Here's the story I wrote to celebrate Sherlock Holmes's birthday - traditionally given as January 6th, though no unequivocal confirmation exists in canon. It's gen, rated PG, and includes nearly the whole cast of characters. I really wanted to write something in which Sherlock and John are both tremendously pleased with themselves and each other by the end.
Many, many thanks to kate_lear for her painstaking beta and Britpicking.
(Remix by mad_maudlin: Backwards Epiphany (The Feast of Fools Remix).)
John wondered, as he sat in the pub waiting for Mike to return with their pints, which Sherlock would win if he let slip his observation - really, it was too neat to be true - that Sherlock had been born on the day known as Epiphany. Would it be the egomaniac, who’d be perfectly inclined to believe that he was the centre of the universe and that his mother’s pregnancy, his choice of profession (and consequently the need for him to make epiphany-faces thrice a fortnight at least), and the entire tradition of Christianity in Western Europe had conspired together for this absolutely fitting fact? Or would it be the pedant, the one who corrected improper grammar and mistaken conclusions with all the warmth and humour of a firing squad, who’d surely point out that “epiphany” and “the Epiphany” had entirely different meanings and that John was being irritatingly fanciful again?
John might have been a betting man, but even he couldn’t pick the winner of that bizarre match.
All he knew was that it was his birthday, and Mike was the only mate of his who’d offered to stand him a pint to mark the occasion. He stood as Mike approached, a full glass of the good stuff in each hand, and reached out for his pint. “Cheers,” he said.
“Happy birthday, mate,” Mike said after a long swallow. “Your health, ‘cause if you’re treated by any of the little bastards I’m tutoring, you won’t be long for this world.”
“That good, eh?” John asked with a smile. Sometimes it was nice to have a normal conversation, even when he could predict Mike’s complaints from the aggravated twist of his coffee-stained tie. The pints vanished as they spoke, and before long they were outside the pub, clapping each other on the back and declaring they should do this more often.
He’d come out without his cane, and nearly slipped on the wet red leaves that littered the pavement. Still, it was a gorgeous night, and he walked home enjoying the sights and sounds of the city he loved best all around him.
“No,” Sherlock said decisively, “we’re not heading down to the Yard today. It’s Gregson’s birthday, and we’re sure to be roped into some appalling demonstration of camaraderie.”
“What’s wrong with that?” John asked.
“Look up the word ‘camaraderie,’ John, and you’ll understand,” Sherlock said. “Gregson is not -”
“Wait, who’s ‘Gregson’?” John couldn’t remember ever dealing with a Yarder by that name.
“Someone of no importance,” Sherlock said, sounding almost approving, as if John had deliberately deleted the name from his own cerebral hard drive.
“But you know his birthday?”
“Do you know the percentage of people who use their birthdays as usernames or passwords? Of course I know his birthday, your birthday, everyone’s birthdays.”
“And you still won’t even say ‘happy birthday, mate’? It’s just a nice thing to say if you remember someone’s birthday. No one’s expecting you, of all people, to say that you’re glad he’s alive and that he’s still part of your life.”
“‘Congratulations on getting another year older; your dumb luck has allowed you to survive’ - would that satisfy you?”
No one could be willfully obtuse like Sherlock. “Yes, completely,” John said. “Good show.” He wondered if this was how Dame Jane Goodall felt when she first went to live among the chimpanzees. Probably not; even the chimps had more common courtesy than Sherlock.
Sherlock looked inquisitively at John when he smiled at the ensuing mental images. “Nothing,” he said, answering the unasked question. “You’re just an idiot sometimes.”
He was expecting indignation, but instead Sherlock seemed thoughtful. John shook his head, unable to quash the rising tide of fondness, and went off to make two cups of tea.
He couldn’t quite work out how, despite his own protests of turnabout being fair play and the utter futility of trying to keep a secret from Sherlock, he’d somehow managed to convince himself that he should throw Sherlock a surprise party for his birthday.
“Have you got a minute?” John asked the moment Sherlock slipped away, practically skipping with glee, in the direction of the morgue, where some particularly choice anatomical specimens were waiting for him.
Lestrade nodded, looking distracted. As well he might; going by the mountain of paperwork on his desk, he’d be spending the next several of his own birthdays locked in his office. “Yeah, John, what’s up?”
John felt a bit silly trying to plan a birthday party for a grown man, like he was Sherlock’s mum, worried that her child was “that odd boy” no one wanted to befriend even for the sake of a party with ice cream and balloons and cake. Still, though, he had it from Sherlock’s own mouth that the Yarders went in for a bit of silliness on birthdays, so he didn’t have much to lose. “Sherlock’s birthday’s the sixth, and I was thinking we could organise a surprise for him.”
Lestrade cracked a very weird smile. “Surprise, yeah. Can’t see how that’s going to happen, mate.”
John nodded ruefully, acknowledging the justice of that statement. “Yeah, but you’ll come round to the flat for drinks, at least?”
“Ah, the sixth, the sixth,” Lestrade mused while rearranging the stacks of paper cluttering his desk. He eventually uncovered his desk calendar. “No good. First Thursday of every month, Superintendent Chalmers - shut up, so help me, if I get in trouble for calling him 'Supernintendo Chalmers' because of your propensity to quote The Simpsons at crime scenes - the Super’s got us booked for departmental meetings. Leaving me even less time to deal with all this,” he finished, waving his hand grandly to indicate the blizzard of paperwork.
“Bugger,” John said pleasantly. He wondered if he should ask Sally, with whom he’d developed a bond of sorts; she and Sherlock still sniped at each other, but it was becoming increasingly clear that the tendency had lasted only because they had no idea how to be civil to each other after months as genuine and then mocking antagonists.
“Detective Sergeants have to attend departmental meetings too,” Lestrade said, leaning back in his chair, looking rather pleased with himself for bursting John’s bubble so thoroughly. “But good luck with your quest.”
“Prat,” John said amiably as he left Lestrade’s office, and heard Lestrade’s rusty laugh behind him.
Sherlock had already scarpered off to Baker Street with the prize samples from Molly’s collection, so John spent only a minute strengthening his resolve not to ask Molly to the party - inviting her to the place Sherlock slept and ate and, okay, more often than that, sulked and experimented, seemed to be courting disaster.
How his impeccable logic had broken down from there was beyond him, but it must have, because he was in Mycroft’s impossibly posh office, feeling like a sweaty-palmed teenager facing his dream-girl’s overprotective and heavily armed father.
Mycroft seemed content to let him have his little breakdown in silence, having waved him to an overstuffed chair and proffered tea and fancy cakes. Mycroft poured tea for himself from a separate pot, possibly only to heighten John’s paranoia; certainly it looked and smelled just like the Darjeeling John was sipping.
“So, John,” Mycroft said, somehow making his first name sound more formal than any title or honorific; John thought it had to do with the faint look of surprise on Mycroft’s face, as if he’d never had such an ordinary name in his mouth before. “To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?”
It seemed the height of presumption to tell a man - this man in particular - the date of his own sibling’s birthday, but John was not about to back down at this stage. Perhaps, with Mycroft’s help, he even had a hope of keeping the festivities a surprise from Sherlock. “I’m organising a get-together to celebrate Sherlock’s birthday,” he said gamely, “and I was hoping you would join us.”
“Were you really?” Mycroft said, all polite surprise. “Do try the iced cinnamon roll, Doctor.”
John reached out and plucked it from its doily, then set it on his own plate. He looked directly at Mycroft. “Will you come?” he asked.
“I rather think not,” Mycroft said.
“Right, then,” John responded, setting his teacup down and picking up his inadequate jacket. He really needed to buy gloves and a scarf before another snowstorm ripped through London.
He walked home, kicking at odd pebbles, cursing Mycroft out under his breath. What kind of family couldn’t even be arsed to celebrate a birthday together? Yes, Sherlock was difficult, and at least half the responsibility for the poor relationship belonged to him, but Mycroft was supposed to be a grown-up and at least extend the olive branch for the sake of a peaceful family occasion.
Well, never mind; Sherlock would never have to know that Mycroft had declined the invitation so gracelessly, John decided. He and Mrs. Hudson would be Sherlock’s surrogate family on that day, as they were every other day of the year, really, and they’d make this birthday his best yet.
“What do you mean, you can’t?” he asked Mrs. Hudson blankly.
She tittered tipsily, as if she’d been thoroughly investigating the potency of the Christmas wines. “Sorry, dear, that’s just when I’m away. Florida, you know,” she confided in a stage whisper, and John suddenly recalled the circumstances Sherlock had related of how he’d come to know their landlady.
“Ah.” That put a bit of a spanner in the works. He couldn’t even ask her to pick up the cake, or be home to let any guests in while he kept Sherlock distracted in the wilds of London. Not that any guests had actually accepted his invitations. His ruminations were interrupted by Mrs. Hudson stumbling into him, elbow catching him just in the solar plexus. He steadied her with an arm around her shoulders.
“You’re a nice man,” she said, laying a hand on his cheek. She frowned, as if she were trying to work out a sum in her head. “Maybe you should just take him to dinner, lovey, and not bother with all the rest of it.”
“Maybe,” he said, steering her to her couch and making sure she landed on it.
Being a locum meant he had to be available when no one else was, and with the holidays upon them, he picked up more hours than he’d planned at the surgery. Between the constant stream of patients with runny noses and watery eyes, Christmas shopping, and visiting Harry twice, he had no time to consider the aborted plans for Sherlock’s birthday surprise. One night, just before his head hit the pillow, he made the command decision that the cake should be chocolate, and then he was out like a light.
Sherlock was buzzing around like a giant, deranged bee, getting underfoot just when John really needed fifteen minutes of privacy to order a cake online and try to book a table at a restaurant nice enough to take reservations and cheap enough that his credit card wouldn’t be declined. Then again, Sherlock had been mysteriously absent for the last several days working through Lestrade’s cold-case files, and no doubt he had deductions galore to reveal; genius, as he’d said himself, required an audience.
Still, if he didn’t get to do this now, he wouldn’t get a chance later, so John shut himself in the bathroom with his laptop. A few clicks later, he had what he needed. He stepped into the shower, planning out his day and wondering if he’d be able to skive off half an hour early to pick up the cake.
Sherlock, he saw when he got down to the living room, was sprawled upside down on the sofa, head near the floor and feet climbing the wall. Silk dressing-gown spilling heedlessly around him, he looked like an overgrown and rather dim bat, and John felt a wave of affection rush through him. “Happy birthday,” he said, tapping Sherlock on one bony knee as he passed.
Sherlock went still, apparently taken by surprise by the friendly gesture; John only wished that his attempts at deductions could shut Sherlock up so thoroughly. And that friendship was not so alien a concept to Sherlock as it evidently was. There were times when he wanted to round up the rest of Sherlock’s acquaintances and relations into a sack and drop them into the ocean.
Being eyed up by an upside-down Sherlock was even more trying to the nerves than being examined by a right-side-up one, so after a few awkward moments of flipping through the stack of accumulated mail - bills, bills, and a few stray holiday cards that had got lost in the shuffle - he headed out to the surgery to do some wheedling about leaving early.
He should have called Mike and asked him to lure Sherlock down to Bart’s; that would have been a good plan, he thought, frozen like an inept burglar by the sight of Sherlock at the top of the stairs, looking down at him and the plain white cake-box in his hands. Bugger.
Might as well brazen it out. “Clear a space in the fridge for this, please,” he said, shouldering Sherlock aside when the man seemed inclined to stand in his way. When he opened the fridge himself, there was not a sign of a single inedible thing; even the carrots he’d bought in a virtuous fit at Sainsbury’s and left, guiltily, to rot had been cleared out. “Right,” he said, stowing the cake safely away, then turning to confront Sherlock, who was now hovering by the sliding doors to the kitchen, “what’s all this about?”
“Hmm?” Sherlock was affecting either deafness or ignorance, and neither suited him. Before John could start with the third degree, he caught sight of the microwave clock - he bet some of the experiments had merely migrated from the fridge to the microwave - and realised they didn’t have much time if they were going to make their reservation.
“I booked us a table -” he started.
Sherlock shook his head. “I cancelled it.”
“Because it’s the wrong way round,” Sherlock said, stepping back and throwing himself recklessly on the couch as was his wont.
John followed him out to the living room, trying to work that through in his mind. No good; he kept coming up against dead ends when he ran through the maze. “Sorry, what?”
“It’s my birthday,” Sherlock said, evidently willing him with his wide eyes to receive the psychic messages he was sending. Sherlock sighed in exasperation. “John, what was it that you say to someone on his birthday?”
He knew, somehow, that he was going to get this wrong. “Happy birthday?” he ventured. Sherlock made the go on circular motion with one pale hand, long fingers stained with chemicals, and John finally remembered the conversation they’d had in November concerning the mysterious Gregson. “I’m glad you’re alive and that you’re still part of my life,” he recited, then, worried that had sounded too mechanical, he added, “I really am, you know.”
“Backwards, see?” Sherlock said triumphantly, but John, getting exasperated, indicated keep going with a flick of his own hand. “It’s not you who should be saying you’re glad.” Sherlock paused, as if he needed to get the wording just right. “I’m the one who should be thanking you. You’re the one who’s kept me alive this past year.”
John sputtered and Sherlock spoke right over him; not much of a change there, but then he might not have liked a Sherlock different from the one he knew. “Quiet.” Sherlock’s eyes were utterly grave but one corner of his mouth curved up. “Thank you, John.”
When John, feeling himself going pink, marched back into the kitchen to slice up the cake, Sherlock followed. Sherlock’s shoulder bumped companionably against John’s, and then the most discoloured of Sherlock’s fingers reached out to swipe through one of the icing roses; John retaliated by cutting slices of vastly differing sizes and making Sherlock eat the larger one.
John thought it was a safe bet to assume he had chocolate smeared somewhere on his face, given the gooeyness of the cake and Sherlock’s little smirk, but what Sherlock didn’t know was that he too carried a trace of frosting on his cheek (not to mention a milk mustache of noble proportions) when he reached for his violin to drown out the sound of John singing “Happy Birthday.”
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As always, I'd love to hear what you think.