Thank you so much for all your fantastic reviews, they made me feel so happy.
I had some doubts about whether or not to split this chapter up again, because it really is very, very long. But then I thought that it would probably ruin it, and decided to keep it in one piece.
However, quite a lot happens in this chapter, so be prepared.
So, without further ado, enjoy!
When she woke, he wasn't there.
The first thing she felt when she rolled over was the absence of a warm body.
Her mind sleepily registered that Sherlock wasn't next to her and she rolled over in the bed, and she suddenly sat up in utter panic, completely awake. Her eyes scanned the room, and she suddenly noticed that the laptop bag which had been on the table was missing, as was his scarf and coat from where it had been hanging the previous night.
"No" she said desperately, hoping, hoping that he had simply gotten up and was in the living room or arguing with Lestrade at New Scotland Yard or with Mycroft making security arrangements, anywhere but where Moriarty was.
Her hands went through her hair, and she stared at the room, her eyes wide and her breathing suddenly heavy. She rolled over, desperate to find anything that could to make his presence known to her. She felt soft material rub agianst her skin and frowned, knowing that she had gone to sleep without any clothes.
She looked down and realised she was wearing Sherlock's purple shirt, the exact one he had worn the previous night.
"No" she said again, a choked whisper this time, as she scanned the floor. Her clothes were still lying by the bed, but his pants and jacket had been hung on the bed post. The buttons on the shirt were done up, this was a deliberate move on his part. Her heart picked up pace as she realised that Sherlock must have dressed her in his shirt right before he –
No, Sherlock could still be here, he wouldn't leave her, not when she had desperately begged him not to. He had promised her that he would stay, hadn't he?
She threw the bed sheet off of her, not caring that she was naked, but frowned when a sheet of paper dropped to the floor. She picked it up, and tears suddenly sprang to her eyes.
I love you.
Sherlock would never leave a note like that in other circumstances; it was far, far too sentimental for him. She stared at the writing, and her fingers went to trace the shape of it, thinking of his hand writing the words only hours before.
He loved her.
She wasn't sure if she had told him yesterday, she had been so tired and her brain mouth filter hadn't been working well, but if he had heard her…
He cared for her; he admitted he loved her, if only on paper, but the note which would otherwise have made Irene so very happy was now the complete confirmation that Sherlock had indeed left.
"No" she cried again, and it was more of an agonised scream this time. She sprang out of bed and rushed into the living room, for once not caring at all about her appearance.
John looked up as she entered, and his look of shock at seeing her partially naked was soon replaced with a look of grim understanding when he realised that she knew.
For Irene, seeing John just sitting there was a shock. He was wearing his cream coloured jumper and jeans, his hair was brushed, and he was simply sitting comfortably on a chair with his notebook in his lap, typing. He looked completely unconcerned and unaffected, but by the expression on his face when he saw her, Irene knew that he was aware that Sherlock had gone.
John took in her expression right after he took in the fact that she was completely naked from the waist down, but he managed to keep from blushing when he saw her eyes.
The anger, fear and complete loss in them overwhelmed him for a second. Although the two of them had developed something akin to a friendship in the last few days, John knew that he would always partially see her as the dominatrix she had been when they had first met. Seeing so much emotion in her face, and knowing it was because she cared for Sherlock still somehow managed to surprise him.
"Irene" he said, as he stood up, realising just what effect Sherlock's absence could have on her. Her lips trembled as she looked at him, but he was amazed at her self-control. There were tears in her eyes, but she wasn't going to let them spill if she could help it.
"Is he gone?" was all she managed to say, in a low and pained voice, and all John could do was nod.
Her eyes closed for a second, and one tear managed to escape. Irene said nothing; she simply stared at the wall, fighting for control of her own body.
"He said he's sorry" John said carefully, not sure whether Irene would scream at him or fall apart. She did neither, although her eyes briefly went to him, her signal to him that she was listening.
"Mycroft has made careful security arrangements, and says that you should be safe. Sherlock was scared that they would use him leaving as a way to get to you, but you're perfectly safe as long as –" he cut off when Irene turned around and simply walked back to Sherlock's bedroom, closing the door behind her.
John stared at her retreating form for a second, and flinched slightly as he heard the door slam. He sighed. He supposed that Irene could no longer keep her composure. He wondered if there was something wrong with him – Irene was clearly very scared at what could happen to Sherlock if he went after Moriarty, and John…wasn't. At least not on the scale she seemed to be. After all, Sherlock hadn't been scared; his good byes hadn't been in any way overly emotional, and his demeanour hadn't changed in the slightest.
But now that he thought about it, there had been some sort of grim expression in his eyes, a grudging sort of acceptance.
John shook himself, he was being silly. Irene needed Sherlock, he was the only firm support she had gotten after her attack, and she had all but begged him not to leave. It wasn't surprising that she would get so worked up.
Irene stayed in the bedroom for most of the day, and barely said anything. John had gone in once, simply to make sure that she was okay, and she had answered his questions, but had been completely emotionless. As soon as he went away she fell back into bed, curling up and not moving.
She stayed like that, barely talking or eating for the next few days. Both John and Mrs Hudson were worried about her, but neither of them could sway her. Aside from Sherlock, she was the most stubborn person John knew. He knew that the Irene from a year ago would have dealt with Sherlock's departure differently even if she had the same feelings for him as now – she would be composed and confident, making sure that she let no emotion show. But now, Sherlock's departure was the last thing she needed so soon after the attack, and she simply couldn't hold it together anymore.
Sherlock barely contacted any of them. He only texted John once, telling him that he had arrived and had a clear lead, and telling him to apologise to Irene. The text was from an unknown number, and John knew that this must have been a phone Sherlock had purchased only to send that certain text, so that nothing could be traced back to Baker Street by any part of Moriarty's web.
Mycroft visited every couple of days, to keep John updated on Sherlock's movements (he was tracing his little brother; obviously, he needed to know exactly where he was in case anything happened). Apparently, the lead Moriarty had chosen to leave hadn't been so simple after all, and Sherlock was currently chasing him across France.
Mycroft's other reason for visiting 221B Baker Street was also to see how Sherlock's absence was affecting Irene. He had surveillance on her of course, but he had better things to do than sit in his office watching CCTV to see how the ex-dominatrix was coping. He was interested however, because other than giving her new identification at the hospital, neither of them had spoken to one another, and Mycroft was curious to see how much of her character had changed. He still very much disliked her, and the trouble she had caused him in the past was not something he was willing to forget, but he couldn't do anything about her because Sherlock was clearly fiercely protective of her. Mycroft had no idea how their relationship had progressed (other than having known that she had manipulated Sherlock into having feelings for her at the beginning of their acquaintance) and if it was based on trust or equality (he highly doubted it).
He was shocked to see Irene during his first visit. She still carried herself with some confidence, but she had become so much more vulnerable. Her eyes were almost empty, and she was thinner and paler than usual. Clearly, she was terrified for Sherlock's well-being, and she wasn't hesitant about showing it. Mycroft had to admit that she was clever to have understood what was at stake.
John seemed completely oblivious to the risk factor Sherlock was subjecting himself to. Mycroft wasn't sure how the ex-army could not see it – he had nearly been blown up by Moriarty in the past, and knew just how much damage Moriarty could do, and yet he seemed perfectly calm. He seemed to think that Sherlock wasn't in such huge danger, and he was underestimating the consultant criminal.
Irene knew exactly what dangers Moriarty represented, and the fear she had for Sherlock was exactly the same that Mycroft had. Mycroft however, was wise enough not to show it.
He knew that there was a good chance that Sherlock might not make it out of the encounter with Moriarty alive, and so did Irene. John apparently didn't, but Mycroft was glad, because it was one less person he had to deal with.
Irene grew accustomed to Mycroft's visits, and simply ignored him, never having really liked the elder Holmes. She was grateful for the protection he was giving her, but knew very well that that was only because of family obligations – he would never give her this protection free willingly. In fact, if it wasn't for Sherlock, Irene felt that he would probably throw her right back to the lions, not at all caring what happened to her.
At the same time however, she was aware that he could simply have said no to Sherlock's request, and so a small part of her felt slightly indebted to him.
Even so, she didn't bother to conduct any sort of conversation with him, and she knew that Mycroft also preferred it this way. The only time they had anything close to interaction was at the beginning of Mycroft's visits, when he brought news of Sherlock. She generally stayed quiet during this time anyway, but Mycroft felt almost uncomfortable in her presence, knowing she was taking in every detail.
He picked the times he visited carefully, and generally tried to visit when Irene was asleep, but she immediately saw through his plans.
Luckily, the day that he had to deliver the worst news of all, John informed him that she was in bed, and fast asleep. Mycroft felt rather relived. He would prefer to tell John the news, and then have him relay it to her instead.
"Where's Sherlock?" John asked, almost eagerly as Mycroft entered, before he took in Mycroft's expression. As always, it was almost unreadable, but there was a small flicker of some sort of emotion in his eyes that hadn't been there before. John felt something drop in his stomach. Mycroft Holmes, who was always detached and cold, even more emotionless than Sherlock was, Mycroft Holmes who could probably have people killed off without a second thought, looked almost pained.
"What happened?" John asked, and suddenly there was alarm colouring his tone. The doubts he had had after seeing Irene's reaction to Sherlock's departure suddenly resurfaced, and he wondered whether what Sherlock had gotten himself into was as dangerous as Irene considered it to be after all.
"He found Moriarty" Mycroft said almost heavily, refusing to sit down in the chair, but nodding at John, his signal to let him sit down. John regarded the elder Holmes apprehensively, waiting for answers.
"Moriarty was waiting for Sherlock in Switzerland. Sherlock chased him across France and Italy before he caught up with him."
"And?" John asked, noting that Mycroft's tone hadn't changed. It was starting to scare him, and a part of him was glad that Irene was in the bedroom.
"I don't know the exact details of their confrontation." Mycroft admitted. "However, I am aware that though Moriarty had back up he could have called, he was alone. He and Sherlock engaged in a verbal confrontation, although both of them were armed. However, it seems that Moriarty's meeting point with Sherlock was strategic, and a trap."
John frowned, suddenly very worried. Mycroft had refused to refer to Sherlock in the present tense so far. Even though Mycroft hadn't said much, John was starting to get a sinking feeling in his stomach.
"Their confrontation turned physical after words were no longer sufficient. Moriarty's chosen point was a cliff above a series of water falls. You may know them. They're called the Reichenbach Falls."
John's eyes widened. "So Sherlock and Moriarty…" he began, but trailed off, unsure of what to say. If it weren't for that bit of emotion in Mycroft's eyes or the very slight heaviness in his tone then John would have assumed that Sherlock was fine. But a water fall…Jesus.
He opened his mouth, but anything he might have wanted to say was lost when he hear the door to Sherlock's bedroom open. Both he and Mycroft turned around, Mycroft with slightly narrowed eyes, and John with a horrified expression on his face when he realised that Irene had probably heard everything.
Irene entered the living room and the pain and fear in her eyes was clear, but her face was smooth, almost expressionless. There was almost a dangerous quality about her now, and John realised that she was right before her breaking point. If Mycroft delivered the news that John was so terrified of, then Irene would completely fall apart. But right now she was controlled. It would take only one fatal blow to crack any self-control, but for now, she was composed.
John realised that Irene had been bracing herself for this news all along. Her fear and desperation when Sherlock had left was all because she realised that a confrontation with Moriarty could easily lead to Sherlock's death. Mycroft had too apparently, because although there was a very small difference in his demeanour, his eyes had had the same expression in them as Irene – like her, he had been readying himself for the worst.
John was shocked at how he could not have seen this coming.
"What happened, Mr Holmes?" Irene asked, and her voice sounded like steel, icy and piercing. Mycroft visibly flinched as his eyes fell on her. She reminded him of the calm right before a storm.
"Both fell down the cliffs and into the water" he said, while John simply stared, completely shocked. His mind felt as if it had been wiped, and refused to think of the consequences. Sherlock was fine, he had to be.
"Moriarty's body was recovered this morning. He is dead, the autopsy is undergoing, but the overall cause of death is not that hard to verify. DNA tests are being conducted, but we are fairly sure that this is James Moriarty and not some body double."
Irene's muscles tensed, but a small ray of hope flickered in her. Mycroft hadn't come to the point yet, it was almost as if he was doing this on purpose, which meant…
"And Sherlock?" she asked. Mycroft could see it in her eyes, the slow conviction, and realised that she had caught up with him. There was no point of dancing around the issue any longer.
"He is currently in a hospital near Bern. Although the fall could easily have killed him, he only has minor injuries: many cuts and bruises as well as a concussion, but no fractured or broken bones. When I last checked, he was asleep, but he should make a full recovery in due time."
Irene stayed still, but she could hear John exhale and sigh in relief.
"Sherlock's alive" he almost whispered, and felt almost silly that he had let himself be scared this way. But in hindsight, he should have seen this coming all along.
His eyes went immediately to Irene, to see how she was taking it. He had expected her composure to crack by now, not because of sorrow and loss, but because of joy, seeing that she had been so obviously preparing herself for the opposite result. To his surprise, her expression barely changed, but there was relief in her eyes.
She stared at Mycroft, taking him in, seeing how he was reacting. She was mad that he couldn't simply have stated that Sherlock had survived at the beginning of the conversation, but he supposed that he preferred winding people up like this.
Sherlock was alive.
Her composure cracked very slightly, and she felt extreme relief. However, she still needed one thing, or rather one person, and that person was Sherlock.
"Take me to him" she told Mycroft determinedly. Mycroft raised his eyebrows.
"He's in Switzerland" was his reply, and Irene's eyes narrowed, now annoyed with Mycroft's behaviour.
"I am aware. You're planning on going there yourself, and the car that brought you here is about to take you to the airport. I'm glad that you informed us about Sherlock's state before flying off, but now it seems that you will have to take me with you."
Mycroft frowned at her deduction; she was completely right, of course, he was on his way to see Sherlock in hospital and arrange to have him moved to England.
He looked at Irene, and she could see a clear 'no' written in his eyes. She sighed and walked back towards the bedroom, while John simply stared after her, utterly baffled. He had expected a completely different reaction from her, but right now she suddenly very much reminded him of the person she had been when they had first met. She showed barely any emotion, and he had no idea why. He supposed it was because she had some sort of a grudge against Mycroft, and was determined not to let him see her emotions, but she hadn't really bothered to cover up her feelings in the past week and a half…
Mycroft simply stared at her retreating from, confused. He had expected her to force him to take her with him, but she seemed to have simply submitted, walking back to Sherlock's room. He glanced at John, and saw that he was just as nonplussed.
Irene returned a few minutes later, and a small smile escaped her lips when she saw that both men were still staring at her. She felt a lot better now, like a huge weight had been lifted off her shoulders. She was not an optimist, and had been so scared of what could happen to Sherlock, but now he was fine. Moriarty was dead, and he no longer posed a threat to her. She was free.
Mycroft suddenly saw that she was no longer dressed in sweats and Sherlock's shirt (clothes she seemed to have grown accustomed to wearing in his absence), but in jeans and a jumper and carrying a purse. He realised that she had counted on him to stay here while she got dressed, and was now completely prepared to depart.
Mycroft huffed in annoyance; it seemed as if he would have to take her with him. This was not part of the plan, but he supposed that he should have foreseen this.
He said nothing, but frowned. John stood up indignantly.
"Fine, you two head off without me."
Mycroft sighed and turned around, wondering just when this had turned into some sort of big reunion. He had been planning to go alone, but now it seemed as if he had two uninvited guests he needed to drag along. Although, he had to admit that he would much rather take John than Irene.
He was not stupid however, and he knew that no matter how many threats or excuses he made, Irene would still insist on going. No, out of the two, John would prove much easier to sway.
Irene simply shrugged her shoulders; she had no problem if John decided to come along as well.
John looked at Mycroft's face and sighed "Fine. I'll stay here, as long as you promise to keep me updated. But if you don't, then I'll come over as well."
Mycroft sighed in annoyance, but nodded, sealing his part of the deal. Irene smiled and hugged John goodbye, while Mycroft watched the sudden show of affection with surprise.
"Be careful" John told her with a small smile, hugging her back. "Oh, and don't kill him for leaving. I still need someone to pay half the rent for this flat."
Irene grinned, now feeling a lot more light-hearted. "I'm not going to make any promises but I'll try" she said, winking at the ex-army doctor before leaving with Mycroft. John just smiled and went down to tell Mrs Hudson the news.
Irene stayed completely silent during the flight, which surprised Mycroft a great deal. He wasn't sure whether or not he preferred her silence. Although he was uncomfortable around her, he hated not knowing exactly how his brother's relationship with her worked, and was wondering whether or not he should ask her about it during the whole flight.
It appeared that she was oblivious to his inner struggle, but just as he was about to finally open his mouth and discuss the hated subject of sentiment, she got up to use the toilet. He swore he saw a small smile on her face as she did so, and realised that she knew what he wanted to discuss with her.
He frowned slightly, but decided to take the hint and simply drop the subject. From what he had seen, Sherlock very much cared for her, and there was nothing he could do about it. And if her feelings and emotional responses in the last week and a half had been anything to go by, then he could surmise that the affection Sherlock felt for her was not unrequited.
He wondered how he could have not noticed Sherlock's feelings for her in the past year, and wondered just when this situation had spiralled out of his control. He disliked not knowing every detail of Sherlock's life – he cared for his brother, but he did not like to show affection. The best way to show that he took some, if only minimal, interest in Sherlock's life and wanted to make sure that he was safe was surveillance cameras and having people describing what he was doing. He realised that his brother could keep a lot hidden from him if he truly wished, and perhaps it was better that way. Sherlock was a grown up, and was evidently making his own way in the world.
Perhaps it was time for Mycroft to let go.
He looked at Irene with interest when she came back, seeing her in a slightly different light. He still despised her of course, but now also viewed her as Sherlock's companion in life, and someone who was now taking care of his brother, taking on the role he had chosen so long ago. He was not a man who relinquished control easily or willingly, but he realised he may have to with Irene. Clearly, she and Sherlock connected on a level that Mycroft couldn't even begin to understand: Sherlock opened up to her, and while Mycroft knew a lot about his brother, it was information he had collected over a long time, while Sherlock voluntarily let Irene know things about himself, because he trusted her, as absurd as that seemed.
Mycroft now almost looked at Irene with respect. She had achieved what no one else possibly could, but Mycroft realised that this must have been a slow process. Sherlock would certainly not have trusted her from the very beginning, and Mycroft supposed it would have taken a long time for a proper relationship to build up between them. This surprised him, as he had never considered Ms Adler or his brother as the types to commit to something and take things slowly.
Mycroft sighed to himself quietly. Irene was now the main aspect in Sherlock's life. He still wanted to know what Sherlock got up to, but he realised that the best way to do that would be to talk to his brother, instead of having every minute of his life detailed out for him.
The first thing Sherlock felt when he woke up was the comforting feeling of his hand being held. He realised he quite liked the feeling. No one in the Holmes family had ever deemed it too necessary to show affection, and Sherlock couldn't remember the last time someone had just held his hand like that.
Even though his mind felt fuzzy and he was tired and slightly numb (from pain killers he suspected), he was able to make simple deductions: The nurses would never hold his hand, which meant it was someone he was close or familiar with.
Mycroft would never ever hold his hand, so it wasn't him. John might, but only in very extreme cases, and it wasn't like Sherlock was dying, so it couldn't be him either. Molly…possibly, but she would probably be too shy to do so; Lestrade, definitely not. The only other person he was really close to was Irene.
He smiled for a second, certain it was her by his bedside, before his mind started to function properly and his eyes flew open in surprise.
What was she doing here?
She was staring straight ahead and hadn't noticed the fact that he had woken up yet. He observed her as best as he could, and was almost pained when he saw that her face was practically expressionless. His mind travelled back to their last encounter, and he suddenly realised that she must be furious with him for simply leaving her like that.
He closed his eyes again, realising just how much he had missed her. When he had felt the wind rushing through his hair as he fell from the cliff, pulling Moriarty down with him, and sensing the worst coming, he had only thought of her. And now she was here, and Sherlock had no idea what to do.
He kept his eyes closed, deciding he would rather not face up to emotions right now. He knew he had hurt Irene, and as necessary as leaving had been, he assumed she would have seen it as more of a betrayal.
His eyes opened once again in surprise when he felt her hit his arm lightly, and he finally stared her in the face. A sudden sense of calmness washed over him as he stared into her familiar blue eyes, and detected traces of warmth and emotion there.
"Your pulse is elevated, don't expect you can fool me" she said, and although her tone was cold, he swore he could detect a hint of amusement in it.
"Worth a try" he said almost tiredly, the numbness he had felt having disappeared. Instead, he felt the sudden pain shoot up in his arms and across his stomach and legs. He winced slightly, but kept his eyes fixed on Irene.
His gaze seemed to break through the careful mask she wore while looking at him, and he witnessed it suddenly crack and shatter. She bit her lip suddenly as it started trembling and her tears suddenly appeared in her eyes.
"You idiot" she said strongly, one tear escaping while she fought for control. She was somewhere between crying and laughing, and he understood it to be the relief and anger she had felt. He chuckled slightly.
"I know" he admitted, and heard her slight sob.
She said nothing then, but kept hold of his hand, and did not even attempt to mask her feelings. Both she and Sherlock knew that in their case emotions spoke more than words ever could.
Sherlock too, stayed silent, but took in every detail, committing her face to memory. Their situations were reversed, he noted, thinking how a few weeks ago, it had been him sitting by her bedside, while she had suffered.
"I'm sorry" he said at last, almost an hour later, when she was once again composed and he somewhat more lucid. She nodded; a sign that she understood his actions.
He didn't bother to add that going after Moriarty had been necessary, the both knew it. She didn't bother to talk about what might have happened had Sherlock not been so lucky, and neither did he. The situation could have ended horrifically, but it hadn't, and Sherlock doubted that either of them would ever mention this situation again. It was behind them now.
Everything returned to normal.
Funnily enough, Sherlock's and Irene's definition of normal had changed.
Sherlock had recovered from his injuries fairly quickly and had immediately insisted on travelling back to England. Mycroft had frowned and pursed his lips, believing that Sherlock was not fit to travel yet, but had eventually decided that Sherlock could decide for himself, seeing it was his life after all, and no longer Mycroft's to control.
Irene was still living at Baker Street, because she didn't feel like going back to New Zealand. Her kidnapping and Sherlock's mission to get Moriarty had had a profound effect on both of them, as well as on their relationship. They appreciated each other more, they trusted each other more, and not everything between them felt like a competition.
Because of that, they no longer felt the need to challenge each other continuously. Before the whole ordeal they could only spend a limited time with each other, because of their mutual need to outwit the other, but now they had changed, and their relationship became less unorthodox.
John decided that he didn't really mind having Irene move in too much, he rather enjoyed her company. She was still a complete puzzle to him, but he realised that Sherlock acted so much more human around her. The caring and gentle side that everyone had attempted (unsuccessfully) to bring out for so long finally emerged. Essentially, Sherlock's relationships to others remained the same, but he suddenly became easier to tolerate.
Mrs Hudson was thrilled to see Sherlock back safe, and to see Irene relieved and happy. Mycroft seemed to accept Irene, and demonstrated this by leaving her and Sherlock completely alone, which, compared to the problems he could stir up for both of them if he pleased, was the greatest gift he could possibly give them.
Irene and Sherlock had no idea where they would go from here. Obviously Irene would move out of Baker Street eventually, but since Moriarty was gone and Mycroft's men were successfully tracking down the rest of his criminal web, Irene was a lot safer. Both she and Sherlock were thinking about her moving closer to England. But, while the issue was on the table, there was no rush.
Neither of them knew what the future would hold, but for now the honestly didn't care. They had each other, and as cheesy as it sounded to them, they realised that that was truly all that mattered. Both of them had had a chance to observe the other completely stripped of confidence, and to get a better look at the emotions they had tried to keep hidden from each other before.
It contradicted everything they had said before, but emotions didn't make them weaker, instead they strengthened the bond the two of them shared.
And right now, that was perfect for both of them.
Well, what can I say? The end is upon us.
Thank you so much for sticking with me through this story. It's been fabulous and great fun to write, these two characters are simply brilliant. I loved putting the two of them in this situation, and although it was really hard at times, it was completely worth the effort.
Thank you to absolutely everyone who reviewed, alerted and favourited. I'm sure that without you and your encouragement this story would never have progressed as far as it did. Once again, thanks very much :)
I hope you all enjoyed this as much as I did.