I've been wanting to write Irene Adler fic, but couldn't settle on how she should enter the world of Sherlock - except that I knew I didn't want her to be either (1) a love interest/sex partner for Sherlock or (2) a criminal, or Sherlock's antagonist. (One of the great strengths of "A Scandal in Bohemia" is that Irene isn't even engaged in battle with Sherlock until he forces her hand and then she casually demonstrates her mastery, using his own prejudices against him.) So I decided to write a "five ways" fic instead, and let her meet the boys in a number of ways. (There is some het in part 4, but not with Sherlock.) Happy reading!
1 - "ineluctable" = impossible to avoid or escape
2 - many many thanks go to the inestimable kate_lear for her beta and Britpicking services (with a smile!)
3 - here's my mental image for Irene Adler
Ineluctable (Five Ways Irene Adler Met the Baker Street Boys)
The library was a public space, and he was always quiet on the days he came inside, so she had no right to ask him to leave just because the way he looked at her made her spine feel like a xylophone too roughly played.
He wasn't the type she'd thought would hang around a library all day, either, but he was proving her wrong with his persistence. He just sat there, no book or magazine in front of him, and looked at her. She shuddered when she had to turn her back on him to use the photocopier, but she wasn't about to turn down one of the only perks of this dreary day job; her real career needed all the help it could get.
He wasn't stealthy, but he was quick. She could feel the heat from his too-close body as he stood next to her, watching the stack of flyers with her face on them grow in the output tray of the machine. His breath brushed unpleasantly across her skin when he spoke in a soft tone that she'd heard in a hundred terrible movies, the sound of a psycho killer's voice as he watched the light leave his victim's eyes. "You're quite a looker, aren't you?" he said, like there was any possible answer for a question like that.
You're married, aren't you? was what she wanted to say, having heard him shouting at someone on his cellphone, but she held her tongue and waited for the machine to finish. It whirred loudly in the empty library.
"Oh, so it's like that, is it?" He was sneering now, silky killer-voice giving way to a flatter, more aggressive tone, and deliberately crowding her against the photocopier. She was pinned against the machine and she couldn't get the breath to shout for help, even if anybody had been around to hear. "Too good to speak to me? Little jumped-up tart -"
"Quiet, please; we're in a library," said a new voice, dry as dust, and she snapped her head up and to the side to assess this unexpected variable. Where the hell had he come from? The man met her eyes and nodded, so she dug one elbow into her attacker's gut and stood straight while the second man delivered a neat chop to the neck that felled the bastard. He produced a pair of handcuffs from thin air and snapped them on with panache, gleefully grinning up at her raised eyebrow. "Where can we put this?" he asked, nudging the toppled body with one disdainful foot. "Under your desk?"
"You can leave him here; I'm about to lock up anyway." He met her eyes then, a little surprised. Her skin was prickling like a thousand fireflies had lit upon her. "Oh, and I'm fine, by the way."
His mouth curled in a smile. "I know you are, Ms. Adler. From what I've observed, you'd hardly let a thug like Hudson rattle you for very long."
"He's got a record?" she asked, surprised. What was she, a magnet for these losers?
"He's a little worse than your last boyfriend. This one -" again with the well-polished shoe to the ribs "- likes it all the more if he can kill as well as steal." He watched her closely at that, and she met his unsettlingly pale gaze squarely, as if her skin weren't crawling.
"What a charmer," she said, feeling her whole body shake.
"You weren't in that kind of danger," he said, moving forward to sweep her once more with his probing gaze. "He seemed to be infatuated with you."
His voice was like a thick pool of caramel being poured over her, making it hard for her to move. When she finally stepped back, the jingle of the keys on her belt reminded her that she needed to be closing the place down; she snapped the switch to turn the photocopier off and veered around him to get back to the front desk. She retrieved the rest of her peanut butter-and-honey sandwich and her purse and shut off the lights as she came back toward the photocopier in its nook by the front door.
He was holding her flyers out to her. She looked up at him, tall and pale and unmoving and asked, "Who are you?"
In the semi-darkness, the flash of his teeth was surprising. "Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective," he said. "The vision in velour at our feet is Trevor Hudson, thief, murderer, and the least uxorious bastard you're likely to meet. And you are Irene Adler, diva in the making, reluctant librarian, and the one who will help me put him away."
She snatched the flyers and stuffed them in her purse. "Am I really?" God, how she wanted to sneer at him for swooping in and demanding things; it was either that or start crying and have to endure him saying stupid British things like, "stiff upper lip, m'dear!" She should maybe watch less TV.
But Sherlock Holmes behaved like no character she'd ever seen. "You're quite intelligent enough to be useful to me," he said, head cocked slightly to one side. "And you've had a shock, but you're starting to piece together how much I already know about you, and what I might conceivably know - or at least pretend to believe - about the former lover you came to this dismal Florida hamlet to escape, and so in a few minutes, no less than one but no more than ten, you will come to the conclusion that speaking to me will be better than speaking to the police, and that once you do, you'll never have to see me again." He watched her swallow, then reached one long arm behind her to turn off the last of the lights. "You'd only be wrong about that last bit," he said, voice dripping with amusement.
She snorted. "It's not like I'm seeing you now," she said, and she heard laughter come through the darkness. A breeze ruffled her hair and she heard a grunt; he must have hauled Trevor Hudson to his feet or picked him up. "So, what then?" she asked, wanting clarification. "How many meetings is this going to take?"
"Just the one," he said, following her out the door with his burden. She turned to watch him out of the corner of her eye as she slid the key home by touch and locked up. He looked perfectly sincere when he spoke but she couldn't rid herself of the feeling that he was wishing he could swallow her whole. "But I also want to hear you sing."
The colour of her wool suit was the exact shade of plum to be found on the mannequins in the windows of the most exclusive boutiques of London, but her face was clean of all cosmetics; the mixed signals were almost enough to make Sherlock sit up and take notice.
No, of course, he thought, slumping further in his chair, not sure and not caring if it was exhaustion or defiance that had him sprawling like a coltish adolescent in his brother's too-posh office. Mycroft bought her the suit, bought her entire wardrobe like she's just part of the furnishings. Fat bastard. Wonder how she manages to act like being owned doesn't bother her. It was a trick he'd never learnt, certainly.
As if she'd heard his thoughts - that was still more plausible than her having deduced them, as he prided himself on his opacity even when his blood was singing with a temporary hit of stolen glory - she looked up from her paperwork. Christ, but she had a level gaze, not judging or dismissing, just observing; he wondered if that was what he looked like when he watched someone. She didn't waver, didn't mask her clinical interest, just kept looking, as if she were reading the entire book of his life from cover to cover. That steady gaze alone explained why Mycroft had hired her, bare-faced and young as she was.
"Are you ready?" she asked, low voice like church bells rounding each American-tinged word, and fuck it all if he didn't want to hear more, hear it rise up into song on a bright clean morning when his whole mind could be devoted to memorising and cataloguing the sounds from her throat. It would make an interesting alternative to the drugs Mycroft had no doubt dragged him here to lecture him about; he wondered, hazily, how long a high from her voice would last.
He needed more data. He needed to escape the weight of her gaze. He shut his eyes, listening to her breathe, her quick fingers shuffling papers, the rasp of her hair against the fabric of her smart suit. There was a change in the air, a stillness that heralded a break in the silence, but then Mycroft barged in, discord trailing after him, and Sherlock didn't have to open his eyes to know that Mycroft was judging his chemical state to a nicety and that his assistant would speak not one more word.
She was waiting for her cue, running through the beats in her head, her only conscious thought being how brutally the thick stage makeup was choking her skin, and that was when she saw him. He was intent on her, tucked in one corner of the stage as her husband and his best friend sang their certainty of her perfidy, and she wondered that no one else could feel the heat of his stare. At the very least, someone should have insisted on the sanctity of the dress rehearsal and kept him out, but evidently Ormstein had more influence than she'd ever dreamt. She kept her breathing under control, regulated as she'd rehearsed for this aria, and wondered how he would try to kill her.
She scrambled offstage and into her dressing room when the last note was sung. The heavy brocade gown was rather difficult to wiggle out of hurriedly, but she blessed it for exaggerating her hourglass shape; if the man with the silver eyes was anything like the others, he'd be looking for a girl with more breast than brain and an itty-bitty waist. She grabbed the bundle of bandages from her table and set about binding her chest and torso. Ten minutes later, she saw a stocky young man in the mirror, tucked-up hair mostly covered by a Kangol cap, wearing boots, jeans, and a fleece jacket.
The man was waiting by the stage door, but she was hidden in the centre of a herd of lighting crew guys, and slipped by without turning her head and giving the game away. As the clump dissolved around her, she tried to think. Tired as she was, she couldn't go home; if Ormstein was smart enough to send someone to her rehearsal, then he had to know where she lived as well. She zigzagged and cut corners and ended up damp for her trouble, a fine mist settling over her skin and clothes.
The waitress with the lush red curls poured her a cup of coffee without even asking, and she slouched against the bench back and poured half of it down her throat in one shot. Her hands were slowly stilling, and she closed her eyes in relief. When she opened them, the man was sitting across from her, lounging negligently and raking her up and down with eyes that stung like whiplash.
"Well played," he said, voice a baritone rumble, but quiet too, like he didn't care to be overheard.
She wasn't going to ask him how she'd messed up; it wasn't like she was going to get a second chance. He answered her anyway. "The curve of your cheek is rather distinctive." He reached out and helped himself to her coffee, pouring a packet of sugar into it first. Numbly, she let him, not understanding why her fight-or-flight response had lain down and died. She could at least have scalded him with what was left in the mug.
But he was just as dilatory, not bothering with threats or speaking of the ways in which Ormstein was going to make her pay for seeing too much and figuring out the significance of what she'd seen. "Tell me," he said, finally, having downed the rest of her coffee and beckoned imperiously for more, "why is all this necessary?"
"You're fucking kidding," she said, staring flatly at his odd, pale face; he looked like a lunatic, but not even a psychopath would make someone philosophise about her own murder, surely? The red curls bobbed between them as the waitress poured them each a fresh cup. He sat silent, waiting, still air-conducting with one languid hand, and she considered whether she could do some damage to those long, breakable fingers or that slim neck before he made his move. "You want answers, talk to your boss Ormstein."
"I don't have a boss!" he said sharply, as if her word choice was the crucial point. His hand stopped in mid-air and he blinked at her, his eyes going sharp and engaged like a computer whirring to life. "Ormstein the multibillionaire?"
She glared daggers at him. "How are you mixed up with him?" he asked. "Quickly, quickly!" At her continued silence, he raised an eyebrow. "Never mind; I'll know soon enough. He's after you? Have you a place to lay low?"
"You're going to help me," she said, not even making it a question because it was too far-fetched. "Why?"
He stood and retied his scarf around his throat. "Come. They won't be looking for two men, certainly, even if they could penetrate your disguise." He pulled on sleek leather gloves as he looked her over, assessing her. His smile was vicious and sincere. "Very effective. I assume, as a contralto, you have experience with trouser roles?"
"Yes." She didn't move. His intentions were anything but clear. "What are you expecting?"
He looked elated by the implicit accusation, those slanted eyes lit up and unstable. "More of this," he said, and she could see the lure he was casting to draw her in, could see it and went anyway. "A distinct lack of boredom."
Having women in the armed forces must have changed more than the obvious, John thought, watching the stage. The "for the lads" entertainers that used to be booked had fallen by the wayside - no more risqué pinups blowing kisses to the crowds. Now it was famous actors and serious musicians, some no doubt looking for adulation, some for a chance to perform, and some for genuinely noble reasons. He stayed near the back of the crowd, ready to slip out if he should be summoned to a bedside when all the on-call MOs were busy.
The girl walking out on the stage, though, was clearly a throwback, curvy and beautiful, and he wondered if he should recognise her from some lad magazine or calendar. And then she opened her mouth to sing, and he could hardly think at all. There was just a wave of sound, not even resolving itself into words he could comprehend, just an overwhelming ocean of melody and he closed his eyes because he couldn't look at her and listen at the same time - it was all too much.
Murray pulled him away - just as the girl was in the middle of a song so utterly gorgeous that John could call hearing it a religious experience - to tell him that Andrews was deteriorating rather than mending, and John pulled himself together and headed out.
Andrews finally stabilised, John hung a banana bag for him, thinking of Harry as he did so, and left the man to Murray's conscientious care. Christ, but he was tired, too wiped out even to sit and let the evening's entertainment take him out of himself.
Of course, that was when he ran into her, or rather she into him, and his arms closed involuntarily around the lithe girl suddenly nose-to-nose with him. "Whoops," she said, just as he said, "Sorry."
Close up, she was older and even lovelier than he'd thought, great dark eyes and a generous mouth, a strong, straight nose and skin that glowed with health. He blushed inwardly at what she must be seeing in him - a careworn, lined face featuring eyes with prominent bags under them and a nose that he'd never quite grown into.
That was when she smiled. "Irene," she said, backing up enough to offer her hand for a proper shake.
"John," he responded. Her hand was warm and her clasp firm and he couldn't bring himself to let go. "Can I escort you somewhere?"
She stepped close again, searching his face, and he couldn't tell if she found what she was looking for or merely saw the absence of what she wasn’t; whatever her reasons, she leaned in and kissed him.
He kissed her back, kissed her standing up and lying down, kissed her jaw, her breasts, her thighs, feeling her hum with delight, melody trapped in her throat like a secret between the two of them. He wanted to sink into her softness, the sweet give of her pliant body, and he could feel her shaping him, rewriting him, fingernails tracing arcane symbols high on his back against his scapulae. Her moans were operatic, long, and finally wordless.
She pulled his head down to rest on her damp skin, dragged her nails through his sweaty hair, and he tried to imagine being home again, home instead of here in this place of misery where the language twisted his tongue and the danger made his heart stutter with impatience.
He couldn't quite manage it.
Kissing her throat and then the lush curve of her left breast, he rolled off her, only to find that she'd moved too, straddling him gracelessly, waves of black hair shadowing her face. He pushed it back, soft against his palm, to see her eyes. She didn't look away.
He was not the only one yearning for and fleeing from home. She nodded, acknowledging his silent recognition of kinship, then leant down to murmur, low and sweet, raw mouth nearly against his ear, "Once more for the road, John?"
He pulled her close and they began to move.
No way was she going on without knowing the acoustics of the concert hall inside and out; one performance given in a suboptimal space could lead to a career-killing review, and the venue people had been worse than uncooperative, she reminded herself, picking the lock.
The space was warm and gorgeous even in the dimness, all polished wood and stray gleams of mellow golden moonlight. It always relaxed her to be on stage, to feel so very much in her element, and she threw her hands over her head in delight.
Spine elongated, she began her stretches, getting her limbs and torso ready for the work. Her hair fell out of its clasp, so she gathered it back up with both hands as she started the first set of breathing and diaphragm exercises. She braided it into a rope, flicked the switch to release a single thick cone of light, and continued to work as she trod every last inch of the stage.
There was no word for how ready and capable and strong she felt, just then, knowing she could let any fraction of all the world's music from time immemorial ripple freely out of her throat; faced with an embarrassment of riches, she found herself slipping into one of the songs she liked to sing in the shower, lightly ranging over the notes, smiling as she ascended the steps of d-i-i-i-i-zzy spells.
The accompaniment that rang out just when she got to my heart does not stand still - just hear it beat! made her whirl in alarm, one hand pressed against her throat. Violin, she told herself, a musician, not a guard, and the hilarity of the situation - really, you couldn't skulk and belt out showtunes, they were mutually exclusive pastimes - hit her. She couldn't help laughing, and that was when he stepped out of the pit and into the light.
It was that first-chair violinist with the silvery green eyes, the one who never spoke to the other members of the orchestra at rehearsals, just came in like a whirlwind, played like his soul was on fire, and left. He had an odd name, something unusual and yet comforting at the same time; she'd shaped it silently with her mouth when she'd read it in the draft of the program.
"Hi," she called out, still smiling. "You here to check the place out too?"
He raised his violin to respond, drawing out a motif sweet and pure that seemed to float through the darkness and wrap itself around her, lingering on her pulse points. She just stood still and looked at him, tall even from the height of the stage and somehow fragile looking too. The mute yearning on his face was a sharp reminder of what her life had felt like not too long ago, and she knew she couldn't be careless. "The acoustics sound good to me," she said, modulating her voice to be a little more intimate, as if they'd moved from a concert hall to her living room, like this was a casual conversation. "What do you think?"
He bit at his lips and closed his eyes and drew the bow across the bridge. That same melody came back, woven in and around itself, winding through loops, and she caught her breath not only at the sound but at the ease of the vibrato evidenced by one masterful, long-fingered hand. "Is that yours?" she asked, and he hit all four strings in a quick, happy succession of perfect fifths. She guessed that meant yes. "It's . . . lovely." That was a word pulled from the past, but she meant it.
His eyes opened, slowly, like she was brighter than any dusk or dawn, and he went back to the beginning, played the original motif again, slowly, spinning it out across time and space. It took her longer than it should have to realise that he was trusting her with his song. She opened her mouth and closed her eyes and sang it back to him.
There was silence, and she peered out into the darkness, but he'd retreated to the shadows, no longer skirting the edges of the spotlight. She waited, shoulders tense and fists clenched. Then she heard it begin again, quicker, joyful, playful. She laughed her relief and her chest opened up and she lifted her voice, singing melody, harmony, and counterpoint as the mood took her or as he guided her.
The hall grew light as they worked, and he gradually came into focus before her eyes. None of the impressions she'd drawn in the night needed to be overwritten; he still looked odd and alone. He dragged those quicksilver eyes up to look at her, sitting at the edge of the stage, legs swinging involuntarily, and she jumped down as he played the last lingering note.
With their feet on the same ground, she could see he had six inches on her, that he needed a hot meal and some sleep, and that she could still scare him off if she made the wrong move. He at least had a physical instrument to mind, so she stood there, feeling useless, watching his skinny back while he loosened the bow's strings and packed it and the violin into a case lined with scarlet crushed velvet. He didn't turn around; the only acknowledgement that she was still there was the tightness of his frame, so she gathered herself together and started to go.
"Please. Stay." His voice was rough with disuse, and clearly untrained, but the tone and pitch stopped her dead in her tracks.
He still wasn't facing her, but when he started walking, she followed, dutiful little Eurydice. He led her down, down, down so many steps until she was looking at an out-of-the-way kind of cubbyhole, lined with a dingy blanket. Just the thought of him trying to cram six feet of gangly limbs in there, cheek pillowed on the hardness of his violin case, made her throat close up.
She shook her head and waited until she could speak again. "No. My turn to play Orpheus." A smile flashed out brilliantly, transforming his face. "You're staying with me." Not that she had anything more than a small Brooklyn studio, but still. A tentative hand reached out to touch her shoulder. She glanced sideways at him, found him glancing sideways at her, and laughed. "Come on," she said, and they climbed the stairs in unison, humming as they went.
As always, I'd love to hear what you think.
(the song Irene sings is Ella Fitzgerald's "This Can't Be Love")