At the Fox.
About six o'clock. Give or take.
She checked— for the third time, it looked like compulsive behavior but it wasn't really, because things had a habit of going missing these days— to make sure her wallet was still in her pocketbook, which it was, which was good, because, well. Jim was very modern, wasn't he. That one time he'd offered to pay for her drink, when they'd first started out, had been neither accepted nor repeated. But the wallet was where it should be, and the notes tucked inside had not been changed for bill-sized paper with smiley faces on it. For once. Jim liked practical jokes, too.
He also liked being on time, and so it was strange that here she sat on her own. She didn't like it. The cocoon of quiet that surrounded her— the kind of quiet that you get when you're alone in a room full of strangers, and everyone is talking to everyone else and no one is talking to you— was suffocating, cotton wool wrapped around her, as though noise would cause her to crack and break. It gave her time to think, and this she liked even less. All that she thought of was Sherlock's words of earlier, going round and round in her head. All she could think of was a precipice, when here at last she had thought she'd found a level place to stand. And someone to lean on.
Shut up, she should have said, you stupid man. But that wouldn't have been true, would it? And so she hadn't said it.
All in all, what with the thinking and the silence and the feeling that people were staring at her, she was grateful when she saw Jim's slight form move through the front door.
He advanced on her with the same eager smile she'd last seen him wearing, when he left her to slouch off back to IT. "Hey," he said, like she was the best news he'd had all day, and he slid into the booth across from her and put his elbows on the table and leaned forward to brush a kiss on her cheek. Molly put her hand over it, to hold it there, and blushed and smiled.
"Good day?" she said.
"Oh, the best," he assured her. "So many interesting things happen in IT, you'd be surprised. Some idiot— you're not going to believe this— some girl up on seven disabled the firewalls for her station so she could download illegal sudoku. Sudoku."
"I know. Right?" He laughed, briefly, softly. "I copied it off for us to do Sunday afternoon. Since we're both off." His hand reached across the table and found hers, waiting empty and waiting long, and he filled it with his and his smile was soft. "That alright with you?"
And it was alright with her. Or it would have been, hours earlier, before Sherlock had tossed out that passing observation as though it wouldn't disrupt her newly discovered love life. It would have been fantastic by her, to take this two-week-old dating crushing thing and find a name to put to it, to maybe spend a lazy Sunday afternoon in the park doing sudoku and maybe a lazy Sunday evening doing Jim. But.
"We need to talk," she said, quickly, before she changed her mind.
He was alert, instantly, everything about him tensed and shifted and changed, and his dark eyes were alive with something she hadn't seen before. It wasn't guilt, though, which she had been expecting, been dreading. It wasn't even nervousness. He looked eager. Do you have something you want to tell me? she'd been planning on saying, but now she was too afraid the answer would be Yes. Yes I do. Very much.
Even the grip of his hand tightened and altered and Molly swallowed past the sudden lump of anticipation in her throat. How had he got electric all of a sudden?
"Do we?" he said. "Good. I like to talk. What would you like to talk about?"
"Well," she said, but he jumped in again, anticipating.
"About what it was that Sherlock Holmes said," he prompted. "Is that it?"
"Well," said Molly, dithering slightly, but he was already shaking his head and patting her hand like a concerned uncle.
"He was reading signs that weren't there. I expect he thinks everyone's gay for him. He's like you said, Mols, like you told me before, an insufferable son of a—"
"He had a list," she interrupted him. Jim shrugged.
"I've got a list," he said genially. "It's got groceries on it. I don't see what that's got to do with anyth—"
"You gave him your number."
"Ah," said Jim, softly, and sat back. He wriggled his shoulders against the padding of the booth, and appeared deep in thought for a moment. "I was just messing with him, Mols. I wanted to get at him, and I admit, it was kind of a stupid sort of prank, but I thought if—"
"Don't," she said, fierce for the briefest of moments, fierce and biting. "Stop it, Jim. Talk to me. And don't call me that."
His features froze; he went very still. When they thawed out, a smile curved the corner of his mouth upwards, and his eyes narrowed as his grin steadily sharpened.
"Very good," he said. "I approve of that. Determination. Evidence of strong will. It's a complete departure from the Molly I'm used to, but schizophrenia looks good on you." He nodded. "I like it."
Molly clenched her hands together. "Tell me, Jim. I'll listen to anything you have to say, but just— tell me what is going on."
"You want the truth, now?" he said. "You trust me to give it to you? All things considered, you haven't known me very long."
"Two weeks," she said. "But you work at a hospital." She laughed, uncertainly. "How bad could you be?"
He considered this. "That depends on how hard I'm trying, I suppose. Don't ask questions you don't want answered, Molly. I'll tell you the truth, if you ask me."
Her throat was dry, suddenly. "Why?"
"For fun," he said, shrugging. "For a chance. Why not? So answer me, dearest. Do you want it, or not?"
Her options were clear, and the one that made the most sense was of course to say No, and get up and leave and not speak to him till he was sober, or whatever this was had blown over. Just to go on the way they had been, and try to forget what Sherlock had said, and not be able to, and live in frustration and half-buried resentment until it all went bad, probably at the worst possible time, and then he would break up with her and she would go home to her flat and cry into her stuffed animals and eat ice cream and behave like every other normal hormonal modern woman.
She said, "Yes."
Jim looked dizzily pleased by this. "Yes?" he said, and his eyebrows lifted, and he smiled.
"Yes," said Molly, slightly more firmly this time.
"Great," said Jim, and now he grinned, and followed that up with a rapid recital of, "My name isn't Jim Halloran, I don't work in IT, I don't work at Bart's at all as a matter of fact, I'm involved in activities which are somewhat less than legal but quite a bit of fun, and I've been faking everything this entire time." He paused, and thought about it. "Except the bit about sudoku. I do like sudoku."
"What," said Molly.
"Hmm. You look surprised."
"What," said Molly, again, and blinked. "You— you don't work in IT?" Her brain was floundering, searching for something, anything to grab onto. Something that made sense. It wasn't happening. "But you fixed my computer."
"Well, I am good," Jim said, nodding rapidly, "I am very, very good at a wide, wide variety of things, but its not so much a matter of training as it is instinct. You see."
Molly shook her head, and pressed her fingertips to her eyelids. "I don't understand."
"Oh, I think you do. Consider it from my point of view."
She dropped her hands to the table with a slap. "How am I supposed to do that? I don't even know who you are."
"Oh, right." He promptly stuck out his left hand for her to shake, should she be so inclined. "Jim Moriarty."
And she could believe this, she could, she could believe that he wasn't who he'd said he was. Because everything about him was different, abruptly, suddenly; a stronger repetition of the surge of electric that she'd noticed such a short time before. An enlivening, a sudden stripping of his wires and a series of sparks and a bright, mad little flame dancing in his dark eyes. Moriarty's here. Call the fire brigade and evacuate the building. Even the voice was different; Jim's soft, husky, slightly dopey tones— it had been endearing, really— had turned strong and brittle and one-note, and that note was sharp.
"Moriarty," she said, disbelieving. "You're— this person, and you're named Moriarty."
"I told you that you didn't know much about me. You didn't even know the things you thought you knew. You know what I told you, and what I told you wasn't true. How does that feel, Molly? Being lied to?" He watched her avidly, and his eyes were fathomless.
"I don't like it," she said, honestly, "but it's nothing that hasn't happened before."
"Ah, well, I'm sorry I did it, then. Can't stand the thought that anything I do is old hat." He drummed his fingers on the table, one-two-three-four. "Go on. What's next?"
"Why'd you do it? Why did you lie to me?"
"I couldn't very well go around introducing myself by my real name, could I?" he said, aggrieved. "Not when Sherlock and John are trying so very hard to find me."
"Find you? Sherlock— why?"
He pointed at himself. "Bad guy. Very. Although, like I said, it depends on the effort. And sometimes—" He sighed. "— I get headaches, and that's always a bad day. Well. Relatively speaking."
"You're a— criminal. And they're looking for you." She was quiet for a moment, and couldn't look at him, could only look at the table. "What have you done?"
"I could tell you," he offered, eagerly, "but we're not quite at that point yet. We're still at the getting-to-know-you stage in our relationship. Crimes against humanity can wait till the second date, at least. Now, I know lots about you, Molly. Lots and lots. I know your work, I know your friends, I know your associates, I know your mobile number, I know your flat, and I know your pet. What would you like to know about me?"
"Who you are," said Molly. Who are you? "What you do." What have you done?
"Do? Hmm." He leaned back and looked at the ceiling for a moment, then glanced back at her. "Honestly? I don't have much in the way of what you might call hobbies. But I do like to steal things," he said, happily. "I like to steal lots of different things."
"I don't know what you mean," she said, a hand at her temple, fingers pressing, "you're talking in circles, you're not making sense, Jim—"
But he wasn't talking any more, he was stripping. He had his jacket unzipped in a moment and had slid it down over narrow shoulders and tossed it into the corner of the booth, and then he stood and moved to her side of the table and slid in next to her and pressed up against her and was very warm through the fabric of her favorite shirt. Which she was not wearing.
"Hey!" said Molly.
"Hey," said Jim.
It was, embarrassingly, a little loose on him, the sleeves just the tiniest bit short, and he'd left the top two buttons undone to create a triangle of smooth pale hairless skin. The cloth was slick, the pattern was large orange roses on a dark burgundy background, and he adopted a tiny quirk-edged smile to go with it.
"I also really do like cats," he said. "That should be reassuring, shouldn't it? Unless you're going to ask me how I like them, and then I'll be obliged to make some awful joke, like, Barbecued, and then you'll be disgusted, and quite rightly so. But I do like them. They're warm, and they purr when you pet them." He stroked lightly down her face. "Much like you do, Molly."
She couldn't look up. Couldn't look away from that smooth pale hairless triangle.
"Why did you do this?" she said, and her fingers faltered away just before they touched the slick cloth of her shirt, as though it wasn't really hers at all, as though she had to ask his permission.
"Why not?" said Moriarty. It seemed to be his answer for everything. She looked up at him at last.
"Tell me," she said.
He tilted his head and looked at her sideways. "You're not going to wait for a second date?"
"I want to know."
"Then say this is our second date. Say there's going to be more, because to be honest, Molly, Mols, you're a woman of limited options. I could kill you, certainly, and if you absolutely insist, then I will. But I enjoy you, I really do. And there's more going on in your head than you give yourself credit for. And your history, oh, Molly." He sucked in his breath, let it out again like this was passion. "Crooked in college. Crime in the family. And a murder somewhere lurking in the darkness."
"That wasn't me," she said.
"I've got your number," said Moriarty. He smiled sideways, crooked as she had been once, and this was glee. "No one's ever as pure as they're made out to be. So. You intrigue me, my dear. I bring to the table, to this table, an offer of equal exchange. You show me yours, and I'll show you mine."
This could be more, if she wanted it to be more, if she made it more. It could be something beyond a workplace in common and secrets and a shared affinity for furry creatures and the fact that her favorite shirt wasn't just hiding in the closet after all. Why had he given her the option? It didn't make any sense to her.
"Why are you asking me this?" she said. "Why don't you just go off and kill Sherlock and leave me out of it? What has it got to do with me at all? Why bring me into it? Why—"
"Molly," Jim said, and for a moment the thick soft voice of the man she'd known was back, in a caress of a tone, and he said her name like he knew her. "All your life you've been waiting. With your floral prints and your cat and your stuffed animals on your empty bed. What have you been waiting for, Molly?"
He wasn't going to answer that for her. She bit her lip, and considered, and faltered the true answer out.
"Something big," she said.
Jim Moriarty smiled, and spread his arms.
"Here I am," he said.
Don't ask questions you don't want the answer to.
And don't agree to things you don't want.
Molly clutched lightly, briefly, at the undone buttons on her favorite shirt. His skin was hot beneath her fingers, burning, and she could feel the slow steady pounding of a heart that only existed to keep him alive. She slipped closer, one knee against his, and she leaned, and she reached, and he let her. He welcomed her; his arms were still spread, one along the back of the booth, the other on the table in front, but his mouth opened under hers and he wasn't still, not for a second, but the electric that belonged to Moriarty and not at all to sweet Jim was buzzing and crackling, and she reached her hands around behind and found the curved base of his skull where all the answers started, and he didn't touch her but he found her, still.
He kissed her— or he let her kiss him, or it was both, she wasn't clear— till she was dizzy and her tensed body had to stop, let go, sit back, remove, detach, and when she was away from him she saw what he really was. Because Molly was finding an aliveness, an electric of her own; and Moriarty looked mildly amused.
"Also, I was bored," he said.
"Tell me," said Molly.
"Don't you want to order drinks first?"
"Tell me," said Molly, again.
Moriarty leaned forward, the smallest surge of movement, the closest to a touch without actually touching, and with his mouth next to hers, he started.
"I have a plan," he said. "I like plans. My father was a professor. A very intelligent man. The last thing he told me, before he died, was that plans were like carousels. A lot of fun, and completely pointless. Like I said, a very intelligent man. This plan of mine, it's a good one. And as long as Sherlock keeps playing along, it could keep me entertained for years." He nodded, once. "And I like being entertained."
"And if he doesn't?"
Moriarty smiled. "Then things will get very interesting, very quickly."
His eyes said things his mouth was holding back. She read the words that mattered, and took a deep breath.
"Tell me more," she said.