spock: logic is sexy

Sherlock Fic: The December War (Sherlock/John)

Reveals for all my anonymous exchanges are happening today, and I've got three stories to share - two Sherlock and one HP. I am going to try and be self-disciplined and spread the posting out though. Here is the first one, a Sherlock/John piece.


Title: The December War
Author: igrockspock
Characters/Pairings: Sherlock/John, Mycroft
Rating: PG-13
Summary: Sherlock's never been good at Christmas.
Author's Notes: my holmestice gift for almost_clara. Many thanks to yeomanrand for beta reading and patiently untangling awkward sentences.
Word Count: 4,000



Sherlock Holmes did not celebrate Christmas; he hid from it. The blinking colored lights, product displays, false laughter, jangling music, and the omnipresent scent of pine and cinnamon assaulted his senses every time he stepped outside. Too much data, all at once, made it hard to think, much less feel the things the world demanded of him. And so he quarantined himself in his flat, plucking his violin and devising increasingly dangerous experiments, when he should by all rights be outside, reveling in the sharp, cold winter air that frightened ordinary people off the streets and heightened the city's fascinating array of smells.

And he was bored. Nothing good happened at Christmas. There were murders aplenty, but all dreadfully boring ones, committed by family members trapped in houses with mothers and cousins and aunts and girlfriends they could not abide. Mycroft's annual holiday kidnapping attempts were mildly diverting, unless they were successful, which was humiliating. In any case, they occurred only once or twice per year, and never before Christmas Eve. Until then, Sherlock had nothing to do except watch John; something Sherlock never tired of, but John often did. Sometimes he threw things at Sherlock, which was interesting, but most often, he left the flat and Sherlock was bored again.

This time, John left and returned with something alarming: a Christmas tree.

“Just a small one,” John said, looking apologetic and hopeful all at once. “Just a little Christmas cheer, eh? See, the lights don't even blink.”

He cleared a small space for it on the windowsill, where it displaced a stack of articles about cellular decay. Sherlock glowered at it thoroughly, then shifted his laptop so that he would not have to see it anymore. So John cared about Christmas then. It wasn't surprising, really. John was not ordinary, but he believed he was ordinary, which meant he thought that many ordinary things were important.

Sherlock tested himself, carefully imagining Christmas day with John. The actual celebration refused to take shape in his mind -- he was not sure what ordinary people did on Christmas, though it was possible that John would provide instructions – but the thought was not horrible. If nothing else, he could spend the day watching John, and Mycroft could not attempt to kidnap him based on the dubious claim that spending Christmas by oneself was unhealthy. Of course, he ought not make hasty assumptions; John might not want to spend Christmas with him.

“Are you going to Harry's for Christmas?” he asked, keeping his tone carefully neutral. Sometimes he accidentally conveyed too much of his distaste for Harry, and it made John angry.

“Only for a bit.”

An unfamiliar feeling surged in Sherlock's chest. Relief, he realized. Whatever his feelings about Christmas, he had not wanted to be passed over in favor of Harry.

“You going to visit your family?” John asked, looking very carefully non-committal.

“I think not,” Sherlock said.

“I suppose we'll have to spend the day together then.” John smiled behind his newspaper.

Very tentatively, Sherlock added “spending Christmas with John” to his list of Good Things. Assuming, of course, that he could figure out how to do it correctly.

***


Christmas had been less baffling when he was a child. Grandmere always came from Amiens, and she and Sherlock never left the kitchen. Ordinarily, he wasn't allowed in; Mummy didn't like to cook, and their cook was frightened of the way he stared. Grandmere never minded him watching though, and she gave him new ways to use his eyes and ears and nose.

“Listen to the bread,” she'd say. Then she'd press the cooling rack into his hands, a fresh loaf on top of it. “When it stops singing, that means it's time to cut it.”

The big loaves sang for almost an hour, the little olive-studded ones only for a few minutes. He leaned in close when she cut them, memorizing the way the crust crackled beneath the blade of her knife.

The other children at school did not like him because he took apart insects to find out how they worked, and he'd told Stephen Wilkes that his mother was sleeping with her chauffeur. His teacher had called Mummy about that, but he wasn't sorry. It wasn't his fault he couldn't stop observing things, even if it made people angry. His teachers were hypocrites, he told Grandmere, savoring each of the syllables on his tongue. People shouldn't get in more trouble for telling the truth than they did for lying.

Grandmere didn't try to tell him confusing things about people's feelings; she just sat him on the worktop and dared him to tell her when the butter was perfectly brown by scent alone, and when he memorized the exact smell of rolls that were about to burn, she thanked him.

Christmases became much more confusing after she died.

***


Sherlock lay in his -- their bed – fingers steepled together, contemplating the impending holiday. What did normal people do at Christmas? He could not hope to get it exactly right, but it would be wise to assemble a preliminary list of Good and Not Good behaviors – impulses he ought to control, things he ought not say. It was important to demonstrate that a relationship with Sherlock would not consign John to a lifetime of bizarre and eccentric behaviors.

People exchanged gifts, obviously; he had not deleted those files. His mind wandered to cashmere sweaters and silken pajamas that would slide sensuously over John's skin. He hadn't any money at the moment, but that was hardly an obstacle. Mycroft had plenty, and his PIN code was blindingly obvious: the true name of his assistant, which he believed no one else knew. Of course, John, with his keen sense of right and wrong, would not approve. In any case, Sherlock had perused the contents of John's bureau extensively – without permission, though he was certain John knew – and discovered several similar gifts from Harry, most of them unworn. John would say that Christmas was not a contest, but Sherlock intended to best Harry in every possible way.

Not a gift, then. What else? Normal people sang carols, if the advertisements were to be believed, but that could hardly be what John wanted, though perhaps later Sherlock could get out his violin. Yes, music. Sherlock playing the violin would be better than a normal Christmas, though not enough by itself to fill the day. One more thing tickled the back of his brain. He lay still and wait for it to come. Food, he thought, of course. Normal people ate Christmas dinner, and Sherlock was certain he could deliver a good one. He still had all of Grandmere's files, though they were painful to look at. He would, though, for John.

So he had a plan: make Christmas dinner – in secret, if possible – and play the violin. If time was left over, he would spend it observing John.

The only question was, would it be boring?

He didn't think he could be bored of John, but he had thought the same of Stephen Wilbourn – the same one whose mother had once had an affair with her chauffeur -- and he had been wrong. The year Sherlock was twenty-one, they had spent Christmas together. He hadn't loved Stephen, but he did find him convenient and amusing, and he had liked the idea that a relationship might make him appear normal. Though he cared not one whit about Christmas, Stephen had, and Sherlock had gathered that relationships required unpalatable compromises. For one day, he thought he could endure.

He had been wrong. The inane chatter, the stillness, and the unspoken demand that he avoid chemistry journals, crime statistics, and scientific experiments, had born down on him until he saw no alternative to a drugs binge. He'd ended the night in the casualty ward, and Stephen had never spoken to him again.

He was not sorry.

***


Two days before Christmas, Harry phoned John. Sherlock didn't bother hiding his eavesdropping; after all, John knew better than to have a private conversation in their flat.

“Juniper, then, twelve o'clock?” he heard John say.

“Dull!” Sherlock called from the kitchen table, where he was dissecting a sheep's eye.

John leaned against the door frame and rolled his eyes.

“Not all of us rendezvous with our siblings in abandoned stairwells and outside murder scenes,” he muttered over the incessant stream of Harry's chatter. Harry didn't seem to notice.

“Did she even ask where you wanted to go?” Sherlock asked, picturing the white tablecloths and jacketed waiters. It was posh and boring and expensive, and calculated to make John feel that he was receiving a magnanimous gift from his alcoholic sister.

“You wouldn't have asked either,” John said, not even trying to disguise that he was carrying on two conversations this time. Harry's monologue did not even pause.

“Only because I already know.” Italian, hole-in-the-wall, rickety tables, lots of garlic. Surprisingly near a variety of crime scene investigations, but only because Sherlock took care to lead them that way.

John held the phone away from his ear as Harry's volume crescendoed. The slur in her words was easy to hear. Sherlock forced himself to focus on the sheep's eye. In the background, he heard John sigh.

Harry rang again on Christmas Eve. John crouched at the desk for more than an hour, phone pressed to his ear, mouth pressed into a thin, tight line. Sherlock threw bits of wadded paper at the back of his head, sent incessant emails about cases that did not exist, and made his violin screech, but John refused to hang up the phone. Instead he went upstairs to his bedroom, where Sherlock could not see him anymore. He eavesdropped for awhile, but it was no use; John's input in the conversation was no more than an occasional “mmm-hmmm.”

The last time Harry was like this, Sherlock had snatched John's mobile from his hand and thrown it out the window. From John's perspective, this was Not Good, though Sherlock disagreed: at the very least, he'd gotten to buy John a new mobile, even nicer than the one he'd had, and without the inscription from Clara. He had half a mind to do it again – he could buy another phone with Mycroft's credit card – but John had wedged something under the door and it wouldn't open.

Useless, he thought at himself. Make a plan. Arranging for someone to detain Harry for a few days wouldn't be difficult, and John would at least be spared her melodrama over the holiday. Or perhaps he could break into her flat and offer her something to make her sleep for a day. He still had his stash, hidden in a box in the refrigerator that John believed to contain human fingers. But when Harry did not arrive at the appointed time, John would know who was to blame. They'd had a row – several rows actually – about trust and control; John had almost left. He couldn't risk it. Smaller diversions then, in the morning. The probability of failure would be high, but it was the best he could do. How unfair, he thought, to be so brilliant and so unable to solve the problems that mattered.

In the morning, he tried to distract John with the promise of sex. When that failed, he hid his wallet and his Oyster Card, and John was none too pleased when he found it in the pocket of Sherlock's coat. Obvious, he chastised himself while he watched John clench his jaw and breathe slowly and in and out.

“I am going to see my sister,” he said slowly and carefully, as if he were explaining something to a child. “It is traditional in some circles to visit one's family on Christmas. I will be back in a few hours, and we will spend the rest of the day together. Do you think that you could try to understand for just one minute that there are people in my life other than you?”

Like your loud, crass, drunken bitch of a sister, Sherlock thought, and it was a measure of the self-restraint he'd learned over the past months that he didn't say it out loud even though it was true. It wasn't fair that John would never appreciate the sacrifice, especially when he'd gotten Sherlock all wrong. For once, he wasn't being selfish, and he wanted the credit for it. But the words on his lips didn't say that; they blamed John for misunderstanding him even when Sherlock knew it was perfectly reasonable to assume that he was being selfish, so he kept his silence and John slammed the door.

“Don't go,” Sherlock said to the empty flat. “I'll take better care of you here.”

***


Grandmere died three months after Sherlock's twelfth birthday. That year, Mycroft sat solemnly on the narrow bed in Sherlock's room at boarding school, which was really a closet the headmaster had converted when it became clear that Sherlock could not abide a roommate.

“Sherlock, I think it would be better if you did not come home for Christmas this year,” Mycroft had said, looking long-suffering and sympathetic. Sherlock hated him most when he pretended to be their father.

“You just want Mummy to yourself,” he accused. Mycroft had not been nearly as close to Grandmere as Sherlock had been; how unnecessary for him to seize his advantage as the older, favored son to claim Mummy's attentions for himself now that Grandmere was gone.

“Sherlock, don't be ridiculous. Mummy's...not well. She'll be better soon, but in the meantime, it's better for you not to see her.”

“Don't lie,” Sherlock said. “That only makes it worse.”

Mycroft had gone on about experiments that needed tending and other students who would be staying, but Sherlock had drowned his voice out with Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto in E Minor. In the morning, he set a small fire in the chemistry lab and exposed an affair between the headmaster and an English teacher to ensure that he would not be welcome to stay for Christmas break. When he arrived at the station, Mycroft said nothing and carried his suitcase onto the train.

Mummy greeted them with red eyes and an unsteady gait. She smiled too much and laughed too loudly, and together Sherlock and Mycroft spent the evening finding bottles hidden in cupboards and closets and pouring them down the drain. Sherlock made Christmas dinner after Mummy burned the roast, and though it wasn't ready till nearly ten at night, he expected great acclaim. Instead, the meal was quiet and tense, and at the end, Mummy hugged Sherlock too tightly and would not stop stroking his hair.

“Do you have to be so obvious about being a drunk?” he asked, and then she let him go.

He walked calmly up the stairs without looking behind him, then secreted himself in an alcove where he knew he could listen to Mycroft and Mummy talk below.

“Really, Mother, you ought to go somewhere,” he heard Mycroft saying. “I've researched several places...got the brochures in my luggage...as bad a year as Sherlock's had, you ought to have known better.”

After that, Sherlock didn't want to hear any more, and he went to bed.

Mycroft had been right; Mummy went to one of the places he'd found, and she did get better soon. But by then, Sherlock had lost his taste for Christmas. He stayed at school next year and the one after that, though he allowed Mycroft to drag him home the year the school threatened to expel him. At uni, he escaped by having important experiments to attend. After he graduated, he did so many drugs that he wasn't welcome, and when he was clean, he took cases in Bulgaria and Samoa. Once in awhile, Mycroft kidnapped him and brought him home; once in awhile, Sherlock let him.

The problem with trying to be normal at Christmas was that even when he succeeded, someone else failed. Badly.

***


Sherlock stood at the window in his pajamas, watching John until he vanished entirely. He debated getting dressed and following him to the restaurant, where he could at least see what was happening, but he knew how it would end: he would watch from a distant table until the exact moment John stopped looking tired and began looking hurt, and then he would intervene by saying unpleasant true things to Harry. Quite possibly, he would smash her wine glass; quite possibly, he would order a glass of wine to pass the time and find himself unable to stop. Altering his behavior to suit someone else's desires was new and not entirely enjoyable, but if he wanted the relationship to continue, he would have to accept the necessity.

Instead, he went to Mycroft's townhouse, where he planned to steal the ingredients for Christmas dinner. The back door was easy enough to open, though Mycroft had changed the lock since he last picked it. He could have braved the Tesco yesterday of course, but even a chance encounter with his brother was less likely to induce homicidal rage than an hour rubbing shoulders with Christmas shoppers. Anyway, the food was much better here, and Mycroft had enough to survive a nuclear war -- or a weekend of binge eating. Sherlock tossed his selections indiscriminately into the reusable shopping bags he had found by the kitchen door. He could sort out the contents later; he had no wish to tarry here and be subjected to one of his brother's tiresome kidnapping attempts. But no sooner had he emptied the spice rack and snatched a roasting pan than a voice rang out from the kitchen door.

“Had a little spat with Dr. Watson have we? You really ought to be more understanding, Sherlock. Not everyone finds it so easy to abandon their family at Christmas.”

“Shouldn't you be at Mummy's by now?” Sherlock snapped.

“I promised her I would see to it that your little disagreement was resolved before I left. Can't let you muck up your first Christmas with Dr. Watson, can we?” Mycroft peered into one of the shopping bags. “You ought to take the roast. It's much more traditional. And the shallots, Mummy always puts them in the gravy. Do you remember how to deglaze a pan?”

“Of course,” Sherlock huffed. He would not have deleted Grandmere's files, even if it was painful to look at them.

“Don't look so affronted, Sherlock, one never knows what you might have deleted.”

Without a further glance at Sherlock or the bags, Mycroft began removing pots and pans from the cupboards and stacking them on the worktop. Sherlock could tell it was exactly what he needed, perfectly organized, no less. With a small pile of bakeware, Mycroft had turned a perfectly good break-in into an act of charity. Sherlock hated him for it, but he hated the thought of failing John more. Without a word, he allowed Mycroft to help him pack the tartlet pans and baking sheets into a shopping bag, and when they were done, he said, “I shall need your driver to take me home.”

Mycroft summoned the car by text message, and as Sherlock was leaving, he called, “If all else fails, get out your violin.”

Sherlock did not answer, and he certainly would not say thank you. He did leave Mycroft's wallet on the table by the front door though. With the credit card still inside it, no less.

***


John returned after the roast had finished but before Sherlock had put the Yorkshire puddings into the oven. He stood uncertainly at the threshold of the kitchen, staring at the clean table and the flour-encrusted worktop.

“You're...you're cooking,” he said.

Obvious, Sherlock thought. It didn't deserve an answer.

“You're back earlier than I expected,” he said instead. He'd really meant to have the puddings done and the walnut tartlets in the oven before John returned; the effect would have been much better.

“Well. Not a lot of places to go,” John said. For that, Sherlock was grateful, though he knew better than to say it.

“I made a cheese plate,” Sherlock said, moving to retrieve it from the fridge. Disposing of the head that had previously occupied the shelf had been some trouble, but he had needed the space; he wanted something ready in case John came home earlier than he expected.

“Why?” John asked. He wasn't eating, as he ought to have done. John liked to eat, and Sherlock had made certain that Mycroft hadn't held back the wedge of creamy, blue-flecked Humboldt Fog in the back of his refrigerator. Instead, he was standing in front of the table, still wearing his coat, and looking even more confused than the day he'd first discovered a human head next to the butter dish.

“You don't want it?” Sherlock asked. He did not think John had any special fondness for cheese, but he presumed that he at least liked it.

“I certainly do.” John bent over the plate at last, scooping up a bit of brie with the toasted bread Sherlock had made earlier that afternoon. “I just want to know why.”

“You expected to come home and find me in a strop, bullet holes in the walls, something dead in the sink,” he said.

“Well...I...yes.”

“Reasonable,” Sherlock said, brushing John's guilt aside with a wave of his hand. “I know I am difficult.” Words were difficult, Sherlock thought. They were trite and normal, and treacherous when he misjudged their appropriateness. “But I can do better,” he finished. “If you can let me learn how.”

“You're talking like you thought I was about to leave you.”

Not today, Sherlock thought, but someday. If he's not careful. If he can't figure out the right equilibrium between being too much himself and too much someone he's not. He breathed in the aroma of roast beef and Madeira gravy and studied the geometric arrangement of cheese slices on the platter. If this was what was required of him, he thought he could do it, perhaps – hopefully -- for quite some time.

“No,” Sherlock said, which was simpler and less likely to elicit promises that John could not yet make, much less keep. “I thought you might want a normal Christmas dinner. But if you would prefer, the morgue at Bart's is quite poorly attended on Christmas day. I understand someone recently died of leprosy.”

John choked on a slice of Gruyere.

“Think I prefer the dinner, thanks.”

“I thought so,” Sherlock said, feeling slightly triumphant even though it was hardly a difficult deduction. “I wasn't jealous of Harry this morning, you know,” he added, dropping his voice. “I didn't want her to hurt you.”

John's mouth opened and closed for a moment.

“I'm sorry. I shouldn't have assumed...”

“No. You were perfectly right to have assumed.” He would not have John feeling guilty for believing something about him that was so frequently true. “Would you like me to play something for you while you eat?” he asked, hoping to distract John from what had happened earlier that day.

“No, I'd rather you ate with me.”

Dinner was only half done, and it was difficult to be still when there were still so many things to do and touch and smell, but Sherlock settled into the chair across from John. Their ankles touched beneath the table, and when John smiled, tiny crinkles appeared around the corners of his eyes. He had put them there, Sherlock realized, and though he had seen them many times before, he had never touched them. This seemed like a terrible oversight, and he reached across the table to stroke the creased skin.

Remarkable, he thought, being still with John is not the same thing as being bored.
I still love this story so much, and was happy to have had the opportunity to be some small part of its creation.
Thank you! I am forever grateful that you fixed up the opening paragraph for me - I think it would have lost people's attention if it had stayed the way it was.
This is so sweet in a completely Sherlock kind of way. I loved the little insight into his Christmas past and his insecurities and wanting to make John Christmas dinner.
This is a graceful tale, with John and Sherlock moving around each other in a Christmas waltz. Behind all the words echos of their love for each other is the music for the dance.

Well done...
I love this. Someone linked me, and I didn't look to see who'd wrote it until I clicked to comment and tell you how much I loved it.
I saw that it was yours and went "Oh. Well, that does explain why it's so good!"
Aw, thank you bb! I'm sure you've seen a couple posts here about my anxieties about writing in this fandom, so your comment is very appreciated!
For once, he wasn't being selfish, and he wanted the credit for it.

That was just a perfect line for Sherlock :)
What a gorgeous glimpse of Sherlock's heart. You have his voice down to perfect pitch. And I'm totally in love with his Grandmere. Mummy being alcoholic makes Sherlock's deductions about the scratches on John's phone all the more telling. "Never see a drunk's without them."

Anyway, the food was much better here, and Mycroft had enough to survive a nuclear war -- or a weekend of binge eating. Um, this line was delicious (sorry, awful pun).

Please write more in the Sherlock 'verse--you're wonderful at it.

Edited at 2012-01-04 04:37 am (UTC)
Thank you so much! (And sorry I got behind on my comment responses...) It means a lot to me that you liked Sherlock's voice here; it was my first time writing from his POV, and it was a challenge! I always did picture Sherlock as having substance abuse in his family - I'm glad it made sense to you too.

And yes, more Sherlock fic is quite inevitable! I am just a little obsessed with the show. Thank you for your words of encouragement.
I really love this. Really cleverly and beautifully crafted. <3

“No. You were perfectly right to have assumed.” He would not have John feeling guilty for believing something about him that was so frequently true.

<3
What a sad, lovely, touching story. I love Sherlock's attempts to connect with John, despite secretly feeling it will all turn out wrong in the end-- but trying anyway. I love Grandmere, and will try my best to be charitable toward Harry and Mummy, although it's certainly costing me trouble.

Wonderful fic.
Many belated thanks for your lovely comment! I agree - it is a bit tough to feel charitable toward Harry and Mummy, though I've got an ounce more sympathy for Mummy since she did go away to treatment. I am so glad you liked the story!
So I totally lost it at Humboldt Fog; one of my favorite cheeses, and a regular on any cheese plate that I assemble. In fact, I'm sure it was on the cheese plate this last Christmas!
I am glad to meet a fellow cheese lover! I have only had the privilege of eating Humboldt Fog once, and it was lovely. I must figure out how to lay hands on it again :)
Oh Sherlock, trying so very, very hard. I particularly enjoyed him breaking into Mycroft's kitchen to steal the ingredients he needed for dinner as a far more reasonable alternative than grovery shopping.
I came over from innie-darling's remix to read more about Grandmere. This was a wonderful story and everything I really love about the Sherlock/John dynamic. I do hope you write more Sherlock! :D