The text, when it comes eleven hours later (Mary turns over and groans, "Manners, Sherlock," when the text alerts beeps on John's phone. It's one a.m.) says Baker Street, 6 p.m.. John reads through sleep-blurred eyes, then drops the phone and collapses back to bed.
He covers an eight-hour shift the next day, until five o'clock, and it's a long stream of minor maladies that blur into a headache around two. John watches the clock and keeps his wedding shoes under his desk all day. Mary stops in with her coat on, bag in hand, to plant a kiss on his cheek as she heads out for an evening with the girls.
It's drizzly, gray, and getting dark when John arrives at Baker Street. John can hear Mrs. Hudson singing along to Shakira from her flat. He grins and leaps up the stairs. On time. Pulls his shoes out from under his damp jacket.
"Sherlock?" John peers in the kitchen door entrance. Sherlock is nowhere to be seen, so John steps into the kitchen, drops his shoes on the table. "Got your…text…" Then his voice falters.
All of the furniture in the sitting room has been pushed aside, chairs on top of desks, tables tucked in corners or teetering on the sofa, massive piles of books in the archway to the kitchen, and the rug rolled up against the two desks, leaving a large empty stretch of wood floor in the middle of the room. On the floor, in what appears to be paint, is drawn an intricate set of footprints and arrows.
"John, good." Sherlock appears from down the corridor, wiping his hands on a towel. He's obviously just showered and changed, but John can see where he's missed a tell-tale streak of white paint on his neck.
"Sherlock, what is this?"
"Your dance. With Mary." His arms make a wide sweep, displaying his handiwork.
John shakes his head. "No. You didn't."
Sherlock walks in amongst the pattern on the floor. "Just a diagram, John."
John tries to take in the complex illustration on the floor. Can't. "Has Mrs. Hudson seen this?"
Sherlock looks at John quizzically, and nope, he obviously hasn't even considered her. "Why would she need to see it?"
John sighs and starts to remove his coat. "Great. So I'm here for a dance lesson and then an all-nighter helping you clean this up."
"The rug will cover it."
He ignores John and tosses his towel onto the pile of detritus stacked on the sofa. "As you practice, be aware that this floor is smaller than your actual dance floor by two meters on this side. Shouldn't affect you, but just in case."
"You start here," Sherlock stands on two of the footprints, clearly labeled Start, "then simply move in the pattern indicated by the arrows." He steps to the next footprint, marked 2, then 3.
"This is a pattern of forty-eight steps, which will take you on a full circuit of the dance floor and back to the start. Then you can repeat." Sherlock is holding his arms in position as he moves through the painted steps without looking.
"Sherlock, stop this. Stop." Voice louder than he means it to be.
Sherlock stops and looks attentively at John, his arms still held in position.
John's pulse is heavy in his throat. "Sherlock. This is a ridiculous way to learn how to dance."
Sherlock's expression shifts, just for a moment, looks almost pained. "It's not."
"No, Sherlock, it is."
Sherlock drops his arms. "This is how I learned."
Jesus. John closes his eyes, breathes through his nose, takes a moment to imagine what lies in wait for Sherlock's parents when they roll up the carpets someday. God. John allows himself to feel it for a moment, just a moment, how much he loves this madman.
"All right. Okay," John almost laughs, lets out a long breath, opens his eyes. "First things first. Have you slept?"
"I don't know. What time is it?"
"Six o'clock." Then John adds, "In the evening."
"So, this is what is going to happen." John pulls out his phone. "I'm calling in an order for take-away. You are going to put on your shoes and coat and go pick it up. Then you are going to sit where I can see you and eat some of it, so we'll get the walnut prawns because you love those. Then you are taking off your shoes and getting into your bed."
Sherlock starts to speak but John cuts him off. "In the meantime, I'll be out here, learning my steps." Sherlock looks at him then, eyebrows pinched, and John nods. "So get moving, I have a lot of studying to do."
Tony at the Chinese place picks up the phone then, so Sherlock is relegated to silently finding and putting on his shoes and coat. John watches the entire process as he orders, just to be sure.
"Extra soy," John calls out as Sherlock trots down the stairs. Then he stands on Start in his stocking feet.
The first try through Sherlock's diagram is endless, John turning left and right trying to see where he's to step next, and with which foot, tripping over himself and thankful that he is alone. The second try, and he starts to feel the one-two-three of it, the box step from the lead position, the going forward instead of back. Halfway through the third try, and he can hear Sherlock returning up the stairs, the familiar crinkle of the take-away bag. John soldiers on to the end of the pattern, even when he knows Sherlock is there in the kitchen, watching him.
"Well?" John says.
Sherlock is unpacking the food containers. "Well, what? Keep practicing."
"Fine. Start eating."
John keeps one eye, when he can, on Sherlock, who seems to be inhaling the container of walnut prawns. John keeps going.
A few minutes pass, Sherlock is leaning against the archway to the kitchen, arms crossed, just watching for a moment. He says, "Don't forget, shoulders down and back straight," and then he slips off down the corridor to his room and shuts the door.
John makes it to the end of the pattern once more, then stops and has a seat at the kitchen table for a few bites of sesame chicken. Sherlock has left him one prawn. John smiles. He texts Mary. With Sherlock. Might be quite late. She texts back in a few minutes, Be good. If the bad guy shoots, please duck.
Hours pass. John alternates between practicing the dance sequence and playing solitaire on his phone while nibbling at the remaining food. Each time he starts the dance again, he feels a little more confident, tries it once with his arms up in position, attempts not looking at his feet for several steps in a row. There's a tricky turn that Sherlock's included, so he spends some time just doing that sequence over and over again until he can look up and not miss a footprint. He gives himself a tempo (one-two-three) and tries the entire dance through (looking mostly at the clock, which reveals it is almost midnight) and he only falters twice. He smiles to himself, rubs his sore neck, and then looks up to see Sherlock, framed in the dark of the corridor, watching.
"Damn! Christ, don't do that," John says, clutching his chest. His heart. "How long have you been there?"
"You could have said."
Sherlock has obviously slept in his clothes. He's a rumpled mess, hair flattened on one side, shirt tails loose, belt still on. He shrugs. "Not a ridiculous way to learn, is it."
"No," John agrees. "It's not." Sherlock snorts, so John continues. "You, however, are ridiculous."
"Yes. Absolutely ridiculous." Sherlock frowns and John grins. "Will you try it once through with me? I think I can do it."
Sherlock doesn't move for a long moment, stands there looking thoughtfully at John from the darkness. Then, "Fine," and he strides out to stand by the Start.
"Great. Good." John walks over in front of him, stretching his shoulders and rubbing his hands together, letting out a deep breath. "Okay, yes. So." He gives his upper body one more good shake as Sherlock looks on, an amused little smirk on his face. "Shut up and raise your arms."
"I hope you don't talk to your bride like that," Sherlock remarks, raising one hand for John to hold, the other covering John's shoulder in warmth. John grabs on, trying not to think too hard, finds Sherlock's shoulder blade, lets his hand get a firm place there.
"All right. Okay." John meets Sherlock's eyes and takes one more settling breath. Sherlock has lined his feet up perfectly, so that their legs will slot together as they should when John starts them moving. So. There's that. "Okay. On my count. One-two-three…"
John can feel how stiff he is, how he doesn't quite have the feel of directing Sherlock through the steps, but Sherlock goes with him anyway, lets him try. They lurch around the floor, banging knees and toes, following the path of footprints.
Back to Start and John lets out a satisfied breath as he releases Sherlock from his grasp. "There."
"That was horrible." But Sherlock can't hide the smile in his eyes, and John sees it.
"I know, but I did it."
"You need hours more of practice."
"Yes, but I did it."
"Only in a manner of…"
"No. Stop. Fine. Hands back up, you arse." John grabs Sherlock and starts a count, "One-two-three, one-two-three," into another round of the steps, this time trying not to think at all, just do what he's practiced all night. Sherlock flails for a moment, then his hand finds John's shoulder again, and his other hand tightens in John's grip.
It’s better this time, John feels more in control, he can look up and meet Sherlock's (slightly shocked) gaze, even through the tricky turn bit, and it's good, it feels good. Bloody great.
They get to the end of the sequence, and John doesn't let go. "There."
Sherlock's hands don't move either. "Better."
Should have said something else, John realizes, because they are suddenly stranded in the middle of the floor, Sherlock's manic artwork surrounding them, breaths matching, quiet for several beats too long. John feels it and lets go just as Sherlock does the same.
John turns away, heads to the sofa and starts to fold the towel that's still lying there. "Good. So. It's late."
"Do you really have no plans to clean up this mess?"
"John, please. There's solvent in the kitchen. Don't you want the diagram for practice?"
John turns and faces Sherlock, who is still standing where John left him in the middle of the floor. "I've learned it. I won't forget. You're a bloody good teacher." Sherlock gives him a skeptical look, so John adds, "I've taken pictures with my phone."
Sherlock smiles and gazes down for a long moment at what John knows must be hours and hours of his detailed, painstaking work, then up at John. "Hands and knees then. I'll get the rubber gloves."
John bites at his lower lip and grins. "Glad Mrs. Hudson didn't overhear that one."
Sherlock doesn't laugh, just raises one eyebrow and stalks away to the kitchen. Something roils low in John's gut, and he's suddenly glad, very glad, that their next few hours of toxic paint removal have already been accounted for. He rolls up his sleeves, and follows.