Title: The Sound of Silence
Summary: After Sherlock's fall, John loses the ability to talk. Three years later, Sherlock is back.
AN: Written for a sherlock kink meme prompt of the same description. Cliched title is cliched but all I could think of. Self-beta'd so feel free to point out any mistakes. Concrit and reviews would be greatly appreciated.
Disclaimer: I own none of it, not even the idea for it. How sad. The God of Small Things is owned by Arundhati Roy, knowledge of it is unecessary.
The Sound of Silence
It's been a month since Sherlock jumped, and John has slowly cloistered himself away from everyone who knew him. He can't stand the looks he gets, the judgements, and even worse: the pity. Since he and Sherlock had become mini-celebrities over the last few months (even more so since it all went wrong; what does that say about the public?) 'everyone who knew him' includes most of London. So he locks himself away quite literally; quits his job, moves into a new tiny flat and lives in near-isolation on the money he's saved up from the cases. On Sherlock's money, because even in death John owes him his livelihood.
Later he thinks this is why he didn't realise earlier on: when you're by yourself it's easy to overlook the obvious. But it can't last, and the white noise he's surrounded himself in is shattered by a familiar voice during his weekly shop.
It's Lestrade, and John wonders whether it would be prudent simply to pretend he hasn't heard. The decision is taken out of his hands however as the man crosses the road and jogs over to talk to him.
"You alright?" he asks.
It's a ridiculous question, of course, and they both know it. So John opens his mouth to reply, to lie, because a stupid question deserves a stupid answer, only to find that there's something in his throat, pressing heavily on his voice box and making it impossible to form words. He closes his mouth, and then opens it again.
He tries to cough the thing out but it won't budge, and soon he's red faced and spluttering and making quite a fool of himself. Still the words don't come.
"Jesus," exclaims Greg, patting him rather viciously on the back. "That sounds nasty; you not very well?"
John shakes his head 'no, I'm fine' and makes some gestures towards his throat at an attempted explanation. Unfortunately the other man interprets this as 'no, I'm not very well, it's my throat' and tells him not to strain his voice trying to speak, it'll come back naturally enough.
John silently bemoans the inaccuracy of gestures and is forced to endure several more tips, which all sound like they've been passed onto his friend by elderly female relatives. Eventually the Detective Inspector remembers that he – unlike some people – actually has somewhere to be and dashes off.
"Hey, keep in touch yeah?" Greg asks tentatively as he leaves, extending the metaphorical olive branch.
John nods because that's what he's supposed to do, and realises it's much easier to lie when you don't use words.
And then he's alone again, and even if he could talk he's got no one to talk to.
At first everyone just assumes that he's ill, and it's easy to convince them of it. He ignores people's calls and texts them instead, and he doesn't see anyone often enough for them to notice that he hasn't talked for months, or that there are no other symptoms (except the lack of sleep and general misery, but everyone knows what's caused that).
Mycroft kidnaps him twice. The first time is a silent standoff; the both of them reading the other's turmoil on their face, so words seem unnecessary. The second time John knows he's been caught out by Mycroft's stare, but as he turns to leave the British Government only whispers:
"I'm so sorry."
Eventually other people get suspicious, but he can't answer their questions. Can't in fact, say anything.
He reads The God of Small Things and hates that he compares himself to Esthappen, who'd slowly retreated from the world, into utter silence, because one of his words caused so much trouble. Who said: 'yes' and betrayed a man he loved.
Who wasn't responsible for his friend's death, but felt like he was anyway.
After six months he goes back to Baker Street. He's not sure why as he'd moved out ages ago, packing most of his own stuff into storage and deliberately not thinking about how Sherlock's belongings were still there, spread out over the flat as if he'd just popped out to chase a criminal and would be scrambling back up the stairs any moment. It had given the place a rather haunted feel.
He's still strangely pleased however to note that there are no new tenants in 221b, even though someone has cleared it out. He's almost as pleased as when Mrs. Hudson opens the door before he knocks, because he's been stood there dumbly for several minutes, staring, and simply folds him into her arms.
Then she takes him in for tea and biscuits and it's like he'd never left. She chatters on for a while about the world he used to belong to: how Mrs. Turner's married ones have adopted a baby, next door's dog had to be put down, and that there's a nice young lady moved into 221c.
He reads the hidden message there; the other flat's still empty because it's his and Sherlock's flat, even if it's not anymore. He thinks he appreciates that, but feels slightly guilty.
"You're awfully quiet dear," she says after a while, and looks at him as if she understands.
It's all just too much.
John cries for the first time in what feels like forever; huge, wet, silent drops.
Mrs. Hudson just hugs him again, recommends her herbal soothers and lets him know he's welcome anytime.
He tries to say 'Thank you' but the words get stuck in his throat. He thinks she hears them anyway.
He goes to every doctor he knows and more he doesn't, gets transferred to specialists and hospitals but everyone only confirms what he already knows. He's fine; physically there's nothing wrong with his throat or voice box, and by all accounts he should be able to speak perfectly well.
He still can't.
Eventually he's told it's due to the trauma, he's still in shock and this is just his mind's way of manifesting that. He knows they're wrong though; he's been in shock before and this isn't it. He's more than aware of his surroundings, knows that this is his reality, knows that Sherlock's dead and it haunts him how real it is.
There's also how he'd still been able to speak for the first week afterwards: at the funeral, the graveside or at that pointless visit to his therapist. It had been hard, every word like some small, clawed creature forcing its way up his throat to wreak havoc on the world or simply himself. But he'd done it, and there'd been no reason to think it wouldn't get easier again.
He's assigned a new therapist in fact, which he thinks is stupid but he goes along with it because he's supposed to want to get better, isn't he? She talks at him, and then makes him write down everything he thinks about; word vomit onto a page until there's left nothing to wretch up.
The stuff you wanted to say but didn't, say it now.
Sorry, I can't.
Sometimes John thinks that's what's happened to his voice; he poured out his heart and soul until he'd run out of words to say the things he means.
I was so alone, and I owe you so much.
Other times he thinks it's because he's got nothing to say anymore.
Harry is confused but mostly just angry. She relapses again now that there's no one to tell her to not to. The rest of his old friends try to be awkwardly supportive with texts and emails but eventually even those peter out. John wonders if he should feel guilty that he's glad.
After a year he gives up with the therapy, stops wondering why he can't talk and moves as far as he can towards the outskirts of the city without feeling like he's running away.
He starts to learn sign language.
The class consists of himself, two people who have recently gone or are going deaf, and a university student who wants to work with the disabled. Their teacher is mute herself.
It works surprisingly well.
He gets a job at a local library, which isn't exactly what he's trained in but it's a fresh start and doesn't require verbal communication. Despite still being in London it feels like he's living in a small town, as he quickly gets to know his neighbours and the shopkeepers nearby learn his name and habits alarmingly fast. Through various means he makes new friends, and on Friday nights they go down to the local pub and get rather hammered, which makes sign language much more entertaining, especially when his friends aren't that good at it in the first place, but that's fine, because they're excellent at charades.
And if he's not exactly happy, or at least not as happy as he was, John thinks he's content. The best thing is that nobody here knows who he was, or if they do they don't mention it.
The Sherlock-shaped hole in his life is still present, but slowly fading from his thoughts.
Then one day he realises it's been three years, and he hasn't uttered a word.
He goes to his signing class as usual that week, (he's rather proficient now, so mainly he just helps out) and there's a man sitting in his seat; or maybe sprawled would be a better description. The position looks horribly familiar, even if it's lacking the usual attire, this time dressed in jeans and a t-shirt. He's got his back to John though, so he can't be sure…
This won't have been the first time John's done this either: over the years there's been far too many strangers with just that particular sprawl, or those prominent cheekbones, or especially slender fingers. So John bites down on the flutter in his chest and looks around to find another chair.
But then the teacher – the mute woman, Mary – signs hello and the man turns around. Even though he looks different to how John remembers him (his hair lighter and longer, his skin darker and sallower) there can be no doubt about who he is.
The World's Only Consulting Detective: the late and great Sherlock Holmes.
Who died and took John's voice with him.
The phantom gets up, and the two of them stare at each other for a while, the rest of the class looking on in silence.
"John," greets Sherlock nonchalantly, as if he hasn't been dead for three years, but John thinks he can see an edge of caution in his eyes. Previously he'd have known for certain, been able to read Sherlock like a book: now he can't be sure.
He also can't yell; he can't scream either, can't demand explanations or tell the idiot how much he's missed him. So he decks him instead.
Sherlock lies on the floor, rubbing his cheek and looking far too happy about it.
I'd avoid your nose and teeth too.
'John?' Mary signs carefully. 'Is this man bothering you?'
John waits a minute before shaking his head. 'No,' he signs back. 'He's an old friend. I just wasn't expecting to see him.'
Mary still looks doubtful, but before she can reply Kevin (joined a few weeks ago, mother had just had a baby girl who was born deaf and he's trying to help out) butts in audibly.
"Hey, I know you!" he cries, pointing at Sherlock. "You're that detective fellow from the TV!" John watches his old friend roll his eyes in that so familiar way. "I thought you were dea-"
"Obviously not." The dead man bites out. "Suffice to say news of my death has been grossly exaggerated. And I'm not a fraud." He turns back to John as he says this, as if he's not quite sure that he never doubted him. "I never was."
John doesn't comment.
Slowly, surely, Sherlock gets back up and inches his way closer again, this time with palms aloft in surrender.
"John?" the younger man tries again, this time much more tentatively. "Are you…are you alright?"
What do you bloody well think! John's mind screams: on the outside he remains completely stoical. This time he knows he's in shock.
"John?" Suddenly he's close enough to touch, and although John can't remember Sherlock ever initiating bodily contact without an ulterior motive, now he's crowding him, hands on his shoulders and leaning forward, peering into his eyes as if they contain the secrets of the universe.
"John? Please say something."
For the first time in a long time John wishes he could.
"Why won't he talk to me?" Sherlock tries again, this time asking the room at large, either ignorant or uncaring that half of them can't hear him. John wonders why he hasn't worked it out yet. Maybe being dead had had a bad effect on his brain. Maybe it's because he only has eyes for John.
Eventually Kevin speaks up. "He can't."
"What?" Sherlock's eyes snap to the young boy. Kevin immediately looks nervous.
"Well, he's mute…isn't he?" but this time he doesn't sound so sure, glancing around for confirmation.
'No,' Mary signs back, because John had told her when they'd been dating a while back. (It would have worked out, but neither of them could stand the silence when they were alone together, so they parted amicably.) 'He just can't talk.'
Kevin looks confused, but apparently Sherlock understands both the signing and the real meaning, for suddenly his attention's on John again, and John's not sure he likes the look in his eyes.
"John, I'm so…I'm so sor-," the taller man tries to apologise but can't quite get the words out. And John knows that this is sincere, because Sherlock had always struggled with apologies when he really meant it.
He nods in reply, and puts his own arms on Sherlock's shoulders. It's not quite a hug but more of a message.
It's fine. It's all fine.
He knows Sherlock understands.
The next day John packs up his few meagre belongings, quits his job and waves goodbye to his friends, promising to keep in touch and this time meaning it.
Sherlock is waiting for him at the train station.
"Ready to go?" he asks.
John smiles in reply and gets on the train without a backwards glance.
Soon enough everything carries on as it was before. They go to crime scenes together and after a few awkward moments where Scotland Yard feels guilty everyone starts insulting each other again, with Sherlock inevitably ending each round bemoaning the entire world's intelligence.
John moves back into Baker Street to find that Sherlock's belongings have not only returned but have also multiplied. Somehow he squeezes back in and over the next few days a lot of rearranging goes on.
Sherlock continues to play the violin at awful hours, keeps rotting body parts in the fridge and generally makes a nuisance of himself.
It's like they've simply picked up where they left off, except…John still can't speak.
Or maybe he can, but he doesn't try. He thinks it's because he's still not sure this is real, that it isn't some wonderful nightmare he's about to wake up from. If he tries to talk and can't that would confirm it, and he isn't sure he could bear that. He'd rather live in this illusion for a little bit longer, even with the pain on Sherlock's face when he asks him a question and John doesn't answer in words.
Sherlock's proficient enough in sign language though, so John pretends it doesn't matter.
He gets a part-time job at another library, since being a G.P isn't really practical anymore. But he volunteers at hospitals to keep up his practice, helps out at a school for the deaf in his free time and still goes to his sign language classes with Mary every week. Somehow he fits it all in between chasing criminals around London with his mad, genius, best friend and flatmate, who laughs out loud for both of them now.
They develop a new communication system, faster than sign language, and especially tailored for high speed chases and illegal break-ins. It's mostly just reading each other's body language, which they're both alarmingly good at, but mixed in with quasi-military signals and semaphore for long distances.
It works surprisingly well.
Sometimes though Sherlock gets angry, really angry, like John's silence is a personal affront to him. Then he shouts and screams and rants and raves and insults John in everyway he knows and some more John thinks he just makes up on the spot.
John just takes it all, unmoving, unflinching and silently. Because he knows Sherlock doesn't mean a word of it.
It's always at a different time, always unexpected: after a case, during a case, when he's asked John to get more milk and he doesn't reply…it's always at home though, where no one but Mrs. Hudson can hear him, and even then she never seems to be in.
When he's calmed down enough Sherlock walks over to John and stands/squats/sits opposite him, and slowly reaches out until his hand is curled around John's neck. If anyone walked in they'd probably think Sherlock had finally snapped, but John knows better. His friend never pushes, never squeezes, just rests his hand there and waits for the vibrations that never come.
"You're safe John," he always says. "I'm real, you're home, and you're safe." Like a mantra, or maybe an apology.
Eventually his muscles begin to cramp, and Sherlock pulls away, grabs his coat and goes out for a while.
When he comes back neither of them mention it.
Apparently Lestrade knows sign language too. John finds this out when he signs 'You're an idiot' at Sherlock during a case and Greg giggles.
Once John has got over the shock of it he's delighted. He and Greg haven't quite got back to being the friends they used to be yet, mostly because John thinks that texting can't quite encompass the many levels of forgiveness and apology and betrayal that have layered themselves up between the two of them. He wants to do so in person, but he's still too afraid to try.
A week after he finds out John meets Lestrade at their old pub. After a few minutes of awkward silence he carefully signs:
'I'm sorry I couldn't rely on you.'
Because yes, the Detective Inspector had doubted Sherlock, doubted them, but in the end it had been John who'd refused his friend's help and apologies.
Greg smiles softly and opens his arms for a hug – a manly one mind you – in a gesture that transcends verbal boundaries.
And then they drink beer and watch rugby together.
One day they're all at a crime scene, and as usual Sherlock has gone on a 'you people are idiots!' rampage. And then, once he's insulted everyone in the room twice over he declares that it's obvious the step-mother did it.
John raises an eyebrow at him, and Sherlock understands the question and rolls his eyes but patiently explains, looking at him with a glare as if to say: 'there, you happy now?
"Amazing," says John, although it comes out hoarse and jagged (because it has been three and a half years since he last spoke) and doesn't sound much like a word at all. It doesn't matter though because suddenly the whole room is silent and Sherlock is beaming.
Welcome back, that smile says.
John can't help but smile in kind.
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