Prompt: Ghosts of Christmas Past
I heard Holmes leave our rooms just before midnight.
This was not the explosive departure of a man who had a mystery to solve, of Holmes dashing off into alone the night to work his deductive magic. I knew those sounds very well and they always irked me because he might be throwing himself into danger yet again, without me there to help and to protect him. If that was not my responsibility, of what purpose was I?
Because I know my Holmes so well, the reason for this nocturnal departure seemed clear: he was lost in his own head about our upcoming dinner and what it might mean. I smiled just a little, because at least he was thinking about it. About me.
Realising that sleep was going to evade me, I left my bed, tugging my dressing gown on, but not bothering to tie it. The parlour was dimly lit by a single lamp and had the particular kind of empty that meant Holmes was absent. After considering the excellent port, I ended up pouring myself a shot of the equally excellent whisky instead. It just seemed that sort of night.
The room was chilly, so I poked up the fire and added another log before sitting in my chair.
No doubt it was the season which lead my thoughts to nostalgic musings.
After all, we all have our ghosts, do we not?
I had no destination in mind; it was only restlessness, like an itch that could not be scratched or the craving for the needle, which had driven me to wrap up in my greatcoat and leave 221B. So I walked aimlessly through the dark winter night. It was something of a surprise, therefore, when I at last came out of my own head and looked up to realise where I was.
One light burned inside the Mayfair house and I knew which room was illuminated.
I did not bother with the door knocker [a pretentious royal lion, of course] because there was no need to rouse the butler from his no doubt well-earned rest. It was the work of no more than a moment to pick the lock.
Mycroft did not look surprised when I walked into his study. “I hope you did not permanently disable the lock this time. I weary of having to replace it.”
“I have refined my technique,” I said proudly. “The lock is fine.” Still restless, I did not sit, but instead began a perambulation of the room.
Mycroft finally set his pen down and slipped the file he’d been working on into a drawer. Unnecessarily, of course, because I had absolutely no interest in all the petty matters of government that he considered so important. “What is wrong, Sherlock?” He had the persona of Endlessly Worried Elder Brother honed to a fine veneer.
“Nothing,” I said, making a turn around a rather hideous Oriental vase. Whilst I am a skilled prevaricator, not even I would believe this lie.
“Oh, I am pleased. Most often you only visit when your situation is dire.”
I could have argued that, but my position would have been weak.
“Kindly stop wearing a path in my carpet, please.”
I growled pointlessly and threw myself down onto the leather settee.
Mycroft rose and went to the sideboard, where he poured two glasses of sherry before coming to sit in the chair opposite me. “The Queen seems optimistic that you will be able to handle that little problem for her.”
I waved a hand.
“Oh, I see. You have already solved it, but are staging one of your pointless rebellions by letting her stew for a bit.”
“I will let the Palace know in the morning,” I said. “It is a matter that is best handled internally.”
A slightly pained look crossed his face as he realised that it would probably be he himself who would have to handle it. He was watching a reflection of the flames from the fireplace dance in his glass. “She quite liked you, as it happens.”
“Thank god, I was so worried about that. Wait, no I wasn’t.” I sipped the sherry. Mycroft, of course, kept an excellent cellar. Which is why whenever the cabinet at 221B needed refreshing I paid a secret visit. He knew, of course. We play these games, always have done. “Watson and I are dining at Simpson’s tomorrow.,” I said without really meaning to. “Or later today, actually,” I amended with a glance at his mahogany long-case clock.
“Oh? A special occasion?”
“I do not know.” I could count on one hand the number of times I have willing said those words to my brother.
It was such a rare occurrence, in fact, that an expression of genuine concern flitted through his eyes. Then he only looked vaguely bored. “So it was Watson who instigated the meal?”
Mycroft opened the humidor and took out one of his cigars. Half-heartedly, he offered one to me as well, but I shook my head.
“I hate Christmas,” I said suddenly, although I knew very well that my brother was not fond of non-sequiturs.
“Well, yes,” Mycroft replied.
We never talked about it, of course. Why would we?
Not that I never thought about it. Primarily as a mystery, probably the first mystery in my life. Definitely the first betrayal in my life. And, frankly, such a betrayal that I was never willing to put myself in a position where I could be betrayed ever again.
Mycroft smoked and drank for a few moments before speaking again. “I have sometimes wondered over the years why a man would walk out on his family in the middle of Christmas lunch and never return.”
I smiled without a hint humour. “I once decided that he had fallen into a well and drowned. That made me feel better.”
“Ha,” Mycroft said, equally humourlessly. Then, unexpectedly, he said, “Sherlock, I am very sure that John Watson will not betray you.”
I hated the fact that he could always read me so easily. Instead of saying that, however, I rose and retrieved the sherry bottle. When both of our glasses were filled again, I went to stand by the window. The road outside was empty. A light snow was falling. “And if Watson does not betray me, what then, Mycroft?” My voice was so soft that I wondered if he had even heard my words.
“Then, brother mine, I expect that you might actually be happy.”
Surprised by those words, I turned to look at him.
He shrugged. “I blame the season; it makes all of us a bit sentimental.” Having said that, he stood and went back to the desk, removing the file from the drawer. “Go home, Sherlock. In the morning, tell Her Majesty that you have solved the case. Then go to dinner at Simpson’s with Doctor Watson. I recommend the pheasant. Enjoy the meal and the company and whatever else is offered. If you both would like to join me for supper on Christmas Eve, I would be pleased.”
I drained my glass, set it on the window ledge and went to the door. “Is it really that simple?”
Mycroft gave a hollow laugh. “Of course not. It is complicated and messy and, in this particular instance, dangerous. But I doubt that you will ever be bored.”
I shook my head. “Goodnight, Mycroft.”
The sherry and my mood kept me warm as I walked home. Complicated and messy and dangerous.
That sounded fine.
Holmes had still not appeared by the time the fire died away again and I decided to return to my bed.
The time spent huddled in the chair had not been wasted. In view of my plans for dinner, I had worked to lay some of the ghosts from my past. Tainted family ties. A few doomed courtships. The tragedy of war and the grief of personal trauma. I could not regret any of it, because all of it had lead me here. And now it was time to let it go.
To make room for a new life.
I refused to even consider the possibility that my hopes would be for naught.
After extinguishing the lamp, I settled back into the bed and closed my eyes. It was then that I heard Holmes’ return. I smiled into the darkness and fell asleep to the sounds of my friend readying himself for bed.