It had been sitting under my bed for weeks before the day finally arrived, yet I found myself hesitating to give it to him.
Would he think I was overstepping? We had only known each other for a few months, and I doubted he thought anything of me except as someone to cover half the rent. Would he look askance at me if I handed him the box? Would it be awkward, out of place?
I wasn't sure, and I mulled it over as I watched him rush in and out. Within a few minutes, a dockworker hurried down the same stairs that a crippled stable hand had limped up just before, and I turned back to my book. He had yet to tell me much of anything of the job that took him out at all hours, and I refused to ask, though I could hardly deny that I was curious. I went back to debating the gift I had left on my bed.
I was glad I had gotten it well ahead of time, whether I chose to give it to him tonight or not. I had not left the flat in days, and the thought would have been stressing me out if I had put off getting something for so long. Still healing from the injuries I had sustained in Maiwand, the snowstorm outside had proven too much for me, and I spent most of my time near the fire, reading a book as I watched him hurry in and out.
Whatever job he had, it was one that took no notice of holidays. It was Christmas Eve, and he was just as busy as he had been a week ago, leaving for long stretches at a time in a variety of disguises. I would have several hours to make up my mind, no matter how long I stayed up. I had grown up exchanging Christmas presents just before bed the night of Christmas Eve, whether that fell at sundown or midnight. If I chose to give it to him and Holmes was not back before I went upstairs, I planned to leave it on his bed, though I would have preferred to give it face to face, to better gauge his reaction.
Should I even give it to him? A more reclusive man I had never met. Even after sharing rooms with him for months, I knew little about him aside from several eccentricities. The chemistry experiments I found fascinating, though I rarely went near his table after what had happened the last time I had ventured too close in my interest. He had a tendency to smoke rather more than I was accustomed to seeing, but the indoor shooting was what had bothered me the most. Smothering my reaction, I had left the room to avoid disgracing myself, but he had only done it the once, during the last loud thunderstorm of the season. Spring would tell if he did it more often and if my reaction would ever change.
But would he welcome a Christmas gift? I was not even sure he recognized the holiday. He had not decorated at all, and I had not been mobile enough to put up more than a simple garland on the mantle in my room. One of the things I liked about him was that he was rarely hesitant to voice his opinion, but for once, I had no idea what his opinion might be. Would he scoff at the simple gift I had bought? I never had much left over from my pension, and I had no idea how he would react to such a simple gift.
I debated the argument back and forth for the next several hours as I read my book, and by the time I heard the door slam below, I had made my decision. There was always the chance—however slim—that he would appreciate it, and if it was too awkward or he scorned the tradition, I would know for next time.
He went straight into his bedroom without a word as I mounted the stairs, and I hoped he would not rush back out before I could return.
His door was still closed when I limped back down into the sitting room, however, and I breathed a sigh of relief. He was done for the night; it never took him this long to change disguises—only to remove them. I set the package in his chair before settling into my own, book in hand.
He stayed in his room for several long minutes, and I was just beginning to wonder if he had gone to bed when the door opened. He walked out slowly, obviously tired from a long day doing whatever it was for which he needed to disguise himself. Something in his gait was different, however, and I studied him, my medical instincts coming to the fore. Had he injured himself somehow?
No, I decided. He was tired, and walking slower than usual, but there was no limp of injury in his step. He rarely spoke when he was that tired, however, so I returned to my book, deciding to leave him to open a conversation or not. There were some nights he never said a word between arriving home and going to bed, and I prepared myself for the possibility that he would either not see the package or would simply set it aside without a word. That would be better than scoffing at it.
Keeping his ambling steps in my peripheral, I noticed when he finally stopped by his chair. He stared, the brightly wrapped package seeming out of place in the seat of his armchair.
“Evening, Holmes.” I kept my gaze focused on my book, though I was much more aware of the confusion on his face as he stared at his chair than I was of the text on the page.
He picked up the package and looked closer. “I believe you left your shopping in my chair.”
I finally looked up at him, raising an eyebrow. “Most people would call that a Christmas present.”
He looked at me, down at the package, and back up at me. “Christmas present?”
“You do know that it is Christmas Eve, correct?”
He nodded. “December twenty-fourth, yes, but why would you leave a package on my chair?”
I stared at him. Even only knowing him for a few months, I was growing accustomed to listening to what he did not say more than what he did, and that had sounded like more than a simple question.
“Has no one ever given you a Christmas present?”
He sat heavily in his chair, surprise actually leaking through his normal stoicism. He looked at the package again, then back up at me, stunned.
He opened his mouth, closed it, swallowed, and glanced down at the package again, and I realized that for the first time since I had met him, he was completely speechless.
“This...is for me?” he finally got out. I nodded, and he frowned. “But I do not have anything for you.”
I had expected that, and I was pleased there was no reaction for me to cover. “Do not worry about that. Open it.”
He stared at me for another long moment, as if wondering why I would do such a thing, and the thought entered my mind that perhaps he had never celebrated Christmas. He never mentioned family.
He tore open the paper, and I watched closely, looking for any clues as to his thoughts. I could rarely see past the stoicism he normally displayed, and I would have to look closely if I wanted to know his true reaction instead of whatever he let me see.
Surprise flickered across his gaze as he pulled out the fine blue dressing gown, and I fidgeted slightly when he looked up at me, wondering what his reaction was going to be.
“Yours is threadbare,” I answered the questioning look. “I thought you might like a better one.”
He looked back down, blinking rapidly, as if he had dust in his eye, but spoke after a moment. “You did not have to do that.”
I heard the “thank you” hidden in the statement and smiled, then stood, grateful he seemed to genuinely like it but unwilling to make him more uncomfortable.
“Happy Christmas, Holmes,” I said quietly, turning to go up to my room.
Turning to look back at him, I found him still glancing between me and the dressing gown in his hand. He set it briefly in his chair as he dug through his desk for a moment, bringing out a bottle of wine. He sent me a questioning look as he brought out two glasses, and I smiled and returned to my chair.
We whiled the night away, talking about anything that came to mind. It was the best Christmas Eve I had had in years.