You Can Imagine the Christmas Dinners
"Your mother lives here?" John muttered incredulously as they walked up the long gravel drive to the house. It was a bitterly cold night; he hugged his coat around himself, wishing that Sherlock had let him wear his favourite woolly jumper. Apparently it wasn't 'appropriate' for this type of social gathering, though. John thought he was beginning to see why.
Sherlock hummed in confirmation, casting a dispassionate eye over the veritable mansion that rose up in front of them, surrounded by sweeping lawns and poplar trees.
"Technically Mycroft's, of course. He always was so... showy."
"Showy? Sherlock, there are bloody peacocks!" said John, spotting one picking its way across the lawn.
"I feel like I'm at Malfoy Manor or something. Am I at Malfoy Manor?"
Sherlock turned slightly and raised an eyebrow at John, questioning.
"Let me guess. You've never read Harry Potter," John sighed. He wondered whether Sherlock had ever even heard of it. He wondered whether Sherlock even knew what a wizard was.
"Is this one of those pop culture references you're so fond of? You know I have neither the time nor the inclination, John."
"I don't see why you can't just catch up when you're bored. As in, every other week? Instead of, oh I don't know, shooting holes in the walls, and doing experiments on things that were supposed to be my lunch."
"We'd do a damn sight better in the pub quiz if you would," John grumbled, thinking back to the last disastrous time he'd dragged Sherlock down to their local for the Tuesday night quiz.
They had reached the porch (ostentatious and overbearing, with odd marble plinths on either side of the door), and Sherlock reached up to ring the bell, turning to John with a strange look on his face.
"John, I have my areas of expertise, and you have yours; they are distinct but complementary. It's one of many reasons why our partnership is so valuable to me."
John blinked, blind-sided as ever when Sherlock gave him one of his odd, roundabout compliments.
"Oh. Good, that's...good."
Sherlock smiled at him a little manically, and the door was flung open in front of them.
"Sherlock, daaaarling!" came the ringing greeting, which Sherlock winced a little at, and a woman dressed in purple and gold – Mummy Holmes, John presumed – descended upon his friend in a cloud of perfume and feathery boas. John was reminded rather forcibly of the peacock he'd just seen.
"Merry Christmas, mother..." he heard, muffled from within Mummy Holmes' shoulder.
The woman drew back suddenly and turned her eyes to John. She was tall, with Sherlock's elegant (if somewhat horsey) bone structure and heavy-lidded eyes. Her hair had been dark, but was now more salt-and-pepper and piled on top of her head in an extravagant bun.
"And this must be your partner-"
"-friend-" John muttered hurriedly, more than used to making the correction these days.
"Companion," Sherlock cut in smoothly, placing his hand on the small of John's back to guide him into the house, "Mother, this is John Watson."
"Aracelia Holmes," she introduced herself, swopping down on John too and kissing his cheek.
"Pleased to meet you," he said, engulfed in a sudden floral fug, "Merry Christmas."
"John's a doctor, mother," said Sherlock, something in his voice that sounded strangely like pride. John glanced at him, a little bemused.
"Erm, yes. I am."
"Oh, I know, dear, I've heard all about you. I'm so glad to meet you at last; do come in."
She stood aside to let them both in properly and they stepped over the threshold, John wondering quite what Aracelia Holmes might have been told about him, and by whom. The house was toastily warm after the cold of the winter night outside, and actually very tastefully decorated for the season - though John could see that Sherlock disagreed, as he currently seemed to be staring murderously at a decorative bunch of holly and mistletoe.
They were bundled into a large drawing room by Aracelia, who poured them both sherries and then disappeared off "to see how things are getting on in the kitchens, my dears". John wasn't sure who was cooking, but he wouldn't be surprised to discover that the house came complete with an entire array of "help". Did people even have help anymore?
"Showy," said Sherlock again, sniffing in disapproval towards an enormous Christmas tree that was covered in gold tresses and glass baubles.
"Now now, Sherlock, do behave," came a voice from behind them, and John turned to see Mycroft Holmes gliding into the room. "We don't want a repeat of last year, now do we?"
John suppressed a giggle as he noted that Mycroft was wearing a red and green tie with reindeer on it. Sherlock rolled his eyes theatrically.
"Last year was entirely your fault, Mycroft, as you well know."
"My fault! My fault? And I suppose the incident with the stuffing was my fault too. Hello again, Doctor Watson."
"John, please. Hello Mycroft," John said, smiling warmly and shaking hands with the man. He felt that at least somebody ought to be civil and grown-up around here, and he couldn't imagine it was going to be Sherlock or Mycroft.
"I'm sorry that there's not more of us, John," Mycroft went on, "We did used to have quite a large party at Christmas, you see, but Mummy hasn't liked to have guests in recent years, not since Sherlock set fire to the-"
"Mycroft," Sherlock growled, downing his sherry and throwing himself into an armchair.
John raised his eyebrows and chuckled.
"He set fire to something? Let me guess, it was an experiment."
"So he claims," Mycroft said, leaning in and lowering his voice, "But I think he was just trying to avoid having to eat his sprouts."
Sherlock pouted, crossing his legs angrily.
"I've declared a blanket ban on all experiments over the Christmas period," John explained to Mycroft. One of his more inspired ideas, he thought; Sherlock had asked whether he was expected to buy him a present (from anyone else, it would've seemed a little offensive; with Sherlock he was just surprised it'd crossed his mind at all) and he had asked instead for a little peace and quiet over the Christmas season. So far it was going well, with only that one minor slip-up with the toenails.
"Really?" Mycroft said, looking intrigued, "And he acquiesced? You do surprise me."
"It's a gift," huffed Sherlock from the corner, "At Christmas it is customary to exchange gifts with those you are close to."
"It's nice that you know the theory, Sherlock, you've never given a gift in your life," Mycroft said.
"I've never had someone to give one to."
John felt himself flushing suddenly, and cleared his throat, trying to look anywhere but at Sherlock. He was glad that Aracelia chose that moment to swoop back into the room, carrying a tray of glasses.
"Darlings, dinner is about to be served, if you would follow me through. Sherlock, do stop slouching about in that chair, it isn't becoming. Mycroft, could you fetch a few bottles of red from the cellar? Not the '67, if you please, it was an early Christmas present from the Adlers and I rather suspect that it's poisoned."
John blinked, unsure whether he'd heard that last correctly, until he reminded himself whose mother this was and decided he probably had. Mycroft nodded and disappeared off down a hallway, leaving Sherlock and John to follow Aracelia into the dining room.
John took a deep breath.
It was going to be a long night.