The woman.

Every brush with her leads to these same bouts of insanity. I have had few dealings with her myself, but if the merest sighting of her is enough to cause such a reaction in Holmes, then I daresay Ms. Irene Adler must be something special indeed.

What hold does she have over him, I wonder?

Personally, I believe Holmes to be perhaps too calculating, too transfixed with the details of life to become in any way enamored with a woman.

But then, I am not Holmes, I am only his confidant, and even then, every man has his own secrets.

Irene Adler may be quite harmless on her own, but rather, my concern lies with the reactions she elicits in my friend. He jumped out of the window just to get another glimpse of her. Another woman might be happily flattered with such attention, but I fear Ms. Adler will only use his fixation for her own ends. And he is so fixated. It is because she has matched wits with him in the past- and won. Such a feat I once considered nigh-impossible, and it was accomplished with such seeming ease, and carried out in such style…perhaps Holmes is right to obsess over the woman.

A mind as conniving as his own, residing in the body of a thieving courtesan. What man wouldn't be intrigued?

Holmes is in possession of the most unique mind of our time, and I would say that he is, perhaps, incapable of knowing love.

However, this should not suggest that he is completely removed from himself as a man.

She was teasing him. She always teased him.

Sherlock was rooted to the floor as she slipped behind the dressing screen, flaunting her state of undress in front of him. Irene Adler knew him too well- Sherlock would not approach her roughly after the sight of her bare back, though he would remain tortured by the memory of it for weeks. He had to remember who she was; a consummate manipulator of men. But so beautiful, so intelligent.

Still, even the knowledge of her past was not enough to drive him from his concern over her safety. Holmes did not want her injured. The mere thought of Irene being caught on the receiving end of her sinister companion's bullet was enough to send a wave of cold through his chest.


He would not let such a thing happen- the world was more interesting with Ms. Adler in it.

She locked eyes with him over the top of her gilded screen. Sherlock felt his heart dip, but he would not be defeated by her gaze. He had to admit his admiration. Hers was a mind as unique as his own; upon his first realization of her intelligence, he'd been shocked into silence, then brought to fits of laughter. So, he wasn't alone in the world. He wasn't the only one of such presence of mind. She'd disappeared, leaving him somewhat disappointed with the feeling that he'd lost the chance for a rematch in their battle of wits.

Then, the last time she'd crossed his path had been in this very hotel suite. In another life, maybe…

"I have to confess, it is a thrill to be challenged by someone of innate, genuine intelligence. Cunning as yours is a rare quality. You almost had me fooled. Almost."

Irene regarded him evenly, never breaking the cool veneer of her amused expression. She stepped out from behind the screen, revealing herself to be draped in a violet wrapper which did little to conceal her physical charms. It was an effort to keep his eyes on her face. "That would have put me over you a full three times, Sherlock. I wonder, which do you regret more? That a rival to your intelligence exists or that your rival is a woman?"

Irene stepped closer to him, advancing a feminine challenge. Sherlock took a step back, trying to maintain a distance of decorum between them. "You think me so vain? My only regret lies in the fact that you would use your remarkable mind for the petty gain of wealth. Your gender has little to do with your motives, which are no better than any thief's."

Her amused expression turned cold in an instant. "My gender has everything to do with my motives. You may think what you will- no one can stop you, but know that there are bigger things happening than just you and I."

At that, Sherlock could only scoff. "What could you possibly-"

"Enough of this. You will not arrest me, so move out of the way."

He stood his ground. "Not until you explain yourself."

"I've tried in the past, did you ever care to listen then?"

"Have you ever spoken the truth? Tell me now." Sherlock took hold of her arm as she tried to stalk past him. His grip was not enough to hurt the woman- only a base man would stoop so low- but he held her firmly enough to assert himself to her.

Only one encounter between them had ever crossed into the physical territory, but that night was years ago and too far from memory to think about. At least for the time being- there would be time enough to speak of it after - if- she explained her situation.

Irene felt heat rise in her chest at his hold over her, and she hated him for it. Hated herself. "Fine, then. Unhand me."

Holmes did so, though his hand instantly missed the warmth of her flesh. He watched as she moved away from him to take a seat on the low chaise lounge. Wearing her draping garment, barefoot and her hair undone, she looked like some pale gypsy creature. Positively remarkable.

"Where shall I start, Sherlock?"

"The beginning is usually the most proper place." He replied as he took a seat beside her.

Irene appeared to be staring into the greater distance out the window for a moment before she spoke again. "That I cannot do. Besides, you and I have made it our life to defy what is proper. I'll only tell you this: my skills are being put to use against my will."

"By whom?"

"Let's not be coy, you know very well who. He's every bit as cunning as you or I, but infinitely more ruthless. He's willing to kill, Sherlock, and I cannot allow it to come to that."

She stood from the chaise and moved to the table. He'd noticed the wine on entering the room. Ah. It was the same vintage they'd shared that night.

He followed her to the table and put a hand over her silk-draped shoulder. Her body was tense with agitation. He shook his head and turned to the table. "Drink, Irene?"

The woman sighed lightly. "Please. I'm sure we could both use one."

Holmes obliged, opening the bottle and pouring for them both. He took his wine in one fast swallow and immediately, he knew.

Irene closed her eyes for a moment. It hurt her to see the realization dawn in his eyes, the outrage of having been bested again.

"You can't-"

"I only wanted you to come away with me- it could've been grand. An adventure, just the two of us. Why couldn't you have just said yes?" She could not contain the regret in her voice. The regret was wholly genuine, even when she knew that they would eventually betray each other for all the right reasons.

She moved to support his weight as he stumbled forward. His mind was fighting the drug, but not even the magnificent brain of Sherlock Holmes could fight an onslaught of powerful chemicals. His arms came around her and for a moment they were both taken back to the night which took place in that very room. Irene remembered the safe haven she'd found in his embrace, the joy of triumph over him in both body and mind. Similarly, Holmes held her and recalled how he'd held her that night. The animal possession. That bright moment of beauty in which his mind was emptied of all thought and observation, relieved of its burden of constant calculation. The gentle peace they'd shared and the pain of parting so soon after.

Holmes held her and took in her scent. Ah, yes. Vanilla. Roses. Parisian musk.

It didn't have to come to this, Irene, you're in danger, you're over your head, let me hide you until this is over…

"Don't do this, you'll be-"

Irene guided him down to the chaise lounge and kissed him. Her lips covered his to silence him. It was enough to see the betrayal in his eyes, she couldn't bear to hear him voice his pain.

She kissed him hard at first, then softer once she felt him respond to her. A thrill awakened within her, but it was short-lived. He pulled from her, breaking the kiss. His eyes held hers for just a moment, but then closed as he drifted away from her. Sherlock fell back, drugged into an unnatural sleep. Irene sat beside him, simply watching. Guilt was a seldom-acknowledged emotion, but Sherlock Holmes was not some pompous aristocrat or corrupt politician, her usual prey. He was…

Irene leaned forward and kissed his cheek. She couldn't let him cross Moriarty. She couldn't let Sherlock get himself killed. He was too valuable.

It was no easy feat bringing him to the large bed. The man was heavy and complete dead weight. He would wake in a few hours, and probably never give her even a hint of trust again. The man might not be stopped, but she could at least stall him.

Irene made quick work of stripping him. His body looked more gaunt than she remembered, but she should not have been surprised. He drank, took cocaine and fought for sport, not to mention the various exploits of his investigations. The poor man. His body was a slave to that magnificent mind.

The woman stood over him, staring, and then realized that she could not tear herself away just yet. Her kimono robe- a gift from a grateful Japanese host- slipped down her body into a puddle of silk on the floor beside the bed. Irene laid down beside him, curling her naked body against his. This was a poor substitute for the embrace she craved, and a pathetic action to take with a man at his most vulnerable. Still, she could not stop herself.

It was a failed imitation of their night, but what could the woman do? Holmes would never have her again after this. She rested her head on his chest and closed her eyes.

There was a measure of comfort to be drawn from him in this way, but a more bittersweet day Irene could not recall.