Sherlock Holmes was pacing around the living room. It was four p.m. on Christmas Eve, which in itself wouldn't have bothered him; he was good at ignoring things he didn't care for. This year, everything was wrong though. Mrs Hudson had gone to her sister's for the holidays, if with regret: “If I had known you'd be here, dear, but now we've made plans...” She usually trailed off after that, inconspicuously letting the hidden accusation unfold itself in the ensuing silence: If you hadn't played dead for two years .
Sherlock huffed, not stopping in his pacing. It wasn't only Mrs Hudson's absence which was making him irritable, it was the fact that his best friend still wasn't speaking to him. Sherlock wasn't sure what exactly had gone wrong. He had come back, he had explained things, John looked like he understood the reasons why Sherlock had had to fake his death, and yet- instead of welcoming his friend back with open arms, he had thrown the detective out of the tiny, miserable flat he had moved to and had refused to talk to him ever since, had not answered any messages or calls.
“He's hurt, dear,” Mrs Hudson had said, shaking her head: “He'll come round eventually, if you ask me.”
But John hadn't, and Sherlock was beginning to lose his patience, worse, his self-confidence regarding the matter. He did not like to admit to himself that he was also feeling lonely, more so in fact than he ever had, even while he had been away. During that time, he had had things to look forward to, most importantly his return to Baker Street and resuming his old life. And now this. He hadn't expected to be alone in Baker Street, especially not on Christmas. There had been vague ideas about fairy lights and food and being with John and maybe snow, which all seemed rather silly in hindsight. Except for the notion of being with John, that always came with a pang instead of embarrassment.
As if to mock Sherlock, the thing which was least likely to happen of the lot was happening in the meantime: it had started to snow on the previous evening, so much in fact that it had already brought a majority of the traffic to a standstill.
Sherlock stopped in his tracks and glared at the fairy lights which Mrs Hudson had put up, tempted to tear them down and spend the rest of the day in petulant darkness: if he couldn't have John, he didn't want any of the other things either.
He nearly jumped when his phone rang; it wasn't John, however, but Lestrade. Well. At least a case would distract him from all the wrongness for a while.
With another huff, he accepted the call: “Sherlock Holmes.”
“Are you at home?” Lestrade's voice was a little slurred.
“Where else would I be?”
“At your parents' house?”
“Because it's Christmas.”
“Right. I keep forgetting you're not like other people. Anyway, stay where you are.”
With that, Lestrade ended the call.
Feeling even more irritable than before, Sherlock frowned at his phone.
Nearly an hour later, the doorbell rang. Sherlock waited for a minute until he remembered that no one except himself was there to answer it. When he opened the front door, he found Lestrade huddled into his coat, looking miserable and swaying a little bit: “Where's Mrs Hudson?”
“Visiting her sister in Bury St Edmunds.”
“Huh. Can I come in?”
Sherlock was slightly disappointed that it wasn't about a case after all: “You got here by cab.”
“I didn't think they were still driving.”
“Only a few are. It's chaos out there.”
They went upstairs.
“So, she left you again,” Sherlock said once they were back in his flat. “Tea?”
“Got anything stronger? I'm not on duty.”
“I wouldn't have thought,” Sherlock replied. “Should you drink any more, though? You've obviously started early today.”
“Oh, come on. It's Christmas.”
While Sherlock dug through the kitchen cabinets, Lestrade sat down at the table rather heavily: “She wants a divorce, and this time, she means it. She's even gotten herself a lawyer.”
“Well,” Sherlock surfaced with half a bottle of Scotch, “you're probably better off without her.”
Lestrade glared at him: “Really. How do you know?”
“She's been cheating on you for over four years.”
“Not all the time.”
“Doesn't make it better, does it?”
To Sherlock's alarm, Lestrade suddenly looked as though he was about to cry.
Quickly, the detective put the bottle and two glasses on the table: “Here.”
With an obvious effort, Lestrade cleared his throat: “Right. Sorry.”
They clinked glasses, each of them unhappily murmuring “Merry Christmas.”
The alcohol didn't seem to lighten the D.I.'s mood though; Lestrade's eyes were still (or again) swimming as he was telling Sherlock about how he had first found out that his wife was cheating on him.
“I knew there was something going on, but I didn't know how to stop it, you see?” He ended with what might have counted a small sob.
Sherlock stood rooted to the spot, unsure what to do. Eventually though, he kicked himself into action and went around the table to pat Lestrade's shoulder.
“She's perfect,” Grant muttered, “perfect. And I couldn't give her what she needed because I'm... not. Maybe I didn't make enough of an effort, maybe I was overconfident.”
The sudden pang Sherlock felt was unexpected; it was very likely due to the whisky. And yet... Sherlock pulled his phone out of his pocket and looked at it uncertainly.
“Maybe I should talk to her.” Lestrade unsteadily got to his feet. “Maybe I should go to her.”
“Because you just told me she's on a cruise.”
“Right.” Swearing, Lestrade sniffed audibly a few times: “I'm so glad you're not dead, Sherlock,” he then said, and all of a sudden, Sherlock found himself engulfed in a bear hug; he only barely kept his balance.
“Am I interrupting something?” a voice asked. Lestrade let go of Sherlock: “John, old bean!”
John stood in the door to the kitchen, looking... annoyed, maybe, and a little sad. To suddenly see him there after weeks of silence sent a jolt down Sherlock's spine, and he felt a bit dizzy. John's presence seemed to fill the whole room.
“Becky wants a divorce,” Lestrade informed the doctor, whom he was now hugging.
“I see,” John replied slowly, never taking his eyes off Sherlock, who desperately tried to come up with something to say.
“What- erm... what are you doing here?” he eventually asked tentatively.
“I thought you might be snowing in and I wasn't sure... I know Mrs Hudson's in Suffolk,” John replied. “I... I brought sandwiches. And whisky. Although it seems you're well supplied.” What Sherlock deduced was that John had been alone as well and had at the last minute changed his mind about that. It seemed that he had walked part of the way, despite the weather, and in the bag he was carrying there was also something which looked like a wrapped present, but Sherlock wisely didn't comment on that or on the fact that John knew perfectly well how Mrs Hudson'd never leave without stocking the fridge up first. It really didn't matter though, he was simply relieved that John had come.
“I could eat a sandwich,” Lestrade said pensively.
“Well, then,” John said, looking at Sherlock questioningly and at the same time managing to look lost.
“Oh, er, sure.” Sherlock stepped aside, feeling a little outnumbered. Dealing with John on his own would have been difficult enough; dealing with John in the presence of a third party seemed impossible. He had spent a lot of time thinking up ways to approach John, but none of those included having a second listener. But he couldn't very well not broach the subject, could he? They couldn't simply make small-talk when the issue which had caused John to not talk to him for almost two months was still standing between them, untouched.
John regarded Lestrade more closely once he had set his bag down:“Since when have you been drinking?”
“All day! Then I came here and had some more.” Lestrade beamed at John.
“Well, Sherlock's still standing but I think you might need some coffee,” John told Lestrade. “I'll make some.”
Nervously, Sherlock watched as the doctor moved around the kitchen. He was suddenly very aware of his hands and that he didn't know what to do with them. Picking up the violin and playing something would almost certainly count as rude or inappropriate under the given circumstances; usually, he wouldn't have bothered about that, but right now he sensed that he couldn't afford any further offense.
He was almost glad when his phone rang again. This time, it was Mrs Hudson: “Sherlock?”
“How did you- oh, it doesn't matter. Sherlock, I'm afraid I'm in a bit of a tight spot.”
“My sister and I had a horrible row and I left. Now I'm in Ely, and they've cancelled all further trains due to the weather. The only place which is open is the cathedral, but it'll close after the last service. What should I do? I'm stuck!”
“You could make friends with the pastor. He might take you in.”
Sherlock thought for a moment: “We'll come and get you. Leave your phone on vibration so you'll notice it in case I ring.”
“Long story. Do not wait outside, okay? It might take a while.”
Both John and Lestrade had stopped talking and were looking at Sherlock enquiringly once he had ended the call.
“We're going to Ely,” he said.
“In these conditions?”
“We need to get Mrs Hudson before she steals the pastor's heart.”
“I'll explain on the way. Grant, we need your car.”
“Doesn't matter, we still need your car.”
“Yes. But. I was going to eat a sandwich.”
Sherlock rolled his eyes: “You can bring it with you, but we need to get going.”
“Sherlock, you're being rude.”
“No, I'm trying to help Mrs Hudson.”
“My name isn't Grant.”
“We're really going to Ely by car, in this weather?”
“Yes. The trains are not running anymore.”
“Well, then... okay. Okay. The coffee's ready by the way, I'll take a Thermos.”
“Bring the rest of the sandwiches, too, will you?”
“Could we hurry up?”
“You don't even know my name. You should be very polite to me if you want my car.”
“It's not for my sake,” Sherlock said with all the patience he could muster, “it's for Mrs Hudson's.”
“Right. That is different. She knows my name, after all.” Lestrade somewhat laboriously got to his feet: “Come along, John!”
John took a moment to shake his head before he followed them out: “ Bloody - he didn't even ask if we wanted to come,” he muttered under his breath, though deep down, something felt astonishingly good about the matter.
For months after Sherlock's suicide, John had not been sleeping well. He had dreamed vividly, reliving the last few moments again and again. Before 221B, he had been told that he was a quiet dreamer, yet that changed after the events at St Barts: several times, Mrs Hudson had come up in the middle of the night because John had screamed, begging Sherlock not to do it.
He still didn't know how he had managed to carry on at all. At one point, he had moved away from Baker Street because he simply couldn't bear it anymore; it was too full of memories, too cosy, too much like a home he had had and then lost. And then, out of the blue, Sherlock had come back. He had shown up at John's new lodgings and appeared as chipper and spirited as if he hadn't just delivered another veritable blow to his best friend. John couldn't remember ever being so angry, and yet, he had listened to what Sherlock had to say, had asked questions, had taken in the answers to those, had tried to comprehend. Even if Sherlock's motives might have been noble, he felt left out and betrayed.
A few days later, once his initial anger had abated, John felt mainly happy that Sherlock was back, but he wasn't going to make it too easy for the detective, oh no. He was going to let him wait, make him boil in his own juices, and one day, make him admit that he had been wrong in not including John in the whole matter. The doctor decided to wait till Christmas, then drop by Baker Street with a bottle of whisky and, after Sherlock was drunk, have him write a confession. In his heart, John had almost forgiven Sherlock already, but he was too proud to admit it to himself. Though he yearned to move back to Baker Street, resume their old life again and leave the whole sorry affair behind, he needed for Sherlock to show at least a little bit of repentance first. Sure, he had apologized, but a simple apology wasn't enough. John needed for Sherlock to comprehend the whole extent of what he had done.
That Lestrade and Mrs Hudson had unknowingly put paid to John's plan was too bad, but somehow, he didn't mind as much as he'd have expected. He had missed Sherlock, well and truly, and he was certain that these feelings were reciprocated. Judging by Sherlock's rather tentative behaviour towards him, the detective had understood one thing or other in the meantime.
It took them an hour to get to Lestrade's home in Ealing; as they hadn't been able to find a cab, they had had no choice but to take the tube. Since even the underground's service was limited due to the snow, the trains were horribly crowded. John kept looking at Sherlock's annoyed face and found he was tremendously amused by his grimaces.
The BMW was parked at the curb and completely covered by snow. While John began to wipe it clean and Lestrade more or less helped, Sherlock chose to call Mrs Hudson right then and inform her they would be leaving for Ely soon.
“I'll drive,” he said once he had hung up.
“I'll drive,” John disagreed. “You've been drinking.”
“I only had a few sips of whisky.”
“Which you're not used to and it still counts as drinking.”
“We're with the police!”
“No, we're with a rather inebriated Met detective who wouldn't exactly benefit from it if we'd be stopped while you drove.”
“Fine.” Visibly irritated, Sherlock handed John the keys; so much for tentative, then.
Lestrade quite happily climbed onto the back seat: “I never usually get to appreciate my bimmer from back here,” he announced, sounding awed. “There's so much room for my legs!”
“Are you strapped in?” John asked.
John couldn't help it: with a sense of adventure, he pulled out of the parking space.
“How far is it?” he asked once they were on the motorway.
“About 80 miles,” Sherlock murmured. He was waiting for his phone to get a GPS signal. The snow was coming down so thickly that the mass of flakes which was swirling toward the windshield looked rather hypnotising. The few cars which were there all stayed on the left lane, since the right one was partially covered by snowdrifts, and no one was driving faster than 35 miles per hour.
“Anyone want a sandwich?” Lestrade inquired.
“No, thank you.”
“Well, I've eaten mine. I'll close my eyes for a bit.”
Soon, the sound of soft snoring could be heard.
While there were increasingly fewer cars once they had left the greater London area behind, the snow didn't abate.
“Tell me something,” John said after a while. “You can't remember his name, but you were willing to destroy yourself in order to save him. Why?”
Even though Sherlock sat very still, he gave the impression that he was actually squirming.
“He's a friend,” he eventually said. “He's slow-minded, but then, you all are. He's... good. And I knew I wasn't going to die.”
“You allowed the press to destroy your reputation and you gave two years of your life,” John replied, ignoring the slight, “that does count as self-destruction in my book. Your life as you knew it was over, and you had no idea for how long you'd be gone and how much time it'd take.”
Sherlock ever so slightly tilted his head in acknowledgement.
“You however had no idea how much it'd destroy me,” John continued, suddenly feeling the anger again, the disappointment. “Because you're not only noble but also very self-centered at times. You don't understand whichever mundane feelings others might have, therefore they don't count.”
“I meant it when I said I was sorry,” Sherlock said after a moment, and he sounded genuinely stricken. “I am.”
“I know,” John's voice was soft. “I just don't understand why you didn't ask me to help you. We've been a good team ever since we met, haven't we?”
Sherlock turned his head toward the window: “It was a one-man operation,” he murmured. “Together, we'd have attracted too much attention.”
“No, John, it's true.” You have no idea.
“Give me just one example then.”
“I had to infiltrate a group of gun runners in Serbia. We couldn't have done that together.”
John remained silent, pursing his lips as he was wont to do when he disliked something.
“Okay,” he eventually conceded. “Maybe. But maybe I could have done something else in the meantime.”
“Divide and conquer?”
“Yes, like that.”
“I don't think so. It wouldn't have worked.”
“Why the bloody hell not?” John's temper rose and with it his voice. “Why would it have gone wrong, Sherlock, tell me!”
This time, Sherlock remained silent.
Frustratedly, John hit the wheel with his fist, accidentally honking in the process, which elicited a grunt from the back seat.
“You know what, I've had it,” John ranted, “I'll stop at the next services and you can go on without me. Apparently, you don't need me anyway, so why I am here at all, I'd like to know!”
Sherlock had difficulties to bring out the next few words, as his throat felt constricted all of a sudden; maybe this was the one offense too many, made even worse because his friend had no way of understanding Sherlock's reasons. But if John left now, he'd not come back, Sherlock was certain of it.
“John, please,” he said, barely able to get the words out.
Sherlock briefly closed his eyes: “I do need you. I would have needed you, often. There were many times during which I regretted not having you with me.”
“But it was safer for you to be at home, no matter how awful I made you feel.” The words felt like grains of sand on Sherlock's tongue. “I don't have a problem with putting myself in the crosshairs, but you...” he trailed off.
“I don't quite see the difference,” John said obstinately, if somewhat calmer. “During our whole time together in London, we've mastered a lot of dangerous situations. You never once had any qualms about me. So why then?”
“It's a different scale,” Sherlock almost whispered. “These people... That network... What if they had caught you? What if they had tortured you?”
John gave a derisive snort, but then he fell silent. He opened his mouth and closed it again, eyes still firmly on the road. He swallowed a few times, and when he finally did speak, his voice was very low: “Tell me that didn't happen,” he said. “Sherlock, tell me that didn't happen!”
Sherlock cleared his throat: “It's all right,” he replied softly. “I got out.”
John's eyes were swimming now and he was gripping the wheel rather tightly: “You bloody idiot,” he said.
Sherlock experienced a sinking feeling. Why had he blabbered out what John was not supposed to hear? If he had been vexed about being left out before, this newly gained knowledge was bound to make it even worse.
Neither of them spoke for a long time.
They were twenty miles from Cambridge when Lestrade suddenly sat up: “Can we stop for a moment?” he asked. “I need to pee.”
“We just passed by a lay-by, there are no services coming up, I think,” John said.
“You could just stop here,” Sherlock said. “There haven't been any other cars for ten minutes anyway.”
“Fine. But don't blame me if something goes wrong.” Slowly, John pulled over to the left and stopped on the hard shoulder, carefully avoiding the snowdrifts which were piling up quite high.
“Thanks, mate.” With a bit of an effort, Lestrade hauled himself out of the car, then winced because he came to stand in ankle-deep snow which immediately found its way into his shoes. Ducking his head against the wind and the onslaught of snowflakes, he trudged towards the guardrail.
In the car, John could barely keep himself from drumming impatiently on the wheel; not having to drive meant being able to look at Sherlock, which would have been awkward. The bastard. Time and again, he always managed to turn things around so that in the end, it was John who was feeling guilty, John who thought he had to make amends.
The doctor was beginning to feel hungry and was about to turn around and look for the bag of sandwiches when Sherlock, who had been watching Lestrade in the wing mirror, suddenly unfastened his seatbelt: “For God's sake!” he muttered and was already out of the car before John even knew what had happened. He turned around and peered into the swirling darkness: apparently, Lestrade had taken a header into one of the snowdrifts. Sherlock had just pulled him out and was steering him back to the car. The DI's teeth were chattering: “Blimey, it's c-c-cold,” he managed to get out once he and Sherlock were in the back.
“Do you have any blankets in the boot?” John asked.
“N-n-no,” Lestrade replied, “This isn't a b-b-bloody ambulance, is it?” He was actually grinning.
Sherlock rolled his eyes, shrugged out of his coat and wrapped it around the other man. “I'll need it back,” he grumbled before getting out again and resuming the passenger seat.
“We'll see about that,” Lestrade muttered with distinct complacency.
As they drove on, John kept glancing sideways at Sherlock, who had wrapped his arms around his torso and pretended not to notice until he couldn't bear it any more: “What!?”
John shrugged: “Nothing. It's just... nice. It was nice of you to give him your coat. Especially since you're cold yourself now.”
“I'm not. Cold, I mean.”
“I know what you mean.”
The smallest of smiles was playing around John's mouth, but Sherlock didn't see it.
“It's your fault,” he said defiantly.
John gasped in disbelief: “How!?”
“Because you stopped the car right next to the largest snowdrift there was. Gra-eg was bound to fall into it.”
“Huh. Right.” John shook his head: “Of course it's my fault if you put it like that. But then it's your fault that I'm having to live in a miserable little bedsit with mould in every corner.”
“Because you had me believe you were dead and I couldn't bear staying at 221B. And I miss it. I miss the flat and Mrs Hudson and our old life. I bloody miss you!” He had been getting louder very steadily and had all but shouted the last few words.
“Then why didn't you speak to me!” Sherlock raised his voice as well.
“BECAUSE YOU'RE A STUBBORN IDIOT!”
“I? I AM A STUBBORN IDIOT? I CAME TO YOU RIGHT AWAY!”
“YES, AFTER TWO YEARS!”
“STOP SHOUTING!” That was Lestrade.
Angrily, Sherlock and John turned around to him: “SORRY!”
Right then, due to the abrupt movement, the car began to swerve.
With the assistance of a lovely young woman who had been sitting next to Mrs Hudson in the pew earlier she had put her mobile on vibration, as instructed. Determined not to worry any longer since Sherlock was going to come and get her, she had then put it back in her bag and concentrated on the service. Spending the entire evening in a cathedral was not how she had imagined Christmas Eve, but she hadn't been able to endure just one more second of her sister's badmouthing her boy. She had been going on and on about how Sherlock was certain to be a fraud and how cleverly he had managed to turn the press once more in his favour, and that he couldn't be trusted, not after what he had done to the world in general and an innocent old lady in particular. She had never like him and had never denied it, but this time, it had been too much. So Mrs Hudson had fled after a vigorous shouting match, and now she was here in Ely Cathedral, a victim of the circumstances. She was getting tired as she waited for the last service at eleven thirty to begin, and she had to do her best to stay awake at one point. She had just nearly nodded off and was furtively glancing around to see if anyone had noticed when a dark figure slid into the pew next to her: “Merry Christmas,” Sherlock said in a low voice, and Mrs Hudson beamed at him in delight: “Oh, Sherlock, thank God!”
“You're in the right place for that,” he replied.
She sighed: “Yes. It's beautiful, isn't it?”
Sherlock tilted his head ever so slightly, looking around: “Hm. Acoustics must be good.”
“Yes, they are. You'd have liked the music.”
“Nevertheless- are you ready to leave?”
“I thought you'd never ask.” They got up and Mrs Hudson gathered up her luggage: “Did you get here all right? The roads must be dreadful.”
Sherlock turned around to take her larger bag:“You have no idea.”
Mrs Hudson never learned the truth about why Detective Inspector Lestrade's nice BMW had sustained some thankfully light damage or what exactly had happened during the drive to Ely. She was happy to hear that John was going to move back to his old room in 221B and that he was going to stay for the rest of Christmas.
It was nearing three o'clock in the morning when they arrived in Baker Street, where all of them more or less just dropped into into their beds or, in Lestrade's case, onto the sofa. John barely managed to spread the fresh sheet Mrs Hudson had quickly dug out of her closet underneath himself before he fell asleep; late in the morning, he woke up in a tangle of bedding and with the comforting knowledge that he had come home.
During breakfast, Mrs Hudson kept beaming at her boys, including Lestrade in that selected group; he sat hunched over with a squint, unsure whether coffee really was such a good idea. Sherlock had filled her in about his situation on the way back from Ely, and Mrs Hudson had decided not to let him go home so soon.
While she had busied herself in 221B's kitchen earlier, she had asked John if things between him and Sherlock had been resolved, at which he had shrugged: “Not entirely, but kind of. We're getting there.”
Sherlock was aware that Mrs Hudson could barely contain herself, and for once, it didn't get on his nerves. He felt surprisingly giddy himself, though he didn't let it on. The situation had turned out rather satisfactory, which he wouldn't have believed if anyone had told him so only twenty-four hours earlier. The matter between John and him had not been completely settled yet, but he felt... happy was probably the right word, so happy in fact that he generously invited Lestrade to stay. Best not to remind him of his damaged car anyway.
They spent part of the day watching TV, all of them still being tired; in the afternoon, while Lestrade was taking a nap on the sofa and Mrs Hudson had gone to “whip up a surprise dinner” in her kitchen, John and Sherlock sat in their armchairs in front of the fireplace, each of them with a book but neither of them actually reading. Sherlock was staring into the fireplace, watching the flames, and John kept looking around the room, astonished by how different it was now that life had returned.
He couldn't say that he had entirely forgiven Sherlock yet, but there was still some light to shed on a few things, questions to be answered. They'd have time for that, he thought with a pleasant shudder.
A brief, amused laugh pulled Sherlock from his musings. When his and John's gaze met, both of them regarded the other's expression for a moment, then John smiled fondly: “Merry Christmas, Sherlock.”
Sherlock bowed his head ever so slightly, returning the smile: “To you, too, John. And a happy New Year.”