Peterson’s bleach pen removes the stains from the coffee Lottie spilled on Milo, but leaves the shirt damp and smelling faintly of peroxide. Milo is buttoning up a fresh shirt when he hears the knock.
August’s knock. Milo knows it, the way he knows the sound of August’s feet in the corridor, knows the slight hesitation before he knocks again.
“Come in,” Milo calls.
August enters the room like he’s apologizing for taking up the space.
“Well?” Milo asks. “Is my sister off chasing other demons?”
“Other Moriartys, perhaps.” August smiles, a thin, brittle thing, and then sits down on Milo’s sofa. “I came to ask for your assistance.”
“Oh?” Milo buttons his cuffs. “With what?”
“Escaping from your sister.”
“You seem to have done that already.”
“For the afternoon.” August leans forward. “It’s the whole lot I’d like to leave behind. Moriartys and Holmes, and Watsons now — what are we coming to?” He sighs. “I used to think I could mend this. I’m not that naive anymore.”
“So leave,” Milo says.
The thought hurts, but Milo keeps his voice steady when he says it. He’s had years of practice, holding himself separate from August but never quite able to take that last step and let August go.
“We both know that won’t work,” August says. “Charlotte will try to keep tabs on me as long as she knows I’m alive, and my siblings aren’t about to forgive her.”
“Lottie always has had her little hobbies.” Milo sighs. “What, then?”
August smiles. “I rather thought I’d ask you to help me fake my death.”
Milo’s hands still, and he sits down across from August. “If you think that would work, you don’t know Lottie as well as you think. You’ll just give her another crusade. She’d rest at nothing to bring your killer to justice, and if it’s all the same to you, I’d rather like to see my sister get through secondary school.”
“She’d bring my killer to you.” August says it mildly, like he’s commenting on the weather. Like he’s not aware of what justice means to a Holmes.
“Exactly,” Milo says. “Either you give her a killer, or my little sister spends the next six months trying to untwist a problem from the wrong direction. And what makes you think she’d even believe it? She’s seen you fake your death before.”
“So I die in front of her,” August says. “And we give her a killer she doesn’t need to hunt down.”
Milo considers it. Mulls it over, studying the problem from every direction, and then realizes what August must mean.
“You can’t possibly be suggesting Jamie Watson,” Milo says. Jamie could be convinced to do something for Lottie’s own good, but he’s not capable of lying to her. Like the Watsons before him, the boy’s a blunt instrument.
“Hardly.” August meets Milo’s eyes. “I had another suspect in mind.”
* * *
A Holmes falling in love with a Moriarty is such a cliche, Milo’s little sister beat him here. Which means, among other things, that Milo doesn’t need to imagine Alistair’s reaction, should the impossible happen and August declare his love for Milo. Milo can fill in from Charlotte’s experiences quite well enough to imagine Alistair’s face, the disgust in his hooded eyes, the sharp words in his brittle voice. “Disgrace to the family” and “Moriartys are for the use we can get out of them.”
Milo’s heard it all, which is why he’s in Berlin.
One reason, anyway.
* * *
Milo can’t bring himself to say yes to August’s plan — his mad, brilliant, Moriarty plan — but he can’t say no, not quite, not with the weight of August’s eyes on him.
He’s making preparations for the trip to Thailand when he comes across August, crouched in the sick bay at Greystone headquarters.
“Dear lord, what are you doing?”
August looks up from the hypodermic in his arm. “I thought it would be obvious,” he says. “We can hope that your sister will be too overwhelmed to check my body before you arrange for the removal, but she’s unlikely to forget to check any remaining blood spatter for a DNA match. We’ll need a prepared squib with genuine Moriarty.”
Milo leans in and holds pressure on the cotton ball while August removes the hypodermic from his arm. He’s not thinking straight, so close to August, his fingers against the soft skin of August’s inner arm.
August’s mouth twitches, but he doesn’t look up from filling the squib. “You’ll need to keep this refrigerated,” he says. “And somewhere I can access, once your sister drags us all off to a good potential crime scene that you can secure.”
“I know how to fake a death,” Milo snaps.
It scares Milo, the way their minds run together. He wonders if he’s held August at arm’s length, kept him chained to spreadsheets, because he fears this: the thrill of working together, the wonder of someone else whose mind can keep up with a Holmes.
With a Moriarty. Perhaps it’s the same for August, Milo thinks.
“I haven’t said yes,” Milo says.
His fingers are still on August’s inner arm. He starts when August touches his hand.
August doesn’t meet Milo’s eyes. “You haven’t said no.”
* * *
Milo finds himself awake on his flight to Thailand, looking out over an anonymous mass of mountains, corrugated and capped with snow, far below his aircraft. He’s going to arrive in Thailand exhausted.
The squibs are prepared. The elaborate dance of set dressing and prosthetics and high-powered rifles that would make this possible — Milo’s set all that in motion, along with eight other plans, each increasingly complicated. It’s what a Holmes does instead of Soduku.
He always knew August would leave eventually. He’s pushed August to leave. Given him spreadsheets, data entry, ground down the sharp point of August’s trained Moriarty mind.
The comtesse was one of those attempts to get to August — shamming a relationship, each of them for their own reasons. Milo hadn’t known August had noticed that dalliance until August mentioned it in response to Jamie Watson’s childish comments.
It’s been longer for me.
Milo tries to stretch in the plane seat — even in your own aircraft, flying’s unpleasant, and Milo avoids it whenever possible. If the people you hire are good enough, if your network of control is good enough, you shouldn’t need to travel.
Going to Thailand in person is an admission of defeat.
He stares down at the mountains. His mind keeps coming back to August, who has finally been ground down. Who has finally broken.
I had another suspect in mind.
It’s going to kill Lottie, seeing Milo with that gun.
It’s what August wants.
Milo shakes his head and pulls out his cell phone. August is saved as Felix. Milo’s little joke, when he built August’s new identity. August, of all the Moriartys, has never been favored by luck.
He imagines the text message, relaying through the plane’s wifi and up to the satellite link and back down to Earth, through the cell towers to wherever August is now. He probably has the message already, Milo thinks, and turns back to the window. Maybe now he can sleep. Maybe he can arrive in Thailand and handle the situation the way it needs to be handled. Be a Holmes.
August will know what he means.
* * *
When they arrive in Thailand, Lucien’s fled, leaving behind an empty shell of a compound and a mess of clues, none of them useful. He’s chaffed his trail, drawing Milo’s men in dozens of different directions.
Not that any of it matters. Milo stands in the courtyard, listening to the sounds of his men sweeping the surrounding jungle and the house, and knows that none of the scraps Lucien has left will lead them anywhere.
They have to try. But Lucien’s a Moriarty, and Milo knows what that means.
He’s back at the airport in under an hour, tucking himself onto his aircraft and into the sky, where none of them can touch him.
Lucien, fled from Thailand, vanishing like smoke from under the noses of Milo’s best agents. Who has Lucien suborned? How did he —
The sick feeling in Milo’s stomach tells him what he fears. August. Milo desperately wants to believe it’s not true, wants to believe that August would never —
He sets his jaw and picks up his phone.
Still on? he texts.
A few minutes later, August texts back. Complications. Your sister decided to get tricky.
It’s the sort of text anyone involved in a sensitive international investigation might send. It tells Milo nothing about whether August somehow alerted Lucien to the specifics of Milo’s operation.
Milo wants to believe that August wouldn’t. That August couldn’t.
He turns back to the window, watching the darkness spread out before him as the sun sets against the horizon.
* * *
Every update Milo gets tells him Lucien is in the wind.
It must have been long-planned, from what little Milo’s team is able to glean. He had this planned long before I showed August any of my security measures against Lucien, Milo tells himself, but it’s not enough, not when it comes to Holmeses and Moriartys.
He types out an order to remove the squibs from August and Lottie’s plane, and then deletes it before sending.
Perhaps August’s working with Lucien and they’ve been laughing at Milo this whole time, a Homes carrying water for a Moriarty.
Or perhaps August is innocent. Perhaps —
Milo thinks of the feeling of August’s skin under his fingers. Of his eyes when he asked Milo for help. Milo wants to believe, and that’s the scariest bit of all.
* * *
Sussex, a cold winter’s day. Milo’s boots crunch against the crusted snow on the ground as he gets out of his car.
He didn’t give the order to pull the squibs from the plane. If August is still going through with this, he’ll have gone to the bathroom on the flight from Prague, unlocked the toilet service panel, and found tape and a cooler pack with fresh blood squibs, and a thick fake skin substitute to cover the pulse points in his neck and wrists.
They’ve run through it, over text. August isn’t saying what happened in Prague, but Milo knows who his prisoners are.
The plan is still afoot, August texted from the airport.
While Milo watches from the treeline, James Watson and Lottie and August go tumbling into the basement window, and then come out again, dragging Milo’s mother and uncle with them. Milo can’t see what happened, but he sees them stand together, debating furiously, August’s body tense as he lectures the others.
Milo can’t hear him. He wishes he could. His hands are cold on the trigger assembly of the rifle as he watches, a silent audience.
His heartbeat picks up when he sees August step aside, angling himself from the others to protect them from the shot that won’t actually come.
August stops talking, makes the hand signal they agreed upon back in Berlin, a bare motion of his fingers that Milo can see through the rifle’s scope.
Milo’s finger is still on the trigger.
He doesn’t pull, and August makes the signal again. He’s talking. Lottie looks furious, James Watson beside her like a bulldog waiting for her order.
August makes the signal a third time, and Milo pulls the trigger.
He puts the shot into a piece of wood in the woodpile. Far enough away that Lottie won’t realize the shot hit elsewhere until Milo’s security forces have removed the piece of wood in question. Should she take it into her head to do an acoustical analysis, or swab Milo’s hands for residue, or test the gun, everything will hold together.
Misdirection, always a friend to a magician or a Holmes. Or a Moriarty.
While Milo watches, the squibs trigger, and August’s chest blooms with blood and his knees unlock. He falls forward, onto his face in the snow, and lies still.
Milo takes a deep breath before stepping out of the treeline. This is his scene, now, in the snow beside the not-corpse of the only man he’s ever loved.
“Milo,” Lottie says, tears roughening her voice. “Milo, what have you done?”
* * *
Milo stumbles through it, somehow, his training coming to the fore. Lottie is sentimental enough not to turn the body over to check August’s ruined face. She doesn’t even test his pulse. It seems like a waste of the prosthetics. Milo wonders if they itch, if August is uncomfortable, lying there still in the snow.
I would look at the body, Milo thinks, inconsequentially, and he wonders if he’s trying to prove that his love is greater than his sister’s love, or if he just knows more about Moritarys than her.
Milo’s men come, then, and take August’s body and the gun and Milo to the ambulence. Behind them, Lottie stands in the snow, Jamie Watson beside her.
In the ambulance, August’s fingers brush against Milo’s, just for the briefest of moments.
And then his hand drops again, shamming lifelessness, and August Moriarty is gone.