Dedication: To Elfkin.
Four Funerals (And A Wedding)
"So what you're telling me," said Dr. Ella Thompson, with the barest trace of irony, "is that you see dead people."
John shifted uncomfortably. And wondered if it was all right for a psychiatrist to be amused at the expense of her own patients.
"Have you considered, John, that this - ghost - might simply be another facet of your own personality? After all, he seems to think of the city of London as a battlefield, and of his very existence as a war against crime - all traits that dovetail rather neatly with your own psychological profile, and with your recent trauma in Afghanistan."
"It's occurred to me, yeah," John gritted out. "You can do something about it, right? A pill, or something to make it go away?"
Dr. Thompson studied him. "I'm afraid that what you're suffering from cannot simply be medicated, John. It can, however, be treated."
"I need it gone now." John's fist curled on the arm of his sofa. "It's taken over my life. Playing the violin at all hours of the night. Sending text messages from my phone - "
"Oh, yes, I heard about that. It was all over the news. Well done, John. You solved a case the police has been struggling with for months."
"I didn't solve it."
"But your other personality did, didn't it?" Dr. Thompson tilted her head. "This isn't all bad, John. You're discovering a heretofore unknown skill - deduction - and you're helping the police. Nothing remotely destructive has occurred. The influence of this personality on your life isn't harmful - "
"I woke up and there was a bloody head in the fridge - "
" - but we'll still have to integrate its rather remarkable gifts into your core identity, so that you can continue your good work without being called," Dr. Thompson coughed, as if it were a curse-word or an insult, "a psychic."
John glared. And read the words 'Dissociative Identity Disorder' upside-down on the doctor's pad. "I'm not dissociating," he said.
"Trust issues," Dr. Thompson rejoined, smiling. "Same time next week?"
When John went home to 221B Baker Street, it was back again, crouching on the mantelpiece. Only its knees and head were visible, with the rest of it buried in the wall. It looked like the world's most bizarre wall mounting - maybe one of those spooky art displays Harry was so fond of.
"Stop doing that," said John. "It's freakish."
"The walls are good for thinking," said the ghost, distractedly. "The texture's. Grounding."
"Ground yourself somewhere I can't see you, then."
"It's the fourth murder, you know," the ghost murmured, as if it - he - Sherlock - hadn't heard John. He floated off the mantelpiece and past John's shoulder, leaving behind a cold brush of air that felt rather as if it were a feather duster lined with ice crystals. John shivered. "And they still haven't found the body."
"What's that got to do with me?" John marched over to the fridge, paused, and then threw it open, as if daring it to spit out severed heads or wrinkled fingers soaked in formalin. There was nothing in there this time, though - just the old jar of rusty jam that tasted all coppery and more like coagulated blood than John felt entirely comfortable with (given his present company, he could never be quite sure that it hadn't been meddled with) and the loaf of slowly dehydrating bread that John had bought a week ago.
Sherlock hovered over the newspaper strewn across the coffee table, and waved imperiously with his arm - the newspaper jerked, rustled, and hastily flipped over to page three. "There. Have a look for yourself. What do you think, John?"
"I don't have an opinion, because, oh, I don't know, I'm not in the police." John swung the fridge closed, thinking of getting some takeout instead, from the little Chinese place around the corner that Sherlock had - definitely not told him about, because John was crediting him with nothing, because he was a figment of John's insane mind.
"You ought to be. You've got a good eye. Well, better than most. And you're a good shot, too."
"Just because I shot the serial killer that you led me to and then abandoned me in front of - "
"You italicize with alarming regularity, John."
" - doesn't mean I wanted to shoot him, or would have shot him, had he not been ready to feed me some kind of poisonous pellet that you taunted him into feeding me, by the way."
Sherlock was silent. For a blessed moment. Then: "You are unhappy about the possession."
"I'm unhappy about having you in my life! Which is not your afterlife, in case you hadn't noticed!"
"But Baker Street is. My afterlife, I mean," Sherlock clarified, as if John were incapable of parsing simple English grammar. "And you won't leave it."
"I'll pay the bloody bond. I'll break the lease. I'll - "
"John." There was something in Sherlock's voice - some peculiar, echoing frequency of calm - of knowledge - that made John judder to a stop. "You won't. It's been thirteen weeks, during which time I have spoken to you near incessantly, possessed you a grand total of four times, and have used your expert assistance - "
" - in the solving of no less than three high profile crimes and eight minor ones, ranging from serial murder to unarmed burglary to forged art. Despite it all, you haven't left."
"It's not 'assistance' if I don't render it," grits John. "And you just - take what you want! 'Oh, hallo, John, lend me your skull for a bit?' I'm not Yorick!"
"Yorick?" Sherlock blinked. "Ah," he said, glancing at the skull that some idiotic previous tenant or deranged nine-year-old had super-glued to the mantelpiece. Shockingly appropriate decor, really. Very gothic. "Oh, him. I never bothered naming him. He's just an old friend."
"The names of old friends don't matter to you?"
"No," said Sherlock, his eyes glittering. "But their bodies do. And their minds," he said, drifting closer, voice dropping even lower, "if they'll let me in."
John shuddered back. Sherlock was cold - inside and out - and he got this strangely carnivorous look in his eyes, sometimes, that John desperately told himself was just a side effect of having haunted a house with horrible wallpaper for however many years and having been driven completely barmy, as opposed to harboring any specific interest in possessing John. Sherlock had said that John was the only person he'd ever been able to possess, or talk to, but - who'd believe a figment of demented imagination, anyway? "Just. Stay away from me. Dr. Thompson will have you sorted, soon."
"Oh? And how will she do that?"
"Poison pellets?" A corner of Sherlock's thin mouth lifted, no doubt in appreciation of the supreme irony of John's utterly shite life. It was downright disturbing, seeing that smirk on a see-through mouth, and to have it superimposed on Yorick's teeth, grinning senselessly from the mantelpiece.
"Hm. No, I don't think so. You won't take them; you don't really think you're crazy."
"First sign of madness," John muttered.
"Indeed. But not, I'm afraid, in your case. How was Ella, at any rate? Did she enjoy her family holiday in Ipswich?"
John stared at him. He'd never told Sherlock Dr. Thompson's first name. Let alone about the new photograph on her desk, of herself and her two children on holiday. "How did you - no, never mind. If I didn't know you couldn't leave the house without possessing me, I'd think you were stalking me "
"Stalking is illegal, John."
"Like that'd stop you, even if you were alive."
"You know me so well," Sherlock drawled, and his smirk dimpled. That was deeply wrong. Ghosts didn't dimple.
"Aren't you going to do your usual proof by deduction?"
"Do you want to hear it?" Sherlock suddenly sounded eager; he rose a few more inches off the floor, and just bobbed there, for a moment, the way an excited boy might bounce on his feet.
Did John want to hear it? Yes. "No."
"John," said Sherlock, his tone almost chastising. "You're lying."
"And how can you tell?"
"I'm an expert on body language. And human psychology."
"Really? Then you ought to be able to tell that you're driving me absolutely 'round the bend."
"I'm keeping you entertained. Interested. Useful. At risk." Sherlock inclined his head. "Those are the very things you needed, when you got back from Afghanistan."
John spun towards the door. Enough of this.
"That's why you can't leave," Sherlock continued, sharp and sharply pleased, as John reached for the scarf he'd hung up only an hour ago. "I feed your habit, John."
"My habit for mortal peril and rampant lunacy?" He'd meant it to come out sarcastic; somehow, the words fell flat.
"Yes," said Sherlock, quietly, smugly, almost in a hiss - and John wrapped his scarf around his neck, tighter than he was used to, as though he could keep out the chill.
"Going for takeout," he said, shortly, then wondered why he even bothered saying it.
"The pork's even better than the chicken," Sherlock called out after him, as he grabbed his walking stick and limped his way down the stairs. "Oh, and Harry's wedding invitation arrived in the mail!"
No doubt along with urgent, increasingly lucrative and mysteriously private offers to have the notorious ex-military crackpot solve their cases for them - murders, disappearances, frauds. John was not about to become a consulting detective, no matter how Sherlock cajoled him, not if it meant showing up on some horrid talk show as the resident crease-faced psychic.
Harry's sodding invitation could wait. It wasn't like Sherlock would've even cared about it, if it hadn't meant getting John to look at his other mail. There was no way John was opening his letterbox; not until he'd burned a few holes in his stomach with Szechuan chicken, and hopefully gotten at least halfway sloshed.
"John," said Sherlock, startlingly close, and John jumped. He'd almost made it to the door. Bloody ghosts and their creeping silence and their ability to teleport to the ground floor without contending with a staircase or a bad leg or a fucking cane.
"What?" Don't possess me. Don't possess me.
"The body's in Cardiff," curled an icy whisper in John's ear, intimate as a tongue, and John flinched. "It's washed up along Llanishen Reservoir. They should look for the color orange; it was what the woman, Gertrude Fingle, was wearing when she went missing. The killer wouldn't have stripped her. He prefers his corpses dressed, like dolls."
The doorknob was clenched in John's hand. It was slippery with sweat. "Tell Lestrade yourself," said John, heart jolting; he panted, his breath misting in front of him in hot, frantic puffs. Sherlock was right there, right behind him, so close to taking John up on his stupid dare, so close to possessing him, so -
"But you don't want that," said Sherlock, gently. "Do you, John?"
John ground his teeth. And yanked the door open, stepping out into the cold that somehow wasn't cold enough against his clammy skin, his scarf too warm around his neck, strangling him.
He slammed the door shut; behind it, the ghost may or may not have flickered.