Anyway this story isn't really based on the Mary Russell books. It's more based on my reading William S. Baring-Gould's "biography" of Holmes. Baring-Gould didn't invent the theory of Holmes having an affair with Irene Adler in Montenegro, but he popularized it, along with many other Sherlockian ideas.
Normally I don't like Holmes in love with Irene Adler. It's a little too cliche for me, and I prefer believing that Holmes merely respected her mind and her skills as a foe. But Sherlockians do point out that Irene Adler's wedding ceremony in SCAN is completely strange and illegal, and I wondered if there was a way to explain it. I also love the notion of Holmes being fallible and mistaken, when in love. So I came up with this. Reading it even now, I get mad at Holmes all over again for deceiving poor Watson.
Fandom: Sherlock Holmes
Story: Holmes and Irene, complete
Just getting her makeup off and changing after the performance, she took the note with curiosity from her maid, who usually knew better than to take things from strange men at the opera house. As a newspaper clipping fell out from the crisp white folds of paper, she paused to catch it, and then read the note: "Surprised to find that your death, like his own, has been prematurely reported, a London gentleman requests a small portion of your time this evening, for the sake of old, if not fond, acquaintance."
Then Irene glanced at the newspaper clipping and let out a small gasp.
--Meiringen, Switzerland. The celebrated London consulting detective Mr. Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street is reported today to have died at Reichenbach Falls. Lured there by the alleged criminal mastermind Professor Moriarty, Holmes met the professor alone at the edge of the Falls, where authorities have determined that a heated struggle took place, resulting in the fall of both the detective and his foe into the Reichenbach. This terrible event is said to have come at the end of a prolonged and perilous chase across Europe, caused by circumstances the details of which are too sensitive to report at present, as the late Professor Moriarty's criminal ring are even now awaiting trial in London. Mr. Holmes apparently considered the sacrifice of his life to be a necessary risk for the sake of bringing the professor to justice, and he appeared to have knowingly entered the trap set for him. His intimate friend and travelling companion Dr. Watson said with grief, 'It was too high a price to pay for justice. I have lost a cherished friend.'
Drawing her eyes away from the incredible words, her mind raced with the meaning of both the clipping and the note. She quickly sent her maid out to fetch the gentleman, then rose from her seat and awaited him.
He entered the dressing room quietly and came forward to her. "Mrs. Norton," he kissed her hand demurely. "I hope that you did not find my note too indecorous, considering the nature of our last meeting."
"Not at all," she said coolly, darting her eyes keenly over him. "Deception was but required in your role at the moment, as in mine. I held you still in enough esteem to wish you goodnight, and even, in leaving, to address to you a note of congratulations and goodbye."
"Congratulations for winning but a minor skirmish of the greater battle," he smiled. "A glimpse, and an adventure, I won; the photograph I lost."
"Ah, but you won my respect--as a fellow of the theatre. It was a well-orchestrated performance that you and your companions gave. A performance rivalling, in its efficiency and detail, even this little drama my producers have staged for me tonight." She gestured dismissively. "I had wished then that I had another photograph to leave to you, but alas I had only my parting token for the King."
Parting shot, more likely he thought. She had had a smile, almost a smirk, of regalness about her in that photograph, which he adored.
He allowed his own smile to soften, and faintly brighten. "Your respect alone was a prized token."
"And," she hesitated, eyebrows raised, "the letter?"
He had kept it, then. Cherished it?
He removed and held up a coin that he wore on his watch-chain. "I have another token of which you are not likely aware. Perhaps it will be indelicate of me to confess it now, but if you remember a certain drunken-looking groom who witnessed to your wedding--"
Her eyes widened. "No! That wasn't you too?"
He handed her the coin to inspect. "The sovereign you gave me as reward," he explained.
She looked both at him and the pierced coin. When she stepped nearer to him, he remembered himself, moving back and perching on the arm of her settee.
He coughed, dashing away his former smile with full propriety. "He was quite suited to you, your groom," he said.
She stared at him searchingly for some moments. Then she handed to him both the coin and his newspaper clipping, which he pocketed. "You have made a most remarkable return from the grave, Mr. Holmes."
"As have you, Mrs. Norton."
"May I elicit from you the tale of your resurrection?"
"Certainly, if you permit me to hear the tale of yours."
"Certainly." She took a seat opposite him. "Well, for the sake of my protection from the King, Godfrey returned to London and leaked a false report of my death--a very scandalous death, so as to make sure it would be much publicised."
"Ah," he said. "I take it then that your dubious and questionable end had no resemblance to the truth whatsoever, including your supposed betrayal of your husband, and all the grandiose and melodramatic--" he smiled, "--operatic details of your running off, and its tragic consequences?"
She smiled. "I could never have behaved so abominably to Godfrey as he described."
"No," he smiled. "That he pulled it off convincingly is a further credit to his head, and his loyalty for you. I should most certainly like to shake the hand of that fine gentleman again. Is he here now?"
"Yes, has he not yet managed to return from his self-imposed exile to be with you here in obscurity?"
She stared at him again, with the same puzzled look as before. She spoke tentatively, "Godfrey isn't actually my husband, Mr. Holmes." At his startled reaction, her eyes widened and she sat up. "But you were there at the pretended wedding!" She gasped, rising from her chair finally with understanding. "Did you not know it was a ruse?"
He had no words to reply, and she suddenly found herself laughing, quite impolitely, she realised.
"But it was a shambles of a wedding!" she insisted. "The false priest was an old friend of Godfrey's who was toying with him and delaying with outdated legal talk about informal licences and witnesses, just for fun. Just to tease Godfrey about his irritation and impatience to get back to the Temple before his lunch hour was up. Surely you realised the legal absurdity of it?"
His lips were dry. "Ruse? For whom?"
"For John, of course." He looked at her blankly. "John, my coachman who drove me to the church. He tied up the landau outside and joined us within. Didn't you see him? Didn't you notice?"
His eyebrows furrowed, he shook his head uncomfortably. "No," he swallowed. "No."
"But why not? He was right there with us. He was the first 'witness', you the second."
"I'm--I'm sorry. I mustn't have been paying attention. I must have--" he was struggling more and more with his words. "But why?" he said desperately.
"We wished to start a rumour that we were married. It was our plan at the time to get the King to leave me be. If Wilhelm thought that I was in love and married, he would realise that my publicisng our photo would hurt me as well as him. He would feel safe and stop hounding me."
"Just a rumour," he repeated, in disbelief.
She nodded. "Rumours start best through servants. We hadn't any idea at the time that we would need to flee the country so very soon. The seed of rumour barely had time to spread when we realised that you were after us." She looked at him intently then. "Why did you still pursue the photo? If you believed I was genuinely married, why did you not just tell Wilhelm and leave me be?"
He looked up, realising suddenly that he could not find an answer--not one that he could repeat out loud.
She looked hurt. "I thought you were an honourable man, that you weren't vindictive. Whatever crimes Wilhelm may have told you I'd done against him--" she shook her head. "If I was married and the photo was of no practical use, why would you deceive me anyway?"
He fumbled for some pretense, whispering, "I'm sorry. I was caught up in the challenge. I didn't like to be bested by a woman--"
"And if I had truly married Godfrey," she said, folding her arms about herself as though feeling cold, "if I had loved him more than as a friend--you would have nearly ruined us anyway."
"N-no!" he protested.
When she looked up at his face, saw the troubled look in his eyes, she realised the truth. "You weren't... thinking," she whispered. "You weren't logical. You were distracted ... by me?"
He swallowed then, looking away.
"It's true." She came nearer to him, her expression increasingly wavering on a smile. "It's true!"
He dodged her when she tried touching his hand.
She stared at him, then laughed suddenly. "Mr. Holmes, do you know why I keep that photo of me with Wilhelm? Even though the possession of it was a great peril to me for years? Even though the sight of Wilhelm makes me sick nowadays?"
He met her eyes slowly. "Why?"
She smiled. "An old, stubborn, and--according to Godfrey--stupid habit. To keep myself humble, and on alert, I must keep record of my failures. I must remember that I've been idiotically stripped of my good judgment and my reason by a mere man. Far from Wilhelm's paranoid fears of my seeking vengeance, I keep that photo because I must always remember that my own heart cannot be trusted, can betray me at any moment, can... reduce me," her voice lowered, "as I see that your own heart has reduced you."
He held the contact of her eyes for several moments in silence. Then she abruptly leaned near to kiss his cheek.
He backed away again. "Mrs. Norton--"
She put her hands on her hips. "He just loaned me the name once!" She moved close once more.
"Please!" Advancing again, she pressed his hand. "Irene," she insisted.
With difficulty, he looked away from her keen eyes. As she smiled, he found himself lost for words and cornered by her nearness. Her very breath seemed to touch him as he fought for his voice. "I--I'm afraid, Miss Adler, that if I took that liberty I might quickly in carelessness insult you with a butchering of that fine name of yours."
Her voice came again, low and melodic. "Oh yes, I have heard the English pronunciation. Irenie--more like a diminutive, or some Arabian Nights genie!" she laughed. Then her words were more measured, and her smile changed its tilt. "Still... I might not mind it too much, if it happened to come from you--" She leaned near, punctuating each whispered word with a light kiss upon his neck. "--my... dear... sweet... adversary."
His eyes half-open, he spoke softly and intently. "I believe you mean to have from me the apology and... supplication that you never had from the King."
She laughed sweetly. Her eyelashes brushed his skin. "I have had little interest in men--most men--lately." She stood back from him again, smiling. "Can it not be that I merely wish to say farewell to one of the most intriguing of them?"
"No. It can not be." Rising at last, he kissed her.