"Have yourself a merry little Christmas. Let your heart be light. Next year all our troubles will be out of sight." Judy Garland

.***.

Watson smiled to himself when Sherlock leaned forward in the chair, intent on Mozart's Allegro Spiritoso. Holmes watched the violins coax the music from the strings, and Watson watched Holmes, happy that his friend was enjoying his Christmas gift. It wasn't often that the London Symphony produced such a repertoire, but everyone seemed determined to outperform each other this holiday season.

Unfortunately, criminals were in that number.

"You seemed to enjoy the show," Watson said, smiling at Holmes, who was absently humming the melody. "Perhaps you could audition? Not for the London Symphony to start, but with your skills…"

Watson, on Mycroft's urgings, had been attempting to steer his aging partner from The Hunt he so enjoyed. But it was difficult to replace such a thrill, even with whatever happiness Holmes derived from his violin.

"You have overestimated my talents again, Watson. I am but a poor dabbler in that art."

"You could be great. I've heard you compose enough two am concertos to know that you have talent. I have attended enough concerts with you to know the difference between a dabbler and a musician."

Holmes's lips twitched for a second, and that was a moment that Watson would remember later. Moment One: Holmes illuminated under the street lamp, the flickering gas illuminating his half-smile, the dew drops of pre-snow in the air catching on his hair, his scarf, his hat, and Watson was comforted by the familiarity of it all.

They walked down the streets, Watson's cane tapping a cadence on the bricks. Holmes cleared his throat, and Watson shot him a look. "Not tonight, old friend. Not so close to Christmas."

"Old friend. If we were such, you would take my advice."

"I am a medical man!"

"And I am a man of science! I have kept up-to-date in every scientific achievement man has reached in my lifetime, and I tell you that there is a cure for your leg."

"It barely pains me, Holmes. And those advancements you refer to have been performed on monkeys, not humans."

"Barely pains you!" Holmes turned on the street, gripping Watson's arm. They were no longer young men, or at least not as young as they once were. Both pushing forty, and looking it. Especially in the lines that appeared around Holmes's eyes.

Moment two: Those grey eyes crinkling in concern, the hand gripping his arm tight, tight, the long fingers that produced such great music so determined to hang onto a defective doctor.

"I hear you get up at night and stump around, trying to warm up that-that useless reminder of the war! I know that the reason you allow yourself to be caught up in conversations when we walk the streets is so that you have an excuse to slow down. And I know that your leg pains you so much that it gives you headaches, that sometimes it can't stop shaking, and once in a while you stare at a knife and wonder if your flatmate is right and relieving the pressure is all that needs to be done to heal the wound completely. And you might just try it yourself."

Watson looked about the street, nearly empty so late at night, but one couple had stopped and were staring at these two men locked in such close proximity. "You are making a scene, Holmes. The matter is dropped."

"Then so is my taking up hobbies. I know that's what Mycroft invited you to lunch to talk about. I'm not getting old."

"Blackmail, Holmes?" Watson shook his head and, just to prove he was well, surged forward, cane and bad leg be damned. He was half a block away and cooling off in the chilly weather. An alley way, an awning, seemed the perfect place to linger while Holmes caught up.

It was late Christmas Eve. Musicians had spent the whole Christmas concert trying to outdo each other, culminating in a piece that had nothing to do with the season in their efforts. Criminals, too, were trying to get that one last great act in.

A gun to his back. "Do what I say and I won't shoot you, eh guv?"

Moment three: Not a vision locked in time at all. A sound. A voice. Holmes, saying his name as it had been said so many times before. "Watson!" Shouted, screamed, murmured, said, introduced. Except not like this, not in Watson's memory. This third memory was just Holmes's voice, sad and loud and so, so scared. Scared?

"Alright," Watson said, going for his pocket, hands splayed in peace, "Although if you had presented your case eloquently, you might have earned the money in a less violent way. Given the spirit of the holidays."

"I don't need no lectures from you, guv. Just the money."

Watson was acutely aware of Holmes speeding up the hill. In a second, two, he would get to their position and things would get ugly. His wallet had only a scant few pounds in it anyway – well, that and the gift he'd picked up for Mrs. Hudson, but surely he could slip it out before the young man was any the wiser.

"Whatcha doing there, guv? No funny business!"

Moment four: It was nearly snowing now, and out of the corner of his eye he could see Holmes rushing towards them. He didn't look angry, or powerful. Just frantic. And worried. Taking up most of his vision was that gun, the one now being coated with a thin layer of snow. It was Christmas Eve, and the wreath on the shop door across from them proved that. It was Christmas Eve. Were bad things supposed to happen?

Holmes's second yell distracted the young man enough for Watson to use his cane (good for some things, apparently) to trip him up. What else could he do? That gun was pointing at Holmes, at his best friend, at the one man in the world who had stuck by him for twenty years. They were getting old, but their relationship – or, at least, Watson's perception of their relationship – was as rock solid as the first year of their partnership. Better, even. The intervening twenty years had brought love, loss, Holmes's death and resurrections, Mary's death, murders, villains, hope, justice. Those small moments that made everything worthwhile. He remembered those moments now, and had no regrets.

The gunman didn't fall. Holmes was within reach now. Another second and he would use some of those moves he learned in the arena (until Watson and Mycroft's pleadings made him stop five years back) and the young man would be apprehended.

But anyone will tell you that if you have to go out, you go out with a bang.

*BANG*

.***.

Holmes incapacitated the gunman in a few quick strokes. Already people were poking their heads out of windows and shops, wondering who would disturb the peace so rudely on Christmas Eve. "Ring the police!" Holmes yelled at them all. "And an ambulance!"

He kicked the gunman out of the way and knelt next to Watson. "Still determined to go for the heroics? I thought we were growing up, my dear Watson."

"You know neither of us can resist a good fight." Ah, but this one would be an awful fight. A bloody, horrible fight in which Watson attempted to cling to his life and Holmes tried to help him. He stared down at Watson's body in the moonlight and the snow and got a flash, a sudden knowledge that this moment would stay with him forever.

Moment One: Watson's teeth stained with blood, his hands pressed over the wound on his abdomen. His hair, his face, the injury were beginning to get coated with snow. And he was looking at Holmes so tenderly that Holmes thought he might just break into pieces at the look. Because, according to Watson's eyes, none of it mattered as long as Holmes was alive and well. The idiot.

"You're the one who was so set on having the perfect Christmas. I even let you bring a tree up to the flat this year. What kind of Christmas is it going to be if you die on me? Watson? John?" Holmes didn't want to, but he slapped Watson's face. Gently. Then harder. And the blue eyes opened again and squinted up at him, and all Holmes could see was pain.

"So sorry," Watson said, smiling thinly, and Holmes felt something in him swell, burst, die in his chest when Watson coughed once and his life's blood poured all over the new snow.

"Don't apologize. There's nothing to apologize for. You'll be all right. Things always turn out, don't they?" Holmes, ordered, practical, rational Sherlock Holmes, was looking for reassurance, for facts he knew didn't exist. Watson had been shot at close range. They weren't young men anymore.

Moment two: The police arriving, finally, and a hand on his shoulder. What was Lestrade doing on duty Christmas Eve? The hand gripped his shoulder tight, tighter, "let the doctors get to him, old boy. Come on, Holmes." Movement, and the whirling snow, made the whole scene unreal. Add in the Christmas decorations, and it might as well have been a memory from another life.

"What happened?" Lestrade asked, gripping both of Holmes's shoulders now. Mostly to stop him from growling at the doctors who were trying to bundle Watson off to the hospital. "Holmes! What happened?"

"We were at a concert." Holmes said, his voice sounding thick to his own ears. Was that melted snow on his face? Must be. Sherlock Holmes didn't cry. "Watson's Christmas gift to me. It was an excellent recital."

"I meant -"

"I know what you mean. Watson would want me to set the scene. We left the concert and Watson was limping. His war wound, you know. It pains him in bad weather. I mentioned some medical advancements that may help. We argued. He pulled ahead of me. I could have kept pace, of course, but he needed the time. Sometimes…"

"Yes, I know. You don't understand why a doctor won't take medical advice from a detective. Go on."

"It was so mundane. A mugging? After everything we've done?" Holmes looked up, and his face was shining with moisture that he would always claim was the melting snow.

Moment three: His last glimpse of Watson that night. Red blood seeming almost like another Christmas decoration. His face…the face that Holmes had come so accustomed to. Had it been twenty years? Twenty years of partnership, of being roommates and confidants and friends…all taken away by a gunshot on Christmas Eve.

Holmes picked up the cane that had been left behind. "He'll need this." An optimistic thought, and usually Holmes was a realist, not an optimist. Watson, his chronicler, his partner, was the optimist. And in his absence, Holmes had no choice but to take up that way of thinking.

"I'm sure he will." Lestrade said quietly. He aimed a kick at the young mugger as they left the crime scene. He was older, wiser, and knew better, but couldn't help himself. One of the best men the old detective had ever known was going to die tonight, and he blamed the man holding the smoking gun.

Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective, one of the greatest minds in the world, threw his head up to the sky and thought about remembrance, and courage, and hope, and all those intangibles he'd always scoffed at Watson for holding onto so dearly.

Hadn't the hero-doctor-writer tried to explain to him once about moments? About how life was just a string of instances put together, and it was all about the sum of the parts, not the whole, that mattered. In the end.

And as soon as that memory came to him (and he could picture the conversation: Watson in his favorite chair in Baker Street, looking thoughtfully at him over a cup of tea, eyes twinkling as Holmes tried to argue his way out of the thought) then a thousand others did, too. Moments, as Watson had said, stringing together to form a partnership, a friendship, a lifetime…

…Baker Street: the two of them eating and discussing cases; Watson handing him the newspaper before he could ask for it; putting bullet holes in the walls and having Watson shake his head at them as he shrugged on his coat early enough to make morning rounds; a gentle hand pushing food at him, begging him to eat; concerned eyes asking him not to go for the cocaine again; a laugh, a smile, as a bull pup was dropped into his lap…

…Cases: that eureka moment when everything fit together; that sinking feeling, gut wrenching, heart-breaking, when he realized his recklessness had gotten his partner shot; knowing, in the back of his mind, that he should be nicer to the police they worked with so closely. Dismissing this because Watson was nice enough for the both of them…

Moments so clear, threaded together like popcorn on a string, like paper chains to decorate the Christmas trees that hung all around them, mocking with their unabashed joy.

Holmes must have gasped audibly, because Lestrade's hand gripped his shoulder even as the clock struck twelve. They had officially passed over into Christmas morning. And by now, Watson may have passed on from the world.

He didn't know what life would be like without Watson. It had been so long since he'd had to live without his partner – his absence, of course, what Watson delicately called the Hiatus, but at least then he'd known that Watson was alive and presumably happy somewhere in the world. Every one of those moments that made up a lifetime had concerned his partner in some way.

It couldn't end like this, on some grimy London street, not even in the midst of a case, when their last words had been a senseless argument.

The clock chimed for the hour, hammer strikes on his heart. They were nearing that time of night when the curtain between worlds is the thinnest. A younger Holmes had had a nanny who called it 'the witching hour.' When prayers can be heard easiest. Was that the old nanny, or Watson, on one of the few occasions when he let his Christian colors shine?

And so Holmes prayed, and the carriage clattered on, and the clock kept winding up and striking, and somewhere outside a late-night choir raised their voices and sang about peace.

And Holmes just had to hope that those moments added up to something larger. Something to counterbalance a bullet to the chest and blood spilled on snow. Life is, to the rational brain, nothing more than an equation. A life for a life. Love for a life.

It was Christmas Day, in the early years of twentieth century London, and Sherlock Holmes could only sit next to Gregory Lestrade and pray to a God he was sure he didn't believe in that the love of a reclusive detective would be enough to save the kindest man he'd ever known.

After all, it was the time of year for miracles.

.***.

the end

we've had this thing lately with not-exactly-happy-endings. but we do wish you a merry christmas, because christmas is what happens despite all the awful, mean, nasty things in the world. so mery christmas, happy new year, and remember that if you have to wish for one thing this year, we suggest praying for peace on earth.

goodwill towards men.