Sherlock looked at his reflection in the mirror and inhaled slowly. There was nothing he loathed more than having to do these 'public duties', as Mycroft called them. It was made worse when formal dress was involved.
"Useless, fiddly thing, this…" muttered Sherlock as he awkwardly adjusted his bowtie.
"Let me help," Mrs Hudson said cheerfully, straightening the bowtie nicely for Sherlock.
"Looking sharp, Sherlock," said John, amused at Sherlock's clear discomfort.
"I am sharp," snapped Sherlock, "unlike the rest of you."
"You're welcome," John replied, just short of rolling his eyes at Sherlock's little tantrum.
In the taxi, Sherlock, as usual, sat with his back ramrod straight. His jaw was clenched tightly. His clear eyes stared right at the road ahead. John cleared his throat and glanced over at this friend of his.
"Don't. Speak. Please. John." the words came out almost robotically.
John was interrupted before he could even begin speaking. Of course Sherlock knew he would be about to speak. John laughed, resigned.
"Fine. But I will say one thing…"
Sherlock turned condescendingly towards John, impatience etched in his eyebrows.
"Behave." John said, glaring hard at Sherlock's stoic face. "You owe it to Mycroft to be there and to behave tonight."
"I don't owe Mycroft anything." Sherlock muttered between clenched teeth. He turned his head away from John to stare out of the window.
"Yes, you do." John said, matter-of-factly. "He is the reason you can be back here, living in Baker Street, with everything back to normal as though nothing had happened.*"
* This reference is based on the "The Adventures of the Empty House", where it is revealed that only Mycroft knew of Sherlock's survival and helped keep everything in order and under wraps as Sherlock travelled around, in disguise.
Sherlock stayed silent. He refused to acknowledge anything John had said. But he had no grounds to refute it either.
"Just…behave. All right?" said John with a sigh.
The taxi ride was over before they knew it and the two gentlemen stepped out of the taxi onto the large steps of the impressive BritishMuseum. Sherlock and John were ushered into the main atrium which had been beautifully decorated for the gala they were about to attend.
"Ah, brother." Mycroft said, with a broad smile. He extended his hand towards Sherlock who merely stared in return. John cleared his throat and nudged Sherlock in the elbow. With great restraint, Sherlock obediently took his brother's hand.
"You know I don't enjoy these things, brother," Sherlock whispered fiercely to Mycroft.
"I know," Mycroft replied, "But this occasion calls for your presence for…how shall I put it? For the sake of good public relations."
"I would rather you kept me out of your public relations. As it stands, our own relations are more than I can endure." Sherlock said coldly.
Mycroft laughed and shook his head.
"My dear brother, I will never understand you. But tonight," said Mycroft, his voice lowered with no trace of a smile anymore, "You are an important man. And this…importance you carry is important to my work. So if you would be so kind as to do this one thing for me, considering everything else that has exchanged between us…"
John stood around awkwardly as the brothers faced each other in their quiet little battle. Both pierced the other with cold, hard stares, neither wishing to back down.
Sherlock did owe it to Mycroft. It was the single most difficult thing to accept.
"All right, Mycroft." Sherlock said, "Tonight, I am your puppet." Sarcasm dripped with every word.
"I trust you will be on your best behaviour then." Mycroft replied, his politically correct smile returning to his face. "Now, if you'll excuse me. I have people to greet."
Sherlock watched his brother stride gallantly off to meet with some politicians who had just arrived. Slowly but surely, the gala crowd increased in number. There were men in suits, accompanied by their wives decked in glittery gowns with hair coiffed so high they could knock the chandeliers off the ceiling.
The occasion was to celebrate the launch of a collection of rare documents and paraphernalia that chronicled the history of St. Bartholomew's Hospital. A particularly powerful family in Britain had, through all the right channels and connections, managed to secure a year-long exhibition with the BritishMuseum, showcasing the rich history of the famous hospital.
Mycroft's presence at the gala was but a natural affair. After all, it was his job to remain on good terms with all sorts of powerful families and people. A minor role for the sake of Britain's administration, as Mycroft would put it.
This was to be a huge event and many guests from all related circles were going to be present. Among the guests that arrived, John recognised a few old faces from when he was studying medicine. Sherlock merely stood beside John, silent, unmoving and counting down to when the gala would be over.
"You two look nice." A familiar and cheerful voice chimed.
"Molly!" exclaimed John, giving her a hug and kissing her on the cheek. "Fancy meeting you here."
"Well, " Molly said, with a bright smile, "I do work for the hospital, you know."
"Of course, you do. How silly of me." John said, laughing. "You look lovely!"
"Thanks…" Molly replied, smiling shyly. Molly did look lovely, with her beautiful hair curled in gentle waves and left to cascade on one side. Her dress was simple, black with white accents that followed her own silhouette nicely. Everything was kept to a minimal. But it was pretty, and simply, Molly.
"Hello, Sherlock." Molly said, glancing at him carefully.
"Molly," he replied, not even bothering to look at her.
"Champagne?" asked a waiter, suddenly. John and Molly eagerly took a glass each. The waiter hovered awkwardly in front of Sherlock, unsure of what to do, eventually slipping away to serve other guests.
The evening went on without a hitch. Delicate little canapés were served along with endless flutes of champagne on silver trays that floated between guests. Many speeches were made, generous applause was given and a single, silver ribbon was cut. The guests were mingling again and more drinks circulated among the crowd. Molly stood with a group of colleagues and was chatting rather comfortably with them. John had left Sherlock on a few occasions to say hello to a few of those familiar faces. But Sherlock stayed in his corner. He barely spoke, and merely smirked at the few unfortunate souls who had braved a 'hello'. Sherlock glanced at his watch. It was only 9pm. He exhaled slowly, jaw clenched. This was more than he could bear.
"Just a little while more, you're doing fine." John said, returning to check on Sherlock.
Sherlock resisted rolling his eyes and just kept on breathing steadily.
"Why did Mycroft want you here tonight, specifically?" asked John, reaching for a tiny chocolate tart offered to him from a tray of pastries. They were serving dessert now.
"Public relations. Don't you remember?" answered Sherlock.
"I do remember." John answered, "Which is exactly why I'm asking. Why on earth would Mycroft want you here tonight?"
Sherlock let out a bitter laugh and turned to face John.
"Well, you'll find out right…about…"
"There he is, Sherlock Holmes!" came Mycroft's jovial voice.
"…now." Sherlock said, turning from John to face his brother.
Mycroft appeared before his stone-faced brother. Accompanying Mycroft was an astoundingly beautiful young woman. Her hair was the colour of dark chocolate and swept back in a low chignon. She was tall, and was taller still because of her high heels. Her slim frame was wrapped in navy blue Shantung silk, perfectly tailored. From her ears dangled two delicate teardrops of emerald.
"Mr Holmes." she said, a slow smile appearing on her face, "This is a pleasure."
John was just about to subtly but firmly remind Sherlock of his manners when Sherlock extended his hand to the young woman.
"Ms Lancaster. Good evening." Sherlock greeted. He even managed a small smile. "The pleasure is mine."
John watched, amazed, as Sherlock took her hand and shook it politely. There was no trace of a smirk, no overt disdain, no condescension registering anywhere on Sherlock's face. John could feel his mind being blown just ever so slightly at this change of character.. It seemed Mycroft felt the same way. Armed with all sorts of defenses at the tip of his tongue to salvage what rudeness might slip from his brother's own, Mycroft was stunned to silence.
"I doubt I would need to introduce myself," she said, her eyes sparkling, outshining the emeralds on her ears. "Certainly not to someone so great as yourself, Mr Holmes."
"Ms Lancaster, you are very kind." Sherlock continued, his smile firmly in place.
"Ms Lancaster is a fervent admirer of your work, Sherlock," Mycroft spoke, at last.
Sherlock did a little bow and his charming smile that so rarely appeared, still lingered. The beautiful Ms Lancaster laughed and took a step toward Sherlock.
"Very fervent, Mr Holmes," she said as she reached for his bow-tie, gently straightening it. But at her touch, Sherlock flinched, ever so slightly.
"Please, call me Sherlock." There was a discomfort in his voice, a slight strain.
"And you may call me Evelyn," she replied, taking a step back. "Mycroft, how can I ever thank you enough?" She never once took her eyes off Sherlock.
"I am glad to have made your evening," was Mycroft's reply. He looked hard at Sherlock, as though to assess if this was all going to be all right. Sherlock glanced back at his brother and in that glance Mycroft could see that his brother was livid. Mycroft also knew, however, that his brother was going to behave. Sherlock, in spite of everything, was going to honour the debt owed his brother.
"Well now…" said Mycroft, clearing his throat, "I shall leave you two to chat. I am glad you've finally been acquainted."
"No one more glad than myself," remarked Evelyn. Her eyes feverishly studied Sherlock's face. "I shall let father know what a wonderful evening this has been for me, Mycroft."
"Hmm, well, it was the least I could do," replied Mycroft. He looked once more at Sherlock, but this time, Sherlock was returning Evelyn's gaze.
"Sherlock…" said Mycroft.
"Hmm?" replied Sherlock, not looking up.
"You will ensure that Ms Lancaster has an enjoyable evening?"
"You can count on me, brother." Sherlock said, finally looking at Mycroft.
The two brothers exchanged glances and in those two seconds, Mycroft knew Sherlock wasat the brink of blinding rage.
"I do after all, owe it to you," said Sherlock, with a smirk. Mycroft laughed nervously, before turning to walk away.
"I'll just…go catch up with Mycroft…" said John, as he scurried along after Mycroft. He hadn't a clue what was happening, but he did not feel comfortable hovering around Sherlock and Evelyn.
"Now, Sherlock," said Evelyn, stepping toward him again, "I have so many things I want to ask you."
"Evelyn, I said to call me Evelyn."
Sherlock took a deep, steady breath to keep from storming out of the place in a fiery rage. This was not the place he wanted to be at and this was certainly not something he wanted to do. Attending to the fancies of a young admirer was the last thing Sherlock would ever consider. Yet, for the sake of public relations and that stupid debt owed to Mycroft, here he was. But his anger was suddenly interrupted by the sounds of a string quartet as they started to play.
"Oh, music…" Sherlock remarked. He turned to observe the atrium and noticed the quartet had appeared for a performance of sorts.
"Ah, yes" said Evelyn, turning to see as well, "…music for one final spot of entertainment."
"Entertainment?" asked Sherlock.
"Evelyn!" said a bright voice cutting through, "There you are, my dear!"
"Andrew!" she greeted the young man to whom the bright voice belonged. "You look dashing." Andrew grabbed her in an energetic embrace but not without Sherlock catching Evelyn rolling her eyes as she hugged the man.
"You must have this dance with me! You must! Come on!" said Andrew as he began dragging Evelyn away to the centre of the atrium.
"But Andrew…wait…I…" Evelyn tried to stop Andrew from dragging her away. She looked up at Sherlock, wide-eyed and upset at having their conversation being interrupted.
"Oh, I'll just…wait here…don't worry." Sherlock said, relieved. He smiled his best smile and gently waved her to go ahead and dance. Evelyn resigned herself to dancing with Andrew and let herself be pulled along.
The music began and soon couples started forming as they slowly waltzed around the atrium. Sherlock took this chance to collect himself. His job tonight was to entertain Evelyn, to keep her amused and occupied and to give her the attention she so craved from him. He laughed at the thought. Attention. What a useless thing to ask for, thought Sherlock.
Sherlock knew that he only had a few minutes to come up with something before Evelyn would find a way to weasel out of Andrew's arms and ask him to dance instead. Slipping away now would be rude and would increase his debt to Mycroft. Think, Sherlock, think, he shouted in his head.
Just then, he heard the sound of a glass dropping and breaking. It wasn't loud enough to disrupt the dance. In fact, it seemed only Sherlock had heard it.
"Oh, god, I'm so sorry…" came a small voice.
Sherlock turned his head in the direction of the voice and realised immediately it was also the source of the dropped glass. There stood Molly, frantically apologising to a waiter for dropping her champagne glass. She hadn't had much to drink, but Molly was clumsy. Her awkwardness amused him and he smirked a little as he watched her try to help the waiter, only to be gently refused.
"You might cut yourself, miss, it's all right," said the kind waiter to Molly.
"I am…so, so sorry!" said Molly, a little quiver in her voice, "Don't cut yourself either, all right?"
"Let the man do his job, Molly," said Sherlock, walking over to her.
"Oh…Sherlock…um, hello," she said, composing herself.
"Molly." said Sherlock.
"I'm so silly, aren't I?" she said with an anxious laugh.
"Molly…" repeated Sherlock.
"You'd think…as a pathologist, holding sharp instruments all day…that I'd be just a little more careful…"
"Yes?" she answered, startled.
"Would you like to dance?" he asked her, smiling gently.
"Would I like to...You're asking me…to dance?" Molly asked, frowning slightly.
"Yes," Sherlock replied, his eyes twinkling a little. "Would you dance with me?"
With delightful string music playing in the background, Molly took Sherlock's outstretched hand and walked towards the centre of the atrium. He wrapped one hand around her waist and held her hand in the other. Slowly and steadily, they danced.
And slowly and steadily, Evelyn's anger rose as she watched Sherlock glide across the room with Molly.
"Excuse me, Andrew…" said Evelyn, slipping out of Andrew's grasp and removing her hand from his. Her eyes never once left Sherlock who held Molly close and comfortably as he danced with her. Evelyn stealthily wove between the dancing couples as she made her way towards Sherlock and Molly.
"That was my dance," she muttered between clenched teeth, "My dance."