Chapter II: The Belle of the Ball

by Jordanna (librarie at

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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 windowpanes, 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 heeled 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.

On to Chapter 3!

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