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Cagamosis

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cagamosis
(n.) an unhappy marriage

 

Sebastian dreams of him, sometimes.

It’s not anything untoward, but more like the way that he dreams of Afghanistan as a slow recollection of rolling, unchanging desert. Jim’s presence in his dreams is like the rippling shadows cast on hot stone walls by the Chinooks that would pass overhead, or the distant, rattling echo of gunfire; a simple distorted remembrance of things familiar to him. It’s usually nothing but a repeat of a conversation, a memory of a business transaction replayed in hyper detail, Jim’s movements exaggerated.

Occasionally, though, in the middle of a repeat of a mundane conversation about the death of a Swedish banker, Jim will look up through dark eyelashes and smile, the tilt of his head both a warning and an invitation, and Sebastian will wake up, furious at himself for letting any of it register enough that it invades his subconscious at night.

He lets it roll off of him, getting up and pushing on through his morning drills, displacing the lingering dreams with the clean, pure rush of exercise.

It’s just a distortion of a memory, he thinks, as he runs through the streets of London, feet pounding on the pavement, lungs burning.

Just a dream.

 

*

 

It isn't as though Sebastian hasn't noticed.

He might be the muscle in this particular partnership, but he's not an idiot, and Jim occasionally listening to his opinion says as much. He's used to Jim expecting great feats from him, often sending him on nigh impossible assassinations that only the sharpest gunman would be able to pull off. That Jim trusts him is clear; it's just whether he underestimates the observational skills of one of the most accomplished marksmen in the country when it comes to his personal life.

The first indication is the way Jim acts with women. He's never rude with any woman he works with, but treats them the exact same way as he does the men; with courtesy and politesse, unless things don't quite go as he wants them to do. He does, however, treat them with a certain level of uninterested indifference and disdain.

The first time Sebastian suspects is three years into their acquaintance. It took a long time for Jim to be anything but a lilting voice in his ear or text on his screen, an almost constant and mostly anonymous companion; it took even longer after their eventual first meeting for him to trust Sebastian enough to let him in on business deals. They work well together, though; Sebastian tempering Jim's propensity for screaming hysterics somewhat, Jim helping sharpen Sebastian's military training into something a little sharper, colder, more dangerous.

The meeting Sebastian sits in on is nothing that he would usually deal in, having no interest in forgery, and he watches in silence as Jim and the Hungarian woman negotiate, picking absently at his bitten thumb nail. The forger is young and attractive, her low cut top showing cleavage that Sebastian can hardly ignore, and she leans forward with a smile on her red lips, pressing the tips of her fingers to the curve of Jim's knee. Jim's dark eyes flicker down to her hand quickly, lips pursing slightly, eyebrows knit, and he leans back, crossing his legs prissily before he continues talking as though nothing had happened. Perhaps it hadn't; Jim's hardly the most communicative or receptive person that Sebastian has ever met, but there was a certain dismissive disinterest that flashed across his face for a split second that gave a little bit of something away.

It's possible that Jim simply just doesn't like people touching him. Sebastian can’t help but notice he's finicky, almost obsessively neat and clean. It wouldn't surprise him at all if this fastidiousness extended to being repulsed by the touch of an associate.

The first time he’s sure, though, is when Jim accompanies him to Monaco. While he is never actively involved in the crimes he arranges, Jim occasionally gets itchy feet and will jet off with Sebastian, revelling in playing a tourist.

Perched on the end of Sebastian's king sized hotel bed, Jim leafs through a file about the man that would soon be on the receiving end of a bullet, dark eyes flicking over the paper as he speaks to Sebastian.

“He should be at the Blue Gin at four-thirty, where I am told he prefers a poolside view. Dirty old lech. ”

Sebastian tugs the form fitting, dark jersey that he often wears when wanting to look unremarkable over his head, turning to the bed to replace it with a plain button down shirt. The rules of disguise Sebastian employs are simple; observe, and reflect. White, pressed shirts appear to be the uniform of men in this part of Monaco, tie pins, patterns and the cut of the collars the only sign of any individuality.

Jim looks up from the notes to speak but pauses, lips parted. His eyes flicker quickly over Seb's exposed torso, over his tanned skin and well formed abdominal muscles, the thick blond hair on his chest, before lingering for a second on the line of hair leading down into his trousers. He drops his gaze back down to the notes, blinking quickly, wetting his lips and swallowing before he continues speaking, voice light and easy.

“He is, apparently, partial to Blackjack. Beat him at that and I'm sure you'll catch his attention. I doubt you'll have any difficulties.”

“No,” Sebastian agrees, and that's that. It does, however, confirm a thought that Sebastian has been harbouring for a long time; that, in all likeliness, Jim was as gay as a May day parade.

It also occurs to him that it's very possible that Jim is attracted to him. It's hardly an ideal situation; Jim's an incredibly dangerous man, and though generally he's been good to Sebastian, he really doesn't want to have to find himself in the situation where he turns him down. It's very hard to say no to a man like James Moriarty; it would be deadly to reject him.

Jim's hardly forthcoming with personal information- over the years Sebastian has worked for him he's managed to glean that he has two siblings, a fondness for mint, is a Scorpio and countless other pieces of trivia. His more personal life, and, specifically, his sex life, is a topic that he does not discuss. He is happy to play on people's perception of his sexuality, can flirt outrageously, can use the idea of sex as a weapon, but, like most things about him, anything real is hidden away. The man is so private and closed away that Sebastian begins to doubt himself. While he does occasionally catch Jim looking at him, Jim's intense gaze always slides away as though their eyes are meeting accidentally and not because he's been watching him calculatingly.

Not that Sebastian would mind, really; tall, blond, with a quick, easy smile, it isn't as though he's never had male attention before. It was something he'd joke about with his mates in the army, even. As long as Jim continues to keep his hands to himself and nothing changes, then it's a non-issue. It doesn't matter.

 

*

 

It's ten-thirty in the morning, and through the scope of Sebastian's L115A3 the pavement is already shimmering hazily in the heat. He doesn't expect his target to show up for another four hours, but he likes to take his time when setting up; one mistake in his careful calculations (failing to account for cross winds, foot traffic, for example) could ruin the entire job, and Sebastian is not a man who makes mistakes. If he was, he doubts he'd still be under Jim's employ. Or, for that matter, alive.

Satisfied, he lifts his head from where it's resting on the cheek piece and draws the rifle back, resting the butt of it on the floor and screwing the suppressor onto the end. He's sitting in a plush chair in a hotel room, the bi-pod balanced on a coffee table that he'd dragged across the thick carpet to sit in front of the window. It's rare that he gets to work in such a refined environment; usually he finds himself lying for hours on his front on a cold high-rise rooftop, the concrete bruising his elbows and hip bones.

Killing from a honeymoon suite, though; this he could get used to it.

Behind him, the mattress on the king-sized bed squeaks repeatedly. Jim stands on it, standing on the tips of his pointed-toe shoes, balanced precariously on the edge of the bed as he reaches up to the ceiling, deftly unscrewing the plastic cover of a smoke alarm. Sebastian doesn't offer to help. It drops off eventually, falling to the floor, and Jim wedges the end of the screwdriver beneath the battery and pops it out.

“You could just cover it,” Sebastian mutters, turning in the chair to watch Jim, who hops down from the bed and drags another chair over to join Sebastian. He spreads rolling papers and tobacco over the table next to the gun polish, and Sebastian twitches the rifle cloth away irritably. He wouldn't have thought Jim would be the type to roll his own cigarettes, but he recognises now that it's one of his tells; he's keyed up about something, excited for the kill, perhaps, nervous hands never still.

“Must you?”

Jim rolls the cigarette deftly with quick fingers, and when he glances up at Sebastian, humming questioningly, he's running his tongue along the paper to seal it.

“It's roasting outside,” Sebastian continues, “go and loiter on the balcony or something.”

While not the worst habit of Jim's by far, it's one that Sebastian can't stand. The smell of smoke is cloying and clings to his clothes even though he isn't the one smoking the bastard things. Sebastian, unlike Jim, actually takes care of his body. Yes, Jim is prissy about his appearance, but that is where it ends; his diet consists mainly of coffee and nicotine (not to mention the other chemicals he subjects himself to), the only exercise he gets the restless pacing he so often does when thinking, theorising, talking to Sebastian, to himself. Sebastian, on the other hand, cooks well, eats well, and while no longer a soldier he still practices some of his drills regularly.

“You go loiter on the balcony,” Jim murmurs, but he doesn’t light the cigarette just yet. Instead, he reaches for one of the bullets that sit on the table. He rolls it between his fingers speculatively, testing the point of it with his thumb.

“Put that back,” Sebastian scolds, and Jim ignores him. “You’ll get fingerprints all over it.”

“Maybe that’s the point,” Jim muses, and then hands it over to him. “Here. Save it.”

Sebastian sighs.

“For what, exactly?”

Jim smiles, and it’s feline.

“Someone special.”

He holds the bullet out to Sebastian between thumb and forefinger. Using the dry end of the rifle cloth to mask his own fingerprints, Sebastian reaches out to take it. Jim tilts it just out of reach, a childish smile playing around his mouth, thin eyebrows raised. After Sebastian refuses to rise to it, he shrugs, a moue of disappointment on his face, and drops the bullet into his hand. Despite himself, Sebastian drops it into the breast pocket of his shirt, and Jim lights his cigarette.

He takes a deep drag, cheeks hollowing, and leans back in the chair as Sebastian watches him levelly. The look Jim gives him is speculative, and his lips curl as he exhales a plume of smoke through his nose.

“Oh dear,” he says lightly, leaning back in the chair and crossing his legs so that his left ankle rests on his knee. “I'’ve offended your delicate sensibilities again.”

Sebastian rolls his eyes and looks away from him, unwilling to indulge him.

“However did you cope with military life?” Jim muses, and Sebastian dips the cloth into a tin of gun polish before sliding it down the barrel with careful attention.

“I didn't have to put up with little bastards like you in the military,” he mutters in response. “That's how.”

Jim grins.

 

*

 

On a flat, moss covered rooftop in Kuala Lumpur, Sebastian Moran waits for a diplomat to leave his hotel, where he will be the unfortunate recipient of an 8.58mm bullet in the head. It's April, and the air is hot and muggy. It's monsoon season still, and the sky is thick with black clouds, though thankfully rain free for now. Thunder rolls heavily at irregular intervals, a loud, deep rumble that Sebastian feels all the way through his bones. He shifts on his front, the cool concrete unforgiving against his bones. As he watches the revolving hotel doors, the sounds of the traffic and the thunder are drowned out by his slow, regular breathing. In these moments, waiting for the target, he feels a sense of overwhelming calm that he only ever feels when his finger rests lightly on the trigger.

The only thing ruining this Zen-like feeling at the moment is an occasional loud popping sound to his left. After the sixth time this happens he sighs heavily and removes his eye from the scope, turning his head to stare pointedly at Jim. The man in question is lying on his back, his coat neatly folded beneath his head for a pillow. He's holding a ridiculously thick textbook above his head, blowing a large bubble in the gum he's chewing and then bursting it like an American schoolgirl.

Sebastian is wary of missing his target and so cannot wait too long for Jim to realise he's being stared at, but luckily Jim is perceptive and soon rolls his head to look over at him, raising slim black eyebrows over the top of his aviator sunglasses. Sebastian can see his own face, warped but still clearly unimpressed, reflected back at him from the lenses.

“Some of us are concentrating here,” he says pointedly.

“I'm concentrating,” Jim replies absently.

“Quietly,” Sebastian adds, and Jim sighs heavily, dropping the textbook to his chest. “You don't even need to be here. It's going to rain and you're going to bitch that it’s raining and then I'll miss the target because I'll be busy smothering you with your coat.”

Jim doesn't reply straight away, but Sebastian sees the small smile on his mouth as he blows another bubble. He snaps it loudly before speaking, tone mild.

“The anticipation of the kill helps me think.”

“Bollocks,” Sebastian barks shortly. “Piss off and anticipate elsewhere.”

Jim snaps the chewing gum again, purposeful, and Sebastian narrows his eyes.

“What's with the gum?”

Jim's lips quirk and then purse, twitching expressively as he considers his answer. Before he has a chance to speak Sebastian's watch begins beeping shrilly and he jerks his gaze back to the scope of his rifle, every muscle in his body taut, back a long, clean line as he exhales, sliding his right elbow across the concrete as he drops his shoulder, the butt of the rifle pressed firmly into it. Perfectly on time, his target strolls out of the revolving door of his hotel, straightening his suit as he glances at his watch. He's a serious looking man, tall, angular and grey, and Sebastian pulls the trigger without the slightest hesitation. The kickback pounds through Sebastian's body, causing him to jerk, and despite the suppressor the crack of the gunshot is loud, rolling sharply through the air like the thunder from the oncoming storm. The man crumples to the ground, and Sebastian immediately flicks the protective cap down over the scope, drawing the rifle back.

As soon as Sebastian reaches for the trigger Jim rolls onto his front, peering over the edge of the rooftop with little concern for his own safety, straining to watch the scene unfold below. It's too far away for him to be able to make anything out for himself, but when he turns back to face Sebastian he's smiling broadly, made easily excitable by the perfect kill. Sebastian rolls his shoulder as he draws back, sitting up to disassemble the rifle, and an odd look flickers across Jim's face.

“Good,” he purrs, voice low. His grin widens into something a little dangerous before it suddenly drops from his face.

“I'm quitting,” he says, and Sebastian tilts his head at him, frowning as he folds the stock in on itself.

“Quitting what?”

Jim’s expressive mouth is briefly disapproving before he turns away from Sebastian and back onto his front, elbows at the very edge of the rooftop.

“Smoking.”

For as long as Sebastian has been acquainted with him, Jim’s smoking has been a part of his character just as much as the perfectly tailored suits, the unpredictable temper, the off-kilter humour. His fingers are never still, fiddling with pens, tapping out rhythms, curling around Sebastian’s shoulders when he leans in too close, and the idea of a cigarette no longer rolling neatly between them is an odd one.

“Since when?”

Jim ignores him and points two fingers of his left hand down from the building ledge, like a child pretending to hold a gun. He closes one eye as Sebastian does when focusing before pretending to fire, mimicking the sound of an explosion with his mouth. He still doesn’t answer, hands dangling limply over the edge, lips pursed as he contemplates something beyond Sebastian’s reach.

Thunder rolls again loudly and the heavens open, rain falling heavily, travelling in a visible sheet towards them from across the city. Within seconds, they are both drenched. Despite the muggy atmosphere the water is freezing, and Sebastian turns his collar up and hunches his broad shoulders as he stands, anxious to get down from this rooftop, out of this city. Jim doesn’t appear to notice the water for a long moment, lying motionless as he peers over the edge before he rolls over again, grasping for his coat and discarded book before moving to stand. Sebastian shrugs the duffel bag containing his rifle onto his shoulder and reaches his hand down to Jim, who accepts it without hesitation. His grip is strong, skin cool, thumb pressing firmly into the back of Sebastian’s hand as he pulls him up. They stand close together, Sebastian’s hand tugged towards Jim as he pulls off his shades. His eyes are black and unreadable as they scrutinise Sebastian, darting across his face from feature to feature.

Just as Sebastian is beginning to grow uncomfortable Jim releases his hand and slicks his wet hair back, squinting up at the sky and blinking water from his eyes.

“You were right. I am going to bitch about the rain.”

They are long gone before the wail of sirens can be heard.

 

*

 

Jim does, occasionally, deign to talk to the little people himself.

It never ends well.

Sebastian is the son of a diplomat. He is English to the bone; well educated, having attended both Eton and Oxford, well-bred and not afraid to exploit it when necessary. In the hidden underworld that Sebastian operates in, however, it is not something that puts him at an advantage. Jim’s empire is a finely oiled machine, and if anything breaks, he has several ‘mechanics’ to sort it out. Sebastian is not a mechanic- he is, as Jim himself termed it, Jim’s cosseted little weapon, only used several times a year. When not killing high profile targets Sebastian mainly functions as a sounding board. The rare few times he’s bought in to interact with Jim’s other hirelings, it’s to act as muscle. Jim seems to delight in watching Sebastian physically break down a man until the only sounds that spill out of him are whimpers of pain and truths.

Sebastian tries not to reflect on that too much.

This particular morning, one of Jim’s shipments had gone missing. One missing component halts the whole machine, and Jim will not stand for it. He traces the mistake as far down the chain as he can, and has it dealt with. Despite the trouble that he’s in, the Geordie strapped to a chair in an old, burned out warehouse seems to lack any sense of fear for the situation he’s in, but is instead furious. He gives up his colleague soon enough, but doesn’t have enough sense to hold his tongue after that.

“Who the fuck do you think you are, you mincing little faggot,” he shouts, “might have known you’d be foreign.”

It seems to hit a nerve. Jim steps up to the man and bows down, hands clasped behind his back, their faces level. The man spits.

Jim draws back for a split second, surprised, but then the top of his foot is underneath the rung connecting the leg of the man’s chair and, with a strength that Sebastian wouldn’t expect, he brings up his leg, toppling the seat and man both. He lands on his back with a hard crash and a grunt, and Jim clicks his fingers. Like a well trained dog, Sebastian steps forward, and plants his boot squarely in the middle of the man’s face. The fragile bones of his nose crack beneath Sebastian’s shoe and blood spurts out, but Sebastian is not done. He draws his foot back and kicks him square in the mouth with such ferocity that his mouth splits at the corner and his teeth splinter. He grasps the back of the chair and yanks it back onto its feet, and Jim rounds on the tied up man, whose head is hung, a tooth hanging from his mouth by a thin string of gore.

“Who?” Jim barks, “Who do I think I am? Think me a mincing little faggot all you want, but you will show me respect.”

His voice rises in his agitation, and Sebastian wonders if the jibe has struck a little close to home. He quickly schools his temper, though, and pulls a neatly folded handkerchief from his jacket pocket and wipes the spit from his face, almost as an afterthought.

“Now,” he continues, voice calm once more as he tucks the fabric back into his pocket, “do we understand each other? Are we ready to get along?”

The man in the chair makes a low noise as drool mixed with blood drips down his chin, and Jim leans closer, thin eyebrows raised.

“I can’t hear you!” he trills, rocking forwards onto the balls of his feet.

“Yes,” the man gasps, and Jim tilts his head.

“Yes?”

“Yes, sir.”

Jim pats the top of the man’s hung head like a child clumsily petting a dog, and then wipes his palm on his waistcoat. He leaves without saying anything further to Sebastian; cosseted little weapon that he is, Jim takes it for granted that Sebastian will deal with the rest of the job, any clearing up, and the disposal of the doomed and bleeding man in the chair.

When he catches up with Jim hours later it’s in the bar of the hotel they’re staying in. He’s in a rare cheerful mood, which suggest that the information given to them has indeed lead somewhere, and that the wheels are back in motion.

“I love it when a plan comes together,” Jim says, and throws back a finger of whiskey as though it was water. Sebastian is not a man to turn away alcohol, or even Jim’s company when he’s wound down, and so joins him to celebrate a job well done.

Jim's eventually reaches the stage of drunk where he loses his inhibitions very slightly and loosens up, relaxing enough to order a fruity cocktail, something deep blue and lethal. It comes with a maraschino cherry on a stick and even a tiny purple paper umbrella, much to his consternation.

The ridiculous sight amuses Sebastian enough that he can’t disguise it, and Jim accepts his ribbing with an air of great martyrdom, chin lifted imperiously, long eyelashes lowered as he sucks the alcohol out of the cherry, full lips pursed around the fruit. Jim slants Sebastian a glance that makes his stomach contract uncomfortably, jolting him slightly out of his pleasant drunken haze as Jim sucks the cherry from the cocktail stick, but then he bites it off and chews it, plucking the umbrella from the glass and twirling it casually between his fingers, and Sebastian almost wonders if he imagined it.

They stay long after the rest of the hotel guests, until the foyer falls silent and the barman stands and polishes glasses pointedly. It’s late, and Sebastian is on chauffeur duty at an obscene time in the morning, and so he eventually calls it quits. They take the elevator up to their floor, to separate hotel rooms. Sebastian's used to him being strangely tactile; Jim has no qualms about leaning into him to point at things, or read messages close over his shoulder, and so he ignores the back of Jim's hand brushing against his leg as he leans against the mirrored wall of the lift.

The door to their floor opens with a gentle ping, and they both move forwards at the same time. Though Jim hardly has the broadest shoulders, especially in comparison to Sebastian, it causes them to collide briefly in the doorway. Sebastian turns to the side to slide through, but instead of stepping forwards Jim copies him. It brings their chests together and Jim raises a hand to skim across Sebastian's hip. He lifts his chin to look at Sebastian, eyelashes lowered, and his mouth curls at the corner. It's sinful, and full of intent, and Sebastian's mind short-circuits. He pushes away, back hitting painfully off of the open metal door of the lift, and Jim drops his hands quickly, an impassive mask falling into place over his face.

“I'll see you in the morning,” Sebastian says gruffly, stepping out and to the side.

“You will”, Jim replies, and there's something in Jim's lilting tones that makes Sebastian's skin prickle uncomfortably. There's a tension in the air that makes him suddenly angry, and he steps back further.

Jim watches him as he turns to walk away, head tilted, an unreadable smile slowly spreading across his face.

 

*

 

Weeks pass, and the wheels keep on turning save for the occasional blip. Said blips generally have nothing to do with the continued and smooth running of Jim’s business, but with the man himself.

Jim is in a black mood. He has them, sometimes, where he will do nothing but sit and stare with a hollow-eyed look which is frankly unnerving, as though something dark and endlessly intelligent is peering out from within him. Other times he won’t even drag himself out of bed, but will instead surround himself with paper that he scrawls on wildly, theorems and lines of numbers and letters that Sebastian has no hope of understanding, his hair wild, dark shadows below his eyes.

More recently, he turns to drugs to stave off the boredom, ingesting any chemical he can find, noting their effects. He rolls strong joints that make him relaxed and plaint, heavy-eyed, behaving more like an actual person than Sebastian has ever seen him do before. He hates it, though, his thought process made sluggish by the high, which pushes him on to bigger and harder things. LSD makes him hyper-focused, brain making leaps of logic, connections faster than his hands can move, ink smudging across the pages and his hands, his face when he brings his fingers up to rub tired eyes.

Tonight, though, whatever he’s taken runs through his veins like poison and he paces around on the black oak flooring like a caged animal, fingers twitching, angular limbs jerking, wild-eyed and vicious.

Sebastian really, really doesn’t appreciate giving up his Saturday night to look after his drug-addled boss. Jim didn’t ask him over; his pride would never allow it. Sebastian knew, though, by the sharp tone of his voice over the phone, and ensuring that Jim Moriarty doesn’t do something ridiculous while his blood crawls with chemicals is in the best interest of both himself and his bank account. It’s with a sense of dread that he reluctantly cancels his plans and makes his way to Jim’s flat. He’s familiar with the place, though he tries not to be. It’s too personal, too close to the man he works for. In the very beginning it was impossible to imagine Jim having a house, to picture him in casual clothing, doing normal people things in a kitchen, in a bathroom, in bed. Sebastian could only picture him in his familiar hyper-manic state, or perhaps powering down at night in some dark corner like a cyborg.

Jim looks surprised when he answers the door to Sebastian, black eyes widening before they quickly narrow suspiciously and he whirls away from him, leaving him to let himself in. Sighing heavily, Sebastian makes his way to the kitchen where he helps himself to a large glass of expensive red wine, plucking a small vegetable knife from one of the drawers to slice up the apple he rescues from Jim’s sadly empty fridge.

Jim is immediately on the attack. He seems unable to sit still, prowling irritably around the flat. He shoots Sebastian a dark look as he stalks up and down in front of the huge windows that make up the West facing wall of his flat, daring him to say something, challenging him. Sebastian won’t rise to the bait, however, and calmly sits in the middle of the large sofa. He manages to ignore Jim for a good while replying to text messages and emails on his phone from people that work for them, answering any comments Jim throws his way in an easy, low voice.

The calm cannot last, and after forty minutes, it breaks.

“Don’t you have anywhere else to be tonight?” Jim asks, rounding on him finally.

Eyebrows raised, eyes lowered and mouth down-turned, Sebastian shakes his head slowly as he slices the blade through the apple peel.

“Not out gambling away my hard earned money? No pretty little thing to fuck?” he bites the words out, and Sebastian calmly places the piece of apple in his mouth, chewing and swallowing before he answers.

“Nope.”

Jim huffs angrily, turning his face away as though Sebastian disgusts him. He doesn’t seem capable of remaining still, his blank eyes giving him the look of some reptilian predator preparing to attack.

“Why are you here?” he snaps, and Sebastian shrugs one shoulder, eyes still lowered, still concentrating on the apple.

His passivity does nothing to douse Jim’s anger but instead fuels it and he scoffs, spinning on his heels, hands twitching sharply, expressively.

“Are you that sad, Sebastian, really? Is this all you have in your life? A few dozen kills a year and then the rest of the time you sit around like the spoiled, pampered brat you are, twiddling your thumbs? Are you that lonely?”

“Not really.”

“We’re not friends, Moran,” he barks and Sebastian finally looks up at him. His eyes are completely black in the gloom, face blank as he watches him, expectant.

“I know.”

Jim’s eyes narrow and his lip curls as he sneers at Sebastian before he whirls away out of the room and up the stairs.

Sebastian doesn’t follow him. Jim has something to prove; he’ll be back.

When he is, he’s clutching a thick file, loose leafs of paper slipping from his grasp and floating to the ground behind him.

“Colonel Sebastian Moran,” he reads from a piece at random, and Sebastian raises his eyebrows.

“You have a file on me?”

“I have a file on everything,” Jim all but screams and Sebastian leans back, placing the apple core on the arm of the sofa and folding his arms. It’s telling of Jim’s state of mind that he doesn’t immediately tell him off for his mindless placement of rubbish.

“Do you know what’s curious?” he asks, voice suddenly low and deadly. “About your file, I mean. To be more specific: about your being discharged?”

Sebastian’s shoulders straighten and his eyes narrow.

“Don’t.”

Jim laughs unpleasantly, his demeanor switching quick as a light being flicked off.

“Come on, darling, indulge me.”

The off-hand use of the endearment makes Sebastian’s skin crawl, sets his teeth on edge, and though his number one rule when dealing with Jim is to not react, to never react, he can feel the hot flush of rage blooming through him. He says nothing.

“No? Well, I’ll tell you what’s interesting about it.”

He waits, poised, teeth bared in a vicious smile, his tongue brushing over the uneven line of his lower teeth.

“Nothing.”

It’s not what Sebastian expects. It isn’t something that puts him at ease, however, and he still doesn’t speak, his fingertips digging into his biceps, his entire body taut and humming with energy.

“Absolutely nothing.”

He drops the file and the papers scatter. Teeth still bared he steps towards Sebastian, walking straight over the coffee table between them and dropping down on the other side, leaning over him, eyes burning.

“You don’t even have an dishonourable discharge to your name and oh, honey, I bet that hurt. Nothing to show for your little rebellion. Oh, yes, you’re a crack shot, sure, but otherwise you’re mediocre in every single way. You either go out blazing or you stay put and you stagnate. Honourable’s nothing. Honourable’s boring.”

He spits the words out, sneering.

Boring.

It’s that word, that comment that stings Sebastian’s pride more than anything else. The easy dismissal of Sebastian’s military career (specifically his rather inglorious end), the moment he’s most ashamed of, has been something that they’ve never discussed. He doesn’t doubt that Jim has read about it, of course, as Jim researches people meticulously, but he’s never used it as a weapon as he is now. It’s as though he’s sliding his fingers into an open wound, pulling at the abused flesh, mouth curling in a sickening grin and it hurts, it makes Sebastian furious, yes, but-- Jim cannot tolerate boring. He pushes his body and mind to unhealthy limits to avoid it. It is the single worst thing Sebastian can be to him.

The anger that courses through him is white hot and it drives him to his feet before he can restrain himself. There’s an almost six inch height difference between the two of them and Jim tilts his head up to Sebastian as he rises, a cruel smile stretching across his mouth.

“Fuck you,” Sebastian bites out.

Jim cackles gleefully.

“No, really. Fuck you. You have no right.”

“I have every right.”

“Enough,” Sebastian warns, and it’s clear he’s lost this game by the way that Jim starts to laugh again, an ugly sound that spills out of him.

“This bothers you, doesn’t it?”

Sebastian snorts and shakes his head, and he walks away before he says something he regrets. Jim, however, follows him, sticking closely to him.

“No, no, let’s talk about it. Don’t bottle up your feelings, all that repression must be terribly unhealthy.”

Coming here was a mistake. Coming here is always a mistake, and it’s a lesson Sebastian should have learned by now. Jim is far too fond of himself to ever actually put himself at risk for no reason. All that Sebastian has done is give Jim exactly what he wanted, which was a convenient target to lash out at.

“You talk,” Sebastian bites out, “the biggest load of shit I have ever known.”

“It’s like a conversational minefield,” Jim admits a little breathlessly, still dogging Sebastian, “one little trip and, whoops, that’s it! Or maybe it’s just more like a mine, occasionally suffocating but you will find the odd diamond--”

“Shut up,” Sebastian snaps, exasperated. He’s leaving. Jim is clearly no danger to himself tonight, and Sebastian’s vast reserves of patience when it comes to dealing with Jim’s bullshit are rapidly running dry. He stops as Jim moves to stand in front of him, slanting a narrow eyed look at Sebastian.

“I read your books, you know. Bought them, even, so there I am again, contributing to your spending habits, providing you with pocket money; but I did read them. Three Months in the Jungle,” he says, drawing out the title, rolling it in his mouth so that the word ‘jungle’ becomes pitched before it plummets down to a bass rumble where it stays, tone flat and unimpressed, “very inspiring. I could feel my IQ dropping as I read it, actually feel it-- I thought it might be an interesting little peek into your psyche or something but no, no, it was nothing but a waste of my time.”

Sebastian is determined to not show that he’s riled and steps past him, but Jim reaches out and touches his wrist with cool fingers. Sebastian rounds on him, using his height to his advantage, and Jim pulls his hand back as though he’s been burned. He doesn’t shrink away, though, not intimidated in the slightest. Instead he’s still grinning, pleased with Sebastian’s irritable reaction. His mood changes so quickly it’s a wonder he doesn’t suffer from emotional whiplash, and he dances around Sebastian like an excitable puppy.

“You’re not leaving already?” he asks, and his eyes are bright, flashing slyly. “But we’ve barely even begun! To think we’ve been associates for so long and hardly even know eachother, now isn’t that a crime?”

Sebastian steps to the side, determined to rise above Jim’s psychotic ravings and leave, turn his back on this place and his boss before he really loses his cool. Jim steps directly in his path.

“Well that’s not strictly true, really; I know all about you, I really do. You saw that file. There’s one thing I’m curious about, though.”

Sebastian grits his teeth and glances down at him. Jim’s smile widens, compelling and psychotic in equal measures.

“What did Daddy say, when you were dismissed? Did you go crawling back to him? Did you bring shame upon your famil--”

Sebastian punches him.

It’s not the first time they’ve come to blows; Jim is so highly strung that his temper frequently explodes in often violent ways. Sebastian has learned first hand that the man hurls things with deadly accuracy, and that one of the better ways to deal with these tantrums is to ground him. Jim has lashed out at him before, Sebastian gripping his skinny wrists between his hands and grinding the fragile, delicate bones together until the frenzy fades from Jim’s eyes to be replaced by a look of indignation at his rough manhandling.

This time, however, Sebastian hits with the sole intention of hurting Jim. The cruel, petty smile on his face as he dances around Sebastian is like a red rag to a bull and he strikes out, catching Jim straight in the mouth. Despite losing his temper he still pulls his punch slightly, but it’s vicious enough that Jim’s lip splits, smearing wetly across his teeth. Jim’s head snaps to the side but he whips back around to stare at Sebastian as a dark bead of blood wells up from the cut. His tongue swipes over it and he blinks rapidly before he moves, stepping close. Sebastian draws himself up to his full height, fully prepared for Jim to throw a tantrum the likes of which he’s never seen before. The fever-bright psychosis has gone from Jim’s eyes, replaced by a calm intensity which makes Sebastian feel as though his very DNA is being examined as Jim steps even closer, knots his hands tightly in his shirt, drags him down and kisses him.

The shock courses through Sebastian’s veins, ice cold, and he can taste the iron tang of Jim’s blood as Jim bites at his lower lip with sharp teeth. Sebastian’s heartbeat throbs in his ears and his body pounds with adrenaline and suddenly he’s cupping Jim’s face roughly, tilting it up to him and opening his mouth, sliding their tongues together. Blood smears hot and sticky across Sebastian’s mouth, Jim’s facial hair unexpectedly coarse beneath his hands. The kiss is more like cruelty than affection as they bite at each other, and Jim’s hands drop down to Sebastian’s hips, fingers dipping just into the waistband of his trousers. Sebastian quickly grabs the left one and twists his wrist roughly. Jim makes a low noise in his throat and surges up against him, and the slight whimper is enough to send Sebastian reeling back, awareness of just what the fuck he’s doing flooding his mind. He pushes Jim away and releases his wrist as though the cool skin is suddenly scalding.

He doesn’t feel confused, or sick, or anything else that he might have thought he’d feel upon kissing another man, his boss, but instead the anger that fuelled him out of his seat is roiling up through him until he’s light headed. He’s used to coping with Jim’s mood swings and constant need to irritate him, but he is suddenly dangerously close to losing his temper in a way that he hasn’t for a long time. Jim stands about a foot away from him, expression serious, huge eyes darting over his face rapidly, touching his thumb, then his tongue, to the split in his lip repeatedly. He laughs, a noise that is more of a heavy exhalation of air than anything else, his smile widening once more. It’s not real amusement, not even at Sebastian’s expense, and it vanishes as quickly as it came, a brief look of honest confusion on his face before he starts laughing, ugly and false. There’s a shrill, wild edge to it that chases down Sebastian’s spine, but it’s the bewildered expression which creeps back that raises the fine hairs along Sebastian’s forearms.

They face each other like two gunslingers, Jim’s narrow chest rising and falling rapidly beneath his thin shirt, and as soon as it came the fury that pushed Sebastian out of his seat drains away.

“Go to bed,” he orders, voice firm and quiet. Jim’s watches him, eyes huge and dark, lips parted, and says nothing. “Drink some fucking water first.”

He doesn’t give Jim a chance to answer but turns on his heel and slams out of the flat. Jim doesn’t follow him.

They never speak of it.

 

*

 

One of Jim’s favourite foxholes is a flat in Brixton, situated on a street which looks like the London riots had hit it years before they even started. It’s above a shop which seems to sell nothing but chunky faux-gold jewellery and various knock-off watches and clothing, which is run by a young woman with the most impressive Croydon facelift Sebastian has ever seen, her hair pulled back so tightly that it smooths her skin unnaturally. The first time she sees him, she leers at him so blatantly that he feels a little violated. She soon realises he is wildly disinterested, and whenever he catches her eye now she purses her lips and sucks her teeth, head oscillating in a way that reminds him unnervingly of Jim, looking him up and down in a way that indicates clearly that she is unimpressed with his dismissal, and has no qualms with showing it.

The glass window has a bullet hole in the top right corner with long cracks spidering out from it, supported hopelessly by a thick sheet of cardboard taped across it. A flickering LED sign, hanging crooked in the corner, spills sickly green light across the pavement, which is littered with fag ends and papers. A set of sleek metal emergency exit stairs lead up to the flat, rickety and deadly in the rain. It is the the kind of place that Sebastian wouldn’t drive past willingly, let alone entertain the idea of spending time in, but the scarred and pitted handrail is familiar under his palm as he trudges up the steps to let himself in with his own key.

He finds Jim sitting cross-legged in the middle of the floor of the miniscule living room, surrounded by cables and three open laptops, bathed in the pale light from the screens. He glances up at Sebastian over the frames of a pair of glasses that he would never admit to needing under pain of torture, a momentary look of surprise crossing his face. He’s dressed down in a pair of plain grey suit trousers and a white t-shirt, which softens his edges and makes him look younger, harmless. He tilts his wrist towards himself, searching the face of his watch with tired eyes. He gives in after a moment and fumbles for his phone instead, fingers groping fruitlessly until at last, he asks Sebastian the time in a low, cracking voice that indicates he’s been silent for a long time.

“It’s gone three,” Sebastian replies. The air in the small flat is close, smoke tinged, and so he digs his fingers under the rattling wooden window frame, hoisting it open. The movement startles two pigeons, nestled among the spikes designed specifically to keep the pigeons away, off of the window ledge. Even at this time in the morning there are people out, and Sebastian watches a couple stroll by with a pushchair.

“Nah, I ain’t going to jail for that bitch,” the man says, his voice floating up through the cool night air.

The screeched response (“Don’t fucking talk like that in front of the baby!”) echoes through the empty street, and Sebastian pulls his head back through the frame, turning back into the flat.

“You’re late,” Jim accuses, eyebrows lowered.

“I’ve been stuck in Clapham,” Sebastian replies, picking his way through the debris surrounding Jim. Something crunches beneath his heel and he cringes, expecting to fish up the remains of some expensive piece of technology. Instead, he lifts a crushed Red Bull can.

“Clapham,” Jim mutters under his breath, pushing his fingers beneath the frames of his glasses and rubbing roughly at his eyes before dragging them down his face. “There’s nothing in Clapham.”

“They have a lovely junction,” Sebastian says mildly. “Jewel of the crown, and all that.”

Jim makes a doubtful sound in response. Sebastian flicks on a light in the tiny kitchen that adjoins the living room and powers up the coffee maker, one of the only things he’s bothered to actually furnish the flat with. He makes two cups, both black, one with three heaped spoonfuls of sugar, which he passes to Jim. Pushing aside stacked files and books, Sebastian sinks into the middle of the collapsed old sofa, knees raised high and feet close together to avoid trampling on Jim. Jim cradles the cup between his hands, seeming to enjoy the warmth more than the actual coffee. He doesn’t speak and Sebastian bides his time. Jim oscillates wildly between almost unbearable chattiness to long, sullen silences that must be waited out in order to avoid a furious explosion. He speaks eventually, planting his palm on the floor and using it to push himself around until he sits facing Sebastian.

“I’ve been thinking.”

“Careful,” Sebastian murmurs over the rim of his cup.

Jim ignores the jibe.

“I have a plan: I’m going to make Sherlock Holmes kill himself.”

The topic of Sherlock Holmes’ demise is not something new to Sebastian, but the machinations of his suicide is a new one to him. Sitting at Sebastian’s feet, Jim looks up at him, wide eyes unreadable in the darkness.

“And if he doesn’t,” he continues, “I’m going to kill everyone he cares about until he does.”

Sebastian pauses.

“Walk me through this one.”

Jim sighs.

“It’s time to wrap up this little narrative, this game of ours.”

“So you’re going to--

“Give him a bit of encouragement. Help him flourish. A little...” he pauses and lazily flicks the fingers of his left hand in a way that Sebastian supposes means something, but fails to find significance in, “push.”

“And how do you plan to do that?”

“I already told him; “if you don’t stop prying, I’ll burn you”. And I will. Starting with that detective.”

He spits the word, disdain clear in his voice.

“Followed by his darling little landlady (isn’t she adorable?). And then, of course--”

“Watson,” Sebastian interrupts. Jim smiles a little dreamily, eyelashes lowered.

“I don’t need to tell you how this story ends. All of Sherlock’s friends-- all of them, all three, isn’t that sad?-- dead, unless he does exactly as I say.”

Sebastian carefully does not point out that Sherlock’s miniscule circle of friends outnumbers Jim’s own.

“It’s a means to an end,” Jim continues, and he sounds almost fatherly. “I’ve had my fun with Sherlock; the games and the clues, the taunts, the whole shebang. But with the brother, and the dominatrix, it’s getting a little crowded on this playing board. I’m tired of this game.”

He looks tired. Jim’s never been the kind of man that Sebastian would describe as ‘mentally stable’, but he looks even more wild-eyed than usual, as though he’s fraying at the edges.

“And what,” Sebastian asks, “do you want me to do?”

A small smile plays across Jim’s mouth, almost coy.

“I want you to take care of it. Of him.”

Sebastian doesn’t need to ask the question, but this is Jim’s game, and so he plays it to his rules.

“Who?”

“John Watson,” Jim murmurs. “Because John Watson is important to Sherlock...”

The ‘and you are important to me’ stands between them, unsaid, and Sebastian immediately feels ridiculous for even thinking it, wonders if he’s being wildly presumptuous. It’s a confusing state of mind to be stuck in, trying to constantly unravel the layers of meaning in the things that Jim says, in the things he doesn’t say.

“...and you’re the best I have.”

It isn’t a compliment, not really- Sebastian can recognise that much. Yes, Sebastian is the best that Jim has; he’s incredibly good at what he does, helps keep Jim centred and focused, but he’s not John Watson. For all their similarities, Sherlock Holmes is not quite like Jim. The close friendship that he’s forged with Watson is something that Jim looks on with contempt and, though he’d never quite admit it, jealousy. Though also far too clever for his own good, Holmes has a spark of humanity, a way of caring about him that Jim lacks. He can be human enough, Sebastian has certainly seen that side of him; but actual, genuine emotion seems just out of his grasp. His fingers brush it occasionally, leaving him brittle tempered, irritable, but as for being able to cultivate an actual friendship? Of the many people that Jim associates with, as far as Sebastian can tell he is the only one to interact with him outside of business deals. If Jim has someone he truly cares about, it’s a secret he’s kept tightly guarded from Sebastian.

The fact of the matter is that John Watson complements Sherlock Holmes in a way that Sebastian can never complement Jim. Jim is too proud, too distant, too alien to get close to. His intelligence seems to be a barrier, his constant scramble for stimulation leaving no space for other people.

Still, Sebastian can’t deny the parallels between the pair of them; two geniuses, both with ex-military support, both obsessed with riddles and games above all else. Sometimes, he finds himself wondering if Holmes and Watson have ever fucked. He wonders if Holmes, in a frenzy, has ever whirled on Watson the way that Jim did to him. That’s the difference, he thinks; with this thing between them, ugly and unspoken, they’re never going to be easy, to be friends; they don’t have that lifestyle, that luxury.

Jim and Sebastian are like two magnets, caught in an irresistible pull towards each other while simultaneously repelling each other.

Jim’s scowling at loose sheets of paper spread out across the floor, dark thoughts behind his eyes, and Sebastian can feel the storm brewing.

He waits.

“What is it,” Jim snaps suddenly, slamming his hands down on the documents, fingers splayed over columns of numbers.

Sebastian’s heart leaps at the sudden explosion, but he does not flinch. He glances over to Jim who stares at the floor as though he can burn a hole in it if he only thinks hard enough. After a moment, Jim looks up.

“Ordinary little man. Ordinary little men,” he spits, eyes narrowed ferociously, and somehow Sebastian feels he’s included in that. “It shouldn’t matter.”

Sebastian doesn’t answer. Instead, he pushes himself up from the sofa and carries his partially drunk coffee to the kitchen. Jim watches him go. On his return to the living room he stands, back straight, hands folded behind his back as he waits for further instruction. After a long moment, Jim drops his eyes, wetting his lower lip before he speaks. His voice is strangely halted.

“I want you to set up near Barts. There’s a maintenance stairwell that you should find suitable. Or not, it doesn’t matter to me, not as long as you do what you’re supposed to do.”

“I always do,” Sebastian replies quietly, and Jim opens his mouth to reply, but says nothing for a long moment. Eventually, he looks back up, and the storm that was threatening earlier is gone from his expression, leaving a blank, cold look in its place.

“Why are you still here?” he asks instead. It feels important to answer the flippant question well. Sebastian’s instincts are incredibly well honed and though he can’t put his finger on why, the air suddenly feels thick and cloying with tension, a moment balanced on the precipice of something unknown. He holds Jim’s gaze until the other man’s thin eyebrows lower in a silent gesture of irritation.

“Don’t do anything too reckless,” he says instead, quiet.

It will, as ever, fall on deaf ears.

 

*

 

Towards the end of January, Jim goes missing for just under two months. Sebastian is very good at finding men who do not want to be found, but it’s as though Jim completely drops off the radar. It’s something he does, occasionally; he’ll fall silent for a few days and then reappear, barking at Sebastian for not making decisions in his stead, decisions which he would have been equally annoyed about had Sebastian actually made them. This time, though, days turn into weeks, slowly into months, and Sebastian hears nothing. He’s careful to not let anyone else get wind of the fact that Jim is missing, scrambling to keep a hold of the fragile threads that Jim weaves so delicately. Things aren’t quite as elegant, but he scrapes through; he’s not like Jim, finding art in the mathematics, the engineering of the crime, but he is a soldier, and he is capable and competent, more than able to keep the wheels turning.

He’s surprised, one morning, by a phone call. Jim’s voice on the other end sounds light and breezy, as though he’s been gone for less than a day and is waiting to be ferried around from a meeting. Sebastian is surprised at the relief that floods through him, dizzying him. The weight of Jim’s organisation had rested heavily on his shoulders; despite calling himself a consulting criminal, Jim’s job in the firm mostly involve the direction of other people and the juggling of accounts, making him more of an incredibly dangerous and well connected accountant than anything else. Sebastian is not a man born to run accounts, no matter how dangerous they are.

He drops what he’s doing immediately and heads to his car, a completely unremarkable and forgettable black Ford Focus that blends in perfectly with the rest of the London traffic. The address Jim gives him is
about a thirty minute drive across town from Sebastian’s Mayfair apartment, almost forty five with the traffic. The delay makes him irritable, and he drums his fingers irritably on the steering wheel as he turns into the unremarkable street that Jim’s waiting on.

He stands, almost insouciant, hands in his pockets, as nonchalant as if he is waiting in the street for a bus. Even if he hadn’t been missing for two months, it’s clear something is not quite right; the building seems innocuous, but the man stood not two metres away from Jim is government issue clear as day, and watches Jim like a hawk. The real tip-off, however, is the fact that Jim is dressed in loose grey jogging bottoms and a plain white t-shirt. He’s even, bizarrely, missing shoes. As Sebastian pulls alongside him, he gives the watching guard a cheery, almost coquettish wave before climbing into the car. Once hidden behind the closed door and tinted glass, his eyes fall shut momentarily, and he exhales. Sebastian watches him in the rearview mirror. His eyes are underscored with even darker circles than usual and would give his pale face an almost skull-like appearance were in not for the dark, scruffy stubble across his jaw. His hair, usually immaculate, is longer than he normally keeps it, messy and unclean. There is a distinct smell of old, stale sweat, and Sebastian discretely winds the front window down as he pulls away from the kerb. He glances at Jim repeatedly in the rearview mirror.

“Well”? he asks, after a long silence.

“I’ve been enjoying Mycroft Holmes’ famed hospitality.” He pauses. “He’s not quite as hospitable as you may think.”

Immediately, Sebastian understands. He’s a man who has seen warfare, and that warfare included the handling of detainees. The white t-shirt, the grey, shapeless trousers- stripping a prisoner of his or her own clothing is a quick, simple way to strip them of their own identity. It’s not something that would work on Jim, he thinks, and surely Mycroft Holmes would have understood that. It’s an intimidation technique, perhaps; Jim would understand what was happening, anticipate what may be to come, and therefore may break sooner. He says nothing else during the drive home, his hands cradled in his lap, head hung low as he breathes, slow and even.

That in itself is worrying. Jim’s silences are usually either sullen or scheming, not delicate like this one feels.

Sebastian follows him as he leaves the car when he parks it near Jim’s flat, treading barefoot through the reception of the building he lives in, into the lift and through the long corridor that leads down to his penthouse flat. As soon as he passes through the doorway he peels the old, sweat stained t-shirt over his head and drops it to the floor. Sebastian is no stranger to male nudity after serving in the military, but seeing Jim strip down makes him acutely uncomfortable. His back is pale, his starkly pronounced ribs mottled with pale, almost healed bruising. He’s always been thin but the long line of his spine is more defined than usual, shoulder blades brittle and pointed looking, the bones at the nape of his neck sharp beneath the too-long hair that curls there. Sebastian does not follow him as he heads upstairs, presumably to shower, but instead potters aimlessly around the flat. He’s reluctant to leave; as second in command, ensuring that Jim doesn’t die of an internal injury that he’s masking is an important task. Instead, he submits to his English instinct: he puts the kettle on.

To make up for the lack of any real sustenance in Jim’s flat he adds several sugars to the strong coffee he makes for him, figuring at least that will pep him up somewhat. When Jim comes back down he’s clean shaven and fresh smelling, and makes a beeline for the coffee. He’s careful when he picks up the mug, hands trembling almost imperceptibly, and then puts it down again as he roughly yanks a draw open and pulls out a pair of scissors, which he hands to Sebastian.

“Cut it.”

When Sebastian doesn’t immediately reply he thrusts the scissors closer to his face, shaking them.

“My hair. Cut it.”

Sebastian frowns.

“Do I look like Trevor fucking Sorbie?”

“I don’t care. It’s temporary. It’ll do.”

Jim narrows his eyes and turns around, pulling a tall chair out from under the breakfast bar, and Sebastian rolls his eyes at his back. Once seated, he reaches again for the coffee cup, and Sebastian catches sight of his hands as he carefully cradles the mug. The skin of his palms is pink, newly healed, but bears tell-tale signs of recent damage. Sebastian recognises that. Maybe two, three weeks ago, the skin would have been raw, broken and cracked due to a high voltage charge being passed through it. Sebastian lifts the scissors and cuts away a lock of damp hair from the nape of his neck.

“That a souvenir of Holmes’ hospitality?” he asks easily as he continues cutting, attempting to make the line of his boss’ hair somewhat even. Jim puts the cup down and turns his hands over, palms up, fingers curled inwards. His nails are bitten down to the quick, the one odd habit that he is unable to shake, at odds with his pristine image. He hums.

“I’ve seen that before,” Sebastian continues lightly, “on prisoners in Afghanistan. Mind you, it wasn’t usually the hands that were burned.”

Jim’s head turns slightly.

“If you’re trying to discreetly ask me if Mycroft Holmes shocked my bollocks, Moran, no, he did not.”

That Jim doesn’t deny what Sebastian is referring to confirms his thoughts; Jim was tortured. The fact that the British government condones torture is no surprise to him, as both a soldier and the son of a diplomat, but he is a little surprised that such a thing would happen to Jim. Jim is above everything. He has a hand in organising murder, forgeries, blackmailing, relocating criminals and good men alike, and thousand other petty crimes, but he is above all of it. For him to be dragged down into the seedy, seething underbelly, to be toppled from his untouchable pedestal by the brother of Sherlock Holmes of all people, makes something in Sebastian’s chest clench. He wonders what else they did; the washed out old bruises on his ribs are no doubt the remnants of repeated carefully aimed strikes with an elbow. Deprivation is an old trick- deprivation of light, food, sleep- he wonders if they kept him awake with constant loud pornography, a move he’d seen used on insurgents in Afghanistan.

“I think he wanted to keep things a little civil between us,” Jim continues, and he sounds wry. “I think our careful veneer of respect would crack if he saw me uncontrollably pissing myself.”

Sebastian says nothing, but carefully cuts the hair around the curve of Jim’s ear.

“No, it’s a game. It always is, with those two. Oh, he likes to think he’s above it, the Ice Man, but he can’t help himself. It was everything I could have expected; textbook British torture,” he says, adopting a stiff English accent for the last few words, shaking his head. Sebastian holds him still.

“You need to be more careful,” he says, and Jim scoffs.

“Careful? This was no warning, Moran; this was Mycroft Holmes extending his feelers. He thinks he has a grasp of me. I gave him exactly what he expected.”

“Which was?”

Jim’s thin shoulders shake as he laughs.

“Madness.”

Sebastian, again, doesn’t speak.

“Besides,” Jim says airily, “I got what I wanted out of it.”

“What, exactly, was that?” Sebastian asks, voice tight.

Jim doesn’t reply, but he smooths the fingertips of his right hand over the still healing skin on his left palm.

“You should leave now,” he murmurs, already having lost interested in the conversation at hand. “I have things I need to do.”

Sebastian knows his place and does not argue, but puts the scissors down on the side, not without force. If Jim notices the irritation with which Sebastian slams them down, he doesn’t acknowledge it.

“You want to pay Mycroft Holmes some more respect,” he warns Jim stiffly as he goes to leave. Jim, running his hands across the back of his roughly shorn hair, turns to look at him with narrowed eyes. “Don’t underestimate him.”

“Underestimate him?” Jim hisses. “You think you know the Holmes brothers better than I do?”

Sebastian stands his ground stubbornly.

“I’m not saying that. Don’t think you’re God, Jim. You’re not untouchable.”

It’s crossing a line, and Sebastian can admit it is. Jim realises it, too, because he rounds on him, drawing himself up, spitting like an angry cat.

“You think I don’t know that? Greatness is expected of Gods; I’m just one man and I can shake the world. Don’t belittle what I do.”

Jim’s eyes are crazed, wild hair accentuating his madness, and Sebastian immediately stands down. There’s no point in this fight. Telling Jim to be careful is like telling a curious child not to put his hand into a fire; it’s something he’ll push until finally he feels that burn for himself. Sebastian wonders if he has, if this experience was the tipping point. He doesn’t voice it.

“Yes, boss,” he replies instead.

“Get out,” Jim snaps, and Sebastian crosses the black oak flooring to the front door. As he pulls the heavy door shut behind him, he’s halted by Jim’s voice once more.

“Things are changing, Moran,” he calls in a low voice. “Be ready.”

And he is.

 

*

 

Sebastian still dreams of him, sometimes.

When he does, Jim is pale and drawn looking, but animated, hands working expressively as he speaks. Sebastian can’t hear him; he’s distracted by the rush of blood that runs from Jim’s mouth, colours his teeth, stains vivid, quickly spreading circles on his sharply pressed white shirt. The blood blackens as it flows, full clots clinging to his chin and collar, slurring his voice so that Sebastian can’t understand what he’s saying. The blood begins to pour from his nose, too, thick, gory bubbles blooming when he exhales. He begins to laugh, gurgling, choking on the viscous fluid that’s flooding from his mouth, and when Sebastian wakes up, he’s always sweating, and his heart pounds erratically, beating like a broken clock in the dark, but he isn’t frightened.

He doesn’t feel a traditional sense of loss, and he doesn’t mourn.

Instead, he dismantles his rifle and cleans it thoroughly before methodically reassembling it and setting it neatly in its case.

He takes up Jim’s mantle, both in the continued running of his business and the compulsive search for Sherlock Holmes. In Jim’s position, he hears a lot of whispers. He notes down and chases up every whispered rumour that he hears, no matter how absurd. After years of dead ends and infuriating look-a-likes, he finally receives a tip-off that leads somewhere. He sees the man for himself, and, finally, the end is near.

The thrill of the chase is something Sebastian feels intimately. He is a hunter, willing to wait for years for the perfect kill. He has done.

But setting up in the empty house, above a rock and roll memorabilia shop on Baker Street, he is filled with the sense of calm that comes with the satisfaction of finally having cornered his prey. He sets up the rifle and slides an 8.59mm bullet covered with James Moriarty’s fingerprints into the top of the clip which he then slides into the chamber, saved for someone special as promised. As he watches the silhouette of Sherlock Holmes move in the opposite windows, he thinks Jim would approve of his choice.

Sebastian exhales, and his finger tightens on the trigger.