Thank you all so much for your wonderful reviews! They really mean so much to me. This is for you, the reviewers, since I hadn't seriously considered continuing the story until it was suggested. I hope you enjoy this chapter!
Chapter 2: A Carriage Ride
When I awoke, it was to such pitch blackness that I was not sure I had opened my eyes. I blinked several times and began to discern slightly darker patches of blackness in a sea of ink. Some time in the intervening hours, Sherlock had removed his hand from mine. My fingers felt cold in his absence.
A rustle at the door, a brief glint of metal betrayed the whereabouts of Holmes. The only illumination in the room was the light given off by a cloud-covered sliver of the moon, streaming though ragged curtains onto ancient, warped floorboards. The streetlamps outside had been extinguished in anticipation of the dawn. Now would be the darkest time of the night, and the easiest in which to move unseen. With my eyes adjusted to the darkness and my mind free from the muddling pain I had felt earlier, I could now see details of the room which eluded me before—thought what greeted my eyes seemed hardly worth the effort. The room was an overwhelming gray. Gray, aged floor, peeling gray walls papered with a pattern in shades of gray, gray, rickety chair by my bed, and a pall of gray dust over all. This must be an abandoned room known only to Holmes; used, perhaps, in occasional cases that took him far from Baker street. I turned my gaze back to Sherlock, standing by the door. The glint of metal I had detected earlier was his drawn revolver. He caught my eye and silently raised a finger to his lips.
Now I heard them: steady steps, ascending a rickety staircase. Creak. Creak. Rhythmic. Ominous. I closed my eyes, quelling a small bloom of involuntary fear and concentrating only on the sound. Creak. Creak. Was it one man or two? Initially it had seemed like one, but...no. Two men, perfectly in step, one heavier than the other. I tried to sit up, but drew short a shooting pain along the left side of my ribcage—likely an strained muscle from my earlier coughing fit. I tried moving again, slower this time, but froze as my motion drew forth a prolonged, creaking groan from the aged wooden slats supporting the bed. The steps halted outside our door. Holmes looked at me reprovingly, and I threw him a withering glance. Did he expect me not to defend myself? I could hardly be blamed for the state of a bed that had apparently seen better days. And likely the Crimean war. As I processed the contentiousness of my inner thoughts, I realized I must be feeling better.
But these thoughts passed in an instant, unlike the two men outside our door. A tense moment went by, then two swift steps were taken and the door to our gray hovel swung open. A tall, sturdily built man, top hat overshadowing his eyes, leaned into the room and was instantly greeted by Holmes' revolver pressed to his chin.
The man froze. He looked down at the revolver, then up to Holmes. "Sherly," he acknowledged nonchalantly.
"Ah." Holmes said in response. "Mykie." He swiftly removed the revolver and tucked it away in the waistband of his trousers. "Clever of you to disguise your characteristic stride, though rather unnecessarily alarming."
"One never can be to careful, my dear Sherly, as you and your revolver have so recently demonstrated," the man said, stepping into the room. A smaller-framed, mustached man, the second source of footsteps, remained in the doorway.
His eyes reached my corner of the room, examining the bed and myself in a brief moment. His face was unremarkable, but his eyes were piercing in a way that reminded me of his younger brother. These were men who saw far more than the contents of a room or the clothing of man. They read people and objects like the pages of a book, seeing their histories and their secrets as though illuminated by a searchlight.
He inclined his head in my direction. "Ah. Irene Adler, I presume?" I nodded. He stepped to the bedside, taking up my left hand in his white gloved one. He did not pause when I flinched slightly at the pain along my side, but I knew he perceived it. "Mycroft Holmes," he introduced himself, bowing slightly over my hand and then releasing it. "I am most pleased to make your acquaintance. When Sherly approached me with this problem, I could not resist the opportunity to meet in person the only woman to have bested my little brother." I could not resist a smile.
"'Bested' is perhaps not the word I would have chosen," Holmes said to no one in particular.
"Quite right, dear brother. I should rather say 'crushed.'"
"Strong words from a man who rarely musters the energy to clothe himself in the morning."
"My nudity is a matter of preference, not apathy," Mycroft rejoined.
"Boys!" I broke in. "As much as I hate to interrupt this tender family reunion, I believe the plan was to leave before daylight."
"Ah. But of course,"Mycroft acknowledged. "Carruthers?" He summoned the mustached man who had waited patiently in the doorway throughout our conversation. "You will assist the lady to the carriage," Mycroft instructed. "Be careful with her side; I should not be at all surprised to learn that her left intercostal muscles have been strained." Carruthers stepped forward silently and offered an arm as I swung my legs to the ground and attempted, poorly, to stand. My muscles were unnaturally weak from the effects of the poison. Eventually, however, and with the help of both Sherlock and Carruthers—Mycroft seemed to avoid strenuous activity at any cost—I stood with my right arm around Carruthers' shoulders and his arm supporting my waist. After several moments and much frustration, our motley group had descended the rickety staircase and exited to the blessedly desolate street. A hint of light gray tinged the horizon, warning of the coming dawn, but the streets remained a comforting shade of black. Sherlock glanced to the lighting sky as Mycroft and I entered the carriage.
Sherlock neared the carriage window. "I must be off now," he said. "There is much to be done. Mycroft will see you safely to port."
I nodded, feeling oddly saddened. It struck me that I did not know how long I would be gone. Certainly I had been absent from Sherlock's life for quite some time before, but that had been my choice; under my own control. This would not be the same. I wiped the sadness from my face with a grin.
"Now that you've saved my life, I hope you don't think this means I have to be nice to you," I teased lightly.
In the dim lighting, I could barely see the smile touch his face. "On the contrary, I should be disappointed if it did." He stepped back, fading into the shadows of the night, and black curtains sealed the carriage. The horses began to pull us forward over rough cobblestones.
For a time, Mycroft and I rode in silence, each staring into the inky black of the carriage interior. Then I looked across the carriage at where I judged his face to be.
"Mykie?" I asked.
"Indeed," he answered smoothly. "Mykie and Sherly, relics from our childhood. I trust you will not find them necessary to repeat in any civilized company."
I smiled in the dark, laughing silently to myself. Sherly. I would have to return safely to England, if only make sure that he never lived that down.
One of the many features of Moriarty's lecture room was a fine chess set, carved in ivory and kept in a place of reverence on its fine, dark-stained wooden board. There was something odd about the set—not the pieces themselves, but rather the way in which they were used. The pieces were typically held in their starting positions, motionless, unused, gathering dust. Every few months, however, that changed. The pieces did not move as they would in a normal game. They simply disappeared. Slowly, the removed pieces gathered by the side of the board, until, at last, the black king took its place beside its fallen comrades. Then the board reset. This was not something that the students noticed, in their endless hurry and preoccupation with their studies—it was only noticed by a few of Moriarity's fellow professors, and was easily dismissed from their minds as a simple quirk of their brilliant colleague. The order in which the pieces disappeared was never the same; sometimes the black king fell quickly, sometimes slowly; and sometimes white lost more pieces than black before the board reset. However, one thing remained constant.
The white king never fell.
Moriarity stood in his darkened lecture hall, gazing into the London night with his back to the entrance of the hall. He had not moved since the last candle in the room had burned down. Sometimes he would stand motionless vigil over the city for hours, thinking, examining, planning. In this case, however, he was waiting. Steps echoed in the corridor without, and his eyes flicked to the side as a soot-covered man entered the room, his stained clothing decidedly out of place amid the hall's finery. The man removed his dirty hat and twisted it apprehensively in his hands.
"Sir," the man said. His words were spoken in a broad lower London accent; unrefined, but respectful. "Sir, we've done as ye asked." The man paused, and Moriarty turned his head slightly toward him, still silent. The man continued. "We were most careful in our search, sir, but we found no body in the ashes. The building was empty when it burned."
Moriarty returned his gaze to the window, staring across the cityscape, yet seeing nothing.
"Sir?" the man said, obviously wondering if the scholar had heard him.
Moriarty spoke without moving from his position.. "There is a man outside on the grounds. He works for me. You may meet him for your payment."
The man nodded, relieved. "Yes, sir," he said, bowing and touching his head where his hat would sit. "Thank you, sir." He left, bowing again, leaving only the faint scent of burned wood in his place.
Moriarity turned from the window and stepped toward his fine chess set. He lifted the black queen from its place among fallen pawns and rooks, turned the heavy piece over in his hands. Then he carefully replaced it on the board, next to the black king. "Oh, Irene," he sighed, "It would have been easier for you both if you had died."
He turned back to the window, staring once again into the blackness of London at night. Thinking. Planning.
Thanks for reading! :D I've got some ideas for the future, so please let me know if you liked this-and if you'd like me to keep going!