Disclaimer: I do not own Sherlock Holmes, book or film, nor anything related to it

The Wrong Conclusion


In the stuffy sitting room of 221B Baker Street, littered with papers and various unnameable objects of interest, the always impeccably beautiful and alert Irene Adler sat in one of the least damaged chairs available. Holmes sat across from her in a considerably shabbier chair, pouring tea calmly while the morning bustle of Baker Street drifted in through the window, which Irene had insisted on opening for fear she might die inhaling the stale air. 'Really, my dear, you're being a little melodramatic,' had been his reply but one look from her had silenced him on the matter.

"No exotic offerings this time?" he asked amiably, and she wondered why he was so pleased to see her. Or rather, why he was in such a generally pleasant mood. This was not the Sherlock Holmes she had expected to find several months after his companion of seven years had left to be married. In fact, as she watched him diligently stirring her tea, she realised this was as far from what she had imagined as possible, with the only image that could have surpassed this being if she'd found him waltzing around the room.

"I have not travelled anywhere particularly exotic lately, Sherlock," she replied calmly, guarding her thoughts like a hound. She accepted the proffered cup and saucer graciously before adding flirtatiously, "At least, not geographically. Anatomically speaking though…"

Holmes coughed exaggeratedly, setting his saucer aside and reaching for his violin, "Well, we all aware how well versed you are in that area of expertise which leaves little need for you to regale me with your lurid stories of conquest."

Irene smirked. Sometimes she was grateful that he had such intimate knowledge of her, for she found it exceedingly amusing to construct preposterous mental images that played relentlessly with his sanity. And he readily believed her capable of the depravities she insinuated, having born the brunt of an odd one here or there. He had probably not forgiven her yet for the little drug-and-handcuff incident during their last case. "I suppose it is too ungentlemanly for you," she teased lightly.

"Indubitably," he replied with a small smirk, running his fingers aimlessly along the strings as though caressing them. "You see me doing no such vulgar thing."

"Well perhaps if you had any stories to tell but I should think that in my absence you have been sorely lonely," she lamented, before sipping her tea lightly.

"Oh, vanity, thou art a woman's name!" he burst forth theatrically, arms waving and eyes glinting with amusement. Oh, she thought to herself, another? Surely not. There was only one person on this earth willing to put up with Sherlock Holmes and he had left seven months ago. Speaking of which…

"I'm amazed to see you keep yourself so well in doctor Watson's absence," she said, examining every aspect of the room, from the mess of papers scattered across the table to the experiments obviously in progress on the bench in the far corner, with a hawk's eye. The couch was littered with well-thumbed books of varying genres; poetry, medical texts, plays, philosophical works and what looked to be a guide to India. She smiled, assured at least that his voracious need for knowledge was still intact and hopefully along with that, some semblance of his unique form of sanity. Meanwhile, the detective had opened his mouth to reply but she cut him off, "I expected you to be lying in a drug-induced stupor on the floor to be quite frank. You must be involved with a very intriguing case at the moment."

"Firstly, madam," he began, drawing himself up haughtily in his chair, "I resent the implication that you – and everyone else – has made that I am unable to live without Watson. I'll have you all know that I survived quite agreeably for at least thirty years before I met him. And, contrary to your poorly informed opinion, cases have been rather slow of late and I am not currently working on anything of particular interest."

"All the more remarkable that you are not currently in the state I just described," she replied sweetly, setting her cup aside.

"Madam, you insult me," he replied, acting affronted and turning his attention back to the violin which he was now in the process of slowly tuning. She sipped her tea, watching his deft fingers quickly working away, wondering what kind of concessions she could extort from him today while he was in such a seemingly talkative mood.

After a short interlude of strings, she continued as nonchalantly as if they'd never left the subject, "I was, however, more astonished that you kept yourself together so well at the doctor's wedding-"

"What on earth were you doing at his wedding?" Holmes asked incredulously, looking up from his work for a moment with wide eyes and brow furrowed. Oh good, she had his attention.

"Oh, I just had to stop by and have a look," she replied mischievously, eyes glinting gleefully.

"You and your insatiable curiosity, woman!" he exclaimed exasperatedly.

"And I wanted to prove my hypothesis," she added, dangling the bait before him.

Though his head remained lowered, seemingly engaged in his task, his hands had paused in place on the strings. His voice was low and as uninterested as it could possible be, meaning he was the exact opposite of course, "Which hypothesis are you referring to exactly?"

"What an attentive best man you were!" she continued in a condescending manner, as though speaking to a child. She avoided his question in the way she knew he abhorred, stringing him on a little further as she continued on with her own observations, "No sudden outbursts, no drunken rambling or embarrassing acts that could have seen the Yard called in. It seemed like you were quite sober for once."

"That I was," he defended, refusing to meet her smug gaze as he asked once more, "And this proves what exactly?" A string twanged uncomfortably under his fingers, as he muttered to himself under his breath, "Far too tight!"

"I expected you not to attend at all and was sure that if you did, it would result in you making some ghastly spectacle out of yourself and poor, dear doctor Watson. So that you did go, and that you managed to behave, to me proves that the mind can apparently conquer the heart," she concluded firmly, hazel eyes steadily observing his every move. But this time he was ready, he had already guessed the name of the game, and his fingers continued to move nimbly across the strings while grey eyes met hers with equal force.

"Are you suggesting, dear woman, that I am in love with Mary?" he sparred, knowing the suggestion to be absurd. However, she was in no mood to play.

"Holmes," her tone suddenly sharp as a knife, the detective looked as though he regretted his words, "Do not take me for a fool. You know it is the groom who I am referring to."

She expected him to look vaguely affronted or at least to begin defending himself from the accusation but he sat there calmly watching her, running his fingers absently across the strings which were now producing a lovely sound. His eyes almost glazed over as he contemplated, and she leaned forward slightly in her chair with bated breath, ready for the fight.

But it never came. Silence hung between them, waiting stoically for something, anything to happen. With growing impatience she realised he would not speak first. He was contentedly waiting, it would seem, for her to explain herself. She huffed; this was not the effect she had been hoping to produce. Falling back in her chair, she surrendered with not some small amount of irritation, "Sherlock, really this is quite unbearable. It is evident that you admire my intellect and audacity, and perhaps you adore me with that strange affection you dote upon all your puzzles, but I have come to the conclusion that you do not love me as you love him. I do not think you ever have or ever will. Whether or not you have noticed this, is another matter entirely."

"What you say is true," his voice was soft but his eyes had snapped back into clear focus.

"You…agree with me? So easily?" she asked, sceptically. Apparently ignoring her, he had carefully placed his beloved violin back on the table beside him as she spoke, and was now in the process of inspecting the bow as if he were looking down the lens of a telescope. "Holmes?"

"Of course I agree. I cannot fool the great Irene Adler, so well versed as she is in matters of the heart," he said with a sardonic grin, "I daresay that was the fourth husband whom you divorced not so long ago."

She gave him a look of somewhat affectionate exasperation, wishing that just once they could do away with the games and the sarcasm. "I cannot help that most men are simply not on par with me and that the only one who was turned out to not truly love me," she said, sending him a meaningful glance that he seemingly did not catch for staring at the bow in his hands, but she saw his eyelashes flicker upwards in recognition. But of course, they could only be serious for so long, it was not in their nature. "Besides," she continued with an exaggerated sigh, "he kicked in bed and never opened doors for me like a proper gentleman."

"Indeed; you were always one for manners," he replied, sarcasm just out of reach as he continued to stare intently at the object in his hands before throwing it aside, some obscure whim concerning the object now satisfied.

"But really, Holmes, you know that I do not care who you love," she continued, ignoring his smug amusement, "You and I both have seen far stranger unions during our travels, I'm sure, and-"

"Indeed. Say, do you remember that time we saw the tribe of peoples in Northern Afric-" he said with a capricious spark of fascination alighting in his eyes that she knew if she did not douse now, would go on until she was half bored to death. It was beyond her comprehension how the doctor had dealt with such a flighty mind as the one Holmes possessed for so long.

"Sherlock," she said with a warning glare.

"But they were most fascinating specimens of human reproduction!" he protested.

She merely glared at him and he shrunk away into the back his chair in attempt to escape her steely gaze. She continued her lecture, determined to say what she had truly come here to say, "Watson is, unlike you, an upstanding man of principle, of religion and society-"

"Not to mention, a married man," he threw the phrase out flippantly and she resisted the urge to hit him with her fan.

"So while he may find your declaration initially difficult to comprehend, I implore you to let your affection be known to him. Otherwise you will always pine for him and for never knowing. Just like all the other unsolvable enigmas that keep you awake at night, this will surely kill you too, in time, if you do not find your answer," she pleaded, safe in knowing her theory to be correct and her actions validated. And some small part of her, stemming perhaps from that shared history of theirs, wanted him to be happy just as surely as he wished her to be. "I do not want to see you suffer Sherlock so, please, ask him."

"My dear girl," he asked mischievously, amusement glinting in his eyes as he surveyed her over the tips of his fingers with his usual air of knowing, "What makes you think that I haven't?"

Shrewd brown eyes regarded him warily for a moment, searching for truth as he lounged in his chair.

Holmes clicked his tongue in disapproval, "Nigh on three years and the most brilliant of female minds only just catches on."

Her mind absorbed the information slowly for a moment in disbelief as the words 'three years' echoed uncomfortably between her ears. "But he's been married for nearly a year!" she finally burst out uncharacteristically, brown eyes flashing with a woman's shared vengeance momentarily in solidarity with Mary. "Does she know?" she demanded.

"Ah yes, a most marvellous marriage of convenience in which she does not care to know of his affairs because she is too busy conducting her own. A perfectly amiable facade shown to society while the true desires of the heart are sought elsewhere. In my opinion, it is how all marriages should be conducted. And they get along splendidly. I do believe they care for each other very much, but that is where the mutual affection ends," he concluded jovially, reaching for his pipe as he spoke.

"But why would Mary have an affair herself?" Irene asked incredulously, as she sifted through the few memories she had of seeing the two together. At their wedding, both had looked perfectly content; perhaps not elated but as happy as man and wife should be. "I thought she was quite taken with the doctor."

"If by 'quite taken' you mean enamoured with his status, salary and how agreeably appropriate he is by society's measure then yes, by all means she was," he said, distractedly tapping the pipe against the arm of his chair, "Her parents wished her to marry respectably and so she did. However, I am to understand that her taste in men is apparently a little more," he paused, considering, "…masochistic, shall we say, than dear Watson could ever manage to be. It seems Mary is quite the deviant herself but overestimated the ruthlessness of her military man. Watson, though able to manhandle a criminal quite admirably, could no more harm an innocent than he could our dog."

"Gladstone is still alive?" she asked with faint surprise, diverted momentarily as she had assumed that, since the dog was not lying about in the room, he had been got rid of for good by some foul concoction of Holmes'.

"He is amazingly difficult to kill," he quipped, bringing the pipe to his mouth.

"Evidently." An eyebrow archly raised, she pursued their former topic with insatiable curiosity, even forgetting for the moment her irritation in being beaten to the conclusion, "So Mary does not mind that her husband spends all his time with another man then?"

"I should think," he began slowly, considering his words carefully, "that he tells her his affair is with another young lady whom he meets discreetly in his old rooms at Baker Street. You are most likely the only woman in London whose mind is so excellently unguided by superstition, religion and social norms as to think that we are not entirely depraved souls headed for hell. Mary, on the other hand, would not take to it so kindly," he concluded, sounding almost weary as he struck a match up against the side of the pipe.

"My, my Sherlock. You certainly are keeping some secrets tucked away under that dishevelled mop you insist on calling hair," she chided, trying to lift his spirits and his eyes from their intent focus on the frayed rug.

"It is what I do best along with detecting, madam," he said playfully, shaking out the match and blowing smoke into the air with his words. Suddenly his eyes flickered to the door in expectation and she heard the distinct sound, which Holmes surely would have been aware for much longer than she, of Watson's cane against the floorboards.

The door handle moved seconds later, revealing the owner of the voice that called out, "Holmes, you haven't happened to see-" Catching sight of Irene, Watson paused on the threshold. He took in the scene for a moment, a polite smile that masked slight irritation stretching his mouth as he gave her a small bow. No doubt he had thought the detective was alone as usual, yet his voice betrayed no discontent as he greeted her, "Miss Adler, a pleasure to see you again."

"And you, doctor," she flashed him a brilliant, knowing smile. Closing the door behind him, his brows furrowed in silent question. Glancing up at Holmes, he found assent in those clear, grey eyes and his shoulders dropped in ease.

"I take it then that Miss Adler has finally figured us out?" he asked, calmly making his way over to Holmes' chair after discarding his hat and coat on the sideboard next to the door.

"Finally," Holmes snorted in amusement. Irene sent him a scathing glare, to which he replied with a shrug, "I expected better of you, my dear."

She made some frivolous, witty remark in response but hardly heard her own words as she was really engaged in subtly observing how Watson's hand, in moving from its grip on Holmes's shoulder to the back of the chair, lingered tenderly for a moment in his hair. Was he only doing this now he knew it was safe to do so or had she really missed such intricacies before? No, it wasn't possible that she could have. She was, as Holmes often said, brilliantly astute after all.

"What do we owe this visit to? Are you in London for business or pleasure?" Watson asked jovially. Not for the first time, she noticed the incessant need to use 'we' and 'our' as if the men were one entity rather than two, though she understood that Watson really meant to what did 'Holmes' owe such a visit, besides being an old friend. It had not seemed so strange before when they had shared this apartment and seemingly a profession, but now that they were supposed to be leading such separate lives, the use of 'we' jarred a little awkwardly in her mind.

"I'm only here for a week or two before travelling to Ireland, and simply visiting some old acquaintances and searching for some necessities that do not appear to be available in such an…idyllic land," she said, her lip curling in slight contempt, "before I depart."

"Ireland?" Watson asked, genuinely curious. Before she could regret having brought up the subject, Holmes had most unwelcomely jumped in to the conversation.

"I'm assuming it is where her next husband, or perhaps bounty, is located. Seeing as she is in London though to purchase a wedding dress, I shall assume the former," Holmes deduced in that haughty yet obliviously so manner that he had.

Her eyes flashed pertly, "Yes, if you must make wild assumptions, then you should know that I am soon to be Mrs O'Brien."

"Congratulations!" Watson said heartily, giving Holmes a light cuff to the head as the man attempted pathetically to contain his mirth.

She shrugged a shoulder in his direction, "Do you find something rather amusing, Mr. Holmes?"

"I knew that you were moving onto a fifth husband but really, an Irish merchant banker?" he asked, grinning, "Oh Irene, I know you could do far better than that. Especially considering the reports I hear of his age and person. Not that that has ever deterred you before."

"There are many people with the name O'Brien in Ireland, Holmes," she said, grinding her teeth in frustration.

"Yes, but your irritation tells me that I have hit upon the right one," he retorted.

"Not nearly!" she snapped, folding her arms defensively across her chest.

For a moment, both glared daggers at one another while Watson stood by unsurely assessing the situation. Being stubborn as they were, he knew neither would break the tension that settled in like a fine hum in the room. "Ah, but it does not matter who he is, for marriage is bliss, is it not Miss Adler?" Watson joked uneasily, flinching ever so slightly as cold brown eyes snapped up to meet his.

"As you would know so well, doctor," she replied sweetly, her voice finely laced with sarcasm. He lowered his head stiffly in acknowledgement and the smile beneath his moustache twitched as the room breathed once more.

"And to what do we owe your presence?" Holmes directed his question now to Watson, speaking around his pipe.

"I was merely stopping by to collect my reading glasses on my way to the practice. Have you-"

"Bedside table," he answered before Watson could finish speaking, as if he had known from the moment that he heard Watson's step on the stair that that was what he had come for.

"And my book? The- You know the one I mean," he said with a vague gesture of his hand, unable to recall the title himself seemingly. Though it did not matter for his partner was able to read his mind probably far better than he could manage to read even his own, she reflected.

"Same place," came the answer. Watson nodded, resting his cane against the chair and procuring Holmes' cup of tea, which lay suitably abandoned on the table beside him, before he began to limp towards the bedroom door.

"Do you mind, sir?" Holmes asked in mock effrontery, brows furrowed, "I was about to drink that!"

"No you weren't," Watson rebuked, smiling smugly over the cup, "You were going to let it go cold as you always do. In fact it is already barely tepid."

"Blasphemy!" Holmes cried, waving his pipe in the other's direction.

"Want not, waste not," the doctor called out, shaking his head in amusement as the door swung shut behind him with the aid of a kick. Holmes's gaze, still directed towards the door where the other man had just disappeared, softened as he contemplatively tapped his pipe against his teeth. Resuming her tea, Irene sat, momentarily forgotten in a private scene that seemed simultaneously so normal. Perhaps this was how they managed to fool everyone, she wondered. They had always been such close friends, working and living side by side, that being a little closer went unnoticed by people, who thought nothing of it because it had always been like this. But could this be what hid their true relationship? How could she not have noticed! She had scrutinised every interaction between them for a good year or two now, especially during the Blackwood nonsense when they had all worked together albeit for very different reasons. And she had decided then that their actions were those of brothers, if a little deeper on Holmes's side for he never even acted towards his own brother in such a way as he did with Watson. It did not make sense…

"As a result of weighing up inconclusive and unsubstantiated facts, you simply reached the wrong conclusion, my dear. It was intellectually inevitable," Holmes nonchalantly added to her train of thought.

She startled, almost spilling tea over her lovely new dress in the process, before muttering in a flat voice under her breath, "I hate how you do that."

"Do what?" he asked airily, his gaze now directed at her.

"Deduce exactly what I'm thinking."

"Ah. Terribly sorry but old habits die hard," he joked gently, with his arm leaning against the side of the chair and his head tilting to regard her curiously. She made to add 'or not at all' but the door opened once more and Watson reappeared, book tucked under one arm and teacup balanced in the other. "Found them?" Holmes asked vaguely, still staring at Irene in the analytical way she was so accustomed to but never found entirely comfortable. There were advantages in having stupid husbands.

"In the midst of all your mess? Amazingly, yes, though admittedly it was a struggle," Watson lamented sarcastically, returning the teacup to its original position.

"Well it wouldn't much fun otherwise, would it?" Holmes defended.

"I suppose not," he said with a small smile, seating himself on the arm of Holmes's chair. Pulling out his fob watch, he checked the time with a small sigh. "I should be at the practice. And leaving you two to your conversation, I should think. Forgive the intrusion." Irene opened her mouth to respond with some such pleasantry only to find it hanging agape as the doctor, snapping his watch shut, leaned down to place a fond kiss in Holmes' dishevelled hair. While grey eyes glanced up at him affectionately, sharp blue ones flickered to hers with a telling glint of possessiveness. Of course.

"Will you be returning this evening?" Holmes asked, seemingly nonchalant as to whether the answer was positive or negative, but the fact that he even asked betrayed his desire for the former response.

"No, we're going to tea with Mary's parents," Watson said, gently moving a few strands of stray hair across Holmes's forehead as she speculated whether this show's primary purpose was to provoke irritation or envy.

"How tedious," the other replied casually, eyes fixed upon his hands, and Irene wondered how acutely aware he was of her presence and the fingers that scraped across his skin.

"Really, Holmes, they are very nice people," the doctor reproached him exasperatedly, though tender affection lingered in his smile as he promised, "I'll come by tomorrow."

"Very well." Grey eyes flickered up to the door once more and seconds later a rap sounded, followed by the questioning call of 'Mr. Holmes?'

She turned at the sound, catching in her peripheral vision the split second action where Holmes swiftly grasped Watson's hand, pressing it affectionately to his lips before just as suddenly dropping it once more. And the doctor batted not an eyelid, with only a small smile beneath his moustache betraying him. But her attention was diverted from further analysis as the door swung open to reveal a man from the Yard, nervously passing his hat from one hand to the other. Irene almost expected the two men to jump apart, or at least put some suitable distance between themselves before the constable entered the room fully but only Holmes moved, leaning slightly towards the other side of the chair whilst Watson was content to stay where he was, perched on the chair's arm. Perhaps this was why she never noticed. The tension between them was kept at a manageable level, and thus a discreet one, by simply pretending it didn't exist. To everyone else, it looked as though the pair were totally oblivious to their own chemistry, and therefore could not possible be acting on it.

"We require your assistance, Mr Holmes," the man requested, his voice low and more assured that his posture would suggest he was.

Holmes, hand contemplatively around his pipe, regarded the constable for a moment. "For what, Clarky?"

"For a case, sir."

"Come now!" Holmes scoffed, "I do not assume that you require my assistance to move furniture. Now what are the facts of the case, man?"

"A-ah, yes sir," Clarky said, rubbing the side of his head and Irene swore that while the man was thus occupied, Watson subtly elbowed Holmes in the ribs as punishment though he showed no sign of having felt it, "Ah, seemingly a burglary but there's no sign of breaking or entering, and the lady claims several valuable items are missing yet she was the only one in the house. She's hysterical sir. Said they must'a disappeared by magic 'cause she says she didn't hear a sound all night."

"Interesting…" he said under his breath, "And I assume that the Yard has already thoroughly destroyed any evidence that could have been collected from the scene, so this shall prove to be quite diverting. Doctor, will you accompany us?" he asked distractedly, not really expecting an affirmative answer.

"No, I'm afraid I shall be at the clinic all of today," he said, spreading his hands in defeat and giving Clarky a small, meaningful smile which the constable acknowledged with a slight nod of his head. It seemed to her that the Yard was slowly becoming accustomed to dealing with Holmes alone now, though they may not have much choice in the matter.

"Miss Adler, care to test your powers of deduction before the stifling boredom of marriage sets in?" he asked casually, hands gripping the arms of the chair in anticipation.

"Oh, how to resist such a kind proposition?" she asked sarcastically, sweet smile still in place, "But no, thank you Holmes. I have, as you would say, other such tedious business to attend to such as finding a suitable wedding dress."

"What a pity. Well, then Clarky," he said, clapping his hands together eagerly and making the constable wince slightly at the sound, "It would seem that it is just you and me. Lead the way, good man!" Holmes proclaimed, jumping out of his chair and indicating with his hand towards the door.

"Ma'am. Doctor," Clarky said, tipping his hat politely to both before returning it to his head as he stepped out the door.

"Holmes!" Watson called, still not moving from his position, "Coat!"

"Ah, quite right you are doctor," Holmes said, distractedly grabbing the most conveniently placed coat from the sideboard next to the door.

"No! Holmes!" Watson reached out a useless hand in an attempt to stop the man, knowing all the while it was futile, "Not…my…coat."

But it was too late and Holmes was gone, already deeply involved in Clarky's discussion of the details of the case to hear the doctor's plea. "Damn," he muttered under his breath, looking at the door longingly.

"I wonder why you put up with it, doctor," she observed pertly, gathering up her own belongings.

"Haven't you noticed, Miss Adler," he asked wearily, "that love makes you do strange things?"

"Indeed. Well, don't worry yourself over it," she smiled at the forlorn doctor suggestively, "You can always collect it tomorrow."

"If it is still in one piece, Miss Adler," he sighed, opening the door for her as they prepared to leave, repeating the words in a resigned whisper under his breath as they did so, knowing that he would likely never see that coat again, "If it is still in one piece."


A/N:
People, when writing Holmes/Watson slash, tend to assume that the pair wouldn't be able to fool anyone in regards to their relationship but quite frankly I think the pair are deviously brilliant enough to fool everyone around them. Otherwise this was just pure, ridiculous fluff to sate my fangirlishness. And I still love the dynamics between Irene and Sherlock, even just as friends. Hope you guys enjoyed it!