Prompt: Boxing Day
Boxing Day dawned sunny and cold.
I awoke first and slid from the bed without disturbing Holmes, which is not something that happens often. That I could do so this morning was no doubt down to the fact of that third whisky with which we had toasted the season the previous night. I washed and shaved, then slipped upstairs to dress for the day and also to muss the bedding, a ridiculous farce in which we indulged only for form’s sake. Neither of us believed that Mrs Hudson was actually fooled by this pantomime, but we were all three content to pretend that she was.
All the niceties thus taken care of, I descended to the parlour and opened the door to indicate that breakfast would be welcomed. Billy appeared a few moments later, to stir the fire and deliver the newspapers. “Did you have a pleasant Christmas?” I asked him.
He grinned. “Yes, thank you, sir. Mrs Hudson made a lovely tea and we had crackers! Mine had a spiffing whistle inside.”
I noticed that he was preening a bit and belatedly took note of his garb. “And it appears that she also gifted you with a new jacket and trousers.”
“Ain’t they splendid?” He rubbed at one of the shiny buttons. “Look almost like real gold, don’t they?”
“Indeed.” I sat down at the table to peruse the papers as the boy finished with the fire and scampered back down the stairs.
As I read of a dreadful fire near London Bridge which had taken the lives of several people on Christmas day, I paid absent-minded attention to both the noises coming from the kitchen and those from nearer, which indicated that Holmes was now up and about. He arrived in the parlour shortly, well-turned out in his usual black suit and gleaming white shirt, but with a new pale green cravat, the colour of which served quite well to highlight his eyes. It was held in place by a silver tiepin, with a single perfect pearl. There were, as yet, no footsteps on the stairs, so I felt safe in saying, “Mr Holmes, you look quite dashing this morning.”
Much like Billy had done, Holmes preened after my words. Then he gave a faint smirk, letting his fingers linger of the soft cravat. “From the look in your eyes, one would think that these were a gift for you yourself rather than me.”
“I am quite capable of killing two birds with one stone,” I teased.
He cast an eye over my quite serviceable tweed suit. “I will have to wait until this evening, I suppose, to see how flattering your new dressing gown is.”
Before I could respond, we both heard the sound of Mrs Hudson bringing up the breakfast tray. Holmes joined me at the table and we settled into a fine meal of eggs, sausages, porridge and crispy toast, all washed down with a pot of good strong tea. I noticed the lacy edge of a new handkerchief poking from the pocket of Mrs Hudson’s pinafore and it seemed likely that each day for the foreseeable future we would see that sight, as Holmes had gifted her with a dozen of the finest French linen handkerchiefs. I could also detect the faint hint of the lavender eau de toilette which had been my gift to our redoubtable landlady.
All in all, it seemed that there was a most contented household in 221B Baker Street on this bright December morning.
It was not long after breakfast that Holmes began to make the preparations to go out on his usual Boxing Day errand. I watched him for a moment and then folded the newspaper carefully. “It is a fine day for your traditional ramble through the alleyways and hovels of London. Better than last year’s chill and ice.”
He was pre-occupied with filling the pockets of his greatcoat with numerous small cotton pouches that jingled with the noise of the coins inside and only hummed in reply.
“I actually thought of accompanying you today, my dear fellow. If you have no objection to my company, of course.”
Holmes looked at me, apparently surprised by my words, and no doubt rightfully so, as I had never suggested such a thing previously. But given the recent change in our relationship, I felt as if this were something I wanted to do.
“You are under no obligation,” Holmes began. Then he stopped speaking and just looked at me. “Bugger that,” he fiercely. Holmes rarely used profanity, so I deduced [yes, I sometimes do that] that this meant something to him. “Everything is always improved by your company, Watson, so do indeed feel obligated and come with me.”
I could not help grinning at him, before fetching my own coat and hat.
We paused in the downstairs entry only long enough for Holmes to give Billy one of the little pouches and for me to pass him several coins as well. He gave a proper ‘thank you’, no doubt helped along by the careful eye being kept on him by Mrs Hudson standing nearby. He moved with alacrity to open the door for us and we stepped outside.
Holmes bent his arm towards me, I tucked my own around it and we set off into the sunny day.
Although I was no stranger to the darkest aspects of London, that great cesspool, due both to my time with Holmes and my role as a physician, some of the corners we visited on that Boxing Day still surprised and dismayed me. Holmes was intent on distributing the bags of coins to as many of his ‘Irregulars’ as possible. The children were huddled in rundown rooms, with no parent in sight. Or they dwelt in makeshift campsites situated on the stony strips of land under the bridges of the city.
Holmes did not patronise them or express useless pity over their situations. Instead, he gave out the coins, commented pleasantly on the weather or upon the likelihood of there being, as one cheeky lad put it, “a bloody good murder case soon.”
One of the few girls we saw was sporting a grimy pink ribbon in her tangled, filthy hair. Holmes complimented her on it and she beamed.
“Lady throwed it right down on the pavement,” she said, touching the strip of satin proudly. “Can you figger that?”
“Silly woman.” Holmes said, handing the girl a pouch.
Like every single child we saw that day, she said a careful ‘thank you.’
I resolved that next year I would bring along at least a rudimentary medical bag, so that at the least I could treat their scrapes and bruises.
It took us hours to complete this Children’s Crusade and the sun was beginning its descent as we reached Baker Street at last. I was more than ready for my tea, but still I paused in front of the door before opening it. “You realise that the man I watched today was the exact opposite of the one I portray in my stories, don’t you?”
We had climbed the stairs and Holmes was hanging his greatcoat on its hook before he turned a smirk on me. “So once a year I become human, is that what you are saying?”
I crossed the room and took the whisky bottle from the cabinet; after hours in the cold, we had each earned a drink while waiting for our tea. We took the whisky, settled into our chairs before the fire and it was then that I finally answered his question. “You are always human, Holmes, and no one knows that better than I. If you choose to show the world a different face---with my assistance---I understand why.” And I truly did understand that it was less dangerous if the world believed in the idea of a cold, emotionless consulting detective confronting the evil in this modern London. Most especially, given our relationship, this was an undeniable truth.
And, shamefully, I privately admitted that there was a kind of illicit pleasure to be found in knowing that I was probably the only person in the world [save his family, of course] who knew and truly understood the mad genius, Sherlock Holmes.
Our tea arrived and Mrs Hudson indulged us with warm scones and cream, which did serve to remind me that there were some others who appreciated Holmes and were prepared to bestow kindness upon him.
I leant back in my chair and sipped the most welcome tea, while at the same time congratulating myself yet again on the choice of the green cravat, which so delightfully highlighted both that long pale neck and Holmes’ eyes. Not to mention my excellent choice of the silver tiepin, which served so well to bring out the platinum touches in his verdant eyes.
In my own way, it seemed, I was a bit of a genius as well.
Hours later, when our dinner was only a pleasant memory and the door was locked for the night, I walked into the parlour wearing the new dressing gown Holmes had given me. It was certainly more luxurious than my everyday garment of muted plaid cotton. Indeed, I felt quite decadent.
The dressing gown was made of heavy silk, in a shade of dark brown, edged with gold. I did not want to contemplate the cost.
When I entered the room, Holmes looked up from the antique volume on poisons that his brother had sent him. He stared at me.
I struck a pose, not unlike that of a mannequin in some fine shoppe. “So,” I said. “Do I wear it well?”
Holmes swallowed. “You wear it perfectly,” he murmured. “And I cannot wait to remove it from your body.”
I heard the heat in his voice. “Some brandy first, I think.”
We sat side-by-side on the settee, pressed together from shoulder to knee. Holmes rested his free hand on my thigh, smoothing silk over flesh. His hand was warm and unspeakably gentle. Rather unusually for us, there was no conversation. We simply drank the brandy and indulged in sweetly slow kisses. At times like this, I felt not only loved, but somehow cherished.
It occurred to me that this tender man was the one I loved.
When the brandy was gone and the sweet kisses had become less innocent, we stood, linked hands as if even a brief separation was unbearable, and went to our bed. True to his word, Holmes very soon had me bereft of not only the dressing gown, but also my nightshirt and I had him similarly bare.
We made love and that was the most precious gift of all.
Addendum: It would be remiss of me not to mention that on the next day, as we found ourselves pounding down a Thames-side footpath in pursuit of the murderous arsonist, I could not help watching Holmes. He put on a burst of speed, leapt over a small fence and tackled the miscreant to the ground. I joined him in restraining the man until Lestrade’s slow-footed constables could catch us up.
Still breathing heavily, I met Holmes’ gaze, which was filled with the joy of the chase and the victory and I thought: This is the man I love.
Sentiment, as I am sure Holmes would agree, is complicated.