Author's note: Full Disclosure, this story was inspired and heavily influenced by another story on , titled This is Not a Safe House by Sara Dobie Bauer. I admired and really enjoyed her story (please read it, it is excellent!) and was intrigued by the basic idea, so I decided to play around with it and write my own version. In addition, I lay no claim to these characters, I am merely using them for my (and hopefully, your) enjoyment.
They had been running for what seemed like hours, navigating a warren of back roads and alleys in the twilight until she no longer knew where they were. But he knew. Following the map in his head, he was headed toward a secret location, a place where they could lie low until they could be extracted to safety by MI6. She stumbled but regained her footing and kept running as he shot her a glance, eyebrows raised, making sure she was keeping up. She managed a nod to let him know she was alright. They were both incapable of verbal communication at the moment, focusing all their energy on breathing and working their muscles to escape from the three remaining members of a Tunisian terrorist cell. They had fought and killed four others before fleeing the warehouse where the cell had been plotting their attack on London. It had been ten or fifteen minutes since they had last heard any footfalls behind them, so she hoped that they had finally managed to lose them.
Suddenly, his hand was around her wrist as he pulled her roughly into a doorway, bodies thrust against each other as they came to an abrupt stop. He was breathing heavily, looking on the verge of collapse. He dropped the knapsack he'd been carrying and fumbled in his pocket to find the key that unlocked the wooden door behind them. She watched as he tried twice to fit the key in the lock, but his shaking hand would not cooperate.
"Here, let me," she said, taking the key from him. She managed to open the door, and they entered a small dark room, pulling the bag inside with them. Daylight was fading rapidly. The only light came from a distant streetlamp filtering through the slats on the single window, illuminating motes of dust swirling in the musty air. As her eyes adjusted, Irene could see a cot in the corner of the room, a small table which held a jug of water and a lantern, and a door leading to a small bath. Sherlock fell heavily onto the cot, trying to catch his breath.
"Are you alright?" she asked, crouching in front of him, her voice full of concern. His face was pale, etched with pain. He looked ready to pass out from sheer exhaustion. He was pressing his hand to his ribs and she could see a smear of dried blood on his knuckles. She had a few bruises herself, and was sure she would be stiff next morning, but was otherwise relatively unscathed. She was nearly eight years his junior and, though he was in excellent shape, she had the energy and resiliency of youth on her side.
"Fine," he rasped. "I'll be fine."
She arched an eyebrow at him perceiving that he was not telling her the whole truth, then stood and took a quick survey of the room now that she could better see her surroundings. She spied a small shelf on the wall that held a few mismatched dishes and grabbed two glasses. She filled the glasses with water from the jug and handed one to Sherlock. "Here, drink this. You need fluids."
He downed the water in a few gulps and lay back on the cot once more. She drank hers a bit more slowly. It was warm but felt good on her throat which had been beyond dry after racing through the dusty streets.
She lit the lantern to have a better look at the detective with whom she'd trusted her life. She silently swore when she saw him in the light. He was clearly injured and not just exhausted from the chase.
"You're hurt," she said, coming to his side after setting the lantern on the table once more.
"I'm fine," he said, but he winced as he spoke, giving away the fact that he was indeed injured. He was still idly clutching the empty water glass. Irene took it and placed it on the floor.
"You're not fine. Where are you hurt?"
"I…I think I may have a couple of broken ribs," he confessed.
"Let me see," she said, reaching to lift the edge of his shirt.
"Don't. I don't need tending. I will be fine. I just need some rest."
"Don't be stupid. Let me see how bad it is. Broken ribs can be serious. Now, lift your shirt."
He glared at her with his steel blue eyes and gave a huff, but he yanked up his shirt so she could take a look.
She gasped when she saw the dark bruises on his ribcage. Gently, she touched the area with her fingers but stopped when he inhaled sharply and let out an involuntary moan. She couldn't fathom how he'd managed to run for so long with fractured ribs. Pure adrenaline must have dulled the pain. Now that it was wearing off, he must be in agony.
"Do you have any first aid supplies in there?" she asked, inclining her head toward the canvas bag on the floor.
"Yes, John insisted I pack some," he answered with a faint smile. "There are bandages, antibiotics and paracetamol in there. There may be some bread as well if you're hungry."
"I'm famished, but first we need to get you patched up. We need to bind your chest. It will lessen the pain and keep you from further injuring your ribs," she said. She opened the bag and rummaged around pushing aside extra clothing, documents and meager food supplies to find some gauze, tape and the medications. She inspected the gauze: the square pads wouldn't do for this type of injury. She needed strips of fabric. She decided she would need to tear some from either the tunic or long skirt that she was wearing. The skirt would be easier. She stood up and pulled it off.
"What are you doing?" he asked, lifting his head to look at her.
"I need to make some bandages and, seeing as we're in short supply I will have to sacrifice my skirt."
"Ms. Adler, you cannot be seen in public without a proper skirt. Please, find something else," he said in an exasperated tone.
"I am afraid it is the skirt or my blouse, and I would be much more conspicuous with my breasts exposed, don't you think? Besides, don't you like what you see?" she teased, shaking her hips.
"Woman, why must you be so intolerable?" he said, closing his eyes. He sighed and muttered, "Just get on with it," dropping his head to the pillow once more.
She set to ripping several strips of fabric from the hem of the skirt then gathered her supplies.
"Can you sit up?" she asked, sitting next to him on the cot.
He struggled into a sitting position, hand still pressed to his side.
"Take off your shirt."
"I…may need some assistance in that department," he stammered.
"Lift your arms." She grasped the bottom of his shirt and pulled it over his head. "Okay, you can drop them now. I'm going to wrap the bandages around your chest and tape them. They need to be somewhat tight, but tell me if they're too tight that you can't breathe."
He grunted a response, but then sat quietly while she wrapped the makeshift bandages around his injured ribs and bound them with a layer of tape. "Better?" she asked when she had finished. "Not too tight?"
"It's fine," he said quietly. His eyes were partially closed and he looked nearly asleep.
"Don't nod off on me just yet, Mr. Holmes. You need to take something for the pain or you'll never be able to move from this bed tomorrow."
She filled the glass with more water and handed him two paracetamol tablets which he swallowed dutifully, then stretched out on the cot.
"Can you move back a bit? There is only the one cot, you know. I'd like to get some rest, too."
"Sorry. Wasn't thinking," he mumbled, already fading into unconsciousness. He moved back closer to the wall, allowing her some space on the narrow bed. She removed her boots and the knife she'd had strapped to her ankle, placing them on the floor next to the bed then lay down trying to arrange her body into a comfortable position next to his.
Irene had already thought him fast asleep when she heard him say, "Ms. Adler, if I am unable to continue tomorrow, if I slow you down, you must leave me and make it to the rendezvous point alone. It is imperative that you get out of here with your life."
"Mr. Holmes, I shall do no such thing. We go together or not at all. I won't leave you behind. We can't go moping about thinking each other dead if we were to separate, can we? Besides, you still owe me a proper dinner. Don't think you are getting out of your obligation."
He said in a fading voice, "Fine. We'll have dinner." She thought she sensed a smile behind his words.
Irene turned over and studied the detective's face. How vulnerable he looked. How unguarded. He was always so cool, so in control. It was a bit unsettling seeing him like this, but she rather liked it, even though she would never wish him hurt or ill. She took her finger and softly traced a line down his cheekbone. He remained asleep, but wrinkled his nose slightly at her touch making her smile. She knew they both needed rest, but she couldn't resist giving him a soft kiss on the lips before she closed her eyes, listening the rhythmic breathing of this brilliant man to whom she owed her life, dreaming of dinner in London.