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A Magnificent Instrument

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A Magnificent Instrument

 

The first time he hears it he thinks the world is ending. That’s at least the message his brain relays to his muscles, and he nearly falls out of bed. It’s 4am, and from downstairs there is a deep yet strident blast of a horn. John sits up, rubs his eyes, and tries to calm his racing heart. What the hell? The blasting turns into scales. He slides out from under the covers, throws on his dressing gown, and half-trips down the stairs.

Sherlock Holmes is sitting in his favourite chair, pyjama-clad and tousled, holding an enormous tuba. He must notice John out of his peripheral vision, since he nods, finishes the scale, and says, “Hello!” as if it were perfectly normal to be playing the tuba in the small hours of the morning.

“What on earth are you doing?” John asks, balancing between extreme annoyance and complete bewilderment. He’s too tired to figure it out.

Sherlock looks completely nonplussed. “I would think it were obvious. I did warn you,” he says.

He had, three days ago when they’d first met. But he’d said nothing about sounding the musical equivalent of a foghorn in the middle of the night.

“You said you played when you were thinking!”

Sherlock shrugs around the giant instrument. “I’m thinking.”

“You can’t be serious. You’ll wake Mrs. Hudson!”

“I gave her top of the range noise-cancelling headphones a week ago.”

“Were you going to get me a pair, too?”

“I hadn’t thought about it. You look tired,” says Sherlock. “Go and get some rest.”

John is halfway up the steps when the scales start again.

He puts a pillow over his head, grits his teeth, and prays he doesn’t commit murder before the morning.

 

***

 

“So why the tuba?” John asks, sitting at the table with a late breakfast of poached eggs on toast. He’s halfheartedly reading the Guardian, but the offensive golden behemoth that is currently reclining in Sherlock’s chair piques his interest. Sherlock himself is sitting at the table across from him, polishing the removable mouthpiece.

“The tuba is a magnificent instrument. It is the backbone of any orchestra and holds rhythm for brass ensembles.”

“You’re in an orchestra?”

“No. I prefer to play solo.”

“Solo tuba?” John raises an eyebrow.

“I prefer solitude.” He thinks, then adds, “Initially I was trained on the violin.”

“The violin! What happened?” John is certain he’d prefer to be woken up in the middle of the night by the melodic strains of a violin. Anything would be better than the rumbling bass of the tuba.

“As it turned out, the violin came easily to me. I wanted more of a challenge.”

John shoots him an incredulous look. “The tuba can’t possibly be more challenging than the violin.”

Sherlock smiles, a wicked thing. “Perhaps not. But Mycroft hated it. I found it the perfect antithesis to his chosen instrument.”

“What’s that?”

Sherlock smirks. “The piccolo.”

John actually snorts.

“Besides, composing for tuba helps me think. It’s big, loud, and takes an incredible amount of finesse to coax anything melodic out of it. Look at my lips, John. They would be completely wasted on a string instrument.”

John studies Sherlock’s lips. They’re large and defined. “What about them?”

“The shape is perfect for a brass instrument,” Sherlock confirms. “You, for example, would struggle to get anything but a squeak out of it.”

“Now, look here. I played the clarinet. For three years. I wasn’t half bad.”

Sherlock raises an eyebrow. “Oh! Hmm. Well, that’s intriguing.”

“Why?” John asks around a mouthful of egg.

Sherlock doesn’t answer. Instead, he gets up from the table and goes to his chair, places the bulky instrument on his lap, and replaces the mouthpiece. “I really am very good. I have perfected triple-tonguing.”

“Have you now?” John doesn’t know exactly what that means, but it sounds suggestive. He’s perfected his tonguing techniques too, but Sherlock probably doesn’t want to know about that.

“It doesn’t bother you too badly?” Sherlock asks, pressing the levers with long fingers and looking at John almost as if he had real concern for his welfare.

“It’s not a deal breaker,” sighs John. It really isn’t. Annoying, yes, but not irritating enough to make him go back to that sterile bedsit where the only thing of interest was his illegal firearm. “Go on then. Impress me.”

John can’t help but smile and shake his head as his eccentric flatmate launches into a rousing rendition of “Flight of the Bumblebee” -- arranged specifically for solo tuba. Sherlock’s entire body gets into it; he moves and sways, a strange and intimate dance that isn’t as awkward as John thought it would be. Instead, Sherlock looks completely at ease, happy even. His long fingers flutter over the levers, and John has to admit: Sherlock is good. More than good: he’s excellent. It’s a complete surprise, and John laughs at the incongruity between Sherlock’s meticulous appearance on the streets of London and this man, still dressed in his pyjamas, clearly enjoying a love affair with the most obnoxious instrument on earth.

***

Sherlock is constantly losing the mouthpiece. He tends to carry it around the flat with him, blowing into it every once and awhile. He says it keeps him from smoking and keeps his embouchure strong.

He leaves it on the kitchen worktop once. Alone in the flat, John picks it up, turns it in his hand. It’s very large, and cold. He raises it to his lips and blows in it. No sound comes out. He tries again to vibrate his lips, and fails. His third attempt is more successful and the mouthpiece makes a little farting noise that sounds nothing like the big, rotund sound Sherlock coaxes forth from the tuba entire.

John returns the mouthpiece to the music stand and goes back to making himself a sandwich. Sherlock’s a lot like that bloody tuba, John thinks: big, obnoxious, and full of hot air. Yet also strong, sonorous, and deep. He nearly rolls his eyes at his own metaphor but as he eats his sandwich he realises his mouth has been the same place as his flatmate’s.

John touches his lips. They’re still buzzing.

 

***

 

John surveys the wreckage on Baker Street. What in God’s name happened? More than a little concerned, he jogs across the street to their flat, which is still surrounded by police. Sherlock must be all right, for even with the windows boarded up, John can hear him playing that damned tuba. He’s on the third step before he recognises the melody: “In the Hall of the Mountain King.” But it’s not being played with any finesse whatsoever -- instead the notes are coarse and slightly off-key. BUM-bum BUM-bum bumbumbum, bumbumbum, bumbubum...

The choice of tune is obvious as soon as John gets through the door: Mycroft’s there. Great.

“I saw it on the telly,” he says, ignoring Mycroft. “Are you OK?”

Sherlock looks around as if the room wasn’t a disaster, then brings the instrument back to his lips to play the last portion of the piece as quickly as he can. He looks daggers at Mycroft all the while.

“I can’t,” Sherlock announces when Mycroft attempts to persuade his younger brother to take a case of ‘national importance.’ John really cannot fathom what their childhood was like. It’s amusing to watch them bicker before Mycroft turns to him.

“A case like this,” Mycroft is saying, his face twisting into a moue of disgust, “requires...legwork.”

Sherlock takes the opportunity to make the tuba groan with something that sounds more like the flatulence of a hippo rather than a real note.

Mycroft is undaunted, and John finds his interest piqued as the older Holmes details the case. Sherlock has to be intrigued, but you’d never guess. John risks a glance to find his friend emptying the spit valve all over their rug (John grimaces, but Mycroft nearly gags).

Eventually Mycroft asks them to think it over, which John promises to do. Sherlock simply says nothing. When Mycroft crosses the room, however, to retrieve his coat and umbrella, Sherlock brings the instrument to his mouth once more. Every step Mycroft takes gets a comical “OOOM-pah.” Sherlock matches his brother’s pace as he leaves the room, conjuring up images in John’s mind of a bass drum following a sumo wrestler. OOOM-pah. OOOM-pah. OOOM-pah. It’s completely puerile. John can’t help but smile.

Moments later, Sherlock says he’d be lost without his blogger.

John carries those words with him for the rest of his life.

 

***

Sherlock finds himself distracted. By John, particularly. It’s been a very long time since he felt so strongly about something or someone. He’s markedly happier than he’s been in ages, and the cravings for cocaine have all but disappeared. His mind is stimulated and business is steady. And while he still doesn’t talk for days on end or occasionally not even realise John’s not in, his friend’s mere presence -- his possessions (his mug, his chair, The Lancet, his toothbrush) all indicate his permanence. Sherlock is sharing his life with someone -- successfully -- for the first time in his adult life.

He cannot find words to describe the feeling, though, and finds this vexing. What exactly are they to one another? He doesn’t know. It warrants thought.

When he needs to think, Sherlock turns to the tuba. It seems counterintuitive that composing would help clear his mind, but it does. Something about the way the music sounds when it’s right: all the tumblers of the lock aligning, sliding into place. It unlocks pathways in his mind, opens doors, clears obscure routes. Today he needs a challenge, so he takes a quick trip into the music wing of his mind palace, back to his childhood when he used to listen to records with Mummy, the two of them sitting together on the sofa, enjoying Mendelssohn's violin concerto or Bach’s Chaconne. He settles on Vaughn Williams’ The Lark Ascending, a piece that was never meant to be played on any brass instrument, much less the tuba. A challenge, then.

A few hours later when John returns home, Sherlock plays it for him.

“Very good,” says John. “What’s it called?”

Sherlock tells him.

“Well, that’s straight out,” John says. “That’s not a lark you’ve got there. I hereby re-name it ‘The Ostrich Ascending’.”

“An ostrich cannot fly,” Sherlock scoffs.

John looks him in the eye. “Yours can.”

Sherlock has to look away for fear that he will blush.

 

***

“Would you like to play my tuba?” Sherlock asks one evening when they can’t seem to find anything better to do and John has decided that he would rather help Sherlock stab pigs with harpoons than attempt Cluedo again.

John looks up and squints at Sherlock. “That’s not something you hear every day,” he says.

Sherlock actually looks hurt, and quickly tries to cover his gaffe. “Fine, whatever, it was just a suggestion.”

“No, I’m not…” John blows out a breath. This is new. “It’s just that you’re very possessive of it; I wouldn’t want to damage it. God only knows how much it costs.”

“It cost £8,225.56,” says Sherlock, (John’s eyes widen),“and you won’t break it.”

“I feel much better about that now, thanks,” John grumbles. “Yeah, why not. You can get a good laugh out of it, at least.”

Sherlock doesn’t feel like laughing; he feels like sharing, which is unusual and deserves further observation. He retrieves the tuba from its case, inserts the mouthpiece and holds it out. John looks at him.

“I don’t even know how to hold it,” he says.

“Oh,” says Sherlock. “Um,” he looks around, pulls out one of the wooden chairs from their table, and indicates John should sit. “Now, this particular tuba is sized for me, so it will be exceptionally large for you.”

John rolls his eyes but smiles as he holds out his arms. Sherlock gently places the instrument in his lap and John tries to arrange it as he’s seen his friend do so many times. The metal is cold and the instrument is cumbersome, but John feels somehow privileged to be touching it.

“It’s actually rather beautiful,” John says, admiring the tuba up close.

“She is,” Sherlock confirms.

“She?”

Sherlock shrugs.

“Does she have a name, then?”

“Naming inanimate objects seems like a waste of time,” Sherlock replies before stepping back to check John’s posture. John notices he doesn’t actually answer the question. “No, that’s not right. Spread your legs, it goes in between.” John almost blushes, but he does as instructed. It’s still not right. “Here.” He moves closer. “May I…?” He nods at John’s arms --May I touch you?-- and John nods back his assent -- it’s all fine. “Ideally, you should have a tuba designed for left-handers. Take your left hand, here,” he says as he positions John’s hand, “to support the lean, like this. Good. And your right hand will go here, your thumb through this ring. Good.” Sherlock steps back to check the positioning. He frowns, makes a few more adjustments and declares him all set.

“Now,” he continues, “the real trick is to use your lips.”

“I understand the principle,” says John.

“Show me.”

“What?”

Sherlock puts his lips together and blows a raspberry. HIs lips flubber around comically and John nearly dies laughing.

“You do it.”

“I can’t,” John laughs. “God, I should record that and put it on the website.”

“Don’t you dare. Now, you do it.”

It takes a couple of attempts -- John drawing a breath and giggling instead -- before he manages. Babies have done better. Sherlock sighs. “Try again. No, stick them out a bit more. More. Now, blow. Vibrate them.”

John manages, but barely.

“It’ll do,” Sherlock says at last. “Your lips are really much better suited for the clarinet.”

“If that’s a jibe about my lips, mister…”

 

“It’s not a criticism. Your lips are perfectly suited for your face.”

“Um, thanks?” The air feels a bit charged. John is distinctly aware that he’s got Sherlock’s giant instrument between his legs and that they’re discussing lips. It seems sexual in a way, almost flirtatious. John wouldn’t call it obsession, but he’d be lying to himself if he didn’t recognise that their friendship solidified very quickly and that he’s never been so content. Sherlock is certainly infuriating, but he makes John feel alive, and he’s already made the short list of the people John loves and holds dear. Sometimes John wonders if there’s something more there, more than simple friendship. Everyone assumes they’re more than work partners. He doesn’t know why he gets so defensive about it, but then again he remembers the experimentation he did with Daniel, the boy three doors down, when he was twelve, and how his father nearly disowned Harry for her choice of partner. And then there was Sholto. What was between them if not love?

Sherlock clears his throat, and John clears his mind.

“So,” Sherlock says. “You bring the instrument up to your lips -- don’t try to bend to it, bring it to you. There. Yes. Now, most of the sound comes from your lips. Focus the stream of air into the instrument -- don’t puff your cheeks out. Breathe through your mouth, too. It takes quite a bit of air, so breathe with your diaphragm so you don’t hyperventilate. Now try making a few different sounds simply by changing your lips.”

John’s first attempts are hilarious. Instead of producing the sonorous, mellow notes that Sherlock does, John makes the instrument sound like a Viking blow horn. He tries “Mary Had a Little Lamb” just by using his lips: it’s not even close. Whereas Sherlock can vary the volume of his playing, John has one setting: deafening.

John’s beginning to think Sherlock’s suggestions have become innuendo (“Blow harder! Not that hard. Stretch your lips more. Use your tongue!”) so he fires off one of his own (“I’ve never had something so big between my legs before”) and Sherlock actually laughs, to John’s delight.

Eventually Sherlock drags out the other chair and sits directly behind him, wrapping his long arms around John’s body and showing John how to press the levers. It’s intimate, and hilarious. They end up like two children trying to drive a car -- John blowing away into the mouthpiece as Sherlock presses his fingers over John’s on the levers. It sounds terrible and both of them are having an absolute blast playing a bastardised version of “My Generation” until Mrs. Hudson jabs at her ceiling with a broom handle, something she’s taken to doing whenever they argue too loudly.

“So, what’s the verdict?” John asks as Sherlock wipes down the mouthpiece and puts the instrument away. “Do I have a chance?”

He looks at John’s swollen, red lips. “Maybe. You’re not completely hopeless,” he replies, smiling fondly.

John has picked up his paperback an hour or so later when Sherlock speaks again.

“Brünnhilde,” he says.

John looks up. “Pardon?”

“The tuba. Her name is Brünnhilde. Don’t tell Mycroft.”

John swears he won’t.

***

 

“Oh, John, please come quickly. You’ve got to stop him.” She is generally capable of handling anything Sherlock can dish out without batting an eyelash, but Mrs. Hudson sounds truly distressed.

“What’s happened this time?” John asks, tucking the phone between his cheek and shoulder as he sorts through test results and hospital reports. He’s swamped and has no time for Sherlock’s shenanigans.

“He’s making a horrible racket.”

And indeed, John can hear it. It’s a droning sound that goes on and on, warbling obnoxiously. “What the hell is that?”

“He said something about ‘circular breathing’ over tea and then this started up. Mr. Chatterjee is so put out that he said something drastic would happen if Sherlock doesn’t relent. Speedy’s is completely empty!”

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Hudson, I can’t come right now. Just...I don’t know. Hang on.”

Two and a half hours later, John arrives to find 221B silent. Speedy’s is in full operation, and no mysterious noises are coming from the first floor.

It’s obvious as soon as he opens the door why Sherlock has ceased his endless droning.

“Found your secret supply?” John asks, quickly crossing the room to open both windows. “Jesus, it reeks in here.”

Sherlock is lounging on the sofa, still smoking. There’s a near-empty packet of Silk Cut on the table near him, and the Queen’s own crystal ashtray is housing a city of dog ends.

“Mr. Chatterjee brought them,” Sherlock says. “Awfully nice of him.”

“What were you doing up here? Mrs. Hudson called me at work.”

“Oh! That. I was trying a new technique. It’s meant to replicate the techniques indigenous Australians use to play the didgeridoo. It’s very difficult. It takes a lot of lung power. But it’s oddly calming.”

“Speaking of lungs,” John says, nodding at the ashtray. “Have you finished?”

Sherlock grimaces. “Honestly, I’m not sure I feel all that well.”

John snorts. “No, I imagine you don’t.”

Sherlock develops a cough for the rest of the week and doesn’t touch the tuba once.

 

***

 

 

There’s a brief round of applause following Sherlock’s rendition of “Good King Wenceslas” before he begins on “Silent Night.” Jeanette stands to refill her wine glass and indicates John should join her; he does.

“I didn’t know you sang,” she says, leaning against the kitchen worktop.

“I don’t,” says John, but the carol was his childhood favourite, and he’s in such good spirits tonight that he couldn’t help leading the chorus.

“You just did.” She smiles softly, takes a sip of wine. “You’re not half bad.” She raises her eyebrow, flirting.

John shrugs. The wine is good: Sherlock never selects anything but the best. “Maybe you can convince him to play ‘Wonderwall’ and we’ll all chime in.”

Jeanette laughs, but there’s little humour in it. “He’s really something,” she says, nodding toward the sitting room. “He always has to make a lot of noise, doesn’t he. A real drama queen.”

John can’t argue with that.

“If he really wants something to blow,” she continues, “he should just get himself a boyfriend and spare the rest of us.”

John chokes a bit on his wine; it goes into his nose where it burns like the devil. A boyfriend.

“I don’t…” he starts, then has to set his glass down and rub his face a bit, “...think he’s interested in things like that.” John hopes he isn’t blushing.

“That’s a pity,” she says. “But it’s probably better. He’s selfish and rude. If he’s happy cuddling up to a big, cold chunk of metal, good luck to him.”

Peering around the kitchen wall, John looks at his flatmate. Sherlock’s just finished “Silent Night” and is still cradling the instrument: a big, physical barrier between him and the rest of the guests.

Jeanette kisses John on the cheek and begins to slice cake onto a serving tray. Molly enters, overdressed.

The rest of the night goes to hell in a handbasket.

 

***

Sherlock’s version of a funeral dirge is to simply play a series of long, mournful-sounding notes repeatedly. He does it again, and again, and again, occasionally stopping to make a notation on his composition papers. It goes on for three days and John doesn’t know what to do. He hates Irene Adler for breaking Sherlock’s heart, or whatever she did to him.

 

***

It turns out she’s not dead, after all.

“He’s composing sad music,” John says.

“Oh! Do you think I make him horny?” Irene asks, raising an eyebrow.

John grits his teeth.

 

***

 

“Oooh, there it is. She’s lovely,” croons Moriarty as he traces his index finger round the rim of the horn. “So this is the infamous tuba of Baker Street.”

“I would hope my reputation as a detective precedes that of my musical talent,” Sherlock says. He schools his features. As intriguing as Moriarty is, Sherlock understands that he is incredibly dangerous. And right now he’s touching something Sherlock considers an extension of himself; it’s too personal and his skin crawls.

“I had no idea it was so big,” Moriarty leers. “May I hold it?”

“No.”

“Too bad. It’s been a long time since I’ve held such a beauty in my lap.”

Sherlock deduces. “French horn,” he says at last.

“Very good! Very good. What gave it away? My lips? My manicure? My charming personality?”

“Your arrogance.”

Moriarty claps his hands in delight.

“You know that the French horn is a divine instrument,” Sherlock continues. “A man blows into it. But God only knows what comes out of it.”

“Cheeky,” replies Moriarty, abandoning the horn and crossing the room to stand in front of Sherlock. Sherlock is glad the madman is away from his tuba, but now there’s the more disconcerting feeling of having him directly in his physical space.

Moriarty raises his hand, the first two fingers poised to touch Sherlock’s mouth. “These are lovely lips,” he says. Sherlock steadies his breathing and holds his ground. Intimidation tactics have never worked on him. “You know John thinks so, too.”

Sherlock does know: John stares.

“Has he kissed them yet? Your little pet?”

Sherlock concentrates on breathing. Does he want to kiss John? It’s becoming clearer that he might.

Moriarty’s fingers hover, then withdraw.

“No, he hasn’t, has he? Mmmm. I can tell. You’re still wound so tight. Too bad. You might want to get after that,” Moriarty says, sauntering over to check his appearance in the mirror above the fireplace. “I’m afraid Doctor Watson might miss his opportunity. But then again. In my experience, tuba players are” -- he smacks his lips and makes a face of disgust -- “a bit slobbery.”

Sherlock shoves down his unease. Moriarty can taunt him as much as he likes, but there’s something that flares hot and angry inside of him when John is the subject of attention. Moriarty may be the most formidable opponent Sherlock has ever faced, but the instant he laid his hands on John, kidnapping him and strapping him up with explosives…he lost some of his intrigue. Moriarty is wrong: John is not a pet. He is a conductor of light, a friend.

Sherlock changes the subject. “What do you want?” he asks. “Not money or power. You’ve made that abundantly clear.”

“No. Boring.” Moriarty checks his hair in the mirror once more before turning back to the room. He lifts an apple from the decorative bowl and takes a bite out of it. He makes a show of chewing and swallowing before he continues. “No, Sherlock. The final problem. You and me. I owe you a fall.”

Oh great. Riddles. “What does that mean?”

“I’m sure you’ll figure it out.” He takes another bite of the apple, then with perfect aim, tosses it to the corner where Sherlock’s tuba becomes an impromptu rubbish bin. It makes a loud clang. Sherlock sees red. “Don’t be scared,” drawls Moriarty as he saunters toward the door. “Falling’s just like flying….” He leaves, probably thinking he’s said something clever, but Sherlock has stopped paying attention. There’s an apple in his tuba.

John runs in the door ten minutes later. “Sherlock! My God, was he here? Jesus Christ, are you OK?”

Sherlock is sitting in his chair, but he can barely keep his feet on the floor. “He threw an APPLE in my TUBA,” he says vehemently, “AND I CAN’T GET IT OUT.”

John laughs with relief. He turns his attention to the tuba, which is lying on the coffee table. He rolls up his sleeve and inserts his arm into the bell, feels around a bit. Sherlock glowers, simmering with loathing, as John calmly walks into the kitchen, procures a fork, and prepares for minor surgery. A moment later, he retracts a browning apple. “There,” says John, “all better.”

“My hero,” says Sherlock, and means it.

 

***

Terror uncurls from the middle of his gut as John sees Mrs. Hudson is alive and well. He’s felt like this before, during the firefight that resulted in his shoulder wound. A bone-deep panic coupled with a startling revelation. Then, he’d been panicked about his mates who were falling left and right and realising he was shot and likely going to die himself. It’s a horrible sense of deja vu, but this time, the panic comes knowing that Sherlock is in imminent danger and John isn’t there to protect him, and the realisation that John loves him. Some people compare these types of emotional outpourings to the opening of floodgates; John will later think of it as a detonation, as if someone put a bomb inside a glass building and eighty-million shards of truth pierced him from the inside out. For with that knowledge came the certainty that he was doomed, that this was the end, that Sherlock had done something irreversible.

And he had.

During his two years of exile, Sherlock will replay John crying out, “I’m his friend!” again and again. But he was whisked away too quickly to hear what followed: “I love him. Oh God, no, please, I love him.”

 

***

 

When Sherlock dies, John takes the mouthpiece.

He carries it in his jacket pocket for a long time, clenches his hand around it. He does not tell Ella.

When he meets Mary, it finds a new home in a small crystal vase, where it rests, a metal flower. John places it on his chest of drawers and polishes it weekly.

Mary doesn’t mind, but she does wonder if she could fire a bullet from her 9mm through it at 100 metres.

 

***

As it turns out, Sherlock miscalculated how much his absence would affect John. He returns to 221B with a bloody nose and split lip. What had he expected? John to have leapt up in joy, bid a quick goodbye to his date, and followed Sherlock on to adventure? Sherlock had realised the enormity of his mistake the first moment he laid eyes on John again, John with his unflattering moustache, nervous eyes, and shaking hands. Oh. By the time Sherlock realised John’s intentions for the evening, it was already too late to back out. Longing spurred him forward.

And then there was Mary. She wasn’t boring. At least he had to give John that.

Sherlock cleans his nose, gingerly wiping it with a warm wet flannel. His lip needs ice or it will swell so badly he won’t be able to play. He hasn’t touched the tuba in two years and it’s the only thing that can comfort him now.

Changed and clean, Sherlock unlocks the case and lifts the gleaming instrument. He holds it to his chest and feels a profound sense of relief. He’s home.

The blue velvet bag that holds the mouthpiece, however, is empty. He tears the flat apart but comes up empty handed. His lip hurts too badly to play, anyway.

Exhausted and angry with himself, Sherlock crawls into bed. Everything aches, especially his chest, which is odd, since it’s the only place on his body except his face that isn’t still bruised. Where on earth is the damn mouthpiece?

Sherlock tries to inhale through his nose but it’s still swollen. He touches it gingerly. John.

Oh.

Sentiment.

He smiles and manages to sleep.

 

***

“So, how are you feeling?” Sherlock thinks John looks wonderful, so very handsome now that the offensive moustache has been shaved away.

“A bit...smoked,” John says, trying to make light of the situation. They smile at each other as they stand in the sitting room. Sherlock is overwhelmed by fondness and relief. “Oh,” John says, reaching into his jacket pocket, “I’ve got something for you.”

He holds the mouthpiece out. “You might be missing this.”

Sherlock looks at the large mouthpiece (a Miraphone TU39: Very Deep, 1.803" Cup Depth, 0.339" Bore, 1.260" Cup Diameter, Gold Finish) in John’s small, capable hand before taking it. Their fingers brush. He wraps his own large palm around the mouthpiece, testing the weight, feeling how it was warmed by John’s body.

“Thank you,” he says. “I’m afraid I’m rather out of practice.”

John looks at the ground; he’s emotional. They’re both out of practice; the familiar easiness they once had seems just out of reach. It’s worth striving for.

“I’m sorry,” Sherlock says.

John shakes his head, takes a deep breath, and looks up. The moment passes. “So,” he says, nodding toward the door. “Those were your parents?”

“Well, yes, we all have our own crosses to bear,” Sherlock sighs.

John smiles, then shrugs off his jacket; he hangs it on the hook. Sherlock is incredibly glad of it.

 

***

 

“I never thought I’d find myself dancing like this,” John laughs after stepping on Sherlock’s feet...again.

“What? Waltzing?”

“To the tuba, you idiot.” A recording of Sherlock’s self-composed wedding song plays on the computer.

“Oh. I… don’t have to play it.”

“No, I want you to. Mary wants you to.”

Sherlock laughs at that, but it’s brittle. “She hates it.”

“Well, to be honest, I did at first, too. But It grew on me.” You grew on me, John admits. I couldn’t care less about your bloody tuba, but it’s very much a part of you, and so, yes, of course I want it.

They’re quiet as John practices the steps. Sherlock tries to concentrate on enjoying the moment and not fretting about the upcoming nuptials. He’s at war with himself: on one hand, he’s horribly jealous, but on the other, he wants John to be happy.

“You know,” says John as he rights Sherlock from a dip, “it could have been worse.”

“Hmm?”

“You could have played the bagpipes.”

 

***

If Magnussen would have pissed on Sherlock’s tuba, John thinks, he would have killed him then and there and none of this shit would have happened.

Then again, it’s important to know whether or not your wife is an assassin.

***

 

“There’s something I should have told you long ago but never did,” says Sherlock.

John swallows. No. Not now. Not after all of this. His heart can’t take it. He forces himself to look up. He steels himself for a confession of love. What is he going to tell his wife if he...?

“I actually prefer the clarinet.”

John lets out the breath he didn’t know he was holding. “No you don’t,” he says. He can’t tell if he’s disappointed or relieved.

Sherlock’s eyes are shining and John’s heart is in his throat. “Take care of her for me,” says Sherlock as he holds out his hand.

“Mary?”

“The tuba, you idiot.”

John ignores the hand and hugs him hard.

 

***

Sherlock isn’t able to play the tuba for a long time. His lips grow soft and so does his heart. It’s taken him a very long time, but Sherlock now understands exactly how he feels for his friend: he loves him, he’s in love with him, and he should have said so ages ago, should have realised long before he took a leap off a roof. The golden instrument sits untouched. The music in his head is silent.

 

***

 

“This isn’t going to work,” says Mary.

“I know,” John replies.

They’ve met in a park; neutral ground. The baby is sleeping in her pram. She’s nine months old now and has already seen her fair share of vice and crime. It’s too dangerous, and they both know it. As it turns out, Mary is a fairly decent mother; John can’t begrudge her for that.

“You don’t love me,” she continues.

John keeps his eyes on his daughter. “I did, once. I do in a way. It’s just…”

Mary turns to him, attempts a smile. “I know,” she says. “It’s OK.”

“Can you at least stay in London?”

She considers. “Maybe. It might be better if there’s some distance.”

John is torn. He loves his daughter, but there’s a hole in his heart that she cannot fill.

“You’ll be all right?” he asks finally.

“John, please,” she scoffs, a bit her old playfulness coming out. “And you?”

John thinks about the road ahead. He knows what he wants, and he’ll have to be brave and at least try before he loses the opportunity. He’s been granted so many, and he’s tired of tempting fate.

“Yeah.”

“I’ll know where to find you then.”

John smiles to himself “Yeah. You do.”

 

***

John returns to 221B on a Thursday. Sherlock is at his microscope when he hears the front door open and close. He’d recognise that tread anywhere.

John drops his holdall and leans against the door frame. “Mrs. Hudson rang,” he says. “She said it’s been very quiet around here.”

Sherlock stands, deduces. John’s home, and he’s staying. Sherlock’s heart beats in his throat. He swallows to calm himself down. “I suppose,” he acquiesces. “You’re…” he nods toward John’s bag, unable to actually speak the words.

John shrugs. “I hope you were serious when you said there was always a place for me here.”

“Of course I was. Am.”

“I always knew I’d end up back here,” John says quietly. “I should never have left.”

Hope bubbles up in Sherlock’s chest.

They look at each other, and Sherlock hears music.

***

Mrs. Hudson’s hearing is not what it used to be. But the low, groaning notes she’s hearing from upstairs decidedly do NOT come from a tuba. Is Sherlock hurt? It takes her a moment to figure it out, and she giggles when she realises what’s going on up there. She briefly considers retrieving her broom, which hasn’t been thumped upon the ceiling for over a year now, but she quickly banishes the thought. Finally, her boys are together, the way they ought to have been ages ago. Now where did she put those headphones?

***

Sherlock is lying flat on his back, one arm tucked under his head, the other around John, who is snuggled into his side, tracing patterns on Sherlock’s chest with his left hand. His fingers eventually wander up toward Sherlock’s lips, where they trace the curves and dips.

“Your lips, Sherlock. Jesus. I had no idea you could…” he trails off, and Sherlock smiles, happy and smug.

“I’m afraid my embouchure is weak,” he murmurs into John’s hair.

“Your ‘embouchure’ made me see stars, you berk.” There’s a lazy silence. “Why haven’t you been playing?”

Sherlock shrugs as best he can. “I didn’t feel like it.”

“I like your tuba,” John says. “The instrument,” he clarifies a moment later, just in case. “I can’t imagine you without it.”

Sherlock hums noncommittally. “I can pick up the violin again if it’s less intrusive.”

“You wouldn’t dare,” John says, sitting up. Sherlock likes the way John looks in the morning, waking up in his bed. He leans in for a kiss, which Sherlock readily accepts. As it turns out, John’s lips are perfect for kissing.

“You know,” says John suggestively as they break apart, “I have a tonguing technique of my own.”

Sherlock actually shivers. “Oh?”

“Roll over, love. There. Beautiful. Now this is a magnificent instrument,” he says reverently as he palms the globes of Sherlock’s arse.

“John,” breathes Sherlock, nervous and needy.

“That’s a lovely sound, my name in your mouth,” John says. “Music to my ears.”

Sherlock says it again nearly twenty times before he comes, each with a different intonation and pitch, and John has never heard a more sweet and satisfying symphony in his life.

 

FIN