When the dust clears, Sherlock Holmes is still standing. So is Irene Adler.

He expects this.

He does not expect the third man, impeccably clad in Dolce & Gabbana, to be standing there with them.

For all intents and purposes he had stumbled in right before it'd all gone pear-shaped, holding a takeaway bag of Vietnamese and looking almost comically out of place. But having just survived—no, participated in—an epic abandoned warehouse gun battle, he isn't even breathing hard and just looks put out.

Sherlock notes that not only is the suit designer, it's been expertly tailored. His nails and hair are well-groomed but nothing too fussy. His shoes are expensive and have been recently resoled, probably in Italy. He's obviously a professional, but Sherlock isn't quite sure of what his profession actually is: a typical businessman wouldn't be able to get the drop on a dozen armed men without breaking a sweat but an assassin wouldn't have left him and Irene still breathing after doing so. Most people in the business don't care to drop several thousand pounds on clothing they'll likely ruin, present company excluded.

The mystery man holsters his gun (which he'd drawn out of seemingly nowhere less than a minute ago), deigning to turn his back on the pair as he speaks a few quiet words into his earpiece. American, then: Sherlock had been fairly sure and now he was certain. The conversation sounds like it's escalating quickly into an argument. Sherlock can hear him getting bitched at, but not for any reason he expects.

"They were out of what you wanted; I had to get chicken instead." A pause; the man rolls his eyes. "I am not driving an extra seven miles to the other one." There is a pause as the person on the other end says something decidedly unkind. "One of these days I'm going to strip the hardware on the vents and trap you up there. I'll tell Stark he needs to build a robot to deal with the rodent problem at SHIELD."

The conversation apparently over, he straightens up and gives Sherlock and Irene a good look. He glances only briefly at the former consulting detective, which he expects considering his companion is stunning and also rather scantily clad. He stares hard at her, and not in the way she's used to. He certainly looks the type to fall prey to Irene's wiles, except his gaze never dips below Irene's chin.

"You're supposed to be dead." This statement is delivered without an ounce of surprise. She merely smirks as the man's head tilts to the side and studies Sherlock momentarily. He blinks. "And so are you, I believe."

The smile Irene flashes is all teeth. "I could have sworn the same could be said about you, Agent Coulson."

Phil shrugs. "Reports of my death are greatly exaggerated."

Irene's voice is bone-dry. "You were stabbed in the chest by a magical scepter during a massive alien invasion."

As if feeling a phantom pain, Phil rests his hand briefly over his sternum. "And that remarkable observation comes from the ghost of Miss Adler." His blue eyes dart back to Sherlock. "At least you're keeping good company. Private detectives are a little below my pay grade but I have heard of him. How is the British government doing these days?"

Crossing his arms at the gall of these two people talking about him as if he's not there, Sherlock hopes this man buggers off so he can go back to being comfortably anonymous. It's not a very good sign that people are already figuring out he's not dead when they're not even the ones looking for him. Irene looks away so he won't see her smile.

"Sherlock doesn't like it when people only know about him because he's Mycroft's brother," Irene informs Phil. Sherlock bristles at the insinuation, and he really is so adorably easy to read sometimes. "And he's still a bit of a beginner at this death faking thing."

Phil nods sagely. "A word of advice from someone who's faked his own death: when you break the news to your friends that you're still alive, you will get punched in the face. You should brace yourself for it."

Snorting, Sherlock sneers at this man's audacity. "You must have done it wrong, then. No one will be punching me in the face. They'll all be so relieved to see me again."

Ignoring the way Phil's eyes crinkle in the corners, Sherlock turns to leave. He hears the click of Irene's heels behind him as she gingerly steps around the bodies of fallen henchmen. Why she worries about getting blood on the red soles of her Louboutins, he'll never know. When he spares a glance behind him, Coulson is gone.

Ugh, Americans. So arrogant.


As Sherlock's long fingers clutch an ice pack to his throbbing cheek, he thinks back to the odd conversation he'd almost nearly deleted a year ago. He stares at the spot where John disappeared down the stairs and remembers Coulson's perceptive words. Irritation swells in him.

Mrs. Hudson kindly retrieves another ice pack after Sherlock sends the first one sailing through the open window of the flat.