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Neither A Soldier Nor A Gentleman

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"The time is 1:06, and you're listening to the BBC World Service with Valerie Sanderson. Here are some of the top stories of the hour.

"It's being reported today that a terrorist group based in Pakistan has released a video depicting the execution of what appears to be a western hostage. There is currently some speculation that the group responsible is Lashkar e Taiba, but the LeT have yet to comment on the tape or take formal responsibility.

"The actual identity of the female hostage and the circumstances revolving around her kidnapping are also, as of yet, unclear, although a package allegedly containing possessions belonging to the victim has been anonymously delivered to the district office of the British High Commission, located in Karachi, Pakistan. This has prompted speculation that she was a British National.

"The High Commission has released a statement saying that it is working with Karachi authorities to determine identity, but in the meantime the government of Pakistan is urging anyone who may have any information to come forward.

"The LeT have previously taken responsibility for the 2001 attack on India's Parliament, which killed 15 and injured 18, as well as the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, which killed 164 and injured another 308.

"In this video, the female hostage is depicted kneeling on the ground in front of six militants, while one reads—oh. There is breaking news.

"It is now being reported that the LeT have confirmed responsibility for this video, and that they have stated that the woman is in fact a British National, although her actual identity remains unconfirmed. Once again, this is breaking news. The terrorist group Lashkar e Taiba has now taken responsibility—"

With a faintly satisfied expression Sherlock jabbed at the radio's power button and muttered "Bon Voyage, Mycroft," under his breath, before he strode to the window to stare out onto the dark, rain-drenched, and empty London street with unfocused eyes. His mind was turned inward and he was back in Karachi again, back with Irene Adler.

He blindly reached out for his violin and bow, and immediately launched into a dreamy, legato version of the melody he'd begun to compose after Christmas, allowing himself to become fully immersed in recent memories and images.

Then, just as he was drawing out an A# and A with light, fluid strokes, he heard the front door open and close, and by the time he concluded the final phrase's sustained D, familiar footsteps were entering the drawing room.

Without turning from the window or offering any preamble, Sherlock asked, "Did you pick up more coffee?"

He heard the thud of a duffle bag being dropped onto the carpet, and a beat passed as John processed what Sherlock had asked. "Um. . . sorry, what? Did I pick up more coffee from where? Hello, by the way."

"At the shop, obviously," Sherlock said in an impatient tone. "Isn't that where you've just been?" He had to work to keep the amusement out of his voice, and he listened with suppressed mirth as his flatmate's silence transitioned predictably from mute disbelief into resigned acceptance in one short exhalation.

"No. . . No, I've just come from Euston Station," John said. "I was in Northampton, remember? My cousin's wedding."

"Oh," Sherlock said with a bored sigh, but a coy smile played around his lips. "So 'no' on the coffee, then?" He finally faced John and set down the violin and bow with a flourish, a look of idle disappointment on his face.

"No coffee!" John said in a long-suffering but ultimately good-natured tone, stepping around his bag and then falling wearily into the sofa. "Besides the tragic lack of coffee, how are things going here? Anything interesting happen while I was gone? Any new cases?" he picked up one of the many papers strewn about the coffee table and skimmed the cover, then glanced up to check Sherlock's expression. Sherlock just yawned widely, giving every indication that he was incredibly bored, including by their conversation itself.

"Nothing you need to know about," he sighed dismissively, a slight pout on his face.

"Right then," John nodded, opening up the paper, while Sherlock turned back to the window and picked up his instrument again.

This time his reflection revealed a hard, triumphant grin, as he congratulated himself for his performance with John. Life at 221B Baker Street appeared as if it had reverted to business as normal—as if Sherlock had never been gone at all, in fact, which was exactly how he wanted it to seem (how it must seem).

And yet the change within himself was an altogether different matter; that was indelible and, he knew, permanent.

He had previously believed that his solitude and isolation protected him, but she had conclusively convinced him of something that his relationship with John had already started to suggest: that the rewards from opening up to another person could more than compensate for the risk. It was true that he had first come to that conclusion in the heat of passion, but it had remained just as evident during the cold intervening thirty-one hours since. It turned out that in a life spent in one long effort to escape the commonplace of existence, he had discovered something truly exceptional in an experience that was so very commonplace for ordinary people. . .

And even now, with a distance of over 3460 miles between them, he could still keenly feel her presence and influence, and he could detect no reason why that would change or fade in the future. No matter how often she might switch aliases, she would always remain The Woman to him.

He poised his bow over the violin strings again and as he began to play another melody—one begun in bed on a ship in the Arabian Sea and completed there in Baker Street—the grin faltered, then faded.

"Mm, that's new, isn't it," John commented from the sofa when Sherlock finished several minutes later, oblivious to the younger man's trance-like state. "One of yours?"

Sherlock blinked, then made an aloof, noncommittal noise that his flatmate correctly took as an affirmative, and replaced his violin in its case, but didn't turn from the window. He wasn't ready to let go of his reverie.

He vaguely noticed John nod favourably in the reflection, then ask, "Have you got a name for it?"

Sherlock hesitated, then decided that sharing that small bit of information wouldn't jeopardise anything. And perhaps if he compartmentalised what had happened and shared just one token—and barely one, at that—it would be easier to withhold everything else.

"Saudade," he answered tersely, as he slipped a hand into the pocket of his dressing gown to finger at the gold band that had been dropped there.

If John made any reply to that, Sherlock didn't take notice. He was feeling the pull of recent memory again, and the expression reflecting in the window had become one of fierce longing.

Still, he wouldn't have changed a thing.