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A Glorious Thing

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It is, it is a glorious thing to
be a pirate king.

-W.S. Gilbert

 

Mycroft Holmes was bored. Fatally bored, probably.

He leant against a fake postal box that had been excessively draped in equally fake holly. Absurd. After reading one more paragraph of his beloved copy of The Prince, he looked up to give Daddy yet another ferocious frown so that he wouldn’t think Mycroft had forgiven him for this whole ridiculous excursion. A quick look around when they’d first arrived had proven the point he’d made forcefully [but quite uselessly] over the course of the entire day that no other 11-year-olds would be forced to visit Santa’s Grotto.

Mycroft had also pointed out that not once, even when aged five, had he ever asked to be taken to see a grotto or the mythical being called Santa Claus. “Sherlock is not you,” was all that Daddy had said in response to that.

This whole place had to be some hitherto unknown circle of hell, in his considered opinion. Not that he believed in hell, of course, but still…

Mycroft was close to deciding that not even the promised reward of tea at the Ritz afterwards, with all the cakes he wanted, was worth having to suffer through this.

Since even Machiavelli could not seem to hold his attention amidst the painfully cheerful music and the hum of excitement from all the little brats waiting in the apparently endless queue, Mycroft finally closed the book and shoved it into his pocket. Instead of reading, he decided to work on his people watching skills. He didn’t just watch people, of course; he tried to figure out their lives and secrets. Observe, Mummy always said, observe and you will learn. Power, he already understood, required knowledge and Mycroft wanted to know everything.

To begin the exercise, he looked at Daddy. Even someone he knew very well could reveal unexpected nuggets of information. He noticed that Daddy was wearing a new tie [a birthday gift from Mummy] and that he was very much looking forward to having some wine at the Ritz. At the moment, he was watching the children in the queue, a faint smile on his face; he was sentimental. His choice of tie proved that. If asked, he would have said that wearing it was a way of having Mummy with them, even though she was at a conference in Oslo. Daddy was a nice man [Mycroft knew this and even appreciated it], which probably explained why he had just started talking to the woman standing next to him. Daddy enjoyed chatting with random people, unlike Mummy, who was usually too lost in her own head to bother.

Then Mycroft turned his attention to the woman. She wore a shabby and unfashionable coat. Had dishwater blonde hair that she obviously coloured herself and not well. Her thin, pale face was not improved in the slightest by the peeling coat of bright red lipstick. The small lines of stress around her mouth showed that there was unhappiness in her life. Mycroft assumed an unhappy marriage, because that was the most common cause of stress amongst middle-aged women, he thought. Maybe the husband drank. Looking more closely, he could see the fading remains of a bruise on her cheek. A violent drunk, then. And given the faint tremor in her hands, she was probably no stranger to alcohol either.

Mycroft took a moment to wonder what on earth his father and that sad, boring woman could possibly have to talk about. They were both watching the children as they conversed.

After a moment, Mycroft shifted his gaze to look at his little brother, who was the reason he had been forced to be here at all. Surprisingly, Sherlock also seemed to be ‘chatting.’ He was sitting on a [fake] snow mound, engaged in what appeared to be an intense conversation with a thin blond boy sitting next to him. It was an unusual sight, because Sherlock, like Mummy and Mycroft himself, did not generally seek out the company of others. Mummy and he at least knew how to fake civility when the occasion called for it. Sherlock had not yet developed that ability and Mycroft rather doubted that he would do so any time soon. Mycroft knew that some concern had been expressed over that fact. Most recently by the teacher of his brother’s Reception class. Sherlock was a solitary little boy.

But at the moment the youngest Holmes was apparently explaining something to the other boy and quite enthusiastically by all appearances. That boy, Mycroft realised suddenly, was quite obviously the son of the unhappy woman with whom Daddy was still talking. He was proud of himself for knowing that and resolved to tell Mummy, who would be proud of his observation.

Because his brother was behaving so uncharacteristically, Mycroft was extremely curious about the two boys. Carefully, he slid closer, finding a spot behind a rather terrifyingly cheerful nutcracker. From the new position, he could watch more easily. Better still, if he concentrated he could even hear the conversation. Sherlock was still talking. Mycroft rather thought that the Reception teacher was actually more bothered by the fact that when Sherlock did deign to speak he sounded far too mature for a five-year-old than she was by his unsociable nature.

“…and so I think Captain Morgan buried a treasure chest that was never found,” Sherlock said, the seriousness of his tone rather belied by the slight lisp he still had.

The little blond boy seemed entranced. “What was in the chest?” he asked eagerly.

Sherlock ran a hand through his already tousled dark curls. “Well, John,” he said, “I expect it is doubloons. Pieces of eight. That sort of thing.”

“Wow,” the boy---John apparently, at least according to the glittery nametag stuck to the front of his jacket---said. “You’re very smart.”

Sherlock had disdainfully rejected the opportunity to make himself a nametag when it was offered by a much too perky elf. He was protective of his tailored black suit, which had been made for the wedding of a cousin a few months earlier, and wore it as often as allowed. Sometimes even Mycroft thought that his baby brother was a little odd. “Well, I am a genius, John.”

John appeared to be even more awe-struck.

“When I’m big enough,” Sherlock said, “I’m going to take a ship and go find the treasure.”

John was biting his lower lip as he gazed shyly at Sherlock.

In return, Sherlock studied him thoughtfully. “Would you like to come with me?”

“Can I?” John breathed out.

“Do you like adventure and danger?”

John seemed to think about it carefully. Then he nodded. “Yes, I think I would like that very much.”

“Well, I will need a first mate.”

John grinned at him and threw a salute. “Aye, aye, Captain.”

Abruptly, the woman was there, grabbing John’s arm, pulling him up. “Come on,” she said. “It’s your turn to talk to Santa. Don’t drag your feet, Johnny. I have to get home and start dinner before your father gets there, you know that.”

Mycroft moved out from behind the nutcracker, the better to watch. Sherlock slid off the plastic pile of snow and stood there awkwardly, hands shoved into his pockets as he watched John on Santa’s lap. John was clearly talking as quickly as he could. Even so, his mother barely waited until the little boy was finished with his list before taking his hand and pulling him away. As they moved, John turned his head and tried to speak to Sherlock, but Daddy, unaware of the mini-drama taking place, was already moving him gently towards Santa. “I don’t know your name,” was all John managed to say before vanishing into the crowd.

Sherlock turned his head to reply, but John was already gone.