“You’re not ready to go.”
Sherlock lifts his head from the experiment he’s spread over the kitchen table. “Of course I’m not ready to go, John. I have no intention of going anywhere.” He peers back into the microscope, ignoring John’s exasperated huff.
“Sherlock, I’ve told you three times this week that Lestrade invited us to the Christmas Party at New Scotland Yard. Which is tonight. Now, in fact.”
“And, apparently, you’ve failed to observe the fact that all three times I was plainly not interested. What possible use could there be in watching the plebeian morons at the Yard wallow in so-called holiday spirit as an excuse for drunkenness and ill-advised sexual activity?”
Even without looking up, Sherlock can tell that John’s body language has shifted from ‘exasperated-but-amused’ to ‘my-flatmate-is-a-wanker.’ He cocks his head and makes a closer examination of John. He’s changed into a forest green jumper-- smooth, soft, notably lacking in both cables and frumpiness-- and what appears to be a new pair of trousers. Hoping to take advantage of some female officer’s...generosity, then? How disappointingly pedestrian.
“God, Sherlock. Christmas is about more than drunken snogs and, I don’t know, fruitcake! It’s about spending time with family and the people we care for, the people we- love.”
“All the more reason for me to remain here and tend this experiment. Mycroft is the only family I have left, and I shall undoubtedly receive the obligatory Christmas phone call from him tomorrow. I see no point in indulging the idiotic sentiment of others.”
Already turning back to his slides, Sherlock misses the way that John’s face crumples, just for a moment, before he turns and makes a grab for keys and coat.
“Bit not good, Sherlock. More than a bit not good, in fact. I just, I wanted to...” he trails off. Instead of the end of his sentence, the next thing that Sherlock hears is the door slamming shut.
: : :
It’s hours later and the flat is quiet when, still absorbed in his observations, Sherlock accidentally knocks together two volatile chemicals, flooding the flat with clouds of smoke. Cursing his unexpected clumsiness, he crosses to the sitting room windows and shoves open a window. The fog begins to clear, except for over the sofa, where it seems to... settle... oddly. Within moments, it’s begun to coalesce into the form of a person- a child? What was in that beaker, he asks himself. A smoky, translucent eleven-year-old boy appears to be tucked into the corner of his sofa, knees to chest, socked toes wiggling.
“Hello, Sherlock,” says Carl Powers.
“I’m hallucinating. That’s the only logical explanation.” He reminds himself that it isn’t healthy to respond to one’s imaginary, fume-induced visitations. His years of experimentation with the harder drugs did teach him that much, at least.
“You know what was in those beakers as well as I do, Sherlock. There isn’t anything that might have caused you to hallucinate me.”
“Honestly. You haven’t had anything to eat or drink in a day, despite your Dr. Watson’s nagging. You haven’t even stepped outside. No blows to the head. Besides malnutrition, you’re in perfect health. You’re not imagining me. What’s left?”
Sherlock flips through the possibilities- could be some sort of projection, even an incredibly advanced hologram. Who knows what Mycroft has his greedy hands on these days? He examines the room, peers under the couch, even fetches the kitchen chair and runs his hands across the ceiling. Nothing. Finally he walks over and plunges his entire hand into an insubstantial chest. Carl merely raises his eyebrows as if to say, see?
Finally he locates his mobile and sends a text- What could cause sudden-onset hallucinations? It’s for a case. -SH
It’s minutes before John responds, and Sherlock’s just about to put his mobile back in his pocket when the text arrives.
No. Just...no. Not right now, Sherlock. -JW
Infuriating man. Obviously the jumper isn’t working as well as John had hoped. It’s surprising, because, speaking as an objective observer, it was quite a bit more flattering than his usual options. Resolutely turning his thoughts away from both John’s sartorial choices and the pint-sized apparition on his sofa, Sherlock heads back into the kitchen.
“You can’t ignore this. You know who I am, Sherlock, and you know that I’m dead. You solved my murder, after all. I’m here now because of it.”
“You are nothing more than the heretofore undiscovered effects of an experiment gone wrong. While study of its further applications may be interesting, I’m currently finding the experience quite tedious, thank you.” Do not engage, his brain supplies as he settles back down.
He’s reaching for a box of cover slips when the box, his microscope, and the chair that he’s sitting in promptly disappear. It’s harder to remain aloof when bum meets floor unexpectedly. How did...what just happened? Hallucinating murder victims is one thing, but vanishing furniture is something else entirely. Cautiously, he makes his way to the sitting room armchair and folds himself into it, facing...Carl.
“Do I have your attention now?”
Sherlock nods, slowly. He’s finding it difficult to deduce what may be happening and is grasping at data rather desperately. It does appear to be Carl- the clothes match those found in his locker after his death, and he’d noticed the lack of trainers when the figment first appeared.
“It’s been twenty-three years since I died, Sherlock, and the years have not been kind to you, or rather- you have not been kind to them. Your mother, Mycroft, Victor, Lestrade, even John- when was the last time you showed a moment’s kindness to any of them? Real, human kindness?”
Sherlock draws himself up. He’s so tired of this argument, and he certainly doesn’t intend to have it with what is quite likely his own imagination. “I solve crimes. I catch murderers! Does kindness really compare to saving people’s lives?”
“That’s not why you do it, though, and we both know it. You love the chase and your own cleverness, the thrill of it. Nearly as good a high as cocaine, isn’t it, although nothing really matches it. Even getting clean didn’t help you understand them any better. There’s no sympathy, no empathy in you.”
“So what if there's not!” Sherlock pulls himself back, fingers steepled, forcing down another outburst. “It’s not as if I can’t observe what it does to them. John, Lestrade, even my god-forsaken brother, on occasion- they suffer needlessly. It doesn’t help anyone, doesn’t solve the case faster, it won’t bring anyone back from the dead.” He pauses to lift an eyebrow at his visitor. “Or maybe it will, although that certainly makes no excuse for your appearance here.”
The ghost of Carl Powers looks him straight in the eye. “You need help, Sherlock. You need a change. The road you’re on... there is nothing but smoke and blood and death at the end of it, for you and for the people you claim not to care about. That road is littered with bodies, and believe me when I say that you do not want to walk down it.”
Sherlock swallows. He does not find that acceptable to contemplate, even in the hypothetical. Ever since the Pool, he has been more cognizant of John’s safety, more aware of the fact that his loss would not be... tolerable.
“You will be visited by three ghosts. Undoubtedly this will be difficult for you to swallow, being who you are, but you will need to try and cooperate. The first will appear at 1am, the second at 2am, and the third-”
“At 3? How predictable.” The fact that this entire encounter is absurd begins to work its way back into Sherlock’s mind. Maybe this is why John is constantly after him to eat something.
“Please, Sherlock. Remember what I’ve said. If you knew what was coming... Just try, alright? See what they have to show you.”
Seconds later, the sitting room is clear, and only a missing kitchen chair and Sherlock’s unsettled expression give any indication that all is not quiet on this Christmas night.