colebaltblue: (sherlock)
[personal profile] colebaltblue
Title: Ghosts of Christmases Past
Author: [livejournal.com profile] colebaltblue
Characters/Pairings: Holmes, Watson
Rating: PG
Warnings: none
Word Count: 2,000
Summary: Watson recalls ghosts and celebrates a holiday he's never much enjoyed with a man he barely knows.
Author’s Notes: Written for [livejournal.com profile] lyryk in [livejournal.com profile] holmestice as a thank you gift.



It was my first Christmas returned home from Afghanistan. I shivered under the blankets in my cold upstairs room and looked out on the gray London sky. Happy Christmas indeed, I thought to myself as I watched my breath fog in the air. I heard the clatter of Mrs. Hudson on the stair and the chink of the crockery as she set out Christmas breakfast.

I had only known my roommate three months and spoken to him rarely. I wondered if he would remain at home today, or if he would slip out at some point, unobserved and take the holiday with his family. I wagered a spoonful of marmalade on my toast with myself that he would not be at the table when I descended. It was an easy bet since in these three months together, I could count the number of times he was using just my fingers.

*

The first Christmas that I can recall was spent in front of a roaring Yulelog with my family. Harry was still a kind and loving older brother, still years away from coping with life from the bottom of a bottle of gin. My father was loud and joyful, his ruddy nose filling my child-head with imaginings of what Father Christmas must surely look like. My mother smiled her soft smiles and always had sweets, cakes, and pies for us, never admonishing her two boys as they stuffed their faces in the kitchen and wrestled in the library. Cook and Molly our Irish maid told us stories of a family so poor they had no home, of kings who brought gifts from exotic lands, and wren boys who wandered from house to house in the town demanding gifts and causing mischief.

Harry and I played wren boys for a week after, running about the house, demanding sweets and gifts from Cook and Molly and our ever-indulgent mother. Father had put an end to our play when we ruined a book with an overturned vase, but that didn’t stop Harry and I from causing mischief.

For a few short and happy years, Christmas was a time of food, warmth, light, gifts, and stories.

*

When I was off at school, returning home for the winter holidays became almost a punishment for me. I had to leave the easy camaraderie of my friends and the safe comfort of the dorm rooms and return to a home that was increasingly dark, cold, and unhappy. My mother passed my second year away at school and that Christmas was hardly celebrated. Cook and Molly left not soon after, taking with them their cheerful food and stories. After that there was always a new cook and a new maid every time I returned home. For awhile I believed that’s simply what happened, but it wasn’t long before I realized that it was because no one could stand what my father had become for very long.

I took to spending Christmases with friends in their own cheerful houses, sneaking cookies, cakes, and pies in other boys’ kitchens from other Cooks and other maids with names such as Abigail and Mary. Harry went home every year out of some sort of obligation to the memory of our mother and loyalty to father. I believe now that is what broke him and sent him crawling into a bottle of gin, just like our father. People would later speak of my kind and caring bedside manner, my gentle doctor’s hands, my empathy and when they did I would feel the guilt settle low in my belly, gnawing away. I did not feel empathetic when I watched my father and brother drink themselves to death, I did not feel caring or gentle as I abandoned them year after year to the cold warmth of alcohol to seek my comfort in loving embraces of other people’s families.

*

It was the final Christmas holiday of secondary school when I learned of gifts women hid under their clothes. We had all whispered about it in the dormitory at school, sharing stories we had heard from older siblings or listening to the bragging of our peers who had tasted the forbidden fruits already. She was a pretty Irish lass, another Molly, who had winked at me and giggled softly at my clumsy advances as she polished silver in a closet just off the kitchen at my friend Oliver Croydon’s house where I spent my holiday. Molly taught me well on long and dark nights, sneaking in under my blankets and warming her cold toes on my shins, as I learned what fingers and mouths could do.

The next Christmas was spent sneaking in to my friend Charles Smith’s bed while I spent the holidays at his family’s house. I learned that Christmas how to take as much pleasure from the wiry frame of a sixth former as I did from an Irish maid.

*

When I first arrived in India, before I marched to the land that almost killed me, I barely spared a thought for Christmas except to wonder if it would be as bitingly cold as the Scottish Christmases I had celebrated as a boy. I thought not as I sweated in the stifling heat of the subcontinent, constantly pulling at the wool of my collar and soaking my underclothes. The previous Christmas had been spent with mates as finished our preparation for becoming surgeons with the British Army. I had not seen my family in years and had no desire to spend any holiday ever again in the cold, dark, drunken mess that was the home of the Watsons.

That Christmas was spent in a hospital in Peshawar. I don’t remember it, being out of my mind with fever and pain, but among my belongings was a simple card from Murray and a quick scribble asking me to be well and apologizing for not being there in person thanks to the demands of Her Majesty. I keep it tucked away to this day. As is the custom in the Army, I am certain that there was a service for us dying men and perhaps a special dinner for those that could eat. I am sure that all I begged for at that time was that I not be alive to witness another Christmas again.

*

My bare feet hit the cold floorboards and I found myself wishing for Smith or Croydon’s maid Molly for Christmas instead of the breakfast that was sitting out and getting cold in the sitting room downstairs. I was not fully recovered enough to make those kinds of activities anything but difficult and exhausting, but I missed the press of cold toes against my shins or flat hard chest against my back. I missed what it meant to have someone in my bed.

I shoved my feet into my house slippers and shrugged my dressing gown on as I made my way downstairs, taking care not to stumble on the stairs with my aching leg. There was a soft murmur of voices from the sitting room and I lost my bet with myself as I let myself in the surprisingly warm and cheery room and saw my roommate seated at the table smiling at Mrs. Hudson as she laid out the last of what looked like a lavish breakfast.

“Ah, doctor!” Homes exclaimed as I came in the room. I stopped suddenly as both of them turned up to look at me with brilliant smiles on their faces.

“Good morning, doctor,” Mrs. Hudson said, “Happy Christmas.”

I looked around, a fire burning merrily in the fireplace, and what looked to be a small evergreen shrub sitting in the corner.

“Happy Christmas,” I responded to both of them, eyeing the shrub warily.

“It’s a Christmas tree, Watson,” Holmes said, “it’s apparently all the rage this year.” He waved his hand carelessly in the direction of the tree. Mrs. Hudson looked at with with amused resignation and let herself out the door.

“I do believe it is supposed to be decorated, Holmes,” I finally said as I settled down at the table and began filling my plate.

“Ah,” he said with a smile, “I knew I forgot something.”

I chuckled.

“Happy Christmas, Watson,” Holmes said, nudging a brown paper wrapped package tied with a bit of red string at me.

“Holmes-”

“I do believe it is tradition, Watson, to give gifts?”

I stared at the package in front of me, feeling terrible I had nothing to give him. I had not expected to be celebrating Christmas at all this year and had not thought Holmes would remain here at Baker Street.

“I have nothing for you,” I finally responded, looking up at him.

“Nonsense,” he said with a smile. “You have given me a new tin of my favorite tobacco!”

I was puzzled until I followed his eyes to what was most certainly a new tin of his favorite tobacco tied with a green string sitting on the table. It was marked with a tag written in what looked suspiciously like my handwriting.

I grinned up at him, amused and pleased by the strange man I man I lived with. I liked him more and more each day.

I insisted on eating first, before opening gifts, as had been the custom in my home when I was a boy and Christmas was indeed happy. Once the food had been consumed, including plenty of marmalade, we retired to our chairs in front of the fire, stretching our slippered feet towards the warmth. I untied the string carefully as Holmes looked on, a soft half-smile playing about his lips. Taking care not to rip the paper I pulled my gift carefully out from it.

It was a book, bound in soft brown leather, tied closed, the pages already cut. I opened it and looked on the blank pages.

“A journal, Homes?” I asked, looking up at him with a puzzled smile.

He waved a pale hand at me. “For your thoughts, Watson.”

I must’ve still looked puzzled for he sighed and flicked his gaze to the fire before looking at me again.

“I know your thoughts trouble you, Watson. Perhaps you can set them down in this journal and let it bear the burden of your sorrows, troubles, and pain. To give your mind a bit of peace.”

“Holmes,” I said, my voice catching. He smiled at me, and looked down, cheeks flushing in embarrassment. I cleared my throat and looked down at the journal in my lap, smoothing my hand over its clean pages, already seeing words start to form there. I would write of my time in Afghanistan, of those Christmases spent in the company of families not my own, of those happy times when I had family, of this Christmas now.

“Thank you,” I said, my voice rough with emotion.

Holmes’s eyes found mine and held them. “You’re welcome,” he answered softly.

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