No Match for the Man

Chapter 2

A few days later, just when he despaired of Ms Adler ever reappearing, a car that was not one of Mycroft's absconded with his flatmate. As he slipped up the back ways into the building, he took in a deep breath of cleansing London air as the thrill of The Game shot up his spine. It appeared she was more intriguing than previously believed.

John's softly serious plea that Ms Adler reveal to the detective that she still lived twisted something inside Sherlock, allowing that feeling of loneliness to seep through again. He had no doubt that John would definitely reveal her presence to him, without any provacation on his part, simply because John cared. If it would alleviate Sherlock's depression, the detective had no doubt John would do it. John would do anything for him.

Stealthily listening to the conversation unfolding a few yards away, Sherlock focused more on John's reactions to Ms Adler's manipulations than the words themselves. The doctor's incredulity at her having the audacity to flirt with Sherlock was entertaining, at least. Something about the way John said, "I don't know, maybe," in response to her asking if she was special tugged at a place in Sherlock's chest suspiciously near his physical heart.

John's mild outburst against his perceived homosexuality was predictable, as was the odd twinge it caused in Sherlock's chest. The revelation that Ms Adler was a lesbian came as a bit of a shock, but then again, women were decidedly not his area. Female sexuality was far more fluid than that of his own gender, which made it much harder to predict if there weren't a considerable number of other factors at play. What really surprised him was the silence after she said, "Look at us both."

Sherlock slid out of the building when his text chime alerted them both to his presence. He had to move quickly, or John would probably follow him. Facing John now would be a decidedly bad idea, as Sherlock wasn't entirely sure where his mind was on that front. Setting his body on autopilot, Sherlock took a cab back home to the flat, turning his mind inwards in order to suss out the reason for the strange ache that had sprung up in his chest.

It hit him as he exited the cab on the corner and moved toward the flat. Irene Adler thought he thought she was special. True, he did love to have the last word - John was right about that - but he had never answered any of her messages. Even John seemed to think that made her special, which gave her even more incentive to believe it herself. In actuality, he hadn't answered because he didn't care.

Answering her messages, flirting with her, would serve no purpose other than to indulge her playful, 'bad girl' disposition. Besides, he was rubbish at flirting anyway, so why bother doing it at all? There was also the fact that she had drugged him, humiliated him even, which was no way to ingratiate one's self with anyone, let alone a man as self-possessed and proud as himself. The only thing further he wanted from Irene Adler was the code to her stupid phone, and since that was never the message he received, he never bothered answering.

Pausing at the door, he stared at the knocker for half a minute as he contemplated the messy tangle of feelings which had sprung up during the entire overheard conversation. Three things were obvious: 1) John considered Irene special because of Sherlock's atypical reaction to her, 2) Irene had feelings about him that could possibly work in his favor if he played his cards right, and 3) John's silence after Irene's sexual revelation was either a realization of his own, or an inability to think of a comeback. Sherlock's reactions to these things, emotion-wise, were disbelief mixed with confusion, contemplative satisfaction, and the treacherous spark of hope, in that order.

Seeing the signs of a breaking-and-entering on the doorjamb pulled the detective from his revelry. Evidence piled up in his mind as he noted the signs of a struggle on the stairwell and the floor. John was not at home, of course, which left only Mrs Hudson as a possible hostage. His blood began to boil within his skin as he ascended the steps and the soft sound of muffled sobs reached his ears.

While Sherlock disappeared into the shadows of London, John pressed two fingers against the bridge of his nose and let out an irritated sigh. Irene smirked over her shoulder at him. "Well, Doctor Watson," she began, and the smugness in the dominatrix's voice sounded so much like Mycroft, John almost wanted to vomit.

"Whatever you plan on saying, Ms Adler, keep it to your bloody self." John growled, executing possibly the sharpest turn he'd ever made since his last time on a parade ground.

The doctor stalked out of the building, anger flushing his cheeks as that feeling of protectiveness uncoiled and recoiled in his gut. Irene Adler had no right to that same smugness that Mycroft had, like he knew Sherlock better than anyone else. John did not have any such beliefs; he simply accepted the detective's eccentricities and tried not to make any assumptions beyond it.

Sherlock was a mystery unto himself, and John enjoyed every moment of surprise. No one had the right to think they had unravelled the mystery themselves, without either Sherlock's consent or his own personal revelations. Though John held no hope of ever finding himself deemed worthy of understanding the detective, he reveled in the illusion of closeness afforded to him by their living situation.

John had returned from war a man defeated, adrift from the shores of purpose. Sherlock had moored him once again, with ropes spun of murder and adrenaline. For returning his life to him, John would go through several kinds of hell, mental and physical, to protect Sherlock. If that meant pitting himself against the likes of Irene Adler, then so be it.

Rotating his shoulders and neck to loosen them, John made a bee-line for the exit of the power station. He found Ms Adler's accomplice waiting at the door, and smirked wryly at her. "Sorry I accused you of being one of Mycroft's assistants."

She looked up from her mobile screen and gave him an answering smirk, "I've been called worse things."

"Still, I behaved terribly towards you in the car. Is there any way I could make it up to you?"

"Perhaps," she gave a furtive glance up at the power station, then motioned for him to get into the car. She waited until they were well on their way back towards Baker Street before speaking again, "I know Mr Holmes is still in possession of Miss Adler's phone."

"Am I to assume you appear on it in some way?" John leaned back into the seat. "And you would like to see it erased?"

"No and yes." The woman crossed her legs and leaned closer, right into his personal space. A hint of floral perfume reached his nostrils. "My employer appears on the phone, in a rather imaginative and artistic array of photographs. In addition, he has also exposed a number of documents to her eyes, which we believe have also been downloaded to her smartphone. He is in a tenuous position at the moment, and if Mr Mycroft Holmes were to ever see his involvement with Miss Adler, would probably be fired."

"You'd like me to manipulate Sherlock into erasing both before Mycroft has a chance to see them?"

"I would certainly make it worth your while," she stroked a perfecty manicured finger along the top of his thigh.

Lovely as she was, John wouldn't have taken her up on the offer if her insides were made of gold. Sherlock would have been proud of the way he artificially showed interest - licking his lips and casting a weighted gaze over her body. He felt the car slide to a stop, and locked eyes with her. He said nothing as he slid out onto the pavement, only allowing his irritation to show once safely out of the vehicle.

Even if he had the power to manipulate Sherlock Holmes, John would have rather died than exercise it for something as petty as political gain.

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