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It's A Wonderful Christmas Carol - 2/7

fandom: Sherlock
word count: 9,975
pairing: gen/friendship
warnings: domestic abuse, suicide attempt
summary: Sherlock meets A Christmas Carol meets It's A Wonderful Life.

part 1

"Sherlock? Are you alright?"

Sherlock looked up. As his vision cleared he saw a familiar figure leaning over him. "...Mrs. Hudson? Oh thank god - "

"No, I'm afraid not. I'm The Ghost of Christmas Present, not your landlady, dear. Come on, upsy-daisy." The tiny woman grabbed him and lifted him to his feet as easily as if he were a rag doll. "There now. That's better. Are you ready to go?"

"Go where?" Sherlock frowned. "Listen, if you're another one of…them...then you should know that I don't believe in any sort of afterlife."

"That's quite alright, dear." The ghost of Mrs. Hudson patted his shoulder, and took his arm in a surprisingly firm grip. "You don't have to believe one bit of what I'm about to show you. You just have to see it. Now then." She led him over to the fireplace, to a framed picture that sat where the mantlepiece skull once stood. The photo showed an unsmiling Sherlock stood next to John, in front of the door to 221B.

"Take the edge," Mrs. Hudson instructed, gripping the photo on the side nearest her.

The room gave a sickening lurch. All at once they were in a strange sitting room - no. Not strange. Sherlock had been here once before. The decorating had been redone and the furniture moved, but the flat undoubtedly belonged to -

"Harriet Jane Watson, for the hundredth time!" John swept into the room, holding a bottle of Yuletide liquer past the reach of a short, squat woman about his own build and height. "After the service. Then we can both have a tipple."

"Oh please, Scrooge McGrinch, spare me the martyred saint routine," Harry rolled her eyes. "I've already got to sit through one sermon tonight; I don't need another one before we even get there."

John placed the liquer firmly on the mantle. "Sticks and stones, Hare. Besmirch me with whatever epithets you like; you're getting to that mass sober."

"Epithets?" Harry gave a grunt. "You sound like him." She nodded towards the mantle, and Sherlock noticed the picture of himself and John nestled there amongst the knick-knacks. "Rubbing off on you, is he? And I do mean that literally."

John took a step back. "Now that is a mental image I will spend the next forty years trying to scour from my mind. Anyway, it won't work, Harry. You're not winding me up tonight. Sober. Service. Now."

Rustlings near the wardrobe gave notice of a coat being donned. "For god's sake, Johnny. Who died and made you your sister's keeper?"

"Mum did, actually. And she'd be on my side in this one. This year you are not snogging the priest in the communion line."

More rustling, wedded with a sigh. "How many years ago, Johnny? And you still won't let me live it down."

"You slipped him the tongue!"

The unrepentant priest-snogger emerged, becoated, and gave a shrug. "Probably did him a favour. Let him know the touch of a real woman for once in his life, and it didn't even count."

"Didn't count? Why not? Because you're gay? Jesus, Harry. Has anyone ever told you you've got one very fucked-up sense of logic?"

"Yes. Your boy-friend. And apparently it's hereditary, Mister 'we're-not-a-couple-but-I-never-talk-about-anyone-else'."

John pressed his lips. "I wish he was here. You always behave yourself when he's around."

"Because you're less of a pest when he is. Seriously, you smile more and don't nag half as much…you're always happier when he's with you."

John rubbed his eyes. "Then next year, I am dragging him along with us." John suddenly giggled. "Can you imagine him at midnight mass? He'd probably tell us about all the other lesbians the priest has snogged in the past. Along with their brand of perfume and whether they had chicken pox as a kid."

Harry smiled. "Now that would be worth staying up for."

Sherlock turned to the ghost of Mrs. Hudson as the two siblings departed. "Well, that was utterly pointless. A conversation I could have deduced in my sleep, given what I know of their relationship."

"If you say so, dear." The woman's chirpiness was immutable. "Take hold of the picture again, there's a good lad."

This time the room was larger…noisier. Crowded. A police station. Specifically, Lestrade's CID squad room.

"Alright everyone, chip in. You know the drill." Lestrade appeared with an empty coffee cup, shoving it under the noses of each of his officers in turn.

"Don't look at me." Sally grimaced at the cup as though it stank of something foul. "I'm not paying good money to get that Freak anything. Besides, you know he'll just return it or throw it back in our faces."

"Which will undoubtedly give him a great deal of pleasure; which is the whole point of a Christmas gift in the first place." Lestrade held firm with the cup. "Come on, Sally. He's really helped us out this past year, even if he has been a total prick about it." Pause. "I'll get him the foulest-looking fruitcake Tesco's has to offer."

Donovan's mouth twitched. "You're on." She opened her desk drawer and fished out a pound from the spare change gathering dust there. From his ghostly vantage point, Sherlock could see something else buried among the detritus of pencils, paper clips, rubber bands and abandoned USB drives…it was a photograph, taken from one of those horrendously twee photo booths one found in shopping centres and other places where people went to spend their money. In the picture, Sally was snuggled up against a tall, aloof looking man. Sherlock was rather impressed at his own very passable imitation of the gormless sort of goofy grin particular to those newly in love.

He felt a pair of eyes gazing over his shoulder. "It was an experiment," he said defensively to Mrs. Hudson's gently disapproving expression. "Romantic relationships are a powerful motivator for all sorts of criminal activity. But they were clearly outside my realm of expertise, so I needed to gather data from a more firsthand point of view. Sergeant Donovan presented the most convenient test subject."

"Did she know she was just a test subject?"

"Well of course not; it would have compromised the data!" Disgusted, Sherlock whipped his head back around just in time to see Sally's gaze fall upon the picture - and the strange, uncharacteristically sad look filling her eyes - before she shoved it further under the avalanche of desk debris and closed the drawer again.

"Now that's unusual," the ghost of Mrs. Hudson tutted. "Most people throw away pictures of their ex-boyfriends. Why on earth do you suppose she still has this one?"

Sherlock pressed his lips. "Mrs. Hudson. If this is an ill-advised attempt to bring a little Christmas cheer to my heart, it won't work. I have been reliably informed - " he indicated Sergeant Donovan - "that I don't have one. We're both wasting our time here, so you might as well send me home."

No sooner had the words left his lips than he was back at Baker Street. But not in his flat - in Mrs. Hudson's sitting room. The lady herself was seated at her parlour table, chatting with two other ladies (one had just taken up skydiving, judging by the way she kept rubbing her shoulder; the other was secretly having an affair with the man who brought her groceries every Tuesday).

"Oh, they're always dashing about, those two," Mrs. Hudson was telling her guests with a laugh.

"Our Justin's just the same," the novice skydiver put in. "Sharp as six blades and a saw, and never rests a minute. He's like a little terrier the way he runs about the place!"

"Oh aye. That's our little Evangeline to a T," the bagboy seducer agreed. "Here, our Judith sent us a new picture last week." And she rummaged in her handbag for her wallet.

This seemed to be the cue for a spontaneous photography exhibition. Images of grandchildren were produced with the speed of cardsharks in a Snap game.

"That's little Kevin. He's growing like a weed, bless him. Only last year he was still in onesies."

"That's our Sheila. Mad for the ponies, is that girl. You know the age. What are your two interested in, Mrs. Hudson?"

"Murders, mostly." Sherlock's landlady met the stunned silence of her companions with her sweetest smile. "They're always at it; helping the police with their investigations. Such nice boys, though. And Sherlock hardly ever shoots up the wall anymore."

A smaller wallet-sized version of the photo of Sherlock and John joined the gallery of grandchildren on the table. Both of Mrs. Hudson's tea guests stared at it, not sure what to say next.

The landlady of 221B merely took hold of the teapot and refilled her companions' empty cups with a grin. "Anyone for biscuits?"

Sherlock felt his mouth twitch into an almost-grin. "You did that on purpose."

"Oooh, very good. Nothing gets by you, does it?" The ghost of Mrs. Hudson reappeared behind the version of herself seated at the table, creating a strange sort of double image. "Really, once the talk turns to grandchildren they could go on for hours, and it's always the same story; who's walking and who's got a tooth in, week after week after week."

"So why show me this?" Sherlock was beginning to feel the nausea returning; perhaps the proximity to the drawing room where he had passed out was affecting the hallucination. "I could be dying upstairs and you're keeping me down here showing me your weekly tea party."

"No one's keeping you anywhere, dear," the ghost said, a little sharply. "And anyway, I always think a person should be with friends at Christmas. Even if they're someone else's friends."

Sherlock scoffed. "Friends? Boring. You just said so yourself."

The ghost gave him a disappointed look. "So you really think you haven't got any friends?"

The edges of his vision were beginning to blur. "I haven't…I don't need friends; I have my work!" The pounding in his head leapt up a notch, like a bass drum with no sound.

"Sherlock Holmes! And you call yourself a detective." The ghost put her hands on her hips, and now her voice seemed to melt into Mycroft's. "Do try and think more clearly…all these people with your photograph. Do you suppose they all keep pictures of people they don't like?"

Sherlock did not answer. He could not answer. He was slipping away, being pulled backwards through a blinding white tunnel; streaking lights flashing past him and into infinity. He heard the hum of tyres on tarmac and the wailing of a siren. A figure loomed over him, putting a hissing snake over his mouth and strapping it in place. Someone was trying to communicate in morse code, a beeping noise, but it was all nonsense, the same letter, E, repeated over and over and over again…the ghost that had been Mrs. Hudson and possibly Mycroft stepped forward out of the corner of his vision, and wherever it was taking him next, it had to be better than this bright noisy hell.

part 3