The flat had to be too good to be true. John knew there would inevitably be something dreadfully wrong with it, but he still found himself taking the Tube to Baker Street.
When he knocked on the door, it was opened by a pleasant looking older woman.
“John Watson,” he said, holding his hand out. “I’ve come about the flat?”
“Oh, yes.” She smiled. “Come in, dear, come in. I’m Mrs. Hudson,” she said as he followed her inside. “It’s right up here.”
John gestured for her to go before him on the stairs, tapping the floor with his cane and giving her an apologetic look. She nodded in understanding, and he started up after her.
221B had a living room and separate kitchen, with a bedroom off to one side.
“Well, this could be very nice,” John said to himself. He walked through the flat once more. “And the furnishings stay?”
“Yes. They were left. Of course, if you have your own things—these have seen better days, I know.”
“No, no—this is brilliant, actually.” There was a sofa, two chairs, and various tables in the living room, a table in the kitchen, and a bed and dresser in the bedroom.
“There’s also the room upstairs,” Mrs. Hudson said.
“Ah. Yes.” The advertisement had said that, of course. Two bedrooms. There was no reason for him to rent a flat with a second room, but it was well within his price range even with the extra room.
“Mrs. Hudson,” he started. “This is—er—was there some mistake in the paper? You can’t be asking that little for a place this large.”
“I’ve had to keep dropping my prices,” she said. “I’d like to get more for it, but I have to make ends meet.”
“Are you joking?” he asked, confused. “A place like this should be snapped right up.”
“That’s what I think,” she said. “But no one will stay.”
John couldn’t imagine why a place like this wasn’t renting. The building was clean and well kept, and everything in the flat seemed to be in good working order.
He gave the living room another once over and then smiled. “I’ll take it, Mrs. Hudson.”
Moving to his new flat was the work of a day. All of his possessions fit into a few boxes, and one cab ride later, it was done.
Mrs. Hudson wasn’t there when he arrived, and John stacked the boxes in the hallway at the bottom of the stairs after they were taken out of the cab. He started up slowly with the first one, balancing it in one arm and leaning a bit on the wall. John opened the door to 221B and set the box down in the living room.
When he came back with the second box, the door to his flat was closed. John shrugged to himself and opened the door again. He went back downstairs to get the final box.
The second that his foot touched the bottom step, the door above him shut with a resounding slam.
So his cheap new place was drafty. John figured there had to be something.
Unpacking, much like moving, didn’t take long. His clothes were quickly hung, his toiletries put to place in the bathroom, and his few books and mementos shelved in the living room.
His gun he put in the bedside table.
Sinking down onto the couch, John surveyed his work.
The whole place still looked horribly empty. He wasn’t sure why that bothered him; he was used to empty. But where his old room seemed to demand a sort of emptiness, this place looked like it was missing something. He’d have to pick up some things, he supposed. Maybe some more books, since he had a place to put them.
At any rate, he needed to go out for some necessities. The sheets he owned didn’t fit the bed, and he needed a few more things for the kitchen if he wanted to do even light cooking. And he really didn’t have any food.
He spent the rest of the day doing errands, crashing when he came in and going straight to sleep.
John woke to a screeching sound early the next morning. He was still half-asleep, and wasn’t entirely sure that he wasn’t dreaming. The noise continued, just loud enough that he couldn’t block it out. Once he was fully awake, he realised it sounded like a violin.
It was loud enough that it could have been coming from the next room.
While John knew that it was ridiculous for someone to have broken into his flat simply to play the violin, he found himself reaching into the bedside table for his gun. His heart skipped a beat when the gun wasn’t anywhere in the drawer.
The violin playing continued.
“What the hell is going on?” he muttered.
Even though he knew it was entirely possible that there was a nutter with a gun and a violin in his living room, John went in anyway.
The second he came out of the bedroom, the noise stopped.
There was no one there. The rest of his flat was just as he’d left it yesterday. John almost could have convinced himself that he’d imagined the sound, or that it had been in the street or from the next flat over, except that his gun was lying on the kitchen table.
The front door was still locked.
John turned and put the kettle on, considering the options.
One: Someone had come into his flat, found his gun, set it in plain sight and locked the door behind them. They might or might not have made violin noises, but they had definitely moved his gun.
Two: In addition to the nightmares and PTSD, he was now hallucinating and sleepwalking.
This move was supposed to be a good thing, supposed to be the next step to getting some stability and starting his life over. One day in, and he was already losing it.
John put the gun away and made his tea. It occurred to him that he’d never actually looked at the other bedroom upstairs. Yesterday he’d been too exhausted from moving to take the time to look at a room he was never going to use. But he’d paid for the thing, so after getting dressed, John went up the stairs.
It was an empty room, with none of the furnishings that the rest of the flat had. As the bedroom downstairs was bigger, John couldn’t see that he’d have much use for this room. The space he had in the flat was more than enough.
He ran into Mrs. Hudson on the stairs.
“Thought I heard you up,” she said. “How are you settling in?”
“Fine. Just fine,” he said, smiling. “Thank you.”
“That’s good. If you need anything, just let me know.”
John shifted his weight on the cane. “Actually, I was wondering—is there anyone else here? Someone who lives with you, or in the other flat?”
“Oh, no, dear. I’m on my own since Mr. Hudson died, and I’ve never been able to rent the other flat because of the mould. Why?”
“I just heard some noise last night.”
“Er, some music,” he said.
It was only for a second, but John thought she looked unsurprised. Then she said, “Could be from next door. They’ve got teenagers, you know.”
“Right. Well, anyway, I’m still settling in.”
“Of course.” Mrs. Hudson smiled. “You go on, dear.”
John went back in to the flat, closing the door behind him.
His books had been thrown off the shelves and onto the floor. For a moment, John just stood there. He took a deep breath.
Mrs. Hudson didn’t seem the type to go through his possessions behind his back, or the type to be destructive. She certainly wasn’t the type to find an illegal firearm and not be bothered. And John knew that despite anything he might be hallucinating or doing while asleep, he hadn’t thrown his books around, forgotten about it, and then gone to look at the room upstairs.
He’d only been out of the flat for minutes, and more than half that time, he’d been standing on the landing talking to Mrs. Hudson. There was no one else in the building.
The word ‘haunted’ sprang to the back of his mind, but John pushed it aside just as quickly.
His job at the surgery was mundane, but mundane was good. Boring was good. He hadn’t been working there long, but it gave him something to do, people to be around, and some more income. He could start having a normal life again.
When John got back to the flat late that afternoon, he spent time picking up the things that were scattered across the living room floor. He re-shelved the books, and straightened the papers and letters. Besides what had been thrown about that morning, nothing else had been moved.
The lights wouldn’t stop flickering, though. And one lamp in the corner refused to stay on.
He heard footsteps on the stairs, a tread that was far too heavy and quick to be Mrs. Hudson. When he opened the door, there was no one there.
A plate fell from the rack and broke on the floor.
John opened his laptop. He stared at the screen for a moment before he clicked to type a new entry.
The Personal Blog of Dr. John H. Watson
I think my new flat might be haunted…
He had nightmares that night. Guns and explosions and panic that ended with him bolting upright in bed as he remembered getting shot all over again. It took him a moment to realise that the sounds hadn’t stopped.
There was a sporadic, yet constant noise, the sound of metal on metal. John groaned as he realised it was pipes being banged on.
The noise continued, preventing him from falling back asleep. John was too tired to consider rational possibilities. ‘My flat might be haunted’ automatically changed to, ‘My flat is haunted.’ Haunted by a ghost who clearly wanted to annoy him to death.
The bangs were slow and unhurried. Sometimes they would seem to stop, only to start back up again. An hour later, John was still staring at the ceiling.
“Bit juvenile, this,” he finally said aloud. “Not to mention unoriginal. Got some chains to rattle next, do you?”
The banging stopped. It was blissfully quiet before a rapid fire of bangs sounded off, louder and faster than before.
John huffed. Looked like he’d made his ghost mad. Well, it wasn’t like he’d been getting any sleep before. As the noise continued, something pinged in the back of John’s mind. The sound was regular, almost like—
Dash dash dash. Dot dot dash dot. Dot dot dash dot. Dot dash dash dot—
For a moment, John was floored. But as he listened again, there was no mistaking it. He almost laughed at the absurdity of it.
Instead, he raised his voice and said, “Why don’t you piss off?”
The noise stopped. John didn’t hear anything else for the rest of the night.
In the morning, all the drawers and cabinets in the kitchen had been opened. John sighed and closed them before putting the kettle on. When his back was turned, the mug he’d set out on the counter had moved. John moved it back.
He had his tea and some toast, and then went to take a shower.
When he was done, the words GET OUT were written on the fogged up mirror.
For a moment, John just stared.
Slowly another word appeared, letter by letter, as if someone were writing it with a finger.
John’s breath caught. This was the first thing that had happened in front of his eyes, the first thing that there could be no rational explanation for. He couldn’t write it off as the building being old, or as someone pulling an elaborate prank.
John regarded the mirror for another moment. Then he wiped away the message with his hand. In the space at the bottom of the mirror, he wrote: NO.
After he got dressed, he went down to see Mrs. Hudson. She answered when he knocked softly on her door.
“My flat’s haunted, isn’t it?” he said without preamble.
She sighed, her face slipping into a mask of sad resignation. “I’ll get your rent cheque, dear. I haven’t cashed it yet.”
“No,” John said, putting a hand on her arm. “No, I didn’t—I mean, I’m not sure I’m leaving.”
“Oh.” She brightened.
“Could we talk?” John asked.
“Of course,” she said, stepping back and gesturing for him to move past her. “Come in.”
John followed her in, and after a few minutes, they were both seated in Mrs. Hudson’s living room with tea and biscuits.
“I’ve never seen anything myself, mind you,” she started. “I only know what people tell me. But I’ve had more people move out of that flat in the last year—” She paused, shaking her head.
“What did they say?”
“The usual things you hear about on telly. Things moved around, footsteps, voices, lights not working. I never liked those programmes myself.”
John took a sip of tea. “And that’s what all your tenants said?”
Mrs. Hudson nodded. “I just can’t keep it rented. It’s gotten so bad lately that the last two only stayed a few days. I didn’t believe it at first, you know. I thought the poor dears’ imaginations must have run away with them, but the next lot said the same thing, and the ones after that, and the ones after that.” She sighed. “I even spent several nights up there myself to see what all the fuss was about, but nothing happened. Then I tried warning the next ones, but they thought I was just a silly old woman.” Mrs. Hudson laughed. “Didn’t stop them from clearing out, too.”
“But you’ve never seen anything?” John said.
“I heard the violin once, or at least I thought I did. He knows I always did like to hear him play.” She sighed again, taking a drink from her cup. “I thought if I dropped the rent, someone would stay, but he’s driving them off faster than ever now.”
“He?” John asked, setting down his tea.
“Sherlock. He was always such a nice boy.”
John’s eyebrows went up. “Sorry—so you actually know who’s haunting the flat?”
“I’ve been here for years, dear. Never had anything out of the ordinary until recently.”
“So he was a tenant?”
“Yes. Not for long, though, only a few months. He was always trying to find someone to flatshare with, poor dear. But he kept running all his flatmates off.”
John laughed in spite of himself. “Back when he was alive, then, too?”
Mrs. Hudson smiled. “Sherlock was a peculiar boy. He was a detective, you know. Always keeping mad hours and doing experiments, dashing about with the wrong sort.”
John cleared his throat. “Was he, ah, killed here?”
“No.” She shook her head. “It was a horrible business, but it was nowhere near here.”
“Mm,” he mused.
“I’m not sure what else I can tell you,” Mrs. Hudson said. “And I have that rent cheque if you change your mind.”
John fell silent, considering. His finished his tea. Then he stood. “Cash the cheque, Mrs. Hudson.”
“I’m not leaving,” John addressed the empty flat when he went back upstairs. “I’m just not. You can toss my things about, you can bang on the walls, you can do anything you bloody well like. But you’re not running me off. You’re dead. This is my flat now. I’m staying, and that’s all there is to it.”
At work, he looked up Sherlock on his lunch break. John wished he’d gotten a last name from Mrs. Hudson, but after a few tries of searching for ‘Sherlock’ with ‘detective’, he found several newspaper articles that had mentioned a Sherlock Holmes in connection with police cases. John figured it had to be him. There couldn’t be two detectives in London with such an unusual name. He found a link for Sherlock’s website, but was unsurprised to find that it was no longer up. He also found an article from about a year ago detailing Sherlock’s death.
It had been a suicide. Or possibly a murder. Possibly a murder suicide. Sherlock’s body had been found in a building one morning along with the body of an older man. They had both taken the same poison, and the case was tied to four other serial suicides that had occurred over previous months.
The serial suicides had been a sensational case, based on what he found. The deaths appeared to be suicides on the surface, except that all the victims had taken the same rare form of poison. Sherlock’s name was linked to the case as a consultant by a Detective Inspector Lestrade, and Sherlock himself had somehow become the next serial suicide.
There was a quote from another officer suggesting that Sherlock Holmes had committed the murders out of boredom and then killed himself as well.
The case remained unsolved.
Nothing happened for the rest of that day.
The ghost—Sherlock, John supposed he should call him—didn’t make one noise or move anything about. However, there was a feeling that John couldn’t shake, the feeling that he was not alone in the room. He got the sense of a presence more strongly than he ever had before.
It was almost like Sherlock knew John had spent the day reading up on him. How a ghost could possibly know what he’d gotten up to at the surgery, John didn’t know, but once the idea struck him, it wouldn’t go away.
John put his book down. “Sherlock, is it?” he asked. “I’m John. John Watson. Guess you knew that already, but I figured it was time for a proper introduction. Since we’re going to be flatmates of a sort.”
There was no response.
Later that night, he heard the violin.
“So how are things going?”
“Fine,” John said. “Fine.”
Ella stared at him with that practiced look, like she could wait all day.
“I wrote on my blog,” John said.
“Well?” he asked after a moment.
“You said your new flat’s haunted.”
“It is.” John nodded. “Got a haunted flat.”
“You don’t believe me,” he realised.
Ella crossed her ankles as she shifted her notepad. “I believe you’ve been through a lot.”
“Look, I know I’m having trouble adjusting, but I’m not crazy. My flat really is haunted.”
“Are you sure you’re not creating distractions?”
“I know what I saw.” John frowned. “Do you just not believe me, or do you think anyone that believes in ghosts has a problem?”
“We’re not here to talk about beliefs.”
“No, we’re here—I’m here—to talk about what’s going on in my life, and right now it’s that I’ve got a haunted flat.”
Ella just nodded and made more notes.
John had been living over a week in a haunted flat. It was going as well as it could, he supposed.
Sherlock hadn’t banged on the pipes since the first night when he seemingly realised that John was on to the Morse Code. There were also no more ominous messages left telling John to leave. John wasn’t sure if that meant that Sherlock was resigned to having him around, or if he was resigned to not being actively hostile.
However, Sherlock still threw his things about on a regular basis. Every morning John would wake up to the living room or kitchen in disarray. Finally, he just stopped putting things back. Sherlock seemed to get bored with moving John’s possessions once it became clear that John really didn’t care where they were.
The exception to this was John’s gun. The third time Sherlock moved it from its drawer to somewhere else in the flat, John lost it and had a shouting match with the wall. He ranted to Sherlock the following: His gun was a weapon, not something for Sherlock to play with, and John wasn’t even supposed to have it. It was personal, it was his, and Sherlock could toss everything else in the flat out the bloody window for all he cared, but the gun was not to be touched. John stormed out after that, only realising once he was on the street that he’d had a row with a ghost and then left his own flat.
When John came back that evening, the gun was back in the drawer.
In the morning, after he took a shower, there was writing on the foggy mirror. PISS OFF, it said, followed by a rather sinister looking smiley face.
John laughed abruptly. He wasn’t sure if the note was a signal that things were about to start up again or if it was a weird sort of apology.
But in the days that followed, Sherlock didn’t do anything else besides the things that John had become accustomed to, and his gun remained where he placed it.
However, Sherlock had started moving John’s cane around. One day, he seemed to have hidden it completely. John berated the empty air, but no cane was produced. He started to the surgery in a foul mood, leaving early to give himself extra time. He was only halfway around the block before he decided that getting to the Tube wasn’t worth it and that he should just hail a cab.
That was when the black car pulled up.
He didn’t think much of it until it started to roll along slowly at his pace. John eyed the car uneasily. The back window rolled down, revealing a man in a suit. The man gave him a benign smile.
“Wouldn’t you like a ride, Dr. Watson?”
John stopped dead in his tracks. Then he started walking again. “No thanks.”
The car followed.
“Are you sure? It must be difficult, without your cane.”
John narrowed his eyes. “Who are you?”
“A concerned party,” he said.
“Concerned with me?”
“In a way.”
“I don’t know who you are or what you think—”
“I think that you’re Captain John Watson, of the Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers. You were invalided home from Afghanistan, you’re having trouble adjusting to civilian life, and you’re in therapy that is doing you no good. I also happen to know that you’re in possession of your gun, a fact that could cause you some trouble, I imagine. Now, I could make some sort of threat, but I’m sure your position is clear. Please, get in the car.”
John had stopped walking halfway through the man’s speech. When the car door opened for him, he reluctantly got in.
The man moved over to the other side of the seat to make room for him, though he did it in a manner that suggested he was making a huge concession for John by doing so. There was a privacy glass installed between the back seat and the front, and once John shut the car door, they were alone.
The car started moving.
The man just watched him.
“Where are we going?” John asked, when it became clear that he was going to have to speak first.
“To your job, of course. I’m merely giving you a ride,” he said pleasantly.
“And what is this about?”
The man paused for an inordinately long amount of time. “Something of a peculiar nature,” he finally said. “How are you enjoying your new flat?”
“It’s a flat,” John said evenly.
The man smiled. “No problems with the ghost of Sherlock Holmes, then?”
For a moment, John didn’t know what to say. “Sorry?”
“You’ve been searching online for information regarding Sherlock’s death, as well as writing in your blog that your flat is haunted and discussing it with your therapist.”
“All right,” John said slowly, somewhat unnerved. “But I don’t see how that’s any business of yours.”
“What Sherlock is up to is very much my business. Call it an older brother’s prerogative.”
Again, John found himself saying, “Sorry?” Then, “You’re interested in my flat? You actually think it’s haunted?”
“Oh, yes,” Holmes said easily. “Not at first, mind you, but it became quite obvious after a time.” He paused. “The events around Sherlock’s death were somewhat mysterious.”
“The case was never solved,” John said, still not entirely sure where this was going.
“Not by the police,” Holmes agreed. “Sherlock’s fascination with solving crimes unfortunately led to his being the victim of one. His talent was wasted solving his petty puzzles and running his experiments. He could have done great things. We belonged together. But he never saw that.”
“And what do you do?” John asked.
“I occupy a minor position in the government.” He smiled. “Because of the conditions of Sherlock’s death, I had his last place of residence monitored for some time. Nothing relevant came of it, except an alarming pattern of quickly displaced tenants. It didn’t take long to figure out the reason upon interviewing them.”
“Sorry,” John said again. “Sorry. So you jumped straight to ‘my brother must be haunting the place’?”
“Naturally not. But once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.” He chuckled to himself. “It’s really too bad Mummy isn’t alive. She was very into the occult, rather a hobby of hers. Sherlock, on the other hand, vehemently denied there was any sort of afterlife. Strange how these things work out.”
“And what do you believe?”
“What the evidence tells me, of course. I never had any opinion on the existence of the spiritual world before this, but there is no doubt in my mind that Sherlock, for whatever reason, is still in that flat.”
There was a short silence. John shifted in the seat. “Have you ever considered…”
“Have I considered what?” Holmes gave him a look, like anything John might suggest had already been thought of by him three times over.
“Well,” John said, “It seems like sometimes people need, er, help? Moving on?”
“Are you suggesting, Dr. Watson, that I should have my brother exorcised?”
“No,” John said quickly. “No. No, obviously not.”
“We do not speak ill of the dead, and we do not disobey their wishes. It’s to my vexation that Sherlock is in the unique position to still have his wishes implemented. He ended up beating me after all, in his own way. But I digress. No, Sherlock told me to leave him alone, and for once, I’ll do as he asks.”
John felt like he had distinctly lost the thread of the entire conversation. “And why are you telling me any of this?”
Holmes regarded him with an appraising gaze. “You’re the first person that Sherlock hasn’t driven off. You’ve lived with him for two weeks, and seem to have no intention of going anywhere. I find that incredibly interesting.”
John hesitated. “We seem to have come to an agreement.”
“Even more interesting.” He paused. “And why did you decide to stay?”
“Why wouldn’t I?” John countered.
“Sherlock can be single-mindedly disagreeable. I have reason to believe he’s done everything in his power to terrorise tenants in the past.”
“It doesn’t bother me.”
“No? Mm.” Holmes fell silent for a moment. “Your therapist thinks you have PTSD, that you’re haunted by the war. But that’s not quite true, is it?”
John’s jaw clenched.
“You miss the way it feels to walk the battlefield. You don’t panic under pressure; you’re calm under it. I’d even go so far as to say you thrive on it.” He raised an eyebrow. “So what better place to live than a home where you’re guaranteed a never-ending struggle?”
“Ah, we’re here.”
John looked out the window. They had arrived at the surgery.
Holmes just gave him a smug look. John opened the door and got out.
The car window rolled down behind him. “Your limp is psychosomatic, by the way. And you should fire your therapist.”
John’s cane was by his chair when he got home, like it had been there all along. John knew it hadn’t.
But he didn’t hear or see any more evidence of Sherlock until that night.
Sherlock banged on the pipes all night. There was a pattern to it, but it wasn’t Morse Code, and John couldn’t be bothered to wake up properly and take it down on a notepad.
The thought occurred to him that if he did, Sherlock would probably stop, just as he had when John had cottoned on to the Morse. Sherlock seemed to like broadcasting messages that he thought no one else could understand. And apparently just randomly knocking on pipes wasn’t amusing enough.
John groaned and put a pillow over his head. What was that, anyway? Binary?
It was slightly worrying that his ghost was smarter than he was.
In the morning, he found Sherlock’s obituary online. It was as short and concise as possible, but it did say that he was survived by his brother, Mycroft Holmes.
An Internet search on Mycroft Holmes turned up nothing. It was like the man didn’t exist. Something else that was worrying.
“I met him yesterday,” John said aloud, closing the laptop. “Your brother.”
He wasn’t sure when exactly he had started talking to Sherlock. At first it was little things, muttering something like, ‘done it again, have you?’ when John found something out of place. Mostly it was nothing that he wouldn’t have said to himself as he went about his day, reminders to pick up milk or do the washing, though John always had the distinct feeling that he wasn’t the only one listening. Only several times had John actually addressed Sherlock as if he were in the room, but it was becoming more frequent.
“But I’m guessing you knew that already, given the racket you made last night. I don’t know how you bloody knew, but it’s the same way you know anything, I suppose. You two didn’t get on, then?”
Silence was the answer, as always.
“A real piece of work, your brother. He said he’d had the flat under surveillance, that he knows about you and all the people you’ve run off—oh, and he practically abducted me in broad daylight. He’d gotten my therapist’s records and my Internet search history. He knows about my gun. What am I supposed to do with that, Sherlock? I don’t know what he wants, but he’s interested.”
What John didn’t say was that it was interesting. All of it was interesting, and a little bit exciting, and that gave more support to Mycroft’s analysis of him than he’d care to admit.
“So how was your date?”
“Fine,” John said automatically.
“Was it really?” Ella asked.
John stared straight ahead. He had managed to get a date, but it had never actually gotten off the ground.
He hadn’t even been bringing her round, technically; they had just stopped off at the flat so he could get a jacket and she could use the loo before going to the cinema. John had been in the living room when he’d heard the scream.
Barbara had come flying out of the bathroom, babbling about a man standing behind her in the mirror when she’d looked up from washing her hands. John had tried to explain that it was ‘just’ the ghost, at which point she’d turned even whiter. She’d been so shaken that they had opted for coffee instead of the cinema, and she’d left with a promise to ring.
She never did.
“John?” Ella questioned.
“She got scared off by my dead flatmate,” he said bluntly.
Ella gave him an unreadable look. “John.”
“That’s what happened.”
Ella wrote something down, before looking up again. “You haven’t written in your blog again.”
She gave him that prompting look.
John wondered what he was supposed to say. That he thought it was pointless, or that his blog was apparently being monitored by the British government?
He wondered what it said that he put more thought into why he hadn’t ever seen Sherlock than why Barbara never rang him.
The black car rolled up again a week later as John was leaving the surgery. This time it stopped at the curb, and the driver got out, pointedly opening the back door until John came over.
John got in, looking at Mycroft after the driver shut the door. “This is all a bit dramatic, don’t you think?”
“I could be more dramatic, I assure you. You would be surprised the lengths one had to go to to avoid Sherlock’s notice. There seems little point now.”
“Still, you could just phone me,” John said. “You know, on my phone.”
“You would prefer to have a one-sided conversation about Sherlock within the earshot of your coworkers? Or Sherlock?”
“What do you want?”
“I would greatly like to know what Sherlock wants,” Mycroft said.
“You think I know?”
“As I said before, Dr. Watson, I think it’s interesting.”
“I did some reading,” John said. “On ghosts.”
“And what did you discover?”
“That most ghosts aren’t self-aware enough to bang on the pipes in Morse Code. They do the same things over and over again. Pictures moved here, toys moved there, one room or another where you see a figure. Sometimes you can tell they don’t want you there, but most of it seems to be random actions. But with Sherlock, it’s like he does whatever he wants and he knows exactly what he’s doing. He’s not… static.”
“No,” Mycroft agreed. “Sherlock was exceptional in life, and it seems he remains so.”
“You said he told you to leave him alone. How? Morse?”
Mycroft chuckled, shaking his head. “My brother was a genius, and I mean that in every sense of the word. He more than dabbled in most sciences and memorised any information he could get his hands on. And he could apply it very quickly, could put together two dozen different facts and find their solution before anyone else had even realised the question. He was, as I said, wasted in his chosen profession.”
John was silent, and after a moment, Mycroft continued.
“I was sceptical at the idea of a haunting, of course, despite the nearly identical testimonies. Eventually, I had the flat fully investigated.”
“Mrs. Hudson never said that.”
“She didn’t know. I arranged for her to win a two week holiday so we could have complete access,” Mycroft said. “I had ‘scientists’ with equipment brought in. I had ‘psychics’ brought in. While there was some amusing activity at first, it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary, and most of it seemed to come to nothing.”
John pursed his lips. “Something changed your mind, though.”
“Yes.” Mycroft brought his hands together. “One psychic I hired toward the end set up a Ouija board. She reported back to me with a page full of what she said was gibberish. But she reported it nonetheless, because that’s what the board had given her.” He paused. “If she had been lying, she would have relayed a message of her own composition, something she thought a grieving family member would want to hear. Therefore, whatever was on the page was what she received. Of course, I knew it was entirely possible that she believed she had contacted something without actually doing so. The message she received could be nothing at all.”
“But it wasn’t.”
“No. Once I figured out that certain letters had been substituted for mathematical symbols, it was obviously a series of several equations. Their solutions, when run through one of Sherlock’s favourite cyphers, said, Go away, Mycroft. Only my brother could have done that.”
John found himself shaking his head. “No one could do that. It’s impossible. It has to be—”
“Coincidence?” Mycroft asked. “My making of the results what I wanted? No. You didn’t know Sherlock, Dr. Watson. He was a true genius, as I said, and he remains such.”
“Why would he go to all that trouble? Why not just say, ‘Go away, Mycroft’?”
“I imagine he felt he had to irrevocably prove that the message only could have come from him. A feat he achieved.”
John didn’t reply. After a moment, Mycroft spoke again.
“I do worry, though. Being here can’t be good for him. I’ve been informed that the thinking on such things seems to be that spirits become stuck for a reason. Some attachment to the place, some final business, some traumatic experience, you know the sort of thing.”
“Well, he was murdered,” John ventured.
“True. Though I had rather hoped that I had solved the mystery of that, if that’s all Sherlock needed to be able to rest. But you see, rest was never something Sherlock was particularly good at. I think he wants to be here, though I can’t fathom why.” He sighed, and then gave John a practiced smile. “So how are you getting on?”
“Fine,” John said. “It’s fine. I hear things, things move, the telly comes on by itself, but it’s fine. He hasn’t really done anything aimed at me, I don’t think, since the first few days. Well, he keeps hiding my cane.”
“I think he does it to annoy me.”
“Or he’s deduced the reality of your limp and is trying to make a point.”
John’s fist clenched. He wasn’t going to admit to Mycroft that he’d almost gotten used to the cane disappearing, and that lately he’d started getting up out of his chair without even checking to see if his cane was nearby.
“Is there anything else?” John asked.
“Given that Sherlock hasn’t run you off yet, I imagine he must have decided not to do so.”
“No. I’m just not leaving. I told him as much.”
“And you think you’re the first who decided that they wouldn’t be driven out?” Mycroft laughed. “Sherlock is quite capable of making life unbearable, I assure you. Though perhaps not for a soldier,” he added, giving John a speculative look. “However, it may do Sherlock good to have some company.”
Mycroft produced a file from his briefcase. “I have some reading material you might be interested in.”
“And what’s this?”
“A summary of my investigations and Sherlock’s activities during such.”
John couldn’t deny that he was interested. He took the folder.
“Keep it,” Mycroft said, anticipating him. “It’s hardly classified.”
“Should I be reading this in front of Sherlock?” John asked, remembering the mood Sherlock had been in the last time he’d talked to Mycroft.
Mycroft smiled. “Oh, please do.”
The door slammed behind John as soon as he was in the flat.
“I know,” he said. “But what am I supposed to do, Sherlock? Not get in the car? I have to talk to him. Besides,” John added, “who else am I supposed to talk to about you?”
He sat down in a chair and opened the file. The first page was a glossy photograph. John stared at it for several seconds. None of the articles online had had a picture of Sherlock.
“Huh,” he muttered. “Nice to put a face to the name, at least.”
Then he turned the page. The first section of the file consisted of various things that had happened to other tenants. All of it was pretty much what John expected—banging on the pipes, other noises, possessions moved, electricity going on and off. The one that surprised him was voices and apparitions, something John had had none of.
Sherlock didn’t do anything while John was reading, which was unexpected. John had figured Sherlock would make his displeasure at Mycroft’s interference known, but nothing happened. However, John did get a sense of a strong presence, like someone was reading over his shoulder. Or like Sherlock was interested in what John thought of it all.
The next section of the file detailed the reports of the various psychics and ghost hunters who had observed the flat. John found himself snickering as he read.
None of the people with equipment had had luck recording anything. No energy spikes, no cold spots, no sounds. There had only been one incident that was noteworthy, and it wasn’t even provable. “This says you destroyed four thousand pounds worth of equipment,” John commented. “They don’t know how, just that when they came back to collect the recording devices in the morning, none of them would work.”
Most of the psychics couldn’t detect anything, though a few had said they felt a minor presence. None of them got a read on Sherlock, at any rate, not like what you saw on telly where they walked in and told you where the bad spots where and what sort of mood the spirit was in today.
And despite the remark Mycroft had made about not having his brother exorcised, it appeared that he’d thought at one point that perhaps Sherlock did need help. Several psychics who were known for clearing residences had been brought in, but they had as little luck detecting Sherlock as anyone else.
There had been one notable incident with a pagan priestess. She claimed she had managed tentative contact, successfully opened a gateway to the other side, directed Sherlock as to how to cross over, and had received an unimpressed “And?” in response.
Then there was the psychic who had had a full-blown encounter the second he’d walked through the door. John actually giggled as he read, then said, “You told him his wife was going to leave him next Wednesday, and then berated him for being overweight and leading her to cheat on him. You made the man cry, Sherlock?”
Unfortunately, that had redoubled Mycroft’s attention on the flat. The days after that were filled with consultant after consultant coming in.
Sherlock refused to prove his existence any of them.
This had finally led to the incident with the Ouija board. Go away, Mycroft, spelled out in a language only Sherlock could write. Mycroft had, and that was where the file ended.
John closed the folder.
Then he took out the picture, studying it for he didn’t know what.
He grinned to himself. “You’re kind of an annoying dick, aren’t you?”
John was a month into living in a haunted flat, and things had settled into a surprisingly comfortable pattern.
Sherlock didn’t seem to pay actual attention to him, in that his actions were no longer directed toward John. He was active, but he hadn’t done anything to John since the beginning, and now he hardly bothered with throwing John’s things about. He seemed to move things when he had reasons, but John hadn’t come home to find everything torn off the shelves in weeks.
Mostly, John just had evidence that Sherlock was around. It was the sorts of things that just seemed to happen with ghosts, like lights going on and off and hearing footsteps. Doors slammed occasionally. John wasn’t sure if Sherlock was actually doing those things intentionally, or if they were just a side effect of his presence.
More interesting were the things that Sherlock was definitely doing. For the most part, he left John alone when John was watching telly, though several times the set had gone off by itself or changed channels. But more common was the telly turning itself on. John had turned it off the first time this had happened, only to have his books swept off a shelf in retaliation. John had sighed and gestured to the set, muttering, “go ahead, then”. The telly had come back on. It was also regularly on when John came home from work.
Sometimes John still found things in places that he hadn’t left them. Several times he found a book out, opened, like it had been flipped through. His cane was always missing. He was almost surprised when he found it by his chair one day. John stared at it, then got up without reaching for it. He imagined that Sherlock felt smug.
He routinely heard the violin, usually at night, sometimes screeching with notes plucked randomly from the air, sometimes quietly lilting with an actual melody. Now and then it was loud, while other times, it seemed muted, like it was being played from a great distance.
Once, it had been particularly vivid. John had woken in the night to the sound. It was as clear as crystal, and even over the sound of the violin, he could hear the footfalls of sharp shoes on the wooden planks. All of the lights in the living room must have been on, and shadows danced under the door. When John had opened the bedroom door, the room before him was black and silent.
He had a dead flatmate. It was fine.
John found himself talking out loud more often than not. He knew Sherlock was there and could understand him, and even though there was no reply, John didn’t have a doubt that he was talking to someone.
It was comfortable. John knew the whole thing should have been anything but comfortable, but he found himself quickly accustomed to the bizarre living situation. It was no longer the challenge Mycroft had accused him of seeking, but it had become something else.
John realised he hadn’t felt lonely since the day he’d moved in.
There was a nearby pub John had found that he quite liked. He didn’t have any mates to go drinking with, but that didn’t stop him from going to get a pint or two occasionally. And there was always the chance of meeting someone.
It was nice, having a regular pub again.
He was walking back to the flat one night after going out, was almost in front of the building, when he heard the screeching of tires. John turned as it happened—a car that was going much too fast veered out of its lane and struck another.
The second car spun onto the pavement and careened towards him.
It seemed to happen in slow motion. It was funny how he had time to see it happening, but not time enough to move clear.
The impact sent him flying.
John landed on the pavement like a broken doll.
Everything hurt so much that the pain ceased to matter. He stared straight up at nothing, before blearily closing his eyes. He had the thought, I’ve been here before.
Then there were hands on him.
Hands on his chest and then on his face.
“John. Open your eyes.”
John opened his eyes. He thought. It was so hard to tell.
“John, look at me. John!”
John focused. Someone was hovering over him.
“You have to stay here.”
He saw Sherlock above him, silhouetted against the light.
“Don’t go into the light. You have to hold on, John. Stay here.”
John felt himself fading again.
“Look at me! John!”
John woke up in hospital.
He couldn’t remember anything at first. Then it slowly came back to him.
The rest of the day itself was a dull blur, but in between moments of haziness from the drugs, he was told that he had several cracked ribs and a broken leg. There had been internal bleeding that they had been able to stop, and he’d had a concussion. He was asked if there was anyone they could call for him. John thought of Harry, but the last thing he felt like right now was dealing with Harry.
John was kept in hospital for the better part of a week. Mrs. Hudson visited him three times.
Other than that, it was dull. There was nothing worse than being a doctor in hospital. He knew everything they were going to want him to do, and he didn’t need much about his treatment explained.
Mrs. Hudson had brought him some things to read, but John spent most of the time he was awake thinking. He didn’t remember anything about the accident besides the fact that it had happened. What he did remember was Sherlock.
He’d seen him. He’d heard him.
John knew he’d almost died. He supposed that could account for being able to see Sherlock. What it didn’t account for was Sherlock himself.
John finally told himself that there was no accounting for Sherlock, even if he couldn’t quite put his finger on why he didn’t believe that.
On the day he was to be discharged, a woman he’d never seen before appeared in his doorway. “Your paperwork is taken care of,” she said. “The car’s waiting.”
“Car?” John asked. “Sorry, who are you?”
“Anthea,” she said, hardly sparing him a glance.
The nurse wheeled John down the hallway. Anthea walked beside them, typing on her phone. Outside, John saw the car, and it all snapped into place. Anthea opened the back door for John and then got into the front passenger side without missing a beat.
John hefted himself into the backseat with effort, giving Mycroft an apologetic glance as the crutches followed.
Once they were in motion, he said, “Thanks for picking me up. Didn’t really expect to see you.”
“Well. You had quite the close call, John.”
“I saw him,” John blurted. “I saw Sherlock.”
Mycroft inclined his head.
“After I got hit. I don’t remember much, but I remember seeing this light. And then there was Sherlock, kneeling over me and saying my name.”
“Mm. You realise that near death experiences involving light are quite universal. The most common theory is that it’s something neurological. Visions of loved ones are quite common as well.”
“Don’t,” John said. “Don’t tell me that I’m having some sort of universal experience, or that I was seeing Sherlock because I wanted to.”
“I never said anything of the sort. I’m merely stating a fact.” Mycroft brought his hands together. “I received an interesting text from your phone on the night of the accident.”
“I don’t have my phone. I don’t even know where it is. Probably lying on the pavement somewhere.”
“Probably.” Mycroft took out his own phone. After a few seconds of flipping through it, he turned it toward John to show him a message. “That is your number at the top, I believe?”
John frowned. “Yes.” He checked the number again, before glancing at the text itself.
“I didn’t send this.”
“Obviously.” Mycroft put the phone back in his pocket.
“So who did?”
“1-9-1-5-1-9 is S.O.S. by the letters’ numerical placement in the alphabet. It’s a code I once told Sherlock he could text me if he needed true emergency assistance. He never used it once, of course, despite the various predicaments he found himself in.”
“Emergency assistance,” John repeated.
“Basically like an automatic call to 999 for an immediate dispatch of all emergency services, no questions asked.”
“You’re saying Sherlock sent you a text to call 999.”
“I’m saying that being unable to do anything else, Sherlock used your phone to send a message he knew I’d recognise.” Mycroft paused, giving him a significant look. “It’s the first time my brother has asked for my help in ten years, and he did it to save your life.”
John fell silent.
Finally, he said, “So you think I did see him.”
After a moment, Mycroft spoke again. “As the whole incident was captured on CCTV, I don’t see a reason that you need to be concerned with the legal proceedings. Both drivers survived, and it’s being taken care of.”
“All right,” John said slowly.
Mycroft produced a photograph. It was a frame of the accident, John realised. He could see the two cars where they had come to rest, and could make out his own body on the pavement. There were several faint orbs hovering around him.
John swallowed. “Is that—?”
“A trick of the light,” Mycroft said smoothly. “Irrelevant, unimportant. Unless you know what you’re looking at, of course.”
“Guess you finally got your proof, then,” John said.
“I had my proof a long time ago, John.” Mycroft sounded resigned. “I only wanted to ensure that my brother was well.”
“He seems to be doing as he wishes, and Sherlock was always at his most pleased when he got his way. Perhaps that’s all that can be said.” Then Mycroft smiled. “At least I no longer have to worry about what he’s gone and done now. He’s rather contained at Baker Street. Imagine what I had to deal with when he was loose in all of London.”
John couldn’t help but chuckle at that.
When they arrived at the flat, Anthea once again opened the door for John. He said goodbye to Mycroft and pulled out his crutches. He had made it to the hallway before he realised that Anthea was still trailing him.
“I’m to see you up,” she said, barely glancing at him. “It’s no good arguing,” she cut him off.
Stepping close to him, she took his left crutch away and looped his arm over her shoulder. John had no choice but to lean on her, and holding on to the rail with his right hand, they started up. He had to admit that it was easier than the crutches, since his chest and side still hurt.
“You’re stronger than you look,” he said, when they were almost up.
“Thank you, John.”
Anthea deposited him in the living room with all the enthusiasm of someone delivering a package. She went back downstairs to retrieve the crutches, made sure they were in reach, and then pulled her phone out.
“You, uh, work out a lot?” John asked.
“Of course,” she said without looking up. “I’ve arranged to have meals delivered.”
“It’s no good arguing,” Anthea said, tapping away. “Bye.”
With that, she disappeared down the stairs.
Mrs. Hudson was up a minute later, fussing over him. Truthfully, John was glad that there was someone around. He didn’t like being waited on, but he knew there were some things that were going to be difficult to manage for a while.
“Now, here’s your medicine,” she said, after she fixed him some tea. “I’ve got it all set out. Make sure you eat something with it.”
“I know, Mrs. Hudson.” John smiled.
“There’s a nice supper in the fridge for you, and something for tomorrow, too. Now, if you need anything, anything at all, just give me a ring and I’ll be right up. At least until you’re back on your feet,” she added.
“I’m sure I’ll be fine.”
“Just get some rest, dear.”
John smiled again and nodded.
Mrs. Hudson closed the door behind her, and then he was alone.
John leaned back in the chair. The table next to him had tea, biscuits, a bottle of water, his various medications, and the remote to the telly. His crutches were within easy reach, and his laptop was wedged between the cushion and the arm of the chair.
He had everything at his fingertips, but he felt like doing nothing.
One of his prescription bottles suddenly launched itself off the table.
“Sherlock, put that back. Now is not the time.”
“Oh, shut up.”
“You can hear me. Interesting.”
John looked around the room, but there was nothing there.
“You couldn’t do that before.”
“This is extraordinary,” John said.
“Of course it is.” Then John paused. He had gotten used to talking out loud to Sherlock, but having him answer back was another thing entirely.
“It must have been the accident,” Sherlock was saying. “You were very close to the other side. Near death experience. Interesting.” A pause. “Are you all right?”
“Yes.” John cleared his throat. “Broke my tibia. Not that bad a fracture, all things considered, though I’ll still probably get some physical therapy out of it. I also had cracked ribs and some internal bleeding. But they said I was incredibly lucky.”
There was a short silence. “I saw you after I got hit,” John said. “You were telling me to hold on.”
“Isn’t that what one does with accident victims?” Sherlock said, his tone now bored.
“Generally,” John agreed.
“But there’s nothing general about this. You’re dead.”
“So observant, John.” Sherlock’s voice was further away, like he’d moved to the windows. “And now I’ve tipped my hand to Mycroft.”
John felt like he should turn around, but moving at all was out of the question. Anyway, he supposed it didn’t matter which way you faced when you were having a conversation with someone you couldn’t see.
“Is that something you can do, then? Type out things?” John asked. “Use computers?”
“It takes a great deal of energy to transmit messages through electronic media, though it can be done. My using your phone shorted it out,” he added. “You’ll need a new one.”
“Right,” John said. “So probably not a lot of ghosts on the Internet, then.”
“No. We’re incompatible with something. I’ve yet to figure it out. We also consume electronic energy.”
John remembered something about that—cameras and phones going dead in places that were haunted. His own laptop battery never lasted as long as it should.
“Look, whatever feud you had going on with Mycroft, it’s over. You won.”
“He said that?” Sherlock sounded surprised.
“He said that one honours the wishes of the dead, though it’s unfortunate that you’re dead and still wishing for things.”
“What does your brother actually do? He keeps saying he works for the government.”
Sherlock huffed. “Mycroft is the British government, and don’t let him convince you otherwise.”
John couldn’t think of a reply to that. He was having trouble wrapping his mind around the situation at all.
“All right, you’ve got questions.”
“How did you die?” John asked. “Ah, sorry. No. That’s horribly rude.”
“It’s fine.” Sherlock’s voice had drifted back over to John’s side of the room. “What do you already know?”
“That you and a cabbie were both found dead, having taken the same poison. That it had something to do with the serial suicides. You were working on the case and it was never solved.”
“The cabbie would drive victims to a remote location, walk them inside with a gun, and offer them a 50/50 chance of two pills—one poison, one not,” Sherlock quickly rattled off. “Whichever one they chose, he would take the other one. If they refused, he threatened to shoot them outright. The gun he had was fake, though clearly they never knew that. But it was a game—they weren’t just playing the odds, they were playing him. I figured it out, and I went with him and played him myself.”
“You took poison?” John interrupted.
“Not intentionally, obviously. No, I won. Or I would have. I know I chose the right pill. At least I chose the one he thought was the right pill. But someone changed the rules, gave him two poisoned pills. He died, I died, and here we are.”
“So the cabbie wasn’t the murderer?”
“No, he was murdering people quite cheerfully. But someone else was pulling the strings.”
“Is that why you’re still here?” John said. “You can’t move on until you find out who’s behind killing you?”
“Oh, I’ve known that for ages,” Sherlock said dismissively. “Mycroft had him killed.”
“Sorry, what? Mycroft killed someone?”
“Not himself,” Sherlock scoffed. “But I know he arranged it. Moriarty was the man’s name. Apparently he was a criminal mastermind, had all sorts of schemes running. I imagine he would have crossed paths with Mycroft sooner or later. But my brother decided to make it sooner. I suppose I should be flattered that my murder brought out such familial feelings.”
“And you know all this how?”
“Mycroft came to the flat and told me—it was months after he’d sent people here to examine the place. I believe he thought as you did, that if my murder were solved, I would be free to go.”
“So what’s keeping you here?” John asked after a moment.
“Nothing. I can go anytime I wish.”
John was silent.
“What?” Sherlock demanded.
“Are you sure? It’s just that it seems like ghosts get stuck here and then can’t move on.”
“Most ghosts are idiots,” Sherlock said flatly. “Unsurprising, since most people are idiots. They go through their lives not seeing what’s right in front of them. There’s no great mystery to crossing to the other side. It’s simple.”
“Then why haven’t you done it?”
“I’m not bored enough yet. This is much more fun.”
“Huh,” John finally said. Then, “I think I’m going to go to sleep. Not that I really want to, but it’s the pills.”
“And?” Sherlock asked.
“And nothing,” John said, as he slowly used the crutches to get to his feet. “I just thought it would be rude to—we were having a conversation, and now I have to end it.”
John paused at the bedroom door. “You’re not going to start hiding my crutches, are you?”
“Don’t be an idiot. You actually need those. Though I do hope you don’t develop another psychosomatic limp, as I just got you rid of the last one.”
John groaned, trying to roll over, before he remembered that he couldn’t sleep like that because of the cast.
“For God’s sake, what, Sherlock?”
“It’s time for your pill.”
“You woke me up for that?” John asked. “I was actually asleep!”
“Yes,” Sherlock agreed. “You were in REM 4. But if you don’t take a painkiller now, you’ll be even more disagreeable next time you wake up.”
There was a rattle, and a bottle of pills landed next to John in the bed.
He unscrewed the lid and took one with the water he had on the bedside table. “Happy?”
John went back to sleep after that, and something in the back of his mind registered that the flat was quieter than usual. The telly didn’t come on, and he didn’t hear any of Sherlock’s usual noises.
He ended up sleeping until the morning, relishing his own bed and the silence that a hospital never provided. The only interruptions were Sherlock, once to give him his antibiotic, and another time for the next pain pill. John managed to remember to eat a couple of biscuits with those. He didn’t particularly feel like eating, but he knew that having anything in his stomach was better than nothing.
When John woke up in the morning, he caught a glimpse of a figure in his room, but as soon as he blinked, it was gone.
“I need breakfast,” John said.
“Oh,” Sherlock said. “Yes. Tedious,” he added.
John dragged himself out of bed and into the bathroom. Balancing on crutches while trying to wash his face and brush his teeth was tiring and uncomfortable. He was ready to take Mrs. Hudson up on her offer and ask her to fix breakfast when he realised he didn’t have a phone. He’d never installed one in the flat because he’d had his mobile, which he no longer had.
But he remembered what she’d said about putting something in the fridge for him. John didn’t really care if he was having supper for breakfast, as long as he could eat. All he had to do was put it in the microwave.
Ten minutes later, he was settled in a chair in the living room with his left foot elevated on the coffee table and a pillow. John hated that he needed to rest when all he’d really done was get up and eat.
His eyes flicked around the room.
“You’ve still got questions,” Sherlock observed.
“It’s a bit strange, you know. Knowing that you’re always here.”
“I was always here before,” Sherlock said.
“It’s different now. You were—I don’t know, a presence before, and now you’re a person,” John said. “Don’t tell me that this doesn’t make things different for you, too.”
“Makes them less dull.”
“You were bored?” John asked. “Is that why you terrorised everyone who lived here?”
“No, that was an experiment. It’s not my fault if people are irrationally petrified by flickering lights and creaking floorboards. At first, I was testing my limits to see what I could affect.”
“Later, I was testing reactions to paranormal activity. It was most enlightening. With small, infrequent activity, people are likely to write off the events with some explanation of their own devising. And even with constant activity, they would rather settle on any explanation but the truth. Though they’ll still leave after several nights of not getting sleep. However, with constant activity directed at them, they quickly become unnerved. And with constant activity directed at them from the beginning, they vacate immediately.”
John paused. “That’s a nice way of saying you’ve been scaring people out of their minds.”
“What funny little minds they must be.”
“Do you even care what you did to people? What they have to live with now?”
“Why should I?”
“You can’t just experiment on—can’t use people just because you’re dead.”
Sherlock laughed. “You think this is because I’m dead? I assure you, John, I’m exactly the same as I was when I was alive. Perhaps you need to have another talk with my brother, let him fill you in on the finer details of what it means when I say that nothing but the work mattered to me. Sorry to disappoint you, but I’ve never cared about people, and I don’t care now.”
John didn’t immediately reply. “I wonder why you saved my life, then. Doesn’t really fit, does it?”
Sherlock was quiet, though something in the room shifted unpleasantly.
“What?” John asked. “Got nothing clever to say to that?”
After a moment of stony silence, John shrugged to himself and pointedly turned on the telly.
Mrs. Hudson checked on him that morning, fixing him some tea and cleaning up the dishes from breakfast. She gave him another package of biscuits to keep by his chair.
Anthea appeared later in the day, delivering a new phone to John. It already had one number programmed into it, an MH, which John guessed was Mycroft’s not so subtle way of telling him to keep in touch.
She also brought a bag of clothing that mostly contained pyjama bottoms. John was oddly thankful for that, as none of his trousers would go over his cast, but he rather disliked having nothing on his legs but his boxers when there were people in the flat. He’d been covering up with a quilt while he sat in the chair.
He took a nap after lunch. Later in the afternoon, someone from a company delivered food. Each meal was wrapped individually, and had instructions on how long to heat it. The deliveryman said he would come by every other day.
Mrs. Hudson came up again in the evening, heating up something for John so he could stay off his feet. John had taken to leaving the door to 221B unlocked, since there always seemed to be someone in and out, and him having to get up each time to unlock it was counterproductive.
His phone beeped that night while he was watching telly.
John thought about all the things he could say, and all the things he could not say. Finally, he typed:
I can hear him all the time now.
By the time John was in bed, he hadn’t heard from Sherlock since that morning. Sherlock hadn’t even done anything.
John sighed as he stared at the ceiling.
“It’s fine, you know. Whatever you feel or don’t feel, it’s fine.” He paused. “God knows I’m as messed up as anyone else. So it’s fine. It’s all fine.”
As he was drifting off he thought he heard the telly come on. Then the door to his bedroom quietly closed.
John woke up in the night to Sherlock’s voice.
“You need to take a pill.”
John groaned. “Were you even paying attention to when I took the last one?”
“You weren’t speaking to me.”
“I was still watching.”
John took the pill.
Then he snickered, still half-asleep.
“What?” Sherlock said.
“This. Everything.” He laughed. “I was supposed to have a normal life, you know.”
“Normal is dull, John. Do keep up.”
In the morning, John once again saw Sherlock when he opened his eyes. But it was only for a second.
He’d seen him twice yesterday, once when he woke up, and once in the kitchen. Both times it was barely a glimpse—a flicker of something in the corner of his eye.
“I keep seeing you now,” John said. “Sort of.”
“Near death experiences are tricky things,” Sherlock said. “They’re quite common, but I never made much of a study of them. I used to think it was all in the brain, of course. But I’d say that you’re a bit psychic now—had the veil lifted between the worlds and never got it quite shut. Some people are born that way, so it seems to be a somewhat natural state.”
“But I’ve had a near death experience before.”
“Yes, when you were shot, of course. But it wasn’t quite like this, was it?”
“No,” John said after a moment. He stared at the ceiling. “I don’t know how it was different, but it was. Medically, it was different. Getting shot—getting shot was bad, but I was in more danger after the fact than I was the instant it happened.”
“Mm.” Then, “It’s maddening not being able to use computers,” he said crossly. “There are things I never studied because I thought they were nonsense, and now I know they’re obviously not. You need to get me some books.”
“I’ll get right on that,” John deadpanned.
It was odd, he realised, how easily he had slotted this new version of Sherlock into his life, and how much he was enjoying it.
“So you could talk to anyone who’s psychic?” he asked. “Just like you’re talking to me right now?”
“Then why didn’t you?”
“Because they’re idiots. And because that would inevitably lead to all of London turning up on my doorstep.”
“Why didn’t I think of that?”
“Because you’re an idiot. Oh, don’t be like that, practically everyone is.”
John laughed. “Says the idiot who took a suicide pill from a serial killer.”
“I told you, that wasn’t my fault! I chose the right pill.”
“Either way, here you are.” John heaved his legs over the bed and took up his crutches.
He came out of the bedroom to see the front door opening as Mrs. Hudson stuck her head in. “You up, dear?”
“Just,” he said.
The bedroom door slammed behind him.
“Oh!” Mrs. Hudson jumped.
“It’s just Sherlock. He’s in a state.”
“Sherlock, be nice now,” Mrs. Hudson said in a scolding tone. “John’s had a rough time of it.”
“Yes, Sherlock, be nice,” John echoed, sitting down at the table and propping his leg up on the other chair.
“You’re getting far too much enjoyment out of this,” Sherlock said. “I notice you’re not telling her you actually talk to me, much less that you can hear me. Don’t want her to think you’ve gone round the bend?”
“What do you want, dear?”
“Anything is fine,” John said. Shut up he mouthed to the room in general when Mrs. Hudson’s back was turned.
Sherlock continued to make inane comments, but John was mostly able to tune him out and talk to Mrs. Hudson like nothing out of the ordinary was going on.
After John was done eating and was settled in the living room, the front door slowly creaked open as Mrs. Hudson was starting to leave. “Thank you, Sherlock,” she said politely. Then to John, “I told you he was a nice boy.”
The door shut behind her when she was halfway down the stairs.
“You like her,” John said.
A dismissive noise from Sherlock. “She was my landlady.”
“You like her,” he said again. “Otherwise, you would have haunted her just like you did everyone else.”
“She gave me a special deal on the rent. I helped her out with a problem in Florida, and she was most appreciative.”
After another moment, John said, “When psychics talk about speaking with ghosts, they never describe anything like this.”
“Most ghosts are idiots.” Sherlock seemed to have moved by the fireplace.
“You said that.”
John had done a lot of reading on ghosts since discovering his flat was haunted. He’d found that as far as activity and ability went, Sherlock didn’t seem that different from other ghosts, though his awareness of what he was doing was anything but average.
Sherlock sighed. “If I had to guess—which I very much do (and particularly despise doing, by the way)—I would say that people are too used to thinking of themselves as physical, and when they’re suddenly not, they don’t know how to process it. People who cross over end up in a very non-physical world I assume, but there’s a certain natural incompatibility to being incorporeal here, in a world that isn’t designed for it. At least that’s my hypothesis.”
“You seem to be doing fine.”
“I never considered myself anything but my mind. The rest is just transport. It was very simple to adapt, and hardly difficult to figure out my new circumstances,” Sherlock said easily.
“You think other ghosts get lost here?” John asked. “Forget themselves, get stuck in a pattern?”
“Possibly. Though it’s not as if I can actually go talk to them. Not that they seem to have anything relevant to say. Other ghosts are tedious. There’s no mystery there—it’s the same story over and over again. No, the mystery is here! What can I do, how does it work? How can sentient energy affect the physical world? There’s a whole branch of—of metaphysical physics at my fingertips that there’s no data on! The possibilities are endless. Think of the experiments I can do! Especially now that you can help me.”
John took a sip of tea. “Is that why you talked to me? You want me to do things?”
“Oh, I’ve talked to you for ages,” Sherlock said. “It’s not my fault you couldn’t hear me before.”
It wasn’t entirely surprising that Mycroft came by that day, not after the text John had sent him last night.
“Oh, isn’t this typical,” Sherlock said when Mycroft walked through the door. “He’s using the excuse of visiting you as a pretext to get into the flat. Don’t think he actually cares.”
Mycroft was watching John carefully. “He’s saying something about me.”
“Tell him he’s put on weight,” Sherlock said.
“No,” John said.
Mycroft raised an eyebrow.
“I mean no to him, yes to you,” John said to Mycroft.
Sherlock sighed. “If I have to endure his being here, you will repeat what I have to say.”
John glanced at Mycroft, making a long-suffering look. “He says you’ve put on weight.”
“It’s nice never having to eat,” Sherlock continued. “Most convenient being dead.”
John glared in Sherlock’s general direction.
“You don’t have to relay that last bit, I suppose,” Sherlock said, petulant.
John turned back to Mycroft. “Please, have a seat.”
Mycroft did so. “How are you getting on?” he asked, gesturing towards John’s leg with his umbrella.
“Better. Getting around is still going to be tricky for a while, but I’m starting to feel like myself again.”
“Good. Good.” Mycroft eyes slowly swept around the room.
“He’s probably planted a device in your phone,” Sherlock sneered. “You really should smash it the first chance you get.”
John saw Mycroft studying him again.
“He thinks you’ve bugged my phone.”
“Ah. While of course, that did occur to me, I decided that it would ultimately be counterproductive, as you’re quite willing to talk to me about Sherlock. It seems pointless to ruin the rapport we’ve established.”
John just nodded, uncertain of what to say to that.
Sherlock spoke. “Right now, you’re remembering what I said about him having someone killed.” He managed to sound utterly bored yet pleased with himself at the same time.
“I can do without the commentary, thanks.”
“What’s he saying, John?”
“Sherlock seems to think you run the country,” John said, figuring it was close enough. Dealing with Sherlock was fine, and dealing with was Mycroft was more or less fine, but being caught between them was just uncomfortable.
Mycroft smiled pleasantly. “Only a small part of it, I assure you.”
His umbrella suddenly flew out of his hand, landing several feet away.
“Sherlock,” John said. The word left his mouth on its own, and he wondered exactly when he had become Sherlock’s keeper.
“Ask him why he’s here.”
“He wants to know why you’re here,” John told Mycroft.
“As always, Sherlock, I’m concerned. This is hardly a new development.” Mycroft turned to John. “You say you can hear him. How?”
“We think it was the, er, near death experience,” John said. “I saw him then, you know, and it… stuck,” he finished lamely. “I can hear him as clearly as I can you.”
“Interesting. So you believe you’re clairvoyant now?”
“That’s the theory.”
“And he speaks to you, though he wouldn’t speak to any other psychic I brought in.” Mycroft smiled at the room. “Even more interesting.”
“Why is that interesting?” Sherlock snapped.
“Does he seem completely, how to put it delicately, cognizant?”
Sherlock huffed. “Trying to figure out how to rule the world from beyond the grave, Mycroft? I think you’ll find that my particular circumstances will be rather hard to replicate. Though I do encourage you to try.”
John ignored him, focusing on what Mycroft had asked. “He always knows exactly what’s going on,” he said, mindful of the fact that he was speaking about Sherlock in front of him. “If it happens, he’s aware of it. It’s not as if he’s flashing in and out or anything.”
“I see.” Mycroft paused. “You know, John, that Sherlock was a detective. Not for any particular reason other than it offered him the chance to solve intriguing puzzles. He was obsessive and abrasive, and didn’t care for anything besides the game. He called himself a sociopath, though I personally felt there was something off with that diagnosis. But Sherlock cannot be without an occupation. I can’t imagine that he’s not going mad, confined like this with nothing to distract him.”
Sherlock was silent.
“He’s working on the ghost thing,” John said. “Apparently it’s a never-ending experiment. He seems thrilled with it. Honestly. You were right when you said that he must have been choosing to stay here. He’s not stuck, he’s not frustrated—he’s just incredibly, incredibly interested.”
“Mm. Substituting one obsession for another. How very Sherlock. And he’s once again chosen the path of most resistance. He never would do what was expected of him,” Mycroft said, shaking his head. “And how is it, suddenly being able to converse with each other?”
John frowned. “Fine? It’s fine.”
Mycroft regarded him with contemplative look. “Very well,” he finally said. He stood to retrieve his umbrella. “If there’s anything you need, John, do let me know.”
“I want my things,” Sherlock said.
“What?” John asked.
“I want my things. I know he’s got them boxed up somewhere. Tell him I want them brought back here.”
“Sherlock wants whatever you took out of the flat,” John said.
“Only the books and papers,” Sherlock said. “I hardly need the rest of it now.”
“Does he?” Mycroft surveyed the room. “So you’re to remain here and I’m to deliver to you whatever you desire?”
“I want what’s mine. John will get me anything else I need.”
“I will?” John asked.
Mycroft looked at John.
“He just wants his books,” John said, shrugging. “He can’t look anything up on the laptop.”
“Very well,” Mycroft said. He turned to leave, pausing at the door and smiling his practiced smile. “I think you may do my brother good, John. Of course, you might also make him worse than ever.”
A rather alarming number of boxes were delivered the next day. John instructed that they be set against the far wall.
Mrs. Hudson came up after the deliverymen had cleared out. “What’s all this?” she said. “More of your things?”
“Ah, no.” John hesitated. “Some of Sherlock’s.”
Mrs. Hudson looked confused. John couldn’t blame her.
“I thought he might be a bit less restless if there were some familiar things around,” John said. “His brother wanted rid of them,” he added, “and I don’t mind.” It was a white lie, but he could hardly tell her that Sherlock was demanding reference material.
“Oh. Well, I just hope that dreadful skull isn’t in there,” she said, eyeing the boxes.
It was too easy to forget that everyone didn’t interact with Sherlock like he did. Mrs. Hudson accepted that Sherlock was there, in a vague, ghostlike way, but that’s all she could perceive of him. And Sherlock wasn’t inclined to talk to those who could perceive him. No one knew how present he actually was.
John seemed to be the exception to this. And Mycroft, in a way, but Mycroft had guessed on his own.
“You know I’m going to look crazy one of these days, don’t you?” John said when Mrs. Hudson had gone. “I’m going to forget that I’m the only one who can hear you, and I’m going to start talking, and then they’ll think I’ve cracked.”
“You’re bothered about the most pointless things. Why should you care what people think?”
“No reason,” John said sarcastically. “I’d just rather not be known as a nutter, that’s all.”
“Then be careful what you say. Obvious.”
One of the boxes tipped over, spilling out books onto the floor.
John sighed. “Just make sure you leave me a path to the kitchen.”
When John had been faced with the prospect of his recovery time, he figured he’d be bored out of his mind. After being able to hear Sherlock, that had changed.
He had never imagined that hearing Sherlock could actually lead to boredom.
“John, you’re not watching!”
John’s attention snapped back.
“I must have your full concentration or it won’t work. Do you want to have to start over?”
Sherlock had announced that John needed to help him with an experiment. The experiment consisted of Sherlock moving a book back and forth across the floor and John watching it. And he had to do nothing but watch it.
“I need to gauge the influence of human energy,” Sherlock had explained. “It’s much harder to affect something when a person is focusing on it.”
“Of course. Why do you think so much activity happens in empty rooms?”
This had led to John sitting in his chair while Sherlock moved the book in front of him. At first, John had been interested and happy enough to help, but after each time that Sherlock had become unable to manipulate the book further, he would wait a set number of minutes and then start over. How long he waited differed. He had also made John write down a series of numbers after each round. A complete two hours after John had finally thought the experiment was done, Sherlock said that it needed to be repeated for veracity and had insisted that they start the whole thing over again.
Presently, Sherlock announced, “That’s it, then.” He sounded satisfied.
“Good. So what did that tell you?”
“Oh, I can’t even begin to reach a conclusion until I test the number of repetitions I can achieve without your attention. I can do that tomorrow afternoon.”
“Why not just wait until I’m asleep?” John asked.
“Because I must reproduce the conditions as accurately as possible once the variable has been removed. And nighttime is more conducive in general towards paranormal activity.”
John saw where this conversation was heading. “No.”
“But I need all the variables! Night and day, both with and without you. There’s no point to any of the data otherwise!”
“I’ll help you tomorrow night,” John said. “But not tonight. I’m done staring at things for today.” He picked up his laptop from the table and opened it.
Sherlock didn’t say anything else, and John got the impression that he was sulking.
The chair opposite John suddenly turned on its axis and spun into the wall with an impressive thud.
“Now you’re just being childish,” John said without looking up.
“That’s not what people normally say.”
“And what do people normally say?”
“Nothing, actually,” Sherlock admitted. “They’re usually too busy running from the room.”
John learned several things about ghosts over the next few days. One was something he had suspected—that there were two types of activity. There was the type designed to get attention, and there was the type that happened simply because a ghost was present. Sherlock didn’t have control over the things he termed ‘the vibrations that bleed through,’ such as echoes of sound or electrical short outs. And while he could make his footsteps heard or pointedly keep switching on a light, sometimes it was just a result of his moving around the flat.
He could produce sound with effort, such as the knocking on the pipes. More difficult was moving objects, though he could move something without much exertion in a room that wasn’t occupied. Sherlock had no problem slamming doors or pulling things off shelves. He was even capable of large demonstrations, such a flinging the furniture about, if he concentrated or if he was in a mood.
What he couldn’t do was anything that involved exactness. He couldn’t write with any sort of instrument. There was something about the control plus the movement plus the pressure that was beyond his capabilities. Precision in anything was something he could no longer achieve. Sherlock lamented this fact when he mentioned that he used to have a makeshift chemistry lab in the kitchen, then wishfully went on about the experiments he could have done now that he no longer had to worry about lethal substances.
Experiments were something that Sherlock was obsessed with, even if they had taken a slightly different turn from the ones he had done when he was alive. He was practically ecstatic at the prospect of having someone living that he could direct, instead of just experiment on. John wasn’t sure whether he should be flattered or offended. He settled on being neither, and just accepted that it was Sherlock.
At first, John had thought that having Sherlock ‘around’ all the time might make things terribly different. He suddenly felt like he was actually sharing space with someone, and that didn’t always go so well. But besides being able to talk to John, Sherlock seemed to do much as he’d always done, though now that included John more often than not.
John had the peculiar realisation one day that he didn’t have ghost anymore, or even a dead flatmate. He had a friend.
Currently, Sherlock was watching what could only be called crap telly, which he relentlessly mocked but clearly enjoyed. John wasn’t really paying attention, but was instead surfing the Internet.
The programme ended, and Sherlock turned the set off.
“Written any more on your blog?”
“You know I haven’t.” John looked up. “I never saw the point of the thing, honestly. Nothing happens to me. And if I write about you, everyone will assume I’m making it up.”
Sherlock made a non-committal noise.
“Thought you’d be pleased about that, actually,” John said. “Me not writing about you. Though I’m not sure why, since you seemed to like proving you were clever when you were alive.”
“I don’t care what people think, as long as I know I’m right. I solved crimes to prove that I could find the truth. Being known for being clever was a result of that. Now the puzzle to solve has nothing to do with people, so they’re irrelevant.”
John smirked. “Don’t want to be a famous ghost?”
“Not really, no.”
“Why did you talk to that one psychic, then? That’s the sort of thing that stands out.”
“I was bored,” Sherlock said. “But I only did it once and there wasn’t any proof. Half the ghost chasers in England were through here, and they all found nothing.” He sounded extremely satisfied
“How did they find nothing? I thought psychics could sense things.”
“Controlling my energies was simple once I figured out how. Psychics are only looking through the veil; I’m in it. And there seem to be different levels of psychic awareness. You, for instance, can hear me, but you don’t actually feel anything, do you?”
“No,” John said. “At least I don’t think I do. I see you sometimes.” He closed the laptop. “But it’s never for more than a second, and it’s always when I’m not really looking.”
“Sustained apparitions seem to be rare,” Sherlock said thoughtfully.
“Why did I never see you before? Or hear you at all? A few others did.”
“Degrees of sensitivity, I imagine. Some people seem to be naturally prone to seeing things that aren’t quite there, even if they wouldn’t call themselves properly psychic. But no one who lived here could pick up anything more than the occasional echo. At any rate,” Sherlock continued, “I decided it was much more logical to focus on physical manifestations. Most people couldn’t hear a ghost if it was screaming at them. But no one can miss a mug breaking.”
The last person to accidentally catch a glimpse of Sherlock had been Barbara. Something occurred to John.
“Problem?” Sherlock asked.
“I’m never going to be able to bring anyone round, am I?”
Sherlock made a dismissive sound. “Ugh. Sex was boring when I was alive. Why would I care about it now that I’m dead? If you’re worried about having an audience, don’t be.”
“Still,” John said. “Even if you’re in the next room, you’re—here. I’d know we weren’t really alone. I don’t suppose…”
“You don’t suppose what?” Sherlock asked testily.
“That you could leave the flat sometimes.”
“No, I can’t.”
“You managed to get into the street before,” John observed.
“I don’t know how I did that, John.” Sherlock sounded profoundly irritated. “I suspect it had to do with an overpowering need to suddenly be nowhere but the street.”
“Oh,” John said. “Right.”
There was a short silence.
“I suggest you find a woman who doesn’t mind always going to hers,” Sherlock said, clearly closing the topic of what had happened after John got hit.
“And what if she wants to see my flat?”
“Why would she?”
“Because people like to know things about other people, Sherlock. Because it’s odd to date someone and never see where they live. If someone did ever come by for a while, could you not—”
“Be myself?” The lights flickered.
“Not do things like that.”
“As I’ve already explained, John, some things I have no control over.”
John rolled his eyes. “While there’s a bit of truth in there, that’s not what I mean and you know it.”
“If this hypothetical woman can’t cope with a poltergeist, she’s clearly not worth your time.”
“Most people can’t cope with poltergeists, Sherlock!”
“That’s hardly my problem.”
John just shook his head, but he dropped the subject. He knew a losing battle when he was in one. Then he said, “What are you going to do if I ever move out?”
“Why would you do that?” Sherlock asked, baffled.
“People don’t tend to live their whole lives in one flat.”
“Mm.” Then Sherlock said, “Haunting is about familiarity. I didn’t die here, but I managed to end up here. I imagine I could anchor myself to something else easily enough.”
John started to suspect where Sherlock was going with this. “Sherlock, I’ve read about people who seem to attract activity wherever they go. But there’s never been anyone who had a particular ghost follow them from flat to flat.”
“Then it would be a most fascinating situation.”
“Are you saying you’re going to haunt me?”
“Only if you left. Which you’re not going to do.”
“Sure about that, are you?” John said, raising an eyebrow.
“You knew the flat was haunted, and yet here you are.” Sherlock sounded smug.
John didn’t reply, but just opened his laptop again. Sherlock fell silent, and after a few minutes, John heard the rustling of papers as Sherlock’s attention once more turned to his things in the boxes.
“What is all that, anyway?” John asked. “All the papers?”
“Notes on old cases,” Sherlock said. “I can’t see much point to them now, actually. All I really need are the books and the research notes. Some of this can go in the bin.”
“You never really told me what you did. Some sort of private detective?”
“Consulting detective, the only one in the world. I invented the job. When the police were out of their depth, they came to me.”
“The police don’t consult,” John said, frowning.
“Yes, that’s what they said at first. Funny how they changed their minds when I was always right.”
“Well?” John asked.
“Tell me about it.”
John spent most of the evening listening to Sherlock recount his most interesting cases. While being amazed by Sherlock’s methods, he started to get an even better understanding of exactly what Mycroft had meant when he called Sherlock a genius.
Sherlock had solved case after impossible case.
“That’s incredible,” John said as Sherlock described how a man’s tie had pointed to him being the embezzler.
“You keep saying that.”
“But it is. It’s fantastic.” John laughed. “So this is what you did? Chased murderers and thieves around London? It sounds mad.”
“Oh, it was. Dangerous, too. You would have loved it.”
“Why do you say that?”
“You like a bit of danger, when you can get it.”
“Oh, do I?” John said. “Go on, then.”
“Whatever it is that you do, however you size people up, go ahead.”
“I know everything now,” Sherlock scoffed. “It’s hardly the same.”
“You must have had a first impression?”
For a moment, it was silent. Then Sherlock spoke.
“Your haircut and the way you hold yourself says military. Your face is tan, but no tan above the wrists, so you’d been abroad, but not sunbathing. You limped badly when you walked, but you seemed to forget about it when you stood. So the limp was at least partly psychosomatic. That says that the original circumstances of the injury were traumatic—that plus military means you were wounded in action, obviously in Afghanistan or Iraq. You were at Baker Street because you’d seen Mrs. Hudson’s advertisement. You needed cheap accommodations; it was clearly all you could afford. It’s unlikely you had an extended family, possibly any family, at least not that you’re close to, not if you weren’t going to them for help. You didn’t have many possessions, so unless they were in storage somewhere, which was doubtful, you had only recently returned. This was the first real flat you’d moved into since returning from service. You also have your gun, which is not only unusual, but highly interesting. You either felt like you needed it, or you wanted to need it. Wanting to need it says that danger isn’t something you’re adverse to. I wouldn’t call your gun your most prized possession, but it’s certainly the most personal, which was why I moved it first. You didn’t seem likely to be easily shaken, and meddling with your gun seemed like the quickest way to get a reaction out of you, which was what I was aiming for at the time.”
John didn’t immediately reply.
“Well?” Sherlock asked.
John chuckled. “That’s really why you kept moving my gun around?”
“It seemed to get the biggest result. Though not at first, oddly.”
“I don’t scare that easily.”
“I surmised as much,” Sherlock said. He continued, sounding just a bit put off. “Though the ‘get out’ on the mirror usually does the trick with anyone. Your responses were most impressive and disappointing.”
“Was that seriously the first time no one got run off by you?”
“Even the few who weren’t particularly scared got frustrated soon enough. But you just accepted it. Most of the time, you didn’t even care what I’d done.”
“Once you’ve been in a war zone, books falling off the shelves doesn’t really compare,” John said. He paused. “You didn’t seem to be trying to get rid of me for very long.”
“You were marginally less dull than the others,” Sherlock conceded. “And I don’t dislike company on principle.”
John cleared his throat. “You said earlier that you’d talked to me for ages. Why?”
“I think better when I talk aloud.”
“That didn’t answer my question.”
“Didn’t it?” Sherlock said. “What does it matter? You talked to me all the time. Really, John, this says more about you than it does me.”
“How?” John asked. “You talked knowing full well I couldn’t hear you.”
“And you imposed your words knowing I couldn’t avoid them.”
“If you had actually hated it, you would have been banging out ‘shut up’ on the pipes all night.”
Sherlock laughed. “No one else ever made out the Morse Code. Idiots.”
“What were you doing that first night before you told me to piss off?” John asked. “I know that you wouldn’t just randomly bang on the pipes. It’s not fun enough,” he said, shooting a knowing look in Sherlock’s direction.
“It was Morse, but much slower and intermittent. I doubt anyone would have recognised it as such.”
“But what were you spelling out?”
“The Periodic Table.”
John shook his head. “Of course.”
John went back to work at the end of the next week. His other injuries from the accident were healing or healed, and even the bruises were starting to fade. More importantly, he was off the painkillers and was feeling like himself again. His leg wasn’t much of a problem at this point—he knew it was well on its way to setting, and the only difficulty he had was manoeuvring with crutches.
He took cabs to the surgery, and hobbled around the place quite easily. Though he did have to destroy an old pair of trousers by cutting one leg off at the knee. He started doing the shopping again, insisting to Mrs. Hudson that he could manage it perfectly well. John also told Mycroft to cancel the meal delivery.
What he didn’t do was go back to therapy. He had missed appointments after the accident, of course, but when Ella’s secretary called to schedule a new visit, John found himself saying, “I’m not coming back.”
He never gave therapy another thought.
Sherlock needs some Polaroid film.
He won’t like my getting it for him.
Is that a problem?
Not at all.
The film arrived the next day.
Sherlock was most annoyed. “You asked Mycroft for that, didn’t you?”
“You’ve been on about getting film for days now. I got some. Now do you want to use it, or shall I throw it in the bin?”
“Why couldn’t you just get it?” he grumbled.
“Because I’m not going to run around London looking for Polaroid film for you on crutches. If you want it now, you’re going to have to use this.”
“Oh, all right.”
John picked up the ancient Polaroid camera that had been in the bottom of one of Sherlock’s boxes. He carefully loaded the film.
“Why do you keep talking to him, anyway?” Sherlock said.
“Probably because he’s only one who knows what the hell is going on.”
“A perfectly sound reason prior to this, but you can hear me now, so there’s no reason to involve Mycroft with anything.”
“Look, I don’t know what happened with Mycroft when you were alive, but—”
“He was my archenemy.”
“Archenemy,” John repeated flatly. He raised a brow. “You expect me to believe that?”
“Don’t be surprised if he tries to get you to spy on me.”
“Spy on what, Sherlock? How many times you can scoot a book back and forth?”
Sherlock didn’t reply. It was a sulky silence, John imagined.
He clicked the film into place. “All right. So what is this going to measure?”
“I want to see if different types of activity are more likely to be captured in some way, as well as the difference between digital and film. Now, take a picture of the front door.”
John dutifully snapped a picture with the Polaroid, and then again on his phone’s camera.
Nothing showed up on the phone.
John waited for the Polaroid to develop. “People don’t have archenemies, you know. In real life.”
“Real life. Not really my area.”
John smirked. “Was it ever?”
“Not if I could help it.”
There was a faint orb on the left side of the Polaroid.
“Interesting,” Sherlock said. “Label it.”
John took a pen and wrote out the details that Sherlock wanted recorded for each photo. Then he raised the camera again. “All right. Now where are you?”
Mycroft himself turned up the following week.
Sherlock opened the door to the flat just so he could slam it in Mycroft’s face.
Mycroft seemed unbothered. “Is he always like this?” he asked John. “He must be hellish to live with.”
“He doesn’t do that to me.”
“No, I expect not.”
“He calls you his archenemy, you know,” John said.
“Oh, that,” Mycroft said easily, as if he knew exactly what John was talking about. “Not worth getting into, I’m afraid. It was ages ago, but he’s persisted with it ever since. You can imagine the Christmas dinners.”
“I really couldn’t.”
“I’ve arranged for you to have some books,” Mycroft said.
“I don’t want your books,” Sherlock said.
John started to open his mouth, but Mycroft must have anticipated what Sherlock was thinking. “They’re not for you, Sherlock. They’re for John. It’s up to him whether he wants to share them.”
“I appreciate it,” John started, “but I really don’t think—” He cut himself off upon seeing Mycroft’s look. “It’s no good arguing, is it?”
“They will be delivered,” Mycroft said. “What you do with them after that is entirely up to you.”
The books arrived over the course of the next week—boxes and boxes of them. John had them put in the room upstairs, telling Mrs. Hudson that he had decided to use the second bedroom as a library. Sherlock pointedly ignored the whole business.
John went up several times to look at ‘his’ books, which were clearly for Sherlock. Many of them covered the higher sciences, though John did find quite a few very nice medical reference texts. Not that those couldn’t also be for Sherlock. But half of the books were on various kinds of paranormal activity. John found several on the top of the pile that looked interesting, and took them back down to the flat to read.
That arrangement lasted all of a week until Sherlock’s boredom or curiosity got the better of him. The next time John dragged himself up the second set of stairs, he found the upper bedroom in disarray. Books were out of their boxes, stacked in precarious piles against the walls and scattered all over the floor. John wasn’t even going to try to get in with his crutches.
He noticed all of the papers and notes that he had recorded from Sherlock’s experiments were piled in one corner.
John knew better than to make a comment about Sherlock finally coming up here.
“I’d like to put these on the wall,” Sherlock said.
John guessed he meant the papers.
“I can’t seem to manage the thumbtacks.”
“I can’t put them up very high,” John said, scooting into the room. He left his crutches at the door.
“Do it in chronological order, then. Put our first experiment at the bottom and then go up.”
“It’s chaos in here.”
“You can help me arrange things properly when you’re back on your feet.” Sherlock said it like sorting through this mess with a ghost was something to look forward to.
The worst part was, it kind of was. John suppressed a grin as he started tacking up the papers.
Waking up to hearing the violin was a regular occurrence. John suspected Sherlock did it when he wanted John awake but didn’t want to admit that he wanted John up.
“How does that even work?” John asked one morning. “I mean, you don’t actually have a violin.”
“I don’t actually have vocal chords, either. Yet I speak.”
“You’re not making this less confusing.” It was early, and John resisted the urge to put a pillow over his head.
“I think I’m speaking, therefore I am. I think I’m playing a violin, therefore I am.”
“That doesn’t work with anything, surely?”
“No,” Sherlock said. “It has to be something that you’re intimately familiar with, that you did routinely. I believe there are other instances of ghostly music. I should look that up.”
“Yes. Why don’t you go do that? Right now would be good.”
John didn’t hear anything else for a moment until a door slammed in another part of the flat. It sounded like Sherlock had gone to the room upstairs.
About half of Sherlock’s things had ended up there. John hadn’t seen Sherlock move them, but the books that hadn’t fit on the shelves in the living room had somehow migrated to the second room, and John hadn’t questioned it.
John had straightened up the living room after that. Sherlock no longer moved his things around just to be doing it. If John put them in place, they generally stayed there. Though there were always extra books lying around, or half-finished notes from experiments in progress. Sometimes there were experiments in progress—random arrangements of items that Sherlock declared needed to be left just so until it was the appropriate time of day for him to try to manipulate them.
The place wasn’t overly cluttered or messy, but the flat had a nice lived in look that it had lacked at the beginning. John had started thinking of it as home.
One day, John was helping Sherlock sort through a pile of books in the living room. More accurately, John was sorting through them while Sherlock issued instructions. John abruptly started to laugh.
“What?” Sherlock said.
“Just thinking about what they say about not being able to take it with you. Seems like you did a pretty good job of it.”
Sherlock made an amused noise, but didn’t reply.
“Is there anything you miss about being alive?” John asked after a moment. “Really miss?”
“Nicotine patches,” Sherlock said. “Smoking, too.”
“Why the patches?”
“They helped me think. But I miss both. And cocaine.”
John dropped the book he was holding. “Wait, what?”
“I do believe you heard me, John,” Sherlock said.
“Cocaine,” John repeated. “You.”
“You? A junkie?”
“How did I not know this before now?”
“It’s the sort of thing that doesn’t tend to come up when one no longer has a body.”
John shook his head. “And did cocaine help you think?”
“Its effects were interesting.”
“It would be fascinating to have my body exhumed,” Sherlock said offhandedly.
“Scared of dead bodies, doctor?”
“Of course not. It’s just— You just don’t go digging people up after they’re buried.”
“Yes, that’s one of those law things, isn’t it?”
“It’s also about respect,” John said.
“It’s my body. I have my permission.”
John couldn’t actually think of an argument to counter that with.
“I believe I’d quite like my skull to talk to,” Sherlock continued.
“I’m not having bits of you lying around, Sherlock, and that’s final. Anyway, Mycroft is your next of kin, and while I have no doubt that he could dig you up without anyone questioning him, I don’t think he’s going to be inclined to do so.”
“Ugh. Mycroft. I could have donated my body to science, or at least been cremated, but I know he had me buried.”
“Did you have a will?”
“I always had more consequential things to do,” Sherlock said, as if even thinking about it bored him.
“Ever tell Mycroft what you wanted?”
“That would involve speaking to him.”
“I don’t really think you can complain, then.” When Sherlock didn’t say anything else, John turned his attention to the books again.
“What do you want?”
“When you die,” Sherlock said.
“Um, buried. Harry knows,” John added, not sure when this conversation had taken a more sombre turn. “I suppose you’ll still be here after that,” he said. “Haunting away. Find someone else that you don’t mind sharing with.”
“No,” Sherlock said simply.
John wasn’t sure what Sherlock was saying no to.
“Death hardly separates us now, John. Why do you assume that your eventual death would do so?”
“I think I’d end up like other ghosts if I tried to stay,” John said slowly. “I’m not sure I can be like you.”
“I’ll show you how. We’ll have a marvellous time.”
John couldn’t help but smile at that. “And what if I wanted to cross over like everyone else?”
“Then I’ll come with you,” Sherlock said.
“No. No, not at all. I’m just surprised.”
“Really, John. Do try to be more observant.”