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It's A Wonderful Christmas Carol - 3/7

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.

part 2

At first he thought the hissing breath was coming from the snake over his mouth. Then he realised it was the ghost, breathing in an unnaturally loud and deliberate way: like someone wearing a scuba mask. As it got closer, Sherlock could see it was wearing a black hood, like a cloak. A death shawl. Well, this hallucination was nothing if not predictable. All it needed to complete the Grim-Reaper getup was a harvesting scythe. When the ghost got close enough to touch him, it stopped its heavy scuba-diving breath and spoke:

"Luke…I am your father, Luke..."

Even warped with mockery, there was no mistaking that voice. The phantom leaned down and pulled back its hood to reveal a horribly, hatefully familiar face.

"…Miss me?"

Sherlock groaned. "Oh, god."

"Not quite," the ghost of Jim Moriarty reflected, "but close enough."

"Fuck off, Jim. If I'm dying then at least let me die in peace."

"Mmmm. No can do, my little creamcake." Once again the ghost grabbed Sherlock and lifted him easily to his feet. "We've got places to go, you and I; people to see, things to do…"

"...People to kill; lives to ruin. No thank you. Count me out of your little game."

The ghost laughed, a more chillingly genuine sound this time. "Oh, Sherlock my dear, you are so disappointingly obtuse. You've been playing my little game all along."

The flashing lights were fading away, along with - thank god - the sickening lurch in his stomach. As his vision cleared, Sherlock could see that the ghost had brought him to a rather ordinary-looking street in London. A familiar street. The street outside his brother's office in Whitehall.

"Maybe you're right, though," Jim reflected. "I mean, I know we're supposed to be doing the whole Ghost-of-Christmas-Future thing, but it is a bit tedious, just following someone else’s script. Tell you what," he said, as though proposing an unexpected trip to the ice cream shop, "let's swap the films! You know my one weakness, Sherlock…I am soooooooo changeable!" In a heartbeat, the ghost had grabbed him by the arm and the two of them were rocketing upwards through the air, straight for his brother's office window. "Goodbye, Christmas Carol…hello, It's A Wonderful Life!"

The window loomed up before them. Closer…closer…Sherlock braced for impact, and then…they were inside. All was quiet. The office was familiar to Sherlock, but the decor was not: Mycroft's usual elegant marbled oak desk had been replaced by a cold, clinical structure of onyx and steel. The period Restoration paintings were gone; the bare walls closing in starkly around the lone figure seated behind the desk.

"Looks a bit different, doesn't it?" Jim admired their surroundings, then added, for the benefit of Sherlock's puzzled look, "Oh, I forgot, you think pop culture's a waste of time. Well, for your information, we've replaced the normal, ordinary world with a world where Sherlock Holmes has never been born…let's see if our customers spot the difference!"

The Mycroft Holmes before them was still recognisable as the man Sherlock knew. But the change in his appearance was striking: he was several pounds heavier, with a ghastly pallour that not even Sherlock working a three-night murder case could match. The extra flesh around his face, arms and middle should have given him a pleasant, almost baby-like quality; but instead it hung about him like a dead weight, dragging him downwards like sodden garments drowning a sailor. His normally sharp eyes were dull and sunken into his face. They skimmed the paperwork in front of him with careful scrutiny, but there was no trace of the occasional quirked eyebrow or deceptively casual "hmmm" which normally belied the malestrom of deductions taking place within his mind.

The buzz of an intercom broke the room's heavy silence.

"Sir? That Hooper woman is here again. She's very insistent. If you like I could call Security…"

Mycroft gave a weary sigh. "No, don't bother yourself. Very well, let her in."

This version of Molly Hooper was almost unchanged from the real one. It irked Sherlock that he couldn't quite pin down what was different - hair? makeup? posture? gait? - until he finally realised after a full five seconds that he wasn't used to seeing her in any clothing other than a lab coat.

"Hello Mr. Holmes." Molly walked in nervously, changing her stride at least three times as she did so (oh no do I look too nervous? Don't be nervous. Wait, that's too forceful. Don't be aggressive; be diplomatic. Oh well, I'm almost there anyway).

"Hello, Ms Hooper." Mycroft adopted his best imitation of a smile as he gently shook her hand and motioned for her to take the deep leather-cushioned chair opposite him.

Molly hesitated - gripped the sheaf of papers she was carrying more tightly - then complied. "Thank you for agreeing to see me, sir. Finally," she added with a nervous titter.

Mycroft nodded indulgently. "Yes. You have been rather…persistent."

"Well, that's just it. You see, I've had to be," Molly took a deep breath. "It's been…I've met with sixteen different people in eight separate departments so far, and no one wants to hear what I've got to say."

"Yes. This would be about the Rystantin business, I take it?" Mycroft nodded at the papers in Molly's hands.

Molly started, as if for a brief second she'd forgotten she was carrying them. "Oh! Yes. Here. I mean, look. I mean, well. You can see for yourself." She laid out the papers in a line on his desk, and then - the careless affrontery of this made Sherlock's mouth twitch in approval - she actually walked round to Mycroft's side of the desk to point out several sections to him.

"All these cases are young women; nursing mothers. As you can see from their bloodwork, at the time of death they all had increased levels of - oh, I work in a mortuary; I should have said. I shouldn't really be showing you these or I could lose my job, but I can't get anyone to believe me until they see proof. Anyway, as you can see, they all died of a sudden brain haemorrhage. I checked with their GP's; there's no family history of aneurism; no previous MRI or C-scan abnormalities with any of them. But they were all taking Rystantin for post-partum depression."

Mycroft bristled very slightly at having his personal space invaded. "Ms Hooper, I am not a medical professional. But clearly, gathering some sort of hard corroborating evidence would be wise before levelling such a serious accusation?"

"There is. I mean, I have." Molly shifted more papers in front of him. "I've duplicated the results in lab mice, and the tests there also showed an increased infant mortality rate" - more paperwork - "which almost exactly duplicates the percentage seen in nursing mothers taking Rystantin." Her tirade done, and her evidence shown, Molly suddenly seemed to lose steam…and to realise that she was infringing the personal space of an important government official. She withdrew awkwardly and moved back to the seat she had been offered.

Mycroft gathered the paperwork neatly in front of him. "Ms Hooper. Forgive me, but the findings of one lab technician - dedicated though she may be - hardly constitute adequate evidence to justify a - "

"I know," Molly interrupted anixiously, "that's why I'm here. We don't have the funding at St - I mean, where I work - to do more research. We'd have to apply for a grant, but to even qualify for an application we'd need permission from the appropriate agencies. But no one even seems to know what those are. Or if they do they're not telling me."

The man behind the desk was silent for several seconds. Then he steepled his hands. "I'm sorry, Ms Hooper. I can't help you."

Molly chewed her lip, as though debating the wisdom of what she said next. "I don't really think that's true. I think you can help me. All of you can. You just don’t want to."

The elder Holmes rose from his chair, shifting Molly's paperwork back towards her with one elegantly manicured hand. "Unfortunately in this case, what you think doesn't matter in the slightest. Your research is insufficient. As I told you before, I can do nothing."

Molly stared at him for a long time. Then, pressing her lips, she gathered her evidence clumsily to her chest and made a few faltering steps towards the door. Halfway there, she turned back.

"You'll hear from me again," she said, trying to hide the quaver in her voice. "I won't…I don't give up that easily." And with that she made her exit.

Mycroft stared at a space on his desk for several seconds after she had departed. "I certainly hope so," he said quietly. "And I sincerely hope you meet with better luck than I have."

With that he got abruptly to his feet. He strolled over to a dark stained-oak drinks cabinet, filled a glass with ice, and withdrew a bottle of 200-year-old Scotch. As he carried these items to his desk, Moriarty's ghost chose than moment to spring back into chatter.

"Tsk, tsk. Poor big brother Mycroft," he simpered, as the elder Holmes fetched a key from the top drawer of his desk... "No ickle baby brother to cuddle. No ickle Sherlock to tuck into bed at night" ...unlocked a lower drawer... "no one to teach his skills of deduction, no one to train and nurture" ...and opened it to reveal a stack of folders, a resignation letter, and the gleaming handle of a straight razor.

"No one to make him feel like he wasn't the only freak in the world."

There was silence. Only the tinkling of ice as Mycroft poured the Scotch and took a sip. Then Sherlock scoffed.

"Oh, please. This is maudlin and absurd. My brother would never do the world the courtesty of removing himself from it."

"Maybe not the Mycroft you know," Ghost Jim conceded. "But this is a Mycroft you don't know." He reached into the open desk drawer, unnoticed by the elder Holmes, and began to rifle through the folders there. "Oh, look! A report to his superiors. About Rystantin, imagine that! Looks like he tried to stop its production several times and was ignored. Not the first time, either. God, there's stuff going years back in here…substandard housing contracts…corrupt judges…corporate backhanders for government officials…ugh, a powerful man with a conscience. Bo-ring!"

Sherlock eyed the heavy pearl-handled straight razor.  "You said yourself this is a fantasy. Why should it matter what happens here if it's all just an illusion?"

An odd look crossed the ghost's face. "Well, unless you can get back to your world - can you? - then this reality's the only one you've got."

Sherlock had no answer to this. After a moment, the ghost smirked. "Right then," he said, as Sherlock Holmes watched his older brother slowly pull up his sleeve and reach for the razor. "Shall we carry on?"

part 4