Emerald blood gushed under Watson's knives. The monster Holmes had been observing - and worse, accompanying, tempting - fell to the floor. It should have been a moment of satisfaction, of a plot well-executed and brought to its conclusion. A moment of justice, for there was no other retribution that could touch one of that blood, never mind the perversions he enjoyed, the minds and bodies that were mutilated for his pleasure. Perhaps a moment of relief, too, since Franz Drago could have sucked the life and the soul from both Holmes and Watson as easily as he could have from the innocent maiden he'd been promised. He would have, no doubt, had he grasped the danger he lay in, and reached for that weapon only those of the monstrous royal blood possessed. Instead, he had fallen in the very moment of surprise.
It had gone well, today. Flawlessly. But Sherlock Holmes's mind was not on Prince Franz Drago. It was on the mantel, where he would knock out his pipe, later. After Watson had completed his efforts.
Holmes was leaning against the wall, making no effort to avoid leaving traces behind. In fact, he was going to some trouble to leave clear footprints on a less tread-upon part of the floor.
He let his eyes drift around the room, taking in the faint footsteps from three sets of boots, and he smiled as he considered the mud Franz Drago and he had tracked inside, identical to the one on the boot-scraper, in comparison to what Watson's feet had deposited on the floor, in particular in that spot behind the door. Holmes had not yet spent enough time in London to identify the sources of the different types of mud, but to the right kind of mind, their message was clear.
Beyond that, there was less tangible but no less important evidence, such as the establishments Franz Drago had visited - among them, prominently and repeatedly, a certain theatre in Drury Lane.
As Watson cut into Franz Drago's body and began to examine it, trying to learn more about the blood royal and any vulnerabilities they might, after all, possess, Holmes stepped forward and bent to fill and pocket a vial of the revolting green ichor, already looking forward to studying it under a microscope later. He dipped a hand into the it, rubbing it between his fingers. Interesting. Its consistency when fresh was much like human blood, though the smell was nothing alike.
Holmes straightened and with emerald-stained fingers painted letters on the wall. RACHE, a telling word to those in the know, though he doubted the police would know to make anything of it.
It was a remarkable crime scene, and any detective worth his salt would be drawn to it. But to a mind that had specialised in deductive reasoning, it must be irresistible. The footprints, the ash, the mud, the message, the dead body itself - to that mind, all obviously pointed in one direction.
And for once, that direction was true. Holmes had made no effort to disguise it, or to misdirect the man who would follow it.
Holmes smiled to himself as he wiped his fingers clean on a kerchief. He, who had spent years making certain nothing was left behind anywhere he passed in his efforts at fighting those who would call themselves gods - he, of all people, was leaving traces behind, deliberately, to be found by the right mind.
James Moriarty's mind.
If Moriarty was who Holmes thought he was - and Holmes was as certain as it was possible to be - he would follow exactly the path Holmes had laid out for him. He could not do otherwise.
Though was there even doubt that he would have traced this killing to its origin, regardless of what was left in this room? Franz Drago's visits to Drury Lane alone would have been enough. This was safer, in the end, was it not? Moriarty would not yet suspect an opponent more wily than he should be, with all that evidence left easily around. It would make him careless.
And yes, admittedly, Holmes did want to meet the man in person, after all. In fact, he was rather looking forward to the prospect.
Two years ago, Holmes had had the singular pleasure of corresponding with Moriarty, for some brief time. A monograph had fallen into his hands, and surprised him with its insights. Then, it had been Holmes who had not been able to resist. He had poked and prodded at the mind behind the written word, trying to find its flaws. Prepared to find that Moriarty was, in the end, merely another man knowledgeable and perhaps wise in one area of expertise, but otherwise as common as any other. He had found no such thing.
Moriarty was many things, but common was not among them.
Holmes resumed his leaning against the wall, watching Watson as he continued his work, his fingers blindly filling his pipe, then lighting it. He had not told his friend of Moriarty.
Soon, Watson would find out. Moriarty would come, and Watson and Holmes would have to vanish once more, as they'd done before. Sherry Vernet would soon have played his last role.
Watson might miss it - the steadiness of their time with the Strand Players, as well as writing plays for their performances, which he'd found an unexpected pleasure in, despite the decidedly unworthy subject matter. Some of it was objectionable on principle, purporting to worship monsters further from godliness than any other living thing, while the rest was merely simpering nonsense. In either case, it was exactly what Watson had set out to produce. Holmes could only applaud his success. For a man not skilled at lying in general, Watson's ability to alter his apparent beliefs for the purpose of a play had proven as great as any actor's at making up a theatrical disguise.
Holmes would miss the company, too. For one, it had afforded him some measure of a life. Sherry Vernet had been permitted habits, such as a favourite blend of tobacco - the comforts of a life not lived entirely in hiding. Sherlock Holmes, once he left Sherry Vernet behind, would have no such luxury. It was a loss, of sorts. But paradoxically, Holmes was looking forward to it all the same.
Surely Watson would forgive him. Would he not?
They had been colleagues and partners, steadfast companions in their hard work for the Restorationist cause, for many years now. And yet Holmes had not found it within himself to speak of this - to speak of Moriarty - in advance, to let his friend know what was coming. He was not accustomed to speaking of such things.
If Watson did not forgive him, that would be difficult to bear.
While Watson still worked, face furrowed in concentration, Holmes began to pace the room, puffing on his pipe. He could almost hear Watson's voice, pointedly asking, Do you wish him to hunt us?
He might; that was the problem. That was what he could not explain to Watson. Holmes's abhorrence for the society Moriarty's work was upholding was considerable. But Watson would not be entirely wrong to fear that it might at times be lost in Holmes's admiration of Moriarty's skill.
Holmes looked toward the window, but of course it had been shuttered for the night, and he found no view. He turned away with a grimace, and gazed into the fireplace instead. He would not risk his life's work, and Watson's, and countless others'. But he could not deny that he felt the temptation.
It was not a game. None of this was a game. And yet ...
Holmes and Watson had travelled a great deal, these last years, but never had he encountered a mind like Moriarty's. Not anywhere, not since -
His mind turned away from the memory of his unfortunate brother, whose brilliant mind had seen the crowned heads of Europe, and the rest of their kind, for what they truly were. Who had acted on that knowledge, fuelling anarchist risings all over the continent, but still had not been brilliant enough to escape retribution in the end.
Like his brother had, Moriarty, too, reminded Holmes that he was not unique. Not altogether alone in his way of thinking, in his view of the world. Capable - though Holmes would never speak that thought aloud - of being understood. And Moriarty's mind was more closely a match for Holmes's own than even Mycroft's had been.
Even two years ago, Holmes had been tempted. But he had known better than to let Moriarty know of his existence. Holmes's chosen cause, his convictions, forbade it. If he - if the Restorationist cause - was to make any progress in the struggle against the monsters from the pit, he could not allow himself the personal indulgence of being known. Of meeting anyone, but particularly this man, openly, mind to mind. He would have liked to live in a world where he could have, but he did not.
Now, though - now, it served a purpose. Now, he could afford to.
The greatest danger, when it came to Moriarty, would be to ignore him. There was a French detective Holmes had been corresponding with, under an alias of course, who had recently received valuable assistance from Moriarty and was in turn praising him to all who would listen. There were others. Moriarty was becoming known. He had been taking clients from all over the continent lately, and he might well come across Watson's and Holmes's work on his own, find them unprepared.
Given Moriarty's skill, given Holmes's own, there could be no doubt that destruction was be inevitable, should they go against each other in earnest, as nothing but enemies. That risk, Holmes considered to be far greater than any danger from being known. He was determined to head it off.
To make of himself a temptation to Moriarty, as Moriarty had been to him.
He was rehearsing arguments, Holmes suddenly realised, and chuckled in wry amusement. Watson looked up from his grim work, a questioning look on his face, but Holmes merely shook his head. There would be time to offer those arguments to him later, and more.
Watson, no doubt, would accuse him of doing what Holmes often chastised in others: using reason to justify the choices he wished to make, rather than following reason's own path to the choice most reasonable to make. He might even be correct.
It was why Holmes had not spoken before, and was not speaking now.
Holmes knew well that he was not beyond being mistaken. Norbury came to mind, where he'd suspected something awful and inhuman, and had found only the most human and harmless secret of all: a small, innocent child and a mother who would not abandon her. Or, for a more dangerous turn, the events in Bruges, which had nearly cost Watson his life, and Holmes his sanity.
Watson finally finished his examination, and wiped his knives before packing them. Holmes tapped out his pipe on the mantel. The stage was set. The play was about to begin.
And soon after that, they would be in unwritten territory, where even Holmes could only hope he had not chosen the wrong path. And he did hope, dearly: for Moriarty's sake and his own; for Watson's; and for the sake of the world.