The prequel ficlet to this story is "Only Learning the Game."
This is dedicated to the memory of the man with the guitar, the glasses, and the hiccup.
The Day The Music Lived
John Watson knocked once on Detective Inspector Lestrade's door and then let himself into the office. Lestrade sat staring at his computer screen, fingers tangled in his hair mid-sweep, wide-eyed.
"The autopsy reports are in. It's just as we feared," Lestrade murmured, his normally rasping voice gone deeper and rougher with emotion. "They weren't drugged or knocked out. They were awake and aware for every last second."
His hand fell from his temple to his mouth, then lingered at his chin. After a heartbeat, he exhaled with an emphatic, "Jesus."
John shifted his weight from one foot to the other. "Um, excuse me. Didn't mean to interrupt."
Lestrade sat transfixed, focused on the screen for a moment longer, then turned and sagged in his chair. "Doctor John Watson," he said, like it was a revelation. "Sorry. It's just…" He waved his hand vaguely in the air.
With a sympathetic grimace, John said, "Read about your latest case in the paper. Sounded bad."
Shaking his head, Lestrade focused on something only he could see. "He held down his three little children in the bath 'til they drowned."
Raising both hands in the air, he made as if to throttle an unseen throat. "It had to take minutes. For each one. He felt them, under his fingers, fighting to live and knowing it was their Da who was doing it…"
He coloured then, a guilty blush, and his hands and gaze dropped to his lap. "Bloody hell, I sound like I've never worked a murder case before, yeah?"
"No," John said, touched by the man's exhausted grief. He'd read about the arrest, about the knife turned on the DI when the suspect had changed his mind about surrendering quietly. Now that John looked for it, he could see the slight bulk of dressings under Lestrade's shirtsleeve.
"You sound like you care." With tentative steps, he moved further into Lestrade's domain, feeling a bit like an intruder.
Of course, John had been on battlefields and witnessed terrible things, but he knew full well that he hadn't been to all of the places the detective inspective had seen over his career. He'd never been to baths filled with children's bodies, left waterlogged and lifeless there by their own fathers.
"Reckon it's a bit like medicine," John offered, to fill up the empty space between them. "To be a good doctor, you have to be objective. Take a step back. But, at the same time, you also have to empathize, channel your compassion, or you lose the energy and insight that could help you save a patient's life."
He swallowed. "If you weren'tmoved by what's happened, you wouldn't be driven to give those children the justice they deserve. But you are. And you will."
God, listen to yourself, John. Sounding like one of those trite caricatures on telly. Monologuing.
The detective inspector didn't seem to find him tedious or patronising, however. On the contrary, Lestrade met and held his gaze.
"You're a good man, John," he said simply.
The straightforward words made a solid impact against John's chest. These days he lived in a world where compliments shuffled in – often donning a disguise – through side doors, with awkward and dragging steps, and then fled for cover at the first opportunity.
How very different Lestrade was from Sherlock. How remarkable it was, that the two had fitted their lives, their individual callings, together for so long.
Ducking his head, John said, "I brought back some old files for you. That Sherlock borrowed."
Accepting them in an outstretched hand, Lestrade managed a weary smile. "Bit overqualified to be a messenger boy, aren't you?"
John shrugged. "Gave me a welcome excuse not to join him at St. Bart's."
"You don't want to know."
Lestrade raised his eyebrows, as if to say that any distraction from his present preoccupation would be welcome.
"They finally got the testicles he wanted." With a wince, John added, "Cadavers' testicles. For his experiments."
Before his eyes, Lestrade paled. And then crossed his legs.
"Specifically, tests to determine how much pressure, rapidly or slowly applied, individual testes can withstand before ruptur—"
"Augh! Stop." Lestrade shuddered and raised a beseeching hand. "You're right. I don't want to know."
"Yeah," John said, grinning. "For the next few days, anything I take from the fridge will get an especially thorough inspection before it goes into a sandwich."
"Oh, God help you." Lestrade scrubbed his hands over his face, chuckling deep in his throat, perhaps gagging a bit in the process.
Then, abruptly, Lestrade pushed himself back from his desk, straight-armed, putting distance between his body and his work.
"I need to get away from this for a while." Lestrade issued the words like a proclamation, staring at the stacks of files on his desk as if it weren't already evening, as if most of his colleagues weren't already leaving. "The paperwork will still be here later tonight."
After a beat, "Or early tomorrow morning."
"Besides," he continued, nodding at his calendar, "it's a sacred day. I promised myself I'd observe it."
A sacred day? John wondered. He'd never heard Lestrade speak before of his religion.
"Fancy a pint?" Lestrade asked.
This, John realized, was a man who required rescuing. The edge of desperation in the rough voice suggested that, if John didn't join him, Lestrade would surrender to the pull of the forms and reports and memos that clamoured for his attention and still be at his desk all alone, mourning those lost children, hours from now.
"Just a sec," John said, pulling out his mobile. He had a plan.
"Hi, Mrs Hudson. It's John. Look, I'm with Detective Inspector Lestrade—"
He nodded, avoiding the man's gaze, fighting a smile. "Yes, I know, he's quite the hero… You're right: his picture in the paper was very good… No, didn't do him full justice, though… I'd like to think I'm secure enough in my own manhood to admit when another man's attractive… That's most kind, Mrs Hudson."
From the corner of his eye, John watched Lestrade's face drop into his palm.
"Well, I was going to see if I had time for a pint with him before dinner. I don't want to be late… Oh, right… Hold on. I'll ask."
John covered the receiver with his hand and winked. "Mrs Hudson's making dinner tonight. Been planning it for ages. Asked Sherlock and me to join her. She'd love it if you'd come, too. We could grab a pint, then head to Baker Street?"
"Thanks" – Lestrade was already waving him off, retreating – "but I couldn't intrude—"
"It would make her day if you'd join us," John said. "There's plenty. And she's a brilliant cook."
With a jerk of his chin, he indicated Lestrade's desk. He was willing to push for this. "You said the paperwork would still be here tomorrow. And you needed to get away."
Next he tried the look on Lestrade, doctor to patient, officer to subordinate, despite the fact he knew he had no right. Lestrade gave him the lookright back, policeman to civilian, detective inspector to member of the public.
One of them had to blink first.
Lestrade relented, grinned with what appeared to be relief, and a decade fell away from his tired face.
"Yeah, if she's sure. I'd love to. Thanks."
"So, a sacred day, is it?" John asked over his pint.
Lestrade stared into his bitter. His half-smile seemed almost shy. "To all the boys and girls in the Western world who've picked up a guitar over the last half-century or so. Whether they know it or not."
John looked to Lestrade's calloused fingertips where they touched the glass. Sherlock's methods were rubbing off on him.
"You still play," he ventured.
A shake of the silvering head. A self-deprecating laugh. "Only for stress relief. Where no one can hear." A shrug. "I still listen. To the greats."
Whatever Lestrade did for stress relief appeared to be woefully insufficient, John thought, but he refrained from saying so. He found himself taken with this glimpse into the private man's life, the idea of Lestrade at home, alone, playing his guitar, struggling to clear his mind.
Perhaps not so different from Sherlock after all.
"What do you know," Lestrade asked, "about Buddy Holly?"
"The 'Peggy Sue' Buddy Holly?"
At Lestrade's nod of affirmation, John said, "Early rock. 'That'll Be The Day.' Died tragically, didn't he?"
"Yeah. Plane crash. He was only twenty-two. He'd only been recording for two years. But he changed music forever with his songs and style, blending rockabilly with rhythm and blues to make rock-n-roll."
Warming to his subject, Lestrade began gesturing with expressive hands. "Without Buddy Holly and the Crickets, we wouldn't have had the Beatles. At all. Or the Rolling Stones, at least as we know them. Or Bob Dylan. Or Eric Clapton."
"And today is what, exactly?" John asked, genuinely interested.
"His seventy-fifth birthday." Lestrade raised his glass. "He might've died before I was born, but for most of my life, he's been a good mate of mine."
"To the late, great Buddy Holly," John agreed, and he raised his glass, as well.
They were halfway through a truly amazing meal when Sherlock dashed in, breathless, to kiss Mrs Hudson's cheek and assume his place at her table.
"Apologies for my tardiness," he panted.
It continually amused and intrigued John how Mrs Hudson could, by sheer force of personality, lead Sherlock to do so many things – apologize, demonstrate affection, even eat – that anyone else would abandon as lost causes. She was the exception who proved the rule.
"Never mind, Sherlock," Mrs Hudson said. "John told me there were exciting developments at St. Bart's."
"I was in the middle of experiments," he explained, helping himself to the roast beef. "Crushing testicles."
"Oh, sounds like good fun, dear."
John timed his bites with care around his silent laughter. It wouldn't do to choke to death on a mouthful of roasted potatoes.
"It couldn't wait. The tests required a certain freshness. Frozen testes wouldn't suit. They lose pliability."
"Of course they do," she said. "Good thing we're not having pâté tonight, isn't it?"
"Why? I like pâté," Sherlock said with feigned innocence.
The two of them could go on like this for ages. And poor Lestrade might strangle before they'd had their fill of play.
"Sherlock," John scolded, "we do have a guest."
"Not a guest, John." Sherlock rolled his eyes. "Just Lestrade."
The detective inspector nodded, seeming to take this in stride. With some satisfaction, even. As if it pleased him, to be accepted and included in this bizarre little circle so easily.
Yes, John understood.
And then, as he looked around the table, it hit him.
Mrs Hudson, he thought, is the Island of Misfit Toys. I'm so glad we made it to her shores.
After the rice pudding, Mrs Hudson said, "I do hope you gentlemen will indulge an old woman and join me in the sitting room. It's the reason for tonight's dinner, you see. A celebration of sorts. Everything's set up."
As they moved to the other room, John heard Sherlock ask Lestrade in a hushed tone, "The results from the father's blood tests?"
"Not back yet."
"Check his friends' medications as well as his own."
"You think he was mixing?"
"His prescriptions and theirs, old and new, not all purchased legally. See if one of his neighbours is a chemist. Plus illicit substances. He's related to the dealer."
"God," Lestrade sighed, his shoulders slumping. "Yeah, I'll check. Thanks."
Lestrade's hand brushed Sherlock's arm as he passed, a silent gesture of gratitude. The consulting detective wasn't even working this decidedly boringcase, John knew, but Sherlock must have been following its progress, all the same.
High-functioning sociopath, my pale white arse, John thought.
He settled himself in a cosy seat in Mrs Hudson's welcoming room. Somehow a lager appeared at his elbow and Lestrade's, a glass of wine at Sherlock's.
Before them, Mrs Hudson pulled a chair next to the turntable she'd arranged on a low cabinet. She hugged a stack of vinyl albums to her chest.
"Does anyone know what today is?" she asked, a proper schoolmarm.
"Buddy Holly's birthday," Lestrade breathed, reverence in his tone.
"Oh, well done indeed." She beamed at him. "Clever man!"
Sherlock snorted. Everyone ignored him.
"'Not Fade Away' is one of the single greatest songs of the rock era," Lestrade said, leaning forward, almost painfully earnest.
"Couldn't agree more." She was glowing. "You know, dear, I saw both the Rolling Stones and the Grateful Dead cover it. Live."
With a sigh, she added, "What Chuck could do with that beat."
"Chuck?" Lestrade asked.
"You mean Charlie Watts?" That from John.
"Mmmm, the Wembley Whammer himself. The handson that man, when we were young."
Flushing faintly, she said, "But that's another story. So you know Buddy Holly, Detective Inspector. What about you, John?"
"Lestrade told me this was his seventy-fifth birthday."
"That's right. And it should be a global holiday." She removed an album from its paper sheath. "A lady doesn't like to mention her age, but in this case, I'll admit that we are… of the same generation, let's say."
For a moment she paused, balancing the naked record between careful fingertips.
"He was taken so early," she mused. "What he might've done with all the years I've had."
John glanced at Lestrade, whose face had grown grim. John guessed they were both thinking not only of a plane crash half a century old, but also of three babies drowned in a bath mere days ago.
Sherlock broke the silence. "Holly was one of the first white musicians to perform at the legendary African-American venue known as the Apollo Theater. And in 1957, Buddy Holly and the Crickets were the only white artists on a U.S. national tour that included black neighbourhood theatres. He was known for his cross-cultural sound, which in turn brought traditional blues to a white audience and traditional country to a black audience. Both styles were required catalysts for the development of rock."
No one spoke.
"It was relevant background information," Sherlock explained, "for a case." After a beat, "I just haven't deleted it yet."
"Then this," Mrs Hudson said, "is for you, Sherlock."
The music began.
Bo Diddley bought his babe a diamond ring.
If that diamond ring don't shine,
He's gonna take it to a private eye.
If that private eye can't see,
He better not take the ring from me…
John's palms slapped out the beat on his thighs. Lestrade's feet tapped to the rhythm. Mrs Hudson rocked from side to side in her chair.
Sherlock leaned back his head, closed his eyes, and pressed his fingers together as if in prayer. With every fibre of his being, John realized, Sherlock was listening.
They heard "Not Fade Away" and "That'll Be The Day" and "Rave On," "Maybe Baby" and "Everyday" and "It Doesn't Matter Anymore," "Peggy Sue" and "Rock Around With Ollie Vee" and "Blue Days, Black Nights."
Lagers and wine had been replenished by the time Mrs Hudson dedicated a song to John.
I don't know why I love you, baby,
I guess it's just because
You're so square –
Baby, I don't care.
John spluttered in good-natured outrage while Lestrade laughed and Sherlock smirked and both offered unsolicited commentary on his many jumpers.
Jumpers which, incidentally, John happened to like, thank you very much.
Mrs Hudson shuffled through her albums once again and made another selection.
"My dears," she began, "these days I'm not in 'sock hop' condition, but a slow dance would do the trick. When again will I have three handsome men all to myself?"
Setting the needle to the groove, she rose and extended her hand to John. "May I have this dance, Dr Watson?"
"I'd be honoured," he said.
Embracing his landlady tenderly, John began to sway her around the centre of the room. She rested her head against his broad shoulder.
You're the nearest to my heart.
Please don't ever, mmmm yeah,
Ever say we'll part…
When the song ended, they hugged, and Mrs Hudson turned to Lestrade.
Just you know why,
Why you and I
Will by and by
Know true love ways…
When Lestrade dipped her at the end, she giggled like a schoolgirl. So did John.
As the next song started, Mrs Hudson stood before Sherlock.
"You know I don't dance," Sherlock said, glaring, arms crossed.
"You know I don't care," Mrs Hudson replied, grinning, hands on hips.
"This song," Lestrade told the room at large, "is one of the very first to use overdubbing, years before multitracking became standard practice. It's a pioneering piece."
Sherlock's lips twitched, and then he gave a put-upon sigh. "A pioneering piece," he echoed. "Well, in that case, how can I refuse?"
In a single swift motion he rose and enfolded Mrs Hudson in long arms. After that, he did little but shift his slight weight from foot to foot, but this seemed to satisfy his dancing partner.
Hold me close and tell me how you feel.
Tell me love is real. Mmmm…
Words of love you whisper soft and true.
Darling, I love you. Mmmm…
"My boys," she said at last, when all had resumed their seats, "you've made me a happy woman. Without you, I would've spent the night remembering how I cried at the news of his plane crash, and the thought of that brilliant young life gone far too soon. But thanks to you, I've remembered his music instead, and all the joy it's given."
They sat together in silence until Mrs Hudson played another song.
Well… all right, so I'm being foolish.
Well… all right, let people know
About the dreams and wishes you wish
In the night when lights are low.
Well… all right, well… all right,
We'll live and love with all our might…
As the soulful voice and haunting melody washed over him, John observed the room through half-lidded eyes.
Lestrade sprawled comfortably in his chair, shoulders back, arms open, ankle crossed over thigh, an altogether different sight from the wretched knot of heavy-hearted tension he'd presented in his office. Rhythmic motion rippled across his body – a flick of a fingertip, a bounce of a knee, a swing of a foot – marking the gentle beat of the song.
For reasons known only to himself, Sherlock had deemed this to be not dull. Perhaps his love of music played a part, or his fascination with genius of any kind. Once again he reclined, a long line angled into his chair, eyes closed and palms together. Perfectly still. His powers concentrated. No manic energy, no brooding impatience. For this precious moment, content.
Mrs Hudson's dreamy-eyed, faraway look gave John a sense of the young girl who once had been – and who still was, inside the woman's older frame. He sent up a word of thanks that even now, as an adult, fate had gifted him with the chance to have a mother like this, figuratively if not biologically.
John's hands were splayed on his sturdy thighs, which had served repeatedly this past hour as his makeshift drum kit. As he studied his blunt, capable fingers, he wondered what he wouldn't give to preserve this night, to protect these fellow travellers and shield them from harm.
He would, in fact, give anything.
That wasn't the way it worked, though, was it? He would try, of course, but there were no guarantees in a world as uncertain and perilous as this, a world in which airplanes fell from the sky and fathers drowned their children and Moriartys schemed from the centres of their webs.
There were, however, moments like these. They had been far too few in John's life to take for granted. As much as he craved the adrenaline rush of the battlefield, he needed this, too. This belonging.
"Just one more song," Mrs Hudson said after a time, smiling with mischief as she drew each man back from his own reverie. "This is for the Detective Inspector."
Way back in history three thousand years,
Back ever since the world began,
There's been a whole lot of good women shedding tears
For a brown-eyed handsome man…
Then it was John's turn to laugh as Sherlock smirked. And laugh he did.
They ended the evening on that note.
John and Lestrade helped Mrs Hudson clear her dishes from the table, while Sherlock disappeared to record the important data from what John now thought of unofficially as the Great Balls-Busting of St. Bart's.
Lestrade departed – for home, he promised, and not back to the office – with fresh bandages on his arm, courtesy of John, and fresh leftovers tucked under it, courtesy of Mrs Hudson. His words of thanks for including him in their plans were quiet and plainspoken. John knew they were profoundly heartfelt.
When John at last sank into his bed, he dreamed not of Afghani sands and London baths and the lifeless bodies found in each, but of a distinctive Lubbock voice and a Gibson acoustic guitar and a table surrounded by familiar faces, misfit toys, and chirping crickets.
In his dreams, he kept them safe. In his dreams, the music never died.
Notes: The title of this story alludes to Don McLean's song "American Pie," which refers to Buddy Holly's tragic death on 3 February, 1959, as "The Day the Music Died."
Una Stubbs, who portrays Mrs Hudson in Sherlock, was born seven months and three weeks after Buddy Holly.
The songs referenced above only as lyrics include the following, in order: "Bo Diddley," "You're So Square (Baby, I Don't Care)," "Dearest," "True Love Ways," "Words of Love," "Well… All Right," and "Brown-Eyed Handsome Man."
Vital Stats: Originally written in July 2011.