"When I say run, run."
Irene looked up at the tall, stately figure of her supposed executioner. His voice was warm, refined, and English through and through. His eyes were all that were visible of his face, but they and the familiarity of his voice said enough.
It was him.
The relief was more than she could bear. One tear tracked a path down her thin face. He had come, and she was saved. She had not the slightest hope or the faintest idea of it, and yet here he was. She was free. Sentiment had gotten the better of them both before, but she was grateful for it this time.
The men at their firing positions in the large, sandy tanks jerked backwards, sniped simultaneously from behind. The other jihadists panicked, some drawing their swords, and others, their machine guns. Sherlock, his sword already raised must have given the others the impression that he was about to sever her head from her shoulders. Instead, he severed the head of the man standing behind him. It fell beside her on the floor, and she raised an eyebrow, eyeing it with an impressed expression.
Except now his cover was blown.
"Run!" Sherlock shouted.
The woman ran. Ran as fast as her legs could carry her. Passing the decapitated man, she seized the sword from his still warm hands and carried it with her.
The word "run" was undoubtedly a code as well, for as soon as Sherlock had yelled it, shots erupted from the rooftops, mowing down the terrorists below. Her captors fell to the ground left and right. This had been well-planned.
Swords clashed behind her, slicing through flesh as she sprinted off. Men grunted, shouted, swore. They would be after her soon; she was a wanted criminal.
Once out of the range of fire and after she rounded a few deserted corners, she stopped and looked about her. Spotting a nearby bush, she ran to it and concealed herself inside. The dark color of her burqa would do much to disguise her presence. She hoped.
Once hidden, she had only one thought: Sherlock Holmes.
After what seemed to be an eternity, the far-off noise subsided, and she dared to look up. Bodies lay scattered on the hard-packed earth, only a few still standing. Searching their figures, she chuckled as she recognized the inexplicable figure of her own clever detective without his funny hat. He walked briskly, looking this way and that. The others disbanded, following the orders of their leader, whose sword was still drawn. Instead of bursting out upon him, she pulled out her mobile phone and sent a text: "bushes."
Sherlock stopped, read the text, deleted it, walked a few paces, and then squinted in her general direction.
"Do people really hide in bushes like the idiots in stories?" he mused. She recognized the moment when he caught sight of her, his eyes sharpening in recognition.
"Sometimes," she spat, trying to sound annoyed.
Her burqa was quite caught on the branches and it made her efforts to stand fruitless. Sherlock smirked underneath his garbs. The bush had ripped her head covering off, but the rest of her garments were still intact. Her thick, brown tresses fell over her shoulders, something she knew would soften and refine her ordinarily sharp features. Standing upright and looking at him, Irene Adler never looked so resolved.
"There's really no use in wearing this anymore, I suppose—it's horribly irritating," he complained, jerking the covering from his head, to expose his face and a nest of unruly, raven black hair.
She was supposed to be his enemy now, and he was supposed to be in London. Why was he here? Did he even know why he was here? She had a sneaking suspicion that she knew his motive for saving her, but if she were being honest, she wanted to hear him say it.
Yes, she would make him say it.
There, she had said it. Blurted it. It was out now; she'd spoken her mind. She would hear it from him. Why should Sherlock Holmes care if she lived or died? Why had he saved her life?
"Because it was making me sweat, that's why," Sherlock said, rubbing the sides of his head and ruffling his hair. He was about to open his mobile but Irene seized his sleeve.
"No. I mean…why?" she repeated. He looked at her, then at the sleeve she had in an iron grip.
He didn't say anything for a moment, until, as if thinking out loud, he said, "People always want to know why; and I think I'm the chief of sinners among them. Trying to explain reasons, motives of revenge, sentiment, violence, greed, jealousy…love. Why?" he broke off, as if thinking. Then he continued, barely above a whisper, "Forgive me, brother dear."
"Tell me. I will know," Irene declared, letting a look of cunning spread over her face.
"I thought it was fairly obvious as to why," he answered curtly.
There was a moment of silence. Neither one of them said a word.
Irene cleared her throat. "Well then," she said, sauntering closer, "I want to hear you say it."
She was only an arm's length from him, looking up into his eyes with mischief in her own. He was in her grip—she had him now. He had to say it; that thought was so delicious that a triumphant crept onto her lips.
"Come now, Mr. Holmes, let's not be vapid."
"If we're not going to be vapid, then answer me this."
"Answer you what?"
"How did I ever guess the four letters that opened your mobile phone?"
She swallowed, then shrugged—a feeble attempt to appear unaffected.
"Sure?" Sherlock asked, taking a step closer.
"If we're not going to be vapid, we might as well use reason. I chose those four letters for I understood the reason you had: you love me—" She sucked in her breath. "—and I knew it from the elevation of your pulse and the dilation of your pupils as you sat with me by the fire in Baker Street.
"If you care to be rational, then it is a fairly obvious conclusion that the present circumstances illustrate the same, yet you're not taking my pulse or watching my pupils at the moment, are you? I think it obvious: a well-planned attack on a terrorist base in Karachi, Pakistan, all to rescue a woman who thought she cared for no one and thought no one cared for her. If that were true, why is she still alive?"
"Tell me if you're such a clever boy," she cajoled, her voice barely above a whisper.
"I'd rather hear you use your brain," he replied, seemingly impervious to her charms.
Irene let go of his sleeve, took another step closer—close enough that her breath ruffled his hair—and gasped, "Oh, Mr. Holmes…." Taking his hands in her own, she whispered, "Say it—just say it. I'll say it, too, if it makes you feel better." Her voice was full of deep earnestness.
She whispered into his ear, "I love you."
He reddened, probably against his will. He looked at her, looked away, then back at her.
He was so determined not to say it, wasn't he? But still, his face was only inches from hers and there was something like magnetic energy between them.
She stared into his eyes with silent yearning, and his stiff, rigid face bent slightly towards hers. Her lips parted. Her eyes closed. She most certainly would have kissed him had not the sound of voices shouting in Arabic interrupted the moment.
"Too late…again," Irene breathed, excruciatingly disappointed.
"That's not the end of the world…but it's not Mrs. Hudson either," he quipped, grinning roguishly and taking her hand.
Sprinting off into the night, he led the way, Irene gripping his hand and keeping up with astonishing speed. The voices were still confused behind them; so they knew they had not been found out. Sherlock led her down darkened alleyways and deserted streets. What an odd pair they made, the detective and the woman, each one grasping the other's hand tight, running through the deserted, midnight streets of Karachi, Pakistan.
The local market was in their path. A few vendors still remained open, although most had retired for the night. Scurrying by the few buyers and sellers still awake, he led her through the dwindling crowd.
A jeweler burst out in front of them holding up a necklace. Sherlock sputtered angrily, came to a halt, and Irene slammed into him in the process.
"A lovely necklace, for your wife," the man said, leering at Irene.
"No, no—sorry," Sherlock spat, as he shoved the merchant aside and dragged Irene along with him.
They dashed past darkened buildings and retreated into the darkness of an alley. Irene opened her mouth to speak, but Sherlock put his finger to his lips. Irene listened for the raucous sound of raised voices in between her pulsing heartbeat. There was a commotion afar off; the terrorists were searching the bazaar.
"Your wife…mmm…I confess, I rather enjoyed the way that sounded," she mused, looking up at him with dancing eyes. She still managed to maintain that rather coaxing tone of voice even though she was badly out of breath. He, however, managed to act completely preoccupied, to her dismay.
"I easily could get used to being called 'Mrs. Holmes.' 'Mrs. Holmes…' Oh, God, that does sound good, doesn't it? Will I get to wear my own hat?"
"Oh, shut up," Sherlock snapped, scowling at Irene's flirtatious expression. She smirked.
He opened his mobile phone and texted a few words to a number Irene could not make out. Was he communicating with whoever planned to help them with the next part of their escape—whatever that might be?
A black car pulled up beside them, and a man in a dark coat opened the backseat, motioning for them both to enter the car. Sherlock smiled, took Irene's hand, and ushered her inside.
The driver took off at a ferocious speed. They came to the edge of the city; they were driving on the M-9 now, the "Hyderabad" motorway. There were no cars behind them, nor any ahead, and peace settled over Irene. Where were they going—and what would they do when they got there? She laid her head on Sherlock's breast and closed her eyes, letting tranquility wash over her weary body.
Ah, but wait. This was a good opportunity.
Before letting herself laze about, she straightened and pressed her lips to her savior's sweaty cheek.
The savior in question said nothing as she settled back down onto his breast.
But she didn't sleep.
Sherlock smiled. The car was dark, so the woman couldn't see the amusement on his face. He had done it. He had saved the woman. Why should he care? What did it matter? As Mycroft had indeed told him, "All lives end. All hearts are broken. Caring is not an advantage." It wasn't an advantage. Surely his brother was correct in saying so. So why, if all lives end and all hearts are broken, did he bother saving this woman's life? She was nasty, to tell the truth. But maybe he did love her. Maybe he did love this quiet creature resting on his chest…this small and yet incredibly vile soul taking breaths in and out restfully in his arms. He did care. He would always care. No matter where he was in the end, he would always have a place in his heart (and his mind palace) for Irene Adler.
Two hours later, the car stopped.
They were now in the outskirts of Hyderabad, another of Pakistan's large cities.
Their driver opened the door and bright lights poured into the darkened car. Holding her hands over her eyes as she stepped out, Irene coughed as wind beat into her face mercilessly. Dust flew about in clouds, and she squinted in the bright Arabian moonlight. A helicopter had just landed near the car, and she saw what was to happen.
"Kiss a girl, why don't you?" she asked, batting her eyelashes and accentuating her lips.
Sherlock huffed a laugh, dismissing the idea. She frowned and tutted once, but looked him square in the eyes before letting go of his arm.
"I will not forget, Mr. Holmes," she said, looking into his face and stroking his cheek with an outstretched forefinger. "Thank you," she breathed, letting go and gazing into his face triumphantly. Perhaps Sherlock would sense the true gratitude bubbling inside of her, just as he sensed everything else.
Before walking away she added, "But we're not done, are we?"
Sherlock smirked. The expression travelled up to touch his eyes and so clearly, silently replied, "not by a long shot."
And with that, Irene's mouth broke into a smile.
Irene laid back against the peeling, leather seats of the helicopter. She shut her eyes, almost surprised that she was not crying. She pulled out her mobile phone and texted Sherlock one last time. Clever words, as always.
As the cab drove away, Sherlock's mobile sensually "sighed" as it often did, and he smiled inwardly. The new message read, "I love you Mr Holmes." He didn't respond; it was almost flirting not to, but in truth he didn't know what to say. In fact, before stepping through the door of 221b Baker Street, he deleted the text for fear of John or Mycroft discovering it.