"Hey! Ac-Tor! Give us some lines, then!"
Richard sighed inwardly as he walked towards the small group of men standing in the corridor. Two years ago he'd been absolutely terrified of entering prison, anticipating all sorts of ill-treatment and abuse. The reality had been this; a bunch of idiots showing off by pushing him around a bit but always with an eye on the warders, much like he imagined school must have been.
"To be, our not to be," he declaimed with excessive passion. "That is the question." They laughed at him, as they always did, but none of them took offence and he passed by them without further trouble.
Richard's mood was too high today for Goyes and his mates to bother him for more than a few seconds. His pace quickened as he headed towards the cafeteria, pressed into service as a makeshift auditorium. Last dress rehearsal this afternoon, then the first of the three performances. It was an almost laughably amateur production; he'd be performing to an audience of inmates, the other performers' wives and girlfriends and some of the prison staff. It didn't matter. It was acting, and better still, Shakespeare, and best still, he had the lead. He'd worked on it as hard as he was sure he ever could have on any previous professional role. His swansong, his farewell to this place. Three more weeks and he'd be out.
"Richard! Can I have a word?"
Bother. He turned round to face the prison senior welfare officer. "Of course, Lynn. But I'm on my way to our last rehearsal; if it's not urgent could we make it tomorrow?"
She seemed slightly taken aback as usual by his attempts at polite avoidance. "It's not urgent. I just want to discuss a few points about the psychiatric assessment."
"How about tomorrow morning, then?" There was no point in trying to get out of the conversation completely, much as he'd like to. Release on parole required all the set procedures to be completed. They didn't have to let him go yet if he didn't co-operate; his sentence was four years.
"That's fine. Ten o'clock." She didn't ask him if he was free. One of the things you got used to; your time was everyone else's to allocate. "Good luck for tonight. I'm looking forward to seeing it."
"Thank you." He wondered briefly what she'd make of his performance, then he reached the rehearsal and forgot her.
Richard thought of Lynn again, for some reason, as he waited for the curtain to rise that evening. Just one of the prison's endless little people, fitting the prisoners into their boxes, physically and mentally. Two years and none of them had reached quiet, co-operative Richard Brook at all. He could feel himself sliding into the play's character, disdain and malice for the people who thought to control him. As the curtains opened he started to laugh, a sound both rehearsed and genuine.
"Now," he murmured into the darkness, every word projected clear to the back of the hall,"is the winter of our discontent Made glorious summer by this son of York."
Afterwards they'd made arrangements for the performers to see their families. Richard sat on the first row of chairs, chatting politely to the director and waiting for the signal to return to his cell. Instead the senior warder came over to speak to him.
"There's a guy from the Home Office wants to speak to you, Brook. Interview room three."
Richard got up. "What's it about?"
"Some sort of review of prison theatre, the governor said."
Richard shrugged inwardly. Another interview. At least he might be able to talk theatre at this one, although the man was probably just looking for budget cuts like everyone else from the government right now.
The man behind the table rose to his feet as Richard walked in, and Richard felt a sudden sense of dismay and dislocation. Sherlock's brother. Mycroft Holmes. What ill luck.
"Hello?" he tried, running a hand nervously over his prison-short hair.
"Good evening Mr Brook." Mycroft's face was impassive. "Congratulations. That was quite a performance."
"Thank you." It had passed in a bit of a blur to Richard but everyone had praised it. Maybe this wouldn't be so bad. "You'd like to know about the theatre group? They're very good; all volunteers. I don't think the production costs much at all."
Mycroft smiled briefly. "Budget details are available, thank you, Mr Brook."
"Please, call me Richard. So what would you like to know?"
Richard flinched at the name. "What?"
"You played Richard the Third as Jim Moriarty. Why?"
Oh God."I didn't mean... I didn't know you'd be here. I meant nothing by it, nothing about your brother. It just fit the role so well. I'm really sorry if you were offended."
"Not offended, no." Mycroft was considering him. The silence grew.
"What do you intend to do upon your release, Richard?"
"There's a theatre group in Finchley; I've got an audition. Nothing big- very little, really, but it's a professional role. After all this," he gestured vaguely at the prison walls, "I've got to start again somewhere."
"And where will you stay?"
"I think the probation service will find me a hostel place, until I get settled."
Mycroft wrinkled his nose slightly at the prospect. "I have been remarkably impressed both by your performance tonight and your earlier renditions of the character. If you will permit me, I will find some more suitable accommodation and I may be able to make one or two introductions to acquaintances on the London stage."
Richard couldn't believe what he'd just heard. "You'd do that for me? After what happened to your brother?"
"The trial proved conclusively that Sherlock's suicide was in no way your fault, Richard. I have a personal debt owing; your defence mentioned nothing of your earlier interrogation."
Richard blinked. Yes, the interrogation. Had Mycroft been involved? It hadn't been important; he'd forgotten pretty much all of the detail. "That was a matter of national security, they said. I wasn't allowed to mention it."
"And you quite correctly didn't." Mycroft pulled his unopened case towards him, stood up to leave. "I intend to repay my brother's debts in full, Mr Brook. I will see you in three weeks time." He left Richard smiling delightedly. It seemed that he had an unexpected ally, and a future considerably brighter.
The next morning Richard was in a very different meeting, and shifting uncomfortably."You're saying what? That it makes me dangerous?"
"Heavens, no!" Lynn's laugh was a little forced. "Nothing in your assessment gives that sort of cause for concern. It's just that we think you ought to consider some therapy, after your release. For your own benefit."
"I'll certainly do that, Lynn. I'm sure it's just a reaction to stress, as you said. Everybody forgets things occasionally, don't they?"
"Yes, of course." She smiled, apparently relieved. "That was all. Well done for last night, of course. You were brilliant. Very scary. It was like there was someone else completely up there."
Richard grinned. "That's what acting's all about. They come alive just long enough to speak their lines and play out their story. And Shakespeare makes it easy, of course. Richard the Third is a marvellous character to play." He stood up. "I'd better get some rest. I'm doing it all over again tonight. Thanks, Lynn."
He wasn't going to worry now about her concerns. He might have a poor memory in places but it wasn't affecting memorising his lines. In three weeks time he was starting again, and then what would the past matter, anyway?
"Spices in the top left cupboard."
"Thanks Mike." Richard pulled the box down, found the paprika. He was cooking tonight for Mycroft, a thank you dinner for everything the man had done. Jobseeker's allowance didn't stretch to meals out but at least he could cook.
His flatmates were going out for the evening. Mike was a graphic designer, Andrew a mature history student. The house in Camden was small but comfortable, the rent a bit beyond his means but Mycroft was making up the difference, until he found work. There were auditions coming up; also the other man's doing. Mycroft truly believed in his talent.
By the time the doorbell rang the food was in the oven and Richard had changed into a clean shirt and black chinos. He opened the door, smiling.
"Mycroft! Please do come in! Drink?"
"Thank you. Just a glass of water for now, if you would have no objection."
"Course." He led the way to the tiny sitting room. "Just us two tonight."
"Indeed?" That was a sharp glance. Mycroft didn't think he was making a pass at him, surely? Because really he didn't know the man that well. He was just grateful.
"The boys still be back later, of course. I meant to eat, two of us."
"And to talk. Unless you think the house may be bugged?".
Richard laughed at the deadpan joke. "Come on. The probation service don't have the budget, and I don't think anyone in the world still thinks I'm a criminal mastermind!"
Mycroft sipped at the water. "John Watson does."
Richard was instantly sober and unamused. "That's not fair. Watson's partner killed himself in front of the man. You can hardly expect the poor guy to be rational about it." He really didn't like remembering the sight of John Watson in court day after day, just watching him, all through his trial. Why couldn't he forget that along with so much else?
"You don't object to his campaign, then? It's undoubtedly libellous. Other men might sue."
"I don't really know anything about it." He'd told his solicitor eighteen months ago that he didn't want the details. He'd assumed that it had died down by now. "I don't want to get involved with Watson or anyone else from that whole mess. I've served my time and I'm moving on."
"Quite so. An audition tomorrow, I understand?"
"Coronation Street. One off character but it's a great chance- if they like you they write you in again. Unless they've killed you off, of course."
Mycroft's lips twitched at that. "Dead characters can always come back. Thus fiction is distinguished from reality."
"Except for that canoe guy."
Mycroft snorted. "Obviously faked at the time. I did drop a word in the ear of the insurance company but they chose to take no notice."
"What do you actually do for a living, Mycroft?" Richard had been wondering for some time.
The man looked straight at him, briefly. "You might say that I untangle problems for the government."
"It sounds a bit like what Sherlock wanted people to think he could do. Was that where he got the idea? From your job?"
Mycroft put down the glass. "A disturbing thought. Both you and I know exactly how far Sherlock's real capacities went."
Richard sighed. "He was a great actor, certainly. I never imagined when I met him that I'd end up... well, with people... You know."
"Accessory to murder and kidnapping." Mycroft said, dryly.
"Yes, that. I still don't really know how it happened." The blur of his memories again.
"And yet you pleaded guilty."
Richard shrugged. "People started turning up dead and obviously I hadn't tried to stop him. It's the one huge regret of my life. But I've done my punishment now, and Sherlock's gone for good. I don't really want to discuss it any more."
"Of course not. Then tell me all about this part tomorrow instead, Richard."
After that rather inauspicious start the rest of the evening went more smoothly. Mycroft really was a charming man, when you got him alone. When the evening was over Richard had a sudden impulse to ask him to stay. Way, way too early, he told himself. He knew nothing really about the man and his tastes, he'd only been out of jail a week and the dead brother was still very much between them. But he did insist that Mycroft come by for coffee one evening next week and was delighted when he agreed. He set his alarm for plenty of time to get to the audition, and curled up in his bed in his own room, in his own house. Things really were looking up at last.
Richard is struggling, both to make his mark as an actor, and with his feelings for Mycroft.
"The length of the left middle finger," Mycroft said, dryly. "The research was... discouraged by the Home Office after the first world war. Rumour suggested that several prominent members of the Conservative cabinet had noticeably elongated middle fingers."
Richard laughed. "And did they?"
"Records do not exist, sadly. As it happens, I have had occasion to shake hands with a number of members of the current government. One cannot help observing, though passing on those observations might be considered indiscreet."
A lot of the conversations that Mycroft held while drinking tea in the small Camden house might be considered somewhat indiscreet, Richard thought. He'd raised the point once, while Mycroft was explaining the latest diplomatic tangle.
"Should you be telling me all this? What about the Official Secrets Act?"
Mycroft had frowned at him. "I leave official secrets to officials. My concerns tend to be outside their purview. Would you prefer that we discussed the weather, Richard?"
"No, please! This is fascinating." Though, to be honest, Mycroft could have been reciting the shipping forecast and Richard would still have been hanging on every word.
Tonight it seemed that Mycroft would go no further. He glanced at his watch. "Time I departed. You have an early appointment tomorrow?"
"It's only a corporate video, but it's work. And another one Friday. Should help pay the rent." Richard looked away from Mycroft, slightly embarrassed. He hadn't yet had a month in which he could pay his own way, but hopefully that would change. "There's a small castings company that have put a few small jobs my way, ones not worth auditioning. I'm hoping to get something more meaty from them, too, soon."
"I'm pleased to hear it. The work will no doubt keep you out of mischief." His mouth stretched in a smile. "Goodnight, Richard."
Richard showed him out, came back to wrap his own hands around the tea cup that Mycroft had sipped from. He hadn't said anything, again. He never dared try to venture past Mycroft's cool civility. What if the man took offence? It wasn't just his only real friendship that he risked, it was the financial support that let him follow his dream. Without Mycroft Holmes he'd be working in a burger bar, by now.
Time for bed. He relinquished the cup to the tray, reluctantly. Mycroft would be back again next week. In the meantime he needed to be top of his game tomorrow, show that he was a good reliable choice with a touch of flair. Playing Telephone Interviewer Two wasn't exactly Richard the Third, but it was still acting and he'd put his heart into it.
They were wrapping up the last scene on Friday when Nels came into the studio. Richard was aware of him watching, put a little extra effort in. Soon enough he was free to go over to say hello. Nels Finney, in his early fifties, was a partner in Capital Castings and the source of Richard's recent fortune.
"Nice work." Nels had a deep baritone that Richard secretly envied and a goatee beard and ponytail that he definitely didn't.
"Thanks. Got time for a coffee?"
"Got to talk to the clients, sorry, Rickie. How about a drink this evening instead?"
"Yeah. That would be great." There were auditions coming up. Richard would take any opening he could get.
"Say nine, then. Fox and Hounds in Lambeth."
Five to nine Richard shrugged his black jacket more comfortably around his shoulders, pulled the white t-shirt straight and walked into the bar. The place was packed with a Friday night crowd; it took him a while to spot Nels, leaning against the back wall with a couple of strangers.
"Evening." He nodded greeting at the other two men. "Can I get anyone a drink?"
Four pints put a hefty dent in the afternoon's earnings, but it was an investment. It was too noisy to hold much of a conversation and after a while they drifted out onto the pavement to talk. The others were a friendly lot, interested in his life, the house he shared, even his financial difficulties.
Nels was reassuring. "I'm sure we can find you plenty to do. A handsome young face like yours...always good to have you on the books. Stay in with us and you'll do OK."
"Thanks. I really appreciate it."
"I'm sure you do." Nels glanced at one of the other men, who put down his half drunk pint.
"It's getting late. Ought to call it a night."
By common consent they started walking towards the tube station. Nels' hand caught at Richard's sleeve.
"I didn't get round to the stuff I was going to tell you. How about a coffee? My place is round the corner."
"Sure." They made their farewells and set out through the busy street full of slightly inebriated Friday nighters. A couple of times Nels steered Richard around groups with an arm around his shoulder. The second time the arm stayed there.
Just a little drunk-friendly. Richard couldn't think of a polite way of rebuffing the man in the street. He'd pretend not to notice. That coffee would sober Nels up.
The flat was spotless and soulless. Richard thought of the sociable chaos of his shared house. The older man was probably lonely. There was no need to be harsh. He took the offered place on the sofa, didn't flinch as the other man came down heavily beside him.
"Would you like me to make the coffee?"
" Never mind that, sweet brown eyes. How about a kiss?"
Hell. Richard seized on the easiest response. "Oh, Nels, I'm flattered, really I am. But I've got a boyfriend." What he'd got was a hopeless crush, but it came to the same thing. He wasn't interested. He wriggled out from under the heavy arm. "Why don't I make coffee?"
Nels leaned back, watching him get up. Suddenly he didn't seem drunk at all. "I thought we were going to talk about your career, Rickie? A couple of good roles, and you'll be doing fine. You just need to be careful; It's easy to get a bad rep round here."
Richard cursed himself. Stupid, to get in this situation. Two years in prison carefully keeping out of the way of possible sexual predators and he walked into this!
Nels could do what he claimed, no doubt. Set a black mark against Richard's name with the other agencies; a rumour that he was unreliable or dishonest would do. Richard really couldn't afford to antagonise the man. He was sure Mycroft would be disgusted with him, for getting into this, for giving in, but Mycroft wasn't here. Maybe a kiss wouldn't be too bad, and then he could just go home.
He produced a smile with an actor's ease. "One kiss for good luck, then. Just don't tell my boyfriend!" Make it a bit of a joke.
He didn't resist as Nels pulled him down onto his lap. The kiss was unpleasant, a cold tongue pushed around his mouth. When the man licked his cheek sloppily, Richard had to repress a shudder. The hand fumbling at his belt was beyond tolerance; he pushed it away, up on his feet, backing away.
"Sorry, Nels. No. I don't want to do that. Can't we just have a drink and call it a night?"
Nels was scowling at him. "Fucking cock-tease. I don't want a fucking drink. What you going to do about this then?" His hand was now at his own buckle. Richard glanced at the bulge, then away.
"I didn't mean to... Look, I'm sorry. I'll just go, shall I?"
"Come on, Rickie." The tone had turned wheedling. "How about a quick blow? I'll make it worth your while." The buckle was undone, flies open. His protruding erection was a mass of grey-brown wrinkled skin.
One good part. Just one, and it wouldn't matter what this man or men like him said after that. And he wouldn't get to touch Richard. The younger man took a deep breath. "Okay."
He'd done this before. The act was familiar, though he didn't try to remember to whom, or when, just as he'd known he was gay without troubling his uncertain memory for past lovers. What his body did in pursuit of his vocation didn't matter, he told himself. Another performance to impress his audience, that was all. It didn't stop the bile from nearly choking him but it drove him to carry on through it.
Just before the end he pulled back, explained to Nels in a clear and steady voice exactly which upcoming audition he expected to succeed at. Afterwards he rinsed his mouth out, shook the man's hand and went out to find a taxi. The numbness held him together until he reached the privacy of his own room. Then he collapsed on the bed, swearing through his tears. Bastard. The bastard would pay. It wasn't bloody fair. Sometimes he wished that he really was a criminal fucking mastermind. Jim bloody Moriarty would eat the sad little fucker alive.
Jim Moriarty didn't exist. There was only Richard Brook, unsuccessful actor, ex-prisoner, jobless, penniless, at the mercy of creeps like Nels. When he'd cried himself to exhaustion he finally fell asleep.
The bedroom was lit with afternoon sun when he finally woke up again. The anger and disgust seemed to have settled to a tired acceptance. At least he'd get the role. He texted Nels after he'd had some breakfast, a brief reminder of their agreement. "Thanks for the drinks last night. See you Tues am. Richard B."
He wasn't necessarily expecting a reply. He was certainly not expecting the men on his doorstep half an hour later.
"Greg Lestrade?" Richard's memory of everything to do with his trial was crystal clear, including this man's reluctant evidence about Sherlock's schemes.
"Detective Inspector Lestrade. May we come in?" It wasn't a request. He led them through to the sitting room.
"Did you send a text to Nelson Finney at 3.23pm, Mr Brook?"
"Richard, please. Yes. Why? Is this something to do with Sherlock Holmes again?"
"Sherlock's been dead for years." Lestrade said, coldly. "When did you last see Finney?"
"I left his place at about half past midnight last night."
"Was he alone then?"
"Yes. What's happened?"
"Nelson Finney was found dead at his flat about three hours ago. I'm going to have to ask you to come to the station to answer some questions. You have the right to remain silent..."
"Yes, I know," Richard said, tiredly. "I've done this before, remember." If Nels was dead then his audition was blown, and now he was being arrested again. Life was so fucking unfair. Then he remembered Mycroft.
"Can I make a phone call?" He didn't know how Mycroft could help, exactly, but he was sure the man could get him out of this somehow. After all, if anyone knew for certain that Richard Brook was absolutely incapable of murdering anyone, it was Mycroft Holmes.
Richard is in trouble and old history is coming back to haunt him.
Mycroft's silken tongued assistant answered his phone as usual.
"It's Richard Brook. I need to talk to Mycroft urgently." Richard could see Lestrade's head jerk up to look at him from the other side of the desk.
"I'm afraid Mr Holmes is in an important meeting and can't be disturbed. Shall I tell him you called?"
They'd taken his phone away. Richard took a deep breath. "Tell him I've been arrested. I'm at Scotland Yard."
"Of course. Anything else?" She sounded utterly unconcerned.
"No. Just tell him that." He replaced the receiver. Lestrade was staring.
"Did you just call Mycroft Holmes?"
Richard hunched defensively. "He's a friend of mine."
"A friend? Mycroft Holmes is a friend of yours? Crap. What's going on, Brook?"
"No, he is. Really. He's been helping me, since I got out of prison. He pays my rent." Ouch. Richard immediately wished he hadn't said that. "He's just a friend, though. He's nice."
"Nice?" Lestrade stood up, turned away to walk the few steps to the window, hands deep in his pockets. He turned back suddenly, slammed his fists down onto the desk. "Listen to me, you piece of shit. This innocent abroad act might work with other people but I'm not going to forget the three fucking weeks you sat in that chair and sneered at me before making a laughing stock of my whole bloody investigation by intimidating the jury and walking free from court."
That wasn't fair."I was only acting. It was Sherlock's idea."
"Oh yes." Lestrade was quieter, now. "Everything got blamed on poor bloody Sherlock, didn't it? And everyone believed it. After all, you're just a pathetic little play-actor. But now I've got a dead body, Brook, and no Sherlock this time, and you've got a lot of questions to answer. Did you murder Nelson Finney?"
"No. God, no. I couldn't. I didn't have any reason to, anyway. He was a friend. He was going to help me."
"Him, too? What a surprising lot of friends you've got, Brook, for a useless ex-con. What were you doing in his flat?"
Richard had to make a decision. Lestrade clearly hated him. He wasn't giving the man any hint of a motive for murder. "We just had coffee. Discussed some auditions coming up."
"Coffee?" Lestrade sounded deeply sceptical.
"Did he make a pass at you?"
"No! I wouldn't have...he's ancient." About Lestrade's age. Shit. That wasn't
"So you didn't have any sexual contact in his flat?"
He was beginning to think he'd maybe made a mistake in lying. Lestrade seemed set on this line of questioning. How good were forensics? Could they tell what he'd done? "I don't want to say anything else without my solicitor present."
"You're stalling. It's a simple question, Brook. Sexual contact?
Yes or no."
"I'm waiting for my solicitor."
"You're waiting for Mycroft Holmes. Why do you think he can help you, Richard? What's your relationship with him?"
"Just friends, I told you." He was starting to fight down panic. What if Mycroft couldn't help? Who the hell had killed Nels anyway?
"What sort of coffee?"
"What? Oh, instant, I think. Maybe filter? It was late, I don't know."
"What colour mug did you use?"
"I don't remember." He hadn't seen the kitchen; he couldn't guess.
"White? Maybe? I don't remember. I have memory problems; it's in my medical files."
"Convenient. Maybe you forgot arguing with Finney, and then forgot killing him."
Lestrade was twisting everything that Richard said against him. Where was Mycroft? Was he even out of his meeting? "What happened...how did Nels die?"
Lestrade bared his teeth in a grin. "All those fantasies about being a violent psychopath- they turned you on, didn't they? Been missing that recently? Must be boring, just being Richard Brook. Was that what happened last night? Bit of S&M gone wrong?"
Richard shook his head violently. "I'm an actor, not a fantasist! Moriarty was all Sherlock's invention. I just did what I was told."
"Did someone tell you to kill Finney?"
" So it was your idea?"
Did you perform oral sex on Finney last night in exchange for casting favours?"
Richard stared at Lestrade. "How did you know?"
"Is that a yes?"
Richard could feel himself blush. "Yes. But I didn't kill him. I just went home."
"You didn't have any coffee."
"So you've been lying to me. Why did you lie, Brook?"
He could feel his cheeks scarlet. "I didn't want anyone to know."
"Was that why you murdered him? To keep your secret?"
Shame turned into rage. "I didn't kill him! I wanted to get the damn audition! I'd fucking well paid enough for it!"
"What time did you leave his flat?"
"12:30. I said that."
"What time did you go back there?"
"I didn't. I got a taxi home, I went to bed, I stayed there until this morning- this afternoon, near enough."
"Got any witnesses?"
"What, to being asleep in bed? No."
"That's unfortunate." Lestrade seemed grimly satisfied. " Your fingerprints are all over that flat; your's and the victim's and no-one else's. He's got a very thorough cleaner. You're in real trouble this time, Richard. Might want to think about coming clean. I imagine a good lawyer would find some mitigation; what he made you do was pretty humiliating."
He couldn't come clean; he hadn't done anything. "How did you know about the...stuff?"
"Your performance? You weren't paying attention, obviously. He recorded some of it on his phone, downloaded it to his computer after you left. Judging from his video files you weren't the first young actor to buy a few casting privileges. Just the first to pay him back with murder."
He stood up. "That's enough for now. We'll continue this again later, with your solicitor present. It doesn't take Sherlock Holmes to solve this one, does it, Richard? Motive, means, opportunity, and a track record of involvement in violent crime. The only thing that's going to help you now is to tell us exactly what happened."
They left him alone in the police cell for a long time. His solicitor arrived, gave the usual advice, modified a little by the fact that he was still on probation, went away again. He was allowed as far as the toilets, heavily escorted, later brought shop-made sandwiches in lieu of dinner. If Mycroft had come, no-one was letting them meet.
At nine thirty pm a uniformed officer turned up, took him to the interview room to go through paperwork with his solicitor. He was being released on police bail. Still a suspect, his lawyer explained, but they didn't have enough evidence to hold him for now. Richard blinked, nodded, confused at that. Lestrade had sounded as if he had enough evidence to convict, not just to hold him.
At the front desk a young woman accosted him. "This way, Mr Brook, please." Her voice was familiar; Richard followed her willingly to the waiting car.
Mycroft's assistant didn't talk to him so he spent the journey with his returned smart phone, reading the news reports about Nels's murder and his arrest. The sub judice rules prevented the papers from saying much but the blogs and Twitter were alive with wild speculation about him, all the old conspiracy theories about Sherlock Holmes and Jim Moriarty coming up again. He followed a link, found himself reading John Watson's blog.
Richard Brook didn't kill Finney, because Richard Brook doesn't exist, has never existed. The man masquerading as Brook killed Sherlock Holmes and now he's killed again. Now that the fiction of Brook as a harmless idiot has been exposed I'm calling yet again for a full independent judicial review into all the circumstances surrounding Sherlock's supposed suicide so that Jim Moriarty can be held to account for all his crimes, not just the brutal mutilation and murder of Nelson Finney.
Richard looked out of the window at the London streets, feeling nauseous. Mutilation? It was oddly unsettling to read that one didn't exist. Poor Watson, still obsessed by Sherlock's fictional invention. He remembered the man staring at him all through the trial, seeing someone else completely. Richard had apologised to him from the dock and John's face had just hardened, eyes full of hate. For the first time he wondered how far that hatred would go. Watson was supposedly a crack shot. He'd talk to Mycroft, see whether the man thought he could be in any actual danger. Maybe a restraining order would be wise? Seemed cruel to drag the poor deluded man into court though.
He'd never been to Mycroft's home, and they weren't going there now. The car stopped outside Whitehall offices, the entrances near deserted at ten pm, but he was led on foot into St James Park. Mycroft came to meet him, walking beside the dark water of the lake. An assistant being him was carrying two deck chairs.
"Richard. Shall we find somewhere to sit?" He gestured over the wide lawns.
"Yes, OK." There were benches free; he wondered why the chairs. Still, he picked a spot at random, settled into the one he was given. The assistants all vanished.
Richard looked at the electronic device curiously. "What is it?"
Mycroft sighed, a touch of unusual exasperation. "It detects electronic listening devices. Let me demonstrate." Mycroft pulled a small microphone out of his pocket, flicked a switch. A red light on the device came on. He turned the mike off and the light went out.
"Do you think we're being bugged?"
"No. I am reassuring you that I am not recording this conversation."
Why would he record it? Some peculiar legal issue, maybe. "Ok, you're not recording it.I'm really glad to see you, Mycroft. Did you help get me out of that cell?"
Mycroft's face was shadowed. "I provided Lestrade with evidence that you were in bed when you said you were."
Richard could think of only one way to do that. "You told him I was sleeping with you? Oh, Mycroft! You shouldn't have done that! If he finds out you lied you'll be in so much trouble. But thank you. I don't know what to say, really. Thanks."
The man opposite seemed to draw himself up a little. "You misinterpret." A pause, then steady, his eyes on Richard. "I provided him with copies of last night's surveillance tapes."
Mycroft glanced at the device, dark in Richard's hands. "Do we really have to play through this? It's a little tiresome."
"Play through what? What tapes?" Richard was bewildered.
Mycroft sighed. "There are, as you know full well, cameras and microphones throughout your house. The recordings for last night show that you came in, apparently considerably distressed, at around 1am, and did not leave your room until 11:45am. Since Finney's time of death is estimated at between 4 and 6am, it is impossible for you to have directly murdered him."
"Why on earth would my house be bugged? Who ordered that?"
Richard just stared at his friend for a moment. "Why?" Was it some sort of perversion? He started to feel the edge of betrayal, outrage. "Why would you do that?"
Mycroft shook his head. "That's enough. You may play this game all you like, cameras or not, but I have better things to do with my time. I will come to visit Richard Brook tomorrow. No doubt he will be grateful for my support." He used his umbrella to pull himself to his feet. "If you did have a hand in Finney's death I will find out about it. Goodnight, Jim."
Richard watched the upright figure stalk away towards the edge of the park until he crossed the road, turned a corner and vanished. Then he dropped to his knees, pulling up handfuls of the short grass, smashing his forehead against the soft ground, sobbing in utter misery and rage. In the end they came and took him away, into the smooth engined car, back to the honey trap of a house. He ripped up his bedroom, ignoring the concern of his untrustworthy flatmates, until he found the small cameras, smashed them on his bedroom cabinet with the heel of a boot.
He started to pack a bag but after a few minutes he realised that he had nowhere at all to go. They'd find him anyway, and he'd be in trouble; his bail conditions didn't let him live anywhere else.
Fuck Mycroft Holmes, anyway. He didn't need friends. He didn't need help. He was going to be the best fucking actor in the whole of London. More fool Mycroft, wasting his time hunting for a man who didn't even exist. Richard would just ignore him.
No. He sat up, his thoughts suddenly cold and hard. He had a better idea. Mycroft wanted Jim Moriarty, Richard would play Moriarty, easy to him as a second skin, in hints and riddles until Mycroft lost everything, power, reputation and friends, chasing a shadow. Then Richard would be the one to laugh.
How would Jim Moriarty respond to tonight's events? By playing Richard Brook, but with a purpose behind it. Right, he could do that; play Jim playing him. He'd have Mycroft Holmes in knots in no time. Slightly comforted at the prospect of revenge for this hugest of betrayals, he curled up in his trashed room and slept.
A confrontation with Mycroft, and a rather attractive visitor
Richard didn't own much; only the bits and pieces he'd acquired since prison, and he'd been too short of money to buy more than a few basics. (A thought flickered- he must have had stuff before; clothes, cds, books? Didn't matter. They were gone now, anyway.)
It didn't take long to repeat the search of the night before, systematically now, tidying up as he went. He found a microphone behind his headboard, remembered murmuring one particular name aloud into the pillow as he brought himself off, felt utterly sick. Wedged underneath his mattress was a small inconspicuous pocket made from the same material as his sheets and inside a sleek, expensive mobile phone. Richard turned it on, found it was charged and locked. He didn't understand how it fit in with the surveillance; he turned it off, left it under his pillow.
Downstairs Richard reached for the closed living room curtains. "Don't open them!" came, urgent, from the doorway. That was Andrew, with Mike close behind.
"There are journalists and photographers all over the street. I've had to disconnect the doorbell. Are you OK, Richard?"
He looked at his housemates. Genuine concern? He couldn't tell. "Yes, I'm OK. Just-you know-shaken up a bit. The police chap was crazy; it was horrible. For a bit I really thought they were going to charge me."
"Fuck!" Mike was shaking his head. "That's insane! But you got out?"
"They let me out, yeah. But it's all pretty awful. They haven't arrested anyone else, have they?"
"Not on the news, anyway. Want me to make you some breakfast? You won't be able to go anywhere today until those creeps outside go away."
Richard managed a smile at Mike. "That would be great. I'm sorry about all this."
"Shit, don't worry about us. We're fine." Andrew nodded agreement. If they hadn't been Mycroft's people they would have been pretty good guys. Everything decent in Richard's life had been turned over, broken open, shown to be rotten at the core.
Around eleven am the noise from outside died down. Andrew twitched the curtains aside, reported the street empty, apart from a silver car drawing up outside. "Hey! It's Mycroft!" The boys knew Richard's regular visitor, of course. Of course.
Richard opened the door, turned up the stairs to the bedroom without responding to the polite greeting. He closed the door behind the two of them, walked to glance out of the window at the empty yard. A shout from Mike told him that the journalists were already coming back.
"It's sort of funny," he said without turning. "I keep going to myself, you must think I'm so stupid. Really dumb, to have believed anything you said for a moment. To have cared. And that feels awful. But then I remember, you can't think I'm stupid. You don't think I'm here at all."
Silence. He went on, words he'd been rehearsing all morning. "I can't even accuse you of lying to me, can I? You were talking to Jim Moriarty all the time, and he was never expected to believe a word of it. Only poor stupid Richard did that and who cares what an imaginary character feels?"
A slow hand clap from behind him.
"Good." Mycroft's dry voice. "Very good indeed. Now is this intended for our joint entertainment, or are you still wary of recording devices? You destroyed all those in here and I assure you that I am not 'wired'- an undignified process, and unlikely to be effacious in this case. We could just talk."
Richard turned round, the sight of the other man, tall and unbending, almost physically painful. "Why can't you believe it's me standing here? What have I done to make you doubt me?"
Mycroft shook his head. "I'm not to be lured into debating with a fiction, Jim. I know you beyond the least shadow of a doubt. Richard Brook is a fiendishly clever invention but I was part of the web that you wove to trap Sherlock. I don't forget."
"It was all Sherlock's idea," Richard said, hopelessly. "All of it." There was nothing to be gained by pleading further. "What do you want from me now, Mycroft? What are you doing here?"
Moriarty would have known the answer, of course. Richard reminded himself that that was who he would be today. Jim, playing games, not Richard, aching with betrayal. Make Mycroft chase phantoms; his small revenge.
"Lestrade still thinks you had a hand in Finney's death. He's right, naturally. I imagine that what Finney did was intolerable. Pride, Jim, will be your downfall in the end, just as it was Sherlock's."
Surely Moriarty would feel a flicker of rage at that. Richard had played enough Shakespeare to know how to almost hide it behind another wail of unhappy innocence. Mycroft would see both. Yes, there was the glimmer of satisfaction. Mycroft thought he'd spotted his prey.
"I was here all the time. You know that." That much at least was on his side. He ought to be safe from the murder investigation and Lestrade's spite.
"Oh, you didn't kill him personally. There had to be someone else. Someone to manage Moriarty's interests while you played at being Brook."
"Invent more conspirators? Isn't that the action of the desperate playwright? I didn't want him dead. I wanted my audition."
"Richard Brook wanted an audition. What did Jim Moriarty want?"
Richard sighed, both frustrated and grimly satisfied at the other man's persistence. "What does Hamlet like for breakfast? What's James Bond's opinion on the Arab Spring? Moriarty was created purely to showcase Sherlock's frauds. Without Sherlock he's nothing, and he wants nothing."
He sat down on the bed, eyes half closed. He could hear the crowd outside. "You really think a man like Jim Moriarty was meant to be would have fallen so low as to do what I did last night? Then wipe out whatever tiny gain had resulted by killing Nels?"
"I believe you would do whatever suited your plans, Jim. This conversation, the murder, your demonstrations of unrequited love. Each an arrow aimed at me. Whatever your intention is, I will foil it."
Mycroft hated him. Richard couldn't do this any more. "Go away, please. I know you'll put back the cameras and your spies, but you won't find Moriarty that way. I didn't kill anyone. I'm an actor."
Mycroft was watching him with cold eyes. "An actor. Show me, then."
"Show you what?"
"Show me how you play Jim Moriarty, 'Richard'."
Would Moriarty do it? Would Brook? For a moment he was confused between his identities. What did he want Mycroft to believe, again?
Then he smiled, wide and cruel, relaxed. "Is this who you're looking for? Your brother's evil nemesis? Going to get revenge? Sorry!" His voice was high and gleeful. "It doesn't work that way. There's no-one who can go up against me and win. How can there be? I'm the perfect villain. I have no scruples, I have no weaknesses. My web is everywhere. My schemes are continent-wide and years in the making. I have no equal, no challengers. And I don't exist."
He took three steps towards Mycroft, reached out to drag his fingertips lightly down the man's immobile face. "Chase my shadow, pet. Chase it as long and far as you like. In the end it will take you where your baby brother went so eagerly, splattered all over the pavement with a phantom still whispering fictions in your ear, because you were both too weak to survive in a world without someone like me."
Richard stepped back, looked down at Mycroft's fingers clenched white around the handle of his umbrella. He felt very tired and muzzy headed.
"'As I am subtle, false and treacherous.' It's acting, that's all."
Mycroft took a long breath, but when he finally spoke his voice was steady as usual. "You obviously can't stay here. I will send the car for you at 2pm. Be packed."
Richard nodded. There seemed little point to protesting his independence. He had nowhere else to go.
"Good." Mycroft turned to the door. "One final thing. Regardless of whom you pretend to be, you will regret mocking my brother's death."
He closed the bedroom door behind him and Richard could hear the precise tread down the staircase, the front door opening.
He lay back on the bed, feeling tears welling, let them come. His life in tatters. His adored friend and sole supporter thought him a fraud and a vicious killer. Only Sherlock could have convinced his brother of the truth and Sherlock was dead.
There was nothing he could do about it. He ought to start packing. Richard turned over the pillow, picked up the mysterious phone, rested it in his palm, pressed some keys at random. The lock couldn't have been set properly because it cleared. The call log was empty and the phone book had only one number.
Nothing ventured...he pressed call. It was picked up within a couple of rings.
"Yes." A man's voice, deep.
"Who am I speaking to, please?"
The other man hung up.
So much for that. Richard looked down at the phone uneasily. Maybe it belonged to one of his housemates. Maybe Mycroft had left it under his bed for reasons of his own. It had to be one if those two. He'd remember if he'd bought it, surely. His memory problems couldn't have become that bad, and he didn't have the money, anyway.
He chucked it onto the bed, started adding clothes to the pile. The boys brought him coffee a couple of times; they seemed suspiciously unsurprised that he was going with Mycroft. The journalists were gone, apart from a single photographer.
An hour before the deadline and he was finished. Still time for a shower. He walked back into his room with a towel wrapped around his waist and the tall man sitting on his bed whistled, quiet but appreciative.
Who the hell? Not someone he'd ever met; Richard would definitely have remembered. The guy was gorgeous, in a rugged sort of way, and he was giving the unclad bits of Richard a flattering amount of attention.
"Did Mycroft send you?"
A flicker of definite surprise, then a small smile twisted the stubbled face. "You're Richard Brook."
Richard was good with voices. "You answered the phone."
A slight nod. "Where is it?"
"Who are you? What do you want?"
"The phone. Please."
The room was chilly. Richard picked up his shirt, started to dress. "I'll give it to you if you tell me what this is about."
The man shook his head, a touch regretful. "Can't. Sorry." Rather like a youngish Clint Eastwood, Richard decided.
"So I'll keep the phone." He picked up his trousers, dropped the towel, unconcerned by exposure. The man laughed.
"Should have expected something like this. You're not much intimidated."
"Should I be?"
The twitch of a jacket back- was that a real gun? How the hell should he know? Okay. Richard looked back into the man's bright blue eyes.
"On second thoughts I think I'll let you have the phone. I've got one already. Anything else I can do for you while you're here?"
That got an outright laugh. "That's rather more civil than... Well, than I expected. Just the phone, please."
Richard pulled his trousers up and went rummaging in the luggage. "Why do you need it?"
"Wouldn't do for your pompous bloody minder to get hold of it. You won't tell him." A statement.
"We're not really on speaking terms right now." He pulled out the bag, tossed it over.
"You're welcome. Got a name?"
The man sighed. "Fraternising with you is going to get me in so much bloody trouble. It's Seb. And don't pass that onto bloody Holmes either."
"Not a word." Richard liked this guy, far more than was reasonable given that he'd broken into his house and effectively threatened him. "Want a coffee?"
"Christ! You're..." He shook his head, grimacing. "Holmes' people are downstairs. If I get caught out here drinking fucking coffee with you the boss will have my balls. I need to leave now."
Richard couldn't help noticing that Seb wasn't moving yet. "Some other time, then?"
"Yeah." The brief smile lit up his face. "Remember the number?"
"Yes, I think so. I'll give you mine."
A slow shake of the head. "Calling you cold would be really dumb, for all kinds of reasons. Wait till you're absolutely sure you've slipped the bloody cameras, then call me using a phone no-one can have got to. If I'm not working we'll have coffee." The last few words were deeper than the rest, amused.
Seb stood up, unlocked the bedroom door and was off down the stairs silently, leaving Richard grinning for the first time in two days.
Crazy. He knew nothing at all about this man except that he carried a gun and answered a phone hidden under Richard's mattress. And knew, and disapproved, of Mycroft and his spies. And seemed to like him.
So had Nels. So had Mycroft. So had Andrew and Mike. Richard's track record on making friends wasn't good right now.
Fuck that. It was about time that his luck changed, that he met someone real. How long had it been? He didn't remember. It didn't matter. Only the future mattered.
For the first time he began to regret the game he'd started playing with Mycroft. Keeping the man interested in him had seemed like a good idea when he had no-one else; better than being dropped as a non-entity, anyway. Now there was a possibility of someone else, someone kinder, more decent then Mycroft Holmes and he had the man close on his heels.
It wasn't insurmountable. He'd find some way to shake Mycroft and he'd ring Seb, and maybe they'd hit it off a bit more. Richard knew his enemies now; Mycroft, Lestrade, his housemates, even that poor bugger Watson. He could do with some allies, and Seb and his unidentified boss seemed to know what was going on, might just be the ones to help him.
Richard Brook meets up with Seb Moran for coffee in the hope of making an ally against Mycroft
There was at least no pretence this time about the house to which Richard had been hastily removed. The men who shared it with him came and went in shifts and no-one took the trouble to give him a name.
It wasn't quite house arrest. No-one was stopping him coming and going. He could, possibly, have moved out, except that his jobseekers allowance had been stopped in a suspiciously timed bureaucratic muddle and the little work he had paid no bills. The house- he refused to think of it as home- had well stocked cupboards and a small jar of change to cover bus fares to auditions.
Twice in the first week a car had taken him to Scotland Yard for further interrogation by an ill tempered Lestrade, still certain that Brook had been involved with Finney's murder but with no evidence of contact with anyone that night. It occurred to Richard halfway through the first interview that the phone under his mattress must have been an attempt by someone to frame him; he felt a rush of gratitude to Seb and his boss for taking it away. Mycroft did not make an appearance then or at any other time.
A small TV bit part in the second week gave him the first opportunity to slip the net. The costume department furnished hm with some easily concealed items and the next Saturday he went browsing along Oxford Street, something he'd got into the habit of doing since he left prison, just to have people around him. This time he disappeared into the busy Zavvi Megastore toilets, changed clothes, put on wig, added a little stage makeup and came out a good fifteen years older and with a completely different way of holding himself. He was, as he kept telling people, an actor.
Now down the quieter sidestreets in search of a public phone box. Seb answered the phone brusquely as he'd done before. Richard was suddenly nervous. Was this really wise?
He had no-one else. "Coffee?" he suggested, heard Seb laugh.
"Ah yes. Coffee. Are you in the city centre?"
"Yes." He said no more, was learning caution, even on this presumed safe phone.
"Victoria Gardens by Embankment Station." The phone went dead.
Richard didn't have enough money for a taxi. By the time he got off a bus and walked down into the gardens nearly half an hour had passed. He was wondering if it was safe to drop the disguise long enough for Seb to find him when the man himself overtook him, brushing his sleeve with a brief sideways glance. He followed around a long loop and up to the Strand, into the side door of the Strand Palace hotel.
They stood together in the lift. "I wasn't sure you'd recognise me," Richard said quietly.
"I'd know you anywhere." Seb seemed more matter of fact than flirtatious but Richard could feel a blush starting.
Fifth floor and a thoroughly unluxurious hotel room; nothing much but a double bed, a desk and chair and a small TV. Seb picked up the phone, ordered coffee for two from room service.
They stood looking at each other for a moment.
"I was expecting Starbucks. This is a bit ..." Richard tailed off, gesturing at the bed.
"Presumptuous? Neither of us have time for social conventions. He'll turn London upside down looking for you."
"I've done nothing wrong."
"It's who you are, not what you've done." Seb stepped forward to cup Richard's cheeks between his warm palms, look into his eyes. "Nothing at all like his," he murmured.
Richard didn't get a chance to ask who "he" might be, because Seb was kissing him, warm and thorough but strangely gentle, hands still stroking his face as if he were something amazing. He wrapped his own arms around the man's waist and they stood there for some time, just kissing.
A rap on the door and Seb disengaged. "Get that!" he snapped. Richard was about to protest the brusque order when he saw Seb's hand slide inside his jacket. He opened the door cautiously, leaving Seb a clear line of sight, but it was just a waiter with the tray of coffee.
"Do you always carry that?" he asked when the waiter had gone and Seb was pouring out the drinks.
"Most of the time. Does it bother you?"
"No. Not at all." Seb's raised eyebrow suggested that he'd read the rest of the unsaid sentence; Richard found the idea of Seb with the gun sexy as hell. But then he found everything about the gunman utterly and inexplicably enticing. He'd met plenty of dangerous men in prison, had never felt the inclination to do anything but give them a wide berth. Seb was different.
Seb unlaced his boots, swung himself lengthways onto the bed with a mug of coffee. Richard glanced at the space beside him. "May I?"
"That's the general idea."
Richard took his own shoes off, settled on the bed, not quite touching.
"Is it safe, me being here? For you, I mean?" He still had no idea who Seb worked for, or what his relationship with Mycroft and the police might be.
"No." Seb didn't seem to be unduly bothered by the idea.
"Does your boss mind?" Richard was thinking about allies and enemies. He couldn't afford any more of the latter.
Seb shrugged. "Don't know. Haven't asked him. This is my business."
There was something about that answer that didn't quite ring true, but Richard wasn't in a position to challenge it. The last thing he wanted was to drive Seb away right now. He drained his mug, put it on the side table, wondered how to proceed. He wasn't good at taking the lead.
He didn't have to. Seb's mug hit the carpet as the man moved to straddle him, grinning.
"Anything you don't want, now would be a good time to mention."
Richard's brain ran swiftly through possibilities, found them all interesting. "Don't...I don't want Mycroft's cameras to know. That's all. Everything else is good."
"Don't worry. I'm not stupid enough to leave any marks on this body." He leaned down to kiss Richard forcefully, pulled back. "I am going to fuck it though. I'm guessing you have no objection."
"No." Richard was near breathless. "None." He reached up to slide his hands under the loose shirt, feeling hard muscle and warm skin. Seb's fingers were plucking at buttons, a slight frown on his face as he concentrated.
The question seemed to startle both of them. Richard hadn't intended to say it out loud. Seb paused in what he was doing, carried on again, more slowly.
Richard's fingers ghosted over Seb's belly button. "I haven't done this very often." There had been other lovers, surely? His hands seemed to know what they were doing. "I didn't think I'd be your type, to be honest."
"I don't have a type." The shirt got pulled away from Richard's chest. "I take opportunities." A tongue ran between nipples and Richard shivered in pleasure.
"Now stop asking questions. We may not have much time."
Richard shut up. It had become difficult to think, anyway. Those forgotten ex-lovers had never been this determined on his own pleasure, he was sure. Seb seemed far more focussed on tugging every last gasp and sigh from him, than on the man's own satisfaction. For a while he simply twitched and writhed, blissful under Seb's mouth and hands.
He was spread on his back, impaled on long fingers, when his brain started working again. He didn't stop arching his back, the desperate panting for more, but he did start to notice things other than Seb's expertise. Like the fact that the man hadn't looked up at his face or spoken to him for a long while. Like... The fingers withdrew... were replaced...
"What about protection!" He tried to push the solid mass of the other man above him away, without success.
"Not an issue. Don't fuss." Seb was sliding inside him without pause.
"It is an issue! It isn't safe!"
"Yes, it is. I'll explain later. Now shut up."
"No. It's not safe, Seb..."
Seb switched his weight to one elbow, reached across the bed. " Want to know what's even less safe?" Cold metal pressed into Richard's cheek. "Not shutting up now."
Richard ought to be terrified, or angry, or both. He knew, rationally, that this had turned without a second's warning into rape at gunpoint by a near stranger.
He didn't believe it. A gut feeling that he had no reason to trust but did told him that Seb wouldn't-couldn't- harm him, that Seb expected him to know that, that the gun was no more than a punctuation mark.
He'd show the bastard. Richard turned his head towards the weapon, took the barrel between his lips, curled his tongue out along it.
"Fucking hell!" Seb shoved himself hard into Richard. "You are so fucking hot!"
"Yes." He felt hot. He felt like taking charge. Like teaching Seb some manners. He tipped his hips to take the man further in, opened his mouth to do the same with the gun. Seb was panting, swearing, losing all semblance of control as he rutted into Richard. The gun was loaded but the safety on. Moran was going to be punished for this, for all of it, the gun, the liberties he was taking with this body. But first they were both going to come....
They were both flat out on the bed, recovering. Seb pried himself up on one arm, eyes cautious.
"How do I know your name, Moran?"
"Must have heard it somewhere. Mycroft probably knows of me." Seb's tone was not convincing.
"Who's your boss?"
"Can't tell you that."
"I'll ask Mycroft if I have to."
"Mycroft will just assume you're playing games. He won't tell you."
"God. Something to do with Jim Moriarty?"
Seb grimaced. "Everything in your life is something to do with Jim Moriarty, Richard."
"He's just a pretence. Mycroft, Watson- they're deluded, that's all."
Seb rolled onto his back again, looked up at the ceiling. "You'd better go now."
Richard tried not to feel hurt. "You owe me an explanation first. About unprotected sex?"
"Isn't one. I just knew I wasn't going to catch everything from an uptight little risk-averse obsessive like you."
"And what about me?"
Seb shrugged, apparently uncaring.
Richard started to dress slowly and unhappily. One last try. "Can you and your boss help me?"
"Let's see. I'm on police bail for murder, I've got Mycroft tracing my every move, under the impression that I'm a super villain, I've got no money, no work and no real home and an ex-army lunatic probably planning to shoot me. And any number of possible STDs. Any of those, for a start."
"Nope." Seb seemed to have lost interest in him. Richard's frustration rose. Dressed, he went to the door, opened it, turned.
"Just one, then. Do you know who killed Nels Finney?"
Seb walked naked up to the door, looked directly at him. "No." Pushed Richard into the corridor and he heard the door lock behind him. Richard was confused, hurt and disappointed, but absolutely sure of two things. Seb Moran was frightened of someone or something, and pretty much everything he'd said in the last five minutes had been a lie.
Alone and in renewed despair, Richard's incautious wanderings take him into a danger worse than anything he had imagined.
Richard Brook pushed through the Saturday afternoon crowds without any destination in mind. There seemed little point in trying to stay off Mycroft’s radar any more. Whatever Seb Moran was, he wasn’t a friend. Add one to the long list of not-friends; Richard imagined that he’d learn, eventually, that no-one was to be trusted.
He wished that he’d swallowed his pride long enough to take a shower in the hotel room. He could feel Seb on his skin. It hurt to know it wouldn’t happen again.
It wasn’t much of a random walk, as it turned out. He knew where he was going to end up just a few minutes before he got there. He looked up at the blank windows, saw nothing, felt nothing except an inappropriate pang of hunger. There was a café next door; he counted his change, joined the long queue.
He came out of Speedy's with a sandwich in one hand, a cheap coffee in the other, and nothing left for the bus. Maybe Mycroft would send a car. As he contemplated the long walk back to the house someone pushed him from behind and he stumbled, just managing not to scald himself with the hot drink.
As Richard righted himself something hard poked into his lower spine.
For the first time he noticed that the door to 221B was slightly ajar.
No. That wasn’t a good idea at all. He baulked and the hard object pressed further.
“I’d rather kill you right here and take the consequences than let you walk away." The bitter voice was all too familiar.
Richard didn’t want to be killed. He pushed the door open with his elbow, walked inside and was pinned to the wall and frisked ungently, his hands still clutching the food and drink. Then as he still faced the wall he heard the key turn.
He was locked in with the one person in the world who truly scared him. Deluded, vengeful and armed.
"Don't do anything to me, please, John."
He went, hands above his head, tomato sauce from the sandwich oozing through the wrapper. In the living room he got one glimpse of the table covered in newspaper cuttings before John was snapping more commands.
"Drop that crap and put your hands behind you."
Handcuffs- why did Watson even have them? Richard let his hands be cuffed behind him, fell to his knees against the wall when shoved roughly. Harmless. He was harmless. John must see that.
He still hadn't seen the man's face. He was terrified. "Let me go. Please."
"Why did you come here?"
"I... I didn't have anywhere to go."
"So you came here?" Acid disbelief.
"Not really. I was just walking around. Ask Mycroft. He's probably got it all on camera."
"Mycroft." The voice dripped venom. "You're playing games with him again? He's luckier than he deserves. I'm going to deal with you before you break him, this time."
"Mycroft's having me followed everywhere. I don't want anything to do with any of you. I haven't done anything wrong. Just let me go, please."
A boot slammed into the small of his back and his face hit the wall. He yelped. "Don't...please don't!"
"You killed Sherlock." John's voice was implacable. "Don't ever try to tell me you're innocent."
Richard lapsed into a miserable silence.
The house was abruptly full of noises; electric motors, the clanking of metal against metal. The room darkened. Richard dared not look behind him. "What's happening?"
"I knew you'd come, eventually. I haven't been idle. Look."
He craned his head round as commanded. John was standing by the table, one hand on the computer's keyboard, the other holding the gun. The screen was showing CCTV footage and readouts. "No-one's getting in here to rescue you, Moriarty."
Steel shutters on the windows. Cameras on all the entrances. Paranoid and angry. John looked a lot older than he had at the trial, unshaven but with a startling military-short buzz cut. The jumpers had been replaced by a scruffy army surplus jacket and trousers. He looked like the sort of person that Richard would give a wide berth to, if he only could.
"This is crazy," Richard said, quietly. "You can't just kidnap me. Let me go."
"I'm not just going to kidnap you." John's grin was humourless. "I'm going to find out what you did to Sherlock."
The boot thudded into his back again and he curled up on the floor as well as he could with his arms behind him.
"I did warn you. I've had years of your lies. You killed my friend. I'll have the truth this time."
Richard fought back sobs. Mycroft must know he was here. Someone must come soon, surely.
John dragged him to the fireplace, fastened the handcuffs through the solid metal grate. Richard could see the room now, the table edge above him and the top half of the computer screen with its grey pictures of the front door and the back yard. There were papers everywhere, a whiteboard with "Jim Moriarty/Richard Brook" scrawled along the top, cuttings, dates, notes all written or pinned to it. In the corner was a coat hook with the familiar long coat, the blue scarf, the ridiculous hat. A replica of the Reichenbach Falls painting hung on the wall.
He couldn't see anything in the room that didn't hearken back to Sherlock, and himself. Years had passed but John Watson hadn't moved on at all.
Watson dropped the gun onto the table, turned the chair round so that he could sit and look down on Richard's shakes.
"I killed a man for Sherlock on the first day that I met him." His voice was calmer now. "I don't think there's anything that I wouldn't have done for him by the end. It doesn't matter what happens to me after this. Do you understand?"
"Good. Don't ask me for mercy. He got none. Don't tell me you're innocent. Don't claim you're not Moriarty. Got that?"
"I don't know what else to say," he whimpered.
"You're going to answer my questions. That's all."
He nodded again. His mouth was horribly dry. "Could I have some water, please?"
John looked at his watch. "In ten minutes, if you behave."
Watson took a deep breath. "Sherlock met you, just before he jumped. Where?"
No. that wasn't right. "I don't think he did."
"You don't think?"
"I forget things," he said apologetically. "I don't think I saw him except in Kitty's flat, with you. But I might have forgotten."
"How could you forget talking to a man just before he jumped off a roof? That's pretty poor, Moriarty."
"I'm not..." He caught himself just in time. "I've got a very bad memory. My medical records say so."
"Priceless." John sneered. "So what do you remember, Jim?"
He tried. "I remember you being in Kitty's flat. I was scared. I thought Sherlock was going to thump me." He hadn’t known what fear really was, back then.
The doorbell went. John swung round to his screen, cursed.
"What's Mycroft doing here?"
Richard's heart leaped for a second, remembering friendship, and then subsided. Mycroft had betrayed him. "I told you, he's been following me."
"He can fuck off." John thumbed his phone, watched the image of Mycroft on the screen answer.
"Go away. I'm busy."
He listened, frowning. "I'm dealing with this. You can't, remember?"
"Go ahead, try it. Good luck with that."
He chucked the phone on the table. "Not," he said to Richard, "a chance. What did you do, after you ran away from us?"
Richard struggled to recall that day. "I climbed down to the street. I didn't know where I'd be safe. I remember thinking about trying the Sun offices. Then..." he tailed off. "I'm really sorry. I can't remember."
"Where were you when you heard about Sherlock's death? That must have stuck in your mind, surely?"
Richard shook his head. "I remember the police coming, though," he offered hopefully. "They took me off to Scotland Yard. I was interviewed for ages."
"I've seen those notes," John said, caustically. "Long on apology, very short on detail. Rather like this. The difference being that I don't believe any of it. I'll have the truth out of you, Moriarty, before the end. What do you think will spark remembrance best?"
He yanked the drawer under the table out, dumped its contents on the floor. Richard took one look at the assorted hardware and wailed. "Please don't!"
"Wrong." John selected a foot long metal rod, swung it against Richard's twisted shoulder. He screamed.
"Better. Stick to noises for a bit. Your voice has always really annoyed me, Moriarty."
Sirens wailed from behind the steel shutters, one, then a whole group. John hissed at the interruption, pressed a couple of keys, got a view along Baker Street with a swarm of police clearing the road.
"Our other mutual friend has arrived."
"None other. I imagine he's come to rescue you. How ironic."
"You ought to give up, John. This won't do you any good."
John shook his head just as his phone rang. He picked it up. "Greg."
"Yes, he's here. You're not having him back."
"I don't care."
"I. Don't. Care! Understand? I don't care about your fucking murder case! He killed Sherlock!
"Don't try it, Greg. I've been preparing for this for years. This place isn't just passively defended. You'll lose good people. Let me finish this."
"Then arrest me later. I'm busy."
He dropped the phone again. Richard was crying now, wet tears smearing his face. He was going to die here, in pain, for something he'd never done.
After that there were all sorts of noises from outside to compete with Richard's screams. Hammering, helicopters, the occasional explosion and, once, more screaming. Watson seemed confident of his defences; he barely reacted to any of it. He ignored the phone ringing, glanced at the frequent texts without replying.
His questioning seemed determined to lay bare the extent of Richard's memory loss. Richard didn't understand it; surely he'd want to torture him into a confession about Sherlock. But no, he pried into everything else; Richard's childhood, his professional work, his friends and lovers, his favourite films. Time and time again Richard pleaded that he'd forgotten. Sometimes that would seen to be accepted, other times John would hit him, or burn him, or tighten the one-way knot still loose around his neck a little further. Richard was sure now that that was how he would die; slowly strangled, gasping for a last breath while John Watson watched in satisfaction.
John was in the kitchen getting the long overdue glass of water when the shooting started. Richard saw him run back into the living room, flick through his cameras, stopping at the shot of the newly emptied street, then just stand, listening to the intermittent shots.
John picked up the phone just as it rang.
"What's going on?"
"Just one man?"
"You can get him, though? Right?"
"I'm not done yet. He won't get in unless you've buggered up all my defences. I suggest you stop doing that and deal with Moran."
"Who else is it going to be? Do your homework, Greg!"
"Fuck you too."
This time he replaced the phone carefully, eyeing Richard with new caution.
"What's happening?" Richard whispered, desperate to know, desperate not to offend.
"Your sniper's arrived. Four police officers down so far. Lestrade's pulling his men out." He laughed. "Ironic, really. They were your best chance of getting out of here and your man's scared them off. Bad luck."
"Who is it?" Had he really said that name?
"Sebastian Moran. Did you think I didn't know about him? My research has been thorough."
Richard was baffled. Had Seb pretended to work for Moriarty once? Who the hell was his boss? Why was he out there now risking his life to shoot Lestrade's men?
"Want to tell me all about how you've forgotten Seb Moran now?" John's voice was vindictive. Richard guessed that the shootings of police officers still hurt him, even now when he'd set himself against the law.
He shook his head, wincing at the pain from the burns on his neck, long past telling anything but the truth. "He broke into my room a couple of weeks back. There was a phone hidden under my mattress; he wanted it back. I thought maybe he'd help me but he wouldn't."
"That it?" The cigarette lighter flicked on. Richard cowered.
"I had sex with him," he blurted. "This morning."
John stared at him for a moment, thinking, then nodded in satisfaction. "Nice try," he snarled, "but I won't be fucked around with any longer. Moran doesn't fit with your story, does he- a world-class sniper come to the rescue of a simple actor? So you're making him a devoted lover. It's feeble. A man like Moran wouldn't look twice at a non-entity like Brook."
He flicked the lighter off. "I've got enough. You might have the paperwork but I've got the interviews with teachers, classmates, colleagues, landlords, none of whom remember you. You could at least have acquired a family, Jim. Prison staff noticed that no-one came to visit, no-one sent you letters. You were a famous person after the trial, but no-one boasted about knowing you. You had addresses but other people lived there. You had no belongings, no friends, no real history. Paper thin, Richard Brook, when one starts looking. I looked."
He grinned, nastily. "I needed your voice though, your “don’t remembers”, or you'd just have invented more facts to counter my examples. Everything’s on record now; the fictional man who remembers nothing and is remembered by no-one. Brook is dead. Welcome back, Moriarty."
Gunfire, again, closer. Richard shook his head, bewildered "Of course people must remember me. You can't stop me existing just because I don't remember them."
"Give it up, Jim. You’ve lost. Your gunman out there is the final proof. Want to explain to me what Richard Brook thinks he's doing?" He leaned back in the chair, waiting.
"I don't know!” Richard wailed in frustration and terror. “I don't know who he works for! I don't know why he slept with me! I don't know who no-one remembers me, or why I remember nothing! I don't know why Mycroft's so sure I'm Moriarty, or why there was a phone under my bed, or who killed Finney! None of it makes sense, but I'm not Jim Moriarty! I invented him! I know!"
For one second he thought that he’d finally got through. Then John shook his head, looking tired for the first time.
"Doesn’t matter. I don't care who you think you are. You're Jim Moriarty and the man who killed Sherlock Holmes. I'm not going to lose you now to a cushy little psych ward because you’ve lost your mind."
He sighed. "Richard Brook always did end up on the losing side. I've posted the evidence. After we're both dead the truth will come out."
As he reached out for the gun an alarm sounded. He turned to the computer screen, gun apparently forgotten. "Shit!
Richard strained against the chains. "What?"
"There's a concealed basement tunnel," John said, poking at keys with a helpless expression. "It locks down with the rest but someone's hacked the circuit from outside. I can't get it up again. Damn computers! I never could get the hang of them." For a second he looked something like the man Richard remembered from before Sherlock’s death.
He abandoned the keyboard, picked up the gun. "Someone's coming up."
"Mycroft?" Richard said, with the faintest glimmer of hope.
"More likely half a dozen of his security forces. Or Moran." He placed the gun carefully against Richard's temple. "It won't make any difference to you." Raised his voice. "As soon as someone walks in here I blow his brains out."
"Before you redecorate my living room, John" came an utterly familiar voice from the stairwell, "you could at least consult me first. I established scientifically, if you recall, that brain plus blood leaves an indelible stain on this carpet."
The cold gun barrel against Richard's forehead shook. John was staring at the door, his jaw quivering. Richard held himself very still and prayed to live. The silence stretched out longer and longer.
It was broken by a gunshot, so horribly loud that Richard thought for a second that the one against his head had gone off, and the sound of something heavy tumbling for long seconds down the stairs.
"No!" John's cry was a scream of anguish as he ran full tilt towards the door.
Richard can't hide from the truth any longer
John wasn't desperate about Sherlock's plight beyond all caution; he slid to his knees as he went round the door frame and Richard pictured him flat against the landing carpet, out of range of someone at the bottom of the steep stairs.
There was silence for a second, then Moran's deep voice.
"He's still alive down here. Toss the gun down the stairs or I'll shoot him in the head."
A choked noise from John, then a thump.
"Now crawl down on your stomach. Make it fast. He's badly in need of a doctor."
Richard listened to the noises of Watson complying, then quiet voices. He wished irrationally that he didn't look as he imagined he must; burned, beaten, face raw from crying. He still wasn't certain that this was a rescue anyway.
Eventually there were quick strides up the stairs, two at a time. Moran appeared in the doorway, his attention and outstretched gun still on the bottom of the stairs. He glanced quickly into the room.
Richard just stared at him.
"Oh for...Get out!"
"I can't." Richard was crying again. "I'm chained up."
Moran glared at him. "Get out, Richard. Go under, give up, turn yourself off, whatever you do. I've got Sherlock fucking Holmes down there. He's meant to be dead. I have no fucking instructions for this. None. Get the fuck out of it and give me the boss back. Now."
If Richard hadn't just had every part of his missing or inconsistent past dragged out in front of him by a sneering Watson- if he had still felt like a human being and not a beaten, abused rag- he might have held onto his self belief longer. As it was, Seb's absolute certainty was the last utterly horrible missing piece. All he could think about was that phone under his bed. Moriarty's phone. Moriarty's call to Moran, and Finney dead.
"I can't. I don't know how," he said, in a whisper. "I don't understand."
Seb was apparently convinced enough of his sincerity to not demand the impossible of him again. He took another look down the stairs, then back at Richard.
"Damn. No. You said you wouldn't know who you were. Going undercover, you said. Deep enough that they wouldn't find a trace. I didn't think you could do it. You seemed normal- well, not normal. You seemed enough like you- whenever you called me."
"I'm really Moriarty?" He wanted so much for this to be a mistake.
"You're Jim Moriarty. The meanest, smartest bastard in existence. Now would be a really good time to remember that, Boss. Richard Brook's cute as a kitten but he's sod all use to me now."
He shook his head. He had no idea how to do what Seb wanted. He didn't think he wanted to do it anyway. He didn't want to be vicious and guilty and someone else.
"You killed Finney."
"On your instructions, Boss. You don't remember?"
"No! I didn't want him dead!" He'd wanted his audition. His audition for the career that was everything to him and that Jim Moriarty screwed up forever with a phonecall because he didn't like what Richard had used his sodding mouth for.
There was a shout from downstairs. Seb glanced down, snorted. "In the absence of instructions I'm going to assume that you want Sherlock Holmes alive. The doctor looks like he needs some help with that. I'll be back shortly."
Seb hadn't even bothered to untie him. Richard lay propped halfway up the fire grate in considerable pain and tried to think.
He hated Moriarty. Hated the way that Seb looked at him now like he was just unwanted detritus. Seb, who he'd fallen half in love with the moment they'd met and had that been just Jim fucking Moriarty having a laugh? Lestrade had arrested him. Mycroft had betrayed him. Watson had tortured him. Not Jim, hiding somewhere, unscathed, laughing, but him and he'd done nothing to any of them to deserve it.
There wasn't any good in struggling. Jim was far smarter, malicious and powerful than him. After all, Richard knew Moriarty like no-one else. He knew him as an actor knows his character; inside out, a second skin, someone else to be. He'd played him in the Shakespeare in prison, to Mycroft in his room, for Sherlock before his fall. But he'd just been acting, then.
Richard closed his eyes, trying to remember exactly what had happened when he'd put Moriarty on for Mycroft. It had come out vicious; he remembered that, but Jim was vicious. His head had felt a bit odd afterwards. Bit like the play; all a little blurred.
God. Was that how Jim did it? Took over Richard's performances? Not all of them. He'd had no confusion in rehearsals; he was sure of that. He'd kept control in front of Mycroft, though Jim had...leaked...a bit.
Sherlock's return, John's recordings, both spelled the end of the fiction of Richard Brook to the rest of the world. They would all want Moriarty back, to answer for his crimes, to give them orders, to be the villain. Nobody would rest until Richard Brook was pushed aside. And when Moriarty returned he would wipe what was left of Richard out without a thought, his usefulness done. He was going to die after all.
He opened his eyes, staring at the ceiling without seeing it. One chance. What other choice did he have? A good actor didn't lose control to his character. If he could keep it, he might just live.
Richard pulled himself up onto his knees, straightened his back and whistled once, sharply.
Seb dashed into the room, stopped.
"If you could spare thirty seconds from cleaning up your mess downstairs" Richard said, coolly, "the keys are on the table."
"Shit. Yes. Sorry, Boss." He helped Richard out of the cuffs and into the armchair. "Thought I'd lost you."
"Thinking is not your strong point, is it, Moran? Where in the instructions I left did it say fuck up everything and then shoot my playmate?"
Seb seemed about to defend himself, then thought better of it. "Sorry."
"I'll have a bit more than "sorry" out of your hide later. Bring Watson up; we'll extend a little of his own hospitality to him."
What he really wanted was treatment for the burns and a hell of a lot of painkillers. Moriarty wouldn't ask for them. Richard didn't.
A few minutes later John was cuffed down by the grate and Sherlock was laid out on the sofa, his eyelids starting to flutter. He'd been shot just above the hip, Seb had said, had hit his head on falling down the stairs, probably broken his left arm, maybe some more injuries from the fall. If he woke up and someone got the bullet out reasonably soon he would probably survive. Richard wasn't sure that was good news, but Moriarty approved.
He had Moran take their phones and check the house's defences. Lestrade's people still seemed to be keeping their distance. John's gun was now resting in Richard's lap, and would stay there- he had no idea how to fire it. He didn't dare even try to access Jim's skills or memories.
All he could do was act.
"Do I get an apology now?" he said mockingly to John. "I did tell you I didn't murder him. Apparently he just got bored of you and left."
John glared at him, silent.
Richard laughed. "Poke Sherlock awake for me," he commanded Seb. "I'd like to say hello."
"No need. I am awake." The figure on the sofa stirred, rolled over painfully to face him.
"Haven't you made a mess of things, Sherlock? Even worse than Seb here. Breaking your cover to stop your little friend from his dramatic murder/suicide, just in time to watch him die. I think I'll leave you alive for a bit after that, give you time to think things over. Then there's always that rooftop after all, sweet. Second time lucky."
Sherlock was watching him intently. " You and I need to talk, Jim. In private."
"Easily arranged." He gestured to John. "Finish this one off for me, Sebastian." On John's fate he and his fictional Moriarty seemed to be in agreement. The crazy bastard had hurt them, for hours.
"No." Sherlock's voice projected hard for someone so close to unconsciousness. "You'll want to hear this first."
"Fine. I'll kill him afterwards." He threw a hand up, winced as the burns on his neck protested. "Go make me a cold drink, Seb, and take him with you."
They made quite a pair, he thought, as Seb dragged John away. Sherlock all but immobile on the sofa, himself barely any better in the armchair. The pain wasn't getting any less. He had to finish this somehow and get to somewhere where his injuries could be treated properly. He needed this to be a closing scene.
"Alone at last! All those pesky little people out of the way. What's our heart to heart going to be about then, Sherlock? Going to tell me how you did it?"
"You're an actor, Richard, and you've got a fair proportion of Moriarty's intelligence. I'm sure you could work it out if you wanted."
Richard's heart sank, but he could do nothing but bluff. "I realise this has all gone rather fast for you and that blow to the head didn't help. Brook is quite exploded."
Sherlock bared his teeth in a pained smile. "A theatrical reference. Oh dear. You'll have to get considerably more in character than this, Richard, if you want to keep the rest of the world believing. This is his latest scheme, I assume?"
There really was no point feigning with Sherlock. Richard gave up. "No. It's mine. I don't want him coming back. You should have pretended to be fooled, Sherlock. I didn't want to have to kill you."
"Really? You're keeping him at bay? Remarkable. You don't need to kill me. I'm willing to support your charade for as long as you can keep Jim Moriarty under control. Provided my people aren't harmed, naturally."
Richard narrowed his eyes at Sherlock. One thing had to be clear. "Jim Moriarty has no conscience. I start rescuing kittens and making soup runs, I'm dead. I'm going to run his damn empire and people are going to get hurt in the process. If not your people, others."
"Make it others." Sherlock said. His eyes were cold. "And be assured I'll do what I can to stop you, without limits, with one exception. As long as my people stay unhurt I won't do anything that would facilitate Jim's return."
"Watson. The housekeeper. Who else?"
Sherlock tilted his head, considering Richard. "You don't remember? That's interesting. How are you going to manage without his memories?"
Richard didn't want to acknowledge the impossibility of the task ahead. What option did he have? "Who else?"
"Lestrade." A long, reluctant pause. "And my brother. I suppose."
Richard channelled a little more Moriarty. "The others are nothing to me. You're fond without cause and far too easily, Sherlock. But your brother... I have a debt owing to dear, helpful, friendly Mycroft. I'm going to take him down." He smiled, tipped his head one way, then the other. "But just for you, precious, I promise I'll let him survive the experience."
That was an exit line, thank God. He whistled Seb back into the room before Sherlock could respond, downed the cold water with relief.
"Rip van Winkle here has a number of touchingly fond reunions to conduct. We'd only be in the way. Key?"
Seb opened his hand. "Kitchen radiator."
"Brilliant." He plucked the small handcuff key from Seb's palm, tossed it over to Sherlock. "Have fun." As a last act he told Seb to unplug keyboard and mouse and toss them in the far corner. It would take the badly injured Sherlock a long time to get to either John or a link to the outside world. 'Up the ante. Set the place alight,' his character suggested. He ignored it. He was in charge, and he had a deal with Sherlock Holmes.
From the look on Seb's face as he half carried Richard down the stairs to the concealed exit, he had a good idea of how much his boss was hurting. It was a good excuse to passively let Moriarty's lieutenant take charge. At the small medical facility that Richard presumed he must own he refused opiates; he needed to stay clearheaded as long as he could. In the end though he had to sleep, even knowing that he might never wake again. He drifted into unconsciousness with one thought uppermost in his mind. He was going to stay Richard Brook.
Being someone else is fraught with problems
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Richard woke, still himself. Schooled himself to act Moriarty, opened his eyes. He was in bed in a small hospital room, a drip in his arm, patches of bandages over his burns and a medical gown over those. Outside the glass door Seb was bent over a sheaf of papers.
Richard took a second to appreciate the view. Moran still made his pulse race. Then he sat up, ripped the needle (carefully) out of his arm and threw the drip and stand against the door.
"So what exactly happened?"
"Exactly, Sebastian?" Scornful was very useful, Richard had already found, to deal with the wrong questions. "You're trained in neurophysiology now? Want to take a look at some MRIs? No?" He sighed. " Listen carefully. Dumbed down to a level that even you might have a hope of grasping, what exactly happened was that while I was in a state that you might, inaccurately, compare to extremely deep hypnosis, my utterly incompetent bodyguard completely failed to prevent Doctor John Watson from hitting me over the head with an iron bar. The consequence, as any neurologist could tell you, is neural disruption. Memory loss, to you."
"Shit!" Seb's concern would have been rather heartwarming if Richard had been its target. It was wasted on Moriarty. "So you need the top neurologist. I'm onto it."
"Don't be terminally stupid!" Richard hissed. "You breathe one word of any neurological problems to any living soul and what's going to happen to Watson will be nothing but a dress rehearsal for your agonising and lingering death. You know what I need to. You will provide me with data, using absolute discretion at all times, and in return I will give serious consideration to letting you keep your external genitalia despite that little incident with Brook."
"Got it. You want a general overview for now?" Seb's husky voice sounded suitably subdued. Richard told himself that taking over from Moriarty and keeping away from both Holmes was his first priority. Figuring out whether he was sleeping with his second in command, and if not how to start, would have to wait. A day or so, at least.
"Coffee, overview, report on both brothers. I want to know absolutely everything about Sherlock's reappearance."
Seb nodded. "Been tracking Sherlock personally. Boys are on Mycroft- give me ten minutes to debrief." His mouth twisted, wry. "Good to have you back, Boss. Sorry about the Brook thing, but a man's only human. You've got to admit that swanning around being all sweet and innocent with those big brown eyes wasn't really playing fair." He was out of the room before Richard could formulate an appropriate reply.
Two weeks later Richard was safely ensconsed in what Seb casually referred to as "home" on the outskirts of north London. His lieutenant/bodyguard was live-in, with a set of rooms of his own.
Their arrangement was working well. Moran had an excellent grasp of Moriarty's affairs. Richard added the touch of inspired insanity. London's underworld was falling quietly back under the control of the Moriarty empire and Mycroft was already encountering dead ends and the occasional dead subordinate.
Sherlock,recuperating in hospital, was taking very few visitors. The newspaper journalists were still milling outside. John's internet posting of his interrogation of Brook had been pulled almost instantly by Mycroft but there were rumours of copies circulating. John himself was nowhere to be found. Richard Brook had, of course, vanished.
Richard had been getting better at walking the thin line between acting Moriarty and becoming him. He was sure that one day Jim would take over while he was sleeping, but there was nothing he could do about that except recite the familiar mantra as he fell asleep; I am Richard Brook.
Right now he was reading an update on Sherlock's condition. Improving fast. Soon he would have to dodge both siblings; he sighed.
"Anything I can do, Boss?" Seb looked up from his own laptop.
"Just a headache," he said, without thinking, cursed himself. Jim doubtless didn't get headaches.
Seb closed his laptop quietly. "You might not remember but I'm pretty good with those headaches of yours. Why don't you put that aside for a few minutes, come into the bedroom?"
Richard forced himself to pretend to read a couple more paragraphs before he logged out of his machine. "You might as well make yourself of some use." With a huge effort of will he managed to sound bored at the prospect.
Seb followed him into his large bedroom. "Shirt," he suggested, quiet and confident. He was unbuttoning his own. Richard followed the polite instructions until he was face down on the bed half naked with a half clothed Moran sitting across his thighs and the sweet smell of massage oil permeating the room.
Seb was good at this. Strong hands dug into muscle, smoothed across skin. Richard closed his eyes, floating, forgetting everything but the feel of the hands, the weight of the man on top of him and his own insistent erection pushed against the mattress.
"How's the head?" Seb's voice was soft. Richard loved it that way.
"Want me to do something about this as well?" Hands slid down and under Richard's narrow hips, brushed the edge of his cock through his trousers.
Seb rolled him over, careful of the burns and bruises, undid his belt and stripped the rest of his clothes off. He crouched low on the bed, his tongue running warm and wet up the inside of Richard's thigh.
"This what you want?"
He had to be Jim, here more than ever. He pushed thoughts of hot kisses aside. "Why's that mouth still moving to so little effect, Moran?"
Seb was as efficient at this as with everything else. Hands and mouth brought Richard to a rapid, soundless orgasm, tidied up, dressed him again. Richard slipped sideways as they got up from the bed, cursing Seb's clumsiness, but he'd found out what he needed. His lieutenant was hard as a rock under the khaki trousers.
He ached to do something about that, but he didn't dare offer, not yet. Instead he jerked his head towards Seb's quarters. "Seven minutes max and back here focussed, with my coffee."
Seb looked slightly startled, but he nodded, went. Richard used the time to compose himself, to think. Moriarty used Seb, so he could. More- he had to. Any shift in the dynamics between them had to be gradual, believable, but first he had to find out just what Moran was expecting to be ordered to do.
The answer to that came quickly and almost by chance. He and Seb had been working for some time on accessing Moriarty's really private records from three years before. They'd got through several layers of security, got stuck, but after a number of unsuccessful attempts to figure out the final password, Richard had finally remembered how he'd accessed the mobile phone under his bed. He waited until Seb was absent, then dropped a little of his control, felt Moriarty surging underneath, let his fingers tap at the keyboard. When the screen cleared to a neat row of file icons he hissed "I'm Richard Brook" to himself, until he was sure that he was back in charge.
He didn't tell Seb that he'd accessed the files. If Moriarty had chosen to keep them from Moran, so would he. He'd expected names, dates, amounts, other secrets and he got those, but he also got video.
Richard copied the files to his tablet, watched them late at night under his bedclothes, simultaneously aroused and disturbed by the experience of watching his own body engaged in sex. "Used" had been spot on. Jim liked having Seb helpless and begging, writhing in pain and frustration. It was difficult to tell what Seb liked, but his erection appeared resilient against all but the worst of the mistreatment and when Moriarty let him he came hard and unselfconsciously loud.
Richard turned the stuff off after he'd masturbated to soreness, then lay awake for a while, thinking. He had no illusions about the nature of Moran's loyalty. If Seb thought Moriarty had weakened then the gunman would rip him to pieces and take the criminal empire for himself. He could not afford to appear one whit less heartless than Jim.
For the next couple of weeks Richard was careful not to show a hint of interest in sex with his second in command but he knew he needed to find a better answer, long term. Seb had taken to crowding him physically, just a little, pushing for a reaction that Richard dared not yet try, and before long disinterest would be taken as impotence.
Fortunately there were other things on both their minds to distract them. Sherlock was back in Baker Street and using every bit of blandishment, blackmail and Mycroft that he could muster to get John out of the sort of trouble that came with fortifying and booby trapping one's house against the police. Kidnap and GBH charges had been dropped in the absence of the supposed victim, but Seb had killed five police officers on his way in to recover his boss and Lestrade blamed John for creating the whole situation.
What little sympathy Richard could muster for any of them lay with the police officer. Sherlock's abrupt reappearance and the discovery that he had been right all along about Brook/Moriarty seemed to have done little for John's tendency to instability. The blog entries now verged on outright paranoia, ironic given the terms of
Richard's deal with Sherlock. Watson was a nuisance; in possession of a little too much information for Richard's comfort and surprisingly good at making connections and broadcasting snippets of Jim Moriarty's business to the world.
For the moment however Richard was content just to monitor the Scotland Yard/Baker Street situation. His active interest was elsewhere in London; the small offices in Whitehall from which Mycroft Holmes untangled the government's problems. Mycroft had betrayed Richard. Mycroft had, according to Seb, kidnapped and tortured Moriarty. What better victim to establish Moriarty's credentials again?
They'd been setting a macabre trail for Sherlock's brother, dipping in and out of the various matters he was currently concerned with, a trail waymarked with his crippled or dying agents but always leaving those closest to the man untouched. The message was clear and Mycroft read it; when the invitation was finally tendered, he came.
They met in a near empty Hyde Park on a grey and windy afternoon. Richard was in a sleek designer tracksuit. Moran had acquired a shabby leather jacket and large bull terrier who tugged incessantly on the chain lead in a way that belied Seb's claims for her reliability.
Mycroft had eschewed camouflage for his usual three piece suit and the ever present umbrella. He sat on the designated bench doing nothing, apparently preferring the sight of the City skyline to what passed for nature around him. Richard jogged up and sat down next to him. The dog was snuffling around a tree a few yards away, Seb as ordered out of earshot of quiet conversation, in range for everything else.
Mycroft spoke first. "What is it that you want, Jim?"
Richard leaned over to retie a shoelace. "What's the rush? Let's talk for a bit. I've missed our little chats over cups of tea. Real friends are so hard to come by, these days."
"What, then, do you want to talk about?" Mycroft's voice was quiet.
"Tell me about your day. I always liked that; so domestic."
Mycroft didn't turn his head from the skyline. "I went to visit your ex-housemates."
Richard tutted, sympathetically. "Yawn. They always were tedious company. I don't know why you bother." He stretched his legs out, leaned back. "So had they anything interesting to say?"
It was unlikely that they had. Mycroft's voice shook very slightly. "They will both survive."
"Less inanely, though, I imagine, without tongues. See, I've improved them for you. It would be polite to say thank you."
"What do you want!" Voice just perceptibly raised, stress showing. "What will it take to stop you doing this?"
"What makes you think there's anything I want from you? One game for another, Mycroft. I've finished taking the pawns. Knights next, do you think, or bishops? Knights are traditionally considered less valuable, but I like the way they leap."
"I do not understand the nature of this particular animosity." Mycroft had control of his voice again. "I'm not aware of having done anything to warrant it."
Richard kept his own voice steady. "Come now. You were positively beastly to poor Richard, and you well aware of his little crush, too. As his only flesh and blood, I feel obliged to reciprocate."
Mycroft was staring at him now. "Brook was a front. We both knew that."
"Ah, but he didn't."
Mycroft shook his head. "John said you'd lost your mind."
Richard snorted disdain. "That from a paranoid obsessive. You ought to have someone watch him, you know. I believe you've a couple of people left with functioning visual systems. Tell me, did you like Richard's company?"
"Richard was irrelevant. I was always talking to you."
"All the time? You never slipped, not once?"
Mycroft frowned. "Of course not. Do you really think that I could be in your presence, Jim, and somehow overlook the fact? Richard was an impressive performance but I knew you existed, after all. You couldn't both be real."
It had started to rain. Mycroft erected his umbrella, held it politely over the two of them. The wind tugged at it, failed to pull it inside out. Richard could feel the power of his performance as Moriarty ebbing away. It had been a mistake to meet Mycroft out here. His anger wasn't strong enough to survive contact with the man; he just wanted to be himself, to explain everything, to have Mycroft speak to him, just once. Sherlock knew the truth; why shouldn't his brother?
Too late. He'd ordered Mycroft's agents maimed, mutilated and killed. There was no going back now to Richard Brook, actor. He had to be Jim Moriarty, or no-one, and right now he was floundering, drying up, his script forgotten and no prompt to help.
Extended to 10 chapters.
Richard resorts to desperate measures to shore up his deception
Mycroft looked out through the increasing rain at the grey-green park. "I will give you credit for Brook. You might so easily have allowed him a touch of your charisma, but that would have been more than a little awkward as a long term alibi. Your genius, for what it was worth, was to make him so dull and selfish that no-one ever genuinely befriended him, no-one cared what became of him at all." He turned to Richard, and his smile went nowhere near his eyes.
Richard stared at Mycroft for what he knew was far too long. The memory of what it felt like to be Moriarty was gone, lost far too deep to summon a response. All he felt was himself and hurt.
Mycroft stood up abruptly, the umbrella showering Richard with water as it tilted.
"Good heavens," he said, far too loud for Richard's comfort. "John was right. You don't know who you are any more." He stepped backwards. "This isn't a negotiation, it's a breakdown."
"Boss?" Seb was beside him. "Want me to take him out?"
He had a deal with Sherlock. Richard shook his head, wordless.
Mycroft's attention turned to Moran. "Your employer is losing his mind. I suggest that you get out while you still can."
"Fuck off, Holmes," Seb snarled ferociously. "I know where you live."
Mycroft's gaze flicked back to Richard. "Moriarty? Anything else to say?"
Richard barely resisted a shake of his head. He had to be Jim, had to be. "We'll talk again." The best that he had.
"No." Mycroft's voice was calm but his expression was almost sympathetic. "We won't meet again. You're losing control, Jim. This psychosis will become obvious and they won't obey you. You'll end up with your throat slit in a gutter somewhere; a pathetic end to a once great and evil man." He turned and walked back along the path, upright under his black umbrella.
There was silence for a moment as they watched him go.
"Home?" Seb suggested, diffidently.
A surge of the fury that he shared with Moriarty at the whole world; Richard turned on him, hand outstretched upwards to hit his cheek, and the dog barrelled into him, knocking him over and standing with forelegs on his chest, snarling in his face.
Seb dragged her off. "Sorry, Boss. She thought you were attacking me."
Richard pulled himself up from the mud. "I was and I will. Get rid of it." He stalked off, tears prickling the corners of his eyes. Not in front of Seb. Not at all. He had to be Jim.
Richard didn't look up from the evening paper when Seb appeared a little later in the doorway of his living room.
"I think maybe we ought to talk, Boss."
Richard turned a page. "You stink of dog. Shower." He gestured towards his own bathroom.
Seb paused for a second, then moved to do as he was told. Richard closed his eyes in relief. He was at least going to get one chance. He picked up the long lengths of cord that he'd readied and made his way to the bedroom.
Seb knocked, no more than five minutes later, hair still damp and skin glistening wet.
"In." Richard glanced at him. "Lose the towel."
It dropped as Seb came in. "Everything OK, Boss?" From the rare hesitation in his voice it was clear that he knew the answer.
Richard steeled himself. Moriarty. He knew his source material. He could do this."The next sound you make had better be a scream." He glanced down the man's naked body, seemingly unimpressed. Still bloody gorgeous.
"There." He indicated a spot at the foot of the iron bedstead. Seb dropped to his knees, facing Richard, his face expressionless. He stretched out his hands, obedient, wrapped fingers around the metal and Richard bound each wrist loosely to the base. "It won't hold you, will it, Sebastian? Just a reminder not to let go." Seb nodded.
That was the easy bit. He left the man there, went back to find the spare key to Moran's rooms.
Seb was wise enough not to try to keep secrets from Jim. Richard had the password to his laptop and the keys to his drawers. He'd never before tried to use either. Now he went hunting for props; anything that might help.
There was a separate armoury in the house but Richard wasn't surprised to find Seb's favourite rifle in his wardrobe and a pistol in the desk. He left them alone; bluffing with firearms was not going to work with Moran. He pocketed a long jagged-edged hunting knife, though. No porn under the bed. He didn't check the laptop.
The last drawer he opened contained the sort of things that he had been looking for; handcuffs with key, electrical cable, a set of knuckledusters and a great deal of leather twine, along with various other unsavory items that Richard wasn't sure how to use. There was a lighter; he remembered Watson holding flame to his skin, the pain, his screams. He left it in the drawer; Moriarty might do that to Seb but Richard wouldn't, not even in this desperate pass.
After that he returned to his own living room, switched the TV on, flicked through channels for a while, ended up watching the news and playing solitaire on his laptop. An hour dragged by, then another. He took a shower himself, hand loosely sliding up and down the start of an erection, picturing the naked man next door. Then he slipped on a thick woollen dressing gown and slippers and went to see how Seb was doing.
Seb hadn't moved. His eyes were bright as he watched Richard walk to the place in front of him but he maintained an obedient silence.
Richard slapped him hard, across his left cheek. Seb barely twitched.
"Good." Richard slid the knuckledusters over his hand, clenched his fist. This time Seb's head crashed sideways against the bedframe. When he straightened it again to look up at his attacker the indentations from the metal were blazing red across his cheek. He rotated his jaw carefully, assessing. Richard had no idea whether he'd broken anything or not. He certainly wasn't going to ask.
Instead he brought his knee up hard, under the upturned chin. As Seb's head snapped back Richard hit him again. This time the eyes that met his were narrowed, blood oozing from high up on his cheekbone.
Richard looked down at Seb's knees. "Open up for me," he suggested.
Something flickered in Seb's eyes, but he widened his knees as he was told. Richard caressed his balls with the toe of his slipper, watching Seb's cock fill out, feeling his own responding enthusiastically under the dressing gown. Then the short length of electrical cable, sharp wires protruding, slashed downwards across Seb's inner thigh with all the power that desperation could give it.
That got a sharp intake of breath. He did it again a few times, ripping the skin raw, staying intent on the bleeding flesh so that he didn't needed to look at Seb's face, until there was finally a barely audible cry of pain. That might have been enough for Richard's purposes, but Moriarty was loving the damage too much, was compelling. Six, seven more strokes before he regained control and stopped.
"So you think maybe we ought to talk." Derision in his voice. "Well?"
The cut under Seb's eye was bleeding more profusely now. He looked down for a second, away from his master.
"Got nothing to say."
"Are you sure, Sebastian? You're quite happy?" Richard ran the toe of his slipper down Seb's unwilted erection, ended with a hard jab to his balls. "Because it's vitally important that you're happy, isn't it? My world," he gestured around, "is all about you, after all. So," he jabbed again and Seb gasped, sharp, "are you happy, Sebastian? I'm on tenterhooks here, waiting to find out."
Seb looked up at him from under dark lashes. "You want me to be happy, I'm fucking ecstatic." He rolled his twisted shoulders. "You're the boss."
Richard didn't let any of the relief show. It was not enough, yet. He unsheathed the knife, cut through the cords at Seb's wrists. "Why don't you get on that bed and show me just how ecstatic you are? Give me some writhing and mewling, pet."
Seb wiped blood away from his face, looking thoroughly disgusted. He glanced at the bed, then back at Richard, jaw set.
"Do not make me repeat myself, Sebastian." Richard's voice was carefully mild.
Seb held his gaze for another second then broke. He rolled onto the covers, favouring his bleeding thigh, and lay on his back, his eyes never quite meeting Richard's as he stroked himself. He had started whimpering, deliberate, hips twisting and head thrown back.
After a minute or so of that he twisted heavily over onto hands and knees, arse up towards Richard and wriggling. Richard was fascinated and desperately turned on by the flexing of the muscular thighs, the glimpses of his heavy cock as he moved.
It was time to take advantage. He told his unsettled conscience that he had to; Moran would be expecting nothing else. He untied the dressing gown, walked around the bed and pulled himself to sit up against the headboard, legs splayed on either side of Seb's panting mouth.
The first touch of tongue was electric. Hands lifted his thighs a little as Seb licked and sucked, a thumb pressing gently against his arse. Richard spread his legs further, murmured in heady pleasure, Moriarty temporarily forgotten. Seb took him deeper into his throat, pushed a calloused thumb firmly inside him and the murmurs became gasps as Richard clung onto his short hair. He came embarrassingly quickly with an uncontrolled shudder of delight and was immediately dragged unceremoniously down the bed.
Without consultation or hesitation Seb pushed his way inside him, forceful and unlubricated, a strong wrist underneath Richard's rear end to keep him at a convenient angle. Hot as it felt, this wasn't in Jim's game plan. Richard opened his mouth to protest and Seb kissed him, hard and wet, and he forgot everything that he should be doing in the pleasure of kissing him back, wrapping his legs high over the man's torso and his arms around his neck as he took the thrusts until Seb finally shuddered to a stop and lifted his head.
"Thoughtful of you to bring the cuffs. Next time I'm going to spread you out over the bed and fuck you very slowly indeed."
Richard let out a whimper, and Seb pulled out, rolled over, head on one hand to contemplate the smaller man.
"So all of a sudden Jim Moriarty bottoms for me and likes it? You going to tell me what's going on here, boss?"
Shit. Richard tried for Jim's arrogance. "Why should I?"
"OK. Shall I try, then? Holmes was right. When halfway through your usual S&M session you start wriggling your arse all "fuck me senseless", that's not you. That's Brook. You're letting him in and it's not on purpose."
He reached out, pinched one of Richard's nipples. "Don't get me wrong." A flicker of a smile. "However you want it, you get it. You're still the boss. But there are two fucking Holmes' on the other side. I want to know exactly how much trouble we're in."
Richard thought about lying but he was tired of pretending to this man. It was going to be all right; Seb truly cared about him. The way Seb had kissed him made him sure. He closed his eyes for a moment, summoned his nerve. "It's been me all along. Richard. Moriarty's not been back since before Watson kidnapped me. I've been acting him for weeks."
"Fuck!" He opened his eyes to see Seb staring. "I thought you'd changed your style a bit, but...fuck! Has he gone for good?"
"Yes." He could feel Moriarty roiling underneath him. He wasn't going to let him out.
Seb lay back, clearly stunned. "You've been..." And colder, "You've been fucking me about for weeks?"
"What choice did I have, Seb? Who was going to let me alone to be Richard Brook? It was Moriarty or no-one, and I had to be convincing." His tone was pleading. "Come on. Between us we've done OK, haven't we? We can carry on like this. You don't need him back."
Seb's eyes narrowed. "You've got a deal with them. That's why we didn't go after Watson."
Richard nodded. "Sherlock didn't want Moriarty back. No-one does."
Seb moved, fast, throwing himself on top of Richard, pinning his arms and spitting into his face. "You treacherous little shit! You think I'm bought with a bit of arse? If there wasn't the chance that it would hurt the boss, I'd take out every bit of your betrayal on your worthless fucking skin. Get him back."
"I can't!" A desperate lie.
"We'll see about that." He wrenched Richard over viciously, and Richard felt the cold handcuffs close on the wrists yanked behind him.
"Shut up. " He was pulled head first onto the thick carpet. "You haven't got his memories; you can't bluff it any more. I'll know when he comes back. I the meantime you're going to learn some fucking respect." Moran pulled him over. "You've got two choices. You can stay here and believe me I don't need to do permanent damage to his body to make things really unpleasant for you, or you can give up and let him back."
"That will kill me," Richard said, hopelessly.
"So what? You're just a puppet with fucking pretensions. I can do worse than death, easy. You know that."
After the last few weeks he knew full well what Seb was capable of. He'd just never imagined it aimed at him. Richard had secretly dreamed that Seb would prefer him, when he knew; after all Moriarty was savage and insane. He'd miscalculated hugely.
Seb tied him up to the bedstead. "Scream all you like. In this place there's no-one to hear you. I'll be back in an hour or two and we'll get started." His smile was heartless, the red marks on his face vivid.
"What are you going to do?" Richard was terrified into meekness.
The grin was wider. "You'd have been wiser to keep your dick out of my mouth, Brook. I'm going to spread you across the bed and fuck you very slowly, just as I promised. And this time, puppet boy, you're not going to like it at all."
Richard lifted his head from where he was dozing on the bed when he heard Seb come in, trying to work out from the sound and smells what dinner might be.
Ah. Pizza. Wonderful. He pulled himself up to sit upright, easy now after a week's practice. His hands were bound behind him with soft rope now, barely a hindrance to movement.
"I need the bathroom now," he called through. "You've been out for hours. And I'm hungry."
Seb stalked in and untied him without a word. He showered quickly, thinking about the food getting cold. When he came out Seb was waiting in the bedroom.
Richard tried a smile. It couldn't do any harm. "How was your day?"
Seb looked down on him. "I am so sick of the sight of your stupid voice. You could at least pretend to be him for a while."
No trace of the charm he'd first felt when they met. Richard sighed, slid into Moriarty for the first time in days, not too far that he didn't know who he was, couldn't slide out again. Watched Seb closely for a minute, smiling.
"Whoops. Your eyes just gave you away again, Sebastian. Every time you touch this body it's not Brook that's on your mind."
He pushed the dressing gown off his shoulders. "Would you like to rape me again, Seb? Without causing any damage, of course. It's just a bare fraction of what I did to you. Almost disappointing that you've learned so little."
Richard as Moriarty grinned. "I'll know, of course, when I come back. Do you think I'll care about your entirely praiseworthy reasons, or be suitably grateful that you didn't leave bruises? Do you think that will be enough to let you live?"
Seb shifted slightly. Richard sprawled on his back on the bed. "Come on, pet, I'm hungry. You're wasting my time. You might as well have fun while you're still breathing."
"You're not him." Seb snarled, advancing on the bed. "You don't know what he thinks."
"I do." Richard was himself again. "You know I do. He'll kill you if he returns. Let me go!"
"Shut the fuck up!" A heavy hand closed over Richard's mouth. He lay passive under Seb's weight, concentrating on breathing through his nose. The rest of this was familiar enough already not to need any of his attention. There would be lubricant, and little physical roughness if he didn't struggle; Seb was genuinely paranoid about bruises.
He'd vaguely wondered, as Richard, why Seb persevered with the sex once the initial shock had worn off. Seb didn't seem to like him much any more and for his part it was OK compared to some of the other stuff Seb had tried- things on his face or over his head that made him feel like he was suffocating or drowning, injections that sped up his heart rate until he thought he was going to have a heart attack, weights on his chest to crush him, low level electric shocks to make him convulse and scream. All far more horrible than the rather detached buggery, but ultimately none of it was truly frightening, not when he knew Seb wouldn't risk any damage to Moriarty's body. Nothing came close to dislodging his overwhelming desire to stay himself.
From Jim's perspective the reasons were obvious and nothing to do with Brook at all. Things were quite often clearer from Moriarty's viewpoint, Richard mused, shifting to accommodate Seb a little better. He wasn't always good at analysing stuff- he thought of himself more as a people person. He should have asked whether there was garlic bread as well. It had been a long time since breakfast.
There was garlic bread but when Richard reached out for a piece a little too eagerly Seb took it all away. Richard called him a petty tyrant. Seb accused Richard of being a pathetic little bodysnatcher and binned the rest of the pizza as well, tossing a couple of slices of bread at him as replacement. Infuriated at the loss of his long awaited dinner, Richard announced that he was going on hunger strike and Moran could explain severe malnutrition to his precious Moriarty. Probably, he said cheerfully, some of his teeth would fall out.
"Right. That's fucking it!" Seb snarled. "I want this finished now!" He pulled some clothes from Jim's wardrobe. "Get shaved, get dressed. We're going out."
Out was several consecutive taxis. When the final one drew up outside a familiar door Richard baulked, genuinely terrified for the first time in days. "No. I won't go in there again. You can't make me."
"Get out of the cab, Brook. Don't be an utter coward. I'm not going to let any of them damage you." Seb flashed a small gun in his hand. "I'll choke you unconscious and drag your body up the stairs if I have to. Get."
It wasn't 'any of them' that Richard was scared of. It was just John Watson. Who also had a gun and not Moran's compelling reasons to stay his hand.
"Mycroft will have cameras watching." This was crazy. He really ought not to be here. Neither of them should be anywhere near Baker Street. He'd long since stopped thinking about it, thought he'd forgotten, but the memories were back now, sharp.
"I'm counting on it. Get out."
The elderly lady who answered the door was clearly in some distress. She blinked at them. "Is this about the poor Inspector?"
"That's right." Seb was calm, gentle. "We need to talk to Sherlock."
"He's upstairs. I do so hope he's all right. Such a lovely man. Lovely."
Seb pushed Richard before him up the stairs. "Go in." Richard found himself propelled through the door at the top, and immediately the object of the two men's attention.
"Moriarty!" John had picked up the poker, was advancing. "I knew it was your doing! This time I'm going to smash your skull in. Where is he?"
Richard backed up, terrified, straight into Seb who wasn't moving.
"You're asking the wrong man." Sherlock, from the sofa. "Try the one behind him."
John glanced behind Richard at Moran, went back to threatening him with the upheld metal. "Moriarty's in charge. His dog just follows orders."
"That's not in any meaningful psychological sense Jim Moriarty, John." Sherlock pulled himself upright on the sofa with what looked like a little discomfort. The bullet wound must still trouble him. "And he's not here of his own accord."
A phone shrilled on the table. Seb shoved Richard out of the way so that he could pick it up.
"Yes, the place is surrounded," he growled into it. "I want you and no-one else up here or they all die."
He dropped it back on the table. "Ten minutes in this traffic. We might as well start without him." The gun was obvious in his hand.
John lowered the weapon reluctantly. "Start what? Have you got Greg?"
Sherlock was frowning. "You're earlier than I expected."
"Got fucking tired of this bloody thing." He shoved Richard again, into the centre of the room. "I want it gone for good and the boss back. Do that and I'll let you all live, including your pet policeman."
"That's not fair!" Richard protested. "We had a deal, Sherlock!"
"We did." Sherlock considered him. "It doesn't look as if you're in a position to uphold your side of the bargain. Still," he looked back at Seb, "the return of Jim Moriarty is not at all desirable."
"Didn't think you'd do it for the asking. That's why I have a gun and a hostage."
"Indeed you have."
"Don't do it!" John warned. "Moriarty nearly killed you!"
"Nearly being the operative word. So, for that matter, did Moran." Sherlock sighed, looked back at Richard. "It appears that we must consider trying. It's am interesting puzzle at least. When did you detect the fraud, Moran?"
"Eight days ago."
"Ouch! Your employer is not going to be impressed at all. Brook fools you for a whole month and then for over a week you're helpless to get rid of him?"
"I didn't ask for a critique." Seb snarled. "Just fix it, Holmes."
Sherlock glanced at his watch. "I think we'll wait for my brother. He has more direct experience of Richard Brook than any of us." A thin smile. "He completely misinterpreted the situation, of course, but still his observations may be useful."
"In that case," Richard said, hopefully, "may I please have something to eat while we wait? My dinner got binned."
"Thought you were on hunger strike," Seb growled.
"Since you're all trying to kill me there doesn't seem much point. I don't want to die starving."
Sherlock was watching him curiously. "Make him a sandwich, will you, John?"
"What?" John's voice rose in indignation. "He's a heartless, brutal murderer and we're feeding him?"
"He's hungry," Sherlock pointed out. "You could put the kettle on as well."
Richard was unimpressed by the offer. "This could be my last meal! How about we call out for takeaway?"
"Anyone not Mycroft Holmes knocks on this door gets hit by sniper fire." Seb pointed out brusquely. "Take the sandwich and shut up."
Richard got his sandwich. Everyone got coffee. Mycroft arrived, prickly and cautious, and asked for tea instead. He sipped it with a grimace.
"Under brewed, but we are on a tight schedule here. Has he lost his mind completely now?"
Sherlock looked smug. "I suggest that you reassess your observations, brother. This is not Moriarty insane. He is who he has always claimed to you to be."
"Richard Brook?" Mycroft frowned. "A dissociative personality? Far too convenient. And a form of insanity."
"Artificially generated to suit Moriarty's needs, naturally, and controlled, originally. The method of creation throws up a number of intriguing questions. But it has slipped its leash and is no longer subordinate. It tried faking Jim as camouflage but it's been uncovered and Mr Moran here wants it exorcised so that his boss can return again."
"Which I've told you we shouldn't do." John interjected. "At the moment he's pathetically harmless."
"Not harmless at all." Mycroft frowned at Richard. Finally seeing him, Richard thought with a shiver, for the first time. "There are a dozen of my people dead or viciously mutilated because Richard Brook thought that I slighted him. He possesses as little conscience as his alter ego."
"I was being Jim!" Richard protested. "I had to play Moriarty convincingly. And you were really mean."
"Interesting. Tell me," Sherlock said to Moran, "what you're tried already."
"The usual stuff, avoiding physical damage. Water boarding, asphixiation, electrical shocks, induced palpitations. Nothing as unsubtle as he tried, but it should have been far more effective." He gestured at John.
"And rape, clearly." Mycroft added. "Unless that was consensual?"
"And that." Seb looked unmoved by the accusation.
"He's got a crush on his boss," Richard said spitefully. "He likes pretending I'm Jim when he does it."
"You shut up." Seb snapped at him.
"And what happened when you tried these effective techniques? Exactly, please."
Seb shrugged. "What you'd expect, at first. He screams, he cries, he begs, he pisses himself. But there's no heart to it. And when I stop it's all 'what's for dinner' and 'shall I put the TV on' and 'how was your day' like I'm his fucking roommate. It's like he's too fucking simple to understand."
Mycroft nodded. "My experience concurs. He tries to make a connection with anyone near to him just as a small child might. But it's unstable; he switches between adoration, spite and fear and he lashes out without reason or conscience."
"I'm not stupid!" Richard shouted, dreadfully offended. "I'm a brilliant actor. I faked Moriarty for ages. None of you could do that."
"No." Sherlock said. "By all accounts your Moriarty was intelligent and creative. What other roles have you played, Richard?"
Richard shrugged. "I played Richard Third. Mycroft saw me."
"You played that as Moriarty," Mycroft said. "Who else?"
"I had a few bits after jail. I don't remember. Does it matter?"
Mycroft tipped his head on one side, looked across at Sherlock. "His recent work showed no particular talent. A one trick pony is, I believe, the expression."
Sherlock nodded, spoke to Moran. "He can play Moriarty so well because he must have at some level access to Moriarty's mind. When he isn't playing Jim he's a hollow thing, a surface personality over very little substance, a mere puppet. Only now he's cut his own strings."
"Hey!" Richard protested. "That's just unkind. I'm as much a person as you lot are."
Mycroft snorted. "Not even close to fully human, and definitely squatting on someone else's property. The morality of restoring Moriarty is questionable but one can conclude that obliterating this entity is ethically acceptable given the stakes." He drained his cup, put it down.
"I don't want to be obliterated!" Richard wailed at the unsympathetic faces. It wasn't fair! Moriarty was the evil one. He was just himself. Harmless. Friendly. Nice. He sat down on the floor, despondent.
"So do it." Moran growled.
"Right now," Sherlock said, "I have no idea how to start."
"How about consulting a therapist?" John suggested. "They deal with multiple personality disorder?"
"Therapy!" Sherlock snapped. "Egos, ids and unresolved traumas? Unscientific rubbish. Might as well suggest voodoo."
"Sherlock did not get on well with his therapist as a child." Mycroft said. "Too many home truths."
"Nonsense! The woman was unfailingly inaccurate. Even her invoice was riddled with errors!"
Only Richard laughed. "I don't mind trying that," he offered. Therapy took years.
"I wasn't suggesting signing him up for weekly sessions. Just finding out what their approach is. It couldn't hurt." John protested.
Sherlock sighed, exasperated. "I looked into the scientific papers on the subject weeks ago. The aim of psychotherapy is to integrate the dissociative states but the so-called experts are fumbling around in the dark when it comes to methods."
Richard looked up. "Does integrate mean that I don't die?"
Sherlock studied him before speaking carefully. "Integration implies that you accept the feelings, actions and memories of your dissociated selves as belonging to a single individual. It would mean that you- both of you- cease to make a distinction between yourself and Jim. However when it comes to an artificially generated dissociation, however that was achieved, the matter is far less clear. Are you a genuine subset of Moriarty's personality, or something else? You may not be integratable."
"You mean he may not want me back." Richard said quietly.
He thought about it for a moment, the others silent.
"I wouldn't mind. Integrating, I mean. As long as I didn't just vanish. I wouldn't mind being Jim as well." There was nothing for him as just Richard any more.
"You'd be a monstrous killer with terrible crimes on your conscience, at least partially insane and almost certain to meet a swift and violent end." Mycroft commented dryly.
Richard shrugged, unperturbed. "I'd have money, and power, and Moran. And none of you would dare look at me like this any more."
Seb spat on the floor. "Boss has got no use for any of him. I want him erased. Completely."
Richard felt a spike of anger. Moran would damn well come to heel. "You might want to rethink that, Sebastian. Or were you overlooking the fun you've been having sexually abusing your employer's defenceless body while he was temporarily non compos mentis? Because you can be certain that he won't."
He licked his lips automatically. "I might be the only part of him -us- me- that doesn't intend to hack your genitals off with a blunt kitchen knife and watch you bleed to death screaming."
"Don't threaten me, you little bastard!"
Richard didn't scramble to his feet fast enough to avoid the backhanded blow. He spat blood onto his hand from his cut mouth. "That's going to bruise, Seb. You got a death wish, is that it? You want us to do it? I warn you, we don't play along to your fantasies."
They were all staring at him now.
"That was far too swift to be plausible. Is he acting again?" Unusually, Mycroft sounded uncertain.
"No." Sherlock. "It appears that there was a strong pressure already acting for integration. He's merely stopped resisting it."
"That's not Moriarty." Seb growled.
"Not yet." Richard smiled at him, ignoring all the others. " But he's coming. You might want to drop to your knees ready to start begging."
Seb's eyes were locked with Richard's. He blinked, twice, then looked around at the others. "Got to keep this lot under control." His tone was no longer belligerent. "I'll square things with the boss when this is finished."
Richard nodded briefly, turned to Sherlock. Moriarty was strumming through his thoughts now, a sensation of cold delight. Not like acting at all, more like waking up. Why had he stayed asleep so long?
"It appears that we owe you a small debt, Sherlock. Very small."
"You can repay part of it with data. What went wrong?"
Richard knew, now. "Your brother's extremely close surveillance and your flatmate's obsession meant that I- that Richard Brook had to carry on existing independently longer than originally intended. Re-integration was meant to happen as soon as Richard left jail, while he was still ignorant of his nature. His active opposition to Moriarty was unpredictably powerful. If he hadn't come to understand the situation and chosen to cease resisting, the impasse might have continued indefinitely."
He tipped his head onto one side, then the other, straightened his crumpled suit. "No permanent harm done, as it happens. Here we are, all beautifully integrated and full of righteous wrath, ready to rain down vengeance on," he glanced round, "well, everyone here except you, Sherlock. You might as well throw away your address book. You were always more dramatic as a loner anyway."
"What's left of Richard?" Sherlock seemed merely curious, despite the threats. "Or are you all Jim now?"
Richard shrugged. "We like Shakespeare, and dressing up pretending to be other people, and garlic bread. And those funny little noises that Moran makes in bed. And we think Mycroft's little anecdotes are adorable, though we're going to kill him anyway."
"Fascinating. Will you tell me how you created the spilt?"
"That much is your debt repaid. You get no more." They might need it again some day. Besides, keeping Sherlock frustrated of knowledge was fun.
Moriarty stretched, the taste of his own blood still strong in his mouth. "We must be off- got a few things to sort out- housekeeping matters, mainly. You know how it is when you've been away, Sherlock, which reminds me that at some point we must get together and reminisce about ways to fake deaths on rooftops."
He glanced around. John, unostentatiously getting himself ready to rush Seb's gun. Mycroft, prepared to duck behind the desk and hope to survive long enough for the SAS to storm the place. Sebastian, ready to gun both men down long before either could act, as soon as he gave the signal.
They thought about it, briefly- leaving Sherlock drenched in the blood of his family and his friend. But it wasn't subtle and it wasn't necessary. They could take either of them any time they wanted. It would be fun to watch them scurry around for a while first. They'd even release the obnoxious policeman who had bullied Richard so (and he remembered now, ordering the method of Finney's death in gruesome detail. Over too soon, but he'd not had time for sophistication. He'd been in hiding from himself).
"Come on, hound," he called to Sebastian. "We're going home." And to Mycroft and John. "It seems that my dog needs a little correction to his training. I doubt that he will be fit for hunting for a while. You may want to take the opportunity to leave the country."
He grinned. "At least I hope so. He has so much more fun if there's a little challenge involved. And he's going to need a little fun, after I've finished with him."
"I'm not going to run from you," John hissed. "I'm going to track you down and kill you."
Moriarty winced. "No style at all. Plenty of enthusiasm, rather like your interrogation technique, which I suppose counts for something. How about you, pet? We've spent such long and lovely hours together. Tell me, what's your master plan for staying ahead of Sebastian's bullets?"
"Confidential." Mycroft said, dryly.
Moriarty applauded, slowly. "Much better. Your brother is acquiring a little panache, Sherlock. A little late in his life, but better than never I suppose."
Sherlock had drawn himself up to his full height. "You will harm neither of them. Nor Lestrade."
Moriarty frowned at him, pantomime. "Sorry, but I think I probably am. Righteous vengeance, remember? It's a thing."
"You'd be stupid to act precipitously against anything of mine while there's a yawning chasm in your information. And neither of you are stupid."
A chasm? Of course. "While I was tucked up cosily in prison for years, where were you, Sherlock?" He didn't expect to be told. It wouldn't be that easy. The others... "You haven't told them."
"And make then targets? No." Sherlock's eyes were sparkling. "You have near limitless resources. It will be difficult but you will no doubt find out at least some of it eventually. If you are allowed the time." He smiled briefly.
Stalemate. Richard/Moriarty considered that. It was more interesting than he had anticipated. Sherlock was almost certainly bluffing; nothing in those missing years should stop Jim killing his people. But 'almost certainly' left room for that intriguing possibility that Moriarty might be on the verge of making a rare mistake. There was no hurry.
He nodded, conceding the position. "A stay of execution, then. A brief one." And to the doomed men, "Ta ta for now. A little anticipation will spice things up for all of us."
He still had Moran to deal with. That would have to do for now; that and Sherlock's puzzle, and maybe some take away pizza with proper garlic bread. As he descended the stairs of 221B to the sound of the guns in Baker Street clearing his way he started whistling. They were both happy to be himself again. Jim Moriarty was back and in control.