Title: Listening By Ear
Author: Still Waters
Fandom: Sherlock (BBC)
Disclaimer: I do not own Sherlock. Just playing, with love and respect to those who brought these characters to life.
Summary: Lestrade figured that anyone who thought John Watson wasn't important, and that Sherlock hadn't changed since meeting him, had to be completely, bloody deaf. Because it was all right there, in every sound Sherlock made. For anyone attentive enough to listen.
Notes: Almost two months ago, I decided I wanted to write a story about how Lestrade, as a Detective Inspector, is an excellent listener, allowing him to hear John's importance and effect on Sherlock within the sounds Sherlock makes (tone of voice, etc.). After several other stories interrupted the drafting and demanded to be written first, my "Lestrade the listener" piece is now finally finished. I do know the full events behind what happens to John in this story, and it may become a tale of its own at some point. I'd like to take a moment to thank everyone who has reviewed or rec'd my stories, put my work on favorite or alert lists, or sent me a PM over the last month or so. I have been recovering from eye surgery and hope to slowly catch up on responding. In that vein, please excuse any blatant errors I may have missed in my editing as my eyes continue to heal. As always, I truly hope I did the characters justice. Thank you for reading.
For all the long-suffering sighs, sarcastic remarks, and gallows humor, Lestrade's graveled voice was as skilled in silence as it was in use.
Because out of every title and credential Lestrade held, he had always been, at his very core, a listener.
He was firmly of the mind that, while many unfortunately did, one really shouldn't reach the rank of Detective Inspector without being able to listen: from superiors and colleagues in the never-ending game of law enforcement politics, to the public that they served. Whether working with the frightened and grieving who were done wrong, or the smirking and evasive suspects, a DI needed to truly listen to what was both said and unsaid; to be able to sift through lies, word choices, pauses, eye movements, tone, and body language in a search for the real words. For the truth.
And despite what some said, despite what Sherlock occasionally still said, Lestrade was bloody good at his job.
Bringing Sherlock onto cases may not have exactly been by-the-book, but it certainly produced results, giving closure to a hell of a lot of people, and getting information to Lestrade and his squad fast enough to help countless others. Lestrade put up with Sherlock, partly, as he'd told John, because he was desperate – desperate to do his job and serve others to the best of his ability – but also partly because he wasn't afraid to ask for help. It was something he'd always considered a strength rather than a weakness; a trait he recognized and encouraged in friends and colleagues.
So even though there were plenty of days, whether he'd actually asked for the help or not, that he just wanted to completely ignore Sherlock, Lestrade listened. It was who he was, what he did, on-shift and off.
And so it was that he learned exactly how John Watson, simply by being John Watson, had changed Sherlock Holmes.
Because while Sherlock may have deduced miniscule, intimate details at crime scenes by demanding silence, needing quiet even to the point of insisting everyone around him stop thinking, Lestrade, in a sort of ironic turnaround, deduced Sherlock by the sounds he made.
And anyone who thought that Sherlock hadn't changed since meeting John, or that John wasn't important enough to have truly earned his singular title of "friend"…..well, they had to be completely, bloody deaf.
Everything John was, everything Sherlock was since John had limped into his life…..it was all right there to hear, for anyone attentive enough to listen.
It was in the shocky uncertainty Sherlock had infused into his voice the night the cabbie was killed; an obvious ploy to distract Lestrade from following Sherlock's gaze beyond the barrier tape as his deductions mentally coalesced into John's name. It was an act Lestrade had pretended not to notice simply because of the sheer significance of Sherlock purposefully allowing, even encouraging, someone to think he was wrong; that his highly lauded, uniquely defining feature - that expertly controlled intellect - was affected and muddled by something as mundane as shock. The fact that Sherlock's reaction to John saving his life had translated into nothing short of protection – safeguarding their rapidly growing connection by keeping John from being connected to, and possibly prosecuted for, the killing - even at the risk of looking shocky and unsure himself…..well, it was unheard of.
And spoke so loudly to Lestrade of what was changing.
It was in the tightly reigned panic disguised under petulant irritation after the Chinese smuggling case; the demand that Lestrade was never to be absent from one of their cases ever again. Lestrade hadn't been surprised when he was pinned down in his office by a Sherlockian barrage of insults to DI Dimmock's investigative abilities. What did surprise him was the realization that the ever-creative anger and disdain were largely a smokescreen; part of a more layered display of trust. Buried deep under the clipped words, it was within the agitated tap of Sherlock's pacing that Lestrade finally heard it, clear as Morse Code: John was abducted and injured, and I had to manage it alone, because I couldn't trust Dimmock's response time as I trust yours.
It was in the soft brush of fabric as Sherlock gravitated toward John on a crime scene as he worked, their arms coming into the barest of contact, coat sleeves meeting in a silent "check-in."
It was in the sound of Sherlock apologizing, actually apologizing without a single prompt, for his callous behavior to Molly at the Christmas party. An action that, judging by John's reaction, had apparently surprised him just as much as it had Lestrade, even though it was one of the clearest signs of John's influence on Sherlock. An influence more presence than it had ever been lecture.
And most of all, it was in how Sherlock's laugh changed around John: from the bitterly scornful, sarcastic bite it took around law enforcement and the rest of London's "idiots", or the fake cheeriness he donned when needing to relate to witnesses in order to get information, to a deep, loose, honest, open sound; a pleased rumble under equally pleased eyes as it either produced or joined John's own laughter.
A sound Lestrade desperately hoped he'd hear again.
Because never had everything been heard more than here, now, in the sound of the violin at a hospital bedside; a musical essay on the significance of John Watson, the unresponsive patient of room 282. Sherlock's dark angles monopolized the window, stabbing at sunset's blasphemous brightness with tight pacing and sharp bowing; an image unseen by John's dull, unfocused eyes as pillows propped him on his left side toward melodies he couldn't hear, his body marked by tubes managing basic functions that trauma and catatonia had removed from his control.
Lestrade may have appeared utterly ignorant to a violin virtuoso like Sherlock, but he actually did know something about music. He'd had a mate, Brian, at the police academy, who was the son of professional musicians. After a particularly draining week, Lestrade had forgone his usual weekly pub night, needing to listen to something other than classmates shouting at the telly, and accepted an invitation to one of Brian's parents' concerts instead. He'd let the rich history of the classical pieces soothe his stressed nerves while Brian quietly matched up musical terminology with examples as they heard them. From that night on, pub nights were swapped for concert nights whenever Brian's parents were playing, and while Lestrade had never developed any personal musical talent, he had grown from simply appreciating music when he heard it, to knowing how to name a lot of what he heard.
Which made Sherlock's playing that much more telling.
Sherlock's fingers drew an eerie, mournful melody from the violin, feelings he didn't quite have words for finding their voice in the movement of bow across string; a language older than speech itself. After some time, the dirge-like keening thinned, pushed aside by clipped, staccato notes forcing their way through the shrouding mist. Military sharp, they marched in and out of a series of lengthy legatos, each almost a fermata's hold in itself: a seemingly impossible coexistence of a serviceman's regimented plan of attack, and a vengeful man's long-awaited, drawn out execution of revenge.
But then came the dynamics, and Lestrade couldn't believe how wrong he had been. It wasn't regimented, military planning. It was animalistic, predatory fury. Sherlock moved from barely audible pianissimos – a stealthy hunter stalking its prey without sound – to shocking, explosive fortissimos – trampling through the brush, snapping every twig, loudly making his presence known, to strike fear into the hearts of his prey, to make sure they knew that he was coming for them.
Sherlock flew between the jarring highs and lows, codas sending chills down Lestrade's spine.
This was the music of warning: a threat, a promise, to those who had dared to harm John Watson.
The silence, when it happened, was just as frightening. There was no echo of a lengthy fermata come to its end. No triumphant finish to a conductor's final direction. Just the cold, empty silence of an unfinished piece, locked in the endless breath between possibilities: either eventual resolution at its composer's completing hand, or a lingering death as unresolved darkness paralyzed its creator's mind, dooming it to remain incomplete forever.
A breath that ended as Lestrade's phone chirped along with Sherlock's, displaying a clinically detached image of four very dead men: the ones responsible for John's current state. Underneath it was Mycroft's characteristically polished, yet Lestrade would have sworn simultaneously wolfish, summary of the situation: The matter is settled. M
Sherlock's stormy eyes flickered over the image on his own phone, digging, as usual, through layers of data that didn't even exist for most people. When he finally snatched up the violin again, his lips were twisted into a cold, predatory, mockery of a grin: the smile of the psychopath Donovan thought him to be. Lestrade actually found himself leaning on his heels, unconsciously wanting to take a step back as Sherlock stuffed the phone in his pocket and transferred the disturbing expression into music, adding several lines of sharply vindictive, satisfied closure. Each note dripped with vengeful pleasure at every second of pain those men had suffered, before hardening with an even more frightening promise: that they had gotten off easy.
Because if Lestrade hadn't managed to convince Sherlock that John was better off with his presence at the hospital, it would have been Sherlock and Mycroft ending those men's lives….a circle of hell Lestrade wasn't sure even the violin could find words for.
Abrupt silence filled the room as the music cut off once more, the piece still incomplete. One theme resolved, another - the most important theme of all - still waiting for closure.
One way or another.
Lestrade watched Sherlock put down the violin and crouch at John's bedside, the unsettling expression wiped away as quickly as it had twisted his features; a muted, cold gleam in his mercurial eyes the only hint that it had ever existed at all.
Sherlock held the phone to John's unseeing gaze, angling the screen as if calculating potential image distortion from the glare of the overhead lights muffled within the thick barrier of protective lubricant instilled in John's eyes. "See, John?" The words were a question and a gentle plea all at once, yet delivered in the same unchanged, matter-of-fact tone that moved on to report, "It's finished. Mycroft does occasionally manage to be useful."
A hint of the same wolfishness from Mycroft's text. A touch of….gratitude. And a tiny, soft brush of…..hope?
Lestrade wasn't sure about Sherlock's line of thought. John hadn't seen or responded to anything in the week since he'd been found, and showing him a picture of four mutilated bodies, after what he'd been through, probably wasn't the best way to goad him back to responsiveness.
But John had willingly moved into a flat with Sherlock Holmes. Had connected, as if born to it, with a man that everyone else actively avoided, fitting Sherlock's life like a vitally missing piece; one that even Sherlock, the master puzzle solver himself, hadn't realized that he was missing. Had become the only person that Sherlock openly and truthfully called "my friend."
So yeah, John wouldn't do things normally, would he? Why start now?
Sherlock held the phone in place, eyes flickering over John, searching for the smallest shift, the newest bit of data to support his hypothesis. But there was the slightest stumble of hesitancy in the usually quick, analytical snap of his eyes: as if part of him wasn't quite sure that he was solely working through emotionally-controlled, scientific method.
After a full two minutes, Sherlock tucked the phone away, but remained crouched at John's side, watching the frighteningly empty eyes.
Three minutes later, he got his data.
John blinked once. Then again. Purposefully.
"John?" The single syllable was thin and quiet for John's potentially over-sensitized ears, but it was far from empty.
John blinked sluggishly several more times, working hard to focus. Sherlock watched his eyes carefully, making tiny shifts in his position to maintain a clear place in John's line of vision.
John didn't move a single muscle outside of his eyes as he struggled toward awareness, yet Lestrade could pinpoint the exact moment that John finally saw.
Because Sherlock, without a single movement, without even a whisper of air, suddenly breathed again.
"Sherlock?" John croaked, voice barely a sound.
"Yes, John." Voice still quiet, but loud enough to be heard over the monitors. No "obviously" smart-arse remark. Simple, sparse language. Sherlock rarely chose sparse language – not when he could be annoyingly 'look how clever I am' verbose.
"Thanks," John's voice caught, esophagus sore from the nasogastric tube feeding him, vocal cords raw with disuse. His eyelids drooped wearily, consciousness already flagging.
Sherlock glanced down at the pocket holding his phone, then back up to John; a history's worth of conversation all in a second's silent glance.
With the barest of movements, Lestrade tilted his head and leaned forward from his self-appointed guard post alongside the door, completely focused. Sherlock could have said so many things next: a simple "you're welcome", a predatory "our pleasure", a demanding, convoluted promise that would say one thing, but really boil down to "don't ever scare me like that again."
But he was Sherlock Holmes – he never did the expected. "You're welcome" was too obvious, too pedestrian. The predatory bow hand and cold, psychopathic twist from earlier were completely gone, not even an icy ocular gleam remaining to support a response of "our pleasure." And the endless pacing during the search, the panic, anger, and fear Lestrade had seen bubbling under the surface of those sharp eyes as Sherlock moved toward the body on the warehouse floor, the tortured sounds of the violin at John's bedside…..even all of that was currently submerged beyond sight, beyond issuing a demand for John not to worry him again.
No, for someone who knew Sherlock Holmes well enough to look beyond the controlled poise and deceptively neutral lines of his face, it was obvious. And it was right there in the words Sherlock chose as his gaze flickered over John's exhausted, haunted eyes.
"Shall I keep playing?"
Four words spoken in a quiet, even tone; a smooth, solid presence over an underlying current of tangled, cacophonic emotion, too subtle and numerous to be unraveled and named. It was only because Lestrade was intimately familiar with picking apart post-crisis emotions that he managed to identify and silently acknowledge one of them: need.
Sherlock's need to help however he could, knowing that there was a longer road ahead, but willing to be patient. Because it was John. And John was important.
More than important.
Important to him.
John blinked again, swallowing painfully. "Please," he managed. "If it's all right."
"Of course it's all right," Sherlock huffed, as if anyone would, or could, stop him. "Besides," he waved a hand loosely, "it's hardly finished."
Lestrade's eyebrows rose. He figured Sherlock only needed a few more bars at this point: an acknowledgement of John's initial step toward recovery, lending toward a resolution of John's previously uncertain theme.
But Sherlock pulled the visitor's chair closer to John's bedside - close enough to fill John's vision, but not so close as to crowd him - and began to play.
It was profound.
It was everything subtle in Sherlock's voice a moment ago - all those tangled, unnamable emotions - laid open, bare, and real. It was hope, joy, relief, determination, resolution, love, friendship….a bond that defied definition, but the violin somehow still managed to understand, translating and releasing it to the world.
It was the excitement of Lestrade's early morning texts in quick 16th notes; the rush of running after suspects in even quicker 32nds; rapid arpeggios of Sherlock's equally rapid-fire deductive speeches; warm, steady whole notes of John's loyal presence; accidental-free quarter notes of quiet evenings with dim sum and crap telly; slow staccato taps of John's fingers on the keyboard; swelling crescendos of cases coming to sudden, explosive understanding in Sherlock's mind, the pieces all falling together in a brilliant, magnificent rush.
All woven in and out of one repeated theme: two notes blended together – one higher pitched, one deeper - melding together seamlessly from bright, bubbling and childlike, to stuttering and surprising, to quiet and rumbling.
The one thing Lestrade had spent the last week desperately hoping he'd hear again.
Because that blended, recurrent theme was the compositional equivalent of a sampling of Sherlock's and John's shared laughter. One higher, one lower - from bright giggling to surprised snorting, to low chuckling.
When Sherlock had told John that the piece was "hardly finished", he had meant it. He just hadn't been talking about warehouses, hospital rooms, and vengeance, as Lestrade had initially thought. He had been talking about breathless laughter after alley chases, companionable evenings of tea and silent reading, shared intellectual and adrenaline rushes.
A man he'd kill for, as readily as John had killed for him.
The entire piece now, from the moment John had regained consciousness, was Sherlock's and John's life together. It was a promise, a demand, an act of defiance to what had happened to John a week ago.
A warning to anyone who might think to separate him and John again.
Thanks to Mycroft's assistance, the most recent threat was gone, that part of the song finished. But the central theme, the theme of their shared life….that was hardly finished.
That played exuberantly, defiantly, on.
Lestrade quietly stepped out into the corridor as the music continued, filled with a surge of fierce affection for those two men. He was honored to have heard Sherlock composing such an intimate piece. But there were some things one wasn't meant to hear. Where honor and friendship were given by not listening.
Because a good listener knew how to listen. A bloody good one knew when to stop.
And Lestrade was bloody good.