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Before They Ask Us to Pay the Bill

BBC Sherlock

Rating: PG (implicit slash)

Spoilers: For A Scandal in Belgravia

A sequel to There May Be Trouble Ahead, and betated by the wonderful Blooms84.

Summary: Sherlock has saved Irene's life, but she isn't going to let him win that easily.

My companion flushed up with pleasure at my words, and the earnest way in which I uttered them. I had already observed that he was as sensitive to flattery on the score of his art as any girl could be of her beauty.  –  A Study in Scarlet, chapter 4.

Sherlock Holmes has just saved her life, and Irene's trying to work out what to do with him – do to him – next. The first step is obviously to get somewhere private.

"We'll need to pretend to be husband and wife to be seen together safely," she says, as they hurry through the backstreets of Karachi. "We'll get a hotel room for the night, then we can take things from there."

"If you want," Sherlock says calmly, and she knows he's expecting her to try and seduce him again and that he's confident he can resist her charms. He's terribly obvious sometimes, poor boy. Still, he has faked her death very effectively, so she ought to behave. She should talk to him, maybe even play a few games, before leaving.

Once they find a suitable hotel – dingy, but not actually infested – she curls up, fully-dressed, on the narrow bed and watches him silently, as he takes off his turban and then stands next to the grimy window. Light on her, not him, but he finds her difficult to read, she knows that. Whereas she doesn't need to see his face to know what's going on in that clever, simplistic mind.

"So what now?" he asks. "What does a beaten dominatrix do?"

"Switch roles briefly," she says, smiling up at him. "I can play submissive as well, you know. There's always someone wanting to help a damsel in distress. Someone who can get me back to New Jersey, where Renee Norton lives."

"Who's she?"

"My main back-up ID. Irene Adler's now officially dead, so thank you for that." He's waiting for her to say something more, so time to be silent.

"Not much of a thank you," he says at last.

"You're lecturing me on manners now?" she says, still smiling.

"I have just saved your life."

"And I've saved yours, several times. Why do you think Jim from IT decided to let you go? Or something nasty happened to my gun-happy American visitors rather than to you?"

"Are you claiming it's two-one in your favour?" Sherlock demands. Irene sits up on the bed and tugs off her headscarf.

"I'm not keeping score, dear."

"You begged for mercy!"

"Do you call that begging? I'd call it asking politely. I said please, because I was nicely brought up. And so were you, Mr Holmes. I'm sure your mother told you that little boys shouldn't show off. If only you'd listened to her."

"I won."

"If you say so."

"You tried to bluff Mycroft and I defeated you."

"But not before I'd broken Mycroft. Cracked the Iceman. A silly nickname, of course, but childhood ones always are. Just like teasing your brother about his weight is silly, when it's years since he's been fat. Or making snide remarks about each other's sexuality." Her voice now is that of a disappointed primary school teacher; always a useful tone for a dominatrix.

He doesn't say anything, but she can see him trying to work out the implications. She's hidden it in plain sight, of course, the way she always does. That ridiculous claim that she'd needed Moriarty to tell her how to play Mycroft and him. Do you know what he calls you? The Iceman and the Virgin. If Sherlock had only thought for a moment he'd have realised that Moriarty couldn't possibly know about Sherlock's sexual history. No-one could, unless they'd known Sherlock since he was a child. Just as only a juvenile mind would think it funny to call Mycroft "Iceman", mock his claims to calmness, imperturbability.

The basis of so much of her professional success was finding the boy inside the man; spot that and you were halfway to getting everything you wanted. It had been such fun, working out how to play the Holmeses off against one another. Using Mycroft to get Sherlock onto her case, and then relying on the fact that Sherlock would be so keen to score off his older brother that he wouldn't ask awkward questions about the e-mail she needed deciphering. After which, Mycroft had been prepared to offer anything to Irene to cover up Sherlock's mistake.Though she should have remembered to flatter Sherlock a little more right at the end. Then he might have given her unlocked phone back to her rather than to his brother. Family loyalty did count sometimes for Sherlock, didn't it? Inconvenient.

"Worked it out yet?" she says, letting the seductiveness slide back in her voice. Keep him working on a string of puzzles: he's brilliant at details, but not at the wider picture. Give him an impossible-enough hoop to jump through, and he won't ask why you want him to.

"Battersea," Sherlock announces, and she realises he's got it at last. The intersection of the two sets of information she had at their meetings. Someone who'd seen the brothers together repeatedly, heard the insults they threw at one another. And someone who knew about Mycroft's method of "kidnapping" John via an attractive woman with an official-looking car.

"Did you buy Anthea's help or sleep with her?" Sherlock goes on.

She smiles serenely, because he's so unsubtle about women. Does she need to give him a hint? No, his eyes are going wide now.

"She was trading information with you. With Mycroft's approval," he says. And then the quirk of those beautiful lips of his as the next piece of the puzzle falls into place. "She was the one initially negotiating with you about the return of the royal photos."

"She was the go-between, yes."

"No-one would be suspicious of another glamorous woman associating with Irene, would they?" Sherlock says. "Not when your interests are known."

"And then we got to talking about other things," she replies softly, and wonders what, if anything, Sherlock is imagining between her and Anthea.

"So what did you offer her?" Sherlock says, and before she had a chance to answer: "You gave her information about Moriarty in exchange for information about Mycroft and myself."

"I gave her facts about Moriarty. Mycroft and you like facts, don't you? His working methods, his sources of information. And I told Anthea that I needed to know a bit about Mycroft, before I decided if I might come to a longer term arrangement with him. What he was like as a person, a boss."

The one temptation that Anthea hadn't been able to resist: a bit of office gossip, all the things that she'd never been able to talk about to anyone. That Mycroft loved éclairs, but never bought them, because he'd been teased by Sherlock for eating them messily. That he hated crude language and had once walked out of a meeting with a top White House official in protest at a homophobic joke. That what John Watson had written about Sherlock not knowing about the earth going round the sun was right, but that Sherlock could still recite most of Treasure Island from memory.  Harmless trivia that added up, in a mind like Irene's that could log and analyse such details, to a couple of useful psychological profiles.

"She ended up telling me a little more than she intended about both you and him," she tells Sherlock. "And then you turned up and confirmed my deductions."

"Your deductions? Don't flatter yourself, Irene. You guess, and sometimes by the law of averages you're right."

"I'm seldom wrong," she purrs back. Time to unsettle him, remind him he isn't the only clever person in the room.

"Cheap tricks!"

"Expensive tricks."

"Stock in trade of the charlatan, the bogus psychic. You fool people into revealing secrets and then tell them what they want to hear. You wouldn't last long in my profession. The dead can't talk."

He's so vain about his detective skills that she can't resist a bit of teasing.

"Oh, I'm sure you're much better with corpses than I am," she replies smoothly. "But what makes you think I'm unobservant? You can tell a software designer by his tie. I can tell if he'd like to be choked with that tie."

"I'm sure many men are disconcerted by your feminine charms," he snaps. "But some of us aren't so easily distracted."

Oh, so we're onto insults now, are we? He thinks his kind of analytical mind is the only one worth having, that she's just some brainless woman. She mustn't get angry with him. The secret of defeating a man who thinks he's superior is to mix up your weapons, switch between logic and lust. So her clothes stay on this time, and no touching. She looks up, her grey eyes locking with his, and says:

"Actually, I deduce things in rather the same way you do. It's just I don't normally talk about them. But since you ask..." Her voice speeds up. "So your brother mocks you for your lack of sexual experience, but are you really a virgin? Unlikely, given that your looks mean you wouldn't have a problem finding a partner, and religious scruples are also implausible when you visit me impersonating a clergyman. Perhaps major psychological hang-ups about sex, but no, a naked woman up close doesn't alarm you, but nor does it excite you, which argues against you being straight."

Sherlock is frowning, as if trying to work out the logical flaw there must be in her argument. She hastily draws breath, before he can think of a reply, and charges on: "Not interested in my body, but the moment I admired your mind, I got your attention; you were desperate to discuss your cases with me. Fits with you going round with your little acolyte all the time. You like someone looking up to you in all senses. Such a shame for you that Dr Watson's flattery wasn't enough, even if he does tell you you're remarkable. But you wanted more, didn't you? Couldn't get enough of someone else stroking your enormous ego, even if they were the wrong sex."

He has a response to that one of course, thinks he's wrong-footed her now.

"You think because a man isn't attracted to you, he must be gay? Not just my ego that's oversized, Ms Adler."

"No, that was merely confirmation of my theories. Your brother wouldn't tease you if you really were asexual; it wouldn't be sporting if it were something beyond your control. And why would someone who felt no sexual desire keep a ringtone of a woman's moaning? They'd find it either pointless or repulsive. You do have a sexual side, but you've kept it hidden from Mycroft, so it can't be something bizarre. If you could only get off while wearing a gasmask, you'd want to tell him in public, just for the shock value, wouldn't you? So the question then is: What are you ashamed to tell Mycroft?"

"Why would I be ashamed of being gay?" His face is tense; he doesn't like being deduced, does he? Wants to be the observer, not the observed.

"Because Mycroft is. Because you made his life a misery when you were young, laughed at him. Was it just about him being gay, or did you laugh at him for pining hopelessly for some unsuitable boy? Either way, it would be too embarrassing to admit to your own desires after that."

If he'd been wearing his famous coat, now would be the time he'd turn the collar up, assume his own armour of indifference. Instead, he leans back against the wall.

"Are you suggesting that I'm refusing to have a sex life lest it vindicate Mycroft?" he demands with a sneer. "So much for your psychological theories, Ms Adler. Nearly as off the wall as Freud's."

"But what about the Freudian slip?" she replies softly, gazing up at him again. She has him on the run now. He'll tell her everything, even if he doesn't say a word. He doesn't know what to make of her when she isn't trying to seduce him, does he? When she batters his mind with logic rather than with sensations.

"Every deduction reveals an aspect of yourself," she goes on rapidly. "You spotted that I was attracted to you, even though I don't normally get turned on by men. Well observed, but your conclusions were rather faulty: I found you sexy, so therefore you must have won my heart. You can't separate out sex from love, can you? Just a closet romantic. So who was he, Sherlock? The man who broke your heart, who made you decide you were never going to let anyone close to you again?"

He opens his mouth and shuts it again. She's right, though she's not going to get the name, of course. But then it's not the name that matters to her, but the confused echoes it stirs up in Sherlock's mind. He's on the ropes and he knows it, looking round desperately for a way out.

"You copied what you saw as his strength, didn't you, inspiring one-sided devotion?" she goes on remorselessly. "Because I desired you and you didn't desire me, it was one-nil to you, you thought. You were strong and I was weak. You thought that, and as a result you helped me in exactly the way I wanted. You couldn't resist proving your superiority."

"I am superior!"

"Two hours ago you saved my life and helped me fake my own death very effectively. I get freedom and security and you get a warm glow of satisfaction. A month ago you deciphered a message for me. I got half a million pounds and you got what? Oh yes - a warm glow of satisfaction. Though a very temporary glow that time."

"I won!"

"Of course, you did, Sherlock. You always do. So what prize do you want?" She's almost sincere now. She's quite prepared to help him if it comes at no cost to herself.

"I don't need anything from you," he retorts. His instinct's always to stop anyone getting near him. Well, except one person.

"So you believe. You think that all you want is acclaim, the acknowledgement of your own brilliance. But it's part of my job to work out what people don't realise they want, what they can't even admit to themselves they desire."

He suddenly stills and she realises she's lost him. She's fallen into his trick of saying out loud deductions that are better kept quiet and has alienated him. Ah well, in that case, time to stop the game playing and get serious.

"Oh, you've tried the silent treatment on me already," she says. "If you're not interested, I won't tell you. Let's sort out our plans for the night, then."

He still says nothing, but his mouth has gone taut. She doesn't fit into his nice neat female categories any more, and he's not quite sure what's coming next.

"What I want," she says, "is some male clothing and enough money for a train fare, so I can get out of Karachi, find one of my contacts in Islambad and get help. Now, you could either give me those yourself or get out of my way and let me find a man in this hotel to bamboozle."

A ridiculously obvious threat, of course, but still such a good one. Give me what I want or I'll endanger myself. He surely played that game himself as a child, knows that the more unreasonable person can always win. But now, of course, she has the added bonus of sunk costs. He's just saved her life at the hands of men who hate her and what she stands for; he's therefore psychologically predisposed not to let her risk encountering anyone like that again.

Sherlock will know it's a trick, of course, but that won't help him. He's sent her out before to get killed, and he hasn't been able to follow through on that. He's sure to crumble, but she is at least giving him a chance to be magnanimous about it.

"You presumably want the shirt off my back," he says, sneering, and then he strips his kameez off and throws it across to her. It's far too big for her, of course, but once she's belted it up, its bulky folds hide her body surprisingly well. From the neck down, she'll just look like a short, fat youth.

"I'll take the turban as well," she says. "And two thousand rupees will be plenty." He hands over the money, and she hides it away in her garment.

"You don't want all my money?"

"No," she says, dexterously twisting the turban onto her head. "This is enough. Oh, but there's one more thing."

"Which is?"

"Don't tell Dr Watson I'm alive. He's stupid enough to stick the fact up on his blog."

"He's not stupid–," Sherlock begins, and then stops. He clearly doesn't like admitting how right she is about his friend. "He's straightforward," he says instead.

That's the one vulnerable spot she hasn't really explored yet, hasn't needed to. She'd decided right from the start that it wasn't worth seducing John Watson; it would just be too easy and it wouldn't impress Sherlock. But deducing something about him that Sherlock couldn't might be fun. Might even be good for Sherlock.

"And yet he stays with you," she replies. "Maybe not quite as straightforward as you think. Or as straight."

He doesn't move a muscle at that, which is, of course, a complete betrayal. He should have sneered immediately at that comment, shown that he wasn't interested in John's sex life.

"I'll tell you my deductions about him," she says softly, "and then you can explain where I've gone wrong. No harm done."

"John likes women," Sherlock says promptly. "Nothing more to be said."

"He didn't like me being naked."

"He's quite conventional in some ways."

"He sat in Buckingham Palace with a man wearing no underwear and a sheet. Very conventional. And funny how he's far more pleased about you having no clothes on than me."

"Are you saying he's not attracted to women?"

"Oh, I know all about Dr Watson." She's enjoying herself now. "I warned Diana that he'd probably try and ask her out after she'd brought him to Battersea Power Station. But he didn't, in the end. Because he was too preoccupied worrying about you."

"John's not attracted to me."

"He is, but he's not quite sure what it means. Still thinking in black and white terms about sexuality, just like you. But he is in love with you, so if you asked him to have sex, he could probably be persuaded."

"Don't be ridiculous!"

"Has he ever refused to do something when you've asked him?"

"Punch me in the face," he says automatically, and then winces. It isn't sexual inexperience that makes him such a soft target, she decides. It's refusing to acknowledge his own feelings and those of others. Time to point out the obvious.

"You won't have sex with anyone for fear of them hurting you emotionally. But Dr Watson won't do that. You'll probably hurt him, but he'll survive. Win-win situation."

"Why does it interest you?" he says, looking at her suspiciously. "Oh, you think if I'm involved with John I'll be more vulnerable, you can use him to get at me."

Sherlock doubtless tells himself that since he isn't sleeping with John, they're not in love with each other. He tells himself so many lies about what he feels and doesn't feel.

"Moriarty wanted to get your attention, so he strapped a bomb-jacket on Dr Watson," she points out gently. "That rude CIA man wanted you to open the safe, so he threatened to blow Dr Watson's brains out. Everybody already knows that you'll do anything to save him, and he you. Though I was surprised how worried he looked with a gun to his head. You'd have thought he'd be more resigned to dying for your sake."

"He wouldn't want a futile death," Sherlock snaps back. "That wouldn't be sentimental enough." Then he looks at her, his face sharp. It makes him uncomfortable talking about John, doesn't it? "I've had enough of your games. Just go."

"Are you going to tell Mycroft that I'm alive?" she asks. "He can keep a secret." It's the sensible thing for Sherlock to do, of course, which is precisely why she suggests it. Plant the temptation in him to keep quiet, to be one up on his brother. Avoid getting mocked for his sentimentality in rescuing her.

"Of course, I'll tell him," Sherlock replies, and she somehow manages to keep a straight face at the lie. And then he adds abruptly. "So whose side are you on? Mine or Moriarty's?"

"Wrong question, darling," she says. "You know whose side I'm always on."

"Your own," he said. "I see. So which side do you think will win?"

She picks up the loose end of the turban, twists it round her mouth, so only her eyes are visible. Nothing to reveal that she isn't a man now. She wonders if that will make it easier or harder for Sherlock. And then she says carefully:  "An isolated genius versus teamwork. An interesting contest."

"The genius will always win."

"Oh, I hope not, for your sake."

"I'm not...I don't do teams."

"You'd better learn quickly," she says, and then, because he needs all the help he can get, she says: "Moriarty's people work for him from fear or greed. There's no loyalty involved. I gave him priceless information and he isn't here to rescue me. I tricked you, and here you are. There are people who care about you, even though maybe they shouldn't. Use them as backup and you'll beat Moriarty yet."

His face is unmoving now, staring at things she can't see. She's told him the truth, and he won't believe it, because they've told each other so many lies in these last six months. He's lost in the maze of her imagined motives, a master chess-player who hasn't yet realised that the board has already been put away.

She watched him once for hours thinking like that– her beautiful calculating machine. But for now, it seems like the right time to leave. He won't even notice her going, she's sure. She's never been good at goodbyes, she thinks, as she slips silently out of their room. And what comes next isn't her fight, and she's not going to make it hers.

She's not sentimental enough to die for a cause, after all. Let alone for a man like Sherlock Holmes.

Next story in the sequence: While we still have the chance.


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Feb. 25th, 2012 07:30 pm (UTC)
Oh this is brilliant! I love Irene's deductions and how skillfully you have woven them in to the series canon.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )