qthebadwolf: (hurt/comfort ftw!)
[personal profile] qthebadwolf
fandom: Sherlock
word count: 10,148
pairing: gen/friendship
warnings: domestic abuse, suicide attempt
summary: Sherlock meets A Christmas Carol meets It's A Wonderful Life.



"Sure you won't change your mind?"

A grumble arose from the sofa. "I'll take that as a 'no', then." John shrugged on his donkey jacket and headed for the stairs.

"Wear something warmer. You'll freeze."

John looked out the window. Not a snowflake in sight. "She's just across town. I'll be fine." He paused. "Course, you could always come with me. Then when the blizzard hits, you can gloat about being right. Again. "

Sherlock rolled over onto his back. "John. How many times? I don't do holidays, and I most certainly do not do family holidays."

"Okay, okay." John tugged on his gloves. "You having tea with Mrs. Hudson at least? Maybe ask Mycroft round for a cuppa?" His flatmate's withering glare was answer enough. John let out a long breath. "It's Christmas Eve, Sherlock. You just...you shouldn't be alone."

"I wouldn't be alone if you weren't abandoning me."

John snorted and rolled his eyes. "Don't be melodramatic. It's only one day a year, and it keeps Harry off my back for all the rest of them. Mostly. Besides, you're more than welcome to come. As I've said about twenty times today."

"Twenty-three."

"Well. I tried. See you later, then." His voice grew fainter as he descended the staircase. "Don't wait up; we're going to midnight service. Night, Mrs. Hudson! Merry Christmas!"

Their landlady (not their housekeeper) returned Dr. Watson's benediction, and the front door opened and closed. Silence.

Alone.

Alone with the tedium.

Sherlock contemplated drilling holes in his skull. Trepanation might relieve the boredom. Temporarily.

He sighed. What the hell was the matter with London's criminals? Didn't they know Christmas was the perfect time to commit a nice complicated murder? Everyone was off their guard; so full of cheer and goodwill and irritating holiday spirit that it made them even more gullible than usual.

He propelled himself up off the sofa and went to fetch his nicotine patches, slapping three onto his forearm...then, almost as an afterthought, added a fourth. It was looking like a long night. As he returned to the sofa he flipped on the telly, hoping to hear news of some ghastly shooting spree or house fire to liven up his evening. None came. Growling with frustration, he left the station on some random black and white Christmas film and turned his back on it.

He wasn't exactly certain at what point the cramps began. He was feeling fine...more than fine really; his mind blissfully calm for once and clear as crystal. Then his arm began to twitch. Could have been residual tension working itself out. Nothing to worry about. When he noticed the unexpected haste in his breath and the tremble in his limbs he didn't worry; he actually smiled. Ah, memories. Nights at university, staying up for three days straight, thinking and debating and chain-smoking, in the days before those with the habit became modern-day pariahs...bliss.

Then he started to feel sick.

The trembling got worse, and he was all but gasping for breath. He looked at the patches on his arm. He'd done four patches before with minimal ill effects, but now his heartbeat was absolutely racing…perhaps he should have eaten something first? How long had it been? John would know. John kept track of boring details like eating and sleeping. He reached down and tried to remove one of the patches. His fingers were trembling too badly. Swearing, he tried again, and managed to yank one of the sticky discs off his arm. The other three defied his grasp, and he only ended up pinching himself painfully in the arm as his fingernails clawed for purchase.

"Damn it!"

It probably should have hurt when he hit the floor. But he hardly felt it…the nausea was a much bigger problem. He tried to get up again, but his muscles didn't seem to want to work.

And that's when things went A Bit Not Good.

"...Sherlock?"

He knew that voice.

"Go away, Mycroft. Can't you leave me alone even when I'm hallucinating?"

"I'm afraid not."

Sherlock looked up. Sat on the back of the sofa, dressed in an unbelievably strange melon-coloured suit with a matching umbrella, was his brother. Or at least, a very good imitation of his brother: Mycroft Holmes regarded any colour other than greys and tweeds as unspeakably vulgar. The melon cloth seemed to radiate its own gentle light in the dim flicker of the flat's television.

"...You're not Mycroft."

"Yes. Well deduced." The spectre smiled. "But you may use the name, if you wish. For simplicity's sake. Think of me as a sort of...Ghost of Christmas Past."

Sherlock groaned. The black and white film he'd left playing on the telly...the movie must be bleeding into his hallucination.

"Well, whoever you are, go away," he slurred. "I've got to get...I've got to text..."

"Oh, I'm afraid you're far past fetching help at this point," the ghost said cheerfully, reaching down and taking him under the arms. "Best just let things run their course. Come on, up you get. You'll feel better once we're out of this room."

Annoyingly, he was right: even as a ghost, Mycroft was still always right. And even though Sherlock suspected that he ought to find the act of walking through the wall and floating outside the window of 221b a trifle more worrying than he did, at least the nausea and the trembling had stopped.

The ghost traversed thin air over to the building opposite. The moment his back was turned, Sherlock tried to get back inside his flat, but found the window barred. He blinked. Their window never had bars on it before.

"You can't get back that way," Ghost-Mycroft called over his shoulder, digging in his pockets for a keyring. "Best just forge ahead, there's a good chap."

Sherlock sighed. It seemed he had no choice. With a grunt he stood up and wrapped his dressing gown tight around his middle, trampling the atmosphere over Baker Street to join Casper-the-Friendly-Mycroft at the building opposite.

"Ah, here we are!" Mycroft found the key he was hunting for and stuck it into the bare wall. He gave it a twist and a crack of light appeared in the masonry. Then with a tug, a door swung open on invisible hinges. "Right this way! Looks like things are just getting started."

The ghost stepped inside. Sherlock leaned forward and found himself gazing into the dining room of the Holmes family estate...or rather, the dining room as it had been when he was a child. The walls were not yet pockmarked with the scars left by Mycroft's disastrous attempts to teach him how to fence. A few tinsel garlands - hung with each pin precisely three feet apart, no more, no less - did nothing at all to diminish the joyless gloom.

Sherlock stepped down into the chamber and realised there was already a version of himself in the room: an expressionless, curly-haired seven-year-old sat at the table, staring at the remains of his dinner.

Ghost-Mycroft caught Sherlock staring at his younger self. "Remember Mrs. Minnison next door? She used to say your hair got so curly from all the big thoughts zipping out such a little head."

In spite of himself, Sherlock felt the side of his mouth twitch. "Fanciful woman. Should have paid a bit less attention to my head and more to her blood sugar. Oh my, and speaking of hairdos…"

A gangly, awkward youth - sporting a shocking mullet that clashed horribly with his festive Christmas jumper - slunk apologetically up to the table, bearing his plateful of second helpings like a thief with his ill-gotten swag. The small curly-haired boy looked up and gave a distasteful sniff. The mulleted youth frowned in his direction, daring him to speak, but the younger Holmes only went back to making fractals with the remains of his mushy peas.

Sherlock - the adult version - gave a genuine, and rather unkind, laugh. "Just imagine the blackmail potential…the fate of nations hanging on the safe return of a photograph of Mycroft Holmes in a mullet."

Ghost-Mycroft sniffed. "One day I will find out where you've hidden them all."

"Doubt it."

There was movement from the head of the table. A strikingly poised woman - her beauty matched only by her coldness - lowered her cutlery and cleared her throat. But for the woman's age and gender, she might have been Sherlock in a wig; their features were so alike.

"Main courses finished, I see. Time for presents."

Her offspring obediently lowered their utensils and wiped their mouths. Four parcels lay under a tree as concisely and impersonally decorated as the walls. There were no colorful ornaments made from childish hands - no popcorn chains or fairy lights - only a series of plain red orbs as artificial as the tree itself.

The two boys trudged towards their task like soldiers to a march. They already knew what was coming. Inside the parcels bearing their names, the brothers each found a mostly empty box with a small slip of paper lurking at the bottom: a savings bond.

"Your accounts will be growing nicely by now. Well, Mycroft's will, of course, but then he is older. Always remember your future, and you will never regret your past."

It was the same thing she said every year. Her boys both rose and planted the expected kiss on her cheek.

"Thank you Mummy." "Thank you Mother."

She bore the gratuitous displays of affection with as much grace as she could. After all, it was only once a year.

Next came the brothers' gifts to each other. Their mother strictly forbade them to give her presents of any kind, insisting that it smacked of attempts to buy her favour. Sherlock opened his first. Ghost-Mycroft smiled with a twinge of wicked nostalgia.

"Oh, this should be good."

The boy pulled the paper free with all the enthusiasm of a weary mortician breaching a fresh cadaver. When he caught a glimpse of the box inside, however, his angular blue eyes briefly widened.

He tore off the remaining paper in a single sheet. The denuded box held a My First Microscope, complete with slides and tools. A fleeting, joyful spark lit the boy’s eyes, and for just a brief moment, he looked like what he actually was - a child at Christmas - instead of a miniature adult trapped at a board meeting.

Then he saw the instrument inside.

"Well, Sherlock? What do you say to your brother?" Mrs. Holmes asked flatly, observing the proper protocol of this inconvenient ritual in order to get it over with the sooner.

The boy’s face curled into a snarl. "It's…it's pink."

"Brilliant deduction, my dear boy." The mulleted youth might have been smirking, or suppressing a socially imprudent belch. "It was the only colour left at the shop, worse luck."

The adult Sherlock eyed the parcel with equal disgust to his younger counterpart. "You knew how badly I wanted my own microscope.”

"That's why I got it for you." Ghost-Mycroft's voice was the soul of wounded generosity.

"It was pink!"

"Sherlock, tell your brother thank you." Mrs. Holmes said curtly, showing some evidence that Sherlock's famous irritation at having to repeat himself might be hereditary. In answer, the boy stood and gave the box a violent kick, sending it skidding across the room to ricochet off the wall.

"Sherlock Adonai Rabelais Homes! You will apologise to your brother this instant."

Child and adult Sherlock both folded their arms and glared. "Shan't."

"Very well. You may return to your room without your pudding and remain there until I say so."

Sherlock watched his younger self stomp off up the stairs. "Mother always did like you best."

"Oh, nonsense," the Ghost of Mycroft Past sniffed and checked his pocket-watch. "You know very well Mummy was exactingly equal in proportioning her love: we both got none, each."

Sherlock was quiet for a long moment. Then, noting the satisfied smirk of the teenaged Mycroft as his little brother was sent away in disgrace, he muttered softly, "You always blamed me for Father leaving."

"Mmm," the ghost agreed. "And you always blamed me for everything else."

Their mother's voice broke the brothers' reverie. "Go on then, Mycroft dear. Open your brother's present."

The boy obeyed. His expression went from concentration (unfold the wrap, never tear) to mild puzzlement (a box, some sort of commercial product)…and then changed to an expression Sherlock had almost never seen on his brother's face before: genuine hurt.

"Oh, how thoughtful!" Mummy said when the gift lay exposed on the table. "You've been putting on a bit of pudge lately; that should help you to take it right off."

Sherlock's Christmas present to his brother was a box of weight loss diet shakes.

The brief moment of genuine emotion quickly disappeared behind Mycroft's usual mask of indifference. "Yes, Mummy. Do you need any help clearing up?"

"Don't be ridiculous, darling, that's what the help are for."

"Very well." The young man stood up, gave his mother the expected kiss, and departed for his bedroom. Only Sherlock, from his new fly-on-the-wall vantage point, was privileged to see the pain return to his brother’s eyes as he went up the stairs.

"Oh, come on. You deserved that." Was all Sherlock could muster. Even he hated how weak it sounded. And even though the version of Mycroft standing next to him was an hallucination, an apparition; he still couldn't quite bring himself to look it in the eye. "For the microscope. Really, that shade of pink was appalling."

"But you used it," the ghost replied softly. "For years. One little coat of paint, and it became one of your most cherished childhood companions."

Sherlock huffed. "Only because Mother wouldn't buy me another one. Anyway, what do you want, a thank you? You're about thirty years too late."

"How did your pudding taste? That night?"

It took Sherlock a moment to realise what the ghost meant. Even though Mummy had sent him to bed without afters for kicking his microscope against the wall, Sherlock had opened the door later to find a wrapped plate waiting for him. It contained a delicious creme broulee, which he had never tasted before, and which instantly became his favourite dessert. At the time he'd thought one of the help had left it for him.

It had never before stricken Sherlock just how infuriating his brother's calm, gentle, implacable, long-suffering, loving face could be.

"What do you want, Mycroft? For God's sake, I'm lying on my sitting room floor dying and you drag me back here for some soppy family reunion? Well, this is my hallucination and I don't want you in it. Go away and leave me alone."

The world lurched. Sherlock opened his eyes. The sitting room with the flickering telly was back. So was the sickness. He tried to sit up and felt a wave of nausea hit him so hard he fell back against the floor with a groan. He tried to cry out, but found his own voice slurred and weak.

part 2
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