Rating 15 (femslash, references to alcoholism)
Spoilers for A Scandal in Belgravia
Summary: Has Kate just been making a fool out of Clara?
Betaed by the wonderful blooms84Part 1
, Part 2
, Part 3
The bar Kate had given her directions to was surprisingly quiet when Clara went in, but one look at the prices explained that. And then Kate materialised beside her, looking like someone who belonged there, and said: "They do amazing cherry vodka here, but there are soft drinks if you prefer."
Clara hadn't drunk much of her champagne. She had the sudden urge to get completely hammered, because it didn't matter anymore. She didn't have to set a good example to Harry, did she? And she didn't care what Kate thought about her.
"Cherry vodka it is," she said, "if you're paying. A double." She found a table by the window and watched as Kate brought the glasses over, with an air of concentration that suggested she was more nervous than she'd first appeared.
"Your boss didn't object to you leaving the viewing early?" Clara said, as Kate sat down, and then remembered that she wasn't supposed to be being sympathetic.
"I said you weren't feeling well, and I needed to take you home," Kate replied. "Well the first bit was almost true. I didn't...it came out all wrong."
Clara drank down her vodka. The sharpness of it set her teeth on edge, but it did slip down easily. Give me some Dutch courage
, she thought.
"You should have told me about D'Annunzio," she announced. "If you can't trust me–"
"I was going to, really I was," Kate said, staring miserably down at her shot glass. "But when you arrived, you looked pleased to see me. As if you wanted to be there. Be with me. And I didn't want to remind you that I used to work in the sex trade."
"If it hadn't been Paul, it would have been someone else. There are hundreds of men, out there, thousands, who were Irene's clients. Many more who would have liked to be. I can't get away from her."
"Do you want to?" That was the heart of the matter, Clara thought. She didn't want anything to do with Irene's brand of manipulation, desire as a weapon.
"Yes," Kate said and then added abruptly: "I don't like the person she made me into. No, the person I
made myself into to please her."
"What do you mean?" Clara asked softly, feeling her anger seep away at the misery in Kate's expressive grey eyes. Kate was hurting already, and Clara had a sudden urge to hold her, to kiss her and make it all better. No
, she told herself firmly, that's not going to help
. "What happened with Irene?"
"I did whatever she wanted, and I didn't ask awkward questions, and I didn't stand up to her."
"You can't...it can't be easy standing up to a professional dominatrix," Clara said. Hard enough with anyone you loved.
"The thing is, I thought no-one was getting hurt," Kate said, and then she looked up and giggled slightly shakily at Clara. "I know that sounds funny, given the whips, but the clients wanted that, and Irene was always careful. And the insider trading and even the espionage, it was all just a game. Pushing e-mails and pieces of paper around. It didn't seem real."
"When did you realise there was something more?" How much had Kate been concealing at their first meeting? Clara wasn't sure how many more secrets she could cope with.
"When Irene disappeared, I wondered if Jim Moriarty had had something to do with it," Kate replied. "The 'consulting criminal' she'd been involved with. He'd have the contacts for that sort of thing. So I was trying to get hold of him, but nobody seemed to know anything. And Irene hadn't taken me along the one time they'd met in person, so I didn't even know who I was looking for."
"So have you tracked him down now?"
"No," Kate said shakily, "And I'm not going to try. After you told me about the job at the art gallery, I talked to an expert on paintings who Irene had...known."
She paused and Clara tried very hard not to imagine Brian Sewell or Andrew Graham-Dixon being tied up and scolded. It was worrying how easily you could start to believe that any man you'd heard of might be one of Irene's former clients.
"We had a long talk," Kate went on, "and he happened to mention something about fake Dali prints. So I asked him if he'd ever come across Moriarty. He went white and he said that he'd been rumoured to be behind a Vermeer that turned up in London the previous year, but that no-one wanted to ask questions because someone had got killed."
"That was the scandal at the Hickman gallery, wasn't it, where we were tonight?"
"Yes," Kate said. "I couldn't find anything useful in the papers, but I know this policeman..." She ground to a halt and gazed out into the darkness of the street.
"Another client of Irene's?" Clara said, as calmly as she could. If she was going to get anywhere with Kate, she had to learn to cope with this.
Kate nodded. "I asked him about the Vermeer and he said that a gallery attendant had been killed by a professional hitman to stop him revealing the fake. And that there were a whole string of other crimes at the same time believed to be organised by one man, including several other murders."
"And you think that might have been Moriarty?"
"Yes. I don't...I don't know how much Irene knew about him. But there was a dead body that wasn't hers, and he's a murderer, and I don't know what else he's done." There was something near panic in those clear grey eyes. "If I'd asked for details at the time... If I'd told her not to get involved with him..."
"Would she have listened?"
"No," Kate said sadly, and took a sip of her vodka, and added: "But I should still have tried."What can you say to that
? It was tempting to tell Kate she should have never have got involved with Irene, that she should have seen this coming. But it was a long way even from sex games with a princess to calling on the services of a murderer. Had Irene
got herself into something she couldn't handle, as well?
Kate was still staring silently at her, and Clara firmly squashed any burgeoning feelings of sympathy towards Irene. It was one thing endangering herself, but Irene shouldn't have hurt Kate the way she had. Being left feeling guilty as well as bereft.
"Is there anything you do know?" she asked Kate. "Anything you can tell the police about Moriarty?"
"Nothing that will help them much," Kate said after a moment's thought. "Irene said he was young, good-looking, good taste in suits. Liked a laugh."
"Even that might help them a bit. You could pass on what you know anonymously via this policeman. It might make you feel better, if you'd done something to try and stop him." It was funny how she always ended up trying to solve Kate's problems for her. But then behind the polished facade there was something oddly vulnerable about Kate. She'd been Irene's private toy, hadn't she, all these years? What had that done to her?
"Should I tell the police about Irene's death being faked?" Kate asked.
"I can't make that decision for you," Clara replied promptly.
"I don't want to," Kate said, her chin going up. "I know she's...a criminal, and she's behaved terribly, but she was in genuine danger. I wouldn't want the CIA finding her again."
"It's not surprising you want to protect her," Clara said. She wished she could say something more helpful, but she couldn't come up with anything.
They sat silently for a while; Kate sipped her drink delicately, and Clara tried to keep her brain in gear and not just daydream about the feel of those soft, full lips on her skin. There was something more that Kate wanted to tell her, she felt sure of it. She saw that sometimes with her clients: that they'd talk for half an hour about one problem, and only at the last moment reveal what was really bugging them. Well, at least she wasn't charging Kate by the minute tonight.
"You said I needed to trust you..." Kate began at last, and then stopped, playing with her glass again, and asked: "Do you want another drink?"
"No, thanks," said Clara. She'd been wrong to think that alcohol would help, it never did. One more drink and she'd just feel miserable, she knew that. Then Kate looked into her eyes, and said quietly:
"Maybe...maybe you need to trust me as well. What was she
like? The woman you've just broken up with?"
"How did you know?" Clara demanded, her anger surging up again. Kate flinched, and Clara automatically dropped her voice: "Have you been investigating me?"
"No," Kate said, "I guessed. I... Irene taught me how to spot things about people. Pick up on what they might like. You guessed right away I was Irene's lover, and when we went into the bar I saw the barman's face. He was pleased
that you were with an unfamiliar woman. Not shocked or surprised. So gay, but not in a relationship."
"What made you think I'd recently broken up with someone?" Clara said, wondering if she looked that vulnerable. If her whole miserable history could be read by someone who'd been trained by Irene.
"No pictures on your desk at work."
"Maybe I've just never met anyone."
"No. Then there'd be pictures of your family, or your godchildren or something like that. You'd always find someone to love. That's just the way you are. But there was nothing." And then Kate smiled sadly at Clara. "And you understand what it's like to be hurt."
"Her name is Harry Watson and she is an alcoholic," Clara said, because it was easier getting out quickly, like ripping a plaster off a wound. "She left me just over a year ago."
"I'm sorry," Kate said, and now it was her
hand coming to rest on Clara's. "I've seen people who've got into that spiral of drinking, and it's terrible. Especially if...if you remember how wonderful they were before."
"What makes you think Harry was wonderful?"
"There must have been something wonderful to make you stay with her, despite what she did," Kate replied simply.
"She was so alive," Clara said, and it was odd how easy it was to talk about it now. "She made things interesting, stirred things up. She was clever and funny and...and now that's mostly gone." Energy turned into destructiveness, wit into insults. Harry had resented growing up, settling down, that had been the real start of it. Thirty had been hard enough for Harry. Thirty-five and a civil partnership had been impossible.
"It's a mess, isn't it?" Kate said, and a tentative smile blossomed on her face. "Still, it's done now. Whatever I tell the police, I can't imagine they'll find Irene. And I presume Harry's not coming back, if her photos are gone."
"They're still in a drawer," Clara said. "But no, I'm through with her. I haven't the strength for any more of her dramas." It had almost been a relief when Harry had walked out, an act of cruelty that had finally snapped the threads of Clara's patience. To have the flat calmly quiet when she went home, not with the ominous quiet of: Has Harry passed out? If she's not here where has she got to?
Kate's smile was warmer now: "That's good. So where do we go from here?"
"You might be interested in...meeting again?" said Clara slowly. She didn't want to humiliate herself by taking it for granted.
"I meant should we go to your place or mine?" Kate said, and then those gorgeous lips formed themselves into an "O" of surprise, and she giggled, and said: "I've been with Irene too long, haven't I? Am I supposed to wait for a few more dates before I suggest sex?"
"Was tonight a date?" Clara asked warily and Kate's face clouded.
"I suppose...not really. Maybe this bit in the bar might count as a date? I haven't got that much recent experience. So what am I supposed to do?"
"What do you want to do?" Clara asked automatically.
"Go to your place?" Kate said, smiling again. "I've got a rather tacky bedsit and the bed's terribly rickety." And then she went on quickly: "There are three things I'm good at. Wearing clothes, office administration and sex. And you look as if you're up to date with your filing."
"I don't want to..." Clara began and then couldn't think how to finish the sentence. Because of course she wanted Kate, how could anyone not do? How could Irene have given this gorgeous woman up?
"It's too soon," she said at last.
"After more than a year?"
"I meant for you. You're still on the rebound. You're not over Irene yet."
"I want to get over her," Kate said quietly, and she wasn't smiling now. "And I can't think of anyone better to help me than you."
"I don't want either of us getting hurt." Clara didn't know how
this would go wrong yet. She just knew that it would, the way things with any woman did now for her, since Harry. And this, in particular, couldn't be real.
Kate smiled sweetly: "Oh, that's OK. I'll be careful. And I don't need
the kinky stuff."
"I didn't mean–" Clara began, and she could feel herself blushing. Kate's thumb insinuated itself beneath her hand, brushing at the inside of her wrist in a most disconcerting way. Then Kate leaned towards her.
"I know, but I'll look after you. I can make it good. If you'll trust me."
Clara could feel warmth, tension build in her body, the tickle in her groin that made her want to react. Why not take what was on offer? Not worry about the consequences, for once. Just explore the body of this alluring, experienced woman, who had doubtless been taught so much...And that's the real problem, isn't it
, she realised abruptly. I'm worried I'll disappoint Kate in bed
"I'm not Irene Adler," she said and it came out fiercely, defensively.
"Don't you think, under the circumstances, that's rather a recommendation?" Kate said, and then she leant forth even more, to whisper into Clara's ear, as her left hand traced its way a little further up the inside of Clara's arm.: "She doesn't believe in public demonstrations of affection. Thinks they're undignified."
Well, put it like that, Clara thought, and her mouth went out to press against those teasing, kissable lips, thinking muzzily: If anyone in the bar complains, I'll sue them for discrimination
Kate's lips were cool, her mouth yielding softly, and Clara could taste the cherry vodka on her. Strange to kiss someone who'd been drinking and not be turned off, but she didn't worry about Kate and alcohol. She
clearly wasn't a woman who needed to drown her sorrows. She shouldn't be thinking about Harry, she told herself firmly, as she broke away from the kiss.
But Kate just smiled and said: "It's OK. We've got plenty of time. If you would like to take me home, that is."
"Yes," Clara said firmly, because even if this was going to go wrong, she might as well have one great night first.Part 5