When the boot finally pops open, I'm in no position to do anything about it. Whoever trussed me up knows what they're doing, and the hood over my head isn't helping.
"Get him out," someone orders, sounding utterly bored.
I feel a knife between my ankles, pressure and release as it cuts through the zip cable.
I kick, but someone lifts me like a sack of potatoes and tosses me on the ground. I go down hard onto my knees, but then he's picking me up by the scruff of my neck and we're moving.
Wet concrete beneath our feet. I don't think there's more than three of us.
Me, the boss, and the goon.
It's cold outside. The goon had stripped off my jacket and sweater when he searched me, and now I'm in only my untucked shirt and jeans. We pause. I hear keys jangling, and we're inside now, somewhere with heavy doors and linoleum floors, like a school or a hospital, except with the smell of damp and chlorine round the edges.
Goon shoves me and I hit a wall behind me, and now I know where I am from the locks and the vented metal doors digging into my back.
I can't do much with that, though, with this sodding hood.
"Oh, I can't wait a minute longer," says the boss, voice sounding almost girly in its enthusiasm.
Hands are at my throat, and I can't stop myself from tensing as the rope is undone, but then, finally, the hood is gone and I'm blinking in the bluish light of a locker room.
And then there he is, smiling, of all things. Eyes wild with glee, dressed in a suit, and smiling.
It's Molly's boyfriend.
You're not supposed to give your captors anything to work with-no reactions, no talking. But for a fleeting moment I'm completely confused and I'm sure it's on my face. Why the fuck is Molly's boyfriend kidnapping me?
But he's watching me suss it out and I can see it in his eyes, the way he carries himself now, so different from at Bart's.
He's not "Jim from IT" at all.
He's unhinged. He's dangerous.
He's enjoying himself.
"There," he says gently, "you've got it now." He walks towards me, and can see his eyes sparkling. He leans near my face as I try to school my features, and whispers conspiratorially, "And Sherlock calls you an idiot."
Shit. I know who this is. This is Moriarty. The cabbie. The hostages and bombs. God knows what else. Christ. This doesn't bode well for me at all.
"But you're not, are you?" he asks, head perking up, eyes narrowing. His movements, his voice-it's unnerving.
My hands are still secured behind me and my back's up against the lockers, yet he moves forward, and I steel myself for . . . I don't know what for. I don't know what he's planning, I don't know where the goon has got off to, but I suspect he's not far.
As it is, Moriarty's mostly staring, vigorously staring, like the answer to life, the universe and everything is hiding in my nose hairs, my earlobes, my eyelashes.
He steps back, hands thrust casually in the pockets of his trousers. "No," he says, drawing out the syllable and shaking his head. "Sherlock got it WRONG." He shouts the last word, but I manage not to flinch.
And now, he's on a tirade. Sherlock's wrong about this. Sherlock's wrong about that. Moriarty is so much fucking smarter than Sherlock Holmes that it's laughable. This diatribe continues for some time, his Irish lilt dipping and rising, punctuated by one loud word here and there when he gets worked up or wants to drive a point home.
He's a maniac, one who's more than a little obsessed with Sherlock. If I do nothing else, I must protect Sherlock from him.
He sees my utter lack of reaction to his paragraphs of ramblings and seems unhappy. He's frowning at me like I've disappointed him, almost pouting because I won't take his bait.
"Oh, honey pie," he calls out, singsongy, and almost instantly the goon returns, his face still covered with a navy ski mask, and then I've been socked in the stomach. I double over but get another punch to the chin, throwing me off balance, and I land on my bad shoulder. Now I'm on the fucking ground, trapped on the floor between the wall of lockers and the low bench down the middle of the aisle, and shit, of course, "Honey Pie" has a handgun out and pointed at me.
Breathe, Watson. Breathe, and don't give him a thing.
Moriarty's moving around to the front of me, crouching down, and I see him unfolding a small but vicious looking knife, the three inch blade glinting its sharpness. He reaches around me, cutting my hands loose, but before I can do anything about it, Honey Pie has yanked me up into a sitting position and is fastening my right wrist to one of the middle-row of lockers with another zip cable. Excellent.
He moves to secure my left as well, but Moriarty stops him.
"No. That's his bad wing," he says, and I'm surprised he knows. Surprised he gives a rat's about my shoulder injury. Smells of a trap, but I'm not arguing. I'm sitting still and biding my time.
Moriarty indicates my right arm. "That's his good one. That's the one he shot my cabbie with," he explains, managing to sound both put out and somewhat impressed at the same time. He keeps doing that, two, three emotions bubbling out of him within a moment. I think of Sherlock and emotion, how well he hides it, keeping his face flat, flat, flat, his eyes steely when he doesn't want to give anything away. And here Moriarty is, all peaks and valleys, letting me in to his thoughts with every flutter of his eyelids.
They're so different from each other.
Now he's got his face up against mine again (no sense of personal space) and he's apparently wanting to give me some advice. "Listen," he says in a low voice, his knife-less hand held up in a pleading gesture. "Just . . . Don't. Be. Boring. Okay?"
Yeah, okay. So also not different.
I nod once as his gaze burns.
He pops upright from his crouch. "Gooooood! Good," he says happily, and the grin on his face is turning my stomach. He turns and shoos away Honey Pie, who retreats to . . . somewhere. The man is big, muscled, strong, and yet can walk without making a sound.
Moriarty sits on the low bench, keeping himself just out of my reach. He leans one hand against the bench and raises the other in front of his face, inspecting his manicure, it seems.
"Soooooooooo," he drawls. "We've got some time to kill," and he waggles his eyebrows, "so to speak! We may as well talk."
Why do the crazy ones always want to talk so much? I can't help thinking of Hannibal Lecter, "quid pro quo" and all that, and Sherlock and the cabbie sitting around chatting, and a million other situations where the killer wants to pause the action and explain himself.
But Sherlock explained it fine. Genius (mad or otherwise, good or evil) wants an audience.
"Not in the mood to talk? Well, Sherlock is. He made a date with me, one I fully expect him to keep." He lets that sink in, hoping that will get a reaction out of me (and it does-Sherlock and I obviously need to talk about how one goes about dealing with psychopaths) but I keep my features calm. "Maybe I should let him know you're here? He'd show up immediately, I think. I know how he hates to be parted from his dear, dear blogger," he continues, soaking the word in sarcasm.
He thinks if he pisses me off enough, I'll give him something useful.
He doesn't know me very well.
But he is one creepy fuck, and keeping the revulsion off my face is taking more concentration than I'd like.
My strategy isn't the safest, but I can't afford to give him any ammunition against Sherlock. So I maintain eye contact, but don't engage. Don't talk, don't smirk, don't flinch. Don't give him a damn thing to work with.
Unfortunately, this seems to be exactly the method that will anger him.
He narrows his eyes at me.
"Stand up!" he commands, his anger blasting out of him.
I'm considering acquiescing, but apparently not quickly enough for his taste, because now he's rushing at me like a sodding freight train, and he's surprisingly strong. He's shoving me up along the wall of lockers and I find myself standing unsteadily in front of him, my right arm still out awkwardly to the side.
Moriarty's got his hands pushing my chest, grinding my back into those damn locks, and his eyes are wide, brow drawn downward. "SPEAK!" he roars.
"What's the magic word?"
Watson, you idiot. Had to be a smartarse. Taunt the psychopath. I can hear the goon nearby, see him edging around the wall of lockers, and I suspect a fairly vicious punch is coming, probably to the kidneys, but Moriarty is staring at me, a look of wonder on his face, and without taking his eyes away from mine, he barely lifts a hand and the man halts. Retreats.
Moriarty is smiling, and yeah, now I might be a little afraid.
He draws out an exaggerated "Oh," and puts a hand to his own chest in feigned surprise. "He knows how to play."
And then, because that isn't creepy enough as it is, he's put his hands on me, on both sides of my head. My free hand comes up defensively against his chest, but he doesn't even seem to notice, and he presses in harder, like a vise, and I'm certain he can feel my pulse starting to race against my temples.
His face is inches away. Those brown, wrong eyes are boring holes into me, and now I'm fucked. Because now he's interested. Now he wants to play.
And I'm not so great at saying the right things in these situations, apparently.
He's not just staring-he's examining. His hands push into my hair, long enough now that he can get a good hold on it, tug my head this way and that so he can get a better look. He shoves my chin up with one palm and traces my neck with his fingers.
"What does he see in you?" Moriarty says softly, like he truly wants to know. "Why does he keep you?"
He pulls my chin back down so he can see my eyes again. "Please," he says, and it's the scariest, least sincere please I've ever heard. It sounds like a death threat.
And crap if he doesn't ask me something I can't answer. Lying doesn't seem wise at this point, but honestly, I have no earthly idea why Sherlock keeps me around; but it isn't to help pay the fucking rent, that's for sure.
"Well, it's not to help pay the fucking rent," I say, because, yes, I'm playing. I'm going to play.
And Moriarty smiles like it's Christmas morning.
He chuckles, and then he's finally letting go of my head, taking a step back.
"Maybe I won't kill you just yet," he says around a smile.
"You weren't going to kill me just now, either. Haven't served my purpose yet," I explain darkly.
Moriarty's mildly interested at this. "Oh, do tell, what's that?"
"A way to hurt Sherlock," I say, swallowing the anger, the fear that bubbles up in me at this idea.
"Oh, look who has a high opinion of himself! You're that important to him, are you?" he says, sitting casually on the bench again, limbs expansive and open, like we're just hanging out at the pub over a pint.
"You think I am."
He rolls his eyes. "Boring. All this useless psychology." He looks me up and down and then juts his chin towards the floor. "Sit."
I stay standing.
"Please," he adds petulantly, rolling his eyes and waggling his head.
Well. A point for me, I guess. I use my free arm to support myself down into a sitting position, legs stretched out in front of me, mirroring Moriarty's easy posture as best I can with one arm stuck in the air.
"So. You're going to tell me everything I need to know about our dear Sherlock," Moriarty begins.
"No, I'm not."
He frowns down at me. "You're not a very obedient pet."
I press my lips together and shake my head. "No, I'm not."
"But you'll do whatever he asks you to do, won't you? You even do more than he asks," he points out.
"What, jealous?" God, I'm pushing it. Any minute now he's going to decide he's had enough and call his goon back to teach me a lesson.
"Wha-?" he says, like it's inconceivable. "No, no, no, no, no. I thought you saw. I thought you understood." Oh, now he's disappointed in me. "I have my own John Watson," he explains, tilting his head to his left, indicating his shadow around the corner.
"Oh, yes. Honey Pie," I say, nodding.
He smiles wide, and if his eyes weren't terrifying, it might actually be a nice smile. The nickname seems to delight him. "Ah. You do see."
And there it is again, he's proud of me, which is about six kinds of confusing.
"He seems more the obedient type," I comment.
The smile drops instantly. "We won't be talking about him," Moriarty states coldly.
I nod in acknowledgement, but add, "Well, we also won't be talking about Sherlock. If you want to ask me questions about me, go for it. But that's the only topic available."
"Oh, how sweet. Protecting your master. Doggedly so."
And now I'm smirking. That's another one of the rules out the window, right? No smirking? Yeah. Fantastic.
"Alright," he acknowledges, bobbing his head as though admitting perhaps that wasn't the best joke ever, "but the analogy still fits. You are loyal to him. Beyond reason."
Well. He's not wrong about that.
"So, Q & A, is it?" he asks.
He considers. "Alright. I'll rephrase my earlier question, then." His eyes pin me again, and there's nowhere to go. He leans towards me, lowering his voice. "Why do you stay with him? What's in it for you?"
He straightens up. "And don't lie. I'll know if you lie, and there will be . . . consequences."
I'm not interested in finding out the consequences. There's no way talking about me will hurt Sherlock, as far as I can see, so the truth is looking like the best option.
"Being with him is like being back in the war."
He isn't expecting that answer and I seem to have his full interest again.
"But it's better. The war was . . . convoluted. Often pointless. There's more clarity in this," I say.
He rolls his eyes now. "Oh, the righteous avengers?" he asks sarcastically. "Spare me."
I lift my eyebrows and shrug. "Well. It's never boring."
"Hmph," he allows, like he's conceding my point. "More fun to cause chaos than control it," he counters.
"You recruiting?" I ask.
He wrinkles his nose at me. "Nah. Not you. Too much heart." He says the last word like it's as appealing as pond scum. His face smoothes out again. "Although, you're no slouch at shooting and I bet you're fun to have along on the adventure, smartarse though you are."
"Yeah. Maybe you need more smartarse. Honey Pie seems to keep to the kissarse end." What the fuck am I doing? No, really. I'm not a smartarse; I'm a sodding death-seeking idiot. Highest order.
Moriarty's face darkens for a moment, and I'm realizing that yet again I may have bitten off more than I can chew here. He kills for less. He kills for sport.
"I can see why Sherlock loves you," he says calmly.
I blink at him. "Sorry, what?" I blurt.
And he smiles, a thin, satisfied smile.
"Open your eyes, Johnny Boy. Sherlock Holmes doesn't need a flatmate or a sidekick to do what he does. He doesn't need you." Moriarty's voice is soft, so soft, like he's telling a story by firelight. In a dungeon. While you're chained to a wall.
"No," I say, agreeing with that part anyway.
"He wants you."
And my face goes to stone. Because we are now entering the land of Things I Don't Talk About by way of Things I Don't Think About.
He sits up straight again, and Jesus, how close had he been to me? It felt like he was whispering in my damn ear.
He continues, matter of fact. "But you're not enough. You'll never be enough to hold his interest. Why do you think he's so hung up on me? On this game of ours?" Moriarty reasons, bored, inspecting his fingernails again.
Fairly sure my unspoken "fuck you" is successfully telegraphed to him.
He perks up again, like he's had a brilliant idea, and bends forward, leaning his elbows on his knees. "Show me your scar," he demands, swirling an index finger towards my chest.
It's not like I have only one scar on me, but I know what this is about. Show me the worst one. Show me proof that you were suffering and vulnerable.
Yeah, alright, fine. I glare up across at him, but he just swirls the finger at me again, so I use my left hand as best I can to start unbuttoning my shirt. This is not actually easy, mind, and he almost immediately loses patience with my slow clumsiness.
He makes an annoyed shudder and then flings himself towards me, leaving the bench to squat in front of me.
"We don't actually have all night," he huffs, batting my hand out of the way and attacking the buttons. He's got the front undone and then plucks my left hand up again, undoing the cuff. He catches my puzzled look at that, and then, for good measure, undoes the button on the cuff of my secured, nearly numb arm as well, as though daring me to say anything about it.
But I am attempting to keep my mouth shut now.
And now "Jim from IT" is attempting to take my shirt off in the most discomfiting manner possible, running his fingers under the shirt, over my skin, making me jump a little because his hands are freezing and he's pushing the sleeve down my left arm, nudging me to help him by twisting my elbow up and out of the fabric. My left arm is out of the sleeve entirely now, and the shoulder's completely, easily visible.
"See? A scar. Can I put my shirt back on now?"
But, of course, he wants to play.
So he's moving his hands over me. Right hand from ear to neck, over the shoulder, skirting away from the scar itself, settling on the bicep. Left hand from chin to throat, down the middle to skim over my belly and pause at the top of my jeans.
This is ridiculous. "That's, uh. That's not my shoulder," I say calmly, like I'm the one who's bored this time.
Jim finds this interesting. "You're not freaking out."
"But you're not gay."
I think he finds it thrilling that I'm unpredictable, which is a mixed bag at the moment, since I'd like a little less of his interest right now.
But he's bemused. "You don't mind?" he asks, sliding his left hand down further to cup me through my jeans.
Yeah, I fucking mind, but I'm not going to give him any more to work with than I already have. I absolutely despise my body for the reaction its having, a reaction he can undoubtedly feel in his hand.
"I've endured worse torture than this," I say, more breathlessly than I'd like, and then realize that though I meant it jokingly, it sounds like a criticism. Like a challenge.
But Moriarty laughs, his weird, cold laugh, and yes, it's a bit disturbing that I'm able to distinguish his types of laughs now, and he simultaneously squeezes his hand around me, gently, while planting a quick kiss on my lips, and then his left hand is gone, and it's all so quick it's like it didn't happen.
This is, by far, the strangest interrogation I've ever had.
His right hand slides back up my arm and over to the web of scar tissue at my shoulder, finally touching it with surprisingly careful fingers.
"Does it hurt?"
"Sometimes. It aches when it's cold out. Mostly it just itches." I'm a little surprised he doesn't know these things; is it possible he has no scars of his own?
He features cloud over. "People think pain is a weakness." He shakes his head. "It's not."
"No," I say with certainty.
He's in preachy mode now, his voice soft but serious, imparting wisdom.
"It teaches you something. What you can bear."
He trails his right hand from the front of my shoulder over the deltoid and around to the back. Exit wound, entry wound. If Moriarty could be the bullet, trace its actual path, he'd love that, I bet.
"It teaches you that pain is not the worst thing that can happen to you."
I actually agree with this, and I play along. "What's the worst thing that can happen to you?" I ask.
He's 100% sure of his answer. "Nothing."
Yeah. That's the long and the short of it, isn't it? So. Something's better than nothing.
He's got his hand nicely placed behind me now, fingers spread over my shoulder blade as his thumb rolls over my scar, so, quick as a wink, I brace my feet against the base of the bench and press my back against the lockers. The movement unbalances him, sending him onto his knees, and in that moment I pin his hand behind my back and my left hand finds his throat.
I'm not squeezing yet, but the threat is clear.
And Jim has a look on his face like he's in love.
He's grinning, so excited. Why? It's his fault he's in this situation. Did he really expect me not to take advantage?
But now I see. His left hand is drawing the open knife from his jacket. He's raising it, slowly, and I squeeze a bit, feeling the flesh give beneath my hand. But he's confused me, because instead of going for my jugular, which would be the most effective threat to get me to let go of him, he's trailing the knife slowly up my right arm, stopping to set the blade coolly along my wrist, right at the vein.
Jim looks so happy. Like I've given him some kind of gift.
"We could do it together. Die. Slowly, so slowly, together."
"Won't solve anything."
But Moriarty doesn't care about solving puzzles. "It'd be beautiful." He presses the blade against me enough to prick, and now I'm tightening my grip on him enough that his voice is a whisper.
"Your blood flowing and escaping. My air stoppered up. Till we don't have enough of either. Would you promise not to look away? Would you watch me die if I promise to watch you?"
A large part of me is simply terrified, and ready to get this over with. A small, very small part of me, the part I hide very, very well, sees the beauty that he sees in this. If it were a different situation, time, person. . . I could see the beauty of dying together.
But not today. And not with him.
I'm about to squeeze in earnest when I hear the footsteps.
Moriarty's eyes flick reluctantly to the goon, then back at me. "What's it gonna be, pet?"
And damn if I don't ease my grip.
The corner of his mouth crooks up and his left hand drops away.
Fairly disgusted with myself, I drop my left hand and release the leverage I had with my feet. His right hand pulls free.
"That was fun," he praises, patting me on the head, and then he's standing up, straightening his jacket, his tie.
"But it's time for the grown-ups to play."