AN: With this we have fulfilled our duty, sincerely hoping that we managed to make a few souls out there crack a happy smile. Thanks to all of you who have followed and favourited our story, it means a lot to us! Merry Christmas!
Chapter XII. True Christmas Spirit
The 24th of December was, quite shamefully, grey and cloudy with the heralds of rain. Not only did this turn the city into a bleak black-and-white image, but further did it serve to prevent John's mood from adapting to the Christmas spirit. The holiday had additionally brought many an unpleasant surprise, as John had learned right after waking. He had taken the opportunity to make up for his constant lack of sleep and had therefore stayed in bed for much longer than he usually would, only to find that Sherlock had already left the bed and gone out by the time John made his way to the kitchen to get some tea. Normally, Sherlock would not be up and about at that time of the day, if not for some unexpectedly thrilling incident or an unforeseen turn of the tides. Still, as it commonly occurred, Sherlock had neither deemed it necessary to wake John and tell him that he was needed for an investigation nor had he left a note that would state where he had disappeared to. Yet, in his state of huff, John had strictly refrained from calling Sherlock and enquire on his whereabouts as he was quite certain that Sherlock momentarily would not appreciate such an interference.
Above all that, there was another issue that was quite a millstone to John's mood. He had found that he was more distressed than anticipated at the fact that they had never gotten around to getting a Christmas tree or decorating the flat with fairy lights or knick-knack, which left it bare and dusty as always.
While John was gloomily sipping his tea, he was close to blaming it all on his flatmate, who had successfully kept him from practicing aforementioned Christmas customs in order to collect evidence for his case. It should not have surprised John that, according to Sherlock, an intriguing case had undoubtedly highest priority and would require to be treated as such at all times.
When Sherlock returned later that day, he didn't say much besides uttering his astonishment at the fact that John actually hadn't left the flat to go out on his own but had instead decided to stay sitting in his chair and read the hours away. John's response was a sharp sigh, obviously indicating the irritation that Sherlock's statement had caused. However, John still didn't quite understand why Sherlock's inappropriate behaviour still upset him so much as he kept reminding himself repeatedly that he should be used to it by now. He therefore omitted pointing out that being left alone half of the day was not what he would refer to when speaking of a merry Christmas holiday.
John simply watched his flatmate as he shed his shoes and then went straight to the bedroom which he appeared to do without a reason. Still, John didn't call after him to demand an explanation, but kept his gaze upon his shoes, attempting to deduce a few things himself. The soles were framed with mud and additional brown stains covered them from tip to heal, which suggested that Sherlock certainly must have walked across the lawn. Had he stayed on the pavement, the shoes would still have gotten slightly wet, but a pattern like that could only come to be on boggy, muddy soil.
Naturally, Sherlock took his time in the bathroom where he had resorted to soon after leaving the bedroom and upon returning dressed in clean and dry clothes, he instantly turned to the task of painstakingly polishing his shoes without saying another word to John. The silence soon reached a level that John could not tolerate any longer and standing in the kitchen, where he had just poured himself another cup of Christmas tea, he sternly addressed him, "Sherlock," an unbelieving laugh escaped John's throat, when Sherlock didn't even lift his head at John's attempt of speech.
"Okay," John was in a state that almost allowed him to find Sherlock's attitude near to amusing, "your cases are important to you, I understand. There would clearly be something wrong if I didn't understand after all that time of living with you… But this… this is going decidedly too far and I would kindly ask you to tell me, where the hell you have been and why it couldn't possibly wait until…" John stopped with an exasperated groan. He knew only too well that Sherlock didn't dedicate nearly enough meaning to holidays or trivial traditions to put back a case on that account.
Sherlock, however, didn't look up from his work but, quite uninflected, he muttered, "You know well that I am on the verge of solving a mystery and I would likely confuse you with my reasoning. So we might just as well agree that all you need to know is that it was all for the case and nothing more." At Sherlock's factual, superior tone, John felt his anger increase and only by a hair could he keep himself from losing his temper. As it was, he simply gave Sherlock another audibly displeased "Okay" to make clear that they were done.
In the afternoon the dense clouds finally started pouring a cold mix of rain and snow over London, coating the city in a wet and dismal mist. If not for the sparkling golden decorations that adorned the streets and several windows of the opposite houses, John wouldn't even have noticed that it was Christmas. As mentioned earlier, they hadn't gotten a Christmas tree and neither had they made any other preparations. Again surprisingly though, Sherlock did not keep up his reticence but had instead agreed to playing another game of Black Stories, all the while successfully pretending that it wasn't actually Christmas Eve. Yet, a strange tension seemed to have seized him and John was unable to tell whether it was suppressed excitement and impatience or unjustifiable but genuine discomfort that nearly bordered on regret.
The sky had long darkened when their game was interrupted by the obtrusive ringing of Sherlock's phone which caused him to jump to his feet in less than a heartbeat to answer the call. It was utterly seldom that John would see Sherlock react to an incoming call with such high alert. The phone pressed to his ear, he walked towards the kitchen, occasionally humming or mumbling an agreement, his eyes brightening minutely. John didn't bother listening to the conversation, knowing well what he would hear. Instead, he silently collected the playing cards and after he had put them back in the box, he slowly closed the lid. He had a dim notion that their game was over, which, to be true, filled him with deep disappointment.
"John, take your coat…" Obviously, John had missed the end of the phone call, as Sherlock was now standing by his side again, faintly smiling down at him. John turned his head to face his flatmate with a frown.
"What makes you think I want to come?"
"Oh, you will want to come," said Sherlock, his smile turning brighter, "We are going back to Hyde Park, rest assured that there will be quite a feast for our eyes… and it is said to be pretty dangerous too…" With a wink, he took a few steps back to pick up his coat from the chair he had flung it over, before whirling it around his shoulders in a swift motion. He must certainly believe himself irresistible, whereupon John was in fact quite disinclined to get up from his armchair, knowing that it would be unwise to reassure Sherlock in such a situation.
"But it's bloody Christmas, Sherlock!" John protested vehemently, hoping to appeal to Sherlock's reason.
"Indeed it is!" Sherlock rejoiced, already in the process of leaving.
"Damn it!" John cried out and taking his own jacket, he followed him downstairs. He should have known before that his attempts of persuading Sherlock to be reasonable would prove futile.
The broad sidewalks were empty, as not a soul would think of going out in that wet a weather and except for the cars of a few latecomers who were likely still on their way to friends or family members, their cab was near to the only vehicle on the streets. When they finally reached their destination, Sherlock hurried away in a determined fashion, which compelled John to call after him and remind him, that Sherlock himself had insisted on taking only one umbrella. John should have remembered that Sherlock regularly tended to forget about things like care and complaisance and that it was hence impossible for John not to get a little wet from the rain. At least, so he kept telling himself, the rain was a mere drip and not as much of a downpour as it could have been and further it was quite a remarkable event that Sherlock had cared to bring an umbrella at all. The one he had eventually chosen was even the rather big umbrella Mycroft had gifted him with this year, which provided quite enough space for both of them to find shelter from the rain. On the other hand though, John was forced to link arms with his companion for their walk to be smooth and comfortable and while he was firstly not at all in the mood to do so, Sherlock secondly tried to stride ahead in such a quick pace that John could hardly keep up. Yet, driven by anger, he hurried along wordlessly.
It was typical that Sherlock would never hesitate to start an inquiry, regardless of the time, the date or the weather. But it was simply misfortune that today, it was all at once – dark and late, actually Christmas Eve and raining. John wondered why he hadn't simply refused to come, but he supposed that this was Sherlock's kind of Christmas spirit and he had therefore felt the obligation to please him, which had forbidden him to heartlessly defy his flatmate.
"Where are we even going?" John asked peevishly after some time of walking in silence. Sherlock's answer remained a simple "You will see soon enough" whereupon he found himself left to guess, his favourite guess being that there possibly had been another gruesome murder.
While they kept following foreign paths, the rain luckily became lighter and lighter until it almost stopped entirely, which inspired Sherlock to close the umbrella and John to instantly let go of his companion's arm. Soon it turned out that Sherlock had led John to an alley of fir trees in a variety of sizes which were together creating a thin strip of wood on both sides of the path. When they came to a halt, Sherlock asked John to look to his right and what he spotted there was enough to put him in a state of surprise and paralysation that lasted a few amazed blinks of his eyes.
On the edge of the copse stood a smaller fir tree, its frail branches hanging down from the heavy moistness of December rain and from the additional weight of beautifully painted ball ornaments, wooden figurines, tin bells that were chiming softly in the cold breeze, golden nutshells, glass angels and china stars. Words failed to come to John at the sight of it, still his mouth went agape in an attempt to express how utterly touched he was by this loving gesture. However, Sherlock for once didn't give him a clue, as he appeared to have fallen into a grave stillness, unsure of what to make of John's emotion.
"Did you… did you do that?" John asked, as soon as he had regained his voice. "Is that what you've been doing?" Sherlock's response was a stiff nod which clearly indicated that he still couldn't tell if John's reaction was actually an approving one and that he was, as an effect, a little nervous about it. As John's positive astonishment still didn't allow him to speak, he had to resort to other means of showing approval, so he took a step closer and casually wrapped his arms around Sherlock's middle to gently hug him from the side. "Thank you, Sherlock…" he whispered cordially and indeed, it served to ease the tension.
Considering that Sherlock had hereby mostly repaid the discomforts he had caused and eventually kept his promises made it impossible for John to keep up his anger and upon realising what Sherlock had truly spend his time with while he had left him on his own, he nearly felt bad about his earlier attitude. Even though this present could not possibly make up for everything Sherlock had done to appal John in the past weeks, it still brought forth the decision to save his huff for another time.
Finally, John opened the firm hug he had enveloped his companion in and still with audible traces of speechlessness, he said, "It is truly beautiful…" At that, Sherlock cast a quick, blank glance John's way before uncomfortably facing the tree again, contemplating it in a concentrated fashion and then furrowing his brow, as if he had noticed something that went against his liking.
"How did you…?" John started, unsure of how to complete the sentence. Yet, Sherlock seemed to understand, as a twitch went through his spine and his brows slightly moved up on his forehead.
"Well, it was fairly easy," he remarked, sounding a little too confident for it to be entirely true, "By looking at various pictures of Christmas trees and asking Mrs Hudson about decorating, I was able to determine a pattern for the arrangement that similarly coloured Christmas balls would require so their layout would still be deemed pretty. I further counted the available objects of decoration and estimated how many of each category I can use so the standard distance between the items would not differ too much. Then I-"
John interrupted him with a chuckle, "Sherlock…" For a second, they looked at each other without displaying any expression, "Don't ruin it now… please…" He smiled, shaking his head with unbelieving amusement at Sherlock's deeply rational approach.
When he turned his head heavenwards, he noted that the veiled sky was now speckled with soft, small snowflakes that came falling towards the ground, where they melted against the dampness of the pavement and were consumed by the muddy, wet grass.
"Good timing" John said, smiling brighter while he squinted his eyes against the snow that fell, light as feathers.
"Oh yes, impeccable timing!" Sherlock confirmed, looking as though a plan had worked out perfectly. "So, let's celebrate, shall we?"
At that remark, Sherlock reached in the inside pocket of his coat and pulled out two items, from which John was able to recognise one as the present Molly had given him at the mortuary – still wrapped, just as he had left it – while the other one was a small, foreign paper bag, decorated with Christmas colours. Both was held out to John.
"I thought, you might want to unwrap your presents already."
"Oh," John hummed, once again taken by surprise. How lovely it would be, he thought to himself, if Sherlock were to behave as thoughtful at every given opportunity and not just on a day that was generally referred to as "special".
While unwrapping Molly's present with care, he said with a hangdog expression, "I am sorry that I can't give you anything right now, I have left your present at home, of course…" The paper revealed a collection of detective short stories by Edgar Allan Poe to which John reacted with a quick smile.
"That's alright," said Sherlock, his mind elsewhere, curiously peeking at John's gift. "Detective stories…" He frowned. "Now, how did she get that idea? They hardly ever are good…"
Soon after, they were sitting on a nearby park bench, facing the nicely and quite scientifically decorated fir tree. In his foresight, Sherlock had taken into account that the benches would, thanks to the weather, be dreadfully wet and would soak their clothes in no time. To go against this inconvenience, he had therefore stored a waterproof picnic blanket in a plastic box right under the tree which they had now spread on the park bench to suit their comfort. The brightly coloured paper bag that Sherlock had held out to John earlier had appeared to be slightly crumbled Christmas biscuits of three different sorts, which tasted remarkably stunning. Upon John's question if Sherlock had made them himself, however, Sherlock negated his suspicions and informed him that Mrs Hudson had been kind enough to bake them in his stead since it would be, as he added, quite a danger to let him tinker with the oven. Sherlock additionally told John to view the biscuits as their landlady's Christmas present for him.
"So," John eventually said, chewing a biscuit, "Did you actually solve your case?"
"Quite so," Sherlock responded.
"Care to explain?"
At first, Sherlock simply gave him a wry smile. The mentioning of the case seemed to have taken a burden from his shoulders, his features lighting up with childlike pride. Seeing this euphoric spark in his companion's eyes told John that this now solved mystery was undoubtedly the best Christmas present Sherlock could have received, even if on the account of Miss Sandra Spiegelmann, who had sadly become the victim of that violent murder that had brought Sherlock so much delight.
"It all occurred in a way you likely wouldn't have guessed, not even in your wildest dreams," Sherlock said and after swallowing down another biscuit, he elaborated, "Our serial killer was working at a suicide hotline, you know, that kind of job where they pick up the phone and listen to all that boring suicide babble and then talk the person calling out of said idea… Now, he was focussing on young women who were trying and failing to process a terrible childhood trauma. After enquiring about whatever trauma tormented them, he would do everything to make their greatest fears come true just to witness them breaking down in front of him and then kill them. In the case of Miss Spiegelmann, he used the snow, as she had lost her sister in a snow slide due to her own carelessness and she could never quite cope with her guilt. Quite elementary, now that I look back on it…"
"Of course," said John, his smile audible in his voice.
At a cold breeze that blew a few, soft snowflakes in his eyes, he shivered and threw a quick glance at Sherlock, who was sitting quite a distance away from him. He had entwined his gloved hands in his lap and his legs had a firm stand on the ground, while he stared ahead, a dreamy look on his face.
"Would you mind moving closer?" John asked, as another shiver shook his frame.
Sherlock jumped slightly as if John had pinched his side but then, without a word, he complied. He moved closer, inch and inch and inch, until they were sitting shoulder to shoulder and thigh to thigh. Sherlock's fingers were now tapping a rhythm on his knee just as if they longed for an occupation, whereupon John slid his cold, bare hand in Sherlock's. It caused Sherlock to lift his gaze from the distance and meet John's eyes with a look of minute confusion. His cheeks and nose were coloured faintly red from the cold and it gave the impression that he was blushing. John leaned closer until their lips were almost touching and when Sherlock didn't turn his head, he kissed him. It was a careful kiss that was returned in an insecure, clumsy manner and sadly, it was broken rather quickly.
"Oh, before I forget, I've got news for you," Sherlock said upon pulling back, his tone was hasted, which obviously suggested that he was seeking distraction from what had just happened in order to clear his mind, "We will be seeing my parents tomorrow…"
"Sherlock…" John gave him a growl to which Sherlock responded with an innocent grin. The news were nearly enough to call forth John's earlier huff, had he not pulled himself together, still he could not entirely prevent himself from being a little annoyed. It occurred to be nothing new that Sherlock would prefer to be straightforward when it came to announcements, although John was sure that he could have told him earlier, had he only deemed it worth mentioning. This time at least, John thought, the quite spontaneous change of their schedule didn't get in the way of any of his own plans.
"By the way, what will I get for Christmas?" Sherlock interrupted John's grim thoughts.
"Make a guess," said John, failing to smile.
"A substitute for my broken burette?"