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Out of the Shadows (6/6)

BBC Sherlock

Rating 15 (femslash, references to alcoholism)

Spoilers for A Scandal in Belgravia

Summary: How much is Sherlock prepared to tell Clara about Irene?

Betaed by the wonderful blooms84

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5.




Sherlock had said to come at eight, but it was only 7.30 pm when Clara emerged from Baker Street tube station. She wondered where she could kill some time, and then remembered that Sherlock would doubtless deduce her presence if she was lurking within half a mile of 221B.

When she rang the doorbell, John came down and gave her a hug and an encouraging smile.

"Glad you're here," he said. "Sherlock's a bit twitchy; he's given up smoking yet again."

"What can I do for you, Ms Johnson?" Sherlock said as she went in and sat in the chair John offered. He was sprawled listlessly across a chair by the window, but then he raised his head and looked at her, and she could almost see his calculating mind dissect all her secrets, and file them away neatly.

"I have a client," she said, as confidently as she could. "Who's interested in knowing what happened to Irene Adler. I believe you've run across her yourself."

John was hovering by Sherlock's shoulder – to protect him, to restrain him? – and Sherlock turned and gave him a single hard stare.

"John," he said, in the hard dark voice that could stir even a lesbian's blood, "Go down to the street and see if there's a van parked anywhere along it. A van full of listening devices and one of Mycroft's men."

"You can't think that Clara–" John began, and Sherlock broke in:

"There have been three newspaper stories about Irene Adler in the last week, which is obviously what's got Ms Johnson's client worried. Who do you think might have planted those stories? Now go."

John nodded and left, and Clara sat there wondered what she'd got herself into. Then Sherlock unfolded himself from his chair and came to loom over her. I mustn't be intimidated, she thought, but there was something oddly daunting about Sherlock, the sense that the ordinary rules didn't apply when he was around.

"John's very conscientious," he said. "We have five minutes at least, possibly nearer ten. So start by telling me for how long Kate Winter has been your lover."

"What?"

"Before or after Christmas? Tell me or I can't help you."

"After," she breathed, "but how..."

"You're always smartly dressed, but your clothes are more fashionable than usual and your make-up's better. Your heels are an inch higher than you normal wear and your posture has also improved. You're clearly involved in a relationship with someone who is taller than you, whom you literally look up to. You're five foot seven, you're gay, and hence we're talking about a stylish lesbian who is at least five foot nine or ten. And you're suddenly interested in Irene Adler, even though she's officially been dead for three months. The most likely possibility is that you're sleeping with Kate Winter."

"I...yes. But I only got involved with her after Irene was gone. That was what you meant, wasn't it?"

"Yes. Why is she worried about Irene returning? No, of course, it's you who's worried, isn't it? A natural talent for masochism, something you both share."

"If you're not going to help–" Clara began, standing up angrily. Sherlock smiled down at her.

"Oh, but I am," he said. "I know exactly what happened to Irene. But John doesn't and I'm rather it stayed that way. How much has Ms Winter told you?"

"That Irene faked her own death, left someone else's battered body that was identified as her own."

"That was only the start of the fun," Sherlock said, and the smile on his face was terrifying. "But Irene's made no contact with her since then, as far as you know?"

"A friend of Kate's told her she's seen Irene. At Battersea power station, of all the bizarre places."

"Irene came back from the dead because she had one last scam to pull off. She nearly talked my brother out of a hundred million pounds. But I put a stop to that."

She hadn't known Sherlock had a brother, let alone one with access to that kind of money. What on earth had Irene been up to?

"Kate said the CIA were after them."

"Everyone was after Irene. Especially when I removed the protection she had. A camera-phone with a lot of compromising images on it. She had to run for her life, leave the country."

"Where is she now?" She was a terrible woman, but to have the CIA after her was no joke.

"Officially, she's in a witness protection scheme, rattling round somewhere in the obscurer depths of Texas."

"And unofficially?"

Sherlock smirked: "Killed by terrorists in Karachi. Never a good move for a lesbian dominatrix to try negotiating with theocrats."

Even for him, the comment was brutally offensive, but there was something in the way he was staring at her coolly that didn't ring quite true. Something too calculated...

"That's not what really happened, is it?" she said.

"No," he replied. "She did get herself into trouble in Pakistan, but I saved her. And then helped her fake her death a second time. Irene Adler is properly dead and buried. And somewhere there's a rich young woman, who looks nothing like her, enjoying herself. She had one big payday just before I took her camera-phone away."

"Is that the truth?"

"It's enough of the truth." He paused and then looked at her and added abruptly: "Ms Winter has had a lucky escape. Ms Adler is one of the most unscrupulous women I have ever met."

There was an edge to his voice that surprised her. "What do you mean?"

"Were you told about what happened at our first encounter?"

Oh, of course, that was it: wounded vanity.

"Kate said you and Irene fought off a CIA attack together, and then you snatched Irene's phone. But she drugged you and retrieved it."

"Did she also tell you that she was knocked out? That all her statements are hearsay?"

"Yes," Clara said. Had there been something else that Kate hadn't known about? "Wasn't that what happened?"

Sherlock moved over to the mantelpiece and gazed into the mirror as if it would reveal some further complex details of the case.

"It was, but everyone missed something," he said, slowly. "A minor point, but an interesting one. There were three CIA men and four of us in the house: myself, John, Irene and Ms Winter – Kate. They were armed; we were not. They knocked Kate out upstairs, hurried downstairs to find us. They wanted Irene to open her safe, and they were prepared to kill in order to get her to do so."

"So?"

"So whom do you threaten in order to get the safe opened?"

"Irene had some trick she played, didn't she, some booby trap in the safe?" Kate had been very vague about what exactly had happened at that point, and Clara was fairly sure she didn't want to hear the details. "Was that why the Americans wanted you to open it? So she couldn't con them?"

"They had an obvious way of preventing her from doing so. The ideal potential lever in their hands: Irene's lover of the last eight years. And yet they thought they were going to get better results from threatening me with John's death." He turned round to glare at her. "What does that tell you about Irene's relationship with Kate?"

What does that tell you about your relationship with John? She saw the skin around his cheekbones tighten as he dared her to say it, to speak about the impossible subject of his love for his flatmate. She shook her head. She wasn't getting involved in that elephant trap.

"You think she'd have let Kate be killed?" she said instead.

"The CIA certainly did. And I'd also say that it was handy for Ms Winter at Christmas time that she's a good six inches taller than Irene. A height difference of that extent would have been impossible to hide in a replacement corpse."

Sherlock's hand reached out to pat the skull on his mantelpiece, as Clara tried to choke back the bile rushing into her throat. He waited, his pale eyes scanning her again, and then added softly: "Irene didn't mention Kate at our last meeting. I don't imagine that anyone who's after Irene will bother her."

Clara wondered if the ambiguity of that last statement was deliberate.

"And what about you?" she asked, because he wasn't the only one who could be ambiguous. He looked down at her, and said:

"I didn't sleep with Irene, if that's what you're asking. I don't expect to see her again. I don't...want to see her again."

She nodded, and said nothing, because there was another pitfall there.

"Tell Ms Winter whatever you choose," Sherlock added. "But I would suggest that you never repeat what I've said to anyone else. Especially not to Harry Watson; as you may remember, she's prone to blab secrets when she's drunk."

Harry had been off the booze last time Clara had spoken to her. Well, she'd thought she was. But she wasn't a genius like Sherlock, equipped to spot every weakness, every pressure point in someone. He had too much in common with Irene Adler for her liking. She wondered if she should thank him or offer him money for the information he'd provided. She didn't know the etiquette for this kind of thing; and if there was some, doubtless Sherlock wouldn't stick to it.

"I'm grateful–" she began falteringly, and Sherlock held up his hand to stop her.

"Here comes John," he said, and a moment later Clara heard him hurrying back up the stairs.

"There was one person I saw who looked a bit suspicious, hanging around outside Speedy's," John said, pulling out his phone to show Sherlock a photo. He still had Harry's old phone, Clara saw, with the inscription from her on it. It had hurt a lot, once, that Harry had given it away. Now she just wondered why she'd ever wasted her money buying something so fancy. As if it could have changed anything between her and Harry.

"Ignore her," Sherlock told John, "she's one of Mr Chaterjee's wives. Nothing else? No vans?"

"No sign of anything like that. I think you're getting a bit paranoid, Sherlock." John smiled at Clara. "We had a case down in Devon a few weeks ago, and we had the most mind-blowing things happen at a secret defence laboratory."

"Unfortunately, however," Sherlock said, glaring down at Clara, "we do not have a case here. Ms Johnson refuses to tell me the name of her client and I must therefore decline to get involved. I do not accept mysteries at both ends of a case."

"I don't..." she began, and then realised what Sherlock was up to. "I don't think it matters exactly who my client is."

"Irene Adler was mixed up with some very unsavoury characters. I am not solving any more puzzles connected with her without knowing their exact provenance," Sherlock said, and flicked a glance at John that Clara couldn't quite understand. "But you can go back to your client and tell him that he has nothing to fear."

"Him?" John asked.

"He is one of the cryptanalysts who Irene used to try and crack the e-mail she received and who is now worried about losing his job as a result. Surely that is immediately obvious from Ms Johnson's lipstick, and the marks on her right hand?" Clara found herself looking down at her hand before remembering that it was all complete bullshit. Fortunately, John was apparently gullible enough not to question Sherlock's deduction. He simply said, in a slightly choked voice:

"Irene Adler's in a witness protection programme in the US. Just so you – I mean your client – knows."

Oh God, she realised, John thinks I was involved with Irene as well. And does he know what's really happened to her?

"Thanks, John," she said hastily, smiling at him. "You're more help than Sherlock's been. Goodbye." She marched out hastily. It wasn't her business. If Sherlock was concealing things from John, if he had been helping Irene Adler play some of her dangerous games, it was not her business.

***

On the way home she wondered what she should tell Kate, but the moment she went into her bedroom and saw Kate curled up reading a bulky novel on Richard III, she knew what she had to say.

"I saw Sherlock. He said that he'd helped Irene fake her own death."

Kate looked up, startled. "She was texting him a lot after their first meeting, but she told me that he never replied."

"This wasn't about what happened at Christmas," Clara said. "This was...this was a second fake death. In Pakistan of all strange places." She shook her head and went on slowly. "I'm afraid I'm not sure I took it all in properly. There was something about Sherlock's brother..."

"His name's Mycroft. He's someone very important in the British Government. Irene thought she might be able to sell him something, but I don't know what."

"I could go back and ask Sherlock for more details, if you like."

"No," said Kate, and sighed and put down the book. "I don't want to know what else she did. It doesn't matter any more. But I suppose it's not surprising she went to Sherlock for help in the end. She probably knew she could con him into doing what she wanted."

"He says he didn't sleep with her," Clara said hastily. "Harry always reckoned he's not interested in sex."

"Irene thought he was sexually inexperienced and had probably never worked out properly what he liked," Kate replied. "She reckoned she could find a way to use that..." Her voice trailed off, and she rolled over to lie on her back, staring up at the ceiling as if it would answer all her questions.

If ever there was a man crying out to be made a fool of by a woman, it was Sherlock, Clara couldn't help thinking. Might teach him a thing or two about humanity. And then she remembered the proud note in his voice when he said John's very conscientious. Sherlock cared for one other person, at least, which was more that Irene Adler did. Irene might inspire devotion, but she didn't give it. Instinctively, she sat down on the bed and reached for Kate's hand.

"Sherlock said she won't be coming back," Clara said. "I...I'm sorry you couldn't say goodbye to her, at least. But I presume it wouldn't be safe. If you're a link to Irene's old identity."

Kate's hand on hers felt cool and firm, and when she spoke her voice was calm: "I'm glad Irene's not dead. I wouldn't have wanted her getting killed." Clara waited, as Kate looked thoughtfully up at her. She wondered if she should tell Kate what Sherlock had said about Irene being willing to sacrifice her. But if the wounds were almost healed, why rip them open again? It was all Sherlock's speculation, anyhow.

"So how is Harry getting on?" Kate asked into the silence.

"John didn't say," Clara said and then abruptly realised, and I didn't think to ask. "But...I can't guarantee I've had the last of the late night phone calls from her." Some embarrassing exes just weren't helpful about changing their identity and disappearing off the face of the earth.

"Don't worry, Clara. As long as Harry's not got the CIA on her tail, I can live with it," Kate said, and she smiled up at Clara. "We can live with it. Whatever comes." And her arms reached out to pull Clara down on the bed beside her.


Comments

( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
zauzat
Jun. 2nd, 2012 07:17 am (UTC)
Very enjoyable. I always like stories that fill in lives for the characters at the edges of stories and this did that very well indeed.
nike_ravus
Jul. 20th, 2012 12:04 am (UTC)
Lovely story! Thanks for writing it. :D
marysutherland
Jul. 24th, 2012 06:47 pm (UTC)
Thanks very much for reading and commenting. I enjoy writing Sherlock femslash, but don't get so many readers for it as for my M/M stories, so it's nice to get some positive feedback.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )