Title: The Season of Scars
Warning: Child endangerment.
Word Count: 7000
Summary: It’s Christmas. Nothing goes quite according to plan.
Notes: A sequel to On This Harvest Moon.
It’s the season of eyes meeting over the noise
And holding fast with sharp realization
It’s the season of cold making warmth a divine intervention
You are safe here you know now
~ “The Atheist’s Christmas Carol,” Vienna Teng
The previous Christmas Zoe had been too small to do more than blink in confusion at all the lights and gifts and music, and then go back to sleep. This Christmas she crawled from package to package, patting them curiously. “No, Zoe,” Robin told her, “we open those on Christmas Day.”
Robin was wearing the tail end of the tinsel that wasn’t wound round the tree, and at John’s look Sherlock stopped hanging ornaments long enough to explain, “It kept getting tangled.”
“It’s Christmas, Daddy!” said Robin. “We have Christmas!”
“We do indeed,” said John and picked up Zoe to prevent her from using another package as a teething ring. She said, “Dada! Dada!” and patted his cheeks, and he kissed her nose. “High time, too, since the day is nearly here.”
Robin tugged at the tinsel, frowning when it didn’t come off easily. “Daddy, I’m stuck.”
“Hold still,” John said, trying not to laugh, and unwrapped the tinsel from around their son. “You’re free!”
“I’m free!” He held up his arms so John picked him up and kissed him too.
“Me too,” he told Robin. “I’m home until the day after Christmas.”
“Hooray!” Robin draped himself over his shoulder and John caught Sherlock’s smile. Zoe lay her head on John’s other shoulder with a heavy sigh, as if it was just too much for her to take, and John nuzzled her soft brown hair.
At the click of a camera shutter John opened his eyes, and saw Sherlock put his mobile away in his trouser pocket with a smile. “Next year’s Christmas card,” Sherlock said.
“No argument there.” His left arm ached and John perched on the sofa, still holding both the children but letting the sofa take the bulk of their weight. The flat smelled like cookies baking, and Sherlock had Christmas music playing — true, it was the Vandals, but John thought the message of “Oy! To the world” was much better than yet another song about toys.
The tree was almost finished, too. It had stood undecorated in the parlor for almost a week, while Robin said, “Can we do the tree today?” every morning and Zoe regarded it with suspicion. Sherlock had finally relented, since John said they didn’t need to wait on him, and John was glad they had gone ahead. Even though many of the ornaments were concentrated within Robin’s reach, it was a lovely tree and made the house feel so much more cozy than usual, with its blinking lights and the brightly-wrapped packages piled beneath.
“Will Father Christmas find us this year?” Robin said as Zoe slid out of John’s arms to continue her explorations. “Does he know we live here now?”
John said hastily, hearing Sherlock inhale, “Of course he will. He’s magic, you know. He knows exactly where we live and what you want.” He nudged Robin’s chin with his fingertips. “What do you want, Robby?”
Robin gestured for John to lean close and whispered in his ear, “I want a violin like Daddy’s.”
John looked at him, surprised. “You do? You want a violin? I thought you wanted a bike.”
Robin nodded vigorously. “I want a bike,” he said firmly, “but I want a violin, too. Will Father Christmas bring me one?”
“I’m sure he will,” John said and caught Sherlock’s eye. Sherlock gave a tiny nod, a smile hovering around his lips, and John supposed they had a little more shopping to do than he thought.
Across the room Sherlock picked up Zoe and showed her how to hang an ornament, smiling as she made an “Oo!” of wonder. “John, do you want to put the star on top?”
“Yes,” John said and got off the couch, still holding Robin. Sherlock gave him the star, a red and gold filigreed thing that was the fanciest of their ornaments, and John stretched up to fit it on the uppermost branch. Sherlock held the tree steady and Robin pressed his hands to his face, gasping as if the tree were going to fall, and when John said, “There we are!” and stepped back Robin cheered and clapped. Zoe clapped her hands and Sherlock kissed John in congratulations.
After supper, when the children were in bed, Sherlock rubbed John’s back as the fire crackled in the fireplace. He concentrated on John’s left shoulder and John said, “Favoring it, was I?”
“Just a tic. How’s your hand?” He picked it up and John leaned back against him as Sherlock ran his fingers over John’s palm and down his wrist.
“Good. No numbness, no tremors.”
“Good.” Sherlock interwove their fingers and John held their hands to his chest.
“What more do we need to do, now that the tree’s up?”
“I can’t think of anything.” Sherlock stroked the back of John’s hand with his thumb. “We’ve got the food, we’ve got the crackers, we’ve got the presents …”
“I see you found my hiding place.” Knowing Sherlock’s habit of disregarding such silly things as surprises, John had gotten most of his gifts wrapped at the stores.
“You hid everything in the wardrobe. Of course I found them. I put out everything but the ones that weren’t wrapped since I assume those will be from Father Christmas, and the bicycle. I suppose we’re going to put that together Christmas Eve?”
“It’s tradition,” said John. “He should have a fully-assembled bicycle on Christmas morning, not just a box with a bow on it. Did he tell you about wanting a violin?”
“Not in so many words,” Sherlock said. “But he likes to watch me play and I’ve shown him how to hold the bow and make the notes. It’s taken care of.”
“Already?” John turned back his head to look at Sherlock.
“I was younger than Robin when I started, so I asked Mycroft if he knew where my old one was, and he said it’s out at the country house. I’ve just to get it before Christmas. I was thinking I’d go tomorrow, if you don’t mind being on your own with the children, or we could go together and make a day of it.”
“The children do like the country house,” John mused. With their nanny with her family for Christmas, he’d be completely alone with the children if Sherlock was gone. It wasn’t a situation he often found himself in, since Sherlock had been their primary caregiver since they adopted Robin three years ago. “It’s the notion of traveling so close to Christmas that worries me.”
“We could stay overnight. The caretaker will be expecting us anyway, and it won’t be much more difficult to open a few rooms for us.” He stroked John’s chest slowly, and John closed his eyes, enjoying the touch. They were making more time to be together now, making more time to enjoy each other even if it was simply nuzzling on the couch. They’d come too close to drifting apart. John wasn’t going to let it happen again.
“Let’s stay overnight,” John decided, and Sherlock kissed his neck. “I always like spending time where you grew up.”
Sherlock chuckled softly. “I grew up in boarding schools, if you want to be technical.”
“Your childhood home, then.” John turned over and worked Sherlock onto his back, Sherlock smiling in anticipation all the while. “A place that has meaning and meaning to you, and where our children — who are Holmeses, one way or another — can get a sense of their family history as well.”
“They’re Watsons,” Sherlock said, his hands on John’s sides. “We’re all Watsons. Doctor and Mister Watson. You know I love it.”
“I know. I love that you do.” He kissed Sherlock, tangling his fingers in Sherlock’s thick curls. Sherlock’s long fingers slid up under John’s jumper and the T-shirt he wore underneath, and his nails lightly scratched John’s skin.
“Naughty,” Sherlock whispered. “We haven’t done it on the couch in a long time.”
“Too long,” John agreed. “But with no Mary to walk in on us …”
“There’s still the possibility of Robin coming down.”
John sighed and rested his head on Sherlock’s shoulder. “Bed?”
John got off Sherlock and pulled him up, kissed him hard and went to the Christmas tree to unplug the lights. Sherlock put out the fire in the fireplace, turned out the various lights and locked their doors, and when he was finished they went up the stairs, holding hands.
It wasn’t a mad rush of passion, but it was familiar, it was comfortable, and it was good.
Robin didn’t like the sudden change of plans when they told him at breakfast, as evidenced by his pout. “Don’t worry, sweetheart,” Sherlock said, “we’ll be home by Christmas Eve.”
Robin leaned his head against Sherlock’s arm, and Sherlock bent his head over Robin’s to kiss his hair. “Can’t I stay with Uncle Mycroft?”
“Don’t you like going to the country house?”
“It’s too big and old.”
Sherlock said to John, “Maybe I should go alone after all.”
“It might be simpler,” John said. “God knows we won’t get to the train station before noon.”
Sherlock nodded. “I won’t even need to pack a bag.” He said to Robin, “So if I go by myself, I’ll be back tonight and tomorrow we can go see the lights in the city. How’s that? Is that better?”
Robin nodded, his head still leaning on Sherlock’s arm. “Yes, Daddy.”
Sherlock kissed Robin’s forehead and swallowed the last of his tea. John said, “We give in to them too easily.”
“I consider it choosing our battles. I’m trying to save as many as possible for when they’re teenagers.” He wiped his mouth and nudged Robin. “Up, please. I have to get ready.” Robin lifted his head, and when Sherlock rose from the table Robin turned in his chair to watch him go upstairs.
“Robby,” John said, “finish your breakfast, please.”
“I don’t like it when Daddy goes away.”
“I don’t either,” John said, “but he has to get something from the big house and if we don’t go with him he has to go by himself. He’ll be back tonight.” Robin poked at his cereal with his spoon, and John said, “It’s all right, Robin.”
“Daddy didn’t finish his cereal.”
“Daddy has a small appetite.” He picked up Sherlock’s bowl. Robin was right — Sherlock’s breakfast was only half-eaten. John frowned as he gathered the dishes. Sherlock never ate much, but had been improving since they became parents since eating together was considered important to family bonding and Sherlock wanted the children to have as normal a family life as he and John could give them.
Still, when he was working he reverted back to his old habits, eating little, sleeping less. He hadn’t told John he was working on anything, but with him eating so little …
John put the dishes in the washer and told himself not to worry so much. He had learned a lot about observation in the last few years but he also knew it was possible to read too much into a simple thing, even for someone he knew as well as Sherlock.
Sherlock came down the stairs, shrugging into his jacket. “I expect I should be back around suppertime,” he said as he pulled on his coat. “I’ll call if there’s a delay. Mycroft was fairly certain he knew where it was but I may have to search.”
“All right,” said John. “Kiss us goodbye?”
Sherlock kissed him dutifully and kissed the children as well. “Be good for Daddy,” he told them and then was out the door, his scarf around his neck and his coat billowing around him.
Robin ran to the window and shouted, “Bye, Daddy! Bye-bye!” as he waved. John chuckled and finished clearing the table, letting Robin watch out the window until the boy got bored and hopped down.
The day passed peacefully. John got the children dressed, and they went out into the garden to enjoy the fresh air. It was too cold to stay out long, so once the children had had enough they went back inside and John lit a fire in the fireplace so they’d have a warm place to play. When it was nap time the three of them slept on the big bed together, the baby between John and Robin.
John was half-awake when his mobile rang, and he blinked a few times, feeling disoriented, before taking the phone from his pocket and clicking it on. “Sherlock?”
“John. How is it?”
“Quiet. We’re napping.” He looked at Robin, who was watching him with wide eyes. John moved the phone away to tell him, “It’s Daddy.”
Robin’s face broke into an enormous smile. “Can I talk to him?”
“Robin wants to talk to you,” John told Sherlock.
“Good, I want to talk to him,” said Sherlock, so John handed over the phone and lay on his back, his arm behind his head, as Robin held the phone carefully to his ear.
“Hi, Daddy,” Robin said and listened for a bit. “Yes, we’re being good. We’re in your bed, all together. Zoe kicks in her sleep. I love you too. Okay, Daddy.” He gave the phone back to John.
John smiled as he said, “It’s true, Zoe kicks.”
“She only kicks if you put her on her back. Roll her on her stomach and she won’t.”
John put the phone aside to carefully turn Zoe onto her stomach and picked the phone up again. “I think it worked.” Robin patted Zoe’s back and smiled at John, and John leaned over to kiss him. “So are you on the train?” he said to Sherlock.
“Not yet. I’m still at the house. There’s a matter I’ve been asked to look into and it’s going to delay me for a while.”
John sat up. “What kind of matter?”
“A young man whose father used to work for us has been accused of murder.”
“Oh, my God,” John said quietly.
“Yes. I remember him from when we were children,” Sherlock said. “He was about five when I went away to school. He was quiet. Not in a worrisome way, just quiet. Shy, I’d say. Or always overwhelmed by the Holmeses, but a great many people were. Anyway,” he inhaled, “I’m looking into it. If I can prove him innocent, I want to.”
“Well, by all means, stay,” John said, and he understood completely about being overwhelmed by the Holmses. “How long do you think you’ll be?”
“I’ll try to be home tomorrow.”
“All right.” John was quiet a moment. “We all miss you.”
“I miss you all. Kiss them for me.”
“I will. Love you,” he added, and smiled at Sherlock’s answering, “Love you,” as he clicked off the phone. He held the phone to his chest a moment, then looked at Robin, who was still watching him. “Daddy’s going to be a bit longer than he expected,” John explained. “He’ll be home tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow?” Robin wailed and Zoe’s eyes popped open, startled awake.
“It’s all right,” John said and picked up Zoe to soothe her. “He’ll be here for Christmas Eve. We can still go skating and everything else, like we planned.”
“But I want Daddy now!”
“So do I,” John admitted. “But he’s helping someone, so he has to stay.” Zoe was still whining and squirming, and John gave up on the idea of napping any further. “Let’s go read a book. Shall we do that?”
“Okay,” said Robin, still unhappy, but he climbed off the bed and John followed.
Robin begged John to be allowed to sleep with him that night, but John was firm with him. “You need to sleep in your own bed. I’ll lie down with you for a bit, all right?”
Robin accepted this, and so when the baby was asleep and Robin had brushed his teeth and heard his story, John opened the curtains and lay on the little bed beside Robin. There were no stars to be seen, not in the heart of the city like this, and John wished they’d gone to the country after all so Robin could have a starry night.
Robin reached over and patted John’s cheek sleepily. “Does Daddy miss us?”
“I’m sure he does.”
“Will he hurry home?”
“Yes.” John stroked Robin’s hair. “We’ll be together for Christmas.” He leaned over and kissed Robin gently. “Go to sleep, Robby. I love you.”
“I love you, Daddy,” Robin murmured, and John stayed with him until his eyes were closed.
John went downstairs and relaxed on the sofa, his eyes closed, until someone rang the front bell. It was late for casual visitors, but he refrained from getting his pistol from its hiding place. He peered through the glass in the door before he opened it, though. He still had a scar on his scalp from the Black Lotus.
It was Sarah, who said cheerfully, “I come bearing gifts!” as she held up the parcels. “I thought I’d bring them myself rather than post them, since I haven’t seen the children for so long.”
“Come in, come in,” John said, stepping back to let her through. “But I’m afraid they’ve gone to bed already. Their bedtime’s rather early.”
“Oh, that’s too bad,” Sarah said. John took the packages to put them under the tree. “Where’s Sherlock? Is he asleep too?”
“He’s at the big house, fetching his first violin. We’re giving it to Robin for Christmas. He wants to learn to play.”
“Is he old enough to learn an instrument?”
“They have classes for his age at school. Would you like some tea?”
“I’d love some tea.” She took off her coat and put it aside, and John went into the kitchen. Sarah came along and leaned against the counter, casual and familiar. They had remained friends mostly due to Sarah’s stubbornness, John thought. They had dated for months, even after the pool incident with Moriarty, though other enemies, though John and Sherlock’s many brushes with death, up until John realized nothing would come of it between them for the simple reason that she wasn’t Sherlock. “I can’t remember the last time it was just you and me. There was always Sherlock, and then the children …”
“I know what you mean,” John said as he started the kettle. “There’s not much privacy once you have a family. What do you think of the decorations? Sherlock did it.”
“Festive,” Sarah said. “It’s for the children’s sake, I assume.”
“Oh, of course. Before them we might put up a string of lights, at most.”
“They’ve been good for you.”
“Oh, yes. I hope we’ve been just as good for them.”
“I’m sure you have. You’re a good father. Sherlock, too, though I never would have believed it.”
“I know,” John said. Tea strainer, canister, cream, sugar bowl.
“Sometimes I still can’t believe you married him, and I was at the wedding.”
“We are happy,” John said as he got cups down from the cupboard.
“I’ve no doubt about that. You wouldn’t stay if you weren’t, even for the sake of the children. I just wonder how you do it, that’s all.”
“When he goes off to solve mysteries, when he talks about cadavers to the children, when he scares the nanny with his experiments? You just have to let Sherlock be Sherlock. It’s what he’s best at.”
“He lets me be me.”
“I once thought,” Sarah said after a pause, “that you ended things with me because I was too normal for you.”
“No,” John said. “No.”
“And then you did this. Those beautiful children, this — by all accounts — successful marriage.” She shook her head.
“It was never you, Sarah,” John said. “It was just –”
“Sherlock was more,” Sarah said. “He still is, isn’t he? Even if you’d gone on the same, he’d still be everything to you. I envy you, John. I envy what you’ve found.”
John didn’t know what to say, and turned to the kettle to pour their tea. “No one was more surprised than I,” he said finally. “You don’t think the love of your life will be your flatmate and best friend and the most infuriating person you know, until one day –” John shrugged. “He is.”
“And on that day you realized you wanted all those normal things.”
“No, not on that day. Later. I wouldn’t change a thing about my life, Sarah, except to go forward.” He gave her a teacup and she drank.
“Even when he leaves you alone a few days before Christmas?”
“Even then.” John leaned against the counter beside her. They both sipped tea.
“Love of your life, is it?” Sarah said and gave him a rueful smile.
“Yeah,” John said, giving her a similar smile. “Believe me, sometimes I don’t know how we ended up here, either. I mean, if my life had gone according to plan, it’d be you with me on Christmas.”
“Your plan,” said Sarah, “very flattering.”
They looked at each other, and John was never certain if he moved first or Sarah did, but quite softly and smoothly her hands framed his face and he dipped his head. It was a simple kiss, more friendly than passionate, but Sarah still stepped away after just a moment and pressed her hand to her chest.
“I’m sorry. That was so inappropriate.”
“Sarah,” John began.
“You’re married.” She went into the parlor and picked up her coat. “I’m sorry, John.”
“Sarah,” he said again, “it’s all right.”
“It’s all right? It’s all right? I kissed a married man and you’re telling me it’s all right?”
“It’s not –” He held his hand to his forehead. “Nothing would happen, Sarah.”
“Do you think so, John?” she said seriously. “Or are you just telling yourself that?” She pulled on her coat and buttoned it up. “I’ve got a lovely boyfriend now, you know, and you’re married to someone you truly love. I shouldn’t still be attracted to you. I should go.”
John didn’t try to stop her, only shut the door behind her and then leaned against it and twisted his wedding ring. It was just a simple gold band, engraved inside with their four names and the wedding date. It felt unnaturally heavy as he stood there, and he wondered if Sarah was right, if they might have done something they both would regret.
He could blame loneliness, he could blame the lingering attraction that he still felt for Sarah, but he knew in the end if anything had happened — fuck euphemisms, if he’d slept with Sarah, he only had himself to blame.
He took out his mobile phone and dialed Sherlock, and sat on the bottom step of the staircase as it rang out. Sherlock picked up quickly. “John? Is everything all right?”
“Yes. No. Yes, the children are fine, I’m fine, but I miss you. When are you coming home?”
“Tomorrow. Sooner than I thought, I suspect, too. I’ve had a breakthrough. Marvelous considering how primitive the tools I have to deal with here are. Are you all right? You sound odd.”
“Yes. I need to know something. If I did something horrible, would you forgive me?”
“You wouldn’t do anything horrible, but yes, of course I would.”
John rubbed his eyes. “I’ve come close sometimes.”
“Worse than killing a man to save me?”
“I don’t know,” John said. “It might have been.”
Sherlock was quiet a moment. “Did you actually do something horrible or did you flirt with horribleness?”
“Flirted with horribleness.”
“As long as you didn’t bring it home I think we’re all right.”
“Sarah was here,” John said. “She brought Christmas gifts for the children. We had tea, we were chatting — and we kissed. I kissed her. We kissed.”
Sherlock was silent.
John said, “Sherlock?”
“I’m here,” Sherlock said. “It wasn’t a kiss to the forehead or the cheek, I gather.”
“Did the children see this?”
“No. They’re in bed.”
“I always thought the urge to stray was supposed to come after seven years, not less than one. Though I suppose if you count all the years we’ve been together it comes to about seven.”
“I don’t have an urge to stray,” John said. “I don’t know why I kissed her. I’ve been a bit lonely all day, and we were feeling nostalgic — it’s no excuse. I know.”
“Am I not affectionate enough?” Sherlock said, his voice still terribly, terribly calm. “Do I need to kiss you more often? I try to remember to kiss you every day.”
“You’re affectionate enough,” John said. “When you remember, and sometimes even spontaneously, which I like very much. But it’s not your fault, Sherlock. It’s entirely mine.”
There was another pause from Sherlock. Finally he said, “I’ll be on the first train in the morning.”
“I love you,” John said. “Please say you know that.”
“We’ll talk when I get home,” said Sherlock and terminated the call.
John disconnected as well and stayed on the bottom step, his face in his hand.
Sherlock came home while John was still cleaning up lunch, and he heard the delighted, “Daddy!” and “Dadadada!” from the kitchen.
“Hello, my loves,” said Sherlock, “where’s Daddy?” and came into the kitchen bearing a child on each arm, as Robin told him about everything they’d done while he was away and Zoe clung to his shirt and sucked on his jaw, her version of a kiss. “John,” Sherlock said quietly as John straightened up from the dishwasher.
“Sherlock,” John said and came to him. The kiss felt perfunctory, but at least Sherlock didn’t turn his face away. That would have been unbearable. “Did you clear the boy’s name?”
“I knew you would. If he was innocent, I knew you’d prove it.”
“Of course,” Sherlock said, dismissing his altruism with a shrug.
“Did you catch a bad man, Daddy?” Robin asked.
“Yes. And better still, I helped a good man go free.”
“Yay!” Robin said, holding up his arms, and Sherlock chuckled and gave him a few kisses before setting him down. “Are we going skating today?”
“Yes, indeed. After naps.”
“All right, Daddy,” said Robin and skipped out of the kitchen.
Sherlock was still holding Zoe, patting her back as he watched John finish tidying up. “You slept on the sofa last night. Badly. You’re still tired.”
John leaned on the counter, bracing himself on his hands. “Sherlock, please. Not now.”
“Was it guilt?” Sherlock mused. “You didn’t want to sleep in our bed because you felt you’d violated it somehow? Or was it just because I wasn’t there? Because that’s ridiculous. I sleep in our bed without you every time you have a night shift.”
“I slept badly last night,” John said. “Did you sleep at all?”
“A little,” said Sherlock. “Mostly I was thinking, and I think the best way to deal with this is to dismiss it. One kiss doesn’t destroy years of trust. If, occasionally, you need more than I can provide, I can’t take umbrage to that, can I?”
“I think,” John said slowly, “that’s exactly the kind of thing you’re supposed to take umbrage to.”
“Hm,” said Sherlock. “Would you rather I went into a jealous rage?”
“Yes, actually,” John said. “I kissed someone else! I want you to be jealous! I want you to be angry! I want you to forbid me from seeing her again! I want you to show you care!”
Zoe started at the raised voices and made a little wail. John sighed and rubbed his eyes as Sherlock stroked the baby’s back and said, “Sh, sh,” softly into her ear. “It’s all right, love. Sh, sh.”
“Maybe we should discuss this after the children are asleep.”
“I don’t see that there’s anything to discuss. You did something regrettable but not insurmountable. It’s over and done with, as far as I’m concerned.” He arched his eyebrow at John. “You don’t intend to do it again, do you?”
“No,” John said and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Of course, I didn’t intend to do it in the first place.”
“Now you’ll be on your guard. It’s quite simple.”
“It’s not simple,” John said.
“Do you want me to get upset?” Sherlock said, frowning. “I think you’re upset enough for the both of us. If I attempted to punish you more than you’re punishing yourself — well, I’m not sure I could, and frankly it would be redundant. And –” He sighed, his hand moving slowly over Zoe’s back. “And I trust you. Whatever horribleness you think you’re capable of, I know the truth.”
“So that’s it, then.” He pulled over a chair and sat, feeling exhausted in every limb even though this was a mere sprint on the scale of their fights. “I kiss someone else and you shrug it off.”
Sherlock moved closer to him and ran slow and tender fingers through his hair. “If you really want me to get angry I suppose I could. I could … deny you sex for a week?” John closed his eyes with a quiet chuckle, and Sherlock murmured, “No, that would punish us both and prove nothing.”
“You trust me,” John said. “More than I trust myself.”
“I know you love me,” Sherlock said and stooped to kiss the top of John’s head. “That tells me everything I need to know.”
The skating rink at the Natural History museum was crowded with celebrants, but they were able to get onto the rink set aside from young skaters and take Robin around, taking turns with holding Zoe while the other skated. Robin was fascinated by the people doing jumps and spins in the big people rink, though he couldn’t bring himself to let go of Sherlock’s hand long enough to try himself.
After they ate Sherlock held Robin on his shoulders and John carried Zoe on his back so they could walk down Cromwell Road to look at the lights and shops at the winter fair. Zoe made “Oo!”s of delight and Robin said, “So pretty! Look at that one!” as he twisted around to see everything at once.
Finally John felt Zoe droop against his back, whining faintly from all the noise and people, and John said to Sherlock, “I think it’s time we get home.”
“So do I. Want to walk, Robin?”
“Okay,” said Robin and Sherlock swung him down from his shoulders.
“Keep hold of my hand,” Sherlock said and Robin clutched at his fingers. John took his other hand and Robin swung them both, beaming.
“I hope it’s not too hard to catch a cab tonight,” Sherlock remarked.
“We could take a bus instead.” Sherlock winced and John laughed. “Robin likes the bus. He likes sitting on the top level.”
“I see one!” Robin cried. He tore his hands from John’s and Sherlock’s and darted ahead through the crowd to the street, where the red upper level of a bus was visible above the crowds and trees.
“Robin!” Sherlock shouted and took off after him, and John gripped the straps of Zoe’s carrier tight to jog along behind as fast as he dared.
Catch him catch him catch him, he thought, hunting through the crowed for a familiar dark head, and then heard the unmistakable sound of several vehicles breaking hard. “Oh, God,” he breathed and broke into a run. Zoe began to cry from being jostled so much but John kept running, stopping only when he reached the street.
The rows of cars were stopped and there was a figure on the ground — two figures, one tall and wearing an overcoat, one small and curled within the longer one. “Sherlock,” John gasped and started to go into the street when a copper caught his arm.
“Stay back, sir.”
“That’s my husband — that’s my son –” John said desperately and Zoe wailed even louder.
“Please stay back,” the officer said again, a little more kindly, and John peered around him to see that other officers were attending to Sherlock and Robin. To his relief, Sherlock was sitting up slowly and one of the officers shone a penlight in his eyes to check his pupils. Robin was crying and clinging to Sherlock’s coat, but appeared to be unharmed.
The officer holding the crowd back said something into his walkie-talkie, and then said to John, “You can join your family now,” and John hurried out into the street.
“Daddy!” Robin wailed and held up his arms, and John took off Zoe’s carrier so he could kneel and hold him.
“Oh, my darling boy.” He kissed Robin and inspected him quickly for injuries, even though the coppers had already done so. “Don’t you ever, ever run off like that again.”
“Daddy,” Robin wailed again and reached out for Sherlock. Sherlock took his hand and kissed it.
“I’m fine, sweetheart.” He added, looking at John, “I might be concussed.”
“If that’s all,” John said, wanting to laugh and weep at once, and kissed Sherlock fiercely. He wanted to grab Sherlock’s coat and give him a good shake, too, but both arms were full of clinging child. “Don’t you ever do that again, either.”
“Yes, dear,” Sherlock murmured and winced. “At the very least I have a bump.” He rubbed his head and John leaned closer to inspect his head as best he could in the uneven light.
“An ambulance is on the way,” one of the coppers told him, and John nodded.
“I’m a doctor,” John said, “and this is my most frequent patient.” He kissed Sherlock again and Sherlock smiled and leaned his head on John’s shoulder.
Both children were sound asleep by the time they reached home, and John’s shoulder was screaming from the strain of carrying them. Thankfully, Mycroft had shown up at the hospital with his assistant and private car, so the ride home was far easier — and more luxurious — than catching a cab, and Mycroft’s driver helped Sherlock up the stairs.
Sherlock was not concussed, though he had a raging headache and several bruises and scrapes from shielding Robin. Robin was unhurt, had only had a bad scare, and once he was calmer he told Mycroft about how the cars had been so big and they came so fast! And then Daddy saved him! And all the cars stopped and there were policemen and they got to ride in an ambulance with the sirens going!
John came downstairs when all three of them were safely in bed, to see Mycroft pacing in front of the tree, his hands behind his back. “You’ve had a most interesting Christmas.”
John dropped himself into an armchair. “And there’s still tomorrow to get through.”
“Shall I assume the invitation to dinner has been revoked?”
“I think Sherlock will be disappointed if he doesn’t get to cook the turkey he’s been brining. Though I suspect I’ll do the actual cooking.”
Mycroft sniffed. “I can send assistance.”
“I think I’ll take you up on that.” John leaned his head on his hand. They sat for a moment or two, the house nearly silent in a way it rarely was, and finally John said, “I appreciate your help tonight, Mycroft.”
“Of course.” He rose, umbrella in hand. “Keeping my brother alive is a full-time job I don’t envy. But somehow you manage to continue doing it.”
“I’m more concerned with keeping him alive than he is,” John said quietly and saw Mycroft out. He climbed the stairs slowly and checked on the children one more time, then went into his and Sherlock’s room. The light was off and he could dimly see the outline of Sherlock’s shape under the covers. He bent over Sherlock and gently kissed his hair, ran his fingers through it lightly and went to get himself ready for bed.
The adrenaline that had been fueling him for hours was finally draining, and he felt absolutely exhausted. After he’d washed up and brushed his teeth he took some aspirin for the pain in his shoulder, and then crawled into bed at Sherlock’s side.
He started when Sherlock said, “Would you hold me, please?”
“Of course,” John said and spooned Sherlock to him, careful of the bruises. Sherlock took one of John’s hands and pressed it to his chest, and John buried his lips in Sherlock’s hair. He said softly, “You scared me tonight. I saw you lying in the street and I thought — for a moment I was sure –”
“Sh,” Sherlock said quietly. “Nothing happened. I may be a bit sore in the next few days but I’m quite all right.”
“You could have died, Sherlock.”
“I could have died many times before now.”
“And I’ve hated every one.” He whispered, “Promise me you won’t die before I do, Sherlock.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. One of us will die first and we have no way of controlling which one.”
“I hope it’s me,” said John. “I … dread … the thought of living without you.”
Sherlock was quiet a while, stroking John’s hand. He said, “You think I don’t, John? Do you think I could bear going back to being who I was before I met you?”
John blinked hard. “You’d have Robin and Zoe. You wouldn’t be alone.”
“So would you, but it’s not the same. Children aren’t the same as a partner, even grown children.”
John whispered, “No, they’re not.”
“I’ve meant it — I always mean it — when I’ve said I want a lifetime with you. I try not to take foolish risks.” John chuckled and Sherlock grasped his hand tighter. “I don’t. John. Promise me. Promise me you won’t take foolish risks either.”
“No more kissing other people.”
“You are jealous!” John propped himself on his elbow so he could see Sherlock’s face.
“I’m not,” Sherlock said with dignity. “I just don’t want you kissing other people.”
“I won’t,” John said and kissed him. “No one outside the family.”
“Very well.” Sherlock moved onto his back and held John’s face for more kisses. “I suspect I’ll handle you dying before me far better than you leaving me.”
“I’m not going to leave you.”
Sherlock began to smile. “Even out of sheer frustration?”
“I married you to prevent little things like that from happening,” John said. “That is rather the point of marriage, that we take each other seriously.” He paused. “I know you’ll never cheat on me,” he said slowly, “but mostly because you’re just not interested in other people. I’m more afraid of losing you to indifference.”
Sherlock pulled John close and kissed him, fingers twisting in John’s pyjama top. “I’m not indifferent to you, John,” he whispered. “Never indifferent.”
Mindful of Sherlock’s injuries, John kissed Sherlock’s bruises as he peeled off the ratty T-shirt and soft flannel pyjama bottoms. Sherlock held John’s head and rubbed his thumbs on John’s temples and ears and cheekbones.
John used his tongue and fingertips to worship Sherlock’s unmarred skin, smiling as he got goosebumps and shivers and quiet, deep moans in response. More than once he asked Sherlock, “Are you certain you’re up to this?” and again and again Sherlock said, “Yes, John, yes.”
Still, John was slow, tasting the familiar inches of Sherlock’s skin, and when Sherlock said, “John,” in that wrecked, hungry voice that John swallowed Sherlock’s cock into his throat as deep as he could take it, and sucked him until Sherlock dug his fingers into John’s scalp.
He was slow with Sherlock, so slow, careful, remembering not to put his hands on any part of Sherlock that was still tender, not to use his teeth. There were times when an orgasm from Sherlock was hard-won — all it took was one stray thought and Sherlock’s attention was elsewhere, his body forgotten — but tonight Sherlock wasn’t fighting it, didn’t have to claw through his own intellect to find that animal space where lust and pleasure dwelled.
Sherlock’s hand lay heavily on the back of John’s neck when John’s own body stilled, a thumb idly brushing the hair at the nape of his neck. Sherlock whispered, “All right, John?” and John answered, “All right, Sherlock,” as he lay his head on Sherlock’s chest.
Christmas morning dawned bright and cold. Robin was awake early, wanting to see what Father Christmas had brought, and John was barely able to get out Robin’s gifts before the boy came pattering downstairs. He wished they’d been able to assemble Robin’s bike as planned, but Robin seemed happy enough with the box.
He was absolutely enamored of the tiny violin, and held reverently in his arms while all the other gifts were unwrapped. Zoe, of course, was more interested in climbing inside boxes and grasping wrapping paper, but Sherlock said, “She’ll rediscover toys when she’s ready,” and John stopped trying to tempt her with her new doll and bright plastic toy piano.
They were expecting guests for lunch, so John got the turkey into the oven as soon as they were done unwrapping presents. Breakfast was simple, since they were planning on a big lunch and the children were too excited to eat, and once that was done John relaxed on the couch with a mug of eggnog and watched Sherlock show Robin how to hold the violin and bow to make his first few notes.
It could have been the worst Christmas ever, he realized, if either of them had made one wrong decision. If he had given in to temptation — if Sherlock had moved one second too slowly — everything could have been taken away from them, all of this happiness would be gone.
But instead — instead — Sherlock still loved him, and the children were safe, and later Harry was coming with her new girlfriend, and Mycroft had promised to help assemble the bike (though John knew this actually meant Mycroft’s driver would do the assembling, and John figured this was just a wise use of resources), and there would be no empty chairs around the table.
John caught Sherlock’s eye as he sipped and smiled over his mug. Sherlock smiled in return and kissed Robin’s hair, and John leaned back and watched them, despite how tired he was and how tempting a nap sounded.
He didn’t want to miss a thing.