In the Watson-Holmes household, the terrible twos did not materialise. Nor did they appear during Hamish’s third year and by his forth birthday John had started to think they’d escaped altogether. Then, approximately half an hour after that fateful thought, it started. Not tantrums, or disobedience, or sulks, just – appropriately enough – four simple little words that, when used continuously, turned their daily lives into the vocal equivalent of a minefield.
The words? Yes, you’re right, they are what, where, why and how.
It wasn’t as if Hamish hadn’t always been precocious, quick and interested in the world around him but suddenly knowledge was everything. The moment something occurred to him he needed to know, and he needed to know NOW. He was relentless and persistent in his quest for understanding (as befitted the son of a consulting detective and a soldier); there was no thought he wouldn’t share, no line of questioning he would not follow and (another trait John was certain he’d inherited from Sherlock) he had the knack of asking (in a clear loud voice only the very hard of hearing could miss) about the more delicate topics at precisely the most embarrassing time and place possible.
Having already fielded the delightful “What do you and Papa do in your room on the days Granny has to come and look after me?” at 10am in the middle of a packed supermarket (he’d answered that they were reaffirming their love for one another, which was both acceptable to all around him and had the excellent result of side-tracking Hamish with the meaning of reaffirm) John had thought Hamish couldn’t possibly ask a more awkward question. At least not that day.
Which only goes to show that John is ridiculously optimistic in the face of all past evidence to the contrary.
Sherlock had needed to go to Southbank to check on something for the case he was working. John had thought both he and Hamish could do with some fresh air and they’d all gone. The Christmas market had provided both a steady flow of interesting things for Hamish to chatter about and the evidence to confirm Sherlock’s theories. It was almost a perfect family outing, right up until Sherlock had stopped, opposite the queue for Santa’s Grotto, to send Lestrade a text. Hamish had stared intently at the garish hoardings surrounding the Grotto for a minute or two and then, tugging on the edge of Sherlock’s coat, piped up with;
‘Papa, why does Santa Claus allow it?’
‘Allow what, Hamish?’ Sherlock asked somewhat absently, eyes still fixed on his phone screen.
‘That.’ Hamish waved a gloved hand towards the Grotto entrance. ‘Why does he let people pretend to be him? Why doesn’t he do it himself?’
John, having taken in the furious faces of the parents and the confusion on their children’s, shut his eyes for brief moment. When he opened them he found that the phone was nowhere to be seen and Sherlock was looking at Hamish with a very serious expression.
‘You’re asking the wrong questions, Hamish,’ Sherlock said, hefting his son onto his hip, ‘or rather you’re thinking about it as if Santa Claus is human.’
‘He looks human.’
‘And what have I said about appearances?’
‘That they’re de-deceptive.’
‘Exactly. Santa Claus may choose to appear human but given how long he’s existed he cannot possibly be so. Humans don’t live that long.’
‘Oh. So if he’s not human then he must be …’ Hamish’s forehead furrowed in thought. ‘… magic?’
‘He relies on magic, certainly,’ Sherlock said, tone completely matter-of-fact, ‘but magic is a tool, just like electricity. You can use it but you can’t be made of it.’
‘So what is he made of, then?’ Hamish said, eyes narrowed beneath his golden curls and mouth compressed into a moue of discontent. The queue opposite was silent, the children’s eyes wide and the adult’s faces showing nothing but curiosity.
‘Your grandmother told me, when I was about the same age as you, that he’s a pixyish, whimsical fellow,’ Sherlock said, still incredibly serious, ‘and I can’t think of a better description for the physical embodiment of the spirit of Christmas.’
‘Neither can I.’ John stepped forward, not bothering to keep the impressed expression off his face, slipped one arm around Sherlock’s waist and took some of Hamish’s weight with the other.
Hamish looked between his parents. His lips were no longer pursed but his eyes remained narrowed. ‘You haven’t answered my questions.’
There was a muted chuckle from the one of the parents in the queue, echoed by Sherlock.
‘You understand that Santa Claus uses magic but that he isn’t magic, yes?’
‘So you understand that he can’t be in two places at once?’
‘And that he also wants the Christmas spirit shared as far as possible?’
‘Then there’s your answer.’
The frown was back. ‘That isn’t an answer.’
John raised an eyebrow at Sherlock before smiling at Hamish. ‘What Papa is trying to say is that Santa wants to speak to as many children as possible but, because he can’t be in two places at one and he has to make sure he’s fresh and full of magic for his trip on Christmas Eve, he can’t do it all himself. So he asks lots of different people, adults he approves of, who really believe and have a little of the spirit of Christmas themselves, to do it for him.’
It was Sherlock’s turn to raise an eyebrow at John, but John ignored it. He was too busy watching Hamish, whose head was tilted to one side, his eyes unfocused as he considered John’s words. John was half expecting a rebuttal, or another, more difficult, question about belief but none came. Instead Hamish blinked and grinned widely at them both.
‘Okay. That makes sense.’
John released the breath he hadn’t realised he’d been holding and opened his mouth to say “good”. Except Hamish hadn’t finished.
‘But … what does whimsical mean?’
‘How about,’ John said, over the laughter of the queuing adults, ‘Papa explains that over a hot chocolate?’
‘Only if we get mulled wine.’ Sherlock murmured, pressing a kiss to Hamish’s golden curls and then lowering the still enthusiastically nodding boy to the ground.
John swiftly pressed a kiss to the corner of Sherlock’s mouth and then took Hamish’s hand. ‘I think we can manage that … Santa would certainly approve.’