Note: I own nothing but my own plot. I just love to play in the BBC/Arthur Conan Doyle universe.
John and Sherlock were spending a rare lazy day at Baker Street—rare, in that Sherlock wasn't bouncing off the walls from boredom so that John could actually enjoy the down-time for a change.
It was peaceful. Quiet. Relaxing.
So, there was nothing to distract from the loud crash that came from 221A.
Both men were on their feet and racing for the stairs almost before the sound had finished echoing from the walls. Sherlock was already pounding on the door, calling Mrs. Hudson's name when John reached the bottom of the stairs.
The door opened to show an embarrassed Mrs. Hudson. "I'm so sorry, boys! That shelf on my bedroom wall just decided to fall. Luckily, I was in the kitchen at the time, but it did make a terrible noise, didn't it? It gave me such a fright! And made such a mess, too."
"Thank God you weren't hurt," John said in relief. "Can we help?"
"That would be a blessing, dear. I'm afraid it's too heavy for me to manage on my own these days." She stepped back to let them into the flat and they all walked into the sitting room. "The plaster on these old walls just can't hold the weight, or something."
"Or you've put far too many items on top of it," Sherlock said with a slight smile as he looked at the knick knacks strewn about the room. He bent down and started scooping them into his arms, dropping them onto the bed.
John was lifting the shelf from among her pillows. "It's a sturdy piece." He glanced up at the holes in the wall. "Though I hate to think about this happening in the middle of the night."
Mrs. Hudson chuckled. "It's been there for years. I never thought … oh, dear. It's broken!"
John turned it over, noting the long crack running the length of the piece. "I think I can fix this for you. It's not completely broken—though I don't think we have the right tools." He squinted at the back. "Where did you get this, anyway?"
"Oh, I've had it for years. I picked it up at Camden Lock from a man selling, well, not quite antiques, but older pieces, you know? There was something about the carving that I liked, see there? It was in poor shape at the time, but all it needed was some elbow grease, and it's stood me in good stead ever since. Do you really think you can fix it?"
John had a slight smile on his face as he nodded. "I think I'll have to, if you're so attached to it. We'll just need to make sure it stays attached to the wall next time."
He leaned it against the wall and helped Sherlock and Mrs. Hudson finish cleaning up. He turned down the offered tea, though, saying he wanted to get to the store to buy the tools he'd need to fix her shelf before they closed. He was out the door so quickly, he never noticed the curious look in Sherlock's eye.
Sherlock had never known John to turn down a cup of tea before—certainly not one of Mrs. Hudson's, not when there was no case to rush out for. He seemed oddly eager to fix a simple broken shelf.
He was almost tempted to follow him, but decided that was unnecessary. Instead, after making sure Mrs. Hudson was well, he took the broken shelf and his cup of tea back up to the flat. Was there something special about the shelf?
There didn't seem to be. It was a perfectly adequate piece of furniture. Hand-carved from oak in a slightly unusual leaf and wave pattern. It was five feet long and seven inches deep, with sturdy carved brackets supporting the weight at each end. The fall had strained the boards, though, leaving a longitudinal crack the length of the piece—not enough to make it structurally unsound if repaired properly.
John had seemed confident that he knew how to fix it.
Sherlock was about to shrug it off and go back to his violin when he noticed the mark at the corner. Not initials, but clearly a maker's mark. It looked like two acorns on a twig, along with a date some twenty years ago.
Having nothing else to do, he opened up his laptop and started to search. The piece was too well made to be an amateur's, though lacking in finesse. A wood-worker of that skill—especially one who had gone to the trouble of developing his own trademark—might well have a following, or even a website.
He lurked through several hobby sites, as well as some antique boards, but came up with nothing except for one item for sale on eBay, asking for quite a respectable bid. He contacted the seller to ask about the provenance, but by then was losing interest.
It was just a shelf, after all.
It took John longer to return from the shops than he had expected. Judging by the variety of bags, he'd had to visit more than one to find what he was looking for, but he didn't seem irritated at all. In fact, he was practically humming as he set up some clamps and carefully spread glue along the crack. He laid out a variety of sandpapers and some wood stain, and then pulled out a chunk of wood. Oak, Sherlock thought, by the grain.
"That's what took the longest to find," John said. "I needed something with the right kind of grain, and, well, it's not exactly easy to find lumber in the center of London."
"You look like you know what you're doing."
An absent-minded nod. "Yeah, well, my Dad was a carpenter and I picked up some things. I haven't done anything with wood in years, but I think I remember enough to fix this. Mrs. Hudson's done enough for us. It's the least I can do."
"You refused the tea," Sherlock said, reminded.
"What? Oh, before? Well, yeah. I wanted to be sure I had time to get to the shops. Like I said, I knew it would take a while."
Sherlock watched the way John angled his shoulders, as if deflecting the conversation. Interesting. "But you never refuse tea."
"Don't be silly, Sherlock. Of course I do."
"And there was no rush. Mrs. Hudson wouldn't have minded if you'd started the repair tomorrow."
John looked up with a glare. "What do you want me to say, Sherlock? The project appealed to me, and I didn't feel like stalling. It's not a big deal. Would you like me to drink tea now? Because I will if that will make you happy."
A rather heated response, Sherlock thought. There was obviously some kind of history there with John and wood-working. Interesting. But all he said was, "That won't be necessary, John. Suit yourself." And with that, he turned back to his laptop.
John was sitting in his chair, turning the block of oak over in his hands as he thought about leaves.
He needed a new bracket to support the center of the weakened shelf, and it would either need to match the carving on the two end brackets, or be different, complimentary. He thought he could match it, but it had been a long time since he had whittled anything, and he was afraid he'd lost his touch.
When he was a boy, he'd whittled constantly. He'd carve while studying for exams, in between games of rugby. His mother had complained at the mess in the sitting room from when he would whittle in front of the fire while watching telly. It had been a rare moment when he had not had wood and a knife in his hands.
His father had given him proper carving tools for his fourteenth birthday, and started giving him scraps of wood from his own projects, so John could learn the feel of different woods. He'd learned how to work with the softness of maple, ways to accentuate or minimize the knots in pine. He'd grown accustomed to letting the wood tell him what shape it wanted to be.
Before long, his room had been overflowing with carved things—knick knacks like animals or flowers, as well as useful things like bowls or spoons. His mother flatly refused to accept any more items for her kitchen, and he started storing the overflow in Dad's workshop in the garage.
He had been as surprised as anyone when one of Dad's clients had offered to buy one of them. It was just a simple bowl with a fluted edge, but he'd said it was perfect for his wife, and he'd forgotten her birthday until the last minute. He wouldn't take no for an answer.
It had been John's first sale. He'd been ecstatic and then immediately blown the fee on more wood. Then one of his father's clients requested custom, bird-shaped knobs for his new kitchen cabinets. A neighbor wanted a carving that looked like her dog. He'd started making furniture as a way to get away from the small stuff. He'd relished the chance to immerse himself in a larger project, something that wasn't just pick-up work, but something with substance and heft. He'd even made a spinning wheel for a neighbor, who swore it was the best wheel she'd ever used. (Sherlock would probably be stunned to know that John knew how to spin wool into yarn.)
It was entirely possible that he might have never moved beyond making things with wood. He might have stayed in that town, in that house, making beautiful things with his hands and never known what it was to save a life—or to take one. He might never have come to London and met Sherlock.
Except that his father had gotten sick. And, talented though his hands were with a knife, there was nothing John could do to save him.
So he decided to become a surgeon. He'd learned a new, more delicate kind of carving. The kind that carried the fragile weight of the human heart with every cut. It was messy, and bloody, and anything but beautiful—except there was nothing more beautiful than saving a life by slicing away death.
Now, sitting by the fire in 221B, turning the piece of wood in his hands as he stared at Mrs. Hudson's shelf, he was aware of nothing so much as the ultimate irony that a piece that he'd made as a boy of seventeen, hundreds of miles away, had been hanging on the wall right below him and he'd never known.
His eyes traced the grain of the wood, flicking back occasionally to the original shelf in its clamps on the table. He'd rarely ever sketched his carvings in advance, preferring to let the wood lead him where it wanted to go, but he could already see the pattern here. It wouldn't exactly match the existing brackets, but would incorporate images from both. The trick would be matching the new piece to the old, matching the patina of the old shelf, the exact color of the stain.
Nodding to himself, he went upstairs to his room and pulled a trunk out of the back of his closet. He rummaged past the odds and ends from his army years, the old photo album, and other remnants of a busy life until his fingers touched suede. Carefully he pulled out the well-wrapped bundle of leather and spread it out on his lap. He hadn't touched these chisels and knives in almost two decades, and his fingers quivered ever so slightly as they ghosted over them. They were tools from another life.
John leaned back on his heels and chuckled a short little laugh. How the hell was he going to hide this from Sherlock? His flatmate would take one look at this well-worn roll of tools and would deduce his entire history, down to the exact birds on those damn cabinet knobs, in about 30 seconds flat.
Not that he was ashamed of it. Not even a little. It was just … it was going to lead to questions. Lots of questions. Like a dog with a bone, Sherlock wouldn't let it go until he knew everything.
Though, he supposed, at least with Sherlock, the process didn't take very long.
He considered staying up here to do the carving, but decided that would be silly. He would just end up with wood shavings in his bed and Sherlock would come looking to see what he was up to anyway. It's not like having an audience had ever bothered John before—and carving leaves was a lot less stressful than putting a human being back together. If Sherlock's stare got too intense, well, he'd deal with that when he had to.
Sherlock almost jumped when John stood abruptly and headed for the stairs. He had been sitting in his chair staring at that piece of wood for almost an hour, and the sudden motion took Sherlock unaware.
He could hear John rummaging upstairs and wondered what he was looking for. From his nervous handling of the wood, he deduced that John was wary of making the bracket for the shelf. This was understandable, in Sherlock's opinion. Having the basic skills to repair a crack was a far cry from being able to duplicate the carving. He wondered why John was bothering. All the shelf needed was a little extra support—it wasn't like it had to match. Wouldn't second-rate craftsmanship just take away from the original maker's work? A small, plain bracket would surely be a better choice than a poor duplicate?
Not that he would say that to John. He seemed nervous enough, which was out of character for him. If John was so worried about repairing Mrs. Hudson's shelf, why had he offered? Except, of course, that was what John did. He seemed constitutionally unable to stand to the side whenever anyone needed help of any kind.
Sherlock resolved to refrain from making any comments that could be considered derogatory or insulting while John worked. He could be so sensitive.
He didn't expect his resolve to be tested so quickly, though. When John returned to the room minutes later, he was carrying a worn leather case filled with fine wood-working tools. It made Sherlock's fingers itch to touch them. This was obviously a well-used set. Was it John's? That seemed unlikely, but if his father had been a carpenter? Perhaps they had been his.
He watched John through his eyelashes as John spread the case out on the table and ran his fingers along the tools, like a pianist might touch a keyboard. There was a pause, then a sigh as John picked up the block of wood he'd been toying with and selected a tool.
Carefully, he carved away one sliver, and then stopped, swore, and left the room. Obviously even more nervous than he'd thought, mused Sherlock, and then smiled to himself when John came back with a sheet. John did like to be tidy. He watched as John spread it on the floor by his chair and then picked up the chisel again.
The first few strokes were hesitant, but then he seemed to gain confidence. Each new cut was made deftly, surely, with only the occasional glance at the original piece. It was only a matter of moments before Sherlock could see the shape of a bracket clearly emerging from the oak.
Curious, he shifted his regard to John's face, noting the concentration there, but also the … restfulness. He looked totally relaxed now, a man inside his comfort zone, confident in what he was doing. A childhood hobby, perhaps? Or was it the surgeon's skills that made him so deft? Though that was ridiculous—surgery required an altogether different touch than carving into wood.
He was frankly staring now, watching John's hands confidently turning the wood, deftly handling the knife. His cuts were unerring and his face utterly serene. Sherlock was fascinated.
John's concentration broke about an hour later, when he laid down his work and stretched out cramped fingers.
"You're very good at that," Sherlock couldn't help but say.
John stretched his neck and shoulders and smiled. "I don't know about the qualifier, but thanks. I used to be."
"You haven't done that in a while." John just raised his eyebrow, and even Sherlock grimaced slightly. It was unlike him to state the obvious. "Not since medical school?" he ventured.
"Before that," John said as he got up and headed toward the kitchen. Sherlock heard the sound of water and then the click of the kettle. Then, without conscious thought, he was on his feet and moving toward the table almost without thought.
Yes, the tools were very well used, but had clearly been cared for. Judging by the stiffness of the leather, though, they hadn't been touched in some time.
"Careful," John's voice came from behind him. "Those are sharp. You wouldn't want to cut yourself so that you couldn't play violin at four in the morning."
"I'm not an idiot, John." Sherlock bent to look at the case, flipping over the edge to see a monogram. JHW. "These are yours."
"Well spotted." He glanced up and saw John leaning in the doorway, arms folded across his chest. His face was calm, though, and he did not seem upset.
"It's an expensive set, well used, well cared for, yet you haven't touched it since you were a boy. Why?"
A sigh. "I told you my Dad was a carpenter, yeah?" At Sherlock's nod, he continued. "I used to help him out in the shop, did some carving. It was just a hobby."
The kettle clicked in the kitchen and he turned back to pour the tea with a grateful air while Sherlock absorbed this.
He picked up the bracket John was working on. Already he could see the shape of the thing, the angle of the corner looking remarkably square, considering John hadn't measured any of it. He could just trace out the design to come, not identical to the existing brackets, yet … Hmm. He took another look at the leather roll, folding over the other side this time and noting the two acorns burned into the suede.
"Yeah?" His voice was … resigned?
"Do you know who made Mrs. Hudson's shelf?"
A pause. "Yes, Sherlock."
He walked over to the door to see John leaning, braced against the counter. He didn't turn his head when Sherlock came to the door, just waited.
"Why did you stop?" Sherlock kept his voice light, encouraging.
"My Dad died."
"You lost interest."
"I lost heart," John corrected. "And decided to put my carving skills to better use."
Ah. Of course. "That's why you turned to medicine. Because you couldn't save your father."
John nodded. "And carving in medical school needed a finer touch than carving oak, so I put the wood work aside. I haven't even thought of it in years."
It seemed so utterly like John—that he would give up a hobby he clearly had enjoyed and devote his life to helping others all because he hadn't been able to help his father.
"You didn't know Mrs. Hudson had that shelf."
John laughed. "I wouldn't have been more stunned if it had actually fallen on my head."
"A painful way to confront your past," Sherlock agreed.
"It's not like it's a painful past, Sherlock. It's not a deep dark secret. It was just something I did for a while and then outgrew. I just can't get over the coincidence, that Mrs. Hudson would have one of my pieces. I mean, what are the odds?" He shook his head in disbelief.
"We should probably tell her to take better care of it."
"I did some searching while you were at the shops." Sherlock ignored John's eyeroll. "It turns out that you've got a following."
He walked back into the sitting room and opened his laptop, calling up his recent pages. "Hmm, the price has gone up," he said, showing John the eBay page.
"That's … that can't be right." John looked stunned. "Who would pay that much for a desk made by a 17-year old kid?"
"Ah, but they don't know you were only seventeen, and it's obviously a very well-made desk." He clicked into his email to find an answer from the seller. "The owner says here that it's the two-acorn trademark that makes it so valuable. There's apparently a great deal of debate about who made these pieces, and … excellent. He provided a link."
He clicked and was brought to a page with John's trademark at the top, and within seconds was scrolling through images of some of his work. "Look! Mrs. Hudson's shelf," John said, pointing.
Sherlock was on his feet, calling her name, and shortly she was in their sitting room, a curious look on her face. "What is it, dear?" she asked, looking with interest at John's arrangement of clamps and tools.
Sherlock gestured to the computer. "Did you know your shelf was on this website?"
"Oh yes, certainly. I'm proud to have it. His pieces are awfully rare. There haven't been any new ones in decades—I was lucky to find mine. The dealer had no idea what he was selling."
"But, why?" asked John, startled. "It's not like it's an antique, or anything."
"I know that, dear. Did I never told you I sold antiques when I was younger? I've always had an eye for good pieces, and a fondness for a mystery, as well. The two-acorn pieces are the perfect combination. His work is beautiful, but nobody knows who he was. He had such a small window of creating pieces, and then he just … disappeared. Tragic, really."
She leaned over Sherlock's shoulder and watched some of the images scroll by. "I didn't know he made spinning wheels, too! My gran taught me how to spin when I was a girl, but I haven't thought about it in years. It's apparently quite trendy again these days, can you imagine? I wonder how much one of his wheels goes for, and how well it spins."
"'Smooth like butter,' I was told." John murmured. "She was ecstatic. I would have made more, but it was so time consuming, and I didn't know anybody else who spun." He met Mrs. Hudson's shocked gaze. "It's me, Mrs. Hudson."
She just stared, and he smiled and gestured to the tools on the table. He flipped over one side to show the brand. "My Mum made the case to go with the tools when I turned 14. I liked the design so much, I started putting it on all my pieces." He reached into a pocket sewn at the end and pulled out a small brand of the design.
"But, John, why did you stop?"
"I left for school and didn't exactly have the time anymore," John told her with a smile. "I didn't make that many things. I can't believe they're actually popular."
Sherlock was still tapping at the computer. "I think 'popular' may be an understatement, John. From the looks of this, you could make a tidy sum of money if you started production again."
John laughed. "Right, like that's going to happen. I have so much free time. And, trying to build furniture in here? You'd dissolve it with acid in one of your experiments."
"Not here, John. That would be ridiculous," Sherlock told him. "I was thinking 221C."
Mrs. Hudson's eyes widened. "What a wonderful idea! Selling the pieces would even cover the rent! I could take care of that for you, John, for a small commission. Think how exciting!"
John was holding his hands in the air, as if warding them off, but Sherlock knew they had already won the argument. He'd seen John's face earlier as he carved and John had already admitted the pieces were his. He had no reason to hide anymore.
Besides, it was Mrs. Hudson asking and Sherlock already knew that John couldn't resist an entreaty from someone who really needed him.
He'd wait until later to ask John about the spinning wheel.
(Note: Not beta'd or brit-picked. Any mistakes are entirely my own.)