Sherlock put down his test tube, as the approaching footsteps drew nearer. It only took him a second to analyse the gait, and another to determine who it was. The quick, firm, and periodic footsteps, with a military tinge to it spoke clearly of John Watson. He drew in a deep breath, and prepared himself for facing his old friend.
As John entered the flat, the all-too-familiar scent of 221B Baker Street hit him- the scent of chemicals, haywire shots at the wall, the odd cigarette, some weird smells that he was better not knowing about, and the shampoo Sherlock used. Was it bad missing all of it as much as he did? The atmosphere looked more than inviting. It was dimly lit by the afternoon sunlight, and the only other thing that glowed brightly was the lamp at the station Sherlock was working on. He composed himself for a moment, and then, levelling his voice greeted, “Hey Sherlock, you busy?”
Sherlock of course, had noticed him already, though he made a show of adjustiting a thing or two before replying, “No, no, of course not.” Never too busy for you John.
“Do sit down. I will be with you in a moment.”
He packed away the chemicals and test tubes for later use, as John busied himself by sitting on his old chair, and looking around. nothing had changed. Of course it hadn’t. Why did he assume his departure was important enough to produce any change?
Sherlock sat on his own chair and smiled at John, “How is Mary? How is your practice going? Good, I assume?” John just smiled back. “You know you don’t have to make small talk with me Sherlock, it’s okay.”
Sherlock feigned breathing out loudly, “Thank goodness! Honestly, I couldn’t care more.” “Shut up you git!” they laughed in unison, and something of the knot in Sherlock’s stomach seemed to have eased slightly.
“So john, what brings you to Baker Street?” why didn’t you come sooner?
“Actually, you know, with the wedding going on, you being best man and all that, there is a small favour that I wanted to ask.” His hand reached out to rub his neck, showing embarrassment.
“Of course, what favour?”
“You know, on the wedding day, the bride and groom dance, right? And the thing is, I am rubbish at it. so I was wondering…” he left the sentence with a shrug.
“If I could teach you how to.” Completed Sherlock. He smiled indulgently, “Yes, with your gait and manner of holding yourself, I did deduce you had two left feet.”
“So, will you?” John ignored the jibe.
“Very well. Now I suppose you would like to do a waltz. Now of course, there are many styles, some are more complicated, but with enough practice--” “Sherlock,” John cut him off, “We’re doing the final dance rehearsal tomorrow. I was hoping you would teach me something simple.”
Sherlock sighed. “Fine then. a slow waltz should suffice. I will show you some extra steps to add a flair to the classic waltz. Does that suit you?” “Definitely. Thanks Sherlock, you’re a life saver.”
“Any time. Okay then, let us begin. Now John, we’ll first practice without music, then with. Even by your intelligence we should be fine in a few attempts.” He stood up, and moved the chairs out of the way, and made enough space for them to waltz, provided that they didn’t move around very much. John, who was only too familiar with the insults that Sherlock made in passing, brushed off the attack on ‘his intelligence’ easily.
“Stand up then, John. Right in front of me.”
John stood in front of Sherlock, a slightly comical expression on his face.
“Now, place that hand on my waist. Remember, I am role playing the female counterpart in the waltz.” The image of Sherlock in a gown looked hilarious, and John laughed for a full minute as his mind went on to picture Sherlock dancing like a woman, his imagination stretching further as he pictured the detective doing a pirouette in a tutu. He expressed these thoughts in broken sentences between gasps.
“Sherlock- you dancing- in a gown- imagine you in a tutu. God that’s too much! Oh my god!”
To be honest,he might have overdone the laughing, seeing as it was irritating Sherlock no end, obvious from the deathly glare directed at him. He eventually stopped, and placed a hand on Sherlock's waist, albeit a little awkwardly.
“Okay, now I will place a hand on your shoulder. Now give me your other hand, John. Yes, like that.”
Sherlock interlocked their fingers, and tried to calm down his firing neurons. Holding their hands up, he stood a little straighter, as did John, and they both stood a little uncomfortably, not used to this position or proximity.
“Okay, now we have to move together, you comprehend? First to your left, then to your right. Yes. Like that. now, together, on the count of three, diagonally to your left, one feet at a time. “One, two three. Yes, you’re doing fine. Now, once again, a little towards the right, then diagonally to your left , then to your right, diagonally- ow!”
John had messed up the last bit, and stepped onto Sherlock’s foot. After many apologies and sheepish laughter, they tried the step again. this time John did it better, and only stumbled a little towards the ending. After a few more mess-ups, some stumbling, laughter, and teasing, they had reached a point where Sherlock thought it appropriate to advance to the next point in this waltz.
“Okay, John. Once you have completed this traditional part, you can proceed to the more, um, intimate part. There is not much of a difference, only our hands will be in a half-embrace.”
He removed his hand from john’s and placed it on his back instead, indicating john to do the same. As a result, they had to step closer, and Sherlock’s increased heart-rate didn’t aid him much, except make him worry that john would hear it. and then he would know everything. Then he would lose john. Something, that he could not bear to happen.
"Sherlock? What are you thinking about? ” the question shook him from his unhappy thoughts, and he focused onto the situation at hand.
“Nothing at all John, well, nothing of consequence.”
“Well then, sir, what must we do next?” John’s voice had the mock-sincerity of a pupil to his teacher.
Ignoring this, except for a condescending glare, Sherlock said, “Now, we just sway from side to side. This is not a very practical position at all, since very little dance can actually happen between two people. However, I believe that the proximity is a show of affection in such matters, and since you’re not much of a dancer, this should suit you just fine.” Saying this, he quickly relieved them of their position, noticing that he was enjoying it too much. His disastrous mind had also calculated their exact heights, and how john would fit perfectly in the crook of his neck, and also how comfortable he felt being held by john.
John however, was a little disappointed with the quick change of position. He had enjoyed, not that he would admit it even to himself, the warmth that their embrace had brought, and the protective stature of the detective as he held him.
Now came the moment that Sherlock most dreaded. He might have enjoyed it, but he did not trust himself to hold back. So he decided to get on with it quickly.
Without any preamble, he placed a hand on John’s waist, the other grabbing his hand, and dipped him low.
Sherlock bent forward too, so that their faces were only centimeters apart. “John,” his voice seemed to have dropped an octave, “This is the part where you kiss Mary.”
John had been taken by surprise when Sherlock had grabbed him by the waist and dipped him. Had he not known Sherlock, he would have thought the action to be one done in the spur of emotions. But then, it was Sherlock he was talking about. The man with no heart. he had probably done this to catch John’s attention, thinking his mind to be diverted, he reassured himself. However, his quickening heartbeat did not seem satisfied.
When Sherlock spoke, though, John's quickening heart-pace stopped for a second, and then resumed beating wildly. His voice had seemed low, husky even, and John found he liked it more than he should have. But as Sherlock said the last sentence, John stopped.
There was a tinge of hurt, jealously in it.
John waved away the thought, recognising it to be idiotic. His imagination was running wild, and he had to check it. He was startled out of his thoughts, as Sherlock suddenly dropped him, almost like he had been singed, and John would have fallen- except his army training kicked in. regaining his stance, he looked at Sherlock, who seemed horrified at what he had done.
“we’ll take a break”, he said awkwardly, “And then practice once with the music.” He hurriedly went to his own bedroom, leaving John standing there.
Sherlock closed the door of his room behind him, and leaned on it, sweating. “Sherlock, you have been naughty.” A sultry voice accompanied with trailing fingers on his face said. Irene stood in front of him, stark naked, like she always was.
“Go away.” Sherlock told her angrily. But she did not leave.
“Oh, Sherlock. Have you let your emotions slip away? couldn’t resist Johnny boy, could you? oh!” she gasped mockingly, “and he’s going to get married! How very unbecoming of you Sherlock. But you will think of something. After all, brainy is the new sexy.” She sat on top of his bed, arms wrapped around her chest, and smirking as though she knew something he didn't, vanished.
Another voice echoed, and Mycroft stepped from the shadows, “I understand you have put yourself in a very,” he paused as though searching for words, very well knowing he didn’t need to. “delicate predicament. Tsk-tsk, remember, brother mine, caring is not an advantage.” He ran a hand along the handle of his umbrella- a cold calculated gesture to lay emphasis on his statement, before smiling and vanished.
Sherlock stepped away from the door, and looked into the mirror. His reflection looked at him, before speaking. “Go handle the situation outside. John cannot know of your feelings, otherwise you can say goodbye to the friendship that you have just managed to save.”
It looked at him and shook its head, “There’s only so many times a boat can be repaired. If not the old wood, one of those patches will surely let water in.” Sherlock gulped, and took a deep breath. Surveying his.situation, he realized he had made no inappropriate gesture, and hadn't tried to make an advance on John. But he was almost sure John could read him emotions back there. Dilated pupils, hitched breath, pulse going crazy, and deepened voice. Could he have been any more obvious? He hoped John hadn’t read between the lines, and reassuring himself, looked into the mirror.
Correcting his appearance a bit, and collecting himself, he walked out of his room, with no suggestion of anything that had happened inside it.
John, waiting outside, was not sure what to make of the previous moment. For a minute he thought Sherlock was going to kiss him. then he realized that it was well- Sherlock. It was probably just him being weird. Even so, he could not help but think, what if Sherlock had closed the distance?
It was a wild, unthinkable thought. Feeling dazed with all the 'what-ifs', he imagined briefly what it would have been like to kiss Sherlock. He threw the thought out of his head the very next moment. Sherlock Holmes was his best friend, and best man. John had a wife. He was happy.
Exiting his room, Sherlock put on what he hoped was a convincing smile, and said to John, " let us begin dancing with the music, shall we?" John was startled out of his thoughts, and smiled back, “Absolutely!”
Sherlock was not sure if his deductions very accurate. John seemed to be slightly flustered, and if he was not mistaken, embarrassed at being caught thinking. But Sherlock was too hassled with his own thoughts, and did not delve into the matter any further. Instead he pulled out his phone.
“Say John, any slow songs you know?” Sherlock asked, looking into his mobile phone.
“Um, not really. It’s Mary that listens to those kind. she was obsessing about this one song, said it was cute. It was- ah! No. that wasn’t it.” he scrunched up his eyebrows, trying to remember.
Sherlock caught himself.
Thinking about how cute John looked when he scrunched up his eyebrows did not help his cause.
“Ah, yes! ‘Thinking Out Loud’ by Ed something-or-the-other.”
“Ed Sheeran, John.”
John was caught by surprise. “Hah! Didn’t put you down for a, you, know, romantic songs listening person.”
“I am not, John. But Mrs. Hudson seemed to have picked up the song from somewhere, and had been babbling to me how wonderful the song is, ‘God bless Ed! Such a wonderful song he’s written!’” Sherlock imitated her with a sour look.
Amused, John patted Sherlock on the back, “Thinking out loud it is, then.”
“Very well,” Sherlock huffed, looking for the song, and on finding it, set the phone on the table.
“Get into position, John.” John placed a hand on Sherlock’s waist, still fascinated on how slender and delicate it seemed placed in John’s hand, and placed the other in Sherlock’s hand. He looked up and was surprised to see the amount of softness in his eyes.
John grinned widely, one happy thought breaking through all else: Sherlock was looking at him.
‘When your lips don’t look like they used to before,”
‘And I cant sweep you off of your feet.’
They began their routine, and at first john concentrated on their feet.
‘Will your mouth still remember the taste of my love.’
'Will your eyes still smile from your cheeks.'
John fumbled a bit in the beginning, and almost tripped, which might have brought both of them to the ground, but Sherlock caught him by the waist in time, and jerked John towards him.
'Darling I will, be loving you till seventy,
'And baby my heart, could still fall as hard at twenty-three.'
John was going good now, and smiled at Sherlock at this progress. Sherlock smiled back, perhaps a little weakly.
'I am thinking about how..
'People fall in love in mysterious ways,
Maybe just the touch of a hand'
Sherlock subconsciously thought about the day they had met, and smiled. He remembered many things about that day, especially when he had heard John say 'brilliant' for the first time. Even then he wasn't sure how long John would have stayed. He had known many that didn't stay long. But John had. Long enough for them to be dancing in each other's arms.
And Sherlock was glad for it.
'So honey now, take me into your loving arms,
'Kiss me under the light of a thousand stars,
John thought of that night, when looking up, Sherlock had pointed towards the sky, sandwiched between buildings, that was filled with stars. 'It's beautiful, isn't it?' He had asked. It was one of those rare moments when Sherlock gave hints about his young self, before he decided to 'abandon' feelings- John has often wondered what Sherlock was like as a kid, he wished he had been there to see him.
'Take me into your loving arms,
'I'm thinking out loud
'Maybe we found love,
But where we are?'
Words vanished and just music flowed.
By this time both of them were comfortably into the rhythm, and save a fumble or two from John, they danced pretty well.
'When my hair's all gone and my memory fades,
Sherlock gestured John to move closer, signalling that the second part of the routine had begun.
'And the crowds don't remember my name,
'When my hands don't play strings the same way,
'I know you will still love me the same.'
They had moved into an almost embrace. For both of them, the music had faded into the background, still present, but not enough. In that moment, they just enjoyed the feeling of holding each other. Yes, their feelings weren’t platonic, yes, John was about to be married; but neither minded.
That instant was theirs, and they held it gently in their palms, balancing it carefully.
John felt the warmth emanating from Sherlock, and perhaps, could it be? A bit of affection. In Sherlock’s arms, he did feel warmth; but something else too. Safety. A kind of haven right there, and it felt strange. It was a feeling he hadn’t felt for a long time now. All this while, he had been protecting. On the war field, protecting his fellow soldiers, protecting Sherlock on his haywire adventures, protecting Mary.
Always protecting, never protected.
But in these moments, he was safe. Safe from the dangers of this world, of his future, the demons of his past—all seemed to dissipate. Perhaps they would never speak of this moment, but for now- all was well. Even so, john kept his sewn shut, for a childish thought had seized him—what if he opened his eyes, only to know it was a dream, or to know this moment was over? And so, once again, he refused to see; afraid he would see what he feared. Is it a tragedy then, that before his eyes stood all that he ever wanted?
Sherlock danced on, and for the first time, his mind was blank. Blank so that all he could see was John, the sun in John’s hair- making it glow, like a halo around his head. Like an angel- his angel. Sherlock’s angel. The angel, who had always been there for him; who watched over him, saved him, over and over and over again. but this frightened him, for this blankness, this feeling of completeness of just being in the moment was new to him. he quickly tried to summon the digits of pi. All that came was a random, floating thought: John’s head fits perfectly in the crook of my neck. You can confirm it quite easily. Just one step away.
Scared though he was, Sherlock kept his eyes wide open: for he didn’t want to blink—lots of things can happen in the blink of an eye. It was idiotic yes; sentimental, but he couldn’t care less. All he did care about was John. Now. His face, marked with lines of hardship, worry; the last few years, Sherlock noted with a slight dismay—had taken a toll on him. but all these lines, for now, were softened—with an expression Sherlock could not point put exactly—but it was surely an expression of calm, bliss. He had never seen it before.
And he couldn’t stop watching.
But sentiment is a mistake; for Sherlock did see, but not observe. And even if he did, he would not speak. What if he were wrong? what if everything he had with John would be gone forever, just because of a few words?
And so while one would not see, the other did not observe, and neither would speak.
As the last lines of the song resounded the room, they echoed their thoughts.
‘We found love, but where we are,
‘Baby we found love right where we are.
‘And we found love,
“‘Right where we are.’”
The other’s whisper was barely heard over their own.
And all good things and bad things alike- must come to an end. But when the song came to its final notes, they still didn’t let go. They lingered on for a second or two, till the silence became evident. Then, untangling themselves from each other, they stood looking at each other.
Both wondered what they should do next. Should they pretend as though the past hour didn’t occur, not acknowledge it- as if it were only a figment of their imagination. Or should they stand there, trying to make conversation, only to be stopped by the awkwardness between. But what they both feared most, was neither of these two outcomes.
What they feared, was the possibility of the other apologizing to them. Even so, it would have been an acknowledgement- acceptance of the fact that it had occurred. But it would be brushing it off, as though what had happened was a mistake- what had happened was far from being a mistake, both knew- and they wouldn’t bear it to be so. Sherlock, in his newly found state, was blank, and stood looking at John stupidly- if the word could ever have been used as an attribute for him.
John, who had taken this time of silence to decide what he would say next, smiled gently, and said, "Thanks Sherlock, for the dance. And. Everything."
Then with a slightly humorous tone, "It was great dancing with you."
Both of them were surprised to hear the tinge of sincerity in it. He then looked around a flat, and inhaled, as if taking in the smell of it and preserving it on his mind. Then, with a lingering pat on Sherlock's shoulder he left.
Both of them were thankful for what he had done.
They never spoke of it again for a long time.
That day they both would remember till the very end.
For Sherlock, it would be a memory preserved inside a CD of the song in a drawer in his mind palace, in the wing that was John’s. Where one could find everything about him, from the feel of his ridiculous jumpers, to the different colours his hair turned to in bright sunlight (light golden strands that seemed to be emitting a light of their own), the dimmer afternoon sunlight ( a brownish golden), and the darkness of the night( an ocher). There was, of course, another colour, labelled ‘the colour on that day.’ (the most beautiful golden he had ever seen).
He would play the CD whenever he felt low, along with the other things: the sound of John saying his name- John would always say it with a distinct warmth, making it seem like an endearment-, the recording of everything that had occurred on the day they met.
There were, of course, other things that he liked to remember when he was feeling low- usually when he was bored and had used, always feeling alittle guilty, but letting the want take control. He would remember Redbeard, and imagine himself playing with the dog. Some days he would remember Victor- but only for a few moments- before banishing him to a corner of crumbling walls.
For John, it would be a guilty bliss, for he remembered the moment often, but not always at appropriate times. For isn’t it a crime to think of someone- the way they held you- when you lay in another’s arms?
But often that memory felt like a sanctuary. A recollection of absolute safety; a haven in times of need. He knew that day, that he left the flat with no regret- he could not bring himself to feel anything but happiness. He never thought much about it, afraid that he would realize what he had felt- that nameless emotion- in the detective’s arms that afternoon. Afraid of his own feelings- of everything they were, and everything they could be. And so it was a memory meant to only be felt, in times when one is in the bliss of solitude- like the song that you only played when no one was about- not because you were ashamed of liking it, but because you wanted to keep it all to yourself. It was selfish, yes, but then isn’t every kind of love?
And so they left each other in that moment- not as friends, but neither as lovers- simply as they always had been: Sherlock Holmes and John Watson.