The War of the Last Wolves
He remembers the acrid stench of tiger spoor and piss and blood.
He remembers blinking away the sweat falling into his eyes, wiping it away with his sleeve.
His hands are sure and steady and although it’s only the work of a few seconds at the most, it’s like he has all the time in the world to raise his rifle to his shoulder and take aim and fire. The first shot takes out the tiger’s left foreleg. The second shatters its skull.
It was a man-eater and it had been terrorizing the surrounding villages for the past several weeks.
For Sebastian Moran, that tiger was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen in his entire life.
It was utterly gorgeous when it lunged at him, getting so close that it missed ripping out his throat by scant inches.
It was even more exquisite when it finally lay at his feet in a mess of blood and shattered bones.
And when he bent to take a taste of its blood, it was sweet, like the first time he had ever tasted candy floss, a little lad taken for the first time to the fair.
Jim used to call him a vampire and would tease that it was a good job that he didn’t sparkle, else he’d have to kill every besotted teenage girl who’d promptly throw herself at him. Knowing Jimmy, it’s not really a joke but Sebastian laughs and calls him a fucking idiot anyway.
Sebastian likes to taste the blood of his victims, when he can. He’ll make the effort if they were worthy, if they were like the tiger - beautiful, fearless, strong, cunning - making the hunt more than just a game between predator and helpless prey. He’d taste their blood and it would be keeping back just a little bit of them all for himself, a memory, a keepsake, sweet like candy floss.
Most of the time, it wasn’t worth it. Sebastian usually makes his kill from a distance and they’re just a target, somebody who needs to go down in a mess of shattered bones and blood and bits of brain, if he felt like it. When he was still in the Army, most of his kills were like that - designated enemies of Crown and Country.
The tiger was the first time Sebastian Moran really enjoyed himself.
And then, later, when he left the uniform and the orders behind, Jim Moriarty came along and made things interesting for him. Jim understood, really, what Sebastian wanted, what he craved. He wasn’t just a weapon to point and shoot. Jim appreciated him.
And there was a time when he could drag Jim off to his bed, strip him of his ridiculously dapper Vivienne Westwood suits and bite into his skin, bruising kisses that would leave marks for days. And sometimes, if Sebastian had been very, very good, Jim would let him taste his blood. Just a little bit, nothing that would scar that skin, pearl white and translucent.
Jim tasted like honey.
It had been utterly perfect until Sherlock Holmes caught Jim’s attention. And then, Sebastian felt he was just a placeholder, something to keep Jim occupied until he finally had Holmes.
Sebastian would have been happy to hunt the fucker down, bind him and throw him at Jim’s feet if needed. But Jim didn’t want that - Jim played a different game, wanted to make the Hunt interesting and Sebastian couldn’t blame him. Not really.
Sebastian wished he had a chance to taste Jim’s blood, one last time.
One would think that Sebastian Moran would want Sherlock Holmes’ blood but he doesn’t, not really. Even in death, Holmes was meant to belong to Jim. And Sebastian understood that giving Holmes that fate was boring. It would be meaningless.
No - better to concentrate his efforts on the prey Jim had left him. John Watson, so-called army doctor. Sebastian snorted. Army doctor, hell - oh, he’d no doubt Watson was good at his doctoring. That little bastard had a list of kills to rival Sebastian’s own, some of them just with a pistol at nearly impossible ranges. Sebastian respected that.
Ah, Jim, leaving him with a prey worth the hunting.
No, not really prey. This would be a battle, a war and it would be utterly glorious.
He remembers black curls soaked through with blood and blank staring eyes and pale skin.
He can recount every moment of That Day in infinite detail or maybe, as Sherlock would say, he can remember the meaningless details. Not the ones that were truly important, the ones that might have told him it was a trick, a carefully planned ruse.
But then, that was the point. John Watson wasn’t supposed to notice, wasn’t supposed to know that Sherlock was alive. He was supposed to mourn, to play the part of grieving best friend, to soldier on and fight to clear Sherlock’s good name.
Fuck it, Sherlock even anticipated John punching his lights out when he finally showed up and let him know he was still alive.
John Watson did all of these things. And he dreamed, though his dreams took a different turn. He’d dream of That Day, yes and he’d wake up sobbing and think, Sherlock’s still dead, John, still fucking rotting in the ground.
Then he’d dream of Afghanistan and he’d be holding a rifle in his hands, taking aim at the enemy and his hands would not shake but would be steady and sure.
(And it’s odd that he no longer dreams of the time he spent trying to patch wounded soldiers back together, to try and repair shattered flesh and bone or at least, at the very end, try to take the pain away as best as he can. John doesn’t like to think about why he rarely has those dreams these days.)
He’d wake up again and open his bedside drawer and take out his gun and this time, he’d get up, get his kit, take the weapon apart, clean each piece carefully and put it together again.
When he finished, he’d sit in the living room, staring off into nothing, not wanting to feel, not even to think, just for a few more hours until daylight.
He’d sit and not think of the might-have-beens, the things he’d wanted to say and do. And it was just all completely bollicksed up to infinity and beyond because John Watson knew perfectly well that even if Sherlock was alive and breathing at that very moment, he would have kept his mouth shut and any stray thoughts that vaguely entertained at Certain Things locked down deep in his head.
John Watson may not have a bloody Mind Palace but he did know how to keep his secrets.
And then, Sherlock turned up, still alive and with his explanations and yes, very noble, how it was all for John, for Lestrade and for Mrs. Hudson. John accepted the sense of that, the logic, the tacit understanding that Sherlock was not as cold and unfeeling as he wanted the rest of the world to think. Sherlock wanted to protect them all and really, John understands that.
He still feels broken anyway. And he carefully does not think of anything related to his heart.
There wasn’t time to brood now, really. Sherlock’s return brought a whirlwind of more trouble in his wake. The last of Moriarty’s network in London - his right hand man, Sebastian Moran, ex-military like John was and yes, John knew about him too. Former Colonel, one of the best snipers in the Army and everyone knew that story about him and that tiger.
Sherlock thought that Moran wanted to play Moriarty’s final game but John knew better. It wasn’t just a game Moran wanted.
He wanted a battle.
He wanted a war.
This wasn’t completely about Sherlock, at least, not anymore. John still remembers how to fight this particular battle, its intricacies and its rules. It’s as familiar to him as his ability to practice medicine and isn’t it ironic that he’s found a talent for both healing and killing?
Apparently, someone else remembered too.
He checks the AWS rifle that a certain Minor Official in the British Government sent over and that a certain Detective Inspector is carefully being blind to, makes sure everything is in good working order. He ignores Sherlock’s initial outburst and his protests.
“I will not watch you die!”
John bites back the obvious retort to that but Sherlock can see it in his face, quite clearly. There are things that they need to say to each other, a conversation that they needed to have. But John still feels too raw, too hurt, still seeing the shadows of bitter dreams and memories and all those endless, gray days between That Day and finding out that Sherlock lived after all. He can’t even find the words, not right now.
And Sherlock? Sherlock is thinner than before, eyes overly bright, all nervous and twitchy like a feral cat. And just like one, he circles around John’s personal space, hands just about to reach out and then shoving them back into the pockets of that familiar coat with a scowl or leaning over his shoulder and then drawing away again before John can turn his head. It makes John think of the way a cat would purr and twine around its owner’s legs, rubbing its head against them in a not-so-subtle display of both ownership and affection.
His lips twitch in the faintest of smiles.
"So you weren’t just an army doctor," Sherlock remarks quietly from behind him. "There’s always something.” He’s aiming for rueful, missing it by an inch or so. John can see how his eyes give him away, too intense with emotions that John is now afraid to name.
"Soldier with a medical degree," Sherlock continues. "Any good?"
John smiles this time and it’s not a pleasant expression, not at all. And just like when Sherlock asked him a similar question, a lifetime ago, about his medical skills, John can answer him with confidence and perhaps, there’s a little edge in his tone too. "Very good.”
"I would appreciate it very much if you do not get killed in this ridiculous…." Again, Sherlock is trying for his typical insouciance and is failing at it miserably. "Don’t get yourself killed, John." And this time, he makes no effort at hiding the shakiness in his voice and there’s so much that John is hearing, quite clearly, in those simple words. So many things unsaid.
Things to be said and done.
So John, really, trusting Sherlock’s disdain for “useless trivia,” answers in the only way he knew how at the moment. “As you wish.”
"I read that book." And now, amazingly, Sherlock finally sounds more like himself now, with traces of wry humor in his tones. "I refuse to be any sort of princess and I should think you’d be rather too short to be a Dread Pirate Anything."
"Oh I wouldn’t know," John returns just as wryly. "Dread Pirate Watson has a rather nice ring to it, yeah?"
They look at each other and burst into giggles.
And just like that, John knows he’s a little less broken, a little less raw. There’s still Sebastian Moran to take care of and there’s still so many things that could go wrong. John doesn’t want to think about that anymore.
He’ll go and he’ll return to Sherlock and they’ll have that conversation, at long last. They’ll say and do the things that they should have before and maybe things won’t be completely all right between them, at least not at first. But it will be.
It will be.
Note the First: No, you can’t pay me enough to stay in Sebastian Moran’s head. GAH!
Note the Second: So this is where my Sherlock Muse admits to reading the Princess Bride. There goes my Headcanon….
Note the Third: My John Muse rather likes being “The Dread Pirate Watson.”
… ‘scuse me, I’ll go shut up now.
ETA Note: The title comes from this truly epic piece of soundtrack - The War of the Last Wolves - obviously not my YouTube video. It’s the OST to the better Rurouni Kenshin OAV. For non-anime lovers, please to imagine Himura Kenshin as an equally short, red-headed, pink-loving Japanese version of a certain BAMF Army doctor….