Disclaimer: I do not own Sherlock Holmes. It's in the Public Domain, and this particular incarnation belongs to the BBC, Moffat, and Gatiss. Not me.
Author's Note: Written in the Five Acts meme on LJ for ms_notebook.
John Watson has always been one of the Haunted. His whole life, as long as he can remember, the ghosts have been there, in the background. He's just one of those people who collect the dead, and he's long since gotten used to seeing them hanging about, mourning their lives, or raging about the unfairness inherent in a violent death. Very rarely does he get the peaceful sort; they tend to be more accepting, and move on rather quickly to whatever awaits them in the afterlife.
He's always half-wished he could ask them what's there, but they never come back, once they've gone into the light.
It's never been strange to him, the odd sight he was born with, and so it wasn't strange when the little boy from the house next door eventually coaxed John into playing with him. They were near the same age of ten whole years, though Robert had been ten for a lot longer than John. He still acted ten, and that's what mattered.
"Why do you stay?" John asked one day, the both of them sitting comfortably in the branches of an old, old tree after a long day of playing. He'd looked over in time to catch Robert looking faded, and sad, and he didn't understand. His friend knew he was dead, and he didn't seem to mind it as much as most of the ghosts, as far as John could tell. Surely the light was waiting just at the edge of the world for him?
Robert sighed, turned to stare at the old house he lived in, and nodded towards it with a sad smile. "Mum's still there, Johnny-boy. Promised her I'd wait, didn't I?" He shuddered, leaning closer, and John could feel the cold, and see the shivers running through his friend. They couldn't touch, but he hoped Robert could feel at least some of his life-warmth; John would gladly share it.
"I'm sorry," John muttered, not entirely sure what he was sorry for. Robert still hurting, maybe, or perhaps all of it. That was probably closer to the truth, really. He hated watching the dead hurt, and stay, but he would miss the other boy when he was gone. It was nice to get away from Harry once and a while, to be with a friend who wasn't complicated.
"Ah, you'll be fine, Johnny," Robert said, glancing sideways at him, and John wasn't surprised that he knew what was going on in his head. "You'll grow up, and be grand, and live!" He laughed as he spoke, hollow but no less genuine, and threw his arms out wide to encompass the world. "The whole world for you, John," he added softer, shaking his head.
"But what about you?" John asked, leaning as close as he dared. He didn't want to leave Robert behind to linger there, alone.
Robert just smiled, wistful. "Not long now, for me," he said, staring up at the sky like he couldn't wait.
John didn't cry two days later when the old lady in the house next door was found dead. Instead, he slipped away to the old moss-covered grave on the property, and lay a single dandelion amongst the other weeds. They had always been Robert's favorite, and he'd often complained bitterly about no longer being able to smell them. He said nothing, stood there at the grave of a ghost, and hoped Robert had found the light.
Maybe he was happy, or whatever like it ghosts could be. For John, it was time to be alive, among the living, though the dead never completely left him.
It was so much worse in Afghanistan. The ghosts there were patients, and friends; people who died because John couldn't save them, and there was no line between friend or enemy. They all followed and haunted him; raging, and crying, and suffering.
"Why didn't you save me, John?" The young man was only twenty-three when an IED blew him apart. John had tried to stop the bleeding, he had, but there had been so much, and there was never enough time. "I had a wife, man; a wife, and a baby just born! You could have saved me!" They all yelled in the end, ended up screaming obscenities at him, and the world, and life. John rather knew how they felt, most of the time.
"I'm sorry, lad. I really am, I tried, I swear," he couldn't help trying to defend himself. It never worked, and his dreams were filled with death, and pain, and blood. None of this was fair, but he didn't blame them for denying him peace. He didn't deserve it.
He kept trying though, tried to save the others to make up for losing them, and each new ghost added to his sins until he cracked. He was never far from madness, and he could barely tell the living from the dead, except the living were things he could still touch, and help, and save. They were too few when measured against the dead that followed John constantly.
He threw himself in front of the bullet without thinking, only aware of the gunfire, and the dead whispering around him.
"Going to lose another one, Doc?" They'd ask, and John would be damned before he allowed them to be right.
"No," he said(screamed), and dove in front of Murray. The fire of the bullet bit into his shoulder, and he was burning from the inside. "No more ghosts," he tried to say, but they didn't go away with the rest of the world. The dead had always known how to get into John's head, and they followed him into the dark; rage, and grief, and guilt consuming him. Part of him doesn't want to wake up, but John has never been able to just quit, and he can't now, even after they send him home from the war.
The ghosts are still there, they followed him to London to stare at him with hollow eyes, and silent accusations, waiting until he's asleep to descend and claw at his mind in their madness. He wakes screaming most nights, sobbing into the dark for all the things he could never change.
Half the time he's left wondering if he isn't a ghost himself, half-mourning and half-rage, left to wander London with the others because there's no where else for him to go. Sometimes, that reality seems truer than any other.
John wonders where his light is, if that's the case, because there's nothing but fog at the edge of his world.
"I said dangerous, and here you are," Sherlock Holmes says to him, and tricks John's limp into nothing. He makes John feel alive again, feel like living even though he attracts the dead like a corpse does maggots. They surround him, trail after him, but he can't see them the way John can.
John shoots a cabbie for him, and watches the shadows drag him away, one less dead thing to add to the shredding madness that invade his dreams.
"Do you always see them?" Sherlock eventually asks, watching John stare at the empty space behind Lestrade's police car too long.
"All the time," John answers shortly, and it's all they ever really say on the matter. He's a little surprised Sherlock accepts it so easily with no proof to be had, but then there's no telling what secrets lie in the Holmes family history. Certainly Sherlock will never begrudge him a little of his own strangeness.
The latest case is done, closed, and John wants to ignore the ghosts, and go home. After having been so close to their world, though, it's so much harder to ignore now than it used to be. He can't help but stop beside the soaked, sobbing little girl standing beside the streetlamp
"I'm s-so c-cold," she tells him, stuttering and tiny, and he aches for because she's so young. He's a doctor, and there's do no harm, and it isn't in him to just stand back, and watch her suffer.
"Where's Mum then, hm? I expect she'll be looking for you," he tells her gently, closing his eyes because all Mum has found is the cold blue corpse of her daughter. John watched her fall apart as the light in her died. Sherlock's footsteps have stopped just up ahead, but John doesn't look up from the girl. She's staring at him, wide-eyed and he's used to that, too.
"Mummy already found me, and the bad man is gone," she says softly, looking over into the alley where the suspect's body had fallen. A single bullet wound to the head, though he should have had to suffer far worse. "The Shadows dragged him away," she adds, shuddering, and huddles closer to him. John knows all about the shadows that come after certain deaths. 'Soul-Eaters', his Gran had called them. They don't take children.
He swallows thickly, has no clue what to say. It's rare to find a child who understands this much; they usually only beg for their parents, or someone, anyone to help. Robert had been coherent all those years ago, but he'd been dead a long time. It's heartbreaking because they should have been allowed to live. John feels more than hears Sherlock appear at his side, and can't help but brace himself for whatever his flat mate might say.
"The victim?" Sherlock asks, and John can't get a read on him at all. He just nods, watching the little girl wrap her arms around herself and cough up dirty water. It's never easy to watch, and John has no idea why Sherlock's suddenly taken an interest in one of John's ghosts.
"She's cold," he offers, reaching out to her half-way because he can't help it. He knows he can't touch, but he has so much life to spare, so much warmth of his own; it only seems fair to share it. There are so few of them he can help, and he hates it. Where is her light, the waiting warmth to take her away to the next life/
Sherlock is quiet for the span of a breath before stepping close enough to brush shoulders with John, obviously following the path of John's gaze to the little girl he can't see. She's looking up at him, crying silently.
"Close your eyes," Sherlock orders, but his voice is gentler than John has ever heard it, and he can't help but stare up at him. Sherlock ignores him. "Think of the warmest memory you have; curled up beneath a blanket with Mummy, perhaps," he instructs, and the little girl swallows, stops crying, and looks between them before settling her eyes on John, a question there.
He smiles as reassuringly as he can, and nods. "Go on, then. Listen to him."
Sherlock presses in against his shoulder. "Remember that time as hard as you can, that and nothing else, until you can feel it," he coaxes, and his voice is low, and almost warm itself. The little girl has her eyes closed, crying harder now that she is so obviously beginning to warm up, and she reaches out to them before fading completely from John's sight at last. He hopes she finds peace, wherever she ends up, free of bad men and cold, dirty water.
It's never easy to talk a ghost into letting go, but children are already half-way there even in life. Still, John never suspected Sherlock would know how, or ever want to open himself up enough to actually connect emotionally with the dead. Sentiment, and all that. It isn't exactly 'relevant to the work' after all.
"Thank you, Sherlock," he says instead of a hundred other things. He wouldn't know where to start anyway, and sometimes the simplest way is better with a Holmes.
His flat mate, however, just looks uncomfortable before huffing irritably, and rolling his eyes. "You obviously weren't going to just leave her there," he mutters, tugging his collar up, and sweeping off as dramatically as possible. God forbid it ever be known that Sherlock Holmes did something genuinely good for no real reason.
John is exhausted, hungry, and being followed by ghosts nowhere near as easy to put down, but he can't help but smile. He knows Sherlock's greatest secret, is trusted with it, and it never fails to be a little thrilling when he gets more proof. Sherlock Holmes has a heart, and that had been almost sweet, for him. John chuckles tiredly, and strolls on after his friends amidst the snarling, grieving faces of the dead.