"Datta: what have we given?
My friend, blood shaking my heart
The awful daring of a moment's surrender
Which an age of prudence can never retract
By this, and this only, we have existed..."
- What The Thunder Said, T. S. Eliot's "The Waste Land"
He flexed his toes. Did a plié.
The thin ray of stage lighting that sliced through the gap in the curtains was blinding. Blinking against it, he could see the place where thousands of people would be seated in the audience, in the rows upon rows of chairs fluting back toward the high-perched end of the auditorium.
He allowed himself just a moment to imagine it, to wade deep in the thought that had shadowed every step, every jeté and bourrée, leading to now:
All those people, waiting for him.
"You okay?" A warm hand at the small of his back, its impressions burning across his skin.
Sherlock turned and there he was, costumed and relaxed, his face smudged with swathes of dark make-up. But the lines of concern beneath them were unmistakable. There was nothing, nothing to set John apart from every day of the last six weeks they'd spent training together - but here John was before him, with him, and he looked absolutely radiant. Without his consent, the thought promptly amended itself:
All those people, waiting for them.
Sherlock smiled. With it, the last of the remaining tension uncurled from his spine, unraveling with the pressure of John's palm at its base. He straightened.
"Yes," he murmured, and for now it was true, and with sudden desperation he leaned forward to press his lips against John's forehead. Yes, he said, in understanding of all John had been trying to say for so long. He felt the traveling ghost of warmth as John's other hand came up to clasp the back of Sherlock's neck, as John leaned into his touch, as John breathed quietly against his throat.
He wanted, he realized, to inhabit this moment for as long as time would allow. For longer. Often Sherlock had said the same about any number of his solo performances, but this -
His arms came up to squeeze John tightly against his chest. Abruptly, he ached at the thought of being called on to perform. Of having at last to say goodbye.
When he stepped back several minutes later, something had changed. The fear and nerves that had been so unlike him and yet plagued him these past days were completely gone, replaced instead with confidence. But not his usual confidence, in its lazy and careless arrogance. No, this was a different feeling entirely.
Sherlock knew what was to come. But for now, there was this.
His eyes met John's again, seeking a final confirmation - and there it was. Indigo-dark, honest, assured; this was a complete and abandoned faith in his partner, and in what they were going to do together.
John didn't have to ask. He just held out his hand. Sherlock took it, and together, they waited for their moment.
The judges dismissing the last performers. The shuffling of paper, scratching of pens.
The rise of the curtain. A sea of a thousand empty chairs and spotlights in his eyes. Tonight, some five or so people out there in that great impenetrable dark who would determine the fate of the rest of his life.
John's hand in his.
With one last squeeze, they stepped into the light.