A/N: Sorry this took so long, guys. I'm in the process of moving. xP I'll try to pick up the pace.
Irene Adler was just as he remembered her: fair skin, high cheek bones, clever blue eyes. Adorned in a scarlet dress with a plunging neckline, she was everything a warm-blooded Englishman could hope for, but it was not her slight figure or lush lips that first caught Holmes' attention, it was the glinting jewelry on her finger.
"I see you are engaged again," he said, smoke rolling from his lips.
Irene slipped onto the settee, stretching out in a way that gave her the appearance of a languid cat. Or a jaguar, Holmes thought bitterly, imagining her sinking her teeth into him and ripping at muscle.
She raised a hand, peering fondly at the ring on her hand. Holmes imagined it had more to do with the value of the large diamond than any actual affection for her husband-to-be. "Yes. My fiancé is here on business, so I thought I would stop by for a visit. It has been so long since we've seen each other, Sherlock."
"With good reason." Holmes set the pipe back between his lips, eyes narrowing suspiciously. "I told you to leave."
Irene's lips pursed in a gentle pout. "Now, there's no need to be like that. I did leave. Can I help it if life simply brought me back here?" She reached to the side-table to sift through the various letters scattered there. Holmes jumped up, taking her wrist to stop her.
"Yes. You could choose not to come."
Irene stood so that they were nearer to one another, causing the hairs on the back of Holmes' neck to stand up, alert. "You really are a terrible host, Sherlock." She took a step forward and he one back.
"Yes. And you, a terrible guest." He raised her wrist, reaching into her sleeve and withdrawing the coin that she had taken whilst reaching for his letters.
A coy smile tugged at her lips. "I simply cannot help myself."
"Why are you really here, Irene?"
The smile vanished and she sighed, looking away. "I suppose there is no point in delaying any longer." She stepped back, removing a letter from the front of her dress. "My fiancé knows of my history with you and asked me to come here and hire you."
"Not interested." Holmes stepped away, though didn't dare turn his back to the woman.
"If I recall correctly, the last time I took a case for you, you allowed a certain professor to make off with a very important piece of equipment."
Irene pursed her lips again, this time in annoyance. "You know I had to, Sherlock."
Holmes snorted dubiously, stepping to the window and peering out at the street. "You did not have to. If you had simply told me-"
"He would have killed you."
"If he could." The detective turned his attention back to her, crossing his arms. "Take your case and go, Miss Adler."
Irene shook her head defiantly. "No, Sherlock, I will not leave until you have taken this case."
Holmes quirked an eyebrow. The last time she had shown up, Irene had simply left the money on the table, knowing he would read the information he left. She had been calm and collected – this time, she would not risk allowing him to say no. His gaze flickered over her, attempting to piece together the reason when it hit him: the only way Irene's fiancé could have known their history together, all of it, was if she had told him, trusted him. "You love him."
A pause, and then a tiny nod.
The sleuth wasn't entirely sure how to feel about this. In the time that had passed, his thoughts had not lingered long on Irene Adler. He would, occasionally, find an article in the paper centered around her handiwork, and he would take the time to consider that 'what if,' but she had never held a candle to the thoughts of his dear friend. He had been attracted to her, both her mind and body, perhaps he had even loved her once, but as time passed, his feelings dwindled. Still, she was one of very few people he had ever cared for, and still did…
"I still love you, you know," Irene said, distantly, a wry smile turning up her lips. "But I know better, now, than to think it would ever go anywhere." She took pride in the uncharacteristic silence she had sent him into. At least she could still earn a reaction out of him, if nothing else.
Finally, Holmes turned his eyes away, setting the letter aside. "I will review the details, and send you a wire once I have made my decision."
"Of course," Irene stood up, adjusting her coat around her. She approached him, leaning over – Holmes tensed up, flinching away, but she persisted – to kiss him on the cheek. "We are staying at the Anastasia Hotel, in room 201. Thank you."
Shifting out of her, Holmes began to search the room. "I have not accepted."
"Well, thank you for considering it anyway." Irene started out, pausing at the door to look back at him. "And Sherlock." He paused to listen. "I learned to let go. Perhaps you should learn to do the same. Tell the doctor I said hello, won't you?"
When the door closed, there seemed to be a deafening silence around him. He slid open one of the drawers of his desk, spotting the little morocco case stashed inside. His fingers grazed over it, and-
he snapped the drawer shut. Holmes looked up at the little girl standing in the doorway, tugging uncertainly at one of her curls. "Yes, Miss Watson?"
Jean looked left, right, and finally settled on him, he brows drawn together in a way that reminded him of Mary Morstan; particularly after the explosion during the Blackwood case, when she was sitting at Watson's bedside. "Who was that woman?"
The image of her mother set him on the defensive. "No one important."
"… Oh." She shifted her weight before trying again, "Are you okay?"
He wavered, turning away from her and instead finding his violin. "Fine." She watched as he sat down, lying sideways in his favorite armchair, and pulling the bow across the strings. Jean had seen the instrument around, and even heard him play it a time or two, but usually it was nonsense, simple sounds that could be made by anyone. This time, it was slow and melancholy, playing a song she didn't know the name of. It sounded nice to her, but she could sense a dark mood around him that unsettled her.
Holmes seemed to have decided to ignore the world around him, though had not gone to his room, knowing that to abandon Jean whilst he was supposed to be watching her would be a capital offense. The girl hesitated a second, then slowly approached the armchair, sitting in front of it with her back to Holmes. He didn't even glance up, and despite the immeasurable amount of time that passed, she remained there, silently listening to the sad music, as if keeping watch over him.
When Watson returned, the flat was silent. A little unnerved, knowing the type of trouble his old roommate could get into, he crept carefully and quickly up the stairs, hoping to ensure that his daughter – and his friend – were still alive and well. He cracked open the door to the sitting room, peering inside.
Jean had fallen asleep, leaning back into the armchair with her head lolled slightly to the side on the cushion. Holmes remained where he was as well, violin resting on his stomach, and his fingers slowly stroking Jean's hair as he stared at the ceiling. It might have warmed his heart, had he not known that look on the detective's face so well.
He entered with caution, taking a seat in his own armchair and waiting silently. If Holmes chose to speak, he would do it in his own time – pushing him would only cause him to become irritated. Luckily, Watson did not have to wait long.
"I have a case."
That was a surprise. Watson would have thought that would brighten Holmes' mood, not send it into this stoop. "Oh?"
"You will not like it."
Ah. That made more sense. "And why is that?" he asked, already afraid of the answer.
"I've been hired by Irene Adler's fiancé."
The very mention of the woman caused Watson to become alert and narrow his blue eyes suspiciously. "She was here?"
"She brought me the case, yes." Holmes' eyes never left the ceiling, studying patterns that he had memorized long ago, during these sorts of moods. "A mysterious person has been sending him important documents that they certainly should not have possession of. He wishes for me to find him."
"Holmes, is it really a good idea to-"
"She loves him."
The words caught Watson completely off guard. He stared at Holmes, not entirely sure if he had heard right. "Excuse me?"
"Irene." Holmes turned his head finally, looking at Watson with blank eyes that twisted the doctor's heart painfully. "She loves him. Her fiancé. He is not like the others."
Suddenly, Holmes' mood made perfect sense. A mix of feelings struck the doctor then, pity, sympathy, frustration, and a number of other things he could not quite put his finger on. "Holmes…"
Holmes turned his attention back to the ceiling. "You should really move the girl, Watson. She has been in this spot a while, and will likely have a sore neck if she remains here."
Watson felt he should argue, but really, what was there to say? Holmes clearly did not wish to talk about this situation, and he knew better than to think that he could change his mind about the case, not when he had already made the decision. He hadn't known that Holmes still had feelings for Irene, and didn't really know what to make of it. Sighing, he stood, gently scooping his daughter into his arms. Holmes continued stroking her hair until she had been lifted out of his reach, and his arm fell so that the fingers brushed against the floor.
"Did she behave?"
"Yes, I suppose she did."
Seeing that he would receive no more than that response for a while, Watson shook his head, sighing softly. He carried Jean to his room, tucking her into bed and sitting on the edge, stroking her hair the way Holmes had. She remained sound asleep, nuzzling into his hand sub-consciously.
He placed a goodnight kiss on her forehead, and moved away. Instead of going out to the sitting room, knowing that he would not receive any good company now, he managed to dig up an empty journal. He had not written anything in some time, but being around the detective made him want to go through the details of an old case – it had always been relaxing to him, he simply hadn't had the time, living out in the country.
Outside the room, it was silent, and he hoped that simply meant that Holmes had remained where he was, and not that he had sneaked off to his room to indulge in his cocaine.