Phantoms

By Katia-chan

A/N: First shot in the Sherlock fandom. Hope it's alright. So desperately in love with this show right now it's unbelievable and I kind of frighten myself.

Disclaimer: I bow to the superior powers of Moffat and Gatiss; I couldn't have come up with this brilliance.

XXX

Since Sherlock's death, people keep dropping in on John, to see the new flat, or just to drop by for a quick little visit, and what a lovely surprise they brought just a little something for him to put in the fridge. He wishes they wouldn't-he's alright, coping, but the amount of foot traffic through the house is exhausting.

At first, maybe, part of him craved the company. Sherlock to silence was an unsettling adjustment. But, never really overly social by nature, now he craves the solitude, and it is like pulling teeth to get people to give it to him. He's started to convince them, though. People like Lestrade, friends but only in so much as they both knew Sherlock, are reassured by his pleasantries and vague acceptances of invitations to get a drink after work, kindly meant but never intended to be followed through on either side. And the few people like Mrs. Hudson, who will hover if he looks ill and cling if he's cheerful, he disposes of with a cold sort of distance that should make him feel bad. It doesn't.

The one visitor whose method of disposal he hasn't found, and whose presence puzzles him a great deal as well as annoying him, is Sherlock's brother. He came for tea several weeks after the funeral, to talk legalities, which had been surprising and unpleasant, and then he had kept coming, which had been even more of a surprise, and equally unpleasant.. Now he comes, once every week or two, to have tea, and John can't understand why.

At first he had entertained the rather horrifying thought that Mycroft was… checking in on him. He'd seen the results of that before, and if there was any interloper not welcome in his life now, it was the man perpetually sitting across the table. But as the weeks had turned to months, and Mycroft had simply sat over his teacup and made mind-numbing mundane conversation, John's suspicions had shifted into confusion, and that was the state where they had settled. Mycroft was almost as hard to fathom as his brother, and if John was puzzled and suspicious for vague and unknowable reasons, it probably meant things were as normal as they were likely to get.

"You're using the cane again," Mycroft offers as a hello when John lets him in that afternoon. He's not even looking at him as he says it; his umbrella has more of his attention than John does.

"Um, yeah. Rain makes my leg stiff." He tries, without actually glaring at him, to make it clear that this is not a conversation he's having. Mycroft pauses, looks at him with that irritating enigmatic expression, but makes no comment. John can't think of anything else to say to cover the sudden and rather awkward silence, so he flees as best as he can into the kitchen to fill the teapot, and wishes, for the hundredth time, that he'd learn to just pretend he wasn't at home.

Mycroft has already made himself comfortable in the better chair in the living room, and John bites back a sigh as he brings the tea in, the cups clattering gently against the tray. He sets it on the table and eases himself down into a chair, his face twisting into an involuntary grimace as a spike of pain jolts up through his knee.

"Have you been going to your therapy appointments?" Mycroft inquires mildly while pouring himself tea, with that infuriating way of sounding as if he's simply answering his own question that gives John the extreme temptation to kick him in the shin. His jaw clenches, and this time he makes no attempt to hide the scowl as his temper flares.

"What goddamn business-" he stops, breathes, a ritual that is familiar and yet so strange after so long. He clears his throat. "That's really none of your business," he finishes, flatly but more calmly, pouring his own tea, because he really, really needs something in his hands. Mycroft makes a noncommittal noise that isn't really an apology.

"Of course." And then the silence falls between them again, because what is there to say? He can't ask about Sherlock, and John's responses to his prying never seem to satisfy his curiosity or his need for a battle. And John has just now stopped feeling the need to strangle Mycroft every time he sees him, but hasn't reached the point yet where he can think of things to say that aren't going to hurt, if it's possible to hurt him, that is-he's not sure.

"How's the government?" he asks, and sips his tea, and hates himself a little because he sounds like Sherlock.

"Mm, the same as it ever is." They're not on a case; there are no private details to divulge, no snide comments to make about his fellow bureaucrats. "And your practice? You've opened an office, I see.." It's not a question-that's part of the problem.

"Yes, it's, um, it's good, fine. Pays the rent, anyway. Good to be back at it." He sips his tea, gripping the cup tightly to stop it from sloshing over the edge as a tremor passes through his fingers

"I'm glad to hear it. I'd thought you might hide away here, with my brother gone. Good to see you're doing something productive with your time." It's not good, and Mycroft, he knows, doesn't give a damn about what he does with his time. And John doesn't want to hear him speaking of Sherlock; it makes it harder to keep civil, to pretend that this is just tea and that Mycroft wouldn't be here if anything were fine.

"No," he manages pointedly,, "wouldn't want anybody to be wasting time." He makes very little effort to conceal his irritation. Mycroft should have just stuck to the bloody weather, and he wishes he'd stop looking at him like that. Sherlock used to look at corpses like that, except then at least he usually looked happy.

John, uncomfortable, mumbles something about needing to get something from the kitchen and heaves himself to his feet, catching at the back of the chair as his balance wavers. He shoots a look at Mycroft, daring him to comment, daring him to pity him or to offer help. But he's met with nothing but a look that is, if anything, vaguely disgusted, and the older man turns his attention to his teacup, leaving John feeling dismissed.

He makes his escape to the kitchen, and putters around loudly to prove that he really had something to do. And when he gets back, Mycroft is on his feet and collecting his things.

"Going already?" he asks, and hopes he sounds at least a little disappointed.

"Yes, things to do, I'm afraid. Thank you for the tea."

"No problem," John hedges, following him slowly to the door of the flat. He puts on his coat, collects his umbrella, and steps to the door.

"I'll be seeing you, I'm sure," he says, as he says every time he comes, with no indication when he might invade his privacy again. John simply nods, anxious to have him gone.

"Yeah, right. Be seeing you." Mycroft steps to the door and opens it, but then turns to look back at him.

"Oh, and John, if you haven't been to your therapists, you aught to go… this really is getting a bit ridiculous." And he leaves, walking out to where the car is waiting at the curb, leaving John staring after him, incensed.

He slams the door, and even goes so far as to kick it, purely to satisfy his own spite. Then he leans against the wall to take some of the weight off his leg, which has started to throb.

"Git," he mutters, rubbing a hand over his face, then limps back to the living room to collect the tea things. It strikes him then, the cleanliness of the flat, the tidy state of his tables and the sanitation of the refrigerator. It is quiet, and peaceful, and he nearly drops the teapot as his fingers begin to shake. He grits his teeth, braces his hand, and stalks into the kitchen to deposit the dishes. He pauses by the counter, where Sherlock's skull friend currently resides, and fancies he can almost see Sherlock's bland self-satisfied smile etched into the ivory.

"Do your own dirty work, you prick," he tells it; he tries hard not to make it sound like a real request, then he moves the sugar canister so that it's blocking it from view. What good is any of it, without criminals to chase, or the need for a gun.

But he does miss it, the same way he misses the mess and the noise and the aggravation, until it leaves its own separate ache. So later, when he's finished his sulk, he slowly digs out the number for his therapist's office. It probably won't help, and it grates on him to give Mycroft any sort of satisfaction, but it might get the bastards in his life to stop prying, and that's at least worth a little effort. And if it does help… it might be worth more.