And so the day came when, instead of receiving individual gifts labelled ‘to John’ and ‘to Sherlock’ they instead received one parcel with one label and the worrying words ‘to John and Sherlock.’ They were receiving joint gifts, and Mrs. Hudson wasn’t even the first offender.
John held up the first such item with deep suspicion.
“It’s ticking,” he said.
Sherlock waved a dismissive hand from his sprawled position on the sofa. “It’s a clock. It’s also hideous and we won’t be keeping it.”
“What a deduction!” John snapped. “For a moment I was worried Joanne from work had got confused and sent us the bomb and James Bond the fruit basket. Of course it’s a clock. The problem here is that it’s our clock.”
“By Boxing Day it will be Oxfam’s clock.”
And there the whole thing should have ended. But no, the joint gifts kept on coming. A heart photo-frame, two teapots, and a box of shortbread were all unwrapped and donated (to the British Heart Foundation), passed on (to Mrs. Hudson), or eaten (by John.)
“It’s your friends that are doing it,” Sherlock shrugged. “They either don’t like me enough to get me a gift, or aren’t entirely sure about our relationship and therefore include me with yours. Couples’ presents are cheaper and require less effort so if you want them to stop-”
“-Tell them that we’re not dating and accuse them of being thoughtless cheapskates? Oh yeah. I’ll get started on the thank you texts right now.”
The next year one of the presents was soft. John looked warily at the ‘To Sherlock and John, Merry Xmas!’ written on the label. He hoped it wasn’t a teddy bear, or some sort of matching jumper set (although in that case he supposed he could just have both and destroy the label. Sherlock need never know that one of them had been intended for his use.)
“It’s a blanket,” said Sherlock. He was in his chair this time, pouring through a trashy magazine.
John groaned. “You really are rubbish at surprises, are you? Still, I suppose a blanket is always useful. What colour do you think it is?”
“Who gave it to you?”
John shrugged. “I’d been up all night before the shift where they handed out presents and I wasn’t really paying attention to who gave what. There’s no name on the label.”
“Then how am I supposed to work it out?” He went back to his magazine with a huff. Only when John had replaced the present and stood up did Sherlock smirk and add: “It’s somewhere between red wine and burgundy.”
Once unwrapped it was indeed a red wine coloured blanket. John accused Sherlock of cheating by peeking through the wrapping just to annoy him and sprinkled some of the torn up wrapping paper in his hair.
It was the first thing, John realised, that they jointly owned. Every other possession had belonged to one of them (or Mrs. Hudson) first, even if they now shared it. The blanket was theirs. And it was thoughts like that, he supposed, that led to people assuming that he and Sherlock had a joint present kind of relationship.
“Morning John,” said Bernard as John slipped into the hospital lift at the last moment. “Happy new year.”
“Mmm…” said John, around a yawn. “Same to you. Have a good one?”
The lift opened and they stepped out, about to head off in opposite directions.
“Oh, er, thanks for the gift!” John remembered at the last minute. “We liked the blanket.”
Bernard blinked in confusion. “We got you a teapot… I guess it wasn’t that memorable?”
John winced and made a half-hearted apology as Bernard stalked away. Still, he wasn’t too broken up. If you give a teapot to the world’s most observant man, expect him to notice that it had already been re-gifted. And if it was lime green, expect Sherlock to be growing mould cultures in it before New Year’s Day.
The blanket ended up on the sofa (it clashed horribly, but no one minded.) Mrs. Hudson draped it over the back in the arty way household programmes prescribed, it was neatly folded over the arm by John, and it twisted around Sherlock during a few sulks throughout January and February.
There were no initial skirmishes; it was used as and when required and mostly for its intended purpose (though it sometimes got folded up and used as a pillow or leg rest). It spent a week in John’s bedroom during a cold-snap in March before being returned downstairs with the laundry and it spent four days alternately wrapped around Sherlock and being thrown to the floor during the hot and cold spells of Flu in April.
The blanket went in with Sherlock’s dry cleaning three times, once after the Flu, once after John spilled hot and sour soup on it, and once when a less-than-thoughtful attacker bled all over it. Mrs. Hudson borrowed it for a long-weekend in Cornwall and returned it unharmed and freshly laundered on the Tuesday afterwards.
John didn’t think about it much until Sherlock set fire to it: or rather, he set fire to the kitchen and made a valiant attempt to save the room by sacrificing the blanket.
When John returned that night, he yelled at Sherlock about the kitchen. Sherlock pretended he’d been well within his rights to do whatever he liked with a Bunsen burner and then whisked John off to Angelo’s for a calming free dinner (and even more calming bottle of red).
The colour of the wine brought another innocent victim of the fire to mind.
“I can’t believe you ruined the blanket too. I own half that blanket.”
“It’s only a bit singed on the corner,” said Sherlock. “We can call that bit my side.”
He said it so solemnly that John laughed and set Sherlock off too.
“I should take it into protective custody,” said John when he’d recovered.
“Now let’s not be rash. It’s half mine.”
“I never used it as a fire-fighting tool.”
“Honestly you set one tiny kitchen on fire and no one ever lets you forget it...”
“You can keep sharing the blanket,” said John at last. “But only because you still have to explain to Mrs. Hudson about her singed wallpaper.”
John had been thinking about the blanket all afternoon.
Some days you have a very fixed idea in mind of the way things need to go when you get home. The only way the day can be saved is for you to go in, eat the cottage pie left in the fridge and watch an embarrassingly romantic film. Or you spend the entire day knowing that only a huge amount of lager, a long rant to your mates and a greasy kebab are going to fix the giant cock-up that the day has been. Tonight John had made the exact same promise about the blanket.
He was going to get indoors, he was going to strip out of the soaking wet clothes, he was going to use all the hot water and wrap the blanket around himself. Then he was going to read the entirety of the sort of novel where the only spoiler Sherlock could give was: ‘you do realise that’s appalling drivel don’t you?’
Unfortunately plans that straightforward never went smoothly in 221b. John stripped off, John showered, and John walked in the living room to find that the blanket was very much occupied by Sherlock who must have had similar designs on it.
“Nooo,” he said flatly. “I’m having that blanket. Don’t make me turn this into a tug of war.”
“There’re other blankets,” said Sherlock, who was on the brink of a post-case doze.
“What other blankets?”
“Shock blanket?” John translated. “Please tell me you haven’t been stealing from ambulances now?”
There was silence and then Sherlock bolted upright, suddenly wide awake. “Fine, get in.”
He shifted so that the end of the sofa nearest the window was empty.
“You aren’t seriously suggesting we share a blanket?”
“We already share it. If it belonged to you fully you’d be justified in dragging it off me, but it’s a joint blanket so you aren’t.”
“If that rule worked I’d be justified in smacking you upside the head every time you stole my laptop.”
Sherlock just sighed. John was vaguely aware that there might be some sort of line when it came to cuddling under a jointly owned blanket with a close friend, but he’d been fantasising about the blanket all afternoon and suddenly being snuggled under it with Sherlock seemed an even more attractive prospect.
He sunk into the gap, book in hand, and was engulfed in both the blanket and Sherlock, who had decided to use his chest as a pillow. Thank god he’d slouched in the seat because he wasn’t sure what would happen if Sherlock had gone for his lap.
Sherlock caught sight of the book.
“That’s appalling rubbish,” he scoffed.
John smirked. “Not going to spoil if for me then?”
“It does a fine job of that on its own and if I could spoil that sort of book for you, we wouldn’t be friends.”
John looked down at Sherlock’s curls as they settled somewhere around his stomach now. He pulled the blanket so that it covered all of Sherlock’s body and his own legs and feet. His torso was being kept wonderfully warm by Sherlock’s body heat.
“Go on,” Sherlock said eventually with a slight drowsy lilt to his voice. “Read it aloud. I need something to send me off to sleep.”
The blanket didn’t see much use in the following months as spring warmed up unexpectedly early and a long summer slouched on without ever dipping into chilly or reaching the full potential of a heatwave. It saw a few hours’ use by Sherlock when John stormed off after a fight, but it was mainly for sulking purposes and without John there to see he soon became too hot and went to inflict damage on his laboratory instead. It was borrowed again by Mrs. Hudson, this time for a picnic in the park, and had a brief encounter with an infant when a client’s baby attempted to eat a corner of it.
When October finally cooled the blanket found a new home, on Sherlock’s bed. The singed corner was dutifully kept on Sherlock’s side. On the good nights, Sherlock and John lay under it, impossibly close, and wrapped it tightly around themselves. On the best nights it was kicked away altogether or tangled up completely between them.
When Sherlock didn’t sleep he sometimes snuck in, gently extracted the blanket from the bed and took it back to the living room to think.
“Hello,” said Sherlock.
It was a nice enough spot, he thought. If you liked that sort of eternal peace and quiet. It was only ten miles away from his cottage and he told himself he’d never have made the trip if it had been further away.
It was a pale gravestone. Elegant.
Joanne Dixon-Marsh. Mother and Grandmother. Healer. 1970-2039.
Flowers from one son and two daughters were still fresh on the grave. The six grandchildren had littered it with drawings and candles and something that looked like a stone toadstool with a pixie sitting on it.
“They’re no use to you,” Sherlock felt the need to point out. “These are all just ways for them to ease their own pain.” He held up the bunch of flowers in his hand. “So are these. But I’m self-aware enough to admit it. You can’t even hear me, I’m just… tying up loose ends in my mind palace.”
“I’m not grieving for you,” he felt the need to add. “We only met once. You called me a bastard after I pointed out your husband had taken £20 from your daughter’s piggy bank to feed his gambling addiction. It was at your work Christmas Party. You didn’t seem that interested in celebrating afterwards.”
“John doesn’t have a grave,” he found himself saying. “Didn’t want one. Didn’t want me to have one either. Not the, uh, second time around.”
“Anyway. I read the obituaries every day and when I saw your name… I realised who gave us the blanket. It was the hideous clock the first year and then we didn’t receive anything from you the next despite your friendship with John remaining steady. You’d just had a third baby, a very late pregnancy, and with two other children and an unreliable husband no wonder you forgot to write your name on a cheaply bought and hastily wrapped gift for a couple you only knew through a job you hated.”
“We weren’t a couple then, by the way. But the blanket… John really… we liked it. I still have it on our – my – bed. My side is a bit singed.”
Even for the purposes of sorting his mind palace, the conversation was getting ridiculous and worryingly emotional. Sherlock cleared his throat and leaned down to rest the flowers on the gravestone.
“They aren’t very nice,” he said unapologetically. “And they’re cheap. But you only spent £6 on the blanket and we still appreciated that.”
“It was…” he swallowed. “It was a… very good blanket.”