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14 July 2013 @ 09:35 am
Sherlock/HDM AU: Clouds and Ashes  
Title: Clouds and Ashes
Characters: Sherlock, John, Mycroft, daemons
Rating: PG
Warnings/Triggers: death of a parent, grief, cancer
Pairings: none
Word Count 1,972
Summary: The Holmes brothers say goodbye to their mother, and John is there to lend support.
Author's notes: A little while ago, I was playing around with the Spinning Spinny Thing and it gave me the prompts of 'cottage' 'grief' 'daydream' and 'clouds'. Being at the cottage reminded me of this, and a fic appeared.

Knowledge of His Dark Materials is not required. All that's necessary to know is that, in this world, humans' souls live outside of their bodies in the form of animals. There's an excellent primer here.

For reference: Subira (a dwarf mongoose), Tzophiya (a Grey Lourie), Hisoka (a Pallas's Cat), Zosimo (A Strawberry Poison Dart Frog), and Hugo (A Laughing Kookabura).

(Photobucket is still being a jerk about linking back to albums, so apologies if this happens to you. It seems to be very hit or miss with it.)

The Holmes beach house in Nice was spectacular. When Sherlock had mentioned it, John was picturing a little house near the beach, like a cottage. It was more like a condo, modern and all windows, with all the amenities of a regular house. The ceilings were miles high, and the master bedroom was like a vault. There were gorgeous, professional level photographs hung here and there—including one of Sherlock and Tzophiya before she'd settled.

There was a box marked Les Affaires de Sherlock, ne touche pas!!!, in a less refined form of Sherlock's handwriting, with various child's versions of science equipment, and bottles of sand and seaweed inside it. Les Affaires de Mycroft was much less hostilely protected, and contained only a few novels. Shelves were full of boardgames John had never heard of, and jigsaw puzzles of several thousand pieces, their boxes boasting that they had no edges. All signs of a very clever family trying to keep themselves entertained on holiday.

In comparison to the holidays the Watson family used to take—caravaning to some rundown campground and coming home sunburned and mozzie bitten, Subira and Hugo fighting the whole way there and back—this place was the equivalent of Buckingham Palace.

It was too bad the occasion which brought him here was so grim.

“My mother is in hospital, I would like a second opinion,” was how Sherlock had woken him up, early one morning.

John's second opinion wasn't better than the first had been. Pancreatic cancer, extremely aggressive and deadly. He'd predicted a few weeks to live—she was gone in two.

John hadn't really known Sherlock's mother, only by reputation and once being introduced over a Skype conversation. She seemed to him to be a very formidable woman, which John supposed you would have to be to raise two boys like Sherlock and Mycroft. He'd spent some time with her near the end of her life—relieving Sherlock to get some sleep when Tzophiya fell off her perch from exhaustion. He knew she wasn't herself, though, and it made him regret not knowing her better. Cancer like that sucked not only your life away, but your essence and personality too. Even her colourful frog daemon, Zosimo, was lethargic and thin.

Thankfully, no one had tried to convince her to get treatment. It was one area when the Holmes cold logic served them well. There was no point in making her suffer for nothing. Better to let her slip away quietly, and that's what she had done.

Dealing with Sherlock, who was genuinely, openly grieving, was something John had no idea how to approach. He'd seen Sherlock weep—twice—when previously the most he'd ever seen him do in the most extreme of circumstances was have his eyes well up. He wouldn't be comforted, didn't want to be touched or spoken to. Tzophiya placed herself too high up for Subira to even have a conversation with her. Mycroft and Soka had had a bit of luck with them. John was rather proud of the brothers—for two weeks they had operated without a single fight.

Mrs Holmes had wanted her ashes in a few places, one of them being the beach house, which belonged to her side of the family. John wasn't sure if this was an occasion where he should tag along, but Sherlock had testily asked him why he wasn't ready when it was time to go, and John hurried to catch up. Sherlock was the closest thing John had to a brother, and he'd want him there if the roles were reversed. He just wouldn’t have thought Sherlock might feel the same way.

They were waiting on Mycroft to come and do the honours. He was running late, as usual. “He'll be too busy to come to his own bloody funeral,” Sherlock had complained. Mycroft had done most of the ashes scattering himself (apparently he had enough pull to circumvent the law regarding that), but Sherlock wanted—or at least was willing—to come for this section of the task.

Sherlock was out on the deck in the sun, sitting quietly with his face turned upwards. John could see him through the floor-to-ceiling windows that ran along one wall of the living room. Subira padded her way to the sliding door, forcing John to follow her. He wasn't sure if he should be leaving Sherlock alone or not, but Subira apparently had no such concerns.

The hardest part, John thought as he stepped out onto the deck, was seeing Tzophiya. She was the busiest, liveliest, snottiest, most irrepressible daemon John had ever encountered. Most days she bordered on manic. She'd been so subdued lately, it was heartbreaking. Sherlock had his knees hugged to his chest, sitting on the stairs leading down to the beach. Tzo was perched on top of them, her head resting against his neck in a rare example of true physical contact between them.. She straightened up when they approached, and hopped up to sit on one of the posts of the deck, turning her beak away.

John thought there couldn't be a clearer sign than that, but Subira pressed onwards, and John trailed behind, over to the stairs, then sitting down next to Sherlock.

It was a beautiful day, in a beautiful spot. The ocean rolled in and out, and palm trees waved in a gentle breeze. There were a few clouds in the sky, and John watched them meander along. Subira settled in on the stair below his feet. For several minutes, they sat in silence, Sherlock's face still turned toward the sky with his eyes half-closed.

“That cloud looks like an armadillo,” John said.

Sherlock turned to look, and nodded in agreement. “That one looks like a bio-hazard symbol,” he said. “Is there something remarkable about this I'm missing?”

“What, you never cloud watched as a kid?” John said. “Harry and I used to do that all the time. Lie on our backs in Gran's garden and point out the shapes to each other.”

“What a sad little life,” Sherlock said. “I had more important things to do. I can't think of anything less interesting.” He squinted. “That one looks like a heraldic lion.”

“It just looks like a swirl to me,” John said.

“Yes, well that's a clear example of you seeing but not observing,” Sherlock replied.

John laughed, and Sherlock's mouth turned up at one corner.

“That one looks like a man in a top hat,” Tzophiya said.

“I see a monkey balancing on a ball,” Subira replied.

“You're wrong,” Tzo declared, sticking her beak in the air.

“It's subjective, there is no right or wrong,” Subira said.

“Well, then, what's the point?” Tzo said.

“It's relaxing?” Subira suggested.

“No, it's not, shut up,” Tzo said.

Subira retreated. It was the most anyone had got out of Tzo in a while, though. Subira felt accomplished.

The sound of a car pulling up drew John out of his cloud gazing reverie. A few minutes later, Hisoka came through the sliding door, and Mycroft followed. He looked very tired, and much older than he had just a few weeks earlier. Soka had only half the amount of superiority oozing from her, and she stuck close by Mycroft—another rarity. Neither Holmes brother were very affectionate towards their daemons.

Sherlock stood silently, Tzophiya hopping back over to his shoulder, her crown of feathers all up on end.

“Leaving England in the middle of the Opening of Parliament? What would Her Majesty say?” Sherlock said.

“I think she'll understand,” Mycroft replied. “Let's just do this, shall we?”

“My thoughts exactly,” Sherlock said.

They headed out onto the beach, both looking ridiculous in their bespoke shoes and suits. John at least had thought to dress for the weather. He hung back on the deck, recognizing that this wasn't something of which he should be a part. He just hoped the brothers got through it without any bloodshed.

“I think it's unfair that we daemons don't leave anything behind,” Subira said, thoughtfully. “No body, no ashes. We just turn into Dust and we're gone.” She thought about watching Zosimo dissipate into a gold cloud—beautiful and terrifying at the same time. She shivered and John gave her a pat of reassurance.

“It's not like bodies are good for much after you're gone, unless you can donate your organs or something,” John pointed out.

“Or give it to Sherlock to experiment on,” Subira said.

“God, there's a thought,” John said, shivering now as well.

There wasn't much ceremony to scattering the ashes. John didn't expect that from the Holmes family, and he didn't think Mrs Holmes would have wanted it, anyway. Mycroft took out a small black box, and Sherlock took it from him—to Mycroft's surprise, it looked like. Sherlock opened the box, and the ashes fell into the waves. They stood side by side, watching for a few minutes. Soka swished her tail out to hit Tzophiya once, in a friendly gesture more than an attempt to bother her. Then they turned and walked back.

“Do you want a cuppa or a beer or something?” John asked, when they returned. “I saw an off-license on the way over, I could run down...”

“No, thank you, I have to go,” Mycroft said, tersely.

He was having a hard time keeping his composure, John could tell. He murmured a goodbye to Sherlock, and walked quickly through the house. The car left a minute later.

“He didn't mean that literally, right? He's not going home? Please tell me he didn't come all the way over on the train for five minutes,” John said.

“No, he took a helicopter,” Sherlock said.

“Christ, how much does that cost?” John wondered.

“I suspect we'll find out the next time they raise taxes,” Sherlock said.

He kicked some sand with his toe, making Subira hide under John's legs to avoid getting it in her fur. Tzophiya seemed to find this entertaining, and flicked some sand with her tail in Subira's direction. Subira glared at her through John's legs. Tzo gave a little 'gane' of amusement.

“So, do you want to go?” John asked.

Sherlock shrugged. He sat down again beside John, and turned the little box over in his hands a few times. Tzo flew up to the roof and placed herself there to spy down on the world, but then seemed to think better of it and came back down to sit by Sherlock's feet. Subira moved a few inches closer to her, in a casual manner.

“I think I'll stay for a while,” Sherlock said. “But I don't need you to stay.”

John settled back, resting on his elbows on the deck. “I don't have anywhere I need to be,” he said.

Sherlock nodded. Subira managed to move next to Tzo, and the bird stayed put. Subira curled up with the satisfaction of having been stubborn and succeeding.

Sherlock tucked the box into his pocket, and brought his knees up to his chest again. “That's the last of her,” he said.

“I'm sorry,” John said.

Sherlock shrugged. “Just ashes,” he said. “Stupid to cast them around, really.” He tilted his head back again. Tzo mirrored him. “That cloud looks like a hydrogen molecule.”

“You're rubbish at this,” John said.

“Thank you for coming,” Sherlock said, in the same tone of voice that he'd commented on the clouds. Nonchalant, uncaring.

“Free trip to the beach, not a bad deal,” John replied. Sherlock chuckled, very softly. “That one looks like a polar bear...”

“This is so boring,” Sherlock said. “And it looks like a hyena.”
shadowfireflame: Sherlockshadowfireflame on July 14th, 2013 05:16 pm (UTC)
French! :) I giggled at how Mycroft’s box was “much less hostilely protected.”

Tzo was perched on top of them, her head resting against his neck in a rare example of true physical contact between them.

Oh, what a sad and beautiful image.

Soka swished her tail out to hit Tzophiya once, in a friendly gesture more than an attempt to bother her. 

This line was my favorite. Mycroft comforting Sherlock through their daemons with just this tiny gesture that nonetheless says so much. *happy sigh*

The atmosphere in this story is so rich and multilayered, and I love how understated it is as well. And thinking about how daemons leave nothing physical behind when they die was very moving.

I really enjoy this universe. :)
The Writer They Call Tay: SHERLOCK: Mrs Hudson hugglesawanderingbard on July 14th, 2013 10:48 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I think being at the cottage helped the atmosphere a lot. I even based the clouds on the ones I could see out the window.

I really enjoy this universe. :)

Thanks! Me too. It's fun to play around with. :-D
aelfgyfu_mead: Sherlockaelfgyfu_mead on July 14th, 2013 11:05 pm (UTC)
It's a good thing Sherlock has John (and Tzo has Subira).
The Writer They Call Tayawanderingbard on July 14th, 2013 11:06 pm (UTC)
I think they are both probably in denial about that. :-D
aelfgyfu_meadaelfgyfu_mead on July 14th, 2013 11:26 pm (UTC)
By "both," do you mean Sherlock and Tzophiya, or Sherlock and John? Perhaps they are all in denial. I recently rewatched "Hounds" (Not-So-Small Child's first viewing of it) and again boggled at John's low-key reaction to discovering that Sherlock experimented on him and kept him locked in a lab to observe his reaction.

It's not that Ella's a bad therapist for John; I think no therapist could really be adequate for that man. And Sherlock is worse.

Have I mentioned that I love Mycroft's dæmon? It really fits.
The Writer They Call Tayawanderingbard on July 14th, 2013 11:53 pm (UTC)
I was thinking Sherlock and Tzo, but all of them are probably in denial. Except maybe Subira. She's always rather sensible, for some reason.

Man, you hit two of my biggest pet peeves with the series there. I know Sherlock is a sociopath, but locking your friend who has known PTSD in a lab and experimenting on him is...gah. He deserved at least a couple of punches to the face--not minding the nose and teeth this time.

And Ella's being labelled 'wrong' by Mycroft (and thus, the majority of the fandom) is ridiculous. Mycroft is hardly qualified to judge someone's psychological state, and John's thrill seeking, rather than disproving the PTSD diagnosis, just confirms it. Furthermore, it does not simple disappear and reappear based on whether or not he's in Sherlock's presence.

...sorry. I have Feelings about this.

Have I mentioned that I love Mycroft's dæmon? It really fits.

Thank you! He was the easiest to find a daemon for; I knew right away what I wanted. It was the name that took ages to find.
aelfgyfu_mead: Very angry indeedaelfgyfu_mead on July 15th, 2013 09:59 pm (UTC)
Yes! Sherlock is dead wrong, and John does not normally hesitate to tell him when he's wrong. The only in-story explanation I can come up with is something weak such as "John's so grateful to be alive that he can't be bothered to be mad at Sherlock." I really think it's a writing error there. Whether because Gatiss didn't think it through properly or they didn't have enough time left in the episode, they wrapped it up as fast as they could.

I have noticed that both tv and fanfic tend to be hostile to psychologists, psychiatrists, and counselors. On Stargate SG-1, Dr. Mackenzie misdiagnoses Daniel Jackson as having a mental problem when he has been affected by alien technology. Mackenzie shows up later in the show, even years later. I would presume that means he's competent. I can't tell you how many fanfics I've read where he's incompetent or downright evil, gunning for Daniel or maybe all of SG-1. What are we to think of Stargate Command for keeping him, then? In some of my other fandoms, there aren't any counselors on the show, so people invent them. Some do a good job, but some are grossly incompetent, introduced to be antagonists.*

I think Ella actually gets more positive depictions in fanfic, but maybe that's just because there's so darned much Sherlock fanfic! Most depictions are quite negative, though. And I don't get that. Why would John go back if he gets nothing from the visits and believes Mycroft?

I don't think Mycroft has John's best interests at heart when he makes his pronouncements about Ella; he's trying to rile him! I think John probably perceives Mycrofts intent even worse than I do. That may be part of why John goes back to Ella after eighteen months, actually: partly as a stick in Mycroft's eye, because he probably figures Mycroft is still keeping tabs. I don't think he'd go just for that, however. He knows he needs help.

I have sympathy for Ella: she's trying to help John, who won't say much and follows her direction to start a blog in the most passive-aggressive way I can imagine! I do fear that writing any notes at all during his sessions is a mistake, however.

I guess that's a long-winded way of saying that I think I share your Feelings.

* Kudos to Castle while I'm on the topic: Beckett's therapist really seems to help, despite her difficulties opening up. (I almost called the show Beckett, which is rather revealing of me. So is the fact that I chose to announce it even though I caught myself, I guess.) and Kudos to Michael Dorn for being awesome. The shrinks on Monk were also both good. I've read little fic in either of these universes and haven't seen any takes on the counseling here.
The Writer They Call Tayawanderingbard on July 15th, 2013 11:59 pm (UTC)
At least in John's 'blog' he sounds a bit more upset. We also don't know what the delayed reaction is--he might have had more to say when they got home and weren't in public anymore. I do think Gatiss ran out of time. And Dr. Mortimer at least is portrayed as a caring shrink, even if she, understandably, can't find out the heart of Henry's problem.

I think the show does a good job of representing John's PTSD as his thrill-seeking, and his inability to commit. He also flinches whenever a gun is fired, which is a nice touch by Martin Freeman. I always try to keep a few elements of John's PTSD in my stories where appropriate, because I hate the idea that Sherlock has somehow 'cured' him of it. It don't work that way, and that's why John needs to go back to Ella. Ignoring the problem won't make it go away. He needs to work through it all.

I do hope we don't get the fanfic portrayal of his limp coming back and everything being terribly WRONG because Sherlock is dead in Series Three. I would hope that John has learned to live without him.

Man, I would happily call the show Beckett myself. Although I do think she has some Sueish elements in terms of being the Dream Woman*, I also think she's one of the best written female characters out there right now, along with Joan Watson. She's capable, strong but not a man-hater, able to be in a loving relationship without submitting to the man or changing herself in anyway to be more appealing, has flaws and demons that are realistically portrayed. It's great to see.

*(She likes baseball! She likes comic books! She likes sci fi! She rides a motorcycle! She knows martial arts! It seems like every time something a 'typical' man [or at the very least, Castle] would wish his girlfriend would be into, she's into it. It isn't unrealistic to have varied interests, but there has to be something she doesn't practice/love/know everything about.)
donutsweeperdonutsweeper on July 15th, 2013 03:31 am (UTC)
Oh, I like this, a nice choice for all the daemons (although it's too funny we chose the same type of daemon for Mycroft!) and all their interactions are lovely. :)
The Writer They Call Tayawanderingbard on July 15th, 2013 03:48 am (UTC)
Thanks! I hadn't seen your Mycroft's daemon, I didn't realize they were the same! I remember you were musing on a caracal for him at one point.

Pallas's cats are fat and prissy, I don't see how this could NOT be Mycroft's daemon, really. It must be fate. :-)
donutsweeperdonutsweeper on July 15th, 2013 04:00 am (UTC)
I just wrote it for the July challenges going on at watson-wooes this month. I had been thinking caracal and then spotted a certain picture of a pallas's and... that HAD to be Mycoft's daemon, no question. :)
The Writer They Call Tayawanderingbard on July 15th, 2013 04:27 am (UTC)
Oh cool! My wifi was too dodgy to read at the cottage, so I have fic to catch up on.

I had a very strong image of Mycroft with a cat around his neck, hissing. He was definitely the easiest to find a daemon for, but the hardest to find a name.