Sherlock stood by Mycroft as the two of them watched a few Bobbies scan the water from the bridge. A few more moved alongside the river, their torches glinting off of the dark surface. The brothers had been interviewed, as well as several of the witnesses, and had quickly been dismissed when it became clear they were not involved in any wrong doing. There was no sign of a body, but the police expected they might receive a call the next morning once daylight arrived and more people were on the lookout.
Sherlock itched to get back to the camp.
“They’ll let us know if they find anything,” he told Mycroft. “Unless you plan on taking a swim, we’re quite useless here.”
Mycroft said nothing, but nodded solemnly and followed Sherlock as he started the slow walk back towards the tent.
Mary and John were the first ones to rush towards him as they emerged from the dark and into the lantern light of the yard. The rest of the company was either milling about or trying to get the last of the curious patrons to leave.
“What happened?” John said breathlessly, clearly reading the distress on Sherlock’s face.
All he could do was shake his head, looking grim.
“He’s…” Mary trailed off, looking to Mycroft.
“They’re hoping to fish him out of the Thames by the morning,” Mycroft said flatly. “If not, it’s just one more unresolved suicide.”
“Oh, god,” Mary exclaimed, covering her mouth with her hand.
“How is she?” Sherlock asked, unable to hold back the question any longer.
“She’s all right, mate,” John told him with a comforting smile. “Resting. The doctor is still with her.”
“Good,” Sherlock muttered. “Excuse us.”
He gripped Mycroft by his elbow and steered him away from John and Mary, away from the rest of the company, and towards his van. It spoke volumes that Mycroft let him manhandle him in that manner. If he were in top form, he would have tossed Sherlock to the ground in two seconds flat.
When they were alone with the van door shut, Sherlock lit the kerosene and took a seat at the table, waiting.
Mycroft licked his lips, hovering in the middle of the van for a moment before rolling the sleeves of his shirt up.
Sherlock watched him step up to the cupboard doors, hand shaking as he pulled them open to extract a bottle of dark amber liquor and a glass. Sherlock’s eyebrows rose in surprise as Mycroft poured himself a generous portion before looking to Sherlock and raising the bottle with a questioning look. He nodded slightly and his brother took down another glass, methodically filling that one as well.
Once he was seated and had taken a long drink, grimacing as the liquor hit him, Mycroft took a weary breath.
He stared down into his tumbler of whisky.
“Ten years ago, there was a magician with Sanger named Sebastian Moran. Sebastian the Great. Cliché. Everything about him, cliché. His name, his tricks, his black and red cape and top hat and white rabbits. But he brought in an audience, you know, people loved the stupid simplicity. He had a few unique bits, but overall… Well, there was… one day when their show was performing and we weren’t, so…a few lads and I thought we’d stop in and take a look at what Sanger had to offer. He’s always been known for putting on a good show and we didn’t know any other way to spend an off day.” He paused and took another long pull from his glass, coughing slightly. “I figured out every trick Sebastian had, of course, it was absurdly easy. But there is a code, as you well know, a code that everyone follows that you don’t reveal the secrets of a show… Did you ever wonder why I don’t drink, Sherlock?”
Sherlock blinked, almost startled to hear his name, and shook his head.
“It never crossed your mind, did it. It was a night down the pub in London, those ten years ago, and I’d had one or two too many. Generally being an obnoxious arse with people I considered my friends. People from other companies. And I wanted to show off, young idiot that I was. So…I told them everything. Every trick, how it was done. What do you think the chances were that those secrets didn’t spread like wild fire by the very next day? Sebastian the Great was ruined. People stole his ideas and he was incapable of coming up with anything new. He was effectively useless to Sanger after that and, from what I heard, was encouraged to retire. He was found some six months later, dead. No one ever said it, but we all knew how he’d met his end.”
“I don’t remember any of this,” Sherlock said slowly.
“You wouldn’t,” Mycroft replied acerbically. “You were out of your mind on opium for a year and locked away with mummy and daddy for another during the whole affair.”
Sherlock’s head tipped back slightly as the realization of it all dawned on him.
“Jim Moriarty was his protégé,” he said.
Mycroft nodded, downing the rest of the whiskey.
“He took over the act and turned it into something unique. It worked for quite a while. But a few years ago, Sanger decided the magician act was on its way out. He could bring in better crowds with elephants and half-naked women. Charge them to the gills to glimpse a freak show. Jim and Molly were facing being left on the rails,” he said with a sigh. “I’d been following his career for some time. They had talent, unquestionably. I thought… well, it eased my guilt in a very selfish way to think that I could save their act. I didn’t know…I had no idea that he’d been in that pub, that he’d heard me telling anyone who would listen how the acts were done. That he knew it was my fault… ‘It was so absurdly easy. Anyone with half a brain could see how it was done.’ My exact words that night.”
Sherlock sat quietly for a long while, giving Mycroft time to decide if he wished to share any more. It was partly because he was genuinely at a loss as to what to say. For their entire lives, his brother had been a pinnacle of perfection. Not a toe out of line, always doing the right thing. Of course, he did all of that to highlight his superior intelligence and to put everyone around him to shame, but it still left him with a perfectionist persona. It was part of what drove Sherlock crazy about his stupid big brother and also part of why he (secretly) looked up to him.
“Molly said that they were a little family,” he said, nearly without thinking.
“Children who wind up as part of an act that they are not born into are usually orphans,” Mycroft stated the obvious, reaching for the bottle and tipping it. The neck of the bottle clinked against the glass and liquid splashed into the tumbler. “Jim Moriarty’s origins remain a mystery. Much like where he has ended up now. Clearly, Sebastian Moran meant more to him than I ever anticipated.”
“You couldn’t have known,” Sherlock said firmly. “How it would end for Moran. Or what it would do to Moriarty. Impossible to predict any of that.”
Mycroft smiled slowly as he lifted his glass to his lips.
“You’re far too quick to defend me, little brother,” he marveled.
“Not defending you,” Sherlock replied quickly. “Just pointing out the obvious. Madame Leota might argue differently, but no one can actually predict the future. You included.”
This earned a small chuckle from Mycroft. He sobered fast.
“It wasn’t good, Sherlock…what I did.”
“I know,” Sherlock agreed, lifting his glass to take a small sip of the excellent liquor his brother had been storing for years. “But your crime, if you can call it that at all, was limited to our world. Jim’s were not. He would have paid a heavy price.”
“Theft and attempted murder, several times over,” Mycroft murmured, looking at the light shining through the glass he held. “The degrees of separation are small.”
“But you are separated from him,” Sherlock insisted, finally pulling his brother’s eye and holding the contact. “At the end of the day. You are different.”
Mycroft blinked and continued to stare at him for a few moments before breaking his gaze, leaning back in his chair.
“Don’t you have someone to be seeing to?” he asked Sherlock.
“Only if you’re sound,” Sherlock said, narrowing his eyes as he looked for any tell that Mycroft was covering a deeper pain.
“You’ve wasted enough time with me,” his brother said with a knowing smile. “Go to her.”
Sherlock stood up, resolving to drop in on Mycroft before the night was over and first thing the next morning.
A small crowd was gathered outside his van when he reached it and he breezed past all of them, ignoring questions, only intent on getting inside. Janine and Irene were sitting with Molly on his bed, speaking softly to her and gently holding her hand and caressing her hair. Sally was fixing a few cups of tea. They all looked up when he stepped inside, their eyes full of anxious curiosity. He glanced at Molly, noting that she seemed nearly asleep, and then looked at Irene, giving her a quick shake of his head.
That was all that was needed. The women looked at each other solemnly and took their leave.
He stood still once they had gone, looking at the young woman lying in his bed. They’d changed her into a modest cotton nightdress. Her face was pale and it only made the red marks on her neck stand out all the more. Bruises dotted her arms and there were grey circles under her eyes.
He should have done more for her when he still had the chance. Perhaps then he would only be relaying the charges Jim would have been facing, rather than informing her of his death.
Walking softly, he crossed the van and sat gently on the edge of the bed, looking down at Molly. Her eyes fluttered open and she shifted, giving him a weak smile.
“You know, the term ‘show stopping act’ is only figurative,” he murmured, laying a hand softly along her face and caressing her cheek. “You didn’t have to actually stop the show.”
He didn’t know why he was making jokes. Perhaps it was so that he could see her smile, hear her laugh, however weak, before he had to break her heart.
She must have seen the conflict in his eyes, because her laugh turned to a frown in seconds and she reached out to grasp his arm.
“Just tell me,” she whispered.
“He had a pistol,” Sherlock said slowly, unable to meet her eye. “It all happened very quickly… we tried to stop him. He’s gone, Molly. I’m sorry.”
She blinked up at him, swallowing hard, and then her mouth contorted and her eyes filled with tears and she was crying, wailing, sitting up and reaching for him. Sherlock felt a lump rise in his throat as he supported her, holding her as tenderly as he could as her mourned the loss of the man she had called a brother.
Three Months Later
Molly woke to the sounds of songbirds singing in the trees just outside the caravan. She could hear voices and laughter in the distance, the early risers already tucking into breakfast or starting their daily chores. She stretched and shut her eyes again, curling into Sherlock. She felt him sigh and his arm wrapped tighter around her waist.
They hadn’t had a morning apart since she’d nearly met her end. Sometimes he would rise before her and the fire would be stoked with coffee or tea brewing by the time she woke, but he was always there. The first few weeks, she’d desperately needed that closeness. The nightmares had been nonstop and her body ached for the longest time while she recovered.
She grieved Jim. Or at least, the idea of him. There was nothing of what he’d become that she lamented or felt sorry for, but it still left her sorrowful to know that he had been so maddened by the events of their early life.
When Sherlock had revealed the truth of everything to her, she’d been shocked, amazed that all of their lives had been so intricately tied for so long and had culminated in such disaster. It had taken her some time to sort out how she felt about Mycroft and the part he had played. For a small time, she doubted that she would be able to stay with the Holmes’ company after everything that had happened.
Once the shock had worn away and the days didn’t seem so dreadfully daunting to get through, the hurt lessened and Mycroft’s mistake became just that – a mistake. He’d done what he thought best to rectify it and she found she couldn’t hate him.
And so, she continued to wake up in Sherlock’s bed, choosing a life she never thought she would have the chance to lead.
When his fingers began to trace the curve of her hip, Molly knew that he was awake and the warm press of his hand on her flesh left little doubt as to what was on his mind. She hummed and pressed her lips against his shoulder, peppering his skin with soft kisses until he shifted and rolled over her, returning the favor.
Molly’s legs easily fell open and wrapped around his, welcoming him into her body in a way that had become as natural as breathing. He kissed every part of her his mouth could reach as he moved inside her, quickly causing her to gasp into the curve of his neck as her muscles tightened around him. He grunted in a way that she loved and dropped his forehead to the pillow beneath her, his hips grinding into hers as he reached his pleasure.
Minutes later, while Sherlock was still hovering over her and kissing her neck between words of morning conversation, there was a knock at the door.
“Bugger off!” Sherlock bellowed, causing Molly to laugh.
“Annoying, isn’t it?” John shouted from the other side of the door.
“They can wait ten minutes,” Sherlock replied.
“It is exactly nine twenty-three, you have seven minutes,” John said. “And just so you’re informed, Mycroft gave several of us permission to drag you bare-arsed from the van if need be.”
“Something I’m quite looking forward to,” Mary chimed in.
Molly giggled again, sliding her hands alongside Sherlock’s face.
“We really should try to hurry today,” she said in mock seriousness.
“So tedious,” he said, dropping his head to kiss her throat again, pressing his hips into hers. “I’d much rather stay right here.”
“Oh,” Molly sighed, feeling her muscles flutter as he began to fill her again. “Oh, so would I, but… we made them wait yesterday… and the day before that…”
“So they should be used to it by now,” he said logically.
“Five minutes!” John shouted from outside.
Sherlock growled, looking absolutely pained to pull away from Molly.
“All right!” he hollered. “When did you become the bloody town crier?”
Molly brushed her hair away from her face and sat up, watching as Sherlock stalked around the room looking for a fresh set of clothes. Her head tilted slightly as she slyly took in the sight of his naked form.
“Only three more days of it,” she said soothingly. “Then we’ll be on the road again. Less interruptions.”
“Mm.” He nodded, finally finding a pair of brown trousers and a white shirt. He tossed the items over his should and walked over to the bed again, sliding a hand beneath her hair and pulling her in for a solid kiss. “Couldn’t be soon enough.”
She bit her lip to hold back the grin as he turned and strode out of the van with nothing at all covering him where he should have been covered. It only took a few seconds before she heard the hollers and whistles from people outside as he headed towards the bathing area.
After a quick wash-up (Molly had the decency to wear a dressing gown on her way to and from the baths), they walked hand in hand towards the practice tent. Mycroft was waiting for them just outside, his top hat in hand.
“How kind of you to join us,” he said, his small smile more teasing than chastising.
“Oh come now, Mycroft, surely even you can appreciate taking the time for a little pleasure before business,” Sherlock said with a grin.
“Yes, well, it would be best not to press your luck.”
“Or you’ll find yourself the owner of a new top hat,” Mycroft said, twirling the hat in between his hands before placing it atop his head. He nudged it to a jaunty angle and smiled again, turning to walk inside the tent.
Molly looked up at Sherlock, quite amused by the look of disgust on his face.
“I think he’s ribbing you,” she said.
“I don’t,” Sherlock muttered. “That’s what worries me.”
She smiled at him, tugging his hand and shifting the grip on her silks with her other hand.
“Oh it wouldn’t be so bad,” she said. “And you would look wonderful in the hat.”
“I might look wonderful in it,” Molly added, stepping forward and turning to look at him. “In that red slip you like…”
Sherlock’s expression didn’t change, but he blinked and his eyes darted to hers.
“We’ll talk about it.”