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Sins of the Past

Chapter Text

“This week has been perfect,” Sebastian Moran said, his eyes gazing down to meet those of his lover’s. He held the other man close as they lay bare on a plush sheepskin rug, basking in the glow of a fire.

The past seven days were sublime— easily among the best in the sniper’s recent memory. From the outset, he and Jim had decided to commemorate their third wedding anniversary with a trip to the Cotswolds. It’d been far too long since they’d last stolen away together, just the two of them without interference from the rest of the world. Both agreed a vacation was in order.

Perhaps serendipitously, their excursion happened to coincide with the criminal mastermind’s heat cycle. Seb delighted at this, knowing how insatiable Jim would be during that time. His heats were the stuff of legend, full of passion, vigor, and primal need. The mere thought of it gave the blonde assassin a thrill.

Little did he know, his husband had even greater plans in store.  Sebastian would forever remember the conversation they’d shared their first night at the cottage…

 

“Sebby,” Jim whispered as the larger man hovered above him in bed.

"Yes?” he replied, placing nibbling kisses along his dearest Magpie’s neck and shoulder.

“I want this week— this heat— to be about more than sex. I want…” he trailed off, sounding uncharacteristically bashful.  

“What is it, love?” Sebastian was slightly worried now. Jim was anything but shy. What could possibly cause him to become suddenly apprehensive?

“I want to have your baby.”

Oh, wow. Of all the things his partner might say, the former colonel never expected to hear that particular statement. He’d always hoped for a family of his own, but didn’t think Jim would ever welcome such a thing. Now, though…

The expression on his beloved’s face grew anxious as Seb had yet to respond.

“If you don’t want—”

“I do,” he answered, hoping to assuage any inkling of doubt. “I adore you, Jimmy. Having a child with you would be a dream come true. An outright blessing.”

The madcap Irishman relaxed at his alpha’s words, a gentle smile replacing all previous tension. “So you understand, then, why this week is so important to me?”

Sebastian nodded. He understood…he understood completely.

The next several days weren’t simply going to be dedicated to celebrating their bizarrely blissful union. No, they were going to revolve around something more historic than that: It would mark the turning point when James Moriarty— the world’s most brilliant consulting criminal— surrendered the last lock on his black heart. He was giving his husband the gift of conception, and in doing so, risked becoming more vulnerable than ever before. This was not an act to be taken lightly and both of them damn well knew it.  

“Oh, how I love you,” Seb declared, looking upon Jim almost reverently. What he felt for his mate surpassed the scope of an ordinary alpha/omega relationship. Their bond transcended the shackles of biology, joining them on a higher level. If soulmates existed, then their spirits were most assuredly intertwined.

           

“Tiger?” Jim called. “Earth to Tiger?”

Sebastian snapped back to the present at Moriarty’s provocation. “Sorry, I just got lost thinking about how wonderful this vacation has been.”

The genius smiled happily, his dark eyes twinkling with genuine joy. “Mmm, yes. One for the books, I’d say.”

Seb let out a breathless moan as the man in his arms ground against him libidinously. The sniper’s arousal quickly sprang to life at the sudden friction.

“We still have one final night here until we go back to London,” Jim reminded him. “Might as well make the most of it.”

Sebastian needed no further encouragement. In an instant, his lips were pressed to those of his darling Magpie’s, bidding entry into the other man’s mouth. The Irishman eagerly complied and their tongues twined together in a ravishing kiss. So much passion filled their fiery embrace, neither wanted it to end. Fortunately, it didn’t have to, at least not until the amber strands of daybreak shone through.

Chapter Text

It was just after 3 a.m. when Sebastian walked through the entrance of the luxury residence he and Jim shared. Kicking off his boots, he sighed with relief that he was finally home. He’d spent the better part of the past two weeks abroad, seeing to various projects and loose ends. He hated being away from his husband for so long, but it was Jim who’d sent him on assignment. Married or not, Seb was undeniably the best sniper in his employ.  

“Jimmy?” he called out as he wandered toward the man’s office, knowing he often kept odd hours and would likely still be awake.

A light shined through the crack beneath the door, but no response was given.

Sebastian gently knocked. “Jim?” he beckoned once more, but again received nary a reply.

Deciding to step inside, the tall blonde was greeted to the sight of his spouse lying face down on his desk, snoozing away.  

He chuckled softly. “Hey there, Sleeping Beauty. Your prince has arrived.”

The mastermind stirred at the sound of his beloved’s voice. “Sebby, you’re home.”

“Sure am, hon,” he answered, moving to smooth down the mussed locks of Jim’s hair.

The smaller man hummed contentedly and leaned into his alpha’s touch.

“I take it someone missed me while I was gone?”

“Mmm, you know it.”

Seb grinned. He loved catching Jim in an affectionate mood.

“So how was the trip back?” the Irishman asked, yawning and rubbing the sleep from his eyes.

“Long and uncomfortable.”

Jim frowned. “First class not up to par?”

The assassin shook his head. “Didn’t make it there. The flight was overbooked and I got bumped to coach,” he explained. “Ended up sandwiched between a portly old man and a teenage girl who wouldn’t shut up. No leg room to speak of, either…had one hell of a charley horse by the time we touched down in London.”

Anger bubbled into Jim’s eyes. “Those worthless bastards! I paid good money for you to fly first class, and this is the service I receive? Well, they can sod right off,” he fumed. “I’ll be sending them a message first thing in the morning. Heads will roll, Sebby, mark my words.”

“Relax, sweetie.” With James Moriarty, the threat of heads rolling could be literal. “Nobody needs to get hurt over this,” he spoke softly, trying to diffuse his husband’s rage. “An attendant at the airline assured me that the price would be refunded within the next few days. It’s taken care of— no need to get upset.”

Jim took a deep breath and stared at Sebastian. “It’s the principle of the thing. People cannot be allowed to disrespect us. I won’t abide it.”

“I know, Jimmy. But this was simply a case of an overbooked flight. It’s okay now. I promise you it is.”

As suddenly as it had ignited, the fire faded from the man’s expression. “Fine,” he huffed. “I’ll consider the matter resolved. But only because you insist, Seb. If it was anyone else…”

“I know and I appreciate it. Thank you, love”

The two remained silent for a moment, wordlessly enjoying each other’s company as the mad genius calmed.

Jim motioned to pick up a cup of tea that sat on his desk, his nose crinkling as soon as he took a sip. “Ugh. This stuff is terrible once it’s gone cold.”

“What is it?” he questioned, noting that the liquid gave off a rather pungent aroma.

“Herbal tea.”

Sebastian smiled at the notion of London’s most dangerous man drinking some sort of new age, hippie brew. “Personally, I’d just as soon stick with Earl Grey.”

“Yes, well, you’ve got a choice. I have other factors to consider,” Jim said. “Too much caffeine isn’t good for a tiger cub.”

The former colonel’s eyes widened at his husband’s declaration. “Jimmy, are you—”

“Pregnant? Don’t know,” he admitted. “But with the possibility there, I’d rather err on the side of caution.”

Seb leaned down and kissed the smaller man atop the head, inhaling as he did so. “I don’t know how I didn’t notice as soon as I came in,” he whispered.

“What?”

“Your smell is different. Not by much…it’s just slightly off.”

Moriarty shrugged. “I started using a new body wash earlier this week. It’s supposed to tighten the pores.”

“No, I think it’s more than that.” He paused, considering the prospect. “How’ve you been feeling lately?”

“Bloody exhausted, though I’m sure that much was obvious by the nap you walked in on.”  

“Yes, and it’s not like you. Magpie’s always abuzz, right?”

Jim quieted for a moment, knowing in his heart that Sebastian spoke the truth. Oftentimes he was manic, straddling the edge between genius and insanity. He was a man who dared darkness to come, then laughed as evil itself ran from him. James Moriarty was brilliant and brazen; fierce to a fault.

James Moriarty was not, however, tired.

Tired. The mere thought of it made him wince. Average people got tired, got worn down by the humdrum of day-to-day life. Ordinary people. Not him. Never him.

“I’ll send for my doctor in the morning,” he said.

“Sounds good to me.”

Sebastian moved to stand behind his mate, massaging the man’s shoulders. He smiled as he felt him relax under the gentle ministrations.

“My Tiger,” Jim purred. “A born masseuse.”

“Well, if I ever retire, maybe I can find a second career in kinesiology,” he teased.

“Don’t even think about it. I’m the only one you’re allowed to touch like this. Nobody else.”

In a flash, Jim spun around in his chair and grasped Seb’s hand. “This palm, these fingers…they’re mine to command.”

The mastermind pressed Sebastian’s index and middle fingers to his lips, kissing them lightly before taking them into the warmth of his mouth. He sucked suggestively on the digits, a lustful look washing over him.  

The sniper swallowed. He loved this about Jim. His spouse was no ordinary omega; no wilting flower beholden to the will of another. By all accounts, James Moriarty was more confident and in control than many alphas he knew.

“Oh, Jimmy,” the fair-haired man muttered with a groan. Two weeks he had missed this. Two long, sexless weeks.

Before another thought could cross his mind, Sebastian found himself acting on instinct, swiftly scooping Jim into his arms.

The smaller man rested his head against his husband’s chest. “Make love to me, Sebby.”

“With pleasure,” he declared, his voice thick with desire.

Seb whisked them away to the main bedroom. Neither would be getting much, if any, sleep tonight. Somehow, both parties were just fine with that.

Chapter Text

It was 10 a.m. when Dr. Peter Ashton arrived at James Moriarty’s business headquarters. Under retainer, the physician always came to him, meeting on the mastermind’s premises rather than his own. Today was no exception.

Dr. Ashton was escorted to an empty office where Jim and Sebastian sat waiting. Though the pair were an intimidating sight, the man tried his best to be congenial, offering both a smile and a handshake before unpacking the contents of his medical bag. Once everything was properly assembled, he turned to face the men again.

“The procedure for this is fairly straightforward,” the doctor assured. “I extract a sample of Mr. Moriarty’s blood and have it sent to the lab. Your hormone levels,” he explained, eyes focused on Jim, “will determine whether the results are positive or negative. It should take about 48 hours to process.”

“Two days?” he grumbled. “I pay you a small fortune for your services and that’s the best you can do? I’d be better off using a home test.”

“You didn’t let me finish, sir,” Dr. Ashton countered. “The bloodwork requires two days to process, but if you’d like something more immediate, I also brought along the necessary tools to perform a urine test.”

Jim’s icy glare shifted into one of contemplation. “How much more immediate?”

“We could have those results within 10 minutes or so. It’s not as accurate, but it does provide a faster turnaround.”

“I want both tests done,” he asserted. “We’ll do the urine sample first.”

Dr. Ashton dared not keep him waiting. He quickly handed Moriarty a plastic cup and sent him in the direction of the nearest lavatory.

While Jim was out of the room, Sebastian stayed behind. An awkward silence settled over the room as neither he nor the physician spoke. The assassin couldn’t really blame the man for their lack of conversation. Ashton only knew him as Jim’s primary bodyguard. He had no idea they were actually married. It’d been a mutual decision not to make their union publically known. If the wrong people got wind of the information, they could very easily be targeted. They were, as Jim put it, each other’s “pressure points.”

It wasn’t long before the genius returned, sample in tow. The doctor got to work setting up a test strip, then prepared to take a vial of his patient’s blood. After that, all they could do was wait.

*********

10 minutes. Such a short amount of time, and yet it felt like an eternity as Jim and Sebastian sat there, eagerly anticipating the test results.

Seb played it cool, his face a steely façade of iron. His husband, though, was not as calm. The man nervously drummed his fingers against the arm of his chair and shot frequent glances at the clock on the wall. Jim was anxious as hell, a fact which seemed to unsettle the doctor.

Finally, the moment arrived.

Dr. Ashton carefully assessed the test strip, then returned to sit across from the formidable men.

Jim peered at him expectantly. “Well? What’s the verdict?”

The middle-aged physician swallowed, terrified of delivering what might be considered “bad news.”

“Mr. Moriarty, the results are positive. You’re pregnant.”

Jim’s eyes widened at the confirmation, a response Dr. Ashton sorely misread.

“I can schedule an appointment for termination as soon as possible, sir. I wouldn’t be the one performing the procedure, but I assure you’d be in good hands.”

Jim’s expression turned downright deadly as he lunged at his doctor, grabbing the man by the throat. The sheer force knocked him from his chair onto the floor, where Moriarty continued choking him.

“You want to murder my child before he even draws breath?” Jim spat. The fury surging through him was palpable.

Sebastian swiftly moved into action, pulling him off the man whose eyes were now bulging.

“Jimmy, stop!” he shouted, trying his damnedest to subdue his mate. Jim struggled fitfully before stilling in his arms.

“He wants to murder our baby! I won’t allow it!”

The fair-haired alpha took a deep breath. He knew what this was. Jim had a natural instinct to protect his young. 

“It’s okay, love. Nobody’s going to harm our little one,” he assured. “I think Dr. Ashton just misunderstood your wishes. He didn’t know you were trying to get pregnant.”

Hearing Seb’s statement, the physician blanched. Never in his wildest dreams did he imagine that James Moriarty, criminal extraordinaire, would seek to carry a child. Speaking of which…

“Mr. Moran here is the father?” he asked, finally gathering his bearings enough to stand.

Jim internally cringed at his own slip of the tongue. “You tell no one,” he warned. “If I find out you’ve said even the slightest thing about this, I will skiiiiiin you.”

“I took an oath to uphold doctor-patient confidentiality, sir. I would never betray that trust.”

“For your sake, you had better not,” the Irishman declared. “And yes, Sebastian is the father. It’s a fine match in the genetics department, if I do say so. My brains and his brawn combined.”

Seb couldn’t help but swell with pride at the thought of his and Jim’s child. This is really happening. We’ve created a whole new person who’s a part of us both. It was surreal and wondrous, and if he pondered it for too long, it just might blow his mind.

“Yes, a remarkable union if ever there was,” the physician nervously concurred.

Dr. Ashton was clearly shaken by what had transpired and wanted to conclude their meeting posthaste. There was still one last matter to discuss, though.

“In the best interests of you and your progeny, I’m going to refer you to a specialist. I know an excellent obstetrician who has experience with male omega pregnancies. She’s among the best in Europe.”

Jim paused, considering the idea. “Register the appointment under a pseudonym and text me the details,” he said coolly. “Now if it’s all the same to you, I think we’re quite done here.” Ashton did not disagree.

“Come, Sebby. A celebratory brunch is in order.”

Sebastian grinned and followed his mate out the door. In that moment, his heart was so alight with the notion of fatherhood, he thought it might burst. This was worthy of celebration and then some.

Chapter Text

“Honey, I know you don’t feel well, but if we don’t leave soon we’re going to be late.”

As if on cue, Sebastian heard the whoosh of a toilet flush, followed by the sight of his husband finally exiting their bathroom. Jim looked decidedly worse for wear. No surprise, though, considering the man had been retching for the better part of a half hour.

“They can bloody well hold our spot,” he grumbled. “If they give it away to someone else, I’ll have you bring the doctor here at gunpoint.”

Seb smirked. Coming from Jim, even if something sounded like a joke, there was at least a 50% chance he was serious.

“So long as we get a move on, I don’t think it will come to that.”

“Yes, well, it if does—” the consulting criminal abruptly stopped in mid-sentence, making a mad dash back to the loo.

My poor Magpie. Morning sickness was a normal part of pregnancy, but it seemed to have hit Jim especially hard. Seb could all too vividly recall an incident from earlier in the week that had given him quite a scare. Unable to keep down even a small packet of saltines, his mate succumbed to the throes of unconsciousness right there on the bathroom floor. The strapping assassin discovered him face down, clammy and incoherent. Thankfully, he regained his senses soon after being moved to the couch, but still, it was an image forever burned into Moran’s brain.

A few minutes passed and Jim reemerged. The Irishman appeared far more ragged than usual, having traded in his customary Westwood attire for jeans and a t-shirt. He hadn’t even bothered to slick back his hair, instead leaving it naturally tousled, reminding Seb of the time he masqueraded as Richard Brook.

“Better?” the blonde asked, pulling Jim into a protective embrace. He held him close, rubbing small circles against his back. Moriarty hummed appreciatively at the gesture. 

“I am now, Tiger.”

*********

Though Jim and Sebastian were nearly 10 minutes late, premier obstetrician Dr. Julia Swenson upheld their slot. The pair quickly felt reassured upon meeting her— she really did have impressive credentials and a strong background in her field. Once Jim was confident in the woman’s abilities, he admitted his and Seb’s true identities to her, knowing she would be his primary physician for the next nine months.

After getting the basics out of the way, it was time to proceed with the ultrasound. The mastermind was particularly excited, beaming like a child on Christmas morning. Thinking about it, Sebastian realized he hadn’t seen his husband so genuinely happy since their wedding day.

Jim laid back on the examination table and pushed his clothing out of the way, exposing his abdomen. The once flat expanse of his stomach now had a slight curve to it, which was somewhat unusual considering he was only 8 weeks along. Still, the doctor said it was nothing to be alarmed by.

“Ahh,” the dark-eyed man hissed as cold conductive jelly made contact with his skin.

“Sorry, that’s the unpleasant part of this process,” Dr. Swenson acknowledged as she pulled out a transducer. Placing the device on the slickened area, an image came up on the attached monitor.

“Oh my,” she said, looking at the screen.

Jim furrowed a brow. “What is it? Is something wrong?” He nervously glanced from her to Seb, and then back to her again.

“There’s nothing wrong,” she assured. “But I can see why you’ve been experiencing such intense morning sickness and why you’ve already got a bit of a baby bump.”

Moriarty and Moran peered at each other, curious as to what Dr. Swenson was getting at.

She smiled at the men. “Look closely. There are two sacs.”

Jim’s eyes widened. “Are you saying—”  

“That you’re having twins, yes.”

“Oh, Jimmy,” Sebastian exclaimed. He reached out to hold his husband’s hand, their fingers interlacing.  

“Are you sure?” the Irishman asked, seeing the picture on the screen but not entirely believing it.

“Very. There are definitely two sacs here, which means we’re likely dealing with fraternal twins. Both fetuses look healthy,” she noted. “Do you want to hear their heartbeat?”

“Yes,” Jim and Seb said simultaneously. They laughed at their synchronized timing, grinning like joyful fools over the news of their offspring.    

“Bear in mind that it’s still early, so the sound might be faint,” Dr. Swenson said as she turned up the volume on the medical equipment.

Suddenly, a gentle pulsing noise could be heard. It was just barely audible, but pumped steadily.

Jim’s breath hitched and he squeezed Sebastian’s hand. “Sebby…” he whispered, overwhelmed by emotion. It was a strange feeling for one who’d once derided sentiment as little more than inane fodder invented by the weak-willed. How far the world’s greatest consulting criminal had come since those days.

“In a few weeks it will be easier to detect. By then, you’ll be able to listen at home using a Doppler.”

“I’ll order one today,” Jim proclaimed. The sound of his babies’ beating hearts was the most brilliant thing he had ever heard. He’d listen to them every day if he could.

*********

The Magpie and his Tiger walked out of Dr. Swenson’s office arm-in-arm. They were all smiles, drunk on love for each other and for the new lives blossoming within Jim. It was a perfect portrait of bliss.

One man, however, did not appear pleased. Camouflaged in a dark hat, coat, and sunglasses, he surreptitiously peered at the pair while pretending to read something on his phone. He snorted after watching them exit, lips curling into a sneer.

“Found you, Moran.”

Chapter Text

Two weeks had passed since Jim’s fateful appointment with the obstetrician. In that time, he’d struggled to split his interests between work and baby preparations. Even with Sebastian’s help, there just didn’t seem to be enough hours in the day to manage it all.

Ultimately, he decided to tell his staff that he had a “special project” to attend to— one which would keep him away from the office at odd intervals. Those on his payroll needed no further explanation. Anyone who dared press Moriarty for more details wouldn’t live long enough to make the mistake again.

“Seb, what do you think of these swatches?” the mastermind asked his spouse. An array of color samples lay on the kitchen table, spread out in no particular order.

“They all look fine to me.”

“Come on, I want you to be a part of this. It’s for the babies.”

“I trust your good taste.”

And he really did. It was Jim, after all, who’d wanted to start planning the nursery as soon as they learned they were having twins. Straightaway, he was on the phone making arrangements, and within days, a decorator from New York stood at their door. Sworn to secrecy about the assignment, the woman had been sending over sample upon sample for absolutely everything. Frankly, the sniper was out of his element with this stuff, but Jim reveled in it.

Jim’s stomach growled loudly, interrupting their conversation on interior design. Sebastian was grateful for the reprieve.

“Sebby…” the dark-eyed genius spoke, gazing longingly at the other man.

Seb knew what he wanted.

Oatmeal.

The former colonel got up and began to prepare a hot, wholesome bowl of oats for his husband. It didn’t take much time to cook, and before long he was dishing it out to place in front of the hungry Irishman.

“Thank you, Tiger.”

Sebastian leaned down to steal a kiss from him. It was little moments like these that he treasured.

Jim devoured his oatmeal like it was manna from the heavens. Seb smiled at the sight, pleased that after several weeks of brutal morning sickness, his partner had finally found a food he could keep down.

It’d been no easy feat. Everything seemed to make Moriarty nauseous, even certain smells. The constant illness left him drained and he was concerned for the wellbeing of their unborn children. His research on twin pregnancy recommended consuming an extra 600 calories a day, but he simply couldn’t eat anything without throwing it back up. It was very discouraging.

Then one auspicious day, it all changed. Sebastian had made himself a bowl of oatmeal with brown sugar while Jim rested on the couch. The scent wafted through the air, and for the first time in ages, the consulting criminal found a food smell downright enticing. This was a huge development.

Testing the waters, he took a taste. One spoonful turned into another and another, until eventually he consumed the entire bowl. Even better was when, an hour later, he still felt okay. No retching or heaving to be had. It was remarkable. Ever since that breakthrough, Jim ate oatmeal on a daily basis, sometimes indulging in seconds or thirds.     

“That’s the last of it,” Sebastian said. “I’ll run out for more soon.”

Finishing the final bite, Jim leaned back in his chair and yawned. “I appreciate it, Seb. Think I might take a nap while you’re gone.”

The blonde man smiled. He loved this; loved taking care of Jim. Never in a million years did he believe he’d find domesticity so rewarding, but something about it just felt right. His Magpie was the light of his life, and now with the babies on the way, his once dark heart threatened to overflow with joy. True happiness had found Sebastian Moran at last.

*********

Seb had a plan. After some light grocery shopping, he would pick up a surprise gift for his husband. The sniper was never very good at selecting presents, but this time he knew he wanted it to be a high-end item. The illustrious James Moriarty deserved only the best. 

He drove around London for a bit, trying to decide on a shop. Finally, he came upon Rolex Boutique. Something about the place called to him. It was perfect.

Stepping inside, he approached a large glass display case containing a selection of finely crafted timepieces. There were so many to choose from, Sebastian wasn’t sure where to begin. Thankfully, a clerk soon approached.

“Hello, sir. May I help you find anything?” the posh young assistant asked. His nametag read Tom.

“Yes, perhaps. I’m looking to surprise someone.”

“Very good. Our quality watches make for an excellent choice of gift. Is there a particular model you had in mind?”

“Not really, but…” he paused, considering it. If he could, he’d like to find something that included his impending children’s birthstone— amethyst.

“Do you have any products that feature gemstones?”

“Certainly, sir. We offer a number of timepieces accented with diamonds. We also carry items featuring ruby and emerald stones.”

“What about amethyst?”

Suddenly, an elderly man standing nearby began to chuckle. The eavesdropper was apparently getting a good laugh out of their conversation, much to Seb’s chagrin.

“Something funny?” the assassin demanded, turning his attention to the nosy old codger.

“Oh, yes,” he asserted. “Coming in here asking for an amethyst Rolex. That’s bloody hilarious.”

“And why is that?” Sebastian pressed. He was growing increasingly irritated.

“They don’t make amethyst Rolexes— never have,” the man said as if it was common knowledge. “You must be new money. Either that or someone’s well-kept rent boy.”

This was too much for Moran to take. With one swift step, he bridged the gap between himself and the mouthy old man.

“Listen here, I’m no one’s ‘rent boy.’ In fact, I’m very happily married,” he informed him. “My money’s just as good as yours, and I don’t appreciate the snide remarks. So what if I’ve never bought a Rolex before? It’s not your business.”

Sebastian struggled to be as polite as possible under the circumstance. The last thing he needed was to be thrown out of an upscale shop on Bond Street. If that happened, he’d never hear the end of it from Jim.  

Tom, the clerk, stepped between the two men. “Please, gentlemen, let’s not make a scene.” Glaring, both backed away from each other.

“This is disgraceful. The quality of your clientele has gone alarmingly downhill,” the elder spat before storming out.

Good riddance, Seb thought.

“I’m so sorry, sir. I swear to you, our customers are usually far more courteous than that. Please don’t let him ruin your first experience with us.”

“I won’t,” he assured. “Not your fault some people make arses of themselves.”

“Indeed, sir.” Tom smiled in relief that he had not lost a sale over the conflict. “Now, where were we?” he queried, hoping to steer the conversation back on topic.

“I wanted to buy a watch that incorporated amethyst into the design. However, I’ve since been made aware that those don’t exist.”

“While it’s true we do not currently offer amethyst accented timepieces, we do have some models which feature a purple dial. It’s not a gemstone, but the color is comparable. Would you be interested in seeing those?”

Sebastian was pleasantly surprised. A purple dial wasn’t what he’d initially set out to buy, but he reckoned it was worth a look. Nodding to the affirmative, the clerk led him to another display.

“As you can see, we have an assortment to choose from. Please note that most of these are a part of our women’s collection. We do offer one unisex model, though.” 

“Show me,” he commanded.

Tom walked behind the counter and unlocked the case, removing a specific watch. He cradled the item in his hands, presenting it to Sebastian.

“This is made from stainless steel and features a grape dial. It’s scratch resistant and waterproof. It’s a wonderful style that combines both elegance and practicality.”

Seb keenly examined the timepiece, imagining what it would look like on Jim. The man did strive to be fashionable.

“I’ll take it,” he decided. “I’d like it giftwrapped as well.”

“As you wish, sir. I’ll have it ready in a jiff.”

Sebastian smiled, feeling content. He couldn’t wait to see his Magpie’s reaction to the gift. Jim is going to love it.

*********

A slight breeze carried through the air as Seb walked to his car, package in hand. His cheerful mood was cut woefully short by the unsettling sight that greeted him: a knife stuck through one of the back tires, rendering it flat.

“What the hell?” he exclaimed, crouching down to inspect the damage. The weapon piercing through the rubber was fairly nondescript— it was a plain looking blade without any distinguishing details. It could’ve been bought and wielded by anyone.

For a moment, he wondered if the ornery old man from the shop might’ve done it, but he wouldn’t have known which vehicle was Sebastian’s. So what did it mean? Was it just a random act of vandalism?

Then the sniper noticed something. There was a note wadded up and stuck under his windshield wiper. He hadn’t seen it at first because his attention went straight to the speared tire.

Unfolding the note, a chill ran down Seb’s spine as he read what it said: See you soon.

           

Chapter Text

Sebastian Moran was on edge. It’d been a week since his tire was slashed outside the jewelry store, and in that short amount of time, paranoia set in. He couldn’t shake the unnerving feeling of being watched. Home was still safe, thank god, but at work and on the streets…that was another story entirely.

Twice while on assignment, he sensed invisible eyes fixing upon him. The presence lingered like a predator shadowing its prey. He checked his surroundings for signs of a pursuer, but it was to no avail. If someone was actually there, they remained well hidden.

So far, Seb had managed to keep Jim shielded from what was going on. He’d passed the vandalism incident off as a standard flat tire mishap, neglecting to mention that it was quite obviously an act of malice. News of the ominous note, too, was omitted. He wondered how long he’d be able to keep these things from his husband. Moriarty was, by all accounts, perceptive to a fault.

“Sebbbby,” a familiar sing-song voice called out from the kitchen. “Be a dear and fetch me the newspaper.”

“Sure, Jim.” The sniper headed for the door, knowing how much his mate enjoyed reading The Daily Telegraph while feasting on his morning oatmeal.

Bending down to pick up the periodical, Sebastian’s blood ran cold when he spied a folded up piece of paper tucked under the doormat.

No, no, no! Not another one. He took a deep breath and carefully opened the note.

‘People like you don’t deserve to have families.’

“Oh fuck,” he muttered too softly for Jim to hear.

This was worse than he thought. It meant that the stalker knew where he lived, and by association, where Jim and their unborn children resided as well.

For the first time in a very long while, the ordinarily unshakeable assassin was really and truly afraid.

*********

“No, two extra guards aren’t enough!” Seb barked into his phone. “I want at least a dozen men added to Mr. Moriarty’s security detail. Some of them will be posted at his office, some at home, and a few will remain on reserve to accompany him during offsite excursions. Do I make myself clear? Good.”

Sebastian ended the call with a weary sigh. It was difficult getting Jim’s underlings to comprehend why their boss needed increased security right now. He couldn’t exactly tell them the truth of the matter. Additionally, some individuals were reluctant to greenlight any orders that didn’t come from the consulting criminal himself. Seb had to remind them that as second-in-command, they had damn well better respect his authority.

After doing what he could to beef up Jim’s protection, the sniper’s next move was to find out who, precisely, was behind the campaign of harassment. Both he and his better half had acquired a slew of enemies through the years. With that in mind, it left the list of suspects wide open.

Whoever was responsible knew that he and the mastermind were a family. This aspect forced Sebastian to consider the terrible possibility that the culprit might be someone who knew them outside of their on-the-job activities.

‘People like you,’ the note had said. Taken at face value, the statement could be referring to the fact that they were criminals. But what if…

Sebastian growled, growing angry at the thought that ran through his mind. What if the person is some bigot who heard that a gay couple was having children?

At this point, he couldn’t rule it out. Maybe the decorator Jim hired had let something slip that she shouldn’t have. Or perhaps someone at the obstetrics clinic had seen them and figured it out. They’d taken Seb’s car that day— maybe they were tracked. The unfortunate truth was that, as of right now, he just plain didn’t know what he was dealing with.

He hated the uncertainty. Hated that some son of a bitch dared to threaten them. But most of all, he hated not being sure of how to best protect Jim. Protect the madcap Irishman who was his husband, his friend, his boss, his precious omega who was carrying his children. James Moriarty was everything to him.

Whoever is behind this will pay dearly. That was a promise.

*********

Seb had just gotten out of a meeting to coordinate an upcoming mission when his cell phone went off. Checking the device, he saw that it was a text from Jim.

JM

Sebby, darling? My office NOW.  

 

He furrowed a brow. A message like that could mean one of two things: (1.) Jim was pissed, or (2.) Jim’s morning sickness had alleviated enough that he was finally feeling frisky again. Personally, Sebastian was hoping for the latter.

As directed, he entered Moriarty’s office, shutting the door behind him. He could already tell by the icy look on Jim’s face that he hadn’t been summoned for a shag.

“Something the matter?” Seb asked, sporting a sweet sharky smile he knew Jim found endearing.

“Don’t think you can get out of this by flashing me a sexy grin,” the dark-eyed genius spoke, almost as if he could read the other man’s mind. “Sit.”

Sebastian obeyed.

“Good boy,” he mockingly praised. “Now you’re going to tell me why, as of today, you gave the order to triple my security detail.”

“Well, uh, you see…” the sniper trailed off, at a loss as to how to explain the situation. He’d dreaded this moment since the whole mess began.

“Please, do go on. I’d love to know the reason why I can’t visit the loo without having someone wait for me outside the restroom. Or better yet, why I can’t even stop by the café across the street without being trailed by a guard.”

“Café?” the blonde asked in surprise. “I thought you quit drinking coffee. Too much caffeine, remember?”

Jim rolled his eyes. “I ordered hot chocolate— the caffeine in it is negligible. Now don’t change the subject.”

“Fine,” he conceded. “It’s for your own safety,”

Moriarty snorted incredulously. “My safety? I’m pregnant, Seb, not made of glass.”

“There’s more to it than that. Recent events have led me to believe someone may try to harm you.” Just saying the words out loud made Sebastian’s heart ache.

“What recent events? You work for me,” Jim stressed. “Why have I not been made aware of these developments?”

It was a fair question, and one that the former colonel had mulled over at length. He should’ve been honest with his partner from the start. James Moriarty deserved better than the sin of omission.

And so Sebastian told him everything. He admitted the truth of how he really got the flat tire and informed him of the notes that had been left. By the end of his rambling confession, the sniper was showering his husband and boss with a flurry of apologies.

“I’m sorry, Jimmy. I wasn’t trying to deceive you for any malicious purpose. I swear on my life, I wasn’t. I just…” Seb paused, his composure waning. “It’s like you always used to say about ‘pressure points.’ Everyone has someone they want to protect.” He cast his sight downward, ashamed to look Jim in the eye.

The consulting criminal moved from behind his desk to meet Sebastian where he sat. He placed a hand under the larger man’s chin, tilting his face up.

“Hey, look at me, Tiger.”

And Seb did. Their gazes locked intently.

“Make no mistake,” Jim declared, “I do not tolerate deception from anyone, even you. Try it again and there will be consequences.” He took a breath and his sharp expression softened. “In this case, however, I understand why you did it.”

Jim shifted his hand from Sebastian’s chin to his cheek, stroking the slightly stubbled expanse of skin. The assassin leaned into his lover’s touch.

“You don’t need to worry about this anymore. I’ll find out who’s behind the threats and then I’ll send you to kill them. Perhaps I’ll even accompany you for the proceedings,” he said, grinning wickedly.

Seb didn’t reply with words, instead choosing a more visceral means of communication. He wrapped his arms around the man he adored, resting his head against Jim’s waist. If he could, he would stay that way forever, bound in his Magpie’s embrace.      

         

Chapter Text

“Careful!” Jim shouted. “That cot costs more than you make in a day. I’d sooner have you replaced than it.”

The delivery man took Moriarty’s criticism in stride, knowing better than to argue with a customer, especially one who’d bought such expensive furnishings. Thankfully, this was the last piece he had to unload.

“Sorry, sir,” he politely replied, keeping his head down as he finished positioning the second canopy crib. “That’s the final item. Please enjoy your purchase.”

The man exited the room and headed for the front door. As soon as he was gone, Jim turned to Sebastian.

“Isn’t it beautiful?” he asked, positively radiating with delight.

Today marked a milestone in the decorating process. Jim and his interior designer decided on a pastel color palette for the nursery and many of the luxury furniture items they’d ordered had arrived. Everything was so opulent and elegant— even the matching white canopy cribs were accented with 24-carat gold.

“It’s a room fit for royalty,” Seb affirmed.

“Oh Sebby, that’s exactly what I was trying to achieve. I want nothing but the best for our little princes…or princesses,” he eagerly declared. “I just wish I knew their genders already. Then I could tailor the accessories better.”

“We’ll find out soon, kitten,” the sniper assured. At Jim’s last checkup, Dr. Swenson said it was still too early to know for sure. In two weeks’ time they’d be able to make a more accurate determination.

“You know how much I hate waiting for things,” the Irishman bemoaned. “But,” he paused, pressing himself suggestively against Sebastian’s firm, muscular frame, “I can think of a few ways to occupy myself until then.”

Excitement rocketed through the blonde assassin as he felt his husband’s body molded to his own. Not since the earliest stages of Jim’s pregnancy had the man expressed any real signs of sexual interest. The nonstop morning sickness had put a kibosh on that aspect of their relationship. Did something change? Dare he dream?

“You sure you’re up to it?” Seb immediately lamented his choice of words as he quite literally felt just how up Jim was.

“I think you know the answer to that one, Tiger.” He grinned impishly, his sheathed arousal rubbing against the matching hardness that had sprung to life in Sebastian’s pants.

The former colonel growled lustfully, seizing Jim’s mouth in a passionate kiss.

“That’s more like it,” the smaller man proclaimed. “Right now I’m feeling better than I have in months and I intend to make the most of it.”

Seb didn’t need to be told twice. If Jim wanted sex, he would get it.

*********

Afternoon turned to evening as the two most dangerous men in London surrendered unto their desires. Jim was downright indefatigable, almost daring his mate to keep up. Sebastian hadn’t seen him this hot and bothered since the last time he was in heat. It was spectacular. 

“God, I’ve missed this,” the mastermind cooed. He nestled beside Seb as closely as he could, savoring the man’s warm embrace.

“Me, too.” He hugged his Magpie tighter, not wanting to let go. If he could just keep him like this, safe in his arms, then maybe everything would be okay. Maybe the worry that gnawed at him day-in and day-out would subside.

Oh, how Sebastian worried. They never found out who was stalking them. All intel proved fruitless, leading to nothing but dead ends. Jim shrugged it off, not treating the matter very seriously. He even let go of the extra guards Seb hired, insisting they weren’t necessary.

Moriarty theorized that their harasser was simply some low-level thug hoping to rattle them in order to make a name for himself. The mysterious individual had not struck again since the note under the doormat, further convincing Jim that the culprit was an amateur who got cold feet and gave up. Seb, however, was not fully convinced.

The intrepid sniper had a bad feeling about the situation. His instincts as a hunter and as an alpha told him to beware; told him not to become complacent. This period of inactivity from the stalker might be a calculated maneuver. A trick intended to lull them into a false sense of security. It could mean—

“Tiger,” Jim spoke, derailing the fair-haired man’s train of thought. “Would you like to hear the babies?”

“Yeah, Jimmy. I’d love to.”

The Irishman sat up and retrieved a handheld Doppler from the nightstand, along with a tube of ultrasound gel. He applied the viscous substance to his abdomen and turned on the device.

Sebastian watched in awe. “You’re an old pro at this,” he teased. In a manner of speaking, it was actually true. Jim made a point of listening to the babies every night, no matter how busy he was with other things. It was his way of bonding with them.

“Some people don’t know how to use these devices properly. Ordinary people,” he remarked disdainfully as he slid the transducer across the gelled area. Right then, a fast-paced thumping sound broadcast through the speaker. “I am anything but ordinary,” Jim said with a smirk.    

Seb chuckled. “That’s for damn sure.”

The couple listened in silence for a few seconds, enjoying the strong rhythm of their children’s hearts.

“Is it my imagination or do I hear an echo?” Sebastian asked.

“Of course there’s an echo— we’re having twins. Two heartbeats, Tiger.”

“Ah, yeah. That’s true.” The former colonel felt a bit stupid for having questioned something so obvious.

If Jim was at all fazed by his husband’s gaffe, he didn’t show it. Pure, undiluted happiness was the only thing that registered on his face.

“Sebby, I love these babies so much,” he confessed, his voice steeped with emotion. “There was a time when I thought children would be a burden…a liability unworthy of my effort. But you changed my mind. Made me want to have a tiger cub who’d embody the best of us both.” He clasped his mate’s hand, looking deep into his blue eyes. “Thank you, Sebastian.”

The consulting criminal’s mood must have been contagious, because Seb found himself struggling to hold back a tear. He’d never adored Jim more than at that moment. The feeling was entirely mutual.  

*********

Morning came quicker than Moriarty and Moran would’ve liked. They decided to get an early jump on the day in preparation for an 8 a.m. meeting where both would be in attendance. After a hot shower to wake themselves up, they dressed and shared breakfast together.

Jim glanced at the wristwatch Seb had given him, checking the time. “We should get going soon,” he stated.

The taller man nodded, finishing his last bite of bacon before grabbing the car keys. “Your chariot awaits, my lord.”

Moriarty laughed, smiling brightly. That was something the mastermind did a lot lately, and Sebastian was glad for it. He wished he could bottle this version of Jim— make it so that his husband remained in high spirits forever.

*********

The consulting criminal and his sniper were the first to arrive at Jim’s headquarters. Even his longtime personal secretary, Suzy, had not yet come in. The duo didn’t mind being alone— in fact, they’d half-jokingly discussed the merits of having a quickie in Jim’s office during the car ride over.

“Let’s hold off until after the meeting, Tiger. I’ve got a few hours free this afternoon,” he said with a seductive lilt.

Seb grunted hoarsely. “You know that’s all I’m going to be thinking about now, right? While everyone’s talking business, I’ll be sitting there picturing you spread across your desk wearing nothing but a smile.”

“Ooh, honey, I love your imagination.”

Jim turned to unlock his office door and Sebastian followed. Flipping on the lights, both were utterly horrified by the sight that greeted them: a baby doll hanging from a noose off the ceiling fan. A sonogram photo was tacked to its body…Jim’s sonogram, from his last appointment with Dr. Swenson.

The dark-eyed genius began to hyperventilate, his vision growing blurry as he collapsed to the floor.

“Jim!” Sebastian exclaimed, rushing to his husband’s aid. He lifted him into his strong arms and laid him on a nearby couch.

“S-s-s-Sebby,” he panted, struggling to speak through the panic.

“I’m right here, Magpie.” The assassin held the Irishman’s hand as he tried to calm him down. “It’s going to be okay. You’re safe with me.”

“The…the…the picture.”

“I know, Jimmy, I know. But the sick fuck who staged this isn’t here right now. It’s just us.” Sebastian prayed that was true. The last thing he needed was an early morning melee, especially with Jim in such an upset state.

Moriarty took deep breaths, trying to regain some semblance of composure. Despite what was going on, he still had a meeting to host within an hour’s time. He couldn’t let anyone see him like this.  

“Sebby, we’re going straight home after the conference. I need to know if the house has been breached. I need to check…”

He didn’t want to say it. Didn’t want to say that he needed to check the baby book he’d been keeping since his first ultrasound. He had to see if the last photo was stolen from it.

“Of course, Jimmy.” Seb knew what Jim was thinking. And if it was true— if there was proof someone had been in their home— then god have mercy on the perpetrator’s soul, because London’s most dangerous men would not.  

Chapter Text

After finding the macabre hanging doll display in Jim’s office, he and Sebastian redoubled their efforts to track down the stalker. As feared, the sonogram photo that was used had indeed been stolen from Moriarty’s scrapbook. Once it was confirmed, the couple temporarily vacated their home and brought in a team to sweep the place for covert devices. A thorough search found no evidence of bugging, but the men were unnerved just the same. For added peace of mind, locks were changed, security cameras were installed at the front and rear of the house, and a rotation of guards were assigned to surveil their home from the street.

Meanwhile, Jim spearheaded an investigation into how someone was able to break into his business headquarters. According to timestamps on the security footage, power had been cut for approximately 20 minutes. No one could explain exactly what caused the outage. The only thing they knew for sure was that no other buildings were affected— this was specific to their location.

Jim was truly frazzled. Either someone he trusted was in on the plot, or someone outside of his staff had found a way to hack into their system. Both options were awful. It was a collective clusterfuck that led him no closer to learning the identity of the stalker than before.

BAM. BAM. BAM.

Sebastian hurried into Jim’s office, hearing a series of loud banging noises. What he discovered inside was his husband kicking the ever-loving shit out of a filing cabinet. The metal plating actually had dents in it.

“Whatever that cabinet did to piss you off, I think it’s learned its lesson,” the sniper joked, trying to ease Jim’s mood.

“Tiger.” The Irishman sighed heavily, a jumbled mess of nerves and frustration.

Seb approached his spouse, encircling his arms around him in a gentle hug. Jim responded keenly, gripping the former colonel as if he were a life preserver in the middle of a raucous sea.

“Why can’t I figure out who’s after us?” he asked, sounding equal parts exasperated and afraid. “You know who gets stalked? Ordinary people, Seb. Boring people, too stupid for the hunt. They become prey. Not me. I’m too clever for it…or at least I used to be.”

Sebastian held Moriarty close. It broke his heart to see him so distraught. Pregnancy hormones and situational stress were a vicious combination.

“Jim,” the blonde assassin spoke, “I want to take you away from here.”

“Well, I was planning to call it a day after lunch. We could grab a bite and then go home together if you’d like.”

“No, I mean I want to take you out of this city. Leave London and go someplace else. Get away from everyone until the babies are born.”

Jim backed away, glaring angrily. “You want me to give up! You want me to turn tail and run. Let this bastard win.”

“What I want is for you to be safe. You’re my priority.” He took a step towards Jim, laying an outstretched hand on the small swell of his stomach. “All I care about is you and our little ones…our tiger cubs.”

That did it. The consulting criminal could take no more. His breathing grew heavy as he threw himself back into Sebastian’s embrace. Resting his head against the taller man, he closed his eyes. It was all he could do not to cry. Tears weren’t something Moriarty permitted, even when it was just the two of them.   

“My worst fears are coming true, Sebby. I used to think no one would ever get to me. Now it feels like everyone and everything is getting to me,” he confessed. “I can’t bear it.”

“Jimmy, why don’t you take some time off? You can oversee business operations from home while you decompress.”

“Me, decompress? I’m not sure I’d know how.”

“I’ve heard yoga’s good for relaxation,” Sebastian noted. “Meditation, as well.”

Jim laughed. “Can you picture me doing either of those things? I mean really, Seb.”

“You are rather flexible,” the assassin teased.

“Not so much these days. I’m a bit thicker around the middle than I used to be.”

Seb grinned. “I love the reason why.”

The madcap omega looked up at his gorgeous mate, a genuine smile dancing across his lips. “You know what? I do, too.”

*********

Jim decided to take Sebastian’s advice and work from home. It had only been a few days, but so far, so good. The business dealings were the easy part. What proved more difficult was finding an outlet for his stress.

Moriarty’s mind raced at a breakneck pace. Attempts at meditation were futile. He’d also explored other potentially relaxing activities such as painting, piano playing, and even knitting. None provided the release he so desperately sought after, though he had managed to craft an adorable set of booties for the twins.

There was still one more endeavor he wanted to try. He’d gotten the idea for it while watching, of all things, a segment on morning television. If nothing else, it would be fun for a lark.            

Jim smirked at the thought. He’d do it…and Seb would be his guinea pig.  

*********

Sebastian Moran, sniper extraordinaire, walked through the front door of his home after a hard day on the job. Upon entry, he was immediately bombarded by a sweet and sumptuous smell. Curiosity compelled him to follow the scent trail. The aroma grew stronger and more pervasive, until finally, he reached the kitchen. What he saw was astonishing.

The countertops were covered by a veritable smorgasbord of baked goods. Cookies, cupcakes, tortes, and pies sat everywhere. It was a display worthy of any gourmet pastry shop.

“Surpriiiise!” Jim sang out, sneaking up from behind the fair-haired man.

“It sure is. You’ve been a busy boy.”

Moriarty shrugged. “You mean this?” he said nonchalantly, motioning to the assortment of confectioneries that surrounded them. “It’s just a little something to help work out my stress. No big deal.”

“No big deal? It looks like you’re ready to cater a gala event.”

“Hmm, well, maybe I did go a teensy bit overboard,” he cheekily admitted. “How would you like to take a taste?”

“Do you even have to ask? It’s taking great restraint not to devour everything in sight.”

Jim raised an eyebrow. “Everything? Oh my. All in good time, Tiger. Let’s concentrate on the desserts for now, shall we?”

“But of course,” Seb said with a chuckle. His Magpie was a shameless flirt and he loved him for it.

“What would you like to sample first?”

“You’re the baker. What do you recommend?”

The genius thought about it for a moment, then turned to select a cookie from off a silver platter. “I had you in mind when I made this one.”

“Oh? In that case, I’m sure it will be the best of the bunch.”

Jim rolled his eyes. “Just eat it.”

Sebastian did as told. A rich blend of flavors came together in his mouth, combining to form one of the most delectable treats he’d ever had the privilege of tasting.

“God, this is amazing. What is it?”

“Oatmeal-chocolate chip almond,” he replied. “After all the times you made me oatmeal these past few months, I figured I owed you a bit of the stuff.”

“Jimmy,” he whispered, “that’s an incredibly thoughtful gesture.” He reached out to stroke the Irishman’s cheek. “Thank you, love.”

Moriarty flushed a little. “It’s just a cookie, is all.” But they both knew that wasn’t true. The sentiment behind it spoke volumes.

“Ready to try something else?” Jim asked. He was quick to change the subject for fear of becoming too emotional.

“I’d love to.”

At that, the mastermind picked out an especially decadent chocolate cupcake. “I consider this among my finest baking achievements. It’s devil’s food with fudge frosting.”

Seb eagerly bit into the dessert, grunting in approval at first taste. “You’ve outdone yourself, Jim. This is fucking fantastic.”

“I’m a man of many talents,” he quipped.

“You can say that again. All these years together and I never knew you were a pastry chef in disguise.”

“You flatter me, Sebastian. Baking isn’t so difficult. It’s mostly just chemistry.” 

“Well, whatever the secret is, you’ve mastered it.” He paused, mulling over an idea. “I’ve got a proposition for you, Jimmy.”

The smaller man was intrigued. “Do tell.”

“I want you to make my birthday cake. I know it’s not for another few months, but when the time comes, I want it to be one of your creations. A James Moriarty original.”

“Really? You wouldn’t rather have it made by a professional?”

“As far as I’m concerned, you’re more than qualified for the task.” 

Jim gazed adoringly at Seb, his dark eyes sparkling with true contentment. “Okay,” he agreed. “Anything for you, Tiger.” He would make sure his beloved alpha received the best cake this world had ever seen.

Chapter Text

Today was the day Jim had waited so long for. Now 16 weeks into his pregnancy, he would finally learn the gender of the twins. He was beside himself with anticipation.

“Sebby, I’m so excited.”

Sebastian nodded in accord. He knew very well how thrilled his mate was. The man kept him up half the night chattering about it. He didn’t fault him, though. This was a new experience for them both, and he could scarcely imagine what it must’ve been like from Jim’s perspective. To actually have life growing inside oneself, knowing that it would ultimately emerge as a fully formed, albeit tiny, person…well, the notion was nothing short of mind-blowing.

Dr. Swenson entered the room and Jim laid back on the examination table with his shirt pulled up— he knew the drill by now.

She smiled at her patient’s exuberance. “Eager for the assessment, aye?”

“I was eager a month ago. Now I’m rabid.”

“Let’s get started then.” The physician proceeded as normal, applying the gel and transducer to Jim’s abdomen. A picture soon came onto the screen.

“You’re in luck, gentlemen. Both fetuses are in good position for determining their sex.”

The Magpie and his Tiger exchanged a hopeful glance as they waited with bated breath.

“Here’s Baby A,” she noted, indicating on the monitor which twin she meant. “Looks like you’ve got yourself some sugar, spice, and everything nice. It’s a girl.”

Jim beamed at the news. “Oh, that’s wonderful.” Visions of porcelain dolls and frilly dresses filled his head.

“Over here,” Dr. Swenson pointed out, “is Baby B. Judging by the extra appendage I see, it’s safe to say it’s a boy.”

“One of each,” the mastermind marveled. His heart swelled with joy as he fell even further in love with his unborn children.

Sebastian shared in an equal state of bliss. As an alpha, he felt tremendous pride that it was his daughter and his son thriving inside Jim.

The couple clasped hands, knowing they would remember this moment for the rest of their days. It was perfection.

“Mr. Moriarty, now that we’ve completed the gender assessment, there’s another matter that needs to be discussed.”      

Jim furrowed a brow, slightly annoyed that the woman dared interrupt his and Seb’s happy mood. “I’m listening.”

“Today your blood pressure reading was on the high side,” she explained. “It’s not bad enough to require drug treatment, but I’d classify it as ‘borderline.’”

The Irishman frowned. “That would explain the headaches I’ve been having.”

Headaches? Sebastian wondered. Since when did Jim get headaches?

“Jimmy, why didn’t you mention it?”

“I didn’t think it was worth complaining about.”

“During pregnancy, it’s especially important to pay attention to your body’s cues,” Dr. Swenson warned. “Minor symptoms can be indicative of larger problems.”

Suddenly, Jim felt a pang of guilt. He wanted to be a good father. Wanted to provide his babies with a healthy, nurturing environment in which they could grow. Ignoring his own wellbeing was counterintuitive to that goal.

“What do you suggest I do for it?” he asked in earnest.

“I recommend you switch to a low-sodium diet. No salty snacks or overly processed meats. Also, remember to stay hydrated. Water can help flush out the body.”

Jim sighed and Sebastian instantly knew why. No processed meats. Magpie loved his bacon. And sausage. And ham. Poor thing, having to give all that up.  

In a flash, it occurred to the sniper what he needed to do. Tonight, he’d prepare a special dinner for his husband that was delicious without being salt-laden. Perhaps a bit of romance would be on the menu, too.     

*********

Sebastian stood back, admiring the fruits of his culinary labor. Thanks to Jim keeping busy in his office all afternoon, he was able to concoct the feast undetected. It was an impressive spread consisting of roasted Cornish hens, wild rice stuffing, and green beans amandine. For dessert, he’d tried to make a chocolate soufflé, but it fell. Oh well. He never claimed to be a master chef.

The strapping blonde went out of his way to create a romantic atmosphere at the dinner table. Candles were lit and fine china was set down. A crystal vase of red roses served as the centerpiece. For an added touch of ambience, he even stoked a crackling fire in the fireplace. Everything was perfect. All that was missing was the guest of honor.

SM

I’ve got a surprise for you. Come to the dining room and see.

Moriarty didn’t bother to text him back. Instead, he simply walked to the room Seb had directed. At first sight, his dark eyes widened and a gentle smile stretched across his face.

“Tiger, this is lovely.” He approached the table, leaning over to smell the flowers. “My favorite,” he whispered. “Why have you gone to so much trouble?”

“I don’t consider it trouble when it’s for the one I love,” Sebastian replied. “Now have a seat and we can dig in.” The former colonel pulled his husband’s chair out for him, signaling him to sit.

“And they say chivalry is dead,” Jim teased.

“They haven’t met me.”

“Of course not,” he retorted. “They never will. I’m keeping you all to myself.” 

Seb grinned impishly. “Good. That’s the way I like it.”

Concluding their flirtatious exchange, the assassin brought out the food on a sleek silver tray, plating both of their meals before going back to retrieve a bottle of sparkling apple cider.

“I know this stuff isn’t as fancy as what you’re used to drinking, but for right now it’ll have to do,” he declared, pouring them each a glass of the non-alcoholic beverage.

“Sebby, you never cease to amaze me. How did I get so lucky to meet a man like you?”

Sebastian paused, considering the question. “Some might call it random chance that we met,” he said. “I, however, believe we would’ve always found a way to each other, no matter what.”

“Destiny,” the consulting criminal crooned. There was a time when he scoffed at such fanciful concepts; thought them wholly foolish. But then Sebastian Moran came into his life, and the rest was history.

The couple enjoyed their meal as much as they did each other’s company. Jim was even willing to try Seb’s woefully flattened soufflé. It tasted fine, but they both agreed it would’ve turned out better had Moriarty made it instead.

Conversation turned to talk of the twins, as it often did of late. They were proud papas, Jim especially so. The Irishman practically glowed as he described the newest baby items he’d ordered. Now that he knew they were having a boy and a girl, he was eager to start planning a playroom that would be inclusive to both.

“I think I might sack the decorator I’ve been using,” he quipped.

“Oh? You two seemed to be getting on so well.” They really had been— the woman was at their home practically every day, conferring with Jim about one thing or another.

“Yes, well, she hasn’t taken my calls all day,” he answered indignantly. “I spent a fortune flying her out here and putting her up at a hotel. The least she could do is phone me back.”

Ah, now it makes sense. One simply did not ignore James Moriarty. Many an unfortunate soul had died for committing that very sin.

“Maybe an emergency came up,” Seb suggested.

The genius scowled. “She should have no higher priority than me and this project. There’s no excuse, Sebastian.”

The sniper knew there was little sense in arguing the matter. He loved his Magpie dearly, but the man often had unreasonable expectations of people.

Right then, Jim let out a pained sigh and shifted in his chair. He grimaced, absently rubbing the small of his back.

“Jimmy, are you okay?” After learning earlier that the dark-eyed omega had been suffering in silence with headaches, he wasn’t about to let another health concern go unchecked.

“Just a bit of a sore back. I don’t think it’s anything serious.”

“Sounds like you could use a patented Moran massage.”

“Mmm,” he hummed. “That would be divine.”

“Shall we take this to the bedroom, then? You can lie down and I’ll work my magic.”

Jim didn’t need convincing. Before Seb had even finished clearing the table, his husband was primed and ready.

“Tiiiiiger!” he called out. “Come on! You know I hate waiting.”

Sebastian chuckled. “On my way, Magpie.”

Chapter Text

“Sebby, I’m hungry,” Jim announced, poking the snoozing body beside him. “Wake up! Make me food.”

The sleepy-eyed sniper groaned. “Can’t you get it yourself?” He instantly regretted his statement as he saw the murderous look on Moriarty’s face.

“I’m going to pretend you didn’t just say that, because I want our babies to remain having two parents. However, I would recommend you choose your next words wisely.”

Sebastian sat up, pulling on a pair of boxers as he stepped out of bed. “I’m at your disposal, sir. Anything you want, simply ask and ye shall receive.”

“Ooh, ‘sir.’ Haven’t called me that in a while. I like it.”

“Flattery will get you everywhere, sir,” Seb said with a wink.

“Been there, done that,” he coolly remarked. “Now what I’d really like is a pastrami and Swiss sandwich on rye, extra mustard.”

“Sorry, no can do, sir.”

“Excuse me? I thought you’d learned years ago never to say no to me,” he spat. “I may be pregnant, but I can still enforce a bit of discipline in case you need a reminder.”

“It’s just not possible for me to get you a pastrami sandwich. ‘No processed meats,’ remember?” It was all Seb could do to resist smirking as he threw the doctor’s words back at the ornery omega.

Jim let out a very annoyed sigh. He remembered, all right— but he was so ravenous, he wanted to forget.

“You would deny sustenance to the one bearing your children?” he asked with mock indignation.             

“I would deny something your obstetrician specifically said was off limits,” the handsome, half-naked blonde replied. “Besides, it’s not even close to noon yet. Wouldn’t you rather have a nice, hearty breakfast?”

Moriarty rolled his eyes. “A breakfast without bacon or sausage? Yes, I’d love that. Maybe I could really live on the edge and spread a bit of marmite on my toast while I’m at it. Oh, wait, no I can’t. That would be too salty as well.”

Sebastian understood his spouse’s frustration. Dietary restrictions were never fun.

“I could make you am omelette,” Seb proposed. “Throw in spinach, mushrooms, and cheese. Serve it with scones and jam and brew up a pot of herbal tea.”

“We have scones?” Jim asked hopefully.

“No, but it won’t take long for me to pop out and get some.”

“Then what are you waiting for? Get dressed and go.”

Seb smiled. “As you wish, sir.”

*********

After a morning of breakfast and quality time with Seb, Jim was tuckered enough to take a nap. He emerged refreshed at about half past two in the afternoon. Such episodes of midday slumber had become a regular part of the consulting criminal’s daily routine, along with raiding the cupboards for sweets and rearranging pillows to satisfy a nesting instinct.

“Sebby, have you checked the mail? I’m expecting some packages to arrive today.”

“Not yet, but I can do it now if you’d like.” He set aside the magazine he was reading and walked to the front door. There were indeed four parcels of varying sizes stacked on the porch. Gathering them up in a lazy man’s load, he hauled them into the house.

“Isn’t one-day delivery awesome? I couldn’t live in a world without it. I just couldn’t,” he babbled excitedly. “Regular mail is sooo slow.”

Retrieving a box cutter, Jim tore into the first package. He waded through a sea of packing peanuts to reveal several individual planks of wood and bolts.

“It’s a seesaw,” the mastermind declared. “Or it will be, once it’s put together.”

“No wonder those boxes were so bloody heavy,” Seb commented. “I suppose I’ll be the one assembling the thing.”

“Oh, come on. It’ll be fun.” Jim was radiating with almost childlike enthusiasm as he spoke. “I always wanted a seesaw growing up. Now the babies will have one and they can use it together. They’ll never have to play alone. Don’t you love that?”

Seeing how happy the idea made Jim, the sniper did love it. He loved anything that brought such a genuine sparkle to his husband’s eyes.

“I think it’s fantastic,” Sebastian replied. “When the twins reach a certain age, perhaps we ought to spring for a full playground set.”

Jim’s jaw dropped at the suggestion. “Seb, it’s like you’re reading my mind!” he gleefully exclaimed. “I had the same thought. I also want to get them a carousel. A proper one, like they have at Kensington Gardens.”

The taller man laughed. “Our children haven’t even been born yet and they’re being spoiled already. Keep this up and they’re going to develop poshness in utero.”

“You say that like it’s a bad thing,” Jim teased.

Seb shook his head and placed a hand over the Irishman’s stomach. “Never,” he said. “It could never be a bad thing. They deserve only the best.”

Moriarty cooed at his mate’s touch. Sometimes he couldn’t help but feel every bit what he was: a blissfully pregnant omega reveling in the love of his current and impending family.

“Show me what else you bought,” Sebastian urged.

Jim moved on to another box. Slicing it open, he abruptly dropped the cutting tool and recoiled. His expression was horrified.

“Fucking hell!”

“What’s the matter?” the assassin asked.

He peeked inside the package and instantly saw what was wrong. The box contained a set of severed hands, chopped off cleanly and cauterized at the wrists. Judging by the length of finger nails and the colorful varnish that adorned them, they belonged to a woman.

Seb stared at the dismembered limbs for a moment, noticing a sheet of paper folded up beside them. His heart sunk as he knew this was surely the work of their stalker.

He read the note to himself and growled, crumpling it in his fist.

“What’s it say, Sebby?”  

“You don’t want to know,” the sniper warned through gritted teeth.

“Yes, I do! I’m not some fragile flower,” he insisted. “I can take it.”

Jim wrenched the note from Seb’s grasp, reading it for himself.

Here lay the hands

that helped to plan

a room for

your little bastards.

The genius’s eyes widened at the ghastly poem. “Oh God, Lisa.” He looked inside the box again to confirm his suspicions. “It’s her. I recognize the manicure.”

It wasn’t until Jim’s prompt that Sebastian recalled the interior decorator’s name. A shame it was only committed to his memory posthumously.

“This has gone too far,” the former colonel decreed. If their harasser was willing to kill, then all bets were off.

Jim checked the exterior of the box for a label that might indicate its sender. Alas, the cardboard was blank.

“There’s no address on here. Ours or otherwise,” he observed. “That means this didn’t come through the mail. Someone had to have delivered it personally.”

“You’re right,” Seb agreed. “And if that’s the case—”

“Then the security camera would’ve recorded it.”

“We need to review that footage now.”

*********

Jim and Sebastian pored through hours of surveillance video in the hopes of catching their stalker in action. Sure enough, at 11:17 a.m., a masked man appeared on their property bearing an unmarked box.

“That’s him,” the blue-eyed alpha surmised. “Too bad he wore a fucking mask.”

“I’d like to know how he got past the guard.”

Moriarty brought up a good point. Since the hanging doll incident, they had employed a guard to sit outside their home at all times. The individual was to remain in a parked car on the street for the duration of their shift, watching for suspicious activity. With that in mind, why hadn’t he apprehended this trespasser?

Sebastian had a terrible thought. What if the guard was in on it?

He quickly realized what he needed to do. “I’m going out front to check on the guard. I’d love to know why he didn’t stop our uninvited guest.”

“Be careful,” Jim cautioned.

“Always am.” At that, Seb took the safety off his gun and headed outside, ready for anything.

*********

When Sebastian reached the security guard’s car, he immediately noticed that the man was slumped over the steering wheel. To an untrained eye, it would appear he was asleep or passed out. Something about the setup felt very off to the assassin, though.

The windows of the vehicle were wide open, allowing Seb to simply stick his hand in and lift the guard’s head from the wheel. That’s when he saw it. There was a bullet lodged in the man’s temple.

Already unsettled, Moran grew even more alarmed when he stopped to analyze the scene in front of him. By the looks of the wound, the gunshot couldn’t have been administered at close range. No, this was done from a distance. This was done by—

Another sniper.

“Oh fuck.”

Chapter Text

Sebastian Moran laid in the dark of the bedroom, staring up at the ceiling. Though exhausted, he simply could not sleep. The events of the day had done a number on him in more ways than one, and he idly questioned if he’d ever rest soundly again.

Morning started out okay. Jim had been a little grumpy, but that was nothing new. The unexpected part came later, when they received a set of severed hands in a box. Hands belonging to the woman who’d helped design their children’s nursery. That was a shock to them both.

Tensions escalated further after the guard outside their home was found dead. Sebastian disposed of the body as discreetly as possible. He drove to the countryside and constructed a rudimentary bonfire pit in which he burned the corpse. It wasn’t his finest work, but it got the job done.

He would’ve taken the hands with him, too, but Jim wanted to perform a test on them. The consulting criminal claimed he knew how to check for fingerprints unrelated to those of the deceased’s. Unfortunately, it proved to be a waste of effort. No other prints were detected, and the severed extremities were swiftly sent through a wood chipper in the shed.

None of those events were what truly bothered Seb, though. What disturbed him above all else— what kept him wide awake— was the realization that their stalker was likely another sniper. Sure, the person could’ve just hired a marksman to take out the guard, but something told him that wasn’t the case. This felt personal.

Moran looked over at the slumbering silhouette of his spouse. The Irishman had begun to stir in his sleep, movements growing more fitful by the minute. Seb wondered what he was dreaming about.

*********

The sun beat down brightly as Jim and Sebastian walked hand-in-hand along the shore of a white, sandy beach. It was just the two of them, surrounded by clear skies and a calm ocean that stretched on forever. This was paradise.

They stopped beneath the shade of a palm tree, taking a moment to hold each other close. The mastermind could do this all day. He never felt safer and more at peace than he did in the arms of his beloved Tiger.

Suddenly, a shadowy figure appeared behind them, brandishing a knife. The phantom lunged forward, piercing its blade into Sebastian’s gut.

“No!” Jim shouted as the sniper collapsed to the ground. He scrambled to his husband’s side, desperate to help him. Seb had to live, he just had to.

The malevolent presence approached once more. Faceless and menacing, it pulled Moriarty away from his dying mate. He struggled fiercely, not wanting to leave Sebby for anything.

It was no use. The cruel specter overtook him, and in an instant, they were transported somewhere else entirely. No more sun, sand, and ocean. Instead, Jim found himself bound to a table in a dark room.

The figure closed in on him, wielding the same weapon that had been used to slay his dearest Sebastian. In fact, it still dripped with the man’s blood.

Try as he might, the restraints refused to give. True panic set in as the consulting criminal realized there was no getting out of this. He was about to be killed and there was nothing he could do to stop it.

The entity did something unexpected. Rather than simply stabbing Jim through, it lifted his shirt and placed a shadowy palm on the Irishman’s abdomen.

Moriarty shuddered. The air seemed to drain from the room as he struggled to breathe. All he could think of were his babies. They were innocent and good. They deserved to live even if he didn’t.

“Please don’t do this!” he pleaded. The blade was now pressed to the small swell of his stomach.

Jim was beset by overwhelming despair. This evil apparition had taken his husband from him and soon he would take his children, too.

White-hot pain shot through the omega as he was cut open. Tears of agony and heartbreak streamed down his face. He knew his precious babies would not survive. At 4 months along, they were far too premature to live outside his body.

Blood and amniotic fluid gushed from the incision. A shadowy hand reached in and pulled a tiny, underdeveloped fetus from Jim’s belly. It laid motionless, its umbilical cord still attached.

All he could do was scream at the horrific sight. His cries hit a fevered pitch when the phantom clenched its palm into a fist, crushing the immature life-form held inside. A faint popping sound could be heard as the baby’s semi-soft bones snapped like wet twigs.

*********

“Jim! Wake up!” Sebastian yelled, barely able to hear himself over the volume of his mate’s deafening wail. The man had started screaming and flailing in his sleep, obviously locked into a dream which was causing great distress. 

Seb turned on the nightstand lamp. Now able to get a good look at Jim, he was taken aback by the absolute anguish plastered across his face. He’d never seen him so stricken.

The sniper did the only thing he could think of to do— he fetched a cool washcloth to wipe the sweat from Jim’s brow. Though his touch was featherlight, the damp contact was enough to rouse the mastermind from his nightmare.

Moriarty’s eyes shot open. Breathing heavily, he threw the covers off and hugged himself around the middle.

“Babies,” he mumbled, still half dazed. “My sweet babies.” His voice broke into a sob and hot tears ran down his cheeks.

“What about the babies?” Seb asked, truly afraid. Jim never broke down like this. Ever. The idea of him openly weeping was so at odds with his personality that Moran could hardly believe what was happening. Something was very wrong here.

The genius continued to cry, gasping for air. “N-n-need p-paper b-bag,” he managed to wheeze out. Sebastian quickly procured the requested item and Jim began panting into it. After a few minutes, his breathing seemed to steady.

“Jimmy,” the blonde spoke softly, “what’s going on? The way you were screaming…are you in some kind of pain?”

The Irishman stared at him with red-rimmed eyes, trying hard to regain composure. Every time he attempted to speak, another sob rose to the surface. It was like a floodgate had opened and a tidal wave of emotions were spilling out. Through the haze of upset, he found solace in rubbing his tiny baby bump.

“Oh, my Magpie.” Seb embraced his husband, feeling fiercely protective of him. “What is it?” he whispered. “What did you dream about that was so bad?”

“Something…someone…killed you,” he shakily replied. “Then they took me and…” Jim struggled to say the next words, their very existence an obscenity to him. “They slashed me open and tore out our children. Crushed them right in front of me.”

Sebastian paled. “Jesus Christ. No wonder you were shouting.”

“It was the stalker who did it, Seb. I couldn’t see their face, but I know it was him.”

“It’s okay. You’re safe now, Jimmy.” The assassin shifted position so that instead of merely hugging his mate, he was now spooning him. It brought comfort to them both. 

“He stole everything that mattered from me,” Moriarty confessed. “And what terrifies me is that it could come true. He really could murder you…murder our babies. All of it.”

“Never, my love. I won’t allow it.”

“I wish I could believe that,” he said, nuzzling even closer against Sebastian.

“I’ll find this son of a bitch. And when I do,” the sniper warned, “there won’t be enough pieces of him left to identify.”

Seb meant it. Their pursuer had pushed him to the breaking point. If he wanted a war, he would get one. Colonel Moran never lost a battle.

*********

The next morning, Sebastian sat at the kitchen table, buttering a piece of toast when Jim entered the room. There was nothing unusual about that— they regularly shared breakfast together. What was strange, however, was the business attire he wore. The Irishman hadn’t sported a Westwood suit since opting to work from home.

“So stylish today, Mr. Sex.” The sniper grinned as he moved to pour his husband a cup of herbal tea.

“I’ve got to look good if I’m going to work on site,” he stated, grabbing some yogurt from the refrigerator before sitting down with Seb.

“Making an appearance at the office, aye? Is this for a special assignment?”

“No,” Jim answered sharply. “I’ve just come to the realization that sitting on my arse all day taking conference calls isn’t the most effective way to run a criminal empire.”

“Careful you don’t rush into anything.”

The mastermind glared. “I’m perfectly capable of managing my own organization, thank you very much.”

“Never said you weren’t,” Sebastian replied. “I was thinking more along the lines of your physical wellbeing. Be careful not to work yourself ragged. A healthy daddy equals healthy babies.”

Moriarty sighed. His expression changed from annoyed to…nervous? Flustered? Perhaps a little bit scared?

Seb wasn’t sure how to read his Magpie’s shift in mood. After Jim’s freak-out the night before, he couldn’t be certain what was going on in the man’s mind, though he suspected it wasn’t good.

Having barely eaten a thing, nor even taken a sip of his tea, Jim stood up and made a beeline for the front door. “See you at headquarters,” he said as he walked out.

Just like that, Seb was alone again.

What’s going on, sweetheart?

Something was definitely bothering his mate. If he had to guess, he’d say it was probably residual stress from the hellacious nightmare he had. But there was only one way to know for sure. Though he dreaded it, he and Jim would need to have a talk.

Chapter Text

Sebastian Moran felt like he was finally getting somewhere in his quest to identify the stalker. Realizing the culprit was likely another sniper, he decided to sit down and make a comprehensive list of all the other marksmen he knew. This included both past and present acquaintances, dating back to his time in the British Army. As one might imagine, it was proving to be a very long roster.

In an effort to pare down the suspects, he began checking to see who was alive and who was dead. Some he obviously knew the status of, but others…others he hadn’t seen in well over a decade. Their continued existence was indeterminate to him.

After spending a large portion of the morning refining his list, he thought it was time to go ahead and speak with Jim. He’d use his newfound cataloguing initiative as a conversation starter. From there, he would hopefully be able to segue into the real reason for their meeting— to discuss Moriarty’s emotional state and how Seb could help him through his fears.

This was virgin territory for the sniper. He hated talking about feelings. It was a trait he and Jim both shared. But after what he’d witnessed the night before…his Magpie had been so utterly distraught. He couldn’t let him suffer alone. He wanted to be a good husband.

*********

The entrance to Jim’s office was slightly ajar. Sebastian peered inside, the door creaking open about an inch. The mastermind looked up from the paperwork he’d been reviewing and hastily shoved it into a drawer when he saw that the assassin was there.

“Excuse you,” the Irishman growled. “No one is to enter this office without knocking! No one!” He stood to approach Seb, but didn’t get far. A dizzy spell overtook him and he gripped the edge of his desk for balance.

Moran rushed to his spouse’s side, helping to hold him up. “Let’s sit you back down, okay?” For the moment, Jim didn’t disagree.

“Thanks,” he begrudgingly acknowledged. The consulting criminal looked pale and sounded more than a bit winded.

“Jimmy, are you all right?”

“I’m fine,” he replied. “I just got up too fast.”  

The rugged blonde fetched a cup of water from the cooler in the corner and handed it to his ailing mate. Jim accepted it without argument. 

“How about we go home and I make you a nice lunch?”

“Sebastian…”

“Or if you’d prefer, we could order takeout. I’ve got a few menus stashed away in the car. You could have your pick.”

“Sebby,” he said again. “I’m not leaving here. I told you I was coming back to work and I meant it.”

Work, the sniper lamented. It was the only aspect of life Moriarty had much control over these days. Little wonder, then, that he’d run to it when trying to avoid everything else.

“Hon, you’re clearly not well. Please allow me to take care of you.”

The smaller man snorted. “Are you really so old-fashioned, Seb? You want to keep your omega locked up at home, barefoot and pregnant?”

Sebastian took a deep breath as he pinched the bridge of his nose. He had to remind himself that his better half was in a state of hormonal flux right now. Jim’s decidedly peevish attitude was not entirely his fault.

“Fine, have it your way,” the former colonel offered in reply. He thought about the reason he’d come to Jim’s office in the first place and knew he needed to get the conversation back on track.

“I actually stopped by because I wanted to keep you abreast of my efforts to identify our stalker.”

That got the mastermind’s attention. “Oh? Go on.”

Seb explained his theory about the perpetrator being a trained marksman and outlined the methodology of his list. Moriarty seemed to approve of the endeavor, possibly because it was the most they had to go on so far.  

A minute of silence passed between them until finally the genius spoke up. “Is that all? Because otherwise, I think we’re done here.”

Now was the time for Sebastian to address his true agenda. Amazing that he could hunt, maim, and kill without compunction, yet have anxiety over something as basic as interpersonal communication.

“There’s another thing I wanted to discuss,” he gingerly answered. 

Seb desperately wished he could abandon his sad attempt at discourse and just get back to work. That would be a whole hell of a lot less nerve-racking. But he knew this needed to be done.

“Well, spit it out already.”

“It’s about last night,” he began. “I’ve never seen you so upset. I mean sure, you’ve been psychotic as fuck on occasion, but this…this was something different. You were inconsolable.”

That was the truth. Even while he held Jim, he could feel the man’s teardrops hitting his arm. When he finally stilled, Seb was positive he’d cried himself to sleep. The ensuing slumber was not especially restful, either. His Magpie had called out for him at several points, to which he reassured him each time.

“Don’t worry, Sebastian. You’ll never see me like that again. Never.” The consulting criminal’s voice took on a harsh tone, as if he were angry. But the question was, angry at whom?

“Jim, what are you so mad about?”

“Oh, I dunno,” he snarled. “Maybe I don’t enjoy it when people barge into my office and proceed to mock me. When they throw things in my face that I’m not particularly proud of, like it’s some kind of game.”

“Mock? No, Jimmy, you’ve got it wrong.” The sniper was bewildered by his mate’s statement. Was that really what he thought?

“Do I?” he spat accusingly. “Then why come in here and remind me of what a colossal arse I made of myself? Why bring up what a weak fucking tosser I was?”

“Jim, no. I swear I didn’t—”

“Is it fun for you?” he continued, ignoring Seb’s attempt to interject. “I bet it’s hilarious, pointing out what a pathetic twat your omega is! Laughing because he’s sooo scared of losing his family!”

Jim was on the verge of a meltdown and it pained Sebastian to know that he’d caused this. It wasn’t what he’d intended at all. If only the Irishman would hear him out.   

“Magpie, please listen to me,” he implored. “I would never insult you like that. I love you too much to even consider it. All I wanted was to let you know that I’m here for you no matter what.” Moran reached out to grasp Jim’s hand. “If something is troubling you, I want you to tell me. Don’t bottle it up. Don’t let it fester until it’s so overwhelming, it splits you open.”

“Tiger, I…” he trailed off, averting Seb’s eyes.

“It’s okay, Jimmy. I’m here,” he reiterated, hoping to assuage his fears. “Talk to me. Let me in.”

The consulting criminal slowly looked up again, returning Sebastian’s gaze. “I’ve never felt this way before.” He shivered at the admission. “Until I met you, I didn’t think I could love anyone. The very concept was foreign to me.”

Seb nodded. He remembered full well how closed off the genius was when they first began their relationship. What started out as mere sexual attraction grew into a deep mutual devotion that neither had anticipated.

“Now something new has happened,” Moriarty confessed. “Our children are growing inside me,” he said, pressing Sebastian’s hand to his stomach, “and even though I haven’t met them yet, I’ve fallen so completely in love with them. I know it must sound foolish, but it’s true.”

The assassin smiled. “It doesn’t sound the least bit foolish, Jim. The bond between mother and child can be powerful.”

“Mother?” The smaller man balked at his mate’s choice of words, sounding vaguely hurt by the feminization. “I’m a father just like you.”

“That’s right,” Seb agreed. “I misspoke, I’m sorry.” But really, he hadn’t. Technically, the secondary sex characteristics that allowed Jim to bear children did in fact qualify him as the twins’ mother. There was no need to get pedantic about it, though. What was important was that he was finally opening up.  

“It’s fine,” he said, accepting the apology. “What I’m trying to say is that I’ve never experienced this kind of blind, unconditional love before. When I listen to their hearts beat, it’s like echoes of my own.” He lifted Moran’s hand and kissed his knuckles. “You and our babies mean the world to me. I think of that terrible dream I had, and of what our stalker could do, and it haunts me, Sebastian. It’s my undoing. If I lost any of you now, it would burn the heart out of me.”

“Oh, my beautiful, brilliant Magpie.” Every day, the former colonel’s love for his husband seemed to increase. Just when he thought he couldn’t possibly adore him more, moments like this came along and reset the entire paradigm.

Seb swooped in for a kiss, his mouth claiming and dominating Jim’s own. The Irishman’s breathing hitched as he was taken off guard by the passionate gesture. He soon responded in kind, kissing back with equal enthusiasm.

“You sure you don’t want me to take you home after all?” the blonde asked as he broke away for air.

Jim grinned. “Actually, I think you may have changed my mind.”

“Imagine that,” he teased.

Imagine, indeed.

Chapter Text

James Moriarty was definitely up to something. Or so his husband thought.

The mastermind had gone into work early and stayed late every day that week. When Sebastian would ask why, he always had a plausible excuse, but the sniper wasn’t buying it. He bloody well knew when his omega was keeping secrets.

It didn’t help that on a few occasions, he’d observed Jim hiding papers from him when he walked into the room. It hadn’t just happened at headquarters, either. The other day, Seb popped his head inside the Irishman’s home office and noticed him handwriting a document. He had no idea of its contents, but Jim quickly stowed it in a locked drawer.

It all seemed a bit dodgy. Disappointing, too, considering the breakthrough he and his mate had recently made. After finally getting him to open up emotionally, Seb believed there would be no deception between them. Now he wasn’t sure what to think, and frankly, it hurt.

The sniper waited up once more. It was past midnight and the consulting criminal still hadn’t come home. There were no text or voice messages to explain his whereabouts, nor was he replying to any of Sebastian’s correspondences. The silence was worrying.

At long last, the front door opened and in walked Jim.

“You,” Moran spoke forcefully, “didn’t answer my messages. Why not?”

“Because I was stuck in a meeting. Things got bogged down and I couldn’t break away. You know what that’s like.” 

Yes, Seb did know. But he was also wary of whether or not he was being told the whole truth. Then it hit him: the scent. His keen alpha senses detected an aroma on Jim that was incredibly familiar, yet could not be placed. He was positive he’d smelled it before.

“Who did you meet with?” the brawny blonde inquired.  

“An associate from Australia. He took a 22-hour flight to get here. I wasn’t going to blow him off after he’d gone to so much trouble. I’m not a total wanker, Sebastian.”

Seb grumbled. He knew a handful of Australians, but none whose scent matched the one on Jim.

The smaller man removed his shoes and socks and reclined on the couch. “Tiger, be a dear and rub my feet.”

Moran arched a brow. Rub his feet? That’s new.

“Come on, Sebby. They hurt.”

And just like that, the former colonel was sitting at the end of the sofa with his spouse’s feet in his lap, massaging away the man’s aches. Even if he was somewhat suspicious of Moriarty, he could never allow him to suffer in pain.

“Tiger, you’re a miracle worker.”

Sebastian smirked. “My hands are but instruments of the Lord. I humbly do their bidding.”

Jim laughed, flashing a genuine smile that truly warmed Seb’s heart. This is what he’d been missing all week. The sniper savored gentle moments like these.  

“Guess I’ll have to have a chat with the Man upstairs. I’ve already hired you to do my bidding, and I refuse to share your services with anyone.”

“Well, maybe you’re my Lord.”

Now it was Jim’s turn to raise an eyebrow. “How do you mean?”

Seb cocked his head and gazed intently at the consulting criminal. “I mean, maybe you’re the one I worship. You remember our vows. I swore to honor and obey. To cherish and protect. If that isn’t putting you on a pedestal alongside God, I don’t know what is.”

Moriarty looked absolutely love-struck. “My sweet Sebby,” he cooed. “You make me so happy.”

The assassin blushed. “You make me happy, too, kitten.”

“Good.” He arched his back slightly, reveling in the masterful foot rub. “I’m sorry I haven’t been around much lately. With any luck, that will eventually change.”

“Oh?” Dare Sebastian dream?

“Yes, I plan on starting paternity leave once I enter my third trimester,” Jim declared. “Just a few more months to go.”

“Magpie, that’s wonderful.” Seb could hardly contain his excitement at the news. When the time came, he would be able to care for his husband the way he wanted to.

“I knew you’d be pleased.”

A thought occurred to Sebastian. “Does this mean you’re telling people about the pregnancy?”

“Honey, I don’t have to say a word. Any alpha worth their salt could pick up on the scent. Not to mention my expanding waistline. Even a well-tailored suit won’t be able to hide the paunch for much longer.”

Moran nodded. What Jim said made sense. At this point, his condition was basically an open secret and would likely remain so.

“By the way, I’ve been meaning to ask how your list was coming along,” the mastermind remarked. “Making any headway?”

“In a manner,” he replied. “I’ve been vetting it to check who’s alive and who’s dead.”

“That must help narrow it down some.”

“It’s useful to an extent. The main problem I’ve run into is the number of individuals who are MIA.”

“Really?” Jim sounded rather surprised. “There are a lot of those?”

“At least a dozen unaccounted for, yes.”

The Irishman crinkled his nose as he considered the information. “I trust you’ve utilized the full breadth of my resources to find them?”

“Of course I have,” Seb answered. “But in an assassin’s line of work, if you don’t want to be found, you make yourself disappear right and proper. No loose ends.”

“Is that so? Wish someone had told me ages ago,” he teased. “Then I could’ve gone to you for advice after the messy business at St. Bart’s.”

Sebastian’s blood immediately ran cold and he stopped massaging his mate’s feet.

St. Bart’s. St. fucking Bart’s. If he never heard that damnable name again, it would be too soon.

“What’s the matter?” Jim asked, noticing the other man’s demeanor change.

“You’re a genius, figure it out.” As if you don’t fucking know.

The consulting criminal rolled his eyes. “Lighten up. It was just a joke.”

“Not a very funny one.”

“Seb, it happened years ago. How long are you going to make me pay for my mistake?”

“Mistake?” the sniper repeated incredulously. “No, a mistake is being served decaffeinated coffee when you ordered regular. What you did was a hell of a lot more than that.”

“I’ve apologized for it umpteen times. I can’t take back what’s already been done. I thought we were past this by now.”

“Jim, I believed you were dead for two whole years. It was the worst period of my life,” he stressed. “Scratch that— what I was doing wasn’t living. I merely existed, going through the motions while my reason for breathing was gone, never to return. So no, it’s not a subject I’ll ever be able to laugh about.”

Moriarty sighed sadly. “I truly am sorry, Tiger. At the time, I didn’t realize how much you loved me…or how much I loved you. My head was in such chaos back then.”

“Full of scorpions is my mind,” Sebastian quoted in lament. The Bard always had a way of phrasing things with expert eloquence.

“Not anymore, darling. I know exactly who and what I want now,” Jim proclaimed. “No more games of life and death. I’m over and done with those.”

“Magpie…”

“Yes?”

“Sometimes I worry…” the former colonel hesitated to finish his sentence, almost afraid that if he said the words, they’d come true.

“What do you worry about, my dear?” the Irishman asked. “A week ago, you said I could tell you anything. Well, that’s a two-way street. So please, go on.”

Seb took a deep breath. “I know how changeable you can be. Sometimes I fear you’ll grow bored of me…bored of this domesticity we share,” he confessed. “I’m terrified that some random morning you’ll decide you want your old, unattached life back. Or worse, that you’ll feel trapped by our ordinary existence and check yourself out of the world for real.”

“Oh, Sebby.” The mastermind sat up from his reclining position and scooted close to his spouse. “I couldn’t possibly change my mind about this. About us. And our existence is anything but ordinary. It’s a bloody phenomenon,” he declared.

The assassin’s cheeks flushed hot with embarrassment. He loathed blabbering on about his feelings as if he were a teenage girl. But truthfully, it did help to hear Jim’s pledge of assurance. 

“Sebastian, I want you to know that I’m not going anywhere. You’re stuck with me for the long haul. It’s you, me, Estella, and Edward. You’ve got us forever.”

Estella and Edward? Who? The fair-haired man was puzzled at first, but one look at his mate’s warm smile explained it all.

“Those are the names you want to give the babies?”

Moriarty nodded. “I fancy a bit of alliteration. Thought I might call them by their shortened forms, Essie and Eddie,” he said. “What do you think?”

“If you like them, then I do, too.”

Chapter Text

Sebastian walked through the doors of James Moriarty’s headquarters with a spring in his step. He’d finished his most recent assignment earlier than expected and wanted to pop in and surprise his husband. Maybe they could have lunch together— dine at one of those posh bistros Jim loved so much. 

“Hey, Suzy,” he said, approaching the mastermind’s longtime secretary. “Is Jim busy? I was hoping to catch him at a good time.”

She furrowed her brow. “I’m sorry, but Mr. Moriarty has left for the day.”

“Oh? Did he mention where he was going?”  

“He said he was heading home, sir. He took ill.”

Took ill? Dread shot through Seb’s heart. “What do you mean, he ‘took ill?’ What was the matter?”

She shook her head. “I don’t know, he didn’t specify. I’m sorry I can’t offer more than that.”

“Yeah,” he huffed. “Thanks anyway.”

Sebastian exited the building as fast as he could. Once outside, he checked his phone to see if Jim had sent him any messages he may have missed.

No, he hadn’t.

Next, he tried calling the man.

No answer.

The sniper’s perfect composure was all but gone by the time he reached his car. Something was wrong with his mate. The instinct to protect Jim and their unborn children coursed through every inch of his body. It was an almost primal urge that took him by storm.

I’m coming, sweetheart. Please be okay.

*********

When Sebastian arrived home, he quickly determined that Jim wasn’t in any of the main areas of the house. Ruling those out, it meant the man was probably in bed.

The tall blonde hurried to his and Jim’s room. Sure enough, there he was, curled up in a ball under the covers.

Seeing Seb enter, the Irishman’s dark eyes went wide. “Tiger,” he whispered, his voice sounding strained and his breathing labored.

“Magpie.” In an instant, Sebastian was at his spouse’s side. “What’s the matter?” he asked as he tenderly ran his fingers through the man’s hair. “I stopped to visit you at work and they told me you went home sick.”

“I don’t feel good. Glad you’re here with me now.”

Seb peeled back the heavy duvet and crawled in beside Moriarty. He moved to hold him in a spooning position, an arm flung around the smaller man’s waist. From that angle, he was able to gently rub his beloved’s belly.

Jim hummed at the touch. “Sebby…my sweet Sebby.”

“Tell me what’s wrong, darling.”

“It’s…I…” he trailed off, struggling to form a proper explanation.

Moran was even more worried now. His Magpie was one of the most articulate people he knew. If he was having trouble communicating, it meant something was very wrong.

“My head,” he began again, “has been pounding like a bloody jackhammer all morning. I started seeing stars and passed out for a bit. Nobody saw because I was in my office, but I left after that.”

Seb held Jim tighter, as if trying to shield him from harm. It pained him to realize that this was something he couldn’t fix.

“Tiger, I can’t catch my breath and…and my stomach hurts.” The consulting criminal shuddered at the last part of his statement.

“Jimmy, I’m taking you to the hospital.”

Sebastian rose from the bed and gently maneuvered the other man into an upright position. Jim didn’t try to fight him or disagree, a fact which was somewhat alarming. His cooperation was a tacit admission that this was serious and he needed help. 

“Sebby, maybe I should put on real clothes.” Indeed, the mastermind was wearing sweatpants and a t-shirt— certainly not his typical attire. 

“No time for a wardrobe change, hon. We need to get you medical attention ASAP.”

Jim nodded in agreement as Seb carried him to the car.

*********

Not since that awful nightmare two weeks ago had Sebastian seen his husband cry. The unflappable James Moriarty wasn’t one to wear his heart on his sleeve. It greatly unnerved him, then, to witness the man break down into tears on the way to the hospital. He was afraid for their babies, desperate to know if they were okay.

Checking in under assumed names, the couple was fortunate enough to be seen relatively quickly. Jim remained in a haze while a nurse practitioner performed a battery of tests. Seb stayed by his side the entire time, offering silent strength and support.

Eventually, the on-call obstetrician came to their room. She was pleasant enough— a ginger-haired woman with a kind face and friendly smile.

“Hi, I’m Dr. Kelly. And you must be,” she paused, glancing at the patient chart in her hands, “Tim?”

Jim nodded. He would’ve been amused, too, at Sebastian’s lack of creativity when creating an alias for him at check-in, but his poor health overshadowed any shred of humor the situation held.

“I’m glad you came in when you did, Tim. Your blood pressure is very high and you have a dangerously elevated protein count in your urine. If you’d waited much longer, you’d have been at serious risk for stroke and kidney damage.”

Seb’s façade of composure began to crack as he heard the news. People could die from the conditions Dr. Kelly described. Jim could’ve died. And through all this, somehow he’d missed just how sick the man had become. What kind of alpha was he not to have noticed? Worse yet, what kind of husband did it make him? The guilt threatened to swallow Sebastian whole.

“He’s been following a low-sodium diet,” the sniper blurted out. “Our regular obstetrician said his blood pressure was on the high side, but that reducing his salt intake would help lower it naturally.”

“She gave you sound advice. Diet is often the first approach to lowering one’s blood pressure. Despite those efforts, though, sometimes it’s not enough.”

Dr. Kelly turned her attention back to Jim. “Based on your presentation, I’m making a diagnosis of preeclampsia. Usually this sort of complication doesn’t arise until the later stages of pregnancy, but it isn’t entirely unheard of to develop at 18 weeks, such as in your case. The earlier the onset, the harder it can be on the body. But the good news is that there are steps we can take to improve the situation.”

“What can we do?” Seb asked immediately. He ached to help Jim in whatever way he could.    

“For starters, I’m going to insist that Tim stay here overnight. We’ll put him on an IV drip of Labetalol, a hypertensive drug. It should bring his blood pressure down to a manageable level. If he responds well, then I’ll prescribe the medication in an oral form, to be taken daily throughout the remainder of the pregnancy.”

“Sounds like a solid plan to me,” the assassin agreed.

“What about the babies?” Jim spoke, finally breaking the silence that had overtaken him since arriving at the hospital.

“Tim,” she began, “I’m going to be upfront with you and your partner. Preeclampsia can interfere with blood flow to the fetus, which can lead to a series of problems down the line. But that doesn’t always occur, especially not if we’re actively treating the issue.”

“Right,” he said. The timbre of his voice was weary and broken in a way that Sebastian had never heard before.

“I’ll have them make up a bed for you in the obstetrics ward. That way we can also perform periodic fetal heartrate checks throughout the night.”

“He’s staying with me,” the Irishman abruptly declared, grabbing Seb by the hand.

“Of course. Spouses are always welcome. I’ll make sure they include a fold out bed for your husband.” At that, Dr. Kelly exited the exam room, leaving the two men alone.

“Forget the folding bed,” Jim announced. “You’re sleeping beside me.”

“Wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Sebastian leaned down and hugged the smaller man. It was a gesture full of warmth and reassurance.

Jim responded keenly. “My Tiger,” he whispered, wrapping his arms around the former colonel. He held on tightly, as if remaining in his alpha’s embrace could protect him from the rest of the world.

Sebastian only wished it were true. 

Chapter Text

“This is humiliating,” Jim said as he wandered back to bed from the bathroom. The consulting criminal held one hand behind him to keep his paper-thin hospital gown closed, while the other hand gripped the IV pole he was attached to.

“It’s just for tonight, love. It’ll be okay.” Sebastian helped ease his husband into a comfortable position and retrieved a freshly warmed blanket to cover him with.

Moriarty had only been checked into the medical facility for a few hours and he already hated it. The food was tasteless, the sheets were prickly, and there was absolutely nothing interesting on tv. The only saving grace was the abundance of toasty blankets.

“I’m so bored,” he complained.

“I’ll see about getting some magazines in the gift shop,” Seb replied. “In the meantime, why don’t you try eating a little more?” The sniper moved a tray of food off the nightstand and sat it on Jim’s lap.

“Ugh. It’s terrible, Tiger. No flavor at all.” The low-sodium meal consisted of a grilled chicken cutlet, steamed carrots, and a glutinous white lump purported to be mashed potatoes.

“I know it isn’t great, but the nurse wants you to finish it. Besides, you’ve got to keep up your strength. Can’t do that on an empty stomach.”

Jim sighed and picked up the plastic utensils provided. He glanced at his mate, who nodded encouragingly. The support was nice, but unfortunately, it couldn’t make a bland dish come alive.

“For the babies,” he proclaimed, jabbing into an unseasoned, rubbery carrot.

Moran smiled softly, pleased that the mastermind was making an effort. “While you tackle dinner, I’ll try to scare up some reading material. Shouldn’t take long.”  

“It better not. I refuse to suffer alone.” Jim sounded testy, but Seb understood the truth of the matter. He was anxious and afraid, and his true emotions were manifesting outwardly in the form of crankiness.

The rugged blonde leaned down and kissed the smaller man on the head. He inhaled deeply, relishing the sweet scent of him. No cologne could compare to the natural fragrance of a pregnant omega. It was almost intoxicating.

“Eat as much as you can. There might even be a treat in it for you if you do,”

“Oh reeeeally?” Jim drew out, instantly intrigued. 

“Maybe. You’ll just have to wait and see.”

“You’d best not be toying with me right now,” Moriarty warned. “It’s been a while since I’ve made someone into shoes, but it’s rather like riding a bike— you never forget how.”

Seb chuckled. “I wouldn’t dream of it, dear.”

*********

The hospital gift shop was fairly nondescript. Nothing special about it, but at least they offered a decent selection of newspapers and magazines. Sebastian purchased a hefty stack of periodicals and threw in a crossword puzzle book for good measure.

He couldn’t forget Jim’s treat, either. After perusing an assortment of confectionaries, the former colonel decided to buy the largest milk chocolate bar on display. Knowing his spouse’s sweet tooth, he’d surely appreciate it.

As Moran returned to the Irishman’s room, he could hear yelling coming from inside. Concerned, he picked up his pace and rushed to see what the commotion was about.

“Sod off, you bloody cow!” Jim venomously shouted at a nurse. Both parties looked upset, albeit for different reasons.

“What’s going on here?” the assassin demanded, eyeballing each of them.

“This slag is trying to steal property from right off of my body!” he fumed, shooting the middle-aged woman a chilling glare.

“That’s not what happened!” the medical assistant refuted. She turned to Seb to explain. “The hospital has a policy of removing all jewelry from its patients. This man’s watch should’ve been taken off when he got in here, but someone obviously forgot to enforce the rule. I was sent to check his vitals, and when I saw what he had on, I attempted to remove it. That’s when he flipped out.”

Sebastian sighed. Jim was overreacting and he would have to diffuse the situation. The things I do for you, my love.

“I don’t care what asinine policy this place has! I am not surrendering one of my most valued possessions to you or anyone else in this hell hole! I’d sooner check myself out than submit to it.”

“Sir, given your condition, I strongly advise you not to leave until you’ve been reevaluated by a physician tomorrow. Furthermore, getting yourself worked up like this is only going to aggravate your blood pressure.”

Moriarty was furious, his eyes blazing with anger. “I wouldn’t be worked up if you weren’t trying to take what’s mine!”

This wasn’t good. Seb needed to act now.

“Stop!” the sniper yelled loud enough to be heard over their bickering. “You,” he spoke, pointing directly at the nurse, “are going to tell me why the hospital has this policy. Be concise, but don’t leave out anything important.”

“Okay, fine,” she agreed. “Our policy is based on two aspects. First, the fact that jewelry, particularly that which is on or near the hands, is a harbinger for germs. Removing such articles is a necessary precaution. The second reason is because metal can interfere with readings on some of our medical equipment.”

Sebastian considered her explanation. It sounded reasonable. “If he were to take off the watch, could I hold on to it for safekeeping?”

“Certainly, sir. It was never my intention to confiscate the item. The two of you would be allowed to keep it once it was removed.”

Jim vigorously shook his head back and forth. “No! I’m not doing it, Seb! I refuse.”

Something about the Irishman’s demeanor troubled Moran. Why was wearing the watch so important to him? He’d referred to it as one of his “most valued possessions.” Was that really true? The more Sebastian thought about it, he realized he’d never actually seen Jim take it off. Hmm.

“Ma’am, could I have a moment alone with my partner to discuss this?”

“Absolutely, sir. I’ll be in the hall.”

The nurse left and Seb turned to his husband. “Jimmy, what’s the issue here? I’ll make sure your watch doesn’t get lost. Honest, I will.”

Moriarty’s posture slumped and he averted his gaze down to the now-empty tray on his lap.

The fair-haired assassin frowned. Though glad to see he’d finally finished his meal, he was concerned by the man’s sudden silence.

“Magpie lost his flutter?” Sebastian asked as he moved the tray out of the way and sat with Jim. “Look at me, sweetheart. Tell me what’s wrong.”

The consulting criminal lifted his head, focusing an intense stare on Seb. “We don’t wear our rings.”

“What?”

“Our wedding rings. We don’t wear them.”

“Because you didn’t want people to see them and know what we meant to each other. It would make it too easy for our enemies to hurt us that way.”

“I know, Sebby. I know. But…”

“But what, hon?”

“I can wear the watch you gave me without worry. The whole world could see it, and it would be fine because—”

“Nobody knows what it means except us,” Sebastian said, finishing his mate’s thought. Sometimes they were so attuned to one another, it was uncanny.  

Moriarty nodded. “It’s an entirely foolish and sentimental notion, but it plagues me just the same.”

“Plagues?” the sniper repeated for emphasis. “If it’s a plague, then consider me cursed, because I love the idea.”

“You would,” he remarked.

“How could I not?” Seb flashed a playful grin, guaranteed to ease Jim’s mood.

The genius smiled back and did something surprising: he voluntarily removed his amethyst dial Rolex and handed it to Moran. “I’m putting this back on the moment we set foot outside.”

“I’d expect nothing less,” he replied, tucking the timepiece into his pocket.

Jim peered at the taller man. “Now that we’ve got that sorted, I do believe you promised me a treat.”

“Sure did.” Sebastian fetched the gift shop goods, setting them down on the bed. An oversized chocolate bar lay atop the stack.

“Ooh, Tiger. You know what I like.” He reached for the candy with record speed.

“Might want to wait until the nurse checks you out before digging in.”

“Bugger that,” he quipped, tearing open the wrapper and taking a bite. “I’m tired, pregnant, and have been forced to eat food that’s barely a notch above what one might find at a Gulag. I think I’m bloody well entitled to chocolate right here and now.”

Seb couldn’t dispute Jim’s reasoning. He had dealt with an awful lot today, none of it being particularly pleasant.

“Okay, Jimmy. I’m going to invite her back in and she can work around your snacking.”

By then, the mastermind didn’t seem to care. He was terribly bored and wanted nothing more than to devour his sweet treat and read a newspaper.

“That’s fine. Carry on.”

Moriarty sifted through the stack of reading materials, stopping when he discovered a crossword puzzle book mixed in. A look of delight came over his face and all thoughts of reading The Daily Telegraph went out the window. He had something more interesting to occupy himself with now.   

Chapter Text

Sebastian Moran’s arm was going numb. The cause of his ailment was a softly snoring Irishman who’d fallen unconscious on his limb. It wasn’t really Jim’s fault, though. A nurse had administered a diphenhydramine injection to help him sleep. The drug was effective, putting him out like a light while he rested in Seb’s embrace.

The sniper gently maneuvered his arm out from under the slumbering body. Once freed, he worked to restore its blood flow. After a few minutes of massage, sensation returned at last. Ironically, while his extremity was now awake, the rest of him grew very tired. Seb could barely keep his eyes open, and soon he succumbed to the Land of Nod alongside Jim.

*********

Sebastian entered his mate’s hospital room carrying a cup of hot cocoa. It was prepared the way Jim liked— with real whipped cream and chocolate shavings on top.

He frowned. The bed was empty. Moriarty’s things were missing, too. The man hadn’t brought many personal effects with him during the impromptu stay, but Seb remembered his shoes being sat near the door and his t-shirt and sweatpants folded on a chair. Now those items were gone.

Suddenly, an orderly walked in pushing a laundry cart. She began stripping the sheets off the bed, totally ignoring the blonde’s presence.

“Excuse me,” he spoke, trying to get the woman’s attention. “This room is supposed to be occupied.”

“Not anymore,” she flatly replied without even bothering to look up at him. She just kept her head down, working on the sheets.

“What do you mean by that? My husband is staying here.”

“The last person assigned to this room died. That’s why they sent me to strip the bed. Somebody else already cleared out his things.”

Sebastian turned ghostly pale and began to shake. The hot cocoa he carried fell to the floor, a mess of brown liquid pooling on the lily white tile.

“Hey!” the woman complained. “Watch what the hell you’re doing! Now I’m gonna have to clean that up.”

Her words barely registered with the former colonel. He was in a complete and utter daze.

“You’re telling me that the man who was staying in this room is now dead?” Seb shouted, his voice fraught with hysteria. “When did it happen? And how?”

“I don’t know. Not too long ago, obviously.” She paused. “I did overhear some nurses talking about a guy who had a stroke. Said it was a real shame he died alone.”

Sebastian’s heart shattered into pieces. ‘Died alone.’ No…no! Not his Magpie. Not his beautiful, brilliant, madcap Jimmy. The person he loved more than anything else in this world.

The assassin second-guessed himself. Why had he left Jim’s side for even an instant? Maybe if he’d been there, he could’ve done something to help. Could’ve gotten the doctors’ attention quicker. Or at the very least, he could’ve simply held his hand.

It made him sick to imagine Jim overcome by a stroke as he laid alone. Did he realize what was happening to him? Was he scared? Worse yet, in those final moments, did he wonder why his husband wasn’t there? Did he think, god forbid, that his Tiger had abandoned him?

And their babies. Little Essie and Eddie. The children he and Jim so deeply wanted and adored. They were gone, too. Their tiny heartbeats, silenced forever. Seb ached as he thought of how he’d never be able to hold them, hug them, or rock them to sleep. He would never get to be their Daddy.

Moran was suffocating under the weight of his despair. This was not mere sorrow. This was immolation of the soul. This was what it felt like to truly have the heart burned out of you.

*********

Sebastian jolted awake. It took him a minute to calm down and reorient himself.

Jim, was the only thought on his mind. He looked over at the still-sleeping man who meant everything to him.

“My Magpie,” he whispered. “I love you so.”

The sniper wanted to kiss and caress him. Wanted to hold him in his arms again, circulation be damned. But he knew Jim needed to rest. His health was first and foremost, coming ahead of all else.

Quiet as a mouse, Seb crept out of bed. According to his mobile, it was nearly 5 a.m.

Bloody hell. He’d slept longer than he realized.

The sun would be up soon, and hopefully, Jim would be given clearance to go home. Before that happened, though, he’d probably be made to endure another unappetizing meal courtesy of the medical facility. If last night’s sorry excuse for a dinner was any indication, breakfast would be equally off-putting. 

My poor kitten. Sebastian wanted to do something nice for his spouse. An idea quickly came to him. All he had to do was make the appropriate phone call, and it would come together thusly.

*********

Sunlight cascaded through the blinds of Jim’s room, casting a warm glow throughout. But it wasn’t dawn that stirred him, no. It was the scent.

An aromatic bouquet billowed in the air, transforming the sterile area into a realm of botanical ecstasy. If the essence of Eden could be recreated, it would surely smell like this.

Moriarty opened his eyes and blinked, uncertain if what he was seeing was real. There were flowers everywhere, and of numerous variety.

“Sebby, what is this?” he asked, staring in awe at his surroundings. The once spartan space was now filled to the brim with flora, turning the place into a makeshift garden. It was breathtaking.

The assassin grinned cheekily. “It’s just a little something I hoped you might like.”

“Like it? I love it,” he enthused. “But how did you manage to pull this off?”

“I know all the right people.” In actuality, Moran only had to contact one florist in order to get the job done. Money could be a very compelling motivator, especially when you were able to offer it in abundance.

“I can’t believe I slept through the delivery. I guess I was dead to the world after that Benadryl shot.”

Dead to the world.’ Seb inwardly cringed at the phrase. It was an innocuous figure of speech, but he didn’t want to hear Jim use the word ‘dead’ in relation to himself ever again.

“You needed the rest,” he said. “How are you feeling?”

“Hungry. And better than yesterday. I think the drugs are working.”

“Thank god.” Sebastian was relieved at the news. “You gave me one hell of a scare.”

Jim cast his eyes downward, fidgeting anxiously. “About that…I’m sorry, Tiger. You shouldn’t have to deal with this.”

“Don’t apologize. If anything, I’m the one who ought to make amends. You’ve dealt with so much stress lately,” he lamented. “I swore to protect you, but look what good it’s done. I’d fire me if I were you.”

“Then it’s fortunate I’m my own man. I would never give you the pink slip. You’re the only person I trust.”

“Likewise.” The sniper moved to sit on the bed with his mate, tenderly taking his hand. “I love you, Jimmy. I already lost you once. I couldn’t bear to again.”

“Well, you’re in luck, because I don’t plan on going anywhere,” he assured. “Except home, that is. Can’t wait to get back there.”

Sebastian smiled. “I’d like that, too. Our bed is a whole lot more comfortable than this thing,” he noted, referring to the hospital furniture they were currently perched upon.

“Sebby, go find a doctor to reassess me. I want to get this over with ASAP.”

“I’ll see what I can do.”

The fair-haired former colonel made his way to the door, intent on finding someone with the authority to clear his spouse for discharge. Maybe, just maybe, they’d be able to head home sooner than later.

*********

The Magpie and his Tiger were home at last, though it had not occurred quickly enough for Jim. The on-call obstetrician was unavailable to meet with him until 10 a.m. That meant he was subjected to a second dubious dining experience at the medical facility. Rubbery eggs and dry toast did nothing for his disposition.

The evaluation yielded a more positive experience. Moriarty’s body had responded well to the intravenous Labetalol, bringing his blood pressure down to a manageable level. He was prescribed to take an oral form of the drug twice a day for the remainder of the pregnancy. His regular OB was to be appraised of the situation and they would discuss it at his next checkup.

Upon release from the hospital, Sebastian was tasked with packing up the array of flowers in Jim’s room. Fortunately, someone at the nurses’ station was kind enough to provide them with empty boxes from a supply closet. In all, there were five cases of plant life to transport.

“Set those over there, darling.” Jim pointed to a spot in the living room.

Sebastian did as he was told, placing the box full of flowers exactly where his husband wanted them.

“I should’ve had these delivered here as a surprise for when you came home. I wasn’t thinking very far ahead,” the sniper admitted.

“I know, Tiger. But it was an incredibly sweet gesture.” He leaned up and stole a kiss from the taller man. “These will look wonderful around the house. They’ll add a fine touch of flair.”    

“Yeah, you’re probably right.”

“Of course I’m right,” he said with an impish grin. “Now you finish unloading the rest while I go take a shower. If you’re quick about it, maybe you can even join me.”

Seb grunted huskily at the proposition. Moriarty always knew how to push his buttons.

Returning to the car for another load, Moran’s phone buzzed, indicating he had a new text message. He pulled the mobile device from his pocket, hoping it was Jim telling him to forgo the flowers and just hop in the shower with him. His mate changed his mind often, so it was possible.

He damn near dropped the phone when he read what it said.

Unknown Sender

Welcome home, Colonel. I trust all is well. It’d be a shame if something befell those whelps of yours.  

Chapter Text

Two weeks had gone by since Sebastian received the anonymous text message mocking the welfare of his unborn children. He tried to trace the correspondence back to its sender, but found that it originated from a burner phone. It was yet another brick wall in the quest to track down his and Jim’s stalker. The countless dead ends were driving him to madness.

Jim. Moran felt intense guilt over what the stress was doing to his mate. Pregnancy should be a time of great joy for an omega, and indeed, the Irishman was happy. However, he was also contending with excess anxiety because of their harasser. Seb couldn’t help but think that Jim’s high blood pressure was at least partially due to all the threats they’d received.

Moriarty was again operating under a reduced workload. After learning of his preeclampsia diagnosis, his regular obstetrician advised him to take it easy. Though not placed on strict bedrest, it was recommended that he avoid overexerting himself. This meant he would only travel to headquarters one day a week. The remainder of the time he’d conduct business from home.

Sebastian was relieved to have his husband mostly consigned to their house because that made it easier to keep him safe. He’d rehired the extra security guards Jim previously dismissed, giving them specific instructions to report any and all activity taking place on their property. This included the comings and goings of delivery people, repairmen, and even the mastermind himself. Moriarty was seemingly unaware of the increased surveillance and Seb knew he’d be livid when he found out.

The sniper broke his word by having Jim watched. But he couldn’t just sit back and do nothing. His primary goal in life was to serve and protect the man. Right now, this was the best way he knew of to achieve that. He had the consulting criminal’s well-being at heart. 

It disturbed Seb to hear from the security crew that his Magpie was venturing out on a near daily basis. Like a true bird in flight, he was said to be fluttering from the nest at odd intervals, with no discernible pattern to his excursions. When asked about what he did during the day, the genius would play dumb, pretending he’d been cooped up inside.

What was the reason for Moriarty’s deceit? Sebastian contemplated the question endlessly, never reaching a suitable conclusion. He thought back to a month earlier when he suspected Jim of hiding documents and letters from him. He was unsettled by it then and even more so now.  

When Moran allowed his mind to wander, his thoughts took a dark turn. The last time the mastermind was this secretive…

Seb shook his head, not wanting to remember. But he could never forget, no matter how badly he tried. All the liquor in the world wouldn’t erase that godforsaken experience. It was branded into his soul.

The rooftop of St. Bart’s. The last time Jim had been this secretive was when he was planning that final fucking game with Sherlock Holmes.

Sebastian growled, throwing a now-empty tumbler of scotch across the length of his office. It hit the wall with a satisfying smash, shards glistening along the thinly carpeted floor. What he really wanted was to pound his fist into the wall, but in his line of work, he couldn’t risk damage to his hands. Glassware would have to suffice.

Jim was up to something. Of that, the assassin had no doubt. Surely, whatever it was couldn’t be as extreme as St. Bart’s. It just couldn’t be, not now. Not when…

When we’re a family.

In his heart, he knew that Jim would never risk their children’s lives. His own, perhaps, but not theirs. He loved the babies far too much for that.

So what, then, was the criminal extraordinaire hiding? Seb would head home to find out.

*********

It was mid-afternoon when the former colonel arrived at the residence he and Jim shared. Funny how his husband didn’t greet him when he walked through the front door, or when he marched down the hall, calling the man’s name. Or even when he checked the backyard, searching for him there, too, in the off chance that he might be relaxing on the lanai. 

Where are you, Jim?

Seb had half a mind to ring him up, demanding to know his current location. But he needed to remain calm and keep his wits about him. Getting upset wouldn’t do any good.

So he returned to the living room and sat down. He would wait. Wait for his mate to buzz back to their nest. Then he would bloody well get some answers.

*********

The smell was the first thing Sebastian noticed when Jim traipsed in. It was that scent again. The one from a month ago that was so terribly familiar, yet unplaceable. A growl instinctively tore from his lips, grabbing the smaller man’s attention.

“Fancy meeting you here, Tiger. Make that sound again and I’ll have to insist we play a round of ‘Pin the Magpie.’” He ogled the strapping assassin wantonly, and if Seb wasn’t so angry, he would’ve found the look irresistible.

“No games, Jimmy. I want the truth.”

“Truth? You’ll have to be more specific than that, dear. And while we’re at it, care to tell me what you’re doing home so early? I can’t be at headquarters myself, but I presumed you’d be there to oversee things.”

“No,” Moran protested. “You don’t get to ask the questions right now. That’s my job.”

Jim blanched at his husband’s sudden attitude. “Sebby, have you recently suffered a head injury? Because that’s the only explanation I can come up with for why you’re acting so daft.”

Daft? He comes home smelling like someone else and I’m the one who’s daft?

“Cut the bullshit,” he spat. “I know you’ve been going out every day, even though you allege not to have left the house. And you reek of alpha. The same alpha you claimed was an associate from Australia a few weeks ago. I believed you then. I’m not so sure now.”

The sniper’s words hung thick in the air as a hurt expression washed over Moriarty’s face. Seb hadn’t been prepared for that. He expected the Irishman would be furious, but this…this was pure dejection.

“You’ve been spying on me.”

“I had to do something to keep you safe. I received a text message from the stalker the same day we got back from the hospital. He threatened the babies.”

Jim paled. “And you didn’t think to mention it? We’ve been through this before! Why would you not tell me? Why?”

“Because of this,” Sebastian said. “Because of your kneejerk reaction to things. With your condition, it could aggravate your blood pressure.”

“Surveilling me is your solution?” he asked incredulously. “I suppose I should’ve realized what you were up to. Should’ve picked up on the clues. But I didn’t. Like a fucking idiot, I didn’t see the treachery that was going on right in front of me.” He shook his head in sadness and frustration. “I was blind because I trusted you, Sebastian. Trusted you completely. Well, shame on me for making that mistake.”

“Jim, try to understand—”

“Stop it! Just stop! I can’t abide these lies. I told you there would be consequences if you deceived me again, but still you persist.”

“Pot, meet kettle,” the blonde hissed in reply. “You’ve not been truthful either. Where do you go during the day? And who’ve you been with? Why do you smell like another alpha?”

Moriarty glared. “What exactly are you implying?”     

A stifling silence came upon them until Moran finally opened his mouth to speak. “I…I don’t know,” he whispered with uncertainty.

The former colonel honestly didn’t know what to think. Others in his situation would likely assume their partner was cheating. But Seb knew better. Despite mounting evidence, he could not believe Jim would ever stray from their marital bed. They’d sworn solemn fidelity to each other long ago and meant it.

“I’ve heard enough,” the dark-eyed omega announced. He turned around, car keys in hand, and headed for the door.

“Wait!” Sebastian intercepted his spouse before he could step outside. “Please don’t go. It’s pretty clear that I took the wrong approach here,” he admitted. “I just wanted answers. I’m sorry if it came off as an ambush.”

“An ambush? Don’t flatter yourself. This was little more than an exercise in petulant machismo. Also, a fine opportunity to learn what you really think of me.”

“Jimmy, no.”    

“Sebby, yes,” he mocked. “You automatically assume the worst of me. Even now, while I’m carrying our children, you figure I must be up to no good. That’s some grade-A loyalty, my love. You’re a real fucking prince.”

Overwhelmed by guilt, the assassin moved aside, allowing the other man to exit. Jim had every right to be angry. He’d fucked up royally and wished he could take back the entire conversation. How could it have gone awry so fast?

The door slammed as Moriarty left in a huff.

Seb sunk down into the couch, forlorn. The reality of what had just transpired hit him hard. He’d allowed his pregnant omega to go gallivanting god knows where, with zero means of protection. This solidified his failure as a bodyguard, a husband, and an alpha.

Jim simply needed to blow off steam, right? He’d be back in no time. Of course he would.

*********

Sebastian awoke to darkness and a splitting headache. Initially dazed, memories of the past several hours soon came flooding back. After he and Jim argued, the sniper sought solace in a fifth of bourbon. From there, he’d made his way to the bedroom where he unceremoniously passed out on the floor.

“What time is it?” he mumbled, standing up and turning on a light. He almost didn’t believe it when he saw the clock. It was 9 p.m. Fuck.

His thoughts turned to Jim. Surely, he must be home by now. With that in mind, Seb rushed out to the living room, calling the man’s name.

But he wasn’t there. He didn’t appear to be in any room of the house, for that matter.  

Moran was about to send his husband an apologetic text message when he noticed something that made his heart sink. Jim’s phone was sitting on the coffee table. He’d been in such a hurry to leave after their quarrel that he’d left the device behind. This meant he had no way to contact him and vice versa.

And no way to call for help if he was in trouble.

Suddenly, Sebastian was very worried.

Chapter Text

Jim Moriarty was bored, tired, and brokenhearted. He’d been driving aimlessly for close to six hours. Oh, he made pit stops here and there, but those only worsened his mood. It seemed like everywhere he went, a memory of Sebastian followed.  

He visited a park and remembered the time he and Seb picnicked there, shagging in an out of the way spot and watching a brilliant sunset as they laid in each other’s arms. He went to an arcade and couldn’t help but recall when the two of them played skee-ball for hours just so the mastermind would have enough tickets to buy a stuffed panda. Seb joked that it was too bad they didn’t offer a tiger. Jim said it was fine because he already had all the tiger he needed.

Even passing by something as mundane as an alleyway triggered thoughts of his husband. Moriarty recognized certain dark corners of the city as places where he and Sebastian had run off to after kills, fucking like animals under the pale moonlight. It was in one of those alleys that he first confessed his love for the other man.

He wanted to go home. Wanted a hot meal, a comfortable bed, and a gorgeous alpha to snuggle. It was also time for his second dose of blood pressure meds. He’d been taking them on a set schedule and was advised not to break the routine.

Before any of that, though, he needed to find a restroom. Dr. Swenson had warned him that the babies would soon begin putting pressure on his bladder. Jim thought it was a bit too early for such a thing, but sure enough, she was right. Carrying twins was definitely harder on the body than a singleton.

The consulting criminal pulled into a convenience store parking lot. It didn’t appear to be busy. With any luck, he’d be in and out in less than 10 minutes.

Then it’s home to my Tiger.

*********

Sebastian sat in Jim’s office brandishing a picking tool, contemplating what he was about to do. He was mere moments from breaching the lock on Moriarty’s desk drawer. The man would undoubtedly be angry when he found out, but this was for a worthy cause.

The sniper sought contact information. He thought that perhaps Jim was with whomever he’d been sneaking off to see during the day. If he could figure out who he was dealing with, he might be able to locate his mate.

Attempts to access the mastermind’s phone for data proved fruitless— the device was password protected. He already knew his computer was similarly guarded, so that would be a dead end, too. The only option left was to check the drawer.

Oh, that damned drawer. It was a place of mystery and suspicion, its contents as elusive as a cryptid sighting. Things were filed away, never to be seen again. Seb had always been curious to see what was inside, especially after he realized the genius was hiding documents from him in there. Now he could finally justify cracking open the compartment.   

Well-versed in the art of breaking and entering, Moran popped the lock with relative ease. At first glance, he observed several folder files and an incredibly ornate wooden box. Naturally, his attention was drawn to the latter.

Hmm. What do we have here?

He picked up the rectangular container and examined its exterior. Intricate designs were carved into the façade, forming a beautiful pattern. It was really quite elegant.

Seb lifted a small latch on the box, releasing the lid. What he found inside truly surprised him. It seemed that James Moriarty, the most dangerous man in London, was secretly keeping a box full of…mementos.

Sifting through the items, Sebastian was taken on a stroll down memory lane. There were ticket stubs from movies and West End shows they’d gone to see. There was a paper umbrella from the drinks they were served at a luau while on assignment in Hawaii. There was even a silver ribbon Seb recognized as part of the wrapping from a Christmas gift he’d given Jim.

At the bottom of the box was a framed photo of the two of them, taken on their wedding day. The assassin smiled, fondly remembering the event. It was one of the rare occasions when he’d worn a tuxedo, complete with cufflinks and a cummerbund. He felt rather silly in the formalwear, but Jim couldn’t stop gushing over how handsome he looked. The man was all smiles that day, among the happiest Seb had ever seen him.            

“So sentimental, my Magpie.” For as often as his spouse railed against schmaltz, he was, at his core, a sucker for it just the same.

He closed the box and put it back in its rightful place, a pang of nostalgia now coursing through him. It was easy to get lost in musings of the past. He and Jim had shared so much together, it was difficult to imagine a time when they weren’t in each other’s lives.

Moran moved on to the folder files. Rifling through the thick stack, the materials contained therein appeared fairly humdrum. They were mostly a series of financial statements, ostensibly for recordkeeping purposes. It was very dry stuff, and he wasn’t sure why the mastermind had gone to the trouble of locking them up.

Sebastian was ready to concede that there was nothing of use to him there and return the documents to the drawer, when he spied something strange. There was a folder near the top of the pile that held an eclectic mix of receipts. Multiple purchases had recently been made all over the city. Sales included a Waterford crystal punch bowl, several sets of porcelain dishware, a large luxury yacht, and the acquired services of both a gourmet caterer and a DJ. If Seb didn’t know better, he’d think Jim was organizing a party.

A party…no, it couldn’t be.

Quickly, he double checked the slips. The receipt for the DJ stated that the amount was paid in advance for services to be rendered on a specific date…his birthdate.            

The sniper was absolutely gobsmacked. This was what Moriarty was hiding from him. He was venturing out every day to formalize plans for his husband’s birthday party. In fact, it might even explain why he’d smelled so different. If he was working in close proximity with an alpha, the scent could’ve rubbed off.

At first, Sebastian was deeply touched by the realization. The idea of Jim doing something like that for him warmed his heart in the most wonderful way. But then… 

A sick feeling washed over him as he recalled the fight they’d had hours earlier. The formidable blonde was so suspicious of the Irishman. So confrontational, without any real proof behind his assertions. It was unwarranted mistrust on Seb’s part, and Jim was right— the assassin had assumed the worst of him.

“Oh, my love. What have I done?”

*********

Jim felt great relief upon exiting the convenience store. With his most urgent physical need sated, the consulting criminal was ready to get back on the road and head home. He could picture it already. When he walked in, Sebastian would probably be passed out on the couch or cleaning his guns. Either way, he’d put the man to work cooking for him. A filet mignon and baked potato sounded divine right now.   

As he neared his car, he was struck by an eerie sensation. Goosebumps formed on his skin and he stopped dead in his tracks, looking around. Though the darkened lot appeared empty, Moriarty got the distinct impression that someone was there in the shadows.     

He took a deep breath and wished to god that Seb was with him. The mastermind was no stranger to handling situations himself, but his current condition left him more vulnerable than usual. He now had to consider his children’s well-being in addition to his own.

“If you’re cruising for someone to rob, I suggest you look elsewhere. I don’t carry cash, and I’d be sure to cancel my credit cards before you ever got a chance to use them,” he icily warned. Hopefully, his words would be a deterrent.

Here goes nothing. He swiftly resumed his trek to the car. He’d just reached the door when a gloved hand grabbed him from behind. Jim struggled fiercely, scrambling to break free of his attacker’s grip. It was a futile effort. The man outmatched Moriarty in height and weight, easily subduing him.    

But Jim wasn’t one to give up without a fight. Thinking fast, he let his body drop to the ground, careful not to land on his stomach. The burly assailant was taken off guard by the abrupt move, falling to the asphalt with his prey.

The genius only had moments to act. He bit down harshly on the larger man’s arm, eliciting a yelp of pain. In the confusion, he managed to scurry a few feet away, but his pursuer was relentless. The hulking figure lunged at Jim, pinning him down and producing a wetted handkerchief from his pocket.

The Irishman’s eyes went wide as he could already smell the chemicals wafting from the cloth. He knew what was going to happen next— he would be knocked out. There was a twisted irony to it. He’d done the same to people before, and now he was on the other side of the rag.

As Moriarty slowly succumbed to the fumes, his last thoughts were of Sebastian. He desperately wanted his mate. Wanted to tell him how much he loved him. Wanted to feel his safe, warm embrace. Just wanted him, period.

“Tiger,” he whispered, as his vision descended into darkness.

Chapter Text

“Shit!” Sebastian yelled as a searing heat singed his leg. He looked down and saw that the cigarette he’d been smoking was now in his lap, having burned a dime-sized hole through his pants. He swiftly stubbed out the offending stick of tobacco.

“Must’ve nodded off,” he muttered.

The sniper waited up all night for Jim to come home. Night turned to day and the man still wasn’t back. To say that Seb was worried would be an understatement. He was positively frantic.

Why did I let you leave? Moran asked himself that question over and over again, never finding a good enough answer. There were so many things he would’ve done differently if only he had the power to rewind the clock 24 hours.

Guilt consumed him. Why had he been so quick to jump to conclusions about Jim? Yes, his spouse was being secretive, but why did he immediately assume it meant something terrible? At one time, his reaction might’ve been justified. But that was in the past. Not now. Not after they’d reunited following Moriarty’s return from supposed death. Not after they finally realized the depths of their love for each other and decided to wed. And most certainly, not after Jim became pregnant with their children.

I fuck everything up. Sebastian reflected on how colossally poor his judgment had been. He was trying to alleviate stress from Jim’s life, but instead added to it wholesale. If he hadn’t confronted him so bluntly, then the man wouldn’t have felt compelled to leave in the first place. Seb was taught that an expectant omega should be cherished and cared for by their alpha, without exception. In running off his mate, he’d done the exact opposite. He’d failed in the worst possible way.

I’m sorry, Jimmy.

The assassin couldn’t take sitting around doing nothing. He was a man of action. So what was next?   

Phone calls. He would touch base with those in the criminal web. Maybe someone had seen Jim around or heard something regarding his whereabouts. It was worth investigating.

*********

James Moriarty awoke haphazardly sprawled across a cement floor. He was feeling woozy, probably a result of the chemical used to render him unconscious. Slowly, he sat up and took a look at his surroundings. 

He’d been brought to a barebones basement that consisted of four concrete walls and precious little else. There was a toilet and sink along one side, and what appeared to be a standalone shower unit in the corner. A lightbulb flickered overhead, seemingly the only means of illuminating the windowless room.

Once his dizziness subsided, Jim rose to stand. He was quickly made aware of a shackle around his ankle and its corresponding chain attached to a pipe. He tested the length of the tether and found that it gave him enough leeway to navigate the room.

Thank god, the mastermind thought. If he was going to be held captive, at least he’d have access to a bathroom. That was more than he could say for previous abductions he’d faced.

Moriarty was almost certain his stalker was behind the kidnapping. Months of harassment had led to this. He loathed that he’d fallen prey so easily.

Why did I leave? He and Sebastian had fought, yes. But that didn’t mean it was right to storm out the way he did. He could’ve simply locked himself in his office or taken a long soak in the tub. Could’ve done any number of safer, smarter things. Instead, he let his temper get the best of him and now he was trapped. Worse yet, his children were trapped, too. They were unwitting victims in this mess.     

Jim felt incredibly guilty. He’d spent so much of his life making one rash decision after another, rarely considering how his choices might impact those around him. He was changeable, fluid, impulsive. And why not? Only ordinary people allowed themselves to become pigeonholed. Better to be dead than predictable.

Impending parenthood changed all that. The moment he learned he was pregnant, he felt a shift in his worldview. Suddenly, actions had consequences which carried genuine weight. The things he did directly affected the tiny lives growing inside him. Essie and Eddie required stability and commitment. They depended on him to make good choices.

I failed them.

The Irishman’s mind began to buzz. He thought of how he’d been forced to inhale chloroform fumes. What might that have done to his babies? He was well aware of the substance’s chemical composition and knew it held toxic properties. However, he was unsure what, if any, immediate danger it posed to a gestating fetus.

He placed a hand on his stomach, rubbing it gently. At 20 weeks along, he had still not felt the twins move. That was okay, though, because he could listen to their heartbeats every day. So long as they were pumping steadily, everything was fine.

But he couldn’t hear them on this day. He was denied the comfort of knowing whether his little ones were alive or…no. Never. He refused to even think it. Essie and Eddie were thriving. They had to be. He would accept nothing else.

*********

Sebastian had a lead. Several hours’ worth of phone calls finally yielded a piece of information he could use. Word got out that Jim’s car was found abandoned in the parking lot of a convenience store located on the outskirts of London. The vehicle was towed, but Seb was able to get a gander at it when he stopped by the impound yard. On sight, he recognized it as definitely belonging to his husband.

After confirming ownership of the car, the sniper’s next move was to survey the parking lot where it had been deserted. Seb was on a hunt for clues. Keen observation and attention to detail were at the forefront.    

About an hour into his search, he realized there wasn’t as much to go on as he’d hoped. Motorists came and went, likely disturbing whatever evidence may have originally been at the scene. Still, Moran persisted.

It’s often said that missing items tend to show up in the last place you look. In this case, the adage held true. The former colonel thought he’d checked every nook and cranny in that parking lot, but lo and behold, there was a bush on the far end of the property he nearly missed. It was an honest mistake— the shrubbery in question was identical to the other bushes he’d already rifled through.

Seb discovered something that set this particular foliage apart from the rest. It harbored a discarded handkerchief and what he knew to be Jim’s car keys.

Must have been stashed here by the kidnapper.

Yes, he was officially using the term “kidnapper,” because that’s what he was convinced this was. He’d had suspicions from the start, but the abandoned vehicle and hidden effects confirmed it.   

“Chloroform,” he noted, eyeing up the wadded rag. Even dried on cloth, the chemical gave off a distinct odor. Nobody used a substance like that unless they were intending to knock someone out.

Who did this to you, Jimmy?

Sebastian Moran would do all he could to find out.

*********

The most dangerous man in London screamed until his throat went raw. He was driven by many things. There was rage that he’d been abducted and left to rot in a cellar. There was frustration that he could find nothing to pick the lock on his ankle with. There was hope, however small, that someone might hear him and investigate the noise. And last, but certainly not least, there was anxiety over being forcibly separated from his husband.   

Jim missed Sebastian terribly. He needed his Tiger just as he needed oxygen or water to survive. The blonde assassin was an imperative. Funny how he hadn’t thought about that when he ran away from the man.   

I fuck everything up. 

He peered at his watch. The timepiece was a source of great comfort for Moriarty. Wearing it made him feel closer to Seb even though they were apart.

We’ll be together again soon, my love. He believed with all his heart that either Moran would find him, or he would formulate his own escape.  

Chapter Text

Jim felt like hell. Appropriate, seeing as how he was now residing there as well.

Shackled and forgotten, time blurred into an interminable procession of hunger, pain, and misery. Just how long had he been down in that basement? Even using his watch as a guide, he’d lost track. If he had to guess, he’d estimate maybe four or five days.

He’d not eaten since before the abduction. He was able to drink water thanks to the sink provided, but the hunger…good god. It was unforgiving. The Irishman had gone longer durations without food, certainly. But not while pregnant. His current condition seemed to make it so much worse.

The lack of nutrition distressed him. If he was starving, did that mean his babies were, too? They needed nourishment to develop and grow. Would this stunt them somehow?

Moriarty held his head in his hands, trying to breathe through the agony. His whole body hurt. Carrying twins was hard enough under normal circumstances— doing it without furniture to rest on was downright excruciating. In particular, sleeping on concrete proved nigh impossible. The rare occasions when he did nod off were more due to sheer exhaustion than having found any actual comfort.

And the headaches. Dear lord, the headaches. Brutal and blinding, they were enough to knock the wind out of a person. The last time he’d experienced pain like this was when he was hospitalized. He knew he was getting sick again. Without his twice-a-day drug regimen, his blood pressure rapidly shot back up.

Jim remembered what the obstetrician at the ER had said: preeclampsia could interfere with blood flow to the fetus. Her statement led him to research the specifics of his ailment, and what he’d learned was chilling. Its effects could cause a baby to be undersized and premature. Worse yet, it could even result in stillbirth.

But he thought he would be okay. The medication they’d put him on was working. Everything should’ve been fine. Until this happened. Until he was kidnapped and deprived of the antihypertensive medicine he and his children so desperately needed.           

Sebastian always took care of him when he wasn’t feeling well. The assassin would stay by his side reading favorite books to him, cooking meals for him, even taking baths with him. Jim’s favorite part was when he’d hold him tight, their bodies pressed so close together, it was difficult to tell where one of them ended and the other began. In those moments, all malaise would fade away, supplanted by love, safety, and warmth.

Tiger. My sweet Tiger. I miss you.

*********

 “Tell me!” Sebastian roared at the man he’d bound to a chair. “Tell me, or I swear to god, I’ll gut you like a fucking fish!”

“I already told you! I don’t know where Moriarty is!”

“Wrong answer.” Balling a fist, he propelled his arm forward and punched the captive square in the nose. A sickly pop could be heard upon impact, followed by a torrent of gushing blood.

The injured man screamed with abandon and fiercely struggled against his restraints. The effort was of little use, though. Moran could tie a knot that even Houdini wouldn’t be able to escape.   

“You want me to stop?”

His detainee nodded affirmatively.

“Then tell me where my hu—” Seb quickly stopped himself from revealing the truth of his and Jim’s relationship. “Tell me where my boss is. That’s all you’ve got to do.”

“I don’t know!” he repeated. “And beating me up sure as hell won’t magically insert the knowledge into my head!”

The sniper growled. He’d been interrogating this individual for over two hours and still hadn’t gotten any information out of him. Perhaps he really was telling the truth.

Scowling bitterly, Seb pulled a blade from his back pocket. The other man’s eyes widened at the sight, but relaxed once he realized his bindings were being sliced through. At last, he could move freely.

“Get out,” the assassin ordered through gritted teeth.

“You’ll excuse me if I don’t thank you for the reprieve.” The battered man exited Sebastian’s office, shutting the door with a slam.

Moran began tearing the room apart in frustration. Chairs, bookshelves, and glassware went flying as his emotions violently spewed forth.

He hated this. Jim had been missing for five days and he was still no closer to finding him. It was maddening, heartbreaking, and made him feel utterly useless.

Seb was trying his damnedest. Since the kidnapping, he’d systematically worked through his list of suspects, hunting them down and applying interrogation when necessary. To maximize efficiency, he enlisted the help of select members from his sniper team. They were tasked with tracking suspects who were based outside of Great Britain. Once located, the potential stalkers were briefly surveilled for signs of suspicious behavior. If they displayed even the vaguest hint of peculiarity, they were brought to him for one-on-one questioning.

So far, nothing panned out. He’d exhausted the roster of living individuals, leaving only those whose statuses were undetermined. Seb had hoped it wouldn’t come to that. Searching for MIA sharpshooters was akin to finding a needle in a haystack. Though not impossible, it would take far more time than he had to spare. If he didn’t rescue Jim soon…

Oh, Magpie. Sebastian wasn’t prone to tears, but when he thought about his mate and what he might be going through…well, it took tremendous fortitude not to break down right there on the spot.

Today was almost too much for him to bear. When he first got up and checked his phone, he received a calendar alert stating that Jim had a doctor’s appointment at 2 p.m. His heart sunk immediately. He recalled how much the Irishman looked forward to his prenatal visits, always eager to see the twins on screen and get new printouts for the baby book he was compiling. Their unborn children brought out a kind of pure, undiluted happiness in him that Seb had never seen before. It was beautiful. But now, knowing his beloved would miss today’s appointment, he was intensely saddened.

Things only got worse when he arrived at headquarters. People at the office were acting strangely. There were awkward glances and whispers that died down when he came into earshot. It was infuriating. He wanted to know what the hell was going on.

In an effort to gain insight, he requested an impromptu meeting with Suzy, Jim’s longtime secretary. If something was abuzz, she’d surely be aware of it. What the woman relayed to him was appalling. The consulting criminal’s pregnancy had become an open secret, and with his recent disappearance, gossip spread like wildfire. Apparently, the popular theory was that Moriarty had run off somewhere to have a late-term abortion.

Seb was mortified. Not only had his mate been taken against his will, but he now had to suffer the indignity of slander in absentia. This defamation felt especially cruel, considering how deeply Jim wanted their babies. To suggest otherwise was a slap in the face.

He yearned to set the record straight, but knew he didn’t dare. The truth would raise questions that he was unprepared to answer. So he stuffed his anger down, something he’d become quite adept at.

The sniper stood back and surveyed the shambles of his office. He hadn’t trashed a place so thoroughly in ages. It seemed oddly fitting that the room now mirrored how he felt inside— broken and chaotic, in dire need of repair.

The fact of the matter was that he had no solace without Jim. No reason to crack a smile or enjoy a sunset. No reason to gaze at the stars or even get out of bed. Life itself rang hollow in his absence. It was just like the fall at St. Bart’s all over again.

But it’s not Jim’s fault this time, and you can still fix it.

Sebastian refused to lose faith. He would find his husband if it was the last thing he ever did.

*********

Moriarty curled into a ball on the cold cement floor. He’d endured untold hours of tedium and pain, and expected that to be the extent of the night’s activities. He was mistaken.

The door at the top of the steps creaked open. Jim gasped, hoping against hope that it was his darling Tiger who’d come to liberate him. Any such ideas were dashed, however, the moment he got a good look at the man.

Tall and muscular, he shared a similar build as Sebastian, but that was where the likeness ended. This individual was nowhere near as handsome, sporting much gruffer, grizzlier features. He also bore a cold, dead-eyed stare. It was reminiscent of…

The phantom from my nightmare.

In a flash, the mastermind’s heart began to pound. If his blood pressure was high already, it now rocketed off the charts. He couldn’t breathe, either. Tunnel vision set in, and all he could think of was how much the man descending the stairs reminded him of the murderous apparition he’d seen in his dream.

Jim’s nerves were absolutely shot. By the time the kidnapper reached him, his world went dark. Panic-stricken and ill, he slipped into unconsciousness. The last thing he heard before going under was the cruel laugh of his captor. It was a sound that would haunt him for the rest of his days.

Chapter Text

“If I’d known you passed out so easily, I wouldn’t have bothered with the chloroform,” a brusque voice taunted.

The Irishman’s eyes fluttered open and his vision came into focus. He quickly realized he was staring at the face of his stalker-turned-kidnapper. It was no one he recognized. “Who are you?” 

“Colin Taylor, former marksman and surveillance expert for the British Army.”

“You were in the military?” Jim asked. Now was the time to glean as much information as he could. If he kept him talking, then maybe he could find a way inside his head, and ultimately, devise a plan of escape.

“For a dozen years, I was. Nearly made a career out of it before changing paths.”  He moved to sit on a folding chair across from his captive.

There wasn’t any furniture here before, Jim observed. He must’ve brought it down with him just now.

“Why the switch?”

Colin paused, ruminating over the question. “Because everything good in my life died,” he finally answered. “I probably should have too, but I didn’t. Not on the outside, at least. But that’s okay, because I found a new purpose for my continued existence.”

“Which was?”

“Retribution.”

“You mean terrorization.”

He shrugged. “Call it whatever you like. In the end, the result will be the same.”

“And what, pray tell, might that be?”

“Death.”

Dear god, my nightmare is coming true. The mastermind was petrified, but would not allow his fear to show.

“You’ll never get away with it,” Jim coolly stated.

“Won’t I? In case you haven’t noticed, we’re alone here. I’m getting away with it as we speak.”

The consulting criminal snorted. “Sebastian will come for me, and when he does, he’ll snuff you out. That, I guarantee.”  

“I’d like to see him try. I’ve got quite a score to settle with your husband.”

“If this is between you and him, why involve me? Why involve our children, for that matter?” Jim had a pretty good idea as to his motivation, but he needed to keep the conversation flowing in order to figure out how to best manipulate him. 

“I think we both know the answer to that one,” Colin said with a smirk. “I can hurt him through hurting you.”

“Targeting a pregnant person is fucking low. You’re a bloody sick bastard.” 

“Glass houses, Moriarty. I hardly think you’ve room to judge. I know you’ve threatened children.”

Jim grew very flustered. Yes, the accusation was true. He’d learned long ago that children were excellent “pressure points.” Oftentimes, the easiest way to get someone to comply was by going after their progeny. 

But he never really hurt a child. Threats were all it amounted to. Even when he had explosive vests strapped to youngsters backs and snipers aimed at infants, he wouldn’t have truly ordered their deaths. He controlled those situations, and the tactics used were merely meant as compelling incentives.  

“I’ve never killed a child,” Jim angrily spat. “But you’re well on your way.”

Colin rolled his eyes. “Spare the dramatics, princess.”

“This isn’t drama, you fucking moron! This is reality!” the Irishman yelled. “I’m supposed to be on medication! The babies and I could die without it.”

“Cry me a river. I’m not a walking pharmacy.” 

Jim glared at his abductor with burning rage. The initial fear he’d held for the man transformed into fury. He wanted to lunge at him as far as his shackle would allow. Wanted to choke him out and tear him to pieces. But he couldn’t. For the sake of Essie and Eddie, he had to exercise self-control.

The mastermind took a deep breath in an effort to calm himself. He mentally noted that it was becoming increasingly difficult to steady his breathing. For now, he had to ignore it and power through his ills. 

“Soooo,” he drawled, “what’s your grievance with Seb?”

“The short version is, he ruined my life.”

“Sebastian’s ruined a lot of people’s lives, I’d wager. You’ll have to be more specific than that.”

“Fair enough,” the man agreed. “I’m sure he’s mentioned the name Marguerite de Graaf at some point? Or perhaps simply Margo?”

“No, he never has.”

“Think about it for a minute. Are you certain?”

“I’m positive. She’s clearly not important to him, whoever she is.”

Jim’s blunt response seemed to upset his kidnapper. Good, he thought. Now we’re getting somewhere. This was exactly the kind of emotional trigger he could use against him.

“She,” Colin stressed, “was a bloody amazing woman. Moran was lucky to have known her.”

Ooh, past tense? He could definitely work with this.

“Dead, is she? Too bad,” he flippantly remarked. “But that’s what people do. Having served in the military, I’d think you’d be used to it.”

“Shut your filthy mouth! What do you know about women or love? Nothing. You’re just a fucking poofter.”

“Excuse me?” Moriarty’s barely suppressed anger was rising dangerously close to the surface. His captor had said the absolute wrong thing to him. “Not that I have any reason to justify myself to you, but for the record, I’m very happily married. So actually, I know quite a lot about love.”

Colin laughed derisively. “Yeah, right. What the two of you have isn’t a real marriage. It’s a goddamn freak show.”  

“How dare you,” Jim spoke, his voice low and ominous. “How DARE YOU!” he repeated, shouting loud enough to make the other man flinch. “You couldn’t even begin to fathom the depths of our relationship.”

“You’re setting yourself up for disappointment with Sebastian Moran.”

“Bollocks. My husband is the most loyal mate you’ll ever find.”

“Oh yeah? The cold corpse of my wife would disagree.”

He considered his stalker’s words. “What are you trying to say here? Stop being vague and spit it the fuck out.”

“I’m saying that our spouses were involved, and my wife is gone forever because of him.”

Jim wasn’t sure how much more bullshit he could take from this lunatic. But he wanted to make damn certain he understood the charges being leveled against Seb.

“Start from the beginning,” he instructed. “When was this involvement meant to have taken place?”    

“Fifteen years ago. Moran and I were in the same regiment together,” he explained. “We hit it off right away. He was cleverer than most and a hell of a shot. I admired him.”

“How adooorable,” Moriarty mocked. “Sounds like you had a bit of a crush.”

Colin sneered. “Hardly. I did think of him as a friend, though, which is why I introduced him to Margo. Worst mistake of my life.”

“No, dear. Your worst mistake was stalking and kidnapping me. But do go on.”

The former military man scowled at the interruption. “As I was saying, I introduced Sebastian to my sweet Marguerite, and that was the beginning of the end. They started meeting in secret…carrying on behind my back. I hadn’t a clue what was going on until it was too late,” he recalled. “By the time I knew, he’d been booted from the army and disappeared without a trace.”

Jim stared at him blankly. “So Sebby fucked your girlfriend ages ago and then skipped town. I fail to see how he had anything to do with her death.”

“Seb had everything to do with it. He seduced Margo— made her fall in love with him. But he was just stringing her along. She was little more than a notch on his bedpost,” Colin rued. “After he left, she wasn’t the same. And when she realized he wasn’t coming back…” he trailed off, stilled by the sadness that crept into his heart. “She tried to kill herself.”

The consulting criminal sighed. “Booooring. Tell me there’s more to this sob story or I’m going to be sorely disappointed at how you’ve wasted my time.”

“Actually,” he said sharply, “there is more. Margo recovered and I married her. Took care of her when no one else would. We were mostly happy, too. Except she never really got over Moran. It was like he’d stolen a piece of her and she wasn’t whole anymore. Fool that I am, I thought things might improve if we started a family. Figured it would give her something else to focus on.”

Colin and Jim locked eyes, and suddenly the mastermind was very curious as to where the tale was headed.

“Margo got pregnant,” he continued. “I was thrilled. I thought she was, too, but…”

“But what? Don’t keep me in suspense.”

“She killed herself proper that time. No coming back.” The words hung in the air, neither of them saying a thing under the weight of his confession.  

Finally, Moriarty spoke. “Listen, I’m sorry that happened. Contrary to popular belief, I’m not a total bastard— I can appreciate your loss. But I don’t see what this has to do with my husband. Clearly, his and your wife’s affair was in the past. It sounds like they didn’t even have contact after he was discharged from the army. So what’s this vendetta of yours about?”

“Well, you see, there was a note left behind. In it, she made clear that the only man she ever truly wanted was Sebastian. She tried to pretend otherwise for my sake, but it ate at her until there was nothing left,” he sullenly recounted. “The final straw, by her own admission, was falling pregnant with a child that wasn’t his. She couldn’t abide it.”

Hearing the man’s sad saga, one aspect became apparent to Jim: Seb was not responsible for Colin Taylor’s troubles. He merely needed someone to blame.

“You’ve been dealt a lousy hand in life, that much is undeniable,” the genius began, “but what happened to your wife wasn’t Sebastian’s fault. Maybe he did shag your lady and leave town. But that’s all he did. Anything after that was her choice.”

The man rose to his feet and growled, angrily flipping his chair. “No! That son of a bitch ruined her! Ruined our future!”

“Obviously, Margo was unstable— a trait you seem to share.”

The two men stared daggers at each other. If looks could kill, they’d have both been rendered lifeless on the spot. 

 “We’re done for now,” Colin declared, turning toward the steps.

“Wait!” Jim called out.

“What?”

“I haven’t eaten anything since you took me,” he said. “I need food. My babies have nutrition requirements that aren’t being met.”

“Tough shit.”

“Come on!” the Irishman pled. “Hate Seb and I all you want, but don’t take it out on our children. They’re innocent. They don’t deserve this!”

“My child didn’t deserve to die either, but he did,” the stalker coldly replied. “Frankly, I couldn’t care less if those bastards in your belly wither into nothing.” At that, Colin stomped upstairs, not even bothering to give his captive a second glance.

Jim screamed in frustration before curling into himself. He needed to find a way out of there soon.

Chapter Text

Sebastian sat on the living room floor, his back against the coffee table as he watched flames dance in the fireplace. There was a hypnotic quality to the flicker and flow, making it easy to lose oneself in the sight.

The assassin absently took a swig from a half-drained bottle of scotch. He’d started drinking when he first came home and never stopped. That was the regular routine of late. His days were consumed by the pursuit of Jim, while his nights devolved into a liquor-soaked blur.

Shakespeare was right, he thought. Sad hours did seem long. During those lonely stretches, all he could think about was his husband. Where was Jim? What was he doing? Moreover, what condition was he in?

Moran worried for his mate’s well-being. The mastermind had left his medication behind when he rushed out after their quarrel. That was a little over a week ago. How much had his blood pressure gone up since then? He remembered how sick Jim was at the hospital. Was he suffering like that again now? Left unchecked, had it gotten worse? Seb didn’t want to dwell on the implications, but he wondered if…

No! Jim had to be alive. They’d persevered through such hardship across the years and managed to come out stronger for it. This couldn’t be the final act of their story, especially not now that they were expanding their family. There was so much more living they had yet to do.

The house felt empty without his Magpie. Despite what some might assume, theirs was a surprisingly loving relationship, and with it, every room held precious memories. He recalled stolen kisses in the library after Jim had summoned him to retrieve a book from the top shelf. He remembered raucous laughter after they attempted a spaghetti squash recipe, only to have it explode inside the oven. Perhaps above all else, he reminisced over the small intimacies they shared— little things like touches, caresses, and tenderness that no one would’ve believed Moriarty capable of.

There was one area he dared not tread— the nursery. Jim and his late interior designer had done a fine job decorating the space, transforming an extra-large hobby room into lavish sleeping quarters for the twins. It was exquisite. But…

I can’t face it without you, Jimmy. He took another drink and stood up, stumbling slightly. He faltered down the hall, gripping the wall for balance. Eventually, he reached his target destination: Jim’s office.

Stepping inside, he made a beeline for the desk. He knew what he wanted…what he needed. The picture. He had to see it again.      

Seb pulled his spouse’s keepsake box from the drawer it resided in. To think he’d worried about how Jim would react upon seeing that he picked the lock. Now he’d give anything to have the Irishman walk through the door and yell at him for it.

He retrieved their framed wedding photo from the assortment of items, running his fingertips along its glass surface. Moran smiled faintly at the smudges left behind. That was another transgression he could imagine Jim chiding him for. Once again, it was the small things Sebastian missed most.

The sniper gazed longingly at the picture in his hands. “Until death do us part,” he whispered. They vowed to never give up on each other, no matter what. Seb was determined to honor that pledge.   

*********

Sebastian was woken up by the sound of a loud crack. He lifted his head from the desk and blinked several times before regaining his senses. He realized he must’ve fallen asleep right there in the office. Then he looked down and was aghast.

 Shattered glass littered the floor beneath him. Not only that, but the photograph laid there as well, covered in sparkling fragments. In his inebriated state, he’d nodded off while still clutching it. This was the end result.

“Oh no,” Seb muttered sadly. He moved to sit on the ground, cradling the picture. Sharp bits dug into his skin, and a part of him thought he deserved the pain. 

It was then that he finally broke. Unable to suppress his anguish any longer, the assassin cried. Hot tears spilled over the loss of Jim, and by extension, their children. He blamed himself for everything. Instinct reinforced his guilt, telling him he was an abject failure. He’d had one job— to protect his pregnant omega— and he couldn’t even manage that. He was unworthy of calling himself an alpha. 

Amid the flurry of emotions swirling in his head, he noticed something strange. It appeared that a letter had fallen out from the back of the picture frame. Curious, he picked it up.

‘To My Dearest Sebastian, on His 40th Birthday,’ the envelope read, penned in Moriarty’s unmistakable calligraphy-style script.

Now he was really intrigued. Should he open it? He almost felt obligated to, but…would Jim want him to see it so early? His birthday wasn’t for a few more weeks, and clearly the man had gone to great lengths to hide it.  

Something dawned on the sniper. Hide it, he thought. Hide it. Could this have been the handwritten document he’d seen his Magpie stash away? He had to find out.

Liberating the letter, he began to read:

My Darling Tiger,

It occurs to me that I don’t tell you often enough how much you mean to me. Feelings aren’t something I’ve ever been accustomed to expressing, but on today of all days, I think I owe you the truth.

For most of my life, I was alone. I’d like to say it was by choice, but honestly, I just didn’t connect with anyone. How could I? Everyone seemed so ungodly dull. So ordinary, I’d sooner slit my wrists than remain in their acquaintance.

I took it in stride— decided I didn’t need other people. I rejected commonly accepted notions of love. Relationships were liabilities and romance was folly. I refused to fall prey to such utter nonsense. No one would ever get to me, I was sure of it.

And then I met you. Sebastian Augustus Moran, former colonel and expert marksman for the British Army. Thought I’d put you on my payroll and that would be the end of it. I should’ve known better. From the very first time I laid eyes on you, I was hooked. All it took was one glimpse at that tall, taut body, strawberry blonde hair, and sexy smile. I was a goner before you’d even opened your mouth to speak.

In the beginning, I tried to write off my feelings as mere lust. You were, and still are, an incredibly attractive man. It was only natural I’d want to shag you morning, noon, and night. I rationalized it as making perfect sense.

But it didn’t stop there. I started to wonder what you were doing when I wasn’t around. I wished I could see you during those times apart, and found myself wanting to spend many of my free moments with you. I often imagined us doing “normal,” non-work related activities together. Things like going to the cinema, attending art showings, and visiting my favorite planetarium. I never desired to share my private life with anyone like that before.       

And you stuck by me. Proved yourself over and over again. I expect my bodyguards to put their lives on the line, but you went above and beyond to keep me safe. I noticed that. Noticed your unwavering loyalty, and was more touched by it than I ever let on. You were my trusted protector from those who sought to harm me, and in a sense, you became my alpha long before we ever made it official.  

I’m so glad I decided to take a chance on us. Dating was new and exciting, and a tiny bit frightening. All worth it, though. Our love has served as a source of strength, sustaining me during dark times.

I know you hate it when I bring up our 2-year separation, but honestly, it was then that I realized just how deeply my affections ran. Everything seemed hollow without you by my side. Days drug on in endless grey and the nights were even worse. I tried to keep myself as busy as possible in order to avoid going to bed. What had once been a place of solace and sleep became a torture…a cold and empty hell from which there was no escape. It was unbearable, and I swore that when we reunited, I would never let you go.

Words cannot fully convey how happy you’ve made me during the course of our marriage. I’m not an easy man to deal with— far from it. Somehow, though, you always know the right things to say and do. You’re a charmer, my darling husband, through and through.

Lately, family has been at the forefront of my mind. At one time, I didn’t care that I had no living relatives. Since becoming pregnant, however, a part of me wishes I had more to offer our children in that regard. I’d like to present them with some kind of roots through which they might find a sense of comfort and belonging.

This is where my gift to you comes in, Tiger. All those years ago, when we first got together, I remember you telling me about your troubled home life. We were similar on that account. Me, with no family to speak of, and you, with only one blood relative— an estranged sibling whom you hadn’t seen since you were a teenager.

Well, I’ve done something wonderful, Sebby. I used my wealth of resources to find your brother, Severin. You won’t believe this, but he’s working as a pediatrician in Australia. More specifically, Dr. Moran is a neonatal specialist at The Royal Melbourne Hospital. He was surprised by my call, but quickly warmed to the idea of reconnecting with you. He’s got a wife and daughter of his own, meaning our babies have a cousin. Isn’t that exciting? I can’t wait to see how they interact together.

I was able to meet with Severin a handful of times this past month while he was attending conferences in London and Edinburgh. I intend to conduct further dealings with him soon, as he’s planning on staying a few extra weeks to tour the local med school circuit. I only wish he’d still be here for your birthday. Unfortunately, he’s committed to hosting a children’s charity benefit back in Australia at that time. But no worries, Tiger— we’ll find a way to join up eventually. I’ll make sure of it.

I think I’ve said everything I wanted to. Happy birthday, my love. Here’s to many more.

Forever Yours,

Jim

“Oh God,” Seb spoke, staring down at the letter in his hands. The sniper was overwhelmed by the sum of what he’d just learned. There was so much to absorb.

Suddenly, he was struck by a startling realization. The night Jim had come home smelling like another alpha, he'd said he met with an Australian. The scent on him was incredibly familiar, too. Now Sebastian knew why. It was Severin.

Moriarty also smelled of him right before they’d gotten into their fight. When I accused him of being untrustworthy, he sadly recalled.

In that moment, the guilt Moran felt was crushing. What have I done? Oh Jimmy, please forgive me.

He needed to make this right through any means necessary. Needed to fix this utterly fucked up situation once and for all. His next move would be critical in the plot to bring Jim home.

Seb pulled out his phone, preparing to make a call. For you, Magpie, he thought. This was his last resort.

Chapter Text

The basement door swung open. “I’ve got a surprise for you, princess!” a voice boomed from the top of the steps. It was Colin.

Jim glanced up, but did not move from his curled position on the floor. These days, he spent a majority of his time in that particular stance.

The kidnapper stomped downstairs, and it was then that Moriarty caught full view of him. What he saw was decidedly unnerving. Colin had a woman limply slung over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes.

“I brought someone to keep you company,” he said, flashing a sinister grin. He unceremoniously dumped the body onto the cold concrete. Jim instantly recognized who it was. 

“Lisa,” he gasped. Lying before him was the corpse of his interior decorator. Ever since the incident with the box, he’d wondered what had become of her remains— now he knew. This sick fuck had held on to them.

“That’s right. The bint stored remarkably well in my freezer. Looks as good as the day I snapped her neck.”

“You’re a twisted son of a bitch!” Jim spat. “She didn’t do anything to you.”

“She associated with the likes of Moran. That’s reason enough to die.”

As Colin got closer, the consulting criminal could smell the strong stench of alcohol wafting off him. “You’re fucking drunk.”

The man laughed. “Yes, I suppose I am,” he admitted. “And you’re a sodding abomination, so I guess we’re even.” He cackled again, apparently finding himself humorous.

“Piss off,” Jim hissed. He was in far too much pain to deal with the lunatic’s remarks.

“You know, Seb wasn’t queer when I knew him,” Colin slurred, ignoring his abductee’s dismissal. “I think you turned him into a fucking fairy.”

The mastermind glared harshly. “You’re a fool if you believe that. Sebastian’s always been bisexual, even back then.” It was true. Years ago, when they first started dating, he’d told him of his lifelong duel desires. Jim couldn’t exactly relate, having never been especially interested in women, but he didn’t begrudge Seb’s proclivities so long as the sniper was faithful to him while they were together. 

“Bullshit,” the inebriated stalker replied. “You did it. You and your deviant ways.”

Moriarty rolled his eyes. “Whatever. Unless you intend to free me or feed me, this conversation is done.”

“No! I say when we’re through, not you,” he bleated. “You think you’re such hot shit, don’t you? You think you’re better than me.”

Jim smiled confidently. “Honey, I don’t just think it. I know it.”

Right then, the man reached down and grasped the genius by his throat, forcibly pulling him up into a standing position.

“I’ve fucked plenty of omegas. Dozens of them. Granted, they were all women, but still. You’re nothing special.” He released his grip and roughly shoved Jim back against the wall. Panting and dizzy, the prisoner slid down and sat on the floor once more.    

“Look at you,” Colin sneered. “Pathetic.”

“Going after a pregnant person is what’s truly pathetic,” Jim venomously declared. “You call me an abomination? You’re the real disgrace.”

The drunken abductor growled and motioned to kick his hostage, but Moriarty rolled out of the way. Colin’s foot connected with the cement wall, causing him to shout a stream of obscenities.

Jim laughed. “You fucking idiot. I can’t wait until Sebastian kills you.”

“It’s already been eight days,” the man remarked. “I’m beginning to think Moran may have lost interest.”

“Never,” the mastermind spoke. “He would never stop looking.” Sebastian’s love for him was unconditional. He’d go to the ends of the earth to get him back. And maybe, Jim slyly thought, I can get out of this on my own.

The dark-eyed omega was hatching a plan. He knew that Lisa, his interior decorator, frequently wore her hair in a ponytail. In fact, she was sporting one now. This was significant because she often hid bobby pins beneath her updo, not wanting the clips to be seen. They were easy to miss due to their discreet placement and the way that their color blended in with her long, thick tresses. If she was wearing them at the time of her death, there was a good chance Colin may not have even noticed. And in that case…I could use one to pick the lock on this bloody shackle.

Moriarty had to be certain a pin was available before making any sudden moves. He’d need to get close enough to Lisa to check. But how would he manage it without his captor growing suspicious? Suddenly, he had a wonderful, wily idea.       

Jim scooted over to the woman’s lifeless frame. Looking down at her, he took a breath, steeling himself for what was sure to be an award-worthy performance.

“Oh, Lisa,” he uttered in a forlorn tone. “It isn’t fair what’s happened to you.” He gently stroked her cheek as he willed tears to form in his eyes.

Colin snickered contemptuously. “Seems the infamous James Moriarty’s gone soft. Must be all those hormones at work.”

Ignoring the snide comment, Jim gingerly slipped a hand under Lisa’s head, feeling around for the telltale bump of a bobby pin. From an onlooker’s perspective, it would appear that he was simply cradling her head in a tender gesture.     

“You deserved better than this,” he said. “Your talents were a gift to the world.”

Bingo. Jim felt at least two pins embedded close to the dead designer’s scalp. Now he just had to find a way to remove one, straighten it, and pick his restraints while remaining undetected by Colin.

A thought occurred to him: he’d also have to contend with the basement door. The genius was fairly certain it was being kept bolted when his abductor wasn’t downstairs with him. This meant that he didn’t have the luxury of waiting until Colin was gone to make his escape. He had to act while the madman was present in order to assure that the door would be unlocked.

The consulting criminal knew what he must do— he only hoped he had the strength to pull it off. A week without food or medication left him in markedly poor health. What he was about to attempt next would require agility he wasn’t sure he still possessed. But he had to try for his children’s sake. Had to at least make the effort.   

“Is this what Margo would’ve wanted?” Jim asked, knowing what a touchy subject the woman was for his stalker. He sought to get a rise out of him. Make the man angry enough to storm off. Then, once he turned his back to leave, he’d attack. The mastermind only had one shot at this, so he had to be precise.

“Margo would’ve wanted to live,” Colin gruffly replied.

Moriarty shook his head. “No, I don’t think so. She died by her own hand, did she not?” he pointedly observed. “Seems to me, she chose death over the unenviable task of bearing your seed.”

“Shut up!” he barked, his agitation rising.

“Why should I? You wish to silence me because I speak the truth?”

“Just shut your filthy gob! I won’t warn you again.” The man glowered furiously at his captive.

“Ooh, big man, threatening a pregnant omega you’ve chained up in your basement,” he taunted. “What do you do for an encore, kick the cane out from under an old woman crossing the street?”  

“Fuck you,” Colin answered. “Let’s see how mouthy you are after I keep you down here for another week. Enjoy the dead girl’s company,” he said, motioning to Lisa. It was then that the kidnapper finally did what Jim was waiting for— he turned his back to walk away.

Now it was time to act. Jim swiftly gathered up a length of his chain and swung it around Colin’s neck from behind. Using every ounce of strength he could muster, he pulled the metal tether tight. The man gurgled as the life was choked out of him.  

Colin attempted to knock Moriarty down, but Jim stayed a step ahead. The consulting criminal latched onto the larger man’s back, gripping him around the waist with his legs while he continued garroting him with the chain. It was a potent combination, and soon the kidnapper lost balance and fell to his knees.

Jim shifted his weight, forcing Colin into a prone position. He sat on his back, relentlessly pulling the chain. The fierce omega refused to stop until the other man’s body stilled.

When he thought it was safe to get up, he returned to Lisa and plucked a bobby pin from her hair. Moriarty made short work of straightening the implement and proceeded with the lock. It’d been a while since he last employed his picking skills, but one never really forgot the mechanics of it.     

“Yes!” he exclaimed as the shackle popped open.

This was the freest Jim had been in eight days, and he wasn’t about to dawdle. He ran up the steps, taking them two at a time, and barreled through the door. At last, he got a look at the upstairs.

Colin’s house was wholly unremarkable. But the Irishman wasn’t there to judge aesthetics. No, he was checking the place for a phone.

Nothing…not even a mobile device, he conceded, coming up fruitless in his effort to find some means of calling for help.    

Thinking fast, he grabbed a large knife from the butcher’s block in the kitchen. He figured he’d need protection for the next phase of his escape plan: to venture into the unknown of whatever lay outside.  

Chapter Text

“Open up!” Sebastian demanded, pounding on the door at 221B Baker Street. “I know you’re in there!”

The wooden entrance creaked open slightly. “Do you have any idea what time it is?” a tired and annoyed voice asked. It was John Watson.

“I don’t care how late it is. I need a meeting with Sherlock.”

“Bugger off,” the man said, motioning to close the door.

Sebastian quickly wedged his hand between the door and its frame, stopping it from shutting. “I need to see him now.

“He’s not interested in dealing with James Moriarty’s cohorts.”

“Oh? Making decisions for him, are we?”

The former army doctor let out an aggravated sigh. “I won’t tell you again. Go, or I’ll call the police.”

“I was trying to be diplomatic,” Seb explained, “but if you want to do this the hard way…” He pulled a pistol from his jacket pocket and pushed inside the apartment.

John’s eyes widened. “Put that thing away! My daughter’s asleep in the next room. I won’t have you waving it around with her here.”

Strangely enough, the sniper could empathize with Watson’s request. Now that he was going to be a father soon, he understood the drive to protect one’s offspring. It was a powerful force.    

Seb tucked his gun away. “I’m not looking to hurt anyone. I just want a meeting with Holmes. It’s for a case.”

“A case?” he asked incredulously.  

“Yes. I attempted to contact both of you by phone, but it went to voicemail.”

“We were asleep. That’s something people tend to do at 3 o’clock in the morning. You should try it sometime.”

“Speak for yourself,” another voice chimed in. “You may have been asleep, but I was simply ignoring him.” Sherlock entered the room, eyeing up London’s second most dangerous man.

“We need to talk,” Sebastian stated.

“About an alleged case, yes. I heard what you said to John.”

“Right. Can we sit down for this? It warrants a proper consultation.”

“By all means,” the tall brunette agreed, adjourning to his customary spot. He invited Seb to take a seat opposite him.

John stared agape at his friend, gawking as if the man had just sprouted horns. “You’re not seriously considering helping this bastard?”

“It’s been a boring month,” Sherlock dryly noted. “I could use a bit of entertainment.”

Sebastian disregarded Holmes’s condescending remark and began to describe his and Jim’s situation in earnest. He informed him of their stalker’s continued harassment and of Moriarty’s subsequent kidnapping. He stressed the importance of finding Jim because he was supposed to be on medication, and missing it for over a week could be detrimental to the Irishman’s health.

“I don’t see how any of this is our concern,” John dismissed.

“I would’ve expected that you, as a healer, would take a vested interest in the welfare of another human being,” Seb spoke.  

Sherlock scoffed. “Really, Moran? I’d say any obligation to the Hippocratic Oath is nullified after one attempts to murder a person on multiple occasions. Additionally, you’re operating under the false premise that James Moriarty is human. He is, in fact, more of a spider than a man.” 

Sebastian badly wanted to punch the smug expression off Holmes’s face, but willed himself to refrain. “Even a spider can take a mate,” he said through gritted teeth.

Watson cocked his head, looking at the sniper in stunned surprise. “Wait, are you saying—”

“They’re a couple,” Sherlock blurted out, confirming his friend’s suspicion. “Isn’t that right, Moran?”

He nodded and pulled at the thin chain he wore around his neck, revealing a portion previously hidden beneath his shirt. Old army dog tags hung off it, as well as a ring. It was his wedding band.

“Jim and I have been married for three years,” he confessed. Ordinarily, Sebastian would be hesitant to divulge the truth of their relationship. However, in the interest of rescuing his husband, he was willing to offer Holmes and Watson full disclosure.      

“I don’t buy it,” John declared. “Moriarty is a psychopath. He isn’t capable of love.”

The assassin glared. “Never doubt the depths of our affection. We may be a lot of things, but first and foremost, we’re dedicated to each other.”

“He’s telling the truth,” Sherlock affirmed. “Mr. Moran is an easy book to read.”

Seb snorted at the pat assessment. “Is that so?”

“Absolutely. Even if you hadn’t shared your story, I would’ve been able to glean most of it within a few minutes, tops.”

Fucking arrogant twat. He’s got Jim’s confidence, but none of his charm.

“I still don’t see any reason why we should help you retrieve him,” Watson maintained.

“Me either,” the consulting detective agreed. “Career criminals beget enemies. It’s the nature of the beast. Your harassment and his kidnapping do not warrant our services.”

Sebastian stared daggers at the two of them, barely suppressing his rage at their refusal. He would not be dismissed. He would gain their assistance one way or another.

“I think it’s time we bid you adieu,” the doctor spoke. “You know the way out.”

“Wait,” Seb beseeched. He had one last chance to convince them to help. If he admitted the final detail, they couldn’t possibly deny him…or so he hoped.

“Jim is with child,” the sniper said. “Or perhaps I should say ‘with children,’ since he’s carrying twins.”

At that news, both men’s faces were matching portraits of bewilderment. Not such an easy book to read after all, aye Holmes?

“If you’re going to lie,” Sherlock began, “at least make it convincing. Don’t claim to have twins. It’s never twins.”

“Oh, it’s true, I assure you. We’ve already named them. Estella Sebastienne and Edward James, respectively. Jim likes to call them ‘Essie’ and ‘Eddie.’”

John shook his head. “This is preposterous. You expect us to believe Moriarty would ever willingly bear children? The very notion is absurd.”

“Why is it so difficult to imagine that a happily married couple might want to start a family?” Moran posited. “Isn’t that what people have been doing since the dawn of time?”

“Yes, well, when one half of the couple is a coldhearted monster like Moriarty, the concept becomes less credible.”

Monster. It was a term many used to describe Sebastian’s husband, and he hated it. Certainly, his Magpie could be vicious; could be callous to the extreme. But he could be thoughtful, too. Tender, even, to those whom he felt deserved it.

“What about your late wife, John? Mary was a trained killer who undoubtedly committed a slew of heinous acts. Yet she bore Rosie.”

“Don’t you dare compare her to that parasite you’ve aligned yourself with! Mary made an effort to change. But Moriarty? He revels in being a hateful son of a bitch. It’s his pastime.”

“Not the point,” Seb stressed. “What I’m trying to say is that deeply flawed individuals can have babies like anyone else, and those children are innocent. Just as Rosie mustn’t be punished for Mary’s sins, it would be wrong to hold Essie and Eddie accountable for the things Jim and I have done. Hate us all you want— we’ve earned it. But help them.” 

The former colonel’s impassioned plea seemed to have an effect on the men sitting before him. Their looks of contemplation spoke volumes, and Seb was sure he detected a hint of guilt between them. 

“How far along is he?” Sherlock inquired, displaying renewed interest in Moran’s case.

“20 weeks when he was taken.”

“So 21 now. That would equate to approximately five months,” the consulting detective calculated out loud. “Even bearing twins, he should still possess a fair amount of mobility. It isn’t until the third trimester that movement becomes an issue.”

“You stated he was meant to be on medication,” John piped up. “Do you remember the name of the drug?”

“Labetalol.”

“He’s hypertensive, then?”

Sebastian frowned. “Yes. He was hospitalized for preeclampsia two weeks prior to the abduction. The meds were working, but with him being taken off them abruptly…” The sniper hated to think about what havoc had been wrought on his mate’s health in the eight, almost nine, days since his capture.

John’s expression grew dour. “You’re right to be concerned. Those kinds of drugs shouldn’t be stopped cold turkey.”

“Here’s what we’re going to do,” Holmes decreed, usurping control of the conversation. “At 8 a.m. sharp, you’ll bring me everything you’ve got relating to the stalker. This includes the notes and security footage you mentioned. From there, we’ll assess who it is we may be dealing with.”

He makes it sound so simple. But it’s not. If it were, I’d have my husband back by now. The assassin’s mind was abuzz, but all he uttered in response was, “Okay.” 

Sebastian showed himself out, preparing to return home. He wasn’t thrilled about having to wait another five hours before continuing the rescue mission, but it did provide an opportunity to rest and recharge. It was probably best that they approach the situation with a clear head.

A pang of sadness washed over the alpha as he drove up to his residence. He used to look forward to walking through the double-door entryway after a long day or night. Without Jim, though, it wasn’t the same. Living there in his Magpie’s absence felt strikingly similar to the aftermath of St. Bart’s. He learned then that a house alone did not make a home— it was the people inside who transformed it into something more.

All Seb had now were empty walls. Fitting, as he too felt like a hollowed out shell. His home and heart lay with Jim. Until he got him back safe and sound, nothing would be right in his world.    

Chapter Text

Darkness. Abyss. An unending void.

That was what Jim faced upon his escape from Colin’s house. They were apparently situated in a rural area devoid of civilization. The moon and stars were his only guide as he navigated through the night.  

He’d hoped to find a road, a shop, or even a lamppost. Any of those things would indicate that a town was nearby. So far, he’d discovered nothing but abandoned farmland and forest.

I wish Sebby was here. His intrepid mate knew his way around Mother Nature’s domain and could easily survive in the elements. Jim, however, had no such instincts.

The mastermind recalled when Seb convinced him to go camping. It took a bit of cajoling, but he finally agreed after being promised s’mores and fireside sex. Oh, what a mixed bag that turned out to have been. Mosquitoes ate him alive, poison oak found a way to his hindquarters, and as a final insult, they were rained out and he slipped in the mud. That part of the trip was abysmal.    

But it wasn’t all bad. Jim did get his s’mores before the storm began. And as for the sex, the wet weather may have put out their campfire, but it couldn’t extinguish the heat that burned between them. They took turns riding each other for hours inside the shelter of their tent. When they emerged after the downpour had passed, a brilliant rainbow shimmered in the sky. It was beautiful.

Jim would give anything to have that rainbow now. To bathe in its comfort, security, and peace. To make a wish that instead of gold, he’d find his sweet Sebastian at the end.  

            *********

Jim had been wandering for about an hour and was beginning to wonder if he might be going in circles. It was possible. Ordinarily, when lost, he would make a point of following the North Star. He’d tried that approach again tonight, but…

I feel awful.

Adrenaline had allowed the Irishman to make his escape, but the burst of energy proved short-lived. His health issues were catching up to him in a major way. He was dizzy, disoriented, and in terrible pain. For the first time since the kidnapping ordeal began, a tiny part of him questioned whether or not he’d persevere.

No! he reprimanded himself. Don’t think like that. You’ll get out of this. You’ve got a wonderful husband and beautiful babies on the way. You will prevail.

Then he heard it. A howl and a rustle.

Jim stopped in his tracks, just listening.

There it was again.

Oh God. He gripped the knife he’d stolen from Colin’s kitchen, ready to use it if necessary.

The noise was growing nearer. What could it be? Wolves and coyotes were not prevalent in the UK, but there were other creatures that roamed free. Mountain lions were occasionally spotted in the Highlands, and who knew for certain what else might be lurking in the dark of the countryside?

Moriarty set out on a dead run, hoping to put as much distance between himself and the animal as possible. He blindly waved the blade in front of him, unable to see a thing in the pitch black wilderness.

He was running, running, running—

BAM.

In a flash, the consulting criminal tripped over what felt like rocks. The momentum launched him forward a few feet, and he slammed smack-dab into a rotted tree stump. He made contact at an awkward angle, banging both his belly and knee against the wood.

No! No, no, no! He was trying so hard to protect his children, and now he’d gone and fallen. It wasn’t fair.

“Oh, babies. I’m so sorry.” The omega gently rubbed his stomach in a soothing gesture. Please be okay. Please. “Daddy loves you.”

Jim let out an agonized gasp when he attempted to stand. His heart sunk as he realized he could put no weight on his leg— it was too badly injured in the fall.

He wanted to cry. Wanted to scream. Wanted to tear apart the bastard who’d put him in this situation. But for now, he needed to regroup.

The Irishman refused to be a sitting duck. It was too dangerous to stay out in the open in his condition. If he was going to survive, he’d have to hide. But where?

From the corner of his eye, he noticed the moonlight hit a patch of land just right. Though difficult to discern, it vaguely looked to be shrubbery.

Might do in a pinch. He could honker down among the thicket until sunrise. Then he’d continue to search for a road.

As Jim prepared to crawl into the bushes, he realized his knife was gone. Must’ve dropped it when I tripped. He felt around the ground but came up empty-handed.

No worry. I’ll find it at dawn. The sun would be up soon. He just had to bide his time.

*********

CLOMP. CLOMP. CLOMP.

Moriarty blinked, his eyes fluttering open in confusion. What the—

And then he remembered. Oh. He’d been so exhausted, he nodded off while waiting for daybreak.

CLOMP. CLOMP. CLOMP.

A sound became apparent to him. It was the rise and fall of heavy footsteps. They were coming closer with each second.

Maybe someone’s here who can help, he thought hopefully. I’ll get a ride into the nearest town and call Seb. Then I’ll find food and a doctor. Maybe even—

His joyful fantasy was cut short when the person stomped into view.

Colin.

Jim’s eyes widened and he drained white as a sheet. How was this possible? How was Colin still alive?

The genius suddenly became very angry at himself. In his frenzied rush to break free, he’d neglected to check the man’s body for a pulse. It was an amateur mistake— sloppy, incompetent, and wholly beneath him.

How could I be so bloody stupid? he despaired, knowing he’d unwittingly jeopardized his children’s lives.

“Rise and shine, princess!” Colin mockingly greeted. “Sleep well out here?”

Jim glared murderously at his kidnapper. He wouldn’t grant him the satisfaction of a reply.

“Silent treatment, huh?” the man said with a shrug. “Whatever. I don’t give a shit if you talk to me or not. The only thing I’m interested in is hauling you back.”

Colin pulled a thick bungee cord from his jacket pocket. He and Jim locked eyes for a moment, and then he spoke again. “Surprised you didn’t try to run as soon as you saw me. Unless, of course, you can’t run.”

The man swiftly seized Moriarty by the arm, harshly yanking him up to stand. His suspicion was confirmed when the mastermind hissed in pain and immediately dropped to the ground.

The lunatic laughed, putting the bungee cord away. “Guess I won’t need to tie you up after all. Thanks for making this so easy.”

With one fluid movement, Colin snatched up his infirm abductee and slung him over his shoulder. He carried him in much the same manner he had Lisa, a parallel which sent a chill down Jim’s spine.  

How long until I become a corpse, too? The notion was enough to make him wince. Or perhaps his grimace was due to the full-body ache he was experiencing. Either way, the outlook wasn’t good.

  *********

Maybe I deserve this, Jim thought as he sat in the confines of his concrete prison. He never wanted to see that basement again, but there he was, a hostage once more. Colin didn’t bother shackling him this time— he knew his leg injury prohibited him from any further escape. Is this what they call karma?

He glanced over at the lifeless form of his interior designer. Remorse wasn’t something the consulting criminal was known for, but even he couldn’t help but feel a pang of guilt in regard to her fate. Lisa was among the best in her field and had worked day and night to satisfy his every decorating whim. All that effort, and this is how she was repaid. It didn’t seem right.

Moriarty shifted uncomfortably, trying to find a position which would elicit the least amount of pain. Everything hurt. At this point, he was fairly certain that the agony was the only thing keeping him conscious. 

He absently placed a hand on his stomach, causing him to flinch. His abdomen was very sore to the touch.

What the hell? Jim pulled up his shirt to inspect the area. He gasped at what he saw. A large, angry bruise marred his belly. It was in the same spot that had banged into the tree stump.

Tears filled the Irishman’s eyes. He didn’t think the impact had been that hard, but the red and purple welt staring back at him disagreed. If it looked this bad on the outside, what damage might it have done internally?

“Essie…Eddie…it’s going to be okay,” he shakily reassured his unborn children.

But would it? Jim was scared. He’d been starved for well over a week, his preeclampsia symptoms had returned, and now he’d suffered a traumatic fall with tender bruising.

Moriarty wept as an onslaught of questions bombarded his mind. Can Essie and Eddie feel pain? Are they hungry and hurting? Are they dying inside me?

He would give anything to hear the twins’ heartbeats again. Not being able to listen to them was one of the worst parts of his captivity. After all that had transpired, he needed to hear the sound. Needed to know they were thriving.

“Oh, my little ones…I’m sorry for everything. You’re good babies,” he spoke, hoping they were listening and could understand him. “No, I take that back,” he corrected himself. “You’re not just good babies, you’re the best babies. Daddy loves you so much.” Jim sounded truly broken, succumbing to a sob.

At that moment, something unexpected happened. The mastermind may not have been able to hear his children, but for the very first time, he felt them.

His eyes widened in great surprise at the new sensation. It was like nothing he’d ever experienced before. He’d waited so long for the quickening to occur, and now here it was.

“My darlings, is it really you?” Jim wanted to be sure he hadn’t simply imagined the movement in a fit of hysteria. Please let it be true.

He felt it again. A tiny kick from within. This was the babies, he was positive of it.

Moriarty’s sadness turned to elation. His children were alive! If he was a religious man, he might’ve praised God for the miraculous event. But he wasn’t religious, and so he simply celebrated the act for what it was— immutable proof of the bond between him and the twins. They were a trinity of sorts; a triumvirate sharing one body. In this knowledge, Jim found renewed strength.

Chapter Text

Sebastian sat in the kitchen at 221B Baker Street, nervously nursing a cup of tea. As instructed, he’d brought along everything he had in relation to his stalker. Now he eagerly awaited Sherlock’s assessment of the evidence.

It felt surreal to be sitting in Holmes’s apartment, casually sipping on Earl Grey as if they were old friends or cordial acquaintances. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth. He hated that brainy bastard with every fiber of his being. Hated all the Holmes’s, for that matter. As far as Seb was concerned, the lot of them were nothing but trouble. It was only out of sheer desperation that he sought Sherlock’s assistance.      

The consulting detective hastily entered the room. “You might have mentioned that the notes were written on stationery,” he chided.

“Huh?” Moran wasn’t sure what that had to do with the matter at hand.

“The notes weren’t composed on standard paper,” he stressed, as if it signified something important.

“I didn’t think the aesthetics were relevant.” Indeed, the threats had been made on off-white colored paper featuring a stenciled border. It looked nice. Sebastian, however, was more concerned with the content of the notes rather than their overall appearance.

“They’re relevant when the stationery in question is only sold at one location in the whole of England.”

The former colonel eyed him incredulously. “Only one? How can you possibly know that?”

“I know because it came from an artisan shop that exclusively sells goods designed and produced by local craftspersons. It’s meant to honor creativity within the community, or some such nonsense.”

Seb peered at Sherlock, not fully believing him. “And how can you be sure this is one of their wares?”

“I’ve been to the store it was sold at and I have a photographic memory,” he answered. “Trust me on this.”

“I need more to go on than that.”

“Very well.” Holmes approached a drawer, pulling out a small stack of papers. He dropped the bundle on the table in front of Moran. “Is this proof enough for you?”

The sniper stared at the pile for a moment, then looked back up at the tall brunette. “Where did you get these?” he asked, flabbergasted. It was the same stationery the stalker used.

“At Eventide’s in Ermington. John and I stopped off there while working on a case a few months ago. He picked up this and several other packages of stationery for Rosie to draw on. Personally, I thought giving them to a three-year-old was a bit of a waste, but he seems convinced she’s the next Georgia O’Keeffe.”

Seb was silent, processing the information. Ermington. The location sounded familiar, but why? Had he been there before? Passed through it, maybe?

“Where’s this place at?”

“It’s a village in the Devon region. The population is under 900.”

“That should make it a lot easier to track the kidnapper, then. Assuming he lives in or around the vicinity.”

“My thoughts exactly,” Sherlock agreed. “Now the ball is in your court as to how you choose to proceed.”

The assassin nodded. “You’re right. I think I can take it from here.” With such a specific lead to go on, he could handle the rest of the legwork. “Thank you for helping me. If I need anything else, I’ll call.”

“I’m not helping you,” the consulting detective quickly remarked. “I’m helping two children who, though unborn, are already suffering due to the misfortune of their parentage.”

Moran growled, struggling to keep his anger in check. He can’t even accept a fucking ‘thank you.’ Always has to run his mouth. Fucking wanker.

The fair-haired alpha got up to leave. Before he could open the door, John appeared, heading him off.

“Let us know how things turn out,” the doctor implored. “With the babies, I mean.”

“I will,” Sebastian affirmed. Though nowhere near being friends, the two men could relate on a father-to-father level.

Now it was time to part ways. Come hell or high water, he was determined to find Jim and their stalker by the end of the day.

*********

Since leaving Holmes’s place that morning, Seb had been a busy boy. He contacted a hacker on Jim’s payroll about infiltrating Eventide’s database and sales records. The tech expert was able to gain access relatively quickly. He sent the intel to Moran, who promptly began scouring the logs for any names he might recognize.

So far, nothing. He was starting to grow frustrated. What if the stalker used a pseudonym? What if he paid in cash, or conversely, simply stole the stationery? There’d be no documentation of that. What if—

And then he saw it. For once, the universe had finally thrown the former colonel a bone. Colin Taylor. Or Captain Taylor, when Seb knew him.

Colin was one of the individuals on his suspect list whose whereabouts were unknown. He hadn’t had contact with the man in years. Over a decade, in fact.

Why would he take an interest in me after all this time? What grudge does he hold? The sniper was genuinely baffled as to why someone from his past would suddenly decide to lash out in such a way.

He thought back to his army days, when he and Taylor were acquainted. The two had become fast friends, working side-by-side as marksmen. They got along splendidly, until the Captain made the mistake of introducing him to his girlfriend, Margo. With sun-kissed hair, porcelain skin, and an outstanding hourglass figure, Marguerite de Graaf was a quintessential Danish beauty. He absolutely had to have her, camaraderie be damned.  

In hindsight, Sebastian deeply regretted his actions. He was a shameless cad for most of his adult life, going from one carnal conquest to another. Sex without attachment was a mainstay until he met Jim. His Magpie stole his heart and he never wanted to be with anyone else again.

Colin wasn’t supposed to know. Seb had been sleeping with Margo around the same time he was kicked out of the military. When he skipped town, he still hadn’t confessed the truth to him.

Could Margo have admitted it? It was possible— she was prone to wildly unpredictable behavior. Soon after they began their affair, he realized just how emotionally unstable she was. The woman got attached to people easily and her mood often changed on a dime. He’d actually wanted to break things off with her at one point, but feared that she might harm herself in response.

So many years had passed since then, though. Even if Taylor had learned what they’d done, surely it would be water under the bridge. Why hold on to a grudge like that?

Seb would find out. He would get all the answers he sought, and rescue his husband at the same time. All he needed was an address.

*********

“Stay awake!” Jim demanded of himself. He was panting heavily as he held his head in his hands.

It’d been a bad day for the consulting criminal. Though his babies’ recent movement gave him newfound resolve, his health was in serious decline. He’d begun throwing up at regular intervals— not good, considering the only thing he consumed was water.

This development terrified him. When researching his condition after release from the hospital, he’d discovered that vomiting in association with preeclampsia was a very bad sign. If it got much worse, he risked entering into full-fledged eclampsia and could begin having seizures. At that stage, it would probably kill him.

It was difficult to stay conscious and coherent. He was actively fighting against his own body’s desire to shut down. This was hell, pure and simple.

Tiger, please find me. He desperately wanted to see his spouse again. Wanted to touch him, embrace him, and just be near him.

Moriarty felt a small kick. He smiled faintly, knowing it was Essie and Eddie’s doing. Somehow, they seemed able to sense his emotions. He found it strangely comforting.

“You miss Papa, too. I understand.” He placed his hand on a section of his belly that wasn’t bruised. “We’ll be together soon, I promise.”

He registered another gentle flutter from inside. “You like hearing that, huh? Well, then you’re going to love the next piece of news I’ve got,” he proclaimed, not feeling the least bit silly that he was effectively holding a conversation with his stomach.

“In a few weeks, once we’re long gone from this place, we’re going to throw a big party for your Papa. It’ll be on a boat, with lots of music and delicious food.” He paused for a moment, thinking about how wonderful it would be to have something to eat. “Daddy’s even going to bake a chocolate cake. Pastry chefs everywhere will be positively green with envy.”

Jim wanted to keep talking to his children, but he was too winded to continue. There was a certain irony to the fact that he, of all people, was now forced to limit his speech. Magpie’s not so chatty anymore, he somberly thought.

Despite the Irishman’s best efforts to remain cognizant, he grew clammy and his vision blurred. He’d been close to passing out for several hours and could stave it off no longer. Before yielding to unconsciousness, his mind offered a final plea. Come for us, Tiger. Come for your family.

Chapter Text

At last, Sebastian had it. He possessed his stalker’s home address and then some. The hacker he’d been working with forwarded him a file containing a good deal of information on the man. It was an eye-opening document, to say the least.

Apparently, a year after Seb was booted from the army, Captain Colin Taylor switched his specialty from marksmanship to surveillance technology. That would explain how he’d managed to spy on him and Jim with expert precision, and it accounted for how he’d been able to override the electrical system at Moriarty’s headquarters. Taylor had the training to pull it off.

There was more. The file also indicated that he’d married Margo. Tragically, she died a mere three years after their union. No cause of death was given, but if Seb had to guess, he’d bet it was suicide. The thought saddened him. He knew all too well how painful it was to lose a loved one that way.

Colin left the military not long after his wife’s demise. In fact, it seemed he’d decided to drop out of society altogether at that point. He was reported to have sold off most of his belongings and cut ties with everyone. He moved to a rural property just outside of Ermington, where he’d lived as a virtual hermit ever since. How he supported himself was a mystery, but for someone with his skillset, it wasn’t unheard of to accept under-the-table freelance assignments.

Now was not the time for speculation, though. Sebastian had a rescue mission to commence. He’d be getting his husband back tonight, that much was definite. The uncertainty laid in how he’d go about the operation.

Ordinarily, the intrepid assassin worked alone. Give him a gun and a location, and that’s all he’d need to get the job done. In this case, however, he couldn’t be sure what kind of situation he was walking into. It might be prudent to bring backup.           

Who could he trust to accompany him? He first considered the members of his sniper team. They were an exceptional group of sharpshooters who would act on his command without question. But…

What if something went wrong? There was always the potential for a mission to go sideways when unknown variables were at play. Despite Jim’s stance that employees were replaceable, Seb would hate to lose any of his snipers if he could help it. It’d taken him years to assemble a lineup as proficient at the one he had now. He didn’t dare risk them getting killed.

Who did that leave? What other options did he have? There was no time to interview people— this rescue was being undertaken tonight.

An idea popped into Seb’s head. Perhaps he was mad for even entertaining it, but then again, he always had been a bit off kilter. Maybe, just maybe, this would work… 

*********

For the second— technically third— time that day, Sebastian found himself knocking on the door at 221B Baker Street. As was true earlier, John was the one to greet him again now.

“Moran? What are you doing back so soon?”

“I could use a bit more help. Care to let me in?”

At that, Watson cautiously permitted him inside. Sherlock was waiting in the wings. 

“I thought you were going to call if you needed anything else?” Holmes hastily spoke.

“Yes, well, I got the impression that you might hang up on me if I did.”

“You’re cleverer than I pegged you for,” the consulting detective quipped. Coming from him, that was something of a compliment.

“What is it you require?” John asked.

“You,” Seb said. “Both of you, actually.”

The two men eyed him quizzically, unclear as to what, exactly, Moran had in mind.

“Elaborate,” the tall brunette implored.

“I want you to come with me when I confront the bastard who’s got Jim.”

Sherlock snorted in derision. “You can’t possibly think we would agree to that?”

“Does the phrase ‘not a snowball’s chance in hell’ mean anything to you?” Watson chimed in.

Sebastian had expected this. Given the history between all parties involved, of course they’d be resistant. The sniper just needed to make a convincing appeal, much like he had the first time he stopped by.

“John,” Seb began, focusing his gaze intently on the man, “Jim’s going to require medical attention. He’s been off his medication for nine days, and god only knows what other injuries he may have. Not to mention the special care he might need on account of the babies.”

“Couldn’t you bring him to a clinic in the village?”

“Listen to yourself, John— ‘a clinic in the village.’ The medical help in a place as small as Ermington can’t compare to the care he’d receive in London. My objective is to have him treated on the scene so that he’ll be stable enough to bring back to the city, where I can get him checked into a proper facility.”

“I don’t know…this sounds awfully sketchy.”

“Essie and Eddie deserve a fair shot at life. Don’t sell them short.”

“Wanting a doctor on site is one thing,” Holmes interjected. “But what do you need me for?”

“Glad you asked.” Now it was time to turn on that patented Moran charm. “You’re quick-witted and hold up well in tough situations. I could use someone with your talents.”

The duo was silent for a moment, each pondering Sebastian’s proposal.

“All right,” John stated. “In the interest of saving the lives of two children, I’ll come.”

Sherlock peered at his friend in disbelief. “You’re really agreeing to this? Who knows what sort of trap you might be entering into.”

“There’s no deception on my end,” Seb professed. “I’ve offered full transparency. As for what, if any, traps Colin may have devised…well, that I don’t know.”

“Obviously, then, I can’t allow John to go alone. I’ll have to come, too.”

Watson took exception to the consulting detective’s remark. “You ‘can’t allow’ me? Hate to break it to you, but I do have a will of my own.”

“Oh, you know what I mean. Stop squabbling.”

“Squabbling? Please. I’m just trying to establish the fact that I’m perfectly capable of making decisions with or without the Holmes seal of approval.”

Sebastian smirked. Listening to the two of them bicker was rather amusing. They reminded him of an old married couple. No wonder people still sometimes mistook them for life partners.

Eventually, their argument subsided and they began making arrangements. John would have Mrs. Hudson watch his daughter while he and Sherlock rode together. Moran would drive separately, and they’d meet up near Colin’s house, but not directly at his address. This was a rural area they were dealing with— if he saw cars parked outside, he’d know something was afoot. It was best to capitalize on the element of surprise.    

*********

Ermington. Seb had thought the name sounded familiar, and as he traveled through the village, he realized why. In the days when he was carrying on an affair with Margo, she’d shown him photos of the place. Specifically, they were snapshots from a favorite family vacation during her childhood. She remembered Ermington very fondly, idealizing it to almost mythical proportions. To hear her describe it, the village was like something out of a storybook, full of rolling hills, songbirds, and sunshine.

She must’ve told Colin about it, too. Interesting that he chose to live on the outskirts of the area his late wife adored. Was settling in the heart of Ermington too painful? Is that why he opted to inhabit its fringes instead?         

Sebastian glanced at the clock on the dashboard. It was nearly 8 p.m.— approximately 12 hours since he’d vowed to get his husband back within the day. He was about to make good on that promise.

The sniper pulled over to the side of the road, waiting for Sherlock and John. He made the most of his time by double-checking the backpack he’d brought especially for this mission. Among its many contents were extra ammo, rope, mace, a first aid kit, and Jim’s medication. He wanted to be prepared for whatever was thrown at him.

Seb’s backup soon arrived, and the trio embarked on a 300-meter trek to Colin’s house. The night was temperate, but dark as sin. Thankfully, Holmes had come bearing a flashlight to illuminate the way.

The men walked in silence, trying to be as stealthy as possible. While they journeyed amid the countryside, Moran reflected upon how surreal it was to be working with the consulting detective and his close personal assistant. Never in a million years did he think such an alliance would occur.

Anything for you, my love. There was no limit to the lengths he’d go to for his Magpie. He’d make a deal with the devil himself if it ensured Jim’s safe return.

Finally, they reached their destination. Remaining hidden behind a thick patch of shrubbery, they surveyed the property in front of them. There really wasn’t much to it. This was no mighty fortress or compound. No, it was just a ramshackle cottage surrounded by forest and farmland. Somehow, Sebastian had been expecting something more grandiose.

This is the home of the person who’s thwarted London’s most dangerous men at every turn? A part of him was ashamed, but then again…

Evil comes in many forms. He ought not be lulled into complacency by an innocuous exterior.

Moran stepped back and looked at his begrudging partners. “Gentlemen,” he said, “it’s time to assemble.”             

Chapter Text

“Holmes, I’m going to break the door down while you cover me from behind. Stay alert and keep your gun poised at all times,” Sebastian instructed. “Watson, you wait out here. Don’t come in until we signal you.”

“Why am I being sidelined? I was in the army, too. I can handle myself.”

“It’s nothing personal,” the sniper explained. “You’re acting as our medic. We need you safe and sound so that you can perform to the best of your ability.”

“He’s got a point, John.”

Hell has officially frozen over, Moran mused. Sherlock Holmes actually agreed with him. If he didn’t know better, he’d swear it was a sign of the apocalypse.

“All right,” the doctor relented. “But if I hear gunfire, I’m going in, signal or not.”

Seb nodded and charged ahead. He kicked the front door open with ease, having executed the maneuver many times before. As luck would have it, he didn’t need to search for his target. Colin Taylor sat right there, paging through a photo album with one hand while brandishing a pistol in the other.

“How nice, I’ve got company,” he said, seemingly unfazed by their brazen entry. “I don’t have much in the way of refreshments, but if you’d like a whiskey, feel free.”

“Let me cut straight to the chase. I’m here for my husband. Where the fuck are you keeping him?”

“So abrasive, Colonel. Mind your manners when you’re in someone’s home.”

“Manners?” Sebastian fumed. “You orchestrated a campaign of harassment and you’ve got the nerve to challenge me on manners? Sod off.”

“It pleases me to know my methods were effective,” Colin smugly replied.

“Stop gloating and tell me where my mate is.”

“You really want to know?” The kidnapper stood and approached Seb and Sherlock. It was a standoff, all three of them pointing guns at each other. “He’s dead, Moran. I killed him.”

For a brief moment, Sebastian’s expression held absolute anguish at the thought of Jim’s demise. Quickly, he forced himself to resume a steely façade. “You’re lying.”

“Am I?” the madman countered. “Maybe I strangled him or snapped his neck. Maybe I slit his throat and listened to him choke on his own blood.”

“No, you didn’t,” Holmes asserted. “I can read people extraordinarily well, and everything I’m getting off you screams that that's a lie. James Moriarty is alive and you’re wasting your breath pretending otherwise.”

He snorted. “I beg to differ. It was worth telling just to see the look on Moran’s face.”

Seb growled. “You’re a sadistic bastard.”

“No, I’m simply a proponent of retribution,” the man spat. “My pregnant wife died because of you. It’s only fitting that your spouse should suffer the same fate.”

“Margo was pregnant when she died?” the assassin asked, genuinely surprised. It felt more tragic knowing the loss of life was twofold. “I’m sorry to hear that, Colin.”

“Good. You should be sorry. She killed herself on your account.”

“Oh? How do you figure?” Sebastian was utterly flummoxed by the accusation. He hadn’t seen the woman in years, so how could he be responsible for her death? It didn’t make sense.

“You ruined her mind. Corrupted her.”

“You give me too much credit. Her mind was broken long before I came along.”

Colin glared at him with burning fury. “Don’t you dare disparage my Marguerite,” he warned. “We were happy until you entered the picture.”

“You know what? Carrying on an affair like we did was wrong,” Seb admitted. “But I left town and never talked to her again. So how the hell can you stand there and claim that I had a role in her passing?”

“It’s simple. She never got over you. She was obsessed, pining away for a man who didn’t give a damn. You were her undoing.”

So this is why he blames me. He’s missing the forest for the trees. The man was undeniably insane, but at least now Seb understood his motivation.

“Colin, I know you don’t want to believe it, but I do have an idea of how you feel.”

“You’re right, I don’t buy that for a minute. How could you possibly begin to imagine the loss I’ve suffered?”

“Because I’ve gone through it, too. Jim shot himself and let me think he was dead for two whole years,” the sniper recounted. “It was the worst period of my life, bar none. And even though I thought he’d died by his own hand, I still wanted the lay the blame on someone else.” Sebastian’s eyes shifted toward Sherlock for a split second, before returning to focus on the stalker. “When you lose someone to suicide, there’s a lot of misplaced anger and guilt to go around.”

“In this case, it isn’t misplaced,” Colin hissed. “If she’d never met you—”  

“Then she’d have become fixated on some other guy, and the results would’ve been the same.”

“No! That’s not true!”

“Yes, I’m afraid it is. Margo was a charming, vivacious woman. But she was also fragile and frenetic. Always teetering on the edge of a breakdown.” He paused for a beat, suddenly reminded of his relationship with Jim. “We want to see the best in those we love. It’s all too easy to ignore the flaws.”

At that moment, Moran and Holmes spied something that astonished them both. From seemingly out of nowhere, John appeared in the hallway behind Colin. The duo played it cool, pretending not to notice as he quietly crept up on the madman.

“I…I don’t want to hear this! It’s not the same! You got Moriarty back. My wife is still in a mausoleum.”

Before Seb could respond, John made his move. Using the butt of his gun as a blunt instrument, he bashed Colin in the back of the head. The kidnapper dropped to the floor like a ton of bricks. He was knocked out cold and would probably have a concussion when he awoke.

“John!” Sherlock exclaimed. “What are you doing in here?”

“I hated the idea of standing outside doing nothing, so I decided to inspect the perimeter. There was a window partially open at the rear of the house. I crawled through and took a cursory look around. There’s not much to the place, but I saw a door with a deadbolt on it. I suspect it leads to the basement.”

“That’s probably where Moriarty’s being kept,” the consulting detective noted.

Without hesitation, Seb dug into his backpack and produced a pair of bolt cutters. “Holmes, you take these and get started on the lock. I’ll join up in a minute, after I take care of Colin.”

Sherlock arched a brow. “Take care of him how?” The genius had already gathered Moran’s meaning, but he wanted to hear the sniper say the words out loud.

“You know what I have to do,” he answered sharply.

“I never agreed to help you kill someone. This was intended to be a rescue mission, not an execution.”

“I can’t just let him walk out of here scot-free!” Sebastian snarled. “For fuck’s sake, I thought you understood that much.”

“I’m not suggesting he go free. I propose we restrain him, get Moriarty out of here, and then call the police.”

“Sherlock, this man has tormented my family for months. Expressly threatened the lives of Jim and our children. He needs to die.”

“You think this is strictly about you and yours? Hardly. You told me he murdered one of your security guards as well as your interior decorator. Well, the former is inconsequential, seeing as how you destroyed the body. But the latter, Lisa Abernathy, is a different story. I’ve researched the case. She’s considered a missing person. Her parents want to know what happened. If you shoot Colin Taylor now, then we can never point the authorities in his direction and her family will never see justice done.”

“This is justice,” Seb stressed.

“No, this is vigilantism.”

The two stared daggers at each other, neither wanting to back down.

Finally, John spoke. “Can we get on with it, please? Time is of the essence.”

Sebastian growled in frustration, knowing that Watson was right. Every instinct told him to kill Colin, but he didn’t have a moment to waste arguing with Holmes. Self-righteous son of a bitch.

The former colonel pulled a length of rope from his bag of tricks. If he couldn’t slay the monster in front of him, he would at least make damn sure that the beast was restrained in the most uncomfortable position imaginable.  

*********

“Got it!” Seb announced. The bolt cutters had sliced through the basement lock. With the door now accessible, he rushed downstairs. Sherlock and John followed close behind.

Magpie. There he was, laying in a heap on the cement floor. Moran practically flew to his side, thrilled to see him for the first time since his abduction nine days earlier.

“Jimmy, it’s me! I came for you.”

Jim grunted, struggling to keep his eyes open. “Tiger?” he rasped. “Am I dreaming?”

“No, darling. I’m really here.” He leaned down to kiss him on the cheek, noting the considerable amount of stubble that had grown while he was gone. It was a rarity to see him with that much facial hair.

Seb lovingly placed a hand on Jim’s belly, eliciting an agonized cry from the Irishman. The response alarmed him and got John’s attention as well.

Watson crouched on the ground and lifted Jim’s shirt to get a look at his abdomen. This seemed to startle the omega.

“Noooo…what’s he doing here? I don’t want to see him,” Jim weakly protested.

“It’s okay. I brought him to act as a medic. He’s going to check you out so that you’re safe to travel to a real hospital.”

“Blimey,” John said, taken aback by the large red and purple welt on Jim’s stomach. “That’s one hell of a bruise.” 

Horrified, Sebastian’s jaw dropped at the sight. “Did Colin do this to you?”

“I fell trying to get away. Hurt my leg, too. I…it’s…” Moriarty was fighting to remain conscious.   

“Stay with me, Jimmy,” the assassin urged. “We’ve only just been reunited. I refuse to let you fall sleep on me already.”

“So tired, Tiger…”

“Do something, Watson!” Seb yelled at the doctor. “I won’t let him slip away!”

“I’m trying the best I can.”

John dug into Moran’s medical kit and pulled out a stethoscope. He listened to Jim’s labored breathing and then moved the device down to his abdomen to check on the twins. 

“The fetal heartbeats sound good,” he stated. “Obviously, you’ll have a better idea of how the babies are doing when you can get an ultrasound, but for now, they’re steady.”

Seb was relieved at the news, but still worried about his mate. He’d be glad when he could take Jim out of there and get him proper medical attention.

While the former army men worked on Moriarty, Sherlock’s attention was diverted to the corpse laying several feet from where he stood. “Dear God,” he whispered. The consulting detective recognized who it was not only because of the research he’d done, but also because her hands had been severed. This was the body of Lisa Abernathy. 

“Watson, Moran,” he called out, “we have proof of the decorator’s murder right here.”

John glanced over, now seeing the lifeless woman he’d been too distracted to notice when he first walked in. “My day just gets better and better.”

“This is the perfect opportunity,” Holmes asserted.

“How do you figure?” Watson asked as he strapped a blood pressure cuff on his patient’s arm.

“When we call the police, we can tell them we were investigating Lisa Abernathy’s missing persons’ case. We’ll say we received an anonymous tip indicating she might be here. When we arrived, the cellar was locked. Naturally, that seemed suspicious, and so we forced our way inside. It was then that we discovered her mutilated corpse.” Sherlock paused, pondering the potential cover story. “Yes, that will make for an ideal explanation. Moran and Moriarty needn’t be mentioned at all.”

“Fine,” John replied, sounding preoccupied. The look on his face showed marked concern.

“What is it?” Sebastian inquired. He tried to remain composed, but could not disguise the fear in his voice.

“James’s blood pressure is through the roof. If it isn’t lowered soon, he could die. And I don’t mean within a day or two— I’m talking tonight.”

The sniper felt his heart breaking at the prospect. It was as if his nightmare was becoming a horrifying reality. “I brought his medication. Can’t we give him that?”

“We could administer it, yes, but I honestly don’t think it would be enough. At this point, he should be on an intravenous drug. Additionally, he’s having difficulty staying conscious. Giving someone pills in that condition poses a major choking hazard.”

“So I’ve got to get him to a hospital ASAP.”

“Correct. There’s one more thing I want to check before releasing him, though. It’ll actually go quicker if you help.”

“Sure, anything.”

“Moriarty mentioned hurting his leg. I want to assess the damage,” John said. “I’ll roll up one pant leg while you do the other.”

Seb nodded and did as instructed. With his clothing out of the way, it was clear that Jim’s right leg was twice the size it should be. There was a lot of swelling going on.

“He’ll never be able to stand with that much inflammation. You’ll have to carry him.”

“Not a problem.” These days, he was used to transporting his husband in such a manner.  

“Jimmy, I’m going to pick you up, okay? Then we’re leaving this hell hole for good.”

The mastermind grunted, which Seb took as a sign of approval.

With his backpack strapped firmly on, the fair-haired alpha lifted his mate into his strong arms and proceeded upstairs. When he reached the top of the steps, he turned for a moment to face his unlikely allies.

“Holmes, Watson, thank you for the help. I still disagree with keeping Colin alive, but you did get me this far.”

Moran left it at that. He had bigger things to attend to now. Jim was back, but required serious care. It was up to the intrepid assassin to get him the medical attention he so desperately needed.   

Chapter Text

TICK. TICK. TICK.

Time is a funny thing. It can fly by in the blink of an eye when you’re not expecting it. Conversely, if you stare at a clock, the minutes seem to stretch on at an excruciating rate.    

TICK. TICK. TICK.

Sebastian had languished in the hospital waiting room for over an hour. He wanted to be by his husband’s side, but the doctors and nurses insisted that all non-medical personnel leave the room while they worked on him. They claimed they’d keep him informed of Jim’s status, but so far he’d heard nothing.

You’ll get through this, Mapgie. I know you will.

Moriarty was in rough shape when the sniper brought him in. Seb raced to the hospital as fast as he could, and even then, it felt like it took too long. He briefly considered calling in a helicopter to have him medevacked over, but quickly nixed the idea once he realized how much undue attention it would create. It was important that Jim maintain a low profile, lest the authorities take an interest.

TICK. TICK. TICK.

‘Please be okay’ became a mantra in his head. If the Irishman didn’t survive, hell would hath no fury like Sebastian Moran. His grief would be epic. Cataclysmic. Transcendent. He’d burn the world down in James Moriarty’s name.

The former colonel was so caught up in thought, he almost didn’t see it when Dr. Sanders, the primary physician who’d been treating Jim, came out to meet him.

“Mr. Jones?” the medic spoke, commanding his attention.

“Yes?” he answered to the pseudonym he’d provided at check-in.

“I’m here to update you on your husband’s condition. We’ve managed to stabilize him, but he’s not in the clear just yet.”

Seb nodded. At least he’s alive. That alone was something to celebrate.

“As you’re probably aware, his blood pressure is dangerously high. We’re doing everything possible to bring it down,” the practitioner assured. “Given his previous responsiveness to labetalol, I’ve put him on an IV of the drug. I also administered magnesium sulfate to reduce the likelihood of seizure. Additionally, he’s been placed on a saline drip to combat dehydration and is receiving intravenous vitamins as well. His body is extremely depleted of nutrients. In fact, I don’t believe he’s eaten in at least a week.” The physician paused for a moment to let the information settle. “How long did you say he was lost in the woods? Seven days?”

“Nine,” Sebastian whispered, aghast at the revelation. Colin starved him. Starved a sickly, pregnant omega. My omega.

Oh, how he regretted leaving their stalker alive. Once again, Sherlock fucking Holmes had found a way to inflict more pain and misery into his life. If he could do it over, he’d have splattered Colin’s brains across the goddamn wall.

“I performed an ultrasound and the twins were fine,” Dr. Sanders continued. “In serious cases of preeclampsia, there’s always the concern of it affecting blood flow and fetal growth, but thankfully, your children are measuring at normal size,” he noted. “As for the fall your mate took, they were unharmed by it.”

“Thank god,” the assassin breathed in relief. “Were they at all impacted by the lack of nutrition?”    

“Not as much as you’d think. During pregnancy, the fetus will take whatever it needs from its host. So even though your husband wasn’t able to eat, the babies were leeching vitamins and minerals from his body in order to sustain themselves. That’s why his system is so depleted right now.”

My poor Magpie. Giving everything he could to our little ones.

“Finally, regarding your spouse’s leg injury, there don’t appear to be any breaks. We’re dealing with a sprain, which is fortunate, because it yields a quicker recovery period. He will, however, have to stay off his feet for a bit.”

More good news— better than Moran had imagined. At this point, he wanted to shout from a mountaintop that Jim and the babies were okay.

“If you’d like to see him now, you can. Be aware that he’s sleeping, though, and could certainly use the rest.” 

“Of course,” Seb agreed. “I do have one last question.”

“Go on.”

“I was wondering if I could bring him some food? Would that be allowed?”

“I don’t see why not,” the physician replied, “so long as it adheres to a low-sodium diet.”

“Excellent.” The wheels in the sniper’s head were turning. He knew just what Jim would like.

*********

It was the middle of the night when Sebastian entered Moriarty’s private room. He came bearing a number of takeout containers and a folding table brought from home. As he prepared to dish out a feast for them both, he stopped to glimpse his mate. This was the first he’d seen him since being forced to leave his side shortly after check-in.

He looks so worn down. Jim was pale, thin, and hooked up to multiple IVs. It hurt Seb’s heart to witness him in such a state. His deepest instincts commanded him to nurse the Irishman back to health.

Moran began plating a gourmet meal of prime rib, baked potato, and roasted vegetables. Two delectable slices of German chocolate cake would be their dessert.

“It’s time for dinner, kitten.” He gently caressed the slumbering man’s arm and leaned down to place a kiss on his stubbled cheek.

“Mmm,” Jim hummed, slowly stirring. “What…where…” he trailed off, trying to make sense of his surroundings. “This is a hospital.”

“That’s right. I got you out of Colin’s house and brought you here. You’re safe now.”

The expression on Moriarty’s face was a combination of joy and relief. Even in his infirm state, he immediately moved to hug the assassin.    

“I missed you terribly,” the mastermind cooed, finally feeling secure after nine days of torment.  

“I missed you, too. I’d have done anything to get you back.” And in a way, he had, aligning himself with Holmes and Watson for the sole purpose of undertaking a rescue mission.

“It’s good to be back. My body wanted to quit, but I refused to allow it. You and the babies kept me going.” He paused, breaking their embrace to look Seb in the eye. “How are they?”

“Essie and Eddie are doing well. Their size is on target and their heartbeats are steady.”

The consulting criminal took comfort in the news. “I was so scared for them. Petrified they wouldn’t make it,” he confessed, shuddering at the memory. “I…I’m sorry, Tiger.”

“Sorry for what, love?”

“For storming off the way I did. If I hadn’t reacted like that, I never would’ve been kidnapped.”

“And if I hadn’t acted like such an arsehole, you wouldn’t have gone. It’s my fault you left in the first place. I should’ve trusted you, Jimmy.”

The couple gazed at one another for a moment, each realizing that the other blamed himself. Their guilt was a shared burden; a deadlock of sorts. Perhaps, then, they could concede that while both had made mistakes, the true menace was Colin.   

“Sebby? Our stalker…is he…did you…”

The fiercely protective alpha knew what his mate was asking, and he wasn’t sure how to break the truth to him. There really was no way to explain it without admitting everything.

“Magpie, I brought food for us from The Savoy. How about I tell you what happened while we eat? No need to let our meal get cold.”

Jim peered at the spread that was set out, having already caught the scent in the air. “Is that prime rib?”

“You know it.” Sebastian smiled and passed his spouse a knife and fork. “There’s no au jus on account of your special diet, but it should still be delicious.”

The genius wasted no time digging in. He audibly moaned upon tasting the first bite. “This meat it so tender, it practically melts in my mouth.”

“It’s damn good,” Moran agreed.

A few minutes went by as the pair enjoyed their indulgent repast. Finally, Jim broached the topic of his rescue again. “So tell me what happened, Tiger.”

This was it, the moment Seb had dreaded. “How much do you remember from when I came to get you?”

“Not a whole lot. I was pretty out of it.”

The former colonel nodded. “I guess it’s up to me to fill in the blanks.” He paused, trying to decide where to start. “I searched for you ever since the night you didn’t come home. I went out investigating. I made phone calls. I even tracked down all the living persons on my suspect list and performed interrogations. Unfortunately, none of it got me any closer to finding you.”

“Well, we’re together now,” Moriarty remarked. “Something must’ve pointed you in the right direction.”

“More like someone.

Intrigued, the mastermind furrowed a brow. “Oh?”

It was now or never. Sebastian took a deep breath. “I sought assistance from Sherlock Holmes. Pounded on his door at an ungodly hour and refused to leave until he agreed to help.”

Jim damn near choked on his baked potato. “Did I hear that correctly? You coerced Sherlock into doing your bidding, which, in this case, entailed retrieving me?”

“Yep.”

The dark-eyed omega erupted into uproarious laughter. “Sebby, that’s hilaaaarious.”

“So…you’re not mad?” The sniper was pleasantly surprised by his mate’s reaction.

“Mad? Heavens no. The idea of you commandeering his services for my benefit is priceless.”

“He wasn’t the only one involved. I got Watson on board as well. Recruited the two of them to be my backup when I raided Colin’s place.”

Moriarty hushed at the mention of his kidnapper’s name. “Him, yes. I learned plenty about Colin during my captivity. He liked to get drunk and ramble on at length.”

“So you know of our history?” Sebastian was ashamed that his sins of the past had nearly gotten Jim and their children killed.

“I do,” the genius confirmed. “That man was an absolute fucking loon. And a bit of a bigot, too. I can’t believe you were ever friends.”

“Guess I know how to pick ‘em,” the blonde bleakly replied. “For what it’s worth, he didn’t seem insane back then.”

Jim put his fork down and reached across the table to take Seb’s hand. “Sometimes it’s impossible to see who, or what, someone really is until it’s too late. I don’t blame you for his twisted vendetta. Not at all."

 “Oh, Magpie.” He leaned down and reverently kissed his husband’s knuckles. “Thank you.”

There was a time when the mastermind wouldn’t have been so understanding. A time when both of them were more hotheaded and less than kind. But that was years ago, when they were younger men. Though still incredibly flawed individuals, the couple now had the benefit of maturity on their side. They’d seen and experienced a great deal together and come out stronger for it. Sebastian was keen to remind himself of that as he readied to tell Jim the next part of the story.

“There’s something else you should know,” he uttered anxiously. “Colin is alive.”

The Irishman’s expression dropped like a rock and his eyes widened. “What? Why? Did he get away?”

“I was going to shoot the bastard, but Sherlock refused to let me kill him because he wanted Colin to be held accountable for Lisa’s death. Holmes insisted we tie him up and call the police. I didn’t want to go along with it, but I couldn’t waste time arguing with him— I needed to get you out of there,” he explained. “Colin’s probably sitting in jail right now.”

Moriarty went quiet as he processed the information. Seb never knew what to expect when his mate grew so silent. The inner-workings of the man’s mind were strange and mysterious, indeed.

“Good,” Jim declared at last. “Shooting him would’ve been too quick. Too clean. He should die, but not like that. He doesn’t deserve the luxury.”        

Interesting, Moran thought. He hadn’t considered it that way before. Maybe his Magpie was right. Their stalker’s punishment ought to fit the crime. In this case, it would mean a painful and protracted death, commensurate to the hell he’d put them through for months.

Jim suddenly gasped and pulled his hand back, startled.

“What’s wrong?” the assassin asked with alarm in his voice. “Are you in pain?”

“I was put through the wringer for nine days straight,” he quipped. “Of course I’m in pain, but that’s beside the point. I just felt the babies move again.”

Sebastian grinned excitedly. “Really? That’s fantastic.” He paused, noting his spouse’s choice of words. “Wait, ‘again?’”

“I felt the first movements a few hours before you rescued me,” he said. “It was incredible, Tiger. I was at such a low point, wondering if they were even still alive, and then it happened. They started kicking, as if to tell me they were okay. It sounds unbelievable, but it’s true.”

“I believe it, Jimmy. I do.”

The men beamed at each other, basking in the simple joy of being a family. Pure, unfiltered love filled the space between them.

Chapter Text

Scroll. Scroll. Scroll. CLICK.

Daytime television is bloody awful, Sebastian thought as he shut off the tv. There were fifty-two channels available on the hospital’s cable hookup and nothing good was playing on a single one.

Seb sat back in his chair while waiting for Jim to finish up in the bathroom. His mind wandered, recalling the events of the past four days. It had been a whirlwind since Moriarty’s rescue.  

The doctors were adamant that the Irishman not make plans to leave anytime soon. They wanted him to remain in their care indefinitely, but he wouldn’t hear of it. He refused to be cooped up for too long. So a compromise was struck. Jim would agree to stay there for a minimum of ten days, after which point, he’d return home under the proviso that he adhere to modified bedrest.   

Moran was at his most dutiful, doing whatever he could to help his mate endure the tedium of hospital living. One of his first tasks had been to assist Jim as he showered and shaved. Apparently, even though there was a shower stall in his basement prison, he was only able to get limited use out of it due to his shackle being in the way. The mastermind was thrilled to finally take a proper shower and shear off the heavy stubble that had grown during his captivity. He was less enthused, however, by the fact that he could put very little weight on his sprained leg, or even lift it high enough to wash. Fortunately, Seb was more than willing to pitch in, scrubbing him anywhere he couldn’t reach.

Other measures the sniper had taken included arranging for gourmet meals to be delivered so that Jim would have better quality food, replacing the scratchy sheets on his bed with a silken variety, and keeping a well-maintained cache of reading materials on hand for his leisure.

Speaking of reading materials, the couple’s interest was piqued when a recent edition of The Daily Telegraph carried an article about Colin Taylor’s arrest in connection with the disappearance and murder of Lisa Abernathy. The media once again praised Sherlock Holmes for “solving” what was rapidly becoming a high-profile case. Moriarty and Moran were eager to follow the impending trial, both having their own ideas as to what his punishment should be.

At long last, the consulting criminal reemerged from the lavatory, crutching his way back to bed. Sebastian was quick to ease him into a comfortable position and reattach his blood pressure monitor. He disliked being hooked up to the thing, but at least he wasn’t saddled with IVs anymore.

“Thank you, Tiger. You take excellent care of me,” he purred. “Let me show you how grateful I am.” Jim gently stroked the larger man’s firm bicep and gazed at him with a come-hither gleam.

Not this again. Ordinarily, Seb would jump at such an offer, but right now he didn’t believe his husband was in good enough health for sexual activity. Yesterday’s encounter had certainly proven that.

It was late last night when Jim first propositioned him. The assassin was wary, but his Magpie could be mighty persuasive. He ultimately agreed under the condition that they not go all the way— it would just be a bit of harmless, affectionate fun. He really ought to have known better.  One thing led to another, and what started as a heated make out session progressed into him pleasuring the mastermind in an area decidedly south of the mouth.

Oh, what a mistake that’d been. Jim reached his peak, all right— and the monitor did, too. A nurse came rushing in after hearing the medical equipment sound off. They scarcely had time to hide what they were doing, and played dumb when asked if they had any idea what might’ve caused Moriarty’s blood pressure to spike. Though no accusations were made, she eyed them suspiciously, almost as if she somehow knew what they’d done. It was mortifying.

“Come on, Sebby. Let’s play ‘Pin the Magpie.’” He grasped Moran’s hand and suggestively licked at his lover’s fingers.

The gorgeous alpha grunted, trying his damnedest to resist temptation. Jim knew how to drive him wild. Knew how much that hot, wet tongue turned him on. Ugh.

“We shouldn’t, kitten. You remember what happened last time.”

“It’s okay. I’ll just remove the monitor while we go at it.”

“Jimmy…” His mate’s solution wouldn’t fix the real problem. This kind of activity would cause his heart rate and blood pressure to increase. Simply taking off the device so that it couldn’t be recorded didn’t change the imminent health risk.

Sebastian pulled his hand away. “I’m sorry, but we really can’t do this.”

Jim peered at him sadly, hurt by the perceived rejection. “You don’t want me.”

The former colonel shook his head. “No, that isn’t true. I always want you,” he stressed. “But you’re not well enough for sex, sweetheart. It’s dangerous and I won’t chance it.”

Moriarty sighed. “I know you’re right, I just…I’m so frustrated.” Pregnancy hormones were beginning to get the best of him. He never knew how he’d feel from one moment to the next. For someone who strongly valued being in control, these emotional fluctuations were maddening.   

“Look at me, Jimmy.” And he did, brown eyes locking with blue. “I swear that when you’re back to full health, I will ravish you spectacularly. We’ll go through every position in the Kama Sutra, and then some. Maybe even invent a few new ones.”

The statement elicited a playful smirk from the smaller man. “I’ll hold you to that promise.”

“You’d better,” Seb teased, grinning in return.

A moment passed before Jim spoke again. “Soooo,” he drawled, “if we’re not going to fool around, do you think you could take me for a different kind of ride?”

Moran tilted his head, intrigued. “What did you have in mind?”

“I’m going stir crazy. I want you to wheel me out of here,” he replied, referring to the restriction his doctors had put him on. He was only permitted to walk as far as the bathroom. Any further than that and he had to use a wheelchair.

“Sure. This is a state-of-the-art facility,” the blonde noted. “It’s high time we took a tour.”

“We’ll stop at the cafeteria, too. I need hot chocolate.”

“You got it, hon.” Food at the hospital was abysmal, but they had a surprisingly good coffee bar that just so happened to serve Jim’s beloved cocoa.

Sebastian delicately maneuvered his husband off the bed and into the chair, rolling the blood pressure monitor alongside him. As they ventured out the door, he couldn’t help but feel a swell of happiness deep inside. Here he was, an alpha taking care of his expectant omega. It felt so right…so satisfying. This is what he was meant to do.

*********

“Sebby, I want to see the babies.” Of course, the mastermind didn’t mean his own, but rather the newborns in the maternity ward. He’d spotted a sign indicating that the area was down the hall.

“I’d like that, too.” The sniper hadn’t been around many babies before. Perhaps this could serve as a preview of what was to come.

Following the directions on the wall, they soon reached the nursery. It was a sight to take in. Behind a large glass window were rows of clear plastic cribs, each one containing a tightly swaddled bundle.

“Tiger, they’re so tiny,” Jim said in awe.

He was right, and for a brief moment, Seb thought back to what he’d recently learned about his brother’s career. I can’t believe Severin is a neonatal specialist, working with patients this size every day. They looked so fragile— he’d be afraid to handle them for fear of breaking something.

Moriarty was positively beaming as he stood up from his wheelchair to get a better view, leaning against Seb for support. “Imagine, in a few months Essie and Eddie will be in there. We’ll finally get to meet them.” He took a sharp breath, inhaling quickly. “Ooh, they know I’m talking about them,” he joyfully declared, grabbing Moran’s hand and placing it on his stomach. “Feel them?”

The assassin smiled widely. He definitely registered movement. “Magpie, that’s amazing.”

“It really is,” he agreed.

There was another kick, stronger this time.

“I think you’ve got future footballers in there.”

“Or dancers,” Jim suggested. “Practicing pirouettes as we speak.”

Sebastian chuckled. “Always a possibility.”

The two men gazed at each other adoringly, and for an instant, it was as though the rest of the world had fallen away. Nothing and no one existed except for their cherished family unit and the love shared therein.

The Irishman glimpsed the nursery again as something caught his eye. “Tiger, do you see that?”

He did. One of the infants had turned its head and was staring straight at Jim. It was truly precious.

The genius made a silly face in response, and the baby smiled back. Its chubby cheeks were scrunched while its little lips upturned. They were making a connection.

“Who knew I was married to the finest ‘baby whisperer’ in London?” Seb teased.

A remark like that would generally warrant a smart comeback from the mastermind, but not now. He was too enamored by the newborn to care.

“Cute, aren’t they?” a female voice suddenly spoke. It was a nurse approaching behind them.

“I’ve never seen anything sweeter,” Moriarty confessed.

She turned her attention to the happy couple. “You must be pretty far along, huh?”

“Actually, I’m only 22 weeks. I look bigger because we’re having twins.”

The woman’s face lit up at the news. “Twins? How exciting! It’s been some time since we’ve had a multiple birth here.”

The consulting criminal grinned with delight. “Yes, it is quite thrilling. I can’t wait.”

“Is this your first pregnancy?”

His cheeks flushed slightly. “It’s that obvious?”

“Nah, I’m just an old pro when it comes to reading these things. First-time parents have a certain glow about them,” she noted. “By the fourth or fifth kid, most of the magic’s worn off.”

Jim laughed. “You’re cynical, but honest. I like that.”

“Thank you, sir. It’s nice to be appreciated.”

Proceeding with her work, the medical assistant walked over to the door of the nursery and stepped inside. To Moriarty’s surprise, she picked up the baby who’d been smiling at him and carried the tiny bundle out in her arms.  

“Where are you taking that one?” he asked, curious.

“This darling girl is due for a feed. We try to stay on schedule with these things. Establishing a nursing regimen is important for mama and baby both.”

“Oh,” Jim said, his voice wavering. “Okay.” He paused just a little too long between words, and though the woman didn’t seem to notice, Sebastian did.

After she’d gone, the mastermind averted his eyes down to the floor, no longer looking at the newborns. “Take me back to my room, Seb.” His tone was sullen, having lost the exuberance it held only moments before.  

“What’s wrong, Jimmy?” The former colonel knew his husband could be moody, but this shift was abrupt even for him.

“Nothing. Just help me into my chair and take me back.”

For the moment, Moran did as told. The last thing he wanted was to press the issue and risk upsetting his mate. But he wasn’t going to let it go forever. He would find out what was bothering him before the day was out.

Chapter Text

“No, thanks,” Jim said, declining a ramekin of chocolate mousse.

This is serious, Sebastian thought. Not only had his husband been depressed all day, but tonight he’d barely touched dinner and now flat-out refused one of his favorite desserts. Though the sniper despised emotional confrontations, he realized it was time to address the elephant in the room.

Seb took a seat on the edge of the bed beside his moody mate. “All right, enough is enough. Talk to me, Jimmy. Something’s been bothering you since this afternoon and I want to know what it is.”

The consulting criminal eyed him somberly. “Please, let’s not do this.”

Moran reached over and grasped the man’s hand. “What did I tell you weeks ago? I said I wanted you to be open with me. Fill me in when you’re upset, and I’ll do my best to help you through whatever it is.”

Jim sighed. “It’s something stupid and irrational that hardly merits a mention.”

“If it troubles you, then it’s worth discussing. Let me take some of the burden off your shoulders.”

“You’ll laugh,” he whispered while looking away.

“Never, sweetheart. I promise.” The assassin gently stroked the Irishman’s cheek, encouraging him to face him. And he did, their gazes meeting once more.

“It’s…I…” Moriarty stammered. Gone was his usual poise, replaced by nervous hesitation. He took a breath and started again. “When we visited the babies earlier today, it was wonderful. Seeing them made me so happy, Seb. It really did.”

The blonde smiled warmly. “I know, Jimmy. I loved the sparkle it put in your eyes.”

“Yes, well, I was a fool.”

Seb shook his head. “No, kitten. Not at all. Why would you think that?”  

“Because for just a moment, I let myself forget what I am. I felt pure, undiluted bliss, and it was bloody extraordinary.” He paused, squeezing Sebastian’s hand. “But then the medical assistant announced she was taking that adorable little girl out for a feed, and it sent me crashing back to earth.” The timbre of his voice began to falter, growing more distressed as he went on. “I remembered how I can’t do that. I can’t nurse our children.”

“Darling, it’s okay.” He moved to embrace his mate in a hug, and the smaller man didn’t fight it— he simply allowed himself to melt into his spouse’s arms.

It broke Seb’s heart to see Jim so distraught. They didn’t talk about it much, but the truth was that life could be difficult for a male omega. Collectively, men comprised only 20-25% of the total omega population and were faced with some unique biological challenges. Among those issues was an inability to nurse offspring due to a lack of sufficiently developed mammary glands.

“It didn’t used to bother me, but since I’ve felt Essie and Eddie move, things have changed,” Moriarty admitted, still clinging to Seb. “I like being a man and I’m thrilled to be their daddy. But at the same time, they’re growing inside me and have become an extension of myself. I feel as though I’m something more than a father to them and I wish I could nurse.”

“You’re beginning to feel like their mother,” Sebastian surmised, finally uttering the words his Magpie couldn’t bear to speak.

Jim nodded, resting his head on the sniper’s shoulder. “My instincts tell me to nurture them but my body won’t allow it. I’m a failure.”

The alpha continued to hold his hormonally-charged mate, rubbing his back in a soothing manner as he felt the man’s teardrops soak through his shirt.

“Hush now. You’re nothing of the sort. Not being able to nurse doesn’t change what you are to our babies. Plenty of women can’t or won’t breastfeed. It doesn’t make them any less of a mother to their children. The same is true for you.”

“Oh, Tiger. I love you. I’m sorry I’m such a mess these days. Everything gets me so worked up.”

“It’s fine, Jimmy. You’ve had a lot on your plate recently.”

Plate. Moran’s turn of phrase resonated with his expectant spouse in a sudden and unforeseen way. “Yes…yes, I have.” He paused. “Sebby?”

“Yeah?”

“At the risk of sounding highly suggestible, I think my appetite’s starting to come back. I’m ready for that mousse.”

The assassin smiled, standing up from the bed to retrieve the ramekin. “Bon appétit, my fair Magpie.”

*********

The next few days flew by quickly for London’s second most dangerous man. After Jim confessed his personal struggles to him, the sniper felt compelled to lift his spirits. He decided that a grand gesture was in order and he knew exactly where to begin: the twins’ playroom.   

Numerous secret phone calls and text messages took place, all with the goal of fulfilling his husband’s decorating dreams. He’d previously described how he wanted the area to look, and that was the blueprint Sebastian worked off of. Dozens of laborers were hired to focus day and night on the project. Time was of the essence, as it needed to be finished for Moriarty’s impending arrival.

So far, everything was shaping up nicely. A lavish mural of a branching oak tree was painted on the walls, ornately carved toy chests were installed, child-size velvet sofas and chaises were arranged, and an extra-large shelving unit intended for stuffed animals was erected. It was an impressive sight that served as a fitting companion to the already-completed nursery.

In addition, Seb had one more surprise up his sleeve. The playroom’s pièce de résistance was to be a functioning replica of the carousel at Kensington Gardens. It was rare, expensive, and thoroughly indulgent. Jim would love it.

Sebastian couldn’t wait to bring his Magpie home. He still felt terrible about the argument they’d had just prior to the Irishman’s abduction and wanted to show him how truly sorry he was. The only aspect he had trepidation over was how Moriarty would react to the news that he’d infiltrated his private office drawer. Under the circumstance, he hoped the genius would be lenient.  

Two more days. If all went according to plan, he’d soon have his family back where they belonged. Hallelujah.  

*********

Sebastian returned to the hospital late in the afternoon. Though he sometimes ran errands during the day, his nights were dedicated solely to Jim. Their increased quality time together was precious to them both.

The former colonel frowned upon finding his husband’s room empty. The man wasn’t in bed, nor was he in the attached bathroom. His wheelchair and shoes were missing, too.

Oh no. Seb grew panic-stricken, instantly flashing back to his nightmare from several weeks earlier. Had something happened while he was out? Surely he’d have been notified if it did? His heart raced as he imagined the worst.

Moran rushed to the nurse’s station, flagging down a lady behind the desk. “Excuse me, I’d like to know where the man in room 102 has gone?”

She glanced up from her computer screen. “I’m sorry, sir, but I’m not at liberty to disclose patient information.”

His eyes widened with fury. “You can bloody well disclose it to me! He’s my husband! My mate! My everything!” Seb was shouting now, rapidly approaching full-blown hysterics. “I need to know if he’s okay, or—”

“Still in the land of the living, Tiger,” a familiar voice spoke.

The sniper turned around and saw Jim wheeling down the hall. He immediately ran over to meet him, administering a hug so fierce, it nearly knocked the omega from his seat.   

“Easy does it, love. I’m right here.”

“Thank god. When I couldn’t find you, I was so worried. Where were you?” he asked as he escorted him back to his room.

“They sent me to orthopedics to evaluate the progress of my leg injury.”  

“And how did that go?

“It’s healing, but they don’t think I’ll be able to walk on it for another month,” the mastermind answered.

“That’s okay. There’s a wheelchair waiting for you at home. And thank goodness for the elevator we installed last year— you won’t have to struggle with using stairs.”

Moriarty peered at him. “You’ve already bought a chair?”

“Yes, I ordered it on account of your bedrest restrictions.”

“Ugh, don’t remind me. Not looking forward to those.”

Sebastian smiled, noticing the cute way Jim crinkled his nose. “It won’t be all bad,” he assured. “You’ll have me at your beck and call, catering to your every whim.”

“I’ve already got that,” he dryly remarked.

“I suppose you do, sir,” the assassin said with a wink. Sometimes the best way to counter Jim’s grumpiness was by being playful.   

“Acting as the good little soldier, are we?”

“Maybe.”

“There’s no ‘maybe’ about it. You either are or you aren’t.”

“And if I was?”

Their eyes locked intensely as Jim’s smoldering stare threatened to set Seb ablaze. “If you were,” the Irishman intoned, “then I’d give you a few orders right here and now.”

“Such as?”

“I’d insist that you take off your clothes and let me lick every inch of your magnificent body.”

Moran growled with lust and frustration. Lots and lots of frustration. “Magpie…you know we can’t.”

“I ache for you, Sebastian. I doooo.”

They were at a stalemate. The heat between them was as fiery as ever, but the sniper would not relent. He didn’t fault his husband for making such bold advances— it was clear that hormonal fluctuations were fueling many of Moriarty’s actions these days. But even still, he could not give in. Above all else, Jim’s health came first. 

“You’ve the fortitude of a saint, Tiger.”

“Thank god one of us does.”

Jim sighed. “Soooo…what do you want to do instead?”

Seb considered the question for a moment. Obviously, they both needed something to calm their libidos down. “How about we stream a movie?”

“Fine by me. I get to pick the film.”

“Of course, darling. But please make sure it’s nothing too…stimulating.”

Just for that, Jim made him watch a five-hour PBS production of “War and Peace.” 

Chapter Text

Today was the day. Jim’s requisite hospitalization had come to an end and Sebastian could finally bring him home. It was especially exciting for the consulting criminal, as he’d not been back there since his abduction. Nineteen days away was far too long.   

Moran carried the man bridal-style up the walkway and through the double-doors of their sprawling mansion. Once inside, he carefully sat him in his brand new wheelchair.

“How do you like it?” the handsome blonde asked, taking a seat opposite his husband.

“Not bad. It’s better cushioned than the one at the hospital.”

“Good, that was the point of buying a luxury model. Maximum comfort for my Magpie.”

Jim nodded and began glancing around. “On the drive over, you mentioned there’d be a surprise for me,” he recalled. “Nothing looks different, though, and I don’t see any packages.”

My sweet, impatient kitten. “My gift to you is in another room. I think you’re really going to enjoy it.”

“Well, let’s not dawdle. Take me to it.”

Always so eager. “I appreciate your enthusiasm, Jimmy. But before I show you what it is, I’d like to get something off my chest.”

Moriarty grinned impishly. “I’d like to get something off your chest, too, but when last I checked, you’d sworn a vow of celibacy.”

Seb chuckled. “Very funny. I’m trying to be serious, though. There’s a matter I want to discuss so that I can get it out of the way and not have it looming overhead.”

The mastermind let out an exasperated sigh. “All right, fine. What is it you’re so keen to tell me?”

For weeks, Sebastian imagined how he’d explain his breach of privacy to Jim. Now that the moment had arrived, he felt a flood of anxiety wash over him.

“Well?” the Irishman urged. “If you’ve got something to say, spit it out already.”

At that, he forged on. “While you were gone, I picked the locked drawer in your office.”

There, he’d said it. He’d confessed—

SLAP.

A loud smack reverberated through the air as Jim’s palm made direct contact with the sniper’s cheek.

“How DARE you!” he shouted furiously. “You had no right to go through my things! That drawer was locked for a reason!”    

“It was wrong, I know. But please let me explain.”

“Explain? What reason could you have possibly had for committing such an egregious violation of privacy?!”             

BEEP. BEEP. BEEP.

The wireless blood pressure monitor Jim agreed to wear upon release from the hospital began sounding off.

“Calm down, hon. For the babies’ sake, try to relax.”

“How do you expect me to be calm after what you’ve just told me? I’m supposed to accept this without issue? No, it doesn’t work that way! I trusted you, Seb.”

“It’s so important that you understand why I did it. Please hear me out.”

Moriarty glared at his mate. “Speak.”

“After you went missing, I thought maybe you were with someone you’d recently been in contact with. I tried to check your phone, but it was password protected. I knew your computer was, too. So that didn’t leave me with many options. I broke into your drawer as a last resort.” Sebastian paused, noticing that the monitor had stopped beeping and Jim’s expression had softened a bit. “I honestly believed it might contain information that would help me find you. I had your interests at heart. You know I’d do anything in service to your continued safety.”

“Sebby, I…” he looked downward, absently fidgeting with his watch.

“I wanted to tell you this so that there would be no secrets between us.”

“Right. So if you’ve been in the drawer, then you’ve seen everything. Seen what I was hiding.” He still averted his gaze, refusing to meet Seb in the eye.

“I saw some wonderful things,” the sniper replied. “Beautiful, heartfelt mementos that I never realized you’d kept.”

“Sentimental rubbish is all,” he dismissed.

“I thought it was fantastic, especially the wedding photo.” Seb hesitated for a beat, adding, “I accidentally dropped it and broke the frame.”

That got Moriarty to glance up, and when he did, Moran saw there were tears welling in his dark brown eyes. “You broke it?”

“It’s okay, Jimmy. I replaced the frame,” he assured. “But when it shattered—”

“You found the letter hidden inside.” The consulting criminal was nothing if not astute. He knew where this was headed.

“I did,” Sebastian acknowledged. “I read it, and it was breathtaking. Nobody’s ever written me something like that before. Your words were beautiful beyond measure.”

“I meant all of it.”

“I know, love. I know.”

“You’re also aware of what I’ve been planning…with your brother and the party.”

He nodded. “Yes, and I was gobsmacked by it. Threw me for a total loop.”

“I wanted to give you something special,” the mastermind declared. “After what you’ve given me,” he said, motioning to his belly, “it was the least I could do.”

Suddenly, Seb found himself incredibly affected by his omega’s admission. He leaned in and kissed him on the lips, a move which Jim was eager to accept. When he broke from their embrace, only one question remained. “Ready for your gift?”

“Completely and utterly.”

*********

Sebastian brought Moriarty to the playroom, insisting that the genius shut his eyes until being told to open them. Begrudgingly, he complied.

“You can look now, kitten.”

What Jim saw left him in awe. Everything was decorated just as he’d imagined when planning it out in his mind. From the muted color scheme to the placement of furniture, it was perfect.   

“When did you have time to do this?” he marveled.

“I hired people to work on the room while you were in the hospital. It was a round-the-clock effort to get it done.”

“Thank you, Sebby, really. This is amazing.”

The consulting criminal wheeled his way toward a large structure concealed by a tarp. “What’ve you got here?”

Moran grinned widely. “Glad you asked.” Rather than simply tell Jim what it was, he opted to show him instead. With a swift tug, the covering was removed, revealing the carousel in all its glory.

Moriarty stared in stunned silence, his face a portrait of indescribable wonder. A million questions ran through his head, but the only one that came out was, “How?”

“I tracked down someone who owned a replica of the merry-go-round at Kensington Gardens. Then I made them an offer they couldn’t refuse. It was a fairly straightforward transaction.”

The Irishman gazed at his lover with huge, glimmering eyes. “Can we ride it?” he asked in a hopeful, almost childlike manner.

“Certainly. That is the point, after all.”

Sebastian lifted Jim up and placed him on a carousel bench. “I know the horses are enticing, but I figured that for now, it’d be safer to stick with a bench seat.”

The smaller man nodded in agreement. “You’re right, Tiger. I don’t think it’s wise to try mounting one of those in my current condition.”

Once Moriarty was settled in, the sniper began tinkering with the ride’s control panel. A few buttons were pressed, and suddenly the machine came alive. Lights switched on and cheerful music played as the merry-go-round slowly started to turn.

Sebastian quickly hopped on while the ride’s pace was still building. He nestled beside Jim, putting an arm around him protectively. “This is set on a timer, so it will eventually stop by itself. No need to man it from the sidelines.”

The mastermind radiated with delight. “This is brilliant, Tiger,” he enthused. “I can’t thank you enough. You’ve made my day.”

Hearing that was the best reward Seb could’ve hoped for. He treasured moments like these, taking mental snapshots of them so he’d have something good to think about during dark times.  

“I can’t wait until Essie and Eddie are big enough to ride with us,” the genius excitedly remarked. “I know they’ll adore it as much as I do.”

Jim’s statement got his husband thinking. “Magpie?”

“Yes, dear?”

“What is it you like about the Kensington Gardens carousel? There are a lot of merry-go-rounds out there. Why is this one special to you?”

“Well,” Moriarty said, snuggling as close to Sebastian as possible, “it’s my first memory.”

“No kidding?”

“Yeah. When I was a little boy, my mum travelled to London a lot. Sometimes she’d bring me along and we’d stop at Kensington Gardens. We’d ride the carousel together and then go for ice cream. It was nice.”

“Sounds like it, darling.” The former colonel was always interested to hear anecdotes from his mate’s childhood. Jim rarely discussed the early parts of his life, particularly in regard to his parents.

“Sebby, how about we do that after we’re done here?”

“Get ice cream?”

The Irishman nodded. “I would loooove a hot fudge sundae with all the trimmings.”

“Far be it from me to deny such a vital request.” He turned to kiss the top of Jim’s head and smiled, savoring the bliss that had come back into his life. His home and heart were complete again.

Chapter Text

It’d been approximately two weeks since Jim’s return from the hospital and already he was faring better than expected. Seb wasn’t surprised because he knew how determined his mate could be when he set his mind to something, but the doctors certainly were impressed.   

The consulting criminal hated being confined to a wheelchair, and so he practiced walking around a little bit more each day. He was beginning to split his time half-and-half between crutches and the chair, defying predictions that he wouldn’t regain mobility for at least a month. His goal was to move away from the wheelchair and eventually only use crutches, then downgrade to a cane, and after that, walk with no assistance at all. It was an ambitious recovery plan, but if anyone could do it, it was James Moriarty.

He’d improved in other ways as well. The Irishman had taken up learning breathing techniques to help reduce the incidence of sudden blood pressure spikes. Though meditation and relaxation didn’t come easily to him, he was making a concentrated effort to try his best. He had strong motivation for this— if he could maintain a steady rate, Sebastian would have sex with him again. It was a compelling impetus, to be sure.

Outside developments were happening, too. The couple regularly watched the news and had been following the case against Colin Taylor. Some startling information came to light in the wake of his arrest. It was reported that when the police ran his fingerprints through their system, matches popped up linking him to the scene of various unsolved crimes that’d taken place within the past decade.  Court proceedings were temporarily stalled while the authorities worked to determine just how many charges they could level against him.

Jim and Seb sought to enact their own brand of justice. The duo discussed the possibility of going after him once the twins were born. If Colin was to be taken down, Moriarty would damn well be there for the proceedings. In his current state, however, it wasn’t safe to enter into such a dangerous situation.

But never mind that— the details could be hammered out later. Right now, all the mastermind wanted was a long, luxurious soak in the hot tub with his gorgeous husband.

“Kitten,” the sniper’s voice called, “it’s ready.”

Jim eagerly entered the bathroom, delighted by what he saw. There was a steamy bubble bath drawn, softly dimmed lights, and Sebastian wearing only a towel. It was a true trifecta of wonders.

“You sure you’re allowed to wear the monitor in here?” he asked.

“It should be fine. It’s supposed to be waterproof like my watch.”

“Let’s hope so.” At that, Moran dropped the towel around his waist, leaving him completely bare. “Need me to help you in?”

The genius was immediately rendered speechless, unable to focus on anything besides the godlike nude body standing in front of him. Seb was absolutely stunning.

“Jim? You okay?”

“Uh…yeah. Yeah, I’m good,” he hurriedly muttered. “I can do it myself.”

“All right. I’ll get in first and then you ease onto my lap.”

Moriarty nodded as he started to remove his silken bathrobe. He shrugged the material off his shoulders and then stopped, suddenly overcome by a pang of self-consciousness.

Seb, now situated in the tub, noticed his spouse’s hesitation. “Something the matter?”

“Not really, I just…”

“What?”

Though the Irishman tried to suppress his embarrassment, his cheeks flushed tellingly. “You look amazing,” he coyly admitted. “And I don’t.”  

Moran peered at him quizzically. “What are you talking about?”

“You know what I mean. Don’t patronize me, Sebastian.”

“I’m afraid you’ve flown right over my head. I honestly don’t have a clue what you’re trying to say.”

Jim sighed in frustration and flung his robe all the way off. “Now do you get it?” he demanded.    

“No. The only thing I see is the love of my life standing on a cold marble floor when he ought to be in a hot bath with me. You’re missing out. Come on.”

“Sebby…you truly don’t see what’s wrong? You’re not disgusted by the weight I’ve put on since I got back?”

“Not in the slightest,” he assured his anxious mate. “You were starved during your ordeal and have finally been able to catch up to where you should be.”

“I know, but—”

“No ‘buts’ about it. You’re nearly six months pregnant. If you weren’t gaining, I’d be alarmed. Now get in here.”

“Okay.” The genius complied, positioning himself on Seb’s lap and laying back against the man’s chest. After a few moments, he calmed, his tension dissipating like fog on a mirror.

“God, you smell good,” Moran remarked, catching Jim’s scent as he lingered so tantalizingly close to him.

“Careful, Tiger. Keep it up and I might start to think you’re interested in me.”

“You know I am.”  

“Not lately.”

The assassin frowned. “I just worry about your health. I don’t want to be the reason you suffer some horrible medical setback. Remember what happened at the hospital?” He still blamed himself for Jim’s blood pressure flare up. If he’d exercised a modicum of restraint and not gotten carried away when they were fooling around, the incident never would’ve occurred.

“Take it as a compliment, dear. You suck cock so well, it throws me into a fit. That’s a bloody accolade.”

Sebastian couldn’t help but laugh. His spouse had a unique way of looking at things sometimes. “Yes, perhaps from a certain perspective. But I care about you too much to risk doing harm.”

“My sweet Tiger…forever my protector,” Moriarty mused. “It’s funny to think that years ago, we used to fuck like blood-soaked rabbits— hard, fast, and with a fair bit of grime. Now look at us. We’re downright serene. What happened?”

“We started making love,” he said. “And it was better than anything else that came before.” He took Jim’s hand into his own, lacing their fingers together in a show of intimacy. “Fucking is easy— anyone can do it. But making love requires something more. It’s raw, and honest, and without shame. Definitely not for the faint of heart.”

“Sebby, darling? You never had shame to begin with.”

Moran grinned. “Maybe not, but you get my point.”

“I do,” he replied, lifting their interlocking hands to kiss Seb’s knuckles. “I miss it…miss being with you like that.”

“Me, too.” It wasn’t an exaggeration to say he wanted Jim all the time— he had a passion for him rivaled by no other.

“Tiger,” the consulting criminal whispered, “I’ve been practicing breathing techniques to help regulate my blood pressure. Perhaps we could test out how well they work.”

It was a very tempting offer. Also, a good way to assess Jim’s progress. 

“We’ll stop if your monitor goes off,” Seb announced, making his ground rule loud and clear.

Moriarty smiled giddily. His partner was willing to entertain the physical side of their relationship again. This was wonderful.

But who would make the first move?

Sebastian quickly answered that question as he began showering the Irishman’s neck and shoulder with kisses. He ran his tongue along the smooth stretch of skin, suckling a spot just above the collarbone.

“Mmm.” Jim carefully guided Seb’s hand below the water’s sudsy surface and onto the hardness that pulsed between his legs. He let out a faint moan as his alpha’s fingers wrapped around him, thrusting upward in search of friction.    

“I need more,” the omega hungrily proclaimed.

“So do I.”

The sniper changed position, shifting so that Jim was pinned beneath him. He swooped down and seized the smaller man’s mouth, their tongues meeting in a fevered rush.

Ever eager, Moriarty ran a hand across the broad expanse of his husband’s chest. He captured one of Seb’s nipples, rolling the sensitive bud between his forefinger and thumb. Sebastian grunted at the touch and bucked his hips, grinding their erections together as he devoured Jim’s mouth.

With a reluctant whimper, the mastermind broke their kiss so that he could steady his breathing. He inhaled and exhaled at controlled intervals, ensuring his blood pressure would not crest too high.

“What do you think, Tiger? No beeps.”

Moran eyed him rapturously, his formidable arousal straining against Jim. “We need to take this to the bedroom now.

The blonde didn’t wait for a response— instead, he simply lifted Moriarty into his arms and stepped out of the tub. Dripping wet, he stole another heated kiss from his dearest Magpie before speaking again. “I have a promise to keep.”

“Damn right, you do. I’m owed a ravishing.”

Jim would soon collect on that vow. Collect all night long. 

Chapter Text

Jim was nesting and Seb was slowly being driven mad. Whenever the mastermind wasn’t on a conference call for work, he was rearranging and reorganizing things around the house. Suddenly, items that had always been kept in a specific spot were nowhere to be found. The other day, Sebastian spent ten minutes searching for hand towels. When he finally located them, they were situated where the blankets used to be.

There was no consistency to the placement, either. Just when he thought he knew where something was, it would be moved around again later. He had to remind himself that Jim wasn’t trying to gaslight him— biological instinct was the driving force behind his actions. Even still, it was damn frustrating.

“Breakfast is ready,” Seb announced. The sniper had prepared blueberry pancakes and scrambled eggs.

Moriarty crutched his way out of the bedroom. He was ambling slowly, struggling with his movements. By the time he reached the table, he was noticeably winded.

Sebastian pulled out a chair and guided him into the seat. “Darling, I know you want to be mobile, but those crutches seem to be doing more harm than good. Maybe you ought to reconsider what Dr. Swenson suggested.”

At Jim’s most recent appointment with the obstetrician, she’d seen how much difficulty the crutches were giving him. The weight of his belly was throwing off his center of gravity, making movement more laborious. She recommended he switch to a walker instead, because it would provide greater stability.

“Seb, I refuse to shuffle around like someone’s grandad. I’m thirty-eight, not eighty-eight.”

“I know, kitten. I just hate seeing you struggle. A walker would make things easier.”

“No,” he sharply replied. “And that’s final.”

Moran sighed. “All right, fine.” The assassin had learned a long time ago that it was pointless to argue with Jim once he’d made up his mind. The man was a paradox in that sense— he could be wildly changeable in some regards, yet stubborn as a mule about other things.

The consulting criminal ogled the food on the table. “This looks delicious, Tiger. Any chance you might be able to slip me a bit of sausage on the side?” Moriarty didn’t realize how dirty his statement sounded until the words had already left his mouth.

Sebastian smirked. “If you’re a good boy, I’m sure something could be arranged.”

“I suppose I walked into that one,” Jim admitted with a laugh.

“Yep, you did,” the dashing blonde agreed as he dished out their morning meal. He loaded his Magpie’s plate with a generous portion of eggs, wanting to make sure the expectant omega got enough protein in his diet.

Midway through breakfast, Seb posited a question. “What are your plans for today?”

“I thought I might organize a few things around here,” he answered, causing the sniper to internally cringe.

“What if I made you a better offer?”

“How do you mean?”

“Well, it just so happens that I’ve blocked some time out for us to go shopping.”

“Oh reeeealllly?” His interest was piqued.  

The former colonel smiled. “Yes, really. I know how you love to shop, but haven’t been able to do it in person lately. I think you deserve a hands-on spree.”

For a moment, the genius’s dark eyes sparkled with excitement. Quickly, though, the magic faded. “Sebby…I’d like to go, but I’d never be able to get around properly. Even if I used the wheelchair and had you assist me, it wouldn’t work because of the crowds. There wouldn’t be enough room to move freely.”

“Who said anything about crowds?”

Jim stared at him incredulously. “London has a huge population, dear. The shopping districts are always swarming with people. I shouldn’t have to explain that— you’ve lived here for ages.”

“The store I had in mind won’t be busy at all,” Moran assured.

“Wishful thinking. Every store in this city is perpetually swamped.”

“Not when you rent the shop out for private use.”

The Irishman raised an eyebrow in surprise. “Ooh, has Tiger been up to some tricks?”

Sebastian grinned broadly. “Tricks? Nah, just a gesture of my affection.”

“Tell me more,” he encouraged. Vigor had returned to his voice.

“Okay. After placing a few phone calls and paying a considerable fee, I was able to secure three hours of uninterrupted time at Mon Petit Amour. The manager will temporarily close the boutique to the public so that we can navigate the premises without issue.”

Jim’s expression grew gleeful. “Mon Petit Amour? Really, Seb? You’re not putting me on? Because if this is a joke, I promise I’ll punch your lights out. Not even kidding. I’ll see to it that you’re well concussed.”

The sniper chuckled. He enjoyed making his husband happy, and right now, threats aside, the mastermind was definitely pleased. Moran knew he would be. Mon Petit Amour was one of the most exclusive baby-related shops in England. It sold designer clothing, toys, and accessories. To say the place was posh would be an understatement. Even members of the royal family had been spotted there.

“It’s no joke, I swear,” Seb affirmed.

“What time are we scheduled for?”

“Noon—3 p.m.”

“We’ve got some time to kill, then.”

“Yes, there’s no hurry.”

A devilish smile crept across Jim’s face. “Fancy a bath after breakfast? The new loofah I ordered came in yesterday.”

“Sounds wonderful, kitten.”

*********

Mon Petit Amour was a godsend according to James Moriarty. He wanted absolutely everything he saw. Each item seemed better, and more expensive, than the last. It was heaven.

“Seb, this place is awesome. Thank you again for bringing me here.”

“You’re welcome, Jimmy,” the alpha said while pushing his wheelchair-bound mate through the formalwear department.

Moriarty gasped. “Tiger, look!”

And Sebastian did, stopping to view the display that had so rapidly caught Jim’s attention. Immediately, he understood why. It was an assortment of miniature, infant-sized suits.

“Sebby, these are adoooorable! Imagine how dapper Eddie would look in a suit. He’d be the handsomest baby in London.”

The assassin stifled a laugh. Their children weren’t even born yet, and Jim was already envisioning them as tiny fashion plates. He had to admit, though, it was a precious mental image.

“I want one of each,” the consulting criminal declared. “Add them to the list.”

“Yes, sir.” In addition to escorting his spouse throughout the store, Moran was tasked with keeping an inventory of everything Moriarty wished to purchase. Once they finished making the rounds, he’d present the list to the clerk who would have the items packaged up and delivered to their home.

“Let’s see what kind of accessories they’ve got,” the Irishman spoke. “Suspenders and woolen caps would be so whimsical, don’t you think?”

“If it makes you happy, Magpie, then I think it’s great.”

“Happy? It positively thrills me,” he proclaimed. “Now come on. Get the lead out.”

“Aye aye, love.” Like a good soldier, Sebastian did as he was told.

*********

Three hours and several thousand dollars later, Jim and Seb decided to take a rest. The couple sat at the food court of a shopping plaza, relaxing as they shared an extra-large lemonade.

“I’m bloody exhausted,” the omega complained.

“Me, too. I could go for a long nap right about now.”

“I hate to admit it, but I think the doctors may have been right to put me on bedrest restriction. I’m too old and pregnant for these kinds of excursions.”

“Hey, I’m the one who’s turning forty soon,” the former colonel reminded. “If you’re old, what does that make me?”

Jim smiled cheekily. “Methuselah, my sweet. How does it feel to have actually been present during the writing of The Bible?”

“Ha-ha, very funny. I’m not ready for the retirement home just yet.”

“I should hope not,” the genius replied. “There’s plenty more I intend to do with you before you’re put out to pasture.” He paused for a moment, considering something. “Seb, while we’re on the subject, your birthday is coming up shortly. We should discuss the particulars.”

“Okay. If you’ve got any questions, ask away.”

“All right. How about music? The DJ will play whatever we tell him to.”

“That’s a no-brainer— 70s and 80s rock. Preferably songs I can dance to.”

“Planning to cut a rug, are we?”

“Of course. It wouldn’t be a party without some patented Moran dance moves.”

The consulting criminal sighed wistfully. He knew those moves well. A shame he wouldn’t be able to participate. “Guess I’ll have to admire you from afar. My dancing days are on hiatus until further notice.”

Jim can’t dance on account of his restrictions. It should’ve been obvious from the outset, but somehow that salient point hadn’t occurred to Sebastian until now.

“Perhaps after the festivities, I could give you a private performance,” the blonde proposed.    

“Mmm,” Moriarty hummed. “It’s been a while since you’ve put on a show.”

“Too long.” Seb eyed his husband enticingly. “I seem to recall literally charming the pants off you with a few of my moves.”

“What can I say, Tiger? I’m a sucker for a good striptease.”    

“Oh, I’m well aware.”

Jim took a deep breath. “We’d best get this conversation back on topic or else we’ll never get the details sorted,” he said.

“Okay, what more is there?”

“The food. Appetizers will include crudité, bruschetta, and spinach-stuffed mushrooms. The main dishes will be Beef Wellington and broiled lobster, served with garlic roasted potatoes and braised carrots. As for dessert, I’m going to prepare a multi-tiered chocolate layer cake,” the Irishman stated. “Is there anything you’d like added to the menu?”

Seb pondered the possibilities. “Would you be terribly offended if I requested cocktail weenies? I know you’re not supposed to eat processed meats on your special diet.”

“Being a processed meat isn’t the problem. I’d be offended because cocktail weenies are among the most lowbrow edibles in existence,” he snidely remarked. “But if it’s what you want, so be it. Anything else?”

“I like macaroni salad,” he noted. “And pork rinds.”

“Sebastian, sweetie, I love you…but dear lord, do your tastes scream ‘poor white trash.’ I’d have thought that after all these years with me, my palate might’ve rubbed off on you, but I guess not.”

He shrugged. “A leopard can’t change its spots.”

“Or a tiger his stripes,” Jim said with a grin.

The sniper smiled back warmly. “That, too.”

Moriarty stopped to take a sip of lemonade before speaking again. “Hey, Sebby?”

“Yes?”

“All this talk of food has made the babies hungry.”

“Has it now?”

“Indeed. I think we ought to finish up this discussion over a late lunch/early dinner.”

“I’m game for that. What’d you have in mind?”

“Me? I have no opinion on it whatsoever, buuuut,” he drawled, “the babies would adore a slab of ribs.”

Seb chuckled. “And you say my tastes are unrefined? I doubt you’ll see ribs served at a high-society event anytime soon.”

“Tiger, darling? I’m tired, hungry, and hormonal. Kindly shut that luscious mouth of yours and take me to a barbecue restaurant.”

The blonde nodded, knowing it was best not to push his luck in a situation like this. “There’s a rib joint a few blocks from here that I’ve heard good things about.”

“Then let’s not dally. Essie and Eddie are getting impatient.”

Essie and Eddie, yeah right. Moran wanted to roll his eyes, but he dared not risk antagonizing his ornery omega.

“Understood, my love.” Oh, the things he put up with. Really, though, it was all worth it. Since Jim’s ordeal, he treasured every moment they spent together, as if each second was a rare and precious gift.

Chapter Text

Sebastian had been granted a reprieve. Instead of neurotically reorganizing household items, his nesting omega was now preoccupied by nonstop baking. In preparation for crafting the sniper’s birthday cake, Jim began experimenting with various recipes as a skill-building exercise. Though already a talented baker, he sought to achieve mastery of the art.

“Everyone at headquarters loved the key lime cupcakes, hon.”

“As well they should. It was an outstanding batch.”

DING-DONG. The doorbell chimed.

“I’ll get it,” Seb volunteered. He expected it to be the delivery of some new baby-related product Jim had ordered. To his surprise, a young man in a business suit stood before him.

“Excuse me, sir. I’m looking for Sebastian Moran.”

“That’s me,” he replied. “What’s this about?”

“Under the authority of the Crown Prosecution Service, I’ve been sent to present you with formal documentation regarding the case against Colin Taylor. You’ll need to sign for the letter.”

The assassin was dumbfounded. “What exactly does this documentation entail?”

“I really don’t know, sir. I’m interning with CPS. They don’t tell me the specifics.”

“Right,” Seb muttered as he signed for the mail.

“Good day, sir.”

Envelope in hand, Moran shut the door and sat down at the kitchen table where Jim was whisking meringue.

“I was just served an official letter pertaining to Colin’s legal proceedings.” The statement felt strange as it left his mouth— he couldn’t understand why he was being contacted. The police were unaware of Moriarty’s kidnapping. Why, then, would a judicial office be reaching out to him?

“Don’t just sit there,” the consulting criminal urged. “Open it.”

Sebastian did, and what he read shocked the hell out of him.

“According to this, Colin has been refusing to cooperate with authorities. He’s not spoken a word to anyone, and was recently remanded to a psychiatric facility for evaluation.”

“They’ve certainly managed to keep that aspect hidden from the press,” Jim remarked. “But what’s that got to do with you?”

“Well, apparently he broke his silence to request a private meeting with me. He claims he’ll confess to his crimes if an unsupervised visit is arranged. Of course, they can’t force me to agree to it, but they’re formally suggesting that I do.”

The mastermind contemplated this new information. “Interesting proposal. What do you want to do?”    

Seb shook his head. “Honestly, I don’t know. I didn’t think I’d see him again in person until we went after him,” he admitted. “I can’t imagine why he’d wish to meet with me at this point.”

“Could be unfinished business,” Moriarty mused.

“Yeah.” Unfinished business. The notion struck a chord with the sniper. “There are a few things I’d like to ask him myself, actually.”

“So do it. Go in there and call his bluff. Make him tell you everything you want to know.”

It was tempting. But a part of him was hesitant. He remembered all too well the last time one of them had agreed to a meeting under dubious circumstances.

“Magpie, this situation…it vaguely reminds me of when you met with Eurus Holmes. Look what happened with her. Mind games were all that bitch was good for.”

“That was a unique case,” the genius noted. “I didn’t know who or what I’d be dealing with on arrival. You, however, have been fully apprised of what you’ll be walking into. You’ve dealt with this man before and have the benefit of familiarity on your side.” 

The former colonel paused as he considered his spouse’s advice. Perhaps Jim was correct and he did have the upper hand. He could go in there with his head held high, confident that Colin had no power over him. He’d not allow himself to be manipulated by the madman.

“Thank you, Jimmy.”

“For what?” he asked, hobbling towards the refrigerator to take out a chilled pie crust.

“For your good sense and wisdom. I appreciate it.”

“It’s no trouble, darling. Does this mean you’re going to pay Colin a visit soon?”

“Yes. If he’s seeking a meeting, he’ll get one,” Moran declared. “And he’ll damn well be held accountable for what he’s done— be made to answer my questions.”

“I envy you, Tiger. I’d love to confront that bastard. Fillet him alive. Turn him into an exquisite pair of shoes.” A devilish gleam flickered in Moriarty’s dark eyes. It was pure bloodlust.

Sebastian stood and approached his beguiling mate. “Did I ever tell you how incredibly sexy it is when you get that look?” His voice dropped a little, thickening with desire.

“Why yes, actually, you have. But I never get tired of hearing it.”

The assassin closed in on Jim, pinning him against the counter. “You’re irresistible, kitten.”

“Even with my body the way it is now?” he coyly inquired. Despite Moran’s constant reassurance, the mastermind was still self-conscious about his changing shape.  

“Always.” Seb loomed over him, leaning down to nuzzle his neck. He breathed in the omega’s honeyed scent and came alive at the promise of its bounty. 

Moriarty ghosted a hand down the larger man’s muscular frame, stopping when he reached the noticeable bulge in his jeans. “Oh my. Is that a British Army Browning L9A1 in your pocket, or are you just pleased to see me?”

The fair-haired alpha grunted at Jim’s suggestive remark. “You’re mine,” he huskily intoned. “Mine forever.”

“Yours, Tiger, yes. We belong to each other.”

Seb kissed him on the lips, moaning softly as he felt his Magpie’s tongue enter his mouth. It was warm, wet, and wholly electric. God, Jim was good at this.

Calloused hands grappled with clothing as the sniper tugged away his lover’s t-shirt and pants. He wanted to ravish him right there in the kitchen, but quickly realized the location might not be ideal for someone in Jim’s condition. Soft, cushioned surfaces would be kinder on his back.  

He scooped the genius into his arms with the intention of heading to their bedroom.

“Wait,” Moriarty bleated. “My pie—”

“Leave it.”

And so the letter and the baking were temporarily forgotten as the couple’s passion ignited anew. As far as they were concerned, nothing else mattered in that moment except for the two of them. The rest of the world could wait. 

*********

The next day, Sebastian got in touch with the Crown Prosecution Service. Officers at the department were glad he’d responded to their communiqué so quickly. It made them even happier to hear that he was willing to oblige Colin Taylor’s request.

At CPS headquarters, the sniper was first made to sign a confidentiality agreement assuring his silence. Following that, he was brought up to speed on the situation. It seemed the prosecution was in a quandary. The DNA samples linking Taylor to various cold cases was being called into question due to slipshod recordkeeping and evidence collection. They were concerned that when the case went to trial, the defense could easily have the samples— and their corresponding charges— dismissed. In short, they needed a confession in order to secure an indictment for anything beyond Lisa Abernathy’s murder.       

Colin was stonewalling the authorities at every opportunity. He’d elected to go mute, offering absolutely nothing during interrogation. He had even gone so far as to reject making a written statement. Things took an unexpected turn, however, during his psychiatric assessment. The madman briefly spoke, proposing a deal in which he’d admit to his culpability in those other cases if he was granted a private meeting with Sebastian Moran. Ordinarily, CPS shied away from bargaining with criminals, but in this instance, they were desperate.  

An arrangement was made, though it did not sit well with many. Concern arose from the fact that Colin would only consent to a confession after the meeting took place. This meant he could, theoretically, renege on the agreement. But those were his terms, and he would continue the pattern of self-imposed silence if they were not met. The authorities begrudgingly decided that it was worth the risk.   

There were a handful of stipulations the stalker was willing to accept: (1.) he would be handcuffed for the duration of the meeting, (2.) a guard would be posted outside the room at all times, and (3.) their conversation was to exceed no longer than thirty minutes total.    

The assassin wondered if he was crazy for going along with this plan. It was almost surreal to think that he, the second most dangerous man in London, was suddenly working with the legal system rather than against it. Life certainly could be surprising sometimes.  

*********

When Sebastian returned home, he explained everything to Jim, non-disclosure agreement be damned. He swore he’d keep nothing from his spouse and he meant it. Furthermore, he was hoping Moriarty would offer up an opinion on the matter.

“So what do you think?”

“It’s a risky proposition, Tiger. But then again, when has that ever stopped either of us?” he lightly teased.

“I just worry that when I see Colin, I’ll want to beat the hell out of him,” Seb confided. “There’s a lot riding on this. I can’t afford to lose my cool.”

“I understand. Believe me, I do.” He paused, considering something. “Have you thought about writing down what you want to say? It might help you stay focused.”

“That’s a good idea. I should make notecards of the questions I intend to ask. If I feel like I’m faltering in any way, I can refer back to them.”

“I tell you what, hon. You put together the cards and I’ll review them with you, point-by-point. It never hurts to do a run-through.”  

The former colonel nodded. “Thanks, Jimmy. Your support means a lot to me.”

“Well, I know I haven’t always been an ideal mate. But I’d like to change that…be there for you more,” he said. “I want our children to have what we didn’t— a stable homelife with parents who are attentive to one another.”

“I want that for them, too. They’ll be brought up in a house full of love.”

Jim smiled at the notion. “Safe and happy…all of us,” he fantasized aloud.

Moran truly hoped so, but in their line of work, was it possible? Only time would tell.   

Chapter Text

The meetup between Colin Taylor and Sebastian Moran was about to commence. Experts for the prosecution brought the assassin to Bethlem Psychiatric Hospital, a facility colloquially known as “Bedlam.” The stories he’d heard about the place spooked him more than he cared to admit, and he would be glad to leave the premises as soon as possible.

Moran received a pat down from security before being ushered into a conference room where Colin sat cuffed to a chair. On sight, Seb immediately noticed that the man had been cleaned up since they last met. Back at the cottage, he was little more than a drunken, unkempt mess. Now he actually resembled an older version of the comrade Moran remembered.

When the guard shut the door, Sebastian took a seat opposite Taylor. Only a small table separated them.  

“You wanted to see me,” the sniper said, staring straight at him.

“I did,” he acknowledged.

“Why?” That was the million dollar question.

“Because there are some things I think you ought to know.”

“Such as?”

The kidnapper tilted his head and smirked. “Ready for storytime?” 

Seb nodded, wanting to get this over with.

“It’s a tale about a man and a woman. We’ll call them ‘George’ and ‘Betty.’ They were a married couple, and George tried to give his wife the world. Somehow, though, it was never enough.”

The sniper slumped in his chair. He had a pretty good idea of where this was headed. It would not have a happy ending.

“Betty used to get depressed for days, sometimes weeks, at a time. It was like a fog would settle over her, suffocating and siphoning the joy from her life. George did his best to pull her out of those dark moods. He’d do anything to make her smile. So one afternoon, he decided to come home early and surprise his beautiful bride of three years. He stopped off to pick up a bouquet of lilacs, because those were her favorite. He also booked reservations at a restaurant she liked, thinking that a night on the town might cheer her up. Sadly, he was mistaken.”

“Colin, you don’t have to finish this story.”

“No, Moran, I do. You need to hear it.”

Seb sighed. Maybe this is cathartic for him. Or maybe it’s just another twisted game. Who could tell, and did it matter? He was going to keep narrating either way.

“As I was saying,” the stalker continued, “George was mistaken. When he set foot inside the house they shared together, he had no idea what was waiting for him. He should’ve realized something was wrong because it was too quiet. Betty used to leave the radio on all the time, but that day, it was shut off,” he explained. “I digress. His wife wasn’t there to greet him, and she didn’t respond when he called her name. He thought maybe she was taking a nap, so he checked their bedroom. Well, he was getting close, but still no cigar.”

“It was then that George noticed a light on in the master bathroom, and the door was cracked. He figured she must be in there, so naturally, he stepped inside.” Colin paused, taking a deep breath before proceeding. “The first thing that hit him was the blood. It was everywhere. Red staining the tiles and filling the air with an acrid copper stench. He wanted to vomit, but forced himself to forge ahead. He made his way to the tub, and that’s when he saw her. His sweet, wonderful Betty was lifeless— her wrists slit open and the bathwater tinted like a valentine.”

An uneasy silence settled upon Colin and Sebastian, neither uttering a word after the heaviness of Taylor’s story.

Finally, the sniper spoke. “Colin, I’m sorry for what happened to your wife. From the bottom of my heart, I am. No one should have to go through what you did.” He hesitated for a beat. “But that doesn’t make what you did to Jim and I okay. It doesn’t excuse the fact that you stalked us. Threatened us, and our children. Killed our guard and our decorator. Kidnapped Jim. He nearly died. None of that was justified.”

“The hell it wasn’t!” the criminal spat. “I didn’t go far enough. I should’ve made sure that ponce bastard of yours was dead.”

Sebastian let out a low growl. He was trying to remain calm, but had difficulty doing so when the topic turned to Jim. His alpha instincts were on high alert.

Questions. You have questions to ask this arsehole. Focus on that.  

The former colonel pulled a set of notecards from his pocket. “There are a few things I’d like to know. Since I went to the trouble of agreeing to this meeting, the least you could do is answer them.”

Colin snorted. “This ought to be good for a laugh.”

Ignoring the remark, Seb began his informal interrogation. “Why did you wait so long to come after me? Why seek revenge now?”

“Because this is the year of your third anniversary,” he replied. “Margo died three years into our marriage. I thought it would be poetic justice.”

“That’s fucking vindictive.”

The lunatic shrugged. “You asked.”              

Touché. If this Q&A session was going to work, he’d need to steel himself for whatever spiteful declarations Colin might make.  

On to the next question. “The day you abducted Jim, how did you know where he’d be? Did you put a tracker on his car?”

“Actually,” he said with a smug grin, “that was a happy accident. I was at a shop across the street from the convenience store when I spotted his vehicle in the parking lot.”

“So it was just dumb luck, then.”

“I like to think of it as a reward from the universe. Divine guidance, if you will.”

“Yeah, right. There’s nothing divine about the shit you pulled.”

Colin eyed Seb disdainfully. “How’s the air up in that ivory tower you live in? Gets thin at such a high and mighty altitude, I bet.”   

“Listen, you fucking twat— I’m looking for answers, not snide comments.”

The madman stuck his bottom lip out, mocking a pout. “Aww, poor little soldier’s feelings are hurt. You used to be so much better than that, Moran. Tougher,” he taunted. “I guess that’s what happens when you start fucking other guys. You turn into a gutless nancy.”   

Sebastian snarled in anger. If he had to spend another minute in the same room as this insufferable son of a bitch, he would explode.

“Look, I had various things written down that I wanted to ask you. But frankly, I don’t believe this conversation is doing either of us any good. So,” he stressed, shoving the notecards back in his pocket, “I’m going to pose a final question. Fuck the rest— I just need you to answer this one.”

“I’m all ears, Colonel.”

“I want to know how you could bring yourself to treat Jim as badly as you did. You and I are alphas, for Christ’s sake. It’s hardwired into us to protect an expectant omega, even if they’re not our mate. But you…you kept him chained up in a cellar, starved and deprived of medication.” The assassin’s voice grew angrier with every word. Thinking about his husband’s ordeal filled him with unbridled rage. “How did you override biological instinct like that?”

“I didn’t override anything.”

“Of course you did. The hell you put him through—”

“Was only the tip of the iceberg,” he asserted. “I planned to do so much worse to him, but those fucking instincts wouldn’t quit.”

Suddenly, Sebastian was truly horrified. What else had Colin intended for Jim? He didn’t want to think about it, but his mind wouldn’t stop reeling.

The kidnapper flashed a sinister smile. “I bet you’re wondering what I was going to do to him.”

“Shut up,” Seb said through gritted teeth.  

“Nah, don’t believe I will. I’m feeling rather chatty at the moment.”

“If you know what’s good for you, you’ll stop right there,” the sniper warned.

“You’re mad that I starved him,” Colin spoke, undeterred. “But you should be grateful. I was originally going to give him food laced with an abortifacient.”

Moran paled at the admission, fury coursing through him in a blinding rush. He planned to kill our children. Planned to put Jim through the agony of losing them. This was beyond unforgivable. It was straight-up fucking evil.

“Imagine it, Seb. Imagine him feeling the lives inside him slowly drain away. Knowing they were dying and being helpless to stop it. It’d be devastating.”

He could picture it…he could picture it all too well. And that’s when he snapped.

The assassin hastily stood up, overturning the table between them.

“Temper, temper,” Colin jeered. But he would not remain heckling for long.

The man’s taunts turned to screams as Sebastian’s fists made contact with his face. Punch after punch rained down and the blonde could not bid himself to stop. He heard the sounds of bones cracking and cartilage popping, but still refused to yield. It was as if he’d gone into autopilot, acting entirely on impulse.

Suddenly, the security guard posted outside the door barged in. “What the hell is going on?” he roared.

Seb was disoriented, adrenaline pumping at a furious rate. He glanced down and saw his hands covered in blood. Then he looked at Colin.

“Oh God.” The man was hideously mangled. Both eyes were swollen, his nose was crooked and bleeding, his lip was split wide open, and his jaw jutted out at an unnatural angle. It was a nightmarish Picasso abstraction in the flesh.

Overwhelmed by the reality of what he’d done, Moran tore from the room at a breakneck pace. He fled the hospital entirely, running several blocks before finally darting into an alley. Using his shirt as a rag, he wiped off his blood-soaked hands and then pulled out his phone.

SM

Did something bad, Jimmy. Don’t know if it’s safe to come home. They might look for me at the house.

JM

What’s happened? And where are you?

SM

Beat the shit out of Colin. Hiding in a backstreet between 5th and Chisolm.

JM

I’ll send a car to pick you up.

SM

Okay. Love you, Magpie.

JM

Love you, too.

 

Now all Sebastian could do was wait.

Chapter Text

For two days, Sebastian made himself scarce at a loft Jim owned on the far side of the city. After the beating he’d administered to Colin during their meeting, he wasn’t sure how the authorities would react. Now his Magpie had texted him saying it was safe to return home.

He must know something about what’s going on. It was possible— the man did have a contact on the police force.

Seb would find out soon.

 

When the sniper entered his residence, he was surprised by what he didn’t see. For the first time in quite a while, Jim wasn’t baking. In fact, he was nowhere near the vicinity of the kitchen. His voice, however, could be heard in hushed tones.

Seb followed the sound and it led him to the mastermind’s office. He gently rapped on the door and was waved inside. Moriarty finished up the phone call he was on just as the blonde took a seat.

“What’s the scoop?” Moran asked.

“You needn’t worry about police showing up anytime soon.”

“Thank god,” he breathed in relief. “Details, please.”

“An informant told me that the Metro PD is livid over the incident between you and Colin, but,” he stressed, “they’re not going to charge you with any wrongdoing because then they’d have to admit that they brought a known associate of yours truly— James Moriarty— in to assist on the case.”

Seb smirked. “I suppose that might make for bad PR.”

“Even worse, the authorities would also have to explain the circumstance under which they sought your help. In other words, they’d be forced to acknowledge the problems with their evidence backlog. That, of course, would open a whole other can of worms they’re not prepared to address.”

“Damned by their own deeds. Got to love the irony.”

“Oh, I do,” the Irishman agreed. “I’m afraid it’s not all good news, though.”

“What else has happened?”

“Colin called off the deal and has accepted the counsel of a defense attorney. It hasn’t been made public yet, but they’re planning to sue for police brutality.”

“Fuck.”

“Indeed. This case is turning into a fine mess before it’s even gone to trial.”

Sebastian suddenly felt a mountain of guilt closing in on him. His thoughts raced into overdrive. I caused this to snowball. Fucked up the chance to put Colin away forever He’ll use his injuries to gain the jury’s sympathy. Convince them he was framed, and they’ll fall for it hook, line, and sinker.

“Tiger, you stop that right now.”

“Huh?”

“I recognize the look on your face. You’re blaming yourself for what’s going on, and that’s completely unacceptable. Cut it the fuck out.”

“You know me well, love.”

“Yes, I do. And I’ll not permit you a moment of self-flagellation.”

The assassin sighed. “I just can’t believe how I flew off the handle. The things that came out of Colin’s mouth were so vile…so reprehensible. He pushed my buttons and I couldn’t pull myself back from the edge. I wanted to kill the son of a bitch.”

“I understand. I’d like to see him dead, too. Preferably with his body disassembled into several parts.”

“That could be arranged.”

“All in good time, darling. We’ve got to wait for our buns to finish baking first.”

“Buns?” It took the alpha a second to realize what his mate meant. “Oh…the babies. Duh.”

He grinned. “Silly Seb. Get over here.”

Moran slid his chair close to Moriarty. “Better?”

“Much.” He grasped Sebastian’s hand and placed it on his stomach. “Feel that? They’ve been kicking up a storm today.”

“Wow, you aren’t kidding.” There was definitely an increase of movement going on. “Does it hurt?”

“Not especially, but it can be uncomfortable when one of them hits my bladder.”

“I bet.” The sniper could hardly imagine what this pregnancy experience must be like for Jim. All he kept picturing were the creatures from “Alien” and how they would violently burst out of a person’s body. He didn’t think his spouse would appreciate that particular comparison, though.

“They’re happy to have you home,” the genius declared. “Their activity level spiked when I told them you were coming back.”

Seb’s eyes glimmered joyfully at the notion. “Really? You’re not pulling my leg?”

“It’s true, Tiger, I swear. They love you as much as I do. It was sad for them not to hear your voice these past two days.”

“Is that a fact? Well, I guess I owe them an apology.” He leaned down so he could speak directly to Jim’s belly. “Essie, Eddie,” the fair-haired man began, “I’m very sorry I wasn’t able to be here. Rest assured, it won’t happen again. Your Papa isn’t going anywhere.” He concluded his promise by pressing two gentle kisses to his omega’s abdomen— one for each twin.

When Sebastian sat upright, he noticed Moriarty’s eyes were welling with moisture. “Are you okay, kitten?”

The mastermind wiped away a tear before it could fall. “Yes, I’m fine,” he answered, sounding slightly embarrassed. “Everything seems to tug at my heartstrings lately. At this rate, I’m liable to start blubbering the next time I pass the greeting card department at Harrods. It’s bloody pathetic.”

“Never,” Moran said. “Nothing about you could ever be classified as ‘pathetic.’ The most dangerous man in London is a force to be reckoned with. I know it, and so does all of Great Britain.”

Jim smiled. “You’re always so good to me, Seb. Even when I probably don’t deserve it.”

“I don’t know how to treat you any other way. You’re my family. My heart and soul.”

At that, the consulting criminal wrapped his arms around his husband in a fierce hug. His emotions were running so high these days, it was overwhelming. Thank god he had Sebastian as his rock; his guiding light through life’s storm. With him by his side, he could be invincible.

*********

BEEP. BEEP. BEEP.

“This is ridiculous! I won’t stand for it!” 

BEEP. BEEP. BEEP.

Sebastian was unceremoniously awoken from a nap by the blare of his husband’s blood pressure monitor, followed by yelling. What the hell?

He rushed to Jim’s office, where he found the man barking into his phone.

“No, I will not calm down! So help me god, if I have to cancel my plans, I will skiiiiiin you! That’s not a threat— it’s a guarantee!” he snarled, hanging up on the call.

Uh-oh. This can’t be good.

The ornery omega noticed Seb standing outside the door. He hobbled over to him, his monitor still beeping. “Tiger, why does the world show me nothing but opposition?”

“I don’t know, kitten. How about we sit down while you focus on your breathing exercises?”

Moriarty nodded as the sniper led him down the hall and into the living room. “Inhale and exhale, sweetheart. You’re doing great.”

Finally, the alarm stopped.

Whew. “Care to tell me what’s got you so upset?”

The Irishman stared at him sadly. “It’s the party. I went to such trouble planning it, and now it’s all falling apart.”

“How so?”

“Well, the weather’s been cooler than I’d like recently— not conducive to an outdoor event on a yacht. So I thought I’d change the location to someplace warmer. Specifically, Saint-Tropez,” he explained. “It wouldn’t be too difficult to have the festivities transferred over. I’d just get a different boat and fly everyone out there— DJ and caterer included.”

Wow. The former colonel was amazed that his mate was willing to go to such lengths to make his birthday celebration possible.

“What’s the problem, then?”

“The problem,” he said, groaning in frustration, “is that my doctors are refusing to clear me for being fit to fly.”

“Really?” Moran was surprised by the news. He had no idea air travel could be prohibited by pregnancy.

“Yes, unfortunately. I’m not so far along that I would ordinarily be barred from flying, but due to my medical issues, they deem it ‘too risky.’”

“Magpie, I’m sorry.”

“They’re the ones who’ll be sorry, trust me. I require Dr. Swenson’s services because she’s an excellent obstetrician, but the others,” he declared, “are disposable. I’ll obtain their home addresses and have them killed.”

Bloody hell. Seb knew he needed to talk his husband down from this madness before it got out of hand.   

“Jimmy, nobody has to die here. We can still make it to Saint-Tropez without boarding a plane. We’ll take the Eurostar to Calais and then rent a vehicle. I’ll drive us the rest of the way.”

The mastermind peered at him, considering the offer. “It’s a fifteen-hour trip by car. Are you sure you want to commit to that?”

“Absolutely. It’s been ages since we’ve gone on an adventure together. I think it might be fun.”

“Hmm. You’re right, it has been a while,” he mused. “And with the babies coming in a few months, who knows when we’ll be able to do something like this again.”

“Exactly.”

“Okay, it’s settled. We’re taking a road trip.” Jim sounded strangely excited at the prospect. “I’ll start making a list of what to pack.”

“That’s a great idea, hon.”

Sebastian was glad to have averted an unnecessary bloodbath, but a part of him wondered what he’d just wrangled himself into. This would be quite an escapade, indeed.  

Chapter Text

“Be gentle with that bag,” Jim urged as his mate loaded luggage into the trunk of their rental Ferrari. “Our tuxes are in there. I will not permit them to be wrinkled.”

Tuxes, ugh. Don’t remind me.

Shortly before their road trip was set to commence, the mastermind decided that after the party in Saint-Tropez, they’d spend an additional few days in Monte Carlo. It made sense— the cities weren’t really that far from each other, and they might as well make the most of their mini-vacation. But it also meant they’d be expected to dress up, as was the norm in many Monaco establishments. This was no problem for Jim, who was a bastion of good taste and fashion sense. But for the sniper, formalwear was little more than a chore.

“Why the grumpy face, Tiger? You look sexy as hell in a designer suit.”

“Doesn’t mean I like to wear them.”

The consulting criminal flashed a devilish grin. “Don’t worry, darling, you won’t be keeping it on for long.”

Seb’s expression softened. “Oh really?”

“Reeeeealllly.” 

Moran smiled back and closed the boot of the car. “Ready to roll, kitten?”

“With you? Always.”

*********

“Sebbbbby, come on.”

“Jim, we just stopped an hour ago. And an hour before that. And yet another hour even prior to that. You can’t possibly have to go again.” This was getting ridiculous— the Irishman had forced him to pull over three times in four hours to use rest stop bathrooms.

“But I dooooo. I can’t help it. The babies are putting pressure on my bladder.”

The assassin sighed. They were supposed to be on a schedule. With all these pit stops, they’d never be able to make the drive in one day as originally planned.

“Jimmy, we can’t keep having these impromptu breaks. You rented out that bakery kitchen to use tomorrow morning, which means we’ve got to be in Saint-Tropez by then. We have to power through the rest of the way.”

“I know I reserved that space— I’m the one baking the bloody cake. I don’t need a reminder,” he said, sounding annoyed.

“Then you ought to appreciate why we can’t lose any more time.”

“Well, what alternative do you propose? You can’t expect me to hold it.”

“I don’t know what to tell you, Jim. I’ve got to stay on target here.”

“And I’ve got to use the loo.”

They were at an impasse. Moriarty stared silently at Seb while the sniper focused on the road. It was then that a gas station appeared in the distance. The consulting criminal fully expected his mate to pull into its parking lot, but instead, he blew right past the place.

Jim’s eyed widened with shock and anger. “Sebastian!” 

“Yes?”

“You were supposed to stop back there!”

“No, I’m supposed to get us clear across France within a day’s time.”

The genius glared at Moran, and then for a split second, he glanced at the electric cigarette lighter near the dashboard. A truly wicked idea came to mind, but he knew he mustn’t indulge it. Didn’t mean he couldn’t dangle the thought over Seb’s head, though.    

“You know, the old ‘me’ would’ve jabbed you in the throat with a cigarette lighter for your disobedience,” he matter-of-factly declared. “But these days, I try to make wiser choices for Essie and Eddie’s sake. If I did what I wanted, we’d careen off the road and they might get hurt. I can’t allow that.”

Seb honestly had no clue how to respond to his spouse’s admission. He was already well aware of the man’s madness. And actually, it was somewhat comforting to realize that parenthood was having a positive effect on him. Jim was now thinking through the consequences of his actions and considering the welfare of others before his own. That was an incredible achievement. Their children were doing the impossible— shaping him into a better version of himself.    

Maybe they could compromise. “Magpie, there’s a bottle of water in my backpack,” he said, motioning to the seat behind him. “Dump it out and use that.”

If the mastermind was angry before, he was absolutely furious now. “Excuse me? ‘Use that?’ Are you really suggesting I piss in a plastic beverage container?”

“It’s not so bad. I’ve done it.”

Moriarty snorted. “You once fucked a one-legged, toothless prostitute under a bridge in Prague. Just because you’ve done something hardly means it’s advisable.”

“Point taken. But to be fair, she had a great rack,” Seb joked, attempting to lighten the mood. Jim, however, was not amused.

“Sod off,” he spat. “If you’re going to act like a jackass, kindly refrain from speaking to me.” At that, the Irishman adjusted his seat, reclining all the way back. “I’m taking a nap. Don’t you dare fucking wake me.”

“Jimmy—”

“Not a word, Sebastian. Not. One. Word.” His tone was deadly sharp, and in an instant, the former colonel realized just how badly he’d fucked up.

I’m a goddamn idiot. This was going to be a long ride, indeed.

*********

Seb was at his wit’s end. Jim had refused to talk to him all day, and it was becoming worrisome. Sure, they were now making great time on their travel route, but at what cost?

As the hours of silence wore on, Moran kept thinking about how hard it must be on the body to carry twins. His husband couldn’t help some of the physical effects pregnancy was having on him, and it wasn’t fair to marginalize the very real issues he was facing.   

And then the sniper thought of all the trouble his Magpie had gone to, coordinating this grand birthday celebration. Hell, it was the whole reason they were trekking across France in the first place. For him. Because tomorrow was his birthday. Yet despite this, he’d acted like an ungrateful, officious prig. Well, no more. He was determined to right his wrong. 

According to the clock on the dashboard, it was almost 5 p.m. They hadn’t really had lunch that afternoon, only snacking on a bit of trail mix and dried fruit during their commute. It was definitely time to break for dinner.

He glimpsed the softly snoring omega at his side. Jim had nodded off while reading a book, its pages spread open, creased against his belly. He looked so serene, which made Sebastian feel even guiltier. 

You deserve better than how I’ve treated you today, sweetheart.

After tooling around the city of Lyon for several miles, the assassin decided on a restaurant he thought would best suit their needs. Translation: he’d found an eatery that didn’t appear to have a formal dress code or require reservations. He watched people go inside wearing casual attire, and it wasn’t too crowded for immediate seating.

Moran gently nudged his partner, alerting him of their current location. “Jimmy, we’re going to get dinner now.”

The consulting criminal wiped the sleep from his eyes and yawned. “What…” And then he remembered, his face pursing angrily as the day’s events came flooding back. “Oh.”

“Jim, I’ve had plenty of time to think about it, and I want to say I’m sorry. I was a total wanker earlier. An inconsiderate bastard, and you were right to be upset.”

Moriarty remained silent for a moment, contemplating his lover’s plea of contrition. “You certainly seem to apologize a lot lately."

Sebastian frowned. It was an accurate observation. Each day brought a new fuckup. A new way for him to make an ass out of himself and disappoint the man he adored. Why did this keep happening?

“I’m a terrible alpha,” the blonde brokenly whispered. “All I do is make you miserable.”

“Seb…”

“You’ve gone through hell these past few months, and here I am, giving you more grief to deal with. I’m sorry, Jimmy. I really am.”

“Tiger,” the mastermind began, “you’re not a terrible alpha and you don’t make me miserable. Far from it.” He reached over and stroked his husband’s stubbled cheek. “You’re my light in the dark, darling. My beacon, shining true in a starless sky.”

“Oh, Magpie.” The sniper leaned into his touch, savoring the quiet intimacy between them.

“For the record, the reason I got so mad when you refused to make another stop wasn’t just because I’m a cantankerous old twat.”

Moran chuckled at his mate’s turn of phrase. Jim always did have a way with words.

“Yes, it sucks when you’ve got to take a leak but can’t stop anywhere. It’s uncomfortable, but I could manage if I had to,” he explained. “What angered me was the health risk it posed, and your lack of regard for that.”

The former colonel furrowed a brow, confused. “Health risk?” This was the first he was hearing of it.

“My doctor warned me that holding it for too long would be bad for my kidneys. I need to be careful because the preeclampsia is hard enough on them.”

“I…I didn’t know.”

Sebastian was ashamed, growing clammy and nauseous at the idea that he’d unintentionally jeopardized Jim and their children’s well-being. He should’ve known what the doctor said, but he didn’t, due to having recently missed two prenatal appointments in a row. He wanted to be there for his mate every step of the way, but he also had to contend with matters at work and fulfill job assignments. Even still, this was something he felt he should’ve known. Should’ve—

Suddenly, the alpha’s frantic train of thought was derailed by a kiss. Moriarty’s warm, supple lips melded against his own. They offered familiar comfort amid a sea of self-doubt.

The genius pulled back. “You looked like you needed that, dear. You were spiraling dreadfully off kilter and I had to do something.”

“It’s stress, I guess,” Seb conceded.  “I want to do right by you…do right by our babies. But I’m not sure I know how.”

“All of this is new for me, too. We can learn together, Tiger.”

Together. Now there was a word that inspired strength within the sniper. Alone, he was fleeting— as impermanent as a wildflower that blooms and withers inside the span of a day. But alongside Jim, he could be so much more. They could be more. Together, forever and always.

“Let’s get a move on,” the consulting criminal said. “At the risk of sounding indelicate, I’m ravenous and need to piss like a race horse.”

“Okay, hon. I promise you, from here on out, we’ll make whatever stops you want.”

“Good. Glad we’ve come to an understanding on that.”

As far as Seb was concerned, they most certainly had.

Chapter Text

“Rise and shine, birthday boy.”

Sebastian grunted, rolling over on the king-size bed of his hotel room. He glimpsed the nightstand clock and—

“Holy shit, it’s noon.”

“Yep, that is it,” Jim confirmed with a grin.

Where did the time go? As Seb came to his senses, he thought back.

After last night’s dinner in Lyon, they’d continued driving and finally reached Saint-Tropez at around 10 p.m. The couple was so tired, they went to bed as soon as they checked into their suite.

The assassin vaguely recalled his husband leaving early in the morning. He’d rented out the kitchen space of a local bakery so he’d have somewhere to prepare Moran’s cake. It was still dark out when he’d gone, and Seb quickly fell back to sleep.  

“How’s my favorite pastry chef?” he teased, knowing how hard the Irishman must’ve worked.

“Long dead, I expect. Although come to think of it, I’m not certain if ‘Betty Crocker’ was a real person at all. Remind me to Google it later.”

“Ha-ha,” the blonde scoffed. “You know I meant you. How are things today?”

“Fabulous, dear. Two of the bakery’s regular staff came in to assist. I hadn’t even requested them, they just showed up. So we got the job done swifter than anticipated.”

“That’s wonderful. Do we have to bring the cake to the party ourselves or is someone else sending it over?”

“My event coordinators will be picking it up. They’ll make sure everything, and everyone, is in its proper place for tonight’s festivities.”

Moran smiled. “I can’t believe we’re really doing this. A party on a yacht with catered food, a DJ, and everyone from headquarters in attendance. And it’s happening in the south of France,” he marveled. “I can’t get over how posh it all seems. It’s surreal.”

“Only the best for you, Sebastian.” Jim sat at the end of the bed and rifled through a travel bag. “Now I want your opinion.”

“Okay,” he agreed, sitting upright to focus on the matter at hand.

“Tell me which swim trunks you prefer. This,” he announced, holding up a grey garment, “or this,” he asked, brandishing a navy blue pair.

“Hmm. Honestly, I’d go with the blue.”

Moriarty grinned like a Cheshire cat. “I was thinking the same thing. Sometimes, it’s as though we’re of one mind, darling.”

“Planning to go for a swim?” The hotel was situated on a beachfront property, so one might as well capitalize on the opportunity.

“I’m not sure if my restrictions would allow it. However, I do want to catch a few rays on the beach.”

Though he tried to suppress it, the sniper burst into laughter.

“What’s so funny?” Jim asked.

“You, one of the palest people I know, intending to sunbathe. Remember the awful burn you got in Rio? You’ll fry like an egg.”

“Not if I use sunscreen and don’t let myself fall asleep out there,” he replied. “Anyway, I’ve read that vitamin D produced from exposure to natural light can promote good fetal health.”

“Ahh,” now he understood. “I’ll come with you.” No way was he permitting his heavily pregnant, mobility-challenged omega to get so close to open water without him being present. His protective streak ran deep.

“That would be divine. The party doesn’t start until 5 p.m. We could spend the afternoon together.”

“Perfect timing, then.” Moran paused, an idea popping into his head. “Fancy a picnic?”

“Ooh, splendid suggestion. We can change into our swimwear and instruct room service to bring us a beachside lunch.”

A sweet, sharky smile settled upon Seb’s face as he looked for his trunks. He was really and truly happy in a way he hadn’t been for quite some time. It felt fantastic. 

*********

The weather in Saint-Tropez was heavenly. The sun beamed brilliantly in a cloudless sky, while the water was crystal clear and the temperature mild. One couldn’t ask for better conditions.

“More duck, dear?” the consulting criminal asked his partner. They were sprawled across an oversized towel, feasting on roast duck, garden salad, and baguette.

“I’d better not. I’ve got to save room for tonight.”

“I wish I had your willpower,” Jim lamented. “I feel like I’m hungry all the bloody time. For as much as I’ve eaten now, I’ll be famished again in two hours. Mark my words.”

“You’re eating for three, Magpie. Little wonder your appetite’s increased.”

“I know. I’m just a bit self-conscious,” he admitted. “This is the heaviest I’ve ever been.”

“The babies would thank you for that if they could. You’re keeping them well-nourished,” the sniper assured. “And you’re still the handsomest man in all of Europe,” he added with a wink.

“Not merely Great Britain, but continental, you say? How flattering.”

“Well, of course. They don’t call you ‘Mr. Sex’ for nothing.”

Jim laughed heartily at the remark. “Honey, these days, the only one who refers to me by that name is you.”

“And I always will.” Seb tenderly took his mate by the hand, gazing intently into his dark brown eyes. “Even when we’re in our nineties, sitting in rocking chairs on a porch, you’ll still be ‘Mr. Sex’ to me.”

“Oh, Tiger.” The mastermind was absolutely love-struck. Hormone-fueled or otherwise, he adored Sebastian Moran. His husband. His family. His everything. This moment with him was perfect beyond his wildest dreams. It was—

THWACK.    

“Ouch!”

From out of nowhere, a stick hurled through the air and hit Jim square in the shoulder. Before he could make sense of what was going on, a fluffy white dog came bounding towards him. Ostensibly there to retrieve its wooden toy, the pooch was quickly distracted by the smell of duck, nosing its way to the poultry. The cute creature began gobbling up the leftovers while Moriarty simply stared in stunned silence.

Seb, on the other hand, was anything but silent. He couldn’t stop laughing at the absurdity of the situation. It was priceless.

Soon, a little boy came running over.

“Pardon, messieurs. Parlez-vous anglais?”    

“Yes, we speak English,” Jim answered. “Is this your dog?”

The child nodded. “It is, mister. Sadie and I were playing fetch. I didn’t mean to hit you. I’m sorry.” He appeared visibly nervous, worried he’d get in trouble for what had happened.

“Be more careful where you throw this,” the genius advised, handing the object back to him. “Sadie has excellent taste in food, by the way. My husband could learn a thing or two from her,” he teased. 

The boy laughed. “You should see her at home, begging for table scraps. If we drop anything, she goes right for it.”

“A canine cleanup crew,” he mused. “You’re lucky to have her.”

“I am.” The child paused, rounding up his furry companion. “Thank you for giving me the stick back and not being mad.” At that, the youngster and his pup scampered off.

Moriarty watched from a distance as they continued their game of fetch. “She really is a beautiful dog,” he noted. “I always wanted one when I was that age, but they wouldn’t let us keep pets in the children’s home.”

“I’m sorry, love.” The assassin knew bits and pieces about his mate’s early life. From what he’d gleaned through the years, he understood that after Jim’s mother died, he was put into foster care. Though he never went into much detail, Seb got the distinct impression that it was a negative experience.

The Irishman shrugged. “No sense dwelling on it, I suppose. Can’t change the past.”

He was right— you couldn’t change the past. But…

“We can make our own future,” Moran stated. “Get a dog when the twins are old enough to play with one.”

Jim smiled softly. “I’d like that.”

The duo’s attention rapidly shifted as they saw the boy’s parents join him in romping with Sadie. Ordinarily, such a sight wouldn’t be worth a second glance. What caught their interest now, however, was the fact that both of them were men. Moreover, one of them sported a baby bump.

The Tiger and his Magpie were delighted. Seeing a gay couple in public was nothing new. But seeing a gay couple where one half of the pair was a male omega— that was rarer than finding a four-leaf clover.

“Look how happy they are, Seb.” Moriarty’s voice was steeped with emotion. He encountered so few of his kind, it was difficult not to be deeply affected during moments like these.

Sebastian was moved by it, too. He imagined having a family with Jim similar to the one frolicking on the beach. Perhaps it was a foolish notion for someone in his line of work, but he held out hope just the same.

“I want that to be us,” the genius proclaimed.

“Really, Jimmy? That kind of life wouldn’t be too ordinary for you?”

He shook his head. “Our love is far from ordinary. A life spent with you and our children would be immensely rewarding. I’m sure of it.”

They held hands once again, fingers intertwined. A sense of strength resonated between them as they basked in the bliss of what could be. London’s most dangerous men shared a dream, and in that vision, anything was possible.             

Chapter Text

So far, Sebastian’s 40th birthday bash was a rousing success. The caterer, DJ, and guests all arrived on schedule, and Jim’s specially crafted three-tier cake was delivered intact. Of the large group assembled, most appeared to be having a good time.  

“Tiger, I have no idea who some of these people are.”

The sniper chuckled. “You don’t know them? You’re the one who sent out invitations.”

“I forwarded a mass email to headquarters. That hardly counts as a personalized invite.”

“Well, lucky for you, I’m familiar with everybody.”

Jim sighed. His mate made the issue sound like no big deal, but it was important to him. How could he act as a proper host if he didn’t recognize all the guests? Worse yet, he felt like he was out of the loop. Ever since his reduced workload went into effect, he’d left Seb in charge of procuring new hires. It initially seemed like a good idea, but now he was playing catch-up.

“Relax, Jimmy. It’s a party. Try to have fun.”

“That’s easier said than done when half the crowd is staring at you.” It was true, and neither could deny it. Plenty of eyes were on Moriarty tonight, as the open secret of his pregnancy was now confirmed. He didn’t exactly have a choice in the matter— his condition was obvious at a glance.

“Of course they’re staring,” Seb teased. “You’re ‘Mr. Sex.’ Who wouldn’t want to sneak a peek?”

Before the mastermind could respond, two women approached. Thankfully, he was already acquainted with the pair. Gemma and Marie worked as acquisition experts. If you needed an item, they would find a way to obtain it— legally or otherwise.

“Hello, ladies,” Moran greeted. “Enjoying the festivities?”

“Totally. The food is terrific,” Gemma enthused. “Love the cocktail weenies.”

Jim rolled his eyes while Seb grinned broadly, trying not to laugh out loud at the remark.

“We just wanted to pop over and congratulate Mr. Moriarty. Both of us have children of our own, so we know how exciting the experience can be.”

“Thank you,” the genius replied. “It’s simultaneously thrilling and nerve-wracking, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

Gemma smiled warmly. “I understand completely.”

“You should talk to Annie,” Marie suggested, referring to another employee. “Her brother-in-law had a baby last year.”

“No kidding?” The consulting criminal was surprised to hear that, but then again, he made it a point not to involve himself in his staff’s personal lives. Well, all except for Sebastian— he was a special case.

Marie nodded. “Yeah, he had a little girl. I’ve seen the pictures. She’s cute as hell.”

“We were hanging out with Annie a few minutes ago at the hors d'oeuvre station,” Gemma noted. “Why don’t you come over and we can swap stories?”

“I don’t know…” It sounded like it might be fun, and that is what Seb said he should be having, right? But he didn’t want to abandon his husband at his own birthday party, either.

“Go on, I’ll be fine,” Moran assured. It was almost as though he’d read the Irishman’s mind.

“Well, okay.” Jim couldn’t disguise the delight in his voice. He hadn’t had the opportunity to exchange anecdotes and stories with other parents before. It was an intriguing prospect.   

The assassin smiled as he watched his omega walk off with the women. Jim needed this— needed people he could discuss pregnancy and baby-related matters with, who actually had experience on the subject. It would be good for him.

What should I do in the meantime? The night was fairly young and they hadn’t even cut the cake yet. 

And then it happened. Like a sailor beckoned by a siren’s call, Seb was drawn forth to the dancefloor. He’d forgotten how freeing the act could be. It was a surrender of sorts, to give oneself over to the music and beat. There was nothing else quite like it, and for the moment, he relished the simple joy that it brought.

*********

Time flew by quickly as Jim chatted up a storm with Gemma, Marie, Annie, and a group of other women. After about an hour’s worth of conversation, he decided he should to return to his mate. He needn’t look far to find him— the birthday boy was having a marvelous time grooving along to whatever song the DJ played.

Moriarty dragged a deck chair towards the dancefloor and positioned himself in an ideal viewing spot. He watched on, enrapt at how seamlessly the sniper kept in time to the music. His body moved with expert precision, as if the rhythm was a part of him, infused into his soul. The mastermind mused that perhaps in another life, his husband could’ve had an entirely different career commanding the stage like a modern-day Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire.

He’s more handsome than both of them combined, the Irishman thought. Flawless in every way.  

Eventually, the song ended and Moran opted to take a break. He wasted no time in rushing to Jim’s side, cozying up so close to him, he was practically on his lap.

“Magpie, this night has been wonderful. The best birthday I’ve ever had.”

“Good. It’s supposed to be.” He paused, biting his lip as he gazed longingly at Sebastian. “God, you’re gorgeous. I wish I could kiss you.”

“Go ahead. I won’t resist."

“Seb…you know we can’t do that around people from work.”

“Why not? It’s a daft rule that ought to be broken.”

“Because if any of them were to turn on us, they’d know our weakness for each other.”

Moran frowned at his partner’s choice of words. “My love for you isn’t a weakness,” he asserted. “It gives me strength and purpose. Makes me fight harder and smarter. So don’t ever call it a weakness, because it’s not. Our love is an attribute.”

The consulting criminal placed a hand to his stomach, feeling movement from within. It was as if the babies had taken their papa’s side, kicking in solidarity. And maybe, Jim thought, they were right to do so.

Suddenly, everything became clear to him. These were his employees and this was his husband’s birthday party. If ever there was a time to show affection without risk of reprisal, it was now. They were owed at least that much.  

“Get your lips over here,” the genius demanded, grabbing Seb by the shirt collar and aggressively pressing their mouths together.

The alpha relinquished control, leaning into the kiss and allowing his mate to guide him. Sometimes he enjoyed letting Moriarty take the reins, succumbing to the will of his ardent omega.  

Sebastian was left breathless, his heart aflutter and goosebumps raised on his skin. “You kiss by the book,” he declared.   

Jim grinned wickedly. “Ooh, if I’m Romeo, does that make you Juliet?” he asked, recognizing the quote.

“It makes me the luckiest man on earth.”

“Good answer.” He hesitated for a moment as a question formed in his head. “How about we cut that cake, Tiger?”

“Only if you do the honors. Baker gets first slice.”

“Well, if you insist.”

“I do.”

The Irishman’s dark eyes twinkled with devilish delight. “Bring me a knife.”

*********

The evening wore on in a whirlwind of revelry. Guests partook in their fair share of dancing, drinking, and dessert. No one had left yet, though things were winding down. Even the birthday boy was getting tired.

“Remember when we used to party all night, Jim?”

“Oh, yes. Up ‘til dawn in more ways than one,” he cheekily replied.

“How did we manage it?”

“Youth and cocaine.”

The sniper laughed. “Ah, yeah. I suppose that was it.”

“Don’t worry, dear. I won’t let you fall asleep. You still owe me a private performance.” 

A smile stretched across his face. “You’d like that, aye?”

“Sebby, I’ve had to contend with watching you undulate for hours. I looked on as you shimmied and shook, and moved your body in ways that redefine the meaning of flexible. So yes, I would very much enjoy a private show.”

Moran tilted his head in mock confusion. “I’m sorry, darling, but you’re just being too subtle. Are you trying to say you like my dance moves?”

The mastermind scowled at his spouse. “Since this is your birthday, I’m going to refrain from calling you something unkind. But be mindful that once the clock strikes midnight, I’m no longer beholden to such constraints. At that point, I can and will tell you when you’re acting like a doofus. Are we clear?”  

“As crystal,” he said with a wink. Jim could be so cute when he got indignant, though Seb would never acknowledge it aloud for fear of receiving a pummeling.

“Glad we’ve got that settled. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to the loo. Be a dear and fetch me another slice of cake for when I return.”

“Fetch you cake on my birthday?” the blonde asked. “Shouldn’t it be the other way around?”

“I’m carrying your children. I think that makes us even,” the Irishman glibly noted as he walked away.  

 

 

Moriarty ventured below deck to get to the bathroom. Fortunately, he wouldn’t have to wait in a queue— no one appeared to be using the facilities.

He flipped on the light switch and was horrified by what he saw.

Graffiti. Cruel and offensive slurs were scrawled on the walls and mirror in black marker. Many of the vile sentiments were directed expressly at Jim, being not only homophobic in nature, but also anti-male omega.

The genius backed out of the room in a daze. He was completely blindsided by the hateful display. It was the absolute last thing he expected to find.

Who would do this? And why? It made him sick to think that an employee of his was responsible. Even worse, that they’d dare commit such a heinous act during Sebastian’s party. It was a terrible betrayal.   

BEEP. BEEP. BEEP.

Moriarty’s portable blood pressure monitor blared as his heart began to race. He was dizzy and clammy and struggling to breathe. Was this just an anxiety attack or something more? He wasn’t sure, and it scared him.

“Seb!” the consulting criminal called out. “Sebby!” He hoped the man would hear him, but with the music playing on deck, he might not.

Jim’s legs turned to jelly and he sunk down on the floor. His whole body felt heavy. There was no way he’d be able to stand up again without assistance.

Thinking fast, he slipped a shaky hand into his pocket and pulled out his phone. It took a bit more effort than usual, but he eventually managed to send a text.

JM

Help me, Tiger.

 

TO BE CONTINUED…

Chapter Text

Sebastian was getting set to plate a slice of cake when his phone buzzed. Who would be contacting me now? Everyone I know is already here. Curious, he checked the device.

JM

Help me, Tiger.

 

Those three little words were all it took to make the sniper drop everything. The cake and party were forgotten as he made a mad dash for the deck below. He found Jim sitting on the floor outside the bathroom. His mate looked distressed and his blood pressure monitor was sounding off. He knew this couldn’t be good.

“Jimmy!” he exclaimed, crouching down beside him. “What happened?”

The mastermind grimaced, grateful to see Seb but having difficulty speaking due to shortness of breath. “I went in…I saw…” He pointed toward the bathroom.

Moran got the gist of what he was trying to communicate. With his gun poised, he entered the lavatory to investigate. Immediately, he knew why Moriarty was so upset.

Omega cocksucker. Abomination. Real men don’t get pregnant. Male omega spawn will burn in hell. The graffiti went on, but Seb didn’t need to see any more.

He growled loudly, blue eyes blazing with rage. “Who did this? Did you get a look at them?”

Jim shook his head. “No,” he panted. “Don’t know who.”

The former colonel needed to put his anger aside and tend to his husband. He tucked his gun away and knelt next to him.

“Remember your breathing exercises. Inhale and exhale at controlled intervals. You can do this.”

The Irishman was trying, he really was. Even still, his heart continued to race. He just couldn’t calm down.

“Tiger…I’m sorry,” he wheezed between laborious breaths.

“You don’t have anything to be sorry about, hon. Whoever is responsible for this…they’re the ones who’ll be sorry.”

Jim clasped Seb by the hand. His palms were sweaty and he was trembling. This was worrisome. The assassin had to find some way to relax him, and fast.

“Close your eyes.”

“Huh?”

“Close your eyes and think of the nursery we’ve got at home. You did a wonderful job picking out the furniture and color patterns. Picture it in your mind. Think of those beautiful canopy cradles.”

Moriarty complied while maintaining his breathing techniques.

“Imagine what it’ll be like when we bring Essie and Eddie in there for the first time. They’ll be swaddled tight in blankets from the hospital, probably cooing and smiling the way babies do.”

“Oh, Sebby. Keep talking.”

“We’ll lay them down in their gold-accented bassinets and they’ll look just like royalty. They’ll be the poshest babies in England.”

Jim smiled, still clutching his spouse’s hand. “They are royalty,” he stated. His voice was raspy, but his breathing seemed slightly improved. “Our little prince and princess.”

“You’re right, kitten. They definitely are.” Moran paused, brainstorming what else he could say to soothe his Magpie. “When they get a bit bigger, they can use the playroom, too. We’ll all ride the carousel together and have ice cream afterward, like you used to do with your mum. Hot fudge sundaes for everyone.”

“That’s lovely, Tiger. What about the seesaw?”

Seesaw? Sebastian momentarily drew a blank, but then remembered the toy. Jim had bought it a while ago, and the only reason he hadn’t included it in the playroom décor was because he thought it would be better suited as part of an outdoor playground area.  

“The seesaw will go in the backyard,” the sniper proclaimed. “We’ll have a jungle gym built with all the accoutrements. Slides, swings, monkey bars— the works. Their friends will want to come by every day to play.” 

It was then that he noticed Jim’s monitor had ceased beeping. His blood pressure must’ve stabilized. Thank god. Seb also realized that his mate was no longer quivering.

“You can open your eyes now, sweetheart.”

He did, his gaze instantly locking with Sebastian’s. “Thank you.”

“Don’t thank me, thank our children. Thinking of them is what calmed you down.”

“Yes, it’s just…you always know the right things to say. When I start to lose it, you’re the only one who’s ever been able to talk me back from the edge. Nobody else has managed that.”

“I guess it’s a gift,” he said warmly.

You’re a gift,” the genius quickly replied. “Sent in human form, and you’ve given me two more to share.”

Moran was suddenly very touched by his husband’s words. “I love you, Jimmy.”

“I love you, too.” Jim let go of the man’s hand so that he could hug him instead. “I think I’ll be okay. Help me up?”

“Of course.” The blonde arose first and then assisted his partner into a standing position.

Moriarty nodded appreciatively. For a brief moment, he turned to glance at the bathroom again. Sadness welled in his dark brown eyes as he took a second look at the vicious graffiti. He was no stranger to bigotry, having been openly gay since the age of seventeen. But this…this was an attack on more than his sexuality. It was a condemnation of his identity as a male omega and of his choice to bear children. It was an insult to his personhood. And perhaps most egregiously, it had been committed by an employee. There were no words for the level of violation he felt.     

“We need to find out who did this and slit their fucking throat,” the consulting criminal declared. “It’s a shame there are no security cameras on board.”

“No one’s left yet. We can go up there and suss it out. Or at least, I can. If you’d rather take a rest, I’d understand.”

“I’m coming with you.” Newfound determination rang in his voice. He had to know who’d chosen to betray him in such an abhorrent way. This was a transgression which demanded accountability.

*********

Returning topside, Sebastian ordered the DJ to stop the music. That seemed to get the crowd’s attention, as many looked over to see what was going on.

Good, I’ve got a captive audience.

Using the DJ’s microphone, he began. “I want to thank everyone for attending my birthday party. For the most part, it’s been fun. However, I’m disheartened to announce that there’s been an act of vandalism in the on-board bathroom. Some incredibly derogatory things were written on the walls and mirror.” People were abuzz at the news, and Seb continued, “What Mr. Moriarty and I would like to know is simple. We want to uncover who was responsible for the heinous display. So please, for your sake and ours, do the right thing. Own up to what you’ve done.”

The crowd clamored amongst themselves, but no volunteers stepped forward. Noticing this, Jim moved to stand alongside his mate. “Not exactly a forthcoming bunch,” he whispered.

“No, they’re not,” the alpha said with a frustrated sigh.

Speaking into the mic again, he related another message. “This situation will go a lot easier if the perpetrator just comes clean. Don’t make matters more difficult than they need to be.”     

Still, no one offered a confession.

“Fuck this,” Jim hissed, grabbing the microphone away from Moran.

“Hiiiiii,” he greeted the attendees. “It’s your boss here, James Moriarty. I’d like to take a moment to stress the importance of what my charming associate has told you all.” The audience fell into a hush as the mastermind spoke. Not a soul dared interrupt. “If the vandal admits to what he or she has done right now, there will be consequences, yes. But if they don’t acknowledge their wrongdoing and we learn who it is later, the repercussions will be exponentially worse,” he informed the group. “Consider your silence carefully, because it may come back to haunt you.”

To Jim and Seb’s mutual disappointment, the Irishman’s straightforward appeal inspired precious little honesty among the partygoers. The duo looked at each other, realizing they would have to apply alternate measures to smoke out the culprit.

“Okay, since the person who defaced the bathroom is too cowardly to admit their guilt, we’re left with no choice but to do this the hard way,” the genius declared. “I’m going to insist that everyone line up in an orderly fashion. Sebastian and I will be checking any bags or purses you may be carrying, as well as administer a bodily pat down. Anyone who refuses to submit to inspection will be permanently dismissed from my employ.” 

“What is it we’re looking for?” the sniper quietly asked.

“A black marker. The same kind that was used to write the graffiti.”

“Understood.”

With a heavy heart, Moran did as directed. This wasn’t at all how he’d hoped to cap off his birthday. When I find the miserable son of a bitch responsible for this, they’ll be begging for death.

*********

The Magpie and his Tiger were in dismay. Their efforts to uncover the vandal proved fruitless. Though the miscreant had to be a guest, none confessed to the act and no marker was found. Ultimately, they were forced to let everyone leave without having apprehended anyone. 

When the couple returned to their hotel room, they practically collapsed into bed. Both were worn down by the exacting emotional toll the evening had taken. For a day that had begun so wonderfully, neither could’ve anticipated the dour note it would end on.  

Sebastian laid stalk-straight while Moriarty curled into a ball, facing away from his husband. Tired as they were, sleep refused to come.

After several restless minutes, the former colonel heard a pitiful sound amid the darkness. It was a sniffle and a whimper— small, but weighty in the depths of its sorrow. It was Jim.

Moran flipped on the nightstand lamp and rolled over towards his mate. He moved to hold him in a spooning position, a gesture the smaller man readily accepted.

“Don’t cry, love. We’ll find the bastard yet.”

“I’m sorry it ruined your party. It was supposed to be perfect for you, Tiger. I wanted it to be perfect.” The consulting criminal let out a shuddering sob. 

“Shh, it’s okay,” Seb consoled. “You organized an excellent event. The awful actions of a bigoted individual were out of your control. No one could’ve predicted what would happen.”

“I know, Tiger. Logically, I get that. But inside…in my head and my heart…” he trailed off, tears overtaking him once more. “It feels so wrong.

The mastermind nestled as close to Sebastian as possible, his back pressed firmly against the larger man’s bare chest. Their bodies were molded together like pieces of a puzzle, but still it was not enough.

“Hold me tighter,” he said, and sniper obliged. Moran’s arm slung over him, his hand resting on the swell of Jim’s stomach. Seb absently massaged his abdomen, feeling gentle kicks arise to meet his touch.

“They were sleeping,” Moriarty remarked. “You’ve stirred them up.”

“Sorry.”

“It’s fine. I like it when they’re moving. It lets me know they’re alive and well.” He took a deep breath, shivering ever so slightly. “Sebby?”

“Yes?”

“About the graffiti tonight— I don’t care what people think of me. I stopped giving a toss ages ago,” the genius stated. “But the babies…what upset me was seeing what was written about them.”

Seb was silent for a moment, recalling the cruel sentiments on display. It had enraged him, too.

“I’ve been a rotten son of a bitch plenty of times,” Jim admitted, “but even I’ve never done that. Never wished an innocent baby to ‘burn in hell.’ How could anyone be so hateful?”

“I don’t know, Magpie. I can’t understand it either.”

“Sometimes I wonder what kind of world we’re bringing Essie and Eddie into.”

“One that will be filled with our love,” the alpha assured. “They’ll know nothing but affection.”

“From us, yes. But what of everyone else? We can’t keep them locked away in a tower. Eventually, they’ll go out. Meet other people. And then what?”

“Jimmy, I believe that as parents, we just have to do the best we can. It’s impossible to control what others may do, but we can be there for them when they need us, and trust that our examples will prepare them for the outside world.”

The consulting criminal laughed. “Our examples? Good grief, Tiger, are you sure that’s a good idea? I can picture it now— you taking the twins out to a shooting range or explaining to them the nuances of selecting a garrote.”

Sebastian grinned. “Hey, that’s actually a very important piece of information. You don’t want to choose a cord that’s too thick and unwieldly, but conversely, you don’t want it to be so thin it will snap. There’s a delicate balance that must be achieved.”

“Oh, Sebby. Are we crazy for this? For wanting to be parents?”

“No crazier than anyone who decides to have kids. It’s a commitment, but I know we can handle it.”

Jim sighed contentedly. “You’ll be a good daddy,” he declared, a soft yawn escaping his lips.

“So will you. We’ll cherish and protect our cubs together.”

The dark-eyed omega cooed. “I like it when you call them that. Makes me think of little tiger babies romping at the zoo.”

“Hmm, now there’s a thought. Perhaps I’ll start counting kittens instead of sheep to help me sleep,” Moran teased.  

“Silly Seb,” he groggily spoke. “I love you.”

“I love you, too, Magpie. Always.”

It didn’t take long for Jim to drift off to dreamland, and his husband soon followed suit. They slumbered all night in each other’s arms, not even caring that the lights were left on.

Chapter Text

The day after Sebastian’s birthday party, he and Jim set out for Monte Carlo. It was a relatively short drive, taking just over 2-hours total. Despite this, the ride felt at least twice as long, not because of traffic or road construction, but due to the impenetrable wall of silence that had settled between them. Seb tried to make conversation, but his mate retreated inward, barely uttering a handful of words. Body language and experience told him that the genius was not mad at him. Rather, he was simply in one of his morose moods.

When they arrived at their hotel, the sniper discovered that Jim pre-booked the largest suite available. It was an incredibly opulent room, one which the desk clerk assured them had been occupied by royalty on numerous occasions. Frankly, Moran didn’t much care, but it was the kind of pedigree that would’ve impressed his husband, had the man not been in a state of depression.

Seb was brainstorming a strategic plan to cheer the Irishman up. The tuxedo. Moriarty always loved seeing him in formal-wear, dressed to the nines like he’d just come from a red carpet event. So now, as Jim soaked in the tub, he would secretly slip into the Armani tux he’d brought along, accessories included.   

He unzipped the bag his suit was in, checking to make sure there were no wrinkles. Smooth as ever, he noted. Nary even a crease. All he had to do was put it on.

Here goes nothing.

*********

Moriarty stepped out of the bathroom wearing a black silk robe. He was fresh and clean, feeling slightly more relaxed than he had prior to his soak. It’d been a rough morning for the consulting criminal. He’d awoken in a terribly dour disposition. His back ached, his feet were swollen, and he felt hideously fat. Not to mention, he was still reeling from yesterday’s graffiti incident. All of those things combined to create a flurry of woe. 

The mastermind audibly gasped when he caught sight of Sebastian. His husband stood before him, clad in a tuxedo while posing with his gun. He was the epitome of elegance and sophistication, oozing charm from every pore. Jim could ogle him for hours and never grow bored.

“See something you like?” the sly blonde asked with a smirk.

Oh, yes. Yes, he most certainly did. Seb was gorgeous on any given day, but dressed like that, he was spectacular.

“Tiger, you’re so…dashing.” Moriarty could not disguise the want in his voice. He was powerfully attracted to the man.

“Thanks, love. Can’t remember the last time I wore one of these things.” 

“It was this past New Year’s Eve, at the black-tie gala in Munich,” he answered without missing a beat.

“Ah, that’s right.” Moran thought back, his memory jogged. “God, they served good spätzle.”

“It was passable catering,” Jim quipped. “Truth be told, I was more taken by you than the food.”

Sebastian saw this as his cue to make a move. He strode up to his spouse, closing in so that they were a hairsbreadth apart. The energy surrounding them was smoldering in its intensity, reaching near-combustible proportions.

“Christ,” the dark-eyed genius muttered. “It’s a good thing I learned those breathing exercises.”

“Am I really so appealing?”

“Must you ask?” He took a long, lingering look at the former colonel. “Bloody hell, Seb. In that outfit, you could be James Bond.”     

“It’s funny you should say that. Bond was one of my first crushes.”

“Oh? Doooo tell.” Jim was listening with rapt anticipation. He enjoyed discovering new things about his magnificent mate. Even after several years together, they still managed to surprise each other every now and then.

“When I was ten, my brother Severin went through a phase where he was fixated on spy films. One day, I came in while he was watching “Goldfinger,” and, well, you could’ve knocked me over with a feather.”

The consulting criminal flashed a devilish grin. “You fell for Connery, aye? Good taste.”

“What’s more, I fell for Pussy Galore, too. I wanted to snog them both.”

“Oooh, how scandalous.”

“That’s me,” Seb teased. “Salacious as the day is long.” He gingerly reached out to stroke Jim’s arm through the fabric of his robe. Their eyes met in a penetrating gaze, and he continued, “Let me take you out, Magpie. Allow me the honor of escorting you through this fine city.” 

“Hmm.” The mastermind badly wanted to say ‘yes,’ but he was still feeling self-conscious. “Sebby…are you certain you wish to be seen with me? I’m not exactly cutting the most striking figure of late.”

The assassin sighed, shaking his head. “How many times do we have to go through this, darling? You know where my heart lies.”

Anxiety crept across the Irishman’s face. His emotions were haywire, a mess of stress and hormones in collision.

Sebastian dropped down on one knee and grasped his partner’s hand. Moriarty looked at him, confused, but said nothing.

“Jimmy, I hereby swear that you shall forever be my greatest passion and my deepest love. I cherish you, and you alone. It thrills me that you’re carrying our children, and I would proudly go anywhere with you by my side. Permit me to do so. Grant me the gift of your glorious company.”

Jim’s breathing hitched and his eyes glistened with tears. “Tiger, that was beautiful.”

“It’s all true. I’m irrevocably yours.”

“Oh, my sweet, sweet Sebby.” He pulled the other man upwards so that he was standing again, and proceeded to wrap his arms around him. “Yes, I’ll go out with you. Just give me a moment to get dressed.”

“Take whatever time you need.”

The sniper would wait an eternity if that’s what it took. 

*********

Afternoon stretched into evening as Jim and Sebastian painted the town red. They dined at a 5-star restaurant, attended a concert performed by the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra, and participated in a bit of high-stakes gambling. In all, it was a wonderful day.

Before returning to their suite for some much-desired alone time, the couple decided to stop at the hotel bar and get a nightcap. Seb was drinking scotch as usual, but Moriarty’s cocktail request sent the assassin into a barely stifled fit of laughter. In his most serious voice, Jim had asked the bartender for a Shirley Temple. Moran wished he’d captured the moment on film.

“How is it, dear?” the blonde inquired, flashing the faintest hint of a smirk.

Jim locked eyes with his alpha, wordlessly plucking the cherry garnish from his drink. He pressed the fruit to Seb’s lips, feeding it to him and leaving only the stem. Then, he popped the inedible stalk into his own mouth. Moran watched intently as he appeared to work it around his palate the way one might do when sucking on hard candy. After a few seconds, he stopped and pulled out the stem. It was now tied like a tiny pretzel.

“Wow,” the former colonel marveled. “I always knew you had a talented tongue, but I didn’t realize you could do that.

The mastermind smiled wickedly. “Just a little something to tide you over until we get back to our room.” He rose from his barstool and assumed a standing position. “I’m heading to the loo. Don’t leave without me.”

While waiting at the bar, Seb ordered a second drink and checked some things on his phone. After the awkward way his party ended, he wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of fallout. So far, he’d received no angry messages, which was a relief. Still, the vandalism incident weighed heavily on him. When they returned to London, he would begin an investigation into the backgrounds of their most recent hires. He thought he’d done a good job of that during the interview process, but apparently not. The person responsible had to be a new employee, right? Neither he nor Jim wanted to believe that a seasoned associate would do such a thing.

Suddenly, a female voice caught the sniper’s attention.

“I’ll have a gin martini with a lemon twist,” the woman spoke.

He knew that voice. Knew it quite well, in fact, but he’d not heard it in years.

Turning his head toward the sound, he was gobsmacked.

Irene Adler.

Never in a million years did he think he’d see her again. And why would he? She was supposed to be dead.

Has everyone I know faked their death at one point or another? It was becoming a bizarre trend in his life.

As he spied Irene, she noticed him, too. Their eyes met for a split second before he quickly averted his gaze. But it was too late, and she was already making a beeline straight for him.

The beguiling dominatrix took a seat next to Seb— Jim’s seat.

“Fancy meeting you here, Moran. Long time, no see.”

“Indeed. You’ve held up remarkably well for a dead woman. Tell me, what’s your secret?”

“Sex, gin, and good genes. Not necessarily in that order.”

“Cheers,” he pithily replied, raising his glass in mock salute.

She smiled, raking her eyes over him. “I must say, you’re looking exceptionally suave. Are you here for business or pleasure?”

“What concern is it of yours?”

“Curiosity, is all. You needn’t be defensive.”

“Pardon the lack of manners, but you’re crashing my date.” He motioned to the half-empty cocktail sitting near the stool Irene had usurped.   

She glanced at the drink. “A Shirley Temple? Really, Sebastian? Please tell me you’re not romancing a teetotaler. Or worse, an underage girl.”

“Hardly.” Presumptuous bitch.

“I suppose it’s not my place to pass judgment. To each their own.” Adler paused, considering something. “Regrettably, I’m here on business. However, that doesn’t mean I’m averse to finding a bit of pleasure when and where I can.”

Where is she headed with this? Seb was almost afraid to find out.

“We used to have fun together,” Irene said, casually slipping a well-manicured hand onto his thigh. “I wouldn’t be opposed to a rendezvous for old times’ sake. Perhaps once you’re through with your date tonight. Or, if you’ve an open-minded partner, maybe a different sort of meetup could be arranged.”

Moran removed the woman’s hand from his body and stared at her, unwavering. “I don’t do that anymore, Irene. I’m dedicated to the relationship I’m in.”

She let out a flustered laugh. “You, one the biggest philanderers I know, is in an exclusive relationship? Now I’ve heard everything. Next you’ll claim to be married with two kids and a dog.”

Not far off. “People change. They grow and evolve. I did, and I’m happier for it.”

Adler scowled at him. “People lie to themselves, you mean. We are who we are, Sebastian. Pretending otherwise is a nice fantasy, but sooner or later, reality will catch up.”

At that moment, Jim reemerged from the bathroom. He was none too thrilled when he spotted a woman in his seat, and became even more annoyed when he realized who she was. His hormones were flaring, and instinct alerted him that a potential competitor was horning in on his alpha. He could not permit this.

The consulting criminal sauntered over, making an effort to sit on his husband’s lap, but not quite being able to heft himself up properly. The assassin had to assist, actually lifting him with both arms in order to secure him in place.    

“Not so dead after all, aye?” the genius spoke, addressing Irene.

“No. You either, huh?”

“Well, I’m sitting here, so obviously not. Duh.”    

Irene focused her sights on Seb. “This is the recipient of your undying fidelity? I never would’ve guessed.”

“Don’t feel badly about it, dear,” the Irishman quipped. “You’re not the sharpest of the lot. I’m sure a great many things elude you.” 

“Still as charming as ever, Moriarty.”

“I do try.”

“Jim and I were just grabbing a nightcap. We really should get to our room,” Seb stated. He wanted to vacate this situation, pronto.

“I suppose I understand the Shirley Temple now,” Adler commented, glancing at the drink and then back to the couple. “You look like you’re positively ready to pop. I guess that kind of weight gain really shows on a person your size. Not as many places to distribute the pounds.”

The mastermind was stricken by her stinging remark, but he had to put on a brave face. “Honey, don’t even attempt to be clever. It doesn’t suit you.”    

Irene was about to respond when her phone went off. She checked the device and swiftly stood up. Clearly, she received whatever message she’d been waiting for.

“If you’ll excuse me, gentlemen, I have business to attend to. It’s been splendid chatting.” And just like that, she was gone. It was almost as if she existed in ephemeral form— a ghost, sent to rattle their bones and then vanish into the night.  

“Thank God,” Seb said, breathing a sigh of relief. “I was beginning to think she’d never leave.”

“That fucking cunt should’ve stayed dead,” Jim spat. “Maybe we ought to remedy her resurrection.”

“Magpie, we’re on holiday. Let’s not kill anyone for now, okay? I want to savor this time away with you.”

Moriarty took a deep, calming breath. “You’re right, love. Seeing her invade my territory set me on edge. And that awful remark…”

“She was just trying to push your buttons. Don’t let it get to you.” The sniper took advantage of his spouse’s placement on his lap, leaning in to nuzzle the man’s neck.

There is was again. That alluringly sweet scent. It seemed to be growing more pronounced by the day.

“Jimmy, you smell like heaven,” he declared, littering the exposed section of skin with hungry kisses.

“I think the scent gets stronger as pregnancy progresses, if I remember my high school biology text correctly,” the consulting criminal teased, enjoying the attention he was being given.

Sebastian grunted. “I never got to put on a show for you last night,” he whispered hotly into the omega’s ear. “I think it’s time to amend that.”

Jim’s eyes blazed with an all-consuming lust. He could feel his mate’s burgeoning arousal as it pressed against his backside, and he wanted more.

“Do your worst, darling.”

Moran required no further encouragement. In an instant, he was carrying his Magpie out of the bar and into an elevator headed upstairs. They mustn’t dally— this was to be a performance for the ages.

Chapter Text

Sunlight shined through a gap in the curtains, signaling a new day had arisen for the Tiger and his Magpie. This was no ordinary morning. After four glorious days spent in Monte Carlo, it was time for the couple to bid France adieu.

Jim shifted in Sebastian’s arms, maneuvering so that he could kiss the sleepy sniper. Moran began to stir at the feel of his lover’s lips, humming softly as he awakened.

“Morning, my dear,” Moriarty whispered.

“Already? I don’t believe it.”

“I’m afraid so, Sebby.”

“Let’s pretend it isn’t.”

“Sorry, darling, but we’ve got a long day ahead of us. I say we get the ball rolling bright and early.”

The mastermind sat up and scooted to the edge of the bed, attempting to stand. He grumbled in frustration as his efforts failed.

“I need some help here, Tiger.” Jim looked towards his husband, affecting a coquettish stare. He was trying to appear as enticing as possible to get the man moving.

“Of course.” Moran rose from the mattress and approached Moriarty, carefully easing him into an upright position. “There you go. Better?”

“Much. Thanks, hon.”

“I aim to please,” he said with a wink. “How about we grab some breakfast and then I bring our luggage to the car?”

“Excellent suggestion. I’m itching to get on the road.”

Seb nodded. As wonderful as their mini-vacation had been, he understood why the Irishman was so keen to return to London. It was because they had a bigoted son of a bitch in their midst. Ever since the vandalism incident at the party, both he and his partner wanted to determine who was responsible for the heinous display. The sooner they got home, the sooner they could probe the situation.  

“By the way, you’ll be riding shotgun for the trip back.” Jim flashed a cheeky, devil-may-care grin at the assassin.

“Is that a fact?” He wasn’t sure how to take the news. On one hand, Moriarty was footing the bill for the Ferrari rental. So really, he had every right to drive it. But on the other hand, Seb was feeling fiercely protective. The idea of his mate behind the wheel of a sports car filled him with dread. There was so much potential danger involved.

“You bet your ass it’s a fact. I rented the bloody thing— I ought to have a crack at driving it. Can’t let you have all the fun.”

“Oh, I think you’ve had a great deal of fun these past few days,” Moran flirtatiously replied.

Ever since the duo’s run-in with Irene at the hotel bar, they’d decided to cut themselves off from the rest of the world. They powered down their phones and only left their room to occasionally dine at the downstairs restaurant. All other time was spent together, basking in a suite that’d become a veritable love nest. It was a place of absolute bliss.

Jim blushed slightly at his alpha’s insinuation. He had been insatiable, no doubt about it. The genius’s libido was skyrocketing off the charts. He figured it had to be hormonal, and made a mental note to mention it to Dr. Swenson at his next prenatal appointment.         

“Fancy a shower before we go eat?” Seb asked.

“Sounds lovely, though I may require your assistance reaching a few spots.” Bending down was not something the consulting criminal could do easily anymore. Thank goodness he had such an attentive spouse. 

“Whatever you need, I will humbly oblige,” the blonde assured. Sharing his life with Jim was a privilege and he took none of it for granted. Even performing small tasks for the man was a blessing.

*********

The trip home was considerably more pleasant than the ride out had been. For starters, they were actually talking this time around. Hours on the road flew by faster once conversation was introduced. It also helped that they no longer had an arrival deadline looming overhead. While the pair wished to travel with expediency, they could be a bit more flexible in terms of making pit stops along the way.

“If you get tired at any point, say the word and I’ll take the wheel,” Sebastian spoke.

“Tiger, I believe that’s the third time you’ve made such an offer. I appreciate the thought, but I’m a big boy. I can manage driving us back to the rental lot in one piece.”

“I know, I just worry. If I could, I’d probably cover you in bubble wrap for protection,” he teased.

Jim chuckled. “Bubble wrap, aye? Why stop there? A giant hamster ball would have so much more flair.”

“Not a bad idea. If you started to get on my nerves, I could roll you in the opposite direction. Problem solved.”

“It goes both ways, darling. If you pissed me off, I could roll right over you— splat, like a bug.”

“Well, then, remind me to stay on your good side.”

The two men smiled warmly at each other, feeling more carefree than they had in ages. Seb was delighted to see his mate in better spirits. He loved laughing and joking with Jim; loved the playful rapport between them. After all he’d been through this past year, his Magpie deserved happiness.

Moriarty hissed, inhaling sharply. “Aaah, that was a strong one.”

“One what? A kick?”

“Yeah. Forget dance and football— these babies are training to be martial artists. At this rate, they may soon qualify for black belts in utero.”

“They’re feisty, Jim, just like you.”

Moran didn’t think it possible, but his husband’s grin somehow grew even wider than it already was.

“Oh, Tiger, I do hope so. I want our children to exemplify the best of us both.”

“That’s a nice thought, Jimmy. I hope so, too.” Indeed, he did. Because if they inherited their less than admirable traits, heaven help anyone who got in Essie and Eddie’s way. The world may not be able to handle them.

There was a brief pause before the mastermind spoke again. “I’m considering joining a specialized pregnancy group when we get back to London.”

“Really?” This was the first Seb was hearing of it.

“Yes, it’s supposed to be for expectant male omegas. Meant to facilitate interaction with others who are going through the same thing.”

“Sounds like a fine idea.” Maybe Jim could find solidarity amongst them.

“I didn’t even realize such a group existed until Annie told me about it at the party. Her brother-in-law used to attend meetings before he had his daughter.”

 “Hmm…would I be allowed to accompany you?” These days, he really didn’t like leaving Jim unattended for too long.

“I don’t think so. From what she said, partners aren’t generally included.”

The policy made sense. Male omegas faced unique challenges. By keeping the group private, it enabled them to create a safe space where they could find security and support without fear of outside judgment. 

“Ah, I get it. Keep the spouses away so you can vent your frustrations about us,” Moran jested.

“An omega having frustrations with their alpha?” he asked in mock surprise. “You’ll turn society on its ear with that revelation.”

“I’m counting on it,” the former colonel deadpanned. “In other news, the sky is blue and grass is green. You’re married to an astonishingly perceptive man, kitten.”

For just a second, during a stop in traffic, Moriarty took his eyes off the road to shoot Seb a glance. Brief as it was, it told the assassin all he needed to know. Jim was happy. Despite the endless stresses of life, he was genuinely content.

“Tiger?”

“Yes?”

“You can take the wheel. I think I’m ready for a nap,” he declared, his statement punctuated with a yawn.

“Okay.”

The genius soon pulled over to the shoulder of the road, where he and Seb swapped places. Settling into the passenger side, Jim reclined his seat while the assassin pulled something from his backpack. It was a fleece blanket.

“Here, let me tuck you in.” He covered up the smaller man and placed a kiss to his forehead. “Sweet dreams, darling.”

“Love you, Sebby,” the consulting criminal cooed, snuggling against the soft material.

“Love you, too.”   

Chapter Text

At last, Jim and Sebastian were home. It felt good to be back in London. The only aspect they were less than thrilled about was the brisk English air and dreary skies that greeted them on arrival. Too bad the British Isles didn’t have the same temperate conditions as Saint-Tropez.

Once Seb brought their luggage inside, he got to work unloading the postbox. For having been gone a week, a shocking amount of items had amassed.

“God, look at it all,” Jim exclaimed as the sniper dropped the pile onto the coffee table.

“We wouldn’t have so much junk mail if you didn’t keep sending away for catalogues.”

“Hush. You know what a savvy shopper I am.”

Moriarty sifted through the stack, stopping when he came across an envelope addressed to his husband. Actually, it was listed as being both to and from Moran. He had to double check that he’d read it correctly, before quickly realizing what he was looking at.

“Tiger, your brother sent you something.”

“Hmm?” Seb took the envelope and saw for himself that the return address was indeed credited to an ‘S. Moran’ in Melbourne, Australia. He opened the mailing and discovered it was a birthday card.

 

Dear Sebastian,

Happy 40th. Sorry I can’t be there to celebrate with you. Hope the day treats you well.

Sincerely,

Severin

 

“Short and to the point. Sounds like Sev, all right.”

“Since I’ve known you, that’s the first card he’s sent,” Jim mused.

“Yeah, it is. Maybe he’s serious about wanting to reconnect.”

“Oh, I know he is. When I met with him, he was very sincere. He regrets letting so much time go by without speaking to you.”

The assassin shrugged. “Severin had his own life to lead. I understood that.”

“Perhaps, but he still feels badly about it.”

Moran sighed. “I’d offer to call him so we could catch up, but with the time zone difference, I don’t think it’s feasible.”

“Might I suggest you try texting or email? There are more methods of correspondence out there than just the telephone.”

“You’re right,” he admitted. “I guess a part of me is reluctant because I wouldn’t know where to start. ‘Hello, how’ve you been for the past 25-years?’ How do you even begin a conversation like that?”

“I don’t have all the answers, Tiger. But if there’s one thing I’ve come to realize these past few months, it’s that family is invaluable. I never had relatives growing up, so the concept didn’t faze me. But carrying our children has put things into perspective. They’re my flesh and blood, and I would do anything for them. The same goes for you, too,” Moriarty professed. “I— no, scratch that— we have a family now, and I cherish it. So I think you ought not worry about what you say to your brother. Just the fact that you’re reaching out to him is the important part. Content is secondary to the gesture in and of itself.”

Sebastian paused, contemplating his mate’s words. “When did you become so wise?”

“I’ve always been a visionary, my dear. Though I do tend to believe I’ve gained greater clarity of late.”

The blonde smiled warmly. Pregnancy really had brought out something wonderful in Jim. Hell, it was having a positive effect on them both. “Have I told you yet today how much I adore you?”

“You have, but it’s the sort of thing that bears repeating,” he answered with a sly expression on his face.

Seb gazed in awe at the other man, utterly spellbound. Sometimes he felt so much affection for Jim, it was overwhelming. His heart swelled at the mere sight and sound of him, cresting in ways he could not possibly convey through language alone.

The consulting criminal glanced at his watch. “I’ve got a fabulous idea. Let’s go to high tea. I’m sure they must offer an herbal blend at The Ritz or The Savoy.”

Ah, yes, high tea. Several upscale establishments held such proceedings on a daily basis. The events were always expensive, urbane, and featured a strict ‘jacket and tie, no jeans’ policy. Naturally, Moriarty loved to attend. Moran, not so much. But if it pleased Jim, he would oblige.

“Admit it, Magpie— this is just an excuse to get me into a suit.”

“Nooooo. It’s a way of getting you into a suit while also enjoying the finer delicacies of life. You see? There’s a subtle difference.”

That cheeky git. “Brilliant logic, darling. I don’t know how you manage it.”

“With smoke and mirrors,” he sassed back. “Now go on and get changed. I want you to wear the pinstripe Westwood I bought you last Christmas.”

The sniper quirked an eyebrow. Jim loved him in that suit. Well, more to the point, he loved taking him out of it.

“Planning some post-tea activities, are we?”

“Now that you mention it, I did want to pop in at headquarters. After what happened at the party, I think I should make my presence known. Show whoever committed the vandalism that I won’t be intimidated in any way.”

“Oh. Okay, sure. We can do that if you’d like.” The disappointment in Seb’s voice was palpable.

Now it was Jim’s turn to raise a brow. “Tiiiiiiger,” he drawled, “what did yoooouu have in mind, hmm?”

“Nothing much. Just countless hours of unbridled passion, punctuated by screams of ecstasy echoing through the night.”

Moriarty gasped. “Oh my. Well, the day’s still young. I think we have plenty of time to tackle that endeavor, don’t you?”

Moran grunted hungrily at the prospect. He wanted to say, ‘to hell with tea and headquarters,’ and simply drag the Irishman off to the bedroom. But he had too much respect for Jim to do that. It would be wrong to place his desires above those of his mate’s. An expectant omega was to be revered.

“I’ll get dressed right now,” Seb said.

“Good. And hon? Do put on your burgundy tie. It really brings out your eyes.”

“Yes, sir.” Who was he to argue with fashion advice from Mr. Sex?

*********

High tea at The Ritz proved interesting, and not necessarily in a good way. Service was impeccable and the food and drink were excellent— they even had multiple varieties of herbal brew for Jim to sample. The patrons, however, were another story.

Jim and Seb recognized many of the guests that afternoon. A number of businessmen and women they’d had prior dealings with made an appearance. Most were not willing to acknowledge the duo, a fact which became increasingly difficult to deny.

While it’s true that some may not wish to openly fraternize with a man as infamous as James Moriarty, he would typically be afforded a polite greeting or nod. Today, though, it seemed people were actively avoiding eye contact with him and his sniper. Worse, the handful of times he did catch someone glancing their way, it was accompanied by hushed chatter.

“I know they’re gossiping, Seb. Running their fucking mouths as though they’ve got nothing better to do,” Jim spat. “What a disgraceful bunch of prigs.”

“I thought you didn’t care what others said about you?” Moran remarked, taking a sip of Earl Grey.

The consulting criminal glared at his mate. “I care when we’re being blatantly disrespected, and you should, too. This is appalling.”

“I’ll grant you it’s strange, but for the sake of your health, you can’t let it upset you.”

“How can I not? I demand to know why we’re suddenly being given the cold shoulder. There’s got to be a reason.”

Sebastian paused, considering the situation. “Maybe they’re just not used to seeing you pregnant,” he suggested. “It’s been a while since we’ve done much socializing around the city, and working from home, you take conference calls rather than hold meetings in person. It could be that some folks simply haven’t seen you like this before and it’s jarring to them.”

Moriarty’s look of frustration grew more intense. “Why would it jar them, Seb? And why would they be avoiding you as well?” The Irishman’s tone was razor sharp, his features becoming animated as he spoke.

“Magpie, you’re the most dangerous man in London. Like it or not, that kind of reputation carries expectations and ideals. ‘Tough guy’ stereotypes, really,” the assassin stated. “The notion of you bearing children is probably a surprise to a lot of people because they only view you as a criminal extraordinaire. They don’t get to witness the sides of you that I do. They don’t realize how multifaceted you are, and so it’s shocking to them,” Seb asserted. “As for them snubbing me…well, it could be because they suspect I’m the father. Logic dictates this wasn’t an immaculate conception, and we do spend a fair amount of time together.”

The genius sighed, reflecting on his husband’s hypothesis. He raised good points. Perhaps that’s all this was— a kneejerk reaction to an unanticipated occurrence, e.g., his pregnancy, and the speculation as to who’d put him in such a state. At that rate, was this truly worth getting worked up over?

Jim stared into the boundless depths of Seb’s blue eyes, admiring the strength and wisdom housed within. He loved that he and his Tiger could talk through things together. Though neither relished flowery, emotional discussions, impending parenthood had gone a long way towards helping them open up and be completely honest with one another. He dare say they’d reached a new level of intimacy in their relationship and had never been stronger as a couple. It was exhilarating.

“You’re probably right,” Moriarty finally said. “I don’t know why I insist upon overcomplicating matters.”

“It’s because you’re slightly neurotic,” the sniper teased. “But that’s fine by me— I find it rather endearing.”

He snorted. “Endearing? Please. I annoy myself sometimes. It’s these bloody hormones, I swear.”

Sebastian smiled at his mate. Jim could try pinning this on the babies all he liked, but it didn’t make it so. He’d always been high-strung, pregnant or not.

“Tiger?”

“Yes, dear?”

“Are you going to finish that?” the omega asked, eyeing up a half-eaten finger sandwich on Seb’s plate.

“I’ve had my fill,” he warmly replied. 

Moriarty wasted no time polishing off the leftovers. He also made short work of his last few biscuits and tea. Before he knew it, all that remained was an empty platter.

“I think I’m done,” the Irishman spoke. “Let’s pay the bill and stop in at headquarters.”

“Sounds good. Then, after we’re through there, we’ll have time for other endeavors,” Moran reminded with a wink.

“You’re insatiable, darling.”

Seb flashed him a smoldering gleam. “And you love it.”

“I dooooo.”  

Chapter Text

It was late afternoon when Jim and Sebastian dropped by headquarters. As soon as they walked in, they got the sense that something wasn’t quite right. Everyone suddenly grew silent at their presence and no one wanted to make eye contact with them. It was reminiscent of what had occurred during high tea at The Ritz.

Moriarty pulled his mate aside to discuss the curious situation. “Okay, this is getting too strange. It can’t be a coincidence that we’ve received the same reception twice in one day. Something is going on.”

“It does seem odd,” the sniper admitted. He’d been quick to write off the reactions at the hotel, but this development called his original assumption into question. Maybe there really was more to it than he thought.

“We need to figure this out. I’ve got half a mind to address the room and ask them what their bloody problem is.”

“Wait,” Seb said, remembering how he’d dealt with a similar situation once before. “Let’s talk to your secretary. She knows the inner-workings of this office like the back of her hand.” When people started gossiping during Jim’s kidnapping ordeal, Suzy was the one he turned to for information. Why not approach her again now?

“Okay,” the mastermind agreed. “I’ll call her in for a meeting.”

Moran nodded, eager to get answers. There was definitely something afoot and they deserved to know the truth.

*********

KNOCK. KNOCK.

“Come in,” Jim commanded, and Suzy entered his office.

“You wanted to see me, Mr. Moriarty?”

“Yes. Please shut the door behind you and take a seat.”

The woman did as directed, sitting opposite him and Seb. “How may I help you, sir?”

“You can tell us what’s going on around here,” he sharply replied. “It’s obvious people were reacting in a peculiar manner when we arrived. What we don’t know is why. Care to shed some light on the subject?”

Her expression sank. “You’re…unaware of recent events?” The secretary’s voice was equal parts saddened and surprised.

Jim and Sebastian exchanged a worried glance. What exactly happened while they were away, and why were they only now finding out about it? This was terribly disconcerting.

“Apparently, we’ve missed a few things. Bring us up to speed.”

“I…well…I’m not sure how to say this,” she stammered, visibly nervous.

“We’re all adults here,” Sebastian interjected. “Whatever it is, surely we can handle it.”

Suzy stared at the formidable men, appearing very much on edge. Neither had seen her like this before. She generally conducted herself with poise and efficiency.

“Come on,” Jim hissed. “Just tell us, for Christ’s sake.” His tone was harsher than he’d intended it to be.

“I’m sorry, sir. This is difficult for me to explain.” She paused, collecting her thoughts. “Have you checked your email lately?”

Moriarty’s face scrunched up in confusion. “Email? What’s that got to do with it?”

“We’ve had our phones turned off since the first night in Monaco,” Moran stated. They’d been so wrapped up in each other, they hadn’t bothered powering them back on, nor had they logged onto a computer, either. The break from technology was refreshing.

“Oh, dear…” Suzy fretfully remarked.

“What? Why is that important?” Jim exclaimed, beginning to lose his composure.

The duo simultaneously whipped out their mobile devices, firing them up for the first time in days. If something significant had come through the mail, they were determined to see it for themselves. After about 60 seconds, their phones successfully booted and they were able to view new messages.        

Jim saw what was circulating and instantly went into a fit. His blood pressure monitor began to blare and he shook so badly he dropped his phone. Sebastian was also taken off guard, growling loudly as the mobile screen cracked under the force of his grip.

This was worse than they ever could’ve dreamt. Some sick son of a bitch had violated their privacy in one of the vilest ways imaginable. They’d secretly recorded the couple in their Monte Carlo hotel room— specifically, the night when Seb had given his husband what he thought was a ‘private dance performance’ and then made love to him for hours.

To add insult to injury, the twisted voyeur did the unthinkable and forwarded the video across headquarters, cc’ing it to some outside business associates as well. The original sender’s identity was encrypted, but a brief message was attached: You don’t get to walk away.

The sniper had no time to think about what the ominous comment might mean. Jim was fading fast and required his immediate attention.

“S-S-S,” Moriarty attempted to speak Seb’s name, but the words would not come out. He was deathly pale, beads of sweat running down ashen skin.    

“Jimmy, please try to breathe. I know this is upsetting, but remember your techniques.”

It wasn’t working. This bout of anxiety had hit him more intensely than the last, and the genius was too far gone for simple remedies. Sebastian quickly realized the severity of the situation when the man clutched his chest and slumped over in his chair.

In a flash, Seb scooped up his ailing mate and laid him down on a nearby couch. Is this what a heart attack looked like, or a stroke? He was terrified of the possibilities.

“Call an ambulance NOW!” the former colonel roared at Suzy.

She did as she was told, rushing to get ahold of emergency services while Seb tried his damnedest to keep Jim conscious. It was a losing battle. 

“Stay with me, Magpie, please!” he begged.   

The consulting criminal was clammy and motioning to undo his tie. Moran took notice and helped him loosen the accessory, also unfastening the first few buttons of his shirt. He could feel how hard Jim’s heart was beating— it pounded wildly, as if trying to escape his chest.

Sebastian listened to his spouse whimper and pant, helpless as to what was going on. All he could do was hold him in his arms and whisper words of reassurance until the paramedics arrived. The wait was interminable, but he never left Moriarty’s side, riding along with him to the hospital.

As they rushed Jim into the facility, Moran was forced to let go of his hand and allow the doctors to do their work. The anguished sound the Irishman made in response was the saddest thing Seb had ever heard. After that, the tears he’d struggled not to shed flowed without end.

*********

The sniper was at a total loss. He’d gotten the hell out of the waiting room and went to the hospital’s gift shop instead. He just couldn’t bear sitting there, not knowing what condition his Magpie was in. When they wheeled him away, it was almost too much to take.

He looked around, staring vacantly at the items on display. They had trinkets for every occasion, from condolences to congratulations and all that lay in between.

Too bad they don’t have a pack of Marlboro’s.  

Seb stopped smoking at Jim’s behest when they began trying to conceive. The anxious omega didn’t want to risk exposing their potential unborn child to toxic agents. It hadn’t been easy to quit, and there were many times since then that he’d considered starting back up. Somehow, though, he always remained steadfast, even while Moriarty was being held in captivity.

Tonight was different. Tonight, he’d seen and experienced things that made him yearn for his old, trusty combo of whiskey and cigarettes. It was the bitter, burning comfort he’d relied upon for so long.     

But his thoughts inevitably returned to Jim. To his madcap kitten who loved him in spite of his innumerable flaws. It wouldn’t be right to light up again. Wouldn’t be what he wanted.

Moran snorted. It was hilarious to think that Jim was apparently the angel on his shoulder, discouraging him from certain vice. Who’d have figured?

And then the assassin saw them— bubblegum cigars sitting on the shelf. With a bleak laugh, he grabbed a box.

Call it a compromise.

Only moments later, he noticed something else on display. It was a white stuffed dog resembling the canine who’d crashed his and Jim’s picnic in Saint-Tropez. How could he resist buying that, too? The genius would surely get a kick out of it.   

Seb made his purchases and exited the shop. He walked the halls, refusing to go back to that damnable waiting room. His mind wandered as well.

We were spied on. Recorded. Intimately exposed. The reality of it hit him like a ton of bricks.

He and Moriarty were the victims of an outrageous violation and there was no way to fix it. No way to undo the damage. People had seen that video. The whole fucking office was now privy to their most private activities. How could he look any of them in the eye again?

The sniper was startled by the sudden ring of his phone. Amazing it still worked after the crushing grasp he had on it earlier.

“Hello?”

“Is this Sebastian Moran?”

“It is. Why?”

“I’m an attendant nurse in the Urgent Care unit at St. Thomas’ Hospital, and we have a patient here who’s been asking for you. He wanted to contact you himself, but didn’t have his mobile on him. He gave me your number so that I could get ahold of you instead.”

“He’s up and alert?” Seb was pleased to hear of Jim’s cognizance, but also felt guilt over the fact that he hadn’t been there when his husband requested him. He should’ve kept his ass planted firmly in that waiting room, but no, he just had to get out of there. Had to behave like a selfish twat and turn tail at the sign of trouble. It was inexcusable.

“Yes, sir. The patient, James, is stable and would very much like to see you. The physician who treated him wishes to speak to you, too. There are some matters he wants to discuss.”

Oh no. The former colonel felt sick to his stomach. Doctors never wanted to have conversations about good things. They only sought out meetings when bad news was involved. At this point, he wasn’t sure he could withstand any more distress.   

“Are you still there, sir?” The line had gone silent as Seb’s mind went into overdrive. 

“I’m here. Sorry.”

“No apologies needed. Just come to room 106. Mr. Moriarty is waiting.”

“Understood.”

With a heavy heart, Moran ended the call and headed for the specified address. Whatever happened, he and Jim would face it together.

Chapter Text

Sebastian entered Jim’s room and hurried to his bedside, hugging him tightly. A rush of emotion flooded their embrace, speaking volumes without the use of a single word. Neither wanted to let go, but after several seconds, the mastermind was the one to relent.

“Where were you?” he wearily inquired.

“I was at the gift shop,” Seb answered, presenting the bag he’d brought with him. “Take a look.”  

The Irishman peeked inside, smiling faintly when he saw its contents. “Candy cigars and an adorable little dog, aye?”

“Not just any little dog,” the blonde was quick to point out. “It’s a miniature version of Sadie. You seemed quite taken with her.”

“I was. Thank you, Tiger.” He held the toy in his hands, staring at it contemplatively. “I think this should be Essie and Eddie’s first stuffed animal. We’ll buy a second one so they don’t have to fight over it.”

“That’s a wonderful idea. All babies need something to snuggle.”

Jim nodded and then grew silent, clutching the stuffed doll. His huge dark eyes were haunted, full of sadness and dread. He was overwhelmed, struggling to keep his feelings in check.

“It’ll be okay, love,” the sniper said. It pained him to see his omega in such distress. He was already making a mental checklist of people to maim and destroy. So far, it included Colin, the vandal, and the bastard who’d recorded them in their hotel room. The roster mounted by the day.

“Sebby, I’m sorry.” Moriarty sounded utterly broken, all bravado absent from his voice.

“You’ve got no reason to be. This wasn’t your fault.”

“Isn’t it? I flipped out and ended up in the bloody hospital again. If I wasn’t so fucking weak, we wouldn’t be here.”

“You reacted to a horrifying situation,” the former colonel stated. “We’ve been wronged and I can’t fault you for getting upset. It was a shock in every sense of the word.”

Jim paused, taking a deep breath. “I just can’t abide what’s happened. There was a time when I wouldn’t have given a toss about someone taping me like that. Hell, I’d have probably gotten a laugh out of it,” he confessed. “But nowadays, my mind is in a different place. What we do together is special to me and I don’t want to share the experience with anyone else. I’m sure that sounds incredibly lame, but it’s the truth.”

Sebastian smiled. “It’s not lame at all. I understand completely. It’s special to me, too.”

When the couple initially met, the assassin was a cad of the highest order. His conquests were fleeting sources of pleasure, meant as mindless ways to occupy his time. In that sense, they had something in common. Both men were restless beyond reason, seeking distractions wherever they could. Somehow they found solace in each other, and as their relationship bloomed, Seb felt less like he was having a fling and more like he was engaging in a true romance. Crazy as it was, he’d fallen in love. The intimacy they shared was precious to him and had remained so ever since.

At that moment, the on-call physician who’d treated Jim walked in. He was a stoic middle-aged fellow, carrying himself with utmost professionalism.

“Hello, gentlemen. I’m Dr. Callahan,” he introduced. “Glad to have the both of you present.” Handshakes were exchanged and he continued, “Mr. Moriarty, there are some things regarding your health that must be discussed.”

The Tiger and his Magpie clasped hands, readying themselves for whatever lay ahead. They took a vow assuring mutual devotion in sickness and in health, and they weren’t about to break the promise now.

“You reported to an attending nurse that you’ve been suffering anxiety attacks off and on throughout the duration of your pregnancy, correct?”

“That’s right,” he replied. “I’ve had them before, but never as intense as today.”

“Based on your EKG readings, I think I can explain what happened.”

“Go on,” the genius encouraged, squeezing Moran’s hand a little bit tighter.

“Well, taking into account your history of symptoms and your most recent results, I believe you have a slight arrhythmia that’s playing a role in these attacks.”   

“What?” Jim asked in confusion. “That’s impossible. This is the third time I’ve been hospitalized within the past six months. If I had the condition you’re claiming I do, surely someone would’ve caught it by now.”

The doctor’s suggestion scared the hell out of Seb. He was no medical expert, but he recognized that an arrhythmia was related to the heart.

“It’s not the kind of thing that’s noticeable right away and it can be easy to miss when it’s a minor case,” the physician explained. “Basically, your heart is occasionally beating a little too fast. During your anxiety attacks, the adrenaline surge is compounding the matter, causing you to experience tachycardic episodes.”

Moriarty was visibly distraught by the news. “Can it be treated?”

“Honestly, there’s not a whole lot that can be done beyond keeping calm and avoiding stress in your life. In all likelihood, the arrhythmia was probably brought on by the pregnancy. Once you deliver, there’s a strong chance your heartbeat will return to normal.”   

“Thank God,” Sebastian uttered aloud. It was a huge relief to know that this was only temporary.

“It’s possible that blood flow to the fetus may be compromised during these attacks,” the doctor warned. “This is something to be mindful of because your twins are still developing. Furthermore, we don’t want to risk the possibility of triggering premature labor.”  

Jim was truly stricken. It took every ounce of fortitude within him not to cry. “What’s wrong with me?” he asked. “The high blood pressure, the stroke risk, the kidney damage risk, and now this. Why does my body hate my babies?” The anguish in his voice was harrowing.

“All pregnancies are different, and some can pose more challenges than others. Certainly, one could consider factors such as lifestyle and family history, but at the end of the day, sometimes things just happen without a definitive reason as to why.”

A sudden fury flashed in the mastermind’s eyes, his pain turning to anger. “I demand a second opinion.” 

“Of course, you’re welcome to consult with whomever you like,” Dr. Callahan acknowledged. “I could refer you to cardiology where they’d be able to run additional tests.”

“Do that.”

“Very well. Rest up and I’ll start making the arrangements.”

“Good. Now get out.”

The physician exited in short order. As soon as he was gone, Sebastian piped up.

“Are you sure this is what you want?”

“Yes, Seb, it is. I refuse to believe that my body has betrayed me this badly. That it’s responsible for hurting our children over and over again.”

Moran was unsettled by his mate’s remark. Clearly, the man blamed himself for his own medical problems. This was not good.

“Jimmy, I don’t think your health issues are anyone’s fault. Who knows why the human body responds the way it does? Take me, for example. I’m allergic to avocadoes. Too much guacamole and I break into hives. It’s weird as fuck and no one’s ever been able to figure out why. It simply is, through no wrongdoing of mine.”

The consulting criminal shook his head. “That’s not the same thing. You’re talking about a bloody food allergy. I’m talking about a failure to safely sustain our children’s lives. There’s a big difference,” he insisted. “I’m having the additional tests done and that’s final.”

Seb sighed. It was no use arguing. Ultimately, he’d do whatever he pleased.

“All right, kitten. If you really want this, I’ll stand by you.” The sniper leaned in and kissed the top of Jim’s head, snuggling him close.

This is going to be a long night.

*********

Dr. Callahan made good on his offer to have Moriarty evaluated by the cardiology department. A battery of tests were performed and now he had to wait for the results. Until those came in, he and Sebastian were left alone in the mastermind’s private room.

“Tell me something, Tiger. Do you think that the vandalism incident at your party and the hotel room recording could be related?”

Oh boy. The assassin had wondered about that, too.

“I don’t know, hon. Can’t rule it out at this point.”

“And what about Irene?”

Seb arched a brow. “What of her?”

“Do you suppose she might be involved? She was at the hotel the night we were spied on.”

“Truthfully, no, I don’t believe she is. Adler may use scandal to her advantage, but in the form of blackmail. Not like this.”

“Yeah, that’s not her style at all,” Jim agreed. “You know, before I dropped my phone, I saw the message attached to the video mailing. It reminded me of…”

“Colin,” Seb said, completing the thought. “It was similar to the kind of notes he would leave us.”

You don’t get to walk away. That sounded exactly like something he’d say. Vague threats and sinister statements were his calling card.

But how could it be possible? He was locked up. There’d been no reports of him escaping the authorities. And even if he had, how would he have known the location of the party and the hotel they were staying at? Unless he’d somehow gained the power of clairvoyance, it was improbable. 

“Logically, I realize there’s no way it could be him,” the genius began, “but it just feels like it is.” Moriarty paused, turning an idea over in his mind. “Maybe…maybe he’s got an accomplice?”

Jim’s words hung in the air, the chilling suggestion filling both men with dread. If true, it meant that Colin was working with someone they knew. Someone they employed, for that matter. An individual who had access to their inner-circle and could strike at any time. It was a terrifying notion.

“That settles it, then. Tomorrow we delve deep into the backgrounds of our most recent hires. It’s got to be one of them,” Moran fumed. “I’m sorry I let this happen on my watch. You trusted me to vet our newest employees, and I allowed some traitorous cretin into the fold. I failed you, Magpie.”

“Never, darling. You did the best you could. Whoever this rogue operative is, they must’ve provided decent credentials for you to have given them a chance. You couldn’t have known their true alliance.”

“I just wish I’d protected you better. That’s all I ever want to do, Jimmy. Protect you and our cubs.”

KNOCK. KNOCK.

There was an abrupt rapping at the door, and seconds later, a nurse walked in.

“Good evening. My name is Jane and I assist the department head. I’ve been authorized to deliver Mr. Moriarty’s test results. If he has any questions regarding them, I can put him in touch with our lead cardiologist.”

“Okay, what’s the verdict?” Jim asked.

The woman paged through the paperwork in her hands. “According to this, the attending ER physician’s diagnosis was correct. You have a very minor arrhythmia that’s acting in conjunction with your panic attacks. It’s recommended you take things easy. Avoid potential stressors and cut caffeine from your diet.”

“He already avoids caffeine on account of his blood pressure,” Seb was quick to note.

“That’s great,” she cheerfully replied. “Keep doing what you’re doing, then.”

There was an awkward silence as Jane waited for acknowledgement from Jim himself. Usually the person receiving results would engage in some form of communication with her; exhibit a sign that they understood what she’d told them.

BEEP. BEEP. BEEP.

Jim’s monitor shrilly rang out as he shook with rage.     

“LIAR!” the Irishman shouted. He attempted to leap off the bed and lunge at her, but did not have enough mobility to complete the task. Instead, he fell and landed belly-first onto the tile floor.

“Jimmy!” Moran exclaimed, horrified at what he’d witnessed. He knelt down by his spouse to assist.

The nurse, meanwhile, was aghast. “He’s insane! I should call security. Have him thrown out of here or sent to the psych unit for observation.”

“Please don’t do anything drastic,” the former colonel pled. “Help me get him back into bed and I promise he won’t hurt you. I’m his alpha— I’ll make sure of it.”

She seemed hesitant, but begrudgingly complied when she saw Jim make no further advances to harm her.

After situating him, the nurse locked eyes with Moriarty. They were wide and sorrowful, reminiscent of a frightened animal.

“Hey, it’s okay,” Jane reassured. “Take deep breaths, in and out. It should ease your anxiety a bit.”

“He practices exercises like that at home a lot,” Sebastian remarked.

The woman smiled warmly at her patient. “You’ve cut out caffeine and you’ve worked on breathing techniques? That’s wonderful. You’re ahead of the curve, sir.”

“I’m sorry,” Jim somberly spoke. A choked sob soon followed as he cupped the swell of his stomach. “I’m a fucking idiot for what I just did and I’m afraid I hurt the babies.”

“They’re probably fine,” she stated. “It wasn’t much of a fall.”

Her words were cold comfort to the frantic omega. “Check them!” he tearfully demanded. “Check them, please.

“Okay, calm down. If it makes you feel better, we can do a scan.” The nurse paused, an idea coming to mind. “How would you like a 3D ultrasound?”

“3D?” Moriarty and his mate looked at each other. This was something they’d discussed but never actually done. Perhaps they ought to seize the opportunity now.

“What do you think, Magpie?”        

“Let’s do it.”

Jane smiled at the couple. “I’ll bring in the equipment. Hold on.”

A few minutes passed and the nurse returned with the ultrasound machine in tow. They proceeded as normal, applying gel to Jim’s abdomen and placing the transducer on the exposed area. The image that came on screen was very different from the usual, though.

“Oh, wow.” Sebastian was taken aback by the picture clarity. This wasn’t merely blurry shadows and murky outlines— you could discern actual features.

The consulting criminal gazed at the monitor the way one might when viewing a piece of art. He was really and truly seeing his children, finally able to make out the shapes of their tiny noses and mouths, their sweet little eyelids, and their stubby— but beautiful— fingers. One was even sucking its thumb. 

“Tiger, this is incredible.” Jim reached out to grasp Seb’s hand, his smile bright enough to light up the room. “Look at them. They’re perfect,” he marveled.

Moran grinned, too. Not only because of the babies, but also because Moriarty’s blood pressure had relaxed. Somehow, Essie and Eddie always seemed to have a calming effect on him.   

The nurse turned up the volume on the device so that the twins’ heartbeats could be better heard. They sounded good, pumping at a steady rate.

“I hope this allays your worry,” Jane spoke. “Your babies are doing fine.”

Indeed, the ultrasound did wonders for Jim’s peace of mind. For a brief moment, he could forget about all the awful, demoralizing events that had occurred of late. Everything bad faded away, supplanted by the unconditional love and absolute joy he felt for his children. It was sublime.    

Chapter Text

A few days had passed since Jim and Sebastian went back to work. They doubled down on their efforts to discover the traitor amongst them, conducting strenuous independent research. So far, nothing really stuck out as a red flag. It was a bit disconcerting, because if the vandalism and spying couldn’t be traced to a recent hire, then it meant they’d have to consider the awful possibility that an established team member might be responsible for those acts.

The sniper desperately wanted to interrogate Colin. He was almost positive that the man had some connection to what happened, though he couldn’t be sure to what extent. A torture session or two might compel the bastard to talk, but Seb knew he’d never be allowed near him after the debacle of their last meeting. The police were furious about it, and even Jim’s contact on the force wouldn’t be enough to get him in for another go-around.

“Sebbbbby,” the mastermind sang out, pulling Moran from his thoughts. “Is breakfast ready?”

“It will be soon, love. Why don’t you sit down and read the paper while you wait? It’s on the table.”

Jim entered the kitchen at a gingerly pace. He wasn’t using mobility aids anymore, relying instead on his own coordination.

“That smells divine,” he said, taking a seat.

“Hopefully it will taste good, too.” This morning’s meal was a real treat: steak, eggs, and hash browns. 

Seb was contentedly cooking when he heard a loud gasp from his mate. Turning around quickly, he asked, “What’s the matter?”

“Have you seen today’s headline?”

“No, I didn’t bother to check it when I brought the paper in,” he admitted.

“Take a look.” Jim held up The Daily Telegraph so that he could read the front page.

Murder Trial for Slain American Decorator Delayed as Defense Argues to Dismiss All Charges.

The assassin was stunned by the news, dropping his spatula with a clatter. He hastily retrieved the utensil and closed in on Jim, reading the article over his shoulder.

He could hardly believe what was being reported. Apparently, because Sherlock and John were credited as having discovered Lisa’s body before the police did, Colin’s lawyer was arguing that it was an unlawful search and suggested her remains may have been planted on the scene. The magistrate was said to be considering a dismissal of charges, pending further review of the evidence.

“This is outrageous!” Seb snarled. How could the authorities entertain letting him go? The notion was flabbergasting.   

“Tiger, if he goes free, you know he’ll come after us.”

“No, Jim. Never. I won’t let him.”

“You said that before and he still kidnapped me.”

Sebastian blanched at Moriarty’s words. The truth hurt. “I’m sorry, kitten. I should’ve protected you better.” His head hung low as he spoke, ashamed to look Jim in the eye.

“I didn’t mean it like that,” the consulting criminal insisted. “I know you did everything you could. I’m just worried for our children. I can’t risk the lives of these babies. They mean the world to me.”  

Suddenly, smoke began pluming from the stove.

“Shit!” the sniper exclaimed, rushing to pull a charred pan of potatoes off the burner and setting it in the sink.

“So much for Colonel Moran’s heavenly hash browns.”

“Sorry, darling. I can make more if you’d like.”

“It’s okay, I could stand to cut back on the carbs anyway.”

“Hush. You’re handsome as ever.”

Moran began plating the non-burnt food, making sure to serve his spouse first. By the time he sat down to join Jim, the smaller man had already dug in.

“I do apologize for my lack of manners. Essie and Eddie demanded I start in on the steak. If I don’t abide their wishes, they’ll be kicking me in the ribs all morning.”

Sebastian chuckled. “Is that so?”

“Oh, yes. It is,” he confirmed. “Yesterday, I got stuck on a conference call and had to take a late lunch. The babies proceeded to kickbox me from the inside out for a solid hour. They’re an unforgiving pair.”

“Our little hellions,” Seb teased.

“I’d expect nothing less.”

The Tiger and his Magpie enjoyed the rest of their breakfast together. No more talk of Colin was had— both realized it was futile to stress over something that may not even happen. The authorities had yet to make a decision, and until then, they refused to live in fear of “what ifs.”

*********

Jim was bored. Totally, utterly, and unrelentingly bored.

It was a slow day without any meetings or calls on the schedule. He checked in with his husband, who told him things were fine at headquarters. The atmosphere was awkward due to the video that had circulated, but beyond that, it was uneventful. Nothing new there.

Moriarty needed something to do. An activity to focus on. Ordinarily, baking would fill that void. Now, however, being nearly 6 ½ months pregnant, he could no longer withstand a task which required him to be up and down at regular intervals. His back ached, his feet hurt, and he became winded quite easily. Clearly, he was better suited for more sedentary endeavors.  

An idea had been rattling around the mastermind’s brain. Ages ago, he’d made a point of trying out different hobbies. One of those pastimes was knitting. He didn’t stick with it at the time, but lately the activity held increasing appeal. It was something he could do that necessitated little physical movement while also providing a creative outlet.       

The holidays weren’t too far off. There were plenty of things he could craft for the occasion. He imagined knitting a Christmas sweater for Seb and blankets for the babies. All tiger-striped, of course.

And why stop there? The more Jim thought about it, the more items he wanted to make. Caps, scarves, cloaks— the sky was the limit. Perhaps he’d even attempt to knit dolls for the twins. Oh, what an exciting prospect!

But he would need yarn, and patterns, and probably a whole lot of other things he didn’t currently possess. That was easy enough to fix, though. A trip to the fabrics and crafts shop should suffice.

“What do you think, darlings?” the genius spoke, placing a hand to his stomach. He felt a tiny patter, which he chose to interpret as a sign of agreement.

“We’d best get a move on,” he advised his unborn children. “Daddy’s going to channel all his energy into walking around the store.”

Jim grabbed his wallet, phone, and keys and headed for the door. He was a man on a mission. ‘Operation Knitwear’ would soon commence.

*********

Crowds were surprisingly sparse at The Sewing Sophisticate. Moriarty was grateful for that much. He was able to pace himself as he wheeled a cart throughout the store, browsing goods to his heart’s content without hordes of people getting in the way.

He’d already picked up orange and black yarn for the tiger print and was trying to decide on other colors as well. The display presented a rainbow of possibilities.

Rainbow, Jim thought with a smirk. Yes, that’s it! He would buy one of each shade to create a beautiful rainbow patterned design. Babies were supposed to like vibrant colors, right? He was positive he’d read that somewhere.

BZZZ. BZZZ.

The mastermind’s phone buzzed. Hoping it might be Sebastian, he broke from browsing to check his mobile device.  

 

Unknown Sender

I wanna ride you all night, you hot little whore.

 

“What?!” Moriarty exclaimed upon reading the vulgar message. Before he had a chance to ask the obscene texter who he was, more correspondences started flooding in from other unidentified persons.

How many cocks can you take at a time?

I’ll fuck you ‘til you cry.

Hottest video ever. Make more.

Wish I was the lucky bastard who knocked you up.

Jim was absolutely horrified. What was going on here? One of the texts mentioned a ‘video.’ This had to be related to his and Seb’s wholly unauthorized sex tape. But mortifying as it was, that’d only circulated across the office and to select associates. So why was he suddenly receiving a barrage of lewd, anonymous messages about it?

He scrolled to find the comment that had expressly referenced a video, intent to reply.

 

JM

What video? And how did you get this number?

 

Unknown Sender

Vid @ XXXomegasex. Number was posted on the page. Said to text for more action.

 

“Oh God,” Moriarty whispered, realizing what this meant. Someone had taken the illicit footage of him and his husband and put it on the internet, along with personal information and an ‘invitation’ to contact him.

He could feel the palpitations coming on. He needed to get out of there, and fast, before his monitor went off.

The Irishman abandoned his cart and rushed outside. He got into his car, but was so worked up, he didn’t trust himself to drive. Instead, he simply pounded on the steering wheel as tears ran unbidden down his face. So many emotions swirled in a frenzy, threatening to overtake him.

Jim pulled his phone back out, trying hard to ignore the slew of filthy text messages that continued to pour in.

 

JM

Need you, Sebby. I’m parked in front of The Sewing Sophisticate. Please come.

 

Once his mate got there, they’d figure out their next move.

Chapter Text

“I’ll fucking kill them,” Sebastian growled. “All of them.”

The sniper had just finished scrolling through the deluge of obscene messages his husband received. It was sickening. Some of the things these anonymous texters said they wanted to do to him were downright depraved. He was legitimately worried for Jim’s safety.

“Have at it, honey. I won’t stop you,” the mastermind remarked. “But at the moment, I think it’s more important that we figure out who posted the video with my phone number attached.”

Seb understood the urgency. Only a select group of people were privy to Moriarty’s contact information. If the person who uploaded the video knew that kind of detail, it certainly narrowed the suspect list.

“How do you want to proceed?”

“For starters, I’m taking the site down. Not just our video, but the whole bloody thing. Those bastards will have to find another pregnant omega porn page to wank off to.”

“Fine by me,” Moran agreed. As far as he was concerned, no one should be looking at Jim like that. It enraged him to think of random strangers viewing his mate as a piece of meat.

“After that, I’m going to check my incoming call log. Print out the names of everyone who’s phoned me for the past year. Then we’ll concentrate on any newly hired employees who turn up there. Go through their computers and look for suspicious activity,” he declared. “I can’t imagine anyone would be so stupid as to upload the footage directly from headquarters, but it’s worth reviewing just in case.”

“Sounds like a plan. When shall we begin?”

“Immediately. I’ll go home and get to work hacking the website. Once I find a backdoor inside, I should be able to bring it down without too much trouble. If all goes smoothly, I’ll have it done in time to make my meeting tonight.”

“Meeting? I thought your schedule was clear for the rest of the day?”

“Businesswise, yes. But this evening I’m going to attend that pregnancy group I told you about.”

Sebastian let out a low-pitched snarl. “No. You shouldn’t be going anywhere alone.”

“Darling, I know your education wasn’t quite on par with mine, but surely you understand the definition of the word ‘group.’ Generally speaking, it refers to a collective, not the singular.”

“I’m well aware of what a group is,” Seb snapped. “What I’m trying to say is that I don’t want you traipsing around the city without me. It isn’t safe.”

“While I appreciate the sentiment, dear, I think I can manage this on my own. I’ll be among other pregnant omegas. I doubt that in their condition, they’ll pose much of a threat.”

“Anything could happen, Jim. Especially with the sick shit people have been messaging you about.” He paused, terrible images racing through his head thanks to those obscene texts. “You’ve already been kidnapped once when I wasn’t there to protect you. I won’t allow it again, or worse…”

The consulting criminal stared at his distressed partner, reaching over to take his hand. “Sebby, I get why you’re worried. I really do. But I refuse to forgo my freedom on account of fear,” he asserted. “We’re better than that. London’s most dangerous men send people running— not the other way around. We don’t hide or compromise. We hold our heads high.”

Moran could see where Jim was coming from, but the situation still didn’t sit well with him. His alpha instincts were flying off the handle, and it was only through sheer force of will that he hadn’t done something crazy.

In the old days, it wasn’t unheard of for an alpha to lock his expectant omega away at home until it was time for delivery. The world had progressed significantly since then, but every once in a while, Seb wondered if that wouldn’t make things a whole lot easier. If Jim remained in their home, he’d certainly be able to protect him better.

“What about the babies, Magpie? You said you’d never risk harm coming to them. But if someone hurt you, it’d hurt them, too.”

The Irishman frowned, not wanting to imagine injury befalling Essie and Eddie. After gazing at their sweet, chubby faces during the 3D ultrasound, he felt even more connected to them than before, if that was possible.

“Tiger, I’d give my life for our little ones.”

“You shouldn’t have to, is what I’m saying. Let me keep you safe and there will be no worries. None.”

Moriarty sighed, squeezing the sniper’s hand. “Don’t tempt me.” As fiercely independent as he was, some small part of him would always want to succumb to his omega nature, particularly now, in his hormonally-driven state. It’d be so easy to melt into his alpha’s arms and permit himself to be whisked away.

“I love you, kitten.”

The look on Sebastian’s face was so tender and sincere, that Jim’s first reaction was to kiss him. Their mouths came together and their fingers interlaced, lips parting as tongues met in a gentle, but fervent, union.

Moran was breathless when they broke their embrace. “Your kisses are a revelation. I couldn’t bear to live without them.”

“You’re in luck,” the mastermind said. “I’ve saved up a lifetime’s worth just for you.”

“Oh, Jimmy,” he whispered while staring into the pools of Jim’s big brown eyes. “Please allow me to guard you in some way. Bid me permission to drive you to the meeting and I’ll wait in the car until it’s done. It won’t be so bad— I’ll bring a book to keep myself busy.”

“Seb…”

“I know I’m being possessive right now. I admit it. But I’ve got damn good reasons for wanting to protect you,” the blonde insisted. “You’re mine, and so are they,” he affirmed, resting his free hand on Jim’s stomach.

A thrill rushed through Moriarty at his husband’s declaration. Truthfully, sometimes it turned him on when Sebastian acted like this; when he tapped into the raw, unrestrained machismo that bubbled beneath the surface of every alpha. It was beguiling.     

“If it means that much to you, okay. You can give me a lift to the meeting,” the genius consented. “It’s being held at the community center on Ives Street.”

“Thank you, sweetheart. You won’t regret this, I swear.”

“For your sake, I’d better not.”

Jim glanced at the dial of his watch, surprised by how much time had passed since he left the house. As much as he wanted to revel in Moran’s virility, he knew he needed to get moving on the website takedown.     

“I’ll see you tonight, love. Thanks for making it out here so quickly.”

Seb shrugged. “You call, I come. I always will.”

The consulting criminal smiled softly. “My loyal soldier, dedicated from day one. There should be a special medal of honor awarded for that,” he teased.

“There is.” Sebastian tugged at the chain he wore around his neck, pulling out the portion that was hidden under his shirt. Dog tags and a wedding band hung from the tether. “This ring is my medal. I cherish it every day.”

Moriarty’s breathing hitched as he struggled to maintain control of his emotions. “Stop it, Tiger. You’re going to make me cry.”

“I can’t help it, hon, it’s true.”

“Be that as it may, I’ve got to stay composed. There’s work to be done.”

The fair-haired assassin nodded. “Catch you on the flip side, Magpie.”

As soon as Moran was gone, Jim went back inside The Sewing Sophisticate and retrieved his previously abandoned cart. Now more than ever, he required a means of relaxation and escape. Hopefully, knitting would be just what the doctor ordered.

*********

Jim worked diligently through the afternoon, hacking into the website that hosted his and Seb’s illegally recorded sex tape. As anticipated, the page wasn’t too difficult to take down once he found a crack in its coding. With step one achieved, he’d continue on to the next phase tomorrow when he accessed his backlog of calls received. For tonight, though, he had other plans.

“I’m not certain how long the meeting will run,” the mastermind told his partner as they stood in front of the community center entrance.

“That’s fine,” Seb assured. “Whenever you’re ready to go, I’ll be here.”

At that, Jim gave his Tiger a peck on the cheek and ventured into the building. He’d never been there before, but had memorized a map of the place prior to arrival. He found the designated room with relative ease. Just in case there was any confusion, a sign posted on the door read: Male Omega Pregnancy Support (MOPS).

“Bloody hell,” he muttered to himself. ‘MOPS?’ Maybe this was a bad idea after all.

There was no time to opt out now. He was rapidly being approached by a somewhat older-looking fellow.

“Hello,” the man greeted. “You must be new?”

“I am. It’s my first time attending a meeting like this.”

“Glad you decided to come. My name’s Trevor and I’m the group coordinator.”

“Really? Do tell.”

“Well, I’m a family therapist and in my line of work, I noticed how few support systems there were for expectant male omegas. Being one myself, and having children of my own, I thought someone ought to help bring our kind together— facilitate a community so that none of us would feel alone.”

Jim scanned the room, seeing chairs set up in a circle and a table of refreshments located off to the side. For a brief moment, he flashed back to the time one of his foster mothers brought him along to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. He hoped this group would produce a better quality of attendees than that had.

“So how does this work?” the genius asked.

“Basically, we discuss whatever’s on our mind, good or bad— anything goes. You can say as much or as little as you want. There’s no pressure,” he noted. “We do encourage new members to introduce themselves, but you don’t have to go into too much detail if you aren’t comfortable with that. Sometimes it takes people a while to open up, and that’s okay. This is a safe space.”

“I’m willing to give it a try.”

Trevor smiled warmly. “Wonderful. Take a seat and we’ll get started soon. Feel free to sample the snacks and juice,” he invited. “Oh, we’ll also have a bathroom break about midway through, so no worries on that front.”

“Sounds good,” Moriarty spoke, and he meant it. Even though he’d be fraternizing with ostensibly ordinary men, they would share a bond that ran beyond the surface. Maybe, just maybe, he could find kinship amid common ground. 

Chapter Text

All eyes were on James Moriarty. As the newest member of London’s Male Omega Pregnancy Support group (MOPS), he was expected to introduce himself. It was an intimate gathering of about ten individuals, including the organizer he’d met upon arrival. Despite the small size, he was anxious.

What do I tell them? Should I give a fake name? Again, he thought back to his foster mother who’d dragged him along to an AA meeting once. He recalled that they didn’t use surnames there. If this group functioned the same way, he’d probably be fine to use his real first name— it was innocuous enough.

Oh, shit. People are staring, he realized. It’s because you’re just sitting there like a bloody idiot. Say something!

“Hiiiiii,” the consulting criminal finally spoke. “I’m Jim and this is my first pregnancy. I’m pleased to report that my husband and I are having twins.” He paused as the group clapped in response to the announcement. “Thank you. It’s going to be a girl and a boy. We plan to call them Estella and Edward— Essie and Eddie for short.”

What else should I mention?

“I work as a businessman and my alpha is one of my employees. I guess you could call it a good old-fashioned office romance,” he lightheartedly remarked. “We were together for quite a while before deciding to get married, and now, after three years of wedded bliss, we’re expanding our family.”

More clapping ensued and Jim had to willfully refrain from rolling his eyes. Talk about an easy crowd. Ordinary people are adorable.

“Is there anything else you’d like to add?” Trevor, the MOPS coordinator, asked.

“Actually, yes, there is,” Moriarty replied. “As may be obvious, I’m slightly older than many of the faces I see here tonight. That’s probably because, for the longest time, I wanted nothing to do with children,” he confessed. “I couldn’t picture myself as someone’s parent, let alone going through the rigors of pregnancy. But then something came along and changed all that, or rather, someone. My husband, the most wonderful man in the world, entered into the equation.” Jim was afraid the audience might laugh when he said that, but they didn’t. In fact, he appeared to have their rapt attention.

“I got to thinking about what a fabulous father he’d make and how lucky a child would be to have him in their life. He possesses some of the finest qualities one could ever hope to find in a partner. He’s loyal, thoughtful, loving…the list goes on. I’d be here for days if I described all his attributes. Suffice to say, he’s the kind of person the world needs more of,” Jim proclaimed. “I knew that by combining his personality traits with my intellect, we’d be creating an incredible child.”

After he was done speaking, Trevor chimed in again. “Thank you for sharing, Jim. Having multiples can present a challenge, but it can also be extremely rewarding. My sister has a set of twin girls and there’s always been a strong bond between them. They even finish each other’s sentences.”

“Really? That’s fascinating.” The Irishman often wondered how his babies would interact once they were born. Would they instinctively recognize that they’d been womb mates? Would they feel a sense of familiarity in each other’s presence? He couldn’t wait to find out.

“Unless there are any questions or comments for Jim, I’m going to open the floor for general discussion,” the organizer declared. No one objected, and the group proceeded on.

So far, so good, the genius thought. His initial nervousness was dispelled by the warm welcome he’d received, and it felt nice just being in the same room as other omegas in his condition. With any luck, joining this consortium would help ease the anxiety that plagued him at every turn. Maybe this really can be a safe space. Dare he dream?

*********

ZZZ. ZZZ. ZZZ.

Sebastian Moran had a change of plans. He originally said he’d read a book while waiting in the car during Jim’s meeting. It seemed like a good idea at the time, and to his credit, he had brought reading materials with him. When the moment came, however, the prospect of taking a nap overruled all previous intentions. Now the sniper lay prone in the backseat of his midnight blue Mercedes, softly snoring as he slept.   

BAM.

Seb stirred slightly at the sound of a loud bang.

BAM. BAM.

He grumbled, hearing the noise again.

BAM. BAM. BAM.

His eyes shot open. What the hell? Something was definitely pounding on the roof of the car.

Moran sat up and groggily peered out the window to see what was going on. This particular section of the street was rather poorly lit, making it difficult to discern much of anything.

BAM.

There was another bang, followed by a vibration that felt like something had bounced off the rear of the vehicle.       

“Never a moment’s peace,” he muttered, knowing he would have to investigate the racket.  

With one hand firmly gripped on the gun in his pocket, Sebastian stepped outside. He took a cursory glance at his surroundings but noted nothing unusual.

Maybe there was an animal atop the car and it ran off? He checked the exterior and found no obvious scratches or dents. Hmm.

As the assassin stood there, an eerie feeling came over him. It was the unnerving sense of being watched. He hadn’t felt that way since the early days of Colin’s stalking campaign. But now the psycho was locked up, so it couldn’t be him.

Am I just paranoid? It was possible. These days he was very much on edge, reeling from the shock of having been secretly recorded. His guard was on high alert and would likely remain so for some time.

He waited a moment before returning to his vehicle. Erring on the side of caution, Seb decided to stay awake in case any more oddities occurred.

“I guess a bit of reading is on the agenda after all,” he remarked, pulling a book from the glovebox.

Several minutes went by uninterrupted and the former colonel began to relax. He still wondered what had produced the banging on the roof, though. A large cat or a raccoon, perhaps? The lack of identifiable marks made it hard to tell.

POP.

There was an abrupt shattering sound as the area surrounding the car plunged into darkness.

Now Sebastian was officially spooked. He set his book aside and ventured out once more, intent on getting to the bottom of the situation.

He walked a few feet and discovered that the lone working streetlamp had been shot out. Shards of broken glass sparkled under the veil of moonlight, but a gunman was nowhere to be seen.

Someone’s here. I know it. This wasn’t mere paranoia. His instincts as a hunter were broadcasting clear as a bell.

The sniper attuned his senses to focus on the presence lurking amid the shadows. Over there, in the alley.  

He turned, stealthily heading towards the source. A rustling could be heard as the mysterious individual made their escape. Seb trailed close behind, using sound as his guide.

They were running. Running, running, running through a series of darkened alleyways and side streets. Moran was a hairsbreadth from catching the elusive figure when suddenly a trashcan was knocked over, directly impeding his path. He stumbled, and in the brief time it took to right himself, the prowler was gone. Sebastian looked in every direction but saw no one.

“Fuck!” he shouted. So close! So bloody close, it isn’t fair. He was truly frustrated.

His thoughts immediately went to Jim. He needed to protect his omega. Get him the hell out of there. The consulting criminal hadn’t sent a message to indicate the meeting was done, but Seb refused to wait. This was a potentially dangerous situation and he would not permit his spouse to linger there a minute longer.

*********

James Moriarty was actually having a good time amongst the company of ordinary people. Who would’ve believed it possible? A year ago, he certainly wouldn’t have.

The genius steadily interacted with the group during open floor discussions, offering his own opinions and experiences as the conversation flowed from one topic to another. Now that the midway break had commenced, he was socializing further.  

Jim sat at a table with two other men. Jack was a thirty-year-old paralegal who was six months pregnant with his second child, while Ian was a nineteen-year-old store clerk who was four months along with his first baby. Truthfully, Moriarty decided to sit with them in particular because he’d noticed that they both had Irish accents like he did. It was a bit of a novelty, meeting other male omegas from the Emerald Isle.

“This cobbler is terrific,” Jack proclaimed, digging into the dessert one of the members had brought.

“It’s not bad,” Jim stated, “but I could make better.”

“Fancy yourself a baker, huh?”

“Honestly, yeah, I do. And a damn good one, at that.”

“You should bring something in with you next meeting. Nobody here would complain about extra dessert being served,” he said with a wink.

“Maybe I will.”

“Wish I could try it,” Ian piped up, staring longingly at the luscious apple cobbler. “No sense attempting to, though— I can’t keep anything down.”

“Ugh, sorry to hear it,” the mastermind commiserated. “I know how that can be. I suffered hellish morning sickness for the first few months.”

“Morning sickness,” the young man groused. “Whoever came up with that name was a bloody liar. It should be called ‘24-hour-morning-noon-and-night sickness.’”

Jim chuckled. “Doesn’t quite roll off the tongue the same way, does it?”

“I suppose not,” he agreed.

“If they called it what it really was, no one would ever want to get pregnant,” Jack quipped between forkfuls of dessert.

Ian snorted. “Who’s to say all of us ‘wanted’ to become pregnant in the first place?”

Moriarty cocked his head, surprised by the younger man’s remark. “You didn’t want to have a baby?” The genius had assumed that everyone there was pregnant by choice.

“I’m nineteen, single, and work a shit job. What do you think?”

“Why are you keeping it, then?”

“I ask myself the same question every day,” he admitted. “I guess it’s because this kid’s all I have. I’ve got no family and no alpha, but at least with the baby I won’t go through life alone.”

Alone. Jim knew the feeling well. As an orphan, he didn’t have anyone either when he was Ian’s age. In that sense, he sympathized.

Before the consulting criminal could say anything else, an uninvited guest entered the room: Sebastian.

The sniper caught sight of his spouse and marched up to him. “Jimmy,” he began, “we’ve got to go.”

Moriarty gaped at Seb in bewilderment. “Excuse me? What are you doing here?”

“I had a strange encounter outside. I’ll tell you about it on the way home.”

“If you think I’m leaving right now, you’re sorely mistaken. We’re only halfway through the meeting.”

“I’m sorry, dear, but it’s too risky to stay. I insist that we get out of here.”

Jim turned to his tablemates. “Jack, Ian, I need to have a word with my husband. He seems to be in the throes of temporary insanity and I feel obligated to assess his mental duress. This shouldn’t take long.”

London’s most dangerous man stood up and walked just outside the doorway of the meeting room. Seb followed.

“I’m having a delightful time, Sebastian. I refuse to make an unceremonious exit at the snap of your fingers. I’m not a dog— I don’t step and fetch on command.”

“Hear me out, okay? Some weird shit went down tonight.”

“I’m listening.”

The former colonel relayed everything that had happened, from the banging on the car to the streetlamp being shot out, and finally the chase that led him down a series of darkened alleys. When he was finished with his tale, Jim stared at him blankly.

“Is that all?”

“Yes. I think it’s reason enough to get the hell out of here.”

“You expect me to leave simply because you had a run-in with a hoodlum?” he asked incredulously. “Before jumping to conclusions, I suggest you stop and consider the fact that we’re at a community center in a rather dodgy part of the city. And did you even get a good look at this person? It’s possible you were being menaced by some bored, disgruntled teenager.”

“I couldn’t see much in the dark, but I’m not taking any chances,” Seb declared. “We’re going home now.”

“If you want to go, fine. I won’t stand in your way. But I won’t be accompanying you.”

Moran growled. “Jim, it’s my duty to keep you safe.”

“Well then, as your boss, allow me to give you the night off.” He turned to head back inside the room, but was abruptly halted when the assassin grabbed him by the arm.

“Hey!” Jim yelled. “Bugger off!”

Some of the group members watched on in alarm. The MOPS coordinator was among them.

“Oh, great,” Moriarty muttered as Trevor approached.

“Jim, is this man bothering you?” he inquired with concern.

This man?” the blonde huffed. “I’m his mate, thank you very much. And we’re having a private conversation here.”

“No,” the Irishman spat. “We’re done chatting. Now if you don’t mind, I have a meeting to return to.”

“James!” he exclaimed in frustration. “Be serious. This isn’t a game. I’m worried for your welfare and want to take you home.”

Trevor peered at Moran. “Maybe it isn’t my place to interject, but as a male omega advocate, I feel compelled to point out that this is a safe space. Barging in and demanding he leave is unacceptable behavior. It threatens the security of everyone here and undermines the purpose of the group. I’m going to firmly, but politely, request that you leave.” Next, he turned his attention to Moriarty. “Jim, you don’t have to go if you don’t want to. Never let anyone force you into doing something you don’t feel comfortable with.”

Sebastian sighed heavily. “For fuck’s sake, this is ridiculous. Trust me when I say that there’s no forcing him to do anything. He does what he pleases regardless of the effect it may have on others. Just look up ‘selfish git’ in the dictionary and his photo will be right there.”

Genuine hurt flashed in the mastermind’s eyes. “To think I told the group what a wonderful partner you are. Shame on me. I won’t make that mistake again.”

“Jimmy,” he spoke, his tone softening. “Come on. Don’t be like this. I love you and want to assure your well-being. Is that so bad?”

Jim was quiet for a moment, struggling to control his emotions. “You’re treating me as if I were a piece of property. Some fragile object to be locked away in a cupboard that only you have the key to,” he accused.

The sniper shook his head. “No, I’m not trying to lock you up. I just…I’m scared of what could happen to you and our cubs,” he confessed. “You’re my greatest joy. My angel and my devil rolled into one. I’d be nothing without you.”

“Tiger…” Moriarty’s eyes grew misty as he gazed at his alpha. He was truly conflicted, a jumble of hormones and mood swings battling for dominance.

Seb had an idea. “It’s obvious this group is important to you,” he acknowledged. “So how about you finish the rest of your meeting while I sit out in the foyer? If you won’t leave here, then at least I could remain inside the building in case something happens.”

“I’m amenable to those terms,” the consulting criminal agreed.

“Good,” he said, grateful to have reached some semblance of a resolution.

The fair-haired assassin wrapped his arms around his husband, holding him close. These days, Moran wished he could stay permanently affixed to the smaller man, acting as a human shield to guard against the ills of the world.

It seemed Jim felt the same— for all his complaints, he clung to Sebastian as if his life depended on it. “I love you, Sebby,” he whispered.

“I love you, too.”

The Tiger and his Magpie were jarred by the sound of sudden applause. Turning their heads, they realized that most of the MOPS group was looking on, clapping enthusiastically. It seemed they’d been watching and listening to the confrontation as it played out in the doorway.

Sebastian was beet red with embarrassment. “Oh, God.”

“That was beautiful,” one man decreed.

“So heartfelt,” raved another.

Other attendees buzzed about them as well, some even wiping tears from their eyes. Meanwhile, the sniper just stood there, utterly mortified.   

“I’ll handle this,” Moriarty murmured in his spouse’s ear.

“Nothing to see here, fellas. He’s all mine,” the genius quipped to the crowd. Then he glanced at Seb. “Go on, darling,” he urged in a hushed tone. “Now’s your chance to make a break for it.”

Moran nodded. “Meet you in the foyer when you’re done.”

Sebastian made tracks so fast, you’d think he was the Road Runner in an old cartoon.

Chapter Text

Much was afoot at headquarters.

After a comparison of Jim’s incoming call log with the names of his most recently hired employees, a few people stood out. From there, those persons’ computer histories were accessed. Surprise, surprise, one of them was found to have visited the pornographic website that hosted Moriarty and Moran’s illegally recorded video. Even more damning was when this individual’s desk was searched and an entire box of black markers were discovered in a drawer— the same variety used to commit the vandalism at Seb’s party. 

The evidence was all there, and at first glance it would appear to be an open and shut case. But that was the problem. It was too easy. Too neat and clean. The pieces had come together in an almost effortless fashion. Quite frankly, it seemed staged and neither Jim nor Seb was buying it.

“I really think Steve is the fall guy here,” Moran said, referring to the fellow who was assuredly set up. He worked in the office’s finance division.

“I agree. Something about this doesn’t ring true,” the mastermind observed. “I suspect the real culprit has framed him in the hopes of diverting our attention elsewhere. I also believe they have some connection to Colin, though I can’t prove it yet.”

Seb nodded. “What should our next move be?”

“We play along. Fire Steve for appearance’s sake, but continue to look for the actual traitor behind closed doors. If he or she thinks we’ve fallen for their scheme, they may let their guard down…get sloppy.”

“And then we’d be able to nail them,” the sniper remarked. “Swoop in for the kill.”

Jim smiled wickedly. “Yes, darling. That’s the general idea.”

“I love the way you think, kitten.”

“I’ve always considered my intellect to be among my greatest attributes.”

Sebastian scooted close to his mate, a stray hand snaking its way between the genius’s legs. “I can think of a few more qualities I enjoy just as much,” he huskily intoned.

The Irishman hummed at his lover’s touch, savoring the contrast of rough hands rubbing him through the soft fabric of his pants. “Oh, Tiger, why do you tease me so?’

“No tease, Magpie. I like to finish what I start.”

“But you can’t right now.”

“Why not?”

“Because I’m counting on you to give Steve the pink slip and make sure he’s thrown out on his arse. You need seem irate. Really sell the performance so that our rogue employee believes it.”

The former colonel removed his hand from Jim’s nethers and shot the man a look of incredulity. “You want me to fire the guy?”    

“I dooooo,” he affirmed. “And not just fire him— turn it into a big hubbub.”

“Jimmy, in all the time you’ve known me, have I ever been the type to instigate workplace ‘hubbubs?’ Why would I suddenly engage in one now?”

Moriarty paused, his face scrunching up as he considered the question. “Hmm. Maybe you’re right. If you behave too unusually, it might not come across as authentic,” he mused. “But let me ask you something, dear.”

“Okay, go ahead.”

“Hypothetically, if Steve truly was responsible for what happened, how would you react?”

“I’d fuck him up, no doubt about it.”

“Ah-ha!” the consulting criminal exclaimed. “So you would make a scene. See? Hubbub.”

“Actually, I’d probably wait until he left the building and then I’d strike,” Sebastian stated. “No witnesses that way.”

“Hrm. Well, whatever you do, be convincing.”

“Understood, though I’m still not clear as to why you want me to deliver the news. Office politics have never been my strong suit.”

“Tiger, trust me, I’d do it myself if I could. You know what an excellent actor I am.”

“Yes, I’m quite aware, Richard,” he said with a wink.

Jim rolled his eyes. “Ha-ha, very funny. As I was saying, I’d fire him myself, but I’m supposed to avoid stressful situations.”

“The one time you decide to take a doctor’s advice without complaint, and it’s so that you have a valid excuse to pass your dirty work on to me. Wonderful,” Seb lamented.

“My, oh, my— what an astute observation,” he derisively replied. “And people claim you aren’t clever. If only they could see you now.”

The assassin snorted. “Someone’s feeling sassy today.”

“Today? Honey, I’m sass personified 24/7.”

“I stand corrected.”

“Good. Now get a move on. I expect you to report every detail to me.”

“Aye, aye, sir.” Seb leaned over to give his omega a quick kiss on the cheek. “Take care, love,” were his last words before leaving.

Moriarty peeked out the window to make sure the other man was gone. “Finally,” he muttered, seeing that the coast was clear.

He hurried to the storage closet and pulled out the knitting he’d hidden in a box. Eyeballing his handiwork, Jim made a mental note of what more had to be done. He was halfway through with Seb’s sweater. Once it was finished, he could move on to crafting baby items and would no longer need to conceal what he was working on.

The genius grinned, imagining the look of surprise on his mate’s face when he opened his gift Christmas morning. It would be a sight to relish. He could hardly wait.

*********

It was done. Steve from finance had been fired. Seb did not, however, turn the event into a spectacle as Jim desired. Drumming up a commotion might suit the mastermind, but it wasn’t Moran’s style at all. Instead, he’d handled the situation with firmness and professionalism, simply informing the man that his services were being terminated and he was to vacate the premises immediately. Steve wasn’t thrilled about it, but he complied without issue.   

Now Seb sat in his office, reviewing paperwork that’d been left on his desk. It was mostly final reports of how various assignments had gone and write-ups outlining potential future projects. He was in the midst of reading a memo when he heard a knock on the door.

“Come in,” the sniper invited.

Gemma, one of their resident acquisitions experts, entered the room.

“What can I do for you?” he asked. This was the first an employee had actively sought him out since the sex tape incident. Everyone seemed to make themselves scarce after that debacle.  

“I was hoping I might be able to discuss something with you, Mr. Moran.”

“Certainly. Take a seat and we’ll talk.”

She obliged, sitting opposite him. “A few of us here at headquarters were thinking about throwing Mr. Moriarty a baby shower. What would you say to the idea?”

The former colonel fell silent, contemplating the prospect. A baby shower. He was vaguely familiar with the concept. It was an American tradition that’d picked up steam in Great Britain in recent years. From what he gathered, these types of festivities typically involved cake, presents, and games— almost like a kid’s party, except in this case, the child was unborn.  

“Gemma, that’s a fine suggestion. I think Jim would enjoy it.”

She smiled. “I’m pleased you approve. I always wanted a baby shower, but the plans never came together. I thought maybe I could get the itch out of my system by throwing one for someone else.”

“Splendid. You iron out the details and then run them past me.”

She nodded. “I will. Thank you, sir.” The woman paused for a moment. “How is Mr. Moriarty doing? Everybody saw the paramedics take him away earlier this week and we weren’t sure what happened.”

“He had a medical issue to contend with, but is doing fine now.”

“Whew, that’s a relief,” she said. “You know how gossip spreads like wildfire around here. People were saying all kinds of crazy things.”

Seb frowned. “Yes, folks in this office are a bit too chatty for my liking. I miss the good old days when people minded their own goddamn business.”

The woman laughed. “I’m going to take that as a hint to get back to work,” she quipped, standing up. “Again, thank you for your time, sir. I appreciate it.”

“No problem.”

At that, Gemma exited.

“A baby shower,” Seb repeated to himself. He opened up the browser on his computer and typed the term into a search engine. “Time to learn all there is on the subject.”

 

 

After an hour’s worth of Googling, Sebastian decided to venture home. He locked up his office and headed to the elevator. As he waited for the lift, a statuesque blonde approached.

“Mr. Moran, I’m happy to have caught you before you left.”

“Uh, hello,” the assassin awkwardly greeted. The woman looked familiar, but he could not remember her name.   

“I know that expression. You don’t recall who I am, do you?”

“I’m sorry, but no, I don’t,” Seb admitted. “I’ve seen you around, though. Here at headquarters and at my birthday party.”

“Glad I wasn’t entirely forgettable,” she teased. “I’m Annie, an assistant secretary. I wanted to inquire about Mr. Moriarty.”

“He seems to be a hot topic today.”

“No surprise, considering the last time he was here, he left via an ambulance.”

“Fair point,” the sniper acknowledged. “He’s doing well, by the way. In case that’s what you were wondering.”

“Excellent,” she said, sounding relieved. “I was actually curious as to how he liked the pregnancy group.”

Seb peered quizzically at the woman, trying to figure out how she knew of the MOPS meeting Jim had attended. And then it occurred to him—

“You’re the one who told him about the group in the first place.”

“Guilty as charged,” Annie confirmed. “I thought he might find it useful.”

“I appreciate you mentioning it to him, thanks.”

“It’s the least I could do.” She briefly hesitated, formulating her thoughts. “Sir, some of us were toying with the idea of throwing Mr. Moriarty a baby shower. After what happened on your birthday, we feel like he ought to have a positive party experience.”

“Gemma already brought it up to me. I’m keen on the notion,” he stated.

“Fantastic. It’s going to be so much fun planning this out.”

“Better you than me.” The only kind of events he was good at organizing were assassinations. If he had to coordinate the shower, it would almost certainly end in disaster.

At long last, the elevator arrived. Moran stepped inside, eager to return to Jim.

“It was nice talking to you,” the woman spoke. “Please, give Mr. Moriarty my regards.”

“Will do,” he assured, just as the lift doors closed.

That was relatively painless. Nobody had acted too suspicious at Steve’s dismissal, and the only real interfacing he had to do was with two subordinates who were looking to plan a party. All things considered, it could’ve gone worse.                  

“Now,” he said to himself, “to get back home.” Maybe he’d stop off somewhere for takeout. Jim would probably be hungry— he often was these days. Just last night he’d mentioned having a craving for spaghetti bolognese with garlic bread.

That settles it. There was an Italian restaurant not far from where they lived. Seb would drop by soon to pick up a proper meal. Including an order of chocolate cannoli, he mused, because Jim absolutely loved dessert. Nothing made the fair-haired alpha more content than pleasing his Magpie.

BZZZ. BZZZ. 

Sebastian’s phone buzzed. Checking the device, he saw he had a new text message.

JM

Are you done yet? What’s taking so long?

 

SM

Relax, kitten. Patience is a virtue.

 

JM

Fuck virtue. The babies are famished. You MUST bring them food. It’s imperative.

 

Moran laughed. He could have some fun with this.

 

SM

How does tofu burgers and kale salad sound?

 

JM

If you dare serve me tofu, I’ll burn the heart out of you.

 

SM

*You’re* my heart, darling. Burn me and you scorch yourself as well.

 

JM

Touché.

But seriously, Seb, BRING FOOD.

 

SM

Okay, okay. Was already planning to get takeout on my way home. I think you’ll like what I have in mind.

 

JM

Thank you, Tiger.

 

SM

My pleasure, love.  

 

Sebastian stepped out of the elevator with a sense of purpose. He had a feast to order.   

Chapter Text

DING.

The timer on the oven chimed.

“Tiger, could you get that? I don’t want my brownies to burn.”

“Sure thing, hon.”

Sebastian tended to the chocolatey treats, sitting the square pan on the counter to cool. “These look amazing.”

“I was hoping they’d turn out well. I promised the group I’d bring something sinfully delicious tonight.” At this point, Jim wasn’t doing much baking anymore, but he did make the occasional exception.

“In that case, you needn’t bother with the brownies. Just showing up as yourself would qualify.”

Moriarty grinned impishly at the remark. “Keep talking like that and I’ll insist you come over here and kiss me.”

Not missing a beat, the sniper walked from the kitchen to the living room, joining his mate on the couch. He nestled close to him, seizing the mastermind’s lips in a sizzling display of affection.

Jim dropped the knitting he was working on and ran a free hand through Seb’s hair. He relished the softness of his husband’s strawberry blonde locks.

Moran grunted hoarsely as he deepened their kiss. He noted that his omega not only smelled sweet, but also tasted honeyed as well. It was an incredibly enticing combination.

“God, I love you, Jim.”

“Prove it.”

Seb tilted his head, unsure of what the other man meant. “Huh?”

“Prove that you love me,” he reiterated. “Rub my feet.” Moriarty eyed his Tiger temptingly, almost daring him to do it.

Never one to back down from a challenge, the assassin gently maneuvered Jim into position. He was laid across the couch lengthwise with his feet in Moran’s lap.

“No shoes or socks to take off,” he observed.

“That’s because I can’t fit into them.”

“Hmm.” Sebastian took a moment to examine the foot he was massaging and realized that it appeared swollen. Both did, actually.

“Kitten, is this normal?”

“I’ve no idea. They’ve been swelling off and on for a few weeks. Today’s the worst so far.”

“Maybe we should tell Dr. Swenson.”

“Ugh. Frankly, I’m sick of doctors right now. I’ve seen enough to last a lifetime,” he declared. “I just want to relax and enjoy the rest of this pregnancy. My paternity leave is coming up shortly and I intend to make the most of it.”

Paternity leave. Seb almost forgot. It seemed so long ago when Jim first mentioned it. Before his health issues kicked in and his kidnapping occurred; before the vandalism and spying. It felt like an eon had passed since then.

“When do you go on leave, darling?”

“Soon,” he said. “Just another two weeks or so.”

“Pardon me if I sound ill-informed, but how will your schedule be changing? You already conduct a fair bit of business from home.”

“Well, I’ll stop coming into headquarters entirely until the babies are born,” he noted, referencing the fact that he currently ventured into the office one day a week. “I’ll also limit my conference calls— cut down on them by about half. I trust you’ll pick up the slack for me, Seb. You are my second-in-command.”

He nodded, knowing he’d have a lot of work ahead of him. Between running the business in Jim’s absence and taking care of the man as well, he was going to be extremely busy. Somehow, though, he didn’t mind at all. It felt right to be aiding his expectant omega in such a way.

Moriarty shifted slightly, retrieving his dropped knitting. This latest creation featured a colorful rainbow design.

“What are you making, Magpie?” he asked, continuing to rub his mate’s tender tootsies.

“I’m working on a cap and mittens for the twins. There will be a set for each of them.”

“Oh, that’s adorable.” Moran smiled broadly at the mental image.

“I thought so.” He paused, adding, “I know we’ll be past the worst part of winter by the time they’re born, but February and March can be awfully chilly in England. I want to make sure they stay warm.”

Sebastian gazed at his spouse with all the love in the world reflected in his eyes. Witnessing Jim’s transformation over the last six months was nothing short of astonishing. No one would ever expect the most dangerous man in London to be nurturing and parental, but here they were. It was beautiful.

“Will you be waiting in the foyer tonight?” the genius inquired.

“I figured I would. I feel like I’m protecting you better when we’re in the same building.”

“Makes sense.” He was silent for a moment, contemplating something. “Seb?”

“Yeah?”

“It won’t be long until I enter my third trimester. Before you know it, our little ones will be here.”

“That’s right. Exciting, isn’t it?”

“Yes, I’m eager to meet them,” he agreed. “But…” the mastermind hesitated, a sudden nervousness coming over him.

“But what, dear?” He could tell his mate was tensing up.

“But what if they don’t love me?”

Jim’s statement made Sebastian’s heart ache. “Of course they’ll love you, kitten. You’ll be their whole world. No one will be more important to them than you.”

“Do you really think so?” Moriarty desperately wanted Seb’s words to be true, but some nagging remnant of self-doubt persisted.

“I know it for a fact. The instant those babies are put into your arms, they’re going to love you forever.”

The Irishman smiled softly. “And I’ll love them. Hell, I already do.”

Jim gasped, placing a hand to his stomach.

“Big kick,” he panted. “It’s safe to say they’re listening.”

Moran chuckled. “See? No worries, darling.”

For the moment, it appeared Moriarty had let go of his fear. Sebastian truly hoped his positivity would remain.

*********

Jim was a sight to be seen at the MOPS gathering. With his feet swollen, the only thing he could comfortably fit into was a pair of slippers. They were a very nice leather-bound variety, well-insulated and featuring cushioned arch support. But still, it was a bit of a blow to Moriarty’s pride, having to wear them outside the house.

He’d also arrived bearing brownies and a tote bag of knitting. The baked goods were supposed to be for the mid-meeting break, but several people sampled them early. In a room full of pregnant omegas, one couldn’t expect too much dietary restraint. As for the knitting, Jim was on a roll and didn’t want to stop for anything. The other members seemed to understand, and some even complimented his handiwork.

“So what else is on your minds?” Trevor, the group coordinator, asked. It was final call before they took a recess.

“I’ve got something to discuss,” a ginger-haired man volunteered.

“Okay, Scott. Tell us about it.”

“Well,” he began, “it has to do with my family. A few years ago, my parents basically disowned me. It was hard at first, but I managed, and I’ve been doing fine ever since. Cut to today. My sister messages me out of the blue, saying that our parents have started making holiday plans and they want to invite me to the proceedings. I haven’t replied to her because I don’t know what to do.”

“Are they aware you’re pregnant?” another member, Jack, wondered aloud.

“Yep. Apparently, that was the catalyst,” Scott answered. “They heard through the grapevine that I was going to have a baby, and they want to reconnect so they can play a role in their grandson’s life. The problem is, I’m not sure I want my child to know them. Not after the way they treated me.”

That caught Jim’s attention. “What did they do to you?” he questioned while stitching tiny rainbow legwarmers.

“They disapproved when I dropped out of university to live with a bloke in Birmingham— cut me off financially and told me not to come back until I’d regained my sensibility.”

“That’s it?” the consulting criminal quipped. “Your parents didn’t beat you, or neglect you, or curse you out from here to kingdom come?” He shook his head disdainfully. “You got off easy.”

“Hey,” Scott objected, “just because I didn’t have some maudlin foster care upbringing doesn’t mean I didn’t go through rough times.”

Maudlin foster care upbringing. Oh, that was the wrong thing to say to Jim.

Moriarty tossed his knitting to the floor and stared daggers at the redhead. “You should thank your lucky stars you weren’t put into the foster system,” he angrily spat. “It’s vicious and cruel, and the people you meet will do nothing but hurt you for their own amusement. We should all be so fortunate as to have living parents who are willing to reach out to us.”

“Now wait a minute,” Trevor interrupted, “let’s not get hasty. The purpose of this group is to provide kindness and support. Everyone has a right to their own thoughts and feelings. We don’t diminish anyone’s problems here.”

“I think Jim’s right,” Ian, the youngest MOPS participant, said. “I was in foster care for most of my life and it was hell. In the beginning, I used to pray that my parents would come back for me. Later, after I found out they were dead, I prayed that someone— anyone— would love me. By the end, I stopped praying altogether because I realized there was no point in it. God didn’t fucking care,” he somberly asserted. “So yeah, I wish I had family to reconcile with.”

The mastermind was surprised someone had jumped to his defense so readily. He was further taken aback to learn that he and Ian shared a similar background.

“So you think I’m being unreasonable?” Scott asked.       

“That depends,” Jack chimed in. “Would your folks have been as upset if you’d decided to shack up with a woman rather than a man?”

“They likely would’ve been mad either way,” he admitted. “What bothered them most was that I’d received a full scholarship to the University of Cambridge, but quit school to pursue a relationship.”

“You threw away a free ride to Cambridge? Fuck, I’d have disowned you, too.”

“Guys, we shouldn’t rush to any snap judgments,” the organizer warned. “This falling out was significant to Scott and it’s not our place to criticize how it happened.”

“Thank you, Trevor,” the ginger gentleman spoke. “I’m just looking for a little clarity.”

“What do you have to lose by reconciling with them?” Jack posited. “There will be two more people in your son’s life who’ll love him. And personally speaking, some of my fondest childhood memories involved my grandparents. It’d be a shame to deny one’s baby the opportunity to forge lasting, positive experiences like that.”

Jim fell silent, ruminating on what Jack said. He never had grandparents, though as a boy, he often wished he did. Especially at holidays. He wished he had any relatives at all then.

The Irishman could still recall a particularly painful incident from his youth, when a supposedly ‘fun’ grade school assignment entailed writing a letter to Santa and sharing it with the class. In his correspondence with jolly old St. Nick, he’d asked for a family to adopt him. One student, Carl Powers, had reacted in an absolutely merciless fashion, making fun of him in front of everyone and laughing uproariously at his expense. Ultimately, Moriarty got revenge, but it couldn’t erase the awful memory.   

*KICK*KICK*

The genius felt his children shift inside him, probably sensing his agitation. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes, trying to focus on the group’s conversation. It was no use. His mind was spiraling, jumping from one misbegotten thought to another.

Essie and Eddie won’t have grandparents, either, an inner voice taunted.

No, but they’ll have me and Seb, and their uncle and cousin.

Still no grandparents, though. Maybe that’s for the best— your mother would be ashamed of you.

Never! My mum loved me. She used to call me her ‘little prince.’

She might’ve loved the boy you were, but she’d hate the man you became.

Her love was unconditional. She would’ve adored me no matter what, and she would’ve adored my babies, too.

But she’ll never know them, will she? And they’ll never know her. Because she’s DEAD.

Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!

Jim opened his eyes. He was sitting down, but felt dizzy from all the noise in his head.

Quickly glancing around, he realized the group had gone on break without him. When did that happen? He’d zoned out completely, becoming lost in his own mind.

The consulting criminal was shaken up and needed to regroup. Maybe even go home altogether. He was just so fucking frazzled.

Must find Seb.

Jim grabbed his bag of knitting and rushed out of the room.

Seb. Seb. Seb.

Chapter Text

BEEP. BEEP. BEEP.

Jim’s blood pressure monitor rang out as he raced down the hall in frenzied pursuit of his husband. Thanks to the alarm, Sebastian heard him before he came into view.

That sounds like—

“Jimmy!”

The sniper stood up, eyes widening at the sight of his omega making a mad dash towards him. What the hell?

Moriarty threw his arms around the larger man. “Sebby,” he panted heavily.

Moran returned the embrace, holding him close while stroking his back. “Easy does it, hon. It’s okay. Try to steady your breathing.”

A few minutes went by as Jim focused on calming down. It was hard, but the last thing he wanted was another trip to the hospital. Eventually, the beeping subsided.

“What’s got you upset, love?”

“The group…we were having a discussion and it riled me up,” he shakily confessed.

“How so?”

“It made me think of things. Childhood, family…mum.”

“It’s all right now. You’re safe with me.” My poor Magpie. No wonder the conversation set Jim off. Those were all topics he generally avoided, and Seb knew better than to bring them up.

“I wish she was alive, Tiger. Why did she have to leave me? Why couldn’t she stay?” The mastermind was fighting back tears as he spoke.

“I don’t know, sweetheart. I’m sorry.” In truth, Sebastian had no clue how his mate’s mother died. The circumstances of her passing were a mystery to him and would likely remain so unless Jim decided to open up about it.

“I’ll never leave our babies. Never.

“I won’t, either. Not if I can help it.”

The couple was pressed so snugly together, Seb could actually register movement against his skin as the twins kicked inside Jim. It was a strange sensation, to be sure.

“Hello?” a male voice suddenly called out. “Jim?”

Moriarty and Moran let go of each other, both turning to see who beckoned.

“Ian?” the consulting criminal said in surprise. It was the young man from his group.

“You left in a hurry. I wanted to see if you were okay.”

“I…I’m fine.” Jim quickly collected himself, putting on a brave face. “Just needed to check on my fella. Can’t be too careful with him. The handsome ones require extra supervision.”

Ian laughed lightly. “Yeah, I guess so. Wouldn’t really know.” He paused, feeling socially awkward. “So…are you coming back to the meeting? Break’s almost over.”

That was a good question. When Moriarty rushed from the room, it was with the intention of finding Seb and going home. But now he wondered if that was the right response. The most dangerous man in London didn’t run away. He might occasionally step out to clear his head, but he always returned, ready to take on whatever challenge awaited him next.

“I’ll be there soon. Go on and I’ll catch up.”

He nodded. “See you, then.” The young man began to walk away, but stopped to say, “By the way, everyone loves the brownies. I wouldn’t mind having the recipe if you’re willing to share it.”

“Sure, it’s fairly simple. I’ll give it to you tonight.”

“Cool, thanks.” At that, he ventured back to the MOPS gathering.

When the man could no longer be seen, Sebastian turned to his spouse and grinned. “I do believe Mr. Sex strikes again,” he teased, “and in record time. Only the second meeting and you’ve already got an admirer.”

Jim rolled his eyes. “Please, it’s not like that. Ian’s a boy who’s had a shitty lot in life. Been through the foster care system and doesn’t have anybody to support him. I can relate— it was rough for me at his age, too.”

“Still seems a bit sweet on you, dear. Why else would he come to look for you?”

“Camaraderie, I imagine. When you’re completely alone— like he is and I was— you try to remedy the problem in whatever way you can.”

“If he’s as bad off as that, maybe you could mentor him.”

The genius contemplated his mate’s suggestion. It held potential.

“You know, that’s not a bad idea,” he mused. “Ian was complaining about his job as a store clerk recently. Perhaps I could find him something to do at headquarters.”

“Really? You trust him enough to hire him?” After the issues they’d dealt with regarding disloyal staff, Seb was surprised he’d be willing to employ someone willy-nilly. 

“Actually, I do. Crazy as it sounds, I see a bit of myself in him,” Moriarty admitted. “Besides, he could certainly use the pay increase— babies aren’t cheap. And who knows, maybe he could act as our eyes and ears around the office. Someone to report back to us about suspicious goings-on.”

“Hmm.” It might be advantageous to have a mole amid headquarters. But…was it wise of Jim to reveal his true identity to someone from the MOPS group? To disclose that he was the James Moriarty, criminal extraordinaire? In the end, it was the mastermind’s decision to make.  

“I’ll mention it to him. Gauge his interest and learn if he’s got any special skills we could hone.”

“I suppose,” Sebastian pensively replied.  

“It’ll be good,” he assured. “I probably ought to head back now, though.”

The sniper leaned in and stole a kiss from his beloved Magpie. “Until later, my darling.”

“See you then.”

And so Moriarty returned to the meeting, while Moran, his ever-patient assassin, waited.  

*********

“Sebby?”

“Yes?”

“How busy are you tomorrow?”

“There are a few things to be done at headquarters. Why?” The former colonel’s inquiry was followed by a snuggle as the two men laid together in the comfort of their luxurious four-poster bed.

“I have a special appointment with Dr. Swenson tomorrow afternoon and I was wondering if you’d be able to come along,” Jim explained. “I know I swore I’d seen enough doctors to last a lifetime, but this can’t be helped— it was scheduled ages ago.”

Special appointment? This sounded serious.

“What’s this in regards to, hon?”

“We’re going to discuss my birthing plan. I’d like you to be there so we’re all on the same page.”

“Of course, kitten. That’s important stuff to cover.”

The Irishman smiled. “It sure is. I’m nervous and excited at the same time.”

“Me, too,” Seb agreed, though he imagined the notion took on a whole different meaning for Jim. He was, after all, the one who’d be physically bringing new life into the world.

“Mmm…love you, Tiger,” the genius sleepily stated, spooning back against Moran. He felt so safe like this. So warm and protected. It was little wonder, then, that he drifted off to dreamland with ease.

*********

It was a gorgeous day amid a field of green. There were no clouds or rain in sight, and a gentle breeze billowed through the air, carrying the scent of lilies.

Jim instantly recognized the location. This was a patch of land in the countryside near Donnelly’s farm. His mum used to buy eggs there, fresh from the coop. While she was occupied with that, he often played in the meadow, flying kites, chasing after butterflies, and cartwheeling across the grass.

Today he’d decided to do something different. He went wandering further than usual and came upon a beautiful bushel of wildflowers. They were purple and pink, with dark speckling. As soon as he saw them, he knew he had to pick some for his mother.

Like magic, he suddenly held a bouquet in his hand. Even better, he spotted her driving up to where he stood. In a flash, she was in front of him, waiting with open arms. He bounded into her embrace, and she lifted him up, spinning the both of them in a circle as he giggled. When she placed him back on the ground, he proudly presented the flowers he’d gathered.

“Such a lovely gift from my sweet little prince. Thank you, honey.” She hugged him tightly and kissed the top of his head. “I’ve got a surprise for you, too.”

His eyes lit up at the news. What could it be? He was bursting with anticipation as she retrieved an item from the trunk of her car.

“Here you go, darling. I thought you might like this.” She handed him a blue kite with stars and crescent moons printed on the material.

He was ecstatic, his smile stretching from ear to ear. He wanted to try it out right then and there.

And so he did. Or rather, *they* did. It was wonderful. He and his mum flew the kite for what must’ve been hours, but it felt like only seconds had gone by.

As the sun began to fade into dusk, a terrible feeling came over Jim. It was a sense of panic, dread, and déjà vu. Something awful was about to happen, the way it always did, and he could never change it, no matter how hard he tried.

“Let’s go home, sweetie,” the woman urged. “I’ll take some eggs from the cooler and make us a scramble. How’s that sound? Breakfast for dinner.”

“Can we have bacon, too?” he asked hopefully.

“It wouldn’t be a proper breakfast without bacon, now would it? Come on.”

The two settled into the car, and Moira Moriarty made sure her young son was strapped in securely.

Jim’s distress continued to rise. But why? It’d been a fabulous day. One of the best, in fact. He should be happy, but…there was a sick feeling deep inside. A sorrow. A—

BAM.

They’d barely ridden a half mile when their vehicle was blindsided by a pickup truck. The car was sent careening into an embankment and flipped twice. It was a hit and run— the other driver never bothered to stop. Moira was killed on impact while her small child wailed beside her mangled corpse.

*********

Jim awoke with a scream and his blood pressure monitor was beeping. It scared the hell out of Sebastian.

“What’s wrong?”

The Irishman was confused for a moment. Waking in such a tumultuous state was disorienting, to say the least.

“I…” he trailed off, letting out a sob as the dream flooded back to him.

“Was it a nightmare?”

Moriarty didn’t answer. Instead, he sat up and ripped the blaring monitor off his arm, hurling it across the room. The action did nothing to relieve his grief. He cried uncontrollably.

“Shh, it’s okay, kitten,” the sniper consoled, pulling him into his arms. “Whatever it is, I’ve got you.”

The mastermind wordlessly wept as Moran held him tight. Eventually, he found his voice. “It was real, Seb.”

“What was, hon?”

“My nightmare. It really happened.”

“If you need to talk about it, I’ll listen.” Sebastian figured his approach was a longshot, but what else could he do to help?

“I was a little boy in the dream,” Jim said. “It was that day…when she…” he struggled to finish the sentence. “It was when my mum died in front of me,” he finally spat. The consulting criminal was utterly distraught, his tears flowing freely.

“Oh, Jimmy.” The fair-haired alpha gently rocked his mate in an attempt to soothe him. No wonder he barely speaks of his mother, Seb lamented. He hadn’t seen the man this anguished in quite some time. 

“We were so happy,” Moriarty choked out between sobs. “And then someone hit her car and it went off the road. They never stopped to see what they’d done. Never cared that they’d killed her.”

“God, I’m sorry, sweetheart. That’s horrific.” What must he have gone through in that moment? It was difficult for an adult to process tragedy like that, let alone a child.

“I loved her so much,” Jim confessed.

“I know you did, honey. I know.” Sebastian just kept rocking his husband as he held him close, praying he’d calm down.

Jim winced, clutching his stomach. “Oww. Tiger, feel this.”

The assassin placed a hand on Moriarty’s abdomen. The babies were kicking furiously.

“I’ve upset them,” he cried. “They were sleeping and I worked them up. I’m an awful omega.” The guilt in his voice was haunting.  

“No. You’re the farthest thing from awful, and the babies will be fine. You said yourself that when they’re moving, it lets you know they’re alive,” Moran reminded. “Think of it that way. Essie and Eddie are trying to communicate that they’re here with you and they love you.”

The genius stared in awe at his sweet, devoted spouse. “Sebby, how do you always know the right thing to say?”

“It’s my gift, remember?” he stated with a smile. “I’m London’s preeminent Magpie whisperer.”

“Yes, you are. I’m damn lucky to have found you.”

“I like to think we found each other.”

“We sure did, darling.”

The couple soon resumed their previous spooning position. Though neither had much success getting back to sleep, they were able to take comfort in each other’s company. The simple act of being close together brought a sense of peace. 

Chapter Text

Jim and Sebastian were both groggy as they sat in the obstetrician’s private office. After Moriarty’s nightmare about his mother, they had a hell of a time getting back to sleep. Even now, the sniper could tell his mate was still upset. The Irishman hated showing vulnerability, and during last night’s incident, he’d been starkly exposed.

Moran wished he could take away his husband’s pain. Make it so that Jim had had a better life— an existence free of the tragedy that haunted him to his core. People were quick to dismiss the man as a monster, but they never stopped to consider the things that put the darkness inside him; never bothered to examine the hideous events which had led a brilliant little boy to become a beast.

Suddenly, the door opened and Dr. Swenson walked in.

“Good afternoon, gentlemen,” the woman greeted, taking a seat behind her desk. “We have some plans to discuss.” She pulled up Jim’s medical file on her computer and began to review it before turning back to the couple. “As I’m sure you’re aware, male omega births are more limited than most, on account of vaginal delivery not being an option. That said, I’ve performed Caesarean sections on several male patients and all instances were successful.”

Seb was reassured by her claim. He knew from the outset that Jim would need surgery in order to deliver their children. At least with Dr. Swenson at the helm, he’d be in good hands.

“You’ll be awake for the procedure and it really shouldn’t take long to perform. Barring complications, the whole thing will be completed in under an hour’s time.”

Moriarty nodded. “My research told me as much,” he acknowledged. “What I want to be absolutely certain of is that my partner will be allowed to stay with me throughout the process. He’s the father of these babies and I’d like him to be a part of this.”

The physician smiled. “That shouldn’t be a problem. In fact, we encourage alphas to be present at delivery whenever possible. It aids in an omega’s mental and emotional well-being, and also helps establish bonding between father and newborn.”

“Good,” Jim replied. “Now, I’ve read that people generally have to remain in the hospital for a few days following a C-section. Is there any way I’d be able to check out early?”

“Legally, we can’t stop you from doing so, but it’s not recommended. Staying 2-3 days ensures that any immediate post-op issues will be caught and treated accordingly,” she explained.  

“Right.” The consulting criminal sounded displeased, but he understood the reasoning behind it. “What about food? Since I’ll be undergoing a surgical procedure, I assume a fast will be in order.”

“You’re correct. 8 hours is the length of time we ask patients to abstain from food and drink prior to surgery.”

“Bloody hell.”

“My apologies, Mr. Moriarty, but it’s standard policy,” she stated. “Are there any further questions?”

Jim and Seb exchanged a glance, neither appearing to have anything more to say.

“I think that’s it,” he said.

“Wonderful. If you come across any additional concerns, don’t hesitate to shoot me an email or call the office.”

At that, the consultation ended. It was brief but informative, giving the Tiger and his Magpie an idea of how events would unfold during the fateful day of their children’s arrival.

*********

Jim was depressed and Seb was worried.

After their meeting with the obstetrician, Moran suggested they go somewhere for a late lunch, but the genius refused. He claimed he just wanted to crawl into bed for a nap. Sebastian didn’t think much of it at first, returning to headquarters while Jim rested at home. But as the hours wore on, the sniper grew increasingly concerned. When he was away, his Magpie almost always texted him at least once about something or other. Today, though, there was nothing. Not a single message from the man.

Sebastian hoped that when he came home, he’d see Jim and his fears would be assuaged. Oh, what wishful thinking that was. As soon as he pulled up to their residence, he noticed the lights were off. It was a curious thing, indeed.  

Maybe he’s been sleeping all this time, Seb thought as he entered the ominously dark house. 

Moran made his presence known, clicking on lamps to make sure the place was well-illuminated. “Magpie,” he called out, “I’m back.”

He received no response and couldn’t find Jim in any of the main areas of the house.

He’s got to be in bed. He went to take a nap and has been there ever since.

“Okay, sleeping beauty, it’s time to wake up,” Seb announced, stepping into their quarters and turning on the light.

This room was empty, too. The covers were askew, signifying Jim had been there, but the sheets were cool to the touch.

He must’ve gotten up a while ago. So where is he now? Seb briefly considered phoning him, but noticed that his mobile was left on the nightstand.

The former colonel checked every room in search of his husband. He was close to full-blown panic when he decided to investigate the back yard— the lone location he’d not yet explored.

Hallelujah. To his great relief, Sebastian spotted Jim sitting on a lawn chair, staring down at something in his hands. He became slightly disturbed as he approached the Irishman and saw his state of dishevelment. It was a frigid night, and there Moriarty sat, clad in only a thin t-shirt, pajama bottoms, and his watch. He didn’t have shoes or slippers on— his feet were totally bare.

Moran took off the leather jacket he wore and wrapped it around his mate. It was then that Jim looked up, recognizing Seb was there.

“Tiger,” he softly spoke. “Home already?”

“Already? Jim, it’s 10 o’clock at night. I was actually late getting back.”

The consulting criminal paused, looking at his surroundings. “I suppose you’re right. The sun’s gone down. When did that happen?”

Seb was trying to remain calm, but found it difficult to do under the circumstance. This was strange behavior, even for Jim.

The assassin took a seat next to his troubled omega. “Sunset was a few hours ago, love. Have you been out here all this time?”

“I guess so,” he blankly replied. The man looked and sounded truly haggard.

“What is it you’ve got in your hand?” Seb asked, referring to the small card he clutched.

“You mean this?” Moriarty showed his spouse what he was holding.

Sebastian was shocked. It wasn’t a card at all. It was a photograph.

“Jimmy, is this—”

“It’s me and my mum, yes.”

The picture showed a beautiful raven-haired woman holding up a small boy so that he could touch the star on top of a Christmas tree. The child appeared thoroughly joyful.

“You were cute, hon. A fan of the stars even back then.” The sniper recalled Jim’s fondness for astronomy. Seems his fascination with the cosmos started early on.  

“I barely remember when it was taken,” he said. “I think I was about four or five at the time.”

“Didn’t know you kept childhood photos,” Moran gently remarked.

“I’ve got a few. Don’t pull them out often, though.”

“What made you decide to look at them today?”

Jim sighed wearily. “You really want to know?”

“Of course. If something is important to you, then it’s important to me. Please, go on.”

“Well, when I went to take a nap, I had another nightmare.”

“About her again? Your mum?”

He nodded. “Yeah.” The mastermind’s voice wavered as he fought to stay composed. “It’s always the same dream. We’re together, and then…”

…she gets killed, Seb thought, mentally finishing the other man’s sentence.

“I’m sorry, sweetheart.”

“Don’t be. It’s not your fault. You didn’t smash into her car and flee the scene. Didn’t leave an eight-year-old boy orphaned, screaming beside the broken body of his mother.” He took an exasperated breath and stared Sebastian straight in the eye. “We were in the countryside when it happened. Donnelly’s farm was the only establishment for miles, so I walked there looking for help. A pity nobody answered the door,” he recounted. “I wandered for hours in the dark, terrified, hoping to find someone— anyone— who might be able to assist. I walked nearly ten miles before a garda spotted me on the side of the road. Turned out he couldn’t help much, either,” Jim lamented. “She died on impact and I was too stupid to realize it. I’d gone off thinking she could actually be revived. Bloody foolish child, I was.”

“Oh, Magpie.” The sniper leaned over to hug his partner. “You weren’t foolish. You were a loving son.”

Moriarty reached his limit and could contain himself no longer. Hot tears ran down his face as he melted into Sebastian’s arms. He’d kept the memory of that terrible day locked away for so very long. It haunted him his entire life, existing as a frenzied darkness that ate at him, devouring from the inside out.

“It’s okay, Jimmy. I’ve got you,” Moran assured.

“I loved her,” he sputtered between sobs. “She was all I had…and then she was gone, and I was completely alone.”

“You’re not alone anymore, kitten. You have me and the babies now. We adore you.”

Seb’s words made Jim cry harder. “Our sweet babies,” he whispered. “Essie and Eddie will never know what an amazing woman their grandmother was.”

“You can tell them. Show them pictures and pass on stories. Keep her memory alive.”

The genius pulled out of his mate’s embrace to look him in the eye again. “Secondhand experiences just aren’t the same. I’ll never be able to relay the intangible qualities that make a person who they are. There were so many wonderful things about her, Tiger. The way she used to smell like lavender and grass from all the time spent working in her garden. The way her hair felt— it was even softer than yours, darling, because she liked to wash it in rainwater. She’d collect it in a bowl whenever there was a storm, and then bring it inside the house to use. Said it was purer than what came out of the pipes.”

Jim paused, his mind abuzz with visceral recollections of the woman. “Don’t even get me started on the sound of her voice,” he continued. “When I got upset— really and truly out of sorts— she would sing to me. So gently, so soothingly. It was often the only thing that settled me down.”

“She must’ve been incredible, Jimmy. Had to be, if she created you.”

The consulting criminal gazed at Moran, his expression overwrought with emotion. “My precious Sebby. I wish she could’ve met you.”

Sebastian smiled warmly. “Think she would’ve liked me?” 

“She’d have been crazy about you, dear. Always was an excellent judge of character.”

The two men fell silent for a moment as they noticed that flurries had begun to billow from the sky. It was the first snow of the season.

“Magpie, I do believe we ought to head inside.”

Jim glanced down at his cold, bare feet and then looked back at Seb. “You may be right,” he admitted. “I don’t know what I was thinking when I came out here like this. I could go for a long, hot soak in the tub.” He hesitated, adding, “Might need some help scrubbing my back, Tiger.”

“Lucky for you, I’m exceptionally limber and can reach every part,” the blonde teased with a wink.

“Oh, I’m counting on your flexibility. Just wait and see.”   

The duo returned to the warmth of their home, intent on taking a luxurious bath. Jim needed it, and really, Seb did, too. It was the ideal remedy to a demanding day.

Chapter Text

“God, these are delicious,” Jack said as he plowed through his third lemon chiffon cupcake. “Are you sure you aren’t secretly a pastry chef in disguise?”

Jim laughed lightly. “No, baking is just a hobby.”

“Should be your career,” he enthused.

“I agree,” Scott interjected. “You’ve got a real knack for it.”

The consulting criminal couldn’t help but smile at the praise being heaped upon him. He took pride in his dessert endeavors and was pleased to receive recognition for the effort he put into them. Baking was becoming progressively harder to do, thanks to the perpetual backaches and swollen feet he was afflicted by these days. It pleased him to know that his suffering wasn’t in vain.      

Out of the corner of his eye, Jim noticed Ian return from the bathroom. Now was the perfect time to ask him if he’d made a decision regarding his job offer. At their last MOPS meeting, he’d extended an invitation of employment to the young man, but did not reveal that he was the James Moriarty. He decided he would only disclose his true identity if Ian consented to work for him.

The genius got up, approaching his potential employee. “This seat taken?” he joked, seeing that Ian was sitting alone.

“Be my guest.”

Jim hunkered down, sporting a hopeful grin. “Soooo, have you given any thought to my proposal?”  

“I have.”

“And? Don’t keep me in suspense.”

“I’m still not sure what I want to do,” he shyly confessed. “I mean, I hate my current job, but I feel a certain obligation to it. The old lady who owns the shop has always treated me kindly, which is more than I can say for most people I’ve met in life. I’d hate to leave her in a lurch.”

Moriarty snorted. “Ian, you have a baby on the way. You need to start thinking with your head instead of your heart. Prioritize. An office worker’s salary could buy a whole lot more nappies and car seats than a store clerk’s could.”

The young man flushed with embarrassment. “Actually, I can’t afford a car. I use public transit.”

“See what I mean? You’re going to need a better mode of transportation when your child arrives. If you came to work for me, it wouldn’t be an issue. I pay my staff handsomely.”

“I…I just don’t know. Let me think about it a little longer, please.”

Oh, the folly of youth. Jim was growing frustrated with Ian’s wishy-washy attitude. He wanted a mole at headquarters and this unassuming chap would be perfect for the position. Besides, what was there to think about? The decision was a no-brainer. Work for a billionaire and prosper or work for some tired old crone and be paid peanuts? It wasn’t even a question as far as he was concerned.

“I’m sorry if I’ve disappointed you, Jim. It really is a fantastic opportunity.”

“So take it, then.”

“I can’t yet. Switching jobs is a big deal. I need more time to consider it.”

“I won’t claim to understand your apprehension, but fine. The offer stands, if and when you choose to come on board.”

“Thanks.” He fell silent for a moment, his social anxiety getting the best of him. “Those cupcakes look good,” he awkwardly remarked in an attempt to change the subject.

“They taste even better. You should try them before Jack inhales the whole batch.”

“Smashing idea. I think I will.” Ian rose from his chair in search of dessert.

“Bring me one, too. Might as well enjoy the fruits of my labor.”

“You got it.”

Jim sighed as he watched the younger man head towards the refreshment table. His wanting to hire the teen wasn’t simply because he desired an office mole. No, a part of him genuinely wished to help Ian improve his quality of life.   

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink, the mastermind lamented. Ultimately, the ball was in Ian’s court as to what happened next. He hoped he’d make the right choice.

*********

 “How was the meeting?” Sebastian asked as he drove Jim home.

“Not bad. The group keeps raving about the treats I bring in, but I’m not sure how much longer I can continue baking. I just can’t stand or walk the way I used to,” he confessed. “When I made this last batch of cupcakes, I got so desperate, I actually considered using the wheelchair.”

Oh, wow. This was serious. His Magpie hated that thing. If he’d thought about using it again, he must’ve truly been in dire straits.  

“Sweetheart, I think you ought to take it easy. Don’t push yourself too hard.”

“I try not to, but it’s ingrained into me. I give my all no matter what I’m doing.”

“I know, Jimmy. Perhaps next, you could ‘give your all’ to relaxation,” he teased.

“With paternity leave coming soon, that might be arranged.” He paused, contemplating something. “Tiger, I’ve been mulling over an idea for a little while.”

“What’s that?”

“I’d like to take an excursion to Ireland. To my hometown of Adare.”

“Is it wise to travel right now? You just said you’re having trouble standing up and walking around at home. Imagine what it would be like having to navigate streets.”

“Well, I thought you’d aid in my mobility, Seb. Was I mistaken in that assumption?” The consulting criminal’s voice grew sharp as he questioned his mate.

“No, of course not. I’ll help you with whatever’s necessary. I just get worried, is all. What’s put you in the mood to visit your old stomping grounds?”

“Honestly? It’s my mum. I can’t get her out of my head. I don’t know if that’s because I’m about to have children of my own soon, or if it’s because this year marks the 30th anniversary of her passing. Maybe it’s a combination of both,” he mused. “In any case, I feel like I have to go to her. I have to visit her grave.”

“Okay, kitten. If that’s what you really want to do, I’ll accompany you. We’re in this together.”

The Tiger and his Magpie exchanged a small smile. ‘Together’ was a word that held great meaning to them both. Knowing they could count on each other provided solace in times of turmoil and woe. It was devotion in its purest form.    

 

 

When Jim and Seb neared their home, they saw a commotion in the distance. There were flashing lights and various authorities up ahead.

“Wonder what happened?” the sniper pondered aloud.

“I don’t know, but it looks like it’s awfully close to our neighborhood.” As they proceeded further, he changed his assessment. “Scratch that, it is our neighborhood.”

“Hmm.” Jim was correct. Something was transpiring right in their midst.

They drove closer, and closer, and closer—

“Fuck!” the sniper exclaimed. “That’s our house!”

Moriarty’s eyes widened and his mouth hung agape at the sight of emergency vehicles and police surrounding their residence. There were no flames to be seen, but the presence of a firetruck suggested that something must’ve been extinguished.  

Sebastian pulled over and rushed onto the scene, flagging down an officer.

“Constable, I live here. Can you please tell me what’s going on?” Though he tried to remain calm, a frantic urgency crept into his voice.

“A report came in about an hour ago saying that someone had shot out the lights in front of this house and then threw a Molotov cocktail through a first floor window.”

The assassin’s heart sunk. “Oh no.”

“Luckily, your security guard called it in quickly and the fire didn’t have long to burn. It singed your living room, but the rest of the property was unharmed.”

“Thank God.”

Jim made his way to Seb and the bobby. He was wheezing when he reached them.

“Honey, I’m sorry I didn’t help you out of the car. I had to find out what happened.”

“What’s *pant* the *pant* situation?” he breathed heavily between words.

“Someone busted the outside lights and hurled a makeshift explosive through the window.”

Moriarty’s expression grew panic-stricken. “The *pant* nursery, is it—” 

“It’s intact,” Seb assured. “Apparently, only the front room was affected.”

“That’s correct,” the constable confirmed. “The guard you posted did the right thing and immediately phoned for assistance. Firefighters were able to neutralize the flames before they got out of hand.”

The look on Jim’s face communicated tremendous relief, and his breathing steadied as well. “Bloody hell, that gave me a scare. Is it safe to go inside?”

“I believe the last of the crew are clearing out now, so it’s probably okay to go in.” The cop paused, saying, “Sirs, as the owners of this property, we’d like you to come down to the station and give an official statement as soon as possible.”

“Give a statement?” Moran questioned. “Why?”

“Because what occurred here was a crime.”

“Nobody got killed or was even wounded tonight, right?” Jim asked.

“No, but—”

“We don’t want to press charges,” the Irishman asserted. “Since there were no fatalities or injuries involved, you’re not beholden to pursue the case unless we request it.” 

“I realize that, but—”

“No need to continue, constable. We won’t change our minds.”

The officer stood there, absolutely dumbfounded. “Are you quite certain? Whoever did this may strike again.”

“And if they do, we’ll be sure to give you a holler. Until then, I bid you goodnight.”

At that, Moriarty sauntered toward the house.

Sebastian followed, bearing a smirk on his face and lust in his heart. He loved it when Jim got sassy and commanding.

 

 

The last of the firemen passed by Jim and Seb as the duo entered their home. The officer was right— damages appeared to be minimal. There was a broken window, a singed area of carpet, and some drapes that would need to be replaced. Altogether, nothing too severe.”

“We got damn lucky,” Moriarty declared. “Which guard was on duty tonight?”

“Rocco, I think.”

“He’ll be receiving a bonus this Christmas.”

Seb nodded, surveying the scene. “Hey, Jimmy?”

“Yes?”

“Here’s a thought,” he announced. “How about I call the contractors who worked on the playroom and have them cleanup and repair the damages, while we get out of here for a few days and go on that trip you suggested? Last time, I paid them to work round-the-clock and they were very efficient. I’m sure something similar could be arranged.”

The mastermind considered his mate’s proposition. “Actually, that’s not a terrible idea. I’m game if you are.”

“Wonderful. I’ll ring them now. Best to get things squared away without delay.” 

And so the former colonel did as promised, securing the services of the same crew he’d employed before. Most of them were eager to take the job, grateful to make extra wages as the holiday season neared. With that aspect settled, all Seb had left to do was plan out their travel itinerary and reserve the necessary boarding passage— easy to accomplish, thanks to online booking. For a last-minute trip, it was coming together quite smoothly.

Chapter Text

Traveling. Fucking traveling. Sebastian was beginning to hate it.

As planned, the two most dangerous men in London arranged for contractors to come and repair the minor fire damage in their living room, while they themselves headed to Ireland. It seemed like a great idea, until the reality of time and distance came into play.

I should’ve learned from the trip to France. Should’ve thought harder about it before opening my big, fat mouth.

The pair set out at 8 a.m., taking a train from London to a port in Liverpool. After that, they hopped a ferry voyaging to Dublin. Finally, they rented a car in the Irish capital and took off for Jim’s birthplace, the village of Adare. The nonstop commuting was downright grueling.  

There was a positive aspect to the situation, though. It afforded the sniper ample opportunity to spend time with his husband. They could have intimate conversation and discuss matters of importance without interruption.    

“Jimmy, I think we should talk about what happened last night regarding the fire.”

Moriarty closed the book he was reading and turned his attention to Seb. “I suppose so. It was a disturbing sight to return to.”

“No kidding. I keep seeing it in my mind. Maybe I’m just paranoid, but I feel like whoever was responsible for the attack must’ve known we were out. They had to realize we’d go after them if we were home, so they deliberately struck while the house was empty.”

The consulting criminal contemplated Moran’s theory. It was a plausible deduction. It also held some troubling implications.

“If that’s the case, then we need to stop and think about who would be familiar with our schedule.”

“Someone close.” The sniper paused, mulling over potential suspects. “Security, maybe?”

Jim shook his head. “Couldn’t be. None of the regular security crew was there for the vandalism incident on your birthday, nor were they present when that bloke in finance was set up as a patsy. Assuming this is the work of the same individual, it couldn’t possibly be one of our guards. It’s got to be office personnel,” he declared.

“You’re right, love,” Sebastian said with a sigh. “My mind is so clouded lately. I’m beginning to jump at shadows.”

“I can’t say I blame you. This stalking bullshit has gone on too bloody long.”

“I agree.” Moran fell silent for a moment, before speaking again. “Jim, if we’re operating under the premise that all of these events— the vandalism, the spying, the set up, and now the fire— have been orchestrated by the same person, then I think we should also include the encounter I had outside the community center to the tally of offenses. The phantom I dealt with that night shot out a streetlamp. Seems awfully similar to the M.O. of yesterday’s firebug. They shot several of our outdoor lights.”

“Seb…I believe that’s a sound assessment. It may well be connected, and I’m sorry I doubted you when you first described your experience. For someone as clever as I am, I certainly can be thick at times.”

“I prefer to call it ‘bullheaded,’ but who’s counting?” the assassin teased.

“Hush. I’m trying to apologize.”

“I know, hon. Sometimes I just can’t resist.”

“Cheeky bugger,” Jim proclaimed.

Moran flashed a sharky grin. “You’ll get no denial from me.”

“At least I’m married to an honest man.” The genius was smiling now, too. His Tiger often had that effect on him.

Sebastian glanced at the dashboard GPS. “We’ve almost reached Adare. Any of these surroundings recognizable to you?” 

“Bits and pieces, but it’s been 30 years since I was last here. Not since my mum died,” he admitted. “Sites are bound to be hazy.”

“Makes sense,” the former colonel remarked. “Hey, Jimmy? Could I ask you a weird question?”

“Weird? Ooh, now you’ve got me intrigued. Please, go on.”

“Well, I was wondering…if you were originally from Ireland, how did you end up in England after your mother passed?” 

“Ugh, you got my hopes up. I was expecting something truly bizarre, but that question is booooring. However, I do find you incredibly sexy, so I’ll answer.”

“I appreciate your benevolence, dear. It’s an inspiration to the world.”

“I’ve always thought so,” he deadpanned. “But I digress. Adare is a very small place. Social services decided I’d have a better chance of finding an adoptive family if I was sent to an orphanage in a larger area, specifically, Dublin. As it turned out, my options were slightly broader than that, because my mum had dual citizenship between Ireland and England. So I was given a choice: go to the capital of the country I was already in, or go to London. Well, I wanted to get as far away from where she died as possible, so I told them ‘England’ and didn’t look back.”

“You were bold, even back then. Venturing forth to conquer new lands at age eight.” In all the years he’d known Jim, Seb had never heard the backstory explaining that particular mystery. Now he understood.   

“It was more like running from painful memories— nothing valiant about it. But I do prefer your interpretation of events.”

My dear, sweet Magpie. Just coming back here must be hard for him. The sniper wondered if this was a mistake. Maybe they shouldn’t have made the pilgrimage after all— not while Jim was in such a compromised physical and emotional state. But it was too late to turn around now.

They soon entered the village proper, stopping when they reached their point of destination: The Emerald Clover Inn. It was a quaint bed & breakfast located in the heart of Adare.

“Here’s the plan,” Moran announced. “We check in, and before settling into our room, I’ll sweep the place for bugging devices. Don’t enter until I give the all-clear.”

Jim smirked. “Roger that, colonel.”

Seb leaned over, stealing a kiss from his mate before stepping out of the car. “I love it when you talk military to me, kitten.”

“There’s more where that came from. Maybe later we can have a bit of fun,” the mastermind flirtatiously suggested.

“I’ll hold you to it, provided this location is free from surveillance.”

And so the couple headed inside the B&B, hoping for the best.

*********

“Ooh, Tiger, this comforter is so soft, I think I may cocoon in it and never reemerge.”

The handsome assassin laughed. “A tempting prospect.” He sat down beside Jim and paused, looking around. “This really is a lovely room. Very cozy.” And thankfully, 100% camera-free. No prying eyes.

“Reminds me of where we spent our honeymoon,” the Irishman said. “Do you remember it?”

“The Inverness Inn?” he asked. “How could I forget? Because of a last-minute business meeting, we had to cancel our reservations in Barbados and trek to the fucking Highlands instead.”

Moriarty affected a pout. “Aww, come on, Sebby. It wasn’t that bad. As I recall, you ended up having a pretty great time, all things considered.”

He hated to admit it, but Jim did speak the truth. Perhaps by some cosmic accident, the consulting criminal began going into heat a mere two days prior to their wedding. It’d taken incredible fortitude not to ravish him on the way down the aisle, but ultimately, Seb persevered. He couldn’t claim the same for the rest of the proceedings, though.

The duo consummated their matrimonial union immediately before, and during, the reception. Then they partook in a repeat performance as they headed to the inn. Finally, upon arriving at the B&B, all bets were off. The Tiger and his Magpie went at it like animals, barely leaving their suite for the entirety of the trip. It was a celebration of glorious carnal bliss.

Jim placed a hand on Moran’s inner thigh. He rubbed the area oh-so-enticingly, the pads of his fingers nimbly massaging against a barrier of denim. “Remember the fun we had? Cuffs and cock rings and all the switching we did that week?” he reminisced. “An omega chaining down an alpha and fucking him senseless— what a scandalous pair we were. Of course, I know you’d rather think of it as ‘making love.’ My darling assassin, ever the romantic.”

Sebastian breathed heavily at the memory of their exploits. Jim always knew how to cut through his tough exterior and make him weak in the knees; make him quiver and quake as if he were possessed by some otherworldly lust that only Moriarty himself could sate.

“Such a naughty kitten, you are.”

“Oh, that I am,” the dark-eyed genius affirmed. He continued to tease his spouse, caressing so close to the bulge in his jeans, yet not actually laying a hand there. It was torturous.

A grunt tore from the sniper’s lips. “No props now, Magpie. Just the two of us, unrestrained.”

“Don’t need anything else, my sweet. You, me, and the Astroglide in my travel bag are all that’s required.”

“Are you telling me this just for kicks, or am I being propositioned?”

Jim gazed at him seductively. “Honey, if I was any more obvious, I’d be flashing a billboard.”

Moran got the gist after that. Without skipping a beat, he stood up and hung the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign outside their door. They were going to be busy for quite some time.

*********

“Comfortable, darling? I could make adjustments if you’d like.”

“No, it’s fine. I’ll never get used to using this thing, though,” Jim said, referring to the wheelchair Sebastian had just helped him into.

The couple was at Adare’s lone cemetery. It was getting dark out, but Moriarty badly wanted to locate his mother’s grave. He wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer when Moran suggested they look for it the next day. When he got it in his head to do something, it usually had to be undertaken straightaway. Patience was not a virtue he held dear.

“Do you have the flowers, Seb?”

“Yep. Here they are,” he confirmed, passing the bouquet to his mate. The mastermind had insisted they stop at a shop to pick up lavender blossoms. Apparently, those were his mother’s favorite and she used to grow her own in a garden.

Sebastian began pushing his omega through the dusky graveyard. It felt a bit spooky to him, but he dared not admit it.

“Any idea which one is hers?”

“Unfortunately, no, I don’t. But considering how small this place is, it shouldn’t be too difficult to find.”

As they navigated the area, Seb’s thoughts wandered from one thing to another, seemingly at random. Eventually, a matter came to mind that he’d wanted to discuss with Jim.

“Magpie?”

“Yes?”

“I’ve noticed you stopped wearing your blood pressure monitor. Is there a reason why?

“It’s broken.”

“Broken?”

“Yeah. When I threw it across the room, it must’ve short-circuited.”

“Hmm. I could take a look at it for you. I’m fairly handy with wiring.”

“Don’t bother. Truthfully, I’m glad to be rid of it. That beeping was obnoxious as hell.”

“It was just doing its job,” Moran noted. “Maybe we can get a new one from your doctor.”

“What part of ‘glad to be rid of it’ don’t you understand? Use your brain.”

“Jimmy, please reconsid—”    

“There!” the consulting criminal abruptly shouted, cutting Seb off in mid-sentence. “There it is!”

Indeed, the headstone he pointed at read ‘Moira Elizabeth Moriarty, Loving mother & friend.’ They wheeled closer so that Jim could lay the flowers on her grave.

“Honey, do you need some time alone for this? I could take a walk.”

“You’re not going anywhere,” Jim decreed. “I want you here. This is the closest either of you will get to meeting each other.”

“Okay, dear.” However his partner chose to handle this was fine by Sebastian. He was there to lend support.

A brief silence came over them as the genius pondered how to get started. He’d put plenty of people into graves, but never actually visited one before. Was there an established etiquette to adhere to? He suddenly wished he’d researched the subject prior to making the trip.

“So,” Jim finally began, “it’s me, mum. Your little prince, all grown up. I probably should’ve come to see you sooner, but it hurt too much,” he confessed. “I’ve been a busy boy through the years. Got myself a proper education and built up a web of clients and connections. Not to brag, but I’ve made a fortune. If you were still here, I’d have moved you into a posh château and got you the greenhouse you always wanted.” His voice faltered slightly as he attempted to stave off rising emotion.

“I’m married now, too. The man standing beside me is my husband, Sebastian. He’s a wonderful mate and I’m sure you’d have gotten along famously. He makes me happy, mum. I know that’s what you would’ve wanted for me— to find happiness in life.”

Seb placed a hand on Moriarty’s shoulder, giving it a gentle squeeze to signify his encouragement.

“We’re going to be parents in a few months,” Jim continued. “It’s twins— a boy and a girl. Edward James and Estella Sebastienne are their names. We’ve prepared a beautiful nursery and playroom for them, and I’ve knitted a good deal of items meant to keep them warm,” he recounted. “I’m very excited for their arrival. Not so keen on the Caesarean birth I’ll have to undergo, but the end justifies the means. Whenever I get too anxious thinking about the surgery, I imagine what it’ll be like to hold them for the first time. That helps calm me down.” He grew quiet for a beat, wanting to say more, but struggling to find the right words. 

Moran let go of Jim’s shoulder and grasped his hand instead. The Irishman welcomed the gesture, twining their fingers together. It was a simple act, but one that meant the world to Moriarty.   

“I wish you were here, mum. Wish you could meet your grandbabies and sing to them the way you used to sing to me. Wish you could tuck them in and tell them bedtime stories. Whenever I got bored with my books, you’d make up your own stories to keep me entertained. I loved that. My favorite was the one about the prince who found a magical key that allowed him to unlock any door in the kingdom. Sometimes I think maybe it inspired me a bit.”

Jim shivered as a howling wind blew past. It was getting cold out.

“Tiger, I’ll need to go back to the car soon. I want to say one last thing, though.”

“Okay, hon.”

“Mum,” he addressed, resuming the ‘conversation’ with his mother, “I’m sorry I’ve never been able to catch your killer. Believe me, I’ve tried. Everything happened so fast that day, certain details are a blur. But I’ve always thought the vehicle that hit us was a dark blue pickup. I spent countless hours researching who, in this area, might’ve owned such a truck around the same time as the accident. Regrettably, my results were inconclusive and I came to realize that there was no foolproof way to know who the guilty party was. It enraged me,” he declared. “Still does, in fact. Knowing that some cowardly bastard got away with your murder…I think it’ll haunt me until the end of my days. I can’t abide it, and yet I must.” Jim somberly sighed, feeling very drained. “I love you, mum. Love you forever.”

Moriarty turned to look up at Sebastian. “We can go now.”

The sniper nodded. “Aye aye, kitten.”

When they returned to their car, the pair noticed a strange sight in the distance. There was an unmanned kite being propelled across the sky by a stiff breeze. Though difficult to make out from afar, there seemed to be a star pattern on the object.

Jim’s eyes widened as he was reminded of the kite he and his mother had flown during their last happy moment together. He wasn’t a superstitious man, but a part of him couldn’t help but feel like this was a sign of some kind. It was a fanciful notion, but who knew for sure?

A sense of peace flooded through him, filling his heart with unexpected joy. Maybe you heard me after all, mum.

Chapter Text

“I want holly wreaths hung up here and here,” Jim declared, pointing to two specific spots. “I’d also like garland strung across the entire framework of the archway and twinkle lights accenting every window. Not the tacky multi-colored kind, but the white ones. Those give off such a brilliant glow.”

“You’ve really put thought into this,” Sebastian said, and it was true. Ever since they’d returned from their excursion to Ireland, the consulting criminal had been bursting with energy and ideas. Visiting his mother’s grave proved cathartic, relieving him of the invisible burden he’d carried with him for so long. Now he felt freer…more serene. He wanted to celebrate his newfound disposition by focusing on something positive— specifically, the impending holidays.      

“Of course I have. Decorating isn’t the sort of thing one does impulsively,” he stressed. “To do it well is an art form, and requires strategic planning and precision. You can’t approach it in a haphazard manner.”

“Well, I’m afraid there’s one decorative aspect you’ve overlooked, darling.”

Jim’s face scrunched up as he glanced around, contemplating what he might’ve missed. “Tiger, don’t be daft. I’ve forgotten nothing.” 

“Uh-huh, you sure did.”

“Never.”

“Wanna bet?” He grinned broadly, his blue eyes shimmering with delight.

“Stop saying that!” the Irishman commanded. “And at least have the decency to tell me what it is.”

“Okay, love. You forgot the mistletoe.”

A look of sudden realization washed over Moriarty. He had neglected that particular Christmas accessory.

“Leave it to you to notice something like that,” Jim quipped.

“Just thought I should mention it, seeing as how you wanted to be thorough.”

“Yes, well, I’ll add it to my list of decorations. I intend to order a proverbial boatload of holiday adornments and then hire people to arrange them to my specifications,” he proclaimed. “Perhaps we could use the contractors who worked on the playroom and did such a fine job repairing the living room.”   

“Hmm, that may be doable.”

The mastermind’s lips upturned in a wicked smile. “I like the way that word rolls off your tongue, Tiger. Doable. Dooooo-aaaaa-ble.”

“You always did have a knack for stretching things out.”

“I know,” he whispered hotly into Sebastian’s ear. “Especially those things I can unfurl inch-by-inch.” Forgoing all subtlety, he punctuated his statement by cupping the bulge that lay between the sniper’s legs. 

Moran captured his mate’s mouth, kissing him passionately. Jim tasted sweeter by the day and he could not get enough.

BZZ. BZZ.

The couple ignored the vibration emanating from the back pocket of Moriarty’s pants.

BZZ. BZZ.

The buzzing persisted, but again, they disregarded it in favor of continuing to make out with great verve.

BZZ. BZZ.

Whoever was texting the genius was incredibly determined. And also a total idiot to think they could get away with pestering him so incessantly.

“You’d better get that,” Seb said, breaking their heated exchange.

Jim grunted in frustration. “Yeah, guess so, or else my ass may never stop buzzing.”

The assassin chuckled. He often enjoyed the unique way his spouse phrased things.

“It’s Ian,” Moriarty exclaimed, reading the text messages he’d just been sent. “He’s ready to discuss the employment offer I made.”

“Oh? So we may be getting our office mole after all.”

“Fingers crossed, Sebby. With me going on paternity leave soon, the timing couldn’t be better.”

Moran nodded. “When will the two of you meet?”

“Today, if possible. I’ll take him to lunch and we can iron out the details,” he answered. “Where do you suppose we should dine? Someplace showy and sophisticated, I think, to really drive home the idea that working for me is a grand opportunity.”

“Careful he doesn’t mistake the gesture for more than what it is, Magpie.”

“Ugh, not this again. I told you already— I’m strictly trying to help the young man. There’s nothing more to it.”

“You’re charismatic, Jim. Even when you’re not attempting to flirt with someone, it comes off that way.”

He shrugged. “I have a naturally charming personality. So what?”

“So it can be easily misconstrued, especially when you’re dealing with a lonely, impressionable youth like Ian.”

The consulting criminal peered at his partner. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were a teensy bit jealous.”

“Jealous?” he repeated incredulously. “Hardly. Why would I be?

“That’s what I’m trying to figure out, dear.”

Seb scoffed. “It’s a ridiculous notion. As if a 19-year-old pregnant omega would be any competition?”

“Methinks you doth protest too much.”

The sniper sighed in exasperation and fell silent for a moment. “I’ve always wondered something, though.”

Moriarty arched a brow. “What’s that?”

“Have you ever been with another omega?”

“Honey, I’ve gone through the gamut— alpha, beta, and omega,” he matter-of-factly stated. “But before you work yourself up into a tizzy, I should note that you’ve been the best of the lot. Nobody holds a candle to you, my magnificent Tiger.”

“Okay, now you’re just saying things to make me feel better.”

“Is it working?”         

“Maybe,” he replied with a wink.

The genius laughed lightly. “Good. Now I’ve got to text Ian back and then make the necessary dining reservations.”

As Jim began typing on his phone, Moran spoke up once more. “Don’t take him anywhere too fancy.”

“Why not?”

“Because if he’s as down-and-out as you say, then odds are he probably doesn’t own a suit. All those posh places you love have dress codes.”

Jim paused, considering his husband’s advice. “Hmm. An astute observation.”

“I speak from experience. When we first met, I didn’t own a suit, remember?”

Thinking back, Moriarty did recall buying Sebastian an entire wardrobe of designer clothing shortly after they began dating. A man keeping his company needed to appear properly debonair.

“I do,” he admitted. “So where should we go, if not to one of my usual eateries?”

“A pub, perhaps. Generally, any kind of attire is allowed at those.”

His nose crinkled in disdain. “A pub? Ick. How ordinary.”

“Ordinary is the point, my love. You want a place that’s no-frills.”

“I suppose.” The mastermind still wasn’t sold on the idea.

“How about you let Ian pick the restaurant? Problem solved.”

Jim smiled gleefully at the suggestion. “Darling, you’re brilliant. Not as clever as me, of course, but brilliant nonetheless, in your own wonderful way.”

“Thanks, sweetheart.”

The assassin checked his watch. He really ought to drop by headquarters to make sure all was running smoothly. He also needed to touch base with the ladies who were planning Jim’s baby shower.

“Hon, I’m going to pop in at the office.”

“That’s fine. See you later, Sebby.”

Both men went their separate ways, each setting out to accomplish very different things. They took comfort in the knowledge that, no matter what, they would ultimately return home to each other.

*********

“Here you go, gentlemen. Our famous 5-meat medley. Enjoy!” a perky waitress said as she served Jim and Ian their meal.

They hadn’t ended up at a pub like Jim thought they might. Instead, they’d gone to a quaint Italian place of the younger man’s choosing, Vittorio’s Pizzeria.

“Looks delicious,” Moriarty remarked, and he meant it. He’d not eaten processed meats since being put on a strict low-sodium diet that Seb was keen to enforce. But his militant mate wasn’t here right now, and Jim was going to take full advantage of that fact.

“Oh, it is,” Ian assured. “Reasonably priced, too.”

Jim grunted obscenely as he savored the first bite. “God, this is amaaaaazing.”

“Best pizza in London, hands down. I come here about once a month or so, when I can afford it.”

“Well, you’re in luck. By agreeing to work for me, you’ll soon be making more than enough money to dine here daily.”

“Wouldn’t be good for the baby to eat here too often, but I see your point.”

“Excellent, we’re on the same page,” he said between bites. “At least, I assume you’ve decided to take the employment offer I made. Correct?”

He nodded. “Yes. I’ve come to the conclusion that if I had higher wages, I could provide a better life for my child. Since I’ll be raising him or her alone, that’s an important factor to consider.”

“How very wise of you, Ian. I guarantee that coming on board with me is a step in the right direction.”

“I hope so.” There was still a hint of apprehension in his voice. “What would you have me do for you?”

“Splendid question,” the consulting criminal enthused. “When I asked if you had any special skills, I seem to recall you mentioning you were adept with digital arts and graphics.”

“Yeah. I was studying it in college before I got pregnant and had to drop out.”

“Would you be interested in maintaining the corporate website? The page hasn’t been revamped in ages. It could use an update.”

“Sure, that’d be easy. But it’s also the kind of thing one could do from home,” Ian pointed out. “I thought this would be an in-person assignment.”

“You didn’t let me finish,” Jim informed his new hire. “In addition to acting as webmaster, I’d also like you to do a bit of secretarial work. Answer phones, send out memos, and keep an eye on the staff.”

“Keep an eye on the staff?” he reiterated curiously. “How do you mean?”

“Well, it’s come to my attention that there’s a disloyal individual hiding amongst the ranks. It would be a huge help if you were to remain vigilant of any unusual behavior, and then report back to me about it.”

Ian was silent for a few seconds, contemplating what was being asked of him. “You want me to be a spy?”

“Oh, heavens no. ‘Spy’ is such a dramatic word. What I had in mind was more along the lines of staying attuned to the heart of the office. Being alert to your coworker’s habits and behaviors.”

“Still sounds like spying…like I’d be your mole.”

The boy was cleverer than Jim anticipated. That could work for him or against him, depending on how things proceeded next.

“You’re very perceptive. A fine quality to possess, particularly when aligning yourself with a man like me.”

Now was as good a time as any to reveal the truth of his identity. How would the young man take the news?

“Ian, since you’re such a smart bloke, I feel inclined to be upfront with you.”

“Okay.” The shy omega wasn’t sure where Jim was headed with this conversation.

“I’m going to whisper in your ear who I really am.” At that, he leaned across the table as best he could with his belly being in the way. “I’m James Moriarty, consulting criminal.”

There was an awkward pause as Ian clammed up.

“Well?” the genius urged, trying to elicit some form of response.

“I…already knew that.”

It took a lot to catch Jim off guard, but Ian had done it effortlessly and in one fell swoop.

“Excuse me, what?” He was reeling, wondering how it was possible. Sure, he went by the name ‘Jim’ at the MOPS group, and used the initials ‘JM’ for phone and texting purposes, but it seemed unlikely Ian would’ve figured it out from those clues alone.

“I’ve known you were James Moriarty since your first meeting. Most of us know.”

All color drained from the mastermind’s face. He was completely and utterly aghast.

“Did I say the wrong thing? I’m sorry,” the youth was quick to apologize.

“No need, I’m just…dumbfounded.” He was virtually speechless, struggling to articulate a cohesive reply. “Most of you know? Really?”

“Yeah. Not Jack, because he’s surprisingly scatterbrained for a paralegal, but the rest of us do. We’ve all seen your picture in newspapers and on television screens.”

“Right. Of course.”

It’d been years since his image was broadcast through the media. With short attention spans being the norm these days, he assumed people would forget; would move on to other things, thus allowing him to hide in plain sight. Apparently, he’d operated under a colossally flawed premise.

This revelation raised questions. If the group was able to identify him, who else had by now? All the medical professionals he’d dealt with these past few months— had they known, too, and simply played along in fear of reprisal?

Jim stood up from the table, pulling out his wallet and dropping a few bills in front of Ian. “Here. Lunch is on me.”

“Wait, you don’t have to go.”

“I beg to differ. I’ve got some serious things to consider,” he ominously remarked.

“Do I still have the job?” Ian sounded panicked, terrified that another opportunity was crashing and burning before his eyes.

“Yes, your employment stands.”

Moriarty hastily exited the pizzeria. His mind was abuzz, thoughts racing at a breakneck pace. It was overwhelming, and if he’d been wearing his blood pressure monitor, it surely would’ve blared. He needed to speak to Sebastian, and fast.            

Chapter Text

Colin Taylor’s life was going pretty well these days. His lawyer was in the process of getting the murder charges against him dropped, and he no longer had to stay in the hellish prison unit he’d initially been confined to. Thanks to Sebastian Moran’s fists of iron, he and his attorney were able to convince the judge that his welfare was in jeopardy if he remained in police custody. The ghastly facial injuries incurred during Taylor and Moran’s meeting were very compelling, and he was permitted to stay at Bethlem Psychiatric Hospital until further notice.    

Though the facility— commonly referred to as ‘Bedlam’— had a rather infamous reputation, Taylor didn’t find it too bad. He was left alone in a locked ‘bedroom’ for most of the day, which worked out fine because it gave him time to catch up on his reading. The institution had a surprisingly decent library that he could request books from daily. Right now, he was finishing up Moby Dick. He felt an affinity for Ahab. Both he and the character were captains (albeit of different kinds), and more importantly, both understood the ever-consuming need for revenge. He only hoped his tale would end more satisfactorily than that of the whaler’s.

Colin glanced at the clock on the wall. It was nearly time for lunch. But lunch didn’t just mean food. No, it also denoted he’d be receiving a visitor as well.

Katie.

During his residence at the hospital, he met a middle-aged nursing assistant by the name of Katherine Ramsey. She was a dowdy individual, beset by two failed marriages, an underactive thyroid, and a lazy eye. It hadn’t been too difficult to win her over. The woman was starved for male attention, and when he decided to break his self-imposed silence just to speak to her…well, it certainly made her feel special.

The two began to talk whenever she delivered his meals or brought him his latest library order. That he was recovering from Moran’s beating at the time was a boon to his cause— the injuries elicited sympathy from her, and soon he was able to convince the woman of his ‘innocence.’ He had her believing that the case against him was a terrible miscarriage of justice; a conspiracy to bring down a former soldier who’d turned his back on bloodshed in favor of leading a simpler life off the grid.

What, exactly, did Colin Taylor derive from his acquaintanceship with Ms. Ramsey? Besides entertainment value, the answer was access. More specifically, access to the iPhone she kept on her person. Along with dispensing lunch, she would also leave her mobile device behind so that he could correspond with his outside contact. She always retrieved her phone before leaving for the day, but during those precious hours between noon and 5 p.m., he had unlimited access.

KNOCK. KNOCK.

Bingo.

As expected, the matronly medical worker entered his room carrying a tray of food. She sat it on the nightstand and then moved to shut the door.

“Hi, Colin,” the woman cheerfully greeted. “How’s your day going?”

“Better, now that you’re here.” He faked a smile to appease her desire for affection. “What’s on the menu today?”

“Meatloaf with mashed potatoes and broccoli. Not the most appealing dish, but…” she reached into her pocket and pulled out a small package of cookies. “I got these from the vending machine. Thought you might like them.”

“Thanks, dear. You’re a peach.”

Katie blushed slightly. “It’s the least I could do, after the hell you’ve gone through.”

“Just the sight of your lovely face makes my world a bit more bearable,” he lied.

The woman beamed with contentment. It was so easy to manipulate her, Colin almost felt guilty. Almost.

She slipped her hand into another pocket, this time retrieving the item Taylor most coveted— her iPhone. Passing it to him, she spoke. “I have to cut out of here early today, so I’ll need this back by 3 o’clock. Hope that’s okay.”

Grr. There’d be no time to dally. No mucking about checking sports scores or reading the news. He’d have to get down to business straightaway.

“It’s fine, Katie. What’s going on this afternoon?”

“Just a dental appointment. One of my teeth has been bothering me. I think it’s a cavity.”

“Sorry to hear that, babe. Probably got it because you’re so damn sweet.” Colin cringed internally at how thick he was laying on the artificial charm. A smarter woman might’ve seen through his guise, but Katherine Ramsey was the type who’d relinquish all common sense in exchange for potential romance. It was a romance that would never happen, not in a million years, but she didn’t have to know that.

If the nursing assistant was happy before, she was absolutely delighted now. “Oh, Colin. You say such kind things. It’s inspiring how thoughtful and upbeat you are while being kept in captivity. Not a lot of people would be so resilient.”    

He paused, taking a moment to ruminate on her remark. “It’s belief in karma that keeps my spirit strong. I endure each day with the knowledge that my adversaries will eventually be made to answer for their transgressions.”

“Be sure your sin will find you out,” she quoted.

“Read the Bible often, do you?”

“My mum was a good, proper Christian,” Katie declared. “Used to make me study scripture with her every night.”

“That’s beautiful, dear.” Mum must’ve been a real nutter. No wonder she ended up working in an asylum. Probably reminded her of home.

The woman sighed wistfully. “Wish I could stick around here longer, but if I don’t return to my post, people may become curious.”

“I understand. See you later, Katie.”

“Au revoir,” she said with a smile, bidding him goodbye.

When the door closed behind her, he immediately reached for the phone. “Finally. Thought that slag would never leave.”

Colin dialed a number, praying his contact would pick up. Alas, it went to voicemail.

“Hey, we don’t have as much time to talk today. Call me back as soon as you can.”

All he could do now was wait.

*********

“So what do you think of our plans?” Gemma asked as she and her baby shower collaborator, Annie, sat in Moran’s office.

“Everything the two of you have laid out sounds good.” They’d decided on food, games, decorations, and more. The event itself would be held at his and Jim’s house. The mastermind took a lot of naps these days, so they’d stage the party while he was asleep, ensuring he’d wake up to a grand surprise.

“The only thing we’re having trouble with is the guest list,” Annie noted.

“Oh?”

“Yes. I don’t know how to say this without it coming out awkwardly, but…Mr. Moriarty doesn’t have many friends.”

“He’s got plenty of business associates,” Gemma was quick to add, “it’s just that these sorts of celebrations are usually an intimate gathering of friends and family. We didn’t realize how small his circle was until midway through our preparations.”

“I see.” Honestly, Seb could’ve told them that from the start. Of course London’s most dangerous man didn’t have a rolodex of friends on standby. You didn’t garner his reputation by playing nice.

“We were wondering if you knew of anyone he might want to invite?”

“Hmm. Actually, yeah. He’s recently become chummy with a bloke by the name of Ian Fitzgerald.” You may be seeing a lot of him soon, if things go well at his and Jim’s lunch.

“Excellent, sir,” she said, committing the moniker to memory.

“Also,” Gemma spoke, “I was considering asking my cousin to tag along in order to beef up the numbers. She’s a sweet girl and we could use all the attendees we can get.”  

“That should be fine,” Seb replied. “I trust your judge of character.” Gemma always seemed to have a good head on her shoulders. He had faith that she would not permit any riffraff onto the guest list.

BZZ. BZZ.

The sniper’s phone was buzzing.

“Sorry, ladies. Hold on a second.” He pulled out his device and saw he’d received a text from Jim.

 

JM

Was just delivered shocking news. Must speak to you.

 

Shocking news? His heart pounded with dread.

“I have to respond to the message I was sent,” he alerted Gemma and Annie. “It’s important.”

The women understood, graciously thanking him for his time and then exiting his office. 

 

SB

What’s wrong? Is it the babies?

 

JM

No. The babies are okay. This is another matter entirely.

 

SB

Thank God. You gave me a fright.

 

JM

Sorry, Tiger. But we NEED to talk. I’ll swing by headquarters.

 

SB

Sure thing. You know where to find me.

 

Seb sat back in his armchair, wondering what could possibly be going on now. Jim always did have a flair for dramatics, so perhaps this was one of his imagined crises.

But what if it really is something serious?

The truth would reveal itself soon.        

Chapter Text

“I really don’t think this is worth getting riled up over. A few men in your pregnancy group recognized you— it’s not great news, but it isn’t the end of the world, either.”

Sebastian had just spent the past 20-minutes listening to Jim go on a tirade about how ‘everyone’ knew his identity, and it was, according to him, a ‘catastrophe.’ While the sniper agreed it was an unfortunate turn of events, he didn’t feel the issue was quite as dire as his omega made it out to be.   

“Most, Seb. Not a few. Most,” he corrected. “You don’t seem to get it. If I’m still in people’s heads, then I could become a target. Or worse, our children could become targets.”

“None of you will be targets, that much I guarantee. I’ll protect you, and we’ll protect them. We’re a family unit. We look out for each other.”

The consulting criminal huffed, turning away from his husband. He was quiet for a moment, almost too quiet.

“Jimmy, it’ll be okay.” Seb reached out to put a hand on the smaller man’s shoulder, but he jerked out of his grasp.

“No! Nothing will be okay! How do you not comprehend that?” His voice was breaking as he spoke.

Something’s wrong here. Moriarty could be temperamental, especially now, with his hormones in a state of flux. But even so, he wouldn’t be this affected by the situation. There had to be more to it.

“Hon, what’s the real reason you’re upset? There’s something you’re not telling me,” he said. “And don’t claim it isn’t true. I’m an expert Magpie whisperer, remember? I can sense these things.”

“It’s…I…” Jim trailed off and his breathing grew audibly labored. Moreover, he appeared to be trembling.

Oh no. Not another attack. “Let me help you to the couch.”

Seb took the genius by the arm and didn’t allow him to pull away this time. When he got a good look at him, he understood why he’d turned his back: he was in tears.

The assassin ushered his distraught spouse to the leather sofa in his private office. Once seated, Jim hung his head low, not wanting to meet Sebastian in the eye. He also continued to shake uncontrollably.

Sitting close beside him, Moran began rubbing his back in a soothing manner. He could feel a great deal of tension built up in his muscles.

“Talk to me, love. Let your Tiger help.”

“You can’t help this. No one can. I’ve made my bed and now I have to lie in it.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Figure it out.”

“I’m not as smart as you, darling. I’m afraid I need further elaboration.”

“Smart as me?” he scoffed. “That’s a laugh riot. Turns out, I’m a fucking idiot.”

Seb frowned at the harsh remark. “Never, Jimmy. You’re the cleverest person I know.”

“If that’s true, then you really ought to broaden your horizons.”

“My horizons are just fine,” he replied. “As your husband, your alpha, and your friend, I insist that you tell me what’s going on.”

“I’ve already explained. Ian and some others realized who I was straightaway. They knew on sight.”

“For a time, you were all over the media. Even if it was years ago, it stands to reason that you’d be recognized sooner or later.”

“I know, Seb. I know. That’s the problem.”

“Hmm?” The sniper wished his partner would speak less cryptically.

Jim finally looked up, casting a sad gaze on Sebastian. “I was lying to myself,” he confessed.

The sniper stared back at him, perplexed. “Lying? How?”

“Even though my image was once plastered across the news, I was convinced no one would be able to identify me. I told myself over and over again that ordinary people had the mental capacity of goldfish. That they’d forget my face as soon as something else entered their myopic little minds. I was wrong.”

“That’s not a lie, hon.”  

“Oh, yes, it is,” the Irishman declared. “Because while that’s what I believed in my head, in my heart, it was different. In my heart, I knew.” He paused, unsuccessfully attempting to catch his breath.

“Jim, maybe we should go outside for some fresh air.”

“No! Let me finish.”

“Okay. I’m just concerned for you, is all.”

“Don’t be,” he rasped. “I…I knew, deep down, that someone would recognize me eventually. But I shoved common sense aside because I wanted to believe the lie. Now, more than ever, I wanted to believe it, and I wish I still could.”

“Why, Jimmy?”

“Because look at me, Sebastian. Look at who I’ve become these past 6 ½, almost 7 months.”

“That’s how long you’ve been carrying the twins,” Moran plainly noted. What’s he getting at?

“Yes, exactly. I’ve become an expectant omega who knits, and bakes, and cries at the drop of a hat. Me, Seb. The purported ‘most dangerous man in London.’”

“What are you saying? That you’re unhappy? That you regret doing this?”

“No,” he said, shaking his head emphatically. “That’s the thing. I could never regret our children. I love them, and I love knitting mittens and caps, and I love baking treats to bring to my group meetings. I love all of it,” he stressed. “But do you know who wouldn’t? You know who’d absolutely despise it? James Moriarty. Because he is untouchable. He’s cold, calculating, and cruel. He would never do any of the things I’ve done these past several months.” 

Seb was at a loss for words. What Jim was saying wasn’t untrue. The mastermind had changed a great deal since becoming pregnant. He’d grown in so many ways— it was beautiful, like watching the transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly.

“Jim, I don’t know what to tell you.”

“Well, imagine how I feel. I can’t reconcile who I was for most of my life with who I am right now. And that’s the crux of it. Some part of me wanted the world to forget James Moriarty, criminal extraordinaire, because if they could, then maybe I could, too. Maybe I could just be Jim.”

“Oh, Magpie. I love every version of you, both old and new. I always will,” the assassin proclaimed. 

“And I love you, Tiger.” Jim leaned over, wrapping his arms around Moran as he laid his head on the alpha’s shoulder.

Sebastian hugged him back and noticed that his breathing had normalized and his trembling ceased.

“I don’t know if I’ll ever be the man I once was, Sebby. Sometimes…” he stopped, leaving the unfinished statement dangling between them.

“Sometimes what, sweetheart?”

The genius wearily sighed. “Sometimes, I think I might walk away from it all after the babies are born.”

Bloody hell. Up to this point, Seb never dreamed his spouse would consider such a thing. This was huge.

“Retire, darling? Really?”

“Yes, perhaps,” he confirmed. “The ‘me’ who’s sitting here, bearing his soul to you, wants a different kind of life. But the ‘me’ who painstakingly built a criminal empire from scratch…he wants to return to work as soon as possible. My mind is in conflict with itself, Sebastian. I’m so changeable, and it’s maddening.”

“Whatever you decide to do, I’ll support you,” the sniper assured. “If you say you want to go back to running this city with an iron fist, I’ll be there right beside you. And if you say you’d rather stay close to home and care for our children, I’d understand that, too. Either way, I’m in this with you for the long haul.”

“Thank you, love.”

“No thanks are necessary. You’re a gift, Jim, given to me by the universe. I won’t ever let you go.”

“You’d better not,” Moriarty playfully remarked.

The small smile Seb saw on his mate’s face was the ultimate reward. 

*********

RING. RING.

Colin closed the book he was reading and answered the phone.

“I was beginning to think you’d never call back.”

“Quit complaining. I’m here now, aren’t I?” the voice on the line said. “Better late than never.”

“Just don’t make it a habit,” he warned. “Have you got any updates?”

“Nothing significant to report. The next phase is still a go. I’ll implement it soon.”

“Good. I’ve got a few new ideas, by the way. I’ll email you the specifics. I think you’re gonna get a kick out of them.”

“You’re a wicked man, Colin Taylor. I’m grateful we’re on the same side.”

He laughed. “I’m only a bad guy if you cross me.”

“I wouldn’t dare,” the voice spoke. “Any word on the charges being dismissed?”

“Eh, not yet. The legal system is slow. Too slow, frankly. But I can be patient.”  

“I worry whether or not I’ll be able to pull everything off myself. If you don’t get out, we may have to consider an alternate endgame.”  

“Hey, don’t talk that way. For now, we’re sticking to the plan as is. Understand?”

“Yeah. I’ll do my best to execute the orders.”

“Now that’s what I like to hear,” he asserted. “Chin up, and remain focused. I know you want to bring down Moran as much as I do. Don’t lose sight of the goal.”

“I won’t disappoint you, Colin.”

“I sincerely hope not.”

At that, they ended their conversation. Though Taylor was loath to admit it, he too wondered what would happen if the charges against him weren’t dropped. He’d be asking a lot of his cohort to carry on the mission without him. He needed to be free in order for their plans to reach full potential. Right now, he could bide his time. But eventually, there would be a reckoning.  

Chapter Text

It’d been a hectic day at headquarters and Sebastian couldn’t wait to return home. As he pulled into the driveway, he was immediately taken aback by what he saw. There were twinkle lights, holly wreaths, and ribbons abound.

Looks like Jim made good on his promise to have the place decorated.

When Seb walked inside, he was greeted to even more festive surroundings. Everything was done up exactly as his mate had envisioned it, and then some. An enormous fir tree sat in the living room, adorned with white lights, red and gold baubles, and a star on top. Knitted stockings were hung over the fireplace, personalized with each of their ‘names’— Magpie, Tiger, Essie, and Eddie. Moran had never heard of unborn children getting their own stockings, but he supposed Jim didn’t want to leave them out of the revelry. And lastly, there was mistletoe. The familiar plant now dangled between every doorway.

Moriarty entered the room, grinning from ear to ear. “What do you think?”

“It’s wonderful, dear. You really outdid yourself. I can’t remember the house ever being this decorated before.”

“That’s because it hasn’t been,” the mastermind informed. “I wanted to do something special to celebrate our first Christmas with the babies.”

Sebastian raised an eyebrow. “Uh, kitten, since they’re not technically ‘here’ yet, I’m not sure if this counts.”

“Of course it counts,” Jim said, sounding shocked that his husband would dare question the matter. “They are here. I feel them inside me every day. They’re cognizant and we communicate.”

The sniper quickly realized how badly he’d stuck his foot in his mouth. “You’re right. I’m sorry, hon.” He hoped a swift apology would curb any further ill-will. “I noticed you made some lovely stockings for us.”

“Yes, it wouldn’t be a proper yuletide without them,” the Irishman replied. His tone seemed to have mellowed.

“I also spied mistletoe,” Moran remarked, closing in on Jim. “A fine addition, I’d say.”

“After the other day, how could I forget it?”

Seb smiled devilishly. “You couldn’t. Now let’s uphold tradition.” Without another word, he scooped the genius into his arms and carried him to the nearest doorway. Beneath the hanging plant, he laid a dazzling kiss upon his lips. They lingered in their exchange, savoring the act for all it was worth before finally pulling apart.

“Bloody hell, Tiger. If I’d known you would respond like that, I’d have hung mistletoe ages ago.”

“Live and learn, my sweet.”

DING.

The former colonel peered curiously at Jim. “Was that the oven timer?”

“Yeah. I’m going to bake more treats for the meeting tonight.”

Sebastian carefully set his spouse back down. “I thought you were planning to cut back on the baking? Not wear yourself out with it.”

“It’s funny you should say that. As it turns out, I won’t have to overexert myself because I’ll have help in the kitchen.”

“Oh? Who’ve you brought on?”

“You, darling. Duh.”

“Me?” he asked, genuinely surprised.

“Yes, you. Who else would I recruit?”

“Hrm…I don’t know. Maybe someone with real pastry chef training?” The assassin could cook a few dishes quite well, but dessert was not his forte.

“Relaaaaaax,” Moriarty cooed. “I’ll handle the baking part. The dough is already rolled and the oven’s done preheating. I just need you to assist me in cutting out and decorating the cookies.”

“I guess I could manage that without fouling it up too badly. What kind of cookies are they?”

“Gingerbread men,” he stated. “They’ll be whimsical and delicious.”

“Well, when you describe it like that, how can I refuse? Far be it from me to deny the power of whimsy.”

“Precisely. Now come along and we’ll get started.” Jim didn’t bother waiting for a reply, he simply turned around and headed towards the kitchen. Naturally, his Tiger followed.

*********

To Sebastian’s amazement, he discovered that baking could actually be fun. He and Moriarty worked diligently together, preparing the sweet treats and then piping little faces onto them.   

As they approached the end of the dough, Seb decided to do something cheeky. When his partner wasn’t looking, he added an extra appendage to a few of the cut-out figures and quickly stuck them in the oven.

Eventually, the timer rang and Jim stood up to retrieve the last batch. “You’ve really been a great help, Tiger.”

Moran shrugged, flashing a sly grin. “I aim to please.”

The dashing blonde began a countdown in his head, starting from the time Jim opened the oven door until he noticed what was staring at him on the baking sheet.

5, 4, 3, 2—

“Sebastian Augustus Moran!”

“Yes, dear?” He tried to keep a straight face, but it was damn near impossible.

“Why do these gingerbread men have three legs?!”

“Are you sure those are legs, sweetheart? Perhaps they’re just happy to see you.”

The mastermind looked at his mischievous mate, then to the anatomically correct cookies, and back again. Suddenly, he burst into laughter. It was wild and uproarious. The kind that gives you a cramp in your side and brings tears to your eyes.

By the time he made it back to the kitchen table, he was breathless. “Oh god, you need to warn me before pulling a stunt like that.”

“Ah, but then it loses the element of surprise.”

“True.” He inhaled and exhaled deeply, trying to resume a normal breathing pattern. “I think I’ll leave this last batch at home, though some of the blokes at the meeting would probably get a kick out of it.”

“I bet,” the assassin said with a wink. “I’m glad you’re still going to your group, by the way. After what you found out this week, I was afraid you might not return.”

“Well, I considered quitting MOPS. But then it occurred to me that the people I’ve met there have always treated me like I was just ‘Jim.’ Despite knowing my true identity, they welcomed me without question. I think that counts for something.”

“I think so, too.”

Maybe I should invite more of the group members to the baby shower besides just Ian. They seem supportive, Seb mused. On the other hand…a house full of pregnant omegas could present a challenge. All the amplified emotions, the appetites, and the need for frequent bathroom breaks. Hmm. He would have to give the idea further reflection.

“I’m going to take a little catnap before we have to go out. Care to join me?”

“I’d love to, hon.” Seb had gotten a second wind since coming home, but he knew that Jim tended to sleep better when he was there to hold him. So the blonde would oblige. Certainly, it was the least he could do for the bearer of his children.

*********

“Who wants to go first tonight?” Trevor the ‘Male Omega Pregnancy Support’ organizer asked.

Generally, it took a few minutes to get the conversation rolling, but tonight they had an immediate volunteer. Scott, a ginger-haired gentleman, spoke up. “I’d like to give an update on the situation with my family.”

“Okay, let’s hear it.”

“As you may recall, I recently talked about how my sister contacted me on behalf of our parents. They wanted to reconnect and have me over for the holidays,” he explained. “Well, I decided to take the advice I got from the group and make an effort to mend fences with them. I’ll be spending this Christmas with my parents, siblings and cousins.”

“That’s wonderful,” Trevor affirmed.

“It really is. I’m looking forward to all the traditions I’ve missed out on since the estrangement. Cooking goose and Yorkshire pudding, attending midnight mass, and going caroling. I’m excited just thinking about it.”

“Oh, I used to love caroling,” one MOPS member fondly recalled.

“Me, too,” another agreed. “Haven’t done it since I was a boy.”

“Goose,” someone else remarked, “was always my favorite part of Christmas dinner. Besides the egg nog, that is, but I’m laying off the stuff this year for obvious reasons.”

The group descended into a cacophony of chatter as the attendees began bringing up various holiday traditions they enjoyed. It became difficult to hear one voice over another, and soon the sound blurred into little more than an acute, discordant buzz.    

Finally, the coordinator stepped in to regain control of the room. “Hey!” he shouted, “listen up,” and thankfully, people did. “It’s great that you’re so eager to dive into the conversation, but it’s important we conduct ourselves in an orderly manner.” He paused, adding, “Since it seems everyone is keen to discuss the impending holidays, I think we should make that the theme for the first half of this meeting. What Christmastime practices would you like to pass along to your children?”

Most were thrilled with Trevor’s suggestion and spoke openly on the topic. All except for Jim and Ian, that is.  The two members who grew up primarily in foster care had few happy memories to share. It didn’t stop other MOPS participants from encouraging them, though.

“Come on guys,” Jack urged. “There’s got to be something about the holiday that you enjoy enough to want to share with your babies.”

Jim thought hard on it, recalling Christmases past. Nowadays, he spent them with Seb, but that was the only constant. There were no customs they upheld on a regular basis, and oftentimes, they weren’t even at home for the occasion. Last December 25th, they were vacationing in the Swiss Alps, drinking hot chocolate with peppermint schnapps and skiing down slopes.

He went back further in his mind. Before Sebastian. Before a life of crime. Before foster care. Moriarty remembered his mother.

“There is one thing my mum did at Christmas that I might also be inclined to do with the twins.”

“See,” Jack gleefully proclaimed. “I knew it.”

Jim rolled his eyes, ignoring the man’s smug response. “On Christmas Eve, she would tell me how everybody leaves cookies for Santa, but they forget about his reindeer. This was a terrible oversight, she explained, because without them, he’d never be able to fly all around the world. So, she’d have us set out a plate of carrots just for Rudolph and his friends. Then, on Christmas morning, we’d come downstairs and there’d be nibble marks in the carrots. Obviously, she must’ve done it herself to make it look like an animal had been there, but at the time, I thought it was very cool. I might try something similar with my children when they reach a certain age.”

“That’s delightful,” Jack replied.

“An incredibly sweet story,” another man declared.

“So Ian, it’s just you now. What have you got?”

The young omega shook his head. “I honestly don’t have any traditions to share. Not a single one. Sorry.”

Jack frowned. “Ah, well, that’s too bad. Maybe your baby’s father has some he can pass down.”

Ian’s demeanor instantly grew tense. “No. Never,” he stressed. “You know I’m single. Why would you suggest such a thing?”

“It was just a passing notion,” the man said. “Even if you and your partner aren’t together anymore, I assume he’d have some involvement in your child’s life.”

“You guessed wrong. Very wrong.”

Clearly a pressure point, Jim observed. He hadn’t seen Ian get this upset before. His baby’s father was a definite trigger. But why? The mastermind was curious.

“Guys,” Trevor interjected, “let’s not ruffle each other’s feathers. I think this is a good time to pause for our break. Once again, Jim has prepared some delectable treats for us. Help yourselves,” he directed, “and we’ll reconvene in about 15–20 minutes.”

The group scattered, some leaving to use the restroom while others stayed behind to sample refreshments. It was an ideal opportunity for Moriarty to make his move. He approached Ian, sitting beside him.

“Everything okay? You seemed a bit agitated a moment ago.”

The teenager sighed. “Yeah, I’ll be fine. It’s just that family is a rough subject for me, especially in regard to my baby’s father.” 

“Well, whoever he is, I already know he’s a right arsehole for leaving you in a lurch like this,” Jim stated.

“You’re correct, he is an arsehole. And a whole lot worse than that, too. Which is why I haven’t told him I’m pregnant, and I never will.”

“Really?” The consulting criminal hadn’t expected that piece of news. It must’ve been a particularly brutal breakup for him to take such a firm stance.  

“Yes, really.”

Ian’s expression spoke volumes. It was obvious he wanted to say more, but was afraid of divulging too much.

Jim found himself feeling strangely parental, fighting the urge to give the boy a hug and reassure him that things would get better. It was such a foreign instinct, he wasn’t sure what to make of it.

“You know, I love MOPS, but some nights these discussions do nothing but stir up shit in my head,” the youth lamented.

“I hear that. I’ve had the same problem.”

“How do you get through it?”

“My husband helps me a lot,” he reflexively answered. As soon as the words left his mouth, he regretted them, not because they were untrue, but because it seemed wrong to mention Seb when this boy had no one. 

If Ian was bothered by the honest response, he didn’t show it. “Your mate is a solid bloke. I’ve seen the two of you together here and there— you have a natural connection that comes through even when you don’t talk. It’s in your body language…the way you carry yourselves in each other’s presence. There’s a sense of trust.” 

“You notice the little things…the details. That’s good.” He’d chosen his workplace mole well. “Picked up on any peculiarities at headquarters?”

“Not yet. So far, everyone’s been very gracious.”

“It’s only your first week. The traitor may not present themself right away, but you’ll be there when they do.”

“The moment I see something amiss, I’ll alert you ASAP. You can hold me to that.”

“Oh, believe me, I will.” 

Moriarty was putting a lot of faith into this young man. He sincerely hoped it wasn’t misplaced.

Chapter Text

This was it— Jim’s last day of work before going on paternity leave. He planned to spend the afternoon at headquarters so that he could tie up any loose odds and ends. He wasn’t sure when, or if, he’d be back, so it seemed like the most appropriate course of action.

Sebastian greeted him on arrival in the lobby, escorting him to his private office. They passed several employees on the way, and many of them actually smiled and made eye contact. That was major progress. After the sex tape incident, everything had become so awkward between him and his personnel. It was a relief to see the dynamics return to normal.

As the couple stood in front of Jim’s office, Seb spoke up. “I’m going to ask that you close your eyes and let me get the door for you.”

“Why? I can do it just fine myself.”

“Trust me, darling.” The sniper flashed him a coy, yet irresistible look that he knew Moriarty couldn’t deny.

“This had better be good,” he said, shutting his lids tight.

Moran grasped him by the hand and led him inside. “You can take a peek now, love.”

Jim did, and what he saw was delightful. On his desk sat a large, multitier tower of golden boxes. He instantly recognized the packaging. It looked like—

“My favorite chocolates,” he blurted out, staring in awe at the gift.

Seb grinned. “That’s right. Imported directly from Belgium.”

He approached the tower of gourmet confectionery, examining the contents of each tier. They contained all the best varieties, as if expertly chosen with his tastes in mind.

“This is wonderful, Tiger. Must’ve cost a fortune, too.”

“Yes, it did. But everyone at headquarters chipped in. This is a group gift from your staff, myself included.”

That wasn’t the end of it. Also sitting on his desk was a large envelope bearing his name. “And what’s this?”

“Open it and find out,” Sebastian urged with a wink.

He obliged, discovering that it was an oversized greeting card. A cute drawing of a stork carrying a baby bundle was depicted on the front. Inside were the signatures of all those who worked at the office.   

“It’s lovely,” Jim stated, genuinely touched by the gesture.

“Glad it meets your approval. I wanted to make sure you got a proper sendoff.” 

“I wasn’t expecting anything like this. Thank you.”

“It was the least I could do,” the thoughtful blonde replied. “After all, I’m the one who put you in this condition.”

“Yes, but not without my explicit encouragement and consent.”

Moran moved close to his mate, enjoying the sweet scent of him. “Now that you mention it, that was some pretty intense ‘encouragement.’ As I recall, you insisted we shag a minimum of three times a day to ensure conception. We may have been vacationing in the Cotswolds that week, but the only sights I took in were of you, from all angles.”

Jim affected a face of mock innocence, staring at the assassin with big, brown eyes. “I don’t remember you expressing any complaints. In fact, I think you liked it a lot,” he declared. “The idea of having me completely. Of claiming me in a way that no one else ever had or ever would. It was an alpha’s wet dream and you relished it.”    

“So what if I did?” Seb countered, capturing his mate between the desk and himself.

The mastermind’s coquettish façade fell away, replaced by a wanton gleam. “Then you’d be the same as me, because I fucking loved it.”

Sebastian breathed heavily, his desire rising. He imagined ravishing Jim right then and there, atop every piece of furniture in the office.

“Getting a bit excited are we, solider?” the genius cheekily inquired. He could feel his husband’s arousal pressing against him.

“I’m always excited for you.”

Moriarty smiled devilishly. “Tonight, my gorgeous Tiger.”

“Tonight?”

“Oh, yes. I expect you to make my first official night of paternity leave a memorable one. Bear in mind, I’m not quite as limber as I used to be, but I’ve still got a few good moves up my sleeve.”

“Anything you want, I can deliver.” If Jim was seeking an evening of unbridled passion, he’d get it.

“I’m very pleased to hear that, dear,” he cooed, stroking Seb’s stubbled cheek. “Now if you’d be so kind as to run along, I’ve got work to do.”

Shit. Moran was really hoping the conversation would lead somewhere else entirely. It never ceased to amaze him how easily Jim could turn the charm and seduction on and off at will.

“You’re a cock tease, Jimmy, of the highest order.”

“I knooooow.”

As the sniper headed for the door, Moriarty spoke again. “By the way, Seb, I want you to pick up takeout for dinner. It has to be ready as soon as we get out of here.”

“Any special requests?” Really, that was a silly question. Jim always made special food requests, without exception.

“Yes, get me eggplant parmigiana and baked ziti— extra cheese on both. And then throw in whatever you might like for yourself.”

“You want two dinners?”

“Got a problem with that?”

“No, sir. Just checking to be sure I understood correctly.”

“Your orders have been made clear, colonel.”

“Aye, aye.”

Sebastian exited the Irishman’s office, eagerly awaiting the end of the day. Thankfully, he had a meeting to attend and an assignment to oversee. If he kept busy, time would fly by faster…or so he hoped.

*********

“Tiiiiiiiiger,” Jim bellowed as the assassin returned to their car with bags of takeout in hand. “That took forever.”

“I’m sorry, sweetheart. It wasn’t my fault. They’re swamped in there.”

“Don’t apologize to me. Apologize to the babies. The three of us are desperately hungry,” he proclaimed. “When my stomach growled, I think it scared them.”

Moran did his best to suppress a laugh. Jim could be the ultimate drama queen sometimes.

“I’m sure they’re fine.”

“You didn’t feel it. I swear they jumped.”

The consulting criminal looked down at his belly, gently rubbing it. “No need to fret, my darlings. Daddy will have dinner soon.”

Seb smiled. It’s so sweet, the way he talks to them.

“I watched a video online about how babies can become frightened and cry in utero,” Jim remarked, turning his attention back to Sebastian.

“No kidding? I didn’t know that was possible.”

“Me either, until I saw it for myself. The footage was quite unsettling. It made me wonder how many times Essie and Eddie have endured such a terrible experience. I get anxious just thinking about it.”

“You’ve got nothing to worry about, hon. You speak to them so soothingly— I’m positive your voice makes them feel safe.”

“I do try my hardest in that regard,” the genius acknowledged. “You’re not always there to witness it, but we have splendid conversations throughout the day.”

“Oh? Explains why my ears have been burning lately,” he teased.

“Hush. On those rare occasions when you’ve come up during our chats, we’ve had only good things to say. However, that could easily be rectified, so I’d tread carefully if I were you.”

“Duly noted.” Still sassy, the sniper mused. Jim may have transformed in a variety of ways, but at his core, some aspects remained the same. Somehow, the notion warmed Seb’s heart.

 

 

As the couple neared their house, Moriarty took a moment to marvel at how magnificent the place looked. The Christmas lights were on a timer and had turned on prior to their arrival. Illuminated, the mansion really was a thing of beauty. Jim often wished for a home as festive and inviting as this when he was child. Every once in a while, perhaps dreams did come true.

When they reached the driveway, Moran carried their food to the front door, stopping to pull out his key and undo the lock. That was when he noticed a package.

“Did you order something, love?” Sebastian asked, stepping inside their residence. He sat the takeout on the kitchen counter and approached his partner, who stood at the entryway, eyeballing the parcel.

“No, I didn’t. And this doesn’t appear to have postage on it.”

A shared sense of dread came over both men. They remembered all too clearly the last unmarked package that graced their doorstep— it’d been their interior decorator’s severed hands in a box. Certainly, this couldn’t be as ghastly as that, though…right?

After exchanging a glance, they knew they had to see what was in there. Seb took the reins, bringing the mysterious item into the house and setting it on the coffee table. He pulled a switchblade from his back pocket, but paused before using it.

“Are you sure you want me to open this? We could get rid of it without checking what’s inside.”

Jim shook his head. It was a tempting offer, but he had to know the contents. “Just do it, Seb.”

And so the assassin did, slicing through the heavy duct tape that kept the box closed. Thank god they hadn’t eaten yet, or else the foul odor that wafted out may have caused upset.   

“Fuck, what is that?” Moriarty exclaimed in disgust.

“It smells like death,” Seb said, and he wasn’t joking. It reeked of decay.

Now that the seal had been broken, it was time to lift the flaps and actually learn what was producing the stench. Neither was enthusiastic about that part, but it needed to be done.

Sebastian mentally prepared himself— 3, 2, 1. Go!

The Tiger and his Magpie stared agape at the grisly sight that lay inside. It appeared to be…small body parts? But there was something odd about the way they looked. Something not quite human.

“This is a fetal pig,” Jim stated, “that someone decided to dismember and let decompose.”

“A fetal pig? How can you be sure?”

“We dissected one in a biology class I took. Though the specimens they gave us at school were a lot less putrefied than this.” He hesitated, ogling the contents keenly. “Sebby…I believe there’s something else in there as well.”

The blonde saw it, too. He was about to stick his hand in and grab it, when Jim stopped him, fetching rubber gloves from the kitchen.

“Use this. Lord only knows what kind of bacteria might be festering among the rot.”

“Smart thinking.” Now safeguarded, Moran reached inside the box and retrieved an envelope with the word ‘Daddy’ scribbled on it.

There was a silence as Jim’s expression grew panicked and his breathing sped up. “I…I’m probably meant to open that,” he stammered.

“You don’t have to. I will,” Seb asserted. The alpha was feeling very protective of his mate.          

“I won’t have you coddling me. I’m a big boy, Sebastian. Give me those gloves and I’ll do it myself.”

He complied, knowing the mastermind would have it no other way.

Moriarty was trying very hard not to launch into a full-blown anxiety attack, but even as he held the envelope, he was shaking. His Tiger saw this, and rested a hand on his shoulder to help calm him.

It was now or never. The Irishman tore into the letter, unfolding the paper inside.

He promptly collapsed upon reading it.  

“Jim!” Seb swooped in, carrying his spouse to the couch. Once he laid him out, he went back to pick up the note. As soon as he read it, he understood why the consulting criminal reacted the way he did. 

Enjoy your paternity leave. Consider this a sneak preview of what’s to come, though I think the babies may require a bigger box.

 

To Be Continued…

Chapter Text

“Get your ass in here NOW!” Sebastian barked into his phone. “If I don’t see you standing in front of me within the next two minutes, I’ll come out there and introduce you to my .44 Magnum.” At that, he ended the call.

“Wha…” Jim mumbled, his eyes fluttering open as he regained consciousness on the living room couch. “Tiger?”

The sniper rushed to his spouse’s side.

“Hey, sweetheart. How are you feeling?”

“Sore.”

“That’s probably because you hit the floor when you passed out. But don’t worry, you didn’t land on your stomach. I think your tailbone bore the brunt of it.”

The consulting criminal hissed as he attempted to sit up. “You’re right. The pain is radiating through my back.”

“I’m so sorry, Magpie.”   

“It’s not your fault.”

Jim caught wind of the putrid smell that still lingered in the air. Suddenly, everything came flooding back to him. The unmarked package. The rotted swine parts. The note.

Dear god, the note. He was so horrified by it, his body entered into some kind of shock. His vision went bleary and his knees buckled beneath him. Before he had time to process what was happening, he was out cold.

DING. DONG.

The doorbell chimed and Seb moved to answer it. A uniformed security guard stood in front of him. The assassin didn’t bother with a formal greeting. Instead, he growled and roughly yanked the man inside.

“What’s your name?” Moran demanded.

“Jeff,” he answered.

“And how long have you been here today, Jeff?”

“Since 9 a.m., sir. My shift is almost over.”

“So all day, then?”

“Yes, sir.”

As soon as Seb heard the confirmation, he reeled his arm back and swung. His closed fist made contact with the guard’s face, landing a blow that would surely produce a nasty black eye. 

“Let me show you something,” he said with a snarl. The furious alpha grabbed Jeff by his arm and forced him to view the gruesome contents of the mystery box.

“Oh god,” the man uttered in revulsion. “What the fuck is that?”

“It’s a fetal pig whose parts— organs included— have been disassembled and left to decay,” Sebastian matter-of-factly replied. “There’s no postage on the package, which means it didn’t come through the mail. Someone had to have dropped this off personally. I’d like to know who the HELL it was and why you didn’t stop them dead in their tracks.”

The guard appeared very confused. “No…that’s not possible. I’ve been here for 8 hours and no one delivered anything.”

Moran slugged him again, this time in the gut. He doubled over, gasping for breath.

“Obviously, your statement is incorrect. Someone did deliver this today. So either you’re lying because you or someone you know is responsible, or you’re just flat-out fucking incompetent and missed the perpetrator completely. Which is it? Both are bad, but for different reasons.”

“I didn’t see anyone, I swear!” the man insisted.

“Going with option two, then? I suppose that’s the safer route, but don’t think you’re getting off scot-free.”

Seb kneed the guard in the groin, causing him to drop to the ground like a sack of bricks. “You’re fucking fired,” he declared. “Oh, and before I forget—” the sniper knelt down and confiscated the gun that was concealed inside Jeff’s jacket. “You won’t be needing this.”

The man began to slowly crawl away. He wasn’t moving fast enough for Sebastian.

“Let me help you with that,” Moran offered. But rather than lend a hand, he opened the front door and literally kicked Jeff out, slamming and locking the entrance behind him.

“Good riddance to bad rubbish,” the blonde muttered.

Meanwhile, Jim stared at his mate, transfixed. “Tiger, you were amaaaaazing.”

Seb shrugged. “I did what I had to do. Simple as that.”

“I know, but you were so forceful and commanding. Seeing you in action like that…I’d almost forgotten how much it turned me on.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah.” Moriarty’s libido was on high alert.

The former colonel smirked, taking a seat close to his husband on the couch. “You like it when I’m fierce, huh?”

“Always,” he lustfully proclaimed.

Their eyes locked as Seb ran a hand along the mastermind’s inner thigh. “It did feel satisfying, being able to channel my energy into something I’m so good at.” His fingers inched their way up to the bulge between Jim’s legs. He was hard.

“Oh, yes, honey. You’re verrrrrry good at it.”

Moran stroked the Irishman’s erection through the fabric of his pants. “I don’t think it was enough, though. I beat someone up a bit, sure. But you know how it is…once you take a taste, you want more,” he said seductively.

“I get it. I dooooooo.”

“I wish I had something— or maybe, someone— else to focus on. To really pound.”

Jim grunted, coming undone at his mate’s use of talk and touch. “Pound me,” he volunteered. “I can’t move much with this backache, but that’s okay. I don’t have to get up. We can do it right here.”

Sebastian unceremoniously removed his hand from Jim’s throbbing manhood and stood up. “Sorry, kitten, but I’ve got to go. There’s work to be done.”

The look on Moriarty’s face was priceless. “What?! No! I demand that you stay here and fuck me! That’s an order.”

“An order? You’re off duty. Paternity leave and all,” Seb reminded while flashing a huge, sharky grin.

“Bollocks that! You’ll damn well do what I tell you to,” the frustrated genius fumed.

“You’re not the only one who can be a cock tease, darling. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to review the security footage and see who delivered that revolting package.”

“Wait!” Jim called out before his alpha could leave. “At least bring me my dinner.”

The assassin was not unreasonable. He did as Moriarty requested, serving him the Italian takeout and helping him into an upright position.

Rather than thank his partner, the consulting criminal glared at the larger man. “Willfully giving a pregnant omega blue balls,” he spat. “You ought to be ashamed of yourself.”

“Now you know how I felt earlier, when we were in your office.”

“That was different.”  

“How so?”

“Because,” he began, quickly trailing off as he realized he didn’t have a good answer.

“Because what, dear? I’m waiting.” Sebastian knew he was pressing his luck, and he enjoyed every minute of it. He was the only person who could get away with talking to Jim so cheekily. 

“Because I’m pregnant and you’re not!” the mastermind huffed. “In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m growing not one, but two human beings inside my own body.”

“And that makes it okay to rev me up and then send me out the door?”

“Yes! Maybe. No…I don’t know.” Jim was a confused mess of hormones and emotions, and this conversation was doing nothing to improve his disposition.

But Seb knew where to draw the line. He didn’t truly want to upset his husband, just engage in a bit of ribbing.

Leaning down, the sniper kissed the top of Moriarty’s head. He noted that his hair felt very soft and smelled lovely. “No hard feelings, Magpie. You know I love you.”

“Yeah, Seb. I do.” The Irishman paused for a moment. “I want to see the surveillance recording, too.”

“Are you sure? I thought it might be less stressful for you if I did it alone.”

“Sebastian, this son of a bitch is overtly threatening the lives of my—” he stopped, correcting himself, “of our children. So you’d best believe I want to see it for myself.”

“Okay. I’ll bring the recordings out here and we can watch them together.”

“I appreciate it, Tiger.”

The formidable blonde went to fetch the day’s surveillance logs. With any luck, it would provide some much sought-after clues.

*********

“This is insane.” Seb had reviewed a particular portion of the security footage over a dozen times, and he still couldn’t accept what he was looking at.

A drone. A goddamn drone had dropped the package on their doorstep.

Jim was beyond angry. “This isn’t how it was supposed to go!” he shouted. “There was meant to be a person caught on camera! Someone we could identify and destroy. NOT. A. FUCKING. ROBOT!”

Ordinarily, Moran would attempt to calm the genius down. Right now, though, he was just as irate as his mate. There was no way to sugarcoat or suppress the frustration that burned through them both.

“This explains why the guard didn’t see anyone,” Seb remarked. There really hadn’t been a deliveryman per se— the box arrived from above. “If we were to bake Jeff a basket of muffins, do you think he might agree to come back?” the assassin bitterly joked. Gallows humor was all he could muster.  

But Moriarty could not bid himself to laugh. He rapidly turned his rage inward, retreating to a dark place deep inside. It was a void he’d existed in for years prior to being liberated from its grips by Sebastian, his love and his light.

Jim sat on the couch for a long while, utterly listless. Finally, he spoke. “Help me to the bedroom.”

“Sure, honey.”

Like any good alpha, Seb assisted his achy, expectant omega up the stairs. He aided him in changing out of a finely tailored suit and into something more comfortable. At first, he reached for a silken pair of black pajamas, but then decided on a different choice of loungewear for his mate.

Jim remained quiet as Moran rifled through a shopping bag hidden in the closet. When the sniper reemerged, he was holding a festive set of flannel nightclothes.

“I bought these as a Christmas present for you, but I think it’d be okay to try them out early.” He was determined to infuse some light into his husband’s starless sky.

The smaller man said nothing as he was eased into holiday-themed paternity jammies. They were very cute, featuring the ‘Peanuts’ character Snoopy printed on them.

“Sweetheart, you look adorable. I’m going to guide you over to the mirror so you can see for yourself, okay?”

Jim nodded, but was still awash in a haze of melancholy. He walked slowly and with a heavy step, as though his feet were weighed down by an invisible force. Eventually, they came to stand in front of a full-length mirror.

“See, kitten? It’s a wealth of whimsy.” The former colonel spoke in an upbeat tone, hoping it might rub off on Jim.

No response, he noted. His partner wouldn’t even acknowledge his own reflection, instead staring downward at the carpet.

“When I was a little boy, I used to think Snoopy was the absolute coolest. I had his doll, bedsheets, lunchbox…everything. And don’t tell anyone, but I also kept a Snoopy nightlight until the age of ten. Severin teased me mercilessly about it, but I didn’t care, because I loved that little dog. He made me happy and nothing else mattered.” Moran paused, eyeing his morose Magpie. “I thought maybe he’d have a similar effect on you. Guess it was a longshot.”

Sebastian began to turn away, when suddenly a hand reached out and grabbed his wrist.

“Tiger,” the mastermind whispered, “don’t go.” He slowly looked up, glimpsing his reflection at last. His dark eyes widened as he took in the sight of himself. “Bloody hell.”

The assassin chuckled softly. Now this was more in line with how he’d imagined Jim reacting. Embarrassed and appalled, perhaps, but none of that silent business.

“I suppose I don’t have to ask what you think of your new PJs.”

“Actually, they’re not half bad. There’s a kitschy sort of charm to them.” A small smile graced Moriarty’s face, which was better than Seb had anticipated.  

“Really? You don’t want to set the outfit ablaze?”

“How could I, after you so fondly recounted how much the beagle means to you?” he replied with a wink.

“It’s a relief to hear you say that, because, well…there was a sale going on when I bought the pajamas. Buy an adult set and get a matching baby-size version at half price.” Moran retrieved the shopping bag from the closet and pulled another article of clothing out of it. In his hand, he held a tiny Christmas-themed Snoopy onesie.

Jim’s expression lit up like a sunrise and he let out a sound that was somewhere between a coo and a trill— a signal of intense omega joy. “Sebby, this is soooooo precious!”

“Yes, that’s why I had to have it. However, it occurred to me after the fact that by the time the twins are born, the holiday motif will be outdated.”

“You’re right,” he agreed. “But I don’t give a toss. I’ll dress them in it anyway. It’s too sweet to go to waste.”

“Too sweet to go to waste? Hmm. That description could also apply to a certain someone I know.” Seb pulled his mate close, resting a hand on the Irishman’s midsection. He could feel their children beating back at his touch. “The kiddos are feisty tonight.”

“They’re feisty every night, trust me on that.”

“Good. I want them to be full of sass and sophistication like their daddy.”

The consulting criminal breathed in sharply as a particularly strong kick came from within. “I believe they’re trying to tell you that you’ve got your wish.”

A broad grin spread across the sniper’s face. “Oh, Magpie, I love our family.” Despite outside attempts to dampen his spirit, he was happy. “I’ll protect you and our little ones, I promise.”

“I’ll protect them, too,” Moriarty vowed. “Our children will be guarded more heavily than Fort Knox. I’m even planning to have a Kevlar baby carriage built.”

“Kevlar, huh? I like the way you think.”

“Mmm…in that case, can you figure out what else is on my mind right now?” He punctuated his inquiry by slipping a stray hand onto Sebastian’s firm backside.

“I’ve got a pretty good idea,” he answered. The dashing blonde had previously sworn to give Jim a night of passion and he intended to keep his word.

“I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but be gentle, Tiger. I’ve got a lot of aches and pains, and I don’t want to put too much stress on my belly.”

“No whips, restraints, or weighted devices. Understood.”

“When you put it like that, it makes it sound so boooooring.”

“Never, Jimmy,” he declared while carefully lowering his beloved onto the soft, cushioned surface of their bed. “We could never be boring, darling. Not in any way, shape, or form.”

Moriarty contemplated Seb’s statement. “You raise a compelling point. If we were boring, then by association, it would mean I was boring, too. Obviously, that’s an impossibility. So your premise must be correct. We can never be boring because I can never be boring.”

“Kitten? Quit blathering and kiss me already.”

Jim was more than eager to oblige.

Chapter Text

A few days had passed since Jim received his gruesome paternity gift, and he was not doing well. He put on a brave face, but Sebastian saw through the guise. His mate was tense and uneasy, and had twice awoken screaming in the night. Though he refused to discuss the content of his dreams, Seb swore he’d mumbled something about ‘the babies.’

Speaking of their children, some changes were made regarding the surprise baby shower. Moran lobbied to have the party date pushed up because he thought it might brighten Jim’s spirits. The request put additional stress on the ladies organizing the event, but ultimately, they rose to the occasion and managed to pull everything together on an abbreviated deadline.

Today was it. Gemma and Annie had just arrived to set up for the shindig, while Jim, as anticipated, remained blissfully unaware in bed. All seemed fine at first, but one member of the coordinating crew was absent.

“I haven’t been able to get ahold of Marie for a day and a half,” Gemma complained. “She was supposed to help us run the show, so to speak. It’s not like her to go MIA. I don’t know what happened.”

Seb frowned. He’d actually received a text from Marie two days ago, stating that she needed to talk to him. He replied back, but never got another message from the woman. He figured she was just busy planning the shower, but now he wondered if there was more to it than that. If she was still incommunicado tomorrow, he’d send someone to her house to check up on her.

“Mr. Moran, I hate to be a bother, but in light of our missing assistant, do you think you could aid us with a couple of things? The hors d'oeuvres and cake are in a cooler in my van,” Annie noted. “It would be a huge help if you’d bring those in while Gemma and I rig up the banners and balloons.”

“Yeah, I can do that. And if you need anything else, don’t hesitate to mention it.”

“Thank you, sir.”

Seb would do whatever was necessary to ensure that this party went off without a hitch.

*********

It was 1 o’clock in the afternoon when Ian showed up. At that point, half the guest list was already there— Gemma, Annie, and Sebastian, respectively.

“Hey,” the young man greeted. “Am I early?” he asked, noticing there was hardly anyone in attendance.

“No,” Seb answered, taking the gift box Ian walked in with and setting it aside for later. “We’re keeping this a small affair.”

“Ah, okay. I guess I should feel honored that, of all people, you decided to invite me.”

“Well, I considered including your whole MOPS group, but it seemed like it might be overkill. Of the bunch, I think you’re the only one he’d really want here.”

“That’s actually kind of sweet.” The teen took a cursory look around. “This is a beautiful home you’ve got. Where’s the man of the hour?”

“He’s still in bed. It’s been a rough week for him since going on paternity leave.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.” Ian paused as his stomach growled loudly. “Got anything to eat? I skipped breakfast today.”

Gemma overheard the remark. “We have a variety of finger foods in the kitchen,” she warmly informed. “Let me show you. We can take a look at the cake, too, if you’d like. No cutting it until we’re at least midway through the festivities, though.”

“Understood,” he said, following the woman as she led the way.

Moran turned to Annie. “I really hope this party perks Jim up.”

“I think it will. Who can resist a bit of revelry?”

“Not me, but my mate can be stubborn.” When dealing with office staff, Seb now openly acknowledged what he and Jim were to each other. After the sex tape circulated across headquarters, it seemed pointless to deny their relationship.

“If you don’t mind my asking, what’s got Mr. Moriarty so upset? Pregnancy is usually a very happy time for an omega.”

“He’s mostly happy, it’s just that he’s been under a lot of stress lately. It’s taken a toll.”

“Well then, let’s do our best to make sure he has fun today.” 

“Believe me, I intend to.”

She nodded. “When should we get this party started?”

“Soon. I’m mainly waiting for Gemma’s cousin to arrive. Once everyone’s here, we can begin,” the sniper stated. “Besides, Jim could use the rest. He hasn’t slept well these past few nights, so I don’t want to wake him until it’s absolutely necessary.”

“You’re a thoughtful man, Mr. Moran. They don’t make alphas like you anymore.”

He smiled, slightly embarrassed to be receiving such praise. “You’re too kind, Annie.”

“Nah, I just call it as I see it,” she said with a wink.

Seb was silent for a moment, feeling a strange twinge of déjà vu. He couldn’t place why or how the sense had come over him— it was simply there.

“Is something the matter, sir? You got awfully quiet.”

“I’m fine. It’s just that when you winked, it was…familiar.”

She furrowed a brow. “Hmm. Well, you’ve probably seen me do it at work.”

“Yeah, maybe.”

“I’m sure that’s it,” the woman insisted. “I’ve been told I can be quite animated at times.”

The sniper was about to reply when, out of the blue, screams erupted from the bedroom. Without another word, Seb made a mad dash for his spouse.

I’m coming, love.

*********

White. Everything was bright, blinding white.

Jim blinked, taking in his utterly sterile surroundings. It appeared to be a hospital and he was lying in a bed. When he attempted to get up, it became clear that he was strapped down and couldn’t move.   

A million things raced through his head— where is this place? Why am I here? Who restrained me? One question in particular rose to the surface above the rest: Where is my husband?

His sweet Sebastian would never allow him to be locked up in a facility like this. He must’ve been taken without the assassin’s knowledge.

Moriarty wasn’t given much time to contemplate the situation, as the door to the room swung open. In walked a truly bizarre sight. A man dressed in black and wearing a ‘plague doctor’ mask approached him. He carried a bag of surgical instruments that he sat on an end table near the bed. When he pulled out a large cutting tool, Jim found his voice.

“What are you doing?” the genius demanded. “Who do you work for?”

The ominous figure did not respond, instead continuing to line up various scalpels and implements in a row.

“How dare you ignore me! You’ll tell me who you are!”

But yelling didn’t help, and the shrouded physician remained mute.

Jim was horrified by the realization that he wore only a paper-thin hospital gown. It afforded no protection when the masked man proceeded to uncover him.

His thoughts immediately went to his children. He was supposed to keep them safe. Shield them from danger. Yet it became obvious that this ‘doctor’ meant to do harm.

The mastermind screamed bloody murder as a sharp blade sliced into his abdomen. He quickly realized that a caesarean section was being performed without his consent.

“No!” he shouted in pained desperation. 

The twins were viciously ripped from his body and handed to a faceless nurse who’d materialized out of nowhere. He wasn’t permitted to see them or hold them. All he could do was listen to their cries.

“Give them to me! Please! They need their mother,” he pled, abandoning the pretense of his own gender identity and admitting what he was to his children.

Covered in birthing fluids, the wailing newborns were placed on a cold metal table where Jim could now view them, but do nothing more.

“They need to be cleaned off and swaddled! You can’t just leave them like that!”

Oh, how he ached to comfort his babies. To wrap them in soft, warm blankets and rock them until they were settled and serene. To show them that they were loved completely and unconditionally. 

Jim’s heart pounded wildly as he watched the plague doctor approach his littles ones with a large scalpel in hand.

“No! God, no! Please don’t hurt them!” the Irishman begged, tears streaming down his face. “Do whatever you want to me…I know I deserve it. But NOT them! They’re innocent!”

He struggled violently to break free from his bindings, but it was no use. The straps refused to break, and the masked madman sunk his blade into tender infant flesh. His children’s agonized cries would haunt him forever.

 

 

“Jim! Jimmy! It’s okay,” Sebastian assured, sitting beside his hysterical mate. The consulting criminal was slowly awakening.

“My babies,” he gasped.

“It was just a bad dream. The babies are safe and so are you.”

“Huh? Sebby?” His voice was sad and confused as he tried to regain his bearings.

“I’m here, hon. No worries.” The sniper soothingly ran his fingers through Jim’s sleep-tousled hair.

Moriarty sat up and hugged his stomach, making sure that Essie and Eddie were still housed inside him. A rush of emotions flooded through the mastermind when he felt them kick. He was relieved that the twins had not been harmed, but still felt terror over the images wreaking havoc in his head.

“Oh Tiger, this was the worst one yet.”

“I’m sorry you’re having such terrible nightmares,” Seb said, taking Jim into his strong, protective arms. “I know you haven’t wanted to discuss what happens in them, but sometimes talking about these things takes their power away. Do you understand what I mean, sweetheart?”

“I do,” he shakily replied. “It just…it hurts to even say the words.”

“Keeping it bottled up will only bring you more pain in the long run,” Moran noted. “I’ve told you before that you can share anything with me, and I stand by my vow. I’ll always listen. Always be there to help.”

The dark-eyed genius stared somberly at his spouse. He took a deep breath and began to recount the distressing dream as best he could. “In my nightmare, I was tied down to a hospital bed and a ‘surgeon,’ if you could call him that, came in dressed as a plague doctor. The bastard cut me open and took our children from me. Tore them right out. And then…” Jim stopped, overcome by the awful memory of what occurred next. “He tortured them, Seb. Vivisected newborn babies! It was horrific. I’ll never forget their screams.” 

“Dear God, that’s ghastly.” The former colonel clasped Moriarty’s hand, lacing their fingers together. “Take comfort in the knowledge that it wasn’t real. Our little ones are healthy and thriving. We won’t let anyone harm them, not ever.”

Jim nodded, summoning whatever strength he could. “That’s right. Those who so much as look at them funny will be made into shoes.”

“Amen,” Sebastian agreed, giving the smaller man’s hand a squeeze for good measure.

“Darling?”

“Yes?”

“The yelling hurt my throat. Be a doll and make me some herbal tea.”

“Sure.” Moran was hoping for a way ‘out,’ and this would do fine. He needed to get back to the living room and see if the final party guest had arrived. “I’ll be back soon,” the assassin promised as he stood up and exited their sleeping quarters.

When he returned to the main area of the house, he saw that Annie was waiting with a concerned expression on her face.

“Is Mr. Moriarty okay?” she asked.

“He’s all right, just a bit shaken up from a dream. I’m going to brew him some tea.”

“Sounds sensible. Hot beverages have a way of calming one down. I could do with an Irish coffee myself,” she joked.

Seb smirked. “You and me both.”

A few minutes passed, and by that time Gemma and Ian had brought several hors d'oeuvre trays into the living room. Bottles of sparkling cider were also present, chilling on ice as if it was actual champagne. The refreshments display, combined with the decorative ‘Congratulations’ banner and balloons, made for an inviting atmosphere.

DING. DONG.

HISSS. HISSS.

The doorbell chimed and the kettle whistled almost simultaneously. Moran went to the kitchen while Gemma answered the door.

As Seb tended to the tea, he could hear the meet-and-greet going on in the next room. Though he was unable to make out what was being said, there was a familiarity to the sound of the guest’s voice. Curious, he decided to pop in and introduce himself like a proper host before bringing the tea up to Jim.

“Good afternoon,” he gregariously spoke. “Thank you for com—”

The woman turned around, and Sebastian stopped dead in his tracks, nearly dropping the porcelain cup he carried. Now he knew why he recognized the voice.

It belonged to Molly Hooper.

 

To Be Continued…

Chapter Text

Sebastian was speechless, just staring at Molly. She appeared equally flabbergasted. Their reactions to each other did not go unnoticed by the rest of the guests.

“Is something wrong?” Gemma asked in confusion.

Neither uttered a word, they simply continued to stare.

Another woman came walking up behind Molly, carrying a gift bag. This time, when Seb saw who it was, he did drop Jim’s cup of tea.  

Irene Adler stood in the doorway.

“Oh dear!” Annie exclaimed. “I’ll clean it.” She hastily headed to the kitchen for paper towels, returning with a brand new roll to sop up the mess.

Spilt tea was the least of Moran’s worries. Maybe Jim isn’t the only one having nightmares, he thought. Surely, this couldn’t really be happening. He would wake up any moment now. He’d wake up and—

“What the HELL are these bitches doing in my home?! Sebastian, you’ve got some serious explaining to do!”

Fuck. Moriarty was standing right behind him. Must’ve gotten impatient and decided to come down.

“Somebody had better start talking NOW.” He spoke in a sharp tone that often instilled fear into ordinary people’s hearts.

“Gemma,” Molly began, “you questioned if something was wrong. Allow me to state unequivocally that, yes, something is very wrong. The fact that James Moriarty lives is an affront to decency itself.”

“Oh, shut up you cow,” the genius spat. “This is my house and I demand to know what you and Adler are doing here. If I don’t get an answer soon, bones will be broken, and no, that’s not an idle threat.”

“Jim, I’m as shocked as you are," Seb asserted. "Honestly, I didn’t know Molly and Irene were coming. I never would’ve invited them.”

“And I never would’ve shown up if I’d known the party was for him!” a flummoxed Ms. Hooper insisted.

The consulting criminal glared ominously. “What’s this business about a party?” He looked around, observing the décor. “The banners and balloons. The hors d'oeuvres. Why?”

“It’s a baby shower…for you,” the sniper admitted. “Some of the ladies from work wanted to throw it and I agreed. It was meant to be a surprise.”

“Well, mission accomplished, soldier. Who else should I be expecting? Did the Holmes clan score an invite? Perhaps you’ve arranged for Eurus to get a day pass just for the occasion?”

“I told you, I didn’t invite them! You want the truth? Fine. I’ll give it to you,” Seb said, sounding exasperated. “You don’t have many close friends, so in order to increase the guest list, Gemma asked her cousin to come. I didn’t think it would be a big deal, so I okayed it. But I had no idea her relative was Molly Hooper.”

Jim was quiet for a moment, processing the new information. He turned, setting his sights on the party planner.

“Gemmmma, please explain to me what the fuck you were thinking. And know that if you’re lying, I’ll skiiiiiiiin you.”

“I didn’t realize there’d be a problem with it, sir. I was unaware you knew each other.”

Moriarty arched a brow. “We dated,” he declared. “She never mentioned it?”

“No, sir.”

The mastermind shot Molly a glance of stunned disbelief. “Seriously, Mol?”

“Why would I?” she retorted. “It wasn’t exactly a high point in my life, and besides, it was all a con anyway.”

“True, but I pulled off one hell of a performance. That should count for something.”

“Don’t flatter yourself.”

He snorted. “Honey, I’m just telling it like it is. Pretending to be interested in you was no small feat.”

“She’s moved on to better prospects,” Irene interjected.

Jim scowled at the dominatrix. “Still waiting to learn why you’re here, Adler.”

“I asked her to accompany me,” Molly answered. “When my cousin told me she was throwing a baby shower for a male omega with no friends, I felt sorry for the guy. I thought that if I brought my girlfriend along, it would add to the number of attendees, which in turn, might make him feel less alone. This was a kindness,” she stressed. “You, the once great ‘Napoleon of Crime,’ have become little more than a charity case.”

The room grew silent enough to hear a pin drop as the formerly mousy pathologist’s words hung in the air. Jim had not anticipated such harsh sentiments to spew forth from the likes of Molly Hooper. Evidently, she was no longer the meek woman he remembered.

“What, no clever comeback? You’re losing your touch.”

“That’s enough, Molly!” the assassin warned. “I’ll not have anyone disrespect my husband in our home.”

Suddenly, Jim felt very unnerved. Seb shouldn’t have to be defending him, especially not to Molly, of all people. What was he doing, allowing her to speak to him like that? James Moriarty didn’t permit such insolence. He’d smack her clear across the face. Wrap his fingers around that pretty little neck of hers until she had no breath left to backtalk him with. She’d dare not cross him again after he was done.

But now, things were different. He had to stop and consider the situations he put himself into. Think of the impact it might have on his unborn children. A physical altercation could yield consequences, however slight. He refused to endanger their lives.

THUMP. THUMP. THUMP.

Jim’s heartbeat pounded in his ears. It was rapid and erratic, and it became difficult to breathe. He needed to get out of there before things escalated further.

The mastermind bolted from the living room as fast as he could. He retreated to his office, locking the door behind him. At least in there, he’d be able to break down in private.

*********

“Jimmy, please. If you don’t want to come out, fine. But let me in. I’d prefer that we speak face-to-face rather than through a door.”

“I don’t know, Seb. You might try dragging me out.”

“I won’t drag you anywhere, I promise.”

The nervous omega took a deep breath, still trying to calm himself. With a jittery hand, he unlocked the door to allow his mate inside.

Moran entered as soon as he heard the latch click open. When he got a look at Jim, he saw that the Irishman was worse for wear. He was balled up on the floor, sporting mussed hair and red-rimmed eyes.

The sniper crouched down to sit beside him. “Hey, it’s okay, love.”

“No, Sebastian, it’s really not.”

“Are you upset because of what Molly said? Don’t listen to her. She’s a fool.”

“Yes, but even a stopped clock is right twice a day.”

Seb peered at him quizzically. “What do you mean by that?”

“I mean she may be a nitwit, but she wasn’t wrong about everything. I’ve got no friends. Burned too many bridges through the years, and now I’m reaping what I’ve sown. You could barely scrape together a half dozen guests. It’s pathetic,” he hissed.

“It’s not pathetic,” the blonde reassured. “You’re just very particular about who you allow into your inner circle. You won’t befriend every bloke you meet. A person has to be worthy of your companionship.”

“Most people I’ve met have been dreadfully disappointing,” he conceded. “So ordinary.”

“Exactly. Your standards are higher than most. You’re a connoisseur. Quality wins out over quantity every time.”

“Maybe.”

“No ‘maybes’ about it. It’s the truth.”

Jim sighed, growing silent for a moment. “Oh, Sebby. I’m sorry. You helped organize an event for me, and here I am, hiding away like a petulant child.”

“It’s fine, hon. Given the surprise guests we received, I don’t blame you for being upset.”

“I’m not sure I can go back out there.”

“If you truly don’t want to, I won’t force you,” the assassin spoke. “But bear in mind that Gemma, Annie, and Marie worked hard to put this party together under a rushed deadline. Not to mention there’s games, gifts, and cake awaiting.”

Moriarty’s expression piqued. “Can we skip the games and go straight to gifts? I don’t feel much like playing right now, but I could do with opening some prezzies.”

“We can do anything you desire, dear. This baby shower is in honor of you and the twins. Whatever you say goes.”

The consulting criminal smiled. “Let me freshen up a bit and I’ll meet you downstairs.”

“Sounds good to me.” Seb rose to his feet, helping Jim stand as well.

“Thanks, Tiger.” He hesitated for a beat, pondering something Moran had said. “Darling, you mentioned that Marie helped coordinate this party, correct?”

“Yeah, it was a team effort.”

“That’s nice, but where is she? I saw Gemma and Annie here, but not her.”

Sebastian frowned. “No one’s been able to get ahold of Marie. She seems to have recently gone MIA,” he informed. “I’m sending someone over to her house to check on her tomorrow.”

A shiver ran down Jim’s spine. He paled, flashing back to the fate of his missing interior decorator. “You don’t think something could’ve happened to her like with Lisa, do you?”

“I hope not. Two days ago, she texted me saying she wanted to tell me something. After that, I didn’t hear any more from her.”

“Perhaps someone decided to shut her up,” Jim suggested.

“Can’t rule it out, I suppose.”

The Irishman grumbled. “It’s all very curious. Do keep me posted on whatever’s found at her house.”

“Of course.” As Seb was about to exit the room, he turned back for an instant, planting a surprise kiss on Jim’s lips.

“Ooh, Tiger, that was lovely.”

“Wouldn’t want to forsake tradition,” he quipped, pointing up at the mistletoe that hung in the doorway. “There’s a potential kiss around every corner, kitten.”

“Mmm, yes. Quite literally.”

Moran smirked. “That, my sweet, was a small parting gift. I’ll see you when you return to the festivities.”

The mastermind wistfully watched his partner leave.

Now it was time to get ready. Jim would head to his walk-in closet and select the perfect outfit for the occasion. He wasn’t sure what that ensemble might be, but he’d know it when he saw it.

 

 

To Be Continued…

Chapter Text

“Hiiiiiiii!” Jim announced as he sashayed his way into the living room, making a grand entrance.

All eyes were intently fixed on him, not because he was the guest of honor, but because of what he was wearing. The consulting criminal had decided to dress in a carnation pink velvet suit paired with a Victorian-style white ruffle shirt. The pants clearly didn’t fit— they were unzipped, fastened together at the buttonhole via an elastic hair tie— and the matching jacket wouldn’t close, either. To complete the outlandish look, he sported a bejeweled crown.

Oh dear god. Sebastian couldn’t believe his mate’s choice of wardrobe. He’d expected him to change out of his pajamas, certainly, but into this? Bloody hell.

While everyone else attempted to stifle their reactions, Irene did not hold back. The woman’s laughter was irrepressible.

Seb shot her a steely glare in an attempt to silence her. It didn’t work. In fact, her snickers proved infectious as Molly began giggling, too.

“Ladieeeeeees,” Jim sang out, addressing the duo, “it’s nice to see that even soulless shrews like you can crack a smile every now and then.”

“I can’t take all the credit,” Adler quipped, undaunted by his insult. “When one’s host is cosplaying as the lovechild of Liberace and an Easter egg, the amusement flows almost involuntarily.”

“Sweetheart, if Liberace were alive today, he’d wish he looked as good as me.”

“Sebastian,” she spoke, glancing at Moran, “perhaps you ought to give your omega a once-over. I suspect he’s suffering from some form of pregnancy-induced delirium.”

“Now, now, Irene, let’s not—”

Before Jim could finish his snarky remark, the sniper pulled him away from the woman and out of earshot of the other guests.

“Hey! What’s the big idea?” Moriarty groused.

“I’m checking to see if you’re in your right mind. What the hell are you wearing?”

“A snazzy ensemble I picked up during last year’s Fashion Week in Paris. You must remember this— I wore it on Valentine’s Day.”

“Actually, now that you mention it, yeah, I do. But why are you wearing it here and now? You’ve got plenty of finely tailored paternity clothes. Why choose something that blatantly doesn’t fit?”

“Because I like this suit,” he answered, sounding a tad bit annoyed by his husband’s questioning. “It’s got flair, and that’s what I’m trying to exemplify. Now, if you’re through interrogating me, I have a party to enjoy.”

Moriarty returned to the group, whistling to get their attention.

“Wellllllcome to my baby shower, one and all! We’re going to skip straight to the prezzies,” he declared. “If anybody’s got a problem with that, you know where the door is. Otherwise, I invite you to take a load off and gather ‘round.” He turned to Seb. “Darling, fetch my gifts. I want to open them in here on the recliner.”

“Sure thing, love.” Moran dutifully retrieved the boxes and bags that had amassed in the corner of the room.

It’s going to be a long day, he thought to himself. But if it made his Magpie happy, it would be worth it. Right?

*********

“Whose haven’t I opened yet?” Jim asked, trying to keep track of everything he’d been bestowed so far.

“Just mine and your husband’s,” Ian stated. “Truthfully, I’m rather nervous, having to follow after the wonderful stuff everyone else brought.”

Indeed, it was quite a haul. Annie had gifted him a set of designer cashmere onesies, Gemma gave him two luxury infant car seats that featured heated cushions, and Molly and Irene offered up a dual gift of a ‘Hello Kitty’ baby monitor and nightlight. Though he’d never admit it, Moriarty secretly thought the cartoon-themed items were adorable.

“Whatever’s in this box, I already know it’s going to be awesome.” Grinning gleefully, the mastermind tore away the wrapping paper and sliced through the packaging tape. Inside was a supply of baby formula and an accompanying set of bottles.

“It isn’t anything fancy because I’m still getting my bearings financially. So I’m sorry it’s not a very posh gift, but at least it’s practical,” the young man explained.

“I appreciate it. It’s quite sensible. The babies will need to eat, after all.”

Eat. The word made Jim think about the cake he was promised. He wasn’t certain what kind it was, but that didn’t much matter. He enjoyed many varieties— all except for those disgusting candied fruit and nut concoctions that were inexplicably popular during the holiday season.

If it’s one of those, he thought, someone’s losing digits. And he didn’t mean he’d delete their number from his phone. No, if there was a fruitcake waiting for him in that refrigerator, those responsible would be losing actual fingers and toes.

“Mine’s the final one,” Seb noted, handing him an elegant gift box.

“Saved the best for last,” Jim said, returning to his senses after having been temporarily sidetracked by daydreams of dessert.

“Best? I don’t know if I’d go that far, but I do hope you like it.”

The Irishman smiled softly. “So humble, my gallant soldier.” He made short work of opening the present, squealing with excitement when he saw what it was.

“A baby sling! Oh, Tiger, this is delightful!” He’d wanted one for ages, but hadn’t gotten around to making the purchase.

“It’s a special model designed to carry two babies at once. I thought maybe you could use it when taking the twins out to the park or the store, or anywhere, really.”

“I’m envisioning it already. Thank you, love.” Jim leaned over to kiss his mate.

“Well, now that we’ve finished with the gifts, who wants cake?” Gemma asked, eager to make up for her guest list blunder.

“Wild horses couldn’t stop me from taking a taste. Come on, darling. I’m going to cut the first piece,” Moriarty declared.

“As you wish, Your Majesty.”

“Ooh, ‘Your Majesty.’ I like that.”

“It’s fitting, seeing as how you’ve got the crown.”

“It is a spectacular accessory, I must admit. Really brings out my eyes, don’t you think?”

“Definitely,” Seb agreed. “Gives them an extra sparkle.”

“I know you’re just humoring me now, but I’m in such a good mood, I don’t care.”

The pair continued chattering back and forth as they proceeded to the kitchen. Gemma was already in there prepping the plates and silverware, and Annie excused herself outside for a smoke break. Molly, Irene, and Ian were the only partygoers left in the living room.

“Who was that lovesick fop and what has he done with James Moriarty?” Irene quipped. She’d observed him and Seb briefly during their encounter in Monte Carlo, but now, having spent more time in their company, she was astonished at how different he seemed. The man who’d once projected nothing but cruelty and malice now radiated with a warmth that could not be denied. Though still snarky and eccentric, he was also surprisingly upbeat, bordering on cheerful.

“I know,” Molly replied. “I’ve never seen him so genuinely happy before. It’s bizarre.”

“I think it’s because of the babies,” Ian commented.

Both women peered at him, neither clear as to who he was.

“Pardon me?” the pathologist inquired.

“The babies make Jim happy,” he reiterated. “I’ve only known him for a short while, but that much is obvious. He really loves them and his husband does, too. They’re excited about expanding their family.”

“Interesting,” Irene remarked. “Who might you be and how do you know Jim?”

“I’m Ian. I first met him through a pregnancy support group, and now I work at his office.”

“Moriarty attended a support group? I don’t believe it.”

“Not ‘attended’— he participates in the present tense. We’re a community and we help each other,” the omega informed. “Jim’s got an infamous reputation, but he’s been nothing but kind to me.”

“Hmm.” Molly bore a pensive expression as she contemplated Ian’s statement. “I just can’t picture him being a parent. The very notion is absurd. But,” she hesitated, “he did seem different. The way I spoke to him on arrival…there was a time when he would’ve had my head for that. Today, though, he simply removed himself from the situation rather than come at me.”

“Ma’am,” the teenager addressed, focusing directly on Molly, “it’s not my business, but I’m curious— earlier, Jim mentioned that you and he dated. What happened with that?”

“Ugh. It was an unfortunate period of my life. I was lonely and he pretended to be someone else. Had me going for a bit, but a friend helped me see the truth.”

“So there was no real relationship there?”

She snorted. “Hardly.”

“And now the two of you are together?” he asked, referring to the woman sitting beside her.  

The ladies exchanged a playful glance, joining hands in a show of solidarity.

“Oh, yes,” Adler confirmed. “Very much so. We’ve recently begun sharing a penthouse.” 

“A penthouse? Sounds quite posh.”

“It is,” Molly chimed in. “A far sight better than my previous flat, and with greatly improved company.”

Irene smiled devilishly at the declaration. “Thank you, dear. I’m pleased by our new accommodations as well.”

The trio suddenly heard the front door open. It was Annie, coming back from outside.

“Did I miss anything?” she queried, removing her coat and gloves.

“Not especially,” Ian answered. “Half the group is still lingering in the kitchen.”

“Hmm. Perhaps I ought to pop in, too, and put on a pot of tea,” she pondered aloud. “Yes, I think I will.” Without another word, Annie headed off again.

 

 

“It’s just so hard to believe,” Jim said as he cut and plated slices of chocolate cake for everyone. “The interminably dull Molly Hooper taking up with Irene Adler. How do you suppose they met?”

Sebastian shrugged. “I’d imagine through Sherlock, but who knows? What I’m more curious about is why she made a pass at me in Monaco if she was involved with someone. I wonder if Molly’s aware of her girlfriend’s wandering ways?”

The consulting criminal nearly dropped the knife he was holding, a combination of anger and hurt flashing in his dark eyes. “She made a pass at you? Why didn’t you tell me?” he demanded.

“Relax, love.” Seb moved behind Moriarty, wrapping his arms around the smaller man and nuzzling his neck. “We were having such a wonderful time that day in Monte Carlo, I didn’t want to ruin it by mentioning her deluded intentions. You’re the only one for me, Magpie.”

Jim hummed contentedly at the feel of his alpha’s warm, well-built frame pressed up against him. He knew he would always be safe in his embrace; always be shielded from harm. Best of all, his children would be protected, too. He’d selected an excellent mate.

Meanwhile, Gemma stood off to the far corner, slack-jawed and horrified at what she’d heard. “Mr. Moran…Mr. Moriarty,” she spoke, “did you forget I was here? You’re talking about my cousin right in front of me!”

“Shit,” Jim muttered under his breath. He’d been so focused on what he was doing, and she’d been so quiet, he actually did forget she was still there. Seb overlooked her continued presence as well. Now they needed to exercise damage control.

The mastermind turned to his employee. “Gemmmma, darling, be a sweetheart and wipe that revolting look of surprise off your face. It doesn’t suit you,” he coolly remarked. “Should you ever share the details of the conversation you’ve just witnessed, there will be consequences, the likes of which you shan’t survive. And even if you did, by some miracle, persevere, the condition you’d be left in would have you begging for a swift death. Is. That. Clear?”  

“As crystal, sir.” Her tone was rightly fearful.

“Good girl.”

Soon, Annie entered the kitchen, breaking up the awkward tension that had enveloped the room.

“I’ve come to brew some tea,” the fair-haired woman announced. “What variety have you got?”

“Herbal and Earl Grey,” Moran informed. “I recommend preparing both.”

“That’s a sound idea, sir.”

She began setting out the necessary items— cups, saucers, spoons, and the like. Everything was fine until she abruptly let out a yelp.

“For helvede!” Annie exclaimed. She’d pinched her finger in the silverware drawer.

Seb rushed to her aid. “Let me see it,” he said, and she consented.

“I feel like an idiot for doing that.”

“Accidents happen,” the sniper reassured as he inspected her injured digit. “It doesn’t appear to be broken, though it may swell a bit.”

She breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank goodness. I’m such a klutz sometimes.”

“Happens to the best of us.” Sebastian paused, the wheels in his head turning at a breakneck pace. “Annie, why don’t you give your finger a rest and go sit with the guests for a bit? I’ll watch the tea.”

“Are you sure, Mr. Moran? I’d hate to impose.”

“It’s no bother. Go on,” he encouraged. “And Gemma, I insist you do the same. Jim and I will take care of things.”

“Thank you, that’s very considerate,” Annie graciously replied.

Gemma merely nodded, not wanting to incur wrath from either of the men.

Both ladies exited the kitchen, leaving Jim and Seb alone at last.

Moriarty peered at his partner. “Okay, start talking. You just got rid of those women and I want to know why.”

“I noticed something strange. I’m surprised you didn’t pick up on it, too.”

Now Jim was scowling. “Seb, please get to the point. If all you plan to do is stand there and ridicule my skills of perception— which are, and always have been, superb— then I’ll be the next person walking out the door.”

“I didn’t mean it like that,” the blonde quickly protested.

“Well, what did you mean, hmm? Cut to the chase.”

“Annie swore when she caught her finger in the drawer.”

“Yeah, what of it? I’d have done the same.”

“Probably, but would you have shouted an expletive in Danish?”

The mastermind’s expression reflected great contemplation as he mulled over Seb’s statement. Did her use of another language bear significance? If so, what?

“It’s peculiar,” Jim granted, “but I’ve heard people curse in a dozen different languages. Why does this concern you?”

“Because her employee file lists her as being German, not Danish. It’s what she claimed when she was first hired, and was then corroborated by a background check.”

“So you think she’s lying about her origins? What reason would she have to do that?”

“Your guess is as good as mine,” the assassin lamented. “But if she lied about one thing, who knows what else she may have fabricated. With there being a traitor amongst headquarters, we mustn’t dismiss an oddity like this.”

“You’re right. It’s wise to err on the side of caution. I’ll have Ian keep an eye on her.”

“That’s all we can do for now.”

The pair grew quiet, waiting for the tea kettle to heat. Finally, Jim had enough.

“Sebastian, this is bollocks. A watched pot never boils. We’re wasting precious time when I could be eating cake.”

“Want to start bringing the dessert out, then?”

“Yes, I do. And you’re going to help me.”

“Of course, Your Majesty,” Moran said with a wink. "I wouldn’t dream of making you carry them all by yourself.”

Jim smirked, a wicked idea coming to mind. “Perhaps after the festivities, you can show your king just how dedicated you are to the crown.”

Moriarty didn’t need to say anything more. Once the notion was put into Seb’s head, he was eager to ply the partygoers with cake and send them out the door. They were both eager, for that matter. 

Chapter Text

It was the day after the baby shower and Sebastian decided to go into headquarters a little later than usual so that he could assist Jim with some things around the house. He was in the middle of assembling a baby changing table when his phone rang.

“Hello?” he answered.

The sniper stayed on the line for a few minutes, listening, but not saying much. The color began to slowly drain from his face, and by the end of the call, he was alarmingly ashen.

“What’s wrong?” Jim asked. He was sitting in the nursery with Seb, overseeing his handiwork.

“It’s Marie…”

“You sent someone to check on her early this morning, right?”

Moran nodded. “Yeah, I did.”

“And?”

There was a pause that seemed to stretch on forever as Jim awaited a response.

“She’s dead,” Seb finally spoke. “Her throat was slashed. There was a lot of blood.”

Now Moriarty paled as well. “Christ.” Though he wasn’t especially close to the woman, he didn’t want harm to come to her, either.

“The man I sent over received no reply when he knocked on her door, but he was able to go inside because it was unlocked. He searched the place and eventually discovered her body in the bathroom.”

“God, that’s terrible.”

“It gets worse,” the former colonel warned. “As he was about to leave and ring the police, he heard a child start to cry somewhere in the house.”

“Oh, no.” Jim didn’t like where this was headed.

“Turns out Marie’s two-year-old son was hiding in a broom closet. Apparently, he’d been there for days. No one came to get him after his mother died.”

The Irishman was stricken by the news. It broke his heart to imagine a little boy abandoned under such heinous circumstances.

“Right now, the cops are investigating to determine if this was a murder or a suicide.”

“It had to be murder, Seb. I’m sure of it.”

“I think so, too. But they’ve only just begun examining the crime scene. It may take a while to reach a conclusion.”

“Fuck their examination,” Jim hastily spat. “I don’t require further analysis to know the truth. She was going to tell you something, and somebody got to her before she could.”

“You may be correct, Magpie. This all feels very strange.”

“To say the least. First Lisa, now Marie. Who’ll be next to go missing and turn up dead? This is outrageous and I won’t abide it.”

“I agree, Jimmy. As soon as we come across a solid lead, I’ll be there to sort them out. That much I guarantee.”

We’ll sort them,” Moriarty stressed. “I want my pound of flesh from Colin and his lackey both.”

“I wouldn’t dare exclude you, love. When the time for retribution comes, we’re in it together.”

“It can’t arrive soon enough.”

Seb paused, a thought coming to mind. “Have you contacted Ian about keeping an eye on Annie?”

“Not yet, and frankly, I’d rather have you do it.”

“Oh really?”

“Yes. I thought I’d pull him aside for a chat about it at tonight’s group meeting, but now I feel like it can’t wait. He needs to be briefed immediately,” the genius explained. “I want you to go to headquarters straightaway and speak to him.” 

“Okay, I will. But what about the changing table? It isn’t going to assemble itself.”

“Save it for another day.”

“Fine.” If that’s what Jim truly desired, he would comply. “Guess I’ll see you later, then.”

“Yes. Update me after you talk to Ian. I want to know if he’s observed anything unusual about Annie up to this point.”

“Aye, aye.”  

And just like that, at the figurative snap of Moriarty’s fingers, Sebastian was gone. He had a mission to fulfill.

*********

“Wow,” Ian uttered in astonishment. “That’s a lot to take in.”

It really was. Sebastian had finished telling the young man about his and Jim’s stalking ordeal, not leaving out any detail. He wanted to make clear what they were up against.

“I’m sorry you’ve been put through such hell. Jim mentioned having a traitor in the office, but I didn’t know the whole story until now. I’ll do what I can to help. If that means watching Annie like a hawk, so be it.”

“I appreciate your cooperation,” the sniper spoke. “Have you noticed any odd behavior from her?”

Ian stopped to consider the question. “Well, she checks her mobile phone pretty often, but the same could be said for most of the staff.” He wracked his brain for other possible peculiarities. “She takes long lunches sometimes, extending past the hour we’re allotted. I didn’t want to make a big deal out of it, but since you asked, it might be worth noting.”

“Hmm, I see.” Was she simply dallying at lunchtime or was something else afoot? “Do you know if she takes her lunches here in the building, or if she goes off-site for them?”

“I’m fairly certain she leaves,” the youth answered. “I’ve never seen her in the cafeteria, not even on ‘Chocolate Mousse Monday’— and you know how popular that is.”

“Perhaps it would be wise to monitor her whereabouts,” Moran mused. “Put a tracker on her vehicle and find out where she goes.”

“A tracker? Isn’t that illegal?”

Seb looked Ian in the eye, unwavering. “You work for James Moriarty now. There’s no longer a line between what is or isn’t legal. We do whatever’s necessary to get a job done. It’s best you remember that.”

He nodded. “Yes, sir.”

“Unless there’s anything further you’d care to add, I think this concludes our briefing.”

“Very well. Thank you for being honest and upfront with me. I prefer dealing with straightforward people.”

“As do I.”

Having been thoroughly informed, Ian exited the assassin’s private office.

Sebastian sat back in his chair, contemplating his next move. He had a myriad of things to do, but not much time to accomplish them in. Such was the life of London’s second most dangerous man. There was nary a moment of peace.

*********

The day flew by quickly for the Tiger and his Magpie. They each had their own activities to attend to, and before either knew it, it was time for Jim’s MOPS meeting. As usual, Seb chauffeured him there and waited patiently in the foyer while the group convened.

A headache had kept the genius from baking his customary treats, and he was not happy about it. He’d resorted to picking up store-bought pastry, an act that felt like sacrilege. He was sure people would notice the difference as soon as they took a taste. Thankfully, they hadn’t reached intermission yet.     

“Jim, you’ve been awfully quiet this evening,” one of the members, Jack, remarked.

“I’ve had a lot on my mind today.”

“Care to share it with the rest of us?”

“I doubt it would do much good.”

“Nonsense,” the man replied. “We’re here to lend support. This is an ideal opportunity to vent your frustrations, whatever they may be.”

The consulting criminal sighed. “All right, fine. If you must know, this morning I learned that one of my employees was dead. They were slain quite brutally via a slit to the throat,” he announced, and the group’s collective eyes grew wide. “As if that wasn’t bad enough, this person’s small child was found wailing in a closet. He’d been alone in the house with his mother’s corpse for days.”

The atmosphere of the room grew thick with shock and sorrow. Nobody seemed to know what to say, until finally Trevor, the coordinator, spoke up.

“Jim, that’s horrific. It’s understandable you’d be upset after receiving that kind of news.”

Moriarty was silent for a moment, trying to process the macabre thoughts that ran through his head.

“I can’t stop imagining what it must’ve been like for that little boy,” he confessed. “It’s impossible to grasp the concept of death at two-years-old, and yet, he was made to face it up close and personal. How would a toddler process such a thing? And the violence of it…” he trailed off, recalling what Seb had said about there being ‘a lot of blood’ at the scene. “God only knows how much the boy saw. I really hope he didn’t witness the actual event.”

“It may be cold comfort to hear this, but memory can be sporadic during the early stages of childhood. At his age, there’s a chance he may not remember what happened, and even if he did, it would probably be in bits and pieces, akin to recollecting a dream,” Trevor stated.    

“You mean a nightmare,” the Irishman scoffed.

“In this case, yes, I suppose so.”

Jim’s expression was grim. “This ‘incident,’ for lack of a better word, has also got me thinking of my own children. What if I died…what would become of them? I know my husband would see to the twins, but our line of work is fraught with danger— what if he was killed, too? What if something felled us both, and they were left all alone? They’ve got an uncle, but he’s in Australia. There’s no one close by to take care of them. They’d end up in the foster system. I can’t bear the idea of it,” he said, his voice taking on a frantic tone as his thoughts began to spiral. “I’ve always treated life so casually. Taken it entirely for granted. But now, every second seems precious and I don’t want to leave my babies.”

“Jim, however you treated life up to this point is irrelevant, because that was in the past and thus cannot be changed. You need to look ahead,” Trevor advised, putting his family counseling skills to use. “The present and future are malleable, and those are what you should focus on. Try to envision them as bricks of clay— they haven’t yet been formed and thrown in the kiln. You can still shape them into whatever you want. With that in mind, reconsider your problem. If you feel your current job is too dangerous, you could take steps mold the situation into something more ideal.”

“You mean find less risky employment?”

“If necessary, yes.”

“I’ve already considered it,” the mastermind admitted. “Considered handing over the reins to my enterprise and letting someone else run the show. Then I could stay home and care for my children on a permanent basis. Maybe even embark on a new career path while I’m at it.  People seem to love my baking— I’ve daydreamed about pursuing that on the side.”

“Really, Jim?” Ian chimed in to ask. He’d only just started working for the man, so hearing this was a bit disconcerting. If Moriarty resigned, what would that mean for his job security?

“Yeah, but another part of me can’t stand the thought of walking away from the business I worked so incredibly hard to build. It didn’t happen overnight. It took years upon years of effort,” he stressed.

“I sympathize with what you’re going through,” a MOPS newcomer named Simon spoke. “My brother was a field agent for MI5. After his daughter was born, he worried about his safety because he wanted to see her grow up.”

“How did he deal with it?” the genius inquired.

“He put in a formal request to be transferred to a desk position. Bureaucratic red tape being what it is, the paperwork went directly into a queue, and by the time someone got around to reviewing it, his fears had proved true. He was killed in the line of duty.”

“Simon, I’m sorry to hear that. It must’ve been an extremely painful experience,” Trevor acknowledged. “Thank you for sharing something so personal with us.”

Moriarty was not as enthusiastic. He stared daggers at his fellow group member.

“Don’t thank him for that awful story! Here I am, pouring my heart out to you people, and he sees fit to relay the fact that his relative had a high-risk job and got killed because of it. How is that meant to comfort me in any way? It was depressing as fuck,” the consulting criminal angrily declared. “Tell me, Simon, if I’d said I was upset over an ailing pet, would you have regaled me with the tale of ‘Old Yeller?’

“I wasn’t trying to agitate you, Jim,” the man insisted.

“No? Could’ve fooled me.”

“Hey,” the coordinator interrupted, “there will be no infighting amongst us. This is a safe space and I intend to keep it that way.”

Jim snorted. “Fine. Do what you want. I don’t have to be here for it.” He stood up from his chair and proceeded towards the door.

“Don’t go!” Ian beseeched. “We’re not even halfway through the meeting.”

“I don’t care,” he icily replied.

Others called out, bidding him to stay, but it was futile. He stormed from the room feeling irritable, headachy, and exhausted. As far as Jim was concerned, if he never participated in MOPS again, it would be too soon.      

Chapter Text

It had been a full week since Jim stormed out of his MOPS meeting, intent never to return. He’d received calls from multiple group members urging him to come back, but he was stubborn and refused their persuasion.

Of course, acrimony wasn’t the only reason he hadn’t gone. The Irishman was feeling decidedly unwell. Pounding headaches, dizziness, and extreme fatigue plagued him on a near-constant basis, making him hesitant to venture anywhere. He hid it easily enough, not wanting to bother Sebastian with his health woes because there were important business transactions in the works. They were in the middle of conducting a major arms acquisition and it was vital that the sniper not be distracted by anything.

As of this morning, Sebastian was traveling to meet with their client in Moscow. He never would’ve agreed to go if he knew his mate was ailing, and then they’d risk the entire deal falling apart. Moriarty couldn’t allow that to happen.  

Jim didn’t think he was acting irresponsibly because he already had an appointment with Dr. Swenson scheduled for that day. Surely, she’d see him through whatever was the matter and Seb needn’t be the wiser.

“Come on, darlings. We’d best get a move on,” he said, staring down at his belly.

He ambled slowly, grumbling when his coat wouldn’t close. It was the one article of clothing he hadn’t replaced with a paternity version, and he sorely regretted the oversight. He’d definitely be ordering a new parka when he returned home.

Much to Moriarty’s chagrin, that wasn’t the only thing that didn’t fit. Again, his feet were swollen to the point where only slippers would slide on without issue. Additionally, he faced a new predicament: his fingers were bloated and he couldn’t comfortably wear his gloves.

“This is bloody ridiculous.” He had half a mind to cancel his consultation, but he knew he needed to see a physician.

As he lumbered out the door looking rather a mess, he spoke to his stomach once more.

“This is all for you, I want you to know. I could be reclining in front of the fireplace, sipping a cuppa and reading a good book. But I’m not, because I’ve got to make sure I’m okay for your sake. Daddy wouldn’t do this for just anyone, so you ought to consider yourselves pretty special.”

He observed a slight shift inside as the twins responded to the sound of his voice. Moments like those always made him smile.

“Off we go,” were his last words before gingerly maneuvering into the car. Even small tasks such as that were becoming difficult to manage. For the millionth time, he found himself wishing his husband was there. Somehow everything seemed better with his Tiger by his side.

“Ugh. Stop being so weak and codependent!” he chastised.

His eyes grew wide as he felt a sharp kick from within. Jim quickly realized his mistake.

“I didn’t mean you, darlings. Daddy was talking about himself.” He placed a hand on his abdomen, rubbing it gently. “I’d never call you weak. You’re my little toughies. Been through a lot, but you keep hanging in there…just like your Papa. He’s tough, too.”

Moriarty couldn’t seem to get Seb off his mind. It was only through sheer force of will that he was able to resist pulling out his phone and texting Moran.   

“No. He’s got business to attend to. I can handle this on my own.”

Taking a deep breath, Jim started his vehicle and drove off. He’d muster through this, come hell or high water. He had to. There was no other option.  

*********

TAP. TAP. TAP.

The consulting criminal drummed his puffy fingers on the examination table as he awaited Dr. Swenson’s arrival.

He was nervous. After the check-in nurse recorded his symptoms and then took his weight and blood pressure stats, she exited the room in a bit of a hurry. Jim was no medical expert, but he recognized that probably wasn’t a good sign.

Finally, the obstetrician entered.

“Hello, Mr. Moriarty,” she greeted. “I understand you’ve been experiencing some troubling health issues recently. You reported severe headaches, vertigo, and lethargy, correct?”

He nodded. “That’s right. My hands and feet have also swelled. It’s quite annoying, to be honest. This time of year, I’d much rather fit into my Givenchy boots than a pair of slippers.”

The practitioner approached him, carefully inspecting his enlarged digits. “Have you been following the low-sodium diet I recommended?”

“Yes,” he answered. “Well, mostly. I cheated and ate a meat-laden slice of pizza about a month ago, but that was it. I’ve consumed nothing especially salty since then. Why do you ask?”

“Because your blood pressure has skyrocketed,” Dr. Swenson reported. “It’s likely the reason your extremities have ballooned up.”

Moriarty’s expression sank. “What? No…that can’t be true.” He took his antihypertensive medication as directed and it had worked fine until now.

“I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but it’s the truth,” she stressed. “When did you first notice these symptoms?”

The mastermind thought about it. “My feet have swollen off-and-on for a while, but I read that was a fairly common occurrence during pregnancy. They always returned to normal after a day or two, and my hands weren’t previously affected at all,” he explained. “This past week is when everything went to hell.”

“So it was a rapid onset?”

“Yes.”

She peered at him for a moment, considering his response. “Mr. Moriarty, I’d like to have my nurse take a blood sample from you so that we can run some tests. Our lab is able to process results within an hour, meaning it shouldn’t take up too much of your time.”

Jim blanched at the request. Time wasn’t an issue, but anxiety certainly was. “Blood testing? What for?”

“To check your protein and enzyme levels before proceeding further.”

“Okay, if you think it’s necessary.”   

“I do.”

From there, Dr. Swenson went to fetch her nurse while Jim sat restlessly, steeling himself for what was to come. He was feeling less like the most dangerous man in London and more like a pregnant omega who was sick, scared, and alone.

Oh, Sebby. I’m sorry I let you leave.

*********

When Jim was ushered into his doctor’s private office, he could tell she was unhappy by the look on her face. It reminded him of the glower his primary school teachers used to give him when he acted up in class.

“Mr. Moriarty,” the woman began, “for future reference, if you decide to discontinue a medication I’ve prescribed, I ask that you please report it to me and my nurse. It’s important you share information of that nature so we know what we’re dealing with.”

Suddenly, the genius was incredibly confused. “Excuse me, what? I haven’t discontinued anything. I take the labetalol twice a day, every day.”

She frowned, not entirely trusting his claim. “Sir, as your physician, we have an established confidentiality between us. You can be honest with me.”

“I am being honest!” he insisted, growing frustrated that she didn’t seem to believe him. “I don’t have the bottle with me right now, but it’s sitting in my medicine cabinet at home. I took one pill this morning and I’ll be taking another later on tonight!”

There was a pause as both stared at each other. Finally, Dr. Swenson spoke. “Mr. Moriarty, the blood test indicates that you have no antihypertensive medication in your system, which I’m positive is the cause of your current symptoms. Whatever you’re taking, it’s not the drug it’s supposed to be.”

Jim paled, absolutely shocked by the news. How was this possible?

“It’s my professional opinion that you ought to be checked into the hospital where they can administer an IV drip of the correct medication, and also monitor your vitals just to be on the safe side. Furthermore, I’d ask that you bring along the pill bottle you’ve been taking doses from and submit it to their lab for analysis. I’ll even post a referral for it to be rushed through, because I’m very curious as to what it actually is.”

“I’m curious, too,” he muttered, still processing what he’d learned. 

A terrifying thought came to Jim’s mind. “Could these…incorrect drugs have been harmful to my babies?”

“I wish I could provide a definitive answer on that, but we won’t know for sure until the lab identifies what the substance is,” she said. “However, you can take some solace in the fact that you’ve consistently felt movement from them, and we did detect steady fetal heartbeats here today.”

All he could do was nod. Earlier, in his worried state, he’d cajoled the nurse into performing an ultrasound after she’d finished collecting his blood specimen. Essie and Eddie seemed okay then. He was grateful for that much.

Ultimately, Jim agreed to check himself into the hospital for treatment. He hated having to do so, but it was a necessary evil. The genius would withstand anything for the continued welfare of his little ones.  

 

 

 

Before heading to the medical facility, Moriarty swung by his house to grab a few items. He packed a bag containing the usual overnight supplies, making sure to throw in the bogus bottle of pills as well— he was eager to get the results back on those damnable things.

The Irishman paused, knowing he’d need to bring his own loungewear, lest they attempt to put him in one of those ghastly gowns that never fully close in the back. He rifled through a chest of drawers, coming up with an elegant pair of grey silk nightclothes. It was then that he spotted something else. Beneath his chic apparel laid the Snoopy pajamas Seb had recently gifted him. He wanted to reach for them, but hesitated.

I can’t be seen wearing those in public.

Even so, he was inexplicably drawn to them. The fact that they came from Moran elevated them above being ordinary. They were rendered special by virtue of association.

I’ll pack both.

There was one final garment he wanted to bring.

Approaching Sebastian’s laundry pile, Jim rooted around until he found what he was looking for. He clutched an old, raggedy sweatshirt belonging to the sniper. The item had seen better days, but that didn’t matter. The scent was what appealed to Moriarty. It smelled like his alpha, and right now, he needed that kind of comfort. He could throw on the oversized covering, close his eyes, and pretend Sebby was there. Maybe he could even trick his black heart into believing it for a few seconds.

The consulting criminal made it almost to the front door when he abruptly stopped in his tracks. Should I contact him? If the situation was reversed, and it was Seb who had a health issue, he would want to know.

But…in this case, what would it accomplish? Tiger’s busy. If I worry him, he won’t keep a clear head.

Jim was torn. He sighed, lamenting his changeable nature.

I can decide later. Right now, he needed to concentrate on getting to the hospital before his condition worsened.     

Chapter Text

“Thank god that’s over with,” Sebastian said upon returning to his hotel room. He’d just concluded a lengthy meeting with an oligarch to finalize the largest arms purchase Continental Europe had seen in years. This was a major coup for Moriarty’s criminal web, the kind one might be inclined to celebrate if they had someone with them to share in the good fortune. Sadly, Seb was alone.

Like a lizard shedding its skin, the sniper quickly peeled off his three-piece Armani suit, leaving it strewn across the floor. 

Jim would have a fit if he saw this. The mastermind insisted that Seb wear ‘something professional’ during his trip to Moscow. He hated it, of course, but understood the necessity. Didn’t mean he had to keep it on a minute longer than required, though.

Speaking of Jim, he wondered what his husband was up to right now. It was 6 p.m. in Russia, so taking into account the three-hour time difference, it would be 3 o’clock in England. 

He’s probably having tea and scones or knitting something for the twins. Possibly both— the man excels at multitasking. The thought of it put a gentle smile on Seb’s face.

Moran found it increasingly difficult to leave his Magpie’s side. Perhaps now more than ever, his alpha instincts were on high alert. He had an overwhelming urge to look after his omega, protecting him and their young. This past week, the desire was particularly strong.

The assassin sensed there was something amiss with Moriarty. First, his mood seemed out of sorts, but Sebastian attributed it to hormonal fluctuations and fallout from the spat he’d had at his group meeting. Then, other peculiarities emerged. The ordinarily insatiable Irishman lost all interest in sex, citing headache and fatigue whenever he tried to initiate intimate contact with him. He also observed that his mate had started using the elevator in their home rather than climb the stairs.

Prior to leaving for Moscow, Moran questioned the consulting criminal about his health. He denied there was a problem and jokingly referred to the former colonel as a ‘worrywart,’ assuring him all was well. Sebastian begrudgingly accepted the response, though a part of him remained wary.

The blonde sat on the bed and grabbed his phone from the nightstand. He was going to send a text.

SM

Meeting finished. Deal is a go. I’m at the hotel now.

 As he leaned back against the pillows, a wicked idea came to mind. He had the perfect surprise for his spouse…

 

 

“Dammit!” Jim exclaimed. He’d dropped another stitch. “Why can’t I get this right?”

The genius was deeply frazzled and had hoped knitting might calm him down. No such luck. He was too jittery; too on edge. If anything, he was growing more frustrated, not less.

A million things ran through his head at once. It was overwhelming and all-consuming. Not even his breathing exercises helped. He was teetering precariously close to a meltdown.

Maybe I should call someone. He knew who he wanted to talk to— Seb was often the only person who could pull him back from the brink. But…

No, I mustn’t distract him. What about Ian? Truth be told, Moriarty missed interacting with the men from his support group. He didn’t realize what a positive influence MOPS was in his life until he’d stopped going for a week.  

BZZ. BZZ.

Jim’s phone buzzed, fate having apparently decided who he would talk to.

He checked his mobile device and gasped. Sebastian had texted him to say that the assignment in Moscow was a success, and…he’d also sent a photo of himself laying on the bed wearing only a pair of form-fitting grey briefs. He looked spectacular.

JM

Oh my.

 

SM

Like what you see? ;-)

 

JM

You know it.

 

SM

Here’s a better view—

 Seb forwarded another pic, this time a close-up of the generous bulge between his legs.

 

“Holy fuck.” It was a good thing the mastermind was hooked up to a stream of antihypertensive drugs, because otherwise, the sight might’ve thrown him into a tizzy.

 

SM

Still there?

 

JM

Yes, sorry. Had to collect myself after seeing that.

 

SM

Glad I haven’t lost my sex appeal. Was wondering lately.

 

Jim knew what his partner was hinting at. He’d refused the sniper’s advances this past week due to feeling like total shite. But he’d hoped Seb wouldn’t take it personally— he wanted to be with him, he was just too sick to participate.

The consulting criminal paused, a thought occurring to him. Perhaps this was the segue he needed to explain his current condition.

 

JM

Tiger, you’re as gorgeous as ever. I’ve simply not been well. I’m not well now, for that matter.

 

SM

What’s wrong, kitten?

 

JM

I…it’s…let me show you.

Moriarty quickly snapped a shot of himself in his hospital bed, clad in Seb’s sweatshirt and attached to three different machines— an IV, a blood pressure monitor, and a heart monitor. He nervously submitted the selfie.

There was a momentary lull in the conversation, and for an instant, Jim regretted sending the candid photo. Finally, Moran replied.

 

SM

Got my clothes back on. I’ll check out of here and try to get a flight home within the hour. Which hospital are you at?

 

JM

St. Thomas.'

 

SM

Okay. With any luck, I’ll be there before the night’s out.
Love you, Jimmy.

 

JM

Love you, too.

 

The Irishman sat his phone down, amazed by how his mate had responded. All it took was one glimpse of him in trouble and he was rushing to be at his side. Seb was devotion personified.  

“Such a loyal Tiger. Forever my—” he stopped, looking down at his belly and placing a hand on it. “Forever our protector. Your Papa is the finest man in the world. There are some idiots out there who would disagree, but they don’t count— they’re ordinary. Small people who lead small lives. Not like us.”

Moriarty felt calmer knowing that his alpha was on the way. He picked his knitting back up and decided to try it again now that he had a cooler head. This time around, he was confident his stitching would be on point.

*********

Today was proving to be among the longest in Sebastian Moran’s recent memory. Perhaps that had to do with the fact that he’d been in two separate countries and gone through two different time zones all in the span of approximately 18 hours. It was fucking grueling and he did not wish to repeat such a journey anytime soon.

The whole trip back, he was berating himself for ever having left in the first place. He’d suspected there was something wrong with Jim, but foolishly ignored his gut instinct. He had failed his expectant omega and was filled with shame.

Though Seb believed nothing could truly make up for his transgression, he still wanted to present some token of amends. He accomplished this with a bouquet of a dozen long stem roses, thorns clipped off and tied together with a satiny bow. They were beautiful, and he figured it was the least he could do.

“Here we are,” the fair-haired assassin noted. He was standing outside the room a nurse had directed him to.

Sebastian rapped on the door. When he received no reply, he quietly let himself in, observing that Jim was asleep.       

“Oh, Magpie.” His mate looked peaceful as he slumbered, yet surprisingly vulnerable, too. He was drowning in Seb’s sweatshirt and hooked up to all sorts of medical equipment. It was one thing to have seen the picture Jim sent, but to witness him like this in person…it made his heart ache.

Moran laid the flowers on the nightstand and sat down on the bed, intent to gently wake his husband.

“Your champion has arrived, my sweet.” Seb stroked the Irishman’s arm as he whispered softly to him.

“Hmm?” Jim mumbled, stirring a bit.

“I’ve come back early just for you, kitten. Jet lagged as hell from switching time zones so rapidly, but I’ll survive.”

“Tiger,” the genius groggily spoke, “am I dreaming?”

“No, love, I’m really here.”

Moriarty sat up and pulled his partner into a tight embrace, his arms wrapping around the larger man in a vise-like grip. He held fast longer than he ordinarily would, not wanting to let Sebastian slip away from him.

“Easy does it, darling. Hug me any harder and I may crack a rib,” he teased.

Jim let up, slightly embarrassed. “Sorry, I don’t mean to be so fucking clingy. I can’t seem to stop myself lately. It’s pathetic.”

“No,” the sniper asserted, smoothing down a sleep-tousled lock of Jim’s hair. “It’s not pathetic. In fact, it’s actually quite normal. That’s how our biology works— at this stage of pregnancy, an omega becomes more dependent on their alpha, and being separated for too long a time can cause marked anxiety. Doubly so, if the omega is already in a state of illness or injury.”

“I’m well aware of the science behind it, Seb. But reading about it in a textbook and experiencing it firsthand are two entirely different things.”

“Fair point,” he acknowledged. “I shouldn’t have left you like I did. You needed me here.”

“I needed you on assignment,” the consulting criminal countered. “I don’t trust my other employees the way I trust you. No one else would’ve sufficed.”

“But still…I sensed something was amiss and I went to Russia anyway. A worthier alpha wouldn’t have done that.”

Jim blinked in surprise. “You sensed it? How? I was trying to hide how badly I felt.”

“Everything just began to add up. Little bits and pieces, here and there.”

“I see.” Clearly, the illness had thrown him off his game.

“So what’s the matter?”

That was the million dollar question. Now the mastermind would have to explain.

“Well, turns out the reason I’ve been feeling awful is because my blood pressure went up. Way up. My obstetrician recommended I check in for treatment, so that’s what I did.”

Seb nodded. “Glad you followed her advice. Do they know what triggered your blood pressure to rise? Maybe they ought to increase your meds.”

“The problem is related to my meds, all right, but not in the way you might think.”

“Oh?”

“Apparently, someone tampered with my drugs. For the past week, I’ve been taking what I believed was labetalol, but it really wasn’t that at all.”

Moran’s eyed widened in shock. “Good Lord!” he exclaimed. “What were you actually being dosed with, then?”

“The lab ran an analysis and determined it was a multivitamin. Thank god it wasn’t anything harmful to the babies.” Jim shuddered at the thought of how it could’ve been so much worse.

“That’s a relief,” Seb agreed. “How did the medication mix-up occur? You said there was tampering involved? How, and by whom?” He wanted to know exactly who it was he needed to hunt down and kill.

“I suspect tampering took place because it was only this week that I’ve experienced symptoms. I think I started out with the correct drugs, but someone swapped them within the last seven days or so.”

Though he tried to suppress it, the burly blonde alpha was fuming mad. Switching a person’s medication was fucking despicable. And to do it to a pregnant omega…he couldn’t begin to wrap his head around how wrong that was. Even to a career assassin, the act was unfathomable.

“Jimmy, who do you suppose would do such a thing?”

“I hate to suggest it, but logically speaking, it must’ve been a guest at the baby shower. The timing fits, and they were the only other people to have had access to our medicine cabinet.”

“Fuck.” Sebastian’s fingers balled into fists as a blazing fury coursed through him. He’d allowed visitors into his home— his sanctuary— and this is how he was repaid. Someone had violated his trust and hospitality by targeting Jim and their unborn children. It was thoroughly contemptible.

“As for which of our guests is the guilty party, well, that I don’t know. We’ve got to consider this carefully.”

“I’ll kill them. Whoever it is, they’ve signed their own death warrant.”

“Indeed,” the genius concurred. “I don’t think it was Ian. I’m fairly confident he can be ruled out right off the bat. Probably not Molly, either. This pill swap was obviously premeditated, yet she was stunned to see me. She’s not a good enough actress to have faked that reaction.”

“And what of her companion, Irene?”

“Adler seemed surprised as well, but she’s a much better liar than Miss Hooper. She was also at the hotel the night we were spied on,” he recalled. “I’m still not convinced this is her M.O., though. And besides, she wasn’t there for the graffiti incident that occurred shortly before we went to Monaco. Remember, I’m operating under the premise that the same person has been perpetrating all of these acts.”

“Then it’s got to be Gemma or Annie,” Seb swiftly remarked. “They’ve been around for a lot of things.” 

“They certainly have,” the Irishman declared. “Gemma’s never given me a reason to doubt her, aside from the baby shower invite snafu. Annie, however…” He thought back to the language slip-up she’d made at his party. “Earlier this week, you mentioned putting a tracker on her vehicle. Has anything come of it?”

“Unfortunately, no. She’s been venturing to cafes, bistros, and bars. Nothing outwardly suspicious.”  

Moriarty sighed. “We need more information on her, immediately.”

“I’m trying as best I can.”

“I know. I didn’t mean to imply that you weren’t. I’m just frustrated by the direction this is taking,” Jim admitted. “I’ve always prided myself on being able to see through people. To look at someone and instantly deduce everything about them. But with Annie…I didn’t get the impression that she was lying. If she truly is responsible for terrorizing us, then it means I’m a complete and utter fool. A fucking moron. Or worse yet…ordinary.”

“No, Jimmy. It simply means you’re human. I hate to break it to you, but no one is infallible, not even the illustrious James Moriarty.”

“But I should be, Seb! Don’t you grasp that?” The mastermind was yelling, though his tone was more saddened than angry.

Now it was Moran’s turn to do the hugging. “Come here,” he commanded, taking his mate into his arms. Jim halfheartedly struggled for a moment, but soon melted into the larger man’s embrace.  

“People don’t deceive me,” he insisted. “I deceive them. That’s how it’s supposed to work.”

“I know, honey, I know. It’ll be okay. We’ll get through this together. I promise we will.” 

Seb rubbed his omega’s back in a soothing manner as he listened to the tiny sniffles coming from him. Jim had been trying not to cry, but was now coming undone.

“Tiger…she told me about MOPS.”

“Huh?”

“At your birthday party. Annie was the one who said her brother-in-law had attended the support group, and she recommended it to me. Why would she have told me about MOPS if she had a vendetta?” the genius wondered aloud. “Does she even have a male omega relative? If it’s true, then how could she have written those terrible slurs in the bathroom? And if it’s a lie, how was she aware of the group in the first place? It doesn’t make sense.”

Sebastian had to agree— this was strange, and they definitely needed an accurate account of her background. Surely, if they dug deep enough, something would surface.

“Hey, Sebby?”

“Yes?”

“Are those for me?” Jim asked hopefully, noticing the roses on the nightstand.

“Yeah, they are.” The sniper smiled warmly, pulling out of their hug so that he could hand his spouse the bouquet.

Moriarty leaned down to smell them. “These are lovely, Tiger. Thank you.”

“The pleasure is all mine.”

“Maybe you could go to the nurses’ station and see if they have a glass or a vase to put them in?”

“That’s a fine idea. I’ll get right on it.”

“I appreciate it, Seb.”

Jim hummed softly. He was still a jumble of hormones and emotions, but at least now he had his alpha by his side.

 

Chapter Text

Jim was feeling morose and Sebastian was determined to perk him up before it got any worse.

The mastermind’s poor mood was a direct result of the lecture he’d received that morning from not one, but two, doctors. He was reprimanded for not following the orders he’d been given when last discharged from the hospital. His attending physicians had instructed him to maintain modified bedrest, use a wheelchair at least half the time, and wear a portable blood pressure monitor 24/7. He’d kept up none of those things and they had a few choice words to say about it.

Seb was present for the confrontation, and he fully expected Jim to flip out in response. It came as a huge shock when, instead of anger, he reacted with profound sadness. He sat stone-faced until the doctors left the room, at which point he broke down into tears. The Irishman was utterly guilt-ridden, sobbing and apologizing to their unborn children for not taking better care of them.

Moran wanted to knock those fucking physicians’ teeth out. How dare they speak to his husband so rudely? He was the Napoleon of Crime, not some ordinary bloke off the street. He deserved respect. Furthermore, Seb was appalled by their lack of overall sensitivity. It was well-established within the medical community that pregnant omegas were often highly emotional and protective of their young. Most practitioners wouldn’t dream of addressing one so harshly. What, then, was this pair thinking?

Bloody bastards. Probably treated him differently because he’s male.     

“Tiger?”

In a flash, the sniper was pulled from his thoughts.

“Yes, dear?”

“Fetch me something from the vending machine. Make sure it’s chocolate. But absolutely no raisins.”

“Your wish is my command.”

Seb made his way down the hall to the candy dispenser. There were many options to choose from. Which would his Magpie most enjoy?

“Hmm.”

RING. RING.

The former colonel’s confectionery selection was interrupted by the din of his phone.

“Hello?”

“Mr. Moran? It’s Ian.”

“What can I do for you?”

“I wanted to ask you a question. It’s not work-related. This is a personal matter.”

“Okay, go ahead.” Sebastian was officially intrigued.

“Well, as I’m sure you’re aware, Jim hasn’t attended a MOPS meeting in a week. I’ve tried convincing him to come back and so have others. We haven’t had much luck, though. Bearing that in mind, I was wondering if you might be able to talk him into returning? We’re meeting tonight and it would be great if he showed up. A lot of us have missed him.”

"Really? That’s interesting, because I’ve gotten the distinct impression he misses being with the group, too.”

“Then it shouldn’t be difficult for you to persuade him. Lay out the facts and maybe he’ll realize that coming back is the best option.”

Seb sighed. “If you’re convening tonight, there may be a slight problem.”

“How’s that?”

“Jim’s in the hospital and they want to keep him here for a few days.”

“The hospital?” Ian exclaimed. “What happened?”

“I’d rather not discuss the specifics while I’m standing in a public place, but let’s just say he had a high blood pressure episode.”

“Understood,” the young man stated. “I’m sorry he’s having health issues. Will he be all right?”

“Yes, but he’ll need to follow some fairly stringent guidelines. I suspect the next two months will be colorful, to put it mildly.”

Ian chuckled. “Yeah, I get the sense that Jim’s probably not the most cooperative of patients, even on a good day.”

“Very perceptive,” Moran replied. He paused for a moment, an idea swirling around in his head. “Is there a number I could call to get in touch with the MOPS organizer?”

“I’ve got Trevor’s contact information. Why?”

“I’m hatching a plan.”

*********

Jim stared, his expression steely and unflinching. It was a fierce battle of wills. Staring, staring, staring.

Unfortunately, his opponent, a tepid bowl of peas, won out.

“Here goes nothing,” he announced, shoving a heaping spoonful of the tiny green orbs into his mouth. He wanted to gag, but forced himself to swallow it down.

Seb looked on supportively. “You’re a trooper, honey.”

“I have to be. This pitiful excuse of a side dish is supposedly ‘nutritious.’ Nutrition is essential to the babies. Therefore, it’s in their best interest that I suffer the horror and indignity of peas.”

The assassin stifled a laugh. Somehow, Moriarty could transform the simple act of eating vegetables into a dramatic event. It took talent to achieve that.

“Hey, Jimmy?”

“Yes?”

“Want to take a break? We could leave this room…walk around for a bit.”

The consulting criminal considered the proposal. It did get awfully boring being cooped up in bed all day. And he really hated those peas— the mere sight of them turned his stomach.

“Let’s do that,” he agreed, detaching the medical equipment from his body. The only device he left on was a portable blood pressure monitor. “Bring that damn wheelchair over here so I can ease into it.”

Sebastian complied, moving it closer. Jim got in without any trouble, a fact which pleased his mate.

“Nice to see you’re adept with the chair,” he remarked.

“I’m not manning a rocket ship. The learning curve isn’t especially steep.”  

“Still, it’s good you’re not struggling.”

The irritable omega snorted. “Yeah, it’s fine and dandy. Now London’s most dangerous man can be seen rolling his way through the mean streets of England like someone’s gran.”

“Hey, don’t be so hard on yourself. You won’t have to use this thing forever,” Moran spoke as he pushed Jim out the door and into the hall.

“Thank god.”

“Why do you hate it so much?” Seb inquired. “I know it’s not ideal transportation, but surely it can’t be that bad.”

“Try it sometime and see how you like it.”

“I have tried it. Broke my leg once when I was in the army. They made me use a wheelchair for a few weeks while the fracture healed. It wasn’t that big a deal.”

“Well, pardon me for not possessing the resilience of a combat-trained soldier. I’m 7 months pregnant with twins and constantly uncomfortable, but I can see how you’d think our situations were comparable.”

Oh hell. Jim's disposition was rapidly taking a nosedive. He needed to show him his surprise ASAP and pray it was enough to improve his mood.  

“My apologies, kitten. I didn’t mean to suggest a similarity. I know you’ve had a particularly rough time these past several months.”

“Rough? That’s an understatement if ever I’ve heard one. I’ve been put through the bloody wringer.”

Seb frowned. “I’m sorry things have gone so wrong this year. I always thought that if we had a child, it would be a joyful experience for us both; a period of our lives we’d look back on fondly. Instead, it’s been fraught with terror and illness.”

“Tiger,” the genius began, his tone softening, “it has been joyful. Just because there’ve been low points doesn’t mean there haven’t been high points as well. And what’s this about you thinking of us having a child? You never mentioned it to me.”

The sniper flushed, slightly embarrassed by his admission. “Long before you expressed a desire to have my baby, I imagined what it would be like if we did. All bonded alphas fantasize about that kind of thing.”

“In your mind’s eye, how did you picture it?”

“Mostly, I envisioned taking care of you. I saw myself as being there every step of the way, from the first checkup to the delivery. And then I’d contemplate what might come after— the milestones and moments we’d share as a family.”

Jim suddenly grew quiet, leaving Moran to wonder if he’d erred in his disclosure.

“You okay, sweetheart? I hope my confession didn’t upset you.”

“No, I just…I’m a bit overwhelmed. What you imagined was so beautiful, Seb. I don’t think I could love you more if I tried.”

“Likewise, Magpie.”

Contented, they continued their evening stroll. But the assassin had a trick up his sleeve. This was no ordinary jaunt around the building. No, it was a purposeful trip.

Sebastian stopped when they reached a door labeled ‘Conference Room.’

“Is there a reason you’re not pushing me anymore, dear?”

“Yes, I’ve got a surprise for you.”

Jim’s face crinkled with curiosity. “Oh? Do go on.”

“Let’s take a peek behind this door, shall we?” 

The couple entered the room, and to Moriarty’s amazement, everyone from his Male Omega Pregnancy Support group was there.

He looked at them, then turned to Seb, and back again. “How did you manage this?”

“I called the coordinator and we hammered out a plan to bring the meeting to you.”

“Tiger, that’s so sweet. I don’t even have the words to properly thank you.”

“Well, do you have the words to say ‘hello?’” a familiar voice asked. It was Jack, injecting himself into the conversation.

“For a fellow group member? Of course.” Jim wheeled himself closer to where the attendees were sitting. “How’ve you all been?”

“Not bad,” Scott answered. “Though we were concerned when we heard you were in the hospital.”

“Yeah,” another man agreed. “Are your babies okay?”

“My babies are perrrrrfect,” he proudly proclaimed. “But I’ve got to take it easy. They’re worried about the possibility of premature labor if I don’t abide doctor’s orders.”

“Sorry to hear that,” someone else spoke. “Try to be careful.”

“I will,” the mastermind assured. “Anything for my little angels.”

To Moriarty’s surprise, he was soon approached by Simon, the person he’d clashed with at his last meeting.

“Hey, Jim? You may not be keen on seeing me, but I want to apologize for us getting off on the wrong foot.”

“Well, I might've behaved a teensy bit rashly that night myself,” he admitted. “I think we’re even. But for future reference, never tell me a depressing story when I’m looking to be cheered up. I guarantee it won’t end well.”

“Duly noted.”   

Now that the Irishman was back in his element, Seb wasn’t sure what to do next. Return to Jim’s room, maybe? Grab some coffee in the cafeteria? Sit in the lobby and play games on the phone? He didn’t know.

Out of the blue, Trevor, the MOPS organizer, began waving Moran over to where he and the participants sat. It was a trifle eerie, as if he’d read the sniper’s mind.

“Care to hang out with us, Sebastian? Usually, I maintain a ‘no partners’ rule for our meetings, but this is a rather unique assembly we’re holding tonight. I don’t believe anyone here would object.”

“Uh, sure. I guess I could stick around if nobody has a problem with it.”   

At that, the members expressed their enthusiasm to let Seb stay. It seemed the dashing alpha had fans among the flock.

“You heard them,” Trevor noted. “It’s safe to say they want you here.”

Jim flashed a devilish grin. “Come sit by me, darling. This is going to be fun.”  

Chapter Text

KNOCK. KNOCK.

Sebastian rapped on the bedroom door while balancing a tray of food on one hand. He knew Jim was awake— he could hear the television blaring down the hall as he approached.

Suddenly, the tv was turned off and a sing-song voice called out.

“Come in, Sebbbbby.”

He did, marching up to the Irishman and presenting him with breakfast.

Jim grinned. “What’s on the menu, soldier?”     

“Strawberry stuffed french toast, scrambled eggs, and a new herbal tea blend. Bon appétit, sir.” He leaned down, stealing a kiss from his mate. It was meant to be a quick peck, but Jim grabbed him by the shirt collar and seized his mouth with sizzling abandon. 

“Blimey,” Seb exclaimed. “If this is your reaction to french toast, I’ll start making it every day.”

“It’s my reaction to you, darling. Though I wouldn’t mind you preparing breakfast on a daily basis.”

“I already do.”

“Only some of the time,” the genius quipped. “I’m not an idiot. I can tell when you’ve really cooked versus when you’ve just brought me takeout and pretended it was homemade.”

Damn he’s good. It was as if the man had an all-seeing eye.

“In any case, I hope you enjoy today’s selection. I got it from a recipe I found on the internet.”

“If it tastes half as good as it looks, I’m sure I’ll love it.”

Moriarty dug in, sampling everything on his plate. “This is superb, my dear. You’ve outdone yourself.”

“Thanks, kitten. I aim to please.”

For the next few minutes, Jim continued to eat while the sniper did a bit of light housekeeping around the room. He wasn’t an especially tidy individual, but he had to pick up the slack now that his partner was mandated to stay off his feet.

“They briefly mentioned Marie on the news this morning,” the hungry omega said between bites.

“Oh? What’s the scoop?”

“Her death has been ruled a murder. It was staged to appear like a suicide, but her body showed signs of struggle.”

“Just as we thought,” Seb noted with a sigh. “Do they have any leads?”

“No word on that,” he answered. “I think we’ve both got a suspect or two in mind, though.”

The couple was quiet for a moment, mutually contemplating the situation.

Finally, Moran broke the silence. “I’d best get to headquarters. A criminal empire can’t run itself.”

“Quite right,” Jim agreed. “I have plans for today as well.”

“Magpie, we’ve discussed this— you mustn’t overexert yourself.”

The smaller man laughed. “Exert? Please. The only energy I’ll be expending is the negligible amount it takes to open and close my laptop. I’m going to do some online shopping.”

“Ah, I see. Looking for anything in particular?”

“Actually, yes. Christmas presents for the babies. We’ve got to have something to stick in those stockings,” he declared. “Also, the shelving unit in the playroom is far too bare. I want it filled to the brim with stuffed animals. I’m just not sure if I should have them arranged by color, size, or species.”

Sebastian arched a brow. “Color and size, I understand. But species? These are dolls we’re talking about here. I don’t think they have a genus classification.”

“Of course not, darling. Don’t be daft. What I’m referring to is the type of animal they are. Bear, bunny, puppy…the odd llama or giraffe. That sort of thing.”

“Okay, gotcha.” Now it made more sense.

“Tell me, Tiger…have you done any shopping yet this holiday season?” The mastermind flashed his spouse an endearing, wide-eyed expression. He was attempting to gain gift information in a none-too-subtle manner.

“Don’t give me that look,” Moran spoke.

“I beg your pardon? I know of no ‘looks.’ I’m simply asking my ruggedly handsome husband a question. Surely, there’s no harm in that.”

“I wasn’t born yesterday, Jim. I know you’re trying to pump me for details.”

Moriarty gasped in mock indignation. “Why, I never!”

“You’ll not get a word out of me regarding Christmas presents. This year, I intend to truly surprise you.” In holidays past, the consulting criminal had a way of figuring out his gifts ahead of time, be it through logic and deduction or, on occasion, good old-fashioned snooping. Either way, Seb was determined not to let that happen again this Yuletide.

Jim rolled his eyes. “Whatever. I’ll work it out. I always do.”

“Not this time.”

“I’m a genius, Seb. There’s no point in trying to hide things from me, but it’s adoooorable that you think you can.”

“We’ll see.”

“Yes, we will.”

“On that note, I’m heading off. Have fun shopping, and remember not to do anything too strenuous. Use your wheelchair, use the elevator, and just to be on the safe side, keep an eye on your meds.”

“Christ, when you talk to me like that, I feel as though I’m 90.”

“Hey, it could be worse.”

“I fail to see how.”

“You could be forced to wear one of those ‘Life Alert’ bracelets like the grannies in adverts who’ve fallen and can’t get up.”

 Jim laughed heartily at the remark. “Touché.”

Before Sebastian left, he took one last glimpse of his mate. He hated walking away from him when he was in such a compromised state.

What kind of alpha leaves his pregnant, semi-disabled omega home alone?  Yes, there was a guard posted outside, but what about in the house? Anything could happen. 

Seb was incredibly conflicted. He wanted to be there to take care of him. At the same time, he had a criminal empire to oversee. Balancing the dual responsibilities was proving more difficult than he’d anticipated.

For now, he’d try to focus on the task at hand— traveling to headquarters. He’d have time to think later.

*********

“I don’t know what to get Jim for Christmas,” Moran confessed. He’d called Ian into his private office so that they could brainstorm potential gifts.

“I really want to surprise him,” the sniper continued, “but I haven’t the faintest idea what to buy. There’s the obvious stuff— designer clothes, cologne, chocolates, and the like. But those are all so predictable. I need to come up with something he’d never expect. Any suggestions?”

The young man hesitated, pondering the matter carefully. “Well, Jim is a man who already has ‘everything,’ correct?”

“Yes.”

“Then maybe, as a change of pace, you ought to consider giving him a gift that places its value on the immaterial.”

“Immaterial? How do you mean?”

“I mean something that ties into an abstract concept, like love, family, and togetherness.”

Huh…that’s actually a good idea. These days, the mastermind was wrapped up in all things relating to the twins. He’d probably go nuts for a Christmas present linking back to them. 

“Ian, what sort of item might reflect the essence of family?”

“Something symbolic, perhaps? Families bud and bloom…branch out through generations,” he said. “To people like me and Jim, the notion takes on a special meaning because we didn’t have much in the way of stability or connectivity growing up.”

Bud, bloom, branch…I’ve got it! The youth’s choice of words gave Seb a wonderful idea.

“A tree,” the assassin announced.

“Pardon me?”

“I’ll buy Jim a tree. Have it planted in the yard, and dedicated to our expanding family. It will grow up alongside us.”

“That’s lovely, Mr. Moran. I think he’ll be touched by it.”

“You helped me figure it out. I appreciate that.”

“Thank you, sir.”

Seb nodded. “I know I pulled you away from your work to hold this impromptu meeting. Now that we’ve settled the gift situation, you’re free to go back to what you were doing.”

“Very well. If you need anything else, give me a holler and I’ll be right in.”

“Sounds good.”

Ian exited Moran’s office, returning to his desk. He pulled up the file he’d been working on, prepared to resume coding a new splash screen for the business website. All seemed well, until he was interrupted again, this time by the vibration of his mobile phone. He initially wanted to let it go to voicemail, but changed his mind in case it was something important.

“Hello?”

“Hiiiiiii, it’s Jim.”

“Hey, how’s it going?”

“Splendidly. I just went on a bit of a shopping spree. Spent a small fortune on toys for Essie and Eddie.”

“Really?”

“Oh, yes. It was quite thrilling, if I do say so myself. Did you know that Louis Vuitton and Gucci make branded teddy bears?” he asked excitedly. “I had no idea until today!”

“Life’s full of surprises.”

“It certainly is,” the genius agreed. “Speaking of surprises, that’s what I’m calling you about.”

“Ah, okay.”

“I want to give Seb an awesome Christmas present. I’ve already knitted him a sweater, which I’m sure he’ll adore, but I don’t feel it’s enough. He’s gone above and beyond for me this year, and I want to repay him with a grand gesture. I’m talking knock-your-socks-off amaaaaazing.”

“What will it be?”

“Welllllll…that’s the problem. I’ve got no clue. I should know, because I’m brilliant, yet somehow I don’t. It’s frustrating,” he complained. “But I thought that if we put our heads together, we could come up with the perfect prezzie.”

Ian was taken aback, astonished that both Seb and Jim would consult him regarding their gift-giving endeavors.  

“Anything readily spring to mind?” Moriarty prodded.

“Hmm…you mentioned he’s done a lot for you this year. Would that be in relation to your pregnancy, or is the timing coincidental?”

“Sebby’s always done whatever I demanded of him. But yes, he’s been particularly attentive throughout the pregnancy. We’re growing into a real family and I almost can’t believe it. I never saw myself as the domestic type. Now, though, I find it strangely gratifying.”

“Maybe that’s your answer.”

“Huh? Care to be a little less vague?”

“Family,” he spoke. “You could focus on a gift that celebrates the family you’re building and the love that encompasses it.”

Jim was silent for a few seconds, considering the suggestion.

“Ian, that’s fabulous! I adore the idea,” he enthused. “In fact, I know exaaaaactly what to do.”

“Go on. I’d like to hear it.”

“I don’t want to say what it is just yet. First, I need to make sure my plan is feasible. I dare not speak too soon.”

“All right. I hope everything pans out. Keep me posted.”

“Oh, I will. This is going to be spectacular.”

The two concluded their conversation, each having work to do. Ian needed to finish coding that splash screen, while Jim had to start putting his plans into motion. It was shaping up to be a productive day all around.

Maybe, just maybe, this holiday season would turn out well for everyone.  

Chapter Text

Jim was ecstatic. He’d placed calls to all the proper people and it appeared his gift to Sebastian was really going to happen. He was absolutely beaming at the prospect.

“Look at you, grinning like the cat that ate the canary,” Seb commented as he entered the living room after a hard day’s work.

“I’m happy, darling, and why shouldn’t I be? I live in an exquisite home with my gorgeous husband, I’ll soon have two beautiful babies to care for, and topping things off, it’s Christmastime.”

“Well, I’m just glad you’re focusing on the positives,” Seb said, sitting down beside the mastermind. “I’ve seen you get hung-up on the darker aspects of life all too often. It’s nice to witness you embracing the good as well.”

Jim paused, contemplating Moran’s statement. “It is strange, isn’t it?” he mused. “I’ve always had this ugly, empty thing inside me. A proverbial ‘hole’ in my black heart. But lately, it doesn’t feel so bad. It’s as if the void is being filled by something…by hope and excitement, maybe. And love. Love for our family.”

The sniper’s smile now matched his spouse’s. “That’s wonderful, honey.” He reached out to gently stroke the smaller man’s hand.

“You don’t think it’s a bit corny or clichéd?”

“Never.”

The couple gazed adoringly at each other, swept up in the depths of their mutual affection. It was quiet moments like these when they truly knew they were soulmates, bound together by more than a marriage license and shared assets. Theirs was a love that could not be quantified in ordinary terms, nor explained to those on the outside looking in. It simply existed, and always would, no matter the time or place.

“Sebby?”    

“Yes, dear?”

“I want to do something special for the holiday.”

“Like what?”

“Throw a party.”

Seb’s jubilant expression dropped. “A party, huh?”

“Yes. You don’t seem too enthusiastic about it, though.”

“Consider our current track record. The last two parties we held were for my birthday and your baby shower, respectively. Neither went off without a hitch, and both led to some serious repercussions. You really want to chance a third?”

“Actually, there’s a method to my madness.”

“Then by all means, explain.”

“I’d like to hold an employee-only Christmas party here at the house as a way to smoke out Annie.”

“I’m afraid I don’t follow. How would hosting such an event expose her? She’d never admit to having an agenda.”

The consulting criminal flashed a devilish smirk. “Oh, she will if we dose her, darling.”

Seb arched a brow, intrigued. “With what?”

“Sodium pentothal, duh. Must I spell everything out for you?”

“Truth serum?” 

“That’s the ‘Hollywood’ name for it, yes. I prefer the scientific term.”

“Interesting proposition, kitten. We haven’t gone down the pharmaceutical route in ages.”

“It would be fitting after the way she tampered with my medication. I’m almost certain it was her,” he asserted. “Let’s see how much she enjoys being administered a drug she didn’t consent to take.”

“Poetic justice,” the assassin remarked.

“Precisely.”

“If we were to do this, who’d be in charge of the interrogation?”

“You and me, of course. Who else would I entrust?”

“Right.” Seb wasn’t particularly keen on the idea of Jim participating.

“Why are you scowling? This will work. I’m just sorry I didn’t think of it sooner.”

“You shouldn’t be involved in the debriefing. It’s too dangerous.”

“Too dangerous?” the genius scoffed. “Hardly. She’s one woman, not a militia. I can handle her.”

“You could get hurt. Even with me there to guard you, she might try to lash out. We can’t risk the babies’ safety.”

When Moran put the situation into perspective, it was difficult for Jim to argue the point. But he wanted to be there for the proceedings, goddammit. This was unfair.

“I deserve to play a role in revealing the truth,” he declared. “She’s working for the man who kidnapped me, Sebastian. I was put through nine days of hell. Shackled, starved, and left to rot in a fucking basement. Not knowing if I’d ever see you again or if our children would survive the ordeal. I was terrified they’d die inside me, and then I’d die, too, from the heartbreak. So don’t you dare tell me I can’t be involved. I’m owed this.”

The sniper was silent for a moment, processing his husband’s plea. Clearly, this meant a lot to him.

“Okay, Jimmy. You’ve got a right to participate, and I won’t begrudge it. But please, let me protect you…all three of you,” he stressed, placing a hand on his mate’s belly. “If, god forbid, something goes wrong, I need you to promise that you’ll make yourself scarce and allow me to deal with it. You’ll do as I say if the situation demands it.”  

Moriarty nodded. “Fine, I promise. I’m not unreasonable, Seb. All I want is to take Annie and Colin down.”

“As do I.”

“It’s settled, then. We’ll throw a party, lure the bitch away from the crowd, dose her, and interrogate. Not sure how long we should keep her alive beyond that point. I suppose it depends on how useful her information is. We may require supplemental details later on.”

“Sounds like a plan.”

Once they’d reached an agreement, Jim moved to stand up. He immediately grimaced in pain.

Sebastian was quick to come to his aid, letting the Irishman lean against him for support. “What’s the matter, sweetheart?”

“My back is killing me and my body feels so heavy,” he complained. “I’m a whale, Tiger. An enormous, waddling whale who can barely lumber from one room to the next without gasping for breath.”

“Maybe we ought to talk to your doctor about putting you on oxygen,” the assassin suggested.

“God, no. I’m enough of an invalid as it is. I don’t need to be hooked up to any more tubes or devices, thank you very much.”

“It was a fleeting thought. Consider it forgotten.”

Moriarty didn’t reply. Instead, he maneuvered into his wheelchair and began rolling towards the bathroom.

“Can I help with anything?” Seb asked.

“Possibly. I could use a soak. Care to draw Shamu a bath? Fair warning— I’ve got one hell of a splash zone.”

“Magpie, don’t be cruel to yourself. You’re not fat, just pregnant.”

“Refer to it however you want. I still look like a blimp.”

“Would it shock you to hear that I find it kind of sexy? As an alpha, a part of me is pleased to see you bearing my cubs.”

“Honey, I stopped being surprised by your predilections a looooong time ago. You could tell me you’re turned on by one-legged albino midgets and I wouldn’t bat an eye.”

Moran chuckled. “I don’t believe my tastes go quite that far, but it’s good to know you keep an open mind.”

The former colonel and his partner entered the bathroom together. Seb was intent on drawing the best damn bubble bath Jim had ever dipped a toe in. And perhaps he would offer his patented back-scrubbing skills, too.   

*********

A few days passed and things were running smoothly, both at headquarters and at home. The consulting criminal was focusing most of his energy on the Christmas party he’d decided to throw, forwarding invitations office-wide and making arrangements with a caterer. Festive decorations were already up, so he needn’t worry about the aesthetics. As for music, holiday tunes could easily be piped in through the home stereo system.

Satisfied he’d done enough planning for one day, Jim checked his watch. He was a bit disappointed to find that it would be another hour until Seb came home. He hated to seem clingy, but he really did miss his mate.

Stupid omega hormones. Turning me into a pitiful, codependent creature.

“Ooh!” he blurted out. “Big kick.” One of the babies had abruptly made their presence known.

The mastermind rubbed his stomach and smiled, feeling significant movement from within. “I’m sure it’s getting to be cramped quarters in there, my darlings. But rest assured— it won’t be much longer until you’re out here, in Daddy’s arms.”  

Sometimes it was hard to believe that the twins were due in a mere two months. It seemed like just yesterday he was at Dr. Swenson’s office having his first sonogram done. Now they were almost ready to be born. The reality of it both thrilled and terrified him.

Jim couldn’t wait to meet his children. There were so many things he wanted to teach them. So many places he would take them and sights he would show them. They’d be the most doted upon babies in the world, forever loved and protected by London’s fiercest duo.   

Despite this, an untold horror lay beneath the surface. Jim was utterly petrified of giving birth. It was a fear he’d kept well hidden, yet it burned with the fury of matches lit amid kerosene.

The Irishman was no fool. He knew the statistics were in his favor and Cesarean sections were routine. His apprehension was 100% irrational. Cognizance, though, did not make the anxiety cease. It lingered, casting dread on what should be a joyous event.

He wheeled himself into his office and opened the desk drawer that no longer locked thanks to Sebastian’s handiwork. After a short bit of sifting, Jim found the document he was looking for. It’d been some time since he’d gone over its contents and an update was in order.

Taking a deep breath, he stared at the ominously titled paperwork. It was the “Last Will & Testament of James Declan Moriarty.”

 

 

To Be Continued...

Chapter Text

The front door creaked open as Sebastian entered the sprawling residence he and Jim shared. Looking around, he didn’t immediately see his spouse.

“Hello?” the sniper called out. “I’m home early, sweetheart. I thought maybe we could have a date night, if you’re feeling up to it.”

He received no response.

“Jimmy?”

Still nothing.

Hmm.

Seb ventured down the hall, on a mission to locate the mastermind.

He checked Moriarty’s office, knowing that the man often spent a good deal of time there. Unfortunately, it was empty. He was about to leave the room when something caught his attention. On Jim’s desk laid a document labeled ‘Last Will & Testament.’

Curious, he reached for the paperwork and began paging through it. The title didn’t lie— this was definitely a written account of his mate’s final wishes.

Panic set in. When did Jim have a will drawn up? Why is he going over it now? Is something wrong and he hasn’t told me? If so, what does that mean for the babies? He’d have disclosed if his health was in crisis, right?

Moran’s worry was rapidly spiraling out of control. His breathing grew heavy as he imagined the worst possible scenario. Ordinarily, he prided himself on keeping a cool head, but this had taken him off guard.

“Tiger?” a voice uttered from behind. Jim was perched in the doorway. “I didn’t hear you come in.” He wheeled towards his desk, locking eyes with the frantic alpha.

“Why do you have a will?” Sebastian demanded. “And why is it sitting out in the open? Did you want me to find it?”

“No, I didn’t mean to leave it unattended. I was reviewing my will to see what needed to be updated in light of the twins’ impending birth. Funnily enough, they seemed to think that was their cue to punch me in the bladder. So I had to take a bathroom break.”

“Answer my original question. Why do you have a will in the first place?”

“Because I’ve got a huge amount of assets to manage,” he stated. “It’s smart to provide formal instructions on how I want them distributed and dealt with upon my demise.”

“Don’t use that word! I suffered through your passing once. I won't do it again.”

“Tiger, hush. You’re acting like you didn’t know I had a will and testament. Surely you saw it when you broke into my drawer all those months ago?”

Seb was quiet for a moment. He had indeed breached Jim’s private drawer when the Irishman went missing. However, he didn’t recall uncovering this particular document.

“I didn’t see it, no. But I drank a lot while you were gone,” the assassin admitted. “It’s possible I may have overlooked it in an inebriated haze.” He paused, thinking about what his husband had said regarding an update to the will. “You mentioned you were planning to include the babies in your…wishes?”

Jim nodded. “Yes, Essie and Eddie are my heirs. Should anything happen to me, I want to ensure that you and our children will be well taken care of.”

“You think something’s going to ‘happen’ to you?” Moran shakily inquired.

“I certainly hope not, but with the myriad of medical issues I’ve experienced, one never knows.”

“Please don’t talk like that, Magpie. It’s important to stay positive. Whatever ensues, you’ll recover.”

“I’d like to believe that’s true, but frankly…” he trailed off, his anxiety rising.

“But what?”

“Nothing,” the genius replied. “Never mind.”

“No, tell me.”

“Leave it alone, Seb. I said it was nothing and I meant it.”

“I refuse to let you shut me out. Your concerns are my concerns. We’re in this together. So just spit it out, for fuck’s sake.”  

The consulting criminal sneered. “Fine. You want me to finish that sentence? I will,” he spat. “I’d like to believe I’ll recover from any issue that comes my way, but I’m terrified I won’t make it through delivery. The closer I get to my due date, the more scared I become.” Even now, a chill ran down his spine as he thought of it. “Are you satisfied? Delighted to have gotten a confession out of your cowardly omega?” 

“Jimmy, stop! Do not put words in my mouth. I wanted to learn what was troubling you so that I could help. I love you, dammit. And for the record, you couldn’t be cowardly if you tried. It’s an impossibility.”

Moriarty fell silent, his anger and bravado fading in the shadow of his partner’s earnestness.

“There’s no shame in being afraid of a procedure you’ve never undergone before,” Seb continued. “Surgery can be scary. I get that. When I had my tonsils taken out, I cried like a baby.”

“How old were you then?”

“Seven.”

“See? You were a child, it’s natural you’d be afraid. But me…I’m a grown man. I’ve got no excuse.”

“Excuses aren’t necessary. You have a right to your feelings at any age, fear included.”

“No,” he objected. “The most dangerous man in London isn’t granted that luxury. I have to be impervious without exception. Doubly so, when the fear in question is wholly irrational.”

“So you understand, then, that C-sections are actually quite safe? And considering how experienced your doctor is, the risk of complications is low.”

“Of course I understand,” Jim bleated. “That’s what makes it irrational. I know the facts on an intellectual level, yet I’m still plagued by dread.”

The sniper contemplated his husband’s predicament. “Maybe if we discuss the problem, it will seem less scary,” he suggested. “What is it about the delivery process that frightens you most?”

“All of it. Being cut open. Losing too much blood. Struggling to maintain steady vitals. There are a million different things that could go wrong.”

“Fair point, but the same might be said of day-to-day living. You could step outside and be struck by lightning. It’s highly unlikely, but the slim possibility is there. The key is not to let such remote ‘what ifs’ control you.”

The consulting criminal sighed in frustration. “Struck by lightning? That’s a ridiculous example that only occurs in cartoons. But death during childbirth…it’s real, Seb. And not just in underdeveloped countries. I’m talking right here in Great Britain.”

Moran gazed at his mate, clues clicking together in his head. “Magpie, this is starting to sound personal. Forgive me if I’m off base, but did you know someone who died that way?”

Jim hesitated, the look on his face confirming Seb’s suspicion. “It’s…I…yes,” he stammered.

“Who was it, honey?” the sniper asked softly. He sat down as well, so that the two of them were at eye level.

“Sarah Milford,” he whispered. “Or ‘Mrs. Milford,' and later, ‘mum.’”

Sebastian furrowed a brow in confusion. “What?”

“You know how I grew up in foster care.”

“Yes, kitten, I do.”

“Well, I lived with the Milfords for almost a full year. It was the longest I ever stayed with a family. I took a shine to them and they liked me, too. In fact, they wanted to adopt me,” Moriarty revealed. “I was so happy, Seb. Truly over the moon about it. And then, to everyone’s surprise, Mrs. Milford got pregnant. Nobody thought she could have kids because of endometriosis, so this was something of a miracle.”

Seb nodded, listening with rapt attention.

“At first, I was worried that if she had a new baby, she wouldn’t want me. But she swore it made no difference— she’d raise us both. I believed her, and I was thrilled to be getting an entire family at once. I’d have a mum and dad, grandparents, and a sibling. It was a dream come true.”

“That sounds lovely. What happened?”

“She…she went…” Jim struggled to keep composure, barely holding back the barrage of sadness that so desperately yearned for release. “She went into premature labor and began hemorrhaging,” he grimly informed. “They gave her a transfusion, but it wasn’t enough. In the end, she bled to death.”

At that, the Irishman could take no more. Tears flowed freely down his pale cheeks and his breathing hitched. “The baby died, too,” he said between sobs. “It turned out to be a girl. I would’ve had a sister.”

Sebastian leaned over, embracing his distraught omega in a hug. “I’m so sorry, Jimmy. That’s awful.”

“There’s more,” he warned. “Mr. Milford couldn’t handle what happened. He had a breakdown and…” Moriarty shuddered, long-buried memories flooding his mind at a brutal pace. “He said he couldn’t take care of me, and he brought me back to the orphanage. I lost everything all at once. No more family, no more dreams.”

“Jesus Christ,” the sniper muttered in disgust. How could someone do that to a child?  Seb understood the potency of grief, but for a man to have made the promise of becoming one’s father, only to rescind the offer…that was beyond fucked up.

“I refused to let anyone see how upset I was, but whenever I was alone, the waterworks wouldn’t stop. I cried about it for months,” he confessed. “I never wanted to feel that way again. From that point on, I decided no one would ever get to me.”

“Oh, Magpie. I wish I had the power to undo everything you’ve been through. You deserve so much better than what life’s given you.”

“Thank you, Tiger.” He begrudgingly pulled himself from Seb’s arms so that he could look into the man’s eyes. “Now you know why I’m so worried about delivering the twins. I don’t want to leave them…or you, for that matter.”

“Believe me, I won’t let you leave us. I’m going to be right there by your side when our children are born. We’re doing this together,” the former colonel reassured. “If you get scared, you can just squeeze my hand.”

“That’s a fine idea in theory, but I’m afraid I’d wind up shattering some bones. Wouldn’t be wise to damage your assets.”

“You’ve got a decent grip, darling, but I doubt you’d break anything.”

“Hey,” the genius protested, “I’m plenty strong.”

“For an omega, maybe,” Sebastian teased.  

Jim swatted his spouse on the shoulder. “Cheeky bastard.”

“Yes, I am,” he said with a grin. “But remember, I’m your cheeky bastard.”

“That’s right. Mine.”

“Always, kitten. Always yours.”

Moriarty’s gaze grew intense. Soon, his lips found their way to Moran’s own— they were warm, supple, and full of want. He needed this. Needed the passion and affirmation. Needed the confidence and love. With his alpha’s support, he could conquer anything.   

 

Chapter Text

Jim was worried. It was almost time for the midway break at his MOPS meeting and Ian still hadn’t shown up. It wasn’t like him to miss a session. If he didn’t arrive soon, the consulting criminal would send out a text message.

As if the universe had decided to answer Moriarty directly, Ian walked into the room. The young man appeared slightly disheveled and wore sunglasses— strange, considering it was after dark.

“Look who the cat dragged in,” Jack quipped. “Fashionably late this evening, aye?”

“I got busy,” he tersely replied. His voice sounded wearier than usual, and perhaps a bit on edge.

“Cool specs,” another attendee said. “But why are you wearing them indoors and at night?”

“I’ve got a migraine. The lights make it worse.”

“My mother used to get terrible migraines,” Scott noted, injecting himself into the conversation. “Sometimes they were so bad, she’d stay in bed all day, heaving into a bucket.”

“What a coincidence,” Jack spoke. “My mum spent most days the same way, only it wasn’t on account of a medical condition— she was just hungover.”

“You know, I can never tell when you’re kidding and when you’re being serious,” Simon, the newest group member, commented.

“That’s my life’s goal. Always keep people guessing.”

Finally, the MOPS coordinator addressed Ian. “It’s wonderful to see you here. I hope you feel better soon.”

“Thanks.”

“I think this is an ideal point to stop and hold our intermission,” he announced. “As a special treat, I’ve brought chocolate cheesecake for us to enjoy. And in case anyone is lactose intolerant, there’s also Dutch apple pie.”

The group began to disperse, with many heading straight for the dessert table. Jim, however, opted to wheel on over to his employee.

“Hellooooo,” he greeted.

“Hey.”

“You don’t seem too upbeat tonight.”

“I’ve got a lot on my mind.”

“I bet you do. Like trying to figure out how to best hide the truth from everyone.”

“Huh?”

“You’re good at reading body language,” Jim remarked, “but so am I. And noooobody beats me at my own game.”

“I’m not sure I understand what you mean.”

“Oh, I think you do. That little spiel about having a migraine was bollocks. You’re not wearing those shades because of a headache,” he asserted. “No, you’re hiding something.”

Ian was silent, unable to deny the accusation.

“What’s going on?” Moriarty pressed.

“I’m not at liberty to say.”

“Not at liberty to say?” he repeated mockingly. “Are you suddenly 007, dealing in classified information?”

“It’s complicated.”

“Actually, I’d wager it’s pretty simple.” He leaned over and pulled the sunglasses off the teen’s face. Just as Jim suspected, he’d been concealing a black eye. 

“Give those back!” Ian demanded, wrenching them from his boss’ hand and putting them back on. “God, I hope no one saw that.”

“Don’t worry, they’re too distracted by cheesecake to be looking at us.” And really, the genius wasn’t being facetious— about a half dozen pregnant omegas were swarming to get a piece. “So,” he said, turning his attention back to the battered youth, “are you going to tell me who did that to you, or shall we continue to drag out the charade?”

“I can’t talk about it here. I won’t risk someone overhearing us.”

“Well, I’d suggest we take a walk and discuss it, but I’ve been strongly advised to stay off my feet.”

“Hmm,” the younger man paused, contemplating the situation. “How about I do the walking and push you along?”

“Works for me.”

The two exited the meeting room and began down the hall at a leisurely pace. Once they were far enough away from prying ears, Ian attempted to open a line of dialogue with the mastermind.

“So…I don’t know where to start.”

“From the beginning is generally a good place.”

“That would open up a massive can of worms. I think I’ll just stick with describing what happened tonight.”

“All right, let’s hear it.”

Ian took a deep breath, steeling himself for the inevitable. “There’s no nice way to put this, so I won’t bother sugarcoating it,” he stated. “My baby’s father showed up at my flat and we had a confrontation. It seems he heard from a mutual acquaintance that I was pregnant, and he wanted to see if the rumor was true.”

“Oh dear.”

“Yeah. I was completely unprepared to deal with him, but I had no choice. When I refused to allow him inside, he shoved his way in and clocked me clean across the face. I threatened to call the cops, and that finally got him to leave. But he warned me he’d be back.”

“Bloody hell,” Moriarty exclaimed. “That’s utterly unacceptable. Anyone who would dare hit a pregnant omega doesn’t deserve to live.”

“I agree. I lied and told him it wasn’t his baby, but I don’t think he believed me. Now I’m worried about what will happen when he returns.”

“Obviously, it’s no longer safe for you and your unborn child to live in that apartment. You need to vacate the premises immediately.”    

“I’d like to, but where would I go? I don’t have enough money saved up yet to rent a better space, and all my belongings are at the flat. Granted, I don’t own much of material value, but I’ve got some sentimental items I’d prefer not to lose.”

There was a brief silence as Jim pondered an idea. “I keep several properties throughout London. You can stay at one of them.”

“Jim…are you serious? That’s a hell of a gesture.”

He shrugged. “It’s nothing. Consider it an early Christmas present.”

“When could I start moving in?”

“Tomorrow, if you want. I’ll make the arrangements and have someone send for your things.”

“You’re willing to transport my stuff to the new place? Really?” Ian was astonished by the consulting criminal’s generosity.

“Yes, really,” he assured. “I suppose I can’t send you back to your current flat this evening, either. Not with the risk of your ex turning up to harass you. Why don’t you come home with me and Seb after the meeting? It’s been ages since we’ve had an overnight guest.”

The young man was truly flabbergasted. “This is the nicest thing anyone’s ever done for me. How can I repay you?”

“Live happily,” he replied. “Have a healthy baby. Raise him or her with the love we never got growing up in foster care.”

“I intend to.”

“Good. Now I need to run this past my husband as a formality, and we’ll be set.”

“Do you think he’d say no?”

Moriarty chuckled darkly at the notion. “Say no to me? Never. And even if he did, it wouldn’t make a difference. I do what I want, when I want, and he knows it.”

The teen smiled. “You’re quite sassy, Jim. I admire that. Not all omegas are so bold.”

“What can I say? They broke the mold when they made me.”

Eventually, the pair reached the foyer where Sebastian sat waiting for his mate. He shut the book he was reading as he saw them approach.

“Midway break?” the sniper asked.

“Yep. And just so you’re aware, Ian’s sleeping over tonight. Then tomorrow, I’m having him moved into one of my unused apartments.”

“Oh? What’s wrong with his current place?”

“He had a run-in with some…vermin. It’s not safe there.”

Seb nodded, catching Jim’s meaning. “Understood, darling.”

“Splendid. Glad we’re all on the same page.”

“Wait,” their young employee interjected. “I’ll require a toothbrush, deodorant, soap— those kinds of things.”

“I’ve got plenty of extra toiletries you can use.”

“Are you sure?”

“It’s true,” the assassin attested. “He keeps the guest rooms stocked like a bloody hotel. If we ever decide to switch careers, I think the hospitality industry would be a perfect fit. We could just rename the estate ‘Moriarty-Moran Manor’ and open it to the public as a bed and breakfast. We’ve already got the accoutrements for it.”

“Hush. It’s not that bad.”      

“Honey, I’ve seen you put complimentary mints on the pillows. It is that bad,” he teased.

Ian laughed. “I like being around you guys. You’re very sweet to each other.”

“Thanks,” Seb spoke. People often assumed he and Jim were little more than debauched maniacs. Perhaps sometimes that was true, but they were also loving and affectionate; playful and endearing. There were many sides to their relationship, and it was nice to have someone recognize that.

The genius checked his watch. “We ought to head back. I want a piece of cheesecake before the rest of the group has devoured it.”

“Me too,” Ian concurred. “I think I saw Jack sneaking off with two slices as we walked out the door.”

“Then we must make haste. Times like these, I wish I had a motorized chair.”

The omegas ventured back to their meeting room, leaving Sebastian behind.

Meanwhile, it took every ounce of fortitude the sniper had to suppress his laughter at the mental image of Jim riding a power chair. Maybe, just maybe, Santa would include one under the tree this Christmas. 

 

 

To Be Continued...

Chapter Text

“Sooooo, what do you think of the place?” Jim eagerly awaited a response from Ian after having just given him a grand tour of his house. They concluded the showing in the guest bedroom where the young man would be staying.

“You have a truly beautiful home. At the baby shower, I only got to see downstairs. Now, looking at the rest, I’m in awe,” he declared. “The nursery was particularly stunning.”

The mastermind smiled. “Thank you. A lot of effort went into planning and decorating the twins’ quarters. I wanted it to be absolutely perfect.”

“You’ve more than succeeded. I hope I can give my little one a nursery that’s even half as nice.”

“Well good news— you can afford to, now that you’re working for me.”

“Yes, I suppose that’s true.” He paused, walking over to a series of framed pictures on the dresser. They were of Jim and Sebastian. “I noticed you guys keep photos of yourselves in every room.”

I keep photos of us in every room,” the genius clarified. “Seb thinks it’s a bit much, but I like seeing us together no matter where I am in the house. These days, I find it increasingly comforting,” he admitted.

“I’m sure it is,” Ian said, a twinge of sadness creeping into his voice. “Comforting, I mean.”

“Yeah.”

Moriarty observed that the youth was depressed, and it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why. During pregnancy, an omega had certain urges and instincts that could only be fulfilled by their alpha. Contrary to popular misconception, such needs were not of an expressly sexual nature. Rather, they were based on an innate yearning for domesticity and protection.

In the old days, a mateless expectant omega was someone to be pitied— a cautionary figure accompanied by the unspoken caption, ‘Don’t let this happen to you.’ Things were different in modern times, but even so, it was rarely an ideal situation.   

“You and your husband are lucky to have each other,” Ian stated. “It seems like he treats you well.”

“Sebby’s the best. I’ve often wondered how the universe saw fit to give me a man as amazing as him. He’s the light of my life, but don’t tell him I said that or I’ll never hear the end of it.”

“My lips are sealed.”

“Good.”

Jim was quiet for a few seconds, his face growing animated as a thought occurred to him. “I’ve got a fabulous idea. I’ll have Seb prepare us hot chocolate, and then we can chat in front of the fireplace. Oh, it will be delightfully cozy,” he enthused. “I’ll fill you in on what I’m getting that gorgeous beast for Christmas.”

Ian chuckled at the consulting criminal’s choice of words. “Sounds like a plan.”

Without further ado, Jim led the way to the elevator.

*********

“Two hot cocoas served just as you requested, darling.” Sebastian carried both mugs on a silver platter, setting the tray down in front of Moriarty and his guest.

“Wow, this looks decadent,” Ian marveled. The piping beverage featured whipped cream, chocolate shavings, and as an added treat, a peppermint candy cane.

“I know what my Magpie likes,” the sniper remarked.

“Ooh, honey, you sure do. Get those lips down here and kiss me.”

Moran did as commanded, bending to meet his partner’s mouth. He wanted to savor the act for all it was worth. Deepen it, prolong it, lose himself in the moment completely.

But…they had a visitor in their midst, one who also happened to be an employee. Grr.

Seb pulled away. “If either of you need anything, send me a text. I’ll be in the armory, cleaning my guns.”

The two watched on as the sexy assassin exited the room. His jeans clung to the curve of his buttocks in a spectacular fashion, leaving little to the imagination. It was enough to make any red-blooded omega swoon.

Ian sighed wistfully. “Damn.”

“My sentiments exactly.”

A brief silence fell over the pair as they sipped their hot cocoa and basked in the warm glow of the hearth. The younger man wanted to say something, but was beset by nervousness. Finally, he mustered the courage to speak.

“I’m surprised your mate didn’t ask about my black eye.” Ian had removed his sunglasses shortly after they arrived at the house. He assumed there would be questions once Seb saw the nasty bruise.

“I warned him of your injury while you were in the bathroom earlier. I didn’t want him to see it without a heads-up,” the mastermind explained. “He tends to get upset over violence against omegas, and rightly so. It makes me angry, too.”

Boy, was that an understatement. Jim fully intended to get the name of the man who’d accosted his protégé. He would enjoy ordering Seb to beat the hell out of him.

“I’m sorry,” the youth shyly muttered. “I didn’t mean to drag you into this mess. I’d hoped never to see Luke again.”

Luke. Now he had a first name. It was a start.

“You’ve got nothing to be sorry for,” Moriarty replied. “He had no right to do what he did. It’s inexcusable.”

“He’s had no right to do a lot of things, but that hasn’t stopped him so far.”

The genius frowned. “I gather this isn’t the first time he’s harmed you?”

Ian averted his gaze downward, reluctant to make eye contact. “You’re right…he’s hurt me before.”

“Fucking wanker.” Jim hated alphas who acted like it was still the dark ages, thinking they could get away with treating an omega however they pleased. This was an enlightened era, for fuck’s sake.

“He absolutely is. You’ll get no argument from me.”

“At least you had the sense to realize it was a bad situation. When I was in foster care, I saw a lot of people in terrible relationships who refused to admit the truth.”

“I did too,” the younger man lamented. “I’m not sure I can accept much credit in this case, though. What Luke and I had wasn’t exactly a relationship.”

“No?”

He shook his head. “I didn’t correct you when you referred to him as my ‘ex,’ but honestly, I would never call him my boyfriend.”

“Excuse me if I’m being intrusive, but what was he to you, then?” The consulting criminal was genuinely curious. Ian didn’t seem like the type to enter into a fuck buddy arrangement— he was far too timid for that.

“We went on a total of three dates. The first was a quick meetup for coffee, the second was a trip to the bowling alley, and the third…well, I’d really rather not discuss how that one went. Let’s just say I won’t make the mistake of inviting a man I barely know up to my apartment again.”

Jim’s expression darkened at the boy’s tacit admission. This was worse than he’d imagined. No wonder Ian reacted so negatively when someone in their MOPS group had inquired about his baby’s father. 

“I apologize for burdening you with this. I don’t usually open up about these sorts of things. I guess I feel like I can trust you.”

In a flash, Jim was taken aback. How long had it been since someone spoke those words to him? He was James Moriarty, criminal extraordinaire. People didn’t trust him— not if they were smart. Yet somehow, hearing the statement come from Ian, he was surprisingly touched.

“Thank you, I’m glad to hear it.”

“I should be the one giving thanks. You’ve been nothing but kind to me from the get-go. I’m not used to that.”

“And I’m not used to being this nice to another person. Besides Seb, that is.”

“This is new territory for us both.”

“Indeed.”

He contemplated if he should press the teen for more information regarding Luke. He seriously wanted to go after the bastard. Maybe he could get away with posing one more question…

“Hey, Ian?”

“Yes?”

“Where did you and your baby’s father meet? Was it at work or school? Or someplace else altogether?”

“It was a pub near campus,” he answered. “Luke tends bar at The Golden Anchor.

Bingo. The mastermind had a name and a location of employment. He could officially send Seb out to fuck him up.

“Jim, can we talk about something else?”

“Of course.”

“Tell me what you’re getting your husband for Christmas,” he insisted. “I’m all ears.”

Moriarty grinned. “Welllllll…earlier this year I managed to track down Sebastian’s estranged brother, Severin. This was a significant gesture because Sev was thought to be his only living relative. Turns out, his sibling has a wife and child, so there’s been a slight addition to the family.”

“That’s wonderful,” Ian excitedly remarked.  

“Yes, it is. Unfortunately, they’re way down in Australia.”

“Ooh, Australia. I’ve always wanted to go there.”

“It’s a fun place, but the 22-hour flights back and forth are beyond boooooring.”

“Wow, that’s long.”

“Excruciatingly so,” the Irishman quipped. “I digress. This Christmas, I’m flying the three of them to London and they’ll be staying with us for an entire week. Isn’t that fantastic? I can’t wait to see the look on Seb’s face when they arrive at our doorstep.”

“I love it, Jim. When I suggested you give him a gift that revolved around family, I didn’t expect this. It’s brilliant.”

“I know, and it’s been hell having to keep it a secret. Just telling you now is something of a relief.” He paused, his mind already abuzz with a new preoccupation. “What do you suppose he’s getting me?”

It was time for Ian to put on his best poker face. He dare not spoil Sebastian’s arboreal surprise.

“Hmm, that’s a tough one.”

“Has he dropped any hints? Maybe mentioned stopping at a particular store, or received branded packaging in the office mail?

“Not that I can recall, sorry.”

The consulting criminal eyeballed his guest. “You wouldn’t be fibbing to me, would you?”

“Never,” he nervously avowed.

But Moriarty could see through the guise. Ordinarily, he despised being lied to. People had died for committing that very offense. This, however, was a special circumstance. It was possible Sebastian had sworn him to secrecy.  

“Has my darling other half gotten to you, Ian? He can be incredibly persuasive. All those taut muscles and the deep blue eyes. That sexy grin and strawberry blonde hair. He could convince a person to do annnnything— including keep secrets.”

“I…well…what?”

Jim sported a wicked smirk. “I suspect Sebby’s conferred with you about my gift. You know what it is, but don’t want to give the truth away. Am I right?” he asked the anxious young omega.  

Ian’s face showed deep confliction. Both Jim and Sebastian were his bosses. But the genius was his friend, too. He didn’t want to break either of their confidences. This was maddening. What should he do? What—

“Relaaaaaax,” Moriarty said. “I’m just teasing.”

“Oh, thank god.”

The mastermind chuckled. “Every year, I figure out what Seb’s getting me for Christmas. This season he’s brought a third party into the mix— you. It’s a means of upping the ante, perhaps,” Jim mused. “He probably thinks he’s being clever, but he forgot one salient point.”

“Which is?”

“That I relish a challenge. He wants to make it harder for me to guess what it is, but his efforts only add fuel my fire. This is a game of deduction and I play to win.”   

“You approach things from an interesting perspective,” Ian noted. “It’s inspiring.”

“I do pride myself on thinking outside the box.”

At that, Jim stared down into his mug. “I could use more cocoa,” he declared. “How about you?”   

“I wouldn’t say no to a refill.”

“It’s settled, then.”

The consulting criminal grabbed his phone and began composing a text.

 

JM

Need more hot chocolate, ASAP.

Jim paused, surreptitiously glancing at the nearby teen.  

P.S. – Also need to talk to you about Ian. Have details on his ‘vermin.’ Will be sending you out to deal with the problem soon.

 

SM

Okay.  

 

 

Seb slipped his mobile device back into his pocket as he prepared to fetch more warm refreshments for Jim. On his way to the kitchen, he couldn’t help but ponder the ominous postscript he’d received. Something was afoot and it didn’t sound good.     

Chapter Text

It was a busy day for Sebastian. This morning he was tasked with overseeing the transport of Ian’s belongings from his old apartment to the new flat Jim had generously provided. It was decided that the young man would move into a property located near headquarters, to cut down on his commute. So far, the operation was going well.

“That’s the last box,” one of the laborers announced.

“Yeah,” another mover agreed. “The kid didn’t have much stuff. Made for an easy haul.”

Seb looked around, noting that the amount of items brought over were fairly sparse. Thankfully, Jim already had furniture in the apartment to help spruce things up and give it a homier atmosphere.   

“You’ve done a fine job, gentlemen.” The sniper pulled out his wallet and handed them each a £100 note. “Merry Christmas, compliments of Mr. Moriarty.”

“Thank you, sir. This is more than we expected.”

“‘Tis the season, right?” Seb jauntily remarked. It made him feel good to play ‘big spender’ this time of year. A bit of charity during the holidays seemed like a noble expenditure.

When the laborers left, Moran took out his phone to send a text message.

 

SM

Mission complete. Everything has been transferred to the new place.

 

JM

Excellent.

You know what’s next on the agenda.

 

SM

I do. Are you sure about this?

 

JM

Yes.

 

SM

Killing the guy would be easier…for me.

 

JM

Stick to the plan, Tiger.

 

SM

Fine. I’ll text you when it’s done.

 

JM

Wait— Sebby?

 

SM

Yeah?

 

JM

I know I’m asking a lot here. It’ll be worth it, I promise.

 

SM

Hope so. 

 

They ended their conversation and Seb proceeded to check the time. It was a little past 11 a.m.

“Pub should be open now,” he muttered.

With a heavy sigh, he exited the flat and headed to his car. He had misgivings about this assignment. He was all for getting revenge against Luke, but what Jim wanted him to do…

The assassin swallowed down his apprehension, trying to focus on the positives. He would enjoy the primary part of the plan and the end result. It was merely the prelude that gave him pause. If he could just make it through the unsavory start, it’d be smooth sailing from there on out.

Never had so much hinged upon the weight of an ‘if.’

*********

Sebastian entered The Golden Anchor, quickly scanning the room for any signs of his target. Thanks to the business’s Facebook page, they were able to find the father of Ian’s baby with relative ease. There was only one ‘Luke’ who worked at the establishment— 34-year-old Lucas Darrow, originally from Birmingham, but currently located in London. His profile made him out to be an affable, decent-looking guy with a penchant for the Aston Villa football team.

Forgot to include ‘douchebag rapist’ in the info box. Gotta love social media.

The sniper really hoped that this was Luke’s shift and he wouldn’t have to linger there too long. He had plans to pick up Jim’s present later in the day. He’d found a botanical garden willing to sell him the exact type of sapling he wanted to give his mate. It was a long-lived variety guaranteed to grow for at least fifty years. The tree would likely outlive them both, but that was the point. It would blossom along with their family.

There he is.

Seb spotted the son of a bitch coming out of the kitchen carrying a supply of glassware. He was approximately 6’2”, dark-haired, and sported several days’ worth of stubble. Moran might’ve even considered him mildly attractive if not for the fact that he knew what he’d done to Ian.

Now came the hard part. The segment of Jim’s plan that made him want to disobey a direct order for the first time in years. He had to lure the man into a compromising situation. In other words, he’d need to pretend he wanted to fuck him in order to set the trap.

Here goes nothing.

The assassin saddled up to the bar. No one was sitting in that particular section— a handful of patrons were assembled elsewhere, at various tables and booths.

“Hey,” the pervert greeted with a smile, “what can I get you?”

“A fast car, a trip to Mykonos, and box seats at an Aston Villa game,” he replied with a wink. “But in lieu of those, I’ll take Guinness on tap.”

The bartender chuckled. “Good answer. You’re an Aston Villa fan, huh?” His interest was piqued.

“Never miss a game. Wish they were having a better season, but don’t we all?”

“Amen to that,” he agreed.

As the man slid Sebastian his drink, the former colonel made sure to caress his hand ever so slightly and make eye contact. It was a move borrowed from Moran’s personal playbook, one he knew worked well on men and women alike. 

Indeed, this had the desired effect. The look on the other man’s face denoted genuine intrigue.  

“I’ve tended bar for a while, but I’ve never seen you here before. The name’s Luke, by the way.”

“Hello, Luke. I’m Seb,” he huskily intoned. “Just blew into town recently.”

“Where from?”

“Lots of places. I do my fair share of traveling.”

“Guess it’s lucky that of all the pubs in London, you chose to visit this one.”

Moran grinned broadly. Lucky, ha. If this goes according to plan, you’re really going to regret saying that. “I decided to take a chance,” the blonde stated. “I always enjoy good drinks, good food, and good company. So far, I’ve already found two out of the three right here.”

“You’re quite a flirt, aren’t you?”

“I prefer to think of myself as exceptionally friendly.”

“I’ll bet you make new buddies by the day. Or is it by the hour?”

“Suggesting I’m a rent boy? Ouch.” Fucking arsehole. If I were a whore, I’d have better taste than the likes of you.

“I mean no offense by it,” Luke claimed. “You’re cheeky, handsome, and transient. What else am I to presume?”

“Maybe I’m just a man who wants to see the world and have as much fun as possible while doing so.”

The scumbag smirked. “Well, then, I think we might have something in common besides a favorite football team.”

Taking a deep breath, Sebastian summoned the most seductive gaze he could under the circumstance. “Wanna have fun together? Seeing as how we’re of the same mind.”

Luke leaned across the bar and whispered, “I can tell you’re an alpha, like me. I’m cool with that, but just so we’re clear, I do the fucking. Never the other way around. Is that going to be a problem?”

The sniper stared him straight in the eye, unflinching. “Not at all. I’m one hell of a switch-hitter.”

“That’s what I like to hear,” he lasciviously spoke. Luke paused, looking around. “We haven’t hit the lunch rush yet, so I could probably get someone from the kitchen to come out and cover my post.”

“Wonderful. Where do you want to go?”

“I keep a flat above the pub,” he informed. “Give me a minute so I can find another person to man the bar.”

“Sure thing. I’ll be waiting.” For added appeal, Seb gently bit his lower lip while flashing a sultry half-smile.

Luke turned and walked into the kitchen, momentarily leaving Moran to his own devices.

Jim’s going to owe me BIG for this, he thought. If I can get through the next part, then the worst will be over.

He discreetly patted himself, checking to make certain his weapons were in order. He had a gun tucked into the waistband of his pants, a switchblade hidden in one back pocket, and a set of brass knuckles concealed in the other. Seb was well-prepared.

*********

“Easy does it, Tiger,” Luke said in reaction to the assassin shoving him against the wall and kissing him aggressively.

Sebastian’s blood ran cold. “What did you call me?”

“Huh?”

“What did you just call me?” he repeated, the familiar term of endearment catching him off guard. 

“Tiger,” the man answered. “Why does it sound like that bothers you?”

“Because…because I had an ex-boyfriend who used to refer to me as that,” he lied. “It was a bad breakup.”

“Ah, duly noted.”

Thank god he bought it. Gotta keep a cool head.

“You’re wearing too many clothes,” Luke declared. “I am, too.”

Seb got back into ‘character,’ eyeing the man with a smoldering gleam. “Let’s fix that, shall we?” He peeled off his own shirt, not wanting Luke to touch him any more than necessary. He now stood bare-chested, having omitted the usual dog tags and wedding band he often wore on a chain beneath his clothes. This fucker didn’t need to see them.

“Nice guns.”

“Excuse me?” The blonde’s heart skipped a beat.

“Your biceps,” he continued, “they’re well-defined. I like that.”

“Right,” Moran responded, breathing a sigh of relief. Just a bit of harmless slang.

“You seem awfully nervous all of a sudden.”

Bloody hell. Can’t let him see through the guise. Must relax.

“I’m fine, I swear. It’s just been a little while since I’ve seen this kind of action. I dare not disappoint.”

“Been a while? Really?” Luke inquired. He ran his hand across the firm expanse of Seb’s chest, teasing his nipples as he went along. “I can’t believe a sexy guy like you would ever have a dry spell.”

“I decided to try celibacy on for size. It didn’t agree with me.”

Luke laughed. “I’d imagine not.” He swiftly removed his top, rendering them both shirtless. “Time for you to lose those pants.”

“Well, actually, I thought maybe I could take yours off first. Slide them down and…service you.” The blue-eyed assassin licked his lips and leaned in, whispering breathily. “Wait ‘til you feel what my hot, wet mouth can do.”

With a lecherous grunt, the man guided Sebastian to his bed. He undid the fly of his jeans and laid back on the mattress. “Have at it, handsome.”

Almost time, Moran reminded himself. Things were going to plan, and he had this douchebag exactly where he wanted him.

Descending onto the bed, he began peppering Luke’s neck with kisses. He snaked his way down the man’s sturdy frame, pausing when he reached the forbidden trail of hair leading from his navel to areas not yet exposed.

“Are you ready?” Seb asked.

“As I’ll ever be.”

“Perfect,” he said with a devilish smirk. “Close your eyes and clear your mind. I want you to really feel this.”

“Okay.” He did as instructed.

The former colonel made short work of pulling off his target’s pants, tossing the denim aside. Luke’s erection pressed against the fabric of his briefs, strained and leaking as it longed for release. Moran would set it free, all right.

Sebastian tugged down the man’s undergarments, revealing his thoroughly aroused length.

Now.

In a flash, the sniper gripped Luke’s cock with one hand, using it as leverage to keep him pinned down. With the other hand, he grabbed the switchblade from his pocket and plunged it into the man’s thigh, careful not to hit a major artery. The last thing he needed was for this son of a bitch to bleed out.

Luke screamed in agony as his flesh was pierced. He tried to throw Seb off him, but the tight grasp he had on his penis prevented that from happening.

“FUCK! Are you crazy?!”

Moran’s smirk transformed into a full-blown sharky smile. “Maybe,” he gleefully replied. “Wanna find out?”

The look on the man’s face conveyed pure terror.

“NO! Let me go!”

“I wonder, did Ian say that when you held him down and forcibly fucked him in his own apartment?”

“Ian? What’s he got to do with this?”

“Everything.”

“That prig was more trouble than he was worth. Tried to keep me from finding out he was having my baby.”

Seb twisted the blade in Luke’s thigh, eliciting another scream.

“Listen here, you rapist piece of shite— that baby is Ian’s, not yours. You’ve forfeited the right to any and all parental privilege. You’re to stay as far away from him as possible. If, by random chance, you so much as see him walking down the street, you cross the road and head in the opposite direction without uttering a word.”

“No!” he hissed. “Sod off, psycho!”

“Guess you want to do this the hard way. Fine by me.”

The assassin slipped on his brass knuckles with one hand while still gripping Luke’s now-flaccid cock.

Before the pinned pervert realized what was happening, Sebastian’s armored fist made direct contact with his balls. The force was so great, a testicle audibly ruptured on impact.

Luke’s body seized in indescribable agony. His mouth opened, but no sound came out, the pain transcending verbal communication.    

Seb released the man’s penis, knowing that the physical trauma would act as its own temporary paralyzer. Just to be safe, however, he reached for the gun in his waistband, pointing it at him.

“Here’s how this is going to work,” Moran announced. “Not only will you stay far away from Ian and his baby at all costs, you’ll also send cash every month to a P.O. box where he can collect the money and put it towards raising the child. You’ll do this for the next eighteen years, without fail. Should you miss even one installment, I will personally hunt you down and give you the kind of experience that’ll leave you begging for the sweet release of death. And just in case you think I’m bluffing, know that I work for James Moriarty, a man whose reputation most certainly speaks for itself. IS. THAT. CLEAR?”

Luke nodded, struggling to find his voice after the intense shock his body was put through. “Y-y-yes.”

“Be grateful I don’t kill you now. The only reason I’m not painting the wall with your brains is because one day, who knows if Ian’s child will require a blood transfusion, bone marrow, or a kidney transplant? God forbid that happens, but it’s prudent to make provisions,” Seb explained. “You’re being kept alive strictly on the basis of your genetic material. That’s it.”      

The former colonel rose from the bed and retrieved his shirt. He also took a moment to throw Luke’s discarded clothing back at him. “Here,” he spoke. “Get yourself to the hospital and maybe they can save your busted ball. Wait too long and it might need to be amputated.”

The man stared wide-eyed at Moran, absolutely horrified.

“Oh, before I forget,” Sebastian said, bending down to yank the switchblade from Luke’s thigh. “Would hate to leave this behind. It was a gift from my husband.”

As Seb made his way to the door, he abruptly stopped, deciding to offer one last parting message. “If you ever force yourself on an unwilling partner again, there will be no hiding it— I’ll find out,” he avowed. “And then I’ll take my brass knuckles to your cock. You’ll be mangled so badly, it’ll look like you fucked a meat grinder.”

He promptly exited Luke’s flat, and the building altogether, not wishing to stick around a second longer than necessary. At last, he could breathe easy, satisfied at a job well done.

Chapter Text

After a long day, Seb had finally returned home. Naturally, Jim couldn’t stop talking about the assignment he’d sent his mate on hours earlier.

“I almost wish I’d been there. You know how much I admire your handiwork,” he enthused, marveling at the fact that Moran managed to hit someone so hard, it actually ruptured the person’s testicles.

“I’ll admit, it was satisfying to hurt Luke. But I never want to ‘lure’ a target in like that again.”

“I’d rather you didn’t have to, either. This was a highly unorthodox situation. Not the kind of thing one encounters every day.”

“Thank god for that.”

“In any case, I appreciate what you did. Consider it a good deed for the holiday season.”

“Believe me, I do. “ Sebastian stretched out across the couch, propping a pillow behind his head. “Does Ian know what we’ve done yet?”

“I haven’t spoken to him, no. I wasn’t sure which of us should do the honors.”

“You’re closer to him than I am,” the blonde remarked. “I reckon it ought to be you.”

“We’re holding a MOPS meeting tomorrow night. I could speak to him then.”

“Sounds good.”

There was a brief lull in the conversation as the wheels in Jim’s head started to turn. The look he gave his spouse signified something was definitely on his mind.

“Penny for your thoughts?” Seb asked. “Or are you just going to keep staring at me for the rest of the evening?”

“I was thinking about when you got home. I peeked through the curtains and saw you leaving the shed before you came inside the house. What were you doing out there?”

Oh, my nosy little Magpie. Moran had picked up the consulting criminal’s gift— a potted sapling— and was storing it in their shed for safekeeping. He’d even gone to the trouble of bringing in a space heater so that the young tree wouldn’t freeze.

“I was taking stock of our tools,” he claimed.

“For what? Are you planning to build something?”

“Maybe. Who knows?”

Moriarty eyed him shrewdly. “I don’t believe you.”

“That’s your prerogative, hon,” Seb matter-of-factly replied. He refused to reveal any information about Jim’s gift or play his games.

“Tomorrow, I might wheel myself out there and see what’s going on in the shed.”

“That’s fine, kitten.” He wasn’t too concerned— he’d padlocked the storage unit as a precaution.

Jim grumbled in frustration, his patience rapidly wearing thin. Sebastian was supposed to tell him not to investigate the shed, thereby confirming that something was secretly being hidden away there. Something like his Christmas present. But if Seb didn’t care whether he checked it or not, then perhaps that meant there was no gift inside, in which case, he’d be back at square one without a single lead regarding his prezzie. It just wasn’t fair.

“You know, there aren’t very many days left until Christmas, darling. Another week and a half and the holiday will be here,” he gently reminded his mate.

“I’m well aware,” Moran stated. ”Speaking of impending dates, how are the party plans coming along?”

“Splendidly. Everything is set, and this afternoon our secret ingredient arrived— sodium pentothal.” Jim paused, an idea surfacing from the depths of his devious brain. “Tiiiiiiiger?”

“Yes?”

“You love me, correct?”

“With all my heart. You know that.” What a strange thing to ask, the assassin mused.

“And you’d do anything for me?”          

“Of course. Today’s literal ball-busting is proof enough of that.” Where’s he going with this?

“Well, then, I should think you wouldn’t mind assisting me in a small experiment.”

Sebastian furrowed a brow and moved to sit in an upright position. “An experiment, you say?”

“Indeed. I’d like to test my newly acquired serum out on you, sweetie. Surely, that isn’t a problem.”

The former colonel’s eyes widened in disbelief. “Excuse me, what? You seriously think I would agree to be your guinea pig?”

Moriarty sighed. “No, not really. I’m just too pregnant to be stealthy right now, so I can’t simply fill up a syringe and prick you with it— I’d need your cooperation.”

“Jimmy, why would you want to use drugs on me?” he inquired, appalled at his husband’s admission. “After everything I’ve done for you, especially today.”

“Because,” he muttered, looking away.

“Because what? Answer me.”

“Because I can’t figure out what you’re getting me as a gift, okay?” the Irishman gruffly spat.

“No, it’s absolutely not okay to dose someone because you want to learn what your Christmas present is. That I even have to explain this is astounding.”

Jim turned his head towards Moran again, shooting him a murderous glare. “This isn’t exactly a shining moment for me, Sebastian. I’m not proud of it.”

“Why is the issue such a big deal to you? Forgive me if I sound unkind, but you’re blowing this way out of proportion.” 

“Am I, Seb? Consider this— I’m supposed to be clever. Accordingly, I’ve cracked the mystery every year, without fail. Until now. There are only ten days left until Christmas, and I’ve yet to solve the puzzle,” he lamented, sounding noticeably frazzled. “Yesterday, I told Ian how good I am at figuring these things out. I think maybe I said it because it always used to be true, and because I wanted it to be true again.”

“Honey, stop right there. You’re the most brilliant man I’ve ever known, and I won’t have you disparaging yourself.”

“No!” Moriarty countered. “I’m frustrated and I can’t deduce things clearly anymore! You don’t know the hell of it. I can’t concentrate. I try, but all I’m able to think about is you.”

“Really, Jim?”

“Yes, it’s as if I’ve been possessed by a wave of rogue hormones,” he said in a huff. “I want you every hour of the day. It’s this instinct telling me that I should be with my alpha; that I need protection. The impulse is relentless, Seb, and I hate it. I’ve never felt so clingy in all my life.”

The sniper reached out and tenderly took his mate by the hand. “We’ve been over this before, dear. An increased desire for safety and security is normal during the latter stages of omega pregnancy,” he reminded. “If it’s any consolation, I’ve had you on my mind a lot lately, too.”

“Is that so?” Jim asked somewhat skeptically.

“It is. I want to be at your side day and night, watching you like a hawk. The urge is irrepressible.”

“We’re on two sides of the same coin, then.”

“Perhaps we shouldn’t try to fight it.”

“Don’t tempt me, Seb.”

“I mean it, hon. We’re both going to continue having these instincts, and they’ll only get stronger the closer you are to giving birth. The best recourse may be to accept the situation and make the best of it.”

The genius contemplated the notion. His partner presented a compelling argument. Denying their pregnancy-induced urges did seem like an exercise in futility at this point. But there was one major problem; the ‘elephant in the room,’ so to speak. What would become of Moriarty’s criminal web if neither of them were available to oversee day-to-day goings on?

“Tiger, I’d say ‘yes’ in a heartbeat, but we’ve got to take work into account. There needs to be some kind of supervision at headquarters, and the only person I trust with the job is you. It’s too important a role to pass along to just anyone.”

“I understand that, love. But maybe I could operate remotely. Hold video conferences and the like,” he suggested. “I wouldn’t stop going to headquarters altogether. I’d simply cut back on the hours. You wouldn’t have to be alone as often.”

“Oh, Sebby, that sounds wonderful.” It really, truly did. “I just don’t know if it’s in the best interests of my empire. Let me mull it over, okay?”

“Sure,” he agreed, lifting Jim’s hand to his lips and kissing it. “But don’t keep me in suspense forever. A man can only wait so long.”

“You’ll have your answer sooner than later, I promise.”

“Excellent,” Moran replied, flashing a sweet smile. “You know what I’d prefer, but even if you don’t choose that, I’ll respect your decision.”         

“Thank you, Seb.”

The mastermind was in need of advice and he knew precisely who to turn to: the men in his MOPS group. They were the closest thing he had to friends. With their combined experience, perhaps they could offer him the clarity he required.    

*********

Annie glanced at the time on her phone and grumbled. She had better things to do than sit in an automotive repair shop all night. She could be at home, relaxing in a hot bath while sipping chardonnay. But alas, on the way back from work, a tire blew out on her van. Now she was stuck having an emergency replacement put on.

Eventually, a mechanic appeared. “Ma’am?” the man called, obviously referring to her, as there were no other women in sight.

“Yes?” she answered, approaching him. “Have you finished?”

He nodded. “Yep. The new tire should hold up for a while. There’s something I thought you should see, though.”

“What might that be?”

The man pulled a small black device from his pocket. “This was attached to the undercarriage of your vehicle.”

Annie took the item from his hand, examining it. Her eyes widened as she realized what it was.

“I think it’s a tracker, ma’am,” the mechanic said.

“Yeah, you’re right, it is.”

“I’m not one to stick my nose in other people’s business, but you might want to be careful— maybe even consult the authorities. Somebody’s obviously been monitoring you with this thing.”

“I’ll handle the matter,” she assured.

Oh, yes. Annie would handle it, all right. She didn’t even need to think about who was responsible for this. It was Moran…had to be. Either the sneaky fucker did it himself, or he got his new office assistant to do it. Whichever the case, she was angry. How dare he? After the misery he’d brought into her life, this was one more slap in the face.

She’d originally planned to skip the Christmas party he and Jim were throwing at their house. Now, however, her interest was renewed. Annie had a damn good reason to attend— she would go in the name of pure, unadulterated spite.    

Chapter Text

It was time for another Male Omega Pregnancy Support meeting and Jim was especially eager to get the ball rolling. He had a lot on his mind tonight, between the weirdly clingy way he was feeling and the offer his mate had made to be with him more often. Then there was also the matter of what he would say to Ian regarding the Luke situation. He thought he ought to address that particular subject during the midway break.  

As the group waited for its participants to arrive, Jim was taken aback by one member’s entrance, and with good reason: Jack walked in carrying a small child.

“Hello, folks,” he greeted. “Sorry about the extra guest. I couldn’t find anyone to watch my son this evening. He shouldn’t be too much trouble— he’s in hibernation mode,” the man said with a wink. “His name’s Reginald, by the way.”

“Weggie,” a tiny voice sleepily mumbled.

Jack grinned, holding his little boy close. “Excuse me, it’s ‘Reggie,’ not Reginald. My mistake.”

“S’ok,” he cooed before nodding off again.

In an instant, everyone was ‘oohing’ and ‘aahing’ over Jack’s child— quietly, of course, so not to wake him. Reggie was cute as a button, wearing Iron Man footie pajamas and wrapped in a fleece blanket. The sight was precious beyond words.

“I almost forgot you already had a kid,” Simon remarked. “How old is he?”

“22 months.”

“That’s delightful. I’d love to have more than one.”

“Me too,” another person agreed.       

“I got lucky with this lad,” Jack happily stated. “He’s always been a good boy.”

“Unlike his daddy,” someone cattily commented.

“Hey, I prefer to be called ‘mummy,’” he informed, “and I ask that you all please refrain from saying anything overtly snarky in front of my son. I realize it may be difficult for a few of you, but at least try.”

“I completely understand where you’re coming from,” Trevor, the MOPS coordinator, spoke. “Let’s be on our best behavior tonight, gentlemen. And actually, as a support community, we should aspire to respect each other regardless of who’s present. It’s basic courtesy,” he noted. “That said, how about we get this meeting started? Anybody want to go first?”

Immediately, Moriarty raised his hand.

Trevor was pleasantly surprised. “Jim, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you volunteer so quickly.”

“Yes, well, I’m going through a rough time and could use a bit of advice.”

“Sorry to hear you’re having troubles,” he sympathized. “Know that we’ll do whatever we can to help.”

The consulting criminal nodded, unsure how to begin. Sharing his emotions was still a relatively new concept. Until recently, the mere idea of it was verboten.

“Rather than skirt the issue, I’m just going to come right out and say it,” he declared. “These days, I find myself disgusted by how needy I’ve become. My husband leaves for work in the morning, and I miss him so much, it’s like there’s a physical ache. Something inside me hurts when we’re apart. Worse yet, is the anxiety. I have this nagging sense that I’m not safe if he isn’t there.” Jim sighed wearily and continued, “I’m aware certain urges become stronger during the final months of pregnancy, and that this is likely a manifestation of that. But I despise feeling so vulnerable. It’s beneath me.”

“When you’re accustomed to being independent, a sudden change in that dynamic can be jarring,” Trevor acknowledged.

“I felt similarly when I was expecting this one,” Jack attested, referring to the sleeping toddler in his arms. “I used to do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. Then my hormones kicked into overdrive, and I thought I was losing my mind. I couldn’t stand the idea of Gary— that’s my partner— leaving me for more than a few hours at a clip. He’s a barrister, so he generally has a heavy workload that keeps him away from home. The instinct to have him with me was powerful, though, and I did some things I’m not proud of to ensure he’d be at my side.”

“Oh really?” Jim was intrigued.

“Yeah. I’d hide his keys and bus pass to make it harder for him to leave. I’d ‘misplace’ documents so that he had to retype them, and thus stick around longer. And once, when I was truly desperate, I put thumbtacks in his tires,” Jack described. “I know it sounds awful, but I’d just get so anxious when he wasn’t there with me. It was this constant dread that something terrible would happen if my alpha was gone for too long.”

“Christ, that’s spot on. Exactly what I’m dealing with right now,” the genius said. “Only I haven’t done anything to keep him at home. I have, however, obsessed over other matters.”

“Do tell. I love comparing notes.”

“Well, I recently became fixated on what my husband was getting me for Christmas. I went a little crazy and actually considered drugging him so that he’d tell me,” Moriarty confessed. “He was rightly appalled. It was an insane idea, even for me.” The Irishman paused, further reflecting on the incident. “When I say it out loud, it doesn’t make much sense. But at the time, in my mind, it seemed crystal clear,” he somberly stated. “It wasn’t about the item itself, not really. Rather, it had to do with the fact that I can barely focus on anything while these urges and worries flood my head. I wanted to regain a semblance of control in whatever way I could. Too bad all I did was fuck things up.”

“Jim,” the coordinator spoke, “you wouldn’t contemplate that again, would you?”

“Never. I’m ashamed to have entertained the thought in the first place.”

“Then I don’t believe you should beat yourself up over this. Yes, you acted in an irrational manner. But now you’re able to recognize how wrong it was, which is progress,” Trevor asserted. “Remember the analogy I made weeks ago, about the past, present, and future being like clay? That’s applicable to this situation.”

“How do you figure?”

“Because you made a mistake. It’s done— been sculpted and baked. But the good news is that going forward, you can learn from the error, so you won’t make it again. You’re free to mold something else entirely, untarnished by past transgressions.”    

Jim mulled over the man’s words. Trevor had a way of putting things into perspective, probably due to his training as a family therapist. He also had children of his own, meaning he’d likely gone through similar struggles in his personal life.     

“I’ll certainly try to shape a better future,” the mastermind affirmed. “There’s also another issue I wanted to address. It’s related to this.”

“Okay, go on.”

“In response to how I’ve been feeling, my mate offered to cut back on his hours at the office so that he could be at home with me on a more frequent basis.”

“Sounds great,” Jack quipped. “What’s to discuss?” 

“It’s complicated. He was meant to take over for me while I’m on paternity leave. If there are substantial periods where neither of us are at headquarters, I’m afraid my enterprise will suffer for it.”

“Pardon me,” a group member, Scott, interjected. “Is this the same business you told us you were thinking about retiring from a few weeks ago?”

“Yes, why?”

“Because if you’re seriously planning to retire, I don’t see why it matters if your enterprise suffers or not. You’ll be leaving regardless of its status.”

“I haven’t decided to retire just yet. It’s one possibility, not a guarantee.”

“In any case,” Jack proclaimed, “when an alpha makes an offer like that, you don’t say no.”

“I agree,” someone else chimed in. “It’s an expectant omega’s dream. You can’t just throw it away.”

“I think Jim should be allowed to make his own choices,” Simon countered. “There’s nothing wrong with wanting to maintain one’s business interests.”

“Maybe having his husband at home is worth the risk.”

“Could be, but it’s his decision, not ours.”

“Hey, he asked for advice, so we’re giving it.”

The chatter went back and forth, with people arguing amongst themselves. Jim hadn’t intended to set the room abuzz— he was merely seeking to vent his frustrations and glean some outside opinions.  

The cacophony of voices was suddenly silenced by the cries of Jack’s son. All the noise had woken him up with a fright.

“It’s okay, honey,” he reassured the wailing tot, rocking him slightly. “Mummy’s group just got a little loud. Nothing to be scared of.”

Everyone’s faces hung heavy with shame. None of them wanted to upset the wee lad, but they’d allowed themselves to get out of hand and it happened anyway.

“Jack, I’m sorry for this,” Trevor apologized. “I should’ve quieted the group down as soon as they started talking over each other. I take full responsibility for not stepping in ASAP.”

“It’s fine,” he replied. “Reggie will be okay. He was simply a bit startled. Isn’t that right, love?”

There was a brief pause as the toddler settled down. He sniffled and stared wide-eyed at the small assembly of men.

“I otay. Nuh scawwed. Weggie bwave.”

Jim could swear his heart grew three sizes in that moment. And actually, the sentiment seemed universal. The whole room began to smile, collectively overtaken by baby-induced joy. Perhaps that was precisely what they needed.

*********

The mid-meeting break commenced and store-bought cookies were set out for all to enjoy. Again, the consulting criminal lamented not being able to bake homemade treats. He knew he could come up with something far tastier than any mass-produced product. Before the holiday season was through, maybe he would attempt one last baking effort to knock their socks off.

For now, Jim had more important things to do. Talking to Ian was at the top of the list.

Moriarty rolled himself towards the teen, who was standing near the refreshments table nibbling a tree-shaped sugar cookie.  

“Hiiiiii. How are the treats tonight?” As if he had to ask. Sometimes, he just liked hearing people say that his baked goods were better.

“Not bad, but they don’t hold a candle to yours.”

“Unsurprising,” the genius remarked, before segueing into the real reason he’d approached his quasi-protégé. “Ian, I’d like to speak to you about a personal matter. We may want to take a stroll for this conversation.”

The young man nodded, finishing his cookie and then wheeling Jim out the door and down the hall. He sought to put distance between them and the rest of the group.

“What’s up?”

“I thought you might be relieved to know that Luke isn’t going to bother you anymore.”

“Really, Jim? That’s great,” he exclaimed. “But how can you be sure?”

“Let’s just say my second-in-command paid him a visit.”

“Wonderful.” He paused, turning Moriarty’s words over in his mind. “Jim?”

“Yeah?”

“I don’t know the etiquette for asking a question like this, so I’ll be blunt. Did you have Luke killed?”

“I wanted to at first, but then I got a better idea.”

“Oh?”

The older man flashed an impish grin. “I sent Seb to tease him a bit, and then give him a pummeling he wouldn’t soon forget. He managed rupture one of the bastard’s testicles,” Jim cheerfully reported.

“Wow, that’s impressive…and rather terrifying, too.”

“An excellent way to describe my Tiger.” Sebastian often did brilliant but brutal work. It was one of the things that made him fall in love with the sniper all those years ago.

“So long as it worked, I won’t complain.”

“Well, there’s mooooore.” Moriarty dug into his pocket and pulled out a key, handing it to the boy.

“What’s this?”

“The key to a P.O. box where Luke will be forwarding you money every month for the next 18 years.”

Ian paled in astonishment. “Are you serious?”

“Very. Consider it a form of restitution.”

“This is incredible. I don’t know how to begin to thank you.”

“It’s quite simple. Thank me by using the funds wisely. Start a fund for your child’s education. Make sure he or she is well-provided for. Don’t forget to be good to yourself, as well.”

The teen nodded. “I will. You won’t be disappointed. That’s a promise.”

“I know, Ian. I trust you.” In his lifetime, the number of people Jim genuinely believed in could be counted on one hand. Somehow, this unfortunate youth had found a rare foothold within the recesses of his dark heart. It was almost enough to make one wonder if Christmas miracles really did occur.   

Chapter Text

The irrepressible spirit of Christmas had taken hold throughout Moriarty’s headquarters, and it was funny how it came about. Recently, Sebastian snapped a photo of the newly installed flooring in the lobby and sent it to Jim. The mastermind replied back, incensed. He didn’t have a problem with the tile job, but rather with the office’s total lack of yuletide flair. He demanded that the place be given a “merry” makeover. This included erecting a fully decorated tree near the entrance of the building, stringing twinkle lights and garland along the walls and doorways, and piping holiday music through the loudspeakers. These measures actually seemed to have a positive effect— most employees did appear cheerier than usual.

It didn’t end there. Jim also insisted that all personnel be gifted with lavish fruit baskets. Naturally, the endeavor cost a pretty penny. He’d settle for nothing less than the finest produce available, even if it meant importing from international sources. Ultimately, the Irishman found what he was looking for, and now it was a matter of waiting for the shipment to arrive. Seb tasked Ian with keeping an eye on mail deliveries. When the packages came in, he was to notify Moran immediately.

The sniper stood up from his desk and walked to the door. It was open just a crack, so that he could peek out and glimpse the main floor staff. Ordinarily, he wouldn’t watch them in secret like this, but today he had his reasons. Annie was conspicuously missing. She’d not given prior notice of her absence, and perhaps more worryingly, Seb discovered that the tracker he’d planted on her van had been deactivated. Were these two developments related? At this point, it almost felt foolish to pretend otherwise.

I know you’re up to something, Annie. The question is, what? It was the uncertainty that set him on edge. That, and the woman’s utterly ambiguous motivation. Why would she be in league with Colin? He understood the madman’s pursuit of revenge, but what stake did Annie have in this? Was she romantically involved with him and he convinced her to help? Was she a stranger, recruited at random? Or was the connection something else entirely? There were so many questions begging to be answered.

Seb supposed that tomorrow night would be quite a learning experience. He and Jim’s Christmas party was scheduled to commence, and with it, the genius’s interrogation plot would be underway. He hoped they’d finally learn just what the hell was going on. No more vagary and conjecture— he wanted straight up truth. Was that too much to ask?

Moran sighed. He couldn’t wait to be done with all of this. Couldn’t wait for the stalking and conspiracy to end. For his family to be safe and sound, free from the threat of harm. Lifelong security was a crapshoot considering his line of work, but the former colonel dared to dream.

*********

BZZ.

The door buzzed, permitting Annie entry into Colin Taylor’s room at Bethlem Royal Hospital. Or rather, ‘Emily Grant’ was allowed in. The crafty blonde was passing herself off as an assistant to Taylor’s attorney. The ruse went over with surprising ease, perhaps a testament to how short-staffed the facility currently was. As the holidays approached, many had elected to use their vacation time, leaving the psychiatric unit with a barebones crew.

The door shut behind Annie, and Colin glanced up from the book he was reading. His eyes widened in shock at the sight of her.

“What are you doing here?”

“Visiting you.”

“Obviously. I mean how did you get clearance to be let in?”

She smiled wickedly. “Oh, that. It was simple. First, I phoned ahead to inform the receptionist that an ‘aide’ to your legal counsel would be dropping by. Then I dressed up in my most professional attire, drove here, sauntered up to the lady at the desk, told her I was ‘Emily Grant’— the person sent on your lawyer’s behalf— and voila! She buzzed me through.”

“That’s all it took?” he uttered in disbelief. “They didn’t insist you show them some form of ID or credentials?”

“Nope. There’s hardly anyone on duty out there. The few people they’ve got are too busy picking up slack to ask questions.”

Colin snorted derisively. “A superb system for maintaining patient care. I’m beginning to understand why they call it ‘Bedlam.’”

“Hey, be grateful they’re operating at a minimum right now. I probably wouldn’t have been able to pull this off otherwise.”

“True.” The wheels in the deranged man’s brain began to turn. He was formulating an idea.

“I know that look,” Annie remarked. “What are you plotting?”

“Well, you say security is lax at the moment. Maybe we should take full advantage.”

“You mean…” It quickly dawned on her what he was suggesting.

“I think the time is right to get me out of here.”

“But your trial—”

“Has been postponed pending review of the evidence, and it’s going at a snail’s pace,” he stated. “You’re the one who was pushing for me to get out. Claimed you couldn’t execute the endgame without me. Was that merely lip service, Annelise?”

“No, I meant it. This is just very sudden.”

“Best to strike while opportunity presents itself.”

Annie nodded. “How fast can you come up with a plan? I’m leaving the country in a few days to spend Jul with my parents.”

His expression lit up as soon as she told him that. “Perfect. Give me a day or two to work on Katie,” he said, referring to the nursing assistant he’d charmed early on in his stay. “I’m sure I can sweet talk her into helping me sneak out of this room. From there, I'll make my own way out of the building, and you'll be waiting nearby with your van,” Colin continued. “Then we’ll go to the airport, buy me an extra ticket so that I can fly with you, and I’ll regroup at your parents’ house. You know they’ll let me stay with them.”     

“Yes…yes, they would,” she spoke slowly, processing everything. It was a lot to take in.

“Excellent. Now that that’s settled, what did you originally come here for?”

“I wanted to give you a gift before I left,” Annie replied, “and also keep you in the loop about what’s happening with Moran.”

“Gift first, news second,” he declared.

“Okay.” She opened the briefcase she’d brought along with her, taking out a wrapped box and setting it in front of him.

The man haphazardly tore through the paper and lifted the lid from the package. Inside was a snow globe depicting an ornately decorated building and fountain. It only took a second for him to recognize the locale.

“The Nimb Hotel at Tivoli,” he said in a voice barely above a whisper.

“I had a feeling you’d remember the place.”

“How could I forget?”

A silence came over them as they both thought back to happier times.

Finally, Colin was the one to speak up. “You mentioned you had an update on Moran?”

“Yes. I recently discovered that a tracking device was planted on my vehicle. It’s since been destroyed, but I’m still angry about it. Though I can’t prove Sebastian put it there, I strongly suspect it was him.”

“Sounds like something he would do. Always thinking he’s so fucking clever.”

“There’s more,” Annie reported. “Jim and Sebastian are throwing a Christmas party at their house tomorrow night. I didn’t tell you about it during our last phone call because I hadn’t planned to attend. But now, after this tracker bullshit, I’m going. Wild horses couldn’t stop me.”

“An invitation like that offers a wealth of possibilities.”

She flashed a sly smile. “Oh, I know it does. With inside access, I could do a whole lot of damage.”

“You certainly could,” Colin agreed. “On the other hand…” He paused, suddenly second-guessing himself. “If Moran was responsible for the tracker, it means he’s on to you. He may not know the specifics of what you’re involved in, but he must believe something’s up.”

Annie peered at him contemplatively. “So you don’t think I should go?”

“I didn’t say that,” he quickly clarified. “What I’m suggesting is that you be prepared.”

“For what, exactly?”

“Anything.”

“Hmm.” It was good advice. She’d be a sitting duck without some form of protection. “I already carry pepper spray in my purse,” the woman noted. “I’ve got a Glock 43 in my nightstand that I could also bring. It’s small enough to conceal.”

“That’s more like it,” Colin approved. “But only use it if absolutely necessary. I don’t want either of them dead yet.”

She glared at him, somewhat offended. “You think I’d throw everything away just to shoot those bastards at a lousy Christmas party? Never.”   

“I’m simply making sure we’re on the same page. It would be a shame to have our plans unravel now. This is the home stretch. Or it will be, soon.”

The blonde closed her eyes and took a deep breath, picturing the near future so clearly in her head.

“Do you see it, Annelise?”

“I do,” she affirmed, “and it’s magnificent.”

Chapter Text

“A little to the left, dear.”

“Here?” Sebastian asked as he hefted their couch in the specified direction.

“No,” Jim answered, sounding annoyed. “Not your left. My left.”  

Seb gruntingly corrected his mistake. “How’s that?” 

“Better, but it could stand to be over just a smidge more.”

Again, he obliged. “Now?”

Moriarty peered at the newly positioned sofa and grinned. “Perrrrrfect.” He rose from his wheelchair and gingerly maneuvered towards his mate. “Thank you for moving the furniture, darling. It’s really opened up the floor space. This will be much more accommodating for our guests.”

The sniper absently nodded, distracted by the fact that Jim winced with every step. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine, why?”

“Because you look like you’re in pain.”

“Pain? That's nonsense.” His words were a denial, but the manner in which he held his back suggested otherwise.

“There’s no need to hide it, honey.”

“No need to burden you, either.”

“It’s not a burden. I’m your alpha. Let me take care of you.”

Moran reached out, embracing the smaller man in his arms.

Jim hummed softly, enjoying the feel of Seb’s warm body pressed close to his own. It was a comforting sensation, the kind he hated to pull away from. But…

“We shouldn’t be doing this, Tiger.”

“Why not?”

“Because I won’t want you to stop.”

The former colonel smiled. “How is that a bad thing? I’d hold you all day if you let me. Hell, on some occasions, I have.”

“I must remain in party mode. Tomorrow you can care for me, but tonight, I’m to act as host.”     

Seb began to rub small, soothing circles against his husband’s aching back. “Perhaps we ought to call off the whole affair and spend a quiet evening together instead. We could soak in a bubble bath, eat catering for dinner, cozy up and watch movies…maybe even turn our bed into a makeshift nest, with lots of snug blankets and cushiony pillows. Doesn’t that sound divine?” 

Moriarty let out an involuntary coo of contentment. His partner had played the ‘nesting’ card— a difficult proposition for any pregnant omega to resist.

“Oh Sebby, you’ve no idea how much I’d like to take you up on that offer.”

“So do it.”

“You know we can’t cancel this party. We have a plan to follow,” the Irishman insisted. “I thought you were on board for us gathering information. Why the change of heart?”

“I’m still game to get intel, I just…”

“What?”

“Nothing,” Moran muttered, forlornly releasing Jim from his embrace.

“No. Tell me, dammit.”

“You might laugh.”

“Try me and find out.”

The blonde sighed, realizing there was no use holding back his thoughts. When Moriarty wanted an answer, he’d be relentless until he got it.

“Fair enough. The reason I’m apprehensive is because this doesn’t feel right.”

Jim’s face scrunched up in confusion. “How do you mean?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know. I just have this sense that something bad is going to happen. Call it a gut instinct.”

The consulting criminal was silent, not wanting to reveal how anxious Seb’s statement made him. These days, he dealt with dread on a near-constant basis. It was only through his mate’s protection that he had peace of m