Sherlock Secret Santa for Lavenlet - Now You See Me

"You should go out," Sherlock said simply. He still hadn't touched his tea.

"I don't want to," John replied just as simply, snapping the paper straight in front of his face. Sherlock rolled his eyes.

"I've never known you to be so foolishly stubborn."

"A new habit I picked up. Get used to it." Then there was silence. And a spike of fear. John lowered the top half of his paper to find Sherlock staring at him, the fear subsiding.

"You know I'm not going anywhere, John," Sherlock frowned, leaning back in his chair and crossing his arms.

John felt his heart clench. "I know."

"Though I should."

"Stop it," John growled, slamming the paper down on the kitchen table, eyes locked furiously with Sherlock's. "You stop it. Right now." Sherlock broke first, eyebrows creasing and expression softening into something almost but not quite like pity. "And you can stop that too," John sniffed, picking back up the paper. "You know nothing you say is going to-"

"John?" Mrs. Hudson's voice echoed up the stairs. "John, dear? Are you in?"

"Of course he's in," Sherlock murmured under his breath. "He's never out anymore." John glared at him and Sherlock clicked his teeth in reply. "She knows it just as well as I do. She's just too polite to say anything."

"Sherlock," John hissed. "Not now."

"Oh good," Mrs. Hudson was suddenly in his doorway. "There you are, dear. Busy?"

John wanted to say yes, wanted to tell her he wasn't feeling well, that she should come back later, but with Sherlock staring smugly at him from across the table, he could only bring himself to offer a soft, "Of course not, Mrs. Hudson. What do you need?"

But Mrs. Hudson wasn't looking at him anymore, rather distracted, it seemed, by the second cup of tea sitting cold and untouched at the other end of the kitchen table. The cup of tea that, from her perspective, had been served to an empty seat. And, god bless her, she made no comment on it, simply swallowed thickly and looked back at John, offering him a sad smile. One he'd grown very, very used to over the last three years, from pretty much everyone he knew. Used to know.

"I have, um…" She cleared her throat. "Would you mind popping down to the post for me, dear? I have something that needs picking up and I'm afraid I'm not feeling up to the errand."

John tried not to glance at Sherlock, though he could still see the man's smirk in his periphery. "Sure," John nodded. "I'd be happy to."

"Thank you, dear," Mrs. Hudson smiled, patting his shoulder tentatively. "I appreciate it."

John nodded absently, watching her leave before turning his gaze back to Sherlock. Or rather, the hallucination, ghost, figment of his imagination pretending to be his dead flatmate. Though, it was hard to care when he looked so much like him, acted so much like him, down to the way he was grinning smugly at him right now from across the table.

"Don't forget your coat." He smirked.

It had started exactly a year after The Event, as his therapist had started calling it. First, it had been bearable: seeing his face in a crowd of people, his coat swirling past out of the corner of his eye. All things he could attempt to ignore, however poorly, and just equate to the grief, still so strong even then. But then, it had started getting worse: hearing violin at three in the morning, noticing a familiar mop of dark curls and flutter of a blue, silk dressing gown vanishing into the kitchen as John went on his way to work.

At first, he'd thought it was a haunting-just like Sherlock to keep driving him up the wall, even in death-but John had never been one to believe in the supernatural. So he'd chocked it up to insanity, his own mind degrading thanks to the constant reminders, the incessant odds and ends around the flat that looked like him, sounded like him, gods, smelled like him, even a year later. He'd never really understood why he'd decided to stay in 221B after The Event, just that nothing else seemed right, like it was Baker Street or nowhere at all, and with as much that had changed in his life, leaving behind that little bit of familiarity as well would have been too much, too painful. But, when it had seemed the building itself was plotting to drive him insane, John had thought better of it, looked into bedsits, even. Which was when the not-quite-apparition of Sherlock had first decided to speak.

"Moving out, then?" It had said. And John had responded not-quite-accordingly, frowning at the hallucination and placing the Classifieds section of the newspaper calmly on the kitchen table.

"What are you doing here, Sherlock?" He'd asked.

To which Sherlock had rolled his eyes and replied, "Idiot."

He'd stopped seeing his therapist after that-something her and Sherlock had both disagreed with-and had only left the flat when absolutely necessary, spending ninety percent of his time in the confines of 221B with the grief induced hallucination of the late Sherlock Holmes. It wasn't a perfect life, but it was one that Sherlock was in, and so John considered himself lucky. Because a life without Sherlock wasn't a life at all, so he'd take any fragment of a life his mind gave him. Even if it was a damaged one.

It turned out there was no post waiting for Mrs. Hudson after all, a kind but rather irritating scheme to get her tenant out of the flat, it seemed. But John had been suspecting as such; Sherlock had implied it, at least. Still, with nothing else to do, nothing he particularly wanted to do anymore, John was ready to get back to 221B, back to Sherlock.

"John," the voice, so familiar he'd be able to recognize it a hundred miles away and under water, practically whispered behind him. John turned around, slightly confused. This was new. Once his hallucination had taken the complete form of Sherlock, walking around him, talking to him, it had never left their flat. Perhaps he was getting worse. In fact, there was no doubting that, the detail of this hallucination so much more Sherlock-like, down to the slightly too long, uncut hair, the frayed edges of that same black coat, the circles under his eyes. Eyes that were looking down at him in almost pained expectation. He'd never hallucinated that look before. He must have been having a worse day than he thought.

John shoved his hands in his pockets and motioned in the direction of the flat. "Well come on, then," he said, not bothering to see if the hallucination was following. It would probably just rematerialize when he got there.

Except, it didn't, followed him home step for step, keeping at least ten feet of distance between them, which was also odd. The hallucination had never attempted anything of course-not that, over time, John didn't wish, somehow, that it would-but it had always kept itself within reach, like, if either of them had tried, they could have touched each other, constantly, just because they'd never touched each other enough when he was alive and real and actually there. Or at least, not in the ways that mattered.

John opened the door for him, let him into the flat first, and followed, watching as he took each stair almost hesitantly, walked into the sitting room with an indescribable air of trepidation that John couldn't seem to explain. Why would he be so hesitant now? After all these years it finally felt guilty about driving him mad? John smirked, shaking his head at himself. He'd reached a new low of psychosomatic issues today, apparently. And what was so, so much worse was that he didn't even care.

"You were right, then," John began, hanging his coat and heading into the kitchen, leaving Sherlock to keep standing rather awkwardly in the middle of the sitting room. Also strange. "Mrs. Hudson made up the whole thing to get me out of the flat."

"I don't-" Sherlock tried, but John had already moved on, taking two mugs down from the cupboard and filling the kettle.

"Tea? I don't know why I keep asking since I know you won't drink it, but… Well, old habits die hard, I guess."

"No, please," Sherlock said, voice a bit closer. Walking into the kitchen, then. Normally he would have just been there. "I'd love some."

John made them both a cup, Sherlock's the way he used to like it, and sat down, placing his own to the side and Sherlock's in front of the empty chair across from him. He knew better than to hand him the cup directly. Sherlock took a seat, coat still on, scarf still around his neck, and a look on his face like he simply didn't understand, a bewilderment John had never seen in those amazing, impossible, mesmerizing eyes.

"I don't…" Sherlock whispered, brows furrowing tightly. "You don't seem surprised to see me." It was a barely audible, strangled string of words that made little sense to John.

"Why would I be?" He frowned. "I see you every day."

Sherlock raised an eyebrow at him, eyes scanning John's face for a moment before going wide. "You don't think I'm real."

The briefest flash of something very much like panic flared at the center of his chest, but he suppressed it, willed it away. Because hallucinations could deliver all manner of insanities, surely. This one he just had yet to encounter, that's all.

"Of course you're not real." John replied matter-of-factly. "You haven't been real for the last three years, what makes you think now would be any different?" And then, because for some reason, old memories had chosen that moment to form into words, John added sharply, "Now shut up and drink your tea." Of course, hallucinations couldn't actually drink tea, so John merely shrugged in a way that was supposed to say, "You know what I mean."

Except for that fact that, in response, Sherlock picked up the mug with both hands, raised it to his lips, and took a sip.

John froze, heart hammering in his chest, threatening to climb up his throat and escape him completely. Because hallucinations couldn't actually drink tea. Sherlock couldn't actually drink the tea. And yet, here he was. Drinking. The bloody. Tea. John swallowed, watching numbly as Sherlock put the mug back on the table and waited, studying his face for a reaction. Any reaction. But John's mind was whirling. Had he even really grabbed two cups? Was the second one just another fabrication of his own subconscious? Had he only thought he'd made two cups of tea but in reality only made one? How else did that explain Sherlock's ability to literally lift the cup off the table and drink? Which meant his hallucinations had grown into full blown psychotic episodes. He was bordering on the clinically insane, now.

"John, listen to me," Sherlock had been talking. Of course he'd been talking, because even now, Sherlock never stopped talking. But then, he wasn't just talking, he was reaching across the table, and John's chest was practically caving in on itself in panic, and carefully, very, very carefully, Sherlock covered John's hand with his own.

John shot out of his chair, ripping his hand free and knocking his mug off the table to shatter loudly on the kitchen floor. He'd felt Sherlock's hand, felt his touch, felt it like feeling skin and bone and fingers still cold but warming up after being in the flat for a bit and callused from playing the violin and stronger than he remembered them to be and very, very real.

"You touched me," John choked, pressing his hand into his chest as though he'd been burned. "I felt it. When you touched me, I felt it. How is that possible?" He was truly, completely insane then. That was the only answer. He was certifiably bloody off his rocker and there was no coming back from this now. If his mind could fabricate full tactile recognition, what could he trust anymore? He couldn't trust his eyes, couldn't trust his hands, couldn't trust anything. There was no way to tell what was real and what wasn't.

"John, John please." Sherlock was on his feet now too, taking careful, calculated steps towards John like one wrong move would break him. Which it very well might. If he wasn't broken already. Broken beyond repair. "It's possible because I'm real." Sherlock was saying. "I'm here, right now. I'm not a hallucination. I'm real."

"No," John covered his ears and shook his head, closing his eyes tight, desperately tight. "You're not. You're not real. You've never been real. Why would you be real now? Why, Sherlock? Why are you doing this to me? Why?"

"John," Sherlock pleaded. And suddenly, arms were surrounding him, holding him tight, pressing him into Sherlock's chest with a force that surprised John's eyes back wide. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry I left you. I never expected you to be so affected, I'm sorry. I promise you, John. I'm here with you. I'm right here, in this room, holding you right now. And I am very much alive. So please, John. Please believe me."

John was shaking, knew it to be true without actually feeling it, and couldn't find an ounce of will to be embarrassed about it. Because every inch of him was struggling desperately against itself, ripping itself into two halves: the one that wanted so, so badly to believe Sherlock, and the one that couldn't do it, wouldn't do it, not after all this time. It was impossible to decide which half was more sane.

Finally, John pulled away, out of Sherlock's grasp just enough to free his arms. Slowly, hands perfectly, ironically steady, John touched Sherlock's face, his shoulders, his chest, undid his scarf and felt the fabric between his fingers, lifted it to his face and took in a breath. It smelt of Sherlock and London and other things he couldn't identify. Spices? Chemicals? How could his mind create something it didn't know? He let the scarf fall from his fingers, already moving on to the coat, heavy material that was just the tiniest bit scratchy, button hole on the right decorated with red stitching, a tear along the left side of the collar that hadn't been there before. Why would he imagine a state of being that he'd never seen Sherlock in? John pushed the jacket off of his shoulders, let his hands feel the ridiculously high thread count of his shirt, feel the muscle beneath, feel the heat of his body practically radiating underneath his palms. He'd never touched Sherlock before. Not like this. So was his mind simply creating a scenario for him, what he assumed Sherlock felt like, smelt like, looked like with eyes blown wide and showing more emotion on his face than he ever had when he was alive? Before John even registered the question, his fingers were already undoing the buttons of Sherlock's shirt, revealing a pale, relatively toned chest. He reached out to place a hand to the stretch of newly unveiled skin, when Sherlock wrapped a hand around his wrist, stilling him.

"John," He said, voice low. "Look at me." John did, though his concentration was a bit fuzzy. Sherlock looked more open, more vulnerable than John would have ever thought possible before The Event. In fact, he looked the way his voice had sounded through the phone, right before- John shook his head, closing his eyes for a moment and opening them slowly, carefully, wondering if Sherlock would still be there holding him when he did. But the man was still looking down at him in apprehension, and John felt something in his chest start to loosen. "Do you still doubt that I'm here?" Sherlock asked, voice low, anxious. John locked eyes with him, raised his free hand to the back of Sherlock's neck, guiding his head down, within reach.

"I don't know," John whispered, tiptoeing up just enough to capture Sherlock's lips with his own. The kiss was chaste, experimental, but warm and heady and he could feel Sherlock applying more pressure, opening his mouth just enough for invitation, which John accepted, tongue dipping in and tasting and feeling and this had to be real… It had to. Because there was no way his subconscious could fabricate something as complex and impossible and perfect as kissing Sherlock. When they finally pulled away, John was panting and dizzy and falling to the floor for some reason, Sherlock helping him down slowly. Because his knees had buckled. Ah.

"I wasn't aware my kissing was so extraordinary," Sherlock mused, if not a bit hesitantly. Testing the waters it seemed. A laugh that was more breathy cough than actual chuckle escaped John in response, Sherlock visibly relaxing, though not completely.

"You're here." John said, analyzing the way the words felt on his tongue, keeping himself on edge in case they were the words that would somehow break whatever magic spell had been cast. But nothing happened. Sherlock stayed right there, even nodded in agreement. So John tried again. And again. Over and over. "You're here. You're here. You're here."

"I'm here," Sherlock pulled him into another embrace and whispered back fiercely, the words lost in the juncture of John's neck and shoulder. "I promise I'm here." John felt him place a kiss into his hair, onto his pulse point, his neck, his collarbone. "I'm not going anywhere. Never again."

Which reminded him.

John pulled back, swinging an arm around as best he could with the awkward angle and landed a punch rather squarely against Sherlock's jaw. Sherlock fell back, stunned, nearly pulling John down with him. When he'd recovered enough to place a hand to his bruised face and open his mouth in protest, John all but screamed, "Where the HELL have you BEEN?!"

After that, it was a bit of a mess. John's yell had alerted Mrs. Hudson to Sherlock's return-she swore she'd never believed he was dead, though she did get teary eyed when she saw him and threatened to throw him out on the street if he ever did that again-and while he was mostly convinced by that point, knowing Mrs. Hudson could see him too helped ease the last of John's doubt into the back of his mind where he could dwell on it later. Much, much later.

After they'd both convinced Mrs. Hudson to go back downstairs, Sherlock sat John down and told him everything. About Moriarty, about the snipers, about Moran, and the more he talked, the more John believed. Because a figment of one's imagination was impressive, yes, and accurate, mostly, but it always lacked the little details, never quite matching up to the real deal. Watching Sherlock explain his whereabouts over the last three years, his motives, his hardships-"I missed you every day, John. Every moment. It was like torture for me. If I'd only known how you'd suffered…"-it made his hallucinations seem like dreams, hazy and not quite right by comparison. This Sherlock was real and present and all the things John couldn't fake. He knew that now.

Still, occasionally, John would wake up in the middle of the night, certain it had been a dream, certain that the Sherlock who was playing the violin at three am was still the same hallucination that had haunted him for years. But Sherlock quickly realized that an arm around John's shoulders, a hand on his cheek, a mindful but ever yearning kiss against his lips was usually enough to remind him of his very real, very apologetic presence. And once they began sleeping in the same bed, those nights became less and less frequent, over time, going away completely. After a while, life at 221B was the same as it had always been, with the exception of the upstairs bedroom remaining relatively unused. Sherlock took back his position as unofficial official Consulting Detective to Scotland Yard; though it took some persuasion from Lestrade who was still working to clear Sherlock's name, a process which went much smoother once Mycroft got wind of it. John continued at the surgery and followed Sherlock to crime scenes and car chases and sprints across rooftops and late night visits to the morgue. Sherlock still refused to buy the milk-which John occasionally decided to yell at him for-and still left body parts in the fridge-which he always chose to yell at him for.

And when John made a second cup of tea, it was because he knew there was someone there to drink it.