John wakes up in his bed, flailing and gasping for breath, the taste of blood in his mouth. There's a fading pain in his chest, and a lingering terror that dissipates as he takes in his familiar surroundings. He presses his hand against his chest and feels smooth, unbroken flesh.
It's okay, he tells himself, rubbing his chest. It was just a dream.
But when the sun rises and John gets up, everything feels different. He feels different, in a way he doesn't understand until after he makes his bed and brushes his teeth and shaves his face and walks into the coffee table he always forgets about, on his way to the kitchen.
Because when he walks into the table, he feels a quick pressure, and then nothing. He looks down. The table is right where he expects it to be. His right leg is right where the table is, and when he realizes that, his leg fades, becoming translucent until he can see the top of the table.
Well, that's not good.
John still gets nightmares about Afghanistan. That's the worst part of it all, he thinks -- he still has dreams about sand and drowning to death in his own blood. But they're more memory than nightmare.
After the really bad nights, he wakes choking and coughing with blood leaking from his chest, still dressed in his uniform. It doesn't hurt, exactly, but the spreading patch of red on his uniform and the rattling, bubbling sound his lungs make as he struggles to inhale forces him to the bathroom. He stands under the shower with the water turned up as hot as it goes, until the water that swirls down the drain is no longer pink with his blood.
The blood, on the sheets and the ground and as smeared hand prints on the door frame, fades into nothingness by the time he stops bleeding and is no longer wearing his uniform.
There is someone moving into his flat.
John supposes it had to happen eventually. When he was deployed, he'd kept up with the rent, but the money he'd sent Mrs. Hudson had run out nearly two months ago.
The man directing movers into the flat is one he's never seen before. He is tall, pale, and has the most cutting cheekbones John's seen in a long time. He stops at the living room and takes in the sparse furniture - sofa, coffee table, desk. No dining room table, no telly, and mostly-empty shelves, because John had really only kept the flat to have somewhere to go when on leave.
Mrs. Hudson follows him in. "It comes pre-furnished," she says to the man. “I thought you might like it.”
"The rent's low," the man agrees. "Lower than the norm, and you're still having trouble finding a tenant. What's in here isn't just furniture. There are personal objects here too. The person who lived here last is dead now, and no one has come to collect his belongings, so you've left them. No one wants to live in a flat that belonged to someone who died recently."
John expects the man to leave now, because who would want to live in a flat belonging to a dead man? But instead, he claps his hands together and says brightly, "Brilliant! How did he die? Was it murder? No, wait, don't tell me, I want to find out for myself," he says before Mrs. Hudson can get a word in edgewise.
"So you like it, then?" Mrs. Hudson asks finally, when she finishes showing the man around the flat, and the movers have all left. John's flat now has another armchair, bookshelves, a telly, and all the other comforts he'd never gotten around to purchasing for himself.
The man nods. "Yes, of course. I already said I'd take it, didn't I?"
Mrs. Hudson nods. "Of course, Sherlock. I'll just be going then. Let me know if you need anything else."
“Tea. And something to eat,” Sherlock says.
So his name's Sherlock, then. "Hi Sherlock," John says. "It's nice to meet you."
Sherlock doesn't answer, already poking through the remnants of John's life.
Sherlock doesn't sleep that night. Instead, he goes through the flat methodically, looking at all the things John had left out when he'd died, picking things up and turning them around.
There isn't much there. John hadn't had many personal effects that he'd left at the flat rather than bring with him to Afghanistan, and the only things left now were the things Harry hadn't deemed important enough to keep -- furniture and household goods, mainly, which she'd asked Mrs. Hudson to take care of.
"Military," he declares aloud when he walks into John's bedroom, John trailing behind him. He runs his hand over a corner of the bed, then rubs his fingertips together. "No dust," he says, as if it's important.
Sherlock picks the lock to his desk drawer, and his eyes widen with surprised pleasure when he sees the gun. He reaches for it.
"Don't touch that," John warns. "It's mine."
But of course Sherlock doesn't hear him and picks it up anyways. He opens it up easily, checking if it's loaded -- it is, examining the thin layer of dust on it, running his fingers over it as if it's telling him something. He sniffs the barrel, checking for something, but John doesn't know what. When he speaks, it's in a low murmur, talking to himself. "A military man, who was a good shot, and treated his equipment well. Responsible around dangerous objects. Killed in action."
"Someone took most, but not all, of his personal effects, and left everything else -- someone troubled with their own problems. A sibling, not his parents, because only a sibling would leave anything that had belonged to him. Parents would have kept it. Not friends, because a friend would have arranged for the remainder to be disposed of."
Sherlock touches a pad of paper, adjusts the lamp on John's desk, and takes in the precise, impersonal neatness of the room. He closes his eyes, and thinks. "Someone who didn't relax here. He'd gotten the flat after he joined the military, didn't have anyone waiting for him. Everything in its place."
"That's amazing," John says. "How did you know?"
Sherlock doesn't respond, but John hadn't been expecting him to.
John's been dead for nearly half a year. He's had a lot of time to think about his existence, and to explore the boundaries of his new life after death. It hasn't amounted to much. He has no idea why he's here, no idea if he can communicate with anyone at all.
He hasn't had a proper conversation with another human being since the day he died. He'd thought about writing a note for Harry, maybe, except that that sounds like the sort of thing that would be interpreted as a bad joke in really bad taste, and he doesn't want to hurt her.
The first couple weeks were okay, peaceful even, in comparison to Afghanistan, and he'd enjoyed the safety of being in a familiar location where nothing could hurt him. But he's been spending more and more time asleep lately, just to stave off the boredom. When he's too bored, he prefers even the nightmares to the empty loneliness.
John finds out about Sherlock the more normal way -- that is, spying on him when he's on his computer, having already reset John's router and switched the internet to his name.
His name is Sherlock Holmes, and his website is called The Science of Deduction. He calls himself "the world's only consulting detective", which sounds a lot like being a private detective, only more pretentious. He gets quite a few emails per day, and reads most of them, but replies to less than half.
He starts a little when John leans over his shoulder at the table to read what he's writing, and looks straight at John.
"Can you see me?" John asks, and touches Sherlock's shoulder.
Sherlock jumps, slamming shut his laptop, and touches the spot John touched him, his hand going through John's with no resistance. "Who's there?"
No one's been this aware of him before. He'd tried talking to Mrs. Hudson when she'd first come into the flat after hearing about his death, but she hadn't been able to hear him, and she hadn't reacted when he'd put an awkward arm around her shoulders, when she'd begun to weep.
John touches Sherlock's other shoulder. Sherlock scowls, and he takes a deep breath. "Mycroft, if this is one of your games, it's so juvenile that I'd have expected it to be beneath you."
"I'm not Mycroft," John says, and casts about for something he can do to prove it -- his eyes light on a Biro next to an envelope in a corner of the desk, and he reaches for it. Sherlock snatches it from John the moment he starts to pick it up. He turns it over and over, examining it this way and that.
He's just started dismantling it when John picks up the envelope. Sherlock's attention shifts to it with a laser-like intensity, followed quickly by bemusement. "Can you see me? Can you see what I'm doing? Floating envelope, right?" John asks, waving the envelope in front of Sherlock's face, but the man is still looking at the space it used to be.
He presses the envelope to the side of Sherlock's arm, but it passes through him. It has become as ghostly as John himself is. When he lets go of it, it lands on the table with a soft rustle, and Sherlock touches his fingertips to it.
"Mycroft," he says again, in sharp, terse tones. He looks around. "You know I don't care for your theatrics."
"I'm not Mycroft," John repeats, because even if Sherlock can't hear him, it feels good to speak to someone else, someone who's actually there.
Sherlock sets the Biro back down, and this time John grabs it as quickly as he can. Sherlock starts, but doesn't seem to be frightened, just annoyed, at seeing it start to rise, and just as quickly disappear.
John bends over the envelope on the desk. He starts to write I'm not Mycroft, but before he finishes the first word, Sherlock slams his palm down on it. His hand goes through John's hand and the Biro, and he takes up the envelope without seeming to notice John's grasp on it.
"I'm," Sherlock reads aloud, and examines the envelope with a magnifying glass pulled from one of his coat pockets. He rubs the pad of his index finger over the word, and the ink smears. "Fresh," he says. "Slight indentations where the pen was pressed against the paper."
John pinches the edge of the envelope, concentrating; on his third attempt, moving carefully, he feels the thick sheets of paper between his fingers. He tugs, just as carefully, and is rewarded with Sherlock letting go of the envelope. When he lets go, it becomes fully solid in his hand, and John scribbles his message on the back, using his hip as a table rather than set it down on the desk and risk it being taken from him again.
He finishes and puts it, and the pen, back on the corner of the desk.
"I'm not Mycroft," Sherlock reads aloud. He doesn't touch either object. "My name is John. John who? Who sent you? How are you writing to me?"
John Watson. I lived here before I went to Afghanistan. I died, and woke up here, John writes, and Sherlock looks right at him.
"You're standing right in front of me, then," he says, "Judging from the orientation of the text. Interesting. How did you die?"
I got shot, John writes, and when Sherlock leans into him, literally, to read the words, he adds, Your head is intersecting my torso, and draws a frowning face.
Sherlock moves out of him, and the strange, uncomfortable pressure in his side goes away. "You're writing to me on an envelope, presumably with the pen that disappeared just now. Where did it go?"
I was holding it. John drops it from a few feet in the air, and Sherlock puts his hand out to catch it before it lands in his lap.
Sherlock grins. "Fascinating. My very own ghost. My brother will be so jealous."
Sherlock has a million questions for him -- what can he do, where can he go, why can't he see him, and he digs out a notebook and a pencil for John when the envelope is too densely packed with text to add any more.
John flips through the first few pages, and sees notes -- drawings and names and scraps of thought, for the cases Sherlock takes on.
"Keep it," Sherlock says. "We can use it to communicate, since I can't hear or see you."
Thank you, John writes, and tears out the words. He folds it neatly and lobs it at Sherlock's chest.
Sherlock catches it easily, and unfolds the paper. "You're welcome."
The police come with a case -- serial suicides, but they think it's murder, and Sherlock disappears to investigate. When he returns, he is carrying a bright pink suitcase.
It doesn't suit you, John writes, and crumples the scrap of paper, throwing it at Sherlock's chest.
"Was that supposed to be a joke? It's not very funny," Sherlock says, and proceeds to explain everything about the case to him. When John doesn't say anything, he scowls. "Well? Anything?"
I'm not sure.
"Yes, thank you, John. That's very helpful," Sherlock replies sarcastically, and throws the paper back at him -- it sails through his chest and lands on the armchair behind him. "Keep thinking about it. I need to investigate further."
Whilst he's gone again, the police break into John's flat.
"Hey! You can't do that!" John shouts, but one of the policemen walks right through him, and begins rifling through Sherlock's papers on the fireplace, and the still-unpacked boxes of stuff on the floor.
Vindictively, John does the first thing that comes to mind -- he flips the light switch, plunging them into darkness.
"Who put out the light?" One man asks, and turns it back on. John waits for him to turn away before turning it off again. It's not a bad start, and John has lots more ideas where that's come from. He had, after all, heard plenty of ghost stories and watched a fair share of horror movies, when he'd been alive.
John turns on and off the lights, the water faucets, and the shower. He boils a kettle of water. He throws things at the intruders - pens and cushions, mostly, because it seems wrong to throw a book, and that's the only other thing at hand.
He tries scaring one of the policewomen leading the way up the stairs to his room, by blowing on the back of her neck and tugging, with much effort, on the hem of her jacket. But rather than shrieking, she whirls and gets him full in the face with a burst of what he thinks might be tear gas. It doesn't hurt per se, but it feels distinctly unpleasant, and he keeps wanting to sneeze, but he can't. He doesn't try touching any of the officers again.
He tries making the walls bleed, but he hasn't any idea how to go about it, and has to settle for scrawling "LEAVE" on the living room wall with a can of Sherlock's shaving cream from the bathroom. One of the men lets out a shriek when he sees it, and John is inordinately proud.
"Drugs bust again?" Sherlock asks when he arrives home, and very nearly has a gun drawn on him.
"Drugs bust," confirms Lestrade, who seems to be in charge. He's one of the few officers present who's remained calm. John likes him. "And what a coincidence! We found the suitcase belonging to the last victim, in your flat. But look here, Sherlock, what kind of security have you put into place this time? We've agreed you wouldn't set any dangerous traps in here, or we're not going to work with you."
Sherlock makes a dismissive motion with his hands. "Oh, this wasn't my fault. My flat's haunted. Fellow by the name of John. Can't do anything about it really," he says, but he looks pleased. And then he launches into an explanation about the victim's mobile, and contacting the murderer, and hits on an epiphany about how to track the phone, that he doesn't share with anyone before running out again.
John continues to spend his time mildly terrorizing the officers until they finally leave, because a drugs bust? Really? That's a pretty flimsy excuse to be harassing him in his own home with, and he doesn't appreciate strangers rummaging through his belongings or stomping about in his room.
He doesn't realize something's wrong until the police have been gone twenty minutes and Sherlock for more than that. The flat feels different. Something that belongs here, with John, is missing. He searches the rooms until he finally finds the source of the empty place in his surroundings.
His gun is gone.
Most of what John knows about being a ghost he found out himself. He knows he can't walk out of the flat. He knows he can affect the things around him, but it's harder when they're alive. He knows that Sherlock can tell when John touches him, but most people don't notice. He knows that Harry's better off grieving him, because he can't come back, and trying will only hurt her.
But there are other things he knows, too. He can't explain why he knows them, just that he does, a feeling deep in his bones.
He can sense when someone enters his flat. If he concentrates and takes a step in just the right way, he can visit his grave, which is pleasant and well-kept, but also disturbing. But most importantly, he can tell when something has been taken from him, and where he can go to get it back.
John closes his eyes and thinks of his firearm. He thinks about its grip warming in his hand, and its weight pressed against the small of his back. He remembers nights spent cleaning it, and the smell of solvent on his fingers. He remembers the recoil it makes against his hand when he pulls the trigger, and the smell of gunpowder and smoke.
When he opens his eyes, he is somewhere he doesn't recognize.
As it turns out, John is capable of killing someone with his bare hands even when incorporeal.
"I thought you couldn't leave the flat," Sherlock announces afterwards, when they finally return home. John had followed him to the police station, because his gun was still tucked into the waistband of Sherlock's trousers. The change of scenery had been a breath of fresh air.
Detective Inspector Lestrade had been suspicious, and matters hadn't been helped by the unlicensed firearm he'd found on Sherlock's person. But the coroner had declared the murderer's death to be by natural causes, the gun had clearly not been fired nor any gunshots reported, and even having known Sherlock for only a day, John could see how badly Scotland Yard needed his skills.
Even if he had killed the murderer, he'd probably have been able to get away with it -- especially in the name of self-defense.
John casts about for the notebook and Biro, and on finding it tossed on top of one of the unpacked boxes, he writes, anger rising, You took my firearm. I followed it. You could have died if I wasn't there. What were you thinking?
"I wouldn't have died," Sherlock says, flippantly. "I'm fairly sure I chose the correct pill. I'll check the lab results when they arrive."
THEY WERE BOTH POISON!!!!!! WHAT KIND OF IDIOT ARE YOU. John scrawls, and makes a frustrated scribble right below the words. He throws the notebook at Sherlock. It hits him in the chest, not becoming visible quickly enough for Sherlock to block it.
Sherlock frowns when he reads it. "Don't be ridiculous. They couldn't both be poisoned, or we'd both die."
IT'S BLOODY IOCANE POWDER YOU DOLT, John writes on a scrap of newspaper when he tries to take back the notebook and his fingers pass through it harmlessly. Give me back the notebook.
Sherlock sets it on the coffee table. "There's no such poison as iocane. Make me a cup of tea, will you?"
Make your own tea. He built up an immunity or took an antidote beforehand, and then offered two poisoned pills. You would have died. Right now, Sherlock is the only company he's got, and his only way out of the flat. John doesn't want to think about going back to the loneliness of an empty flat, and no one to talk to.
Sherlock considers the sheet of paper John puts on the table. "Of course. If he wanted to outlive as many people as possible, he'd have to cheat. It's so obvious! There'd be no way to ensure all his victims chose the right pill, not when choosing randomly results in a fifty-fifty chance! How did you know?"
My ex-girlfriend loved The Princess Bride, John writes.
"What's that? Is it a film?"
You haven't seen it? We should watch it.
"I don't watch films," Sherlock says. "And I'm still waiting on that tea, if you please. I've had a trying day. I'm in shock, you know," he adds with a teasing smile. "They put a blanket on me to prove it."
John laughs, and when he makes the tea, he tells himself it's because he hasn't made tea in ages, and it feels good to do something familiar. He even drinks some, because it turns out he can.
It doesn't taste as good as he remembers, but he doesn't mind.
John helps Sherlock unpack his things and finish moving in, and tells him in detail what John had done to the team conducting the drugs bust before Sherlock had arrived.
In exchange, Sherlock buys a boatload of post-it notes for the flat and makes an account on his computer for John to log into, because it turns out he's perfectly capable of typing, if he puts his mind to it. When he's online, it's hardly as if anyone can tell that the person they're talking to is already dead.
If John feels bored, he can make himself a cuppa and go online, or watch the telly, or read one of the books in Sherlock's library. If he feels lonely, he can stretch his consciousness out and coalesce it around his firearm, joining Sherlock when he's out, because Sherlock still hasn't returned it, and gives no indication that he ever intends to do so.
"Your name is John Watson. You're an army doctor. When the convoy you were on got ambushed, you caught a bullet in the chest while protecting your teammates. You are survived by your sister Harriet and your parents, Amelia and Ambrose. You look like this," and Sherlock drops the photograph on the kitchen table, on top of a box of takeaway.
It is the photograph from his driving license.
How did you get that? John writes, and sticks the post-it note on the blown-up image of his face; it's a terrible photo. I hate that picture.
"Immaterial. I could use a doctor, for my cases. I could use a ghost, too, for the surveillance opportunities alone, let alone what else you can do," Sherlock says, and then adds, "It has to be better than sitting about in the flat all day."
The first time John accompanies Sherlock to a case, the detective ends up with pockets stuffed full of used post-it notes, and manages to garner more than a few strange looks from the officers who'd seen Sherlock having a conversation seemingly by himself.
"Sherlock," Lestrade says, and pulls Sherlock off to the side while he's in the middle of a crime scene. Sherlock motions for John to keep examining the body, but John can still hear every word.
"Yes? What is it?"
"Some of the boys have noticed you've been talking to someone who isn't there, and frankly, we're a bit concerned. If you're --"
"I think best when I can speak my thoughts aloud," Sherlock interrupts irritably. "It has nothing to do with cocaine, which you'd know, if you'd bothered to examine my eyes."
"You've been working with us for years now, and I've never seen you do it before. Is everything okay?"
Cause of death: NOT the fall. Signs of asphyxiation. John writes, and puts the note in Sherlock's pocket, carefully folded, giving the thick coat a tug to let Sherlock know he'd done so.
"Your concern, which I'm sure can be interpreted as touching, is both unfounded and unnecessary." Sherlock sticks his hand in his pocket, and John sees his fingers curl into a fist around his latest message. "Now if you'll excuse me, I have a murder to solve."
After that, Sherlock buys John a mobile. "Here's my number," he says, and brings it up on his own phone. "Send me a text message."
John does so, and after a few moments, Sherlock's phone vibrates. Maybe this way the police won't think you're mad, the message says.
Sherlock grins brightly. "Quite." Sherlock types out a reply, and John's phone buzzes in his hand.
What else can we do?
John presses the call button. Sherlock looks at it for a long moment before answering. "John?" There's a couple seconds of delay between his words and when it comes out of the earpiece on John's phone. Just like in normal phones.
"Hi, Sherlock," he says, and waits tensely for a reaction.
"Hello, John. I didn't know you could speak to me. There's a disappointing dearth of proper research on the matter."
"I say things, but you can't hear me. Same way you can't see me," John explains into the phone. "I wonder how the phone works. It goes through things when I hold it, you know."
"I don't see how it can exist at all when it's incorporeal, let alone sustain a connection with one that's solid," Sherlock says petulantly. “The science for this is all wrong.” He looks perhaps one mild inconvenience away from a good sulk.
"Magic," John says, mostly to see the face Sherlock makes when confronted with something that can't be explained. It's as funny as he'd expected.
"There's no such thing as magic, only things that haven't yet been explained by science. Anyways, we'll need hands free devices, for the mobiles. Order them for us, will you?" Sherlock drops a credit card on the coffee table, and John picks it up.
It belongs to DI Lestrade. "I'm not sure we should be using a stolen credit card for this," John points out, and Sherlock snorts.
"I've done worse. But if it bothers you so badly, you can use this one instead."
The second card belongs to Mycroft Holmes. John briefly wonders if Sherlock has a credit card under his own name. "Who's Mycroft? You mentioned his name when we first met," John says.
"My brother. He has me under surveillance, and I'm sure he'd love to know what I've been purchasing. Consider it a favor to him. I'm sure he will. Oh, and we're out of biscuits. I know you've been eating them, and I'm sure there's a shop that does online delivery nowadays, so." Sherlock levels an expectant look at John.
John throws a cushion at him (but he orders the biscuits anyways).
Sometimes, he wonders what would have happened if he hadn't died, if the bullet had hit him somewhere less fatal than his lungs. If he'd returned to London as an invalided soldier, rather than a corpse. If he'd met Sherlock as a man, and not a ghost.
Maybe Sherlock would know everything about him at first sight, reading into his clothing, his facial expressions, his manner of talking. Maybe he'd be uninterested in John, because John wouldn't be violating the laws of physics with his very existence. Maybe they'd meet, and Sherlock would say something unbearably rude, and John would see him as a tosser and never see past that, and that would be it.
Or maybe Sherlock would find something about John that interested him, and John would understand that Sherlock said rude things out of indifference rather than malice, and they'd become friends, or even flatmates. And they would live together much as they do now, but John would probably be more bothered at the sight of the dead, and have fewer nightmares, or at least have nightmares that didn't involve memories of dying.
And maybe they would go on cases together, and finish them together, and go home at the end of the day both alive, both breathing. And before they went to bed Sherlock would grin at him, and John would grin back, and Sherlock would see something in his eyes, would know.
And Sherlock would reach for him, and his hand would make contact. And their world would narrow down to just the two of them, together.
But that's not what happens, here.
They acquire hands free devices for their mobiles, and a second computer for John. John ends up doing the grocery shopping, and the cooking, because even though he doesn't have to eat, he still does so more than Sherlock, who seems content to live off of tea and nicotine patches.
The kitchen table fills itself with beakers and strangely-covered liquids that are probably toxic, and when John opens the freezer for some ice cream only to find a severed head, he is not surprised. He mentions it to Sherlock and Sherlock only says, nonchalantly, "If that bothers you, I advise you don't look in the oven."
John still has his nightmares, but Sherlock pretends not to notice when he comes out of the bathroom after a long shower, still trembling from the memories of pain, and blinding sunlight, and the surreality of drowning in a desert. Nor does he barge in when John's in there trying to drive said memories away.
Sherlock doesn't complain that the flat only has one bedroom, or that the furniture had started shaking dangerously when he had tried to pack away John's things. Mostly he sleeps on the sofa, or just doesn't sleep. But sometimes he lies down in John's bed when he needs something more comfortable, and John finds he doesn't mind it very much at all.
And when Sherlock has a case, he tucks John's pistol into the small of his back, and they prowl the streets of London together, chasing criminals and murderers until well into the night, returning to their flat giddy with adrenaline and the rush of success.
John feels more alive now than when he was actually alive.
Every once in a while John is struck with the awareness that he's dead, and gone, and never going to talk to his sister again, or hold a woman in his arms, or visit his parents for Christmas. That part of his existence is over now, and it's never going to come back, and knowing that makes him ache with the unfairness of it all.
He misses his life. He misses smiling at people and having them smile back. He misses being able to take a walk wherever he wants to, and he hates, hates, hates the way he can't remember what it felt like to be alive.
And he hates, too, that when he gets like this, the walls start to bleed, and the lights flicker on and off, and the temperature in their flat falls until he can see Sherlock's breath in the air. Because Sherlock is his friend, his only friend now, and he doesn't deserve to suffer just because John's in a mood.
Sorry, John writes, Having a bad day, and leaves the note where Sherlock can see it.
"It's understandable," Sherlock replies when he reads it, and never seems to take offense, because Sherlock has bad days too. And on Sherlock's bad days, John has to use all his willpower to get purchase on the edges of the nicotine patches on Sherlock's arms, or cook something and force him to eat it, knowing that if he doesn't, Sherlock will be content to go on a hunger strike until his boredom fades.
On some of John's bad days, Sherlock goes out, giving him time to get himself back under control, because he is always good at telling when John wants to be left alone. But on other days, he ensconces himself in a nest of blankets pulled from John's room and turns on the telly.
The first time Sherlock does this, John takes the opportunity to order the Princess Bride from Video on Demand, and curls up shamelessly, greedily next to Sherlock, close enough to drink in the vibrant, radiating heat of his body. Sherlock looks at him, at the cold spot John's body makes where he intersects the blankets, but doesn't mention anything about it.
Sherlock watches the movie but insults the special effects, the plot, the realism, and John's taste in movies. But he falls silent during the poison scene, and when the reveal happens, he scowls.
"I still say it's cheating," he mutters, and John laughs.
Sherlock garners somewhat fewer strange looks when he's speaking out loud to himself while wearing a Bluetooth headset, compared to when he was conducting conversations with John through sticky notes.
"Look here, the victim's a politician. You can't go about telling someone else all the details," Lestrade says when he realizes that Sherlock's talking about the case, and the headset over one ear is turned on. "Who are you talking to?"
"John," Sherlock says without missing a beat. "He's a doctor and friend of mine."
"Someone else died here," John says, frowning. It's another inexplicable skill he's picked up, that he never knew he had until his territory in London had expanded past the walls of the flat. He can feel the lingering touch of death, but it's not the same as the one that clings to the corpse. "Same time of death of the victim, I'd wager. Someone must have moved the body. Here, near the east wall."
"Someone else died here," Sherlock repeats for Lestrade's benefit, heading for the wall. "Same time as the victim, but the body's been moved."
"And John told you that?" Lestrade asks skeptically, but kneels down when Sherlock does. "Are you taking photos of the crime scene?"
"Don't be ridiculous," Sherlock scoffs. "My phone doesn't have nearly the resolution I'd need for that." He plucks a couple strands of hair from the ground. "Blond. The first victim had dark hair. Here is our second."
"Or it could belong to the killer," Lestrade points out.
"No, the killer wouldn't leave behind such obvious evidence. Anything else you can tell, John?"
John shakes his head. "I'm not sure. It wasn't brutal, but there lack of blood tells you that already. I think they were scared."
"Obviously," Sherlock says, and gets up. "I need more data. Call me when you find the second body."
"I thought the freak didn't have any friends," John overhears from one of the other officers as they're leaving.
But there is a second body, and the details of the case don't get leaked to the press. The next time Sherlock arrives at a crime scene and turns on the headset, calling John, no one protests, chalking it down as as yet another one of Sherlock's strange habits.
Sherlock never brings anyone home with him, nor does he appear to go on any dates. He doesn't have dinner with his mates from uni (though if Sebastian's an example of Sherlock's uni friends, John can see why), or catch up with friends he's fallen out of touch with.
"Why don't you go out more often? When it's not for a case, I mean," John asks, because as far as he can tell, he's the only one who spends time with Sherlock.
"I go out for research and my experiments."
"Fine. When it's not for work, then. Don't you ever spend time with old friends?"
"I don't have old friends," Sherlock replies, and takes up the violin. When John opens his mouth to ask 'Why not?', Sherlock plays a high, screeching cord.
"Don't be a git," John says, because he knows full well that Sherlock's capable of playing things that don't sound like a cat being eviscerated. "All I did was ask you a question."
Sherlock subsides with a final, protesting squeal from the violin. "I don't make friends," he says. "No one would mourn me if I died, though I'm sure my brother would be quite inconvenienced. He still harbors the futile hope that I'll work with him to conquer the free world, one day."
"Isn't that lonely?"
"Not especially. I have my work," Sherlock answers. "And I have you."
On occasion, Sherlock is called away on a case outside the country, and John can't come -- there is no guaranteed way to smuggle a gun through airport security.
Waiting in the flat is more boring and lonely than he expects, and he calls Sherlock every day, for the pleasure of talking to someone and having them talk back. He goes online, posting on medical forums and reading the forums on Sherlock's website. He has an instant messenger account, but it's not the same -- no one knows who he is, and he can't tell them.
When he's bored of that, and of watching the telly, he cleans the flat. He washes the dishes and throws out the old newspapers, and spends an entire day looking up everything the internet has to say about ghosts, because he might as well do some research on the subject, and see if any of it's actually true.
At one point, while Sherlock's away, a group of men John's never seen before break into his flat, and bug the place. John follows them and removes each of the small electronic devices as they're placed, then flushes each one down the toilet when they leave.
He tells Sherlock about it when he returns.
"Oh, that's just Mycroft," Sherlock says, unconcerned. "Send him a text for me. I've programmed his number into my mobile. It's under 'Evil'. Tell him, hmm, tell him to keep the surveillance to outside the flat, like usual, or I'll tell his assistant where he hides his sweets."
"Your brother has you under surveillance? That's not normal," John says, but sends the message anyways.
"Neither is talking to a ghost, and yet I find myself doing that every day. Normal's boring. Where did you put my jar of hydrofluoric acid?"
Mycroft is waiting for them when they return to the flat at the end of a case, seated in an armchair and holding a slim umbrella as if it's a sword.
"Sherlock," he says pleasantly, when Sherlock stops at the sight of him, still in the doorway, coat half-off. "And John, I presume," he adds, and nods to Sherlock's right, where John had been standing just a moment ago.
"What are you doing in my flat, Mycroft?"
"I wanted to see how you were doing. You know how Mummy worries about you. And, I wanted to meet John," Mycroft says with a shark-like smile.
Sherlock stills. "What do you know about John?"
"I know he's a doctor, and that he used to be military. I know you carry his gun with you, and are on the phone to him right now," Mycroft says, nodding at the bluetooth headset hooked over Sherlock's ear. "I know that he helps you on your little excursions, and that his name is John Watson, and that he died last year, while on duty."
"If he's dead, then how can I be talking to him?" Sherlock scowls at his brother and throws himself onto the sofa.
"Please. Don't forget that my resources are far more vast than yours. I'm not here to stop you from making friends. I just needed verification for myself that you are, in fact, friends with a ghost and not actually suffering a psychotic break, as has been suggested." Mycroft pulls out a sleek, black phone and dials a number.
John's phone beeps, asking if he'd like to put Sherlock on hold and answer his incoming call.
"Just answer it," Sherlock says petulantly to the back of the sofa, before John can ask.
John answers it. "Hello? Is this Mycroft?"
Mycroft winces minutely and holds the phone away from his ear. "It's just static," he says.
Sherlock perks up. "Really? Put it on speakerphone."
Mycroft does so.
"Can you hear me now?" John asks with a sense of nervous trepidation that fades when Sherlock breaks into a smug grin, and Mycroft only looks vaguely displeased.
"I can hear you perfectly, John," Sherlock says.
"Fascinating. This has never happened before. I don't supposed you'd mind if I..." Mycroft trails off at the force of the glare Sherlock levels on him. "No, of course you would," Mycroft continues smoothly. "You always did hate sharing your toys."
"He's mine," Sherlock says fiercely. "I shan't have you messing about with him, Mycroft. Why don't you go back to your petty people games? I'm sure there's a country or two on the brink of civil war, for you to manipulate."
The conversation continues, but John doesn't remember what they talk about.
His thoughts linger, instead, on the way Sherlock's voice had sounded when he'd said, He's mine.
There are withered flowers on his grave and indentations in the grass, as if someone had dug their fingers into the dirt. The grass is yellowing in parts, dry and inconsistently watered. The edges of his tombstone are somewhat more worn than they were when he first visited it, showing signs of wear, and bits of moss growing along the back.
John wonders what it will look like five years from now, and if he'll still be here to see it.
He traces his fingers over his name, carved into the stone. This is where he's buried, six feet under the dirt in a wooden box.
He wonders how often Harry comes by, if she talks to him about how things are going.
He misses her.
After his death, John calls Harry exactly once, just to hear her voice. It's her birthday, and John's always called to wish her a happy birthday.
Clara picks up. "Hello?" When John doesn't answer, she continues, "Hello? Who is this? Hello?"
John hangs up.
"You're upset," Sherlock says immediately when John drifts into the living room, though he's not sure how Sherlock can even tell, since Sherlock can't see him. He is doing something, the details of which John doesn't want to know, to a petri dish on the kitchen counter. "What is it this time?"
I miss Harry. It's her birthday today. John drops the post-it note next to a mortar and pestle.
"You haven't been able to speak to her, and even though you and she don't get on well, her birthday has made you wish for her company. You want to know how she's doing, but you can't ask."
Yes, John writes.
"Hmm." Sherlock has that look on his face, the one that says he's thinking of doing something but not sure how people will react to it.
John tries not to let it bother him when Sherlock goes somewhere and leaves John's gun on the coffee table (one day, Lestrade's going to confiscate it during a drugs bust, and then what is he going to do?). He reads books or corresponds over the internet with his other friends, because Sherlock's not his only friend, even if he is the only one who knows what John is.
The flat feels emptier when he's the only one in it, cold in a way he can't describe.
A week later, Sherlock calls John. "John. Are you here? Come here."
"I am now," John says, watching his surroundings fade and reform themselves as he focuses on his pistol. "What is it?"
Sherlock drops a thick folder on the desk. "Harry and Clara are still married, and have adopted a dog together. Harry's alcoholism resurged briefly when she heard of your death, but Clara helped her through it, and the shared grief has strengthened their marriage, which had been in danger of collapse for several months before. She hasn't been drunk in months, and is slated for a promotion at her current job. She visited your grave twelve times in the first six months, and three times since then.
I don't know how close you were to Clara, but she's the usual -- devoted wife, pillar of strength while her wife deals with the grief of losing her brother. They have dinner with your parents once per month, and are considering having a child together. If they do, it will be by artificial insemination, not adoption."
The folder holds photographs of Harry, both alone and with others -- recent ones, from what John can tell. There's months worth of photos here, still CCTV shots as well as photographs clearly taken by someone else, but not in the covert way of surveillance shots.
"How did you get these ones?" John asks, and trails his fingers over an image of Harry showing off a golden retriever pup, laughing as it gnaws on her finger. "Did you steal her camera?"
"Called in a couple favors," Sherlock replies. "I know it would complicate matters for you to contact her, so I did what else I could. And no, I did not steal her camera. I had someone duplicate the contents of its memory card."
There are pictures of him as well, mostly formal shots, where John looks stiff and uncomfortable. "What are these for? I already know what I look like."
"I don't," Sherlock says. "I looked you up, but these were the only recent photographs of you she had from before your death. You can keep the lot, if you'd like."
"I'd like that," John says softly, and and brushes a hand against Sherlock's shoulder. "Thank you."
Afterwards, when Sherlock has gone to bed, John logs into his computer and forwards Sherlock the various sets of images John has in his email archive, from times where he's gone out with his mates and taken pictures to share. He has pub crawls and camping trips and photos from when he was deployed, in his uniform and sure everything would turn out all right.
Death notwithstanding, he sort of thinks it has.
Here are some more pictures, if you were looking for them, John writes.
"Really now, Sherlock. You've called John on every case you've been on since you met him." Lestrade holds out his hand. "Hand over the phone, let me talk to him."
"No." Sherlock doesn't even look up from his examinations of the suspect's financial records.
He and John are at Scotland Yard this time, under the watchful eyes of half the police staff. Well, Sherlock is. John's inconspicuously reading people's paperwork and computer screens over their shoulders, while hoping no one thinks to search Sherlock and find the illegal gun concealed under his coat.
"We don't know the first thing about him," Lestrade says. "It's bad enough I'm bringing you into crime scenes. My bosses aren't happy that you've been bringing in an assistant we've never met before. We don't even know John's his real name."
"Of course it is." Sherlock's voice is full of scorn. "What does it matter? He's with me. That's all you need to know."
"What makes you so sure he can be trusted? What are you keeping from us?" Lestrade's suspicious, but John can see the undertone of worry in his voice, in the slight frown he has when he looks at Sherlock. He's not angry.
Sherlock looks at Lestrade curiously. "You're concerned about my well-being. Why?"
"You're protecting him, and you talk to him constantly, but no one's ever met him. Either you're taking him on cases with you, which means we need a background check on him, or you don't, which means you're running off chasing dangerous criminals on your own. It's not safe."
"Sometimes he comes with me," Sherlock concedes. "But the details are immaterial. You're not my keeper, Lestrade. You need my expertise, and I need the work. That's all."
"Well, lucky me, I've got the number of someone who does fancy himself your keeper," Lestrade threatens, and takes out his phone. Sherlock's eyes widen.
"You haven't! Don't tell me he's got his claws into you. I thought you considered yourself above corruption. Accepting bribes from shadowy government officials, are we?"
"He's your next of kin. Not really something I'd consider shadowy, calling your next of kin," Lestrade points out. (He ignores Sherlock's muttered "Only because he changes the records every time I remove him.") "I'm just worried about you. As a friend. You're practically joined at the hip to him, and all we've got is a phone number he uses that's registered under your name, and some vague insinuations that he might be your flatmate, except that you're renting a one-bedroom on your own and no one's seen a glimpse of him."
"Yes, well, Mycroft has met John, so consider your worries assuaged. At least it's not cocaine. But, if it makes you feel better, I'll have him send you a text."
John does end up sending Lestrade a text, but it doesn't help much, as John can't just say, My name is John Watson, and I'm the ghost who lives in Sherlock's flat.
But he also sends a text to Mycroft without telling Sherlock, explaining the matter, and he thinks that helps more.
John passes harmlessly through most people, barely disturbing the air around them, except in the form of a brief chill. Mostly, people avoid him unconsciously, walking around him on the street without even realizing it, but people in a hurry don't even notice when they run through him on their way to their destination.
But Sherlock feels almost solid to the touch. John can bump his shoulder against Sherlock's while they're walking, or put out a hand to stop him when something seems off. He can clean Sherlock's cuts and bandage him up after a case, and John is just almost solid enough to support his weight when he can't stand on his own.
John hadn't been able to do that when they'd first met.
He wonders what it means.
When John materializes around his pistol, worried when Sherlock doesn't answer his phone, his gun is being held by someone who clearly is not Sherlock. Sherlock is kneeling on the ground at his feet. The pistol is pointed at his head.
This does not look like the "observing a suspect" that Sherlock had said he was going to do.
Sherlock's phone is gone, but his expression shifts minutely anyways, sensing the chill in the air that always happens when John arrives in a room. "The Russian Mafia," he says for John's benefit. "An execution gone wrong, the evidence not properly cleaned up, and now the Met on the case."
John's not sure what to do. He kills the lights first, because that's easy, pushing with his mind until they flicker out. But it's really hard to do much else, even though he tries anyways. The man shines brightly with life, too healthy for John to affect directly. John struggles to jerk the gun out of his hands.
It doesn't work, but something else does.
One moment, John's frustratingly incorporeal and trying to get the gun without having to actually kill someone, because he doesn't actually like killing people. The next moment, there is a pressure all around him, like he's being stuffed into a box, and everything around him goes into overload as the lights flash back on.
There is something in his hand, and John can feel the texture of his gun, the smooth trigger and the roughness of the grip against his palm. There's a rushing in his ears and something thumping against his chest, and everything feels warm, overly so, like he's been thrown into a sauna, hot and unpleasantly wet.
He inhales, and it makes the inside of his mouth dry, and the air is just slightly cool and he can't see anything, there are afterimages in his vision, and he can feel the weight of clothes on his skin and he can't sense anything around him and he feels like he's gone blind, but not his eyes, the part of his mind that's opened up ever since he's been dead and fuck.
And then, it's gone. His surroundings twist around him, subtly, and he's himself again, and he can feel twin spots of life in the room, beacons of something he can see as easily as light. He's not warm anymore -- he's not anything, and suddenly he craves what he just lost, wants to do it again, wants to feel a heartbeat in his chest and the chill in the air.
The man is backing away, arm shaking but still pointed at Sherlock. "What the fuck? What the fuck was what?" He shouts, voice wavering. "What did you do to me?"
But now John knows what he's doing. He reaches out, steps close, intersects their bodies and
Is this what it feels like to be alive? Cold, heavy, solid. His hand around the gun, gripping tight -- it hurts, because he's squeezing it too tightly, and he relishes it. But all too quickly his limbs (but they're not really his) are trying to move of their own accord, jerking and twitching, and he can feel someone else's panic, their fear at being controlled.
For a moment, John feels guilty. But then he remembers Sherlock on the floor with John's pistol pointed at his head, and the guilt fades.
I hope this works, John thinks, and forces the barrel of the gun to his borrowed mouth, in fits and starts. His mouth won't open, and his head is shaking of its own accord, and he feels wetness that must be tears on his cheeks, but it's close enough.
He pulls the trigger.
There is a flash of pain, but it's nothing compared to the long, drawn-out nightmares he still has on occasion, and he's barely registered it before the body drops to the ground, and with it, everything else. It is like having a layer of thick cotton pulled over all his senses.
The gun is still in the man's hand, and after a moment's thought, John pries it free. He doesn't want it to get taken in as evidence. It's his, and he feels a possessiveness towards it that would be frankly alarming, if not for the fact that he's a ghost and that is apparently what ghosts do. That, and murder people to save the lives of their flatmates.
At least they weren't very good people.
Sherlock is staring at the body, and the shattered remains of the man's mouth. "John," he says aloud, in a voice that John's never heard him use before. "Did you do this?"
And for a moment, John's sure that Sherlock's going to say, "For me?" like John's just delivered him a Christmas present, but he doesn't, and the moment fades. It's just Sherlock looking at the corpse, predicting what the police will say and do, their every thought and action laid bare before him.
Only because he was going to shoot you, John writes on a post-it note from his jacket pocket, and sticks it gently to Sherlock's chest. His fingertips leave a bright smear of blood on the yellow paper. John doesn't know whose blood it is, or if it'll still be there three hours from now.
"There will be traces of powder on his hands and his torso," Sherlock says clinically, and calls the police. He crumples the post-it after reading it, and hands it back to John. "There's no way to prove I shot him, as I didn't. The angle of the bullet is not consistent with my height, either standing or kneeling. There's no evidence of anyone else present at the time of death."
"Lestrade will not be happy," he concludes, "But an investigation will lead nowhere. I'll be taken in for questioning, but released, and they will not have evidence for a conviction."
John is deeply thankful that Sherlock solves crimes rather than commits them.
"John, are you there?" Sherlock asks. He is lying on the couch, gazing at the ceiling. When he'd arrived home today, he had put three nicotine patches on his arms, and has refused to say why. John throws a wadded up sheet of paper at him.
Sherlock grins and looks in his direction. "Brilliant. I need a cup of tea."
John rolls his eyes. "You can make your own cup of tea," he says, even though Sherlock can't hear him right now. Their mobiles spend almost more time charging than not, because their hours-long calls drain the battery alarmingly quickly. Regardless, Sherlock's brilliant enough to know what John's response is.
"If you make me a cup of tea, I'll let you be the one to drink it," Sherlock says.
It has been three days since John had possessed the Russian mafia member. He's not surprised that Sherlock either knows or suspects how badly John wants to do it again.
So John goes into the kitchen to make Sherlock a cup of tea. He comes back a few minutes later, and sets it on the coffee table. You don't have to, John has stuck to the side of the cup. Don't feel obligated.
When Sherlock reads the note, he says, "I don't mind. Think of it as an experiment. You never indicated you had the ability to take control of another being. If you can reliably possess a murderer and force them to disarm themselves, it would be quite useful."
Are you sure?
It is nothing like the first time. Sherlock reacts to his touch, goose pimples rising on his skin when John makes contact, and John slides his body against Sherlock's, lies down over him and sinks inside. If the first time had been the metaphysical equivalent of being blindfolded and thrown into a tank of ice water, this is like easing into a warm bath.
He settles, carefully, into Sherlock's body, and feels his senses shift as everything becomes more vivid.
His heart thumps in his chest. His hair tickles his neck. His feet are bare and the toes just a little bit cold. When he wiggles them, he can feel the armrest of the sofa. He stops breathing and feels the need in his chest build, strange and uncomfortable until he's forced to inhale, and when he does, it is the most wonderful feeling in the world.
He rolls the fabric of his shirt sleeve between his thumb and forefinger, and marvels at its texture.
John," his mouth -- no, Sherlock's mouth, says. The voice is subtly different than John remembers; it's how Sherlock hears his own voice.
"Yes," he says, and Sherlock touches his chest. John can feel it just before it happens, the formation of intent preceding movement, and he pulls the arm away. Sherlock resists, just a little bit, and it feels like pulling his arm through molasses. Sherlock pulls harder on it, and John yields to him, offering only enough resistance to be felt, the way Sherlock had done for him.
He could spend hours doing this, sharing a body with Sherlock and feeling the press of their wills against each other, soaking in Sherlock's presence in his chest and his lungs and the back of his mind. He's been dead for so long that he's forgotten what it feels like to be alive, and everything is so exciting.
"The tea," Sherlock reminds him, and sits up.
John sips too quickly, and scalds his tongue, and is clumsy enough to splash some on his hand.
But it is the best fucking cup of tea he has ever had.
They do it again, John riding in Sherlock's body while he gathers plants for an experiment (brilliant, he'd forgotten about being able to smell things), and then again -- going to a pub for John, where he can taste and breathe and make eye contact with people. He didn't realize how much he missed making eye contact with people -- it's one of those things that he'd taken for granted, when he'd been alive.
He doesn't know, exactly, what Sherlock gets out of it, aside from some satisfaction of his intellectual curiosity. But Sherlock seems to enjoy it as much as John does, and even though Sherlock doesn't especially like to eat greasy chips and drink cheap beer, he's sitting back and letting John do as he pleases.
Sherlock's alcohol tolerance is less than John remembers his own to be, and halfway through their second beer, he's already feeling a pleasant buzz. But he's not drunk -- not even tipsy, so he doesn't really have an excuse for why he doesn't notice the attractive brunette until after she sits down across from him and steals one of his chips.
"Hello?" He asks politely, and can't stop his smile when she meets his eyes.
"Hi. Is this seat taken? You look like you wouldn't mind some company."
"Oh, feel free to sit,” John replies. “It's nice to meet you. I'm --" He hesitates for only a moment. "I'm John."
Her name is Amelia. She is not very entertaining as a conversationalist, but she flirts with John and he flirts back because he can. Within the hour, she is sitting in his lap with her arms around his neck, laughing at something he's said.
Her perfume smells faintly fruity, and he wants, with a sort of detached curiosity, to lick the hollow of her throat to see what it tastes like. She is warm and alive against his hand on the small of her back, skin soft and smooth where John's slipped his fingers under her shirt.
Sherlock hasn't tried to take back control of his body yet, not even a nudge to remind John he's there. John isn't sure why.
So he buys her another drink, and finishes his second and the start of a third. Her hair tickles the side of his face when she whispers something in his ear, and when she kisses him, John tastes alcohol. It's not terribly pleasant, too wet and too sloppy. But he doesn't stop her, simply winds his arms around her waist and enjoys the feel of another body pressed against his own.
He hasn't held someone in his arms for over a year.
Her breath is warm against the curve of his ear. "I like you. Do you want to go somewhere else?"
"Mmmm..." John trails off. No, not really. Aside from the fact that this is Sherlock's body, and John's pretty sure he hasn't got permission to gallivant about having sex in it, pulling hadn't actually been part of his plan for the night. Sherlock had only offered to let him take care of eating for him, since he complained so much about Sherlock's eating habits, and things had gone on from there.
A friend online had sent him a link to download a new documentary about blood patterns, and John had been planning, after dinner, to see if Sherlock wanted to watch it with him. It seems like the sort of thing Sherlock would enjoy. He checks his watch. It should be ready by now.
"I'm sorry, love," he says apologetically, and hefts her out of his lap. "I've actually got plans for tonight.”
"You didn't tell me you made plans," Sherlock accuses, while John is shrugging into his coat outside.
"You didn't ask,” John replies. A passerby takes one look at him, talking to himself, and walks a little more quickly. "I was going to mention it after dinner."
Sherlock hails the cab for him, seizing control of his arm fluidly -- John hadn't even noticed. "221 Baker Street," he says to the cabbie, and then, "Where else were you planning on going?"
The cabbie looks at them suspiciously, but doesn't protest, and they pull away from the curb. John reaches for his post-it notes and pens, but his pockets are empty. Right, wrong pockets. John sighs, and resigns himself to increasing the number of people who think Sherlock Holmes is more than a little mental. "Nowhere. One of my friends sent me a documentary about blood, and I thought you'd like it."
Sherlock takes control of his mouth and licks his lips, but doesn't respond for a long time, and John can feel the push and pull of Sherlock suppressing a smile. He says, finally, "I didn't know you were interested in documentaries about blood."
"Your sense of touch is dulled as a ghost," Sherlock comments, when John spends five minutes stroking the blankets they'd brought down from his bedroom, delighting in their softness. He'd rubbed his cheek against it too, but Sherlock had stopped him after the first thirty seconds. Undignified, he'd called it. "Is it the same for your other senses?"
"Pretty much. I can move things and I can touch them, but I can't feel them. It's kind of like being in a dream, where everything's foggy."
Speaking with Sherlock while they're in the same body is incredibly surreal, because he can feel his mouth open, and his tongue move, but he has no idea what's going to be said. And if they try to speak at the same time, it just gets more strange.
"That's why you were so receptive to the woman at the pub's advances," Sherlock says. "You craved human contact."
"I -- yes. You didn't stop me."
"I didn't mind."
The next day, Sherlock sleeps in past noon and when he wakes, he still looks tired. John puts a hand on his shoulder, worried, and Sherlock leans into it unconsciously. John's hand remains solid. The flare of life in the flat that represents Sherlock looks weaker, like a fire running low on fuel.
And John feels just a little more solid, senses just a little bit stronger. When he goes outside, he manages to get nearly ten yards away from the front door before the buildings start to blur and walking becomes a challenge. It is nearly three times as far as he can normally go.
The day after that, he can't quite reach seven yards.
It is not very hard to connect the dots, and for a brief, guilty moment, John wonders what it would take to make himself completely solid, if there was a price in blood he could pay to come back permanently.
As it turns out, John's not actually impervious to harm while incorporeal, and he has no problems feeling pain, even when he lacks a real body to hurt.
"I already know what you did was hardly deliberate. Consider this just a show of force, Doctor Watson," the elder Holmes brother says pleasantly, and flips off the switch on the small, metallic box in his hand. "To remind you that I care very much for Sherlock, and to remove any lingering temptations you may have had."
They both know Sherlock would kill for him, might even die for him, and it'd be a lie to say he hadn't considered asking.
Thank you, he texts Mycroft later, when he has recovered enough to interact with the buttons on his phone.
Sherlock has a lot of enemies, criminals who would be happy to see him dead or worse. Most of these enemies are, quite frankly, rather a bit dull, but every once in a while, there will be an attempt on Sherlock's life. Sherlock is very good at keeping himself alive, and as the months pass, John becomes better and better at it as well. He doesn't worry much about those criminals.
Except that there is one criminal, one mastermind, whose crimes are a cut above the rest. His name pops up from time to time, always attached to the best, most creative, most challenging cases. Moriarty, who works in the shadows and doesn't do his own dirty work. Moriarty, who arranges for things to happen, baits traps that Sherlock walks into time and time again.
Moriarty, who makes Sherlock grin and clap his hands in excitement. Because he's brilliant, really, and Sherlock's drawn to brilliance like a moth to a flame.
"Moriarty," Sherlock says in their flat, as if tasting the sound the vowels make in his mouth. "The connections he must have. The resources. I wonder what he'll do next. I wonder who he is."
John hates Moriarty more than he has ever hated anyone else.
John doesn't think anything of it when a forum he follows organizes a London meet-up and someone asks after him. Sorry, he posts, I won't be able to make it. I'll probably be at work. Work, of course, meaning "haring off after Sherlock to make sure he doesn't get himself killed."
He's a little more surprised when he gets an email from someone he's spoken to only a few times, inviting him to have a coffee with her, while she's in London for a conference. He turns her down, of course, and tells her that he'll be out of town that day. She offers to meet him another day, and he doesn't reply.
The surprise graduates to suspicion when shortly after that, he gets a phone call from a blocked number. "Hello?" he answers, on the off chance that it's Sherlock, or possibly Mycroft. But there is no response, not even the puzzled inquiry a wrong number would prompt.
I think Moriarty is looking for me, John writes, and sticks the note to the bathroom door.
Sherlock drops John's note on the table when they're eating breakfast together - toast for him, and orange juice for John. "Tell him you'll meet him somewhere crowded -- a museum, maybe, lots of witnesses. Somewhere I can get a good look at him or whoever he sends."
At the museum, John looks for the woman they're supposed to meet, the one who was in London for a conference that didn't exist, while Sherlock cases likely lookout points. He needs somewhere he can sit unnoticed while observing their target.
And then the world explodes in a flash of blinding light.
John comes back to awareness on his grave, after the sun has set. He has to focus before he can have a body again, forming it out of his thoughts and expectations. There is a splash of red paint on his tombstone, ugly and mocking and out of place, as if someone had flung a bucket of it at the smooth marble. The paint is still wet.
John goes to his gun and ends up at the bottom of the Thames.
John sends a text to Lestrade -- Moriarty has Sherlock. He considers, then sends it to Mycroft as well.
Mycroft calls him back within twenty minutes. "Where is he?" He says, when John answers the phone.
"You can't even understand what I'm saying." But John hears a burst of static, followed by his own words, recited in a mechanical voice.
"Never underestimate the marvels of modern technology," Mycroft replies smugly. "Tell me everything you know, in fifty words or less. Make it quick, please."
"We arranged a meeting between me and one of Moriarty's people at 2 PM. We arrived and split up -- Sherlock was going to watch to see who I was supposed to meet. Next thing I know, it's hours later, I'm at my grave, my gun is in the Thames, and Sherlock is missing."
"I'm tracing your mobile. Bring it to Sherlock and I'll send a retrieval unit." If Mycroft is worried, he's hiding it very well.
"I can't. My gun is at the bottom of the Thames. The only places I can go are there, the flat, and my grave." John gives a bleak laugh. "Which I'm sure Moriarty knows, because he's just desecrated it."
"How much do you care about my brother, John? Is he important to you?"
"What do you mean?” John asks, instantly wary. “Of course he is."
"You can go anywhere that has personal significance, if you try hard enough. And, I dare say, Sherlock is probably the most significant person in your life right now. So find him, and let me know where he is."
"I... I'm not sure it works like that," John says.
"Do it anyways," Mycroft orders, and hangs up.
But Sherlock is the most important thing in his life now, John reasons. Much more important than his grave, or his gun, or the flat that he'd kept for a few years while in Afghanistan but never gotten that attached to anyways.
If he can haunt a location, or an object, John tells himself, there's no reason he can't haunt a person.
The first few tries are spectacular failures, where he ends up back at the Thames, or at his grave, or goes nowhere at all. But he knows he's getting closer to Sherlock. He has to be, or Sherlock will be dead, or worse, by the time they find him.
He redoubles his efforts, focusing his thoughts on Sherlock, on the sound of his laugh, on the triumph in his grin when he's solved a case, and unstoppable, inevitable knowledge that he belongs with Sherlock, wherever he is.
When John finally reaches Sherlock, he is a crumpled heap in a small, empty room. His breathing is slow, and when John searches him, checking for injuries, he finds a lump on the back of his head -- concussion, likely, but there's more to it than that. Sherlock stirs when John texts Mycroft to let him know he's arrived and sticks his phone in Sherlock's coat pocket.
"Already searched me," he slurs, struggling weakly. When he opens his eyes, they're unfocused. "Get off."
"No, Sherlock. It's John. Help's on its way. Have you been drugged? Do you remember what he gave you?" He cups Sherlock's face in his hands and gives it a light shake.
"You can't be John," Sherlock says, and meets his eyes blearily. "John's dead. Can't hear him, can't see him. All I have are fac -- facs -- fascimiles."
"Well, that's near-death experiences for you," John jokes weakly. "I'm bringing help. What did he give you? Its name, Sherlock. Tell me its name."
Sherlock tells him, and John texts it to Mycroft. "Slow-acting poison with a sedative mixed in," Sherlock explains. "Lots of side effects. Are you really John? I can't tell."
"Yeah, it's me. Just hold on. They'll be here soon." John squeezes one of Sherlock's hands, feels it for just a moment, before his hand is passing through Sherlock's, insubstantial.
Sherlock watches it with interest. "Does it always do that?"
"Focus. Is there anything else you can tell me? I brought a phone. Mycroft's tracing it. What else does he need to know?"
Sherlock shakes his head. "It was Moriarty. He knows about you. He took your gun. How did you find me?"
"I think I could find you anywhere now," John admits shakily.
"If I die. I want you to know --" Sherlock starts, but John interrupts him.
"You won't die. You're fine. You're gonna be okay." But he's lying. He knows he's lying, because if Sherlock can see him, that means he's going to die, and John can't think about it. Thinking about it makes him feel like his heart's being torn in two.
Sherlock lifts a hand and brushes his fingers over John's cheek, leaving just the briefest impression of warmth. "It'll have been worth it, to finally see you," he finishes, and loses consciousness.
John stays with Sherlock when a team that can only be MI5 storms the building, when he's injected with something that John hopes is meant to neutralize the drugs in Sherlock's system, when he's loaded into an ambulance, and through the ride to the hospital, up until the point where Sherlock is assigned to a hospital bed and hooked up to a terrifying number of machines.
Because Mycroft is waiting for him there, and he says, in a voice that makes it clear he's not making a request, "John, I'm sure you're still here, so please go away. Your loyalty is admirable, but your distress will disrupt some very expensive, very delicate machinery."
Mycroft's assistant looks up from her phone. "He's over there, sir. Standing next to the heart monitor." She smiles right at John. "Mr. Holmes has everything under control. You can leave now, Doctor Watson."
John is so disconcerted that he does.
You can come see him now. He's fine, just resting. The voice in his head is bright, feminine, and would be distinctly unwelcome if not for the fact that, well, it'd just told him he could see Sherlock.
"He's here, sir," Mycroft's assistant says when he arrives at Sherlock's side. She has no problems tracking his location with her eyes as he approaches her. She's standing next to Mycroft, who is reading what looks to be Sherlock's confidential medical records.
"Er, tell Mycroft thanks for all the help," he says awkwardly. "And for letting me know he'll be alright. What's your name?"
"Hmm. Persephone," she replies to him. And to Mycroft, "He says thank you, sir. Shall we be going?"
"Of course. Now that this is settled, we've got a flight to Yemen to catch. We mustn't keep Mr. Saleh waiting any longer. Thank you for your assistance in finding my brother, John."
And then they're gone, leaving John alone with Sherlock. Sherlock's breathing smoothly, and the heart monitor beats a steady, reassuring rhythm. He looks a lot better than when John had left him.
"Hey," John says softly, and brushes a curl from Sherlock's forehead.
Sherlock opens his eyes and sits up. Faking at being asleep, then. His brow furrows, and he looks around him. He reaches for the ear he usually wears his bluetooth headset over, but the motion is arrested by a tube attached to the back of his hand. "John? Is that you?"
John frowns. "Sherlock? Can you hear me?"
Sherlock grins. "As clear as a whistle. Say something again. Anything."
"Mycroft's assistant can see me. I think she's psychic."
"My brother's in charge of a couple departments involved in the paranormal. It's logical that his assistant would be exceptional in some way." Sherlock's grin widens. "I can still hear you. Perhaps it has something to do with my heart stopping. "
"Wait," John interrupts, before Sherlock can say anything more. "Your heart stopped? When was this? I didn't hear about this."
Sherlock shrugs, unconcerned. "Before the antidote finished taking effect, I assume. They were able to revive me, obviously. Do you think I'll be able to hear all ghosts, or just you? I suppose I owe Moriarty a favor now. This is really quite advantageous."
"He poisoned you and left you to die. I don't think you owe him anything. I'm just glad you're alright. You are alright, then?" John puts a hand on Sherlock's, and Sherlock looks down at it, then curls his fingers around John's, holding them lightly.
"I'm fine. Bored, mostly. I'm tired but can't fall asleep. Do something entertaining."
Sherlock lays back down, still holding John's hand. "I don't care." He closes his eyes. "Tell me a story. From when you were alive."
Sherlock, John realizes with amusement, is possibly the only person he knows that can make such a sweet request sound like an order.
"I was ten years old when I broke my leg falling from a tree," he begins. "Harry was thirteen, and she'd just bet me that she could go up and down the tree in the backyard faster than me..."
Sherlock is released after another two days, during which John never leaves his side.
The police had found no sign of Moriarty, but the cold determination in Mycroft's eyes when he'd told John that had him feeling reassured nonetheless. Now that Moriarty's proven himself a threat to Sherlock's life, John knows Mycroft won't rest until Moriarty's been neutralized.
He knows who he's betting on to win that confrontation.
Sherlock's ability to hear John without use of a phone comes in handy, except for the times where they end up talking at crime scenes and Sherlock ends up looking like a nutter again. A package arrives in the post, addressed to John, and when he opens it, it's his handgun, the one he'd last seen at the bottom of the Thames, dry and polished and none the worse for the wear.
It's licensed to Sherlock, the note says in what John would bet anything was Mycroft's handwriting. Sherlock scowls at the note, and tells John to text Mycroft to keep his fat head out of his business.
John sends, Thanks, and Sherlock says thanks too.
"What are you doing here?" John asks, when Sherlock texts John to join him in the middle of the night and John finds himself looking at his grave, lit by a torch lying on the ground. The paint on his tombstone looks ghastly in the dim light, almost like blood (except that old blood was more brown than this).
"Waiting for you, obviously. Don't ask questions you know the answer to." He pours a clear liquid from a thermos onto a cloth that he produces from a coat pocket, then offers it to John. "Would you like to begin?"
John takes the cloth and looks at it dubiously. He sniffs it, but only out of habit; he can't smell anything. "What is it?"
"Paint thinner. I thought your headstone could use a bit of cleaning up. It looks like a madman threw paint all over it," Sherlock comments dryly.
John laughs, and takes the cloth. The paint moistens with a little bit of effort, smearing and revealing streaks of the grey marble underneath. A second hand, with its own cloth, joins him, removing the red bit by bit.
Now that Sherlock can hear John when he speaks, he's gotten uncannily accurate at knowing exactly where John is, and he leans against John briefly. "When I was drugged, you said you could find me anywhere."
"I can. It took me a while to get the hang of it, but I can go wherever you can, now," John says, nervousness twisting his stomach. He can tell where this conversation is going, and his chest tightens, because he's sure, but he's not that sure.
"You're the most important person in the world to me. I'd follow you anywhere. I just... realized that, and it was easy."
Sherlock's cheeks go pink. "Oh. Well. Thank you."
They clear the paint in silence, until there are only pink smears and a few thin, stubborn lines of red left on the slab of marble, wedged in the letters engraved on its surface. Sherlock's fingers trace the words on John's tombstone.
John H. Watson
1971 - 2009
Soldier, brother, son.
Sherlock clears his throat.
"John," he says haltingly. "About what you said, earlier. I just wanted to let you know. The feeling's mutual."
"I'd hoped it might be," John says, as the sun breaks over the horizon.