Heap on the wood!-the wind is chill; But let it whistle as it will; we'll keep our Christmas merry still. Sir Walter Scott
John Watson stood in front of the window at Baker Street, tying his tie with the help of his reflection in the glass.
"What on Earth are you putting that thing on for?" Sherlock asked from his position on the couch, bent over the computer screen. John didn't even bother to ask how the other man had seen the tie since he was so intent on his blog he hadn't so much raised his eyes from the screen in the last hour.
"I thought I'd go to an early mass before heading over to Sarah's Christmas party." John said lightly, looking at the reflection in the window for Holmes's reaction. As he suspected, Holmes blanched at the mention of attending church services. The week prior he had asked, in that irritatingly superior way of his, why John, an intelligent enough (John remembered the enough very specifically) human being, insisted on partaking the archaic, superstitious institution of church.
"You're attending a party?" Sherlock asked, and there was such derision placed on the last word that John finally turned around, annoyed.
"Yes, Sherlock, I'm going to a party. Perhaps you've heard of these things? People get dressed up and dance and eat and enjoy each other's company, usually in celebration of a holiday."
"I've heard of them," Sherlock assured his roommate, "I just never understood why man craves company. People are so frightfully dull."
"Well, on that note…" John muttered, searching for the gift he'd wrapped for Sarah just the night before. Still, and against his better judgment, John Watson was a decent man, and Sarah had specifically said that if Holmes wanted to come along…
"I don't suppose you'll want to spend Christmas Eve around 'frightfully dull' people?" John said, extending something like an invitation while hoping with all his heart that Sherlock would refuse.
"Excellent!" Sherlock crowed, shutting the laptop joyfully, his lanky body already moving towards the door, and for a terrible instant John's heart sank: Sherlock was accepting his invitation. But no, as was Sherlock's habit he was talking about something else entirely. "The pieces of the case are falling into place! We must be off to the docks right away!"
"Now?" John asked, incredulous. They'd been working on this case for almost a week, a murder of the owner of the prestigious Goodman company, and hadn't been anywhere near narrowing down the list of suspects from the dozens of relatives who might have murdered him for money.
"Of course now. Why couldn't I see it before? Boats, black market, smuggling, that young man – you remember? The youngest son who used to play on the docks as a child and owned only one of the boats, the most profitable one?"
"I remember. He had an alibi." John said, glancing again at his watch. He had been looking forward to this party for a month, and Christmas Eve Mass had been a ritual for him since childhood, even in the deserts of Afghanistan. It would be just his luck that Sherlock's strange mind had linked together the parts of the case tonight.
"Yes, yes, he was lying. Everybody lies." Sherlock said, waving a dismissive hand as he pulled his overcoat on, missing the sleeves twice in his excitement. When he noticed John's decisive lack of energy, he stopped, if only for a moment. "Come on, man! The hunt is afoot!"
"Can't you go on without me?" John asked, still holding Sarah's present under his arm. The blue and silver paper twinkled in the setting sun, reminding him of parties and singing and the wonder that is Christmas Eve. And he didn't want to spend it at the freezing docks with a man who could care less about the holiday.
Sherlock stopped short at the question. Of course, he could go to the docks without John. He'd been intruding on police investigations and breaking cases long before John moved in, but he'd assumed that the man would want to see this case through to the end. Surely the thought of wrapping up a murder was more appealing than girls and parties and church?
"No," Sherlock said, not meeting John's eyes, "No, because if you don't come than I'll have to pull Lestrade out of whatever party he's gallivanting at." He pondered the matter for a moment. "Or go alone. If I bring your gun, even against the five of them…yes, that could work."
It was a dirty, underhanded trick. Sherlock didn't want to admit, even to himself, that he'd done it because he knew that there was a relationship growing between himself and John. Sherlock didn't have relationships, romantic or otherwise, with anyone. He and Mycroft grew apart as children and after moving to the city he only really interacted with the people at the university and the Yard, and neither groups seemed eager to know Sherlock outside of the strict confines of work.
John was different, though. Sherlock had known that since the man moved in and joined him on investigations that he didn't think the 'detective consultant' was psychotic or dangerous. And after the events with Moriarty, when Sherlock had seen the red dot on John's forehead…when John had tried to distract Moriarty long enough for Sherlock to get away…well, that's when Sherlock began to delve into his archives, looking for anything that would clue him in to what friendship really was. Defining feelings was the only way for Sherlock to understand them.
Playing on John's emotions was an easy thing. Sherlock had overheard enough conversations between John and the Yard, with the ex-military man defending Sherlock's actions, to know that the other man cared for him in some small way. And Sherlock was a master manipulator…
John sighed and threw the gift onto the couch, thinking longingly of Christmas carols and dancing with Sarah and eggnog as he got his army-issued revolver from the drawer where he kept it. The feel of the gun in his hands, such a comfort in the lawlessness of war, only brought a sense of creeping unease here in the city where they were supposed to have civilized past the need for weapons. And there was something so fundamentally wrong about taking out a gun on Christmas Eve...
"Come on!" Sherlock called, already half-way down the stairs, leaving John to follow.
The docks were absolutely deserted. The temperature, which had hung in the single digits all week, probably had less to do with the emptiness than the date. When the wind blew right John, even from the docks, could hear snatches of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.
"Are you going to fill me in, Sherlock, or am I freezing out here for nothing?" John snapped irritably, hurrying behind Sherlock as the detective fairly ran across the docks towards the boat they'd checked out days before.
"The youngest son – David -"
"Daniel." John corrected, rolling his eyes. Sherlock could remember the dates of every one of a serial killer's murders but couldn't recall names if his life depended on it. Personal things like that weren't important to the overall case, Sherlock would argue.
"Whatever," Sherlock continued, still running, "He's has the most know-how of the business, always has, but he's fifth in line to inherit it and, anyway, he is only twenty-two. His boat makes twice as much profit as everyone else's."
"Sure," John said, pulling up alongside Sherlock, who had stopped short five boats away from The Intrepid, Daniel's boat. "he was into the black market. We knew that."
"He was in deeper than we suspected," Holmes said, crouching low and moving forward. "The Yard confiscated the GPS on the boat, but if I peg Daniel correctly he would have kept a master log of the dates, times, and amounts of each of his drop offs, and he would have kept it on the boat."
"If you knew all that, why couldn't we get it five days ago?" John asked, pulling his coat tighter around him and wishing he were anywhere else for Christmas Eve.
"It didn't matter five days ago." Sherlock said, shrugging. "I only thought they were into the black market, and if the Yard can't find their own evidence for such petty crimes than it's their loss. It's only tonight that I realized Daniel killed his father."
"Makes perfect sense." John said sarcastically, sure that he would never understand how Sherlock's mind worked. It seemed that his roommate often leaped from point A to point K to point F, without ever explaining the method to his madness. "And we had to come out on Christmas Eve in this beastly cold because…?"
"Because they're leaving tonight, of course. Running from the law, holing up until the whole business blows over, when Daniel will emerge to kill off those siblings that he can't persuade to let him be the head of the household…no, it had to be today." Sherlock whispered, dropping his voice as they came within feet of the boat.
"So what's you plan?" John said, touching the gun, an assurance that he was still armed. "Go in, guns blazing, and demand that five large murderers come nicely with us down to the station?"
"Of course not." Sherlock said, raising an incredulous eyebrow. "That would be a ridiculous risk. No, I'm going to make sure they're actually here and then call in the Yard, let them do their work."
John wanted to hit his head against something hard. "I thought you were sure they were going to be here!"
"I am…ninety-eight percent sure." Sherlock admitted, "And there may have been a time or two when I called in the Yard with a break in the case to find that the suspects had already departed."
"You astound me." Watson said, taking his gun out completely. "And I'm here as backup in case something goes wrong?"
"Yes, that's the general idea." Sherlock said, no longer really paying attention to John anymore, looking up at the boat.
"Great." John said, pining more than anything for a party, for something warm and alcoholic to drink, for the company of anyone else in the world but the great detective Sherlock Holmes.
They waited twenty minutes for Daniel and his cronies to show up. In that time, John had lost all the feeling in his right hand, the one clutching the gun, and had been quite sure that Sherlock had led him on a wild goose chase.
"Okay, they're here." John said, his mouth very close to Sherlock's ear, acutely aware of the fact that they were fifteen feet away from murderers. "Let's call Lestrade, have him take over."
"Sure, sure." Sherlock said, and John pressed the SEND button on the text he'd typed out on the ride over when he could still feel his thumbs. Just as the small screen flashed MESSAGE SENT, Sherlock stood up.
"Oh my God." John whispered, looking up to the Heavens and remembering in that moment that he'd never made it to Mass. Still, in that surreal moment just before Sherlock stepped out of the shadows to make himself known to the killers, John heard more music from the church on the hill. Ave Maria.
John breathed heavily as Sherlock called out, "Mates! Wait a mo'!" he could picture Sherlock, letting his shoulder droop to one side, pulling his hat low over his head, looking like an entirely different person. If this was Sherlock's mean of a diversion John was going to have a few choice words with him.
But despite the fact that Sherlock had jumped into the situation seemingly without any regard for his safety, he seemed to be getting on quite well. Introducing himself as the keeper of the docks ("You ever hear of hiring a man for bloody Christmas Eve?") he asked the men where they were going, how long they'd be out, if they had anything to 'sip on' to help stave off the cold.
And Daniel replied amicably enough as his men readied the boat for sailing. John sighed, relaxing slightly against the barrel he was crouching behind. Perhaps this might come off without a hitch. Perhaps Sherlock would hold these men here for the Yard with such an easy story…
"Wotcha carryin'?" Sherlock asked, his thick fake accent taking away completely the precise syllables John had associated with Sherlock. "Wot's so impor'ant as to go out en Christmas?"
"He's asking too many questions, boss." John heard, and tensed up again.
"Yeah, just do him off, boss, we're all ready to go." The sound of feet circling, of Sherlock's voice trying to placate, then, worst of all, the unforgettable sound of the safety of a gun being flicked off.
John didn't think. If he had, he would have probably just stood up quickly, surprising the man with his sudden appearance and getting off several shots in the confusion. But something, some instinct born of battle or friendship, drove him out sideways so that he tackled Daniel, the one with the gun, and they grappled.
There were shouts from the men, first of surprise, then a call to arms. ("Your gun, Bennet! James, shoot him!") from under John there were similar shouts from Daniel ("Shoot him, shoot him!") and though it felt like a minute, two, it was probably closer to thirty seconds later that the bullet tore into his shoulder, inches away from the bullet that had put him out of commission in Afghanistan.
He yelled at the shock of pain, still rolling on the dock with Daniel, trying to stop the man from getting his gun pointed at John's face. He yelled again as another bullet hit his side and, stunned by the pain, he went momentarily limp.
That was Daniel's chance, and he took it, bucking John off of him and into the frigid water of the Atlantic.
"John!" Sherlock shouted, seeing the vague figure of a man roll off the dock. Now the other men turned to him, pointed their guns at him, Sherlock...and John was sinking beneath the freezing surface with two bullet wounds, and there was really little choice.
Sherlock ran for the edge of the dock and jumped in.
The cold was like a slap in the face, a punch to the heart, and Sherlock felt his whole body tense up. The surface, with its wind and five-degree-temperature, seemed like summer compared to this feeling, as if he'd never be warm again.
But he continued down, hands stretched out in front of him, searching blindly for a coat, an arm, a shoe, anything to grab onto that would get him and John out of this debacle of a situation.
If he'd been on the surface, he would have seen the Yard burst in, guns blazing. He would have seen Lestrade whirling around, would have even been a little proud of the police officer for noticing the bubbles. He would have seen the murderers carted off and Lestrade strip off his jacket, about to jump in…
But Sherlock wasn't on the surface, he was under the water, locked in the most important search of his life. John was here, hurt and freezing and floating. He reached out blindly with both hands, hoping for the feel of cloth…
He grabbed something just as he couldn't stand the pressure on his lungs anymore and struck out, kicking the boat behind him and heading for the murky surface. He hoped (or was it prayed? He certainly, for a second, a mili-second, thought the word please) that the heavy weight in his arms was John…
And then there were hands grabbing his shoulders and he breathed in the frigid night air, his lungs burning with the sheer cold of it all. His body began to shiver automatically and if he'd let himself dwell on how cold he really was he might have gone into shock.
Instead, he lifted the bundle up with him and it was John Watson. And he wasn't breathing.
"L-Lestrade!" Holmes choked coughing, sputtering, teeth chattering. He painfully extended his arms towards the dock, still desperately treading water. "Lestrade…John…"
And the weight in his arms was suddenly gone and Sherlock could breathe, could let the hands drag him back towards the docks, could let them pull him out of the water (and there weren't words to describe how terribly cold that water was) could let them drape a blanket around him.
He blinked away the small black dots that were invading his vision, trying to gather up that dignified, aloof persona he usually embodied. "John's alright?" He asked the nearest paramedic, who didn't answer him.
Lestrade, who he'd never liked, not really, who was too dull and rule-abiding to make a good detective, was also a man who liked John (and, really, who didn't like John? John, who was so much more social and easy-going than Sherlock was.) Lestrade would give him a straight answer.
"Lestrade!" He called as soon as his vocal chords allowed him to call out above the bustle and chaos of the police officers who had descended onto the scene. Lestrade emerged from the group, looking harried and frantic. "Lestrade," Sherlock asked, wishing his legs would support him enough to at least stand up and look Lestrade in the eyes to get this news. "How's John? Is he alright?"
"Holmes, perhaps you shouldn't see…" Lestrade looked behind him at the ambulance waiting near the docks, at the man being loaded into it.
And Sherlock was off, standing on rubbery legs and lurching towards the ambulance. Lestrade was at his side, no longer trying to restrain but instead making sure Sherlock got up the slippery, frost-stained slope without breaking his neck.
"John!" Sherlock gasped, watching as the man who had become his roommate and (friend?) in the past months lay beneath a paramedic who was frantically trying to restart his heart. He struggled towards the ambulance, dripping and shivering and probably more than halfway towards pneumonia. He was frantic…
"Sherlock!" Lestrade said, grasping at the wet man and holding him close to his warm, dry chest, barking out an order for blankets. "You have to let them do their job. You can't get in the way…"
And then…and then the paramedic stood straight up and shouted that they had a pulse, and John was descended on by even more people, all jockeying for position around the bleeding, shivering, wet man who had saved Sherlock's life…
Who had saved his life…
Sherlock scurried up into the ambulance before Lestrade could tell him not to, clutching the blanket close around his shoulders. "I'm his friend." He snapped at the paramedics who tried to protest his presence. "I'm going along with him to the hospital."
"Probably a good idea." Lestrade said, sticking his head into the warm vehicle. "He should be in a hospital anyway." Lestrade took one look at John before swiveling his head around to Sherlock. "Make sure he's okay, right? He keeps you in line."
And then Lestrade backed up, closing the door, but not before the far-away strains of Christmas Time Is Here wound their way into the ambulance.
Sherlock curled up on the chair next to John's bed, watching warily as his friend struggled to survive. There had been a surgery performed as soon as they got in the door to take out the bullets and repair the wounds, and Sherlock had been bustled off to a warm shower. He was currently dressed in worn sweatpants and an oversized sweatshirt with MANCHESTER UNITED emblazoned across the front, courtesy of a young, pretty nurse who had blushed at the sight of a tall, dark-haired man searching around for dry clothes.
"Hon, you this guy's friend?" A large black nurse asked, fluffing John's pillow and taking his temperature or vitals or who knew what.
"Excuse me?" Sherlock asked, blinking at her. He never heard things the first time, a habit that John found infuriating. Sherlock was simply too caught up in his thoughts to notice that other people may be talking to him.
"This poor man. You here for him?" the woman asked, looking down at Watson. "I sure hope so. It ain't right for people to leave their loved ones on Christmas Eve."
"Yes," Sherlock said, swallowing hard. "Yes, he's my friend."
The nurse raised a large black eyebrow at him. "Well then, honey, I don't want to ruin your Christmas but if I were you I'd get down on my knees and pray to the good Lord that he survive the night. The Lord listens double hard on Christmas Eve you know."
"I didn't know that." Sherlock said, biting his tongue to keep his automatic retort at the whole institution of religion at bay. Somehow, he didn't think denying God in a hospital on Christmas Eve sitting across from a dying Christian and a devout old black lady was a good idea. "Are his chances so slim?"
"I would get down on my own knees myself if I thought I'd be able to get back up." The woman said evasively. Catching sight of Sherlock's stricken expression, she sighed. "You don't want anyone to die on Christmas Eve. 'Specially if this one here's important to you." She crossed the room and patted his cheek with her huge hand, before opening the window. "The Lord hears prayers better with the window open my mother always said. Why not try it? If you ain't a God-fearing man…well, there's no time like the present to have a little faith. And this man here needs some hope."
As she left, the quiet strains of Silent Night drifted through the window.
Sherlock waited on the chair for another moment before sliding off it to grab John's hand. "Those damn carolers." He said, surprised to find that his voice was thick and watery. "It's three in the morning. Don't they ever stop?"
No answer from the man in the bed. There was another surgery scheduled for tomorrow, the doctors had said, adding ominously, "If he survives the night." And no night had ever been as long as this one.
"You know I'm not a praying man, John." Sherlock muttered, holding the hand tight. "You know I don't…that I can't believe in that. Those damn carolers!" He raged again, looking behind him at the open window and debating for a moment whether to close it.
"I'm sorry, you know," He said, turning back to John's prone body. "I know you wanted to go to Sarah's party. Probably would have been more fun than getting shot. I need to set you straight on that. Can't have you jump in front of bullets for me all the time. Makes me look something less than immortal."
Sherlock's voice was getting thicker by the minute, and was that moisture in his eyes? Couldn't be, because he didn't care for anyone. Especially not…not John.
"You know I'm not a praying man, John." Sherlock said again, "You know I'm not. But perhaps this one time…it is Christmas, after all. And I still haven't entirely ruled out the possibility of miracles…"
And then (if this wasn't a miracle then nothing is) the biggest non-believer in the world knelt to the hard tile floor, still holding tight to the unmoving hand of the bravest man he knew, and tried to find the right prayer to say.
In the end, he took his cue from "those damn carolers" standing outside. They were singing Dona Nobis Pacem to the still city night, and Holmes raised his head to the heavens ever so slightly and said the very same thing.
Give us peace, give us peace, give us peace.
Sherlock fell asleep with John's hand nestled in his own, and so could do nothing, nothing, when John's quiet laugh above him rang out at seven o'clock Christmas morning.
"You alright, Sherlock?" John asked coughing (and that cough, coupled with the laugh, made him wince with pain as his insides moved uneasily. And he was so cold!) "You aren't hurt?"
"Not at all." Sherlock said smoothly, rising to his feet and smoothing his pants in a way that he hoped was dignified. He didn't know what he would say if John asked him why he was on his knees, why he chose that night of all nights to pray. "Your reckless, misguided attempt to distract Daniel worked very well. You nearly got yourself killed again."
Something in John's face – the way his eyes seemed to shutter close, the way his mouth turned downward just the tiniest bit – told Sherlock that these were not the words John wanted to hear. "In addition," Sherlock said quietly, finding the words were not so hard as he thought they would be. Perhaps it was the night of prayer or the blasted carolers, but he felt something like…like the Christmas spirit. "I would like to thank you for…for what you did back there."
John's raised an eyebrow. "Really? My reckless actions did some good?"
"They probably saved my life," Sherlock admitted, the words slipping off his tongue easily enough to appease his friend. "Such as it is…"
"Sherlock, I do believe you are getting sentimental on me." John said, quirking a small smile. "Next thing I know you'll be joining those carolers outside."
And blast it all, but there were more carolers. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. "They've been at it all night." Sherlock said, crossing over to the window. "Why they feel the need to go about making such a racket over a historical inaccuracy….you know that Jesus, if he was real at all, was born in the Spring?"
"You might have mentioned that once or twice," John grunted, shifting his position slightly and turning completely white as the pain nearly overwhelmed him. "Perhaps," He panted out, "Perhaps you would be good enough to call a doctor, Sherlock?"
"Whatever happened to 'physician, heal thyself?'" Sherlock questioned, making no effort to move towards the door.
"Of course you would pick today to develop a sense of humor." John said, leaning back against the pillows and struggling to resist the temptation of sleep. "I knew I should have gone to that party…I'll just sit here and die on Christmas."
"You'll do no such thing!" Sherlock said, so forcefully that John looked up at him, blinking through the haze of pain.
"I suppose I won't." John said, wondering for a moment if this man was starting to think of him as a friend. For himself, he would count Sherlock as his friend (within a year, his best friend) but he wasn't sure if the other man was even capable of returning the sentiment. Still, he looked towards the window. "It's a shame I'll miss Christmas with this other surgery."
"We'll celebrate tomorrow. I'll even accompany you to church services, if you still insist on going." Sherlock said, trying to make amends. "It'll turn to rights."
"It always does." John said, struggling to remain awake for a few more seconds. "Merry Christmas, Sherlock." He said, finally succumbing to the hazy pain that was dragging him towards darkness. He would remain unconscious until the twenty-sixth, a day too late to celebrate with the rest of the world.
But already Sherlock was mentally preparing everything they would need to have their own Christmas, just the two of them. Because he couldn't think of a soul on Earth who deserved a Christmas more. He let the doctors wheel John to another surgery, watched as he came back up, and slipped his hand back into the too-thin folds of John's hand.
He remained there all day, watching the person who'd saved his life, every so often murmuring to the still form, "Merry Christmas, John."
And to all you out there, we hope you have a Merry Christmas as well, that you are all safe and healthy and where you want to be for the holidays. If we could ask just one thing of everyone out there, it would be to pray for the same thing Sherlock did. Pray for peace this Christmas.