The Holiday Spirit
John gave it up as a lost cause. He'd found the leftover, undecorated gingerbread biscuits on a tray in the small dining room. Several bags of different colours of royal icing were arrayed nearby them, and he took it as an invitation to see what he could come up with. Unfortunately, while his wrist had healed enough for him to hold a pen or type, it wasn't up to the trick of holding a piping bag of icing, squeezing it, and making a straight line.
He wasn't at all surprised to hear a youthful voice comment, "That looks dreadful."
"Thank you," John replied dryly. He turned to see the young ghost of Sherlock's eldest brother Sherrinford, sitting in the next chair over. "I am working with a handicap here." He held up his hand, still wrapped in a soft brace for support.
"Still." Ford turned his head to one side and then the other, regarding the gingerbread man with great suspicion. "Who's it supposed to be?"
"It's not that bad!" protested John. The red coat alone should have given the ghost a clue, even if the belt wasn't straight and the buttons were different sizes.
Ford grinned at him, mischief in his transparent blue eyes. "Gotcha!"
John pretended to be offended. "Troublemaker. I'd like to see you do better."
At that, Ford looked thoughtful. "Give me until morning, and I'll see what I can do."
John had only been joking, but considering what Ford had done -- through others, of course -- with the gingerbread house of disaster out in the front foyer, he suspected that the boy was serious. "All right. I look forward to the morning with great anticipation."
"Who are you talking to?"
John jumped in his seat. He'd not heard Sherlock come in behind him. He broke the head off of the gingerbread man and popped it into his mouth. "No one," he answered around the mouthful, darting a glance at Ford.
Ford shook his head. "Naff, I'm telling you."
John just managed not to choke on the bit of cookie when he chuckled.
Sherlock gave him a mildly perplexed look and then eyed the remains of the gingerbread Father Christmas dubiously. "That looks dreadful," he said, unknowingly echoing his deceased sibling.
John, on the other hand, was completely aware of repeating his own words and wry tone. "Thank you."
Sherlock picked up the decapitated biscuit. "I'm not usually one to recommend concealing evidence--" It took no more than a raised eyebrow from John for him to immediately correct his statement. "-- destroying evidence, but in this case I believe it's best for all concerned." He took a bite that encompassed the arm and shoulder of the gingerbread man.
"It's my biscuit," protested John, not really caring. He'd eaten two stars, three bells, and a reindeer before anyone had shown up to witness it.
"Mm." Sherlock nodded and took another bite. "It's delicious. Fortunately, the quality of the art has had no discernable effect on the flavour."
At that, Ford laughed heartily and vanished, the sound of his mirth fading after him.
Breakfast on Christmas Eve was a casual affair at the Holmes house. John rose early to find that Sherlock was already up and drinking tea in the small dining room. A spread of breakfast foods lined the sideboard, and the tray of biscuits and icing bags from last night had been relegated to a corner table.
"Good morning," said John cheerfully. He'd always loved Christmastime. Even in the bad years, he'd been able to find something joyful in the season. And this year was a good year.
"I'm trying to deduce how you did it. Or rather, how you convinced someone else to do it for you."
"Sorry, what?" John poured himself tea, splashed in a little milk, and turned to set the cup on the table. That was when he saw them. He nearly dropped his tea.
At each of four places around the table, a plate had been set out with an elaborately decorated gingerbread person on it. The one in front of Sherlock was obviously the man himself. A long dark coat had been meticulously iced, complete with buttons and scarf. Dark icing curls topped the round head. A small smile, nose, and a pair of palest blue eyes had been added to complete the look. At the seat directly across from it was John in biscuit form. Light brown trousers, blue woolly jumper, blond hair. Next was clearly Mycroft, who wouldn't even be there until the evening. His dark suit and dark hair were as immaculate as icing could be said to be. Finally, at the head of the table, lay a gingerbread woman in a green dress and pearl necklace. How Ford had gotten the icing for her hair to look silver, John couldn't guess. He was, however, certain that the young ghost was behind this, just as he'd been behind the non-traditionally decorated gingerbread house that had caught John's eye upon his arrival yesterday.
"I don't know what you mean," said John at last. He turned away to find an empty plate on the sideboard and began loading it up with eggs, toast, and ham.
"The youngest kitchen maid has artistic aspirations. She's quite good, in fact. But how you managed to get her to do this for you..." Sherlock turned his tea cup in his hands, but didn't take a sip.
"I honestly do not know what you're talking about." John brought his loaded plate to the table and sat where he was obviously intended to sit. Out of the corner of his eye, he thought he could see a transparent figure in corduroys and jumper -- not unlike the outfit currently worn by John's gingerbread doppelganger, he thought -- hovering behind Sherlock, in the corner nearest the displaced tray of biscuits and icing.
"It can't be your own doing," Sherlock went on, ignoring John's protests. "Even if you'd snuck down here in the middle of the night--"
"You know for a fact that I didn't do that."
Sherlock looked directly at him. "I also know for a fact that even if your wrist weren't still bothering you, your creative talents do not run to the visual arts."
Ford snorted a laugh and John hid his own mirth in a bite of buttered toast. He chased it with a swallow of tea, and said, "You realise you're ignoring the obvious."
That got him a look of affront, and this time John didn't bother to hide his amusement. He grinned. "Perhaps it was a ghost."
"Please, John." Sherlock rolled his eyes.
"Why not? You said yourself that every year a different child decorates a gingerbread house in a bizarre fashion. Why couldn't, say, a ghost be the influence? In that and in this. You and I both know they exist."
"One isolated incident involving an antagonistic spirit in underground Edinburgh is not enough evidence on which to base a theory of spectral interference in baked goods," argued Sherlock.*
John laughed and so did Ford, and that just made John laugh harder, which in turn made Sherlock eye him with even greater suspicion.
"You did manage it somehow, and I'll figure out how."
"Manage what?" asked John through his giggles.
"To talk the kitchen maid into setting this up." Sherlock shot a glance to each of the four biscuits.
"Sherlock, I don't even know which maid you're talking about, let alone know the girl well enough to convince her to spend her time decorating cookies just to confound you." He could see he was getting nowhere and so shook his head. "Fine. Investigate to your heart's content. You won't find what you're looking for."
Ford piped up from the corner. "How did I end up with a brother who's so dim?" he mourned, shaking his blond head in over-dramatic fashion. "It's embarrassing, really."
John couldn't help it. He burst out laughing.
Sherlock looked at him in something approaching concern. "You are acting very oddly this morning. Are you quite well?"
"I'm grand," answered John through his laughter. "Sherlock?"