That was all.
No impatience, no expectation, no anxiety.
No anything. Not now. Not anymore.
He was very good at waiting.
He stood at the bottom of the stairwell and he simply was. Without thinking about it, he fell into parade rest with his shoulders and hands against the cool of the wall, and his eyes sank to half-closed as he listened for his cue.
It wouldn’t be too much longer. Jim was across the street and up on the roof. Holmes was up there with him. Last, and hardly least, John Watson was in a cab on his way back to the hospital from Baker Street.
He did not dwell on any of this, or what it meant, or what would happen next. In a few minutes, everything would change, but until then there was only now.
The feed from his earpiece told him Jim was nearing the end of his game with Holmes. Strange, but for once it was easy not to be pulled in by Jim’s theatrics. Normally, even a corrupted and static-filled recording of Jim’s voice would have made the man all too present even in his absence, but all he saw in front of him now was the dusty half-light of his chosen hunting blind.
The sound of Jim’s madness was comfortably familiar, even soothing in its own way, especially with Holmes’ distant baritone grounding Jim’s wilder flights. The words coming through the earpiece soon became just another part of the stillness around him. Inside him.
The stairwell was a good place; he had chosen well. His dark clothes and the bulk of the rifle case by his feet may have stood out starkly against the pale walls, but he wore the quiet of the place like camouflage. Nothing moved, not even him.
The only problem with the stillness, with the quiet, was that eventually he thought he could hear whispers from something that had not spoken for years. It was a ghost, a thrumming echo of what had been, stirred up by Jim’s hints and promises of what would be.
He supposed that was to be expected, really. Jim had always been brilliant at getting to people’s hearts. Even ones that had been burned away to a smear of ash.
There was nothing to do now but listen, and wait, and try to silence the ghost of want that had been awakened inside.
Jim’s last words weren’t ones he would remember particularly well, afterwards. He hadn’t expected that.
“Good luck with that.”
Holmes shouted in alarm and denial, and that was all the warning he got before the gunshot ripped through his earpiece. He clenched his jaw against a hiss of pain. The gun had gone off just inches from Jim’s wire.
Jim probably did that on purpose, he mused, rubbing at his ear. Later, he would wonder briefly if it was supposed to mean something, or if it was merely one last, spiteful flourish. It could have been either, with Jim.
Even with his ear still ringing, he had registered the fainter, duller impact that immediately followed the gunshot. He knew what it meant, and he smiled softly as the earpiece crackled back to life to confirm his assumption.
“What the fuck? The boss fucking shot himself! In the mouth! What the fuck are we supposed to do now?” Sutton sounded close to tears.
Long ago, the person he used to be might have grieved, might have been horrified at Jim’s death. If he felt any kind of grief now (nothing more than an echo, a twin to the ghostly want), it was for the man who had once been able to feel those things.
He suppressed the echo along with a sigh, and thumbed the ‘talk’ button. “Yes, Mr. Moriarty is down. I’m in command, now,” he said as if soothing a frightened child. “You saw exactly what you were meant to see, Sutton—now get back to spotting. Tell me when Holmes jumps.”
When, he reminded himself. Not if. Jim had planned this too well for ‘if’. And afterwards...
No. Later. Your time has not yet come. Patience.
Patience. Remember what you are.
It was time for Jim’s true end game to begin. He headed up to the window he had selected earlier—it had a broad, flat sill and a good view of the road behind Barts, with only a very few places where his shot might be obstructed—and settled in with plenty of time to spare.
Then, with the same gentle calm as before, and betraying nothing of the ghosts growing louder and louder in his mind: “The countdown starts now. Get me status on the targets.”
He opened the rifle case and checked each part thoroughly while waiting for Sutton’s report.
Sutton came back on the line much too soon. “Status on the... uh, we’re still on, Colonel?”
This time, he allowed the sigh. “Yes, we’re still on, Sutton. Nothing has changed,” he said, and he heard the other man’s breathing settle at the steadiness of his voice. “Keep your eyes on Holmes and on Mr. Moriarty.”
There was a soft ah! from Sutton, just as expected. Given everything else Jim had pulled off over the past several weeks, it wouldn’t take long for his people to start speculating about whether he was really dead or if he had fooled them all brilliantly once more.
As for him, at least he now knew what Jim had been going on about when he had joked about ‘radical brain surgery’ that morning. He never did quite get Jim’s sense of humor.
“Now—don’t make me ask you again, Sutton.” He listened to the report, and the thrumming want faded back to white noise as his hands assembled John Watson’s death piece by piece, each precise movement as mindful and reverent as a prayer.
According to Sutton, Lestrade was in his office frantically trying to do damage control. Detective Constable McAllister was ready to go in there at a moment’s notice to ‘talk’ with him, silenced pistol in hand. Mac’s chances of getting away afterwards were worse than slim, but then he always did get off on the risky jobs. The look that had bloomed on Mac’s face when Jim told him he was supposed to (would get to Jim had put it, clapping his hands together in glee) kill a cop in a building full of his fellow cops was obscene.
Hudson was still at home, and had just fixed Erskine a nice cup of tea. No doubt Erskine had thanked her politely, and probably even volunteered to fix the creaky step in the front hall before he left. Erskine was good about such things, but he was also very, very good at his real job.
As for Watson, several minutes ago he had taken off from Baker Street as if all his nightmares had taken on flesh to run him to ground.
“We’ve just verified he’s nearly at Barts, sir,” Sutton told him.
“Understood.” Even as Sutton spoke, a black cab pulled up just below his window. There had been a slight chance Watson would have asked to be dropped off around the corner and closer to the main entrance, but so far everything had been proceeding as he and Jim had projected.
Even from behind and without the scope, he recognized Watson at once.
His control broke for a moment, and his hand trembled slightly as he pulled his medallion from under his shirt and pressed it to his lips. He tasted metal and blood.
Guide my aim.
When he lifted the rifle to his shoulder, his hands were perfectly steady.
“We got someone on him over there, right?” Sutton asked. The man really should do something about that chronic worrying. It couldn’t be pleasant, going through life like that.
“Keep your eye on Holmes. Don’t concern yourself with Watson.” The cross-hairs of his scope were fixed to the back of his prey’s head as if they had been nailed there. He felt a rare grin pull at his mouth. “He’s covered.”
There was a second shooter assigned to Watson in the unlikely event Watson managed to get inside the hospital before Holmes killed himself. Then there was Erskine. If Watson had happened to still be at Baker Street when the call came in, Erskine was to shoot Watson first, the old lady second.
When they had been reviewing the final details last night and making sure they had all contingencies covered, Jim had declared it would be infinitely funnier if Watson had to watch his adored landlady be murdered right in front of him. He had been so taken by the idea, it took nearly fifteen minutes to make him see reason and that if Watson wasn’t put down first, Erskine was a dead man and the whole end game could fall to pieces just like that. Jim had scowled and stomped around their hotel room in a dressing gown he had stolen from Baker Street, looking both ridiculous and dangerous as he nearly trod on the hem. He came very close to pitching one of his tantrums, but at last he grudgingly agreed that yes, yes, fine, Watson could be a cold and ruthless bastard when he needed to be, and that made him dangerous.
“You’re right, mein oberst, you are absolutely right, but do you know what really makes him dangerous?” He grinned. “Go on, guess.” Jim’s childish sing-song whipped straight into spitting and shouting. It may have been his imagination, but these shifts seemed to be happening more and more as Jim got closer to the end.
“I have no idea.” He could have listed dozens of reasons, but he knew when Jim wanted an audience, not an answer.
“Sherlock makes him dangerous,” Jim snarled. “Our darling little Johnny would do anything, yes, anything for Sherlock. Even tear out his own soul.”
He very deliberately said nothing at all in reply to that.
Jim paused for a minute, then came up close to him—the kind of close that was meant to be uncomfortable, but he was well used to it by then—and tilted his head to look straight up at him with those mad, dark eyes.
“And would you do anything for meeee?” What started as a harsh whisper skirled up to a pleading, childish squeak.
“No,” he’d said simply.
Jim’s face hardened at that, and he eased back in a manner that wasn’t so much retreat as gathering to strike. He waited patiently as Jim studied him. That diamond-sharp gaze raked him up and down, leaving nothing unseen or unravaged. But that was fine. There was nothing left he cared to hide. Not anymore. Everything non-essential had been burned away years ago. He had nearly died, he should have died, but by some strange mercy, he hadn’t. Instead of dying, he had been refined. Refined and tempered. And then Jim had found him and shown him how he could use what he had become.
Jim’s face and voice went soft. Gentle. Dangerous.
“No. No, not anything. There’s always been a part of you I just can’t seem to bend.” Jim being quiet and dreamy always came far closer to scaring him than Jim shouting or being cheerfully manic ever could. Words gave way to a languorous sigh as Jim reached out to run a finger over his shirt, serpentining down from his collar to where his medallion lay beneath the cloth. Jim smiled, then pressed down hard against the medallion’s edge, brutally grinding metal against bone. “Oh, I could always just break you,” he growled, “but that would only be fun for a few minutes. But you simply won’t bend, and you know, there are times I really hate that about you. Although...”
Jim pulled his hand away, but it immediately returned to caress the same spot he had been abusing a second before.
“You’ll do this for me, won’t you?” It almost sounded loving.
“Of course.” There was no question he would. His chest stung and he felt warm wetness soak into his shirt where Jim stroked the cloth—Jim had pushed hard enough against his medallion to break skin. He idly wondered if it was an accident or just another one of Jim’s attempts to claim him, to brand him. It didn’t really matter either way.
“Yes. Yes. That’s right.” Jim clutched his arms as if to pull him into an embrace, and nodded fiercely. “You will. I know you will.”
The calm and kindness in Jim’s voice was clearly meant as a mockery, but he let it slide right off.
“You’ll be the one who shoots John Watson if Sherlock doesn’t jump.” Jim laughed. “You’ll do that for me, won’t you—Sebastian?”
Everything about that question was a deliberate reminder of just how much James Moriarty had done for him.
“Yes,” he promised. If Jim had not been pinning his arms to his sides, he might have raised his hand to cover the new wound over his heart.
In so many ways, he owed Jim everything.
In so many others, he owed Jim exactly nothing.
“Then you’ll...” Jim smiled and dug his fingers in hard enough to leave bruises, but he didn’t flinch. Jim’s smile carried a million meanings, none of them sincere. “You’ll carry on afterwards. For me,” he breathed.
That was when he finally believed Jim truly had no intention of surviving this. Jim had plainly said he didn’t over and over since his trial, but that was only knowledge, not true understanding. Looking back, he could now see how Jim had been hinting at it for months.
Now, Jim was dead, and his death meant Holmes’. James Moriarty had gone out near the very top of his game, knowing that he had won, knowing that his death had finally given him complete control of the man he saw as his other self—had finally and irrevocably made Sherlock Holmes his—and he had died a happy man.
Did you know what would finally make me happy? What I wanted? Did you ever figure out what would ‘fix it’ for me, Jim? Or did you already know it—all of it—when you sought me out and dragged me back into the light?
Now, as he watched Watson standing dumbstruck on the pavement with his phone pressed to his ear and looking up in growing horror at what Jim had wrought, he started to think that perhaps Jim had known.
In less than a minute, there would be another death. One way or another. He told himself it didn’t matter how it played out, but he kept the cross-hairs centered on Watson’s head, and before he knew what he was doing he had put enough pressure on the trigger that simply thinking about firing would release the bullet and spray the little fuck’s blood and brains and shattered bits of skull all over the pavement, and...
Jim’s dead, but his game isn’t over. Not yet. This isn’t what you want. Not really. Jim knew that.
He quieted himself out of old habit. Muscles relaxed, teeth unclenched, and he deliberately eased the pressure on the trigger. He released his near-loss of control in one long breath. He set aside desire and took himself back to a place of nothingness that was echoed in the hush and dust-light of the stairwell. The ghosts were gone and the echoes had stilled. He was himself again.
The earpiece crackled, breaking the quiet with a gasp. If it had come through a few seconds earlier, it might have jolted him into firing. “Fuck me, he’s done it,” Sutton whispered with something like awe. “Holmes jumped. He really jumped.”
Of course he had. Jim had said he would. Jim knew.
After a little thought, he slid his finger off the trigger and reached up to his earpiece. The cross-hairs remained centered right where they were even though only one hand was on the rifle and the stock dug uncomfortably into his shoulder.
“Stop the countdown. Call off the shooters. The operation’s over, and we’ll reconvene as agreed. You know the time and place.”
He switched off the earpiece before Sutton could respond. Even though he himself was one of the dogs he had just called off, he kept the scope fixed on Watson’s head as the man rushed to his friend’s side. He even kept his aim when Watson tangled with a bicycle and hit the tarmac, and when Watson stood up, the look of sheer anguish he saw through the scope was enough to knock the breath from him.
Rapt, he followed Watson all the way to Holmes’ body, watching how grief and horror piled years and years on the man as the consequences of abandoning Holmes in his moment of need struck home exquisitely hard. He did lose track of Watson for a few seconds in the confusion surrounding Holmes, but he kept his sights right where they were, and he waited for his prey to break cover.
Eventually Watson was in view again, cross-hairs right where they should be. He held his aim for just a moment longer even though his finger had not been on the trigger since he had reached up to switch off the earpiece. He watched, he considered, and at last he lowered the rifle and contemplated everything he had just seen.
Holmes’ fall. Watson’s confusion and grief. The astonishing swiftness and efficiency of the response from within the hospital, and the way Watson had been deftly—no, surgically—removed from the crowd around his friend’s corpse.
Watson had looked so perfectly alone, then. Alone. Abandoned. Betrayed.
If he fired now, Watson would greet the bullet to his head as sweet mercy.
Of course, he had no intention of firing. None at all.
For several minutes he just sat in the hush of the stairwell and stared out the window as if he were in a gallery looking at a masterpiece, absorbing it until it became his whole world.
It wasn’t a bad analogy. Not bad at all.
Jim was the most brilliant artist he had ever known. A true genius.
When he had finally seen enough, he clutched his medallion and bowed his head in thanks and remembrance. Then, he turned away. He had quite a bit of work to do in the next few hours, but he disassembled his rifle as mindfully as always, not wanting to squander a moment of the peace that still lingered.
Everything was as it should be. Even the doubt that had been raised in the immediate aftermath of the fall was perfect. He had no doubt Jim had known it would be.
Now that his rifle was packed away, he had to get to Jim. Next, he would personally see to Sutton and the three other pawns left on the board—but not before gently encouraging Sutton to remember exactly what he had seen when Holmes jumped.
Perhaps he had been given the opportunity to create a masterpiece to rival Jim’s. It would be a masterpiece that was truly his and his alone, but he would wait to think about that until after he had heard Sutton’s story.
He had waited years, after all. He could wait a while longer if that was what was needed, if it meant getting what he truly wanted.
After all, he was very good at waiting.