Author's Note: And finally, we reach the end of this little fic! To all of those that have taken the time to review, alert, favourite or simply read it, I thank you. I thank you all. Your kindness and (certainly!) your patience have helped me through a very trying period in my life. I wish you all the very best.
Disclaimer: This arena of fabulousness belongs to me in no way whatsoever.
The Problem With Disguises
They eat, but they do not have dinner. They observe, they laugh, they argue, they discuss, but sentiment is never approached.
More progress is made.
Knowledge is taken and given in equal measure.
He listens. Yes, for the first time, he truly listens to her as she describes her methods of reading nuance, of using a combination of body language, vocal tone and general air to gauge the import of a situation.
It is only natural that she watches him as she speaks, and she knows that he does not fully grasp all of her ideas. This doesn't matter. He is quite brilliant enough to use his own inbuilt assets to compensate for any flaws in his understanding.
He is made better.
She would not have guessed that he could be so receptive to her own theories on the base nature of people, and of using this to determine their feelings.
Yet he is.
He, on the other hand, has been utterly, somewhat bluntly, forthright in his opinion on her skills of observation. But then he actually takes the time to try and explain how he does so himself.
She listens without comment.
He describes, at first with some difficulty, but then more easily, just how much the devil can be found in the details. How clearing one's mind of prejudice, and seeing a place or situation as it actually is, can speak so clearly of what has happened, of what has been.
He watches her as he talks, and believes she is beginning to grasp the importance of dissociation from emotion in his method.
He knows that she will, probably never, fully be able to utilise the procedures he is struggling to convey. It is simply not within her sphere of expertise.
She listens, avidly. And it is not as if she is without a skillset of her own.
She is being sharpened. And they both know it.
He could not have guessed that she would allow herself to accept his idea of logic, of evidence, being so very important.
Yet she does.
They have their last meal, for now, at least.
He sees her eating much less than him. Again. They do not speak of it. They both know what is to come. Of the trials the next few days are likely to throw into his path. This matter is deemed unmentionable by silent agreement.
But they do talk.
The cheap seats appear to involve a great deal of pasta these days. It would be unsporting of him not to mention it.
He holds up a forkful of fusilli, a little nonchalantly. "Student food, Irene?"
She narrows her eyes at him, quite dangerously, as he flings said forkful into his mouth with teasing aplomb. She is very hungry indeed, but she knows, better than most, that there can be worse pains than hunger.
Her tone is, therefore, quite mild. "And, Sherlock, your problem is?"
He grins. "I hear carbs are terrible for women of a certain age." Somebody is clearly up for a verbal tussle. That's okay. She is, too.
She sighs, wistfully. "They might be if I were actually eating them."
An eyebrow is raised, a tad sarcastically. "I thought you liked house guests?"
An airy wave her right hand follows. "I like them when they pay me for my trouble."
He tries and, if she must be critical, fails, to plaster his face with a look of total innocence. "And I'm trouble?"
She employs her wickedest and most knowing smile. She nearly purrs as she speaks. "My dear Mr Holmes, you are nothing but."
He grins quite wildly as she looks smugly victorious, at least briefly.
But then there is quiet. He eats. She ignores that fact that she isn't.
The mood changes, yet again.
When he finally clears his plate and places it on the small table, the clank of his cutlery is quite jarring for them both.
It signals an ending, of sorts.
It is time for him to leave. And they both comprehend it.
He goes into the bathroom, once more. No words are spoken.
She watches as he gathers his scant belongings. Pockets are filled, but there is little else for him to carry away. She knows that, for now, he will accept no further material assistance from her. And he knows that she knows it.
This is done in a heavy silence.
He flings his jacket on, and goes to turn towards the door. Yet he pauses, as he draws up to her shoulder. They do not look at one another. By unspoken mutual consent, this is not a time for observation.
His voice is soft. "Thank you, Irene."
She barely shrugs, but it is enough for him to note it, in his peripheral vision. He cannot help this. She is aware of this way of his. "No need, Sherlock. If anything, I should be thanking you."
He looks fully away from her, though it is only his head that moves. "No. You shouldn't. I think we are finally square."
She looks at the curtain as it moves gently in the light breeze from the window. "You may be right, at that." A beat. "Khartoum?"
There is stillness for a moment. Nothing more is said. Then he nods once more, sharply, decisively. Without pause, he strides towards the front door, opening it. And moves on, swiftly.
The door slams, and she flinches at the finality of the sound.
Momentarily, she is overwhelmingly bereft.
She is alone.
But then something happens that changes all of that.
It would seem she is not the only one who will personalise a ringtone. Mere seconds after the front door closes, her phone suddenly barks at her, in an unmistakable voice.
It is glorious. It is the perfect description of what he is likely to be, when he chooses to message her.
It is also risky, yes, but what is life without risk?
Within a second, she is doubled over, grasping her phone, nearly gasping at the hilarity of it.
Oh, but he is good.
He hears her laughter, and it lifts the weight of walking away. He had not thought it would be difficult, yet his first few paces were leaden, almost unwilling. But he knows he will see her again in a few weeks, should the plan hold, which he has no reason to doubt. His steps lighten.
He knows so many who are less than he. One who is much more. But only one that can challenge him now. One mind. One equal. One confidante. The Dominatrix. The Woman.
She pulls herself together and moves over to the window. She watches him disappear effortlessly into a crowd. And she sees that his time here was not wasted. She stares at the place where he seemed to vanish, for a long time after he is simply gone.
She knows men. Intimately. Though she prefers the company of women. He is something different. The beautiful mind. Untouched. Untouchable. The Virgin. The Man.
They will meet again. Soon. And they are both content in this knowledge.