As a rule, Sherlock had taken to muting his violin once John had gone to bed. When it had become abundantly clear that Sherlock was never entirely sure of the time when he was thinking, John had presented him with a heavy rubber practice mute. The tiny thing was able to soften Sherlock's screeches enough for John to get some rest.
Unfortunately, the little mute occasionally made Sherlock's compositions sound wrong . Tonight, for example. Sherlock was stuck, and that damned bit of rubber was not helping. The tone of a muted note was far too dissimilar from the crystalline sounds in his head.
Upstairs, John started as Sherlock crashed through a series of chords. He knew well enough that he wouldn't be getting any sleep for quite some time now. Groping for his dressing gown, he sat up stiffly and shuffled downstairs.
By the time he reached the sitting room, Sherlock had begun playing something more familiar. John settled into his chair while his flatmate continued. Despite the early hour, John didn't mind his playing nearly as much as his composing. While composing usually lead to angry down-bows and squeals, Sherlock's natural playing style was often gentler, if a bit choppy.
John sat in silence until Sherlock grew tired of the eyes on his back and pulled his violin down. His look gave John an unspoken explanation and apology.
“Why does Mycroft make such a fuss over your playing? You’re actually quite good. At reasonable hours, say when the sun is out, I rather like to hear you play.
“My brother relishes in the things at which I do not excel. All through secondary school and uni, I never made it further than the third stand. Try as I might, I wasn’t the best.”
“Could’ve fooled me”
“Don’t be daft, John. My problem is obvious.”
He shrugged, tucking his arms into his dressing gown.
“Emotion, John. I’m technically proficient, but I lack the emotional depth that my teachers so valued.”
John shook his head emphatically.
“No, Sherlock. No, I have to disagree.”
Sherlock sighed in exasperation.
“It was the most common criticism of my playing for years. Every teacher, every conductor –”
“Well, you’ve grown into it then. I can hear it in the Debussy.”
Sherlock's features softened slightly.
“You’ve been paying attention.”
John cocked his head gently.
“When you seem overwhelmed, when a case is going poorly, and when you get stuck in your own compositions, you always come back to the Debussy.”
“Yes, his Sonata in G Major.”
The shared a small smile.
“And in the Bruch – I know you only play that when you’re happy.”
For the briefest second, Sherlock grinned before a sour expression settled on his face.
“I am not a good violinist, John.”
“Maybe, but you're not a bad one either.”
“I've grown unacceptably sloppy.”
“And I didn't invite you down here for your uninformed consolation.”
“Strictly speaking, you didn't invite me at all. You woke m – that was on purpose, wasn't it?”
Sherlock fidgeted, playing with the “forgotten” mute.
John groaned and ran his fingers through his hair.
“Does the genius need an audience this fine morning?” he asked wryly.
Sherlock had the good grace to look away from John.
“All right, I'm up now. Go ahead, maestro.”
Flipping back to his notations, Sherlock added a few bars that John had reminded him of. Then, haltingly, he raised his violin and bow and began.
He played through the written section three times before he began experimenting with variations. John sat back, eyes closed, fingers gently tapping in common time. Sherlock smirked, imagining John as an enormous metronome in jimjams.
Finally able to hear the notes properly, Sherlock relaxed into his mind palace. Certain remnants of the week's case had not gone down easily, had stuck in his throat. Accompanied by his own playing, he worked through the facts of the kidnapping turned murder-suicide, walking useful information into the proper room and deleting extraneous fluff. A few times, he paused to record some of his better improvisations.
Close to an hour later, as John's head bobbed toward his shoulder, Sherlock noticed his fingers slipping out of major and into minor. E minor, fingers scrunched together on the D string. He played the scale and arpeggios a few times to be sure before dropping the violin to rest and pulling out a different book from his case.
John stirred back to wakefulness at the first notes of the concerto. He sat up and rubbed his eyes, waiting for a break in Sherlock's playing. A short one came early, and as Sherlock shook out his left hand and adjusted the page, John leaned in.
“I recognize this one. From school.”
Sherlock reset his fingers on the violin, speaking over the neck as he began to play again.
“Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto in E Minor. Very popular with young soloists.”
“Yeah, I played the second clarinet bit in school.”
Sherlock missed a few notes on a run up the scale and glanced at his music peevishly. John kept quiet again until Sherlock came to a long, low, sustained note.
“I can't believe I missed that you were a musician. So many doctors are, after all. No wonder you can distinguish amongst my favorites!”
The melody picked up a bit, but Sherlock nodded for John to respond.
“Yeah, I wondered how long I'd be able to keep that one from you. Bit annoyed that I spilled one of the only secrets I still had. Not really a musician, though. Just a crap second clarinetist.”
Sherlock nodded and gave his attention back to the pages. John watched, entranced as Sherlock played until the cadenza. He half-remembered the brilliant, shaggy-haired sixth former who had performed it, so many years ago.
Eyeing the page, Sherlock quickly placed his violin and bow back into the case.
“Oh,” John said, disappointed. “You aren't going any further?”
“It's getting late, John,” Sherlock replied in a mock-authoritative tone.
“But now I'm wide awake!”
Sherlock settled onto the small, uncomfortable chair next to the sofa. He slouched down, head tilted back against the edge of the chair.
“Why did you stop before the cadenza?” John asked again.
“Terribly out of practice. I don't generally play Mendelssohn's second violin concerto.”
“Yes. I much prefer his first.”
“I'm sorry, I don't know it.”
“Many people don't. Written by the artist as a young man – around thirteen. Virtuosic and chronically under-appreciated. Mycroft always had many interesting things to say about my opinions of the piece.”
“And the other one?”
“Written for the composer's dear friend and concert master. Took him six years to complete, and he was too ill to conduct it at its premiere. Good night.”
Abruptly, Sherlock stood again and stalked toward his bedroom. He hadn't had more than a few hours' sleep over the past week. Now, the case was finished, and his head was finally at peace. He needed the silence of his bedroom.
Sighing, John pulled his laptop from the table. He hated to hear the piece unfinished, and since Sherlock had given him its full name, he could at least listen to a recording. John pulled up a video, then, on a whim, started searching for more information about the concerto and its composer. Perhaps another night of mindless surfing would lull him to sleep. The first notes began softly, but John found that he much preferred Sherlock's “unacceptably sloppy” interpretation.
As the first movement continued past Sherlock's stopping point, John happened upon a a series of quotations regarding the piece. His fingers brushed the screen, smudging where the words sat unobtrusively upon the page.
“The Germans have four violin concertos. The greatest, most uncompromising is Beethoven's. The one by Brahms vies with it in seriousness. The richest, the most seductive, was written by Max Bruch. But the most inward, the heart's jewel, is Mendelssohn's.”
John's gut wrenched, remembering Moriarty and the pool.
John focused on breathing deeply and evenly until his panicked memories receded. He breathed until he felt his limbs begin to buzz and his eyes grow heavy. The concerto continued softly, encouraging his breaths into an easy rhythm.
There. There. Just sleep. All better in the morning.
John awoke with a start to the crashing notes of the Mendelssohn cadenza. He sat up and stretched, eyes slowly focusing on Sherlock. Noticing John's movement, Sherlock swung his instrument into rest and pointed with his bow at a tea cup on the coffee table.
“I had to come back to it. It gave me no peace.”
It was the closest John was going to get to an apology.
Wrapping his fingers around the teacup, John nodded and stumbled to bed. Below him, he could hear the cadenza begin again – this time with the mute firmly in place.