There was never really a doubt in Sherlock’s mind about how this would all end. Pointing John’s gun at the Semtex vest was about as dull as a suicide attempt could be. He felt a passing flinch of disappointment as the game drew to a close. He expected better from Moriarty. Triple homicide by an explosive device seemed extremely uninteresting from this side of the police tape. He stole one last look at Dr. Watson feeling emotion well up into his throat before beginning to pull the trigger when a noise behind him made him start. Footsteps. Female, wearing trainers, naturally athletic with a slight outward turn to her gait. Leisurely pace with no hurried panic about her step so it wasn’t someone running toward them from The Yard. Not sneaking up on them either. Making more noise than necessary to make her presence known so she is confident about what is occurring in the next room and taking her sweet time showing up. All of these deductions occurred within the few seconds before said female kicked open the doors behind Sherlock and John and turned to face Moriarty. Luckily, Sherlock’s eyes stayed locked to Moriarty’s face so he was able to catch the subtle ripple of unease that passed over his features before Jim smoothed them once more into a mask of disinterest.
“Hello, gentlemen.” The woman said as Sherlock’s brain whirled into action. Young, American accent, probably originally from the Midwest despite spending at least three years on the Northeast coast, relaxed if a bit irritated, history of vocal training to correct a slight lisp. “Hope you don’t mind I crashed your little sausage fest.”
The only thing that registered in Sherlock’s mind was the rate of breathing of all four people. Moriarty: a bit tense and short. John: deep slow breaths to regulate his parasympathetic nervous system. Unknown female: normal respiratory rate with no signs of distress. Himself: a bit tense and short.
Feeling curiosity get the better of him, Sherlock shifted to get a glimpse of her. She was exactly what he expected and nothing at all like he hypothesized. His brained catalogued her quickly filing her image into neat little cognitive compartments. Female, obviously. Height: 5’5”. Build: Athletic but feminine. Hair: Dark brown, past her shoulders. Thick and well-managed. Complexion: clear with just a hint of foundation and eye shadow. Eyes: somewhere between gray and pale blue. Eyebrows: Perfectly manicured but a few shades lighter than her hair color suggesting that her hair is dyed but close enough to her natural color to hide any roots. Nose: average with a slight upturn at the end. Lips: Slight upper lip, fuller bottom lip with a slight downturn to make a natural pout. Shoes: Purple trainers. Pants: Denim but comfortable. Well-worn and often washed with a slight wearing at the back of her heels suggesting that they are too long but she doesn’t bother to get them hemmed because she doesn’t wear them for special occasions. Top: White, male undershirt covered by trim black suit vest with slight discoloration from bleach on left shoulder. Wait…
“I hope you don’t mind that I borrowed this.” She said tugging on the vest with a grin revealing straight teeth suggesting minimal amounts of orthodontia. She walked over to lean casually on the stalls next to where John sat, tense. “I saw it in your closet and just had to wear it. Fits just perfect.”
“Should I even bother inquiring as to why you were going through my closet?” Sherlock said evenly.
“You can certainly ask.” She said with that grin. “But it’s much more fun to figure it out yourself. That’s what this whole thing has been about anyway, right? Solving puzzles. Figuring out who’s smarter. Giant pissing contest, and all that.”
A flicker of rage ran through Moriarty’s expression as he took an involuntary step back. With that small movement, she zeroed in on Jim letting that grin fall away to calculated stare. There was no obvious emotion clouding her face. No rage, fear, joy. Just an objective stare almost as if studying Moriarty for a research project.
“I’m so sorry to cut your meeting short.” She said, her eyes not leaving Moriarty’s. “It was nice to make your acquaintance, Dr. Watson. Mr. Holmes.”
She pulled herself away from the wall and stalked toward Jim, “Jim? A word?”
She grabbed the back of Moriarty’s suit and tugged. Sherlock’s mind spun with confusion as Jim obediently followed her out the side door without another word. Glancing toward John, he saw the same confusion mirrored in his friend’s expression. Sherlock breathed out a sigh of relief as the red lights flickering over John’s chest disappeared. He blurred into action grabbing his friend by the shoulders and hauling him up and out the door that woman had entered through. They were jogging quickly out of the building when Sherlock heard the sirens approaching.
“We can’t stay here, John.” Sherlock said when John began to turn toward the sirens. “We had a secret meeting with a criminal mastermind at my request without informing Lestrade. He might just be upset enough to arrest me for conspiracy.”
“Right.” John said hazily. “Right.”
At the tone of his friend’s voice, Sherlock turned and grabbed John by his shoulders and pushed him lightly against a wall. With the light of a nearby street light, Sherlock did a categorical assessment of his doctor.
“Sherlock.” John said firmly. “What are you doing?”
“Pupils are dilated and slightly unfocused. Skin is pallid and clammy. No obvious injuries but you were drugged quite recently.”
“They dosed me before dragging me into the car.” He answered.
“But you’re alright?” Sherlock asked brokenly feeling adrenaline seep away quickly. “He didn’t…you’re fine, right?”
John gave him a slight grin, reaching up a patting his arm lightly, “I’m fine.”
“Good.” Sherlock said pulling away slowly. “I just want you to know…that what I did…”
“Sherlock,” John cut in. “Let’s go home and have some tea. We can talk about all this tomorrow.”
Sherlock let out a relieved sigh before starting off down the street again at a slower pace. There was no need to hurry when they were blocks away from the crime scene. Lestrade would catch up eventually but for right now, all he wanted to do was be at his home with his friend.
Of course Mycroft would be waiting at Baker Street. He had probably been following them on the CCTV cameras since they left the pool.
“Stalemate, then.” Mycroft said evenly as they entered the common area. He was sitting comfortably in John’s chair with his umbrella at his knee and a perusing a large packet of information without so much as a glance at the flatmates.
“Go away, Mycroft.” Sherlock growled feeling a headache settle right between his eyes. He ripped open a pack of nicotine patches propped up next to the skull on the mantle and ceremoniously slapped two on the inside of his left elbow.
Completing ignoring Sherlock, Mycroft turned toward the good doctor, “Happy to see you well, Dr. Watson. I had some people make you a cup of tea. It is sitting on the coffee table.”
“Thank you.” John said, collapsing on the couch and inhaling the scent of tea leaves in an almost inappropriate way. Sherlock let a wry grin escape his façade of anger as a warm weight settled comfortably in his gut.
“That wasn’t exactly the outcome that anyone predicted.” Mycroft said vaguely still barely glancing away from his bundle of paperwork.
“Who was she, then?” Sherlock said coldly. “You are obviously dying to tell us.”
“I don’t know.” Mycroft said quietly, causing both Sherlock and John to gape rather stupidly at the man.
“You don’t know?” John said finally. “You?”
“I hold a very small position in the government.” He continued quietly. “I’ve no idea why you think I would know such a person.”
“That must be killing you.” Sherlock said gleefully.
“You don’t know who she is either.” His brother shot back looking slightly ruffled by the remark.
“Touche.” Watson said quietly sipping at the tea with obvious delight.
“Well.” Mycroft said rising from his chair. “I must be off. Some of us have work in the morning. There is a security detail downstairs but I doubt it will be necessary considering Moriarty’s history. Try not to get your only friend kidnapped again before breakfast. I have a reservation that I would very much like to keep.”
“Giving up on your diet?” Sherlock chirped as Mycroft swept out of the apartment without a reply.
The minute Mycroft’s car pulled away (Sherlock had, of course, been watching from the window), he made a beeline for his room. He opened his closet quickly and started rummaging through it with abandon. Not remembering precisely where in his closet the vest had been, he quickly threw hangers out onto his bed. He never wore that vest because of the stain. He was vain enough to not wear anything that had any sort of imperfection so the vest can be reasonably assumed to have been somewhere far back in his wardrobe. He heard John walk slowly to his bedroom catching the faint limp that appeared when John was overly tired or stressed. Sherlock let out a bark of surprise when he pulled the very vest out of his closet That Woman had worn earlier. The only change had been the addition of a post-it note stuck lightly to the right collar:
“You’re secret’s safe with me.”
“Any ideas?” John said wearily from the doorway.
“None.” He said handing the note to John. “But this should give me a few clues.”
“What does the note mean?” He asked.
“I haven’t the faintest.” Sherlock said rubbing his forehead to ease the pain nestled there. “But I think I will be of no use until tomorrow.”
“Are you voluntarily going to sleep?” Watson asked incredulously.
“This has been a day of strange happenings,” He smiled wearily. “No reason not to continue the trend.”
“This is definitely going on the blog.” Watson smiled.
“And you’re fine?” Sherlock asked tiredly.
John walked over and touched Sherlock’s forearm gently, “We’ll talk in the morning.”
He listened as John exited his room limping slightly. John walked into the kitchen dropping off his cup and slowly made his way up the stairs to his bedroom. Sherlock listened as his friend changed clothes and then wandered to the bathroom. He brushed his teeth quickly returning to his room and climbing into bed. John wrestled to find a comfortable position for a while and then settled. He knew John wasn’t sleeping. Sherlock could almost see him laying there staring blankly up at the ceiling willing himself to sleep but failing. As for Sherlock, he lay down without even changing clothes in his often abandoned bed, pulled some Diazepam from a drawer in his nightstand, and waited for unconsciousness to find him.
Cobwebs tickled his throat as he jerked awake. Someone, Sgt. Donovan, had poured a very cold glass of water on his face.
“Get up, Freak.” She sneered tossing the cup on his bedspread.
“You seem more enthusiastic to see me than usual.” He said groggily.
“Considering I might get to arrest you today,” She answered. “I am peachy.”
“Dull.” He shouted at her returning back. He grabbed his overcoat and stumbled into the common area.
John was already perched on the arm of the couch while drinking a cup of tea. Despite the dark circles under his flatmate’s eyes, Sherlock could practically feel the tension wound tightly in his muscles, even his knuckles were white. The only other occupants in the room were the insufferable Donovan and the always suffering Inspector Lestrade.
“Another drug bust, then?” Sherlock asked nonchalantly weaving toward the kitchen to pour himself a cup of tea as well. He wiped his face off with a dubious looking towel, poured his cup, and collapsed into John’s chair.
“Not quite.” Lestrade said wearily. “I need to ask you a few questions and I need you to be honest.”
“At your service as always.” Sherlock said sarcastically.
Lestrade sighed heavily running his fingers through his hair, “The final pip.”
“What about it?” Sherlock said casually.
“John’s hair was found on a bomb that was located on the diving deck of a pool.” Lestrade elaborated.
“Are you suggesting that John is the bomber?” Sherlock said incredulously.
John choked on his beverage and glared at Sherlock with weakly concealed exasperation.
“Of course not.” Lestrade said with a heavy sigh. “But we need a statement. From both of you. I may not be a bloody genius, but I am not thick enough to believe that John was at that pool and you weren’t, Sherlock.”
Sherlock made a non-committal grunt as Lestrade pulled out a notebook.
“Now tell me everything that happened.” He said, clearly daring the consulting detective to lie to him.
John rolled his head gently across his chest trying to relieve some of the tension that had settled firmly over his scar tissue radiating out toward his collarbone. He was still fuzzy from the drugs and exhausted from his lack of sleep. Despite getting a kinder wakeup call by Lestrade than Sherlock, he was emotionally frazzled and felt like he was standing on a very precarious edge. As they were walking toward the restaurant, a car had backfired and he had instinctually ducked for cover suddenly overwhelmed by the smell of blood, gunpowder, and antiseptic. Sherlock, thankfully, hadn’t mentioned his reaction. He just drifted a bit closer sheltering John against the far side of the sidewalk until the soldier was able to reassert himself into reality. Sherlock let him pick their table at the café. Despite the beautiful weather and the outdoor seating, John went directly for the table in the darkest, farthest corner of the restaurant and perched at an angle that enabled him to see everything that was occurring around him.
He smiled tiredly at the waiter and ordered tea with milk and oatmeal. Sherlock ordered black coffee and nothing else.
“You should eat.” John said mundanely. They had this conversation so often now that he really didn’t expect a reply anymore, which is just as well because he didn’t receive one.
John sipped gratefully at his tea and felt a bit of tension ease away. He drifted mentally letting his survival instincts, carefully honed in the Army, case the restaurant identifying exits, possible weapons, and places that would offer cover in case of enemy fire. He was able to admit, if only to himself, that this was maybe not the healthiest impulse when going out for breakfast with one’s flatmate. But, seriously, when your flatmate is Sherlock Holmes, healthy and normal are relative.
“You’re quiet this morning.” His flatmate said with a tickle of concern in his voice.
“I thought you might want a bit of time to think.” John answered honestly, decidedly choosing not to look at Sherlock. “Seems that big problems require copious amounts of quiet, think time.”
“As correct as that deduction is, there is a more geographically relevant problem that I would much rather solve first.” Sherlock said steadily avoiding his flatmate’s gaze as well.
“And that is?” John said feeling his eyelids start to twitch with exhaustion.
“Are we alright?” Sherlock said tentatively casting sideways glances at John.
Most everyone that John has ever interacted with would describe him as steady. Steady in the face of stress, fear, anger, joy, exhaustion. Luckily, that steadfast temperament held as the waves of betrayal slowly lapped at John’s already taxed emotional state.
“Here?” John asked. “You want to do this right now?”
“I would prefer a social setting where your social constructs will inhibit any verbal or physical outbursts.” Sherlock answered. “This seemed the most ideal. I waited until you had tea.”
John sighed heavily and wrapped both his hands around his warm mug, “You lied to me Sherlock. You deliberately shuffled me out the door so that you could play a seriously unhealthy game of Russian Roulette with a madman with me cast in the role as the gun.”
“You were never supposed to be involved.” Sherlock whispered vehemently.
“That’s just it though, Sherlock.” John replied tiredly. “I don’t know why you didn’t tell me; why you didn’t want me along.”
“You were already disappointed in me.” Sherlock said. “I knew that you would try to stop me.”
“Well, that’s entirely true.” John answered. “I definitely would have tried to stop you, but considering the actual outcome, maybe you should trust my judgment.”
“John,” Sherlock said. “I am sorry that you were taken and strapped to a bomb.”
“But you’re not sorry that you went last night.” John finished his unspoken thought.
“I just have so many more clues now.” Sherlock said almost pleadingly. “I can solve this, I can stop him.”
“But at what cost?” John asked. “How many more people are going to be strapped to bombs while you play these games on his terms? I’m not saying that any of those deaths are on you but I just want you to acknowledge the serious risks involved.”
“I have become painfully aware in the past twelve hours of the possible risks.” Sherlock said cryptically. “But he has to be stopped.”
“And you’re the best chance there is.” John finished his thought. “I just wish there was another way.”
“You just wish that I didn’t enjoy it so much.” Sherlock answered.
“A little, yeah.” John said honestly. “I marvel at your deductive skills, Sherlock. But I stick around because of our friendship.”
“So, you’re not leaving?” Sherlock asked.
“It’s like you’ve said before many times.” John said with a smirk. “I’m a complete idiot.”
Sherlock’s smile showed a hint of relief and the conversation fell away as John’s oatmeal arrived and he dug in with gusto. The walk back to Baker Street was thankfully uneventful. John immediately called in sick to work and retreated to his bedroom finally falling asleep for the first time in 28 hours.
It was six hours later when Sherlock glanced at the CCTV footage that Mycroft had sent over with an appraising eye. He frowned subtly watching the female from the pool walk calmly out of a camera blind spot and stride toward the aquatic center entrance. He deciphered the nod that she gave to someone not in view of the camera as an acknowledgment to Moriarty’s goons. She didn’t so much as frown at the obvious threat of gunfire which led clearly to the deduction that she wasn’t afraid of being shot. Moriarty’s men knew her that was certain…but how? And why would Moriarty go off with this woman so readily when his body language screamed of hate and unease? Sherlock was frustrated as the footage suddenly jumped to black as if the camera’s footage had been tampered with. Sherlock tugged hard against his curls as irritation settled heavily upon his countenance. He jumped out of his chair as the pink phone gave a slight chirp at an incoming text message.
BUSINESS BEFORE PLEASURE DARLING. WILL BE IN TOUCH SOON. JM
Obviously implying that the woman was a business associate. Despite her appearance, she seemed to be an important enough client to wrench Moriarty away from his game. Fascinating. He felt his irritation skyrocket again as a familiar tread came steadily into his flat.
“Mycroft.” Sherlock said stiffly. “Shouldn’t you be rigging an election or something?”
“I’ve no idea as to what you are referring.” Mycroft said evenly taking a seat in Dr. Watson’s chair. “Where’s the good doctor?”
“Asleep.” Sherlock said.
“He seems to be taking your obvious lack of concern for him in stride.” Mycroft said. “Dr. Watson is a glutton for punishment.”
Sherlock didn’t respond. He could read his brother better than anyone and he knew without a doubt that Mycroft was just attempting to bait him into admitting his mistake at the pool. He still couldn’t quite suppress the icy clenching sensation that gripped harshly at his intestines.
Mycroft smirked in response.
“Did you come here for a particular reason?” Sherlock grumbled clutching his violin protectively to his chest.
Mycroft reached into his jacket to pull out a slim envelope and set it gently on the coffee table, “That interesting little missive appeared on the windshield of my automobile this morning. Thought you might want a look.”
Sherlock reached quickly for the envelope and did a quick analysis. It was so average it was pitiful. The envelope could easily be found in any office supply store in the country. The pen was a common ballpoint with black ink. It was sealed with a sponge in water. Sherlock sighed heavily. The only identifying characteristic was the familiar handwriting. Cramped, leaning slightly to the left with even spacing and slight ink lines connecting all of the letters together. Three words:
For Doctor Watson.
Sherlock sighed again as he pulled the ordinary paper from the envelope. This paper could be found in any photo copier in almost any developed country in the world. Same pen used on the front of the envelope with the same writing style as well. Once again, short and to the point:
“What is the phone number to?” Sherlock asked.
“Oddly enough,” Mycroft began, betraying a hint of unease. “I don’t know. The number is encoded. It seems only Doctor Watson can complete the call.”
“And you’re here…?” Sherlock said leaving his statement open-ended.
“For an answer, of course.” Mycroft said.
“And you conveniently have an international cell phone.” Sherlock said quietly.
“Lucky for Dr. Watson.” Mycroft said evenly.
“Area code?” Sherlock asked.
“Somewhere in Minnesota.” Mycroft answered like he had a bad taste in his mouth.
At that precise moment, a dull thud could be heard from the ceiling as the current focus of the Holmes brothers wandered down the staircase and into the kitchen.
“John?” Sherlock called hearing the kettle filled with water as his flatmate readied a tea bag.
“Hmm?” John answered groggily.
“Do you know anyone in Minnesota?” Sherlock asked.
“Minnesota?” John said hazily. “I doubt I could even point to it on a map.”
The brothers waited a few minutes for John’s tea to steep and watched him as he settled across from them on the sofa.
“John,” Mycroft began calmly. “Do me a favor and dial this number.”
John looked skeptically at both men but he had spent far too much time around both of them to expect an answer. He grabbed the phone that Mycroft held out as well as the number. Feeling curiosity niggle at his consciousness, he deftly dialed the number and put it on speaker.
An automated voice crackled from the speaker, “What’s at the end of the rainbow?”
Sherlock watched as John’s face jumped from shock to disbelief to suspicion before leaning in and whispering softly, “Another bloody war.”
The phone clicked loudly and began ringing.
John swallowed loudly feeling something akin to despair grasp at his heart as a tentative voice picked up the line, “John?”
“Hendricks?” John voice was a gruff whisper.
“Jesus!” The voice said obvious relief and joy laced in the words. “John! Am I glad to hear your voice! When that broad gave me the phone and said that you were in trouble, I was worried about you, man. Are you alright?”
“I’m fine, Matt.” John said a small smile playing over his features. “How’ve you been?”
The man on the other line didn’t get a chance to answer before Sherlock cut in loudly, “What broad?”
“Who’s that?” Matt asked curiously.
“My friend, Sherlock.” John said hesitantly.
“Oh, right.” Matt said. “That reminds me. Let me get my notes.”
“Notes?” Sherlock asked.
“The lady sent me notes so that I wouldn’t forget anything.” He answered.
John heard a shuffling of papers and a thud as something fell to the floor.
“Alright.” Matt said. “I’m supposed to answer the phone when it rings, did that. Confirm that it’s John, did that. Ask if some dudes named Sherlock and Mycroft are present. You guys there?”
“Present.” Mycroft said evenly.
“Here.” Sherlock said.
“Strange names.” Matt said almost to himself before shuffling more papers. “Alright. Did that. Inquire about Mycroft’s diet. How’s your diet?”
Mycroft’s eye brows rose almost up to his hairline and answered with a curt, “Fine.”
“Fantastic.” Matt replied. “Alright. Then I am supposed to say and I quote, “Seems things are a bit dicey in London for the time being. You have another option if you want to take it. A safe place to stay.” That’s the message. Basically, if you want to come here you can. I would be more than happy to have you here. It would be great to catch up. I’m supposed to tell you to think about it. No rush, the offer will always be on the table. I’d love to see you again, John.”
“Matt,” John said feeling a hitch in his voice, but he was unable to continue.
“I know, John.” Matt said sadly. “But think about it, okay? I’m supposed to tell Sherlock to check his website now and then hang up. I’ll talk to you soon, John.”
The line disconnected suddenly and John felt even more drained than before. He collapsed back into the couch ignoring the furtive glances from Sherlock and his brother. Without further preamble, Sherlock grabbed his laptop and connected to his website. A new question had arrived in his askbox:
“Do you need him safe or with you? You can’t have both.”
James Moriarty leveled a dark stare at his Number Two and watched with a hefty amount of satisfaction as he squirmed uneasily.
“Listen, Moriarty.” Moran sighed dejectedly. “I didn’t know that she would show up.”
“You need to keep a better handle on that little bitch of yours, Sebastian.” Moriarty said without any inflection at all. “She’s becoming a bit of a thorn in my side. If it wasn’t so irritating, I would be impressed.”
“I’m aware, Sir.” Sebastian answered. “I will see that she pays for her disloyalty.”
“She better.” Moriarty answered. “She is coming along rather nicely, though.”
“If I could get more than three days with her…” Sebastian said angrily.
“You know the deal.” He replied.
“How much longer are we going to abide by these stupid rules?” Sebastian asked.
“Patience, Moran.” Moriarty said with a quick wave of his hand. “We’ll have her back with us full-time soon enough. Just make her understand her place.”
“Of course, Sir.” Sebastian said. “She arrives tonight. What about Sherlock Holmes?”
“Don’t worry,” Moriarty answered letting a gleeful smirk paint his features into madness. “I’ve caught his interest. We’ll play again soon.”
“A woman here to see you, Sir.” Clarky said knocking lightly on Lestrade’s office door.
“What’s this about?” Lestrade said, finishing off his fifth cup of coffee since 8am.
“Says she has information about the pool incident, Sir.” Clarky answered. “Apparently she lives in the apartment complex across the street. She was away when the team did the walkthrough.”
“Let her in.” Lestrade sighed heavily.
“In here, Miss.” Clarky said politely. He held the door open for a young woman with dark brown hair, brown eyes, and a soft smile on her features.
“Thank you.” She replied with a light Scottish accent. “I really appreciate it.”
“Could I get you a cup of tea?” Clarky asked lightly.
“That would be wonderful, thank you.” She said grinning back. “Don’t worry about adding anything. I take my tea straight up.”
“Back in a few.” Clarky said, closing the door lightly behind him.
“Welcome,” Lestrade said eyeing the woman thoughtfully. “I’m Detective Inspector Lestrade.”
“So nice to meet you.” She replied with that smile still gracing her features. “I’m Irene. Irene Adler.”
“I was told you have some information about an event that occurred near your apartment building last evening.” Lestrade said lightly. He reached for a tape recorder and his notebook.
“Yes.” She said letting a shred of unease cross her features. “I don’t know if it is important but I saw the police last night and I thought I had better report it just in case.”
“What’s that?” Lestrade urged.
“Well,” She said looking a bit unsure. “Like I said, I don’t know if it is important, but I did hear someone around 11:00pm talking on the phone right outside the doors. I didn’t see them, because of the tree line. But I just remember the man saying a name.”
“And what name is that?” Lestrade asked.
“Well, he said two different names. One was a first name and one was a last name. So, it was either two different people he was talking about or the same person being referred to as both their first and last name interchangeably.”
“And those names were.”
“Well,” She said. “At first he kept saying ‘Moran’. That was the last name I think. The second name was ‘Sebastian’. Like I said, I don’t know if that is at all relevant, but I thought I should at least drop by here before work just in case.”
“Alright.” Lestrade said, feeling that this is probably going to go nowhere but trying to be polite nonetheless. “Thank you, Miss Adler. If you’ll just leave your information with Clarky, we will get in touch if we have any other questions.”
“It wasn’t terribly important, was it?” She said with a faint blush and a small grimace. “I shouldn’t have come down. I just didn’t want to not help if I could.”
“Don’t worry.” Lestrade said trying to wave away her embarrassment. “Every little bit helps.”
“Sorry.” She said, not buying his act at all. “I didn’t mean to trouble you. I’ll go.”
She quickly rose and hurried out the door but not before he could see embarrassed tears leak silently from her eyes. He watched her step out the door and shift uncomfortably unsure where to actually find Clarky before veering to the left toward the elevator bank.
“Poor kid.” Lestrade sighed.
He felt that the tip was probably nothing but he made a note to speak to Holmes about it later. It couldn’t hurt to mention the name just in case.
Sherlock let his gaze flicker from John to his computer screen as his mind whirred with possibilities. The flatmates had been sitting in silence since the phone cut off about twenty minutes ago. Mycroft had retrieved the phone, envelope, and letter and then left without a word.
“I knew him from the war.” John said quietly.
Sherlock made a small grunt in response but still wasn’t quite ready to begin asking his own questions. He was content to let John fill him in at his own discretion.
“He saved my life.” John continued. “Saved me, killed a fellow soldier, and got sent home. Because of me.”
“It didn’t sound like he blamed you.” Sherlock ventured.
“He wouldn’t.” John said letting shame overwhelm his usually steady cadence. “But that doesn’t change the facts.”
“What are you going to do, John?” Sherlock asked hesitantly feeling hollowness in his gut that lack of sustenance couldn’t account for.
“Don’t be an idiot, Sherlock.” John said rubbing his hands over his face and wandering toward the kitchen.
Sherlock let the soothingly familiar sounds of John cleaning up the kitchen lull him back into an acceptable emotional state: apathy. He breathed a sigh of relief as the familiar sensation of complete objectivity settled over him once again. And in celebration of all being emotionally right with the world, Sherlock called out to John, “Chinese?”
“That sounds brilliant.” John answered from washing dishes. “Ginger chicken for me.”
Sherlock reached for his phone to place the order and was distracted by a ping alerting him to a new text message:
Possible direction of inquiry by a witness, but probably nothing. Come by The Yard tomorrow if interested. Lestrade.
Sherlock pondered over the text while placing the food order. Witness? Who could possibly have been a witness that hadn’t already come forward? More likely just one of those attention-seeking, sycophants who always have “tips” for the police. Something that can definitely be pushed back until tomorrow. He hung up the phone and settled back into his chair with John’s laptop. There was more than enough time to deal with annoying individuals tomorrow, right now all he wanted was John’s laptop, some Chinese, and the familiar sounds of his flatmate weaving through his consciousness.
Mycroft had spent the last three hours pondering this new development with a characteristic frown marring his features. He felt irritation flutter through his chest at the strange and erratic events of the past few days. Sherlock causing an international dilemma was certainly nothing new, though taxing on Mycroft’s already overwrought patience. His involvement of his flatmate, Dr. John Watson, was another thorn in Mycroft’s side. Mycroft sighed heavily as he let his brother’s stupidity wash over him. Why couldn’t Sherlock realize that John Watson, despite his positive influence, is a liability that should be taken care of? But, then again, this was nothing out of the ordinary for his woefully inept brother. If Mycroft really thought hard (and Mycroft always thought hard) about what was really bothering him, it would have to be the inconsistent, nonsensical movements of the newest player in these taxing affairs.
This woman not only works closely with James Moriarty, but she steals clothes from his brother, returns them with cryptic clues, debunks Mycroft’s safehouse procedures for John Watson, develops an entire new set of safety precautions for said Doctor, and does so without any possible identifying features.
He can still feel the sting of humiliation coursing through his bloodstream when his informants handed him an envelope from the location of John’s safehouse should it be necessary. The note was short and handwritten:
I expected more, Mycroft.
Her movements weren’t logical, but they were incredibly sharp and precise. She had no grasp on subtly but she still managed to exist almost 24 hours into this situation with Mycroft no closer to identifying her. She refused to align herself with a side, but still managed to be informed enough of either to exact guerilla, intelligence warfare. She was completely irrational in all of her choices seeming to rely on emotions, yet every movement she made was the definition of perfection.
She was as dangerous as Moriarty. Not because she was a psychopath, but because she was unpredictable. Mycroft can’t allow such an anomaly to skew already woefully inaccurate data any more. She had to be found and dealt with. Now.
Said anomaly was currently slumped over a pint at the most retched back alley bar she could find. She glanced at the clock on her phone for the tenth time in the past two minutes. A sickening lurch in her gut was something she was intimately familiar with on evenings like these. She let her mind wander as the seconds ticked by. She had played her hand perfectly so far. She was so close to being clear of all of this mess. She just had to get through the next seventy-two hours. She threw back the rest of her beer to stave off the feelings of panic. She was thoroughly drunk at this point and to be honest, she had been since she had left the police station. She jumped as her phone’s alarm sounded. Eight o’clock. Show time.
“You’re completely drunk, aren’t you?” A voice called sitting down next to her.
“So, what if I am?” Irene slurred. “I can still do my job.”
“Our lesson doesn’t start until you sober up, darling.” He answered. “Come on.”
Irene let Seb half carry her to the taxi. Once inside, he handed her a large bottle of water, two pills, and a slip of paper. Irene took the pills obediently and drank down half the bottle of water. She tried to focus on reading the numbers on the slip of paper but they just kept wobbling.
“Our time starts once you can read those numbers, kid.” Seb said with a small grin on his face.
“Shit,” Was Irene’s only response. She spent the next twenty minutes trying to figure out the numbers. At last, she was able to read them back correctly. With a small nod from Seb, she took out her phone and sent the number sequence to a blocked cell number and the countdown began.
“So, what’s on the menu?” Irene said, finishing off the water and tossing it lightly in her purse.
“Well…” Seb said with a dark grin. “You and I are going to play a little game.”
“What?” Irene asked sharply. “Why?”
“Let’s just call it payback.”
Irene shifted nervously in the back of the cab, “He was pretty mad, huh?”
“Not especially.” Seb answered. “I think he is pleased with your progress.”
Irene felt a boiling anger twist her stomach but she held it in. She had to. Just seventy-two hours. “I’ll get out of this eventually, Seb.”
“You keep thinking that, darling. If it gives you comfort.” Seb said condescendingly.
They pulled up to a familiar building on the outskirts of the city. Seb paid the cabbie and then helped her up to the door. She was still wobbling slightly, but whatever those pills were, they were clearing her head. Seb unlocked the door to the abandoned office building and led her inside. They walked down a long hallway to a room that at one time was reserved for department head meetings and birthday parties. Now, it had been refurbished. The carpet ripped up, the windows blacked out, everything was sound-proofed. The only furniture in the room was a wide table set against the far wall and a chair. The chair was occupied.
“Meet Ian Tramble.” Seb said with a dramatic flourish. “Seventeen years old. A drug dealer from the South Bank. Mummy and Daddy have a sweet little trust fund for him, but he likes the danger of it all. Him and a few of his buddies decided to start playing loose with some funds. Much too proud to take money from his parents, not to proud, however, to take money from his employer. His friends need an incentive to remember their place.”
Irene felt that disturbing calm settle over her as she watched this young man shiver with fear. She could rationalize her behavior for the next seventy-two hours just like she always had. She was being forced to do this. This wasn’t her choice. If it wasn’t her doing it, it would definitely be someone else. She had no say in the outcome. She was merely a tool to complete a gruesome and heartless job. She let those thoughts form a barrier around her, keeping her safe and sane as she glanced at the table neatly organized with a variety of instruments.
“So, what’ll it be?” Irene asked quietly.
“That’s the fun part.” Seb said with a smirk.
“What are you talking about?”
“This is part of the game!”
“Explain.” Irene said deadpan.
“We’re going to play.” Seb said prowling towards her. “It’s simple really. We’re playing for conveniences.”
“You, my dear, have to learn your place in this world as well. You are a part of this. All of this. And you will take responsibility for your actions. So, here’s the deal: A person needs basic things such as food, water, sleep, shower, etc. But, you have to earn them. If you want to take a fifteen minute nap, then you have to play with our little friend here. Want a bottle of water? Want some food? Want to wash your hands of the blood? Earn it. It is your choice, Irene. Anything that happens to this sad, poor boy is on you. Take what you want, darling. Take it all.”
Irene felt the blood drain from her face as the realization hit her square in the chest. Ever since this giant mess had begun, she had always been a passive player, a tool, a means to an end. She knew that the things she had done were bad, evil, disgusting. But they weren’t her decision. She was forced into this. There was always some leverage that kept her obedient, kept her fulfilling Seb’s commands. But now, now anything that happened was on her. Her choice. And the knowledge that she was going to torture this poor kid made her violently sick. She knew she wasn’t a strong person. She knew that she couldn’t last seventy-two hours without sleep, without food, without water. She’d finally be one of them. She, under no threat or coercion, was going to torture a child.
Sherlock strode through the cluttered halls of New Scotland Yard and made a beeline for Lestrade’s office. Based on the text from last night, this was probably a waste of time, but if Sherlock was anything, it was thorough. He made a quick detour to knock a giant pile of papers from Anderson’s cubicle before practically kicking the door to Lestrade’s office open. He heard John catch the door as it swung back and latch it lightly before leaning against it. Sherlock threw himself into one of the chairs in front of the Detective Inspector’s desk. Lestrade was being mulish this morning. Despite Sherlock’s grand entrance, Lestrade had done nothing more than take a sip of coffee while filling out some paperwork. Sherlock, no spring chicken to stubbornness himself, whipped out his phone and sent a quick text:
You got laid last night. SH
Lestrade grabbed his phone, glanced at the text, and choked on his coffee.
Sherlock’s face was gleeful as the Detective’s face turned bright red. He sent a glare to Sherlock and finished signing his paperwork with a flourish.
“What have you got for me?” Sherlock began.
“Possible tip.” Lestrade sighed rubbing his eyes. “A woman came in yesterday with a possible name from a possible phone conversation that possibly occurred the night of the pool.”
Sherlock’s put-upon sigh was loud in the cramped office. He honestly didn’t know why he bothered sometimes. “Fine.”
“Fine what?” Lestrade asked.
“What is the possible name?” Sherlock said practically growling with frustration.
“Well, there were two actual names in the conversation. “ Lestrade clarified. “Do the names ‘Moran’ or ‘Sebastian’ mean anything to you?”
Sherlock was just about to sneer and storm out when a short intake of breath from behind him made him freeze.
“That actually happened.” John said quietly. “I just now remember that conversation. I was just coming around from whatever they dosed me with, but I remember that name. Moriarty was on the phone with a man named Sebastian Moran.”
Sherlock’s sharp gaze turned toward Lestrade and demanded, “We need that witness’s address. Now.”
“Of course.” Lestrade said. He played with a few buttons on his phone until a male voice came over the speaker.
“Clarky.” Lestrade began.
“Get in here. Now.”
A few seconds later, Clarky entered the office. Glancing around at John and Sherlock, his gaze fell firmly on his boss.
“Clarky,” Lestrade said. “The witness from yesterday. The woman. We need her contact information.”
Henry (because his name was actually Henry Clarkson) pulled the black notebook from his back pocket and read out two address and a phone number.
“Name: Irene Adler. She told me that the first address was her apartment, the second was her work, and the phone number was her cell. Her flat was actually being sprayed for bugs so the best place to get a hold of her was at work, but that she was going out of town for a few days. She said she would be back on Thursday.”
“Describe her to me.” Sherlock said feeling something niggling in the recesses of his mind.
“Umm,” Lestrade cut in. “Average height, brown hair, brown eyes, Scottish, bit emotional actually.”
“Emotional, why?” Sherlock asked.
“Well, she caught on that I thought the conversation was a bit unlikely to be anything. She got embarrassed and started to tear up a bit.”
A silence fell over the room while everyone began processing this new information. Leave it to the doctor to get down to the heart of the matter.
“Could she be in danger?” John asked quietly from the corner. “If Moriarty knew that you had seen a witness regarding the events of that night, would he go after her?”
“Clarky,” Lestrade said. “Did you enter this information into the computer system yet?”
“No, Sir.” Clarky said a bit embarrassed. “I got her information written down and then clocked out.”
“Thank goodness for ineptitude.” Sherlock said meanly as he leapt from his chair. “Don’t put her name in the system and she should be fine. I’ll get back to you once I check on a few things.”
And with that he strode from the office with John following quietly behind.
Sherlock reasoned that the best way to find out about to locate this Irene was through her work. She had said as much to Clarky the day before. He knew the area, of course, but wasn’t familiar with this particular establishment. It was one of those loud, obnoxious, clubs that catered to the drunk and horny. Lush. Sounded vaguely unsanitary. It was closed to patrons at this time of day, but establishments like these always had someone working: a cleaning crew, the management, financial agents. He banged loudly on the steel door and fished one of Lestrade’s ID’s from his coat pocket.
The door opened a few minutes later to a tall, wiry man in a rumpled dress shirt and stained khakis. Obviously on the managerial side of things. Probably handled the staff schedule and hiring/firing duties. He had slightly greasy black hair and big green eyes. Sherlock would place his age at thirty give or take a year.
“Yeah?” He said tiredly.
Sherlock flashed the badge and began, “Hello. I was wondering if I could ask you a few questions about one of your employees.”
“What have they done now?” The man answered tiredly.
“Nothing.” Sherlock said, polite objectivity taking over. “One of them gave us some information on a possible crime and we are just following up.”
“Crime?” He asked suspiciously. “At the club?”
“No, no.” Sherlock answered, filing that suspicion away for later. “At her home. We were told that work is the best place to reach her.”
“Right.” He answered. “That makes sense. How can I help you?”
“I was wondering about Irene Adler.” Sherlock said.
“Irene? Our bartender?” He said. “Really? I can’t imagine her getting involved in anything.”
“Bit of a goody-goody?” Sherlock asked.
“No.” He answered. “She just doesn’t get involved period. She’s worked here for the past three months. Does her job, does it well, and leaves. She hasn’t seemed interested in interacting with her co-workers outside of work but she is always courteous and friendly. She never comes to the club on her nights off despite the large employee discount and spends her breaks perched in the alley with a book light and whatever new book as caught her fancy.”
“Bit of a loner then?” Sherlock asked. “No friends come to the club to see her? No boyfriend? Family?”
“The very definition of, I’d say.” He answered. “She’s never mentioned anyone in her personal life ever.”
“Is she a consistent worker?” Sherlock asked.
“Pretty much.” He answered. “She takes one weekend off a month but works five days a week the rest of the time. She’s only ever called in once for an emergency.”
“Needed a day off?” Sherlock asked.
“No, three. She couldn’t explain but she’s been a great employee and I didn’t mind letting her go for three days. She should be back on Thursday.”
“Wait.” Sherlock said. “Her Emergency? When did she call in?”
“Sunday morning.” He answered.
“And she’s to be back Thursday evening?” Sherlock asked.
“Yeah, her shift starts at 9pm.”
“Right. Have a good day.”
The man went back inside and closed the door.
“Where to now?” John asked from behind him.
“Her apartment.” Sherlock said firmly. “There are a few details I still need.”
“Sixteen hours, darling.” Seb said from his perch on the table. “How are you? Tired? You look tired. Thirsty? You’re lips are chapped. Probably not hungry considering the hangover you’re nursing right now.”
Irene let his words roll over her as she fought back exhaustion. It wouldn’t have been so bad if she had time to sleep yesterday before her lesson with Seb, but she had been running around like mad woman to get everything in order. She technically hadn’t slept in over twenty four hours. Her stomach rolled and her mouth was dry. She felt awful but she was going to hold out for as long as possible. She had to at least attempt this if only for the sake of her tenuous humanity. It had been a long time since she had worried over the state of her soul. Not that she really believed in a higher power or anything, but she was a firm believer that bad choices made for a sad little life. Not that her life could get any sadder than it already was. It had only been sixteen hours but she could feel it in her heart, that cold unfeeling organ that hadn’t been fed with anything except bile and evil for years. She could feel herself hedging her bets, making bargains, attempting to accommodate herself with little to no thought for the kid tied to the chair. Sixteen hours to turn her from an unwilling participant into a monster.
“What if I just kill him now?” She said logically. “Then I could just spend the next two days sleeping.”
“That’s just it, darling.” Seb answered. “We don’t want him dead. We want to send him back to his family. The state in which he arrives is entirely dependent upon you.”
“And if I do just kill him now?” She asked.
“It’s been a busy month, kid.” Seb answered. “There is more where he came from.”
“We never discussed the prices.” She answered.
“Finally.” Seb answered. “I was wondering when you’d get to that. I made a chart and everything.”
“Have some free time this week?” She asked.
“Boss’s idea.” He answered. “This isn’t his first rodeo.”
“Did this happen to you?” Irene asked quietly. She knew that Moran hadn’t always been working for Jim. She had even heard rumors that he had been working for his competition for years before Jim offered him his current position here. But Irene had no idea how he had even gotten started in this line of work. It was strange working with him for all this time and not knowing his story.
“We’re not the same, Irene.” Seb answered sternly. “Don’t ever think that. I walked into this life willingly with both eyes open and have loved every minute of it.”
“Then, why me?” She asked for what was probably the thousandth time. “Why wouldn’t you pick someone more like you?”
“There is something intoxicating and pleasurable about what we are doing with you, Irene.” He answered simply.
“And what is that exactly?” She said.
“Breaking a good person.” He said with a trace of a smile. “And turning them into a monster.”
“I’m already a monster.” She said quietly.
“Hardly.” He said with a gruff laugh. “You’re close though, girlie. So close.”
“What happens to me when you succeed?” She said.
“We wouldn’t have wasted so much time on you, darling, to just throw you away.” He said honestly. “When we succeed, you’ll be begging to work for Jim.”
Two days. Two days and Mycroft was finally able to report with a high degree of certainty about a Miss Irene Adler. It was late Tuesday evening and Mycroft had finally shut down his laptop with a mix of triumph and trepidation. He knew everything. Well, not everything. He could trace her personal history from birth till she turned 20. He could tell you about her family, her pets, her grades, even her preferences regarding television shows. He could map her life and even make educated projections about her future up until she turned 20. All of those projections, those calculations, pointed to a young woman who should have nothing to do with Jim Moriarty. She should be back home in America getting ready to wed some burgeoning lawyer while working on her doctorate in English literature. She should be planning barbecues and baby showers for her eldest sister. There is no reason this child should be in London, alone, in the middle of a battle of wits between two geniuses.
Mycroft glanced at the photocopied newspaper article from three years ago. It was a small article, grainy and almost unreadable. It told the sad ending to Miss Adler’s normal life. Missing person. American exchange student. Last seen in Bath. No leads.
Mycroft had done enough research to know that the case was as cold as Antarctica. No one had pushed the issue or forced the police to take it seriously. Her father was too poor to fly over and her siblings were all starting families of their own. So it was, that this child, youngest of three, motherless, and alone in a foreign country, was stolen from the world she knew.
Mycroft pondered exactly what chain of events had led this quiet, unassuming girl from a life of security into the company of a psychopath.
Sherlock had not been idle either. He had searched the flat of Irene Adler only to discover that not only was it hardly furnished with anything other than a pull-out couch, suitcase full of basic clothing, a small television, and a collection of almost 200 DVDs all alphabetized in a large CD case, but also that it was nowhere near the actual pool. It was, in fact, located on a dingy, side street in one of the shadiest parts of London. Cash only. There were no pictures, knick knacks, papers, nothing. She had obviously meant to return, but considering that the fridge and the cupboards were bare, it was impossible to tell how long this “out of town” visit was going to be. If he hadn’t known that she was going to return Thursday, he would have been hard-pressed to give an actual return date. He was frustrated by the lack of information surrounding this case.
All of a sudden a cell rang from deep inside her suitcase. It took him several minutes to locate it. She had cut out part of the lining of the case and constructed a secret pocket. He pulled it out and looked at the text that had just arrived:
Vital information for when you get back. Lilly.
Sherlock took a chance and texted back:
Back now. Fill me in. Irene
Sherlock waited secure in the fact that this was vague enough to elicit a response from said friend. He was surprised and oddly unsettled when the reply came through:
To whoever is currently using this phone: Fuck off. Lilly.
Sherlock sighed heavily. Well, that was less than wonderful. He tried to check the phone for any saved numbers or texts and found it completely empty. He placed the phone back into the suitcase and made for the door. There was absolutely nothing here. Dull.
“How are you?” Seb said, snacking on some heavenly smelling Pad Thai. Irene groaned heavily as the smell made her stomach cramp with hunger. Her gaze flickered over to the boy. 50 hours. 50 painful and brutal hours for the boy. At thirty hours, she finally paid the price for four hours of sleep: an ear. She had three bottles of water (2 finger nails per bottle). She had yet to eat anything mostly because the price for food was exorbitant. One apple was fifty lashes. A sandwich was equivalent to an eye. She was fading fast now. Sleep forcing her under yet again.
“I need sleep.” She whispered painfully, feeling tears slide down her cheeks.
“Well,” Seb said with a dark grin. “That will cost you. How long?”
“Six hours.” She said defeated. She felt bile rise in her throat. This was such an easy choice to make. Too easy. She was teetering on the precipice of madness.
“Six hours?” Seb asked. “Greedy. That’ll cost him twenty lashes.”
“Hand me the whip.” She said weakly.
She walked slowly to the bathroom and stared at her reflection in the dirty mirror. She was pale and shivering and her blue eyes seemed to jump from her sockets in sharp contrast to the blood that slid down her cheeks and forehead. She washed the blood from her face and hands feeling numbness overwhelm her. Walking to the small cot set up in the hallway, she collapsed gratefully on it resolving to sleep soundly. The price had already been paid, the least she could do was savor these hours. Right before she drifted off, she felt Seb press a kiss lightly to her forehead, “That’s my girl.”
In the end, she had to kill him anyway. It was hour 71 when Seb broke the news with that feral grin that made her stomach drop suddenly.
“Change in plans, darling.” Seb said as she finished extracting an eye. Hunger had finally drove her to this desperate act. Seb had nicely let her eat the sandwich before removing the eye so that she didn’t get nauseous.
She glanced up in confusion but wasn’t extremely surprised.
“Kill him.” Seb said simply.
“He was always going to die, wasn’t he?” She asked feeling cold.
“You bet.” He said. “We just needed the video footage to send to his little friends. There’s a gun on the table. Finish him and you can go.”
She didn’t even stop to think about it. She didn’t stop to feel anything about it either. She simply walked over to the table, grabbed the firearm, aimed, and placed a shot directly at the back of his head. She set the gun down and walked away from the table suddenly dizzy. Seb walked over to support her elbow and kiss her lightly on the forehead again, “Well done.”
They dropped her off at her apartment building afterward. She walked hazily up to her flat and entered. She knew someone had been in her apartment, but she just didn’t have the strength to care. She pulled the phone from inside her suitcase, dialed a complicated series of numbers and letters and hit the send. With her priorities complete, she dropped onto the sofa and fell into unconsciousness.
John stood at the bar next to his flatmate feeling extremely old. John Watson had never been much of a club-goer and at thirty-seven, he didn’t want to start now. With the music blaring in his ears, the heat radiating off of drunk co-eds, and general smell of spilt alcohol and sweat, he wanted nothing more than to be back at Baker St with a cup of tea and crap TV. They had arrived at the bar thirty minutes before, Miss Adler’s shift to get acquainted with her co-workers if possible. Sherlock had just caught the attention of a smiley woman and waved her over. She was probably about thirty-five with a wide grin, straight teeth, warm brown eyes, and a countenance that just screamed “Mother Hen”.
“What can I get you, boys?” She asked.
“Two beers on tap please.” Sherlock said and then flashed Lestrade’s ID again. “And, hopefully, some information.”
She glanced between them but nodded sharply. She grabbed two plastic cups and filled them to the brim. She waved at one of the other bartenders and got a sharp nod in response. They walked to the far side of the club where it was a bit quieter.
“What can I help with?” she asked.
“Hello,” Sherlock began. “I am Greg Lestrade and this is my associate, Samuel Donovan.”
“Hi,” She responded. “The name’s Maggie.”
“We just have some questions about Irene Adler.” Sherlock said carefully.
“Is she alright?” Maggie said.
“Of course.” Sherlock answered smoothly. “She was able to assist in a case a few days ago and we wanted to complete a follow-up. We seemed to have come a bit too early for her shift.”
“Well, what are your questions, then?” She asked.
“How long have you known her?”
“Worked with her? Three months. Known her? I don’t really.”
“Is she pretty closed off?”
“No, just private.”
“But you’re worried.” Sherlock said suddenly. “I can hear it in your voice.”
“I’m concerned.” Maggie corrected. “She’s a sweet kid but she always seems so solemn and sad.”
“Any problems with her?”
“None. She does her job and does it well. If there are any problems with any of the patrons, she handles it professionally.”
“You’re thinking of a specific instance.” Sherlock zeroed in.
“Well, there’s Freddy.”
“He’s friends with the owner of the club. He’s a bit of a sceeze to tell you the truth, but he seems disproportionately attentive to her.”
“Well, I was coming to collect Irene from her break one evening and found him practically screaming at her in the alleyway.”
“I didn’t catch any of the conversation because the minute I showed up, he sped off and she just calmly picked up her bag and went back to her shift.”
“Anything else you can tell us?”
“You can ask her yourself. Her shift starts in ten minutes and she is never late.”
With that said, Maggie wandered back over to the bar to serve the liquored up masses.
“What are you thinking?” John asked.
“This doesn’t make any sense.” Sherlock answered. “This girl is obviously not who she says she is.”
Sherlock had begun pacing up and down the small alcove facing away from the bar.
“Sherlock?” John called. But his flatmate was a bit too absorbed to hear so he tried again, “Sherlock? SHERLOCK?!?”
“What?” Sherlock said, still pacing.
“I think I know why she doesn’t make sense.” John said pointing to the bar.
Sherlock followed his finger and stopped in his tracks as the newest bartender took her place amid the drunken elite. It was her. Moriarty’s friend.
She watched out of the corner of her eye as Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson practically ran to the bar. She winked at them as she set up and poured a variety of shots for a group bachelorette’s and then lit them on fire with a flare. She delayed their reunion a little longer by setting up and shucking twelve beers of their caps and exchanging funds deftly. She loved this job. It was mindless, simple, and loud enough that she couldn’t hear herself think. She wrapped up a number of tabs and meticulously returned charge cards to their owners. She ambled over to Holmes and Watson and felt a grin tug at her cheeks.
“What can I get you, gentlemen?” She asked with a big smile.
“Irene Adler.” Sherlock asked pointing at her chest.
“Sherlock Holmes.” She said mirroring the movement.
“Not Scottish, then?” John said attempting to break the weird silence.
“No,” She said with another grin. “Not quite. It’s nice to see you again, Dr. Watson.”
“You, a criminal, walked into the heart of New Scotland Yard, gave them a vital clue into the organization of a psychopath, started to cry, and walked back out again without a second glance.” Sherlock huffed.
“Yeah.” She said. “So?”
“Nothing.” Sherlock replied. “Just making sure I got all of the facts.”
“Is that all?” She asked smartly.
Sherlock was just about to flash a badge and demand that she talk to him somewhere away from all of this infernal noise and strange smells when a ripple of barely concealed anger flashed over her already tense features.
“Excuse me one moment.” She said politely and walked to the opposite corner of the bar. John and Sherlock watched as a tall man with well-kept facial hair leered at her and then threw something at her chest. She was about to fire something caustic back when she bent down to pick up what he had thrown. They watched as her face drained entirely of color and she collapsed to the bar floor. Maggie dropped to her side but Sherlock swept over the bar to her side with John following close behind.
“Is there a quiet place to take her?” Sherlock demanded picking her up off of the sticky floor and cradling her to his chest.
“Kevin!” Maggie shouted to the man they had met days before. “Irene collapsed!”
“Follow me.” Kevin said brusquely.
Sherlock placed her gently on a small, grimy sofa in the employee lounge and John stepped in to carefully take her vitals. Her skin was clammy and cold with sweat. Her pulse was weak and erratic. In the light of the bar, she seemed maybe a bit tired, but over-all relatively healthy. In the unforgiving fluorescent light, her skin took on a sick, gray pallor and the circles under her eyes were so dark that her make-up couldn’t cover them.
“Get me a glass of water.” John demanded to no one in particular when Irene started to shift slightly. She blinked her eyes several times at John before she violently heaved all over the tiled floor. She sipped the water slowly as John instructed but had said nothing since waking.
“Silent treatment, then?” Sherlock asked trying to insult her out of her current funk. Some color was returning to her cheeks but she was still dangerously pale. Her eyes dropped into that blank, objective look that he had seen at the pool but she still didn’t respond. “This is killing you, isn’t it?”
She quirked an eyebrow in his direction but was silent.
“Being weak in front of us.” Sherlock said darkly. “And after that show you put on at the pool and everything.”
“Sherlock.” John hissed under his breath.
“You’re nothing special, are you?” Sherlock continued. “Just as small as everyone else. Just as insignificant. This must be a blow to that giant ego of yours.”
She just stared blankly. So, Sherlock pushed a little farther by pulling the card out of his pocket that he had retrieved from the bar floor.
“Turning into an emotional wreck by,” Sherlock said watching her face, “Ian Tramble.”
A flicker of something raced across her features but he wasn’t able to grasp onto it before she returned to neutral but at least she spoke, “If that’s why you think I am doing any of this, then you aren’t the people I need.”
With that, she pushed herself off the couch and went back to work leaving a confused John and Sherlock behind.
Irene finished her shift in relative silence with no other issues. The fact that Freddy had dared set foot in here after last time was indicative how soon he was going to be strapped to a chair writhing in agony as she pulled out a few teeth. She felt herself shudder against that thought acutely aware of the satisfied feeling that had settled in her gut. Jim had been crystal clear regarding interacting with her outside of business. Freddy had overstepped the boundaries one too many times. She sent a quick text to Seb when she was on her break and left it at that. Her shift ended at 4am and she stretched tiredly as she walked to the back parking lot. One of the bouncers gave her a lift home after her shifts. She was waiting patiently by his car, when something black, shiny, and bullet-proof stopped in front of her. She sighed as the door opened. She had had enough of the Holmes Brothers today. A slim, pretty girl with a phone glued to her fingers stepped out.
“Miss Adler.” She said hardly glancing up from the screen. “Your presence is requested.”
“No.” She said firmly.
“I beg your pardon?” Phone lady said confused finally glancing up from her mobile.
“No.” She said again. “I have had a crap day and I am exhausted. Tell Mycroft Holmes that if he wants to have a chat, he will call and arrange a time and place. I have neither the time nor the inclination to play stupid, convoluted games.”
“We could always just have you arrested.” Phone lady said cooly.
“Good.” Irene replied. “The bunks in prison are probably softer than my lumpy couch.”
Phone lady merely sent a quick text, waited for the reply, and then flashed a petulant smile. Irene let out a huff as her mobile pinged indicating that she had a new text message:
Undisclosed Location. 5 minutes? MH
Irene texted back with a grimace:
Oh, you’re hilarious. This better be worth it. Irene.
She rooted around in her giant purse and pulled out a post-it note. She grasped at her ponytail and pulled out the pen that nestled firmly in her bun when she was working. Writing a quick note to the bouncer and sliding it under his windshield wiper, she turned back to the Phone Lady and offered her fakest smile before clambering into the back of the car.
Silence reigned as they drove through darkened streets. Irene didn’t even bother trying to figure out where they were going. Mycroft was too smart for that so she just rested her eyes and leaned back into the expensive leather seat. The only sound was the muted clicks from the lady’s cell. It wasn’t a long drive and Irene could feel the adrenaline pouring into her system making her more awake. Thank god for sympathetic nervous systems. She was waved out of the car when it had come to a complete stop and Irene hopped out lightly and spun around to orient herself. Abandoned car park. How novel.
Mycroft was standing under the only artificial light visible on this level of the garage. She wandered over and collapsed into one of the two chairs available. Mycroft followed suit and leant his ever present umbrella against his knee.
“Miss Adler.” He said by way of greeting.
“What up?” She answered.
“I am glad that you decided to acquiesce to this little meet and great.” He said. “I fear you overestimate the prison’s thread count.”
She snorted loudly and leveled a smirk at the man opposite her, “I know you get off, Mycroft, on keeping people in the dark. But I am more than capable of understanding why I am here and not in some prison cell at the moment.”
“Oh?” He asked, feigning curiosity. “Do tell.”
“You’re a genius.” She answered honestly. “You spend all of your time flexing those lovely little gray neurons so you are more than intelligent enough to find the Missing Persons Case. The Yard wouldn’t have looked outside of London and your dear brother didn’t make the connection until he saw me tonight. You have had the time and the resources to do your research. You probably even know the name of my favorite stuffed animal as a child at this point. You are, however, woefully uninformed as to how I came to be embroiled in this completely ridiculous little melodrama currently holding the attention of three of the most intelligent people in the country. You need to know…so I’m here and not in some dank cell. Enough of an explanation for you?”
“You’re quite rash, Miss Adler.” He said. “Most people who understand whom I represent respond with a bit more tact and diplomacy.”
“I warned your PA that I’m tired.” She answered. “I think it is more than acceptable for me to be a bit grumpy.”
He smirked at that but let it fall rather quickly. “Since you were able to posit why we are here this morning, why don’t you continue your little tirade and inform me as to what has become of you these last three years.”
“What exactly do you want to know?” She said. “I do have to be a bit careful, you understand. I’m not exactly connected with the most amiable bunch.”
“Start from the beginning.” Mycroft said. “When you were kidnapped.”
“What make you think that I was kidnapped?” She asked.
“Don’t make me spend more time with you than I must, Miss Adler. It won’t be to your liking, I can assure you.”
“The what and how don’t matter.” She answered.
“Pardon?” He asked.
“The answer to all of your questions.” She said. “The reason I don’t make sense to you. Is the ‘why?’. Why was I taken?”
“Alright.” He said, growing curious. “Why?”
“Because it’s fun.” She said.
“Taking a good person,” She said with a sad smile, “And turning them into a monster.”
Lestrade sat at his desk staring at the pages of results regarding one “Sebastian Moran”. He was implicated in over three dozen unsolved cases spanning twenty years. There was no photo available but his name was whispered by witnesses, victims, and criminals throughout the Continent. He seemed to have been working mostly in Italy before he dropped off the map close to six years ago. His contacts at Interpol had informed him that he was mostly a hired gun/interrogation expert. Worked for the highest bidder, no loyalty except to legal tender. He had ties to a major crime syndicate in Austria as well, but once again, no photo.
He sighed heavily and glanced at the two men pouring over paper copies next to each other on the couch.
“Have anything?” He asked hopefully.
Sherlock sighed, “How do we even know that she is telling the truth?”
“Beg pardon?” Lestrade said rubbing his eyes roughly. It was nearing five in the morning and the sky was starting to lighten in the east.
“Miss Adler.” He huffed. “She said that she needed us. For what exactly?”
“We can ask her when she is brought in for questioning.” Lestrade answered. “I have officers stationed outside of her flat. When she gets home, she will be able to fill us in.”
“She won’t go back there.” Sherlock said dismissively. “She’s far too resourceful for that.”
“And intelligent.” John said offhand.
“No.” Sherlock replied. “Not smart. At least not when it comes to deception. She hasn’t been doing this her whole life. She’s learned it. She didn’t develop it in her childhood so it must be something that she has acquired recently.”
“How do you figure?” John asked.
“Her reactions at the bar.” He said. “She is not a naturally guarded person. You saw how she approached the patrons, even how she approached us. She was open, friendly, entertaining even. It wasn’t until we began questioning her after her little episode that she became much more closed-off. I’d say she hasn’t been in the criminal game long. Probably less than five years.”
“So what happened?” Lestrade asked.
“I’m almost sure that she was forced into this life.” He said. “What kind of willing criminal works as a bartender? No one. She’s not a willing participant because in her free time she makes an honest living. She could make more than enough money selling drugs or stealing things, but she doesn’t. She lives in a crap flat with almost no possessions in a terrible part of the city.”
“So she does need our help?” John asked.
“If she is working with Jim Moriarty than it is enough to assume that she is working for him.” He said quietly. “It may be that she is luring us in to gain something. Money? Freedom? I don’t have enough information.”
“So what do we do with Miss Adler?” Lestrade chimed in.
“Until we know what her game is,” Sherlock said hesitantly. “I have to assume that she is a plant by Moriarty. I think it is best that we have nothing to do with her. She is obviously a pawn and until proven otherwise, it would be best to keep away from her.”
“And if she does need our help?” John said quietly.
“We can’t save everyone, John.” Sherlock said with a resigned sigh.
“What exactly makes you a monster, Miss Adler?” Mycroft asks evenly, though he’s finally starting to see the entire picture.
“I can see it in your eyes, ya know.” She said. “You totally get it. What I am. What I’ve been up to these past few years. Why do you want the particulars?”
“Call it a character study.” He replied. “I want to see the story through your eyes.”
He watched as her face, naturally open and delightful, shifted into a blank stare, a mask of objectivity that she uses as a defense mechanism. Mycroft doubts she is even aware that the emotional shift has occurred.
“I was a good person, Mr. Holmes.” She begins. “But I wasn’t just good. I was wholesome and charitable and sweet. I never did anything bad at least not from any biblical or legal standpoint. I never stole or cheated. I never smoked, did drugs, drank underage. I never even got a speeding ticket. I’m sure you figured out in your research, that I’m even still a virgin. But more than anything, I was tragically naïve. He couldn’t have found a more pathetic little angel to corrupt.”
“Tell me what happened.” He urged when a hefty silence fell over the girl.
“I was given a choice.” She said. “I could spend my final days being a good person and die with my conscience intact or I could survive and learn the tricks of the trade.”
“What tricks are those?” He inquired.
“Well, Mr. Holmes.” She said. “You’re looking at Sebastian Moran’s student.”
Mycroft felt something icy slide down his throat to settle heavily in his gut. He had heard of Mr. Moran and even witnessed his work occasionally. Mr. Moran was a master at prolonged torture. The fact that this woman was in any way associated with him made his skin crawl. He had expected coercion, torture, mutilation, but he hadn’t expected that she was the one committing the atrocities at the guidance of Sebastian Moran. He hid all of this away and settled his gaze back on the little monster-in-training.
“And how long did it take you to come to this decision?” He said.
“It doesn’t matter now.” She said. “Not really.”
“Because the past is irrelevant at this point.” She answered. “My arrangement with Jim is satisfactory.”
“And what arrangement is that?” Mycroft inquired.
“I don’t understand why you are asking questions that you already know the answer to.” She sighed. “One weekend a month I meet up with Seb and am instructed on his techniques. And before you go thinking that I am simply taking notes or writing extemporaneous essays on the subject, you should know that it is a very hands-on course.”
“How many people?” He asked before he could stop himself.
“You could guess.” She said sharply. “But I can guarantee you would be seriously underestimating the number. A lot can happen in a weekend and people break so easily.”
Mycroft almost missed it. He almost missed that ripple that crossed her blank features. But what he saw was enough to make an intellectual leap, “Like you?”
“Excuse me?” She said.
“Like you.” He said more firmly. “You were referring to yourself just now. You broke easily.”
She swallowed in response but didn’t protest which made him confident to continue on, “They didn’t even have to hurt you, did they? Just the threat of violence had you falling in line.”
“I never claimed to be a strong person, Mr. Holmes.” Was all she said. “I’m not like Dr. Watson. I’m not brave or courageous or righteous. I’m just weak.”
“Regarding John Watson,” He said. “You used Moriarty’s criminal connections didn’t you? To find out his potential safe house should the need arise.”
He watched confusion settle on her features as she absorbed this information.
“What are you talking about?” She asked quietly.
“You didn’t, did you?” He said, his mind quickly reorganizing previous assumptions.
“Didn’t what?” She asked again. He watched as realization dawned on her. She went from confused to informed to furious and then jumped back to that blank, objective stare.
“You know who did.” He deduced fluidly. “And you disapprove.”
“I think that this meeting is over, Mr. Holmes.” She said rising from her seat. “Give your brother and the doctor my best.”
Mycroft let her walk away. He had some more checking to do. Apparently, this girl had an associate of some sort.
Irene walked quickly out of the warehouse and into the night. She ignored the open door to the black car and strode confidently between rundown buildings as she searched frantically for her phone. She waited until she was at least out of earshot before punching the numbers on her phone violently.
It rang several times before clicking to an automatic voicemail. She punched in the access code and waited until it clicked over before whispering viciously.
“Lilly.” She said angrily. “You pick up this phone. You answer right now and you tell me what the hell you’re trying to do. This was not in the plan. This was NOT what we discussed. Call me back. NOW.”
She hung up but kept the phone in her hand as she stalked back toward the city lights. She moved as silently as she could to avoid an any unwanted attention and quickly found herself at a Tube station and barricaded herself in the men’s restroom as she waited for daylight. She stayed crouched in one of the corners for several minutes before her cell started to trill loudly shaking her out of the daze she’d fallen into.
“Lilly.” She whispered.
“Just don’t be mad.” The voice cajoled over the crackling connection.
“What were you thinking?!” Irene said brokenly. “You’re putting yourself in a shitload of trouble if Jim finds out.”
“And you’re not?!” Lilly said getting a bit more defensive. “I can’t just let you take this risk yourself.”
“That was an unnecessary risk though, Lill.” Irene pleaded. “You can’t do that.”
“I’ll do what I think is right.” Lilly answered defensively.
“But I can’t keep you safe if you cross him.” Irene begged. “I have to keep you safe. We discussed this. It’s the only way. I couldn’t stand it if something happened to you.”
“Don’t for one second think that I don’t know how dangerous your plan is.” Lilly said evenly. “I should know. I did most of the planning. But I know what it’s like to have someone you care about in serious danger. I won’t let that happen to someone else if I can do anything to stop it.”
“So you’d risk your own safety and my sanity to help a guy who doesn’t even know you exist?” Irene asked incredulously.
“And you’re telling me you wouldn’t?” Lilly said firmly. “I know you, Irene. You care about people. You care about total strangers. You would have done the exact same thing if you’d had the resources.”
“Not if it would have put you in danger.” Irene countered. “You mean more to me than anything. I would never put you at risk like that and I don’t appreciate you putting yourself in that kind of danger either.”
“I’m sorry.” Lilly said quietly. “But it was the right thing to do. I love you.”
“I love you too.” Irene said brokenly. “At least tell me what I should know about this little side project of yours.”
“I just provided Dr. Watson with a safer location should he desire to go into hiding.” Lilly said quietly. “Mycroft did a less than stellar job when setting up his protection.”
“You saying ‘stellar’ in that accent is adorable.” Irene smiled.
“Don’t make fun of my accent.” Lilly laughed. “I’m proud of where I came from. Killarney is a lovely place.”
“Just don’t get caught.” Irene said. “You know this agreement only works if you stay completely within the boundaries Jim set up.”
“I won’t.” She answered firmly. “I know what he’s capable of. When will I see you again?”
“I don’t know.” Irene sighed. “The cops are watching my place so I’ve got to lay low until the Holmes boys get a fucking clue. Do you think Sherlock took the bait?”
“Of all of the people in this world,” Lilly answered. “He’s one of the few people I can’t predict. We’ll see. I’ve heard he’s currently spending time with Lestrade at the yard. That was a fantastic performance by the way. The tears were a nice touch.”
“Thanks.” Irene smiled. “I felt like a horrible person doing it, but it was necessary.”
“You’re doing so well.” Lilly reassured her. “Just a few weeks more if everything goes smoothly. Keep Moran and Jim off the trail and I’ll do the digging on this end. Keep up the good work, love.”
“You too.” Irene answered. She clicked her phone off and curled up in the corner. It was going to be a really long day.
“Found her!” John shouted happily.
Lestrade and Sherlock crowded around the computer that John was working on going through past files and doing a search on Irene Adler.
“American student studying abroad mysteriously vanishes from ballet performance in Bath.” Sherlock reads outloud. “Police have no leads concerning the disappearance.”
“What about her family?” Lestrade asks.
“It doesn’t look like they even traveled out here to find her.” John said sadly. “This is the only article about her in any of the papers. She just vanished three years ago.”
“What would Moriarty want with a nobody like Adler?” Sherlock asked quietly. “She doesn’t have connections or money. She obviously didn’t try to hire him for a job.”
“So how did she end up at the pool that night and why was Moriarty afraid of her?” John asked.
“Find out who Ian Tramble is.” Sherlock said firmly before pulling on his coat and heading for the door. “He’s the key.”
“And where are you going?!” Lestrade asked.
“Following a lead.” Sherlock said. “Coming John?”
They left the Yard and caught a taxi to a rundown part of London and left it idling as Sherlock sent a message through his Homeless network with two objectives. Find out about Freddy from Lush and find Irene Adler. Sherlock gave the cabbie directions back to Baker Street and they stumbled into the flat around noon. John made a beeline for the kettle and Sherlock grabbed his computer to check his website. Silence reigned in the flat until John broke it with a sigh as he sat a cup of tea down in front of his flatmate.
“She’s just a kid.” John said quietly. “How’d she get caught up in this?”
“She’s not a child, John.” Sherlock said dismissively. “And age doesn’t really matter. She’s just as capable of violence at age 23 as she is at age 43.”
“So you’re telling me that you believe that in the span of 3 years she went from being a normal university student to an accomplice to a psychopath with no coercion at all? That you think she became a criminal just for fun?”
“I’m saying it doesn’t matter how she ended up here.” Sherlock said firmly. “The fact of the matter is she’s playing us, all of us, for her own ends. That makes her dangerous. She’s trying to use us as a means to an end and I won’t allow her to use you as a pawn where you could get hurt.”
John felt something lodge itself painfully in his throat before swallowing heavily and continuing his argument. “And what about the letter? What about Matt? Why would she possibly get in contact with Matt if she’s some dastardly criminal?”
“She didn’t.” Sherlock said firmly.
“What?” John asked confused.
“She didn’t.” Sherlock said. “That wasn’t her handwriting. She’s obviously right handed. The person who left the note for you was left handed. She either has an accomplice or there is another player in the game. Someone who has access to databases that Irene could only dream of.”
“What exactly have you gotten us into Sherlock?” John asked feeling a headache coming on.
“I don’t know.” Sherlock said quietly. “But I won’t let anything happen to you, John.”
“I don’t need you to protect me.” John said angrily. “I just need you to be honest with me.”
At that, John turned with his cup of tea to go see Mrs. Hudson. He just needed a bit of time to process the past couple of days.
Mycroft looked up from his paper at the Diogenes Club to see a petite woman with dark brown hair cut pixie short and almost black eyes staring at him blatantly from across the room. She was dressed in subtle but expensive clothing wearing a slim black suit and power heels. She raised an eyebrow when he noticed her and made her way to the room designated for talking. He finished his tea and followed sedately behind feeling intrigue tingle his nerves. She was perched delicately on the edge of her chair tapping idly at her phone. He took the seat across from her and waited patiently for her to drop her phone nonchalantly into her purse before catching him in that dark eyed gaze again.
“Mycroft Holmes.” She said with a slight Irish tilt to her voice.
“Miss Adler’s associate I presume.” He said smugly. “And your name?”
“Lilly Fitzpatrick.” She said confidently.
“And what can I do for you?” Mycroft asked leisurely.
“It’s more what I can do for you.” Lilly said with a dark grin.
“And what could I possibly want from you?” Mycroft asked curiously.
“Well, I would offer my services as an IT consultant but you seem relatively secure in that area when you feel motivated enough.” She said slyly.
“You’re referring to the safehouse incident with Dr. Watson.” He answered. “Why are you so concerned with his wellbeing anyway? Miss Adler didn’t seem all that worried about him.”
“Irene has quite a bit on her plate at the moment.” Lilly said vaguely. “She’s had to prioritize and, luckily, I’ve been able to fill in the gaps where she couldn’t. But rest assured. She is extremely concerned about the fate of Dr. Watson, as am I.”
“And why is that?” Mycroft asked curiously. “Before last week, I would guess that she hadn’t even heard of him.”
“I believe she feels a kinship for him.” She answered.
“She tortures people for a living.” Mycroft cut in goading her. “What could she possibly have in common with a war hero and a doctor?”
“Probably more than the man who seems determined to believe that his death would be a benefit.” Lilly countered. “Honestly, how do you think your brother would handle that betrayal?”
“I want what’s best for my brother.” Mycroft said firmly.
“You want what’s best for you in regards to your brother.” She answered. “There’s a big difference.”
It was the first sign of ill favor he had picked up from the woman since she’d entered the building. Her cool indifference was masking a strong feeling of anger and it was directed at him at the moment.
“He would have died.” She said, her voice laced with strong emotion. “Do you honestly think if someone like me could figure out where he was going to be stashed that it wouldn’t take Moriarty seconds?”
“Might I inquire as to why you are so offended?” He asked haughtily.
“Because you don’t care.” She answered with venom. “I spent three days attempting to figure out Sherlock’s hidey-hole to double check the security of your system. Three days and I got nowhere. Even with Jim’s backdoors into all of the major operating systems in the UK, I still couldn’t follow the information. But with Dr. Watson? It took me twenty minutes and we both know why. You would let a good man die, because you think that he is a liability for your brother’s brilliance.”
“And you’re little stunt with Matt Hendricks?”
“I gave him a safer option.” She replied. “If he has to go into hiding, then I created a safe place for him to go.”
“And that’s the secret?”
“You keep your brother on a tight leash, Mycroft.” She said. “How do you think he would react to that information? Do you think he would still let you continue with the surveillance? The bugs? We both know that if he really wanted, he could disappear and a stunt like the safehouse? That might make him consider that option.”
“Are you threatening to tell him?” Mycroft asked.
“Like I said already,” She countered. “You’re secret’s safe with me. The problem has been taken care of and I can’t risk ostracizing you. You’re essential to our plan.”
“And what plan is that?” Mycroft asked.
“Eviscerating Moriarty’s organization.”
John left the flat shortly after visiting Mrs. Hudson with a list of shopping supplies. He entered Tesco’s and was in the dairy section when he felt someone tap lightly on his shoulder. He turned and nearly dropped his basket when he saw Irene standing behind him with a small smile on her face.
“Hi.” She greeted simply.
“I’m sorry.” John sputtered. “Did you follow me here?”
“Well, I don’t exactly live on this side of town.” She grinned. “A bit pricey for me.”
“And what exactly is it that you want?” He asked guardedly.
“I just wanted to see how you guys are getting on.” She said simply grabbing his basket and leading him around the store plucking random items off shelves and dumping them in with his purchases. He quickly fumbled with the phone in his pocket when she wasn’t looking.
“We know about Bath.” He said firmly. “And about your family. How they abandoned you.”
“They didn’t abandon me.” She said angrily. “They just didn’t have the time or money to search. It’s better this way though. It’s better if they think I’m dead. They wouldn’t think much of me now anyway.”
“What happened?” John asked curiously. “How did you end up in all of this?”
“What always happens to make things go awry.” She sighed heavily. “I met a girl.”
“You’re saying that all of this, everything that’s happened to you the past three years was because you were on the pull?” John asked incredulously.
“Let’s just say that if I hadn’t left the ballet at the intermission to go to the pub next door because she was in there, I’d probably be back in America asking a customer if, ‘they want an apple pie with that’ while trying to get my doctorate.” She smiled sadly.
“That’s insane.” He said bluntly.
“I know.” She answered. “But you know what it’s like, being pulled into the orbit of someone who is just completely brilliant.”
“So you’re a criminal because of a girl?” He asked with a slight tone of disgust to his voice.
She glanced at him, caught the disgust, and felt her heart squeeze painfully. “No, I’m a horrible person because I was a naïve idiot with the luck of a lady who lives with twenty black cats.”
“So what do you want with Sherlock?” John asked still feeling uncertain.
“I want to give him the tools to destroy Moriarty.” She said simply browsing at the cereal aisle.
“You want to destroy your boss?” he asked. “The guy who signs your paycheck.”
“I don’t get a paycheck.” She said simply. “It’s more like a mandatory internship.”
“And why is that?” he asked.
“Because I know something he desperately wishes to keep secret.” She said. “So we made a deal.”
“If you have this secret, why don’t you just destroy him yourself?” He asked as they made their way to the checkout counter.
“I don’t have that kind of clout.” She answered as she scanned the items. “I have the info just not an outlet and I have things I need to protect as well. I couldn’t do it by myself.”
They were silent as she bagged up everything and walked with him out of the store. She handed him the bags as they turned the corner and leaned in to kiss him lightly on the cheek.
“I was wrong.” She said quietly.
“About what?” He asked.
“I was sure you’d call Sherlock.” She said before turning to look at Lestrade. “Not the Yard.”
“I had too.” He said firmly. “You’re a criminal.”
“Yeah.” She said faintly and he watched as her face crumple slightly. She stayed stoically silent as she was cuffed and led to his vehicle. He watched her get driven away and couldn’t place why he felt suddenly guilty. He walked home in silence feeling uncertainty nag at his conscience.
“Sir,” Moran said quietly.
“What is it Sebastian?” Moriarty growled. “I’m kind of in the middle of something.”
“Sorry, sir.” Moran said. “We’ve received news regarding your sister.”
“What is that little brat up to now?” Moriarty asked angrily.
“She just left a meeting.” He gulped. “With Mycroft Holmes.”
“Excellent.” Moriarty said brightly breaking out into an insane giggle. “Find that bitch, Adler. She’s finally broken our agreement. She’s ours now.”
“News on that front too, sir.” Moran said.
“Spit it out.” He said.
“She’s just been arrested by the Yard.” He answered. “She’s being booked for the murder of Ian Tramble.”
Moriarty felt his brain grind to a halt.
“Find her!” He shouted. “Get her! Before she tells them anything.”
“Right away, sir.” He answered.
“And teach her a lesson, Moran.” Jim said maniacally.
“Gladly, sir.” Sebastian answered.
Sherlock was researching Miss Adler. Abandoned facebook account, blog, Linkedin account. Gathering all of the data he could to figure out her motivations. He’d received information from the Homeless Network about Freddy. He apparently turned up dead near the Thames early that morning. Throat slashed. No data on Adler’s whereabouts at the moment. But he wasn’t worried. She always seemed to turn up when he least expected her to. He heard the flat door slam and was disconcerted to hear Mycroft and the tread of an unknown woman coming up to the flat. He closed his laptop and shouted for them to enter when they knocked.
He was out of his chair and reaching for John’s gun before the door even fully opened.
“Moriarty has a sister.” He said coldly. “Interesting. Family business, is it?”
“Charmed, I’m sure.” She said nonchalantly.
“Sister.” Mycroft said heavily. “Of course. Everything seems to be aligning rather nicely.”
“What in bloody hell are you doing with her, Mycroft?” Sherlock said continuing to point the gun at her chest.
“She found me, brother.” He said vaguely. “I believe you might want to listen to her proposition.”
“And what proposition is that?” Sherlock asked darkly.
“I can give you Moriarty’s head on a stake.” She said settling lightly on the couch.
“And what do you want in return?” Sherlock asked.
“Protection for me and Irene.” She said simply.
“Your information is that good?” He asked. “That you could bargain for the life of a criminal.”
“Not just any criminal.” Mycroft added. “Moran’s apprentice.”
“Interesting.” He said. “Where is Adler now?”
“She should be with Dr. Watson as we speak.” She said evenly. “They’ll be returning shortly I’d imagine.”
They heard the door shut downstairs and John come running up the steps, each of them noting the lack of a second set of footsteps.
“We’ve got her!” John said entering the room and completing missing their guest. “Irene Adler. She’s in police custody.”
“What!?” Lilly practically shrieked.
“I’m sorry who are you?” John asked.
“He’s going to kill her.” Lilly said ignoring his question. “We have to get her back. Now.”
Irene sat curled up in the corner of the interrogation room letting fear and sadness war for dominance in her heart. She had at least tried. She’d given it her best. And by this time, Lilly would be with the Holmes brothers so she’d be safe. With the information that she has on Jim, they will at least be able to get her safely out of London. At least she’d done that right. She could protect Lilly and get her away from that psychopath of a brother forever. She mused over how Moran would get her out of this mess. Probably just a sniper shot to the head in transfer. It would be quick, hopefully. She couldn’t imagine that they would put too much effort into it. She been in the room for less than five minutes when the door opened and Lestrade strode in with a no-nonsense look on his face. He took a seat at the table and she followed suit by uncurling off the floor and collapsing into the chair, resting her face in her hands.
“Irene Adler.” Lestrade said evenly. “You’ve been playing a game a bit out of your league, don’t you think? A small town kid from Missouri?”
He let the silence hang between them as Irene kept her gaze fixed firmly on the two way glass.
“You understand that you’ve put yourself in a difficult position.” He continued after a few minutes. “The papers you had were obviously faked and you are not technically a resident of this country. You have committed no crimes in America so they aren’t seeking extradition but your family has been informed that you’ve been found and is eager to get you back home. However, your criminal activities the past three years will keep you in the country in prison for the foreseeable future.”
“Alleged.” She said quietly.
“Excuse me?” He asked.
“Alleged criminal activity.” She said. “You don’t have any actual proof of any crimes. The only crime I can be found guilty of is lying about where I lived when I gave my statement last week. All of the other information was true and accurate.”
“Still.” He said. “You are being held on suspicion of murder. Of one, Ian Tramble. Anything you want to say on that subject?”
Her silence was answer enough and he continued on, “You will be moved to a secure holding facility until a judge can determine whether or not you’ll be granted bail or not.”
He slowly stood up and walked toward the door before turning back to her. “Your mistake, Miss Adler, was assuming you could pull one over on Scotland Yard and Sherlock Holmes.”
“My mistake, Detective Inspector,” She countered. “Was believing I had a chance to make a difference in the first place.”
She was taken out of the building in handcuffs not ten minutes later and bundled into the back of a police car. They pulled away from the building and had been driving several minutes before she asked, “How much is he paying you?”
The driver glanced in the rearview mirror with a smug grin. “Enough to relocate to Fiji for the rest of my life.”
Lestrade closed the door on the vehicle taking Irene Adler away and heard his name shouted by Donovan, “Sir! You have a call.”
“Who is it?” He asked.
“Mycroft Holmes.” She answered. “It’s apparently incredibly urgent.”
At the look on Mycroft’s face, Lilly dropped her face into her hands and let out a broken sob. They sat in terse silence for several minutes while Lilly fought back the emotions that were threatening to consume her.
“Start from the beginning.” John cajoled after she’d wiped her face and looked up at her captive audience. She’d been so alone before Irene. She’d felt so hopeless and broken before they’d met at the packed pub in Bath and everything seemed to dance with energy and light. She found that she wanted to tell someone the story. She wanted someone to be a witness to their story, if only in retrospect so she told them:
“I’m Jim’s younger sibling by seven years. His actual name is James Fitzpatrick. We grew up in Killarney with an absent father but an incredibly doting mother. James was always different: Cruel, vindictive, flying off into rages at the slightest irritation. By the time I came around, he spent most of his time torturing the neighboring kids. I was never even a blip on his radar. Not until I got older. I was quiet, unassuming. My mother spent so much time wrangling Jim that I was left with the neighbors, a nice elderly couple. When I turned ten, our mother died. The ME said that it was a heart attack, but I know that it was Jim. He left town after that and I didn’t hear from him again for eight years. I was doing well in college with an aptitude for computer science. He had broken in to my flat and was waiting for me. I knew what he was capable of and I really didn’t fancy dying young so he gave me jobs. Tasks that he would have done himself if they weren’t so boring. I left school and worked for him for four years before I met her.
Irene was at the Ballet that night. She was on a weekend trip with some friends but no one wanted to join her at the performance, preferring to go out the clubs. She had come outside during intermission and, as she’d told it, felt her heart speed up at the sight of me in the pub. I was just twenty-two but already so deep in Moriarty’s organization that I was his favorite courier. I shouldn’t have encouraged it. Should have turned away and left her at the Pub. But she was vibrant and smiling and so incredibly sweet that I spent most of the night entranced by her light. We talked and drank and kissed late into the night and into the early morning before she said she had to go. We agreed to meet the next day for dinner and I left to go back to my hotel. I was due back to London that night but I didn’t think Jim would notice if I was a day late. If he didn’t have a need for me, I didn’t even register on his radar. What I didn’t anticipate was that he would have people watching me. He had her picked up on her way back to the hostel and she disappeared.
The next two years aren’t worth mentioning. Needless to say, she was being psychologically tortured. I remember Moran saying one night at dinner to try and goad me into a reply that he felt she had promise. That she would be a great protégé for him. They were meticulous in her training. It was a pet project for both of them and Jim took a perverse pleasure in flaunting it in front of me. She was treated like a beloved dog. They would parade her around and pamper her with physical affection and compliments when she did well, locking her away in a cage for days when she’d try to protest the tasks they had her complete. It was disgusting.
Despite everything though, she still loved me. She didn’t even blame me for it. She’s pretty spectacular. The best person I had ever met. That’s why I knew we had to figure out a way to get out. To run away together. She needed more freedom and I needed to get close to Jim. We came up with a plan. I got my hands on some information that Jim would frown on getting out and she used it as leverage to renegotiate her terms. She was brilliant. They agreed on one weekend a month of training for her freedom to live as she wanted, freedom for me from working for him anymore, and in return she wouldn’t hand the information over to the authorities. She couldn’t just hand over the information because he threatened to kill me if that happened but he couldn’t just kill her without me handing the information over to the press. We had it set up that if either of us weren’t in contact for more than a day, the information would immediately get sent. We used a special code when she was having weekends with Moran. She would let me know when she started and when she finished. If I didn’t hear from her, I would go to the authorities. It was an incredibly precarious balance, but for 15 months, it worked.
We saw our chance when Jim was getting ready to play his game with Sherlock. It was easy to fiddle with things while Jim was absorbed with the game. Sebastian may be his number two but he’s nowhere near as intelligent as I am. It was simple really. Irene showed her hand, saved you two, and kept Moriarty’s gave fixed firmly on her while I did my part. She ran you all around in circles to keep everyone’s eyes off me. It all went perfectly. Except…”
“I was supposed to bring her here.” John said quietly. “So that you could hand over the information to Mycroft and get the protection you needed.”
“Yes.” Lilly said sadly.
“What will happen now?” Sherlock asked. “Now that she broke the deal.”
“I can’t do anything.” She said. “If I go to the authorities after she broke the deal to try to save her, he will kill her entire family. We’ve lost. And I’ve lost everything.”
Her phone chimed and she pulled it out with shaky hands.
You lose, sister dear. I’m thinking of flaying her alive. Opinions?
She dropped the phone on the floor and crushed it under her heel.
“That’s it.” She said. “It’s over.”
“Where will you go?” John asked sadly. “Will he come after you?”
“No.” She answered. “I’ve outlived my usefulness. Maybe Nepal? Doesn’t really matter.”
She got up and ran a hand through her hair before turning back to the men and smiling sadly, “Isn’t that just the way of it? Intelligence means nothing if it causes the wonderfully good people of the world pain. Good luck. Moriarty will want to play again soon.”
“My dear Irene.” Sebastian cooed happily as he stalked around her chair. He leaned forward and kissed her hair lightly and murmured in her hair, “It’s so good to have you back.”
She felt tears prick in the corners of her eyes and clenched her jaw so hard she could feel her ears ache. He ran a hand lovingly over her face and kissed her nose delicately.
“You’re going to just love what I have planned for you, my lovely Miss Adler.” He purred before checking her restraints and approaching the table laden with tools and caressing them delicately.
“It’ll be my best work yet.” He said gleefully as he picked up a razor blade and began sharpening it.
John collapsed onto the couch after Lilly left and rubbed his hands roughly over his face.
“John.” Sherlock said hesitantly. “I don’t understand.”
“I already explained this and so did Mycroft.” John said. “We weren’t going to try to detain Lilly and force her to give us the information if it meant that Irene’s family was at stake.”
“No.” He said. “That’s not what I meant.”
“Then what is it?” John asked mumbled between his hands.
“Why would she do that?” He said quietly. “Why would she risk everything for Lilly if she could have negotiated a better deal that would have ensured her safety? Moriarty was her brother. Irene was in this mess because of her. Why would she do that? It’s not logical.”
“Because Sherlock.” John said sounding weary. “She loved her. She cared so much about her that she was ready to risk everything because she cared more about Lilly than herself.”
“Like you did.” Sherlock said quietly. “At the pool.”
“I’m going to bed.” John said standing suddenly and heading for the stairs. “I’ll see you in the morning.”
“But it’s only five in the evening.” Sherlock said confused.
“I’m that exhausted.” John countered. “Try and eat something and get some sleep.”
He went up stairs, stripped down to his vest and pants and crawled into bed. He curled up tight against the wall and tried to forget the past week. It wasn’t long before he heard the stairs creak and flinched slightly as the door opened.
“John…” Sherlock whispered.
“Please.” John said firmly. “I don’t want to talk about it anymore. I don’t want to debate it. I just want to forget about how I messed up and let that girl die.”
He jumped as he felt Sherlock pull back the covers and slid in behind him. He stiffened as his flatmate shifted close and wrapped his arms tightly around him.
“Sherlock…” John began brokenly.
“Don’t.” Sherlock said breathing into the hairs at his neck. “Just…let me say this...I don’t understand Irene’s actions. And I don’t understand yours either. But I want you to know that I never meant to hurt you. That you matter to me.”
“What are you saying?” John asked feeling his heart jump into his throat.
“That I don’t want to pretend that you’re just my friend.” Sherlock whispered. “You’re more than my friend. I would do anything for you. I want you, John. All of you.”
Sherlock pressed a delicate kiss to the back of his neck and felt John shudder lightly.
“Tell me you want that too.” Sherlock urged.
John turned over slowly and cupped Sherlock face gently stroking his cheek. He leaned in hesitantly and placed a small kiss against his flatmate’s mouth. Sherlock leant into the kiss tasting John and sighing happily.
John pulled back lightly. “Sherlock…I’m not going to go anywhere…you don’t have to do this because you’re afraid that I’ll leave…I don’t need you to feel sorry for me…”
“Don’t.” Sherlock said firmly. “I don’t do anything I don’t want to do. And I don’t want to do anything except be with you. I don’t feel sorry for you, John. I admire you. I can’t imagine myself anywhere else and I won’t give you up. I’ll take whatever you give me. But I want you like this. I don't want to waste any time that we could have each other like this for as long as we can.”
John stared at him for several seconds before crushing their mouths together and lapping up the moan that tried to escape Sherlock’s mouth. They clung to each other as the people outside continued with their lives, as the earth continued to spin, and the universe continued to expand. They lay together safe in the knowledge that despite all of their shortcomings and mistakes they could live warm and content defined simply by their feelings for each other.