“…tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy…”
“Sorry, sorry, so sorry.”
“Well,” said Sherlock, catching her breath, “we got our man. No thanks to those imbeciles crowding the pavement, having some sort of collective fit.”
“They’re carolling, Sherlock. It’s Christmas,” panted John.
Sherlock rolled her eyes. “Christmas is for sensory-constipated idiots—oh, look, there’s his accomplice! Go, John!”
John groaned and tore off running at full-speed.
“…so the fatal injury was delivered by a ram, an Ovis aries. Interesting, no, John? Even amusing in a certain bucolic light…John?”
Sherlock looked up. The flat was empty. She probed along her telepathic corridor.
John’s shields were up.
As a pairbonded Sentinel, Sherlock could be privy to John’s every thought, she could even trespass her Guide’s shields if absolutely necessary, but for the moment, she could detect no distress emanating from John, no telepathic mayday signals wafting through the ether.
So she would wait.
An hour passed, then two. John had not given Sherlock any indications where she was going, and a quick survey of the sitting room and kitchen and toilet yielded nothing noteworthy in the way of clues. Sherlock was contemplating going upstairs when she heard the front door open and footsteps on the stairs.
“Hello. How are you? Tea?” John hung up her jacket and walked towards the kitchen.
As always, Sherlock employed her human powers of observation before her superhuman ones.
She’s been around trees, more than one stray needle, evergreen, fir, Nordmann, also blue spruce…she’s taken off her boots and put them back on…one, two, three damp spots on the back of her jeans…slight hitch in her gait…her breath smells of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, and fermented grapes…and something richer…
Ice-skating. Glühwein. Some sort of dessert.
John opened the refrigerator door.
“Christ, Sherlock! The half-a-head is still here! I told you to get rid of that! Ugh!”
“Your shields are up.”
John turned sharply. “What does that have to do with the half-a-head?!”
“I am looking at you; we’re here, in our domain; and your shields are still up.”
John sighed and rubbed a flat hand down her face.
Tell me, John.
Sherlock sent the message knowing it would bounce against John’s barriers, creating tiny ripples, much like a flat stone skipping across the surface of a pond.
And all at once, Sherlock felt John’s shields drop.
BECAUSE CHRISTMAS IS FOR SENSORY-CONSTIPATED IDIOTS!
The statement bore the force of a hard slap to the cheek and had a short-circuiting effect; the lights in Sherlock’s entire Mind Palace dimmed. Sherlock recalled the previous day’s chase, the throng on the pavement and the subsequent exchange of words. Meanwhile, wave after wave of sadness rolled off John.
I like Christmas, Sherlock. I like all of it. The lights and the trees. The bells, the songs. All the nice things to eat and drink. The fun. John’s eyes travelled around the flat. I know it can be silly and overdone, but it’s the season of forgiveness and hope and joy and good will towards all. It’s one of the nicest times of year to be an empath.
Sherlock turned away and raised her shields. She immediately realised the hypocrisy of her performing the very same act of which she’d just accused John, but she could bear no more of John’s disappointment, at the flat, barren of decoration; at the memory of Sherlock’s outburst; at Sherlock herself.
Sherlock walked to the window. John followed her.
“I know a Christmas market is the last place that would appeal to a Sentinel. Hell, it can be overwhelming for Mutes. And if you truly hate Christmas…”
Sherlock composed her reply carefully.
“John, if I am scornful of such celebrations and their trappings, it is perhaps because I have not had anyone with whom to share them, least of all a Guide who can aide me in navigating the sensory onslaught.” Sherlock turned back, John’s expression had lightened, but a wariness persisted in her eyes.
“What are you saying, Sherlock? You want to celebrate Christmas, but what does that mean?”
“Well, let’s start with something simple and concrete, decoration. It occurs to me that I am in possession of certain quarters, shall we say, that could stand some holiday sprucing. In the process of decorating those, we could come to some mutual agreement on elements—enough cheer for you, but limiting the garishness for me—and then,” she gestured to the room around them, “we could tackle this space.”
John stared blankly. Then she smiled.
“Sherlock Holmes, are you asking me to decorate your Mind Palace for Christmas?”
Sherlock nodded and dropped her shields. And if the full weight of John launched into her arms and the hard press of John’s lips on hers and the flood of joy that struck her mind mingled together to form something akin to a Hallelujah chorus, well, it was surely John’s mind making the connection. And transmitting it. Not hers.
Sherlock broke the kiss and licked her lips. “Chocolate?”
“I couldn’t resist. I had a slice of yule log, a bûche de Noël. Chocolate sponge cake and buttercream icing rolled in a spiral. They’re gorgeous! They make them look like little fallen tree trunks, right down to the powdered sugar dusted like snow and the teeny marzipan mushrooms.”
Sherlock sensed a fascination emanating from John that was not wholly unfamiliar. “Should I be jealous of this yuletide confection?”
John laughed. “If I ever come across one that can solve mysteries, you might finally have yourself a true rival. So, tonight?”
This is a first for me as a Guide: a Mind Palace, inside a Mind Castle, wrapped—for only the moment, I hope—in a Mind Blizzard.
The wind-blown snow blinded John to all but the outline of the drawbridge. She stood, shivering, at the far end.
It will make the interior seem that much more inviting, John. And how else is one to expediently fashion the much-lauded white Christmas?
John grumbled and pulled her hat snug over her ears. As she trudged across the bridge, she looked down at the frozen moat.
Do you skate, Sherlock?
Skating is just like dancing.
Is it now? I’m horrid, but I do find it fun. Maybe we could…
Crowds. Mingling with idiots.
I see your point, but if the right case comes up?
Once over the bridge, John stopped and looked up as she always did. It was a beautiful structure. Grand, majestic, even, and regardless of the number of times she’d stood in this very spot since she’d met Sherlock, it never failed to fill her with wonder. She mounted the steps slowly and when she passed through the entrance, she was greeted by the much welcome sound and warmth of a crackling fire. She stomped her feet and brushed the snow from of her clothes.
That’s better. Oh, feels good.
John walked up and down the main hall, looking left, right, and above.
There’s this hall and the wings of archives that branch from it, the case room, and 221B. Unless, she turned and gestured toward the back corners, you want to tackle…
Let’s leave the past unadorned, John.
Fair enough. So, first battle: tree or no tree?
I thought you’d say that. How about wreathes and garland in the main hall and trees in some of the side rooms? They could be theme trees.
And what would be theme be? Pretention? Or inanity?
Well, for example, here…
John walked to Sherlock’s case room, which housed shelf after shelf of manila folders, journals, and books. A white board was tucked in one corner and a large, detailed map of London hung on the wall.
….it could be your most famous cases. Or notable Victorian hangings.
Or untraceable poisons?
Ah. I’m beginning to see the allure.
Actually, I think strands of nice, sharp-edge holly might look quite striking here.
And the fruit is toxic, though not normally fatal except in when consumed in excess by small children. You wouldn’t consider some foxglove or nightshade?
Very well, holly it is.
John walked back into the main hall.
A nice big tree would look splendid here, Sherlock. It really would.
How about a wreath? One massive one on the back wall and smaller ones on the columns. Matching garlands on all the staircases in the archives. A nice mix of evergreens, fir, spruce.
See, that wasn't so bad? Now, fairy lights.
No artificial light, John.
There are no windows, Sherlock. Are you going to fashion yourself a sun? I think your astronomy wing is a big sparse for that. Not a wing, more of a cupboard, really…
Quite the comedian! No, I prefer candles.
Yes. Beeswax candles, product of the hives in the garden. You can’t possibly argue there’s a fire hazard, what with my faithful Guide standing watch.
I won’t fight you here, but in the real flat, Sherlock, we can’t possibly…
Okay, what about 221B?
John walked to a wing that was an exact replica of their living space.
You have carte blanche.
What, really? Tree, everything?
A nice, fluffy tree, fully decked in red and green, with a big gold star on the tip-top and a little train chugging around the base. Fairy lights everywhere, not just on the tree, on the mantelpiece, too. Stockings hung by the fire. Lots of cards from our friends and grateful clients. Candles in the windows and mistletoe over the doorways. The aroma of mulled wine simmering and biscuits baking. All of it, Sherlock, I want all of it. Every bit of Christmas I can pack into this space.
As you wish.
Yea! Well, I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me. I guess I’d better get star—
You’re forgetting a space, John. Your wing.
I’m not going in there, Sherlock.
First, because it’s too vast. Second, you have collected so much data on me, it’s unsettling. Like the ancient library at Alexandria. And every time you learn something new, a book on a shelf buzzes. Sometimes it’s louder than the hives!
The room behind the aubergine curtain is there.
And I told you from the beginning: your fantasies are your own. I’d rather focus my energy on 221B.
So how about some music while I work?
Instrumentals. No deranged warbling.
None except mine own, you mean.
John wiped her brow and made a final pass down the main hall, checking and straightening and tut-tutting over bits and bobs. Finally, she put her hands on her hips and smiled.
It’s gorgeous, Sherlock. It’s...I haven’t words. Thank you, thank you so much for allowing me to do this. It’s been hard work, but so much fun, a labour of love and joy.
It’s I who should be thanking you, John. For so many things. And as such, let me offer you this…
John stood in the entrance, looking out.
Oh! It’s beautiful!
The sky was clear and a thick white blanket of snow covered the bridge and the forest beyond. There were a set of stepping stones down to the bank of the moat.
And a pair of red leather ice-skates hanging from a low branch.
John squealed like a child and raced down the stairs.
Warning: reference to suicide
John grunted and hoisted the base of the tree on her shoulder.
That’s a little better, weight-wise, but I still can’t see anything but branches and the needles. I’m the Guide, so shouldn’t I be in front?
You’re the rudder. I am the sail.
They turned the corner.
Only a few more streets. Oh, we need to cross here.
No. Just a suicide. Drug overdose. You can tell by…
Oh, Christ! On Christmas Eve…
Come on, John. Let’s cross. For once, I don’t feel like meddling in police business. Family notification always messy, unless it’s a murder, in which case there are all kinds of possibilities. You know, contrary to popular opinion, suicide and homicide rates are actually lower around Christmas. Death from natural causes, interestingly enough…John?
John stumbled sideways, head down, retching streams of bile and mucus, her face frozen in a violent spasm. Then she hit the side of the building and crumpled onto the pavement.
John's mind was nothing but snow.
Sherlock turned up her coat collar. Her boots made a crunching sound as she advanced slowly.
DO YOU KNOW THE WORD SLEUTH COMES FROM SLEUTH-HOUND?
THAT IS TO SAY, BLOOD HOUND.
THAT IS TO SAY, I WILL TRACK YOUR SILLY GUIDE ARSE FROM THE GATES OF HELL TO BLOODY KINGDOM COME!
And there it was, what Sherlock had been searching for: a set of footprints that disappeared into a monstrous drift.
With bare hands, Sherlock dug.
And dug and dug.
Sherlock grabbed John by the boots and pulled.
When they were free of the drift, Sherlock bent and draped John’s body across her shoulders. She stood and turned, left and right.
Where is it, John? I know there is one bloody square of meadow in this place, no matter what else you let in here. There is one spot you would protect with your life. From here, where do I go? Come on, give me sign.
Sherlock schooled her voice into its most imperial tone.
Your Sentinel is asking for a sign, Guide.
She shielded her eyes and squinted at the horizon. Then she spotted it.
A grassy oasis in the midst of an Arctic desert.
And in the middle of it, sticking out of the ground, with a twisted vine of bright rainbow-coloured, blinking lights about it.
She marched toward the lights. And sang triumphantly.
Oh, tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy, oh, tidings of comfort and joy!
John opened her eyes.
“You were very foolish.”
“I wanted to help. It’s Christmas.”
“Taking on the grief of a bereaved family, seconds after they’ve learned of their loved ones suicide?”
“I’m a Guide. I’m a doctor. I help people!”
“You were a soldier! And back there, you were outnumbered and outgunned! Drink this, that’s an order!”
John sat up and took the steaming mug. She sipped and made a face.
“Lord, you were worried. You made me herbal tea!”
“Of course I was worried. My Guide swooning in the middle of the pavement worries me!” barked Sherlock. “And naughty swoony Guides don’t get proper tea!” she added peevishly.
I’m sorry, Sherlock. Thank you. Oh, what happened to the…
John looked around the room.
Oh, good. You got the tree here. Wait, that’s not…
Our tree was snatched whilst I was carrying you home.
John laughed. Good will towards all.
Christ, I’m tired. Sherlock, may I rest a while inside your mind?
Please. It will do us both a world of good.
They lay twined together on the sofa, eyes closed, fingers interlaced.
John looked down. She was wearing flannel pyjamas and heavy socks. She padded through the main hall to 221B and curled in front of the fireplace.
How about I tell you a story?
It’s about a Polish farmer and his murderous ram, an Ovis aries, to be precise…
Includes brief scene of feeding, implied food sex, and frottage.
“I’m fine, Sherlock. Come on, there’s only a few more hours until Christmas Day, I want to get this tree trimmed.”
Sherlock put her hands on John’s temples.
John huffed impatiently.
Finally, Sherlock dropped her hands.
“Now can we decorate the tree?” whined John.
“You will decorate. I will supervise and,” she stood and reached for her violin, “provide musical accompaniment.”
The song flowed back and forth between them.
…tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy, oh, tidings of comfort and joy…
John sighed contentedly.
“Our first Christmas together, and it’s been lovely, Sherlock.”
“One more surprise.”
Sherlock stood and went to the refrigerator.
“What? No, Sherlock. I adore my new jumper.”
“And I appreciate my 1893 edition of Bertillon's Identification Anthropométrique, but every celebration needs a culminating moment, a finale, if you will, a…”
“Climax?” suggested John with a snicker.
Sherlock returned with a covered tray.
“If that’s the other half of the head, Sherlock, then it’s not the good kind of surprise.”
Sherlock huffed. She set the tray on the small table by the sofa and lifted the lid.
“Oh!” John exclaimed. “A yule log! It’s so pretty—right down to the little mushrooms! Smells good. Let’s eat!”
Sherlock made a second trip to the kitchen.
“Wait, just one fork. Don’t you want some?”
“Only a taste, and only second-hand.”
“I shan’t argue. More for me.”
Sherlock offered John a forkful.
“Mmm. That’s exquisite.” John kissed Sherlock.
Sherlock pulled back, licking her lips and nodding. “Not bad.”
“More,” said John. With every bite, John moved closer to Sherlock, until she was straddling one of Sherlock’s thigh.
Sherlock raised an eyebrow. “Really, John? That good?”
“Mm-hmm. That good. Don’t stop, Sherlock.” John stood and shucked out of her pyjama trousers and pants and settled back onto Sherlock’s leg. She opened her mouth.
Sherlock fed her another forkful. “I shall have to install a confectionary behind the aubergine curtain.”
John began to rut. “I d-d-don’t think my waistline could stand it.”
“Then I shall prescribe a course of aerobic exercise: high-speed villain-chasing and vigorous sexual activity, daily.”
John snorted and then coughed violently. “Ganache isn’t as pleasant in the nasal cavities as on the palette,” she sputtered.
“I expect not.”
Much later, Sherlock quietly turned a page. John was curled at her side, dozing. Sherlock observed John’s dreams and smiled. Visions of sugar plums—well, close to it, anyways—were actually dancing in her head.
Sherlock gently pulled the flannel over the bare bottom peeking out from dark brown cashmere. The jumper had been a good choice, she decided, the yule log an even better one.
She looked around the room and sighed.
“Christmas,” she pronounced solemnly.
She still held to her belief that Christmas was for sensory-constipated idiots, but……maybe…just maybe…
Christmas is for us, too.
John hummed and snuggled closer.