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Warnings for: Character deaths, mentions of violence, angst. Slash mentioned.
The Gentle Ghosts
If you walk up the steps to 221B Baker Street you will find an old lady sitting in the flat on the ground floor, with a blanket over her knees and a cat in her lap. She's always happy to talk, if you want to discuss the 'to let' sign on the doorway. Mrs Hudson is seventy-four years old now, and she likes to sit and stroke the cat, but she likes to talk as well.
If you ask her about the flat above she'll want to tell you of two men, one spectacularly brilliant and one fantastically loyal, who lived there, how they solved cases together for years and years until they eventually got that little too old and moved to the countryside to look after bees and bottle jam whilst surrounded by the lazy hum of summer, and that's why she needs new tenants.
That is what she'll want so desperately to tell you, but Mrs Hudson is a truthful woman.
Instead she'll tell of two men, one spectacularly brilliant and one fantastically loyal, who lived above her, how they solved cases together for some months. How they grew closer and closer until she could see right through their clumsy attempts at hiding how they really felt and quickly convinced them to give up this ridiculous nonsense and get together like the sensible boys they were.
So far, so good.
Then she'll tell you of bombs and explosions and a man who was both exceptional and crazy. How the pool nearby blew up and the two men came staggering back home, bleeding and sore, but laughing all the way. The laughter didn't last long, she says with a heavy ring to her voice that chills you. Less than two hours later he was back for revenge, and he shot both of them, the brilliant straight through the heart (one he'd always had, despite opinions to the contrary).
That alone might shock you, until you hear how the loyal one, loyal to the last, already bleeding out, strangled the madman to death and staggered sideways to seize the brilliant one's hand and die right next to him, right there, and that's why the place has been empty for years.
Most people leave the building then, not interested in a flat where three people died and owned by a woman who seems just a little too demented to be comfortable, but if you're curious or just really desperate (because the price is a very reasonable one) you might ask if you can have a look round. Then she'll take a long look at you, and point to a rusty key lying on the sideboard.
You'll go alone, because Mrs Hudson's bad hip is too much for her to take a trip up the stairs with you, unlock the door and push it open. It will squeak a little at the top, just as it always has done (although you won't know that) and swing inwards to reveal a room so cluttered with items you won't know where to look first. The whole place is covered in dust, the odd cobweb strewn carelessly over a corner by an invisible hand.
You'll peer into the kitchen and see the place bare of food, of course, what were you expecting? But it's full of strange instruments and fascinating objects. There's a note stuck to the fridge with a magnet in the shape of the road runner, which will probably make you smile. The note itself is plain, faded almost beyond recognition. It's a scrawl across a scrap, and reads simply, 'we need socks'. The note should make you sad, but if it doesn't then that's alright. The ghosts don't mind, after all.
There are bedrooms down the hall, but that feels just a little bit too private for most people. Most people won't want to buy this place at all, but looking around is something you have to find interesting, so they do it anyway, even if it terrifies them. Staying in the lounge seems like a good idea, because the sunlight can filter through the windows and make the dust dance on golden beams. The lounge feels friendly and safe.
One part of the sofa is free of dust, the cushion slightly out of shape, as if people have been sitting there regularly. It looks as if you're allowed there, so that's where you sit. Following the crowd means you can blame someone else if you find out you were wrong.
If you sit and wait long enough, the gentle ghosts will come out to play.
It starts very slowly, very gently, with the dust seeming to stir just a little too fast, considering the fact you aren't moving around any more. You might squint and cock your head on one side, or it might come as a complete shock, as one man appears, tall and thin with a mop of hair, long coat sweeping out behind him as he twirls with the dust, one hand raised above his head and the other at the level of his chest, dancing and spinning, until the other one appears.
This one is shorter, kinder-looking, with a rounded nose and a serene smile on his face that lights them both up. His hands are clasped with the other man's, and they dance together, slowly. You might scream and run, rub your eyes, or faint right away, or you might wait and watch the ghosts dance.
It'll take a few minutes for them to notice you, and when they do the looks they give are so piercing you'll fancy they're real, although they can't be, because they have no colour and you can see the window frame through their bodies.
"Another one?" the tall one will say irritably, grip tightening on the shorter one's hands; they are solid to each other.
"Maybe this one will stay," says the other quietly, detaching himself and coming over, crouching down with a smile. The tall one will probably stand imposingly in the background, because he always has had a flare for dramatics, but the short one in the jumper that seems to be cable-knit (although it's hard to tell) tends to remind people of a doctor. Something about the way he looks and speaks, gets down on your level to listen.
"What's your name?"
You'll tell him in halting, stammering tones, because really, whoever saw a proper ghost before? But then you'll ask his, because that's only the polite thing to do, even if two thirds of the people in the room are dead.
"John. The – what was it – fantastically loyal one, I think that's what Mrs Hudson tells the people nowadays."
"Sherlock," says the other, coming forwards at last and placing a hand on John's shoulder. "Spectacularly brilliant. I always liked that woman."
John rolls his eyes. "How long has it been?" The voice is urgent, slightly worried. "How old is she now?"
"Seventy-four," you will reply, voice hushed, even though the ghosts talk normally.
"It's getting further apart," says John sadly, turning to Sherlock and standing. "Soon they're not going to be coming at all."
"Hush." Sherlock pulls him into an embrace, looking at you intently. "You're forgetting, we've got time. You always forget that."
John smiles, turns back towards you, gently. "I expect you're scared. Don't be. We can talk."
From then on you can ask them anything; why are you still here? Is this what happens to everyone? Why haven't I heard of you before?
The answers being we have to be, no, and no-one believes the people who tell respectively, it really doesn't matter what you ask, or what order you ask it in – most people say the same. Those that haven't run yet, of course.
You'll sit for a long time probably – the ghosts might forget you for a little, go back to dancing, or laughing at something you can't hear. Sherlock might go over to the skull and reach a hand towards it gently, leaving the long, almost transparent fingers hovering over the smooth bone. John might watch him, or he might move to the kitchen, read the note on the fridge, and smile a small, secret smile.
But eventually you'll ask again. You'll ask, "Why are you still here?" and this time you'll demand a proper answer.
It doesn't take long for it to start after that; the dust begins to dance again, more frenzied, as if it's agitated and angry, boiling in the centre and exploding outwards. Sherlock and John back away, clasping hands, and you'll see through them a third man, this one short and well-dressed, with a self-assured smile on his face. If he doesn't scare you then you're not thinking straight.
"Hello boys!" he'll say, high pitched, mocking. "Back again are we?"
Sherlock strides forwards angrily; you might run then, or you might wait, petrified, as John begins to sing:
"Round and round the garden."
The third ghost's face twists into a snarl of anger and he hurls himself forwards, but Sherlock's there, in the way, forcing him back. "Don't let him touch you!"
You won't understand, and perhaps you never will.
"Like a teddy bear."
You've probably worked out who the man is by now; the man with the bombs and the explosions and the gun that ended two lives to count, the man who was strangled to death by the singing doctor. Sherlock continues to grapple, forcing the man back. Where his fingers touch holes appear, torn in translucent fabric and skin, exploding back into dust, little by little.
"One step, two step."
As he's going, going, turning back to dust, he reaches out a hand and grasps Sherlock's tightly, and then, one final push and they're both gone.
"Tickly under there."
John finishes in a whisper, strange, despairing, and then finally you stand, and you ask what it was all about.
"Moriarty. The man who took us both – he can come back too. Just because he's dead, it doesn't stop him being dangerous. Not all the ghosts are gentle." He looks at the swirling dust, which is beginning to settle. "I've got to go in after them, or I'll lose Sherlock forever. Give Mrs Hudson my best. And don't tell anyone about us if you don't want to be considered crazy; we don't appear to more than one person at a time."
And then you'll do a thing that none of the others have.
"How can I help you?"
John looks back, staring, rapturous, but utterly surprised. "What?"
And it's too late to go back now. "How can I help you? Stop him?"
The ghost's face breaks into a smile, shining out from him, even as his hand turns back to the spinning dust, glinting stars thrown into the sunlight. "Say you'll take the flat. So the whole room can hear you; say you want to live here."
It's a strange request, but today has probably been the strangest of your life. "I'll take it. I'll live here." Why not? You were considering it anyway, before the ghosts. It's a very good price.
The dust begins to swirl and form again, Sherlock first, backing away from something, and Moriarty, snarling and savage as Sherlock moves towards John.
"Say you live here now," whispers John. "He can't stay here so long as it belongs to somebody; he never lived in this place. He's just a guest, only we can't kick him out."
You'll take a breath to say this – it feels grand, important, and so, so good. "I live here now. And I want you to leave, Moriarty."
And in less than a blink all three are gone. You'll never fully understand what it was that happened, but that doesn't matter. It was right. The dust settles back down.
You'll go back, tell Mrs Hudson everything, and her face will light up in a way that makes you want to smile, and you'll move your things in, and clear out the furniture you don't want. Maybe you'll leave the skull on the mantelpiece as a reminder, keep the note from the fridge pressed in a notebook.
Sometimes you'll look at the window, see the dust swirling there, but nothing will appear. The experience will stay with you, but it feels private, and who would believe you apart from small children? Perhaps you'll begin to doubt the whole thing and yourself, thinking it was just the heat, or fatigue, that made you imagine those things.
And then, after time has passed, after the place is entirely your own, you might lie in bed one night, and hear soft sounds as the gentle ghosts continue to dance.
My first attempt at second person so I hope it worked out.
Thank you to everyone for the kind reviews on my other work, you're lovely people.
Thanks for reading, please review!