Characters: Erm, basically everyone in the Abby verse except Mycroft (sorry, Mycroft)
Warnings/Triggers: very fluffy, but there is a brief appearance of a stroke victim (Lestrade's mum), and references to a family member in rehab. Neither feature very prominently.
Pairings: Molly/Alec, John/Sarah
Word Count 6,392
Summary: The annual Christmas Eve Baker Street celebrations (now slightly not at Baker Street), from the point of views of those attending.
Author's notes: Follows Brothers and Sisters and Sleepover. Set in the Abby 'verse.
I think there's seven different POVs in here, and I've tried to give everyone equal spotlight, but some people have dominated a little. All my Christmas stories these year seem to have themes of 'unconvential families FTW!', and I'm not sure if it's a comment on my typical fandom choices or my lack of creativity, but I'm running with it.
Finally, I've been forced to work on a rather old laptop of late instead of my regular computer, and it's a bit like working in someone else's kitchen, so apologies for any weirdness of formatting or whatever.
Title refers to a line from "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas": 'faithful friends who are dear to us/gather near to us once more'.
John had always liked Christmas Eve more than Christmas day, even when he was a kid. Christmas Eve was full of pleasant anticipation and excitement. Christmas Day was full of too much excitement, too little sleep, and too many visiting of relatives. Once the presents were open, it was all downhill from there.
Christmas Eve had always had a peaceful, calm feeling, as though all was right with the world. Since he'd met Sherlock, it was often the day John celebrated with his chosen family; the people he volunteered to spend time with. Christmas Day usually meant Harry, or his in-laws. Last year they'd had a quiet Christmas at home; this year they were off again.
But on Christmas Eve, he and Sarah were having the non-blood relatives over for dinner. And despite that consisting of quite a few people now, it still didn't seem very stressful.
But, of course, no one had arrived yet.
“Daddy, Daddy, Daddy,” Abby said, running down the hall to meet him, with Gladstone at her heels. “I maked tree pretty.”
John did not like the sound of that at all. He followed her back to the living room and winced. Oooh, yes.
“Sarah?” he called.
“It's not my fault! My mum rang and you know how she is, and I just had my back turned for a minute, I swear,” Sarah called back from the kitchen. “Can you fix it? I'm trying to make dinner. She's been told it was a bad thing.”
“Okay...I'll see what I can do,” John said.
The Christmas tree, lovingly decorated a few days before, was now covered in loo roll. Only the bottom section, however, to the height that Abby could reach. She was very pleased with herself.
“Where did you get loo roll?” he asked her.
“Potty,” Abby answered, matter-of-factly. “I make tree pretty for Tanta. He comes one more sleep for Abby.”
“I know,” John said. “But he doesn't really like loo roll on the tree.”
Abby gave him a look that reminded him of Sherlock when he wasn't sure what he'd done to offend somebody. Very confused and innocent.
“I sorry,” she said, uncertainly.
John started unravelling the loo roll garland, trying not to get it tangled around the ornaments. It was a frustrating process, as the loo roll was made to tear, so every time he pulled too hard, he ended up with more pieces to contend with.
“There we go,” John said, when he was finished, and all the loo roll was in the bin. “Let's find something more constructive for you to do, huh?”
“We wish you a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year,” Molly sang, as she neatly folded the wrapping paper and taped the corner. “Mmmm-do-do-do-do-do-do-do, we wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year...”
Alec came around the corner from the door, pulling his gloves off. “Are you still singing?” he asked. “I left you singing.”
“I love Christmas carols,” Molly said. “And they'll stop playing them soon. I've just left the radio on.” She grabbed the remote and turned the volume down. “How did it go? Did Reed like his present?”
“Oh, yes,” Alec said. “You can't really go wrong with Lego. We built a fort. Oh, and look--” he pulled something from his coat pocket and held it out. “I have a dinosaur.”
Molly grinned. “Is that your present?”
“Yes, hand selected by Reed,” Alec said.
“That's so sweet,” Molly said. “Does it have a name?”
“No...what's a good name for a dinosaur?” Alec wondered. “Steve?”
“Hmmm, yes, I think it looks like a Steve,” Molly said. “Short for Stephen--with a PH.”
“Yes, of course,” Alec agreed. He put the dinosaur down next to her PC, and took his coat off, hanging it on the back of the chair. His eyes went up to the top of the bookshelf. “Molly, did you put antlers on the cat?”
Molly flushed. “I couldn't help myself,” she said. “I ran out of Sellotape, and so I went to Poundland for more, and they were there and...I bought them.”
Alec reached up to pet Toby, and removed the antlers. “I know, she's a crazy cat lady,” he said. “I'm sorry. Please don't kill us in our sleep. Here, come to the kitchen, you can have a treat while I make the gnocchi. Did you take the potatoes out of the oven, Molls?”
“Yes, they should be cool by now,” Molly said.
“Brilliant,” Alec said. “I should just have time to do that before we need to leave.”
“I'm sorry your Christmas is so busy,” Molly said.
“There are six children in my family, and my step-family is Italian,” Alec said. “Christmas is always busy. Besides, la Befana doesn't come until Epiphany. Wait until you come to that!”
“You have to deal with Sherlock for me,” Molly pointed out.
“Hmm,” Alec said. “Good point. But...no, I think we're even.”
Sherlock was not a man easily startled. He occasionally was scared--when it was reasonable to be scared. People could surprise him with their stupidity. But in terms of being startled by sudden noises or people creeping up on him, he was almost entirely immune. He noticed too much to be startled.
However, when his mobile phone suddenly began blasting out pop music at almost maximum volume, he would confess to have jumped. And thrown it from the table. And possibly searched for a weapon to attack it with.
Once he registered what was going on, he felt very stupid, and went to retrieve it. Some sort of reminder alert was going off. He couldn't even read the words, his brain was too overwhelmed by the singer's insistence that he couldn't read her poker face. Which seemed rather presumptuous on her part.
He managed to get the volume turned down, and read the words on the screen.
Christmas dinner @ my place. You agreed, I have it on film. Get ready now.
Sherlock made a mental note to not leave his phone where John could get hold of it. This was entirely above and beyond what was necessary to remind him. It was Christmas Eve, even he knew that.
He went to get showered and dressed.
“Oh, look, you're all ready to go,” Mrs Hudson said, when he arrived downstairs. “Good for you, Sherlock.”
“I've been dressing myself for years, Mrs Hudson, it's not that much of an accomplishment,” Sherlock said.
He had an armful of presents deposited on him as she put her coat and scarf on. All knitting and crafting from what he could deduce. Seven presents; presumably one for each person attending besides. He couldn't think of seven other people who would be there. John and Sarah, of course. Abby. Lestrade. Himself. Molly, perhaps? That still left one person out. John's sister? He thought she was still in rehab. Oh. Molly's boyfriend, perhaps. Were they still dating? He cast his mind back to the last time he'd seen her, but couldn't find anything in her appearance to tell him one way or the other. She'd been very happy. That was probably indicative of her continued romance.
“Where are your presents, Sherlock?” Mrs Hudson asked.
“I don't have any,” Sherlock replied.
“Are you bringing something for the meal?” Mrs Hudson asked.
“No,” Sherlock said.
“Do you have a hostess present for Sarah?” Mrs Hudson asked.
“No,” Sherlock said.
Mrs Hudson sighed. “Really, Sherlock, I don't know what we're going to do with you.”
“Nothing, Mrs Hudson,” Sherlock replied. “That I don't want to do with myself.”
Lestrade stooped to give his mum a kiss, and gave her good hand a squeeze before he left. Every few years, he had to man the Yard for Christmas, so he wouldn't be coming to see her tomorrow with the rest of the clan. He was doing his visit on Christmas Eve instead.
“All right, Mum,” he said. “Have a good Christmas, okay? I love you.”
Mum smiled her lopsided smile. “I love you, too, Gregory,” she said, warmly. “Tell Lucy I said hello.”
Lestrade smiled back, stiffly. He wouldn't be telling Lucy anything. Once the divorce was finalized, he hadn't even seen her in the street anywhere. Mum was very much set in the time that she had her stroke, though, and he'd been married then. There was no point in making her upset reminding them they were divorced.
“I will, Mum,” he said.
He picked up his bags from where he'd left them at the door to her room, and signed the guest book. Mum often forgot who came to visit and when, so they'd got her a book to see that they all came regularly. Even the grandchildren stopped in, which in this generation seemed like a rarity. When he didn't come with everyone tomorrow, they could show her the book to remind her he'd come the day before.
He was sad to miss out on the festivities, but used to it. At least he was free for the Baker Street celebrations. He still thought of them as that, even if they were now held a few streets over from Baker Street. He gave John and Sarah's address to the cabbie he hailed outside the nursing home.
Sherlock answered the door, chewing on a mince pie. He gave Lestrade a once over, and then looked glum. “No case, I see,” he said. He turned and left Lestrade outside.
“Come in, Greg,” Sarah called. “Sherlock, I just took those out of the oven...”
Lestrade stepped into the hall, and hung his coat and scarf up on the hook next to Sherlock's. Abby peered around the living room wall, and disappeared again. Lestrade went to the kitchen, where it smelled very good.
“Oh, brilliant,” Sarah said, when he handed over the cauliflower cheese he'd brought. “Thanks.”
“It's not homemade,” Lestrade said.
“I'll forgive you,” Sarah said. She gave him a kiss on the cheek. “Thanks for coming. Happy Christmas.”
“You too,” Lestrade said.
He went out to the living room, and greeted Mrs Hudson and John. It always took Abby a bit to warm up to him, so he was careful when he approached her. He didn't see her as much as the rest of them did, he didn't think, and he was a big bloke for a little girl. He imagined he loomed a little. He crouched down to say hello. Gladstone trotted up to be petted.
“Busy house,” Abby said.
“Yeah, I bet,” Lestrade said. “Lots of people here, huh? Lots of noise. You ready for Father Christmas?”
Abby nodded. “Abby is a good girl,” she said. “Tanta bring me presents.”
“Abby is not a good girl,” John corrected. “Abby has been a troublesome girl, today.”
“She's just excited, John,” Mrs Hudson said. “She's very well-behaved, aren't you, dear?”
“Gramma loves me,” Abby said, happily.
“Gramma loves you a little too much,” John said.
Alec followed Molly out of the Tube station, and onwards towards John and Sarah's house, hugging the Tupperware container of gnocchi to his chest so it wouldn't get bumped by their fellow hurried pedestrians. Also, it was nice and warm. Molly carried a large bag of presents, freshly wrapped and taped to within an inch of their lives. She stopped at a door with a wreath on it, and gave a few raps, prompting a protective baying of a dog inside. John answered and ushered them in.
“Gang's all here,” he said. “Right on time.”
Alec let Molly mingle in, giving a collective hello to those assembled, and headed to the kitchen to drop off his contribution. He put his food with the rest, and lowered the heat on the hob under the gravy as it looked on the verge of boiling over.
“Oh, thank you,” Sarah said, distractedly. She was stood frowning over a bowl of mash.
“Problem?” Alec asked.
“Gladstone knocked into me,” she said. “And I put far more salt in there than there should be. It tastes like the sea.”
“Put a teaspoon of sugar in, taste, and repeat until it's the right balance again,” Alec advised.
“Oh, that's clever,” Sarah said. “Look at you, swooping in like a white knight. You're hired.” She wiped her hands on her pinny, and for a moment he didn't know if they were going for a hug or handshake. Hug, as it turned out. “Hello, it's nice to see you. Happy Christmas.”
“Thank you, thanks for inviting me,” Alec said.
Molly came in, having made the rounds in the living room, and gave Sarah her hostess present. Alec slipped out into the living room to greet everyone else properly while Molly said hello to Sarah.
He had to go through the dining room, and Sherlock was alone in there at the table, watching the scene in the living room but not participating. It reminded Alec of the children in the schoolyard who were too shy to join in, but unlike them, Sherlock didn't have a look of longing to be involved. He seemed content to be separated.
Alec said 'Happy Christmas' to him as a hello, and it was returned with robotic politeness. He went onwards into the living room. He shook John's hand, and got a kiss on the cheek from Mrs Hudson, and waved hello to Greg on the other side of the room, then crouched down to greet Abby, who was wearing a Santa hat that apparently Molly could also not resist buying at Poundland.
“Hello there, are you Father Christmas?” Alec asked.
Abby shook her head. “Abby,” she said.
“Oh, my mistake,” Alec said. “You look just like him, I was going to ask you for my presents. Have you been a good girl?” She nodded, solemnly. “No coal for you this year, huh? Who's this? Is this your doggie?” He reached out his hand for the dog to sniff. They'd never met before.
“Gadstone,” Abby said. “Good doggie.”
“He seems like a nice doggie,” Alec agreed, giving him a pet. He looked to John. “What breed is he?”
“Some sort of beagle/bulldog mix,” John said. “I found him in the street when he was a puppy, so we don't have a pedigree or anything. I think Sherlock ran his DNA once, but I don't remember the results exactly.”
“He's beautiful,” Alec said.
He stood up again as Molly re-entered the room, Sarah behind her.
“Okay, everything is ready, we're just waiting on a few things to finish up in the oven,” Sarah said. “Let's do presents.”
“You haven't opened any of yours, Mrs H,” John said.
“I will in moment, dear, I like to see everyone else open their presents,” Mrs Hudson said.
It really was so nice to have everyone together in one place for a happy occasion. So often it was because something bad had happened and needed to be fixed. She was very pleased for John that he'd found such a lovely wife (he never should have broken up with Sarah in the first place, silly boy), but she did worry that Sherlock was on his own too much. He was behaving himself rather well today, sitting on the loveseat with Greg and participating in the present opening without pouting.
“Okay, Abs, let's open another one of yours,” Greg said.
He had her on his lap. Mrs Hudson was pleased; Abby had been quite leery of him at her birthday, but she was affectionate towards him today.
“This one is from Molly,” Greg said. “You can tell because of all the sticky tape. Here, I'll give you a hand, it's hard to get open.”
“I swear Molly owns stock in Sellotape,” Alec said.
Molly was sat on the floor in front of him, and jutted her elbow back to hit his shin. She watched as Greg opened the present.
“Oh, hey, it's your name Abs, do you see that?” Greg said. “You have a puzzle of your name. Can you read that? Ab-i-gael?”
“I thought it would be good, since she'll be learning her letters soon,” Molly explained.
“It's brilliant, Molly,” Sarah said. “I'm sure she'll love it.”
“Okay, Mrs H, open one of yours,” John said.
Mrs Hudson picked one out of the pile, and started to open it.
“That one's from us,” John said. “Including Sherlock, he consulted.”
“You dragged me into a shop and made me look at it,” Sherlock said. He added, “I contributed to the purchasing as well.”
“I'm sure it's very nice, dear,” Mrs Hudson assured him. She opened it up, and wasn't entirely sure what it was, so made some excited noises in hopes that they wouldn't think she didn't like it.
“It's a digital photo frame,” John explained. “It's like a telly screen, and it plays a slide show of pictures. You were saying it was sad no one took regular pictures because you couldn't display digital ones, so you could show them off with this.”
“Oh, how thoughtful,” Mrs Hudson said, delighted. “I know just where I'll put it.”
“We've loaded it up with some pictures,” Sarah added. “And it also has a calendar feature, you could display the month with a picture of your choice.”
“That's lovely,” Mrs Hudson said. “Thank you very much.”
She went back to watching others open their presents. Molly exclaimed over a necklace from Alec, turning around and pulling him down to kiss him. They were such a nice couple; she was glad Molly had found a good man at last. She predicted he would stick around for a while, if not forever.
Alec seemed very pleased with the scarf Mrs Hudson had made him. She didn't know him very well, still, and had made a guess at the colours. She was afraid he might not have something to open, so she'd made sure to include him.
“Oh!” came Sherlock's surprised voice, making everyone turn to look because it was such a rare expression from him.
“Oh, yes, that's from me,” Mrs Hudson said.
“I know,” Sherlock said. “I assumed it was a blanket from the size and shape of the parcel. I didn't expect it--you've done a lot of work.”
“I started it before you...went away,” Mrs Hudson explained. “And I didn't know what to do with it, but I didn't want to throw it away and I couldn't make myself undo the work, so I just put it in a cupboard. I found it a few months ago and decided to finish it up. I was afraid it would have to wait until your birthday--I only put the ends in this morning. I know you don't sleep much, but I thought you could use it in the living room or at your experiments when it was cold.”
“Thank you,” Sherlock said, quite sincerely.
Mrs Hudson felt her eyes well up at that, and tried to blink them back. “You're very welcome, dear.”
Sarah stepped over the mess of wrapping paper to check on the food in the kitchen. Gladstone trotted after her, his new bone in his mouth. Molly had brought presents for everyone, including him.
“Smells good, huh?” Sarah said to him. “I think we're almost ready.”
She hadn't found Christmas dinner that stressful this year. Of course, the year before she'd been recovering from flu, and the year before that she'd been five months pregnant, and the year before that she'd made the mistake of having her mother in the kitchen when she was trying to cook. This year, it all seemed quite simple to bring together. She just hoped it tasted good.
Alec came in to see if she needed help with anything.
“You could start bringing the food out,” Sarah said. “John just needs to carve, and we're good to go.”
Alec loaded up his arms like a waiter and delivered the food to the table, even doing that bob thing waiters did to set it down.
“You're good,” Sarah said, when he returned for more.
“I've waited table at my parents' restaurant since I was legally old enough to be employed,” he said. “Lots of practice. Lots of broken dishes, too, unfortunately.”
Sarah called everyone to the table to get themselves sorted, and John in to carve the turkey. She brought out Abby's high chair, converted now to its 'big girl chair' format, and helped her up on to it.
“Is there assigned seating?” Molly asked.
“No, no, sit where you want,” Sarah said. “Just leave a seat for John that has free space to the left. He'll elbow someone to death otherwise. Sherlock, are you coming to eat?”
Sherlock had received a set of Mensa wooden puzzles from Molly, and now walked blindly to the table, eyes focussed on putting one of them together.
“No toys dinner,” Abby said, as he took a seat next to her. “Sit quiet, like a big girl.”
“It's not a toy,” he replied. “And I am not a big girl.”
“Bad, Sherlock,” Abby said, in a disapproving tone.
John brought the turkey out, and everyone got themselves settled, and played their crackers and shared their jokes and toys and put their crowns on. Except for Sherlock, who put his crown on Abby's head and went back to his puzzle, absently passing dishes past him when they came his way.
“Have to eat vegetables,” Abby said to him. “No pudding.”
“You're a bit of a Miss Manners, aren't you?” Alec said.
“Yeah, we're training her to look after Sherlock when we're gone,” John said.
Sherlock looked up briefly to glare. “That can be arranged sooner than it might be expected,” he commented, with an amused twitch of his lips.
Sarah could relax once everyone started eating and talking about how good the food was. So long as no one got food poisoning, everything would be fine.
John made a mental note that giving Sherlock a toy to play with was an excellent way to keep him sociable. He was just preoccupied enough to be content, while not being so preoccupied that he ignored them all and acted like a prat.
“I heard you have to work tomorrow, Greg,” Molly said, cocking her head to the side in sympathy. “I'm sorry.”
“I have to take my turn like everyone else,” Lestrade said, with a shrug. “Some of the younger officers have kids, it's more important for them to be home for it than for me. My family are used to it.”
Sherlock's head had perked up. “I'm available to join you on a case,” he said.
“Yeah, I figured,” Lestrade said. “I'll ring you if anything good comes up. What are you lot up to?”
“We're going to my mmum's tomorrow,” Sarah said, with all the foreboding that was warranted. Which was a lot. “And then my dad's on Boxing Day. And we're going to stop and see Harry at some point.”
“How is she getting on?” Mrs Hudson asked, kindly.
“She's still in the rehab place,” John said. “I went to see her a little while back. She seems okay. It looks like a good place. They're doing counselling with her--trying to get to the heart of the why of the drinking, not just trying to teach her how to stop drinking. They want me to come in and do a session with her, like a family thing. They're talking about getting her a sober companion when she's out, too, to help her adjust.”
“I hope she does well,” Molly said.
“Me too,” John said. He tried to turn the tone back to one of merriment. “What about you, Molls?”
“Alec's coming for Christmas morning with my family,” Molly said. “And then he has to help out in his parents' restaurant for the rest of the day.”
“Christmas is big,” Alec said. “If you're open on Christmas, it's a lot of money. We wait until Epiphany to do the big family thing.”
Sherlock's head came up again, his eyes squinted. “Orthodox?” he asked.
“Italian,” Alec replied.
“Step-family?” Sherlock guessed.
“Yeah,” Alec said.
Sherlock nodded and went back to his puzzle, looking reassured that he hadn't failed to notice something. Alec looked to Molly with a confused expression, and she patted his hand.
“Epiphany is Sherlock's birthday, isn't it?” Molly said.
“Yeah, I think so,” John said, when Sherlock didn't respond.
“You'll be forty this year, won't you?” Lestrade asked. “Almost time for a mid-life crisis.”
“I have no spouse to cheat on with a younger partner, and owning a sports car in London is very impractical,” Sherlock said. “I doubt I'll display any symptoms.”
“We should probably do something for you, Sherlock,” Mrs Hudson said. “It's a big birthday.”
Sherlock rolled his eyes. “My having been alive for forty years is not particularly remarkable, Mrs Hudson,” he said.
“I dunno, considering the stuff you get up to, Sherlock,” Lestrade said. “It sort of is.”
“Are you going to your sister's, Mrs Hudson?” Molly asked.
Mrs Hudson brightened up. “Yes, I'll be there for Christmas and Boxing Day,” she said. “It will be nice to see everyone again.”
“Do you have a big family?” Alec asked. His foot played with Molly's under the table, and she gave him a light kick to his ankle.
“There's just my sister,” Mrs Hudson said. “But she has five children, and they're all married now, and they have children and some of them have children now. It gets bigger every year.”
“Alec has five brothers and sisters,” Molly said. “He's used to big family gatherings, too.”
“Where do you fall in the line-up?” Mrs Hudson asked.
“Second,” Alec said. “I have an older step-sister, and then a younger step-sister, and three half-siblings. Are you older or younger, John?”
“Younger,” John said.
“Two older sisters,” Lestrade volunteered.
“Two older brothers,” Sarah said.
“One older brother, one younger,” Molly said.
“I'm the younger as well,” Mrs Hudson said. “And so is Sherlock, aren't you dear?”
“Unfortunately,” Sherlock mumbled.
“No oldests, here, then,” John said. “I wonder if that's significant of anything?”
“Good taste,” Sherlock said. He looked triumphant, and held the puzzle aloft. “Got it.”
There was a round of applause. Abby had been looking around at all the conversation with wide eyes, as though she wasn't sure if she should be participating. She clapped her hands along with everyone, though.
“Yay, Sherlock!” she said.
“Oh, we've forgotten Abby in our poll,” Sarah said. “She's an only, aren't you?”
“She's lucky,” Sherlock said.
Dinner did not drag on as long as Sherlock had expected, and he was released before he grew too bored at the inane conversation. There seemed to be quite a lot of questions toward Molly's boyfriend. Sherlock didn't know why--he wasn't particularly interesting. Not entirely mundane, either; he seemed clever enough and well-suited to Molly's temperament. Sherlock decided he could put up with him should he become a permanent fixture. He hadn't cleared a spot for him in his mind palace yet, however. Molly Hooper really had appalling luck with men.
He selected another puzzle from the ones Molly had given him, and set to work on it while coffee and tea were served in the living room. Gladstone put his head in Sherlock's lap, looking for attention. Sherlock gave him a pat or two, and that seemed to be sufficient, as the dog curled up near Sherlock's feet, his head on the quilt Mrs Hudson had given him.
“Sherlock, want?” Abby asked, holding out a half-chewed biscuit. “Pudding.”
“No,” Sherlock replied. “You eat it.”
Abby put it back in her mouth, and climbed up on the loveseat next to him. She rested her head on his elbow to see what he was doing, and he couldn't find a way to remove her without her falling over. He tried to gently push her to a more upright position where her balance would be centred when he released his support, but she just followed his elbow back down.
“I play with Sherlock's toys?' she asked.
“No,” Sherlock replied.
“Sharing is nice,” Abby said, in a quoting sort of voice.
“It's not a toy,” Sherlock replied. “It's for grown-ups. You're too young.”
“I like Sherlock,” Abby said.
Sherlock snorted a laugh. “I'm immune to your charms,” he replied. “Try it on Mrs Hudson, she's more pliable. You have your own toys. Go and play with that...sheep thing you got.”
“I bring toy, Sherlock plays with Abby?” she said.
“No,” Sherlock replied. “I'm busy.”
Abby did not seem disappointed. She just snuggled deeper into his elbow. And he still couldn't find a way to remove her.
Lestrade volunteered for washing up duty, and Molly joined him in the kitchen after dinner. She looked bright and cheerful these days. She'd been through a lot while Sherlock did that 'oh, I'm dead, ha, not really' thing--more so even than the rest of them had. He was glad to see her without so much weight on her shoulders. Even if none of them had known the weight she was carrying at the time.
“Wash or dry?” he asked.
“Either is fine,” she said.
“I'm better at drying,” he said.
Molly filled up the sink and added the Fairy Liquid, and they set to work. He didn't often get a chance to chat with Molly one on one. He mostly saw her for cases, and Sherlock dominated those conversations.
“How's it going?” he asked.
“Oh, I'm fine,” she said. “I'm having fun. It's nice to have everyone here.” She peered into the living room. “Alec seems to be getting along well with everyone.”
“He treating you okay?” Lestrade asked. “'Cause you know we'll be lining up to kick his arse if he doesn't. I can get him arrested. Sherlock can plant evidence.”
Molly giggled, and shook her head. “No, he's treating me very well,” she said. She blushed and muttered down to the plate she was drying, “I like him a lot.”
“Good,” Lestrade said. “If he's lasted this long, he'll probably stick around. We're a bit of a mad lot. Hard to work your way in, I'd think.”
“Are you seeing anyone?” Molly asked.
“Oh, no,” Lestrade said. “No time. No one interesting enough. I sort of like being on my own, to tell you the truth. I didn't realize how much work it was trying to keep things together. It's nice not to feel guilty all the time.”
Molly nodded. “I know how that feels,” she said.
“Yeah, I suppose you do,” Lestrade said. “Still, better days now, huh?”
Molly grinned. “Much.”
Alec took a cup of tea from Sarah with a murmured thank you, and sat down on a chair in the living room.
“Where do you teach, Alec?” Sarah asked.
Alec quickly swallowed the sip of tea he'd taken to answer. “St Vincent's,” he said. “It's in Camden, near Barts.”
“Is that a faith school?” John asked.
“No, it's independent,” Alec said. “We're affiliated with two other schools, all under the same council.” He took a guess, “are you looking for a school?”
“Abby will be three in April,” Sarah said. “And everyone keeps saying we need to start applying now if we want to get her somewhere good for Reception when she's four.”
“It seems very silly,” Mrs Hudson commented. “To be thinking about schooling so young. It's a lot of pressure to put on children. Do you like where you are, Alec?”
“It's brilliant,” Alec said. “It's my first year there, but it's been great so far. I have a lot of freedom in how I present the curriculum, and the kids are fantastic. Sort of overachievers, though. I've never seen Third Years get that anxious over test results before.”
“Is there a waiting list?” John asked.
“Yeah, apply now,” Alec advised. “And be prepared to be interviewed. The tuition is really reasonable, though. Most of it is covered by a legacy left to the Council. I can put it in a good word for you if you decide to apply.”
“Thanks,” Sarah said. “It's all a bit overwhelming.”
She looked affectionately toward Abby, who was snuggled up on Sherlock's elbow. Sherlock had a look of resigned annoyance on his face.
“Are you bothering Sherlock, Abby?” Sarah said.
Abby shook her head. Sherlock nodded his. John and Sarah both grinned.
“You know you have to ask to play with Sherlock,” John said. “Did you ask?”
Abby looked hopefully up at Sherlock. “Please?” she said.
Sherlock blinked down at her, a bit helpless looking. Alec thought a little redirection might be in order. He put down his tea and went over to pick up the puzzle Molly had given her.
“Hey Abs, do you want to play with me?” he asked. He sat down on the floor and dumped the pieces out. “I need to find an A. Do you know where it is?”
Abby looked between Alec and Sherlock, and hopped off the loveseat to join him. Sherlock gave him a look that Alec would almost swear was grateful.
“Gamma, look,” Abby said, holding up the L piece to her puzzle. “Pink. Gamma likes pink.”
“I do indeed,” Mrs Hudson said. “Pink is my favourite colour. You're very smart to remember. We made our fairy cakes with pink icing, didn't we?”
“Messy hands,” Abby said, wiggling her fingers. “Sticky face. I like baking with Gamma.” She tried to fit the piece into the puzzle, Alec leaning over to help her.
“Here, Mrs H, I'll show you how to work your photo thing,” John offered.
He pulled it from her pile of presents, and opened the box to remove it.
“Here's the on-off switch,” he said. “The photos will show up when you turn it on. They'll stick around for about ten seconds each, and then switch to the next one. You can change the time they're displayed in the menu screen, just press this button here...”
Mrs Hudson listened and did her best to follow the instructions, but it was all a little beyond her. She was still very pleased with herself that she'd managed to learn how to use the Web and comment on John's blog and send e-mail. That was an accomplishment for someone of her age.
She was thrilled with all the photos on there already, however. There were ones of Abby as a baby, and as she had got older as well. Photos from articles about John and Sherlock. John and Sarah's wedding. Ones from different celebrations. A lovely one of Abby in Sherlock's lap in John's living room, playing with the little owl toy she took with her everywhere.
“It plays video, too,” John said. “If you see the little triangle in the corner, like a play symbol on a DVD player, you can tap the screen and it will play it.”
He tapped and the screen came to life, playing a video of Sherlock busking on a street corner, his violin case open on the ground in front of him.
“That's me,” Sherlock said, looking up. “I'm playing poorly. Why do you have a video of me playing poorly?”
“You were on a case,” John said. “I took the video on my phone. You were staking out a suspect across the street. I don't think it's that bad. Is it bad?”
“I've missed two notes,” Sherlock said. “And my bowing is off. I must have done it on purpose to create the image of a street musician.”
“You made about forty quid, I think,” John said.
“Yes, well just confirmation that people have no taste,” Sherlock said.
“I think you sound very nice,” Mrs Hudson said. “It's a bit like Harry Potter, isn't it? Having moving pictures in a frame.”
“Yeah, I hadn't thought of it like that,” John said. The next image came up, one of Lestrade holding Abby. “Sorry, it's a bit us-centric. When I'm next at Baker Street, I'll load up some pictures of your family from your PC.”
“Don't apologize, dear,” Mrs Hudson said. “You are my family.”
Once Molly and Greg were done with the washing up, Sarah brought the tray of dessert out to the living room, pausing by Sherlock to let him take a mince pie. She put the tray on the coffee table and let everyone dig in.
There was a pleasant, festive atmosphere, and Abby divided her time between everyone, as though she were concerned that no person were left out. She sat in laps, and sang her very enthusiastic version of “Jingle Bells” when prompted, and played quietly with her toys in the middle of the circle of adults chatting around her. Sarah was very proud of her, she had been a very good girl, most of the day. Some of the day. When people were around to notice. That was really all that mattered.
Sherlock began checking his watch around eight o'clock. John quietly handed Sarah a fiver; eight o'clock was her estimate at how long Sherlock would stay for. He'd done very well; Sarah was proud of him, too.
Mrs Hudson decided to go when he did, and Alec and Molly agreed that they should be getting home as well. Presents left to wrap, and Alec had to make something for brunch at Molly's mum's. They offered to share a cab with Greg, who accepted. Presents were gathered and coats found, and there was much hugging and kissing and saying of goodbyes. Even Sherlock allowed a hug from Sarah and Molly, and clasped Alec's hand with a look as though he still wasn't entirely sure who he was, exactly.
“Bye, bye, Sherlock!” Abby said, from John's arms. She blew a kiss.
Sherlock nodded a goodbye to her, and stepped outside to hail a cab.
“Oh, it's snowing!” Mrs Hudson said.
“Oh, it is,” Sarah said. “Proper snowing. Look at that, Abs. Christmas snow.”
John stepped outside with Abby so she could see.
“Oooh, pretty!” she said, holding out her hands to catch the flakes. “Sparkles, Daddy. Cold. Brrr.”
“Brrr,” John agreed. He showed her how to catch them on her tongue.
A cab slowed down, and Sherlock helped Mrs Hudson into it, and clicked his fingers for Gladstone to follow her. He would be staying at Baker Street, since John and Sarah would be away for the next two days.
Greg hailed the next cab, and there was more hugging and kissing and goodbyes. Finally, it was just the three members of the family left on the pavement.
“All gone, no more busy house,” Abby said, with a sweeping gesture. “Quiet for Tanta coming. One more sleep.”
“That's right,” Sarah said. “Why don't we put out our treats for him and go to sleep, so he can come?”
They left a mince pie and brandy out for Santa, and some carrots for the reindeer. Sarah took Abby up to have a bath and put her to bed. John was on the couch with a beer when she came down. Sarah joined him, picking up the glass of wine he'd poured for her.
“She get to bed okay?” John asked.
“Yeah, I think we tired her out,” Sarah said. She stuck her feet in John's lap and lay back against the arm of the couch. “D'you suppose anyone would notice if we didn't show up tomorrow? I'm in too good a mood to visit my mum.”
“I'll protect you,” John promised. “We'll use as Abby as a shield. Just shove her at her and run.”
Sarah gave a thumb's up. “Sounds good,” she said. “The boys will be there, too, so maybe we can hide in the back.”
“If we get behind Leo, no one will even notice us,” John said.
“There's a plan,” Sarah said, holding out her hand for a low five. He hit it, laughing.
“It was a good night, though,” John said, a bit questioning.
“Brilliant,” Sarah agreed.
“Do you remember last year, when thought it was better just to be on our own?” John said.
“Yes,” Sarah said.
“I think this might be better,” John said.
“Me too,” Sarah said. She stretched and yawned. “But next year, I hope someone else hosts.”