Sherlock Holmes wandered through the gilded ballroom with a look of distinct distaste marring his aristocratic features. Another fancy party; it seemed that there had been little else happening since the end of the war only one month previous. Frankly he found social engagements hateful (and parties, most especially smarmy parties held at the palace, were the worst) but after several long conversations with the skull he kept in his bedroom, he decided that perhaps a distraction could be of some use. Still, he loathed the cheery atmosphere, the flirty women (and men, though they were much more furtive with their glances) and the drink. Disgusting.
Bored, Sherlock decided to do what he always did when he needed a pick-me-up: he found his brother, Mycroft, and wove through the crowd, stopping at Mycroft's elbow. "I see the end of the war has put an end to your diet," Sherlock said, his voice pleasant.
Mycroft didn't quite roll his eyes, but it was a close thing. "And I see it has done nothing to advance your manners," Mycroft yawned, eyes skimming the crowd.
Sherlock followed his gaze blandly. He recognized nearly everyone: peers, foreign royalty, knights and ambassadors. There were footmen in stiff livery floating through the empty spaces between paired-off dancers and groups of chatting men and women, offering drinks and "nibbles" with polite smiles. Sherlock sneered at them. Nothing new ever happened at one of these ridiculous fetes; perhaps he would go up and entertain his skull with stories of the study he was conducting on various types of pollen.
But then his eyes settled on someone new, someone he'd never seen before. The man was short, his hair ashy blonde and cropped close. That he was a military captain was just as obvious from his posture and bearing as it was from his starched and apparently uncomfortable uniform; Sherlock didn't need to look at his medals and epaulets to know he was recently involved in combat and still uncomfortable in a civilian atmosphere. He had been wounded, Sherlock noticed. There was something awkward about the way he held his left shoulder. Interesting. "Who is he?" Sherlock asked, looking over at his brother.
Mycroft smirked. "Captain John Watson," he said, looking back at the man, who was frowning at his champagne flute. "Handsome, I suppose, if one prefers the more rugged sort."
Sherlock made a face. Watson didn't look terribly rugged to him; he looked equal parts childish and impossibly old, his face weathered but expressive, friendly but closed off. He looked like a man of contradictions. "A simple captain," Sherlock said, rather than giving voice to his observations. "What is he doing here?"
"A guest of Mummy's," Mycroft smiled. "Sherlock, honestly. I know you don't follow these things but I expected you to at least recognize the name." Sherlock's bemused and agitated expression seemed to propel him onward: "Captain Watson is to thank for our return to peace," Mycroft said, looking amused. "He delivered the Final Shot."
Ah. Sherlock brought his stare back to the man, who sipped his champagne gingerly and seemed to find the taste lacking. Of course. That was why Mummy had invited him. Sherlock was staring at the man who had slain his father.
John Watson wasn't the sort of man who found mingling at parties easy or enjoyable. He was a soldier, first and foremost, and a doctor beyond that. Civilian life had never suited him, not really. The only times John truly felt alive and whole, as though he were completely in his element, were the times when he was wrist-deep in someone else's blood with bullets whizzing overhead and soldiers shouting in the background.
And he had single-handedly assured that he would never feel like that again.
It wasn't that John was displeased that the war was over. He'd lost a lot of friends to those brutal combats and he loved his Country, loved it fiercely and whole-heartedly. John hadn't spent his childhood dreaming of war and warm bullets and the screams of dying men. Still, it was hard for John to believe that he would never again crawl through filth and blood to save a life, that he would never again field-dress a gun wound or fire his rifle at an enemy. He didn't even have a rifle anymore. All he had was the little (illegal) Browning he kept in the drawer of his bedside table in the fancy suite the Queen had set him up in when everything was over.
Over. That was certainly one way of looking at it.
The worst of it was that John hadn't even meant to kill the King and end the bloody conflict that strange, chilly day one month prior. He was a medic, after all, not part of the elite team that had stormed the enemy fortress, tucked away in a windswept valley in the Scottish highlands. But he had heard that sound, that unmistakable sound that a man makes when he's been dealt a fatal blow, and he couldn't stay back anymore whatever his orders. So he'd stormed the damn castle himself, although "stormed" wasn't the most appropriate word, perhaps. More like "strolled in entirely unnoticed, somehow". The fact that the King had rounded a corner at the same time as John, that they had fired their weapons at the same moment, that John's aim had been truer, that the war had ended in that moment unknown to everyone around them…well, none of that had been expected.
And when he woke up in hospital to find himself famous and enormously wealthy, with his surgeon's hand ruined by nerves and his admittedly shabby rugby game forever destroyed by the twisted flesh of his mutilated shoulder…well, that hadn't been expected either.
The boredom, though, that came with peacetime: John wasn't at all surprised by that.
He sighed and took another sip from his champagne glass, wishing it was something stronger and significantly less expensive. John had never been much for champagne. He was wondering how early he could leave and head back to his rooms (the fact that he'd been invited to stay at court indefinitely still made him feel a bit light-headed) when the hairs on the back of his neck seemed to prickle. John knew that feeling. He was being watched.
Sweeping his gaze around, he met eyes with a man he instantly recognized. The young prince, Sherlock Holmes. He looked uncomfortably like his father, John realized with a jolt. The last time he had seen eyes like that, they were looking at him down the barrel of a handgun.
As if there were some sort of magnetic pull between them, each man took a few slow, cautious steps forward. It was strange, the way John's adrenaline had kicked in, making the noise of the ballroom fade away until the only sounds were the hammering of his heart, the steady in-out of his breath, and the soft sound of his expensive Italian-leather loafers clicking against the marble floor. Whatever odd spell drew them together seemed to hold even after they'd finally met, standing close enough that John could smell the other man's cologne and had to tip his head up a bit to meet his fierce, blue-grey eyes.
"Captain Watson," he said (purred, even; there was a quality to his voice that put John in mind of thunder in July, brilliant summer storms that lasted for days on end). "I believe you are owed my most heartfelt congratulations. You've done your Country a great service." There was something incredibly insincere about his tone, but not malicious; it was as though he didn't care in the slightest whether John had shot his father or not, that he would have been indifferent either way.
"Thank you, Your Highness," John said, a little awkward for all that he'd studied how to greet royalty. He bowed slightly, careful not to wince at the twinge of discomfort in his bad shoulder, and then did wince at the look of pure amusement on the young prince's face. No doubt he had buggered that entirely.
"No," the prince said, his mouth twitching at one side, "you did well. Very textbook. I just…" He chuckled, looked away. "I find my own distaste for all this pomp and circumstance echoed very clearly on your face. It's refreshing."
John flushed. "I…" He was at a complete loss. Surely it would be rude to agree? But then, surely it would be even worse to be dishonest? "I'm afraid you're completely correct," he said after a moment. "I'm much better on the battlefield than I am in the ballroom."
The prince seemed to find that equally amusing. "I see. War is its own sort of dance, I suppose."
Despite himself, John grinned. It was so strange, looking into those bright, gunmetal eyes that were so much like the King's and seeing friendliness where John kept expecting murderous intent. "Yes," John agreed, still smiling. "I suppose it is."
For a moment the prince only stared out him, eyes still sparkling with amusement, but then he leaned in close and whispered, "I should rather like to see you dance, Captain Watson." A shiver ran down John's spine as the man straightened and sighed, "But alas, we're stuck with this." He gestured to the party with his nose crinkled.
"I could be amenable to this sort of dancing," John said, unsure of what exactly drove him to do so. "Assuming the company was interesting enough."
The prince laughed out loud. "And does mine satisfy?"
John nodded, fighting back a smile. "It'll do."
"Very well," the prince said, holding out his hand. "Shall we?"