Title: relentless unheroic necessary
Pairing: Jim Moriarty/Seb Moran
Rating: R (and it's a hard fucking R)
Warnings: Jesus, where do I start. Uh. Graphic violence, murder, internal narration of psychopaths, loss of a parent, loss of grip on reality, power play, pain play, elements of D/s play, discussions of bullying, discussions of torture.
Summary: A swimming pool, a desert, two, the ends of sentences, guns, a future in the cards and a tiger in the brush and no one ever tells you: antiheroes have more fun.
He's born James Sebastian Moriarty, eight pounds two ounces, unremarkable except for his eyes, newborn and not blue; he's Jimmy before his first birthday, Jimmy for years, Jimmy till the day his father dies.
"People die, Jim," his mother says, cigarette dangling from the edge of her mouth, a balancing act, the only one she's ever been good at it. "That's just what people do."
He's five, Jimmy Moriarty, Jim, because the name you're called in the wake of a landslide, that's your name, that's the truth, he'll never be Jimmy again. He's five and he's Jim and he's smart enough to know that people die, that everyone dies, but usually they're not cut to ribbons while their son watches from the crack in the closet door; he's smart enough to know that his father--caramels in his pockets and callouses on his hands, shoulders bent in submission--counts now as a debt collected, nothing more.
He nicks the cigarettes from his mother's pocket, sits on the floor that night, eyes on the stars, smokes in his mouth. He doesn't light them, just works his lips around the filters until they're too soggy to hold up, mimes the way his mother breathes, in and out again.
When he's managed it, mastered it, a game of balance, a trick of the light, he throws them all out, smiles.
The air's not right in London; Seb's known from the moment he stepped out at Heathrow, discharge papers creased unevenly in his pocket, £300 in Afghani stuffed in the lining of his coat. It's not the filth--filth he's used to--but there's a taste on the wind, blowing through the streets like smoke, flicking through the too-thin air, the air that should be thick and isn't; maybe he's just unhappy to be home.
He gets an apartment in Brixton, cheap and dirty, so small it's barely an apartment at all. The air's wrong in there too, but better, somehow, for being worse. He buys foul tobacco and rolls his own cigarettes, spends little, hoards what money he was able to scrounge from his family before they cut him off; he jumps at the sound of gunfire and then aches with the trigger-itch in his fingers, looks out at the world through a scope he's absorbed.
He killed a man in the desert, one of his own, a tap on the shoulder after one IED too many, the soft, sickening sound of a knife through a throat. It's not lost on him, not then and not now, not ever, that he would've gotten a medal if the poor sod had been from the other side.
Jim's mother gambles, and it's not a habit, it's a compulsion, there's a difference; there's power in the words you assign to things, Jim knows, power in names like there's power in everything, assuming you know where to look. She's not great at it, Siobhan, but she's not great at motherhood either, never was--it's love that's the difference, a tenderness in the way she holds a hand to her chest that she's never once offered to her son.
She has good times and bad ones, is drawn to the drink and away from it, takes some of the phone calls and dodges others. Some weeks it's steak dinner every night, and some weeks they've lost the house; Jim learns to put a value on hands, on people, learns to read cards, then faces, then extortion demands badly hidden amongst the papers in the nightstand.
By the time he's six, Jim's lived in three houses, four apartments, and the back of a flatbed pickup truck. Siobhan's never sorry, just resigned; "Worse luck, Jimmy," she says, "better pack your things," even though that's not what Jim's called anymore.
Seb's in Hackney, wearing an ill-fitting suit and a scowl, toothpick balanced between his lips, hands in his pockets. He's been blacklisted, his family or his discharge or both, turned down at every job he tries for; it's getting old, the interviewer expecting an arse-kiss when it's obvious he's not going to get hired. He's been back in London six months, and the air still tastes wrong, and he's still out of money, still dreaming of tigers.
A man crosses the street, big, burly, looks Seb up and down; Seb notes him, dismisses him, looks away.
He stops in front of a shopfront--Taylor's Tailoring, the sign says, paint chipping at the edges, dust caked on the window, and Seb snorts, rolls his eyes. Times change, but people never do; circumstances change, but London doesn't.
There's a hand in Seb's back pocket, not invited, not his own; he smiles, spits the toothpick out, and turns around.
"Thought you were admiring my haircut," he says, face to chest with the man who'd eyed him up, fingers circling around his thick, hairy wrist. "Would've gone better for you, really."
"What're you gonna do?" says the man, and he's sneering until Seb tightens, shifts, his grip, pushes his thumb up and his fingers back. It's not enough to break any bones (yet, Seb thinks, a distant sort of pleasure in it), but tears spring to the man's eyes anyway, hang unshed, threatening to spill.
"Guessed I'd be an easy mark, right," Seb says, conversational, blood simmering, vision clouded with a hundred, a thousand men this guy isn't, but he's here, a decent stand-in, and he's opened Pandora's box, so it's his own damn fault. "Smaller than you, bad posture, you think I don't get it? Bad call, though, bet you see that now."
"Please," says the man, and hell, he means it, tears spilling over, genuine fear, and that's all the fun gone; Seb could break his wrist, could kill him six ways right here in the street, but he doesn't, because it's too easy. He's never been one for borrowing trouble, not when he could steal it outright, and this pathetic bastard, regrettably, isn't worth his time.
"Run along, then," Seb says, releasing him, and there's a little satisfaction in the fact that he actually does run, but not quite enough. Seb ducks into the alley behind the shop, kicks his feet up against a wheelie bin and rolls a cigarette; the tobacco tastes like losing, like poverty, but at least it stops his trigger finger twitching.
"My, my," says a shadow, a strangely…lilting…shadow, "we are hungry today, aren't we?"
Seb turns his head, left, right, looks forward again; the man who steps out of the gloom is too small to be dangerous, too mad around the eyes to be anything else. There's blood on the sleeve of his shirt--baby-blue, rolled up, and it's old blood but not that old, brown but not stiff, which is about enough to be getting on with.
"Who're you, then?" Seb says, taking another drag. "If you're going to try and kill me, you might as well let me finish my smoke."
"Try and kill you," the man says, eyes gone wide, and then he tips his head back and laughs like it's the funniest thing he's ever heard. "Well, yes, if I were going to try--"
"I'm armed," Seb says, out of curiosity more than fear, and the man's eyes narrow.
"You're not armed," he says, "but you wish you were, oh, how sweet, you've been dismissed, six years, wasn't it? Ooh, that's interesting, old money, not too old, old enough that it was that much worse, wasn't it, dignity is so funny. The suit's yours, god knows why, it's tragic, but the shoes--oh, dear, Brixton, really--you stole the shoes, could've done better, if you're going to go to the effort--"
It's a clean punch, smoothly delivered, pulled a little but not much; the man reels, blood dripping from the corner of his mouth, and straightens up. His eyes light on the cigarette balanced between Seb's lips, and he smiles.
It's the worst smile Seb's ever seen, and that's a hell of fight. He grins back, because he might as well, and takes another drag. "You weren't wrong about the hunger."
"Well, you're just the most fun I've had all day," the man says, holding out his hand, and he's lilting again, sing-song, Seb can't place his accent, it's nowhere and everywhere. He takes the card that's being offered to him, thick card stock, white lettering on matte black--Jim Moriarty and an address, neatly typed, in the bottom right corner. "And of course I wasn't wrong; I never am."
"Everyone's wrong sometimes, Mr. Moriarty."
"It's Jim," says Jim, "and in this case, no, they're not."
"Here is what's so," Jim says, sliding on a pair of sunglasses, snapping his fingers, and a car pulls up to the mouth of the alley, which is insane, which is impossible. "You, my little starving artist, are going to go inside now. There's a man behind the counter, grey sport coat, terrified, smells like piss, that's my fault, so sorry. You're going to get my £30,000 from him by any means necessary--hungry boy, I know, time for dinner now, won't that be nice--and then he's going to take your," and Jim stops here, reaches out, touches the lapels of Seb's suit and shudders, disgusted, "measurements, ugh. You'll bring all that back to the address on the card, yes? Yes, that should do nicely."
"He doesn't need to take my measurements," Seb says, knowing even as he says it that it's the wrong objection, the least sane objection, but a point's a point. "I know them."
"Clearly not," says Jim, pulling that face again, that comically horrified face, and it's almost funny, really. "If I see you again in those clothes I will be sick, and if you don't deliver by six p.m. you will be a throw rug, the sitting room, I think, and that would be a waste."
"You don't even know my name," says Seb, which, again, not the objection he means to raise, but his fingers are itching again, and he'd be lying if he said he wasn't hungry still, always, since the desert and long before. "You're just going to trust me with your money?"
"Well, as I've made it quite clear that the consequences for disappointment will be severe," says Jim, "yes, I rather think so. And your name is simple, darling, a phone call away, not even a challenge, and I do hate to be bored--"
"Sebastian," Seb says, automatic, like it's been drawn out of him. "Sebastian Moran."
Jim freezes, a half-second thing, twitches all over, tilts the sunglasses down. He smiles again, and it's more horrible but less too, makes Seb feel picked apart.
"Oh, Sebastian," he says, "yes, I think you'll do quite nicely."
Jim gets sick of packing, gets sick of the taste in his mouth after too long between meals, the dry, flat echo of his teeth grinding together for lack of anything to put between them. He doesn't learn to count cards because he already knows, because it's sickeningly simple, obvious, and they're stupid, all of them, Siobhan and her friends and her not-friends, the brutes with the broad shoulders, where's your mother, where's your mother.
He doesn't learn to count cards, but he does have to teach Siobhan, not to count, never to count, there are tasks beyond any eight year old and he's not much for teaching anyway, Jim, never was, never will be. He shows her tricks instead, signals, the hands of the table concealed in the whine of a child, excuses for him, too--No one to watch him, Siobhan says; No one but us, Siobhan says; Cries if I leave him, Siobhan says, take pity. Because that's the thing, pity, not as useful as fear but he's young yet, knows how to play what he's been dealt, and people are so easy, really, when you know what buttons to push.
"Mammy, I'm hungry," Jim whines, and means Fold; "Mammy, I'm tired," Jim mumbles, and means Bet already, we haven't got all night.
She gets cocky, doesn't take long, only to be expected; she thinks it's all her not long after that, and that's intolerable, itches under Jim's collar, in the soles of his shoes. "Thank your mother for that food in your mouth," she says, and Jim scowls at his plate, makes her take him to the racetrack; three weeks and he's got a feel for it and a runner to boot, a pock-marked, thick teenager named Owen who knows better than to look a gift horse in the mouth.
"Are you sure you want me to bet against," Owen starts, once, only once, and Jim bursts into tears for effect. He doesn't mention how easy it was to poison the frontrunner's food; he's just old enough to have developed a distaste for loose ends, and it's not like anyone ever questions the extra stableboy.
Jim works out of an abandoned tower block, a bustling warehouse, an office he's commandeered, the back of a stolen yacht; Jim works over dead bodies and dying ones, never flinches, but only because he never quite stops. Seb gets used to it after awhile, the cell phone that's been purchased for him, the new wardrobe that showed up overnight, the gift-wrapped sniper rifle tucked under his duvet, red bow glittering against his pillow. Jim's the weirdest job Seb's ever had--because Jim is the job, from the first, the rest of it's just semantics, killshots--but he can't say he isn't enjoying himself.
"I thought Prague," Jim says over dinner--he's not eating, because he doesn't some days, seems to get a sort of perverse pleasure out of watching Seb do it instead. Other days he gorges himself, orders more food than anyone needs and won't share; Seb's given up trying to figure it out. "In, let's say, twenty minutes, I wouldn't want you to choke on your pasta."
"Yes you would," Seb says, mouth full just to watch his eye twitch, because he's having the kind of day when he cares about that sort of thing. "But as no one's choked on pasta in the history of time--"
"You could be the first," Jim says. "Maybe I poisoned it."
"Not excited enough for poison," Seb says, snorts--takes a sip of water anyway, because he's not nervous, not exactly, but instinct is instinct and all that. "Prague in twenty minutes, then. If you broke into my flat to pack for me again--"
"It's not breaking in when you've got a key," Jim says, and Seb rolls his eyes.
"And who made that key, hmm?"
"Would you lock me out, then?" Jim says, serious now in that sick, deadly way, leaning across the table too far, fingers edging unconsciously towards his knife. "Answer me."
"Only if you asked me too," says Seb, and Jim relaxes, sits back, smiles in a way that's almost (not quite) winsome.
"Good, good," he says, "that's what I thought."
Carl Powers is older, bigger, and Jim's got money now, not a lot, enough to be getting on with, played on the cards, earned at the track, stolen when he can manage it, which is usually. Jim's got money, enough to buy a new coat, new shoes, to keep food on the table, to keep them in rent; he's eleven, feels eleven hundred, except.
Except he's still a child, somewhere, underneath, buried deep, and he's got money but not enough to lie on, not enough to look like he's got money--someday, surely, not yet. He's got a new coat but it's only new to him, and his shoes don't have holes but they don't have new laces, either, and that's what Carl Powers starts on first, the shoes, the fucking shoes, it's not like Jim can help it.
It doesn't matter what he says; this is what Jim tells himself, later, when he realizes he doesn't remember, a lifetime of perfect recall stunted, because he can count cards but he can't count humiliation, there's no numbers, there's no pot. He can read faces and they were all laughing, Carl Powers at the front of them, and Jim doesn't remember what they said but he remembers the blood in his cheeks, the twitch in his hands, the burning need to do something, to make it stop.
It's almost a relief, the first time Carl Powers--older, bigger, stronger too--throws a punch at him just because he can. It's almost a relief when he spits, near his head, missing, laughs like he's hilarious, like he's so funny, because, well. It's a game now, isn't it, a clear winner, a clear loser--Jim, oh, yes, Jim knows what to do with that.
Seb gets home from the grocery to find a pair of £1500 sunglasses sitting on the second shelf of his fridge; he's not surprised, not even resigned, just tosses them aside and gropes around for his phone.
"You fucking lunatic," Seb says, "I live in Brixton," and Jim giggles, dangerous, sings out, "No you don't."
Seb doesn't figure out his meaning till the next morning, when he wakes up to an empty flat, his clothes gone, his furniture gone, nothing left but his bed and the sunglasses that have been slid over his face in his sleep. There's a man at his front door, sharp suit, dark glasses, holding a sign that says "Whiny, Party Of One" ; Seb flips him the finger and gets a cab, takes it to Jim's latest hidey-hole.
"You could have just asked me," he says, when Jim opens the door wearing nothing but a smirk and, hideously, a second pair of the sunglasses.
"Where's the fun in that," he says, and turns away, walks off, knows without looking that Seb will follow him inside.
Jim doesn't bide his time, because he doesn't have time to bide, there's things to do, calls to make, accents and voices to borrow, steal, six hours to spend sitting in the back of a supermarket listening to people talk, mimicking it under his breath. He starts going to hospitals, because those are people to know, plays someone's son, someone's nephew, a nurse's kid; he starts going to school, because there's only so many lies you can tell the truant officer and he'll need the records to forge, someday, eventually.
Carl Powers beats him up once a week, outside the park where they met, and Jim lets him, likes it more than he lets on, knows he'll cherish it later, these little moments. He starts thinking of it as anatomy lessons, because it's easier, because it's funny; which punches leave which bruises, how far the human arm can be bent behind the human head, what sweat smells like when it's pooling in victory instead of fear. Carl's got swimmer's muscles, coiled in his shoulders, in his thighs, and Jim gets to know them, sobs crocodile tears because it makes him hit harder, because if he's learning he'd going to learn, damn it, and there's nothing this brute can do to him that he couldn't do to himself, only better, worse, so he might as well pick something up.
"Fights again, then," Siobhan says, once, only once, and Jim shrugs, takes a pointed bite of her sandwich, rolls his blackened eyes.
They go to Detroit, a long flight, a private jet, and Jim's still weird like he gets when they fly commercial, eyes flicking to the windows, to the exits, back to Seb, and usually he wants to play cards but not today, today he snarls when Seb pulls out the deck, so Seb shrugs, looks back to his book, waits.
It doesn't come, the payoff, and there's no silence from Jim that comes without a payoff, even in sleep. When Jim sleeps quietly he wakes up violent, or crazed, or both; when he sleeps normally he talks, half-verbalized thoughts that mean nothing, everything, borrowed names and fingers fisted in the shirts Seb's started sleeping in to keep him from tearing at flesh. Jim's never silent unless there's something coming, and so Seb bides his time, cleans his rifle, rents the cheap American car Jim tells him to when they disembark, drives them to the address Jim's punched into the GPS.
"There'll be a man, fourth floor window, three from the right," Jim says, idly, when they've pulled into a parking spot on an otherwise abandoned street. "Three minutes and counting."
"You want me to sight him?" Seb says, for fun, really, and the smile that flickers to life in the creases around Jim's eyes is worth it.
"Of course not," he says, "I want you to kill him."
Three minutes isn't enough time, not to set up the sniper rifle, not to figure out the windspeed, not to check their surroundings, not to get the right angle from the driver's seat; Seb grins and moves, sight to barrel, area scan, licked finger out the crack in the window, it's enough to make an educated guess. He throws himself across the gearshift, elbow digging into Jim's stomach, hard, unnecessary but not without merit, says, "Don't breathe, you fuck."
"Wouldn't dream of it," Jim murmurs, an exhale, and then their mark's in sight and it's the simplest thing in the world, one breath, two, finger tightening on the trigger, a clean hit, right through the forehead, and Jim laughs, chokes on it, hisses, "Good boy."
"Get fucked, boss," Seb says, still grinning, and Jim tangles his fingers in Seb's hair, pulls, just the once, before he sighs and shoves him away.
"Door," he says, in the bored voice, the one he uses just before they do something far worse than just killing someone, and Seb shakes his head, gets out of the car.
They do…nothing, to the flat. Seb's expecting arson, another explosion like the week before last, a ransack at the very least; Jim just walks around, back straight, heel to toe, before he bends down over the corpse and pulls on a latex glove.
"Should let me do that," Seb says, unnerved, as Jim divests the man's left hand of a heavy signet ring. "Better my prints than yours, if there're gonna be prints."
"Ah, yes, because I am so typically unprofessional," Jim says. Then he adds, "Burn it, will you? I'll be in the car," which is, at least, almost normal.
Seb rigs it, all of it, just to be sure, C4 he keeps parceled away for away jobs like this; you never know when you're going to need it. When he gets back to the car Jim's got the passenger seat reclined, is holding the ring above his head, twisting it side to side, mapping the way it catches a light.
"Tell me, Sebastian Moran," he says, a giggle on his voice, one of the madder ones, this is weird, the whole thing, even for Jim, "do you suppose an eye for an eye really does make the whole world blind?"
"Why stop at one?" Seb says, and triggers the explosion.
It's not getting the poison hard, it's picking it; Jim's got four doctors in his pocket and a nurse to boot, three different hospitals and they all think he's some poor bereaved sap, it's so easy, all of it, everyone, the older Jim gets the stupider people are, and he's thirteen now, which makes Carl Powers fifteen, which means Jim's got to go ahead with things so it doesn't get old, stale, so the punch isn't stripped from it, because if there's one thing this job needs, it's punch.
But picking's hard, because Jim understands the need for a clean exit, for a smooth delivery, because Jim hates loose ends but he'd really, this first time, he'd like to see some suffering, and he weighs it out, the possibilities, the pros and cons, arsenic'd be more painful but the botchulinum means he can sit, watch, so.
It's so easy it's almost anti-climactic, a seat in the bleachers at that swim meet, a borrowed school uniform, hands hidden in his pockets so no one will see them shake, "Who're you here for," someone's mother says, and Jim smiles, ducks his head, "The team, really, wanted to try out, too shy," and they all cluck, all of them, the crowd around him, call him adorable, which is so funny, really, people are so funny.
Carl Powers dies right on schedule, and Jim plays horrified, plays shocked, and when that mother from before puts a steadying hand on his shoulder, says, "Oh, sweetheart, thank god you didn't try out after all, can you imagine, those poor boys," he has to bite the inside of his cheek, hold the laugh in until hours later, until he's locking in the bedroom of the flat he's paying for, Carl's perfect shoes wrapped up in plastic and his mother yells, "Keep it down, Jimmy, Jesus," but he's earned this, hasn't he, so he doesn't.
Back on the jet, Vegas this time, and Jim's strange, stranger, not silent now, on the phone from takeoff to landing, a knife balanced between his thumbnails, scowling, scowling.
"Sell it," he says; "Buy it," he says; "Lose it and I'll braid that pretty hair of yourself and choke you with it," he says, "see if I don't."
Seb waits; Jim's not twitching now, stopped somewhere over the Rockies, it's just him and the knife, not balanced anymore, blade dug a quarter-centimeter in to the pad of his thumb, and Seb would worry except that there's already a scar there, except that it's an old habit Seb just happens not to have seen before, so he waits, still, always.
"This is a funny one," Jim says, phone abandoned, right before they land, and that's a dangerous accent, the one that runs closest to the place where he grew up; Seb lifts his head, watches. "Not my favorite, but then again, so my favorite, isn't that interesting? Not boring, certainly, I'll give it that. I'd rather not, though, I think--no, well. Not quite sure, am I? A funny one. I said that."
"Am I supposed to be following this?" Seb says, and a half-second later the knife's buried in the seat next to his head and Jim's in his lap, bloodied thumb painting a streak down the bridge of Seb's nose, eyes so mad it's hardly fair.
"You'll do what you're told," Jim hisses, grinding forward, "won't you," and Seb bites down at the joint of his neck, just hard enough to make his point.
They get another car, another cheap rental stand, another clerk whose eyes don't quite focus on Jim, because no one's eyes like to focus on Jim when he's like this, scary-silent, shoulders rolling, and Seb's wiped the blood from his nose but that doesn't make him clean, so he just thanks her, takes the keys, drives them to the Bellagio. Jim pokes at the GPS, pulls that signet ring from his pocket and puts it on his left hand, shudders hard enough that Seb feels it from the driver's seat, says, "Don't drive the wrong side of the road, now," and Seb doesn't hit him, could, doesn't.
When the GPS says they're three minutes out, Jim pulls a jewel case from a pocket he must've had custom-made, which makes all the sense in the world and none at all. There's a CD inside, and Seb doesn't know what their play is here, doesn't know what they're doing, just knows he's supposed to do what he's told; he assumes it's code, a detonator sequence, a hack baseline, something, until Jim pops it out of the case and into the mess of buttons and dials that claims to be a sound system.
"Orders?" Seb says, because he might as well, now, and Jim raises a finger in the air.
"Don't speak," he says, "and shoot if you have to. Do shut up now, I'm busy."
Twat, Seb thinks, doesn't say because he was told not to, because he's got his orders and he'll stick to them, because his orders are his job and he knows when to leave well enough alone. Jim takes a deep breath and then exhales, long and low, as the stereo starts to play Staying Alive; he tips his head back, closes his eyes, and then he's moving, his whole body writhing against the shoddy plastic seat, almost dancing, not quite.
"What--" Seb says, forgetting himself, and two of Jim's fingers brush against the pressure point in his neck in time with the music, so he shuts up.
They pull into the Bellagio and the song's still playing; Jim snaps his fingers and Seb goes around to open his door, waits while he slides on sunglasses he wasn't wearing before. When he gets out of the car he shuffles his feet, does a little spin before he cracks his neck and strides forward, looking for all the world like the highest roller in town. He snaps his fingers again when they pass the valet, and Seb tosses him the keys and one of the fifties Jim handed him on the flight, mid-phone call, before taking up his typical position--just behind Jim's right shoulder, because they're clearly playing this game, because Seb's a man-for-hire today, is meant to look the part.
"Drink," Jim says when they're inside, doesn't look back as Seb peels away from him, heads for the bar. He orders a gin and tonic for Jim, a shot of whiskey for himself, tosses the one back and heads for the blackjack table with the other. Jim's got himself a seat at what is, quite clearly, the hottest game in the room, and though there are open chairs on either side of him, Seb stands, right shoulder still, keeps his eyes peeled.
"You'll need chips," the bartender says, looking at Jim like he's in the wrong place, and Jim graces him with his third most horrible smile, snaps his fingers under Seb's nose.
That's the hundred grand American he'd left in Seb's wallet explained; Seb doesn't snort, because it'd kill the effect Jim's obviously going for, just heads for the counter and trades it all in. When he slides the rack onto the table next to Jim's elbow, the dealer's eyes widen almost imperceptibly, and Seb doesn't smile as he settles in behind Jim's shoulder again, sets to waiting for…whatever it is they're waiting for.
Jim's eyes, Seb realizes after a minute, aren't on the cards. They're fixed on a point just over the dealer's head, and he's not speaking, beckoning when he wants to hit, tapping the table when he wants to stay; his head's moving, just slightly, still in time with that fucking song, and oh, Seb gets it now. He'd wanted a minute to watch the game, and Seb had bought it for him--he'd wanted a chance to get a base line, and Seb'd handed it over.
He doesn't speak, doesn't look away from that point on the wall, doesn't stop moving his head, and wins every hand.
It takes twenty minutes for the dealer to start shifting on his feet; forty minutes and there's a shift change, obviously orchestrated, guards starting to gather around the nearest door, cameras turning towards them. Seb stays at Jim's shoulder, doesn't bother telling him, because Jim, for his sins, always knows what he's doing. He wouldn't be so obvious about it if he didn't intend it to be obvious, and Seb thinks Shoot if you have to, shut up if you don't, says nothing, flexes his fingers in his pocket.
An hour twenty and Jim's hundred grand tripled, there's a man walking toward them, older, suit too sharp to be anything but management, maybe owner, and Jim's face flickers, there's rage for just a second, rage beyond what Seb's ever seen, but he keeps playing, a Jack of spades showing, gestures for a hit, and Seb knows before the guy reaches their table that this is what they've come for, this man, this moment.
"Excuse me," the stranger says, and then Jim turns in his chair, his first most horrible smile painted across his face, and the man gasps, reaches for a chair to steady himself, color draining even before the dealer places the ten of spades on top of Jim's Jack, a perfect twenty-one, even before Jim drains the rest of his drink and lays the signet ring on top of the cards, raises his eyebrows, his glass.
"Done now," Jim sings out, as the man's eyes flick from the ring to Jim's face, fill with tears, and Jim's singing it under his breath now, ah ah ah ah, staying alive, and whoever it was Seb killed in Detroit, this was the goal, this was the killshot, so Seb raises his eyebrows, his finger, mimes a trigger-pull, and Jim laughs as the man starts crying, as Seb collects their chips and goes to cash them out.
They fuck in the bathroom of a gas station ten minutes outside of the city, desert all around them, and Seb likes the desert, likes running with Jim, because it never feels like running even when it obviously, obviously is. He's still not sure what's going on, doesn't quite have Jim's number, but he knows enough; knows Jim had them pull over so they could change clothes, hot-wire some poor sod's car, knows when Jim follows him into the bathroom and snaps his fingers he means check the stalls, lock the door.
One of these days, Jim's going to kill him like this, the bathroom of a gas station he made Seb check first, but today isn't that day, and hell, Seb wouldn't mind if it was. He's got three hundred thousand American in his pocket and Jim pacing in front of him, eyes wide and wild, body still twitching with that same damn song; he can afford to see how this plays out.
They've been fucking for months, since that first day, since Seb followed the address on the card with £30,000 and his measurements, written out in the shaking hand of someone whose kneecaps have been wrenched from their sockets. It'd been an empty warehouse, empty but for the guns, the hundreds on hundreds of guns, serial numbers filed down, and Seb'd been wide-eyed with want even before Jim leaned out from behind a column, bare-footed in £4,000 trousers and that same blood-stained shirt.
"Hi," he'd said, voice lilting again, strange, stretching the word to two syllables, and Seb'd find out later that it happens a lot after he's been dealing in Mandarin, in Swedish, that once he goes tonal he finds it hard to step out again, but he didn't know that then, just knew that this man was dangerous and crazy and impossible, that this man looked like the tigers he'd been dreaming, and, well.
"Brought your money," he'd said, "and the measurements, too. You were right, I didn't know them."
"Told you so," Jim said, sung, and then he stepped forward, narrowed his eyes, leaned in and taken a breath, laughed delightedly, said, "really, just like that, well, Sebastian, you are an unexpected little bonus."
Jim'd wrecked him then, bent over a table with his face hovering over an M-16, bruises on his hips that'd lasted weeks, fingernails digging in; he beckons now, two fingers, hit me, so Seb does, slams him up against the filthy, tiled wall, growls low in his ear. Jim bucks, legs twisting up, bites at Seb's lips, drawing blood, and Seb lets him, again, always, because this is what they do now, what they've always done, and it doesn't matter who's on top because Jim always is, waving his upper hand like a white flag, a red one, and Seb's half-hard every time he flutters his eyelashes, because there's no one else in London, in Vegas, in Prague, no one else anywhere whose word he'd rise and fall to, but Jim, Jim's different, Jim'll have the whole world and nothing less, which makes Seb the whole world, most days, isn't that nice.
"Eight minutes," Jim hisses, the Dublin accent, eyes far away, "make 'em count," and Seb lifts him, drops him hard on the counter, in the sink, and there's his focus back, sharp and almost-angry but he's smiling, Seb's blood on his lips, says, "Look who came to play, oh, fine, we'll call it ten," so Seb gets him off in six, cock buried in him too-deep because he's been wearing a plug since Detroit, the dirty little fuck, and Seb's known the whole time but it's nice to tear it out of him, to wave it in front of him, to watch the way his eyes roll back in his head when Seb picks him up just to slam him back down again, and, and.
He makes Seb shave their heads, afterwards, a straight razor he's had folded in his trouser pocket, face a rictus of surprise in the mirror, "Just practicing for when you scalp me, darling, don't scowl like that you, you know I'm funny," ditches Seb's jacket, tears the sleeves off his own, strips Seb down to his undershirt and takes his button-down, and it's too big on him so the effect is psychotic, really, makes him look like a frat boy after too much to drink. They keep the sunglasses and hot-wire the nicest car in the lot, a convertible parked around back, sirens already on the horizon ("Let's call it ten, we'd be mincemeat, Jesus Christ.").
"There's a plane waiting for us in Phoenix," Jim says, and then, casually, like it's nothing, "oh, and he killed my father, so I killed his son. Simple trade, really. You can stop wondering, it doesn't do much for your driving."
"Mmm," Seb says. "Well, you know what they say. One-eyed man in the land of the blind and all that."
Jim chuckles, low, throaty, tips his head back, kicks his feet up against the dashboard. "Yippee ki-yay, motherfucker," he says, and it's sing-song still but the accent's pitch perfect; Seb doesn't stop laughing till they hit the state line.
He keeps an ear to the ground, Jim does, after Carl, because it's the right thing, the smart thing, because his mother says, "No more fights, Jimmy?" but it's careful, almost frightened, and it's not like she's any great shakes of brilliance, better to keep his eyes peeled. He buys a Walkman, breaks it open, it's twenty seconds to work it out, to tap into the channel for the police scanner. He listens all day, every day, skips school, collects bits of blackmail along the way, and eventually, eventually--
"The Holmes kid again? No, don't give him anything, send 'im home, he's crazy, keeps coming 'round the station, something about the shoes--well I don't know, do I, just get him out before I get back, Christ."
Jim's eyes light on the pair of trainers, plastic-wrapped, on his dresser, twists his mouth, smiles. Holmes, then. Isn't that nice.
They play this game, Jim and Seb--just Jim, at first, because it takes Seb awhile to catch on, to see the burn of an overpriced cigarette from the corner of his eye, the flash of a trench coat, Jim thinks he's so funny. He figures it out eventually, though, probably because Jim intended him to, one pointed cough too many, one strange coincidence too few, the reflection in the rounded mirror at the corner of the car park; Jim's following him more days then he isn't, lurking in the shadows, keeping a tail.
Seb knows it should bother him, logically, the same way he knows that most things about Jim should bother him; he's aware that it's not normal to be fucking a man who smears pomegranate seeds on his hands to see how long the stain lasts, who carves estuaries into human flesh because he wants to and he can. Jim's a psychopath and Seb's not stupid; not as quick as Jim, of course, because no one is, but quick enough to see the obvious.
But then again, it's not like Seb's sane himself, not like he ever was, not like the desert did anything to him that wasn't already done. There's no song in his heart, because he's not a sentimental man (not like Jim, the mad bastard, always keeping mementos, always redesigning his calling cards) but oh, oh, there are choruses wailing elsewhere, music in his fists, his fingers. There's a soft, soothing hum in the sound of a man's last breath, and if Jim's following him around London, then Seb's following him around everywhere, because there's nothing else like him, because there's no one else singing loud enough, because Jim's the flame and Seb's the moth.
So they play this game, this cat-and-mouse that isn't, not really, it's more like cat-and-considerably-less-intelligent-ca
"You look atrocious in tweed," Jim says, casually, off-hand, the middle of a melee one Tuesday in June, and he's grinning, grinning because this is an admission, of sorts, a nod to the jacket Seb'd stolen to try and throw him the day before. "Honestly, if this is the price I have to pay to hold your interest-- "
"Thought I was holding yours," Seb says, "and if it's holding things we're worrying about, you could get me another magazine."
"Must you just spray bullets like that, a little grace, please, this is a four star establishment," Jim says, but he's laughing on it, cold fingers sliding up the back of Seb's jacket, steering him like he's a marionette.
The game changes after that; Jim stops tailing him and starts falling into step with him instead, out of nowhere, far more often than Seb'd given him credit for, before--which is saying something, really, all things considered.
Jim gets older, watches his fourteenth, fifteenth birthdays pass, uneventful to the extent that anything is, that everything is, because it's all so dull, isn't it, people and the way they move, the way they wind and unwind, they're so simple it's almost not worth trying, except. Except Jim's still got things to pull together, connections to build, and he'll only be so young for so long, is already losing the baby fat that makes him invisible, excusable, he's just a boy, he couldn't possibly, so.
He sends out feelers, one, two, picks up on the drug rackets at school and takes a cut, then two, then three, there's a teacher sleeping with a student, another, a councillor taking bribes, it's all so obvious, spelled out across their faces, the treads on their shoes, the curves of their smiles, nicotine stains and old mud saying more than words could, so Jim sticks his fingers in, once, twice, a thousand times, twists, finds the strings and pulls them, just enough, a puppeteer in another life, something else in this one, but it's not so different, really, is it, after all.
The first time Seb hears the name Holmes--outside of certain circles, of course, when he was a little younger, always whispered, always with the word Mycroft in front of it, he'd never bothered to push--they're in Dubai. It's a hide-away, of sorts, the aftermath of a job gone wrong, because, hell, some of them do; every now and again there's a shot even Seb can't make, a twist even Jim didn't see coming, that's what you get for dealing in criminals. Seb's wrist is splinted and Jim's leg's broken in three places, a fall from the top of a moving car, because he always thinks he's invincible, invulnerable, always thinks Seb will catch him--
--and, to be fair, he'd tried. It's not like his damn wrist broke itself.
So they're in Dubai, a house that Jim doesn't own, doesn't even rent, but he acts like it's his, because that's just Jim, an empire of blackmail and confidence and wadded up chewing gum, half the time, if Seb's honest about it. They're in Dubai and Jim's on painkillers that aren't legal anywhere, watching with hooded eyes as Seb smokes the Afghani weed he'd ordered in special, and it's a holiday to the extent that they do those, so there are silences broken, breaches in the code of behavior they might, casually, consider law, because it's not like either one of them gets off particularly on following rules.
"There are these brothers," Jim says, out of absolutely nowhere. His voice is flat for once, the simmering roll of his original accent--Irish, working class, vowels bleeding together, shades of the parts of Dublin he won't talk about, won't visit, sends Seb to instead, eyes dark, laugh not-quite-right, even for Jim. "Fucks, both of them--I ever tell you that?"
"Dunno, do I," Seb says, smoke on his exhale, blowing rings because he might as well. "Which brothers are we talking about?"
"Hate them," Jim says, "both of 'em."
"You want me to guess brothers?" Seb says. "Because hell, mate, you're gonna have to give me a little more than that--the Mendez brothers? The Brothers Grimm? The Doobie Brothers?"
"Shut your fucking mouth," Jim snarls, and then he hums the opening bars of Black Water; Seb gives him up as a lost, overly-drugged cause, leans back against the chair, closes his eyes.
"Holmes," Jim shouts, twenty minutes later; Seb starts awake so violently he nearly falls out of his chair, catches himself on his bad wrist, winces, doesn't swear.
"The Holmes brothers," Jim drawls, accent fading in and out now, and he's flat on his back on the king-sized bed, limbs sprawled everywhere, eyes fixed on the ceiling, hands tracing patterns in the air. "Big, bad Mycroft and poor little Sherlock, so clever, so dogged, Queen and country, the both of them, quite the little pair. I send them things, sometimes. Birds, once, that was brilliant, made this little sound--"
"Doesn't matter," Jim says, "same thing, really, the Holmes boys."
"You're not making any sense," Seb says. "Case you were worried about that or anything."
"Sebastian," Jim says, and then, "Sebastian," a few more times, changing voices, because he gets stuck, sometimes, ruts out in all the people he is, and Seb doesn't have the heart to stop him, doesn't have the heart to tell him to shut up and sleep it off already, because he had, really, he'd tried to catch the bastard but he'd not quite managed it, so this is his penance, watching it, letting Jim endure it, untangling the threads of bitten-raw consonants, Jim will be Jim will be Jim.
"You want me to kill them, then?" Seb says, when it's been long enough, when he can't take it anymore, and Jim rolls on the bed, eyes hard, furious, hands clenched in the sheets, but when he speaks it's the hideous, aching calm, the kind of calm that sets Seb's teeth on edge, because he's still not stupid, even now.
"Not," Jim says, "until I've had my fun," and Seb sighs, laughs, relief washing over him, says, "Yeah, yeah, alright."
He's sixteen the day his mother goes out, doesn't come home, a night passes, a week, and he could figure it out, could track her down, wouldn't be hard, but he knows she knows, knows she looks at him and sees it, a face anyone could love, a heart only a mother could, and even that, even that's not right, because she's never quite loved him and he's never quite loved her, but it's not anything else, is it, because if it were anything else he'd find her, take it out of her, left and leaving, all these shreds of person, her face after he'd crept out of his closet, his father's body strewn across the floor, people die, Jim, well, people leave, don't they, and he can afford it, the house, his life, she never paid for it anyway, so fine, she ran, he doesn't follow, just carves her name into the mirror in the bathroom, letters deep, scarred into the woodflesh, S-I-O-B-H-A-N.
Jim vanishes, sometimes, goes out and doesn't come back, disappears for days on end only to materialize as if from nowhere, climbing through the kitchen window, hanging by his knees from the fire escape, sprawled louche across the couch with a man who'd kill him as soon as look at him, so. Seb doesn't worry because he doesn't have to; Jim can handle himself, can more-than-handle other people, and he knows where his back-up lives, knows Seb will come when he calls.
Still, the first time Seb gets a text that just says WHERE ARE YOU?!?!, no follow up, no explanation…well, it's cause for consternation, at the very least.
"Why are you bothering me," Jim answers, when Seb calls, demands an explanation, "I'm very busy," and someone screams in the background, high-pitched, desperate, so that's probably not a lie.
Still: "If this is a code you didn't teach me, you wanker, I swear to god I will--"
"You'll what," Jim says, silkily, half-mad but pleased, too, underneath, there's a smile in that, the kind of smile that bares teeth, so Seb swears, hangs up, throws the phone against the wall because fuck it, fuck it, honestly.
The second time--WHERE ARE YOU?!?!?, like the punctuation's even necessary, like he's not already made his fucking point--Seb's spread-eagle, rifle in hand, the roof of the British Museum, crowd-hunting, because it's just the one tourist they need, but several will do in a pinch. Jim knows damn well where he is, sent him there via three encrypted emails and a note folded up in the bloody toaster, Seb'd nearly burned the flat down; he doesn't answer, because he's got a job to do and it's Jim's fucking job, isn't it, so he'd do well to get it right.
"Don't ignore me," Jim hisses, later, his whole fist buried in Seb, wrist working, voice crazed and it hurts, and it's supposed to hurt, and Seb throws his head back, bares his throat, comes like a shot, groans, "Fuck, fuck, what is wrong with you, what makes you think I even could."
The third time, the third message, WHERE ARE YOU, SEBASTIAN, that's when Seb realizes; Jim Moriarty always, always knows where he is, has from the first. This is Jim's world and Seb is just living in it; these are Jim's killshots, Seb's just making them for him. So it's not a warning, can't be, he'd send a car--not a worry, wouldn't be, because Jim doesn't.
Home, Seb sends back, after a minute's thought. Jim doesn't answer him, but when he turns up three days later there's blood on his teeth; Seb cleans him up and doesn't ask, because it's not like it's the first time he's been in the dark.
It keeps happening, the text messages--they get less sinister, over time, lose the capital letters and the crazed exclamation points--and Seb's lost count by the time he really figures it out, by the time the signal comes in clear. Even tornadoes touch down somewhere; even Jim's got quirks that are just, in the end, quirks, weird little tics with nothing behind them, touchstones that are nothing but touchstones.
where, the messages say, eventually, nothing else, at two in the afternoon, at four in the morning, from across a room they're both sitting in, sometimes, just because. Seb smiles, every time, wherever he is--the bar watching the match, the middle of a crowded supermarket, alone on the street, sprawled over their bed--raises his hand in a wave to the nearest security camera, because Jim's always watching, because that's just the way Jim works.
Right where you left me, he sends back, take a breather, and Jim does, must, because nothing blows up, nothing falls down.
Eighteen and Jim's graduated, A-levels aced but not taken, money in the right pockets, photos in the right hands, but it's good press, and good press is invaluable, and Jim packs up his other press, Carl's shoes, his mother's last pack of cigarettes, left unsmoked on the counter, packs it all and sells the house to himself, another name, a paper trail he's been building for years, finalizes it, takes the insurance out, torches the whole place, cashes his damn check.
A month and a half and he's in London, in Westwood, Dublin left only in the heels of his vowels when he forgets himself, and he never does.
He gets a flat, and it's nice, quiet, rat infested, he sets up experiments for them, chemical trails, builds bombs for no one, calls up an old contact, a new one, kills them both and spreads it around, different names and faces, sliding accents, the right clubs, the right bars, smoke and mirrors, rumors milled like anything else, don't fuck with me, don't fuck with me. The commissions aren't hard to come by, fear and curiosity, it's all the same, isn't it, all boils down to I don't know you, and nobody knows Jim, and nobody's going to, because that's whole bloody point.
But he tracks Sherlock Holmes down, eventually, has to, can't help it, the little boy who guessed about the shoes, a bigger boy, now, but still a boy, a little younger than Jim and maybe, maybe he didn't guess, maybe there are two of them, and Jim's not hoped in years but he does wonder, think about it, toss it around, what it could be, the two of them, if it wasn't a guess, if it wasn't a guess, and so he leans against the Abbey, grins at the way his skin doesn't itch and waits for school to let out, at Westminster in Westwood, and it all feels fated, scripted, just a little, because there's never been anything wrong with a little sentiment, has there, so long as you know how to use it right.
He's not hard to pick out of a crowd, Sherlock, so tall, so pale, dark shock of hair, shoulders back like he's proved something, proving something, fingers twitching, Jim knows the signs, knows himself when he sees him, and Sherlock's eyes are fixed forward, he speaks to no one, he's looking at the car, black, tinted windows, probably that brother, Jim's done his research, and he waits, waits for Sherlock to look, to see him, to use that brain he must have, he has to have, and the car door opens and there's a flash of red, definitely the brother, and Jim holds his breath, one second, two--
--and the car pulls away and pulls away and Sherlock didn't see him and it was just a guess and Jim kills all the rats in the whole flat one by one tears them to bits like he's so good at takes out a personal ad in the paper and watches someone cry and tracks her home and doesn't kill her but oh oh oh oh it's all potential bright sharp vicious brutal he's the only one.
Three weeks gone and Jim comes home worked up, worked over, blood at the edge of his lip that Seb knows he put there himself. He lowers the paper and watches Jim pace, in the door and out of it again, watches him check the flat number like he's not sure this is where he lives, but of course he's sure, Jim's always sure, and when Seb finally sighs and says, "What?" Jim's whole body snarls.
"Little Sherlock Holmes has a little friend," he says, twitching everywhere, everywhere twitching and Seb's never been frightened of him (his own strain of crazy, isn't it, that), but he's frightened now, not of him, just frightened, because Jim's a bomb waiting to go off, because his words are more hiss than anything else, because a solider's instincts are a soldier's instincts, even now.
"That so," he says, because that's always what he says when he's got nothing else, when Jim's gone off the rails towards somewhere Seb can't follow, and Jim smiles, frowns, a full-body shudder and his hand on the gun tucked down the back of his trousers, yeah, this could be a long night.
"He's not allowed," Jim says, spits, and Seb raises his eyebrows, his fists, levers himself up out of the chair.
"And who makes those rules?"
"I do," Jim says, and his eyes are still distant, unfocused in fury, so Seb pins him to the wall, wrists against the doorframe, bites a bruise into his neck.
"And who said you could make the rules?"
"I did," Jim says, less distant, not quite--
"And why's that, James?"
Jim's whole body snaps to attention, lightning fast, and he's so small, really, except that he's not, except that he never has been, because no one that fast can be small, not in the long run, not in the big picture, and Jim's got a hand under his thigh, a thumb pressed to his Adam's apple, and Seb chokes on air as Jim pushes, all but flips him, throws him callously across the couch and then spoils it by crawling over him, leaning too close, everything about him present, accounted for.
"Because I'm in charge," he snarls, and it's a test, an order, so Seb smiles, drags him down for a kiss, laughs into his mouth, says, "Fucking right, you are."
Jim lives alone works alone network of people one two three like dominos like carrier pigeons like a bigger apartment in a better part of town because it's enough with the rats already and he's the best and he's the strongest and there's no one better except when there is but even then it's just his face his hands a punch to the gut a split lip his kidney bleeding the hospital knows him by a false name.
He needs a second writes it on the walls holds auditions gets a driver and another and a third because they keep dying because it does turn out to be poisonous over and over isn't that funny and it's an empire he's building out of matchsticks and dried spit and the blood he keeps dripping on sidewalks and he'll die like this but that's okay that's good that's great so long as he dies last and best and without the strains of Dublin he's still dreaming in and, and, and--
They go to the pool with a team, lackeys they don't need, and Seb points them about, directs them casually, has them set up mirrors, because he's only ever needed the one gun, the one shot, but this is for show, this is Jim's game. He sets them up with mirrors and Jim takes off his shoes, his socks, rolls up his hideously expensive trousers and dips his feet in the water, laughs like he's been laughing all day.
"It was right here, this pool, prettier then, of course," Jim says, shouts up to him in the rafters, cadence all over the place, but, well, "all those people, and none of them guessed--my first time, unless, of course, you count the horses."
"No one's counting the horses, Jim," Seb shouts back. "Little busy here, do you mind?"
"Do I mind," Jim purrs, and then, violent, furious, "yes, I fucking mind," and Seb rolls his eyes, sends the crew away, fucks Jim up against the locker of the first boy he'd ever killed, sentiment'll be the death of them both.
("Burn the heart out of you," Jim says an hour later, and Seb's got laser pointers, smoke and mirrors the way Jim likes to do, and a gun, because he's still himself, always has been, never bothered trying to be anyone else, and that gun is trained on John Watson, because Seb knows the truth of it, because Jim's the weirdest job's Seb's ever had but he knows why he keeps coming back, same as he knows the sort of man who's looking for the storm instead of the port, and Jim could burn the heart out of anyone, but Seb, Seb's always been the one with the lighter fluid, with the match ready and waiting, with the trigger finger, and he knows where his heart's at, knows just what Jim's done to it, keeps his eyes on John Watson's forehead and doesn't blink at all.)
Taylor's Tailoring, not a tailor shop, the first in a chain, it's an experiment, money laundered in and out, Jim's eyes on the prize and Edmund late on his payments, on the floor, a gun to his head, piss-stain pooling around his crotch and the smell rents the air, taints it, Jim wrinkles his nose, sighs, rolls his eyes because this is going to be fun but not the fun kind of fun, and he looks out the window and--
"Be a moment," Jim says, "don't go anywhere, hmmm, oh, right, I suppose I did forget about your foot," and he goes to meet the hungry man, because oh, yes, yes.
He muddles his accent, a second of Jim and a second of James Sebastian Moriarty, aged four and a half, aged a thousand and two, pulls a hundred strings, people are easy but this isn't easy that way, this isn't like people, the hungry man isn't hungry, he's starving, murder in his eyes, in the nicotine stains on his fingers and Jim could make a noise or two and test a few things, but he knows them anyway, could slide into a persona and have this man for dinner, or over for dinner, or to bed, and he wants that, doesn't he, wants to make him writhe and scream, wants to fuck the hungry out of him, wants to try and fail, gives him a job because he'll have his cake and eat it too and set it on fire, casts bait for a name because it's funny to watch them dance and--
"Sebastian," he says, "Sebastian Moran," and oh, oh, it's fate after all.