Summary: There may be good reason why Watson does not complain about Holmes practicing violin at three o'clock in the morning.
Title: 24 Caprices for Solo Violin (in E Minor)
Pairing, characters: Sherlock Holmes/Dr. John Watson
Disclaimer: Need we really go through this?
This was no thoughtless whim or grating musical abstraction. The sounds that floated out of Holmes’s room in the early hours of that morning were something entirely different from what I had grown used to enduring, something purely, impossibly, beautiful.
The longer the elegant stream of notes and chords drew on, the more confused I became. Music is not something that Holmes indulges in for its own sake, or so he has claimed repeatedly in my presence. It is, in his own estimation, simply another manner in which he may exercise his considerable faculties, improving his own physical and mental dexterity, as well as facilitating his understanding of the rather complex and underexplored (again, according to his subjective opinions) science of sound.
When he picks up his violin, more often than not, it is to keep his hands busy whilst his mind is occupied with some more pressing problem.
But this impassioned playing, of such uncharacteristic subtlety and at such an unusual hour for serious practice, struck me as an anomaly. And as he has so long been of the habit of investigating anomalies, I have grown to do so as well.
I rose from my bed, shuffled into slippers and my dressing gown, and crept, as silently as I knew how, across the hall to his rooms, mindful of his seemingly superhuman ability to sense when I was the one sneaking around the house, and not wanting to disturb his playing. At least not yet.
I stood outside his door as he wafted away to some kind of musical conclusion, the exact mechanics of which I was certain I would never entirely understand, sorely lacking in culture as I am. I could appreciate the sentiment when he dragged me off to the opera house to hear some unknown prodigy or other (he hardly ever paid attention to the endless string of celebrities that rolled into town) but it was more out of gratitude that he was out and about, not because I could tell the difference between a tenor and a mezzo-soprano.
I can, of course. I only say that to make a point.
But regardless, I had been on the threshold of his bedroom for maybe five minutes when I could hear the sound of the bow in his hand sliding softly to the floor, landing on the parquet with the gentlest tap.
“I do apologize for keeping you up, Watson,” he said suddenly. “Rest assured you will hear not another sound from me tonight.”
The customary sardonic edge to his voice, while present as always, had been worn down significantly by drink or lack of sleep or some other factor of which I could not be sure. But regardless of the reason for his strange manner of speech, it made it difficult for me to judge whether or not he wanted me to engage him in conversation or simply go away.
It so seldom occurred to me that I could just as easily base my decisions in these matters upon my own wishes as I could upon his. I took a step forward and opened the door.
He was seated on the edge of his mattress, still fully dressed from the day. I could see smudges of mud on his knees and elbows from where he had been crouched in the road waiting for our suspect du jour to arrive and be summarily arrested. Most endearingly, there was the faintest smudge of dirt on his nose that I could just make out in the dim lamplight.
He did not look at all surprised to see that I had chosen to have a talk (as I had known he would not), and patted the covers beside him in invitation for me to take a seat.
“That was quite nice,” I began, “the song, I mean, what-“
“One of my own compositions.” He finished for me, and I could not be sure, but it was possible that he was the slightest bit embarrassed by the idea. How novel.
Still, it seemed only fair to change the subject.
“You had no intention of sleeping, then,” I gestured to his clothes. He returned with the small smile that was usually an accompaniment to such statements as “oh, ickle Watson makes a deduction at last!” though he did not so verbally patronize me that night. To be honest, my observation had been so painfully obvious as to warrant the mockery. I wouldn’t have minded.
“No, I’m afraid not.”
“Though you no longer have the particulars of the case to trouble you.”
“The case was far too simplistic to warrant loss of necessary rest, dear Watson. Though it did provide the most gratifying of distractions.”
He truly was behaving in a most peculiar fashion, though I could sense he wanted me to try my very best to uncover the reason why.
“Am I allowed to ask what it distracted you from? Or is that too blunt a question?”
“Oh, I do not mind your bluntness, Watson. It is part of what makes you the quintessential Englishman that you are.”
So it would not be so easy as that.
“It cannot be that you are troubled by a lack of work, as you have already selected and prioritized several small cases on which you wish to expend some energy over the coming days, though they are by no means urgent and certainly will not require your cooperation with the Yard, which is always a great relief to you. It is no conflict with your brother, as you visited just last week and told me flat out that he had never been so congenial and you had never enjoyed his company so much. And you have received no correspondence from him in the interim, so that situation cannot have changed. I confess then Holmes that I can see no logical reason for your behavior.”
He smiled again, but there was something different, even grim in this expression.
“Perhaps it is by limiting your inquiry to the merely logical that you failed to draw the correct conclusion.”
This had me utterly stunned. The “merely logical?” What else was there, for this man, but the logical, the rational, the empirical?
He cast a glance my way, reading what must have been the painfully evident signs of confusion on my face.
“Come now, Watson, surely you did not think me utterly incapable of questioning my own methods from time to time? After all, we are but men, and subject to the fallibilities of nature the same as any other living thing.”
Apparently my expression did not change, for he felt compelled to diffuse the situation with a laugh and a hand on my shoulder, warm even through the fabric of my dressing gown and nightshirt.
“You know you must be careful my good fellow, or your face may well freeze like that.” He looked so very earnest that I had to laugh myself, which of course led him to laugh, and soon we were both bent over in spasms of truly inexplicable mirth (no one had really said anything all that funny, after all.) He was very close to falling from the mattress, and so I put a hand out to steady him, but it was no use. In a moment he had slid to the floor, legs splayed out in front of him.
That would have been just another reason to keep on with our mad fit, had his fall not been accompanied by a sharp rap of bone upon wood. He had hit his head, quite hard, by the sound of it, upon the bedstead.
In the blink of an eye I was down on the floor beside him.
“Holmes? Are you quite alright?“ I aligned myself to get a better look, physicians’ impulse demanding that I not attempt to move a body that had just taken a blow to the head, in case… but I could not think of it.
I looked him over. His eyes were closed, his face frozen in an unreadable expression. I spoke his name again. He did not respond. Oh God. Oh God oh God oh God.
I placed a hand on his shoulder, racking my brain for some way to induce reflexive motion, to ensure that no paralysis… But again my mind utterly rebelled at the very idea, and I found myself frozen above the prone body of my greatest friend, a wave of words pouring forth from I-couldn’t-say-where.
“Holmes, please wake up. This is hardly – Holmes – Oh God, this is entirely my fault, isn’t it? I ought to have just left you alone. I am certain you simply wanted to be left alone. Holmes? That really was such a beautiful song. I know you hate owning up to such things, but it’s not worth troubling yourself. I know of no one who would think any less of you for it, certainly you needn’t worry about me thinking any less of you. And should you wish it, I wouldn’t object to one of your long-winded explanations of how this crescendo or that compound meter did such and such a thing for the overall effect of the piece and please just wake up. Wake up. Sherlock? Wake up? Oh God, please, please wake up.”
I was quite on the verge of fleeing the room and calling for Mrs. Hudson, when, upon Holmes’s face, there began to blossom the most subtle, most devious smile ever worn by man.
I’d been had.
Before I could conjure my next move, Holmes was sitting up tall against the side of the bed, my wrists locked firmly in his hands. It was a wise decision, as I would have certainly attempted to take a swing at him if I had been able.
“You really liked it?”
Again, he had given me pause.
“You really liked the song?”
“Well—yes, I did, but, Holmes, you can’t just go about pretending to be dead in order to get a kind review!”
His smile began to deflate into a relatively more contemplative expression.
“No, I suppose not.”
“And besides—“ I began, already clambering to my feet and straightening out my dressing gown with (to my absolute horror) trembling hands, “I had already volunteered a favorable opinion without your prompting.”
He countered at once.
“You were fishing for a start to a conversation, Watson. And besides, you are decidedly more honest under pressure. Notoriously so.”
“That isn’t true.”
“Yes, it is. Do trust my assessment.”
As much as I wished for him to be wrong, I knew upon closer examination of my memories that he was in fact correct. My inherent inability to craft falsehoods in times of need was in fact a well-known fact to both of us, and so often the reason why he kept me ignorant of his plans and intentions as we reached the climax of particularly dangerous cases, or ones in which deception was a necessary centerpiece.
And so at this realization, unpleasant as it was, I was left somewhat crumpled against the bed skirts.
“Whatever you say, Holmes.”
He released my wrists, and moved his hands to my shoulders, his face uncharacteristically kind to one who was not granted the privilege of knowing his every facet, every mood (and thus understanding that he was capable of far greater sentimentality than anyone would dare presume.)
After a few moments of gauging my current state, perhaps judging whether he had wounded me deeply enough to warrant a verbal apology, he moved his arms again until he was able to lift me up with from my situation on the floor and seat me again on the edge of the mattress, watching me always to see if I would object to being handled so much like a child refusing to climb into bed. I did not.
When I was in place, he retrieved his bow from the floor, his Stradivarius from where he had left it on the duvet, and began to play again. It was not anything at all like the countless other occasions in which he has taken up the instrument in my presence. His eyes did not fix themselves upon some distant and blank portion of wall. His focus was not, as I imagined it at all other instances, some unwavering monolith, seeming to take up so much of the air in the room that I was inevitably forced out for other pursuits. He was, instead, anxious and eager (two words that, in combination, I can so seldom attribute to him) to acknowledge my presence. He cast frequent glances in my direction, often waiting until my eyes met his and he could thus read my mood and opinion without the fumbling necessity of more words.
His energy in this endeavor was boundless, but mine, most unfortunately, was not. Unwilling to force his little concert to a premature end by announcing a return to my own rooms, I instead shifted myself, bit by bit, into something of a reclining position, intending to simply rest my eyes for a moment or two…
I awoke to the smell of breakfast and cool open air, and the unmistakable sound of Holmes and Mrs. Hudson conversing in the downstairs. He was complimenting her on the “exemplary state of the morning’s eggs,” and she was marveling at his curiously ravenous appetite.
I lay still, uncertain of the true nature of my present situation and what, if anything, had changed since I had first retired to my bed the night before. An inexplicable fear had seized me, and I was momentarily unable to take stock of myself. It required an immense act of will, and the realization that I had a very limited time in which to get myself together, to finally prod my mind into motion.
The first inevitable question, the “where,” was most obvious. I had now the clearest recollection of falling asleep to the sound of Holmes’s violin, sitting back against his headboard and pleasantly conscious of the smell of powdered pine rosin that lingered ever so slightly in the air around my face. What I did not know, however, was how I had come to be covered in several layers of soft duvet, my torso and legs shifted in such a manner that I was not perched precariously upon the edge of the bed, but with room to spare upon my left side. Nor was there a ready explanation for the bowl-shaped imprint on the pillow to my right, or the wrinkles in the sheets upon the self-same side (all of the covers had made their way, somehow, to me.)
Again in my vanity I must assure the reader that I feign stupidity for the purpose of making a point. The singular reason for these various phenomena was in fact very much apparent to me, only very difficult to fully accept, far less picture in my own mind’s eye.
Surely the reader will forgive me for having trouble with the idea that the great and venerable Sherlock Holmes, master of his own small universe, should have of his own will tucked me warm and snug into his own bed covers, and then deigned to share the mattress.