Chapter I: A Damsel in Distress
It started the day after Christmas.
"Something troubling you, Lestrade?" Sherlock Holmes asked offhandedly, settling into the passenger seat of Inspector Beth Lestrade’s police cruiser. Even those lacking his observational brilliance could not have failed to read her put-out expression and short, stiff movements.
"No. Yes." Lestrade pressed the palms of her hands flat against the steering wheel, then abruptly turned to him, scowling as though he was the source of her irritation—which, granted, was often true, but not so in this case. "It’s that weasel, Jack Rizzo. He’s been all over me ever since I took him to traffic court after the Timble case."
Holmes quirked his lips. "Ah, yes. I remember the redoubtable Mister Rizzo."
Lestrade let out a huff. "That guy has been a nightmare! He called me up this morning, trying to get me to agree to have dinner with him."
"I presume you’ve tried politely declining his overtures."
"Holmes, this guy is deluded. He wouldn’t understand the word no if I—it punched him in the face," Lestrade quickly corrected. Then she dropped her head onto her hand. "He’s going to be at the Yard’s New Year’s party, and I just know he’s going to be putting over his slimy moves on me. If I had any choice, I wouldn’t even go, but Greyson expects me to be there."
"How on earth did Rizzo manage to be invited to a New Scotland Yard social function?"
"One word: money. The guy used his court date to make more connections than the Yard’s computer core." Lestrade sighed miserably, and a long moment of silence followed.
Then, slowly, Lestrade raised her head and looked at Holmes. Hard.
He swiftly raised a hand. "You’re about to ask me to attend this ‘party’ and run interference for you. I think not, Lestrade. Unlike Mister Rizzo, I have not been invited—no doubt because Chief Inspector Greyson loathes me. And even had I been, I would not be inclined to attend."
"Number one, Greyson does not loathe you. He just… doesn’t understand you."
"Nor do most people, but they don’t refer to me as a non-entity."
"Number two, you need to get out for a change. You’ve already spent Christmas cooped up in your sitting room with Watson. It’s time for you to rejoin the land of the living."
"That, thanks to you, I already have done," Holmes replied crisply. "I have no wish to spend an awkward evening entertaining your… less competent colleagues… with the charming party trick that is my analytical method. Furthermore, I suspect they would all just as soon avoid ‘the dead detective’ as well."
Lestrade turned away abruptly, staring straight ahead through the windshield. "Okay, okay. Forget I ever brought it up." With a sigh she brought the engine to life, and the hovercar smoothly lifted off from Baker Street, bound for New Scotland Yard.
Holmes spent the ride gazing out the window in silence, reconsidering his words.
In the nineteenth century, he had been a singular individual. In the twenty-second, he was positively an artifact—and acutely aware of it. That was more reason than ever for him to want isolation. He found no great loneliness in solitude; if he had, he certainly would not have adjusted so well to this new existence of his, two centuries distant from the world he had known.
Besides, he always had Watson for companionship… or at least, a most peculiar incarnation of Watson. He appreciated the irony of it. The methodic and dispassionate "calculating machine" once chronicled by the true John Watson had rediscovered his old friend in the form of a real machine.
A machine, even still, with more sensitivity to feelings than Holmes had ever indulged in.
Perhaps Lestrade was right. It might benefit him to sample a bit more of society than he had in his former lifetime. At the very least, it would be an interesting exercise for his skills of observation. Besides, Lestrade was in need of help, and he was ever mindful of his debt to her. His return to the world was an adventure he once might not have chosen for himself—but once thrust upon him, he found himself not unappreciative of that extraordinary gift.
Well, most of the time.
Holmes steepled his fingers, stared intently at their tips, and sighed elaborately. "Oh, very well."
Lestrade glanced over to smile at him, as unaffected by his sudden surrender as though she had expected it—which, of course, she had. She was a woman, after all.
"Great. I’ll pick you up at seven on New Year’s Eve."
The detective responded with a slight snort, and returned to his thoughts.
Chapter II: The Belle of the Ball
The days between the twenty-sixth and thirty-first of December were uneventful. Holmes was not engaged in any particular work on the day of New Year’s Eve, but the Irregulars had invited themselves to spend the afternoon with him, as Watson was taking them to see a sub-orbital fireworks display at midnight. The day passed pleasantly in their company, and they were still lingering in the sitting room when Holmes retired to dress for his evening out.
"You look spiffy, Mister Holmes," Deidre proclaimed brightly when Holmes returned to the room.
"I presume that to be a compliment," Holmes replied genially, leaning close to the mirror above the hearth to adjust his cravat of mulberry-colored silk. He had not compromised his customary anachronism for the sake of formality; his suit, sharp and black as the winter’s night beyond the frost-rimmed window panes, was as entirely Victorian in style as his Inverness coat. The Inverness, however, would tonight be traded for a long black cloak lined with white satin, which at the moment lay across the back of the armchair.
A brief dimming of the lights caused Deidre to glance up. "Inspector Lestrade must be here," she observed, clearly mindful of her past lesson from Holmes about the old wiring.
"And that is unmistakably her tread upon the stair," Holmes agreed as he strode over to the door. At the first knock from the outside, he threw it open.
Holmes stood for a brief moment, staring… and his right eyebrow arched slightly. For the undemonstrative detective, that subtle change of expression was equivalent to a full-voiced exclamation of surprise.
Elizabeth Lestrade looked as though she might have just stepped from Queen Victoria’s court.
The dress of scarlet velvet was as Victorian in design as Holmes’ own attire—a magnificent cloud of ruffles and lace, underpinned with sweeping crinoline skirts. The lines of Lestrade’s slim figure even suggested—Holmes’ eyebrow hiked up a bit further—an actual corset beneath the gold-buttoned bodice. Delicate lace gloves were set off by a ruby-and-pearl ring on the right middle finger, matching her necklace and earrings. Even her shoulder-length brown hair had been arranged in the finest Victorian fashion.
Suddenly conscious that he was staring, Holmes blinked and straightened his spine, his lips curving softly. "Why, there must be some mistake, Madam. Surely you are not Inspector Lestrade."
Lestrade let out a tomboyish snort of amusement, but something in her expression betrayed pleasure at the admiring tease. "Since you’re making the effort to drag yourself into my world for once, I thought it was only fair for me to try out yours." With that, she brushed past him and glided majestically into the room. Holmes turned to watch her, briefly letting his amazement show upon his face while her back was turned—much to the amusement of the Irregulars.
"I say!" Watson remarked, gaping at Lestrade as she swept past him to stand in the center of the room.
Beaming, the very much out-of-uniform Inspector gathered her skirts and curtseyed playfully. "So what do you think?"
Tennyson was the first to chirp out a comment on his keyboard, and Wiggins laughed. "He’s right—you do look like you just came from the same century he did," he offered, pointing to Holmes.
"Indeed." Watson smiled. "I daresay the two of you look perfectly matched!"
Feeling a blush begin to creep across his own pale cheeks, Holmes distracted himself with minutiae. "Quite so, Lestrade. You have it all down perfectly—except, of course, for the shoes." He casually indicated the bottom edge of her skirts, which just barely swept the wood floor, concealing her feet.
Flushing slightly herself, Lestrade lifted the edge of her skirts over her left foot, revealing a simple and very modern ladies’ shoe—one without high heels, Holmes observed, though he had already known that as well from an estimation of her height. "Okay, you caught me. I went for the rest of it, but there was no way I was going to wear those buttoned-up high heel things. So how’d you notice?"
"Your footsteps in the hallway," Holmes replied, his lips turning up wryly. "Even after two hundred years, I do remember what a lady’s steps are supposed to sound like."
In that remark, there was the subtlest of gibes against the changed role of Lestrade’s gender in the world. She perceived it without a doubt, but ignored it completely. "Well, we’d better get going."
Holmes picked up his cloak from the chair and fluidly drew it round his shoulders, turning as he did so to Watson. "Enjoy your evening with our young friends, Watson."
"And make sure they get home immediately after midnight," Lestrade added.
Watson nodded, but Deidre pulled a half-joking pout. "Listen to the two of you! Just like parents talking to the babysitter."
Holmes reddened again, needled by the various implications, not least of which concerned the fact that he was physically not much older than his teenaged informants. Nevertheless, there was a very old soul within his youthful body—something he never hesitated to make clear.
"Mind," he commanded, with a sternly raised finger. "Now, good night… and a happy New Year to you all."
Amid a chorus of similar wishes from the Irregulars and Watson, he turned and escorted Lestrade from the room. She laughed as they descended the steps.
"They really are great kids. I’m sorry if I don’t seem to appreciate that sometimes."
"I know your concerns are always in their best interests, my dear Lestrade," Holmes replied unaffectedly. "…And they can be rather trying now and again."
From the corner of his eye, he saw her smile in amusement, but she said nothing.
Chapter III: Fashionably Late
Beth Lestrade was feeling inordinately pleased with herself. For once, she had succeeded in surprising the unshakeable Sherlock Holmes. That feat alone was well worth the time and money it had cost her to obtain the perfect replica of a Victorian dress—not to mention the discomfort of wearing a corset.
Now she was glad she had submitted to wearing the zedded thing. Judging by the signals his eyebrow had been telegraphing, she knew Holmes was acutely conscious of that little detail.
Hey, she had been studying with history’s greatest master of observation.
As for Holmes himself, no matter how anachronistic his clothing was, Lestrade had decided that he looked spectacular in black. Most men as tall and thin as he was would have come off looking like a scarecrow, but somehow he wore it beautifully. He was built like a greyhound, all long limbs and lean muscle, and the color accentuated his sharp, trim lines in a most impressive way.
The New Year’s party was being held in the ballroom of a hotel not far from New Scotland Yard. Lestrade left her cruiser in the care of the droid who served as parking valet, then turned to Holmes as, with a courtly gesture, he offered her his arm.
"Thanks for the escort," Lestrade grinned, putting her arm through his.
Holmes chuckled. "On the contrary, you are escorting me. Remember, I wasn’t invited."
"I invited you. That’s close enough," Lestrade asserted with a fierce smile, hugging his arm a little tighter against her side. He didn’t seem to mind, and it occurred to her that she should observe whether the dress made a difference in the way he behaved toward her.
Together they strolled into the hotel—attracting some bemused double-takes along the way—and found the ballroom on the top floor, still fully decked out in its Christmas regalia of the week before. The room was full to bursting with Yardies of every rank, along with their spouses and other guests, variously engaged in conversing, dancing, or browsing the buffet.
It took all of three seconds for Chief Inspector Greyson to zero in on the newly arrived pair.
"Lestrade, what the devil are you wearing?" Looking out of place in a tuxedo, the stout, grey-haired man lumbered toward them. "Didn’t anyone tell you this was no bloomin’ masquerade party? Why didn’t you dress properly?"
Glancing down at her Victorian splendor, Lestrade bristled—but Holmes spoke up before she could unload both barrels at her chief. "Inspector Lestrade is properly dressed, sir. More so than any other woman in this room, I might add," he said coldly, glancing about with a frown at the unconservative fashions most of the feminine guests were sporting.
Greyson glanced offhandedly at Holmes, the way he might regard an angry dog on a leash. "I might have known you’d be in back of it. Oh, never mind." He waved a finger under the unflinching detective’s nose. "Just mind you don’t cause the Yard any embarrassments tonight—we’ve a lot of important guests, and I won’t stand for any of your antiquated wit."
"Indubitably," Holmes murmured, unruffled, and Lestrade stifled a laugh.
"Oh, Charles dear, there you are!" A middle-aged Englishwoman, as stout and grey-haired as Greyson and clad in an ill-fitting yellow dress, abruptly inserted herself into the moment. She latched rather possessively onto Greyson’s left arm, smiling sweetly through her generous layers of makeup. "Good evening, Inspector Lestrade. What a lovely dress you’re wearing. Is that a new style?"
Greyson made a noise like a bird being choked.
With a soaring sense of vindictive smugness, Lestrade beamed proudly. "Why, thank you, Mrs. Greyson. You haven’t met Sherlock Holmes, have you?" She gave her companion a casual gesture, inwardly hoping he was enjoying Greyson’s consternation as much as she was.
Holmes might as well have been reading her mind, because his… Victorian-ness… suddenly shot up about a dozen levels. He swept up Mrs. Greyson’s hand in his and bowed over it, in a stiflingly stately manner that was nothing short of a parody. Then glancing up into her small hazel eyes, he said in a low and husky voice, "Charmed, Madam."
Mrs. Greyson’s overly rouged cheeks darkened still further, and she giggled like a young girl. "Oh, Mister Holmes, I’m thrilled to meet you at last! I’ve heard so much about you… from Charles."
"Nothing good, I trust." Holmes was smirking—and Lestrade, while desperately maintaining a polite smile, was afraid she might die of suppressed laughter.
In the meantime, Greyson’s ruddy face had turned a fascinating shade of purple. He abruptly sucked in a breath and took his wife by the arm, prying her away from her hypnotized stare at Holmes. "Come along, my dear, you haven’t said hello to the Forsbys… I’ll deal with you two later," he grumbled over his shoulder at Lestrade and Holmes, as he began steering the missus toward a particularly raucous clutch of partygoers across the room.
"I hope we have the chance to chat later, Mister Holmes!" Mrs. Greyson managed to say before she was hustled off into the crowd.
Lestrade vaguely heard Holmes give a genteel reply, but she couldn’t quite make it out, because she was doubled over with laughter—or at least, bent as far as the corset would allow.
"I’m glad you’re amused," Holmes’ level voice remarked somewhere above her ear. She took a deep breath and straightened, hoping her tears of laughter had not damaged her rarely-worn and judiciously applied makeup.
"That was fantastic!" she exclaimed, squeezing his shoulder.
"That," he said flatly, producing a handkerchief and offering it to her, "was something I saw in a twentieth-century motion picture. Now what sort of idiot would sincerely act like that, in any century?"
Swallowing her laughter, Lestrade gave him a bemused look as she accepted the handkerchief. He frowned in response—but as she wiped her eyes, she could have sworn she saw a gleam in his.
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 couldn’t 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. "I’ve 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 haven’t 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. Brundy’s 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!" Holmes’ approving voice drew Lestrade’s attention back to the scene playing out before her, and she turned to see him plucking at some short blond hairs on Constable Parnell’s sleeve. "You have a good eye, Madam, to discern the Constable as a dog owner—a yellow Labrador retriever, if I’m 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. I’m 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 he’d be the one to feel alone in the crowd.
She supposed the dress didn’t 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 didn’t 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 wouldn’t 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 year’s 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.
Wih 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 wouldn’t 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 Holmes’ tall slim figure.
As testimony to his subtle strength, the impact didn’t 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 wasn’t 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 Lestrade’s heart, and she leaned her cheek on Holmes’ shoulder with an impish smile. "I didn’t 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."
"Don’t 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 Holmes’ 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 that’s one vice you can’t complain we’ve 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 man’s most cherished virtues."
With that grim observation, Holmes lapsed into silence, leaving Lestrade to read him in more subtle ways. She couldn’t 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.
That’s 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 Holmes’ 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 Holmes’ diffident embrace.
Holmes adjusted his grip to accommodate her fidgeting. "Shall we leave? You’ve 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. "It’s partly your fault, anyway, for pushing off so much of the credit for our cases on me. He wouldn’t care what I did if you weren’t 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. I’d 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."
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 Rizzo’s 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 ain’t hooked up with the ‘lady’, I’d say it’s none of your business." Rizzo turned back to Lestrade, reaching out to take her by the arm. "Just give me one dance and I’ll 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 Holmes’ 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 Holmes’ 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, "It’s broken—it’s broken!"
"You haven’t so much as a bloody nose," Holmes snapped. "Get up."
For a brief moment, Rizzo sat frozen; then, abruptly, he bounced to his feet. "I’ll 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 we’ve got plenty of witnesses."
Greyson scowled at Lestrade, then leveled a suspicious glare on Rizzo.
"I don’t intend to press charges," Lestrade added gruffly. "—If Mister Rizzo doesn’t."
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.
"You’d better leave off these Victorian lapses." Greyson shook his finger at the detective. "You might have got off lucky this time, but remember, we’ve 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.
"Slight cut from Mister Rizzo’s tooth. A trifle, Lestrade." Holmes’ 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? We’re calling Watson to take care of that."
Holmes scowled. "Oh, leave him be. It’s a mere scratch. If you must insist, I’ll patch it up myself."
"No you won’t. I will." Lestrade unceremoniously took him by the arm. "Come on—my place is closer."
Chapter V: Resolutions
Throughout the short ride back to Lestrade’s apartment, Holmes sat silent and tense in the passenger seat of the cruiser. Whatever the fit of Victorian temperament was that Jack Rizzo’s vile behavior had aroused in him, he was clearly having trouble shutting it down again, and such a failure to master himself had to irritate him to no end.
Lestrade was thoroughly intrigued.
Holmes had referred to her as a lady. A lady… practically with a capital L. It was the first time he had said it without some hint of sarcasm or cynicism. Perhaps seeing her in that dress really had triggered some inbred response in him, after all. Had she been in uniform, it was certain he would never have thrown that punch at Rizzo; he simply would have let her take care of herself. It took respect to do that—but it took an entirely different kind of respect to step up and defend a lady’s dignity. That Holmes could show regard for her as a woman as well as an Inspector was nothing less than a revelation.
When they arrived at Lestrade’s apartment, she went to dig up her first-aid kit, leaving Holmes brooding by the window. Somehow she almost expected to find him gone when she returned to the room, but he was still there, looking out over the city with a cold and impassive demeanor.
"Let’s see." Perching a hip on the windowsill, Lestrade set the open first-aid kit on the arm of a chair beside her, and took Holmes’ hand in hers. It remained limp in her grasp while she swabbed the cut with antiseptic and applied a daub of dermal adhesive—but she could feel the tension that was still running through him like an electric current.
As she capped the adhesive tube and carelessly dropped it back in the kit, she spoke at last, in a voice that was unintentionally small and quiet. "Thanks for looking out for me."
Holmes uttered a snort that might have been either dismissive or derisive. "Rizzo’s behavior was perfectly beastly… even in this day and age. For all the world’s social advances, Lestrade, I see that your gender has only lost more respect than it supposes to have gained."
It was a rather remarkable statement, coming from Holmes—and all the more surprising because it touched so closely on Lestrade’s own thoughts of earlier. Of course he was right, in a way. People had lamented the loss of chivalry for two hundred years; that was precisely why the era that bred him was so loftily regarded. Women had given up a great deal to be what they were today.
"We’ve got our compensations," Lestrade replied with a faint smile, absently winding a roll of gauze.
Holmes was critically examining the job Lestrade had done on his hand. "I suppose you’re content to think so. Still, in my day…" He paused, his lips assuming a rueful twist. "But then, I should stop using the term. The simple fact is that this is my day now, whatever its flaws—which I suppose are really no less or greater than those of the nineteenth century."
It felt suddenly surreal to be sitting there in the present, still dressed in the clothes of the past, as the clock ticked steadily toward the future on New Year’s Eve.
Holmes was gazing out again at the bright lights and ceaseless activity of New London. His reflected face in the windowpane was as pensive as Lestrade had ever seen it… and could it be that what she had just heard in his voice was sadness? Perhaps it was her imagination—or perhaps there was all too much truth in the uneasy thoughts that left her lying awake so often.
For Lestrade, there were emotional consequences to Holmes’ very life; her pride compelled her to keep them from him, but she had never denied them to herself. They went far beyond those occasional disillusioning conflicts with her childhood fantasies.
It was because of her that Holmes existed in the here and now—in a world which was, for all intents and purposes, alien to him. From the beginning he had astonished her with his quick study and his adeptness at coping with his environment… but there was always that shadow of the past in him. To preserve it in his nature was ultimately his own choice, and in that bewildering crossroads of time, Lestrade suddenly felt the weight of the question that haunted her on her worst nights.
"Holmes, do you ever… regret… being brought back?"
He turned from the window to give her a sharp, dubious frown.
"Only in moments of intense boredom," he replied with grim flippancy. "Fortunately, my association with you tends to make those extremely rare. Now whatever would make you ask such a question?"
Lestrade lowered her eyes and shrugged, uncertain how to put such vague doubts and fears into words. "I guess, sometimes… you just seem to miss the past so much."
To her surprise, he chuckled softly. "My dear Lestrade, I happen to be very old and set in my ways. Never take that as a lack of appreciation for my life."
She stared up at Holmes uncomfortably. Between them, his true age was something they both made light of, and that was how he appeared to have intended his remark—but in a moment that felt so out of place in time, it was a strangely jarring reminder.
Perhaps he felt it too, for as he gazed back at her, his expression of wry amusement softened. Abruptly he sat down on the chair beside the window and leaned toward her, hands clasped over his knee, a perfect picture of solemn sincerity.
"I had lived my lifetime, Lestrade. I lived it fully, and reasonably well… if not completely without regrets." Here he paused, giving her a melancholy smile that was like nothing she had ever seen in his face before… and she would have given anything to know what he was thinking.
He was silent for a moment, then continued, in a soft, thoughtful voice.
"But that lifetime ended, in the natural way of things. You should know better than anyone that you didn’t steal me away from my life. It was from death itself that you took me—and that I could not possibly regret. Perhaps sometimes I do miss the way of life I knew, but I respect that the world changes… even if I choose not to."
With that conclusion, he smiled gently at her, but she could only continue to stare at him. There had been a lightness in his words that completely belied the emotion beneath them, but she could feel it, and she knew that for the first time, he had given her a true glimpse of the heart that motivated his phenomenal mind. It was the closest he would ever come to saying thank you.
In Holmes’ first life, it had taken twenty years for John H. Watson to earn the same privilege.
And just what in the infinite vaccuum of space am I supposed to say to that?
Abruptly Holmes stood and turned back to the window, folding his hands behind his back. His voice took on a tone of humor once again. "And now, Lestrade, you can put out of your mind any other questions you may have about me. I’ve a very strict rule. I only bare my soul once in each lifetime."
The gentle tease acknowledged and dismissed the extraordinary intimacy of that moment all at once, firmly setting them back on the safe, familiar territory of mutual exasperation and cynical retorts.
Lestrade smiled, swallowing back the lump she suddenly realized was in her throat. "In that case, I guess I’ll just have to kill you, and have Professor Hargreaves bring you back again."
Holmes turned to give her a look of mock alarm. He drew a breath to reply—but before he could speak, the deep and distant chime of Big Ben rang out across the city, tolling midnight. The two detectives exchanged only a glance and a smile before turning to the window, to watch the brilliant splashes of color blossoming in the sky above the Thames.
"Looks like you got your fireworks after all," Lestrade mused softly.
Thoughtfulness lurked within Holmes’ sea-blue eyes as he answered, "Indeed I did."
For some time they stood side by side in comfortable silence, watching the explosions of light in the sky. Lestrade glanced briefly at Holmes and smiled, touching the tear in the sleeve of her dress. So maybe some fairytales weren’t perfect—but they were real after all, and that was something far better.
Real fairytales didn’t need happy endings, because they never ended.
"And what is your New Year’s resolution, Lestrade?"
Surprised by the sudden question, Lestrade glanced at Holmes. It was something she had been too busy to give a thought to that year, and she fumbled mentally for a moment.
"Oh… I don’t know. I guess maybe the same as last year—to keep a better lid on my temper." She ignored Holmes’ quiet chuckle, narrowing her eyes at him. "What’s yours?"
A faint smile played across Holmes’ lips, and he folded his arms, turning to watch the fireworks once more.
"If I should gather the courage to make good on my resolution, my dear Lestrade… you will most assuredly be the first to know."