I decide to go back. It might be hard, it might be difficult, I might even vomit or pass out at the threshold.
But I'm going back. I have a responsibility to myself and Mrs. Hudson to keep moving on. And I can't live with Harry forever.
When I enter the flat for the first time in a month, a single shaft of light penetrates 221B, like a single spotlight illuminating one object in the abandoned flat. I undo the latches on the case, pull out his violin, and caress it like I'm the kind of person who loves music as much as Sherlock did. I run my finger over the scroll; fiddle with the tuning pegs; pluck a string or two. I pull out his dustcloth and run it over the instrument so it shines brightly once again. I run the dust cloth under the crevices, get it in the hard-to-reach places; the places that even Sherlock never bothered to clean, and he loved this violin like it was a child. Well, if Sherlock cared about children.
I pick up the bow and tighten the hairs and pull it across the strings like I have watched him do a thousand times. I stop when I hear the shrieking sound that it makes. Of all things, it reminds me of the noise I made when Sherlock hit the pavement. It's a painful noise. It's not ready for me yet.
I put it back in the case and do the latches, carefully setting down the black plastic case. I loosen the bow hairs and put the bow right where he left it last.
It's my violin now. He's dead. It's mine. I put the bow in the case where it belongs.
Two weeks later. I sign up for an online violin course and I learn to play a few tunes. Ode to Joy is my favorite, a four-finger tune that is Beethoven's salute to all that is happy in the world when my own corner of it is so dark. It is off-key, but no one should be permitted to play it as well as he did. At least that's how I feel. Every day I remove it from its case and service it, even if I don't play it. I buy an electric tuner and I tune it. That, at least, I can do. I dust it. Every once and a while I replace the strings. I buy a new bow, the same one I'd been eyeing for his birthday, at least if I'd ever learned when his birthday was.
Just the thought of that makes me want to burst out sobbing. So little I knew about him, even though I knew him best. The enigma that was Sherlock. Well, there's only one real piece of him left. Maybe the violin will tell me his secrets.
So I play, senseless, meaningless notes. I don't really play by a strict definition; I just run the bow over the strings. But I never tuck it under my chin. That is an honor reserved for him alone. Instead I play from my lap or my knee. The shoulder rest lies unused, the one thing I haven't dusted or replaced since I moved back in.
So when Mycroft comes by, it's a surprise.
"I came for the violin," he tells me.
He didn't come for me, not to comfort me, not to bring news of redemption—the news I desperately want, the news that yes, he is alive and well. At the very least, news that they proved Moriarty was real. News that they proved he wasn't a fraud, that those last words were all lies.
He hasn't come for that. He hasn't come to redeem me, to pull me up from the shadows and give me back my best friend. He has come for the violin and nothing else.
Mycroft stands there in a raincoat with a dripping umbrella. He smells faintly of cigarette smoke. He stands there, not really sure how to break it to me, and holds out his hand for the case. Like Sherlock, he lacks the empathy to understand that I can't just give it to him. Unlike Sherlock, he doesn't understand that some days he needs to fake it, that human emotions are nothing but a puzzle and if he really tries he can solve the puzzle and he can pretend like he comprehends them. Or at the very least he could give me space. He could leave and let me alone in the flat with the violin and the fridge, emptied of body parts, and Sherlock's writings in his mussy handwriting. His sock index.
"No," I say briefly, in the grey, bleak monotone that has become my voice. The violin speaks with the emotions that I can't muster. It is my choice between breaking to pieces and blocking everything out, and after an appropriate period of mourning, I chose the latter.
"I need it, John," he says. There is no pity in his voice, because he is cold and cruel and heartless.
"No, I need it." This is not untrue. Somehow, the instrument has become an extension of myself, the thing I reach for when I want to feel close to my dead best friend.
He considers my response for a moment. "It was our father's," he lies. I know that Sherlock bought it himself after saving up for ages when he was eighteen. I remember him telling me so, one of the rare times I managed to extract a personal story from him. I don't call Mycroft out, though, for all his lies. I am tired, so tired…
I hand it over. It was a mistake.
No, I want it back. No, you shouldn't have taken it. No means no. Give it back, you heartless bastard. You call yourself his brother. The one piece I had left and you took it. Please, I'll do anything, just bring it back so I can touch it once again.
"He didn't give it up willingly, Sherlock," Mycroft tells me.
"It's been played," I say with surprise, pulling it out of his case. I blink. "Why? It's just a violin."
"He didn't take it well, in case you haven't figured that out!" Mycroft stubs a cigarette on my case. It's his third today. Anthea is off. He looks unkempt and upset. "Any of this. He's miserable, Sherlock. Even I can tell that much. I had to turn a blind eye to the fact that he practically begged me not to take the violin away."
"I needed it," I plead with him. I'm not saying this to get him to forgive me. In a way, I'm struggling to forgive myself. I didn't know. I didn't realize.
"Was it really worth it, destroying him just a little bit more?" He asks.
"No." The word comes out as a sigh. I pull out the bow, which is different; weightier. He bought me a new bow. I tune it only to find that he has tuned it for me. But I can't show any emotion or gratefulness at this gesture he has made to me. Dead me, beyond the grave. Six feet under as far as the world at large is concerned. I can't show concern or appreciation though, because if I lose my stoicism, at this point I lose everything.
Though for all the pains it has caused John, the violin, my mouthpiece for all that threatens to harm me from the inside is back in my hands. I place my fingers on the A string and pluck a few notes, change key, vary the rhythm.
"Ode to Joy," muses Mycroft. "I wonder if John would approve."
"I'm sure he would," is my reply.