If this isn't going all the way, Lestrade doesn't know what is.
Five minutes to go before the kick-off and Covent Garden's packed to the rafters, which is going to be hell on a hot summer night. He looks at the programme for Der Rosenkavalier and suppresses a groan: is this really going to last four hours? There must be some short operas, mustn't there? Just his luck Maurice loves this one.
Quite a few other penguin suits around, though not as many as he'd expected. Seriously, he is going to knock Sherlock's block off next time he sees him. Should have known better than to believe the smug git when he said everyone would be wearing white tie.
The white tie and tails made Maurice happy, though. Understatement of the decade – Lestrade can still see Maurice's stunned expression when he'd pulled the semi-bespoke suit out of the bag. Still remember the shag that followed, too. Mmm.
He glances at Maurice, who's looking at him as if he can't quite believe his luck. Sort of glowing with happiness, and even handsomer than usual. Which is quite something when it's Maurice you're talking about. He looks right at home in that get-up: immaculately tied white tie, white waistcoat, dress shirt, cufflinks, little gold studs...
Looks right at home in a box, too. Lestrade doesn't like to think what that must have cost. Maurice insisted this was his treat, said Lestrade could take him to something another time. Lestrade's still trying to think what would be an adequate revenge for four hours in a penguin suit listening to opera, in German. Didn't somebody say Adam Ant was touring again?
“Christ, you look gorgeous in that,” Maurice says hoarsely. His cheeks are slightly flushed and his eyes are dark. “Just as well it's Rosenkavalier - I'm not sure I'd be able to concentrate on anything else.”
Lestrade doesn't know what's so great about this opera, though he does remember Maurice saying it's very sexy. That night on Maurice's big sofa, watching the DVD of his old mate Gerald Finley in The Marriage of Figaro, one thing leading to another, till Lestrade was so blissed-out and boneless what with the shagging and the music and Maurice breathing in his hair that he'd said yes to all of this. Oh well. Too late to back out now...
Maurice's phone beeps with an incoming text. He looks faintly embarrassed and turns it off.
“Hallo,” Lestrade says in his best what's-all-this-'ere voice, “is that your secret admirer again?”
Maurice goes a bit pink and says “No, it was Clara. Wishing me luck.”
“Wishing you luck,” Lestrade says, and rolls his eyes. “Oh well, nice of her, I suppose.”
“We can leave at the interval if you really hate it,” Maurice says anxiously, not for the first time.
“Don't be daft,” Lestrade says. He gives Maurice what was meant to be a quick reassuring kiss but threatens to turn into something more, especially with the way Maurice is squeezing his thigh.
There's just time to think that Maurice was right – it probably is a good thing they've got a box – and then everyone starts applauding because the conductor's arrived. Lestrade grits his teeth and braces himself for four hours of mind- and arse-numbing tedium.
The overture's not bad, actually, and he can see what Maurice meant when he said it's a sexy piece of music, because if ever a horn section sounded like shagging... No surprise when the curtain goes up on a couple of lovers rolling around in bed together.
Two women singers, though he knows one of them's supposed to be a seventeen-year-old boy. Her voice is wrong, of course, but that mixture of cockiness and vulnerability is spot on – reminds him of how Sherlock used to be, still is sometimes. The boy is head over heels in love, jealous of the older woman's husband, of her past, of everyone she looks at. Not going to end well, Lestrade can tell.
The woman hears a noise and thinks her husband's come back unexpectedly, so the boy has to disguise himself as her maid. As you do. Honestly, you'd think they could have invented a few new plot twists over the centuries. This one's straight out of The Marriage of Figaro, Cherubino disguising himself as a country girl. Cue lots of crass stuff with the boy, Octavian, putting on a regional accent – if there's one thing Lestrade can't stand it's bloody Mummerset – and pretending to be a servant though he's really a nobleman. Fucking hilarious. Lestrade grimaces.
Things get worse from there: it's not the woman's husband after all, but her git of a cousin, Baron Ochs, a skirt-chaser with a thing for lower-class women. Goes straight for Octavian as the maid, of course, while bragging to his cousin the Marschallin about all the different types of girls he's shagged. Oh great.
All of Lestrade's class hackles are up: he's back in the big house forty years ago with the men who liked a bit of rough. The ones like Ochs, who thought it was all laid on as part of the service; and the ones who pretended there was no difference between you and them but then couldn't look you in the eye the next day. He remembers why he didn't want to do this, didn't want to be here in a fucking box wearing a fucking stupid penguin suit for Christ's sake...
The boy-disguised-as-a-girl buggers off to get changed, thank fuck, and the stage is filled with hangers-on, schemers and social climbers. This bit's obviously supposed to be hilarious as well. Lestrade watches their antics grimly, wondering how much more of this he can stand. There's one nice piece of music, even if it is a bit over the top, an Italian tenor singing about the impossibility of escaping from love. Right now, though, the only escape Lestrade cares about is from this blasted opera. It's probably too much to hope that the fire alarm will go off, but that seems to be the only way out of here.
Eventually the Marschallin throws everyone out because she's in a strop with her hairdresser, who she thinks has made her look old. She's left alone, looking at herself in the mirror and remembering the young girl she once was, singing that she can't understand how time passes, how one day she'll be an old woman though she still feels like the same person inside. When the boy comes back she pushes him away, telling him he's going to leave her sooner or later for someone his own age. Got a bee in her bonnet about all that, obviously, though she's only supposed to be 28 – younger than Sherlock was when Lestrade first knew him, and why the fuck he's thinking of Sherlock again in the middle of all this god only knows...
Lestrade's wondering what on earth he's going to say to Maurice at the interval, which please god can't be far off now, when the music suddenly changes and goes much quieter. The Marschallin's singing about time again, about how strange time is, how you're hardly aware of it and then suddenly it's all you think about. Sometimes I get up in the middle of the night, she sings, and stop all the clocks, all of them. People around him are coughing and wiping their eyes and he doesn't understand how it happens but he can feel his own throat is tight and his eyes are pricking. It doesn't make sense. Yes, his hair is grey and these days he tries to dodge the mirror when he can, but he's happier now than he ever was when he was young, and he knows how lucky he and Maurice are to have found each other. Two middle-aged men in love: they don't write operas about that, though he's willing to bet a sizeable proportion of the Covent Garden audience tonight must be couples like him and Maurice.
He glances sideways at Maurice and sees his eyes are suspiciously bright. Lestrade takes his hand – he's not sure if that's the right thing to do, but Maurice squeezes his hand tight, so he guesses it's OK. He watches the woman pushing love away, the way he knew she would, the way he did himself with Maurice when they first met because he was still fucked up about Sherlock. But he got a second chance, and took it, which he doesn't think is going to happen for her.
Lestrade forgets the penguin suit and the box, forgets the surtitles and the German and all the rest of it; what matters is that they're here together, that they're alive. He goes on holding Maurice's hand till the curtain comes down and the music ends.