Sherlock’s lips catch petulance and melancholia in the weeks before he crosses over into sensibility, and until then John watches him slump all over the flat.
Because of course Sherlock’s right, it would be boring.
John had countered that it would be good for business, and Sherlock had waved his hand—dull—before collapsing onto the sofa in a puddle of blue satin and refusing everything beyond the scope of nicotine for the next three days.
Sherlock had taken on their latest client—a rather predictable vigilante justice type—merely to appease John’s conscience, and his usual game of taunting the Yard with the exact degree of idiocy they had once again demonstrated themselves to possess was proving unsatisfying. Their latest attempt to indict him for tax code violations—tax code, as though he were as crass as Al Capone—was pathetic, really, and he had texted Detective Inspector Lestrade to tell him just that, along with a plea that the next cretin to try and take him down be accustomed to using at least fifteen percent of his cranial capacity.
The next cretin turns out to be James Moriarty, and Sherlock doesn’t need to sleep.
“He wants to be kidnapped,” Sherlock remarks on the afternoon of the third murder.
John lets the ‘sorry?’ go unsaid, Sherlock doesn’t shoot him a look that would crumple steel, and they move without hindrance into Sherlock’s explanation. They’ve found that cutting out the extras can save a lot of time.
“Consulting Detective, John.”
John hums lightly in understanding. When they’d picked up their first case—they were more like requests, really, but Sherlock liked the clinical sound, so cases it was—Sherlock had joked that they print business cards that featured the epigraph Consulting Criminal. “Dear Sherlock,” John had chuckled, “will you fix it for me?” Sherlock might even have gnawed at an entire leg of chicken that day.
“Not a coincidence,” says Sherlock.
“I didn’t say it was.”
“You were thinking it. What he calls himself…no, he wants to get to me, but not as much as he wants me to get to him.”
“Not much of an instinct for self-preservation,” says John, glaring a bit as Sherlock turns away from him to intercept yet another text. He can’t allow himself to feel bad for long; Sherlock’s infinitely more preferable when he’s got a case, vacillating between the jumped-up heat of a tungsten bulb and the low-slung haze of deep thought.
“He’s a fan,” Sherlock says, and the corners of his mouth turn down in a minor indulgence of disgust.
John flicks through the papers and he knows that Sherlock loves it.
Lestrade’s voice echoes into the street and Sergeant Donovan shakes her head in what might be disbelief had this exact scenario not occurred five times previously in the last month alone.
“If it were up to me,” she says, lining the words with the force of steel wool, “you know where you’d be.”
James Moriarty, small and bold and always wearing a lifetime of her paychecks, seems like he should be showing all his teeth when he smiles. “My dear,” he says, “it’s never been up to you.”
He nods at his companion. Sebastian Moran, casually tall, shrugs an apology in Donovan’s direction and slumps under the crime scene tape and into the tenement. Jim stops and turns back towards the sergeant, his hand smoothing his tiepin into strict alignment. “I must say,” he confides in a stage whisper, “this is the best your hair has ever looked.”
He nods, the fringe of dark hair on his upper forehead bobbing solemnly in the breeze, and he studies her. Donovan stares back and has always been sick of this game. Jim draws a shuddery breath, giggles, and follows Seb into the building.
As they climb the stairs, Sebastian’s aristocratic blonde head cresting through landing after landing, Jim’s humming what Seb takes to be Puccini until he realizes that it is, in fact, Perry.
Jim is humming Katy Perry.
Jim is humming Katy Perry and grabbing Seb’s wrist between floors five and six and twisting it behind his back and sucking languidly on his neck.
Seb hisses and Jim lets him go and walks up to the sixth floor landing in silence. Lestrade, attempting to appear patient, is standing next to the body of the third victim.
It’s a woman this time. She’s dressed entirely in pink.
Jim smiles and says, “Where’s her suitcase?”
Seb walks the perimeter of the room, examining the walls, the floors, and the windows. “There was no case,” is Lestrade’s reply.
Jim giggles. “Of course there is. Trained assassin like her? Where’s she going to stick her sniper rifle, her bra?”
Lestrade gapes. “Who said anything about assassins?”
“You assumed she was in media,” smirks Jim, bending over the body.
Lestrade folds his hands across his chest. “If you’re just making this up—”
“Musculature and posture say army training, tightness in her right shoulder with a corresponding strength in her left says sniper. She’s clearly spent long periods of time in a stagnant position, holding a long, heavy metal object with the propensity to recoil. Pointer finger is smooth, but not from texting or typing because the wear pattern would be different, so we can assume it’s her trigger finger. As for her clothing, your first instinct was media or PR because of the color and the coordination, but it’s just a bit too perfect in some spots and crumbles away in others. Remnants of black dye under her right ear, surely a woman so concerned about personal appearance would have made more of an effort to clean that up. Her nails, while immaculately clean and polished, are worn from harsh manual work, more so than anyone in her ‘profession’ would ever have occasion to do. That says it’s at least partly a disguise.”
Lestrade lets his eyebrows fall back into their normal position as Jim grins and begins swaying slightly in place. Whatever else he wants to say is going to burst from his lips whether the Detective Inspector intends to hear it or not, so Lestrade take the initiative and says, “yes?”
“Well,” says Jim, and he looks almost bashful, “there’s also the fact that she tried to shoot my head off in Oxford Circus last Tuesday at around two in the afternoon.”
Seb whips into a military stance, his automatic response to having acquired surprising new data, and barks “what?”
Lestrade says, “thank God it wasn’t Watson.”
“I told you to let me set up that security detail,” Seb says, and it’s almost a shout.
“Oh, I knew she was there,” Jim dismisses.
“That’s not the point!”
Sebastian drops his head into his palm and emits what one would be hard-pressed to avoid calling a whine. “I’m not worried about Watson,” Jim explains to Lestrade, “because I’m not a criminal. Speaking of which, you’re looking for Holmes.”
Jim nudges the body lightly with his right foot. “Probably poison. The other victims were criminals as well, correct?”
At Lestrade’s nod, Jim continues “he’s clearly backing someone on a revenge quest. Boring, but it’s the only way that Watson would get on board. He’s such a moralist.”
Jim says this last bit with an expression of such disdain it wouldn’t have looked out of place on a puritan minister. “If you do manage to find the genius, give me a call. Until then, Seb and I will be home, enjoying a nice, long—”
Lestrade shoes them out of the room, but Jim turns right before he reaches the landing and says, “Because you need me.”
“You put up with me because you need me.”
Lestrade sighs, pinches the bridge of his nose and says, “I do. God help me.”
In the end, their client shoots himself. “Guilt complex,” sneers Sherlock when he gets the news, and John can tell that he’s desperate for a change, for something clever, for something more original than a vigilante’s remorse. It was time to make a decision.
“Maybe we should call Mycroft,” John suggests, and he smiles at the resultant look of empty horror on his flatmate’s face.
“He’s so obvious,” Sherlock complains, his tone tinged with the boredom of old money, “have you met anyone more indulgent?”
John takes in Sherlock’s refined posture, his silken blue shirt, the aristocratic curl of his hair and might be forgiven for feeling momentarily as though Sherlock is discussing nineteenth-century portraiture and not the personality of what amounts to the most organized of organized crime regimes in Europe.
“He’d take care of it,” John insists.
“Unless James Moriarty is part banana cream pie, I doubt that my brother will show much of an interest.”
He slumps back onto the couch and doesn’t speak until tea, during which John learns more than he ever wanted to know about defense missiles.
Neither cares that the last installment of the payment for the vigilante case will never come through.
* * *
“Cheer up, darling,” Jim tells Sebastian, “you can’t shoot them all.”
Jim rubs his nose against Seb’s with a smiling sigh and the latter pulls away to wrench open the fridge and chug the rest of the milk even though it’s two days past due. Seb just thinks that it was nice of the man, taking care of it himself and all that. Saved a couple bullets, a few hours’ stake-out. Cleaning his gun afterwards.
Not that it mattered, he’d need to clean it after tonight.
Jim’s tongue is suddenly in Sebastian’s mouth—needed my calcium, he says later—and after Seb takes a minute to make sure they have everything, they’re in a cab.
It’s midnight when they arrive at the pool.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
They’re back where it all started, the water lapping against the walls of the pool like a caged sea. The place where little Carl died.
The Browning is comfortingly solid in John’s left hand. Sherlock stands at the shadows’ edge, feet ground into the tile, his body sprouting upwards into divisions of pale and coat and massive intellect, pretending at patience, at apathy. The waves are a thin bass line on the fringe of John’s hearing, and there’s nothing else, not yet, even though his ears are almost opening up with the waiting.
Though he should be in the viewing gallery, John stays, had insisted on staying with Sherlock as company in lieu of his beretta. If Sherlock has noticed, he’s said nothing; it’s foolish to make sounds when there are new sounds to wait on. The lights drop into the shivering dimples on the water’s surface and reflect a deeper sallow green against Sherlock’s cheeks.
The voice sounds then, short and soft with a moist inner lining, “Oh, aren’t you pretty.”
John steps full into the shadows, gun steady justincasejustincase, and can’t see anyone else but Sherlock, still planted yards away from the deep end, his face sliding from stasis and towards this promised new diversion. “Love the hair,” the voice continues, “new product?”
“I don’t use product,” Sherlock says.
John sees a suit and a man just as tailored, who says, “Oh honey, those ringlets are hardly wash-’n’-wear.”
There’s someone else, moving up in the viewing gallery. Moran. John almost regrets not staking out the area as planned, though he’d be hard pressed to say exactly why. The suit man is watching John watch and he smiles, nectarine sweet. “Don’t take it personally, Johnny. It’s just that I’ve heard you’re dangerous.”
No use for shadows, then. John Watson walks into the light, and maybe it’s true and of course it is. Here it holds no weight, collapsing into itself with the history of the place and what it has seen. Repetition compulsion.
Sebastian is looking down through plate glass, bolt-action rifle steady on Sherlock Holmes. Looking at Jim, and isn’t that familiar. Looking at Jim and looking after Jim, Sebastian can’t even see the difference anymore. Thinks of what Jim hadn’t done, only because Sherlock had done it first.
And James Moriarty holds up something small and black and slender, military secrets in two square inches of plastic. It’s encased in his fist and he raises his arm until a ridge of thin muscle pushes against the edge of a seam in his jacket. “Power to the people,” he says, and the hand springs forward.
Sherlock doesn’t move to catch it.
The flash drive lands on the tile, clattering to a halt several yards away from John Watson. Never more than a pretense.
James Moriarty appraises Sherlock with a fine-toothed eye, sees the sweetness of tendons and the thrumming mind. And as Sherlock’s gaze unfolds the other consultant, John knows.
They’ve always been here.
Well, I finally finished it! Sorry about the ridiculously long wait and thank you for reading.