Disclaimer: All original characters and such belong to the BBC.
Summary: There is no running and no hiding when you're someone Irene Adler cares about.
Chronology: Post "A Scandal In Belgravia"
Pairings: None for the moment
Rating: T for themes and potential mild cursing
Author's Note: Hopefully this clarifies the situation a bit as compared to last time. Sorry for the repetition in regards to including the text messages in with the normal prose here, but I thought it created a better picture. Hope you enjoy!
Beyond the Shadows
When she read the first text in the series that would commence, Eleanor Adler thought she felt her heart stop, just for a fraction of a moment.
It was 7:48 in the morning—she'd slept through her 7:30 alarm. To see a text waiting on her brand new mobile phone, the number for which she'd only provided to a tiny group of people, was enough of a surprise in itself. To see that it had been sent just after 5:00 that morning was a further puzzle. But then to see her childhood nickname in black and white, a nickname that had been used almost exclusively by one person, a person who was now supposed to be dead, was nothing short of shocking. She felt a chill rise up her spine and settle across her shoulders, a chill she quickly tried to dismiss as she rationalized the text as an accident, a wrong number. Her nickname wasn't all that unusual, all things considered. She texted the number back, politely and generic, telling them they had the wrong number, playing it completely cool. She was focused and in charge and her mind was being ridiculous and hoping for something impossible and utterly illogical.
But then the person on the other end of the invisible, silent conversation asked who else had ever called her Little Mouse. Heart pounding in her throat, mouth dry, it took her four tries to type a response. One word. Her sister's name.
She sat back on her bed, actually trembling, though a large part of her brain throbbed with the knowledge that it couldn't be possible. Never. Ever.
She felt like she was floating somewhere outside of herself. Her work clothes sat on the end of her bed where she'd left them the night before, her hairbrush sat unused on her desk, and she'd made no move to leave her bed as the clock on her nightstand ticked away, pushing reality closer to when she'd have to pack herself off to another shift at work. A prank, she tried reminding herself. Someone's messing with you.
Irene was dead. Had been for over a month now. Eleanor had come home that day to find her mother sitting at the small kitchen table, leafing through a novel with a cracked and faded spine. She couldn't remember the title. There was a glass of water near her wrist, a letter still creased sharply into a trifold on top of a crisp white envelope next to the water, and a pot of noodles boiling on the stove. Her mother didn't look up when Eleanor stepped into the room, nor did she look up when she announced in a measured, almost conversational tone, "Your sister is dead."
Eleanor remembered dropping her satchel on the kitchen floor, hearing the crash. Her ears had begun ringing and she had prayed it was a joke but knew it wasn't, not by the way her mother's shoulders sat easy and strong in a way she'd never seen them. All the shame and anger that had defined so much of the way the woman interacted with the world had more or less seemed to have melted off and slid away.
With superhuman effort, Eleanor bit back cries of anguish and repulsion, both at the news and at her mother's reaction. She shouldn't have expected anything different from the woman who never voluntarily used Eleanor's older sister's name, but some part of her had hoped for compassion, even a little, at such devastating and final news. She couldn't bring herself to ask what had happened, or why her own child's death meant so little to her mother.
Her mum pushed the envelope across the table towards Eleanor, still not looking up. "She got mixed up in something international. Terrorists." And with that and nothing further, she'd stood up and put her back to her only living child to tend to the noodles. It had taken Eleanor several long minutes before she could summon the energy to take the few steps forward and collect the paper and envelope and then somehow retreat to the safety of her room. There, she'd collapsed on the floor as the black printed lines, generic and official and bland, confirmed what her mother had said and added a few details. Classified Middle Eastern country. Captured by terrorist organization for her part in an international incident.
Eleanor had heard herself make a noise not quite human, and then she'd begun to sob, her face pressed into the rough fibers of the carpet. Hours had passed before she slipped into sleep curled there on the floor, thoroughly drained of every thought and emotion and tear and sensation.
There had been no body to bury. Their mother had seemed content to get on with her life and pretend Irene had never existed in the first place. Eleanor wanted to call her out on it, but that omnipresent stone of something akin to fear in her stomach held her back just enough. She'd arranged a memorial service herself, a tiny affair in the park at the outskirts of the village. A half dozen friends had shown up, but she knew that it was far more likely they'd come to support her rather than show any real grief over Irene. No one talked about her. No one had talked about her for years.
So the text, true or not, was an unpleasant shock to her system. Eleanor stumbled from her bed and leaned against the wall where the light switch was located, but couldn't muster up the strength to turn it on. Her work clothes sat and stared at her accusingly, but she suddenly couldn't remember how to dress herself.
Again, who else ever called you Little Mouse?
She played at confidence as she composed her reply, glad the black text of the screen would hide the hurricane of emotions surging through her body, challenging her grasp on reality.
It's common enough knowledge.
Suspicious. Good girl.
She sent back a question mark, emotions continuing to build in her as the evidence mounted, screaming that Irene was alive.
The reply was swift and brutally honest: You've still got a head on your shoulders. I was starting to doubt you remembered how to think for yourself.
Though her entire being was now crying out against logic, telling her from within her very bones that it was indeed her sister on the other end of the phone, she wanted something more logical. More tangible. How do I know this is you?
One minute ticked by, and then: Because I know which boy you used to talk about in your sleep.
Eleanor tried to sit on her bed and missed and thumped to the floor. The phone was loose in her fingers, and it slipped away as she focused on the screen. She grabbed it up and managed to type back: DON'T. Her heart thudded against her ribs as she stared across the room at the single bed pushed against the opposite wall, the bed that was simply a mattress covered in a sheet with a handful of unused stuffed animals lined up against the back. Eleanor hadn't been able to bring herself to use it, and she wouldn't let her mother take it out of the room. Sometimes, when she was lying in her own bed on the precarious edge between consciousness and sleep, she thought she could see Irene's sleeping form there. Sometimes her sister would be as old as she was now, a grown woman with a face she barely recognized under layers of iridescent makeup. Sometimes, she would appear to be fifteen, just a few years before she discovered the kind of overwhelming power her sexuality gave her. The vision of the fifteen-year-old incarnation would smile back at her, make faces, and Eleanor would become her nine-year-old self, snuggling deep under her blankets and pulling them tight against her chin. It was a situation very much like that on the night that she'd admitted her primary school crush to her big sister, a shy raven-haired boy named Alonso with bright blue eyes and a fondness for dragons.
The text message alert went off and she roused herself enough to realize that she had twenty minutes left before she had to be at work. She forced herself up and over to where her clothes waited, pulling off her pajamas and pulling on her trousers and her shirt as she opened the new text.
It's a shame, you should have let me teach you how to get his attention...
She sighed and buttoned her shirt and sent back a reply. I'm not like you, Irene.
Pity, came the reply. Believe me now?
Eleanor grabbed her hairbrush and swished it over and through her low maintenance medium length chestnut hair. She typed back: Getting there. Then, realizing something a bit creepy, she added How did you get this number? before she sent the message.
I still have a few connections. What made mum relent?
Slipping on her shoes and double knotting them, she texted back with one hand as she scrambled down the stairs. She worries if I'm back late from work. Speaking of, I have to go. She grabbed her coat and her bag from the hook by the door and ignored her mother in the kitchen, the way she had been doing more or less for months – ever since Irene's supposed death. She slipped out the door with as little noise as possible and set off down the unlined paved road, head bent slightly against a light breeze. Her phone beeped and she checked the screen.
If you're working at that pub, I'm going to be extremely disappointed.
Guilt swirled in Eleanor's stomach and she put the phone back in her pocket without replying.
Two more texts came in, each consisting of her name, one with a question mark and the other in all caps. Then a third text: We need to talk. Why aren't you in university?
A thousand explanations and excuses swirled in her head, but she simply wrote back: I'm not going to believe it's you until I hear your voice.
A lone car rumbled past, its driver – Mr. Donnelly – giving her a pleasant smile and a wave. The text alert sounded again. I'll call tomorrow. But not your mobile. Payphone out on Bricker. Sometime after dinner.
She sighed as the pub came into view around a curve in the round, barely distinguishable from the rows of small cottages leading up to it. That's specific. I can't be out all day.
Things still aren't entirely safe. It has to be like this for now.
With an involuntary shiver, Eleanor remembered the details of how Irene had been reported dead and realized that even their minor contact, welcome as it was, could be dangerous. Not the might-get-in-trouble-at-school danger, but the actual real-world-consequences type of danger. Then why contact me at all?
I miss you, Little Mouse.
Eleanor stopped not ten feet from the door of the village pub, her heart squeezing in her chest and small tears forming against her will. I miss you too, she typed back through a mist.
Good luck today Eleanor.
Thank you, she wrote back. Then, as she reached for the handle of the door, she sent one more text: You too.
She pushed open the door and was greeted by the all-too-familiar scent of bread and alcohol and fried food, and for the first time in a long time, the smells and noises really bothered her. The space was too small and too locked away from the rest of the world. She shook her head and reached for her apron, faking a smile as her boss waved at her from the kitchen.
She should be grateful for what she had. She had a place to stay. She had a job. She wasn't in hiding.
She wasn't Irene.