She was beautiful. Dark hair that felt like silk and dark skin that seemed luminous and eyes so bright he forgot how to breathe each time he looked into them. His breath would catch and she'd laugh at him.

"Am I that interesting, Sherlock?"

And he would let out all the air he had in one sharp exhale, stepping close and touching her cheek as lightly as he could - it was smooth, so smooth, impossible and lovely and he felt unworthy, standing in front of her and touching her as she smiled at him and leaned forward to kiss him. It was those moments - those few moments they'd had - that made him appreciate how beautiful she'd been.

Her lips were always soft - plump and slightly pink and just the right temperature against his. Kissing her had been a privilege. Kissing her had been so many things that made him feel instead of observe; his mind quieted and basked in the silence, so rare and welcome.

She made him human. She had made him human.

She was brilliant. Her mind raced as fast as his, and while it had taken time for him to see this, once he did there was no denying it. She was clever and she was smart and she was everything he'd never believed could be true, wrapped up in such pretty packaging. She made him stop deducing things, and let him simply believe in things.

"You're fascinating, Ms. Adler."

And again she would laugh, every time - high and girlish and somehow it made her even more alluring. He'd kiss her then, in earnest, and she'd wrap her arms around him and pull him tight against her, whispering things he wished now that he remembered - though the cadence of her voice, the way it rose and fell and every sigh, every breath gasped in because of him - those he remembered perfectly, even when he wanted to forget. The memories of his happiest times were blades against him now, cutting into his mind every time he let it open the scarred box marked I. A.

"I know about Irene."

The words were still ringing through him, reminding him of how hollow he was. He stared at her - no, not her, because there was no other her. He stared at Watson - Watson, who was lovely when he let himself notice - which was not often - and who cared. She cared about him, despite everything she didn't know about him. He should tell Watson, should explain - she deserved that much.

"I want you to tell me about her."

He opened his mouth, stopped. Closed it. Swallowed.

"She was…"

He closed his eyes.

When he opened them, it was because he felt two arms around him. Watson. She was… hugging him. He shuddered against her.

"I'm sorry."

"Don't apologise, Watson, you've done nothing wrong."

She pulled back, eyes darting over his face. "You're upset - I caused it. So I'm sorry."

He gave her a weak smile. "You're deducing. Rather easy one, but I'll give it to you nonetheless."

She smiled back, just one side of her mouth turned up - pity was what it looked like, but Sherlock was certain that Watson here had never pitied him, for which he was more grateful than he could ever express to her. It made him want to tell her things about his life; his stubborn, disobedient heart trying to pull him along whilst his brain wrestled for control again.

"You don't have to tell me, Sherlock, it's OK."

"She was perfect."

Watson's lips pressed together, rubbing back and forth as she watched him. "Did you love her?"

Sherlock stared. "She was perfect, Watson, did you not hear me?"

"So you loved her."

Sherlock snorted. "I don't have time for love. Love complicates things - haven't you seen what I've seen, since we met? Haven't you been at the crime scenes with me - have you paid any attention at all?"

It was Watson's turn to stare now, one brow arched. "If I learned anything from Ty, it's that love doesn't care about complications - it just sneaks up and takes hold of you when you least expect it."

Sherlock's mouth snapped shut. His teeth ground together as he spoke very carefully. "Not to me it doesn't. Love is a choice - and I have chosen not to indulge in it."

Watson nodded. "Alright then. It's interesting that you believe that - because based on your reactions right now, I'd say you're wrong."

She turned and walked away, hair swinging back and forth. Sherlock waited until she'd gone, then swiped at his eyes.

Damn them all, for making him care - and damn Watson the most, for caring in return.