If John were here, this would all be over. We'd kill the bad guys. We'd recue the girl. We'd save the day.
And we'd blow the lead we've been following for the past three weeks.
Sherlock doesn't fancy himself a good guy (not like John is good, at any rate) but he's not the type to let bad things happen if he can stop them. And he and Irene can stop this, at least they probably can—two guns apiece and only about a dozen henchmen to take down—but they're running out of time. The network is closing in on them and staking out this source in a Hungarian shipyard is really their last and best option, at least until this bit of unsavory business popped up on the gang agenda.
Mowing down mobsters in a hail of gunfire will pretty much let everyone in the country know where they are. That doesn't make the fact that they're inadvertently allowing a woman to be sold into the sex trade any easier to bear. Human trafficking particularly appalls Sherlock; as a man who revels in his own independence, the thought of losing his free will was what eventually pulled him out of addiction. But he put himself on that path, no one else, so he can and must live with that. As his ice-colored eyes fall on the poor Russian tourist unfortunate enough to fall into the clutches of a Hungarian gang, he thinks it quite unfair that others will never get to exercise that kind of autonomy.
Irene seems strangely engaged by the scene. She's not particularly emotive or God forbid, openly sentimental, but he is nothing if not observant. She feels something. The only women Irene can stand to see powerless are the ones she puts there—the ones who place themselves at her mercy in the first place. There are people that ask for it, that court danger and skirt morality, people like him and Irene. They make their beds and they sleep in them; some people are simply more deserving of whatever bad hands they are dealt.
By the same token, there are victims, people in the wrong place at the wrong time. Her sobbing pleas of don't fall entirely on unsympathetic ears, but unfortunately for her, they might as well be deaf ones. Sherlock and Irene are not compassionate people. They are not heroes and they do not rescue anyone except each other. They are unabashedly insensate and self-serving—intervening on behalf of someone they don't know while simultaneously damaging the painstaking work they've been doing is out of the question.
Literally huddled on her hands and knees, Sherlock supposes she is beautiful, if such a thing exists in the objective sense. Unbelievably lush ringlets cascade down her back and fly into her face, the color impossibly red, nearly obscuring a pair of brilliant green-blue eyes. Her skin is flawless and radiant, her figure an absolute marvel. One look at Irene tells him she's thinking the exact same thing, perhaps with a bit more appreciation.
"It's only one woman," Sherlock whispers to Irene, whose blue eyes have narrowed into dangerous slits. "Why did the bodyguard call his boss here? I don't see why someone so important would bother."
"Why does any powerful man bother with a beautiful woman?" Irene counters, ice creeping into her voice. "And she's prettier than the normal fare—pretty as any actress or model, even. Her hair alone would fetch a fortune, but with that face and body? He's probably trying to figure out whether he should pimp her out himself or sell her and make a killing. If he keeps her he'll have access whenever he wants. I can see it in his eyes."
"This isn't our fight," Sherlock reminds her.
"This isn't a fight at all." Irene's voice is deceptively calm. She's no shining beacon for humanity but is not unaffected by what she sees. Sherlock knows Irene's life could have easily become something like this if she'd been less careful. She's had plenty of close calls (a recent near-beheading comes to mind); she's still trying to free herself from the ghost of Moriarty.
They can understand enough Russian to translate the woman's pleas: she's just visiting from St. Petersburg; her sister will be devastated if something happens to her; they can have all of her money and jewelry but please don't kill her. She doesn't realize she's in no position to bargain. One of them yanks her hair and she screams.
Subconsciously realizing this is the time to act, Sherlock and Irene draw their guns simultaneously and freeze, a sense of mutual relief washing over them. She lifts an eyebrow elegantly and his smirk widens marginally. They peer out from behind their hiding places and unintentionally make eye contact with the woman.
Before they can fire a shot, something remarkable happens. The simpering redhead neatly climbs to her feet and in one surreal, uninterrupted movement twists the nearest henchman's arm behind him and uses his firearm to shoot the man to her left. She lets the pistol fall uselessly away as her boot in the center of his back sends him flying into another mobster. He doubles over in time for a roundhouse kick to knock him unconscious. The sickening crack of his head splitting open on the dock is clear even over the commotion; he'll be lucky if he ever wakes up.
Somehow this noise rouses the rest of the men into action—men that had previously frozen in disbelief begin to finally draw their weapons. She throws herself behind the mob boss's burly bodyguard (the one who pulled her hair), using him as a human shield as they empty their clips into him in a fruitless bid to catch her. His poor excuse for body armor doesn't save his life, but the bullets can't penetrate the front and the back, so it does save hers.
It's awesome, as in literally awe-inspiring, how she takes all of them down. She's fast and graceful and much, much stronger than she looks. These guys are pros but they go down like amateurs. She doesn't take their guns—she doesn't need to—and carves a path through them until she reaches the man in charge.
Sherlock can't actually identify the exact words the mob boss uses when he lunges at her (his Hungarian is rusty), but luckily swearing is rather universal and the meaning is still decipherable. It's the last thing he ever says—the redhead's knife buries itself in his chest the second he stops speaking. The Russian words she spits at the dying man he does, however, recognize.
Irene exhales slowly. "That was unexpected."
"Quite," Sherlock agrees, mind racing.
She already knows their location and there's no subtle way for them to leave without attracting her attention, but that becomes a moot point when the redhead looks directly at their hiding spot and clearly orders in Russian for them to come out. A warning shot demonstrates her impatience; she's finally decided to arm herself, then.
Sherlock still has his gun drawn but his proficiency is no challenger for her expertise. He highly doubts a woman trained to kill much larger men with her bare hands skipped her lessons on the shooting range. She's staring down at the blood spatter on her white shirt but Sherlock isn't fooled; she motions for him to drop his pistol and kick it aside without even looking up. The barrel of her Walther doesn't waver until he raises his empty hands.
Up close, she is even more stunning, if that can be believed. Sherlock's near enough now to see details, but she's disheveled from fighting so he's not sure how accurate they will be. The most obvious (and important) thing he notices is that the gun she's holding didn't belong to one of the Hungarians. He can only wonder where she was keeping it all this time.
Sherlock has put on plenty of acts and witnessed more than a few himself. When he thinks on Irene's words about a disguise being a self-portrait, he can find no trace of helplessness in the redhead now. As if she can detect his annoyance at being deceived by her ruse, she crosses her arms regally and tilts her head back.
"It's called acting."
"It was a convincing performance," Sherlock admits. "Were you drawing on past experience?"
She rolls her eyes, pleased he's much too smart to covertly psychoanalyze her but annoyed at his brazen approach. She pulls out the com she'd stashed in her back pocket.
"This is Agent Romanoff…Agent Barton, do you copy?"
"Running a little late tonight, Natasha?"
"I'm dealing with a few witnesses; it'll only take a few minutes. I'll be ready for extraction on time."
Irene and Sherlock trade looks. Moriarty had elected to let Sherlock live, had continued to play with his food after he left the table. Jim didn't want Sherlock dead, not right away, and that gave him a chance to escape. It's clear that if Natasha wants him dead, she won't drag her feet nor grant him an opportunity to flee. It is not a comforting thought.
"I'm not really in favor of letting you walk out of here, but I don't think the good doctor would be too happy with me if I killed you, Mister Holmes."
Sherlock can hear a noise in the distance but now his interest is piqued by her comment. John is still painfully unaware he's alive. His expression is ablaze with curiosity but Natasha ignores it completely and turns to Irene.
"Miss Adler is a different story, though I can't exactly fault her for taking up the same line of work that I used to do."
"It's fun," Irene offers coolly.
"I never did it for fun," Natasha's delivery is flat and unfeeling, but Sherlock isn't fooled. "And I never did it for personal gain or the ego trip."
"Then why involve yourself with all this?" Irene gestures to the heap of dead henchmen. "Surely you don't do it out of the goodness of your heart."
Natasha blinks slowly. "The only thing in my heart is blood; nothing else there, good or otherwise."
The sound is getting louder, and Sherlock sees a small aircraft approaching. It looks like nothing he's ever seen before. Irene appears to have at least some knowledge of this kind of technology, as she only casts a cursory glance at it. All that's visible of the pilot is a muscular forearm and a flash of blond hair, but Sherlock can tell from Irene's expression that she recognizes him.
Natasha doesn't miss this, and green meets blue. "I think Mister Holmes needs all the help he can get, Miss Adler. But I do suggest you behave yourself. I may not punish people professionally as you do, but my methods are just as persuasive and much less enjoyable."
"Understood," Irene practically purrs. No use in being scared—her life is safe for the rest of the night, at least.
Natasha tosses her hair and purses her lips, entirely aware of how beautiful it makes her look. Before she boards the Quinjet, she turns briefly.
"Since I wrecked your little operation and you were about to come to my rescue, I'll throw you a bone. The name you've been chasing is Georgi Luchkov. But you'd better get to him before I do or he won't be in any condition to tell you anything. You have one week."