Greg felt--not cheerful, exactly, it wasn’t easy to be cheerful less than a month after the suicide of a friend, and whatever Sherlock thought of Greg, Greg thought of him as a friend. A strange one, an irritating one, a damn well aggravating one at times, but a friend.
Still, as he tossed his coat onto a chair and headed for the fridge in his tiny flat, he felt all right. Lighter than he’d felt in weeks. He’d closed a case, spoken to John, heard rumours from numerous sources that while those higher up had closed the investigation into Sherlock Holmes’ suicide, the general feeling of the Yard was that he had been innocent of all suspicion, and more than that, he’d been set up. And whatever games Mycroft Holmes was playing in stopping the investigation, Greg didn’t care. That was politics, or worse, and Greg was well out of it.
He grabbed a beer and turned around, saw the kid from the corner of his eye and didn’t register him until he’d pulled open the drawer to rummage for the bottle opener. Then he stood absolutely still for a second, and put the bottle down on the counter. Stepping back so that he could see into the sitting room, Greg looked again.
There was no one.
“Okay,” he said slowly, putting his hand over his chest. His heart was beating so hard that he felt dizzy, and his skin was crawling so much it itched all over.
The flat was silent, and Greg stood listening for a long moment, before he finally went into the sitting room and started turning on lamps. He also checked behind the sofa, feeling like an idiot, but if there was no one there, then there was no one to see. And if there was a kid hiding in there somewhere, well, then Greg wasn’t an idiot.
No one. No one at all. Greg stood up tall with a sigh, stretching his back, and caught sight of the kid staring from inside the bedroom.
“Oi!” Greg shouted, and just like that, he was gone again. Like fucking blinking an eye. Greg stormed into the room and stood with his hands on his hips, irritated as hell but trying not to show it. “Kid, get out here, will you?”
There was a long moment, and Greg sighed and scrubbed at his hair. “I don’t want to yell at you; I just want to figure out what you’re doing here and--and help you, with whatever you need.” His softened considerably. “All right?”
It was another long moment before the kid--skinny little thing, pale as death, probably three stone at most--climbed out from under the bed, and something in Greg rebelled hard at the sight, even as he was reaching out to help the kid stand up. Wild black hair, huge blue eyes--but pale, shiny, like glass. The crawling feeling was back even before the kid took his hand, and Greg almost cried out again at the icy feeling of it.
It was Sherlock Holmes.
Before Greg could even choose the more likely realisation, the kid was gone again, completely gone but for the painful chill in Greg’s hand and the terror winding around his spine, making him choke. It had been, it had absolutely been Sherlock, at seven years old or younger.
Right. He was fucking hallucinating.
Greg stood and cried out again, in pain this time, as he tried to flex his right hand and the skin on his palm cracked. Blood oozed sluggishly from the line in the middle of his palm, running from below his index finger and across. Swearing, he curled his hand and hugged it to his chest, light flashing in his peripheral vision as he staggered back to the kitchen.
He ran the cold tap, but yelled again, frenzied and high pitched, at the stabbing feeling in the tips of his fingers. Fuck, fuck; it was too fucking cold, and he shook his hand, trying to rub at his fingers without pulling at the wound. It didn’t work, and crying now, unable to help it, he went for the cabinet and pulled out some gauze, trying to bandage his hand and then, oh, maybe he’d stick it in the oven for a bit.
He fumbled the cap off a bottle of paracetamol and swallowed two pills dry, tucking his injured hand under his arm. He was still experiencing waves of agony, receding and swelling, making him want to throw up the pills that were sticking in his throat. He left the beer and grabbed a bottle of orange juice, spilling it down his chin as he chugged.
Not quite the thing. Greg put it down, leaving the bottle open on the counter, and got a shot glass and the vodka out. He poured himself a measure and slammed it, considering trying whisky instead. In the end, he stayed with the vodka, slamming two more glasses before he was able to let himself even think about what had just happened.
And that was where his brain stuttered and stopped, because what the hell, what the bloody fucking hell, had just happened?
The bleeding didn’t stop. Two hours later, Greg had gone through two changes of gauze, and had tried to warm his hand up in a variety of ways: heating pad, hot water bottle, and holding it over a hot burner. The only thing heat seemed to do was make the blood flow faster.
“Right,” he whispered, and twisted the knob on the stove to off. Turning, he thought he saw something--he wasn’t sure what, he wasn’t thinking what, wasn’t giving it any attention at all--from the corner of his eye. Fuck, he was going mad, wasn’t he? All of a sudden.
He grabbed his phone and thumbed through his contacts, looking for John’s number. He’d had a bit more alcohol, too, and wasn’t thinking or focusing very well; somehow he ended up calling a number that he only had in there for emergencies. It was picked up after one ring.
“Hello,” Mycroft said, with the slightest curl of a question.
Well, fuck. “I didn’t want you,” Greg said, staring down at his palm. Bleeding through again. Christ.
There was a pause before Mycroft asked, “Then why did you call me?”
“Oh, a drunk dial, is it?”
Greg took a deep breath and tried to marshall his thoughts into some sort of working order. “I think I just saw your brother’s ghost.”
There was another moment of silence, and then Mycroft asked, “Where, exactly?”
“In my flat.”
“What a strange location for my brother to haunt.”
“Piss off,” Greg said, and was too annoyed to enjoy Mycroft’s bark of laughter. “It wasn’t really your brother; it was your brother as a child. Skinny little thing. And now my hand’s all torn up.”
The silence now was longer than a simple pause, and deeper; Greg realised with an odd clarity that it was because Mycroft wasn’t breathing. “You all right?” Greg asked, concern winding its way through the haze.
“Describe it to me,” Mycroft demanded, and Greg found himself sobering despite the dent he’d made in the liquor cabinet. It was the chill in Mycroft’s voice; it was the chill he’d felt earlier. Real, honest fear.
“What are you doing?” Greg asked, and saw it again--not the kid, but what he’d seen earlier: the doorway to the loo was leading somewhere else, was opened to a room he didn’t recognise. “Fucking hell, I’m losing my mind.”
“What are you seeing?” Mycroft said something else, but it was muffled; he was speaking to someone else. “Greg. What’s happening?”
It was gone again, but the creeping, itching feeling was back in his skin, and the blood was flowing more freely from his hand. Greg shifted the phone to his shoulder, holding it awkwardly, and made for the sink and the last bit of gauze he had. “Oh, just a new room where the loo should be, and my hand--”
“Stay out of any rooms that have been compromised,” Mycroft ordered. “What room are you in now?”
“What do you mean, compromised?” Greg demanded. “Fuck!” The last was a hiss as he pulled the gauze free and his vision swam. He was going to throw up, on the phone with Mycroft Holmes. What had he done to deserve this?
“What room are you in?” And, muffled, “Thank you, I’ll drive myself. That won’t be necessary.”
“Are you coming here?” Greg asked, distracted momentarily from his hand. A fresh wave of bright-white agony brought him back to it, though. “Bloody buggering Christ, this is ridiculous--”
“Tap,” Mycroft identified correctly, sounding distant, as Greg ran it again. “Kitchen, then. In which room did you see my brother’s ghost?”
“It was a kid,” Greg said, uncomfortable again. It had been a hallucination, hadn’t it? What was he doing, talking to Mycroft about it? He moved his hand under the water and cried out, dropping the phone into the sink. “Fucking hell!”
His knees buckled and he half-collapsed on the floor, clutching at the edge of the sink with his left hand. His right he curled up again, holding close to his chest, gasping through tears, his ears buzzing.
After a small lifetime he made it to his feet again, and saw that his phone was half-submerged in water. He turned the tap off and stared at it, before getting to work drying his hand and wrapping it again--a process that involved a lot more pain and swearing, and the vomiting session he’d thought he’d avoided. The phone was well and truly fucked, now.
He sank back onto the floor at last, hand wrapped loosely and poorly, and leaned his head back against the cabinet, both hands resting palm up on the floor. Something flickered in his vision again, but by now he was too fucking exhausted to care.
His eyes were closed when someone tucked his coat over him, and he opened them to see the kid staring at him again. “I didn’t fucking deserve this,” he told the kid, his voice rough and scratchy.
“I remembered that you’d help me,” the kid said, and it was Sherlock’s voice, younger, of course, and scared--and that made Greg try to sit up, but the kid put his hand on Greg’s shoulder, keeping him still. “Wait. He has to help you, first.”
“Fuck, Sherlock, can you just tell me...?” Greg trailed off, because the kid was gone. He shut his eyes again, but clutched at the coat with his left hand, to make sure it was real, and really there. It wasn’t until the door slammed open that he realised he’d fallen asleep, or passed out, and there was no time to think about that: Mycroft had arrived.
Greg was dragged to his feet before he could stand on his own, and propped against the counter. “Morning,” he croaked as Mycroft examined his hand, not trying to uncurl it, thank Christ, but studying it as best he could through the bloodied gauze.
“Afternoon,” Mycroft replied absently, and looked over his shoulder quickly, then frowned and turned back to Greg. “Come on, let’s get this cleaned up.”
He pulled Greg over to the small table and sat him down, then went to the sink and turned off the tap. “Soaking your phone?”
“I dropped it,” Greg snapped at him, staring at his hand. Some of the blood on the gauze had dried, so it was probably bleeding only a little now. Still, he didn’t relish changing the bandage again.
“Indeed.” Mycroft brought a dishcloth over to the table and laid it out, carefully bringing Greg’s hand to rest on it, palm-up.
“Don’t,” Greg said, but subsided at Mycroft’s solemn look. Mycroft unwrapped the gauze carefully but quickly, so that Greg could do little more than wince before the deep gash in his palm was revealed. The lips of the wound were pale, and the still-oozing blood was dark, almost purple-ish.
“I have never seen anything like this,” Mycroft said at last.
“So why are you here?” Greg asked, wavering between annoyance and fear. Something moved in his peripheral vision, and he and Mycroft both snapped their heads up and around, staring out at the sitting room in shared panic. “Fucking Christ, what is going on?”
“I can’t--” Mycroft sucked in a breath and held it for a moment before continuing. “I don’t remember. Exactly. But I think--”
“Remember what?” Greg was going to kill him. This was his fault, or Sherlock’s, somehow. This whole goddamn episode.
Mycroft’s face was pale, and still, but his eyes were flickering rapidly, and he checked over his shoulder twice more before answering. “You said you’d help him. Didn’t you?”
Greg’s mouth hung open. From the sink, there was a sudden spattering of water being forced from the old tap, and they both jumped.
“Yeah,” he said at last, and went to work on wrapping his hand again. Mycroft leaned forward to help him, ignoring him when he tried to shoo him off. “I said I’d help--the kid. Whoever he was.”
“Do you believe in ghosts?” Mycroft asked, not looking up. He was wrapping the gauze firmly, with more pressure than Greg liked, but he’d made Greg curl his hand more before doing so, in effect binding his hand rather than the gash. Keeping it pressed against itself. He looked up at Greg through his eyelashes. “You said it was Sherlock’s ghost.”
“Well, Sherlock’s dead, isn’t he?” Greg swallowed hard and drew his hand away; Mycroft had fixed the gauze with a small metal catch and it gleamed brightly under the weak electric light. “It was him. But a kid.”
“And not a ghost,” Mycroft murmured. Greg looked up to see him thinking again, eyes distant and dark. “But you believe they’re possible, perhaps? How about haunted houses?”
“Are you on drugs?” Greg asked, and winced at the very hard glare he received for that question. “Fine. No. I don’t believe in haunted houses.”
“Would you like to visit one?” Mycroft asked, and smiled mirthlessly at Greg. “Before yours becomes one, I mean. You already have a ghost running about, and a corridor in the loo.”
“What?” Greg looked up and saw it, saw it clearly, in the frozen micro-second before it was his loo again. A long, dark, carpeted corridor with wood paneled walls and a small table between two doors. He saw it. He could have walked through it.
Good God, he could walk through it, the next time he tried to walk into his loo.
“I don’t mean to sound like a horror film, but you’ll go there one way or the other,” Mycroft said, standing up. “Might as well be on your own terms.”
“You know that house,” Greg said. It was flat, a declaration rather than a question, because Mycroft sure as hell knew what house that was.
“It’s our home,” Mycroft said, and shrugged. “Well. In a sense. It might be better to go through the front door, don’t you think?”
“I’m not going there.” Greg was shaking his head before he even realised it, slowly but with the definite promise of hysteria. “I’m not. I--”
“Allow me to help you to a hotel, then?” Mycroft asked, almost kindly.
Greg looked up at him, ready to argue, to ask what the hell he meant, saying he would go there one way or the other, and saw it clearly in Mycroft’s expression. He would go there. Or it would come to him.
“It’ll be at the hotel, too,” he said. It was almost a question. A bitter taste was creeping up from his throat, over the back of his tongue. They looked sideways, together, at the open, leering door.