John Watson didn’t have an easy start in life. An alcoholic father (who’d regularly use his fists to “maintain discipline” as he called it when he was drunk), a mother who (perhaps, he later muses, wisely) decided that her children weren’t worth the trouble of protecting them, and a big sister who started to go down the same path as their father around the same time she could spell the word “booze”.
He was determined that this wouldn’t stop him from reaching his goal. He didn’t know, however, what exactly this goal was until he turned twelve, found a medical (or psychological, he can’t really remember now, he only keeps the important stuff, it doesn’t matter anyway) text book and discovered what he was.
Looking back now, he can say that he always felt strangely empty; blame the fists of his father, blame his normally detached mother, blame whatever strange immortal being you want desperately to believe in, but that’s how it was. He didn’t cry when he was once again lying on the floor, bleeding, his ribs cracked, his father still shouting. He didn’t smile or laugh when he got a bike for his birthday (even though Harry almost screamed her head off in a jealous rage, as their parents had simply forgotten her birthday a few months before, and John simply hadn’t cared enough to acknowledge it) or when he played with his so-called friends at school; in truth, he would have preferred to spend his time alone, but while he wasn’t hurt emotionally by the beatings he got, he certainly could do without them on a physical level, so he humoured his father who would never have allowed one of his children to be a “freak” (even John will later admit to himself that his reaction to stumbling upon Harry kissing another girl was quite amusing) and made sure to appear as normal as he could.
The things he really enjoyed weren’t really things he could share with his “friends”, however. He didn’t think they’d appreciate a nice fire the way he did; how the flames slowly consumed a park bench, later (after he’d had enough practice) many a small shed, at first only tasting the material, then slowly growing stronger, finally turning into a blaze, the sparks that flew up in the night sky, the bright orange drifting into the eternal blue.
They most likely wouldn’t appreciate the dying screams of a mouse, a bird, a cat, a dog either, they way the animal tried desperately to escape, the panic in its eyes, the blood that flowed over his hands, giving him the feeling of control, of being the center of the creature’s universe that he so craved, and how its heart would at first be beating frantically, then slower, and slower, and slower, until it’d finally stop and there’d be peace and contentment, for a while, until he’d need to go hunting again.
He was smart – taught himself to read at three, though, again, he couldn’t show this at home, and he instinctively decided he didn’t want to stick out at school – and so he soon figured out what he didn’t have that other people seemed to have all the time. Emotions. Not that he really minded – most of the time, caring seemed to be a disadvantage more than anything else, and at least he’d never be held back by concern or love or hate (he supposed he should have despised their parents, like Harry did, but he never could bring himself to spend any energy trying, he didn’t think it would be worth the trouble) or any other useless feeling.
But after a few days in reception – days in which he’d certainly noticed the worried looks the teacher send his way, and the fear and mistrust in the eyes of the other children when he simply sat by himself in a corner – he decided that he would need to make an effort. He had not discovered arsony or animal cruelty yet – that didn’t happen until two years later, when he was seven, an afternoon he still remembers fondly – but he felt that it wouldn’t be good to stick out as “the boy who doesn’t like anybody”.
So he was nice, he was pleasant, he learned and constantly reminded himself when it was right to smile, to laugh, to cry, to be understanding, to be angry. Hence his “friends”. And hence the fact that by the time he was twelve and discovered the truth, nobody would have believed him (if he’d decided to tell anyone, that is). He was the “good boy” from a “difficult background” who’d somehow managed to “pull through”. His father stopped beating him and concentrated on his sister, his mother didn’t care, Harry hated him for it (but, then again, she’d just turned fifteen and discovered alcohol for herself, so she probably didn’t suffer too much). He’d been perfectly content to live without a label, as long as nobody suspected him.
And then he decided that he needed to pursue a career eventually, one that would allow him to keep up his charade and fulfil his needs at the same time, and doctor of medicine, perhaps even surgeon, was the obvious choice. The satisfaction of cutting and the goodwill of his fellowmen all in one. Blood and honour. Perfect.
So he started reading every medical text book he could find in the library close to his home (thank God they lived in London and not in a small country town where everyone knew you; the librarian kept giving him strange looks) and in one of them, on his twelfth birthday, he found the word.
Intrigued, he did some more research and found several checklists. He read about famous criminals, business men, even politicians, all of them psychopaths, all of them like him. And then he knew.
So he was a psychopath. Or a sociopath, the words seemed to be interchangeable for some. But the word itself didn’t really matter to him. What mattered was what it entailed.
And this brought along a whole new idea. He’d never really cared about the law – obviously – but until now the idea of a criminal life had never occurred to him. Of course, it sounded like much more fun than an ordinary life as a doctor. But he didn’t want to go to jail; it would be so boring. So no criminal life for him.
Unless... unless he would never have to go to jail. Unless his crimes would be undetectable, so that nobody would ever get to him. What if... what if he didn’t commit crimes per se, but arranged them? He’d be a spider – in the middle of his net, knowing everything, planning everything, and yet invisible until his victims had already caught themselves in his net. Then he’d be there. And nobody would suspect him.
Of course he’d need an alias. First of all, he didn’t think that “John Watson” would easily install fear in the hearts of men. And he couldn’t allow the risk of somebody ever hearing his real name.
In the end, he decided to use French, a language he’d learned (without anybody knowing) since he was nine, because he loved the habit French people had of making everything sound more elegant than it actually was. After he’d decided that it was easy; “La mort” – death, the reason was obvious – “Rire” – laugh, after all, who’d ever suspect him, and he’d never cease to be amused by this fact – and, finally, “L’art” – art. Put it all together, add a “y” to make it sound more English, and you had “Moriarty”. He liked the way it sounded. For the first name, he simply went with James – it wasn’t necessary to be a show-off in every detail, after all.
At first – from twelve to fourteen – he kept to his school, arranged drug deals, exam scams, now and then the blackmailing of a teacher, that sort of thing. It was unbelievably easy to get in touch with the right people, once you knew where to find them – and John was good at finding people. Other people found him. But nobody at school ever suspected nice, kind-hearted John Watson.
He had fun. Maybe he would never have thought of committing murder, of crossing the line once and for all, would have stayed a “normal” psychopath who arranged comparatively small crimes.
And then 12-year- old Carl Powers came to school. John had never been self-conscious about his size – you grew or you didn’t, so why bother? – but Carl took one look at him, two years older and several feet smaller, and decided that bullying John Watson was the most hilarious thing in the world.
In truth, it was a fatal mistake.
He ignored the taunts, the jibes, everything, for about six months; it wasn’t that hard, Carl only came to London for swimming tournaments and the training (which John’s school was proud to give any “promising youth”) beforehand, so he didn’t spend much time in the school anyway (and when, he was mostly in the pool).
And then Carl hit him. Just once. But he did it in front of one of the only two suppliers who actually knew who John was (a mistake he’d never repeat again, but it had been his first transaction), and that was potentially bad for business. So Carl Powers had to go.
John already knew the right people. And he knew all about toxins. He also knew about Carl’s little problem with eczema. Getting the Clostridium botulinum wasn’t difficult either – after all, John knew the right people. So he waited. Waited for the right moment.
Which came surprisingly fast. A tournament took place in the school – of course Carl was there, he was the big star, after all. When he was busy with training the day before the race, John put the poison in his eczema crème. Then he waited.
He hadn’t expected Carl to die in front of everyone, himself included, but it was certainly a good show. And while everyone tried to save little Carl, he snuck back into the locker room and took his shoes, because they were a piece of evidence and because he wanted a souvenir. Because as soon as he had seen Carl seizing up, he had had an epiphany.
He liked killing. He enjoyed a good murder. And he would take his little enterprises to a whole new level.
So he did. By the time he was eighteen, he was controlling several drug labs and one gang of robbers – and still working on his web. Of course, he entered St Bart’s and became a doctor – he still needed a good cover story, and once only a little bit of truth is in it, people will believe every big lie – but all the time, he was becoming what he’d always wanted to become without being aware of it.
When he was nineteen, his parents died within months from each other. He, the good son, saw them buried in the right fashion, while Harry, the awful daughter, was too drunk to understand what was going on. He even managed to cry – but then again, by this time he was excellent at faking what he didn’t feel.
He had relationships – not many, he still had to be the responsible, good man looking for “the” woman so he could have a house, two kids and a dog – although he did end them after a while, claiming she hadn’t been the one, when in truth, even the sex (his only pleasure that wasn’t forbidden by society) had started to bore him. He needed to change his partners frequently to still take pleasure in sexual intercourse, but managed to hide this fact.
After his medical training, he pretended to join the military, so that his friends wouldn’t wonder what had become of him when he went underground to build his web once and for all. Of course he showed up in all databanks as a soldier – he knew who to ask. And so, when Mike Stamford paid him a drink in a pub one night “because he was going on his first tour”, he was actually celebrating the fact that for once, he could be alone.
In the next sixteen years, Moriarty became a whisper, a whisper that every criminal in London – and soon in England and beyond – had heard at least once. He arranged crimes, although he never met anyone in person these days. Just his voice over the phone. And the visit of a professional hit man from South America (or another country far away) if the bill didn’t get paid. Sometimes he told the police just for the fun of watching people who’d thought themselves safe getting arrested. Sometimes he killed people who hadn’t paid with his bare hands. Again, just for fun. But nobody (at least if they were still alive by the end of their and John’s transaction) ever saw his face. And nobody ever got to him.
And then, at 39, he realized he’d done it. He’d become the spider, he controlled almost every crime that was committed in London, as well as the majority of crimes committed in England. And all without the police, without the government, without a man like Mycroft Holmes even (oh, how soon he’d realized who truly controlled the UK, takes an Ice Man to know an Ice Man apparently) suspecting that someone like John Watson pulled all the strings.
He had nothing left to do.
True, he could try to do the same with the rest of Europe, the rest of the world, but it was nothing new. It seemed boring.
He needed a new game to play.
And then he stumbled upon a man, or rather a man stumbled upon a few crimes arranged by John. A man who, without suspecting that the spider even existed, still managed to seriously inconvenience John by the middle of February, when he’d only learned of his existence on the fourth of January.
Interesting. Novel. He needed to make a good plan. Think about this.
How he’d at first make the man curious, then, if it turned out he was as interesting as he promised, play a game. A great game.
Just two players.
Dr. John Hamish Watson and Sherlock Holmes.