How does it feel the weight of the steel
The weight of the steel of the flat of the blade?
How does it feel to kneel at the feet
To kneel at the feet of the choices you've made?
-- Flat of the Blade by Massive Attack
“Surely you have something to watch on telly, right? Isn’t some brainless reality show on that you could watch and then bore me later recounting all the details of? You know how much I adore hearing second-hand about television I wouldn’t deign to watch in the first place,” Sherlock said.
“No, nothing much is on tonight…unless you’d like for me to stay and watch something with you? To keep you company, you know. I know how lonely you get, now that John’s gone,” Mrs. Hudson offered kindly.
Sherlock gritted his teeth. That was NOT the response he was looking for, by a long shot. “No! No…no. Don’t you have any…phone calls to make?” he tried hopefully.
“No, no one I need to speak with this evening, I called my niece this afternoon and—“she began, but Sherlock cut her off.
“A letter to write?”
“I don’t—Does anyone actually write letters anymore? How old do you think I am, Sherlock?“
“A dog to walk. A fire to put out. Anything.” His voice was rising with impatience.
“Sherlock.” She put her hands on her hips, “Don’t be ridiculous.”
“Maybe something womanly, then. I don’t know what sort of arcane rituals you’ve got. Maybe your hair needs setting or nails want doing or something that would make you go back to your own flat and stop haranguing me endlessly.”
“Oh, Sherlock.” She tutted. “Arcane rituals. Listen to you. As if you don’t have more ‘beauty’ products than I do. Or whatever you call them when they’re intended for vain men.” She ignored Sherlock’s scowl. “What you need is to eat. What you’ve had today wouldn’t keep a fly alive. Let me bring you some of my pot roast. The red meat will do you a world of good. You could use the iron. You look pale. Or paler,” she amended. She started bustling all around the flat, picking things up, putting them down, setting them to rights, straightening up clutter.
“Argh! See? You’re going to drive me to distraction, picking at me and finding things wrong when there is nothing wrong. I. Am. Fine! And don’t disturb my things,” he grumped.
Mrs. Hudson continued to ignore him. She began to tackle a pile of untidy, partially crumpled newspapers, refolding them into their correct sections and placing them into neat stacks. “You are not fine. I worry about you. It’s just like I said before John’s wedding, you didn’t know how it would be, that everything would be different,” intent on her newspapers, she failed to register that at this, his expression went from momentarily stricken to cultivated indifference. “At the time I said you’ve always lived alone, but that’s not really true, is it? I think you got used to living with John, and now it’s hard to go back to living alone, isn’t it, my poor, poor boy.”
The pity. That was the problem. That was what was making him speak so harshly to her; because if he didn’t, he really didn’t trust himself to be able to keep his voice steady in the face of that kind of pity. How much could he be expected to take? He couldn’t trust his voice to respond right away.
He took a deep breath and let her yammer on about her idea of nutrition, which included the unorthodox notion that red meat was a healthful restorative. He knew he could use this to his advantage.
“If I agree to the pot roast, will you leave me in peace to eat it?”
“Sherlock,” she said sadly, patting his cheek, “You know I only want what’s best for you.”
“What’s best for me is to be left alone.” He said, but there was no bite to it now.
She went out, clucking softly, back to 221A to make him a plate.
It was true that the long nights alone were the worst, and that Sherlock wouldn’t have minded Mrs. Hudson’s
intrusions company nearly so much if she hadn’t felt the need to bring up John’s marriage constantly, his absence, and Sherlock’s alleged heartbreak over these conditions.
Never mind that it was possible she could be right.
Part of the problem was that since shooting Charles Augustus Magnussen, Sherlock was supposed to be keeping a low profile, on the orders of the British Government. Not just his meddlesome, irritating, irksome brother, but really the rest of the British Government too. This meant he wasn’t solving nearly as many cases for Scotland Yard as he had been before his Great Hiatus. This further meant he had an abundance of free time. Free time was not his friend these days (or ever, really; the wall, with its spray-paint/bullet-hole if smile could have attested to this, had it the power of speech). There were only so many scientific experiments he could dream up, after all.
Sherlock was checking to make sure that Mrs. Hudson hadn’t displaced anything important with her straightening up when the landlady returned with a platter. “Where would you like it?” She asked him.
“Coffee table,” he said, and swept a space free for it. Said table was covered with stack upon stack of CDs. All of them were recordings of Bach. “Goodness, Sherlock, this place is a mess, you know. Why don’t you let me tidy some of this up for you? Just this once? Even though I’m not your housekeeper, I could help you out this once.”
“No, thank you, Mrs. Hudson. Just now I want all of this just as it is,” Sherlock replied, sitting on the sofa and picking up the plate and fork.
She went to the kitchen, filled the kettle, and put it on. She turned to the table, which was covered with beakers and tubing. “And this?”
“Needs to sit for another few days before it’s ready to be analyzed. That’s why I’m not eating there.”
She clucked some more, then busied herself again at the counter as the kettle clicked off. Sherlock huffed with soft impatience as he saw her return to the sofa with two mugs of tea. So much for leaving him in peace, then.
She began picking up the CDs and examining them. At least, he noted, she was careful to replace them in the same order they were in before she’d disturbed them. “I’m confused.” she said, “These all have different covers, but they all look like they’re the same thing over and over.”
“They’re all different recordings of Bach’s works for violin, performed by different musicians. I’m making a spreadsheet tracking the differences in the recordings, and I’m going to write a monograph on the subject,” Sherlock explained.
She tried to smile brightly. It looked pained. “Sounds…so interesting!” Mrs. Hudson said, utterly unconvincingly.
Sherlock snorted, “No it doesn’t. Not to you. You’re a terrible liar. It is to me, and that’s all that matters, since I’m the one doing it. I thought said you were going to leave me in peace if I ate this.”
“And I thought you said you were actually going to eat it,” she returned archly.
It was true. He hadn’t taken a single bite, or a sip of the tea. He raised the mug to his lips and drank as she nodded her approval. It was hot and very sweet, just the way he liked it. She knew him well. She and John both made his tea just how he liked it.
“And the roast?” she asked.
There was also mashed potatoes and peas. He cut off a piece of the roast and chewed and swallowed mechanically. It tasted fine, he supposed, but he had almost no appetite most of the time, and it just seemed so heavy and rich and…meaty…after so long of eating so little. But a promise was a promise. He took a bite of the potatoes. “There, are you satisfied? I’m not going to waste away to nothing.”
“All right Sherlock. I just worry about you here all alone.” She said, softly now.
Sherlock dropped the angry act. Because he really wasn’t angry with her at all. How could he be? But on the other hand, he didn’t want her here all night reminding him how pathetically alone and bored he was, because really. It was his turn to fake cheerfulness. He hoped he was doing a better job than she had. “I’m fine. Really. See? I have my pot roast and a project to keep me busy.”
“Well…good night then,” Mrs. Hudson said, a trifle uncertainly.
She retreated to her own flat and Sherlock sipped his tea and used his fork to smash the peas one at a time, thoughtfully, as he regarded his new stereo system and considered his plans for the evening.
He’d bought the stereo for himself when he’d started spending so much time alone. He’d never been much of a telly or movie person; he’d watched with John, and once John had gone he may as well have gotten rid of the television set for all the use it got. Music, on the other hand, was essential, and he decided that a top-of-the-line listening experience was little enough to want, considering. And hooking up the complicated speaker set-up had taken a deliciously long time. There were speakers in every room, and he could control them with the complex remote that came with the system. Music anywhere he wanted, or everywhere, if he wanted. He was immensely pleased with it.
He had not begun his project with the Bach recordings yet, and had only begun gathering the CDs. What if he started by playing each piece himself and then recording his observations about his own interpretation of the score, and then comparing those with the recordings he’d obtained? Yes, that would really be something new and interesting! He squished the remaining peas triumphantly, all at a stroke, watching the small green explosion that resulted.
He looked at the ruins of the peas with distaste. What would John say about you playing with your food like a child? What does it matter now? Oh, stop it. There’d been a couple of biscuits around midmorning, but no proper meal that day, really. He ate another bite of the roast, but decided that really just wasn’t happening. He wasn’t a big meat-eater at the best of times. By this time, the plate was an unappetizing, cold mess of mangled roast, pulverized peas, and cold potatoes. He scraped the meat and pea-smears into the bin and went to the refrigerator.
John would have the vapors when/if he saw this, for sure. A ghost of a smile crossed Sherlock’s face at the thought, and a picture flashed through his mind of John once opening the refrigerator to find a severed head and then abruptly closing it again. Sherlock smiled again, more strongly this time, at the memory.
The refrigerator held almost nothing. No milk (of course), and almost no real food. There was a bag on the bottom shelf, which contained another bag, which contained three dozen (deceased) white mice. This was not what Sherlock was looking for. There were a few unmentionable horrors in plastic containers in the back that possibly once contained edible items, but which now didn’t bear closer scrutiny. On the shelf on the door was the butter dish. Sherlock removed it, lifted the opaque white lid and gave it a sniff. It seemed ok. Considering some of the things he’d ingested, he was willing to take the chance.
He popped the plate, now containing just mashed potatoes into the microwave to warm them back up, and added a liberal amount of butter and salt. This was more like it; nice and uncomplicated, if he had to eat something. He placed the plate in the sink. He felt more virtuous for having eaten some non-junk-food item. It was almost a meal.
It must be getting on toward bedtime. He looked at the clock. 8:30. How could that be possible?
He was used to being up until all hours. The night and its silence stretched out ahead of him bleakly. This. This was why he needed a project, and why it was better if the project involved music. Well, no time like the present.
Sherlock went through the bedroom, undressed, and wrapped himself in a dressing gown for the night. He came back out and unsnapped his violin case, removed the instrument, and settled it under his chin. He might as well start with the Sonatas.
Engrossed as Sherlock was in his spreadsheets and the music, he had several thoughts occur nearly simultaneously: 1.) that he had not probably blinked in some time, and that he should probably do that now or his eyelids might never unstick from his corneas 2.) Bach solo violin sonata recordings did not include percussion and that if they did it would not be so 3.) Staccato, nor would it be played on a door that way. And getting louder.
“Sherlock!” It was Mrs. Hudson. Pounding on the door.
Sherlock grabbed the stereo remote from the coffee table and stopped the CD. “Sorry, Mrs. Hudson.”
“Two in the morning, Sherlock! The same song, over and over. You’re going to drive me right around the bend!”
“It won’t happen again, Mrs. Hudson.” He really was sorry, even. It was a thing that happened these days once in a while, which never used to happen before. Something about being away for two years had taught him how to do that.
Two in the morning! Well, there was another night successfully killed off. Sherlock plugged a set of headphones into the appropriate jack, settled them onto his ears, and then lay back on the sofa and let himself drift away.
If he was lucky, he wouldn’t dream.
“Wake up, lazybones. It’s half-ten. Lestrade’s been texting me now, because he can’t get you,” John said. There was a smell in the air of eggs and bacon. Toast. Sherlock felt an unfamiliar hollow feeling in his belly. Hungry. He’d woken up hungry for the first time in he couldn’t remember how long. He said nothing as a steaming cup of coffee was placed next to his head on the coffee table. “Breakfast, and then up and dressed. We have a case,” John continued as he headed back to the kitchen.
Sherlock didn’t move. He was afraid to even breathe, but he looked over at John where he was working on breakfast at the stove. Sherlock felt a warm surge in his chest at the sight of him. John was here. He was here. John.
“There you are. Fell asleep on the sofa again, did you. That’s where the few years between us must make all the difference. My back would be yelling at me all day, if I did that, I’ll tell you, to say nothing of the shoulder. Just waiting for the bacon and breakfast is done. Hope you’ll eat something this time, you look like you could use it,” John said, shaking his head a little. He was wearing a pair of faded blue jeans and a burgundy cardigan that made the blue of his eyes look like the sea after a night storm, and Sherlock was struck dumb with gratitude at his presence. He didn’t know how or why he was here, and in the illogic of dreams he didn’t question it. John.
So many mornings that used to be like this and I didn’t know just didn’t know that we wouldn’t have them always and I didn’t understand that just having coffee sweet from someone else’s hands was something I should have held close since solitude had just been neutral before I didn’t know how bitter it would be now and I didn’t know that having a friend could feel like that and I never had one before so I didn’t recognize the moment when having a friend became being in—delete—I didn’t know. What if I had said thank you more? What if I had remembered to buy milk sometimes? He used to get angry. What if I could’ve been sorry then? But I can say thank you now. I can say it. I don’t think this is even real so I can say it. I can say everything.
But he could say nothing. He tried to open his mouth and it wouldn’t.
“What’s the matter? Cat got your tongue? You can talk, you know,” John smiled at him from the kitchen, but then his face began to change from John’s face into another face Sherlock had known, in another, less pleasant place. “Because I know how to make you tell me the things I want know. There are so many ways to gain information from the unwilling, Mr. Holmes.” The cardigan became a long, green, military-style coat. The spatula grew into a long, evil metal pipe.
Sherlock jerked awake in the cold dimness of the early morning.
In the dim silence, the instant Sherlock was fully awake, the thoughts came like demented birds, circling, cycling faster than he could process them for removal: What if I’d taken John with me? No I couldn’t have. I can’t even have wanted that, considering how things turned out. But what if he could have been informed of what happened, of what had to happen, by Mycroft, not right away but some time after; Mycroft could have informed him and what if then? What would John have done then? Would it have made a difference? Balance of probability is that having decided on a course of action he would have followed through anyway. But would it have changed his reaction to my return? What if I had taken into my calculations that he wouldn’t ever have believed I was a fraud? Would that have changed my planning? What if I had said from the roof “You’re right John, keep believing in me, no matter what.” What would it have changed? What if Mary had killed me with her shot? Nothing, I suppose, is what. What if he hadn’t thrown that memory stick into the fire? Was there anything on it? What if Magnussen had real documents I could have seen? How could I have been so blind about that? Mind Palace, obvious. Unforgivable. What if I had returned to Serbia? Would I be less numb right now or more? We shook hands before I went to the plane. I couldn’t speak but I took his hand. Like that other time when we raced through the humid London streets for our lives after he punched the Superintendent and I took him hostage. And we ran, breathing the free air, chained together, and no one could stop us, and all of Scotland Yard couldn’t take us, and then we sat in a darkened room, side by side, silent, and if only I knew then, really knew then. I knew then but not like this. Not like this and then I lied to him like nothing mattered to me and I sent him away, and then I was gone and when I came back it was me he laid out on the floor with rage and nothing’s been the same. What if
STOP. Delete, delete, DELETE!
Although it was not quite 6AM, Sherlock rose from the sofa to clean his teeth and make tea. He would return to the Bach Project so that he could refrain from the Self-Recrimination Project.