Chapter 1: Chapter One
A song, written in sorrow and loss, was sent out into the world by John Watson – doctor, soldier, musician and chief mourner at the funeral – on the certifiably mad idea that maybe Sherlock Holmes wasn’t really dead because elements of his ending simply didn’t add up.
Then a reply from the void, proving that the thin hope had a thread of foundation, and Sherlock Holmes’s brother and his best friend picked themselves up from the fragments of their grief and started again, looking for a way to send him a lifeline.
Sherlock, however, seemed to be having none of it.
Writing songs for Sherlock had seemed like a brilliant idea, after that first, desperate success. But after John sent Believe into the abyss, like some kind of prayer, and Sherlock had managed to lay a track of hushed violin on the YouTube video and send it back via Mycroft, only one more song ever made the return trip.
The difficulty was that Sherlock was in deep hiding, and he was supposed to be dead. More specifically, the difficulty was that John didn’t seem to be able to write songs that could not be easily analysed as having the subtext: “You’re not dead! I know it’s a secret, but holy fuck, I am relieved.” Lyrics about candles in windows and following the heartline and compasses and be safe, be safe and why won’t you let me help? were not exactly covert.
One more song made it out. It was an apology, and could still be interpreted as the bereaved friend trying to make peace with the dead. In a way it was. John’s regret at the angry things he’d said to Sherlock before leaving him behind at St Bart’s filled him with shame, even if it was almost certain that Sherlock had meant to provoke that reaction to make him leave. To keep him safe.
Six weeks after John sang Haunted at an open mic night, it came back remixed, via Mycroft. John liked to think the elegant violin counterpoint in the chorus was a kind of forgiveness.
The accusation inhabits my tongue The bitter taste of being so wrong Remorse is a hymn in a minor note Of the ‘sorry’ stuck in my throat
Mycroft gave him a strange look as they listened, but John had gone beyond giving a damn what people thought of how we wore his heart in these songs for Sherlock. If this was the only thing he could do for his friend, then he would do it. Even if the only message back wasn’t anything useful about how to help; just a pingback from the darkness. Still here. Still alive.
There had to be more they could do.
Mycroft assured John that he was working on solutions but the necessity for absolute secrecy was a hindrance.
John wasn’t exactly thrilled with song-pingpong as a method of communication either. It was so complex. He had no idea what efforts Sherlock might have to go to, to find a violin, write a harmony, download and remix the video and then somehow get it secretly to Mycroft’s lines of communication. It was a dangerous mess. It was probably putting Sherlock at risk. That he took the risk at all John found simultaneously appalling and deeply moving.
John should have trusted that Sherlock would find a way to simplify things.
Two weeks after the remixed Haunted came back (from somewhere in Azerbaijan) John was sitting up late at 221B Baker Street, staring at the bullet holes in the smiley face on the wall. The time was almost exactly fifteen minutes after midnight. The doctor was settling grimly into another night of insomnia. Months of it, now, which played hell some days with his locum work. It was just as well Mycroft was still covering Sherlock’s half of the rent. The more helpless John felt, the worse it got, his brain spiralling around crazy and useless ideas of how to find Sherlock, how to help him.
Should he fill the next song with their codes, like Vatican Cameos, or was that once more too obvious, too dangerous? How could Sherlock send anything more useful back than the simple I’m still here message? Obviously, the wordless acknowledgement that he was still alive was fabulous, magnificent, wonderful, obviously, but how could it be made of practical use?
When he’d exhausted himself with the futility of it, John would then try to think of ways to be at least useful around the flat, to prepare for Sherlock’s return home. He tidied. He took boxes of Sherlock’s old case notes and indexed them. Studied them. Interpreted the scrawled handwriting and tried to follow the leaps of evidence and logic that Sherlock hadn’t always thought to record before announcing his conclusions.
It was more than just house-keeping and time-killing. John was still called into the Yard on a semi-regular basis as they continued to review every single one of the cases Sherlock had been involved in. These notes were valuable in filling in the details from Sherlock’s side of the deductive fence.
Since the recording of Sherlock’s conversation with Moriarty had been applied as evidence, John could tell that half the time the police didn’t even know if they were trying to prove or disprove Sherlock’s alleged fakery. The lie that Sherlock was a fake hinged on believing that Moriarty was his invention. If Moriarty was real – and he demonstrably was – then that in itself had to cast doubt on the doubt. That seemed to piss off a lot of the investigating officers.
Most of the time, those officers were forced to conclude that the evidence was real, and that Sherlock Holmes could in no way have designed the crime first to solve it later. John very much enjoyed seeing the look on those bastards’ faces when time after goddamned time they brought him in for questioning and time after goddamned time, Sherlock was proven right.
The only one of those officers who didn’t seem angry each time a case held up under scrutiny was Tad Anderson. John didn’t know what Anderson was each time, apart from not-angry. John was still far too bitterly furious with Anderson to much care. They avoided each other, mostly, and John was frigidly polite whenever they had to meet over a case.
At least Greg still had his job, even though there’d been consequences. Every reviewed case that didn’t pass scrutiny was a mark against him. Fortunately, there were precious few of those. By and large, the evidence was in Sherlock’s – and therefore Greg’s – favour.
There were more mundane domestic tasks John considered too, on these frequent nights without sleep. This sleepless night, John plucked idly at the strings of the guitar across his lap (after an abandoned attempt at song writing). From time to time, his gaze drifted to the violin in its case on Sherlock’s chair. He was thinking that he’d have to ask Mycroft how to care properly for the thing. Did he need to do anything to counteract humidity; store it a particular way up; have it, who knows, polished? It wouldn’t do for Sherlock to return to a damaged violin.
John turned his head at the timid knock on his door. Mrs Hudson followed on the sound. John smiled at her and she returned it with her usual sad-happy expression. The glad-you’re-here/missing-Sherlock face that she so often wore. John was so glad he’d moved back home, for her sake as well as his. They had both needed company.
“I’m so sorry to bother you, John,” she said with a distracted smile, “But I wondered if you’d pop down. I know it’s late…”
“Anything wrong, Mrs Hudson?” John put the guitar on the floor, propped against Sherlock’s chair, and pushed himself stiffly to his feet.
“Well… I’ve been getting these… nuisance calls. Nothing much really. Just silence. Some silly boy playing a prank I expect. But he’s called again. I’ve left the line on the hook. I think he’s still there.”
John face shifted from scowl to solicitous and back again. How could anyone dare to harm his landlady (their landlady, their friend), even in so indirect a fashion? He’d give the twat an earful of army-honed invective so blistering it’d rupture the little shit’s eardrum, he’d…
Mrs Hudson tugged on John’s arm as he stormed down the staircase, trying to make him slow down. He stopped, surprised, as she leaned close to his ear. “You never know who’s listening,” she whispered, “Sherlock used to tell me about bugs and things.”
Staring at her in bemusement, John let Mrs Hudson grip him by the elbow – her hip was giving her trouble – and helped her downstairs to her kitchen.
The phone was off its cradle, lying like a dismembered crime victim by the main body of the phone. John stared at it suspiciously; cast a puzzled look at Mrs Hudson, who nodded encouragingly; stepped towards the phone. It wasn’t a brand new machine, but new enough to have a speakerphone option.
Carefully, as though it were wired for explosives, John pressed the speakerphone button.
Nothing. Silence. A faint buzz, perhaps.
“Whoever the hell you are…” he began in a sudden, loud, military snap, startling a sharp intake of breath from the person at the other end of the line.
John’s tirade petered out before it had begun.
How can an intake of breath be baritone? How can it be familiar?
“Just a boy’s prank,” said Mrs Hudson in a loud, stagey voice.
John’s right knee, the psychosomatically dodgy one, wavered and buckled. He caught himself on the back of the nearest chair. He realised he was breathing in sharp, shallow gasps and made himself stop. Inhale. Hold his breath and let it out in a slow, controlled, repressed hiss.
You never know who’s listening. John raised his eyes and beamed at Mrs Hudson. Brilliant, beautiful, clever, sneaky Mrs Hudson, underestimated by everyone from the CIA to Dr John Watson but never, ever by Sherlock Holmes.
Mrs Hudson nodded meaningfully back.
“I wouldn’t worry about it Mrs Hudson,” said John, pleased that his voice emerged tremor-free, “He seems pretty harmless, I suppose.” He was listening so hard he thought his ears might start to bleed. Listening for a breath in the silence.
“I suppose,” Mrs Hudson agreed, “I imagine he’s just lonely, the way he doesn’t say anything.”
And there it was. A sigh. Faint and fading.
“So,” said John suddenly, not wanting to give that breathy silence a reason to leave, “How was your day, Mrs Hudson?”
“Oh, you know. I dropped in to the shops to get those biscuits you like.”
“That’s… nice of you.” John was having trouble remembering how to do small talk. He kept staring at the phone.
“Oh, it’s no bother. It’s so nice having you back again, John. It’s been awfully quiet. You know, I think I even miss those ghastly explosions Sherlock used to make all the time. I don’t know how many toasters he destroyed.”
“Three,” said John unerringly, “And two microwaves.”
“Oh well, that explains the charring on the kitchen wall,” said Mrs Hudson in a resigned manner.
“And the scorch mark in Sherlock’s room,” admitted John, “We had to put that fire out with a blanket. After that I made him install an extinguisher in every room.”
“Oh, you boys,” scolded Mrs Hudson fondly.
John managed a smile at her, because just then the silence in the phone made the quietest huff, like swallowed laughter.
Then there was a gentle click, and he was gone. The phone hummed with the disconnection tone.
Chapter 2: Chapter Two
Mrs Hudson knows a nuisance call when she hears one. She also knows when it's not a nuisance call; and how to keep a secret; though she's a bit cross at John for keeping one too. John realises that someone else he knows has been keeping secrets, too. Then he decides to get the band back together.
Mrs Hudson and John looked at each other.
“I’ve had two of those calls,” said Mrs Hudson carefully, stepping across to replace the handset in the cradle, “Sunday nights, quarter past midnight both times. I was just going off to bed. I was awfully cross. I’m too old to put up with nuisance calls, so I gave that wicked boy an earful. I don’t think he realised I knew so many rude words. Pranking a woman of my age with his midnight calls and heavy breathing.” She gave a delicate, derisive snort.
John’s eyes widened as he tried to work out how much of what she was saying was for the benefit of unknown someones who may or may not be listening. He was vastly amused at the idea of Mrs Hudson giving Sherlock a cross earful on the phone. When had she realised who it was?
“And afterwards I thought, oh teenaged boys are such dreadful things, aren’t they? They do the stupidest things for the saddest reasons.”
John remembered his own teenaged years far too vividly. “Yes, they certainly do.”
“So I thought if he called again I might just let him be.”
“You’re a wise woman, Mrs Hudson.”
“But if he calls again after tonight, I’ll get you. Just to make sure it doesn’t turn nasty.”
“An excellent idea, Mrs Hudson. Come and get me, whenever it is. I won’t have you being bothered.”
The next day he took Mrs Hudson to lunch at a noisy pie and mash shop near the Shepherd’s Bush Markets, and she confessed that she had cussed a blue storm into the phone only to hear a familiar laugh cut suddenly short.
“Gave me a turn,” she said, her face creased in vexed memory, “I thought I was being haunted. But I don’t believe in ghosts, John, never have. And he’s always loved surprising me, though I wish more of them were nice surprises. So I decided that if I heard Sh… him on the phone, then I heard him. Besides, if he was going to haunt Baker Street he wouldn’t do it over my old phone.”
Her certainty made John smile, because he knew exactly what she meant. The skull was a likelier bet. Or the violin. Something he’d actually liked.
“What are we going to do,” Mrs Hudson asked, her tone suddenly tense. Her eyes, when they met John’s, were worried and bright with imminent tears. “What’s it all about? Why won’t he speak?”
John took her hand and squeezed it, trying to be reassuring. “As far as Mycroft and I can work out, he’s trying to keep both us and himself safe while he finishes dismantling Moriarty’s empire.”
“You knew?!” Her eyes blazed momentarily with fury.
“Not at the start, no. He… he got a message to me, a little while back. To Mycroft and me.”
“And you didn’t think to tell me?!”
“I did,” John confessed ruefully, “But I didn’t know what was safe. His life may depend on this staying secret. You know that’s why he doesn’t speak, don’t you? And keeps the call short? Even if your phone is tapped, it’s not enough time to trace it to the point of origin. I guess he doesn’t speak, so that if we’re bugged, anyone listening can’t be certain it’s him. He can’t give away anything by accident. That could apply to wherever he is at the other end, as well.”
Mrs Hudson nodded, as though John was just confirming her own suspicions.
“I’ll get Mycroft to sweep the place,” John said, “And… I’m sorry I didn’t tell you.”
Mrs Hudson patted his hand. “You’re keeping him safe. I understand.”
John laid his free hand over the top of hers and pressed her fingers. “I don’t know what to do to help him,” he said, some of his misery leaking out, “He’s alone out there, and I don’t know how to…”
“He’s letting us know,” Mrs Hudson said quietly, “Maybe it’s just this, dear. Voices from home. To know we’re all right. I know what he did for us, John – you and Greg Lestrade, and for me too. Mycroft came by to talk to me while… while you were staying with your friend Mike. I know.”
They sat, holding hands at the café for a while, taking what comfort they could from their shared knowledge. He did it for us. He’s alive. He’s letting us know.
He’s doing something more, John thought, but I don’t know what. As usual.
On Wednesday, John caught up with Greg after work for a beer, a game of darts, a bit of a natter. Several pints in, and Greg was lamenting that Molly had been in strange moods, on and off, since Sherlock… since he… passed.
Greg still hated using the ‘d’ word in front of John, and John hadn’t found a way to let Greg know that it was okay, that ‘dead’ didn’t hurt the way it used to. It’s not like he could tell Greg that the word had lost it sting because it wasn’t actually true.
“Oh, we’re still all right,” Greg continued, “We’re still dating – what a strange word for a man of my age to use, dating – but it’s not anything more, yet. It’s not anything less either. It’s just… do you think she still has a thing for Sherlock? Some days… I don’t know. It’s like one of us will say something, or she’ll see something, and she goes quiet. You know Molly. She’s not really introspective, but she goes away somewhere, and when I think about it later, it always seems to have been something that reminded her of him.” Greg took a long pull of his beer. “I really like her, John. I could even… well, maybe. But I can’t tell if we have any kind of future, if this is what it’s still like for her six months after… after.”
It was at that exact moment that John knew. Without a doubt. Sherlock would have needed help, to fake the death certificate if nothing else. John, in fact, felt very stupid that he hadn’t realised earlier.
For about ten seconds, he toyed with being absolutely crazy-livid with Molly, because of course, of course, she’d helped Sherlock, and therefore had known all along and therefore not told him that Sherlock wasn’t dead.
And then he remembered Mrs Hudson and why didn’t you think to tell me? and you’re keeping him safe, and the rage passed. John covered the silence with a drag at his own beer. He peered at Greg over the top of the glass. Another person he couldn’t tell. To keep Sherlock safe.
Would Greg forgive Molly, wondered John, if he knew the secret she was keeping? Would he forgive John for keeping it too?
John’s beer glass clinked onto the counter with more force than he’d intended. Instead of answering, John had a brainstorm.
“What do you reckon about a band, Greg?”
“Not as up in your face as that festival gig. But it might be fun. Doing a band again. Just for a lark, eh? Weekends, let off some steam. You, me and Molly.”
Greg grinned. “Not a Gladstone’s Collar revival, then?”
“Christ, no. Just for mucking about. As I recall, Molly responded very positively to you in those jeans.”
Greg’s gaze went a little distant and his smile nostalgic. “DI Hot,” he murmured, then he realised what he’d said in John’s hearing and cleared his throat. “We could give it a go, I guess. Next Saturday? My place?”
“We’ll need a drummer.” The pause got a little tense.
“Let’s just… see,” said John.
“Yeah,” Greg nodded, a little woozily because he’d had at least three pints too many. Hence the discussion of his love life. “I’ll ask Molly.”
Chapter 3: Chapter Three
Keeping secrets is a lonely business; John can't find words so he sings instead.
John arrived at Greg’s place midmorning Saturday, to find Molly setting up her keyboard in the empty front room. It wasn’t a huge flat, but Greg didn’t take up a lot of space. He claimed his ex-wife kept most of their stuff, and really, all he’d wanted to bring were his books and the guitar and gear from the old punk days. Just as well, because it was pretty much all she’d let him take. There’d hardly been anything to shove aside to make room for Molly’s music gear, and John’s as well.
John and Molly, who hadn’t seen each other since the funeral, just stood and stared awkwardly at each other. Greg stood and awkwardly watched them being awkward, thinking that ideas you had when you were drunk were always stupid, and that this had been a particularly stupid drunk idea.
“I’ll get… beer. Or tea? Or...?”
“A beer’d be great, Greg.”
“Oh, tea, Greg, if that’s… if it’s a bother I’ll have beer, but it makes me gassy, and oh, uh…”
Greg laughed gently and kissed Molly on the cheek. “Tea is never a bother, sweetheart, though you’re cute when you’re gassy as well.”
Molly flushed bright red, giggled and told Greg to stop it. Greg affectionately tapped the end of her nose with his finger, looked at John raising an eyebrow at him and strategically withdrew to the kitchen.
Which left John and Molly being awkward again.
“Hi, John, I’ve been, oh, I mean, how have, well, I…” began Molly at the same time John started with “Molly, we need to talk.”
They both stopped. Stared.
John took a breath. They could hear Greg in the kitchen. The rattle of a cup and glasses. The hiss of a kettle heating water. Greg might come back any moment, and this had to stay between them.
Again, Molly started to speak at the same moment John did, so he stepped up close to her, bent to whisper in her ear, the merest breath. “You did the right thing, keeping it a secret.”
Molly gasped and jumped like he’d just stabbed her with a needle.
John took in every nuance of her reaction. Her harsh breathing, growing harsher. Hyperventilating. Dilated eyes, her eyebrows a diagonal of distress, her mouth pinched with anxiety.
“John, I don’t… I don’t know what you…”
He kept his voice low. “I know what you did for him, Molly. I know he’s alive.”
Another sharp gasp, tears banked behind this one. “He is? Oh, thank… Only I haven’t heard a thing since he… since he left.” And she gasped again and pressed her fingers to her mouth.
John finally drew back to meet her eyes. Those kind, horrified, pleading eyes. “As of last week he was, yes.”
“How did… how did you…?”
“It’s complicated.” John heard footsteps. “I’ll explain later. Call me, we’ll go for a walk.”
Molly nodded, biting her lip. John smiled reassuringly at her, and in the second that followed, actually saw her face change, the lines of guilt and stress and fear fading from her mouth and forehead and eyes. Her breath hitched, like it was the first free breath she’d taken in months. The realisation that she wasn’t alone, that she was forgiven, that there was still hope…
We’re all so alone in this, John thought. It has to stop.
Greg came in to the room, tea in one hand, two beer bottles in the other, to find John Watson hugging his girlfriend and his girlfriend crying. He made a noise of protest, and tried to decide whether to be puzzled, protective, amused or in a wildly jealous snit.
Then Molly looked up at him with a huge, bright smile, and Greg realised that he hadn’t seen her look so … relieved, so calm, so happy, in months. Even with the tears. She looked like his Molly again.
Molly detached herself from John and flung herself at Greg, causing hot and cold liquids to slosh all over the place. Greg dropped the teacup. Molly hopped back, apologising for being so clumsy. John swooped in and saved the beers, leaving Greg free to swoop up Molly.
“Hey, no problem. I think I own a second cup. I’m almost sure I do.”
John busied himself with his guitar and his amp for much longer than necessary while the couple had their moment.
Eventually, Greg seemed to remember that there was someone else in the room. “John. Right. Beer?”
John waved the bottle he held in one hand towards the one he’d put aside for Greg.
“Oh good. And… music? The stuff we did for the gig?”
“If you want. I thought we could just find out what you guys have in your repertoire. This is just… I thought it would be good, getting back to the music. I’ve missed it, and those open mic nights on my own, they’re a bit…”
“Lonely,” suggested Molly, who then pressed her lips shut again.
“Yeah,” agreed John, “They were a bit lonely.”
So John went to fetch a beer for Molly, who decided that tea was maybe not rock and roll enough for their purposes, and the three of them spent Saturday afternoon mucking about, having fun, making music, and being not alone – and not lonely.
Sunday night. Quarter past midnight. John had brought his guitar to Mrs Hudson’s kitchen at eleven and played for her while she whipped up some scones. John almost laughed at the pair of them, dealing with their anxieties, she with baked goods, he with music he’d almost forgotten he knew. Mrs Hudson kept asking him ‘Oh do you know that song by…?’ and it turned out that either he did or he could work it out. He certainly couldn’t have told you why he knew Mrs Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter, words and chords and all, though he suspected it was something to do with one of his high school music teachers.
At 12:15am exactly, the phone rang. John stopped playing. He answered the phone while Mrs Hudson deposited the cooked, cooled and buttered scones on a plate in the middle of the table.
John placed the call on speakerphone and listened for the faint breath. There.
Mycroft’s people had cleared the phones, swept the entire building for bugs. It was clean at this end. Who knew what the risks were at Sherlock’s end, though?
Listen for sounds, Mycroft had advised, or tapping. Rhythms or patterns of any kind. Do you know Morse code? Any other signal systems? Listen.
John had told Mycroft to come, but Mycroft had declined. “We don’t know who might be watching, still. It will look strange if I come to visit, especially at that hour. No. I won’t, I …” and it was obvious he really, really wanted to come and listen to his brother’s silence, and maybe to breathe back at him with wordless filial solidarity, but it wasn’t safe. So he didn’t.
Instead, John listened. Not a peep. Not a sigh. Certainly no attempts at Morse code, subtle or otherwise.
Maybe Mrs Hudson was right. Sherlock was lonely too, and this was all he could do – remind himself why he was doing this at all, so far from home and help.
John took a deep breath.
“Those smell good,” he said, his conversational tone a little forced.
“Cheese and chive scones,” said Mrs Hudson, enunciating carefully, “Sherlock used to love those.”
“I never saw him eat any.”
“Well, no, he used to come down here for them. So he wouldn’t have to share.”
That made John laugh. “Of course he bloody did.”
“Are you going to play, then?” she encouraged.
John set the guitar on his knee. He wasn’t sure it was a good idea. But he’d spent time learning the damned song, so he thought he’d try it. He’d considered and then abandoned all the other songs he’d written himself these last months. The last thing Sherlock needed to listen to was John lamenting his own feelings of loss and uselessness. But he’d found this, instead, and thought he’d try it.
His fingers moved confidently across the strings and chords as he sang. A lot of the lyrics were abstract, which was fine; John was fine with abstract, but the chorus, that wasn’t abstract at all. That was a promise.
If you want to take the world on I will
Be right there beside you
But if you want to sleep the whole day through I will
Be right there beside you
He reached the end of it, and there was silence until Mrs Hudson said: “That was lovely.”
“Greg and I, and Molly,” John said suddenly, “We’ve decided to play music together a bit. Just for fun, you know. Greg’s been worried about Molly, though. She’s had something on her mind. A secret. I think she should tell him.”
Mrs Hudson frowned at him, but John was staring at the phone, as though it would advise him without anyone having to speak.
“It’s hard, keeping secrets,” John continued, “From someone you love. It’s lonely. You… you try to find a way to get a message to them. They shouldn’t have a wall between them, those two. They can trust each other; she can trust him. ”
Time was running short. Was it too dangerous to reply? Was the silence the reply? Was it…?
A tap. A shorter, sharper one, then two more longish ones.
One short tap.
Three short taps in a row.
Then the phone clicked, and the disconnect tone buzzed into the room.
John replaced the receiver and stared at it for a while. It wasn’t until Mrs Hudson pushed a plate into his hand and waved a cup of tea under his nose, that he took a breath.
“Well,” he said, “I guess that was something, at least.”
The song John sings this chapter is Alex Lloyd's Bus Ride from Watching Angels Mend.
Chapter 4: Chapter Four
Anderson admits he's an idiot, and learns some valuable things. John cries with a skull.
John was called in for another interview at Scotland Yard that week: Anderson tidying up the last of his review caseload. John sat on one side of the table, arms crossed, expression hard and unforgiving. Anderson fidgeted on the other side of the table, his expression so endlessly shifting and fluid that John had no idea what to make of it.
Finally, Anderson tapped his finger on top of the file. He swallowed. He sat back. Fear, shame, guilt, determination, all twitched across his face in rapid succession. Then he took a breath and looked John square in the eye.
“I made so many mistakes on this one, it’s a miracle I still have a job.”
“He tore strips off me that time, and he was right to.”
John forced his eyes to stay wide open, instead of succumbing to the flurry of confused blinking that his brain wanted him to do.
“I’ve been over all my cases. Every one. Checked the evidence. Retested the lab results. Looked at the photos. I’ve missed verifiable and important evidence every. Single. Time. But this was the worst. If he hadn’t been there to point out the things I missed, the killer would have got clean away.”
“How did he do it? How did he see all those things I missed?”
John cleared his throat. “It wasn’t a magic trick,” he said, “He didn’t make it up. It’s what he trained himself to see; and he was genius.”
Anderson frowned, nodded, folded his hands in his lap.
“I’ve been making notes about all these cases, J… Dr Watson. I’ve made a… a chart. A…” Anderson looked at the window into the office, the wall, the file, the pen beside it: anywhere but at the doctor, “A checklist. I’ve been trying it out. I look like a pillock, pulling out my notebook and going down it at crime scenes. It’s got all kinds of things on it. Goes for about ten pages. Hair. Clothing. Hands. Feet. Types of residue or fibres I might find there. Types of abrasions. Takes me ages to fill it out. There’s so much data. It’s almost impossible to sort through it. But I figured, I should try. Every case we’ve looked at proves he did it, for real, and if it’s real, I should be able to duplicate it. Even if I’m not a genius.”
John couldn’t help it. His head tilted to one side and he stared. “I made a lot of notes myself,” he said, “I’ve made even more going over his case notes these last few months. It’s true it can be duplicated, to a degree. Not like him, though. He saw so much, so quickly, and he could find likely connections and later evidence would back him up. He made mistakes, of course.”
“No, but often enough. He was only human, after all.”
“But a genius.”
Anderson rose and beckoned John to join him at the window. John, confused but curious, did.
“See him?” Anderson said, pointing at a plainclothes detective at his desk, “He started here this week. Transferred from Liverpool. I spent three days just watching him, before we spoke. I looked at the hairs on his trousers, the crumbs on his lapel, the way he wears his wedding ring, his haircut, the stuff on his desk, the way he walks. Three days. I made fifteen pages of notes.”
Anderson sighed briefly.
“And then I took him to lunch, and asked him about his family, his pets, how he got to work. Lots more besides. And do you know what happened?”
“I already knew about half of it. The other half I got completely arse about, or missed altogether. But half of it – half of it was dead on.”
Anderson’s left hand was on the glass pane, and he tapped his agitation against it with his index finger. John noted that Anderson no longer wore a wedding ring. That Anderson had worn the same suit and shirt for several days; that he’d cut himself shaving in three places this morning; and that all the pens in his pocket had been mercilessly chewed within the last week.
“I thought that wasn’t too bad,” Anderson continued, “For not a genius.”
“No,” John conceded, knowing how he felt, “Not bad, considering.”
Anderson sighed again and turned to lean his back on the glass. He looked at his feet, and then at John.
“I believed it, at the time. That he had to have faked it. I couldn’t see how he did it, and I was so sick of him making me feel like an idiot, humiliating me in front of my team, my boss. He pissed me off, but I genuinely thought Sally was right.”
John’s teeth clenched.
“For about a week. Then the recording came out, and we started going over all the cases.”
Anderson swallowed this time.
“Turns out I really am an idiot. He was a prick a lot of the time, but he wasn’t wrong about me.”
John took a slow, deep breath. Another. He glanced through the glass at the Liverpool detective and back at Anderson. “He made us all feel stupid a lot of the time,” John said, “And he was right about a lot of things, but he was wrong about a lot of things too.” Still was, including choices to be out there on his own without backup. “He was rude and impatient, and sick to death of people treating him like a freak because he saw things other people didn’t.”
Anderson flinched when John said the word ‘freak’.
“But sometimes, Tad,” John leaned forward, “He could give you a glimpse of what he saw, and make you want to try to see it too. And you have. We’ve seen it, Tad, and we keep trying to see it. Even if we have to make ten-page checklists and fifteen pages of notes, and stop to look twice and three times and four times at everything because we know how much we’re not seeing.”
Tad Anderson’s gaze finally met and held John Watson’s.
“We’re not geniuses,” John told him, “So we just have to work harder to be maybe a fraction as good. But we can learn.”
“This morning,” said Anderson, “I saw something I would have missed before. Then I extrapolated the idea. Took me a little while, but I wrote it all down, the implications, the options. Worked it through. When I told DI Lestrade my idea, he went with it. We looked for the evidence we thought must be there but couldn’t see, because it would prove the theory. And we found it. We arrested the neighbour and I swear, he took one look at that syringe cap and the half a dog biscuit in the evidence bags and practically confessed on the spot.”
John was back to blinking again, at pinpricks in his eyes. This should not make me want to cry. He ruthlessly crushed the impulse.
“Even idiots can learn something, I guess.” When John didn’t reply, Anderson stood straight. “So really, I just wanted to say I’m sorry. About how I… About everything. I’m sorry he’s dead. I’m sorry I’ll never be as good as he was. I’m sorry that I fell for that lie about him, even though he was a prick to me almost every time we ever saw each other. Except for that one time, in the band. Except for then. I’m sorry for being part of what happened, John.”
John squeezed his eyes shut. Opened them again. “Moriarty was a clever bastard, and you were meant to believe it.”
“I’m still sorry.”
“Thanks,” John said, because there didn’t seem to be anything else to say. ‘It’s okay’ was a patent lie. John found himself settling into military stance, his fallback when things were too intense and he felt control slithering away. His chin jerked up, his posture became firm and contained. “Just… keep doing what you’re doing, Tad. Apply his methods. Prove him right, as often as you can, as well as you can.”
“I will.” Tentatively, Anderson offered his hand for shaking. John shook it.
When he got home, John took the skull and sat on Sherlock’s bed and told it the story. He cried some, but the skull wasn’t about to tell anyone.
Chapter 5: Chapter Five
John tries to sing things he can't say, but they're not things that Sherlock can stand to hear. But he and John still like baiting Mycroft.
But then a terrible thing happens. Is Sherlock still alive?
The next two Sundays were simple. No questions, no real attempt at communication. John and Mrs Hudson would talk about their day. John played Copper Beaches one night, sounding so different as a quiet ballad than as the raucous shout to the universe it had been with Gladstone’ Collar. He played snatches of other songs he was writing on the second Sunday. He didn’t know if he should. Everything he wrote now seemed to consist of variations of the demand to let me help.
I‘d stand against the enemy
If I could make you let me
I want a bullet for each day that you’ve been gone
But if I can’t take my place beside
Your side, inside the war
Then I’ll burn the light to light your dark way home
If I can’t be your weapon or your shield
Let me find you shelter from the battlefield
I will be your lodestone
Set your compass to my north
You don’t have to be alone.
A long, slow, shuddering breath greeted that one. John didn’t play it again.
On the third Sunday, Mycroft joined them. He covered his tracks by visiting early on the pretext that he was finally sorting through his late brother’s things. Instead, he spent the day in Sherlock’s chair, staring at Sherlock’s violin, deep in thought.
When the call came, Mrs Hudson put down a plate of scones and John and Mycroft picked at them while Mycroft talked about news from the continent: organised crime cases, collapsing drug cartels, spy syndicates, strange dealers in dangerous information and even more dangerous ideas. Things he’d heard – hints and leads from his field reports – that the world at large didn’t know.
John attempted to play something more soothing, giving up his lyrical demands as simply so much extra pressure on Sherlock. He played other people’s songs, sometimes his own, often without words. The words were no good to Sherlock. Maybe the emotion in the strings would be enough.
Mycroft came the following week, and teased John drily about his guitar, because it was expected. He snorted derisively when John confessed that he, Molly and Greg (and those two were getting on in leaps and bounds, once Greg had learned and forgiven her the secret) had decided on a name for their mucking-about band.
“We’re calling ourselves Collared,” John said, “It was Molly’s idea.”
“Dreadful pun,” Mycroft derided with a smile lifting the corner of his mouth, “Derivative.”
“Sort of the point,” John countered, “We plan to specialise in songs about crime.”
“Your entire back catalogue then,” Mycroft jabbed.
“Oh, and we’re doing a song dedicated to you,” John said with a defiant lift of his chin, and he played and sang a few lines
Now that it's raining more than ever
Know that we'll still have each other
You can stand under my umbrella
You can stand under my umbrella
He even did the ella-ella-ella chorus with a ridiculous face on, which made Mrs Hudson giggle and Mycroft glare sourly.
But they’d both caught the faint snort of muffled laughter on the line, and were grinning at each other.
And then… horror fell.
A crash. A shout. Gunshots and a deep-voiced shriek. It didn’t sound like Sherlock, but John had heard men sound nothing at all like themselves as they lay dying on the road.
An echoing silence followed.
One second. Two seconds. Three seconds. A voice, not Sherlock’s, saying something indistinct. One second, two seconds more, and the click of a handset replaced in a cradle, somewhere far, far, far away.
Three helpless people, frozen in motion on their way to the kitchen phone, as though they could reach through it, pluck him to safety.
There followed the skin crawling horror of waiting. For days and days, Mycroft sent discreet yet frantic messages and when they proved to be inconclusive, he actually went to Gdansk himself. He came back ashen, but with no news either way.
Each Sunday after that they waited in the kitchen, John, Mycroft and Mrs Hudson, and stared at the phone which just sat there, uncaring plastic.
The third Sunday , oh dear god, the third Sunday, the three of them sat, hardly daring to breathe, almost giving up hope. 12:15 came and went. 12:30. 12:40. 12:45.
At 12:47 the phone rang.
John snatched his hand towards the phone then paused, forcing calmness. Carefully, carefully, he put it on speakerphone.
Silence, except for the faintest breath. In and out. John listened with a doctor’s ear. It sounded laboured, short and sharp, the way people do when they’ve got cracked ribs.
John leaned low over the receiver, unable to stop himself.
“Don’t do this,” he said, a soft plea, “If the risk is too great, don’t do this. Don’t call. Please.”
“Or come home. Let us help.”
“Okay. Okay, I’ll drop it.” John sucked in a breath on the tremor in his voice. He looked at Mycroft, whose face was an unguarded picture of everything John was thinking and feeling, and they knew, they both knew, how much this was costing all of them.
“Would you like me to play?”
Silence, and how could silence have meaning? But then, the faintest breath of a voice ghosted out of the speaker.
One syllable, the quietest hush, but the hiss of physical pain, the deeper throb of emotion, gave it depth and resonance that could break a heart.
Mrs Hudson bit her knuckle, stifling a sob. Mycroft had the handle of his umbrella pressed to his lower lip, his eyes huge.
It was the first time they’d heard his voice in nearly seven months.
John took a steadying breath, picked up his guitar, and played Illuminated.
At the end, the silence became the faintest sigh, and then Sherlock hung up.
In this section I quote the song Umbrella by Rihanna. There are also some lyrics for a song called Lodestone, written for SHerlock by John Watson.
Chapter 6: Chapter Six
Insomnia. Mycroft finds a way to use the phone calls for practical purposes. And Mrs Hudson and John Watson both know a lullaby.
The calls after that came erratically. Once it rang and there was a simple staccato rhythm which John recognised as the drum part from the chorus of Battlefield before the line disconnected. Some calls went for mere seconds, others for minutes of silence at a time. Sometimes John would play the guitar. Sometimes he and Mrs Hudson would make small talk, about their day, about Baker Street, about rehearsals for Collared, about Greg getting on at the Yard. Idle gossip of home.
Mycroft changed tactics. Whenever possible, he would be there for the call, and he would then talk to John and Mrs Hudson strangely about places and people John had mostly never heard of. Mycroft would never use place names but talk about ‘Uncle Claude and that dreadful watercolour nobody could stand’; ‘Grandmere’s ridiculous bonnet, the one she wore to the symposium’; ‘Simon’s wretched summer when he met that dreadful Columbian’; and even once ‘it was all Plutarch’s fault of course, but nobody guessed it at the time and I got the blame, even though it was my own damned chess set, no matter that Disraeli had once owned it.’
Mycroft didn’t need to explain the statements, though. John knew perfectly well that they were in the language of families: in-jokes, family stories, meaningful only to those who had been there at the time. Which meant that they were messages.
Mycroft finally admitted they were designed to direct Sherlock towards drop-points where he could find supplies, information, whatever Mycroft thought could be useful and successfully hidden. There was no way to tell if Sherlock was even in the right countries at the right time, until, eventually, Mycroft could confirm that items had been collected.
Of course, Mycroft only trusted two people to leave those supplies. Initially, he did all the work himself, flying to the continent on brief trips when he could. Later, when he was satisfied that it was sufficiently secure, he would sometimes send John with a package and precise directions. John was always tempted to wait, to watch, to see for himself. But he didn’t. The care and secrecy had become an obsession. They didn’t dare risk too much. No-one knew how much the enemy knew.
So they made these fleeting trips as though they were taking in medical conferences, government meetings, even mini-vacations away. Athens. Vilnius. Zakopane. Sienna. Lvov. Cities large enough to allow strangers to pass through, leaving small packages, tiny notes, inside cracks in medieval walls, in spaces within statues, under rocks in gardens in odd little cottages, behind paintings in tiny cafes in scenic old towns.
And there were the weeks when no call came. Heart-sickening weeks of nothing, no news that Mycroft could share, no connection from that distant ghost, and the three of them would gather in the heavy, skin-prickling silence, trying not to be afraid. Mrs Hudson would make tea. Mycroft would rest his chin on his umbrella and let his tea grow cold. John would stare at the phone as though he could will it to make contact.
Then it was winter and the silence wouldn’t stop. Week on week of it. No word. None. The frozen air was laden with the dread. Four weeks. Five. Six weeks, and despair was setting in.
But then, on a different night (Tuesday), a different hour (3:14am) John woke to Mrs Hudson almost screaming up the stairs at him: “John! John!” and he hurtled downstairs instantly, still slave to the insomnia, in pyjama pants and no shirt, nearly fell and broke his own fool neck, flung himself into the kitchen, breath heaving, to crash to his knees in front of the phone, ear almost plastered to the speaker to hear that baritone intake of breath, a little tight, a little fast, pained, but not laboured; a wavering inhale, a soughing exhale, in time with John’s litany: “Thank god, thank god, thank god, thank god.”
Mrs Hudson stood beside him, hand pressed to her mouth to stifle her own grateful, shattered gasps for breath, the faintest, tearful: “Oh, Sherlock.”
John’s voice stumbled into silence, trying to capture the slightest sound of every precious breath that proved Sherlock was still alive.
“I need…” the voice was soft, strained, “John, I can’t…” Ragged breaths, swallowed down ruthlessly. Finally. “I’m all right. I’ll be all right.”
“Sherlock.” John’s voice was a plea. Come home. For god’s sake, come home.
“Can’t sleep. I need… need to… “
“Tell me. Anything.”
And John tried, he did, but his throat was closed so tight that nothing came out except his hitching breath.
Oh, hush thee, my baby, thy sire was a knight
John raised his eyes to Mrs Hudson, so grateful, so grateful she was here, and she could find her voice.
Thy mother a lady, both lovely and bright
He thought he recognised the song, the melody first, then the words.
The woods and the glens, from the towers which we see
John’s mother used to sing it to him, when he was small, and even not so small. A Scots lullaby, taught to her by her own mam. After John’s mother died, he’d sung it to himself, some nights, trying to hold her memory near when he couldn’t sleep. Fourteen years old and so lost and bereft.
They all are belonging, dear baby, to thee
He took a deep breath, holding Mrs Hudson’s gaze, and joined in as her own voice wavered.
Oh, fear not the bugle, tho' loudly it blows
It calls but the warders that guard thy repose
Their bows would be bended, their blades would be red
Ere the step of a foeman draws near to thy bed
John reached for her hands and their fingers twined together, and they sang for him.
O hush thee, my baby, the time soon will come
When thy sleep shall be broken by trumpet and drum
Then hush thee, my darling, take rest while you may
For strife comes with manhood, and waking with day
They stopped, and the breathing on the line was steady again, calm. In control once more.
Then the phone line disconnected and the buzz of it filled the kitchen.
The lullaby is Lullaby for an Infant Chief, words by Sir Walter Scott. A sweet version of this lullaby can be heard here.
Chapter 7: Chapter Seven
The call they've been waiting for comes, and Mycroft is a bit of an arse about it. John writes happy songs anyway, even though his happy songs are always rubbish.
One last Sunday. Mycroft came, collected and calm, but John knew he’d heard Mycroft’s strangled whimper of relief at 3:26am on Tuesday when he’d called, straight after, to let him know. He’s alive.
Sunday. 12:15. The phone rang, and they were there, scones, guitar, conversation, the awful, killing tension, at the ready. John put the call on speakerphone.
And Sherlock, in a voice weak with exhaustion and pain and something more fragile fracturing under the tone, he said: “Grandpere's summer house. Get me.”
John’s “Thank Christ. We’ll be…” was aborted when Sherlock seemed to drop the receiver and the line went dead, and Mycroft, bloody Mycroft, was out of the door before anyone could stop him. John ran into Baker Street after him, the biting, midnight spring air sharp on his skin. Mycroft’s car was gone. John fumbled for his phone and dialled Mycroft’s number, all his numbers, repeatedly, but Mycroft refuse to answer the calls.
After several enraged minutes, John went back to the kitchen, swearing viciously, until he remembered his company and fell to silence. Mrs Hudson’s expression was angry and disapproving.
“Sorry. I. I shouldn’t. They’re brothers,” he muttered.
“Not all family’s blood, John, dear,” she said acidly, and then he understood that the disapproval wasn’t aimed at him.
They stared at each other a moment longer, sharing a moment of livid rage about Mycroft Holmes. Then Mrs Hudson laughed, a bubble of relief spilling out of her lungs.
“Oh, John. He’s coming home.”
Then she squealed as John scooped her up and swung her around, and they were both laughing, because it was true. It was over.
Sherlock was coming home.
Two days it was, in the end. John was ready to go right back to calling the elder Holmes That Bastard Mycroft, despite the phone call, twelve hours after Sherlock’s call, to say: “I’ve got him. He’s seeing a doctor…”
“Mycroft, I’m a doctor.”
A beat of silence and then: “He will be home soon, John. Just give me this one day. One day. Then he’ll be home and yours again.”
John wanted to dispute the ‘yours’ but he was heartily sick of the protests. Fine. Sherlock was his. His flatmate, his friend, his partner in music, his comrade in arms, his brother in spirit if not in fact. He determined not to begrudge Mycroft this time alone with Sherlock. Although he did. His brain thrummed: not one minute more of this; not another minute.
“Of course, John.” Mycroft hung up. John swore a blue streak into the dead connection.
John spent one of the two days at Greg’s house, where Molly now lived, so he could tell them together.
Molly wept uncontrollably for about forty seconds, and then the sounds morphed into happy laughter, and she wound her arms around Greg and kissed him. “He did it. He survived.” She wiped her eyes and looked very serious. “Sherlock Holmes owes me a bottle of Bollinger champagne.”
“He better get you a bloody case of it, you brilliant woman,” Greg declared. Greg attempted to sober his delighted grin when he looked at John, schooling his expression to a wry grin and pronouncing the expectation that life was about to get much too interesting in London again, if London was lucky, and Scotland Yard was sort of not.
Then they spent four hours jamming, and John raised the idea of seeing if Anderson might like to join them, because they really did need a drummer.
In the midst of it all, John started to write a new song, though he kept the words to himself. He wrote his best lyrics when he was miserable, angry or melancholy. These words were for a happy song and therefore pretty awful. John’s happy songs were always rubbish.
Chapter 8: Chapter Eight
Sherlock comes home. He's had a hell of a year, and grief and love change you: they unmake you and remake you. But that's okay, when you're home, home at last.
John was sitting in his chair, guitar on his knee, strumming idly. He had been sitting there since 4am, because the insomnia that had plagued him for nearly a year hadn’t quit yet, and now it was seven in the evening. A long, exhausting day of doing nothing; of waiting.
He plucked out tunes and kept his eyes fixed on Sherlock’s violin, in its case on Sherlock’s chair. His memory was adding in the sweeping strings to the music they’d made together.
Mycroft had called that afternoon to say Sherlock was on his way. Soon, then.
The window was slightly ajar, because John wanted to hear when the car pulled up, and he did. He heard voices; the door open. He heard Mrs Hudson’s “Oh!” and a rumbling response. Her sudden tears and then “I’m being so silly, so silly. Oh, Sherlock” and more tears, and a voice so low he couldn’t hear what it was saying.
John had meant to get up and go downstairs when he heard the car arrive. It’s what he’d been waiting for. Since 4am. Since Sunday night. Since that distant day when Sherlock had sent a message woven into a song.
John wasn’t sure he could stand up, though. His heart was racing. His leg didn’t seem to want to work.
He thought of grief, and being fractured, and being remade.
Downstairs he could hear Mrs Hudson, reforming from her own fragmented self; remembered Molly and Greg yesterday, grinning, making such soppy eyes at each other that John had excused himself early and left them to their own celebrations.
John felt like his fragments were being remade yet again.
He thought about all those phone calls, the silences and breaths and those few, few words, all fractured and fragmented, and now here was Sherlock. Home. Remade himself, perhaps?
He did this for us. Love changes you. And grief. Those gifts we give each other. We’ve all had our share of that.
John tried to stand again, and found his feet this time. He propped his guitar by Sherlock’s chair, its habitual place now, and took a breath. He would go downstairs. His hands would be steady. He would not make an exhibition of himself. It wouldn’t do to fling himself at Sherlock the way Mrs Hudson was undoubtedly doing, and hang on like there was no tomorrow. Sherlock wouldn’t appreciate it. John wasn’t, in any case, the flamboyantly demonstrative type. Not unless he had a guitar slung across his shoulders, at any rate.
John glanced at the guitar. He thought of how Sherlock always channelled those unruly emotions through music, and realised he’d always done the same himself. Maybe later, they’d play together, and that would take care of all these unfeasibly intense emotions, allow them expression. It wouldn’t do, oh no, to fall on Sherlock and weep with relief. He was a doctor, and a soldier, and English, and himself, and he didn’t…
John realised that the sitting room door had opened. That someone stood on the threshold. Waiting.
Sherlock looked… like a miracle. Like death warmed over. Like he was made of tissue paper, or of marble. Thinner, paler, dark circles under his eyes, dark hair cropped short and bleached bizarrely white-blond. Like the best and most beautiful human being John Watson had ever seen in his entire life.
Sherlock took three limping steps into the room and raised an eyebrow, as though that would encompass the last year in a moment of ‘well, now what?’.
John couldn’t help the grin on his face. He couldn’t have been stoic if his life depended on it. He took a step towards his friend, a hand reaching out to clasp Sherlock’s. He seized one hand in both of his, squeezing hard, not shaking it, just holding on.
“John, human beings cannot be lodestones,” said Sherlock, his familiar voice deep, quiet, but alive with warmth and humour, “Or true north, with any effect on a compass.”
“No,” John agreed readily, still grinning, still crushing Sherlock’s hand in both of his, “But here you are.”
“Seems to have worked, then.”
Sherlock looked like he might argue the point, but instead he smiled, an expression that momentarily lifted the grey exhaustion from his features. “It seems so, yes.”
Sherlock laid a second hand over John’s clasped ones, squeezed back with all his strength, which John realised was shockingly little. He released his hold, worried suddenly that he was hurting Sherlock. His hands shifted to grip Sherlock’s shoulders just as Sherlock shifted to grasp John’s forearms, and then motion blurred and John pulled Sherlock – so light, so fragile – against his chest and held him, tight.
Sherlock didn’t resist in the slightest. He folded into the embrace as though falling into safety. Then, to John’s unending surprise and dismay, Sherlock sobbed, a jagged, animal sound, and again, and his knees gave out and he sank to the floor.
John followed Sherlock down, holding him, until they were both on the floor. John moved, clasping Sherlock into the V of his legs, the cradle of his body, holding the taller man hard against his chest and enveloping him with as much of his himself as was possible while Sherlock shuddered, the sobs silent now but wracking.
Sherlock, fragmenting in grief that could finally, finally be expressed.
“Let it go,” John said, his cheek pressed to Sherlock’s forehead, his hair, “You’re safe now.”
“No. I. I’m. I’m sorry. This. I. I don’t. Do. This.”
“Nonsense. You’re home, and it’s only me, and it’s okay. Let it go. You can just be you with me, here.”
Trembling, Sherlock nodded. He curled into the shelter of John’s embrace and gave in with a deep, juddering sigh. His breath kept hitching as he inhaled. He couldn’t make it stop.
John had seen this before. Men waking up in hospital, so shocked to not be dead, to be safe, that they unravelled in front of you. Fell to pieces and then reformed.
Eventually, Sherlock’s breathing calmed, but he made no attempt to extract himself. If anything, he curled himself into a smaller space, the better to fit within the shelter of John’s arms and torso.
The red armchair was pressed against John’s back, giving him support, but John leaned away from it, wrapping himself around that long, lean, too frail body.
“I’m so tired, John,” said Sherlock, his voice faint, “But I can never sleep.”
“You can sleep here, Sherlock, at home. I’ll keep watch.”
“John?” The slightest hitch, still, in the syllable.
“Sing something for me.”
“Of course.” Unabashed, John pressed a kiss to his friend’s, his comrade’s, his brother’s brow, and he sang the first song that came to mind: the Scottish lullaby. Sherlock sighed and relaxed, eyes closed. His breathing ceased to hitch, slowly became steadier, deeper. John sang as softly as he could, a little of his mother’s Scots burr creeping into his vowels and consonants.
Oh, fear not the bugle, tho' loudly it blows
It calls but the warders that guard thy repose
Their bows would be bended, their blades would be red
Ere the step of a foeman draws near to thy bed
When he’d sung it twice, John heard a quiet footfall. Mrs Hudson stood in the doorway, looking at Sherlock, asleep in the crook of John’s body. She nodded at them and tiptoed into the room. She picked up the worn blanket from the back of John’s chair, unfolded it, laid it over them. She knew already that John had no intention of waking Sherlock before he had to.
John tucked the blanket up around Sherlock’s shoulders. He thought: in the morning I won’t be able to move my shoulder. Or my back. Oh well.
Sherlock shifted. John murmured “Hush now. I’ve got you” and Sherlock sighed, subsided, went back to sleep.
John sang the lullaby again, and was prepared to sing it all night, if necessary, but sometime before the end of fourth rendition, he was asleep too.
They’d wake in the middle of the night, aching and a little sheepish, and John would direct Sherlock to bed, and insist on staying with him. And Sherlock would let him, and let John sing the lullaby again, and they’d sleep, both of them, the whole night, for the first time since the fall.
And in the morning, they would both once more be remade men, ready for the world.
And the world, oh the world, could not have been less ready for them.
This chapter once more quotes Lullaby for an Infant Chief, words by Sir Walter Scott