“Right in here, Mrs Hudson!” John’s tone was a little louder than conversational level in answer to Mrs Hudson’s genteelly raised voice. He flicked a sideways glance and a minimally raised eyebrow at Sherlock, but his friend was clearly unfussed about her walking in on their cosy domestic scene. Well, it wouldn’t be the first one Mrs Hudson had encountered, especially in the last fortnight.
John himself didn’t much care what anybody thought of him and Sherlock any more either. He’d been wearing his heart in the open for a long time, with the songs he’d written and played at the open mic nights. And Mrs Hudson was, in any case, family.
Sherlock had never been one to care much what other people thought of him, but neither had he been one to wear his sentiment openly. He’d frequently claimed not to have any. The lie had been put to that, of course, from the moment he’d walked off the roof of St Bart’s and into the tangled, dangerous year of dying in order to hunt in secret, so that he could protect his friends and end Moriarty’s game.
You can’t do that and pretend not to have a heart.
Sherlock seemed to have accepted the maxim and, at least within the walls, of 221B, had become a mellower man. Maybe a little too mellow. John was getting a little worried at the lack of… well, not to put too fine a point on it, Sherlock’s lack of boredom. Some of the old signs were there, but when it looked as though a hissy fit might be in the offing, Sherlock would snatch up a newspaper, looking for a case, and five minutes later be either playing the violin or watching some awful daytime chat show and yelling with evident enjoyment at the TV.
Mrs Hudson trotted in to the room with a smile and a cake tin of baked goods that smelled divine. Cheese and chive scones again. John was starting to wish for a new flavour, but of course, they weren’t for him, and Sherlock didn’t appear to be getting even a little bit close to being tired of them yet.
Sherlock didn’t bother to rise, but his expression brightened. “Mrs Hudson! You spoil me.”
“Oh nonsense,” she scoffed in a pleased tone. She found a place for the tin on the coffee table, paused to drop a kiss on Sherlock’s forehead, straightened a little to place one on John’s, and started gathering up the detritus from Sherlock’s last meal. Half a tin of Sainsbury’s grapefruit segments (fork still resting inside); a small jar of Hackney Rooftop Honey (eaten straight from the jar with a spoon, resting stickily on the lid); two empty bottles of Fentimann’s traditional ginger beer; and the crumbs, heaven help them, of Harrods’ own rather intense Gentleman’s Relish which Sherlock had heaped high on Miltons crackers and swallowed whole. Sherlock didn’t eat much or often, but his tastes in comfort foods were pungent and eclectic.
Sherlock sighed and closed his eyes, relaxing back into one of his six new preferred places for dozing. In this case, it was draped across the sofa in his beloved blue silk dressing gown, his feet dangling over the arm at one end, his head pillowed on John’s thigh as the doctor sat at the other. John balanced the laptop on the other arm of the sofa and pecked out a reply to an email with one hand.
With his peripheral vision, John saw Sherlock lob a scone in his direction. He caught it deftly, one-handed then chomped a hole in it. Perfection. He grinned as Sherlock looked up at the scone in John’s hand, held just above his face as he lay back, considering the remainder of the scone as though it were crucial evidence.
“Go on then,” John held the scone between his fingertips. Sherlock raised his head, snaffled the cheese-and-chivey goodness in his teeth then snapped it into his mouth whole. Sherlock’s expression, as he chewed and swallowed, was one of the purest satisfaction.
Mrs Hudson, having bundled all the cleared things into the kitchen, returned briefly. “Need anything at the shop, boys?”
“Nothing,” said John just as Sherlock announced, “Hobnobs. And some candles. And I’ve run out of Miltons.”
“Oh, and the newspaper,” added John.
“We don’t need a newspaper,” countered Sherlock.
“Just this once, mind,” said Mrs Hudson, as she had been saying almost daily for two weeks. She dropped another kiss on Sherlock’s forehead and headed out.
John clicked send and closed the lid of the laptop. He glanced back to find Sherlock scrutinising him unblinkingly, though the effect was somewhat diminished through being more or less upside-down.
“The blog again? Really?”
“You asked me to update it,” John said calmly, “And you vetted the text.”
“You wanted to update it. The hangdog look you were giving me was making me dyspeptic.”
“I think you’ll find that it’s your bizarre eating habits making you dyspeptic.”
“Plus we agreed that my sending a press release to the media was not a good idea.”
“I quite liked your first draft.”
“The one that said “The rumours of Sherlock Holmes’s death have been greatly exaggerated, no thanks to you lot, you utter pricks” or the one that said “Sherlock Holmes was and is and always will be right and you’re all a pack of festering tossers’?”
“I think I prefer the second one.”
“Me too. But we didn’t send it, because we’re both fed up to the back teeth with pricks and tossers. The blog’s the way to go.”
Sherlock sighed. “But what’s the point?”
Instead of offering an answer, John let his arm fall across Sherlock’s chest, anchoring him, and patted his shoulder.
The thing was, Sherlock was obviously still in recovery. He’d been so unwell: exhausted, underweight, injured and clearly heartsore. His first week home he’d slept a lot, regaining his strength and allowing his body to heal. The limp was almost gone. He regained muscle mass and lost the waxy pallor of his skin.
The three of them – John, Sherlock and Mrs Hudson – had been gentle with each other, careful to be kind. On nights when Sherlock was unsettled and fretful, John would play his guitar. Within a very few nights, Sherlock had picked up his violin and the two of them would play, sometimes at ridiculous hours of the night, no singing, just the music. Many of those nights, Mrs Hudson would creep upstairs in her nightgown and perch on the sofa to listen.
The treatment plan was simple. To take and give the time to finish rebuilding themselves after their shattering year.
At the end of his second week home, Sherlock was, if not quite his old self, then certainly a marked improvement on the frail man who had curled into the arms of home and willingly surrendered his care to another person for maybe the first time in his adult life. He had started getting restless again, complaining at John, at the skull, at the smiley face on the wall, that he needed a puzzle, he needed work!
Two days ago he had insisted, with a very Sherlockian insistence, that John should make an announcement on the blog, because he needed cases. He needed not to be bored.
Strange, then, that Sherlock had proceeded to behave as though casework was the last thing on his mind. He’d start to read the papers, then with a cry of disgust, throw himself out of the chair, screwing up the paper and flinging it into the hearth, sometimes stopping to set fire to it. He’d snap off the news, whether it was on the TV or the radio, and snatch up his violin to play until his agitation settled. He refused to take calls and declined all visitors. Molly and Greg still hadn’t seen him, though they were understanding when John tried to explain that Sherlock wasn’t up to it yet.
Instead, Sherlock spent the much of each day following the blog update draped listlessly on the sofa (preferably using John as a pillow); on his chair (preferably when John was in the other); at the kitchen table (mostly when John or Mrs Hudson were pottering about the stove) or in Mrs Hudson’s kitchen (where she baked him whatever he felt like having.)
John wished fervently that he’d held off on updating the blog. It was clearly much too soon.
And now Sherlock was lying on the sofa like a weight was holding him down, frowning, asking what the point of the blog post had been at all. He didn’t want work. He didn’t know what he wanted.
“What’s wrong with me, John?”
“Apart from exhaustion, undernourishment, injury and general trauma,” John said, patting his shoulder again, “Nothing.”
“You remind me of me when I got back from Afghanistan,” John said.
“Don’t be absurd,” Sherlock said.
“Give yourself time, Sherlock. Even the smartest man in London needs time to recuperate.”
The scornful snort could have been directed at either one of them, really.
“Look, if you don’t want to take on any cases, don’t.”
“As if we’re going to get any cases.”
“You’d be surprised. There were a lot of people who never stopped believing in you. People left a lot of encouraging comments on the blog and I’m starting to get emails. Word of mouth can be very effective.”
He’d only just realised about the reactions on the blog, having looked at the damned thing for the first time in almost a year only two days ago. He’d deleted all the vile and vicious comments, but there were plenty of messages of support. Henry Knight, for one, who’d been a vocal advocate, and those comic book geeks. Although perhaps the latters’ enthusiastic reports on how John and Sherlock had dressed up as ninjas to solve their case was less helpful than they’d intended.
Sherlock snorted again.
“The thing is, if you want to start consulting again, there’ll be a way.”
“And if I don’t?”
That comment came out of the blue, and hung there like a threat.
“Then we’ll think of something else to do,” said John after a pause, “Buy a van, do that Man with a Van thing. Start a dog walking business. Or house painting. Busk around the world as Genius and Friend. That could be fun. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to be a street performer in Greenland.”
“Not exactly the future I had planned.”
“Me neither, but I can think of much worse futures.” John patted Sherlock’s shoulder again.
Sherlock lifted a hand to place over John’s, fingers pressed to fingers, before he swung to his feet. He stalked across the room and to lift up his violin. He tapped the bow thoughtfully against his thigh then drew it across the strings. A long, sweet, melancholy note filled the room. Then another, and another, no real melody, but a song of… something. John closed his eyes to listen, trying to hear the meaning as Sherlock played, eyes closed, his body swaying with the sound.
Sherlock never wrote lyrics, John knew. Music, yes, but never words. But that didn’t mean Sherlock’s music wasn’t full of meaning; full of feeling. It’s what he used music for, to say the things that otherwise never seemed to find a way over his tongue. Things like ‘thank you’ and ‘I’ve missed you’. This piece vocalised more complex things, some of them a little lost, and some a little afraid. The notes were disjointed though, like pieces of something larger.
Fragments, thought John. He just needs time to put himself back together.
Sherlock, like the rest of them, was still remaking himself, after all that loss and longing, all those things he’d learned about himself, and what people meant to him, and what he meant to them. Assimilating those gifts love gives you
But it wasn’t good to spend too much time in introspection. John remembered how things had started getting better for him once he made the effort to socialise with Greg again, to get outside his own head and just do something simple with a friend.
John rose, crossed to Sherlock and stood in front of him, waiting. Sherlock opened his eyes as he continued to play.
“Do you think we could skip Greenland?” said Sherlock, swiping the bow across the strings again, a wailing fall, “I was there for three days while I was… away. It’s awful. So cold. And all that bloody fish.”
“Let’s skip Greenland, then.” John reached to lay his fingers on the hand holding the bow, stilling it. Sherlock stopped playing. Gently, John took the bow, then the violin, and placed them both in their case. Sherlock let him.
“Do you know what I think, Sherlock?” said John, “I think I’m sick to death of sad songs.”
Sherlock sighed in what might have been agreement.
“I wrote a new song when we got news you were coming home,” John admitted, “But if you want to hear it, you have to come to band practice with me this afternoon, at Greg’s place.”
Sherlock adopted a stubborn expression. “Play it now.”
“No. With the band or not at all.”
Sherlock grimaced. “I suppose it’s a good song.” Implying: worth making me go out for?
A puff of laughter greeted the supposition. “God, no. It’s a happy song. All my happy songs are rubbish. You’ll enjoy hating it, though. So come on. It’ll be good for you.”
“I will personally vouch for it as an alternative therapy. You may well laugh yourself a new kidney. Besides, I know Greg and Molly are impatient to see you. It’s about time you said hello.”
“There will be hugging,” Sherlock predicted with distaste.
“Probably, but you can stand it. You cheated death; you can pretty much deal with anything you want.”
“And didn’t you say Anderson was in the band now?”
“Also true, but you know, I think he thinks hanging around with you has made him smarter. He could actually be right. Do you know he’s started employing your methods? He’s become quite the advocate for the science of deduction.
“That must be woeful to behold.”
“About as woeful as when I try,” John said with a grin, “But with a much more earnest expression, and a checklist. Come on. Bring your violin.”
Sherlock sighed, but John could tell from the timbre of it that Sherlock was giving in – no doubt because Sherlock wanted to. That was a good sign.
When they arrived at Greg’s place in the early afternoon there were, indeed, hugs. Sherlock attempted to give John a long-suffering eye-roll when Molly launched herself at him, nearly hyperventilating with joy, but the pretence lasted about three seconds. Worn down rapidly by her incoherent sobs of delight, he wrapped his long arms around her, crushed her against his chest and said quietly into her ear: “Thank you Molly. Thank you for everything.”
She pulled back, grinning and flushed with happiness and pride, but she lost whatever else she’d intended to say and spluttered out with: “Oh my god, your hair, Sherlock!”
Sherlock raked his fingers through the short, bleached cut, through which the dark roots were starting to show. “It was necessary,” he said, still unclear why his hair was something Molly fussed about.
If Sherlock thought he was going to get away with a simple, manly, English handshake from Greg Lestrade, he was very much mistaken. Of course, it started out looking that way, with Greg clasping Sherlock’s hand in both of his and shaking it with vigour, but the next moment, Greg pulled Sherlock into what John thought of as a Rugby Hug, where the embrace was rough and involved a lot of pounding on each other’s backs. In this case, Sherlock’s back was pounded a couple of times and Sherlock just hung onto Greg’s shoulders for dear life with a pained expression until it was all over.
“You mad bastard,” said Greg, finally releasing Sherlock from the affectionate physical assault, “I don’t know whether I should give you a medal or kick your arse from here to Woking.”
“I’ll take Woking,” said Sherlock firmly.
“Not up for any more medals?”
“God, no. The consequence of acknowledgement is the tabloid media dogging my footsteps, before allowing their parasitic nature to reveal itself, which very nearly killed me last time.”
This was Tad Anderson’s ill-timed cue. He cleared his throat and stood there looking awkward. Sherlock stared at him balefully. Anderson shuffled his feet. Sherlock continued to stare balefully. Anderson looked at John, at his feet, at Sherlock’s feet, and then jerked his head up and said:
“I wanted to read your monograph on cigarette ash, but it’s not on your website any more. Can I have a copy?”
“John said it was boring and that no-one wanted to read it,” replied Sherlock, giving John a look that was half surly, half triumphant.
“I need it for a case,” Anderson said, “Or… maybe I could get your advice…?” Greg gave Anderson a warning glare and Anderson moved on, “Or if you have any other articles, they’d be good too. I… I need to get better at what I do.”
Sherlock nodded and said “All right” and that, apparently, was that. Tad looked relieved and went to sit with his drums again. Sherlock gave Greg a speculative look.
“Too early to bother you yet with casework,” said Greg, heading off the question, “You haven’t even been back a month. Unless you want to. I’ve got a couple of tricky ones on the go at the moment.”
“No,” said Sherlock sharply, “I haven’t the time. I’m still getting my affairs back in order.”
“Of course. What I thought. Well. Still. When you’re ready, just let me know.”
Sherlock caught John giving him a speculative look. Sherlock didn’t want to respond to that look, because he couldn’t think of anything to say about it, so he turned away.
Instead, Greg, misunderstanding the silent exchange, changed the subject. “Going to play with us today, Sherlock?”
Sherlock gave the merest of shrugs and looked away, unwilling to commit. “I was promised a song,” he said after a moment.
“Oh, the new one,” Greg nodded, “Are you finally going to reveal the lyrics, John?”
“I’m afraid so,” John laughed, “It’s going to be a rare treat for all and sundry. So, yeah, get comfortable, Sherlock,” he grinned. “Seriously, you are going to hate it.”
“So you said.”
John looked around at everyone waiting at their instruments, and that subtle shift happened – everyone’s feet, their bodies, the direction of their gaze, reoriented slightly, and John became the centre of the room. Sherlock held a breath as he watched. He had never forgotten this, the way John so silently and unconsciously took command in this setting.
John nodded the count then launched into the opening chords, fingers dashing over the strings and up the neck of the guitar, and sunshine poured out of the music. It bubbled over with energy and joy, and John’s eyes sparked with amusement as he met Sherlock’s gaze.
This is what he felt when he knew I was coming home, thought Sherlock, and the corners of his mouth pulled in an answering grin. It sounds how I felt.
Greg and Molly came in hard behind on bass and keyboard, and they may not have known the words yet, but the infectious enthusiasm of the melody translated into the way they moved, practically flirting with each other as their hands danced over keys and strings. Even Tad, flicking a chirpy beat on the drums, was grinning as though the music, just this, made him happy.
John was jigging about with his guitar, his feet and hips shifting with giddy enthusiasm which made everyone grin at him. John gave Sherlock a final, piercing look as if to say ‘I warned you’ and burst into the lyric.
I get up in the morning
I can't keep it in
I'm falling all over myself
And I could jump out of my skin
Sherlock’s feet were tapping, which he noticed and decided not to stop.
Wanna break the door down
Just to greet the day
‘Cause there ain't nothing that's more certain
To keep my blues away
The lyrics lacked that complexity that John usually employed in his songs, as did the music itself, but maybe it was because there isn’t much that’s complex about what he was feeling, for a change.
And I say
(La la, yeah, yeah)
And I say (La la, yeah, yeah)
And this is where Sherlock raised a sardonic eyebrow and tried to pin John to the floor with it. John just grinned and sang the inane lyric with greater enthusiasm. Then the chorus was on them, and John looked directly into Sherlock’s eyes and didn’t blink.
In your light, just when I'm in your light
In your light, just when I'm in your light
And I won't get by if you take that light away
In your light, just when I'm in your light
And I won't get by if you take that light away
Sherlock’s expression was, John would say later, a dictionary definition of the combined meaning of startled and appalled. During the second, longer bridge, Sherlock called out over the top of the music: “La la, yeah, yeah, John? Really? Really?”
“I told you my cheerful songs were all rubbish,” John called back, “And besides, I couldn’t get ‘you’ve been missing a year, you great lanky bastard, and I missed you, and god it’s good to have you home but you’d better not do that to me ever again or so help me I will smack you dizzy’ to scan.”
By which time the next chorus started up again, and John was bouncing back into it. By the time he finished, everyone was grinning, at John’s expression, at Sherlock’s, at the words, at the sheer uncomplicated elation of the thing.
“That wasn’t quite as bad as you led me to believe,” Sherlock concluded, attempting to be stern.
John snorted a laugh at him. “You just say that because it’s about you.”
Sherlock arched an eyebrow. “There might be something in what you say,” he conceded.
“So. Are you coming up here with the rest of us?” Greg challenged.
For an answer, Sherlock flipped open his violin case and brought the instrument out. “Might as well.” He wasn’t really fooling anybody with his faux distance. His feet and shoulders had been moving with the music all through John’s song.
Then Sherlock took his place and, like the others, waited for John to lead them into the next song. He was relaxed, poised, content to give up control and just follow John, in this. They tried Call Me, and it was clunky from lack of practice, so they did it again, and it was better, and by the third time, Sherlock was completely there with violin and harmonies, his head truly clear for the first time in days.
Cry for Help was next, no doubt driving the neighbours barmy with the noise, but the energy of it worked off some individual and collective tension, the chorus of it so drivingly defiant that by the end of it everyone felt as though they’d just won a barroom fight, or could if they wanted to.
They worked through Copper Beaches until the lyric was echoing in their heads, and then paused for a break. Greg went to the kitchen to grab salty snacks while Molly took Anderson to fetch beer.
John flopped down on a chair beside Sherlock. “You going to join us, then?” he asked, “Regularly, I mean. I know it’s not really your thing, the band, but we’re better when you’re with us. Plus, it turns out I actually like doing gigs, and I think it’d be good for us. I think we need some non crime-related fun, after the year we’ve had.”
He thought Sherlock was about to say no, so he ploughed on.
“Collared has scored a gig at a police fundraiser in about six weeks’ time...”
“Please, Sherlock. You know, for a while last year I thought I’d never get to do this with you ever again, and I really want to play beside you up there…”
“I said all right.”
“It turns out,” said Sherlock, considering his words carefully, “That it’s very soothing to have nothing more serious to think about than … this And I missed playing with you, too. So yes. All right.”
John beamed. “Good.” He sobered. “You know, you said something earlier....”
Sherlock had in fact said and done several things earlier today, and in days before now. John wasn’t Sherlock Holmes, but was a doctor – a professional observer of human symptoms – and a close observer of at one human being in particular.
“That’s not a very useful observation, John.”
“About the tabloid press; how they nearly killed you.”
“Is that what’s bothering you about taking on cases? You’re worried about coming to their attention again. Don’t deny it, Sherlock. I can see you’re dying for a case, but you keep avoiding finding one. It’s making me cross-eyed watching you do it.”
Sherlock’s frown deepened into a scowl. “I never want to be in the midst of their appalling, poisonous, vapid, vicious attention ever again. I can work with Scotland Yard, if they’ll still take me, which I doubt, whatever Greg says, and they can keep the damned credit. I don’t want my name in the papers. The tabloid press can go hang itself. You can still blog about things if you want to. You hardly have the reach of the Murdoch empire. I just… I want to do my work without those tiny people and their tiny, pathetic minds and their venal, petty agendas...” Sherlock’s face was screwed up with his rage at them, “Moriarty used them and they nearly destroyed us, John. They certainly wouldn’t hesitate to do exactly the same thing again. I’d rather not work at all than let that happen.”
Sherlock was breathing heavily, surprised himself at the depth of his anger and anxiety. He was promptly angry at himself for letting those idiots get to him. “This is ridiculous. I will not have my life dictated by The Daily Mail.”
“We can find way around it, Sherlock,” said John, “I know we can.”
“I don’t have to take credit for police cases, for a start,” declared Sherlock, “It’s the work that’s important, not the accolades.”
“Good. Then you can have work and still keep a low profile. I know Greg and Tad both have things they want to ask you about. Or you can keep the work to cases we get via word of mouth from the blog and through the mail.”
“No press conferences, no interviews, no photocalls. Just the work,” said Sherlock firmly, “The tabloids have always got some new poor bastard in their sites, anyway.”
“And if they latch onto us anyway?” asked John.
“Well, there’s always the busking around the world – barring Greenland – as Plan B,” Sherlock grinned, “But of course I have other ideas.”
“Good to hear it. There are things I’d rather be doing than giving a toss about the tabloids.”
“Such as?” But Sherlock already knew John’s answer. He’d known it from the very first day, before John even knew it was a question.
“You and me,” John said decisively, “In the fight, haring across London at a million miles an hour, doing insane things at ridiculous hours of the night and solving impossible crimes. And the music, with you, I want that too. And for you to never leave me behind like that ever again.”
“It wasn’t always… optimal,” Sherlock conceded, “Being on my own.”
“No, it bloody wasn’t.”
Sherlock’s mouth pursed briefly before he lobbed a crooked smile at John. “It appears we want the same things then, John.”
“Good to hear it.”
“Though of course we need a case.”
“Ah,” said John with a smile, “I have that sorted. I still get emails on the blog, you know, especially with the post up to say you’re back.”
“Yeah,” John laughed, “There are a lot of those kinds of messages. It’s surprisingly easy to set up a filter for them. This one, though, looked promising. At least a seven. Maybe an eight.”
“The Dancing Divas LGBTI ballroom dance competition in Soho is getting threatening letters.”
“Written in nail polish and sequins.”
“Tacky and dull.”
“On what looks like very fine pigskin leather…”
A pause. “That’s actually quite strange.”
“…edged in what appears to be genuine doubloons, sewn onto the skins with tarred twine.”
“Hmm.” Sherlock’s mouth twitched in an incipient grin, “Sounds promising. Can you dance?”
“I used to cut quite a dash at the Officers’ Club – hang on. Why…?”
Sherlock’s smile broadened in that conspiratorial, gleeful way that promised so ill for the ranks of the nefarious of London, and also for John’s dignity.
Despite (or possibly because of) knowing that somehow, and soon, he was going to be doing ridiculous things (perhaps in costume) in the pursuit of justice and being not-bored, John grinned back.
The game was most definitely on.
When Greg returned (bearing crisps and nuts) Sherlock suggested he might like to hear about those cases after all, directly after band practice in fact, and Tad had to be dissuaded from sitting down and going over a checklist with the detective there and then: a development that Sherlock found a combination of bemusing, irritating and gratifying.
“Work later,” John insisted, prodding his undisciplined crew back to their instruments, “If we’re doing this charity gig in six weeks, we’d better have a playlist ready.”
“I’ve got a few ideas for songs on the crime theme,” Greg said, pulling out a notebook, “And Molly’s found a couple of great ones. Tell ‘em, love…”
The conversation continued with enthusiasm.
John leaned towards Sherlock at one point to say: “Do you remember when I said this would be non crime-related fun?”
Sherlock’s smile was a little savage, a little gleeful. “All fun is crime related, John.”
“We’re a bit messed up, you and me. You know that, right?”
“Exquisitely aware of it, yes.”
John just laughed and leaned back in his chair, surveying his perfect world, grown out of what had seemed wreckage only a few years ago. Friends, music, purpose, the promise of adrenalin and Sherlock at the heart of all of it.
Sherlock stretched out in his seat, watching John laugh, and considered how surprisingly good his life had become after a lifetime of alienation and a year of losing everything that he’d never known mattered until it was nearly too late. Now he had work to challenge his mind, crimes to solve, music, adventure, friends worth having, and John woven through it all.
Watch out world, they both thought in their own way.
Here we come, ready or not.