Ballade of Truisms


Gold or silver, every day,
Dies to gray.
There are knots in every skein.
Hours of work and hours of play
Fade away
Into one immense Inane.

221B Baker Street has been buried under papers for over a week now. There are piles of them everywhere: stacked on the furniture, balanced on the mantlepiece, mounded on the telly and drifted under and around the table, which has been miraculously cleared of chemistry equipment.

Sherlock claims that he's refiling, though where they all came from and where they'll return to, John hasn't the faintest.

He's not about to ask. Sherlock is being even more mad than usual, and not in the familiar ways that John's grown accustomed to. He spends all day every day sorting, moving papers from one pile to the other, picking them up and putting them down over and over again like if he gets them just right they'll magically put themselves away. Throughout the entire process he paces the two square feet of bare floor, runs his fingers through his hair a thousand times, and spins around in circles with his hands on his hips, staring up at the ceiling like it holds some kind of inspiration.

He also hasn't talked in nearly six days. He did warn John about this—Sometimes I don't talk for days on end, would that bother you?-back when they first met in that lab at Bart's, before John realized he was actually as serious and insane as he presented himself to be. But it'd never actually happened before this. Sherlock likes listening to himself speak too much to shut up for long, and when he's on a case, he can't stop the words coming out of him to save his life.

But Sherlock hasn't taken a case for over a month—has turned them down point-blank, in fact, and has stopped answering Lestrade's messages all together—and now the words have dried up as well. The violin makes appearances from the hours of twelve to three in the morning.

Potential flatmates should know the worst about each other.

John leaves him to it. It's probably the completely wrong reaction, but he's at ends. John's not sure he recognizes this man existing in the sitting room well enough to approach him. Sherlock's become a mystery he doesn't feel remotely qualified to solve.

Besides. It's not like he's been quite right, either, since—well. Best to leave it. Just until the edges fade a little. (They never will, he suspects, but he's not about to admit that even to himself.)

So John goes to work, and occasionally goes to drinks with Lestrade and sometimes even Donovan, and spends a few half-awkward evenings with Sarah at the cinema. For the first time since he met Sherlock, he's actually living his own life for days at a time, without interruption. It's a novel experience. If his left hand trembles occasionally, he breathes deeply and forces it into submission, and no one mentions it.

He hasn't slept an entire night through since January. Even if he still had a therapist, he wouldn't need one to tell him why he wakes up sweating, with the smell of chlorine and ash stuck permanently in his nose. In retrospect, that's probably what the violin's about.

Days and nights go on, blur into weeks, and nothing happens. Moriarty is a name that neither of them will say, and it seems that until they do, they won't say anything else either.

Just so I know, do you care about them at all?

The world seems vaguely gray; wind and rain and a bit of snow wipe out whatever colours were left in London. John and Sherlock move around each other without touching, silently and increasingly easily. John begins to understand, finally, what Sherlock means when he says bored.

It's a tangible relief, then, when he turns the corner at the end of Baker Street after work one snowy afternoon and finds Mycroft Holmes standing on the step, leaning on the front door. The change from routine hits John like an impact in the chest, and all at once he finds that he can breathe again.

Shadows and substance, chaff and grain,
Are as vain
As the foam or as the spray.
Life goes crooning, faint and fain,
One refrain:
'If it could be always May!'

Mycroft doesn't move as he approaches, so John joins him on the step, mirroring his position with hands in pockets and shoulder against the door. He raises his eyebrows in silent question. Mycroft gives him the ghost of a smile and nods upwards. If John concentrates, he can just hear the sound of violin music—real music, not just screeching—drifting down from the sitting room.

"Well, he's starting early today," he sighs. The cold bites in his throat.

Mycroft huffs out something not quite a chuckle; it mists into a cloud between them, and when it clears John notices the elder Holmes is without his umbrella, and the snow has collected on his hair and in his scarf. He has never seen Mycroft in transition before. He looks quite human, standing here in the fading light with snow all over him, and his stillness feels a world away from his brother's pacing upstairs. He also doesn't seem inclined to speak, and John feels a bit like he's intruded into a private moment, so he doesn't interrupt any more than he goes inside. He can feel his fingers numbing in his gloves.

Finally, the tune above them changes and drifts into something more manic and energetic. Mycroft blinks and focuses again, and John realizes he'd been wrapped up in whatever that last piece was. Mycroft's eyes brush over him, tactful in a way Sherlock never is.

"How are you, John?"

I'm never bored. Not quite true, now.

John can't think of another answer to that question, let alone an honest one, and he does this man the courtesy of not trying. He thinks briefly of the last two times he'd seen Mycroft: standing almost invisible in the flashing red-blue lights of the emergency vehicle as it sped off, and then in the too-white lights of the hospital, looking down at John through the morphine haze. Now that he can see him properly, John thinks Mycroft looks almost gaunt, the shadows deep under his eyes in the slanting light of a nearby streetlamp.

He wonders how much of that is the unbelievable responsibilities Mycroft holds, and how much of it is Moriarty. He suspects that Sherlock isn't the only Holmes brother with an ax to grind here.

Mycroft's mouth twitches into a half-smile, no doubt following John's line of thought. "I came to offer him a case. Something to keep him...occupied."

John ponders this, and the music above them changes again, descends into that painful grating vibe that means Sherlock is thinking too hard. "He won't take it."

"No," Mycroft agrees, with something like sadness in his voice. "No, I don't suppose he will."

John thinks quite suddenly of the long nights he spent on Harry's sofa, what seems like a lifetime ago, the first time she tried to sober up. He finds that he recognizes some of the lines on Mycroft's face as those of the long-suffering brother.

"I worry about him," John admits. It's the first time he's said anything like it, even after too many drinks with Lestrade. The words fall softly in the snow, and the world doesn't break, so he takes a breath. "Constantly."

Mycroft chokes out something between a laugh and a grimace, so sudden that it seems pulled out of him against his will. John just stops himself apologizing for seeing something he's sure he isn't supposed to. But Mycroft recovers himself quickly, and when his eyes meet John's again they hold more of their usual confidence. "I did warn you," he says with evident warmth in his voice.

"No," John says with a grin. "No, you really didn't. But I wouldn't have believed you anyway."

The violin changes yet again above their heads, and it has settled back into music that John recognizes. That seems like progress, though he's not exactly sure what towards. A car drives by, and the odd moment they've been sharing breaks. John shifts to stand upright again. "Come in for a cup of tea?"

Mycroft looks up again, considering, and then shakes his head. Some snow falls off onto his coat, but he doesn't brush it away. "No," he says at last. "Best not." He straightens himself and becomes more like the man John first met back in that warehouse, who smiled at his steady hands and told himit was time to choose a side. He looks past John out into the snowy street.

"I'm sorry," he says at last, with the slow deliberation of the diplomat. "It was...unfortunate, that it happened the way it did. He should not have escaped."

And then John understands. The apology isn't meant for him, not really, and it's why Mycroft has been standing here in the snow listening to a violin and never going up the stairs. It's not John's to absolve, either, so he just meets Mycroft's eyes as calmly as he knows how. "We'll get him yet."

Mycroft looks him over one last time, and John isn't sure what he sees, but it makes him hum in agreement. "Good night, John." He turns and walks into the dark, taking the surreality and drama with him. John finds himself alone on the step, cold and alone and feeling lighter than he has in months.

Time to choose a side, Doctor Watson.

He bloody well already has. John shoulders his way inside and marches up to the sitting room. "Sherlock!" he bellows, much louder than he needs to. "Cut the bloody noise! Some of us have work in the morning!"

Sherlock turns in surprise, violin at his shoulder, bow suspended in the air. He takes John in with wide eyes that seem to look right past him, and then he blinks.

"Oh," Sherlock says, voice gravelly from disuse. "Sorry." He puts down the violin and bow and rolls his shoulders to ease the ache. His lips twitch into a bit of a smile. When he meets John's eyes, it's him again. "I did warn you."

John thinks of the weight of the gun in his hand, steady and true and still. He thinks of his feet pounding asphalt, free of stiffness and pain after months of frustration. He thinks of late night Chinese and desperate terror and giggling and aliveness.

He thinks of the pool and the deep, steely look in Sherlock's eyes, the heat of the explosion on his back and the sudden jolt of the water as colour and sound roared out above their heads, and he has never been so grateful for Sherlock Holmes as he is right this minute, standing in the room with him. He does not say the name of Moriarty, because he realizes that Sherlock has in fact been saying it in silences and violin sonatas every night for weeks.

"It's fine," he says with a little shrug, and he smiles because it's easy to. "It's all fine." And it is, even when it isn't, because it's them. Sherlock understands, of course he does, and that's enough.

When he finally goes to bed that night, John still has nightmares, but when he wakes at three in the morning, his hands are steady and the flat is silent. He turns around in bed and falls right back to sleep.

Author's Note: Once again, I return to Sherlock and poetry by William Ernest Henley, because apparently my brain has trouble separating them now. The stanzas here are from his "Ballade of Truisms", which is obviously where I got my title from. The next three chapters should go up pretty regularly. In the meantime, thanks for your reading, and feel free to tell me how I did. Cheers!