingers together. The bus is quiet, but for the humming of the engine, and Sherlock tunes into it and breathes.
“I’ve made coffee,” Molly offers in the morning. As though Sherlock cannot smell the coffee, didn’t hear her getting up and clicking the kitchen appliances – such as they are – on. He opens his mouth, then catches the look John is shooting him over his mug. It’s a look Sherlock is coming to resent, the longer they spend on tour.
He changes his snap to: “two sugars”. Molly doesn’t make good coffee, but it’s not as terrible as when Lestrade makes it, so that’s something.
John’s mouth twists; it’s not a smile, and there are a lot of emotions in it. Exhaustion, awkwardness – last night is clearly still weighing on John’s mind – congratulations for Sherlock’s forced politeness, frustration that it’s still necessary to instruct him, and the warmth of real friendship that John still insists on feeling. John likes Sherlock, even after years of enclosed spaces and sleepless nights and the bitterest of personal arguments. Sherlock has no idea why.
Molly brings Sherlock his coffee and then buries herself in the latest of the endless ream of crime-related paperbacks she brings on tour with them; Sherlock can usually figure out the murderer from the blurb, but she’s told him to stop doing that. John’s tapping away at their latest band blog entry – Molly takes care of the twitter account, messily excited sentences punctuated by too many exclamation marks – with his usual slightly-irregular rhythm, both soothing and jarring in Sherlock’s head.
“You’re terrible at morning small talk, you know,” John remarks eventually, getting up to refill his mug.
“I don’t like asking questions to which I already know the answers,” Sherlock points out.
Molly’s mouth twitches behind her book, and John sounds flatly amused when he says: “oh, we know.”
Mycroft’s voice sounds like wood panelling and thin porcelain and long dark evenings avoiding each other’s eyes. Sherlock considers sighing for the briefest of moments but doesn’t bother in the end; his brother will hear it anyway, there’s no need for even the slightest of slips.
They’ve had this conversation a hundred times, so many that it almost isn’t worth it any more. Well, if you want to be entirely accurate it was never worth it, but they’re brothers and nothing is ever easy between them.
(Sherlock writes songs about Mycroft sometimes; strings of stinging lyrics, the words they both know off by heart from arguments they never actually had, plotted out and brooded over and left to never be spoken aloud. He’d never allow them to be recorded. That’s giving away too much and in any case, God knows what Mycroft would do to retaliate.)
“I’m not coming home,” Sherlock says at last, sweeping over the fact there isn’t really a home to return to and Mycroft never specifically asked in the first place. He leans his head against the bus window, stares until the street goes grey and blurred and he doesn’t have to count every last bloody car manufacturer and try to make some kind of meaning out of it all.
“Of course not.” Brisk, clipped, with the pretence of understanding. Expensive shagpile carpets, tasteful cufflinks, mutinous kicking at a locked bedroom door until the toes of his shoes were scuffed beyond repair.
Sherlock still feels like a child around Mycroft; he used to hope it would get better, and now he knows it never will. “I don’t care what you think,” he responds to the opinion Mycroft doesn’t need to voice. “It isn’t about the attention.”
“If it were about the music and not the attention you would be happy playing your violin alone in a room,” Mycroft tells him.
Sherlock hangs up on him.
John was a soldier, once. He has a tremor in his hand in days of inactivity, an ache in his leg that exists purely in the battle-shattered remains of his mind, and a scar spat across the skin of his shoulder that Sherlock knows by heart from years of living on top of each other. He’s quiet and generally placid and plays the steadiest bass guitar Sherlock has ever heard. He’s good and, more than that, he’s reliable.
And when he’s angry, he’s remarkable.
“Delicious, isn’t it?” Jim says, offering Sherlock a drag of his cigarette. The nicotine patches on his arm itch as he automatically shakes his head; Jim’s mouth tilts and Sherlock ignores it. This is par for the course.
“It certainly makes a change,” Sherlock replies neutrally, gaze shifting over Lestrade watching John with a mixture of amusement and respect, Molly’s eyes wide as she taps her paired drumsticks against her lower lip.
Jim leans back in his chair, throwing out expansive arms and trailing cigarette smoke. He’s in a worn t-shirt, jeans, trainers with the rubber soles peeling away. Two days of careful stubble, a smile he practiced in the bathroom mirrors of motels. He’s wearing his favourite mask of normality, the one that gets him pinned to the walls of teenage girls.
Sherlock should never have allowed him into the band. Jim is dangerous.
They watch John yell about safety concerns, about lies the venue told, firm-voiced and hard-eyed. John truly is magnificent when he’s furious.
“Really, he should just regale them with his military career,” Jim muses, flicking away the ash. “Tell them he can kill them with his bare hands in eighteen ways and so on.”
Sherlock steeples his fingertips. “Why do that when we all know you can in twenty-two.”
Jim quirks his eyebrows, takes a lazy drag of his cigarette. Sherlock looks back to John, the coiled tension in his limbs.
“We need this sorted,” John finishes, soft and sharp, “alright?”
He finally looks away from the venue manager; Sherlock blinks, caught.
“They’re calling you a ‘reclusive genius’ again,” John observes.
Lestrade laughs, hiding it behind his coffee mug; Molly sighs. Sherlock isn’t sure he knows what that means anymore; there was a time when he did know, and then John called him a bastard every day for six weeks and things are possibly different now. Too many social cues that are difficult to read, the tightening of skin, white knuckles on the edge of the table.
“One way of putting it,” Lestrade remarks. He looks tired; another late night phonecall with the ex wife, of course.
“There are worse media nicknames to have,” John points out, clicking rapidly at something on his laptop screen.
“It’s because you won’t give interviews,” Molly says abruptly.
Out of the corner of his eye, Sherlock sees John and Lestrade shift in their seats. Molly tends to stay quiet and not venture opinions on anything to do with Sherlock.
“I don’t pander to anyone,” Sherlock tells her.
John puts his mug down on the table too hard; Sherlock knows him well enough to know that it’s meant as a warning, but he’s perfectly content to pretend he hasn’t heard.
“I know,” Molly replies, eyes on her fingernails.
“They don’t need to know anything about me,” Sherlock insists. “They can take or leave the music without finding out my opinions on chord progressions or whether I like Coke or Pepsi.”
“You don’t like either,” John mumbles, gaze on his laptop screen.
“Yes, well,” Lestrade says loudly, speaking over everyone, “sooner or later they’re going to stop calling you reclusive and start referring to you as an up-yourself dick, and it’ll be a whole lot more accurate.”
Sherlock owes Lestrade everything. It would all be a lot easier if he didn’t.
“It’s good to be home,” Molly sighs.
Jim rolls his eyes; he’s sprawled across half of the sofa area looking bored. He reaches for his pocket; John, Sherlock and Lestrade all snap: “no cigarettes on the bus.”
It’s boring being on the wagon, but they all know Sherlock is going to smoke two cartons of cigarettes a week when writing the next album anyway, and lung cancer is nowhere on his list of future plans.
Molly’s I need to be away from all of you is unspoken but plain, and Sherlock is looking forward to his own space and quiet. Sometimes John makes jokes about how Sherlock picked the most stupid career possible, one filled with things he absolutely hates. It’s true, but sitting alone in a Mycroft-funded room with his violin didn’t appeal either.
London is wet, brutal with it, and it’s glorious. The dirty streets are glittering and there are useless, vivid, boring people spilling past the windows of the bus. Every last one of them a tiny, pointless shard of the broken picture that is his city, and he loves and hates them in his own way.
Jim snaps his bubblegum, breaking him out of his thoughts, and Sherlock turns his attention to him and the brutal glinting edge of his smirk. Jim’s eyes flicker, smug, and John’s hand quivers momentarily.
Later, their bags unloaded, there’s the expected moment of awkward silence as they stand and look at each other. Sherlock knows the pleasantries – false or otherwise – from endless television sets in hotel rooms, but nobody ever says them.
“Well,” Molly mumbles, gaze dropping to her flats, already letting in rain.
“I’ll share a taxi with you,” Lestrade tells her, dropping a hand to her shoulder, giving Sherlock a significant look, the one he always gives before leaving. Sherlock nods and sighs and tuts a little, enough to spark a smirk from him, and then he and Molly are heading out onto the pavement.
Jim pops the collar of his coat, grins something wolfish. “Until next time, darling,” he purrs, puckers his lips in a kiss equal parts antagonism and threat, and is gone before John’s jaw can even clench. And then it’s just Sherlock and John; they exchange looks and burst into childish laughter, meaningless and messy and wonderful.
“Oh,” John breathes, pressing his face into Sherlock’s shoulder for a moment, “oh, fuck. I don’t know why I joined your stupid band.”
Sherlock knows exactly why, but now isn’t the time. John pulls back, pulling one of his crumpled smiles across his face.
“Take care of yourself,” he says. “I’ll know if you don’t. I’ll know.”
His Baker Street flat is as he left it, covered in a scab of papers with inadequate words, magazines with reviews he swore he wouldn’t read, and receipts for things he doesn’t remember buying. There’s a string of musical notes still carved into the wallpaper of the hallway; he hums the melody and it’s no worse than the last time. Maybe one day he’ll even use it.
The fridge is stocked up; he’s not entirely sure if it’s his landlady’s doing or Mycroft’s, and resolves not to eat anything until he has a concrete answer. There are words in Sharpie on the kitchen table, disjointed and backwards. Perhaps he had a Leonardo da Vinci phase, somewhere in the haze of writing the last album, needles and balloons and peeling dried vomit off the bathroom tiles with his fingernails. He doesn’t remember a lot of it, doesn’t need to remember it.
Other people remember it, which is tiresome. But the hospital let him keep the sheet he wrote lyrics all over, and Mycroft kept it out of the papers, and it’s in John’s eyes too often for comfort and determinedly never in Molly’s.
Home, then. Home, to the skull on his mantelpiece and the notebooks in his bed and hiding places no one else could ever dare to think of and the slightest smudge of red nail varnish on the edge of a coaster that tells him Irene’s been squatting here for at least half of the time he’s been away on tour. That can be a problem for tomorrow, though, or rather for next Wednesday when she’ll reappear, draped in the coat she stole from him two years ago with her broken, knowing smirk of shared history.
It’s still raining outside, but the flat is quiet. Sherlock collapses into his sofa and falls asleep without even taking off his shoes.
The stylist stepped in and said that there was no way John was spending another video looking like he was dressed in Oxfam’s rejects – which was ridiculous, because John splits his time between Mind and British Heart Foundation charity shops, actually – and so he’s in a suit like the rest of them, a boring cut picked out to supposedly look good on all of them. Jim wears it with slicked hair and the smile of a sadomasochist, fingers curling around his microphone stand like he’s thinking of strangling it, and Sherlock was stupid enough to let him in and not smart enough to get him back out again.
His fingers are leaving smudges on the television screen glass, but it’s been a long time since he’s seen this video.
The camera bites at Sherlock’s face and flying fingers, his frown of concentration and shivering curls. It’s John who plays as though he’s alone in an empty room, though, John who has a little bubble of contented separation around him. Sherlock thumbs the edge of his image, wanting to smear that space so he can steal it, but he’s still there with Jim screaming his words and Molly beating the drums so hard she broke five sticks during the shoot.
The Sherlock on the screen doesn’t look like the Sherlock he sees in the mirror when he remembers to look. He looks more, he looks less, and maybe if he pushes hard enough he’ll hear this song the way other people hear it.
Irene is dozing on the sofa – his dressing gown, her own underwear, one Louboutin still dangling off the toes of her left foot – with her hair spilling across the cushions, but Sherlock wrote most of an album about her and everyone, including his band, assumed he’d “discovered sex”. Irene took a riding crop to his hands when he tried to call up NME and complain.
“Darling,” she purrs, earl grey and Mac mingled into the smear of her mouth, “you’ll go blind.”
Jim slides his crotch down the microphone stand, winking something friendly and feral at the camera, and Sherlock doesn’t know if John laughs like that anywhere outside of the television.
Actually, Sherlock has written three songs about Molly. At first he didn’t think she was worth figuring out and left it all to assumption, and then Lestrade got drunk and punched him in the face – not the first or the last time; just a time – and there’s something to do with crying in a hotel bathroom that he’s got the gist of but not the fine details. John was angry, anyway, and Sherlock hates it when John’s angry with him because it alters the dynamics too much. Sooner or later they’ll all get sick of him the way everyone gets sick of him and he’s not sure what he’ll do with himself then – rehab, maybe, or a tormented solo career, or perhaps the world’s most horrifically creative suicide just to give Mycroft something to be bitter about – but for now they exist in a state of equilibrium, as long as John doesn’t shift.
Jim knows it, but Jim knows altogether too much and what he wants from Sherlock is not what everyone else wants from Sherlock.
John read one of the songs Sherlock wrote about Molly; he went very quiet and then muttered out a “Jesus Christ” before going to see if the Baker Street kitchen had anything alcoholic and still drinkable in it. Irene sighed over a different one, called him a bad boy in a tone that sounded more sad than anything else.
Molly is more complicated than she initially appears, and she trusts Sherlock implicitly and expects nothing back. It makes John angry, and it makes Sherlock write songs, songs that he is never to show anybody and that Molly cannot know about.
They drink coffee side by side on a park bench while Molly watches the pigeons and Sherlock watches the people, stumbling past in their sticky tangled lives that aren’t nearly as important as they all think they are. They do this weekly for reasons Sherlock isn’t entirely sure of, but which he’s labelled as a mixture of Other People’s Emotions and Ways To Stop The Band Splitting Up. Sometimes they talk; sometimes they don’t.
“You’ve started smoking again,” Molly observes at last. Sherlock raises an interested eyebrow and she adds, defensive: “you’re not the only one who notices things.”
“Jim’s started texting you again,” Sherlock responds, mostly to prove a point, and Molly flinches.
“Be glad my coffee’s gone cold,” she mumbles, “or I’d pour it over your crotch.”
“Well,” Sherlock allows, “you’d certainly think about it.”
The difference between Mycroft and the other people who casually invite themselves into Sherlock’s flat is that Mycroft knows where Sherlock keeps both his cigarettes and his cocaine. In a fit of pique, Sherlock has bought only whole milk for their tea, and there’s a whole plate of good shortbread; his brother has started the latest in a long line of exhausting diets, and Sherlock has always preferred the needle to the shove.
Mycroft’s latest disinterested-looking assistant is calling herself Anthea, and she and Irene are comparing nail varnishes and shoe designers using only eyebrow movements. Mycroft loathes Irene; Sherlock can’t blame him, he’s often not sure he likes her all that much himself, but you can’t pick your muse and at least she isn’t boring.
Sherlock manages to hold off for nine minutes before muttering: “I’m still alive, which you knew.”
“Mummy will cry if she doesn’t receive regular photographic evidence of your continued existence,” Mycroft points out smoothly. Sherlock lifts his arms protectively, awaiting the camera, but Anthea merely gives him a pitying look and waves her Blackberry.
“If you keep being this protective and considerate I might have to thank you in the next album’s liner notes,” Sherlock warns him.
He hasn’t written liner notes in his life, that’s just bloody pandering, but the threat is enough to make Mycroft’s lips thin in irritation.
“Don’t worry, Mycroft dearest,” Irene chips in, “when I strangle Sherlock with my hair and steal all his money I’ll make sure you know about it.”
Sherlock narrows his eyes. “You’ll need to grow it at least another three inches to get it a reasonable length for the operation, and even so I am quite confident I could fend you off during your attempt.”
Irene considers this, tapping a fingernail against her lower lip. “If you were conscious, yes,” she allows.
Mycroft is getting impatient without moving a muscle or making a sound. Just for him, Sherlock smiles a little and says: “you always did fight dirty.”
“A top ten single asserted this fact,” Irene agrees cheerfully. “In twelve different countries.”
Just as Mycroft starts looking like he’s going to discreetly but nonetheless amusingly explode, there are shuffling footsteps on the stairs. Sherlock tips his head, frowning.
“You weren’t expecting Doctor Watson?” Mycroft asks, mouth screwing up a little.
“That’s Mister Watson,” John corrects from the door.
“John!” Irene says brightly. “You didn’t bring popcorn by any chance, did you?”
John looks around the room, leaning just a little into the doorframe; the longer they’re not on tour the more overt the limp becomes, the psychosomatic pain refining itself into something cruel. “Am I not invited to your parties anymore, Sherlock?”
“Anthea still isn’t going to sleep with you,” Sherlock responds neutrally, “but by all means come in. There’s tea and I’m sure my brother hasn’t quite finished scolding me.”
John chooses to perch on the arm of Sherlock’s armchair, reaching to pour himself some tea. “Well, I’ll admit this isn’t quite what I was expecting.”
“I’m not uncreative enough to choke on my own vomit during a heroin overdose every time you come over,” Sherlock tells him.
“Cocaine,” John corrects absently, adding a piece of shortbread to his saucer.
“Semantics,” Sherlock replies, and they both burst out laughing, while Mycroft looks annoyed and Irene looks down at her lap to hide the fondness not quite concealed by her false eyelashes.
Jim’s sitting on the steps of 221B Baker Street smoking and drinking from an obnoxiously large Starbucks paper cup. He’s wearing aviator sunglasses and a half-smirk, as though waiting for the world to entertain him. Sherlock knows the feeling, but he doesn’t think he feels it in quite the same way Jim does.
Years ago, before all of this, Jim stalked Sherlock’s myspace page. Messages every five minutes. Some cryptic, some flattering, some based on the replies of teenage girls without spelling or grammar or adequate control of the shift key to their names. He was dedicated and brutal and when Sherlock finally agreed to listen to a recording of his voice it was perfect. Raw and vicious and sleek and badly-contained; Jim sang in a way that showed Sherlock he understood, understood like no one else ever would.
He knew then that someone who could comprehend what the inside of his head felt like wasn’t someone he should invite into his life. He ignored that knowledge, put it into a box and locked it, and he’ll probably pay for it forever.
“I was going to send roses,” Jim tells him carelessly, “but I thought that was impersonal. And you’d probably only get high and try to eat them.”
Sherlock takes the cigarette from his hand and tucks it between his lips, considering.
“I missed you,” Jim adds. His voice is light, a knife stroking over bare thin skin before the plunge. “Days without you are boring.”
“I understand that’s what the Times crossword was created for,” Sherlock replies. He supposes he should be grateful he hasn’t woken up to find Jim in the kitchen making coffee, barefoot and humming. Lestrade is of the opinion that Jim’s going to murder him one day and then taxidermy his corpse for cuddling, but he only brings it up in the crowded jumble of tourbus nights, nicotine withdrawal and days without sleep. Jim is a bloody good singer, after all.
“Don’t be pedestrian, sweetheart,” Jim replies. He pushes his sunglasses up, his eyes dark and jagged. He appears more focused than anyone else, which is what makes him such an arresting frontman. Sherlock isn’t interested in people; Jim isn’t interested in anything but.
Sherlock doesn’t want him in his flat, where Irene is still laughing over yesterday’s client in a jumper belonging to John, where Mrs Hudson is resignedly cleaning out the fridge and bemoaning the lack of vitamins in his diet.
“What do you want?” he asks, flat, and Jim looks at him with reproach, as though Sherlock should have figured this out.
He has figured it out. That isn’t the point.
Jim bares his teeth in his latest smile, as he says: “I want you to write a song about me.”
Fundamentally, Sherlock doesn’t care about talking to the fans. They’re not his fans, anyway, they’re just people who think they like his music and have no idea at all what it’s actually about. Sherlock doesn’t give interviews because he doesn’t want to answer the questions they want to ask, but he knows that even if he did the others would stop him from talking about his true inspirations. Not that even they’ve figured out everything, because nobody really listens and nobody uses their brains.
Sherlock props his chin on his hand and idly scrolls down the page of twitter replies to their account. Far too many girls propositioning Jim in crude, dull ways, and people quoting his lyrics back at him as though that’s somehow either profound or pleasing. Molly periodically replies to someone for platitudes, mercifully correct grammar and ridiculous emoticons. Sherlock has a look from time to time merely to see if anyone interesting has appeared, but nobody ever has.
Yet another couple have used their song for the first dance at their wedding, thanking Sherlock abstractly for it. Sherlock rolls his eyes heavenward and sips at the cold coffee Mrs Hudson made him hours ago; everyone has got that song so completely and utterly wrong. It isn’t about watching a loved one sleep; Sherlock has never done that, wouldn’t know where to start and definitely wouldn’t then hand over lyrics about it for Jim to sing. It isn’t about that at all.
Sherlock wrote it by moonlight in a cracked Moleskine notebook, watching John trying to bring the hotel down around his PTSD-induced nightmares. Typically, no one has noticed.
He lights a cigarette and switches off twitter, leaning back in his chair. It’s dawn outside and the flat smells like burned toast and Irene’s least favourite perfume and the overflowing teacup he’s using as an ashtray. He can hear John’s voice, fond and annoyed: why don’t you just give up this time, cigarettes are so bad for you.
Sherlock blows smoke up to the ceiling. “Yes,” he replies to Imaginary John, “but that song is about your Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and you’ve never realised, not even when Glee mutilated it.”
Actually, Sherlock has never managed to figure out if he’s annoyed or relieved about this. It’s probably better not to work it out.
Originally, 221B Baker Street had two bedrooms, but Sherlock’s been utilising the other one as a writing space ever since he moved in and convinced Lestrade and John to spend an afternoon dismantling all the furniture. No one is allowed in his study; they’re his words, his thought processes, his moments scattered across the walls and the floor and the ceiling, on the papers and notebooks and post-its stockpiled claustrophobically tight. There are cigarette butts and abandoned needles and splashes of forgotten congealed blood, the chaotic ugly mess that is physically left behind when his mind is skimming the tips of something far more glorious and far less concrete.
Hell on Earth, or something enough like it to make keeping it hidden necessary.
Sherlock doesn’t move anything as he walks, barefoot, between the scattered disorder. He puts the can of paint down on the floor, uses a screwdriver to lever it open, and looks at the wall in front of him, covered in cramped, scrawled writing that he can barely read any longer; not that it matters, he can read it misspelt in unnecessary lowercase letters over and over again on twitter if he truly wants to.
Jim wants a song, and Sherlock has to give it to him. He has no choice, has never had a choice from the first time he clicked on one of Jim’s myspace messages. During one angry useless drive to rehab Mycroft demanded to know why Sherlock was ignoring the fact that neither of them were leaving the band alive; Sherlock was staying mutinously silent, and Mycroft relented enough to pretend that that was the reason he didn’t reply.
Haphazard, sweeping, Sherlock starts painting the wall over, eradicating the words from previous songs that he won’t ever need again. Jim wants a song and Sherlock needs a new space to write it before he honestly comes out with the fact he knows they’re going to kill each other and he can only hope Jim will die first so he can taste victory. The rest is silence, all of that shit.
Molly hands him his coffee later. “Why’ve you got paint in your hair?” she asks.
Her blouse is ugly, crumpled from being dragged out of the back of her wardrobe. She looks tired.
“Jim wants me to write a song about him,” Sherlock replies, because Molly knows Jim too well and also knows nothing about him, and either way it’s better to tell her than to tell anyone else.
“It’s all he’s ever wanted,” Molly agrees, mouth twisting.
Sherlock has the unfamiliar and sudden urge to apologise, but he never apologises to anyone and he isn’t going to start here and now. Molly wouldn’t want it, anyway.
“I won’t tell anyone,” she adds after a while, gaze on her coffee. “Don’t worry.”
“I wasn’t,” Sherlock snips, and: “thanks.”
“You aren’t half annoying, you know,” John mumbles.
Sherlock doesn’t state the obvious, so he just leaves the door that John didn’t knock on open and goes back upstairs. It’s two forty-nine in the morning, bitingly cold, and John has been sitting on his doorstep for around six minutes. Six seemed long enough.
John has enough money to get his own place, possibly even two, but he always stays with his sister when he returns to London. Harriet, older, an alcoholic and an emotionally abusive one at that, John’s eyes, no great love for Sherlock, and frequently kind of a bitch, all things considered. This isn’t the first time John has turned up at Sherlock’s, silent and furious and aching, too much to say on the subject and nothing he’ll allow himself to voice out loud.
“Stick the kettle on, would you?” Sherlock calls when he hears the broken shuffle of John climbing the stairs.
John obeys and then walks into the living room, dragging the sleeve of his jumper across his face. He’s drunk, Sherlock realises with a flicker of surprise; he can count the number of times he’s seen John drunk on his fingers. Too much time with Harry has done that to him, taped down the possibility of alcohol as a means of escape.
“Smells like paint in here,” John observes.
“It does,” Sherlock agrees. “I’m out of milk so make earl grey, would you?”
John huffs a sigh, walks back into the kitchen. “You’re shit at this,” he observes, a looseness in his voice, a trace of rare hardness underneath it. “I bet even if I showed up at Jim’s I’d get a cuddle out of it and I wouldn’t have to make my own sodding tea.”
“He’d probably have milk too,” Sherlock agrees. “If you could figure out where Jim lives, of course.”
John laughs without bothering to hide the bitterness. “You’re all fucking mad,” he says. “Jim put a poisonous snake in my bunk our first tour.”
“I remember,” Sherlock replies, sitting up as John unceremoniously dumps a mug next to him. “I believe he called it ‘hazing’.”
“I call it attempted murder,” John mutters, slumping into an armchair. “Of course, they mean pretty much the same thing to Jim, don’t they?”
John doesn’t want to have this conversation right now, so Sherlock doesn’t bother replying. He sits and watches and waits, as John sips his tea and scowls and plays with the fraying cuffs of his jumper with shaking fingers. It’s easier when John turns up unannounced and sober, of course, but it doesn’t really matter.
“Do you want to attempt a cuddle?” Sherlock asks at last. “I could possibly even manage to pat your head and say ‘there there’ for a while.”
John smirks, lets out an amused breath, but doesn’t reply. Eventually, when he’s run out of tea and places to look, he flattens: “you must think I’m pretty fucking stupid, mustn’t you.”
Sherlock could think of him as stupid, of course he could, to keep going back home and hoping that Harry will change, will agree to be fixed and then stay that version of fixed, to keep having the same old fights over and over again. Sherlock could call him stupid and naive and blindly optimistic, but to say that of John would be to say that of Mycroft. And Sherlock can call his brother a thousand derogatory things without blinking, but stupid is not one of them, never could be.
“You can sleep in my bed,” he replies instead, “God knows I won’t be using it.”
He reads relief in the set of John’s shoulders, and closes his eyes before he leaves.
He wakes in the early afternoon from a crowded but dreamless sleep. His room is empty but there are voices outside in the flat; not burglars – fuck knows there’s nothing to steal, he let the others look after the Mercury Prize and the Grammys – and there’d probably be more excitement if they were fans, so nothing much to worry about. He rolls over, looks at the too-tidy other side of his bed, and then reaches underneath the pillow. Irene’s left him a sea-green lace bra.
Sherlock replaces it, shrugs into his dressing-gown, and walks out into his living room. John’s sitting on the sofa looking vaguely harassed, while Lestrade and Mycroft’s Anthea are bickering about jeans versus trousers at an increasingly loud pitch.
“Is there at least coffee?” Sherlock sighs, and Anthea waves him towards the kitchen. When he comes back out he sits down next to John on the sofa and watches Anthea putting shoes into meticulous cloth bags that Sherlock definitely doesn’t own.
“Sorry,” John says awkwardly. “But we do leave for tour tomorrow and Irene says she isn’t your nursemaid.”
“Never took you for a man of fashion, Lestrade,” Sherlock remarks as Lestrade emerges from his bedroom carrying three identical purple shirts.
“I don’t even want to know what you’ve been doing in these,” Lestrade responds grimly, dumping them into a laundry basket. This unfortunately means they’ve dragged Mrs Hudson into all this and arguing is entirely futile.
“They’ve brought you here because they think I won’t shout at you,” Sherlock says to John, taking a sip of his coffee. It’s very good; probably an obscenely expensive blend Mycroft has provided for the sole purpose of reminding Sherlock of a few things.
“Oh, I know you’ll shout at me,” John responds on a sigh, but he smiles at Sherlock afterwards and Sherlock offers him a flicker of one back.
“My brother didn’t fancy attending this party?” Sherlock asks Anthea.
Her expression doesn’t change in the slightest, as she folds a pair of trousers that Sherlock might own and puts them into a suitcase.
“He’ll come later,” she replies, “when the anger has diminished into sulking.”
Sherlock sits on the sofa with John and watches Anthea and Lestrade organise the clothes he’ll wear on this tour. He recognises some of the things they pull of out his wardrobe, but not as many as he possibly should do.
“You should really stop letting Jim buy your clothes for you,” John muses.
“Why?” Sherlock asks. “He knows my measurements better than I do.”
John groans softly and then demands of the room at large: “why does nobody else find this creepy? I mean, seriously, Greg, why?”
Lestrade sighs and hands another t-shirt to Anthea. “I’m only still in this band by pretending that none of what’s happening is actually happening.”
Sherlock reaches for the crumpled packed of cigarettes on his coffee table; John stiffens but Sherlock reminds him: “I’ve got until tomorrow”, and then he doesn’t say anything at all.
They’re all at the bus by five the next morning; Molly’s yawning into a cup of coffee, arms wrapped around herself, while Lestrade strides about yelling at techs and roadies. Sherlock smokes his last cigarette leaning against the back of the bus, ignoring the chaos that is none of his business.
“You want me to guess what’s underneath your coat,” he tells Irene after a while.
She examines the toe of one Jimmy Choo, and says: “that wouldn’t be a particularly long game, darling.”
John tumbles out of a car; Sherlock drops his cigarette immediately, grinding the butt under his shoe, and Irene is courteous enough not to say anything.
“He isn’t fucking the woman who’s driving,” she observes after a moment.
“Sarah,” Sherlock corrects mildly, and adds: “it wouldn’t matter if he were.”
“Wouldn’t it?” Irene asks.
She walks away before he can reply, and Sherlock nods in recognition of John’s wave before turning to follow her.
Molly’s watching Irene through careful sleepy eyes, but that’s all a game that Sherlock has no real investment in, and Lestrade has disappeared altogether although Sherlock can still hear him shouting.
“Sugarpuss,” Jim is purring at Irene, skinny jeans and hipster glasses, an elaborate facade of whatever it is he’s playing at this week. Meticulously planned on Jim’s part, of course, and Sherlock is so used to not noticing that he doesn’t even think about it anymore, though he thinks Jim still does.
Irene reaches out and plucks the glasses from Jim’s face, ruffling his hair. His lips go thin, eyes flickering, and something moves icily, brittle, in Molly’s posture.
“I thought I’d come see you off,” Irene says, and it’s the low, smooth curl of voice she uses for other people or when she wants something or when she’s lying naked in the dark looking for a blanket to dig her fingers into.
“Oh Sweet Pea, how kind of you.” Jim’s voice is glittering and he reaches to take his glasses back, winding familiar fingers around Irene’s wrist. “You shouldn’t have.”
John is at Sherlock’s side by now, shivering with tension, and Irene bares her teeth in what innocent, stupid bystanders might mistake as a smile.
“My dear, sweet Kitten,” she breathes, stepping in so close to Jim she can either kiss him or headbutt him in the scant world left between them, “how could I resist?”
Jim’s answering smile is an ugly, mutilated thing, cracking across his face. Molly’s knuckles are white, and John mutters: “Sherlock.”
“No,” Sherlock mutters back.
“Acknowledge what the fuck is going on here,” John grits out, low and hard. Sherlock takes a step away from him.
Irene tugs her wrist free in a snaking, vicious movement, though she doesn’t step away.
“I’m a whole album ahead of you,” she hisses, cruel as only his Irene can be, and then she stalks away, not looking back.
Jim turns his attention to Sherlock. “John thinks you’re a coward,” he remarks, too-loud, “but he’ll never say it. I will, though.”
Lestrade’s reappeared, and he looks tired. “Everyone on the motherfucking bus,” he snaps, “and no one is to speak until at least Coventry.”
John joined the band midway through the recording of their second album, right when they were more infamous than famous and everything was hazy with shared cigarette smoke, late nights and arguments that usually ended in attempted strangulation with spare guitar strings.
“What the fuck is wrong with you, you fucking freak?” Anderson demanded, which was a pedestrian insult that Sherlock let slide because he’d heard it, to date, eight hundred and seventeen times before.
Anderson was their bassist, and he hated Sherlock with a passion that would’ve been startling if Sherlock hadn’t been able to read every emotion behind it, which just lead to him feeling dismissive and, frankly, disdainful.
“Nothing is wrong with me,” Sherlock shrugged, plucking notes on his violin, rapid and disjointed and enough to make Lestrade’s teeth grit. “If you could maintain a decent rhythm for more than about five seconds then nothing would be wrong at all.”
Anderson threw a guitar pick at him, missed, and snarled: “nobody is going to match up to your fucking perfectionist levels, you superior, nit-picking psychopath!”
“High-functioning sociopath,” Sherlock corrected him, and when that didn’t diminish Anderson’s anger at all, added: “I think I have a right to be superior, since I’m not the one ignoring my marriage vows with every last girl and woman tentatively labelling herself a groupie.”
Sherlock felt the room shatter, Lestrade lunging across the studio to physically drag Anderson away from him, Molly jumping to her feet and yelling at them to just stop it, and Sherlock looked up through the window to see an unfamiliar and uncomfortable-looking man standing behind the mixing board, watching it all with a mixture of amusement and shock.
“Let go of me,” Anderson snapped, elbowing Lestrade in the chest and managing to get free. “I’m done with all this shit, I’m done with him, I’m done with the fucking pop psychology, I’m done, okay?”
He grabbed his coat and stormed out and Sherlock knew then that he meant it, that this was the final straw. “It’s not pop psychology,” he sniffed anyway.
“For God’s-” Lestrade visibly cut himself off, whole body exuding irritation and exhaustion. “Being coked up to the eyeballs doesn’t make you the genius you seem to think it does.”
He slammed out after Anderson even though it was too late, that was a crack that could never be glued back together.
Sherlock looked back towards their impromptu audience. “Another take, Mike?”
Mike laughed, awkward and frustrated, and leaned into the microphone to say: “I know you don’t tend to notice this stuff, Sherlock, but you’re down a bassist.”
“Oh,” the tired-looking man hunched beside him said, “oh, if it’s just that- I mean, um, I can play bass.”
Sherlock finally spared a look for Jim and Molly; Molly was gripping her drumsticks too tightly, lower lip caught between her teeth, while Jim was watching Sherlock with something flaming in his eyes.
“Then get in here,” Sherlock said, swinging back around. “Keep up, don’t be terrible, and if you’re going to insult my psychological conditions then do me the courtesy of getting them right.”
The man laughed, an unused, startled sound, and headed for the steps that separated the booth from the recording studio. His gait was uneven, unsteady, and that was all Sherlock really needed.
“Iraq or Afghanistan?” he asked when the man entered.
He blinked, eyes wide under the lights. “Sorry?”
“What’s your name?” Molly interrupted, speaking too-loud over Sherlock’s repetition of the question.
The man blinked a couple more times and then said: “John. And, um, Afghanistan.” He was frowning, confused, and Molly shot Sherlock a warning look that he ignored.
Lestrade came back at this point, saying: “well, you’ve really fucking done it now, Sherlock...” He trailed off at the sight of John, leaning on a cane and looking down at Anderson’s abandoned guitar. “Or not.” He let out a sigh, the tension in his shoulders drifting. “There’s something really wrong with you, you know.”
Sherlock inclined his head, not bothering to reply, and watched Lestrade clap a hand against John’s shoulder, mumbling a: “good luck, you’re gonna need it”.
Molly looks up from her tea and crime novel long enough to fumble open the communal box of nicotine patches, putting three on the table in front of Sherlock. He takes a mouthful of his tea while he rolls up the sleeve of his shirt, and then sticks the patches in a cluster around his elbow.
“What have I done to warrant three patches?” he asks. “Is it my birthday?”
Molly rolls her eyes and points at the whiteboard they keep on the wall, meticulously colour-coded and kept to date. John’s written INTERVIEW and underlined it in blue.
“Well,” Sherlock shrugs, “that’s hardly anything to do with me.”
“You bet it isn’t,” Lestrade says grimly, stumbling out of the bunks with his hair on end. “The last thing we need is you telling some interviewer you’ve never heard a song by the bloody Beatles.”
“Unnecessary,” Sherlock reminds him, “and Liverpudlian.”
Molly shakes out two nicotine patches for Lestrade, gives him another look, and adds a third.
It’s not that Sherlock has no knowledge of contemporary music; it’s impossible to miss everything, after all, and if nothing else he can’t escape from the rest of his band. Molly prefers late night Joni Mitchell, the aching splintering of her voice leaking from headphones or speakers. Lestrade has a fondness for classic rock, of course, can play the guitar solo from an embarrassment of tracks that Sherlock has now heard, stripped apart and dismissed. The sentiments are often to be admired, but the execution is shoddy, showy, lacking in a number of things that ought to be basic. John’s managed to hide his own tastes in music in the whole time Sherlock’s known him, which is quite an achievement; Sherlock hasn’t quite figured out what it is John’s concealing, why it matters, but one day he will.
Jim enjoys whatever is burlesquing up and down the charts with a delight bordering on the obscene; he can always sing along to whatever turns up on a taxi radio or the music channel in a waiting room, and he can break out into anything at all at sound check. Jim’s stunning, of course, with a voice that can change tone and emotion and pace without the slightest crack; without it being a cheap cliché he can bring a room to a standstill and make the rest of the world seem unimportant and gaudy. It’s terrifying, really, what his vocal chords can do to the human nervous system, and it’s why Sherlock can never tell him to leave. Jim sings his songs the way they were meant to be sung, and he’s the only one who’ll ever be able to.
It frightens him more than perhaps it should when he hears Jim singing a song by a different artist. There’s no flash of jealousy or of possessiveness, but when Jim turns his talents onto something else it’s... it’s a lot, in any case. At least when Jim’s singing Sherlock’s words he can control what comes out of his mouth.
“Philistine,” Lestrade mutters, pouring himself some tea. “Anyway, you’re going to turn up to the photoshoot, at least.”
Sherlock considers it. “All right.”
“And you’ll let the stylist touch your hair.”
“Yes. Don’t be a child.” Lestrade sits down next to him, reaches for the nicotine patches.
“No,” Sherlock repeats. “Or do you not remember the time a stylist straightened it?”
Lestrade fights manfully to keep a straight face, but Molly’s already giggling behind her book, and Sherlock scowls at them both. He reaches for the box but Molly pulls it out of reach with fast reflexes he didn’t know she had.
“Yes,” Lestrade insists, finally. “And you’ll smile for one photograph.”
“No I bloody won’t.”
“Children,” Molly mumbles, but her voice is soft.
Well, Mycroft says things and Sherlock refuses to let them be true, regardless of whether or not they are, because there are too many years and skinned knees and skinned emotions between them and all that’s left is sulking.
So, anyway, performing is...
There’s crowds of people, anyway, packed into the space and screaming down the walls from the support bands which are always too loud and almost always full of guys in need of haircuts who want to talk to Sherlock without anything to say, and though they’re here for Sherlock’s words and Sherlock’s music it’s Jim their eyes can hardly stray from, Jim who dances and sings and grins and contorts his body inhumanly, skidding on his knees and then bending over backwards, spitting kisses to the front row and humping the mic stand and eating everyone up with his bottomless eyes, and Sherlock leaves him to do it and plays his violin, fingers skimming over the familiar strings that love him like nobody else ever will, that cry and stutter and mumble and wail his intricate designs between the melody spilling from Jim’s lips and the beat that John keeps steady and honest and reliable even though Sherlock isn’t looking at him, doesn’t look at any of them until-
Well until the bubble bursts, anyway, and he has to look out at the crowd and he doesn’t see them as a thousand faces and eyes as the others do, nameless and glad and loud, no, he sees each one, like the girl crying in the front row with mascara clawing down her cheeks whose boyfriend dumped her not two weeks ago, and the gay couple a few rows back trying to hold hands and not be noticed by the best friend of the taller man, yes, who is also there and trying not to look at them with his lower lip between his teeth, but it’s not the homophobia that they’re all pretending it is, no, it’s more, and then there’s the teenagers with the MARRY US JIM banner that they made with marker pens and the official merch t-shirts they will love to death and the man standing at the back with his head tipped to one side and staring at Jim and the group that always turn up hoping that Irene might turn up just this once and their eyes are locked on the side of the stage and occasionally on Sherlock’s expression like that will tell them anything and Greg rips his hand down the strings for a screech of a chord that reverberates in Sherlock’s ears
He ducks his head gasping sweat dripping down his face from his hair curls flat against his head and Jim thrusts his hips and a woman ducks her head she spent last night with her hands between her legs and his name on her mouth and now she’s here with her husband who doesn’t want to be here but doesn’t want her anyway and when Sherlock squints he can see the shift in his shoulders and oh he can’t afford Irene but well someone like there got there before him and oh oh oh oh oh
breathing is boring overrated loud harsh and its not better than the drugs and its not worse its different and mycroft has opinions and glares and the thin line of his mouth like afternoons when sherlock trailed home from school to be faced with awkwardness and the knowledge his brother had done it first and would get further anyway not that sherlock wanted the establishment the behaviour the anything but the chance would be a fine thing and he isnt running though everyone thinks he is and he misses the way the drugs kept his mind faster and clear and the music doesnt do that the music just ties him up and pins him down and it makes reality blurred and hard and theres a girl screaming his name and he recognises her from the twitter account shes set up to talk about him and theres a couple out there first date he gives it three and mollys beat is sharp against his chest in his heart and jim spreads his legs and tips back his head and hes the one that everyone will remember when everything else is gone.
“Have you ever killed anyone?” Sherlock asks.
John huffs out a sigh, dipping his head. “You’re not even allowed on the hotel roof.” He sits down next to Sherlock anyway, old jeans and one of the ugly jumpers he isn’t supposed to wear in public. There’s a hole in the sleeve, caught years ago on the edge of a table, but John loves this jumper and he’s left it as it is.
“They’d much rather I did this than throw a television set out of the window,” Sherlock points out. There are cigarette butts everywhere and the shoal of nicotine patches on his arm feel even more like a chore than usual. What is behaving, anyway?
“Aim high, Ziggy Stardust,” John murmurs, and when Sherlock turns to look at him he’s smiling like he’s in on a private joke, soft and resigned.
“You’re avoiding my question,” Sherlock points out.
“Yes,” John agrees, “because you know my answer.”
“I’ve heard ‘I don’t want to talk about it’ a lot,” Sherlock tells him. “I’m not asking to make you comfortable.”
John laughs raggedly. “You’ve never made me comfortable, Sherlock, I wouldn’t expect it.”
If he squints, Sherlock can spot the pinpricks of stars, scuffed through with clouds and grubby city lights. “By all means, tell yourself that, if it makes you feel better.”
John grimaces, but it’s slight, easy, resigned. He presses his hand to his aching thigh, careful to keep his arm from brushing Sherlock; he’s mindful about his space except when he isn’t, but it’s enough and Sherlock is grateful.
“Yeah, I’ve killed people,” John sighs at last. “Of course I have.”
“No,” John interrupts. “No. We’re done with this conversation now. Done.”
Sherlock pushes with most people, but most people aren’t John; he cares if John cracks and he cares even more if John pushes back, all bite and burn, and he needs someone on this tour who isn’t fed up of him already.
“Done,” he agrees, sing-song, eyes on the frayed stars.
As long as you know where to look it’s easy enough to tell how the tour is going and the psychology of the band members just from looking at fan-written reviews of shows. The state of John’s leg is an excellent barometer of how things are, and hysterical young women on the internet are alarmingly invested in just how much John is limping, whether he requires a cane, and whether he seems to suffer from cramp during the gig. After that, it’s merely a case of extrapolating.
Mycroft is excellent at all of the above, so on the rare occasions he actually calls Sherlock it’s never, never for something as mundane as a how are you?
(The only time Mycroft has ever specifically asked “how are you?” was during a phonecall placed to the discreet and extremely expensive rehabilitation facility Sherlock was in following an exquisitely messy overdose. The call lasted exactly five seconds.)
“Well, you’ve had better tours,” Mycroft dismisses when Sherlock picks up the phone, fingers itching for a cigarette he can’t have.
Sherlock doesn’t reply; he’s sitting in the back lounge for a modicum of privacy because his bandmates are really too nosy for their own good. Mycroft sighs and Sherlock closes his eyes.
“To what do I owe the pleasure?” he asks, keeping it brittle and impersonal, the cool hard tone of unfamiliarity he’s been using since they were children.
He can hear Mycroft counting to three in his head before he replies: “Miss Adler has some photographs.”
“She has a lot of photographs,” Sherlock responds, because being facetious is often the only way to get anything enjoyable out of a conversation with Mycroft.
“She has some extremely delicate photographs,” Mycroft snaps. “Ones that we cannot risk her releasing.”
“She won’t release them,” Sherlock responds. “You may not like her but you do know that way that she works.”
“I do,” Mycroft agrees, grudging, “but not everybody does, and we have the beginnings of a crisis of international security.”
Sherlock taps his fingers against his knee. “She’s not my pet.”
“Don’t be crass, Sherlock.”
“I can’t order her to give up the photographs and even if I did she wouldn’t,” Sherlock points out, “which you already know.”
“I am merely informing you of the situation,” Mycroft clips, in the tone he’s been using since they were children.
“Mycroft-” Sherlock begins, something like anger flaring in his stomach. “Mycroft, don’t you dare-”
It’s a weakness, too much weakness, but Mycroft knows better than to interfere with Irene.
“I’ll speak to you soon, Sherlock,” Mycroft smoothes, his tone sharply cruel and with just a tinge of smugness that makes Sherlock’s teeth grit and is supposed to.
He throws one of Molly’s crime paperbacks at the door, breaking the spine, and has his hands calmly folded in his lap ready for calm denial when Lestrade looks inside to say: “I’m out of understanding emotional shit to offer, just... stop, okay?”
Sherlock sniffs, disdainful, and keeps his mobile hidden by his thigh.
Lestrade never says you’d be dead five times over if it wasn’t for me, and Sherlock never corrects him to weren’t, and it’s there every time the air turns to glass between them, cold and crackable. The worst thing is that Sherlock is sometimes sure that he’d like Lestrade more than anyone else in his band, if he were ever tedious enough to like things.
One of the many, many tiresome things that comes from having actual fame now are the screaming people everywhere Sherlock goes. The others deal with eyerolls, dark glasses, and having pictures scattered across the internet of them licking giggling young women (admittedly, the latter only applies to Jim), but they’re better with the public than Sherlock is. Molly and Lestrade – and later, John – have made a very long and very comprehensive list of things that Sherlock is not to do or say or even think around fans that accost him, and Jim bought him the world’s most ugly and pointless and confusing hat to hide behind, only now everyone knows it’s his ugly and pointless and confusing hat and it doesn’t really help keep him hidden.
Sherlock is actually just trying to buy an overpriced coffee from the Starbucks around the corner from the carpark because they’ve run out of coffee on the bus and trips to the supermarket with Molly tend to devolve into a frankly quite terrifying exploration of domesticity and the variety of potato-based junk food snacks that can be bought in bulk. Molly claims it’s only terrifying because Sherlock has never bought his own milk in his life, but really, it’s because supermarkets contain what appear to be the dregs of perpetually bad-tempered society.
Sherlock manages to get away without the barista looking at him for too long by faking Jim’s accent, and he’s heading back to the bus when the shriek of “Sherlock!” splinters behind him.
He’s been expressly forbidden from interacting with fans alone; that’s actually the first thing on the list that he was annoyingly forced to memorise. But no one’s here and he thinks that running away lacks dignity, so he forces a smile that might look halfway human and turns around.
“You’re Sherlock Holmes,” the taller one, dark-haired, knock-off designer handbag, breathes.
Sherlock imagines John glaring at him if he snaps something sarcastic, so he keeps his smile in place even though it’s starting to hurt and nods.
The shorter one, too much mascara, drags her t-shirt up without any sort of preamble. “Will you sign my boobs?” she asks.
There was actually nothing on the list about what to do in this situation; this sort of thing tends to be Jim’s domain, after all. Sherlock blinks at the girl’s breasts in their startling pink H&M bra for a moment, and then manages: “you are aware you’re wearing a bra at least one cup size too small for you, aren’t you?”
The woman pulls her t-shirt back down, flushing a little. Sherlock thinks about trying to apologise but Molly still bears the somewhat dubious title of The Only Person Who Has Ever Managed To Wring An Apology Out Of Sherlock Holmes (as Mycroft has dubbed it, the most gruesome smile on his face) and he isn’t about to start handing out words that don’t matter and that he doesn’t mean.
Don’t do anything that’ll piss off the internet tends to be Lestrade’s attitude to all of this. As far as Sherlock has ascertained everything pisses off the internet, but trying to point this out didn’t get the point struck from the list.
“You’re so talented,” the taller woman is gushing, “I mean, like, your way with words is just... stunning.”
The shorter one is scowling, uncomfortable, but Sherlock only knows how to mend things with John when he’s making that expression and he doubts that any of those strategies will work here. Even if they did, he isn’t sure that he wants to utilise them now; they’ve taken time and effort to calculate and John is perhaps the only person who deserves them.
“Thank you,” he manages, full of the knowledge that she has never heard one of his songs and understood what he was talking about. And, because his band are going to kill him if he leaves things like this, he juggles his coffee and Starbucks receipt and says: “have either of you got a pen?”
The shorter woman provides him with one and he scrawls a looping signature onto the back of the receipt. “That’ll last longer than it would on skin,” he tells her, and she manages a tentative smile.
“Will you sign my t-shirt?” the dark-haired woman blurts, and Sherlock smiles and tells her to turn around so he can scrawl across her shoulders.
Lestrade is going to yell at him later, but it doesn’t stop him writing: Get a job and stop relying on your boyfriend for your income – he’s cheating on you. SH.
“We’re sharing,” Lestrade informs Sherlock briskly. “Here’s the keycard for you to lose so you can be found slumped in the corridor in the early hours of the morning trying to marker pen a new song idea onto the doorframe.”
Sherlock puts the keycard into his pocket. “I only ever did that on tours involving drugs,” he snips. “Which this one decidedly doesn’t.”
“You can tell John and Molly that all you want,” Lestrade responds, “I packed your suitcase, remember? I know where all the secret compartments are and just what you keep in them.” He smirks a little. “The ex-policeman thing still comes in useful.”
Sherlock draws himself up a little. “You know where some of the secret compartments are, anyway.” He frowns. “And why am I sharing with you?”
Lestrade rolls his eyes; he’s clearly been expecting this question. “Well,” he begins, “Jim needs his own room to do whatever the fuck it is he does that makes Jim Jim, and while I don’t mind sharing with Molly, John wants to actually get some sleep that doesn’t involve waking up in the middle of the night to find you being you, and it’s okay for them to share because John might think he’s a bit of a Casanova in a nerdy jumpers-and-blogging way but he’s still trying to figure out if he wants to shag you or not so Molly’s perfectly happy.”
Sherlock picks through Lestrade’s tangle of semi-useless knowledge. “John doesn’t want to shag me,” he says.
Lestrade shrugs. “He doesn’t not want to shag you, though,” he responds, uncaring, and scratches absently at the nicotine patch on the inside of his left arm. “Anyway, none of this is my problem, just try not to ruin the lives of any more fans with influential tumblr accounts and make sure Jim doesn’t try to eat any of the reception staff until after we’ve had soundcheck.”
He strides off, job done, and Sherlock glares at his back, calling: “tumblr is a stupid name for a website anyway!”
He doesn’t hate him, can never hate him, but Lestrade has too many pieces of Sherlock and has called for an ambulance on four different occasions, stopped him from choking on his own vomit and, on one unpleasant occasion Sherlock immortalised in a song that made it to number one the week of Valentine’s Day, people are so stupid, restarted his heart for him. He broke three ribs in the process and the bruises were purple and lasted for weeks.
The memories of his third trip to rehab are hazy and struck through with hallucinations and virulent misery and far too much vomiting for comfort, but Sherlock is almost certain that Lestrade had something to do with him ending up there; it was around that time his brother started calling him Greg, anyway.
There are some lines Sherlock still won’t cross, and if Lestrade’s ever minded that he’s only ever referred to by his surname, he’s never let it show.
“Your brother came over for tea,” Irene says when Sherlock picks up the phone. “Don’t worry, I didn’t put cyanide in the darjeeling.”
“You did think about it though,” Sherlock replies.
“Maybe I’ll do it for your birthday,” Irene muses. “In any case he was very polite, he even brought me flowers. Did he ask you what my favourites were? Oh, sorry, silly of me, I forgot that you just exchange grazes like little boys pushing each other over in a playground.”
“Did you give him the photographs?” Sherlock asks, ignoring her comment.
“Well, no, darling,” Irene says, “they were rather intimate and certain... participants would probably be quite embarrassed if it transpired that your eternally dignified brother had seen them.”
“Mycroft had a collection of rather salacious Victorian prints that he kept in the false back of his wardrobe when we were younger,” Sherlock offers.
Irene laughs, loose and natural and delighted, the laugh that hardly anyone ever hears. “Oh, I wish I’d known, it’s almost impossible to make your brother blush.”
“Did you wear clothes?” Sherlock can’t help enquiring. “No, of course you did, tea requires a certain amount of dignity.”
“It does,” Irene agrees. “In any case, I don’t think he’d appreciate my battle suit, that’s only for the deserving. Like that delicious assistant of his; do you think there’s any chance she’s actually called Anthea?”
“None at all,” Sherlock tells her, “but Mycroft would grind his way into another dental appointment and anything that requires novocaine and desisting speaking would be wonderful.”
Irene’s laughing again when Jim strolls into the room and plucks the phone from Sherlock’s hand with careless fingers.
“Flower,” he murmurs, razor-edged, “I miss you.”
Something hot inside Sherlock wants to punch Jim and rescue the phone and Irene from him, but he forces himself to sit still.
He can’t hear what Irene says in response, can’t even begin to guess. Irene and Jim are difficult, unpredictable, and he can cope with them individually but together they create something he can’t crack no matter how many times he twists it.
“Oh, sweetest, I understand you in ways he never will, you know that,” Jim croons. He’s the wolf in every fairytale, whose charm lasts just long enough to get your skin off. His expression is warped, unreadable, his eyes too dark.
“You too,” Jim breathes at last in response to something. “Kiss kiss.”
He ends the call and tosses the phone back to Sherlock. “She’s deleted the photographs,” he sing-songs.
“I know,” Sherlock says, because he does.
Jim spares him a toothy smirk that’s barely natural and almost entirely inhuman, and walks away whistling something Sherlock doesn’t recognise.
Sherlock steeples his fingertips and watches Molly doing her mascara, John trying to flatten his hair.
“...and at no point in this interview will anybody use the term ‘lesbian dominatrix’,” Lestrade finishes. He’s wearing three nicotine patches and an annoyed expression.
“They wouldn’t believe you even if you did,” Sherlock points out.
It’s true, actually. His descriptions of Irene in his songs apparently at no point alerted the public to who she actually is or what she actually does for a living, and she’s wound up half-sanctified as a wonderful girlfriend Sherlock had at some point who he wronged horribly and left behind in the bitterness of his dust. He’s not quite sure what gave them that impression, but Irene thinks it’s hilarious.
“They’ll believe anything if you say it in the right way,” Jim says, an uneasy lightness in his voice that makes Molly bite into her lower lip.
“And I’m sure you’ll have fun with that,” Lestrade responds, flat.
“Hours of it,” Jim agrees.
“Car’s here,” John says, giving his hair one last anxious look in the mirror. He sounds utterly placid, unbothered, but he’s taking his cane with him.
“Don’t ruin any more of my books,” Molly warns Sherlock on her way out the door. She’s wearing heels for once, a shade of lipstick she saves for interviews, and Sherlock nods although doesn’t promise anything.
Jim lingers for a moment when the others have gone, eyes on Sherlock still in his pyjamas. “I could destroy you and your credibility in three sentences,” he remarks in a conversational tone. “Any interview and I could just... drop those sentences into a response.”
“I’m sure you will,” Sherlock agrees. “I’ll have to outlive my usefulness first, of course.”
“Of course,” Jim nods. “How’s my song coming along, by the way?”
“Intricately,” Sherlock replies, which isn’t enough of a lie to feel he’ll get caught.
Jim grins, one that splits his face and alters his entire visage for the hundredth time, a chameleon in the tentative skin of a human, and his eyes remain dark and glittering and demonic.
“You’ll finish it eventually,” he muses. “And, well then, darling, well then.”
“You won’t ruin my life and career until after we’ve played it,” Sherlock says.
“‘Ruin your life and career’?” Jim screws up his face. “Oh, sweetheart, no. No. How dull. I’m waiting for you to be crowned imperfect.”
He says it with chilling conviction but Sherlock doesn’t let himself blink. “Is that all?”
“It’s enough,” Jim promises, and sweeps out of the door.
“I joined this band because I believed in it, you know,” Molly says.
The support band are playing and people are screaming inside and there are posters with Consulting Detective – SOLD OUT spilled on all the walls. Sherlock’s sitting in the cold with his violin cradled in his lap, enjoying the sound of negotiable silence.
“You joined this band because you believed in me,” Sherlock responds.
“I hate it when you do that,” she mumbles, but comes to sit beside him anyway.
Later, the whole venue is humming with adrenaline and Sherlock’s fingers and throat are raw. Jim’s strolling the stage in a plastic gold crown he picked up from a service station at 3 a.m. last week, half-singing, half-shouting the band’s introductions over a beat from John and Molly that doesn’t falter, keeping the room electric, alive, shuddering.
“And this, ladies and gentlemen, is Mister Sherlock Holmes in all his glory,” Jim continues, flinging an arm out at Sherlock, and the crowd explodes. Sherlock manages a real smile for them and Jim leans in close, too close. “Isn’t he magnificent?”
He brushes a kiss to Sherlock’s cheek, catching the corner of his mouth with deliberate precision. Sherlock’s heart slams out of time and something skips in John’s beat; Jim draws back and his expression is the split-second after the pin’s been pulled from the grenade.
Jim turns back to the crowd, flinging his expansive arms out, and Sherlock raises his violin again, bow bleeding across the strings.
That’s all Jim is, all Jim has ever been; the moment after the bullet’s left the gun, your foot leaving the ground as you jump over the cliff, the sound of broken glass on the floor. He’s everything that’s left after it’s too late to turn back, the king of his own little kingdom of other people’s regrets and accidents and mistakes, tied together with a splintered grin and so much charisma it can hurt to look at him.
And that, Sherlock realises, that is the song, isn’t it? It’ll sound like a break-up ballad to the naive world and it’ll be a love song in the only way Sherlock knows how to write one.
John is angry, angry in the way that only peeks out occasionally and never in relation to Sherlock.
“Normally you’re disappointed in me,” Sherlock tries, because John is shaking and it’s telling that his cane is nowhere to be seen.
John laughs, twisting the sound into something strangled, something frantic. “Yeah, yeah, disappointed, fucking hell, Sherlock.”
Sherlock sighs. “This is about Jim, isn’t it?”
John still looks amused in a way that makes his eyes shine and his mouth screw up, and Sherlock hates it in a way he didn’t expect to.
“Well observed,” John agrees. “I mean, I’m not going to be the first person to say this and I’m probably not even going to be particularly eloquent about it, but you need to do something.”
“And what exactly do you suggest I do?” Sherlock demands.
“He tried to kill me!” John shouts, the sound cracking halfway through.
Sherlock knows what John wants to hear, but he’s never been particularly good at taking the easy option of lying. “And you didn’t leave the band,” he responds.
John rubs a hand over his face and for a long moment he looks tired; too tired for halfway through the tour. “One of these days Jim is going to light you on fire just to see what happens,” he says. Sherlock tries to reply but John keeps going: “And the worst part is that you’re going to let him. And probably even like it.”
He slams the door to the bus behind him.
Sherlock sits and stares at it for a while, unmoving, unblinking.
He finds a pen and a crumpled cheap legal pad in the bottom of his suitcase, and starts to write, words overlapping each other, faster than he can keep track of them.
John gets into his bunk at three in the morning, squeezing into the small space full of elbows and glaring and the resurgence of the tremor of his hand.
“I’m not here to apologise,” he says.
“Well,” Sherlock replies, “neither am I.”
“Okay,” John sighs.
They lie in silence for a while, cramped and awkward and Sherlock wants to scream from proximity but he lets John stay anyway.
Jim is wearing one of their merchandise t-shirts with his own face on it and he’s wearing the plastic crown again at a casual angle that a photographer would probably love, if they allowed anyone into what they pretend is their privacy but which is actually their madness that even Sherlock is aware shouldn’t be shared.
“You’d let John down better than this,” he remarks.
Sherlock doesn’t say anything, watches Jim watching him.
“Tea, kisses, promises that he still means more to you than anyone,” Jim continues, sneering. “Isn’t that what you did for Irene?”
“Irene was never stupid enough to ask,” Sherlock tells him, and watches something in Jim’s face flinch.
(“Mad as a fucking hatter,” was all Lestrade had to say about Jim when Sherlock played him the mp3 and said we’re having him. “And we’ll all have to sleep with one eye open, won’t we.” He didn’t phrase it as a question, and his resignation was gentle.)
“You need me,” Jim reminds him. “Or it’d just be you and the cocaine and the paint running down the walls and you’d have hanged yourself with a violin string by now.”
“I’m aware of that,” Sherlock tells him calmly.
Jim rolls his eyes. “You’re no fun anymore, Baby Doll. Remember when they hadn’t tamed you?”
Sherlock remembers a lot of things about his life before he fell in and out of rehab. He’s lost even more. He doesn’t know if he’s grateful or not, but he knows Jim’s never forgiven him. Maybe he doesn’t deserve to be forgiven.
“I remember when you were a bad haircut and a webcam,” Sherlock says.
Jim grins, too wide and too white and too hungry. “I like it when you bite.”
He lights a cigarette and Sherlock doesn’t tell him not to and doesn’t ask if he can have a drag, but his eyes follow the smoke and maybe he hates Jim’s lack of repentance more than he hates anything else about him. Sherlock would like to be unrepentant, but he still has the last shreds of caring clinging inside him, sticky and painful and worse than the needles, and it keeps him within lines of some description, anyway.
(“Don’t give it to him,” Molly said when she saw Sherlock’s eight pages covered in loose, cramped writing that was barely legible anymore, barely English anymore. “Don’t, Sherlock.”)
“You’re right,” he says, and something sharpens and brightens in Jim’s bottomless eyes, blood drawn in the deep. “I would let John down better than this. But he’ll never ask either.”
“I’m not asking,” Jim shrugs, “I’m taking, and what I want isn’t boring like everyone else.”
Sometimes, sometimes, sometimes Sherlock wishes he didn’t see so many pieces of himself in Jim; his own reflection staring back at him with a hammer taken to it.
It surprises Sherlock that he can still find pleasure in the unexpected. And maybe Lestrade is right when he says there’s something wrong in Sherlock.
There are two crumpled sheets of paper; one with a mess of chords and rhythms and suggestions that loop over each other and scream malevolence more than anything else, and one with the last of the lyrics, the only ones left behind when he was honest with himself on three days of no sleep.
“Here,” Sherlock says, handing them over to Jim, “I wrote your song.”