…And starlight lit my lonesomness.
It was a package deal.
John hadn’t even really known what he was looking for when he first went online. There was only a sense that the month was moving quickly and that, before he knew it, the holiday season would have arrived. The thing was, honestly, that he was a bit afraid. The fear was that if he had to spend Xmas alone in this dreadful little flat, which was about as far from Baker Street as he could get and still be in London, John was not quite sure what he might do.
Not that he didn’t have options.
Harry had demanded that he come out to Essex to stay with her and the current girlfriend. He could predict just how well that would go.
Mrs Hudson told him during their weekly phone call that he was more than welcome to come out to her sister’s family. Because he really ought to get out more.
Even Mike, when they’d run into each other at Tesco’s, had issued an invitation. Which he seemed to think was made more appealing by the promise of the presence of his recently divorced sister.
Yes, he had options. And every one of them would have been soul-crushing.
So, out of desperation, John started browsing on line. One site caught his eye.
Bailey’s Hotel in Cornwall: A Festive Holiday Break!
24 December-27 December
All Meals and Entertainment Included!
Still idle about the whole thing, John read the entire page. Mince pies and hot cider on arrival. Sumptuous Xmas Eve dinner, with a harpist to play seasonal favourites. St. Nick visiting during the traditional Xmas Day lunch. A cold buffet supper with champagne. On Boxing Day there was a walk along the coast followed by lunch at an ancient pub. One final gourmet dinner followed by games. And, finally, breakfast before departure on the 27th.
It all sounded perfectly dreadful. And yet at the same time, quite perfect. No one would know him. He could just anonymously eat and drink and listen to carols amongst a bunch of strangers, who would just let him be.
And with any luck, he would still be alive at the end of the holiday.
For just a moment, he could hear Sherlock’s voice, making a rude and yet funny remark about the kind of people who would enjoy this kind of getaway. John almost smiled.
Then, without thinking about it anymore, he filled out the registration, putting the whole rather astounding amount onto his bankcard before closing the laptop. He rarely used any of the money that Mycroft had secretly deposited after---well, just after. But he refused to feel guilty about doing so now.
Having a plan meant that he probably wouldn’t kill himself over Xmas. Probably.
Although, truth be told, he was hard-pressed to come up with a good reason why he shouldn’t.
There were about forty other guests spending the holiday at Bailey’s Hotel. Mostly older couples, along with a couple of families with either bored teens or manic toddlers. Several others were singles like himself. One of those, a somewhat mousy woman who favoured floral blouses, brightened as soon as John walked into the parlour alone for his promised mince pie. Everyone in the room seemed determinedly cheerful.
Immediately, John was sorry he had come here and thought about leaving. But there would be no more trains until the 27th and no refund of the money he had paid. In the end, he only sighed and accepted a mug of cider from the genial host.
He didn’t even raise a fuss when the eager lady suggested that instead of each of them sitting at a table alone at dinner, they might as well share, right?
She chattered on relentlessly and he nodded occasionally, until the pudding was finished and the brandy sipped, when he excused himself politely.
In his comfortable and quiet room, John watched the BBC News and drank a whiskey from the mini-bar.
Long after the Xmas lunch and St. Nick’s visit were both over, while most of the guests were relaxing in front of the parlour fire, half-heartedly playing boardgames, John bundled up and took a walk around the grounds. It was already dark and silent under a clear and star-studded sky. At the edge of the winter-ravaged garden, he found a small bench and sat down.
Without intending to, he remembered last Xmas, crouching in that stinking alley with Sherlock and thinking that life could not get any better. Even his secret love for his mad friend had been perfect. A slight chuckle escaped him at the memory and then before he realised what was happening, tears were rolling down his chilled cheeks.
So that was how his day ended, sitting in the cold darkness, looking at the stars, and crying.
Once, years ago, Sherlock had spent part of the holiday season in New York City, Mummy had a conference and dragged the whole family along to enjoy the city. Daddy and Mycroft each had a list of places they wanted to see. Sherlock didn’t seem to get a choice and found himself dragged along by whomever had lost the coin toss that morning.
Well, probably that wasn’t true, but it felt as if it might be.
Finally, on the last day of the trip, Sherlock got to go to the Museum of Natural History. He loved it and they’d had to practically drag him out at closing time.
So here he was, back in the city again at Xmas. No family this time, which was fine. No John, either, which was actually painful. Much more so than he had expected. Of course, that wasn’t specific to either Xmas or New York City. He missed John everyday, everywhere.
Sherlock wondered if what he was feeling might qualify as love. He thought perhaps it might, but accepted that he was no expert in the subject.
He was staying at a bland chain hotel not far from Times Square. It was anonymous and safe. Or at least as safe as anyplace could ever be for a dead man working alone to topple a criminal empire.
On Xmas night, he left the claustrophobic room and went out into the quiet city. No one would recognise this ginger wraith in jeans and a well-worn parka, so he walked without much fear. But with his gun in the pocket of the parka.
It was boring being dead. When it wasn’t terrifying, of course. His body bore the marks of some of those non-boring times, like souvenirs of some twisted Grand Tour. Shame he had no photos with which to bore his friends when he returned. If he returned. If he had any friends left.
That burn mark? Cairo.
The gash that ran almost the entire length of his left thigh? Rio.
The scattering of barely healed scars across his back? The result of an encounter with a charming sadist in Tokyo.
Every mark meant something, felt like one small step towards home. If everything he had suffered, would no doubt continue to suffer, didn’t mean that he was closer to being back in Baker Street again, what was the point?
Of course, it was the injuries you couldn’t see that hurt the most. The ache of constant loneliness. The actual physical pain of a broken heart. Once he would have mocked all those things as meaningless sentiment. No longer.
Eventually, Sherlock found himself in a small and nameless park wandering through a sort of grotto draped in fairy lights that glittered like so many stars. He stopped walking and just stood there, looking at the lights against the night sky.
He wondered what John was doing. Part of Sherlock hoped that his friend [former friend?] was happily enjoying the holiday, drinking a bit too much and eating unhealthy things. Opening gifts and being loved by someone.
John deserved all of that.
But Sherlock, always ruthlessly honest, with himself if no one else, recognised that there was a larger part of himself which hoped that John was at least a little unhappy, still missing his mad flatmate.
After a time, Sherlock realised that he was bloody cold. He walked out of the park and waved down a cab for the trip back to the hotel. His plan was to take a pill or maybe two and sleep until the rest of the holiday was over.
It was a good plan.
Well, it was a shite plan, really, but it was the best he had.