It all starts one morning about two weeks before Christmas, the tenth to be exact, when Sherlock wakes up to hear John struggling with something downstairs. Initially Sherlock thinks John’s just trying to make tea, because his partner has an argument with the kettle at least once a week. It’s an inherent part of being British, Sherlock’s been told. Arguments with the kettle and toaster and, occasionally, verbal abuse hurtled at the chip and pin machines at Tesco.
Then he realizes that the kettle, even when dropped, does not make the kind of resounding bang that is currently issuing from downstairs, and so he drags himself out of bed to investigate. What he finds is John Watson, M.D. tangled up in Christmas lights and standing in a cluster of wreaths, tinsel, decorative artificial flora, and several boxes of glittery baubles. He spends a few seconds wondering where in the world John has found all these things, until he remembers that Mrs. Hudson keeps more holiday decorations than is strictly necessary or healthy packed away in 221C, which she’s taken to using as a storage space.
“What are you doing?” Sherlock asks slowly, frowning as he gingerly steps around a box full of what may or may not be red and gold Mardi Gras beads.
“Trying to untangle these bloody lights,” John grumbles, and immediately begins wrapping them around Sherlock’s neck. Sherlock flinches, trying to shove them off, but John hisses, “Don’t you dare move, Sherlock Holmes. I’ve been trying to untangle these bleeding things for half an hour and every time I set them down, five more goddamn knots spontaneously appear. I need to put them in some sort of order and I can’t wrap them around my arm and untangle them.”
“I never volunteered my neck for such a thing.”
“I wasn’t asking for a volunteer.” This, more than anything, demonstrates to Sherlock how much of a tyrant John is when it comes to Christmas decorations. He says it with a smirk on his face though, so Sherlock hopes John isn’t going to go completely Christmas Nazi on him. Yet.
He’s never seen this side of his blogger. Probably because last Christmas they were in Cardiff investigating a positively grizzly multiple homicide.
“What was that bang a few minutes ago?” Sherlock asks after John has wrapped the truly long string of lights around his neck about four times, cursing under his breath the entire time. When John gets started on a tangent, it’s hard to stop him. Even when the source of his irritation is gone, the filthy vocabulary can sometimes take hours to leak fully out of him.
“The fucking tree,” John growls, pointing across the room to a rather large, fake tree which is slumped against the clear spot next to the sofa that popped up a few days ago when Sherlock moved a table for an experiment. Which is a shame, because Sherlock had been intending to move that table back today. It’s obvious that the tree had teetered and fell, thus creating the loud noise Sherlock woke up to. Sherlock, for his part, is simply surprised that Mrs. Hudson had a whole extra tree stored away in 221C.
“Did you get that from Mrs. Hudson?” Sherlock demands.
“Yes, she says it’s her old one that she doesn’t put up anymore because it’s too large—Don’t fucking move, Sherlock!”
Sherlock sighs, slightly exasperated, and adds his fingers to the fray, to help untangle the knots and thus regain the ability to move sooner. John grunts in thanks and together they get out the last five or six knots, ending up with Sherlock’s neck wrapped in a thick necklace of Christmas lights.
Stepping back, John nods in satisfaction and pulls the lights over Sherlock’s head. He stares at them for a second, as though scared the moment he looks away they will tangle again. Once he’s satisfied that they’re perfectly inanimate, he turns back to Sherlock and says, “Thank you, love.”
“You’re welcome.” A warm, good morning/thank you kiss and John turns to the large box of the maybe-or-maybe-not-Mardi-Gras beads.
“Are you going to wrap those around my neck as well?” Sherlock asks, truly horrified by the idea and already escaping into the kitchen under the pretense of making tea. He pulls their old, brown, chipped kettle out of the cabinet, where it lives when it’s just been washed. Mostly it bides its time on the stove, being refilled over and over as its owners drink cup after cup of tea to help themselves stay awake on long nights when there’s casework to be done.
John chuckles at the distaste evident in Sherlock’s voice. “No. These have managed not to become tangled, as miraculous as that may sound.”
“I must know, what does Mardi Gras have to do with Christmas?”
“What?” John sounds very confused, and there’s a moment of silence until John lets out a loud chuckle and says, “No, Sherlock, these aren’t Mardi Gras beads! They’re garland. You know, for the tree? Haven’t you ever heard of it?” Sherlock can hear the very evident ‘Oh Sherlock’ very clearly, even though John never spoke it. It’s become such a common phrase, in John’s amused and almost affectionate tones, that Sherlock doesn’t even need to hear it to replicate it in his mind.
“Yes, I’ve heard of garland,” Sherlock snaps, maybe slightly defensive. “Mummy had strands of it. But they were always made of flowers or cranberries. Never beads.”
“Mmm. Well, I guess this is the commoner’s alternative.” John walks into the kitchen, one strand of the beads already coiled around his arm, between his elbow and palm, and Sherlock can now see that the beads are more than just string of uniformly-sized spheres, but rather a pattern of four different sized beads in varying shades of silver and gold. “Here.” And then he drops the whole strand on Sherlock’s shoulders and giggles.
Sherlock’s face gives a twitch, and he scrabbles to get them off. John begins whining, as much as a grown man can, and tells Sherlock to stay there and not take them off, because he wants a picture. He takes out his phone and laughs as Sherlock tries to evade it, but eventually he gets what he wants and shows Sherlock the truly ridiculous picture of himself looking like some displeased, rumbled bird of prey in his blue dressing gown. The garland hangs off him, half on half off.
“Sherlock Holmes, human Christmas tree!” laughs John. “Hello, new wallpaper.”
Sherlock attempts to grab the phone, but John jerks it away and runs into the living room, only to be caught by Sherlock and the garland, pulled back into the lean chest of his lover, and trapped.
“Phone, please,” Sherlock purrs into his ear.
“I think bloody not!” John laughs, trying to twist free. He feels Sherlock’s hand wiggling its way into his pajama pocket, and rips himself away, spinning on his heel only to unbalance both himself and the world’s only consulting detective, resulting in them both landing in the pile of garland on the floor. Sherlock shouts in pain, for it’s his bum the beads are digging into, and rolls over, ending up with John’s back on the ground, Sherlock atop his thighs, and John in hysterical laughter.
“What is so funny?” Sherlock grumbles, rubbing his bum and wincing.
“Your—face, and!” John thumps his head back against the ground and guffaws, and in spite of himself Sherlock feels a grin building on his face, to the point where he lets out one or two chuckles and settles his weight against John’s legs.
“Funny, was it?” Sherlock mutters, scribbling nonsense patterns on John’s stomach with the tip of his finger. “My face, that is.”
“Hilarious,” John murmurs, the laughter still an undertone in his voice but much calmer. He reaches up a hand up, smoothing Sherlock’s hair back and pulling him down so he can plant a kiss on the detective’s forehead. “That picture’s one for the album.”
“Bite your tongue,” Sherlock grumbles.
“What?” John demands, chuckling again. “You won’t believe how many pictures just like that my mum has in photo albums from when I was little. Oh God, and she has all these stories. Swears up and down she’s going to show them to everyone at my wedding.”
“That will be interesting,” Sherlock mutters, already thinking on how best to blackmail John with said pictures. Get my computer for me or I will email that embarrassing picture from your fourth birthday to the entire Bart’s staff…
Apparently, John has recently acquired telepathic abilities, because he snorts and remarks, “Don’t even think about it, Sherlock. Firstly, my mum would never actually let you have those pictures. She’s too busy blackmailing me with them herself, and she’s far too attached to them. She may not even show them to you. Knowing my mother, she’d be way too chuffed to even think about traumatizing her new son-in-law with those pictures.”
Something in Sherlock’s brain short circuits then. There are no outward signs of it, but for the next few hours all Sherlock can think of is that John had used him in the context of that future wedding, almost as if the whole thing was imminent. It doesn’t bug Sherlock, per say. It’s just, he’s never imagined himself the marrying type, and much less did he expect anyone to actually tolerate him enough to want to marry him. It’s a foreign idea, but not unwelcome. He finds himself considering what married life with John Watson would be like.
Not all that much different, is what he comes up with. Just a shared bank account and tax cuts, and a piece of paper sitting in his family lawyer’s office that says he’s bound to John Watson for life, and perhaps a different last name. Neither of them would completely drop their surname, because Sherlock has clients that know him by Holmes and John has patients that know him by Watson. But Holmes-Watson is not a horrible idea. Or perhaps Watson-Holmes.
They’ll still be at Baker Street. They’ll still share the same bed. They’ll still be woken up at ungodly hours by calls from Scotland Yard asking Sherlock’s services. John will still have his job at the surgery, have arguments with the kettle and toaster, and do Sunday movie nights with Mrs. Hudson. Sherlock will still put off eating and sleeping till the last possible second, still yell at the stupid, ignorant people on the crap telly John’s gotten him addicted to, and still refuse to buy the milk.
Very few things will be different. Just two wedding bands, a document, and the scary/wonderful feeling of being bound to someone for the rest of his life.
So why not? Why not? It will make both of their mothers and Mycroft happy, to know that they’ve finally got someone to look after them, even if that other person is continually dragging and/or following them right into danger. It also makes sense financially.
Maybe it’s about time. He’s thirty-three, thirty-four in January, and John’s thirty-eight. It’s probably about time to marry.
But how to, as they say, pop the question? And will John have the same viewpoint on the matter? Well, he’s obviously not adverse to the idea considering his Freudian slip earlier.
“Alright?” John asks around noon, and Sherlock realizes he’s been sitting in the same place for the better part of two hours, making faces at the wall as he thinks.
Sherlock shakes himself. “Fine. Are we going to set up the tree?”
John nods, and together they set up the tree and decorate it. Pause at around three o’clock for tea, and decorate the rest of the flat. John hangs some mistletoe over the archway between the living room and kitchen, and catches Sherlock under it an absurd amount of times before Sherlock finally pins him against the wall and kisses him with feeling.
“Up for a shag, then?” John asks, smirking and already pressing his hips against Sherlock’s thighs.
Oh yes, and there will be plenty of this when they’re married as well. If that doesn’t seal the deal, Sherlock doesn’t know what will.
It’s eleven o’clock a few nights later, and one of those rare times when Sherlock and John have both woken up at the same time, between dreams, and choose to do nothing other than lay there and breathe each other’s air. John’s almost asleep again, except Sherlock’s thinking so loudly that he can almost hear it, as close as his ear is to Sherlock’s. He swears he can register the continual buzzing of Sherlock’s brilliant mind trying to tear itself apart in thought, and it’s impeding his attempts to fall back into slumber.
“Thinking so loudly,” John grumbles, his sleep-thickened accent making the words slur terribly. “S’the middle of the night. Sleep. Don’t you ever turn that massive noggin of yours off?”
“Sorry,” Sherlock mumbles. He starts to roll away, saying, “I’ll just…” but John’s having none of it. He grabs at Sherlock’s arm, pulls him back into the middle of the bed, and tosses half of his body over the detective’s. Head on a lean chest, thigh flung over Sherlock’s hips, arm around his waist, John mutters, “No. Stay. What’s on your mind, love?”
Sherlock sighs against John’s collarbone, letting his eyes drift shut and trying to will words into his mouth. For once, the mouthy consulting detective finds himself without a coherent way to express his thoughts, and it’s frustrating, not to mention distressing. Slowly, he ventures, “Do you remember, earlier this week when you were chasing me around with your phone…”
John turns his head in perturbed agitation sighs into Sherlock’s armpit. “Oh for Christ’s sake, Sherlock. If you want me to delete the picture that badly, I will. It’s not that big a deal; I was just taking the piss. Wasn’t going to do anything with it.”
“No, I know, this isn’t about that, it’s…you said something, that…It made me think…And I’ve been wondering…” God, will he ever reach a noun in this long stream of words spewing from his mouth? His mind’s fumbling, can’t seem to gain purchase on the solid ground of intelligible speech, and it’s with a certain amount of relief that he hears his phone make its awful vibration on the nightstand.
It’s Lestrade, and apparently he has what he describes as an urgent matter that he needs Sherlock for straight away. Something about a child, and when Sherlock tries to refuse (Lestrade knows Sherlock doesn’t take cases involving children unless it’s the last possible alternative) Lestrade growls at him that if he isn’t at the address he’s already given in half an hour tops, he’s sending a car and an officer with orders to arrest him. John, whom can hear Lestrade’s angry, stressed tones through the back of the phone, takes the phone to much protest from the consultant and says, “He’ll be there, Lestrade.”
He can hear Lestrade’s relieved sigh. “Thank you, John.”
“Welcome.” John puts down the phone, setting it back on the nightstand and clearing his throat as he hooks his chin over Sherlock’s shoulder and murmurs, “It’s Christmastime, Sherlock. Please be a little civil, okay?” And by that he obviously means that Sherlock just plain isn’t allowed to piss off Lestrade and Co. tonight of all nights.
“He knows I don’t take cases with kids, John,” Sherlock grumbles. Those kinds of cases bother him to no end, and dredge up all these emotions within him that cloud his judgment, and he hates that. He hates the times when his brain is anything less than analytical. Hates it when looking at a body makes his skin crawl with disgust, rather than making his brain buzz with activity.
“I know,” John sighs. “But, something like this and this time of year…Lestrade probably wants to get it over as fast as he can.”
Sherlock hums and wiggles out of John’s arms, wandering over to the dresser to get dressed. John leaves into the bathroom and when he comes back, he begins dressing as well. Sherlock suddenly feels an explosion of consciousness for John; it’s almost midnight, they’ve had a long day of decorating, and John’s looking droopy. Awkwardly, he stands up from the bed, where he’s been tying his shoes, and says, “You don’t have to come along if you don’t want.”
John pauses with his arm halfway through his favorite brown jumper and says, “Er…do you not want me to come?”
“Not if you don’t want to.”
Realizing what’s going on, John smirks and shakes his head. “I’m coming, Sherlock. I’ll be fine.”
“Are you sure?”
John walks over to him and leans down, cupping his chin in his hand and muttering, “What’s gotten into you? Are you sick?” He holds a hand to Sherlock’s forehead, then replaces the hand with his own forehead. “Hmm…you feel okay…”
“I’m fine!” Sherlock grumbles, jerking away. “I’m just worried for your health. Is it that hard to believe?” He scowls deeply and gets up, walking out of the bedroom and waiting for John in the living room. It won’t do to start a domestic in the middle of the night, not in the least because it would wake Mrs. Hudson. Neither of them is quiet when arguing. Sherlock’s also aware of the fact that his anger is misdirected; annoyance at Lestrade coupled with his annoyance at himself is culminating in annoyance with John, and that’s always very Not Good.
When John arrives downstairs, they head out of the flat without a word. Sherlock flags a taxi very quickly, which is a feat on Baker Street at eleven o’clock. Then again, Sherlock has always had supernatural cab-hailing powers. They sit across from each other on the same side of the cab, and Sherlock gives the driver the address.
“I’m sorry,” John mumbles finally, when they’re five minutes out from the crime scene. The ride thus far has been awkward, and Sherlock hates every second of it. Awkward silence between the two of them is an odd occurrence nowadays. “You’ve just…been acting strange all day. Not talking and such. Was it something I said?”
“No,” Sherlock says, shrugging his shoulders and staring out the window. “The holidays always make me introspective.” Which, to a certain extent, is true. After about the age of eight, when he stopped being mindlessly excited about the idea of snow and big green trees and a fat man dressed in red that left presents under it in the night, he started really using the holidays as what they were; a time to think on the year. A time to think and reflect. “I think about things and am quite silent. I warned you that I go through silent periods when we first met.”
“Yes, but…you haven’t recently.” John sounds truly worried, and Sherlock finds himself scrambling for a way to reassure and placate his lover.
All he comes up with is, “I’m fine, really.” Which is never reassuring or placating at all.
“Are you sure?” John asks.
Sherlock nods. “Yes.”
John sighs, obviously not satisfied with the answer but choosing to leave the conversation where it stands. Mostly because they’ve arrived at the crime scene and this, again, is no place for a domestic.
They walk past several somber-looking Yarders and a woman sobbing into the shoulder of a man who’s obviously her husband, before they enter the house and immediately see the crime. Lestrade’s standing over the body of a very, very young girl. Six at the most. Sherlock has to look away upon entering the house, because for some reason he can’t bear to look at the big, lifeless blue eyes between which lies an almost neat gunshot wound.
“Kimberly Michaels,” Lestrade mutters. “Five years old. Her parents heard a shot and found her when they came downstairs.”
“Good God,” John mutters from the corner. Lestrade grunts in agreement.
“That’s an exit wound,” is the first thing Sherlock says, pointing at the hole in the girl’s forehead.
“Yes,” Lestrade says. “Paramedics turned over her body. Bullet entered through the crown of her head.” Her tiny, tiny blonde-haired head.
“No sign of forced entry?” Sherlock mutters. Lestrade shakes his head. Sherlock glances around at all the windows in the room, obviously looking for things Lestrade’s team has missed. He can see Sally Donovan in the kitchen, looking through all the cupboards for some reason. Probably looking for a murder weapon, although why someone would hide a gun there, Sherlock will never know.
“No broken windows, no jimmied locks,” he mutters to himself. Glances up at the ceiling. “Does this house have an attic?”
“No,” Lestrade says. “We already considered that. Not even an accessible crawlspace. The place is apparently upwards of two hundred years old.”
Sherlock sighs and kneels down next to her body, squinting at the floor around her and, after a second, leaning in incredibly close to her hair. He frowns and takes one strand between his thumb and forefinger, pulling on it and letting it fall through his hands. When his hand comes back, it’s got a little smudge of black on it.
“Gunpowder?” Lestrade inquires.
Sherlock shakes his head. “Wound was made from too far of a range for there to be this much in her hair. It’s interspersed as well, smeared across the strands almost as if…” He spreads his fingers, making a little raking motion, and frowns to himself. “Someone ran it through.”
“So what does that mean?” Lestrade mutters.
“Maybe if you’d stop pestering me I’d be able to figure it out,” Sherlock snapped, standing straight up and turning around to view the rest of the room. His eyes traveled over the room, sweeping it with his viridian gaze. Front door, bay window, Christmas tree, mantle and fireplace, telly, sofa, and back to the fireplace all while muttering to himself. Then he stops dead, and everything in the room feels suspended for an agonizingly long two seconds. Sherlock’s got everyone in the room so locked onto him—so locked onto his energy—that those seconds feel like years before he jerks into action again, stepping towards the fireplace and demanding of Lestrade, “You said this house is upwards of two hundred, correct?”
“Right,” Lestrade says.
“So then this chimney…” Sherlock steps right up to the mantle and crouches, running his hand over the underside of the flue before plucking something off and walking back over to Lestrade. “Red thread.”
A nod from the Detective Inspector. “That it is, yeah.”
Sherlock sighs and rolls his eyes, obviously irritated at the DI’s continuing lack of insight. “It would be nice if someone would think for once!”
Then John gets it. Chimney, red thread obviously belonging so some red article of clothing snagged on the inside corner of the flue, soot in the little girl’s hair. When he realizes it, his stomach heaves and he finds himself growling, “Oh that bastard.”
Sherlock glances over at him with sad, now you get it eyes. “He was going to abduct her. Gain her trust and get her to come with him. Come ride on Father Christmas’s sleigh.”
“Jesus H Fucking Christ!” Lestrade ejaculates, finally understanding Sherlock’s train of thought. If John didn’t know Lestrade was much smarter than Sherlock gives him credit for, he’d really be doubting the DI’s credentials right now. But John does know, and he also knows that Lestrade’s probably going on something like his twenty-eighth sleepless hour, and who doesn’t work and think in a diminished capacity when they’re running an entire day (And then some) on six hours of sleep?
“Yes, now you get it,” Sherlock mutters darkly, handsome features coiled into something deeply troubled and not at all pretty. It’s the kind of look Sherlock gets on his face when confronted with ugly emotions like disgust and rage, the kind he fears because they turn his logical verdicts into rash split-second decisions and angry screams directed at child molesters while Lestrade and Co. make no attempt to stop him.
“Not everything went as planned, I would guess,” Sherlock says, staring at the child victim with something that looks a lot like sadness on his face. “She was probably just being a little girl, saying that she had to ask her Mummy and Daddy if it was okay to go with him. He said no, probably made her cry. Tried to consol her by patting her head. She, being five and probably having had too much stranger danger drilled into her head to allow that behavior from even Father Christmas, started screaming bloody murder and ran away—or, tried. He panicked, pulled out his gun and shot her.”
There are several Yarders around now, and all of them are making noises or faces that convey the general consensus of that is fucked up.
“But how did he get out,” Sherlock mutters. “The parents would have come downstairs too soon for him to make it back up the chimney, all of the windows or closed, the parents would have noticed if the door was open when they came downstairs and he wouldn’t have taken the time to close it behind him, so how did he get away?” Sherlock frowns for a total of three seconds before his eyes get wide and his eyebrows shoot up, to flirt with his hairline. “Unless.”
“Unless what?” Lestrade demands, and no one likes where this is going. John’s already finished Sherlock’s sentence with unless he’s still here which would be very, very Not Good.
Sherlock, instead leu of actually providing a straightforward answer, inquires of the DI, “Do you know what Climbing Boys were, Lestrade?” as he steps back towards the chimney, fingers steepled and deep in thought.
“Chimney sweeps’ apprentices, right?” Lestrade asks, obviously wondering along with everyone else why Sherlock’s decided to start up his rhetoric at this very second.
“Too right,” Sherlock replies, crouching as though to look into the flue, which is just what he does a second later. “They were boys, usually between the ages of six to ten, whom were taken under the wing of a chimney sweep and trained in the trade. They cleaned the flues, because the chimney sweeps themselves were too large to fit into them. However, sometimes, if a boy was quite small, he might continue his apprenticeship well into his teens. He might have swept until he was sixteen, seventeen, even eighteen.”
“Yes,” Lestrade says. “And?”
“And,” Sherlock says, before reaching a hand up and tugging down ferociously. At first, John things he’s pulled a mass of fabric out of the flue. Then he realizes the fabric is moving. The young man Sherlock’s just evicted from the chimney vaults upwards and tries to push Sherlock down, but the consultant is having none of that, nor are Lestrade or John, or the rest of Scotland Yard. The murderer finds himself pinned to the ground by the collective elbows and knees of Sherlock Holmes, John Watson, and Sally Donovan while Lestrade pulls his gun and tells him to stay there or so help me—
Donovan cuffs him, and by the time they take him out the door he’s sobbing about how the little girl seduced him. Sally gives him a good, rough shake and tells him to shut his mouth if he’s doing himself any favors.
“Thank you,” Lestrade says once they’re outside and away from the body, when the blissful sound of the siren on a panda car reaches their ears and overpowers that of the murderer.
“You didn’t need me,” Sherlock says. He looks angry. John, who’s had enough of Sherlock’s moodiness for a week, sighs and wanders away down the street. Maybe he can help the paramedics with something. Sherlock continues paying no heed to John’s exit, “What the hell did you have to call us for, Lestrade? I can’t speak for John, but I think I’d have liked to spend my holidays not thinking on the dead body of a little girl!”
“We didn’t know what had happened, Sherlock!” Lestrade says, trying to stay calm and be the eye of Hurricane Sherlock, but it’s hard for anyone who isn’t named John Watson and in possession of saintly levels of patience. “Only you would take locked room murder and morph it into must’ve crawled through the chimney, then!”
“You would have figured it out eventually, Lestrade!”
“Yes, but not until after the murder had a chance to crawl all the way up that chimney and escape! Honestly, Sherlock. What’s gotten into you? Any other day of the week you’d be chuffed to bits with yourself for solving this so quickly. And I know it’s not just the holiday. Last year you solved a quadruple homicide on Christmas Eve with a smile on your face.”
“This is different,” Sherlock growls. “If you’ll recall, Lestrade, that turned out to be some sort of ritual suicide encouraged by some insane cult leader. This was a little girl, shot and killed a week before Christmas. You know I don’t work cases with kids! That’s all I asked of you when I started consulting, don’t give me cases with kids. And yet time and time again—“
“Sherlock!” Lestrade snaps. “Stop it!”
The consultant deflates, and frowns at the floor. Eventually, he ventures, “I was going to propose to John. Tonight.”
There’s an awkward silence, then Lestrade says, “…Propose…marriage?”
“Yes marriage!” Sherlock hisses.
“Oh.” Even more silence, then Lestrade says, “I’m sorry…I didn’t think. That’s not something I would have expected, Sherlock. Really, I’m sorry.”
Sherlock shakes his head. “No. It’s…I was buggering it up anyway.” He runs his hands through his hair, groaning to himself, and continues, “I’ve been irritable. Snapping. More than usual.”
“It’s hard,” Lestrade sympathizes. “I remember when I proposed to my wife, it was…God, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It can make you go crazy if you think about it too hard. No surprise you’re snappy; you’ve never been good with pressure.” He and Sherlock stare at each other. Lestrade sees the boy that Sherlock started out as, and the man he’s become. Sherlock sees the big brother figure that Mycroft never has been.
“I’m proud of you, you know,” Lestrade says. “Really proud, Sherlock. You’ve turned yourself around so much these past few years.”
Sherlock looks away, deciding he doesn’t want to meet Lestrade’s eyes when he’s being this way, and mutters, “Thank you. I suppose.”
“So how were you going to do it?” Lestrade inquires, once the awkward silence has reached epic proportions and John’s still nowhere in sight, which means Sherlock can’t leave yet. Best to let John find Sherlock on his own though, because John tends to get grumpy when he thinks Sherlock is dragging him along too much. “Strangely enough, I can’t imagine you the wine and dine kind of person.”
Sherlock rolls his eyes as Lestrade chuckles at his own bit of sarcastic humor. “Petty mockery is not a good look on you, Lestrade. And no. It wasn’t some sort of fancy affair. He was half-asleep, actually.”
“Well, maybe that’s where you went wrong,” Lestrade says, shrugging. Sherlock gives him that all too familiar ‘explain yourself, mortal’ look, and Lestrade continues, “A man wants to know when he’s being proposed to, Sherlock. Give a guy a little bit more warning than that. And I know it’s not in your nature, but try to be a little more romantic? Cuddles on the couch are all well and good, but they’re really not the ideal setting for a marriage proposal.”
“How?” Sherlock demands, and the novelty of Sherlock asking him for advice surprises Lestrade so much that he almost can’t produce an answer. That’s until Sherlock tells him that, while his big-mouthed bass impression is by far the best he’s ever seen, it really doesn’t help with the matter at hand.
“Well,” Lestrade blunders. “Er…it’s Christmas. Lots of stuff for couples to get up to this time of year. Uh…what about a Christmas market? I had a mate once that proposed to his wife at one of them.”
“Yeah, they’re like…holiday street fairs. They sell mulled wine and little trinkets. They’ve got a huge one in Birmingham every year. Wife and I went last year, took the girls. It was quite fun.”
“Oh, I see,” Sherlock murmurs, and their conversation is considered over because John comes back a few seconds later, places his hand in the small of Sherlock’s back and inquires, “Ready to go, or…?”
“You can,” Lestrade says. “I’ll need your statements, as always, but that can wait until morning. Have a good night, get some rest.” He gives a little salute, to which John replies with a nod, and Sherlock a dismissive little hum. When Lestrade is out of earshot, he looks at John and says, “How do you feel about Birmingham?”
“How would you like to take the train there tomorrow? Lestrade was telling me about a Christmas market there, and…I thought you might like it.”
John smiles a bit, obviously pleased that Sherlock thought of him. “I wouldn’t mind a daytrip. Been a while since we had one, huh?”
Sherlock nods and they walk over towards the main street.
The Christmas market is loud and there are a lot of obnoxious children running around. Sherlock’s perturbed, but John seems to be enjoying himself, so he suffers for his lover. Well, he may not be suffering as much as he implies to John, and he knows John can tell because whenever he makes noises, John just grins and shakes his head. He’s rather happy, actually, with the cold biting at his nose (Being an Englishman born and bred, he prefers cold weather to hot weather) and John’s hand a warm weight at his back and, sometimes, his back jeans pocket. John’s always been like that; unconsciously possessive. But it’s a good feeling for Sherlock. To be something to be possessive over.
As they walk through the stalls, Sherlock periodically meanders away and lets John keep walking. He figures here is as good a place as any to find John’s Christmas present, and he’s thinking an entirely new tea set. The kettle really is in miserable shape. John’s had it since before he enlisted, and it spent many years in the dubious care of his sister. Not to mention, John doesn’t have a tea set so much as a menagerie of different sized saucers and cups, all chipped or damaged in some way. They’re in such bad shape that they’ve taken to just using mugs, partially because the teacups are so tiny that it’s counterproductive to frequent late night workers whose main source of caffeine is tea.
Frequent trips to the kitchen to replenish their teacups is neither of their favorite thing.
They’ve walked nearly a kilometer up and down the aisles of the market, glancing at all the stalls, when Sherlock sees a stall selling what seems to be absolutely gorgeous china. An entire tea set will probably cost an arm and a leg, so it’s a good thing Sherlock has an arm and a leg to spend. Mummy always wires some extra money into his bank account near the holidays, in hopes that he’ll buy himself something nice. Back when Sherlock was in his early twenties, he bought himself cocaine with Mummy’s generous donation. Recently, it’s gone into nicotine patches and tea. This year, it will be used on something a little more savory, Sherlock thinks.
Just as Sherlock sets eyes on the stall, John sets eyes on a string quartet playing under a tent half a dozen stalls and about ten meters away. They’ve been hearing the music for the better part of twenty minutes with no idea where it’s coming from, so John mutters something along the lines of, “So that’s where it’s coming from!” as though he’s solved some great mystery. As they get closer, they notice the cellist has his case open, obviously asking for donations. John pulls on Sherlock’s sleeve like some overgrown five-year-old to inquire, “Got a fiver, love? I don’t have any small notes right now.”
Sherlock nods, pleased that the perfect distraction has presented itself without him even having to try. He hands over the five pound note, gladly accepts John’s thankful peck, and watches as John saunters away to listen to the quartet play.
The girl sitting at the cashier’s table in the back of the stall is redheaded and wrapped in a feminized, ashes of roses version of Sherlock’s own coat and beige knit cap. Early twenties, obviously a good sense of what looks good on her for her unusual skin tone and hair color, so fashionista in some capacity; she did not make the things she’s selling, most likely working for a partner possibly a sister more likely a close friend or significant other Sherlock’s mind supplies before he’s even all the way to the booth.
“Hi,” she says quietly, smiling. She doesn’t say anything else, though, and lets Sherlock peruse the small stall by himself. Sherlock adds Irish, introverted, and most definitely cajoled into this against her will. The mental list of traits is something he does almost unconsciously now, because he uses it so often in his work that he can’t just turn it off when out casually. He doesn’t pay nearly as close attention, however, so details don’t flood him as much as they usually do.
It takes a few minutes, but eventually Sherlock finds what he’s looking for; a gorgeous fifteen-piece set, turquoise glaze and mug-like, but not unfitting cups. The creamer and sugar holder are large, which is good because Sherlock uses a lot of both and so does their main guest for tea, Mrs. Hudson, and they won’t see a lot of use unless they have a guest for tea. They doesn’t usually use saucers, mostly because all the ones they own are in frankly horrific condition. But these are nice, sturdy ones with a pleasing square-but-rounded-on-the-edges look to them. John will like it, Sherlock is sure.
“Excuse me?” Sherlock says to the cashier woman, whom looks up as though surprised at being addressed. “I think I’d like to buy this set.”
She nods after taking a second to comprehend what he’s said, then gets up and pulls a box off the top of a stack next to the table. She assembles it, and then opens a second, larger box sitting atop the table to reveal a large amount of packing peanuts. She dumps a generous amount in then pulls several sheets of bubble wrap from a third box, heads towards the set, and begins wrapping it in the bubble wrap with painstaking care. Sherlock’s mind supplies habitually clumsy.
“Can I help?” Sherlock asks. She nods, and he wraps five of the mugs and the creamer.
The set ends up costing nearly two hundred pounds, which doesn’t surprise Sherlock. Nor does he regret it. He’s just looking forward to the moment when John lets him throw out all those old, chipped and nasty tea cups (They have about a dozen, and Sherlock hates each and every one of them) and lets him have the old kettle to devote to his experiments. In the end, everyone wins.
John’s wandering around, looking for him when Sherlock exits the stall. John smiles upon seeing him, then raises an eyebrow at the large box he’s carrying by its handles. Sherlock explains, “Gift for Mummy.” And although John may or may not have had his own suspicions, they go unremarked upon, and they continue walking.
When they next stop, it’s because John wants to wander into a stall selling ornaments to look for an angel for the top of their tree. It’s what he’s been doing all day, as though it’s an assigned mission. Sherlock’s been trying to figure out why John’s so adamant about it, and John eventually explained, “It’s light a rite of passage. You can have a second-hand Christmas tree, sure, and some second-hand ornaments. But every family’s got to have their own angel.”
So now they’re family. Either John really needs to stop making all these unconscious implications, or Sherlock needs to hurry up and propose because John’s dropping some incredibly obvious hints.
The proprietor of this particular stall owns a tabby cat, which immediately takes an interest in John. The cat, whose name is Sasha according to its tags, buts her head excitedly against John’s chest when he enters, and John laughs while giving it a pet. John’s always been one of those people that animals just can’t seem to resist, whether domestic, farm, or wild. They’ve had several cases in rural areas, during the course of which John has been bombarded by chickens, goats, pigs, and even a cow once. During a particularly interesting case involving the North Pole exhibit at the London Zoo, John managed to attract nearly every single penguin. They all huddled around him like he was their Mummy.
“Oh, you’re a pretty one, you are,” John says, letting Sasha the cat crawl up his chest. She’s small for a cat, so she can rest most of her body on one of his broad shoulders. From here she leans well into Sherlock’s personal space, swipes her tongue along his cheek, and leaps onto him from John. Sherlock catches her, and she purrs happily.
“She likes you!” cries the proprietor from where he sits at the back of the stall. He has to be at least sixty years old, and has a thick German accent. He adds, in rather broken English, “Her purring, listen! From here I can hear it!”
Sherlock grumbles to himself as the cat continues to walk all over him, John chuckling as he looks over the angels. Eventually, Sasha the cat loses interest when she realizes Sherlock isn’t going to reciprocate her affection, and walks back over to John, whom shows her plenty of affection.
After a while, Sherlock decides that all the reflective surfaces in the stall coupled with the bright green Christmas lights are bothering his eyes, so pesters John into making a decision. He ends up buying one dressed in deep mahogany robes and a white dress, with particularly voluptuous feathers which Sherlock isn’t entire sure aren’t made of real feathers. She’s brunette and pale, her hands folded in prayer and looking rather melancholy. Different from the typical, serene angel, but John seems to like her a lot, so Sherlock isn’t going to question him.
It bugs Sherlock that, upon exiting the stall the irritation in his eyes doesn’t go away. In fact, thanks to the cold wind it only gets worse. He mutters as much to John, whom hums in sympathy and tips Sherlock’s head down, examining his eyes. “Hmm. You’re a little bloodshot, love. Been rubbing them?”
“Maybe,” Sherlock mutters.
“That’s probably why,” John sighs. They’re about ten meters from the fountain that’s the centerpiece of the entire market, and John tells him to go over and sit there while he goes and finds them something to drink. Figuring that by ‘something to drink’ John means the mulled wine that the market is known for, Sherlock agrees readily and wanders over to sit on the side of the fountain. There’s no way Sherlock can propose stone-cold sober. It’s just not going to happen.
When John returns, he places the cup of wine in Sherlock’s hand, settles beside him on the fountain, and burrows himself against Sherlock’s side. The arm that is pinned between them itches an awful lot, as does the other one. Sherlock tries to itch it without dislodging John, and fails. When John looks up at him, he frowns. “Sherlock. You look all puffy.”
“Do I?” Sherlock asks. The skin over his face does feel rather tight, suddenly.
“Yes, come here into the light.” John grabs his arm and forces him off the fountain wall, to stand under a nearby streetlamp. He peers closely at Sherlock’s face, gently touching his lover’s cheeks and the area surrounding his eyes. “You’ve gone all splotchy, Sherlock…”
“Have I?” Sherlock asks, trying to pull of a tone of disinterested boredom when in reality his arms are itching like crazy, his eyes are watering, and his throat feels scratchy. He croaks, “Er, John, there’s something I wanted to ask you…”
John lifts up the sleeves of Sherlock’s coat and shirt simultaneously and gasps. “You’ve got hives! You’re having an allergic reaction; what have you eaten?”
“Nothing,” Sherlock snaps. “Listen to me, John, I need to ask you something—”
“Not now, Sherlock. We need to get you to the medical tent, you could go into anaphylaxis at any second—”
“No, no I could not because I haven’t eaten anything I’m allergic to!” Sherlock cries, tugging on John’s hand to dissuade him from dragging Sherlock bodily towards the medical tent. “Please, John, just listen to me, I’m—”
“Sherlock, shut up,” John growls, jerking so ferociously that Sherlock has no choice but to follow. “Even if you’re not going into anaphylaxis, you’re still blowing up like a balloon; you need treatment. Now please tell me, Sherlock, what are you allergic to?”
“It was the cat, alright?” Sherlock says, defeated and not happy about it. Trust a tabby named Sasha to ruin what had been turning out to be a very lovely evening. “I didn’t think about it because we always had cats when I was growing up, but they were hypoallergenic because I had a reaction to one when I was a baby. I didn’t think about it, John! It wasn’t on the top of my mind at the moment!”
“Oh for God’s sake, Sherlock! If you thought you might have been allergic you should have never let that cat near you! Of all the stupid things to do when we’re hundreds of miles from home…”
Sherlock groans, resigned, and lets John drag him to the medical tent, ranting angrily all the way. Sherlock tries not to reply, because he knows it’ll only make John angrier, but it’s in his nature to snap back and when they reach the medical tent, they’re having an argument loud enough for half the market to hear and Sherlock’s best laid plans have, again, gone to hell in a hand basket.
Nine o’clock finds Sherlock huddled on the bed of the last-minute hotel room John’s managed to find at a hotel near Victoria Square. John hadn’t been crazy about the idea of going on the train ride home with a sick Sherlock, and despite the fact that they spent a good twenty minutes looking around for a hotel with a vacancy sign, it’s still a preferable alternative to the misery of two hours on a train in the condition Sherlock’s in.
Sherlock’s been hovering between sleep and wakefulness for an hour. Every time he gets close to sleep, something on his body twinges and he almost compulsively has to scratch it, despite John’s warning not to when he left to find a chemist’s nearly two hours ago. At this point, Sherlock isn’t sure if the nearest chemist is just that far away, or John’s walking around the block until he cools off, which he is wont to do when he and Sherlock have had a particularly nasty row.
Sherlock’s anger has basically been dissolved in his own suffering at this point. All he wants is a certain pair of arms wrapped around him.
Between moments of foggy wakefulness, Sherlock’s daydreams are fever-dreamlike and disconcerting, mostly filled with the feeling of floating and the sense that he’s not alone in the room. When the door opens, he’s not entirely sure he hasn’t dreamed it. Then John rounds the corner from the entryway, a bag in his right hand. He looks a lot more calm than he was when he left, and his features turn soft when he sees Sherlock. He feels guilty, is what a distant, temporarily disconnected portion of his brain says, but all that the majority of his mind is occupied with is the fact that John obviously isn’t angry anymore.
“I’m back,” John says gently, taking off his coat and hanging it off the bedpost. The room is small and consists mostly of bed. There are two small nightstands, each with a lamp and socket for cell phone chargers, and a television on the wall across from the bed. It’s not bad at all for last minute vacancy accommodations, though.
“Can see that,” Sherlock says. Only, he’s not sure whether he actually said it or just thought it and so he says it again, and makes sure he annunciates.
John smiles and sits on the edge of the bed, brushing Sherlock’s hair away from his eyes. “Hmm. Swelling’s gone down; that’s good.” He leans down and kisses Sherlock’s brow, lingering there to measure his temperature. “Fever’s gone down, too. How are you feeling?”
“Wretched,” Sherlock breathes, closing his eyes and nuzzling John’s hand. He’s not entirely sure that John’s diagnosis of his fever breaking is accurate, because John’s hand feels heavenly cool against his forehead, but he’ll trust the good doctor’s opinion. “Absolutely wretched.”
“Oh, Sherlock,” John murmurs, rubbing his back. “I’m sorry, love.”
“It’s not your fault,” Sherlock mutters. As much as he wants to blame his lapse in good judgment on someone else, John is not the person. He’s actually been having very unsavory thoughts towards the owner of the cat. Seriously, who let their pet wander around where people could have allergic reactions to it?
“No, I mean I’m sorry about getting so angry earlier,” John says, placing the bag from the chemist’s on the nightstand and crawling onto the bed proper, pulling Sherlock towards him. Sherlock settles his head against John’s chest, and the doctor takes to gently running his fingers through his hair. “I was just…you gave me such a fright, Sherlock. And you were being so flippant about it.”
“Sorry,” Sherlock sighs, mostly to appease John so he doesn’t talk about it anymore. The reminder of his own stupidity is making him feel vaguely ill. “What did you get at the chemist’s?”
“Oh.” John reaches over and grabs the bag. “Topical Benadryl, lozenges for your throat, and drops for your eyes. I also got some snacks. Hungry?”
“No,” Sherlock groans. “I’ve never been less hungry in my life.”
John snorts and mumbles something about drama kings, before popping open the bottle of salve and beginning to rub it into Sherlock’s right arm. The relief is practically instantaneous, and he groans a bit. John murmurs, “Feels good, doesn’t it? Hopefully this will take away those hives.”
“Get my back,” Sherlock says, instead of answering John’s question. His back has been infuriating him, because it’s arguably where the worst parts are but they’re impossible to reach. He flips over and lifts his shirt over his head, feeling John straddle the backs of his thighs and pour a generous amount of the cream onto his back. When John’s sturdy, strong hands begin working at him, massaging as well as applying the antihistamine, he drops his face into the pillow and groans. “This is arguably the best thing I’ve ever felt, John, you’ve no idea.”
“The best, huh? Should I be insulted?” John chuckles, moving from his shoulder blades to the middle of his back.
Sherlock makes a noncommittal noise in his throat and turns his head to the side, so he can kind of see John out of the corner of one eye. He’s got a look of utmost concentration on his face, and when he notices Sherlock is trying to look at him, he leans down and kisses his shoulder. “My poor dicky.”
“Mmph.” Sherlock sighs, rather contended now. He starts to drift off to sleep, he thinks, and his mind travels a hundred different places, images and faces blurring through his mind. His dreams are never fully-formed, and usually they’re just a mess of sound and color. One moment there are Christmas lights in his mind’s eye, then the sink back at their flat, then the corner of one of Mrs. Hudson’s eyes crinkled in a smile. Then there’s the Thames at dusk in the summertime, London Bridge the way it looks when sped by in a cab, John at his sister’s wedding last year, in that tux. Sherlock wants to see John in that tux again. Preferably at their own wedding.
The thought isn’t even fully-formed, so he’s surprised that the thought makes it out of his mouth. It’s not exactly intelligible, and comes out something like, “That tux…remember? Nice. Wanna see. Married.”
“What?” John asks, wondering if Sherlock’s just talking in his sleep. The evening of his lover’s breath hasn’t exactly gone without John’s notice.
“Married. We should.”
“Mmm,” John replies absentmindedly, not paying all that much attention to Sherlock’s ramblings. He obviously doesn’t know what he’s saying. To a certain extent, Sherlock really doesn’t. His mind has already sped away from that topic, wrinkling his nose at a sudden image of his brother’s umbrella. John adds, “That’s nice, love. How would we go about doing that?”
“Priest,” is what Sherlock comes up with, an image of the priest at his childhood church, Father Samuels, coming to mind. God, Sherlock had hated that man.
“Wonderful. And witnesses?” At this point, John is hoping Sherlock will talk himself into full sleep. Despite the Benadryl, Sherlock is still going to have a rough night of recovery before they board the train at, hopefully, noon tomorrow. Best let Sherlock go to sleep while the Benadryl is at its most active, and let him sleep through the worst of the irritation.
“We’ll need at least two, sweetheart.”
“Uhh.” Sherlock grumbles when Anderson’s ferret-like face makes an appearance behind his eyelids. “Anderson.”
“Well we’re not making a list of who we’re not inviting to the wedding, Sherlock,” John chuckles. He caps the Benadryl and places it on the bedside table, well within reach incase Sherlock wakes up in the middle of the night in sheer agony. John knows how painful hives can be, especially once they’ve passed the itching stage and are at the sting-and-burn phase.
Getting off the bed, John washes his hands in the tiny bathroom off the entryway and, when he comes back, sheds to all but his pants and undershirt and crawls under the duvet. The cream makes Sherlock’s back stick to his shirt when he spoons against him, but he doesn’t really mind. He thinks Sherlock’s finally gone to sleep, when he mutters. “Mrs. Hudson. Nice lady.”
“Okay. That’s good, Sherlock. We’ll have to do that soon. Go to sleep now, love.”
Sherlock’s already fallen into the deep end of slumber, where John gladly joins him minutes later.
Three days after they return from Birmingham, Sherlock begins to implement Proposal Attempt Number Three. Technically Number Four, but he’s not inclined to consider that disaster of a half-asleep blunder a legitimate proposal. He can’t even remember it aside from the fuzziest of details, and only know what he said because John was giggling about it the next morning as he updated his blog. Sherlock has been particularly cross with John the last few days, partially because he’s upset John didn’t take him halfway seriously, and partially because the blog entry had been another one of those Sherlock can be so truly odd at times ones. While words like ‘odd’ and ‘strange’ are practically compliments from others, they sometimes feel like jabs from John. Sherlock tries to act like a reasonably normal person at home, if only for John’s benefit.
Mrs. Hudson comes up for tea that day, a week exactly before Christmas and a Friday. John’s doing his last shift at the Surgery before his scheduled week off for Christmas, and Sherlock’s alone in the flat, in a funk and having a spectacular pout. Mrs. Hudson, the blessed old woman, always seems to have a sixth sense for when Sherlock’s in one of his Dark Moods, and comes up the stairs bearing a tray filled with tea, chocolate cake, and strawberries.
“Hello, Mrs. Hudson,” Sherlock mutters, examining the tray with more interest than shows on his face.
“Hello, dear,” she says, holding out a cup of tea with little preamble. One thing that Sherlock’s always liked about the woman is that she’s always quick to the point. They met almost fifteen years ago now, when she was a substantially younger woman and he was a nineteen-year-old college student that looked about fourteen. She had been one of his first cases. And although Martha Hudson had become a bit loopy, and maybe slightly senile as she’s aged, she’s still sharp as a tack when she wants to be. It’s one of the things that so easily earned her Sherlock’s respect.
They both take deep sips from their cups, Mrs. Hudson sighing in contentment and Sherlock humming in the way an Englishman encountering a good cup of tea always does. Mrs. Hudson turns on the television, to the Doctor Who marathon going on, and settles back against the sofa.
“So what’s with the tantrum, love?” she inquires offhandedly, dropping another sugar cube into both their cups. It’s a new brand of tea, and she’s misjudged the amount of natural bitterness it has. They take their tea the same. Namely, a-little-tea-with-your-milk-and-sugar?
“You’ve been throwing a wobbly for days, Sherlock,” she chides, in that ‘You know exactly what I’m speaking of’ tone. “Ever since you went on the trip to…oh, where was it, Brighton?”
“Ah, that’s it.”
Sherlock sighs and takes his frustration out on the couch by flinging himself against it. “Things do not always work out how you plan them, Mrs. Hudson.”
“Well that just means we have to try harder, dear,” Mrs. Hudson says, and she possesses the same talent as all older people, namely sounding so very wisely while simultaneously offering no help at all. Sherlock glares at her for it, and Mrs. Hudson smiles in commiseration. “What’s on your mind, dear?”
He doesn’t feel nearly as self-conscious about it as he had with Lestrade, because Mrs. Hudson’s never been judgmental, and she’ll be chuffed to bits to hear the news, so he readily supplies, “I’ve decided to propose to John, Mrs. Hudson.”
As predicted, Mrs. Hudson gives a little sound of absolute delight and claps her hands together. “Oh how lovely! I’ve been wondering when one of you was going to pop the question. Oh, this is just wonderful, Sherlock.” Then she pauses, and her smile slips a bit. “How do you mean it hasn’t worked out, dear?”
“I keep…fumbling it,” Sherlock murmurs, staring down at his tea. Failure is such a rare thing for Sherlock, and he’s painfully ashamed of it. “I’ve tried several times, but…I get interrupted or I don’t get my meaning across. I just can’t seem to get it right, Mrs. Hudson. I tried to do it at home, but Lestrade says it needs to be more romantic than that. So we went to Birmingham and the Christmas market, but I had an allergic reaction to a cat and John wouldn’t even wait long enough to let me ask.”
“Well, dear, whoever said you have to leave the house for romantic?” Mrs. Hudson asks, raising an eyebrow. “Private should be kept private, dear, and your John is a very private man. He may get embarrassed by something public. How did you try it the first time?”
“In bed,” Sherlock says, and Mrs. Hudson blushes. He hastens, “Not like that! We were…preparing for sleep, and the thought came across my mind. So I asked.”
Mrs. Hudson tsked. “Well, now I agree with your inspector friend on that one, Sherlock. That’s no way to propose. It will look like you don’t care! But there are plenty of ways to be romantic and still keep the whole thing to yourselves.” She grins conspiratorially, as though up to no good. “I have an idea, dear. Are you up for it?”
“At this point?” Sherlock groans. “Anything.”
Mrs. Hudson’s idea involves cleaning the flat, which is kind of disappointing but if it will bring about a desirable result, Sherlock has no problem with it. Sherlock works on the kitchen, which is a biohazard Mrs. Hudson refuses to touch, as much as she loves him. She works on organizing the living room into a little less chaos, stacking papers and bringing empty dishes back into the kitchen. The end result is not pristine, but then again if it was John wouldn’t think he’d walked into the right flat at the end of the day. But their coffee table and the desk are clean, the books have been dusted, and the kitchen is free of mould and dirty dishes, and the fridge free of body parts, both human and otherwise.
“And what about the bathroom and bedroom, dear?” Mrs. Hudson asks.
“Clean, if you must know,” Sherlock says with a certain amount of smugness. Even before John started sharing a room with him, he’d always kept his room very neat. The only reason the living room always gets in such a state is the never-ending cycle of case-chase-close-crash that they go through, and despite John’s suggestion that he clean in his moments of boredom, he’s usually too lethargic to agree. Besides, Sherlock works best in organized chaos.
The bathroom is clean because John insists it so.
“Good,” Mrs. Hudson says, smiling. “Now, dear. We’ll need some supplies. Would you rather go to the bath and beauty supply or the crafts store first? Oh, and Tesco’s. We’ll need Tesco’s!”
Sherlock likes where this is going less and less every second. First cleaning, now shopping? What else will this woman have in store for him?
Am making supper, your favorite. Try to hurry home.
The text comes at eight o’clock, when Sherlock knows John is usually gathering his things to leave. John can’t help the small smile that reaches his lips, because while Sherlock can cook (It’s only chemistry, as he’s been reminded several times) he hardly ever does. Usually only on special occasions or in celebration of something, and John has a momentary panic that he’s forgotten something important. But no, Sherlock’s birthday is in January and his own is in July, and Mrs. Hudson’s is in April.
It’s probably just Sherlock getting in the holiday spirit. Glad everyone will be home for a few days. Well, as glad as Sherlock gets about these things, anyway.
He can’t say he’s not grateful. There’s been an epidemic of a very bad head cold going around London’s toddler population, and John’s been treating three-year-olds for runny noses and sore throats since nine o’clock this morning. He’s truly exhausted, and his ears are still ringing with the unrestrained sobs of so many babies.
So he packs up his things, hanging up his lab coat for his own black jacket with the patches at the elbows. It’s getting a bit old, now, and he’ll probably have to think about getting a new one soon, but for right now he’s sticking with it. It’s his favorite, and he’s had it since returning from Afghanistan.
God, it’s hard to believe that was over four years ago.
He pokes his head in Sarah’s office as he leaves. Smiles and says, “Happy Christmas! I’m heading off.”
“Alright,” she says, looking up from her computer to give him a smile in return. “Happy Christmas, John. Are you and that man of yours going to be at the party after New Year’s?” Any residual hard feelings that were there after their breakup have vanished in the years since. There hadn’t been many, considering Sarah had been able to see even then how in love John was with his flatmate, and that wasn’t his fault. The only real bitterness had been towards Sherlock, because at the time she’d been very much under the impression that he didn’t deserve someone like John willing to run to the ends of the Earth with him. But she’s gotten over even that; she’s married now, to a Scotsman named Daniel, and they’re expecting their first child in May.
“Sure will,” John says, nodding. “I’ll tell him you said Happy Christmas then, yeah?”
Sarah nods. “Take care of yourself.”
“You too,” John says sternly, gesturing in the general area of her abdomen. Sarah is a workaholic, like many other doctors, and that’s not good on a baby.
Chuckling, Sarah settles her hand over the barely-there curve in her stomach and nods. “Okay. I will. Bye.”
He takes a cab home, because the tube has half a dozen stops between here and Baker Street, and by the time he gets home supper will be cold and Sherlock will be in a Mood. The goal is always to make it home just as supper’s done, and he succeeds tonight, stepping in the door just as the oven timer goes off. Sherlock’s standing in the kitchen, casual in his dark jeans and aubergine button-up, sleeves rolled up to bare his elegant forearms.
John steps in and slinks his arms around Sherlock’s waist, once he’s stood up from the oven and placed the pan on the stove. From the looks of things, they’re having shepherd’s pie, which is indeed his favorite, and one of the things Sherlock’s gotten down to a science. A delicious science. He’d never tell his mother this, but Sherlock makes shepherd’s pie even better than her.
Then again, maybe he will tell her. She’s always wanted John to find a girl who can cook as well as her. The fact that Sherlock is not a girl won’t make her any less pleased.
“Hello,” John murmurs, tiptoeing up to Sherlock’s neck to place a kiss there. In the beginning, the height difference had been a constant source of self-consciousness. But John’s gotten used to being the little spoon, as it were, and long ago realized that despite his height, he holds much of the power in their relationship. Although Sherlock can be bossy, no one knows better than the man himself that when John Watson says jump, Sherlock Holmes says how high.
“Hello,” Sherlock replies, turning around and leaning against the counter. Slumped like this, with John standing between his feet, they’re almost at the same height. John proceeds to yawn in his face, and Sherlock laughs slightly. He can smell coffee on John’s breath, and John only drinks it when he’s really knackered and required to stay awake. “Long day?”
“Like you wouldn’t believe,” John mutters, resting his head against the hollow of Sherlock’s neck. Oh, he could just stay here. Right here and fall asleep, listening to his lover’s heartbeat and breathing.
Sherlock’s cool, thin hand rubs his back, under his jumper but over his shirt. “Do you want to talk about it?”
“Nothing serious,” John sighs. “Just. Sick toddlers and their parents. Neither is pleasant to deal with.” He takes a long, deep breath and smells Sherlock, (Clean sweat, Irish Springs soap, and that smell after it rains) their flat, and supper, and finally relaxes because he knows he’s home. “Smells good.” He’s not sure if he’s talking about supper or Sherlock, to be honest.
“I’ll fix you a plate,” Sherlock says, and releases him so he can sit at the table. Finally, he processes that the kitchen—and the rest of the flat—is in significantly less disarray than it was when he left. It’s a shock, despite it not being the cleanest it’s ever been. That particular historical event occurred when John’s mother visited and they shoved everything messy and/or hazardous into the spare bedroom and locked the door. The flat had looked amazingly pristine for an entire three days.
“Sherlock, did you…clean?” John asks, staring in amazement at the clean kitchen table, the dusted bookshelf, the vacuumed carpet.
“Erm…yes,” Sherlock says. “Consider it part of your Christmas present.” He sets John’s plate in front of him, and finds himself pulled down by his shirt collar to have a kiss planted on his lips.
“Have I told you that I love you recently?” John asks, all too aware that he has not. Their lives have gotten away from them as of late. He’s been working a lot, to get all of his work done before the holiday, and he knows Sherlock’s hiding something from him; has been for about a week now. He cannot, however, quite figure out what it is. It’s creating a nice little patch of distance between them, which isn’t familiar at all. John doesn’t like the feeling. “Because I do. Very, very much.”
“I love you too,” Sherlock murmurs, something in his eyes softening. He leans down and kisses John again, and lets John pull him downwards to straddle his legs. They kiss, slowly and languidly with their tongues skirting against each other and gentle nips. They lean their foreheads against each other to catch their breath, John’s hands on Sherlock’s back and Sherlock’s on John’s cheeks.’
“No insult to your cooking, love,” John mutters. “But I think I’d like to take you to bed now.”
“I think I’d very much like for you to take me there.”
They go upstairs, John pinning Sherlock to their bedroom door, sinking his fingers into Sherlock’s waistband to feel his skin. Unbuttoning, and unzipping until Sherlock is naked, at which time he pushes the detective onto their bed and proceeds to have him, long and fiercely until Sherlock is undone to the point where he forgets his own name and can only remember John’s.
For long minutes after, they don’t speak. Just sit there, panting and catching their breath. Finally Sherlock, feeling John’s seed trickling down between his thighs, remembers why he’d done what he’d done.
“There are rose pedals on our bed,” mutters John, only just having realized it. He plucks one out of Sherlock’s hair. Crossly, he grouses, “Is this an experiment?” because Sherlock knows experimentation anywhere near their bedroom is A Bit Not Good.
“No,” Sherlock says quickly. “No, nothing like that.”
“Oh,” John says. It’s a gesture, then. “Ah…did I ruin a surprise?”
“Maybe a bit,” Sherlock agrees. “But the ruin was pleasurable.” He takes a deep breath, turning onto his back and waiting until John rests his head against his chest. Their bodies are still warm and flushed with afterglow and the room smells poignantly of sex. He runs his fingers through John’s hair and whispers, “Do you really want to know why I did all of this tonight?”
“Christmas?” John ventures, already drifting off to sleep. God, it’s been a long day.
“Well, there’s that. But…John, we’ve been together a long time.”
“Yes. And, er…John. Love. I…well, I love you very dearly. You’re not like anyone I’ve ever met, and I can’t imagine being without you. I hope the sentiment is returned. So, John. John Hamish Watson.” His hand stalls on John’s head. “Will you marry me?”
There is no response.
“John?” Sherlock’s body spikes with panic. Oh dear, he’s gotten it all wrong. He’s fumbled it, he’s misinterpreted the signals. How could he ever think John wanted to marry him, self-diagnosed sociopath, unemotional, unlovable—
A snore. John lets out a snore and Sherlock calms and at the same time thumbs his head against the pillow in anguish.
John hadn’t heard a word he said.
Due to the fact that he fell asleep at a much earlier time than normal, John wakes up at about four o’clock in the morning, and comes downstairs to see Sherlock standing at the kitchen counter, eating leftover (Never even touched, really) supper. He has a frustrated expression on his face, and John thinks for a moment that he’s been given a case. Then he realizes the source of his scrutiny is the supper. Oh. He’s disappointed, then. Disappointed his plans were ruined? But Sherlock’s usually flexible.
“Honey?” John mutters, and he only calls Sherlock ‘honey’ when he thinks he’s in the doghouse, but of course he doesn’t realize this. He stumbles into the kitchen, still half-asleep and seeking a midnight (or early morning, as it were) cuppa. Sherlock’s still naked as the day he was born. John’s put on pajama pants.
“Hmm?” Sherlock noises back. He’s sleep-rumpled and bleary, and that’s how John likes him best. He’s always incredibly cuddly and pliant at these times.
“I, uh…something the matter?”
“Oh…okay.” John’s not quite sure he believes him. In fact, he’s almost certain he doesn’t believe him, because Sherlock’s still staring down at the leftovers like they’ve done him a personal wrong, and his body language almost screams melancholy. He nudges under Sherlock’s elbow and inserts himself as far into Sherlock’s side as possible without defying the laws of physics. The food smells good, and he abruptly realizes that he hasn’t eaten since his late lunch over twelve hours ago. “Mind if I have a bite?”
“You can have the rest,” Sherlock mutters. “I wasn’t really hungry in the first place.”
John takes the fork and scoops a healthy amount of mash and the heady stew that makes up the filling of the pie, and brings it to his mouth. He sighs contentedly. “That’s very good.”
Sherlock rests his head against John’s. “I’m glad.”
He eats a few more bites, then says, “Sherlock…before I fell asleep, you were going to ask me something. I’ve just remembered. What’s on your mind?”
For a moment, Sherlock flounders and it’s on the tip of his tongue to tell all. But no, now would not be the appropriate time. Give a man warning, Lestrade had said, and make it romantic, Mrs. Hudson had added. This does not come with warning, nor is it romantic. He has no idea how standing naked in their kitchen at four in the morning could in anyway be considered elegant or romantic. So he catches himself and says, “I’ve forgotten. It wasn’t very important. It will return to me, eventually. I’ll ask you then.”
“If you say so.”
John finishes the plate, places it in the sink, and grabs Sherlock’s hand. “Come on. Let’s go back to bed. It’s Christmastime, we may as well have a lie-in.”
“May as well,” Sherlock agrees, and his despondent tone scares John. Suddenly, he has a feeling of déjà vu because there’s that feeling that he hasn’t had since primary school; the one where he’s just taken a test and he’s sure he’s failed. But he doesn’t know why.
Any mother would be worried to hear such a desperate noise come over the phone on Christmas Eve, especially when there’s a blizzard going on. But Josephine Holmes is not just another average mother. She is, in fact, mother to Mycroft Holmes, British Government, and Sherlock Holmes, Consulting Detective. Needless to say, she is very adept at dealing with the kind of grief and drama two young men with IQ’s in the triple digits can cause.
And Sherlock’s always been much more partial to drama.
“What is it, darling?” sighs Josephine. Another whine. “Sherlock, I can’t help you if you don’t use your words.”
“Oh Mummy, don’t be so condescending! I’m trying to convey to you the agony of the situation at hand.”
“And what, exactly, is the situation at hand?” She sighs, rubbing her eyes and not for the first time cursing her late husband. She’d loved the man, very dearly; he gave her two beautiful children and loved her for every moment of their short marriage. But she doesn’t think she’ll ever quite forgive him for insisting on keeping on with his more dangerous work after the children were born, and dying in an experiment-gone-wrong only weeks after Sherlock was born. She was left with two children who she could never quite understand due to differences in intellect, despite being a very smart woman herself.
She knows their own mother’s inability to relate to them had to have been detrimental to her children’s psyche, and at the same time has never had any idea how to change it. But she lets them know every day that she loves them more than life itself, and hopefully they know that.
Sherlock’s always been worse. Mycroft is good at hiding his emotions, and the old adage ‘Out of Sight, Out of Mind’ is not above being true of her, as well. But Sherlock…Sherlock was never able to hide how much it hurt when the other kids made fun of him and rejected him, or when his mother banished him to his room for frustration at her inability to so much as understand what he was saying.
However, Sherlock is and always will be her baby.
“Well,” Sherlock begins nervously, and Josephine rubs her eyes again. Sherlock has that ‘I’ve done something bad’ tone that she’s learned to recognize over the years. “A few days ago, John…”
“Oh Sherlock, what have you done to that poor boy now?” she groans. John Watson is possibly the most patient man in the world, much more patient than she’s ever been. She doesn’t know how he does it; connects with Sherlock like that. She does know, however, that Sherlock sometimes gets terribly afraid of that connection and tries to sever it. It’s happened several times so far.
“Nothing!” cries Sherlock. “I…Mummy…I want to propose to him.”
For a moment, Josephine does not quite process what Sherlock has said. Then she realizes that this is Sherlock—Her Sherlock, gorgeous and brilliant but painfully antisocial—whom is telling her that he’s going to propose to his boyfriend. She’s going to have a son-in-law! Good lord, Sherlock is getting married!
She emits a sound not unlike that of a shocked rodent, but eventually forms words. “Really? Really truly, darling? Oh, oh this is fantastic, Sherlock! Oh, my baby! I’m so happy for you, so proud! Oh, and what about John? Is he there? Oh, let me talk to him sweetheart, I want to congratulate him!”
“Mummy,” Sherlock grumbles. “I didn’t say I had…I haven’t asked him yet.” A pause, then he adds, “Well, I have. Tried. Several times. But they all seem to fail.”
“How so?” mumbles Josephine. “Has he…said no?”
“No, I haven’t even gotten the words out!” There’s a sound of rustling fabric and she knows he’s flung himself against some unfortunate piece of furniture. “I keep trying, but I fail, Mummy, and that’s unacceptable. I need help. You’re better at these things than I am. Lestrade said to give John some warning and not just spring it on him, and Mrs. Hudson said to make it romantic, and I’ve tried both of those things and more but I just can’t seem to do it!”
“Sherlock, how many times have you tried, darling?”
Oh. That’s…rather more than she expected. Then again, knowing Sherlock, that sounds about right. Running a hand over her face, she says, “Well, I’m not sure I can help you, sweetheart. It’s…not something you can be helped with. You’ve got to figure out your own way to do it. Don’t take cues from other people, because…well, it’s almost like your love life, isn’t it? You wouldn’t let your coworker or landlady tell you how to make love, would you?”
“Oh, Sherlock,” she chuckles. As much as he pretends it’s not true, sex has always made Sherlock nervous. Very little French in the way of that, then. Her mother had been full Parisian, and was free about speaking to her of the ways of l’amour. “All I’m saying is, you have to figure out how to do it yourself. Don’t force yourself into it, don’t even think about it. If you think about it too much, you’ll work yourself into a tizzy, and that’s never good.”
“But how will I know when?” Sherlock groans, agonized.
Though Josephine knows it will be difficult for Sherlock, because although Sherlock would pursue first thoughts until definitively proven wrong, following his gut or, God forbid, his heart were unscientific and therefore obsolete. The prospect of doing it is, for lack of a better term, frightening to him. All the same, she ploughs on, “You’ll know, darling. You won’t know when you’ll know, because it will happen quickly, but you’ll just have to trust your heart, and your intuition, and maybe to a certain extent trust John. You’ll see. It will all work out. Believe in your old Mummy, oui?”
“Oui,” Sherlock grumbles, maybe a tad disappointed. “John’s home. I have to go.” In the background, she hears John ask who it is, and why Sherlock has to go, and when Sherlock tells him he demands that Sherlock expand the invitation to his parent’s house in Edinbridge for Christmas.
“I do think I’d like that, sweetheart,” says Josephine. “Tell John I said yes. I’ll need an address, however.”
“Will do.” Sherlock has that ‘I’m hanging up now’ tone.
“Sherlock Holmes. Do not hang up without saying goodbye. You know how cross I get when you do that.”
Sherlock gives a long-suffering sigh, as if saying goodbye to his dear old mother is so hard and mutters, “Goodbye, Mummy.”
“Goodbye, Darling. I love you.”
“…I love you too…”
Josephine smiles to herself as she hangs up the phone.
John’s family home is very pretty, in a small, homey way that reminds Sherlock of warm, stereotypical family Christmases and the smell of baking bread pudding. Sherlock’s Christmases were never like that. He, his mother, maternal grandmother, and Mycroft all lived in the house father left behind to them, called Holmes House. Apparently it had been in the family for quite a while, and his mother probably would have had to fight very hard to keep the place if his father hadn’t been an only child. As it were, there was no one else to keep up the house if not Percival Holmes’ widow and children. So it had been just Sherlock, Mummy, Grand-mere and Mycroft (And not even him, after he went away to college two years early at the age of fifteen) on Christmas, in a huge house.
Christmas always felt very empty and very cold.
Watson Christmases are very different. Sherlock’s been to two now, and the family is small but warm. John has his mother and father (Amelia and Hamish) his sister and her wife, an Uncle Thomas, wife since deceased, and his three children Jamie (Short for James) Sharon, and Madeline in order of age. The nieces and nephews (They’re first cousins once removed, but John finds it easier to let him refer to him as Uncle) Sherlock hasn’t quite gotten down, although there’s only four or five of them.
So far. Madeline’s pregnant and she’s going to announce it at dinner. Sherlock holds off on relaying that particular deduction to John.
Then of course, there’s Sherlock’s own mother and grandmother, because of course the invitation had been extended to her as well. The Watsons are nothing if not warm and welcoming, and Sherlock can’t say he’s not glad. Grand-mere doesn’t get out much anymore, nor does his mother. And he and Mycroft are both much too busy to regularly make sure they’re making it off the grounds of Holmes House at least every once in a while.
The pallor of his female elders’ skin tells Sherlock that they have not.
“Sherlock?” says John, coming into the living room and leaning down next to him. He has a look of tolerant frustration on his face. “Could you please go in the dining room and ask your grandmother if she wants something to drink? Does she speak English? Because if she does, she doesn’t seem inclined to speak it to me, or Harry, or our mother.”
“Oh,” Sherlock says, rising from the couch. The nephew that had been using his side as a leaning post while playing video games complains. Sherlock’s found that he doesn’t quite mind having parts of his body commandeered for use as pillows, as long as the person doing it is under the age of thirteen and is quiet about it. Elliot is seven, and happy to be silent as he plays Mario Kart. “Yes, Grand-mere doesn’t really speak any English. We always spoke French at home.”
“I guess that would explain why you’re so fluent,” sighs John, pointing towards the dining room. “Please go ask. And apologize for Harry and I. I think we may have upset her.”
“I will,” Sherlock replies, and John squeezes his shoulder in thanks before sitting down in his vacated spot so Elliot has another adult to obstruct.
By now, Sherlock knows his way around most of the house without help, and he finds his grandmother sitting with a look of clueless discontent. He sits down next to her and puts on his best smile, hugging her before he settles. In French, he breathes, “Hello, Grand-mere.”
“Finally, someone I can understand,” she says crossly, folding her arms beneath her thick wool shawl and glaring in the general direction of the kitchen. “I don’t know why they didn’t go and get you sooner. They were sitting here speaking to me as if I was dumb.”
“Yes, well, that’s usually how people approach a language barrier, Grand-mere. I assure you, they didn’t mean to insult you. They were just trying to make you comfortable. John wants to know what you want to drink, and if you’d like to take off your coat?” Because he knows what John’s usual host mannerisms are. Get everyone seated with a drink in their hands and their coat on a hook. Grand-mere has only succeeded in doing one of these things, and one out of three does not a happy Watson make.
“I’m cold,” grouses Grand-mere, and Sherlock does not argue, because Grand-mere gets like this sometimes. She’s too French for her own good. “And I would like red wine, if they have any.”
“I think they’ll be serving that with dinner, Grand-mere, and it’s only six o’clock. Are you even supposed to be drinking? Where’s Mummy?”
“Your mother is outside having a cigarette.” She tries to say it with distaste, but Sherlock knows if his grandmother was still allowed to smoke, she’d be right there with his mother. “And it is Christmas, Sherlock. Allow an old woman her indulgences. This Christmas will probably be my last, so you should let me have at least one glass of wine.”
“Oh Grand-mere. You’ve been saying the same thing for twenty years now.”
“I will be eighty in February!” she insists, but Sherlock can tell she’s gained some of her humor back now that she doesn’t have to try and make three people whose only language is English try to understand her. It’s like trying to make two plus two equal one.
“And most Guillory women live well into their nineties, don’t think you can fool me!”
She wags a wizened finger in his face, her hand wrinkled and knobby but still elegant with its several rings and length in proportion to her palms. Sherlock gets his hands from her. She says, “You may have an IQ almost double mine, Sherlock Holmes, but don’t start thinking you can outsmart your old grandmother.” She pauses, folding her hand back into her lap, and continues, “John looks well.”
“Yes, he’s been well as far as I know.”
“He was dreadfully pale last time I saw him. Sickly.”
“He’d just gotten over the flu last time you saw him, Grand-mere.”
They don’t talk for a few minutes, and Grand-mere is staring at the carpet in a most peculiar way. It’s an interesting pattern, yes, but not that interesting, and Sherlock is starting to feel awkward. So he says, “I’ll try to find some wine for you, shall I?”
“Yes, you do that,” she says. “But, Sherlock. You do realize I am getting older, right? Despite the legacy of the Guillory women, I may only have five or so years left. And I would like to see at least one of my grandsons settled down before I die. Is a great-grandchild too much to ask? Oh, and think if your poor mother, Sherlock! Her mid-fifties and still no grandchildren. When I was her age, Mycroft had already been born.”
“Grand-mere! Would you at least let us get married before you and Mummy start heaping demands of children upon us? It’s not even something we’ve discussed!”
“Do you want them?”
Sherlock scoffed and spluttered. “I—I really can’t…what kind of question is—I don’t know!”
“Well hurry up and talk about it! And what’s holding this whole marriage thing up, Sherlock? You two have been together what must be four years by now! I knew your grandfather Emil for nine months before I married him. Honestly, you young people think too much about everything!”
Sherlock rubs his hands over his face and groans, “You are the second woman who’s told me that recently, Grand-mere, and I am no closer to being able to decode that twisted logic as I was the first time.” Then he gets up and walks into the kitchen, dodging Harry and one of the smaller nieces to get to the fridge. They have mulled wine, but nothing else, so that will have to do. He delivers the refreshment to his grandmother, sees that his mother has returned from her cigarette break, and leaves grand-mere in Mummy’s capable hands so he can rejoin John in the living room. Elliot’s gone, Sherlock has no idea where, so Sherlock sits down by John and slumps at a spectacular angle to recline half-against him while his feet are still flat on the floor.
“Ah. So she is that kind of lady,” John says upon seeing the frustration on Sherlock’s face.
John smiles against his head. “Oh, you know. The cranky but talkative type. They tell you that you need to do something with your life and then ask when they’re going to have grandchildren. Say they’re getting too old for this crap, and they’re going to die soon so you may as well start up the baby-making plant.” At Sherlock’s surprised look, he laughs. “You’re not the only one who can deduce, you know. Before you ask, Harry and my grandma was just like that. She was terribly upset when she realized Harry wasn’t going to find some bloke at University and start popping out children.”
“I can only imagine.” He glances out of the corner of his eye to see Amelia Watson chasing all of the children she lays eyes on around with mistletoe, making exaggerated kissing noises and asking, “One kiss for Aunt Amelia?” It brings an indulgent smirk to his lips. He likes Watson Christmases for this reason. He can indulge in previously unheard of levels of warmth and familial humor.
“Your mother is chasing people around with that infernal plant,” he mutters into John’s shoulder.
“She’s been known to do that,” John replies, and they giggle to themselves.
Dinner is served at seven o’clock, during which time John’s cousin Madeline makes her announcement and the entire party flocks upon her. Sherlock is left behind with his mother and grandmother, and they both give him overly significant looks. He rolls his eyes and stares down at his plate.
When it comes time for presents, it’s more than a little chaotic because apparently it’s Elliot’s turn to play Father Christmas, and the boy has the attention span of a gnat. Everyone gets the eldest Watson’s gifts first, and Sherlock gets several books of London crime history. He smiles and thanks them, receiving a shoulder slap from Mr. Watson and a rip-crushing hug from Mrs. Watson. They’d both thought him a bit feminine when they first met him, but John had informed them he could take a beating and nowadays they really give one to him. He could only guess some physical violence was intended to be considered affectionate.
John gets three new jumpers, soft and warm and in colors pleasing to the eyes. Mrs. Watson explains, “Johnny’s always so hard to shop for! He never tells anyone what he wants and he’s never too interested in any one thing. I miss when you were a boy, Johnny, and we knew what to get you because you begged for it for months. Remember your Star Wars phase, love? Oh, or even your James Bond phase?”
“Mum,” John mutters, trying to flatten himself out in embarrassment. “You always do this to me and I don’t know why. Why not Harry?”
“Because, dear, Clara’s heard all of our stories about her by now.”
Both Watson children give each other a ‘Really?’ look, while Sherlock and Clara exchange shrugs.
Once Elliot can be roped back into his job, he distributes the presents from all of the cousins to each other, and all of the little ones their presents from their parents. Sherlock ends up getting a pair of goggles from Harry, probably having seen too many of John’s blog posts to think he does his experiments with goggles on. John gets a gratuitous amount of chocolate from his sister and all his cousins, and an assortment of ‘bath bombs’, which Harry explains dissolve in the bath and make it smell good.
“What would they need fruity-smelling baths for, Harriet?” asks Mr. Watson, whom speaks deeply in a thick Northern accent. “They’re men. They don’t care about that kind of thing.”
Harry shrugs and looks pointedly at Sherlock, whom is picking up one of the ‘bath bombs’ to smell it, and nodding his approval. Mr. Watson explains that Sherlock’s something like half French, and doesn’t count. Mummy, whom has been sitting rather silent the whole time, laughs her hearty, throaty laugh.
The rest of the gifts are mostly gift vouchers, because they’re either to the spouses of cousins or vice versa; people who didn’t grow up together and don’t know each other too well. Then Mrs. Watson tells Elliot to give the spouses their gifts from each other, and Sherlock has John’s gift to him plopped into his lap. John’s staring at the large box Sherlock’s given him with a certain amount of foreboding, because really—when your partner is Sherlock Holmes, God knows what’s in that Big Huge Box. He tears into it with enthusiasm though, and gives a strangled squawk of delight when he sees the tea set.
“This is gorgeous, Sherlock,” John says, taking the pot out and settling it in his lap. “Now we can get rid of that old one.”
“Do we have to get rid of it?” Sherlock inquires, raising his eyebrows in a look somewhere between begging and suggestive. John rolls his eyes, not wanting to know why Sherlock would require a kettle for his experiments, and says, “I guess not. Open your present.”
So Sherlock does, to uncover a software box (Apparently containing something called ‘Dragon’) a headset, and a digital camera. Sherlock stares at the seemingly unrelated gifts, and John hastens to explain, “It’s dictation software. It listens to you talk, and records what you’re saying. It’s supposed to be extremely accurate, and since you hate it when I get things wrong in my blog, I figured you could dictate to this thing, record what’s happened in our cases during those times when nothing happens and you’re bored, and I could read off that to tell my side of the story on my blog. The camera is because I know you like taking pictures of the crime scenes…” John winces. “Even though that isn’t entirely legal.”
Basically, this will help him with his mental reference of London’s criminal underbelly. He spends a moment reading the back of the packaging while everyone else unwraps their presents, then Mrs. Watson calls for everyone to find their favorite gift and she’ll take a group picture to be used for next year’s Christmas card. Sherlock holds up the software, John holds up the teapot, and everyone says ‘cheese’.
Then there’s a blur of dancing and desert and at some point the mistletoe is hung, stationary in the archway from the kitchen to the dining room. It creates quite a road block, spouses and siblings and cousins stopping to lock lips or smack noisy, wet kisses on cheeks and foreheads. Sherlock is kissed by Harry, Mrs. Watson, and John’s shy nine-year-old niece Cora (She taps him on the elbow and when he leans down, she kisses his nose. It’s endearing in a juvenile way.) by the end of the night. For some reason, perhaps something having to do with the mulled wine, he doesn’t care much.
“Sherlock, dear, go get Grand-mere some more coffee,” Mummy says at one point, handing Sherlock his grandmother’s mug. He takes it and walks into the kitchen, waiting for John’s cousin Sharon and her husband to disconnect their faces (Their two children, Elliot and his twin Edmund, are making faces at the table) and pours her coffee. On the way back out, John bumps into him and says, “Sorry love,” before they try to go their separate ways.
The active word there being ‘try’ because Harry squawks, “No you don’t!” and pushes on John’s back, to keep him in place. “You’re under the mistletoe, you have to kiss! Don’t you two know anything?”
Harry Watson: Mistletoe Nazi. The five-foot-three warrior defends its domain with all her considerable might.
“Oh fine,” John sighs, making John hold the mugs they both have and slinging an arm around Sherlock’s neck. He pulls him down into a short kiss, all too aware that there are children in the house and watching. They smile at each other and John says, “Hi.”
“Hi.” Both hands on John’s waist, forehead-to-forehead, Sherlock can’t help but think that John is the only of his cousins that isn’t married, and even Harry has settled down. And here Sherlock is, completely incapable of making a coherent proposal. Every time they’re over, John’s mother stares at them in a way that just screams, “Your turn!” Especially after Harry got married.
Then again, what’s stopping him from proposing right now? Aside from the crippling fear of failure and rejection that can make even the bravest man go weak. And they’re in front of their families, which means even more judgment.
“Oh, fuck it,” Sherlock mutters, and slides with slightly less grace than intended onto one knee. John’s eyes widen and the room goes silent. Sherlock’s mouth is suddenly so dry he has to take a moment before he speaks. “John…Uhm…Well, I hadn’t intended for it to go this way, but I guess now is as good a time as any, and now that I’ve gotten myself here I can’t turn back.”
“Ah…we’ve been together a while, and I love you very much. I think the feeling is returned. We’ve been working together since the day we met, facing things that…no one should ever have to go through, much less put the person they love through. And I can’t tell you how grateful I am that you never left, and never faltered in your support. We’ve had hard times—“
“Skip the eulogy, Holmes!” bellows Harry.
“You can…stop now, Sherlock,” John murmurs, eyes suspiciously bright. “Just…just say it, love.”
“I was trying to work up to it.”
“I know, but you don’t have to. Just say it.”
Sherlock’s mouth works furiously for a long minute, and for one terrifying instance he thinks he won’t be able to get the words out without first vomiting. But finally, he manages, “John…Will you marry me?”
Deathly silence in the room, for what feels like years but is really only a few seconds. Then John nods, once, twice, then frantically up down up down and finally he gasps, “Yeah! Yes, I will. Of course.” He tugs on Sherlock’s hand until he stands up, then kisses him, and holds onto him for a long while. There’s a flurry of conversation, and congratulations, and he’s pretty sure he hears both his own mother and Mrs. Watson sniffing, but Sherlock just stand there and breathes in the scent of John’s shampoo.
“I tried four times,” mutters Sherlock, “Before I got it right. You should know your fiancé is a miserable failure.”
“No,” John murmurs fiercely into his neck. “You are…amazing, Sherlock Holmes. Arrogant and infuriating and completely raving mad sometimes but, God help me I wouldn’t have you any other way. Blimey, I love you. I can’t believe you proposed. I was…I was going to do it on your birthday.”
“Were you?” Sherlock asks, burying his face in John’s neck. They kiss and hold each other some more, still high off the recent events while everyone else for the most part has gone back to their activities, giving them as much privacy as allowed in the middle of a crowded room. Some of the children are still fascinated though, staring with rapt attention.
“Not to break up the party, gents, but you’re blocking the access to the kitchen,” Mr. Watson appears, clapping them both on the shoulders. “Congrats, but your mother needs more wine.”
Suddenly realizing why he’d been headed towards the kitchen in the first place, Sherlock takes his grandmother’s mug from Harry and shuffles into the kitchen, not quite sure what to do with himself after such a display.
It turns out, not much. A few minutes later, when they’re all seated at the living room and talking again, Harry remarks, “This Christmas will be hard to top. A pregnancy and a proposal. What next?”
Elliot, as if that was his cue, runs in and squeals, “Mummy!”
Everyone woman in the room who has ever been called ‘Mummy’ looks up, but it’s John’s cousin Sharon that says, “What, sweetheart?”
“My tooth fell out!” he says, holding it up jubilantly. There are a few disgusted faces, because it still has blood on it.
“Mine too!” cries his twin, running in behind him.
Sharon covers her face. “Oh Lord.” Just like that, attention is taken away from Sherlock and John, and neither can say they miss it.
“Sooo.” Mrs. Watson, sitting on the other side of Sherlock from John, says to her son, “Children?”
John bangs his head on the table, Sherlock slaps his forehead, and Mrs. Watson giggles. “It’s a never-ending cycle, boys! Now, do you want some leftovers to take home with you? We have plenty and you boys never eat.”
“A never-ending cycle, eh?” mutters John as his mother walks away. “So you’re going to be my mother in thirty years?”
“Lord I hope not.”
They chuckle into each other’s necks, and happily spend the rest of the night lounging there on the couch. They’re forced out the door near midnight, because Sherlock’s mother is leaving and most of John’s cousins are already gone, and if they don’t leave now they’ll never make it back to Baker Street before one o’clock in the morning. As Sherlock’s mother is hugging him goodbye, she says, “So, how was it? Hard? I swear, you think too much, darling.”
Sherlock smirks. “It’s a never-ending cycle, Mummy.”