14 February, Evening
In an empty building across the street from Victor Trevor’s boarded up teashop, Sebastian Moran quietly packs away his equipment. Through the window he can hear voices, too far away to be understood or even distinguished. It doesn’t matter. He slips out the back of the building twice: the first time, to put one rifle in the trunk; the second, to stow the other, lighter rifle and the equipment he’d been using to listen in on Trevor and his companions. He’s gone just before the police arrive, rumbling away in a dark, thoroughly unremarkable car. One of Jim’s.
He can’t bring the rifles back to the safe house, so he stops at one of their warehouses first, stores them there. It’s a welcome delay. After all, Jim doesn’t know he took the car. Jim doesn’t know he was trailing Trevor in the first place. This is all what Jim would call an “extracurricular assignment,” off the record. However, as too much of Sebastian’s usual work had been delegated to Trevor lately, Sebastian found himself with a great deal of free time on his hands. What did Jim expect him to do with it?
He’s past the point of caring about what Jim expects, though. He was right all along. He’d told Jim that Trevor was a traitor, and he was right. And if he’s guilty of taking care of the issue on his own, without authorization—well, so be it. The problem is resolved now. Jim will be pleased… eventually.
The drive to the safe house is long and dark and quiet. No flashing lights or echoing sirens escort Sebastian on his way there. All well and good, but he thinks he could use a car chase. His grip on the wheel of the car is tight; he always gets a bit overexcited when he kills someone. Strictly speaking, he didn’t stick around to verify that Trevor died, but he knows. He just knows Trevor did. Sebastian Moran doesn’t miss.
In the end, Trevor had been a lovesick moron. Disappointing. Did he really think James Moriarty wouldn’t know about his property in the city? Not that Jim spared it much thought. Sebastian did, though. He saw that empty teashop for what it was: more than a storeroom. A potential sanctuary. He bugged the place weeks ago.
Good thing he did. He would hope Jim sees it that way except he doesn’t really care. Jim might rage at him and it wouldn’t matter, because he has the proof: Trevor telling Sherlock Holmes and John Watson to leave town. It’s right here on the recording.
Then again, Jim might be busy, or asleep, or out. Probably not asleep—he rarely sleeps. Probably not out, as Sebastian highly doubts that Kitty Riley would want to meet for a chat at this time of night, on this day, unless Jim has been playing a very specific card with her. Busy doesn’t factor here, either. Busy is unimportant. Jim will listen to what Sebastian has to say.
When Sebastian opens the door to the safe house, he finds Jim in the sitting room, listening to something on his iPhone. It could be that he’s modified it to eavesdrop on the police scanners again, but—no, Sebastian thinks not. Jim’s eyes are closed, and he’s waving his fingers in front of him as if he were conducting an orchestra. “Oh, that’s it,” he’s saying to himself quietly. “Yes, that’s just how you do it.”
Sebastian will have to be the one to break the news, then. That’s fine. He steels himself before rapping loudly on the doorframe.
Jim looks up, analyzing him in an instant, understanding everything, and then the most unexpected thing happens: he breaks into a wide Cheshire grin. “Well well well, if it isn’t the man of the hour himself,” he says, pulling out his ear buds. “I thought you’d find your way back sooner, Sebastian. Then again, maybe it’s drawing out the anticipation that makes it so sweet. You do know how to savor a victory. But here you are, and here I am. Are you ready to claim your reward?”
Sebastian, taken aback, only furrows his brow. He can’t figure out whether or not he’s being mocked. “Reward?”
“That’s right.” Jim stands from the sofa. He’s wearing a t-shirt and jeans, which is part of what Sebastian knows to be his latest costume. It’s oddly jarring, seeing him like that. He crosses the room, toward Sebastian. “It’s not your favorite box of chocolates, but it should satisfy your cravings all the same. I know you’ve been keeping track, valentine. You know as well as I do that we haven’t had a special night to ourselves in quite some time.”
“I…” says Sebastian. He hasn’t been keeping track, actually. Anger is a powerful intoxicant, and the only thing at the forefront of his mind these past three weeks has been Victor Trevor.
“Time for that to change, I think,” Jim says, a little quieter, moving ever closer, “now that you’ve taken care of your only romantic rival.”
Sebastian stares at Jim, at the top of his head. He wasn’t expecting this reaction, isn’t prepared for it. What was he expecting? Oh, outrage, at first. Muted, cold outrage, filed sharp like the blade of a throwing knife. And then impatience, while Sebastian told the story—Jim finds it difficult to stay still during debriefings. And then, after that, perhaps there’d be pride in how Sebastian rid their organization of a nuisance, a spy. But Sebastian certainly didn’t think he’d be receiving a warm welcome after what he did tonight.
“We need to talk,” he says slowly.
“Are you breaking up with me?” Jim asks in a lilting voice. His face is very close to Sebastian’s neck now. Sebastian can feel the tickle of his breath, smell strawberries and cream. Fruity bastard. “Today of all days?” He smooths down the lapel of Sebastian’s jacket. “Your timing leaves something to be desired, pet.”
But Sebastian, seized with the unfairness of it all, the crippling injustice that he’d been left in the dark about something important yet again, takes Jim by the front of his shirt and turns him, pushing him up against the wall, holding him there. And suddenly it strikes Sebastian how very weak Jim is, physically. He doesn’t spend hours in the gym, training. No, he sits there, planning. Just sits. Sebastian could snap his neck with ease if he wanted to, just like that. And Jim is weak; he couldn’t put up a fight. Sebastian could snap his neck.
But he couldn’t, wouldn’t, won’t, wouldn’t dare. He just says again, in a low voice, “We need to talk.”
“Okay, okay,” says Jim, holding up his hands, a mockery of surrender. “Put me down first and we’ll talk.”
Jim’s toes are barely brushing the floor. Sebastian lowers him to the ground.
“Someone’s feeling feisty,” says Jim while he brushes off his shirt, completely unfazed. “I almost forgot how fearless you get when the blood’s fresh, tiger. Been a long time, hasn’t it?”
“Get to the point,” Sebastian growls.
Tilting his head to one side, Jim says, “Isn’t it obvious? You did exactly what I was expecting you to do. Victor Trevor—”
“You expected me to kill Victor Trevor?”
“No, I expected you to elope with him.” Exasperation creeps into Jim’s voice, and he sighs. “Haven’t you been paying attention?”
Sebastian frowns. His hands are still clenched by his sides. He brings one up, having to concentrate hard to open his palm and rake a distracted hand through his hair. “Trevor was your favorite.”
“No no no, oh no.” Jim waves his hands. “No, I only wanted you to think he was my favorite. I wanted you to react appropriately to that threat. It was just another test, Sebastian. The final test.” He smiles again. “You passed with flying colors.”
Sebastian says nothing.
“Trevor was on Sherlock’s side from the very beginning, of course,” Jim continues from somewhere far away. “And he provided the perfect opportunity for me to show Sherlock Holmes that I’m playing for keeps now.”
It’s too much. Sebastian’s head is buzzing. “You could have just ordered—”
“But this was more fun.” Jim caresses Sebastian’s upper arm. “I had to make sure once and for all that you knew how to take initiative without me. Your loyalty is… mm, admirable, as those things go,” —he wrinkles his nose— “but your ability to improvise on your own—that’s what I needed to see, Sebastian. If something were to really happen to me, I’d need you to do whatever needs doing.”
This time, after a full minute of silence, it’s Sebastian who sighs. “After all the shit you put me through,” he says, “you’re damn lucky I stay.”
“My poor, naïve tiger,” Jim purrs, running his fingers absentmindedly though Sebastian’s hair, almost petting him. “When will you learn that luck has nothing to do with it?”
It’s only later, when Sebastian’s high on oxytocin instead of adrenaline, when Jim’s letting him linger in bed—only the second time that’s happened—and Sebastian’s cheek is pressed up against Jim’s back, the place where his spine can be felt under his skin, that he says, “I’ll be glad when this is over.”
Jim doesn’t say anything.
“We work well together, you and I,” says Sebastian, not daring to move lest he break the fragile balance of things, the way they are. “When you’re not keeping me in the dark. When it’s only us.” The words won’t stop falling out of his mouth. He hadn’t realized how much being Jim’s favorite meant to him until Victor Trevor came along. “And it will be, boss—it’ll all be over soon, you’ve said it yourself. No Irene Adler, no Victor Trevor, and no Sherlock Holmes. Just us against the world, right?” He pauses. “As it should be.”
He almost expects to be slapped for such a garish display of sentiment. Instead, all Jim says is, “I’m very tired, Sebastian.”
“All right,” Sebastian says. And as he closes his eyes, he realizes that might be the closest he ever gets to saying “I love you” to anyone.