Synopsis: Sherlock is shot while rescuing Irene Adler in Karachi. Fighting to stay alive, they seek shelter in a safe house, and Irene must help the consulting detective who needs help from no one.
This is Not a Safe House
Beneath the black fabric that smelled of blood and gunpowder, sweat dripped between her breasts, yet she felt frozen. She was afraid but safe, because of him, the stupid, stupid man. She felt safe, even though they were in a stolen vehicle—even though they drove through the backstreets of Karachi, Pakistan, unable to seek shelter at the British Embassy, because she was supposed to be dead and he was in the country with a fake ID.
She screamed when he almost hit a pedestrian, but he turned the wheel just in time. Under normal circumstances, Irene Adler would not scream. However, these were not normal circumstances. Ten minutes earlier, she was prepared to die. Then, the sound of his voice. How many men had he killed for her? Five? Six? With nothing more than a machete and well-handled gun—which made her wonder if Sherlock Holmes had killed before.
Perhaps that was why she did not reach for him. Not only would he pull away from her caress, but she was, for the first time since they met, scared of the consulting detective.
He, too, wore a black robe, his hair covered by a heavy hood. She could see only his eyes from beneath the fabric that covered his face, and his eyes were not amused. His look was not playful or mischievous. His eyes were like steel, so she stared out the window and watched dark buildings pass like shadowed mausoleums.
"Where are we going?" She sounded forceful, strong, unwilling to reveal her weakness.
"A safe house."
"Why are you doing this?"
"Don't ask stupid questions, or I'll regret my decision."
She wished he would remove the fabric from his face. She needed to see his mouth. Did he smirk, at least, with that last comment, or was he serious? She did not take her eyes off him, which was perhaps why she noticed his breath shake on a rather loud exhale.
"Mr. Holmes …"
"Please refrain from speaking until we reach our destination. You're only acting as a distraction, and I have no time for distractions right now."
Usually, she would have snapped at him, made a joke about how distracting she could be—how men usually enjoyed her distractions. She didn't feel up to it.
When he turned suddenly left, her hip jammed against the car door. She winced, but she knew the bruise would only add to all the others accumulated during her time of imprisonment. Then, Sherlock put the car in park and jumped out. She assumed she was to follow.
"Here?" She looked up at a stacked tenement building with laundry hanging from balconies and the sound of a radio playing the Beach Boys.
"No. A block up." He nodded and started walking. She had to practically run to keep up. "If they find the car …"
"They'll think we're hiding with someone in the apartments."
"Hopefully. Try to cover your face."
"There's no one—"
"Cover your face, Ms. Adler."
She pulled fabric over her mouth and continued to run alongside her protector, who she was still surprised to see. Irene had never hurt someone as much as she hurt Sherlock Holmes; yet, he issued her death warrant, didn't he? Perhaps they were equal in their betrayals. And although she did not hate him—she couldn't hate him—she wondered if he hated her. Yet, if so, why was he there? Why did he save her life?
He rushed down an alley the size of a broom closet. She heard the metallic sound of keys and smelled rotting garbage. Then, the door opened, and she felt his hand in the darkness, pushing her inside. It wasn't much: a bed with the approximation of clean sheets; a desk, covered in Sherlock's belongings; a duffel bag on the floor; and a darkened bathroom to her right.
"Cozy," she joked.
He stepped past her and removed the hood and fabric from his face. Finally, she could see him, and she was surprised to find him sweating and paler than usual. His tall form leaned against the wall, and she noticed blood on his neck—probably nothing more than spatter from earlier.
"Whiskey," he said.
"There's whiskey in my bag." He nodded at the black duffel on the floor.
Irene had never once seen Sherlock drink, so she stepped toward him. "Mr. Holmes." The closer she got, the better she could hear his breath—labored, strained. She put her hand on his cheek and found him cold. "What's wrong?"
"The whiskey …" His upper torso tilted forward. She caught him with her hands on his shoulders, which made him shout.
She noticed her left hand felt wet, and when he found the strength to stand straight again, her palm was covered in blood. She looked up at him, terrified.
"Hazard of the job," he whispered.
"Oh, my God." She put her arm around him and easily pushed him onto the bed. She straddled his waist and untied the black cloak he wore as a disguise. Beneath, he wore a white dress shirt. However, Irene felt light-headed when she saw the amount of red that now stained his entire shoulder and chest. She untucked his shirt from his black pants and tore the fabric; buttons flew. Finally, after a year of fantasy, Irene Adler touched the bare skin of Mr. Sherlock Holmes, and yet, there was nothing sexual about it. She pushed the fabric away from his shoulder wound and recognized, as she expected, a bullet hole in his faultless flesh.
Irene stood up suddenly. "We need a doctor."
His eyes didn't look at her; they stared at the ceiling. "We can't have a doctor, Ms. Adler. Whiskey. And there's a first aid kit."
She shook her head. "I can't—"
"Don't make me believe you've never dealt with a bullet wound before." He leaned up on his left elbow and stared at her. "Now, please, calm down and save my life."
His glare gave her the power to move, at least, and she dug through his belongings until she found both the bottle and the rather sizeable first aid kit. She wondered if he'd expected at least one of them to be injured. She returned to him on the bed and noticed he breathed deeply—probably trying to manage the pain.
He was right; this was not her first bullet wound. The difference was him. Although she was a dominatrix—although she'd fantasized about Sherlock and causing pleasure through pain—this was different. This washis life. She opened the bottle of whiskey and set it on the table by the side of the bed.
"Can you sit up?"
He sat up in response.
She removed the remainder of the cloak and his ruined dress shirt. The back of his shoulder was mangled, but at least the bullet was not lodged somewhere in his body. At least the wound would be easy to clean and close, albeit painful.
"For goodness sake," she hissed. "Under these circumstances, call me Irene." She reached for the bottle on the nightstand, but before she could douse his wounds, his hand grabbed the whiskey from her, and Sherlock took a gulp that would have put a horse on its back. She moved to his side when he returned the bottle to her hand, and he obeyed when she told him to lie down. "Are you ready?"
He unlatched his belt and lifted his hips to pull the leather free from belt loops. She watched him fold the belt once, twice, then insert the leather between his teeth. Then, he nodded.
She poured whiskey over his wound. His face melted into wrinkles, and he groaned around the leather in his mouth. His body bucked, and she found it necessary to put her knee in the center of his chest to keep him from escaping the cleaning heat of pure alcohol.
It was a comfort when he lost consciousness. Irene may have fantasized about inflicting pain on the incomparable Sherlock Holmes. She had dreamt of whips and chains, his naked body powerless beneath her touch. But not like this.
It took well over an hour before the wound was clean, sewn shut, and bandaged. By then, Sherlock's hair was soaked in sweat; the pale pallor of his skin looked almost blue beneath the cheap bulb in the overhead light. She found a frayed towel in the bathroom. She soaked it in the sink and returned to Sherlock.
She cleaned the old blood from his torso and neck. She used the fabric of her own cloak to wipe the sweat from his forehead. She did her best to move his limp body away from the area of the mattress soaked in blood. She moved him against the wall, where the sheets were still clean and dry.
Finally, she removed her death shroud. Beneath, she wore nothing but a thin, white slip. She longed for a shower—longed to feel clean—but she was terrified of leaving him alone. Careful to avoid the pool of his blood, she curled up at the top of the bed and leaned her tired head against the wall. She watched him sleep, had seen the phenomenon before, far away in London, but that seemed long ago.
He looked different when he slept, defenseless, especially in the safe house, bandaged and half naked, within her reach. How many times had she pictured this moment—alone in a room with a naked, pliable Sherlock Holmes? Yet, sex was the last thing on her mind, as slowly, her eyes grew heavy and her body gave in to the exhaustion of near death, rescue, and the echo of Sherlock's screams.
She woke to the sound of a deep moan. Still half immersed in dream, her imagination wove a romance in which Sherlock was at her side. They were in her bedroom in London. They were lovers. She reached her hand out to find his warm chest, but the sensation of falling ripped her from fantasy.
Her eyes snapped open, and she caught herself before she tumbled on top of the still motionless consulting detective. She sucked breath into her lungs. The room smelled of sweat and alcohol. A weak ray of sunlight penetrated the heavy curtain that covered the single, small window in the back of the dreary safe house room.
No, she was not in London but in Pakistan. No, they were not lovers … but were they enemies?
She looked to the lanky, prone form on the edge of the bed. He still slept, but blood had soaked the once-clean bandage. She forced herself to stand, sore from sleeping sitting up against the cold wall. She pulled more gauze from Sherlock's well-prepared first aid kit, and when she returned to the bed, she found him awake, bright eyes watching her.
"You haven't washed," he said.
She glanced at the gauze in her hand. "I need to give you a new bandage."
He sat up. She noticed his face changed. His eyes closed; his jaw clenched. He was obviously in pain, but he opened his eyes and focused on the wall across from the foot of the bed. She imagined he took his brilliant mind elsewhere, far away, to escape the wound in his shoulder.
She kneeled next to him and removed the old bindings. She'd done a good job of mending his wound, so it was easy to use a small alcohol swab to clean the area before applying new bandages.
She nodded, although she doubted he noticed. He still stared at the wall. He still pulled long, deep breaths into his lungs.
"I'm sure you would enjoy a shower." He stood up and almost immediately fell over.
She jumped to his aid and supported him with a hand to his lower back.
"You're not fine. You need to rest."
He pulled away from her touch. "We don't have time." He took a step but paused, his hand on the back of the desk chair. She stared at his muscular bare back, but three beats later, he rushed to the bathroom and slammed the door behind him. Through cheap wood, she heard him throw up, followed by a violent fit of coughing and a flushed toilet.
She didn't knock before opening the door.
She found him sitting on the floor. "I'm fine," he said. One arm was draped over the toilet. His head leaned back on the bathtub, eyes shut.
"Will you stop saying that? You're not fine. No one is fine in this room. This is the most wrongly named safe house in the history of safe houses."
He lifted his head and glared at her.
She kneeled in front of him. "Water. Food. Where?"
"You're not going out."
"Yes, I am. You can barely walk, and I won't have you vomiting on street corners. I'll put on the robe and hood from last night. No one will recognize me."
"You're. Not. Going out."
"Try and stop me," she said and stood up. As she dressed in the outer room, she heard him shuffle around in the bathroom. By the time she was ready to step outside, he stood in front of her exit, the color of a bullfrog. "Really?" she muttered.
"I have a man. He'll bring food and water."
"How fast? You need both now."
His eyes darted to the desk and a pile of discarded clothing. She followed his gaze and noticed his cellular phone sticking out of what looked like a pants pocket.
"Do you need your phone?"
He cleared his throat, and she realized the problem.
"Oh, for heaven's sake, ask me for help."
"Ms. Adler. Would you accompany me to the desk?"
She stomped to where he leaned on the doorframe. She lifted his left arm over her shoulder and wrapped her right hand around his bare lower back. "Come on then." The walk was slow and unsteady, considering he was at least six inches taller than her and liable to puke or pass out at a moment's notice. Instead of the desk, she sat him down on the bed and handed him his cellular phone.
He spoke a language she didn't recognize, and she found it amazing that he could sound so forceful even though he could barely stand. "Twenty minutes," he said when he hung up the phone.
"Good. Time for us to shower." She removed the black robe and tossed it far away in the corner.
"We both need a shower, and you can't do it on your own." She extended her hand to him. "Come on."
His brows were so low, she could barely see his eyes, yet he stood up, didn't take her hand, and stepped carefully past her toward the bathroom. When she arrived, his hands clutched to the dusty sink, and he looked like he was trying not to be sick.
"Would you just let me help you?"
He leaned his back against the wall and seemed to find comfort in the cold, painted plaster. "I'm not good at being helped."
She reached for the button on his pants and was actually surprised he didn't bat her hand away. As she reached for his zipper, she chuckled.
"What?" His eyes were still closed.
"I've pictured doing this to you a million times, but it's usually followed by sex. Not you vomiting into a toilet."
This time, his eyes did open, but he didn't look at her. He stared at the shower curtain and seemed to meditate on her words.
"No hidden meaning, Mr. Holmes. That comment was quite literal," she said as his pants hit the floor. When she reached for his underwear, he finally did smack her hand aside. She didn't stare but she noticed he was naked as he climbed into the shower and got the water running. Irene pushed the straps of her slip from her shoulders, and soon, the silk fabric joined Sherlock's pants on the aged tile floor.
She climbed in the small shower and found him leaning against the wall behind the shower head. Water pushed his hair onto his forehead and ran down his face like rain.
"Careful not to get the bandages wet," she said, pulling his right shoulder out of harm's way.
She was disappointed he had no come-back, because at least a pithy retort would have taken her mind off the very naked, very attractive man within arm's reach.
"Turn around," she said. A bottle of what she assumed was shampoo sat on the edge of the tub. She squeezed a dime-sized dollop onto the palm of her hand and rubbed her hands together before attacking his thick hair with her fingers. She had to stand on tip-toe to reach the top of his head, and her nipples grazed his bare back. The fact that he even allowed her to touch him like this made her think he might be asleep on his feet.
"Thought you would have batted me away by now."
He didn't speak, which made her uncomfortable—Irene Adler, uncomfortable: one for the books. She found a bar of soap and considered handing it to him. However, she realized he was not fighting her. He was not cowering behind attitude and intellect. He was Sherlock Holmes with his walls down, and she decided to take advantage. She rubbed soap all over her hands and touched his back first. His body was hard, all taut, tense muscle, which was exactly what she expected. She expected his body to feel this way, yes, but she couldn't believe she was actually feeling it.
Irene washed him from head to toe, and she found it strange that she did not feel aroused. Since the first time she saw him, dressed as a priest of all things, she had wanted him—wanted to leave marks on his pale skin like an explorer planting flags on a mountain. She had wanted to be his first, "The Virgin" no longer, and yet, here they were, naked in a shower, and she didn't dare make a move. He was malleable in her hands, completely unaware of his own weakness and vulnerability, yet Irene did not want sex. Instead of wrapping him in rope, she wanted to wrap him in her arms.
She pulled her hands away at the thought and told him to rinse with another reminder: "Careful of the bandage, Mr. Holmes."
He rinsed and exited the shower without a word, allowing her space and time to wash her own body—sore and bruised and covered in days' worth of filth. She noticed the water around her feet was brown. When she turned off the faucet, the bathroom was empty, and she heard voices in the main room of the safe house: the obvious low timbre of Sherlock's voice and another man, who spoke in a rapid, Middle Eastern dialect.
She dried quickly but waited to exit the bathroom until the stranger was gone. By the time she stepped out, Sherlock was already dressed in dark jeans; a slim, blue button-down shirt; and bare feet. She'd never seen him in anything but dress pants before.
"Food. Water." He nodded to the desk, where a paper bag overflowed with fresh fruit and what appeared to be thick, brown bread stuffed with red meat and vegetables. Beside the food were several bottles of water.
"Well, why are you sitting there? You're the one who needs to eat."
He pushed buttons on his phone. "I'm feeling considerably better."
She grabbed his chin and forced him to look at her. "Eat. You idiot."
He stood up, and she had to tilt her head back to look up at him. She wasn't at all prepared when he took hold of the back of her head and brought his mouth down to her lips. His kiss was not virginal. His kiss was not inexperienced. She realized it was no wonder he didn't want food; he was hungry for her. She dropped her towel and moaned up into his mouth. She wrapped her arms around his shoulders, which made him shout and pull his mouth away. Too late, she realized she had just possibly torn the stitches on his bullet wound.
"No." He looked down at the floor. "It's my fault." He stepped past her, and as she reached for her towel, she heard him pull food from the paper bag.
"Do you have any …" She was distracted, the taste of him still on her lips. "Do you have any extra clothes?"
He nodded, and behind her, a full-body, navy blue robe and Muslim "hijab" awaited her.
"Couldn't find anything more modern?"
"A white man can go unnoticed on the streets of Karachi. A white woman cannot."
She dropped her towel on the bed and realized … "Didn't bring any undergarments, Mr. Holmes?" She stood naked with her hands on her hips as he followed a bite of food with a gulp of water.
"Not really my area," he replied.
Irene had a dozen retorts to that, but her mind was interrupted by the sound of shouting outside the safe house door. She pulled the discarded towel back around her body, and before she had time to turn around, Sherlock was already planted with his back against the front wall, gun in hand. He made eye contact and held one finger to his lips: a symbol of silence.
Irene didn't breathe. She didn't swallow. She stood, motionless. The voices beyond their door were angry. Feet in heavy boots ran in all directions. The terrorists were close, and no longer was she scared of losing her own life. The unfamiliar panic in her chest was in regards to Sherlock, who was there of his own free will—there to save her. She would never forgive herself if something happened to him. Strange to realize, considering months earlier, she'd willfully broken his heart. If he had one to break at all.
Shouting continued, and Sherlock must have understood the words since his forehead wrinkled and she noticed his left eye twitched. She wondered what was being said, not that it mattered; the anger was evident, the frustration apparent. They looked for her and her sidekick assassin. Irene stared at Sherlock, memorized him, and realized if he was the last thing she saw before her death, she would die in peace.
However, the voices soon moved away. The running feet ran in opposite directions. Sherlock exhaled and checked the gun's safety before returning to the desk. As he passed, he said, "Eat something. We're leaving in an hour."
Irene knew what that meant: one more hour alone with him, before she possibly never saw him again for the rest of her life. She summoned the spirit of her former self—the sexy dominatrix—crossed the room, and latched onto Sherlock by the front of his shirt. She initiated the kiss this time, more hungry than their first. He made a sound of disagreement, but her hold on his shirt was too tight for him to pull away. He tried to step back from her, which was perfect for her plan, because he backed up until his knees gave way against the edge of the bed.
He fell onto his back, and she straddled him before he could move. His hands reached up to push at her shoulders, but she linked fingers with him and pressed the backs of his hands against the mattress. A sound of pain escaped his lips thanks to the injury in his shoulder, but she would not stop this time—not because of a bullet wound. This was their last chance. She crushed his mouth with her lips, but his lips moved in the shape of words.
She pulled away and whispered, "Mr. Holmes, you're not making this easy."
"Ms. Adler, please remove yourself from my chest."
"Why did you kiss me earlier?"
"As I said earlier. My fault."
She leaned down and pressed wet kisses against his neck. She felt his fingers tighten against hers as he pushed against her.
"I don't want to have to throw you on the floor, so please, would you kindly get off me on your own accord?"
"Let go," she whispered against his ear.
"That's what I'm trying to tell you."
She pulled away far enough to look into his eyes. She found them cold, distant, pointed away from her. As earlier, when he'd appeared to travel in his mind to avoid pain, he traveled again at that moment—but what did he avoid? Anger? Lust? Love?
He was like a slab of ice beneath her.
"Look at me."
"Because I love you, and I want you to look at me."
And he did, total confusion on his face. She watched his eyes dart across every inch of her expression, searching for the lie—yet the lie would not be found.
She let go of his hands and touched his face. "I love you, you brilliant man, and if this is all the time I have left with you for the rest of my life, I'd like to make it memorable."
"Would you like to discuss different types of tobacco ash?"
Irene smiled down at him. "No." She ran her thumbs over his cheekbones and up into his hair. "Touch me, Sherlock."
Despite his refusal of her advances, her request received a response. His open palms found her lower back; she closed her eyes and sighed. His soft hands moved up her spine and around her shoulders until he pulled her down to him and kissed her gently. He rolled left, surely mindful of his injured right shoulder. Irene rested on her back with him on his side next to her. His hand ran up the outside of her thigh, over her hipbone and side. He seemed hesitant to touch her breasts but not hesitant to place his mouth where a hand could have gone. By the time he'd kissed every centimeter of her chest, Irene was dizzy.
She realized how out of control she felt as he explored her body. The scientist part of him paid heed to every detail of her skin; he even kissed the freckle on the outside of her left hip. The inexperienced sexual part of him was mystified. She watched his blue eyes glow. His pale face turned red around the edges. When one of his hands shook, she wove her fingers between his and pulled him up for a kiss, and his lips tasted soapy from worshipping her flesh. It wasn't long before she had him disrobed, and his skin against her skin felt different because he was different—he wasn't a customer; he was Sherlock Holmes, a virgin not much longer.
Irene guided him, but he required very little guidance. A quick study at everything, she noticed.
Sometimes within the hour of their love-making, he dictated: "The pace of your breathing increases when I do this" … "Your muscles clench when I move in this direction" … Toward the end, though, he was quiet, lost in sensation. It would have been easy for Irene to join him, but instead, she chose to watch. With him above her, she watched the way his expressions changed. She paid attention to the way his hands clenched and released her hips. She wondered if a man would ever fill her this way again, and she knew he wouldn't, because never again would she allow sentiment to cloud her judgment. Never again, once they left that dark room together.
She knew he was close when he buried his face in the crook of her neck and wrapped his strong arms around her petite upper torso. Irene wrapped one leg around to the back of his and pushed her pelvis up to meet him. On the verge of her own orgasm, she whispered, "I love you, Sherlock Holmes," and he tumbled over the edge, Irene right behind him.
Moments later, he rolled onto his back at her side and pulled her to him. Irene never cuddled after sex, but she felt comfortable with her cheek against Sherlock's sweaty chest. His breath was rapid, and his heart pounded like a possessed drum.
"I'll love you for the rest of my life," she said.
"I'm bleeding again," he replied.
She lifted her head from his chest and noticed the bandage on his shoulder was completely soaked through. "We probably tore the stitches." She jumped out of bed and returned with the first aid kit. "Sit up."
He blinked slowly. "That's highly unlikely at this juncture."
"Did you like it?"
He lifted his head and his eyebrows.
"Ms. Adler. If we were normal people in a normal human relationship, I don't suppose I would ever get out of bed."
She bit her bottom lip, because her smile threatened to give away too much. "Sit up. I'm serious. Let me take care of you."
"I've never let anyone take care of me."
She knew what he meant in the literal sense, but she felt his words held more weight than an allusion to medical treatment.
Ten minutes later, they were both dressed, and Sherlock reorganized his duffel bag to allow easy access to his gun. Irene sat on the edge of the bed and watched him, already sweating beneath her heavy Muslim garb.
"What now?" she asked.
"We cross the border to pick up your fake passport. You fly to Paris."
"I thought you would like Paris."
"Then what's the matter?" He turned to face her.
He turned away. "You're lying."
"Yes." She smiled, but he did not press any further.
"Ready then?" He carried the heavy duffel bag in his left hand.
Ready. Was she ready?
"Come on," he said, and she followed as he moved to the door.
Irene was so busy staring at the floor, she didn't noticed he'd stopped until she felt his arms around her. Her only response was to cling. Her nails possibly left marks on the back of his neck. She buried her face against his chest, and although he smelled different than usual—like cheap soap and well water—she smelled the usual scent of his skin, somewhere beneath it all. She wanted to bottle that smell. She wanted to douse her pillows in it.
He kissed her forehead as he pulled away, and the great detective was back. He was no longer weakened by loss of blood and pain. He was no longer ill. He was Sherlock Holmes—the man in the funny hat, known across London as a hero. In the safe house, he had been hers, but soon, they would step into the sun. Sherlock would become himself again: cold, sensible, and steady. He would never again be the man she'd known in the safe house.
With this recognition, Irene Adler also felt her old self slipping back: The Woman, who loved pain. The dominatrix. The clever gal who almost got the best of London's super sleuth. Almost.
In the safe house, they'd both gotten the best of each other, but back in the outside world, away from the man she loved, she feared all that remained of herself was the worst.