And in this one, Sherlock turns to an old acquaintance, who has a habit of eclipsing and predominating expectations...
It's Over - Irene
The light spilling from the open window is a beacon to the darkened streets. That small pinprick of light, which throws itself over the small cottages and is lost in the crevices between each house and swallowed by the darkness of the pastures between each. Glitters weakly in the distant city that reflects the light back; back toward this dark and sleepy village that time has forgotten.
A shadow moves. Detaches itself from the surrounding dark and creeps along the rows of closed blooms creeping along the cobblestone paths. Forms itself into a man as the figure steps into the path and is bathed in light, just a silhouette on the street - tall, black, and defeated. His shoulders slump, and he's favoring an arm, but the hard line of his jaw as it tilts toward the open window is determined, and if the night were not so complete, one could see the way his eyes glint even in their burdened depths.
A figure passes the window overhead, cutting off the light. He lurches back into the dark just as the person - a woman - steps to the sill. Her long, dark hair fans out over the flower box, mixing with the heather as the summer night breeze tangles them together. Her eyes - unmistakable in their bright blue depths (so vivid even under the purpling sky) - gaze out over the empty fields, contemplation a mask settling onto the smooth skin of her face. For long moments, she hovers, almost seeming to wait for something, the only movement her steady blinks and shifting hair.
At last, she draws the curtains, red nails flashing against the sheer fabric before the lights are extinguished and the night goes completely black.
He exhales long and slow, and almost starts forward -
- but at the last moment, he turns himself down the road and walks away, growing dimmer until he's enveloped by the cool airs of night.
The woman - the woman - stares at his retreating form through the gap in the shades, and exhales her own shaky sigh, the fast patter of her heart in her ears belying any calm her impassive face might betray. Should have known; did, really, just a hypothesis, but now confirmed in the flesh.
Quickly, as she slides down the wall and stares into the distance while her mind whirs with facts and feeling all together; all at once, she comes to the conclusion that she needs more data and will do whatever it takes to get it.
As any scientist knew, one trial was never enough. No, but this time she would set the conditions, let their brains reach their conclusions, and, like all scientists, find the truth.
Despite everything, she finds him.
A small French town, not far from the one where she's been hiding out. It'd been a fun little game, ditching the Witness Protection agents, though she's still not quite sure how to get back out from this one - never mind, she'll think of something, always does. That was their curse; always thinking, always always always awake eyes wide open, open as their minds, and oh so ready for the next move until suddenly, abruptly, there isn't one.
She knows how he feels - ha! how he feels, and shouldn't she get a right kick out of that - and that is what counts here.
He's sequestered himself in the dingy corners of a coffee shop that's only a few hours from closing as the evening sets in, heavy and thick in the summer. She finds him - actually finds him, alive, flesh blood bone breath alive - surreptitiously curled into a chair and hunched over his laptop, tracking the movements of operatives and so completely absorbed that it takes him entire seconds to realize he's being watched.
Entire moments to realize who is doing the watching.
He merely blinks at the smirk sent his way, before tall heels come clicking down the stone floors and settle in the seat opposite, attached legs crossing over the cushions and attached body lounging backwards to signal the shop owners.
To be fair, the attached face has been changed since the last time he saw it, though that's a mark on his side as well. Her hair is bobbed around her angular face, and the colored contacts are a necessary precaution - boring brown, normal brown. She's left the business of making an impression based on looks alone, and no profile was always better - at least until things settled down. Then it was on to the next thing; making her next move and pulling the world along with her. Whatever she did, it was extraordinary.
But she thinks this man might have topped anything she could ever accomplish. He fooled the devil, and all his demons, too. She wonders, briefly, what that makes her.
The smirk has disappeared by the time he registers her presence fully. Instead, she's got her eyes trained on him with a calculating strength he's only ever seen directed back at him from a mirror. They're silent, even when the waiter sets a steaming mug before her, and their eyes do not stop in their sizing up. Drinking in the impossible on both sides.
But, as he was so awfully, endearingly fond of saying, only improbable.
At last her fingers, devoid of their blood red tips, curl around the cup until the knuckles turn white.
"Tell him," she says at last, those tailored words enunciated carefully and planned, devised for this very moment, as the right words that would jump straight to the heart of the issue and strike him where he needed to be struck, "you're alive."
His eyelids flutter shut for the briefest instant, and it's enough.
More silence, watching the curls of steam dissipate in the atmosphere, and then she says very quietly, less assured, now, "I knew."
"Of course you did." His voice surprises her. The French lilt matches the other modifications he's made since they last met, down to the artfully styled hair and the scar he's scoured across those delightful cheekbones. But it's more the way it comes out trembling, and raspy, as if unused to the words. Mere speech, then, or the conversation? His eyes were never a tell, because even in all his self-portraits of disguises, that simply was him, down to the core. Sherlock Holmes does not let anyone in lightly. But she knows that now he has paid the price, for there was only ever one who could slip into those myriad blues and greens and greys and find something of meaning, and for all their similarities, it was never her. "What tipped you off first? The swift cremation? Lack of open-casket service?" He fires off the questions, but she can tell his interest is only passing - their problems go beyond one another, now. There is much more at stake in the games they play in these troubled times.
"Sweetie," she chides gently, taking a slow whiff of her coffee. "You overestimate me." Does that make me special? she'd once asked. But now, sitting across from a skeletal figure and an ashen face, she's not sure she wants the answer, even if she knows it already.
Nevertheless, that catches his attention. Those unreadable eyes narrow, focus in on her like a microscope's lens, and it's one of those rare, heady moments when she realizes just how intensely someone wants to take her apart in that moment and see how she ticks. Anywhere else, she'd be pleased at the power of it.
But he is her equal. And now, he is not less of a man for his confusion. And if anything, he is more human for all the months she can see weighing down on his troubled shoulders.
"Did you know what Molly liked?" he asks, and there's almost the tone of laughter in it.
Her eyebrow arches fractionally, and she does huff in amusement. "No, I don't think even I could get our little mouse to squeak. I used my own eyes for this one, love. Security footage, Jim's plans... a whole host of evidence to back me up." What I hoped and feared, all at once. "You'd be impressed. But that's not the point here, is it," she continues, settling against the curved armrest of her chair and resting her chin against her pale wrists. "We were talking about you and your pretty other half."
He does not seem to react, but she also doesn't miss the way his newly calloused hand clenches a fraction around the edge of his laptop. "No, I think you were talking about that," he sighs eventually, closing the lid of the computer with a soft click as the screen goes dark.
"And in a conversation, generally it would be your turn to respond," she points out.
"Never was one for small talk."
"Ah, but don't you know?" Her lips quirk at one end, but instead of a smile the tilt of it is almost sad, as her eyes drink in the downcast face and tired circles and him, and make their own deductions. "This isn't small at all. This is the biggest thing of all, bigger and more important than I think even you know." A beat, and then, "And I think that scares you."
"And if it does?" He leans forward across the table, shadow long and lean as it covers her face. "Why should you care at all? You're always after something. Woman like you; likes her winning, oh, yes." A light flares briefly in his eyes, and gutters as he speaks. "You're here to pay back my favour."
"Good boy never misses a thing," the woman smiles, a quick, sharp flash of teeth that recalls the glint of the sword she'd almost died under, before it dies just as quickly. She drains her glass, and for once he does not see behind the rim the way her eyelids clench shut.
"You saved my life," she admits, when the empty cup has been settled on the expanse of wood between them, "and I don't like owing anyone anything."
"So you're here to save mine?" He seems dubious, and she can observe from the way his glance flickers to the window that he's already planning his escape. Or at least trying to make it seem so. She bets on the latter, but hurries on nonetheless.
"In effect, yes." She takes a deep breath, then speaks in a quiet, conspiratorial tone. "If I'm correct, which I know I am, then the reason you're frittering about Europe is because you're eliminating all the little flies in the spider's web." She doesn't wait for his confirmation, but derives a small satisfaction from the gentle incline of his head. "Now, I knew what a man at the records office liked, and it turns out he was one of your precious bugs. But he led me to the real goods." Her nose wrinkles. "Even if it wasn't real good."
He actually cracks a tiny smirk of his own at this. "Still up to your old tricks, then."
She smiles back; has the nerve (always does) to wink. "Old dog, sweetheart." She retrieves a file from the inside of her coat and pushes it across to him, sobering as she does so. "Your man goes by the name of Sebastian Moran, which I'm sure you're already aware of, smart man like you. But this is all the information and more. It'll get you to him, and once you've got him..." She spreads her palms wide. "It's over."
Over. He breathes the word, so quietly she would have missed it if she weren't watching his lips fall around the shape in a sort of prayer. The priest in his confessional, as if the tables have turned since their first meeting, she offers penance.
But his eyes are suspicious, as if her way out is too simple - and oh, that bastard Jim was right; everything always did need to be clever with this one. He was going to get himself killed that way. Shouldn't he know better? It almost had. And it almost had with her, too. Maybe they're just the people who never learn from their mistakes. Not because they're too fun to make, as mistakes often are, but because they know nothing else.
Deduce the truth from me, she says in her silence, staring solemnly back as the sun at last slips over the hills and the warning bell for closing time rings, if you are so far gone that you can do nothing else, do this.
And as they sit there in disguises meant to fool the world, neither of them are fool enough to fall for it. They see the portraits. As clearly as if those who thought photographs stole pieces of your soul were correct; she reads into the inky lines of suddenly bright blue eyes, and he maps the light that dances in hers, and they know.
For all their lies and deception, at their core they really are honest people. They don't lie to themselves, at least, and that is something. But even then... they both dare to hope.
Repaying a favour, she'd told him, Irene recalls as his familiar form blends back into shadow and she realizes how unlikely it is that their paths will ever cross again.
And it was true. She doesn't like owing anyone anything.
But she had owed herself this.
Sentiment, she thinks on an inhale, letting the world fill up her head as the air fills her lungs, crisp and with just the biting ache of a fall that is looming on their horizons. The trees shiver. She breathes. A chemical defect -
But she hopes to god they win.