It’s raining outside. London summer at its best. Irene isn’t sure she doesn’t prefer London’s summer rain to any other weather. Or perhaps that’s because there is nowhere else in the world where anyone knows her, for better or worse.
She stands in the middle of Hyde Park, watching the lightning and getting soaked to the bone. Her hotel will be warm and dry, but she wants to really feel it, hear the thunder. It’s not something she gets to do often, and right at this moment she’s not working. Of course, it would have been even better at the ocean, sandy beaches, swimming in the rain. She could go, but she doesn’t want to leave.
She left Sherlock two hours ago, asleep in her bed. It’s not that often Sherlock sleeps, and Irene didn’t want to wake her. Didn’t want to say goodbye, really. She knows that Sherlock will regret this when she wakes up. Sherlock, who never does anything like this. Sherlock, the ice queen of England. She’s not sure what she even did to convince Sherlock to let her into her bed in Baker Street, only that it won’t happen again. She always thought that if anyone could tempt her it would be the good doctor. Perhaps he does tempt her. Perhaps it’s a temptation she cannot give in to.
Things like these never get any better if you think about them, so she goes to stand under a tree to light a cigarette. She keeps them in a metal case, a gift from Godfrey, the finest craftsmanship to be found, so they’re not even damp. She needs the rain to wash away the scent of Sherlock, and the memories she’s not supposed to be having, and the cigarette to stop her hands shaking. When she’s done with that she might go somewhere, maybe the ocean.
She’s packing, leaving for Brighton in two hours, when someone knocks on the door. She opens it to see a blonde woman, properly but not expensively dressed, no jewellery except an engagement ring. She knows who it is, of course, but Miss Mary Morstan shouldn’t know who she is, or how to find her.
“Miss Adler,” Morstan says, and pushes her way right through the door.
“Excuse me?” Irene says, sounding scandalized even though this is interesting. Certainly not what she expected. Maybe even exciting. Morstan gives her a look.
“It’s about Holmes,” she says, and Irene closes the door.
“Yes?” Irene says, not even trying to sound scandalized anymore. It probably wouldn’t work on Morstan anyway. Women are more difficult than men, less likely to be led by their passions, harder to sway with a glimpse of her body, a flirtatious smile.
“What did you do to her?” Morstan says coldly. Irene almost flinches.
“What business of yours is it?” she asks, because whatever she and Sherlock did or didn’t do in bed really wasn’t something she wanted to talk to the future Mrs Watson about.
“Oh, none, really,” Morstan says. “I wasn’t really sure you’d done anything, until just now, that is.”
Irene internally curses herself for not being more alert.
“Well, if you have nothing further to say you might as well leave. I have a train to catch,” she says.
Morstan doesn’t, just sits down on the sofa in Irene’s suite.
“So, what did you do? Holmes is acting very strange. More so than usual. John is worried.”
“Nothing,” Irene says, determined now to act as if nothing has happened.
“Very well,” Morstan says and makes herself comfortable on the sofa.
Irene keeps on packing, keeping an eye on Morstan, who is idly picking through the papers on Irene’s side table. She doesn’t keep anything interesting there, of course not, but the sheer cheek! Morstan must have spent too much time with Sherlock. Jealousy flares up at the thought, much more than when she thought of Sherlock with Watson. She’s not even sure if it’s the thought of Morstan getting to spend time with Sherlock, or the thought of Sherlock with another woman that is worse. Sure, Morstan is getting married to Watson, but considering how much time Watson spends with Sherlock she’s not sure exactly what marrying Watson would mean. She doesn’t want to be replaced by Watson and his wife.
“Where are you going?” Morstan suddenly asks, and Irene almost flinches.
“Brighton,” she says, because there’s no reason to conceal it, not really.
“Oh. Nice time for it. Staying long?” Morstan asks.
“I don’t know,” Irene says, and smiles insincerely at Morstan.
“I might join you if you decide to be long. London is dreadfully hot this time of year, don’t you think, Miss Adler?” Morstan says, and Irene has a vision of Mary in a tight fitting white tunic, made see-through by the water. Of course, Morstan probably uses something old fashioned, covering as much of her body as possible. Maybe Irene can get her to come to one of the all-women bathing houses though.
“Please do, Miss Morstan,” she says. “We simply must spend some time together, just us ladies. I’ll be staying at the Grand.”
She doesn’t have a reservation, but that’s never a problem.
Morstan stands up and stretches. Her dress falls down a bit and reveals one of her shoulders. She puts it right, but not before Irene has to shake herself to stop staring.
“Well, I’m sure I can find my own way out. Goodbye, Miss Adler,” she says before she leaves.
Irene has to have a sit down for a bit before she resumes packing.
Brighton is, well, Brighton. Not the best place if you want to take a dip in the ocean, to be honest, too many people watching, but it makes up for it in other ways. Irene renews some acquaintances but even though she goes to the bars where you can find and pick up women of a certain kind (tribads, her mind supplies) she’s oddly uninterested. Somehow she finds herself looking for wild dark curls half the time, and messy blonde hair the rest. And even if she finds it it’s never quite right.
Still, it’s not so bad, all things considered. She even takes a trip out to one of the more remote beaches one day to have a proper swim. The girl she’s with is visibly disappointed that Irene really only wanted to swim, but it’s probably good to learn about disappointment early.
When she gets back to the hotel there’s a telegram waiting for her.
Are you staying?
She sends back a simple
to Morstan before going up to her room. She’s not sure if she wants Morstan to come or not, and she doesn’t like it. She’s used to being certain.
Morstan arrives the next day, shows up outside Irene’s suite with her suitcase as if nothing had happened. She's wearing travelling clothes and looks very sweaty. Stray bits of hair have escaped from her do and they curl around her face.
“Oh, good, you have a sofa. I was afraid I’d have to sleep on the floor,” she says as she sets her suitcase down.
“Excuse me?” Irene says, and she almost doesn’t have to fake the scandalized tone in her voice.
“I can’t afford to stay in a place like this,” Morstan says and indicates the hotel. “So I’ll be sleeping on your sofa. It’ll be fine.”
“Um,” Irene says before getting a grip on herself. “Yes, of course. I’m going to have some lunch now, will you join me?”
“Give me a minute to change,” Morstan says, and goes into the bathroom with her bag. Irene sits down on the sofa. Morstan is like a whirlwind. Irene hadn’t expected that, she’d only really met the woman once before she showed up at Irene’s hotel, and that time Sherlock had been around. She should have guessed by the way Morstan held her own against Sherlock, but she was, as always, too distracted by Sherlock.
Morstan comes out of the bathroom in a summer dress, almost indecently thin, and Irene smiles. It seems Morstan is the kind of whirlwind Irene likes.
Morstan is perfectly polite to everyone who talks to them in the hotels dining rooms, but rather pointed about showing her engagement ring and Irene starts thinking she might have had it wrong. Still, they are in public, maybe she just wants to be discreet.
“Pretty, isn’t it?” Morstan says and puts her left hand in Irene’s field of vision. She has no choice but to look, so she takes Morstan's hand in hers to look at it proper.
It is a pretty ring. Not as expensive as any she’s had, obviously, but chosen with love. It suits her, nice stone but not too large. An emerald, which sparkles in the sunlight.
“It is,” Irene says.
“I had to drag him to the shop with me. I thought he’d never ask,” Morstan says and plays with the ring. “Of course, Holmes wasn’t any help in the matter.”
“No?” Irene asks, because this is the kind of thing that sounds as if it may be interesting.
“Well, after we sat her down and explained the situation everything was fine, of course.”
“Mmm. You’ve been married, haven’t you?” Morstan asks, and Irene knows there is something there. Morstan is playing her, but she desperately wants to know, and she can’t ask Sherlock, so it’s working. Again, something Irene is not used to.
“Twice,” Irene says.
“How was it?”
“The first time was because of money and the second time I met Sherlock,” she says, which doesn’t really answer anything, but Morstan nods as if it does.
“Godfrey Norton,” Morstan says, and Irene nods. It’s not as if it’s a secret. “Do you still sing?”
“Every now and then. Not professionally, not on the big stages, but sometimes for smaller companies who don’t care that I’ve let my voice go,” Irene says. It’s not something she likes talking about, but it’s also not something people in general understand why she won’t talk about, so she’s crafted an answer that usually stops most of the follow up questions.
“Do you miss it?” Morstan asks.
Does she? Does she still miss singing, the one thing in the world she was truly good at, the one thing that she could do, legally, before large audiences, the one thing she really loved? It’s the only decision she’s ever made that she truly regrets.
“No,” she answers, but she’s not sure Morstan believes her.
It starts raining in the afternoon. Irene feels trapped in her suite with Morstan lounging on the sofa, sending her knowing looks every once in a while.
Irene wants to go swimming in the rain, but she goes out to stand on the balcony instead. If she stands near the railing the rain can get to her, and the light dress she’s wearing becomes soaked. The rain makes her feel lighter, as it always does, and she can breathe properly again. This is what she’s been looking for, coming here. Rain to wash away everything.
She turns around and sees Morstan standing right next to her. Irene lifts a wet hand and puts it against Morstan’s cheek. Morstan lets herself be brought forward, into the rain, and Irene rests her forehead against Morstan’s. Breathes. Closes that final gap between them and kisses Morstan.
Morstan makes a noise against her lips and returns the kiss. She tastes of rain, and the wine they had drunk earlier. Irene drags Morstan even closer to herself, clings to her, and Morstan lets herself be clung to.
Eventually they have to stop kissing to breathe, and Irene looks at Morstan. Her blonde hair is damp, curls starting to form all over, and it brings home the reality of all this.
"I thought you were engaged," Irene says.
"I thought you were in love with Sherlock," Morstan says, and even though it doesn't really answer any of the unasked questions, it still does, and when Irene takes Morstan to bed she doesn't think of marriages or men or Sherlock.
Only Morstan and the rain.