Word Count: 4646
Timeline: Post Reichenbach
Disclaimer: Not mine, never will be.
Beta'd and Britpicked by theonewiththeobsessions. This fic wouldn't be half of what it is now without her or Muffintine.
After Karachi, she runs away across the ocean and builds herself a life in New York City. She changes her name (Catherine), perfects her accent (American), and builds herself a singing career (opera–she's always loved a good performance). It's a bit cliché, but it gets the job done. And for seven months, it all goes according to plan. Everyone believes her story and not one past complication crosses her path. It's so simple, so easy, that it's actually boring.
Then, two weeks after she reads about the death of Sherlock Holmes, a man who calls himself John Wolfe joins her company's orchestra. She doesn't blink when she hears the news or the name. Not even the chorus girls giggling about the tall, dark, handsome, British man strikes her fancy. She isn't particularly interested until she spots him watching her with a violin and an amused smirk. She recognises him the moment she does.
Alive, obviously. That bit doesn't surprise her; she never believed his supposed suicide. (After all, she does know a thing or two about faking your own death.) The part that surprises her, that impresses her the most, is that he's here. That he's found her.
She smirks back at him. New York City just got a bit more interesting.
They have tea at his flat after rehearsal. He gives her the vague explanation for his death (by which she means that he only tells her that the world thinks he's dead and he'd rather it stay that way). And while all that is important, she has a bigger question in mind. Another mystery, one far more interesting than why Sherlock Holmes is alive.
He knew she was in New York City, when he moved here.
Of course he did, he answers as if he's offended by the idea of his not knowing something. She opts to ignore his tone and smirks instead. His expression immediately indicates that he knows the conclusion she's come to. He tells her not to flatter herself; New York was simply the most logical place to go. It is both far enough from London and populated enough to easily avoid anyone who could recognise Sherlock Holmes. Her presence was nothing more than a mere convenience.
Her smirk never wavers. Was it also convenience that brought him to work specifically in her company's orchestra? Or was it the logical decision to seek her out?
He doesn't answer.
They don't discuss the events from Karachi or their time in London. It remains an unspoken agreement that it's best to leave the past in the past. They have new lives, new facades, to maintain now. Still, it proves impossible for them to act as if they've never met before. Their co-workers might not be the brightest bunch, but even they cannot miss the chemistry.
(It also doesn't help that Sherlock refuses to play nice with anyone other than her.)
So when a group of chorus girls ask them about their history, she tells them the most obvious answer: they met before, once or twice while she was in London. It was ages ago though. A lifetime ago, you might even say. They're…old friends.
He glares at the last word, not particularly thrilled to be associated with the people she normally considers her friends. Still, he stops himself before he can contradict her. He might be rubbish with people, but even he knows better than to try to explain their history. She smirks at his frustration and he gives her one last annoyed look before he sighs and nods.
Yes, he agrees, they're old friends.
She comments on his new name once. There are a countless names he could have chosen for his new identity, yet he opted for John. Funny, she never took him for the sentimental type.
He seems unimpressed by her deduction and shrugs it off. It's a common name, he explains. Both in England and America very few people would give a John a second glance. He chose it because it was logical to do so, and for no other reason. She doesn't believe him, of course. (A disguise, after all, is only a self-portrait.)
"Does he know?"
He doesn't say anything more and she does not mention it again.
Sometimes she breaks into his flat simply because she can. She uses a bobby pin to unlock a back window large enough for her to crawl through. She never has a problem making herself comfortable and he sometimes comes home to find her curled up in his favourite chair, barefoot with a novel or the newspaper in her hands. He never seems surprised to see her, and after her second break-in, he isn't even fazed by her presence.
He breaks into hers as well. Not in the same manner, obviously. He prefers picking the lock at her front door, which wouldn't be a problem if it didn't leave a few scratch marks in the process. The first time or two, she ignores it, but it does not take much longer for her to decide that enough is enough.
She finds him at work one morning. Before he can even acknowledge her, she slips a spare key into his pocket and tells him to stop damaging her door.
That evening she comes home to find a key on her breakfast table and a note that tells her to stop damaging his window.
One morning she finds him sitting in her kitchen reading the morning paper with half a cup of tea and half a piece of toast. He does not react as she walks into the kitchen and only mutters a good morning as he turns the page. She smiles smugly and returns his good morning as she pours herself a cup of tea. Before she can even ask if he's found anything interesting, he flips his paper down and stares at her.
Why is she speaking like that?
She asks him what on earth he means. He opens his mouth, probably to point out her American accent, when another voice calls for her. Well, calls for Catherine.
Her friend steps out of her bedroom. Sherlock glances up at the pretty, little chorus girl with damp blonde hair and a green robe, before he mumbles of course and returns to his paper. Irene's smirk never fades; she only takes another sip of her tea and asks the girl if she would like a cup.
The girl stares for a moment, her gaze shifting between the pair of them. Finally she breaks out of her shock, shakes her head, and approaches the table. She smiles sweetly and holds her hand out to Sherlock.
"Good morning. I'm–"
The girl's eyes widen and she gives him the most amusingly baffled expression. He doesn't react, of course, and only continues to read his paper. She looks to her for some sort of assistance, but Irene simply pats the girl's hand and tells her not to. Best not to bother him before he's had his morning cup; he's rather cranky without it. Well, crankier than usual.
Sherlock glares. Irene smirks.
The chorus girl just stares.
Naturally the rumours begin to circulate shortly after that morning. Every rehearsal, without fail, the words couple and relationship follow them. Lovers, a brave few even dare to say.
Neither of them pays such things any attention. She wonders how dull, how boringly simple, their minds must be if they actually believe Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler could ever be something so mundane.
Occasionally they spend their evenings at her flat, but as the months pass by, those days grow fewer and further apart. You see, during her time as Catherine, she gathered quite a few friends, which means quite a number of people know exactly where her flat is. It also means that quite a few of them feel the need to stop by. John Wolfe, on the hand, is a completely different story. No one ever visits him. In fact, she doubts anyone else even knows where he lives. So there, they are left alone and in peace.
Every so often they play a game to pass the time. Chess or scrabble–something to challenge their minds in this dreadfully boring life they are now living. There's never a clear winner between them, and perhaps that should bother her–not winning–but it doesn't. It's the only time in her life that she'll ever accept the idea of a tie. Of someone as her equal.
Other nights they prefer more ordinary activities. He watches the evening news while she reads a novel. Sometimes they sort through local murders, but never come across anything worth their attention. Some nights they have debates that span over a variety of topics, other nights they don't speak at all. Sometimes she leaves his flat having enjoyed their evening, other times the night ends with them ready to murder one another.
Still, she almost always returns the following evening.
Every year their opera company holds a large gala on Christmas Eve. It isn't actually for them, of course, but rather to gather a few more donations and amuse their patrons. Every member of the company is required to attend. Sherlock doesn't, of course, and barely anyone notices the second violinist's absence. Obviously, she does attend and spends the evening sipping on champagne and flirting with a few drunken sponsors.
It's nearly midnight by the time she leaves the gala and arrives at his flat. She unlocks the door, slips in without a word, and finds him already dressed in pyjamas and a blue robe, playing his violin. She sits down in his chair, removes her heels, but doesn't say a word as she watches him play. He never looks up at her, but eventually tells her to look by the mantelpiece.
She finds a single present, wrapped in red paper, and no note. She opens it and finds a book; an older Victorian novel, the sort she sometimes reads on their evenings together. He stops playing but doesn't say anything, doesn't even turn to face her. Still, it's rather obvious that he's waiting to read her reaction somehow.
The clock chimes midnight. She puts the book down and steps towards him. He finally turns just as her lips brush against his cheek. "Merry Christmas, Mr Holmes," she says.
He stares at her for a moment before a small smile tugs at his lips. "Merry Christmas, Miss Adler."
Nearly five months in, the inevitable happens.
One evening she walks into his flat to find a disaster zone: his things are scattered all over, open books tossed on the floor, the television turned to some god awful chat show. It's such a mess that she might have, for the slightest of seconds, entertained the idea of a possible robbery if Sherlock wasn't standing in the middle of the sitting room throwing darts at a Cluedo board stabbed to the wall.
She raises a brow and asks what on earth has him in such a mood.
Bored, he complains as he tosses his last dart. Bored, bored, bored!
He needs something to do. Work's out of the question, obviously. Even if it wasn't, there's nothing worthwhile in either the paper or on the television. No interesting burglaries, no mysterious serial killings, not a single bloody thing! How boring New York City is! Don't they have a decent criminal in America?
He collapses onto the sofa and she watches him with an amused expression as he continues to babble on and on about needing something–anything–to do. He can't take this boredom a moment more!
A mischievous grin tugs at her lips. "Shall I provide a distraction then?"
He stares at her for a moment and she sees something flash across his eyes. It's brief, but she's positive she saw it: the consideration, the intrigue. It doesn't surprise her. There is nothing else, after all, for him to do, to occupy his mind. Nothing else to distract him.
He sighs and looks away with bored expression, but watches her through the corner of his eyes. "If we must," he finally answers.
She smirks. It was inevitable, after all.
Now and then they come by someone else from London. Usually it's a young couple on a romantic getaway or a family taking their first big international vacation. They never converse with them, because there's always the chance one of them will be recognised, but they can always tell. They spot it in their posture, their fashion, not to mention the city maps and their obvious accents.
Only once does one of these tourists catch their attention.
They are in the process of hailing a cab when she spots her: an older British woman with a reddish tint to her hair. Irene had only caught glimpses of Sherlock's old landlady, but even she can see the resemblance. It isn't her, obviously. The older woman has no reason to be in America, much less in New York City.
Still, she watches his reaction out of the corner of her eye. His expression remains neutral, but his eyes linger on the woman for a moment longer than necessary and a frown tugs at his lips. Even a fool would be able to deduce where his mind's wandered off to.
The woman slips into a shop and he breaks his gaze just as their cab pulls up.
They spend the ride in silence.
She mentions John Watson once. There is no build up, no logic behind it, she simply mentions him one evening. Sherlock visibly stiffens when she does, obviously a bit taken back by her subject choice, but he does not lower his evening paper. He gives her no verbal reply. She stares at him for a moment with a frown, but continues.
He really should tell him that he's alive.
Sherlock turns the page of his paper and tells her not to be an idiot. It doesn't suit her.
"If you won't tell him, maybe I will."
This time he does lower his paper. He stares at her with hard eyes. "No," he answers, "You won't."
My, she shoots back, he sounds awfully certain about that. He returns to his paper without another word. Yes, his silent answer lingers between them, he is certain.
And he's right, of course. She won't tell John. How could she possibly benefit from that? It was merely an empty threat, one she used to play him. One she had been fairly sure would work. Yet, it didn't. He knew it was nothing more than a bluff. He read her the way, well, the way she reads him. And it's a first.
He saw right through her in a way no one else ever has before.
She does not mention John Watson again.
At some point she stops seeing other people.
She's not exactly sure when it is. She assumes it's around the time she realises there's no one else as interesting in the city. Or about the time she realises that his flat is closer to their opera house. Or perhaps it might have been about the time she stopped considering her flat home.
She's never been the sitting still sort. Staying in one place, one home, with one person has never been her forte. But running? Running is what she's good at. Disappearing, vanishing into thin air, taking a brand new identity, those are the things that suit her. Not this. Not this new life she's built, spending day after day at the same job, in the same flat, with the same man. Feeling attached.
So she does what she knows best: she runs away. She does not bother to pack, only takes a handbag and a purse filled with cash. She leaves her ID and her credit cards behind–she has no use for Catherine or Irene Adler now–and slips away in the middle of the night. She needs to escape. Get away from here, away from him, from John Wolfe. From Sherlock Holmes.
She runs as fast and as far as she can and she does not look back.
She stops in Chicago, but she does not slow down. She finds a bar with pretty little American girl who swears she doesn't normally do these things, but takes her home. It's a fiery ginger the following night; a tall, caramel-coloured man the night after that; another the night after that and another the night after that. She flirts, she seduces, she misbehaves. She does everything she's always done; everything she knows how to.
It doesn't work. It entertains her but it does not change a thing. The distractions are only momentary. They leave her with far too much time to observe, to read the people around her. To grow bored of them and their dull little minds. They all fall down around her and then line up to please her. There is no challenge to be found, no fun. Not a single game worth playing. No one worth her time.
She returns to New York after a week.
She goes to his flat the night she returns. It looks the same as before and even her novel, the one he gave her on Christmas, still sits beside his favourite chair. Her fingers brush against the book's cover and a smile tugs at her lips. She slides her shoes off, settles into the seat, and opens her copy of The Way We Live Now.
He returns within the hour. The door shuts behind him and the tapping of his shoes only stops when he reaches the sitting room. She feels his eyes on her, but waits until she's completed the chapter before she marks her place, and closes the book. She lifts her head and his eyes immediately catch hers, and they fall into a standoff.
A moment; an hour; a lifetime passes between them, but neither breaks their gaze. They stay there, eyes locked, reading each other. Eventually she smiles; it's soft and brief, but she knows he sees it. He nods in return. A message passes between them, one neither of them will ever admit out loud, but both knows exists. An unspoken agreement.
He looks away first. His eyes scan the clock on the wall. After a minute he turns back to her, a small, but amused smile on his lips. "Dinner?" he asks.
She smiles back. "I'd love some."
They never celebrate birthdays or anniversaries. Honestly, she is not even sure if either of them could even date the latter. It's best to leave the sentiment to the fools, after all. Besides, they have far more important things to occupy their time: he's promoted to first violin and she receives the lead in the company's production of Carmen shortly after. Their co-workers laugh. Catherine and John, they joke, their very own star couple.
Needless to say the gossip surrounding them never fades away. Not completely, at least. But it eventually grows a bit old and some other scandal takes its place. As the months pass, the uninvited visits from her old 'friends' become rarer, and fewer and fewer bumbling chorus girls stumble to get his attention.
Eventually everyone assumes that whatever it is that they have, it's exclusive.
One time she steals his shirt while he's in the shower. It's purple and long enough to stretch down to her thighs. She even has to roll sleeves up, but she decides it will do, and slips out of the bedroom door.
She's settled onto the sofa with a cup of tea and the morning paper when he walks in. He barely makes it a step into the room before he stops. She doesn't have to look up to see the curious look on his face. After a moment or two at failing to decipher her logic, he clears his throat.
"That's my shirt."
"Brilliant deduction, Sherlock dear," she replies as she turns the page.
He glares at her before he rephrases and asks why exactly is she wearing his shirt. She shrugs and tells him that it's because she can. Besides, she adds as she puts the paper down, it looks better on her. He doesn't reply. Instead he gives her one more annoyed look before he shakes his head and tells her that she's paying for the dry cleaning.
She smirks as he walks off and spends the rest of the day walking around the flat in only his shirt.
Carmen opens shortly after Thanksgiving and instantly receives positive reviews. Critics praise her for her performance (Catherine the Great, they call her) and the director promises her another leading role.
She forces him to attend the Christmas Eve gala that year. He spends the entire time alternating between complaining like a child and insulting everyone who attempts to have a conversation with them.
They stay in on New Year's Eve, but she kisses him at midnight because she knows he hates those sorts of sentimental things.
Their lives move forward daily, normally, and-oddly enough-comfortably.
She watches him, occasionally. Most of the time, it does nothing; shows her nothing that she does not already know. But sometimes, on the rare occasions, she catches him off guard. His eyes fade away, lost in thought, and a very small but particular frown sits on his lips. The occasions are varied; sometimes when he think she's asleep, when he's in the middle of composing sad music, sometimes when they're watching the news on the television. But it is always the same look and she knows there can only be one reason for it.
He never says so, of course, and she never asks. Still, she knows. What else could it be? Who else would occupy so many of Sherlock Holmes's thoughts? This look–this sad, distant look–is something else. It is John Watson's look.
Her curiosity gets the best of her once and one day, while he is at rehearsal, she opens her laptop and types in the address to John's blog. It's been ages since her last visit but the site looks exactly the same. Save for one new entry at the top of the page, that is. Engaged, it reads.
She spends a few moments staring at the screen before she shuts it. There's more to the story, obviously, but she doesn't care. She's learned all that she wanted to know; she doesn't need to know the intricate details of his life. She's not invested in him, after all.
She does not tell Sherlock.
(But, judging by the distant look in his eyes and the frown on his lips the next time she sees him, she doubts she needs to.)
Once or twice she finds a post card or a letter from London in his flat. They don't stay much, mostly vague comments about London life and questions about how he is doing, and they are never addressed to Sherlock Holmes, but they are always signed by a girl named Molly. He sees her reading one once, but doesn't stop her. He only reminds her that she has her connections, her protection, and he has his.
She walks into his flat, one evening, while he is on his phone with Mycroft Holmes. He ends the call almost immediately, but she hears enough to know. It isn't that his brother knows he's alive that surprises her; she'd assumed as much. Sherlock talking to him, on the other hand, takes her back. He brushes it off her inquiries and ignores her curious looks. Tying up a few loose ends, he explains as he shoves his mobile into his pocket, a few things Mycroft needed to know. He doesn't elaborate, but she doesn't press the issue. She doesn't need to.
She can already tell he's lying.
Nineteen months. John Wolfe lives with her in New York City for a full nineteen months. It's the longest she's ever stayed in the same place, much less with the same person. She assumes the latter holds true for him as well, but she never bothers to ask. It does not matter. Not really.
On the twentieth month, in May of 2013, it changes.
Nothing in particular gives him away. There are no suitcases, no plane tickets lying about; even his violin sits in its usual place. Still, she sees it in his eyes when he thinks she isn't looking, in the distant tone of his voice, in his slightly tense posture. She doesn't need to be told to know he's leaving.
He doesn't offer her any sort of explanation, any reason for his sudden desire to leave, and she doesn't ask for one. She does not need it–she didn't even need the hints that have been building up for months–because she has always known this moment would come. They are not exactly the forever sort of people. They're much too clever to pretend otherwise.
Still, when he's in the kitchen preparing tea, she slips a folded photograph into his coat pocket. It's one of them at the Christmas gala; a picture someone had snapped when they weren't looking and later given to her. It's the only one she has of them together. Probably the only one that even exists. And it's a ridiculously sentimental gesture, but she leaves it with him.
When he returns to the sitting room, she takes her cup, and continues to act as if nothing has happened.
It happens in the middle of the night. He slips out of bed, while he thinks she's asleep, and gathers his clothes from the floor. She isn't asleep, of course, but she lies in bed with her eyes shut as if she is. He dresses quickly and quietly enough, but she doesn't hear the door open or the patter of his feet leave.
Instead, she feels his hand fall on hers; his fingers dance against hers and he keeps his distance from her wrist, purposefully avoiding her pulse. She doesn't dare open her eyes, even when she feels his gaze on her. After a moment, he sighs softly and his lips brush against hers. So softly and so gently, that she almost doesn't feel it.
"Goodbye, Miss Adler."
He turns after that; his feet patter away and the door creaks open. In the distance she hears the front door shut behind him. Still, she doesn't move. She lays there with her eyes shut and her breathing still.
Goodbye, Mr Holmes.
She doesn't cry. She doesn't linger around the flat or steal a sentimental memento. She simply dresses and leaves. Slips out of the flat without a second glance, and takes a cab to her flat.
The moment she opens the door opens, she spots it: a purple shirt neatly folded on the table. Sherlock's favourite purple shirt, to be exact; the one she occasionally stole from him. A soft smile tugs at her lips as her fingers brush against the cloth. There isn't a note, but she doesn't need one to understand the ridiculously sentimental gesture.
She will never wear it, she knows. It will sit in the back of her closet untouched, unworn, seemingly unnoticed. Yet she still includes it in the single bag she packs. She gathers a few other essentials and a purse filled with cash and leaves. Catherine the Great and her opera career, John Wolfe and Sherlock Holmes–she leaves it all behind, knowing she will never see any of them again.
Still, a smile tugs at her lips as she steps onto the plane. You see, she leaves everything behind, but she does not run. For the first time in longer than she can remember, Irene Adler does not run.
She moves on.
Note: This was an attempt to see if I could write a legitimate, in-character, canon-compliant Sherlock/Irene. I started shortly after the episode aired, but I started playing with the idea around the time Hounds aired.