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A Chanukah Story

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“Good morning,” Lestrade said as Sherlock came into the kitchen. It was half five in the afternoon, albeit Sunday afternoon.

Sherlock blew his nose with a silk handkerchief, conveying dismissal as much as congestion, and folded himself into one of the straight-backed kitchen chairs, digging his phone out of the pocket of his dressing gown as he sat. Beneath the dressing gown and over his silk pyjamas he wore an old grey sweatshirt of Lestrade’s, its hood pooling around his neck like a cowl. Its shabbiness was both incongruous and touching, at least to Lestrade’s eyes.

Lestrade’s hands were covered with potato slime, so he leaned down and pressed his lips to Sherlock’s forehead instead. “You’re warm again,” he said. “You should take something.”

“Don’t fuss.” Sherlock didn’t look up from his phone, on which he was tapping at something like a third his normal speed. “You know I’m only here to escape the fussing John would inevitably feel called upon to do at Baker Street.”

“Hmm.” In Lestrade’s opinion, Sherlock was in his flat because, sick or well, that’s where he most often was on the weekends lately, if he wasn’t chasing headlong after a case. Yet this was a fact they seemed to have decided not to discuss, or at least not discuss in any rational way. True, Lestrade would sometimes pause over advertisements for slightly bigger flats nearby, on occasion even reading them aloud. But whenever he did so, Sherlock would shoot him a look of mulish contempt (if such emotions could coexist) and declare with pompous certitude, “I cannot possibly leave Baker Street. How would people find me? Baker Street is who I am.”

Lestrade had yet to muster the courage push the conversation past this point. On this instance, he merely turned away and depressed the lever of the kettle with his elbow. “Tea, then. That’s not fussing—that’s common sense.”

Sherlock finally looked up from his phone, taking in the bowls and vegetable matter spread across the counter. “Why are you here, anyway? Aren’t you supposed to be at your sister’s?” His voice, reduced to gravel and sandpaper by his cold, was still sharp.

It was the first night of Chanukah, and Lestrade had been long committed to avuncular duty; neatly wrapped and beribboned presents for Daisy and Hannah lay on the table by the door. “I’ve canceled,” he said. “Told them you were ill.”

“Pleaded a deathbed vigil, eh? Ruth must’ve loved that.”

“Stop. Don’t. No. It’s just the germs, really. Didn’t want to be Typhoid Mary with the girls.”

It wasn’t a good reason—Lestrade didn’t need Sherlock’s disbelieving gaze to tell him that—but it would have to do. In truth, he couldn’t have said why he’d backed out. Something about seeing Sherlock sprawled out across his bed, sound asleep in the middle of the day, flushed and gently snoring. He was sorry Sherlock was ill, of course, but it had seemed such a rare moment of peace in their pell-mell lives. It had seemed hard leave that.

Sherlock blew his nose again, consideringly this time. “So you decided to spread said germs to all the shops on the high street instead?”

“Well, it is Chanukah.” Lestrade realized he sounded defensive and tried to inject some confidence into his voice. “Thought I’d make latkes—we have to eat something for dinner, after all.”

Sherlock rose to inspect the bowl into which Lestrade had been grating potatoes. “Are you sure you’re doing it right? It looks a bit grey, and,” he made a face, “soggy.”

How someone who so regularly distilled noxious—nay, toxic—mixes of chemicals could cast aspersions on an innocent heap of potatoes was beyond Lestrade. “Shoo,” he said. “Go medicate yourself—I’ll call you when it’s ready.”

With a skeptical lift of his eyebrows, Sherlock exited the kitchen. Lestrade could hear more nose-blowing and coughing in the loo, then the shower turning on.

Left alone with his potatoes, he conceded Sherlock’s point. They did indeed look soggy, despite his strict adherence to the recipe. Granted, he’d been too embarrassed to ask Ruth for their gran’s recipe, one which always produced perfectly golden, crisp pancakes, at least in Ruth’s hands. He’d found a recipe on the internet instead—a highly rated one, of course, he was no fool; it winked at him now from the screen of his phone.

Ah, well; perhaps they’d be fine once he fried them.

But that too seemed to go awry. The thing was, it was impossible cook the inside without burning the outside. Lestrade kept at it doggedly, oil spattering and the fan over the cooker going full tilt. In the end, however, he only had a few that were presentable enough to consider eating. He set the table, decanted the jar of applesauce he’d also bought, and took a moment to light the first night’s candles in his gran’s menorah.

Sherlock reappeared, still wearing his layers of sweatshirt and dressing gown, but looking more cogent for his shower. He eyed the latkes suspiciously.

“Try them with some apple sauce,” Lestrade suggested.

Sherlock dumped three heaping spoonfuls of apple sauce onto an unprepossessing latke and carved out a modest piece. He lifted it to his mouth, chewed and swallowed. His expression didn’t change.

Lestrade followed suit. As he’d feared, despite the cloak of apple sauce, the latke managed to taste both charred and raw. “They’re rubbish, aren’t they?”

“I’m ill,” said Sherlock, with remarkable diplomacy, for him. “Nothing tastes right.”

Lestrade pushed his plate away in defeat. “Never mind. Can I make you something else?”

“Not hungry.” Sherlock coughed into his handkerchief.

Lestrade got up to make him more tea, and then noticed a brown paper package on the worktop he’d forgotten about in his battle with potatoes. He smiled; perhaps they wouldn’t go entirely hungry after all.

“Donuts?” Sherlock frowned at the plate Lestrade placed in front of him. Then deduction triumphed. “I see: because they’re fried in oil. The oil’s the whole point, really—I forgot.” He reached for one of the round, sugar-coated balls, his earlier lack of appetite apparently forgotten. “Mmmm, jam.”

“Sufganiyot,” Lestrade agreed, pouring himself a shot of whiskey and joining Sherlock. “Worth the special trip to the bakery.”

They ate in silence for a while, licking the sugar off their lips and fingers. Whiskey and pastries, Lestrade reflected—not the most wholesome meal he’d ever put on the table. But it felt festive, and that seemed right, tonight.

“It’s a sort of anniversary for us, isn’t it?” Sherlock said eventually. “The first night we slept together—that was Chanukah, too.”

Lestrade almost choked on a bite of donut. Sherlock must be feverish again, to be talking about something as sentimental as anniversaries. “You noticed that? Then? I—well, I wouldn’t have thought you’d have noticed much, given—“ He spluttered to a halt; even now, they didn’t speak much about Sherlock’s drug-riddled past.

But Sherlock ignored Lestrade’s unease, caught up in some private memory. “Oh yes. I spent quite some time that night memorizing the contents of your flat. Even then, I felt I wanted to know everything about you.”

Feverish, certainly. Nearly delirious, by his standards. Lestrade needed to remember to check his temperature before bed. At the moment, however, he reached for Sherlock’s warm, sticky hand across the table and squeezed.

They finished their sufganiyot in silence. Then, Sherlock took his mug of tea and his handkerchief and headed back to the bedroom.

Left alone, Lestrade binned the disastrous latkes and tidied up as best he could. As he had on that night so many years ago, he stayed to make sure the candles on the menorah burned all the way down.

Such zealots, the Maccabees, he thought. Not men you’d want to encounter in the modern world. Yet this was their miracle: the faith that something that seemed so finite, so ephemeral—something that should by rights have been the mere glimmer of a single night—would outlast all expectations, would burn so bright for so long.