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Magpie: Two For Joy

Chapter Text

T minus 2 and counting

After replacing the cap on the black magic marker pen, Sherlock stands quietly, letting his eyes roam across the wall over the sofa. In the background, he can hear the CD recording of the Prince of Denmark's March, a piece written by Jeremiah Clarke in 1700. The music prompts a stray memory of when as an eight year old he had learned that the piece commonly called "The Trumpet Voluntary" was in fact written for the organ, and not the brass instrument. "Why is the title wrong?" he had asked his brother.

He could still hear Mycroft's superior sniff: "It's not an actual trumpet, Sherlock. It refers to a particular organ stop, generally a single rank reed stop, with vertical full-length resonators flared to form a bell; in traditional organ building, the trumpet stop makes a firmer, more solid-pitched tone than the French trompette, which emphasises overtones at the expense of fundamental note."

At some point in his childhood after that, Sherlock had come to loathe keyboard instruments, perhaps because Mycroft had always been such a know-all about them.

As the sun sets outside, Sherlock feels the cold; late spring days might be warming up, but the tonight it is forecast for a touch of frost, so he slips his camel dressing gown on over his shirt and trousers and then re-focuses his attention back on the wall. The smiley face is obscured by various pieces of paper, photographs and lists, floor plans, invoices, print outs of emails—even a map of the United Kingdom in the centre—useful for calculating travel distances and therefore the times between each milestone that will need to be passed along the way on a particular day. He's spent almost an hour today tracking down the latest road and rail construction areas that could interfere, mapping the traffic diversions in the designated target area and re-calculating travel times accordingly. Neatly typed and printed labels cordon off different parts of the wall. He has made an effort to keep it neat and tidy, because this wall is for more than just his own use. His eidetic memory means that he'd managed easily to do without a physical evidence board for most of his two years away, but Sherlock has to make an effort on this occasion to accommodate the less organised minds that are at work with him on this particular problem.

Various parts of the board are linked by strings of yarn, some in a tasteful shade of blue, others in a rather unfortunate pink to help those less able people draw the necessary connections through the data. The wool for both had been purloined from Mrs Hudson, after she abandoned the half-knitted scarf for her sister's godson, Peter, because the recipient had announced rather petulantly that there was no way on earth he'd wear something so ‘girly’. Sherlock has some sympathy with the ten year old; the pink is rather shocking and would have been a magnet for school yard bullying if she'd ever managed to finish it by last autumn. He'd finally resorted to using the yarn strings to help the others learn chapter and verse exactly what is required of them. He certainly doesn't need the visual reminder of who needs to do what to whom, by when, even if the why still sometimes eluded him.

Behind him, Sherlock can feel the emptiness of the flat pressing against his back. The sensation still bothers him, and the fact that he is so aware of the absence of John tonight bothers him even more. He's spent years alone; now and what is to come should be no different. But, no matter how often he tells himself that, building this evidence wall is the hardest thing he's ever done. It demands things of him that he'd never believed he would willingly do. Sherlock shifts his weight and squares his shoulders a bit, drawing in a deep breath. Once more unto the breach...

The wall has come to serve as a canvass of his life for the past five months. He, Mary and John have stood or sat in front of it at least twice a week and talked. But, oddly, the more the three of them are drawn to this wall, the worse his anxiety has become. He cannot help but feel each moment ticking down; it is worse than that digital counter on the underground bomb, because this time there is no off switch, no way to turn off the electricity current, no last minute intervention to stop the countdown, delay or defer the inevitable. He has submerged himself in the planning, losing himself in the minutiae as if paying enough attention to the details could help obscure the end result.

It is the end of 'T minus two and counting'. John and Mary are getting married the day after tomorrow, just as he has planned it in exact detail. The irony of using his case evidence techniques for wedding planning is not lost on him. I am guilty of planning and executing a crime against myself, against John and even Mary, too.

A twinge in his jaw reminds him that he'd been clenching his teeth rather too much lately.

Tomorrow is the rehearsal dinner. The guest list is neatly typed —pinned lower middle wall, just above the sofa. He's just drawn a line through one of the guest names—Janine Hawkins— she'd emailed Mary just an hour ago to cry off. Mary's forwarded e mail said that Janine's employer has demanded her presence at a business meeting in Paris tomorrow, which is to be followed by an evening dinner hosted for the Monsieur Harlem Desir, the Minister in charge of European Affairs. But, Mary added, "not to worry; she promises she will be there on the day."

The wedding is the day after tomorrow, so in theory Miss Hawkins should be back in time, but just in case she does not show, Sherlock has already briefed one of the other bridesmaids, Sarah Chambers, a fellow nurse at the surgery. He'd prepared a typed sheet of instructions. "Think of it as being an understudy; one never hopes for misfortune, but it could be to your benefit, Miss Chambers. The Maid of Honour's present is considerably more valuable than the one chosen for ordinary bridesmaids. It might just compensate you for the fact that you are unlikely ever to wear again the bridesmaid's dress, given that lilac does not suit someone with ginger hair and your complexion. Have you thought of dying your hair blonde for the day? It will mean that you wouldn't clash with the bride in the wedding photos." The young woman had given him a rather insulted look, before saying "no."

Sherlock mentally re-organises the dinner table plan, and thinks about the actual day, in case Mary's assessment proves too optimistic about Miss Hawkins. He grimaces slightly that he might be forced to sit next to the Sarah Chambers on the high table at the Wedding Breakfast. At least before the rehearsal dinner he should be able to assess her ability to follow instructions. He is all in favour of the idea of a rehearsal—every activity on the wall has been carefully timed and the schedule is meticulously worked out in minute-by-minute detail, but even then proper contingency requires a dry run. But why this has also to be an occasion for eating and drinking, Sherlock cannot understand. There is so much of this process that he has found perplexing.

Sherlock idly wonders whether he might be able to bribe Lestrade to call him away from the restaurant tomorrow night with an urgent case. He could promise John to be back in time for the actual wedding; it is worth a try to avoid at least this part of the (shudder) socialising that comes with the nuptial event. The next two days are going to be something out of his worst nightmares- people, noise, confusion, petty conversations, and then, to top it all, having to give a speech in front of an audience. The last time he'd done that, it was at Moriarty's trial and that had ended up with him being arrested for contempt of court.

He sighs.

Sherlock drops down to his knees and uses the blank sheet of paper on the coffee table to draw a thin rectangle and then inserted the names of the six people along one side, then climbed onto the sofa to post up the Plan B version of the Reception top table. Just in case Miss Hawkins is a no-show. In the process, his eye is drawn to the enlarged photograph of the wall-paper in the Orangery of the Arnsworth Castle hotel: a bright sunny yellow, with painted greenery and a series of large blue and white birds elegantly flying about. He'd used the photo to help with the choice of fabrics for the bridesmaids' dresses and for the flowers and table arrangements. Mary had adored the room, but there is something that annoys him about the birds.

They are what might charitably be termed ‘artistically’ drawn, rather than faithful to any particular species of bird. At first, he had thought of them as akin to Fairy Terns, a smallish all white sea-faring bird with an elegant forked swallow-like tail. He'd seen them off the South Indian sea coast. Or perhaps swallows, but the birds on the mural are too big for either swallows or terns, and their colouring is all wrong. These soaring on the reception room walls remind him a bit of magpies, with white on their body and heads. But the blue isn't the right hue, there is no green or black as there should be for Pica pica, and a magpie's tail is not forked. He wonders why the idea had come into his head that they were magpies.

And then he remembers the rhyme: Two for joy.