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“Fine, John. If your heart is set on celebrating my birthday, then, yes. I’ll agree. But under one condition.”

“And what’s that?”

Sherlock folded back the newspaper and looked at him, coldly, John thought, from across the breakfast table.

“The condition is that you must deduce what it is that I want for a present.”

“You want me to deduce what you want?” John shook his head. “No, I’m not letting you make me feel like an idiot again, Sherlock. Remember Carl Powers’ trainers? I’m sure you recall telling me how rubbish my deductions are.”

Sherlock shook out the paper and raised it in front of his face. “Very well, then. We can drop all further discussion of a ridiculous celebration.”

“Oi!” John slapped at the newspaper, crumpling it in his hand. Sherlock quirked an eyebrow. John glanced away then back to Sherlock. “You’re serious? If I can suss out what you want, you’ll celebrate your birthday in any way I deem appropriate—”

Sherlock rolled his eyes. “Yes, John, I—” 

“Ah, ah.” John pointed at Sherlock. “And you won’t complain or sulk or be in any way disagreeable during said celebration.”

Sherlock’s expression was a treat—somewhere between horrified and annoyed. “I do not sulk.”

John laughed. “That’s funny, coming from the man who could give Heathcliff lessons in resentful brooding.”

Sherlock straightened, and his lips thinned as he silently glared at John before folding his arms across his chest.

John smirked. “That’s not at all sulky.”

Sherlock tugged the edges of his dressing gown together and started to stand, but John reached across the table and caught his wrist. “All right, I’m sorry. Just sit down, will you?” When Sherlock eased back into his seat, John continued, “I’ll do it. I’ll deduce what you want. But can I—can I ask questions? Will you give me any sort of clue?”

For a moment, Sherlock shifted his gaze to a point somewhere beyond John’s left shoulder. John turned slightly, half expecting to see Mycroft or Lestrade or a knife-wielding maniac, but there was nothing there. When he looked back at Sherlock, he found the verdigris eyes once again on him, those long fingers steepled under the chin, that mouth turned up at one corner.

“Of course, I will give you clues. We have three days until my birthday, so I will give you precisely three clues AND three guesses. Agreed?”

John rolled his eyes and let out a small sigh. “Fine. Yes.”

Sherlock’s smile widened a bit. “Excellent, John. Well, then. Here is your first clue: What I want for my birthday is something that may be found right here in our flat.”

John looked behind him again. “What, you want something you already have?”

Instead of answering, Sherlock stood up and strode to the large desk near the window. He began opening and shutting the small drawers, tossing aside papers and small objects as he searched.

John followed and stood behind him, “Sherlock, answer me. Is it something you have that you’d like replaced?”

“Is that your first guess, John? Not very specific, but I will allow it. Ah.” A lower drawer opened, and Sherlock produced someone’s long-forgotten attempt at a Christmas gift, still wrapped, complete with a shiny, red bow.

“No, it’s… NO, that’s not my guess. I’m just trying to make sense of your…”

Sherlock detached the bow and threw the unopened gift aside. He held the bow up in front of John’s face, as though he were displaying a crucial piece of evidence. “This, John. This is how you will guess. Attach this to anything you believe is the answer to our guessing game.”

“Sherlock, that’s..”

“Childish? Nonsensical? Unnecessary?” He placed the bow in John’s hands. “Rather like a grown man having a birthday party, wouldn’t you say?” 

John’s mouth clamped shut, and his jaw worked for a moment. Sherlock only responded with a raised eyebrow.

Neither said any more about it for the rest of the day. Later that evening, as Sherlock walked past the kitchen table, he saw the shiny, red bow attached to his microscope.

John was leaning against the worktop, one leg crossed over the other, a smug grin on his face.

“A new microscope? Well, John, that’s….” John wasn’t sure, but he thought Sherlock almost looked moved. “That’s quite generous. But I don’t in fact want something replaced.”

“So, it’s something you want more of?” John ventured.

Sherlock nodded, smiling faintly to himself.

When John went to bed that night, he lay for some time, staring at the ceiling and contemplating what could possibly be in the flat already that Sherlock might want more of. More books, perhaps?

No. Sherlock wouldn’t want something so ordinary. No, he’d want something unusual but something useful, something…well, probably something disgusting and horrible, actually, but Sherlock would find it useful, and John would probably have to get it from the morgue…

Huh. 

John fell asleep smiling.

When John came down for breakfast the next morning, he found Sherlock sprawled across the sofa, blue dressing gown spread beneath him like gossamer wings that twinkled in the light spilling in from the windows. He looked pale—paler than usual, that is—like he hadn’t slept, with smudged purple shadows beneath his closed eyes. John crept closer and gently nudged Sherlock’s shoulder. 

Sherlock’s eyes flew open, and he shivered. “John.”

“You all right?” John asked. He moved to lay his palm on Sherlock’s forehead to check for fever.

Sherlock caught John’s hand. “I’m fine.” Sherlock’s grip tightened a moment before he thrust John’s hand away and sat up.

John shook his head and picked up a half-empty tea mug from the coffee table. “I’ll dump this out and make a new cup for you.”

“There’s no need,” Sherlock said.

“There is a need. I’m making you toast, as well, and you are going to eat it.” John turned toward the kitchen but stopped when he heard a choked sputter behind him. He glanced over his shoulder to find Sherlock, mouth slightly agape and eyes wide, staring quite obviously at John’s arse.

“Sherlock?”

Sherlock cleared his throat and finally met John’s gaze. “Is that your second guess, then?” he asked before his eyes dropped back down.

“What?” John knew his confusion must have shown on his face because Sherlock nodded stiffly toward John’s backside. He looked down at the seat of his jeans and saw the red bow half out of his back pocket. He snatched it up. “No! No, I just, uh.” He thought he could actually feel the flush creeping up his neck and into his cheeks. “I brought it down to make my second guess.” He smiled awkwardly. “I think I might know what you want this time.”

“Do you?” Sherlock’s face was blank, but his voice sounded odd, like he was trying quite hard to affect his usual bored tone.

“Yeah. Uh, yes. But breakfast first.” John headed into the kitchen, attempting not to think that Sherlock thought John thought Sherlock wanted…well, nevermind, it was a silly misunderstanding.

After preparing tea and toast for the both of them and oatmeal for himself, John carried everything into the sitting room and placed the dishes on the table. Sherlock was already sitting in his usual chair. John sat across from him and shoved the plate of toast forward. “Eat.”

Sherlock’s expression was sour, but he plucked a piece of toast from the plate and took a grudging bite.

John ate a few spoonfuls of oatmeal then reclined in his seat. “I imagine you’d want your gift to be useful.”

“Useful?”

“To your work, I mean.”

Sherlock nodded. “It is certainly useful, yes.”

John leaned forward and folded his hands on the table. “Is that my second clue? It’s useful in your work?”

Sherlock sipped his tea. “You may take it as such, if you wish.” He frowned down at his mug. “You forgot to put the milk in.”

“Did I? Sorry. Suppose you’ll have to fetch it.”

Sherlock rolled his eyes as he stood. “You really are glaringly transparent, John.”

John chuckled.

A moment later, Sherlock returned from the kitchen with the milk in one hand and in the other a severed foot wrapped in cling film with the red bow attached. “You think I desire more feet?”

John almost choked on his toast. He swallowed and brushed the crumbs from his lips. “Not feet, particularly, no. More body parts, though? I know how you enjoy playing with them. Like a cat with a bloody prize.” He shook his head. “So, I thought you’d perhaps like something from St. Bart’s. I’m sure I could convince Molly to—”

“While it’s noble of you to offer me corpse bits, John, I’m not terribly interested in dead men for a birthday gift.” Sherlock set the milk on the table.

“Well, I’m not getting you a live one, Sherlock.”

Sherlock’s head snapped up abruptly. He looked confused, or … disappointed. 

“Listen, Mr. Sociopath, vivisection on humans is illegal as well as utterly immoral and completely unethical, so don’t even waste the energy with the.. the.. puppy-eyes thing.”

Somehow, Sherlock managed to look even more hurt. “I’ve never conducted an experiment on puppies’ eyes, John. Of what possible use could that be?”

“No, no, I mean,” John waved his hand and indicated the general area of Sherlock’s face, “that sad-puppy expression you do when you want something. The one you think will make me give in.”

“Ah. You mean the one that always makes you give in.” Sherlock smiled and took another bite of toast.

“Not this time, Sherlock. No. End of conversation. You do enough damage to living humans as it is; I’m not letting you cut one open for the hell of it.” 

A few moments passed. John finished his oatmeal, and Sherlock tutted while thumbing through the pages of a recent medical journal. It was one of John’s scheduled days at the surgery, so he’d be out until some time after dinner. And he was no closer to figuring out Sherlock’s bloody game. Might as well get the final clue now as later.

“So it’s in the flat. And it helps you in your work. And you want more of it.”

“Excellent re-statement of the information thus far, yes.” 

“Then let’s have the last clue, now. No point waiting, as I’m nowhere near the answer.”

Sherlock smiled… actually properly smiled… for an instant before he looked up. “Very well, John. The final clue is that it can be dangerous.”

“How dangerous?” John swallowed, not liking where his brain was going with this.

“Deadly, under certain conditions.” Sherlock’s eyes bored into John’s now, as though he could will the answer directly into John’s mind.

Christ. No. 

John stood up from the table so quickly that he nearly knocked it over. His bowl and spoon clattered noisily before Sherlock steadied them.

“Absolutely NOT, Sherlock. NO. Under no circumstances am I getting you THAT for your birthday.” He rubbed a hand over his face. “I’m your friend for Christ’s sake!”

“John, I… I didn’t mean to offend you…” Sherlock stood and took a step closer.

“You didn’t? What, you thought this was funny?”

“Funny? Not at all. I’m perfectly serious. I had no idea you’d be this upset by it, however.”

John’s mouth turned up in a humourless smile, the type of smile Sherlock had seen quite often. The type that said something was ‘a bit not good’ again.

“You thought… you actually thought that I would give you DRUGS for your birthday? Even for you, Sherlock, that’s—”

Sherlock reached out and took hold of John’s arm. ”Drugs? You think the clues were pointing to drugs?”

John jerked his arm free and squared his shoulders. “Yes, Sherlock. Obviously, you’ve got drugs hidden somewhere in this flat again. Because, according to you, they help with your work. And we both know that they’re dangerous, even deadly, and yet you have the nerve to ask me—”

“I don’t want drugs, John.”

“You don’t want…,” John blinked, his heart still racing from the feelings of anger and betrayal, “you don’t want drugs?”

Sherlock shook his head.

“Oh. Oh, God, Sherlock, I’m sorry. I’m sorry I thought you would ask for…” he swallowed. “And now I’ve used up my third guess, too?”

“Actually, no. You didn’t use the red bow, did you?” Sherlock plucked it off of the ‘gift’ from St. Bart’s morgue, and he put it, upside-down, into the palm of John’s hand.

“Now, John, if you bend your elbow just a bit, like so, and you continue this forward motion with your hand, you will, in fact, affix the bow to the one thing I want for my birthday. It’s here, in this flat. It helps me, helps me tremendously, with my work. And it is far more dangerous than it looks. It has even been deadly on more than one occasion. But it is, without a doubt, exactly what I desire, and I desire it more than anything in this world.”

The red bow found its proper place.

John merely stood still, unable to speak.

Two days later, he and Sherlock, and Mrs. Hudson, and Lestrade, and Molly celebrated Sherlock’s birthday at 221b - complete with decorations, cake, candles, and even paper hats (which Sherlock, of course refused to wear, but the idea was hilarious enough in itself).

As the other guests were leaving, Mrs. Hudson crept up next to John’s shoulder and murmured in his ear, “I don’t know what you had to bribe him with to make him give in, dear, but whatever it was, good for you. I’ll bet it’s the first proper birthday party he’s had, poor love.”

John smiled and helped her on with her coat.

“Funny he didn’t mention your present, though. Did he not like it? And don’t blame yourself; He’s impossible to shop for.”

“Ah. No, actually, he hasn’t gotten his present from me, yet. I’ll, um.. I’ll be giving it to him tonight.”