Things were different at Greg Lestrade's flat this Christmas. For one thing, his daughter Rosie was there for an entire week--which was both wonderful and terrifying. For another, Sherlock was a regular fixture at the flat too, now that he and Lestrade were . . . boyfriends? Nah. That still sounded daft. Greg preferred not to put a name to whatever this thing was, but sometimes told people he and Sherlock were permanently committed. To driving each other completely batty. Everyone groaned at the joke, but not far from the truth, that.
With Sherlock, finding time between crimes to shop for birthdays, anniversaries, or Christmas was never a problem. They both opted for the exchange of bodily fluids instead of brightly wrapped packages. With those sorts of gifts, at least the fit was always right.
Now, though, frolics with Sherlock were on the back burner. Entertaining Rosie suddenly seemed more daunting than hunting a serial killer or facing one of Sherlock's black moods. Greg knew the standard protocol for dealing with murderers and mad detectives--not for eleven-year-old girls. Worse, Sherlock and Rosie seemed determined not to get along, and Greg felt caught in the middle. So he embraced a new battle strategy. As the Monty Python boys would say: Run away!
He was leaving Sherlock and Rosie alone. Off to hit the shops for some last-minute gifts his ex had suggested (Where the hell do you buy kiwi flavored lip gloss?), and the latest Harry Potter DVD. Lestrade shuddered remembering the withering stare his daughter had given him when he admitted he hadn't got around to buying that one. He underlined DVD three times on his list to make sure he wouldn't forget. Otherwise he might as well not come home.
Greg's eyes darted over to the corner where Sherlock was deep into research on his current case. Folded into a leather chair, balancing the laptop precariously on bony knees and mumbling to himself. Then Greg glanced at his daughter, in a similar position on the sofa, tapping on Greg's laptop. Not exactly the charming Victorian Christmas Eve by the fireside some might envision, but . . . at least they weren't snapping at each other.
"Sherlock! Rosie! I'm leaving now. Back in three hours. I don't want either of you mucking about in the kitchen with knives or turning on the stove. Is that clear? Don't get up to anything stupid while I'm gone!" From the sitting room came two grunted Uh huhs--one baritone, one soprano. Then Greg was safely out the door.
Sherlock's current obsession had nothing to do with Greg or the Met. It was a national security case and Sherlock had taken it not out of duty to Queen and Country, and certainly not to help bloody Mycroft, but because it involved an inordinate amount of message decoding. And he needed the cryptographical exercise.
Up to this point, it had been all numerical codes, and Sherlock had cracked each in a matter of hours. The intercepted messages revealed a group of freelance Russian terrorists providing access to nuclear materials for militants in Yemen, Myanmar, and Colombia. If the plot was successful the militants could foment mass destruction on three continents.
Sherlock was sure that an exchange of data about caches of plutonium was happening in London before the end of the year. But when? Where? Now time was running short, and Sherlock was stumped. The latest message was an email--as always, from a frustratingly untraceable IP address--written in simple English. Sherlock could find no key in the text to unlock the code. And now he was distracted by Rosie's sulking and demands for attention.
"I'm bored," the girl declared, hanging upside down over the back of the sofa and occasionally dipping into a tin of mints and throwing them at the wall.
"I know the feeling. My sympathies. But I'm busy. You'll have to sort yourself out."
"What's your important business?"
"Solving a puzzle. The future of the world depends on it, so . . ."
Rosie snorted. "Huh. Daleks invading or something?" She stood up and rolled her eyes, before stepping gingerly towards him. "I'm good at puzzles. Let me look at it."
Sherlock glared at her as she perched on the arm of his chair, peering at the words on the screen. He was not going to try to explain geopolitical maneuverings to a silly . . .
"So the puzzle is about The Nutcracker, then? That's cool. What are you trying to figure out? Dad told me he'd get us tickets to the Bolshoi at Covent Garden, but then he waited too long and they're sold out. He's so frustrating, sometimes. He just doesn't catch on to what's important--it's like he sees and hears, but doesn't really pay attention, you know? I don't know why you want to be his boyfriend."
"Good observation. I often ask myself the same question, in fact. But what did you mean about The Nutcracker? Explain yourself."
"It's a famous ballet. Sugar Plum Fairy? Mouse army? You've never seen it?"
"No. I prefer opera. More violence, higher body counts. Continue."
Rosie pointed to the message on Sherlock's screen, which read:
The old man will bring gifts to delight the children. The first is in the bed on which our broken hero is laid. Another in the crown of the King. The last is held within the petals of the golden flower. See you under the tree at midnight.
Rosie explained, attempting a wobbly arabesque while she talked, " Well, Fritz and Clara are two of the characters. My friend Elinor played Clara last year at . . ."
Sherlock stopped the digression, narrowing his eyes menacingly.
"Okay, okay. So Fritz and Clara are the kids in the story, and the old man is Herr Drosselmeyer, who visits and brings a lot of gifts. One of the gifts--for Clara--is a nutcracker, which gets broken. See there: 'our broken hero,' that's him. She puts him in her doll bed to sleep. The king is the Mouse King. And when all the really brilliant dancing happens in the second act, there's a Waltz of the Flowers--all different colors--so that would be the golden flower, right? Are you hungry? I'm really hungry."
Sherlock leaped to his feet and began spinning Rosie around, grasping her shoulders and lifting her off the ground, grinning gleefully.
"Brilliant! Get your coat--no time for food, you must learn to do without when we're on a case--we're going to Covent Garden!"
"Shouldn't we leave a note for Dad?"
"Just text him and tell him to meet us. I'm texting my brother for reinforcements, in case things get dangerous."
"I don't have a mobile. Mum and Dad say I'm not old enough. Can we get some chips on the way?"
"That's moronic. How can you possibly communicate with anyone? I'll get you a mobile and some chips once we've found the data. Come on, I want to beat Mycroft."
Sherlock and Rosie took a cab to Covent Garden and raced into the soaring backstage area full of scaffolding, props, and costumes--all ready for the evening performance. Within minutes, Sherlock was exchanging pleasantries in Russian with the wardrobe mistress, who led him to the doll bed, the crown, and the flower costumes. The two detectives searched meticulously and found three computer memory sticks containing detailed maps and instructions for stealing the plutonium. Within a half hour, three men posing as stagehands for the traveling production were identified as part of the plot and taken for interrogation by Mycroft's counter-terrorism squad.
When Mycroft himself arrived, he offered a nod of congratulations to Sherlock, who pulled Rosie in front of him. "Mycroft, may I present Rosalie Lestrade, the person who cracked the code."
"Miss Lestrade," said Mycroft in his most honey-toned voice, bowing at the waist, "Honoured to meet you. Thank you for your service on behalf of Her Majesty and the British government."
Rosie nodded shyly and then tugged at Sherlock's sleeve. "Chips now?"
"Yes, right. Mycroft, we're going out for chips. Rosalie wants to see the production--I'm sure you can take care of that?"
"Consider it done," replied Mycroft, beckoning to Anthea, who began making arrangements for seats near William and Kate.
When Greg arrived back at his flat, he found Sherlock in the same spot as three hours earlier, and Rosie in the bedroom braiding her hair. Good, he thought, nothing happened while I was gone.
Before Greg could say hello and unpack his shopping bags, Mycroft arrived to announce that Anthea was waiting in the car to take Rosie to the performance. Sherlock and Greg were to meet them afterwards at the cast party, where Sherlock and Rosie would be officially congratulated by Charles, William, and Kate for saving the world from nuclear devastation.
Two kinds of cake would be served.
"Dad, it was a brilliant day! I'll text you the details from the car. Bye!" Rosie kissed her father and Sherlock, then raced out the door, holding Mycroft's hand. That, thought Greg, might be the most disturbing thing he'd ever seen . . .
Sherlock responded to Greg's desperate questioning stare by shoving him towards the bedroom.
"I'll explain later. Gift exchange. Now."
He tossed a red-ribboned box at Greg, which the D.I. opened slowly, wary of Sherlock's devilish grin.
"Sherlock, what the hell . . . tights? a crown? . . . a tail?" Greg was grinning broadly now too. "You've got to be kidding . . . Oy! Watch where you stick that bloody sword, please . . ."