Holiday Handful - Five Fics for the Festive Season
Foible (PG-13, language)
John did not hate American tourists. Sure, he complained about them on occasion. Who didn't? But these were the sort of American tourists who gave the whole lot of them a bad reputation. They weren't deliberately rude or anything; they were just Well
John tried to be patient with the woman as he explained why the tube she and her husband had taken from Oxford Circus had landed them at Charing Cross instead of Paddington (The couple had caught the right tube, but going the wrong direction.), and all the while wished that he'd kept walking and pretended not to speak English when the couple had asked for directions.
"We're from Wisconsin. We're here for Christmas, doncha know," the woman practically shouted at him. (They were the sort who spoke overloud to anyone with what they deemed to be a foreign accent, which apparently included Brits on their home soil.) "And I really want to see the big Paddington Bear that I heard they have displayed at Paddington Station," she explained, although John hadn't asked.
She seemed to expect a response of some sort, so he said, "Right." His breath clouded in front of him on the single syllable. God, it was cold. How could these people just stand there talking like it wasn't fucking negative-five degrees out? And why hadn't he grabbed a hat when he left the flat? That had been a stupid mistake. At least he had his gloves.
"Our daughter's studying over here," the man added just as loudly as his wife, although, again, John hadn't asked. He was too busy worrying that his ears would freeze right off his head, even though he knew that was medically impossible until one got to far colder temperatures.
"We thought we'd come visit her in London before she bankrupts us with her school bills." The man laughed, as though he thought discussing personal financial difficulties with a perfect stranger was somehow appropriate or normal.
John managed to drag up a lame little smile and a sympathetic chuckle. "Right."
The man rambled on while John desperately looked for an exit strategy that wouldn't appear rude. He was pretty sure his jaw was freezing solid now, as well as his ears.
"Everything's so expensive over here. Have you noticed that? I had a hamburger last night that cost me twenty-four bucks! I tell ya, I shouldn't have figured out the conversion, you know? I'd'a been better off not knowing. And pint of beer? Damn! Must be cheaper in Ireland, huh?" he went on in an attempt at a conspiratorial tone that could still be heard some twenty feet away. "Otherwise how could they all be such heavy drinkers? Am I right?" Again the laugh, but now accompanying an incredibly inappropriate joke.
This time all John could manage was a tiny nod. "Right." His ears were like ice, but they still worked well enough to understand every word the Americans said--more was the pity. "Well, uh--"
"Our daughter's studying at LAMDA," the woman went on. "That's a theatre school," she added quickly, "Not a gay school. Lambda, you know?" She chuckled nervously.
"Right." Did she listen to herself when she spoke? Surely not.
Perhaps John had the sort of face that made Americans want to spill their life stories to him, although he couldn't remember experiencing the phenomenon before. Maybe it was simply a Wisconsinite (Wisconsinan? Wisconsinian?) foible that caused them to over-share. Either way, he desperately needed to get out of this conversation and into some place warm.
"You have a beautiful city here," she went on, and whether she was trying to cover her faux-pas or just making idle conversation while John's ears slowly numbed in the bitter December wind, he couldn't decide.
The man nodded. "Expensive as hell, but beautiful. If you can ignore all the construction and giant cranes, that is. City this old must be under reconstruction all the time. Am I right?"
Like a gift from heaven, John's mobile rang at that moment. "Excuse me." He pulled the phone from his coat pocket and gave the couple an apologetic look. "Good luck finding your way."
They didn't seem at all affronted by his friendly dismissal. "Oh sure!" the woman exclaimed, waving a hand in the air and smiling, still apparently unaffected by the bitter chill. "Thanks for your help. Merry Christmas!"
"Merry Christmas," echoed John. He waited until they'd turned, consulted their map, pointed, and headed back to the tube station before answering his phone. It was warm against his nearly numb ear. "Hallo?"
"Where are you?" Sherlock's buttery voice was a balm after the shouting Wisconsinners.
"On my way home. I just have to wait for the next train." The one after the train the couple would, hopefully, take. Heaven help him if they ended up in the same car.
"Meet me in Piccadilly instead."
"Don't ask questions. It's Christmas."
That was promising. Sherlock's surprises weren't always pleasant, but when John's flatmate added the holiday to the mix, chances were good that whatever he had in mind did not involve refrigerated body parts or things in Petri dishes. It didn't rule out those things, mind you, but it did improve the odds.
"Bring me a hat."
They met up at a pub in Piccadilly that was advertising classic English holiday fare. John couldn't remember the last time he'd had roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, but he was certain it hadn't been as good as what he'd dined on tonight. That had been Sherlock's surprise, and it could hardly have shocked John more had his flatmate presented him with a pony complete with a pink, sparkling saddle. Sherlock and dining out--when Sherlock actually took part in the dining, that is--were a rare combination.
Now, with a warm meal in his belly and a third pint of bitter in front of him, John felt content and happy. Even the irritating tourists were behind him. He'd just finished relating the story of the Wisconsin couple to Sherlock.
"You'd have hated them," he said. "You'd've found them totally boring. They were oblivious, solecistic, and just so very "
"American?" supplied Sherlock.
"Afraid so. And not in the good ways." He chuckled and took a pull on his beer.
"Do you want dessert?" Sherlock's question sounded indifferent on the surface, but John knew his friend well. Sherlock's sweet tooth was positively legendary.
" You want dessert."
"They do a bread pudding and whiskey sauce here. It's marvellous. I could live on it for weeks."
"I hope you won't have to." A possibility occurred to John and he almost frowned. "We don't have any cases hiding in the wings that I don't know about, do we?" That would explain Sherlock's sudden willingness to devour large quantities of food; he was gearing up for a case and didn't want the distraction of having to eat.
"No. No cases. We could share one," offered Sherlock, back to the subject that mattered most to him at that moment. "If you're too full for your own."
God, he was like a kid sometimes, thought John. He clearly was desperate for pudding and was afraid John would say no. Didn't he realise John couldn't possibly disappoint him when he was like this? He must. Not that it changed a thing.
"Sure. Order one pudding with two forks. But I get the first bite." It was a strategy John had learned early on when "sharing" a sweet treat with Sherlock. It was the only way he could assure that he got any of it at all.
Sherlock grinned. "Fine."
Turgid (PG-13, language)
John grimaced in pain and bit back a string of invective. Bloody ice. Bloody pavement. And now, bloody palms to go with them. He bet he'd bruised his hip in the fall, too, damn it. His leg hadn't been aching before, but it would be soon after hitting the pavement that hard.
He tried to steady himself to stand up, and hissed in a breath. "Ow! Fuck!" His left wrist protested the movement and the pressure.
Sherlock reached out to help him up and steadied him once he was on his feet. "Let me see."
"You are not collecting torn skin samples from my hands." They were two blocks from home when John slipped and fell, so the prospect of tissue samples wasn't outside the realm of possibility.
Sherlock endeavoured to look hurt by the accusation although John could tell he'd been thinking it. "Do you need to see someone? You've sprained your wrist."
"When did you get your medical license?" snapped John, equally annoyed by Sherlock's spot-on diagnosis, his throbbing wrist, his aching leg, and the stinging pain in his palms. "I've got stuff at home; I can clean this up there."
"Yes. Now let's go. It's freezing out here."
It wasn't the nicest way to end the evening, but he would survive.
"You should have been wearing your gloves."
"Stuff it, Sherlock."
They arrived at Baker Street without further incident. John limped up the stairs (Damned leg.) and immediately went into the bathroom to clean up his torn hands. The third time he'd dropped the antiseptic wipe in the sink, Sherlock said, "Let me help."
John's shoulders slumped. He hated feeling helpless, even -- or perhaps especially -- when it was over something as minor as this. He gave in grudgingly. "Thanks."
Sherlock's hands were gentle as he washed the scrapes clean with saline and patted them dry with a sterile pad. His head was bowed over his work, and what John could catch of his expression was intent.
John frowned. He could feel the stroppy mood taking over from the pleasant one he'd carried since the pub. Physicians made the worst patients, and John was no exception. He looked for somewhere to focus his irritation. "This bathroom is starting to look like a poorly maintained A and E. Bandages and blood in the basin, and wrappers on the floor. Ow."
"Sorry." Sherlock applied antibiotic ointment and then carefully placed large sticking plasters over both of John's palms. That task complete, he finally looked up. "How's your wrist?"
John turned his left hand (It just had to be the left one, didn't it?) over, although he could already tell it was bad. "I should get some ice on it. It's swelling up." He frowned again. Perfect. He still had Christmas cards to address, too. It was his own damned fault for leaving them so long.
He looked up and met Sherlock's coy gaze. He knew that face, but that didn't mean he knew what that face portended. "What?"
Sherlock quirked an eyebrow. "Your wrist is inflamed."
"Well, yes," answered John, his temper short. Not that his flatmate deserved it. He was irritated with himself for falling. It hadn't been Sherlock's fault.
"Yes. What are you--?"
John chuckled despite the ache in his wrist.
Taking it as encouragement, Sherlock went on, a small smile playing about his lips. "It is bulging."
That one elicited a snort of mirth.
John giggled outright at that and decided to play along. "Distended."
John burst out laughing. "All right, you win."
Sherlock smiled, a hint of pleasure, a hint of smugness in the curve of his mouth. "Better. Now, let's get you that ice."
"Ice to solve the problem started by ice. There's irony there."
Sherlock opened his mouth to respond, but John held up one bandaged hand to forestall him.
"Ice first. You can play more word games later."
"Promise?" challenged Sherlock.
John shook his head. A child. He was living with an enormous child. Fine. Two could play at that game. "Guarantee."
Amanuensis (R; slash; D/s & BDSM suggested)
"You cannot be offering to help me address Christmas cards."
"Why not? You've sprained your wrist. You can barely hold a pen. And the quality of your handwriting as a result--" Sherlock looked disdainfully at the one envelope John had managed to scrawl an address on, and clucked his tongue.
"Fine. I can think of worse things than having an amanuensis." If he'd thought to catch Sherlock out with his esoteric word choice, he was mistaken.
"I can think of better ways utilise your slave at hand."
John licked his lips. "Get your riding crop."
Christmas cards could wait.
John hadn't expected to find himself back at the Holmes family estate so soon, and certainly not for the holidays. But he hadn't hesitated for a moment when Sherlock informed him that "Mummy particularly requested you join us." Considering John's other options -- staying alone in Baker Street as even Mrs. Hudson would be gone, visiting a friend in Cardiff for Christmas; or "celebrating" with his sister Harry by listening to her lament her failed marriage while drinking herself into a stupor on toxically strong eggnog -- the choice had been an easy one. Besides, he'd held a secret curiosity ever since the second time he'd met Mycroft and the elder Holmes brother had mentioned family holiday gatherings. He still couldn't quite imagine what they were like.
They were coming along the country road that bordered the Holmes Estate when John spotted something through the hedgerows.
"Sherlock, what is that? It looks like a huge, white tent behind the house."
"Since you know the answer already, why do you ask?" Sherlock replied.
"Yes but why is it there?" John lost sight of it as the driver turned the car off the main road and onto the long driveway that led to the house.
"For the Solstice Ball," answered Sherlock. "Mummy hosts it every year. I'm surprised the tent is still up. It ought to have come down by now."
"Solstice was only yesterday. It was on the twenty-second this year," John pointed out, feeling irrationally defensive on behalf of the poor sods who were stuck removing the structure in this cold. It hadn't snowed yet, but the air was damp and the wind sharp. His aching shoulder told him as much as the weather reports did; snow was imminent. Which brought him to his next question. "But a tent? It's awfully cold outside for a ball."
"She couldn't hold it inside. The tree would melt."
"The tree-- Sorry. What?" John stared at him in bafflement.
"The ice sculpture Christmas tree. Do try to keep up, John."
John wanted to protest that there was no logical reason he should automatically assume there was an ice tree at a solstice ball, but he kept his mouth shut. Arguing logic with Sherlock was a guaranteed waste of time. Sherlock always won.
The driver brought the car to a stop and, as had happened on John's first visit, a man jogged down the front steps to meet it, this time with a wool mackintosh buttoned up over his well-tailored suit. John's memory supplied the man's name: Snetter.
Damp and cold bit into John as he stepped from the car, and he pulled his muffler up around his ears for the quick walk up the front steps to the door. This time, instead of being welcomed by carved pumpkins on the stairs, they were met by a collection of small gingerbread houses inside the foyer.
"Your mother's been entertaining the local school children again, I take it," commented John. He pulled off his gloves, being extra careful of his damaged wrist. It was getting better, but it still hurt when he jarred it.
"Excellent, if obvious, deduction."
The pair doffed their coats and accessories and handed the lot over to the waiting butler.
"Your rooms are made up for you, sir," said Snetter, taking the heavy load with professional indifference.
"Thank you, Snetter. Is Mummy in?"
"She is not. But she is expected shortly."
"Very good. And Mycroft?"
"Not due until tomorrow afternoon at the earliest, sir."
"Excellent." Sherlock turned from the man, dismissing him by simply ceasing to continue acknowledging his presence. "Tea?" When he got no answer, he tried again. "John. Tea?"
"Hm?" John looked up from the gingerbread house he was examining. It had caught his eye amongst the others for its unusual ornamentation. One side was riddled with silver dragées like a line of bullets, and someone had created a vehicle out of a large broccoli floret and four round peppermint candies. Red liquorice licked like flames from the windows, while black liquorice curled like smoke from the chimney. Half the roof had caved in -- or been deliberately caved in, he couldn't be certain which it was -- and what he guessed was a fallen candy-and-icing satellite had been placed strategically in the gaping hole. "What's--" He tipped his head to the dubious gingerbread art. "What's this about?"
Sherlock glanced at it and shrugged. "There's always one like that. Every year, some child gets the notion to do a bit of creative desecration. Never the same child twice, or so Mummy claims. It's been going on for a long as I can recall, so I suppose she must be right."
"That's odd." Out of the corner of his ear, John caught the sound of a soft, childish giggle, and it occurred to him that perhaps it wasn't so odd after all. In fact, he felt a sudden certainty that a young ghost named Sherrinford Holmes had a hand in it. The corner of his mouth curled up in a sympathetic smile. It couldn't be easy keeping oneself entertained in the afterlife, and this seemed a harmless way to go about it. He allowed the smile to grow and turned it on Sherlock. "Tea sounds lovely."
This year definitely promised to be an entertaining Christmas.