As Sherlock was always keen to point out, Joan didn’t know about a lot of subjects. This was, of course, a comment that she could easily volley back as it held equally true for Sherlock, but Joan was willing to admit that she could always learn more. She hadn’t known self-defense, for example. She hadn’t known how to pick a lock. And the pertinent bit of ignorance to the case at hand, she hadn’t known much about hockey. She read about it occasionally in the sports page, usually on the way to the articles that she was actually here for, and she’d dated a nurse for a while who was passionately invested in the progress of the Pittsburgh Penguins, but she hadn’t gotten into the sport herself. She simply hadn’t had the time for a new interest, either as a surgeon or a sober companion.
As a detective, however, today she was apparently about to learn a lot about hockey.
“You’re going to watch sports,” Ms. Hudson said as Joan took her coat, “to solve a kidnapping case?”
“It makes more sense than you’d think,” Joan said, hanging the fine pea coat on the rack.
Sherlock was wrestling the TVs he’d brought downstairs into something resembling an order. “In addition to her mental trauma, Marcia Hall’s kidnappers kept her drugged and disoriented as they attempted to brainwash her into their familial cult,” he said. “However, she was able to provide us with a few important context clues about her imprisonment, most notable the once I’ve already described to you. If we can use them to figure out to get a face of her kidnappers, we might be able to trace them back to their source and the mysterious man behind the scenes.”
“And you can do that from one blurred memory of attending a hockey game?” Ms. Hudson asked.
“No,” Sherlock said as he flipped all seven screens on. “I believe I can do that from one blurred memory of a women’s hockey game. Unlike the NHL, the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, the primary women’s pro league, consists of only five teams who play a roughly thirty game seasons. Of those five teams, only one matches the hazy description she gave us of, and I quote, ‘a swarm of wild bees.’”
“The Boston Blades,” Ms. Hudson said. Sherlock looked up at her, impressed. Ms. Hudson shrugged and smiled. “I’m from Michigan. We know hockey.”
Sherlock waved her off and went back to the TVs. “Then go about your typical duties. If you’re a hockey fan, you’ll be too engaged by the action to scan the crowds for one girl’s face. Sort the papers in the study according to the method you applied to the Davidson Papers, though I’d advise against reading their contents too closely if you’ve a weak stomach this evening.”
“Sherlock,” Joan said sharply.
“Chronological by writer is the best direction here,” Sherlock continued as if he had not heard her. “None of them agree on the murder method and I’d rather sort through one chain of misassumptions at a time.”
“Sherlock!” Joan snapped, and glanced apologetically at Ms. Hudson. “She’s not here to do housework.”
“No?” He fiddled with the ball of wires matted behind the screens.
“No. She’s here because—”
“Because it’s Christmas Eve,” he said. “Ah yes, I knew I’d forgotten something. Your present is on the table, Ms. Hudson. It’s not wrapped because that’s a waste of paper, but you can close your eyes before you look at it if you like and accomplish the same results.”
“So I take it there’s not going to be a dinner,” Ms. Hudson said wryly as she and Joan walked towards the kitchen.
“Did he promise you a dinner?” Joan asked. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t know. I didn’t even know he’d invited you over until you knocked on the door.”
Ms. Hudson laughed. “You did look shocked. It’s alright, I know Sherlock. And he knows me. Maybe he just didn’t want any of us to be alone on Christmas.”
“And grab the remotes off the countertop!” Sherlock yelled from the living room.
“Oh yes,” Joan said. “I’m feeling the Christmas spirit.”
It was the night before Christmas, Joan thought as she sorted through the box of freshly delivered case files, and Sherlock Holmes was being an ass. For a man Joan would have sworn was the living incarnation of chaos when she’d first started working with him, Sherlock could be comfortingly consistent.
“Sherlock, Marcus doesn’t have to kiss you if he doesn’t want,” she said as she worked, and mentally filed that away as one of the odder sentences she’d had to say this evening.
“I don’t need you to defend my honor, Joan,” Bell said as he stared Sherlock down. “Man thinks I won’t kiss him, I’ll show him that I’ll kiss him.”
“Excellent,” Sherlock said, returning the stare with just as much intensity. “I feared you’d be rude enough to ignore the house rules while under my roof.”
“‘Everyone under the mistletoe must kiss’ is not one of our house rules,” Joan said, not that either man was listening. They were busy kissing the most aggressively professional kiss she’d ever seen. They both kept their eyes open, perhaps because neither wanted to be the first to blink. She didn’t even know where the mistletoe had come from. She’d come back twenty minutes ago from a grocery run for Ms. Hudson’s dinner plans to find the sprig of green hanging there from the ceiling between the kitchen and the parlor, a little challenged taunting everyone who walked underneath. Or maybe that was Sherlock.
“Boom!” Marcus said, spiking an imaginary football. “Kissed your scratchy-ass mouth and you can tell that to the precinct.”
“You are refreshingly secure in your masculinity, Detective,” Sherlock said.
“Nothing more masculine than scraping your lips against sandpaper. Now I’m gonna grab some of those delicious smelling cookies and get the hell back to my Christmas Eve dinner where I was having a very good time," Bell said pointedly, "before you told me there was an emergency."
“He told me there was a dinner party,” Ms. Hudson said, bringing out a fresh plate of sugar cookies for the detective.
“He told me nothing,” Joan said, “and now I’m working on Christmas Eve.”
“Yes, it’s a Christmas miracle,” Sherlock said. “Watson here was just complaining to me that she had nothing to do tonight.”
She shot him a glare. “Celebrating, Sherlock. I was celebrating. For the first time in years I’d managed to get out of my family’s holiday plans.”
“Ah yes,” Sherlock said. “I believe that’s because I told them that were would be too busy solving a horrific murder in Scotland. I’d be more than happy to call them back and amend my statement.”
Joan rolled her eyes and turned to Bell. “I do not understand why my mother has grown to love him so much.”
Sherlock walked back over to the TVs, each paused on a different game from the Boston Blades’ 2013 season. “It’s simple to make people love you if you lie about who you are, Watson. I rarely bother, but I am always successful when I do.”
“Yeah, well, maybe you should bother a bit more now and then,” Bell said through a mouthful of Ms. Hudson’s sugar cookies. “Make sure you get those files back to the precinct by morning.”
“With kidnapper in hand, perhaps,” Sherlock replied cheerfully.
Bell stuck the half-eaten cookie in Sherlock’s direction. “Don’t do anything stupid,” he said. “I’m serious. You get a lead, you call the cops. I’m not getting my consultant shot on Christmas Eve. Not before he’s bought me a present.”
Sherlock scoffed and turned back to the TV. “Christmas greed suits no one, Detective. Isn’t solving your crimes a present?”
“Man, that’s like buying your friend an album because you want to listen to it. Come on, Holmes. Did you see the gloves Ms. Watson got me? Those were some nice gloves. Merry Christmas, by the way.”
“Merry Christmas,” Joan said as she spread out the pictures of known associates of the Unity Cult.
“Same to you, Ms. Hudson,” Bell added. “Try and enjoy your evening even if you’ve got to spend it with him.”
“We’ll manage,” Ms. Hudson said as she leaning in the doorway to the kitchen. The light of the fireplace cast a warm glow over her that brought out the gold in her hair and the light in her eyes. She really did have a remarkable smile, Joan thought. It was nice to see.
Bell waved at Sherlock until Sherlock looked back over and said, “Merry Christmas to you too. I’ll see you in the morning. With a picture of the kidnapper in hand.”
“I promise, Detective,” Sherlock said, “it will be just your size.”
“I should boycott the Olympics,” Ms. Hudson was saying as she and Joan frosted the latest batch of cookies. “But, well, I’ve had a crush on Julie Chu since she started playing for the team, and you don’t get to see her on TV very often.”
“She’s the captain, right? Went to Harvard, the oldest member of the team?” Joan asked.
“That’s the one,” Ms. Hudson said. “Did you see her play?”
Joan shook her head. “But I’ve read about her. If someone’s written about an Asian American in the news, Mom’s probably sent the article about it.”
Ms. Hudson laughed. “Mine’s the same way. If it falls under the umbrella of LGBT news, Mom emails it to me with a little message like, ‘have you seen this? Also please call home soon.’ After all these years, I’ve given up on telling her that, yes, I definitely have seen this before she has.”
Joan finished up her little sugar angel’s frosting bowtie and moved it to the ‘done’ pile. “She sounds sweet.”
“She is, mostly. I think my career path’s broken her heart more than once, but she’s stopped telling me that if I don’t go back to law school, I’m going to starve in the streets.”
“You were in law school?”
Ms. Hudson scrunched her nose as she piped some pearls onto her angel. “That was a mistake. I enjoyed studying the law until I entered an institution dedicated to it. I wasn’t built for institutional learning.”
“Apparently you, Ms. Valedictorian,” Ms. Hudson joked.
“Are you blind?” Sherlock bellowed from the parlor. “That wasn’t a tackle. The only way they could have avoided running into each other is if one of them learned how to fly.”
Joan and Ms. Hudson looked at each other. “You alright in there?” Joan shouted.
“This ref knows nothing about his sport!”
“Not that I need to point it out,” Ms. Hudson said as she delicately iced in an angel’s skirt, “but I was banned from helping to look for Marcia Hall because I would get to overinvested.”
“Trust me,” Joan said. “I’ve been thinking that since the first time he shouted ‘foul’ fifteen minutes ago.”
“Do you mind if I ask you about your family?” Ms. Hudson asked as they sat on the couch. Sherlock was crouched right in front of the main screen, but there were six others Joan and Ms. Hudson could watch the game on.
“Not at all,” Joan said. “Is it about why I was so happy to avoid spending the holiday with them?”
Ms. Hudson smiled ruefully. “I’m too curious for my own good.”
“No such thing,” Sherlock said without looking away from the screen.
Joan smiled and tilted her head towards Sherlock. “What he said. It’s nothing sinister or sad. I love my family, but they get so intense around the holidays. And it’s a bit…competitive. It’s the first time in a year that we’re all together so everyone lays out what they’ve been doing. It can become a little bit of a contest of who’s living the best life.”
“You’re a consulting detective for the NYPD,” Ms. Hudson said. “I think that wins.”
“Over being a sober companion, maybe,” Joan said. “At least to my family. But over the last five years, I’ve steadily become the strangest Watson.”
“It’s true. They are most likely talking about you right now,” Sherlock said. “It’s what my family does when I am not there. Or when I’m there. It’s easier in many ways to remove yourself and let them speak unhindered.”
Joan spread her hands beneficently. “I give them the gift of gossip,” she said, and Ms. Hudson laughed. Joan really did like that laugh.
“I understand,” Ms. Hudson said. “The best thing that ever happened to me at family reunions was when my cousin got arrested for trying to commit insurance fraud. That’s how I met Sherlock, in fact. Sherlock got him arrested.”
“Oh!” Joan said. “That’s … an interesting start.”
“It helps that I really don’t like my cousin,” Ms. Hudson said. “Or much of my extended family. Truth be told,” she said, with a sly grin to Joan, “I’m glad for the excuse to skip seeing them myself.”
In front of the TV, Sherlock threw up his hands. “Is this ref blind?!”
At ten minutes to midnight, Sherlock started and dove for the remote. “There!” he whispered fiercely, jabbing his finger at the image paused on the screen. “Marcia Hall!”
Joan kicked the blanket off her lap and slid over as quietly as she could to join him in front of the screen. There, in the corner of the frame about halfway back in the loosely filled arena, was indeed a tiny Marcia Hall. “How did you see her?”
Sherlock scoffed, clearly chuffed with himself. “I’ll need to up your training, Watson. Any detective worth their salt could pull a face out of the crowd. Every time you watch your shows, you should be scanning for finer and finer details.”
“Or I could unwind and enjoy the experience,” she said. The look Sherlock gave her was unnecessarily pitying. Joan pointed at the woman beside Marcia, tall and slender with pitch-black hair. “Isn’t that the woman who claimed she left Unity years ago? She runs the youth group.”
“Apparently she isn’t as removed from the group as she claims,” Sherlock said grimly.
On the couch, Ms. Hudson mumbled and turned over in her sleep. Joan and Sherlock froze until she’d settled down again. Joan looked pointedly at Sherlock and pressed a finger to her lips. He rolled his eyes, but he stood and tiptoed with Joan to the kitchen, flicking off the lights as they went. Sherlock sat at the breakfast table and texted Bell as Joan made them both a cup of tea.
“Bell says he’s passing on the information to the commissioner now,” Sherlock said when Joan sat back down. “With luck, the high-profile nature of this case will compel him to push the warrant through quicker than the holiday season normally allows.”
“That’s good, at least,” Joan said. She opened one of the tins of cookies that she and Ms. Hudson had filled that evening and held it out to Sherlock.
“Good god, Watson, how many biscuits did you make?”
“About five tins,” she said. “It’s over a hundred cookies. We’re bringing them into the station tomorrow.” Joan shook the open tin at him until he took a cookie.
“And I suppose I’ll need to bring something nice as well,” Sherlock said.
“You’re bringing them a kidnapper,” Joan replied. “I think that’s good enough.”
He raised his eyebrow and chewed his cookie thoughtfully at her. “Oh God, that’s delicious.”
“It’s all Ms. Hudson, trust me.” Joan took a few cookies for herself before she passed the tin over. “It was good of you to invite her.”
Sherlock waved Joan off. “It isn’t a burden to have a good acquaintance over for dinner.”
“You didn’t actually provide dinner,” Joan pointed out.
“You saw how much she loves cooking.”
Joan snorted at that, but she was too full of Christmas cookies and related cheer to get worked up by Sherlock. Besides, Joan had to admit—she was tremendously glad that Ms. Hudson had cooked. She might have been a little more glad that when the cooking was over, she and Ms. Hudson had found themselves under the mistletoe and had played by the house rules. Joan didn’t know about that one. Things were still a bit new there. But the memory of it warmed her cheeks as much as the tea warmed her belly, and that was something worth filing away for future reference.
“Are we bad people,” she asked Sherlock, “for spending the holidays avoiding our families?”
He glanced up at her as he picked through the tin. “You know my answer.”
Joan pulled her feet up onto the chair and curled around her tea mug. “Of course. But I’d like to hear it again.”
Sherlock had a nice smile too when he allowed himself open up enough to give it. “You’re a good person, Joan Watson. One of the only interesting ones in the world.”
“That’s not your usual answer,” she said after a pause. “I thought you’d say something about not letting the sentimentality of society dictate your life or something.”
“Also true. Some mysteries have more than one solution,” Sherlock replied. He dug around in the cookie tin as Joan smiled into her mug. “Do you have any desire to attend a women’s hockey game should the opportunity present itself?”
“Did you already buy the tickets?” Joan asked.
Sherlock nibbled at edge of a snowman. “They’re very reasonably priced.”
Joan laughed quietly enough that she wouldn’t wake Ms. Hudson—Mary, maybe even, Ms. Hudson said Joan could call her Mary. “How can I argue with a case like that?” she said as she held out her hand, and Sherlock passed back the cookie tin without her needing to say another word.