An Adlock Fanfiction

Here I will present my latest work of Adlockian fiction – just a little something I worked on every now and then that kind of turned into a full on story. I ship these two so very hard.
P.S. Perhaps I should mention that “Adlock” is the Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler ship name. I don’t ship them in the books (heaven forbid I make A. Conan Doyle roll in his grave), but I certainly ship them on the BBC show.

In the process of being edited by my lovely new writer/bloggy friend Eva at Coffee, Classics, and Craziness


Chapter I

“When I say run, run.”

Irene looked up at the tall, stately figure of her supposed executioner. His voice was warm, refined, and English through and through. His eyes were all that were visible of his face, but they and the familiarity of his voice said enough.

It was him.

The relief was more than she could bear. One tear tracked a path down her thin face. He had come, and she was saved. She had not the slightest hope or the faintest idea of it, and yet here he was. She was free. Sentiment had gotten the better of them both before, but she was grateful for it this time.

The men at their firing positions in the large, sandy tanks jerked backwards, sniped simultaneously from behind. The other jihadists panicked, some drawing their swords, and others, their machine guns. Sherlock, his sword already raised must have given the others the impression that he was about to sever her head from her shoulders. Instead, he severed the head of the man standing behind him. It fell beside her on the floor, and she raised an eyebrow, eyeing it with an impressed expression.

Except now his cover was blown.

“Run!” Sherlock shouted.

The woman ran. Ran as fast as her legs could carry her. Passing the decapitated man, she seized the sword from his still warm hands and carried it with her.

For luck.

The word “run” was undoubtedly a code as well, for as soon as Sherlock had yelled it, shots erupted from the rooftops, mowing down the terrorists below. Her captors fell to the ground left and right. This had been well-planned.

Swords clashed behind her, slicing through flesh as she sprinted off.  Men grunted, shouted, swore.  They would be after her soon; she was a wanted criminal.

Once out of the range of fire and after she rounded a few deserted corners, she stopped and looked about her. Spotting a nearby bush, she ran to it and concealed herself inside.  The dark color of her burqa would do much to disguise her presence.  She hoped.

Once hidden, she had only one thought: Sherlock Holmes.

After what seemed to be an eternity, the far-off noise subsided, and she dared to look up. Bodies lay scattered on the hard-packed earth, only a few still standing. Searching their figures, she chuckled as she recognized the inexplicable figure of her own clever detective without his funny hat. He walked briskly, looking this way and that. The others disbanded, following the orders of their leader, whose sword was still drawn. Instead of bursting out upon him, she pulled out her mobile phone and sent a text: “bushes.”

Sherlock stopped, read the text, deleted it, walked a few paces, and then squinted in her general direction.

“Do people really hide in bushes like the idiots in stories?” he mused.  She recognized the moment when he caught sight of her, his eyes sharpening in recognition.

“Sometimes,” she spat, trying to sound annoyed.

Her burqa was quite caught on the branches and it made her efforts to stand fruitless. Sherlock smirked underneath his garbs. The bush had ripped her head covering off, but the rest of her garments were still intact. Her thick, brown tresses fell over her shoulders, something she knew would soften and refine her ordinarily sharp features. Standing upright and looking at him, Irene Adler never looked so resolved.

“There’s really no use in wearing this anymore, I suppose—it’s horribly irritating,” he complained, jerking the covering from his head, to expose his face and a nest of unruly, raven black hair.

She was supposed to be his enemy now, and he was supposed to be in London. Why was he here? Did he even know why he was here? She had a sneaking suspicion that she knew his motive for saving her, but if she were being honest, she wanted to hear him say it.

Yes, she would make him say it.

“Why?”

There, she had said it. Blurted it. It was out now; she’d spoken her mind. She would hear it from him. Why should Sherlock Holmes care if she lived or died? Why had he saved her life?

“Because it was making me sweat, that’s why,” Sherlock said, rubbing the sides of his head and ruffling his hair. He was about to open his mobile but Irene seized his sleeve.

“No. I mean…why?” she repeated. He looked at her, then at the sleeve she had in an iron grip.

He didn’t say anything for a moment, until, as if thinking out loud, he said, “People always want to know why; and I think I’m the chief of sinners among them. Trying to explain reasons, motives of revenge, sentiment, violence, greed, jealousy…love. Why?” he broke off, as if thinking. Then he continued, barely above a whisper, “Forgive me, brother dear.”

“Tell me. I will know,” Irene declared, letting a look of cunning spread over her face.

“I thought it was fairly obvious as to why,” he answered curtly.

There was a moment of silence. Neither one of them said a word.

Irene cleared her throat. “Well then,” she said, sauntering closer, “I want to hear you say it.”

She was only an arm’s length from him, looking up into his eyes with mischief in her own. He was in her grip—she had him now. He had to say it; that thought was so delicious that a triumphant crept onto her lips.

“Say what?”

“Come now, Mr. Holmes, let’s not be vapid.”

“If we’re not going to be vapid, then answer me this.”

“Answer you what?”

“How did I ever guess the four letters that opened your mobile phone?”

She swallowed, then shrugged—a feeble attempt to appear unaffected.

“Lucky guess.”

“Sure?” Sherlock asked, taking a step closer.

“If we’re not going to be vapid, we might as well use reason. I chose those four letters for I understood the reason you had: you love me—” She sucked in her breath. “—and I knew it from the elevation of your pulse and the dilation of your pupils as you sat with me by the fire in Baker Street.

“If you care to be rational, then it is a fairly obvious conclusion that the present circumstances illustrate the same, yet you’re not taking my pulse or watching my pupils at the moment, are you? I think it obvious: a well-planned attack on a terrorist base in Karachi, Pakistan, all to rescue a woman who thought she cared for no one and thought no one cared for her. If that were true, why is she still alive?”

“Tell me if you’re such a clever boy,” she cajoled, her voice barely above a whisper.

“I’d rather hear you use your brain,” he replied, seemingly impervious to her charms.

Irene let go of his sleeve, took another step closer—close enough that her breath ruffled his hair—and gasped, “Oh, Mr. Holmes….” Taking his hands in her own, she whispered, “Say it—just say it. I’ll say it, too, if it makes you feel better.” Her voice was full of deep earnestness.

She whispered into his ear, “I love you.”

He reddened, probably against his will. He looked at her, looked away, then back at her.

He was so determined not to say it, wasn’t he? But still, his face was only inches from hers and there was something like magnetic energy between them.

She stared into his eyes with silent yearning, and his stiff, rigid face bent slightly towards hers. Her lips parted. Her eyes closed. She most certainly would have kissed him had not the sound of voices shouting in Arabic interrupted the moment.

“Too late…again,” Irene breathed, excruciatingly disappointed.

“That’s not the end of the world…but it’s not Mrs. Hudson either,” he quipped, grinning roguishly and taking her hand.

Sprinting off into the night, he led the way, Irene gripping his hand and keeping up with astonishing speed. The voices were still confused behind them; so they knew they had not been found out. Sherlock led her down darkened alleyways and deserted streets. What an odd pair they made, the detective and the woman, each one grasping the other’s hand tight, running through the deserted, midnight streets of Karachi, Pakistan.

The local market was in their path. A few vendors still remained open, although most had retired for the night. Scurrying by the few buyers and sellers still awake, he led her through the dwindling crowd.

A jeweler burst out in front of them holding up a necklace. Sherlock sputtered angrily, came to a halt, and Irene slammed into him in the process.

“A lovely necklace, for your wife,” the man said, leering at Irene.

“No, no—sorry,” Sherlock spat, as he shoved the merchant aside and dragged Irene along with him.

They dashed past darkened buildings and retreated into the darkness of an alley. Irene opened her mouth to speak, but Sherlock put his finger to his lips. Irene listened for the raucous sound of raised voices in between her pulsing heartbeat. There was a commotion afar off; the terrorists were searching the bazaar.

Your wife…mmm…I confess, I rather enjoyed the way that sounded,” she mused, looking up at him with dancing eyes. She still managed to maintain that rather coaxing tone of voice even though she was badly out of breath. He, however, managed to act completely preoccupied, to her dismay.

“I easily could get used to being called ‘Mrs. Holmes.’ ‘Mrs. Holmes…’ Oh, God, that does sound good, doesn’t it? Will I get to wear my own hat?”

“Oh, shut up,” Sherlock snapped, scowling at Irene’s flirtatious expression. She smirked.

He opened his mobile phone and texted a few words to a number Irene could not make out. Was he communicating with whoever planned to help them with the next part of their escape—whatever that might be?

A black car pulled up beside them, and a man in a dark coat opened the backseat, motioning for them both to enter the car. Sherlock smiled, took Irene’s hand, and ushered her inside.

The driver took off at a ferocious speed. They came to the edge of the city; they were driving on the M-9 now, the “Hyderabad” motorway. There were no cars behind them, nor any ahead, and peace settled over Irene. Where were they going—and what would they do when they got there? She laid her head on Sherlock’s breast and closed her eyes, letting tranquility wash over her weary body.

Ah, but wait. This was a good opportunity.

Yes.

Before letting herself laze about, she straightened and pressed her lips to her savior’s sweaty cheek.

The savior in question said nothing as she settled back down onto his breast.

But she didn’t sleep.

 

Sherlock smiled. The car was dark, so the woman couldn’t see the amusement on his face. He had done it. He had saved the woman. Why should he care? What did it matter? As Mycroft had indeed told him, “All lives end. All hearts are broken. Caring is not an advantage.” It wasn’t an advantage. Surely his brother was correct in saying so. So why, if all lives end and all hearts are broken, did he bother saving this woman’s life? She was nasty, to tell the truth. But maybe he did love her. Maybe he did love this quiet creature resting on his chest…this small and yet incredibly vile soul taking breaths in and out restfully in his arms. He did care. He would always care. No matter where he was in the end, he would always have a place in his heart (and his mind palace) for Irene Adler.

Two hours later, the car stopped.

They were now in the outskirts of Hyderabad, another of Pakistan’s large cities.

Their driver opened the door and bright lights poured into the darkened car. Holding her hands over her eyes as she stepped out, Irene coughed as wind beat into her face mercilessly. Dust flew about in clouds, and she squinted in the bright Arabian moonlight. A helicopter had just landed near the car, and she saw what was to happen.

“Kiss a girl, why don’t you?” she asked, batting her eyelashes and accentuating her lips.

Sherlock huffed a laugh, dismissing the idea. She frowned and tutted once, but looked him square in the eyes before letting go of his arm.

“I will not forget, Mr. Holmes,” she said, looking into his face and stroking his cheek with an outstretched forefinger. “Thank you,” she breathed, letting go and gazing into his face triumphantly. Perhaps Sherlock would sense the true gratitude bubbling inside of her, just as he sensed everything else.

Before walking away she added, “But we’re not done, are we?”

Sherlock smirked. The expression travelled up to touch his eyes and so clearly, silently replied, “not by a long shot.”

And with that, Irene’s mouth broke into a smile.

 

Irene laid back against the peeling, leather seats of the helicopter. She shut her eyes, almost surprised that she was not crying. She pulled out her mobile phone and texted Sherlock one last time. Clever words, as always.

As the cab drove away, Sherlock’s mobile sensually “sighed” as it often did, and he smiled inwardly. The new message read, “I love you Mr Holmes.” He didn’t respond; it was almost flirting not to, but in truth he didn’t know what to say. In fact, before stepping through the door of 221b Baker Street, he deleted the text for fear of John or Mycroft discovering it.


Chapter II

Pakistan was a year ago.

She was still alone, hungry, and dangerous.

But at present, she was crying. News had done something to crack her cold, violent mind, and now she was covering her mouth trying not to sob.

He was dead.

He had killed himself.

She didn’t cry for people; she never cried for people. Everyone came and went in her life. She never let herself get attached, and people never meant anything to her. Pleasure was abundant. Emotional attachments were foreign. Kate had been dead a year, and when Irene found her hanging by a rope from the closet door, no tear graced her cheek. She sighed, surely, but her eyes never once watered. Even that one author, whose reputation she had destroyed with her fun and games, was ruined forever, but she didn’t mind. Why should she?

She was in Berlin, not London, but news traveled fast, especially when it concerned the internationally reputed consulting detective, Sherlock Holmes. It had happened only yesterday. He had been alive, then. But now he was dead. He had jumped from the rooftop of the St. Bartholomew’s Hospital building.

Why?

But the woman was by no means stupid. She knew it was something to do with that obsessive maniac, James Moriarty. He had paid her well for her work, yet she never fully trusted him. He was dead, too, it seemed. Blew his own brains out on the rooftop of the same hospital Sherlock had fallen from. She wondered what had happened in their last moments.

She was hungry. Dressing in a blue evening gown, she prepared herself for a meal at the Hotel Quarré.

Ah, dinner.

It made her think of the many times she had flirted with him.

Just when she had thought “perhaps he might pop in,” it turned out he was dead.

She was staying in the Hotel Adlon Kempinski and could see The Brandenburg Gate from her suite window. Although her life’s work had been ruined, she was not stupid enough to not have anything saved. She had money, so she could easily afford the luxury Berlin hotel. The Hotel Quarré, then, was equally luxurious. Crystal chandeliers hung from the ceiling, and the tables were sumptuously set with linen placings.

She was given a seat and gloomily, she waited to be served.

She sat for about five minutes and began to wonder. The empty minutes of nothing made her mind begin to fog with thoughts of the detective. If she had been back in her room she most certainly would have been weeping. Sentiment. Indeed, what a chemical defect this was, ceaselessly pouring over her like a river flows over a boulder.

Her phone buzzed on the glass table.

She picked it up, unlocked it, and gasped as she read what it said and who it was from:

I’m not dead, let’s have dinner.

SH

Of all the dirty tricks she had expected him to play, this one was the furthest from her mind. She replied, and they texted in banter. Her fingers bled fire as she formed each response with intense agility:

 

Yes, let’s. Where are you?

Where do you think?

SH

Can you see me?

Do you think I’m that stupid?

SH

I was only asking.

You’re sitting under a chrystal chandelier that was

bought in Mumbai, by the looks of it. You’re wearing

a blue dress, black heels, and a sorrowful tear-stained face.

SH

Oh, shut up and join me. I’d much rather

hear it than read it.

It?

SH

Yes. I’d much rather hear you than

read you.

Fine.

SH

She looked up, but no one appeared. She may have jumped just a little when the sides of her chair were suddenly gripped by two white hands, and Mr. Sherlock Holmes stepped out from behind and took the seat opposite her.

She was trying not to smile. She tried to look as sultry and conniving as she could, but it was difficult to do so.

Guten tag, fraulein.” he said. “Good day, miss.” He did not want to be caught speaking English, especially since it would expose his being a foreigner, which could lead to the discovery that he was not genuinely dead. Speaking German made him blend in with the locals, as did his clothing, which made him look alarmingly like a Berliner.

Saukerl,” Irene scolded. “You dirty pig.”

“At least I texted you a warning before I faked mine,” she quipped, still speaking in German and fiddling with the corners of her napkin compulsively.

“Why would it bother you?” he replied, narrowing his eyes with mock scrutiny.

“How did you do it?” she asked, ignoring his question and raising her eyebrows.

“As if I’d tell you,” he remarked.

She decided to humor him and dropped the subject entirely.

“You mentioned dinner?” Irene asked.

“Starving,” Sherlock replied, but he wasn’t stupid. He just enjoyed teasing on purpose.

Catching the gleam in her eye, he acted surprised. Shaking his head as if he had accidentally forgotten what he knew she really meant, he remarked, “No, sorry; I meant real dinner. I’m starving. Physically starving.”

She rolled her eyes.

“Like I said before, Jim used to call you—”

“The virgin,” he finished for her. “You were quite clear on that point.”

“I was clear on a lot of points.”

“So was I.”

She looked at him intently. Mischief fogging up her face once more. The corners of her mouth were playing a game and trying to decide if they should form a smile. She ended up sticking with serene.

“I think that’s what I like about you, Mr. Holmes. You’re always the good boy.”

“I am what I am,” Sherlock replied, looking at his watch with an irritated expression.

A few moments of uncomfortable silence passed, and it is true to say that it was incredibly awkward. But Irene would not take it back. What she had said was true: she always loved the good boy.

“I read one of Dr Watson’s stories yesterday. I rather enjoyed it. The Hounds of Baskerville. I found it quite entertaining. It’s adorable—the way he talks about you,” she mused.

“He’s fond of romanticizing my job and exposing my thinking process for the whole damn world to idolize.”

“Temper, temper,” Irene cooed, shaking her head and pursing her lips.

“Why are you here?” Sherlock asked her, studying her face.

“Never you mind me; what brings you to Berlin?” she asked, answering his question with a question. “Running errands for big brother?”

“As it so happens, yes,” Sherlock replied, unfolding his napkin and putting it on his lap.

“Moriarty may be dead, but he has terrorist cells all around the globe. Mycroft has me on certain assignments to bring them down from the inside out. I’ll be away from London for quite a while.”

“Do you think you’ll ever go back?” Irene asked, the only sincere question she had raised all night.

“I don’t know. If I’m killed, then I’ll still be dead to everyone, so it wouldn’t matter anyway…but if I succeed, and I am needed at home again, I suppose I would be called back. I can’t imagine that being less than a few years or so. Who knows?” Sherlock attempted a smile, but it was more of a look of acceptance than genuine enthusiasm.

“And that’s why you’re in Berlin?”

“Yes. Catching one of Moriarty’s puppets. In fact, you’ll most likely meet him tonight. He’s going up to your room in two hours, I’d say.”

“My room?” Irene looked like someone who is unexpectedly doused in ice water.

“Yes, and it’s your job to make him feel at home there. Do what you do best.”

“What makes you think you can trust me?”

“You owe me a favor, and you’re not the type to accept favors. You need an opportunity to repay me. Here it is. Besides, there’s no reason for you to try anything stupid on me. Moriarty’s dead.”

She nodded. He had a fair argument.

“What exactly are you asking me to do?” she quizzed, narrowing her eyes and drumming her fingers on the table.

“I spoke with the man this morning. He trusts me completely, as I made myself sympathetic towards his cause. I’ve been in his company for quite some time, associating, doing as I’m told, winning his confidence. He is oblivious. Human error worked in my favor. He felt depressed this morning. Told him I knew someone who could give him a good night. Told him it would cost a bit, but he didn’t mind. Anything to fill the void. That’s where you come in.”

“You don’t know me well enough to assume I’m an object to fill a void. I don’t fill voids. I accentuate them. How did you know where to find me?”

“You honestly think I’d tell you? The same way I found you in Karachi.”

“Fine, then. Keep your secrets.”

A waiter came to the table, and Sherlock ordered a bottle of Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) for them both. Irene was delighted he had ordered so fine a red wine.

“What are we celebrating?” Her face was bright with alacrity.

“Tonight’s results.”

“Which are?”

“The destruction of a terror cell.”

“Then why are we drinking wine instead of formulating a plan?”

“The plan is already formulated.”

“Then tell me,” she put her elbows on the table and leaned toward him, “what are we going to do?”

Sherlock took his first sip of wine and divulged their night’s itinerary.

Klaus Schreiber arrived at Irene’s room at half past midnight. She certainly wasn’t wearing anything suggestive when he knocked on her door. Nevertheless, she acted genuinely pleased to see him there.

Hallo,” the dark-haired German croaked as she opened the door. He was immaculately tall, which initially frightened Irene, though she managed to conceal her apprehension incredibly well. He was not a young man, by any means, and she found this disappointing. He had scruffy, prickly black hair around his face and startling grey eyes. His lips were dreadfully cracked, and when he opened his mouth to speak, it was like watching a rusty door swing on its hinges…it looked painful.

Irene could tell from his appearance that he had incredibly low self-esteem. His hygiene was practically falling apart, which spelled out lack of interest in anything related to self-care. He had bags under his eyes. Fatigue. Depressed, insecure, tired. She knew the type. He was a stupid one.

This would be easy.

Wie geht’s, Fraulein?” he asked. He was inside now. “How are you, miss?”

Hallo,” Irene replied, her voice rich and sultry. She put on her best face and took off the man’s coat for him.

“I’ve been expecting you, sir. Please, do come in. Make yourself at home. I’ll prepare a cup of tea for you whilst I go and change. I always prefer changing after I meet my clients. Unveiling myself in all my glory following the introduction always makes for a clever effect.”

She winked.

The man nodded eagerly, with a crooked smile on his face. He was missing some teeth. His face made Irene’s stomach wobble within her. How ugly. How would the Germans say it? Ekelhaft!

She swept elegantly into the kitchen and put a kettle on.

“What’s your name, darling?” she asked, spooning honey into the cup and throwing in a bag of chamomile.

“Klaus,” he replied, taking off his shoes. His socks were filthy. Irene turned around and rumpled her nose.

“Klaus…Klaus…that’s quite an attractive name,” she purred. Flattery always worked on men like Klaus.

Danke, Liebling,” he replied. “Thank you, darling.”

The kettle whistled.

Pouring the tea into the cup, Irene glanced toward the clock on the wall. Ten minutes. Ten minutes before she needed this idiot on the floor. She could do it in less.

“You must excuse my not having any leaves. Only bags at the moment. You don’t mind, do you?” she asked, stirring the liquid with a silver spoon.

From what Irene could tell, Klaus shook his head. His shirt was stuck over his head, and Irene’s eyes rolled in their sockets as she saw the myriad of hair on his chest. You could knit a blanket with all that hair, she decided. Ekelhaft indeed!

He somehow managed to come out of his shirt alive, and took the cup from Irene. He made a motion toward her waist, but she smacked his hand and smiled. He seemed to enjoy it. She tried not to gag.

“In due time, Klaus. I’ll return in a moment. Enjoy the tea first.”

She could tell there was not a hint of apprehension in his body. He was completely calm. His shoulders were relaxed, his breathing steady, his face not contorted or discolored. He was perfectly comfortable.

He put the tea to his lips.

With that, she walked away.

Her hips swayed as she pointedly strutted towards the bathroom. Her clothing was all organized in the walk-in closet, which she shut herself in. She locked the door.

She checked her watch. Three minutes until he’s out from the time the tea touches his lips.

Her phone buzzed. She read the new message.

Is he out?

SH

I love how you sign your initials

after every text. Looks fun.

IA

Is the man out?

SH

Patience, darling, I only just left.

I’m in the closet. Appx 3 mins

IA

Remember, play along just in case.

SH

Let me dress myself first.

IA

She placed her phone on one of the cabinets and laughed inwardly as she heard it buzz a few more times. How impatient the poor devil was. She slipped into a thin, satin nightgown trimmed with lace that exposed most of her back. That was hardly what she would have called lingerie, but she still had a job to do, and it would suffice. She took the pins out of her hair, brushed it, and let it fall over her bare shoulders. A spray of perfume would do nicely, as well. She didn’t want to overdo it, but she applied a touch of liner and lipstick for a reaction from Mr. Holmes. Oh no, she wasn’t doing this part solely for the act.

But wait!

She mustn’t forget the shawl. Her back was quite attractive, but her right shoulder certainly was not at present.

Her watch was at four minutes past since she had last checked it, and she knew she was ready to make her entrance. She texted:

Here I come

IA

Bursting out of the closet like a queen strutting out onto a balcony before her kingdom, Irene Adler made her way toward the man Klaus Schreiber, who had dropped his cup and looked dead on the floor.

Ach, mein Gott!” she breathed. “Oh my God!” She dropped to the floor and put her hand to the man’s neck to check his pulse.

At that moment, Sherlock opened the door to the room with a pair of handcuffs and a suitcase of immense proportions.

“Well done, Ms Adler,” Sherlock hurriedly announced, grabbing the man’s arms and pulling them behind his back.

“I know,” she asserted, looking into his face to see if he noticed her freshly painted face.

“What did you give him?”

“Small dose of ketamine. Works like a charm. Always has. We have about four hours at most, I’d say…before he comes to. An hour at the least.”

“You’ve used it before?”

“Of course. Loads of times.”

“Help me pack him into this,” Sherlock uttered, zipping open the suitcase. Irene seized the man’s shoulders and Sherlock picked up his feet. Together, they lugged him into the baggage. He fit snugly. If he were to wake, he would have been incredibly claustrophobic.

They zipped it closed.

“Let’s go,” Sherlock commanded, setting the suitcase upright and leaning on the handle. “And do put on something decent,” he scoffed. “I have a feeling it’s not exactly customary to wear lingerie in the streets of Berlin.”

Annoyance clouded her thoughts.

“It’s not lingerie, Mr. Holmes. But it can be if you want it to be,” she replied, strutting up to him and leaning on his arm.

Please,” he breathed in exasperation, rolled his eyes, and looked towards the door.

Without another word, she stomped back toward the closet and changed into a blue dress. She wrapped herself in her favorite fur coat and slipped on her black heels.

Sherlock was holding the door open with his foot when she returned.

She positioned herself directly in front of his face and slapped her hand on the door to block his path.

“Someday, you will want it to be,” she retorted, defiantly staring into his face with determination. Sherlock met her gaze without flinching. Without taking her eyes off his, she spoke.

“But there’s more important things to do now,” she said, turning around and marching out of the room.

They waited for the elevator in complete silence.

The elevator came.

They entered.

Still silence.

They reached the first floor. He offered her his arm. She took it with a triumphant smirk on her face. Better than nothing, she decided.

Sherlock rolled the suitcase behind him as they walked out towards the front doors and ordered a taxi. Irene held his arm.

They waited on the street in silence for nearly ten minutes before a taxi arrived. Sherlock opened the door for Irene. She climbed in while he put their luggage in the trunk. He followed in after her and shut the door.

Wohin?” the driver asked, addressing Sherlock. “Whereto?”

Kotti,” Sherlock replied. The driver stared at Irene with angst, then turned his back and began to drive.

“You sure you want to take the lady there at this time of night, sir?”

Fahren, bitte.” Sherlock coldly responded. “Drive, please.”

He shut the window between the front and backseats. The driver didn’t even stir.

Kottbusser Tor…. My, my, what have you gotten me into, Mr. Holmes?”

Kottbusser Tor was a district known to most Berliners as the sketchiest place in the city. The train station in particular, which was termed “Kotti” by the locals, was home to pickpockets, murderers, and some of Berlin’s craftiest criminal minds.

“There’s an apartment complex in the neighborhood where the terrorists have settled. I’ve already informed my brother of the location. Their leader is in the trunk. We have them under our thumbs.”

“I’m sure Mr. Holmes the elder will be pleased to see the dominatrix back from the dead. Believe it or not, he flattered me more than you ever did. What was it he said of me? ‘The dominatrix who brought a nation to its knees.’ How true. That was a line I intended to put on my website before things went to hell with my camera phone.”

“My brother knows nothing of your existence, so I prefer you let me approach that topic if it arises.”

If? You must allow me at least a little bit of room to misbehave, Mr. Holmes. It’s no fun surprising someone when you can’t see their reaction to the surprise.”

“Misbehaving comes with consequences, Miss Adler.”

“Only if you get caught, Mr. Holmes,” she whispered in his ear.

He kept his head straight, but eyed her out of the corner of his eye with what looked to be annoyance. She, on the other hand, was simpering slyly. She saw that the moment was too good to miss, so she pecked his cold cheek while she was at it.

Sherlock said nothing.

 

The car stopped at Kotti station five minutes later. The drive had taken no time at all before they arrived. Despite the hour being so late, Kottbusser Tor was still a hub of activity. Sherlock thanked the driver and hauled their luggage out of the trunk.

After she took his arm again, Sherlock led Irene across the street and down Adalbertstraße toward an Indian restaurant that appeared to be closed for the night. Sherlock, however, had a key, and explained that the men they were looking for lived above the establishment.

“You may need this,” Sherlock noted, revealing a handgun he pulled from the front pocket of the suitcase. He gestured for her to take it.

She eyed him with an injured expression.

“Surely you don’t think me that stupid, Mr. Holmes,” she replied, reaching into her purse and revealing a revolver of her own.

Oh, you do mean to impress tonight, don’t you?” Sherlock asked, pleased by her own cleverness. Irene did not respond, but smiled at her own intuition.

“Common sense. That’s all, really. Shall we go in?”

“Yes. Just a minute. This way…” his voice trailed off as she trotted after him towards the alley behind the restaurant.

“Can’t attract attention, and I need to send a text.”

“Ah, of course.”

He tapped send and pocketed his phone.

“When will he get here?” Irene inquired, examining her nails by the light of a nearby streetlamp.

“Any moment,” Sherlock whispered, scanning the alleyway for potential threats.

“Ah, another dragon slain,” crowed a familiar, supercilious voice.

“Evening, Mycroft,” Sherlock replied, advancing toward the figure sauntering down the alley, an umbrella in hand.

“Rather slow, aren’t we brother mine? Two days longer than the last one. I hope you haven’t let yourself become distracted.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t call myself much of a distraction, would you, Mr. Holmes?”

Irene stepped out of the shadows and stood with haughty triumph beside Sherlock.

“No, I don’t think so. The word I would use is nuisance,” Mycroft replied, his words horribly salty.

“No surprises then? You…knew?” Sherlock asked, seemingly having suspected this reaction from his brother.

“Of course I bloody knew. How stupid do you find me?” Mycroft retorted, a forced smile splitting his pale face.

“Just a little,” Sherlock responded. Mycroft’s smile twitched into a frown resembling a bent pipe cleaner. He was not amused at his brother’s sarcasm.

Hilarious,” he breathed, huffing in annoyance. “Now, if you don’t mind returning to the matter at hand, we have much more important things to do.”

“I agree,” Irene piped up, standing akimbo, her eyes wide with enthusiasm.

“Let’s not waste time on trivialities, little brother,” Mycroft scolded.

Sherlock refused to be ordered.

No, how did you know, and what have you done about it? And why would you make John go through all that trouble of telling me she was in a ‘witness protection scheme in America?’”

“I did not know immediately of her ‘rescue,’ but I was sent some sensitive information from my informants in Kiev about six months later that she was, in fact, alive. You can imagine how stupid I felt.”

“Vividly,” Sherlock replied.

Mycroft’s lips twitched again.

“So, we gave her work to do. I brought her in. She’s much too dangerous to have against us, so I ‘recruited’ her, in every sense of the word. She’s been running little errands for me these last few years.”

“Ah,” Sherlock breathed, glancing at the woman.

“That’s why you wouldn’t tell me your business in Berlin. You’re working for” (here he turned to Mycroft) “the British Government.”

“Precisely,” she sighed, as if waiting for him to arrive at that obvious conclusion.

“I thought it was about time for a heartwarming little reunion…eh, Sherlock?” Mycroft teased, standing as if there was sand in his trousers.

“Don’t be absurd,” Sherlock retorted, turning his head and letting his eyes tip upward in perturbation.

“Have you got our infamous Herr Schreiber, then? I hope Miss Adler’s charms proved useful to you,” Mycroft replied, examining the tip of his umbrella with a preoccupied air.

“Yes, we do,” Irene asserted, taking the suitcase from Sherlock’s possession and sliding it towards him. “And yes, I think they did,” Irene added, returning to her place beside Sherlock and sliding her hands around his arm.

Mycroft took the suitcase from the handle with the tips of his fingers, just as if it had been a dirty piece of underwear.

“Mmm…yes…and he’s…?”

“Inside, of course,” Irene finished for him.

“Just so,” Mycroft concluded. Zipping open the case and spying a few facial features, he wrinkled his nose and zipped it closed just as quickly as he had opened it.

He put his phone to his ear after dialing a number.

“Yes. The suitcase is ready to be boarded, that’s certain. Thank you.”

Irene cocked her head in interest.

“Who was that?”

He eyed her suspiciously.

“Let’s wake up Sleeping Beauty, shall we?” Mycroft asked, ignoring Irene’s question entirely. “You do the honors, Miss Adler.”

Irene’s heels clacked on the asphalt as she strode toward the suitcase, knelt down, and zipped it open. She motioned at Sherlock to help her.

“Rise and shine, big boy,” she cooed, close to the sleeping German’s ear.

“He might not come to. I gave him a small dose, but he might be out for a few more hours. Unless we try harder—” she smacked him across the face. Then she pommeled his face into her knee. She plugged his nose and covered his mouth.

He gasped for breath. He was definitely awake now.

“Get the gag, Mr. Holmes,” Irene ordered Sherlock. He produced a handkerchief from his pocket.

“Morning, dear,” Irene breathed, tying the gag around the man’s head. He was still groggy, but he eyed her with a furious glare.

“Sie Hure!” he spat. “You whore!”

“No one likes a spoil sport, Herr Schreiber,” she replied, tightening the knot at the back of his head with gusto. It was then that he realized his hands were tied.

“I’ll take it from here, Miss Adler,” Mycroft interfered, taking the man’s handcuffed wrists and standing him upright.

“Und verfluche dich!” he screamed at Sherlock through his gag. “And curse you!”

“You had it coming, Herr Schreiber. Thanks for dinner last week.”

The man’s eyes were bleeding hate. Two men came jogging up the alley, both in black suits and dark glasses. They took Schreiber by his arms and took him back toward the Indian restaurant Sherlock and Irene had passed. There were men clad in bullet proof vests all around, sporting guns. A helicopter hovered overhead and shone its light into the window of the apartment.

A magnified voice filled the air. “Show yourselves! You are surrounded!”

Someone peeked through the curtains of the apartment. Irene was watching the scene when Sherlock grabbed her wrist.

“Naughty boy; what are you—?” she didn’t finish. Irene was being pulled along after Sherlock at a mad dash.

A man had just jumped out of the side window and no one had been there to guard that exit. The other exits were surrounded, but not this one.

“Someone get that window!” Sherlock hollered, and two men came running. Irene’s heels clapped the floor as she ran alongside him. They could see the criminal up ahead, sprinting for his life.

“STOP!” Sherlock yelled, taking out his gun. Irene was quicker.

A gunshot split the air.

The man clutched at his calf. His hand was bloody.

“Good shot,” Sherlock said through pants for air.

“Yes, it was, wasn’t it?” she replied, also breathing heavily.

They ran towards him, and Sherlock seized his wrists. He was not strong enough. The man jerked his hands from Sherlock’s grasp and pulled Irene’s leg out from under her and twisted her foot around deliberately in an attempt to sprain it. She fell on her back.

She moaned as her back hit the floor.

“Aghh!” She arched her back, her weight in her elbows. It was as if she was afraid for her shoulders to touch the ground. She put her hand on the asphalt to steady herself. Sherlock looked at her curiously and held out his hand.

She smacked it and tried to stand. Her twisted ankle wouldn’t hold weight. She took his hand with reluctance.

“Bad back, is it?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.

“I did just fall on hard asphalt, Mr. Holmes; I would think crying out upon impact is a mere reflex, not a symptom of a bad back,” she hissed.

“Here,” he said, sitting her down on the asphalt. “Let me get to him.”

She sat down and held her ankle in her hand. It was maddening to prove useless.

Sherlock sat on top of him and held his hands behind his back. A man came running from the crime scene they had left behind. He handed Sherlock a pair of handcuffs.

Alles gut?” Sherlock asked him. “All good?”

Ja,” the man replied. The mission had been a success.

The agent took the rogue in his custody and returned with him to the crime scene.

Irene rubbed her ankle and winced. The truth was, it had never really been sprained. The man had indeed attempted to twist it, but that had been all; a mere attempt. She decided to use this stroke of luck to her advantage.

Sherlock helped her to her foot and she put her arm around his shoulder. He held her up and she hopped back toward the crime scene.

Men were being hauled away in black cars, and curious pajama-clad civilians were coming to watch. Mycroft spotted them returning and strutted over, once more swinging his umbrella and leaning on it like a cane.

“The dragons slayer returns; this time with the lady,” Mycroft sarcastically stated.

“Oh, shut up,” Sherlock barked. He was not in the mood.

“I need to get Miss Adler back to her hotel room. She—,” Sherlock was cut short.

“She what? Please don’t tell me you have things planned, brother mine.” He made a few “tut tut” noises with his tongue.

“Again, shut up!” Sherlock was irate. His breathing was a sure sign of his inner exasperation. Irene stroked his shoulder. It felt nice.

“She sprained her ankle. It needs medical attention.”

“She can’t get ‘medical attention.’ Don’t be daft, Sherlock.” Mycroft rebuked.

“Which, if you were listening, is why I told you I need to get her back to the hotel room. Who’s daft now, brother dear?”

“Boys, please; save it for the schoolyard.” Irene leaned harder on Sherlock. She had an injured limb and needed some well-deserved attention! God, men were so thoughtless.

“Come along, Miss Adler,” he said, carrying her towards the curb where they could get a cab. Mycroft taunted after them, “Enjoy your…evening.”

Sherlock hailed a cab as it drove by, and they clambered inside. He made sure he kept all pressure or obstructions from her foot. He wanted to humor her performance. He wasn’t stupid either, and he knew a faked sprain when he saw it. She acted it well, but he was too clever.

God, it hurts,” Irene winced, pulling her heel off and rubbing her soles.

“I should think so, the way the man twisted it,” Sherlock replied, examining her naked foot. He reached out to touch it, but she drew it away. Yes, she was faking.


Chapter III

Sherlock helped her as they made their way back to her room. She had her arm around his neck and was leaning on him as they slowly entered the suite. She was happy with the state of things.

As soon as Sherlock managed to get the door open, he strode over towards the bed and laid her down upon it. Propping her up against the pillows, he pulled down the blankets and covered her.

As he drew back, she seized his forearms to keep him from leaving.

Sherlock looked at her and saw dilated pupils.

He remembered how she had fallen on the sidewalk and winced when her back hit the ground. He decided to play along and try for information.

“Your ankle isn’t sprained.”

“Of course it isn’t.”

She pulled him down so that he knelt beside the bed.

“I’ve not the time for your trifles, Miss Adler.”

She sat up.

“Why not? Just one trifle?” she quizzed, reaching out and fondling his cheek.

He wasn’t sure what to do at this point. She pulled him closer so that his face was only inches from hers.

“Let’s have dinner,” she wooed.

His visage didn’t change. He just stared into her face unblinkingly. The moment felt strangely familiar. He remembered when they had sat like this by the fire at 221b, each one holding the other’s hands and getting lost in the other’s eyes. And she remembered, too.

She reached up and intertwined her fingers behind his neck. His mind warmed as he processed the fact that she trusted him.

Their noses touched.

Their pupils were swelling.

He would go no further, but she didn’t know that. Here he would deduce.

“Does it hurt when I do this?” he asked, his eyes steady and unblinking.

“Do what?” Irene asked, blissfully mesmerized.

He slid his arms around her shoulders as she inhaled expectantly. To her surprise, he pressed her right shoulder blade firmly with his thumb. As his fingers felt the flesh, he knew exactly why she had resisted the road’s touch only an hour earlier.

Shock chased the sensual emotion off her face.

She let go of his neck, inhaled as if she were coming up for water, and smacked him across the face.

He was not stunned.

Don’t.”

“Don’t what?”

Don’t,” she spat, speaking the word as if it tasted foul. Her eyes were practically on fire.

Her nose flared. Her eyes were like dinner plates. She was breathing hard; not from arousal, but from anger. A bead of water formed in her left eye. Sherlock recognized her expression. It was the same as it had been when he revealed the code that unlocked her camera phone.

“Leave me.”

She said it under her breath. It was hardly audible. Barely discernible.

The bead let go of the lash and fell down her cheek.

She turned over and faced the wall.

“You don’t wield the whip anymore, do you, Miss Adler?”

“My dominatrix days ended the moment you confiscated my camera phone.”

“No, I mean you aren’t a dominatrix unprofessionally, either.”

“Who says I’m not?” she snapped, still facing the wall.

“The night you were beaten a few days ago.”

She froze. Words disobediently lingered at the back of her throat.

Then she laughed.

“You stupid man. Beaten? I’m not easily beaten. My shoulder is sore, and I prefer you keep your slimy hands off it. Which, if you agree to—,”

“No. You have scars on your shoulder blade. Your scapula is bruised from blunt force; it’s not sore.”

She pulled the sheets up over her shoulders.

“Self-mutilation, Mr. Holmes. It’s quite common.”

“A bruised scapula? With all due respect, even you couldn’t pull that off.”

She turned to face him. He thought she was going to cry, but she did not. She seemed to have read his mind, for she looked up defiantly, against any thought of tears.

“What happened, Miss Adler?”

She remembered two days ago. She remembered how she had eaten dinner at the hotel, and a man had lasciviously studied her from his own table. She was initially flattered. She had seen him before on the same floor as her, exchanging flirtatious glances as they passed in the hall.

He finished his dinner at the same time she finished hers, and he strode to the stairs as she made her way to the elevator.  She had expected a sensual, mannerly invitation from him, but when he met her at her door and forced her into the bedroom as she opened it, she thought herself a fool.

She kicked him hard in the shins, and they struggled on the floor. She would not go down without a fight. She would be the one to dominate, not him. No one could make her do anything. She would master him and make him beg.

She drove her nails into his flesh, made him bleed, but he would not relent. She bit, scratched, pushed. Eventually, her blue, battered arms and bloody cheeks told her there was nothing left she could do. Her bedraggled hair fell over her eyes as she continued to pommel the assailant with desperate blows.

He was strong.

She wept, screamed, and was ashamed to find herself begging. Negotiating had never been her preferred weapon of choice. Nevertheless, here she was.

But the villain did not stop. He had a rope and a gag. He tore her dress and tied her arms to the bedpost. She kicked his stomach as he approached her. Her feet found their place with strength. Her left foot pommeled his chin. No, he would not, could not do this to her.

When she didn’t stop struggling, he took a glass lamp from the nearby table and walloped her shoulder blade with the base.

It shattered as it collided with her fair skin.

The pain was like having a block of ice forced up her throat. She fell limp, sputtering in agony and lay like one dead upon the carpet.

It was the final blow.

She coughed up lungfuls of agony.

As if that weren’t enough, he rummaged through her closet for that dreaded object: the riding crop, and he used it on her just as she had done to others before.

By the time he had left her bedroom before the sun rose without so much as a goodbye, there was blood on the floor.

She lay there all the next day.

Like a ravaged piece of flesh.

Her body would not obey her commands. Her eyes leaked tears without her even wanting them to. She stared at the white ceiling, unashamedly naked, and let herself bleed on the carpet. She felt nothing. She felt like nothing. Everything was numb.

She relayed the account for him, but not the details.

Sherlock said nothing, but his eyes were sparking with empathy. He wanted to reach out and take her hand. To hold her. To caress her hair. To take her face in his hands and even kiss her. How he wished he could have. But how it would have lowered him. Sentiment was still a chemical defect, and it would never cease to be. He continued to stare at her in the silence that followed.

Their eyes met.

She saw the compassion on his face. She clenched the sheets in her petite fists.

“Don’t pity me, Mr. Holmes,” she spat, wiping her seemingly tearless eyes. She rolled over once more and faced the wall.

Domination was a blanket of firm, powerful security.

At least it had been.

With every fall of her whip-wielding hand, there was pain for them. Each time the leather strip hit the flesh, there was triumph in her heart.

She knew it was evil.

Of course she knew.

She was bad, yes. She was a bad, bad woman.

But the power, oh, the power coursing through her veins.

It felt something akin to the way a young boy feels when he plucks the wings off a butterfly. When he squishes an ant or crushes duck eggs for the fun of it. The power makes one feel alive, secure, masterful.

So felt Irene Adler.

She was the master, the conqueror.

The dominatrix.

But then to receive it.

To be dominated.

It hurt.

It stung.

It felt like a thousand needles slowly being twisted into her untamed, unanswerable soul.

How she hated the victor.

“May I see it?” Sherlock asked, his tone gentle.

Irene turned to face him again.

“See what?”

“The injuries, Miss Adler. On your back. Let me see them.”

She turned toward the wall again and replied with a distant “help yourself.”

He pulled the sleeve off of her shoulder, confident she wouldn’t try anything stupid. What he saw confirmed his darkest suspicions.

There were scars from cuts the glass had made. There were welts from a riding crop’s leather strap. Her bone was swollen and bruised. When he ran his fingers over it all, she inhaled, but never winced.

He spoke at long last.

“I’ll make the tea.”

“Yes, do.”

She fell asleep while he did so.

That night Sherlock found a cracked riding whip in the walk-in closet.

The next morning, Irene rose late and opened the windows. Sunlight streamed in, and she stared out at Berlin below. Tourists flocked around the Brandenburg Gate like moths around a candle.

Sherlock was on the floor, still sleeping. He hadn’t even changed for bed. His mouth was open, and he was barely snoring. She wondered if she should scare him and wake him up with a kiss. Then she thought better of it and left him alone.

Last night was still fresh in her mind. She let her hand run over her shoulder where he had touched the wounds there. Her face was unflinching and cold.

So what if he knew? So what if he knew she was not the irradicable dominatrix anymore?

She decided it wouldn’t matter so much. He might pity her, which could come in handy if she played her cards right.

But no, he wasn’t stupid. If his pity was of an advantage, she would have had her way last night. He was too good, and she knew it. He was an ally, and it was much better than him being an enemy.

Without a word to him, she went to choose her clothes and take a bath. Showers were never something she enjoyed, especially not with scarred flesh for a back.

She was done in no time, and came walking back into the room wearing a blue satin dress that concealed every inch of shoulder she had. She didn’t want him deducing anything else.

Scanning the suite, she found no trace of Sherlock. He was gone.

At first, she tried convincing herself it was a joke.

“Mr. Holmes,” she chirped, calling out with her hands on her hips and a wholeheartedly unamused grimace on her face.

Then she saw the note on the kitchen counter.

It was written by a hurried hand.

Received word from “our British government.” Off to who knows where. I thought I’d give you a quiet morning without any goodbyes. Hope the bone heals soon. Stay off it. You know what I mean. Try Aloe for the skin.

SH

She ripped it in half, then in quarters, then into eighths, and finally sixteenths.

The bastard!

She stuffed the bits of ripped paper into the trash can and slipped on a pair of flats. Running hastily toward the door, she opened it and headed for the stairs.

He would not get away this easily.

The truth was, Sherlock had studied the science of sleeping, and as soon as he had realized that Miss Adler was awake, he assumed a position of repetitive breathing, open-mouthed snoring, and a relaxed bodily figure. He had not worn any clothes for bed because he had been awake for the entirety of the previous night biting his nails in a nearby chair whilst sipping a cup of tea.

From his chair he could keep an eye on her, and for the most part she had slept peacefully. Every time he glanced toward the bed, he felt a belt of horrid proportions tighten around his insides. His face was as emotionless as ever, but his heart was feeling many things.

It was all normal to him.

He felt both proud and annoyed with himself.

He was proud for having resisted all opportunities of expressing sentiment. It was a true struggle of his that he had carried since he was small. His elder brother had always teased him about being “the emotional child.”

Mycroft was always right.

On the other hand, he was annoyed with himself for his having let a rape victim fall asleep in his company without consolation after she had shared a personal story that he compelled her to tell against her will. She never had any intention of telling him. It was too painful.

How similar they were.

His thoughts recycled themselves all night.

Sherlock waited until nearly nine o’clock in the morning. It was then that he decided it would be better if he were gone before she woke. He didn’t want to talk to her, and he decided he didn’t want to be there when she spoke to him. He was afraid of what she would do. He had received a message from Mycroft during the ride back to the hotel the previous night that he was needed in Minsk in two days. Another terror cell had been located. Remembering this information suddenly, he found a few pieces of scratch paper on a complimentary notepad and scrawled the message with a black pen.

She rolled over.

He clutched the pen and scowled at himself. He needed to stop. He was being incredibly stupid. If he left now, she would hear the door.

So what if she heard the door?

She would go after him, ask where he was going, what he was doing, to which he would reply something incredibly plausible and utterly fictitious.

There. The solution was simple. Go and leave the room.

I can’t lie to her.

Why not?

He had stumped himself. He had woven a noose and slipped his neck through it. Halfway between the bed and the door, he felt as if he were being pulled by both ends of the room. The blankets were rustling. She rolled over again.

He dropped to the floor and assumed the position of a sleeping man.

He dared not open his eyes as he felt her stand over his presumably unconscious form for a moment.

God in heaven, don’t let her kiss me.

Sherlock thanked the God in heaven.

The door to the walk-in closet opened and shut. Sherlock waited until he heard the bath water start and stop running before he stood up and briskly strode out of the room. His own suite was the floor below, and he needed to gather up his few belongings before hailing a cab out front.

It took him about thirty minutes to stuff all his ragtag clothing, toiletries, and necessities into the suitcase. He was a messy thing, and his items were everywhere. He figured she wouldn’t take such a short time as thirty minutes to bathe. Knowing her, she would most likely stay in for an hour longer.

Blood was pounding in his ears. He needed to be gone. Now.

He hailed a cab out front and ordered the driver to take him to Berlin Ostbahnhof Station where he would catch the ten o’clock train to Warsaw and then transfer to Minsk.

No sooner had Sherlock stepped into the cab than Irene had stepped out of the bathroom. She scanned the room, found the note, and declared him a bastard in her mind.

But she was clever.

If he thought she hadn’t seen the message “Minsk, brother mine. Two days. Let not your heart be troubled,” from a certain “MH,” he was dead wrong. She had glimpsed it on the taxi ride home. He had his hand over his phone, but she read it in the reflection of the window before he minimized it simultaneously. She had simpered at herself in the dark.

To the train station she would go.

She ran to the door, opened it, and raced to the stairs. She skipped multiple steps, nearly tripping in her foolish dash to the first floor. Irene ordered a cab as soon as she came to the door and practically screamed “Ostbahnhof Station, bitte!” at the driver.

Sherlock’s cab was only five to ten minutes ahead of Irene’s. She was sure she would catch him before he had gotten on the train to Minsk. She had to.

He was sure he would be on the train before she had even gotten out of the bathtub. He had to be on the train before she even knew he was gone.

When Irene made it to the station, the driver let her off as soon as he could stop, and she jostled her way through the crowd as only a European can. She walked with nearly four-foot-long strides on the left side of the queue and scanned the crowd for his face.

The trains heading east were the ones she needed. She found the right signs. There were trains to Frankfurt, Nice, Warsaw…Warsaw was east. Most likely he would take the next train to Warsaw and from there transfer to a different station. The European transportation system was immaculate.

A train came into the station with enough wind to muster the strength of a combatant hurricane. Her hair blew around in every which way, and she shoved it all behind her ears frustratedly. She searched the sea of faces, hoping for one with long cheekbones, defined nose, and a myriad of black hair.

She found him. He was looking at his phone with uneasy, shaking fingers. His face was expressionless as ever; oblivious to the wind from the train.

She didn’t want to give him the impression that she had frantically followed him, so she put her hands on her hips, composed her face, and took smooth, collected steps in his direction. She was directly behind him when she haughtily announced, “You didn’t think you’d sneak off that easily, did you, Mr. Holmes?”

His mind was halted in its tracks.

What! How? Oh, God, the woman was good.

He needed composure, so he didn’t turn around.

“No,” he drawled instantly, as if he knew she had been standing there the whole time. “I gave you about ten minutes, and you’ve made it in just under fifteen. If I’m being honest, I’m a bit disappointed, Miss Adler.”

She rolled her eyes in an exaggerated manner.

“I expected as much,” she mumbled, tapping the ground with her foot. “You could have at least said goodbye.”

He pursed his lips and clucked his tongue.

“Erm,” he lazily drawled again, as if thinking. He still did not turn around. His face was burning with color. “No, I didn’t really want to, to be honest. I’ve never been the best at that sort of thing.”

“Goodbye kiss?” she flirted, hoping for a bit of luck.

His mind was much too fast for his own good.

He saw her in a white dress before an altar. He was wearing a tux. Their ring fingers were encircled, their hands clasped in ardor, and he was kissing her with a passion under a canopy of flowers.

He shut his eyes to clear the image from his mind. He was slapping himself inside his mind palace.

“Even worse,” he replied, his head still buried deep in his phone.

She was annoyed. She took a few steps closer until she was at his elbow.

God, I wish I were as interesting as that phone. What’s it say?” she peeped over his shoulder, and he snapped it shut, pocketing it as if the reflex were involuntary. She raised her eyebrows and purposely enlarged her eyes as he almost elbowed her in the face putting it away.

“Nothing of your concern,” he curtly answered, refusing to make eye contact. He reminded himself that resisting eye contact was key in this situation.

Her temperament was getting ripe with exasperation, and she wanted the attention she believed she deserved. He licked his lips and stared at the platform. When would the bloody train arrive?

“I’ll be on my way, then,” she droned abruptly, turning on her heel and taking a few steps away from him. He knew she wasn’t going to leave, so he waved his arm out to her in farewell and continued to wait on the platform for the train and barely replied, “alright then.”

“Oh for God’s sakes,” Irene turned around again and marched back towards him, his back still against her.

“Mr. Holmes,” she addressed him with her most assertive tone, to which Sherlock looked upwards, but still did not respond. His arms hung motionless at his sides and his eyes were fixed on the ceiling.

His resolve cracked.

“I’m sorry you were raped, Miss Adler,” he uttered suddenly, wiping the fury from her face as if it had never existed at all. Her eyes weren’t watery, but she was shocked that he had let the word “sorry” pass his lips. It was a word she thought him incapable of pronouncing.

“I didn’t ask you to be sorry. I told you not to pity me,” she replied with sharp clarity.

She meant to sting, but he was not stung.

“I know, but I—I do. And I’m sorry.” His heel turned. He was looking down into her blue eyes now, holding out his hand for her to shake. She took it in both her own and pulled him closer.

She brushed a bit of imaginary dust from his coat. He watched her curiously.

“And I forgive you, Mr. Sherlock Holmes,” she replied, lengthening the syllables of his name with her usual sensuous drawl. “I forgive you for being the most ridiculous, difficult, and arrogant idiot to ever walk the earth.” She stroked his cheek as he continued to look completely unaffected by her words.

That’s how she knew they were making effect in his mind palace.

The train rolled into the station, and the PA announced over the sea of travelers that the train to Warsaw was now boarding. She intertwined her fingers around his neck, teased a kiss on his lips then kissed his cheek instead.

“Not yet,” she chaffed, letting her hands find their usual position on her hips and stepping back a foot so she could look him up and down.

He was breathing normally now and found his cheek warmer than it was a few minutes ago. He chided himself for being so trivial.

“Have fun in Minsk, darling,” she added, before swinging herself around and strutting towards the front of the station.

Sherlock required no explanation. No, he wasn’t sure how she knew he was going to Minsk, but he always knew she would have figured it out. It came as no surprise to him.

And she was flattered that he didn’t ask questions. It made her cheeks glow. Indeed, he had expected it of her. What a clever man.

She stopped at the front while she waited for a cab and decided to send him a text.

Jusqu’à la prochaine fois, mon amour.

IA

Until next time, my darling.

And on the train, Sherlock replied.

Au revior

SH

It made her smile.

Parting again for the second time in unknown circumstances, Irene Adler and Sherlock Holmes both walked in different directions, but they silently knew that their paths would undoubtedly cross again.

At least as long as they both owned a fully functioning mobile.


Chapter IV

“Your move, John,” Sherlock yawned, rubbing his eyes sleepily. It was one o’clock in the morning, and he was playing chess with his best friend, John Watson.

“Yeah, I know. You said that already. I heard you the first ten bloody times,” John replied, insanely irritated. It was hard playing chess against a mind like Sherlock’s. John had nearly wasted five minutes just sitting and staring at the board and sweating. It looked like checkmate. Again.

He saw Sherlock’s bishop in position to take out his own queen, but if he moved his queen, Sherlock’s rook could take out his king, which was checkmate. He decided he was bored with the fourth round of chess, so he let Sherlock take the king.

“Why do you always let me win, John? It’s no fun,” Sherlock complained, grabbing his rook and smashing John’s king off the board with an exaggerated swing.

John watched the king roll around on the floor and vanish under a chair.

“I’ll get it, shall I?” John sputtered with annoyance, squatting and feeling around under the chair for the missing piece.

“And I don’t always let you win. Most of the time you let me win,” John said, answering Sherlock’s question.

“Oh my Gooood, I’m so BORED!” Sherlock whined as he leaned back in his chair, let his neck hang down at the other side, and put both hands on his head as only an exasperated genius can. John watched the melodramatic performance with laughing thoughts. Only Sherlock could make boredom look like Shakespeare.

John sniffed.

“Not to worry, Sherlock. I’m sure a case’ll turn up soon. Fancy a cuppa?”

Sherlock shook his head.

“No, no, no, I don’t want anything! I need a case! Something! A cigarette, John! I need a cigarette. Have you got any on you?”

John eyed him sarcastically.

“You really are bored, aren’t you? D’you forget I don’t smoke?” he asked, knowing he was pushing a few of the detective’s buttons.

Ugh!” Sherlock groaned again. He slouched so much in his chair that he slid off it and landed on the ground between his chair and the table on which they had been playing chess.

“Why are you even here?” Sherlock demanded to know, getting angry now. John checked his watch. One-thirty. Damn. Rosie was asleep in a crib upstairs, which was made in case John was needed at 221b…as he was this night to keep Sherlock company.

“Maybe you’d better get to bed, eh, Sherlock? Go to sleep, dream about something good, and wake up tomorrow. Who knows, maybe there’ll be a case when you wake up?” John was trying to be optimistic, but Sherlock saw right through his phony attempts to cheer him up.

“Don’t be an optimist, John, it never did suit you.”

“Then don’t be bored. It never suited you,” he parried.

Sherlock squinted ever so slightly at him. How sarcastic John could be sometimes!

“Find something to do, Sherlock, and don’t let it be nicotine. You’re doing really well. I’m off to sleep. Text me if anything turns up.”

Yes, yes; you know I will,” Sherlock responded, waving his hands at John as he closed the door behind him.

He picked up a pistol, trying to decide whether or not to shoot the wall. That stupid yellow smiley…what right had it to smile so unflinchingly at him when he was bored? He should shoot it. Right between the eyes. The nerve of it to smile at him!

He raised the pistol. A grin spread across his face.

Bang, bang, bang!

He paused.

John was heard uttering a curse word in the floor above, and Rosie was crying.

He rolled his eyes as he heard a door close downstairs and hustling footsteps ascending to his room. It was Mrs. Hudson. Sherlock knew full well not to mess with this woman…especially at one in the morning when she wore only her slippers and nightie.

“A-a-ah,” she scolded, putting out her hand for him to give her the gun.

“Give that to me, young man,” she chided him, seizing the gun in her old, wrinkly paw and wrenching it from his grip.

“Why, Sherlock? Oh, dear Lord! Look at my wall! And don’t smile at me like that, you bloody clot,” she was irate, flinging the gun above her head as she iterated each word.

“I’ve told you before! I won’t say it again!” she threatened as she shut the door and marched back down the creaky wooden steps.

He sighed laboriously. How horrible it was to be bored. He considered sneaking downstairs and stealing a bit of stimulant from Mrs. Hudson’s kitchen. He knew she had some.

His eyelids felt as though weights were tied to them. Maybe John was right. Sleep was all he needed. He closed his eyes.

Ahh.

He opened them instantly. His phone was on the mantle, face down, and he could see the screen glowing. He had a new text, and he knew who it was:

I might need dinner.

IA

Sherlock rubbed his bloodshot eyes with a shaking fist. He was utterly confused. The message itself was not like her usual flirtatious greetings. It was concise, deliberate…not sensual by any means.

What’s happened?

SH

He waited in agony for the response:

I happened.

JM x

He nearly dropped the phone.

His stomach was in his mouth. His head was swimming. He stared at the two letters in disbelief. The initials. JM. Jim Moriarty. It was impossible. The final problem had occurred only a week ago. Sherlock had survived it. But Moriarty…Moriarty was still dead. Eurus had told him he was dead. He had recorded all the messages, all the games, all the puzzles…

He remembered himself, and inhaled slowly.

She was clever.

The woman was playing a trick.

Hilarious. Are you in London?

SH

His heart pounded inside his temples as he watched the screen. He could see that someone was forming a reply. Now all he needed to do was wait.

Here to visit a friend of yours.

JM x

There was an attachment with the message. He downloaded it.

It was loading.

Beads of sweat formed on his forehead as he waited for the download to complete.

“Come on!” he screamed into the device.

At last.

He opened it.

It was a video of none other than Jim Moriarty, holding the camera up to his weaselly face and smiling like an idiot. Sherlock watched it with an expressionless gaze. Inside, his heart was racing.

“Hallo, Sherlock!” (he waved with a maniacal expression) “Surprise! Did you miss me? I sure missed you. Whewf!” (here he whipped his brow animatedly) “You know, it’s good to be back. Really.” (he widened his eyes and nodded with mock sincerity) “It sure was boring without you. I mean, without you and me. Boring without me…” (he broke off and started looking on the ground past the camera) “and OH,” (acting as though he remembered something he’d forgotten) “I brought you a present. Nothing, really, just a little something to say welcome back. To me, I mean. To you and me. It’s a bit indiscreet, so I’ll send it to you in a photograph. I don’t want you to be shocked.” Moriarty raised his hands to his cheeks and formed his mouth into an O.

The video ended.

Another download had come in since then, and he opened it.

The contents of this photograph made him feel as though he would be sick. It was Irene. Her eyes were closed, bruised, and she had bloody cuts on her cheeks. Her body was covered with a blanket, but her hands and legs were protruding from beneath it. He couldn’t tell if she were naked or clothed. Her wrists were tied with cloths, her legs fastened with a rope, and a gag ran through her mouth. She was in a fetal position, her mouth slightly open and a thin trickle of blood sliding down her cheek.

Sherlock did not know how to respond. His fingers shook. His body was failing. His knees buckled and he sank into the nearby chair. He glanced down at the screen and was about to form the reply “you’re dead” when the front door was pounded upon.

He didn’t stir. He wasn’t frightened, but he was frozen with something like insane unbelief.

Three more pounds on the door.

Mrs. Hudson’s bedroom door opened. Sherlock walked toward the door of the flat and opened it a crack to examine below. She opened the door slowly, peeped out, and let out an “ooh, dear!” as something heavy pushed the door open. Something was leaning against the foot of the door, and its weight had pushed it open.

It was a body. The neck fell backward as the door opened, and the head hit the floor with a thud.

Sherlock threw open the door and raced down the steps, two at a time. Mrs. Hudson was frantic, fanning herself and calling out “boys, boys!” with all her might. Sherlock was there in an instant, his arms around her, and he gently pushed her to the side.

Leaning over the body, he found that it was none other than the woman herself.

She was wrapped in a wet coat…it was identical to his own. Apart from that, he couldn’t tell if she was naked underneath or wearing thin undergarments. Rain was pouring in from outside, and her face was shimmering with water. The coat was quite wet, but not completely soaked through. Nevertheless, her feet were bare, and her hair was sopping. Someone hadn’t just dumped her here…it looked like she had been sitting unconscious in the rain for at least a half hour.

He untied the gag from behind her head and put his ear to her mouth. She was breathing.

“Can you hear me? Say something, Miss Adler,” he was in no respect sentimental in his tone of speech. His voice was deep and commanding.

Her mouth was open, and she moaned, but that was all.

“John! John!” Sherlock cried out, taking Irene in his arms and carrying her up the stairs. If there was one time he needed the doctor, it was now. “John!”

John staggered into the kitchen as Sherlock came in with Irene. He couldn’t see the woman’s face, so he couldn’t see that it was the infamous dominatrix he had once written about in A Scandal in Belgravia.

“Oh, my God,” John breathed, blinking in the light and rubbing his eyes to wake himself up. “Oh, Jesus; what’s happened, Sherlock?”

“Never mind that now. I need you to get a hot compress and tea. Fetch socks from upstairs. Mrs. Hudson, get a robe of yours from downstairs.”

They both obeyed Sherlock like soldiers obeying a general. John vanished upstairs to get the socks, and Mrs. Hudson scurried downstairs to get the robe. Sherlock took her to his bedroom and laid her down upon the sheets where she herself had once lay. He turned on the light by his bed, which was dim enough for her comfort. He untied her wrists and legs so that they lay limp upon the sheets.

Now for the coat.

He knew she was possibly unclothed beneath it, but for her to continue wearing it was a risk. She would need to be changed into something else.

Oh dear God,” he breathed, unbuttoning the first button. He closed his eyes nervously. As soon as it was unfastened, he felt for fabric. He opened his eyes at the touch of knit. She had a thin camisole underneath which was miraculously still dry. He exhaled as though he had been holding his breath for a week.

“I’m clothed, Mr. Holmes,” came a tired, hardly audible voice. He looked at her face and saw she was smiling. Despite her bedraggled appearance, her lips were still red. Her eyes barely opened, but she was looking at him with hilarity.

“Good. That does change things,” he replied, unbuttoning the rest of the coat, pulling it out from under her, and discarding it on the floor.

Her left hand was weak, but she reached up and caressed his cheek and neck before letting it fall down on the covers again. A corner of his mouth jerked upward, but he pulled it down in check before any such thing as a smile dared to occur on his face.

But John came in before her hand fell.

He dropped the socks, the tea, and the hot compress. The cup shattered and the steaming liquid seeped into the doctor’s linen socks. He hopped around as it stung his feet until he found a place outside the contaminated floor.

“John!” Sherlock scolded, looking at the mess his friend had made.

“Oh…my God.” John’s face was hilarious. He was staring open-mouthed at the woman in Sherlock’s own bed. She looked at him through her half-conscious stupor.

“Well done, Doctor Watson,” she said, referring to the mess on the floor.

“So she’s here then…in our bloody flat. Oh God, I always wondered when you’d come around,” John was smiling at Irene, shaking his head in amazement; he was always happy whenever it looked as though Sherlock was finally letting himself become romantically attached. “How long is she gonna stay?”

“It’s not like that, John.”

Irene raised an eyebrow.

“He knows?”

“Yes. The text alert gave it away a few weeks ago.”

Her eyes glowed.

“I always knew it would come in handy.”

John abruptly wrinkled his nose and sniffed.

“Yeah, I know all about you two. High Wycombe and all that. Was it nice? He never tells me anything.”

Irene was intrigued.

“High Wycombe?”

“John has fantasies in his mind about us, Miss Adler. Thoroughly fictitious, I can assure you.”

“No, no, do go on, Doctor Watson, I’m intrigued. What do you think happens between us…at High Wycombe?”

John opened his mouth, but Sherlock shut it up instantly.

“Get the tea, compress, and socks, John.”

“Is that it, then?”

“Get them, and I’ll tell you anything you want later.”

“Hang on, you—”

“Get them, now, John…”

John left the room uttering curses at his friend, and Sherlock was alone with Irene in the bedroom.

“What did you have to spoil my fun for?” Irene whined, taking his idle hand in her own and stroking it.

“Destroying any prospective ideas that might birth themselves in that mind of yours. I don’t want High Wycombe, but you might.”

“Well, you certainly showed him,” Irene whispered, looking impressed even in her tired state of mind.

“Where were we?” Sherlock asked, ignoring her flattery.

“You were about to dress me,” she replied, holding her arms out and grinning mischievously. He was midway through an eyeroll when Mrs. Hudson entered with a bathrobe. She handed it to him with a sweet “here you are, love” and smiled with sympathy toward Irene. As she glanced the woman’s face, a sudden memory jolted in her mind. It was hard to tell, but something seemed familiar about her.

“Sorry, but do I know you from somewhere?” she asked hesitantly, wearing an apologetic look of inquiry.

“Never mind that now, Mrs. Hudson. Isn’t it time you were in bed?” Sherlock made his position clear. She had helped enough, and now he needed her back downstairs.

“You’re right, Sherlock. See you in the morning,” she sleepily chirped as she headed back towards her flat.

Sherlock propped Irene up with his left arm and tried to get the robe on with the other. He was dedicatedly focused on dressing her that he didn’t seem to notice the close proximity between their faces. She noticed, undoubtedly, but he appeared to remain oblivious.

Appeared is the central word of interest.

And it explains why he finished hastily and pulled the blankets down to cover her. She sighed as she settled down onto the pillow, her eyelids still dimmed with fatigue.

“Well, that was lovely, dear,” she exclaimed, closing her eyes and exhaling with exhaustion.

“What happened?” Sherlock asked, standing at the bedside and looking down at her with a face wearing an urgent façade. She looked up at him.

“You asked me that before…and he told you.”

Sherlock slammed his hand on the bedpost, rattling it behind Irene’s back. She didn’t stir, she just closed her eyes and breathed. “Temper, temper,” she cooed as she once had in Berlin.

“Shut up!” Sherlock retorted. “Don’t play games with me, Miss Adler,” he hissed. Irene had never seen him so agitated…especially with her. Her eyes spoke the confusion she was experiencing. His breaths were heavy as he towered over her.

She swallowed and began.

“It’s a plan. A grand plan. It is going to work…oh, please let me just sleep and rest and I promise I’ll tell you in the morning.” She closed her eyes and laid back on the pillow, but decided she’d add, “I’ll tell you everything if you’re a good boy.”

Sherlock was indecisive. She had a valid reason, but she was also Irene Adler. How much could he trust her?

“Sherlock.”

It was John.

Sherlock motioned for him to come in.

“Here we are,” he said, placing the tea on the nightstand and putting the cloth on her forehead. She smiled. “Much thanks, Doctor Watson. At least one of you knows how to love a lady.” She reproached Sherlock with her eyes. John stood there, admiring the scene with an awestruck grin on his face and chuckles in his throat. It was even better than when Janine had come around.

Sherlock was overly annoyed with John’s glee and Irene’s uncooperative nature. Her playful eyes fueled an obnoxious fire in his stomach, and John’s enthusiastic smiles made Sherlock want to storm out of the room. How was Moriarty alive? How was Irene here in his flat? Why was she so battered? He wanted answers, and all he received were the flirtatious glances of a damsel in distress and the encouraging grins of a hopeful matchmaker.

It was all so emotional.

All so maddening.

Petty…

John’s voice shattered his bowl of agitations.

“I’d love a bit of explaining, but I’m going to bed, and so are you, Sherlock. You need it…still bored, eh?” When Sherlock just stared at him, John sarcastically added, “you plan on sleeping in here, too?” He started laughing and shaking his head at his friend’s fatigued expression. This little act caused Sherlock’s kettle of frustration to boil over. He would annoy John, too…give him the answer he’d least expect to hear. He’d flabbergast the man.

Defiantly, he declared, “Yes, I think I will.”

Irene’s eyebrows nearly flew to her hairline.

John looked like he had been hit in the stomach with a football.

You WHAT?—Oh my God, it’s worse than I thought…”

“I’ll put pillows in between us to divide the bed, and I’ll sleep in here. Good night, John.”

John was mouthing insults once again at Sherlock and Irene as he left the room.

“Brave man. Sharing a bed with me,” Irene wheezed before taking a sip of her tea. Her fingers were shaking slightly, but not enough to spill the liquid.

“Only because of the state you’re in. Don’t get your hopes up. Besides, he was being annoying.”

She smirked as he turned away. He left and returned with armfuls of pillows from the living room to plop down onto the bed to separate them as they slept.

He clothed her bare, clammy feet with the socks John had left. She didn’t say anything, and he didn’t demand thanks. She did do quite a bit of grinning, however.

As soon as everything was settled, Sherlock adjusted the pillows once more to secure the fateful woman to her side of the bed, and turned out the light.

He lay there in the dark thinking about Moriarty. How he had returned. If he had returned. The video he had received had sent scaly snakes slithering up and down his spine. He remembered how his insides had gone for a dive when he saw the demoralizing photograph of Irene on the concrete floor of who-knows-where.

“Goodnight, Mr. Holmes,” she whispered from her side of the bed.

He said nothing.

Ten minutes passed.

She was definitely asleep now. He could hear her repetitive breaths from over the wall of pillows. What an odd association they shared…no, he would not let himself call it a relationship.

If he were being honest with himself, he would have to admit that he was glad of her presence here. He was glad she wasn’t still on that concrete floor. He was glad he had her where he could keep an eye on her.


Chapter V

Irene woke up the next morning to find that her body was still weak, but she felt remarkably stronger than she had the night before. Daylight streamed through the window, and the sounds of London reached her ears. Cabs honked at pedestrians, and salesmen called out to passersby trying to sell the daily paper.

She looked over at Sherlock’s side of the bed, hoping to frighten him awake with the tapping of his nose or the tickling of his ears. To her dismay, his place was empty. The bathroom was vacant.

A raucous in the sitting room interrupted her deductions.

“You can’t just bloody walk in here!” yelled the agitated voice of a certain John Watson.

“I can, and I believe I just did, Doctor Watson,” replied the pompous drawl of Mycroft Holmes.

“I’m here to see Miss Adler,” she heard Mycroft add.

Where was Sherlock?

“Oh, so you know too then, do you? About her being alive? Came in here all banged up last night. She’s asleep, in there. Go see her yourself,” came John’s frustrated reply.

In Sherlock’s bedroom? Where is my brother?” Mycroft asked.

“Still asleep,” John replied.

Irene was confused. He wasn’t in the room, and he certainly wasn’t sleeping in the bed or washing in the shower. The window was open, but he couldn’t have fit through there…could he?

“Where?” Mycroft was also confused. “In there?”

John must have given a short, curt nod, because Mycroft murderously breathed out, “Of all the damned things…”

The door banged open, and Mycroft entered with John following behind like a peeping tom. Irene turned toward Mycroft with a haughty expression on her sleepy face.

“Am I allowed to dress, Mr. Holmes?” she questioned.

Mycroft looked past her to Sherlock’s side of the bed.

“Where is my brother?” Mycroft once again demanded.

“I don’t know.”

“Yes, you do.”

I told you,” she hissed, sitting herself up in bed and raising her voice just a touch, “I don’t know.”

“Don’t lie to me, Miss Adler. Don’t you dare play games with me, do you understand? I swear to you, if you’re lying to me, I will—,”

But Irene never found out what Mycroft would have done if she were lying to him, because at that moment Sherlock came strolling in to the bedroom.

“Where were you?” Irene quizzed, looking at him with confusion clouding her face.

“Out. Had some shopping to do. I left before anyone was awake. Morning, brother dear,” he said, turning to Mycroft. “I thought you had a coffee date with Lady Smallwood this morning. I hope you haven’t fallen out,” he teased, placing a bag on the floor.

“Oh, grow up, Sherlock,” Mycroft reproached, scanning his brother up and down with contempt. His scoldings didn’t stop there.

“Did you sleep in here last night?”

“I would hope so. It is my bedroom.”

“Did you sleep in this bed?” Mycroft asked, his voice growing louder with impatience towards his kid brother.

“Yes, I did.”

“Ah. I see the pillows were a clever idea,” Mycroft stated, dropping his anger as quickly as it had ignited.

“Returning to more important matters, I have come to discuss the terms of our agreement. And by our agreement I mean mine and Miss Adler’s. Sherlock, you are as much a part of this agreement as we are, now, and it’s about time you knew.”

“Do I get in on this one?” John interjected, shoving his short form in between Mycroft and Sherlock. His arms were crossed in the most intimidating stance he could muster.

“Yes, Doctor Watson. You’ve seen far too much to keep you out of it now.”

“Before we do anything,” Irene interrupted, “might I be allowed to shower and dress myself? A girl’s got to be properly dressed if she wants to do anything.”

“That’s a bit of a paradox, coming from you,” John joked, raising his eyebrows at the woman. The first time he met her she had been completely unclothed.

She studied him quizzically and smirked, her eyes glimmering with mirth.

“How right you are, Doctor Watson. But still, it is a paradox that I find agreeable to listen to today. Give me an hour, gentlemen, and I shall be ready for you.”

She made a sweeping motion with her hands to urge them to get out of the bedroom.

Sherlock picked up the grocery bag and placed it on the bed at Irene’s feet.

“Those are for you,” he muttered as he turned around and retreated with the other two men out of the bedroom.

As soon as the door was shut, she seized the bag with greedy curiosity. She opened the bag and found a note inside, along with a few articles of clothing.

Don’t think about going naked. Bought you some clothes. Yes, I know it was clever.

SH

She smiled as she pulled out two dresses, a black turtleneck sweater, and black leggings, the price tags ripped off of everything. As for the dresses, there was an off-the-shoulder black dress with a slit for the right leg and a yellow shin-length pastel dress with elbow-length sleeves and a white sash, perfect for walking and everyday things.

His taste really wasn’t so bad.

There were also a pair of socks and one pair of briefs.

She tried everything, and it all fit perfectly. Her measurements hadn’t changed since they had first met, and she was flattered that he had noticed.

After about an hour and a half, Irene emerged from the bedroom wearing the turtleneck sweater and black leggings. Her hair was wet, but she let it down to dry. As such, it complimented her face perfectly, especially since she wasn’t wearing any makeup. It had all been washed off in the shower, which she had not particularly enjoyed. She always preferred a bath.

“Morning, boys,” she said, pushing her still-wet hair behind her ears. Mycroft stood by the fireplace, and John and Sherlock sat opposite each other in the two chairs by the hearth.

Walking into the kitchen with an air of ownership, she opened the cupboards and pulled out a mug, filled it with sugar, and poured some coffee for herself from the pot on the counter. Swinging over toward the fridge, she found the milk, splashed a tad into her cup, stirred it, and jaunted into the sitting room.

Mycroft rolled his eyes. His face was twitching with agony.

Rosie was playing in a pen near the window, and as Irene saw her, her face lit up.

“Oh my God, look at this beautiful thing!” she exclaimed, setting her cup down and standing near the rails to run her dainty fingers through Rosie’s blonde curls. Rosie laughed at this new face. She enjoyed the deserved attention this woman gave her.

“That’s Rosie, my daughter,” John replied.

“Yes, I know—Sherlock told me. My condolences on the passing of your wife. She seemed like a lovely woman. I’m sure we would’ve caught on like a house on fire.”

John cleared his throat. “Yeah, she was. And you probably would’ve. She used to joke about you and Sherlock. She’d be quite interested and fairly giddy to see you here.”

“I shall do my best to entertain her from where she sleeps,” Irene said, catching Sherlock’s eye. John’s face turned red, and he was delighted for his friend, even if his friend looked like sticks were being shoved up his pants.

Irene coddled Rosie’s cheeks one last time before she settled down in Sherlock’s desk chair.

She crossed her legs and sipped the coffee as though it were water from the fountain of youth.

Her expression was indescribably perky.

Well? Are we going to discuss it or not?” she asked, staring at Mycroft with an unflinching gaze.

“Yes,” Mycroft began, clearing his throat and itching the back of his neck uncomfortably.

“We’ve known that Jim Moriarty is alive ever since he aired his ‘do you miss me’ message across the country.”

John nearly keeled over.

“What? Moriarty is dead. Blew his own brains out. He’s not alive, Mycroft,” he argued.

“He is alive, John,” Mycroft replied, looking at the man with pity and using his first name (which was something he rarely did).

“He sent me a message last night, John. He is alive.”

John swallowed and folded his soldier arms across his chest.

“Of all the bloody things, how the f—” John was cut short.

Language, John; there is a woman present,” Sherlock reproached, nodding in Irene’s direction. Irene was sarcastically tut-tutting and shaking her head disapprovingly at John.

He rolled his eyes and nodded his head for Mycroft to proceed.

“Miss Adler has been in touch with Moriarty ever since then. She’s gained his trust. They have cooperated on a number of assignments under my supervision. He knows nothing of course; he still trusts her from when they worked together in the past. However, she is our eyes and ears into everything he does. Her cover is secure.”

Sherlock’s brow was furrowed in what looked like annoyance mixed with a hint of confusion. His mouth was slightly ajar.

What? And you never told me this? Mycroft!”

“I couldn’t.”

“Yes, you could’ve.” It was John who spoke.

“Please stay out of this, Doctor Watson, you really don’t want to involve yourself.”

“Oh yes I do. We all do. We’re here, aren’t we?”

There was silence for a moment as John breathed contempt at Mycroft for what seemed to be a month.

Irene was drumming her fingers on her knees and saying nothing. It was all true. She had met Jim in Malaga, and it was he who had contacted her. It was the perfect opportunity. It was there, in Malaga, that he had let the announcement of his survival shatter England and the world. She had fed loads of intelligence to Mycroft, but Moriarty never suspected her.

She knew about Eurus long before Sherlock ever did. He had never told her of his plans with Eurus, but she knew that Sherlock and Mycroft were not the only Holmes children.

He was never in love with her, but he was fascinated with her ability to do what only people like her and him and Sherlock could do. He was fascinated with her just as he was fascinated with Sherlock, only she appeared to be on his side.

Mycroft continued.

“Since the final problem failed to destroy you, Sherlock, Moriarty has a new plan. He intends to take you down using Miss Adler once again.”

Irene couldn’t keep herself from smiling.

“He was very excited about this plan. He seems to think I can get into your head and understand you…in a way no one else can. You want to understand me. You’re infatuated with my mind. You’re intrigued by me. He wants me to undo the knots that tie you together.”

She looked at him with a smile that was almost malicious. Her eyes were glimmering mischief, and it opened the door of his mind palace to caution. He was nervous as he gazed at her.

Mycroft cleared his throat.

“Of course, we intend to imply Moriarty’s plan as successful, but in truth, we will destroy him at his own little game. He trusts Miss Adler completely, as do I.”

“How do I know she isn’t playing again?” Sherlock asked, still staring at Irene, who was also letting her eyes twist his insides with her resolute stare.

“You don’t. But I do. You must trust me, Sherlock.”

“And me, Mr. Holmes.”

Sherlock showed no external sign of hesitation, but red flags were going off inside his mind. The last time he had let himself grow attached to Miss Adler in the middle of a situation involving Moriarty, things had almost ended disastrously.

“And, I hate to do this to you, brother mine, but for this to work, you need play the part of a lover. I’m not asking for anything indiscreet, but I am asking that you do your best to act in love with and…” (he cleared his throat), “you must marry Miss Adler.”

Marry?

“It’s the only way we can make this convincing, Sherlock.” For once, Mycroft actually looked sorry for the fate he had prescribed to his brother. He was all sincerity as he said, “To live with someone is never enough. It could end any minute, and then where would that deep love and passion be? No, no. To marry someone is to truly say something, and if Moriarty sees you marry the inexplicable Irene Adler, he will believe his plan to have succeeded, and he will believe you so madly in love. Unless you were truly and utterly in love, he would never suspect you of someone subject to making a matrimonial commitment or willfully experiencing domestic bliss.”

“Nor I,” Sherlock scoffed, standing as if his coat were made of pine needles.

“The Philistine sends Delilah to his Samson,” sighed Mycroft, using the crude Biblical analogy.

“Samson never married Delilah,” Sherlock parried.

“Exactly, and where did that go?” Irene chirped.

“Then let me ask why, if Miss Adler is in league with Moriarty, did she turn up on our doorstep last night half dead?”

“It was a lure, Sherlock. A lure. Nothing more,” Mycroft replied, his mouth resembling the bent pipe cleaner once again.

“He had his goons beat me, of course,” Irene cut in, “so it couldn’t be proven fake by your immaculate powers of deduction, Mr. Holmes. But it was done to ensure you would keep my secret and help me…just as he knows you did in Pakistan.”

“Then why would he send me a photograph of you beaten?”

“To make you think I’m in hot water with him. Which is what I was supposed to be telling you now. Which is what he thinks I’m telling you now. I secure your heart in my hands, I undo you, and then I feed your mind to him. Of course, it shall all be a bluff, but I wouldn’t mind securing your heart in the process—,”

“Sherlock,” Mycroft pleaded, interrupting Irene’s wandering flirtations, “with Miss Adler on our side, we can dig deep into Moriarty’s network and bring him down. The only way we win is if we play along with him and let him think he wins. Then we all win. The last time we thought he was beaten, you were forced to fraudulently commit suicide…a very realistic feat, which caused his plans to go to hell,” Mycroft ended dramatically, lowering his voice for effect.

“But the spider has recovered, Sherlock; he is spinning his web once more. The pieces are in play, and he wants a rematch. We need to act. We need to play along once more, and this time, finish him. This is how we take down Jim Moriarty.”

Sherlock was picking at his upper lip. His mind was a carousel of whirring signals. Warnings. Ideas. Fears. Temptations. He looked at the desperate face of his brother, one he had only seen on certain occasions. Mycroft needed him. He turned to the face of John, who was staring wide-eyed out the window, his arms were still crossed, and he drummed his fingers on his forearms in worry. John was uneasy. John needed him. Finally, he let his eyes rest on the pensive figure of Irene Adler. She was looking at him unaffectedly, her lips clasped together like a locked gate, her head cocked to one side as if she were measuring the contents of doubt in the vase that was his mind. She looked neither afraid nor worried. She looked resolved. He was sure of the other two in the room, but her…did she need him?

“Can I trust you?” Sherlock asked, narrowing his eyebrows ever so slightly.

“Yes.”

It was low, instant hiss. Without hesitation. Her mouth was twisting into an odd smile, which made Sherlock feel as though a parasitic worm were writhing in his bowels. She closed her eyes, and when she opened them, she looked away. Her nails became fascinating, and she left Sherlock’s gaze dangling in midair.

His breath was like the rattle of soldiers’ armor before an approaching battle.

“With all due respect, Mycroft, but you cannot—no wait, hang on—will not force me into marrying anyone. I’ve told you before that I am married to my work, and this” (he gestured angrily at Irene) “this…”

He was at a loss for words, and he loathed himself for it immensely. He didn’t know what to say next, and there she was, sitting in the chair as if she owned it, penetrating his gaze and twisting his insides. He was annoyed when he found himself enjoying it. All he wanted was to get lost in those deep, blue eyes again. To lose himself in her gaze like he had in Berlin…like he had by the fire those few years ago.

The time since they had seen one another had been long. He didn’t realize how much he had pined for her in her absence. Perhaps being married to her wouldn’t prove so horrible after all. His stomach danced a little at the idea.

Damn you, sentiment.

Irene smothered his efforts of self-reproach.

“This what, Mr. Holmes? Don’t look at me; this wasn’t my idea. Nevertheless, I don’t think I’ll mind it terribly. Do you?”

Sherlock’s gaze was calm, but as he looked on her, he decided that he wouldn’t mind at all. Besides, he had almost married Janine in an attempt to solve a case, and he hadn’t even been in love with her. At least it would be easier for him this time.

She had asked him if we would have minded terribly being married to her, and he decided not to answer. It was amorous of him not to. He didn’t even know himself, and he resolved upon letting the emotions come when they did.

He would know soon enough.

Irene knew she had struck a chord within him. Every muscle on her face begged for the permission to smirk victoriously, but at her orders they remained placid as water upon a lake. Her eyes were brimming with mirth.

She decided that this little adventure of theirs would be fun.

A game.

She continued to stare at him flirtatiously. Emotions were firing off like cannons on a battlefield inside her mind.

The whole time these thoughts played in their heads, they were staring one another long and hard in the eyes. John coughed, hoping to break the humid tension, but nothing happened. So he started scratching the back of his sweaty neck. Mycroft looked away; the scene felt too intimate to look upon.

“I consent,” Sherlock resolved, his eyes still latched on to Irene’s cold ones.

“And I already have,” Irene replied, her lips forming the words as if they were made of chocolate. The muscles in her face were given a compromise, and she let them create a vanquishing smile to break the still lines of skin beneath her nose.

“Yeah, me too,” John agreed, sniffing and pulling himself out of a deep reverie. Irene and Sherlock ended the staring game to look at the little soldier with his arms crossed over his chest…as if either of them needed his consent.

Sherlock thought to himself, “please, John.”

Mycroft was incredibly uncomfortable.

“Good, then,” Mycroft said, standing upright and walking toward the door. Sherlock deduced he was anxious to depart. “I’ll leave you to it. Not a word, Doctor Watson.”

“Yeah, I know,” John replied, used to Mycroft’s paranoid secrecy. In fact, the doctor enjoyed it immensely.

The door shut behind Mycroft Holmes and the two men were left in the room with the woman and the baby.

“Alright, from the beginning, let’s go,” John blurted, rising from his chair and standing square in between Sherlock and Irene, his eager eyes going back and forth between them both like a tennis ball flying between racquets.

Irene took advantage of the cushy armchair as soon as it was vacated.

Recounting their past meeting in Berlin to John was just as difficult as Sherlock had anticipated.

“Well, after the Fall—that is, when I faked my death—I met her in Berlin. We spent the night at a hotel, and that was the first time I had seen her since Pakistan,” Sherlock said. He was about to continue, but John stopped him.

“In Berlin.”

“Yeah, Berlin.”

“You spent a night in Berlin?”

“Yes, why?”

“With her?”

“Yes, John!”

“What did you do?”

“Well…we ate dinner,” Sherlock stated, rubbing the back of his neck uncomfortably.

And?” John quizzed.

“We talked,” Sherlock added.

And?”

“Well, we went to sleep, I suppose.”

“Slept?”

“Yes.”

“In the same room?”

“Yes—well—not the way you imagine, John, but—”

Oh my god…” John rubbed his forehead in agitation.

“No, not like that, John. We were in the same room, but nothing happened, I swear.”

John looked at Irene with suspicion. She was finding his armchair incredibly comfortable, and both her feet were crossed over one side. She was still drinking the mug of coffee, but her eyes met John’s.

“Nothing I could have done would have made him do anything,” she said. “You can trust what he says. Nothing happened, Dr Watson. He doesn’t like misbehaving with me.”

John shifted his stance uncomfortably. The topics of both Sherlock and romance never settled well with him when they blended, even though he had always hoped for his friend to finally fall in love. It was an awkward concept. His friend, the high-functioning sociopath, falling in love with a woman seemed a strange, abstract idea. Nevertheless, John always hoped.

Perhaps his hopes were finally coming to fruition.

Sherlock was about to go on with the Berlin tale, but he glanced Irene’s desperate eyes.

“Don’t tell him, please don’t tell him.”

The rape.

Of course.

Was that water he saw forming in her eyes?

His benevolent gaze reassured her.

“Your secret is safe.”

Sherlock clasped his hands together and began instead to discuss the many times he and Miss Adler had spent sleepless nights texting from different corners of the world.

He glanced in her direction again. He chided himself: how he craved her approbation!

Her eyes smiled for her neutral lips. They spoke on their own. They sighed in relief.

The corner of his mouth jerked upward.

After a few moments of explanation, Sherlock stopped for breath. John took the opportunity to ask a question that had been gnawing at his brain since Irene had arrived at 221b the previous night.

“So you still doing the uh…well, you know…” John asked Irene.

Irene raised her eyebrows at the doctor.

She rose from the chair and casually strode towards the window, taking the route behind Sherlock’s back.

“God, no. I’ve moved on to much bigger and better conquests, haven’t I, Mr. Holmes?”

She was behind Sherlock as she spoke, brushing his shoulders with her hand. The detective was following her with his peripheral vision. John turned a bit red: he understood her innuendo all too well.

Indeed, Sherlock was quite the conquest.


Chapter IV

John left with Rosie an hour later, and Irene was left alone with Sherlock at 221b Baker Street.

Irene was still a bit sore from her night of excitement, and every time she settled down into a chair, she did so with closed eyes and cautious movements. Sherlock said nothing about her pain. She was defensive, and he knew she would reply with salty insensitivity and disregard for his inquiries.

Sherlock, for one, was pacing the room, his hands in his pockets, and his mind racing incredibly fast. He walked toward the window and let his eyes examine the streets of London below. His thoughts reminded him of the cabs: always moving, but occasionally stopping for some odd reason on the side of the road.

London.

He couldn’t bear to be anywhere else.

“I’d say someone was agitated, but I don’t want to risk stating the obvious,” Irene commented, walking toward Sherlock’s statue-like figure at the window.

“You just did.” His response was curt.

Oops,” she joked.

“Something isn’t adding up,” he whispered to himself.

“What?” she asked, genuinely wanting to know.

“You,” he replied, turning to face her with lines on his forehead.

“Me?”

“Yes, you.”

“What about said person?”

“Why are you on my side of the game against Moriarty this time? God knows you weren’t last time.”

For goodness sake, you’re a lousy lover, Mr. Holmes. Is affection not enough of a reason?”

“In your case, no.”

“Picky man…how can I ever convince you?”

She stood erect before him, looking into his face with obstinate resolve. She pushed a few wayward locks behind his ear. He looked down at her without moving his head, which was still positioned straight ahead.

Taking a step closer, she brought her face a little closer to his. He didn’t know why, but he did the same. He put his hands about her waist, and she clasped her hands around his neck.

He was angry with himself again.

“Sentimental idiot! Pull your hands back!”

Sherlock was indifferent. He did want to kiss her, but he had never kissed someone with a desire to. Sure, there was Janine, but he never loved her. In fact, every time she had bent down to kiss him, he had desperately wanted to rinse out his mouth with bleach after she had left.

No, Irene was different…somehow. He wasn’t sure he wanted to ask himself how. He was continually drawn to her…drawn to her against his own will to live.

While much more determined and surer in her pursuit, Irene was thinking many thoughts as her lips approached Sherlock’s.

“You’re getting carried away again, darling. Enjoying yourself…enjoying yourself too much…”

Sod this—nothing was wrong with a little enjoyment. Besides, her lips had touched many. She was probably his first one. That thought made her redden just a touch. For once in her life, she was almost embarrassed of her experience. With him here, she was almost ashamed…

Pish, don’t be a fool.

Nevertheless, what was it about the anticipation of this kiss that seemed so much more exciting? What was it about Sherlock Holmes? What was it about the virgin? What was it about him that did this…this to her? Of all the people, why him?

Their lips brushed. They weren’t kissing yet…just…what word would describe it?

Hovering? Investigating?

No matter.

She wouldn’t do it; she waited for him to finish it.

He took the initiative and pressed his lips to hers.

Then she matched his touch.

They kissed.

Sweet, tender, and peaceful.

It was the first time their lips had ever touched, even though it had been attempted, teased, and dreamt of by both before. They stood there by the window, locked in an embrace and unashamedly kissing. Sherlock was surprised at his own feelings of gratification. He was taken aback at the fire kindling in his stomach. Irene was elated, and she found the moment utterly euphoric. It was full of passion, surely, but it never descended into violence as many kisses are apt to do. She liked that about this kiss. It just was. It didn’t have to be anything else.

It was over after five long seconds of indescribable discovery: felt on both parts.

She was delighted with herself as she came away. She had finally kissed him uninterrupted! And it had been everything she had ever anticipated…and more.

He was scolding himself for not having pulled away sooner…and for having enjoyed himself against all reason. Every bone in his detective body was begging to jump for joy. But, he wouldn’t. As ever he was, Sherlock looked thoroughly equanimous despite his internal emotions.

“You’re not so bad,” she cooed, letting her eyes run over his face. “Especially for not having ever kissed a woman before,” she added.

“Who says I’ve never kissed a woman before?” he parried.

“Oh, so I’m not the first?”

“We both know I’m not yours.”

“True…but still…what was her name?”

“Janine.”

“Oh, yes; you mean the one who worked for Magnussen? I’m surprised at you, dear.”

“I won’t even ask you how you knew.”

“I wasn’t pleased, you know.”

“I wouldn’t have expected you to be.”

“Bit average for your taste, wasn’t she?”

“Do you see her here?”

“You satirist.”

“You did ask me.”

“I was being facetious.”

A deep laugh came from within his chest, and he was smiling cautiously.

Irene pulled him in for another kiss, and as their lips were about to collide for the second time, it was cut short. Sherlock’s eyes scrambled to the door, and he lifted his chin out of her lips’ reach to stop her in her pursuits.

“What?” she asked, looking in the same direction as he.

“Do quit loitering at the door and come in, Greg,” Sherlock ordered, his hands still around Irene’s waist (and hers around his neck).

The door apprehensively creaked open on the two lovers, and Greg Lestrade, detective inspector for Scotland Yard, appeared. Every inch of his face was covered in pink. He was wringing his hands raw and trying to make sense of the woman in Sherlock’s arms.

“Afternoon,” Lestrade said. He was obviously having a hard time saying anything. Sherlock was thankful he had managed an “afternoon.”

“I erm—I just thought I’d drop in and see how everything was—,” Lestrade didn’t make it to the end before the detective pounced upon him.

No, that’s never why you’re here, Greg. You didn’t just ‘drop in to see how everything is.’ You’re still in working clothes, you’ve barely eaten all day, you keep looking at the clock, and you are obviously agitated. Sit down,” he said, taking his hands from Irene’s waist and gesturing towards the client chair.

“Sit down?” Lestrade asked.

Sherlock’s eyes said only one thing: “don’t test me, child.”

“Yes, Greg, sit down! There’s obviously something on your mind. There’s always something on the mind of the infamous Scotland Yard, isn’t there?”

Greg was not only looking with perplexity at Sherlock, but at Irene, who was still standing by the window. Her hands were now at her sides, but Greg was still living back five seconds ago when they had been around Sherlock’s neck.

“Er, yeah, right,” Greg mumbled, rubbing his hands together and sitting down into the client’s chair. Irene strolled over towards John’s chair, crossed her legs, and looked intently at the inspector in preparation to hear his narrative. Sherlock was impressed at how assertively she had taken John’s position. It suited her nicely.

“D’you…d’you mind just introducing me real quick?” Greg nervously queried. His face would have given someone the impression that he was tight roping across a volcano. How skittish he was to be asking such questions!

Sherlock rolled his eyes.

“Greg, this is Miss Adler,” he said, gesturing to the woman in the arm chair. She smiled sweetly, which made Sherlock want to gag. “Miss Adler, Detective Inspector Lestrade.”

“A pleasure, inspector,” Irene said, taking Greg’s hand and pressing it gently.

“So you uh—are you and Sherlock…” Greg’s voice trailed off.

Old friends,” Irene finished for him. Her face was completely innocent as she spoke.

“Friends? Well, that’s just dandy, innit? Lovely, that is,” Greg chirped with enthusiasm. Sherlock was deeply agitated. Greg was much too happy at Sherlock’s new “friend,” and Sherlock knew why. He could read the inspector as easily as a driver reads a neon road sign.

Please,” Sherlock interrupted the Greg’s bursts of excitement with authority. “I don’t have all day, so if you don’t mind starting at the beginning so we can clear this up quite soon?” He put his fingertips together and eyed the inspector with an expression that implied extreme hurry.

“Oh, yeah, right,” Greg began.

“Well, we found this—”

We don’t have all day,” Irene interrupted, looking steadily at Sherlock.

“That’s what I said—,” Sherlock replied.

“No, you said I don’t have all day. There’s two of us, you know; do be polite, darling.”

Sherlock’s face was a tomato with a mop of raven black hair. Greg had never seen him so red before, but he decided that something new is learned every day. He stifled a chuckle with a cough.

“Yeah, well, as I was saying, we found a body down by Shepherd’s Bush this morning: twenty-one-year-old Arthur Wellington. Mr. Wellington got off the Overground at the Market station around midnight, at least that’s what his Oyster tells us, and he died near his flat on Sterne street at around one o’clock in the morning.”

Sherlock was intrigued.

“How far was he from his flat?”

“Only a few feet,” Greg replied. “He was sitting in a chair on the front steps.”

“So either he was killed on the way home…or he made it home, and something disturbed him, and he was murdered when he went to investigate the disturbance. Fascinating. Cause of death?”

“Knife to the throat. The crime scene was messy.”

“But what’s so different about this than other homicides in London? There’s a few every month, so why are you consulting me on this one in particular?”

“Well, that’s what I was about to say next. Wellington was wearing a party hat, which is unusual for a victim. He was sitting upright in the chair, which is also unusual given the circumstances of his death. But what really made us consider the abnormalities of this case was the fact that his middle finger on his left hand was wrapped in a bow—a gift bow, mind. There was a tag tied to it, and, well…” Greg reached into his pocket and pulled out a plastic bag holding evidence. Inside was indeed the gift tag he had described.

Irene handed Sherlock a pair of disposable gloves. She had already retrieved them from the kitchen the moment Greg had mentioned “his middle finger.” Sherlock took them without even thinking or thanking her for her efforts. He pulled them on, and the minute they slapped down on his hands, he opened the bag.

Sherlock inspected the tag with sociopathic scrutiny. Irene stood next to him and hovered over his shoulder to observe his deductions.

“The murderer wrote this after killing Wellington, see there’s a bloody fingerprint on the corner there and some smudge marks on the whole thing. We’ll need a sample of the blood later. Then there’s the words ‘housewarming gift’ on the front. That’s a male’s hand, obviously; presumably Moriarty’s. Who else leaves a gift tag on a corpse? But then maybe not…he doesn’t like getting his hands dirty, does he? The ribbon is expensive: brand new” (he smelled it and felt it) “and it’s still crisp like it is when you get it off the shelf. The murderer went to some lengths to make this look aesthetic, which also points to Moriarty. You found the corpse this morning?” Sherlock suddenly halted his deductions and turned to Greg with the question.

“Yeah, about six o’clock his next-door neighbor, a Mrs. Windsor, woke up to let out her cats and saw him on the front porch. He’d been dead for about five hours, so we clocked his death at around one in the morning.”

“So he was murdered last night…” Sherlock said, his voice tapering off with his thought process. If Moriarty sent a housewarming gift to him to be found this morning, but it was sent last night, then he knew Sherlock would consent to Irene’s staying with him the night before. It was a housewarming gift not for him…but for Irene. Irene in 221b.

Her home?

“My, he’s good, isn’t he?” Irene mused, trying to catch Sherlock’s eye.

But the detective was still wandering through his mind palace and didn’t notice her comment.

Still holding the tag in his hands, Sherlock was lost in a reverie of thought. Moriarty knew I would welcome her in…he knew…

“The paper is Swiss,” Irene cut in, taking the tag with her own newly gloved hands. Greg coughed again. She held it up to the light and grinned.

“As I thought, Mr. Holmes; see the watermark?”

He shook himself out of his thoughts and scowled.

“There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.”

“Am I deceptive in your eyes?”

“No, just late.”

She sighed.

Fine,” she remarked, handing him the tag and heading into the kitchen to make tea.

Sherlock disregarded her departure, took a note of the paper’s origins (which he had not noticed before her clever deduction), and continued talking to Greg.

“Will you come?” the inspector asked, his eyes urgently beseeching the genius to follow him. “Anderson’s out sick today; if you were going to ask.”

Sherlock sported his boyish grin. “Perfect,” he replied, practically launching himself out of the chair and nabbing his coat off the rack. “I’ll be home soon, Miss Adler; do stay out of trouble. Let’s be off, Greg. The game is on!”

Sherlock leapt to the door, but was interrupted by Irene’s voice.

“Well, I’ll do my best to stay out of trouble, but I can’t see how I’d do anything stupid as I’ll be with you the entire time. You can keep your observant gaze on me since you’re so worried about my actions.” She turned away from him and strutted to the bedroom, asking herself, “where’s my coat?”

Lestrade’s eyes looked like that of a bullfrog with a hyperactive thyroid. “Is she…”

Sherlock rolled his eyes and shrugged.

Irene returned in an instant, wearing the coat she had come wrapped up in last night; it was identical to Sherlock’s, and Greg couldn’t help himself but start laughing.

“Blimey! Couple of twinsies, you are!” he chuckled, and Irene smiled pathetically at him.

Sherlock’s face was on fire, and he would not permit the woman to leave the house wearing the exact same coat as his own. Moriarty was smart, wasn’t he? Oh, yes…he was a child pushing all the buttons on an elevator. Sherlock’s buttons were flashing red; nearly ready to explode any moment. Irene simpered at him. She was too pleased with herself, and Sherlock both detested and admired her facial expression.

“Ready?” she asked, but her question was directed at Greg, not Sherlock.

“Uh, yeah, if Sherlock’s…” Greg’s voice disintegrated into thin air.

As the infamous Mr. Punchline, Sherlock Holmes was without words for the woman. This wasn’t the first time she had put him to silence, but it was another moment of extreme annoyance and awkwardness for the detective. He wanted to tell her to stay put, to stay out of his business, to leave him alone, for God’s sake! but he couldn’t…and he didn’t really want to. She just stood there, looking at him with sarcasm, delight, resolution, and triumph written all over her female features. Sherlock was a wreck inside. He knew it was of no use arguing.

They had been kissing ten minutes ago, and now they were on the brink of World War III. How complicated they both were.

“Yes, let’s go,” he replied, striding to the door and holding it open for a coughing Greg Lestrade (who Sherlock thought was, by now, faking bronchitis) and a mischievous little woman (who patted his cheek and smiled victoriously on her way out).


Chapter VII

They arrived at the crime scene about thirty minutes later, having taken a cab all the way from Baker street to Shepherd’s Bush. Sherlock never particularly enjoyed Western London. It was loud, the air smelled crowded, and the streets were caked with over-trodden dirt.

The neighborhood of the murder, however, was quiet. Sterne street was peaceful, tranquil, and had the odd cat lady on practically every corner. The crime scene at the street’s end was the only thing radically interrupting the serenity.

Police cars were parked all along the road in front of Wellington’s home, and tape blocked off the porch. Sherlock led the way with Irene following by his side. Lestrade was doing his best to keep up behind them both, still relishing the image in front of him: Sherlock and a woman. What was the world coming to?

Wellington himself was still sitting in the patio chair in front of his flat and wearing the party hat. His neck was a pool of blood and was bulging with ripples of muscle and tissue. It was utterly disgusting.

The gate was open, and officers were going in and out collecting samples of blood, dust, and photographs. Sherlock walked through the open gate and stood over Wellington’s body with his magnifying glass whipped out.

Irene was right behind him, her hands in her pockets. Their cheeks were nearly touching as she too squinted through the lens to inspect the victim’s clothing. Her breath on his face was not tempting. It was annoying.

After Sherlock spent a few moments examining the fibers, Irene grew bored and turned to the victim’s neck. It was slashed, surely, but there were markings on the skin, hidden beneath the blood. She instantly recognized them as possible signs of strangulation.

“Take a look at his neck, Mr. Holmes,” she said, pointing to the marks on the man’s neck. Sherlock investigated the area Irene had pointed out and also noticed the blue, bruised pattern streaking across areas of the man’s neck.

“He wasn’t killed with a knife to the throat, inspector,” Sherlock deduced, snapping his magnifying glass shut and turning around to face Lestrade. Irene rolled her eyes. She had noticed it first.

“How do you figure?” Lestrade asked, his expression utterly clueless. Sherlock sighed. How stupid the poor devil was.

“See—” Sherlock began, but was interrupted by Irene. She cut in front of him slyly and began explaining their deductions to poor clueless Lestrade: “See around his neck, inspector? Those are marks of strangulation. You’re telling me the killer made those after his death? No, he’d never be so clumsy. He was strangled—” she was also cut short. It was now Sherlock’s turn to interrupt. He put his arm on her shoulder and edged slightly in front of her. Irene smirked. Playing the game was such fun.

“The cuts were made after his death; laceration wasn’t the cause. He suffocated; he was choked…” Sherlock’s voice trailed off. Then he started whispering to himself. “Then the killer cut his throat—made it look like he had been murdered that way. Interesting. Why would he do that? Why?” Sherlock racked his brain, and Irene started racking her own for possibilities.

Lestrade tried, too.

“Maybe…the killer wanted to keep his tracks clean, so people would think of him as a murderer with a knife. Instead of someone who prefers personal killing like strangulation?”

“No, no, no. Both methods are personal, not just the strangulation. There’s got to be a reason. Was there a knife near the crime scene? Or any kind of sharp object? I have a feeling this killer likes to leave clues.”

“Uh, yeah, there was, actually. It’s back at the lab for analysis. We can head over there now if you’d like.”

Sherlock’s brain burst.

The lab.

Molly Hooper would be there.

It had only been a week since the Final Problem. It had only been a week since he had told her those words over the phone. It had only been a week since he had told her “I love you.”

Lestrade waited for an answer, but Sherlock only swallowed and sniffed uncomfortably. He itched the back of his head and blinked a few times, trying to stall.

“I think I’ll go a bit later, actually. I need to—er—stop by Baker street and pick up a few things. I’ll go sometime this evening.”

Lestrade was confused.

“You what?”

“Yeah, I’ll come ‘round later, Greg. Just let me know when the knife’s ready to be analyzed. I don’t want to rush you.”

“It should be ready now; I had it taken in first thing this morning.”

“Well, like I said, I need to stop by Baker street first and do a few things. I’ll see you later tonight.”

“Alright, then,” Lestrade said, turning his back and walking in the opposite direction.

Irene noticed Sherlock’s absent-minded behavior and knew exactly what it was all about.

“Don’t think I’m oblivious to your confession to Miss Hooper, Mr. Holmes. Mycroft sent me the tape. Don’t feel badly, darling. You always were so sentimental, and I wouldn’t have expected any less from you. Though I am a bit jealous I wasn’t the one put through to you. Would you have said those things to me, I wonder?”

Sherlock didn’t respond, but he gave her his arm, and she took it.

Dear sweet Molly.

She had always been there for him. She had always defended him. She had always loved him. He hated himself for having said those three words to her on that fateful day. It was all he could have done to save her…or so he thought.

He did love her, but not in the way she had always hoped. He could always rely on her, and he had always trusted her. She had always counted. If it hadn’t been for her, his “suicide” would never have succeeded. All he had needed was her, and she had given herself over to him completely.

But he could never let himself be more than a friend to her. After his explanation, he hoped she would understand. He prayed she wouldn’t go and do something rash.

He would have to tell her, and it would have to be tonight.


Chapter VIII

Sherlock left Irene at 221b at around four o’clock that afternoon and made his journey to St. Bartholomew’s Hospital. He stood before it, looking it up and down. He seemed to be sizing it up. The hospital seemed as large as the worries throwing things out of sorts in his mind palace.

Molly Hooper was somewhere inside. Sometime soon he would be obliged to tell her all. He wondered if this was part of Moriarty’s scheme, too. Undoubtedly it was. Moriarty knew how much Sherlock cared for Molly…and how much Molly cared for him. And to bring Irene back into his life only a week after having “confessed” his love to Molly was indubitably Moriarty’s handiwork. It ripped the heart from Sherlock’s breast.

He stepped inside, and without looking in any direction, he made his way to the lab.

But what if she was in the mortuary?

He’d check the lab first, then the mortuary. Besides, he was here to analyze the knife for clues, not explain anything to Molly Hooper. Though, if he were being honest, that was at the forefront of his mind.

Sherlock found the lab empty when he entered, but the knife was preserved in a plastic bag for him on the table near the microscope. Finding his lab gloves, he slapped them on and removed the knife from the bag.

It was surprisingly lightweight, for being such a large knife. Blood still stained the silver blade. The hilt also had blood on it, but that didn’t matter as much to Sherlock. All he cared about were fingerprints.

Nevertheless, this murderer had been careful. The hilt was clean of all fingerprints. He must have used gloves when he slit Wellington’s throat. Sherlock took samples of the blood from the blade and prepared them to be tested for DNA. The blood would obviously be Wellington’s, but it was always worth checking. Perhaps the killer had cut himself during the murder, and his blood had mixed with the victim’s. Sherlock seriously doubted the probability, but he prepared the samples all the same.

The door opened, and Sherlock nearly dropped the utensils in his hand. His wrists were shaking, and he feared they would betray him and shatter the precious samples. Molly Hooper walked through the door, sporting her neat ponytail and spotless lab coat.

“Oh!” she gasped, stopping in the doorway and fiddling with the sleeve of her coat.

“Sherlock! I—I didn’t know anyone was still in here. I was coming to turn the lights off. Is that the knife they brought in earlier? The really bloody one?”

Sherlock’s lip was shaking. He was on the brink of tears. He stared at dear little Molly, her eyes wide with confusion, excitement, and enthusiasm. What had he done? What had he done? He had never hated himself more in his life.

“Er, yes—yes, the one and the same,” he replied, placing the objects down on the table to ease his fear of dropping everything.

Molly cleared her throat.

“How have you been? I haven’t seen you or talked to you since the uh—well, you know.”

Sherlock sniffed.

“I’ve been as well as I can be. How…how…uh, how have you been?” he asked. He wished he had never asked it. How had she been? How do you think she’s been, you moron?

“I’ve been okay. Mostly work these days, not much time for anything else, really. It’s been hard to do anything besides work.”

Sherlock and Molly both stopped talking. They were just staring at one another from across the room. Both of their faces weren’t that of new lovers. Both of their eyes were glistening with tears. Molly bit her lip. Sherlock inhaled sharply.

“Molly, I—,” he began, but didn’t finish.

“Don’t. Please don’t,” she said, her voice choking up with tears long ignored. “It was your brother. He came by the day after…you know. And he—he…” she wiped her face and took a couple short, sharp breaths. “He told me what happened, Sherlock. He wanted me to hear it from him rather than you. I’m so sorry for all the pain I caused you, Sherlock,” she sobbed, holding her hands over her eyes. “I’m so sorry! I’ve been a fool, following you around every moment like I’m some puppy dog. But I meant it when you told me to say it: I do love you. I always have, and it’s always been true. I’m so sorry for everything! So horribly sorry! Oh, God!” she went to her knees and sobbed into her hands. Sherlock touched his face and was unashamed to find that he had tears on his cheeks.

He walked slowly toward the woman on the floor. No, Molly Hooper wasn’t a woman. She was a girl. His girl. She would always be. He would always need her, and she would never push him away.

He was on his knees beside her, wrapping his arms around her and drawing her to himself. She sobbed into his shoulder, and the moment reminded him of when he had held his trembling sister on the floor of the abandoned house. He cradled her in his arms and held her head to his shoulder.

“Oh, God, Sherlock! Can you ever forgive me? I’m so sorry!” she wept.

He gently pulled her from his shoulder and positioned her in front of him, holding her shoulders firmly with his hands. She saw the glitter of water on his face, and that made her eyes widen just a touch.

“Molly Hooper, you listen to me. I am sorry for my failure to see through my sister’s schemes. It is I who must be asking for forgiveness, not you. Don’t you dare! Forgive me for having asked so much of you. I never meant to humiliate you or make an experiment of you. You have always been the most loyal of my friends—besides, perhaps, John,” he said, rolling his eyes. She giggled through the veil of tears.

He continued.

“You’ve never disappointed me. You’ve always been there for me. If there was one person in this world who has been with me through the thickest of thick and the thinnest of thin, it has been you, Molly Hooper. I didn’t lie to you on the phone that day. I do love you. Not in the way you would imagine, but nearly.”

He took her hands and pressed each gently. Then he cradled her face in his hands and kissed her forehead.

“Molly Hooper, can you ever forgive me? I’m so sorry for the pain I’ve caused you,” Sherlock said, his voice cracking under the weight of the sobs he was trying to hold back.

“Oh, Sherlock…you idiot. You still don’t understand, do you? How could I not forgive you? It would be impossible not to,” she responded, standing to her feet as he rose to his. They hugged tightly.

“Thank you, Molly—thank you. I don’t know what I’d do without you,” he said, still holding her in a vice-like embrace.

Molly’s little voice sounded from somewhere in his jacket.

“Honestly, Sherlock, I don’t know what you’d do without me either,” she replied, elbowing him in the ribs and laughing. Sherlock let her go and chuckled under his breath.

It felt like a thousand pounds of bricks had lifted off his chest, and now he could finally live with himself again. As long as Molly was smiling, so would his heart smile, too.


Chapter IX

Irene was bored at 221b. There was no doubt about it. On a normal day, she wouldn’t have let Sherlock go off into London by himself, leaving her at the flat like some commonplace woman left to tend to the home.

Nevertheless, as she always did, Irene had a reason.

She and Sherlock had returned to the flat after their time at the crime scene, and the two had done nothing incredibly exciting. Sherlock shut himself up (being sure to lock the door for fear of his chastity) in his bedroom and slept. Molly had disturbed his mind, and all he wanted to do was think. Irene was equally employed: she lounged on the sofa looking at her cell phone. Twitter wasn’t going to update itself.

Scrolling through the feed made her bored after about a half hour, and she ended up setting her phone down on the floor. Closing her eyes, she stretched out on the sofa and let herself go limp.

Knock, knock, knock.

Her phone emitted the said noise and buzzed from the floor. Absentmindedly, she reached down to pick it up. The grin spreading across her face was trouble incarnate, and the message she read twisted it into devilry:

Hi.

JM x

She laughed under her breath. Her fingers hastened to reply, and they tapped the screen furiously.

Good Afternoon.

IA

She kept her phone open, watching as the message was “read” and Moriarty formed his response from the other end.

Is he dead yet?

JM x

Good things come to those

who wait, dear Jim.

IA

Obviously.

JM x

So be patient.

IA

I know.

JM x

I think he’s in love already.

IA

Not like he ever stopped.

JM x

I’m flattered.

IA

I saw him kiss you.

JM x

I know. Wasn’t it clever?

IA

I couldn’t believe he actually

had his hands on you.

JM x

He’s forgotten his own advice.

IA

What advice?

JM x

Just something he told me

when we first met.

IA

Have you forgotten yours?

JM x

No.

IA

I know.

JM x

He’s leaving in a few.

IA

Oh…?

JM x

To St. Bart’s.

IA

Thank you, darling.

JM x

Anytime.

IA

Irene closed her eyes and shut the phone off as she sent the last text. She sighed and crossed her legs. How complicated this entire business was. It was fun, though. Playing two at the same time. She certainly had her fingers in too many pies.

She closed her eyes and let herself drift off.

 

The door to the bedroom opened an hour later and Sherlock appeared, ready to head to the hospital. He was wearing his coat, his scarf, and his phone was in his pocket. Irene opened her eyes to the sight of him and thought he looked dashing.

“Off so soon? I thought I’d ask for a little music. I’m dreadfully bored,” she whined, putting her arm over her face in mock agony. Sherlock saw right through the act.

“How is Jim?”

“Oh, he’s fine. I told him you’d be off in a few minutes, just in case you see him out there. Send him my love, would you, dear?”

“Of course,” Sherlock replied. “Naturally, though, I think you’ll be able to tell him yourself, especially since he’s going to be here in a few minutes.”

“You think he’s coming here?”

“I know he is.”

“If I see him, what do I say?”

“You know. You always do, don’t you? I’ll be back in a few hours. Give dear Jim my love!”

“Of course,” she replied, holding her hands over her face and exaggerating a vexed exhale.

Sherlock smirked as he left the flat.

“Don’t be late for dinner,” Irene teased after him as he stood in the doorway.

“A bit of tardiness is good for us all, Miss Adler, and it’s a virtue I intend to exercise tonight. I’ll see you soon.”

“Spoil sport,” Irene called after him as he closed the door.

The door to 221b Baker Street shut, and Irene went to the window to watch Sherlock. He walked toward the street, hailed a cab, and was carried off in the direction of St. Bart’s hospital. She wished she was out there with him, but duty called.

Jim would be here soon.

About twenty minutes passed before a knock came at the flat’s door.

“It’s unlocked,” she said.

The door creaked open, but Irene was surprised to see Mrs. Hudson standing in the doorway instead of the expected visitor.

“Oh!” Irene said, trying to regain composure. “Sherlock’s just gone out if you wanted—”

Mrs. Hudson shook her head.

“Oh, noo,” the old woman piped musically. She had a cup in her hand, but she quickly set it down in the kitchen before turning back to Irene.

“No, it was you I wanted to see, love,” she cut in, her wrinkly hands gripping her hips. Irene raised an eyebrow.

“Oh?”

“Yes. I remembered you from last night even though I couldn’t place it. You’re that one with the camera phone, aren’t you? Sherlock said you were dead.”

“Yes. I was supposed to be dead, and honestly, I should be. If it weren’t for Sherlock.”

“So he did save you? Oh Lord, I always knew…after a while, you know…” The old woman flailed her hands; trying to help Irene draw conclusions without saying anything.

Irene smiled at the old woman. She didn’t know why, but she was happy at Mrs. Hudson’s glee. For some reason, it brought her joy.

But the joy turned to worry as Irene saw Mrs. Hudson’s cheery face turn serious. She was looking at Irene as though about to lecture her.

“Nevertheless, I wanted to tell you something. And I want you to listen hard, young woman.”

Irene perked up a little. For another invisible reason, she felt respect for this woman.

“The last time you were here, Sherlock was…not his best. You did something to him, you messed him up, you did! and I’ve never seen anyone ever do anything to him like you did. When you were…dead, I suppose…the first time, that is…he went into such a fit of mourning I didn’t know if he’d ever make it out. Always playing depressing music, hardly eating, barely talking. But he’s Sherlock! I never understood it, but I think I do now, because you’re back.

“But I want you to know something. I read all about you on John’s blog. He has this story…oh damn! what is it? A Slanderer in Belgrave? Something? I never can tell.

“But, back to the point: I know who you are, Irene Adler, and if I ever catch wind of something brewing in that funny little head of yours, I swear, you’ll hear from me, and so will Sherlock. Are we clear?”

Irene was thoroughly confused. Nevertheless, she nodded her head in accordance with the old lady’s question. Mrs. Hudson wouldn’t take no for an answer.

“Good, then,” the landlady chirped, suddenly breaking her fiery expression and smiling at Irene sweetly. “Ooh, I meant to ask if you wanted some tea. Just this once; I was going to make some and wondered if you’d care for a cuppa.”

Irene felt loyalty growing in her heart for this old woman. She was to be respected, obeyed, and cared for. She practically demanded it. Irene saw no reason why she shouldn’t be a dear to her. In fact, she rather liked her.

“That’s terribly kind of you, mum, but I think I’ll just rest now. It was lovely…chatting with you,” she said. Irene was puzzled with herself. Mum? How long had it been since she had called someone that?

“Same to you, dear; enjoy your rest, now. You’ll need it with Sherlock around tonight,” Mrs. Hudson replied, turning and closing the door behind her.

Irene was puzzled at Mrs. Hudson’s last remark, but smiled all the same as she retreated out of the room and back down the stairs.

About ten minutes passed, and Irene was still rolling her conversation with Mrs. Hudson through her head when the door was pushed open. She had been lying on the sofa, and even as the door creaked ajar, she remained stretched out upon it.

“Well, well, how are things, Miss Adler?” Jim Moriarty drawled childishly and surveyed the room. He didn’t even glance at her, but he could tell where she was sitting from peripheral vision. She knew that much. And she honestly didn’t care.

“Jim,” she replied, hoisting herself up into a sitting position at this point and eyeing him curiously.

“I thought you’d have followed him to the hospital,” she said, acting surprised to see him. He was looking at the window, holding an apple from the fruit basket in his clammy palm.

“I thought I’d let him be for once. Just today. There’s the rest of our lives to look forward to, isn’t there?” he asked, his mouth slightly ajar as he searched her face for the answer to his bone-chilling question.

“I thought I’d come and visit my favorite dominatrix while I was at it.”

“Favorite? You mean only,” Irene parried, smirking playfully. Even though she no longer brandished the whip or tightened the chain, Jim was in the dark. He still believed her to be the sadomasochistic Delilah she had once been.

“No, I’ve got loads like you. But you’re just my favorite one. None of the others do it as good as you.”

“I’m flattered,” she replied, her lips curving with satisfaction.

“Don’t be,” he said, grinning. “It’s just what you were made for.”

She stopped looking pleased with herself and straightened up in her position on the sofa. Jim was surveying her curiously out of the corner of his eye, but he still mainly examined London’s atmosphere out the window.

She was about to speak before Jim interrupted.

“Oh, and I brought a friend. Do come in, Norton,” he said, calling to a hitherto unknown figure in the doorway. Irene turned towards the door, and as she did, she nearly screamed.

“Mr. Godfrey Norton, I believe you’ve met Miss Adler before, isn’t that right?”

All Irene wanted to do was run into the next room, shut the door, bolt it tight, and possibly kill herself. Anything to avert this man’s gaze. Anything to keep him from looking at her. Anything but to look into the eyes of the man who had decimated her dignity. The rapist from Berlin was before her face.

He was still the same handsome faced German from before. His gaze was still lascivious. His eyes still played tricks with her head.

She remained cool as ever. Her voice did not break. It would not break, and she stood to her feet with calm collection, extended her arm, and shook the hand of Godfrey Norton.

“Mr. Norton,” she said, smiling. “A pleasure to see you again.”

“Is it?” he asked, reaching out to caress her cheek with the back of his hand.

She smacked it.

A chilling silence gripped the throats of each individual in the room, creating an awkward wave of mutual shock felt by all.

Moriarty started clapping and laughed.

“Ho oh, let’s not misbehave now, dear girl,” he hooted. “Let’s not forget our manners!” he trumpeted, imitating the voice of a parent to their child.

“Played a hard game in Berlin with Norton, didn’t you, Miss Adler? I heard he won. At least, that’s what he said, eh?” Moriarty joked. Norton nodded and locked eyes with Irene as he made his response to Moriarty. The hairs on the back of her neck and back were erect, and goosebumps formed instantly every time her clothing barely rubbed against her skin.

“She’s quite the woman, I can assure you,” Norton said, letting his glance travel southward to subtly examine her form. She put her hands on her hips and bumped his shoulder as she walked past him toward the fireplace. She wouldn’t be so scrutinized.

“I would’ve had him on his knees begging for mercy if I hadn’t decided to let him have his way. No one likes a sore loser, and I can tell the type when I see one,” Irene spat, pivoting on her heel to look both men in the eyes. She eyed Norton for the most part. He raised an eyebrow.

“What is the English expression? ‘Takes one to know one?’ Is that it?” he asked.

She didn’t smile. Her mouth was twitching with anger, but beneath it all, what she felt most was fear and apprehension.

“What brings you to London, Mr. Norton?” she asked, ignoring his previous remark entirely.

The man didn’t respond.

“Norton’s in town on some business for me,” Moriarty piped up. Irene gripped her hips with frustration, and her knuckles turned white. Norton looked down at them and smiled.

“Oh?” she asked. She caught sight of Norton’s gaze on her hands and clasped them behind her back.

“Yes. I’ve got a friend here…a real good friend. Been a friend of mine for such a long, long time now. I get worried about them. Always doing what I want, never having time for themselves. I just want to make sure they’re properly taken care of. Don’t want anyone getting sidetracked either, do we? That’s never fun,” Moriarty said, shaking his head and blowing through his lips like a horse after a long run.

“So, I asked Norton here in to town, and he’s going to be looking after them. He owes me a debt, and he’s paying up. He’s good, too…oh, so good, aren’t you, dear?” he asked, turning to Norton, whose mouth was only pinned up at the ends. It was barely a smile.

Irene’s stomach was a pit of worms. She wanted to cry. She wanted to scream. God, she wanted Sherlock to come through the door and take her in his arms, for goodness sake! Anything than be in this room—here—with these two men—now. Every breath they took made her heart beat a little faster.

“We just thought we’d drop by for a proper chat. So good seeing you, Miss Adler. And I’m sure Norty here is just as glad, aren’t you, Norty?” Moriarty asked, nudging the German with his elbow and smiling like the crooked genius he was.

Norton only tipped his head forward and eyed Irene beneath his thick, dark eyebrows. His face was a stamp of shadow. She truculently accepted his silent challenge and let her cold blue eyes fascinate his nearly black ones.

“Do come again, Jim. And please, bring your friend by all means. He’s always welcome,” she said, never once breaking her eye contact with Norton.

The villain chuckled to himself again.

“And if we don’t come ‘round, I’m sure you’ll see us all the same. Sleep well tonight, Miss Adler. And good work, darling.”

With that, both men retreated to the doorway, and Irene closed the door behind them. She waited until the downstairs door closed as well before letting her eyes fog up with the icy tears that she had been wrestling with during the whole interview. She stood there with her hand on the door; something like the claws of terror kept her there. Her insides were a frozen pit of nerves, and she was sweating everywhere.

Her limbs trembled. She sank to the floor, hunched forward on her knees. Her hands shook as she brought them to her face. She sobbed into them, let out a few screams of fury, indignation, fear, whatever it was she was feeling. There were so many things. She didn’t do this often enough. Emotions were climbing over her walls of resistance and breaking the barricades that shielded her heart from the rest of the world.

She just sat there and wept.

He was clever. Moriarty had done something that had broken all bonds. She wanted Sherlock. She wanted him for herself, not for Moriarty. She was determined to have the detective for her own, and to beat the spider at his own little game.

And she began to think that he was catching on.

But now Godfrey Norton had changed things. He would examine and stalk her every move. What would happen if he discovered the worst? That she really did feel…things for Sherlock? She couldn’t let herself be divulged. He was still a hungry man; she read it on his face when she had seen him mere minutes ago.

She decided that she wouldn’t like this game as much as the others. This one was going to be so much harder.

But no. She would not despair.

You forget, Godfrey Norton, that you have not chosen any mere woman. You have chosen Irene Adler. And it is she you must answer to.

She brushed the water from her face and stood to her feet. She didn’t scold herself for crying. Crying had always been good; it wasn’t wrong to cry. Tears renewed one’s strength. Besides, she took confidence in who she was: The Woman.

Her dominatrix power forsaken, she was still the clever, headstrong, resolute, tricky, strong woman she always ways: even without handcuffs at her disposal. She was still a woman.

She was still The Woman.

But what if The Woman wasn’t good enough?

Godfrey Norton was everything she had ever feared. What if, just this once, he was better? What if this was the end of The Woman as she knew it?

She didn’t want to know.

On the mantle she glanced three books; one of which was a Bible. It had been years since she’d even seen one. Picking it up, she opened it randomly. It was a small one. The leather spine fit in her palm. Letting her eyes focus on the first words she glimpsed, Irene read from Psalm 88:

Oh Lord, why do you cast my soul away?

Why do you hide your face from me?

Afflicted and close to death from my youth

 up,

I suffer your terrors; I am helpless.

Your wrath has swept over me;

your dreadful assaults destroy me.

They surround me like a flood all day

 long;

They close in on me together.

She couldn’t read anymore; the words blurred into one long line of ink as her power of vision was ruined by quavering tears.

She threw the book onto the floor as if it possessed some ill will toward her. Why had she picked up that damned book? The words had driven a wedge into her already collapsing sanity, and she felt as though she might burst. She was angry, afraid, agitated. God, she was annoyed with everything and everyone. There was no God to love her. And if there was, surely He didn’t care.

“Oh God!” she moaned, as she collapsed on the sofa in a fetal position.

“Oh my God! Have mercy on my soul!”

She fell asleep there with tears on her face, and the Bible was lying face down on the floor, the pages of Psalms smushed against the carpet.


Chapter X

The next thing Irene saw was the door to the flat swinging open, and Sherlock storming through. He was in good spirits. His gait suggested things were well with little Miss Hooper, and this made Irene glad.

Then she remembered why her face was wet.

The flat was dark, so he couldn’t see yet. Sherlock closed the curtains and switched on the lamps at the low tables. Irene lazily propped herself up into a lounging position. Sherlock switched on the lamp at his computer desk near the window. Turning around, he quickly studied her face as he walked from there to the kitchen. Her features were inexplicably plain and frozen.

“How long did you cry for?” he asked, illuminating the kitchen as he powered on the overhead lights.

“Long enough,” she replied.

“Who else was here?”

“Jim came by.”

“Besides him.”

“No one.”

“You’re not fooling anyone.”

I know.”

He was preparing a cup of tea in the kitchen, but stopped at these words. He watched her face and found it looking almost traumatized. He glanced the book on the floor.

“How far did you get in Psalms?”

She raised her eyebrows and craned her neck at the little book on the floor.

“Not far.”

He chuckled.

“What?” she asked.

“No one ever does. Especially not Psalm 88, which is where the pages have stuck. I haven’t touched that book in ages. What made you pick it up?”

“I don’t know.”

Sherlock’s wheels were turning inside his mind. Something had happened to her. Something had gone wrong. She had opened a Bible, of all things. If he didn’t find out on his own, he would never know what had occurred during his absence. Nevertheless, he wasn’t worried.

Casually, he asked, “Have you eaten?”

“No,” she replied, languidly.

“Are you hungry?”

“For what?”

“Food. Don’t make jokes.”

“In that case, no. I’m not hungry…. We could still have dinner all the same.”

“Please, Miss Adler.”

“Fine,” she drawled, sighing at an exaggerated volume.

“I’m going to bed. I’ll be waiting for you,” she added, before rising wearily from the sofa and walking with an almost drunken stride toward Sherlock’s bedroom.

“I’m sleeping in John’s room tonight,” Sherlock called after she disappeared in his bedroom.

She returned, hands on her hips as she leaned against the doorway coquettishly.

“Too bad,” she said. Then swinging back around and heading back into the room, Sherlock heard her say, “I was planning on telling you the specifics of Jim’s visit whilst we fell asleep.”

Sherlock waited a few moments. He could hear her changing in the room, and decided he’d wait before going in. He heard the bed settle as it accepted her weight upon it.

He set the tea cup down and advanced toward the room like a soldier going to battle.

She was under the covers on the bed and staring at the ceiling. She wasn’t wearing anything suggestive, unless the thin, white camisole from the night before can be considered that.

Sherlock set the tea cup down and headed toward the room.

She was sprawled out on the bed and staring at the ceiling. He stood by the doorway, looking in at her from a safe distance.

“You can tell me now; we do have all night.”

“Yes we do, don’t we?” she asked, her eyebrows dancing on her forehead.

“I’m sleeping in John’s room.”

“You sure?”

Sherlock didn’t answer. His stomach was starting to warm up again. The sensation was both alarming and attractive. He told himself he’d stay positioned at the door post. He would not let the lioness make an easy meal out of him.

“Not about you,” he replied, ignoring her question about where he’d be spending the night.

“Me…what’s so special about me? I’m much more interested in us, Mr. Holmes,” she replied, her words smooth and tantalizing. She turned towards him and lay on her side, her hand resting on her hip. Sherlock was finding it difficult to stay focused.

He admitted, “So am I.”

“Are you now?”

He bit his lip. This was getting to be more frustrating every minute. His own emotions were giving way and starting to slip out of his grip as he looked at Irene Adler invitingly positioned on his bed. He shook himself out of his sentiments and said:

“If you want my help, I’ll give it.”

“If you want my cooperation, you have to follow the rules.”

“There are no rules in this case.”

“There’s a good lad.”

Another moment of staring. Neither spoke.

He took a deep breath and huffed out, “Tell me what happened, Miss Adler. I need to know. To keep it from me is futile. I will know eventually.”

“Then why should I tell you? Why shouldn’t I make you wait?”

“Time is of the essence.”

“Yes, it is, isn’t it? And you’re growing colder with every minute that goes by. Come lie down; it’s much warmer over here.”

Every limb in Sherlock’s body was on fire. Irene was somehow utilizing the power of magnetics. Keeping his feet planted to the floor was one of the detective’s most difficult of sentimental struggles. Nevertheless, the virgin stayed put.

Irene spoke next.

“This is what I love about you, Mr. Holmes. It’s much more fun trying to catch something you can’t have. Much more interesting. Makes the game ten times more exciting. Don’t you agree?”

“It makes the end result much more rewarding.”

“Ah, so you do understand. You do feel things, don’t you?”

“I do.”

“Then come have dinner with me.”

“I can’t.”

“Why not?”

It was a simple question. Simply put. She put her hands behind her head and sank back onto the pillows. She crossed her legs and looked at him sardonically. She narrowed her eyes; she was indescribably flirtatious. He could see her mind on her face: she thinks she’s caught me. She’s right; this is what makes the game more fun.

“I’m waiting for us to be married.”

Irene laughed. The sound was strange to him; he had never in his life heard her laugh. It was a beautiful noise, but in the context of the question he had posed, it was almost belittling. He reddened.

“Oh, is that it, then? A virgin indeed. Like I said before, ‘you’re always the good boy’.”

“I am what I am.”

His words were exactly the same as last time.

“I suppose you said the same to Janine, did you, dear?”

“I did.”

“Of course you did. How incredibly chaste of you.”

“Returning to the matter at hand—”

“Yes,” she replied, sitting up entirely and crossing her legs beneath the blankets Indian style.

“You may as well reveal yourself, Miss Adler.”

“How would you prefer I do so?”

He disregarded her innuendo.

“You may as well begin explaining, especially considering I had Mrs. Hudson bug the room when she came in earlier. She has your entire conversation recorded in her flat, so unless you want me to hear the tape, I suggest you begin telling your narrative.”

The lascivious glances fled Irene’s visage, and her eyes were growing larger every second. The cup. Mrs. Hudson had set down a cup in the kitchen when she had come in earlier.

She began to breathe heavily and tears started welling up in her eyes. She would have to tell him. She would be telling him another secret; it was Berlin all over again.

“You son of a b—”

“Yes, call me whatever you like. I honestly don’t care.”

Sherlock was beginning to feel like himself once more. He was at least glad she was upset enough to start profaning him. It was better than watching her try to woo him.

“Now tell me,” he took a few steps into the room so that he stood over the bed.

“Who else was here?

Without tilting back her head to meet his gaze, she just stared forward into his frame. She didn’t want to find his eyes or for his to find hers. She breathed through her teeth. Her nostrils flared. This was yet another moment of seduction that had utterly failed.

God, he really was so good.

“Fine,” she rasped, running a hand through her dark hair.

Sherlock crossed his arms over his chest, preparing for her narrative. But nothing prepared him for what she was about to say.

“He—he was here…the man was—oh my God, I can’t believe I’m actually telling you this…” she said, nearly crying. Her voice escalated to a kind of exasperated sadness, and he noticed a few tears on her face.

“The man…from Berlin,” she painfully admitted. The words were squeezed out in between her gritted teeth. It was as though each word were breathed out in between labor pangs.

“Jim brought him here and plainly enough reminded me of what I am to him. Plainly reminded me of what will happen to me if I lose sight of his intentions. He brought that filthy bastard into my presence and reminded me of what he had stolen from me. And God, I never wanted to scream so much in all my life, Mr. Holmes,” she seethed. Wiping her face with aggression, she looked at her hands in her lap. Sherlock stood in the doorway with his eyebrows bending backward. He felt once more as he had in Berlin. What an intimate matter this was. Sympathy was massaging his mind.

“There. I’ve told you now. Are you satisfied? Are you content? You’ve won, Mr. Holmes. Fair and square. I’ve said it. Now just…please—get out…and leave me alone.”

But this time, unlike last time, Sherlock wouldn’t leave her alone.

Her eyes were still wet, but they were closed. She didn’t want to look at him standing there in his triumph. The darkness of the room and of her closed eyes was enough to comfort her.

Then she felt slight pressure enveloping her, and she found herself being drawn into the arms of Sherlock Holmes: the arms she had always longed to occupy. She didn’t open her eyes. She just rested her head on his chest and silently let out a couple of gasps. One or two tears squeezed their way out of her closed lids, but she wouldn’t let herself make a scene.

This was enough already.

He decided that this kind of “embracing” thing was always a comfort to someone who was crying.

Mary Watson had been the one to teach it to him. How proud she’d have been of him now, holding Irene to his breast as she silently wept in his arms. He could almost see dear Mary now, grinning at him in the doorway with her arms crossed over her chest. She was mouthing something at him in the darkness.

“Kiss her head. They always love that. I know I did, whenever things were wrong. John was brilliant at it,” she said, nodding at him encouragingly.

Sherlock buried his lips in Irene’s fragrant hair and kissed her. She sucked in her breath.

He could see Mary in his mind silently squealing behind the door and gripping her hands.

“It’s alright,” he told Irene, under his breath.

“I know. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be.”

“Fine then, I won’t be,” she said. Her sarcastic spunk was returning. She felt a deep chuckle rattle his chest.

“I believe I have reason to trust you. And if I’m right, then we are… us. This is my fight as much as it is yours…

“Irene.”

He had used her name. How many times had she wondered when he would call her by her first name? He had always called her “The Woman” or “Miss Adler,” but never her first name. Saying it almost felt sacrilegious.

She went crimson as her name left his lips.

Lifting her head to meet his gaze, she stroked his cheek and said, “I believe you, Sherlock.”

He would’ve like to look into her blue eyes for the rest of the night, but fearing what might happen to him (and knowing what was good for him), he planted a warm kiss on her brow, gently laid her down upon the bed, stood up to walk back toward the door. As he prepared to shut it for the night, he whispered:

“Goodnight, Miss Adler.”

She smirked at him from where she lay.

“Goodnight, Mr. Holmes.”

And he closed the door.

Before retiring to his room upstairs, Sherlock picked up his violin and played the song he had written for The Woman nearly three years earlier. She could hear it from the bedroom, and the melancholic melody seemed to tell her that it was hers.

She fell asleep with a tranquil smile on her lips.

A muffled boom woke her dreams, and she opened her eyes slowly. There was an obnoxious pacing coming from upstairs, and the occasional boom to complete the pattern.

What the hell?

It had been going on for nearly thirty minutes, and it was beginning to drive her quite mad. She switched on the lamp at the nightstand and checked her watch.

Three-thirty…oh dear God.

So this is what Mrs. Hudson’s snide remark had meant earlier: “…enjoy your rest, now. You’ll need it with Sherlock around tonight.”

Sherlock was awake, and he was thinking. Thinking out loud.

Boom.

Quite loudly, it would seem.

She sighed, and decided she’d venture upstairs to his residence to see what he was doing. Wrapping herself in the robe Mrs. Hudson had lent her, Irene carefully tiptoed her way through the darkened flat toward the stairs ascending to John Watson’s room.

The door was opened just a crack, and a stream of light cut the dark floor like a luminous ribbon. She pushed the door ajar wide enough so she could slip through. Sherlock was lying on the Doctor’s bed, his head at the foot end. He was holding his violin in his hand and plucking the strings with agitation.

Irene was about to address him before he spontaneously jumped off the bed, landing on the floor with a thud.

So that’s what the muffled boom had been, she thought.

Spinning around involuntarily, Sherlock caught sight of Irene standing in the room.

“What the hell are you still doing up?” Sherlock asked her. He was incredibly annoyed, and Irene could see it by the way his eyebrows moved around like the pendulum of a grandfather clock. His mouth was trying to form words that simply weren’t there, and he was staggering backwards and forwards. It was like he was drunk on delirium.

“Same thing I meant to ask you,” she replied, putting her hands on her hips and tapping her foot on the floor. If they hadn’t looked so close in age, you’d have thought she was his mother.

“Too loud for you, is it?” he asked. His expression made her want to laugh out loud. It was frazzled, ridiculous, and almost hallucinogenic.

“Yes, quite. I came up here to tuck you in; you’re going to bed, and you’re going to bed now, Mr. Holmes.”

“You don’t have a whip on you, do you?”

Please.”

His brow furrowed, and he was perplexed as she guided him toward the bed. He wasn’t wearing pajamas, but she obviously didn’t care. Shoving him down onto the mattress, she tucked each leg under the blankets and pulled the sheets up to his shoulders.

“What was keeping you awake anyhow?” she asked him, running her hand through his black curls. Sherlock’s brain prickled.

“An unanswered question,” he replied, closing his eyes.

“Which was?”

“Why the murderer left such a sloppy trail of clues for me.”

“Maybe he likes watching you. I can sympathize with the notion.”

“It has to be something more. Moriarty is never so simple.”

“Don’t think everything has to be so clever, darling. Most things rarely are.”

This statement of hers piqued his interest. Hadn’t Moriarty mentioned the exact same thing before? Hadn’t he believed it to be Sherlock’s weakness?

It called to mind their final battle on the roof of St. Bart’s: “I knew you’d fall for it. That’s your weakness. You always want everything to be clever.”

Irene leaned over and kissed his cheek.

“Goodnight, then.”

“Mmmm,” he mumbled, pulling up the blankets to his face.

She turned off the light before whispering one last time, “Goodnight, Mr. Sherlock Holmes.”

She closed the door and returned to her own room, leaving Sherlock to think in the dark: both about Moriarty’s riddles and the comforting sensation that a woman had just tucked him in to bed with a goodnight kiss.

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