Sherlock still wasn't certain who the British Prime Minister was, but he was now much better informed about Pakistani politics, thanks to Ali Khan of Baker Street Balti. That had been the tricky bit: interpreting the data he'd intercepted from Mycroft's operation. When he'd told Ali that Irene Adler had been seen in the company of a prominent politician from the Pakistan Muslim League, Ali had simply laughed at him for not knowing which one.
Still, Ali had been very helpful in the end, and his cousins had turned out to have useful contacts in Sindh. The journey to save Irene had been a nightmare as it was – it would have been impossible without having the help of experts, men who knew precisely who to bribe, what favours to call in. (Sherlock's expertise on that matter was limited to a handful of European countries, which was oddly frustrating). Handy to find that Pakistanis were as venial as British or American people. Even some terrorists, it seemed, were for sale, if you were prepared to bid high enough.
It helped, of course, that the Army of Virtue were in no hurry to execute Irene. He wondered at their inefficiency, but perhaps they were making a point. That MI5, the CIA, all the alphabet soup of the intelligence services might know where she was, but they couldn't do a damned thing to help her, without starting a war. It was down to him to save the woman. So here he was, infiltrated into the cell's camp. It had been surprisingly easy. Too easy? No - terrorists weren't clever men. Simple enough for one Estuary Urdu speaker to replace another when their faces were mostly covered. To be the one with a scimitar closest to hand at the key moment.
He forced himself not to look at Irene when they brought her out, after one brief glimpse, of her pale, resolute face. They hadn't battered that flawless facade, had they? They wanted her recognisable in the execution video, he thought, trying to calm the knotting in his guts. He would be able to do this, he could make mincemeat of Irene's captors. He did not need John Watson, or Mycroft, or a Metropolitan Police Armed Response Unit. He did not need anyone.
Irene was kneeling down, facing the cameraman. As he watched, she produced her phone and started to type. Had Mycroft returned it to her after wiping it? A puzzle for later, that one. He was too far away to read the screen, but he could work out the message from the position of her fingers.
Goodbye, Mr Holmes she typed, and he felt a stupid delight that he'd taken the additional risk of leaving his phone switched on, so she could hear her own groan as the text arrived, know the relief that he was here for her. What would she do, he found himself wondering, when she knew? Well, he hoped the main thing she'd do would be run like hell. She was good with a gun, but he didn't think unarmed combat was her speciality.
She sent her text and handed over the phone and now she was silent, motionless. Presumably she was staring defiantly at the cameraman. Sherlock hoped that somehow the video would survive, that he'd be able to watch this successful rescue. He hoped to god it would be successful.
And then the moan came, and as Irene looked round, he whispered, "When I say run, run," and raised his sword and turned to slash at the shoulder of the man behind him. There was a moment or two of complete chaos and then Irene yelled, joyously, triumphantly: "Sherlock!"
The men he was attacking froze, and then she yelled again: "He's a friend. Cut!"
"What?" he demanded, turning round. She was scrambling up now, and she looked at him and smiled.
"Please don't do anything rash. It's miles to the nearest hospital. Or have you brought your nice doctor friend with you?"
"I...I," Sherlock began, and tried to work out how to continue the sentence. "I'm alone," he said, at last. I take it these are your men, then?"
"Yes. They were about to execute me. So, though it's lovely to see you, we are going to have to start the filming all over again."
"And the trucks are all going to end up with flat batteries at this rate," the cameraman announced in a strong Bradford accent. "Can we get on with this, please? And Irene, can you try and look really fooking scared this time? You're being executed, not volunteering for martyrdom."
"You're faking your own execution?" Sherlock demanded.
"Who else's execution would I fake?" Irene replied. She looked round. "Is Mr Holmes senior party to this little jaunt as well? Because if so, we're going to have to go to Plan B."
"You're faking the video to fool Mycroft?"
"Among many others. Though I presume that even you'd have noticed, when it actually got to the key moment, that the executioner's blade went behind my neck rather than through it. That's the bit where some post-production work is needed. You should see the rushes from the trial run, they look very good."
"But the lighting is much worse this time," the cameraman said plaintively
"Oh, stop moaning, Said," Irene said. "We'll just have to record it tomorrow. It's not my fault that Sherlock decided to turn up and wreck the thing."
"I came to save you," Sherlock said, through gritted teeth, "You didn't think I would just let you die, did you?"
"Oh, God!" Suddenly Irene was smiling, laughing. "You're doing your bloody rescuing damsels in distress act again, aren't you?"
"And you're faking your own death again," he said, wondering vaguely what he ought to do with his scimitar. "I'm not the only one being predictable."
"Would you like my phone as a souvenir, after I'm dead?" Irene said. "Ah no, I forgot. I have to leave that for the authorities to find. But maybe you can ask them to give it to you. It'd be a lovely sentimental gesture on your part. You do so like your trophies, don't you?"
"I see I'm not the only one making sentimental gestures," Sherlock replied hastily. Time to get the upper hand back, do a bit of dominating himself. He wished John were here. He always felt more confident with him around. "You thought of me in your last text message."
"Well, not actually my last text message, darling." Her simple clothes only emphasised the complexity of her face. "Given I wasn't going to be properly dead. But I was right that it would boost your ego. You are so easy to flatter. The frailty of genius. Well, male genius. Supposed genius."
He stared down at her haughtily.
"I cracked your codes, didn't I?"
"You managed the MoD one in under five seconds, which was impressive. You didn't solve the obvious pun for my phone password in six months. Or had you worked it out before that and were just waiting for me to turn up and be impressed in person?"
"You expected me to crack it?"
"I wanted you to crack it. Because you'd have solved the plane puzzle then, anyhow, in order to irritate your brother, and I'd have intercepted your gloating message to him and known the solution."
"I'd hardly put this one on the Science of Deduction."
"About the most secure place on the internet currently, given no-one ever looks at it." Irene smiled at him again. She was waiting for him to ask how she'd been planning to intercept his message to Mycroft, so he needed to avoid doing that. Oh, of course. She'd hacked his phone, hadn't she? Beneath the trick of the moaning ringtone, was some kind of keylogger. Obvious now. As was so much else.
"But I fooled you, didn't I?" he said, at last. "You didn't expect me to give your phone to Mycroft, did you?"
"No," she said. "I thought you disliked him sufficiently that wasn't a danger. I didn't realise you'd be so desperate to show off to him, to prove you hadn't been outwitted."
"You needed my help," he protested.
"For the code, yes. Not for anything else. I make use of experts, we all do." Her smile was calm now, but with the subtlest hint of patronage. Recreational scolding was her speciality, wasn't it? Though he'd never seen the appeal of being told what to do.
"You couldn't stop thinking about me, though, could you?" he said. "Even at this point."
"One of us has tracked the other one down," she replied. "Which one do you think is obsessed with whom? You didn't try to remove the ringtone, did you?"
"You texted me!"
"You didn't text me. You didn't trust yourself to."
"I am not attracted to you!"
"The feeling's mutual."
"I felt your pulse, I saw your eyes. You were aroused."
"Ever felt Dr Watson's pulse?"
"John...John isn't gay."
"No, but his heart rate speeds up when he's doing something exciting, doesn't it? Playing an enjoyable game?"
"His pupils don't get blown by that."
"Obviously doesn't use the right eye drops. Though I needn't have bothered going to the bathroom of 221B to put them in. I have could have used them right in front of your nose, and you wouldn't have noticed."
"You said you wanted dinner."
"I was hoping to keep you distracted till I could be sure Jim had everything sorted. My failing to seduce you seemed an obvious timesink. I can be very unpersuasive when I want."
"You begged me for help after I'd handed over your phone." He'd been proud of himself then, that he'd avoided his instinctive glee. Didn't do for the winner to show his delight – bad sportsmanship, apparently.
"The danger was real," she said, and her voice was suddenly sober. "I thought there was a chance of appealing to your romantic side-" As he snorted, she reached out and brushed her finger down his scimitar. "If that didn't work, it did at least start setting up the scenario of my being killed."
"I wouldn't have begged," he said.
"I use different weapons from yours," she said. "No less effective, though. Who would come to rescue you when you were about to be executed? John Watson, perhaps. But not a man - or a woman - who you'd only met a couple of times."
She didn't know about John and the cabbie; that was the one comfort, the one secret he still had left. Time for him to use his own weapons of distraction on her.
"Whom you'd only met a couple of times," he said, and watched her lazy smile at his pedantry.
"Whatever you say, Sherlock dear," she replied. "And now, though it would be fascinating to talk to you for a little longer, I think it's time for a proper goodbye. And don't worry, I'm planning to stay dead this time. It's inconvenient having to keep on acquiring corpses."
"It's not over yet, Irene." Was she going to try and kiss him? Was he going to let her?
"Oh, yes it is, Sherlock. Though it's not pantomime season any more." Her voice took on the hardened, impersonal edge of a woman - a person - used to giving orders. "You will go home, and I will be killed. Officially. Everyone will believe it – your brother will believe it. You alone will know that Mycroft is wrong. On the other hand, if you tell him the truth, I will reveal about the keylogger. Send your brother copies of some of his private messages to your phone, messages he trusted you to keep secure."
It had taken him approximately eight seconds to solve her plane puzzle. It took him twenty-two seconds now to work out that he couldn't beat her this time. So, nothing for it but to join her.
"I can think of seven different ways to improve your death," he said, "five of which aren't excessively dangerous."
"You're a clever man, Sherlock," Irene purred. "Quick to learn, as well."
She had fooled Mycroft, of course, with the fake death, though he wished Mycroft hadn't stitched up John in the process. Getting John to lie to Sherlock was only going to end in tears. Probably John's tears. He was absurdly sentimental about some things, Sherlock thought, as he stood smiling at the window, holding the woman's phone.