Sebastian Moran has money, and he has his own skin and muscle. He has a rifle, a knife, a tiger's tooth around his neck. He has an overwhelming, painfully all-consuming need to forget. Beyond this, he has nothing. So he sets out to get more. To take anything he can. He uses what he has: the money, mostly, because he's alone now and can no longer expect to get away with whatever he wants. He buys cigarettes and sex and drugs he's never tried before. He buys enough alcohol to cut out large pieces of his life and fling them into the ocean (into the water dripping from the dirty walls). He buys himself out of sticky situations and into cheap motel rooms. He's in a pit he can't claw out of, so he digs deeper and deeper. He finds himself on rooftops with no memory of getting there, staring over the edge for God knows how long. He takes his gun apart and puts it back together to calm himself down. He kills pigeons and stray cats because he can. He runs through London until he feels like he's dying.
Eventually, Sebastian runs out of money. There is a length of time that feels like forever during which his body revolts against the sudden lack of everything it needs and everything it is accustomed to having. Sebastian sleeps for a good eighteen hours in what used to be a shop, and uses what little cash he has left on some decent food. His desire to forget begins to drain away, and he suddenly misses Jim (his old life, his whole life) with a horrible intensity. It strikes him then that he truly has nowhere to go. He needs to find somewhere else, somewhere new, that much is clear. His skin is crawling, and he's overwhelmed by anger with a world that has nothing left to give him. He keeps running. It's his job.
A short guide to falling: You jump, first. Then you hit. Simple process.
John opens the door to 221B to find an utterly worn-down man. He stands a step above the stranger, which places him slightly higher than eye level. The man introduces himself as Sebastian Moran, he somehow knows John's name, and he is rambling, asking desperately for a place to stay. (The desperation stays in his eyes; John knows how it feels to stay still but always to need.) John has a pretty good guess as to Moran's identity. He imagines that in his position, many people would turn him away. He doesn't. Of course he doesn't.
"I'm not going to just throw you back out into the bloody streets," he says. And he takes in Moran with arms open like a scarecrow.
When Sebastian wakes up, John is sitting across from him with a cup of tea, staring off into nothingness. Sebastian shifts slightly to get his attention, and their eyes meet. "You worked for Moriarty," says John.
Something in Sebastian's chest twitches. "How did you know?"
John wordlessly holds up the rifle. The other contents of Sebastian's bag are in a pile by his chair.
"Good man, trusting no one," Sebastian laughs. "That doesn't prove anything, though."
"Everything's connected to him," says John, shaking his head. "Everything."
John makes him breakfast, which is more than Seb could have hoped for, and then sits back down and asks Sebastian about himself. There's an awkward morning-after atmosphere about the whole thing.
John listens inattentively to Sebastian's story, only biting his lip slightly upon discovering he is sitting across from his would-be killer.
"So... he died, then, too? Moriarty?"
Moran grinds his teeth but says nothing.
"And you ran out of money. But you were..." There is no right word for what John is trying to say. "...close to Moriarty, yeah? That had to be decent pay."
"Blew most of it on cheap thrills and alcohol. And yeah, we were... close."
There is a hand around John's heart, and why it is squeezing down now, he doesn't know. He is suddenly unreasonably angry (and he hasn't been angry on someone else's behalf since... well. It's been a while). "You can stay," he says, anticipating Sebastian's next words. "For now. You're sleeping on the couch, though. God, of course you can stay."
So Sebastian Moran has an acquaintance, a place to live, and nothing to do. He hasn't held a normal job in years, and he has a feeling John would not take kindly to him going back on the hired gunman market. He wants to forget again, but he has to stay clean, has to stay safe; he has a home now.
He tries to disappear. He traces diagrams of the human heart from medical textbooks. He spends hours reading about evolution, psychology, religion. He tries to see through painted waves to a sea floor that is implied but nonexistent. He mouths the words to its caption: The sea has taken everything I love. The sea will swallow all I know.
Two weeks pass and John cannot afford to feed two men, but the temperature in the flat has gone up several degrees and he is holding out hope that it will burn. Once John finds himself staring at an angry scar on Sebastian's upper arm, and he thinks with miserable resignation that the man will have to stay.
When not at work, John talks to his flatmate. Sebastian tells him about his guns and his discovery of the art of destruction and the time he killed a tiger in India. By all terms and definitions Seb is a bad person, and he admits so freely. John doesn't seem to care. John talks about his patients and his sister and the time he killed a man in Afghanistan. He talks about drifting through the universe and still managing to stay hollow, thin, empty. Sebastian soon replaces John's therapist altogether.
And, surprisingly, Sebastian finds he does not hate John Watson.
He knows he should. He hates nearly everyone else. Many times, he finds himself on the verge of saying he hates John. But he doesn't. He can't. Something about the words feels far too intimate for his comfort. Perhaps the almost-murder between them has created a bond. It wouldn't be the first time.
John, though, hates Sebastian Moran.
He knows he shouldn't. He has no reason to, of course. He didn't kill Sherlock.
John can't imagine what he must have looked like to the sniper, then; John remembers like it was hours ago, but not the specifics, not even where he was standing in the road; he remembers it like an especially vivid, horrible dream. Sherlock was so high above him, and John was so low as to be sinking into the pavement, strange music in his head and the whole of Antarctica in his chest. And Sebastian is innocent. Not to blame. He didn't kill Sherlock, he didn't kill Sherlock.
He didn't kill John. He was this close to killing John. Why didn't you? He has to know. He can't bring himself to ask.
Sebastian knows the flat top to bottom, inside and out, except of course for Sherlock's bedroom, which he avoids without being told to do so. He sees John's fragile shield, and despite himself, despite his history, cannot find the will to shatter it. The sameness of the small flat soon begins to gnaw at him, however, and when he is ready to shoot himself in the foot just to experience something, he remembers the forbidden room and decides it's a much cleaner option.
He cracks open the door to find every surface covered in dust and the inexplicable sense of cold that comes with abandonment. There's a pile of stuff dumped just inside the door: various beakers and dishes, a microscope, a few articles of clothing, and even a jar of what appears to be preserved eyeballs. Seb imagines John on his last visit here, and his mind produces a satisfyingly dramatic scene: John would be aching with the weight of all the pieces of his flatmate in his arms, sinking to his knees in the doorway, setting them down like an offering to the Fallen God. Turning away, breathing still steady. Strong. Resolving to move on.
Intentionally not paying attention. Not noticing the folded paper on Sherlock's desk.
Sebastian moves immediately, because if that's what he thinks it is- yes. He sucks in a breath through his teeth as he scans the page. He remembers Sherlock's brother, far too much money on his hands, most likely responsible for the detective's rather expensive wardrobe- and, well, what Sherlock had was no fortune, but it would certainly be enough to give Sebastian a permanent home. The money, after all, was going to one man only.
Upon showing John the paper, Sebastian finds himself with his arms full of his flatmate, a nose pressing into his shoulder and the murmured words, "He knew it, this proves, it, see- he knew he was going to die. All along."
"At least he didn't plan it out. He didn't want to die, I'm sure. Bloody fucking geniuses, the two of them. I hate them. I hate them both. My entire life-" John's mouth is on his.
"I'm going to quit my job. Will you move away with me?"
"This is the most depressing view I've ever seen," John says, minutes after dumping the last box into their stone-cold cottage.
" 'The sea has taken everything I love,' " Sebastian quotes.
John sighs. "This feels like giving up."
"Or like indulging. For you, anyway."
"And that's not exactly the right thing to do either, is it?"
"I've never done the right thing in my life. I'm not sure you're better off for trying so damn hard."
"I've never known what else to do." John takes a long breath. "This won't last long." Sebastian doesn't ask what he means.
By the end of the night, John's knees are sore and Sebastian's have left bruises along his torso. Boxes full of Sherlock's things that John refuses to unpack take up a good half of the tiny bedroom. Their two bodies cling together under thin, moth-eaten blankets. Walls and windows cannot shut out the sound of the sea.
They sleep deeply. They sleep for what feels like months. Even their waking moments feel like dreams. Sometimes John contents himself with just watching the water, or the ripple of muscle beneath Sebastian's skin. Sometimes the sea air feels too heavy in his lungs, and gravity brings him low.
When Sebastian wakes up, really wakes up, he is alone.
And John is on the edge. John is by the sea, where he wants to be. Closer than walls can get him.
His lover steps carefully toward him. "John," he says.
John can only shake his head. He feels exposed, stripped raw in front of this man who was never his saviour, really, only a small comfort, but still served as a kind of temporary miracle. There is Seb and the ocean, and then there is this yawning black hole inside of him that sucks all the heat from his bones. And John doesn't care why, for the first time in years. This time, he won't make it through.
Sebastian has come closer, and cut the hesitancy. He knows. They face the sea, side by side, not quite touching. "You made everything worth it, in the end," says Sebastian.
"I love you." John chokes on his words. "Always did." Seb doesn't look at him. Neither of them are sure who they're talking to anymore. Life has tied them into hopeless knots and this time, this time, there is a way out.
It's a simple process.