A/N: So I just, uh... wrote this. Dunno why. But there's an Iron & Wine song that goes with it so kindly head on over to my tumblr (basserist dot tumblr dot com) and have a listen if you'd like. Or go look up 'The Trapeze Swinger (Acoustic)' on YouTube, I guess. Either way.
Sally stared at the computer screen in front of her, wrinkling her nose in displeasure as the grainy video shot blurred out of focus a few times. Ugh she hated when the files did this - gave her bloody migraine. Finally the picture sharpened up, the fuzz of distorted audio smoothing out to recognisable sounds. She pressed the headphones tighter over her ears and leant in close as a voice filtered through.
"Where the bleedin' hell's the... christ, buggerin' piece a... ah, there!"
Thick cockney accent, a young man muttering to himself in concentration. Sally furrowed her brows and watched as the shot of what appeared to be an old, rickety pub table panned swiftly upwards along a brick wall. It focused briefly on the freckled cheeks of some grinning bloke, then blurred with motion again and finally settled on a skinny teenager wearing a dark blue hoodie. The boy was seated on a scuffed wooden chair with his feet up on a dilapidated pub table beside him, eyes glued to his own fingers as they plucked idle notes from a chocolate-brown guitar resting against his stomach.
It's Holmes, Sally realised with a triumphant smirk. Finally!
She'd been trawling through the video files from that homicide case with the dead photographer for bloody ages now, on the hunt for more scandalous information concerning their ever-aggravating consulting detective. Whenever she had a few moments of free time - could justify wasting police resources snooping through a closed case - she'd be watching file after banal file looking for his face. Because there had to be more videos of the 'great detective' playing in that ridiculous pub band on here. Ones he hadn't managed to delete when he'd hacked into their evidence database last month.
Granted, of course, she couldn't really prove it had been Holmes who'd done that... but considering the only photos that'd disappeared had been the ones with his face in them Sally figured the culprit pretty damned obvious. Lestrade hadn't seemed too concerned about it when she'd brought the security breach to his attention. He'd been more amused than anything, like he fully expected Holmes to both engage in and get away scot free with that sort of behaviour. Sally loved her boss, she really did, but god he could be such a doormat.
Lacking any better option she'd eventually decided the most she could do was make sure at least something survived. (Preferably something stupidly embarrassing she could put on YouTube.) Down at the end of the list on their network copy of the laptop's hard drive contents there'd been a load of un-sorted files, just random things lacking a place in the woman's otherwise meticulously organised system. Sally'd figured Holmes hadn't gone through every single one of those. Certainly not the videos, at least. Would take too long, and Holmes was impatient - he'd just focus on photos, leave the rest. Maybe. Was worth a shot anyway.
And oh good lord, but she'd been right.
"You actually nicked Mandy's camera?" the absurdly young-looking version of Holmes on the screen said, his deep (though not quite as deep as Sally was accustomed to - how old was he here, then? late teens? early twenties?) voice sounding utterly bored. He glanced up toward the boy hidden behind the lens frame and raised an eyebrow.
"Y'said I couldn't do it so I went an' bleedin' did, y'prat." The holder of the camera seemed to have been in the midst of sitting down in a chair as he spoke - the picture bounced and skittered around before finally settling on a close-in shot of Holmes' unimpressed face.
"You just politely asked her if you could borrow it, didn't you?" he replied in a flat monotone. A disgruntled sputtering noise drifted from behind the frame.
"Wh- no, you arse! I nicked it, fuck's sake. Y'think I can't steal a damn camera..."
Holmes half-shrugged, looking back down to his instrument. Sounds of someone fiddling with settings on the lenses buffeted Sally's ears for a moment, before the shot zoomed out to take in a wider view of Holmes. Pale hands wandering over the neck of his guitar, feet on the tabletop off to the left of the frame with the rest of his body leaning idly back in his chair. Between the dirty trainers and short mop of messy, unkempt hair he looked strangely... human. Like a shiftless runaway, just some lost kid off the streets. Not at all his usual statuesque persona.
"I think you're too chickenshit to risk Charley kicking your arse when his girlfriend finds out who lifted her expensive equipment."
Sally raised her eyebrows in surprise, which swiftly morphed to delight. Hearing Holmes swear so casually, good lord. The victorious smirk of discovery had yet to leave her face - not a pub band performance, this, but nearly every bit as good as one. Teenage Holmes being a precious little rebel? Calling people 'chickenshit', of all things? Really? Adorable. Where'd he even picked up a phrase like that?
An arm appeared suddenly in-frame (it seemed the camera was resting on the tabletop in front of whomever had been operating it, now, because the shot remained steady despite his movement) and unsuccessfully tried to smack Holmes upside the head. Holmes dodged easily, stuck his tongue out like a child, and the man who'd stolen the camera huffed in annoyance. Muffled sounds of a chair screeching across wood drifted through Sally's headphones. Then out of nowhere the young freckled bloke she'd only seen in a brief flash earlier was sitting right up next to Holmes in the midst of the frame.
"Oi, Mandy, I nicked yer camera an' I ain't sayin' sorry!" the boy announced firmly into the screen. Beside him Holmes rolled his eyes.
"You're filming yourself confessing to a petty crime, you moron."
"Also Sherly's high t'shit on coke!" the other added in his chipper cockney quip. He turned and grinned as Holmes abruptly glared at him. "There, aye? Now I'll be done up on thievery an' you'll get yer arse a drugs offence."
"You're a fucki-"
"Anyways!" the boy continued, cutting Holmes' rude invective off. "Y'said if I lifted the camera you'd do th'song, 'member? Deal's a deal, mate."
"I have no idea what you're on about," Holmes retorted airily as he shifted his gaze back down to the guitar. He set himself to plucking out a series of semi-random notes and seemed to have decided to ignore his companion.
The freckled bloke shoved Holmes lightly in the arm, frowning. "Oi, don't be a fuckhead. Y'don't forget shit y'said two bleedin' hours ago."
"I'm high to shit on coke, according to you. Why shouldn't I forget what I said two hours ago?" Holmes smirked very slightly to himself as his fingers flitted around some sort of little concerto-sounding melody. "I mean really I've probably got brain damage by now, haven't I? Muddled in the head."
"Y'ain't got brain damage," the other replied in flat exasperation.
Holmes blinked over at him, feigning a look of confusion. "Hang on... what was your name again?"
With a gusty huff of a sigh the cockney boy leant sideways and grabbed Holmes' face in a quick kiss. Sally's eyebrows shot straight up towards her hair in shocked delight. She snickered into her hand and hoped to hell none of her colleagues would choose this moment to ask what she was watching. Because oh lord, that was right, wasn't it? The freckle-faced kid had been young Holmes' boyfriend. She'd forgotten that sordid detail in the time since she'd last looked through these files. And apparently he'd been cockney? Holmes had dated some vaguely chavvy little working-class criminal? Beautiful. Completely, sodding beautiful.
"You're an arsehole," the unnamed-boyfriend announced matter-of-factly as he drew back from the kiss. He added a short pat on the cheek and smiled for the glare shot his way.
"So what does that make you, an emotional masochist?" Holmes asked in a bland drawl.
The other boy blinked. "A what?"
"Good christ your vocabulary's shit."
"Yeah get fucked, mate," the cockney kid replied with a light roll of his eyes. He turned back towards the camera and reached out with one hand to reposition it a bit, re-centring the frame so they were both equally in the shot. "Alright, then! Here's what we're on about-"
"Who the hell are you talking to?" Holmes cut in, grumbling. His companion ignored him.
"So a couple hours back we was talkin' bout the best way to go stealin' shit when Sherly said, an' I quote: 'if you manage to nick Mandy's camera I'll play that entire idiotic song of yours on film'-"
"Was that supposed to sound like my accent?"
"- an' now he's tryin' to pretend like he don't remember sayin' that, but he bleedin' does cause he remembers fuckin' everythin', so now since I went an' nicked the camera he's gotta do the bloody song."
"Good luck making me."
The cockney boy smirked somewhat wickedly into the frame. "... and if he don't do it then I'm gonna start repeatin' every dumbarse thing he said th'other night when I got 'im stoned t'hell and we-"
Holmes' eyes suddenly widened - he scrambled to shove himself forward in his chair and clapped a hand over the other man's mouth. His boyfriend laughed, pushing him off.
"Oh not too keen on that'un, aye?"
"You're a fucking extortionist," Holmes snapped, his glare gone furious, a faint flush to his cheeks. The other boy just laughed again.
"Hey like I said, mate: deal's a deal."
Holmes held his gaze for a moment more, then finally flopped back in his chair with a gusty, put-upon sigh. Beside him his friend grinned in triumph.
"... I don't remember the notes," Holmes muttered unhappily.
"Figure 'em out."
Another furious glare (met by a sweet, guileless smile) and with a petulant grumble Holmes raised his hands to the guitar once more. Experimentally he played a short snippet of some tune, looking for the correct tones. After a few seconds he seemed to catch on to whatever he was doing and plucked out a more confident melody.
"Is that it?"
The freckled boy was grinning ear-to-ear now, having leant back in his own chair to put his feet up on something (a chair, presumably) just out-of-frame. He tucked one hand into his jeans pockets, the other bent at a strangely awkward angle over his stomach, and nudged Holmes with his shoulder.
"Come on, then, get on with it. I know y'remember how it goes."
"Extortionist," Holmes muttered again. Regardless of his irritated tone he did, indeed, begin to play. A few bars of some lilting, repetitive tune flowed from the instrument.
And then, to Sally's profound, utter shock... he started singing.
It was in a low, almost sulky-sounding baritone, with the words not particularly loud. But they were definitely lyrics. And they were definitely being sung. Sally's mouth fell open.
"Please, remember me, happily
By the rose bush laughing
With bruises on my chin..."
The smirk which had been locked in a semi-permanent state on Sally's face ever since discovering this file seemed to have found itself thoroughly erased by the melody now drifting through her headphones. Hurriedly she pressed the plastic muffs firmly over her ears once more, leant forward as she tried in vain to catch all the words. They seemed to slip through her memory the instant she heard them, nothing but a flowing cascade of poetry. What meaning she could catch between the startling (if somewhat hesitantly quiet) emotional undertones was all wistful recollection and... a sort of plea? A repeating request for remembrance? God, what song was this?
On the screen Holmes' boyfriend seemed to be having similar difficulties to Sally's - at least where keeping his amused expression in place was concerned. His features had softened into a fond, sad smile as he watched the other man play. Holmes was too busy keeping an eye on the position of his fingers to notice.
... well, this definitely wasn't a short song, Sally noted dimly around perhaps the two minute mark. Strangely repetitive, too, though the lyrics kept on changing. She found herself somewhat unwillingly impressed with Holmes' ability to remember the order of so many varied lines. Ugh, but... but then that was just like him, wasn't it? Sodding freak, rubbing his smarts in everyone's faces, even as a punk teenager he'd still been showing off...
She found her internal vitriol lacking in much of its usual venom. Mostly because she'd just gone and made the mistake of watching Holmes' face - his glare had morphed into something far less annoyed over the course of the impromptu little performance, now resembling a look of concentration more than anything. He seemed to have forgotten about his own adamant refusal to play and had moved on to actually singing with something approaching genuine feeling, whilst his guitar accompaniment became more firmly established. It was surreal to watch. Like a proper musician doing a show.
On the other side of the frame the freckled bloke had begun to silently mouth along with the lyrics, a smile on his face... though, Sally noted, his eyes had turned downcast. Holmes glanced up at the man and abruptly the song quieted back down to a more uncertain plucking of notes, a hesitant voice. His expression went sort of oddly questioning as he studied his friend. Looking worried, almost.
His companion looked up, then smiled and jerked his shoulder towards the camera. A gentle reminder that they were on film, apparently. Holmes blinked over, seemed to roll his eyes at the lens, then returned his focus to his instrument. The tempo sped up noticeably for what turned out to be the final few lines.
"My dear, and if I make
The pearly gates
I'll do my best to make a drawing
Of god and lucifer, a boy and girl
An angel kissing on a sinner
A monkey and a man
A marching band
All around a frightened trapeze swinger..."
With a matter-of-fact plucking of the last notes he trailed off. A few beats of silence, then he huffed to himself and flopped conclusively back into his chair.
"Aw, oi!" his boyfriend burst out. "Yer s'posed to do the naah nah nah stuff at th'end!"
"You just blackmailed me into playing a six minute long song and you're miffed I didn't do the idiotic humming bit?" Holmes countered, throwing his hands up in frustration. "You're bloody impossible!"
"Alright, fine... I just like that bit, is all." After a pause the other boy smiled, wide and genuine, and leant over to throw one arm around Holmes in a hug. (Sally abruptly realised she'd not seen the bloke use his left arm at all - in fact the elbow appeared to be locked unnaturally into place under the sleeve of his jumper, a thick lump bulging beneath the fabric... a cast, maybe?) "Y'did brilliant on all th'rest, though. Knew you'd remember th'words."
Holmes returned the hug with a vaguely exasperated-looking pat on the man's back. "I have no idea how you expect me to forget the lyrics to a song you've played about a hundred bloody times this week."
"Hah, yeah I dunno." The boy laughed again. "I guess most folks just kinda block that stuff out? Sounded brill, anyhow."
The freckled bloke drew away from Holmes and, turning back to the table, reached out for the camera with his good arm. Sally's view of the scene blurred out again as the young man manipulated the object in his grip.
"So where's th'fuckin' off switch, then?"
"How should I know?"
"Yer all good with computers an' shit."
"Being able to defrag your laptop's ancient hard drive doesn't mean I'll automatically- oh, it's right there."
"What? Where...? This'un...?"
"No, you idiot, it's next to the-, bloody hell just give it here."
More muffled sounds as the device switched hands, then a beat later the screen blacked out.
Sally sat and stared vacantly at her darkened computer monitor for several seconds.
Well. That had been... hm. Good lord. Well.
She wasn't entirely sure why, but she was beginning to feel rather like she'd just been sucker-punched in the gut. Like her mental image of Sherlock Holmes had gotten turned squarely on its head, never to be viewed the same way again.
But then why...? Was it... was it all the friendly banter? No, no, she'd heard Holmes have similar conversations with Watson loads of times - a bit less rude language, granted, but mostly the same dynamic. Nor was it the brief displays of affection between the man and his long-ago ex, as she'd seen that stuff already with the photos. So... so then.
God, no... alright, it had been the singing. The bloody singing.
For all Sally strove to maintain her stoic belief in Holmes as a dangerous psychopath, a walking time-bomb, ready to murder anyone at the drop of a hat... that position was now sorely compromised by the knowledge that the man had once upon a time been able to sing. And moreover that he'd sung something like that. A wistful, quiet ode, full of haunting melancholy. Resigned and oddly hopeful all at once. Quite frankly an alarming mix of emotions for a self-professed sociopath to convey so easily.
Psychos... didn't sound like that. Did they? Could they? Was it possible to fake such a viscerally human act as singing? And to fake it that well?
Endless minutes stretched by as she turned these questions over in her head. Finally, deciding she really shouldn't be wasting time like this in the middle of her office, she moved her hand to her mouse and firmly closed the video player. Holmes, christ... who cared. Who cared, honestly, he was a lunatic.
A second's hesitation, though, as her pointer hovered over the button to close the folder she'd been browsing through. If she clicked on anything else now she'd lose track of the highlighted file - the thing had been named with an arbitrarily assigned designation by the camera, not organised into a tidy set like most of the victim's other recordings were. It could take weeks to find it again.
These file copies were housed on a backup flash drive, not the original laptop (which had been compounded as evidence ages ago), so Sally was free to re-name it. Without giving herself time to reconsider she right clicked on the thumbnail to do so... but then sat frozen, fingers hovering over the keyboard. What bland, boring, straightforward filename could possibly fit something like this?
Unbidden her mind strayed once more back to the song, to a very young Holmes with a guitar over his too-thin chest and his freckled cockney boyfriend pressed up beside him, reluctantly giving musical voice to poetry.
Shaking her head, she quickly typed in a few words, then closed the folder.