John frowned at the schedule because it was suddenly claiming that he had plans for that evening (right this moment, in fact) which it hadn’t done just that morning when he had checked it and it had instructed him to hand Sherlock his phone, a pickaxe and if he could find one, (a very rare qualification where his flatmate was concerned) a rubber stamp bearing the legend ‘Excellent!’. It had taken a stab at relating these instructions to their participation in the Production by tacking on the statement: Grandmother requested I ring her.
Even more alarming was the fact that the late-breaking activity was labelled: Dance Lesson. His first instinct was to go directly upstairs and pack a few things into a bag. A weekend in Dublin seemed an ‘Excellent!’ alternative. This action was forestalled by the ringing of the doorbell.
The newly arrived visitor proved to be Sarah.
She bore a party plate from Wasabi.
“Hi. Um – don’t take this the wrong way because I’m always happy to see you, but what are you doing here? And why have you brought food?”
“Sherlock’s text said to wear comfortable shoes and bring snacks. He really should give people more notice if he wants free food.”
“Sherlock texted you?”
She smiled and her eyes sparkled as she pushed past him into the hall. He automatically shut the door behind her. “As attractive as you are John, I didn’t spontaneously decide to drop by and rekindle our romance over sashimi. I’m intelligent enough to know that when Sherlock Holmes decides munchies are in order whatever follows is bound to be entertaining.” She paused on the stairs and turned to grin down at him. “Possibly explosive, of course, but entertaining nonetheless. I’ll just put this in the fridge for now.”
“Oh, um, careful of the…” John trailed off because he wasn’t entirely sure what was currently in the fridge. “Erm, everything, I suppose,” he finally decided on.
Before he had time to start up after her, the bell rang again.
It was Greg.
“I brought beer.”
“Oh thank God. Come on in.”
Next Mrs Hudson came up bearing a plate of ginger biscuits.
“Isn’t this nice, I was so surprised when Sherlock said he’d decided to throw a little party!”
And then Molly arrived.
“John, hello! I’ve brought Doritos and dips, I hope that’s all right. Sherlock didn’t really give us much notice.”
Close on her heels a non-descript black car glided to a halt at the kerb in front of 221. The usual suspects emerged a moment later.
“Good evening, John. Lovely weather we’re having.”
*tappetty tappetty tappetty*
John surveyed the (now quite full) sitting room of the flat with bemusement as he sipped a beer. Mycroft and Not Anthea seemed to have somehow magicked up a half dozen bottles of wine and a profusion of Chinese takeaway when John’s back had been turned, so everyone was eating and drinking and chatting; basically they were all having a jolly good time. None of them seemed terribly surprised or disappointed that Sherlock wasn’t actually in attendance at the impromptu party to which he had invited all of them.
To be fair, John wasn’t all that surprised either. Aside from the fact he was already plotting how best to get his flatmate to at least help with the washing up which now lay ahead, he was simply curious about when Sherlock was going to show up and what was going to happen when he did. This all somehow had to be connected to the Dance Lesson which had affixed itself to the schedule so unexpectedly. Despite Sherlock’s occasional abuse of it the schedule was always strictly adhered to when it came to matters which were actually Production-related. Why his Beatrice wanted an audience for the lesson, or alternately planned to give all their friends a group lesson was the real mystery.
Things got a bit noisy once there was more conversing than eating going on, but John couldn’t quite settle so he drifted from one conversation to another. Despite the volume he easily detected the sounds of yet more people arriving downstairs; there was quite a lot of fuss and bother drifting up the stairs. John decided against adding to it by offering to assist but he did position himself in such a way that he had a good view of the doorway.
When they arrived, they did so in a whirlwind of hats and light coats, chatter in both French and English, some sort of equipment, and all the elegant drama which just seemed to enjoy trailing after members of the Holmes family.
From the midst of all this emerged tiny, fragile-seeming Grandmother Holmes. “My Benedick! Have you missed us terribly? You really should visit more often.”
John found himself being tugged down for a kiss on his cheek and a firm, no-nonsense but comforting embrace.
Grandmere was right on her heels, she squeezed him to her and whispered in his ear, “Sherlock chattered on for the entire journey. I’ve never seen him so happy.” She only released him after she had bestowed twin kisses on his cheeks and he was blushing a fiery red.
Claude laughed heartily and pulled him into a third hug. “Don’t let her fluster you so soon, John. We have a long way to go this evening.” He then apparently caught sight of John’s portrait (which, after its momentous arrival, had been propped in the corner of the room and mostly forgotten about) and frowned. He turned back to his nephew. “Sherlock, why haven’t you hung the painting?”
Sherlock, who was attempting to do something with (or possibly to) whatever equipment had been brought along (which John could now see included a keyboard, Lord help him) and was looking put out over the fact that it was resisting his efforts quite strenuously. His response was accordingly tetchy. “What difference does it make? You can see it can’t you?”
“Paintings are not meant to be propped against walls, Sherlock,” was the firm response. “And what’s more, I sent it ready to be hung. All you need do is put a pair of nails in the wall; nothing could be easier. John, I’ll need a hammer.”
“Erm …” Locating any particular object within the confines of 221B could be a real study in frustration. Sherlock was better at it than John; he seemed to have some sort of radar or sixth sense which, in some instances, allowed him to hover uncertainly for a minute or two before homing in on the fact that the remote control had somehow ended up in the toaster oven again.
Mrs Hudson, who was keenly aware of her boys’ propensity to scatter their belongings to the winds on a regular basis, tutted just a touch chidingly. “Never mind, John, I’ll just fetch mine. It will be much quicker.”
Grateful for the save, John introduced her to Claude and the pair of them set off down the stairs together. Sherlock’s grandmothers had inserted themselves seamlessly into the rest of the party. Grandmere was sipping a glass of red wine and patting Molly’s knee whilst Grandmother was regaling Greg with a story accompanied by grand arm gestures. From the look on Greg’s face John could tell that he hadn’t fully believed his tale of the Holmes family until just now.
“John.” He turned to Sarah, who sounded amused. He found her crouched down to put herself at eye-level with Portrait John. “This is fabulous. I want to tease you about it but I really just like it a lot; it’s a wonderful likeness.”
He blushed again. “Thanks. It’s a little odd; I mean, who has their portrait painted these days?”
She smiled up at him. “Because the boys of Baker Street are so famously conventional?”
John reached for her hand and tugged her to standing. “Ha, ha. I seem to recall you charging a man in an attempt to drive a spear through him once upon a time. And on our first date!” he added in a scandalised tone. “You were lucky to get a second after that.”
“If you could find an actually murderous girlfriend Sherlock might find her interesting enough to share you with her.”
“Never going to happen. I’ve basically accepted it. I’m happy enough with the mad bastard as things stand.”
From across the room, Sherlock announced, “The keyboard is now in working order.”
“And it’s a good thing too, since I think we’re about to dance around our sitting room for the amusement of most of our friends and relatives.”
Sarah’s eyebrows shot up and she grinned an evil grin. “Oh, I knew this was going to be good. Don’t tease me; is that really why we’re here?”
John sighed. “I’m fairly certain, yes. You’re a horrible person, by the way,” he added mildly.
Her grin widened. “Possibly this is even better than the trip to Waitrose.”
He considered that. “The Waitrose thing actually turned out really well in the end. The online shopping has been terrific.” He frowned a little. “With the exception of the caviar incident.” After another pause for thought he added, “And that time we ended up with all the cheese.”
“You can never have too much cheese.”
“After eating my way through approximately 87 pounds of gouda I have to disagree with you on that. At least if it hadn’t been one huge round we could have tried to give some of it away.”
“John, you cannot be serious. Don’t you audit his orders?”
He shrugged. “There isn’t much point. The time he ordered 400 bottles of washing up liquid he genuinely needed them for a case. The cheese was a typo. I don’t have time to run through every list; besides, Mrs H adds to them sometimes.”
John became aware that there was some sort of lively debate going on over in the direction of the now-functional (oh, hurrah!) keyboard. After another moment it culminated in Greg cupping his hands round his mouth and announcing to the room at large, “Oi! We’re moving to the Yard! Take your things with you if you don’t want them experimented on.”
“All right, John, where shall we put it? If you want it in here something will have to come down.”
Claude had returned armed with Mrs Hudson’s hammer.
“Oh. Um…huh. I hadn’t really thought.” And suddenly John got a very evil idea. Accordingly, he grinned evilly. He hefted one end of the portrait and Claude took hold of the other. “Right this way. I’m going to look smashing hanging over Sherlock’s bed.”
One quick portrait-hanging later, Sherlock poked his head into his bedroom to find John and Claude apparently admiring his headboard. “There you are. Come along, everyone else is already on the way.” He popped out, then realised something quite different had actually been going on. He swiftly moved his entire self back into the room and set his hands on his hips. “When did we make this decorating choice?”
John, the cheeky bastard, just grinned at him evilly. “Don’t whinge, I’m much more decorative than the Elements.”
Sherlock rolled his eyes to indicate how put upon he was and then made shooing movements toward the door. “Come on, they’ll start without us if we don’t hurry.”
“Why the change of venue?”
“We don’t have enough floor space to accommodate the choreography.”
“Ah, I see. Well, I’m really chuffed you’re providing me with the opportunity to caper about in front of all my friends not just in our sitting room, but actually through the hallowed halls of New Scotland Yard.”
“Don’t be silly. We’ll use the briefing room.”
Grandmother rapped the floor smartly with her walking stick and everyone fell silent. She surveyed her students with pleasure and smiled upon them. “Strike up, pipers!” she declaimed. Grandmere cheekily trilled a scale in response. “Benedick calls for the dancing to begin and so we shall end our Production with dancing to celebrate the union of our lovers. Tonight I will teach you the choreography so that our Benedick and Beatrice can practice on their own and will be ready to rehearse with the full cast when they arrive in December.”
She whipped from her reticule a pad of sticky notes and a jumbo felt tip pen. She wrote ‘Benedick’ upon the first sheet, pulled it off, strode over to John, and labelled him. She then proceeded to do the same all down the line of her dancers.
John looked down with bemusement at the sticky note over his heart. He glanced at Sherlock next to him, now neatly labelled ‘Beatrice’. His friend was standing at ease and his eyes were trained stoically forward. John couldn’t help it. He snickered.
Grandmother turned imperiously and looked at him.
He immediately felt two inches tall. He also remembered that this was the woman who had put out a flame with the power of her mind the first time he had met her.
John stood at ease and stared stoically forward.
“Now, seeing the character names will help Sherlock and John because when they get to rehearsals they will know which character they are meant to be dancing with at each change.”
She paused as she labelled Sarah ‘Margaret’, then went on, “We will be performing a traditional English Country Dance so while you will each dance with your partner you will also be interacting with all of the other dancers. You will all then break off and waltz with your partner. Sherlock, love,” her tone changed, shifting from affectionate toward deliberately casual but with an underlying something – perhaps a steel girder? “You will of course be aware that the waltz is not precisely Period. Certain Elements may choose to approach you in an effort to eliminate this flourish I have chosen to add. Inform any Elements who do so that they are welcome to take up the argument with me. They are not allowed to harass any of my actors. Is this understood?”
“Lovely. Now then, you’re all familiar with the basic principles of course, take your partner’s hand and step, not forgetting to give weight as you move together. Let’s set to work learning the choreography, shall we?”
So John found himself dancing around not his and Sherlock’s sitting room, and not for the amusement of his friends (well, okay, there was some amusement involved when they got around to refreshing their waltzing skills and the first time John and Sherlock assumed dance position John neglected to remind his partner aloud that even though he was not yet wearing a dress he should let Benedick lead thank you very much) but dancing around the briefing room at New Scotland Yard with all of his friends to the accompaniment of sprightly music and much merry laughter all round.
The funny thing was, holding Sherlock’s hand and each of them giving the other weight as they moved through the dance, maintaining a solid, live, speaking connection even though that was the sole point at which they were joined, wasn’t all that different from all the other things they did together on a daily basis. The language they had developed between them, the code words and the minute quirk of a brow or tilt of a head when there was a need for silence, the hum that was Sherlock in the flat but not within sight, the turning of a page or tappety-tap which was John; they were always connected, they were always supporting each other; they were always giving each other weight as they moved through the dance.