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Fic: The Empty Flat (complete, 1/1)

Title: The Empty Flat
Writer: f_m_r_l
Alternate links: AO3
Status of work: complete
Characters and/or pairings: Sherlock Holmes, John Watson, Mrs. Hudson, OCs
Rating: Teen/PG
Warnings, kinks & contents: Hiatus fiction
Length: About 3000 words
Author's note: Thanks to my beta and britpicker, yalublyutebya.

This story was part of the Sherlock Remix retold challenge, based on a prompt rather than another story.

Summary: Sherlock Holmes returns to Baker Street.



He couldn't have said how it started. Even the pronoun 'he' was assigned retroactively. When he tried to put it into words later, there was 'there' and there was 'here'. And 'here' was more 'here' than 'there' was. This place was somehow right.

And then there was the recognition of another, some consciousness other than himself; a hum of personhood, at its core sun-warmed steel but enveloped by the soft, knitted strands of memories and complex emotions. The other came occasionally — there was not yet any realisation of time — bringing a push and pull of expectations.

Sequences. Light changed, changed again, and repeated. One thing happened after another, and that implied time. There was a great deal to work through, but still times when he was bored and needed new input. He found himself wishing that time would happen faster. And there it was, a desire of his own.

The other came and filled the air with vibrations, with feelings, with needs, and slowly he was dragged into consciousness. 'He' seemed like the right word now. The vibrations were 'words', which seemed unnecessary when the feelings and meanings were right there, but the other entity found it important. She found it important.

There were vibrating words that distinguished individual people, names. The person who stopped by to talk was named 'Mrs. Hudson'; vibrations that were outside addressed her as such. The first time he heard it was when 'John' (for she addressed him as such) came for tea in her space. There were spaces that belonged to beings. But if she visited him in his space, maybe he could visit her in hers.

He tried it. It didn't work. He was now stuck 'here' and not 'there'.

When she came to his space and talked — and she must have been talking to him as he was the only other one there — she addressed him as 'Sherlock'. It was a name he heard over and over again. He heard it at 'night' (when the light was very different); there were whispers from outside one of the 'windows' ( a place where the light came in from outside). "I believe in Sherlock", the whispers sounded. When the warrior stopped by for tea with Mrs. Hudson, there were low arguments "But Sherlock would want you to...." Sometimes when Mrs. Hudson was away from her space, people who were foreign to this space, who somehow didn't belong 'here', stopped by to look for something they never seemed to find. Then the name 'Sherlock' whispered over the static that accompanied them, over the different vibrations that moved through electric.

And whenever the name was said there was a void surrounded by expectation, something like a summons.

One of those horrible periods when he needed more data and was trying everything just to see if he could obtain some, he discovered that he could move light just a little bit, though it tired him tremendously and he couldn't do it for long. It had to do with focussing a part of himself and pulling exactly right.

When he did focus himself to move the light, his concept of himself shaped to have a hand. And if he had a hand, he probably had an arm that it attached to, a torso, a head, etc. The hollow space that held the name Sherlock shaped him until it was natural of him to think of himself as tall (though not as tall as you'd think) with dark wavy hair and pale skin. He practised pulling the light across his image of himself, growing stronger with each attempt.

And still Mrs. Hudson came by for tea, some dusting, and a bit of a chat. She talked about her memories of Sherlock, though he held none of those memories. Those memories were woven into her other conversations on things that were happening in her life now. She missed her "boys". It was a comfortable routine until the day Mrs. Hudson looked up from her tea, shrieked "Sherlock!", and dropped her cup.

She ran from the room, leaving the cup and the mess behind her. For some reason he hadn't expected that. After a few minutes in her flat she left entirely. And she didn't return for days after that. He didn't know if she'd ever return. He curled up on the sofa and moped. If it weren't for the extended visit by the people who searched, and the chance to do experiments on their 'electronics', he couldn't have said what he would have done.

It was fascinating. And the electronics were connected to the world outside, filled with the buzz of voices and data. Once he understood how to reach through to the streams of data, it was a matter of cryptography. And he discovered that he was very good at cryptography. It was enough to keep him occupied and distracted until, a week later, Mrs. Hudson bustled in, trailed by a female friend of roughly her own age — probably Mrs. Turner — carrying a Ouija board. They were making a good deal of noise between them.

"No, I've done this before. I definitely think we should–" Mrs. Hudson began.

Mrs. Turner interrupted. "When did you do this before? I saw on the telly that–"

"You remember." Mrs. Hudson attempted to seize the conversation back. "With Jenny, back in school, Jenny Turner?"

"Jenny! Other than you, the girl couldn't even communicate with anyone in this world!"

"As if your shows are any better. I still think...."

The conversation they were having didn't seem to change a thing they were doing as they came in, cleared enough space at the table to put the board down and pull up seats, and settled in. Mrs. Turner brought a white candle out from her purse. Mrs. Hudson looked at it askance but didn't do more than grab a saucer to put under the candle before Mrs. Turner lit it.

They rested their fingers on the planchet and looked as though they were focussing very hard on not thinking. Mrs. Turner appeared to be doing a better job of that than Mrs. Hudson.

He couldn't resist. Mrs. Hudson jumped slightly when her phone went off, and gave Mrs. Turner an apologetic glance as she took the mobile from her pocket. There was one message waiting for her:

"I prefer to text. -SH"

She dropped her phone. "Sherlock, you can't startle me like that!"

She had smiles lurking at the corners of her mouth, though Mrs. Turner was staring incredulously at them both. Mrs. Turner reached out, swiped her hand through him, and then bolted down the stairs. Mrs. Hudson glanced after her briefly and then started making sure Sherlock was completely filled in on things that had happened "since you left".

He felt connected, somehow more real than he could ever remember. But he still couldn't remember any of his life before gradually gaining consciousness in this flat. He listened to her words and let them fill him with life.

~~~


The searchers with the buzzing electronics didn't return that Thursday when Mrs. Hudson went to do her shopping. At the time he would have expected them, a single man walked through the door. He was the centre of the buzzing web of searchers. And whatever the man's feelings, whatever the man's expectations were, they were kept close to the man's chest.

His visitor was Mycroft.

He stood to face Mycroft as he entered, then, without greeting, Mycroft walked around him slowly, examining him from all angles. Circuit completed, Mycroft swung an umbrella swiftly through his head and then stepped back.

"Just as you were described. And exactly as one would expect." Mycroft scowled down his nose. "Stop interfering with my people... Sherlock."

He turned as if he didn't expect an answer and strode out the door. Sherlock stared after him.

~~~


"Chats" with Mrs. Hudson carried on as before. And the next time John came by to visit with her, she brought him up to 221b.

"I'm really not into this sort of thing. Er, ghosts. Spiritualism. As long as it's a comfort to you... but you mustn't be disappointed if..." As John cleared the door and spotted Sherlock, he fell silent and sagged back against the door frame.

When he had recovered his equilibrium enough to stand, he turned to Mrs. Hudson, said "I'm going to need more time", and headed back down the stairs. In the following days Sherlock had been able to somehow feel John saying his name somewhere, probably at his grave. (How odd to have a space that was "his" but that he couldn't visit.) But the week after, John started meeting Mrs. Hudson for tea at a cafe instead of 221 Baker Street. The cafe was "closer to work", which was important because "everything is busy, now, you know, with allergies and gardening injuries".

Mrs. Hudson dutifully brought gossip back, of course. But somehow it hurt that John wasn't there, hurt in a way that Mycroft's absence didn't. Having John there had felt good, right. Sherlock was restless again. There was something he needed, something he longed for, but he couldn't put his finger on it. He occupied himself with the internet, its mysteries and stories and connections, and eventually started sending John texts about his new "cases".

It took a month for John to send anything back, and that was just a two word question, "Which girl?" It was followed a couple of days later by a reply consisting of "Brilliant", which Sherlock found encouraging even though it had half the words of the first. A few days after that his optimism was rewarded with "Sharing your theories w/ Greg." It wasn't too long until John himself started stopping by.

~~~


John leaned back into his chair and sighed. "I wish you really were here. If you actually were around with all of your charming mannerisms, fewer people would keep showing up and asking me for help." Word had got out that John was now solving mysteries, and John would bring the occasional case to Sherlock. John would look at Sherlock's face as he talked, checking his expression against the texts to make sure he was getting everything. But he still didn't seem completely sure that Sherlock was anything other than a hallucination shared with Mrs. Hudson, or a hologram Mycroft was generating for his own mysterious purposes, or some such.

Sherlock leaned forward and tried to communicate through his facial expressions that he was listening. He'd put a lot of work into his facial expressions, and was reasonably sure that he'd got this one right.

"This woman, May Sutherland, dropped by the surgery today and insisted she would stay until my shift was over if it meant she could talk with me. I was tempted to call the police. Some of these people are absolute nutters, you know."

Sherlock attempted a wry smile. He could see from the expression on John's face that it wasn't working very well, so he snapped back into his 'listening' expression then remembered that he was supposed to transition instead of flickering. More practice.

"Anyway, she was engaged to someone she'd met at a 'singles candlelit dinner', of all things. She had the impression he worked for the government, but he was very mysterious about that, said it was 'confidential'."

Sherlock nodded and reached through the web to see what he could find out about May. She did web design from home, and had the same home address as her mother and stepfather. She'd been exchanging texts and emails with someone who called himself 'Horacio Messenger'; her online chats with him showed appreciation for the pun.

"They didn't meet in person very often. Her mother had a stroke not long after she married May's stepfather, and May has been staying at home taking care of her while her stepfather is at work. He works long hours. So May and Horacio, her boyfriend, had occasional late evening walks when she could have someone else come in for her mother."

Sherlock nodded again. May had sent an email to her aunt saying that, since the stroke, there were long periods when her mother couldn't even recognise her mother's new husband. It would be a great comfort to her mother to have May at hand, rather than being alone with a strange man.

"I don't even know why I'm telling you this. Mycroft, if that's you, maybe you can let her know what's going on. That's May Sutherland and her fiance Horacio Messenger."

Sherlock raised his eyebrows and steepled his fingers. John continued.

"Right. Her fiance. They were going to get married when he was called away to do something vitally important. She promised to wait for him however long it took. Then he vanished. She's asked the police about him, but they say no such person exists. She's asked the government about him but they say the same thing. She thinks it's secret spy stuff." John scoffed.

Then John's phone beeped as he received a text message.

"The dates are with an actor hired by her stepfather. The messages are not. -SH"

John looked incredulous. "Her stepfather hired an actor to be her boyfriend? What,he didn't think she could find one on her own?"

"The messages 'from her fiance' come from her stepfather. He wasn't as anonymous as he'd hoped. -SH"

Sherlock watched John's face pass from incredulous to angry. "That's sick."

"He wants her off the market so she'll stay with her mom. He's afraid she'll get married and move away. So he tricked her. -SH"

"I can forward the information needed to search his email. His chat sessions saved to his email. And the actor sent invoices. --SH"

John leaned forward. "I could show Lestrade, but impersonation and hacking aren't his department. Telling her about her stepfather...." John gave a low whistle. "And what happens then? Would she be better off knowing?"

"Finding out she'd flirted with her stepfather would be disturbing. Tell her that her fiance was hiding that he was already married. -SH"

A moderately sceptical look met this response. "Very considerate. If I thought you were Sherlock, I'd wonder if you were feeling o.k."

"My memories are elusive. I am intangible. And I can't leave this flat. No, I am NOT 'o.k.' -SH" With that, Sherlock flickered into a huff, curled on the sofa with his back to John, wrapped tight in his bathrobe.

"Good to see you back to normal." John smirked, then waved vaguely at the corners of the room. "Thanks, Mycroft. I'll pass along your message. And I'll have a talk with her stepfather."

"He has nothing to worry about anyway. Tell him that she could never leave London. -SH"

After John headed out the door, the flat felt cold, bleak, and lonely.

~~~


Sherlock gazed absently out the window at the construction work across the street. The gutted flat was not, in itself, interesting, but he had been practising his deductive skills on the workers and their renovation plans. They had just packed up and left for the evening, everything sealed against the chance of rain except for one window where a corner of plastic flapped in the light spring breeze.

John had been by the night before to tell him about a card player who might or might not have killed himself. He'd probably be by again, but maybe not until the next day. Mrs. Hudson was out looking at dresses for her great-niece's wedding.

Shortly after Mrs. Hudson left, the door downstairs opened with a key and sure, quick steps came up the stairway. The footsteps didn't sound either like those of the searchers or of Mycroft. Could Mycroft have sent someone new? With a slight rattle, the flat door opened. And on the other side of the doorway stood Sherlock Holmes.

Sherlock froze in shock as the man came in and examined him, much the way his brother had. "Excellent! I had heard that my ghost had been seen, but I couldn't imagine anything so perfect for our purposes." He grinned and seemed a moment away from vibrating with excitement. "Sebastian Moran, the assassin Moriarty sent after John, has also heard about my ghost. That makes him quite certain I'm still alive."

Sherlock shuddered when his living double mentioned a threat to John.

"I'll need you to be very visible in this window this evening." The detective — the miraculously solid detective — strode to the window and looked out at the building across the way. "Moran will be set up in the empty flat being remodelled across the street, ready to shoot me. You'll provide a target. I'll sneak up on him from behind."

The entity, still in shock at finding out that he was not Sherlock Holmes, nodded. He would help protect John. Sherlock Holmes turned on the light, winked, and ran out the door.

The entity meandered about the flat, being sure to be visible from the windows. And he thought about Sherlock Holmes. The detective would be back, and he'd have this life with John, Mrs. Hudson, and the cases. There was nothing here for the entity after all. It was not his space.

There was a sharp but oddly quiet sound and a bullet passed through the window. He fell.

As he fell he let go of his name, temporary as it was. He let go of his height and his pallor and his intellect, let go of his abrasiveness, his accent, his gender, and finally let go of John.

A presence moved through the walls of 221 Baker, leaving it all behind, moving out across the city, looking for a place.

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
noirrosaleen
May. 17th, 2013 04:38 am (UTC)
This story made me deeply, deeply happy. ^_^
f_m_r_l
May. 17th, 2013 01:54 pm (UTC)
And happy comments delight me. ^_^ Thanks!
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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