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Out of the Shadows (2/6)

BBC Sherlock

Rating 15 (femslash, references to alcoholism)

Spoilers for A Scandal in Belgravia

Summary: Irene's left Kate broke and heart-broken. Can Clara help her out?

Betaed by the wonderful blooms84

Part 1

"Be warned," Clara said as they went into Pommeroy's wine bar, "their vin ordinaire is extremely ordinaire."

"I heard that, Clara," Andy the barman replied cheerily. "But we've just got some decent South African Chardonnay in. You and your friend should give it a try."

"I'll stick to tonic water, please, Andy, but would you like a glass of it, Kate? I trust his judgement on these things."

Kate accepted with a friendly smile that got Clara's heart racing a little, and possibly even Andy's. Pommeroy's had become surprisingly women-friendly over the years, she thought, as she led Kate off to a quiet corner. Everyone noticed Kate, obviously, but no-one was actively leering. And the other lawyers who made up most of the clientele knew better by now than to listen in to Clara's private conversations.

"How did you meet Irene?" she asked Kate, seating herself a careful distance across the table from her; she needed to stay professional, even if she was trying to get Kate to talk.

"I was modelling," Kate said.

"I should have guessed," Clara replied. Not just a beautiful face, but the style, the way Kate moved. "You'd be a natural."

"No," Kate said, and a sad smile appeared on that beautiful face. "I was hopeless. I started when I was sixteen, just out of school. My parents hadn't wanted me to be a model, so I was desperate to be one, of course. But I was no good at it. Not turning up on time, being hung over, undisciplined. I stuck it out for a few years, but then Irene appeared, looking for someone to work for her. She said she could get the best out of me..."

"She knows how to get people to do what she wants?"

"Irene's amazing," Kate said. "She trained as a singer, but men were always more interested in her looks than her voice. She told me she was in some opera that the director had set in a leather club and started talking to one of the set designers about BDSM. She got into the scene for a while, and then realised she could be paid for domming. Paid more than chorus rates, at least."

"And she did well enough to take you on?"

"She was setting up on her own, wanted to go upmarket. Half the thing for some men is the expense."

"That it hurts to pay?" Clara couldn't help saying, and Kate smiled and nodded and then said. "It was fun. Us two against the world, making fools out of a bunch of men."

It had probably seemed more fun than being a not very successful clothes horse, Clara thought. And even from the newspaper reports, it was clear how seductive Irene was.

"Did you...were you involved with the men as well?" she asked cautiously

"No, that was just Irene. I was her chauffeur, dresser, arranged appointments and so on. Anything that she needed."

"And her lover," Clara said quietly, and it wasn't a question.

"Yes. It's always been girls for me, so when I met Irene, it was...amazing, a dream come true. And she told me that the first time she saw me, she knew I was the one for her."

"What about the men?"

Kate took a sip of her drink and shrugged. "It's not about sex, it's about power. What she did with the clients was irrelevant to our relationship."

If it's not about sex, why are there so many pictures on the web of Irene Adler almost naked? And what about Rebecca Trent? Impossible to discuss it with Kate. A wariness had come into her look already, someone who was expecting criticism. And she wasn't the only one who'd ever got into a messed-up relationship, after all.

"What went wrong?" Clara asked instead, as calmly as she could. Kate flushed.

"Who said anything went wrong?"

Clara drank a little more of her tonic water, tried to think how to put it. "You said it was fun, and yet Irene's disappeared without paying you. Without telling you where she's gone. Something happened. Recently? Or did it start long ago, but you didn't realise at first?"

When do two drinks become three? When does a bottle of wine in the evening as a treat become an expectation and then a requirement?

"Irene's a really good domme," Kate said slowly. "There was no-one else quite like her in London; she got more and more clients. But the house we were renting in Belgravia was expensive and so was the car, and we weren't actually making that much profit. And it's the psychology of the kink that fascinates her, but it turned out that most of the men wanted much the same thing. It was all getting a bit...boring for Irene."

Kate had been in a relationship with someone who got bored being a dominatrix. Bit of a warning sign there, don't you think? There was a voice in Clara's head that liked pointing out that other women had worse judgement than herself. Well, she wasn't giving into that voice. Sneering at Kate wasn't going to help.

"Some people always want more," she said, and that came out sounding more truthful than she'd expected. "So what did Irene do?"

Kate hesitated and then asked: "What are the rules about what I'm allowed to tell you?"

"You're not officially my client," Clara replied promptly. "You're just talking to someone in a bar. I don't have to report anything to anyone if you've broken the law. But it depends a bit what Irene did, obviously."

"It started off with insider trading–" Kate began and then stopped, sudden alertness in her expressive grey eyes, and added: "Oh, help. It's a never good sign if you begin a story like that, is it?"

"No," Clara said, and smiled at her. "But it's not the worst opening line I've had in a client interview."

"What is?"

" 'I didn't mean to steal my colleague's underwear,' was probably near the top," Clara said, and when Kate smiled, she added: "How did Irene get into insider trading and how long did that last?"

"Six months, a year, maybe," Kate replied. "We had a lot of merchant bankers as clients, you see. And they'd tell Irene secrets in order to impress her."

"Did she make much money?"

"Some. But it wasn't really the money that mattered to her."

"What did?"

"The thrill of it," Kate said simply. And there you had the disaster waiting to happen, Clara thought. But maybe that had been what Kate was after; the rebellious streak in her had wanted the risks that Irene had provided.

"And after that?"

"Espionage. Irene had some rich Russians as clients, and it turned out some of them had secrets too. Irene had...contacts in the police already, and in some government departments. And there were other people who were interested in what we learnt." Kate paused and then went on, "She was never an agent for anyone. Strictly freelance. You can negotiate more effectively if you're not committed to anyone long-term."

She could not be having this conversation, Clara thought. Sitting here in an unfashionable winebar and discussing spies. But sex workers and espionage had always gone together, and she could easily imagine Irene playing at being Mata Hari. Though look what had happened to her...

"That sounds far more dangerous than tying up accountants, or whatever she normally did."

"Oh, Irene was still doing that as well," Kate said. "And she'd always taken precautions. There was a reason we didn't get into trouble with the police or the local authorities. Irene had a hold wherever it mattered."

Probably on people's throats. "Was she a blackmailer?"

"No!" Kate protested. "She never used the photos she had. But no-one would have dared to arrest her. Or they'd have regretted it if they had. Irene was safe, she knew that."

"But Irene didn't like being safe, did she?" If other people couldn't bring you down, you brought yourself down. If you were someone like Irene – like Harry – who lived for drama.

"It was all OK till last spring. She got involved with the princess then and with Jim soon after that." Kate stared down at her glass, and Clara could see that she was suddenly very close to tears.

"A real princess?" she asked.

"Yes," Kate said, still staring intently at the dregs of her drink. "Irene didn't sleep with her, but...they were close. Very close." She looked up, with a smile that said she'd read books about positive thinking, and added brightly. "It opened a lot of doors for us, we met some influential people. So good for business, overall."

And heart-breaking for you, Clara thought. Far easier to say the men didn't matter, that Irene didn't really care for them. But when it's another woman, you have a true rival. Yet another thing not to mention, of course.

"What about Jim?" she asked. "Was he a new client as well?"

"No," Kate said. "He's a criminal. A consulting criminal."

"Why did Irene need to consult a criminal, when she was one already?" Clara blurted out and saw Kate's face freeze. Of course, that was probably how she'd coped. Telling herself that what Irene was doing was fine, might be technically breaking the law, but wasn't really wrong. Irene Adler wasn't a criminal, any more than Harry was an alcoholic. If you could just claim that the label was misapplied, you could pretend that it was all still almost OK.

"I'm sorry," she told Kate. "I...I shouldn't have said that. What did Irene want from Jim?"

"She had secrets that she couldn't sell. There are governments, organisations, that wouldn't want to deal with a woman directly. Jim was a useful intermediary. And there were people after us, by then. Because of...well, because of the princess, among other things. We needed to know about our opponents and Jim had a very effective network of informants."

A sudden memory came back to Clara. There'd been a film once called Death of a Princess, hadn't there? A Saudi princess who'd been executed for some sexual crime. Had Irene got herself and Kate entangled in something like that?

"You thought you might be killed?" she asked.

"We'd always reckoned we were safe in London. But then the CIA came calling. I got knocked out. Someone else almost got shot."


"A man who was visiting. Irene managed to fight the CIA agents off with help from him and his friend."

There was something more to the story than that, Clara felt sure; she could feel the sudden evasiveness, Kate's attempts to avoid lying outright. But it wasn't her job right now to find out about that.

"You were hurt in the attack, you said?" It was a horrible thought.

"I was concussed. I had a terrible headache, but no permanent damage."

"You know," Clara said, as casually as she could, "as your employer, it's Irene Adler's duty to provide you with a safe working environment. I'm pretty sure behaving in a way that gets the CIA attacking you is failing in that duty."

"We'd had people trying to rob us before," Kate said, in a voice that was just too calm, "but nothing like that. But Irene wasn't going to back down. Because we were one piece of information away from solving all our financial worries for good. And then we could retire to the south of France."

No good asking why Kate hadn't packed her bags at that point. She couldn't really have believed that Irene would stop causing mayhem. But the point was that she loved Irene, and you didn't leave someone just because things had got difficult, did you? Not when they still needed you. The real question wasn't why Irene had disappeared, but why she hadn't taken Kate with her.

"Were you attacked again?" Clara asked.

"There was one more attempt at a break-in, but it failed. But Irene was getting worried. She decided the best thing to do was to fake her own death."

"As you do," Clara said drily. "How did she do that?"

"I don't know," Kate said. "She said I mustn't know anything about it. I had to pretend to be grieving, you see, and the less I knew about what had really happened, the more convincing I could be." She paused, and then went on slowly. "We'd had lunch on Christmas Day. Watched the Queen's speech" – she smiled at some private joke – "and then Irene said she was going out for a walk and she might be some time. And I knew what was going to happen."

"That was when she was going to do it?"

"I phoned the police when she hadn't returned by the evening, and they told me they'd found a body. When I went to the mortuary to see it, the face was bashed in, but the woman was wearing Irene's clothes." Kate stopped, raising her empty glass automatically, as if she might find a mouthful more in it, while her left hand played an uneasy rhythm on the table.

"But it wasn't her?" Clara said, quietly.

"I told them it was. I was almost certain it wasn't, but that wasn't quite enough. I was pretty much a nervous wreck for the next week, which was probably what Irene would have wanted our enemies to see."

How could anyone be cruel enough to do that to someone they loved, Clara wondered. On an impulse she reached out and put her hand over Kate's. Quite a contrast, she couldn't help noticing, between her plain hands and Kate's long fingers, with their perfectly manicured nails.

"It must have been terrible," she said. "Not knowing is almost worse than being sure she was dead."

Kate sighed and closed her eyes for a moment, and then opened them to look straight at Clara. As if she was trying to work out who she really was, what she could say to her.

"On New Year's Day," she said at last, "I had a phone call from a friend of ours, called Crystal. She's worked for Irene before, and she told me that she'd met Irene the previous day and carried out an assignment for her, arranged a meeting."

"Irene was still alive?" Clara said, and she could feel the relief that Kate must have experienced. And then Clara heard her own treacherous mouth say: "You're sure your friend couldn't have been mistaken?"

"No," Kate said earnestly. "Crystal talked to her for some time, face to face. She knew Irene well. And besides, I've had a message from Irene since."

"What sort of message?"

"A text, a fortnight or so ago. She told me she'd hit the jackpot and Jim had paid out. That she'd won."

"And then?"

"Nothing more. I texted back at once, but she didn't reply." And suddenly Kate's head went down, and she was crying, sobs racking her tall frame. "She's alive but I don't know where the hell she is."

What do I say? What is there to say? All Clara could think to do was hold onto Kate's hand, remind her she wasn't alone. And then sit and wait, and give an extremely dirty look at a man at a nearby table who looked like he was going to come over and attempt to 'comfort' Kate. What comfort was there in a situation like that, when you'd been abandoned by someone?

Kate's hand pulled away at last, reaching for a tissue. "You think I'm stupid to love her, don't you?" she said blurrily, wiping her eyes.

"You can't help what you feel," Clara said. "But if you haven't heard from her since, that's not a good sign." It'd hardly be helpful to say that maybe the CIA had caught up with Irene at last, that maybe Irene's silence wasn't voluntary. Whatever had happened, it couldn't be good news for Kate. It couldn't ever be, surely, where Irene Adler was involved

"I'm sorry about crying," Kate said. "I'm...I'm OK now." It was a lie of course, but it was a lie that Clara ought to try and respect. She'd cried on Andy's shoulder at one low point last year, and it had been terribly embarrassing afterwards.

"So are you still living at Irene's house?" she asked, eventually. That was the one thing she could do, help out Kate practically. She'd come to Clara for legal advice in the first place, hadn't she? Maybe she should have stuck to giving Kate that, not got involved with this personal tragedy. It would be better not to feel what she was feeling now, that she wanted to hold Kate, comfort her, make it all better for her...

"The lease is paid till the end of the month," Kate said, looking up at her, her voice a little calmer. "I need some money so I can get somewhere else to live. I certainly can't afford Belgravia anymore."

"Did Irene leave any of her possessions behind?" Clara asked. "The house may be rented, but what about the furniture, or..." She ground to a halt. There was no tactful way she could ask if Irene's house had been full of equipment.

Kate was recovering her composure. "The dungeon's still there," she said, and even managed a slightly tentative smile. "I'm not sure...well, put it like this, I don't think the landlord would have been giving Irene her deposit back, not with the holes in the walls for the chains. She left a lot of clothes behind as well, and I've still got her car. Why?"

"Because you'll win your claim for back pay easily, but you need to make sure Irene has some assets. Then you can apply for a warrant of execution and get the court bailiffs to sell them off to pay you. But it'll take a while, I'm afraid." Clara stopped, as a thought suddenly occurred to her.

"Is Irene officially still dead?" Kate nodded. "Never mind the wages, then, Kate. What did she leave you in her will?"

"I don't want her money!" Kate yelled, and then she stopped, as if she'd surprised herself, and added slowly, "I mean, I don't want Irene's money as some kind of consolation prize. Even if she did make a will. I just want what I've earned."

Which is why you're better off without Irene, even if you don't realise it. She takes whatever she can get and then more. Clara smiled at Kate confidently, because she wasn't going to let Irene get away with this piece of heartlessness.

"Good job you came to me, then," she said. "I'm not much use against the CIA, but I can make sure you get what you're owed."  

Part 3