Author's Note:

A big thank-you to everyone who reviewed last time! That really meant a lot. I kid you not—I was slipping into depression over this story. And those lovely reviews… it was great. :)

At first, I hated the way this chapter was going. And then I just… ignored the Internet, had "One Day" playing on a loop like last time, and focused on enjoying myself. Once I did that, the chapter practically wrote itself!

Before we get started, I wish to recognize a couple of wonderful people who help me keep going: MadameGiry25 and Riandra.

MadameGiry25 has been with this story from the start, and she has been a magnificent sounding-board. Her reviews always make my week, because they're long and detailed and they help me out with characterization. Her story The Ghost Map is one big celebration of the friendship between Holmes and Watson and of Holmes's great heart, and now she has a sequel in the works. Her style is simple and focuses largely on the characters' dialogue, and the emotions really shine through! There's a twist, too, near the end of her story that has me absolutely fascinated and wondering how she pulled it off—go read it to find out what! And drop her a review while you're at it!

Riandra has become a very good friend in the few months that I've known her, and her fangirling is always sincerely flattering. Seriously, she has been a very big support for me through some rough times, and I'm constantly looking forward to the continuation of our PMs, be it through me or her! Her story A Study in Regret is a vivid journey not only into the realm of what-if but also into the hearts and minds of Sherlock Holmes, Geoffrey Lestrade, and Mary Watson. It's currently at twenty-three chapters and still going strong—I have every confidence that she'll make the minimum word-count for a novel (75,000), and I hope dearly that she'll publish it as a book someday. I've said it before and I'll say it again: this is one of those rare gems of fanfiction that equals and transcends the canon. Truly, it is. The sad thing is that very few people review her story—please go read it and do so! She doesn't get half the love she deserves!

To my reviewers:

Riandra: Actually, I didn't think of the correlation between those two scenes because they were initially written several months apart. Rather, part of the Holmes scene was written over a year ago, and the Watson scene was written last winter. The chapter was truly a mishmash of scenes pieced together with significant time gaps in-between their writing. But that's brilliant in hindsight: Watson's tears giving Holmes the final push! *hugs*

Ennui Enigma: You're welcome, and thank you very much! Glad the "defiance" line meant so much to you, and that you liked the hint at his healing mind. Ah, I'd have to write more about Cécile to show the similarities between her and Sherlock, but the idea is that Sherlock takes after her and Mycroft takes after their father. Watson is simply absent at the end because he's exhausted and sleeping in a chair is not conducive to catching up on rest—it's just a practical thing, is all. Thank you again!

Ranger-Nova: (Next time you misplace a review, hon, just leave it there; it's okay. I didn't even realize the discrepancy until I saw that I got two reviews from you and one was a repeat.) Thanks for the encouragement! *hugs* Actually, superheroes weren't—and aren't quite, even now—my thing… before my cousin talked me into seeing The Avengers, my first superhero movie ever. Hope you can see it, because it's a really good movie! Oh yeah, I have noticed that whole character torture thing… *snickers* Ribbin' ya—I do the same thing. It's the reason this entire novel got started in the first place! xDDD Sherlock!Moriarty can certainly be unnerving, it's true—but my Moriarty will always and forever be Granada's Eric Porter! That man can make me shiver like few characters can! I'm so glad you like the whole Cécile and happy childhood thing. :D I've certainly invested quite a lot of imagination!time there that's never seen the light of the Internet. ^_^ Ooo, you recognized the snowballs! *beams* Yes, 'tis—ah, simply because I'm on the Holmesian (dot) Net forum, and the book was a project to bring together talent from the forum. Glad you enjoyed the chapter, and here's hoping you enjoy this one even more! (And I'm glad you checked out and enjoyed the TV Tropes page!)

Bubblesxoxo: Wow, seriously? *jaw drops* Thank you! Your review really made my day—it's always wonderful to know that I can touch people with my work (and write a good villain besides!). My favorite character is unequivocally Holmes (surprise, surprise :P), but Lestrade and Watson about tie for second place. And Moriarty is absolutely my favorite villain. Really, it means a lot to me that my work convinced you to return to the originals—even to like Mary! Just… thank you so very much!

MadameGiry25: Thank you again for your support, darling. :) Abandoning the story (especially so close to the end) is not and never has been an option—but only because it's a future novel. As in, my future livelihood. If it was mere fanfic… I probably would have given up somewhere before chapter 15. I'm not kidding, either. Ha-ha, no, I certainly wouldn't want you to abandon Ghost Map or the sequel. ;) Anyhoo… I'm glad you loved the memories of Mrs. Holmes! I have thought about expanding that scene, but by the time I was close to finishing up the chapter, I was just ready to have done with it. I'll definitely go back and flesh it out some more, though! Sherlockian block has to be one of the most horrible things ever, because if there were ever characters that deserved their own fanfic, it's Sherlock Holmes & Co.! Expansion PM on the Irregulars scene would be great—I am painfully aware that it's very short, even for me. Wow, the nightmare scene made you tear up? That's awesome! I'm so happy you loved that scene so much, and the fall scene, as well! Glad you like Rose's scene—I'll probably end up expanding that one, too. *sigh* So many things, so little time… Heh, if you liked that wee bit of Christmas last time… ^_^ Well, Lestrade does make a brief appearance in this chapter and should feature more prominently in the next… I did consider putting Lestrade in that scene with Peter but ultimately rejected it as being almost… superfluous. Lestrade's already had quite a bit of screen-time with Davy—I felt it wouldn't be right this time. Plus, much as I would like to have him in that chapter, I also don't want to make him my authorial crutch, if you will—i.e. that he's there just to be there. Ooo, I thought you'd catch the change in the thought process—glad you liked it so much! *beams* On one hand, I'm going to miss the parentheses, but on the other hand, it's nice and less work to be back to normal sentences. Let me know once you've checked out those webpages! And I'll definitely keep in-touch once I'm in the edit-and-redraft stage—I wouldn't dream of doing it entirely without you having a hand in it! Really! And once again, thank you so much! *big hug*

Lady Kyree: Aww, thank you very much! And thank you for your comments about Watson—I really do need to hear that I'm doing well with him. He still makes me nervous… Ohhh, thank you so much, dear!

Historian1912: My condolences for your church family, hon—a death in a motor accident is always a terrible thing. At the risk of sounding callous to poor Holmes, a little torture is good for the soul. Character-building, and all that. :) Well, I've finally given you that review! I don't know what you'll think, but at least I did it, right? *hopeful smile* GMD is awesome—I note that there are three fics for it under your favorites, which is good enough cause for me to read all three, never mind the grammar (contrary to popular opinion, I can actually overlook grammar at times, lol). What I'm really curious to see is how similar the original, literary Basil of Baker Street shapes up to my perception of the Great Detective. Thank you for the review and the sweet comments!

© 2012 by Aleine Skyfire.

All rights reserved.

==Chapter XXIII==

The Return of Sherlock Holmes

In Bethlehem, in Israel,
This blessed Babe was born
And laid within a manger
Upon this blessed morn
That which His Mother Mary
Did nothing take in scorn
O, tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy!
O, tidings of comfort and joy!

Davy Wiggins watches his employer's bedroom window from where he and nearly half of the Irregulars stand in the alley bellow.

From God our Heavenly Father
A blessed Angel came;
And unto certain Shepherds
Brought tidings of the same:
How that in Bethlehem was born
The Son of God by Name.
O, tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy!
O, tidings of comfort and joy!

They haven't let down their guard—Peter and some of the other lads about his age are on-duty.

"Fear not then," said the Angel,
"Let nothing you affright,
This day is born a Saviour
Of a pure Virgin bright,
To free all those who trust in Him
From Satan's power and might."
O, tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy!
O, tidings of comfort and joy!

Please hear this, sir, Davy pleads silently. Please be awake and hear this.

The shepherds at those tidings
Rejoiced much in mind,
And left their flocks a-feeding
In tempest, storm and wind:
And went to Bethlehem straightway
The Son of God to find.
O, tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy!
O, tidings of comfort and joy!

Two more carols, and then Davy will call an end to the day. It's Christmas Eve, after all, and it will be dark soon.

And when they came to Bethlehem
Where our dear Saviour lay,
They found Him in a manger,
Where oxen feed on hay;
His Mother Mary kneeling down,
Unto the Lord did pray.
O, tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy!
O, tidings of comfort and joy!

As for himself, Davy will see the younger boys safely home, then return to check in on the invalid. Even if Mr. Holmes is asleep when he does so, he wants to wish him a merry Christmas.

Now to the Lord sing praises,
All you within this place,
And with true love and brotherhood
Each other now embrace;
This holy tide of Christmas
All other doth deface.
O, tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy!
O, tidings of comfort and joy!

"Good heavens!" Rose could scarcely believe her eyes. Sherlock Holmes lounged asleep in the chair at the window, though he started awake at her cry. As she stood stock-still in the doorway to his bedroom, he took in her presence and smiled blearily.

"Is Watson still asleep, Mrs. Hudson?"

She closed her mouth and approached him slowly, afraid that this was a dream, that he was a spectre who would vanish as soon as she reached him. Even as she stood not twelve inches from him, she could not bring herself to touch him and shatter the illusion. "Mr. Holmes…" Then she realised that her eyes held unshed tears. "Did you—have you…"

"I walked here," he said simply, beaming up at her like a child proud of his handiwork. "I managed it."

This was real. Her imagination was not great enough to conjure this. "Oh, thank God!" she cried, clasping her hands together. "Dear me, what shall the poor Doctor say? Heavens, I'd take his scolding—you can walk! You're on the mend!" She was fully aware that she was rambling—perhaps even slightly hysterically—but she could not have cared less. Her boy was healing!

He chuckled tiredly, obviously slipping back into slumber already. "Be a dear, Mrs. Hudson, and don't allow Watson in here 'til tonight? I know that… Mycroft… and Mary… are coming…"

Planting her fists on her hips, she pinned him with the motherly glare his antics had helped to hone. "Young man, if you think I am going to help you with your theatrics…"

Though falling asleep, his large grey eyes pleaded silently and eloquently with her. She sighed. She never had been able to resist that look, and neither, she fancied, had his mother nor any other susceptible female with whom he had come in contact. "I make no promises," she said at last.

He shrugged infinitesimally as he slouched further down in the chair.

She frowned. "Goodness, Mr. Holmes, should you really fall back asleep here by the window? It is quite cold."

"Don't think… I could stand… again, just yet…"

She threw her hands up—nothing with Sherlock Holmes was ever uncomplicated. "Very well, Mr. Holmes. I bid you a very good evening's sleep, then."

"G'evening, Mrs. Hudson…"

Smiling fondly, she shook her head and grabbed the quilt off of his bed, draping it around his far-too-thin form. She tucked it in and felt a pang in her chest—she had never had a child to tuck in at night, and the only times she ever tucked in the man she thought of as her child was when he was sick or injured. Or both.

There were times when loving someone with a motherly love was the most wonderful and yet the most painful thing in the world.

Mary sighed as she leant against the frame of her bedroom window, feeling homesick and heartsick and not at all in the Christmas spirit. Any other Christmas Eve, she would have been glad for the snow. Now, however, it seemed to taunt her with the hope of a happy holiday that she knew would not come to pass.

She'd heard no word from John. Only her second Christmas as a married woman, and she was spending it with only half of her family. She loved Mrs. Forrester like a mother and the children like the brothers and sisters she'd never had, but she missed her husband and her husband's brother terribly. Rose Hudson, the Lestrades, Ellie Bradstreet, Lisbeth Gregson… good heavens, she really had quite the extended family. The irony of it was that she had acquired it through a man who believed himself to have very few friends.

"Oh, Sherlock," she whispered to the darkling sky, "you've no conception of how many people love you dearly."


Her heart truly did seem to skip a beat as she whirled round and took in the figure standing in her doorway. "John!" She shot up and at him, flinging her arms about him. "Oh, John! Oh, merry Christmas, darling!" She clung to him, but he returned her embrace just as desperately—now that they were reunited, they were afraid to let each other go.

"Merry Christmas, love," he murmured, pressing his face into her hair. His broad shoulders shuddered as his breath hitched with sobs.

She wept with him. "I feared so for you."

"I've missed you—I've missed you terribly."

"And I you." Mary stepped back to look him over, and she did not appreciate what she saw. The streaked hair that was half-ginger blond, half-dark brown and the small moustache that was obviously growing back after having been shaved off was unsettling enough… Yet that was not what had her concerned. "You're so very pale… and thin… You've dark rings beneath your eyes."

"Mere exhaustion, darling."

"You look ill, John," she said firmly.

"I swear to you I am not," he said evenly. "I've simply not had much sleep for the past two weeks."

She planted her fists on her hips and levelled her best governess's frown at him.

He chuckled weakly. "Miss Mary, ma'am, I've come to take you to your Christmas gift."

Freezing, she stared at him, trying to repress the hope that blazed to life in her. "Sherlock. You've found him."

"He's been home for several days now."

"John Hamish Watson! You did not think to send me word?"

He winced. "I did not want you to come to Baker Street just yet—it's been too dangerous."

She raised an eyebrow. "John, in the event that you have somehow forgotten, I am now quite capable of defending myself. You made certain of that, and I believe I proved myself last Christmas."

He chuckled again, doubtless at the memory of her sitting atop a criminal she had knocked unconscious. "So I did, and so you did. But I did not want to take the chance with Professor Moriarty's assassins. One actually made it into the house once."

She sighed, relaxing her posture. "You could have told me, John," she returned sadly, trying to keep the tears from starting again. "Do you know how often I've sat at this window, lonely, completely ignorant of what has been happening, fearing for you and Sherlock? There was one day that I could not rest—I felt so strongly that you were in such trouble."

His hazel eyes were dark and deep with memory she knew he wished to forget. "Forgive me, Mary," he murmured. "I meant to protect you, not to cause you pain."

She smiled mournfully. "Do you realise how much you just sounded like Sherlock?"

John froze, then shook his head. "Bundle up, Mary—it is very cold out."

"Shouldn't I pack?"

He shook his head again. "I mean to bring you back tonight." She opened her mouth to protest, but he raised his hand. "I shan't be home for some time yet, and I stand by what I said before: I don't want you to be in our house alone."

She heaved a sigh. "Very well. I'll only be a minute."

Wiggins had been upstairs only twice since Mr. Holmes's rescue, but he'd certainly known what to expect. Trust the Great Detective to exceed those expectations now. Sherlock Holmes was awake and sitting up in the chair by the window.

In that moment, David Jonathan Wiggins was a little boy again. "Da!"

What followed was a jumble of laughter and tears from them both. But at last, Sherlock Holmes pulled back and said, "Help me over to the bed, there's a good fellow?"

"Yes, sir," Davy said, with a hitched laugh. "Cor, you're so light…"

"Believe… you me, I am… well aware of that." The older man was gasping in pain. Wiggins was glad to set him down on the bed—he hated seeing and hearing his da in pain like that.

"Did you enjoy the carolling?"

Mr. Holmes's eyes blurred again. "The Irregulars… you…"

Wiggins nodded and grinned, doffing his cap and giving a sweeping bow. "The Merry Baker Street Irregulars, at your singing service."

Mr. Holmes laughed brokenly. "Oh, Wig…"

Wiggins straightened and placed his cap back on his head. "Get you some sleep now, sir. I have it on good authority that you'll be having a little gathering here tonight."

"Get yourself some sleep, Wig," Mr. Holmes mumbled, though he closed his eyes and settled back into his bed. Wiggins grabbed the blanket off the chair and threw it over the detective's far-too-thin form. "You look… as though you need it…"

"I shall, sir." Wiggins smiled slightly—Mr. Holmes was a mere ten years older than Wiggins himself and sometimes seemed a lifetime older, but when he slept, he looked as young as his protégé. "Merry Christmas, Da," Wiggins whispered.

The sound of voices in the sitting room, hushed but clarion to his sensitive ears, pulled him back to the land of the living. Wiggins was gone—home to bed, he hoped. Taking care to be quiet and, well, careful, Sherlock Holmes pushed himself up to a sitting position and slid out of bed. The floor was no less cold than when he had tried this earlier, but the sensation was not completely unwelcome. Still as unsteady as a newborn foal, he groped his way along the furniture until he'd reached the door. He heard the voices in the room beyond go silent as he turned the doorknob and pushed the door open.

He must have truly been a sight: still fairly mummified, half-dead beneath that, and standing on wobbling legs. But he was standing. He grinned tiredly at his astonished audience.

"Holmes!" Watson cried.

"Sherlock!" Mycroft and Mary exclaimed together. Sherlock was astonished to see his brother pale and considerably thinner than his wont, and he did not need his brain to be at full capacity to know why. Dear brother, I'm so sorry.

"What on earth are you doing out of bed?" Watson demanded, hazel eyes still wide with shock.

"Obviously, my insensitive brother wishes to give us a serious fright when he collapses from exhaustion," Mycroft said pointedly. Sherlock simply shook his head and did not protest when Mycroft assisted him towards his own armchair, into which he sank gratefully.

It was the first time in over a month that he had presided over his domicile from his throne. He felt nearly giddy with joy at being able to return to it.

"Thank you, brother mine," he murmured. He flashed the Watsons another grin, this one shorter-lived and even more tired than the first.

"Oh, Sherlock," Mary breathed. She rose uncertainly from the settee, then abandoned all hesitation and rushed forward to embrace him. "You are going to be all right—oh, thank God!"

"In time, at any rate," Sherlock agreed feelingly, wrapping his arms around her. He could not imagine how he must appear to her, but, apparently, she did not care. Mary was absolutely worthy to be the helpmeet of his dearest friend. "I have missed you, Mary," he whispered, returning her embrace with all the strength he could manage.

Mary pulled away and wiped at the tears falling from her large blue eyes. "I've missed you." She gave a self-conscious little laugh. "My apologies—I had not intended…"

"Shh." He put his finger on her lips. "It's all right."

She nodded and stood, backing away to let her husband step forward. "You left your bed just today?" said John.

Sherlock nodded, still amazed that he'd managed it.

Watson sighed and shook his head. "You are an idiot," he said flatly.

"I heartily concur, Doctor," Mycroft harrumphed.

Sherlock smiled slightly—both his brothers were visibly repressing smiles. He opened his mouth to retort, but he never had the chance to start. From his bedroom, he heard the sound of shattering glass and a whoosh that was all too familiar.

Adrenaline is a curious thing. Even when one is convalescing from a grave illness, adrenaline can grant the body enough strength to forget its exhaustion. Sherlock and Watson sprang from their chairs almost simultaneously, and, in his peripheral vision, Sherlock saw Mycroft taking Mary's hand and hurrying her to the door.

"Mycroft, get Mary and Mrs. Hudson out of the house!" Watson shouted.

"John!" Mary cried, right as Sherlock re-entered his bedroom. Flames licked at the rug, spread from a good old-fashioned torch.

"Good heavens," he heard Mycroft say.

"Go, Mycroft!" Sherlock shouted hoarsely. He raised his dressing gown to protect his nose and mouth as he grabbed the sheets off his bed. Watson was already beating at the fire with the blanket, and Sherlock joined him. It was a frantic rhythm—Sherlock would not allow his mind to calculate the consequences of a fire spreading throughout his rooms. It was unthinkable.

The room filled with smoke, and it was over nearly as quickly as it had begun.

His adrenaline expended, Sherlock collapsed against the bed, coughing uncontrollably. Watson lifted him up easily and bore him back out to the sitting room, laying him out on the settee. "Stay here," Watson said urgently, and then he was gone. Sherlock merely buried his face into one of the pillows, struggling to stop the coughs.

A minute later, Mycroft and Mary were back, with Mrs. Hudson in tow. "Oh, Mr. Holmes," his landlady half-sighed in that motherly tone she used so well.

"I'll fetch him some water," he heard Mary say.

Sherlock looked up to see Mycroft settle his depleted bulk into Sherlock's armchair. "Of all the ways to spend Christmas Eve…"

When Mary returned a moment later, her husband was with her. John leant over the back of the settee as Mary delivered a glass to the convalescent detective. "Thank you, dear," Sherlock said after gulping down the welcome water. "Well?" he added in an undertone to Watson.

"Wiggins is not going to be happy at a second assassin getting past his defences," Watson sighed. "I couldn't be certain, but I think I recognised the man as one of the lot that's tried to get into this house before. I only caught the back of him clearly as he fled."

Sherlock leant back and closed his eyes with a sigh. "Should have known—" he coughed—"Moriarty would have attempted arson as… as a way to finish me… if all else failed…"

"You've been scarcely lucid enough even to entertain such a notion," Watson said severely.

A wave of shame washed over the detective—he was coming to acknowledge that he had brought all this upon himself and had brought grief to the people around him. He draped his arm across his still-closed eyes, attempting to huddle down in the settee as if to hide himself in disgrace from the world. "I know."

"Holmes." His Boswell's voice was gentle this time. "Moriarty won the first battle, not the war."

Mary's cry of delight brought their attentions back to the present. "Thank you so much, Mr. Holmes." Sherlock opened his eyes and glanced from beneath his arm at his honorary sister, who was smiling down at a beautifully-bound Idylls of the King in her lap.

"Tennyson is much too flowery, Mycroft," Sherlock muttered.

Mary heard him, looked up to meet John's eyes, and shook her head. "Never mind him, dear," Mrs. Hudson soothed. "What is the book about?"

As Mary explained, Watson returned his attention to Sherlock and shook his head. "I don't think he shall try again tonight," the Doctor whispered. The others were busying themselves with the gifts beneath the tree, striving for a sense of normalcy. "For tonight, Holmes, let's enjoy this holiest of holidays."

Sherlock smirked wearily. "Poetic… as ever, Watson." The expression swiftly crumbled as a solemn sensation nagged at the back of his mind. "Do you know, I somehow feel as if… as if this is the last Christmas we shall enjoy together for… for quite a long time."

Even as the words came out of his mouth, he knew they were a mistake. Watson blanched. "Holmes, don't say that."

"My dear Watson, I am many things, but I am not prescient, despite what others may think. It is a… a vague intuition. Nothing more."

"I've always trusted your intuition."

Sherlock reached up and fondly patted Watson's hand. "Then trust this: no matter how far and how long we are separated, we shall always come back to each other. That is more than an intuition, my dear fellow—that is a promise."

Sebastian Moran watched the proceeds of 221B's sitting room through the sights of his airgun. There was Mrs. Watson, a pretty little thing—he certainly could not fault Major Watson's judgement there. Mrs. Hudson, roughly the same age as Moran himself and, from what he'd heard, a surrogate mother to Holmes. The elder Holmes brother, the man who personified the British government, the man who was not to be touched—Professor's orders. Major Watson himself, considerably worn-down since their encounter with each other. And Sherlock Holmes, draped across the settee, exhausted but unmistakably alive.

The fire had been a diversion to get Moran past the defences of Baker Street and into Camden House, opposite 221B. The Professor had grown justifiably impatient with the incompetence of his own trained killers, and had at last sent Moran out on this mission. Moran shook his head—he should have been the first one here, and would have been if he'd had his way.

Now it was Christmas Eve, and he was spending it on an assassination rather than at the ball he'd meant to attend. He was professional to the very end, but even he did not appreciate being sent out on a mission on Christmas Eve, of all nights. Looking through his sights now, he appreciated it even less.

For, whatever others might think of him, Colonel Moran was not without a heart. He had his lights, and he stuck to them. Call him a sentimental fool, but he did not want to kill a man on Christmas Eve, not even a man he hated. He could not speak for the Professor, but he himself was not without respect for the holiday. Furthermore, much as Watson irked Moran, the army doctor also had his respect. Major John H. Watson was a good man and, from what Moran had been able to gather, a good soldier—and there were few things Moran respected more.

He sighed as he lowered his gun. He had already angered the Professor greatly twice in the last two months, and he was risking his very life by doing it a third time. But he would shed no blood tonight.

Sherlock could have fainted from surprise when Mycroft opened the case for the Stradivarius and lifted it up to his shoulder. Mycroft pointed the bow at him and said, "This is the first and last time I do this for you, Sherlock, and I'm likely to make a fool of myself for it, but what should you like to hear?"

Sherlock did not have to consider it. "'Silent Night'."

Mycroft nodded. "'Silent Night' it is." He tucked the violin beneath his chin and scraped the bow across it a few times before he got his bearings. Sherlock was fairly certain Mycroft had played neither that violin nor any other in a good fifteen years, if not longer.

Mary squeezed in beside John in his armchair, and Mrs. Hudson came to sit by Sherlock. He gave her a brief, grateful smile before returning his attention to Mycroft. The playing was a bit shaky, but that did not prevent the Watsons from singing along.

Silent night, holy night
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon Virgin Mother and Child
Holy Infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace

James Moriarty cut open the envelope addressed in his brother's handwriting. The card was a typical Christmas greeting card, festive and utterly unlike Colonel John Moriarty. The message inside was even more so, and was signed: Your loving brother, John.

James sighed. He had no patience for his brother's pettiness. It was no fault of his own that he'd inherited all the brain and John all the brawn in their proud military and intellectual family. A bit too independent for his own health Moran might be, but it was infinitely preferable to a younger brother's interminable envy. John's jealousy had created a schism between them when they were still boys, and James had been glad to enter university at the tender age of twelve.

Shaking his head at himself, James returned to his paperwork. Nostalgia was for the infirm, and he did not mean to reach that point for some years to come. He heard the carol a merry troupe was singing outside, but he paid it no heed. Charles Dickens had created quite a practical figure in Ebenezer Scrooge—such a shame that he had gone on to destroy that practicality. James had no intention of allowing the same fate to befall him.

Silent night, holy night
Shepherds quake at the sight
Glories stream from Heaven afar
Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia!
Christ, the Saviour is born
Christ, the Saviour is born

Geoffrey Lestrade placed the final package beneath the tree, then leant back to survey the pile. "It's a small lot," he said quietly.

"It always is," Annie returned, kissing him firmly on the side of his head. "Never you mind. The kinderlekh certainly don't. They have their Tad, and they know they're blessed to have such a fine one."

Geoffrey smiled tiredly up at her. "What would I do without you?"

"Exactly what you did before you met me," she said wryly.

He frowned. "I don't recall doing much of anything outside of work."

"There you are." She grinned mischievously. "Shall we have our own Christmas celebration, Inspector Lestrade?"

He shook his head and laughed as he rose to his feet. "No one would think you Jewish by your Christmas spirit, love." He drew her to him and planted a kiss on her forehead.

"Merry Christmas, Inspector," she murmured into his shoulder.

No one could infuse his title with as much affection as his wife could. He whispered, "Merry Christmas, Annie," and kissed her again.

Sherlock was swiftly drifting off to sleep before the first stanza was complete. It put him in drowsy mind of his first Christmas with Watson, when his own playing had put the young veteran to sleep. It had been the best Christmas Sherlock had known in years, and he very much believed that this one would prove similar.

Silent night, holy night
Son of God, love's pure light
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth

Author's Note:

When it came time to truly plot this chapter out, one of the first things that came to mind was what I call the "Silent Night Montage." One aspect of that was to show Moriarty opening a card from his brother—the message of which, btw, I prefer to leave the imagination of the reader. I meant to show, somewhat indirectly, how lonely a man Moriarty truly is. Whether you pity him or not is up to you—that wasn't my intention, although I do find myself pitying him. Evil cannot beget Love, nor can Evil comprehend it. The sad thing is here is that Moran, who we already know to be a monster, can understand love, at least in a twisted sort of way—Moriarty can't.

As for Geoffrey and Annie… mm… Y'know, there's a reason they've had five children in their thirteen years of marriage. ^_^ Oh, and bravo to Annie for using three different languages in one little paragraph (my tongue is so firmly in my cheek…): English (obviously), Yiddish, and Welsh. Bless the online Yiddish dictionary!— kinderlekh means "dear children" or "darling children." Tad is simply Welsh (and apparently Breton) for "Dad." Anyway… It's a wonderful life, Geoffrey!

*can't keep up the deadpan expression*

Ahem. Mycroft playing the Strad. Well, in all seriousness, it's possible that he might have had violin lessons—we just don't know. "Silent Night" was yet another nod to "Their First Christmas"—I've a feeling Sherlock's been thinking about it a lot…

Okay, anybody who read Have Yourself a Chaotic Little Christmas last December had to know the "Christmas gathering" scene. Deciding to redraft that scene from the original is probably what saved this chapter from a slow and torturous writing process—that was the point where I started to enjoy myself. There are two reasons for my calling Sherlock by his Christian name in his POV scenes. 1) Mycroft is in the same room, and I've always held that it's ridiculous for the two brothers to be labeled as "Mycroft" and "Holmes" when they're together—they are both Holmes! Even Watson didn't do that in the Canon: the scenes with Mycroft were the only times Watson ever called Sherlock, Sherlock! 2) Sherlock is pretty open and unguarded at this point; it seemed very fitting to use his Christian name.

And, ha, he snarked! Sherlock Holmes actually snarked for the first time in… how many chapters? I don't even know! He's been pretty mild overall during this case! *laughs* Anyway, I think that the "intuition" exchange at the end of that scene was my favorite part of the entire sequence. Along with, well, just about everything I added to the original to flesh it out! :D

Lest you think I'm forgetting Moran, I haven't. I really enjoyed this prime opportunity to get into his head—I regard this scene as my best Moran scene. Of course, we know that, in five months, Moran will well and truly hate himself for not following through on his orders tonight. But he doesn't, and he's taking the colossal audacity to make his own call once again. (For Moran's own sake, he'd better find a way to redeem himself—fast. Need I say that Moriarty will really not be happy?)

The scene between John and Mary was rewritten and lengthened from the original, which actually took place from John's POV. But that version was far too short and dry, and switching POVs really enriched it and had me enjoying the writing.

I have very little to say about Rose's scene, other than that I really infused all my own experience with motherhood (about as much as the firstborn of a large family can have) into those last two paragraphs.

So as not to clog the chapter up with one sentimental reunion after another, I did resort to "tell" with part of the Wiggins scene. Sorry about that—but, really… The best part, of course, was Wiggins forgetting himself and calling Holmes "Da"… *melts* And then, "the Merry Baker Street Irregulars"! Was anybody surprised at that little reveal? I mean, c'mon… *grins* And, oh, Wig, you've been hanging around your da for far too long.

I know I said a couple chapters ago that I thought I had ten-ish more to go. Well, I believe that I actually have only two more chapters and an epilogue to go. There will be a sequel, you know, and there's lots of bonus material to consider. Which brings me to announce:

Deliver Us from Evil: Beyond Mortality!

This will be a collection of the rough drafts of bonus material. MadameGiry25, a certain edited Tankerville sequence comes to mind… This collection should help to wrap up a forgotten case with young Hopkins, that of Holmes's decoy corpse, as well as give the Lestrade family more screentime. Plus, a brief extension on a pre-existing scene between Lestrade and Patterson—Lestrade comes across an eerie piece of artwork. All this and more on its way in a few more weeks, so stay tuned!

Definitely stay tuned! The next chapter will have the very first scene in which Lestrade and Holmes speak with each other—very big, yes? Of course, the issues are chapter-plotting and time—no idea when I'll be able to post. Just…

Please keep reviewing!