Summary: He prefers not to think of them—of Rache—as anything less than paranormal. He’ll take the letter out on dark evenings, when the wind’s lashing against the windows, and he’ll read the carefully penciled words.
Notes: Fusion with A Study in Emerald. I spent a good long while devouring every ASID fusion I could get my hands on, before discovering that no one had written one from the original point of view. Tried my best to make it short, failed spectacularly-- as always.
Much thanks to littlegoogle for letting me hurl bits and pieces of this at her for what must've felt like ages. You own my heart, bb.
Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,
A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.
“Go on through, you’re expected.”
It’s a dark building, a dark evening, a dry summer, a wet year. A rainless storm mutters and grumbles outside; the sky is a churning sea.
He is pointed down a bare and gutted corridor, the pipes and wires all hanging out like the exposed entrails of a great, metal animal. At the end of the tunnel is an open door, through which Sebastian Moran walks with his head held high and his eyes unblinking.
He’s been warned about the man he is about to meet. Not with anything written in black and white, not with anything clear—but whispers, yes, peripheral things, penumbras.
The reality almost doesn’t live up.
“Come closer. Let me look at you.”
The two commands spring across the concrete floor, delivered in sharp and quick succession from a well-dressed bundle of pale-skinned, short-haired, cheeky little Irishman. He’s thin to the point of scrawny, white-lipped and waxy skinned, with a scrunched up face and a scrunched up smile and two shining eyes perched above a scrunched up nose.
“I’m sure,” he tells Sebastian, “that you’ve heard plenty about me beforehand.”
“Yes,” Sebastian says, stepping forward slowly.
The tiny little man removes one hand from its trouser pocket and scratches its nose. “You’re thinking,” it says. “Whatever about?”
“Nothing at all.”
The man’s head tilts, and he smiles. “Tsk—you can’t lie to me. I know everything about everyone. I know how the game is played.”
And? Sebastian’s mind murmurs, the thought skittering over the surface of his brain, a smooth pebble on clear water.
“I know how to read the rules.”
A sharp burst of lightning throws rigid, angular shadows all across the room, and for a moment, Sebastian sees a bitter coldness in the other man’s face, creophagous and predatory.
“Look up here.”
Sebastian snaps his eyes up, and stills his breathing.
“I’m James Moriarty,” says James Moriarty. “You want to work for me.”
“Yes,” Sebastian replies, hardening his mouth and gritting his teeth. Oh Gods yes.
It’s a lovely evening, now the rain’s stopped. On the way back to his hotel, Sebastian’s cab takes him past the Royal Palace, its shadows thrown across the street like long and agile tendrils. The sky is starless; his cabbie is morose; the moon is new.
“All hail the Queen,” the driver grumbles as they roll by. The Palace lights are dim, but the flag is raised, three blurry colors against the charcoal clouds. Stiff-backed guards follow the cab with their dark and human eyes.
“All hail the Queen,” says Sebastian, his breath fogging up the glass.
Moriarty insists that they room together, an odd request with a thousand excuses attached to it. I never know when I might need you. It’s safer this way. Surely you can’t pay for your own digs. Darling, are all army men such incurable prudes?
He didn’t expect the special treatment, not at all. Moriarty doesn’t do this with his other employees—Sebastian can only see it as some sort of domestication. He goes with the drift of things, however. Just for now, he tells himself.
Just for now, because no one else will have him.
Afghanistan was a raw and broken venture, all told. He treated it as his escape from home and expectations at first, like a game, or a fantastic escapade . As a kid he’d had the trees at the edge of town and the moldy corridors of that empty old building down the street and cartoons on Saturday. But when he was all grown up, and supposedly wiser, Sebastian was sucked to the desert and the caves and the darkness, and it changed him inside on a level human words can’t possibly describe.
He met the Things which curled there, in the pits which have never seen sunlight. He fought them, and in return They broke him, destroyed his career, muddled his thoughts.
For this, he will never forgive Them.
He tells Moriarty, “I scream in the night” the day he moves into 221b, and Moriarty’s immediate reply is a strangely accepting silence. He shrugs his shoulder, and tightens his fists within the confines of his trouser pockets, and daintily seats himself before the fire.
“I have no doubt I’ve heard worse,” he says, closing the matter for good.
He sees always sees when the dreaming is bad, his first few nights at Baker Street—blood crawling up the walls, blood oozing across the floor, blood sliding down from the ceiling. Or the water, and his own desperate shouts, the slimy grip of Their things on his flesh. And every dawn the same song, playing on loop within his head. The one which yawned out of the mouth of that beast in that cave, that hideous, ghastly buzzing, that cry of a thousand murdered men, that scream which surely stars scream when they die; departed souls and things broken beyond repair, every lost and bitter path.
Sebastian always wakes with his sheets soaked in sweat, James Moriarty’s knuckles dancing on the door.
It’s a nice day when they begin. The wet from the night before is wriggling up off the streets to coil into the air, the cars are buzzing, the sky is blue. They waltz out into the open air, Moriarty wearing his best smile, Sebastian following as they step up to the curb and into the backseat a waiting car.
He sits with his legs set apart, hands curled over his knees and clenched tightly to quell the trembling.
Moriarty, on the other hand, crosses his legs and laces his fingers together in a picture of poise. His gaze is fixed on the fast-flying-by city outside the car window.
“Where are we going?”
“Business,” Moriarty says, tapping his fingers lightly against each other.
“Is it important?”
“Very much so.”
“And you want me with you?” Sebastian’s mouth wraps, slow and measured, around the words. He stares to his left to find Moriarty staring back.
“Oh, yes,” he hums, hunger running rampant through his voice.
Sebastian is almost relieved when the car rolls to a halt and the driver leans back, arm looped around his seat. “Shoreditch,” he says.
Moriarty kicks the door open, and they step outside into the fine, sunny morning.
Detective Inspector Lestrade comes to the door to meet them with an expression that’s weary and worn smeared across his face.
“This is Sebastian,” Moriarty announces as they walk in, shoulders bumping. “He’s to be working with me.”
“We hadn’t agreed on this.” Lestrade blinks, deer in headlights. “He’s not cleared.”
“I’ve cleared him; that’s more than enough.” Moriarty buttons his jacket and smoothes out all the wrinkles. “Sebastian, Lestrade. Sometimes we call him le colère furet.”
Lestrade mutters a little, “Oh, for the love of…” under his breath, before gesturing loosely towards another room. “Mind your breakfasts, stiff’s in there.”
Moriarty arches an eyebrow, reaches behind him, and curls his fingers around Sebastian’s wrist. “I wouldn’t call it that,” is all he says, before walking off smoothly, Sebastian in tow.
“Let go,” he murmurs.
They step into a painting, all green, only green, nothing but green. Shades from emerald to puce to mushy peas. Sebastian stiffens in the doorway; Moriarty moves forward without him, hand slipping away to waft through the air in delight.
“A puzzle-box!” he says to the walls, walking quickly.
The body soon stands between them, gruesome and vile and bulbous, still pulsating with vestigial traces of life. Moriarty kneels and inspects the dissected carcass.
“I’m sure,” Sebastian notes from the door. He can hear the police behind him, low, muffled whispers of feet against dusty floor, a strange rhythm to the movements, not quite describable—
“His Royal Highness was lured here.”
Moriarty trails one pale and bony finger through the blood where it is at its darkest. In the background, Lestrade utters a pained, “Don’t touch that!,” which goes unheeded.
Sebastian watches his employer lift the finger to his lips and swipe his tongue over the blood-coated pad, his eyes closed and his expression languid. Moriarty tastes the gelatinous liquid slowly, rolls it around inside his mouth, savors it—then spits it out onto the hardwood floor.
“Whatever is Prince Franz Drago doing so far from home, I wonder?” he says. His smile is faintly green and altogether revolting.
“Visiting.” Lestrade doesn’t sound shocked in the slightest. He sidles over, brushes past Sebastian and into the room, and sets his hands firmly upon his hips. “You still busy licking the body, or can we move it?”
Moriarty flicks his tongue over his lips once, twice, before rising to his feet. “Done,” he says. He must be addressing the detective, he must be, but his gaze is fixed squarely on Sebastian’s face.
“Sir?” says Sebastian.
“How curious,” says Moriarty. He tilts his head to one side—“Move away, Seb, dear, you’re obscuring the view.”
Sebastian shifts, and turns, and reads.
says the wall. The blood still wet, still glistening against the plaster.
Moriarty works with quirky, erratic movements. He rakes his nails down the plaster, inhaling the dusty residue with gusto, flits about, limbs moving non stop in a blur of white skin and dark fabric.
Sebastian finds the word now, for the hush around him and the subtle, hidden thrums of conversation. It comes to him just as his employer turns back around and hisses, serpentine, “Oh I see,” and all the policemen can do is nod.
Later he follows Moriarty back out into the sunshine, the stench of the prince’s carcass clinging to him with a ghostly persistence. “What was that all about?” he asks, fresh air pouring into his lungs with each new breath.
“Oh, a game—it’s new, it’s inspired, even. Someone’s killing off the royal family, and they’re doing it so beautifully…”
Sebastian shudders, and Moriarty laughs. “Get used to the sight of them slaughtered,” he says, before lacing his fingers tightly around the crook of Sebastian’s arm and digging his nails deep into the fabric, until they’re raking the skin underneath.
“So you’re going to catch who’s doing this?” Sebastian grunts, resisting his urge to pull away.
“Of course I am,” says Moriarty, nodding serenely.
“Of course you are,” says Sebastian, who sees now that he works for a genius and a madman, all at once.
He gets taken to see the Queen that very evening. Moriarty makes an event out of it, even buys him a new suit and watches him try it on. “I can’t have her thinking I treat my lads badly, can I?” he sings as he glides his hands over Sebastian’s shoulders, smoothening out the wrinkles. “Now there’s a pretty picture.”
Sebastian stares into the mirror and finds a paltry shell of himself looking back.
“What do you think,” Moriarty is saying, “The blue tie or the gray?”
“You’re right, the gray one’s atrocious.” Moriarty slings the tie around Sebastian’s neck and begins to tie it with brusque efficacy.
“What’s the Queen like?”
“She’ll think you look pretty enough to eat, for starters,” replies Moriarty, straightening the tie one last time, the knot nothing short of perfect. “And she’ll know everything about you—where you were born and what happened to your mummy and daddy and your war and your… injury.” Moriarty’s smile glitters with the joy of knowing something Sebastian doesn’t want him to.
“Just like you, then,” Sebastian says, unable to hide the disgust in his voice.
Moriarty seems to take this like some sort of grand compliment. He steps back and folds his hands modestly behind his back and bats his eyelashes. “Why, yes,” he says with unabashed delight—“Just like me.”
They take a car to the Palace. The day is dimming, red clouds lurking just below the skyline. Moriarty has a pleasant smile on his face and drums his fingers on his thighs and hums a merry melody. Sebastian has resumed his stance of old—hands gripping his knees with a vice, the dull tautness in the muscles of his arms refusing to leave.
“We’re heeeere,” sings Moriarty when the car pulls to a stop. Sebastian follows him out, watches him shut the door.
“Were we asked for?”
“In a way, yes.” Moriarty’s eyes are fixed upwards, on the tall, climbing towers of the Palace, so high that perspective narrows their tips to nothingness.
Then the grand doors open, and he snaps his gaze downwards once more, and steps into the darkness.
Sebastian follows, his breath tangled with all the inhibitions lurking at the back of his throat. Behind him, the doors groan shut, like a prison gate closing.
There are whispers, pouring out of the walls, like ghosts crawling from their catacombs. In the distance, faint echoes of shrieks and shouts, nearly discernable—
“What is that? Do you hear that?” Sebastian asks the faint shadow moving in front of him.
“Ignore it,” replies Moriarty, and Sebastian does not probe further.
Now they are in a grand hall, and the walls are filled with murals depicting Her Royal Highness’ victory against the race of Man, four hundred years past. Here, to his left, the Ones from R’lych, and there, to his right, the Ones from Leng, where they slept beneath tall blades of grass that bent and swayed with every groan and cry for sunlight.
Sebastian feels a flood of remembrance towards what it felt like, to serve such great beings in battle. And then he feels Moriarty’s hand on his arm, and the other man’s breath on his neck as he’s told, “Don’t sing, little birdie, don’t sing until I tell you to.”
From the shadows steps a tall man, thin and reedy with small, narrow eyes: the Queen’s consort. “She’s quite upset,” he tells them both, as he leads them back down the corridor from which he came—“Franz used to bring her gifts from Bulgaria, lovely presents, live bears and clipped eagles and girls that tasted of clouds when she devoured them…”
His voice is nasal and high-pitched, and makes Sebastian’s head burn. This new hallway is wood-paneled and the floor is carpeted, muffling their footsteps. The consort seems nervous, for he twists his hands and trips over his words and refuses to stare Moriarty in the eye.
Is everyone like this with you? Sebastian muses, before moving even closer to his employer, in the hopes that some of that fearful respect will miraculously transfer to him, simply out of propinquity.
Now they are in another room—or perhaps the word ‘chamber’ would be more adequate. The ceiling is high and the walls are unmarked stone.
Moriarty is beaming, ear to ear, at a gelatinous, vibrating mountain of bulbous flesh, draped over her throne, a faint buzzing coming out of every pore of her body.
Here is their Queen.
“ZSurely,” she says, “ZSurely you muszst szolve thisz.”
“Ma’am,” says Moriarty, before bowing low, his fingers scraping the marble floor.
The Queen’s head—if one could call it a head, in any human sense of the word—tilts ever so slightly to one side, and she slides her mouth open.
“Come closzer,” she whispers, her gaze directed at Sebastian. It’s not so much a line of vision as it’s a cloud that emanates the illusion of sight. Sebastian does as he’s told and listens to the sound of his new shoes and the rustle of his new suit as he steps forward.
A tendril snakes out from the darkness, long and lithe and almost graceful. Sebastian’s sorely tempted to glance behind him one last time, to search for a suggestion, a command, anything at all Moriarty is willing to offer. He can’t, however, because the buzzing is growing louder within his head, and now he recalls the song he heard at the lake—
“That isz not what I am,” the Queen tells him, before hissing, “You were a szoldier.”
Sebastian closes his eyes. The hum is lower, now, and gentler, too.
“I was,” he says, aloud.
“Did you kill zsavageszz for me?” she asks. “Did you zshoot them and watzch their bodiesz eszpode?”
“Did you love it?”
He did. He tried to.
The Queen’s limb unfurls before him. “Good,” she says, before touching him most lightly at the joint of his broken shoulder.
For a moment, a sensation so blissful he feels like he’s dead runs through him, warm and glowing and light—but it is soon replaced by such pain that Sebastian thinks his body might be rend in two. He sees a cloud of darkness and feels the stone floor collide with his knees, the strain in his throat implying the fact that he is screaming even though he hears nothing save the roar of blood in his own head.
And now she retreats. The pain ebbs, a reluctant tide, until it is a faint pricking in the back of his muscles; Sebastian opens his eyes and sees the pulse of darkness before him. He’s been healed. Fixed. He knows he whould feel grateful beyond imaginings, and yet all he can bring himself to feel is a deep-seated revulsion for what he’s hearing.
“Kill for me again,” the Queen is murmuring, her arm sliding back from whence it came. “You will need to… You will want to.”
He rises from the floor. The buzzing in his head recedes, replaced by a screaming silence. When Sebastian finally brings himself to turn and look at Moriarty, the other man has a queer eagerness in his eyes—as if he is on the brink of finding something grand, and desirous.
The Queen is speaking again, this time to him. “I have miszzed you. It isz good, to work with you. The polisze are szo incompetent.”
“You should get rid of them entirely,” he says, and she gives off a faint rumbling sound, almost like a laugh.
“One of thesze daysz,” she buzzes, “You simply muzzt let me tazste you.”
“It would be my pleasure,” says Moriarty with a bow, the smile on his face most eerily genuine.
In the morning, Sebastian is given the guns. A Sig, tossed through the air like it’s a toy, cleaned and loaded and brand sparkling new.
“Two men, therefore—their handwriting different…” Moriarty is babbling from the doorway. Sebastian’s still in bed, still half-asleep, the gun in his lap looking dangerously out of place.
“The first two letters a little lighter, a little more disgusted, a little more unclean… but then the last three so strong… Yes, he was the leader… The architect…”
“Beg pardon sir.”
Moriarty tilts his head and glances down.
“Yours,” he says, gesturing loosely at the gun. “There’s an AWM downstairs. Do move it soon, dear; it’s blocking the fireplace.”
Sebastian folds his hand around the grip of the revolver, touches the magazine, the trigger, the barrel.
“What are we doing today?”
Moriarty runs his tongue over his teeth and shrugs. “Little of this, little of that. Get dressed.” He raises his eyebrows. “And take that ridiculous safety off, darling—you won’t be needing it.”
Sebastian’s thumb flips the switch just as a jolt shudders up his arm, like pain only better. Everything turns fluid—the cocking of the gun, the lifting of it, the aiming of it, right between Moriarty’s eyes.
He folds his index finger over the trigger.
He could do it. Five pounds of pressure and it’d be done.
“Been a while,” Moriarty laughs, unperturbed. “Hasn’t it?”
Sebastian lowers the gun with a sigh and a shrug. The decocker makes a neat little ‘clack’ as he presses it down.
“Well then,” says Moriarty from the doorway. “Let’s go hunting.”
The next few days are dreamlike.
Sebastian hadn’t seen this side of London before—the whorehouses painted pastel pink where the girls serve you tea with biscuits before they fuck you, and the long tunnels that run underneath the river where old women can “Change your life for the price of your soul!” (or so the sign said,) and the hospitals for the mad, which need no describing.
They chase the prince’s trail down the streets and through the alleyways. Moriarty has work for Sebastian—on the very first day he has him hold a gun to a man’s head, and grind the barrel against his scalp until the words and the blood freely flow.
The Ones feed off of dispair. Sebastian knows this, has known it since he was a boy and they learnt it to him in school. “They cure us of our unhappiness by taking it into themselves,” the lady had said. “It is their sacrifice.”
It is their reward.
Moriarty is much the same. He walks past the beggars and the homeless with a peaceful, sated expression on his face; he laughs giddily when their sources scream; he revels in the taste of human blood. Sebastian merely bites the bullet and does as he’s told, because Gods, does it feel good to hold a gun in his hand once more.
“I live for the day I get to see you use it proper,” Moriarty tells him. It’s sundown of the third day, and they’ve yet to stop for food or sleep. Sebastian feels alive, from his tired eyes to his bloody hands to his aching feet.
Behind them, a little man squirms in the dust and clutches at his gut and vomits all over again.
Before them, the Thames, and the burning sky.
And on the evening of the fifth day, James Moriarty and Sebastian Moran meet the man who calls himself ‘Sherry Vernet.’ It’s not such a grand affair when it happens, other than the fact that Vernet is quite unlike anything Sebastian has ever seen before: tall and pale with colorless eyes, a translucent quality to him, imperious and distant. They murmur lies to each other behind the curtains of the stage, Sebastian’s fingers tangled all the while in the warm steel of his gun.
But afterwards, when they are bouyed out of the theater on a thick cloud of noise and perfume, and Moriarty becomes Moriarty again instead of ‘Henry Camberley’, and they hail themselves a cab…
Afterwards is when it all changes.
“I’ve found him,” Moriarty tells the dome of the vehicle.
“One half of the whole. Didn’t you see it?”
Sebastian can’t say that he did, but he nods all the same, folds his hands. “She’ll be happy to hear the news, won’t she?” he says, quietly, head bowed.
“Oh, yes… Doubtless.”
“Have you always worked for her?”
“Hm, well. I enjoy it.”
Sebastian thinks of the formless shadow, and shudders.
“I won’t lie and say one gets used to it,” Moriarty says, sidling a little closer. “Your head’s a picture book,” he adds, when Sebastian makes an attempt at looking appropriately annoyed. “Anyhow, it pays. It’s fun. And I’m never bored.”
Moriarty’s eyes are glittering.
“There’s more,” Sebastian whispers.
“There’s always more, clever boy.” Moriarty licks his lips and curls an eyebrow, before leaning over, close and conspirational, his breath blooming hot and damp against Sebastian’s neck. “She’s promised me a prize,” Moriarty whispers, excitement running out of him in a river as he presses his shoulder into Sebastian’s like a warning, the whole line of his body a vivid synonym for the barrel of a gun. “If I do well, she’ll grant me a reward. A new body, a new mind, better, uncorrupted by needs and wants.”
Sebastian swallows. “Oh,” he says. “You want to be one of…”
“Wouldn’t anybody?” Moriarty briefly lets his forehead rest on Sebastian’s shoulder as he laughs. “It’s so terrifically droll, being human. So pedestrian. You’ve seen them die, dear. And you’ve seen them live.
“Besides,” he adds, sitting up once more and sliding his hands into his pockets, “Everyone simply loves the winners.”
There are clouds in the distance, full and dark. It’ll storm later in the evening, surely. Sebastian can already taste the electricity in the air. He sits up a little straighter, asks, “What about Vernet?”
“Oh, him.” Moriarty’s fingers twitch a little. “Darling boy.”
“Child. Brilliant, a savant, my shining star… I’ll have him yet.”
“He killed… the prince?”
“Just as well, just as well.” Moriarty giggles a bit, the noise sliding through him. “Restorationist fools.”
Restorationist. Restorationist. The word sits on Sebastian’s tongue like a thing gone rotten. He’s only ever heard it whispered, the faintest outline of shadows.
In the front seat, their cabbie has turned pale and his grip on the steering wheel is white-knuckled.
Moriarty closes his eyes. Hums a bar from Don Giovanni. His hand is moving in time with the beat, fingers fluttering.
Just for now.
There was a day and age when Sebastian lived a life that was more or less normal—no guns, no mysteries, no Moriarty. And sometimes, when he’s not nightmaring of fire and dying, he sees his yesterdays with frightening clarity: the long, green fields circumventing town, or the glow of the sun on the rooftops just after the rain, and the mild, settled feel of it all.
On their rare nights in, he thinks of all these things as he stares into the fireplace. The flames will throw dull, fuzzy shadows all over the walls. It’ll be raining, thick and heavy, the only reason why they’re not hard on the track.
Moriarty, curled behind a book, will lift his eyes and bare his teeth and say, “I know.”
The night he’s asked to burn the letter. The night they meet Rache—not Sherry Vernet, not Him, not even a man, but Rache.
This is the first time Sebastian tries to kill his employer.
They’re in the foyer of the flat and the papers are in Sebastian’s hands. Moriarty is licking own his lips and wiping the rainwater from his face. “Next time,” he says, not so much angry as mildly vexed. “Next time, when I ask you to shoot, you shoot.
“You didn’t tell me,” says Sebastian. His teeth are gritted. “About the plan. About what you wanted me to d—”
“Oh, but you seemed so eager to play!” Moriarty grins and shrugs his coat from his shoulders; it plops to the ground with a squealch of wet fabric. “The details would only have put you off, my dear…”
Sebastian twitches where he stands. “A little information—”
“Seb, Seb, Seb.” Moriarty shakes his head grandly, slowly. “You do the shooting and I the thinking. It’s a fine little relationship, but it’s got boundaries, all the same. And as implements go—”
“I’m not a thing.”
“I do beg to differ.”
Perhaps it’s the way he says this, with the whole line of his body arched forward like a dare. Or perhaps it’s the way his face scrunches in, concentric, like it’s all gone to mocking him. Or perhaps it’s just time. But as soon as Moriarty turns his back to dance up the stairs, Sebastian lunges forward and wrestles him to the ground.
It’s a half-second to pull the revolver out and put it to Moriarty’s neck. Sebastian straddles the body beneath him, throws his weight down.
“Alright,” he pants, his face going red. “Alright, then. Beg.” He grinds the gun even hard into Moriarty’s jugular and watches his own sweat drip down onto the other man’s face. A pink and agile tongue flicks out, licks them away.
“Do it, then,” Moriarty murmurs, his tone almost bored, it’s so relaxed. As if he’s been expecting this for ages, and Sebastian’s the one who’s tardy. “If you’re so obsessed with getting rid of me. I wasn’t aware you liked being unemployed so very much, sweetheart…”
“There are hundreds of men’d take me,” Sebastian hisses. “I could go back to the army, even. I could…” He swallows the hot air that’s clouded inside his mouth. “I could work for the Restorationists.”
Moriarty indulges in a full-body snort, before breaking down into laughter. Senseless, aimless, madenningly mad.
“Don’t you dare laugh at me, don’t you dare laugh at me…” The gun’s growing heavy, it’s simply aching to be fired, just a little more pressure—
“Seb, dear, oh, Seb, oh, you’re so… Oh, you just can’t see… Oh…” Moriarty reaches up with the hand that isn’t being pinned down by Sebastian and wraps it around the revolver, thumb folded over Sebastian’s index finger. “It wasn’t your frail little body that was broken…Oh, darling, you’re so blind…”
“What the fuck are you goin’ on about?”
“Fragile things, little fragile things,” says Moriarty, as if this explains everything. “Born that way, die that way. You need me.”
“I’ll shoot you.”
“No you won’t.” Eyes like fire. Voice like a song. “You can’t. Because if there’s one thing you hate… Sebastian… ” He strokes the line of Sebastian’s cheek with the pads of his fingers. “…it’s being useless.”
Sebastian stills every muscle in his body. The gun. The bullets. And the air between them, a centrifugal force.
“Don’t tell me,” Moriarty croons, “that you didn’t enjoy it. Watching them squirm. Watching them dance. He bleeds just like everyone else, doesn’t he?”
“Not like you.”
If Moriarty hears the bitterness in Sebastian’s voice, he shows no sign. He’s loose and calm as he slides his fingers to the damp skin of Sebastian’s neck, and grips, pulling down.
“Little piece of shit!”
The butt of the gun is slammed into Moriarty’s temple. Sebastian jerks, up and away, finds himself sitting back onto Moriarty’s stomach as the other man throws his head back and laughs.
He’s bleeding, bright reds and crimsons.
Sebastian gets quickly to his feet and steps as far back as he can, until his shoulderblades have collided with the front door and his heels are bumping against the threshold. Five minutes’ worth of held breaths are being squeezed in and out of his lungs.
“Nervous, darling?” giggles Moriarty, who’s sitting up on the floor, blood sliding down the side of his head in one long smear of scarlet.
“No. Fuck. No, why should I be?”
“You have just nearly killed me.”
Sebastian grips the gun a little tighter, and lifts his chin a little higher, and says, “Well, you’re not a very good person, are you?”
“No.” Moriarty leers, and wipes the blood from his face. “I’m not.”
The shadows they’re chasing take on names, soon enough, though Sebastian will always prefer to call them Rache. The papers go wild with it—Royals dropping dead, left right and center!—and sometimes, on their nightly sojourns to the underworld, Sebastian will see high words in yellow paint upon the walls, screaming prophecy.
Moriarty throws body and mind into the venture. “We let them get away before, didn’t we?” he sings. “No matter. This time, we’ll have them.” He shapes their names on his tongue the way other men shape prayers. Pours over their phographs—fuzzy, grainy blurs of black and white that hint at eyes, mouths, bodies.
“Come take a look, dear,” he’ll often say, and Sebastian will decline each and every time.
The dynamic has been disturbed, ever so slightly, a gear out of place. Now, when Moriarty looks at him, there is something different to it.
Sebastian’s dreams are changing. They are abstract and formless, save the notes and a swirling darkness.
Kill for me again.
He closes his hand around the metal beneath his pillow, and he breathes.
“You’re mine now, aren’t you?”
The sheets rustle and whisper beneath them. Moriarty’s body is surprisingly warm and solid—Sebastian had always imagined his skin to be cool and watery.
It’s suffocating, the closeness. The light is too bright and the details are too sharp and the realness of it too obvious. Sebastian leans back a little, and tips his head down.
“I’m not hearing an answer,” Moriarty says. He presses his palms roughly-gently against Sebastian’s ribcage. He’s never thought of this as sex—it’s a puzzle-box, a crime scene. Sebastian gets to be the corpse.
“Yes,” he replies, his voice steady. And then, “Why me?”
Moriarty moves even closer and buries the cold tip of his nose in the fine hair at Sebastian’s temple. “Hm,” he hums, and then, “I’m sure you’ve been to the zoo before, dear. Have you ever seen the tigers they bring in, from India?”
“You’ve seen them, through the bars of their cells? And have they seen you?”
“And their eyes? Have you looked into their eyes?” Moriarty widens his own to an unnerving extent, brown irises dark and cold. “Have you seen how pathetically tame they’ve become? Like housecats, really; like dead things.”
Sebastian lets his eyelids slide down. Moments later, Moriarty rakes into the thin skin of his neck with his nails, hard enough to peel away a layer of flesh and draw blood. He dips his head down, cups the drops of red with his mouth, and tastes.
“Yes,” grunts Sebastian, knuckles white as he grips the sheets.
“Your frustrated little normalcy. That’s what I saw in you. That’s why.” Moriarty slides his hand from Sebastian’s shoulder to his neck to his back, skin gliding over smooth fabric as he lightly taps his fingertips against the other man’s vertebrae, one at a time, playing them like piano keys. His fingers press hard against Sebastian’s bones, as if trying to mold him into something else.
“Twenty-four,” he announces with a scowl once he’s reached the end. “How very human of you.”
“Oh, don’t worry,” says Moriarty. “You can’t help it. Practically everybody is.” He laughs now, a quiet wildness, and plants a dry kiss on Sebastian’s lips. “It’s terrible, isn’t it darling?”
“Terrible.” Sebastian finally gives in to the weight and to the pressure, lies back and lets his eyes drift shut.
He hid the letter under a loose floorboard in his closet, folded it into quarters and kept it flat with an A to Zed. He did it fearfully, one of the few moments in his life during which he was truly horrified for himself.
There are times when he will catch Moriarty looking at him and swear that the other man knows, and then there are times when he’s certain that he doesn’t. Either way, it’s a battle.
(“I’ve come up with a plan,” Moriarty tells him.)
Sebastian thinks of how wrong it felt, to shoot a legend. His finger had twitched against the trigger; his heartbeat had stuttered as the distant spray of red leapt into the air.
(“Do promise you’ll play.”)
He prefers not to think of them—of Rache—as anything less than paranormal. He’ll take the letter out on dark evenings, when the wind’s lashing against the windows, and he’ll read the carefully penciled words.
Sebastian has never lost a battle intentionally before in his life.
He thinks now may be a good time to start.
“You want to be a God.”
Moriarty has his head tilted, as if he’s never heard it put quite like that before. The car’s moving faster and faster, people and buildings all becoming one multi-colored blur.
“I do,” he says, the city whirling by behind him.
Sebastian turns away, tugging the answer to his chest.
The night the chase ends, the walk to the pool. Moriarty has a spring in his step. He had a jolly good time, with the bombs and the calls and the trail of human breadcrumbs.
“Did you see,” he laughs, pushing the pool doors open, “the look on our dear little furet’s face?”
“I did.” Sebastian feels the hard edge of his rifle’s case dig into his shoulder as he hoists it up.
“Priceless,” says Moriarty. He stands by the edge of the blue-tinted water with his hands folded behind his back. There’s anticipation in his eyes, bright and unconcealable.
“Should I set up, sir?” Sebastian asks.
“Oh yes. Yes, do.” Moriarty inspects the tiled floor. “Our dogs will be back with the doctor soon enough.”
Sebastian makes his nest in the balcony, screws the laser pointer onto his rifle, and sits down to wait. It’s such a lovely evening. The clouds are parting and Sebastian wonders how hard he’d have to look, to see a scrap of untainted sky.
Half past the witching hour, the big doors opposite him slam open. He can see a bundle of wool and blinking lights being pushed forward, calm and poised as you please.
“Look who’s arrived! The life of the party!”
The back of Moriarty’s head is bobbing up and down as he steps across the floor, his arms outstretched. Sebastain can imagine the smile that must be on his face, wide and full-toothed.
“My Limping Doctor,” he’s singing. “Are you enjoying yourself? Isn’t the venue delightful? Isn’t my hospitality unparalleled? I’ve even got you some new …accaccoutrements.”He reaches out, sprawls his fingers out against the doctor’s chest. The bomb blinks and blinks and blinks.
The doctor tips his head back, eyes shut—then snaps forward and spits, like a cobra.
Moriarty does a little jump. “Oh, my!” he cries, sounding very much the cartoon villain. He wipes the spittle off of himself with his hand. “So ungrateful.”
Their quarry is silent. Sebastian lowers himself down so that he is looking through the scope, and folds his finger around the trigger.
“Where’s our lover boy?” Moriarty’s murmuring.
“Not coming,” the doctor replies. His face is plain, his voice is strong. Moriarty seems just a little bit in love with him.
“How did it feel?” he asks. “Cutting into a One. Feeling its blood on your hands.”
The doctor swallows, blinks, and says, “Absolutely wonderful.”
It’s twenty-two seconds to midnight when the pool’s front door creaks ajar and a slip of a shade flutters in on a breeze. Sebastian’s lungs are in his throat and his stomach is in his chest.
This is not ‘Sherry Vernet.’ This is something else altogether.
“You want something from me,” it says. “Take it, take whatever you want, just give—”
It’s storybook, how well everything goes. The set-up. The execution. Moriarty standing in the center of it all, the patent ringleader, giddy on apathy. Sebastian watches from his perch, sweat rolling down the sides of his face.
He’s going to do this. Not for his Gods and not for Albion—for once, not for Albion. He’s going to do this for himself.
The laser point sparks up and lands, bright red, in the center of the doctor’s chest just as Moriarty says, “Back off. My dear,” and the ghost of their chase replies, “Never.”
Now two dark, brown eyes are staring up at him, and a wry mouth is curling up in a smile-- all from a well-dressed bundle of pale-skinned, short-haired, cheeky little Irishman, thin to the point of scrawny.
“Do it, Seb,” he’s whispering.
Sebastian Moran slides his tongue between his teeth and twitches his arms, just a little bit.
The dot moves—right, in a sweep, and then up, in a curve.
It stops in the center of Moriarty’s forehead.
The two halves of Rache are looking up, searching. Sebastian, the omnisciency of being invisible flooding every inch of his veins, smiles and tightens his grip on the rifle.
“Darling,” Moriarty is saying. “Darling. I didn’t think you had it in you.” He lifts his head so that the dot his on his lips, opens his mouth and makes to swallow the beam whole. “I’m so proud,” he murmurs.
“Mad bastard,” Sebastian replies, before pulling the trigger.
Afterwards, when he meets Rache again in the underworld—on their territory, their terms, the yellow letters around them screaming, “GODS MEET THY MEN”—they will not thank him.
They will reach out their gloved hands and take his bare ones. They will stand before him, darkly clothed and hard mouthed.
“You want to join us,” one part of the whole will say, and Sebastian Moran will bite his lip and nod, unwilling from his lessons learned to speak his promises.
Now, however. Now there is nothing—no zip, no song, no explosion of human blood.
Moriarty has his hands in his pockets. He’s looking down at his shoes. And he’s laughing.
“Did… Did you really think…”
Sebastian flicks his little light out and slides the gun aside, sinks lower. Not a word of disappointment is passing through his head. He simply closes his eyes and counts to five and tries to think how fast he’d have to run.
When he looks again there are swarms of red dots everywhere. His own rifle, tampered with and useless, is lying on its side like a discarded corpse. He carefully crawls over it, keeps his shoulders beneath the railing of the balcony.
There are others, he realizes. There have always been others.
“This wasn’t for me, sweetheart,” Moriarty is yelling. “This wasn’t for me at all. This was to teach you a lesson.”
Sebastian stops, and rolls back onto his rump, and sits on the cold balcony floor. Rache is watching him with curious tilts to their heads. Even the doctor—decked out as he is in the stuff that makes stars burn—even the doctor has curiosity burning a track down his gaze.
Moriarty dips his head, smiles. “As for you two,” he’s saying. “I won’t even begin to enumerate how much trouble you’ve given me. It was all fun and games at the beginning, I’ll give you that. Now you’re in my way.”
“To heaven.” Gods don’t take lightly to being crossed. Gods don’t take lightly to anything at all. “I won’t kill you,” he adds—“Not tonight. Not now. This is the starting line, darlings. I’m letting you run.”
“Excellent,” breathes Rache.
“On three,” says Moriarty, slowly stepping back towards the door, the little red lights buzzing around him like flies.
“Three!” Step. Click.
Now they are moving—bomb disposed of, flung across the floor, hands laced together as they pull each other to the exit and out of view. Sebastian lets himself relax, leans his head against the railing, sighs.
He holds his position until a series of footsteps climb up the stairs, to rest beside him.
“Were you surprised?” the visitor murmurs, a warm fondness to his tone.
Sebastian nods, and closes his eyes.
“Good.” A hand reaches down, strokes his cheek, his hair, the nape of his neck. “Good.”
The breath in Sebastian’s lungs rattles, like a bullet gone haywire, as he gets to his feet to meet Moriarty eye for eye.
“Well?” he says.
“Well,” he’s told. “I think… I’ll save you for last.”
He was given all the legends as a child. He remembers them still. Those overblown, glorious tales of conquest—those epiteths men wrote for themselves. And now, now there will be new ones.
Sebastian lifts his head, and follows Moriarty down.