There was a certain quality to the way Sherlock always pounded on her door, a cadence and insistency that no one else ever used. By now, Irene had finally figured this out and knew to expect Sherlock in her hallway when she heard that noise six weeks after his last visit. After the uncomfortable encounter they'd had the last time he'd dropped in, Irene was surprised he was back so soon. Perhaps it had been more horrifying to her in the end than it had been to him. She supposed she had been the one realising just how much Sherlock presently hated himself and his life circumstances; it couldn't have been a surprise to him.
Taking a breath to steady herself, she opened the door and started to say calmly, "To what do I owe this surprise?" but trailed off partway through. Even Irene and her high level of professional composure couldn't hide her surprise at how he looked. She'd seen the cocaine make him everything from confidently relaxed to masochistically depressed, but she'd never seen him outright strung out. He'd lost even more weight, his skin was ghostly white, there were dark purple circles under his eyes, his hair was matted, and he ambled slowly into her flat. "What happened to you?" Irene asked, closing the door. It sounded a slightly better alternative to 'You look like shit', but frankly she knew it to be a stupid question.
"Long trip," Sherlock replied, and for a second she was honestly unsure which definition of 'trip' he meant. He settled himself onto her couch, dropping his duffle bag beside him and putting his feet up on her coffee table.
"Please don't do that," Irene said.
It took him a good 20 seconds to register that she'd said something. "What?" he asked, looking at her in confusion. "Oh," he realised, slowly dragging his legs down onto the floor but maintaining his slumped position.
Walking over to stand across from him, Irene asked, "Where are you coming from this time?" It seemed a safe sort of topic. The sort of thing friends who hadn't seen each other in a while asked. It was the thinnest veils of illusion.
"San Diego," Sherlock replied rubbing his eyes with the back of his hand. The cast was off and he didn't seem to have any lasting scars from the ordeal.
Ah, maybe that explained a little of his exhaustion. At least, she'd like to believe it was that. "California?" she asked. He nodded. "That is a long trip. What is it, about twenty hours?" she asked, as if inquiring about the weather.
"Nearly twenty four if you include the drive to Los Angeles and," he waved towards his bag, "I had to stop on my way from the airport to pick up some things. Oh, before I forget," he added, sitting up and unzipping his bag. He pulled out his wallet and sifted through it with lean hands. He pulled out a 500 shekel and two 200 shekel notes, then frowned. "I could have sworn I had more left. I converted the rest of this month's allotment," he muttered. Looking up at Irene, he held out the 900 to her. "A lot less than usual but perhaps you'd grant me a discount, given the special occasion," he said the last part glibly.
Irene reluctantly took the money from him. She didn't actually have any clients to cancel this time in order to mind him while he used, but it hardly mattered. The money was more about having the thinnest layer of professionalism to all of this than about an actual need for profit. She only hoped this wasn't all of his money. From what she gathered, Mycroft left him an anonymous sum in some account the first of every month, which was three days from now. "What occasion is that?" Irene asked, leaning against the back of one of her chairs and attempting to keep up the casual chitchat.
But that was stamped out when Sherlock replied tonelessly, "The anniversary of my death."
Shit, Irene thought. Sherlock looked up at her, evidently expecting more surprise than she outwardly displayed. She was a professional. Still, had it really been a year? Irene vividly remembered seeing the news of Sherlock's suicide on the BBC news website and scarcely being able to believe it. When Sherlock had arrived on her doorstep less than a week later looking for information on Moriarty's network, she'd been overjoyed. Not that she showed it, and not that he had wanted to discuss it at all.
When Irene said nothing, Sherlock turned and looked out the window towards the beach. The sun was starting to go down in the opposite direction, bathing the sea in a slanted golden light that reflected up into the room. The yellow glow made his pale skin look even more sickly. Sherlock said nothing, and she could only begin to guess at what he might be thinking at a time like this. Clearing her throat to fill the tense silence, Irene said, "I'm sure you could use a shower after that long a journey. You can use the one in the guest room if you'd like."
Sherlock frowned out at the sea, then stood, nodding. "All right," he said.
"I've got some clean clothes in your size as well," she said tentatively.
Now Sherlock looked at her curiously. "Why?"
Irene shrugged. "Sometimes it's good to have spares in various sizes," she lied. Sure, she did have those, but the clothing she had in Sherlock's sizes she'd chosen just for him. He never seemed to carry spares of anything besides boxers, preferring to travel extremely light. She noted that his sneakers, which were much more suited to the kind of dangerous work he was doing than dress shoes, were particularly worn down. He must have done an awful lot of running in them. She tried not to think about why.
"I suppose I could use them," Sherlock said, still sounding leery.
"Just a moment," Irene went into her bedroom (decidedly not where she kept her other extra changes of men's clothing) and grabbed a pair of dark grey slacks and a dark blue shirt. She had to admit, she may have intentionally bought them with some desire to see Sherlock looking marginally his old self. Right now, for instance, he was wearing a dark pair of dusty jeans, of all things. Irene headed back into the living room and handed the clothing to Sherlock, who took them and his bag without comment. "Would you like something to eat when you get out?" she asked.
Sherlock shook his head. "Not hungry," he said groggily, turning and walking into the guest room. Of course he wouldn't be, Irene reasoned. Cocaine suppressed the appetite, and judging by the weight he'd lost even in just the last few weeks, it looked to have nearly supplanted food for Sherlock. Irene felt a pang at that, and tried not to think about that, this anniversary, or anything else as she set about making her own dinner.
Just as Irene finished eating, Sherlock emerged from the guest room with his bag in hand, having evidently left his other clothes in his room. He looked marginally better and somewhat more alert. The clothing she'd bought for him a month ago was a little loose on him now. His hair, though damp, at least wasn't matted down any longer. He still looked like someone who'd been ill for weeks, though. "Feel better?" Irene asked, though she instantly realised it was a fairly stupid question. Besides, if she had to guess, based on his morose manner, he didn't actually want to feel better. Not really.
Sherlock made a noncommittal sound before sitting back down on the couch and unzipping his duffle bag. "I am grateful you're able to give me a discount," Sherlock said as he began pulling out items and setting them on the table. There were half a dozen needles, alcohol swabs, and several vials of mostly clear solution. The vials were marked with what looked to be medical labels. Irene frowned at this curiously. Sherlock continued, "I've had to spend quite a lot on travel expenses is all. It hasn't left much behind."
Irene wanted to believe that's all it was, that he wasn't instead simply putting all his money up his arm. Still, he could be telling the truth. "Yes, I'd imagine tickets from San Diego to Tel Aviv aren't cheap. Where was the stop over, London?"
Sherlock looked up at her sharply, showing the first sign of anything but depressed lethargy all evening. "No, of course not," he replied tersely. "I can't go to Britain. That's much too big a risk." Irene supposed that was true. Personally she'd never dream of setting foot close to the British Isles. Sherlock continued, "I went through Frankfurt."
"I knew a man once from Frankfurt," Irene mused, "Germans are inordinately preoccupied with leather." Sherlock didn't look even vaguely amused, so Irene sat down across from him, switching topics. "So what are the vials for?" she asked, genuinely curious. He'd always mixed up the powder before. The vials looked much more clean and clinical, which was in discord with Sherlock's much more ragged appearance.
"I've started pre-mixing my solution. Much less mess," Sherlock explained. He stuck one of the needles through the top of the vial, drawing out a good quantity of the solution. He capped that one then started to fill another of the syringes as he continued talking. "Also incredibly convenient for travel. Airport security doesn't think twice about someone bringing their insulin on board. And, when the plane's steady enough, it's quite easy to go to the lavatory and dose myself."
There was a twisted logic to this that part of Irene could admire, even if grimly. She did suppose it would be the best way not to get questioned by customs or security. Still, his statement worried her. "You've been using on planes?" she asked cautiously. Somehow, the idea of sticking a needle into one's vein while on a potentially turbulent vehicle seemed less than a good idea. And the idea of him proudly shooting up in public without anyone noticing disturbed her. Not for the public's sake, but for his.
"Well, according to these labels I'm supposed to be vigilant about taking some with every meal," Sherlock replied, smirking as he filled his fourth syringe.
"Jesus, Sherlock," Irene replied, unable to contain her horror at the notion of him using at least three times a day. How could he possibly be so blasé about this? She watched him take the fifth of his six syringes in hand, and felt her stomach churn. She wondered how much actual work he'd been getting done recently and how much time had just been spent shooting up. He'd claimed the whole point of this was to help him concentrate on his work, but clearly it had devolved into something for its own sake. Or, more accurately, a sort of existential painkiller, if their last meeting was anything to go by. "Are you planning to use all of that tonight?"
He glanced up at her, his eyes hard. "As I said, it's a special occasion," he spat vitriolically, his lips curling up in a sneer. "Passing judgment, Irene?"
Irene stared back evenly. If this is how he wanted it to be, she was perfectly capable of playing it that way. "I only want to know whether I should have a direct ambulance company number ready or if the emergency line will be fast enough," she replied stonily.
"I know what I'm doing," Sherlock replied shortly, but he looked a little thrown by her cold statement. Still, he pulled himself together enough to fill his final syringe, cap it, and lay it beside the others.
"So it seems," Irene remarked. In truth, her chest was constricting in panic as she looked at the neat row of six syringes loaded with cocaine. But he'd never have to know that. It wasn't part of their perfect arrangement, she reasoned bitterly. She was growing very, very tired of said arrangement. Frankly, it was tearing her apart to have to watch Sherlock do this to himself. She knew how racked with guilt and loneliness the man truly was, and knew none of this would ever help.
A year... she could hardly believe it. A year since he'd jumped off that roof whilst his best friend watched. The thought of John suddenly made Irene feel guilty herself, which caught her off guard. In all the time she'd been minding Sherlock to see that he didn't OD, she'd never really thought about the people left behind in London thinking Sherlock was already dead. Not knowing he was alive and going through hell. Irene had observed just how protective Dr. Watson could be of his friend. He'd been furious at her for flirting with Sherlock via text messages, for leading him on. What would he think of her involvement with Sherlock now?
She felt the need to change the subject. "So where are you headed after this? You just came from San Diego so I'm guessing... India? Dubai?" By now she was well aware that Sherlock often went a good deal out of his way specifically to come see her. She tried not to read too much into it, or dwell on how it made her feel. Most likely he was taking a slight detour on his way to somewhere in the middle east, otherwise he would have gone the other way round the globe.
To her surprise, Sherlock hesitated, and looked out the window at the dwindling light as he replied almost in a mumble. "Caracas."
Irene felt her heart constrict again, but this time for a different reason. "Venezuela?" she asked breathlessly. He'd gone a few hundred miles out of his way before, but this was something else entirely. Sherlock had flown halfway around the world just to see her before flying halfway back again. No wonder he'd run out of money. Irene's expression softened as she looked at him. He turned his head away from the window, and for few seconds, their eyes locked. His eyes, which had looked tired and almost dead since he came in, now gave her all the response she needed to her silent questions. Yes, he knew how crazy it was to spend the time and money to fly all that way. Yes, he desperately wanted her to care about him. No, he didn't expect that she actually would. But he couldn't be alone today. With that, Sherlock looked down again at the implements on the table.
But those few seconds were enough to open the floodgates of memories for Irene. In particular, she sharply recalled their last encounter and the horrible things she'd said to him in the pursuit of a good 'scene'. She'd said what he thought. That he was worthless. That she only played along and spent time with him because he was paying her to. God, how much Irene wished she could take all of it back, because she'd known even then that none of it was true. She knew it even more now. And yet she still didn't say anything. She couldn't. Not saying it was the only thing maintaining a distance between them, a distance she felt Sherlock would be frankly terrified to cross if actually given the option anyway. Irene wasn't even sure if she could.
Blinking rapidly, and with his mouth sounding dry, Sherlock finally replied, "I... have someone to find there in Caracas in about a week. I had to be in California before that. And this date fell between them. What other option did I have?" he reasoned shakily as he rolled up his left sleeve then took a wadded up shirt from his duffle bag and stuffed it in his left armpit. It took Irene a moment to realise that he was using this to constrict the blood flow and plump up his veins. Much easier than a belt, she guessed. It made her feel sick that all of this occurred to her so readily. What on earth had these past six months of minding Sherlock as he shot up done to her? She hadn't really given much consideration to its affect on her own state of mind.
Fortunately, Sherlock spoke again, though it seemed at a great cost to himself as he stammered, "It's not... Believe me, I would have preferred not to come here. After last time-" he stopped himself by biting his lower lip hard. His right hand clenched around a syringe in a fist so tight Irene thought for a second he might break the plastic. Then he swallowed, still looking down at the table, and said, "It's only that I knew I'd need someone to sit with me today in particular. And I don't know anyone else."
She realised he didn't just mean any other friends or colleagues. He literally didn't know anyone anymore. In a way, she had become his world. Irene felt her brow draw together in empathy. While she was glad that at least Sherlock did actually care marginally about his own safety, the pain and shame of just how alone he was was a difficult thing for her not to care about. Against her better judgment, she asked, "Do you want to talk?"
This finally got Sherlock to look up at her, though in genuine confusion. "Talk? About what?" he asked.
"Oh, I can't imagine," Irene said, the tiniest amount of humour in her voice because she knew Sherlock Holmes of all people could appreciate that. "Perhaps having been officially dead for a year? I'm in the unique position of actually having some experience in this area," she reminded him.
For a second, Sherlock looked like he understood what she was offering him. That she was showing him he wasn't alone in this. That she was suggesting they actually just talk about those hidden fears and anxieties that both of them were so deft at sublimating. For a brief moment, Irene actually thought he might acquiesce. And for a brief moment, she didn't find that terrifying.
Then Sherlock looked away, back down at his left arm. He swallowed hard, dropped the t-shirt from under his arm to restore blood flow, then took the syringe in his right hand and slid it into a vein in his wrist. "No," he said, drawing back a drop of blood then depressing the plunger slowly. "I don't want to talk." He set the needle aside safely, then leaned over and let himself fall onto his side, his breathing quickening, his eyes closed. And that was that. He was gone.
Irene watched him for a moment, and noticed how tense the lines of his face still seemed. How his fingers began tapping rapidly on his chest. This was supposed to relax him. But it didn't seem to be having as strong an effect as she'd seen before. If even the cocaine could no longer ease his racing, treacherously cynical mind, what could anymore?
Getting up, Irene went to the kitchen to make herself some tea. She had a feeling this would be a very long night.
An hour later as Irene sat silently watching BBC World News, Sherlock rolled over and reached for his third syringe. He hadn't said anything since he'd shot up the first time. He'd merely stared at the ceiling, his eyes moving back and forth as if in rapid, unvoiced thought. His left foot had begun to tap out a quick rhythm against the arm of the couch. He'd been muttering half-formed sentences under his breath, but they clearly weren't directed at her. The hyper brain function she was used to. But she still couldn't call the look on his face one of contentment. Sure, he'd given a soft moan of pleasure as the second injection went in, but that had worn off so quickly that he was going back for another only twenty minutes later. He had already started to sit up when Irene said firmly, "Sherlock."
He looked at her with wide, red eyes and raised an impatient eyebrow in question, even as he lifted his left arm to look for a vein that wasn't already irritated and track marked. But he still didn't say anything. The sight was enough to make Irene sure of her conviction as she said, "I need you to go to the guest bedroom."
Sherlock finally looked at her, his faced etched with confusion as he asked, "Why?"
Irene drew a deep breath, composing herself before saying, "If you want to put all of that shit into your body, that's your decision. And I'll keep an eye on you because I don't want you to kill yourself. But that doesn't mean I want to actually see you like this."
Sherlock scoffed. "Like what? I've been sitting here, thinking to myself, not even saying anything. Is that bothering you so much?" he asked, irritated.
"No, it's not that," she replied.
"What, then? Suddenly squeamish? Irene Adler with a weak stomach?" he quipped in sardonic disbelief. His brain seemed to be in high throttle searching for an answer, yet Irene marvelled at his inability to see what was right in front of him.
Choosing her words carefully, Irene said, "I just don't want to see someone as brilliant as you risk his mind out of masochism."
Sherlock gave her an incredulous look. "Masochism? Don't you think you might be projecting your usual work onto this, Irene?" he asked venomously. "This is a pleasurable experience. A way to open my mind, not destroy it. You have no idea what it's like. You can't even begin to imagine." He closed his eyes a moment as if relishing the sensation. Opening them, he shook his head, "It allows me to think, and on a day like today, there's quite a lot for me to think about."
Yes, there was. And that was precisely the problem. Remaining stoic, Irene replied, "You're free to expand your mind in your room."
Sherlock gave her a hard stare. "Out of sight, out of mind then, is it?" he asked.
Irene knew that was as far from the truth as possible. Sherlock had been on her mind more and more frequently, even when he was God knew where and she had no idea when she'd see him again. Now that he was actually here, only feet away, he might as well have been the other side of the universe. He wasn't really there with her. Not the Sherlock Holmes that lived in her mind. But Irene didn't say that. What she said instead was, "Something like that."
"Fine. Your rules." He quietly swept up the remaining four syringes in his right hand, grabbed the duffle bag from off the floor with his left, and stalked silently into the guest bedroom.
But Irene could still feel his presence for the following hour and a half, as if he were sitting right beside her. She couldn't smell the salty air of the Mediterranean wafting in through the open window, only the cologne he wore, or used to wear before he'd uncharacteristically given up on his own appearance. She couldn't see the stars coming out in the night sky, only his eyes when he has looked at her in admiration. She couldn't hear the reporters on the television, only his voice begging her 'please', so abjectly helpless he hadn't even really known what he was asking for. Just something from her. Anything. All she could think of was Sherlock Holmes, and how the man in the next room was an imposter.
Finally, Irene exerted all her willpower to pull herself from her chair. She had been hearing him pacing around in the guest room, and thus had known he hadn't collapsed or anything. It was a welcome way to keep tabs on him without having to actually watch him going about his awful business. But the pacing had ceased now. Whatever else she thought, she was responsible for his safety. Not just financially, because she would have done it without any money. But because she personally couldn't bear for something to happen to him.
When she opened the door to the guest bedroom, she saw a tiny flicker of fire at the edge of the bed. It took her eyes a moment to adjust to the low light, emanating only from the open bathroom and cutting a hard slash across the room. Sherlock was just outside of it, sitting on the edge of the bed with a spoon in one hand and a lighter in the other, warming it.
That puzzled Irene. He'd prepared six vials of the stuff already. Had he really gone through all of that in two and a half hours? She was no doctor, but that seemed plainly dangerous. And he'd never used a lighter before, either. "What are you doing?" she asked, and though she said it softly he still jumped. His eyes were wide and as she approached she could see they were extremely dilated. His hands were shaking, the spoon trembling.
Sherlock looked up at her. Then, to her surprise, he glanced down and raked his eyes up the length of her body, his gaze lingering at her hips, her breasts, and finally on her lips. There was no doubt about it: Sherlock was checking her out. Much more than he had the time she'd stood in front of him completely naked. It surprised Irene more than unsettling her. To tell the truth, it gave her a bit of a thrill, in spite of how jittery and pale he looked. He wasn't exactly the Sherlock of her fantasies. But still, he retained his trademarked intensity. Irene coughed and prompted, "Sherlock?"
He blinked, and his eyes flicked up to hers again. He shook his head as if trying to clear it, and it occurred to Irene that he might be hallucinating. Evidently auditory hallucinations were the most common with heavy cocaine use, and this certainly qualified. She wondered what or whom had been whispering to him as he paced alone in the dark. "I ran out of the filled syringes," he said finally, his speech lacking its usual commanding, elegant clipped tone. In fact it was a bit slurred.
"Well, I can see that," Irene said. "Doesn't that seem like a good time to lie down? Perhaps even go to sleep?"
Sherlock's desirous expression quickly turned sour. "Do you really believe I'll be able to go to sleep any time soon?" he asked frankly. No, she supposed he had a point. Even without the cocaine, she doubted he'd have been able to calm his mind tonight. The flood of memories, regrets, and fears had to be much too strong for that. Taking her silence as a response, Sherlock looked back down at his spoon. Irene followed his eyes, then froze.
The solution in the spoon wasn't the usual clear or slightly cloudy white she'd grown accustomed to. Instead, it was the colour of maple syrup. Feeling her heart race with a sudden surge of urgency, Irene shot a look at the bedside table. A tin foil wrapper lay open, a little mound of familiar white powder on top of it. But next to it was another bit of foil on which lay several opened pill casings and a small amount of dusty brown powder.
Not since she knelt on the floor of a warehouse in Karachi had Irene been hit with such a surge of panicked adrenaline. Sherlock started drawing some of the brown liquid up into his syringe, but Irene's hand shot out to grab his wrist of its own will, effectively stopping him halfway. His gaze flew back to her face, his eyes now burning in annoyance. Staring in disbelief and abject horror, Irene whispered, "Is that heroin?"
"Partly," Sherlock replied. "Bit of both."
Irene felt dizzy and sick with dread. "A speedball?" she breathed, and now her hand on his wrist was trembling more than he was. "Sherlock," she started, putting her free hand on his shoulder. He looked at it in drugged fascination, then at the other hand holding his wrist. "Look at me," she said, her voice insistent and dead serious. Sherlock glanced back up at her. "You can't do this."
"I tried heroin once before," Sherlock reasoned. "Made me sluggish. But I've heard that in combination with cocaine-"
"Stop," Irene cut him off. Her voice was firm but full of genuine, strident concern as she continued. "You've taken six hits of cocaine in a few hours. You've used at least a couple times in the day you were traveling here." She slowly let go of his wrist and shoulder and crouched down onto one knee so she could look at him face to face. As she laid a light hand on one of his knees, Sherlock inhaled sharply, looking at her hungrily. But for once it wasn't Irene's intention to manipulate or seduce someone. Clearly the physical contact was distracting him, so she removed her hand. As calmly as she could, Irene continued, "You're paying me to be your minder, yes?" When he didn't reply, she said, "Sherlock, answer me."
"Yes," he said. Normally he would have been incredibly annoyed at her putting her foot down. But he seemed too fixated on the movement of her lips to put up much of a fight.
"Sherlock, look at me," Irene said, raising her voice sharply. That got his attention, and while she had it she said, "As your minder I'm telling you, you can't take that hit. I won't allow it. It's what I'm supposed to be here for, yes? Remember?" he blinked hard a few times, as if trying to drag himself down from his high, then nodded. As stone cold sober as she'd ever been in her life, Irene said, "Sherlock, if you take that hit right now, you're going to die."
They were her own words, her own thoughts, but having actually verbalized them, Irene felt a renewed constricting pang in her chest. She concentrated on breathing deeply. She had to be strong, to remain clear-headed. She was the only one who could right now. Sherlock thought her statement over for several moments. Then, to her dismay, he began to laugh. Yes, it was acidic laughter, but nonetheless, it was not the response she'd have predicted. After a few moments, he decided to fill her in on the joke. "I was just thinking," Sherlock mused in his familiar, thoughtful tone all of a sudden. "What a brilliantly ironic death date that would be. Though I don't suppose I'd actually have a proper death certificate. Just something under an alias. I'd be tossed in the ground somewhere without ceremony. Well, if it was good enough for Mozart..."
"This isn't funny," Irene said, not as a chastisement, but as a plea. She knew he couldn't think clearly at the moment, and the last time he'd gotten out of control she'd had to sedate him. She would do it again if she had to, but more than the immediate concern, she was troubled by the larger picture. Because he'd bought the heroin when he was much more clear-headed. There was no way he didn't know the dangers. It almost made her believe he had a death wish. "Haven't you recalled, as you've been in here presumably contemplating the significance of this date, why you faked your death in the first place? Why you've been working so hard to bring down Moriarty's network? To save your friends, yes? You're not much use to them if you actually die."
All humour quickly faded from Sherlock's face, replaced by a dark stare. "On the contrary, thinking about it has made me realise... they'd actually be safer if I were dead."
"How can you say that?" Irene replied, her tone desperate. "If you were gone, who would find the rest of the network and neutralise them? Keep them from being a sword of Damocles hanging over John's head? Over Mrs. Hudson's or Lestrade's?"
"That's just it," Sherlock said with a shake of his head. "As long as no one knows I'm actually alive, the network has no reason to go after any of them. The only reason I've needed to track them down is to ensure my own future, my own ability to return and reclaim my life. But if I slip up just once, if anyone from the network escapes alive or without being put away in some country's shadowy solitary confinement, then these assassins will go after my friends. Just as Moriarty ordered them to." Sherlock closed his eyes, a momentary look of sobered pain and guilt flashing over features. Then he looked at her again. "I'm not protecting them, Irene. I'm exposing them to mortal danger in pursuit of my own selfish dream of going back to how things were before. When everyone there believes I died in disgrace, a fraud. And thanks to Mycroft, there've been enough actual details of my life spilled to ruin me anyway." Sherlock growled, digging the heel of his palm into his eye. His voice was raw and strained. "Why can't I forget? All I wanted was to take enough to forget for just a few minutes, to think about something else entirely."
Cautiously, Irene eased the spoon and needle out of his hands. He let her, and shivered at her touch. She set the implements down on the nightstand. When she looked back at him, he was gazing at her with a renewed hungry expression on his face. She had no idea if it was for the cocaine or for her. "How about a deal," he said slowly. "I'll let you flush all of the heroin down the loo if you just stay with me for one more cocaine hit." Irene was about to make an objection, but Sherlock anticipated it and cut her off. "I know my limits. And you know the precautionary drugs, they're still in my bag." His voice was growing shaky and desperate, and he looked down. "Please, Irene. This isn't a death wish. It's just... a wish for a different life. Even if only for a few hours, or even minutes. Please."
It was the second please that got her. As much as she hated the idea of him taking any more of anything, if she could prevent him from taking any heroin, and most likely killing himself , it would be worth it. "All right," Irene nodded. She got up and grabbed the little tin foil of heroin before she could lose her nerve. Not hesitating a second, she turned and went into the bathroom, where she promptly tossed the drug, foil, and capsules all into the toilet. The environment was the last thing on her mind as she flushed the God-forsaken poison away. She emptied the syringe into the sink and capped it, setting it aside for safe disposal later. She then immediately began scrubbing her hands with soap and hot water, removing any possible residue left. As she was wiping her hands dry on a towel, Sherlock entered, a newly filled clear syringe in hand.
Under the lights in the bathroom, Irene could see the beads of sweat on his forehead, the pallor of his skin, the tremor in his chest as he breathed unevenly. She could also see the lights reflecting in his darkened eyes, which were turned squarely on her. There again was that desirous look that sent a chill down her spine. She wasn't sure if he realised how openly he was staring at her of if he simply didn't care if she noticed. In spite of herself, Irene swallowed hard. Just one hit. He wanted one more hit. But was that all he wanted? Irene was suddenly aware of how small the room was, how there was no way to put more than a few feet of distance between them.
Sherlock finally looked away from her, turning towards the mirror instead. For a still moment, he seemed to take in his miserable appearance. Then he tilted his head back, held his breath, and slapped the side of his neck with three fingers of his left hand. Irene watched his reflection in the mirror, as if in slow motion, as he lifted the syringe up, pointed it downward, then slid the needle into the jugular vein. Sherlock's eyes found hers in the mirror for a heart-pounding moment before he depressed the plunger. He was exhaling in a shuddering moan before he'd even finished pushing the solution in. As soon as it was all in, he pulled the needle out and dropped it in the sink barely in time before his legs gave out.
Irene reached out for his arm, but his nearly dead weight would have been much too great for her to support, skinny though he'd become. She succeeded in slowing his descent enough for him to grab hold of the edge of the counter and sink to the floor. It was much better than having him hit his chin or head. Now Sherlock was crouched on the balls of his feet, his head hanging down, both arms extended up to grip the edge of the counter tightly. His breathing was loud, ragged, and sprinkled with moans and utterances that weren't quite words. His whole body trembled. Irene saw a trickle of sweat run down the back of his neck. She might have been alarmed at Sherlock's current state if she hadn't been so practiced at spotting ecstasy in its various forms.
Looking away and swallowing hard, Irene made a vain attempt to ignore Sherlock for a moment as she looked around for the cap to the needle he'd dropped in the sink. When she spotted it on the edge of the counter and picked it up, she was surprised to see her own hands trembling slightly. But this was from a drug produced inside her own body. Irene closed her eyes, trying to calm herself. Instead, she wound up picturing Sherlock making those same incoherent noises of ecstasy for very different reasons. Stop it, stop it, she chastised herself. She had to get a grip, bring her own desires under control and just wait out this one last hit before he collapsed back into misery, which she felt would be much safer to deal with. All she had to do was-
The long, clammy fingers that had wrapped themselves around her wrist may as well have been iron-hot instead. Irene hissed in surprise, her eyes flying open in time to see Sherlock scramble to his feet, propelled by the energy of the drug. He didn't let go of her left wrist, holding it tightly in his own left hand. Irene could feel his eyes on her, and thought to keep facing forward. But the damned mirror betrayed her, showing her the positively feral look on his face as he inched towards her. This was not the miserable, longing, or embarrassed looks of admiration she'd often glimpsed from Sherlock when he thought she wasn't looking. No. The look in his eyes and the curl of his lips was openly, darkly lustful. She recalled how he'd been staring at her back in the bedroom, looking but not touching. Evidently this hit had emboldened him tremendously. "Your pulse seems to be elevated," he whispered, dropping her wrist and moving his left hand to her hip.
They were both shivering as Sherlock slowly drew up behind her, snaking his free right hand around to rest on her stomach, bunching the fabric of her shirt up into his fist. "Do you know what I've been thinking about?" Sherlock asked against her neck, his dark eyes finding hers in the mirror.
Irene blamed her own body, her own repeatedly repressed attraction to him, for how dry her mouth had become. You deal almost exclusively with sex and desire. Have some dignity! part of her chided. She didn't have the excuse of having taken seven hits of cocaine. "Contemplating how much you wanted to get back to London? Back to your old life?" she somehow managed to ask in a voice that was only a little shaky.
"I was thinking about that, yes. And it was making me very unhappy. As I told you, I wanted a way to forget all that," he trailed off, and she saw him inhale the scent of her hair. Sherlock leaned in, his lips brushing her ear and sending a shiver through her. All the while he held her eyes in the mirror. Finally, in a baritone more husky than his usual voice, his words slurring inelegantly with intoxication, Sherlock said, "And when you came in I couldn't help but think about how badly I want to fuck you."
Irene shuddered bodily at hearing the blunt, coarse words fall from his normally posh and restrained mouth. Sherlock watched her response in the mirror, his eyes red and glazed from the drugs but wide in an inquiring fascination that was all his own. He had to have felt her tremble, seen the way her lips parted, how her breath hitched. Unable to hold his gaze anymore, Irene closed her eyes, feeling a warm flush spread across her cheeks as he stepped forward to hold himself tightly against her. The feel of his body against hers was magnificent, as if they fit that way. Still a voice in her mind cautioned, You don't want to do this. This is wrong. Even as the endorphins pumped through her system, telling her this was absolutely the right thing to do, Irene's sharp mind sifted through the realities. Cocaine was known for making people very horny and Sherlock had injected enough to become downright debauched. As lovely as that sounded, the last thing she wanted was to truly take advantage of him. Especially when he'd never done this before.
"You don't even know what that means. Not really," she said, her objection coming out as more of a taunt in spite of herself. Him rubbing his whole body slowly against her wasn't helping. He had, after all, always desired her, Irene reasoned. Not just when he was on cocaine. But she had been the one to keep holding him at arm's length, she realised. Perhaps the cocaine only gave him the extra incentive he needed to push past that barrier. Liquid courage, she thought darkly. That gave her a moment's pause. He wasn't in his right mind. She'd declined to sleep with him before when he was high. But so much had changed between them since then. He'd repeatedly demonstrated his desire, almost need for her. He had flown halfway around the world to see her this time for God's sake. Did that really seem like someone who didn't actually want to shag her? Besides, she'd seen how miserable he was, how he'd nearly killed himself with the drugs. Wasn't this a better option than that? He'd been miserable back in the bedroom. He wasn't miserable now. His tumultuous thoughts seemed to have been pushed aside entirely by his focus on her. So wasn't this precisely what he needed today? He'd begged her for a chance to forget himself. Oh I could make him forget his own name if I liked, Irene thought, her own sublimated desires bubbling to the surface.
Opening her eyes finally, Irene flashed him a challenging look. "How would you even know where to begin?"
"Mmm, I'm a quick study," Sherlock growled as he ducked his head to suck at her neck. Suddenly, he let go of her shirt and instead snaked his hand up under it. The feeling of skin on skin made them both inhale sharply. But he didn't hesitate long before sliding his hand up further, stopping only momentarily at her underwire before ducking under the fabric of her bra to cup her breast roughly. At the same time, his left palm slid around from her hip to rest against the front of her jeans. Irene's heart sped up even further, and she let out a sharp "oh". Sherlock chuckled, a low rumble she could feel go from his chest into her back. It sent a shiver down her spine, her desire and imagination going wild. In truth, she'd wanted this for quite a while. In spite of everything - the drugs, his self-hatred, the growing nebulous tension between them - Irene kept desiring him more and more every time she saw him. She didn't even care that he was now skinny, pale, and sweaty. She'd have him any and every way she liked...
Irene felt her mental resistance and intelligent objections snap. Suddenly, she clawed frantically at his hands, grabbing hold of his wrists, twisting around and using the leverage she had on his arms to push him back against the wall. Sherlock stared at her in open-mouthed astonishment that quickly turned to worry. Of course he thought she was stopping. But Irene took a few deep breaths and looked him in the eye seriously. "Are you sure?" she asked. She knew in his drug and hormone addled brain, he wasn't in much of a state to make a well reasoned out decision. But she at least needed to hear him say it.
Swallowing, he replied in a raspy voice, "Oh yes."
A grin slowly spread up Irene's lips and her dark eyes narrowed dangerously. "Well then, Mr. Holmes, you've come to the right place to study up." Without warning, she grabbed him by the front of his shirt and practically dragged him into the bedroom. Pushing Sherlock against the bed to throw him off balance, she gave him a hard shove that sent him sprawling out onto his back. As he looked up at her lustfully and she felt the same desire spark in her brain, Irene knew once and for all that any pretence of professionalism between them was gone forever.
Irene climbed up onto the bed, straddling Sherlock with her strong legs. But he didn't seem content to lie back and take it. His heart audibly beating with the surge of energy both from his cocaine and his hormones, Sherlock pushed himself upright. Now they were face to face, both breathing heavily, chests rising and falling in time.
Suddenly all the barely pent up energy crackling between them exploded. Lips and teeth found one another's necks for a moment whilst hands simultaneously reached beneath shirts to desperately claw at backs. As Sherlock pulled her tank top off over her head whilst she sent buttons flying in an effort to remove his shirt, Irene got the feeling this wasn't going to last very long. Not if this frantic pace kept up. But she didn't care enough to slow down. They'd just have to make the most of what intense moments they did have. She leaned forward and nibbled on one of his ears. "Making any deductions, Sherlock?" she whispered, exhaling hot breath against his neck. She grinned in satisfaction as he shuddered bodily against her.
"Oh, shut up," Sherlock growled in annoyance, unhooking her bra and tossing it aside. To her surprise, he didn't hesitate even a fraction of a second before ducking his head and swirling his tongue around one of her nipples. Irene bit her lip to keep from giving him the satisfaction of hearing her gasp. She was growing increasingly aware of her own arousal, and the dual sight and sensation of Sherlock grazing the sensitive flesh with his teeth as he roughly rubbed her other breast with his hand was only making it worse.
Not content to let him get the upper hand, Irene reached down between them with both hands and rapidly removed his belt. When she moved on to unzip his jeans, Sherlock jerked his head back and stared at her a moment. Following her lead, he undid the zipper on her jeans. A few frantic moments of disrobing ensued, winding up with Irene completely nude and Sherlock in his boxers. He'd seen her naked before, of course, and had contained his reaction then to some stammering. But this scenario was a bit different, and as Irene pressed her bare chest against his, Sherlock let out a long groan that made her positively giddy. He wrapped his hands around her hips like a man holding on for dear life. "Lie back," Irene commanded, pulling away and raking her nails down his sweat-glistened chest. Under her hands, his heart pounded furiously.
Sherlock's eyebrows twitched up in anticipation, then he eagerly did as he was told, lying back on the bed. "No clever comments this time?" Irene asked, amused. Then she rolled her hips against him, tortuously slow.
"Oh for fuck's sake, Irene," Sherlock whimpered, practically writhing beneath her, fingers tightening on her hips, legs squirming against the bed covers. He was evidently too overcome with arousal, too maddened by the flood of drugs in his system to even bother hiding his desperation.
"That's the idea, yes," Irene said with a leer. She scooted herself down to his feet, then leaned over him. Sherlock was breathing open-mouthed as he watched her hook her right thumb under the waistband of his boxers. Then, with a devilish grin, she snagged the left side of the fabric in her teeth. Relishing his trembling beneath her, Irene slowly slid Sherlock's boxers all the way down his legs and to his feet. He helped slip his feet out of them. Irene tossed them to the side of the bed and started to crawl back up towards his face.
She was halfway there when she stopped, looking down with a slight frown. To her great surprise, Sherlock was barely hard. It may have been quite a while since Irene had actually had sex with a man, but in her line of work she saw them in all stages of sexual excitement. Everything else about Sherlock's physical and verbal cues towards her belied intense arousal. But evidently that was happening everywhere but the one place it really mattered. Following her gaze, Sherlock seemed to just then notice the problem, and he blinked in confusion. God, he must be really far gone not to have noticed that, Irene realised. Feeling mentally sobered but still physically thrumming with her own arousal, Irene looked up at Sherlock and asked delicately, "Do you need... help?"
Sherlock was still breathing heavily, sweating, and unfocused. Between breaths, he shook his head slightly and said, "I don't know."
Irene bit the inside of her cheek and inhaled deeply through her nose, trying very hard to tame her frustration. What she really wanted to do was rip something to shreds. She could only imagine how Sherlock must feel. Well she wasn't going to give up that easily. Irene rolled off to his side and scooted back up the bed until she was propped up on her left elbow, looking down into his eyes. They still radiated unquenched desire. She gave him a dark, hungry look as she leaned over and pressed her chest against his, then reached down and took him in her hand. He gasped at the contact, and that seemed like a good sign. But even as she stroked him with a firm, steady pace, nothing happened. Sherlock swallowed and closed his eyes, his brow furrowing in concentration. Irene kissed the sensitive flesh by his ear and asked breathily, "You with me?"
She could feel his jaw clench alongside her face. After a few second, he responded tightly, his voice now stripped of all its previous desire, "Apparently not." It was as if they'd just been plunged into the North Atlantic. Irene stopped, slowly pushing herself back up on her left arm and moving her right hand up to his chest. As Sherlock opened his eyes to stare at the ceiling, Irene noted how quickly he'd gone from flushed with arousal to flushed with embarrassment. Not even the cocaine's strong dizzying effects could assuage him, and Irene noted with a sickening lurch of her stomach that Sherlock was rapidly beginning to look even more miserable than he had before she'd flushed the heroin. He swallowed hard and wiped a shaking hand across his sweaty forehead. You knew this was a terrible idea, the sensible part of her chided sharply.
There had to be some way to salvage this. Biting her lip, Irene tried to think of the most delicate way to phrase her next question. Frankly it seemed like none of her damn business. Or it wouldn't have been 15 minutes ago, but how that had changed. In truth, her blood was still hot with desire, but she wanted this now more for his sake than her own. "Sherlock," she started slowly, uncharacteristically uncomfortable with a sexual topic for once. He looked at her anxiously, and she wasn't quite sure she wanted to ask this, but it seemed necessary. "Have you ever had an erect-"
"What?" Sherlock interjected, sitting up sharply onto his elbows, his eyes burning in indignation. His cheeks reddened further and he spat shortly, "Of course I have. I'm a virgin, not a child."
"All right, settle down," Irene said in a conciliatory tone. "I'm only trying to locate the source of the issue." She was a little relieved by his answer, to tell the truth. At least it wasn't something permanent. But that left only one possibility, frankly. Irene cleared her throat and said carefully, "It's the cocaine, then."
"What? Why?" Sherlock's brow furrowed as he tried to puzzle through that statement. In his frazzled and drugged state, it took him longer than it normally would have. Then Irene saw the realisation hit him. His face fell and his eyes closed briefly as he said, "Of course, vasoconstrictors. Reducing blood flow in peripheral vessels whilst also channeling more blood towards the heart." Sherlock groaned in frustration as the cruel catch-22 of the drug dawned on him, as it had already dawned on Irene. The cocaine had given him the drive to be open about his sexual desires, but made it impossible to actually act on them. Sherlock fell back onto the pillow, fixing his eyes on the ceiling.
Irene let out a long sigh and laid down on her back beside Sherlock, not touching him, just staring at the ceiling, knees bent and hands clenched together across her stomach. "It happens to a lot of people," she said. "I'm sure you wouldn't have this problem usually."
Sherlock scoffed. "Usually," he spat in self deprecation, and she realised she probably shouldn't have phrased it like that. Of course, there was no 'usual' for him in this scenario. "Oh, God," he groaned, running both shaking hands over his face, seeming mortified and miserable as the realisation of what had just happened seemed to finally hit his drugged mind.
Irene sighed then took several deep breaths, trying to curb her own sexual frustration. She felt truly awful for being the supposedly responsible party and having let things get so out of hand. It was only that they wanted one another so badly. Perhaps even needed one another. But she felt sick with the realisation of just how misguided this attempt to 'distract' Sherlock had been. She couldn't have known it would go like this, but God, how could she have been so naive as to think that they could just have a nice shag when he was in this state?
They laid like that for a few minutes, their heavy breathing slowly subsiding. Then, to Irene's surprise, Sherlock sat up and turned to look down at her. She glanced up at him, and he licked his lips a little nervously. His brow was furrowed in serious contemplation. For a moment, she thought he might kiss her, and it occurred to her that he hadn't yet. Then without a word, he slid down to sit below her knees, then eased them apart with his hands. Trembling, Irene watched as Sherlock put his hands on her sides, then leaned in to place a hungry kiss on her stomach. Irene's breath hitched and her muscles tensed, her flesh breaking out all over in goose bumps. Taking this as encouragement, Sherlock placed another kiss lower, and another lower...
"Stop," Irene rasped, her brain getting the better of every desire in her body just before he passed the point of no return.
Sherlock tilted his head up to look at her, a worried expression on his face. "Am I doing something wrong?" he asked.
God, no, Irene thought, groaning internally. She couldn't give him any indication just how badly she'd love him to continue, though. She wasn't about to make the same mistake again. She'd been soberly reminded that Sherlock wasn't in his right mind. He might not really know what he was doing, and she never should have let things get this far in the first place. Besides, no matter how aroused she was, it hardly seemed fair to ask him to get her off while he remained sexually frustrated himself. Call it a gesture of solidarity. But more than that, Sherlock had spent enough time already believing his feelings for her were one-sided. The last thing she wanted was to make him think she didn't care what happened to him, so long as she wound up feeling , Irene replied thickly, "No, you're fine it's just... You don't have to do that."
"Oh," Sherlock said, sitting up and allowing Irene to bring her knees together. She twisted them down and laid on her side for good measure. Sherlock's brow was furrowed deeply, and she could practically see his mind fighting against the combination of cocaine and his own lack of interpersonal awareness to make sense of what had happened. "I just thought... I'm sorry. Was that not the appropriate response?" Sherlock stammered, uncharacteristically flustered, and evidently taking this the wrong way.
"No, it was a more than appropriate response," Irene said with a gentle smile she wasn't sure he could see in the dark. "It's just that... well, this was supposed to be something special for you. It should be about your pleasure, not mine."
In the slash of light spilling in from the bathroom, Irene could see Sherlock's face fall, his cheeks turning crimson as he looked off into the darkness and breathed shakily. Irene had made a very good living out of humiliating people, but she'd never seen anyone look as utterly mortified as Sherlock did now, though she wasn't sure why. He didn't say anything, and she knew he wouldn't now even if she asked. Sherlock looked as if he were folding in on himself, slamming closed every door that had been opened tonight by the drugs. Irene didn't know what to say to him, what to ask. She got the sickening feeling that she'd unknowingly inflicted some damaged that couldn't be undone, and now felt even worse about her actions than ever before. "Your crash should be hitting you soon," she said, changing topics. "And I'm afraid it will be a bad one after how much you've taken..." Sherlock nodded robotically.
Irene's throat clenched painfully as she watched Sherlock slowly scoot over to sit on the far edge of the bed, his back to her. The haze of arousal had cleared entirely from her head, and Irene was left with nothing but cold reality before her. She looked at Sherlock, no longer in desire, but in honest evaluation of his miserable state. She really saw him this time. He had rested his hands on his knees, leaning heavily on his limbs and hanging his head down. She could see his vertebrae and shoulder blades sticking out on his sickly pale skin. The arms he leaned on were speckled with purple track marks. He was trembling, though with the cocaine crash or something else, Irene couldn't quite say.
After a few moments, Sherlock sprang into action, grabbing his boxers from the floor and slipping them back on. Irene sat up quickly. "Where are you going?" she asked, a little worried.
"I don't know. But I can't stay here," he replied in a raspy voice, standing up, his legs wobbling. He was in no condition to do that much, little less leave her flat.
Irene moved fast enough to grab his wrist just as he started to take a step towards the door. "Sherlock-" she began.
He flinched as if burned, yanking his arm away. "Don't," he said, eyes on the floor. "Don't touch me, please."
Her heart clenched painfully in sympathy. She could imagine the sort of day he was having in that she, too, had disappeared and left behind every comfort of her old life. It wasn't a stretch for her to imagine the despairing thoughts going through his mind due to this anniversary. But this, on top of that... his first vaguely sexual experience turning out this way? God, she couldn't even imagine. Cautiously, she got up from the bed and stood a few feet away from him, blocking his exit. "No, you stay here. I'll go," she offered.
Sherlock looked despondent but seemed to lack the energy to fight. "Fine," he sighed, crawling back into the bed, pulling the covers up to his neck as he curled onto his side. His gaze was fixed somewhere off in the darkness.
Irene started to leave, then thought of something. She walked back to the nightstand and grabbed the tin foil of cocaine and put it in his duffle bag. "I'm going to take this with me. Just for safe keeping, all right?" she asked. She was sure he understood what she meant, that she wasn't about to leave him with any more drugs after all of this. When he didn't say anything, she headed for the door. Irene started to pull the door closed, then paused a moment. Her voice was full of a gentle compassion that surprised herself as she said, "Sherlock, it isn't your fault."
There was a long beat, and she didn't think he was going to respond until finally he asked sardonically, "Which part?"
Irene didn't have an answer for that. She slowly closed the door the rest of the way, leaving him alone.
There was no 'morning after'. There wasn't even an 'afternoon after'. Irene kept checking in on Sherlock periodically, but the large amount of cocaine he'd taken in the previous 36 hours appeared to have completely exhausted him. She had no idea what to say to him whenever he came out, and the more time she had to think about it, the worse it got. She'd realised how strong Sherlock's walls must be for it to have taken so much cocaine for him to feel loose enough to make the sort of sexual advance he'd made on her last night. But then, ultimately the cocaine had only made everything much, much worse.
Miserably, she'd started to wonder if he could ever reach that level of comfort without the drugs.
By the time Sherlock came out of the room, dressed in his jeans and black button up shirt again, it was 6pm and Irene had been feeling on edge all day. She was sitting on the couch having a glass of wine when Sherlock entered. It took all of her will not to freeze awkwardly when he looked over at her. He shifted uncomfortably and looked away. Even the great Sherlock Holmes seemed unable to pretend that nothing had happened between them at this stage. Irene knew this was going to make him feel like a stupid teenager, which was such a darkly ironic contrast to the very mature and adult things he was dealing with on this anniversary. Sherlock was the first to speak, asking tightly, "Do you have my bag?"
Irene picked the duffle bag up from beside the couch, stood, and handed it to him. In truth, she was glad to be rid of the stuff. At the same time, she hated giving it back to him. "Here you are," she said. "How are you feeling? After the drugs, I mean," she was quick to clarify, not wanting to talk about the other thing if he didn't want to.
Sherlock grimaced. "About as you'd expect." He closed one eye tightly, and she wondered if he had a migraine. "But then I knew what I was getting into."
Irene wasn't sure about that, but let the statement go. There was something she'd been debating doing all day, and now as she looked at him and felt her heart ache in longing, she knew she had to do it. She reached in her pocket and pulled out the 900 shekels he'd given her. "Here, take it back," she said.
His brow furrowed. "Why? You did your job. You... minded me. Might have kept me from killing myself." She was a bit shocked to hear him admit that.
"Yes," she conceded, then hesitated a moment. Finally she extended the money towards him and said, "But I'm not a prostitute."
Sherlock's face fell, and Irene's jaw clenched in immediate regret as she realised he'd taken that the wrong way. "I see," he said tightly. He looked at the money, then back at her, his face colouring in anger. "That's what you meant about 'doing something special for my pleasure, not yours', isn't it? You thought I was paying for a pity shag." Understanding now why Sherlock had responded to that comment as strongly as he had, Irene felt sick. Sherlock swallowed hard, looking like he was struggling very much to keep himself in check. Which only made Irene feel worse, because it took quite a bit to get Sherlock to lose control."You think that's what I was asking from you?"
Suddenly something clicked in Irene's mind, and his deep shame from the night before made sense. He still thought she didn't actually want him. It made her heart ache because he couldn't have been more wrong. It was true that she had thought sex might distract him, but she wouldn't have even considered it if it hadn't been for their mutual desire. "No, I know you weren't asking for that. And I wasn't going to sleep with you as a favour," Irene replied, putting the money back in her pocket. Shit, she knew having all day to over think things was going to be a horrible idea. She wanted him to take the money back precisely because she wasn't doing this out of obligation. Because she'd done it as someone who cared about him, not someone who was paid to care about him.
Sherlock sneered. "Of course not. You just want it to be understood that you're not that kind of girl, but that I'm that kind of man." He took a step towards her, glowering down in pained anger. "You think I want, need, or desire to pay someone to have sex with me? Just anyone at all? If that's what I were interested in, I would have done that. I could have done so years ago."
"I'm sorry, that isn't what I meant," she said, sincerely. How was it that things she meant as gestures of her genuinely caring for him kept coming off as patronising instead? She didn't know if this was her own fault for being too subtle or simply a product of his own insecurity and inability to read interpersonal social cues. "I just didn't want you to get the wrong idea."
Sherlock swallowed, and she noticed he was shaking a little with anger as he gave her a hard stare and asked, "What would be the right idea, then, Irene?"
Irene didn't know how to answer that. The right idea was that she cared deeply about him, was attracted to him, wanted him. But also that she was appalled by his current state and fearful for his future. She was horrified at her own role in enabling him to fall so far. But what did that make her? She didn't know. After several long moments of her saying nothing, Sherlock looking away and spat bitterly, "Well, you needn't panic about your virtues and professionalism being besmirched. We didn't have sex anyway." He seemed more embarrassed now than angry, and turned away to head to the kitchen. She watched as he grabbed a glass from the cabinet and filled it with water, then began to down it greedily. She wondered how long it had been since he'd drank or ate anything.
Quietly, Irene approached him, standing on the border between the kitchen and the living room. "What is it you think this is, Sherlock?" she asked, her eyes full of concern.
For a moment, he said nothing, taking another swallow of water before his anger melted away. It was replaced by a horrible kind of resignation. Defeated, he said, "I think it's your magnum opus. Your most thorough job of humiliating someone to date." That stung, and Irene could hardly believe he thought that. But Sherlock looked like he had more he wanted - needed to say, so she held her tongue and let him continue. "Back in London, I fell into your traps repeatedly. I only seemed to win because I found your weakness. And yet in the end, you had me wrapped around your finger. I came all that way to rescue you. Then when it was I who had to go into hiding, of course I came crawling to yourdoorstep. And then I keep coming back again and again, holding onto the same foolish hope I did every time you used to text me. God, Mycroft was right," he laughed bitterly. "One lonely, naive man desperate to show off and a woman clever enough to make him feel special," he quoted, and Irene was stung at having their past dug up. Hadn't things changed radically between them since then? Sherlock had been avoiding her eyes, but now he looked at her, his expression full of chagrin. "I came to you because you were the only person I could talk to. The only person I could trust my life to. But I came back not because I wanted to see someone, but because I wanted to see you."
She knew how hard that admission must have been for him. He was never this open, and she realised just how utterly broken he must be to speak so plainly of his feelings. She already knew the drugs could do that to him. And now she knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that she could as well. That together the cocaine and she had finally dominated Sherlock into utter, heartbroken submission. Irene's heart beat painfully against her ribcage. "Sherlock, I swear to you, this isn't part of any plan. It's not a game. And the last thing on earth I want is to humiliate you. I care about you."
He looked at her, studying her with the intense, deductive gaze that was all his own. She had no idea what he was seeing, but she could tell that he desperately wanted to believe her. Finally, he said softly, "Even if that were true, it would hardly matter. I have to be able to concentrate on my work." He looked at her evenly. "I can't come back here anymore."
Irene's eyes began to sting with unshed tears. She had a million angry thoughts about why couldn't she be one way and why couldn't he be another and why hadn't she simply told him from the beginning that she didn't want his money? Nor did she want to 'mind' him while he slowly killed himself. But now he'd made his decision. And the damage the previous night had done to their relationship was most likely irreparable. There was no reason to reiterate that she had genuinely wanted him. He clearly didn't believe her capable of such a sentiment. Instead Irene just nodded and said through a clenched, choked throat, "I understand." Sherlock nodded and was about to leave when she added, "Wait. Please take the money." He started to object, but she cut him off. "Never mind what you paid me for or any of that. Now it's my money and I'm asking you to take it, please."
"No, don't give me money," Sherlock replied.
Irene could hardly believe the stubbornness this man possessed. She thrust the bills out at him. "It'll be two days before you have anything back in your account. You won't even have money for food, and I know you haven't eaten in at least a day, probably more. Take it."
"Irene, you can't give me money. I won't spend it on food," Sherlock snapped.
Silence filled the room as the realisation of what he meant hit her. Irene slowly slid the cash back into her pocket. She watched Sherlock swallowing, looking anywhere but at her, and could only guess at all the things running through his mind. Irene turned towards a cabinet and grabbed several protein bars and a couple sports drinks. She turned around and offered them to Sherlock. "Here, then," she said. "Take these."
Sherlock paused momentarily, then opened his bag and let her toss the food and drinks inside. "Thank you," he said numbly.
Irene gave him one last pleading look. "You have to stop, you know. Or at least slow down."
Sherlock looked at her with surprising softness in his eyes. "I know," he conceded.
"Will you?" she asked.
A beat. "I don't know," he said. Then he turned away and walked out the front door without looking back or saying good bye.
Okay, so I realise that this story's tags of 'loss of virginity' and 'first time' aren't technically 100% accurate. I tagged it that way because those are the themes being dealt with. But please note that there is one more (much longer 5 chapter) story left in this series, so anything can happen still... ;)