Chapter 4: Thursday
It was only after he’d exhausted his musical repertoire that he heard the music.
It was soft, grainy, almost gramophone quality. At first Sherlock thought he was imagining it; surely even with all the information he’d deleted he would have noticed John acquire a gramophone. But there it was again, some obscure jazz song fluttering down the stairs, and he was so damnably bored that he found himself groping around for the stair rail and hauling himself up the stairs.
As he neared the source of the music he recognized the scratchiness as synthetic; the song was playing from a laptop and had only been made to sound vintage. It still didn’t explain why John’s room sounded like a party at Gatsby’s, however, so he found the doorknob after a few fumbling tries and pushed it as far open as he dared.
He could just make out a light on the opposite side of the room, presumably the window, and something flickering in front of it every few seconds. It took him much longer than it should have to realize the shadow was John himself, rocking rhythmically back and forth. The floorboards creaked out a pattern as he stepped hesitantly forward and back, mumbling to himself. Sherlock found this mildly worrying until he realized what he was saying.
“One, two, three, four . . . One, two, three – ah, bugger, wait . . . All right, one, two three, four . . .”
“Are you – dancing?”
The rhythm dropped off abruptly, the music cutting off with a clatter of keys. “Dammit, Sherlock, do you even know how to knock?”
“I didn’t know you danced.” He’d thought he knew everything about John.
“I don’t.” At first he didn’t elaborate, as though hoping the silence would cause Sherlock to lose interest. When Sherlock made it abundantly clear that he wasn’t moving, however, he sighed. “Teresa does, and apparently some blathering prat with one too many beers in him told her I do too. Oh wait, that was me.”
Sherlock felt his face twitch as he fought for composure. “Ah. I see.”
“I know you’re laughing at me, you bastard.” But there was a tinge of a smile to his voice.
“It is ridiculously easy to do so,” Sherlock said with a supreme shrug. “So are you any good?”
“Oh yes, I’m – I’m absolute rubbish, I can’t even joke about this, I’m probably going to elbow her in the face all night long or she’ll go in for a dip and I’ll drop her and it’ll be a great bloody disaster.”
The most ridiculous mental image of John dressed as a flamenco dancer burst like a bubble in Sherlock’s head, and all the restraint in his body wasn’t enough to keep a mangled snort from catching in his throat. John snorted too, and flopped back on the bed with a groan. “I give up. I’ll cancel.”
“You will do no such thing.” Sherlock took two steps forward, hands out slightly, until one brushed the bed and the other John’s knee. “Up you get.”
He felt John tense, immediately on guard. “Why, what’re you doing?”
“Really, John, you think I made it through five years of public school without being coerced into some ghastly dancing lessons?”
“Let me get this straight – you deleted your knowledge of the solar system rather than dancing lessons from your school days.”
“Of course. Mummy would have killed me.” He tugged again, more insistently. “Do you want to make a liar of yourself or not?”
“There is no way you dance.”
“You doubt my abilities?” Sherlock asked haughtily, feeling his way up the bed to tug at John’s sleeve. “And here I thought I was ‘brilliant’ and ‘fantastic’ and all that.”
“I didn’t mean you couldn’t, I meant surely Sherlock Holmes doesn’t dance.”
He had a point. “Not with just anyone, but I suppose I can make an exception.” He smirked crookedly. John always liked that. “Come on, surely even your brain can hold a few simple steps inside it long enough to impress some insipid nurse.”
“Do you know even when you’re being helpful you’re a complete arse?” But he hauled himself to his feet, chuntering under his breath about how daft he must be to take dancing lessons from the man who leaves severed ears lying about on the kitchen counter. Sherlock wasn’t sure how the two activities were correlated, but that was John for you.
“Enough with the histrionics. Start the music again.” John complied, turning it up irrationally loudly as if he could somehow drown out his palpable embarrassment. “Now hands out.” But here they both went for the waist, tangling arms and accidentally poking each other in the side. “John.”
“You put more product in your hair than most women.”
Sherlock could almost see that jut of jaw that meant he wasn’t going to win. “Fine, but only because I’m still not sure you can reach my shoulder.” Before John could find a witty rejoinder or possibly knee him in the groin, he seized him by the shoulder and pulled him close. Too close; for the briefest of moments they were pressed flush, chest to chest, before John came to his senses and pulled away.
“Right,” he said too forcefully, “what next?”
“Ah.” The cotton in the Mind Palace seemed to have abruptly thickened. He cleared his throat. “All right, first step on the beat is forward with the left foot.” He stepped and John stepped and bloody hell, they collided again. “No, John, when I step forward –”
“I am not going out only knowing the girl’s part, Sherlock, now let me lead or I swear I will spin you round three times and set you loose like a kid at a birthday party.”
He would. “Fine. Left forward, right forward, left side, right close, and go –” He dragged John backwards, who was so caught off-guard that he took an extra step forward and they collided for a third time. “Oh – do come on, John.”
“Would you ruddy slow down a bit?”
“You do understand the basic concept of dance is that you step on the beat, correct?” Sherlock snapped, more irritated at the fact that the brush of John’s nose seemed to have imprinted on his shoulder like memory foam than at his partner’s inherent slowness.
“Fine!” John snapped, and barrelled forward, practically carrying Sherlock through the steps. His hand slipped around Sherlock’s back, almost lifting him off his feet. “That any better?”
“Much,” Sherlock said, although his voice didn’t sound much like himself. “That – that’s it, basically, there are more complicated steps but I doubt you’ll need them.”
John was quiet for a moment, and Sherlock could feel the twitch of his foot tapping. “Forward, forward, side, close. Suppose I can do that.” And his next words were full of his smile. “Ready?”
“I –” But before he could answer he was being whipped around, yanked by the waist until he had lost any and all sense of direction. John’s steps were plodding and heavy but surprisingly fast, and while Sherlock prided himself on his reflexes he barely managed to step in time to keep from being bowled over. Two quick turns about the room and he had no idea where he was, the music swinging dizzily around him, everything swimming but the rock-solid touch at his back and the crushing grip at his hand. “John – God’s sake –”
“Think you can keep up, Ginger Rogers?” John breathed in his ear, and Sherlock felt his lips curl into a challenging grin as if without his volition. And they were off again, swinging frantically and utterly without grace around the room. Sherlock had never danced the female part before and was so disoriented by the lack of direction and the music and the touch that he kept accidentally stepping forward even as John stepped God-knows-where, knocking knees and bumping chests and even somehow smacking heads. This was getting ridiculous. John paused to let out a shout of laughter and Sherlock seized the lead, his steps smoother and surer as he found himself on familiar ground once more.
“You can’t dance!”
“You can’t see!”
“I’m still better off than you!” John tried to take the lead and Sherlock blocked, and again, and then John forced him back and he countered by leading the next step, and soon they were tromping about the room like a drunk spider, all legs and knees and occasionally elbows as both grappled to retain the lead for longer than two steps. John’s arm had come around so tightly it was almost circling his waist and Sherlock’s fingers were furled so tightly in his shoulder that it had to be painful, and they’d turned in so many circles that they could be on the moon for all he knew, because the only thing he was certain of at the moment was dizziness and John –
His knees caught the bed and he pulled John down on top of him.
All the breath left him in a whoosh, not just because John was heavy (which he was, undeniably, but not so much weighty as solid) but because of the flood of sensation that rushed over him. John’s breath was sputtering with exertion, his chest pressing sharply into Sherlock’s with each gasp, and his arm had gotten pinned underneath with his fingertips splayed at Sherlock’s shoulder blade. For his own part, Sherlock’s pulse had skyrocketed the second they slammed back into the far-too-soft bed, his hand clenching around John’s so tightly he couldn’t tell whose fingers were whose anymore. His hair was soft and his jeans were rough and the stud of his waistband was digging in at Sherlock’s stomach, just above his –
John vaulted to his feet, his fingers vanishing so abruptly Sherlock felt as though part of his hand had been torn away. The entire episode had taken all of three seconds and yet Sherlock was breathing as though he’d run a marathon, and noted with interest that John’s sharp huffs sounded about the same. “Well. Thanks. Guess I’ve got it about down.”
“Suppose so.” Sherlock was still splayed out over the bed like an idiot; he pulled himself far more slowly to his feet, dusting himself off and fervently glad that he had an excuse not to meet John’s eye. “Good luck.”
“Thanks.” The worst pause in the history of awkward silences. “Shall I help you back downstairs?”
It was a dismissal, and Sherlock took it as such. “No, thank you,” he said coolly, running his fingers along the bed until he found the wall. “I think I can manage.” And without another word, he strode from the room, mercifully managing not to collide with the doorframe.
He made straight for the living room, feeling about until he found his violin. Forty-seven seconds exactly; he was getting rather good at this. Most days the violin helped him think, but on days like this he was fervently glad of its ability to stop him from thinking, to keep his mind off of anything but the next note, the next bar, the next song. Because no matter what, he did not want to think about that hand in his, that comforting weight, the jumper that should have been frumpy but felt like home, and the fact that his entire body was screaming at him to get the hell back up those stairs and . . .
And he had no idea.