The first few times it happens, John barely notices it.
It's as in consequential as a sly comment or snappish insult. It must be out of habit. The norm after John's return from the war.
But still hearing Sherlock's voice in his head from time to time, just serves to remind him that he won't hear it from anywhere else again.
The drawer that contains his gun sees more sunlight after that.
A couple of weeks go by and slowly he hears it everytime he happens to make an observation.
John now picks up on some things in strangers like whether Dr Stevens from the clinic is having an affair. A perk of the life he had, he supposes. 'Obvious,' says the biting voice in his head. 'Look at the state of his shoes.'
John chooses not to think about what this means for his state of mind. And the fact that hearing Sherlock's rich voice is all that is keeping him sane.
His life after that day has changed so inexplicably and dramatically. His world used to be vibrant. Constantly changing. The dynamics shifting. Head ache inducing but colourful. Dangerous. But there was one constant. One singular being. But now it shifted again.
That's around the time he decides to see Ella again.
Ever since the funeral he hasn't seen Molly and the few meetings with Greg remain awkward as they both feel the newly vacant air by their side. He doesn't ever talk to Mrs Hudson about Sherlock, as the mere sight of his silk bathrobe makes her burst into tears.
He doesn't tell Ella about his newfound solace and she gives up on prodding him. At least half their sessions are filled with silence but John can't bring himself to change that.
It starts late one night when John returns late from the clinic. That had been a particularily bad week and John had put himself up for all the shifts he could manage. The vacant flat where some of his fondest memories had taken place now has no pull. Sarah finally gives up on being subtle and patient and had made him return.
He unlocks the main door as quietly as he can.
It's a bit after one and he doesn't want to disturb Mrs Hudson whose surely fast asleep. He climbs up the stairs slowly. The cane is rather loud but he can't help heavily leaning on it. His stomach rumbles for relief.
He knows Mrs Hudson would have kept something on the kitchen table for him.
She'd been looking disapprovingly at his increasingly emaciated state these days.
He unlocks the door and limps into the kitchen while keeping his head down. He barely notices the figure standing by his chair. But it's a silhouette he has seen too often to confuse.
Even in his sleep deprived state he realizes what's happening to him. It's not that big a leap form hearing Sherlock to seeing him.
Still he makes sure to not look directly but peeks with his peripheral.
He quietly picks up the plate of sandwiches off the table and heads to the living room. He doesn't look up to see Sherlock's face. A slight part of him thinks that he may see Sherlock as the last time he saw him. And seeing his pale skin tainted with the dark red blood is something that he hopes will only haunt his dreams.
He sits down on his chair as he notices Sherlock sit in his own across. He eats slowly, not wanting to end his illusion.
Sherlock remains still in front him.
After half an hour when Sherlock makes a move to talk John immediately squeezes his eyes shut. He pinches his brow. Suddently the thought of the impending self intervention makes John's head ache.
Sherlock seizes all attempts at conversation. John keeps his eyes tightly shut and huddles in his chair focusing on his breathing. Sometime after he must have slept.
Sherlock is gone once again.
Two days later John was heading back from the clinic during rush hour. He usually makes a point to avoid travelling in the congested undergrounds but time had slipped by fast due to the bouts of flu going around. What a time to be alive.
He moves in the steady sea of commuters entering the tube. His mind is blank. The monotony of a normal life dullens his senses.
He gives the compartment a cursory glance, his eyes stopping at the sight of the tall brunet man besides him.
Sherlock is dressed in casual street clothes. His grey hoodie had obviously seen better days and his white sneakers seemed out of place on him. However his sharp piercing gaze has remained as he stared outside. His appearance reminded John of a case they had worked a while back. Sherlock had integrated himself into a skating group. The thought of Sherlock's ensuing bruises usually bought a smile to John but now his face is drawn tightly as he was once again made aware of the depth of his affliction.
This time he looked straight at Sherlock's face. A feat not nearly as daunting as the previous time this apparition had appeared in front of him.
Sherlock's eyes were as green and light as he remembered them. His curly hair falling in a complete disarray as if he had just rolled out of bed. John wondered what that felt like but being the wacko who groped around as if blind on the tube didn't feel like a low he aspired to stoop to.
Sherlock was right next to him. His hoodie being a hairs breath from John's fingers. Unlike last time he calmed himself and took the manifestation into stride.
For the first time in while John felt complete; only to loose this temporary Nirvana as soon as he got off at his station and Sherlock promptly disappeared into the sea of strangers.
And again he feels bereft.
A week later John is working the double shift at the clinic when it happens again.
It's a late shift so there's barely anyone there. John's pretty sure Dr Monroe is on call too but is too hungover to exit his office. He'd just gone out to get some tea and when he returned Sherlock was sitting on his chair.
He was spinning on it, momentarily stopping to give John a once over. He's now wearing a double breasted suit with a liberal amount of gel in his hair pushing back his curls and giving him a polished look. John doesn't like it nearly as much.
He silently goes and sits on the patients seat and starts filling up some overdue paper work. Sherlock keeps spinning at a pace that makes John dizzy. The only sounds that fill the office are the squeaks of the chair, the constant ticking of the clock and the faint scraps of John's pen.
After ten minutes or so, John's pen momentarily stops it vigorous exercise. "I like your hair better curly," says John without looking at Sherlocks eyes. He can see Sherlock hesitate and nod and he wonders why he is giving his mind instructions on how to remember Sherlock.
But the following day when he sees Sherlock at the entrance of the tube station, he's glad to see that his hair is an unruly mess as always. A minor consistency but it warms his heart nonetheless.
He sees Sherlock everytime he takes the tube home for the rest of the week. Usually he finds a place to sit in the near empty compartment and Sherlock winds his way next to him.
Each day he sports a new look. They remind John of the disguises he wore to blend in while undercover however his hair remains in it's natural state.
Now Sherlock talks to him. The rich timbre of his voice flowing in soft whispers as he talk about seemingly random things. The topics of bees and corpses remain his recurring favourites.
On Friday Sherlock animately talks about Germany and it's judicial system. John listens with his gaze forward as he has done in the past week barely registering Sherlock speak about his upcoming flight to Barden Barden.
Even in his mind Sherlock's life is more exciting than his.
Weeks go by without the sight of Sherlock now. At first John convinces himself to be relieved. Obviously this means that his heart is healing itself and adjusting to his predicament. But he can't deny that he has spent more time looking at his gun than usual. It's sleek glint steadily becoming more alluring and seductive as his visions fail to reappear.
Mrs Hudson had left London to go visit her sister and help her around the house. The news of her sisters fractured arm put Mrs Hudson in a tizzy as she packed only to stop and question John extensively at his willingness and ability to stay alone. John pacified her excessive worries and told her that she may still be able to catch the last train to Northampton if she hurried.
Only after her departure did John realise the stillness of the house. Desolate and grim; it seemed like the land time forgot.
For the first time in a while John cried himself to sleep.
The sun beams streaming from his windows wake him up only a few hours after sleep finally crept upto him. The drawer next to him is open but John pointedly doesn't look at it as if denying to acknowledge the sliver of weakness he experienced the previous night. His eyes feel slightly swollen after the good cry he had had. He slowly walked down the steps and eventually pushed the door to the kitchen. As it creaked open he once again saw the bittersweet apparition that had eluded him recently.
Sherlock looked up at him from his seat at the kitchen table and smiled sincerely. It made his face appear so childish and mischievous that without thinking John closed the distance between them. He immediately hugged Sherlock, not even waiting for him to stand up.
The physical feeling of Sherlock pressed against John's body calmed his erratic heart. After a moment Sherlock's arms wound up John's sides but that wasn't enough for John.
His hands reached up and softly weaved through Sherlock's curls.
His eyes glistening with unshed moisture, he looked down at Sherlocks face. His eyes were slightly crinkled making crows feet appear on his face.
"John," he whispered softly as if the hallowed words were spoken with prayer.
John reached down and softly pressed his lips to Sherlock barely touching but anchoring him to the fiction that made him feel real.
As soon as it happened it ended. John lightly pressed his forehead to Sherlock's.
"Please. Please. Please don't leave me again," whispered John.
Sherlock's momentarily shallow breathing was interrupted with a deep breath and soon John could hear him breathing evenly. His arms wound around Sherlock's neck. He could almost feel his pulse.
"I will never fully leave you John. Where ever would I be without my trusted blogger."
John can almost picture Sherlocks smirk as he says that but he doesn't want to open his eyes. A part of him wants to in order to see Sherlocks face again but the feel of his body pressed against his own is addictive and John doesn't want to let go just yet.
Slowly John untangles himself from Sherlock and once again looks at him. He realizes that seeing Sherlock again is not a good sign but he can't bring himself to care. He puts the kettle on for himself and goes to the bathroom to wash up. He keeps the door a slight bit opened and is incredibly relieved to see Sherlock texting on his phone at the table. He has now put on his silk robe. The sight gives him a sense of deja Vu and he doesn't delve too deep into that thought and he makes his tea and fries some eggs and butters some toast.
He sits with his breakfast eating silently paying more attention to Sherlock than anything else.
Soon his breakfast lies rejected to the side as John simply stares at Sherlock. Sherlock meets his eyes and slowly gets up and walks over to his desk where his violin remains untouched.
Softly he starts playing Debussy and John leaves the dishes for a later time as he sits on his chair and reads his book.
The mystery thriller in his hands is not nearly as compelling as Sherlocks playing. John even recognizes some of the Tchaikovsky being played.
They pass the time this way. Sherlock's music breathing life into the previously sullen house and John occasionally going to the kitchen for a nibble.
He can't bring himself to leave Sherlock being irrationally anxious about a sudden disappearance. A bit after dusk Sherlock speaks up, "I was in Germany just so you know."
"I was in Germany for the past few weeks. That's why I haven't been able to see you recently."
John doesn't know what to make of that. His mind is being cryptic. But there is one thing he does know.
"I understand that you… have to leave sometimes. But you will come back, right? You have to always come back."
Sherlock eyes soften. "Always, my dear Watson."
Later that night, when John finally surrenders to the pulling tide of sleep he tugs Sherlock with him up the stairs. He wordlessly follows him into his bedroom.
Just as John climbs under the covers Sherlock's hand reaches for the door.
"No!" John sharply says. His hands reach out to the form of his making.
"Can you stay for a while?"
Sherlock's hand slips away from the handle. John watches as he slowly comes towards the bed.
He shifts making space for Sherlock.
John settles in as Sherlock stays up on the bed. But still John can feel the depression on the mattress, he can hear the light breathing of another and feel the almost static warmth emanating from Sherlock.
And while it may be a poor substitute for the truly alive body of his best friend it is what it is.