It is cold in the flat, and he is alone.
He is always alone now, even when he is not.
Even when his ghost is all around, John knows that he is alone. It reverberates in his head, echoes in his bones, makes his skin crawl.
Even when his ghost talks to him, and touches him, and insists that he isn’t dead, that it was all a hoax, all a lie, John is alone. His touch leaves John cold, goosebumps spread out from the point of contact, even if his hands are warm, even if it’s cold in the flat. It drains him, tugs at his soul, makes the edges of his vision go grey.
“It’s not as though you’ve never said that before,” John tells the ghost, softly. His voice is always soft now; he hasn’t been able to raise it much above a whisper in a long time. He’s lost track of the number of days he’s been alone. They are all cold; nothing can ever warm him.
“John,” his ghost says, exasperation and pain lacing his voice like the drugs that end up in John’s tea altogether too often, whenever he starts to see things, scream in the night.
“You’re here again, but that’s not a surprise. Your ghost has shown up so many times over the last three years I’ve lost count. You’ll be gone again in a few days, and I’ll pick up the shards again, keep trying to... Do whatever it is I’m doing here.” John shrugs and sits on the couch while the ghost paces the lounge.
“Probably tear my hands to shreds, but I’m a doctor, I can deal with it,” John adds. “They’ll make me sleep again, for weeks at a time. I almost miss it sometimes.”
Sherlock’s ghost sits down across from him, eyes shining with unshed tears, one hand over his mouth. “You were supposed to be the strong one, John.”
John shrugs, doesn’t look at him. “Haven’t killed myself yet, have I?”
There is no color in his world anymore.
“You’ve never refilled any of these more than once,” the ghost says, gesturing at the line of pill bottles he’s arranged on the worktop in the kitchen.
Right in front of the kettle.
John shrugs, starts moving them aside so he can make tea. He rarely takes them unless they insist, or they force him, or they lace his tea with them. He examines the kettle closely before filling it with water--it looks ok but that doesn’t mean it is.
“Except for the diazepam.”
“I need to sleep.” John shrugs. It’s ok when he decides to sleep; he doesn’t like having that decision taken from him.
Sherlock-ghost nods. “Why don’t you take any of them?”
“They make my head muddled. They don’t work. I can’t see you when you show up again, when I’m taking them.”
“Why do you keep them all, if you don’t think any of them works?”
“Might need them one day.” They were hidden under the sink, behind some of Sherlock’s old chemistry equipment. They hadn’t found them yet. How did he?
“For what?” the ghost asks, looking fearful of the answer.
“Kill myself.” John watches the kettle, but hears the sharp intake of breath anyway. It’s only the truth. Even ghosts should appreciate the truth.
Sherlock spends the next hour grinding every last one of pills into dust and disposing of them. John doesn’t watch.
There are sunflowers in a vase on the windowsill. They are bright yellow. John spends hours staring at the flowers, wondering what they mean, wondering how they got there.
“I loved you, you know,” John tells the ghost, on the fourth day, out of nowhere. He looks briefly at the ghost, eyes fearful.
“I do,” Sherlock-ghost replies. “You could love me still, John. You just have to come back to me.”
John laughs, bitter and brittle. “I'm not the one who’s dead.”
“I’m not dead!” Sherlock shouts. For a bare moment, as the words bounce around the room, there is color in John’s world again, vibrant and rich and wonderful, before the echoes fades and the colors bleed away with it.
John smiles at him, a soft smile reminiscent of the ones he used to give Sherlock. “I wish I believed you.”
Sherlock’s blue scarf hangs on its usual hook behind the door. John takes it and wraps it around his own neck before bed.
“Why won’t you believe me, John?”
John looks up at the ghost, who is standing close, eyes filled with pain, mouth twisted in a frown that fills John with dread. He’s about to leave again; the ghost always leaves but never says why, disappears like a popped bubble, and John will have to start all over, picking up the pieces of his heart and trying to put it back together again. He’s running out of Sellotape.
His heart is missing a lot of pieces now, lost over the last three years. At first he tried to replace them, with bits of wood or a piece of something that was Sherlock’s or the ribbons from his medals or with lint from in the couch, but it never worked. John suspects the ghost takes the original pieces with him, and when he has gathered all of them and taken them away, John will fade from existence. He is waiting for that day with the closest thing to excitement he can muster. He hopes he ends up wherever Sherlock is.
“I’m not well,” he says out loud. “At least, that’s what they tell me.”
Sherlock-ghost lays one warm hand against John’s cheek. John shudders, but the goosebumps his touch usually causes don’t appear. “No, I don’t suppose you are, but that’s no reason not to believe me.”
“I don’t dare.” John leans into the touch. The Sherlock-ghost wraps his arms around John, and for a few brief blissful moments, John lets himself think it could be true.
It breaks his heart all over again, but the Sherlock-ghost holds him while he sobs.
The kettle is white. The tiles on the kitchen wall are green. Sherlock’s eyes are--well, he’s never quite been able to figure that out. A little of everything, really.
“What can I do, John?”
John cocks his head to one side and looks at the ghost. Curious. Not for the first time, he wishes he could be a little better at observing, like Sherlock was. Everything is so grey and fuzzy these days, though, it’s hard to see through the fog sometimes. It’s harder still to try to care that he can’t see through the fog. “You’ve been here longer than ever before.”
“I’m not leaving, John. What can I do to prove to you that I’m alive?”
John shrugs. “There’s someone else here, sometimes.”
“The nurse, yes, I know. Mycroft told me.”
“Mycroft visits sometimes, too. He always looks sad, I don’t think he’s gotten over your death either. He really did love you, you know.”
Sherlock sighs, runs his hands over his face, twines his fingers in his hair before letting go. The show of frustration is something new. “That’s not why he looks sad, John. The nurse won’t be coming back, I’m here now.”
“Don’t be silly, you’re a ghost.”
“I’m not, John. Could I touch you if I were a ghost?” Sherlock-ghost puts his hands on John’s shoulders.
“Dunno. Don’t see why not. You’ve done it before.” John shrugs again; tries to shrug off the touch, the emotions that well up in him at those warm hands on his shoulders. He tries to shrug off the increasing feeling that Sherlock isn’t just his own ghost.
John’s duvet is blue. So is Sherlock’s dressing gown.
“I’m sorry, John. Do you want me not to wear it any longer?”
John shakes his head, swipes at the tears. “No, no. I just wasn’t expecting it. You’ve never done this before.”
“Because I’m alive, John. I’m not a hallucination or a ghost.”
“Yes, you keep saying that.”
“Please believe me.” Sherlock’s voice shakes.
“I want to,” John admits.
Sherlock grabs hold of him when the admission brings on the tears again, keeps him from collapsing.
The skull is the color of bone. John talks to it, far more than Sherlock ever had.
“I wish I had told you when you were alive.” They’re sat cross-legged on either end of John’s bed, John propped against his pillows--he’d long ago taken Sherlock’s from downstairs, but they don’t smell like Sherlock anymore--and Sherlock-ghost against the footboard.
“I don’t know that I would’ve taken it well, before.” Sherlock shakes his head at himself.
“No, I didn’t think you would have; that’s why I never told you. Still, I regret it. Not the easiest person to get close to, were you?” He smiles. Sherlock may not have been easy to get close to, but it had been more worth it than anything else John has ever done. Even worth the grey world he lives in now.
“You managed far better than anyone else I’ve ever met, John. You’re the only person I’ve ever wanted to get to know.”
“I’ve often wondered why that is. I wish you’d told me, some of it at least. Any of it. It might’ve helped.” John looks at his hands. He doesn’t want to cry again.
“Because you’re extraordinary.”
“I’m not. Just an ordinary, broken man. More broken now than I used to be, I suppose. Broken heart, broken mind, broken, broken. Broken. Funny word, broken.” He shrugs. Sherlock wonders if it’s a defense mechanism.
He stretches his long legs out towards John. “You can tell me now, if you’d like.”
John thinks about it for a moment. “I love you,” he says.
“I love you too, John.”
John chokes on something between a laugh and a sob, scoots down to bury his face in the pillows. Sherlock moves carefully to lie beside him.
Sherlock’s armchair is green. Sherlock’s trousers are black. His socks are grey.
Later, much later, John wakes when Sherlock slips into the bed beside him. The ghost has never done this before. John rolls over to face the other man. The ghost of his dead best friend, the man he’d loved.
“Can I stay?” Sherlock-ghost asks. His voice trembles.
John scoots closer and puts his hand over Sherlock’s heart. It beats steadily. He moves his head so it rests on Sherlock’s shoulder, tilts until his nose is pressed against Sherlock’s neck. Sherlock moves until his arms are around John.
John feels surrounded, safe, warm. He hasn’t felt safe and warm since Sherlock died and left him.
“You smell like you,” he murmurs against Sherlock’s neck. Sherlock trembles, tightens his arms around John, presses a kiss to his forehead.
“Are you really here?” John asks, voice slurring as he drifts back towards sleep; the drugs in his system are powerful and cling jealously to him during the night hours.
“Yes, John, I am.”
“OK,” John murmurs. “That’s good.”