Title: A Very Cold Case
Pairing: (eventual) John/Sherlock
Spoilers: Vaguely for series 1 & one tiny reference to book!canon in this part
Warnings: None for this part
Beta: The lovely evildrem, who read it and encouraged me to post it
Translation(s): This story is currently being translated into Chinese by the wonderful joycetenka: here
Summary: Violin music, 19th-century poets, and a string of puzzles presented to Sherlock by an enigmatic client (or adversary?), who prefers to stay in the shadows
(A/N: Sherlock is playing P. I. Tchaikovsky's Valse sentimentale in F minor, op. 51 № 6.)
A Very Cold Case
“What was that? That … thing you were playing just now? It was nice.“
“Nice?“ The derisive sneer in Sherlock's voice was unmistakable. “It's not nice, John. It's perfect.“
“Okay, yes,“ John conceded in exasperation. “But what was it?“
“Oh, er … right … Tchaikovsky.“
Now he was seriously racking his brain. Who was this Tchaikowsky guy again? Russian bloke, no doubt there.
“Is that the guy who wrote The Nutcracker Suite?“
God, did he hope he had got that right; the last time he had heard it had probably been in primary school. It had been a nice piece, though.
The expression on Sherlock's pale face, however, changed to an almost disdainful one immediately. “Oh, please. That's so unoriginal.“
“This from the man who denies heliocentrism,“ John muttered.
There was a loud whooshing noise as Sherlock made a fencing move with his violin bow, and John thought it was funny how both, the bow and the man's sharp nose, were suddenly angled upward, towards the ceiling.
“Revolving around some boring star is a repetitive and predictable affair. Revolving around the giants of 19th-century music, however, is what makes our dull existence worthwhile,“ Sherlock declared pointedly, bow still raised as if he were about to stab someone.
“Except that that 'boring star' is the sun that provides all the energy and warmth for our planet,“ John muttered under his breath, quickly adding, “Look, Sherlock, don't you ever listen to normal music?“
“Warmth is overrated. And if by 'normal' you mean that racket you were listening to in the shower this morning …“
“Racket?! That was an old Beatles song!“ John exclaimed.
Sherlock put the violin on his knee and started plucking at its strings distractedly. “Are they any good?“
“Are they– ? Are you serious? The Beatles!“
“Yes, I heard you just fine. Thank you, John.“
“Oh, you know what? Forget it.“ John shook his head in utter exasperation. “What sort of music do you like, then?“
Something came alive in Sherlock's pale eyes in that moment, as if a little spark had been ignited in them. “German music. It's more introspective than French or Italian music.“
“O-okay. And who are we talking here? Er … Bach?“
“19th century, John! Don't you ever listen?! Mendelssohn, Brahms, Bruch.“
“Oh … er … alright.“
“Though Russian music can be utterly delightful as well,“ Sherlock added thoughtfully. “The passion, the intensity.“
“Now, those are words I would have never thought I'd hear you say,“ John sniggered, which earned him a sharp look. “Er … well … that … ahem … Tchaikovsky thing you were playing earlier, can you play it again? It was rather nice.“
This time, the look he got was indignant, bordering on scathing.
But then those ridiculously elegant hands picked up the violin again, tucking it under a chiselled chin.
“Not nice, John. Perfect.“
The letter arrived a few weeks later.
Sherlock had been in one of his dark moods for days now – so much so that John had even rung up Lestrade behind his flatmate's back to find out if the 'delinquency fermata' (as Sherlock had put it) was over yet. Unfortunately, the criminal classes were apparently still lying dormant at the moment.
They could have died out altogether, for all John cared. He definitely needed some rest after Moriarty had met his timely end. It was Sherlock he was worried about.
And there was only so much violin music he could put up with at 3am every night. Especially, if said music did include neither Brahms nor Tchaikovsky and sounded more as if Sherlock were trying to strangle Mrs Hudson's poor cat in the living room in the middle of the night. Which he was, for all John knew.
That was why the letter was a welcome distraction from all the brooding and shooting the walls. It was, however, also the first bar of an unpredictable score …
“So, is it from the bloke who wanted your help earlier this year? The one who could be hanged?“
“Hm?“ Sherlock scratched the back of his head with the letter opener absent-mindedly. “Oh, no, no, no, John. That was in Belarus. The letter is from Moscow.“
“New case? That sounds promising.“ John set down a cup of tea in front of his friend, who didn't deem it worthy of his attention. “What's that in your hand, then?“
“Aeroplane ticket to Moscow.“
“Must be important, then,“ John pointed out, lowering himself onto the chair opposite Sherlock's. “Who's the client?“
“I … don't know,“ Sherlock murmured slowly, still staring at the letter in his hand, a frown on his sharply angled face. “This note came with it.“
John picked up the small slip of paper. It read:
I know how you love puzzles. This might be the grandest of them all.
He looked up in confusion. “That's all? Nothing about the case? That's ridiculous.“
“You're not really considering flying to Moscow because of that, are you?“
“I won't …“
“Good. That's good.“
“We, however, will.“
“Two tickets, John. Whoever sent this knows exactly who we are and how we operate.“
“I'm not flying halfway around the world just because some madman you know nothing about sent you a mysterious note.“
“Moscow's not halfway around the world. (Although I'll admit that you're the resident expert on the layout of our planet.) And it's not that I know nothing about the client,“ Sherlock lectured him, finally picking up his cup and taking a careful sip.
“So, you do know something about them, then?“
Sherlock looked up, and John felt mesmerised by the same spark that ignited in those slate grey eyes again; it was almost as if they were back to talking about violin music.
“Someone of considerable wealth. A traveller. Highly intelligent. Well-educated. Left-handed. Has connections to and influence on the Russian authorities. It's not much, I admit. But it's enough to be tantalisingly interesting.“
“You got all that from that letter?“
“Yes, John.“ Sherlock sounded impatient. “The wording of the note suggests that its author knows about the Moriarty case. It's almost an allusion to Moriarty's puzzles. Means that whoever wrote this has been keeping a very close eye on me. Means he's established clandestine connections with people in our environment. Hence, he's not simply sitting around in Moscow; he was here. In London. He even seems to know me so well that he's decided to not write the note by hand. He knows I'd be able to tell all sorts of things from his handwriting. No, it was printed and cut out. Neatly, but not overly so. The angle at which the scissors clipped the edges suggests that he is left-handed.“
“You said 'well-educated',“ John pointed out, trying to ignore the slight shiver that had just run down his spine at the mention of Moriarty's name.
“Just a hunch, I have to admit. But it says 'grandest'. You, for example, wouldn't say 'grandest', John.“
“Hang on, are you saying I'm not well-educated?“ John exclaimed.
“Fail to recognise one odd sonata and pay for it the rest of your life,“ John muttered darkly.
“It was Bartók,“ Sherlock stated calmly, as if that were an argument in itself.
“Bartók v Copernicus: one-nil,“ John growled.
At that, the great detective leaned back in his chair, raising one elegant eyebrow.
“Oh, never mind,“ John huffed.“What about his connections, then? You said something about influence.“
“You can't just travel to Moscow like that, John. You need a visa. Now, there are two visas enclosed. If you had ever tried to get a visa issued at the Russian Embassy, you'd know that it is a tedious affair that can take weeks. And, usually, you don't get one without signing a hundred different documents. Our visas were both stamped and dated on the same day. Means they weren't lying around for very long. Someone must have forged our passports, faked our signatures and bribed the right people to do this. Money and connections.“
Sherlock looked at him quizzically over his cup. And then, only for the fraction of a second, John caught the glimpse of an honest, warm smile on the man's face. “Brilliant enough to convince you to come with me?“