I’m not dead. Let’s have dinner.
Each letter clicked obnoxiously, the keypad of his prepaid mobile still new and stiff. He missed the quick, well-used keys of his old one, but that was the problem with dying, wasn’t it? Can’t take it with you. Firing off the text, Sherlock pinched his eyes shut for a moment and allowed himself to think what he would do if she didn’t answer. Call on Mycroft, perhaps. No - the homeless network first. Anyone before Mycroft. Bloody Anderson before Mycroft.
The mobile beeped - a harsher sound than his old one, too. Sherlock reprimanded it with a scowl, and then inhaled deeply as he read the incoming text.
My pleasure. When and where?
The when was the following evening, briskly cold and raining in spurts, the where a cafe in Paris so small that most of the people hurrying past clutching their umbrellas didn’t even note its existence. Sherlock pushed back the hood of the disappointingly ordinary coat he’d been wearing since leaving London, and there she was: Irene Adler. The Woman - lately the dead woman.
She’d saved them a table at the back corner, nestled in between the fading red wallpaper and the door to the kitchen. Her legs were tucked elegantly to one side of her chair, her eyes locked on the mobile in her hand as if studying a rare jewel, but the trappings didn’t coordinate with the pose. Shoes scuffed at the toes, possibly secondhand. Skirt and jacket understated neutrals that didn’t quite match. Shirt with a different thread color on the topmost button - so, replaced, and not by a tailor. The phone itself wasn’t nearly her usual fare, although it would still bury the smart phone of any other woman who bought her clothing at thrift shops. In disguise, yes, but still showing off. Still a self-portrait.
“You’ve gone all out,” he said, sliding into the wobbly wicker chair opposite her.
“Might say the same for you,” she replied, eyeing him up and down with a smirk. She’d had her hair dyed auburn and cut short at harsh angles, which made her features even sharper - more predatory. Sherlock’s lips twitched up at the corners. Irene dropped the hand with her mobile into her lap. “Too bad you had to ditch the hat. I liked it.”
“It wasn’t my hat,” he said, rolling his eyes toward the kitchen.
“It is now, though.” She leaned back, sipping at her coffee. “I say we call this meeting of the Dearly Departed Club to order. First item on the agenda: this.” Her hand reappeared, holding out her mobile for him to see the screen. On it was the front page of—oh, God.
Sherlock’s stomach clenched, as did his teeth. That damn blog.
“He misses you,” Irene said, as if he couldn’t have predicted it, as if he couldn’t have read it in John’s face and hands and voice from a distance and that barely-detectable limp in his gait.
But the words on the screen didn’t need reading into. Best friend. Always believe in him. They were simple, honest, and utterly naked.
Sherlock clapped Irene’s hand down against the table, phone screen-down, and kept the weight of his palm steady over her warm skin. “Don’t.”
“Tell him you’re alive,” she said, her eyes glinting.
“Why do you care?” Sherlock gritted out.
“Because I’ve got a weakness for literary symmetry.” Taking her hand away, she pocketed her phone. “And because I love detective stories, and my favorite source of them has gone all depressing.”
Sherlock sank back, the squeak of his chair setting his teeth on edge. “I can’t tell him. His life’s at risk if he knows.”
“If I were your boyfriend, I’d want to know regardless,” Irene said. Sherlock only sighed in response.
A waitress stopped by to take their orders, and Irene ordered for both of them. Sherlock just listened, reading the six years of French lessons and the semester abroad near Toulouse in her voice. The waitress left, and they observed each other again, eyes narrowing.
“How did you do it?” Irene said at last, leaning forward to rest her elbows on the table. “You already know my story. It’s only fair to share.”
“In time,” Sherlock replied, folding his hands on the stained formica tabletop. “If you prove trustworthy. You did willingly associate with our friend Jim.”
Irene gave a long-suffering sigh. “Point taken, though I might add that Jim isn’t very nice to his friends. I’ve just as much to lose from being found out by him as you do.”
“Wasn’t,” Sherlock corrected.
“He wasn’t very nice to his friends. Right up to the point where his brain spattered across the roof. Past tense.”
Irene smiled at him silently for a moment, then gave something like a shrug with her eyebrows and said, “Well, that’s good news. I hope someone flays the body and makes him into a tacky pair of sandals.”
“His network is still active, however,” Sherlock said, pitching his voice low as a bus boy flung the kitchen door wide.
“Hence the threat to your blogger,” Irene surmised, her fingers drumming lightly on the tabletop. Her eyes were wide, made bright by the dusting of turquoise eyeshadow. “Why are you here, Mr. Holmes? What favor have you come to collect?”
“I helped you save your life,” he said, laying his own phone flat on the table. “Help me return to mine.” He tapped the keypad, bringing up a still screen from a CCTV camera. “This is the leader of our friend’s network of assassins. Name’s Moran. If I’m to come back to life, I need him - and any of his associates dangerous enough to be worth mentioning - taken care of.”
Irene’s tongue peeked from between her lips, pale against cherry red lipstick.
“What do you say, Ms. Adler?” he said. “Want to take down Jim’s network with me?”
“God, yes,” she said, grinning.