4 weeks before Christmas
It had been years since Greg Lestrade had had Christmas Day off. Not having a family to go home to was like that. Half the other blokes (and the birds, too, of course) had kids; they wanted to see their kiddies' faces as they opened their presents at oh-god-AM on Christmas morning (and had to assemble said presents the night before). Not Lestrade, though. All he had to worry about was settling down in front of the telly in time for this year's Doctor Who Christmas Special, and he could do that just as easily with one of his married colleagues owing him a massive favour for working Christmas Day as not.
(And what was up with those Narnia-esque adverts this year, anyhow? Ah, well, he'd find out on the night.)
This chilly autumn Friday evening, Christmas and new Who were only vague shapes on his mental horizon; Kung Pao chicken dominated the foreground, with maybe a replay of "The Vampires of Venice" to be going on with later. He juggled the post and takeaway bags as he let himself into his flat. Christ, it had been a long day, what with writing reports on that latest case Sherlock had consulted on. It wasn't until he'd wolfed down the contents of a carton or two that the post he'd plonked down to one side of the table really caught his eye. Something odd there, something out of place.
One envelope on heavy card stock stood out among the litter of bills and junk mail, a duchess in creamy white jostled by credit card offers in fool's motley. He frowned, checking the name and address - all present and correct, the postman hadn't made a mistake - then flipped it over to look for a return address. His brows shot up.
Ah. The 'duchess' image hadn't been far wrong, then. Sherlock's mum, I presume.
He opened the envelope, but the printed card he'd been expecting didn't emerge. Instead, the heavy card stock within carried a handwritten invitation and an RSVP - and was accompanied by a personal note. Ta. Not Done to use a pre-printed invitation card, is it, now?
He smiled, his smile growing wider and gentler as he read the note.
It wouldn't do to refuse an invitation from a lady, now would it? Have to see about taking the day off after all. I can always get Pentreath to owe me one in the spring, when he wants to take his kids to Cornwall to visit his mum and dad.
3 weeks before Christmas
'Sherlock! Come on, up and at 'em.'
Sherlock opened his eyes lazily, a wicked smile dawning across his face as he looked up at John.
'None of that, now.' John smiled down at him. 'Come on, help Mrs Hudson and me put up her Christmas tree. What with her bad hip she shouldn't be trying to lift that monster, let alone bring it up from the basement cupboard.'
Sherlock's smile turned into a pout. 'What do I get out of it?'
'A boyfriend who hasn't mucked up his shoulder lifting big heavy boxes all alone.'
Sherlock pondered this, then sighed and trudged downstairs, the picture of being put-upon. 'Ridiculous. The thing can't be that heavy.'
As they set the boxed artificial tree down in Mrs Hudson's lounge, Sherlock flopping down beside it, the lady herself fluttered around them, moving a small table away from the window and fussing that John place the tree's base just so before letting him get on with setting up. As Sherlock lifted sections of the tree out of the box and passed them up to John, she wittered on, now about some Christmas party she'd been invited to. John listened with only half an ear (and Sherlock with rather less, watching John - well, parts of John - from his sitting position on the floor).
'What do you think I should wear, dear? The purple or the red?'
John came to and smiled at her. 'You'd look lovely in either, Mrs Hudson. Perhaps the red would be a bit more Christmassy, though. Where are you going?'
'Sherlock's mum invited me to Christmas dinner with you two this year; didn't you know?'
Out of the corner of his eye, John saw Sherlock freeze, then instantly glance down and away to cover it up. Really, you'd think he'd cover his tells better than that.
Despite Sherlock's (sometimes loudly) proclaimed statements to the contrary, John was not, in fact, an idiot. He kept smiling at Mrs Hudson while fishing for the information that Sherlock had clearly been withholding. 'No, I didn't. When did you get your invitation?'
'Oh, a week or so ago, dear. Very sweet it was of her, too; she included a nice note thanking me for looking after you two this year.'
'We appreciate it, Mrs Hudson.'
John waited until he and Sherlock had finished the tree, been effusively thanked, and shut the door behind them before turning on Sherlock. He did not wait until Sherlock could deploy his full-on smile, however. Bugger. How can I distract him from this?
'Something you forgot to tell me about our plans for Christmas, Sherlock?'
'Of course not -'
John huffed in annoyance. 'Sherlock, give me a little credit. What was that about Christmas dinner?'
Sherlock hesitated, clearly weighing his chances of avoiding this topic until it went away, and (correctly) finding them wanting. He sighed and rolled his eyes. 'Mummy did say something about inviting you this year.'
(Mummy had, in fact, sent John a formal invitation of his own, and followed it up with email when John hadn't replied. Sherlock hadn't quite dared to forge one for John; his mother invariably had caught him out when he tried passing off forged notes on her as a child.)
'You wouldn't happen to have binned my invitation, would you, Sherlock?'
Sherlock brightened up; John's deductive abilities showed a glimmer of improvement. 'You're doing better, John, but you need to be more definite in your inferences.'
John rolled his eyes. 'That's it. Tell your mum I'll be there - and I'll make sure to tell Mycroft, too, just in case you happen to delete it.'
'Jo-ohn, do we really have to go to Mother's Christmas dinner tomorrow?' Sherlock pinned John against the kitchen counter, face close to John's but not touching. It was worth one more try, after all.
Doubtless one of the unobservant masses would have thought that John didn't react, since he didn't show any obvious startle response. Arousal response, though... 'Yes. I want to see for myself what all this fuss was about.'
'You'll need to make it up to me, then.' Sherlock leaned in.
When they broke for air, John grinned up at him cheekily. 'I think you mean you'll need to make it up to me.'
'I think this calls for a private conference with my colleague to determine who owes what to whom.'
Mother not only insisted that her sons participate in this annual travesty, no excuses accepted, but that they spend most of the day dressed for the occasion.
If only that meant his usual suit. Even if she'd insisted on a tie, it would be better than this.
This was one of the few subjects on which Sherlock agreed with his brother, who never brought any staff member over the threshold of his mother's home between Christmas and New Year's, and was always well wrapped up when his driver came for him at day's end. It wouldn't do to have his minions see the boss dressed in that hideous red jumper decorated with row after row of black-and-white reindeer, now would it?
He only wished he could've avoided being seen like this. Mycroft didn't count, as they had a tacit understanding that mutual assured destruction would occur if any word of this - or, God forbid, their mother's photographic evidence - surfaced outside the family. But now John was here - John, who meant the world to him, but who would never let Sherlock live this down, judging from the grin that kept flashing onto his face and being suppressed.
Sherlock's jumper was midnight blue, white stars scattered across it to shine down on a peaceful snow covered village. Hateful, whether in life or this tacky knitted representation.
'Sherlock, let me look at you!' Mrs Hudson turned him about to get a better look. Is there no end to this? 'That's lovely. Hand-knitted and very well done. Did you do them yourself, Mrs Holmes?'
Mrs Holmes smiled. 'No, I'm afraid not. My grandmother taught me crochet when I was a girl, but I never learned to knit.'
Sherlock tuned out the conversation as it dribbled away into handicrafts, of all things. Hideously boring, all of it. At least this can't get any worse.
Then the doorbell rang. Sherlock glanced at Mycroft, who looked startled, then grim as it dawned on him that this was most likely someone looking for him. Sherlock almost laughed as he anticipated what was about to happen -
Then Lestrade walked in, glanced around, then lit up as if all his Christmas wishes had come true at once as his gaze fell on Sherlock in the hideous Christmas jumper. Oh, no. Not Lestrade....