Think. How could you have missed this? Surely there were signs. No one could go without a mistake for that long. There’s always a flaw. There’s always a tell.
Relax. Breathe in. Breathe out. Close your eyes. How did this start? Where were the clues? How were they missed? Open your eyes. Nothing’s changed.
Stop now. Hands to the sides. Raise your chest. Let it fall. Rhythmic movement. Didn’t you see any of this? The clues, there’s always a clue. There is no flawless performance.
John Watson was informed by Mike Stamford about you, strange you, looking for a flatmate you. Attended medical school together, lost touch while John Watson was in the army, reconnected by chance once he was discharged, and was informed you were looking for a flatmate.
By chance? No, nothing’s by chance except cards and dying in battle. But nothing else is by chance.
“I know you don’t believe in this, Sherlock. You’ve never believed in coincidences, even when they’re staring you in the face.”
He’s reading your mind. How? No. Mind reading is what ordinary people accuse the more intelligent, the more observant of doing. Body language. Situation processing. He is intelligent, you both are. A man unmasks himself, the other is caught off-guard. It is only too obvious what could run through the startled man’s mind.
“This right here is not coincidence. This was my design. Us meeting was chance. Not even I had planned that. And it was,” There’s that smile, there’s that line of teeth, and a step forward with the familiar shifting of body weight from one foot to the next, “such a wonderful, beautiful coincidence.”
But it’s all wrong, the smile is all wrong, the movement of a body you’ve come into close contact with on so many occasions, have wrapped yourself in only a sheet, nearly exposed yourself before him. You know him, but not him, not right now. This is all wrong.
“You might even call it fate.” Another step, so sure footed as when he was walking through Baskerville. “But to call it that, you have to believe in God, and you worship yourself.” A tongue now swiped his bottom lip, tasting the air. “And me.”
There’s a retort laying behind your lips, your parted lips, like he’s been gently pushing your stomach, forcing air out through your parted lips. They’ve gone dry. You’d like to wet them. You know whose tongue you would have liked to use, but that thought, that quick and naive thought is abandoned, and with that thought goes your resolve and your fight. Your response is never spoken, but you close your mouth to keep any others from whispering out.
“What’s wrong, Sherlock.” His tongue around the l, the way he clucks the end, he’s tsking, scolding you. That smile, it’s white bone and so straight and hollow, it’s tearing chunks out of your flesh as he speaks, as his lips pull back and curl and he smiles. “You always have the last word. You’re always the one with the right answers.”
Those steps forward, they have so much fluidity, a sway, grace and poise, regal that puts Mycroft to shame. Who is this man here? What has he done with the one you know? Instinct pulls you backwards, one step, one movement: lean, right foot backwards swing, toes touch cinderblock, ball, arch, heel rest down in the space of an intake of breath. Mistake.
One shot, bullet flies by an inch from your left ear, he’s still smiling. No, no. That’s a smirk. Now it’s a smirk. Now he is satisfied with a reaction, and now he is getting what he wants.
“Do I frighten you, Sherlock? Are you scared?” Name repetition. Is he mimicking your repeated uses of John, John, John? He sounds as though he’s enjoying it, lingering on syllables, his lips rounding around the vowels as they come out, caressed in a way that repels you, because it’s still in the same, familiar voice that’s heaped praise and adoration on you before, that broke over your grave when he cried (did he cry?) and it’s what you’ve always wanted to hear, though not like this, but you’re taking it all the same. You’re enjoying the sound of your name in that man’s mouth.
“Bet you never thought it would be like this. But I rather like how it’s turned out.” Blue eyes aren’t empty, they’re full as usual, emotion, pleasure, sadistic glee, no sympathy or compassion there. But they’re still full and they’re still the most hollow blue eyes you’ve seen, pale in a way that leaves you cold and feeling sliced of skin, parts of you cut off for this man’s lunch meat. “It’s made the game more...fun.”
Game. Process. Game. Definition. A form of play or sport, esp. a competitive one played according to rules and decided by skill, strength, or luck. No luck, no strength here. Skill. You were playing on skill.
Playing? You were playing? What were you doing? You’re too old to play pretend. He doesn’t play pretend. You don’t play pretend. You never played pretend. You hated pretend. It wasn’t real. You hate illusions. Your comfort is facts. You wrap yourself in reality.
Or was that a bedsheet in the Buckingham Palace? When you both sat on a couch and giggled because you weren’t wearing pants and John had looked to check. And before that when John arrived, you shrugged to each other and communicated without words because all you needed was to look at each other’s body and read it and know because you know each other. You knew him.
But that was pretend.
You wet your lips. You are left on your own to wet your lips. You are left on your own to get your words out, your thoughts made manifest, because he was certainly not helping, leaving you helpless, a vulnerable little child.
“Moriarty?” How can your voice be so steady? How can you sound so calm and bored? You’re always bored. You’ve heard other mothers warn their children their faces will get stuck in one expression if they make it too often. Absurd. But you are bored, always bored. Are you stuck now in boredom because you fall into it so often? You’re doomed now to sound disinterested, unenthused with him and this conversation and the gun he’s holding and pointing and aiming at your heart (you don’t have a heart, it was there, now it’s gone). John, calm John, steady John, ordinary John who was never extraordinary in any imaginable way except that he was likeable and liked most people, you included. He is not ordinary is he? He is most extraordinary, so that you cannot take your eyes off him, though it may be more that you’re shell shocked (you’re not a soldier, John is, it’s not shell shock, not anymore, hasn’t been since World War I, trauma, life in the trenches, no more honor in battle, no honor in fighting, no honor in death, it’s a privilege to die there and not go home to see ordinary people and their ordinary lives and the ordinary routines and all the ordinariness), PTSD (you’re not post this yet, you’re still in the middle of it).
“Moriarty was real.” He is mocking you now. His voice is sincere as he says that. How can he sound so sincere? “Richard Brook wasn’t real, but Moriarty was.” Just the right amount of stress on those words, his body leaning into it, and it all clicks for you.
“A hired actor...” Your voice is so strong. How long can it stay so strong?
“It’s really quite easy to change a name, especially when the actor gets absolutely no attention at all.” He is shrugging the way John shrugs, the turndown of the corners of his lips as he shows his indifference. “And people are so stupid. They think they got his name wrong. Or they mixed him up with someone else.” He’s walking forward. Why is he doing that? Why is he calling people stupid? That’s your line. “It was all so easy. And you’re just so fun to watch when you run around, trying to find me. Sherlock.”
You shake your head, but it’s not a shake, more of a jerking motion, too close to a spasm of the neck to pass for a fluid side to side sweep. Besides, you’re not disagreeing with what he’s saying (don’t lie; yes you are), you’re clearing your head in the fastest method possible, all other methods unavailable to you at the moment, no time to sit quietly, fingers steepled in prayer of having a breakthrough in your thoughts, no violin to stroke and pet and coax a tune out that will focus you. You’ve never been able to focus well with John in front of you, never been able to clear your mind of the clutter of the scent of his aftershave and the cool feel of the glances he throws at you, waiting for you to come to your brilliant conclusion.
“But now you’re dead, or you’re supposed to be, and so is Jim. I’ve moved on, my therapist says I’m doing better.” He’s invading your personal space now, he is the one that stands three inches from you, so close your breath is exchanged. The gun in his hand pokes up into your stomach. “For you to come back would devastate me, and I know you want the best for me. You care about me. I’m your friend.”
It takes another minute for another lick to wet your lips. Your voice is lower now. “John...it wasn’t real.” You’re staring down. He’s staring up. He is in control. You have to remind yourself how to breathe.
Inhale. Draw him in. There’s his breath. Focus on that bone smile. Relax. Your arms are out. You bring them around. You wrap him up.
Exhale. Your shirt strains. He will cut you loose. The gun clicks. It nuzzles your navel. You’ll be leaving here. You cannot take him with you. You hope he will follow.
“Sorry, Sherlock.” His voice is a whisper. It is still the John you know. “It was just a game.”