Author's Note: Hello everyone. I suppose it is strange that I am writing a series about birthday presents this close to Christmas, but I have always been perverse. I hope you enjoy it, and remember that reviews are love. :-D
Chapter 2: Many Happy Returns of the Day!
Think of giving not as a duty but as a privilege. – John D. Rockefeller
After three weeks of wearing his new coat, John couldn't deny that Sherlock was absolutely right when he said that expensive clothing was worth every penny. Sherlock didn't give a hang about fashion, but he did value utility. The wool of the peacoat his flatmate had bespoken for him was so warm that John's jumpers seemed almost superfluous despite the bitterly cold weather. It was rain proof, wind proof and damn near knife proof… or so it had proved on their last case. A determined thrust would undoubtedly have gotten through the Melton, but the slash directed at John's ribs hadn't even scored the heavy fabric. What's more, blood wiped off and washed right out as if it had never been there at all. Bliss. Sheer bliss, and far more comfortable than ballistic armor. John had talked at first about paying Sherlock back, but after days of freezing glances and disgusted glares, he'd left off. Now he just reveled in the decadent warmth and tried not to notice when people like Sally Donovan stared at him speculatively.
He was wearing the peacoat when he entered 221b one afternoon, just days after the knife attack, and tripped over a small box on the floor outside the door of their flat, causing him to drop the Chinese takeout he was carrying. "Bugger!" John shouted, as his leg gave a twinge reminiscent of his psychosomatic limp days. Of course, the limp had never been entirely psychosomatic. He had been injured in the thigh as well as in the shoulder, he just hadn't been shot in the thigh. No. The leg had been crushed when the ambulance he was being transported in following the shooting had been blown onto its side by an IED. Both the American medics working on him had been killed in the crash. He, bound to a stretcher, had ironically survived. The driver, a Corporal Murray, had gotten John off the stretcher and onto a donkey stolen from an irate Afghani and gotten them both to safety. John couldn't help feeling bad about his fellow doctors, who'd only been in the ruddy vehicle because of him, but at least Bill Murray had gotten a Soldier's Medal out of it. John had just gotten a limp, mostly psychosomatic, a hand tremor, intermittent, and a serious case of PTSD. All of which had been worse since Moriarty and his bloody bomb vest. The last was probably why he was now shouting abuse at a brown, pasteboard box. It wasn't as if the thing had jumped out at him, but John couldn't seem to help himself.
Mrs. Hudson came up the stairs at as much of a trot as her seventy-year-old legs would allow. "Oh, dear! Oh, John, I'm so sorry. I meant to move that onto your coffee table. I set it down, just for a moment, and then I heard the blower ringing, and I'd been waiting for cousin Rupert to give me a ring and – "
"It's all right, Mrs. Hudson," John said, biting back on a more heated reply. He wasn't Sherlock and he wouldn't take his foul mood out on their landlady. "Really, it's fine. Leave that," he urged as she bent and picked up both the box and the bag of takeout.
"Nonsense. Just let me put this in the kitchen and – goodness, Sherlock has made a mess of things today, hasn't he?"
"Actually, most of that's from yesterday," John corrected, following her into the kitchen, one hand clamped awkwardly onto his spasming thigh muscle. He tried not to limp. The stupid leg tended to act up in bad weather – such as they were having now – or when he'd overexerted himself for too long. John knew Sherlock had noticed, but no one else seemed to have, and John bloody well didn't want anyone else figuring it out. He'd had more than enough of being looked at like a cripple. He wouldn't go back to that. The table was covered in tubes, pipes, cylinders, beakers and assorted packets of God-only-knew-what from the local chemist. When he saw Mrs. Hudson searching for a place to deposit her burden, John unceremoniously shoved the soiled glassware into a smaller space, allowing Mrs. Hudson room to set down the Chinese.
"Would you like some moo goo gai pan?"
"Oh, no thank you, love. I'm going out for tea with Mrs. Hardfeldt. So, if you don't need anything, I'll just be off."
"Thank you, Mrs. Hudson," John said, giving her a smile and awkwardly accepting the kiss she pressed on his cheek. She was a very affectionate woman, an absolute darling, but John hadn't yet managed to duplicate the boyish entitlement with which Sherlock seemed to accept all her caressing and fussing.
As soon as she was gone, he grabbed the disposable chopsticks from the bag, pulled out a little white box, and started eating. Food… at last. Sherlock had kept him so busy over the last few days, he'd hardly eaten at all. As he ate one-handed – and tried not to think about how much his leg hurt – John examined the box that had tripped him up. There was no postmark, and it was labeled only with their street address. No names, no postcode, just "221b Baker Street, London" written in some sort of calligraphy on an ornate label. Clearly, it had been delivered by a courier of some kind. John wasn't expecting a package. Nor was Sherlock as far as he knew, and John couldn't help the sudden shout of "bomb" his inner voice supplied. Ridiculous, he chided himself. Simply ridiculous. They hadn't heard a peep out of Moriarty in weeks. Pulling his aged penknife from one of the peacoat's inner pockets, John sliced through the brown string that held the package closed. Nestled inside, amidst a shower of shredded newspaper, was a tin of loose leaf tea.
Not just any tea, either. John gaped at the two-pound container of Adagio Golden Yunnan black tea. Good God. The stuff was amazing. He'd had some just once, at yet another dinner at yet another restaurant owned by yet another person Sherlock had saved from untimely incarceration. They'd had a pot with their meal, and John had rhapsodised about it until Sherlock had managed to turn the conversation to the decay rate of corpses frozen in salt water. John had the urge to abandon the Chinese food altogether and brew a pot immediately, but common sense won out over desire. The stuff was monstrously expensive – more than thirty-five quid a pound! – and the delivery had to be some sort of mistake.
He was just tucking the tin back into its box when Sherlock came tromping up the stairs. "Ah, good," his flatmate said, eyeing the package with a fleeting smile. "The tea is here."
"You ordered this?" John said, surprised. Sherlock drank tea, certainly, but one cup tasted much like another to him. The only time he'd shown a real interest in varieties was when the chemical composition of a half-drunk cup of tea had been key to identifying a murderer in one of their cases… and that had been some sort of oolong.
"What? No, of course not. Why ever would I order tea?"
"But you just said… " John shook his head.
"I said the tea was here. I didn't say I ordered it," Sherlock corrected pedantically.
"Sherlock, I'm not in the mood for your bloody literal-mindedness today," John huffed, standing up and stumbling to the dustbin where he dumped his empty Chinese food containers.
"You've done something to irritate your leg again," Sherlock said behind him, and John could hear the frown in his voice.
"You're limping, and judging by the tension in your shoulders and the way you're holding your jaw – "
"Yes!" John shouted, spinning about. "Okay, yes! I hurt my damned leg in a stumble that wouldn't have damaged a kitten! Satisfied?"
Sherlock narrowed his eyes, then walked over and pulled an ice pack from the icebox. Handing this to John, he gestured imperiously in the direction of the sitting room. "Go sit down and write on your blog or do something else equally useless that doesn't require standing or walking. I shall make tea."
"You're going to make tea?" John repeated, astonished. "You?"
"I do know how, John. Go."
Scowling, John went. His leg hurt too much to argue. Besides, ever since the incident at the pool, Sherlock seemed to take any return of John's previous infirmity as a personal affront. John knew that it was misplaced guilt, that Sherlock blamed himself for John being injured in that blast that had nearly killed them both, but trying to talk to him about it was pointless. So John let his flatmate have his way whenever Sherlock got that look in his eyes, like now.
When Sherlock hadn't reappeared with a cuppa in five minutes, John assumed he'd gotten distracted by some experiment and resigned himself to just sitting quietly until it was time to replace the icepack with a hot water bottle. He was startled some time later to hear the tea kettle whistle. Usually, they resorted to the disgustingly American habit of "nuking" hot water for tea, they rarely had the time to do things properly. Apparently, Sherlock was in a mood. He emerged from the kitchen some minutes later with a cup of tea and a plate of chocolate digestives. Marvelous. He was channeling Mrs. Hudson, John thought sulkily, slouching down in his chair. Then, he sat up straight as he caught a whiff of the tea. "Is that the Golden Yunnan?"
"Yes. Surely even you can deduce that without my assistance," Sherlock replied acerbically.
"But, you said you didn't buy any and – "
"It was a gift from a grateful client," Sherlock said offhandedly.
"A client gave you Golden Yunnan? Who?" John took a sip of the tea, sighing in contentment as Sherlock began his answer.
"Mr. Chiang. He was before your time. Every year, on the anniversary of his exoneration, he likes to make me a gift of tea from his shop. He was delighted this year to actually have a specific request he could fulfill. My palette is, to hear him tell it, a cause for great despair. He has been attempting to educate me and views this as a sign that his labours are bearing fruit."
"You asked some poor shop owner for Golden Yunnan?"
"Why? Is there something else you'd rather have? I had the impression you preferred Golden Yunnan," Sherlock said with just a hint of impatience.
John couldn't help smiling at the sulky look on his flatmate's aristocratic face. "I do. I do. You got this for me, then? But Sherlock, it's so expensive. You shouldn't have asked the poor man for – "
"Rich," Sherlock interjected.
"Rich man. Mr. Chiang owns a chain of tea shops. He can afford to be generous, and since there was nothing I wanted for myself, I saw no reason not to indulge your preferences. You can always think of it as another birthday present if it makes you feel better. I shouldn't owe you another one until 2021."
"Oh," John said, struck by the logic of this despite his misgivings. Of course, it was hard to maintain misgivings when the tea tasted so delectable and the pain in his leg was finally evaporating. He sighed again and settled back in the chair with his cuppa and a chocolate digestive. Sherlock smiled, seemingly satisfied that John wasn't going to fuss over trifles any longer.