Notes: Warnings include drug use, blood, discussion of sexual assault, and morbid imagery (castration).
Sherlock Holmes washes his hands for the fifth time. Just can’t get this layer of grease to come off. Why? Does he need an astringent lotion? Perhaps a pumice stone? He’ll scrape himself raw if he must. He doesn’t understand. He’s so filthy, he doesn’t understand. Feels like he’s about to slide out of his own skin. Greasy, oily skin. Grease is dripping off of him (a hallucination). He looks at the bathroom mirror, at his own reflection: filthy, filthy, filthy. Weak. Liar. Hypocrite. (The words won’t stop. Gumming up the works.) A hypocrite in need of another hit of morphine, he thinks.
Thank god for morphine, oh, yes. Not too much: fewer than twenty drops. The intravenous kind, taken orally; mixed with chocolate syrup. To hide the bitter flavor. John would be very upset with him. But John’s not here to make him clean.
He washes his hands for the sixth time.
Water is scalding hot. Hands are shaking. His hands are covered in greasy, oily, ugly skin. Let’s consider the facts: Skin is the human body’s largest organ. The layers of mammal skin include the epidermis, dermis, and subcutis. When skin is cut open, it bleeds a lot or a little—sometimes scar tissue will form. In fact, there was a lot of blood on the ground. Victor is an efficient, ruthless assassin. (Obviously an outlet for his sadistic tendencies.) He didn’t let anyone live for very long. No longer than necessary.
Questions had to be answered, after all. Victor knows how to get answers out of anyone, even other trained killers. Has a way of getting whatever he wants, whatever Sherlock wants. Money, supplies, drugs, connections, freedom, murder. Sex, especially. (Another addiction.) Looks at Sherlock like he wants to eat him alive. No: don’t. Don’t.
Would that he could, though. Self-destruction: so tempting.
More morphine. Makes him cringe. Takes the edge of a panic attack in the making. (Ridiculous. Simply ridiculous.) He shuts off the water and listens. All he can hear is his own breathing. The hotel room is silent as the grave. Stella is silent as the grave until the needle drags her through the static. Don’t bring me down. I’m trouble bound. Blue song, red alert—
Elvis Costello’s singing fades away until he forgets it (who made Stella hurt?). Silence again (his own breathing). Irene is in the bedroom, recently bathed (Victor handled that) and taking IV fluids for dehydration. 5% dextrose in 0.25% saline, but that could change; they’ll have to be careful. She’s stable, but they need much more improvement. They’re on a strict timetable. They’ll run out of time before they know it.
Victor has gone back to the compound, to clean up. So much blood on the ground: a pile of corpses. Must be dirty work, but not nearly as dirty as Sherlock’s skin or having your thighs pried apart without your permission.
Why is it so bloody difficult to breathe?
Against all odds, Irene is clinging to consciousness. (Beautiful.) Her fighting spirit is a mirror to his own (among other things). He watches as she tries to sit up in the bed, over and over again, giving up only momentarily. He looks at this pale crisp of a woman in a floral bathrobe. Hideous shade of yellow matches the mottled bruises on her neck, her arms. Anywhere but her face, interestingly, although he can tell that someone slapped her.
He loves the sight of bruises, but not today.
“Sleep,” he says.
“I don’t want to,” she mumbles. “Don’t want to sleep.” She looks at him as if she doesn’t recognize him. Can’t you see how filthy he is, Irene Adler? You did when you came to visit. “Are you hurt?” she asks hazily.
Almost crashed the Jeep (more than once) (it was stressful), but other than that… “Not a scratch,” he says. “Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of you. Go to sleep now.”
“Not until you come here. Right here.” She touches the bed. On her right: her dominant hand. She wants to touch him. “Put down the needle, I don’t want it. Come here.”
Unbelievable. A couple of milligrams: it’ll make her comfortable. If she doesn’t want medicine, then Sherlock will take even more in her stead. He needs it when his mind is stabbing itself to death. His mind is full of beestings. Really hurts to think. Why didn’t he bring John?
Suddenly, he feels even more overburdened than Sisyphus. (Who the hell is that? John, do you know?) He sits—he sags onto the bed where she indicated. Squeaky bedsprings suggest they’re at least three years old, showing signs of rust. The hotel is outdated in general, leaking and crumbling at the edges. Mushrooms growing from under the bureau. Not the best accommodations in Karachi, but. Low-profile. Their names aren’t on the books. The Russian wanted to help.
She reaches for him. She says, her hand on his, “You’re trembling.”
“You’re mistaken.” He whispers because he’s short of breath. He’s fine, though. “I’m fine.” He has to be fine. “Close your eyes, Irene Adler.” He looks at the capped syringe in his hands. “I’m trying to help you.”
“I’m not tired,” she says, stubborn to the last, “and you’re still too far away. Come here, rest your head a bit. You need this more than I do, don’t you?”
Nothing he can’t handle. He has been awake for four days—rapidly approaching five days—thanks to a potent mixture of paranoia and anticipation. If he stops moving forward, what will happen to him? The syringe slips from his fingers, bounces harmlessly on the floor. Manages to get his legs onto the bed. Reclines beside her and it’s like falling. Christ, he could fall asleep right here. What if Victor returned and found him unconscious?
What would Victor do to him?
What wouldn’t Victor do to him?
He can see the ravenous intent in Victor’s eyes when they have to kiss for Mycroft’s photographers. He can feel it when Victor holds him tenderly as part of their pretending to be in a relationship. Victor’s flinches every time Sherlock pulls away: this is an obsessive, possessive pain. (This is close enough to love.) Sometimes he imagines his skin breaking as easily as tissue paper, and Victor’s hands pushing into him. He bleeds and he loves it, which he hates.
The worst part is how grateful Victor is to touch him again.
“You are trembling,” she says, strangely pleased, teasing, out of her mind. She flutters her (dry, bloodshot) eyes at him in a poor attempt at seduction. (Is this some sort of defense mechanism?) (She’s still beautiful.) “Are you that eager to undress me, Mr. Holmes?”
Her lips are forming words, but the sound’s delayed. Doesn’t matter: he can read her lips. She’s being very deliberate.
“Will you hold me down and have your wicked way with me?”
Liar, whore. Hypocrite. Object, kept pet: Victor’s grip. His mind slams shut. White static rushes through his mind. It’s so shallow in here; so disconnected. Stuck at the surface level. Has he gone mad? It’s alarming. It’s not a priority, he thinks. Fucking her is not a priority. Why would it be? It never was, it never will be. He’d discard the flesh entirely if he could. He’s given serious thought to removing his penis, regardless of the side effects.
“It’s nothing like that,” he tells her.
Irene stares at him, wide-eyed. What is that look for? She’s surprised? Why?
He was screaming, apparently. He screamed at her. His throat hurts.
“Believe me,” he says, and he feels like he’s on the edge of something terrible. If he falls, he won’t stop falling. “I wouldn’t do anything untoward.”
She smiles a watery smile for him. “All right, I’m stopping. I’ve stopped.” She curls her fingers around his wrist, tugging a little. Demanding. “Will you come here? It’s all right. I know.”
“You know what?” His eyes hurt. Better to close them.
“Put your head down, just like that.”
“You know what?”
“No need to shout, love.” Her voice is so soft. Not mocking. Not relishing the truth. No hidden agendas here. If she wants to hurt him, she could. But she won’t. “I know what happened. It’s not your fault.”
He feels like he’s above himself, watching himself have a meltdown. It’s a series of collapsing floors in his mind, smashing through barriers that couldn’t last. Maybe he tries to get up, to run away, but he can’t move his legs. He’s being crushed by the weight of it. He makes a strangled sound, a slowly-being-crushed sound.
It’s not his fault. It’s not his fault that Victor raped him.
She wouldn’t lie to him about this. She practically is him.
They look at each other and see themselves.
It’s not his fault.
While he shakes, while he falls and falls apart, she runs her fingers through his hair. Keeps repeating things to him. She says, “It isn’t you.” She says, “It’s not your fault.” When Mycroft said it, he didn’t believe him. He believes it now. “You don’t have to carry it alone anymore, you don’t have to carry it alone.”
“I—” Doesn’t recognize his own voice. “I don’t—know—why it matters.”
“Because you’re human,” she whispers. Her lips, his cheek. Humanity is overrated.
“It’s too much, even if…”
“I hear it gets easier,” she says gently. “Over time.”
He can’t stop crying. It’s been a long time since he was last fine. John said he was fine, but he’s not fine. And yet she keeps saying exactly what he needs to hear.
“It’s all right, it’s not your fault.” Why is she worried about him, not herself? Why? Why does she love him? Why does anyone love him? John, what do you think? “You’re brilliant. You really are, Sherlock Holmes.”
It takes days. It takes seconds. He struggles to breathe until it stops being a struggle. All he can hear is his own breathing, and hers. And the static. Still feels like an important plug has been pulled somewhere inside of him.
She is so close to him. She smells like soap. Clean. “Sherlock?”
“God, I’m…” He shudders, maybe for the last time. “I feel…” Different. Only way to describe it. Whether or not that’s for the better. He looks at her with unclouded eyes and doesn’t question why he leans in to kiss her on the lips.
The way she responds to him is all the confirmation he needs: she has dreamt about this for months. Probably it’s all she had to hold on to while imprisoned. Someday, he would find her. He would save her. They’d kiss, too. No pretenses. No games. It’s obsession, yes, but not about power.
She touches him everywhere to confirm he’s real.
He touches her everywhere because she wants him for him and it’s not your fault.
Until he slips a hand between her thighs, under that hideous yellow bathrobe, and she yelps. She cries out.
His blood almost reverses in his veins.
“I’m fine,” she says hurriedly. “Sherlock, I’m fine.”
“It’s all right. It isn’t anything.”
“Just forget it, Irene.”
Thank god her protests don’t last much longer. She settles down again, watching him blearily.
“I’d rather be on top, anyway,” she says, trying to make light of it. “And I don’t have any of my toys. That riding crop, I think you liked it more than you let on.”
Horrifying. No, it really is. How can she be so cavalier?
“No,” he whispers. Shifting his legs, he sits up and turns away. Wipes his face with his sleeve. What was he thinking? Why didn’t he check?
She sighs. “You’re going to put me to sleep now, aren’t you?”
He retrieves the syringe. It feels a thousand miles away from him, even when he’s holding it.
“I could use some sleep,” she admits. “I didn’t want to before—I wanted to talk with you. And you know what they say, ‘To sleep, perchance to dream.’” She shifts. Twice. “I’m not sure I want to dream. All of our monsters come to find us there, lions and tigers and bears. You understand.”
He does. All too well.
“Good night, Irene Adler.”
She goes still, and then:
“Wait, you have to wait. Promise me something.”
Indulging her, he asks, “What is it?”
“Take care of yourself while I’m asleep.”
He looks at her. He says he will.