Shadow of Hope
There it was again. That violin. This was the fifth night in a row. At first, John had thought someone had finally moved into 221C despite the damp and was practising. He'd checked with Mrs Hudson, who'd heard the music too, but insisted there was no one down there. Together, they'd gone to check and found the place as empty as it was supposed to be.
"Perhaps it's a student renting somewhere nearby, dear. It's been warm for a change this summer. We've all had the windows open."
Her perfectly plausible explanation didn't satisfy him. He couldn't explain it. It simply didn't feel right.
The first night he'd heard it, he'd thought he was imagining it. He'd done a fair amount of that lately. Wishful thinking and all that. He'd decided to ignore it.
The second night, he examined the music logically. (Living with Sherlock had rubbed off on him.) He recognised that he wouldn't likely imagine the missed notes, the fumbled of arpeggios, or the intermittent squeals caused by poor bow technique. (It wasn't just Sherlock's logic that had rubbed off on him, apparently.)
The third night, the music seemed to make a drastic leap in quality. As if the skill of the violinist had blossomed overnight. Maybe Mrs Hudson was right. It could be a student. One who'd been away from music for a while and was diving back in. That would explain the shaky start and sudden improvement.
The fourth night, he went for a walk. He didn't know what he expected to find. He knew it wasn't Sherlock; Sherlock would never have played as poorly as this person initially had. He told himself he just wanted to figure out where the music came from. What building or possibly even which flat held the practising violinist. Once, he thought he was close, but then the music stopped abruptly and he lost the trail.
The fifth night, tonight, the music was all too familiar. He'd been listening to it ever since Mycroft had brought him the rare recording of Sherlock playing Bach's Partita for solo violin. John never asked how or why the recording existed. He didn't care. As it wafted out of the darkness now, it filled him with heartache and hope despite his certainty that this player was a stranger.
He went out again, more determined than ever to find the source. He kept his eyes up, looking at the lit windows of the flats above the various shops lining Baker Street. None contained the silhouette of a person and violin.
It was near by. He must be close. He sighed in frustration and turned at the end of the block.
And there she was in the shadow of a darkened doorway. The drycleaner, he noted absently, closed for the night. He froze and held his breath. He tried to do as Sherlock always insisted he must: observe. What did he see?
An Indian girl. Maybe as old as twenty? Homeless by the looks of her hair and clothes. Too thin. Probably from malnourishment. Possibly from something worse. And yet she held in her hands a violin that seemed to exude a warm golden glow in the darkness. She was completely absorbed in the music she played, unaware that she was observed.
He was missing something.
He heard Sherlock's voice in his memory: You see but you don't observe.
I'm trying! his mind insisted.
It struck him. The case. Where was the violin case? She might not have one, but if not surely she would put out something else to catch any coins tossed her way. He spotted what he thought might be the violin's case, a shape behind her legs. There was nothing else. No cup or hat or bowl. Besides, this wasn't where buskers went, if that's what she was. So what was she doing here? There was no one passing, no one stopping to listen to her.
No one but John.
She reached the end of the piece and the silence that followed was a suspended moment of time that seemed to go on forever.
"That was beautiful," said John eventually.
She looked up in shock and fear. Her instinct to run was palpable. She stood her ground, shaking slightly, but steadfast.
"Where did you learn to play like that?"
"Around. School. Lessons."
He dared a step forward and was relieved when she didn't back away or flee. "And that piece?"
She was immediately defensive. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have. I thought--"
"It's one I remembered, sort of." The bow dangled at the end of her right hand, the violin held by the neck in her left.
"It sounded better than 'sort of' to me."
She shrugged. "You listened to it a lot."
"Yeah. I did."
A silence fell between them, cautious but not as fraught as it might have been.
"I'm John." He held out a hand.
She didn't shake it. "I know."
"Ah." He nodded. He shouldn't be surprised. His face had been in nearly as many papers as Sherlock's had at the time. "Right."
Another silence. John waited.
Eventually, she said, "I'm Asha."
"Pleasure to meet you, Asha."
"Do you-- Should I go?"
"Why would you think that?"
She shrugged again. "I'm sorry if I bothered you. I-- I wanted to help."
"To help? Help what?"
Unexpected emotion struck him like a sucker punch to the heart. Tears pricked the backs of his eyes and he cleared his throat against a sudden lump. "You-- Uhm. You wanted to help me?" She looked more in need of help herself.
He cleared his throat again and asked, "Why?"
Another shrug. "I dunno."
"Do you-- Would you like a cup of tea?"
Her expression was suddenly wary. "Tea?"
It was John's turn to shrug. "Or coffee."
Asha shook her head and shot a glance up the street to the door of 221B Baker Street. "No. Thanks."
He understood. "Okay. Look. I work at a clinic. Part time. If you ever need anything, you can come see me. Or someone else if you'd rather. It's safe there. You understand?"
He knew it was a long shot that she would ever come in for help. It was a long shot, now that he'd met her, that she'd come back here for a sixth night.
"Right. I'll leave you to it then. You're very good, you know."
"Right," he said again and turned to go. Two steps away, he paused and turned back. "Can I ask--? Where'd you get the violin?"
She looked at it as if she'd forgotten it hung there in her hand. "It's mine. I pawned it ages ago. I don't know how she got it, but she gave it back to me."
"Weird lady. Has a shop."
"Ah." He didn't need more explanation. He knew who she must mean. "Good night."
He turned again and walked back to his flat. The strains of a solo violin followed him inside and up the stairs. He sat down by the empty hearth, closed his eyes, and listened.