“Don’t they get bored of hearing the same five songs over and over?”
John sighs and makes towards the punch bowl. This is one of Sherlock’s favourite rants. He can indulge in it countless times for really, very impressive lengths without repeating himself once, so deep and varied are the reasons for his hatred of Christmas music.
Sherlock follows after him, chattering away at him as if he cares. “It’s as if they want their brains to atrophy. Is that what they want? Are they, by means of an overindulgence in Wizzard’s greatest hits, attempting to induce brain failure? Because, John — and I mean this very seriously — I think it might work. I can feel my brain cells dying as we speak. One more chorus of I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday and I might actually lose all brain function. ”
“Drink your punch,” John says, instead of answering, pressing a glass of it into Sherlock’s hands. “And don’t pretend I didn’t hear you humming along to Fairytale of New York earlier.”
The great consulting detective sniffs, primly, and with his nose ever so slightly in the air he says, “That’s different. The Pogues are as yet the only popular music group to truly captured the spirit of the holiday season.”
“Ah yes. Christmas isn’t Christmas until you’ve called someone a — how does it go? Scumbag, you maggot, you cheap lousy faggot?”
“My thoughts precisely, John,” Sherlock says, but John can tell he’s joking by the the tiny crow’s feet around his eyes. “I’m not sure why you made me come here in the first place. Certainly you can’t be expecting me to socialise.”
“That’s exactly what I expect from you,” John says, raising one eyebrow. “It can’t hurt, Sherlock. You work with these people — it’s in your best interests to be nice to them, at least once a year.”
Sherlock snorts and sips at his punch while John wonders if Sherlock would be friendlier or more recklessly cruel if he were to get a bit tipsy.
“Very well, John. On your head be it, though. I wash my hands of any of the results of this ill-advised outing.”
“Fine,” John says. “But behave yourself!”
“Yes, dear,” Sherlock twitters, rolling his eyes. He takes John’s empty glass back to the punchbowl and fills both of them to the brim.
“I see Anderson has spotted new prey,” John says, conversationally, nodding towards the corner of the room where Anderson is leaning against one wall, chatting to a young female officer from the transport pool. She looks young enough to be his daughter, doe-eyed in the face of his seniority, and entirely too drunk to do anything about his wandering hands.
“Ah. His wife must have stayed home, then,” Sherlock says, following John’s gaze. “Shame. Constable Condon has potential. Anderson will stop that dead in its tracks, I suppose. Can’t rise to the top if people assume you’re sleeping your way there.”
John winces, watching the two from across the room. He notices Sergeant Donovan in another corner of the room, watching the same scene with thunder in her eyes.
“Sally isn’t too pleased,” John says.
“She wouldn’t be, I expect Anderson never bothered to break it off with her — simply fails to return her calls.”
Scowling in Anderson’s general direction, John sips at his punch. Sherlock’s smirk doesn’t go unnoticed, though; John nudges his flatmate with an elbow to his skinny ribs.
“Knock it off,” John mutters. “You look like the cat that’s got the cream.”
“If your looks were as deadly as your aim, John, I believe you’d have been arrested for murder just then.”
“Sherlock,” John hisses. They don’t bring up the Gun Thing, not in public and certainly not in the middle of New Scotland bleeding Yard.
“Oh relax, John,” Sherlock mutters.
“I’d just like to avoid the court case, if possible,” John mutters right back at him.
“Lestrade wouldn’t dare arrest you,” Sherlock says, finishing his punch with a flourish. “If he did, he’d have to deal with me all on his own, and we both know he could never do that anymore.”
John simply rolls his eyes. Near the tables holding the rest of the booze, Lestrade is talking to Molly. The little (no, really, tiny) black dress she’d worn to their Christmas do those years ago is making reappearance tonight, and to high critical acclaim, if the flush across Lestrade’s cheekbones is anything to go by.
“They’ll be shagging within the week,” Sherlock murmurs. “Engaged within the year; expecting within two. Obvious. Dull.”
“Lovely,” John corrects. “They look happy.”
Sherlock scoffs once more.
“Sherlock, if you don’t cheer up, you’re going to find yourself being visited by ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, though I suppose if you’re very lucky, you’ll get the muppet versions instead of the harrowing Dickensian nightmares.”
“Nothing you ever say makes any sense, John,” Sherlock complains.
“I’m saying, it’s Christmas, lighten up for a change.”
The detective sniffs and continues to watch Lestrade and Molly flirt, both of them awkward but clearly infatuated, over plastic cups of wine that came out of a box. (John particularly enjoyed watching the look of horror on Sherlock’s face when he’d entered the room and clapped eyes on the boxes of wine on the drinks table.)
“Urgh,” Sherlock says, and shakes his head as if to free it from unpleasant images. John makes a face at him. (He can’t quite understand what would be unpleasant about it. Molly is a very attractive girl and Lestrade’s title as the silver fox of Scotland Yard is not at all undeserved. If Lestrade were even as much as a two or even a one on the Kinsey Scale, John would’ve had a go, but the man was so firmly heterosexual it had surely made stronger men than John Watson weep for their collective loss.)
“Urgh,” Sherlock says, again, grimacing this time at John. “Oh, John, please, that’s revolting.”
“What?” John says, glancing suspiciously at his punch, wondering if he’d accidentally said any of that out loud.
“You! You and your slathering thoughts about Lestrade. He’s a Kinsey zero, you know.”
“I know,” John says, with a little sigh. He ruefully drains his glass. “Isn’t it a crime?”
Sherlock rolls his eyes.
“Oh, come on, Sherlock, you can’t honestly tell me you’ve never been attracted to him. I mean, blimey, just look at the man.”
“I know what he looks like,” Sherlock grouses. “Are you drunk? Is that what’s bringing this on?”
“You brought it up!” John protests. “And no, I’m not drunk. Yet. Which is, I think, also a crime. Punch?”
Sherlock’s sigh is so deep and put upon that John is surprised he doesn’t expire with it, as it certainly sounds like he’s used the last of his life force up and is running now on the fumes of squandered vitality.
“Oh, fine, yes, I suppose so,” he says, finally.
“Great, give me your glass, I’ll just-“
“No, I meant … what you said. About Lestrade.”
“Aha!” John grins at him. “I knew it!”
Sherlock rolls his eyes. “For a grown man, John Watson, you do a very striking impression of a teenaged girl. I wasn’t in love with the man, just … there were times when I was more aware than others of the, er, strikingness of his general — aesthetic —qualities.” By this point in time, John has lost the valiant battle against his giggles and is sniggering into his glass; Sherlock’s cheeks have flushed bright red, though his eyes are dancing in time with John’s laughter. “Oh, come off it, John.”
“Sorry, sorry,” John gasps. “For a moment there I had the distinct impression we’d fallen into a Jane Austen novel. The strikingness of his general aesthetic qualities indeed. Sherlock! You know you could’ve just said you think he’s fit, I wouldn’t have been offended by your crude use of language.” John smirks at him.
“I don’t know why I continue to put up with you when you delight in tormenting me,” Sherlock sniffs. “I’m sure I could find another blogger who wouldn’t take such delight in my sensibilities.”
“Oh, I’d like to see you try,” John says, and laughs some more. He bumps Sherlock’s shoulder with his own, a small apology of sorts, an I’m only kidding, and I know you wouldn’t change me for the world sort of nudge. Sherlock rolls his eyes, but he’s still smiling behind his glass.
“More punch,” John declares, and heads towards the bowl. He arrives at the same time as Lestrade, who cuts in front to fill Molly’s glass and pass it back to her over John’s shoulder.
“Alright, thanks. Nice little party, thanks for inviting us.”
“Oh, you know.” Lestrade shrugs. “Been trying to get Sherlock here for years. How did you get him to come? Or do I not want the details?”
It’s John’s turn to flush, now.
“I just asked, to be honest,” he says. “Well, alright, and I threatened to confiscate his skull and ruin several experiments. Worth it, though.”
“Do you remember the last Christmas, before -“
“-All too well,” John says, darkly, cutting Lestrade off before he has the chance to say it: before he fell, before he left.
Lestrade reaches out and squeezes his shoulder. “He’s back now,” he says. John nods, and smiles. That’s very true. Sherlock is back now, has been for two years now, and it’s Christmas, and for the first time in a very long while, John can’t muster any resentment or anger about the lost years at all.
Lestrade darts another glance over at Sherlock, who has since been accosted by an eager young constable and is clearly having to work very hard not to break his promise to John and go off on a tear at him. “Are you two-?”
John winces and shakes his head. “Us? No. No, that ship sailed, a long while back.”
“What, you mean-“
“We decided it was best not to risk it.” John shrugs. His eyes drift back to Sherlock, still suffering under the constable’s lashings of attention, and he smiles. He’s honestly not unhappy. He spends his dayswith Sherlock, job permitting, and his nights as well, and maybe it’s because he’s getting old and he probably has more grey hair than not, but he doesn’t think that he could be any more satisfied even if they did spend all their time shagging. With Sherlock, the value added from spending time with him is not contingent on the amount of clothes they’re wearing — which has been patently not the case with many (if not most) of the men and women John has dated. And they’ve talked about this, made a mutual, informed decision to acknowledge the mutual attraction that sometimes blazed between them but never to act on it, their easy partnership fall as collateral to the flames. John is aware it was the right decision to make, though sometimes his heart (and other organs) get the better of his head.
John turns back to Lestrade to find himself being watched with careful, assessing eyes. He shrugs.
“It’s fine,” he says, and he really does mean it. “It’s all fine.”
“What’s all fine?” Sherlock asks, having finally extricated himself from his adoring fan’s clutches and made his way over to John’s side.
“You,” John says, winking at Lestrade before rounding on his flatmate. “Being an enormous berk and not getting me a Christmas present, ever. I’m used to it by now.”
Sherlock simply raises an eyebrow. “And what makes you so certain I have not broken with tradition this year?”
John snorts. “You hate Christmas. You think, and I believe I quote, ‘it is a rampant case of the capitalist constructs of our modern society turning our entire social world into a savage, consumption-driven zoo, where every social interaction for two months is dictated by tinsel and slathered in deceit and greed.’ It was such a classic quote I wrote it down. And then I committed it to memory in case anyone asked me whether or not you were actually the Grinch and then asked me to prove my point.”
“I couldn’t be the Grinch. My shoes are tailor made, John, and as such fit me perfectly.”
Lestrade’s jaw nearly hits the floor. “You know The Grinch?!”
Sherlock rolls his eyes and waves his hand loftily. “I never got around to deleting that one.”
Feeling equally surprised but wanting to hide that fact, John snorts — which soon turns into a snigger and in no time at all becomes an outright guffaw. Someone has probably spiked the punch, but that’s okay, because it’s Christmas, and Sherlock is alive and remembers The Grinch, and John could not be happier if he tried.
Even that awful Pogues song coming around on the loop again can’t dampen his joy, which is apparently so infectious (or the punch was spiked with something more than your bog-standard alcohol) that even Sherlock — usually so set against displaying any sort of spectrum of human emotion — cannot help but join his laughter. Lestrade wipes at tears of mirth and John, without thinking about it, slips an arm around Sherlock’s waist and squeezes.
Sherlock looks down at him and smiles, and Christ, maybe they are all drunk, because Sherlock doesn’t extricate himself, but instead slings his arm around John’s shoulders and returns the press of the sideways hug.
Lestrade’s eyes are twinkling as he makes a feeble excuse to turn back around to Molly, leaving the two of them to their own devices once more.
“You know,” Sherlock says, quietly, his arm still around John’s shoulders. “This song isn’t as bleak as you think. Have you never listened to the final verse?”
“The one after they’ve finished telling each other how much they hate each other now that they’re old and their dreams are all shattered? No, I usually switch off. I just don’t like it, Sherlock, it’s just a bit miserable for Christmas.”
“Bad things happen at Christmas too, John,” Sherlock points out, “but that’s not what I meant. In the last verse, here, listen.”
Over the constant hum of party talk, Shane MacGowan is growling out the final verse of what has always been John’s least favourite Christmas song. He can’t help it — he knows he should like it, knows that he is a bit of a miserable bastard most of the time and it should be right up his street, but dammit if he doesn’t like to take Christmas as an opportunity to have a bit of good fucking cheer once in a while.
Sherlock relinquishes his hold on John’s shoulders and refills their glasses — hands completely steady, the git — murmuring to John all the while.
“You think the song is miserable, that it’s about two miserable people who have lost it all, but actually they’re happy in their own way. They start as any young optimistic couple start, full of hopes and dreams. And then life happens, the world gets in the way, and they realise they aren’t perfect, their partners isn’t perfect, and that nothing happens the way you plan. They’re tired, and cheated, and angry enough to spit, but at the end of the song, they go on together because even if they’re not as happy as they once thought they would be, they can’t be separated, because they’ve built their lives around each other, and being apart would be worse than being together.”
John’s head feels slightly fuzzy from the punch, and he has to stare at Sherlock for quite a while before he can parse his own reaction to that little monologue.
“How is that happy? Being together because being apart would be worse.”
“It’s realistic, John,” Sherlock says, his eyes slightly glassy with drink. John has only rarely seen him like this: tipsy, passionate, his usual inhibitions loosed slightly like an over-tight necktie at the end of a bloody long day, allowing him just enough freedom of breath to get worked up about things like popular Christmas songs. “That’s the point. That there isn’t such a thing as — as a perfect fairytale romance, that it’s the ordinary, constructed things — the ones with the ugly faces, the things that are hard work — that are real. They don’t have glitz, and glamour, or — or big flashy cars, but they have bells at Christmas, and, alright, yes, love, after a fashion, even if it is a bit battered around the edges.”
John gapes at his flatmate — he’ll admit it, he actually gapes.
“Sherlock — Sherlock Holmes, are you secretly a Christmas romantic?!”
Sherlock narrows his eyes and sloshes a small amount of punch out of his glass with his knee-jerk dismissive gesture. He tries to scoff, but it doesn’t quite come out right, and ends up more as a gargle.
“Oh my God, you are, you actually are!” John crows. “You like Christmas!”
“That’s not —“
“Sherlock, you just gave me a detailed discourse analysis of a Christmas song and you haven’t deleted the Grinch.”
“I haven’t deleted many things, John,” Sherlock protests, but John shakes his head.
“You deleted the solar system, don’t tell me you thought the Grinch would be more relevant than that.”
“You never know what literature may be relevant, John, in fact, some serial killers are known to take ideas and inspiration from prominent works of fiction -“
“No, nope, you will not stand there and convince me that you didn’t delete the Grinch because you thought a serial killer might use it as inspiration. What would this hypothetical serial killer do, pat his victims on the head and send them to bed with a glass of water and a dash of arsenic?”
“Not your best rejoinder ever, John,” Sherlock mutters. He has flushed pink to the very tips of his ears, and John has a warm feeling in his stomach and his cheeks hurt from grinning. It’s just that he loves this ridiculous man so much he sometimes feels he might explode with it. He doesn’t think about it often, not really, it’s sort of just a fact he’s had to accept and move on from, but here, now, drunk and warm and full of joy, he can’t help but feel like he’s spilling over with it, as if any minute now he might just open his mouth and it will all come tumbling out, an unstoppable fount of just how very much he adores this ruddy brilliant man, who likes Christmas and has never wanted to admit it.
“So. How do you feel about Wham!, then?” John asks, just to see what sort of shape he can get Sherlock’s face to go. It turns out it is an indescribable shape, and it sends John into fits of delighted laughter. Sherlock watches him laugh, a small smile playing on his face. Eventually, John calms, and wipes at the corners of his eyes.
“You like Christmas,” he says, again, stupidly. “Why didn’t you ever say?”
Sherlock shrugs. “It’s … irrational.”
“Well, yes. It’s meant to be. It’s Christmas. It doesn’t make sense, you don’t enjoy it because it makes sense. It’s just … Christmas.”
“We never had Christmas, when we were young,” Sherlock says, frowning into his glass. “Not really. We were always at the manor house for winter, a big cold house with too many rooms and not enough radiators, and Mummy and Father took the opportunity to see each other as little as they could. We went to church for the sake of appearances, and we had a big dinner, but — there were no decorations, or — or presents, or anything like that. Of course we had no need of presents, we had everything we wanted as and when we wanted it. Still, though, I used to … be curious, sometimes. They looked … nice, other people’s Christmases. I was sometimes allowed to use my father’s expensive equipment, as a treat, on Christmas day, so I would spend the day doing dissections and taking notes on dead animals.” Sherlock finally looks up at John, and smiles the soft, quiet smile that only John is ever allowed to see. “It was a bit like being the king of halloween town, from that film with the awful songs — looking in at it from the outside and being, well, yes, alright, enthralled, but … never quite understanding how it worked.”
John can’t stop himself: he reaches out and grabs Sherlock’s free hand and squeezes it tightly.
“Right. That settles it. We’re doing Christmas properly this year. I mean, we’re going the whole hog. I’m talking, fucking — tinsel and candles and an actual live tree, and more fairy lights than Gary Glitter could shake a fucking stick at, and there will be mince pies and mulled wine and, oh, I don’t know, whole yards of tinsel and two tins of Quality Streets at least. There will be so much Christmas cheer in 221B you’re going to choke on it, and it will be fantastic. You mad, brilliant man. Why did you never say you wanted to do Christmas? I always assumed you hated it!”
“John you … you of all people know I don’t like things I can’t understand.”
Sherlock simply raises an eyebrow.
“You’re not an idiot. You’re not … you’re not the Grinch, or Jack fucking Skellington — though, no, actually, the resemblance can be striking on that last one, you’ve that pinstriped suit, remember? Anyway, the point is.” John takes a deep drink from his glass and sets it down, swaying only slightly as he grabs at Sherlock’s hand again. “Christmas, you twit, is about being comfortable and spending time with the people you love. That’s all it is. You know that. You’re just afraid of it.”
“You think I’m afraid? Of Christmas?” His tone is slightly incredulous. They have drifted off to the side, away from the main crowd of the party, and no one is paying them any notice, which is just as well, because they certainly are not in the habit of having heart to hearts at all, much less in a room full of people.
“No, of admitting to yourself that you can and do know how to love other people,” John counters, before he can stop himself. Sherlock’s expression darkens and he leans close to John as he bites out a reply, swiftly and vehemently.
“If you think for even one second that I spent three years fighting for the lives of three people I was not acutely aware of my love for, John Watson, you are sorely mistaken.”
“That’s not what I meant and you know it,” John counters, huffing and crossing his arms, stepping back to force a bit of space between their bodies. “Sherlock—“
But he doesn’t get any farther, because all of a sudden Sherlock is on him like a limpet, a long-limbed limpet with plush, velveteen lips, tasting of winter punch and cinnamon and threading long, spindly fingers through the ruffled hair at the nape of John’s neck. If they had gone unnoticed before, they most certainly are not flying below the radar now, as even the music has stopped with a cliched warping sound, accompanied by gasps and cheers and catcalls and Lestrade’s voice calling out above it all, “Fucking finally, boys!”
John hears it all but registers none of it, can think only about Sherlock kissing him like a desperate, drowning man, can only hold on for the ride and try, at least, to give as good as he’s getting without also being arrested by every police officer in the room for gross public indecency.
When finally Sherlock squeezes his biceps and retreats, ever so slightly, from the onslaught on his lips, John looks across the tiny gap between their faces, searching Sherlock’s breathless one for an explanation, any explanation of what just happened. Sherlock smiles, slightly, and then huffs a laugh, gesturing up towards the ceiling with his eyes.
“You stepped under the mistletoe,” he says, voice low and ragged and broken, and John cannot help but laugh and kiss him again.
“You mad, brilliant wanker,” John says, against his lips.
“Happy Christmas, John,” Sherlock replies, and John can feel his smile. “Now take me home.”
John grins and agrees. He takes Sherlock firmly by the hand and leads him out of the room, ignoring the catcalls that follow them (though John does take a moment to grant a congratulatory high five to the winner of the Yard’s ongoing pot).
They find a cab easily (of course) and Sherlock does not drop John’s hand as they climb into it and snug up tight together on one end of the bench.
Sherlock watches London, draped in lights and festive cheer, flicker past the patch he’s rubbed clear in the fogged up window and John watches Sherlock watching London, and feels his heart grow ten sizes at least.
When they get there, 221B is quiet and dark, but Mrs. Hudson has been baking mince pies and there is a casserole dish on the table, with instructions to ‘Heat Me 30 mins 180º’.
John drops Sherlock’s hand and sheds his coat and scarf before taking Sherlock’s outstretched raiments and hanging them in their places, side by side. Behind him, Sherlock clears his throat and shifts his weight from one foot to the other. He speaks as John toes his shoes off and sets them on the newspaper by the door.
“John, I — I know we did talk about … these things, a while ago, before — actually quite — quite a long time ago, but I thought — that is, it seemed that possibly — the terms of the agreement might be up for renegotiation?”
There’s an errant curl hanging in the middle of Sherlock’s forehead as he speaks, and for one brief moment John is slightly overwhelmed by it, thinks that maybe it is the most precious thing he has ever seen.
He speaks slowly, picks his words carefully, aware that although Sherlock will deny it, he’s pitched himself in at the deep end and he will be vulnerable, uncertain, and scared. “Sherlock — they were your terms. My position hasn’t changed — I don’t think it ever will.” He spreads his arms. “I am yours, if you want me. And if not, well, then, we carry on as we always have. I promise, it will be enough for me to know that it is enough for you.”
Sherlock shakes his head. A car passes outside the window, its headlamps flooding the room with fleeting light; Sherlock, in that moment where the shadows twist and stretch of their own accord, is looking at John and looking wrecked with desire.
“It’s — not. Enough, I mean. Anymore. I want — I want you. All of you. Not just — well, the sex, too, but. You. Just you.”
“Oh, thank God,” John says, shoulders sagging with relief. Sherlock chuckles softly and steps towards him, curling one hand around his hip and threading the other through his short, steadily greying hair.
“John,” he rumbles, and then bends into a long, sweet kiss that runs hot and needy by turns, leaving them grasping at each other’s shirts and panting into each other’s mouths.
John squeezes his eyes closed and presses his forehead against Sherlock’s; their noses bump and nuzzle, and it is so tooth-achingly sweet that he can’t help but chuckle to himself, more chuffed than the cat that got its cream and its cake and got to eat them too.
“What’s brought this on, then?” he can’t help but ask, smoothing his hands up and down Sherlock’s biceps, as if reassuring himself that yes, this is happening, yes, Sherlock is there and no, he doesn’t seem to be going anywhere fast.
Sherlock levels a short, calculating look at him and then says, dry as a board, “Do you know, I dreamt last night that I was visited by three spirits—”
It sets John laughing again, helplessly giggling against Sherlock’s shit-eating grin. “I love you,” he gasps, between his giggles, calming himself with little hiccoughs of breath. “God, Sherlock, I love you so much.”
“And I, you, John,” Sherlock says, solemnly.
They kiss some more, pressed up against the door to their flat, until the kissing graduates into panting and panting into gasping as hips rut involuntarily against each other, and finally John growls, “Bedroom, Sherlock, God, now. I want to unwrap my Christmas present.”
Sherlock, fingernails digging into John’s shoulder and other hand pressing tight against his arse, shakes his head. “It’s not Christmas for another four days,” he rumbles, tonguing at John’s earlobe.
“Bah bloody Humbug,” John says, tearing away from Sherlock and tugging him by the hand into the downstairs bedroom.