AN: I'm back from a long writing hiatus with an AU. This should be interesting. Slight warnings to PTSD. Be warned that I can be a stupidly slow updater, though I have about 1/3 of this fic complete already. Enjoy! (Also, apologies in advance if I muck up the clarinet something fierce. I've only ever attempted to play it once.)


She is so beautiful, a masterpiece in black and silver, and John feels his breath catch in his throat. Seeing her again after so long . . . it feels like the first time all over again. He reaches out a hand tentatively, placing his fingers against the crushed velvet she is nestled in, a beautiful shade of midnight blue.

Judette.

He pieces her together in his mind's eye, can almost hear her beautiful voice in his ears.

His fingers trace along the smooth curve of her bell, and he dances them along to caress her two joints, upper and lower. Looking closely, he can see his reflection in her fine pieces of silver, and almost loses himself in them, staring. She waits every so patiently, as beautiful and as perfect as the day he left her. His fingers ghost along her body, afraid that any real touch will cause her to dissolve before his very eyes.

"Hullo, Judette."

She does not respond, save a slight glimmer of light off her keys. She will never speak unless spoken to—or rather, spoken through.

He removes a small box from her case, turning it over once or twice in the fingers of his right hand. He opens it gently, and removes from it a single woodwind reed. It feels so delicate in his hands, his soldier's hands . . .

He dampens the reed in his mouth, experiencing all over again its peculiar taste, and it evokes emotions in his chest that he thought were long dead. Holding the reed gently between his lips, he reaches with a trembling right hand and plucks the mouthpiece from its crevasse in the case. Next comes the barrel, the joints, the bell, and finally the ligature as John Watson pieces together his beloved clarinet for the thousandth time, but also for the first time.

Judette the clarinet. No one alive has never known—and will never know-that he has given a name, nearly a personality, to a musical instrument. She has been his partner for nearly ten years now, the last in a line of clarinets that have occupied his hands since adolescence, and none of them could hope to match her. She was the first woman to steal his heart, and the only woman who cannot break it.

She feels heavier in his hands than he remembers—or maybe it is the physical and metaphorical burdens he carries that weigh her down. A smile breaks the lines of his haggard face as he looks at her, whole and complete. He cradles the clarinet in his hands and she falls into place beneath his fingers with the grace of two lovers in a gentle embrace. It is more than just muscle memory—she has become an extension of him, a piece that is both a part of him and greater than him.

The mouthpiece feels somewhat foreign on his lips, large and almost cumbersome, but the tender weight against his bottom lip is reassuring, a comforting touch. His heart is beating with so much force that he can feel it in his ears, and his entire body is shaking in pain, anticipation, need.

He draws a shaking breath and plays the first note he has played on her in over sixteen months, and a dreadful squeak assaults his ears. He flinches, but does not abandon the endeavor. He takes a moment to adjust he embouchure he has lost, and tries again.

The note he plays is an open G, the most basic note, the tuning note. There is a slight tremble in the sound as his lips remember their familiar position, and his musician's ear tells him that he is dreadfully flat, but for that one moment he ignores it all. He simply sits and listens to Judette's voice, and emotion rushes through him like a torrent—it is like seeing an old friend again after many years away, a moment filled with love and beauty and so many feelings that he can't hope to put words to them all.

For the first time in many weeks he is suddenly free of the images that haunt him when he closes his eyes, of the sounds that follow him even in silence. For that moment he can forget about the war, and he feels almost human again.

So he simply plays; he plays until he is out of breath and it feels like his chest may explode and he pulls his mouth away from the clarinet, gasping for air, looking every bit the part of a disheveled lover after a passionate kiss.

He listens to the sound reverberate, though the acoustics are not good in this dingy old flat, and the horrible paisley wallpaper swallows the sound before he can truly enjoy it.

The emptiness it leaves behind is almost painful. He is shaking, his arms numb, tears standing in his eyes.

The note he plays is an open G because he can barely hold the instrument in his shaking hands.

Doctor John Watson went to war a whole man and came home in pieces.

The note he plays is an open G because he can't close the fingers on his left hand for the pain, for the nerve damage in his left shoulder, for the damnable bullet that carved a path just inches from his heart and tore his metaphorical heart out with its passage.

He can put the pieces of his clarinet together, but he can't hope to piece himself back together.

The note he plays is an open G because he is afraid it is the only note he will ever be able to play again.

He raises the clarinet to his lips and plays the note again. Judette seems to respond to his intentions in the way no person could-bless her soul, he thinks—because it is the most mournful note he has ever heard.

TBC