"Cheese," John says, just to make her smile.
He succeeds only partially - or not at all, given that she was probably smiling already. He'd like to think he had something to do with that, at least. Being without his clothes and all.
"It's really not a good picture if you pose for it," Irene complains, putting the camera back on the small table that looks like it should be falling apart any moment now. (John's had it for months.)
"What - you were going to sell it? 'Naked, sexy army doctor caught unawares'?" The idea doesn't make John as uncomfortable as he feels it should. Exhaustion, perhaps. Plus, what's a picture of you in the buff compared to someone losing an arm or a leg or a life?
"Oh, I do love a modest man."
John grins. "No, I don't think you do."
"No." Irene sighs. "I suppose not."
"Phone," Sherlock says.
John hands it to him. "I had a lovely time, thanks for asking." It's not that he really expected Sherlock to ask - it's more that he wants Sherlock to know.
"You went out?" Sherlock sends a quick text, closes the phone. Sinks back on the couch as if exhausted.
John sits down. There's a pot of tea on the table. Lukewarm. "Yes. Yes, I did. Met up with someone. A woman, actually. Photographer. Journalist." No biscuits.
"How nice for you." Sherlock sounds less sarcastic, more like he simply can't be bothered to care.
"You want to know where I knew her from? Well, since you asked: Afghanistan. She was there to, well, do journalist things, and I was there, as you know, as an army doctor, and, well."
"Sex." Sherlock stares at the ceiling. John isn't sure what's more interesting about the ceiling than about the wall, or John. "You had sex, then she moved on, or you did, haven't seen one another for months, catching up now, and you're still vaguely attracted to her, but you're not sure about pursuing a relationship, and you don't think she's the type to settle for anything less. Serial killer?"
John wouldn't use the word 'vaguely', exactly. "Excuse me - what?"
The ceiling stops being the most interesting part of the room. "Do you have any reason to suspect she's a serial killer?"
"Do I - no." John should be used to these sorts of questions. Possibly.
Sherlock makes a considering sound. "Victim?"
"No." John needs some tea. Hot tea. And biscuits. "Look, just ... forget I mentioned anything, all right?"
"Would be easier if you hadn't mentioned anything in the first place."
"Only you, John." She sounds amused but also, John thinks, a little bit concerned.
"Well, it's - " Part of it is Sherlock, yes. Most of it is John, though. He's not some sort of victim here, dragged along against his better judgment or some such thing. "Something to do with myself."
It's nice and warm in the pub. "It is that." Nicer than standing around outside, hoping for a glimpse of some suspect who might not even show up tonight. His jacket's hanging on the rack by the door now, to dry next to Irene's coat and luggage.
"You can watch the house from here, you know," Irene says, picking up her drink and rising. "Just - shall we? Over there, I think."
Facing the window - not a perfect view, but pretty good, and did John already mention nice and warm?
John plays with his drink. Irene sips hers. "So, what are we looking for?"
"Woman, late sixties to early seventies. White, dress unknown. Probably carrying a bag or suitcase, something like that." This is probably not a good idea. "Look, I really - are you in town long?"
Sherlock wouldn't have needed to ask. "Early flight tomorrow," Irene says.
"Hence the luggage." It's not so very hard, honest, this deduction stuff. Some of it, at least. You just need to keep your eyes open. "Well then. Stake-out it is."
"So." There's not really any more comfortable chairs around, so John settles for sitting down at a safe distance from both Sherlock and Mycroft. "What's this about, then?"
Mycroft turns. His umbrella is leaning to the side of his chair. It looks dry. "Pictures, Dr. Watson."
John's trousers are still damp from when he went to get some groceries, perhaps one, two hours ago. (Sherlock might know exactly, assuming he's noticed John going at all, which is - well, 50-50 chance.)
"Pictures?" John half-echoes and half-asks.
"Photographs," say Sherlock. "Boring. Not my business and definitely not worth my time."
John tries to feel his way across the conversational minefield. "And they're ... missing?"
Mycroft chuckles. "If only that were the case. No, John, I'm afraid these pictures are very much not missing at the moment. As to the future, one can only hope."
Sherlock scoffs. John wonders how often the two of them have been over this ... not-a-case before he got back. Too often, definitely, and yet not often enough to come to any kind of compromise, clearly. Naturally.
"I don't get it," John says, although he thinks he does, rather. At the very least, the shape of things.
Mycroft offers him a small smile. "Permit me to explain."
"Oh. Oh," says Sherlock and John wishes he could see the mask slip on, see when Sherlock stops being Sherlock and instead becomes someone who says: "Of course, Irene. I've heard so much about you."
She smiles. As people do, when faced with Sherlock in one of his moods, except that she looks more indulgent than uncertain.
"He talks about you - well, never, actually." Sherlock beams and puts his arm around John's shoulder, and it (possibly somewhat belatedly) occurs to John what Sherlock has become here.
John shrugs, ducks. "Don't - it's not - we're just - Sherlock!"
Irene laughs. The sound seems to go straight to John's groin, which is just embarrassing, really, it's not as if - well, they were, of course, for a while, but then things happened (as they do) and by this time, really, they're just former acquaintances, not even old friends.
"Roommates. I know," she says. "I've been reading your blog."
"You and half of London, it seems." John's still not entirely sure how he feels about that. "Er. Hello."
Her eyes have always had this way of lighting up when she smiles and means it. "Hello, John."