Disclaimer: These are not my characters.
A/N: Ugh, I'm really sorry for the wait.
It was Christmas morning. Yesterday, Remus and Mrs. Hudson had decorated the entire flat with evergreen garlands, golden baubles, and sprigs of mistletoe—these last only over the mantle, the sink, and the middle of the kitchen table, places where it would be nearly impossible to stand accidentally. This morning, Remus had set up a playlist of Christmas carols to play from his laptop as soon as he awoke. The sound quality wasn't great, but at least it beat the sound of Peeves belting of "God Rest Ye Merry Hippogriffs," which had been the disappointing musical highlight of Remus's December last year.
It was around noon when Sherlock shuffled into the kitchen, looking barely awake despite his usual tailored suit. "Hello, John," he yawned.
"About time you got up, sleepy head," Remus groused, half in jest. He was folded up in his armchair, where he'd been for the past hour, reading one of his favorite Muggle Christmas stories and basking in the festive mood.
Sherlock collapsed into his own chair and dangled his legs over the arm. "I had to pack last night. It's difficult to transfer my entire sock index into a suitcase."
"Pack? Why? Are you going somewhere?"
"We're going somewhere. I mentioned it last Tuesday."
"Last Tuesday . . . Sherlock, were you talking to yourself again while I was buying groceries?"
Sherlock snorted. "I don't talk to myself. I was talking to you."
"While I was gone and, thus, not actually your audience."
Sherlock stuck out his lip petulantly. "Were so."
Remus took a deep breath and disengaged from the childish argument. "So where are we going?"
"Al—?! Sherlock, what?"
"It's where Bertha Jorkins went missing. Surely you remember. Now come on; it's time to leave."
"Now? It's Christmas!"
Sherlock grinned, swung his legs forward so that he was sitting normally, and steepled his fingers in front of his face. "My thoughts exactly!" Then his face fell, smile sliding away on either side of his hands. "Oh, you mean literally."
Remus pushed himself up and began to pace. "Yes, I bloody well mean literally! We're hosting drinks with Mrs. Hudson and Molly and Greg tonight. I've been reminding you about it for the past two weeks. While you were actually present, no less."
"You were talking; it was boring; I must have filtered."
"And you blame me for not listening to you when I'm off buying the food that sustains you!" Remus stopped pacing and forced himself to calm down. "We're not leaving today, Sherlock. We've made a commitment to our friends and we're not going to break it."
Sherlock pulled his legs back up so that he was sitting in a frail ball, turned away from Remus, and buried his head in the chair's upholstery. "I don't have friends, John.."
Remus clenched his fists but stopped himself from leaving. They'd been here before, after all. But this time storming out might result in Sherlock catching a one-way flight to Albania, and Remus would rather not repeat last summer's international manhunt. He managed to keep his voice steady as he said, "Yes, you do, and so do I, and they're coming to the flat tonight."
"People are boring," Sherlock muttered into his chair.
"You make your living untangling people's lives. You can't think people are boring; it's a contradiction in terms."
Sherlock rolled back in Remus's direction and glared at him. "And you can't think hosting drinks on Christmas is a good idea. Not after last time."
"You don't get to extrapolate from one data point."
Sherlock put his feet back on the floor. "Small samples are actually surprisingly useful. I've got a monograph on the value the single data point on my website."
"Unfortunately for you, I've been on your website, and I've perused said monograph, so I know you're misusing it. A single sample can be useful when maximum uncertainty exists prior to sampling. And we don't have maximum uncertainty here, because we know Molly and Greg and Mrs. Hudson and ourselves, so we know that we get along—at least, we do when you behave yourself. The problem with the last Christmas party was that one of my girlfriends was there. It was a bad idea for me to date at all, let alone date Muggles . . . without that complication, we should be all right, as long as you remember to be kind to Molly."
Sherlock rolled his eyes. "Sentiment."
Remus returned the eye roll. "You know you like her."
Sherlock sniffed but did not respond.
Remus put his feet together, military-style. It was almost an unconscious move of decisiveness. "Right. So we'll leave tomorrow then. Are we flying or Apparating?"
Sherlock shot Remus a wounded look. "Flying. Now that I'm not supposed to be dead, I can access money without having to talk to Mycroft."
Remus returned Sherlock's look. "You're never supposed to be dead. You're supposed to be alive. Always."
"The quest for immortality is a classic human flaw, John."
Remus shook his head. "You know what I mean." I'd be lost without my detective.
It took most of the afternoon for Remus to tidy up the flat, especially since Sherlock decided that chemistry experiments were an excellent way to enjoy the holiday spirit. After an entire beaker blew up and spattered the floor, walls, and ceiling with an ominously luminescent blue fluid, Remus banished Sherlock to his bedroom, where at least his mess wouldn't be visible to the guests. Mrs. Hudson kept popping in and out of the flat, bringing up Christmas biscuits, eggnog, and cider and scolding Sherlock. Usually Remus liked Mrs. Hudson's company—it was nice to have another sane person around to counteract Sherlock's eccentricity and entitlement—but today he wished that she'd stay downstairs, since her presence meant that he had to clean up Sherlock's explosion the Muggle way. Not that he was entirely sure magic could deal with this concoction; it would be just like Sherlock to whip something up that even spells couldn't Vanish.
Finally, the mess was gone and Remus had the chance to shower and change into a Christmas jumper and khakis. No sooner had he finished combing his hair than the doorbell rang, and Mrs. Hudson, already tipsy, teetered down the stairs to answer it, returning to the flat a few minutes later with a made-up and gift-bearing Molly in tow.
"Happy Christmas, Molly," said Remus, trying not to let on that he found her obvious attempts to impress Sherlock a little tragic. "Glad you could make it. Have a seat."
"Thanks for inviting me," Molly replied, sitting down on the sofa. "Happy Christmas to you too. Where's Sherlock?"
Remus sighed. "I'll go fetch him." He made his way to Sherlock's room and knocked on the door. There was no answer, so he tried calling out, "Molly's here." When Sherlock still didn't answer, Remus pushed open the door. Sherlock was lying on his bed, staring at the ceiling. Remus took two quick strides to Sherlock's bedside and then stared down at his childish flatmate. "Come on. Molly's here. It's time to come out and play nice."
Sherlock rolled away from Remus.
"No, you are not doing this today," said Remus, grabbing Sherlock's arm and hauling him to his feet. "It's Christmas, we have guests, and you're going to talk to them."
"Fine," Sherlock grumbled. "Give me a minute."
Remus shot Sherlock a stern look. "One minute. Or else I'm hiding your skull again." Part of Remus felt like Sherlock needed monitoring, but another part knew that it was best not to leave Molly and Mrs. Hudson alone together for too long, so he returned to the parlor. After all, Mrs. Hudson felt a little too close to becoming a corpse to be entirely comfortable thinking about Molly's job.
As soon as Remus got back to the women and settled into his armchair, the doorbell rang again. "That'll be Greg," he said. "Mrs. Hudson, would you mind answering that?"
Mrs. Hudson set off down the stairs again, but she called over her shoulder, "I'm your landlady, not your housekeeper."
She shouldn't have turned around to call to Remus, not when she had already spent the day drinking eggnog and cider. No sooner had she finished her admonition than she missed a step and went tumbling down to the landing, crying out in surprise and pain as she fell.
Remus was on his feet and down the stairs before he fully realized what was happening; he'd been an army doctor, after all. He knelt next to Mrs. Hudson and met her fuzzy gaze. "Mrs. Hudson?"
Mrs. Hudson just blinked up at him and groaned. Probably concussed, then. Damn. At least she was technically conscious. Acute head trauma was one of the leading side effects of falls among the elderly, and in its more severe forms it was often fatal. Remus ground his teeth. He should have known better. He shouldn't have asked her to get the door, but then he couldn't have anticipated that she'd fall, not when she had been up and down these stairs dozens of times today and millions of times in the past few years, never with any trouble.
Molly struggled down the stairs in her glossy high heels and looked down at Mrs. Hudson over Remus's shoulder. "She should live," Molly mused, her voice shaky and distant. "They always look worse than that when they come to me."
Remus wanted to just pick Mrs. Hudson up, or even levitate her out of the flat, but he knew that moving her on his own could be dangerous given the likelihood of spinal or hip fractures, other common side effects of falls. And especially since Mrs. Hudson's hip had always been bad . . . Instead, he said, "Molly, could you dial 999? She needs a stretcher."
At that moment, the doorbell rang again, but both Remus and Molly ignored it. Molly pulled her mobile out of her purse and dialed 999. "We need an ambulance," she said into the phone. "An elderly woman just took a nasty fall . . . Yes, she's conscious . . . 221B Baker Street . . . Thank you." She hung up.
Meanwhile, Remus had been taking Mrs. Hudson's pulse and rolling up her sleeves to examine her arms for lacerations. The pulse was a bit low and fainter than Remus would have liked it, but it was still there, so Remus wasn't too worried about waiting for the ambulance. One of Mrs. Hudson's arms had a nasty cut, though, and both of them sported a number of minor scrapes, so Remus shouted, "Sherlock, get the first aid kit!"
Miraculously, the consulting detective did as he was bid within moments of the order, tossing the box carelessly at Remus, who ducked to avoid getting hit in the head, since one case of head trauma was more than enough for this Christmas party, ta very much. Sherlock then he stepped between Remus and Molly and continued down the stairs. Remus knew better than to react to something like this, but his landlady was lying on the steps and nothing about this Christmas party was going as he'd hoped, and so he called after Sherlock, "You could at least spare a glance for Mrs. Hudson!"
Sherlock pivoted gracefully on the last stair. Remus tore his eyes from his agile, angular flatmate and concentrated on pouring antiseptic onto a cotton pad. As Remus cleaned and bandaged Mrs. Hudson's largest cut, Sherlock deadpanned, "Of course I spared a glance for her. I can see that she has received mild head trauma but has not lost consciousness, that none of her limbs are broken, and that she's being attended to by a doctor. Now—" The doorbell rang a third time. "Since we have someone on our stoop," Sherlock continued, "I thought we might do them the favor of allowing them to come in out of the cold."
With that, Sherlock opened the door, revealing—as Remus had predicted before Mrs. Hudson fell—Greg Lestrade. "Took you long enough," Greg grumbled before looking up the stairs. Then he saw Mrs. Hudson and checked his step over the threshold, nearly stumbling. "What the hell?"
"Bit too much eggnog," Remus grunted, reaching under Mrs. Hudson's skirt in order to pull down her stockings and examine her legs. "She's conscious, and Molly's already dialed 999."
"Never a dull day with Sherlock Holmes," said Greg, tramping up the stairs to join Remus, Molly, and Mrs. Hudson on the landing. "Reckon you've got everything under control, John?"
"Yeah," said Remus, noting with approval that Mrs. Hudson's stockings seemed to have afforded her legs some protection from cuts. Her shins were already starting to bruise, and she'd skinned both of her knees, but most of the skin was intact and there were no deep cuts. It made sense; her legs hadn't had as far to fall as her arms had in order to reach the floor.
"In that case, I might like to try a bit of that eggnog myself," said Greg, starting up the rest of the stairs to Sherlock and John's flat.
"Are you sure you can handle this, John?" Molly asked anxiously. "I mean, I know you're a great doctor—"
"Yeah, I've got it," Remus muttered. "Go have fun." As Molly minced her way back up the stairs in those ridiculous glossy pumps (please don't fall), Remus raised his voice and, keeping his eyes on Mrs. Hudson, said, "Go play host, Sherlock."
Sherlock strode back up the steps and paused on the landing to squat beside Remus. "Take good care of her," Sherlock murmured, taking Mrs. Hudson's hand and rubbing his thumb over one of her bandages. "We can't have Baker Street without Mrs. Hudson. England would fall."
Remus finished with the bandages and smiled at Sherlock. "You'd be lost without your landlady?"
Sherlock smiled back without his teeth. "Housekeeper. Yes." Then he stood and continued up the steps.
Remus called after him, "Remember, manners!"
Sherlock gave a noisy sigh and didn't turn back in Remus's direction, but Remus was hardly in a position to secure any better assurance of Sherlock's good behavior. Now that all of the sober Muggles were gone, Remus was tempted to use some magic, but it was dangerous to use medical spells without first knowing exactly what was wrong with a patient, and wizards lagged behind Muggles in injury detection; there was no magical MRI or CT scan. All that was really left was to wait for the Muggle paramedics. It felt like ages ago that Molly had called the ambulance; why hadn't it arrived yet?
Remus took a deep breath. Stress (and Sherlock) affected the perception of time. He knew this. The ambulance would come soon enough, and meanwhile Mrs. Hudson would continue breathing—shallowly, but enough. Remus almost wished that he were able to return to the flat and join the party, both to monitor Sherlock's behavior and to enjoy himself, but he couldn't abandon Mrs. Hudson, so he remained squatting on the stairs until the paramedics came and hummed "God Rest Ye Merry Hippogriffs" while he waited.
Remus rode with Mrs. Hudson in the ambulance and accompanied her gurney into the hospital, but, once he was satisfied that she was safe, he caught a cab back to Baker Street. As he ascended the stairs to the flat, he could hear violin music. Sherlock was playing "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" again, just as he had the last time they'd hosted a Christmas party. Well, good. It was hard to be horrible to people while playing the violin. (Sherlock could manage it, of course. There were very few feats which Remus would confidently aver were beyond Sherlock's capacity, magic being one of those rare exceptions. But the balance of probability said that Sherlock was being a tolerable host, at the moment.)
Remus slipped into the flat and stood at the door until Sherlock was finished with his piece. Sherlock noticed him standing there, of course. But Remus loved watching Sherlock play the violin, and he didn't want the moment to get lost in Molly and Greg's questions about Mrs. Hudson's welfare. After Sherlock made his final flourish of the bow, bowed, laid down his instrument, and sat, Remus stepped further into the flat.
"How's Mrs. Hudson?" Molly asked as soon as she caught sight of Remus.
Remus settled into his armchair. "She'll be fine. I left just as they were wheeling her in for a scan. She might have some fractures, but she's not that old; she'll heal."
"Didn't think you'd be at Bart's today, did you?" said Greg from the sofa, which he was sharing with Molly.
"It's like you said earlier," Remus replied. "Never a dull moment with Sherlock Holmes."
"I don't know why you lot keep saying that," Sherlock grumbled. "This doesn't even have anything to do with me."
Remus smiled. "There just always seems to be trouble, wherever you are."
"That's because I go to trouble, not the other way around. Fallacy of causation."
"Yeah, yeah. You cause a fair bit of it yourself; you know you do."
Greg stood and made his way to the table, where he poured eggnog into the glass he'd previously been holding. Then he looked at Remus and said, "Now that you're back, we can do the gifts."
"Oh," said Remus. "Right. Give me a minute." He'd meant to bring his gifts downstairs sometime during the afternoon, but that was before he'd realized what a mess Sherlock had made of the kitchen. He dashed upstairs to his bedroom and retrieved the presents he'd wrapped the night before.
He returned to the parlor and handed around his gifts before settling into his armchair once again. He was suddenly reminded of Christmases at the Potter Manor, more than half a lifetime ago now. Just four friends, sitting in a room, comfortably exchanging gifts—except, of course, that Christmas with the Marauders had been raucous, while Christmas with Sherlock and Greg and Molly was a bit tense and much more sedate.
Greg opened his gifts first. From Sherlock, he received a book on soil composition ("You should always be able to tell where a suspect's shoes have been"); from Molly, a gift card to a local pub; and from Remus, a bottle of wine ("Anyone who has to deal with Sherlock on a regular basis needs a drink").
Sherlock gave Molly earrings, which shocked everyone. Sherlock just shrugged and said he knew she liked jewelry, and he seemed only mildly surprised when she kissed him on the cheek in thanks. Greg's gift, expensive pasta sauce, and Remus's, more wine, did not earn similar responses from their recipient, which seemed fine with both men.
Molly had gotten Sherlock toes, Greg had assembled a file filled with years of back-data on cases, and Remus had purchased Sherlock a book on magical theory. Sherlock gave a low, appreciative chuckle upon unwrapping each gift, and he put the three away as soon as he was finished—the toes in the refrigerator before they started molding, the files on the table, and the book on the shelf before either Molly or Greg could get a good look at it.
Remus opened his gifts last. From Greg, there was a set of noise-cancelling headphones ("I can't imagine living with Sherlock"); from Molly, a pub gift card; and from Sherlock, a full, tailored suit ("Your wardrobe needed updating"). Remus smiled around at everyone when he'd finished unwrapping everything. He knew Christmas wasn't supposed to be about the gifts, and it wasn't, really. But gifts could show how well people knew you and how much they cared about you, and it was nice to receive things that were personal and thoughtful and maybe even a bit expensive, especially after receiving nothing at all last year.
The party went on awhile longer, partially but not entirely fueled by eggnog, and the conversation approached something resembling companionship. It was a lovely Christmas in the end, for all that part of Remus was still worrying about Mrs. Hudson.
After Remus escorted Molly to the door and saw her and Greg out, he came back upstairs to find Sherlock locked in a staring match with an owl beside an open window. Delight at the owl and annoyance at Sherlock played tug-of-war with Remus's emotions, but it didn't take long for delight to win out. Sherlock had behaved decently tonight, after all, and it wasn't his fault he was a Muggle. Besides, Remus recognized the owl. It was the one he'd hired last night to deliver Sirius's Christmas present, a huge load of pies and roast beef and potatoes and puddings and everything else Sirius loved to eat on Christmas. Now it was back, and apparently carrying a load. Remus joined Sherlock at the table, took the package from the owl, released it back into the night, and closed the window.
"That book," murmured Sherlock, as Remus hooked his fingers into the wrapping of the package. "Was it—?"
"Yeah." Remus caught Sherlock's eye without lifting his head. "Happy Christmas, Sherlock."
"Happy Christmas, John," Sherlock returned, and then padded off to his room, leaving Remus alone with his package.
The package contained a brand-new lunascope. Scrawled on the inside of the wrapping paper were the words Don't worry; I'm pretty good at Disillusionment charms. Still get a thrill out of stealing. Happy Christmas. Love, Sirius.
In spite of everything, it had been a happy Christmas indeed.