Resolutions

Chapter IV: Shall We Dance?

by Jordanna (librarie at jordanna.net)
(9/18/03)

General Disclaimer

Chapter IV: Shall We Dance?

The situation was both better and worse than Lestrade had expected.

She spent quite some time making the rounds with Holmes. Due to her own direct responsibility for him, he had been required to associate little with other Yard personnel, and had never met many of the inspectors and officials to whom she introduced him. Despite his gloomy predictions, he was well received -- and for all his objections to displaying his perceptive talents as a mere amusement, his vanity assured that he couldnít resist. Even Lestrade enjoyed his little demonstrations... for a while, at least.

"The nineteenth century or the twenty-second -- it makes no difference." Conversing with a cluster of some half-dozen partygoers, Holmes languidly folded his arms and assumed the air of a lecturing professor. "Iíve always maintained that most anyone, given the proper instruction and practice, could employ my methods. In this age of instant gratification, I fear that most people simply havenít the patience to observe and learn. Nonetheless, shall we experiment? Mrs. Brundy, kindly tell me what you learn about Constable Parnell here, just by looking at him."

Good old Holmes; he never turned off.

With a sigh, Lestrade tuned out Mrs. Brundyís observations about Constable Parnell, and turned to watch the assortment of mostly younger couples who were traipsing about on the dance floor. Snatches of music drifted through the noises of conversation, and she grimaced. Whoever was in charge of the sound system had a perverse love of turn-of-the-millennium pop music, resulting in an endless stream of whiny teenaged vocalists.

"Excellent, Mrs. Brundy!" Holmesí approving voice drew Lestradeís attention back to the scene playing out before her, and she turned to see him plucking at some short blond hairs on Constable Parnellís sleeve. "You have a good eye, Madam, to discern the Constable as a dog owner--a yellow Labrador retriever, if Iím not very much mistaken. I can further tell you that he has once had an injury to his upper left arm, that he is fond of playing cards, and that he is engaged to be married. My condolences, sir," he added, in a tone of sly humor.

Lestrade shifted her weight uncomfortably. "Excuse me, Holmes. Iím going for a drink."

He favored her with a glance and a salutory gesture, then launched into the explanation of his inferences which Mrs. Brundy, Constable Parnell, and the other onlookers were eagerly awaiting. Lestrade would have been just as interested on most days... but tonight, there was an unsettled feeling in her heart.

And Holmes thought heíd be the one to feel alone in the crowd.

She supposed the dress didnít mean a thing to him, after all. Of course not; why should it? In red velvet or body armor, she was still just Lestrade -- a Yardie with an attitude. Besides, it was she who had dragged him out to this affair, urged him to be social for a change. Now that he was finally acting human for once, to feel selfish about him would be unfair.

With a futile shrug, she made her way to the buffet table and picked up a glass from a tray. The champagne was synthetic, tasteless, purely ceremonial; not that alcohol was by any means a lost vice in the twenty-second century, but some special-interest group with deep pockets and political weight had pushed for New Scotland Yard to "set a good example" at their official functions.

Morosely sipping her drink, Lestrade watched Holmes from across the room. Whether or not he truly had as much disdain for society as he let on, he could hold court magnificently when he wanted to. He lectured his small knot of admirers with confidence, grace and charm, punctuating his remarks now and then with an energetic gesture or flourish. Even with his deceptive physical youth, there was a tremendous power and authority in his sheer presence.

Yet he was still... set apart. It didnít take perceptive powers such as his to sense his innate difference from other men. Beyond his old-fashioned clothes and way of speaking, it was something unmistakably written into his every movement and mannerism. He could cause that subtle distinctiveness to vanish whenever he assumed some other guise, but in his own extraordinary person, it was always there.

Lestrade wondered if Holmes would ever lose that ghost of the past, ever adapt completely to the present. It might make his life easier if he could -- and yet a part of her deeply hoped he never did.

If he changed, he wouldnít be...

Lestrade turned her gaze from him with a self-disgusted grunt. She was not going there.

Distractedly tracing the curve of her glass with a thumbnail, she looked around the room. There was Chief Inspector Greyson, schmoozing the higher-ups as usual. Mrs. Greyson had joined her usual giggly flock of older women. Inspector Hopkins was doggedly courting the daughter of Commissioner Hertford (and how she could wonder why guys hit on her when she dressed like that was beyond Lestrade). Then there was the isolated cluster of geeks from the Science division; probably chatting about work, since none of them had anything close to a social life. Psychotechs had a tendency to give normal people the creeps.

It was all so predictable, a carbon copy of the previous yearís party, and the dozen before that. Year in and year out, things never changed--not even when Lestrade walked into the room with a living legend at her side.

With a heavy sigh, she rolled her eyes toward the door... and immediately stifled a groan.

Horridly dressed in a rose-pink velvet dinner jacket and lavender-grey trousers, Jack Rizzo swaggered into the room, glancing around with bright furtive eyes. He was a short, portly, obnoxious man, with the most annoying voice Lestrade had ever heard. Eagerly he scanned the room, and she froze in place, hoping he wouldnít recognize her in her Victorian finery. No such luck; his gaze lighted upon her, his face lit up, and he made a beeline in her direction.

With a grimace Lestrade turned, hoping to disappear into the crowd -- but instead she ran squarely into the solid black line that was Sherlock Holmesí tall slim figure.

As testimony to his subtle strength, the impact didnít budge him. Lestrade bounced back in surprise, only to find her hands firmly captured by his in one quick, fluid motion.

"May I have this dance?" he murmured, and before she could form a thought, he had swept her off across the floor.

The next thing Lestrade knew, she was in his arms, dancing. After a few stumbles, she realized he wasnít even trying to match his steps to the late twentieth-century pop music that was playing. Once she tuned that out and focused solely on his lead, she found herself engaged in an elegant, leisurely step which might have predated Holmes himself by a hundred years.

As her bewilderment settled, a rush of warmth blossomed in Lestradeís heart, and she leaned her cheek on Holmesí shoulder with an impish smile. "I didnít know you could dance."

He uttered a grunt that was distinctly tinged with chagrin. "Useful skill for the rescue of damsels in distress. A story for another time." His head tilted, and he was apparently looking toward wherever Rizzo was. "You see, I was watching out for you."

Lestrade felt herself blush at the subtle remonstrance. "Thanks."

"Donít thank me. You owe me now. In order to come to your aid, I was forced to abandon a very instructive lesson in criminal behavior."

"In that case," Lestrade chuckled, "I think I was the one who rescued your audience from you."

A smile crept into Holmesí voice. "Oh, but Constable Parnell was the instructor, not me. I learned the man cheats at cards like a first-rate fiend."

"Hey, at least thatís one vice you canít complain weíve eliminated."

"There is hardly any shortage of vice in the world, my dear Lestrade. In fact, I find that it often runs deepest in the very heart of manís most cherished virtues."

With that grim observation, Holmes lapsed into silence, leaving Lestrade to read him in more subtle ways. She couldnít see his face while her head lay against his shoulder, but she could feel the alert tension in his muscles, the quiver of his long sensitive fingers against the back of her hand. She could smell him, too; he had a scent she had never quite been able to define. It was crisp, austere, and oddly comforting, rather like the smell of old books -- but fresh and keen instead of stale and ageworn. For a long time she had thought it was the Inverness, but now she had to concede that it was something about him.

Okay, so here I am at the ball in this fantasy of a dress, having a waltz with the man I used to read and dream about when I was a little girl. Lestrade smiled darkly. Way to go, Cinderella... except your prince turns back into a frog at midnight.

No fairytale endings.

Thatís the way it has to be.

Feeling a prick of conscience, Lestrade sighed and turned her head slightly. What seemed like a fairytale to her had once been Holmesí everyday reality. How ironic that he, the most dispassionate of souls, was now condemned to the hopelessly romantic status of living history -- even if, as he protested, his had not been the simpler, gentler age that so many imagined it to be.

With a will, Lestrade focused her thoughts on the present. "So what are we going to do about Rizzo?" she asked, shifting her posture in Holmesí diffident embrace.

Holmes adjusted his grip to accommodate her fidgeting. "Shall we leave? Youíve put in your appearance; Greyson ought to be satisfied."

"Actually... he wanted me to stay through midnight. You know how he is sometimes," Lestrade answered apologetically. "Itís partly your fault, anyway, for pushing off so much of the credit for our cases on me. He wouldnít care what I did if you werenít making me such a success."

"How inconvenient." Holmes sighed. "I had rather hoped we could dispense with this dreary business in time to join Watson and the Irregulars for the sub-orbital fireworks over the Thames."

The wistful remark nearly stopped Lestrade in her tracks. "You wanted to go see the fireworks?"

"Well, I never have seen plasma-based fireworks ignited in the upper atmosphere. And besides, incendiary devices can be rather useful. Iíd be most interested in talking to the pyrotechnicians about their art... but I suppose that would be entirely too much to hope for."

Feeling a renewed warmth in her heart, Lestrade smiled. "You never change, do you?"

"I try not to make a habit of it."

"Good."

For some reason, that remark stirred a reaction from Holmes. He almost paused in his previously unfaltering step, and Lestrade heard him draw breath to speak -- but at that moment a hand clamped onto her shoulder, pulling her away from Holmes.

With a swell of indignance, she turned on her heel to confront the bland, pudgy face of Jack Rizzo.

"Mind if I cut in?"

Okay, that does it. Lestrade pushed Rizzoís chubby hand from her shoulder, preparing to unleash her full fury on him -- but she was stopped by Holmes, who gave her elbow a light and discreet touch as he deftly stepped halfway between her and Rizzo.

"I beg your pardon," he said, in a tone that was at once both velvet and steel. "My understanding is that the lady has asked you to cease courting her, Mister Rizzo."

Rizzo squinted his watery eyes at Holmes, and a very unpleasant grin broke out on his face. "You sweet on the little Yardie?"

"No. But I am something which you are not: a gentleman."

Deep in her heart, Lestrade felt an intense pang of... something. She had no time to interpret the emotion, however, because Rizzo was undeterred.

"If you ainít hooked up with the Ďladyí, Iíd say itís none of your business." Rizzo turned back to Lestrade, reaching out to take her by the arm. "Just give me one dance and Iíll change your mi--"

On sheer reflex, Lestrade recoiled. There was a sound of tearing fabric, a black blur of sudden motion... and then, the soft thud of a fist striking home.

In the next instant, Lestrade stood braced for a fight, the sleeve of her dress badly torn at the seam. Yet she hardly noticed the damage; it was Holmes who dominated her awareness. He stood poised before her, his body rigid as an iron bar, looking down at the colorful heap on the floor that was Jack Rizzo.

The expression on Holmesí face was one Lestrade would remember to her dying day.

By this time they had become a spectacle to the entire room. From the corner of her eye, Lestrade perceived Greyson cutting a swath through the crowd toward them. She deliberately ignored him, her gaze focused on the profile of Holmesí face: the set of his jaw, the catlike, dangerous glitter in his eyes. There were things to be read there that she might never have a chance to see again.

Something momentous had just happened. Something more than worth the damage to her precious dress. Something that might be awful -- but was entirely wonderful.

"Where I come from," Holmes said quietly, "one treated a lady with respect."

Rizzo uttered a groan, and like a beached whale, his portly form slowly rolled upright. He raised his hand to the left side of his jaw, yammering through his fingers, "Itís broken -- itís broken!"

"You havenít so much as a bloody nose," Holmes snapped. "Get up."

For a brief moment, Rizzo sat frozen; then, abruptly, he bounced to his feet. "Iíll sue!"

At that moment Greyson broke through the surrounding gawkers. "Lestrade! What is going on here?"

"Assault!" Rizzo shrieked.

"Yeah -- on me." Lestrade fingered the tear in her sleeve. "Holmes just intervened on my behalf, sir. I think weíve got plenty of witnesses."

Greyson scowled at Lestrade, then leveled a suspicious glare on Rizzo.

"I donít intend to press charges," Lestrade added gruffly. "-- if Mister Rizzo doesnít."

Rizzo glanced furtively around at the staring, and mostly disapproving, faces of the onlookers. Without a word, he hunched his shoulders and slunk away toward the exit, still rubbing his jaw.

His departure removed the prospect of any further excitement, and the crowd promptly began to break up, to return to frittering away the minutes until midnight. The sudden collapse of what had appeared to be a crisis left Greyson mystified, and he rounded on his usual suspect: Sherlock Holmes.

"Youíd better leave off these Victorian lapses." Greyson shook his finger at the detective. "You might have got off lucky this time, but remember, weíve laws against dueling these days!"

As the Chief Inspector waddled away, Holmes let out a disgusted snort and began dusting off his lapels -- but a subtle catch in his movements aroused suspicion in Lestrade. Catching his wrist, she turned his hand over, and gasped at the sight of a raw and slightly bleeding scrape across his knuckles.

"Holmes!"

"Slight cut from Mister Rizzoís tooth. A trifle, Lestrade." Holmesí tone of voice was flat as he produced his handkerchief and began to wrap it around his hand.

"Are you kidding?" Lestrade retorted. "Who knows what kind of germs that scummy little rat has? Weíre calling Watson to take care of that."

Holmes scowled. "Oh, leave him be. Itís a mere scratch. If you must insist, Iíll patch it up myself."

"No, you wonít. I will." Lestrade unceremoniously took him by the arm. "Come on -- my place is closer."

On to Chapter 5!

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