~The Adventure of the Jade Seal~
Bodies turn in time with the melody of a string quartet in dull revolving patterns. The crowded ballroom rings with the chatter of a multitude of voices and clinking glasses and plates. It is a distracting if not altogether unpleasant cacophony.
Bored, bored, bored. Sherlock stares at the chandler absently calculating what it would take to make it fall and effectively end this dreadful evening. Richly overdressed party goers cannot waltz when there are crystal shards all over the dance floor. Though that would also lead to panic, and humans are so predictable when they panic. All the screaming, running about, and generally being ridiculous.
He fidgets in the expensive clothes Captain Gregson forced him to wear on pain of death. The excessive fabric around his neck is slowly cutting off the oxygen to his brain. That plus all the idle gossip of London's most elite figures set his teeth of edge. It is rather like listening to chickens cluck.
"I still do not understand why I needed to be here." Sherlock huffs.
"We got a tip something's going to happen tonight." Gregson responds dryly, looking like a pillar of justice against the wall in his dress blues.
"You have plenty of your own men." He points out, fingers twitching against his thigh.
There are two lawyers pretending not to know each other, over by the buffet table, but they are clearly lovers. Sherlock wonders why they even bother, since they cannot hide their body language.
"Not all my men are you." Gregson says, abet reluctantly, he never likes to stoke Sherlock's ego if he can help it.
"True." He jerks his head in agreement. "Yet, all I have seen at this hell so far is underhanded business dealings and stilted ex-lovers, nothing remarkable by any means."
"And let's keep it that way." The Captain heads off to the other side of the crowded ballroom towards were Detective Sergeant Bell is lurking in the corner.
Internally grumbling, Sherlock attempts to focus on anything other than the deducible lives of the people around him. He could learn half the nation's dirty laundry by the end of the night if he wanted, yet that would not help him in any way. This party is one of the most important events of the year, every major politician, businessman, and diplomat all milling about together in one location. That is also why it is a security nightmare, which forces nearly all of Scotland Yard -and apparently one Consulting Detective - to be in attendance as well.
Sherlock almost wants something to go wrong just to end his boredom. He could be back at Baker Street with his bees and a good book. Alas, instead he is going to die here, in a stuffy royal blue waistcoat, of asphyxiation due to ladies perfume. Hopefully someone remembers to put that on his grave.
Halfway through another turn around the room of colorful dresses and dark suits, Sherlock spots someone who looks equally irritated with the evening's proceedings. A young woman of oriental origin - Chinese he'd wager by the shape of her eyes and her remarkably detailed traditional dress - is being lead around the dance floor by a spectacularly rotund man in his late fifties. From the pinching of her perfectly sculpted lips and the line deepening between her brows, the woman is trying hard not to hit her dance partner.
There is always something about a person that belays their intelligence, from the way they hold themselves, to the way they move their hands. That intelligence can always been found in the eyes. People often say eyes are the windows to the soul, and while Sherlock does not hold with such superstitious nonsense, it does have some merit in that regard. In the case of the glaring young woman, Sherlock can unquestionably see intellect sparkling in her dark eyes. Quite a bit of intellect actually.
"Mind if I cut in?" Sherlock taps the large man on the shoulder sharply. Before the opium magnate - the company's label is on his cufflinks - realizes what has happened, Sherlock sizes the girl's hands and whisks her away. "Thank you." He calls back cheekily over his shoulder.
"Well that was rude." The woman states in perfectly accented English, falling into step with him easily. Her gaze narrows in suspicion.
"Better that then let you stab him with one of your hair pins." He pulls a face at her. "I doubt that would go over well with this particular crowd."
She raises her eyebrows in surprise. It is a common occurrence whenever he opens his mouth - also people often try to punch him.
Sherlock glances back at the business man who is now ambling back towards the tea sandwiches. From his pasty skin and sweaty brow it is only a matter of time before he suffers a coronary. Not that he is one to judge, his own eating habits tend to revolve around whatever is within arm's reach at the time. Also lots of breakfast foods.
"It was clear he was upsetting you from your expression." He explains lightly, moving in step with the music. Dancing is not his forte, but his new partner seems graceful enough. Her embroidered purple and red robes lightly brush the ground. "I thought it fit to intervene."
She tilts her head making the gold and jade beads trailing from her hairpins sway. It is interesting she has made no attempt to appear English, like the other people of foreign birth at the event. It is though she stepped out of the book on silk paintings he has in his library.
"Thank you, though I had it under control." She says. "I've dealt with worse."
From her tone he does not doubt it. "Never the less, I was considering setting the curtains on fire and this is probably a much healthier distraction."
She laughs, her whole face brightening. The song ends making the people around them clap politely. Sherlock lets go of her immediately, returning to his normal ridged posture.
"Joan Watson." She smiles, holding out a delicate hand.
"Watson?" He frowns quizzically at the purely English name, taking her hand.
Joan sighs good-naturedly. This is something she's been asked many times before. "My grandfather was British Navy and my parents found it best to give me an English name. It helps since my father works in diplomatic trade relations."
It made sense in a backwards sort of way. "Sherlock Holmes." He adds quickly.
Joan is intrigued by her pseudo knight in shining armor. Crooked bowtie, messy hair, and socially uncomfortable. She likes his abrasive mannerisms instantly. Also she recognizes the name. "The detective? I've read about you in the papers."
He scrunches his face at that, rocking back on his heels. "The media loves its dramatics." He says dismissively.
They continue to stand in the middle of the parquet floor as another song begins. People waltz past them; several shooting curious glances in their direction. Sherlock seems almost oblivious which is refreshing. He doesn't look down his nose at her or speak to her as if she were a child - or a concubine as with the whoremonger she had just been forced to dance with. It is almost as though Sherlock does not realize that is what society expects him to do.
"Are you here with the Yard?" Joan could not help noticing the uniformed officers standing around the building all night. Though the men are mostly likely there simply for protection, it does make her a little nervous.
Sherlock tugs at his clothes, his gaze carefully moving around the room. "I certainly wouldn't be here otherwise." He says frowning with distaste at their opulent surroundings.
Joan smiles at his petulant expression. He is quite an unusual fellow, in a charming sort of way. "I would have liked to avoid the evening as well. There is nothing here but money and politics, and those are two of the most uninteresting things on the planet."
Something like approval colors his features at her comment. He is about the say something more when he freezes, staring at a point over her shoulder. Joan spins around following his serious gaze and locks in on what he sees immediately. There is a middle aged man with a bushy salt and pepper mustache leaning against the floral papered wall opposite them for support. His top hat falls to the floor when he doubles over wheezing for breath, hand clutching at his own throat in desperation. She can see the flush of his skin even from this distance which spells nothing good.
Sherlock takes off dodging between couples and scandalized women. Joan lifts her robes so she will not trip on the heavy silks and sprints after him. Decorum does not matter if a man is choking to death. The other officers converge at Sherlock's shout, rushing in from all directions.
The man slides to the floor just as they reach him, his body slump and unresponsive. Joan drops to her knees beside Sherlock and they roll the man onto his back. He is a heavy death weight. As a woman she was not allowed to practice medicine, yet that never stopped Joan from studying it. Every medical and herbalist text she's ever read flashes through Joan's mind as her eyes categorize the symptoms before her. Slow pulse, shallow breathing, and tightly contracted pupils. The man is fading fast.
"Poison." Sherlock mutters softly.
All she can do is nod in agreement as the man stops breathing altogether. Joan kneels, in a shocked-silent room, beside a man she has just met and watches as the last spark of life leaves the body of a man she does not know at all. Every clock in the world seems to have stopped ticking in that one moment.