Chapter 1: Prologue- July
Year One. Beginning of Month One.
This is the story of how I died.
"Oh, don't start with that rubbish!" A voice said from over Sherlock's shoulder. He continued typing. The woman walked away, across the room and into the kitchen area.
Alright. This isn't exactly the story of how I died, just the story of why people think I'm dead. This is also the story of why I'm currently seated in the living room of a woman who comes home every day with a leather whip in her hand.
"Why are you writing about this again?" The same voice called, muffled by a clatter of what sounded like pots, though he was fairly sure it wasn't pots.
The day I jumped off of St. Bartholomew's Hospital was the day I died according to the rest of the world. It wasn't as though I had a choice- Mrs. Hudson, Lestrade, and John were all going to be killed if I didn't, but thankfully I had some luck and some emergency contacts on my side. I called John and told him goodbye- hopefully he takes it to heart. It's better to see him grieving than dead. It's too risky to put down how I survived, even here, so I'll keep it a secret until it's safe to say- there's a lot of people out to kill me, you can be sure of that, and I don't want anyone else out in danger in their search for me. They won't ever figure it out on their own, I know for sure, and neither Mycroft nor Molly will divulge a single word of what little they know.
I suppose it seems fitting that the one true confidant I have is also officially dead.
Why am I writing this, as that woman seems intent on asking me?
John blogs. He said it helped... with the stress from the war, I mean. He's my best friend… even if I can't actually publish it, I might as well take his advice for once.
"Sherlock?" He looked up from his computer and shut the laptop, laying it on the coffee table. Irene Adler's face popped out from around the corner, still dressed in her extremely business-looking attire for her line of work, albeit with her long hair unpinned. Sometimes he wondered why she bothered risking going out every day, but as she so bluntly put it, she enjoys it and they've got to pay the bills somehow, even with her considerably large amount of savings. It was tricky how she worked it all out- the legality of it all- but Sherlock wasn't one to pry about that particular matter. Irene studied his face for a moment before continuing. "Are you-"
"Liar." They had the same conversation every day at some point or another. She would always ask if he was alright, and he'd always cut her off before she finished. Usually the conversation ended after that point and only picked up again once the news came on and Sherlock began to complain about the incompetency of the police force. Irene disappeared around the corner, shed the rest of her clothing in favor of a robe, and came back to sit in a chair across the coffee table from Sherlock.
Ever since he knew that mortal danger was headed his way, he'd been in contact with Irene. She may have been shady, but she was sharp, she knew how to disappear- and she also owed Sherlock her life several times over. She was returning the favor, as they both referred to it. The pair of them had gone underground from the moment Sherlock met her at the bottom of the hospital. It stood out in his mind even now.
"Hello, dear. Finally said yes to dinner, eh?" She said, fiddling with a different version of the same camera phone. Irene smiled as he stepped into the car, completely unnoticed among the scuffle in the streets.
"In a manner of speaking."
She'd set up forged passports and new identities for them in America- the outskirts of New York City, to be exact; both the easiest and the riskiest place for a person to disappear. It's easy because the city is so big that to create a new identity is cake for someone like Irene Adler, but risky because big cities attract people wanting to start over like honey attracts flies. Either way, this was where they'd chosen to hide, Irene and Sherlock, just a hop, skip, and a jump across the pond from London, back to where their old lives called, looking tantalizingly delicious from across the water where they watched.
However, Irene Adler and Sherlock Holmes were no more. All that remained were scattered pictures, newspaper clippings, a broken legacy, and the memories of one John Watson. Now they were Alexandra and Herald Ibson. As much as they needed to remain anonymous, living in a flat together would be much less conspicuous while posing as a married couple. Irene carried on her work and Sherlock… well, he simply tried not to go insane. Being cooped up in a flat all day wasn't his forte,
especially with what he'd seen just before he left.
"Stop the car." Rolling down the street towards the airport, Sherlock had one last bit of unfinished business.
"Just for a moment." Sherlock jumped out of the car and over the graveyard fence, concealing himself behind a tree where he could get a good look at a familiar face… John. Talking to… himself? No. Talking to Sherlock.
"I was so alone, and I owe you so much…" John was talking to his tombstone. Of course, people do things like that. They say things they always wanted to say, but never did, and now Sherlock was given the rare opportunity to hear them. The more John talked, the worse he felt, until the point where there was doubt in his mind and an unpleasant feeling in his chest.
"Just one more miracle from you, Sherlock, for me. Don't be… dead."
And then he'd walked off. Limping. His psychosomatic limp had returned.
That didn't help the guilt at all.
"Ready now?" Irene glanced at him from the other side of the car as he climbed back in.
"You sure you know what you're getting into here?"
"Three years, that was the deal We hide out for three years- keep quiet, and then slip back into society." It wasn't exactly an answer, but it was close enough.
"Alright then." Irene settled back into her seat, wondering how exactly a man such as Sherlock Holmes planned to slip back into society quietly…
"You know you can't go back." Irene shook him out of his thoughts, looking at him thoughtfully.
"Of course I know that." Hard, cold, unsentimental Sherlock… hiding something, they both well knew.
"Still in denial- I should have known." Irene rose from her chair and padded across the room, bare feet nearly silent on the carpet.
"I'm not in denial-"
"Then why have you taken up your smoking habit again?" She turned to face him, eyebrows raised. It had been about a month since they left London, and though he'd lasted longer than expected, without casework he broke down eventually. "I may not be the great Sherlock Holmes, but I'm not blind, and I can certainly smell that you've been at it."
It was true. While the flat smelled only slightly of smoke, Sherlock himself reeked of it. She could smell it on his breath and see the faint bloodshot lines in the whites of his eyes from where he hadn't been sleeping. The nicotine stimulated his mind, or so he said, but it also kept him from sleeping because every time he woke up at night he'd walk down to the streets and light a cigarette on the steps on the steps of the apartment complex.
"And?" Sherlock asked, picking up a newspaper that they both very well knew he wasn't bothering to read. Irene simply sighed and half-smiled to herself. It was completely impossible to get anything out of him… most of the time. She'd been working on him for a month and had yet to get anywhere, but all she needed was time, and they certainly had plenty of that.
Three years' worth of it.
Chapter 2: Year One- August
Year One. Beginning of Month Two.
"Sherlock?" Irene called, stepping inside the flat. The door swung shut behind her with a slight click. There was absolutely no response. That meant one of two things: either Sherlock had finally decided to go out and roam the streets (unlikely, considering he had yet to leave the flat), or it was a danger day.
Irene hadn't actually experienced a full-out danger night herself. She'd heard about them from John and she'd seen him slowly slipping into symptoms of his "phase," but today it looked like it had finally set in.
Sherlock was pacing around his bedroom, head ducked, hands gesturing every now and then, talking to thin air… the exact same way she'd left him eight hours ago. Very few of his muttered words were decipherable, but she was able to pick out something about hacking the White House and gang areas.
"Wear a hole in the floor yet?" Irene leaned on the doorframe and Sherlock looked up, surprised.
"You've changed clothes." He said, looking her up and down.
"Oh." His lips pursed and he nodded, slightly embarrassed. It was this morning that she'd last seen him and he hadn't noticed she'd been gone yet.
"You need to get out. You can't stay in here forever." Irene gestured to the room around them, messy from all sorts of abandoned experiments and simply not being cleaned.
"Why are you so worried about me?"
"Does it matter?"
"Why?" Sherlock held her gaze for a moment, just a beat. It was just long enough to make her feel sick to her stomach and think about things that she probably
shouldn't when she looked at him. After what felt like an eternity his gaze dropped and he muttered something under his breath.
"What was that?" Irene raised an eyebrow.
"Nothing." It wasn't any use trying to pry it out of him, so she let it drop as he scooted out towards the door, no doubt headed to light a cigarette. "Come on, I know you want one, too." Sherlock tossed the phrase back over his shoulder and Irene rolled her eyes as she walked after him.
When she found him he was in the same spot as always, perched on the short wall in front of their apartment building, looking mysterious and a little frightening in the glow of in the streetlights. Smoke was already curling from his lips.
Irene walked over, heels clicking on the pavement, and hoisted herself atop the wall beside him. The open package of cigarettes was lying on the wall to his right, between the two of them. Irene picked one up and held it pensively, rolling it between her thin fingers. Nails still painted, she put on every pretense of being a professional businesswoman of some sort. In a way she was. Sherlock didn't know even half of her story…
Not that she was about to tell him.
"Lighter?" Sherlock held the silver rectangle out to her, shaking her daydream away. Though it was only seven o' clock the sun was beginning to set over the city, and the lighter gleamed orange in the fading light. Irene took it and lit the cigarette, holding it to her lips only briefly before letting it rest at her side, smoke leaking slightly from the tip. She breathed a sigh and watched her breath curl through the cooling air.
"Look at it. It's so…" Sherlock said, gesturing to the tall buildings of downtown Manhattan that were beginning to light up in the distance. Neon dreams, if she remembered the saying correctly. A pang hit her stomach when she registered the visible gap in the skyline- the Twin Towers. The whole day was sickening to her; all those lives lost, including a very good friend of hers who was a fireman.
"New York?" Irene provided, and Sherlock gave a small smile.
"I suppose so. But really look. What do you see?" Irene thought for a moment. There were a lot of things she detested about New York, but overall…
"I see a town full of nobodies where people expect to see celebrities on the corner. I see people who try to come here to make it big and people who try to get out of here to survive. And then I see people like you and me… just trying to figure out how to go on." She turned her head to see Sherlock looking up at her, his face unreadable. "In short, I see a very complicated city."
"Fair enough." Sherlock said after a pause, nodding slowly. He turned away from her and resumed gazing at the lights.
"Oh, don't tell me you're about to wage war on New York!" Irene rolled her eyes. Sherlock snapped back to attention.
"What?" He was almost afraid for a second, because for one fleeting moment, he knew that she knew. She knew exactly what Sherlock was seeing: the battleground. Everything was strategy to him; Sherlock Holmes was the ultimate general of the crime fighting army, and he couldn't stop seeing it.
"You know. I know you do." Irene said without looking at him. "But you've got to understand that this isn't your fight. If you go out there and start philandering around where you don't belong you could get both of us killed- or worse, discovered by the bloody American government!" She took another drag on her cigarette and slumped. As much as he needed to get out, he had that look in his eye… And now he was laughing?
"What's funny?" Irene asked, looking over to see Sherlock chuckling.
"You think facing the American government is worse than being killed." He said, smiling a genuine, real smile. Irene laughed as well, but she could still see that look, hiding back behind his eyes. The sun had almost fully set, and now shadows were beginning to fall over their faces, giving his pale skin an eerie beauty.
Stop. No. Can't let it get that far. You're hiding out together, that's all. Period. But… still she wondered… Concerned. Why was she concerned? She had slightly more than what you'd call a checkered past and a troubled mind, and on occasion had even wondered if she herself was a sociopath… but now she was concerned? Sherlock huffed to her left and she glanced at him.
"You." He sounded almost disgusted, spitting out the word like spoiled milk.
"What about me?" Irene's voice took a subtle edge, but she tried to remain calm for his sake. Sherlock bit his lip, scanning her up and down once before continuing.
"I can't tell anything from you." He said, eyes still shifting. "Not anything important. Most people are open books, just begging to be cracked open and read, but you just hide everything." Irene allowed a small smile to slip forward. She'd worked very hard for a very long time on never showing her emotions. When she met Sherlock she thought she might have met her match.
"What can you tell?" She asked, throwing her stub of a cigarette to the side. She didn't know why she'd kept holding onto it for so long. Perhaps just for something for her hands to do.
"I can tell you went downtown today, walked the long way through Chinatown, had a particularly interesting run-in with a flash mob, and you tripped on your way up the steps."
"That's all." He looked positively perplexed. "Why don't you show anything?" After a second or two she hopped down from the wall.
"Because I've worked very hard not to." And with that she left him sitting on the wall in the night air, the decision to go to bed early standing firmly in her mind.
Sherlock Holmes… determined, clever, mad Sherlock Holmes… she'd almost call him perfect, but she was too smart to make that mistake again.
Meanwhile, Sherlock sat atop the stone wall, casting a glance at the grey-blue sky. New York was too brightly lit to show the stars at night. Irene Adler… he knew very little about her, and still he sometimes wondered if he might… feel something. Her past was a complete mystery to him, as was most of her being, and since he was seriously beginning to think he'd go insane without a case, Irene Adler was now his new project. Sherlock chucked to himself as he lit one last cigarette for the night, thinking of what he'd said under his breath earlier.
"You've really got to learn to watch those pupils."
Chapter 3: Year One- September
Year One. Beginning of Month Three.
What are all those jokes they make about cats plotting to escape their owners? Irene thought as she walked from her bedroom to the kitchen. Papers were scattered everywhere, though they were slowly being organized. Slowly. The only thing was that "organized" for Sherlock meant about twenty different piles on the desk in his bedroom, about five in the hall, two or three on the kitchen table, and nearly thirty single sheets tacked up to the walls at various places around the flat. Not to mention that he still blogged occasionally, so there was a laptop that had never been connected to a network set up on his desk. The only thing he ever did was keep writing.
Bare feet silent on the carpet, Irene grabbed her robe from the hook in the bathroom and shrugged into it. Might as well make breakfast. She cracked two eggs in a saucepan and looked around for something to add flavor. The view out the window still caught her off guard sometimes.
Funny, whenever she thought about hiding out she'd never imagined doing it on the twelfth floor of an apartment complex in New York, and especially not with Sherlock Holmes! Nearly as soon as the thought crossed her mind she heard a door click open and made a mental note to get more vegetables. Irene tossed some tomatoes and spinach in the saucepan with the eggs and pulled out an extra plate.
"Look who's awake before noon!" She called as Sherlock shuffled up the hall. He grunted in response. Irene remembered reading somewhere that intelligent people were prone to be night owls when they had nothing to keep them from doing so. Of course, other "side effects" of being intelligent were that you were more likely to become depressed, more likely to be an alcoholic, and more likely to die alone.
Die alone. It was a scary thought for some people, but Irene didn't really have a problem with it. Not yet, at least. If she found the right person, well… the story might change. Sherlock sat down at the table, resting his head in his hands.
"Breakfast or no?" Irene asked. Whatever she was cooking smelled alright, but a lot of times he simply wasn't hungry. Finally Irene had come to accept that, even though she joked about him being as skinny as a rat. He thought she might be worried about him, except that it was Irene. She never worried about anyone, not unless it pertained to her own self-preservation.
The last month had revealed nothing about her or her past. The only thing he managed to figure out was that her parents had both been dead for several years, which got him nearly nowhere. He couldn't do any research because research meant leaving the flat, and more than anything he did not want to go outside. You would think that a new city meant many new opportunities, but not when your name was bordering on world famous when you were pronounced dead only two months ago. It doesn't work that, even in a place like New York- if you're spotted, you're dead. So, there he was, stuck in that stupid flat for at least another month until the publicity mellowed out. Not that outside the stupid flat was any better.
"Sherlock?" Irene asked, flipping an omelet onto her plate. "Breakfast?" He raised his head as if shaken awake.
"Hm? No. Thank you."
"Alright then." She sat and ate her breakfast in silence while Sherlock pretended to scan the newspaper. A thousand thoughts crossed his mind, still trying to dissect Irene. He could tell she'd probably been born in an upper class household, but if so why get involved with the government? It wasn't as if she needed the money, right? In the long run she probably would need some money, but she certainly made enough from her usual earnings to get by, and most years quite a bit more than that, just judging by what he could find out about her pay.
If he observed her long enough certain minute details would become apparent, such as twisting things between her fingers and the tendency to write at a slant, but often nothing new emerged. She was very good. And she was obviously the only thing keeping him from losing his mind.
Suddenly Irene stood, put the plates in the sink, and walked off down the hall. From the distance of the footsteps it sounded like she went to her bedroom. She returned a few seconds later with a stack of books, which were promptly deposited on the table in front of Sherlock, and a large bag that she held in her hand.
"I figured out why you're not going out. Well, besides the obvious fact that you hardly ever go out anywhere." She said. "I don't think anyone will recognize you, but if you're intent on staying in here for- how long?" Irene raised an eyebrow. Sherlock looked like he'd been unexpectedly tripped while walking down the hall.
"Four months." He said grudgingly. It wasn't likely or fair that she could read him so easily and he couldn't even get a background out of her. They rarely spoke, only at mealtimes or after she returned home, if he wasn't locked in his room doing some kind of study. Alright, that's the first thing to fix. As much as he didn't want to talk, it really was the only way to find out anything from her.
"Well, if you insist on staying in here four months, you'll go completely mad without something to do. So I went by the library." She took a seat again. "You can at least teach yourself to do something… say… cooking?" Sherlock pursed his lips and cut her a sidelong glance, eliciting only a small smile from Irene.
Sifting through the rather hefty pile of reading he found nearly anything one could possibly want to read- a few novels, plays, how-to books, a book on the fall of Rome, some science journals about new genetic testing, and several other works. How many books was one allowed to take out, he wondered?
"And, although I'm probably going to regret it…" She laid the bag on the table and pushed it towards him. He raised an eyebrow and slowly pulled forth…
"What?" Sherlock's mouth literally dropped open. He hadn't the faintest how she was able to slip the books by him, and especially not this. Inside was a violin case, and inside that a beautiful dark wood violin and a bow. He fingered it cautiously, carefully, but his eyes soon flicked up to Irene. "Why?"
"The look on your face was worth it, believe me." Irene smiled and went to change clothes. She actually did have somewhere to be today.
Sherlock, however, stayed in the flat as expected. Out of some combination of boredom and interest, he cracked open one of the novels Irene had picked for him. Agatha Christie- a mystery book. Mentally he made a note not to pick ironic novels in the future. There were three by her in the stack- Murder by Numbers, And Then There Were None, and Sparkling Cyanide. He decided to start with And Then There Were None and move forward from there.
Within two hours he was half done with the book and was fairly positive he'd figured out who the killer was. The red herring had been a dead giveaway, as was the shot in the forehead. Not willing to keep reading and see if he was right, Sherlock left the book on the pretense of picking it up later and finishing it.
The rest of the day was spent with the violin. It wasn't new, and the previous owner had apparently had very small hands, but it was a good instrument with a nice sound quality. Where had she got a violin from in New York? Well, New York did seem to have everything; he supposed music stores were hardly out of the ordinary. He drew staff lines on plain paper and made a note to ask Irene to pick up a notebook of proper staff paper the next time she was out.
Composing was a nice distraction, and when Irene returned at around eight o'clock that evening, he hardly noticed how the time had passed. In all honesty, he didn't even notice Irene was back until nearly two hours after she'd returned, when she came in to say goodnight.
"It sounds beautiful." She said upon opening the door.
"Thank you." Sherlock nodded sincerely. "How long have you been back?"
"A while. I'm going to bed. Keep playing if you like, it won't bother me."
Irene shut the door and walked silently to her room, listening to the phrases of Sherlock's composition float through the air. For a while she lay in her bed and listened, the tune floating through the air. Complex phrases weaved their way through the air, yet the overall feel was calm and almost soothing. At some points you could pick up on snatches of a repeated melody, but most times it simply played. Sherlock would stop at intervals to change a note, but shortly continue on with his playing. Just before she drifted off, in that tiny window between awake and asleep, Irene wondered what might have inspired it…
Sometime around midnight Sherlock finally put down his bow for the day. He was rusty at playing, but for now the piece was satisfactory. More often than not his music seemed to fit his mood- John used to mention how he wrote sad music when he felt depressed or how the tunes would be calming in the middle of a case. Just now, though, he felt simply perplexed. There wasn't much inspiration here except for the one thing he didn't want to inspire him, because inspiring someone mean evoking… feelings… of some sort or other. Inspiring someone meant pulling forth something that nothing else can, but just now he didn't want to think about what that source might be.
It was a shame that he already had.
It was even more of a shame that she was asleep in the next room.
Chapter 4: Year One- October
Year One. Beginning of Month Four
Running. Running very fast. Running through London.
The streets were familiar, but they were all wrong. They didn't connect to each other like they should- it was as if someone had cut up the city and pasted it back together in the wrong order. At this point it didn't matter where he was going, though, because he was being chased.
There were a thousand people behind him, following him through these twisted streets with nothing but utter bloodlust on their minds. They'd already tortured and killed John right in front his eyes, and now they were after him. He didn't know why he was running. It wasn't like him to run, especially after what happened to John, and especially when he was the one being chased.
He should be facing them. He should be making them beg for mercy and their lives, but he wasn't. Coward.
At every corner a howling wind shrieked through the air and blew him backwards, coat flapping. His ragged breathing wasn't from running, but from fear. Ice coated the streets, tripping him up occasionally, but he somehow managed to keep standing up again and to continue running through this strange patchwork London.
Then suddenly, almost sickeningly quick, he turned a corner and there was... nothing. There was only a giant cliff, and he skidded to a stop, looking down from a London street off the edge of the world. Behind him, the mob was closing in. Every person who had ever tried to kill him- all of them there so clearly. Death's door.
This was it. This was the end.
Two choices: face your demons and have them kill you, or jump.
Jump- he'd rather jump any day.
Why? Because, that's why.
But we all know that 'because' is a child's excuse for an answer they're not willing to either face or divulge.
So, rather than face the answer, he faced the cliff.
Sherlock sat bolt upright, hopelessly tangled in his sheets, dripping sweat, and breathing hard. His pulse was racing and his face was wet, both from sweat and… tears. He wasn't even thinking for once- he just sat with his head bent and cried.
Somewhere in his subconscious he noticed that a pair of small hands was untangling him from the flannel straight jacket twisted around him, leaving his bare torso exposed to the air. It was chilly in the apartment, but it was certainly easier to breathe now. And suddenly there was something pressed against him- soft cloth and long hair, a strong presence as he collected himself. A comforting arm around his shoulder and a hand moving up and down his left arm.
"Sherlock?" A soft, female voice whispered slowly, calmly. "Listen to me, you're alright. It's alright." Only then did he fully notice Irene's presence.
She'd heard him cry out and came in to see what was wrong- nightmares or night terrors, she couldn't be sure, but considering this was the first time it had happened this badly… best wake him up. So, here she sat, hugging a bare-chested Sherlock and, as she told herself, not feeling any sexual attraction. She did, however, feel very worried.
The digital clock in his bedroom glowed 3AM amidst scattered books and papers. It was a good thing tomorrow was Saturday, because she could tell neither of them were going back to sleep tonight. After a minute or two Sherlock breathed normally again, and if he was opposed to her attempt at comfort he didn't show it. She squeezed his hand and stood, throwing him his robe.
"Come on, I'll put the kettle on."
In roughly ten minutes they were seated on the small couch in the den, mugs of tea in hand. Irene sat with her knees tucked up, silent, and Sherlock seemed very preoccupied with the design of the rug. They remained in this fashion, listening to the pipes groan and the occasional car pass by on the street, until all that was left were tea dregs, and Irene went to fill the mugs again.
"Want to talk about it?" She asked, handing him the fresh cup.
"Ok." There wasn't any point in pressing. Irene herself knew about nightmares- she'd had her fill when she was a child, and sometimes… sometimes you just couldn't go back to sleep for a while. Sometimes you couldn't even talk about it in case you remember forever. Sherlock sat his mug on the end table and slumped, rubbing his eyes.
"You had them, too, hm?" He asked, meaning Irene. His head was still in his hands. Irene sighed- he'd found something out.
"Sometimes. How'd you know?"
"You woke me up. Only someone who knows the difference between nightmares and night terrors would do that, and in such a…" At this he stopped his usual drabble, but Irene was fairly positive of what he was going to say. Like a mother. She'd comforted him like a mother would comfort a child. Sherlock cleared his throat and continued. "And you put the kettle on." Irene laughed and Sherlock cracked a small, tight smile.
"Ah, the kettle. Never want to go back to sleep after a time like that. I remember when my parents were away I'd stay in the spare room of a friend's house, and his mum would always get up and make tea when I had nightmares." Irene took another sip from her mug, leaning into the cushions. "Eventually I'd fall asleep on the couch and she'd carry me back to bed."
Only silence came from Sherlock, but it was a calm silence. The kind of welcomed space between a revelation that you never saw coming and a question you can't help but ask. For now he avoided that question in favor of another.
"How often was that?"
"The nightmares? Or the going away?" Irene asked, searching his face for even a hint of what he might be nosing for. The problem was that Sherlock was likely nosing for anything that might clear up the murky waters surrounding his flat mate, and he'd take anything she would give him.
"Don't be ridiculous. You've probably already figured out about how often they went away just by my talking. You want to know about the nightmares." Irene looked up at him over the rim of her mug, and he gestured for her to go on.
"About once every two weeks, give or take. I don't know about yours. I certainly don't know why they took this long to become noticeable…" She trailed off, though in less than a second's span she realized what she'd said.
"You noticed before." Sherlock looked almost pleased with her slip- granted, it was 4AM, but she needed to be more careful than that if she planned to survive three years without letting her feelings get the better of her.
"You showed signs. That's all."
"Signs?" Sherlock thought for a moment, recalling the times he's fallen asleep on the couch… in plain view. "You saw night terrors, didn't you?" He looked over, but she avoided his gaze, biting her lip.
"I didn't know what to do except… wait. There really isn't much else. You know as well as I do that if you wake up the person having the night terror they'll remember it, but not if you let them sleep."
She'd let him sleep in the hopes they might subside, but the night terrors had only gotten worse until they reared their ugly head as the events of tonight. Just wait, she said. Wait for the terror to end- wait for everything to stop and return to normal. That wasn't how the world worked, though. It would have to slowly wane away, and in order for that to happen something in the mind had to change. Something had to be there to give it peace- to distract it, and Irene knew all too well that hardly anything would be able to distract him from the guilt he felt for faking his own death.
That was when he realized: the books. And the violin.
"Well, if you insist on staying in here four months, you'll go completely mad without something to do... "
"You brought me those books…" Sherlock said, trailing off. Irene looked up, nodding.
"Yes." She was trying to give him something to distract him, keep him active enough to stop his guilt about John and Mycroft and all those he'd left in London from eating him alive. For a while it might have actually worked. He composed nearly every day now, though it was simply adding to the same piece most times. Books went in and out like letters in a post office, and only every now and then did Sherlock truly dwell on his past life. A scene from that life came back to him as he mulled over what Irene had tried to do, wondered how she could have possibly known…
"You look sad when you think he can't see you."
"You can see me."
"I don't count."
Sherlock wondered just how he looked to Irene. Had his time away from the streets of London softened his resolve? Or was he simply letting his guard down? Did it matter? Yes. It mattered more than anything, because if his guard was dropping, he needed to know why. And it could not be because he trusted Irene Adler- he couldn't afford to do that again.
There was, however, one last thing he needed to ask before he would try to sleep.
"Why tell me this now?" Sherlock shifted slightly so he could turn to look at her. The entire time they'd been together she'd been careful not to divulge too much. He knew a little about her choice in books simply because of what she brought back from the library, and he'd found out some precious few details about her life in London before they left, but as to her family and her past… nothing. Nothing until now.
"Now is when you need to hear it." She said, standing. "Goodnight, Sherlock."
The clock read 5:42AM before Sherlock returned to his bedroom. He'd been sitting, mulling over the things Irene had told him, trying to squeeze more information from it. He was too tired and too shaken to do so, however.
On his way back to bed he glanced in the open door of Irene's room. She'd fallen asleep reading after she left, it looked like. The lamp was still on and he could see her dark hair fanning out on the white pillow. Her chest rose and fell with a cool, rhythmic breathing that came with a peaceful slumber.
She'd been worried about him. Why? Why him, why Sherlock?
Perhaps it was because they were alone, because they were the only thing that each other had in this new, alien, life-but-not-life. Things happened between people when they were forced to be together, he knew. It was simply a side effect. Perhaps it was because he was an interesting case, and he very well knew how Irene liked to play with people's minds.
But could she fake wanting to help him through what had become his own nightmare of a life?
Could she fake such concern?
More than likely.
Could she fake the change in breathing every time he came near?
Could she fake those dark eyes every time he looked at her long enough?
One small slip-up. That was all he needed, and suddenly... the case had almost presented itself. Pity that the case also involved his own feelings, and finding her slip-up had cost him a large one himself. He'd revealed his nightmares, and revealed a weak link.
She'd seen him cry. She'd held him while he cried.
If he wasn't more careful with his footing from now on things could go very, very wrong.
Chapter 5: Year One- November
Year One. Middle of Month Five.
It stormed all day.
Irene came back to the flat completely drenched, as she'd forgotten her umbrella… again. Life in New York was making her less conscious that the weather could still change at the drop of a hat, even if it wasn't quite as utterly… British. A clap of thunder made her jump and lightning split the sky as she walked up the front steps to the apartment complex.
Shutting the door behind her and hanging her coat, Irene placed her wet clothes on the shower rod and changed into a dry sweater and jeans. She sort of wondered where Sherlock was- he'd been holed up in his room all day, and his four months were up, had been for a couple weeks. Shouldn't he be bouncing off the walls wanting to get out? If anything, violin music was always expected whenever she returned, but there wasn't any to be heard today. About the time she stepped into the hall to find him was when the power flickered.
About the time she took the second step was when it went out.
Instinctively she reached for the wall, feeling for the path around the flat. Before she could move, however, it would be a good idea to know where she was headed.
"Hello?" Irene called. Nothing. It was completely dark except for… there he was. He must have found the candles in the cupboard and had them ready for a power outage. She could see Sherlock's shadowy form seated at the kitchen table, and the smell of brewing tea and cigarette smoke became stronger the closer she got.
Danger night. Bad danger night. It was the wrong day for gloomy weather.
"What's today?" She asked, pulling up a chair. "I know it has to be something."
"Kettle's on." Sherlock said, gesturing to the pot sitting by the stove. Irene sighed and pulled out a mug, pouring a cup for herself. Most of the time he preferred coffee, but when he was really upset he'd always go for tea.
"Come on, out with it." She said, sitting beside him. "You smell like smoke again, so what is it?" Though he refused to look at her, she did get an answer.
"John's birthday." Sherlock took a sip from his mug, and rather than put it down, simply held it, turning it round and round in his hands.
Oh, no. John was his best and only real friend. She knew it must be eating him alive that he couldn't talk to him, and though she didn't know exactly what had happened in the graveyard on the day they'd left London, she knew it must have been painful. Even a sociopath had to have feelings some of the time, right? She couldn't just leave him to his brooding. Not tonight.
Maybe it was time to tell him something.
After a long pause she took a deep breath and spoke.
"It's always hard." She said, and he looked up, caught off guard yet again.
"I haven't lost him. John's not dead-"
"No, but you are. Technically." That shut him up quickly. Irene cleared her throat and tried again.
"I lost someone once." She said. "He was a very good friend of mine. Died saving another man's life." She cast a sidelong glance out the window, towards the city. The
gap in the skyline made her very heart ache. Not just for her friend, but for all those who lost their lives and their loved ones.
"Oh, stupid. I'm getting slow." Sherlock said, catching her glance. He must be out of practice. One day about two months ago she'd left before he woke and hadn't returned until late that night, very drunk. He could see the incident in his mind's eye.
Irene had walked through the door at midnight, slamming it shut and locking the deadbolt. She hardly ever drank, but that day Sherlock could smell the alcohol on her. She wasn't walking straight, and rather than go to bed she sat on the couch and cried.
The reason Sherlock didn't drink was because alcohol intensified one's emotions. Irene had proven that within a span of thirty seconds. Sherlock managed to calm her down enough to make sure she was physically alright, and made sure she got to bed. He wasn't exactly sure how drunk she was, so during the night he came in to make sure she would still wake, but then immediately let her sleep again. She woke up with a severe hangover the next morning, but thankfully nothing worse.
When Irene finally came out of her room, she looked a mess. Red-rimmed eyes, messy hair, still smelling of alcohol- but after a long shower all physical traces of the incident were gone. There seemed to be some kind of silent agreement between the two of them never to mention it, because when they saw each other later they both acted as if nothing had happened.
Sometimes he wondered if she'd been too drunk to even remember.
"Fireman? Or police?" Sherlock asked, wondering if she actually remembered that day. He realized now that the date was a few days after the anniversary of the attack on the Twin Towers. He hadn't thought anything of it- she'd never mentioned or indicated anything about it… or had she? The he realized: that night when we were staring at the city… she wasn't looking at the buildings. She was looking at the gap in the skyline.
"Fireman. His name was James." Irene said, not taking her eyes off the skyline. "He was my best friend growing up- my only friend, really. No matter what happened he'd say 'Kit, I'll always hate you, but I'll always love you more. That's how friendship works.'" She smiled at that, a sad, longing smile. At this very moment, with lightning slashing through the sky, talking about something she thought she could never face again, she didn't care how boldly her heart was outlined on her sleeve.
"Katherine?" Sherlock asked, referring to 'Kit.' Thunder rumbled again, rain still pounding on the window.
"Katelyn. That's my real name."
"Why change it?" Sherlock asked. 'Katelyn' had absolutely no resemblance to 'Irene.' She finally averted her gaze from the window and looked at him, half-smiling, half wishing she could cry. She hadn't discussed this with anyone since she went to grief counseling shortly after James' death, but that was just over ten years ago.
"It was James' mother's name, and I loved it. She was more my mum than my biological mother anyways." Silence. Sherlock nodded, realizing this was the same woman who used tea as a cure for nightmares and let her stay at the house when her parents went away, meaning he'd been British and moved here, or she'd grown up in America. He remained completely silent for a moment, thinking about his response.
Just over ten years ago Irene's nightmares had returned from her childhood- the same ones, over and over. The counselor had told her it was triggered by her grief, that she needed to get out more, to move on, but she didn't care. This much was apparent to Sherlock from what she'd told him. What wasn't apparent was that Irene had gone to see James' mother again over those few weeks, and so many years later she would still put the kettle on for her. She'd kept the tradition mostly in honor of James.
"You loved him." He finally said. This time it wasn't a question, it was a statement. Just in the way she talked about him he could tell. If not romantically, she had still loved him very much.
"Yes. I did." She bit her lip, unsure of what to say or do. Her soul was on the table in front of him, and she wondered if he was thinking of cooking and eating it or giving it back, now that ten years' weight was placed on his shoulders to share. In the dim candlelight Sherlock saw her gaze shift, attempting to look him in the eye even through the shadows.
"Hear me out. I know it's not easy, but don't give up on me. You'll get through it." In all honesty, he didn't have choice.
Sherlock held her gaze for a moment, internally stunned at both her revelation and her choice of words. He supposed after so many years keeping silent she was bound to talk to someone, but he never thought she'd open up to him. More about her past than he could possibly have hoped to find out without help had just been thrown out in the open for him, and thrown out by a woman who kept her past more heavily guarded than Fort Knox and Buckingham Palace combined!
Why? Why now? Why me? Well, 'Why me?' was a question he decided to avoid at this moment.
Most of all he was surprised by her choice of wording- 'Don't give up on me.' Not 'Don't give up.' 'Don't give up on me.' Irene must have realized she'd said something, too, because she sighed and leaned against the table, removing her hand.
"Dear Lord, what have I done now? Did I say something?"
"No. Nothing." Sherlock lied. He might be extremely insensitive at times, but he did have a heart, especially when the matter included his own.
"Don't lie." She groaned. "I've always said something or done something when you look at me like that. Same way you looked at me when we were in Mycroft's office that day. It's always relevant. So what was it now?" She looked up, curious.
"Don't give up… on me." Sherlock said with a cough. If he was trying to look nonchalant, it wasn't working. He was close enough to taste her breath, but her shadowed expression seemed to hold something between hope and fear.
"Oh…" Irene sighed. "And what are you going to tell me that means, hm? Because I guarantee I know what you'll say, and it's not what you think it is." He could sift through that information all night and make a thousand deductions about what her past life might have been like, but he'd probably never figure it out for sure alone, and without any resources. However, her immediate condition and choice of words were another story.
A second later the lights flickered back on and they both blinked wildly, eyes adjusting from the dark.
"Power's back on." Sherlock stated simply.
"Yes it is." Irene nodded curtly and stood, walking away without so much as a goodnight.
Sherlock thought over the story she'd told him, turning it over in his mind for more information, which he couldn't get without a computer or without leaving the flat, and that was extremely out of the question. That… woman. She'd given him just enough to taunt him and then left him hanging as to where the rest of it led.
That left at least a good twenty years of mystery to solve.
Only once did the thought cross his mind that in a way, what precious little she'd given him was meant to help him. Only once, and that thought was quickly followed by the fact that it had helped, just a bit, and that thought was quickly extinguished. After that his thoughts went to some other place, ultimately coming to the conclusion that, though Irene Adler was not to be toyed with unawares, she was most definitely, completely human. Yet somehow her emotions seemed to keep her stronger, like a mask made of the very thing it conceals.
On top of being completely human, she was most definitely a fantastic opponent.
Irene nearly grunted aloud as she flopped onto her mattress. Her emotions were beginning to control her, and she didn't like it one bit. When you're cooped up with someone long enough, things do happen… but not for her. This was the very thing Jim had warned her about: don't let anything personal get in the way of business.
Except it wasn't business any longer.
Except it was. And that business was keeping herself intact for three years.
Why had she ever agreed to help him in the first place, Irene wondered? What made her say yes?
As she went off to bed, somewhere in the back of her mind Irene knew that the same reason she had told him yes was the reason that Sherlock had known he needed to jump.
There was something in danger that defied all logical reason.
When human beings are in danger, animal instincts come out. Often the head is overruled by other things…
The human mind is a very complex instrument, able to think and learn at a speed that can top the fastest supercomputer and that centuries of study has yet to fully comprehend. Yes, the human mind is a very complex thing.
Though not as complex, she mused, as the human heart.
A clap of thunder and a flash of lightning later, the lights were out again, leaving the two of them in darkness.
The rain didn't stop until morning.
Chapter 6: Year One- December
Year One. End of Month Six.
Irene lay on the couch, immersed in a book, when a sudden clatter from the kitchen made her yelp in surprise and sit up. On all other accounts she probably wouldn't have thought anything of it, but considering the clock showed about two in the morning… it was probably worth checking out.
The den and dining area were basically one open space, only divided by different types of flooring, and the 'kitchen' was the cabinets, oven, and stove along the wall beside the table. From the dining area a short hallway branched out, along which were the bathroom and their bedrooms, the smaller of which belonged to Irene.
Therefore, it was incredibly easy to see what was going on anywhere in the flat from the kitchen table, and very easy to spy on what was going on in the kitchen from the den.
She shut her book and put down her highlighter, dog earing one page to mark her place, and walked to where the soft light was radiating from the kitchen. Sherlock was making coffee. Again.
He'd taken an almost reversed sleep schedule, oftentimes sleeping till noon or later and staying awake half the night, so it wasn't unusual for him to be up at this hour, but it was unusual for her to join him.
"Merry Christmas to you, too." Irene said with a yawn. She hadn't realized how late it was until a few moments ago. It was easier to become lost in a book these days than it ever had been before- perhaps because there were simply less distractions.
"Coffee?" Sherlock asked without looking. The laptop was open on the table once again- he must have been writing.
"No thanks. You know what they say- stay up too late and Santa won't come." Sherlock rolled his eyes, not that Irene could see, but the sense of distaste was
pervading the room. "Oh, come on- you never tried that? Not even when you were a kid?"
"Never." Sherlock said, beginning to type again. "That was usually Mycroft's job."
It's the end of six months here with Irene.
I have yet to leave the flat, which is probably why my entries only consist of those rare days when either some new development about her past is uncovered, or I feel like writing something down so I don't forget it. John was right, though. Writing everything down is helping to keep me sane, though barely, and only because I know
it might come in handy to have this as a record someday.
Irene was used to the times when he'd completely ignore her by now. Over the past few months they'd become accustomed to each other's habits, including Sherlock staying up at all hours doing things like he was now- typing up a "blog," making coffee, conducting some kind of wild experiment.
Overall, though, she'd begun to have a sort of respect for him. Even after the storm last month he hadn't pressed for more information about James or her 'other life,' as they both casually referred to life before their official deaths, even though she knew it must be driving him insane. He'd simply continued with his usual routine, scrutinizing and typing and scrutinizing some more. Over the months a mutual, silent privacy code had developed- Sherlock had run of the whole house except
Irene's bedroom (not that she thought he'd willingly go in there anyways), and Irene had run of everywhere except the laptop (not that she was sure she wanted to know what was on it).
She's been known to go in and out at all hours lately, but she says her work has dwindled down, so there must be a fair store of cash somewhere in the bank for her to keep up this place. She'd been living here before I came. I honestly don't care enough to pry into exactly what she's doing (nor do I really want to know intimate details considering her line of work), so long as it doesn't involve the government. Again.
Of course, as… impulsive as she might seem, she's smart enough to know that being officially dead requires staying out of public matters.
Sherlock seemed to be completely oblivious to her. Irene looked around the room for something else to focus on- anything- and found the book in her hand. She'd been reading the novelization of V for Vendetta, which was a product of one of her raids on the used book store not too far from their apartment. It was one of those places where you didn't have to worry about being recognized or needing ID, and she frequented it on her way home. A stack was beginning to build up beside her bed, actually.
It was an interesting book. Originally a graphic novel and then a film, and with very compelling themes, the thoughts about rebellion and the outcome of a scared populace with a crooked government fascinated her. She'd read 1984 once, back in high school, and a scenario like that couldn't outlast the turn of the century. But worlds like the one pictured here, and in Fahrenheit 451, and in so many others… it still seemed so real. Frighteningly real. Frighteningly possible.
More so, the bits about masks touched parts of her being that she didn't think still existed.
"For to wear a mask is to give up who we really are and to become, perhaps for just a little while, perhaps for rather longer, the persona that the mask itself appears to represent. The mask. The masquerade…"
Her own mask was becoming worn and overused.
Her fingers ran over and over those lines on the page.
I can see from across the table now that she's reading V for Vendetta. She's obviously been by the book store again- once every couple of weeks a stack of books comes home, and then they're read and dissected with a pen or a highlighter and stored somewhere. Probably in her room.
I can assume she's marking things because she wants her thoughts to be recorded in order to go back to them later. John used to do that; English teachers do that. We're both technically dead- the stress has got to get to her eventually. Self-preservation thoughts eventually take over, so you start… writing things down. You start making a record so that at least if you're really gone one day, they'll be some meager reminder of your existence when others thought you didn't exist.
The problem is that when you do it's like pressing your mind into a book- you can't ever un-write what you wrote. It doesn't matter if you burn it or delete it or chuck it off the edge of the world- it's always there.
Irene shook herself out of her daydream, finally daring to speak again as Sherlock shut his laptop for the night.
"So what did you do, then?" She looked outside, catching a glimpse of the city lights in the distance. Every day she walked through downtown and saw the hustle and bustle of the city around Christmastime... it made her feel a bit sad. She hadn't bothered to celebrate Christmas in years. No point, really.
"Hm?" Sherlock raised an eyebrow, blue eyes wide in questioning.
"For Christmas." Irene clarified, looking away from the window. Sherlock nodded, lips pursed.
"Ah. Mother had the family over and Mycroft played the good child for a day, though it was blatantly obvious he just wanted to look like an angel for the relatives." Sherlock took a sip of his coffee, avoiding her eyes when he spoke.
"And you?" Irene pressed. He knew enough about her- it was time she learned more about him before she gave anything else, and he clearly knew it.
"I hid in the wardrobe reading the entire time. The family wasn't fond of me." He said, smiling softly, but it faded in less than a second. Irene fought back a grin; that sounded exactly like what a young Sherlock might do.
"Funny, I can almost imagine you telling your uncle that your aunt was having an affair because of the dirt on her shoes or something."
"It was the stain on her handbag, thank you very much." Sherlock glanced up, and Irene looked so completely surprised that he chuckled out loud.
"Really." Sherlock said, mimicking Irene's glance out the window. "That's probably why they've made sure never to invite me over again. Or come to our house while I was around, for that matter."
Irene bit her lip, pleased he'd even given out this much information and trying not to laugh all at once. It made her feel terrible, really. She hadn't ever thought about Christmas much, apart from what the family had done when she was a kid. It was lucky to have the time she had, really, considering her parents had died so suddenly. Sherlock was the opposite- his parents were probably still living somewhere and he had a brother, yet he probably never left the flat on such holidays.
Looking at him, just sitting there staring out the window…
He looked so alone.
Something from the book vaguely echoed in Irene's mind... 'Who? Who is but the form following the function of what, and what I am is a man in a mask.'
"Can I ask you a favor?" Irene asked, causing him to turn her way. His eyes narrowed and his eyebrows rose, so she took it as an indication to go on. "Could you play
something?" She nodded towards the violin, which was sitting in one of the armchairs.
"Play what?" Sherlock sounded suspicious, but rose to pick it up nonetheless.
"Anything." Irene shrugged. "Anything you want."
"Why?" Sherlock picked up his bow, fingers itching to play. How did she know? How could she possibly have known?
"Because I'd like to hear." Irene changed her seat from the kitchen table to the couch and gestured for him to start. "Come on. You know you want to."
And that he did, for the rest of the night. Both of them wound up falling asleep at dawn, Irene on the couch and Sherlock in the chair. And if the neighbors happened to knock on the door once or twice during that time span, who's to say that anyone actually heard?
Masks are such a funny thing, Irene had thought as she drifted off. She could sometimes see right through them, and sometimes it was impossible to say what was really behind them. Perhaps someday she'd remove her own. Perhaps not. Her face, it seemed, would forever be hidden in shadow, mask or no mask... there was no one left to bring her back into the light.
When Sherlock did wake up a few hours later, Irene was sleeping soundly, peacefully. He knew she couldn't have been sleeping pleasantly if she was able to stay up half the night with him- her hours of sleep and wake must have been reversed as well. It was a good thing her work had died down, or so she said, because otherwise she'd have to wake up right about now, and the last thing Sherlock wanted to happen was for her to wake up and find him staring at her.
Why was he staring at her?
Didn't really matter, he supposed. Book spread open on lap, Irene looked the picture of fatigue- dark circles that had been there for weeks, though she hadn't bothered to mention anything. Her breathing was deep and regular, though every now and then she would turn, half-awake between sleep cycles, and settle back down.
Maybe it did matter.
Either way, in six months' time he had yet to get a handle on Irene Adler.
He especially had yet to get a handle on how she knew he played the violin when he didn't know what to feel. Sometimes feelings are better expressed in music than in words….
Which would be why there was an unnamed work tucked away in a drawer, unfinished, yet constantly played, that could only be accurately described as music for Irene.
Chapter 7: Year One- January
Year One. Beginning of Month Seven.
End of Month Six, Part Two.
New Year's Eve Day.
"Rise and shine!" Irene pulled open the curtains and light flooded the room. Sherlock had fallen asleep on the couch again, surrounded by papers that ranged from sheet music to archeological studies. He groaned and raised his head, willing his pupils to constrict faster.
"What now?" He sat up slowly and brushed away some of the papers that were literally forming a sort of blanket over him. Irene smiled. She was already dressed and had breakfast going, but she'd waited to wake him so that she'd at least get a shot at having the upper hand.
"It's been over four months. You've read nearly every book I could possibly think to bring you plus a few more, written four short pieces and one very long one for the violin, and who knows what else you're somehow compiling information on. I'm assuming you've been scanning newspapers and taking notes?" She picked up a sheet of paper covered with scrawled, slanted handwriting. Sherlock cleared his throat and stood.
"And your point?"
"We're going out." She said, tossing him a bundle of clothing. "Get dressed."
Sherlock took a second to glance out the window. The entire city was a white wonderland. Two feet of snow, a bi-product of the week's weather, blanketed the city. There was little traffic on the streets- even with the scrapers out working the roads were snowy enough to make people wary of driving. The snow had been there for two or three days, meaning that it would have had time to melt a little and then re-freeze… there would be ice. He walked into his room to go change, mind churning.
So, wherever they were going, they'd be taking the subway if they wanted to get there in any reasonable amount of time. There wasn't much in the way of activities besides a long walk without going into the city, and he seriously doubted Irene was planning a hike through the snow.
What could you do in the snow? Why today? Oh.
With the snow there wouldn't be many people out. If he was worried about being recognized today would be the day to get out. Most of the tourists wouldn't know him and the rest of the population would be preoccupied with the weather. With the tourists out nobody would think anything of a man who looked a little like Sherlock Holmes. And where would most of the tourists be today? Lots would probably be at the theater, but several of the shows had closed and Irene didn't seem like a person for plays- Sherlock himself wasn't. He couldn't manage to sit through one and Irene certainly knew it. That left only one place.
Deciding that it would be best to look as little like himself as possible, Irene had given him a haircut a few days earlier. It was shorter now, and with the added sideburns that he'd decided to keep, Sherlock didn't look near as much like the man in the newspapers. Not to mention he'd ditched the hat.
When he came out Irene had pulled on a brown peacoat and some kind of waterproof boots. Her hair was tied in a low ponytail, and she held a knitted hat and some gloves, which were promptly tossed towards Sherlock. Her own gloves were strung through her coat sleeves, hanging from them like a child's would.
"No doubt you've thought up where we're headed. Let's go."
Irene took off and Sherlock followed, locking the door behind him. A ride on the subway took them downtown, right into the heart of the city- only a few streets from Central Park. The walk through the streets wasn't the most entertaining, but at least there seemed to be a few people out. They passed a market and walked a couple more blocks until they stood at the entrance to Strawberry Fields.
Sherlock was amazed at the sheer number of people outside. New Yorkers seemed to be in harmony in the show, because nothing was keeping the crowds around Central Park inside today. True, he'd expected a few people, but not this many.
"Don't just stand there like a codfish! Let's go." Irene began walking down the narrow path that was gradually being worn out by passerby. Sherlock was simply thankful he'd invested in more practical shoes since he came here- his usual ones wouldn't have stood a chance on the ice. What intrigued him the most was that Irene seemed to know exactly where she was going- he cast a glance at the memorial as they passed, then she turned around and headed who knows where.
Sherlock tried to think about where on earth they could possibly be going, but Central Park was a big place, and there were still several destinations that were within their walking range. He didn't have the entire map of the park memorized, but wasn't there supposed to be someplace important near here?
It didn't take long until he found out. In front of them a long flight of steps led under a bridge, down to the courtyard where the Bethesda Fountain loomed with all its stone and metal glory. The steps still had a fair amount of snow on them, though much of it had been cleared by brooms and other passer-by, but some children had made a sort of snow slide down the far left side. It was now more of an ice slide, actually, because of the thawing and freezing again.
Irene looked over at a group of kids who were trying to get people to slide down their ice ramp. The snow slide was at least six inches off the steps at the thinnest and at a pretty steep glide; she wondered how long it might have taken to make it. Beyond the steps was the fountain she used to frequent when she was a child. She'd also loved the Alice in Wonderland statue, but that was across the park.
"Welcome to Central Park, Sherlock." Irene said, glancing over. She could see his eyes flicking all over the place, looking at everyone and everything, practically drinking in the information. He didn't make much of a response to her comment, but she didn't mind.
"One lesson you have to learn, though…" She continued, "Everyone is about ten years old here." And with that she took about three steps forward and slid down the snow slide, landing slightly unsteadily on her feet at the bottom. She recovered quickly, however, and turned to face back up the steps. The kids cheered and Irene gave a mock bow. Sherlock rolled his eyes, but bit back a small smile as he walked down the steps the proper way.
"Spoilsport." Irene muttered when he was within an earshot. She walked a few paces towards the fountain. Now that the bridge wasn't blocking the view, Sherlock could see the wide courtyard covered in snow. Footprints and indentions from where children had made snowballs dotted the area, but Irene didn't seem to be paying much attention to any of the other people around. She was staring at the fountain, and after a moment or two of that she walked past the fountain and looked across the lake, which seemed to be frozen fairly solid, though everyone knew better than to trust that ice just now.
Sherlock remained silent, leaving Irene in her trance and watching their breaths mingle and curl through the air in puffs of smoke. His feet were beginning to get a little cold, as was his face, but at least he was dry.
"Come on. I have something else to show you." She back up the steps and down another slippery path that ran beside… an enormous rock?
Yes, the path wound beside an enormous rock. Not really a rock, more like a boulder. More like several boulders. Tree roots crawled across the surface, mostly invisible under the snow, but paths where people had climbed over the area revealed them in some places.
"This is a piece of the bedrock that Manhattan sits on. It comes to the surface here, and if I'm right…" She climbed on the rock and made straight for one of the trees, looking at a particular area on the bark- about the height of a seven-year-old child's eye level.
Carved into the tree rather sloppily were the initials KR and JA, not stretched wide from the growth of the tree. Nothing fancy, no hearts, no date, just initials.
"How long?" Sherlock asked, looking over the carving. "Twenty years? More?"
Irene hesitated, running her fingers over the carving. She hadn't had the heart to come to this spot since she first came to New York, so why was she showing him of all people? Nothing to lose, she supposed.
"James Adler." Sherlock said softly from behind her. "You took his name." Irene simply nodded, offering no further information. A thousand thoughts flashed through his head in an instant, the foremost of which involving him getting a good look at her left hand… Any other theories that might ensue depended on that one fact.
"Nineteen." She finally dropped her fingers from the carving. "Nineteen years to the day."
That was why she came here. It wasn't just the snow or the crowds or the possibility of getting out without being recognized- she came here… why? Just to bask in the memories? No, this was hard. This was emotionally hard on her. It was obvious that Irene's last trip to this place had been a very long time ago, but she still knew exactly where the tree was. There are some things people just don't forget- won't forget. She wouldn't come here for just any reason on just any day, or, he realized, with just anyone.
Why did she want him to see?
"We were nine." She continued without looking back at Sherlock. "He got a pocket knife for Christmas. He was so proud… and we came to the park to play in the snow, but he ran off this way. When he showed me the carving he said 'Look, Kit, now they'll always know we were here.'"
"You grew up in New York?" Sherlock hadn't been expecting that, not with her accent. She finally turned to look at him, wiping the glaze of past memories off her face and replacing it with a mysterious half-smile.
"Yes and no." Suddenly her gaze shifted to past his shoulder, on the silhouette of someone walking down the path in the distance. Someone whistling. And someone who definitely should not be here. "Get down!" Irene shoved him behind one of the larger 'lumps' in the rock, flat on his stomach in the snow.
Mycroft Holmes was less than ten yards away.
"What's Mycroft doing in New York?" Irene whispered.
"Something for the government." Sherlock said, disgusted. The man worked six bloody jobs, he was sure of it. "Probably- wait. What are you doing?" Irene was packing something in her hands, and Sherlock was hoping she wasn't doing what he thought she was.
"I'm chucking a snowball at him, what does it look like?"
"You do realize that if he sees us we're literally going to be dead, right?" Sherlock asked, putting a hand on her arm to try to keep her from throwing.
"We're already dead." She said, shaking out of his grasp. "Besides, how often do you get the chance to pelt a snowball at your brother?" Fair point, Sherlock supposed. Popping up above the rock for a moment, she aimed, threw, and hit Mycroft square in the shoulder. She was back down before he could see her. When he looked around for the person who threw the snowball, he only saw some people in the distance and empty space in the immediate area.
"Alright." Sherlock picked up a handful of snow. "I'm not letting you do this without me." In a moment another snowball was flying towards Mycroft, smacking into his lower back.
"Alright, who's there?" Mycroft called. Irene stifled a laugh and Sherlock managed to smile. "Come on, I know you're there!" Mycroft turned in a circle, looking for the perpetrators, and in the process was pelted by three more snowballs.
Unfortunately, this allowed him to lock on to the direction they were coming from. Irene grabbed Sherlock's hand, trying not to laugh out loud, and mouthed 'run.' By the time Mycroft reached their hiding place the only trace left was a trail of footprints.
Awfully big for children…
Later that night Sherlock sat at the kitchen table, window open, looking out at the city. The clock read 11:50. The last ten minutes of the year.
Years had never been all that important to him- life was life. You can't backtrack, you can't start over, but now it seemed like all he had were these years. This time. This fresh start.
Too fresh a start for his taste.
Irene walked in, breaking his train of thought with the quiet thump of her footsteps. It was amazing how what used to be so unimportant drew so much attention- the sound of footsteps, the clattering of dishes, the collapsing of a pile of books onto the floor (which had happened on numerous occasions, actually).
"I thought we needed something stronger than cigarettes tonight." She produced a bottle of wine and two glasses, knowing Sherlock didn't drink. However, tonight he felt like making an exception. Perhaps it was the day, perhaps the company. He preferred not to dwell for just this moment.
The clock read 11:53.
"Here's to…" Irene began, unable to think of a proper toast. "Here's to the afterlife." She concluded.
"The afterlife hasn't started yet." Sherlock half smiled, turning his glass in his hand. "We're riding in limbo land. Our afterlife doesn't start until we're technically alive again." His gaze cut to Irene, who conceded with a shrug that said quite plainly, 'fair enough.'
"Alright. Then here's to whatever's in between."
"To the in between."
Glasses clinked and wine was downed, and glasses clinked no more, except against the rim of the bottle as more wine was poured, entirely on Irene's part. The New Year wasn't one of her best moments, what with everyone talking of starting over and making changes. She almost wished she could really start over- drown her past in the rest of the wine and forget… but that's never possible, nor is it a good idea.
Sherlock smoked a cigarette, thinking of the last New Years' he'd had at Baker Street. Maybe time would make it easier to get on with everything. For now he couldn't take the memories, which were raw and reddened and stung when touched, like ugly sores left from a life long passed. In a way, they were. But unlike real sores, no amount of physical care would be able to help them heal. Only time, with its ever-ticking seconds, might serve to numb the pain.
The clock struck midnight, silent as the grave.
Irene was watching.
"Happy New Year." She said, a mischievous glint in her eye. Sherlock had just enough time to register that she was too close for comfort. He'd never given the tradition a second thought until then.
For a moment he wondered why he'd felt his pulse speed up.
For a moment he wondered why time had seemed to slow down.
For a moment he wondered why his eyes had fluttered closed as she pressed against him tenderly.
But he never wondered why, in those fleeting seconds, he'd kissed her back.
And then a moment later Irene walked off to bed, leaving Sherlock standing alone, cigarette in hand, thinking thoughts he wished were out of the question.
The funny thing about in between is that it's so easy to settle into. When it comes, it comes like lightning, with flashes and fire and surprise, but when it goes, it goes like the storm, too… gradually. Sometimes you don't even notice, just like you don't notice the storm once it's been raging long enough. Only the absence in the aftermath causes your attention to be drawn once again.
Neither Sherlock nor Irene expected to notice when this particular in between came to an end.
Not until eleven seconds past midnight on January 1st, 2012.
Chapter 8: Year One- February
Year One. Middle of Month Eight.
"Sherlock, you've got a bloody cold! Can you stop being so stubborn for long enough to realize you're sick?" Irene nearly threw something at him, but considering she was holding a chopping knife it probably wasn't the best idea.
Sherlock was sitting in the armchair sulking. She'd been fighting with him for two days just to get him to sit down and rest! The man had the worst timing and the most hard-headed resolve she'd ever seen. Brainy is the new sexy, she’d said. She almost laughed, though, looking over at him now- droopy eyes with dark circles underneath, stuffy nose, sore throat, the works. After their outing on New Years' he'd gone out to do something practically every day, resulting in his being stuck in
the freezing rain earlier this week, and now… this resulted.
There hadn't been any mention of the other happening that night. No point, she presumed. An alcohol-induced anomaly.
Irene had taken the week off (amazing thing, working for yourself) in order to keep Sherlock from getting pneumonia. She was currently fixing chicken noodle soup in the hopes she might be able to get him to eat something.
In truth, the better part of his days out he'd been out looking for information on her, or rather, on her past. He knew her first name and last initial now, and with a little luck and a lot of time at the library, he'd been able to dig up some information… information that he'd yet to confront her with.
Her name was Katelyn Raynes. After figuring out she'd grown up in London and New York it hadn't been too hard to track down records. If she'd had a friend in New York she probably had gone to boarding school here, which would explain her knowing Central park, nightmares while staying over at a friend's house, and the bit about growing up in a rich family (who would have enough money to send her to a nice school easily), so he'd run a search for "Katelyn R" in all the schools in this area. She'd gone to a special arts magnet school until she graduated high school, but the records about her college education had been quite well sealed. He didn't know where, but it seemed she'd earned a degree in political science.
There were bits about her in the papers every now and then. The first he found announced the death of her friend in the tragedy when the Twin Towers fell. The second was the engagement of her parents. The last one was a bit harder to dig up- very hard, but he wanted- needed- to know.
It announced an engagement to the late James Adler.
The next few days continued in the same fashion- chicken soup, correcting the telly, and Irene and Sherlock fighting not to punch each other, as they usually did at least once a day whenever they spent a lot of time together. One morning, however, Sherlock did get up before Irene. When she finally woke up, she was surprised to find him sitting on the sofa muttering quiet insults at the telly. Well, not so much correcting the news, more the being awake part. Most of his days had been spent asleep- if he was awake it meant he felt like being active.
"Feeling better?" Irene took a seat on the couch beside him.
"Yes, thank you." He certainly looked better. Almost completely normal, actually, if a little tired. The news switched to a blonde reporter saying something about Valentine's Day.
"Oh, good lord." Irene said, rolling her eyes. "Not this rubbish."
"Valentine's Day, was that today?" Sherlock asked. She wouldn't have expected him to remember. In all honesty she herself usually forgot, even back in high school when she had dates… now she just didn't bother anymore.
"Looks like it." They sat in silence for a minute, listening to some useless jabber coming from the same blonde reporter.
"What do people usually do for that? Flowers or something?" Sherlock scrunched his nose with distaste, and Irene fought the urge to smile. Her bespoke sociopath, he was.
"Sometimes, I suppose. I haven't done anything in years-" She turned to look at him and was caught off guard, suddenly very aware of how close he was, very aware of how of how intently he was looking at her. "No reason to."
The words came out as a whisper, so close that Sherlock could feel her breath on his lips. Irene's brown eyes flicked back and forth across his face, locking in a gaze with his own blue ones. Even in the dim lighting Irene could see something that made her want to do several things, one of which was to run very, very far away.
Sherlock's eyes were dark.
Love is a dangerous disadvantage.
"Irene…" Sherlock started to say something, but trailed off.
"Yes?" Their eyes were still locked, neither one wanting to pull away. Hearts beating, masks off, only inches apart…
But a man who wears a mask can only survive so long without it, and their time was running short.
Irene blinked several times and pulled back, clearing her throat. Sherlock mimicked her motion, trying to clear out his head. It was the perfect moment for Irene to slip in what needed to be said.
"I need to show you something." Irene said, grabbing his hand and hurrying off to her room, Sherlock in tow. He'd never actually been in her room, come to think of it.
Inside it was fairly plain. Stacks of books, a bed with blankets, a closed closet with a mirror on the door…
There were also dozens of papers pinned up on a set of three corkboards that spanned the width of the largest wall. At a glance it was easy to tell that she'd been tracking someone. It looked like she had about a month's worth of information pinned up, complete with a map and come files that didn't look like they should be available to the public.
"You've been tracking Mycroft since we saw him in Central Park." He said bluntly, glancing around at the papers tacked onto the walls.
"Oh, don't act surprised. I know you'd been following me for a week before you got sick." She plopped down on the edge of her bed, facing the wall covered in papers. "What do you make of it?"
At first glance Sherlock could tell exactly what was going on, and it was not good. Not good at all.
"He's looking for someone." Sherlock turned in a circle, trying to put on the illusion of being deep in thought.
"Don't be stupid. You know as well as I do who he's looking for." Irene bit her lip, glancing over at him, but Sherlock refused to look at her. "He's figured out I'm not dead, Sherlock."
"You don't know that."
"You do." Irene rose, pointing at papers while she spoke like an instructor teaching a struggling student.
"Look. Look at this activity! I know you're not blind." Irene stood directly in front of him and took his chin in her hand, forcing him to look her in the eye. They both
knew what was about to happen- what she was about to do.
"Don't." Sherlock snatched her wrist, the same on that had previously been guiding his jaw, and held it with both hands.
"I have to."
"Yes. Don't try to play the fool with me, Sherlock, you're much too clever to pull off that role."
He couldn't let her do it. It was the only way out in one sense, but in another it might land her in more trouble than she could be in if she was found here. He knew why- Mycroft, as daft as he seemed, was smart enough to figure out that Sherlock wouldn't be able to slip back into living anywhere without help, and who better to get help from than someone who's already done it themselves? Someone who perhaps owed him a favor. Someone like Irene Adler, whose death, come to mention it, had no hard records surrounding it. Yes, that would be the perfect ally, and where better to start looking than the place that people like to disappear in? Sherlock knew exactly what was coming. He could see the edge of the bag poking out from under her bed.
She was going to run.
"I'm coming with you."
"No, you're not."
"I know Mycroft. I know exactly where he'll go and how he'll go about it." Sherlock let her hand drop.
"And I'm a big girl. I can manage by myself. You have to stay here- I'll come back at the end of your three years and help you get back to London."
Sherlock didn't see much point in arguing. There would be enough time to detain her and perhaps even change her mind… but wait. No, there was no time.
"When are you leaving?"
"Two days." Liar. Her bags were packed and she'd showed him the information. She wouldn't waste valuable time, she'd leave tonight. Rather than confront her, Sherlock simply nodded and walked from the room.
Around one o' clock in the morning Irene walked from her room, duffel bag and shoes in hand in order to make a silent exit. As her hand touched the doorknob, a light flicked on behind her and she yelped.
Sherlock was sitting in the chair, waiting, like a parent who's caught their child sneaking out.
"You scared me."
"That's the idea." He rose and walked over to her, shaking her bag from her grasp. His face was shadowed in the dim lighting, but there were clear lines across his forehead. Lines from worry… fear… what? She felt his hand wrap around her own, similar to the way he'd held it back in Mycroft's office what seemed like a lifetime ago.
In reality it was a lifetime.
She laced her fingers between his and squeezed softly.
"You should have known I'd be here." Sherlock said. In all actuality she had expected him, though she'd thought he'd have barricaded the door or been waiting outside. There wasn't any point in telling him- it might ruin her backup plan.
"Sherlock…" Her hand was gently, slowly, reluctantly freed from his grasp as she looked long and hard into his pale blue eyes.
"Let me go."
"I…" Sherlock swallowed hard, clearing his throat. He couldn't say it. He wouldn't say it. Saying anything of the sort would mean dropping his mask, letting go, showing something that hadn't been shown and shouldn't be shown. Things that defied the logical mind and twisted all reasoning…
The only thing that made it worse was that Irene knew. She knew what he couldn't say and she knew why it should never be said. There was a small, sad smile on her face as she nodded slowly.
I know. So much sentiment- so much empathy. So much understanding. She knew why he couldn't say it, but she knew why he needed to. The same feelings were twisting around inside them, turning and bending, evoking emotions that neither of them thought it was possible to feel, and now here she was, brandishing the knife, ready to cut the ties forever and let that part stay long dead and buried in the grave deep in the corners of their souls…
And she knew because she herself didn't want to do it.
Then something happened that, in all his planning and understanding, Sherlock didn't expect.
There wasn't any time to think before her lips were pressing against his, but gently, slowly, giving him a moment to register what was happening.
When he finally does it takes him only a second to start kissing her back.
She loved the feel of him, warm and soft against her. One of her hands slipped under his jacket, moving up his chest until it rested against his heartbeat. Sherlock wasn't sure what to do with his hands- they were working of their own accord, pulling her closer and closer until every part of her was pressed against him. Not that Irene really minded... Mouths opened, tongues tangled, and solid resolves crumbled in a sudden wave of heat and adrenaline that was most definitely not supposed to be there.
He smelled like cigarette smoke, and the realization made her want to cry.
It also made her realize that she was becoming quite distracted. Embarrassingly distracted. For, in fact, what Sherlock hadn't expected was actually Irene's plan B.
"I'm very sorry." Irene murmured against Sherlock's lips.
The next thing he felt was a stabbing needle and the familiar wash of a strong drug. He pulled back, shocked, but more so to see the look on her face than from the
effects of the drug.
She was truly sorry.
Irene caught him when he fell to the floor, placing a note in his hand and a kiss on his forehead, and then was gone...
Lost in the dark like a shadow on a moonless night.
Chapter 9: Year One- March
Year One. Month Nine.
I would tell you not to try and follow me because it's for your own safety, but I know that's pointless because you will anyway. You bloody idiot.
I'm going away, no doubt you'll find me sometime, but please… stay undercover. Mycroft wants to get a hold of me, and I know he knows you're alive, but don't risk exposing yourself. No doubt if I'm found and you're with me there will be some great scandal, and then someone is bound to want your head on a platter again. But, as I said… you're an idiot, so I know you'll be right on my tracks.
By the time you wake up I'll have at least twenty-four hours on your start.
Anyways, I've left you a present on the table.
March 4, 2012
Sherlock walked through the streets of Virginia Beach, Irene's letter in his pocket. He'd only read it once but he knew it by heart nonetheless. Her "present" was her copy of V for Vendetta, covered in highlights and scrawled handwriting, which was now tucked inside his coat pocket. Irene had annotated her books like mad, and it was taking him twice as long as usual to read a paragraph because he'd stop and read every word of that scrawled handwriting, analyze every highlight. On the ride there he'd started reading it, his mind churning- why had she given him this?
Mycroft hadn't found him yet, which had served to be in his advantage. While his brother could still be tracked, Sherlock himself was invisible. The pages of notes previously pinned on Irene's wall had been stuffed into an organizer and taken with him, now safely at the bottom of his pack.
It hadn't been hard to figure out where Irene had been going. In order to hide she'd need either a large city or a town so rural that it was off 95% of the maps. An airplane flight would create records, but a cab ride paid for in cash (of which he was sure she had a large amount) was almost completely anonymous, especially if you changed cabs on the way. She still had her fake ID, so it was safe to withdraw money from a bank in most cases, but she would probably want to leave as little a trail as possible. This early in the morning she would have taken the subway as far as she could go out of the city and then caught the earliest bus or cab out of town.
The best place to head was South, away from the city, because crossing the border would again require records. Far enough South would require a scheduled bus ticket, which would take time to get depending on how far she planned to go, but you could probably get as far as Virginia or Tennessee without a problem. With all that taken into consideration the best hiding place within 24 hours of driving was Virginia Beach, Virginia.
Most of the bigger, more prestigious cities in the southern states were your classic East Egg villages, with beautiful houses and historical sites, but none of them offered a very good place to hide. Virginia Beach, however, was modern, urban, and offered a very good hiding place within the city.
Yes, she was here. It was just a matter of finding out where.
And it was taking him rather too long for his liking.
February 15, 2012.
Irene hurried down the drive to the large, white house that she hadn't seen in years, hiding on the outskirts of New York City. She'd taken the subway within twenty blocks and walked the rest of the way, carrying her bag and thankful she'd dressed in practical shoes. The house was extremely posh- wrought iron fence, video surveillance, the whole nine yards, so when she rang the buzzer on the outer gate at 2AM, naturally there was concern.
"Miss, are you aware of what time it is?" A gruff, groggy voice came through the intercom.
"I need to speak with Mrs. Adler. It's urgent." Irene checked over her shoulder to make sure no one had followed her. There was a kind of scoffing noise coming from the com, like the guard couldn't believe she was this senseless. He obviously didn't know who he was talking to.
"Mrs. Adler is asleep!"
"Then wake her up!" The words came louder than she'd expected, and Irene cast another glance over her shoulder.
"I don't believe you understand, Miss. Mrs. Adler is asleep, and unless you get out of here right now-"
"Tell her Katelyn Raynes is here." There was a clear sound of the microphone being dropped from the other end of the line. Irene, exasperated but determined, allowed a small smile to sneak through. On the records, Katelyn Raynes no longer existed… No doubt mum had been expecting her.
"Hold on." The intercom clicked off and the gates rattled open. Only a moment later the front door followed suit, and the light spilling forth framed a silhouette
unseen by Irene for ten years.
Mrs. Irene Adler. The Irene Adler. The first Irene Adler. Or, as the woman who used to be Katelyn Raynes knew her…
"Hello, mum." She dropped her bag as the older woman embraced her, rocking her back and forth just like she used to. Of course, she wasn't her real mum, but considering most of her childhood was spent in this very house with her as a mother figure, she'd just come to call her that. Mrs. Adler had always wanted a second child, she said, but her husband died when James was four, so she'd never had the chance. She was everybody's mum, really. Anyone who knew her called her that, sometimes even those who were older than she, and it was very apparent why. Even after ten years, she still held Irene like a child, and with all the love she'd ever given her.
"Hello, Kit. What took you so long?" Mrs. Adler let her go, picked up Irene's bag, and ushered her inside, shutting the door behind them. She was still in her nightgown with only a thin robe providing any warmth, a severe contrast to Irene's dark coat and blue jeans. After looking Irene up and down, mum came to a conclusion.
"You can explain it to me while I put the kettle on." Mum nodded matter-of-factly and Irene smiled. She always did put the kettle on.
A few minutes later both women were seated at the kitchen counter with mugs of tea in hand. Irene's slender finger circled the top of her mug, while Mrs. Adler
sipped hers thoughtfully.
"Just like old times." Irene said, taking a sip. It was as sweet as candy. "And you still love the sugar."
"Honey, I grew up in the South. If you cut me I think I'd bleed sweet tea." She laughed, her southern roots pronounced now. The only reason Mrs. Adler live in New York was because she'd moved here when she married. After James was born she'd made ties to people, such as Irene's parents in England, and along with the life she wanted for her son she simply couldn't bear to leave. However, she never did let go of her southern ties.
"Mum… I need to ask you something." Irene looked up from her mug, hoping she wouldn't sound terrible when she said this.
"What is it?"
"You know that package I sent you for safekeeping? I need it." Irene held her gaze for a moment before mum responded.
"What have you gotten into now?" Mrs. Adler had to fight to keep her jaw from dropping. Regardless, she stood and walked to the pantry, where Irene knew there was a sliding panel in the wall. No doubt her package was behind it.
"Let's just say most of the world thinks I'm dead. It's probably better for you if you don't know anything more than that." A small box was removed from the pantry and placed in Irene's hands. Some kind of wordless communication passed between the two women, like a warning or a whispered prayer.
"Be careful, my girl."
Irene simply nodded, said her goodbyes, and left, hoping that nothing terrible would come to the woman who had loved and nurtured her, and whom she still loved so much.
March 4, 2012.
Sherlock wandered down to one of the piers, wondering if he'd ever find a lead. He'd checked every hotel in the area, plus a few likely hiding spots, but his search had turned up nothing. Staring out at the blank, gray ocean, he wondered if his mind was becoming as foggy as the scenery seemed to be today.
"Are you Harold?" A voice cut into his thoughts from behind him, and Sherlock turned, confused. Then he suddenly remembered- Harold Ibson was the name on his records now. There was a man in a hat, who looked like he worked at the pier standing behind him.
"Yes. Why?" Sherlock looked him up and down. Not rich, middle class, probably struggling for money during the off season. Easy enough to pay to deliver a message, which was exactly what he was doing. The man produced a cream colored envelope, gesturing for Sherlock to take it, and then quickly left before he could be questioned.
The message inside was written on hotel stationary with an ink pen, though exactly where it was from didn't matter at the moment.
If you're reading this then it means I was right. You're on the right track.
If you're reading this it also means you've just missed me. I delivered this message at about 9:00 this morning, right before I left town.
You might want to do some reading. You're in for a long ride.
Fantastic. Sherlock nearly threw the not on the ground and trampled it. He was so close- something was getting in the way of his rational thought, he was sure of it.
He'd had far too much of Irene playing his emotions.
This chase wasn't about love, it was about pride. It was about tracking her down and making her talk, and possibly saving her life… again. And figuring out why on earth she wanted him to read that blasted book!
Well, that's what he told himself.
Slipping into her seat on the bus, Irene wasn't sure where she was going anymore. In all honesty she'd just bought a ticket to the first bus headed away from the city and towards the south, which happened to be a tour bus on the way to St. Augustine. The first stop was several hours away, so she thought about sleeping, but no, sleep eluded her.
Why had she waited so long to leave?
The logical part of her brain was screaming to her that she needed to run, she needed to move, but for some reason she'd stayed in Virginia Beach for just over two weeks before leaving. She liked to think it was because of the atmosphere- being near the ocean, maybe, but some part of her knew that the real reason was probably chasing her down right now.
After about an hour it started to rain, pattering against the windows in the sad, lonely voice that rain always seems to have. There weren't many people on the bus, so Irene had a seat to herself, but people kept looking over at her, seeming to wonder what she was doing. Why was she here? Where was she going? Well, she was running… but what from?
Did she really know herself?
She'd planned well for her departure. Paid the rent in advance, worked out a deal with the landlady. The only thing she hadn't planned for was a foggy mind, and she didn't like it one bit.
Rather than sleep, Irene curled up with one of her books. She'd brought a few novels for the ride- only three or four, as there were more important things to fit in her duffel. Fahrenheit 451 was her companion for this rainy ride.
She knew the story well enough to quote it, but stories like that were comforting sometimes. She related to the ending of the story now more than ever…Montag- all alone- making his departure down river on a floating suitcase, away from the terrors of society and the mechanical hound. Funny, Irene had been alone for a long time, and she was beginning to think she was perfectly alright with it…
According to the map the next stop was in Manteo, North Carolina. That was about two and a half hours away. They would stay there for a few days and then move on to Charleston, South Carolina.
It should be enough time to figure out if she wanted to be found or not.
Chapter 10: Year One- April
Year One. Month Ten.
Still in Manteo.
Irene kept telling herself she was completely rubbish as a fugitive- she kept staying in one place for too long. This town had successfully detained her another three weeks, now brushing up against the beginning of April. She'd left the previous tour bus, but soon enough there would be another one heading south. Who knows… she'd been looking forward to seeing Charleston; she might head there.
No sign of Sherlock.
Her fingers briefly clutched the locket around her neck, just checking to see that it was still there. It was the one item she always kept with her- the item from the package at Mrs. Adler's house. No one ever suspects anything of a woman with a locket.
Today was his last chance. She might leave him another note, she might not.
The bus for Charleston was leaving tonight at midnight.
She'd have to take a sleeping pill for the ride- otherwise she was afraid she might get off before the bus even left.
He'd found her.
Why on earth was she sticking around- did she want Mycroft to find her? He refused to believe she wanted to be found by anyone, especially either one of the Holmes brothers. She did well not to leave a trail, but he'd been tracking her for weeks. He knew where she went, and he also knew she looked ready to leave when she walked away from the small motel with her bag, late at night.
Still heading south, he presumed, and his suspicions were confirmed when he heard her purchase a ticket for Charleston. After a minute or two he followed suit, and was informed that the bus was leaving in twenty minutes.
Irene had already boarded, but Sherlock was careful to be one of the last ones on. The bus was traveling at night to avoid traffic, so most of the passengers had already settled into sleeping positions for the seven hour drive. Irene was one of them, curled up in a seat near the back with her coat draped over her, eyes closed.
Not asleep, but close.
The bus was nearly empty, so Sherlock took the seat across from her, hoping to seem less conspicuous. He could feel V for Vendetta sliding around in his coat pocket, so he took it out and flipped through the pages in the dim lighting. He was slightly over halfway through now.
Most of the notes and highlights were about V and his mask- cryptic phrases from Shakespeare about government and power and identities. Irene's notes seemed to circle more and more around the conclusion that V's mask wasn't something he used to hide or to shy away from things- it was simply protection. Like Irene's information protected her, and like his own mask protected him.
Within a few minutes the lights in the coach went out and they were off.
Around 5AM (or at least that's what Irene thought the numbers on the clock read, she was a little groggy from sleeping) the bus made a stop and picked up more passengers. Quite a few more passengers, apparently, because a voice over the speakers was asking if they would all please share seats. Irene groaned mentally and snuggled down in her coat more when she felt someone take the seat beside her. She hadn't checked to see who was riding the bus like she usually did, though she usually hadn't caught midnight buses and actually tried to sleep on them.
Something was making her uneasy about this. In actuality, it could be the sleeping pill making her thinking slow, but something was still nagging at her even in that semi-conscious state of mind. In her logical brain it didn't quite register that the person beside her had the weight of a man, or that he smelled like cigarette smoke. It didn't even register properly when that person traced his fingers down the hand that wasn't under her coat. No, the situation hardly registered at all until she felt a hot breath against her ear whisper in a hushed voice…
"Wake up, Irene."
She nearly jumped out of her skin! There was only one person who that voice could possibly belong to, and he was grinning smugly beside her, evident even in the dark.
"Sherlock." The name came out as a sort of strangled gasp. Irene huffed and made a mental note not to use sleeping pills that were quite so strong anymore. Rather than make any more comments she punched him in the shoulder.
"Good to see you, too." Sherlock whispered indignantly.
"That was for nearly scaring the life out of me!" A chorus of "Shhh!" issued from the front of the bus and she scowled.
"I'm not the one who stabbed someone with a syringe." Though she didn't want to admit it, Irene knew Sherlock had a fair point. She also knew she was a complete idiot for not moving along more quickly.
"Oh, now's not the time for this." Irene said, sulkily curling back up into her ball.
"What else were you planning on doing?"
"Sleeping." Irene pulled a face that she was nearly positive Sherlock couldn't see. His hand had moved during the course of their conversation, and somehow it had ended up holding hers in an almost comforting way.
"Took you long enough." Irene finally made her sole real comment on the whole matter, not quite willing to let his hand go as she drifted back into her drugged sleep. She'd expected him to find her sooner.
No, not expected… wanted.
So why had she done it? If she didn't want him coming with her then why had she stayed in one place for so long? But on the other hand, if she did want him to come why had she taken such precautions to make sure he stayed at the flat?
She was playing the game.
But no, not anymore. If this was a game, it was Jumanji, and every aspect of it was quickly becoming far too real for her liking.
New York, New York. March, 2012.
Mycroft Holmes walked into the deserted flat, led by the landlady. It had apparently been paid for in advance, but as to why… it was a mystery. Perhaps they intended to come back, perhaps not. They had most definitely left town, which made Mycroft's blood boil- so close and yet so far, the saying goes. Either way, the courts had granted him a search warrant (based upon the simple fact that it might involve his dead brother and a dangerous woman who liked to meddle in the government) and he intended to make the most of it.
He would be severely disappointed, however, upon finding that there wasn't much to make the most of. A few blankets, a few articles of clothing in both the closets.
A violin, obviously Sherlock's, a stack of books in one bedroom, obviously Irene's… But oh, what's this?
It was just sitting on the kitchen table, out in the open. A bad sign, considering how clever Sherlock was and how well-planned Irene's schemes were, but he still couldn't resist. Upon turning it on he found that the username read "Hello, Mycroft," and a password was required.
He knew his brother was good, and he also knew there was no way he'd be able to get onto that laptop without him. He also knew that if Sherlock had planned for it, there was probably something he needed on the hard drive.
However, Irene was involved in this, he was sure. There was no need to risk opening the casing or trying to get information out of the hard drive without thoroughly examining what security measures had been taken.
What were they planning? And why was Sherlock helping her?
The footing would be treacherous from here on in, trying to track down Irene without exposing his brother's "death" to the world. Oh, and Sherlock knew it, too.
But what he didn't know was that there was something far worse on their trail than Mycroft, something far worse than even Jim Moriarty.
"Poor man," Mycroft thought, "he can't even judge his own heart."
"So, where are we headed?" Sherlock asked upon stepping down from the bus.
"We?" Irene raised her eyebrows. "We are not going anywhere. You are going back to New York and I am going-" Suddenly she stopped, realizing she had no clue
exactly where she was going. Whenever you could go anywhere there was less chance you wanted to go at all, really.
"Yes?" Sherlock fought a smile, knowing she wouldn't be able to conjure a valid point, much less get him back to New York. Besides, Mycroft would have found the flat by now. He'd also have been likely to take the bait.
"Somewhere. Anywhere. I don't know- but you can't come! It's dangerous. If I'm discovered it's not a big deal- there aren't any suspicious circumstances around my death, but you…" Irene shook her head, beginning to walk down the street towards wherever she was going. "Think logically. There are plenty of people out there who still want to kill you."
"Oh, and there aren't any after your head? You've meddled in the government for how long now?" Sherlock kept a quick pace, matching her stride for stride, and somehow Irene knew there was no point in running.
Ten years, Irene thought. Ever since James died. The world had become a bit of a game after that- psychological effect, the doctors told her. Meddling in people's lives, trying to control things she couldn't control… or at least things they thought she couldn't control. They said tendencies that might have been repressed earlier could be brought out by a traumatic event. Overall, though, she liked it. She found her job to be extremely fun at times… but unfortunately, now was not one of them.
It was dangerous here. It wouldn't be any advantage if Sherlock stayed, and it might very well wind up getting him killed. Unbeknownst to him, Irene did have a little bit of protection on her side, but Sherlock… nothing. There was absolutely nothing to stop someone who wanted him killed from killing him, especially now that he was technically dead already. Her resolve was crumbling more and more every day, and it wasn't something she liked, but by all that was left in her, Irene would get him back where he belonged if she had to pack the man in bubble wrap and ship him there!
After a block or so Irene took a turn down one of the alleys, whirled around quickly, and pinned Sherlock against a brick building, hands on his shoulders.
"Please, please… just go home. You have to trust me-"
"Give me one reason I have to trust you." Sherlock looked her in the eye, hard and cold. The same old Sherlock, all evidence of any time spent together now gone. It almost didn't seem fair, but then she remembered who she was looking at, and what she'd done… and how she couldn't bear to have anything happen to him, even
though she would never say it aloud.
"I saved your life."
"Repaying a dept."
"I haven't given you away all this time."
"Your safety was at stake, too."
Irene took her hands away from his shoulders, slumping to the ground, head in her hands. She couldn't let him stay. This was a job for one, a life for one. When you run you look out for you- sympathy makes you weak. Why did he even bother after everything that went on?
"So if you don't trust me why bother tracking me down?" She muttered against her fingers.
"Because I don't trust you." Sherlock leaned against the building, gazing down at Irene, amazed at how small she looked. He hadn't thought that was possible for her.
"And because you can't do this alone."
They both knew it was probably true. The only thing Irene really had running for her was that the British government couldn't legally come into the country and conduct an independent search for her. However, there was the CIA and the FBI, and they very much so could conduct a search. She was smart, but three years was a long time, and being on your own can make you insane.
Being insane was the last thing that someone like Irene needed- emotionally unstable, on the run- sometimes she thought she was halfway there already.
All these thoughts flashed through their minds in exactly two seconds' time.
"Can't I?" Irene looked up, a challenge.
"Mark my words."
Chapter 11: Year One- May
Year One. Beginning of Month Eleven.
St. Augustine, Florida.
Sherlock and Irene had been on the move since Charleston. They would take a bus or a car if they needed to get somewhere fast, but mostly walking was the preferred mode of transportation. The good thing about traveling through the south was that there were enough back roads and shortcuts to get you anywhere you wanted to go if you had enough time to travel on foot. Most times places to sleep were easy to come by, but every once in a blue moon they might have to improvise.
If they got too far from a town before nightfall they could usually hitch a ride on the main road, though.
In her spare time Irene was working on some sort of system to make any withdrawals from her bank account trace directly back to New York. She assumed (quite correctly) that it wouldn't be a good idea at all to carry a large amount of cash with her, so she needed some way to access her funds. It was still in progress, as the only time she had to work on the code were those few hours she could sneak away from Sherlock and into a library or an internet café. Sherlock knew she was working on it, of course, but he'd decided to just let her have the space for now.
He'd almost given up on V for Vendetta. He didn't need to finish the book to know that Evey wasn't actually being tortured by the government or to know exactly what would happen to V. Predictable, that's all it was, and when put with Irene's notes, bloody cryptic. Granted, he needed something to work on, but even he didn't currently have the patience to decipher something as complex as a woman's thought process.
Everything seemed to be going smoothly for e few weeks.
Of course, as we all know, when everything seems to be going smoothly… well, you've obviously missed something.
"Sherlock, I need to show you something." Irene pulled Sherlock into a library, removing her locket from her neck. She pushed a concealed switch on the side of the locket and something small and black popped out- an SD card, which she quickly plugged into the drive of a computer. Sherlock didn't look surprised. He knew she must have had something to save all the work she spent so much time doing.
However, what he didn't know was the full extent of what was on that card.
Irene sifted through files, entered three different passwords (while being careful to block the keyboard from Sherlock's view) and finally opened a folder full of documents labeled by months. Mycroft's tracking documents- and they were recent. Very recent.
So recent, he realized, that she must still be keeping tabs on him.
"He's still following us." Irene said, pointing to a stream of coordinate points in the open document. "He was in Manteo last week. It's only a matter of time."
"Yes, I know." Sherlock said calmly. He'd know from the beginning, if they were to be honest with each other. Two and a half years was a long time to hide, and soon enough they'd be forced to do something that exposed them unless proper measures were taken very, very soon. Irene nodded, closed the files, and ejected the drive.
"I thought so."
"But what I'm not sure about is who in the government you've got information about." Sherlock smirked. He knew the tables would begin to turn if he could find that out. She turned, closing her locket, and fixed him with a cold stare. Before he could continue she walked out of the library, dragging him with her, and snaked around the back of the building, where they wouldn't be heard. The land behind the library faded into a sort of woodsy area, and she found a good spot to talk amongst the trees.
The light was lower under the limbs, and there was the very unpleasant thought that if you took one wrong step you'd knock your head on a branch, but at least they wouldn't be heard.
"Not safe to talk in there. It's too quiet." She placed her hands on her hips. "Well?"
"You're obviously in contact with someone if you can get that information. Has to be in the government- look how precise it is. What have you got on them? No, on second thought- don't tell me, I don't want to know. There are really only about two questions left at this point, and the first is-" he reached out and snatched up Irene's locket, still looped around her neck, "What exactly is this?"
"It's my last line of defense." Irene said, trying to pull it away from him.
"I get that, but Mycroft's data can't be the only thing on this drive." Sherlock turned it between his fingers, making Irene's frustration grow.
"To what?" Sherlock's hand closed firmly around the locket. It wouldn't take much to break the chain- she'd never get it back if she didn't tell him.
"Everything." Irene whispered, defeated.
"Everything?" His brow furrowed.
"Everything. As in ever." She held out her hand and Sherlock dropped the locket.
"So, everything that was on your phone-"
"Phones. Multiple. I told you Sherlock, it's everything." Irene ducked under a branch and walked quickly out of the trees.
"What's the other question?" Irene tossed back over her shoulder. "You said there were two."
"What do you plan on doing now?" Sherlock nearly ran into the back of her when she stopped short. Irene spoke without turning around.
"Wherever we go, we're leaving a trail, however small. We've got two options- we keep running, which we both know probably isn't the most favorable idea…"
"We go off the grid." She turned to face him. "We go so far off the grid that they won't be able to find us."
"And how do you suggest we do that?"
"I know a man in the witness protection program-"
"I know what he likes." Irene shrugged and Sherlock nodded; that was more the explanation that he'd suspected. "I managed to come up with the location of a disused safe house in the Blue Ridge Parkway we could stay in for the summer. It needs some work, but it's dry, it's deserted, and it's a place… but when winter comes we'd probably have to run again. Unless you'd like to spend all summer chopping firewood, that is."
"So you're suggesting we disappear until September, then we run, then we disappear again?" Sherlock asked. It wasn't a bad plan, actually, if it weren't for the prospect of someone coming to find them there. It would give them a little time to recover and figure out where they were going next.
"Have you got any other ideas?" Rather than respond, Sherlock changed the subject.
"When you said 'disused-'"
"The location was leaked two years ago. They won't use it any more for at least a decade, or at least that's what he said."
Sherlock thought for a moment, weighing their options. The last thing they needed was discovery, but if they kept running the trail would be far more obvious than if they hid out for a while. If they spent the last summer working their way back to England, it might work.
"Good. We leave tomorrow morning. As soon as we get to the mountains we're backpacking on foot, so I hope you brought good shoes. Apparently it's a bit hard to get to." That was the last thing said between them for a while.
Some voice in his mind asked him why he was doing this. Mycroft knew he was alive- there was no point in looking for him, so he had to be looking for Irene. She'd probably be less conspicuous on her own. Why didn't he just stay and let her run?
Because he couldn't stand not knowing if she was doing anything stupid.
It didn't make sense, really. He knew Irene was perfectly capable of taking care of herself, but he really didn't trust her not to do anything that, in the long run, would endanger both their lives. What could Mycroft possibly have on Irene? For all he knew, she should be dead, but now he wasn't so certain. Why? Something changed, and it's wasn't related to Sherlock. So, then… why was Mycroft tracking them? Why try to find them, and why so incredibly discreetly? If it was a matter of national security surely he'd be working with the American government.
He was trying to warn them.
But warn them of what?
Irene walked down the street, back towards the hotel they were staying at, trying very hard not to think about Sherlock.
She didn't trust him to be able to cope on his own without getting himself exposed, but at the same time he was in more danger here than he would be if he ever was exposed. Oh, she knew who was really tracking them. It wasn't Mycroft. However, Mycroft was tracking them as well, and the person who wanted to get to them would also be tracking Mycroft and fifty other sources for clues to their whereabouts. Mycroft was smart, but they were tricky- he would probably assume that there was no way they could track his movements. Going off the grid, snuffing out the trail before their scent became too strong, was the only option to get them off their backs… she knew all too well.
So naturally, if you run from Mycroft, which would be their biggest source, you run from them. But the person who was chasing them was so much more dangerous and infinitely more deadly than Mycroft.
And, to Irene, much more familiar.
That was what the note at the front desk read when he checked into his hotel in Manteo. The sight of the looped female handwriting nearly made him groan out loud.
Mycroft took a seat in the lobby, bags and all, and sat to read the letter.
You have to stop.
I know you're trying to keep your brother safe, but you're risking exposing us both the longer your stay on the trail. They've got tabs on you. Don't doubt it- you've put a lot of faith into a system that isn't full proof, and the closer you come to closing in, the closer they come.
I'm trying to shake him off, but it isn't working. If they're really looking for me it means they need information, and not the kind I'm willing to give freely. He'd be safer with you, and if I get a chance I'll send him your way. However, he's not likely to fall for the sedative again.
Please, you've got to listen to me. I know you don't care about my life, but you do care about Sherlock, and his life is in my hands for the moment. If I know these people (and I do, quite well, as you've obviously figured out) then I know what they'll expect me to do. After all, I was trained by the best.
And mummy and daddy never did like it when I surprised them.
If you find the bug in your system tell them I said hello.
Mycroft huffed a slow sigh and sat back in his chair, stunned.
It had taken more than a little research, but eventually he'd been able to find out more about Jim Moriarty, including where he'd gotten his training. Organized crime wasn't extinct, and there wasn't any point in pretending it was. One could always find training of any sort if they knew where to look.
One particular family in the UK had been under government watch for years. The only child was a daughter, but almost all information about her had been destroyed. However, most of the family members were still very much alive in England today. They knew Irene had gotten her information from Moriarty, so…
All indication had said "disowned." No criminal record, no suspicious activity, nothing. She apparently hadn't shown interest in any of her family's less-than-legal activities, so her parents had wanted rid of her.
Irene had no records from before about ten years ago. He knew there had to have been a name change and the records wiped, but who could do that? And how would they know how? Simple: they were taught. Irene would have known how to do it even if she didn't want to. But why- why wouldn't she show interest?
Something more important, perhaps, but if she was raised with those values…
There wasn't enough information. The puzzle pieces were there, but there was too much bloody sky and no enough of the recognizable parts.
Sherlock was smart. Surely he'd figure it out. It was only a matter of how long…
An old rhyme from Shakespeare came to the front of his mind, just a flash, but it was long enough to make him sigh in agreement. The old Bard knew what he was talking about.
Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.
Chapter 12: Year One- June
Year One. Beginning of Month Twelve.
"Come on, it can't be far now." Irene said, hopping over a large rock. Or a small boulder, however you might choose to look at it.
They'd been making their way up to the safe house- or safe cabin, Irene had mentioned- on the southern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway for the past month. Between a combination of walking, riding, and hitchhiking, they'd gotten all the way to... the mile long trail to the cabin. The place was rather hard to get to, actually. Before continuing Irene had swapped her duffel in favor of a backpack- it would be easier to hike the trail in, she said. Sherlock had kept his old backpack for the trip, and they'd stopped to pick up food stores beforehand.
The parkway offered access to a main road if they ever needed to go to town for supplies, but it would involve coming down from the house along a long trail. A long, rough trail that wasn't easy on those who weren't used to trails, and especially hard on those who weren't used to the altitude.
Those like Sherlock.
Irene had obviously been this way before- she seemed to know exactly where she was going. Somehow Sherlock didn't want to know how she knew, and yet he couldn't help being curious.
"How can you be sure where we're going?" Sherlock called from behind, jumping over the same boulder-rock.
"Long story short-" Irene shoved a small limb off the path. "I've been here before. Lived here a month once. Don't ask. It's modestly furnished- one of the agents used to keep it as a summer home until they found out what he was actually doing." She looked back to see Sherlock throwing an inquisitive look her way.
After about ten more minutes of relatively silent hiking, tripping, stumbling, and in one instance nearly falling off the mountainside, they could see the house. It wasn't a hundred yards away, nestled in a shallow valley near the higher parts of the mountains. It was a long way from the road and the only access was by foot, which was probably a good thing. Irene remembered reading a book once where a castle was so high off the ground that the only way to access it was to climb the dangerous mountain and ascend through three forts. When the invading party came upon one, they would immediately be assaulted from above by the fort that was higher along the mountain- Stone, Snow, and Sky she believed they were called.
Either way, they had most certainly reached their castle now. Castle- ha. A wooden castle. The cabin was three rooms, small, but easy to heat in the winter and easy to cool in the summer. Though the windows had been boarded over, the house was actually in perfectly good condition. Water was drawn from the well just outside the back door, and there was no electricity. It was completely perfect for a pair in hiding.
Irene tried the door, but found it as she'd suspected- locked. She shouldered the wood, making it rattle, but the door didn't budge.
"Your turn." She gestured for Sherlock to try. He was almost grinning. The door would have a weak point- they all did. And as soon as he found it…
Sherlock took two steps forward and kicked the door open. Behind him, Irene muttered something that sounded like "show off."
Inside, the cabin was dark and stuffy, deprived of sunlight for years because of the boards over the windows. It was a surprising mix of very modern and completely old fashioned. There were still candles in the cabinets and three oil lamps hanging from hooks on the walls around the house, but it was clearly outfitted with electric lighting and indoor plumbing. There was even a small refrigerator in the kitchen, though the stove was a woodstove and fireplaces would primarily be used for heating.
The electric and plumbing systems for the house were designed to be off the grid, Irene said, as the man who had used it previously had wanted to remain undercover… but didn't want the traditional outhouse that came with it. Because of this the man who previously owned it had installed solar panels and kept both a generator and plenty of firewood in the shed. The only actual appliance was the refrigerator, which wouldn't draw so much power that they wouldn't have plumbing.
"Welcome home." Irene joked as she stepped into the dark rooms. It didn't take long to light one of the lamps and take a look around.
"Modestly furnished" was an accurate description. The only things in the bedroom were a small side table and one bed, but it was big enough that they could manage without invading one another's space too much. The den held two chairs, a rug, and a coffee table, and there was an antique shotgun still hanging from the wall. In the kitchen two chairs and a small folding table proved the only true furnishings besides countertops.
In the shed they found a fair stock of firewood, though more would need to be cut eventually for cooking purposes, and a toolbox. It wouldn't be too hard to keep up this routine for three or four months; they'd run again during the winter.
Yes, thought Sherlock, it shouldn't be too difficult.
Sherlock walked out the cabin door a few days later, having seen Irene was already up. It was about eleven o' clock, so it wasn't surprising that she was awake. Their hours of sleep still differed, though they'd mastered getting up and out of the house without disturbing one another. Somehow they'd managed to come up with a comfortable sleeping arrangement by virtually splitting the bed in half, sleeping under separate blankets. Sherlock never gave it a second thought, and Irene… well, she'd slept in so many different beds it didn't matter to her.
So they said.
Irene had taken a short path into a kind of clearing in the woods behind the cabin. It was peaceful; a nice place to think. When Sherlock found her she was lying on the ground in the cool spring grass, gazing up at the sky… and mumbling. It wasn't like her to mumble.
"What's wrong?" Sherlock walked closer, and Irene motioned for him to sit. He lay on the grass beside her, following her flitting gaze that danced across white puffs on an azure sky.
"Beautiful isn't it? As a kid my mum used to say that the sky was where the world stops… but it really just goes on forever, doesn't it? It starts with the sky. Jump up and you're standing in the sky."
She clearly wasn't willing to tell him much. Irene tended to ramble when she wanted to avoid a conversation topic, but it was so obvious that something was bothering her. She's been showing signs since they left St. Augustine, and now it seemed that the worries had finally gotten to her. Sherlock waited a moment before he spoke.
"When I was seventeen my mum and dad sent me away. For good."
"I figured that out-"
"But you don't know why." Irene swallowed, preparing herself. She wasn't used to telling this story. "I basically lived in America growing up. During the summers I went home to stay with my family. They didn't like me… and I didn't like them."
"Why?" In the back of his mind Sherlock was a bit disappointed. He was hoping this wouldn't be one of those abusive background cases. Boring. Typical. And to be honest, he'd thought Irene was anything but typical.
"Their job was a little bit… less than legal. Very much less than moral."
"Wouldn't think you'd be one to care." He raised an eyebrow and Irene huffed, brushing a strand of hair from her eyes.
"I was ten! You know how simple things are for kids. The woman I lived with in America raised me differently than my parents would have- they didn't look into my caretaking much."
"And?" It was getting boring. He could see the abuse coming in at any moment.
"My parents are masters in organized crime, Sherlock." Irene glanced over. His face was a mask, but she knew that wasn't what he'd been expecting to hear.
"They trained me in everything from hacking fantastically complicated computer systems to picking locks. I was supposed to be the foot soldier in the end, but I didn't want to once I figured out what was going to be expected of me." They sat in silence for a moment before she continued, gazing at the trees in the distance, so small they looked like paint blots on a canvas hillside.
"They wanted me to kill in cold blood. And I'm sorry, but even though I steal and lie and cheat and have probably committed at six of the seven deadly sins, I won't do that. I can't force myself to kill someone with no reason." Irene turned on her side and faced Sherlock eye to eye, propping herself up on her arm. "I'm immoral. I'm not an assassin."
"Why do they need you if you don't want to do their dirty work?"
"Because I know their dirty secrets… including some rather juicy ones about their star pupil. Or rather their late star pupil." Late. As in deceased. Sherlock visibly showed surprise this time.
"Moriarty? Your parents knew Moriarty?"
"Taught him the basics- everything they knew, but he went out on his own after they were finished with him. No matter, though; all they really wanted was anarchy, and Jim could do it. Dad always wanted a son- thought I was the perfect example why girls were too weak to do their line of work. Too sensitive." She sounded utterly disgusted. "Jim stayed with them year-round, but I never saw him much. He was always smart, but he scared me. I swear, look in his eyes and you see nothing but ice and death. Men like that will do anything." Anything… including take their own life to advance their cause. It was apparent that Irene knew from experience.
Caring is not an advantage, Sherlock. The words came back clear as day, stinging like a burn suddenly exposed to air. Perhaps he'd been wrong. It seemed caring had stopped Irene from becoming a cold-blooded killer. He almost respected her for it… But no, caring entails weakness. Soft spots are for those who are gunning to lose.
"So then you moved permanently to New York. Well, semi-permanently." Sherlock was able to fill in the rest of the information from there. After James' death she'd changed her name and moved back to London to fall back on her "training." Eventually Jim would have been able to piece enough information together to find her and get in touch. He would have known her and known her background and business: meddling and manipulating to get what she wanted. But what exactly did she want? Power, money… what? He'd originally thought she wanted power, but after her refusal to become an assassin it seemed unlikely. People who want power are usually willing to do absolutely anything to get it.
"So what did you want?" He asked.
"The photographs, the bribes, the money. Why? If you weren't going to kill anyone it's highly doubtful that you had a massive hunger for power, so go to so much trouble to get it?" Sherlock only got a moment to register any emotion on her face before Irene turned to lie in her back again, silent.
"Playing the game." She muttered.
"No, it's more than that, isn't it?" Sherlock sat up, looking down at Irene. Her eyes were blank, focused far past him and on the clouds rolling by, her expression strained. "You almost lost everything. When you came back to London it would have been a fresh start- you could be anything or anyone you wanted. Why pick what you did?" Irene sat up slowly.
"Ever think I just wanted to cause a panic?"
"Yes. But you're not that simple." Sherlock's mind was going a hundred miles an hour. "Brilliant minds often have simple goals- the smarter they are, the simpler the thing they wanted. Moriarty wanted panic and chaos. Other people want death and destruction. Then there's one mind that's just above average, just short of genius, almost insane, and they could bring down the world if they wanted to, but they don't, and you know why?"
"Why?" Irene mentally cringed, bracing herself for the answer.
"Because they use complicated means for complicated goals, no matter how simplistic they might sound. If not power, then why play with power? Looking for something that power might give? Not willing to go quite so far as might be necessary to get it? Trying to slip back into life after a trauma isn't easy, it's emotionally taxing, it changes people, and then you start playing with things. You start trying to control things just to be able to control them. Looking for… what? Vengeance?
Irene picked herself up, feeling like she'd been picked up and shaken until all of the meaning of her existence had been drained from her.
"I don't think you'll ever understand, Sherlock." She said, turning to leave. "I don't think you can." Irene started to walk back towards the cabin, bare feet soundless on the cool grass. Sherlock remained on the grass, but called after her.
Irene turned back, surprised he hadn't let the topic drop. He usually did in these circumstances. She sighed, wondering how it could be possible for one man to be so brilliant and so utterly naïve.
"I just want a reason to live."
Mycroft had had his people on Irene's records ever since he got that letter. He was looking for any trace of the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Raynes, something more than graduation certificates or primary school records. Any movement they found would be cross-matched with Moriarty to check for involvement.
To tell the truth, there wasn't much left to find. Some scattered newspaper articles and evidence of a degree in political science, and once even a marriage announcement, though they were still trying to connect all the pieces on that one.
No trace of the bug in the system that Irene had been talking about.
Either way, this was a potential matter of national security for several different countries. They needed her. And they needed her alive, and before the Raynes could get to her. She'd just managed to give them the slip in Manteo, and they'd decided to retreat into the home offices to get more information on their target before doing anything else.
"We've got her." An assistant suddenly burst into Mycroft's office, smiling slightly.
"You know where she is?"
"No. But we know where she was." The assistant handed him a sheet of paper with an address labeled "Mrs. Irene Adler."
Chapter 13: Year Two- July
Year Two. Middle of Month One.
It was raining.
It had been raining for two days on and off, most of the time hard enough that you couldn't see well, and Irene was becoming increasingly grateful that this house wasn't in an area where mudslides were an immediate danger. Sherlock was simply going stir crazy from not being able to leave the cabin. They'd come up with a schedule for going into town for supplies- about once every two weeks, give or take a few days. The trips, along with walks around the woods almost every day, managed to keep his cabin fever at bay, but now that he was stuck inside… it wasn't looking good. While the rain made Irene fell mellow and tired, and she'd spent most of the past two days curled up with a book under a blanket, it made Sherlock ancy and hyperactive. So, Irene kept Sherlock at bay when he got extremely testy, and Sherlock made Irene actually get up and do something.
Then there were times like now, when neither of them bothered. They were sitting in the two armchairs in the den, listening to the rain and drinking tea. Irene looked over at Sherlock- saw how the light from the lamps flickered off his face, wondered for a fleeting second what he was analyzing now… and wished she had something to drink that was stronger than tea.
She'd been fighting him for so long- fighting herself for so long- no time to give up now. In truth, they were both fighting. But exactly what they were fighting was a whole other thing to come to terms with… not that it was exactly important at the moment. Irene shook herself out of her trance and forced herself to talk.
"Strange, this place. It always made me feel so alone at night." Irene curled up into one of the armchairs, the windows open even though it was raining cats and dogs outside. It was surprisingly hot in the mountains, and without them open the temperature would rise. The windows had short awnings, though, so it didn't look like there would be any trouble with water. She found it to be ironically comforting. Besides, the whole place was thoroughly waterproofed since it was made of wood, so anything that came in could be cleaned up.
"Hm." Sherlock didn't make much of a response. He still sat nearly motionless, with his hands folded as if in prayer, lips pursed…. Clearly thinking about something.
Sometimes she thought the man was completely insane, and sometimes she thought he was brilliant, and other times… well, no point in mentioning what she
"Alright. You don't have to tell me." Irene stood, glancing at the clock. "It's late."
"Is it?" Sherlock barely bothered to shift his gaze an inch.
"Yes. I'm going to bed."
Irene walked silently across the warm floorboards into the next room. Sherlock could hear the spring mattress creak ever so slightly as she shifted into place. Sometimes he almost thought... but no. He couldn't afford to wish for anything now, especially not...
No, not now. Not ever.
Several hours later, Sherlock stood slowly, stretched, and walked to the bedroom. He stopped, however, when he saw Irene, who lay tossing and turning on her side of the bed. Her breathing was quick and shallow, and before he had time to properly react she cried out softly and sat bolt upright, eyes wide open.
It took her a moment to register that Sherlock was standing in front of her.
"I'm fine." Irene shook her head as if to clear it. She'd spoken automatically, without thought.
"How long?" Sherlock remained standing, rooted in his spot.
"It doesn't ma-"
"How long?" He clearly wasn't going to budge on the matter. Irene coughed and shrugged.
"Ever since we came here. It's not a big deal. They come back every now and then when-" But at this she stopped abruptly. "Never mind. Just get some sleep."
An hour later- at least, that's about what it seemed to Sherlock, who still lay awake- Irene woke again and walked out. He heard water running in the kitchen and a glass clanking in the sink.
Eventually Irene walked back into the room. Sherlock still wasn't asleep, and he felt her slide into the bed. He shifted slightly, as if he'd just woken up.
"Irene?" He heard her curse under her breath.
"Sorry. Did I wake you?" The question he wished hadn't been asked.
"No, I wasn't asleep."
They lay in silence for a while- neither could tell accurately just how long- before Sherlock felt Irene shift uneasily. She was stiff and rigid; he could tell by the weight and the tension on the mattress. Not the position of a person who was calm, or one who planned to sleep any time soon.
"Don't pretend." Sherlock whispered. She wasn't surprised; he often stayed awake long periods of time before actually sleeping at night.
"I'm a big girl, Sherlock. I've been taking care of myself for years now."
"You said this place made you feel alone."
Irene was silent.
"Why did you come here?"
"What options did we have?"
"You could have kept running. It would be a long time before they caught onto the trail, and you're one for taking risks for the fun of it- so why stop? All your life
you've been running. Why stop now?" Sherlock shifted slightly to look at her, and she shifted away.
"I have more important things to think about."
"Meaning?" He was going to press until he got an answer- that's just the way things went. However, she wasn't planning on giving him one. Thunder rumbled outside, and a few seconds later lightning was visible through the thin cotton curtains.
Sherlock was smart enough to know that she didn't feel like talking. That was alright, though. Irene's silence was enough of an answer. He lay on his back and tried to sleep, with little success.
Irene was awake.
And fully conscious.
Somewhere in the place between awake and asleep, between aware and not aware, she rolled over, closer to the center of the bed… only inches away from where
Sherlock was still awake, acutely aware of this change.
Only a few seconds later her breathing eased again and settled into a regular rhythm, and rather than wake her Sherlock simply stayed where he was, motionless.
Her hand rested on the pillow, half buried by dark hair, and her chest rose and fell beneath a thin nightgown. He could see her eyes flitting back and forth under her eyelids when the lightning flashed- she was dreaming. Dreaming of what? She was close enough that he could feel her breath on his neck, and a very strange tingling sensation crept down his spine.
She was lying on her side, and under the sheet he could see the curve of her waist and hips, imprinted in his mind from the first time they met. What a strange day that was… And still, in the present- though no less surreal- world, Irene shifted again, this time with her arm resting gently against Sherlock's own. Her fingers were cool to the touch against his unusually warm skin, an almost pleasant sensation, he thought.
Best not move and disturb her, though. It was only common courtesy.
And, if an hour later, she shifted again from some other unpleasant imagining, it was only right that he should calm her down. Returning the favor, he told himself, as his own nightmares were few and far between in present times. That was all it ever was with them, it seemed- returning the favor.
Under these circumstances with any other people one might expect a kiss, or maybe more, but no. Not here. Kind words and a shoulder to lean on were all that was needed, and no more was offered, though the shoulder was taken for longer than expected by either of them.
And if you were to walk into that house the next morning, you would have found them lying in that same spot, fully clothed, Irene nestled in the crook of Sherlock's arm, her own arm wrapped around his waist as she yielded to the potent sedative of a long, deep sleep…
Because, after all, if one of them were to wake the next morning, they would roll apart again before the other was even aware, and there would be no evidence that anything had happened at all, now would there?
Mycroft and his assistant, Harrison, walked up the long drive to Mrs. Adler's house, having flashed government badges at the security guard and stepped promptly through the iron gates. Bloody New York again, was it? He'd apparently been close before, but they'd given him the slip. The city was so easy to disappear in, and with the security in America there wasn't much he could do quickly in a major place like Manhattan. Either way, that was in the past now. There was nothing they could do about it.
Upon knocking a woman answered the door; her hair was short and gray, and her soft brown eyes were wide with concern.
"Oh, God." Her eyes squeezed shut for a moment, as if the utterance was meant as an actual prayer, and she ushered them inside. The two men took a seat on the couch they were led to, and Mrs. Adler fumbled in the drawers for something.
"Tea?" She asked. "It's hot." But before they could respond she was bringing over a tray with a kettle and three mugs. Not cups, mugs. Clearly she didn't entertain formal company often.
"Thank you." Mycroft said politely, picking up a mug and taking a sip. Good lord! How much sugar does she put in it?
"I assume you know why we're here." Harrison continued. Of course she knows, you bumbling idiot. She put the kettle on! Mrs. Adler sat across from them in an armchair.
"You're Mycroft Holmes." She took something from her pocket- an envelope. Same stationary as before; same handwriting. No postmark. It had obviously been mailed in a larger envelope which Mrs. Adler had disposed of.
"Yes." Mycroft took the envelope, hesitant to open it.
"Tell me she's alright." Mrs. Adler's lips were pursed, her expression strained.
"How do you know her?" Harrison asked, seizing the moment now that Mycroft wasn't talking.
"You can guess." Her expression turned from concerned to hard and uncompassionate in an instant.
"When did you see her last?" Harrison continued. It was pointless, Mycroft knew, but he might as well let him try.
"You think I'm going to tell you?"
"Where was she going?"
"Hmph." Mrs. Adler half chucked, half huffed at that.
"You do realize, Mrs. Adler, that we are officials from the British government-"
"And you do realize, Mr…?" She gestured for him to state his name.
"Ah. Mr Green. You do realize that this is not Britain, don't you? You have no jurisdiction here and trying to implement any is an act of war. You're here for tea and
what little information I might be willing to give you without a struggle." She took a sip from her mug. The woman was good, he'd give her that. Harrison started to open his mouth again, but at this point Mycroft felt it was probably wise to jump in.
"Give it up, man. She's not going to tell us anything." He started to rise, but Mrs. Adler bid him sit.
"I'll make you a deal. I'll tell you what I know if you'll tell me what you know."
"You'll tell us all of it?"
"Some of it. Your choice. No information or some information- some potentially valuable information."
She had them. They couldn't afford to lose their one source, and he most definitely couldn't afford to risk waging war on America… no matter how discreetly.
"Alright." Mycroft plopped back down on the couch. "We know her name is Katelyn Raynes. We know she was raised by a family who dominates the untouchable crime scene in England… but we also know she was here at some time or another. She was engaged to James Adler, your son no doubt, and she went to boarding school in New York." Mycroft's face turned hard and observant, but Mrs. Adler did something very unexpected.
"You know nothing. They sent her to stay with me during the school year when she was five, said she was unmanageable."
"Was she?" Mycroft asked.
"Hardly. She was a sweet one, but she had the will of a wild stallion. Still does. During the summers she'd go back home, and then she'd come to me again."
"Anything else you can tell us?" Harrison pressed, obviously wanting a location.
"Nothing you couldn't find out for yourself."
"Are you sure about that?" Harrison leaned forward. Mrs. Adler smiled.
"You might want to try reading that letter first." She gestured to the cream colored envelope, still unopened in Mycroft's hand. He broke the thin glue seal and eased out the paper- heavy stationary, crudely cut.
I told you not to follow me.
I swear, if you keep this up you'll get us all killed. You don't know what you're dealing with. I do. And I know what they want. Give me time and I can help you.
If you try to push things you'll be looking at your brother's tombstone before the year is up. That is, if you're lucky enough not to get shot down first.
Chapter 14: Year Two- August
Year Two. Beginning of Month Two.
Sherlock woke before Irene one morning, a rarity in itself. He thought he might use this time to try to dig up some more information- or rather, snoop for some more information. It wasn't that he was nosy, it was just… Alright, he was nosy. If he had more information on Irene's parents it might help him think out where they were headed next, but truthfully he was working on a slightly bigger case: Cracking Irene herself.
He stepped silently around the cabin, looking for the stash of papers that Irene must keep somewhere- that blasted locket was always around her neck, even at night, but she had to have backups to that tracing information. Granted, that drive was the backup to all her other "protection," but considering both their lives depended on knowing where her parents were, it wasn't likely she'd have only one copy. She wouldn't keep it with her bags, either- too obvious.
Within an hour he'd searched the entire cabin with nothing to show, and was nearly on the verge of looking for secret compartments. Before he could start on this last resort, however; the answer came when one footstep echoed slightly more than the others. The sound was deeper, darker… and under a rug in the kitchen.
Generally cabins like this would have root cellars both for storing food in a cool place and for shelter from storms, but he hadn't thought that Irene would store something down there since it would probably mildew, nor had he known where the entrance was. It was better than nothing. He moved the rug and found a concealed latch. The door swung open with ease, and nearly silently. Someone had oiled the hinges recently.
Taking a lamp off the wall and lighting it, Sherlock crept down the dark staircase into a chilly, moist room, closing the trapdoor behind him. There were a few bare shelves lining the walls, and cobwebs from spiders that were long hung ominously from the shelves. The lamp cast only a faint light in the large room (it seemed run under the entire cabin), but it was enough to see a rectangular shape in the far corner- a box? He walked over and held the light he could see. The box was metal, not cardboard, looking suspiciously like an old toolbox. That was why he saw it- the light had reflected off the metal. There wasn't a lock, and the lid swung open with a slight creak.
Inside the box were the papers e was looking for, though not with the information he presumed would be on them. They were copies of government files for Mikael and Diana Raynes, and the original file for Katelyn Raynes. No wonder the government couldn't find any information on her younger years- Irene was in possession of the very file they needed, though he wasn't sure of the means she'd used to procure it, or the copies.
No, never mind. On second thought he was fairly positive.
He decided to save her file for later. Right now he needed to look at Diana and Mikael Raynes. It looked like Diana had come from money and Mikael was the son of a couple who were suspected ring leaders of organized crime. Mikael had once been in England's army- dishonorable discharge- and Diana was a former recruit of the CIA. No news on why she didn't stay in government.
Wealthy and power hungry, the both of them, and all too eager to get it. Irene's grandfather must have passed on any knowledge he had to Michael, and soon enough they'd dominated the organized crime scene in London… oh, and America, judging by these files. Multiple governments unable to touch them, one because no one would talk in court and one because it would be an act of war to try and bring them down. With two countries wrapped around their finger, they could control trade and shipping dates, and though it was much more dangerous, it was also much more profitable.
Diana had been brought to court twice, Mikael once, both of them on charges of murder, treason, and large-scale burglaries. They had probably wanted to pass on their legacy to someone… and their daughter hadn't wanted to play. The records also showed fertility treatments for Diana, and one daughter, whose status was deemed "unknown."
Meaning Irene hadn't changed her name to get a fresh start. She wasn't trying to grieve for her lost fiancé and move on with her life, at least not entirely.
She was running from her parents.
Irene awoke to find that Sherlock was already up. She considered staying in bed, but something felt wrong. Perhaps it was the way that the sun wasn't shining very brightly through the window, or perhaps the unusual taste in her mouth… but more likely it was the fact that things were so quiet. Too quiet. If she'd learned any lessons that had actually helped her from her parents, it was that if things were quiet when they probably shouldn't be (like someone as hyperactive as Sherlock awake in the house) it almost always meant trouble.
She padded out of the bedroom and into the den, noticing something almost immediately- she could see through the entryway that the rug had been moved. He'd finally found the cellar.
It was only a matter of time, really. However, while he was down there snooping, rather than interrupt him and go to the trouble of finding a new hiding spot now… she simply sat in one of the chairs with her book and waited for him to come back up. Only a few minutes later the door swung open, and she decided that not interrupting his snooping was very well worth the look on his face.
"Sit." She said, gesturing to the chair on the other side of the table. He did so, if only to please her. "What did you find?"
"You know what I found."
"Humor me." Irene said, leaning forward in her chair. Sherlock mused for a moment over what to say before responding.
"Why did you run?"
"I have something they want."
"Information." Sherlock also leaned forward, elbows on the table.
"Like your locket?" His eyes flicked to the chain around her neck and then back up to her face. Irene smiled ruefully.
"Don't be ridiculous. Information is power, Sherlock. All the crime lords know it; all the crime lords exploit it. It's how they keep from getting caught, and if they are caught it's how they keep the proverbial canaries from singing. You could almost call it an art, really… but then again, the information I have can't exactly be deleted." She bit her lips lightly, waiting to see if Sherlock would catch on. As usual, he did not disappoint.
"In your mind." He realized. "Your parents don't want digital information- that's for you; that's your protection in case you get caught. They want what you know about them from growing up by their side."
"Exactly. And they're willing to kill me to keep it safe. You understand that as long as I'm free, I'm a liability. I could bring them down in fifteen minutes if I wanted to, and you know why? Because they have nothing on me. James is dead and they think I can't stand his mother, and I've been under a new name for ten years. The only thing they have left to take from me is my life, and they know I won't mind giving that to see them locked away." Her eyes were focused somewhere past this room. Sherlock looked at her a moment, trying to get past everything that he saw already and into the mind of a scared fifteen-year-old girl.
"What did they do to you?" He mused. "You haven't been physically abused, that much is evident."
"No." Irene confirmed. "They never laid a finger on me. Well, no more than expected of a disobedient child."
"And?" Sherlock prodded, still leaning forward. He was clearly waiting on her to finish her statement.
"They took away any chance I had at a normal life." She said, sitting back in her chair, as if drawing back into whatever part of herself she wanted to keep hidden
away. "If it weren't for them I wouldn't have been introduced to this criminal ring. I would never have gone to the States. I would never have met any of the people I loved even for a little while… I would never have met James." Another thought came into her mind at the moment, but she saved it. It was the only thing she had left going for her.
"People like us aren't normal." Sherlock said, very matter-of-factly. They understood how people thought; how people try to make other people think. It wasn't a skill that tended to go unnoticed. Once you start to see how the wheels of the world turn, you can't go back. You can't hit erase or forget and go back to the way you were- it affects you mind, your very being… and occasionally, when things become tangled just so, your heart.
"I don't care." She pushed away from the table with the intention of walking outside. "Everyone says normal is overrated- get married, have a kid, live obliviously... or at least just live obliviously on my own. Funny, really. It's all I ever wanted."
Irene stood and walked out of the room, out into the yard, thinking about the one thing that she might not have been able to have if her like had been "normal." The thing that had gotten her into this mess. The thing that had saved her life… and destroyed it. The thing that, if she had the choice to go back now, she wasn't sure she'd want to live without.
Chapter 15: Year Two- September
Year Two. Beginning of Month Three.
Irene was at the library, typing away on a computer that she'd used to hack into yet another private network connection. If it wasn't so quiet in the room her findings would have made her swear at a volume that wouldn't be acceptable to anyone, and she really didn't want to be kicked out now. Even at midnight there were still several people here, though they were beginning to clear out slowly.
It seemed like Mycroft had stopped trying to trace them. Mum must have stopped them at her place, she presumed. However, her biological mother and father were still onto them. She wasn't positive how close they were, but considering they'd been here a while (it was risky staying in one spot, however well hidden- they were planning on going away for the winter this week), it probably wasn't too far.
She closed her files and was about to eject the SD card when a voice came from behind her.
"Hello, Katelyn." Irene went cold. She didn't dare move, she didn't dare speak. It was midnight, and the library was nearly empty. There wasn't anywhere to go to run
from the woman she hadn't seen in fifteen years.
Irene turned quickly, intending to fight her way out, but her father was there, too. They had expected her to try something. She managed only a few steps before a cloth reeking of chemicals was shoved in her face, and then the whole world was black.
Closer than I thought.
She didn't come home that night.
Or the next morning.
Sherlock was honestly beginning to worry. Sometimes she stayed away for a night, and sometimes so did he, but two nights when they were about to run again?
Something was wrong. The last place he knew she visited was the library, so he started there. It wasn't long before he saw immediate signs of a struggle. Nothing that a normal observer would notice after the chair had been pushed back in, but there were faint scrape marks on the floor, deeper than the rest. Scratch marks on the wood panels indicated dragging- loose indication by the scratches and obvious reasons (where else would you drag a large object?) said towards the door.
Someone was obviously dragged out of here. Late at night there probably wouldn't be anyone around. It was the perfect time to get rid of someone.
Sherlock sat at the computer, checking for any signs of what she might have been working on. There were several recent documents, but all of them seemed to be saved to a location no longer accessible…
He checked the slot- empty. So either she'd taken the card with her when she was dragged away or… Sherlock walked over to the check-out desk, acting on a hunch. A red-haired librarian stood scanning book ISBN numbers back into the system. Awake, not tired, watch alarm set to early this morning… definitely didn't work the night shift, so she wouldn't have been here to see Irene. Perfect, in this case.
"Excuse me-" The woman raised her head at Sherlock's voice. "Did someone turn in a data card found in one of the computers?"
"Why?" she asked, suspicious.
"It's mine. I must have left it here last night- I was working on something a bit late."
"Can you describe it?" She sighed, bored already. Apparently they went through this a lot.
"Black with a red square, 16 gigs. There's a scratch on the back, and it's actually an adapter for a mini SD that should still be inside." Sherlock raised his eyebrows, expectant. The woman nodded and reached under the desk, producing the small drive.
"There you go. Be more careful next time."
"Thanks." Sherlock was gone before she could say anything else, headed back towards the computer. The files in question were tracking data for the Raynes… and they were close. Incredibly close. Irene just hadn't known how close they were- and she'd been taken.
She'd been taken, and she would most definitely be killed if something wasn't done. It was time to put the sinking feeling in his stomach aside and get down to work- now was not a time to be emotional. He couldn't afford the foggy mind it would cause.
The first thing involved finding out exactly where they were. By analyzing the patterns they took when they were tracking them, he could probably find out where they had originated from, meaning a place within twenty miles of wherever they had originally started from. The only thing was that they probably wouldn't go there- more than likely they would go somewhere new. Only killers who want to be caught return to their typical hideout, and in Sherlock's experience often the big dogs beg to be caught… but when you're talking homicide for domestic and political reasons that a witness who has nothing to lose (and no doubt they knew about him if they knew where to find Irene) would willingly testify against them in a court case… No, they would watch their trail carefully.
They had started in New York. Sherlock knew that their home was in England, so they would probably stay in the states to avoid booking plane flights. Besides, if they were going to kill her it would be better to get out of the country before the body was discovered, and they could just go home to their crime and their mansion if they killed her in the States.
If they were aware of Sherlock they were aware of his reputation, and they were aware that he knew enough to track a plane ticket. Flying was out, and they had a good sixteen hour lead on them. They wouldn't head for a major city- early discovery of Irene's corpse might trap them in the States. It would be somewhere away from major cities and a prying public eye, out in the woods or the desert, which meant his choices from here were father along the Appalachian Trail, East to the coast, or out into the Midwest.
The mountains would make travel harder and slower. They would head West or to the extreme East, towards areas of the coast that were hardly inhabited, like Ocracoke Island and deserted areas of the Outer Banks, hard to access because of the sandbars and shallow areas that Blackbeard made famous.
In all honesty, it all came down to where they would want to hide the body… but then something occurred to him. Stupid.
Why hadn't they just killed her here? It wasn't as if they had anything to lose by killing her here- they were untouchable, and if they had arrangements made to get out of the country they could be long gone before the body was even discovered. The real question was this: if they had nothing to lose by killing her here, what did they have to gain by taking her? And where would be the easiest place to hide, most likely torture for information, and ultimately kill a victim while inflicting the amount of psychological terror needed for them to divulge the information they wanted? And what exactly did they want? They wanted to extinguish the information trail, Sherlock knew, but they must have needed her for something…
He was getting out of practice. Something else was sticking out- right in front of his nose. Something else they needed… Irene was technically dead with nothing to lose. That's what made her both invincible and a target, but only because she had information that could potentially-
He really was getting slow, wasn't he? Sherlock's eyes widened, and he looked like he was about to slap someone (that someone being himself). They wanted him to come after her. Why? Because he knew about Moriarty.
Discredit Moriarty and you discredit his trainers, thus bringing a bad reputation on them in the criminal world, which was almost worse than going to jail or being sentenced to death. They would never talk at a trial, thus keeping their honor intact among criminals, but if Moriarty were exposed it would fall immediately back on them, on the people who taught him everything. If they knew Irene was alive they mist definitely knew about him, and Sherlock was the end of the information trail, the last piece of paper to be burned in the fire of their schemes.
The horror of the situation only partly dawned on him, detached as he was keeping himself. Irene was important, yes. Irene was useful, yes. But since John and the rest were in England, not America, and Mikael and Diana couldn't prove or disprove anything currently happening to them… Irene was currently serving as very real, very good collateral.
Alright, he thought, this is going to be a long day.
Just realizing that Irene could be used for collateral was not a good sign. Collateral meant that it was something one party used for leverage that the other party cared about, and that would mean… no, not good. The instinct to rush in headfirst without thinking was another incredibly bad sign. It meant that Sherlock's worst fear might be coming true: his heart might be taking over his head, and that was a risk that he wasn't remotely willing to take.
Sherlock stepped outside the library and leaned against the building, lighting a cigarette.
It was the first in three months.
Chapter 16: Year Two- October
WARNING: This chapter is the reason for the rating. Non-explicit torture ensues. You have been warned.
Year Two. End of Month Four.
Irene awoke in a cold gray room, the same as every other day. She was strapped to what was probably a torture table, tilted upwards slightly so she could see. The room was nearly empty except for a bare table and two chairs, and when she was beginning to think that this was all incredibly Frankenstein-like, a door opened from somewhere behind her.
"Ah, she's awake." Diana's sugar sweet voice echoed through the room, like candy laced with cyanide. Whatever they wanted, it couldn't be good. Every day they came in the room, asking questions and demanding answers. Come about her, some about where she'd been , some about who she was with. She never gave them any.
"How was your sleep? Chloroform can be a little crude, can't it?" Diana walked over to Irene, Mikael on her heels. She'd been drugged last night, and her head was still swimming from it- that's what they meant by chloroform. They faced her immobilized form, looking her up and down to check that the straps were secure.
Every day the same thing. The same speech before they began. It made them all blend together, she presumed.
"No, here's the deal," Mikael began, "You tell us what we want to know, and we might let you go."
"No you won't." Irene interrupted, her instinct to stay silent suppressed by sheer annoyance. She was done letting them try to break her down. Mikael's eyebrows raised. "I'm not stupid, daddy darling. I know why you want me here, and I know you want me dead. What are you really playing at, hm?" Diana seemed to glower for a second before responding.
"Who knows?" She asked coldly. Irene knew exactly what she meant.
"The whole story? No one. The last person who knew everything died ten years ago- you know that as well as I do."
"Then who-" Mikael reached into his pocket for something. "Is he?" He reached out and held a photo up to her eyes; a long range, hidden-in-the-bushes type shot of Sherlock. She couldn't tell where the background was, but it had to have been recent because his hair was still short. Irene decided not to justify the picture with a response. If they thought the two of them had something going on, they were obviously wrong. Now, if only that idiot would have enough sense to stay hidden and not follow the bait, everything would be fine.
"I see." Said Mikael. He snapped his fingers, and a roughly a second later an electric shock went through the cuffs strapping Irene's wrists to the board. She gritted her jaw and bore the pain. The shocks were getting stronger. She wasn't sure how much voltage those things were pumping, but it was enough to make her weak. If she wasn't strapped in place she might have fallen.
"If you know about me you know about him. Don't play the fool with me." Irene breathed out softly.
"Oh, very good. The detective's rubbing off, I see." Mikael pocketed the photo and returned to interrogating her. "Why did you help him? And furthermore, why didn't he leave when you two made your escape from New York? We just missed you, you know."
Irene refused to respond. Torture techniques were one of the many things she'd been trained on as a child, and she knew the best way to infuriate your captors (and to possibly keep yourself alive) was to stay silent. She could take the shocks for now if it kept Sherlock alive and gave her time to come up with a plan. Just as that thought came through her head, another burst of electricity made her body shake. She clenched her jaw and forced herself to breathe normally.
"Stop playing with her Mikael. She knows."
Diana came forward, a look of pure rage on her face. She took Irene's chin in her hand and forced her to look in her eyes.
"We know everything. Don't think we don't. And when he comes we're going to kill you, but not before we make you watch while he dies. It's just a matter of how long you want it to take for that to happen." She pushed Irene's face to the side and moved back. "This is your last chance, princess. Join or die."
Irene took a moment to look her up and down. Her choice had been made for her a long time ago. Hard blue eyes met hard blue eyes, and a single word formed on her lips.
Sherlock went east.
The final conclusion had resulted from realizing that there were simply more places to hide in the east than the west, and west meant hitting the mountains even if they weren't planning on hiding there. It would slow travel, and they would want interrogation time with Irene, regardless if they were trying to draw him in as well or not. Which they were, but…
Irene was his last link to sanity. She was probably the only thing that had kept him mentally intact over the last year, and he wasn't willing to just let her die. He like to think he wouldn't be willing to let anyone die, but that bit of sentimentality was too much for this moment. No, perhaps if things came to a conclusion he's have more time for thought, but not now.
Now he was concentrating on finding Irene.
Where would they keep her? Somewhere isolated, probably underground. Lack of sunlight was used as a subtle indicator when someone was being tortured- sunlight meant hope, and they wouldn't be willing to give her that. It would be somewhere with electricity still running, which ruled out anywhere long abandoned. It would probably be in the city, as Sherlock knew first hand that often the best place to hide was in plain sight. They would dump the body in the harbor late at night if it came to that, but large amounts of power on an isolated island would only draw attention, and with people who lived as lavishly as those two, they would have large amounts of power running.
By the time he narrowed his search to Nag's Head, it was 1AM, at the end of the second month of her disappearance. For all he knew, she could be dead by now, but he couldn't get a lock on where they were hiding her. Cities big enough to hide in were few and far between here, and he had to search them one by one. No calling for help- it might top them off.
He got a room in a cheap hotel for the night and planned to investigate the city in the morning.
"What now?" Irene asked grudgingly. Mikael and Diana were back, the second time today, probably just to ask another series of semi-random questions. They liked to come in when it was the middle of the night sometimes, too, but Irene couldn't tell any more. The light was always the same down here. Everything blended.
"Do you want us dead, Irene?" Mikael asked, cocking his head slightly. Irene raised her eyebrows, and he elaborated. "We gave you a choice. You chose die. You would think that would be because you wanted us dead."
"No." Irene said coldly.
"What?" Diana was actually surprised. She knew Irene hated her, and the feeling was absolutely mutual, but why wouldn't she want her dead? Too weak? But no, only the truly weak wished their enemies dead, and somewhere in the back of her mind, Diana knew that.
"I don't want you dead." Irene said, a hoarse whisper. "I want you to kill someone with your bare hands. I want you to do your own dirty work. I want you on the ground, on your knees, watching the one thing that you care about slip away from you. I want you to feel everything that you've ever done, and then after that I want you to live a very, very long time with that feeling."
Mikael and Diana stared at her.
Weak, physically and emotionally starving, most likely in the last place she would ever see in her life, and yet… the look in her eyes. Determination. Strength. Sheer will power. And, if you looked close enough, the merest hint of pity.
Diana's heels clicked on the floor as they left. No shocks this time.
Chapter 17: Year Two- November
Year Two. Middle of Month Seventeen.
In a rented house somewhere in Nag's Head, Mikael and Diana walked up into the living room, leaving Kate-Irene in her concrete basement housing.
"Remind me again," Mikael said, slinking back into a chair, "What exactly do you want out of her?" Diana looked up, eyebrows raised.
"Want? There's nothing to get."
"Then why bother with torturing her for information she doesn't have if you're just going to kill her anyways after Holmes gets here?" He took a sip water and returned the glass to the side table.
"Because, dear." Diana reached into a drawer for a cigarette. Most of the time she didn't smoke or drink, said it dulled her mind, but she smoked like a chimney when she was brooding. "I swear, you're a genius. You really are, but you don't know how to play the game." A lighter crackled with flame for a beat, and smoke curled from the cigarette in Diana's mouth.
"You know, I always thought mothers had some kind of instinct that made them want to protect their child." Mikael mused. She scowled and breathed a smoky stream.
"This child is only mine biologically. What little I had to do with raising her she rejected." The one thing that she wanted- someone to pass all this on to- was snatched away from her, and why? Because she couldn't break the girl's inborn sense of goody morality. The world didn't understand that morality was relative- it all depends on how you look at the situation, and through whose eyes. It all depends on who you're ultimately helping.
"So why are we torturing her?" Mikael asked for perhaps the billionth time. He may be a cruel man, but there was a fine line between selfishly cruel and evil, no matter how twisted your morals might be. Also, when you stepped into the "evil" zone, you usually sacrificed some portion of practicality, and that was a misstep that they couldn't afford to make with Kate. They had to keep her alive long enough to use as bait for Mr. Holmes, but after that… his wife could have her way with her. He just didn't understand Diana's fascination with torturing their soon-to-be victims. It wasn't that it bothered him per say, but it just dragged things out. And they didn't want her to die before she could serve a purpose.
Truth be told, Mikael didn't particularly want her dead. He didn't care. If she hadn't brought a suit against them since her "death," why should she do so now and risk exposing herself? Answer: she probably wouldn't. Out of the way was nice, but killing was unnecessary. Completely impractical, however much fun he might potentially have toying with her along the way. Things always went wrong when you stalled.
"It's like I said, we're playing the game," Diana continued, "I need to know his weakness when he gets here. He's one of the angels, isn't he? Detectives always are. He won't want to see her die, but that won't be the only thing we need against him. We have to hit Mr. Holmes where it hurts the most if we want him to comply, and in order to do that, we need information. She's spent months with him. No doubt she knows."
"If it's information you want, I'd inform you that the pictures came today." Mikael opened the table drawer, pulling out an envelope of heavy cardboard. It was full of developed pictures from the spies they had tailing Katelyn for the last few months, ever since they left New York. Since her capture they'd had them developed. Diana removed the cigarette from her mouth, put it out, and snatched the envelope.
Most of the pictures were useless. There were probably a hundred in the envelope, and many were blurry or far away. However, there were a few that were useful indeed.
A man stepping onto a bus, looking over his shoulder. Clear face shot. Sherlock.
A woman typing on a computer late at night. Obscured face. Kate.
A man and a woman sitting and talking over what seemed to be dinner. Taken through a window.
A man and a woman lying in the same bed, a good distance apart, backs turned. Clear face shots. Taken through a window.
Then one more: A man and a woman lying in the same bed, arms wrapped around each other. Taken through a window.
"Mikael…" Diana dangled the last photo between two fingers. "I think I've found his weak point." Mikael took the photo, seemed to process the information for a second, and then nearly laughed.
"It's almost too easy, isn't it?"
"Almost." She smirked, taking a seat in another chair. "It always makes it so much easier when the weak points are in the same room. Only… you know what this means."
Mikael groaned, rolling his eyes.
"We have to get our hands dirty. I'm a little rusty, but they say it's like riding a bike, you know." He said. It had been twenty-eight years since Mikael killed someone. Since that time he'd had plenty of people killed, but his own hand had never forced the deed. He didn't care about Kate's death, but Holmes was a different story altogether. Diana's hands were completely clean if you looked strictly at what she herself did or did not do. Perhaps that's why she was so cold- even colder than Mikael, it seemed.
"Let's hope it's easy to learn." Diana said calmly. Mikael's eyes flicked over to her in the slightest possible betrayal of shock.
"You? You can't."
"She saved the life of the one person who could completely demolish our credibility. She nearly brought charges against us the month before she was due to be killed. Whoever decided to save her was a brave soul. Irene Adler should not exist, and neither should Sherlock Holmes. I'm simply going to ensure that they don't any longer." She grabbed another cigarette and her lighter before marching quickly out of the room.
Mikael stayed seated, swirling the water in his glass. It was no secret that Diana was smart, practically genius level, but for the past several years her obsession with finding her lost daughter had turned into some kind of twisted bloodlust that even Mikael wasn't sure he understood. Of course, he wanted her out of the picture as much as she did, but he wasn't emotionally invested in her death as Diana was.
What were secrets, however, and carefully guarded ones, were three things:
One, that there was speculation on whether or not Katelyn-Irene was actually his daughter. This was Mikael's secret alone, and he never questioned Diana after Irene's birth, but he knew. Before her pregnancy, Diana had been away often, on some trip or another to do with acquiring this or that. It had looked slightly suspicious then, but after the birth… Kate had brown hair and blue eyes. Diana was blond and blue-eyed, and Mikael had very light brown hair and dark eyes. From their biology and his grandparents, there was extremely little chance of Kate having those and several other physical traits she possessed.
Two, and again the secret of Mikael alone, that Jim Moriarty had been Mikael's son, not born to Diana. He'd played it off as a favor to a dying friend, which was partly true- the boy's mother had died during childbirth. Jim never knew, and he assumed that if he watched his steps carefully, Diana would never need to.
Three, that Diana's mental health had been deteriorating for the past three years. She refused to see a doctor, so Mikael had one pose as a house guest for a week in order to provide a diagnosis. She seemed wary of him, but ultimately didn't ask any questions. The doctor diagnosed her with mild schizophrenia. Most days she seemed fine, but her ability to bottle rage and hold it for months or years… it scared him, and that wasn't something he would readily admit.
Somewhere in the back of her mind, he was sure Diana knew her health was going, but to admit her mental health was poor was to admit that her goals were ultimately not what she perceived them to be. Things were blown out of proportion and scattered across the floor in broken, lethal shards, and she couldn't bear to have anything happen to her now, when she was so deeply emotionally and mentally invested in the death of her own flesh and blood, Katelyn Raynes.
Sherlock hurriedly walked out of the hotel two and a half weeks after his arrival in the city, ready to continue his methodic search of Nag's Head. It was taking longer than usual, and he hadn't found a single trace. Perhaps he was simply being more careful now, or perhaps the city was bigger, but he refused to think he'd been given the slip. Before he could step outside, however, a bellboy stopped him with a note. Nothing fancy- handwritten on a piece of folded notebook paper. Whoever wrote it clearly cared nothing about whether or not they could be traced.
Or they wanted to be traced.
Jeannette's Pier, midnight of December 1st, and not a second later.
Otherwise she'll be dead by morning.
However, he wasn't about to follow up without being prepared, so rather than go hunting he went back up to his room to go over what he knew. For perhaps the thousandth time he pulled the files from Irene's box, which he'd taken from the cellar.
Nothing. Hardly anything of any use. The only thing he'd immediately noticed was that Irene had very peculiar traits compared to those of her mother and father. It was extremely possible that Irene's mother had cheated on her husband, but he wasn't about to bring that up.
If he wanted to keep his head, he need new information, and for that he needed… Sherlock mentally cringed at the thought, but picked up the hotel phone, checked for tracers, found one, and instead went outside to a payphone to dial the only person left to turn to. The voice came through like he knew it would, beginning the "This is a private number, how did you get it?" speech.
"I'm sorry, but this number is-"
"Shut up, Mycroft." The line was silent for a moment, and Sherlock half-smiled to himself, imagining his brother's face on the other end of the line.
"What do you need?" Mycroft's voice was all business, but some tiny part of it sounded frightened even though the telephone. Like a bit of tin thrown into it, something hollow and rattling.
"Information. Raynes family."
"What kind of information."
"Background checks medical records, anything. Everything. As fast as you can and as discreetly as you can."
"Do I want to know?"
"Eventually." Sherlock waited for a moment, listening to Mycroft's characteristic exasperated sigh. He knew his brother was deliberating, but the ultimate decision would be in Sherlock's favor. A moment later the deduction was confirmed.
Sherlock gave him the an address to meet at, knowing it wouldn't be Mycroft, but a footman. The day after tomorrow the information would come in. He needed something, anything- anything to confirm his suspicion that was currently grasping at straws, which wasn't saying much for him…
That information was crucial. It could be the thing that killed him or left him alive.
Anything to confirm that Diana was mentally unstable.
Two weeks later:
Irene awoke when her head hit the floor.
She'd slept what little she had strapped to that board, the same as the majority of her time spent here, but the straps had suddenly all released and she'd fallen on the concrete floor. Touching her hand to her head, it came back bloody.
"Don't worry. It's barely a scratch compared to what's coming." Diana's voice came through the groggy haze coating Irene's thoughts.
"What happened to motherly love?" Irene groaned, sarcastic.
"Defiance and fifteen years of separation." Diana sounded almost bored. By the tone of her voice it wouldn't have been unlikely if she was filing her nails.
Irene felt her coordination coming back, and her senses. She was loose. She was free… But soon she was jerked to her feet from behind by a strong hand. On her feet, she threw a blind punch, smacked flesh hard, and ran for the door with the sound of a groan in her ears.
She didn't make it more than ten steps before the room turned upside down and she fell again. Starving and weak, she wouldn't have even made it up the stairs.
There wasn't enough time to get up before her hands were tied.
"Come on, honey. We're going to see your detective."
Chapter 18: Year Two- December (part One)
On account of the events of December being so long, I've split the month into two chapters (I like to try to keep the chapter lengths consistent when I can, even though I've pretty much failed at that attempt with this story).
This is PART ONE.
Year Two. Beginning of Month Six. Part 1.
Irene didn't sleep on the way.
In all honesty, she was too tired to sleep.
Her eyes felt crusted over and sore, and her limbs ached. It crossed her mind that the past who knows how long had perhaps been simply to break her down enough so that she could be used as submissive collateral. Well, physically they'd met their mark- that was for sure. Mentally they'd missed by a wide margin.
This collateral wasn't going to let herself become collateral damage in the destruction path of the Raynes family... or what was left of it, at least.
However, if she died and her parents got their dues, Irene wouldn't mind… she would prefer to make it out alive (who wouldn't?) but dying for this cause was fine on her list of priorities. For Sherlock's sake, however, she hoped that he didn't care whether she lived or died, not matter how much one part of her wanted the exact opposite.
The first part of December is nearly always unusually warm in North Carolina.
Such was the case when Sherlock, armed only with information up his sleeves, stepped onto the beach under Jeannette's Pier as the clock struck December 1st. The weather was barely chilly, and the sand was not uncomfortably cool or the wind harsh and biting. For all he knew it could have been September or August weather in England.
What did he know? He knew a little of the family history, and a little of the family affairs. He knew Diana was very unstable, and he knew more than anything that they all had a very slim chance of making it out alive tonight.
Under the pier there were three shadowy figures, becoming clearer as his eyes adjusted to the dark. Mikael, hand on the shoulder of a bound and gagged Irene, who was kneeling in the sand, with Diana beside him.
"Ah, ah, ah." Diana said, now fairly visible. "Game doesn't work like that." Mikael cocked a gun. Irene didn't seem too phased by this. Diana nearly smiled outright. She reminded him of a mustard-colored cat with that hair and the way she was grinning, actually.
"Yes, you definitely raised Moriarty…" Sherlock mumbled under his breath, and then responded louder. "How does it work?"
"However I want it to." Diana shrugged. "I say jump, you say how high." Sherlock was silent, unresponsive. There wasn't any good way to get out of this, he knew. They were alone- Lestrade had scanned the area for snipers, but Mikael had something more valuable than gunpowder: a gun pointed to the head of someone Sherlock cared for. Suddenly Mikael sank lower down and ripped the gag from Irene's mouth, shoving her forward so she was on her stomach in the sand.
"Sorry, hon, but you're just the pawn now." He said, addressing Irene. "Well? Speak!" He ripped the gag from her mouth with a flourish. She remained silent, attempting to roll onto her side so she could get back on her knees. Mikael stopped her by placing a foot between her shoulder blades. "We say jump, remember?" He whispered, leaning down to speak directly into her ear.
"I thought you weren't one to get your hands dirty, daddy darling." Irene grunted out.
"No, not usually. But I've got you, and I've got him, and there's no one else around, is there?" Mikael said, his voice echoing through the night air around the pier. "And you, Mr. Sherlock Holmes… you nearly destroyed everything we've worked for." At this Diana put a hand on his shoulder, as if attempting to remain steady. "Or rather, you will. You see, Sherlock Holmes can't come back from the dead. If he does, he undoes all the work that poor Jim did to make the world squirm under his gaze… and ours, for that matter."
In truth, they'd known it all along, all four of them had. It was why Irene had worked so hard to stay hidden- it wasn't just her life in question any longer.
With both Moriarty and Sherlock gone, things would stay as they were, with Sherlock's credibility shattered. However, history knows all too well that the winners decide the way history is recorded. It's the same reason that the American Civil War is referred to as a "civil war," implying a war between the peoples of one single country, when in fact the south was a completely different country at the time because they succeeded from the Union. If Sherlock lived, he won. If he stayed dead, Jim would come out on top, and so would the Raynes.
And that was exactly what they wanted- all of Jim's vast criminal empire bequeathed to them, into the very hands that built the conqueror, and all the shining reputation that came with it. Well… that was what Mikael wanted. So simple, the desires of the practical and almost sane. Diana took over talking, her voice much less stable than Mikael's had been, shaking almost. With rage or fear or some impossible, indescribable emotion, it was impossible to tell.
"So why did you insist on fighting, princess? Why didn't you just let the great Sherlock Holmes take care of it, hm?" Diana asked.
"Because it's my fight, you b-"
"Tsk, tsk, let's keep a clean mouth, shall we?" Mikel interrupted, but Irene refused to respond. Diana took up the talking once more. She seemed to be detached, like her mind was looking somewhere other than here, talking to some invisible adversary. Like a narcotic dream.
"But it's not your fight, is it?" She said. "It's his. You're just tangled up in it. So tell me- why didn't you run?" Diana gestured to Mikael, and the gun shifted from her head to Sherlock's. The unspoken threat hung heavy in the air.
"I didn't want anyone else hurt by scum like you!" She said, grunting out the words with her limited air supply. Her father's foot was still on her back. Her mother laughed from the side, cold and cruel.
"But you never were a noble one Irene, were you? Except when it came to killing- what a shame. You could have been great. Ugh, empathy… disgusting, isn't it?" She looked off into the distance for a half second, as if imagining the possibilities that someone as cunning Irene could have if she wasn't limited by her emotions. In that moment, in the distant look in her already losing eyes, Sherlock, Irene, and Mikael all realized one thing: Diana wasn't just mildly schizophrenic. That had died out long ago and given into… what? Some deeply hidden desire? Some regret of a past mistake coming back to haunt her? Either way, the truth now stared them in the eye: she was, quite possibly, completely insane. There wasn't enough time to act on their instincts, however, before she continued.
"So tell me… what did he tell you before you left, hm?" Irene's head jerked up, twisting to look at Diana's face, then at Sherlock's- "I don't want to see you dead." The words rang clear in her mind even now. Back in the cabin, before she left for the library that last night. He knew they were getting close to finding them- he didn't want her to go alone.
"How?" Irene asked. How could she have possibly heard?
"We have eyes and ears." Mikael jumped in, his foot still jammed firmly between her shoulder blades. He was beginning to look uneasy the longer his wife talked, but he let her continue this maddening round of questioning.
"So. Why didn't you leave when you had the chance? You knew we were close. You could have been gone."
"I didn't know for sure-"
"Oh, that's cute." Diana laughed, taking a few steps back over the no-man's-land and snatching Mikael's gun, keeping it trained on Sherlock. "I think you know what I'm waiting for. And frankly I won't wait much longer."
"If you know so much then why don't you just say it yourself?"
"Oh, I might. But I'd really prefer to hear you say it." Silence seemed to scream in the space between the challenger's words and the response of the challenged.
"I…" Irene's strangled words slipped out.
"Yes?" Diana smiled smugly. Irene mumbled something hard to make out. "What was that? I didn't hear you."
Irene's eyes stung with unshed tears, shifting to Sherlock, who stood motionless.
Diana chuckled, stepping forward.
"I will." She said. "She loves you. And if I didn't know better I'd say the great Sherlock Holmes had a weak point." She pulled an envelope out of her bag, producing several photos. She rifled through them slowly. "Tsk, tsk. What a naughty boy you've been, Mr. Holmes." She held the pages out to him, motioning for him to come forward and take them. He did so, albeit hesitantly.
Pictures from the winter.
Pictures from the cabin.
One in particular of one moment they'd never mentioned again, the night they'd spent in each other's arms. It was taken through a window, but it was obvious who was lying in the shadows. Diana must have seen him pause on that one.
"Well, what do you say, Shirley?" She asked, focusing the gun back on Irene. Sherlock was silent, trying to think of what to do- it was all a game. It was always a game with them. He had two choices, one of which would most certainly get one or both of them killed. Sherlock dropped his eyes.
And just at that moment, seeing the look in Diana's eyes, hearing the hate in her voice, coming to a conclusion he hoped he would never have to… Mikael began to feel something very unfamiliar to him.
He remembered reading once that Julius Caesar was stabbed twenty-three times when he was murdered- that was beyond wanting someone's death. That was a result of pure and utter hate. The same bloodlust shone in his wife's eyes now, and he knew that his own life was in danger, both his political life and his flesh-and-blood life. About the same time a similar thought flashed through Sherlock's mind, but they both came to the same conclusion:
If someone didn't do something all three of them were going to die tonight at Diana's hand. She would shoot Sherlock first, then Irene, possibly putting multiple bullets in Irene's skull before stopping. After that she might regret what she'd done, or she might not. Either way, she needed mental help, and suggesting so would be the end of Mikael's life. One wrong word- or one word at all- could be enough to provoke her into killing her own husband.
Mikael bent down as Sherlock examined the photos and Diana examined Sherlock, whispering in Irene's ear, breathy and nearly inaudible.
"Listen to me," he said, "I am going to loosen my foot. I want you to get up. Don't say a word." He said. Diana was preoccupied, continuing some sort of monologue to Sherlock. Irene was wary, but did as he said. Even though Mikael was unarmed, she probably wasn't strong enough to fight him; just standing made her dizzy. Her feet planted silently in the wet sandy ground.
"Keep quiet." Mikael moved behind her and tugged at the knots holding her wrists together. "We are all going to die tonight if we aren't careful. She's been angry like this before, but now she's got a gun, so our lives are in her hands."
If Sherlock saw what they were doing, he didn't show it.
"Now, I don't know about you, but I would prefer not to die." He grabbed one of her hands, now free, and pulled her backwards, away from the pier. Once they were far enough into the shadows he pulled her up a slope to a concealed place among the grass.
"Why are you doing this?" Irene caught his arm and looked him in the eye. He stared at her a second, this daughter that was not his daughter.
She left. She defied them. She hated them.
But they hadn't given her what she needed. They hadn't taken care of her. They hadn't loved her. For Mikael's part he hadn't because he knew she wasn't really his child. For Diana's part, the same- she hadn't borne a child of the man she married, and who she loved dearly, and it was a constant reminder of her past mistakes. She knew about Jim, too, or she'd guessed. Not that she would openly admit it. It might have even been what drove her to insanity.
What had Kate really done to deserve to die?
His fingers fumbled with the plastic bag in his pocket, looking for the chloroform-soaked cloth inside. There.
"Because you're not worth it."
And with that, he lunged forward, pressed the cloth over her mouth, and held her there until she was still and her breathing steady.
If Diana killed her, the grief would set in quickly and she would never forgive herself, or the rage would take over and Mikael himself would probably be killed. Either way, as insane as she might be, he still couldn't let that happen to her. Somewhere he hadn't been sure existed, he still cared.
Sherlock saw everything. He saw Mikael untie Irene. He saw them slip around the other side of the pier. And he saw Diana, still talking, talking in so many circles.
Talking about how Irene wasn't Mikael's daughter. Talking about how Jim Moriarty was his son, but not hers. Talking about how her existence had been twisted by secrets and lies, and the day she could retire in peace would be a happy one, indeed.
As soon as Irene was safely out of sight, Sherlock thought it was safe to talk.
"So, I understand why you want to kill me. But what do you want me to say before you do?" He remained motionless, perfectly calm and detached. Diana laughed, a cold, chilling sound birthing a smile that didn't reach her eyes.
"Oh, you're clever. But not too clever, after all."
While Mikael was sneaking back around the pier, Diana was still circling Sherlock, rambling to the point that she sounded distressed and oblivious to the fact that Irene was gone. She didn't seem to actually care much anymore. Mikael soundlessly made his way up behind her, listening in on what she was saying.
"No, Mr. Holmes, you're wrong this time." Diana pointed the gun back at Sherlock's head with a shaking arm. For a moment she seemed resolute, but a second later she carelessly dropped the gun, half chuckling. "I don't want to kill you." Her voice sounded choked.
Sherlock stayed completely still. He knew better than to interrupt at this point in her monologue.
"I can't kill you." She said. "You haven't done anything, not really…" A second later the gun rose again, but this time to her own head. "But I have. I just told you I have."
This was by far the scariest episode he'd seen of Diana's, and he wasn't about to let it end in her death. He could tell by her voice she'd been crying.
"Diana, don't!" Sherlock said. He'd noticed Mikael in the background, and was attempting to divert her attention. And stop her, but if she didn't do it then Sherlock would tackle her himself. As guilty as she was, this wasn't an escape of any kind.
"Don't try to stop me or I'll shoot you, too!" Diana cried, voice echoing.
"No you won't." Sherlock said calmly. He took a step forward and Diana pointed the gun back towards him. Behind her, Mikael took his shot. He tackled Diana to the ground from behind as Sherlock ducked and came forward. The gun went off, bullet clipping Sherlock's left shoulder, but he ignored it for the moment as Diana landed face down in the sand, Mikael on top of her. Sherlock grabbed the gun from her hand, fingers now limp and without protest.
Mikael slowly stood, leaving a now unconscious Diana on the ground. A bloody gash on her forehead revealed where her head had smacked the barrel of the gun when she fell. Sherlock quickly seized the moment and pointed the gun towards Mikael.
"Get all that, Mycroft?" He said, seemingly to thin air.
"What?" Mikael asked, completely confused. Sherlock held up a finger and waited for the sound to buzz through his earpiece, concealed by his (now longer) floppy dark hair.
"Loud and clear, Sherlock. We're sending in the police now."
Only a moment later red and blue lights flashed above the pier and several spotlights lit up the area. Six uniformed American policemen scrambled down the bank and put both Sherlock and Mikael in handcuffs until Mycroft arrived to identify his brother. After all, Sherlock was the one with the gun in hand. Irene and Diana were rushed into the ambulance and taken to the hospital, Mikael and Sherlock right behind them in a squad car.
There was a lot of deliberation and a lot of talking behind locked doors, listening to the tape, and questions for Sherlock and Mikael (who refused to say anything without a lawyer present). Many of them revolved around his disappearance, but on that fact he refused to say a word, and the government swore that the entire matter would be kept as quiet as possible. None of the policemen at the scene had recognized him, therefore his existence was solely known by the men in this room, and so was Irene's.
Not that he trusted them.
He did trust Mycroft, however, who did a fair job of quieting all matters that needed to be quieted. He even agreed to let Irene go, as she hadn't actually done anything since her supposed death, and she had tried to save Sherlock's life.
Now all that was left was to take care of Irene.
Chapter 19: Year Two- December (part Two)
Year Two. Beginning of Month Six. Part 2.
So many things ran through Sherlock's head. He played the scene under the pier through his mind over and over again, looking for… something. He wasn't sure what, but he was positive there was something he was missing.
All the pieces of the puzzle seemed to fit together now, or at least, most of them. The backstory was clear enough: Irene was not Mikael's daughter, but Moriarty was his son, if not by Diana. Their entire motive seemed to be based on getting revenge for their own mistakes, somehow motivated by Diana's twisted mind and thoughts that it was Irene's fault for not being born her husband's child. That much made sense.
What didn't make sense was the one sentence that seemed to be running through Sherlock's mind over and over, just one thing that Diana had said that was coming back to haunt him.
She loves you.
Irene was in a wheelchair, rolling down the hallway, IVs hooked to a pole on the back of the chair. She insisted that she didn't actually need it, but it was just hospital policy for someone in her physical condition. It was either that or use a walker, and she decided the wheelchair was more dignified. She'd glanced in on Diana, who was asleep in her room, and she'd inquired about (and somehow gotten) the psych reports.
Diana was incredibly unstable, diagnosis pending, and would likely be placed in a mental hospital after she was diagnosed. There wasn't any certainty on what would happen to Mikael, though he would likely face criminal charges and evade them yet again. Right now he sat beside Diana's bed, oblivious to anyone else around him.
A nurse found Irene and took her back to her room, insisting she rest. She'd been out far too long already.
Sherlock knocked on the already open door a few moments later, and Irene's head turned. The bandage wrapped around his shoulder was slightly visible through the neck of his shirt, and he'd been instructed no to move it too much, even though the wound was anything but severe.
"How are you doing?" he asked.
"Not bad. I'd be better if I wasn't doted on by nurses constantly." Irene gestured to the chair beside the window. Things only got so interesting in a whitewashed, sterile hospital room. Sherlock sat, glancing out the window at the view Irene must already have grown bored of. The hospital had several wings, all of different heights, so Irene's window stared out over the tops of two other wings, looking down at gravel-topped flat roofs and a bland trees-and-houses-and-more-trees suburban landscape beyond the parking lot.
"You know that's not what I mean." Sherlock said quietly. Irene looked away from the window to study his face.
"Fine." She said after a moment's judgment. "I could be better. I could be worse. But… I got what I wanted." She leaned back, relaxing into the wheelchair. Sherlock decided it would be best not to question what exactly she'd wanted just now. There were other things to think about.
"Where will you go?" He asked. He wasn't stupid, and Irene knew it. She'd been expecting this question ever since they came to the hospital.
Since this little snafu with the government, it would be harder than ever to make themselves scarce. They could hardly stay in America, or at least not in this part of the country. It was a possibility to disappear back into New York, but that would almost definitely mean questions and concerns- people hardly ever question a mysterious disappearance until one mysteriously comes back. London was dangerous. Other parts of Europe were a possibility, but it would be difficult to get there, and more so if they stayed together. Sherlock knew his way around the black market by now- he could find his way to where he needed to go without her help.
And right now, she seriously needed some time off.
However, as to where she needed time off, she wasn't quite sure. She thought of a beach vacation, but that was s bit stereotypical and it was a pretty common place to be looked for. She'd be found in two weeks. No, the best place to go would be somewhere quiet, somewhere so far off the radar and the vacation scope that no one would ever think to look for her there… not ever Sherlock Holmes. So, with this in mind, she answered his question as honestly as she could.
"I'll find somewhere. I always do." She shrugged. Sherlock stood, barely containing a huff of annoyance.
"And so… what? Everything goes back to normal?" He asked, turning his back to her.
"There is no normal anymore, Sherlock. You know that as well as I do." She carefully stood, making sure the arm with IVs connected under no strain.
Sherlock was silent. Yes, he knew. There wasn't anything in his life that could be pressed or pushed into any feasible norm for a long time. He supposed he should accept it, but the fact was, the one thing that could have been considered the norm in his life was about to go gallivanting off who knows where, and his logical brain was completely ok with that.
"I'm sorry." Irene said without looking at him. She felt like the world was about to come running after her, and in reality it was. If she stayed here too long every government agent she'd ever had the misfortune to piss off- which was quite a few- would be on her trail within days.
"I am dead. I can't afford to come back; there are too many people after me for too many things. I can't go back, I can't start over. I'm stuck here, and you know it." She turned and took a step towards Sherlock, now only inches apart, but still with his back to her.
"Look at me!" She ordered, louder than expected. Sherlock turned slowly, as if in defiance. The look on her face was almost enough to make him give in. Worry, fear, anger, defiance, all rolled into one with the realization that her life was over before it had ever had the chance to be lived.
"No." She said, cutting him off with a finger to his lips. "I am dead, Sherlock. Let me stay that way."
Sherlock looked at her a moment, studying her face. As soon as she become a dead woman walking she'd given up any chance at having a life other than running and hiding. He wasn't going to let her stay that way, not after what she'd done for him the past year and a half.
"What's the point in being dead if you can't rest in peace?"
Irene's eyes dropped.
"I think it's best you go now." She said, taking a deep breath. Sherlock turned to leave, walking quickly for even him. However, he stopped himself at the door.
"What did you want?"
"What?" Irene's head snapped back up.
"You said you got what you wanted- what was it?" His eyes flicked from point to point, from feature to feature, scanning her face. Irene smirked and sat on the edge of her hospital bed.
"If you want to know, I'm sure you'll figure it out."
Silence. The room seemed to be put on pause for an infinity, like statues or a picture, or a moment frozen in amber, preserved until someone takes a breath and disturbs it.
Sherlock walked out of the room.
One week later:
Irene walked out of the hospital on sure footing, Sherlock beside her. She would have left on her own, but she needed help sneaking out since she was still fairly weak. This was the earliest she could get Sherlock to help her, and only with the promise she would find a doctor and be checked out wherever she was going. Everything seemed to be slowing down from the past several months on the run, but it wasn't, not really. It was just being put on pause while Irene fished for her bus ticket. Sherlock had agreed to see her to the station.
"Sherl-" Irene began, but she was cut off.
"Don't say you'll write. You won't. I know you, remember?" He didn't look at her, almost like he was avoiding her eyes.
"In fact, it's probably best you don't say anything at all." He still refused to look at her, leaning up against the wall behind him. Irene shrugged, nodding to no one in particular, and turned to look at his profile, his eyes staring at the spot where the bus was pulling up now. She'd taken the shortest bus ride so that she could change stations immediately and go somewhere unbeknownst to Sherlock. If all went as planned she'd probably never see him again.
So, with this in mind, she pulled him to the side by his coat lapels and kissed him. It was such a surprise that for one second- just one- neither of them bothered with the masks. It was so reminiscent of their parting many months ago, except now she didn't have a sedative up her sleeve. The smell of cigarette smoke wasn't quite as strong now, but somehow she was glad. It dulled the sharp edge of leaving.
It was such a risk- abandoning all their pretenses, all their guards, all their masks to this one isolated moment in time. And if it was love, then what were they to say? Were they to say that it was all real? Were they to say that it wasn't just a game any longer? Were they to say that, in fact, it had never been a game since they came to New York, because the stakes were now far too high for either of their likings?
But, as they had realized on that night many months before, one who wears a mask can only survive so long without it. Irene broke the kiss and rested her forehead against his shoulder, long hair brushing against his face. What had she done?
Then her weight was gone, but the warmth stayed. Sherlock didn't move, he just stayed where he was, stripped of his mask, stripped of the only thing that had kept him sane for so long. He'd let his guard down, and now there was sure to be a price to pay.
There is a face beneath this mask, but it isn't me. I'm no more that face than I am the one beneath that, or the flesh and bones beneath that.
"You know, they say if you love something you should let it go, and if it comes back, it was always yours." A voice said from behind Sherlock. Mycroft walked up beside his brother as he watched the bus pull away.
"What are you doing here?"
"Chasing you." Mycroft took up a spot leaning against the wall beside him, attempting to look inconspicuous and failing utterly. Two British men, one in a long coat and the other with a suit and a cane, one having just been passionately kissed in the middle of a bus station… well, that's hardly inconspicuous.
"Why?" Sherlock asked, bored already. He knew, it was simply the standard between them to have the conversation.
"I have some advice."
"Yes. Get out of the country. Fast. The police will be wanting to know why Irene disappeared, and they'll be after you faster than you can say Moriarty." At this, Mycroft picked up his cane and walked away, never one to stay past practical conversation.
"See you next year, brother." Sherlock muttered, fishing in his coat pocket..
Smoke curled through the air from an old pack of cigarettes.
Chapter 20: Year Two- January
Year Two. Beginning of Month Seven.
Irene staggered slightly as she walked slowly up the steps to a familiar door. She was supposed to be finding a doctor, and it was true she probably needed one, what with everything she'd been through, but honestly… she couldn't think of one that would be inconspicuous. Well, alright. She could only think of one, though it had taken quite a while to worm her way out of the country, and currently she was standing on his doorstep.
The crisp, cold air on a January night in London was broken by light from inside the door as Dr. John Watson unlocked the entrance to 221 Baker Street. He gasped as she fell into him, head resting on his shoulder in a kind of half-dead hug.
"Irene?" John staggered backwards, the door falling shut behind him. Mrs. Hudson wasn't in tonight, so he'd come to the door himself.
"I've never been so glad to see you." Irene said with a groan, standing with a little help from John. Her knees felt week, and she was fairly certain she was running a fever. John seemed to pick up on that almost instantly.
"Let's get you upstairs." He put an arm around her and helped her up the stairs and into the flat. After an hour and several glasses of cold water, Irene's fever went down enough that she could talk sensibly. Seated on the couch in the not quite as familiar flat, she took a long look around before speaking. Things had been mostly cleared: bookshelves were mostly empty, boxes stacked up in places, and instead of clutter the place seemed to have a neat, if a little lonely, feel to it.
"I'd have though you would be gone by now." She said.
"Oh?" John asked, raising an eyebrow suspiciously. "You wouldn't have come if you really did."
"Fair enough." Irene tucked up her knees, still feeling weak and jittery. "So, what's the first question, then?" There was only a short pause before the words she'd been expecting for the last hour pierced the air.
"You're dead." He was almost emotionless.
"Should be, you mean." Her voice was quiet, and slightly hoarse. She was obviously sick, and the cold weather couldn't be helping.
"Well, I guess it's pretty obvious I'm not, isn't it?" She smirked slightly, but it was wiped from her face before there was time to fully register the action.
"Why come here? Why come to the place it's probably the most dangerous for you to be at?"
"Recent circumstances have made it much safer for me here than elsewhere."
"Recent circumstances?" John asked, taking a seat in one of the other chairs- the one that Sherlock used to sit in so frequently looked like it hadn't been touched since his death. Irene refused to elaborate, so John simply asked another question.
"So, why come here? Why not just stay anonymous and out of sight?"
"Because-" but at this she started to cough, and couldn't finish her sentence for a moment. "Because I need a doctor, and I know one who owes me a favor."
"Who's that?" John asked, perfectly curious. Irene rolled her eyes, and a sudden look of realization passed over his face. "Oh, right- you mean me, don't you?"
In answer to this Irene merely shrugged, a small smile playing over her face.
"And what one this planet, exactly, would make you think I owe you anything?"
"You will." Irene said. John remained stoic.
"Why?" He shrugged his shoulders. He had every right to be angry- his best friend was dead, and the woman who had nearly been his undoing was alive.
But before she could explain she went into another coughing fit, and either the doctor or the friend in John decided that it would probably be in his best interest to help her.
Laying some change on the counter, Sherlock sat down his coffee cup and walked out the door, bell dinging behind him. He was trying not to think about the fact that there had been no word, no contact from Irene, no nothing since they last saw each other.
It was almost like the last few months had been a dead man's dream, and Irene the ghost accompanying him to the afterlife.
The only evidence that the past few months had actually existed were the papers and books still scattered around the flat they had so hurriedly left, and which
Sherlock had returned to for lack of a better place to go, and the scar on his shoulder from the bullet wound.
The flat was still a mess- he simply hadn't bothered to clean it up yet. Books of Irene's sat around the bedrooms, the violin was left on its stand. The entire room had been frozen while they were gone, it seemed. All the life had seemed to drain out of Sherlock. The neighbors hated him because he played the violin at all hours, and he probably would have been evicted if he'd bothered to answer the door when the landlord called.
Otherwise, it was the hustle and bustle of the streets of New York that kept him mildly entertained. People were so easy to read in this place that it was almost funny, but he needed a challenge. No such thing had come his way, and he had another year and a half to keep a low profile. Yes, he probably should have gotten out of the country, but something in him just wouldn't budge to make an effort to leave. He had come to one conclusion, however.
If he didn't find something to do soon, he was going to go mad.
Mycroft sat in his office, still staring at the laptop he'd picked up from the flat in New York about a year ago.
They still hadn't managed to crack the password, meaning that it was likely a random combination of letters and numbers. It would take weeks still for the group to decode it, which wasn't helped by the fact that every five attempts got the team locked out for 24 hours. There was something on this thing that Sherlock wanted him to see, he was sure of it.
The team had already tried any kind of the usual key words that people might use, and so had Mycroft, but there was one thing that he hadn't tried. Idiot. It was so simple- when someone says "Hello," what do you say in response?
After a moment Mycroft was staring at a relatively plain page, with only a few shortcuts on it. A speech bubble flashed from the bottom right corner of the screen, asking to connect to a network in order to check email. He brushed it off.
The files saved were scans of several sheets of information- raw tracking data for the Raynes, it looked like. Besides those, there was little else. Actually, the only other file was a word processing document still labeled "Untitled," that required yet another passcode to get into. No hints this time. Best not fool with it.
The Raynes were already in custody- these couldn't provide much help in their court case, since they didn't come from a credible source. However… On a hunch, Mycroft reopened the bubble prompting him to connect to a network, and opened an email account. The address was , and there was only one new email. Subject: You've cracked the code. From: Sherlock Holmes.
The email had no text, only a file attachment, and it was dated about three months after he'd found the laptop. So Sherlock hadn't wanted him to see anything in particular; he'd wanted a way to communicate.
If you need word from me you can contact me through this email. Otherwise, I'll be keeping a low profile.
About that time there was a knock at the door, and a young man entered.
"Sir?" He asked hesitantly. Mycroft raised an eyebrow to indicate he was listening. "We have a situation." The man continued. Mycroft sighed.
"How much of a situation?"
"May I speak frankly?" The man asked. Mycroft nodded his consent. "If your brother were alive, sir, I'd say it bordered on a Sherlock situation."
Oh Lord, thought Mycroft. Here we go again.
Chapter 21: Year Two- February
Year Two. Beginning of Month Eight.
John Watson walked into the den, thermometer in hand, preaching to a complaining Irene.
"John, this is sweet, but I haven't run a fever in a week."
"You're recovering from malnutrition, and frankly, I'm surprised you didn't go into shock after all was said and done. Your immune system is weak, especially after you've just been sick. Trust me, it's best to keep a check."
"Why are you doing this?" Irene asked, taking the thermometer from him. She didn't put it in her mouth just yet, though. John held her gaze for a second, gauging the question.
"Because I'm a good person." He said. Irene was quick to respond.
"You know that's not what I mean. Why are you choosing to trust me?" John sighed and walked to the kitchen. There was a pot of coffee brewing, and the smell was beginning to pervade the flat. He poured himself a mug, taking a seat at the counter.
"Honestly? I don't." Irene heard him pause, take a sip, and swallow. "But I doubt you're involved in a plot to kill me, and other than that I don't have much to lose."
Irene didn't speak, partly because she wasn't quite sure how to respond, but mostly because the thermometer was now in her mouth and she didn't want to leave it in for any longer than strictly necessary.
"I've been keeping check on the papers," John continued hesitantly, "You know how many cases I've seen of Sherlock's caliber?"
Irene looked back at him and raised an eyebrow in the way of questioning.
"One. One case in all this time. Probably more, in all likelihood, but most of the ones he takes on are private."
"What exactly do you know about him?" Irene asked. John looked up, surprised. "Sherlock." She clarified, just in case. John sighed, slightly annoyed, but looking more worn out than anything.
"Look. I've already told the entire populace. I don't want to talk-"
"They didn't really want to listen." Irene interrupted. "Come on. Please? Dead men tell no tales- or dead women, I suppose." That brought on a slight laugh, and John sat beside her on the couch, nodding.
"What do I really know? Not much more than you, probably."
"Tell me anyways."
John seemed to think for a moment, though it seemed more appropriate to think of it as a flashback, like he was looking through some sort of invisible rift into the past. Better days.
"He smoked when he was stressed, and he didn't like to eat when he was working on a case. There were times I wondered if he lived off cigarettes…"
Irene nodded, face attentive, and encouraged him to continue.
"I know he grew up in London. I know he was always a loner, according to Mycroft. I-"
There was a knock at the door just then. Soft, but firm. A business-like knock. It was wasn't a client- there weren't clients anymore, and if they came looking for John Watson thinking he could help, they were kindly turned away by either himself or Mrs. Hudson.
Which meant it had to be Mycroft.
After casting Irene an experimental glance, John walked to the door and opened it. In strolled Mycroft Holmes, not the least surprised to see Irene curled up on the couch, and if he was he didn't show it. The man had always reminded her of the Penguin from the old Batman cartoons, mostly because of the way he walked around in a business suit with a cane all the time.
"Oh, is this the rebound?" He asked, giving a cold, sarcastic smile. Irene sent him a look that seemed to John to be akin to that snake from Harry Potter. The one that petrified people- what was it, the Basilisk?
"Think what you will. What do you want?" Asked Irene.
"You." Mycroft said, frankly. Irene laughed outright.
"Well, I'm flattered-"
"You know what I mean." Mycroft cut her off.
"Hmm… and you know it doesn't work that way." She said, settling back into the cushions.
"Sorry, what is he talking about?" John asked, extremely confused. Mycroft cast a glance at Irene, whose face remained blank, and then back at John, who was beginning to look a bit angry.
"Could I have a word with you, Miss Adler? In private?" Mycroft asked, gesturing to the door. Irene shrugged and stood, stretching as if she hadn't a care in the world. She exited first, and as Mycroft was stepping out John interjected again.
"Would somebody please tell what is bloody going on?"
"All in due time, Mr. Watson." Mycroft shut the door behind them and proceeded down the steps after Irene.
"You haven't told him? Good. You care more than I thought." He said as they reached the outside door, now assured that they couldn't be heard.
"Don't be so foolish as to mistake a mild personal interest for caring."
"Yes…" Mycroft pondered that a moment before deciding to leave it for later. "Regardless, I need you to make contact with him."
"Didn't I see you at the bus stop when I left? I assumed you'd know where he was going. You found me, after all."
"It wasn't hard to find where you were going. I didn't bother tracing the bus routes, I just checked here first. I do keep tabs on our Mr. Watson, you know- I notice when his routines get out of order."
"Fine. Fair enough. But I don't know where he is."
"You have to know something. I've emailed him and tried to trace him, but the radar is clean."
"And what do you want me to do about it?" Irene sighed, leaning against the wall.
"I want you to call him."
"It's a matter of national security."
"Why can't you find him yourself?"
"I've exhausted all my resources. If he's anywhere, he's not going out. Nobody can get a lock on him." So he was being careful. Good. The Raynes had friends, and they would probably be looking for whoever took them down. If he wasn't careful the trail would lead straight to him, even though they didn't know a name or a face. Either that, or…it had been two months without word… but Irene didn't dwell on that possibility.
"Why should I care?" She'd been playing the information card her whole life. She knew when to fold and when to call a bluff, but she also knew when she had the upper hand. Mycroft sighed, putting a hand to his forehead.
"I'll wipe the records clean."
"Oh, this must be a big one if you need him that badly. Fine. I'll help you, but I want proof the records are wiped before I make a single move in your favor."
"Deal." Mycroft extended his hand.
"So be it." Irene shook it.
Irene lay in bed in the room that used to be Sherlock's, thinking about where he could possibly have gone. In order to get out of the country he would need contacts that he didn't have or hadn't used. Mycroft could have orchestrated it, but obviously he hadn't had much contact with him if he didn't know where he was. Mycroft had authority in Britain, so Sherlock wouldn't be here, but after that arrest the states probably wouldn't want him meddling with their FBI for a long time.
Conclusion? Sherlock wasn't fond of warm weather. He was either somewhere in America, or he'd snuck across the northern border and was holed up in Canada.
Or possibly in an igloo somewhere...
No, America was probably the most likely. But where to start…
"Irene-" John burst through the open door, "I'm sorry, but I think I have a right to know what the heck is going on!" Irene sighed and sat up, immediately coming to the conclusion that the best way to get out of this situation was probably to lie through her teeth.
"If I tell you now I'll be putting several people's lives in danger, including yours and mine. You'll find out eventually."
"A year and four months." Irene said. "Does that make you feel better?"
"Not really." John shook his head.
"It should." She flopped back down on the bed, exasperated.
"Because I'm usually not courteous enough to give people a time."
Later that night John went out on a date. Irene most definitely did not approve of his girlfriend, from what he'd told her- some girl named Elizabeth, the first since Sherlock's death. She expected they were probably going to split up soon.
Irene unearthed her rarely used cell phone and Googled a New York telephone directory. That's what all great sleuths do in this modern age, right? If you can't find it, Google it. Regardless of rants about technology, though, she found the number for the old apartment complex. She might as well start there- where else did he have to go? He wouldn't go back to the place in the mountains; he nearly went mad from boredom there. Of course, he'd nearly go mad anywhere without a case, but at least there were more people in New York. Plus, he'd left several things behind there that he would probably want back, mostly pertaining to a violin and a large pile of sheet music.
She sincerely hoped he was there. If not, she'd have to resort to searching for him the old fashioned way.
"Hello?" The generic voice on the other end said.
"Yes, could you please connect me to apartment 26C?" Irene asked, hoping that was the correct number.
The woman disconnected and the phone rang once.
Irene knew well enough that the phone in the apartment was old. When someone left a voicemail it still sounded through the entire apartment. So, when the beep came for her to leave a message…
"Sherlock Holmes, you pick up this bloody phone right now!"
Sherlock's head snapped up. He'd been playing his violin in the armchair, not really in the mood to take a call from anyone and especially not during the time when people would be pushing for reforms during America's new presidency.
"I know you're in there. Pick. Up. The. Phone. "
She sounded utterly convinced, but extremely tense all the same. Of course, there wasn't really any way for her to know he was actually here, was there? He could just let it ring. He could just let her go. He could-
"Please. " The voice came through as a whisper. "Please be there. " A scared whisper.
Oh. She thought he might be dead- really dead. Lay low, that was integral to the entire plan of generally not getting killed… perhaps he'd laid a bit too low.
He picked up the phone.
"Good to hear from you." There was a pause on the other end of the line, and Sherlock imagine Irene was breathing more easily now.
"I hate you."
"Same old Irene."
Silence pervaded the phone for a while. Sherlock finally asked the question that neither of them really wanted to address.
"Why did you call?"
"It's a long story, but the short of it is… have you ever solved a case over the phone before?"
Mycroft returned to his office to find yet another large stack of case files on his desk to sift through. The stretch was growing more and more complicated.
He needed help- analytical help. And more than ever he wanted Irene to deliver. A month he'd been working on this case and had gotten absolutely nothing. There was only one witness, and she was old and had bad eyesight. He wasn't about to let that stop him, but there weren't any clues. It had taken place at night, and there weren't any footprints on the dirt road leading to the house because there was a storm that washed them away. No one had even woken up.
What exactly the problem was?
What exactly the problem wasn't?
Chapter 22: Year Two- March
STOP! Alright, so this chapter and the next are going to be told via a series of flashbacks and real time adventures. I did it in previous chapter, but just as a reminder- dates will be given! Thank you so much for sticking with me this far.
So as not to confuse you, the real time bits are Year Two. Beginning of Month Nine.
February 4, 2012
"Oh, and Mycroft says to check your email." Irene said, continuing. "I didn't know you had an email."
Sherlock ignored the last comment and made a note to head to the internet café down the street later on. He was quite obviously without a laptop now. Mycroft had it, blast it all, but at least it was coming in handy.
"Mycroft? You're calling for Mycroft?" He spat out the word like a bad piece of fruit. If Irene didn’t know better she’d say he was disappointed. "What the hell does he need?"
"Just humor me, Sherlock."
"Why should I?"
"Because if you're not on Mycroft's radar it means you've barely left the flat, and without any work you're going to waste away to nothing. And if that happens I'll bring you back out of your grave just to punish you for it!" It wasn't a threat to be lightly taken, judging by the tone of her voice.
"What are the facts?" Sherlock asked with a sigh, reclining back in his chair. He was slipping into analytical mode, the detective at heart.
"A homeschool teacher reported missing after she didn't come home one night. Her parents said she wasn't in bed when they woke up, so they thought she'd gone out or something. It was storming pretty badly the night she disappeared, so any noise would probably have been covered up. They called the police when she didn't answer her phone." Irene rattled off the facts with practiced ease. He suspected Mycroft had given her the files and she'd taken time to look them over before calling him.
"I don't do kidnappings." He said bluntly, a bit disappointed.
"Not even when you're shy for work and itching for a case?" Irene asked, clearly smiling even through the phone.
"Not even when it looks as if she'd been kidnapped by a ghost?"
Sherlock was attentive again. No such things as ghosts, obviously, but there had to be some sort of giveaway. There always was.
"Any notes? Any contact from the kidnapper?" He asked. It was very typical so far, but he hoped he wouldn't be disappointed.
"One. Typed, no fingerprints. They sent it after Mycroft got on the search. 'She's gone. Don't try to find her.'"
"Anything missing from the house? Money, medications, possessions of hers?"
"Nothing. It's like she was taken by a ghost."
"Signs of a struggle?"
"The only thing Mycroft's boys could find was that the attic door and the basement door were forced open. Quick job, quiet, somebody who knew what he was doing; there were only a few places the wood was warped and splintered. The family didn't even notice at first. It was being used as a spare bedroom, but they kept it locked when nobody stayed there. The teacher stayed in the room next to the daughter, not in the attic. The basement was just left hanging open, clear signs of a forced entry."
"Why leave the door hanging and be so careful with the attic?" Sherlock asked, thinking out loud.
"Maybe they didn't care if they left it."
"Why, though? Why give away you've kidnapped someone?" Sherlock was up and fighting not to pace now. There was a long pause before Irene, who seemed to be thinking, too, spoke.
"I saw the pictures of the family and the crime scene. It was a mother, father, daughter, and a young son, and the parents were fairly old. The basement was old and dark and dank, it looked like it hadn't been cleaned in centuries, and if I were them I probably wouldn't want to go down there."
"Ok, so the kidnapper knows that they don't go down there. He also knows that there was something in the attic he wanted. What about the daughter's room- any signs there?"
"No. The daughter wasn't disturbed. You know, it's funny- she and the teacher could practically be twins, they're even close to the same age, but they all swear up and down they're not related." There was a pause. Sherlock couldn't fight not pacing any longer, and took off around the den in circles. Something was nagging at him about this case…
"Did you ever wonder why they're making such a huge snafu over a teacher?"
"Teachers are people, you know. And apparently the three in the house were the only family she had."
"Hmmm…" Sherlock thought for a minute. It didn't make sense, the lot of it. He needed to either see the house, which would involve getting out of the country, or… he could send someone. "Irene, I need to ask you a favor."
"I need you to go to that house and snoop around, and I need you to call me and tell me anything you find."
"What are you going to do?"
"I'm going to go look at those pictures and try to figure out a way to get to England undetected."
"You can't." Irene said firmly.
"You can't come to London."
"Because I'm staying with John at your old flat." There was nothing but silence on the other end of the line. Irene rolled her eyes, thankful he couldn't actually see her, and continued. "Shut up, you know it's nothing like that. I needed a doctor, and he knew me."
"I never said a word." Poor man. Irene almost felt sorry for him. The first development in so long and he couldn't even come see the crime scene. Of course, if he could just stay out of the way then John might not even see him… But was it worth the risk? Three years. Three years was the time they'd agreed on. It might be safe then, but they were only two years in.
She really shouldn't do anything.
"I'll take care of it." Irene said suddenly. She still had several contacts on her side that owed her more than a few favors.
"I said I'll take care of it. You just do your deductions and expect an envelope in say… three days?"
Sherlock put down the cordless receiver and clicked the end button.
It didn't make sense. Nothing did.
March 6, 2012
Mycroft walked up to the house where the kidnapping had taken place to give a report to the family. With a case like this they usually kept at it until a development was made, but it didn't make sense to keep going when there wasn't any evidence. The family was fairly rich and a pretty prestigious bunch of London philanthropists, but they were the sort that liked to keep their noses in the air when money changed hands. Irene walked beside him, dressed in a pants suit and looking extremely professional.
"So, what's the plan?" She asked. "If it's cold case-"
"It isn't cold case. Not yet. And you'll have to sneak around to have another look at the house, though I still don't understand why you want it."
"I realize that. I want to see the scene for myself, which I've had yet to do. All I've seen are pictures and deductions through the phone. Regardless of what you might think, I am actually a competent human being. When I asked what the plan was I meant 'How am I getting upstairs uninterrupted?'" They walked up the front steps and Mycroft started to ring the doorbell, but Irene stopped him.
Listen, she mouthed, pointing to her ear. Inside the house they could hear two or three people arguing.
"What do you mean it was locked?" A man said, his voice rising.
"I mean it was locked. Shut. Unable to be opened!" This was a woman, but she seemed calm compared to the man.
"Can't we break into it or something?"
"It's an iron chest, dear."
Irene and Mycroft cast sidelong glances at each other and rang the doorbell, interrupting their argument. The voices immediately stopped and they heard footsteps coming towards the door.
February 4, 2012
"A month?" Irene scoffed into the phone.
"The most inconspicuous way to book a ticket is in advance, especially if you're trying to smuggle someone out of the country. You know that as well as I do." The man on the other end said. Irene sighed.
"Alright. Fine. So long as they get here, but the longer you wait the more difficult it makes my job." She slumped back against the chair, annoyed.
"I'm doing my best, honey." The man said. Irene could almost hear the indignation. "What else did you want me to send with it?"
"Cell phone. Doesn't matter what kind so long as you program a certain number into it." Irene said.
"Whose number?" The man asked, assuming correctly that it would be hers. He didn't, however, know her primary cell number. He only knew her secondary- Irene was careful that way. She gave him the primary number, leaving him befuddled, and hung up with polite goodbyes and not so polite threats if the delivery wasn't on time.
March 6, 2012
Irene walked up the stairs slowly. Mycroft was downstairs keeping the family occupied with his report while Irene went upstairs to look around- his excuse was that he'd "like to present it alone." The upstairs hallway had a simple layout. Three bedrooms were to the right of the steps (Two on the left side and one on the right. The master bedroom was downstairs), and to the left was the room that served as a walk-in attic. The padlock was on the door and had been moved perhaps a foot down to a more sturdy location, but the actual door hadn't been replaced. The wood was still warped and splintered around where the padlock's former location had been.
Everything in the rooms had been reset to normality since the kidnapping, even Mycroft said so, but she supposed it was worth checking out. Deciding to leave the newly locked attic for last, she checked the teacher's room first.
The room was plain- twin bed, nightstand, open wardrobe with some clothing hanging inside, and a trunk by the foot of the bed. The trunk seemed to be made out of metal and looked extremely heavy. "It was locked…" That was what that woman had been saying when Irene walked in. That must have been what she was referring to- the trunk! And how was a girl to resist a good lock? Upon trying to open the chest, she discovered that yes, it was securely fastened by a built in lock on the front.
Irene shut the door behind her, knelt down by the chest, and started to work. Rather than using a hairpin to pick a lock, she typically used a lock pick to hold her hair in place, and today was no different. She just hoped this was one of the more common locks, otherwise she'd have to improvise.
Just as Irene thought the mechanism was about to release, there was a tapping on the window. She jumped and pulled the pick free, cursing under her breath, as the lock hadn't been an easy one. Time to try again.
Another tap, louder this time.
Irene walked to the window, albeit hesitantly, and peered through the curtains from one side. Anyone outside the window wouldn't be able to see her from this angle. There was a shadow, probably someone hanging on the ivy outside. The entire back side of the house was covered with the stuff, climbing up those white wooden fences that just invited people to climb them.
Irene heard mumbling from outside, but she couldn't make out any words. Someone was fumbling around for something- a weapon? Something to break open the window?
If whoever was outside was hostile, there was absolutely nothing to defend herself with in here. All she had here were bare hands. Before she could think of anything else, however, her cell phone rang. She bit her lip and checked the caller ID: Sherlock Holmes.
"What?" She said in a harsh whisper.
"Irene." He said quietly. It sounded like a whisper as well.
"Yes, it's me- what the hell do you want?" Whoever was outside likely could hear her. She seriously considered running, but it probably wouldn't do much good.
"Open the window."
Irene nearly dropped the phone. She hit the end button and threw open the curtains. Sherlock was leaning against the side of the house expectantly.
"Have I ever told you I really hate you?" She said as she opened the window.
"Several times." He said, slipping inside. "Alright. What's the story?"
"Well, I was about to get that trunk open before you nearly scared the life out of me." Irene walked back over and went to work with two picks again. She remembered a couple a key triggers from the last time, so the work wasn't half as bad.
"Anything specific inside?" Sherlock asked.
"Not that I know of. But the family was arguing about it before we got here, so it's probably important. Just keep your voice down, they don't know we're up here." Irene continued picking the lock. "How did you even know we'd be here?"
"You never guess."
"In that case it's not important." About that time the lock clicked open. Irene tucked the pick back into her bun and gently lifted the lid. There wasn't much inside, honestly. A few books, an old cell phone, some pencils and notebook, a journal, a jewelry box, and… a lock of hair?
Yes, a lock of hair. An auburn braid tied with an electric blue ribbon was nestled beside the journal in the trunk. Irene picked it up, her brow furrowed, while Sherlock leafed through the other contents of the box. The cell phone was dead, the notebooks used. Inside the jewelry box were a few trinkets and a velvet ring box. The box itself was empty, but tossed among the papers and debris at the bottom of the chest was a gold ring studded with sapphires and diamonds. It looked like one of those excessively extravagant engagement rings that people buy more to show status than affection. Sherlock tossed the ring back down into the box.
Suddenly they heard footsteps. Close footsteps.
There wasn't time to think. Irene grabbed the lock of hair and the journal and tucked them into her inside jacket pocket, shutting the chest as quietly as she could. The door handle turned, and Sherlock acted as quickly as he could, pulling Irene backwards into the open wardrobe and shutting the door, thankful it was well oiled and swung silently.
They landed in a pile of tangled limbs on the bottom of the wardrobe, and Sherlock gradually released his hand from Irene's mouth. It was pitch black besides the tiny crack between the doors, and neither one of them dared move for fear the noise might alert whoever was outside.
The footsteps entered the room slowly. Irene's breathing was calm, but Sherlock could feel her heartbeat racing.
"I know you're in here." Someone said softly.
It wasn't the woman from downstairs. It was… someone else. A younger woman, softer voice… the daughter?
"Please. I know you're in here. If you think you can find her I can help you- just come out!" The voice had risen to an intense whisper now.
Neither one of them moved.
"Alright. Fine. If you want my help I'm leaving a number on the bed. Call me." Footsteps died away and the pair in the wardrobe breathed slightly more easily. Irene grabbed the number from the bed, shoving it in her pocket, and peeked out the door. The hallway was empty.
Irene pressed a finger to her lips and removed her shoes. Walking barefoot down the wood-floored hallway with Sherlock on her heels, she stopped and pressed an ear to the door.
"Seven times twelve?"
"Oh. Sorry, Ms. Hunter."
The recitation continued on and Irene backed away from the door. Hunter? The family name was Rucastle! So, if the teacher really wasn't kidnapped… but there was definitely a bed and a room that had been used recently…
Only one room remained to examine, and not much time to do it: the attic.
However, the attic was at the other end of the hall, and there were people walking up the stairs. More than likely, they were unfriendly people. Irene and Sherlock ducked into the closest unoccupied room, the one belonging to the daughter.
It looked… well, it looked like it hadn't been touched for weeks.
The bed was unmade, but the blinds were dusty and the room felt stuffy from lack of fresh air and sunlight. The door had creaked very slightly when it swung shut, unlike the others, which seemed to be oiled to silence. There wasn't time to do anything but run, though. Sherlock mouthed "window" and pointed. They raised the pane as silently as they could and climbed down the ivy, shutting the window behind them. Well, as best as it could be shut from the outside.
"What did we just hear?" Irene asked as soon as they were on the ground.
"Sounds to me like the teacher wasn't kidnapped after all." Sherlock said, brushing off his coat sleeves.
"Well, somebody-" Irene began, then stopped abruptly. "The daughter. It was her, wasn't it?" She asked.
"Yes. But why not report it? Why say the teacher?" He began his usual pacing routine at this point. "Ah-ha! You said they were philanthropists, right?"
"And they have a reputation to uphold, yes?"
"Ye- oh. The ring!" Irene said. "The ring- it was an engagement ring, it had to have been."
"Exactly. So, girl goes missing, family doesn't want to damage their reputation or hurt the fiancé, so they say it was the teacher, who could nearly be her twin."
"But why leave the ring?"
"What?" Sherlock asked.
"Why put a ring as valuable as that in the bottom of a trunk without a box, not on the nightstand? Most engaged women wear their rings on a daily basis. Whoever kidnapped her would probably want to sell it or…" Irene trailed off, suddenly coming to a realization. "Oh, god."
In a single glance, Sherlock came to the same conclusion.
Why say it was the daughter? So not to damage their reputation. Why do they want her back so badly? Why leave the ring? Why run away when you're at the prime of your life, well-off family and about to be married? Wasn't it obvious?
She didn't love him.
Irene remembered reading something about it in the papers a while back, actually. It was a big deal, more social than anything. She'd imagined the girl hadn't had too much say in the matter, and now… it seems she was right.
"But that still leaves one thing- why break into the attic?" Irene asked. Sherlock bit his lip.
"I don't know. I didn't get a look. Did you bring the journal?" Irene nodded and patted her pocket- it was a small book, but fairly thick.
"Good. We're going to need it."
Chapter 23: Year Two- April
March 6, 2012
"Alright. Here we go." Irene said. They were sitting in a private room in Mycroft's offices, one of the only places it was safe for Sherlock to be without being seen. Irene had the journal in the table between them, ready to read aloud. She'd read it herself and had bookmarked a few key entries. Most of them were brief, right to the point. The name in the front read Alice B Rucstle in neat cursive handwriting.
19 September 2011.
I don't want to marry him. I can't marry him- I'm in love with Joseph! They know it, too! They just want me to further their precious reputations. Well, fine. I'll talk to him, I'll go along with it for now, just until we can come up with a plan. Right now I'm thinking Plan A is publicly making the engagement look arranged. I mean, it was, but if I can make it look it then the image to the public will be disastrous. The biggest philanthropists in London won't even let their daughter marry who she wants.
1 January, 2012.
Plan A didn't work, nor plans B or C. Daddy is threatening me now. He says that if I don't start being compliant he'll lock me in the attic. They tell everyone it's a spare room, but it's not. Spare rooms have locks. It's where they keep us when we're being punished- they put food through the slot under the door and don't let us out for days except for the bathroom.
"The next few pages were an insert. It was a folded piece of notebook paper tucked in afterwards." Irene said.
Locked in the attic.
Joseph knows I'm up here. They've gotten NAME to pose as me at the dinner table- We look so alike!- but it won't work. He throws rocks at the window at night and I've dropped him a message.
We're going to run. Will lock this account in the trunk so they know I'm alright.
If you're reading this don't try to find me.
April 14, 2012
Sherlock drove into the gravel lot outside a small house in Cheswick. It looked like about three or four rooms, on the very outskirts of the town.
"Are you ready?" Asked Irene. They had opted to come alone, as Mycroft's presence probably would have complicated things. As if thing weren't complicated enough already, with Irene staying with John and the fact that John couldn't know Sherlock existed. Communications were usually brief and infrequent.
"What's her name again?" Sherlock asked, by way of answering, and stepped from the car.
"Alice Rucastle." Irene quickly caught up with him, taking note that there seemed to be shadows moving from behind the curtains. "Try to be gentle. She's probably suspicious enough already." Sherlock glared and walked up the front steps, giving a curt knock on the door.
A few seconds later they heard the deadbolt being unlatched and a lock being undone. The door was opened to reveal a man staring at them… through the scope of a rifle.
"Who are you?"
March 6, 2012
"Alice Rucastle?" Sherlock flipped through a few more of the entries. "It looks like you were right."
Their only regret was that they hadn't been able to get behind that attic door.
"So what now?" Irene took the book from him, flipping it closed as punctuation for her question. "We can't tell Mycroft."
"Why not?" Sherlock looked genuinely confused.
"Because they'll bring her back!"
"That's the point." Sherlock said. "In case you haven't noticed." Irene scoffed, leaning back in her chair. She made the picture of a cross girlfriend, but that thought wouldn't have crossed either of their minds.
"No, the point is to make sure justice is done." She snapped. "Justice, Sherlock, is not bringing her back to her parents that lock her in an attic for punishment!"
"Then what, pray tell, do you suggest we do?" he said, a bit too loudly. A few heads turned, but Sherlock immediately turned his back and went to whispering again. "Because frankly, I think we should just go and find her!"
"Fine." Irene sneered.
"What?" Sherlock's brow furrowed. Hadn't she just said they couldn't do that? Women.
"But we do it ourselves, and we do it alone."
April 14, 2012
"Ah, you must be the fiancé." Sherlock said. At this point both him and Irene had their hands beside their head.
Irene cleared her throat.
"We're detectives. Well, he is. And we're trying to help you."
"With what? You can't help me." He never lowered his gun.
"Alice Rucastle." Sherlock said calmly. "Look at us. Unarmed, no walkie-talkies. No police. Why else would be here if not to help you?" The man cautiously put down the rifle.
"Come inside. Quickly!" He beckoned them in and shut the door behind them. "Alice!" He called down the hall. Irene now had enough time to take in the man's appearance without worrying about his gun. Tall, brown hair, green eyes. He looked like he might have been a soldier, especially from the way he handled that gun.
A pretty red-headed girl, almost the exact physical twin of the teacher at the Rucastle house, walked out of the kitchen slowly. She seemed hesitant and frightened.
"You're not going to take me back, are you?" she asked.
"No. Not necessarily." Sherlock said. "But your parents are making quite a spill over the kidnapping. Or what passes for a kidnapping, at least."
"Sit down. I have a story to tell you." Alice gestured to the couch.
"When I was still dating Joseph, my mother wanted me to get engaged to this man- Tom somebody. I didn't know who he was then. It was all about them and their status, really, and they didn't like Joseph."
"Your brother did." Joseph cut in.
"Yes, Audie liked you." Alice continued with a smile, but it vanished quickly. "He was the only one, though. Long story short, they locked me in the attic, and then they hired Audie a new teacher who could practically be my double. I liked her, but… my parents never let me talk to her much. They would have her pose as me every night when Joseph came so he would think I'd forgotten him."
"Why did she agree to do it?" Irene asked.
"Blackmail, I guess. Violet is a good, kind person- she didn't like it. She wasn't comfortable with it. A few days later I saw Joseph coming and I threw a rock from the attic window. Then we decided to run."
Irene pulled Alice's journal from her coat.
"This is yours?" Alice took it with a nod.
"Yes. I was hoping someone would find it- I mean, I didn't expect them to actually find us, but I thought that maybe… if they knew I was safe… they might stop looking."
"Well, they haven't, but I think they have an idea of what happened. Mycroft tried to talk to them about closing the case and they flat out refused." Sherlock said.
"Mycroft Holmes is working my case?" Alice briefly covered her face with her hands. "This is not good. It would be worse were his brother still alive."
Irene glanced over at Sherlock, realizing that they hadn't actually told them their names. Of course, you would think she would recognize Sherlock, but he'd kept his hair short and was now wearing a short leather coat rather than the trademark long one.
"Oh, I don't think his brother would be working with him on this one even if he were. Not his cup of tea." Sherlock said. "And we've got more important things to worry about."
"Like what?" Joseph threw up his hands. Apparently this plan wasn't extremely well thought through.
"Like getting you two out of the country." Irene snapped. "Mainland Europe, probably. If you don't want to be found that's your best bet. Get out of the country and change your name, and either tell them you're safe or leave them to mourn the tragic loss of their only daughter."
The group was silent, drinking in Irene's statement. It was true, those were pretty much their only options. It was just quiet enough that they could hear police sirens coming down the road.
"Is that-" Alice began
"Out. Out, everybody out!" Sherlock cried, and then lowered his voice. "Back door, root cellar, anything. Just get out of this house."
Alice and Joseph responded immediately. They took off towards the back, ducking in a side door that went all the way down to the basement. Sherlock and Irene followed- if Mycroft's boys came down here they might be able to deter them. Alice and Joseph found a decent hiding spot in a bin full of tarps, and Irene swept away tracks on the dirt floor of the basement, leaving a new set that looked as if they'd been walking around the entire room. Then the pair of detectives waited at the bottom of the stairs for the sound of footsteps.
A few minutes later a muffled call of "Search the place!" could be heard through the door. Sherlock counted to three under his breath before starting up the creaky basement stairs. As their steps became louder, all movement around the basement door seemed to cease. Sherlock fiddled with the handle a second before opening the door, but when he did…
Well, roughly eight to ten pistols were cocked and pointing at them.
"At ease, boys." Mycroft said, striding in. The guns didn't move. "They're two of ours." The agents slowly lowered their firearms.
"Not exactly a warm welcome." Irene muttered.
"We've searched the place already; there's nothing here." Sherlock announced.
"Oh, really?" Mycroft looked suspicious.
"Really." Irene said, looking him in the eye.
"All of it points to them abandoning the place about a week ago." Sherlock said, thankful there wasn't any trash in the trash bins to prove his statement otherwise. "If they're smart they would have headed out of the country, probably America."
Mentally, Irene smiled. He remembered she'd told them to go to mainland Europe. Mycroft still didn't look convinced, but he assumed there wasn't much he could do if Sherlock was sticking to his story. Tracking his phone here had been their last lead.
"You're sure you checked everywhere?"
After about an hour of questioning, during which they found no holes in the stories of either Sherlock or Irene, Mycroft left along with his guns. Irene slipped a note down to the basement, telling Alice and Joseph to pack their belongings and head out as soon as possible. Sherlock drove the car back as close as he dared to Baker Street, ready to drop off Irene.
"Well, Mr. Holmes, it was nice being nearly shot with you. Again." She smiled, holding out her hand.
"Nice working with you." He replied, unable to muster anything more sentimental. "This is becoming a habit, it seems." He took her hand to shake it, and she pulled him in for a kiss, long and lazy. Sherlock was rigid at first, but he relaxed into her touch.
"I'm starting to like this habit." She mumbled, pulling back. "See you soon, Mr. Holmes."
Chapter 24: Year Two- May
Year Two. End of Month Eleven.
“Oh, good grief, what is it now, Mycroft?” Irene hissed through the phone. She’d ducked out the door, on her way out before John’s new girlfriend Mary came over. For all Mary knew, Irene did not live with John. She was simply an old friend of Sherlock’s that liked to pop by for a chat. Either one looked bad. Meaning that as things became more serious, no matter how well the two women got along, new living arrangements were in order.
“Meet me at the usual spot for briefing.” He said, and hung up the phone.
Irene sighed. Any time he needed to get in touch with Sherlock he’d have to go through Irene, who was nosy enough that she’d usually wind up getting in on the conversation, so the three had formed a quick, though slightly uneasy, partnership.
The “usual spot” was the café several blocks down the street from 221B, also a spot John had avoided like the plague since Sherlock’s apparent death. The Holmes brothers were drinking coffee at a booth in the corner, secluded from the eyes of 90% of the customers, and the ears of all of them.
“Hello, boys.” Irene said, sliding into the booth beside Sherlock. He was always so tense around her lately. She wasn’t a schoolgirl any longer; she knew what that meant… and she took a kind of extreme guilty pleasure in it by teasing him from time to time.
“Let’s cut to the chase, shall we?” Mycroft said. “I need you to recover something.”
“Fantastic,” Irene groaned, “This isn’t another missing persons case, is it?” Sherlock seemed to share her sentiments, but made no move to speak.
“No.” Mycroft said, quite matter-of-factly. “It’s a priceless artifact that was stolen from a museum two days ago, possibly by a smuggling ring.” He handed Sherlock a manila envelope, which they presumed held case files and pictures. “Good luck.”
Mycroft paid for the coffee, and the three got up and left, parting ways at the door.
“Ok, so where are we going to look at these files?” Irene asked, trying not to look suspicious, which was difficult walking down the street beside a man in a trenchcoat carrying a large envelope.
“What?” Irene was slightly taken aback. “You have a flat? How’d you get the money for a flat?” Sherlock only looked back with a sly smile.
“Alright.” Irene said, seated at Sherlock’s small kitchen table. The kettle was boiling and they were eager to take a look at those files. “What’ve we got?” Sherlock reached into the envelope, handing the photos to Irene and taking the printed information to read himself.
“Diadem- ancient China. Let’s hope it’s not another smuggler ring, those can get nasty. Stolen from the London Museum on Tuesday night.” Irene flipped through photos.
“And of course the scene would be extremely contaminated by now…” she muttered. The photos only made her want to see for herself- she was a very hands-on kind of person. “Wait. What’s this?” Sherlock looked up as Irene shoved a photo towards him, pointing towards the bottom right-hand corner.
“Good job.” Sherlock said grudgingly, almost wishing he’d found it first. In the corner of the picture there was a floor grate, but more importantly, a floor grate that seemed to be missing some screws. It might even be enough to pull the grate out of the floor.
“Let’s go.” He said, grabbing the rest of the files for the cab ride to the museum.
“Go- oh. Tell me we’re not going drain diving.”
“We’re not going drain diving.” Sherlock opened the door, ushering her out.
“Fine. Now tell me honestly.”
The detective smirked, and Irene was merely glad she was wearing boots.
Sherlock knelt on the floor of the museum. It had taken a while to find the correct grate, but their suspicions had been confirmed- the grate had lifted easily from the floor. It was big enough for a person (albeit not a large or even merely broad-shouldered person) to slip through into the tunnel below once open.
Once through the hole in the floor, a ladder in open air went down to the floor, presumably for maintenance.
The rest of the crime scene had been so contaminated (the museum had let visitors in!) that it was nearly impossible to come up with anything useful from it.
“Ladies first.” Sherlock stepped back from the hole.
“Fine.” Irene sat on the floor with her legs dangling, feeling for the first rung with her foot. She found it easily and started her descent. It was shadowy in the tunnel, obviously, and she was thankful that they’d remembered to bring flashlights. Sherlock tossed one down once she reached the floor.
The whole drain-diving experience wasn’t too bad, really. It didn’t smell too badly, though she wouldn’t dare touch the walls, and it hadn’t rained since Monday, so the water down here was reduced to maybe an inch in depth. There were also walks along the side for workers to go whenever it had rained, so she decided it might be best to stick to those.
Sherlock hopped down a few seconds later, carrying the other flashlight.
“What are we looking for?” Irene asked quietly, her voice echoing in the tunnel.
“Signs of a smuggling ring,” he muttered, “Insignias, markings, directions, anything that indicates this tunnel was used recently.”
“I suppose there’s no point checking for footprints.” Irene mused, more to herself than Sherlock. Her companion shook his head. They both knew that if the tunnel had been used the culprits would have walked in the water, and the rain on Monday had been torrential. Even though it had drained, it would have been flowing enough on Tuesday night to wash away footprints.
Which was what they probably should be doing, actually, except at this point the mud under the water would hold footprints rather than erase them. Best take their chances on the walks. These tunnels gave Irene an eerie feeling of being in the catacombs under Paris. However, these walls weren’t lined with human bones, and for that she was extremely grateful.
Reaching a point where the tunnel split, they halted to look for an indication of which way to go. At first there seemed to be nothing. They were almost to the point of suspecting that the group had memorized the route when Sherlock saw it.
A scratch in the wall, made deliberately by a large knife. If you weren’t able to recognize the signature of a knife slash in rock you wouldn’t be able to spot it, but there it was. Irene could tell it was clearly a slash after he pointed it out, but she obviously hadn’t had the same training as Mr. Holmes. She never would have been able to see it on her own. They looked at each other only briefly before going on. It was good to keep talking to a minimum in these tunnels. You never know what might be down there.
After two more crossroads and a couple of rats, the pair came on the first ladder they’d seen. Grates along the way allowed water and light to come through, but only a few actually had maintenance hatches. And this particular maintenance ladder had three black rags tied around the bottom rung.
A signal? A warning?
Upon further inspection, Sherlock noticed they were tied using a particular type of sailor’s knot. The fabric was plain black cotton, but it was stiff with salt in places and greasy from oil in others. It seemed that their suspicions were indeed confirmed. Perhaps the group wasn’t from China this time…
Sherlock looked over at Irene and mouthed one word.
“How do you know?” Irene asked, following Sherlock down the street. They had exited the tunnel with little trouble and the museum with only a few strange glances from passerby.
Irene had also made a stop by the janitor’s office to tell him about replacing those screws, and possibly even getting a smaller grate.
“Those rags were tied with sailor's knots. They weren't common knots, but it would be second-nature to someone who sailed, and the fact that there were three rags probably meant they were being used as a signal. Also, the fabric was oily and it smelled like salt, so it was probably sitting in a storeroom on a ship.”
“So we have a smuggling ring that gets were they go by boat. Isn’t that a little… pirate-like?” Irene asked. It also seemed very conspicuous.
“Not if they’re shipping legitimate cargo as well as smuggled cargo. They could easily fit in five or ten extra boxes somewhere they wouldn’t be noticed, and then they’d be making money from both ends- the legitimate and illegitimate ones.”
Sherlock turned a corner quickly… not towards his flat. Oh, no. She knew him well enough to know what that meant.
“Irene,” he said, “Don’t turn around. There’s a man behind us with a limp. He’s followed us for the past three turns. Now, when I say so, we need to run. Don’t argue, just do it.”
Irene didn’t respond. They slowed down as they approached the crosswalk, even though it was perfectly alright for them to cross. The light changed to red.
“Now!” The words came as a harsh whisper, and he grabbed her hand just as the opposite light turned green. The pair took off across the busy intersection, cars honking and wheels screeching, but that was exactly what was planned. The man had a limp- he wouldn’t dare run out like that! He’d be killed.
They took a roundabout path back to Sherlock’s flat, just to make sure they weren’t being tailed, and settled down in chairs to discuss what had just happened.
“Well, if they had it, they don’t anymore.” Sherlock said conclusively.
“What makes you think that?”
“A single man with a limp was following us without backup. He must be the group leader and he thinks we have it. If they were really trying to get rid of us he would have brought goons with guns. No, he thinks we have what they want.”
“So… if we don’t have it, but the drop was supposed to go to them, and they don’t have it, and Mycroft doesn’t have it-”
“Exactly. Where is it?”
“So now we’re tracking down the object and avoiding smugglers who want to kill us. Yay.” Irene cheered sarcastically.
“Should be easier than facing crazed parents.” He said pointedly, eliciting a laugh from Irene. The incident was still a trifle raw, but that didn’t stop her from finding Sherlock’s social awkwardness with family situations a funny point in the entire thing.
“I hope so.” She rose and walked to the computer. “I guess we should probably start by doing some research on this man with the limp.”
“My sentiments exactly. I’ll get Mycroft on it, too.” He picked up Irene’s phone (it was the general consensus that all calls to Mycroft be made through it) and dialed.
It was going to be an interesting case.
Chapter 25: Year Two- June
One: Alright, you guys are finally caught up in real writing time. I actually did post this today, June 19, for the first time. The rest was transferred from FF, ans started back in January.
Two: OH MY GOODNESS I SEE THE LIGHT AT THE END OF THIS STORY. Even though it still has twelve more chapters… *sigh*
Year Two: Beginning of Month Twelve.
Irene fought back a scream, her heart pounding in her chest. Adrenaline was rushing through her veins, sweat beading on the back of her neck, raw and hot and primal against the cool contrast of the night air. This was by far one of the most unusual things she'd ever done, but she smiled as Sherlock forged ahead, not bothering to look back.
Rooftop hopping was something she could cross off her bucket list, that’s for sure.
She was glad it was warm out, so there was no need for a heavy coat to weigh her down, but she still wasn’t a tall person, and it was difficult to keep up with the jumping speed that six-foot-tall Sherlock was setting. The only thought running through her head was that it was a good thing they seemed to have lost the pursuers on the street, and that one of them had a limp, or else she would probably be dead by now. Irene suddenly skidded to a halt at the edge of the building, thinking there was nothing on the other side, but upon further inspection there was a shorter building across an extremely narrow alleyway. It looked like a bloody fifteen foot drop, and she’d have to get at least four feet out! How the-
“Well, come on!” Sherlock said from below.
“I can’t make that jump!” she hissed, hoping no one was listening from the street. Sherlock gestured somewhere to her left. Then she noticed the fire escape ladder on the side of the building. He must have climbed part of the way and then jumped. She groaned- she couldn’t make that jump without a running start. Four feet wasn’t far to go horizontally, but without a start… and she’d like to land as solidly as possible, aka, not on the very edge of the roof.
She could try, though.
Just as Irene was about to swing her leg over the landing, a voice cried out.
“Up there!” It was far away, possibly street level, and Irene knew who it was.
Bend your knees. Roll on landing.
Irene backed up about ten feet, heart beating even faster and a dizzy sort of euphoria sinking in from the panic, ran, and jumped off the roof.
For about a half a second she was positive she wasn’t going to live. She would collapse and die once she hit the ground. The next second she was on the lower rooftop, rolling across the gravel-topped building as shots rang out, clinging to something that was rolling with her with all her might.
Her back was pressed against the low, solid railing, and she realized that Sherlock must have caught her when she jumped. Hm. Thoughtful. She didn’t loosen her grip, though, and she realized that he was holding her, too.
“Don’t move.” Sherlock said over the shots.
“Thanks, Detective Obvious.” She muttered. Her companion looked only mildly annoyed at the quip. It was obvious, after all. The shots fired from below wouldn’t be able to reach them from this angle, and their friend with the limp wouldn’t be able to reach the top of the building.
But this was only the temporary solution. How would they get down? Surely other people could climb the building, and as soon as they realized that the pair weren’t hit they’d be on the way up, leaving them vulnerable from all angles. Sherlock was already looking around, his hold on her relaxing quickly, and Irene followed suit. They came across the answer at nearly the same time.
“Roof access.” The trap door was about five feet away, closed with a large, rusted padlock. It probably hadn’t been used for some time since there was a larger, normal sized door with a keypad code. Most likely the trap door would be for maintenance and drop down into the area where wires ran for the lighting.
“Lock picks?” Sherlock held out a hand. Irene fished in her hair for a second, and then pulled one out, grinning.
Sherlock slid to the side and Irene shimmied across the roof. The shots had died down, which was both a good and bad thing. They were probably coming to check if they were still on the roof. Let’s hope she had an easy lock this time.
Old, rusted. Looked like it was from the 1980’s? Irene was through the lock in ten seconds flat, and opening the door. Sherlock crept over, both of them now on their haunches, ready to jump down as soon as the door was opened. It was dark, the rooftop was above the streetlights, and they were wearing black, so it would be hard to spot them… Well, it would have been if the door hadn’t creaked loudly open.
Shots immediately began firing again. It seemed the gunmen were taking their chances shooting into the black nothingness on the rooftop. Irene practically shoved Sherlock down into the building. She followed only a second later, crying out in pain as a bullet hit her left side, but enough of her sense was left to close the door behind them. She landed on a tile floor, still on her feet, but swaying. They were in some kind of office building. An old one, if they were judging by the trap door. Sherlock bolted the door from the inside. It was lucky that someone else hadn’t done that before. They made their way to the stairs, praying an alarm wouldn’t go off upon opening the door.
Sherlock put a supporting arm around her, but she pushed him off.
“Don’t worry about me, you idiot!” she snapped, clutching her side. “Get Mycroft on the phone now!” One glance up revealed that he already had the device pressed to his ear. Once inside the stairwell, she leaned against the wall, feeling slightly dizzy. She didn’t think the wound was fatal, but she was losing blood fast.
“1254 Orange Street, the east stairwell- and bring an ambulance. Yes- yes we’ve got it, now hurry up!” Sherlock clicked the phone off. Of course he would know exactly where we are from the roof. Of course he would.
“Ok.” Irene’s dizziness began to overcome her. “Now you can worry about me.” She slumped to the floor against her will, legs simply unable to hold her- whether from exhaustion, shock, or blood loss, she wasn’t sure.
“Irene-” Sherlock dropped down beside her, willing her to remove her hands from her side. “I need to check for an exit wound.”
“Do it quickly, please.” Irene said, gritting her teeth. Thankfully, there was one. The wound was on the very far left of her torso, and it looked as if the bullet had gone right through her. Clean wound- no shrapnel or bits of metal. Sherlock stood and seized the first aid kit next to the fire extinguisher. There wasn’t much he could do besides staunch the bleeding. In two minutes Irene’s torso was wrapped in bandages, but they were becoming soaked quickly.
“Stay with me.” Sherlock said, for lack of anything better. “You have to stay awake.” Irene rolled her eyes, biting back tears.
“I know, dammit! And I’m not going into shock, so don’t try to treat me for it.” In spite of himself Sherlock cracked a small smile. She was a fighter, that’s for sure.
“Wonderful.” Irene said sarcastically, but it was breathy and her voice shook. Sherlock raised his eyebrows. “I take a bullet in the side and you’re smiling about it.” She managed chuckle softly. Sirens could be heard outside the building. Only a few seconds passed before there were footsteps coming up the stairwell, but Irene was beginning to lose consciousness.
“Irene,” Sherlock said, grasping her hand. “Please.” She managed to squeeze back gently.
“Hello?” Someone called from below.
“Up here!” Sherlock didn’t dare move her, but the paramedics took care of it just fine. Mycroft was really getting in thick this time.
Two weeks later.
Sherlock scanned through the newspaper in his temporary flat, across town from 221B. Irene was cooking something that would likely be enough to feed them for the next week, as neither of them ate much and didn’t mind eating the same thing for a while. After John seemed to be having some success with his new girlfriend, Mary, Irene had moved out of 221B and was now invading Sherlock’s flat. Well, not truly invading. She did cook and make sure he didn’t drive himself mad from boredom.
“You know,” Irene said, plopping down on the sofa beside Sherlock with a groan, “maybe we should take it easy for a while. Do some things that don’t involve… oh, me getting shot again.” It still hurt her to move too much.
Sherlock simply made a grunting noise and continued to scan the paper. Irene snatched it from his hands, rolling her eyes.
“Sherlock! Are you listening to me?” She looked him in the eye, not unlike a mother scolding a child.
“That was close. That was much too close for comfort for the both of us. And frankly, I’m not willing to risk my life over a priceless heirloom again anytime soon.”
“Then what exactly do you propose we do?” Sherlock said, throwing his hands in the air. Irene laughed, nestling into shoulder. Sherlock instantly stiffened.
“Relax, honey.” Irene said. “If I was trying to seduce you your clothes would be half gone by now.”
Sherlock snorted at this, but he did relax, if only by a fraction.
“Do I hear a challenge?” She looked up slightly so she could see his face. It was paler than usual, carefully masked. She shook her head slightly and returned to leaning comfortably against him. “You just wait until I don’t have bandages on.” She muttered.
White skin turned red faster than she thought was humanly possible.
Chapter 26: Year Three, Month One, July
Year Three. Middle of Month One.
“Mycroft called for you.” Irene said as Sherlock walked out from the bedroom. The flat was small, and they’d elected to share the bed, so long as the sleeping situation remained the same as it had in the cabin from so long ago.
That basically meant “You stay on your side, I’ll stay on mine. No funny business.” So far they were both holding to it, and they didn’t have to fork out for another bed.
“Dud. Even I could have figured that one out.” Irene tossed the phone onto the couch and Sherlock raised an eyebrow expectantly. “He faked the whole robbery to get the insurance money so he could split it, sell the jewels for the full price and get that money too, divorce his wife, and run off with her sister. Mycroft gave me quite a lot of information trying to convince me to get you on the case, never mind the fact that we’re already working on one for him.” Despite himself, Sherlock cracked a small smile.
“Did you tell him?”
“About the case?” Irene laughed. “Are you joking?”
Sherlock picked up the newspaper from the table in an attempt to look nonchalant, but they both knew what was coming next.
“Say it.” Irene sat beside him on the couch, leaning into his shoulder.
“How is he?”
“Well. Very well, actually. Mary seems to be an extremely good thing for him.”
Irene still went over to visit John and Mary over tea once a week, just to keep a check on them. Ever since Mary’s arrival, he seemed to be healthier than before, and finally on the road to a full mend, or as close as things came to a full mend when you’re dealing with the death of your best friend. Rather than contemplate this face, Sherlock changed the subject.
“Has Molly called with the test results?” he asked. Molly was the only other person still in on the fact that Sherlock was alive, and they needed her particular help with a chemical analysis that was going to take quite a bit of time. There wasn’t any equipment on hand, but the hospital labs had just what they needed.
“No. And when do I get to meet her, by the way?” Irene smiled mischievously, never moving from her perhaps too close position.
“Never. Bad idea.”
“Why? I’d love to meet your girlfriend.”
Sherlock immediately looked down at her, relieved to see she was smiling. Thank the lord she was only teasing. She was actually on the borderline of laughing.
“She’s not my girlfriend, and you know it.”
“Good. I hope you do.” She said more seriously. Leaning in, she captured his mouth with hers, sweeping her tongue across his lips for just a moment before pulling away. “You’re mine. Don’t you forget it, either.”
Irene was up and going to check on something in another room before the words fully registered.
“And when was this decided?!” he called, indignant.
“Whenever you started kissing me back!” she chuckled from down the short hallway.
“I do not-” Sherlock began, but Irene cut him off.
“Oh, come on. You stopped being merely tolerant at least a month back. Probably more, but I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt since you’ve probably never had a relationship.” She came back out into the hallway, a case file clutched in her hands. “Want me to prove it?” Irene was so close that their chests were practically touching, eyes scanning over every inch of his face.
“I think I’m fine taking your word for it.” He said calmly. Oh, he was good. Sometimes Irene wondered why they hadn’t called him the Ice Man rather than Mycroft.
“Someday you’ll want me to.” She backed off and walked to change clothes. Molly had been working on those things for several days- it was time for a check. No need for Sherlock to know, of course.
“Someday you’ll realize that I won’t.” he muttered. Irene rolled her eyes. That poor man. Perhaps something was waking inside him after all.
Heels clicking on the tile floor, Irene walked through the lower floors of the hospital, having asked directions to where Molly Hooper might be. She told herself it wasn’t purely social interest (Mary was nice, but not one that she could talk to about everyday life. Well, not honestly.). Eventually she found the door she was looking for: Lab 5B. The door was unlocked, and Irene could see the sample that Sherlock had taken on the table, but… there wasn’t anyone in the room.
“Who are you?” A voice came from behind her and Irene whirled. Perhaps it was time to go back to sneakers. It made for more, well… sneaking.
The speaker was a slight girl with light brown hair, about medium height and sporting a lab coat and a very angry expression. All things considered, this was probably Molly Hooper.
“Irene Adler. I’m a friend of Sherlock’s.” she said calmly, putting out a hand. Molly eyed it warily.
“No he’s not.” Irene said with a shrug. “I know. You know. Why put on airs?”
“How do you know?” Molly asked.
“I’m supposed to be dead, too.” She said. At this, Molly’s expression changed to relief and she shook Irene’s hand.
“He dropped some hints about you.” She said, brushing past Irene and over to the microscope. “Said he had an old friend to help him afterwards that was a bit like a ghost. I’m not stupid- after a couple of references I could put the pieces together. I take it you’re here for the test results?” Molly shuffled some papers around and slipped them into a file.
“Yes. Well, in part. I wanted to make sure you were still alive, for one thing, and I wanted to make sure the analysis was coming along.”
“Mycroft keeps a check on me. If I’m in danger he’ll let me know.” She smiled weakly. “How’s he doing? I haven’t actually talked to him since he left, you know. No direct contact.”
“He’s…” Irene struggled for words, taking a seat on one of the stools. “He’s better than he was.” That was true enough.
“I used to miss him so much…” Molly mused. “Still do, I suppose, but for different reasons now. I think it’s been good for me not to have him around.”
“Were you in love with him?” Irene asked, merely curious. She didn’t seem malicious or jealous, and Molly was perfectly fine with the question.
“No.” she shook her head sadly. “At one time I thought I might be. Infatuated, yes. Impressed, most definitely, but not… not romantically in love, at least. I love him like my own brother, but after all this time apart… I don’t think I could ever have any sort of relationship like that, not with him.”
Irene let those thoughts swirl around in her mind for a moment. For all the feelings she hadn’t dared to confront, hiding behind flirting and her practiced ways, she hadn’t ever given much thought to whether or not a relationship would ever work out between them. It took her a second to realize that she was nodding.
“So, how do you know him?” Molly asked, sealing the file.
“I… We met on a case once. He saved my life, so I thought I probably owed him the same favor.” Irene took the envelope from Molly’s hands.
“Seems to me like the kind of thing you’d want to repay. I help him as much as I can, but… there’s only so much you can do.” The girl shook Irene’s hand once more and walked with her out to the lobby. Irene got a good impression from her- she was strong, not too loud or opinionated, but she had an intelligence that Irene admired. It was good to see someone who could finally think for themselves after being around Sherlock for so long. That was the one effect of living with the man- you had to constantly think in order to not let him do all the thinking for you.
Another thing, and she judged this by all the women he’d interacted with in her presence, was that even if you were remotely his age and around him for a fair portion of time, you would probably become attracted to him. Well, providing that you were forgiving enough to look over all his quips and intelligent enough to follow his banter.
Hm. She wondered what Sherlock might think of that deduction.
Chapter 27: Year Three- August
Irene and Molly started meeting for tea once a week.
Perhaps the reason they got along so well was because they were so completely different, in physical features and personalities. Both were beautiful and brilliant, and any man walking by might stop and take a second look at them in a shop or a restaurant, but Irene’s features were angular and sharp, all dark hair and cool blue eyes. Molly had a softer sort of beauty, with rounded features and loose, long hair that framed her face. While Irene was assertive, Molly preferred more subtle methods and gestures, and even their clothing styles differed- polished and professional versus loose and semi-casual.
The one tie they did have? Sherlock.
“Did you ever think that your life would have been completely different if we weren’t involved in all this?” Molly asked one day, stirring milk into her tea.
“All the time.” Irene admitted. “I try not to think about it, though. It just makes things harder. And it’s not really Sherlock’s fault my life took a turn.” Molly only nodded. She knew better than to ask too many questions of Irene by now.
“Sometimes people pass me on the street- and I don’t know if they know me from the hospital, or if they’ve seen my picture or what, but… they just look so sad. They recognize me and then they look at me like I’m this little lost kitten, even after two years.” Molly shook her head with a sigh, hair flopping over her shoulder.
“You’re definitely not a lost kitten.” Irene drained her cup, sitting it back on the saucer with a clink. “That’s the problem with people like him. They’re all the same, in some way or another- they suck everyone else into their life, and their problems, and their schemes, and everything is so bright and beautiful for a while, but… sooner or later you just get burned.” The words sounded bitter, even to her. She sounded just like her mother- a bitter old insane woman with a gun in her hand, exactly the thing she didn’t want to become. Molly looked at her strangely for a second, gathering her words.
“You know… not everyone is like that. I mean, Sherlock is definitely someone you need to watch out for, but I think you could swing him.” She said, smiling softly.
“And you couldn’t?”
“I can’t keep up with him.” Molly laughed, but soon became serious again. “And sometimes he says things… just horrible things without even thinking about it, and I don’t think I could do that. But I mean, you’ve been living with him for this long- I guess you know better than I do.”
Sherlock was definitely not a sensitive person. He was one to take things as he saw them, and not to bother with people’s feelings. Sometimes Irene wanted to simply kill him herself for his reserved, callous manner, but other times she wanted to kiss him. Their relationship was a complicated one to say the least- Irene wasn’t one to show affection conventionally, and Sherlock wasn’t one to talk about it. The stage was set, but they had yet to act.
“Sherlock?” Irene called, pulling the door shut behind her. No response. Typical.
She heard papers shuffling in the kitchen, however, so she made her way towards the sound. He was drowning in police reports again, trying to find something to occupy his time, but Irene had strictly forbidden doing anything that might draw attention to him, especially police work on public cases. It was just as well, since he hadn’t come upon an interesting case since the one that Molly had provided the lab work for.
“How’s Molly?” he asked. Irene almost laughed. She didn’t care if he knew where she was going, but she probably should have suspected that he knew.
“She’s fine. Doing really well, actually.” She sat in the chair beside him, beginning to shuffle through the papers herself. “Better than you are, I see.”
“I’m perfectly fine.” Sherlock seemed calm, but Irene had known him long enough to pick up on his little twitches and slight movements. The man was practically driving himself insane.
“Arm.” Irene held out her hand expectantly, like a mother waiting for her son to hand over the twig behind his back. Sherlock groaned and extended his forearm. She rolled up the sleeve of his dressing gown to see that there was a nicotine patch on his arm, as expected. Thankfully it was only one this time, but she had to get him off of these things. However much of a genius he might be, Sherlock was apparently not smart enough to realize that these things were not doing his health any favors.
“It’s not much longer now.” She said, hoping it might help. “You’re on the downhill stretch, remember?”
“It was easier when we were working.” He muttered, giving up on the papers. Irene started sorting them out into stacks- one for shredding and one for papers he would probably want to take another look at in the future.
“You’ve gone this long without driving yourself completely mad. It should be better from here on out, honey.” Irene kissed his cheek quickly, taking off the first stack of papers. She didn’t look over her shoulder, but she knew that he was blushing. He always blushed.
Sherlock was almost like a child in an adult’s body sometimes. He was an utter genius, and she honestly considered his mind one of the most fascinating and appealing aspects of his personality, but… it was a lot like babysitting. He’d matured quite a bit during their time together, but she still had to keep an eye on him sometimes.
Every few days she went out to check on John, and he would never fail to ask for an update. He was thinking of proposing to Mary, and the two seemed to be absolutely perfect for each other. She didn’t even mind hearing about his escapades with Sherlock, and would listen to him tell war stories until his throat was raw. She was kind and caring, and just the woman that he needed after so much time with Sherlock. For her part, she was funny, and he never got tired of seeing her smile or listening to her plans for the future. It made Irene both intensely happy and intensely jealous.
When she returned to the kitchen, he was still fidgeting.
“Sherlock, you need to relax.” She sighed, sliding up behind him.
“How on earth am I supposed to do that?”
Oh, now he was asking for it.
The next morning Irene rolled over, grinning like a cat, to find Sherlock sound asleep on the bed beside her.
Oh, he’d be relaxed for a while now. Her methods tended to wear out even the most energetic sort.