Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for language, violence, and mature content.
“I need your help.”
He was not wearing his deerstalker.
Its absence didn’t quite surprise Moriarty, though Holmes’ appearance certainly did. It was his decision to come out to the public after Reichenbach—Moriarty would never be quite as inept, but he wouldn’t be surprised if Holmes tried to drag him out of anonymity. He had Moran standing by the door of his office if he were ever to be so reckless. “You’ve experienced great loss and you’ve recently turned to cocaine,” Moriarty closed his textbook of modern mathematics, written by a colleague several months after his ‘death’. “Has your brother died? I’m surprised you care as much as you do.”
“It is not my brother you need to worry of,” Holmes strode flaccidly to the chair opposite of Moriarty’s desk, a giant compared to the one he was given in the university, an ant compared to the one in his old criminal headquarters. The detective sat himself down, his eyes flickering vaguely to the door behind him. A silhouette loomed through the stained glass. “You can call off your soldier; I have neither the energy nor hatred to do anything drastic to your person.”
“And I lack neither the intelligence nor the apprehension of Reichenbach,” Moriarty drummed his fingers together. “Make haste. I have a meeting with another brute who doesn’t know a Winchester from a Marlin.”
“You don’t seem to take this as gravely as I do--”
“Oh, does it really show? And from what did you take that deduction from—the fact that I’ve been forced back into Ireland after years of excursion because I was pushed off a waterfall and later vilified by the perpetrator’s catamite, or the trajectory of my resting pose?” Moriarty arched a brow. “You prove yourself a proper detective once again, Mr. Holmes. I’m surprised you’re able to run without your ridiculous hat or an inflated sense of self-worth.”
Holmes turned a shade of red, before calming himself. It was a rare display of emotion on his part; Moriarty couldn’t recall the younger man breaking his disciplined expression since he and Victor stopped bothering Norfolk estates’. “Your criminal network no longer concerns me, Professor,” he claimed, “I have…bigger demons to battle. I’ll allow you the privilege of roaming the London fog once again, so long as you assist me in my war.”
“If you believe yourself the sole entity hindering me from my past life, you woke up with an irrationally large ego.” Moriarty started. “Have you read the papers recently? We might as well throw our Bibles out; the public has found God in the press.”
“Have you read the papers recently?” Holmes nearly lurched forward, his rage now evident. “Have you not deduced the demons I speak of?”
“Crime’s a business as much as it is an art, Holmes,” Moriarty answered, “I can’t keep track of everything when I’m occupied with my own.”
Holmes landed backwards, rubbing his forehead in frustration. He glared at Moriarty, then, determined in his goal. “There’s been a chain of events,” he said, “Murders. I’ve decided to go out of hiding for it, but I’ve made sure Scotland Yard hasn’t publicized my existence. For now.”
Moriarty arched a brow. A realization struck him. “Ah. You mean the Motherhood, don’t you?”
He was almost unconsciously aware of the murders, as it drifted beneath his waning gaze. The Motherhood Murders were intriguing, Moriarty could admit, but they weren’t exactly an obstacle to his existence or even a shining opportunity—the killer, obviously a doctor of some sort with a dark past involving childbirth, possibly the death of a wife bearing his child, allegedly choked and dug into the intestines of women in various stages of pregnancy, sending the developing fetus to the police with notes. It had trumped the Leather Apron in gruesomeness and in headlines, but Moriarty paid no mind to it. There was nothing intriguing to the case, in his opinion. The murderer was sloppy, untrained, but was given enough insight to horrendous deeds to know how to commit his own. Given enough evidence and a bit of profiling, he could’ve solved the case in two weeks. He was surprised Holmes hasn’t.
“Yes,” Holmes said. “The Motherhood.”
Moriarty paused. “The case seems elementary,” he said, “I’m sure you needn’t my assistance.”
“I have my—theories,” Holmes confessed. “But I need you and Moran to help me confirm them, and find the murderer. Immediately.”
The criminal mastermind tilted his head. “And why is that?”
“I can’t tell you.”
“I’ll figure it out on my own.”
“I trust that you will.”
Moriarty considered the situation, the dim light passing through the small windows at the side of the wall painting his creased and aging complexion in a painter’s dream. “What shall I have in return, then?”
“I can’t give you immunity from the press,” Holmes started. “As you said, one can’t fight God. But I will offer you immunity from Scotland Yard, and enough cover to organize your network from Ireland.”
“And how would you do that?”
“The Yard is incredibly dependent on one man,” Holmes mused. “And I have my own connections.”
Moriarty frowned. “That won’t be enough.”
“I will be eternally indebted to you,” Holmes leaned in, his eyes keen, his pose pleading, “I will do everything in my power to help you in whatever cruel deed you intend to commit--”
“Can you turn back time, Mr. Holmes?” Moriarty asked. “Can you make it 1895 once again, when neither of us need worry about who or what discovers our identities?”
Holmes paused. “If I could,” he said, “I wouldn’t need to come to this.”
Moriarty was never one for solving murders.
He preferred the painting process rather than the analysis, as, in its essence, it meant very little to anyone other than the painter. But he learnt a few things from Holmes, in their distant college years when both of them gravitated towards each other without speaking a syllable—murder’s an expression of the mind.
The Motherhood’s was demented.
“You brought a friend with you, Holmes?” Lestrade asked as they both walked into the most recent crime scene, partially blocking the view of the woman lying on the floor. “He seems familiar. Somehow. A relative of Watson’s, perhaps?”
Holmes seemed to flinch at the name. Moriarty arched his fake eyebrows—a disguise, one of many in Holmes’ almost ridiculously large wardrobe, to make him appear younger and more like the famous biographer himself—taking note of another distinct crack in his character. “No, Lestrade; you are speaking of Harry, of course,” Sherlock answered, “Reginald Musgrave. He’s an old acquaintance.”
Moriarty offered his hand. “Pleasure meeting you, Inspector.”
Lestrade shook it. “I only regret having to meet in these conditions.”
He wasn’t wrong. The state of the body, currently as disheveled and muddled as the killer’s thoughts, was laid on the floor, it’s guts spilling out in an unseemly manner, blood splattered angrily on the wall beside it. There was certainly a chilling element to it, but it was mostly out of amateurish rage, thoughtless rampage—Moriarty’s met enough brutes to know they aren’t as intimidating unless they know what they’re doing. “When did the murder occur?” he asked.
"Last night," Lestrade answered, gravely. He seemed despondent. "Mary Lassiter, formerly McCarthy. She's a widower with two kids, not including the one in her; husband died little over two months ago while she had the baby."
Moriarty nodded, quietly. He stared at a piece of jewelry on the woman's neck, wrapped in gold with a jade stone inside. "I'm sure it'll be difficult to live with their uncle," he mentioned, "Especially with his anxiety issues."
Lestrade glanced up at him. "What?"
"The pendant is a prize from the brother, certainly, but it isn't necessarily an indication of anxiety," Sherlock butted in, "Perhaps it's proof of a wearytraveler, and an earnest love between siblings. A gift from the brother, whose obviously traveled to the far East for it, perhaps--"
Moriarty leaned down, taking a closer look. He clicked at the jade. "Found in the Yangtze, crafted by careful fingers, later given as a gift, an attempted robbery made while the necklace was still on but unrelated to the murder itself." Moriarty paused. "The dents in the side which might indicate constant fingering indicates a compulsive habit of some sort, and since the Mrs. Lassiter's nails remain untouched, we can assume the brother--whose initials are signed on the gilding as E.M, the M being the wife's family name which crosses out the husband on the list ofgifters--was often under some sort of pressure. Running away from something, perhaps."
"A war?" Lestrade interrupted, quietly.
Moriarty and Sherlock turned to him. "Perfect fit," Holmes acknowledged. "Thank you, Lestrade. It would be very helpful if familial ties were of any use to us now."
"And who’s to say it isn't?" Moriarty stood up. "You've obviously gotten nowhere with the past victims, so we might as well start anew here. Perhaps the brother or the children know somethingof the strange incident."
"It's a series of events, Mo--Musgrave. You of all people should know that if this is of any emotional nature, it would imply a similarity between these women that only the killer sees," Holmes stumbled in his words, keeping a straight face.
Moriarty nodded, resisting the urge to roll his eyes. "Of course."
Lestrade grinned at the two of them. "You have made an...impression of yourself, however," he started, "Mr. Musgrave."
I bloody better."Quick deduction, nothing particularly notable once you know the method. It's simple mathematics," Moriarty answered. "Let us resume the case."
"You've made a good replacement."
Moriarty looked up from his files, glaring at the Inspector from across the desk. The offices in Scotland Yard smelled of tax misuse and low funding, but for somereason he wasn't aware of Holmes had refused him the pleasure of visiting Baker Street with him until he’d gathered the information needed. "For who?"
"Why, John Watson, of course. I daresay you surpass the doctor, perhaps act as an equal," Lestrade answered. "Are you writing of the detective, as well?"
The mastermind in disguise glared at him. "What in God's name are you talking about?"
"You aren't replacing Dr. Watson?"
"And why would I?" he asked.I certainly don't have the capability of fanning the narcissist's ego, never mind as well as his writer.
Lestrade stared at him for the longest time, only beginning to comprehend the situation. "Oh dear," he started, calmly, "You mustn't have lived in London long, now have you?"
Moriarty stopped for a moment. Holmes' emotional outbursts, his irrational need to go out of hiding in order to solve a case, his potentially risqué decision to turn to Moriarty of all people for assistance-- "The doctor’s dead?"
Lestrade’s face turned grim. “We don’t know. He’s disappeared. It’s understandable, if you think about it for long enough,” he described, “He was never in a particularly healthy state of mind, especially after Holmes’s fall. He’d been grim and inconsolable for days, and had distanced himself from the rest of society. His wife, Mary, gave me updates on his condition; a loving woman. I suppose her death tipped him off the point.” Lestrade paused. “Holmes came out months after he disappeared. Most of us thought he was a ghost the first time he arrived in the office, as it was midnight, and nobody had seen his hooked nose and deerstalker for what felt like centuries. I was eager to shoot him. When he told me what had happened, I was especially eager to shoot him.”
Moriarty took a mental note of the information. “When did it happen?”
“Mary’s death.” Moriarty inquired. “And why?”
Lestrade shrugged. “Somewhere between November the first to the twenty second,” he answered. “The death was common—she died out of childbirth. The poor little baby girl died a few days after her mother, and her father wasn’t there to see it.” He sighed. “It’s a shame.”
Moriarty nodded silently. He flipped through the pages of his files, keen to find something intriguing in them. The air was damp and dusty. He stopped at one page, finding something intriguing tucked quietly between three others. They were all written in what he supposed was red ink (it didn’t smell of blood), with messages inside them varying in style of cursive and madness; Why? , one said; I miss them, another said in messy writing; They can hear me, one said. The last sentence was repeated several times in the last note, halting in a ripped Tell me you can hear me. /“Lestrade,” he started, “Have these been analyzed recently?”
Lestrade eyed them lazily. “Yes, but not by Holmes,” he answered. “There’s one more being studied by a colleague of mine. Would you like to send all five to Mr. Holmes?”
He obviously doesn’t mean to solve this case. “I believe,” he stood up, “That that would be fitting.”
“You didn’t tell me what happened to your doctor, Holmes.”
Holmes pinned a note to his wall, tying a string to the other end of another pin across it. “I had assumed you’d figured it out,” he answered it, “Considering I came to you, after all.”
“I assumed you needed someone more intelligent, not another Boswell,” Moriarty answered, slamming the door of the Baker Street flat. “And hiding information from me does no good for either of us.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Holmes started, “You’ve gotten the notes?”
Moriarty nodded, pulling out four of them. He tucked the first one silently in his coat pocket. “A strange brand of psychosis,” he confessed. “But it appears our man is at least literate. The first few notes are written as if they were sane, but by the end of the fourth note things have gone too deep for us to understand what’s on his mind.”
Holmes picked up the four notes, eyeing them carefully. His keen observation slowly transformed into cheerless ogling, as if trying to reassure himself of something he knew wasn’t true. “Where’s the fifth note?”
“The Inspector has it. He hasn’t had the time to examine it.”
“And why didn’t you retrieve it from him?”
“I’ve given you reason enough, Holmes.”
“You’re a criminal mastermind, surely you could’ve achieved better.”
“And you’re a detective who has become nearly as delusional as the killer he’s looking for,” Moriarty shot back, joining Holmes by the board. The fire from the furnace crackled in the distance. “You’ve sent me here to help you solve a murder, and in return you’ll give me back everything that was before 1895. I understand your hesitancy for the latter, but the former is proving just as disturbing to you.”
Holmes muttered something under his breath, that sounded eerily close to ‘I’m not trying to solve a murder; I’m trying to find the murderer’. “I’ve--” he paused. He stared up at the map he’d nailed to the wall, pictures and strings attached to it. “I’ve made a list. A list of things, a list of people, a list of locations. I’ve listed the similarities—Lassiter and the other women all being pregnant, Lassiter and the other women all being widowers, Lassiter and the other women all being relatively young. Bright, perhaps, but mostly young. Other than that--” Holmes stared up at it, despondently. “I can’t understand where he’ll strike next.”
Moriarty frowned. “You have barely connected the dots and you’re thinking of the endgame.”
But there was strangeness in his face that seemed to mouth all the answers. “I’m—I’m at a loss,” he stood back, slowly. “I truly am.”
Moriarty took a pause. “I’ve only ever heard you say that of me,” he said. “And even then, you’ve found a solution to that.”
Holmes stared at him. “That’s—that’s different.”
Yes. From the looks of it, it very much is. Moriarty sighed. He picked out the notes from Holmes’ fingers, turning to the wall. “The language of human cruelty can be translated into mathematical equations. If you’re ever stuck in one,” he began, “You start from the first variable, and try again.”
“Pardon me, is this John Watson’s residence?”
He approached the young maid on the porch, sweeping the idle floorboards morosely. She turned to him, quietly. “Yes, sir,” she greeted, kindly, “And who may I ask are you?”
“An old friend,” Moriarty drew his top hat away, fingering the letter inside. “I’ve just come by from a tumultuous journey outside of town. It was considerably difficult, but since I was passing this side of the city, I thought it’d be worthwhile to pay a short visit.”
The maid nodded. “Dr. Watson hasn’t been present for some time now,” the maid confessed. “Though you’re welcome to wander the home for a little while. No one but Mr. Harry Watson’s been present, and he’ll join you shortly after he comes back from the pu—work. His work.”
Moriarty nodded, smiling affably. He turned to the interior of the humble home, a small slice compared to the brownstone giants beside it, walking in.
The interior was maddeningly dusty. It showed its age with the peeling wallpaper and the cobwebs by the candles, floods of light from the window revealing dust motes. The parlor was a graveyard, with couches and old books as headstones, spilled bottles and footprints on the carpet new plots of land for another cadaver to be buried in. The kitchen was a crime scene of spoiled fruit on the dining table and ants trailing the cabinets. Still, he wasn’t looking for that. He was looking for the bedroom.
He walked up the stairs, wandering the halls aimlessly. At once he reached his destination, opening a door to reveal splashes of peeling beige and a mahogany bed frame without the mattress. There was a desk, just beside a window, lovingly casting the environment in a pleasing light. On it was a typewriter, along with stacks upon stacks of paper.
There was writing on one of them.
He strode to it, picking it up. Sherlock Holmes and the Giant Rat of Sumatra. The text below had John Watson as the author. Moriarty pulled out the text in his pocket out, comparing the two quietly. He frowned.
Sherlock Holmes was tired.
It was the first and most defining emotion he ever felt since the Fall. Ever since he had to leave Watson to his own peril. He thought of his biographer often, even when he knew better than to color the past in such sentimental light.
The past is a variable in their equation.
He strode through Baker Street, knowing well enough where he was to go. Ours is something that should’ve ended years ago, he thought to himself. Ours is a legend that should’ve remained in 1895. He reached the corner. He thought he heard gasping and a choking sound, and then silence. Ours is an adventure that should’ve ended when you started writing with blood instead of ink.
Holmes turned around, calmly. He eyed the shadow looking back at him, calmly. “Watson.”
Moriarty had helped him significantly. All the points were connected, all the dots and pictures drawn into a straight line—from the Thames to the scum of the city to here, he realized slowly what the killer was doing. What his friend was doing. He was remembering, without any specific order. The writing on the wall of Lassiter’s murder reminded him of their first case; the spilled intestines reminded him of his wife; and the calming air of the evening, the woman in his old companion’s arms, it all reminded him of a time when everything was somewhat simpler.
“I’ve truly gone mad, now,” Watson stuttered, grasping at the pale faced brunette in his arms. “I must have. Really, I must have.”
“My dear Watson,” Holmes started, striding towards him. “Let go of the woman--”
“You’re dead,” Watson started, a madness ringing in his blue eyes. They gleamed like the blade between his fingers, blinking at Sherlock evilly. “They told me you were dead. They never found your body. You—you died, along with Moriarty--”
Holmes cringed at the name. Oh, if he had known what he was about to do. “How could I be dead, Watson?” Holmes rationalized. “I’m here. Everything can still be fixed. I can still help you out of this—we could be together, once again, like it was years ago. We needn’t remember this chapter of the story.” Holmes paused. “Just—let go of the woman, Watson.”
Watson blinked, rapidly, as if he was experiencing a nightmare. He glanced down at the unconscious woman, considering. “I truly have gone mad,” he murmured. His face crunched in disgust. “You two left me. You two left me, after all this time.”
Without warning, he slashed at the woman’s wrists, leaving the space behind them bloody and red. “You two left me, and now you of all people are back to bring me back into madness,” Watson screamed, “You think you can bring back the past, Holmes? You think you can control time? You may be a machine, a god among men,” Watson charged at Holmes, “But there is no solution to--”
A flash of light and fire echoed out, striking the broken man on the kneecap. Watson dropped his knife, painfully falling to his end. Holmes came to his companion’s side, eagerly. “Watson? Watson?”
The doctor hissed.
“The pain is definitely a little more than somatic,” a familiar entity said, answering a question Holmes’ didn’t want answered. “If it’s any consolation, though, at least you’ve proven your Boswell’s still alive.”
He wished he didn’t.
“Why did you do that?”
Holmes wrapped the bandage around Watson’s leg, frowning. Moriarty stood in the corner of the parlor, rubbing his suit with his revolver. “You were being attacked,” he said, “And I don’t let my more significant investments get murdered, regardless of how mawkish they act.”
“I would’ve killed you,” Holmes shot back, his tone angered. “I would’ve, if I didn’t know it was you.”
“Because I hurt your pet?”
Moriarty paused. He watched as the detective wrapped the doctor’s wounds, quietly. “You might not be able to bring him back,” he said. “Minds can’t be glued together per se. And even if you could bring his old personality back, neither of you would be able to forget this incident— assuming you manage to get Lestrade to forget it, of course.”
Holmes sighed. “Don’t point out the obvious, Professor.”
Moriarty shrugged. “The heart has the uncanny ability to bend reality in its image; sometimes, you must be reminded that you can’t break the laws of nature,” he said. “Sometimes, you must be reminded you can’t go back in time.”
Holmes continued his bandaging, silently. There was no longer any emotion in his expression. Everything had broken apart somehow, and he was now nothing more than a hollow shell of a man, shoddily healing his hollow friend. “We will always have the past, at least,” he said, to everybody and nobody. “We’ll live on in Watson’s sensationalist text, where it’s eternally 1985.”
Moriarty simply watched the two in silence, his eyes flickering by the firelight.