His gunshot split the silence, so loud the world has to stop and listen. He stilled for a moment, squinted in the glint of sunlight, then peered through his viewfinder to see if his shot hit. 274 meters and on target. His new record. A smirk twisted his lips as he unshouldered the M4 and set it down by his collection of rifles. Which one, next? He ran his fingers slowly over the barrels of a shotgun and elephant gun—the elephant gun, he admitted, was a bit old-fashioned, but beautiful nonetheless and still capable of a poetic death if handled with the right care—until his fingers halted at the base of a very special gun, indeed. A moment passed and he forgot where he was, in a backyard surrounded by gates and shooting at hole-riddled targets, and the African jungle descended on him like a monsoon on a hot, Indian afternoon. Carefully, he ran his fingertips from the base of the barrel to tip, then back down again. When his fingers rested on the base again, they curled around it, gripped it tight, and he lifted it to eye-level where his gaze traversed every inch of its body.
His eyes only broke away to load a round of .300 Winchester Magnums and to position himself. Steady, steady, and his new target—1000 meters—was no longer bright circles in the daylight but a tiger, prowling the jungle, eyes glinting in the shadows. His fingers felt fluid, wrapped around the trigger, and he curved it until bang! cracked through the heat, shattered the quiet into a thousand pieces that danced in rumbling echoes across the extensive lawn. He checked his target through the scope. Dead on. Another smirked tugged at his lips. Good, but he could do better. Much better.
“Very impressive, Mr. Moran,” a smooth voice said suddenly from behind him.
Sebastian picked up a hand gun sitting nearby and whipped around, barrel staring down an attractive young man in a suit. As fast as he moved, his body was at perfect ease, his head cocked languidly to the side as his eyes took in the intruder. “Who are you?”
“Jim Moriarty. Hi.” Jim looked perfectly at ease himself, despite suddenly being at the wrong end of a gun. He reached up and lightly touched the side of the gun to turn it away. “No need for that. Tsk, tsk, naughty.”
Sebastian glared through the sudden heat at the word naughty. Who was this little shit? “Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t shoot you.”
“Because I… am about to make your life very interesting.” He took a moment to glance around, absorbing everything with dark eyes. “Is it enough for you?” he asked. “Coming here, playing with your toys?”
No, Sebastian felt himself wanting to growl. I want to hunt again. I want a challenge. I’m tired of targets. Of stuffy houses and servants and my father’s legacy. He remained silent, instead, hand at half-mast, gun cocked awkwardly to the side while he watched this man carefully, reading the ripple of muscle under fabric and skin with the acute senses acquired from years of hunting and military experience. This man, oh this doe-eyed, pale-skinned man in an expensive suit was the most dangerous thing he’d ever encountered and he was not about to let him get away.
“I thought not. How many ways can you kill a man, Sebastian Moran?” Jim wondered airily.
Odd question. Sebastian didn’t keep track. He didn’t care. He only really needed one way and that way was already tucked away in his right hand. Words stayed locked in his throat and so he stayed silent. If this man wanted something from him, there would be more talk. If there wasn’t, in a moment his gun might be not as cold as it was now.
Jim smirked like he was finding Sebastian’s silence horribly endearing. “I’m looking for someone of your… particular talents. To do some work for me.”
“You must realize that I don't need money,” Sebastian said simply, eyes narrowing. “So what, exactly, would be in it for me?”
“To prove you still can? And, besides, it’ll be fun. Illegal, dangerous, you know.” The sparkle in his eye was somewhere between gleeful and wicked. “You don’t have to answer now, but I expect it soon.”
“How do you expect me to find you, if I do happen to decide?” In reality, Sebastian knew that thinking it over was futile. He would still feel this insatiable draw to the man’s offer. He didn’t even care what it entailed. It was a game and this man, standing so impishly before him, was the master of it.
The “master” flicked a hand into his suit jacket and pulled out a card that he passed to Sebastian. It was blank aside from one line printed across the center. “Call this number,” he said, “and I’ll find you.”
Sebastian tucked the number into his coat pocket and turned away from Jim, aiming the hand gun, then firing three bullets—all three piercing the heads of dummies not so far away. When he turned back, the stranger was gone and Sebastian had only that single number in his pocket as proof of his existence. Yes, this was definitely a game. He pulled the safety into place before pocketing his handgun and pulled out the number to glance over. I like games.
Deep breath. In. Out. Yes, still going. Breath 151,200 since he’d died. Sherlock Holmes opened his eyes to the sticky, foggy green light of his current lodgings. He picked at his violin absently. He honestly didn’t know what to do with himself now. He’d tried it all. He’d seen this world, all of it worth seeing, anyway. He was done with it. He’d been ready to leave.
Oh, and what a glorious leave-taking it had been, too. Raw euphoria wrapping around him like a terrifying splatter of oil paints, suffocating the life away. So close. He’d gotten so close, and then nothing. Even death was dull. Now he was expected to keep going? Doing what?
There were things he used to enjoy, oh yes. Chemistry, forensics, deduction. But what was the point? What was the purpose? So he could make metals turn colors, big deal.
His chemistry equipment was scattered everywhere in this tiny place, all over the floor, parts of it smoking acridly. Untouched for the moment, though; he clung to his violin. An anchor between the mind and the colors. Was this eternity, then?
A sharp rap at the door interrupted the breadth of Sherlock’s thoughts.
Sherlock made a noncommittal noise in his throat. It was Mycroft obviously; Mycroft had a key.
Rap rap rap. Rap rap rap.
The knocking continued for several moments before a voice, however muffled, called through the door.
“Sherlock, I know you’re in there. You never leave your cell phone behind and it’s currently located in this unit. I know you’re ignoring me. This is very childish and you should stop acting so petty.”
Sherlock glared at the door as Mycroft’s words tugged him away from his own thoughts. “I know you have a key, Mycroft. Even you can’t be so inept as to not understand the basic functions of a key and a lock.”
Sherlock’s phone announced a message, accompanied by a vibrate.
Sherlock, I’m at the door. Please answer. –MH
Sherlock fumed, but set his violin down gently and made his way toward the door. Mycroft just had to be obeyed. He couldn’t do anything the easy way, the straightforward way. No, he had to be purposefully infuriating to prove Sherlock would do what he said.
Sherlock stepped over his precarious chemistry equipment, doing rather elegant footwork to the door over the cluttered floor space. He got the door open and greeted his brother with a look, if not murderous, at least with intention of severely wounding.
“Really, Sherlock,” Mycroft sighed, deflecting the look with ease. “Are you going to invite me inside or will you continue to act like a child?”
“I’m the child? Really? Because I rather thought an adult would know how to use a key. Or are you still pretending you don’t have one?” Sherlock forced himself to clench his jaw and step to the side. “Come in.”
“Thank you.” Mycroft brushed past Sherlock and didn’t stop until he stood in front of the window, gazing out over the drab streets below. “This really isn’t a very clean place, is it? There’s also a very odd fellow a few rooms down. Wounded soldier, I believe, with a limp. I have a feeling he keeps half the floor up at ungodly hours.”
“He does. Nightmares frequently.” Sherlock shut the door. “Why are you here, Mycroft?”
Mycroft hesitated, drawing a deep breath inward. “I’m worried about you, Sherlock.”
Sherlock scoffed. “I know I’ve been out of the hospital long enough for you to be through with that.”
“You know?” Mycroft raised an eyebrow as he tossed a glance in Sherlock’s direction. “I came here to see how you are getting along. I don’t think I quite approve of this place. You’re sure you still won’t take any money to find better lodgings?”
“I am planning on moving,” Sherlock said defensively. Well, he hadn’t been. But he was now.
“I see.” Mycroft studied Sherlock’s face closely for a long moment before sighing and shaking his head. “Well, I suppose I will return sometime within the week, then.” It was obvious Mycroft wasn’t going to give up, though Sherlock never seemed to give way in the slightest. Still, as the older brother, Mycroft felt obliged to check up on Sherlock. “I can see that I am clearly overstaying the welcome I was never given in the first place.”
“How keen of you to observe.” It sounded like acid. “I am planning on moving into the city, but I won’t need your help. I’m going to get a flatmate.” The moment it was out of his mouth he knew it was a horrible mistake. He’d never find a flatmate. But Mycroft drove him up the wall and this was one of those moments words just came spilling out of his mouth to sound impressive. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
“Oh?” Mycroft’s eyebrow raised to his hairline. “Well, I wish you the best of luck with that, Sherlock.” He nodded politely and then turned to the door. “I will see you again soon, no doubt, and please Sherlock, I’m tired of this childish squabbling. I really did come to see if you were all right.” He didn’t wait for an answer, and instead hurried out the door with his umbrella in hand.
Sherlock shut the door, still glaring at it like it was Mycroft. He wished Mycroft would just admit he’d come to antagonize him; it’d make their relationship so much simpler. And now he’d have to find a flat and someone to share it with. Still… a smirk crept up on him, unbidden, at the thought of Mycroft’s face if he was successful. Inhuman, psychopathic Sherlock sharing a flat with a human in peaceful coexistence. Oh, it would be worth it just to win this one. He needed to go hunting.
Mycroft stopped in front of the lift and pressed the down arrow. In response, the lift gave a loud creak as the pulleys strained to bring their load upward. Mycroft winced. This hotel really was on its last leg. He didn’t understand why Sherlock would pick such a place to live after a grueling recovery in the hospital. The most likely culprit was spite. Sherlock enjoyed driving Mycroft mad with his illogical decisions. It really wouldn’t be that hard to take money from Mycroft—even just a little—to find a more suitable living arrangement, but Sherlock was more than very stubborn.
The elevator door opened and a small, stocky man with a military cut stumbled right into Mycroft. He mumbled a quick apology, blushed, and hurried off with a limp, leaning on a cane for support. Mycroft watched for a moment and decided, just as the man disappeared into his room, that the limp was psychosomatic.
Mycroft slipped into the elevator and made his way back to the limo that awaited him in the street. He climbed in and settled down beside his assistant—the beautiful Anthea, as they had taken to calling her, for safety reasons. The limo jerked forward and the two sat in relative silence while Anthea typed out something or another on her phone. There was a lot to think about, especially regarding Sherlock. Something was very off, but Mycroft couldn’t quite narrow it down to anything plausible. Sherlock seemed… uninspired. The light had been snuffed since Mycroft brought him home from the hospital. Sherlock was no longer Sherlock, but a walking corpse. Something inside of Mycroft sank.
He turned to Anthea, who took no notice of his attention. “I need you to upgrade the surveillance status of Sherlock Holmes to level three static.”
Anthea never looked up. “Very well, sir.”
“Thank you,” Mycroft murmured and then turned back to the window.
Sherlock Holmes was a mystery Mycroft would never solve.
Jack of Clubs. Sebastian stood outside the nondescript door and almost laughed when he realized he’d been here before, plenty of times. The club that Jim Moriarty directed him to for their business turned out to be an underground gambling den, full of blackjack, poker, and bookies—a gambling den that Sebastian visited often, himself. He tapped out a calculated rhythm on the door, which creaked open, and a strong hand ushered him inside. If this was the sort of place Jim Moriarty typically hung around in, Sebastian wasn’t so sure he wanted to go through with their arrangement. Sure, he enjoyed a good game of cards and a drag when he was down, but he liked to think he was above all the petty thieves and swindlers that lurked about inside. No, Sebastian thought of himself as distinguished, maybe even refined. He didn’t steal for a living, he killed out of boredom. His art was an exact one, elegant, subtle, requiring a certain amount of finesse and creativity. Since he returned from war a few years back, he’d killed exactly nine people, the last of which was nearly a year ago.
Sebastian wandered through the long entryway and felt a mixture of weed, cigar, and cigarette smoke press hard on his sinuses. The entryway opened to a room, thick with an ambiguous haze that curled around the heads of many patrons. He didn’t see Jim Moriarty at first—the den wasn’t very crowded—so he made his way over to the nearest poker table and sat down, ready to jump in and play a hand; he really couldn’t resist, after all. The game was only just beginning.
A minute later, it was just the same Jim Moriarty who slid into the chair next to him, looking impeccable, slightly too impeccable, but who was paying attention? “Fancy seeing you here,” he smirked.
“You did ask me to come,” Sebastian said simply, watching the dealer as the cards were handed out. “Are you joining, or will you be watching?”
Jim glanced at the table and the cards for a second, as if figuring out what it all was, and then nodded. “I don’t see the harm in one game,” he said, taking up cards. He could blend in, really.
Half an hour later, Sebastian took his first win. He’d folded for the first half an hour, studying the strategies of the other players closely, and when he was sure of his foothold in the game, he moved in, forcing everyone to fold before the first betting stage was even over and anyone had seen a single card. He glanced across the table at Jim while the other players groaned. Their eyes met and Jim smirked. Something inside switched on and a surge of adrenaline rushed through Sebastian’s veins.
The next round ended as soon as it began. A round of folds. Sebastian shuffled the cards back into the deck and another round began. Another round of folds, lasted longer, but Sebastian didn’t care. He took every last sucker for anything they were worth. Something about Jim’s presence was a catalyst for a wicked spark that only just survived all this time in the dying case of his body. The little twist to Jim's lip fanned the flames and the spark was no longer a spark, but burning coals. The others were getting restless now. They took him to the end of the round but his hand was good. Too good. Still, he wasn’t going to complain and he won again. The other players were open books and he could read the slightest hesitation of breath, twitch of the lips, shift of the eyes. Only Jim remained. Try as he might, Sebastian couldn’t figure Jim out. Nothing made sense. The man could be cheating, or maybe he just enjoyed screwing with everyone, but Sebastian couldn’t follow his methodology.
Sebastian was clearly trying to figure Jim out. Oh, he was very good at this game. But it turned out that blending in really wasn’t who Jim was. Not when there was so much more fun to be had. It was when he turned over a hand of two aces—while three sat, face up on the table—he remembered that was why places like this always tossed him out. “Oops! How did that happen?” he wondered with clearly false innocence.
Eyebrows shot up all across the table. Sebastian froze. He calculated 2.47 seconds before a gun was drawn, so he drew his first, just as the man beside started rummaging pockets. The table went silent as Sebastian’s barrel pointed directly at Jim, and someone whistled musingly. Sebastian made his point very clear: no cheaters.
“Step outside,” he hissed, eyes locking with Jim’s, boring into them a suggestion of follow my lead.
“And what are you going to do with him?” the man to Sebastian’s right demanded “We should—”
“Fuck off,” Sebastian growled and the man sank into his chair. “I’m going to have a chat with this little shit.”
A murmur of approval followed his words. Sebastian’s eyes glowered hot.
It took every ounce of Jim’s self-restraint not to make snide comments. Instead, he held his hands up and excused himself toward the door. He could feel Sebastian’s gun trained on him. It gave him an unexpected shiver. Now this was so much more interesting than sitting around.
Sebastian followed Jim, pressed the tip of the gun against the small of Jim’s back to nudge him forward as they reached the door. The moment they stepped foot in the alleyway and the door shut heavy behind them, Sebastian leaned close, trailing his lips along Jim’s ear, and murmured you cheating little fucker.
The unexpected shiver came back with reinforcements. “Yeah, ok, I am,” Jim admitted, incredibly at ease for someone so close to an armed weapon. “But I had to do something. Otherwise, the game’s a bit obvious, don’t you think?”
“Not to them,” Sebastian whispered, his voice thick with a hint of a growl. “That little move cost me a fortune. You did that on purpose. They were none the wiser.”
“Did you come here to give me an answer on my proposition or spend all day flirting with me? I’ll accept either answer,” Jim smirked.
Sebastian blushed and pulled away, refusing to think about the second part of what Jim suggested. “Isn’t my coming answer enough?”
Jim adjusted his suit when Sebastian moved away from him. “I hope so because I have more than a few things to do. And I like you. It’d be a shame for you to refuse.”
For a moment, Sebastian watched Jim’s hands as they meticulously arranged the fabric of his suit. Honestly, he wasn’t sure what else to say, so instead he reached over and smoothed out a wrinkle on the back of Jim’s arm without another word; Jim's eyesbrows shot up and he looked at the other man as if seeing something new about him, but it was quickly gone.
“Well, if you’re mine, there’s no point in hanging around here.” There was suddenly a car out by the sidewalk that hadn’t been there before. “Let’s go, Sebastian Moran. We have a lot to talk about.”
Hold the line. Hold the line. Hold the line…
The thunderous roar of bombs and gunfire drowned out the voices, the screams, and all he could hear was the tumultuous silence of death, interrupted by the pounding of his heart in his ears. Every motion was his last, every jerk of the hand, every gunshot, and he dodged fire, ducked into holes, sewed together all the fallen men who still had life left in them, still had a few more breaths left to breathe.
Then he was torn away from it all, from his life, from all the work he did. There were soldiers still left to save, still hearts he could keep beating, but now he was bound in chains to a bed, watching as bombs exploded all around his safe cage. He screamed and writhed by the chains held fast, cut deep into his skin.
John woke screaming, panting, clutching the sheets with trembling fingers. Moonlight filtered in through the window, casting a greenish, misty glow about the room and John couldn’t clear his vision no matter how many times he blinked. The chains. He could still feel them burning into his skin. Shuddering, he threw off his blankets and jerked upright, still gasping for breath.
No chains, John. Just a dream.
Breathe in, breathe out. Focus on that, for now. Focus on living life moment to moment, eating, sleeping, breathing. God, why was it so hard? There was nothing to live for. Everything tore away from him the moment he signed his life off to military service, and not in the way anyone would think. No, he wanted to give up his life for queen and country, but it was in doing so that he discovered the means by which he’d come to crave, grow addicted to like a drug. He needed to be out there, adrenaline rushing through his veins, running from post to post, patching his comrades back together, keeping their hearts beating and their blood pumping so they could go back one day to their loved ones. He didn’t have any loved ones to come home for, so why the bloody hell was he home on honorable discharge? Why was he the one with the aching limbs? They wouldn’t let him go back to war. He wanted to, but they refused to take him back.
What was there for him, now?
Just this hotel room, choking on the poisonous mist that permeated the air and seeped into his lungs, seeped into his mind and beckoned the nightmares out of the shadows of his soul.
His gasping died and his breath evened out, but his hand still shook violently. John dug fingers into his forehead, which throbbed sharply with his pulse. The skies beyond the London buildings were slowly brightening and he knew it was almost morning. Almost time for the sun to rise and warm the city. He needed to get out of there. Take a walk. Anything but stay chained to this bed, this room, living a life void of meaning.
So he pulled himself together, out of bed, grabbed his cane, and dressed for another day.