Disclaimer: Any chance I could own this? Ever? Er, no.
The Problem With Disguises
He turns up on her doorstep, sometime after he is dead.
She would like to say she isn't surprised, but she has seen John on the television. The falsity of the world's only known consulting detective has turned out to be a global affair. Watching the press hounding the kind doctor has made her angry. Watching this one man wilt under constant pressure is becoming unbearable. And John Watson is a good man. She can see, even through the narrow lens of the media, that he isn't lying.
Sherlock Holmes is dead.
So when she, herself, opens her front door, wielding nothing but a pasta sauce covered wooden spoon (out of sheer necessity, she is so very low rent these days), and sees a ghost, everything that was upside down is righted. But that still means turning it upside down. Again.
She is momentarily unable to hide her shock. She merely blinks repeatedly, almost uncharacteristically passively, as he sweeps by her without pause, into her home. She shakes herself, closing the door quickly and turning to follow him.
And there he stands. In her living area. Alive.
She halts, just a few feet away from him.
For minutes, they say nothing, simply observing one another.
He sees very little of her, as ever. She is clearly cooking a Bolognese. Physically, she is healthy, having regained the weight she had lost in Karachi. A cursory glance around the room tells him nothing of any substance, as he would expect. Irene will never be so foolish as to let any revealing personal detail simply lie around openly. But he can tell that she is tired, that she worked a double shift as a waitress yesterday, and that she recently bought a Zippo lighter. Everything else is in darkness for him, but this is more than he usually gets from her, so he considers this a minor victory. He derives a small amount of comfort from the fact that she can, at her own will, deny him details safely.
She sees that he is now rake thin. Food has been scarce. Sleep too, she believes, for a protracted period of time. He is very ill dressed, leading her to suppose that his own necessity has driven him to the kind of lifestyle he will only have glimpsed before in his darkest days. None of this is a surprise. What is, is that she should have spotted him yesterday. She is astounded that she did not. Her brain judders to a forced stop for a mere second, then she looks again and realises what he needs. Why he is here. Although he had bypassed her notice just the day before.
She tilts her head, so slightly.
They come to a silent accord. They will both speak. Though not too much, not just yet.
"Miss Baker." It has been too long since she heard that voice, even though there is a light undertone of mocking about her chosen surname. Maybe too light, but never mind. She still couldn't quite shake her affinity for risk taking, Mycroft Holmes be damned.
"Miller." Her eyebrows shoot upwards in amused disbelief, and he almost smiles. His voice, however, is purposely cool in reply. "I did not choose it."
"I see," she concedes, wryly.
"You are well?" he asks. A meaningless platitude, perhaps, and she will know it, but one that might deflect slightly from the ridiculous Baker/Miller naming coincidence.
She doesn't bite. In any way. "I am alive," she answers, simply.
He nods, almost imperceptibly. "As am I."
"So it would seem."
They fall into an awkward quiet. The air is thick with an odd, unidentifiable tension, one borne from the unsettling knowledge that the balance is changed between them, once again.
And yet, after a few moments more, their eyes meet as they both reach the obvious conclusion. Naturally, they do this at the same time.
The balance has been reset. They are both dead. They are equal.
She breaks the silence.
"Anything I can do." She pauses and looks down at her left hand, where her fingers are still desperately grasping the spoon, craving this new reality, her knuckles white. She waves it, vaguely. When she speaks again, she is only being practical, but cannot help the edge that creeps into her voice as she asks the inevitable question.