Dear God, please don’t let him play that here, John thought. I just want a normal night out.
It started with a detour, as it usually did. “I need to stop in here, won’t be a moment,” Sherlock had said, and turned so swiftly on his heel that John thought he had disappeared for a second. He had entered a music shop, one that looked like it frowned upon anyone who wasn’t already in the London Symphony Orchestra.
“Don’t make us late,” John called after him. Sherlock returned five minutes later with a package under his arm.
“I wouldn’t dream of it,” he said. “Who did Lestrade say would be there?”
“I don’t know, he told me ‘the usual crowd.’ What’s in the package?”
“Oh, God, that means Donovan will be there,” Sherlock said, ignoring the question. “He brings her to the most inappropriate of places.”
“How is a pub inappropriate?” John asked.
“He invited us,” said Sherlock. “That alone makes it inappropriate. As for the package, I needed my violin restrung. I prefer to leave such things to the professionals.”
“So this means it won’t sound like a gutted cat anymore?” John smiled innocently. Sherlock glared.
“I believe this is the pub in question,” he said stiffly. He allowed John to enter ahead of him in mock politeness. John laughed at him.
It was definitely a cop pub. Even though no one was in uniform or office attire, there was a feeling of authority that pervaded the atmosphere. No one would dare start a brawl in here. John liked it. Several tables had been pushed together at the back next to an ancient upright piano and were full of people chatting loudly. It was clear that that was the gathering they were after, even without Lestrade waving them over.
John greeted the officers he recognized, which was quite a few of them, considering that most of Serious Crime was here. It was some sort of communal birthday, or a goodbye party for someone getting a promotion. It didn’t really matter, as long as it involved friends and drinks. Sally was indeed there, as well as a sour-faced Anderson. Well, hopefully there would be enough people to keep Sherlock and them separated. John noticed that several faces looked surprised at Sherlock’s appearance at the pub, but had been there long enough to have had a pint or two and relaxed into easy acceptance.
Lestrade kicked out a couple of chairs and made a complicated hand gesture to the barman, which resulted in a pint of bitter for John and, surprisingly, a whiskey sour for Sherlock. He settled the package containing his violin in his lap and appeared to completely lose interest in the people around him as he began to open it.
As evenings went, it was quite successful. It was the bit of normality that John needed to ground himself and remind him that the world wasn’t as insane as living with Sherlock made it seem, but it was also with a group of people who saw the same battlefield he did. Occasionally John would try to include Sherlock in the conversation, but he was clearly here to humour him, so John left him watching the other patrons and plucking mindlessly at the violin.
Then it happened. The thing that turned a normal night out into something embarrassingly Sherlockian. John was on his third pint, Sherlock his second whiskey sour, and Dimmock had gone up to the bar for another round. Sherlock had been gazing around at the piano, his violin, and the officers with a considering look on his face. John didn’t like that look. Sherlock got that same look when he was trying to determine whether or not a man was stupid enough to really use that cricket bat as a weapon. Suddenly he stood up and followed Dimmock. John watched him murmur something that had Dimmock looking dumbstruck, then conspiratorial as he replied. John could only imagine what Sherlock had told him.
Instead of returning to the table, Dimmock went over to the piano and plinked a few keys. Some people noticed and called out for him to play something. Dimmock smiled and glanced at the barman, who waved him on. He sat down and played a few bars of “God Save the Queen” to a multitude of groans. Everyone was watching Dimmock, so John was the only one to notice Sherlock return to his seat at the other end of the table. “What are you doing?” he hissed, as Sherlock gathered up his violin and bow.
Sherlock only winked. John felt terrified.
As half the group berated Dimmock for being a Royalist and the other half praised him, Sherlock stood up and played a couple notes of his own. A few people looked over. Those who knew Sherlock personally frowned in confusion. John waited with trepidation. Sherlock began to play.
The first five notes were short and high, and achingly familiar even though John couldn’t place them for a moment. Sherlock continued playing as he walked up towards Dimmock, who joined in soon after. The group quieted as they realized what was happening. It suddenly occurred to John what Sherlock was playing. “Oh God,” he breathed. This couldn’t be happening. It was a dream, a nightmare, he had been secretly drugged. There was no way Sherlock was actually playing that.
A voice piped up. It was a young DC, a woman whom John had not met professionally and had likely only heard rumours about Sherlock. “I’m just a poor boy,” she sang softly. “I need no sympathy.”
She continued to sing as the group gazed around at her and Sherlock. John saw a few people mouthing the lyrics. As far as songs went, Sherlock couldn’t have picked better. Everyone knew the lyrics, or at least part of them, and the tune was so insinuative that you couldn’t help but fill in the words as you went. A man beside her joined in. “Little high, little low,” he sang, and John could tell he was trying to impress her.
Lestrade looked over at John and they shared a look of is-this-really-happening-and-what-do-we-do-about-it. John shrugged, and Lestrade shook his head, as if saying, ‘He’s your flatmate and therefore your problem.’
Now that there was more than one person singing, more joined in, mostly those who hadn’t worked with Sherlock before and didn’t realize how unusual this was. John stopped watching them and looked at Sherlock instead. His eyes were half-closed as he watched his fingering, and John took a moment to marvel at both him and Dimmock playing by ear. Sherlock had a smile on that John saw very rarely. It wasn’t smug, or smirking, or in pleasure of a puzzle. It was the kind of smile he got when he did something out of the ordinary for someone else, for no apparent reason at all. The last time John saw that smile, Sherlock had presented him with a purloined Royal ashtray.
Then John listened to how he was playing, not just to what. He was on the second verse now (“life had just begun,” sang the Yarders) and Sherlock put such empty loneliness into it that it sounded like he was telling his own tragedy. Dimmock’s hollow notes matched perfectly.
“Carry on, carry on,” joined in the group. John silently agreed with the sentiment.
By the third verse, most of the table was singing along at various volumes, with the notable exceptions of Donovan, Anderson, Lestrade, and John. “Goodbye, everybody, I’ve got to go!” They looked happy. There wasn’t any awkwardness or embarrassment coming from this. Just a gathering of friends and colleagues enjoying some music. He never thought that Sherlock could inspire such camaraderie.
The third verse tapered off with a statement full of regret and sorrow, and Sherlock continued on his own for a bit, melancholy making curlicues in the air. Everyone watched him as he lost himself in his own world and managed to move everyone a little closer to sobriety.
Dimmock took over, changing the rhythm and knocking them out of their reverie. People perked up at that. The next part was the bit everyone knew because of that silly movie, and with an exchange of glances they started up again, led by Sherlock’s violin.
A redheaded PC began. “I see a little silhouetto of a man.”
“Scaramouche! Scaramouche!” shouted back the rest of the table. Sherlock’s violin scurried them along, having forgotten the melancholy of earlier. His movements were faster and sharper, and careless without being carefree. Just as the table alternated the words, (“Galileo!” one side shouted; “Galileo!” the other side returned) so too did Sherlock and Dimmock, as if they had practised this for months.
Who knows, thought John, perhaps they did. If that wasn’t enough, the next voice to speak up nearly made him choke.
“I’m just a poor boy, nobody loves me,” Sally sang with a cocky grin. The Yarders shouted back on her behalf, and allowed her the role of desperate youth. “Will you let me go?”
The table traded vocal blows back and forth, and Sherlock and Dimmock kept up with them seamlessly, trading their own blows. Sherlock’s expression hadn’t changed, but he managed to look more animated than he had before. A slight flush had come into his face from the exertion and he looked absolutely delighted. He still hadn’t looked up from his violin.
John saw Sally elbow Anderson to join just in time for the crescendo. “Beelzebub has a devil put aside for me, for me, for me!” The last word was cut short as Anderson suddenly realized he was doing an unexpected solo. He shrank back into his chair red-faced as everyone laughed good-naturedly.
The shrill lunacy of the violin switched to a growling recklessness. John got his third surprise of the night when Lestrade leaned forward and, looking far more predatory than John had ever seen him, took over. “So you think you can stop me and spit in my eye?” He grinned widely at the young DC, leering, while she giggled. She joined him, bringing the rest of the table with her for the last few lines. “Just gotta get right outta here!”
Sherlock sawed away on the strings, scratching out every bit of defiance in them. He softened as Dimmock took charge and climbed the keys back into something more wistful. It was the last part of the song, and afterwards whatever had happened to cause this strange performance would be lost, likely to never happen again. Sherlock looked up at John and cocked an eyebrow, half-questioning, half-challenging.
What the hell, thought John.
As Sherlock took the lead and danced through what-ifs and could-have-beens, John quietly sang along with the last lines. It wasn’t loud enough to be heard over the rest of the people, but he knew Sherlock could see him. The words were longing for a better life and bitter about not getting it, but for John it was more about accepting your fate and being okay with it. He met Sherlock’s eyes with a wry grin. “Nothing really matters to me.”
They continued playing, Sherlock pulling grief from the strings like taffy, and Dimmock slowing the notes like a dying heartbeat. Those who remembered it softly sang the last, barely heard line, “Any way the wind blows...” Sherlock drew out the last note for a long as possible, and when it finally died, he dropped his arms to his sides as if forgetting they were there.
The pub erupted into applause.
Dimmock went back into the welcoming arms of his colleagues amid cheers and offers of drinks while Sherlock slid quietly down the table back to his seat. He put away the violin and bow before taking a long pull of his whiskey sour. He finally noticed John staring at him. “Yes?”
“What was that?” John asked.
Sherlock shrugged. “I needed to test out the strings,” he said. “They are very well done; I think I will use their services again.”
“You’re a maddening berk, you know that, right?”
Sherlock smiled. It was the kind that appeared when John called him an idiot. “I know. But I like to keep them on their toes.” He looked out on to the table. Conversation had returned, and there was a cheer about them that only came from doing something completely ridiculous and loving it. Glances kept shooting their way, but they were curious rather than suspicious.
“I hope I never figure you out,” John said, only half to Sherlock.
Sherlock grinned into his glass. “I think I can do that.”
One glance was all it took to break the semi-serious tone they had been maintaining. As they dissolved into laughter, John thought, He’s right; normal is boring.