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Title: Signs For The Distant And Disconsolate Heart
Author: fengirl88
Fandom: BBC Sherlock
Pairing: Sherlock/John
Rating: PG-13
Warnings: none
Wordcount: ~1830
Disclaimer: They're still not mine. Nor is the poem.
Summary: He supposes he is Sherlock's best friend. If you can be the best in a class of one.    Or he'd thought he was, until the row.

A/N: This one is for warriorbot , who organized the Sherlock Holmes Anniversary Meetup without which I would not have seen the poem, and for kalypso_v , because of the Greek. Heartfelt thanks to ginbitch and blooms84 for beta wisdom and encouragement.

Signs For The Distant And Disconsolate Heart

He doesn't know why he's here, of all places. But then, the last few days, he doesn't know why he's anywhere any more.

Aldeburgh in February. Same B and B as last time, in September, for that concert Clara had talked him into going to at Snape. He'd been too tired to enjoy most of it, though there'd been one outstanding singer, and a song that reminded him of Sherlock – or maybe more what life was like with Sherlock. The dangerous world where at any moment you could end up burned to ashes, blown apart.

What Mycroft had said: When you walk with Sherlock Holmes, you see the battlefield.

He doesn't think this is what Mycroft had in mind.

The shingle beach shifts and slips under his feet, bloody leg's hurting again. But he keeps going, it's psychosomatic, remember?, trudging towards the big steel sculpture outlined against the sea and the sky.

Clara loves it, has to touch it every time she goes, some sort of superstition though he's not sure what that's about. A lesbian artist's memorial to two gay men, lovers. The town didn't want it, so it's out here, where dogs can sniff at it all year round, kids play on it, new lovers probably have sex on it or under it, there'd be room for that.

Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears. He remembers his music teacher at school, the one all the girls fancied and thought was cool because he swore a lot and told dirty jokes. The sneer in his voice when he talked about Britten and Pears. Pretended it was about the fact that they'd spent the war in America, but that wasn't very convincing from someone who liked to call ballet poofs' football.

All the messages you get, saying it's not OK for men to love other men, not like that. Nearest you can get is mucking about in the showers after rugby, or grabbing your mates drunkenly in the pub, you're my best friend and I fucking love you.

He's never let himself ask what it would mean to say that for real, sober. Not to pass it off next day, saying “Christ was I drunk last night!”

He supposes he is Sherlock's best friend. If you can be the best in a class of one.

Or he'd thought he was, until the row.

It seemed to come out of nowhere. One minute they were laughing in the hallway about something and the next Sherlock had turned away abruptly and not spoken to him for hours. And then –

John flinches from the memory of the words flung in his face like a handful of gravel, cutting and stinging: can't concentrate with you always around, getting in the way, don't you have some painfully normal Army mates to go and get drunk with or a suitably dull woman to pester with your clumsy advances?

He probably had been around a lot. But they'd been getting on so well recently that he hadn't felt like going out. And Sherlock had seemed – well, happy. Sprawling on the sofa watching DVDs (“I can't believe you've never seen The Ladykillers”) or stealing chips from John's plate (“Get your own next time, you cheeky git!”). Teasing John about his hopeless attempts at deduction.

John's obviously still crap at reading evidence. Because he and Sherlock are clearly not fine at all. Maybe not even friends any more.

It's bitterly cold and the sea-spray's getting in his eyes. He shakes his head. Pull yourself together, Watson.

His eye follows the line of words cut into the rim of the steel scallop shell: I HEAR THOSE VOICES THAT WILL NOT BE DROWNED. We all have ghosts, Clara said, running her hands over the ridges of the sculpture, and not all of them are dead people. She didn't have to say Harry's name. He saw the bruised look on her face at the concert, listening to the last song, the girl singing about love to her beloved, if you only knew what it's like, dreaming of burning kisses, gazing, caressing ... if you only knew, then you would live with me.

He hardly remembers what that feels like, it's been so long since he was with anyone. Probably doesn't help, having a flatmate who gatecrashes your dates. Who doesn't even understand the concept.

–It's when two people who like each other go out and have fun.

–That's what I was suggesting.

–No, it wasn't. At least, I hope not.


Sherlock couldn't really have meant that, could he?

John leans against the scallop's base, cursing his leg, though actually both legs seem to be trying to fold up under him.

This has to be the most idiotic theory he's come up with in all his bumbling attempts at deduction. Doesn't it?

But the hypothesis is not so easy to shift once he's thought of it. He tries reminding himself what Sherlock said that first night in Angelo's – John, I think you should know that I consider myself married to my work and while I am flattered by your interest – and all it makes him think is he never heard the end of that sentence. Too busy saying No – I'm not asking – no. He's not sure exactly when he stopped minding Angelo's benevolent expression when he looks at him and Sherlock together, but the recognition that he has stopped minding comes as a shock.

He stays there for a while, looking out to sea and wondering, feeling his face go tight with cold. Eventually he limps back to the B and B and sits on the edge of the bed, waiting for the stinging return of sensation to his frozen limbs.

His mind feels too full, images and memories jumbled together. The way Mrs Hudson looked at him when he said he was going away for a few days. Sherlock not looking up when he said goodbye. Darker shadows even than usual under Sherlock's eyes. Hadn't realized he'd noticed that at the time.

The moment before it all went wrong: laughing in the hallway about something, about nothing, and then Sherlock –

The look on Sherlock's face just before he turned away. Not laughing any more, though John still was.

Something inside him flips at the thought of that look, and he catches his breath. There's a soft heat in the pit of his stomach that's almost an ache, a tug. It's confusing and unsettling and he wants Sherlock to look at him like that again. Only this time he wouldn't laugh, this time –

He's never imagined kissing Sherlock before, but the thought of it is so vivid that it makes him groan.

That is what that look meant, isn't it? Sherlock wanting to kiss him. Wanting him. So many years of all those messages saying don't touch, saying what's normal behaviour between men, that he couldn't see it for what it was.

Now what?

What he wants is simple and impossible: to be back in Baker Street right this fucking minute with Sherlock looking at him like that. To push Sherlock against the wall and kiss him till neither of them can stand up straight. But it's too late to go back tonight; he's been sitting here for hours and the last connecting train's already gone. And he's not sure that direct action is really the best idea in the circumstances. Not after the way Sherlock rejected him.

The rejection makes sense, sort of; pushing someone away because what you want from them seems impossible. Safer than saying what you really feel, risking that vulnerability. Christ knows he's terrified of that himself.

I thought my life was meaningless. I thought nothing would ever happen to me again. You changed everything. You made my hand stop shaking and my leg stop hurting and my body feel alive again. You took my breath away. You made my heart race. You made me do crazy things, ridiculous things. You made me angry. You made me laugh till I ached with it. You made sense of me. You made me feel that I meant something to you. I'm not going to let you push me away. I'm not going to let you undo all that.

It's too long for a text, but he wants to say it, needs to say it. Maybe if Sherlock sees it's him calling he'll pick up the phone.

He switches his phone on and tries the number, but nothing happens. Nothing except the message on the screen: No signal.

Fuck. He should have remembered this from September. Clara's mobile didn't work here either. Practically a blackspot unless you're on some particular network.

He manages not to hurl the phone across the room but it's a damn close-run thing. Sits staring at the wall and listening to the sound of the sea hurling shingle up the beach and the rattling of the pebbles being pulled back down as the wave retreats. He wonders how many years it'll be before the sea swallows up Aldeburgh, the way it did Slaughden, a mile along the coast.

Gradually the sound becomes something else: the rasping breath of that man last month on the Northern Line when the tube train in front of them had broken down, having a panic attack about missing some vitally important meeting. John had calmed him down eventually, and then studiously avoided eye contact with the whole carriage in the traditional English manner.

Maybe he's remembering that because it was the last time he got stuck without a signal and couldn't call Sherlock. Nothing to do but stare at the posters on the opposite side of the train.

There was a poem, wasn't there? One of those Poems on the Underground, always liked that idea, and this one –

Oh, right. Yes, that would be why, another reason why.

He's always had a good memory for poetry, and this one seems to have stuck.

Loving the rituals that keep men close,
Nature created means for friends apart:

pen, paper, ink, the alphabet,
signs for the distant and disconsolate heart.

Some ancient Greek poet. Probably Boris's bright idea. Him and his Classics degree. The translator's a poet John's vaguely aware of, though he didn't know he did this sort of thing.

He tries the phone again but there's still no signal.

Bit mad, really, thinking about writing a letter to someone you might be going to see tomorrow anyway.

But he wants to talk to Sherlock now. Even if he's not there. Even if it has to be on paper.

Even if he never gets the courage to show it to him.

There's paper in the B and B information folder. Pen somewhere, too, used it to do the crossword on the train. Yes.

He thinks he knows now what he wants to say, though finding the right words won't be easy. He sits staring into space for a while, listening to the sea. Then he takes a deep breath and begins to write.


The poem in question can be found here. kalypso_v suggested that the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, might have chosen this one, since he is also a classicist.

More information about Maggi Hambling's sculpture, Scallop, is here.

The song that reminds John of the dangerous world with Sherlock is Hugo Wolf's Feuerreiter; the song at the end of the concert is Richard Strauss's Cäcilie.


( 71 comments — Leave a comment )
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Mar. 1st, 2011 08:41 pm (UTC)
This has touched me so much. I love the poem and I love the way you've captured the ache of it in the fic.

"It's bitterly cold and the sea-spray's getting in his eyes."

Heart. Breaks.
Mar. 1st, 2011 08:46 pm (UTC)
thank you - I'm so glad you like it! I was completely bowled over by the poem when I saw it and immediately wanted to write this, but it's taken a long time to get it out.

Mar. 1st, 2011 08:54 pm (UTC)
OH, I love this. It's so beautiful and just the right flavour of angst.

(Also - you were at the meetup? I'm slowly finding people on LJ, may I friend you?)
Mar. 1st, 2011 09:00 pm (UTC)
thank you very much!

yes - I was, and yes, please do! happy to reciprocate.
Mar. 1st, 2011 08:57 pm (UTC)
Oh, that poem! I was expecting it to be Sappho...

I love the image of John being hit by his realisation under the Scallop. And the words flung in his face like a handful of gravel. And of having to write down what he wants to tell Sherlock, the physicality of the message matching the poem. I wonder if he ever does show it to Sherlock? If not, I think Sherlock will find it.
Mar. 1st, 2011 09:04 pm (UTC)
Sappho another time - maybe when I actually get round to writing some f/f?

thank you so much - I'm delighted you liked it, and especially those things. yes, it had to be writing - that was clear the moment I saw the poem (and wrote it down in case I hadn't managed to memorize it, since we didn't have as long to stare at it as John does in this!).

I think he shows it to Sherlock. but I'm sure you're right that if he doesn't then Sherlock will find it.
(no subject) - kalypso_v - Mar. 1st, 2011 09:12 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - fengirl88 - Mar. 1st, 2011 09:16 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - kalypso_v - Mar. 1st, 2011 09:24 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 1st, 2011 09:00 pm (UTC)
Oh, this is lovely. John's ache, and confusion--his palpable sense of loss and confusion resonates. His need to reach out to Sherlock makes so much sense, and I love his solution here. Beautiful scene. Just beautiful. And beautifully written, too, as always. :)
Mar. 1st, 2011 09:05 pm (UTC)
thank you so much! that's a really lovely comment.

Mar. 1st, 2011 09:01 pm (UTC)
Oh, so lovely. Especially this: "You made sense of me." appearing in the midst of it all. Thank you so much for sharing this!
Mar. 1st, 2011 09:06 pm (UTC)
thank you very much - I'm very glad you liked it and that part especially. I think he would feel that, because Sherlock does make sense of him.
Mar. 1st, 2011 09:08 pm (UTC)
Oh my goodness. I got hot, then cold, then tingly going through John's personal Book of Revelation. Stunning, as always - beautifully phrased, very poignant.
Mar. 1st, 2011 09:17 pm (UTC)
thank you so much! *blushes*

Mar. 1st, 2011 09:16 pm (UTC)
Mar. 1st, 2011 09:18 pm (UTC)
thank you!

Mar. 1st, 2011 09:19 pm (UTC)
Very beautiful in the way that the scenery and the mood work together; the melancholy and isolation of the coast seems just right for John's thoughts. And as response to the poem, here's a couple of lines from the eighth century poet Alcuin:

"It is better to write books than to dig vines
one serves the belly, but the other serves the soul"
Mar. 1st, 2011 09:26 pm (UTC)
thank you very much for the comment and the Alcuin - lovely!

there's a wonderful bit in the audio slideshow of Maggi Hambling and the sea, round about 1:30, where she talks about wanting to make Scallop "a place where someone feeling lonely, miserable, happy, sad, whatever, could come and contemplate the horizon".
Mar. 1st, 2011 09:28 pm (UTC)
God, the atmosphere in this is really gorgeous, and you create it so concisely. And the way you use both the poem and the sculpture is perfect. Also, Aldeburgh! I've only been there once, but I do remember it being - well, like this, and the way you use the setting is lovely.

Also, this is not intended to be in any way pressurising, and this does work beautifully as a self-contained standalone, but God do I EVER want to know what that letter says and how Sherlock reacts.
Mar. 1st, 2011 09:34 pm (UTC)
thank you very much! I love Aldeburgh and the Scallop, and I really wanted to put John there for this fic. very glad you thought it worked.

I made a deliberate decision not to write the letter - partly because I wanted to leave John poised on the edge of that change, and partly because I wanted readers to imagine the perfect letter and what would follow from it...
(no subject) - parachute_silks - Mar. 1st, 2011 09:57 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 1st, 2011 09:33 pm (UTC)
Oh, this was gorgeous. & what a beautiful poem. Any chance of you doing a follow-up of when John gets back to Baker Street...? *looks hopeful*
Mar. 1st, 2011 09:39 pm (UTC)

thank you very much! the poem is wonderful, isn't it? completely knocked me sideways when I saw it.

I'm not sure I can imagine a suitable follow-up, though I am sure somebody could...

*whistles innocently*

(no subject) - kate_lear - Mar. 3rd, 2011 04:24 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 1st, 2011 09:47 pm (UTC)
That's beautiful.
Mar. 1st, 2011 09:48 pm (UTC)
thank you! *glows*
Mar. 1st, 2011 09:50 pm (UTC)
I recognised the title of this immediately! I too spotted it on the Underground and spent ages tapping it into my mobile. Beautiful, isn't it? As so is your fic :-) Thinking of continuing this in any shape, way of form? *Also looks hopeful*
Mar. 1st, 2011 09:55 pm (UTC)
thank you! it's an irresistible poem, isn't it? I didn't know Palladas at all but apparently Tony Harrison did a whole book of translations from him.

I really liked the idea of this as a oneshot, but there might be more poetry-inspired fics at some point!
Mar. 1st, 2011 10:03 pm (UTC)
This is probably my favorite piece I've read of yours, as far as pure aesthetic style is concerned. I love how the influence of the poetry can be felt throughout the writing.

I guess I'm greedy because I would love to read Sherlock's reaction to the letter (maybe the poem, if John references it). Not the moment where it's exchanged, but his emotional response. The emotional mirror of this piece. I think I'm feeling the want of Sherlock because this fic is so much about the two of them but from a singular perspective. Johns epiphany needs a counter-point.

Anyway: LOVELY.
Mar. 1st, 2011 10:31 pm (UTC)
thank you so much! *glows*

that's interesting about the mirror. I will ponder...
Mar. 1st, 2011 10:20 pm (UTC)
That such a melancholy tale could leave me so happy just seems wrong.I guess its because this piece is so lovely on so many levels.

I love it when the word is so real.

Mar. 1st, 2011 10:33 pm (UTC)
oh thank you! that's a lovely comment.
so glad you enjoyed this.
Mar. 1st, 2011 10:20 pm (UTC)
Oh, I like this so much - the poetry, the sculpture, and how when John suddenly figures out why Sherlock's avoiding him he has to get his feelings down that minute, even if he'll be seeing him again before it could ever be delivered.

Writing - blogs, texts, notes - is such an important part of John and Sherlock's world together that it wouldn't be right to do it any other way.
Mar. 1st, 2011 10:35 pm (UTC)
thank you very much! I'm very glad you liked all those things.

yes, it had to be writing, didn't it? and in this case it had to be writing by hand - anything else wouldn't have felt right with the poem.
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