Art Appreciation

by Mintaka
A soft scratching noise woke up Beth Lestrade. It sounded familiar but she couldn't place it. She opened her eyes and looked up. Holmes was standing at the entrance of her balcony, drawing something with one of those omnicolor styluses that artists loved. He glanced down at something on the concrete by her feet before returning to his sketch. She followed his gaze. It was her feet he'd been looking at. Herbare feet. Which were just as bare as the rest of her. Oh, zed.
One time, one time, she sunbathes in the buff and falls asleep, and Holmes has to come in and find her? She groaned inwardly. She should have known that even if there suddenly was a forest of house plants out on her balcony to shield her from hovercar view, she still shouldn't succumb to the temptation of the unusually warm London weather -- no matter how tired she was. She was never going to live this down. Holmes must be laughing his...but wait. He wasn't. He was drawing!
Holmes looked up from his pad again. His eyes scanned her as if checking his work. She blushed sienna everywhere.
He gave her a look of annoyance. "Don't move! I'm losing the light!"
She was so startled that she actually obeyed.
Holmes bent over the pad again, scratching frantically. She stared up at him, boggling. Holmes was actually in his shirtsleeves, for art's sake or the heat's. Circles of sweat radiated out from his armpits, which with modern fabrics took some serious exertion. His Inverness was in a heap on the floor next to him. His mind was obviously anywhere but on crime, much less housesitting or her now-humongous plants -- which had to be his fault, but how the heck did he manage... never mind. First things first. What had they taught her at the leadership seminar? Oh, yeah, define the situation.
"What in the nine zedding worlds do you think you're doing, Holmes?"
"Sketching," he said sharply, his eyes darting to her legs again. "Relax your calves a bit, will you?"
"And when did I volunteer to be a nude model?"
She got no answer but the sound of drawing.
"I asked you to housesit and water my plants while I was at that leadership seminar," she said, "not to paint my portrait or turn my balcony into a jungle!"
"Hm?" he said absently, and scraped the stylus along with tiny precise strokes. "The problem of the vanishing volunteers? Your colleagues in the Thames Valley caught the whole gang Thursday last."
"And what in the absolute zero did you do to my plants?"
Even distracted, he could answer that one. "A very simple solution which promotes plant growth, when combined with a bit of genetic engineering. I've been keeping in touch with the Cubbitts, and I believe that, combined with their low-temperature hydroponics, this technique will allow humanity to begin the true conquest of space. Just imagine -- fields of giant plants, producing crops to feed settlers and air to terraform Mars!"
It was an arresting vision of the future, but not quite enough to make her forget that she was stark nekkid. She must be just plain starkers, not to get up and start giving Holmes a piece of her mind. But she looked at the intent concentration on his face and knew it would be useless. He wouldn't see anything but the fact that his little still-life had started moving. There was no point even getting mad, since she doubted Holmes could prevent himself from falling into an art trance any more than he could stop his other bits o' weird. She'd save chewing him out until he could appreciate it. She started to compose a few choice phrases. Realizing that she'd skimped too much with the sungel on the back of one knee gave her inspiration.
Abruptly, Holmes thrust his stylus into his mouth and began chewing on it while muttering and grunting to himself. He kept looking back and forth between the sketchpad and herself. His eyes were distant. Finally he sighed and seemed to come back to himself. She could almost see the manic energy drain from him as he hit 'save' and powered down the stylus. He looked up, blinked a bit as if surprised to see her, then picked up his Inverness and tossed it at her. "You can move now. I'm done."
Beth caught the cape and held it against herself. At least it was some kind of cover. Only symbolically useful, at this point, but she'd take whatever she could get. As Holmes turned away to mutter darkly at his sketchpad, she put on the Inverness. It wasn't really wool but heat-adaptive fabric, so it was much cooler than it looked. It still felt rough and heavy around her naked body, and the pong of Holmes' sweat rose up around her like an aggressive and stinky ghost. She would have bitched about this, but her body got in her face and pointed out that it really did find everything about Holmes dead sexy. She grimaced at her body's terrible taste, excessive optimism, and total lack of professionalism. Then she scowled at that bloody seminar, which hadn't said one word on what to do if you're attracted to someone you're supervising. She hadn't found any unincriminating way to bring it up, either.
"Worthless!" Holmes looked at the sketchpad as if it were Moriarty. "A pitiful effort," he sneered. "Like something off a box of chocolates." But he clutched it tightly enough that she couldn't quite manage to get a good look over his shoulder.
She rolled her eyes. Absolutely typical. "If you're finished playing art critic, Holmes, maybe you'd like to actually listen to what I have to say about it."
He looked up warily. She unleashed the wrath of God.
"I don't believe you! Walk into my apartment, see I'm not exactly up to receiving visitors, and you don't leave, you start drawing me in the nude? What kind of weird zeddin' hentai are you? And when I wake up, instead of apologizing after you're done, you throw me a coat?" She stuck her finger in his face. "Do you know how many laws you've just broken? Huh? Do you? If I were anyone else, I'd've had you up on charges! And I guarantee you the magistrate wouldn't be impressed by any arguments that the Muse made you do it! Because Muses," she summed up, getting right into his face, "do not pay legal bills!"
"Yes, but it wasn't anyone else. Come now, Lestrade, do you really think...."
"Yes, I do! I think you're an idiot!"
"But I're a modern woman, surely you don't subscribe to some antiquated notion of body-consciousness. The Spartan women exercised in the nude, for example, and...."
"The Spartan women," Lestrade said grimly, "also let their husbands expose their babies, have sex with little boys, and base their entire economy on slaves. They are not my role models. And if you think that there's no difference between wearing pants and wearing nothing, or between bare arms and a bare butt, you have a lot to learn, buddy. Modern does not mean 'easy'!"
"And even if it did, you don't draw me naked without my permission! Do I make myself clear?"
"Good." She glanced at his sketchpad. "Now. Mind if I see?" Her tone made it clear that this was not a request.
"Yes!" Holmes scowled on her. "It's not ready."
"Too bad." She put out her hand for the sketchbook. Holmes made an exasperated noise through his teeth and slapped it into her hands. On its screen she saw greenery -- leaves and fronds depicted not with the accuracy of a photograph, but the better-than-life meticulousness of a 19th century biology sketch. Among the exotic flora slept a nude woman, drawn with the same total lack of romance. He had drawn her nightmarishly mussed hair with the same clinical exactness as the scar on her thigh she'd been too proud to have fixed; his hand was as unforgiving as her mirror. There was something very strange about seeing herself that way, and in lines instead of pixels. The objectiveness of it all made that sleeping woman feel like a stranger.
But there was something beyond mere drafting here. His coloring was precise but delicately shaded, and the hues drew attention to certain areas. The play of light and shadow over her own body made it seem to glow. Beyond the balcony garden, you could see just a sliver of the city, rising and dropping into infinity. Hovercar traffic was more suggested than seen. But that small glimpse was enough to make the garden seem to hang in space instead of being flat. It was Eden in New London, and she'd never seen anything so lovely. She would have been even more impressed if she hadn't been made its involuntary subject...but somehow she couldn't get up the steam for a decent tirade.
"This is good," she said grudgingly. "Really good."
She looked up in time to catch Holmes blinking at her again. "You like it?"
She shrugged uncomfortably. "Sorta. Yeah."
"It doesn't really show the sunlight on the leaves correctly. And look at the toes. All wrong! I don't know what I did, but...."
"It's still good." She held onto the sketchpad, afraid he'd delete the beautiful thing. "I didn't know you could draw."
He scowled. "I can't."
She shrugged. "Could've fooled me." She checked to make sure the picture was saved, then hit the previous file button. A view of Baker Street just before dawn. Back one more, and she saw the Serpentine. Watson. The Irregulars. Herself. She stared at the sketch. She was standing on the pavement, arguing with Watson about something...ah, that time a couple weeks back when Watson'd thought DeLuca'd done it. Wrong.
Back again. The view from Grayson's office window -- so Holmes hadn't been taking notes! She'd thought so -- then the next one was herself, laughing, with the stylus imitating charcoal.
She paged back further, while Holmes watched silently. Again and again she saw landscapes and crime scenes, Holmes' few friends and many odd acquaintances, and herself. After a while she started counting. It wasn't her imagination. She really was Holmes' favorite subject, comprising a good fifth of the sketchpad files. He had drawn her face from every angle, in every mood and lighting and her body in a great many action poses. It could have been creepy.
'Could' was the operative word. She'd taken a course on art profiling. These were entirely sane pictures -- maybe a little too exact and mannerly, but definitely not obsessive. Scary people made for scary art. This was ...truthful. She frowned. But not only that. There was some kind of emotion behind it all. She couldn't quite put her finger on it, but it was there.
"Art in the blood," she murmured, looking at the earliest sketches. "I don't care what you say; you're good."
"Not good enough."
She stared at him skeptically. "Says you. But I notice you go to the trouble of carrying this sketchpad around." She passed it back to him. "And you're going to send me a copy of that picture. Aren't you."
"And they say English doesn't have question particles expecting assent." She looked hard at him. He sighed. "Yes, yes. I'll send you the file this minute." He pressed a few buttons on the sketchpad, then looked up. "You're a curious sort of person. First you bawl me out for drawing you, then you demand a copy."
"You make me pissed off, not blind." She shrugged. "Always wanted to see what I looked like with my eyes closed. And anyway, you're the one who keeps drawing me. Any particular reason?"
He shrugged in turn. "I expect I'm trying to work something out."
She shook her head. "Well, just don't work anything out on me like you did on my poor plants. And that's another thing I don't remember giving permission for!" She threw her hands up in exasperation. "Gah! I'd kill you if it wouldn't upset Watson so much. Maybe you'd better go before I change my mind." She marched over to her 'front' door, opened it, and indicated the way out.
"I can't."
She glared at him. "Why not?"
"You're still wearing my Inverness," said Holmes reasonably.
She folded her arms, trying to look like she was still in a huff despite suddenly feeling both silly and very naked (under the cape, anyway). "Zed off. I'll give it back to you tomorrow."
"But I need it back today."
She stared at him. "No, you don't. It's summer. You'll get it back tomorrow, after it's washed. It stinks."
"But, Lestrade...."
"Zed, Holmes, what do you do when you lend out handkerchiefs, collect the snot?" she snarled, not worrying that a few of her neighbors were passing, and could hear.
"No, as a matter of fact," Holmes replied coolly. "But I do want my Inverness back. Now. It's mine. Besides, it has my wallet in it."
"I can give you your zedding wallet without...." Her anger rose up and choked her. "Grrr...fine! Here!" She whipped off the damned cape and slung it at Holmes' chest. "Happy?"
Only then did Beth feel a draft and her neighbors' eyes. Ohhhhhh, zed. They hadn't said anything at the seminar about times like this.
Then she saw the art trance in Holmes' eyes once again. "A Boadicea," he mused. "A bit fiercer statue than the one over by...." He stepped back to get a better look, which gave her neighbors one, too.
She wanted to scream. Instead, "No," she said. "Go," she said. Then she hit the lockpad and slid the door shut, leaving Holmes (and the neighbors) outside.
She slumped against the metal door. "If I wind up a page three girl," she asked the air, "do you think Grayson will let me kill him?"


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