Hey all. New to the fandom over here, so please, be gentle :D I was inspired recently by Youtube, as I watched these group of guys (called the PianoGuys :D) play the most exquisite of music. Go check them out, they're great. The inspiration for John to play a cello came from the guy who plays cello in the PianoGuys, because even though John said so himself that he played a clarinet in school, after seeing this guy play, I can't see John playing anything else but a cello :D That's just me, probably, but please, be openminded.
By the way, this is un-beta-ed as of yet, but if anyone wants to beta this in their spare time, just PM me, and you'll make me happy for weeks :D
NOTE: A round of applause goes to SpecialAgentZiva for giving me very helpful and appreciated advice for this fic. If you're seeing this, sorry it took so long, but here it is :D
DISCLAIMER: I don't own Sherlock, but I wish I did. Or John. Or Irene. Or Lestrade. Or Ms. Hudson. Or Molly. Or Sally. Or even Anderson. I would never want to own Anderson, but he's part of the show, so...
Also, as a friendly reminder, there is one mention of John thinking about killing himself. Just a heads up.
"Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent"
To An Audience of One...
Hello, old friend.
He looked at the case that carried so many memories. Numerous stickers were attached on her, some declaring her fragile over and over again like a broken record. Others showed the world the places she went to, the stickers placed one on top of another due to lack of space. She was worn, beaten, and old, but the very facts that would make her appear ugly and useless to everyone else in the world only made him smile, for those scratches and bumps were the scars that only showed how reliable and trustworthy she was to have protected his friend so faithfully.
How are you doing?
He smiled as he ran his hand over the large dent on top of the case, the one that made him panic and think that his dearest companion of fifteen years―not a long time, he knows, but to him, it feels like an eternity―was either dead or dying. How furious he was when he found out that the only one who would listen, understand, and accept him for who he was, was hurt. How happy was he when he opened the case to find its cherished cargo pristine and untouched, the case managing to protect its partner of a thousand precious moments.
...Me? I'm alright. I've been better, though.
He held the clasps that would open the case with a kind of reverence that, if one was watching him, could be interpreted as an almost religious gesture. It was, in a way, to him. Because those clasps represented a knob to a door that, on the other side, lay his friend for over a decade. A friend who had faithfully and patiently waited for him to open the door, and say hello again.
He flicked the clasps off, and opened the case, smiling.
...You haven't changed a bit, have you?
She was still immaculate and flawless, laid out elegantly on black velvet, her own constant companion, the bow, on the "ceiling" of the case. It was as though he traveled back in time, back to the times when he had traveled with the band around the world. Back to when life was simpler; when he could see everything was either black or white, a when all he had to worry about was when the next performance was. When the bravest thing he ever did when he was in fifth grade was learn how to play an instrument nearly five inches taller than him. When his greatest fear was dying, and leaving his delicate lady (a contradiction. He knows she's anything but delicate, yet that doesn't stop him from refering her as such) here on Earth to be played by some amateur who will sooner break her than play a proper note.
It was his lady; his cello. Carefully guarded for what felt like a thousand blissful years, it was the only remnant of a past when he still laughed and smiled without a care in the world. When his eyes were not beset with a hundred shifting shadows, his ears ever ringing with the screams of the dying. When his hands did not shake from fear of the dark, where he would have to face the demons plaguing his mind. When his shoulder did not ache when it rains. When his leg did not fail him when he runs...
He closed his eyes, his smile fading away, and sighed.
I guess you probably won't even recognize me now, huh?
John touched the cool wood, tracing over the grain. He remembered every song he had ever played with his cello. He knew she did too. But that was not why he feared playing with her again.
After all, it's been fifteen years.
He was afraid that she wouldn't accept him as she did before, back to when he was whole, young, and foolish. He was afraid that she would reject him as he was now, a broken, middle-aged, ex-military doctor whose hands were dyed in the blood of men and women he failed to save.
I was beginning to wonder if you'd missed me.
You see, every instrument has a soul. This wise, beautiful soul chooses its partner, not the other way around. Anyone can produce a loud shriek from blowing a horn, or a startling rap on a drum. But very few can become the intrument for their own mute companion (another mystery. How can something that can be so frightening loud, yet at the same time so agonizingly soft, be unable to express the simplest of desires?), and weave a story made out of notes that are of such eloquence as to move a man to tears. John knew that she might not even make a sound, no matter how hard he tried, if she didn't want him to, and there would be nothing he could do about it other than try, and try again. He knew he would keep trying until she relented with a sharp, painful, screech. When she did that for the first time he held her, he jumped, and his father, wonderful cellist himself, laughed, and said that the only time music can be made is when the musician, after trying and failing a countless number of times, convinces his instrument―his unyielding teacher and constant companion―that the only thing what he wants to do is express what simply cannot be expressed in words.
I've certainly missed you. As for that old fart...
After that, he tried harder than ever to prove to her that he was worth her attention, even when he was discouraged―and yelled at―more than once by nearly everyone he knew. He never gave up, even after his fingers had to be bandaged from sliding on the strings so fast and griping the fingerboard so tightly that they bled. When he finally convinced her to sing one note, so soft he could barely hear it―he actually thought it was actually a note from his father's cello downstairs―he was so happy that he cried. He was so proud of himself that when he played his first classical piece, J.S. Bach's Unaccompanied Cello Suite No. 1: Prelude―the Cello Song, they called it―that his father―his idol―smiled, and taught him everything he knew.
...I miss him too.
When his father, a retired army doctor, had his left hand paralyzed due to a stroke, he kept on playing the cello for him. They would play at dawn, when the sky was painted with gentle streaks of soft orange, bright pink and the lightest yellow. She still squeaked once in a while, as if to protest to being woken up so early, or remind him that he wasn't holding her right, or that she didn't like her bow being held too tightly, but in the end, he knew she loved these excursions every little bit as he loved seeing the golden sun bid a good night to the silver moon, the black velvet sky, and the stars that sparkled like diamonds.
He stayed in the school band until he graduated, to his lady's utter despair at doing so for eight years (her greatest annoyance came from getting knocked over repeatedly by blind children) and absolute delight in leaving. He still remembered the feeling of exhilaration he had when he threw his dark blue cap up in the air, realizing at that moment that he was no longer the same boy who, so long ago, practically quailed at the size of his cello.
In speaking of the old man...
After a month or so of contentment at home, he found himself in his room of eighteen years, silently contemplating what to do with his life. Then, just as easily and as simply as choosing what he would have for breakfast, he decided to follow another one of his father's footsteps, and become an army doctor. Just like that.
With that decision, he set along a path that he would never regret in the end.
What do you think of my hair now? I think it's turning a tad bit silver 'round the edges.
He rose quickly through the ranks, thanks to his skill and ingenuity on the operating table, until he was a captain in the Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers. He also worked hard at St. Bart's Hospital, soon becoming even more skilled than his father, who, by then, had already suffered another stroke, immobilizing both his legs. He came home every weekend to say greet his parents, his sister, and his lady, who usually greeted him with a loud shriek that ended with a soft, beautiful note, as if she was scolding him for not coming home sooner, but telling him that she loved him for coming back. He knew he had a good life.
He never imagined that he would be shipped to Afghanistan.
Remember our last chat?
Before he left to go to a war he never wanted to be in, he spent one last afternoon with her and his father. It was as if she knew that he may never come back, and to his surprise, she opened up to him, letting the notes flow effortlessly in the air, even the ones he usually had to coax her to do. It was as if she was crying, and he tried to soothe her by murmuring softly, but she would not be comforted, even as he told her in his own way that he would be coming back. He felt the tears beginning to form, but he would not let them fall. After all, he was a man now―a man going to war. And men going to war don't cry.
...Yeah, me too.
They talked for the last time that afternoon, the entire afternoon, reminding each other things that could not be forgotten, memories of times that could not be repeated. Promises that John, in the end, could not keep.
'...What if you get hurt?' she asked with a worrying tone.
"Don't worry, I won't get hurt. I'm stronger than you think," he murmured softly.
'It's still a possibility, but I'm not so worried about that. You've heard the stories, in any case―you could go mad out there.'
"Me? Mad?" He grinned. "Why, that's preposterous! How can I be any more mad than I am now?"
'I'm not kidding John,' she deadpanned with a loud squeak that made him cringe.
"Neither am I." His voice took on a more serious tone. "You don't need to worry so much―I'll be fine."
'Alright then. I'll hold you to that.' She seemed to hesitate a bit. 'But promise me one thing.'
"What?" He asked, mystified.
'That you won't lose yourself out there.'
He smiled grimly. He wasn't a great keeper of promises, was he? Nearly went mad from all the dying patients he had, who were already mad, either from the pain, the blistering sun, or the sand that seems to always find its way to your eyes, John could never figure out.
Near the end of his service, he got himself shot in the leg from trying to save a friend that ended up dead. A few days later, as he tried to get back to camp with his comrades, who seemed to keep dropping like flies no matter how hard he tried to save them, he got himself shot again, this time in the shoulder, as he was, yet again, trying to save a wounded soldier that died anyway, nearly killing himself due to blood loss in the process. Both his shoulder and his leg got infected within a week, and the only reason he didn't give up was that, in the foggy recesses of his mind, he remembered the promises he made to his family, and more importantly, to a lady. His lady.
That was enough to keep him going for a little longer.
I was such an idiot then, wasn't I? A naive, reckless, idiot.
When he came back home, he was saddened, but not shocked, to learn that his father had died a few months previous due to natural causes. It would certainly explain the lack of letters he was receiving. His sister, Harriet, didn't bother to tell him as she was grieving in her own way―that is, she drowned out her sorrows in a bottle. He couldn't forgive her for that.
Especially after he found out where she got her money for her "therapy."
John swung around and looked at her with all the shock, disbelief, and anger one would usually reserve when someone he knew―and loved―was killed.
"YOU SOLD MY CELLO!" he roared, unable to believe that his sister―his sister―would do such a thing.
"I-I'm sorry!" she said, crying loudly. "I didn't mean to! It's just, I'm so desperate..."
"You sold the only thing I have to remember him by, and all you have to say is that YOU. ARE. SORRY?" John slammed his fist on the drywall next to him, creating a hole bigger than his fist. "How can you do such a thing!"
"What else could I do?" she said defensively, finding strength in anger and fear. From these feelings, she remembered during the rare times when she was sober, she said the six words she would regret for the rest of her life, because they would tear her brother away from her.
"It was only a cello John!"
With those words, he fell silent. Harriet found his silence even more terrifying than the thundering roar of rage he would usually make when she messed up like this. He only looked at her with vacant eyes, and that scared her more than anything. Then, his eyes changed into something colder than ice, and without another word to his sister, he packed his bags, and wrote a letter to his mother. When he was done, gave it to her with an apology and a kiss, and left the house where he and his father lived. Where his lady lived.
He didn't look back.
I hope you had some adventures when I was gone. I know I had plenty.
After he left, he went straight to London and bought a cheap room. He spent most of his time thinking about her and everyone he could've saved. He couldn't help it. He tried not to remember the war, but it manifested itself in his mind in the form of nightmares, and in his body in the form of a limp. His leg where the bullet tore through pained him constantly, reminding him of who he lost. Of everyone he lost. His nightmares dug up memories of the blood of the dying, the whispers of the friends he couldn't save, and the screams that he just can't seem to get out of his head. He went to a therapist, but she didn't help at all, and sometimes, during the sessions, he even relieved memories. Those bloody, painful, memories, that were better left alone.
On his bad days, the days when the sky would pour while thunder and lightning conduct their orcestra of roaring wind and flashes of light, he would just lie down on his bed, his guilt at living consuming him from the inside. He would not move at all on those days, not even to eat. He knew if he did, he would go to the drawer and take out his gun. The very gun he had cleaned of blood, dirt, and grime for the past fifteen years. The very gun that he used to kill people. People who were trying to kill him. People who were dying. People who were screaming from the pain of their wounds.
People whom he had the honor of serving with, calling his friends. They all promised each other at the beginning that if any of them were bleeding to death, or even dying, on the battlefield, they would try to save each other. If they couldn't, because it would interfere with the mission, or that they would become a dead weight, or if they were in so much pain that they couldn't scream anymore...
Whoever shot them in the head was forgiven. They had laughed about it then, all of them as naive as children, thinking that maybe, just maybe, they will all go home.
At the end of his service, he was the only one left. He had killed them all, mercifully. Because they would do the same for him.
He hated it.
So it was a matter of self-preservation that on those days, he did not move, and stayed as still as a corpse.
On his good days, he would venture out into the bright and busy streets of London. He would go into music stores, pawnshops, thrift stores, any place where he might find her. He was unsuccessful.
And so, he remained alone.
Some of them not that good, but, well, at least everything has an ending.
Then, one day, as he walked around aimlessly in a park, he met an old friend, Mike Stanford. They got a coffee, sat down, and talked. John told him he needed a new flat, and Mike told him of someone in a similar situation. They both went to St. Bart's for John to meet this new flatmate.
And when those adventures end...
There, he met Sherlock Holmes, the only consulting detective in the world.
...Another one begins.
Sherlock saved him. John didn't know how else to put it. He saved him from losing himself by being the most arrogant, the most infuriating, and the most brilliant person on the face of the Earth. He saved him by giving him a reason to live. He gave him a reason to get out of bed, because there was another case to solve.
A reason to run, run as fast as his legs will be able to carry him, because they are chasing a killer on the streets of London.
A reason to laugh, because Sherlock made another quip about Mycroft's weight, or saying that, when Anderson was in the area, he lowered the IQ of the entire street.
A reason to be completely baffled because there's another head in the fridge, or that there was another pair of eyeballs in the microwave.
A reason to go to the supermarket, because there was no more milk in the fridge, or that there was no more edible food―all had disappeared "in the name of science," or because Sherlock needed the space for more body parts.
A reason to punch someone in the face. Sherlock literally asked him to once, and when he didn't make a move to do so, Sherlock then punched him in the face, thus convincing John to do so and to strangle him for good measure.
So many reasons to live for, all because of Sherlock.
I'm still surprised that the idiot that lives with me isn't dead yet. With all the cases he's been in, nearly half of them involve someone trying to kill him! How is he not dead yet?
It is truly a mystery.
The greater mystery to John, at this moment, was how his cello ended up in his hands again.
Today was one of those days. The days in which Sherlock didn't have a case, and was uprooting the house in his boredom, testing John's patience. God knows, he knew three year olds with better ways of entertaining themselves. They certainly didn't try to shoot down walls, make explosive concoctions in the kitchen, or played the violin at the break of dawn, making the poor instrument screech painfully.
When John had enough of Sherlock's childish, but admittedly dangerous, tendencies, he got his jacket, announced that he was going out for some fresh air, and left the building as fast as he could.
He found that pawnshop entirely by chance. If it was any other day, he wouldn't even notice it was there, let alone enter it. The sign up front simply said Pawnshop, while underneath the title it read, "If you're reading this, come in!" It wasn't like the other shops he went in to, and, not wanting to get back into the flat anytime soon, he went inside.
It was, in a word, crowded. It was unlike any of the shops he's been in, and he's been to plenty. The entire shop was packed with paintings, old antique guns, an ancient bicycle, a telescope, motorcycle parts, old DVD and VCR players, swords from every kind of civilization that ever possessed a sword, long boards, skateboards, and instruments. So many instruments. Saxophones, trumpets, French horns, flutes, violins, clarinets, bassoons―if you had the patience to look carefully among the debris on the floor, you will most likely find what you were looking for. And he was looking for her. He was literally hoping against all the forces that could go against him that he will find her here. His lady. His cello.
...Well, being persistent helps.
It was after two hours of combing through shelves upon shelves of instruments, and being knocked over by the sheer amount of those same instruments, when he found her, buried underneath the rubble like a treasure.
Especially when lots of things happen to be in your way.
He gave a strangled cry of joy that he saw her, not wanting to believe his eyes. She was exactly as he remembered her―worn, beaten, old, and covered with stickers. It was with trembling fingers that he touched her case, feeling every bump, every scratch, on her surface. He remembered everything about her. He remembered the place of every sticker she ever had, all the trips they've been in together, all the songs they played together...
He remembered it all.
Having a healthy dose of luck helps, too.
He was lucky that he had his wallet in his jacket. Otherwise, he probably would've ran down the street as fast as he could, his cello strapped on his back, leaving Lestrade and Sherlock with a case that probably would've made him laugh 'till his sides burst ("The Case of the Running Man with the Humongous Cello.") To his surprise, he didn't even need his wallet. The grumpy old man in the shop said that no one could play the thing properly―she probably squeaked too much, John thought, proud to have known that she was still waiting for him―and gave her to him for free.
...An extremely healthy dose of luck...
It was already night time when he flew out of the pawnshop, his feet not seeming to touch the ground. Originally, it took John fifteen minutes to get to the shop. Going back home, his body feeling lighter than air, it took him less than five. He almost knocked the door off its hinges, shouting out apologies to Ms. Hudson in his wake, and dashed into the flat, feeling like a giddy schoolboy who just got a kiss from a girl he likes.
Well, at least some of that rubbed off me. After all, I did find you in the most unlikeliest of places.
He sat down on his chair, his cello placed on the table in front of him, breathless. He stayed there for a moment, gradually slowing down his breathing, and wondered where Sherlock was. He pushed the thought back. For once, he was glad he was not here. If he was, he would've went into his room to be with her alone anyway. He needed the space.
...Well...that's enough about me...
He looked at her, his eyes taking in every detail of her surface. He reached towards her case, and ran his hand over the length of her body.
He flipped off the clasps, and opened the case for the first time in fifteen years. He smiled. She was the same as ever, pristine and flawless.
What about you?
He gazed at her, memories of days long past rising unbidden to the forefront of his mind.
How have you been?
He longed to touch her, to make music with her again. But something stopped him.
'Did you keep your promise?' she seemed to ask him. 'Your hands, your body, your soul. They will be different, I know. But is there a part of the same John Watson I knew still there?'
'Is the boy, who tried so hard to convince me to make wonderful music with him still there?'
'Is the boy, who cried the first time I sang for him, so softly that he nearly mistook it for his father's cello, still there?'
'Is John Watson, the boy who played the cello, still there?'
John stayed silent for a moment. Then, he smiled. He would accept whatever she chose to do.
...We'll see now, won't we?
After all, he survived a war by wading through blood and bullets, and a flatmate with the ego the size of a mountain, didn't he? If he can do that, he could do anything. Still...
...I wonder, should I ask permission first?
He laughed quietly at that.
He lifted her from her case, made her rest against his knee, and sat there for a moment, contenting himself with feeling her with his fingertips, remembering where to place his fingers, how to play each of her notes. He held the bow in his right hand. To his delight, it still fit in his hand just right, even after all these years, like a perfectly balanced sword.
He lifted the bow up, poised in the air like a sword waiting to strike. He let it hold there for a moment, and then lowered it until it just barely touched her. He took a deep breath.
And with that, he began to play.
It was rough and discordant at first. She was still getting used to him, to the new John Watson, and at the same time searching him. Searching for the boy inside him. John could feel her seeking out the young boy of twelve years. It was distracting at first, and she reprimanded him with loud screeches and shrieks, as if to tell him to play, not watch her. So, he did what he was told, and played.
He played every note they ever played together. She still squeaked and sometimes didn't make a sound, but he kept trying, over and over again. He played the lowest note that she could make to the ones that went so high that, even with her permission, they both had trouble reaching. He scaled, the pitches rising and descending with every note he played. They sang the very first song he ever played for his father, The Cello Song, and found to his surprise that he remembered all the notes perfectly. He played all the little melodies he learned as a child; Hot Cross Buns, Mary Had a Little Lamb, and the Christmas carols; Joy to the World, Silent Night, Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas―all of them. He played each and every little note in those songs.
That, more than anything, made his heart sing, and gave him hope. Hope for himself, that she would still accept him for who he is.
And with every note he played, he noticed that he she began to tremble, as if she was seeing something unbelievable, but she still needed―wanted―proof. Her notes began to be more whole and vibrant with the life he placed into them. When he realized that, he decided just to play. Play for her, his cello, the one who had waited for him for so long.
At that moment, he made music. And when he started to make music, his cello, his friend, saw that this boy, this man, that was with her was still the same boy who so long ago cried when she relented, and breathed him a note so soft he thought it didn't exist. He was the same boy who was so proud of playing The Cello Song for his father that he smiled and taught him everything he knew. Her whole body seemed to come alive at his fingertips as she realized that he had kept his promise. The promise he had made over a decade ago.
He didn't lose himself in the war.
Her entire body vibrated with overwhelming joy. Joy at the world, for sending him back to her. Joy to the fates that guided him here. Joy at his resilience, for many would have gone mad from the experiences he had to go through. She radiated with the joy of making music with her friend, and at that moment, they both knew that this was what they have been waiting for over a decade. A chance to express everything they felt about everything they've been through― his leaving for Afghanistan, her sadness, his nightmares, her fear for him, his injuries, her feelings on everyone she has been with for the last fifteen years―all of it. And they managed this without saying a single word.
For the first time since he made her sing with him, he found that he was crying.
Then, the music swelled to something so beautiful it cannot be expressed in words. To even try to was doomed to fail, for words could not express their elation of being together again. John laughed, filled to the brim with all the delight of a child on Christmas morning. Nothing, not even death, could ever part them again.
So until the morning sun rose, their souls danced in the air, and flew in the cool night skies while she sang to him the three words he was waiting for since he came back.
'Welcome home John.'
Completed updating as of Monday, July 2, 2012, at 10:48 AM over the course of about a month or two. That's school/laziness/gaming for ya.