Sounds of an Artist
Disclaimer: I don't own BBC Sherlock or any of the characters, nor do I make any profit from writing this. Just too inspired by the show that I had to borrow them.
Post-Reichenbach Reunion Fic
Sherlock returns to the flat, two and a half years after his 'death', to a side of John that he hadn't known existed.
A/N: For reference, the date of Sherlock's fall is, to all best guesses on Google timelines, on June 12th2011. I don't actually know if this is true (in the context of BBC Sherlock) but it's the basis for this story until we get some answers in Series Three :-)
The lights of 221B Baker Street's apartment were flickering in the near darkness of London's streets, bright enough that Sherlock knew John was in the apartment, dim enough that he was unsure of John's state of wakefulness. It was three in the morning after all.
It was a hit and miss coming back here, leaving a decidedly bitter taste in his mouth and his lips pursed with dissatisfaction. Mycroft's resources were spread both deep and wide, so Sherlock knew that John still resided at the flat, but six months after his fall Mycroft had insisted that if Sherlock wanted to see how John was faring it would be better if he could go and see for himself, which of course Sherlock had not done. He couldn't use the homeless network as he would have done previously; if they were happy to accept bribes from himself, they would certainly take them from someone who was a little less scrupulous (and a lot more dangerous), leaving his contact at MI6 being his best source of information. When that dried up so did everything else regarding John and, as much as he hated to admit it, he didn't know what would await him once he opened that door.
Sherlock had tried not to let Mycroft's words bother him, but his insufferable, strangely caring brother knew how to get a reaction out of him and this was no different. Yet, even as Mycroft's manipulation had initially spurred him into motion, Sherlock knew instinctively that it was time for his return.
His footsteps sounded unusually loud underneath him, their echoes resounding down the deserted street no matter how much Sherlock tried to stifle the sound. He tucked his hands into his pockets to keep the chill off them and crossed the street to the front door of their … John's flat. Knocking seemed a bit presumptuous at this early hour and Sherlock didn't have a key on him but twenty-eight months on the hunt didn't mean that he hadn't picked up a few skills along the way. He pulled out his lock-pick, checked the street again to ensure he was alone and gave a small smile when the lock clicked just right.
Warmth met him first, then, as his eyes adjusted to the light of the hallway, small details flashed in front of him; the dark tinge of rust on the door hinges of the apartment Mrs Hudson never managed to rent out. The smell of Mrs Hudson's faint perfume, still lingering after her night out with another suitor. The long, dark staircase that suddenly felt insurmountable because of what lay at the top of it, the old steps creaking under his weight in all the right places.
Sherlock wasn't surprised that the door to his old flat hadn't closed properly. Shortly after his disappearance, he'd heard that John had slammed the door in a fit of frustration and despair, effectively breaking it in the process so that any effort to close it properly would lead to that same person trying to desperately open it again. In the end, it was easier to leave it ajar, something that Sherlock was grateful for when he stepped into the apartment.
Too much detail, he realised immediately. Too much the same, too much changed. The kitchen table was still full of his experiments but they were merely in transition, planned for the boxes that were close by to be packed up and put away. The boxes themselves were sturdy things but were also covered in a fine layer of dust – they had been put on the floor and hadn't been moved for two, no, three months. 'Unable to complete the move. Unable to accept.'
His keen gaze roved the rest of the apartment, the scent of John stirring as he moved to the living room, taking in the lit candles dotted on the table and fireplace, the fire in the hearth popping embers behind the new guard. He now understood the flickering that he'd seen outside on the street, the flames providing the warmth that would be needed in the cold winter months but also saving on the heating bill. John didn't have the income to continue living in an apartment as prestigious as this, but Mrs Hudson had allowed him to stay with the promise that he would do his bit to save on the living costs. By all accounts, it looked like John had been succeeding. This detail, however, was lost when Sherlock turned to look at the wall that had so stubbornly withstood the bullets he'd fired at it.
From the top of the old, grey sofa to the ceiling, almost the entire wall was covered in pictures. Not fully coloured photographs, these black and white images were handcrafted in a small range of materials spanning pencils, pens and charcoal. The paper itself was the sort used by more serious artists, 'Winsor and Newton, Bristol Board, two hundred and fifty grams per square metre, extra smooth,'the sizes differing depending on the detail that the artist in question had wanted to go into on the subject, from sizes spanning A5 to A3. Mouth dropping slightly, Sherlock was mildly surprised to find that the subject was himself.
No one picture was the same but almost all of them showed him in a particular profile, his coat and scarf making a regular appearance as well as his usual tailored suit with the topmost buttons undone and jacket closed. He paid attention to one particular picture that was slightly different to the others only because it had John in it as well. It showed a close up of Sherlock's face, his gaze fierce and determined, his mouth taut with the tension that was no doubt in the rest of his frame. There wasn't any specific detail on John's own face (he was facing away from the artist – so to speak), serving only as a proximity indicator in the overall image.
Sherlock flicked through his memories of the last time he had looked at John in such a way and realised it was when he had accused Lestrade of breaking into the flat and the DI had promptly informed him that it was for a drugs bust. John had meant to provide a backup to Sherlock, vehemently denying the existence of drugs in the apartment, and Sherlock had told him in no uncertain terms to shut up. They never did find the drugs (of course he knew where they would go and try to look for them, mindless imbeciles) and Sherlock allowed himself a small smile at the way John had immediately stood up for him, albeit massively uninformed of Sherlock's other … habits at the time.
Other pictures also stood out amongst the rest; Sherlock playing his violin, his form graceful and his eyes closed as his fingers gently, lovingly, coaxed music into air around them. Another one showing Sherlock when he laughed, his eyes almost glowing on the paper as his smile reached them. Sherlock with his microscope, a side profile this time, showing his form at the kitchen table, his poise as his fingers manipulated the instrument to zoom in for a closer inspection.
Almost all of the pictures showing Sherlock in various daily routines often showed close-ups of his face. His thinking face, his deducing face. Sherlock noted that in nearly all of those pictures his eyes were the most intense part of them, whether it had been him staring into space whilst trying to figure out a puzzle, or equally glancing at a person for two seconds before working out nearly everything he needed too based on their appearance alone. All the drawings had a date and a signature in the bottom right-hand corner, done in black ballpoint ink, 'Parker pen, Jotter Premium,' and always signature first, date second. The earliest date was the first of January twenty-twelve, almost six months after the incident at Bart's, and Sherlock wondered briefly if this was what Mycroft had been alluding to concerning John's welfare.
Sherlock was fairly certain of the artist's identity – only John had been with Sherlock long enough to transcribe the detail on the paper in front of him and the signature, created for the work, was in John's handwriting, which left him facing one last question. 'Why has John been drawing me?'
"Do you like them?"
Sherlock whipped round sharply towards the voice, surprise making him stumble back a step before his mind took in the man who stood before him. In all outward respects John looked very much unchanged, but to Sherlock (who, it could be argued, understood and knew John better than the man himself) all the little details added to an altogether different person than before.
John was dressed in his usual casual attire, a beige threadbare jumper and dull blue jeans that hung loose on his hips that were once the correct size, supported with a leather belt where the notches had been steadily moving inwards. 'Lost weight, too much.' His hands were hooked into the pockets of his jeans, relaxed, his entire posture no longer held in the rigid conformity of the British Army. No, the most striking feature of John Watson at that point was his face.
There weren't any more lines than before around his eyes or forehead. His mouth was quirked in the sort of half smile Sherlock had secretly come to enjoy seeing on his flatmate. But his eyes…
He understood now why John had spent so much attention on his own eyes in the drawings. Eyes were so expressive, hinted at deeper things, hidden away where you were lucky to perhaps catch a glimpse of the secrets that dwelled within those misty waters. John's eyes were looking at Sherlock without flinching, without remorse or anger or grief. They were steadfast and all at once Sherlock understood what it was like for people who happened to catch his own attention during those fateful cases. 'How did you do that, how do you know that, how can you possibly tellthatfrom the way my tie was done this morning?'
A quick clearing of John's throat brought the consulting detective back to the present, a raised eyebrow clearly showing that John was waiting for an answer that Sherlock had yet to give him. "Sherlock… Are you all right?"
The sound of his name in John's voice almost had Sherlock's knees buckling from under him. Two and a half years. Twenty-eight long, lonely months he had waited for this and the reality of the situation was threatening to turn his coloured coded, alphabetised mind upside down.
To an outsider, little of Sherlock's body language had changed in response to the chaos in his thoughts, but John was no outsider and clearly saw the struggle that his old flatmate was going through. He opened his mouth for a moment but hesitated, his lips forming a thin line before coming to a decision. "Fancy a cuppa?"
Sherlock nodded, not trusting himself to speak, and watched as John turned smartly towards the kitchen to start the brew. 'Hasn't completely lost the army training then,' he thought, glancing at the spot of John's pinpoint turn before turning his attention back to the man directly. John was moving with an unhurried efficiency, easily locating the tea bags and sugar when previously it would have been a struggle at best. Knowing that he would just be a nuisance if he tried to help, Sherlock turned to examine the rest of the apartment, finding an interest in the ways that John had made it his home during his absence.
Their chairs were still there and he saw clearly that one of them hadn't been sat in for a long while. 'My chair,'he remembered, made even more evident by the fact that his violin case was leaning against one of the side arms, precisely as he had left it two and half years ago. It seemed it had only been wiped clean to keep the dust off it and Sherlock swallowed at the thought of who had looked after it for him. He fought against the sentiment that rose to consume him – 'an old friend' – choosing instead to take a perch on the sofa underneath the newly decorated (and much better for it) wall for a better viewpoint.
His skull was still sitting on the fireplace, Mrs Hudson flatly refusing to tell him its location when she had taken it that one time despite his threatening to leave human body parts in her fridge instead, but John had proven to be a more than adequate replacement and Sherlock had found that the company was preferable. At least when Sherlock was talking to John, John hadn't answered back quite as much as the skull.
A new CD player was on his – John's– desk and the paperwork and books that had been on it were now neatly filed underneath it, creating a space for John to do his artwork it seemed. There was an open sketch pad on the desk of the same quality as the paper on the wall, a pencil on it as though it had just recently been used. 'Flaking's of rubber on the page, pencil,'HB, his mind supplied,'and rubber close together on the right hand side, beginnings of a figure left unfinished.'He itched to take a closer look at it, suddenly longed to see John's hands in action on the page, bringing something to life, before he was jostled out of his thoughts by a cup of tea being pressed into his hands. The familiar smell of the brand loosened a knot in his chest that he didn't know he had and he mumbled into the cup his first words of the night. "Thank you."
John took his own seat opposite the sofa and settled back into the cushions, nursing his own tea before regarding Sherlock from the comfort of his armchair, cup cradled in his hands. "You're welcome."
God, it all felt so formal, constricting, crushing him where he sat and Sherlock wondered briefly if this was what panic felt like. No, he'd felt panic before, when John had been strapped to those explosives by the poolside, this was something different. This was not normal. Then again, when had he ever enjoyed normal?
"Stop it." John's voice commanded his attention, breaking his train of thought, although when he met John's eyes they weren't unkind. "You're thinking too much, Sherlock. It's all over you."
Sherlock hummed in his throat and allowed a small smile that he knew John would see. "Trying to deduce the world's only consulting detective, Dr Watson?"
John answered with a small smile of his own. "Not trying, Sherlock. Doing."
To be continued