"I'm afraid that is impossible." Sherlock waited for the reply. "I do not involve myself with..." John watched as Sherlock frowned and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Is there nothing else I can do instead?" Sherlock sighed. "Very well," was his final answer as he hung up and threw his mobile on the space next to him on the couch. John said nothing but looked expectantly at Sherlock. "Count Benini. He refuses to be of any help to us."
"Doesn't he understand that we are trying to catch a thief?" John asked.
"Oh John, you and your morals. Benini is a Count, therefore reputation and power is the most important thing in his life. He does not care whether we catch a petty thief or not."
"This thief killed someone that caught him in the act! How can he..." John sighed, he couldn't understand how some people could value life at such a low price. "All we want is a list of names that were at his party last month."
"Yes but these people are high up on the social calendar, including the Italian President and his wife. If it was to be discovered that Benini had given those names over to a detective, it would give the appearance that he thought one of them was a thief and a murderer, which of course one of them is, but the rest aren't. He will not destroy his reputation like that." Sherlock clenched his fist. "Unless..."
"Unless what?" John shifted in his seat, intrigued. Sherlock's lip twitched in disgust at the thought of it.
"Unless I agree to go to his ball."
"Every year Benini has a masked ball at one of his mansions. He has invited me every year since I helped him out with a... small problem with his staff."
"A masked ball? Do people actually have those?"
"Regrettably yes." Sherlock was staring into the very corner of the room where the wallpaper had begun to peel back ever so slightly.
"Well you have to go!" John exclaimed. Sherlock said nothing. "We are catching a killer here!" Sherlock's eyes darted to John's.
"I will not be made to dress up in silly clothing and prance around pretending to be someone I am not!"
"Sherlock, we are trying to catch a killer!" John spoke slowly, emphasising every word as if to drill them into Sherlock's mind. Sherlock's lips curled and his eyes compressed, squinting, again he was focusing on the peeling wallpaper. "You cannot just drop this case because of your stupid pride!" John picked up Sherlock's mobile and rammed it in Sherlock's face. "Call him and tell him you will be there." Sherlock shot a dark glance at John, who then laughed. "You already have, haven't you?" John burst out laughing as the thought of Sherlock dressed up in lavish clothing was so peculiar! Barely able to hold himself, John collapsed into his chair holding his stomach, which was hurting due to all the laughing. As he took a moment to catch his breath Sherlock said,
"I don't know what you're laughing at, you're coming with me!"
"Mr. Holmes, how good to see you!" A middle aged man, with tanned skin and jet black hair grabbed Sherlock by the hand and shook it enthusiastically. His italian accent was thick but he spoke very good english.
"Count Benini. This is my colleague Dr. Watson." Sherlock said coldly, pointing in the direction of John. The man bowed his head in the direction of John as a recognition of the introduction as he said,
"Come now Sherlock, do not be like that! I should be the one unhappy with you as you denied my invitation so many times! Do you not want your list of names?" Sherlock attempted a smile. "That is better. Now, my good butler will take you to your rooms, get yourself ready and be back down here for the ball at 7 o'clock." Out of nowhere a short stout gentleman in a typical butler attire appeared. He did not speak but the look he gave them told them they they were to follow him. He stopped outside a wooden carved door, opening it and gestured for Sherlock to enter. John was about to follow when the butler placed his hand on John's chest to stop him. He then took a few steps back and opened the door to the adjacent room.
"Thank you," John muttered as he entered what he assumed to be his room. The moment the butler was out of sight John darted out of his own room and into Sherlock's, who was standing over a box looking mortified. "Sherlock? What is it?"
"I very much doubted that you came prepared," purred a deep italian voice from the doorway. Both John and Sherlock spun round in surprise.
"I cannot...I will not wear THAT!"
"Oh yes you will my friend." Benini was not phased by Sherlock's burning eyes. "If I am going to destroy my reputation to help you I am going to enjoy it." A small chuckle passed through his lips as Sherlock's shoulders drooped as he knew there was nothing he could do. "Don't worry Dr. Watson, there is one for you too. Now emaffrettatevi/em!" And with that he glided out of the room.
Sherlock was still looking at the open door where Benini had been standing, fuming. John could almost see the smoke coming out of his ears! John took a step forward, he wanted to see what Sherlock was so angry about but Sherlock blocked his path.
"I suppose we should get ready." John watched Sherlock for a moment but decided to back off and retreat to his own room. Just as Benini had said, there was a long white box waiting for him on his four poster bed. John walked over to it and slowly lifted the lid. Inside was an expensive looking tuxedo, shirt, blazer, the works! John picked it up and held it against himself.
"So I guess this is my costume then!" He murmured to himself. As he took out the rest of the clothing in the box he noticed something else in there that he had not seen. A mask! John picked it up and examined it. It was gold, with a raised swirling pattern around the eyes. He put it on and looked at himself in the full length mirror in the room. It covered the top half of his face, leaving only his mouth and chin exposed. The mask enhanced the blue of his eyes, the swirls framing them, drawing you to them. John was quite pleased with it and so he started to change his clothes and get ready for the ball.
At quarter to 7 John was standing in the corridor rocking back and forth on his feet impatiently. Sherlock was taking far too long, maybe he should knock again? But before he even had the chance to finish thinking that sentence, Sherlock's bedroom door opened. John's jaw dropped. In the doorway stood Sherlock, looking very uncomfortable, his eyes angry and embarrassed at what he was wearing. But John did not notice that. His eyes were looking across Sherlock's body at the costume he was wearing. The suit he was wearing was a dark plum colour and made of velvet which made Sherlock's skin appear paler than ever. He was also wearing a silk neckerchief the same colour. The gold waistcoat he was wearing had embroidery on it that swirled and twisted all over his body. The blazer was buttoned at Sherlock's belly button area, showing just how thin John's flatmate was. And the mask, it was the Phantom Of The Opera mask, covering the left side of his face. Sherlock's messy hair flopped over the top of it, Sherlock brushed it to the side and then clenched his fists as he said,
"Well, shall we?"
At the bottom of the circular staircase Benini was waiting for his two special guests. He frowned as Sherlock approached him.
"Where is the cape?"
"A cape? There was a cape to go with this?" John said, looking between Benini and Sherlock.
"I am dressed in this, surely that is enough?" His voice was hard and cold but Benini just laughed.
"Fine, I will let you off the hook as you englishmen say. I am content to see you dressed in that, I wasn't sure if you were going to do it!"
"I want to catch a murderer." Benini grabbed Sherlock by the arm and hushed him.
"You will not speak of that here. You will get your names." He then returned to his normal chirpy self. "Now, enjoy the evening!" He opened the large double doors behind him and ushered Sherlock and John through them into a large ballroom. John caught his breath as he took it all in. There were six chandeliers on the ceiling, which was covered in paintings of cherubs on clouds in the sky, and an old naked man in the centre, presumably God, watching over everyone in the room. There were carvings on the walls and the wooden floor was shining, it must have been waxed recently. There were tables around the edge of the room with white table cloths and vases of flowers in the centre. John looked at Sherlock, wanting to express how this room was the most beautiful room he had ever seen, but the words died on his lips as he saw the expression on Sherlock's face.
"You can't hate it that much!" John exclaimed, knowing what the detective was thinking.
"I can and I will. Places like this are just so rich people can go 'look at how much richer I am than you, be jealous of me'." John sighed.
"Come on, lets find a table before they all go." People were filing in from all directions now. Men in their tuxedos and women in their extravagant dresses that would make Queen Elizabeth the first jealous! Sherlock managed to find the most out of the way table he could find and sat down. His jacket caught on the chair and he yanked it hard to untangle it.
"Calm down? You can't tell me to calm down John, look at me!" Sherlock gestured to his outfit. "I look ridiculous!"
"Actually I think you look stunning," John said before he could stop himself. Sherlock looked questioningly at him and John quickly turned away, a slight pink tint appearing on his cheeks.
A few silent awkward minutes went by until two women, clearly in their early twenties and over excited about being at the ball, spotted the two men and walked over to them. They both had the types of masks that you held on a stick that they held to their faces. They were grinning ridiculously as the taller of the two to a breath to speak. Sherlock interrupted her before she had the chance to speak.
"I'm sorry?" The girl asked in italian.
"We do not dance," Sherlock replied, also in perfect italian.
"Don't be silly, you're at a ball! You must dance!" The second girl giggled as she tried to pull Sherlock up from his arm. Sherlock glared at her and she stepped away, afraid.
"Sherlock!" John exclaimed. Although John could not speak italian, he had got the jist of what the girls wanted. "Do either of you speak english?" The smaller, now timid girl nodded.
"I do, sir," she said meekly.
"I would be happy to dance with you, if you like." The girl beamed and took John by the hand he offered her and pulled him to the dance floor. From where John was on the ballroom floor he could see Sherlock sulking in his seat, deliberately not looking at him as if to punish him for leaving him on his own.
John danced and socialised, every now and again returning to Sherlock to check that everything was okay with him. He did feel guilty about leaving him, he didn't really want to dance but he kept losing track of time and he would feel guilty if he said no to any girl that asked him to dance. When he was too exhausted to dance any more he returned to Sherlock for the final time. Sherlock was still sulking. John said nothing but an amused smile danced on his lips.
Suddenly the lights dimmed and one bright light shone on the stage, where the host of the evening stood. The people in the room applauded and with a gesture like a conductor to his orchestra Benini silenced the crowd. He spoke in italian, and then repeated it all in english.
"My darling guests, I hope you have all enjoyed yourself. Thank you all so much for coming and I do hope you will return next year. Now, it is almost midnight, I pray you will all keep to the tradition of removing your masks when the clock strikes twelve, embrace your fellow guests as a sign of the new friendships made and maybe, for the lucky few of you, a kiss will be delivered! Now for the countdown!" John and Sherlock stood up, John enthusiastically counting down with the rest of the crowd.
A force pulled John round. Before he had a chance to react John felt something soft and warm pressed against his lips. He opened his eyes wide in surprise and saw Sherlock's eyes inches away from his own. John instantly pulled away and staggered back. Sherlock's lips were still pursed and slightly open, as if they were still kissing him.
"Wha...what was that?" Sherlock quickly composed himself, taking off the mask he was wearing. John mechanically copied his actions. Everyone else in the room was cheering and clapping but all John could hear was the increase in his own heartbeat. Sherlock wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, as if to brush the kiss away, unable to take his eyes off of John.
The music started up again, a waltz, and lovers were flooding the dance floor for one last dance. John watched as more and more people got out of their seats to join in with the fun. Nervously he stretched out his hand to Sherlock and whispered,
"May I have this dance?" Sherlock half smiled, placing his hand in John's allowing John to guide him to the dance floor.
Placing his hand on Sherlock's back, John pulled Sherlock's body closer to his own, and rested his forehead on Sherlock's, allowing himself to get lost in the ice blue eyes that appeared to be burning with fire and emotion. They danced silently for the duration of the song and as it finished John whispered in Sherlock's ear,
"You've cast me under your spell,em phantom/em."