I woke with a start. Mostly I was startled at waking at all. For a moment, there was only the throbbing weight that threatened to pound my brain into mash. I squeezed shut eyes that had flashed open, and eased myself back onto an elbow, raising my other hand to my temple. Even in the split-second they were open, I was evaluating my environs.
Dim red lighting; small room moving slightly; spartan interior with faux-leather bench seating along the two side walls and a pair of double-doors in the back. A tactical van.
I forced my eyes to remain closed as I massaged my scalp. My other senses were not so easy to rein in, particularly the taste of ash in my mouth. Cool, dry air on my skin spoke to air conditioning in the swampy heat of the D.C. summer. The way it shivered along my arms and legs also indicated that my jacket had been removed. I was still wearing the dress, but I could also tell that I was lying prone, and the thing hadn’t left much to the imagination even before I’d been fighting for my life in it. Absently, I tugged it down lower over my thighs.
My ears spoke of the gentle thrum of an engine: we were driving slowly, easily, not speeding away from a crime scene. No one was after us.
My nose was nearly as ash-clogged as my mouth, but through it I smelled two things: gun oil and lavender.
He cleared his throat, from up near my head. There were two rows of seating, and he was close to me, on the same bench where I had been laid out.
“I’m glad you’re all right,” he started. His voice was strained.
“Me, too,” I replied. My eyes flashed open. “Cavill—?”
I tried to sit up too quickly, and that plan did not work out. Smoke inhalation smacked me in the forehead until I collapsed back onto my elbows, shaky.
I heard nails scrabble on the floor, and felt a wet nose on my arm. Cavill licked me experimentally at first. Then, liking what he tasted, he really went for the gusto.
Arthur and I both laughed, and he gently pushed the dog away. “Sit,” he commanded, and the dog stopped molesting my bare arm. I opened my eyes again as Arthur sponged up the dog slobber with a handkerchief.
“I can’t believe you carry one of those things. You’re like my dad,” I jabbed without really thinking about it.
I hadn’t looked at him yet, but I heard the creak of his gear as he stiffened slightly. “Classy man, your father. I’ve been compared to worse.”
Remember, he thinks you are Guinevere.
I groaned and heaved my legs down, moving myself into a sitting position. Even with my back slumped against the side of the van, vertigo threatened to bring me down. I took a deep breath, fighting down nausea. I was not going to faint in front of this man.
As soon as my stomach and brain settled enough to allow it, I looked across at him, trying to move my head as little as possible. He was dressed head to toe in tactical gear, but he’d taken off the helmet and balaclava. His pockets were all closed with snaps, and he hadn’t loosened his flak jacket. Everything about him was in the right place, precise. Not a sandy hair was out of place.
“You should lie down,” he scolded. “You’re not ready to be up and about.”
“I won’t go far,” I promised. “Did you get the hard drive?”
He eyed me shrewdly, then nodded. “We did. It was the second thing that Lancelot gave me, after he found you.”
“The first being my jacket?”
“The first being what I thought was your corpse. You scared the hell out of me, Gwen.”
“I’m sorry,” I replied honestly. “But seriously, the air conditioning in here is set to ‘commando in full riot gear’. Can I have my jacket?”
Wordlessly, he reached down and picked it up from where it had been used as a makeshift pillow for me while I was out. I took it from him and pulled it up like a blanket.
“You going to tell me what were you thinking, running off like that? I told you to stay with Doyle.”
I narrowed my eyes at him. “I was thinking that Moriarty had your number. That she’d been killing your people for a couple of days and had the taste for it. That she’d see you coming a million miles away, and execute every last one of you. Oh, what, you thought I was just some headstrong girl? That I didn’t have a plan? What about your plan? What would you have done if I told you not to go in there?”
He eyed me evenly. “I would have had Doyle kill the power to the building and gone in with flash bangs and rubber bullets. Pretty close to what I actually did, except without a building burning down all around me, with people screaming and dying inside it.”
My eyes shot wide. “Did any of them make it out? Please tell me you didn’t…”
“Make it any farther than the end of the hallway? No. My men reported hearing the sounds of people screaming from down below, but they couldn’t get through the door for a few minutes. By the time they blew it, everyone at the top of the stairs was already gone from smoke inhalation. The rest of the room was a sea of fire, and first responders were already en route. We were too late. We only pulled one person out of there: you.”
I sagged with relief. Moriarty hadn’t escaped.
Arthur didn’t miss it. “You’re acting like that’s a good thing. I think you owe me an explanation.”
An explanation? He owed me a high five, but he didn’t even know it. I let out a laugh that was more like a rasp, my throat still sore and dry from smoke inhalation. “Let me tell you what you’d have done after you killed the power and run in with rubber bullets. You’d have been facing two hundred people with the brains of the greatest criminal mastermind the world has ever known, acting in unison, each with the abilities of a Persona, including four Elders.”
Arthur stiffened. “I’m an Elder, myself. We all are.” He hesitated minutely. “We’re not so helpless.”
I rolled my eyes. “Oh, come off it. Did you not hear me? Two hundred Moriartys. She-” I realized that Arthur had never met Kay and would assume Moriarty was male. “Long story - he’s figured out a way to imprint himself on people. He can cram his mind into the body of anyone who he can get the drop on - by which I mean anyone, ever. He knew you’d come. He knew you’d be armed. He was more than happy to sacrifice a hundred people to take you down. Ever read Black Hawk Down? Doesn’t much matter how heavily-armed you are when you’re hideously outnumbered. You’d have had rubber bullets, but you’ve got a magazine or two of full metal jackets in there, don’t you?” The flat look of his eyes was confirmation enough. “He was going to cover his tracks with the fallout from your death during an illegal domestic raid in which heavily-armed CIA commandos murdered a hundred people. In the media frenzy, the survivors of the attack would have a moment in the sun, and then they’d just fade into obscurity, because who cares about survivors, really? You were playing right into his hands.”
Arthur opened his mouth, but I kept going. “He knows you, Arthur. He can predict how you’ll react. If you think you can take him, you’ve got to assume he knows exactly what you’ll do, so you’ve got to do something different. But even if you do, he’s got someone on the inside. One of your knights. He told me so.”
“Impossible,” Arthur scoffed. “They would never betray me.”
My temple throbbed. I was in no mood for this.
Despite his arrogance, remember that Guinevere wouldn’t—
Stuff it, Sherlock.
“Oh, really?” I sat up, and the throbbing didn’t get any better, but it did make me angrier. “Your wife was murdered by someone who switched out her heart medication for sugar pills. How does that happen without an inside man? Sir Kay knifed himself in the neck! Why would he do that?”
Guinevere had no way of knowing any of that, but I did. The pills I had taken from the scene of Gwen Drake’s murder had tested negative as a threat to anything but a diabetic, and even a dozen wouldn’t be enough to put anybody into a coma. The prescription bottle they’d spilled from: that was heart medication, serious stuff. You didn’t want to go without it for long.
And the angle of the cut on Sir Kay’s neck, the blood pattern: it led to only one conclusion to anyone who knew how to look. He’d killed himself, and in a way that no one committed suicide.
No one who hadn’t been possessed by the spirit of James Moriarty, anyway. Kay had been the first message. The first clue.
Arthur had gone pale. “Did Moriarty tell you that, too?”
“Moriarty told me a lot of things,” I dodged. “You’ve been keeping some dirty secrets.”
“Part of the job,” he countered. “As is being suspicious. If Moriarty can put his mind into other bodies - and I’m not sure I buy it, but let’s go with it for the sake of argument - then he could be anyone. He could be you. You were unconscious when we found you. Vulnerable. Victims make excellent inside agents, when you want to infiltrate a hostile organization. Maybe no one cares about them for long, but they come with a story that leads people to sympathize with them and trust whatever they say.”
It got very quiet in the van. I could handle him not trusting me. Hell, it made sense. But…
I ground my teeth. “Is that what you think? That I’m a victim?”
He looked surprised. “We found you passed out from smoke inhalation inside a burning building. Either you set the fire or you fit the common definition.”
I narrowed my eyes. “I nearly gave my life making sure that the world wasn’t infected by a plague of Moriartys with super powers. And you think I’m the victim in this story?” I lurched unsteadily to my feet. Everything got faint for a minute and I propped a hand against the wall, but I was way too mad to fall down. “Fuck this, and you. I’m out.”
I started towards the back of the van.
“We’re on the highway by now!” Arthur exclaimed. “We’re doing seventy!”
I made my way slowly in the direction of the rear doors. “Moriarty couldn’t kill me. You think a little fall is going to do the trick?” I turned back to him. My eyes flashed dangerously. “Oh, but I forgot: I’m a victim. A fragile flower for you to swoop in and put in a glass case, protected from the world while my roots wither and die. Not a badass hero who saved you and all your men from certain death.”
Arthur stood up, and I backed further away from him. My hand brushed the handle of the rear door. “Don’t you come closer,” I warned.
He took a step, arms up, placating and reasonable.
I threw the handle.
Wind whipped into the truck as the door tore open out of my grip, waving crazily around. Headlights from a car behind us cast a flash of shadow across Arthur’s features for a second, until the driver swerved into another lane to escape the crazy girl about to leap from the black van.
Arthur squinted in the gale, but didn’t move another muscle. His hands were still up. With exaggerated slowness, he reached down and used two fingers to gently fish his sidearm out of the holster. He crouched and set it on the floor, and then used his toe to slide it three-quarters of the way across the floor between us. It wobbled as zephyrs tore around the inside of the van.
“Take it!” he shouted to be heard. “I want to talk. You don’t like what I have to say, you can blast your way out of here.”
His posture didn’t betray any dissembly. He wanted to talk.
As quickly as I dared - which wasn’t very fast at all - I took a step away from the door and crouched down to pick up the gun, keeping my eye on him all the while. He didn’t move.
I cocked it, ejecting a live round. The slide sprang forward. The gun was loaded. Oakley & Harris .45 semiautomatic, one of the most reliable pistols in the world. Heavy, hard to hold for long, but it could fire a magnum round while absorbing enough of the kick to let you get back on-target faster than any other weapon in its class. You had to be a badass to use it at all, but if you already were one, you were more lethal than anyone else on the block.
I was a badass. I leveled it at his head, squaring the sights right between his eyes.
“Fine!” I shouted back. “Let’s talk!”
His eyes widened, but he didn’t flinch. He drew one hand forward and spoke a few words into a concealed wrist mike. The road noise changed, diminishing, and after a few moments ceased completely as the door closed of its own accord.
“That’s better,” he said. “Hydraulic door system. Sometimes you don’t want your guys having to focus on opening the doors on their own. And no, you’re not trapped in here. One shot to the cylinder and you can get the door open in seconds. If you’ve got a mind to, you can kill me and then throw yourself into traffic, just like you were going to a minute ago. I won’t take long.”
He nodded at the bench along the wall. “Mind if I sit?”
I shook my head, and trailed the gun after him as he moved. It was damn heavy. I hoped he meant it about not taking long, because it would be super-embarrassing if my arm gave out and I had to switch my grip on the thing.
“Do you know what my wife did before we got together?” he asked.
It took me by surprise. “She… something paramilitary, I think?”
“Leodyne Security. You’ve never heard of them; they went out of business when you were hitting puberty. She was their backbone. Gwen was Jewish; did you know that? Born in America, but she moved to Israel after high school. She volunteered for the Israeli Defense Force. Didn’t have to. She wanted it. And she was good at it. She hooked up with Leodyne, worked ops all around the world. She was fluent in four languages, knew bits and pieces of half a dozen others.” He stopped for a second, and I saw that his eyes were wet.
“I was a too-cocky-for-his-own-good Mission Chief in a Forward Operating Base in Afghanistan. No place you’ve ever heard of there, either, because it really wasn’t supposed to be there. But in the days when we were hunting Bin Laden hard, I was right there at the tip of the spear. We were going to get that bastard.”
He took a deep breath. “What we got was more rocket-propelled grenades than you could count. We learned later that it was a stupid accident: two tribes fighting over an injury six generations old, and we were caught in the middle. We were under fire for three days. Then it stopped.”
My arms were already starting to ache. “Great war story. You want to get to the point?”
He shrugged. “It was her. She’d been operating in the area, and when the Marines couldn’t get to us, Station pulled a few strings to hire Leodyne. She stopped the war that was going on around our stupid heads, and then personally walked through my front door and told me to come with her if I wanted to live.
“I knew who she really was instantly. Guinevere. Guinevere! I was still my cocky self, though. This wasn’t how things were supposed to go. Arthur came to her rescue, not the other way around. I told her we didn’t need the help of some mercenary.”
He nodded at the pistol in my hand. “She drew that gun out of her holster and pointed it right at my head, just like you are right now. Told me she’d been hired to bring me out, but the contract was fuzzy on the topic of kneecaps. Then her eyes got wide, she moved the gun a centimeter, and fired a shot over my shoulder while shouting that I had to look out.”
He smiled ruefully. “I spun around, and she clocked me over the back of the head. I woke up in a jeep, head throbbing, with her smiling down at me.
The wetness in his eyes spilled over, and he blinked as a tear rolled down his cheek. “She told me that she knew all about my story, and that if I ever forgot who the badass hero in our story really was, she’d shoot me with my own pistol.”
He gestured vaguely at the gun in my hands. “I looked down and she’d tucked that thing down the front of my pants.”
Laughing, he shook his head. “Looks like I forgot.” He kept up the smile for a moment, but it wavered, then crumbled. He put his face down into both hands. A single sob crept out from between them.
Then he pulled his hands down his face, and got control once more. He looked at me seriously.
“I’m sorry, Gwen. Sorry that I forgot who the badass hero in this story is.”
His emotions were genuine, but I could see that he was also conflicted. In his situation, who wouldn’t be? He was looking at someone he understood to be essentially the reincarnation of his dead wife.
“If I put the gun down,” I tested, “does that mean that we trust each other?”
He shook his head. “Trust comes with time. And, frankly, I’m a suspicious bastard. Nature of the business. But I’m willing to listen to what you’ve got to tell me. And I’ll do it with an open mind.”
“Good,” I huffed. “This thing is freaking heavy.”
I ejected the magazine and cocked the slide. The last round popped out of the chamber, and the slide stayed open.
I grinned at him as I turned the empty pistol around and held it out to him.
“Can’t blame a girl for being careful, can you?”
He stood up and accepted the weapon, smiling back.
“No indeed. My… my wife was never one to take unnecessary risks, either. The pistol wasn’t loaded when she’d left it in my pants.”
We shared a laugh. It felt… natural. Easy.
Arthur hesitated. “Look, Gwen… if… if fate has decreed that there must be an… us…” He sighed. “I’ve learned better than to try to deny what’s written. But I still love her. I… I will honor you, I swear, but…”
It was my turn to put my hands up. “Woah, there, your majesty. Your wife just died, and I’m very eighteen right now. Let’s not send out save-the-date cards just yet, okay?”
He laughed, and wiped his eye. “All right. I wasn’t really looking forward to telling Leo, anyway.”
The mention of my father’s name made my back stiffen. “Oh god… mom and dad must be going out of their minds right now!”
“We’re headed to your house,” he assured me. “I don’t think you’ve suffered any permanent damage, and your father is going to wear a hole straight through to China if we don’t get you home soon. He waited until almost eight to call me, but I’m guessing from the tone in his voice that you were never really one to be home late. And after this morning… he’s had quite a day.”
I closed my eyes, grimacing at the thought of my parents so desperate. What else could I have done? Any contact, and Moriarty would have known it. She wouldn't limit herself if she thought I needed a push. They were at risk.
I shook my head. This is why Holmes avoided attachments. They made you vulnerable.
Arthur sat down. “We still have a few minutes. Tell me about Moriarty?”
"She left poker chips at her murders today..." I began. I stuck close to the truth: those hazel eyes didn't miss much. They looked deeply. They looked for omissions. He asked questions, got me to clarify when I detailed my comings and goings throughout the day, or how we'd gotten into the club.
"... and then I, ah, kind of freaked out and hit him with a steel dildo. It had seemed like the kind of thing no bouncer would confiscate..."
It was tricky: I had to purposefully make mistakes and double back on my story, trying to confuse things. He could know that Moriarty had wanted me there, but not why... Not that I was Sherlock Holmes.
I kept Puck and Robin out of it. He probed there, as if he could feel the outline of something missing. He really was a suspicious bastard. But if anyone knew about interviewing a witness, it was me, and whenever a line of questioning came too close to the truth, I dangled another interesting lure to draw his attention elsewhere.
Finally, he was satisfied.
"Moriarty. She's not really dead, then?"
"No. She's in a new body now. But she's got them to spare."
Gritted teeth. "I'm going to kill her. Wherever she runs, I'm going to be there. I won't let her touch another hair on your head. Not,” he added, “that I don’t have every confidence you can take care of yourself. But allow me some chivalry. I take care of my people. You’ve been through more than enough already. I… I want you to be safe. I want you to see the better world that I’m making. I want you to help me make things right.”
Spontaneously, he took my hands. “This world can be a dark place, Gwen, and I know you’ve seen more than your share tonight. But it can be so beautiful. I’m going to show that to you. I’m going to show it to everyone. If only…”
The van drew to a stop on tight-packed gravel.
"Ah," he whispered. "Home. Your parents."
There had been something in his voice… something so wistful, so powerful. He was a man with a dream. He dreamed of a better world. A beautiful world.
What would it take, to make the world beautiful? What would you do for that dream, Arthur?
Memories: blue eyes, a happy laugh.
"Thanks for the ride," I said simply. "You and the ninja outfit should probably--"
He started speaking at the same time. "I'm not really dressed for--"
You couldn't help laughing at that, and we both did. Our eyes met, and then we looked away. Impulsively, I gave him a peck on the cheek, and opened the van door.
Cavill whined as I got down. Arthur gave him a good scratch on the rump before he hopped out to follow me. "Take care of her, buddy," he whispered.
A moment later, Cavill and I were alone in the long driveway. I watched as the van pulled away. Arthur… Being near him had not been how I had expected it to be. After our initial spat, it had been easy. He was charming. Gallant. He didn’t act like a man with secrets.
He didn’t act like a murderer.
I sighed, and looked up at my home. The lights were on, but I didn’t see anyone in the windows: nobody knew I was here, yet. Stealthily, I made my way up the drive, walking in the grass to make as little noise as possible.
The Audi was parked at the top: it had been found and driven home - probably by my father’s anal-retentive chief of staff, given the seat position. I got a little tingle of satisfaction at that: it must have driven Phil nuts. The work clothes I'd ditched were still in there.
I crouched between the car and some shrubs and pulled a quick change out of the dress with all the zippers. An improvement, but I still wasn’t quite as I’d left them this morning. My boots were history, and I didn’t have any spares in the car. Also, I reeked of smoke and was wearing about a pint of makeup.
Time to test a theory.
“Watson?” I asked aloud. “I’m pretty sure you can hear me and I need help. The lawn sprinklers aren’t supposed to come on until a little before dawn, but they’re hooked into our home automation system. Pretty sure you can hack them on, right? I’m going to need a little help if we don’t want me grounded for the rest of my life. And that’s really going to make it hard to do anything too Camelot-y, you know? So if you’re listening…”
I waited. Nothing. Cavill gnawed at an itch on his rump. Maybe I’d overestimated their paranoia? It would have been easy for Doyle to tag my work clothes with something… or leave something in the car… or just have static surveillance set up on my house. He said he’d given Watson a lot of autonomy. His little robo-daemon could surely work this sort of black magic… right?
Hissssss! Thunk-thunk-thunk-thunk-thunk-thunk… The lawn was suddenly doused in water. Cavill leapt up, and immediately charged one of the sprinklers, getting a face full of spray as he bit for the stream.
I smiled. “So you do care. Thanks, Watson!”
It will certainly be interesting to find out whether Doyle knows anything about his daemon’s activities. How autonomous is Watson, really? How much intelligence does it have? Does it have… motives?
I took a deep breath, then ran a short ways into the yard, as if I were coming up from the street. I was sopping in no time as I dashed for the door. Taking off the sodden green jacket, I wiped my face as best I could, then did the same for my arms. Hopefully the water would tamp down the worst of the fire smell, until I could shower. Similarly, I hoped I’d scraped enough of my makeup off so that my night club visit were a little less obvious.
Swallowing, I opened the door.
"Mom? Dad? What the hell’s going on with the sprink-”
My mother came flying around the corner from the kitchen at Warp Speed Mom and practically tackled both of us to the floor as she hugged me. "Habibi, oh, habibi," she kept saying as she clung to me. Over her shoulder, I saw my father sag tiredly against the wall, relief plastered all over his features. He was still wearing the same suit from earlier, just without the tie: he hadn't even taken the time to change when he got home.
My mother released me, but hung close for the interrogation. <> she began in Arabic. <>
"Mom," I replied, nodding at my father. He'd worked in the Middle East for years, but his Arabic was a little rusty.
She switched to her lightly-accented English without missing a beat. ”I’m just saying what he already knows I'm saying," she hissed. "Don’t be obtuse, child. As soon as I’m done hugging you, I am going to murder you until you are grounded.”
I swallowed. “Um… don’t you mean ground me until I’m dead?”
Her eyes flashed. “Depends. On. You.”
"I'm sorry," I started. Apologies never hurt more than their absence. "I... after this morning, I kind of freaked out. I met up with some people from my old Theater Club. I kind of needed an outlet.“
My mother pinned me with her gaze. "We called twenty times,” she insisted. “You must have figured out after, I don’t know, the tenth call that we were worried?”
I looked as sheepish as I could. "Left my phone at work. We aren’t allowed to take them into the building… we have little cubbies for them. It's still there, powered down. You'd have gone straight to voicemail."
My father’s voice was angry. “Gwen, I was nearly shot in the face today! We’re a little on edge right now, and the last anybody saw you was when you blew through my office and announced to everyone that you had cramps!”
“Dad, that’s not how-”
“That was fourteen hours ago!” he practically bellowed. “Do you know how worried we’ve been? One of Arthur’s people called and told us your car was in a parking garage in Rosslyn! Phil had to drive it back here. That didn’t make it seem like anything horrifying had happened to you, certainly!”
“I’m sorry!” I shouted back. “I lost track of time!”
“You-” my mother sputtered. “You lost…” She shook her head, switching to Arabic in her frustration. <>
“I didn’t have my phone!” I protested. “We were out hiking, because, jeez, I needed to get away from the city for a minute, and I bummed a ride off of somebody and didn’t have any way to call and next thing I knew it was getting dark and now I’m soaking frigging wet because the stupid sprinklers are on the fritz and it’s freezing in here and…” I sniffled. “And, I’m just so glad you’re not dead, Daddy!”
I threw my arms around his waist and buried my face in his chest. I thought about Senator Rance, all teeth and gun barrels. I thought about Tinkerbell getting the shit kicked out of him just to make a point. I thought about his back getting snapped because I hadn’t been fast enough. I thought about Marion’s head being crushed against a wall because I had misjudged what the monster coming for me would do. I thought about the look in Robin’s eyes, and in Puck’s.
I thought about what would happen to my parents once Moriarty got her bearings.
It wasn’t hard to cry.
After a moment, I felt arms fold around me. “Hey… hey… Gwennie Bear… hey, it’s okay…”
I sniffled, and grinned, and nestled a little deeper. “That’s a stupid nickname, Dad. It was stupid when you started calling me that when I was eleven years old. Who calls an eleven-year-old that?”
“I do,” he repeated our little routine. “And I. Am Your. Father.”
I pulled back a little, and looked up at his eyes. They were wet, too. “Yeah. You really are.”
I turned and looked at my mother, and saw a strange look in her eyes. Suspicion, anger… and pride? Relief, certainly. My father released me, and from her expression, I thought Mom was going to make good on her threat. Instead, she started sobbing and hugging me and apologizing over and over in Arabic.
She really thought I was dead. I... I think it killed her a little. Something crawled up into my throat, and my eyes burned.
<> she whispered into my neck. <<Please, you cannot let me break again.>>
<<No, mama,>> I hugged her back, my own tears falling free. <<Never.>>
My mother and I clung to one another as time swept back a decade. I hated myself for doing this to her even as I remembered screaming, begging, pleading, for the first and only time in my life denying the evidence of my own senses as I willed the fires and smoke to unwind, to retreat back up to the unforgiving sky...
I remembered everything. Everything. I could tell you what I had for breakfast on the two hundred and thirty-third day of my eleventh year. I could describe the laugh that my hazel-eyed brother had made at the strange sound that heralded his death.
It had been so happy.
After a time, I pushed the memory down, and so did my mother. We looked long into one another's eyes. We had lost much. But we were Yemeni, weren't we? Wasn't our story one of loss?
And revenge. Justice, if you were so inclined. But also revenge.
I lay in my bed for a long time that night. My eyes were open, but they weren't seeing the ceiling. They were seeing billowing flames, a million angles, all the places I could have been, all the things I could have done. There was the hum of the plane: if I'd started running right then - no good; still inside the blast radius - if I'd called out for help just then, one of the women might have picked him up and - no good; we were all so used to the planes by then that we never let ourselves look up, let alone think that we had to run - I could have thrown us both behind that old pickup truck - no good; that bomb was five hundred pounds of hate: it had tossed the truck thirty feet...
There were a million ways I could torture myself. I'd been over every single one before, over the years. It had been a while, but I was due for another session. I could have saved him, I knew I could have. If only--
"No, please..." I sat bolt upright in bed. The words were muffled, but unmistakable. Cavill had heard them, too, and was on his feet, growling slightly.
It had been my mother's voice. It had been afraid.
At a full run, it was twenty-six steps from my room to my parents' door. There were six different places in the room where an attacker could cover the door with a gun, but only two that would work if the gun had to be pointing at my parents, too. If whoever was in there with them had tied them up, though, that changed the math…
And come on. It was Moriarty. She knew where she could stand, probably better than I did. She knew how to do this. She knew how to hurt me. Nothing was going to happen until I got there. I didn’t have to rush this. I had time to think.
But there was that fear in my mother’s voice. So I ran anyway.
I crashed through the closed door, Cavill on my heels. My eyes were used to the dark, and in the moonlight spilling blue across the room, I saw as clearly as if it were day. The air was cool and dry on my skin: I knew instantly that the windows hadn’t been opened, or the room would be humid. There were no strange smells: no gun oil, no leather or kerosene or explosives. There was no sign of anyone except my parents.
Their bedroom was spacious, with vaulted ceilings and exposed rafters running the width of the room. Their tall, king-sized bed was at the center, facing a set of bay windows that looked out onto our back yard. My parents were in their pajamas, standing facing one another on adjacent corners of the bed. Tears streaked their faces, and they were trembling in fright.
Thick nooses looped round their necks, with rope strung up over the rafters. It was a long rope, and one end was around my mother’s neck; the other around my father’s. There wasn’t much slack on it: if one jumped, the rope would jerk up on the other side. The knots were tied thick and on the side of their heads, not the back. It was only in movies that people strangled when hanged: professionals tied the knot so that it broke your neck when you dropped. Their deaths would be fast: they wouldn’t suffer, but neither would I have time to save them.
Not technically accurate. It takes approximately eleven hundred foot-pounds of torque in order to break a human neck. A drop of six feet is sufficient in most cases to generate the necessary force, but they are standing only thirty-nine inches over the ground.
There was no one else in the room. No one.
“Don’t make me…” whispered my mother. And then, "Hello, my dear..."
It wasn't her voice, the second time she spoke. It was Moriarty's. My stomach shrank, curled into itself in a cold ball. I wanted to throw up.
She was inside them. She'd been inside them... for how long?
I repeat, they are not in serious danger. The fall will not produce enough force to… unless… wait.
For a moment, on the inside I was screaming, begging, pleading... I was just Gwen, lonely Gwendolyn Ivana ar-Rahmani DeGrace, watching her parents prepare to die.
The Moriarty's behind my parents eyes saw it. They saw me wordlessly beg. My father put his hand on my mother's chest. His hand trembled as he did it, and I saw his jaw clench, but he couldn't stop it. Hers was already in place on his shoulder, waiting to push...
If they both push each other from the bed, the rope will exert upward force while gravity also works on their bodies. By the end of the drop, the resulting torque will be sufficient to cause immediate death.
But I had already known that. Maybe I hadn’t known exactly how, but I didn’t need to be Sherlock Holmes to know that Moriarty knew how to murder when she put her mind to it. My parents were going to die.
My parents. She was going to murder my fucking parents.
I didn't dare look into the future, wind time forward to see how to save them both. Because I didn’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to know that I couldn’t do that, either. Seeing it... it would break me.
There was no more time for thinking. There was no more time for anything. All I could do was throw myself forward with every ounce of human strength that I had, crashing between them and smashing their arms apart. My parents teetered backwards, hands scrabbling at the air...
There was no time. There was nothing to throw, no clever way I could saw the rope in half before my parents were dangling from either end of it. As I watched them fall, I saw the sick truth of it: if I tried to hold one of them up to keep the slack in the rope, Moriarty would just fight me off, and they’d die anyway.
But if I threw my weight onto one of the ropes, bearing one of them to the ground, I could do it. I could save one of them by murdering the other one.
There was no time.
She fought me as I pulled with all my strength on the rope, kicking and clawing and pushing me away. It was a little bit Moriarty, but a lot of furious Reem ar-Rahmani DeGrace that tried to shove me off, screaming at me to let her go, screaming at my father not to leave her, begging us both to let her to go with him.
The… the sound of my father’s neck breaking wasn’t what I expected. It was a soft pop, almost wet. I was countering her desperate flailing, trying to counter my father’s weight on the noose lest it choke her slowly. I’d almost gotten enough slack to get her head out when we heard the noise. We both froze for a split second. I closed my eyes. I couldn’t look.
She couldn’t look away. She was strong, panicked, and her husband was swinging gently a few feet away. She got her thumb into one of my shut eyes and would have taken it out if Cavill hadn't placed his jaws gently and firmly onto her leg and pulled. It swept her off balance, and I drove a palm up under her chin, hard, while sliding the noose free of her head.
She toppled backward, head cracking hard against a nightstand as she went down. I stood there on the floor, chest heaving, as I looked down at her. I saw a fluttering at her throat: a pulse. It was regular: she'd have a headache I didn't want to think about, but she'd live.
I’d let go of the rope as soon as she was free of it. I heard the last of it slip over the rafter and drop to the floor next to my father’s body.
I couldn’t see him from where I was standing. I couldn’t see the horrid angle of his neck, or the way that his tongue would puff slightly out of his mouth due to the pressure of the noose on his throat.
I knew, though. I’d seen it before, because, well… Sherlock. I knew what he would look like. So I didn’t have to see, because my imagination filled in all the gaps. I knew exactly how he looked.
I remembered everything. A not-so-chance meeting in Sana'a, a group of street urchins who'd supposedly picked his pocket; me, marching back triumphantly to return his wallet with English that I had forced to sound awkward despite my English professor mother having ensured that I’d been fluent since practically birth. Genuine warmth and gratitude that had persisted through every moment we'd had since that day.
Horseback riding lessons. Soccer matches. Science fairs. Lazy Saturday afternoons. Letting him win at chess. Hugging him tight. “Gwenie Bear.”
I remembered everything.
She's the best thing I've ever done, my father said in my memories. Don't tell my wife.
I don't remember what happened next.