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Tea Culture

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The first time Mycroft Holmes meets Jim Moriarty, he brings him a cup of tea and a biscuit.

It’s Jim’s fifth day trapped between four walls of cement and if it’s affecting him he doesn’t show it. Mycroft had spent that morning staring through the one-way glass with sharp-eyed scrutiny at the figure slumped in the centre of the room, and had known that today is the day. This is the day everything changes.

Their prisoner is very popular. In fact there’s been a specific timetable drawn up for all those who want an hour or two in his cell: torturers, negotiators, big men and small. None of them elicit any kind of reaction. Not even the faintest movement.

But when Mycroft shoulders the door open and steps into the room the body wasting away in front of him gives an almost involuntary jerk, like a puppet on a string. The bloodless eyelids open. Cracked and peeling lips stretch and split, shaping themselves into a raw smile.

”Oh,” the little man breathes, lizard-like eyes bulging out of their skeletal sockets as he takes in Mycroft Holmes, styrofoam cup in one hand and an almost stale rich tea in the other, crumbs catching on the lapels of a pristine blue suit fresh from the dry cleaner’s. “I didn’t expect to see you for another month or two. At least.”

Mycroft hums a few broken notes of Rossini as he places both the tea and the biscuit in the middle of the table between them and makes himself comfortable in the only other chair in the room.

It is his first real look at James Moriarty, Consulting Criminal, in close quarters, and what he sees is not that impressive. And yet that is precisely why it is impressive. On the face of it, this man is just like all the other businessmen that stalk London’s streets. Unwashed as he is, stripped down to a bloodstained undershirt and suit trousers, he looks positively harmless.

That is what Mycroft observes, but he is not fooled. To underestimate Jim Moriarty would prove fatal. He should know. He’s made that mistake once already.

“I noted your refusal to consume anything the others put in front of you. No doubt even you require sustenance at this point.” Jim is already reaching for the styrofoam, the bloody skin where his fingernails used to be blanching as he tries to get a decent grip on it. “I can’t promise you it isn’t poisoned.”

There’s no hesitancy. Jim throws his head back and downs the tea in three gulps even as his throat burns from the piping hot liquid. He takes the biscuit and halves it neatly, devouring one half messily while pushing the other across the no man’s land between them.

Not a peace offering. Mycroft knows exactly what it is. An opportunity. Almost dutifully he reaches for the remaining half, utterly unsurprised when Jim’s hand lashes out back across the table and attaches itself to his own.

“Hello, Ice Man,” Jim hisses at him under his breath, and Mycroft half-expects to see a forked tongue flicker as he speaks.

“Hello, you.”

The air in the cell is stale and Jim’s fingertips are bloody and freezing. They curl against his palm and Mycroft doesn’t feel the need to resist. Outside, in the big bad world, Jim may be many things. He may own everything and everyone, but in a box of concrete he is just a man.

“You received my message?”

“Of course.” Mycroft’s phone is pressed against his chest, secreted away in the inside pocket of his overcoat. He couldn’t miss the vibration of each and every one of Jim’s messages as they came through.

There have been a lot of messages.

“And the cameras, they’re switched off?” Jim’s eyes are darting around the cell now, lightning quick where before they would stare blankly straight ahead, dead to the world.


“Microphones too?”

Mycroft sighs heavily. This is exhausting. “What reason would I have to keep surveillance running? Other than have myself thrown into prison for betraying my country.”

Jim makes a noise in his throat as if he doesn’t quite believe him. “You forget. It’s my country, too.”

“True,” Mycroft nods in assent, “But I’m not so willing to watch it burn.”

Jim’s laughter cuts through the lie and the stale air entirely too loudly, at a shrieking pitch. “Is that what you tell all the girls?”

Jim’s fingers are making their way up his wrist now, slipping up his sleeve and along his arm, gauging his pulse just as Mycroft is doing to him. Jim’s is too quick. Mycroft knows his own is perfectly steady.

He casts his gaze about the room, at the words carved into the walls with the fingernails Jim once had the pleasure of owning, and then perseverence, and finally simple brute force. “You have been sniffing about my brother for far too long.”


“Perhaps. Are you?”

Jim shrieks with laughter again and his head oscillates from side to side, lines gathering around the corners of his eyes. “Oh, darling. Deeply.

Mycroft’s free hand delves into his overcoat and retrieves his phone. Jim watches unblinking as he scrolls through the messages in his inbox. There are hundreds, but Jim knows exactly which one he pauses at, his thumb hovering for a moment before selecting it and giving it a cursory read over.

He sets that on the table too, between them. “Yes. I think we can come to an arrangement, of sorts.”

“Ooh, you’d like that wouldn’t you?”

There is something not quite right about this. Mycroft is suddenly reminded of his younger brother ten years ago, so starved for distraction that he would rather destroy himself than grow bored. He sees that in Jim now, and to his utter disgust he feels himself begin to melt. He leans forward and clasps the hand that has now slipped from his wrist between his own.

“My dear Jim,” he says quietly, “You must stop this. It has been glorious to watch you, but this is where it ends.”

There is no sound to distract them in the cell. Nothing at all. Mycroft could put his hands around the other man’s neck and squeeze the life out of him, and no one would know. The only consulting criminal the world has ever seen would die miles underground, and no one would notice.

“Soon,” Jim replies. The excitement of the game is stirring in him once more, setting his pulse racing and his too-lean frame twitching, “Just one more game, Mr Holmes. One more. The last. Then it ends.”

Mycroft knows then that he has lost him.

“I’ll tell you everything.”