The Tokyo skyline was, in John's opinion, one of the ugliest sights in the world. It was beaten only by Nagoya, with the occasional challenge from other sprawling metropolises. He remembered being told, when he was a child and yet to see anything of the world outside the UK, that Japan was a beautiful place. He liked to think that it had been true once.
He leaned against the window of his fifty-second floor hotel room and frowned at the neon glow that never dimmed. It had been five years since he'd last set foot in England, more than ten since he'd seen his hometown, and the memories were starting to fade, replaced by bright lights and superficiality.
For most of those five years, he'd maintained a gentleman's agreement with some of the local mafia, a family that could trace its line all the way back to the Taisho Period. Not that the average Tokyoite remembered when or what the Taisho Period was, but Japan liked lineage. They'd taken John on as a contract killer back when he was still finding his feet after his discharge, reeling from the shock of being thrown back into civilian life. For the army he'd been a glorified hit-man, a neuro-assassin because somewhere along the way the higher-ups had realized that knowing how to heal brains transitioned well into knowing how to break them. As it turned out, the Japanese mafia needed people who could do the same thing.
No one had told him, when he'd agreed to be reassigned to a special black ops team, that no hospital would ever hire him after his service ended. He supposed it had been somewhere in the fine print, hidden behind a lot of empty rhetoric about helping the cause, being a good citizen, and Doing The Right Thing.
But John was getting older and new blood was always coming in, which meant the work had finally, inevitably, slowed to a stop. He was good, but it was hard to compete with prodigies from China or the States. With the Russians starting to catch up, too, there just wasn't much interest in a middle-aged Englishman with limited Japanese and a good military service record.
The hotel phone beeped at him, politely. He turned his head to look at it and it beeped again.
He picked it up and answered in English, trusting the built-in auto-interpreter, "Yes?"
"John? John Watson?" The voice was familiar, the English native, the accent blurred a bit by a few too many years of expat life in Hong Kong. Mike Stamford.
"It's me, yeah. Are you in Japan?" He sat down on the edge of the bed.
"No, Seoul. Long story." He sounded exhausted. "Do you have a minute?"
"I might have one or two."
"Are you still out of work?" It was a blunt, direct question, but John wasn't offended. International calling was prohibitively expensive, caught up in the corporate wars, contracts changing hands every other day, changing the price more often than most people changed their socks.
"You have to know I am." He rubbed his eyes, feeling every one of his thirty-seven years.
"Good, because I know someone who might hire you."
John sat up a little straighter, the weariness gone in an instant. "I'm listening."
The job turned out to be with a hacker who called himself The Detective. He was renting a spacious apartment in a nice part of the city and John wasn't sure he liked him. He had too much money, for one thing, was unusually posh for a data thief, and he had artificial eyes.
John didn't like artificial eyes. They always threw him off. The Detective's were good, probably done in Roppongi, or maybe out in Chiba, but the irises were a little too bright, the whites a little too clean. They were off-putting in a way that was hard to call out, like the sharp line of his jaw and the composure of his smile. Too perfect to be wholly natural, not perfect enough to be blamed on vanity. Artificially artificial and something about him made John's skin itch.
His accent, though, was pure English, an unexpected touch of home.
Everything about the set-up made him nervous, but he shook the offered hand and sat down anyway. He ignored the way The Detective's smile widened in quiet delight.
"You're a neuro-assasin," he said mildly, without any preamble or particular inflection. He lit a cigarette without asking if John wanted one, or objected to the habit. "Afghanistan or Iraq?"
John frowned. "Afghanistan. How did you-"
The Detective nodded and cut him off, "Splendid." He took a long drag off the cigarette. "Well, Doctor John Watson, neuro-assassin and retired army captain, I am in the middle of… a project, if you will. It's complicated and delicate and at the end of it a man will have to die. I need someone reasonably intelligent, skilled, and capable of doing their job without asking too many stupid questions." He blinked, a flicker of thin eyelids over those strange eyes. "Interested?"
He was surprisingly straightforward. John appreciated that. "I might be. What exactly would you be asking me to do?"
"Nothing you haven't done before." He met John's gaze and held it. "I'll pay you twenty-five million new yen, or the equivalent in the currency of your choice, a third in advance and the rest upon completion of contract. If everything goes according to plan, you'll be finished in six weeks."
That was a lot of money for six weeks of work. John needed that money - it might even have been enough to get him a life back home. Even more than that, though, he was intrigued. He was nodding almost before he consciously made the decision.
The Detective smiled again. It wasn't a beautiful smile, but John found himself returning it.
The Detective turned out to be torturously reticent about more or less everything. He rarely told John what was going on, he never told him anything about his personal life or past, and after almost two weeks of working together he still hadn't bothered to share his real name. That was particularly infuriating because there seemed to be nothing he didn't know about John, or couldn't somehow figure out just by looking at him.
The job itself turned out to be a lot of hurry up and wait, which was its own source of frustration.
"So," John said, breaking a long silence that had been punctuated only by The Detective's occasional exclamations as he did something no doubt highly illegal on a very tiny data pad that had probably cost more than anything John owned. When he didn't respond, John went ahead and kept talking, "Is there anything I should be doing here? Or do you just like having another body in the room?"
"You could make more tea." He didn't look up. "You're good at that."
John sighed and rubbed the side of his nose. "This is ridiculous. I sit here every day watching you work and making tea. Not quite what you hired me for."
"On the contrary, of course it is." Apparently finished, he set the pad aside and crossed one leg over the other. "I think better when I have someone to talk to. And, if you'll recall correctly, I did tell you that it's at the end of the project that someone will die." He smiled. "We've only just begun."
John stared back at him. The man was mad, clearly, and John was starting to worry that was catching. "I don't even know your name."
"No," The Detective agreed, "you don't."
There was really nothing to say to that, so John gave up and went to the kitchen to make tea. It was better than staring at The Detective all night. The tea at least made sense.
It all came to an end, as The Detective had predicted, almost six weeks to the day from the start of their contract. They weren't friends, not really, but The Detective seemed to like him well enough and John had, despite his better judgment, come to like the man in return. There was something vulnerable about him, when he wasn't being an arrogant, moody prat. The part of John that was still a doctor wanted to reach out to that and take care of him. He seemed the sort who needed caring for.
He looked at the unconscious man they'd found strapped to a chair. Pale, dark-haired, western. He'd been out when they got him, the result of work and planning and time John had only caught a glimpse of, so John wasn't sure where he'd come from. All he knew for sure was that this was the man The Detective had hired him to kill in the most complete, unsalvageable way possible: neural destruction.
"Who is he?" John asked. He felt like any man worthy of being hunted down so systematically deserved to not be a nameless victim. Strong adversaries earned a certain level of dignity when they were going to die.
The Detective's expression was distant and strange. "Moriarty."
"What did he do?"
"Many things." He smiled crookedly, just one side of his mouth, and John wondered what the world looked like through his artificial eyes. "It was a long time ago. But this is how it has to go, you understand. It's either him or me."
John looked down at the neural disrupter in his hand, a wafer-thin rectangle the size of his palm, more screen than anything else. It might have been a data pad, or a phone. So much power in such a simple thing. Then he looked back up. "I understand."
He did, too. He understood survival, doing what was necessary to live another day. Maybe there had been a time when that hadn't meant using medical training to kill people he'd never even spoken to, but the world was what it was and he'd made his peace with it.
The Detective met his gaze and something in his face softened. "It's your move, John."
John nodded and turned his attention back to the man in the chair. Moriarty. He touched the screen of the disrupter, bringing it to life. It was a few years old and he knew it like the back of his hand, fingers skimming across the slick surface, bringing the signals into alignment, locking onto Moriarty's brain wave patterns. It took a minute or so, but the process was always a bit harder when he wasn't familiar with the target, and then it all clicked into place.
He looked at The Detective one more time. "You're sure about this?"
The Detective didn't answer, he just nodded and waited. His work had brought them to that point and it was time for John to finish it, so he did.
John didn't know how long it took the Tokyo Met to find Moriarty. What he did know was that they wouldn't give it more than a surface investigation for show. It looked too much like mafia work and there were certain understandings in Tokyo. The Detective had been smart to make it his base of operations.
They waited in line at the machine in a ramen shop at the end of an alley. The Detective tapped his account card against his leg, restless.
"You'll find the money in your account," The Detective said as they found a table. "I rounded up for simplicity's sake: sixteen point five million. You earned every yen."
John broke apart his disposable chopsticks. "Great. Thanks."
An awkward silence fell, a question neither of them seemed willing to ask hanging in the air: What now?
John looked down at his soup, then at The Detective again. "Any chance you'll ever tell me your name?"
The Detective smiled. It was a real smile, too. After six weeks of close proximity John had learned to tell the difference.
"It's Sherlock." He set down his chopsticks and held out his hand. "Sherlock Holmes."