I play the violin when I’m thinking.
Sometimes I don’t talk for days.
And that had sometimes happened, but not like this.
The plane touches back down, and there is awkwardness and confusion even more than there’d been before it took off. The wind whips Mary’s hair about her face and she pulls her red coat more tightly about her expansive waist, shifting from foot to foot, wanting answers about what it all means that John couldn’t provide. He can muster no more than mild interest at her sudden animated concern.
John knows even less where to look or what to do than he did twenty minutes ago as Sherlock descends the stairs from the plane and gets into the back of Mycroft’s chauffeured black car. Sherlock barely meets John’s eyes.
Their goodbye had seemed too final. It left too much unsaid. Once, John spent endless nights awake futilely rehearsing the do-over of goodbye. He’d have given anything to have those moments back. Today, John, given the chance with both of them on level ground, found himself numb, tongue stuck in his jaw.
William Sherlock Scott Holmes.
See, you didn’t even know his name. That’s how much he gave you. Just another person keeping things from you.
John shutters his mind once more. It’s too fucking much. All of it.
Another of those relentlessly sleek, efficient black cars drives them home. Mary bakes a lasagna for dinner that she had prepared and stored in the refrigerator ahead of time. While they eat it, she tries several conversational topics that John shows no interest in pursuing. Neither mentions Sherlock or Moriarty. John realizes he’s being kind of a dick, and that he’s shortly going to have to smooth things over if he wants to avoid…talking about anything. And Oh, God, does he ever want to avoid Talking About Anything. What is there to say? This is possibly the world’s most fucked up situation. He wants to smash dishes and flip tables in the face of all this forced cheery domesticity, and certainly not have Civil Conversations About His Behavior and what’s bothering him or whatever.
Really, whatever could be bothering him?
He is right as fucking-A rain.
“Mary, it’s been a tough day, love, I’m sorry.”
He watches telly next to Mary on the sofa without seeing either it or her for hours after dinner until she kisses him on the cheek and goes to bed. He doesn’t realize how much relief he’s going to feel about this until the tension begins to leave his shoulders in her absence.
When he was sure she must be asleep, he follows. She’s asleep when he gets into bed carefully, so as not to wake her.
In the morning when he wakes, he finds she’s gone to work without waking him. She’s left coffee already made in the kitchen.
He checks his phone.
John arrives at 221b and only oscillates momentarily before deciding to just go ahead in. He takes the stairs two at a time from old habit. He can already hear the violin before he sees Sherlock’s form half-lit by the window, swaying as he draws the bow for its stroking motions. Whatever he’s playing is plaintive, serious. John doesn’t recognize it, but then he doesn’t really know much of anything about classical music, despite living with Sherlock for eighteen months.
Sherlock doesn’t deign to acknowledge John’s presence.
“Morning,” John attempts.
Sherlock stops playing. Makes a notation on a sheet of music on the stand in front of him. Another page flutters to the floor, unnoticed. He begins playing again.
“What is that you’re playing?”
No response. John listens and waits for perhaps three minutes more, taking in the scene: The untouched cup of tea on the coffee table, the equally untouched eggs, surely provided by Mrs. Hudson, sitting by the sink, the intensity of Sherlock’s gaze into the air. Sherlock may have in the past heaped abuse on John’s powers of observation, but John does not fail to notice the complete lack of anything indicating an investigation into the Moriarty hack—nothing pinned to the walls, no papers scattered about, not even his laptop open. John cannot imagine how and why this could be, and how Sherlock can stand to, well, just stand there playing the violin. The Sherlock he thought he knew would have been rending the flat to bits at this inaction.
John’s expression remains aloof, although he is curious. “Not a good time to talk then. Why don’t you text me when you want to talk about the Moriarty case, or want me to come back?”
John descends the stairs again.
Once the door closes behind him, Sherlock lowers his bow and gazes after him. When he wants John to come back? This time it’s Sherlock who has to force away a thought.
Sherlock often played Bach when his mind was in turmoil. The experience of having sentiment overwhelm his rational self in any way was a new one these past few years (well, since his boyhood, anyway), and he found that Bach’s mathematical structures and rationality helped him if he poured all of his feelings into the music as he played it.
When he waited for Moriarty to come for him after the trial, he knew he stood to lose everything, and he needed to regain equilibrium of mind, so he had played Bach.
Never had Sherlock played more Bach in his life than after his return from the “dead,” and after John’s marriage to Mary. Sherlock thought he had missed John while he was away. Being back in London had been a series of searing revelations, only one of which was that it was possible to miss someone even more when they were right there with you.
Now, Sherlock had already had reconciled himself to losing everything. He had already died. Then he had died again. He had said his goodbyes. Had momentarily, and so uncharacteristically nearly lost himself in a desperate, hopeless declaration on the tarmac, but had recovered with a joke and been rewarded with a smile breaking John’s terribly flat aspect. It had to be enough. He had gotten on the plane. And prepared to die once more. And then he had not. Now he feels like a spectre or like a spirit in limbo—again. But Sherlock’s a man who doesn’t believe in the afterlife or the spirit world, so where exactly does that leave him?
Stasis gets harder to find every time. Now Sherlock’s ordered not to leave London, or indeed, the realm of Mycroft’s surveillance. Furthermore, Mycroft informed him that despite what he’d told Sherlock when he’d turned the plane around, Mycroft would be dealing with the Moriarty situation, at least for now. Mycroft had no intention of letting Sherlock (and presumably John) out on the loose with Moriarty, or, if Moriarty was indeed as deceased as he certainly should be, whomever of his thugs were left on the loose. After such a high-profile stunt as the hijacking of every screen in the nation every eye in the kingdom was alert for what was coming next. Mycroft was determined to know exactly what they were dealing with before allowing Sherlock any information. Between the Bond Air fiasco and the Magnussen vaults in Appledore that turned out not to be, Sherlock had made mistakes that had cost Mycroft dearly. Mycroft would not risk a third such incident. For the first time in their adult lives, Sherlock did not argue. As Irene would say, Know When You Are Beaten. Sherlock’s options had clearly run out.
Knowing this didn’t mean that he wasn’t climbing the walls with all he was suppressing. What better time to tackle the Bach’s Chaconne, which he’d never had the time, or really the inclination to stay in one place long enough to master? It’s one of the most demanding pieces for solo violin there is. If ever Sherlock needed the distraction of something into which to throw all of his mental and physical abilities, this was that time. He could think about little else while he was trying to play it, for the Chaconne is a jealous suitor who would not permit rivals for his attention.
Just what Sherlock needs.
Usually Sherlock plays the violin when he needs to think. Now he wants to play it to stop thinking so much.
Several more days pass with John working regular day shifts. These are remarkable chiefly for the absence of anything remotely interesting happening at the surgery. He and Mary orbit each other and have little in the way of meaningful conversation. Their interactions are pleasant but shallow.
John returns from the surgery to a dark house. There is no noise except the hum of the refrigerator. He snaps on the light in the kitchen.
There’s a note on the table.
“Movie and shopping with Anna. Leftovers in the fridge. Love –M”
John doesn’t open the refrigerator.
He wanders instead into the baby’s nursery, which the baby herself should occupy in about another month and a half if all calculations hold up.
John wonders if at least those calculations will hold up.
He flips on the light and looks down into the baby’s crib, as if trying to imagine the tiny person who will someday inhabit it. He lifts a stuffed yellow and white elephant and holds it in both hands.
He wonders if he’s going to start feeling something. Surely, surely when the baby is born he’ll feel all the things he’s supposed to feel then, all the uncomplicated, correct, proper feelings for his daughter, surely?
If he can’t feel anything for her mother, not even anger anymore, if he can’t feel anything for himself, even self-pity…
He turned and flipped the light switch off, and with it, this useless train of thought.
Sherlock may have the power of deletion, but John has discovered the off-switch.
Mycroft enters the flat without knocking, without an invitation, and without being wanted, as is his wont.
“When is the last time you wore proper clothes?” he sniffs.
Sherlock ignores him imperiously and saws the bow discordantly across the strings, playing nothing. Sherlock would not reward him with anything resembling music, nor with anything resembling attention either.
“You weren’t answering your texts. I thought you might want to hear about the Moriarty case.”
Sherlock lowers his bow.
“He’s dead, of course,” Mycroft said.
Sherlock nearly strains an orbital muscle with the force of his eye-roll. “Really, Mycroft. I actually witnessed that part of it.”
“We had him exhumed to check. It’s not like no one connected with him has never falsified a thing like that before.”
“Really. Well, that is rather impressive. Speedy too. However, it’s not quite as impressive as one managing to fake shooting himself in the head less than two feet away from me would have been.”
Mycroft ignores this last. “There was no one really to argue with an exhumation order. However, beyond double checking that, it’s going to take some time to determine just what we’re up against here.”
“Keep me updated.”
Mary smiles at John across the table at dinner. He smiles back.
That night she says she’s ready to turn in. She stands behind John at the sofa and massages his shoulders, softly kisses behind one ear.
“Goodnight,” John says.
“Are you coming?” Mary asks.
“In a bit,” John says.
He doesn’t follow for a long time. She’s asleep when he gets there.
He comes to bed and goes to sleep and if he dreams he doesn’t remember it.
As Sherlock plays on and on, the bow feels like an extension of his hand.
As he starts to perfect some parts of the music, his mind’s eye begins being able to wander again.
He sees John’s hand on the grip of his gun defending them against threats.
Sees it extended toward him on the roof of Bart’s.
Sees it on Sherlock’s own as Sherlock taught him to waltz.
On his knee during an alcohol-fueled night where they almost felt like old friends again.
On Mary’s hand as John slides a ring on her finger.
Then it’s just a bow again, and Sherlock hits an off note. Sherlock stops. Begins again.
In the shower, John’s hands sluice the shampoo from his hair, and then drift lower. He hasn’t been intimate with Mary since before the Magnussen affair began. He’s not thinking of her now. He takes himself in hand. He finds he can’t hold any image in his mind for long enough, and there’s no pleasure in either his mind or his hands.
He finishes before the water goes cold, but it’s joyless and perfunctory.
Two weeks have passed. John tries not to check his messages too often. There’s never anything there, other than chatty little messages from Mary that he struggles to respond to in kind.
It’s a week before he seriously considers sending his own text to Sherlock, and two before he actually sends one.
And nothing. He gets no reply.
John returns to 221B later that evening after dinner, and finds Sherlock in much the same attitude he’d left him in weeks before, ignoring John in favor of his violin. John supposes he must have moved at some point, or he’d be dead of dehydration by now.
However, Sherlock seems driven to near distraction, his curls wild, wearing pyjama bottoms and his blue dressing gown, bow flying through bariolage after bariolage, the violin making a sound John didn’t know it could make, a kind of wailing, terribly sorrowful sound. John, startled, realized he could actually feel something in the pit of his stomach. When’s the last time that happened? He wondered.
Still, Sherlock seemed determined to play and not to hear him.
“Sherlock, how long have you been there? You really need to eat or drink something, yeah?”
Sherlock stopped. Began again.
John recalled the piece of music Sherlock had been playing the last time he was here; this sounded like that.
“Sherlock, will you talk to me?” John asks. His voice holds none of the edge it has so often with Sherlock since his return.
Sherlock lowers his bow.
“What would you like me to say? Mycroft’s taken charge of the investigation. There’s nothing to report. It there was, then I would have,” Sherlock says, his voice raspy from disuse.
“What have you been working on? Is that an original composition?” John asked.
The ghost of a smile crosses Sherlock’s features. Only John could think so. “It’s Bach.”
“You’ve been working all this time on just one piece of someone else’s music? Must be quite a piece of music.”
“It’s the Chaconne. One could study it for years. Many do.”
“But you? Have you really been playing one piece of music for the last two weeks? Can I hear the whole thing from beginning to end?”
Sherlock hesitates for a moment. “It’s long. You might want to make yourself comfortable.”
As John seats himself (on the sofa, since his chair is still absent), he wonders about that hesitation. It didn’t look like the hesitation was about the length of the music. It looked like there was something else John can’t put a finger on.
“How long is it?” John asks. It’s not the question he wants to ask.
“About fifteen minutes.”
Sherlock turns partially away, raises the bow and begins.
Having heard Sherlock play many times, John thought he was prepared for what he was about to hear, but he was not. Sherlock had never played anything so arresting, so haunting. Maybe even more affecting to John is watching Sherlock’s face, partially in shadow, and hearing the raw emotion that he’s pouring into every note. Maybe this was the hesitation. This vulnerability that John is seeing right now. This exposure.
As the music begins to rise, John watches Sherlock’s hand on the bow, and he finally allows himself to think about everything that has passed between them, lets the images flow over his mind like the music. Sherlock’s eyes widening in shock as he encountered him at the pool, Sherlock’s hands tearing a Semtex vest from his body, then holding the gun in a standoff with a madman, both John and Sherlock prepared to burn. Sherlock’s eyes meeting his from across a courtroom. Sherlock’s hand in his in handcuffs fleeing through the city. One hand held out to him while the other tossed aside a mobile so casually before he leaped from the roof. Sherlock’s hand in his when he awoke after Mary fucking shot him. Dear fucking God. Sherlock’s hand taking the gun from John’s pocket and ending Magnussen. That hand taking off a glove to extend to John in friendship one last time on the tarmac. And Sherlock’s eyes on the tarmac… And John looks at Sherlock’s face as he plays.
Suddenly the music dips, and John with it, and unaccountably, tears spring to his eyes.
As the music began to rise again they spill over. He feels like something’s broken free in him and been washed from him, and now he can see Sherlock clearly—so full of sadness. John looks back as the music continues to wash over him and he can see all of Sherlock’s sadness on the tarmac, in the flat, at the wedding, everywhere. Sadness that John had willfully not seen. It had to be willful, how could he not have seen?
John thought, Did I actually call this man a machine? This man? I’m the one who tried to make myself over into a machine.
John realizes the extent to which he’s shut out thoughts and emotions now that he can’t do it anymore. Every repressed feeling and thought nearly overwhelm John as they crowd his mind at once. He brings the heels of his hands to his forehead, and then back to his lap. A noise somewhere between a sigh and a sob escapes his lips as the song ends.
Sherlock does not look at him, but bows his head and releases a shuddering breath.
John cannot speak. He doesn’t know what to say.
After a few moments Sherlock breaks the silence. “Popular lore holds that Bach wrote the Chaconne after he went on a trip, and returned to find that his wife had died and had been buried in his absence. They say that he wrote this piece of music to mourn for her. However, some historians say Bach would never have written sentiment into the music—that such is the idea of a later age. People will react to it emotionally regardless because of the way the music is written—the progression from a minor key to a major and back to a minor has that effect naturally... But people are fed some soppy romantic story, and they much prefer that, and actually become angry when you tell them it’s not the case. They don’t like to feel like they’ve just been manipulated by the music, even though that’s how the music is supposed to work. You feel what is through the music, not someone else’s falsehood.”
Finally, Sherlock’s eyes meet John’s.
“Oh, Sherlock, what have I done?” John’s voice is hardly more than a whisper.
“John…” He steps toward John hesitantly.
John still seated, says again, in greater agitation, “Sh-Sherlock! What have I done! What am I going to do? What are we going to do?” He reaches out and takes Sherlock’s hand, which is still holding the bow.
“Do? About what?” Sherlock looks down at their joined hands as if he’s not really sure that’s actually happened.
“Me. You. Us. Mary. All of it. I don’t know. I don’t know!” This last comes out as nearly a wail.
“What would you like to do about it?” With an effort, Sherlock raises his eyes from their joined hands.
John is still looking at the floor. He shakes his head. When he replies, his voice is nearly a whisper, “I don’t know.” He raises his eyes to find Sherlock’s intense gaze waiting for his. “I just know whatever it is, I don’t want to do it without you any longer. I’m sorry.”
Sherlock feels warmth bloom in him.
Perhaps he hasn’t lost everything after all. Maybe he still has the most important thing.