Sherlock looked at the small, blue cardboard box wrapped in a wide gold ribbon. He arched an eyebrow at the box and again at John, who had delivered the compact package along with the morning papers.
John shrugged, picked up The Guardian, leaving the rest for Sherlock and dropped into his armchair. He poured himself a cup of coffee from the tempered glass French Press he'd left on his side table.
'You'll only make yourself angry,' Sherlock observed absently. He was mostly busy peering at the box.
'Reading the news makes you angry, most of the time.'
'Well, it's mostly infuriating, isn't it? I'm just going to browse for potential cases and then do the Sudoku. What's in the box?'
'I don't know yet.'
'Sluggish morning brain, huh? You usually know what's in everyone's Christmas presents. And you tell them before they get to open them.'
'Not any more.'
John grinned as he flicked through the paper. 'Not since the Great Egg Nog Incident of '18.'
'I thought we agreed never to speak of that again. I was very fond of that suit.'
'Lessons were learned,' John agreed solemnly, but laughter was still bubbling under his tone. He took a sip of his coffee and sighed with exaggerated pleasure at the caffeine hit.
'Quite.' Sherlock bit the 't' off and resumed his inspection of the box.
'It was pushed through the mail flap on the door,' he declared after a moment. The ribbon is askew.'
'Mm-hmm?' John turned another page, clearly not listening.
Sherlock turned the box over and over in his long fingers. He rattled it beside his ear. He sniffed it. He dabbed the tip of his tongue against the ribbon.
'It's very light and doesn't rattle, so it's either well packed in bubble wrap or similar, or it's empty. It has no scent to speak of, barring the expected. The cardboard of the box is thick. Expensive. So is the ribbon.'
'Mm-huh.' A turn of the page.
Carefully, Sherlock took one end of the ribbon and pulled it. The golden bow unfolded and the ribbon curled away from the box. Sherlock examined the ribbon then put it aside. He examined the box again. Satisfied that it told him no more than before, he removed the lid and examined the interior.
'The box is empty, John.'
'The box that was delivered with the papers is empty.'
'Who'd deliver an empty box?'
John turned another page, folded the paper into quarters and took up a pen. He began to fill numbers in on the Sudoku grid.
'Have you enjoyed your little game?'
'Yes, John. Your game. You took this downstairs with you when you went to fetch the papers. You pushed it through the mail slot for verisimilitude and delivered it to me, purely for the purposes of watching me examine it.'
'I have my back to you.'
'You are watching my reflection in the French press.'
John sipped his coffee to hide his expanding grin.
'You are enjoying yourself,' Sherlock accused.
'Immensely,' John agreed.
'It's a present to yourself, is it? To watch me be puzzled, even for a moment.'
'It's a daily present to myself to watch you deduce things. I love seeing your expression go from "what's this" to "elementary!" in 0.2 seconds.'
'I haven't forgotten, you know.'
John put his coffee cup down and twisted in his chair so that Sherlock could get the full benefit of John's incredulous expression.
'You didn't just... deduce it this very second?'
'John,' Sherlock berated him. 'You know me.'
'I do. That's the point.'
'Well. There was the Great Forgetting of 2020. Lessons were learned.'
John raised an eyebrow.
'Turn to the Classifieds, if you would.'
John obediently straightened out the paper and went to the Classifieds section of the Guardian. A moment later he was beaming with delight.
'Happy birthday to JW, the Best and Wisest, et cetera,' he read out. 'Look in your left pocket. With deepest affection, SH. You romantic devil.' John leaned right so he could get his fingers more easily into his left pocket. He withdrew a slip of paper. Unfolding it, he found a new instruction.
'When did you put this in my pocket?'
'Last night, after you were asleep.'
John rose, following the instructions, went to Sherlock and dipped his fingers into Sherlock's shirt pocket. He withdrew a discreetly coloured plastic card.
'Deduce it, John.'
John examined the card. 'Room key. Posh hotel. Oh, look, the Langham. Are you whisking me away for my birthday?'
'Yes, John. Posh hotel, fancy dinner, dancing.'
'Lovely.' John dropped a kiss on the top of Sherlock's head, then another more sensuous one on his lips. 'There was something the box, Sherlock. You probably missed it.'
Sherlock frowned. 'I examined it thoroughly...'
'Here.' John picked up the empty box and held it against Sherlock's ear. Then he bent close, his breath warm and thrilling against Sherlock's skin. 'I told the box a secret,' he said, almost too soft to hear. 'Listen closely. The remnants might still be there.'
Sherlock held his breath, despite the utter nonsense of John's pronouncement. And sure enough, John's voice whispered to him a secret.
'Every day with you is a gift. That you love me back is a gift. I love you.'
Sherlock, whose expression had softened dreamily, cast a sideways look at John. 'That last part is not a secret.'
'No,' John agreed.
'I love you, too, John.' Sherlock tilted his head to press their mouths gently together, and that was no secret either.