A/N: ResidentBunburyist requested this scene, and since I can't seem to focus on anything for the life of me right now I decided to give it a go! Poor dear Mycroft... he does try, I suppose.

There's no mistaking the proportions: 32, 24, 34. Near-perfect hourglass figure. Unblemished porcelain skin, lack of identifiable scars or callouses... it's the same woman.

Sherlock stares down at the corpse, and quite suddenly he finds himself wanting to leave the room. Adler had been irritating, of course... drugged him (which he's still more than a little miffed about) and set his phone to that obnoxious text alert, messaging him all hours with her stupid pointless nonsense. But the thought of her life having been snuffed out like this, just bludgeoned to death like a common nameless victim... it bothers him.

He's not entirely sure why it does so and he'd certainly prefer it not. But despite every scrap of willpower fighting against it the emotion's still there creeping through his gut, unassailable even in the face of cold logic.

Such sentiment isn't something he's keen on laying bare to the prying eyes of Molly, nor especially his brother, so he retreats wordlessly to the hall. Perhaps out of sight of the body he'll have better luck realigning his thoughts.

Snow falls in soft flurries outside the window; a rare white Christmas Eve. He watches in still silence and wills the gnawing ache of loss in his chest to subside. For god's sake, he hadn't even known Adler. Twenty minutes they'd interacted at the most - she'd been a passing blip on his radar, one victim out of thousands in his career. Why in god's name does he care?

Out of those thousands, however... how many had actually managed to outmanoeuvre him? How many had successfully drugged him, smacked him around with a bloody riding crop and then had the audacity to nick his phone in the process?

... and how many had then sent dozens upon dozens of texts to him afterwards?

For weeks now he's been reading (failing to ignore) a continuous stream of glib remarks and assorted vacuous nonsense directed his way by Irene. Day in, day out, middle of the night or high noon... taking time out of her schedule just to annoy him. Who, in his entire life thusfar, has done anything remotely similar?

And some days it had worked. Some days he'd been on the verge of blocking her number entirely, just fed up with the idiocy of it all. One button press and he'd be free to return his usual life devoid of her niggling spark of unsolicited human interaction.

But he'd never gone that far. Something in him, for whatever idiotic reason, had actually liked the attention. Attached some pathetic vestige of meaning to the fact that she remained so persistent in bothering him just for the sake of... of what? Annoying him? Talking to him? Some deeper motive? Whatever the case it had been a marked contrast to the exasperated, semi-fond comments by John, the fawning adoration and discomfort of Molly, the cold distance from Mycroft. Irene had seemed like... an equal. Somehow.

She hadn't been, though. No, just a silly human connection in the form of a woman whose idea of intellectually besting someone had involved jabbing them in the arm with a syringe full of modified rohypnol. Complete waste of his time.

And yet here he is... against all logic finding himself disappointed to have lost her to the cold jaws of death. Already a hollow emptiness creeping up his chest... no more texts with rude alert chimes waking him up in the dead of night just to say hello, the constant temptation to reply with a clever quip snuffed out before he'd even had a chance to give in and annoy her back.

Oh good god, is he actually regretting not having stooped down to her childish level? What the hell is wrong with him?

Behind him the morgue door opens and shuts - Mycroft. Likely already deduced the general gist of his younger sibling's thought process, doubtless come to tell him off for being such a sap. Well, get on with it then... he probably deserves it. Lord knows his brain's on track to spiral into a cesspool of idiocy by night's end.

Uncharacteristically, though, the man says nothing. Instead Sherlock looks over his shoulder to find a cigarette being held up toward him like some sort of deranged peace offering.


Merry Christmas.

He almost turns it down. This is all some sort of stupid game, obviously, a gauge to see if he's likely to relapse in the wake of whatever emotional trauma Mycroft's decided his little brother's been through this time. That's how the man works, after all. Always a bloody agenda behind everything, subtext over subtext, never a simple motive.

... ugh but sod the double-meanings. Sherlock decides he doesn't care. Because his brain's beginning to kick itself into a roiling ball of colliding thoughts and the nicotine patch on his arm wore off three hours ago. With a bland quip about laws he accepts the little paper stick, wordlessly betraying weakness in the process.

Mycroft lights it. Why he's carrying around a lighter and a pack of smokes Sherlock has no idea - probably been planning this set-up all night, the self-important pillock. It's fine though because it's been ages since he had a proper, instantaneous dose of nicotine and the rush of clear-headed tranquillity is worth whatever ridiculous intervention plan of his brother's he's just kicked into motion. Let them all dig through his things back at the flat, who cares. They'll never find his hiding spots anyway.

His brother questions him about Adler, how he'd known of her demise. Expected, really. They sidestep neatly around each other in a familiar dance of esoterics. It isn't as if Mycroft doesn't know every detail already - just wants Sherlock to admit to his part in the events. Manipulation. So pointlessly dull.

Sherlock soon finds his attention usurped by a group of grieving strangers in the entryway down the hall. Sobbing, clinging to each other for support...

Quite suddenly all he can think is that he can't recall a single member of his family having ever mirrored those actions.

Every death in their childhood had always been tactfully swept aside, treated with the same emotional distance as a far-off tragedy in some foreign country. Given a nod of acknowledgement and then simply never discussed. They'd clip the whole event neatly out of polite conversation while they all went their separate ways, pointedly ignoring each other's opinions on the matter.

There has to be something wrong with that, hasn't there? No healthy family behaves that way. Relying on manipulations and subtext to inquire after each others' health, talking for hours without ever really saying a word. Everyone pretending not to care so bloody perfectly that one's eventually forced to wonder if the illusion of camaraderie is just that - an illusion - and nothing real had ever, nor ever would, exist between them.

Asking Mycroft what he thinks won't help in the slightest, Sherlock knows that full well... but he does so anyway. Remembers for a moment those days long past when his big brother knew everything in the world, could always make the answers simple. An eternity ago now.

Caring is not an advantage, Sherlock.

No... it's not. But does it have to be? Does one's whole existence really need to be reduced to a game of chess, every action or thought appraised in terms of their worth to some grand never-ending quest for power and control?

To Mycroft, it seems, they do. So much so that he hasn't even caught on to the implied meaning of his own words - you're a burden to me. Because he does care, Sherlock knows that more keenly than he'd like to admit... but by no means is that concern present by choice. Fraternal instincts, forced upon him by the cruel hand of biology. How tragic for a man of his standing to be tied down by a delinquent younger sibling.

Nicotine spills through Sherlock's brain like a flowing tide, washing away whatever vestiges of emotion had begun to worm their way through the cracks in his walls. It's barely enough of a buzz to even be worth the bother of smoking it, which is ridiculous because he hasn't been abusing the patches that much, so why...?

Oh, wait. Low tar. Of course.

Mycroft replies to his brother's irritated change of subject with a sarcastic quip, signalling their dangerously near-candid discussion finished. Sherlock huffs a short, humourless laugh to himself as he looks away. Because isn't that just like them? Backing out of anything even remotely resembling a personal connection with a speed as if burnt.

That's the way it's always been, though. Bit too late to change such things now... besides it's not as if he actually wanted to have a conversation with Mycroft anyway. Probably devolve into a lecture on politics within the space of a minute, the bureaucratic bore of a fluffed-up ponce.

With a short drag Sherlock turns to leave, setting a leisurely pace toward the exit. Mycroft brought them here in a car, of course, but he much prefers walking. Especially when the alternative is time further spent in the company of his sibling.

Still smoking the near-useless fag, just for something to do with his hands... contemplates picking up a pack of something stronger on his way home. Would John notice the smell?

Probably. Who cares, though. Idiot's doubtless already ruined his sock index searching for a morphine stash.

Over his shoulder he calls a bland farewell to his sibling.

Merry Christmas, Mycroft.