The pool is illuminated; the gallery is not, although the light filtering through the water lends a certain surreal aspect to the space. The gaudy red and blue changing curtains lining the pool give too many opportunities for concealment. Not that Sherlock is looking to hide.
“Brought you a little getting-to-know-you present,” he says loudly, raising the memory stick above his head, turning to address an unseen audience. It feels theatrical, as if he’s reading lines written by someone else, and he feels a bitterness rise in his chest as he spits out what he believes to be the truth: “Oh, that’s what it’s all been for, hasn’t it? All your little puzzles; making me dance – all to distract me from this.”
There’s a pause, room to breathe. The stench of trichloramine is thick in the enclosure, and the warm dampness of the seemingly empty room hovers around him. Sherlock is grateful that he left the Belstaff at home. He turns, and from behind him comes the soft snick of a door opening.
Sherlock pauses for a split second, stretching out the last moment of not knowing before finally spinning on his heels. He imagines an older version of the Irish boy from the pool all those years ago - dark-haired, like him, but small, perhaps with an air of guilt -- but instead when he turns, he finds something altogether more familiar.
Instead, he finds...John, inexplicably John, standing there, wearing an expensive suit and a curious expression.
“This is a turn-up, isn’t it, Sherlock?” the man says, smartly, and smiles.
Russell Square Park was busy at lunchtime, bustling with hospital workers on break and university students late to class. The man sat on a park bench, hands perched on his cane, watching the movement around him, until one face surfaced in the crowd. His eyes swiveled, watching him pass, before he called out.
“Mike!” he said, with a friendliness that didn’t yet match the expression on his face. He moved to his feet and followed him swiftly. “Mike Stamford!”
Mike stopped at the sound of his name, and turned.
The man shifted his weight, leaned on the cane, and extended his hand, testing the lie. “John Watson. We were at Bart’s together?”
Sherlock’s mind races, annoyed. He’d specifically arranged it so John would be well out of harm’s way during this meeting. Had he followed Sherlock here, instead of going to Sarah’s?
“John. What the hell...?” This was going to ruin everything. If Moriarty sees--
“Bet you never saw this coming.” John says, and waits a beat, then another, for Sherlock to catch up. Taking pity on him, he gives him a generous nudge. “Nice touch, this: the pool where little Carl died.”
“How could you possibly know that?“
“Oh, Sherlock, haven’t you guessed?” John asks, milking the moment. “I know about the pool because I was there, wasn’t I?”
“When I met you for the first time yesterday, I said ‘Afghanistan or Iraq.’ You looked surprised.”
“Yes,” John said, in the back of the cab, and tried to make his prompt sound genuine. “How did you know?”
“I didn’t know, I saw,” Sherlock began, and John was rewarded with the results of his recent efforts. Sherlock mentioned the dreadful military haircut John had instructed his personal barber to deliver, he mentioned the tanline - nothing above the wrists - which had taken a week of mostly-clothed tanning sessions to cultivate, and he mentioned the ‘psychosomatic,’ but actually wholly falsified, limp.
Of course, he mentioned the phone.
“It’s expensive, but you’re looking for a flatshare. It’s a gift then,” Sherlock explained, and flipped the phone over in his hand, the same way John had done when he bought it in the grubby pawn shop, two weeks before. “Scratches, so it’s had a previous owner. Next bit’s easy. You know it already.”
John nodded. “The engraving,” he said, fondly, and remembered the trophy shop clerk. When she’d handed him the form to compose the engraved message, he’d had to think for a moment before writing, taking inspiration from her nametag.
“Funny,” she’d said, with a wink, “You don’t look like a ‘Clara’...”
Sherlock’s look of confusion evaporates into a glorious procession of emotions: shock, horror, distress, terror, shame and -- oh yes, finally, the one John’s been waiting for the most -- the abject anguish of betrayal.
“That’s not...not possible,” Sherlock says, stumbling backwards, reeling.
“Oh, I assure you, it is,” John says, a hint of a smile appearing at the corners of his mouth. It’s a smile that Sherlock knows well, the sly one he reserves for moments when Sherlock gets the best of someone John doesn’t approve of, like Mycroft, or Anderson. It’s a smile that, unlike this ridiculously tailored suit, is all John. His John, if it isn’t too ridiculous to think of him that way, and for a moment, Sherlock wonders if John is simply pulling his leg, if this isn’t somehow an elaborate ruse to punish him for going off on his own.
This hopeful thought does not survive for long.
“I stopped him, Sherlock, all those years ago.” he says, the words clearly more of a boast than a confession, and then John -- or the person Sherlock has referred to as John for nigh-on to a year -- snaps his fingers. A series of wavering red lights appear on Sherlock’s shirtfront. “And I can stop you, too. Stop your heart.”
Sherlock looks down at the lights, then up into the gallery, and back to the man before him. “Who are you?”
“Oh, I’m sorry, I thought you’d put that together,” he says, with a calculated sheepishness, and extends his hand towards Sherlock. “James Moriarty. Your faithful flatmate and blogger.”
“Dr. Watson, what do you think?”
“Of the message?”
“Of the body. You’re a medical man.”
And there it was, the fly in the ointment. The fact that John Watson had been a doctor was the one troublesome part of the disguise -- because while Jim was a genius, and a highly-educated one as well, he wasn’t actually a medical doctor. Not that a medical degree meant all that much in the long run. After all, an MD hadn’t been able to save Jim’s mother, had he? And hadn’t been able to save himself, either, after Jim used a carving knife to slice into the the man’s carotid artery on the anniversary of her death. Playing a doctor should be easy, in fact, and if all else failed, he’d simply...improvise.
And so he knelt - slowly, playing the proper cripple, leaning heavily on his cane. He moved over the body, putting his head close to hers, and sniffed. He inspected her nails, lifting her hand, and almost giggled because it was such play-acting, really. He sat up, composing a look of sad resignation on his face as he delivered his keen analysis:
“Yeah... Asphyxiation, probably. Passed out, choked on her own vomit. Can’t smell any alcohol on her. It could have been a seizure; possibly drugs.”
Possibly? Oh, such a laugh. Definitely drugs, specifically, drugs passed out like candy to unsuspecting targets by a killer cabbie. It was so hard for Jim not to grin at that, really, because delivering an accurate diagnosis is so easy when you’re the one commissioning the murders in the first place....
The bloody bastard winks, and reflexively, Sherlock edges back, his own hand moving to the waistband of his trousers, fear coursing quickly, and wasn’t that an impossible thought - the idea of fearing John Watson?
His fear does not escape Jim. Neither does the presence of a familiar firearm.
“Is that my Sig Sauer P226R in your pocket,” he asks coyly, “or are you just pleased to see me?”
Sherlock lifts the gun without hesitation. “Both.”
“Oh, look at you. Quite the flirt,” Jim smiles. “Had I known, this past year could have been infinitely more rewarding for us both.”
Sherlock starts to pace, and the red lights on Sherlock’s chest move in a flurry to readjust to his changing position. Jim lifts his hand to the gallery. “Steady, now, boys,” he warns, “He won’t shoot.”
The reminder that they are not alone prompts Sherlock to stop pacing, but his thoughts continue to race. His brain is reacting to the betrayal by disruptively offering up every observation he’d ever made about John that could’ve possibly predicted this monstrous turn of events: every slightly shifty glance, every lie, every misdirection, every scrap of misinformation that “John” had offered up about his life and who he was. Sherlock’s mind begins to spiral, overwhelmed by the data, when it suddenly grabs upon a single piece of information and runs with it.
“You were with me!” Sherlock suddenly realises, and the shock makes him stammer. “Y-you can’t be him, you were with me, the whole time. He was talking to the hostages, typing to them, but you were here with me!”
“Sherlock, sweetheart,” Jim says, with a pitying tone. “You can’t possibly think I work alone, can you? I’ve got operatives in more countries than you can name, you think I don’t have a--” He pauses abruptly, stopping himself before he says the word second, and recovers. “You think I don’t have someone I trust to text for me?”
Sherlock’s vision narrows, and his breathing goes ragged, his voice tight and insistent. “You and I both know that ‘James Moriarty’ is a construct. So who are you, really?”
“Well, I’m certainly not that poor little Irish boy you terrorized,” Jim says, with a casual, careless cruelty that John Watson could never have summoned. “He killed himself, I think. Such a pity.”
A vision of the boy with the dark hair and the guilty eyes rose before Sherlock, the one he’d tracked when he was 13, confronting him at the train station, at the bus stop, outside his school, even at his home.
“Not that you’re to blame for your prejudice, Sherlock,” Jim said, reassuringly. “Considering the times, posh boy like you? Of course you blamed the nearest mick.”
Sherlock visibly bristles at the accusation. “And so where were you the day Carl died? Or did you even bother to stick around?”
“Oh, I was there,” Jim says, his eyes lighting up with the memory of it. “Wild horses couldn’t have dragged me away.” The way Carl had gone under and...stayed under, all because of something Jim had done; well, it had been life-changing, having that kind of control. To this day, the sound of lapping water can calm Jim, a reminder that control is always there for the taking, if you’re bold enough.
“But you certainly wouldn’t have noticed me, Sherlock,” he continued, with a dismissive frown. “Spotty teenager in the back of the crowd, collecting wet towels? No?” he pauses then, and waits to see if any flicker of recognition. Sherlock stays mum, and Jim grins and leans in with a conspiratorial whisper. “Told you so. Nothing so invisible as an hourly wage earner, is there?”
The shop in Chinatown was jam-packed with cheap merchandise, hardly the sort of place that would sell high-end artifacts, but exactly the sort of place criminals would choose as a front for illegal activities. Sloppy. Obvious. And just one of the many reasons why Jim’s association with Shan needed to be cut short...
But he was growing impatient, Jim was. Sherlock’s attempts to sort the cypher were slow - and dangerous as well - earning poor John Watson a bloody ASBO, which forced Jim to have to pull quite a few strings to keep himself out of the hands of police. It was time to propel the investigation forward, and this shop was the ideal place in which to do it.
“You want lucky cat?”
“No thanks, no,” Jim said. Who needs luck when you’ve got an international network?
“Ten pound,” the shopkeep insisted. “Ten pound!”
Jim smiled a warning. “No.”
“I think your wife, she will like.”
“No, thank you,” Jim grimaced, and imagined what this woman would do if she knew she was talking to the mysterious “M” -- not that she would ever be privy to that level of knowledge. He wondered what her screams would sound like, if he were to get his hands dirty, like the old days, if he were to take his time -- what would be the precise tone and timbre of her cries? He turned away, musing over the thought for a moment before allowing his gaze to light upon a row of identical teacups, each tagged with a sticker adorned with the same distinctive mark. Certainly enough to send Sherlock barking up the right tree, yes?
“Sherlock?” He asked, innocently, and couldn’t help but notice how charming his detective could look when the pieces began to fall into place...
“Take it,” Sherlock says, and holds up the memory stick once more. “I certainly hope these plans are worth your trouble, James.”
Frowning, Jim corrects him. “Come now, Sherlock, why so formal? We’re flatmates, after all. Call me Jim.” He takes the stick from Sherlock’s hands, and holds it devoutly, as if it’s a sacred object. “The missile plans,” he says, with the utmost of sincerity...and then throws it over his shoulder into the pool, as if it was trash. “I could have got them anywhere,” he shrugs, enjoying Sherlock’s confusion once more.
“You confess to murdering a child twenty years ago, you construct this series of twisted puzzles to test me, and now I find you’ve created this wholly elaborate ‘John Watson’ ruse, taking nearly a year out of your life.” Sherlock shakes his head, still marveling at the betrayal, feeling foolish, feeling like a victim, feeling angry and dim. “If it wasn’t for the plans, then why?” he demands, “WHY?”
But Jim remains mum, and Sherlock reels. The man’s eyes are John’s eyes, still the same, reliable navy blue; the lines on his face are John’s lines, still in all the right places; and John’s persistent lick of his lip? Ever-present - and yet the man inside is nothing more than a hideous perversion of John. Their friendship, as it was, was a fraud. He’s a charlatan who created a bizarre facade of a friendship, and for what? And the worst part is, Sherlock has no one but himself to blame. He, of all people, should have seen this coming.
Jim’s continued silence is maddening and puerile, and Sherlock, feeling taken, knee-jerks with sarcasm. “I mean, I’m flattered by the attention, Jim, truly -- but what’s the point?”
“Isn’t it obvious?” Jim breaks his silence, somewhat disappointed that once again, the great Sherlock Holmes needs a prompt. He scratches the back of his head, and talks to himself, and now he’s pacing. “‘What’s the point?’ - I thought it was obvious, I mean, I really did. Obvious to me, anyway,” he says, and looks up at Sherlock with the kind of smile that’s only meant to be cruel. “But perhaps I’ve overestimated your deduction skills. I’ll spell it out, for you, shall I?” Hands in his pockets, now, affecting a casual conversation, Jim leans back. “I’ve given you a glimpse, Sherlock, just a teensy glimpse of what I’ve got going on out there in the big, bad world. I’m a specialist, you see?”
Jim pauses then, for effect, and brings it home. “Just. Like. You.”
“Jim, this is Sherlock Holmes.”
He’d given the shill his own name, just for grins. Should Sherlock actually take the bait, Jim thought it would be lovely to imagine the detective moaning out his own name...
“And, uh,” Molly stopped, looking at him apologetically. “Sorry?”
Jim nods. “John Watson. Hi,” he said, careful not to make eye contact with Richie. It wouldn’t do to throw off the actor’s performance.
None of this would have been necessary, had Sherlock simply been more forthcoming about his preferences. Not that it mattered, of course, Jim told himself. For his purposes, their compatibility needn’t involve sexuality, but Christ, it made it more fun. And, to be honest, after a year of Sherlock parading around in a sheet, Jim was blindingly curious about what made his oblivious target tick.
Casting for the role of “Jim” had been unexpectedly amusing. Richie would never be famous, but he had a sort of bashful appeal, and a mouth that was anything but shy. A perfect lure to draw out Sherlock’s true nature, or so Jim had thought.
The set-up had been simple. Give Richie a script and set him in the path of Barts’ most desperate lonely-heart. After that, Jim knew the meeting would be inevitable -- even Molly knew that there was no better way to prove one’s sexual worth to an old flame than by showing off a brand new one.
“So you’re Sherlock Holmes. Molly’s told me all about you,” Richie said, fawningly, and Jim shot him a look, a warning to keep to the script. “You on one of your cases?“
Molly, reliably, brought the conversation back to courtship. “Jim works in I.T. upstairs. That’s how we met. Office romance.” She and Richie giggled, and it seemed genuine enough to make Jim wonder if Molly had experienced Richie’s talented mouth for herself.
Sherlock eyed Richie for a brief moment, and, seemingly unimpressed, went back to his microscope. “Gay,” he pronounced, not even bothering to keep it under his breath, and Jim couldn’t have been happier. Even if Sherlock were never to call the number Richie had been about to plant, the knowledge he’d shown in detecting Richie’s sexuality had shown his hand.
And for Jim, that was enough to be going on with.
“Consulting criminal,” Sherlock breathes, his understanding of the events leading up to this moment blossoming around him.. “Brilliant....”
“Isn’t it?” Jim positively beams. “No-one ever gets to me – and no-one ever will.”
Sherlock cocks the pistol, quipping. “I did.”
“You’ve come the closest,” Jim concedes, remembering the police raids in Farnborough and Bilthoven, not to mention the disaster after the Shanxi mine blast, and the whole fucking devastating shitshow in Croatia. As soon as Jim had put the pieces together, and understood that Sherlock was to blame for the failures, he’d known something had to be done. Business is, after all, business. “But now you’re in my way.”
“Didn’t mean it as a compliment.”
“Yes you did.”
“Yeah, okay, I did.”
Sherlock is actually smiling now, invigorated, gun out, feeling as if he’s won the round. Not that this was anything new between the two of them. He and John had always gotten on like this, volleying rapid-fire, sometimes biting banter around the flat. But as much as it feels like old times, it isn’t. John is now Jim, has always been Jim, and while Sherlock feels foolish, yes, the fact of the matter is that right now, the Napoleon of Crime is standing inches away from him, finally close enough to catch - and that is positively thrilling .
Apparently, he’s not alone in this thought.
“The flirting’s over, Sherlock,” Jim says, his expression steady, his voice a growl, the verbal back and forth reminding him, too, of Baker Street and all those moments when he’d been tempted to pin his sulky flatmate to the sofa and teach him a lesson. “Daddy’s had enough now,” he warns, with every interpretation of that phrase intended. Sherlock never had been very good at minding his elders...
The enclosure is close, the air from the heated pool rising and filling the room, lending a shine to both their faces. The heat -- yes, blame the heat -- makes it hard for Sherlock to focus his thoughts, and he cannot allow himself to process the obviously calculated words coming out of John’s mouth, not now, because he’s not...John. So Sherlock lifts his chin, swallows hard and concentrates on the gun in his hand. Not on John Watson. Because John Watson doesn’t exist anymore, and it turns out now that all the fantasies Sherlock had imagined were more real than the man himself. The gun shakes slightly in his hand.
“I’ve shown you what I can do,” Jim explains, taking a few steps forward. “I cut loose all those people, all those little problems, even thirty million quid just to get you to come out and play.”
Sherlock blinks, and Jim’s so close, suddenly so impossibly close.
“And if that sounds like a proposal,” Jim says, with a tilt of his head, “well, that’s because it is.”
Sherlock got six shots off by the time Jim reached the top of the stairs -- and when he got there, he found something that made him laugh out loud.
A bloody smiley-face shot into the wall, blasting holes in the overwrought Victorian-style wallpaper, and it was reckless and pointless and Jim didn’t even flinch when Sherlock fired off another two shots because the truth was, it felt like home. Felt, in fact, like exactly the sort of chaos Moran would’ve -- but, no. He couldn’t think about that.
Sherlock sulked. “Don’t know what’s got into the criminal classes,” he said, with a sneer, the poor lad simply bereft at the lack of a properly distracting case. “Good job I’m not one of them.”
Jim flexed his left hand, and settled into his chair. He could easily fix Sherlock’s boredom -- he had, after all, been waiting for just the right time to tug that particular string, to set the grand reveal in motion. As for Sherlock not being one of the criminal classes, well, Jim gritted, working his fingers into a tight fist, they’d see about that soon enough.
Sherlock exhaled loudly and collapsed onto the sofa, rolling over onto his side. Jim considered his pouting form for a moment, and then pulled out his phone, messaging his housekeeper to tell her he’d be spending a rare evening at home tonight. Then he stood up, walked into the kitchen and intentionally started a domestic with Sherlock.
On the way out the door, he texted his contact at British Gas.
“A proposal?” Sherlock scoffs, gun still raised. “Move a bit fast, don’t you?”
“Don’t get excited, love,” Jim says, with a shake of his head. “This is a business proposal...unless, of course, you’re open to more?”
Sherlock ignores the question in favor of posing his own. “Why would I ever go into business with you?”
“Sherlock, we’ve already been in business, you and I, for nearly a year. Now, I’ll admit, at first, my intent was to end you.”
“But then, at the very last possible moment, you made yourself more valuable than Jeff Hope.”
Sherlock squints, trying to understand. “Because he said your name? You couldn’t possibly have heard that.”
“Some walls have ears, Sherlock,” Jim says, really beginning to get irritated by Sherlock’s refusal to understand the full scope of his holdings. “And yes, because he said my name, but also because you interested me. Because in that moment, I understood that you could help me rid my organization of a great deal of dead and disloyal weight, and no one would be the wiser.”
“You used me -- are using me.”
“Yes, and I hope to do so with much greater transparency in the future.”
“You want me to work with you.”
“Well, for me. I’d still be in charge, of course. But just imagine it, Sherlock -- as much fun as you have solving crimes, imagine how much fun you could have masterminding them. We do make one hell of a team.”
“A team,” Sherlock breathes, connecting the dots. “Ah, of course. You’re looking for a second. Your hesitation earlier. He left you. Then again, no...he died, didn’t he?”
Jim looks up, surprised by the deduction, and his face goes dark. “Yes, well,” he says, quietly. “That’s what people do.”
Silence follows, and Sherlock fights the urge to look away, to give his “flatmate” some privacy, an absurd reflex. Looking away is no longer an option, not at this stage of the game, not if he’s to survive this. He adjusts his grip on the gun once more.
Eventually, Jim breaks the silence. “He was the best sniper I’d ever seen. Ex-military. You would’ve loved him, Sherlock,” Jim says, knowingly referencing the cache of military porn Sherlock kept “hidden” in the sitting room at 221B. “He died in Zagreb.”
Sherlock is taken off guard, not by the comment about the porn but by the mention of the town. Zagreb . A simple missing persons case had led Sherlock to the doorstep of one of the largest drug-running operations in Eastern Europe. Of course he’d alerted the Croatian authorities about the operation, but then, well, the locals had gone a bit overboard with their response.
“Do you know what happens to the human body in an explosion like that?” Jim asks, with a macabre leer. “It’s not the fire that kills you, Sherlock. It’s never the fire. It’s the blast wave . First, your ears blow out, at about 3.4 pounds per square inch. Then your eyes, well, they just pop. Your lungs and other organs rupture at around 40 PSI. And then at 220 PSI, not that you would be awake or even alive to experience it, but that’s when dismemberment happens. And only then does the fire come in, and all the evidence, of all the pain, and all the horror just...burns away.” Jim relives it all in his mind’s eye, in his memory of the security camera image, the white hot flash of light that left him alone.
”You burned him, Sherlock, and by burning him, you burned me.” Jim seethes, his voice low and dangerous. “You burned the heart out of me.”
Sherlock huffs out a breath. “So why not kill me? Burn me?”
“I mean, I’m gonna kill you anyway. Someday, probably. And I will if you say no, of course.” JIm says, with a shrug, “But you owe me, Sherlock. I’m down a man, and if there’s anything this year with you has taught me, it’s that you’ll do.”
“I’m not a sniper.”
“You have other skills, I’m sure,” Jim counters, and it doesn’t take much to deduce that Jim is isn’t just talking about Sherlock’s observational skills.
This hits Sherlock harder than the threat to kill him. How many times in the last year had he imagined being propositioned by John? A million times, if once, but never like this. The idea of Jim’s proposal was ludicrous -- to join up with him, to become some sort of criminal, his second in command? Completely laughable, and yet...the thought of going back to the life he had before John was utterly miserable. John Watson had kept him right...but could Jim Moriarty?
“So my options are join or die? Not much of a choice, is it?” Sherlock asks, eyeing Jim carefully. “What if I was to shoot you now – right now?”
“Then you could cherish the look of surprise on my face,” Jim says, mugging, mimicking shock, and then grins. “’Cause I’d be surprised, Sherlock; really I would. And just a teensy bit disappointed. And of course you wouldn’t be able to cherish it for very long.”
He snaps his fingers, and the red laser lights converge, becoming one over Sherlock’s chest, forming one red mass, aimed directly above his heart.
“Now. The gun, please, Sherlock,” says Jim, patiently, extending his hand. “Let me have it and we can talk about the future, ideally in some place less humid. Over tea at home, perhaps? I’ll even make it, for once.”
It isn’t until this moment that Sherlock understands exactly what will happen next. It’s like that moment in chess when suddenly all the future moves play out before you on the board, and the actual moving of the pieces ceases to be necessary because mathematically, the end game is inevitable. With this realisation, Sherlock exhales, and does the only thing he can do at this point in the game.
He lets Jim have it.