John wrapped the last of the chipolatas in bacon and wondered for the hundredth time what he'd been thinking when he'd offered to host Christmas dinner at Baker street.
Well, all right, he knew what he'd been thinking: Harry and Clara were making a go at patching things up, and inviting them to celebrate Christmas in neutral-but-friendly territory seemed like a clever tactic at the time. Get them someplace new, not haunted by the ghosts of past Christmases, somewhere they could make a fresh start. So his blurted-out invitation hadn't been entirely the result of temporary insanity.
But now the gathering was imminent, it was hard to keep that in mind.
The first hurdle – telling Sherlock that he'd unilaterally invited guests in the first place – had been cleared with surprising ease. John had feared some sort of blow-up, or at least a haughty huff, but Sherlock had blinked, like a considering cat, and nodded. “All right,” was all his flatmate had to say at the time. John had only learned about the hidden catch when they were shopping for supplies.
Sherlock, once committed to the idea of playing host, had taken charge of the meal planning and gone through the grocery store like a pro, all sweeping confidence and laser focus, proving something John had long suspected: Sherlock could get along with retail establishments just fine . . . provided he was properly motivated.
John, trailing in Sherlock's wake, had only been shaken from his bemusement when he realized exactly how much food Sherlock was piling up. “Um, Sherlock, there's only four of us,” he'd offered. And one of us is a vampire, went unsaid but implied.
“Five,” Sherlock had corrected, frowning at a display of bagged, fresh cranberries (no tins this year; Sherlock was something of a food snob when he bothered to pay attention) and tapping his lips thoughtfully with a fingertip. “Mycroft will be attending as well.”
”What?” John yelped, and heads turned in their direction, prompting him to drop his volume. “Since when?” he added, in a hissing whisper.
“Since he informed me he was planning to be there,” Sherlock said, picking up a bag of berries and hefting it. He shot a sidelong glance at his fuming flatmate and added, “He is family. You invited your relatives without consulting me, and . . . I've learned, with Mycroft, it's important to pick one's battles. He will 'check up' on me this Christmas, one way or another, and having him do so openly will at least keep him where I – we – can see him. Or would you prefer I force him into engineering something more secretive, underhanded and invasive?”
The fact that Mycroft already knew about the intended gathering (and John was certain Sherlock wouldn't have mentioned it to his brother) was pretty bloody invasive in itself, but he bit his tongue. Sherlock did have a point – more than one, in fact, John's rash decision to make the invite in the first place coming 'round to bite him in the arse at last.
“Better get two packs of cranberries, then,” John gritted out.
Sherlock nodded, tossing the the bags into his basket before turning with a dramatic coat-swirl and heading to the meat aisle where he proceeded to select a by-God Christmas goose. John hadn't been particularly surprised; he doubted the brothers Holmes had been raised to expect anything so modern and plebeian as turkey.
The goose was now occupying a roasting pan in the oven; Sherlock had managed to cram not only the hefty bird into the relatively tiny appliance, but also a separate pan of potatoes and parsnips. In John's experience, people who displayed natural talent in the laboratory also tended to be good cooks – the same skill set at work – and Sherlock was proving to be no exception.
The world's only consulting detective was stirring a bubbling pot of cranberries (spiked with orange and ginger, from the smell of them) and looking perfectly at ease in his good suit trousers and a crisp white designer shirt with the cuffs rolled up, a folded tea-towel slung over one shoulder like this season's newest fashion accessory. If John had dressed like that in the kitchen it would have been an invitation to disaster, but Sherlock's fine clothes were still immaculate. He seemed like some elegant celebrity chef, moving with casual grace, never measuring anything except by eye, confidently applying the contents of a collection of unmarked spice jars John hadn't even known they owned.
Sherlock nodded approval at the cranberry sauce and shifted the pan off the heat before cracking the oven door and inhaling the fragrant steam that seeped out.
“Still smells a bit like blood,” he announced, as if it were a perfectly ordinary observation, “but cooking right on schedule.”
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why you'll never find a vampire hosting a cooking show, John thought, grinning and shaking his head as he slid the baking tray of completed pigs in a blanket to one side and reached for the printout of Harry's email containing their mother's bread sauce recipe. John had never made it himself before and he might not be the intuitive cook Sherlock was, but he was confident in his ability to make measurements and follow directions.
He'd got as far as sticking a few cloves haphazardly into a peeled onion before a long arm slid around his waist and a lean body pressed against his from behind.
“All of this,” a low baritone rumbled in John's ear, “is making me hungry.”
John closed his eyes and prayed for strength. Sherlock tended to get randy at the most inconvenient times, probably on purpose.
“Cooking, here, Sherlock,” he said, adding an edge of testiness to his voice. He jabbed another clove into the onion for emphasis.
“No, you're not,” Sherlock purred, kissing the side of John's neck. “You're preparing to cook. You haven't started yet.” Sherlock's lips were velvet-soft, sending a shiver straight to John's groin, but he resisted.
“Sherlock, we've got guests on the way . . .”
“Who won't be here for another hour or two – and I'm hungry now,” Sherlock whispered, cool breath brushing John's cheek and ear. John set down the onion and braced shaky hands on the worktop, closing his eyes. Sherlock's scent curled through John's nasal passages and then went straight to his reptile brain. It was a lost battle at this point, and John knew it, but he was still too innately stubborn to give in right away.
“I'd rather not greet my sister at the door with a set of fresh fang-marks in my neck, thanks,” he growled. “She's got enough issues with her brother being a werewolf. Best not spring any new surprises on her just yet.”
“I wasn't thinking,” Sherlock said, “of biting your neck.” Strong hands turned John around to face his flatmate and Sherlock, shameless and feral, slid down the length of John's body in the process of kneeling at his feet. He rubbed his cheek, catlike, against the front of John's jeans, then mouthed at the denim, making John gasp as arousal spiked fast and hard. He leaned back against the worktop for support, no longer trusting his knees to hold him upright.
Sherlock looked up with a small, smug smile quirking the corners of his mouth. His eyes were so pale they were practically luminous. He was playful, dangerous and infuriatingly beautiful.
“Do you want me to stop?” he asked, running a teasing fingertip along John's belt buckle. It was, possibly, the most rhetorical question in the history of the world.
John, already breathing hard, swallowed. “I hate you,” he said, with feeling.
Sherlock, hearing the resignation behind the words, gave a fang-filled grin of triumph and began unbuckling John's belt, his pale eyes going black in anticipation.
John flung open the door with more force than strictly necessary and beamed at his sister and sister-in-law. “Harry! Clara! Hi!” he chirped. The two women looked taken aback by the intensity of his greeting, Clara's eyebrows going up and Harry's going down. John desperately attempted to dial back the combined aftereffects of a spectacular blow job and a pint's worth of blood loss. The bite mark on his upper thigh, where Sherlock had fed from the femoral artery, was still throbbing with a warm blend of pleasure and pain that did nothing to reduce John's endorphin high.
Clara was the first to recover. She set down the bag she was carrying and moved to embrace him. “Good to see you, John,” she said, resting her chin on his shoulder.
“You, too,” John sighed, closing his eyes, unable to keep himself from turning his face into her hair as he breathed in deeply, letting her familiar scent light up all the neurons in his brain relating to family and home. He had no doubt she knew what he was doing, and she gave his shoulder blades an affectionate little squeeze with her hands. It's true what they say, he thought, feeling for the first time in a long while as if it were genuinely Christmas, about the family you find.
But the moment could only last so long, and then it was time to greet Harry, the family fate had dealt him – to their mutual dismay. She looked unsettled and standoffish, but determined; John understood exactly how she felt, since he was experiencing the same emotions himself. Looking at her was, as always, like looking into a weird, gender-swapping mirror; there was a reason people had taken them for twins when they were children, despite the two years' age gap between them. “Happy Christmas, John,” she said, her hands stuffed in the pockets of her jeans.
“Happy Christmas, Harry,” John replied, giving her a small, complicated smile made of equal parts genuine and forced pleasure. He was saved from having to say anything else when he heard Sherlock approaching and John turned to make the introductions.
“Harry, Clara, this is Sherlock; Sherlock, Harry and Clara,” he said, waving back and forth between everyone and stepping back so the others could trade handshakes.
Sherlock, with his shirt sleeves rolled down and suit jacket on, smiled with every ounce of feigned charm he possessed. “It's wonderful to meet you both,” he said, with entirely believable warmth. John had to admit the slight flush of being newly-fed looked good on his flatmate, and wondered if that had been one of Sherlock's reasons for seducing him in the kitchen.. Probably; Sherlock tended to play life as if it were tournament chess, every move calculated in advance.
He certainly made an impression; Harry blinked, looking surprised, and Clara was even a tiny bit flustered. John found himself experiencing the contradictory urge to simultaneously warn Sherlock off his female relatives, and to defend his flatmate – all right, his boyfriend – from any outside advances.
Oh, it's going to be a weird afternoon, John thought as two different portions of his life intersected before his eyes. And Mycroft isn't even here yet.
Yes, there's finally an update for this – a bit over a year late, but it's here. Yay. I split this into more chapters than originally planned, since it grew larger over time as stories are wont to do, and so I can post sooner than I would if I kept it all one giant lump. Once again, Yamx did beta duty, and once again I tweaked after she was done, so all errors are mine. Thanks for waiting, and reading!
Greetings over, Clara hefted her bag and the women were ushered into 221B Baker Street.
“Oh!” Clara said, looking up. “What lovely high ceilings! They give you so much space!”
Harry, following Clara's glance, wrinkled her nose. “Bet they don't do your heating bill any favors.”
Which, in John's opinion, summed up both women in a nutshell.
Clara's bag yielded a casserole dish full of sprouts, cooked to the Watson family recipe, a couple bottles of sparkling fruit juice, and a package of Christmas crackers. At that point, it became logical to relocate to the kitchen to settle everything.
The skull on the mantelpiece earned a double-take in passing, though no comments, as did the distillation apparatus on the kitchen table. Sherlock had refused to disassemble the latter, since it had taken him nearly a week to set it up, and John had eventually capitulated: the notion of picking one's battles applied every bit as much to Sherlock as to his brother. John had managed to convince himself the gleaming array of glassware and ring stands looked rather decorative, like an abstract sculpture. Besides, it wasn't really in the way once the condenser hose had been disconnected from the sink.
Harry, taking charge of the fruit juice, opened the fridge and stopped short when confronted by the dense array of opaque plastic snap-top containers stacked on the refrigerator shelves like bricks in a castle wall. John was glad he'd insisted on on the containers. He'd known Harry would want to snoop, and this way Sherlock could keep his temperature-sensitive experiments in place without Harry getting an eyeful.
“That's . . . well-stocked,” Harry commented.
“Oh, yes,” Sherlock said, with an airy wave of his hand, the model of slightly-distracted normality. “John and I do a lot with leftovers. Just put the bottles in the door.”
John chalked up a score for his and Sherlock's side, and helped Clara get the sprouts warming.
Distillation apparatus or no, the kitchen table wouldn't have been large enough to seat everyone, so the living room table – entirely cleared-off for the first time in John's memory – had been pressed into service. They hadn't quite got around to setting the table, thanks to Sherlock's little diversion in the kitchen earlier, but once the sprouts were in the oven, Clara stepped in to help John lay out the least-mismatched dishes and utensils from his and Sherlock's motley bachelor collection. John couldn't help wondering, in retrospect, if he shouldn't have bought some candles or something, but by the time Clara finished adding a brightly-wrapped cracker to each place setting it all looked festive enough, if a bit bare-bones.
As her brother and partner worked on the table, Harry wandered through the sitting room, examining the eccentric collection of books and memorabilia. Sherlock detached himself from the kitchen and drifted after her, ostensibly being an attentive host, but (John suspected) in reality making sure Harry wouldn't start rummaging around in his things. Sherlock was very protective of his belongings, despite his inclination to pile them haphazardly on any available surface.
John, watching from the corner of his eye, saw Harry pause, arms crossed, in front the the shelf holding Sherlock's criminology and abnormal psychology texts. Thankfully, Sherlock's occult texts (including the ancient grimoire John suspected was bound in human skin), were kept in a shelf in the bedroom, away from casual traffic.
Harry squinted at titles, and while John couldn't see her face, her body language was less than approving. She turned from the books to study Sherlock, who flashed her a bland, tight-lipped smile.
“You don't come across in person the way you do on your website,” she told him.
Sherlock's eyebrows went up. “And how do I 'come across' on my website?”
“Mad,” Harry said.
Fortunately for her, Sherlock was on his best behavior. “Ah. Well. Those of us with a polysyllabic vocabulary prefer the term 'eccentric,'” he offered kindly.
Clara, although facing away from the others, had obviously been eavesdropping. She paused in setting down a fork, closing her eyes and biting her lip, suppressing laughter. She loved Harry a great deal, but John knew she thought her partner deserved to be taken down a notch occasionally.
Harry blinked, then managed a grudging half-smile. To her credit, she respected people who gave as good as they got. “I'm sure you do,” she said.
There was a knock at the door. “That'll be Mycroft,” Sherlock said, with another bland smile. “Pardon me.” He went to let his brother in.
John fiddled with the last place setting and took a deep, fortifying breath.
“Is this where things get interesting?” Clara asked in an undertone, sidling closer. She was smiling, and there was a wicked, merry gleam in her eye.
“You have no idea,” John murmured back.
“Mycroft!” Sherlock's glad cry of greeting almost managed to be free of sarcasm. “Do come in and meet everyone!”
John fixed a pleasant smile on his face and stepped forward in host-mode. “Good to see you again,” he said, in what he hoped was a passably sincere voice. He was surprised to see Mycroft alone – he'd half expected “Anthea” to be trailing along – but there were probably hidden snipers stationed on the surrounding rooftops to balance things out. “Mycroft, this is my sister . . .”
“Harriet,” Mycroft cut in, as he offered her his hand. He was being aggressively suave and upper-class today, his smile so broad he managed to look a bit less ferret-y than usual. Harry, with a mildly shell-shocked look on her face, shook his hand automatically. John supposed getting a full dose of double-barreled Holmes personality was a bit much even for her, especially since Sherlock had been toning things down thus far.
“And Clara,” Mycroft continued, moving on. “I recognize you both from your photographs.”
“Really?” Harry said. “I didn't think John had kept any pictures.” She glanced around the sitting room again, clearly wondering if she'd overlooked something.
John hadn't kept any pictures. If Mycroft had seen photographs of Harry and Clara, that meant . . .
Realization struck, swamping the normally controlled portions of John's brain with a wave of primal anger and outrage. He missed a bit of the friendly small talk going on around him while wrestling with his reaction, then snapped back to full awareness and fixed on Mycroft with hyper-sharp tunnel vision.
John was vaguely aware of the others moving back towards the kitchen, but he stepped forward, blocking Mycroft from following. Sheer habit kept John's expression neutral-to-pleasant, but underneath he was a tight, seething mass of protective rage.
“I'd appreciate it if you left my family alone,” John said, locking gazes with Mycroft. “You can spy on me if you must, but they're none of your business.” The phrasing was mild, but combined with John's body language and unfaltering eye contact it was nothing short of an open threat, in lycanthrope terms.
Like many dangerous creatures, human shapeshifters tended to settle arguments as much through posturing and ritual as actual combat. Battles were fought with stance, gesture, and sheer strength of will as often as with fangs and claws, using a subtle system of physical cues. A normal human, watching such a conflict, would “read” it as no more than an unusually tense, curt conversation. It was a sign of John's extreme agitation that he'd shifted into confrontation mode at all – especially directed at an ordinary human, who probably wouldn't get the message in the first place, much less be able to respond in kind.
Mycroft's chin went up a few millimeters, his entire bearing underwent a subtle change, and John found himself facing an opponent whose entire body conveyed complete confidence and dominance, as abrupt and forceful as a thrown punch.
Wait, John thought, what . . .? but by then Mycroft was speaking.
“May I point out,” Mycroft said, in a cool, even voice, “that you are intimately involved with my younger brother, Doctor Watson. That makes you, and the people close to you, very much my business. You are far more involved with my family than I am with yours – if, indeed, those boundaries still apply.” He gestured in the direction of the kitchen, where Sherlock, Harry and Clara were rattling things around and chatting, apparently oblivious to what was going on in the next room. “Witness today's festivities. Now, if you'll pardon me . . .”
Still moving in a manner that conveyed absolute control, Mycroft broke eye contact with John and walked past him, turning his back on a defeated opponent without the slightest fear of reprisal. It was a performance worthy of a powerful, experienced shapeshifter – which Mycroft definitely was not.
John stared dumbly at Mycroft's back. It felt like he'd just taken part in – and lost – a knock down, drag out fight. Which, in a sense, he had. His stunned, scattered thoughts bounced back and forth between I've been out-alphaed by a normal human in my own home, how the hell did that happen . . .? and Did Mycroft just imply we were family . . . ?
“John!” Sherlock called from the kitchen. “Come give me a hand, will you?” John shook himself back to the present and obeyed, helping Sherlock shift the roast goose to a serving platter.
While they worked, Sherlock gave John a not-unsympathetic sidelong glance. “Mycroft has that effect on people. There's a reason our government sends him to negotiate with the Fae,” he remarked in an undertone, before whisking the roasting pan away for gravy-making purposes.
Dear God, John thought, leaning against the worktop for support, why do I get the feeling this sort of thing used to happen all the time at their Christmas dinners?
Setting out the serving dishes and passing them around went well enough. There were no more disconcerting incidents and the food was excellent. Conversation progressed carefully, on safe, neutral topics. John had just started to relax when Harry tsked at Sherlock. “Really, that's all you're eating?” she asked. “John,” she continued, redirecting her attention, “you should feed this man of yours better; he's already thin enough to blow away in a stiff breeze!”
John, who hadn't been paying attention, took a startled inventory of Sherlock's plate. As a vampire, Sherlock got most of the energy he needed from the protein and life force in blood, but still required a small quantity of regular food for additional calories and nutrients – little as he liked ingesting them sometimes. Today, Sherlock had taken half-portions of most dishes, making a hearty meal for someone with his metabolism. However, had he been a normal human, it would have been scant rations, indeed. It didn't help that he was sitting next to John, who'd helped himself to large, shapeshifter-sized servings. Normally it worked well – between them, they ate enough for two normal people.
“Um,” John said, trying to come up with an appropriate response; Harry really was trying, he knew. Her remark was an attempt to show interest in a friendly, humorous way, even though she came off sounding bossy and intrusive.
“Oh, don't worry about me,” Sherlock said, with one of his faux-sincere smiles. “I had a nibble in the kitchen earlier.”
“I thought you looked particularly well-fed today,” Mycroft interjected, managing to almost-but-not-quite avoid an insinuating tone. “John's doing?”
John opened his mouth, but what he wanted to say jammed up against the need for politeness, and nothing came out. Fortunately, nobody was paying attention to him.
“Cook's prerogative,” Sherlock said without missing a beat, smile thinning.
“Well, it's all marvelous,” said Clara. “I'd say you earned the right to do some sampling ahead of time.”
Mycroft smiled, and John seriously considered passing out (or at least falling out of his chair) as an escape strategy, but Mycroft merely raised his glass of fruit juice. “Indeed,” he said. “To the cooks!”
After the toast, Clara organized the pulling of crackers, the contents of which were dutifully enjoyed. Even Sherlock had to smile at the terrible jokes, but John wasn't quite sure he'd ever manage to purge the image of Mycroft wearing a pink paper crown from his memory.
When they'd finished the meal with some of Mrs. Hudson's excellent mince pies, it was time for presents. John, for once, was confident that he'd done a good job with his Christmas shopping and watched the proceedings with good cheer.
Clara had been the easiest; John had found a silk scarf covered in soft swirls of blues and greens. It was absolutely Clara's style, and something he knew she'd wear. As far as harry went, she and John had a long-running tradition of giving each other nice-but-impersonal presents, the sort exchanged by people who feel obligated, but don't know each other well enough to shop for specific interests. At the same department store where he'd found the scarf, John had chanced upon a bracelet of sleek, heavy metal links that was plain enough for Harry's austere tastes – the fact that it happened to be made of sterling silver was an added bonus. Let Harry make of that what she would. John wasn't above dispensing a little confusion with his gifts.
For Sherlock, John had hoped to find a suitable book. Unfortunately, gifting books to Sherlock was like taking proverbial coals to Newcastle, and given the disarray of Sherlock's library John was never completely certain what titles his flatmate did and didn't have. After a short while spent drooling over an antique volume of herbal poisons that would have been perfect if it hadn't been so far out of John's budget, he'd changed plans.
Sherlock looked genuinely surprised, and pleased, when he unwrapped a pair of fine leather gloves. He was even more surprised when they fit perfectly, to John's smug delight. Sherlock always wore gloves in daylight as added protection against ultraviolet, and, thanks to crime scenes, breaking-and-entering escapades, and everyday wear and tear, he went through them quickly. These gloves were of exceptionally high quality, good enough to last for a while, black and sleek – and they'd also been on sale, since they were an unusual size. The perfect combination.
John's gift to Mycroft was a copy of Machiavelli's The Prince, handsomely bound in leather, with the original Italian text in parallel to the English translation. John had spotted it at the antique booksellers where he'd found the text on poisons, and been attracted by the fine binding. The price had been exceptionally low; the bookseller had shrugged and said the volume hadn't received much attention and he was tired of looking at it. It wasn't Sherlock's sort of thing, but when John learned Mycroft would be attending Christmas dinner, he'd gone back and bought it in a flash of inspiration.
“It seemed like something you'd enjoy,” John said as Mycroft riffled through the pages.
“Indeed, it's an old favorite of mine,” Mycroft replied. “Thank you.”
Clara loved her scarf. Harry raised her eyebrows over the bracelet, but thanked John civilly.
John, in turn, received a cutting-edge mobile phone – the newest model, so far as John was aware – from Mycroft. He looked at its sleek shape with trepidation: it was a generous gift, but he was also betting there was a catch; if it wasn't loaded down with spying and monitoring software, hidden deep in its circuits, John didn't know Mycroft. John managed to sound sincere in his thanks, but he was quick to pass the phone along to Harry, who eagerly accepted a chance to get her hands on the latest tech. She cooed and fiddled with it, obviously in love. He briefly considered foiling Mycroft by re-gifting the phone to her, but rejected the idea. No need to give Mycroft even more access to his family. He'd be removing the battery and stashing the thing at the back of his closet at the first opportunity – if he didn't just chuck it in the Thames.
Harry's gift to John was a wristwatch: expensive, very fine . . . and a complete mismatch in terms of John's everyday style. It, too, would probably end up in the closet unless he and Sherlock went undercover somewhere unusually posh.
Sherlock's present to John was another surprise: the latest Dan Brown thriller, in hardback. John was on the library's waiting list for it; the cost of purchasing his own copy had been an extravagance he couldn't justify to himself. While it wasn't unexpected to receive a book from Sherlock, John knew Sherlock thought pond scum could write a better novel than Brown (having said as much on more than occasion). For Sherlock to purchase something he himself despised, knowing John would like it, was more telling and heartwarming than the gift itself.
Mycroft presented Harry and Clara with expensive chocolates and glace fruit, respectively. Both women were pleased at receiving their favorites, and clearly assumed John had clued Mycroft in. John gritted his teeth and kept silent.
“I'm sorry we don't have anything for you,” Clara said after thanking Mycroft. “We didn't know you'd be here until too late.”
“John didn't bother to tell us till the last minute,” Harry added.
“The only gift I need from two such charming individuals is the pleasure of your company,” Mycroft responded. Fortunately for him, both women were amused by that, rather than annoyed.
John gritted his teeth even harder, and wondered if he'd need a trip to the dentist when this was all over.
Harry gave Sherlock an Amazon gift card, which at least wouldn't go to waste (and which proved she'd been listening when she'd asked what Sherlock liked). Sherlock retaliated by giving her and Clara two identical M&S vouchers; nothing to complain about, but utterly impersonal. John was just glad Sherlock hadn't taken any (well, much) prompting to participate in the gift exchange at all. He reckoned that counted as progress in the ongoing struggle to socialize his flatmate.
“What, aren't you boys giving each other anything?” Harry asked, noticing the lack of packages being exchanged between Sherlock and Mycroft.
The brothers exchanged a sidelong glance and Mycroft said, smoothly, “Oh, Sherlock and I have already given each other everything we intend to this year.” Harry raised an eyebrow, but let it pass.
Clara had one small box each for John and Sherlock, and a larger one for them both together.
The small boxes held two sets of handwritten charms: home-y, useful, everyday things to keep milk fresh, toast from burning, and socks from getting lost in the laundry. Each was neatly inscribed on high-quality paper, carefully folded for maximum effectiveness. John was glad to see them: Clara's charms were top-notch. She'd even had a small business selling them to acquaintances and neighbors, until her work became too popular and she'd decided to stop before her hobby became too much like work. Sherlock thanked Clara almost warmly. but given the way he was studying his box of charms with predatory interest, John suspected most of them would be tested to destruction in unorthodox ways, rather than being used for their intended purpose.
The large, flat box for both of them contained an exceptionally intricate wheat weaving. Clara had a gift for it, with her small, quick hands. She'd tried to teach John once, but even though he was no slouch at manual dexterity, he'd never managed more than a few basic braids. The interlaced golden stalks gleamed even in the low light of the sitting room; John whistled softly as he took it in.
“It's for over your door,” Clara said. “It's a house blessing.”
“It is that,” John agreed; he could catch hints of health-and-protection patterns woven into the greater structure, thanks to a basic education in magical theory, but most of it was beyond him. Sherlock seemed fascinated. John, noticing, insisted on hanging the weaving in its proper place above the door immediately. Sherlock could mangle the little charms if he liked, but there was no way John was letting him pick apart so much of Clara's hard, well-intentioned work. That led to a bit of fuss in finding the stepladder, and a hammer and nail (what Sherlock was doing keeping the latter in the medicine cabinet over the bathroom sink, John had no idea), but it was accomplished in good time. Clara seemed pleased.
After that, they caught a repeat of the Queen's speech on the telly. Sherlock made critical noises in the back of his throat and when it was over, he told Mycroft, “Not up to the usual standards.”
Mycroft sniffed. “That's because I didn't write it this year.”
Harry and Clara laughed. John managed a stiff smile.
Mycroft's phone chimed. He pulled it from his suit pocket to check the number and tsked. “I'm afraid I'll have to excuse myself – duty calls.”
“They're making you work on Christmas? Isn't that illegal or something?” Harry asked. So far as she and Clara knew, Mycroft was a minor civil service functionary.
Mycroft smiled at her. “No rest for the wicked,” he said.
John choked. Sherlock gave his back a solicitous pat.
Mycroft's departure signaled the end of the gathering, as it turned out, Harry and Clara declaring they'd promised to drop in on a friend later that day. Clara offered to help John deal with the leftovers before they left. Together they packed storage containers, some destined for the refrigerator (assuming John could make enough space to fit them in), and some for Harry and Clara to take home.
Sherlock and Harry remained in the sitting room, as Harry gathered her and Clara coats and presents. After a quick check to ensure the others were out of earshot, Clara leaned close to John and asked, quietly, “Am I right in guessing that Sherlock is one of the, er, haemoglobin-challenged?”
John snapped a lid on a container of parsnips. “Never could get anything past you. How'd you know?” he said in an equally quiet voice.
“Mostly little stuff – the way he didn't eat much, the pale complexion, things like that. And when you were talking to Mycroft, he bumped a pan with his elbow and caught it before it hit the floor. I didn't even see him move.”
“Did Harry notice?”
“No, she was looking in the other direction.”
John nodded. “Good. Don't tell her. She's had enough trouble with me being . . . what I am.” We don't need more reasons to fight.
Clara handed him a container of goose gravy. “She won't hear it from me. But she should hear it from you.”
John shrugged, and tapped his spoon to get all the bread sauce off it. “You know her.”
Clara elbowed him in the ribs. “And I know you. You two should talk more.”
“Like that's gonna happen.”
Clara sighed and shook her head as she doled out cranberry sauce.
“You're okay with Sherlock, though, right?” John asked, more worried than he wanted to admit.
Clara smiled at him, showing her dimples. “Yes, I'm fine with him. I think he suits you.”
John blew out a huge, relieved breath. “Good. That's good. I mean, it's not exactly orthodox, us being together, and Sherlock's, well, himself . . .” He knew Clara read both his and Sherlock's blogs, for good or ill.
Clara reached for another snap-top lid and chuckled. “When you finally settled down, I never thought it'd be with anyone normal.”
“Oh, thank you. Thank you very much.”
“I didn't mean it that way and you know it. Besides, 'normal' is boring, right?”
John gaped at her and then burst out giggling. Once he started he couldn't stop and ended up leaning on his elbows, forehead almost touching the bowl of sprouts.
“Okay, John, you're scaring me,” Clara said, giving his shoulder a shake. “It wasn't that funny.”
“Yes it was,” John wheezed, struggling to control himself. “Believe me, it was.” He straightened up and took a deep breath. The giggles threatened to take him again, but he resisted. Then he reached out and gave Clara a one-armed hug. “Thanks.”
“Happy Christmas. Now let's get those sprouts taken care of.”
tbc -- There's still a guest left to arrive. :)
Yeah, finally getting this done: the Christmas special YEARS in the making. Really, I have no cause to bitch at the canon team for taking as long as they did; the stories get told when they're ready, I guess. :) And, never fear, there will be an epilogue. After all, enquiring minds need to know what Sherlock and Harry really said to one another. I've made significant changes since yamx's last beta work on this chapter, so any errors are entirely mine.
John saw Harry and Clara down to the front door and closed it behind them with a sense of relief. There. Christmas obligations over. It hadn't been that bad, really. Not wonderful, but nowhere near the epic disaster he'd been having nightmares about. It was good to see Clara again, and even, in a way, good to see Harry. At least she and Clara seemed to have a shot at putting the pieces back together.
When John returned to the flat, Sherlock was sprawled in his favorite chair by the fireplace, radiating drama.
“This time of year,” he announced darkly, “makes converting to paganism an attractive prospect.”
“I thought you were an atheist,” John said, taking a box of matches from the mantel and kneeling by the fireplace. He'd laid a fire earlier, since it seemed like a Christmas-y thing to do. They hadn't used it while company was present, but no reason not to enjoy it now. He struck a match. “Wouldn't paganism be a step backwards?”
“No, because when you're an atheist, people always feel free to foist their religious celebrations onto you. Declaring paganism would put an end to all these tiresome Christmas rituals.”
“Pagans celebrate this time of year, too, you know.” John lit the fire in several places, tossed the match in for good measure and stood up, stretching, feeling the tension go out of his back muscles. He set the matchbox next to the skull and settled in "his" chair. “You'd just be swapping one thing for another.”
Sherlock made a grumphing noise. “At least it would be a change.”
John chuckled. “Yeah, it would. Maybe I should convert, too. We could start our own coven. Just imagine Mycroft's face.”
Sherlock managed to hold his annoyed expression for about five seconds longer, then burst into laughter. John laughed with him.
When they'd finished, Sherlock hitched himself up in his chair so he was sitting more than sprawling and looked much less the sullen teenager.
“Seriously, though, it wasn't that bad,” John said, wiping his eyes. “Well, except for the bit where Mycroft flipped me on my back and got his teeth in my throat. I could have done without that.”
“Mnh, yes, what was that about, precisely?”
John sighed and decided to come clean rather than letting Sherlock pry it out of him. “I was warning him off spying on Harry and Clara. He slapped me down and then went on to pretty much say we're all one big, happy family now. Which is frankly terrifying.”
“I assumed it was something along those lines. Mycroft's always had a sentimental streak.”
“If that was 'sentimental,' I hope to God I never see 'pissed off.'”
“Wise of you. And while we're on the subject of siblings and threats, your sister took me aside today and gave me the 'if you hurt John, I'll kill you' talk.”
John sat bolt upright in his chair. “Wait, Harry said what? About me? When?”
“While you and Clara were in the kitchen. It seems territoriality runs in your family.”
“Good Lord,” John said, letting his head drop back against his chair. He stared at the ceiling trying to formulate a response. “Did she really say she'd kill you?”
“Not in so many words, but that was the gist.”
With a cold chill in the pit of his stomach, John asked, “What did you say back?” He raised his head to look at Sherlock. Harry had seemed a bit quiet when they'd said good-bye, and he was starting to suspect why.
Sherlock waved a hand in dismissal. “That her concerns were misplaced.”
“Is that really what you said?” John said, leaning forward. “Is that all you said?”
Sherlock's face went completely blank, eyes mirror-pale and unreadable. “Yes,” he said.
John watched Sherlock's face very closely. “Did you threaten her back?”
A tiny shift in Sherlock's expression, almost subliminal. “No,” he said, and John believed that, at least. Possibly he was fooling himself in the hope his partner and sister weren't trading death threats this early on, but he knew he wouldn't get anything further out of Sherlock without a fight and he wasn't up to fighting – not after Mycroft and all the rest, on Christmas – so he let it go. For the moment.
“Well done. Shows remarkable self-restraint on your part,” he said aloud.
Sherlock relaxed and changed the subject. “The gloves were a surprise.”
John knew Sherlock well enough to translate that not as another “thank you,” but as, “How did you manage to surprise me?”
He gave Sherlock an innocent smile. “I know they were,” he said, and Sherlock frowned. John continued to smile. If Sherlock thought John was giving away any clues as to how he'd kept Sherlock's gift hidden and secret, Sherlock was doomed to disappointment. After the silver bullets in the flat wall, John wasn't about to give up his new hiding places.
“Thanks for the book,” he added. Sherlock wasn't the only one who could change subjects.
Sherlock slumped and groaned, slipping back into dramatic teenager mode. “You realize purchasing that tripe was almost physically painful?”
“I can imagine.”
“People saw me.”
“I would've thought you'd use Amazon.”
“Cash paid in person is less traceable. And besides, you might have picked up the post that day.”
“If it was addressed to you, I wouldn't have opened it,” John said, more amused than offended. If nothing else, Sherlock didn't expect the rest of the world to behave any better than he himself did, so he was fair in that regard.
“I suppose not. But I couldn't take that risk.”
“Well, there goes your reputation.”
“Demolished.” Sherlock looked properly aggrieved.
“Guess I'll have to find some way to make it up to you,” John said, moving to sit on the arm of Sherlock's chair. He slipped his hand under Sherlock's hand and raised it to his mouth, brushing Sherlock's knuckles with his lips. Sherlock's eyes turned hooded and predatory, sending warmth coursing through John. There'd been plenty of time since their tryst in the kitchen, Sherlock wouldn't be needing any more blood, and John had eaten a large meal besides. They were well set up for other activities. Lots of them. "I'm sure you have some ideas."
Sherlock's lips curved in a deliciously wicked smile and he was just starting to speak when there was a loud knock at the door to the flat.
John growled in annoyance, his head dropping to hang forward. Sherlock hissed under his breath and rubbed a hand across his eyes. The knock was repeated, more loudly.
"Should I see who that is?" John asked.
Sherlock began to answer in the negative but then stopped, as if having a sudden thought, and said, "It might be a case."
"On Christmas Day? Not likely."
"We can hope." Sherlock had the expression of a cat hearing a faint scratching just inside a mouse hole.
"You can hope," John said, releasing Sherlock's hand and heading for the door.
“But if it's Mycroft,” Sherlock called, “shoot him.”
“Don't tempt me!” John called back.
"Oh, hello," Lestrade said when John opened the door. "Is the coast clear? Everyone gone?" He craned his neck to evaluate what he could see of the flat from the doorway. "No blood on the walls, that's a good sign."
John, who'd been expecting either Mycroft, or Harry and Clara, back for some forgotten item, was momentarily dumbstruck; it seemed Sherlock might get his wish for festive crime after all.
“Greg! This is a surprise, come in,” he said, mostly by ingrained spinal reflex, stepping aside to let Lestrade step through the door.
Before Lestrade could move, there was a scuffle and thump from the fireside and then Sherlock appeared, vampire-quick - grinning like it was, well, Christmas – and crowded John out of the doorway. "Lestrade! What is it? Murder? Robbery? Terrorism? All three at once in an impossible locked room?"
Lestrade, confused, squinted at him. "What?"
"There's no case," Lestrade said. "I'm off-duty – it's Christmas, if you hadn't noticed. This is just a social call."
Sherlock's face fell. "What good is that?" he snarled, turning abruptly away. He stalked back to his chair and collapsed into it like a dejected marionette.
John sighed. "Don't mind him."
"Do I ever?"
John laughed. "What's up?"
Lestrade leaned against the doorframe, looking worn. "My family's being tiresome and I was hoping I could seek asylum. Thought maybe this would pay my way." He raised his hand, which had been partly hidden at his side in the folds of his coat, revealing a bottle of port. John was no connoisseur but the label looked expensive.
"Good enough for me. Sorry, shouldn't keep you on the doorstep. C'mon in." John stepped aside.
Lestrade moved forward – and stopped as if he'd hit an invisible wall, his eyes widening in surprise. He looked up at the wheat weaving above the door. "That's new," he said.
"My sister-in-law made it," John said with pride.
"It's good work," Lestrade said, nodding in approval, before stepping through the doorway without further incident.
"Have you eaten yet?" John asked. "We've plenty of leftovers."
"There was Christmas dinner, but I didn't get much of it before I left. I'd appreciate a bite to eat."
John led the way to the kitchen (playing host, since Lestrade knew his way around the flat, having searched it on more than one occasion) and rummaged for a clean plate and utensils, which he set out on the worktop. "This is most of it," he said, opening the fridge and gesturing to the newest layer of containers. "Roast goose and all the fixings. Take what you like. The microwave's guaranteed eyeball-free for the day."
Lestrade nodded thanks, then grinned. "First time I've ever been here to raid your refrigerator," he quipped.
"Mmm," John said. "That reminds me, stay away from anything with a red lid. You'll be glad you did."
Lestrade studied the mass of containers (and their random mix of red and blue lids) with fresh trepidation, but all he said was, "Ta."
While Lestrade served himself and Sherlock sulked, John washed and dried three wineglasses – otherwise they'd be drinking port out of teacups, and even John's hazy domestic standards balked at that.
Lestrade, seated at the table with John keeping him company, ate with a will, pausing now and then to compliment the chefs. John said, “Thank you.” Sherlock didn't say anything. John and Lestrade ignored him.
When Lestrade's dishes were cleared away he and John moved to join Sherlock at the fireside, where flames were crackling merrily. John ushered Lestrade, as the guest, into John's usual spot, while John brought over another chair for his own use. Sherlock watched them sidelong, with stealthy interest. The sulking was starting to get boring, John interpreted.
When Lestrade opened the bottle and measured out three servings of port, Sherlock accepted his glass without comment, acting as if he'd been part of things all along. John smiled to himself. Sometimes Sherlock reminded him very much of a great, bipedal cat.
John swirled his port, watching the rich, red liquor coat the glass, and, playing the cat himself, let curiosity get the better of him.
“About your family,” he remarked to Lestrade, “you said you might have stories to tell, over drinks, sometime . . .” He trailed off and raised his eyebrows (and his glass) encouragingly.
Lestrade groaned. “I know what I said, but not tonight, please. I came here to get away from all that. Make it your Christmas present to me: an evening of talking about anything but family.”
“Fair enough. I think we both know how you feel.” From the corner of his eye, John could see Sherlock's nose wrinkling at the couple-y “we,” but Sherlock didn't dispute the statement.
What followed after was one of the more pleasant evenings in John's recent memory, warmed by good port and a dancing fire. Light conversation turned to reminiscing about past cases (“D'you remember Wilbur Whatley? Now there was a piece of work!” “Lord, yes, I'd almost forgotten about him . . .!”) and sharing of past adventures. (“That reminds me of the time I came home and found a wanted murderer hiding in my bathtub.”) At first it was just John and Lestrade speaking, but Sherlock could never keep quiet when there was a chance for one-upmanship, and soon he was telling outrageous stories along with the others.
Sherlock had a clever way with words that kept the others in suspense or stitches, depending on the subject; Lestrade had a keen gift for observation and a sly, understated wit; John, well, he thought he held his own – writing blog posts had taught him a thing or two about storytelling, no matter what Sherlock might say.
At one point, Mrs. Hudson, taking a brief break from her own holiday celebrations, flitted through with a fresh tray of mince pies and (since Harry was safely gone) a Christmas cake that probably contained more alcohol in one slice than a glass of Lestrade's port. Mrs. H giggled when her baking skills were toasted by the entire company, blushed when Lestrade flirted gallantly with her, and then bustled off to Mrs. Turner's for some landladies-only event. Otherwise, apart from Lestrade pouring a bit more port now and then (supplemented for variety with a nice red wine from John's stash), or John getting up to tend the fire, the three of them seemed wrapped in their own little frozen bubble of time.
It was an illusion that shattered when, in the distance, the first chimes of midnight rang out. The thee of them had fallen silent, as good friends will do, each lost in his own thoughts while the fire burned down to dim, rippling coals. John had been remembering Christmases past, before and during Afghanistan – some rougher and less festive than others, but most often containing a kernel of warmth and pleasure regardless of circumstances – until the last, which hadn't truly been a Christmas at all. Just a day when the world stopped and the only thing left was staring at the walls . . .
“Midnight,” Lestrade observed. “It's Boxing Day.” He doled out the last of the port, upending the bottle over John's glass. “I think that calls for a toast.” He looked at the others expectantly. “Any suggestions?”
John's mind was filled with so many faces, of people living and dead, so many memories – and a great sense of gratitude for the present. A year ago he'd never have thought there'd be a Christmas like this again. All he'd been able to see then were loss and pain and war: a bleak, lonely future, unending.
“How about, 'To peace and goodwill'?” he suggested. “That's a classic.”
“It is indeed,” Lestrade declared, clicking John's glass with his. They turned to Sherlock . . . and encountered a forbidding scowl. Sherlock's glass, rather than being raised in agreement, was resting solidly on the arm of his chair.
“What?” he said in response to the others' expectant looks. “You realize you're asking me to drink to unutterable boredom. Without chaos and malfeasance there'd be no crime, and without crime I'd never have any cases worthy of my attention.”
Lestrade groaned and John couldn't help laughing. “Come on,” Lestrade wheedled, “just for one day?”
“Christmas is over, as you yourself pointed out. Therefore, multiple days are implied.”
John laughed even harder. Really, Sherlock and Lestrade should go into Vaudeville. Still, probably time to intervene . . .
“Look,” he told Sherlock, “just humor us. You can roll your eyes and cross your fingers if you like, but once we're done all the tiresome Christmas rituals will be over and we can put off starting the coven for another year.”
“Coven?” Lestrade asked, intrigued. John and Sherlock ignored him.
“Please?” John asked, quietly.
After a moment, Sherlock sighed. “Fine,” he said, sounding very put-upon. “To peace – and goodwill.” He raised his glass, touched it obediently to the others', and they drank.
John savored the nutty-sweet flavor on his tongue. A fleeting pleasure, as all things were, but here and now he could finally believe that there would be many such moments in his future.
It was the best Christmas gift he'd ever received.