The Auxillary Science of History
The presents had all been given out and the two men in 221B were lulling over mulled wine and Sherlock's rather lazy rendition of Violin Concerto No. 1 in G Minor Op. 26 by Max Bruch. The soft, precious swelling of the violin, stripped raw by the absence of accompaniment, served to make even Sherlock's half-hearted fingering sound all the more climactic. The windows were glossed over with condensation, fogging up their view of the lightly falling snowflakes outside, but John was more focused on the swift movements of his flatmate's keen digits and the delicate manipulations of his bow.
John plucked at the cozy fabric of his new jumper (bought by Mrs. Hudson and labeled 'from Sherlock', not that he intended to tell them he knew) and yawned; it'd been a long day, even by their standards. Sherlock had forgotten it was Christmas and had woken up at six am to head to the morgue, being irritated and confounded when he found it closed, then returned home in a high temper, banging their teacups around and nearly breaking John's RAMC mug in his frustration.
It was only upon the realization that he was finally allowed to open the presents (whose contents he'd deduced weeks ago) that his agitation vanished, and he tore into the tinsely wrapping paper with clear and obvious glee. As he opened his presents he told John how satisfied he was with the sheet music and rosin, as well as the set of chemicals John had procured at a dear price.
"You clearly know how to treat a flatmate well. I have not been nearly so lucky at the other times I have roomed with others," Sherlock purred as he admired the bottles of salts and acids, neatly labeled in their glass bottles. "Oh, and you've even got bromide. Wonderful! I ran out just last week."
"The last person I roomed with chose to kick me out into the street on Christmas Eve. I was … chemically compromised. Lestrade found me."
John winced. Anecdotes from Sherlock's drug days always brought with them a sharp sense of unease; they were reminders of a worse time but yet also a harbinger of what may come, should either of them relapse into the brink of hopelessness and despair that both men had crawled out of in their separate ways. He knew now that if one of them were to disappear into that chasm, the other would surely follow. Sherlock was not so independent as he liked to appear, and John was not nearly so resilient as his boasts made others believe. They needed one another. That was a fact.
As Sherlock didn't seem to grasp the concept of Christmas being reciprocal gift-giving, John wasn't surprised to find only the jumper from Mrs. Hudson from under the tree, but he shrugged and accepted it gratefully. Christmas wasn't about presents or candy, but about spending time with loved ones, and though Sherlock and Mrs. Hudson didn't constitute family, they were, to him, very loved. Mrs. Hudson, who doted after him the way his mother never did, and Sherlock, who showed affection in strange ways, were all he could really count on in the world: in the end, it was enough. It had to be enough. He couldn't ask for more exciting or more absurd times if he had all the choices in the world.
The doctor was startled out of his reverie by Sherlock's violin falling silent, and the man himself staring at him. "I've almost forgot," he implied in his calm baritone. "Your Christmas present."
"I'm wearing my Christmas present, Sherlock," he responded, holding out his arms to show the cranberry cableknit across his chest.
Sherlock waved airily as he set the violin down on the end table. "Surely you realize that was bought by Mrs. Hudson and signed under my name. The handwriting is all wrong, the wrapping paper looks like it was ripped from a Victorian cellar and it smells precisely of the herbal soothers that our lovely landlady uses in the afternoons – I'm surprised the scent hasn't summoned Lestrade's sniffer dog."
"Anderson's likely busy with his wife."
The detective snorted. "Oh, I'm sure he's busy, alright. Not with the wife." Standing up, he clapped his hands together. "Now, the matter of your present. I was in such a hurry this morning I completely forgot." Without another word he disappeared into his bedroom; John sat in the cold silence of the living room, with only the crackling fire for company, before Sherlock reappeared with a heavy, leatherbound book.
"What's this then?" John looked up at the expectant face of his flatmate, whose crystalline eyes glimmered excitedly in the rosy glow of the room. He accepted the huge book with an oomph as the detective dropped it in his lap.
"Open it and see."
Curious, John slowly pulled back the cover and promptly realized that the book was an old medical text, but the pages had been covered with pictures and captions, as well as handwritten historical notation and context for the accompanying photographs.
"I have another copy of it – Hippocrates' The Sacred Disease. You are welcome to read it, though I imagine you already have."
"Read it in Afghanistan," he murmured. "What are all these pictures? I've never seen them before." He ran his finger down the carefully pasted-in polaroids, clearly WWII-era. Some were originals while others were high-quality photocopies, but all were notated with year and date penned in Sherlock's best handwriting.
"I'm well aware you can read, John," Sherlock drawled. "Do utilize that skill."
With a hammering heart he read the inscription on the first page: "A photographical and biographical account of Dr. Leofwin Watson, MD, of the Royal Army Medical Corps (1911-1940) and Dr. John Watson, MD, of the Royal Army Medical Corps (1971). Compiled by Sherlock Holmes, December of 2011."
"One hundred years since your grandfather's birth. I thought it was a fitting present, and one you would appreciate, being as he is the part of the reason you chose to join the Royal Army Medical Corps." Sherlock gave a quiet grin as he perched on the chair beside John, watching him flip through the pages, fingers trembling and eyes bright.
On the last page, a photograph of Leofwin was pasted beside one of John that Sherlock had begged from one of his army friends, both standing in a remarkably similar pose: turned partially from the camera, looking back, left hand shielding their eyes and right dangling at their sides. The inscription read, "To the bravest man I've ever met, and the bravest man I wish I'd met. John, I am certain you would have made your grandfather proud. Warm regards, Sherlock."
John smiled through his tears and glanced up at his flatmate. "How long have you been working on this?" he whispered. His finger absently stroked the picture of his grandfather, and he looked down again at the tome in his hands.
"Several months. Since you lamented the fact that you couldn't find much information on your grandfather, and when you talked about how he inspired you to join the RAMC. You thought I wasn't listening, but for once I was. I must have driven half the archivists in London to the brink of madness with my constant demands that they pore over their WWII photos one more time, and Mycroft bullied the fellows at the War Office so much that one of them stopped returning his calls. I even went to talk to your sister, as distasteful as that had been.
"A lot of the background history in the beginning is rather general, plucked from various sources on WWII history I happened to have in my stacks, but I found several good primary documents on Leofwin himself – including how he was bullied for his German-sounding name – at a lovely little preservation society near his hometown. One of them had a grandmother who was friends with your grandfather before the war, and she had a letter from him. You'll find the photocopy of that on page 7."
Tears sparkled in the surface of John's eyes, and he gently pressed the book shut to avoid any moisture damaging the fragile photographs. "Sherlock … this is amazing. Absolutely amazing."
"I must agree with you in that regard. It was splendid work." Sherlock preened, sidling back to his regular chair and flopping down with a flounce.
"But why did you do it? This is so unlike you. I mean, to take an interest in my history, or what I'm interested in, or even in me, as anything other than an assistant … it sounds like it was a lot of work. Why all the effort?"
Sherlock paused in the middle of picking up his violin to play a version of The Sheep May Safely Graze. "Because you are my dearest and only friend. And because the look of joy on your face was worth the effort. It may be a subtle one, and it may be stirred at only the rarest times, by the deepest of feelings, but John – I do have a heart."
"So I can see," he replied, offering a warm smile through his still-misty eyes. "Thank you."
Sherlock smiled in return before settling his chin on the rest of his gleaming violin. "Merry Christmas, John."
The two men settled into a comfortable lull as the violin sang of sheep and shelter through the fleecy snow. No words were necessary as John read about his grandfather, and as Sherlock romanced his music; wrapped in reminiscence, their companionship was enough to warm them throughout the winter night.