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Author: methylviolet10b
Rating: PG
Universe: ACD
Characters: Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock Holmes; references to John Watson, Mary Morstan (Watson), Professor Moriarty, others;
Word Count: 4,670 (!)
Summary: Mycroft's Christmas Eve observations over the years 1881 - 1894.
Warnings: Various ACD-canon case references, linked to where appropriate. Reference to a common medical belief of the Victorian age, now well debunked. Constant reference to a Holmes brothers tradition that I do not bother to explain (yes, I know, evil.) This was written in a complete rush. You have been warned.
Emergency Beta by: monkeybard, and bless you!
Disclaimer: I don't own them.

Christmas Observations

Christmas Eve, 1881:

My brother and I share many characteristics, including a demeanour that many others have characterized as cold, aloof, even unfeeling. This is not precisely the case. We are both Englishmen, true, and trained by both culture and experience to avoid any overt displays of emotion. But with observational skills such as ours, such displays are unnecessary. I would have to be a dullard indeed not to have noticed my young brother’s warmth of heart beneath his habitual reserve long before we ever made our respective ways to London. In turn, I know quite well that Sherlock is more than aware of my own feelings, however well-concealed they might be to others.

We are not known to be sentimental men, and yet we dine together on Christmas Eve, without fail. We have done so ever since…well. We do not speak of it, but we both know why (barring disaster or unseen circumstance) we will always be together on that particular evening of the year.

The Diogenes Club, while excellent in almost every way, does not have a dining-room. This is in part by my design and the intent of my fellow founders.  Food often encourages conversation in even the most solitary of fellows, and in any case it is impossible to have proper service without at least some communication between servitors and served.

Even if the Diogenes did contain such a dubious amenity, I would not have chosen it for this dinner with Sherlock. Instead, we met at the same quiet establishment I had chosen for this occasion last year.

Unlike last year, and indeed several years previous, Sherlock was in a bright mood, lively and full of conversation. I was glad to see it, even if somewhat bemused by the obvious reason why: the fellow with whom he shared rooms in order to be able to afford the rent. Granted, from his descriptions, the rooms at 221 Baker Street were a vast improvement over the dreary hovel he’d had in Montague Street. That alone would have disposed me to feel kindly towards this Doctor John H. Watson, late of Her Majesty’s Army. Sherlock had spoken of him often since they had come to live together. From what he’d said, and what I’d observed in Sherlock, Doctor Watson was evidently not only a source of regular interest and social interaction for my brother, but also a good influence. Strange, very strange, that an invalided half-pay Army doctor of no great distinction should be so, but the evidence was undeniable. There must be more to him than was evident in his history, but as yet I had not been able to discover it in Sherlock’s conversations about the man.

“It was a remarkably clever scheme on the face of it,” he said, recounting one of his recent cases. “By sponsoring Doctor Trevelyan, Sutton not only guaranteed himself a steady and growing income, but also provided himself a plausible identity as a recluse whose irregular habits and real and imagined health issues made it as natural for him to avoid the company of others as it did for others to avoid him. Ideal for a man in hiding, really. If he’d only had the courage to try the scheme in another country, or even another large city in England, he might well have avoided his fate.”

“Specialists such as Dr Trevelyan are generally only found in London,” I pointed out.

“Or Paris, or Vienna, or New York, if he’d had the courage to venture so far,” Sherlock agreed. “But his scheme really didn’t require a specialist. He could have struck such a bargain with any deserving but poor medical student wanting to set himself up in general practice anywhere in the country, but lacking the funds to do so. True, he would not have made as much money, but he’d have had a far greater choice in location as well as personage. Goodness knows worthy yet indigent medical students seem common enough. Watson himself would have been a far worthier recipient of his so-called benevolence, had he gone looking just a few years later. Moreover, had he cultivated someone of Watson’s calibre, it’s as likely as not that he’d still be alive.”

This was praise indeed; but how much of it was based on first-hand knowledge? I might owe more than just my brother’s improved mood to this unknown doctor. For a brief moment, I considered asking Sherlock to bring him around on some pretext or another.

My pocket-watch chimed the hour. I raised my glass just as Sherlock raised his. A moment of silence, then we both drank, and there was no more time or thought for questions.

Christmas Eve, 1882:

“He is considering writing about your cases for publication?” I repeated. It was not often that Sherlock could surprise me, but this was most unexpected.

“He’s already written up several,” Sherlock admitted, his normally pale cheeks tinged with a touch of pink. “At first it was just an exercise to keep his mind busy during his convalescence, or so he said. His physical health is still not what it should be. He needs activity when he cannot be out and about. And the notes he takes during my cases really have proved useful a time or two.”

“Is he a decent writer?

Sherlock grimaced, then tried to disguise his reaction as something else, something he hadn’t done since we were boys. It did not work now any more than it had worked then, and he saw as much.  “Not really.”

“Perhaps he might improve with practice,” I suggested kindly.

“Perhaps, but I fear Watson has a natural tendency towards sensationalism and storytelling. I’m afraid the result will result in something closer to adventure stories than any scientific monograph ever should.”

Sometimes my brother could be charmingly oblivious. “Is he planning on writing a series of scientific monographs, then?”

Sherlock blinked. “What else could he write, drawing material from my cases?”

My pocket-watch chimed the hour. As one, we raised our glasses in our silent toast and drank.

Christmas Eve, 1883

“A snake that drinks milk like a cat and comes when whistled for like a dog?” Tears of merriment gathered in the corners of my eyes as I chuckled. Across the table, Sherlock shook with his own silent mirth.

“That’s what he threatened to write, should he ever document the case.” My brother’s grin faded slightly. “Truthfully, he could never tell the real facts, not without exposing the young lady to the most unfortunate scandal. I should be grateful if he could turn so dark, dangerous, and bleak an affair into something so fantastical.”

It was unlike Sherlock to speak so plainly of the risks we both knew he took. I followed up on the opening at once. “Dangerous?”

“He saved my life, Mycroft.”

Not for the first time, either, if I was any judge of my brother’s behaviour. I had inferred as much several times over the years by what he had said and what he had not said. However, Sherlock had never said the words before.

“And I placed him in terrible danger.”

Ah. There was the crux of it. “Knowingly?”

“I knew there was danger, yes, and I told him as much,” he added, correctly anticipating my next question. “But I failed to appreciate the true scope of the threat. That failure could have cost Watson his life.”

He said it clinically. Had someone else been close enough to witness the conversation, that person might have even said Sherlock said it unemotionally. That person would have been like most of my fellow Englishmen: terribly unobservant. Knowing my brother as I did, I could see the depth of his emotions as clearly as if he had shouted them at me.

I did not waste time talking around the issue. “Would he have gone anyway?”

There was the barest hesitation before Sherlock nodded, but I saw it was from self-doubt, not from any doubt about his companion. “Yes, he would.”

I raised my as-yet-untouched glass. “Then here’s to bravery, and to loyalty.”

Sherlock’s eyes widened almost comically, but he lost no time in joining me in the toast.  “To Watson,” he agreed.

“I really believe I ought to meet this fellow,” I commented as I refilled our glasses.

“Perhaps,” Sherlock agreed. “But not yet, I think.”

It’s not just Watson who’s loyal, I inferred immediately, as Sherlock knew I would.

Interesting. Was he protecting Watson, himself, or both?

My watch chimed.

Christmas Eve, 1884

“You sound quite dreadful, Mycroft. Are you sure you should not be at home in bed?”

In fact I was not sure. My chest ached with all the coughing I’d done in the past week, and my throat hurt every time I tried to speak. Still, it would take more than a lingering catarrh to cause me to miss this particular dinner with Sherlock. “I am on the mend.”

“Have you seen a doctor?” Sherlock persisted.

I stifled a cough with my handkerchief.

“Watson is not yet back in practice, but he has started to make enquiries, reform professional ties. I am sure he could recommend someone reliable.”

I sneezed.

“Or perhaps I could convince him to attend you personally…”

I buried my face in my handkerchief again, this time only partially due to my ailment. I was incredibly touched by Sherlock’s offer. I knew very well that he had not yet told Doctor Watson of my existence, for reasons I intuited as much as understood.

I had helped teach Sherlock the perils of theorizing ahead of data, but I had known my brother all his life. I had plenty of facts upon which to ground my suppositions, even without having direct observations of his friend. That he would offer to introduce his doctor to me at this juncture spoke volumes about his concern and care.

“My doctor has attended me, and confirmed that I am merely suffering from the cold that is plaguing half of London,” I assured him as best as I could. “I am somewhat surprised that you have avoided it.”

Sherlock smiled, though his eyes were still concerned. “Watson says all the smoking I do has helped ward off contagion[i]. Perhaps you should smoke more, Mycroft.”

I sneezed twice more. “Perhaps.”

Sherlock’s sneeze, as if in reply, startled both of us, and nearly drowned out the chime of my watch. I had to hold my breath in order to maintain the appropriate silence, and I could hardly taste the wine as I drank the glass dry.

Christmas Eve, 1885:

“I am surprised your doctor agreed to your coming out tonight, brother mine.”

Sherlock glared at me with rheumy and reddened eyes. “He was quite vocal in his recommendations against it,” he snapped. “But considering he was lecturing me from the sofa in our sitting-room, with a hot brick at his feet and under all the blankets Mrs Hudson could spare, instead of from his own bed where he belonged, he could hardly hold himself up as an example.” He sniffed. “Compared to him, I am a picture of good health. This is a minor ailment, no more.”

I saw through his temper at once and regretted teasing him. “Is he very unwell?”

“He says not, but Anstruther is concerned that it might yet develop into something far more serious if Watson does not keep himself warm and quiet.” He shrugged irritably. “And he has forbidden smoking of any kind – not just for Watson, but myself as well if I am in the same room. Apparently he disagrees with the common understanding of the healthful benefits of tobacco smoke, at least in cases where there is already a congestion of the lungs.”

“That must be inconvenient for you,” I said. An understatement, knowing how Sherlock goes through tobacco by the pound.

Sherlock waved a dismissive hand. “It’s a trivial inconvenience to go without for a time. Although I do believe that the lack of tobacco is to blame for my catching a milder form of Watson’s illness.”

My eyebrows rose as Sherlock’s words drew a clear picture in my mind. He had stayed in Watson’s company rather than smoke. He had been in close contact with his doctor for nearly a fortnight, if I correctly understood how long Doctor Watson had been ill.

And it was plain to see that not only had Sherlock gone without his tobacco, he had also resisted the allure of his more objectionable habits. There was no trace of the mania of his cocaine in his demeanour, or the languor of his morphine. Yet Sherlock seemed perfectly well, even satisfied.

Aside from his cold, of course.

I had concluded some time ago that it was past time for me to meet my brother’s Watson. Now it only remained to convince Sherlock that it was a good idea – and his own decision. Not for worlds would I try to force the issue. I knew what damage that could cause.

My pocket-watch chimed, and I raised my glass, but try as I might, my mind refused to remain entirely focused.

Christmas Eve, 1886:

“It was a most delicate business,” I complimented Sherlock. “You handled it very well, you and Doctor Watson.”

It was not the first work my brother had done on behalf of Crown and country, but this particular matter had been both difficult and potentially disastrous on a number of levels. Absolute discretion had been required at every turn.

“Watson is entirely loyal, and well used to keeping secrets,” Sherlock replied, answering my unspoken thought. “He will never mention this affair, and he has already given me his notes. Even should he carry through with publishing some accounts of our cases, this will never be one of them.” He gave me a peculiar half-smile. “In fact, I imagine he would be amenable to writing up an entirely fictional and misleading account or two, should it prove useful to the best interests of Her Majesty’s government. Or Her Majesty’s family.”

I should have been heartened by the offer, and by Sherlock’s words. But he spoke them with only a trace of the usual warmth he generally showed when his doctor was a subject. He was withdrawn, unconsciously on his guard – even here, even with me.

I understood it completely, felt it myself. The affair had stirred too many old memories for the both of us. We could hardly have failed to note certain similarities to our own past, our own family history, even had we not been as observant as we both were.  It had affected me, but it had affected my brother far more. Too soon yet to know how deep the damage might run, how lasting any effects might be.

We were both ready for our silent salute long before the hour struck.

Christmas Eve, 1887:

Sherlock took in the brightly-coloured magazine resting near my elbow in a single glance. “Not you too, Mycroft.”

“I had thought to have you take this to the author sign his work, yes.” I chose my next words very carefully. “You could have brought him with you, you know.”

My brother gave me a very speaking look, then sighed. “I could have, but I would not have, even had he been free this evening. As it happens, Colonel and Mrs Forrester invited him to spend the evening with their family – and Miss Morstan, of course.”

I saw my brother’s hand in his friend’s engagement as plainly as if I had been present. I could deduce some of his reasons, guess at more. I took in the evidence: the fit and state of his clothes, the quality of his haircut, the half-gloss on his shoes, the way he moved. Sherlock’s increased thinness, the signs of weariness and strain of too much work, too few meals, too little sleep, and too many other things. It might even be for the best.

I did not feel it so.

“Perhaps it is better to keep this night by ourselves,” I told him. “But I do hope you will bring him around at some point. I believe I would enjoy his company.”

Sherlock nodded, his face grave, his eyes distant. He did not have to tell me just how much he enjoyed his Watson’s company, too.

“But I shall not ask him for a private reading,” I added, deliberately shifting the mood. “He does you a reasonable amount of justice in the early parts. But his chapters set in Mormon country…”

A single laugh brightened the room. “The annual required a work of a certain length for the premiere piece. His literary agent encouraged him to try for it – and suggested including the history of the Ferriers, Stangerson, Drebber, and Hope to help make up the required amount.”

“Well, as it is the premiere story in the annual, I suppose his agent’s advice was sound, at least as far as publication. But I cannot say it holds much interest for me as a reader. Certainly not compared to the rest of it.”

That started Sherlock on a long conversation on Watson’s writing, and the differences between the true case and the published account. I was glad to see my brother’s mood improve. He remained in relatively good spirits throughout the meal.

Still, I noted an extra note of solemnity and reflection in my brother when the hour came.

Christmas Eve, 1888:

“I wonder if I shall ever appear in print, now that Doctor Watson knows of my existence.”

“It hardly seems likely.” Sherlock took another bite of his meal. He’d eaten nearly half, which pleased me. “Although that agent of his is pressing him for more stories for publication. And Watson is working and saving everything he can to build up enough for him and Miss Morstan to marry.”

I declined the obvious conversational gambit and took another path. “Another story or two might bring you even more work as well, Sherlock. I believe you said you have seen a decided increase in clients.”

“My reputation had already achieved some renown in certain circles before Watson’s story delighted the public.” My brother’s tone was very dry. “I cannot deny that his work has brought a certain increase, but I cannot say the quality of the cases matches the increase in quantity of potential clients.”  He nudged the remnants of his fowl with his fork. “Still, there have been a number of noteworthy problems brought to my attention. Small, some of them, but…” He hesitated, clearly searching for words for some half-formulated thought. “I cannot quite say what it is, but sometimes I almost think I detect some kind of…pattern, perhaps.”

My interest quickened. I am the better observer, but Sherlock has qualities of imagination that express themselves in ways that are closed to me, and very well developed instincts. “Tell me more.”

He did, and the picture he painted – the barest sketch, full of holes, as much fancy as anything else – was still fascinating. Compelling. And alarming, if there was any truth to it.

We made our usual observance, but continued to speak afterwards, long into the night.

Christmas Eve, 1889:

Both Sherlock and I had been busier than usual over the past year, and I had not seen him in nearly six weeks. It was pleasant to see him looking better than he had on the last occasion we had been together. He was still too thin, in the way Sherlock always became when absorbed by his work, but the manic (and chemical) edge I had seen in the months following Doctor Watson’s wedding was gone. His appetite at dinner was good, better than usual, and from the number of incidents and clients he shared over the course of our meal, it was clear that he was keeping himself well-supplied with cases.

I understood the show he put on, and heard his message clearly. My brother might not be entirely happy, but he was content, and well, and a plague upon the wrong-doers of England. It was enough.

It had to be.

I avoided mentioning his friend all the same, but Sherlock himself brought him up, a few minutes before the hour. “I have not seen Watson in some days,” he said.

“Unsurprising, in a newly-married man building a medical practice,” I concurred.

“Yet I should not be surprised to see him sometime before the year is out, if only to wish me the compliments of the season,” he continued. “It would be very like his thoughtfulness.”

“And his loyalty, and a mark of his continued friendship.” I did not often say something so very obvious, yet found myself offering the words all the same.


My watch is new this year, and has a different chime than the old, but it marked the hour all the same.

Christmas Eve, 1890:

“The coming year will bring the crisis. This spring, I think; or very possibly as late as early summer, if things proceed more slowly than I think they must. Moriarty knows someone is on his track, and he has not reached the position he has by enduring challenges to his activities. No, I think there must be a resolution before the first day of summer.”

I understood Sherlock entirely too well. I had been his confidant in his pursuit of Professor Moriarty and his gang from the very earliest speculations through the hard and increasingly dangerous investigations of the past year. I knew that it was unlikely that both men would survive their inevitable confrontation.

Professor Moriarty was a blight that must be eliminated, for the sake of England and beyond. I had come to terms with the risks my brother took in this pursuit, far greater than his earlier case-work.

I would do everything in my power to see Sherlock the victor, and the survivor, of their clash when it came. And if not…

If not, I would be his avenger. For all my insights and knowledge of my brother, I was still uncertain whether Sherlock realized this.

“I have some additional papers I would like you to take care of, in addition to those I have already given to you. I know they will be safe with you.”

Yes, all of Sherlock’s papers, and affairs, would be safe with me. He knew this, although I knew he did not know exactly how far I had gone to ensure it. Or how far I would go, if things came to it.

“I will book our usual table here for Christmas Eve, 1891. I believe you’ll agree that it has served us well over the years.”

My brother took the non-sequitur in stride. “Very well,” he agreed. “Thank you, Mycroft.”

Even as I raised my glass, I desperately hoped I would not have another reason to do so next year.

Christmas Eve, 1891:

I dined alone, though the table was set for two. The staff undoubtedly thought they understood.

They were right and wrong. Right, in assuming the vacant seat was for my brother. Wrong in thinking his empty place was a memorial, never to be filled.

For Sherlock lived, though none but I knew the truth of his survival. No one else could know, not if he was to continue to live.

Doctor Watson and his wife had invited me to their home tomorrow for Christmas dinner. A true kindness on both their parts, particularly his. He still grieved deeply for my brother, and seeing me would only aggravate his sorrow.

It might be kinder if I stayed away, to Watson and to myself. But I would go all the same, for his sake, for my own, and for Sherlock.

I do not think it was entirely my imagination that the wine was sour on my tongue.

Christmas Eve, 1892:

I did not order an empty place-setting at my table this year. Once could be excused as mourning; twice might invite comment, and Sherlock could not afford even a whisper of suspicion, wherever he was this night. Far away, certainly, but not so far that the remnants of Moriarty’s organization – weakened and dying though it was – could not still reach him.

Better not to think of it. Instead I amused myself by thinking of tomorrow’s dinner with the Watsons, and imagining Sherlock’s reaction when he finally met his namesake. Mrs Watson was not due to produce it for a month or more, but Doctor Watson had already broached the idea to me of naming his child for my (supposedly) late brother. I immediately scotched the idea of naming the poor child Sherlock, if it was a boy. I said, truthfully, that I had always heard Doctor Watson call my brother Holmes, not Sherlock; that my brother had appreciated it as a mark of affection and respect from his one friend; and that ‘Holmes’ would suit perfectly well as a middle name for a boy or a girl.

So whether it was John Holmes Watson or Agatha Holmes Watson (if a girl, Mrs Watson wished to honour her former employer as well as her husband’s dead friend), Sherlock would find a surprise waiting for him on his return. I was engaged to stand as godfather to the child, and Mrs Cecil Forrester would serve as godmother. My selection should have made me uncomfortable, but here, on this night, I could acknowledge to myself that I was honoured, and even looked forward to it.

I had never imagined myself as father, or godfather, to any child. It seemed that even I could be surprised on occasion.

My pocket-watch chimed, reminding me forcibly of other obligations, and days long ago, when I did not see things as clearly as I did now.

Christmas Eve, 1893:

My solitary dinner was lonelier than ever this year, but not so bleak as the meal I knew awaited me tomorrow. It was I who had invited Doctor Watson to dine with me on Christmas this year, instead of the other way around. I had worried that he would not accept, but my brother’s Watson was a man of honour and courtesy even in the face of grief and loss. Or perhaps he thought I was extending him the same kindness he had shown me, in light of my (supposed) lesser bereavement in 1891.

In any event, he had accepted, and I both anticipated and dreaded our meeting. It would give me a chance to observe directly how the doctor fared; provide opportunities for me to discover ways that I might provide covert or overt assistance.

I feared that I would not find much to support a hopeful outlook for the doctor, or many options for assistance, beyond the one I had already taken: a double-coded, carefully-sent message to a researcher in coal-tar derivatives, somewhere in the south of France.  I could only hope Sherlock would be able to act on the news, and find a way to bring an end to his long business at last. England needed him; London needed him; I needed him; but John Watson needed him most of all.

I raised my glass, hoping that next year, there would be another lifted with mine.

Christmas Eve, 1894:

“I must thank you again for inviting me,” Doctor Watson said as we finished our meal. There were stripes of silver now at his temples, but despite that he looked years younger than he had but a twelvemonth before. “I cannot remember the last time I dined so well.”

“Why Doctor Watson, it would hardly have felt like Christmas without you.”

The doctor looked puzzled by my mild jest, but my brother understood it well enough, and grinned openly at me in appreciation of both the joke, and my ready acceptance of Watson’s presence.

When the hour came, Doctor Watson once again proved worthy of my brother’s faith in him. He said nothing, asked no questions, though he clearly had them. He merely lifted his own glass a fraction of a moment later than we, remained silent, and drank his glass down when we did.

[i] Yes, many people – and doctors – really used to believe this, and of course advertisers picked up on it too.


( 17 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 23rd, 2016 05:46 pm (UTC)
What a lovely tale - a really enjoyable read.
Dec. 25th, 2016 08:33 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed it.
Dec. 23rd, 2016 06:21 pm (UTC)
This is a wonderful idea for a tale. I love the changing nature of the occasion through the years.
Dec. 25th, 2016 08:34 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I'm glad the sense of time passing and things changing came through, as I did not have a lot of time to put this together. :-)
Dec. 23rd, 2016 10:05 pm (UTC)
Very thoughtful, poignant piece.
Dec. 25th, 2016 08:34 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much!
Dec. 23rd, 2016 11:40 pm (UTC)
How refreshing to see it from Mycroft's point of view! Well done!
Dec. 25th, 2016 08:54 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I was rather intimidated when I realized this story wanted to be told from Mycroft's POV. I love Mycroft, but he's really hard to write!
Dec. 24th, 2016 03:45 am (UTC)
Beautifully and thoughtfully done, heartwarming and heartbreaking in turn, and finally that glow of rightness as the entire family is together for Christmas Eve.
Dec. 25th, 2016 08:55 pm (UTC)
Yes, Christmas Eve 1894: the dawn of "always 1895". :-)

Thank you!
Dec. 25th, 2016 07:01 pm (UTC)
s gift
You never miss! Thank you for a delicious christmas gift.
Dec. 25th, 2016 08:56 pm (UTC)
Re: s gift
Aw, thank you so much! :-)
Dec. 29th, 2016 02:59 am (UTC)
You know I love it, but it's official now since I'm posting it here. ;-) The story that's told by the evolution of the Christmas Eve ritual is poignant and lovely. Well done, as always!
Dec. 30th, 2016 10:08 pm (UTC)
It wouldn't have been nearly as good without you. :-) Thanks!
Dec. 29th, 2016 11:23 am (UTC)
A wonderful through-the-years story, with subtle Canon references, and poignant without being maudlin.

I hope sometime you'll write a story about the origin of the Holmes brothers' tradition...;)
Dec. 30th, 2016 10:08 pm (UTC)
Well it seems unlikely, but I suppose it's always possible. ;-)

Thank you!
Jan. 1st, 2017 11:36 am (UTC)
Perhaps some future prompt, or occasion, might give you a suitable idea ;)

You are most welcome!

Wishing you all the very best in the new year :)
( 17 comments — Leave a comment )