When Moran first saw John Watson, he hadn't been impressed. An inch or so below the average height, a forgettable face and a body that was going soft at the edges without the discipline of the army. And even his service didn't impress Moran – he'd been a doctor, not a true soldier, and he hadn't exactly climbed the ranks. He was good with a gun, true, but a lot of people were good with a gun, and skill alone did not an intimidating man make.
Moriarty had got the bomb jacket on him easily enough, after all.
So when Moran was instructed to subdue John Watson and bring him to a specific location, he agreed with more than a hint of glee. It would be a pleasure to teach this man – this man who shuffled through life like a limping dog with a furiously wagging tail, trying to placate everyone and everything – what a real soldier was like.
He'd taken a knife (he wasn't going to bother with a gun, not for this joke of a soldier), and had followed Watson like he used to follow the tigers in India, waiting for a moment when he could seize on him unawares. Maybe cut him up a little before he brought him to Moriarty.
But...it hadn't quite worked out that way.
Moran's first thought, when Watson came out from around the corner like a raging bear, was that the doctor must have noticed he'd been followed. Must have led Moran here deliberately, where there'd be no bystanders to interfere.
As Watson grabs the hand holding the knife and twists with vicious precision, all Moran can think is that this can't be happening. He has shot people down from behind his sniper's scope, he's faced down men a thousand times more frightening than a crippled doctor and won – he's hunted man-eating tigers, for god's sake!
Except, as he uncomfortably acknowledges to himself, while killing man-eating tigers sounds fearsome, man-eaters are usually only those tigers that are too old or too injured to hunt any other prey.
The knife is out of play at this point. It fell to the ground when Moran was disarmed (and that stings – he's never been disarmed before tonight, but it's the truth), and John Watson didn't even bother trying to pick it up, just kicked it away into the shadows. It's become unarmed combat, and Moran knows he can salvage this; Watson would have had training, but only the basics, and Moran has studied martial arts across the world. Added to the advantage his height and weight will give him, and the outcome is already assured.
But...it doesn't quite work out that way.
An untrained person in unarmed combat tends to flail with their arms, striking for the face and torso with heavy, closed fists, trying to win by battering their opponent as they would pound a piece of dough.
Watson does none of those things. He attacks with his elbows, he chops with the hard line of his hand – no blow risks his fingers, and no blow is wasted. Nothing lands on muscle or bone; they all strike nerves and the joins of tendons, unerringly seeking out the weaknesses inherent in the human body.
Doctors are healers because they know to put the human body together. Conversely, they also know how to take it apart.
However, it isn't Watson's efficiency that truly sends a chill through Moran. It's the doctor's expression.
Most people, upon being accosted by a stranger and forced to fight for their lives, are afraid. Or possess the half-angry, half-terrified look that adrenaline seems to engender. Occasionally, there is the fierce triumph Moran usually feels, the pleasure in knowing you will prove superior. Even in professional killers there is a deliberate coolness underscored with professional satisfaction.
Not so with John Watson. He is neither afraid nor joyful nor cold. He is simply...placid. And not the deliberate calmness of the man who makes danger his job; Watson is as unaffected as if he'd been sitting at home, drinking tea and reading the boring sections of the newspaper.
Moran is on the ground before he even knows he is going to lose, Watson's heel resting deliberately on the centre of his chest, unpleasantly heavy against the bone.
"I wouldn't move, if I were you," Watson advises, still sounding as unconcerned as if he's greeting an acquaintance. "With a bit more weight on it, your sternum will break, and in this position I have a good chance of stopping your heart."
Moran knows that the 'good chance' is vague deliberately. He would bet every pence of his substantial bank accounts across the world that Watson knows the exact probability of stopping his heart to three decimal places. Very possibly four.
Moran also knows that this is no bluff. John Watson has no idea who he is or why he attacked him, but he will still kill him without hesitation.
He's not a conscienceless man – no, it's much more frightening than that. Conscienceless men, amoral psychopaths...they can be predicted. They can be dealt with.
John Watson is a man who ignores his conscience when he feels the situation demands it, which is much more dangerous.
"So, now might be a good time to tell me why you thought I warranted a knifing," Watson goes on.
The placidness has vanished now, but in its place is something equally chilling. The stillness and patience of a predator waiting by the waterhole, the relaxed stance that says he can stay here all night, that he will get what he wants eventually. It isn't a stillness a human being should have; Moran has met people who can sham it, and he can do a passing imitation of it himself, but he never feels it. Not the way Watson clearly does, standing over him with those dark, supposedly friendly eyes now watching him like a lion watching a wildebeest drink and waiting for the perfect moment to strike.
Moran has killed more people than there are bones in his body. On the rare occasions they need to sub-contract out, Moriarty sends him to meet the professional assassins to negotiate the price. He's tortured people and (on three occasions) been tortured himself. But no one has ever looked at him the way Watson is now.
His lip is split from one of Moran's blows, but he isn't licking or wiping at it – he seems completely unaware of the blood trickling down his chin. Moran knows he hurt him in the struggle, but Watson never seemed to feel it. Or more precisely, he felt it and then disregarded it, which is only more unsettling.
He is still wrapped in one of those ridiculous jumpers that look like they were made for him by his grandmother, and never has the phrase 'wolf in sheep's clothing' been more accurate.
Moran has a fleeting thought that the secret service has missed out on the recruit of the century. John Watson is perhaps the most dangerous man Moran has ever met, a danger only enhanced by how ordinary, how docile, he seems.
Moran has never doubted Moriarty before this night. How can he? The man's reach extends so far and his dominion is so complete he is close to a god.
But for the first time, Moran knows Moriarty will fail, just as he has done.
Because neither of them has counted on John Watson.
AN: As usual, a round of applause from my wonderful beta, ginbitch, who's been very good about me pestering her with fic even though she's so busy.