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Have a Holly Jolly Christmas

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At the rich and somber sound of his door chime, Mycroft checked his watch and smiled a satisfied smile.  It had taken several years to find a florist as reliable and flexible as Sturridge’s, however, find it he did and, again, they had not failed to follow his instructions to the letter.  Or, more precisely, to the hour.

      “Happy Christmas, sir!  I’m here to deliver your tree and other… stuff.  Got lots of things, so I suspect ‘happy’ is a good word for your holiday.”

Being greeted by a tall, full fir was not as surprising as one might expect, since Mycroft had repeated this ritual every Christmas since he had moved into his London home.

      “Excellent.  Do come in.”

      “Uh… nothing in the way on the other side of the door, is there?  I can’t see terribly well around this big boy, or girl, and I don’t want to cause any breakage.”

      “Very professional of you and I have ensured your path is clear.”

      “Alright then, let me just get a quick peek at which way I’m going and… oh.  Hello, Mr. Holmes.”

Mycroft’s eyes widened at the sight of a very familiar face peering through the boughs of his Christmas tree and found himself uncharacteristically speechless.

      “D… Detective Inspector?”

      “Yeah, it’s me.”

      “Were you… sacked?”

      “What?  No!  No, this is my uncle’s business and they’re always shorthanded during the holiday season.  I had the evening free and said I’d do the late deliveries to give Alfie, my cousin, the night to take his girlfriend to a Christmas concert she wanted to see.  I only get an address sheet, so I’m sorry I was a bit… cheeky… when you answered the door.”

      “I… think nothing of it, Detective Inspector.  I suppose a greater-than-normal sense of bonhomie is appropriate for the season.”

      “That it is!  I love Christmas, actually.  Everything looking lovely with decorations and people being a bit kinder to each other than they are at other times of the year.  Speaking of, let’s get this beast to his new home and then I’ll bring in the rest of your order.  Your house is going to smell amazing with the tree and wreaths and garlands.  Just point me in the right direction and we’ll get started.”

Mycroft smiled weakly and pointed somewhat shakily towards his sitting room where the main tree would stand.  Detective Inspector Lestrade was entering his home.  If he admitted, even to himself, how often he had fantasized about such a thing, he would likely flush redder than the berries of the holly nestled in his Christmas order.  He was, in no manner, a man given to flights of fancy, but he had indulged more than a few concerning the handsome man currently wrestling a large conifer towards the sitting room.  And flights of fancy they were, since there was no likelihood, regardless of the sophistication of his analyses, that a man as attractive, vibrant and virile as the Detective Inspector would have interest in a plain, pallid and dreary individual such as himself.

      “Oh, this is lovely.  You have a truly lovely house, Mr. Holmes.  Very tasteful, but with… well, it’s got the personal touch, too.  Definitely a welcome bit of character you don’t get when it’s just some paid designer having a go at making your house look telly-worthy.  Now, where do you want this impressive symbol of the season?”

Gregory thought his home pleasing.  That… that was unexpected.  In truth, he had ensured his personal stamp was put on every room over, often, the objections of the designer who did have intentions of making this a telly-worthy addition to their professional portfolio and Gregory… appreciated it.

      “Mr. Holmes?  The tree?”

Oh yes, must not forget the reason the Detective was there to appreciate his décor in the first place.

      “Typically, I have it placed near the doors to the garden.”

      “Good choice.  The lights will reflect off the glass at night to really give the room a glow.  And you’ve got a mirror over there, too, so… yeah, that’s going to be lovely.  Let me lean this here, don’t worry about any needles, sir, I’ve got the hoover to make certain your floor is just as pristine as it was before I arrived, and I’ll get the stand and a few other parts of your order.”

Mycroft watched Greg dart out and certainly did not pay special attention to his arse during the darting, though it was a decidedly attention-worthy arse, especially when clad in something other than the Detective Inspector’s work trousers, which were a touch loose and did not… cup and mold… said arse in quite so delectable a fashion.  Though… was it dishonorable to harbor such tawdry thoughts about the man of his daydreams?  It did not impact their working relationship and he had shown, as far as he perceived, nothing but professional respect to the man who stirred his loins in the most shocking fashion imaginable.  So, this would not be scored, in the slightest, as dishonorable and the tawdry thoughts would continue unabated.

      “Load Number Two!  I’d say a good three or four more before I’m done, but I’ll get the tree up for you before I bring in any more.  You can start decorating that while… oh.”

Oh no.  This was disastrous!

      “I forgot you had requested special services.”

Disaster that made Mr. Vesuvius’s eruption seem a mild belch by comparison!

      “I… we can dispense with that, of course, given…”

      “Nonsense!  That costs loads and I’m not going to see you pay for nothing.  Besides, that’s why you’re the last delivery of the night, so I can do the decorating and see you properly satisfied.  All I’ll need from you is your bibs and bob and… let’s see… yeah, you ordered new lights from us, so I’ll bring those in next and have them strung for the tree, at least, so you can enjoy that while I work on other things.”

      “Truly, Detective Inspector, it is not necessary.”

      “It if wasn’t, you wouldn’t have asked for it, now would you?  And they do it for free, now and again, too, when they deliver to someone elderly or with a disability.  Give them a bit of help if they need it getting their tree the way they like it and the house looking festive and cheery.  Don’t worry about a thing, sir, I’ll see you sorted so you can get started enjoying this beautiful home wearing its Christmas finest.  Ok, then… bottom of the tree was cut just fresh before I left, so it should be ready for some water.  Just a few minutes, Mr. Tree, and you can have a nice, long drink.”

Mycroft dithered a moment, then sat and further dithered in his chair as he watched Greg manhandle the large tree into its stand and get it… hmmmmm…

      “There you have it, sir.”

      “Perhaps…”

      “Mr. Holmes?”

      “It is leaning.”

      “It is?”

      “A touch to the right.”

      “Oh, well, you’ve got a better vantage point than me, so I’ll adjust that and… there?”

      “Not quite.”

      “More left?”

      “More… left and forward.”

      “You can see the forward from where you’re sitting?”

      “I am comparing the distance from the bottom of the trunk to the tip and there is a discrepancy.  Though, that might be explained by a bend in the trunk itself, it would produce the same effect.”

      “You’ve got a good eye!  Alright, moving it… here.  Better?”

      “Too far left.”

      “Too far left.  Got it!  And… here?”

      “Back a touch.  The forward repositioning was a bit too vigorous.”

      “Backing it one touch without any vigor whatsoever.  How’s that?”

      “It…”

Mycroft rose and viewed the tree from several vantage points, making small motions with his hands that Greg obediently enacted on the tree until the final hand was raised in a recognizable ‘There!’ posture.

      “Success!  Let me run out for the lights and that’ll be the next item on the agenda.”

Though they cannot be as bright as your smile, Detective Inspector.  And how manfully you managed the tree.  Verily your muscles were energized by the exertion and made their fullest demonstration of ruggedness and strength.

It was going to be a long night.

__________

      “Clumped again?”

      “Quadrant Six seems overly bright compared to the others.”

      “Smart of you to divide up the tree to make this easier.  I’ll separate those lights a little and you do another tour around the shrubbery to see I’m not sending the other sectors into disarray.”

      “A prudent idea.”

Greg smothered a grin at how seriously Mycroft was taking the task, but found it an endearing quality of the man he’d started to realize had a warmer side than the cold front he presented to the world.  Aloof, somewhat dismissive… maybe that’s what it took to succeed at the level he operated and Mycroft Holmes, from what little he was privileged to see, was a staggering success at a stratospherically-high level.  Sherlock had only hinted at his brother’s reach and his own observations bore that out, but… there was certainly a lot of reach there, both broad and deep.  And the man, unfailingly, looked gorgeous while doing the reaching.

      “Yes, the redistribution has upset Quadrant Two.”

      “Too clumped or too spaced?”

      “The latter.”

      “Ok, I should be able to fix that with a bit of fiddling with The Abyss.”

      “I still object to naming the rear of the tree The Abyss.”

      “You vetoed me calling the other parts Areas, so I view this as a professional compromise.  Besides, it’s not as visible as the rest, so it needed a name that reflects it can take a touch of non-perfection, especially since it’s to help out the other regions.  I mean… Quadrants.  Gotta look at benefitting the many, right?  The greater good and all of that.”

      “A very global perspective.”

      “I can think big, I just don’t do it often.  Hurts my brain.”

      “I am gratified you are braving the pain on my account.”

      “Have to give good service!  Give the customer what he paid for or you’ve no business running a business.  Or working for one now and then, like me.”

And, especially, when the service is for an intelligent, elegant, positively striking man who is showing actual personality and making himself even better fodder for the most romantic and filthy daydreams an ordinary Detective Inspector could ever hope to harbor in his brain.

      “Another well-reasoned argument.”

      “My night for them, I guess.  How’s Quadrant Two and Six looking now?”

      “Most acceptable.”

      “Alright, then.  Wreaths, garlands and what not next or continue with the tree?”

      “Hmmmm… I generally prefer remaining with a trajectory of action once it has begun.”

      “The tree it is, then.”

      “However…”

      “Sir?”

      “I find I would prefer to see the house with the greenery properly placed first.  Begin with the largest picture, the whole residence, and move inward to individual items secondarily.”

      “Sounds like a battle plan.”

      “One should face even the smallest endeavor with proper solemnity and planning.”

      “Not one for spontaneity, I take it.”

      “I…”

      “Yes, Mr. Holmes?”

      “I am not often presented the opportunity for such a thing to be appropriate.”

      “Oh.  That’s… busy man like you, I can see that, I suppose.  Well, now you have the chance.  Go with the plan or go a bit wild.”

      “Can evergreen garlands be considered wild?”

      “Compared to the lack of them, they’re wild as a badger on acid.”

      “Oh dear.  In that case, garland stringing and wreath hanging shall commence.”

      “Terrific!  How’d that feel?”

      “Surprisingly… buoying.”

      “Christmas is a good time for that.”

      “Something I am beginning to realize.”

__________

      “Good heavens, Detective Inspector.  Should I speak in radians, instead?”

      “No, because I don’t know what that is.”

      “Another method to divide a circle.  Twelve degrees is approximately 0.2 radians.”

      “I can’t see 0.2 of anything!”

      “Then we shall remain with degrees and you will now lift that end twelve degrees to properly level it.”

      “I… what’s that look like?  Show me with your fingers or use inches.  I’ll take centimeters, even, in the spirit of the season.”

      “Given the run of this particular garland… half an inch.”

      “So, up half an inch.  There.  How’s it look now?”

      “Hmmmm…”

      “That’s not good.”

      “By lifting that side to the appropriate leveling position, several of the fascicles seem inappropriately high.”

      “What the fuck is a fascicle?  Oops!  Pardon my tongue.”

      “Bundle of needles.”

      “Oh!  Hold on, let me secure this… take a few steps back... ok, I can see that.  Sort of.  Want me to floof a few on the other end or do a spot of trimming on this side?”

      “I doubt any measure of floofing would be a permanent modification.”

      “Trimming it is!  Got the proper tool at the ready, so let me… these two or any others you want me to shorten?”

      “Hmmm… perhaps a general pruning to achieve an equal height across the strand.”

      “No.”

      “Pardon?”

      “I’m sorry, sir, but I can’t let you make that mistake.  Think about it, do you want the top of this to look like some rich bird’s hedges?  Where’s nature in any of that?  Where’s the beauty that reminds you why you brought all this green into the house in the first place?”

      “I see your point.  There is a limit to the neatness and symmetry one should impose upon such a decoration lest if fail to perform its intended function.”

      “Exactly.  I agree those couple stood up like a fencepost in a field of rye, but now… just a moment… here we go… there’s stander-uppers and layer-downers all through and it all comes together to make something lovely.  It’s got a symmetry, of sorts, just more… organic.”

      “Your point is well-taken.  Excessive pruning would ruin the aesthetic I was seeking when I chose these items.”

      “The level’s good, though?”

      “Yes.  Each end is placed at the same height and there is… oh dear.”

      “What?”

      “The decorative droop.”

      “What about it?”

      “It is a touch too… droopy.”

      “Want me to pull this end out a little to lessen the droop.”

      “Yes, but do not adjust the height, even a scintilla.”

      “Is that more or less than 0.2 radians?”

      “Less, though it is a close thing.”

      “I’m doomed.”

__________

      “Ooh… lots of wreaths.”

      “I prefer to have one above each hearth, as well as the front door of my home.”

      “I’m all for that.  These are nice ones, too.  Full and fragrant.  If it’s not too much trouble, I’ll give each a shake and you tell me if there’s any trimming or whatnot you want before I climb up and get them hung.  The old knees would be happier the fewer trips I have to make up and down the step ladder.”

      “Of course, Detective Inspector.  I have no desire to exacerbate any existing joint discomfort.”

      “My knees thank you.  Shall we do the shake and trim all at once or do each as we come to them in the house?”

      “I believe the latter is the more suitable approach.  Given the ambiance of the room, some wreaths might benefit from a more groomed appearance, while a more chaotic look might suit others more appropriately.”

      “That sounds… spontaneous.”

      “I was rather proud of that myself.”

__________

      “You have got to me kidding me!”

      “It is not my fault that the berries on the holly wreath are utterly… umkempt!”

      “And you couldn’t tell me before I climbed up here?  I’m ten leagues above the floor!”

      “You are not, and you requested I inspect for trimming.  Not berry comportment!”

      “It was a catch-all!”

      “Then you should have been specific!”

      “My knees!”

      “Will not fracture from a single foray back from your height.”

      “How about I just pick them off or something up here?”

      “No, I must examine it more closely.”

      “For fuck’s sake.”

      “Haphazard berries, Gregory.  They are an affront to Christmas.”

      “Me being in Casualty is an affront to Christmas, but I guess berries rank higher on your ladder of importance.”

      “Actually, you are currently standing at the apex of my ladder, so I suspect the berries could not outdo your performance.”

      “Congratulations to me.”

      “One takes one’s lauds where one can.”

__________

      “I am so sorry, Gregory.  Truly I am.”

      “Your ladder broke.”

      “I cannot apologize more forcefully.”

      “I am a sad, old owie.”

      “In truth, your fall was from only the second step, so the degree of injury, barring a collision with your head or neck and a hard surface, is exceedingly minimal.”

      “I could have broken a leg.”

      “Unlikely.”

      “Sprained an ankle?”

      “Possible, however, your degree of ambulation indicates that is not the case.”

      “Oh.”

      “I… might I offer you an aspirin?”

      “No… aspirin tastes like… aspirin.”

      “Then, I have no… ah.  One moment.”

Mycroft darted off and returned with a large measure of amber liquid in an exquisite heavy crystal glass.

      “I believe the traditional remedy for, let me remember… ah, yes… what ails you… is a hearty dollop of spirits.”

      “Ooh, that’s more up my alley.  What is it?”

      “I opted for whisky, for that is acceptable to most men.”

      “I do like a good whisky.”

      “Then you shall not be disappointed.”

      “Are you joining me?”

      “I did not fall from a broken ladder.”

      “True, but do you really need an owie reason to enjoy a fine whisky?”

      “Oh, I see.  No, one does not, in point of fact.”

      “Especially at the holidays.”

      “The number of valid points you are scoring, Gregory, is most impressive.”

      “I’m impressing myself, truth be told.”

__________

      “Leave the candles alone, Mycroft.”

      “But…”

      “If you wanted them all pristine and perfect, you shouldn’t have burned any beforehand, now should you have?”

      “It is utterly unfair!”

      “What’s unfair about it!  You wanted a bit of candlelight with your reading, something I heartily endorse, and it’s only one person’s fault you used the candles you purchased for your Christmas display to do it.  For the record, that person is you.”

      “But, Gregory… will you not dash out and purchase fresh ones?  It is Christmas, for heaven’s sake!”

      “Which is why candles with a bit of wear are perfect!  They’re already used to your house and you know you like them, so when you light them, they’ll feel comfortable and happy with the situation.”

      “Candles cannot feel emotion.”

      “You don’t know that.  You don’t speak candle.”

      “Pleeeease….”

      “I am not driving a delivery lorry into the heart of London, fighting for parking, then toddling about to find a shop that’s open and sells precisely the size and color of candle you want because you’re getting fidgety over dark wicks and a touch of dribble.”

      “You are insufferable.”

      “I can give you the keys and you can go shopping yourself.”

      “I despise driving in London.”

      “Then you’ll manage with the candles you have until I have time to shop for new.”

      “When will that be?”

      “When I have time!  Maybe tomorrow, if I don’t catch a new case.”

      “I suppose that will have to do.”

      “Thank you, Your Majesty.  Now… how’s the spacing of the substandard candles you hate?”

      “A bit closer together?”

      “Like this?”

      “Better.”

      “More whisky?”

      “As quickly as I can pour it.”

__________

      “My eyes are boiling!”

      “It looks fine!”

      “Absolutely not.  I shall not tolerate it.”

      “It won’t look any different if I change it.”

      “It shall!  The aesthetic blasphemy positively shrieks its defilement of this house to the world.”

      “And it couldn’t have shrieked when I started winding the bannister garland counterclockwise?”

      “It was likely overcome with disbelief that you would commit such a gross atrocity at this joyful time of year.”

      “Oh my god… fine!  Fine, I’ll undo the whole business, wind it clockwise and brand into my brain that counterclockwise is an atrocity so it won’t happen again.  Happy?”

      “Yes.”

      “Reward?”

      “Hmmmm… certainly more whisky, but I do worry that you have yet to eat anything and that can be problematic when paired with alcohol consumption.”

      “Ooh, that’s true.  Want me to put together a little nibble for us?”

      “Given you have a garland disaster to manage, I shall handle that particular task.”

      “Thanks.  Any other garland shenanigans I need to subdue while you work on that?”

      “I cannot think of any at this point.  Of course, the final inspection report might document areas for improvement.”

      “I can hardly wait.”

__________

      “You’ve done yourself proud, Mycroft.  You really made that mushroom bit yourself?”

      “I did.  I originally crafted it to be a thick spread, however, the night is brisk and serving it hot, thinned with a bit of béchamel sauce seemed a more robust offering with our bread.”

      “You’re amazing.  No other word for it.  This is fantastic cheese, too.  With the fruit and ham, it’s just perfect.”

      “I am very glad you enjoy it.  It is one of my favorites, actually.  I do need to purchase more, however, as I have exhausted my current supply.”

      “Want me to get some when I stop for candles?”

      “Would you?  I shall phone the market and have the order prepared so you do not have linger overlong waiting for it.”

      “Sounds good.  Ohhh… bloody wonderful.  Look at me with juice on my face.  These pears are sneaky!”

      “Here… hold still, you ridiculous man.”

      “Holding still!  Glad I did, too.  You’re faster than a speeding bullet with that napkin.”

      “I pride myself on my quick reflexes.”

      “My face appreciates it.”

__________

      “Ok, we’ve got wreathes hung, garland strung, candles and lights placed, larger knick-knacks and decorative lovelies in their approved locations… tree, now?”

      “Yes, I believe it is time.  It is somewhat the jewel in the crown and must be approached with all due consideration and in the proper spirit.”

      “We’re spirited, that’s for certain.  More whisky?”

      “My next suggestion!”

      “Great minds think alike.”

      “We are undoubtedly the textbook proof of that idiom.  I shall pour while you begin to open the boxes of ornaments.”

      “Alright.  Mind if we have some music?  That concert my cousin went to just started and they’re broadcasting it on the radio.  Supposedly a nice mix of classical pieces and more modern things which would fit in with your ‘in the proper spirit’ manifesto.”

      “That sounds delightful; I shall get it started immediately.  I do enjoy the rather jubilant tone of holiday music, at least for the duration of the holiday season.  It seems a critical feature of the overall experience.”

      “Good to hum, too.”

      “I do not hum.”

      “Yes, you do.”

      “I assure you, you are mistaken.”

      “No, I’m not.  Want to know why?”

      “Most intensely.”

      “First, you’ve the right voice for it.  Clear, rich, touch of lightness to… well, I don’t know if voices can be agile, but that’s what you need to make a hum match up well with whatever it is you’re humming!  And, most damning of all – I’ve heard you.”

      “Untrue.”

      “I have, more than once.”

      “Utterly untrue.”

      “Good use of ‘u’ words, but still bollocks.  I’ve heard you humming little tunes while Sherlock goes on one of his loony rants or you’re waiting for him to be processed out of police custody, so you can drag him home by the ear.  And that tiny smile on your face says you know you’ve been caught out, so my next whisky will be doubly delicious what with the taste of victory already in my mouth.”

      “I… I was unaware of that.”

      “That you hum or that I noticed?”

      “The latter.  Very observant of you, Gregory.”

      “Didn’t get my job solely on my good looks, you know.”

      “That certainly did not hurt your chances, though.”

      “Not one tiny bit.”

__________

      “Nah, those are yours.  I’m not touching them.”

      “For whatever reason, Gregory?”

      “See these hands!  These are… troll hands!  Fumbling about with my head-knocking club doesn’t really qualify me to pick up ornaments that fragile and… they’re old, too, aren’t they?”

      “Some are.  Inherited family pieces.  Others I have acquired myself over the years.  However, they are not as fragile as you seem to believe.”

      “I’m not as nimble-fingered as you seem to believe.  I’ll crush those angels like they were crisps!”

      “I assume their heavenly association will protect them from your digits.”

      “I’m not taking any chances.  What do you have that you got cheap at Asda?”

      “Blessedly nothing.”

      “I worried that was the answer, but nothing good comes from not trying.”

      “Very true.  I propose this – I shall take charge of all items that would be difficult or impossible to replace and you shall have dominion over the rest.”

      “That’s… that’s not bad.”

      “I am thrilled my negotiation skills are still up to snuff.”

      “So am I.  Ok, hand me a box and I’ll get started.  Any rules I should know beforehand?”

      “Hmmm… now that I consider it, rather a lot, actually.”

      “I’ll prepare for an education, then!  And, lucky us, sounds as if they’re going to do a bit of Nutcracker at the concert.  Sentimental favorites are always the best.”

      “I agree.  They satisfy on multiple levels and provide a thoroughly enriching experience.”

      “Got that Chipmunks song about anywhere?  That one’s loads of fun.”

      “What!  Under no circumstances.  Battle lines are now drawn, Gregory.  Tread lightly.”

      “Christmas, Christmas time is near.  Time for toys and time for cheer…”

      “The agony… must you add misery to mayhem and mimic the Chipmunk voice?”

      “That’s the best part!”

      “We will have words about this, Gregory.  Many and stern.”

      “After we get the tree finished?”

      “Most certainly.  One must prioritize one’s tasks for the sake of efficiency.”

__________

      “Balls, Gregory.”

      “Are a lot of fun when the right person is having a go with them.”

      “Amusing.  However, you have violated the ball ordinance.”

      “Have not.  I’ve got the specified two and they’re properly stowed in preparation for flight.”

      “Amusing.  Part deux.  Look there… you have three decorative balls of the same color within the same sub-sector of a quadrant.”

      “I have?  Shit, you’re right.  My balls were violated!”

      “Did it hurt?”

      “A little, but I’ll rub them later and make them feel better.”

      “Will that require inspection?”

      “Probably.  I can get a bit slipshod when I rub my balls.”

      “Very well.  It is an onerous duty, but I cannot abide anything less than a thorough and thoughtful effort, regardless of the nature of said effort.”

      “I doubt I’ll be doing much thinking with my rubbing, actually.”

      “I shall make note of that in your performance review.”

__________

      “Quadrant One!”

      “Excellent.”

      “Quadrant Two!”

      “Perfection.”

      “Quadrant Three!”

      “Exquisite.”

      “Quadrant Four!”

      “Breathtaking.”

      “Quadrant Five!”

      “Entr… oh, do move the Limoges sleigh a scoche to the left.”

      “How much is a scoche?”

      “Slightly more than a soupcon.”

      “Are we back to radians again?”

      “The width of your smallest toe.”

      “That’s something I can understand.  There?”

      “Much better.”

      “Alright, recommencing.  Quadrant Five!”

      “Majestic.”

      “Quadrant Six!”

      “Indescribable.”

      “Quadrant Seven!”

      “Stunning.”

      “Quadrant Eight!”

      “Beauteous.”

      “Is that a real word.”

      “It is.”

      “Then I proclaim the tree decorated!”

      “Huzzah!”

Greg stood next to Mycroft and they both admired their hard work, which had produced the loveliest tree either of them had seen, besides those magical ones that brightened their Christmases when they were children.  This one, though, held a similar, mystical appeal, though neither was entirely certain of the reason.

      “That’s a winner, Mycroft.  No question about it.”

      “I agree.  Positively… enchanting.”

      “You can really feel Christmas, now, can’t you?”

      “I can.  The house radiates the Christmas spirit as I have not known it to do so before.  What a joy this is, Gregory.  Simply a joy.”

      “Shall we sit and enjoy it awhile?”

      “Absolutely.  And, though the concert is over, I have a marvelous selection of seasonal offerings to provide a suitable soundtrack to our gazing.”

      “Yes!  Bit of holiday music, a chance to relax and enjoy all our hard work.  That’s the way to see this night end.”

      “Then, let us begin.”

Settling on the sofa, each man sighed and slowly let the quiet and beauty of the moment sink into their bones and begin the hour or so of relaxation and conversation that seemed the natural extension of the decorating experience.  After that hour or so of conversation, smiles and laughter, Mycroft happened to glance at the clock on the mantle and sighed, knowing that he was not the only one with an early day ahead, but likely the one far better suited to meeting it on a paucity of sleep.

      “Gregory, I believe it is time to draw the night fully to a close.”

      “Nooooo…”

      “The draconian hands of the clock tell a bitter tale.”

      “Oh, that sounded very gothic.”

      “My costume for Halloween has been chosen!”

      “Please be a vampire, please be a vampire, please be a vampire…”

      “I am receiving a signal from the supernatural realm that I would make an alluring vampire.”

      “Yes!  Can I be a werewolf?”

      “Such a feral choice.  I heartily approve.  However…”

      “I should probably make a start for home.”

      “Wise, given your professionalism and desire to always perform at your best.”

      “Pummeling me with the mighty fists of duty.  Excellent tactic.”

      “One uses what works.”

Rising from the sofa, Mycroft stretched and led the way to the front door, making certain to brush away a few stray conifer needles off of Greg’s jumper and using his fingers to tame Greg’s unruly hair before sending him into the night.

      “Well, everything’s cleaned, decorated and I’ve got my marching orders for candles and cheese.  Got the address of that shop for me?”

A small slip of paper was drawn from Mycroft’s pocket and handed over to Greg, who grinned at the handwriting, which was a highly-unique blend of cursive perfection and oddly-angular scratch that said a great deal about the man who had wielded the pen.

      “Yes, I made note of it, as well as added few additional things to expect with the order, as I had an inspiration for a lovely meal and simply could not let the inspiration die an unremarked death.”

      “Oh, I like the sound of that.  Thanks, love.  I’ll see you tomorrow night.  I’ll phone if I’m going to be late.”

Laying a quick kiss on Mycroft’s lips, Greg smiled a contented smile as he turned and started towards the lorry, while Mycroft smiled a contented smile and started back inside.  Then both men had near-fatal attacks of reality from the realization of how far from it they seemed to have veered in the last several hours of time.

      “Uh…”

      “Oh…”

      “I…”

      “Ah…”

      “Yeah… that was…”

What it was, though, from the frozen looks of mutual confusion, defied any form of explanation beyond that of Christmas magic, which was something each began to suspect might not be as imaginary as they’d always believed.  As they stood there, anticipation and uncertainty waging war in their minds both of them wondered, from the whisper of hope they saw in the other’s eyes, if what this was… was a chance.  A rare a precious chance that might never come again if they scuttled into their shells like crabs.  Given crabs had no use for Christmas decorations, shared dinners with candles and music, fingers run through hair or goodbye kisses, there would be no shell-scuttling tonight.

      “Yeah.  Ummm… I’ll see you tomorrow.”

      “I… yes.  Yes, you will.  I am… very much looking forward to it.”

Which was the bravest thing Mycroft had ever said, but also the most heartfelt.

      “So am I.”

Mycroft’s bravery sparked Greg’s who darted in for another quick peck before grinning widely and walking backwards towards the lorry, so he could see Mycroft’s returned grin, which was just as wide and bright as his own.  A cozy dinner tomorrow with, maybe, a favorite Christmas film afterward or more music and conversation.  Then, another evening very, very soon, with, perhaps, a bit of walking through some of the more Christmas-y shopping areas to take in the sights and sounds, as well as laugh at all the loony people scrambling about to find last-minute gifts.  Which… oh, they now had another gift on their own lists to purchase now, didn’t they?  It didn’t matter though.  The gift they received tonight made any other look silly by comparison and would last far, far longer, too…