Let's all go and have a little party in Bohemia.

Hand in hand we'll make for the land

Where everyone's some other body's wife

And each is able

To dance upon the table

And show some signs of life.

-Cole Porter, "Come to Bohemia"

Father always said that being English is its own reward when travelling abroad.

For instance, he used to say, when one is in Tokyo, one need hardly nod for the concierge to know that one requires a taxi and an English-speaking driver. The latter, of course, is strictly an indulgence, since said driver already knows where one wishes to go from how one is dressed and the time of night.

It seems that things now are not as simple as they were in Father's time. Or perhaps my driver concludes that I'm in need of paid company because I'm not as forbiddingly handsome as Father was. I catch sight of my reflection in the driver's mirror and look away from the haggard, puffy features. International travel is rarely kind, but vanity is a luxury I can ill afford when time is of the essence.

I assure the driver in Japanese that I have no interest in the mizu-shōbai and utter the phrase that I found scrawled on an old hotel folio among the last of my brother's belongings to be released from probate yesterday, per the instructions in his will.

The driver immediately changes course, and five minutes later, the taxi door glides open in front of a high-rise covered in brightly lit signs indicating what establishments may be found on its different floors. He waves away my credit card and hands me a strip of featureless aluminium.

I cross the teeming lobby and enter one of the lifts, which quickly fills up behind me, and insert the metal strip into a slot next to the illuminated floor buttons. The lift stops at nearly every floor, disgorging its occupants into restaurants, night clubs, and stores, until I am the only one left.

The elevator pings quietly, and the doors open to reveal a smoky supper club filled with u-shaped booths and lit only by LED candles on the tables and the lights of the surrounding city that stream in through the enormous floor-to-ceiling windows. The club is terraced gently toward a stage, which is draped in black velvet curtains, where a piano trio is playing a passable rendition of "Autumn Leaves."

I smile to myself. My brother used to chide me for my partiality to popular music, which he considered derivative and banal. Ironic that he included jazz in his dismissal, considering his own taste for improvisation, but the boy had always been apt to cut off his nose to spite his face.

A waitress efficiently ushers me into a booth at the right corner of the stage which affords me an excellent view of the trio and the rest of the club, and she's flicked open a golden lighter before I'm fully conscious that my hand has gone instinctively for my cigarette case.

I accept the light with a nod of my head, and indicate my choices from the menu.

The whisky, which materializes at my elbow almost immediately, will only make the bags under my eyes even more pronounced, but my nerves require calming before I can trust myself to observe as dispassionately and acutely as I must in order to unravel the mystery bequeathed me by my brother.

I scan the club, looking for signs that it is anything other than what it appears to be, namely, an overpriced supper club with aspirations of exclusiveness and rather fewer Yakuza connections than one might expect for an entertainment venue in this part of town, but I am disappointed. The club is full of aggressively heterosexual men with rented dates and salarymen showing off their self-proclaimed sophistication to the equally gauche, all with their sad little lives carved plainly into their faces and clothing. The air in the club is thick with the smoke of imported cigarettes and nouveau riche machismo, and I know I will be unable to eat the Kobe beef that I ordered on a whim.

And yet the familiar melody soothes me far more effectively than my chemical vices. I close my eyes and allow my hands to rest on my thighs, feeling for all the world like I'm sinking into the cushions as the graceful piano arpeggios wash away my whirling thoughts.

When the song ends, I dutifully applaud without bothering to open my eyes. I don't wish the respite to end, but I know it must, even before the trio begins to play another familiar tune.

It's not until a female voice begins to sing in flawless English that my eyes fly open in order to ascertain if the woman bold enough to sing one of Marylin Monroe's signature pieces is bold or simply unoriginal. I am simultaneously shocked and utterly unsurprised to find that the female on stage purring into the microphone and caressing the stand with insolent familiarity is none other than Irene Adler.

The platinum blonde hair artfully framing her face is too perfect to be anything other than a wig, and she's subtly padded in several places to add curves to her rail-thin figure, but it's undoubtedly her, in the flesh. The very much alive flesh.

Two things immediately occur to me.

Item one: which I'd suspected for quite some time, namely, that my brother isn't actually dead.

I knew he needed confederates in order to pull off such a convincing death, and I'd always suspected his pet pathologist of involvement but knew her incapable of providing the resources he would need in order to disappear completely. How he must have hated having to call in the same favour of Miss Adler that he presumably once granted her, but it would have been the only way. I do hope she made him pay dearly for it.

Item two: Moriarty is dead. Undeniably and reliably. My brother never would have revealed his own modus operandi to me if doing so would endanger her. But why now?

Of course.

Item three: Moriarty had confederates as well, and those have been successfully neutralized.

I tap my cigarette against the ashtray with more vigour than is strictly necessary. I do not approve of vigilantism, a fact that I'm certain factored into Sherlock's decision to take the law into his own hands. I imagine the look of glee on his face as he envisions the awkwardness I would face if he were killed in the process, which is so real in my mind's eye that I frown reflexively.

So now that I've decoded my brother's message via chanteuse, the question remains as to precisely what he expects me to do with the information and whether or not I feel inclined to indulge him.

I imagine myself as he sees me: fussy, fusty, and punctilious, and I imagine that version myself leaving the club in a huff, since Miss Adler would not have spotted me through the blinding stage lights. Sherlock's Mycroft would justify his snit with a list of all there is to do at home to clean up this frightful mess but dutifully begin preparing the world for Sherlock Holmes's dramatic return.

I belatedly recognise the misdirection with the cab driver, for which I congratulate him. Just enough delay to ensure that I would see Miss Adler, surmise what I have surmised, then immediately leave on the flight to London that departs in two hours' time.

The beef arrives raw, sliced into strips to show off its beautiful marbling. My waitress lays a strip across the hot stone that arrives on a separate plate, which sends up a sizzling fragrance that makes my mouth water.

Perhaps I can stay a bit longer, if not simply for the pleasure of doing something my brother doesn't expect. His version of me would have ordered the seaweed salad and left it untouched.

The first strip of beef practically melts on my tongue, and the richness of the flavour nearly brings tears of pleasure to my eyes.

I revise my assessment of the club as "overpriced" and turn my gaze to Miss Adler, who has stepped to the side of the stage so as not to distract from the soloing instrumentalists. This, of course, provides me the perfect opportunity to watch her.

I recognise her sheer beaded dress with the daring back as one she owned at the time of our last encounter, but her "diamonds" are paste, and the soles of her shoes are a half-shade too orange to be genuine Louboutins. Other than the years-old designer frock, the only other significant investment her costume boasts is the wig, which is of the highest quality and in impeccable trim. Hardly impoverished, then, but hardly living in the manner to which she was accustomed in Belgravia.

I cannot hold back a smirk remembering her childishly exorbitant list of demands from the one time I made the error of underestimating her. Moriarty certainly stoked her ego as surely as she'd stoked Sherlock's, and to equally disastrous effect. I daresay Miss Adler repeats mistakes as infrequently as I do.

When she steps back into the spotlight for the final verse of another Marilyn song- a slightly unsettling Cole Porter tune called My Heart Belongs to Daddy, she surprises me by gradually filling out her breathy whisper into full-throated triumph.

Her voice, which might be generously characterised as "contralto," is by no means trained. Yet her tone is warm and supple, and while she is clearly conversant with the most notable renditions of the piece, this powerful reinterpretation is completely her own.

I confess, I rather like it.

She's met with warmer applause, which she accepts with a graceful bow, her hand pressed to her heart in a gesture calculated to emphasize her enhanced cleavage.

Her next number is a searingly erotic rendition of I've Got You Under My Skin with an undercurrent of self-loathing, and my mental files begin to assimilate this new knowledge of Miss Adler.

As I help myself to another strip of beef, which is every bit as luscious as the first, I allow my inner librarian to wander the stacks of my memory, where I quickly locate the book with Miss Adler's name on the spine and I recall that the first seven years of her life were spent in Durham, where her father was sub-organist at Durham Cathedral, before moving with her mother to Brixton. She would've learnt music at her father's knee. Perhaps she sang with the cathedral choir.

Yes, that would explain the unconscious production of music for a higher purpose than mere self-aggrandisement. It also explains why she only returned to music after her ambitions failed spectacularly.

Here, in a land foreign to her, surrounded by people who don't understand or appreciate her, Irene Adler has remembered how to tell the truth.

A form of it, anyway, using someone else's words, but I have seen her lie often. Her presentation and costumes are entertaining lies designed to distract from the fact that she cannot sing without expressing the truth of this music, and that's what makes her unforgettable.

Where more skilled singers would gloss over the sorrow that underscores much of Cole Porter's love songs in favour of mere prettiness, Miss Adler uses the guise of another artist who used beauty to mask pain to make it seem as if the darkness in the seemingly frivolous music comes from without; as if truth doesn't pour out of her when she sings.

Whether it's her own truth or not remains to be seen.

When the song is over, I can practically smell the testosterone level of the club rising as the men whistle and applaud.

Her smile is demure as she brushes an errant curl out of her eyes, and she bows, this time without bothering to emphasize her assets. She begins to walk offstage, when I see her freeze for an infinitesimal moment as her eyes meet mine.

She recovers so quickly that I wonder if I haven't imagined it until, during a stripped down version of "Moonlight Serenade," my mobile phone vibrates in my pocket to indicate receipt of a text message.

Let's misbehave.

I purse my lips. Some things never change.

Miss Adler's tiny dressing room is as austere as the club is decadent. A fluorescent light buzzes noisily overhead, her selection of costumes hangs in a garment bag on the back of the door, and her make-up is strewn across the tiny counter in front of an illuminated mirror, next to which has been hung a red silk dressing gown. A single Styrofoam head gazes blankly at me from underneath a short, vibrantly red coiffure, which makes me curious how many wigs she has.

I open the garment bag and find, in addition to several other period-specific dresses, over a dozen wigs curled inside hair nets to preserve their style and neatly tucked into zipper bags.

I recognise Judy Garland's auburn curls as easily as I did Gwen Verdon's on the Styrofoam head. I spy Betty Grable's quicksilver blonde and wonder if it couldn't double for Ruth Etting. A cap of golden ringlets could easily be Sophie Tucker or Mae West, but this pomaded coiffure could only be Billie Holiday. I smile seeing that Peggy Lee and Dinah Washington are practically identical but for the colour of their hair.

I am so engaged in wig identification that I notice the determined click of high heels nearly too late to cross my arms and summon my most disdainful expression.

She is resplendent as Marlene Dietrich in a top hat, black velvet tuxedo jacket, and slim-fitting trousers, but her sardonic smile breaks the spell.

"Mister Holmes. What a pleasant surprise. I didn't anticipate an in-person response."

"It's the least I could do for one of my brother's most intimate acquaintances," I say, allowing a soupcon of scorn to adorn the word 'acquaintances.'

The effect is not lost on her, and she narrows her eyes, scrutinising me. "Perhaps I do know what the Holmes boys like after all." She lowers her eyelashes and begins to sing.

"Men cluster to me like moths around a flame,

And if their wings burn, I know I'm not to blame."

I sigh and remove her hand from my forearm. "If we may be serious for a moment, Miss Adler, I am not here to be seduced. I am here because someone wished me to see you and draw certain conclusions from it."

She tosses the top hat at me and pushes me away from her mirror with her hip. The blonde wig is gone in a flash, and she slips the Gwen Verdon wig over the mesh cap that holds her own hair tightly against her head.

"If seeing me was enough to tell you what you needed to know, then why are you in my dressing room?"

I meet her reflection's appraising gaze. "Miss Adler, do you know my brother's whereabouts?"

"No," she says, turning to face me. "But if you hum a few bars I can fake it."

She's out of her tuxedo in a flash, revealing fishnet stockings and a heavily corseted negligee made of black satin. She steps into a pair of black platform heels, and lo, before me is Lovely Lola, the devil's apprentice.

How fitting.

"I'm on," she announces somewhat unnecessarily, returning her Marlene costume to the garment bag on the door. "Make yourself at home. I'll have Kinuko bring us a bottle of something, since it seems that we have things to discuss."

She smoulders at me over her shoulder, and I resist the urge to tut. My mouth is unexpectedly dry, which concerns me until I realise that my interest is being aroused not by Irene Adler herself but by being confronted with the music and film stars I idolised in my youth.

I notice that she has left the garment bag unzipped, and I curse myself for being a predictable old nancy. She has even taken the liberty of pulling out a wig in the same chestnut that my hair once was, when I had more of it, and letting it protrude tantalisingly from behind the black beaded dress.

Even as I feel blood rushing to my face, simultaneously mortification and interest, I see the woman's game. She's astutely observed, or recalled from what my brother has undoubtedly implied in her presence, a harmless but potentially embarrassing bit of information about my intimate proclivities. She has no pictures, of course. And she won't.

I glance around the dressing room and conclude that there do not appear to be any hidden cameras. I can hear Miss Adler vamping onstage, and presumably she will be out there for at least one more number.

What harm could accepting this invitation do?

As a precautionary measure, I unzip the handbag hanging on the back of the chair and am pleasantly surprised to find a mobile phone in an outer pocket. I search the other pockets to ensure that it's the only one the bag contains, and I slip it into my jacket pocket.

As I lock the dressing room door, anticipation curls in my stomach. I slip out of my jacket, unbutton my waistcoat, and remove my necktie. I try not to look at my disappointing chest as I unbutton my shirt, unfasten my cuff links, and slide the shirt off my shoulders.

Red silk whispers over my skin as I don the dressing gown hanging next to the mirror and tie it around my waist.

My fingers tremble slightly as I unzip the plastic bag and slip the wig out. A gauzy black hair net holds the curls in pace, and when removed, the wig relaxes into a fall of soft brown waves. I turn the wig upside down and lean forward, holding the front to my forehead before flipping it over my head. The hair cascades luxuriously down to my shoulders, and I raise my head, gazing into the mirror.

Long layers frame my face, highlighting my cheekbones and drawing attention away from my chin. The tinge of red in the brown flatters my pale complexion and gives it the appearance of rosiness. And in my eyes, for the first time in many months, I can see life.

I make some small adjustments to ensure that the wig is properly positioned, and I notice that Miss Adler has left her lipstick out, and the shiny red cylinder protruding from the metal sleeve. It looks unspeakably rude and inviting.

But no, that invitation is too intimate and acceptance leaves obvious traces, and it may well be drugged.

These moments of unexpected beauty are sufficient.

The music has changed, and I chuckle as I recognise the piece Miss Adler is performing as a Marlene Dietrich send-up made famous by Madeline Kahn. She's playing it straight, of course, and the men in the audience are far more captivated by her revealing costume than her selection of music, but what can one expect?

I briefly consider returning the wig to its bag and pretending that I haven't taken her up on the invitation at all, but that's the Mycroft she'll have been told to expect from Sherlock and Moriarty.

She isn't expecting a Mycroft willing to give her a show of trust as encouragement rather than threats or demands.

Miss Adler ends the set with "You're the Top," and from the tenor of the applause, she has accompanied her performance with a bit of exotic dance. I unlock the door and lean against the make-up counter.

It's several long minutes before she arrives, carrying, as promised, a decent bottle of champagne and two glasses. Her eyes widen as they travel down and up my body. I can feel my cheeks flush, but I meet her gaze with mild inquisitiveness.

"Suits you," is all she says, setting the bottle and glasses on the counter next to me so she can close and lock the door.

I release the cage and ease the cork from the bottle with a quiet hiss, and she accepts the first glass from me with a smile.

"What'll we drink to?" she asks, smiling.

"Two lost souls," I say.

Her smile broadens into something approaching genuine at the reference to her current costume. "I'm impressed you know so much about musicals."

"I could easily return the compliment. One assumes you didn't learn that in cathedral choir."

The reference to her childhood brings a light to her eye, though of course, she's not about to provide me with additional details. "One would be correct," she says. "Was it difficult being the only one in your family with a taste for show tunes?"

"Not really," I say, taking a sip of the champagne.

"Of course," she said peering closely at my face. "It made you more normal than the rest of them. Something every exceptional child longs to be sometimes." She reaches toward my face and brushes away a strand of hair that's drifted near my eye. "But things have changed, haven't they, Mr. Holmes?"

"Change is inevitable, Miss Adler." I catch her hand before she withdraws it and run my fingers across her palm, caressing her fingertips.

Eureka. Skillful application of cosmetics makes it difficult to read her features, but her hands cannot lie.

I curse myself for a vindictive idiot for thinking, even for a moment, that her cheap accoutrements meant anything other than that she has chosen to put her considerable resources toward a grander goal than flattering rich clients.

I raise my eyes to her face, and she raises her chin defiantly.

"If you were planning to accuse me of being in love with you from the speed of my pulse and the size of my pupils-"

"I don't flatter myself to be the cause of anyone's arousal, let alone yours. I was far more interested in the fact that you have the wrists and fingertips of a computer programmer."

A quick downward flick of the eyes is the only sign of her surprise, and she doesn't contradict me. I recall the mobile phone in my pocket and allow myself the vanity of musing aloud, as my brother so often does.

"You've always traded in secrets, and you've found a much more efficient way to get them than teasing them out, one client at a time. You, more than anyone, understand how people become dependent on their devices and how poorly those devices are protected; how quickly people trade their security for amusing games."

There's a nascent smirk at the corner of her mouth, and there's a click in my mind as the disparate facts about Irene Adler snap together form a complex, three-dimensional figure. I have indeed underestimated her, and having seen part of her whole self, even for an instant, I know I shall not do so again.

"We may have taken your electronic memory from you, but we cannot erase what you've seen," I say softly. "We cannot erase what you know. My brother once gained access to confidential Ministry of Defence files merely by looking around an office. Your knowledge used propitiously could open virtually any door. You're the key Moriarty wanted to sell to the highest bidder, but my brother helped you disappear, and that's why Moriarty tried to destroy him.

"This brings us to an interesting question: now that my brother has neutralised Moriarty's network, what are you going to do with yourself?"

"I don't suppose you'll blush as prettily as Sherlock did when I told him that brainy is the new sexy?"

"I don't do anything as prettily as Sherlock does."

"You draw conclusions just as beautifully when you let yourself do it aloud. Given your line of work, I'm not surprised you don't do that often."


"You don't enjoy being flirted with," she says, sitting down on the make-up counter and crossing her legs.

"I don't enjoy transparent attempts to manipulate me," I say, lifting my hands to remove the wig before she has the opportunity to steal her phone back.

She makes a shushing noise and puts her hands on mine to stop me.

"Stop that," she says. "Not until you've seen what I see." She rises and moves all of her cosmetics to one side of the counter. "Now," she says, indicating the stool. "Sit."

I ignore her and begin unknotting the sash of her dressing gown. "I really must be going."

"What would you say if I said I might want to return to England?" she asks.

I freeze. "For what purpose?"

"I thought there might be a minor post in the British government for me."

I quell the scornful laugh that threatens to escape, because even though she could never be fully trusted, her mind and her knowledge would be powerful assets, even deployed on unclassified projects. If she wishes to talk and tell me what she likes, it would behoove me and my employers to listen. In fact, I find myself most interested in what she has to say.

I sit obediently on the stool in front of her, and she plants the soles of her feet on my thighs. She takes a small tube of concealer and shakes it vigorously, leaning forward to give me a face full of cleavage, and yet I am more drawn to the thoughtful look on her face.

"Now," she says, lifting my chin with the handle end of a powder brush, "the first thing we need to address is those circles under your eyes."

"Obviously," I say, but I obediently look up when instructed to do so. The liquid is surprisingly cool, and I blink as she takes a sponge and dabs it gently beneath my eyes.

"I don't suppose anyone's ever told you that you have beautiful skin," she says. "I'd be a crime to cover it up with foundation."

"I am not a client, Miss Adler. And I respond far better to direct inquiries than flattery."

She pulls two brushes out of her bag and taps up a generous amount of a darkish powder whose purpose, I presume, is to provide contours to the face where there are none. This she brushes generously beneath my chin and cheekbones and at my temples.

"All right," she says. "Is there any chance of being involved with computer security for the government?"

"Why the government?" I ask, as she dusts highlight along the surfaces she wishes to stand out. I note that my nose is not one of them. "Surely there's more money in industry."

"Would you believe that being away from Britain has made me wish I hadn't wielded the whip quite so powerfully in our first encounter?"

"No. And there is the matter of qualifications."

"Close your eyes," she orders. "And don't worry about my qualifications. I think you'll find my references acceptable."

The first line of liquid along the edge of my eyelid startles me so much that I jerk away from her, and Miss Adler tuts.

"Don't make me tie you to the chair," she says warningly as she wipes away what I assume is an error.

My eyes fly open and I fix her in my coldest stare. "You'll find that I do not respond favourably to being restrained."

Her eyes dance with fire. "If you were one of my old clients, I'd whip you for defiance."

"Then it's a very good thing for both of us that I was never your client."

This makes her laugh. My confusion must show on my face, because she taps my nose with the powder brush. "Good to know I can still provoke a response from the British Government when needed. Now close your eyes and hold still this time."

Against my better judgment, I close my eyes.

"I'm going to touch your face," she announces, and her fingers gently enclose my chin and jaw and position it so that I can feel her warm breath on my face. "This is going to be cool and liquid on your eyelids. Try not to twitch, because it'll smudge if you move before it dries."

I brace myself, and she laughs softly. "It won't hurt," she says. "I'd let you know."

This time, I'm ready for the cool tickle along my eyelashes, and she's pulled away from my face before I realise she's done.

"Keep them closed," she says, taking my chin once more and turning me slightly so that my other eye is closer to her. "So," she says conversationally as the tiny wand dances across my other eyelid, "who do you want to be?"

I think about her question for a moment before realising that anything I say will tell her more about me than I wish to reveal. "Surprise me," I say at last, the words coming out in a whisper that trembles more than I wish.

She's quiet for a moment. I wish I could see the expression on her face, but I must make do with the sudden intake of breath that suggests surprise but could be any of six or seven other emotions.

Then it's my turn to gasp as her hands close over mine, and for a long moment our hands are wrapped around one another's, curious fingers seeking answers, and I find, apart from the fact that she executes her own manicures, that where our palms are pressed together, there has formed a sheen of perspiration, and I know it isn't mine alone.

I open my eyes to see her staring at me with surprise and a hunger that makes me swallow hard. I try to look away, but she holds our joined hands in front of my face, and I cannot deny that what I have allowed her to do to me is something I have never shared with any intimate partner, and now she is determined to have it. All of it.

"Oh, Mr. Holmes," she breathes, "you are going to be ravishing when-"

"No," I whisper, tightening my grip on her hands. "Don't lie."

She looks at me hard, obviously unhappy, and then her features relax into a smile. She takes my face in her hands and lowers it, then presses her lips to my forehead before she begins to sing.

"The world has gone mad today, and good's bad today,

And black's white today, and day's night today.

When most guys today that women prize today are just silly gigolos."

Her words, delivered with affectionate warmth I didn't think her capable of, transform the arousal and fear that have been building ever since closing my eyes into a tremulous sort of hope. I look into her eyes and sing.

"And though I'm not a great romancer, I know that I'm bound to answer

When you propose."

Our voices are not at all well matched when we sing "Anything goes!" as one, but our shared laughter, simultaneously guilty, self-mocking, and relieved, is music to my ears.

Seventy-two hours after I landed in Tokyo, I am in another taxi, this time on its way to the airport. I have just e-mailed my superiors a report on the reappearance of Irene Adler and what this means to national security. I did not recommend that she be brought in, as the official record of her criminal activity was expunged after her ersatz demise, though of course, none of us will ever forget.

I smile to myself. I oughtn't be surprised that someone with an innate understanding of what's coded into Cole Porter's music would be equally adept at seeing through other kinds of coding as well. I suspect my superiors will come to the same conclusion that I have: that Irene Adler is an asset to be acquired rather than a threat to be managed.

My mobile buzzes, and I access the text message that I know is from Miss Adler.

You're too good: way too good!

More Cole Porter lyrics. It seems she's found the surprise I left on her mobile phone.

My smirk falls when I close the text screen and a new icon pops up on the screen. The symbol on it appears to be a stylised female pudenda. I open my utilities menu and attempt to remove the offensive icon, but I'm prompted with an authorisation question.

What's in the box?

I scowl.

After doing a cursory inventory of the phone's contents, I conclude that there is nothing on the phone that could be potentially damaging to myself or to my employers, and nothing that can't be easily replaced, so I tap my finger on the icon and brace for the worst.

As expected, a picture of me fills the screen.

What I do not expect is that the photo isn't incriminating in the least- no wig, no cosmetics, and none of Miss Adler's dazzling array of costumes and props. I'm asleep on her futon wrapped in a coverlet as morning sunshine washes over me from above.

I'm strongly reminded of stills of Marlene Dietrich from von Sternberg's films, in which the lighting was specifically designed to bring out Marlene's peculiar, exotic beauty.

This is a version of myself I am unused to seeing, and I am mesmerised by the contrast of light and shadow until the cab door opens to announce our arrival. After paying for the cab and retrieving my suitcase, I catch sight of myself in the terminal window.

Even though I am sorely lacking in sleep and have consumed more alcohol over the past few days than is strictly wise, I still see more in my tired face than the deep lines between my eyebrows.

My eyes are strikingly blue. The cleft in my chin draws the eye to the sensuousness of my lower lip. Instead of the featureless block I had once thought my face to be, I can see distinct planes that give it interest and character, and I cock an eyebrow deliberately at myself. I snort at my own foolishness, but I do not fail to smile.

I will never trail stardust. I am a man who has seen too much ugliness to place much stock in beauty. And yet beauty and truth are not mutually exclusive, and being able to see that, even in myself, is a gift I do not accept lightly.

It seems that in this, Miss Adler and I are in perfect agreement.

The End

Many thanks to Musamihi, whose prompts leapt off my screen and proceeded to have a dance party in my brain, and to those intrepid souls in charge of the Holmestice exchange for assigning me such wonderful propmpts! Enormous thanks to Bluestocking79, Sc010f, Dickgloucester, Pyjamapants, and Mr. 42 for providing last-minute informational, analytical, and editorial assistance. You are all brilliant loves, and I adore you!

The title comes from the Cole Porter song, "It Was Just One of Those Things."