(or The Adventure of the Missing Three Years)
The pages remain
Waiting to be fed
Ink waiting to be shed
Where nothing has been lain.
Your paper remains
White as your fingers once
Buried in the earth
That inhabits my chest
Buried in this snow
That erases each trace
Every trait of your face
You shall never be gone, you shall never come back
I forgot the name, yet you still remain
In the snow that fell
When Sherlock came across John's poems for the first time, he pointedly avoided clicking on the file. When he 'confiscated' John's laptop again, and saw the folder in his flatmate's open Documents, he wavered a second before deciding that he could use his own computer after all.
The third time, he clicked on the folder. There was only one file in it. Untitled.
Sherlock looked up from his experiment, blinking through his goggles.
"Yes, John. Very acute deduction."
The doctor rolled his eyes and sat at the kitchen table with his cuppa. He was still in his dressing gown, his hair disheveled from sleep. Since Sherlock came back after three years of supposed death, he had started noticing more details about his friend. Noticing the change. How John now drank coffee - black, two sugars - in the morning instead of tea. He had only gone back to his usual cuppa for breakfast one or two weeks ago, the detective remembered.
"You've taken up tea again."
"Yes, genius. Brilliant deduction."
"Felt like it."
Sherlock had stared for a long time trying to deduce it himself, but it hadn't worked then and it still didn't now. That was another change. Upon his return, he'd found the ex-soldier older, much older than when he'd left him: divorced, with a child, working in his own practice - and still writing about him. Living an orderly life alone in a small flat adjacent to his practice. Sherlock hadn't considered apologizing at all when he came back to London: hadn't he saved John's life the only possible way? But then he'd seen the bleak rooms of his new flat, simple but impersonal. Anonymous, except for an unlikely skull on the chest of drawers, an old violin in its case covered with dust in a corner of the living-room, and a yellow smiley face painted on the kitchen's wall, above the sink.
For the first time in his life, perhaps, Sherlock had felt the urge to beg for forgiveness - something he couldn't quite fathom, even with hindsight. He hadn't begged for forgiveness. But he had explained everything, and had asked John to move back to Baker Street with him.
"What are you daydreaming about?"
John's question snapped Sherlock out of his thoughts, and he realized his flatmate had been staring at him the whole time. Slightly embarrassed, he averted his gaze and pretended to resume his experiment.
"You," he replied flatly.
Sherlock's lips curved up into a smirk.
"Don't be so redundant, John. Makes you sound like an idiot."
The doctor pouted and drank a sip of tea in sullen silence. Sherlock's smirk broadened. Then he noticed the distant gaze lost in wistfulness on his partner's face, and only knew he had to chase it away. He hated that expression on John, almost as much as the pain-stricken one he wore sometimes during nightmares, calling out his name and crying in his sleep. At first, Sherlock had been at a loss as to what to do; then, all he could think of was to shake the broken figure lying next to him until he woke up, and snap at him, reminding him he was there. John blinked, always surprised, always lost, before recognition dawned on his face and illuminated it.
"You know, I solved that case with the giant Rat of Sumatra," Sherlock suddenly said to bring John back to the present.
"Oh? That's good."
The detective frowned at the lack of interest. Didn't he even want to know how he solved the case? Aware that they couldn't possibly both sulk, or the day would be very, very long, the detective decided to whine.
"So I don't have a case anymore," he insisted, rather miffed at John's absent-mindedness.
This time clearly irritated, Sherlock took off his goggles and glared.
"I'm bored, John!"
"It's Christmas soon."
Sherlock fell into his chair, speechless.
How was that relevant to anything? All it meant was that John hadn't been paying attention to a thing he'd said... Then it hit him. Christmas. Oh.
"So..." Sherlock shifted a bit in his chair. "Are you spending it with your family?"
John choked on his tea and stared in disbelief, before breaking into a fit of giggles. Sherlock scowled in annoyance, piqued.
"What's so funny?"
"God, Sherlock, of course I'm spending it with my family!"
Something sharper than disappointment stirred inside the detective's chest, but his face remained in check. A small smile played on John's lips. He walked up to Sherlock, who thought he was just going to get something in the fridge until he felt a pair of arms wrap around him from behind. John kissed his curls, just above the temple, and murmured:
"You're an idiot. Who do you think is family?"
Sherlock shivered at the touch, still not quite used to it, but relishing the familiarity.
"You have a son..."
"Um..." John hummed against the puzzled head, "Yup. And he'll be at his grand-parents' in the countryside with his mother."
Sherlock tilted his head to the side, quietly demanding that John lowered the contact. The doctor chuckled, shaking his head at the regal attitude, and kissed his way down to the throat.
"Is that all right, though?" Sherlock asked. "Wouldn't you want to see him?"
His voice was unsure, his expression perplexed: this was definitely not his area.
"He's only one, Sherlock. He wouldn't remember anyway. I'll see him for New Year's Eve, at Mary's. You're invited, by the way."
"I thought she didn't want to see me," the detective mumbled.
"No, she just doesn't want Samuel to enter this flat before he's four, I think. She believes you'll blow him up with your experiments."
"I wouldn't!" Sherlock protested in outrage. John laughed, and kissed him on the nose, making him blink in bewilderment.
"Won't you stop doing that?" Sherlock complained with an unwittingly adorable moue.
"Umm... nope. Come on, get ready. We're going out."
"Because you're bored. And it's snowing."
"That is completely unconnec—"
But John had already gone to change, and so Sherlock complied with a groan. When his partner came back a few minutes later, Sherlock was waiting for him by the door. He had resumed wearing his old coat after a few weeks following his return, once John had managed to replace the image of the detective lying dead in it on the pavement with a less dreadful one. The blue scarf had been lost, though, and Sherlock hadn't dared buy another similar one.
John put on his winter jacket and that hideous beige bobble hat Mary had knitted for him when they were together.
"Why do you still wear it?" Sherlock asked before he could stop himself.
"Because it's warm," John replied, unfazed. Sherlock did not make any further comment, but sulked as they closed the door behind them and went out. An idea had burgeoned in his mind.
He was looking for a title. He understood that the state John was still in - especially at night or when he let his mind wander back during the day, empty-eyed - and for which Sherlock found no name, could precisely be described by the very same word that would make a title for the poem he'd found on the laptop.
Untitled. I forgot the name, yet you still remain... And it did. That lingering sense of lacking, only balanced by another nameless feeling of unwavering presence and adamantine bond, like an unsaid promise. Both remained, abiding and wordless.
Sherlock had searched John's laptop for another version - one with a title, perhaps - but hadn't found any. He'd discovered his flatmate had downloaded all the music pieces he used to play on the violin, and also that he obviously liked Leonard Cohen very much, if his playlist was anything to go by. But there was no trace of a version with a title, nor of any other poem, for that matter. As if this one had sucked all the words out of John, and he could not find any other. Sherlock had noticed, too, that John had written the poem a long time before he resumed recounting cases and blogging.
Asking his friend directly had not been an option, as Sherlock hadn't even told him he'd read the piece. He wasn't sure John would mind, but then he wasn't sure he wouldn't mind either. So he'd kept silent about it, and had hunted for a title himself throughout his mind palace. He hadn't found any.
John shifted in his sleep beside him, and his furrowed brow told Sherlock a nightmare was coming. Soon the ex-soldier's fists tightened, and his lips quivered with the whisper of the cherished name.
Sherlock felt a shiver run down his spine. The name was meaningless to him - yet in John's mouth, it sounded like a prayer. For now it was a plea, but soon it would turn into a desperate cry that would shatter the night. Sherlock never wanted to hear that again, though, and suddenly thought of something. Maybe... maybe.
Quietly, he crept out of bed and walked silently to the living-room, glad that for tonight they'd slept in his bed and not John's, which was on the second floor. Picking up his violin from its case, Sherlock brought it to his chin and began playing.
I've heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don't really care for music, do you?
It goes like this
The fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah
The music was filling the flat softly, not vibrant enough to rip the air, but clear and poignant, making its way into John's dreams.
Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty in the moonlight overthrew you
She tied you to a kitchen chair
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah
John had stopped dreaming of the roof after a month or so. After that, the nightmares hadn't stopped, but the setting had. Always.
Baby I have been here before
I know this room, I've walked this floor
I used to live alone before I knew you.
Every time, the scenery was different, but always he was running after Sherlock, calling out to him, and always, always, the detective was unreachable, until he disappeared completely from John's sight, and he was only left with the crushing emptiness.
I've seen your flag on the marble arch
Love is not a victory march
It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah
He called, and called, but Sherlock kept walking far in front of him, in the busy streets of London at night.
John was following as fast as he could, but never seemed to catch up, and Sherlock did not turn back.
There was a time when you let me know
What's really going on below
But now you never show it to me, do you?
No one else appeared to notice the swift silhouette of the detective, and as he took a look at the other figures, John saw they were all ghosts - mere shadows. He kept calling, despairing he would ever be heard. He could hear a melody pervading the whole street, a melody he knew intimately. It started snowing.
And remember when I moved in you
The holy dove was moving too
And every breath we drew was Hallelujah
The music was wordless, but John was familiar enough with the song to hear the lyrics. It dispelled the nightmare, but did not prevent him from crying, silent, and holding onto a not so warm body that gingerly, hesitantly, embraced him back.
"I heard music last night. Did you play the violin?"
"No, I didn't."
John fell quiet, and resumed looking at his screen. He was pensive for a minute, then addressed his partner again.
"Sherlock. Won't you tell me in detail everything you did during those three years?"
Sherlock rolled on his side to look at John, but remained sprawled on the couch.
"But John, I already have."
The doctor shook his head.
"Not in detail." Then, in a more tentative voice: "I'd like to write about it. For the blog."
At this, Sherlock's eyes widened, and he inquired with puzzlement:
"I'll keep some places secret, and the names too. We don't have to say everything, but..."
"Why would you want to write about it?" Sherlock rephrased, tenacious.
John fell quiet for a minute. Sherlock stood and went to sit next to him. Finally, he seemed to have found the words, for he said, his tone still unsure:
"I can't write about me. I did nothing interesting, nothing noticeable during those three years... I just led a boring life."
Sherlock knew it wasn't quite true - John had had to deal with the loss and grief, and one couldn't possibly call such suffering 'boring'. However, he kept quiet, and let his flatmate talk.
"People will wonder about those missing three years, and how come you suddenly came back from the dead. Your name is already cleared, of course, and we don't have to do this, but..."
"You want to. Why?"
Sherlock sent John a piercing gaze, intensifying it as they locked eyes.
"So it won't just be an empty spot in your career. So people can know you continued to be brilliant all this time and..."
"But that's not the only reason," Sherlock interrupted. He came closer and rested his brow against his friend's. "Tell me." Then, almost in a whisper: "Please."
John's expression went from surprise to stupor at the plea, but he made no remark. After a moment, he simply answered:
"Because I want to fill the void, too."
Sherlock frowned, not liking this at all. Am I not enough to fill it already? he wanted to ask, overly irritated with the fragility of what they had now, and the undying sense of what they'd lost. He had no idea how to convey this properly.
"Fine," he finally said. "I will recount everything to you. But you have to listen to me when I talk about the present, too."
John blinked in surprise, and seemed to get the message. He sent Sherlock a smile of apology, and gave him a peck on the cheek.
"All right. You can tell me all about that rat of Sumatra if you wish."
Sherlock scoffed haughtily and retorted with a mildly offended pout:
"That is a story for which the world is not yet prepared."
John laughed, and kissed his infuriating partner until he forgot to sulk.
"I can't knit," Sherlock suddenly blurted, out of the blue.
John looked up from his newspaper and stared, at a loss.
"What?" he asked dumbly, not following at all.
"Just so you know," Sherlock said off-handedly before picking his violin and resuming the Christmas Carol he'd been playing. Today was the twenty-fourth, and Mrs. Hudson had just left after dinner - a dinner which had entirely been prepared by the good landlady, naturally. Lestrade had come, too, but Molly was spending the holiday with her new companion. Sherlock had checked it wasn't another psychopath - just to be sure.
John still wasn't quite getting the point of his partner's comment, and so insisted:
"So, you can't knit..."
"I can't," Sherlock confirmed with a nod.
The whole situation was so comical John had to repress a chuckle.
"How would you know?" he asked amusedly.
"I tried," Sherlock dead-panned.
John gaped, but the detective didn't seem to find the image of him trying to knit absurd.
"But why would you want to knit?" he wondered, in a daze.
Sherlock looked at him pointedly, but didn't say a word. John gave it up after a few minutes of inquiring, and they dropped the matter altogether when they went to bed.
In the morning when John came down, he wasn't surprised to see his friend was up already. He was rather stunned, though, to see that he had prepared some tea, and was waiting for him with a present.
"Who are you?" the doctor asked playfully as he kissed his friend good morning. "What did you do to Sherlock Holmes?"
Sherlock snorted and pressed the present closer to his chest.
"If you don't want it, I can just throw it away."
John kissed him on the nose, enjoying how it wrinkled in indignation and puzzlement every time he did so.
"I was joking. I want my present. I just wasn't expecting you to get me anything."
"Obviously," Sherlock drawled.
John went to get his own present to Sherlock, which he'd hidden under the couch. Sherlock arched an eyebrow.
"Why in the world did you put it there?"
"Because I knew you'd nose around the bedrooms," he replied nonchalantly. Sherlock frowned, but decided this was not the time to sulk.
"I could have found it easily if I had really looked for it."
They exchanged packages and looked each other in the eye. Sherlock was already palpating the present softly, and his face filled with candid wonder and a childlike amazement.
John noticed, and smiled.
"You still have to open it," he told him as he ripped the paper of his own present. His eyes widened in surprise when he saw what it was, and he understood Sherlock's reaction. All the while, the detective had opened the package, and was looking at a red scarf with a juvenile curiosity, something John hadn't seen on his traits since Reichenbach. He shivered.
"You bought me a scarf," he said.
"You too," Sherlock remarked.
Both were the exact same model - that of the long lost blue scarf - but one was red, and the other was beige, matching the wool bonnet of the doctor.
"I thought you hated that hat..." John murmured as he wrapped the scarf around his neck.
"I do. But I know you'll keep wearing it, because you like it, and Mary is still a good friend now. So I thought I'd get you something you'd always wear with it..."
John chuckled. "You were jealous of a hat?"
Sherlock pouted. "You could thank me, you know. I could've just burnt it, or damaged it irreversibly by accident so you'd never wear it again."
John rolled his eyes, and wrapped the red scarf around his friend's throat.
"Would you have preferred it blue?" he inquired somewhat worriedly. His hands fell down and lay on Sherlock's shoulders. "I kept the ticket, so we can change it if you—"
He was cut off by Sherlock's bruising lips crashing onto his - not so much a kiss than a more vigorous shut up. When John started moaning into the kiss, Sherlock broke the embrace, enjoying the frustrated groan he elicited, and asked:
"Why red, though?"
"To spot you more easily in a crowd," John joked.
Sherlock frowned. "But seriously, why?"
A playful smirk crept up John's lips.
"You've been asking that a lot lately, you know. Did your deductive skills become rusty, perhaps?"
The consulting detective glared, and fought back:
"You picked red because it is a colour you like a lot, but don't wear much - except for jumpers - because you think it doesn't fit you - quite wrongly, I must say. You also felt guilty about the scarf because you knew I wouldn't buy another one, even if I wanted to. Especially never a blue one. You felt like you were affecting my life with your trauma again, and hated yourself for it - you're an idiot, I can live without a scarf, I cannot live without you. Period."
John was goggling, flabbergasted; but Sherlock wasn't done.
"And then you liked the idea of a scarf... The idea: 'I wish I could tie you to me.'"
"What makes you say th—" John began in protest, before the detective cut in again:
"Because I had the same idea."
The off-handed confession silenced John effectively.
They did not go out until the afternoon, when John insisted they took a brisk walk to enjoy the fresh air. Sherlock accused him to only want to show off their matching scarves (and that certainly hadn't been intended, he added in a grumble), and John did not deny it. But he pointed out no one would notice they were the same model, and it only took a minute of coaxing before Sherlock gave in and indulged him.
"I heard the same melody last night as well," John said as they left Baker Street. "You know. The Hallelujah."
"It's weird, though. I haven't listened to it in ages, I don't understand why it seems to pervade my every nightmare..."
"It's a good thing, though, isn't it?" Sherlock inquired, unsure of himself.
John eyed him curiously. "Yes. It is."
They talked about the latest case - a woman who was seen repeatedly biting her child and suckling, accused of schizophrenia when in fact she was just trying to get rid of a snake's venom. They had been quiet for a while, though, when suddenly it started snowing.
John stopped in his track, and held his hand out, watching the snowflakes fall and melt on the skin of his palm. When he noticed, Sherlock stopped walking as well, and studied his friend's face closely.
"John? Is everything all right?"
"Yeah... yeah. It's just that sometimes, I forget you're alive."
There was nothing to be said. Sherlock remained silent, wordless. But John continued.
"Every time it snowed, it made me think of you – not that I didn't think of you at any other time."
Sherlock frowned slightly, perplexed.
"How am I in any way similar to the snow?"
John smiled sadly. Then, almost as if he'd been talking to himself, and not to his friend, he murmured:
"You melted so fast, I barely had time to realize just how refreshing you were."
The consulting detective blinked confusedly, and perhaps, even a little embarrassedly. He had no idea how he was expected to answer such words. As the silence stretched on and threatened to thicken the blankness between them, the blankness of those three years that still seemed to separate them sometimes, Sherlock was desperately groping for the right thing to say: the one that would rip the silence, and shatter the unbearable sense of lacking.
"I... There was something that reminded me of you," he began tentatively.
"Really?" John asked, and his wistful smile brightened almost imperceptibly.
"There was that woman once, with her child in the street. The child didn't want to eat his biscuit and drink his juice. His mother told him: 'Be a good boy and eat your snack! You have to, if you want your body to work properly, and grow to be a man.'"
John blinked, disconcerted. Seeing his bewilderment, Sherlock added:
"Well, except for the growing to be a man part... It made me think of you."
He shifted a bit, waiting somewhat nervously for John to say something. John didn't, but instead readjusted Sherlock's scarf, chuckling quietly, his hands lingering on the now red fabric.
That night, when John began to have his nightmares again, Sherlock wavered slightly before he went to get his violin, for they were sleeping in John's room, and he couldn't play in the staircase without waking up Mrs. Hudson. Playing in the room itself, though, would probably result in waking John. Sherlock wasn't sure why he wasn't inclined to John knowing it was him who played. Then he realized: if John became aware that he had rummaged through his files on his laptop, discovering what music he liked and so on, he would easily deduce that it was most likely Sherlock had read the poem too. And for some reason, Sherlock did not want John to know before he had found a proper title to it.
And so quietly he went down to the living-room, and quietly he came back up into the room, closing the door softly behind him.
He took a deep breath, and started playing.
Maybe there's a God above
But all I've ever learned from love
Was how to shoot at someone who outdrew you
It's not a cry you can hear at night
It's not somebody who has seen the light
It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah
John shifted in his sleep. He was trying to spot the source of the music, and was running around in circles on a grey beach, beside a grey sea. "Sherlock..."
You say I took the name in vain
I don't even know the name
But if I did, well, really, what's it to you?
"Sherlock!" The waves that had been deafening him at first were now quieting down, and the violin melody was turning the greyness in a sea of light tainted with red and black and blue - colours swirling around and evaporating in the air until it was torn to shreds.
There's a blaze of light in every word
It doesn't matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah
I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah
It is snowing today as well. John had breakfast, and while he checked his emails Sherlock complained about how dull the news were. But then the doctor went to shower, leaving Sherlock to whine alone. Miffed, he decided to confiscate his flatmate's laptop to change the password, just to annoy him. But he froze upon seeing that John had been writing on a word document, and not on his mailbox.
Sherlock fell into a chair and stared at the screen. Outside the snow kept falling, soft and silent. Only the quiet buzz of the shower hummed in his ears. Regular. Persistent. As Sherlock's eyes scanned the screen, they filled with awe at first, then with some indefinable expression the consulting detective himseld would have been quite unable to describe.
It turns out it isn't necessary.
The expression needed no word, and the poem, no title.
The shivering sun of a winter morning
The notes you play while the snow is falling
The way you snap when I call you darling
The lingering loss and the wordlessness
The unfading warmth, your dear restlessness
The unuttered promise...
There's no need for a name
You and I remain
Like an old refrain
Of the passing days
Waiting to be caught
Waiting to be drowned
In the ink we shall shed
The paper we shall tread
And mark with our stain.
I shall rip the blankness with our voice
In the name