Note: I've already finished writing, so you can expect very regular updates. This story is made up of a series of 5 short stories about 5 times that Sherlock encountered Irene during his year and a half of tracking down Moriarty's network. Some of these stories are mutli-chapter, and there are about 10 chapters in total (I haven't broken them all up yet). I'll label how many chapters are in a part in the fashion of (1/3), (1/1), etc. so you will know when each story ends.
This story is technically a prequel to my fic adaptation of 'The Sign of the Four', which is about Sherlock's return to London after all of this happens. It's not at all necessary to have read that in order to understand this fic. But welcome to any SotF readers who are now reading this!
I love reading comments, and I reply to all of them. I consider it a chance to discuss the characters and story more and it's one of my favorite things about writing. Aussi, si tu est francophone, je parle français et tu peut laisser les commentaires en français si tu aime.
Disclaimer: These incarnations of Sherlock and Irene belong to Moffat, Gatiss, and the BBC.
Warnings: This story is rated M for heavy drug use, very dark themes of addiction and enabling, some language, and sexual content. It's intended as a mature, realistic portrayal of cocaine use, which I do not in any way condone.
1: Nothing Out of the Ordinary
The first time Irene Adler saw Sherlock Holmes lying supine and vulnerable on her bed, it was completely different than she would have ever imagined. And not at all as she had hoped.
Nighttime in Tel Aviv was a place bleary with coloured lights, thrumming with bad techno, and drenched in alcohol. Irene's flat on the tenth floor of a high rise overlooking the Mediterranean was a blissfully serene escape from that. It was a decent place, with two bedrooms and an open living and kitchen area that made it feel larger. Not quite as upscale as her flat in London had been, but then a woman who'd been rescued from certain death wasn't generally one to complain.
Still, it suited the international businessmen and cash-laden tourist clientèle well enough. Getting back to her old work was risky, but it had only taken a few months of attempting to work at a shop before she'd nearly gone completely mad. She'd taken the utmost precautions in hiding her true identity and screening her clients so as to avoid running into anyone who might know her or of her. This had led to a rule of absolutely no government officials: no Knesset members, no Mossad. But wealthy young IDF men bankrolled by their fathers were strangely common. Irene wasn't nearly as busy or well off as she had been, but she was alive and making do.
She'd even allowed herself to relax after a while, to enjoy herself again once the constant fear of capture by an old enemy had subsided. Irene was sitting on her balcony one evening, literally letting her hair down, dressed in a comfortable robe, and sipping on a mojito when-
BANG BANG BANG!
Her door shook with the impacts that couldn't exactly be described as knocking. Irene practically leapt out of her deck chair, her adrenaline immediately beginning to pound in surprise. She felt a stab of dread. If it were the police, she might be able to charm her way out of it. If it were a higher agency or a slew of other people who might want her dead or captured, she would stand little chance.
Setting her drink down on her dresser, she reached into a drawer and pulled out a small handgun from a false compartment at the back. Irene cocked the hammer back as she slowly inched her way out of her bedroom and across the wooden floor towards the front door.
BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG!
Her pace must have been too slow for whomever was on the other side. "Open the door!" An impatient voice shouted from the other side. British accent, she noted, and her pulse jumped even higher as her mind ran through the list of people from her past it might be. None of them were good. Except-
"Irene, I know how you enjoy toying with people but for the love of God, just this once, hurry up!" the baritone voice on the other side of the door hissed in annoyance.
Except him. Everything in Irene relaxed. She took a moment to set the gun safely on the wet bar before unlocking the door.
Sherlock Holmes didn't wait for her to actually open it herself, instead pushing the door open and nearly knocking her over as soon as he'd heard the click of the lock. The instant he was inside, he slammed the door behind him and secured the two deadbolts and the extra latch at the top. He leaned his head against the door, closing his eyes in apparent exhausted relief.
It had been six months since Irene had seen him. Six months since he'd shown up here, alive (contrary to what BBC Online said), and demanding information on the contacts she knew in Jim Moriarty's network. She'd provided them without hassle. She figured it was the least she could do since she owed him her life after his extraordinary rescue in Kabul. Sherlock hadn't even really thrown her previous alliance with Moriarty in her face. They'd seemed to have reached a sort of truce, though things between them hadn't exactly been relaxed. There was an unacknowledged undercurrent there that both of them seemed happy to suppress. Sherlock had remained terse, professional, and distant throughout the brief encounter, then had taken off. Irene had never expected to see him again. She wasn't sure anyone would, given the danger of what he was off to do.
But now here he stood. Or, more precisely, slumped, as he seemed unable to stand fully upright. Irene had just now got a good look at him, and was instantly taken aback. Every other time she'd seen Sherlock Holmes, he'd been fastidiously well put-together: designer suits, polished shoes, even his messy waves of hair seeming intentional and fashionable. He'd been that way even in Kabul, under the robes anyway. So she was shocked to see him now in a grey t-shirt, a pair of dark blue scrub pants, and black trainers. He leaned against the door with his bruised left arm, and in his other scraped hand was a large plastic bag with an emblem she recognized as that of the nearby Ichilov Hospital.
Sherlock took a deep breath as he turned to face Irene. "I don't think I was followed, but you can never be too careful when you're supposed to be dead," he said. Then he half-heartedly raised an eyebrow at her. "Well, you should know."
The new angle of his face gave her a view of a large contusion on the left side of his head, mostly over his bloodied ear, but reaching all the way out to the edge of his left eye, which was half swollen shut. A glance down proved her suspicion right that he wasn't putting much weight on his left leg. His whole manner and tone belied exhaustion and extreme pain.
Most people would have gasped in horror or worry. Irene remained cool. "Being chased down by emergency department staff?" she asked with a hint of chastisement, as if such a silly thing were beneath him.
Sherlock apparently didn't have the energy to have a sense of humour at the moment. He pursed his lips. "Of course not," he replied. "There are one or two other people I wouldn't like to be seen by. Bad enough getting stuck in the hospital. Stupid," he spat, clearly disgusted. "I'd have refused to go had I been conscious."
"Since you were unconscious, mightn't you have needed to go?" Irene ventured. "Well, come sit down before you're that way again," she chided, leading the way into the open living room and kitchen. She might not be the warmest person, but she wasn't actually deliberately cruel to people. Well, unless they paid her to be. And all right, sometimes when she was toying with some deliciously interesting subject. But as tempting as Sherlock was on that front, he hardly seemed in shape to be played with at the moment.
As Irene sat down on the couch, Sherlock limped his way over and lowered himself gingerly into one of the high-backed chairs opposite her. She noted him wincing and saw his side abdominal muscles contract. Cracked ribs, perhaps? Once they were both seated, she raised an eyebrow at him in question.
"Car accident," he answered. "Well, he was in a car. I was on foot."
"And was it actually an accident?" she asked.
"No," he replied.
"So, things are going that well?" she drawled with a note of humour.
Again, he seemed to see nothing worth making a mockery of. Instead, he gave her a steady, calculating stare. A classic Sherlock stare, which always slightly thrilled her. She wondered what he might surmise this time. He seemed to be mulling something over carefully.
Irene was shocked when instead of launching into an analysis, Sherlock said, "I need to stay here tonight. Possibly through tomorrow evening."
It was her turn to stare him down. She had once borrowed his bed without asking when she'd been in a somewhat similar situation. Still, she'd paid him back for that and all the rest with the information she'd given him about Moriarty's network. That was worth its weight in gold, and it could possibly be traced back to her, revealing her to be alive and getting her killed in the process. He knew that. If she let him in now, it would put him in debt to her, yes. And she did value people being indebted to her, though blackmail was no longer her stock and trade. Still, there was an unspoken tension between Sherlock and Irene that, while sometimes delectable, made Irene wary of exposure. It seemed dangerous to let her guard down with him, to treat him simply as an old friend. She wasn't sure what Sherlock was, but he wasn't that.
"I told you last time you were here," she reminded him, "that we were even. And you agreed. Besides which, I have a client in the morning. I can't afford to cancel business to keep you hidden."
Sherlock considered her for a moment, the mildest of surprise showing in his one open eye. "Fine," he said, and opened the hospital bag. He pulled out a green cargo jacket (with, she noted, a splatter of blood on the left side) and opened a disguised pocket on the inside. Sherlock pulled out a wad of shekel notes. He took three 500 shekel bills off the top, and set them on the coffee table between them. "There," he said, "that's nearly £250. Which I'll wager is more than what your client was going to pay you tomorrow." It wouldn't have been back in the London days, but here he was certainly right about that. Nearly double. Irene nodded cautiously and Sherlock said, "Well, then. Consider me your client."
Irene studied him guardedly, unsure exactly what he meant. Still, trying to maintain a professional persona, she took the money off the table and tucked it in the pocket of her robe. "What do you want?" she asked.
"Isn't that normally your job? To figure out what someone likes?" Sherlock challenged.
Irene's pulse quickened slightly. But he couldn't really mean... not that the notion of tying Sherlock Holmes down and making him beg for mercy twice wasn't appealing. In spite of the fact that she's been supposedly exaggerating to manipulate him when she'd said that, it had certainly conjured up a vivid and exciting image in her own mind. But it was precisely because she actually desired it that the idea made her nervous. She was in the business of catering to clients' fantasies, not her own. It was a line no professional dominatrix should cross.
Her surprise and reservation must have been evident, because Sherlock scowled. "Oh, don't look so appalled. It isn't like that." Irene felt equal parts relieved and disappointed. Sherlock eyed her carefully. "I don't need you to do anything at all, exactly. But I need someone to watch me."
"To watch you... Because of a concussion?" she asked hopefully.
"What? No, that was mild anyhow." Sherlock seemed frustrated and even disappointed at her inability to guess what he meant. He was right, it was her job, and normally she was quite good at it. But Sherlock was a puzzle all his own. The detective sat forward a little. "What happened tonight, the man I was after hitting me with his car, that's been happening more and more often."
"People hitting you with their cars?" she asked, somehow not finding that impossible.
"My targets realising I'm following them," Sherlock replied stonily, not amused. He ran a hand aggressively through his hair. "If they actually recognise me, find out I'm alive before I manage to get them imprisoned in some godforsaken place where they'll never be heard from or before I can," he faltered a little, "get rid of them another way... then all of it will be for nothing. John, Mrs. Hudson, Lestrade... none of them will be safe anymore."
Ah, now she could picture the evening's events more clearly. But that still left the question of why he was here. "So your solution is to hide here?"
"No," he replied. "That's a very temporary solution to the immediate problem. The larger problem is my inability to focus properly. I'm used to talking aloud, which you can't do if you're avoiding drawing attention to yourself. I've been operating in places I don't know as well. Cultures I'm not nearly as familiar with, often in languages that aren't my native tongue. And I've been slipping," Sherlock admitted. He started rubbing both temples with his fingers. "I need to be able to think faster, more clearly. To feel both at ease in general and alert on specific matters. I need something to help me..." he trailed off, seemingly unwilling to actually say it.
But, as if a switch had suddenly been thrown in her head, Irene realised she didn't need him to. She knew precisely what he meant, and it stopped her cold. Jim Moriarty had given her a lot of information on Sherlock when she'd been manipulating him. He'd particularly elaborated on Sherlock's 'girlfriend Charlie', as he'd called it. However, she'd never tried to use the drugs against Sherlock. It was one thing to toy with a man's emotions; it was another to toy with his life. Irene shuddered internally with distaste, but outwardly managed to somehow maintain her professional aura. "I take it you brought some with you?" she asked.
Sherlock glanced up at her, looking apprehensive for a second, as if expecting judgment. When he saw only her carefully placed mask, he relaxed a little and nodded. "I bought some between the hospital and here. It's easy, really, when you know what sorts of people to look for..." He sounded a little chagrined. Looking away, he leaned down and picked up the hospital bag again. This time, he pulled out a box of surgical gloves. Irene was confused for a moment until he reached inside, past the gloves on top, and pulled out a few capped syringes, alcohol wipes, and some cotton wool, setting them on the table. Then he reached back in and pulled out a series of medical vials, followed finally by a nondescript little wad of tin foil.
Steepling his hands against his face, Sherlock said, "I brought a few of these things purely for precautionary reasons."
"How long has it been since you used?" Irene asked, working hard to suppress the bile rising in her throat as she did.
"Bit over two years," Sherlock replied, and Irene remembered that he'd just got out of rehab not long before he'd met John. It was a long stretch of sobriety as far as IV drug users went, and that seemed to make him waver for just a moment. Then he became insistent again. "Part of why I need you to watch me, to be my minder. I'm sure nothing will go wrong, but it has been a while and it's safest to do it this way. I need to test it, to reacclimate before I use it in the field."
She wanted to scoff at the notion of the 'safest' way to inject cocaine into your body, but again bit her tongue. She really needed to get her discomfort under control. That was unusual for her. He was just a client, she reminded herself. And not that she'd ever actually watched a client shoot up, but certainly a number of them came to her in various states of intoxication. She wasn't one to judge in general. So why should this case be any different? What business of her was it what Sherlock did to himself?
Steeling herself, Irene nodded at the vials. "All right, what are those for?"
If she sounded impressively clinical about it, he sounded disturbingly so as he tapped each vial in turn and described them. "Sodium bicarbonate if my heart rhythm becomes too elevated or irregular. That's due to acidosis, and this will lower my blood pH and should restore normal sinus rhythm. This one's Ativan, in case of a seizure."
"And do those things happen often?" Irene asked, sounding merely curious in the face of being told she might have to inject him with these things.
"No, very rarely. Only a seizure once. But it's best to be prepared. I'm sure nothing out of the ordinary will happen," Sherlock mused.
His definition of 'the ordinary' gave Irene another unwanted pang and sent a chill down her spine. But she nodded and said, "Right, then. So I take it that," she indicated the little wad of foil, "is the cocaine?"
Sherlock halted, his breath wavering unevenly for a second. Irene realised it was the first time anyone had actually said the word, and it seemed to have shattered Sherlock's attempt at maintaining a scientific, impartial perspective on the matter. Clearly he'd come to the decision to relapse in a very disinterested manner, his usual objective decision making process working out the pros and cons. But deep down she knew it couldn't really be that simple for him to give up his hard won sobriety. She saw his eyes flick to the drug, a flash of uncertainty crossing his features. Then his lips thinned into a determined line. He looked back at her. "Yes," he said. "I'll need a spoon. And some water, as clean as you have."
"I'll get them." In truth, Irene was glad for the chance to get up and turn her back on him as she walked to the kitchen. Professionalism or no, this whole situation was making the air heavy and, ironically, quite sober. As she took a bottle of spring water from the fridge and a spoon from the drawer, she worked hard at not thinking about what they were for. She walked back and handed them to Sherlock, who set them down on the table without a word. Irene sat back down and watched him quietly.
She saw that Sherlock had already unwrapped the foil to reveal a small amount of clumped white powder. He took on the concentrated look of a scientist in a lab, looking only at his implements, as he grabbed the spoon and began using it to crush the clumps up, dicing at them until it was all fine grained. Then he set that down and removed the cap from one of the syringes, setting both aside carefully. He unscrewed the cap from the water and raised the spoon once more, pouring a small quantity of water into it. The hand holding the spoon remained level as he reached down and pinched up what looked like a precisely calculated quantity of cocaine. Not like a scientist measuring it out carefully; more like a chef working at a familiar recipe of his own invention. This he sprinkled into the spoon, then took the needle and began swirling it around in the solution, watching as the powder dissolved. Sherlock pinched a tiny amount of cotton off the roll of cotton wool and dropped it in the solution. Then he carefully set the spoon down on the table. Finally, he put the end of the needle on the now soaked cotton and pulled back the plunger, drawing the cocaine solution into the syringe.
Sherlock paused, staring at the needle in his hand for a moment, the results of his careful work. And again, Irene could see the lapse in his resolve. But it only lasted a second before he quickly replaced the cap on the now full syringe and set it aside. Looking up at her finally, he said, "I need a place to lie down."
"You can use my bed," Irene replied without thinking. The couch was too small, and there was another bedroom that she always used for business, but hers was more comfortable. Sherlock didn't need to know that she never, ever let clients in there. "It's this way," she said, standing up.
Before she could lead the way, Sherlock handed her the medication vials and extra syringes. "Just in case," he reminded her, his hands lingering on hers just a moment. Then he grabbed his own needle, some alcohol swabs, and finally reached into his bag and pulled out a belt.
Irene stared at him. He met her eye, only able to look at her a second before ducking his head. She was used to spotting a man's shame and exploiting it. In this case, she didn't want to. She turned and quietly led the way into her warmly coloured, low lit bedroom. She sat in the chair in the corner, the one she lounged around and read in when the weather was bad, which wasn't often here. Irene was suddenly very aware of her own breathing as Sherlock entered the deathly silent room.
Sherlock's eyes continued to avoid her as he sat down on the bed. He kicked his trainers off and let them fall to the floor before scooting up the bed. Again, he winced and leaned towards his left side to alleviate the pain in his ribs, and Irene realised he might be seeking an anaesthetic benefit to the cocaine in additional to its use for brain work. After six months of being dead to everyone back in London, combined with the stomach-churning work he'd been doing in the interim, there were all sorts of other, more personal reasons he might have turned back to the needle. Which is absolutely none of your concern, Irene reminded herself sharply.
Shifting until he seemed more comfortable, Sherlock looped the belt around his bruised left arm and pulled it tight. Irene watched, unable to look away from the practiced movements. All of this felt unreal. She felt as if she'd entered some bizarre alternate universe, or a fugue state. As if she were the one who was high. Sherlock flexed his hand a few times, then ripped an alcohol swab open with his teeth and cleaned his inner elbow. He made a fist with his left hand, and with a practiced right hand uncapped, raised, and flicked the side of the needle to draw a small spurt of liquid. Sherlock stayed that way, staring at the needle, for a long, heavy moment. She could see a thousand troubled thoughts running through his brain. His hands didn't tremble, but his jaw did.
Irene's heart was in her throat, hammering painfully. It shouldn't matter what Sherlock did. He was a grown man. But she was suddenly angry at him for making her do this, making her watch all of this. But then, the logical side of her reasoned, wasn't it safer for him to do this here than somewhere on his own? Just this once, to be supervised? And why shouldn't she be as neutral a party as a random stranger? He was her client, not her friend, not her anything else. This is what he was paying her for.
You know what he likes. The realisation clanged in her head like a bell. Normally finding out someone's deepest desire was the greatest pleasure in her work. This time, it made her stomach churn.
In one smooth movement, Sherlock unclenched his fist, loosened the belt on his arm, and deftly sunk the needle into a vein. Irene felt her own breathing stop as he pushed the plunger in a little, then withdrew some blood. Then he depressed the plunger slowly, so slowly Irene felt as if time had stopped. When he pulled the needle out, he had the momentary presence of mind to replace the cap and vaguely rolled it aside on the bed. Then he inhaled a sharp, shuddering breath and fell back onto her pillow. All of his muscles seemed to tense up, a sweat broke out on his forehead, and his breathing was rapid and uneven. For a few panicked moments, Irene wondered if he might be seizing.
Then his muscles relaxed as he breathed out a long, ragged, nearly orgasmic, "Oh fuck."
Irene didn't think she'd heard him swear like that before. But then, she'd never seen him mainline cocaine before. Irene had thought, yes, she'd admit, even fantasised, about seeing Sherlock Holmes undone, hearing a moan of ecstasy like that from him. Now here he lay, shuddering, vulnerable, muttering incoherently as the sweat began to drip down his face. Irene had longed to get him in such a position. But not like this. "Sherlock," she started hesitantly, "are you all right?"
"All right?" he asked, his voice sounding distant. He paused for a good thirty seconds, lost somewhere in his mind, before he finished. "I'm fantastic." He sat up quickly, and swung his legs over the side of the bed, not even flinching at the torquing movement to his cracked ribs. "This is precisely what I need." He got up, turning to face her as she stood as well. His pupils were already blown wide open, his gaze a bit unfocused. Then it looked like something dawned on him, and he pushed past her, limping quickly back into the living room. Feeling utterly helpless, Irene followed him.
Sherlock was crouched down, digging through his bag. He pulled out a few papers, a map, and a pen and sat down on the couch. Immediately, he began scribbling, scratching through words, sketching up God knew what. "I'd forgotten," he said ruefully, "just how amazingly focused and energetic... the clarity, it's like sun through a magnifying glass." His hands were shaking, but she was sure he didn't notice. Couldn't notice. Something inside her grew knotted and cold.
Irene just stood there for a good ten minutes as Sherlock mumbled to himself and worked out whatever it was that was barrelling through his mind. It was apparent to her that he wasn't about to have a heart attack or seizure or anything else she was meant to watch out for. But what else was she going to do, go to bed? She sank down into a chair and listened to Sherlock rambling at light-speed, his brain seemingly burning up in his skull, for a good half an hour.
When the crash hit him, she could barely get him to walk back into the room and lie down in bed. His skin was cold and slick with sweat. He flopped back onto the bed and groaned. "Cold," he muttered, his voice dry and parched, maybe from the drugs, maybe from having spoken non-stop for thirty minutes. It would be impossible to get him under the covers, she realized. Instead she grabbed an extra blanket from the closet and tossed it over him. He didn't bother to adjust it, or move at all. "Too bright," he moaned angrily. The lights were all off but the curtains were open, letting the moonlight spill in. Sherlock covered his face with his hands, rubbing his eye sockets deeply. She feared he was going to make his swollen left eye even worse. But she didn't dare say anything.
Sherlock finally rolled over slowly, away from the window, not even caring that he'd wound up on his bad left side. His breathing was shallow, but she knew he wasn't asleep. Irene doubted whether he'd be able to sleep at all. She walked over to the window and drew the curtains anyway. Then she took a seat in her chair, quite literally watching his back as he lay there, a shuddering shadow of the man she knew.
The next morning, when Irene awoke, her neck cramped from having fallen asleep in her reading chair, Sherlock Holmes and all of his implements were gone.