“So, do you observe Christmas?” John had asked, months ago.
“Tedious social ritual,” Sherlock answered, and promptly forgot the discussion.
The day before Christmas, Sherlock failed to properly observe, a lapse that at any other time would have resulted in a case lost, a criminal escaped. All because the first clue, so small and subtle, teased at his sleep-fogged senses in a way that slid past his rational brain and right into his subconscious.
The coffee was a dark roast, served not with sugar but black, momentarily jarring him before the taste slipped over his tongue. Hawaiian, he identified at once — a kona Maragogype. Hints of spiced cocoa too subtle to be chocolatey, with sweet vanilla overtones, bright without being acidic.
Where in the world had this come from? The coffee was in his usual cup, a mug he’d acquired at CERN, and no one else but John was present in the flat. And John wouldn’t know kona from Asda. Perhaps a grateful client had sent a bag of kona in thanks?
As Sherlock swallowed the first, bliss-inducing sip, the noise that emerged from his throat bordered on the obscene.
John laughed softly and murmured, “All right, then.” He left Sherlock to his caffeine-laced ecstasy.
An hour later, Sherlock found himself in the middle of synthesizing a complex reproduction of a chemical used to test explosive residue, having been forbidden from acquiring the real thing from the NSY forensics lab. He reached to his right, to where, in his student days, he would’ve kept the litmus strips. Now, though, John insisted on keeping that one spot clear for the toaster, which meant the litmus strips were elsewhere —
Startled to feel a little cardboard box rather than an unyielding metal toaster, Sherlock looked away from the reaction. John’s toaster was gone, and in its place was not just the box of litmus strips, but the rack of spare test tubes, the pipettes... The whole table, in fact, was rearranged precisely as Sherlock’s lab bench had been, back in uni.
Had he really been working here for an hour without noticing?
Had John done this? Who else would have? No one. But how would John have known?
Instead, he asked the most important question: “Why, John?”
But there was no answer. Sherlock looked around the silent, empty flat for a moment before noting that John’s black jacket was gone. At some point, he’d apparently left.
With a shrug, Sherlock snatched one of the litmus strips out of the box and went back to his work.
Sherlock flipped open the violin case before remembering he needed to change the strings. Weeks ago, he’d tried to play, only to discover that the sound was all wrong. Though John had sworn he couldn’t hear any difference, to Sherlock’s ears, the tired strings produced a jarring dissonance. He’d stubbornly refused to play since then, though he hadn’t actually ordered replacement strings yet.
Still, he might as well check the instrument, perhaps practice the complex fingering for a piece he was composing. He lifted the violin and started to turn away when he spotted a small, flat box leaning against the side of the case with a familiar orange and seafoam green print.
Baffled, he switched the violin to his left hand and picked up the box. Dr Thomastik Vision Titanium Solo strings. His preferred brand.
Had he ordered them and then deleted the purchase from his memory? Had John found them when he’d gone through the post and left them by the violin case?
For one moment, he felt a twinge of irritation. Why hadn’t John told him? He’d been wanting to play for ages. Frustrated, he turned towards the table so he could set about changing the strings —
He turned back to look at the glass display case to the left of the window. On the bottom shelf next to three shrunken heads, there was a photograph of Sherlock’s lab from his university days.
Thinking furiously, he turned back to the table. A shopping bag full of boxed fairy lights was on John’s side of the table. They were supposed to host an event tonight — a Christmas party.
Slowly, Sherlock sat down, pieces falling into place. The luxurious coffee. The kitchen table given over entirely to his chemistry. The strings he’d been wanting for ages.
Christmas Eve, he thought.
Sherlock didn’t do Christmas. But with the proper incentive, Sherlock could analyse a situation, formulate a plan, and execute said plan with military precision, all in a matter of hours.
So when John came back from shopping, laden with bags and damp from the rain, he entered a flat transformed. Fairy lights sparkled over the windows, mantle, and mirror. The fireplace was crackling, filling the flat with the scent of woodsmoke and cinnamon-infused pinecones. Sherlock, dressed in stark, striking black, was silhouetted at the window, teasing a sweet melody from his new strings, and though he could hear the subtle discord — the strings weren’t broken in, after all — he had no doubt that John’s unrefined ear would hear only pleasing notes.
He timed it with care, the last notes dying out just as John walked into the kitchen. He stopped, looking through the doorway to the living room, and slowly set down the grocery bags with barely a rustle of plastic.
Sherlock turned from the window and met John’s gaze. He looked tired from fighting the crowds, but his dark blue eyes lit up with pleasure as he took in the decorations. “This... It’s fantastic, Sherlock,” he said, smiling.
The expression stole the breath from Sherlock’s lungs. His instinct was to dismiss his work on the flat as insignificant, to scold John for thinking Sherlock was incapable of putting to use a staple gun and basic principles of electrical wiring, and on any other day, he might have done.
But not today. Tonight. Christmas Eve.
Sherlock nodded, and John seemed to take that as answer enough. John smiled, the expression warm and open, and went to put away the groceries. Sherlock set down the violin and bow and then crossed the living room, stopping in the kitchen doorway. “John.”
John turned away from the groceries and walked over. “Need help with more lights?”
In answer, Sherlock silently looked up, directing John’s attention to the snowy white and pale green sprig that Sherlock had so carefully suspended in the doorway.
John’s head tipped back. He went very still, his expression carefully schooled into a mask of polite confusion.
But underneath that confusion, Sherlock saw the truth. He observed the sudden hope in John’s eyes, the way he took a quick breath and swallowed.
But Sherlock hesitated, poised between two possible futures. Behind him was a familiar, comfortable partnership — even, he dared to think, friendship.
Ahead was unknown.
Everything John had done today could have been a simple gesture of friendship, a way to sneak a bit of Christmas spirit into 221B without obliging Sherlock to reciprocate. The coffee, the kitchen table, the violin strings... Did they even need to tally debts owed and debts paid? Did friends keep track of such things? Sherlock could step back, and he knew John would still be there at his side.
Slowly, so very slowly, Sherlock took the last step into the kitchen doorway, watching as John’s eyes widened. Heart pounding, Sherlock lowered his head, giving John every opportunity to retreat, to put up a hand, to laugh and turn this all into a humourous misunderstanding. He’d tease Sherlock about not understanding the proper use of mistletoe, and Sherlock would snap about holiday idiocy, and that would be that.
John lifted his chin — a slight, subtle, welcoming motion.
Their lips touched, and Sherlock forgot how to breathe. John’s lips were chapped but soft, rough and warm, and he leaned up into the kiss with a gentle pressure as if to say yes and it’s all right.
Finally, the anxiety ebbed into a curious sort of joy that somehow rivalled the moment of discovery at the end of a complex case. No, it wasn’t curious at all. John was the most complex case Sherlock had ever encountered.
“Merry Christmas, John,” Sherlock whispered.
John smiled. “Merry Christmas, Sherlock.”