Beneath the black fabric that smelled of blood and gunpowder, sweat dripped between her breasts, yet she felt frozen. She was afraid but safe, because of him, the stupid, stupid man. She felt safe, even though they were in a stolen vehicle—even though they drove through the backstreets of Karachi, Pakistan, unable to seek shelter at the British Embassy, because she was supposed to be dead and he was in the country with a fake ID.
She screamed when he almost hit a pedestrian, but he turned the wheel just in time. Under normal circumstances, Irene Adler would not scream. However, these were not normal circumstances. Ten minutes earlier, she was prepared to die. Then, the sound of his voice. How many men had he killed for her? Five? Six? With nothing more than a machete and well-handled gun—which made her wonder if Sherlock Holmes had killed before.
Perhaps that was why she did not reach for him. Not only would he pull away from her caress, but she was, for the first time since they met, scared of the consulting detective.
He, too, wore a black robe, his hair covered by a heavy hood. She could see only his eyes from beneath the fabric that covered his face, and his eyes were not amused. His look was not playful or mischievous. His eyes were like steel, so she stared out the window and watched dark buildings pass like shadowed mausoleums.
“Where are we going?” She sounded forceful, strong, unwilling to reveal her weakness.
“A safe house.”
“Why are you doing this?”
“Don’t ask stupid questions, or I’ll regret my decision.”
She wished he would remove the fabric from his face. She needed to see his mouth. Did he smirk, at least, with that last comment, or was he serious? She did not take her eyes off him, which was perhaps why she noticed his breath shake on a rather loud exhale.
“Mr. Holmes …”
“Please refrain from speaking until we reach our destination. You’re only acting as a distraction, and I have no time for distractions right now.”
Usually, she would have snapped at him, made a joke about how distracting she could be—how men usually enjoyed her distractions. She didn’t feel up to it.
When he turned suddenly left, her hip jammed against the car door. She winced, but she knew the bruise would only add to all the others accumulated during her time of imprisonment. Then, Sherlock put the car in park and jumped out. She assumed she was to follow.
“Here?” She looked up at a stacked tenement building with laundry hanging from balconies and the sound of a radio playing the Beach Boys.
“No. A block up.” He nodded and started walking. She had to practically run to keep up. “If they find the car …”
“They’ll think we’re hiding with someone in the apartments.”
“Hopefully. Try to cover your face.”
“There’s no one—”
“Cover your face, Ms. Adler.”
She pulled fabric over her mouth and continued to run alongside her protector, who she was still surprised to see. Irene had never hurt someone as much as she hurt Sherlock Holmes; yet, he issued her death warrant, didn’t he? Perhaps they were equal in their betrayals. And although she did not hate him—she couldn’t hate him—she wondered if he hated her. Yet, if so, why was he there? Why did he save her life?
He rushed down an alley the size of a broom closet. She heard the metallic sound of keys and smelled rotting garbage. Then, the door opened, and she felt his hand in the darkness, pushing her inside. It wasn’t much: a bed with the approximation of clean sheets; a desk, covered in Sherlock’s belongings; a duffel bag on the floor; and a darkened bathroom to her right.
“Cozy,” she joked.
He stepped past her and removed the hood and fabric from his face. Finally, she could see him, and she was surprised to find him sweating and paler than usual. His tall form leaned against the wall, and she noticed blood on his neck—probably nothing more than spatter from earlier.
“Whiskey,” he said.
“There’s whiskey in my bag.” He nodded at the black duffel on the floor.
Irene had never once seen Sherlock drink, so she stepped toward him. “Mr. Holmes.” The closer she got, the better she could hear his breath—labored, strained. She put her hand on his cheek and found him cold. “What’s wrong?”
“The whiskey …” His upper torso tilted forward. She caught him with her hands on his shoulders, which made him shout.
She noticed her left hand felt wet, and when he found the strength to stand straight again, her palm was covered in blood. She looked up at him, terrified.
“Hazard of the job,” he whispered.
“Oh, my God.” She put her arm around him and easily pushed him onto the bed. She straddled his waist and untied the black cloak he wore as a disguise. Beneath, he wore a white dress shirt. However, Irene felt light-headed when she saw the amount of red that now stained his entire shoulder and chest. She untucked his shirt from his black pants and tore the fabric; buttons flew. Finally, after a year of fantasy, Irene Adler touched the bare skin of Mr. Sherlock Holmes, and yet, there was nothing sexual about it. She pushed the fabric away from his shoulder wound and recognized, as she expected, a bullet hole in his faultless flesh.
Irene stood up suddenly. “We need a doctor.”
His eyes didn’t look at her; they stared at the ceiling. “We can’t have a doctor, Ms. Adler. Whiskey. And there’s a first aid kit.”
She shook her head. “I can’t—”
“Don’t make me believe you’ve never dealt with a bullet wound before.” He leaned up on his left elbow and stared at her. “Now, please, calm down and save my life.”
His glare gave her the power to move, at least, and she dug through his belongings until she found both the bottle and the rather sizeable first aid kit. She wondered if he’d expected at least one of them to be injured. She returned to him on the bed and noticed he breathed deeply—probably trying to manage the pain.
He was right; this was not her first bullet wound. The difference was him. Although she was a dominatrix—although she’d fantasized about Sherlock and causing pleasure through pain—this was different. This was his life. She opened the bottle of whiskey and set it on the table by the side of the bed.
“Can you sit up?”
He sat up in response.
She removed the remainder of the cloak and his ruined dress shirt. The back of his shoulder was mangled, but at least the bullet was not lodged somewhere in his body. At least the wound would be easy to clean and close, albeit painful.
“For goodness sake,” she hissed. “Under these circumstances, call me Irene.” She reached for the bottle on the nightstand, but before she could douse his wounds, his hand grabbed the whiskey from her, and Sherlock took a gulp that would have put a horse on its back. She moved to his side when he returned the bottle to her hand, and he obeyed when she told him to lie down. “Are you ready?”
He unlatched his belt and lifted his hips to pull the leather free from belt loops. She watched him fold the belt once, twice, then insert the leather between his teeth. Then, he nodded.
She poured whiskey over his wound. His face melted into wrinkles, and he groaned around the leather in his mouth. His body bucked, and she found it necessary to put her knee in the center of his chest to keep him from escaping the cleaning heat of pure alcohol.
It was a comfort when he lost consciousness. Irene may have fantasized about inflicting pain on the incomparable Sherlock Holmes. She had dreamt of whips and chains, his naked body powerless beneath her touch. But not like this.
It took well over an hour before the wound was clean, sewn shut, and bandaged. By then, Sherlock’s hair was soaked in sweat; the pale pallor of his skin looked almost blue beneath the cheap bulb in the overhead light. She found a frayed towel in the bathroom. She soaked it in the sink and returned to Sherlock.
She cleaned the old blood from his torso and neck. She used the fabric of her own cloak to wipe the sweat from his forehead. She did her best to move his limp body away from the area of the mattress soaked in blood. She moved him against the wall, where the sheets were still clean and dry.
Finally, she removed her death shroud. Beneath, she wore nothing but a thin, white slip. She longed for a shower—longed to feel clean—but she was terrified of leaving him alone. Careful to avoid the pool of his blood, she curled up at the top of the bed and leaned her tired head against the wall. She watched him sleep, had seen the phenomenon before, far away in London, but that seemed long ago.
He looked different when he slept, defenseless, especially in the safe house, bandaged and half naked, within her reach. How many times had she pictured this moment—alone in a room with a naked, pliable Sherlock Holmes? Yet, sex was the last thing on her mind, as slowly, her eyes grew heavy and her body gave in to the exhaustion of near death, rescue, and the echo of Sherlock’s screams.