What passing bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons
No mockeries for them from prayers or bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, --
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them at all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of silent minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.
The Requiem Aeternam from War Requiem by Benjamin Britten
Poem by Wilfred Owen
A Drawing-down of Blinds
They were waiting.
His bedroom was cool and twilight-coloured with a crisp atmosphere due to the steady bite of the rain. His computer was playing music, one of his calming playlists: Shriekback’s Faded Flowers, Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne, John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, Kraftwerk’s Trans Europe Express; other things that were soft and rich. Stories and odysseys he’d assembled to soothe his thoughts and take the edges off, like water slowly winnowing away at rock until it became smooth -- or a chasm.
Sherlock was infinitely patient during a case when he might have to finesse a suspect over a period of days, or conduct an interminable stake-out in the freezing cold. He found that it was quite different when it was something under your own skin, and he felt raw and twitchy. Mycroft had texted him periodically, wonder what he was doing that he couldn’t call , but there was little for Sherlock to do until Mycroft brought him intel. Anathema though it had once been, he sat tight and waited on his elder brother, knowing that they had to divide the labor efficiently, with no ‘haring off into trouble.’
Camera found at crime scene. Common parts, no traces. MH
Haring off into trouble was what he did, but he bowed, no, grudgingly gave way , to the necessity. Mycroft was an orb weaver, and his network of informants easily eclipsed Sherlock’s own.
Suspect either moved or was incarcerated. Looking into recent criminal releases and backgrounds. International informants are searching for similar M.O. in other countries. MH
As rational and reasonable as it sounded, staying home and letting others gather data was difficult. Sherlock was used to relying on himself, solving his own cases, and he didn’t trust anyone else to devote the same single-minded purpose to the cause. He didn’t like interference even when it was something comparatively stupid, like missing bureaucratic data, so having to delegate parts of an investigation into his own twin’s killer cut into him marrow-deep and left him overstrung.
Are you going through the particulars of that file I left? MH
That was the crux of his dilemma: He had work to do. There was a puzzle to solve, right here, right now. He even reached for the file, but something stayed his hand as the music changed from Cohen’s tea and oranges to a tenor wail. Coltrane’s Psalm began; moody, intense saxophone tone poetry that made a mockery of his mood. Psalm meant the good news, but there was no good news here. This was music written about the work-- not Sherlock’s, but Coltrane’s. Sherlock leaned over to his bedside to smack his computer silent. He didn’t want to be party to the appreciation of someone else’s work when he couldn’t even bring himself to perform his own.
Yes. The crux of his problem. The music had layered a good dose of irony on an already untenable situation.
I’m finding it difficult. SH
How so? MH
I require your help. SH
Sherlock sometimes wished that he could lose himself in Buddhist contemplation, because the idea of no-self or emptiness was a powerful draw. He could wrap his mind around the philosophical constructs, but he could only go so far and no further, because Sherlock had no belief within him for something he couldn’t fathom through his senses.
He’d read copious amounts on religion as a teen, but didn’t find any comfort in it, and honestly hadn’t expected to. Sherrinford was gonegonegone , and he didn’t even visit her grave because that was all about transport anyway.
He didn’t miss the transport.
And he couldn’t bring himself to believe in an afterlife to make that hurt any less.
Help, or support? MH
Can’t it be both? SH
He should be able to function without big brother. His assistance here, while not quite exculpatory, was slightly redemptive. Untenable situation, this.
But strangely comforting in some ways, all the same.
--- --- ---
Sherlock stood in the hallway, leaning against the wall as he looked at John. John hadn’t noticed him yet, and Sherlock took his time to study him, since John was unselfconscious and natural in a way he never was when under close scrutiny. John under examination became challenging; it was in the way he stood, in the way he lifted his chin. His shoulders went tense with military squareness and tightened muscles. Aggressive in all things.
Was it short-man syndrome? Sherlock didn’t think so.
How everyone didn’t see a big flashing sign over John’s head that screamed ‘dominant bastard’ Sherlock had no idea. John worked wonders with only a bland smile, bonhomie and the boxy-beige atrocities, the look-at-how-harmless-I-am jumpers. Amazing visuospatial resonance. He gave the appearance of one thing until you got in close, personal; then the frequency of the second image resolved into the real John. It shouldn’t have worked, yet it was an effective smoke screen because people did not observe. Stupidstupidstupid. Even Moriarty had missed the steel core beneath John’s excellent facade.
John finally felt himself being watched and looked up from his laptop screen; the blue light of his browser washing his face pale and throwing the lines that illustrated his features into high relief.
“I find your nose absurd.”
John gave a startled laugh. “Thanks.”
Sherlock raised an eyebrow in question.
“I’m just happy you noticed my nose at all.” John smiled at Sherlock, but his eyes were serious. “What are we doing?”
“We,” Sherlock emphasized, “are doing nothing.” He could hear the petulance in his own voice, even though he had chosen the route of non-action. He crossed his arms and leaned against the wall. He knew it was a defensive gesture, and that John saw more than was apparent, especially anything that smacked of vulnerability, but he did it all the same. “We’re waiting on intel.”
Sherlock looked at the floor but didn’t say a word to that. An entire conversation had already been and gone in John’s two words; no need to hash it out in the open just for the sake of redundancy and vocal exercise.
“Is there anything I can do?”
Anything. Everything. John could take the pain that rested in his chest like lead shot and surgically extract it. John could hunt down everyone who had ever made Sherlock doubt himself and make them squirm. John could find the man who did this thing and tear him apart piece by piece until he was reduced to a husk as empty as his heart. John could reach the moon and cure cancer and save the goddamn planet from nuclear annihilation and global climate change because he willed it so.
“You already turned me down.”
“I said no fucking, Sherlock.” John folded the laptop shut and set it aside. “And nothing right then. You weren’t...”
“I’m fully capable of consent,” Sherlock scoffed.
“You are now.”
The rest of that sentence remained unaddressed, but Sherlock heard it all the same. You weren’t then. You weren't in your right mind. You didn’t know what you wanted. You were -- not right. But Sherlock also heard the new assent in John’s voice and took advantage of that. “Yes. I am.”
Sherlock crossed the room and sat at John’s feet, resting his head on John’s knee. If John was surprised he didn’t show it, just raised his right hand to Sherlock’s head and began to stroke his fingers through Sherlock’s hair. Sherlock hummed at the feeling before he spoke. “Mycroft will be here in a little over an hour, and I need to do two things before then.”
“I need you.” Sherlock rubbed his face into John’s thigh and smelled him, John scent. “Whatever you want to give me, I’ll take it. Nothing else compares.”
“Don’t make me say it. You’re already full of yourself.”
“Arse.” John’s voice was tinged with fond exasperation. “And the other thing that needs doing?”
But Sherlock just shook his head and waited. He didn’t want to discuss the other. That was between him and--
“Okay. Yes.” John tilted Sherlock’s face up so that they were eye to eye. Sherlock nodded at him, slow and automatic as John pulled him up, planting a soft kiss on his lips, tugging his bottom lip into John’s mouth where John gently worried at it with his teeth.
John pulled away and gave Sherlock a soft push. “Go. Bedroom. I don’t want Mycroft to get an eyeful if he gets here early.”
Sherlock snorted at that. “Serve him right.”
“It would put me off.”
“He puts everyone off. Like a grandmother and a vicar in one.”
Sherlock turned and took John by the hand, walking backwards, still facing John, not wanting to break that connection. He pulled him through the kitchen and into his room, and John went, quiet and considering, but Sherlock didn’t make the mistake of thinking that leading John through the flat equalled leading John in anything else. If John was led it was because he allowed it.
John shut the door behind himself and leaned against it with false casualness. He nodded to Sherlock, a deep bow of the head that told Sherlock everything he needed to know.
So he dropped to his knees.
“Close your eyes.”
He obeyed John, and closing his eyes was like a long exhale after a deep Aum projected from the diaphragm. It should be disconcerting. He should close his eyes and find himself alone with only his tenebrous thoughts, but there was no hesitation, and no real darkness when he did so because John was directing this, and John meant that it was never truly dark. John could take chaotic, stochastic systems, continuums of dendroid thought, and make sense of all the conflicting information. There was a rhythm to this now, and the act of obeisance, the surrendering of his will, automatically started his journey towards that plane of clear thought. Rightness. Substance. Mathematical precision of his instruments.
A lack of pain.
He heard a susurrus of fabric. John moving.
John came to rest behind him, and Sherlock felt hands on his shoulders, kneading the muscle there. Until John had touched him he had no idea just how tight he was wound, and he groaned as clever thumbs dug into the indentations of his spine and shoulders.
John continued his deep massage, thumbs digging in almost painfully, but the release of pressure afterwards was exquisite. “We don’t have enough time.”
Sherlock sighed and relaxed even further into John’s fingers.
“I was saying. We don’t have enough time to do all that I would like to.” Sherlock was close enough to the bed that John was able to sit down on its edge without taking his hands away from Sherlock’s back. Sherlock could feel their heat and pressure as John leaned in, putting his mouth right next to Sherlock’s ear. “So this will just give you a taste of what will happen later.”
Sherlock groaned but didn’t say anything. He wanted to be good for John. Like John was so, so good for him.
“We don’t have enough time,” John’s hands tightened on his shoulders, “but I can tell you everything that I want to do to you.”
“I told you to be quiet.” John’s left hand moved over his shoulder and around his neck, pulling him back into John’s knee. He was thrown off balance, had to catch himself, but John’s hand on his throat didn’t waiver, and the knees against his vertebrae were unforgiving, and his head fell back, looking up at John upside down, watching John’s avid interest in his face, John’s widening pupils, lips parted in a half-smile.
John’s hand tightened, but it was firm, not choking. Possessive, not controlling.
Fine line, that.
John’s other hand snaked down Sherlock’s front, down his chest and abdomen to grasp the bottom of Sherlock’s t-shirt. He pulled it over Sherlock’s head, but only just, leaving it wrapped around his shoulders and bunched up behind Sherlock’s neck to give John a clear view of Sherlock’s naked chest and rapidly tightening nipples.
“Undo everything else. I want to see.”
John liked the power play of being fully clothed in juxtaposition to Sherlock’s nudity. Sherlock liked it too. He’d never understood shame over the human form. He had some problems with fabrics irritating his skin, a common sensory issue, and often went nude as a child, much to his parents’ displeasure. Even now he only bought the best fabrics, and he wore his t-shirts and socks inside out because he didn’t like tags or thick seams against his skin. It’d driven John spare when he’d found out that Sherlock always slept bare-arsed on 600 thread count sheets.
Some people got off on the vulnerability, but it had never been such a turn-on with previous partners; John must be the fulcrum. John enjoyed Sherlock’s nudity, part aesthetic appreciation, part fantasy fulfilment, because it underscored how very willing Sherlock was to do what John demanded.
Nudity? Alright. Tawse to your buttocks? No problem. You want what where? Yes, please.
Sherlock’s hands went to the drawstring of his soft yoga bottoms, unknotting them and pulling at the cord till it loosened. The waistband caught on his cock for a moment before the fabric slipped free and puddled around his knees.
John hummed with appreciation and he looked down at Sherlock’s body, as he ran his hands over everything he could reach, a slow glide of calloused fingers that made Sherlock’s pulse pick up speed in response.
“I don’t think I spend enough time just touching you.”
Sherlock snorted, but John ignored the scoffing sound.
“We’re always racing towards something else. I think I want to get you off quick one day then just spend hours mapping your body. Become a human cartographer.” John ran his nose against the nape of Sherlock’s neck and up just behind Sherlock’s ear where he took a deep breath. “Until I know everything. Put it in my memory palace.”
“You don’t have a memory palace.”
“I should. For this.” John took Sherlock by the shoulders once more and pressed. “Budge up.”
Sherlock scooted forward and John sat behind him, dragging Sherlock back to sit down between his spread knees, resting in the cradle of his thighs. “Your depth of processing needs work. If you consider the self as a mnemonic device--”
“Oh.” Sherlock went quiet again, letting John take over.
John’s hands were becoming more focused now. They played over his nipples and belly button, but John was bowing to the time constraint imposed on him and quickly homed in on Sherlock’s cock.
It was an interesting perspective. Sherlock could look down at his own body and marvel, when he usually only treated it to passing boredom and general maintenance. Sherlock took no pride in his looks, and was in fact rather mystified at the attraction that his underbelly-of-a-fish pale skin held. But the sight of John’s hand closing around him shaded everything with a layer of buzzing eroticism, and in moments like this he could suddenly see his own appeal through the lens of John’s attraction.
John’s fist closed around him, tight, and Sherlock inhaled a sharp breath that sucked in his stomach and clenched his teeth. John’s other hand came around to cradle his bollocks, and Sherlock could feel John’s clothed erection in the small of his back, and John’s cheek resting against his shoulders. John stroked him, just shy of too tight, from base to tip, and rolled his balls in the other hand. No lubricant, just Sherlock’s own pre-ejaculate, so it was rather rough. Rather perfect.
“No preliminaries this time, but if I had the option we’d take this so slow.” John squeezed his left hand, and just shy of too tight became much too tight. Amazingly too tight, and Sherlock couldn’t help the whine that escaped him. “I’d have time for accoutrements.”
Sherlock could feel John’s eyelashes flutter against his back, and that more than the grinding of John’s erection into his backside told him that John was not untouched by what was happening. The hand around his scrotum tightened as well, then pulled, down, down, and that was brutal and intense. The pleasure of the sex act was at war with the pain, and it was a physical type of interference effect, cognitive processes halted during the interpretation in his working memory. The hand on his cock said yesyesyes, the memory of previous cock torture and all it could do for him was of crystalline clarity, but that first stab of pain with little lead-in was telling his lizard brain to bolt. He was teetering on the precipice of reconciliation between the two, and the tension, both mind and body, was perfectly tuned.
John eased his grip, going back to the slow stroking, and Sherlock sighed and sagged in both relief and surrender. The removal of the pain was almost as great a pleasure as the masturbation; the endorphin rush added to the previous rush of the sex act, gorgeous. “I’d take time to shave you bare. Skin smooth, soft.” John’s voice was lyrical and followed the tempo set by his hand. “But not because of the way it would look. I’d get you nice and hairless down here so it wouldn’t get pulled out, after.”
“Lay you out, everything exposed to the cool air. Your eyes would still be shut and you’d have no idea what was coming before the first drip of hot wax hit your cock...right...here.” John squeezed the head on his upstroke and Sherlock was suddenly breathless. “I’d start with the candle higher, so the wax would be cooler as it hit your skin.” John was lipping at him now, punctuating his sentences with hot presses against his spine and neck. “Then lower it. Coating everything with a thin layer of wax. Maybe even a hot slide into your urethra.”
“Fuck.” John’s grip had tightened again around his balls, and this time he’d added nails to the mix, digging into the soft flesh, and almost strangling the glans with his other hand. Sherlock writhed as well as he could, but he was pinned against John, and if he moved too much the pull became exponentially worse, better, he was no longer sure. John held on for longer this time, seconds ticking over, another ten, another twenty. An extra minute, a small eternity before he released the pressure. Sherlock had drawn his body into a tight arch, but became supple and boneless with the removal of the pain. John resumed the stroking, and the speech that was unspooling Sherlock even more than John’s hands.
“Until the candle is so close to the skin that you feel the heat of the flame, and the burn of the wax is so intense that you cry out with every new drip.” John’s voice and breathing were becoming ragged, and Sherlock’s breath matched it in an amazing stereo. “Afterwards I would slowly peel away the layers of wax to show the skin beneath. You’re so pale, but I bet you’d be pink and sensitized from the wax. Your nerve endings would be like live wires as I touched you. Stroked you just...like..this...”
John sped his hand up on Sherlock’s cock, and once more clenched around Sherlock’s testicles and didn’t let go even as Sherlock cried out and started to shake.
“I’ve got so many fantasies, you’ve no idea. I would lie awake nights in my bed and try to imagine you like this, but it was never this good. My imagination isn’t this real or raw.”
“What?” John panted against Sherlock’s neck, and that was almost an equal to the shock of pleasure coursing through him in repetitive oscillations of both agony and bliss.
“All of it. Everything.”
“Everything I want?”
“Everything you are.”
John made a sound that was almost a sob before letting go of Sherlock. Sherlock huffed in protest, but John took him by the shoulders and pushed him over so that Sherlock landed on his back. Sherlock blinked at him, frustrated, and began to scowl, but John reached his hands out to pet him, patting and stroking his chest as if to gentle him, and looked at him. Looked at him with wide eyes, epiphany eyes. “You. Are. An. Idiot.”
John put one hand on Sherlock’s chest, pressing him to the floor, and swooped down to swallow Sherlock’s cock down to the root.
John just hummed in agreement and licked up to the head, slicking everything with saliva before adding his hand back to the mix. John concentrated his mouth on the glans, running his tongue along the edge where the foreskin was bunched, tender skin that made the sound buckle in his throat as it was sucked.
Sherlock was already worked up, but this, John doing this for him after that build-up, John sucking at him, submitting to Sherlock’s needs instead of his own, it was wrong. Wrong, and wonderful, and Sherlock was so, so...
John nodded around his cock and didn’t stop sucking in rapid counterpoint to the hand stroking the base. His mouth would descend as his hand slid up, then the quick pull up that threatened removal before he entered the downward attack. Sherlock felt the deliberate slip of a canine along his length and gasped, suddenly at the brink, and he couldn’t help it when his hands came up to hold John’s head, buried in his hair, the short strands crisp against his fingers as John movedmovedmoved. Moved him.
“God. John. Yes.”
His bollocks pulled up tight. His cock swelled with an added rush of blood. John hummed, a vibration of approval that shook everything into a split second of high fidelity before a cascade of white overrode his vision and he was coming, coming into John’s mouth, brain going offline in a wonderful cessation of fuliginous anger and grief.
The lack was amazing. A single moment of respite.
John had given him that. John, with no expectation of reciprocation. Sherlock panted, unable to catch his breath. “That. That was--”
John’s arms came around him, cradling him. “You’re still an idiot.” John sounded almost pained. He was still hard against Sherlock’s spine, but he slapped Sherlock’s hand down when he made a move to touch him.
“I’m an idiot?”
“I’ve incontrovertible proof of it.”
“That’s a big claim.”
“Everything I am?”
Sherlock smiled and took pleasure in the rapid beating of his own heart. “I’ll have it one day.”
John sniffed in derision. “It’s been yours since the pool.”
--- --- ---
Sherlock sat on the sofa, examining the thick manila folder in front of him as if it were a plague rat. Sherlock could feel John looking at him and he raised his head to see worry in his eyes, tempered by tentative wonder at their earlier exchange. John sat down beside him, thigh touching Sherlock’s, as though his presence was support enough to get him through. And perhaps it was.
Sherlock had dressed in a suit, after. He had no way of knowing what would be required of them later and he wanted to be prepared. John had foregone his own orgasm in an act of self-abnegation that Sherlock didn’t quite understand, and had spent several minutes in the loo afterwards, running cold water.
Sherlock wanted to thank John for taking him away for a moment but he didn’t have the vocabulary. He had the grammar of lips and body, submission in any form John wanted, in order to communicate his gratitude, but John wouldn’t allow it. John had seemed to derive pleasure simply from giving him pleasure.
Sherlock had never felt so powerful. Or humbled.
It was the first half of a two part process. John had altruistically given him a moment of clarity and normality, preparing him for a much more onerous task of self-mastery.
“We need to go through the evidence.” John kept his voice quiet, non-provoking. Sherlock had been too broken to examine the actual scene, and of course John would worry about Sherlock castigating himself for such a human weakness. As if Sherlock hadn’t proven beyond a shadow of doubt that he had human weaknesses. Maybe more than most. How dull, being like everyone else for once.
“Can you do that?”
Sherlock looked at him with derision, a look that he hoped John translated as of course, you tosser.
John reached for the file but Sherlock brought his hand down to cover John’s. “No. Pin them up. I don’t think I can trust my memory alone right now.” Sherlock frowned. “Too many...preconceptions.” Ghosts. Emotions. Was this what people meant by haunted? Hunted, more like. “It plays havoc with detached, deductive reasoning.”
“Pin them how.”
“With a tack.”
John rolled his eyes and Sherlock smirked.
“Victimology. Latest victims first, then in reverse chronological order. Particularly close ups of detail. And the writing. The earlier ones didn’t have a message.”
“We wait for Mycroft.”
John turned around and stared at him.
Sherlock returned his stare. “He’s come to the same conclusions. Well before I did. He has feelers out already, looking for similar modus operandi and whoever was watching us at the scene. I can’t...” Sherlock trailed off, thinking about the task before them. “I can usually indulge in spiting Mycroft.”
“But not today.”
“This is more important.”
John went back to pinning papers and photos to the wall. “And what will you be doing?”
“Something that I should have done hours ago.”
--- --- ---
The violin case itself was relatively contemporary, no older than Sherlock, and high quality, if forgettable. Not that the case mattered at all.
It was nondescript transport and protection for the violin. The violin.
‘It’s named Eurydice,’ she’d said with a smile. She’d exaggerated the Italian pronunciation, drawing out its syllables with relish as she stroked her first full-sized violin. “ You-ri-DEE-chay. Like the opera.”
‘Sounds feeble, then.’
‘She wasn’t feeble!’
‘Dying from snakebite then needing to be rescued by a man who botches the rescue anyway? Sounds feeble to me.’
He stroked the spruce soundboard, traced the French curve of the f-hole with a forefinger as it lay somnolent against the burgundy crushed velvet of the case.
She hadn’t spoken to him for three hours after; she hadn’t spoken to him until he’d apologised. It was a grudging, tiny little sorry that he gave her in the end, but it was there.
The sound of Eurydice was anything but feeble, that much was true. Eurydice, meaning she whose justice extends widely.
He picked her up with reverence, one hand at the tailpiece and chin rest, the other cradling the maple neck. He ran a thumb over the steel e string, pressing it into the ebony fingerboard and feeling the tension and possibility there, as if the violin existed in a constant state of anticipation.
He knew that he was anthropomorphising an inanimate object, and that it was irrational, but Sherrinford had practically demanded that he acknowledge the violin’s sentience, and he found that, even now, he could do naught but humor her.
Sherlock had aged despite all odds, but he was still humoring Sherrinford, who would ever be nine years old in his mind’s eye.
He sluiced his eyes over her curves, turning Eurydice over to admire the vibrant flame-figured wood of the back with its gentle slopes. Eurydice wasn’t flashy, but she had quality in every form and line, every material the best available, every consideration put into her creation.
Sherlock wasn’t just being fanciful when he called her Eurydice. He wasn’t only indulging someone long dead or wallowing in sentimentality. Sherlock was honoring the century-gone luthier who had made her with so much passion. You couldn’t name an object, but you could name a personality, and that is what the violin maker had wrought.
Sherlock sat and placed Eurydice in his lap before withdrawing his bow from the case and tightening the hair. He had recently applied the light rosin cake for greater stiction, and he could still smell a faint whiff of rosin, pungent, concentrated pine like incense in a church sensor, which never failed to remind him of Respighi, memory palace = pine = Pines of Rome = Respighi = third shelf, Composers, R.A.
He had originally played to feel closer to his sister, and for that first year after her death he had done little else. The case, the violin, had still smelled of her. Lavender, baby powder, vanilla like sugary biscuits hot from the oven. He’d slept in her bed and played her violin, but the focus of his olfactory obsession had faded over that year, until it existed only in his imagination, and soon he could not recall the exact scent of her, and the case began to smell like they all smelled, the faint must of aging fabric, bitter rosin and polished wood.
He would not be playing Respighi today.
Sherlock picked up the violin and placed it under his chin, resting it against his collarbone. He picked up the bow, his thumb under the frog, adjusting his hold before he applied it to the strings, pulling a quick downbow near the bridge.
No, not Respighi. Something of this nature called for the monumental.
Sherlock inhaled, held it, then exhaled with precise focus before he began to play.
The first four measures, the somber thematic statement. Then variations on that theme. Bach’s Chaconne was a dance as the name suggested, but it was so much more than that. The beginning of the first minor, which so many people (idiots) equated with birth, announced that this piece would be epic in scope.
Thematic transformation, chord substitution, sarabande rhythm.
Sherlock played with a subtle vibrato, vibrato on the stopped chords, very controlled. There was no such thing as vibrato in a true Baroque context, but he was a modern interpreter/interpolator, and he stayed true to the spirit of the piece. The bow, linear, continuous, beautiful internal resonance. He tried not to break the chords, and his legato technique, sometimes unsure, did not fail him today when he needed it most.
Laying the foundation, building blocks in the air to create this...no, not a cathedral. Too much yearning for that. A Taj Mahal. A tomb for a beloved.
Many scholars disputed the idea that Bach created the Chaconne as a tombeau for his beloved wife, Maria Barbara, mother to his many children. Sherlock assumed that those scholars had never played Bach, and had never known grief, for if the Chaconne was not a tombeau, then a true tombeau had never been played.
Bach’s mother had died when he was nine, his father, when he was ten. He was raised by a brother and married young, and though he had many children, his twins died only weeks after their birth. Before he was even 35 he was widowed while on a trip, had come home to find his wife already buried. He wrote the partita soon after.
The partita wasn’t just a tombeau written for the dead. All of Bach’s work was, in some form, a memorial.
Sherlock saw himself there, too. He saw beauty triumph over the pain. Pain became exalted, and with the thematic variation it became something new altogether: deep introspection that demanded the soul of the player. It was not unlike what he shared with John.
The dark minor key became a major key, and the entire work was lifted up, became a spiritual construct in the air, layer upon layer of shifting sound, architecture without true substance, perfect in its shimmering complexity. A castle in the sky. Buttressed, intersecting geometry, stained glass panels that refracted the light with prism-like efficiency. Transparency and sweeping sound. Genetic pyrotechnics, small explosions of exultation before returning to the original theme.
Sherlock was an atheist, but this was almost holy.
When Sherlock played the violin his mind was often on other things. He could play and think through a particularly difficult problem, or let his mind wander where it would, since the playing was almost automatic, and the technique refined. But there was no playing the Chaconne without being in the Chaconne. It made demands on the player, immersed him in its complexity, and just when he thought that he had a complete grasp on it, it effervesced into nothing, and he had to chase it once again.
It engaged him on all levels: emotionally, spiritually, intellectually. There was no such thing as an expert when it came to the Chaconne. It could be played for a lifetime without the musician having a firm grasp upon it.
Sherlock closed his eyes and put everything into his playing. Intensity, focus, concentration, emotive power. Rich, dense, multifarious, phrase shadings and implied counterpoint. So much to focus on, so much to interpret. The move from the major key back into the minor key.
The everything of it -- importuning anguish, joy, love, sorrow, beautiful and glorious with a dark, bitter bite that never made it anything less than reassurance of the spirit. This was music that told a person why they bothered living.
It was sublime.
Brahms once wrote of the Chaconne that, “On one stave, for a small instrument, the man writes a whole world of the deepest thoughts and most powerful feelings. If I imagined that I could have created, even conceived the piece, I am quite certain that the excess of excitement and earth-shattering experience would have driven me out of my mind.”
The Chaconne, so powerful a human creation that it has reached the same level of impossibility as Lovecraft’s Old Ones, able to drive men mad just with the knowledge that it existed.
In a world that often seemed to be nothing but blemishes and battlefield, the Chaconne was...absolutely...
He played the last note, drawing the bow a final time, and went silent, head bowed in a moment of gravid silence.
The finish. The end. Bach’s masterpiece. A pinnacle of human achievement on par with placing a man on the moon. This was the music that heralded the dawn of the Enlightenment.
He felt John behind him, and someone else, Mycroft, quietly observing him. No one wanted to break the silence, break the cantrip the violin had spelled, but eventually Sherlock brought Eurydice down to his lap and laid the bow on the nearby table. He looked out the window at the rain that still fell in a steady tap-tap, felt the weight of excess gravity holding him down.
He stroked the violin again, wanting to praise it but unable to give in to such a fanciful notion. Instead, he loosened the hair on his bow before turning his attention to his violin. The moment was proud and beautiful, sad and noble, and laying Eurydice in the case was like a burial, adding the bow like the laying on of flowers; pulling down the lid, the final snick of the clasps as he pressed them closed, like a farewell.
It was the very best he had ever played.
He would never surpass it.
And Sherlock would never, ever play the Chaconne again. There was a first time for everything; and a last time for everything as well.
He turned towards John and Mycroft, finally centered. Finally Sherlock after too many hours of being buried in grief. He wasn’t perfectly himself -- he wasn’t even quite sure what or who that was any more, but he could do what was necessary, what had been deferred for much too long.
Time enough for mourning when this was done.
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