“John!” I check my watch again, shouting in the direction of the ceiling, then returning my gaze out the window. “The train leaves in 41 minutes. Assuming our cab driver is not London’s most complete idiot and correctly avoids the three construction zones en route, the fastest travel time to St. Pancras is 8 minutes. That leaves us only 33 minutes to purchase our tickets and find the correct seats, adequately placed equidistant from all exits--“
“Sherlock. Let’s go.” John comes down the stairs, struggling to lift a large duffel bag onto his shoulder, a black garment bag slipping off his other arm. I sweep down the steps to the front door and onto the pavement, arm already outstretched. A taxi materializes and I open the door, before turning to see what is taking John so long.
“Tick-tock, John. We wouldn’t want to keep Mr. Borowicz waiting.”
John glares at me as he shoves the bags in the boot, then slides in next to me in the backseat. He mutters something that sounds an awful lot like “Thanks for the help, posh boy,” before settling in next to me. I drum my fingers on the windowsill and bite my tongue to keep from shouting at the cabbie, who has already proven himself an utter idiot after all.
John appears to have forgiven my shortcomings by the time we’re settled into our seats on the train (with only 14 minutes to spare!). He turns to me with the gleam in his eyes that is reserved for the first time he learns the details of a case. It’s a particular look that I’ve catalogued, among his other hundreds of looks. His face is a fascinating canvas, from which I can currently deduce that he’s already feeling the rush of adrenaline coursing through his veins. His cheeks are slightly flushed and his pupils are dilated just slightly larger than usual. It’s intoxicating, this heady mix of a not-yet-solved case lingering in the air, mixed with the promise of the unknown; an adventure in a foreign city, just me and my blogger. “Alright, tell me the details. You’ve kept me waiting long enough.”
“Patience, John. ‘Pleasure is found first in anticipation, later in memory.’” John raises his eyebrows slightly, but doesn’t interrupt, so I continue. “Andreas Borowicz contacted me yesterday after a stage hand was found hanged backstage during the first intermission. The victim, Joseph Buquet, was a quiet man who kept mostly to himself. The cast and crew have been questioned, but no one could even remember exactly who he was.” John is frowning slightly when I finish.
“What is it, John?” I sigh heavily to convey my annoyance at his facial ambiguity.
“I mean, this seems like a pretty straight forward case. Even our Scotland Yarders could probably eventually do something with that. And a hanging? Have they ruled out suicide? This hardly seems worthy of your attention, much less an international trip.” John folds his arms in front of his stomach and narrows his eyes slightly. “What else? What aren’t you telling me?”
“It’s nothing quite so melodramatic, John, don’t bother yourself. Andreas Borowicz knew my grandmother- she was a longtime supporter of the Opéra National de Paris and left a handsome legacy donation. I believe this is his way of showing gratitude, but you’re the expert in boring human emotions. We will conduct our investigation quickly and return home to the motherland, never you fear, Watson.” I give John a little smile to let him know I’m only teasing. That seems to work and he relaxes back against the seat, allowing his eyes to drift shut. I’m actually rather excited to visit the opera house, as I hold many pleasant memories of visiting with my grandmother when I would spend summers at her house. I was always fascinated with the orchestral pit, and liked to see how many of the French words I could understand from my lessons. As I grew older, I learned to appreciate the stories being told, through the words, but also through the movement on the stage. Even from the balcony, I could read body language as clearly as the spoken (or sung, in this case) word. It was a magical experience and I am looking forward to returning this evening. Plus, I get to wear a tuxedo, which I do so love. I turn to gaze out the window as the world whizzes by.
We arrive to our hotel by lunchtime and deposit our bags before heading to the opera house. It is a thoroughly modern structure, stretching into a triangular shape behind the façade of the entrance, geometrically pleasing to the eye. There are panels of glass arranged in several grid formations, which catch the midday sun and make the entire building look as though it is ablaze. I pause on the pavement, momentarily dazzled. John slows down beside me and grins. “Stunning architecture” he remarks, glancing up at me. His expression softens. “Sherlock, I think I feel a deduction coming on.” I look down at him, cocking an eyebrow.
“I think you like this place. I mean, really like it. You’ve been here before, most likely with your grandmother and now you have Fond Memories.” He says those two words as though they hold great significance. “And now, you’re remembering and feeling things, I’d even dare to call it…sentiment!” He finishes with a triumphant smile and trots toward the door, confident in his ability to deduce me. I roll my eyes and follow him, unable to wipe my mirrored smile off my face. He’s not wrong.
Once inside, we wind through the bright corridors until we make it to the backstage area. A sharply-dressed man with a well trimmed beard of dark hair makes his way over to us.
“Ah! The famous Sherlock Holmes! And you must be the equally-famed Doctor Watson. I am Andreas Borowicz. We’re so happy to have you here with us at the Opéra Bastille! Please, come to my office. I will catch you up.” We’re guided into a tiny, cluttered office near the backstage area. John slides into one of the chairs. I stand behind him, resting my hands on the back of his chair. I’d never admit it, but these small moments of close proximity to John ignite a thrill within me that rivals even a locked-door mystery. He allows me to crowd into his personal space, chalking it up to me “being Sherlock”, I think. I allow this misunderstanding as long as I’m allowed my stolen moments.
Andreas sighs heavily. “I’m afraid I may have sent for you prematurely, Mr. Holmes. In their preliminary questioning, the police overlooked the orchestra completely, as they usually do not leave the pit during intermissions. However, someone had noticed that one violinist had been gone for most of the first intermission, and returned to her seat just as the lights dimmed. Emilie Marcel confessed that she had been with Joseph during the intermission and they had argued. He was in love with her. She was uninterested, as she is currently engaged to our Marguerite, a lovely young lady named Karine. Emilie said Joseph told her he couldn’t live without her love, but she didn’t believe he would do anything so extreme. She returned to the pit and left him standing stage left. He was found after the third act. Emilie feels terribly guilty, but there won’t be any charges pressed against her. She’s been given tonight’s show off to recover. I do apologize, Mr. Holmes, for your wasted trip out here. Hopefully, it will not be a full loss, as you are still more than welcome to join us for tonight’s performance. Our Les Huguenots is one of the best!” Andreas finishes, slightly out of breath. His eyes are shining as he looks from John to me, uncapping a plastic water bottle and taking a long drink. I clap my hands in front of me and look down my nose to him. “Well. No use beating a dead horse. We’ll be on our way!” I glance sheepishly down at John, who clears his throat, then stands up. He offers his hand to Andreas to shake. I turn to leave, flicking my coat behind me.
“You’ll have to excuse uhh…us. We’d be delighted to come tonight. Sherlock is really looking forward to being back in the opera house.” I hear John’s wicked grin. I don’t even turn my head, sailing through the building to the front door. I hear his measured steps quicken slightly to catch up.
“Well, that was an easy one, eh? Not exactly a locked-room mystery, but it is nice to get out of London for a bit, I suppose.”
“Tedius. Mortal. Boring. An unrequited love suicide? So cliché.”
John gives me a look. I sigh heavily. That’s his “reign in your sociopath” look. I hail a cab and resolutely try not to pout.
It’s a beautiful evening, and Andreas was right- his Les Huguenots was exquisite. I was entranced from opening aria to closing and frequently caught John watching me instead of the stage. Curious. I made a mental note to revisit and catalogue those particular John-looks later. We stroll out of the main exit, matching our steps. I look up at the stars and recall once when I commented on them. John seemed to like that I was capable of appreciating celestial beauty, or perhaps he was just glad I was aware that there were stars, since my astronomy knowledge was apparently appalling to him.
“That was a really lovely performance. I only wish I could’ve understood more of it. Guess that means I probably should’ve spent more time learning my French at uni, rather than simply practicing it with my tongue.” John gives me one of his looks, the one he uses when he’s being obscene and wants me to appreciate it. I chuckle and he looks surprised. He apparently thinks I’m a nun.
“How about you, Sherlock? Did you understand it all? I’m sure you picked up some French, from your grandmother?”
A small smile tugs its way onto my lips.
“A bit.” An idea has formed, and the light-heartedness of the evening’s activities has made me just brave enough to try it. I lower my voice to a deep murmur and lean into John.
“Oui, John. Amant fidèle, une flamme nouvelle brûle mon coeur, flamme éternelle me brûle encor, et je me dis…”
It has the desired effect. John’s eyes widen and snap to mine, then immediately look down to stare at the pavement. I frown. That wasn’t the reaction I anticipated. I clear my throat.
“My favorite part of Raoul’s aria. He sung it beautifully. Very talented.” I’m practically stuttering, stumbling over my tongue as John looks back up at me. His gaze has become molten lava, burning hotter than a thousand suns. I’m momentarily lost in the sea of black pupils that have nearly engulfed his irises. I rack my brain for what could have possibly caused this inexplicable chemical imbalance. Fear? Pain? I check him over quickly. He’s standing a bit stiffly. Perhaps the seats caused his leg to flare up. I’ll be sure to ask him as soon as we arrive back at the hotel. Feeling disoriented, I break our eye contact and glance around. We’re nearly back; a fifteen minute walk in a blink of an eye. I grasp John’s elbow to keep him moving, since his feet seem to be planted in one spot. He startles, shaking his head, yet smiling. His face is flushed again, but not in the same way as on the train. It’s not particularly cold outside. Maybe he really is becoming ill. I check him over once more as I follow him in to the hotel lobby. He looks taller in his tuxedo than normal, the sharp lines accentuating his lean muscles. He has also done his hair differently, combing it to the side and even applying a bit of product. It makes the multi-colored strands practically shimmer in the soft glow of the faux oil lamps that dot the lobby. Something unfurls deep within my stomach as he turns and looks directly at me once the elevator doors slide shut.
“Alright, Sherlock?” he murmurs in a low voice. I nod. Of course I’m all right. Why wouldn’t I be? I believe I should be asking him that question, since he’s the one with a possible fever. I glance at my reflection in the polished door. My tie is slightly crooked and an errant curl has fallen across my forehead. I brush it away.
The elevators doors open with a ding. We walk to our room, side by side, barely squeezing through the narrow hallway. Our fingers bump as we both fumble in our pockets for the room key. I find mine first and hold the door to let him pass. Our hips brush as he walks past me. I’m not certain it was an accident. My lungs suddenly forget to work and I gasp in a shaky breath.
“I’m just uh…going to take a quick shower. I’ll uh…be right out.” I practically run to the bathroom, shutting the door behind me.
I linger in the shower, enjoying the hot spray. The memory of John in his tuxedo, walking out of this very bathroom earlier this evening pops up in my mind. I hadn’t been able to tear my eyes off him for several moments, only doing so once he started to squirm. He was smiling though, the half-smile I’ve only seen him use at home, usually when I’m being exceptionally exasperating. I let out a low groan and turn the water off. Wrapping my towel around my waist, I walk back out to the room to find my pyjama bottoms. Surprisingly, I find myself alone in the small room. I glance around and see a note, written on hotel stationary and left on top of one of the pillows on the bed. I pick it up and recognize John’s familiar handwriting. However, what he has written is anything but familiar for the ex-army doctor who has a penchant for cozy jumpers, rather than French opera:
Belle ange, reine des amours, beauté du ciel, Je t’aimerais toujours!
The door to the balconey slides open just then and John steps into the room. His face, my favorite emotional gauge, is perfectly blank.
I clear my throat and hold up the note. “John?” I raise my eyebrows. “Wh-what’s this?” I know exactly what it is- it’s the rest of the aria that I cut off earlier, refusing to allow myself to speak the words aloud, even in a language certain not to be understood. But oh, how I longed to say those things to John, to beg him to understand me and adore me as I have found myself drawn to adoring him.
John smirks at me. “Go on. Can’t you deduce it, genius?” He’s teasing me now, but there’s no mirth behind it. He takes three deliberate steps to cross the distance between us, reminding me a bit of an animal stalking its prey. I stare at him and my brain stutters into silence. His eyes are dark, a thousand emotions reflected in endless pools of obsidian. I blink rapidly. I can’t deduce this sudden change in John’s behavior, I can’t seem to get the right words to form, because all I can see flashing in front of my eyes are very clear signs that John’s desires match mine. It’s right in front of my eyes, and yet my brain—
“Embrasse moi, idiot” And then John does the impossible. He reaches past my hesitance and takes my hand, weaving his strong fingers between my slender ones. He tugs me towards him and I tilt my head. But there is no longer confusion - I meet his lips with mine and the world quiets, all importance in the world narrowed to this one tiny point of connection.