Chapter 16: No One of Consequence

Playing chess with Moriarty is futile. He can see every move on the board and answer it before it is made. The problem is, chess is the only game he ever plays.


The Audi crunched to a stop on the gravel of my parents’ driveway. I sat for a moment, hands clenching the wheel. I took a deep breath, and puffed it out my cheeks.

Fear is the mind-killer.

Who asked you, Paul Atreides? It was getting crowded in my head, and not all the guests were being helpful.

He wasn’t wrong, though. I was afraid. If I clung to that, I was going to get killed.

Who was I kidding? I was definitely going to get killed. The deadliest mind in the world was riding inside the body of the greatest swordsman who ever lived. Yeah, maybe I could outwit a king who I'd planned to take down for my entire life, but this guy… I'd have a better chance in a piano duel against Mozart. And I didn't play piano.

My heart was beating triple time. I had to get moving, get prepared, but every part of me was screaming to drive away. I couldn’t even make myself unlock the car door.

As you wish.

Out of the car, up the path, key out, and in the door, all without thinking about it. I paused for a moment inside the threshold, seeing my mother rushing towards me and my father sagging against the wall, just as they had on the night—

A plan. You need a plan. This is nothing more than a battle of wits. To the death.

Oh, thank you, whoever you are. So helpful with the terror.

I took a deep breath, and moved into the living room. I started picking things up absently and putting them away while I thought. I was alone. The house was empty, and I hadn’t called Vivian or Robin or anyone: I couldn’t put them in danger like that. Cavill should be with the Fairy Men, or whatever they wanted to be called. There was no help coming. The only one coming was Moriarty.

I’d copied Gwen Drake’s address book while I had her phone. I had texted Lance: “Parents left town. Screw the hotel. Meet me at my place. Bring wine.”

Moriarty knew my parents were out of the picture, so this was practically an admission that I was planning an ambush. He'd know it was a trap, but he always thought everything could be a trap, so I lost nothing. He could count on this being just the two of us: if I didn’t know he was Moriarty, I wouldn’t need anyone else to subdue Lancelot. If I did think he was Moriarty, I wouldn't allow anyone else to risk themselves.

I was thinking through the mind of the enemy: I guess some of Holmes had rubbed off.

I hadn’t known why I added that last part to the text message, about the wine, but I had been running on instinct, and it seemed important. Wine, wine, wine… a battle of wits...

My eyes shot open - of course! I raced to my room. Arthur had said that our stories were corrupt. It was time to straighten one of them out. As written, it probably wouldn’t offer much help to someone like me. But tweak it a little…

Over my years as Sherlock Holmes, I’d amassed quite the collection of chemicals: forensics aids, samples of poisons, various reagents for this and that. I’d never bothered to organize it, though, because I’d always remembered just where everything was, so why bother? Frantically, I tore through drawers and my closet until I found a small bag. I tore off the label — What Would Sherlock Do? — and then thought better of it, found a clean baggie, and transferred the contents. Holmes would have noticed the adhesive on the old bag, and concluded that the label had been removed recently. Moriarty would, too.

Then came a crunch of gravel. My breath caught. I took a quick look in the mirror — oh, this dress wouldn’t work at all! Way too formal. I tore back into my closet as I heard the slam of a car door. No, no, no, no… why hadn’t I bothered getting sexy clothes while I was in high school? I sloughed out of the dress and grabbed some yoga pants and a tank top that my mother had bought me, one that was just a little too small. Mirror check: yep, didn’t leave much to the imagination. My bra was way too fancy for this outfit and the straps were showing, but assuming we were going to play around at Lancelot and Guinevere for a bit, that would actually work in my favor.

Doorbell.

My feet didn't move at first, but just as before, I found myself in motion without wanting to. I was starting to recognize the feeling of unfamiliar fingertips flexing beneath my own, the movements of my own body coming as a surprise. It was less upsetting than I’d have expected if you described it to me: it was more like going to lunch with an old friend, and laughing as they finished your sentences. It was reassuring under circumstances that were far from assured. In short order, I stood in front of the door. I took a deep breath.

I felt a black mask descend over my eyes. It was as tangible as air, and as visible, but I could feel it there as if it were a physical thing. It was terribly comfortable.

I opened the door.

Ice blue eyes twinkled at me. “Don’t worry about dressing up on my account,” he laughed, and held up a bottle of something that cost less than a Happy Meal. “I brought your wine.”

He was wearing a dark suit with a white silk shirt and no tie. A white pocket square peeked out of his jacket, and diamond cufflinks glittered at his wrists. His head was freshly-shaved. He was dressed to kill.

“Something looks yummy,” I said, biting my lip. “As for me, I figured that what I wore on top probably didn’t matter so much.” I tossed my hair as I turned back into the house. “Let me get some glasses. This is a big occasion. Lancelot, Guinevere…”

He followed me, gliding soundlessly across the floor. He couldn’t help but move like a predator. The door swung shut behind him, falling into place with finality.

“I smell Arthur’s cologne,” he murmured. “Were you with him tonight?”

This was a trap. Having been so close to a flash bang, I smelled of more than cologne. There definitely hadn't been time to wash off the delicate patina of magnesium: if I didn’t explain it, then I was hiding something. “I took him shooting. It seemed like something he might enjoy, after his day. It was… well, it was weird. I don’t know. I don’t really want to talk about Arthur. Let's have some wine.”

In short order, I had a bottle opener and a pair of glasses. “I also got a little something special,” I giggled, showing him the bag like a very naughty little teenager.

He raised an eyebrow. “Oh? What have you got there?”

“Something with some kick to it. I want to play a game,” I whispered with a grin.

Moving behind the breakfast bar between our kitchen and the living room, I opened the bottle. While he watched, I poured the wine into the glasses. Then I caught his eye with mine. “No peeking!” I turned my body, obscuring his view of the glasses. A moment later, I deposited the empty bag on the table, and swirled the glasses at him with a flourish.

“One of us is going to have a very good time. And I’m betting the other one will, too. What do you say, mister knight?” I tipped my head to the glasses I held in either hand. “Which one’s it going to be?”

He frowned. “I’m not sure that—”

I set the glass in my left hand down on the counter in front of him. “Okay, I’ll pick! Unless you have second thoughts…?”

He gave me a long look. “You’re… very different. Hard to read. All right, I’ll play. Which wine should I choose? The wine in front of you, or the wine in front of me? But it’s so simple. All I have to do is divine from what I know of you: are you the sort of girl who puts the happy powder into her own goblet?”

I set my own glass down and put my index finger to pursed lips, widening my eyes as if I’d been caught doing something deliciously sinful.

He leaned over his glass, inspecting it. He sniffed gently. Then he did the same over mine, bringing his head very close to me.

“Mmm,” he murmured. “Intoxicating. But I smell nothing in the wine.”

He glided around the counter to stand very close to me, icy eyes glittering. “There’s a slight powdery residue on both glasses, but that could have come from a tap onto an empty bag for just that purpose. You’re enjoying this too much not to be clever about it.” I wiggled my eyebrows in agreement, though enjoyment wasn’t quite the word I would use for what I was feeling right now.

“Guinevere has her Lancelot,” he mused, “and wants to play a little game before they fall into one another’s arms…” His voice sounded as if he were telling himself a story, and perhaps he was. Why would Guinevere want to toy with Lancelot? I hadn’t really thought it through. Though the question really was, “Why would Sherlock Holmes, pretending to be Guinevere, want to play a little game with Lancelot? And why has she brought him here alone in the first place?”

Moriarty was pondering the question aloud, and it wasn’t because he needed to talk it out to get things straight in his mind. He wanted to see my reaction. His eyes searched my face, reading every minute tic and crease and translating them into plain English. I knew he could do it from our previous encounter: even his machine-produced copies had that trick. If Lancelot had been one of those when we met, he was the real deal now. He’d inherited that mantle when Kay died, and that would mean that I couldn’t hide my thoughts from him.

I arched my neck, and felt the knot of the invisible mask at the back of my skull.

“I don’t know what you’re thinking,” he mused. “How unusual. But let’s throw in an added twist to your game, shall we? Make it a little more fun?” I kept the smile on my face, but my back was taut as a bowstring. “You turn around, and I’ll decide which glass to take. Maybe I get it right, or maybe I get it wrong, but either way we’ll find out soon, eh?”

“Sure,” I gulped. “Sounds great.”

Not good. Any trick I could pull, Moriarty could do ten times over. I’d meant to poison him: hardly sporting, but I was not about to take chances. Now, I might be on the receiving end of that same fate.

I turned away, and I heard him moving. Glasses slid, were picked up, set down. My heart beat faster. I could try to pull one last swap, bite my lips and, I don’t know, giggle and tell him he wasn’t playing fair and it was ladies’ choice-

I felt warm hands slide on my shoulders, down my arms. Lips on my neck. He started kissing me behind my ear, gently working his way down to my shoulder. His body slid in close to mine, pressing into me. I couldn’t help myself: I let out a little sigh, half from surprise and half because it felt… it felt amazing.

“About the wine: I’m afraid I only ever play one game,” he whispered, and then bit my ear. It was gentle yet insistent, and as he tugged ever so slightly I could feel myself melting into a puddle.

Moriarty! This was Moriarty! He killed your parents! He’s going to kill you!

The warning didn’t come from anybody literary inside me, just plain old Gwen who was terrified out of her mind. My body seemed to be acting wholly on its own plan, and I felt loose and tight and hot and cold all at once. I slid in his grip, turning into him, arching my head back, and he was kissing me… and I was kissing back.

What the hell was this? I was confused, yes, but I was hot. Burning. I shouldn't...

He pushed me against the counter, tongue probing my mouth as I responded in kind. I was tugging his shirt loose, fumbling with buttons, running my hands over his chest. His arms slid up and down my sides, fingers running around the top of my pants just on the inside, leaving a trail of goose bumps behind them. He slid his hands under my shirt, caressing the small of my back, and suddenly I bit him on the bottom lip, pulling just as he had on my ear. He gasped, pulled back, and with a predatory grin, crushed his mouth back against my own.

My mind was a whirl. This was crazy, dangerous, stupid, stupid, stupid. Not sixty seconds ago I was trying to poison him. Now we were headed towards the couch, my legs wrapped around his waist as he carried me aloft. I was on fire inside, desperate to fall into him; for him to fall into me.

We landed in a tangle on the couch, and his lips left a trail of fire down my neck, over my shoulder, onto my breasts. My shirt was off; I didn’t even remember that happening. His fingers were in my hair, pulling my head back as he licked and kissed all across my body.

“No,” I whispered, barely audible even to myself. His lips continued to play on my collarbone.

Then, stronger, “No, stop. Stop it.” He may have paused, but I still felt his kisses on my neck.

I don’t know where it came from, because every nerve was still tingling. My body still wanted to wrap every part of me around him, swallow him up inside me.

But I was not my body. This was wrong. And I could stop it.

I pushed against him. “Stop. It. Now.

“Ahh,” he sighed lazily, settling his weight onto me and locking his fingers tight in my hair, “I wondered how far you would let this go, my dear.”

I struggled under him, but the fire had gone out of his body, replaced by a thousand pounds of ice. Suddenly his weight was crushing. Every move I made, he answered without even thinking about it. My left arm was pinned against the couch; he grabbed my right wrist and locked it down. I couldn’t move.

“Moriarty,” I spat.

“It’s so lovely to hear you call that name, Holmes,” he replied evenly. “All our many lives, and yet we’ve never had such an opportunity as this. Myself, the man; you, the woman… I think you were enjoying it as much as I.”

He was right in all but the name. I had been enjoying it. Loving it. It made no sense; it was pure animal instinct. Something about the predator and the prey, perhaps. In the last gasp before the wolf’s jaws close, does the doe feel her life is complete?

“This isn’t how we play the game,” I answered. “This is wrong.”

“I have given a great deal of thought to the game we play. The duel that never ends, detective and mastermind, a battle of wits to the death. To my death, every time.” He shook his head. “It hardly seems fair, to be fated to die by your hand, every time I draw breath. And to remember it, in every life!"

"Did you know that none of the rest of them do? It's what makes us different, you and I, our perfect memories. It's why we're better than them, why we can beat them: heroes, demigods, all of them. We don't have to make the same mistakes again and again. I don't have to make the same mistakes. We remember our past lives, and I think that even for you it isn’t so sharp or clear as it is for me. Your past lives are like a dream, but mine are like a yesterday. I remember everything. Every last heartbeat. Every final heartbeat.”

He shook his head, ice blue eyes locked on mine. “It’s time to change the game.”

I got an awful premonition: he wasn’t getting off of me. I fought to keep my cool. “What do you propose? Giving up a life of crime and going into something even more despicable? Banking? Politics?”

“I’m going to rape you.”

He let the words shiver their way down my spine. I could see in his eyes that he expected me to struggle, to fight him - and I planned on it. But that wasn’t what Sherlock would do.

“Why?” I asked.

He smiled. “Oh, my dear detective, I love you so. Truly I do. You are the only one in the world who ever tried to understand me. I tell you that I’m going to violate you in the most intimate way imaginable, and you demand an explanation first.”

He leaned his face close in to mine, so that his lips nearly brushed my cheek as he spoke. I did squirm at this point, but his grip was like steel: there was nothing I could do without tearing half my scalp off.

“We live by different rules than the bit players, my dear. They obey the laws of physics. We obey the laws of literary causality. Two people look up and meet each other’s eyes on a train: for them, there is no connection other than a brief moment that feels like recognition. For us, we meet a long-lost friend, or lover, or the brother we never knew. For them, they go to church and imagine that they talk to God. For us, He answers. For them, they have sex and sometimes something comes of it, but mostly not. For us, if it is inconvenient for the woman to bear a child, that outcome is guaranteed.”

I gritted my teeth. “You… want me to have your baby?”

“Think of it!” his eyes glittered. “The whelp of Holmes and Moriarty. What could such a creature accomplish? He could rule the world, or burn it to the ground. Who could stop him?” The ice blue eyes were wild. “Who could stop them? You have many child-bearing years left, my dear. And I have many potential hosts for my mind, once this body begins to weaken.”

“I’ll fight you.”

He barked out a laugh. “To the death? You wish.”

“No! To the pain.”

He cocked his head, bemused. “I… I don’t think I’m quite familiar with that one.”

My lip curled. “To the pain means that if you try to stick something in me the first thing you lose will be your feet below the ankles. Then your hands at the wrists. Next your nose.”

“And my tongue, too, I suppose. You don’t seem to be in a position for threats, my dear.”

“I wasn’t finished! The next thing you lose will be your left ear, followed by your right.”

“Oh, I do long to hear what you’re going to do to my cock. Bite it off?”

Wrong,” I snarled. “Your cock you keep and I’ll tell you why. So that every time you see a pretty girl, you remember. Every steamy sex scene that comes on TV makes you hard as a rock, but you and your stumps can’t do a thing about it. You try to rape me and I leave you in anguish, wallowing in freakish misery, forever.”

“Poetic. But you aren’t dealing with Arthur anymore. I have my way with everyone.” His grin was feral. “I think you’re bluffing.”

“It’s possible, pig, that I might be bluffing. It’s conceivable, you miserable, vomitous mass, that I’m only lying here because I can’t make you get off of me. But then again… I can lie here all night. I’m not going to rape myself. It’s your move, you warthog-faced buffoon.”

I watched the realization spread across his features: he was going to have to let me go with one hand in order to do anything else here. The way I was pressed up against the couch, I couldn't move, but neither could he get more fully on top of me in order to pin my arms. He’d gotten this far, likely even planned his next move. But he couldn’t read me. Now he was uncertain.

Now he was afraid. Ever so slightly, perhaps. But the first flicker of doubt was tickling his mind.

Something was working inside me. It wasn't like it had been with Holmes, seeing the whole fight play out ahead of time. It was an instinct… a ferocity. I didn't know what was going to happen… and neither did he.

My head jerked free as he made his choice and let go of my hair. Before either of us knew what I was doing, I slammed it into his face. He'd been halfway expecting it, but I was faster than he'd calculated: he jerked and then reeled backwards, and I tore my left arm free as his weight shifted. He rebounded in an instant, driving a vicious blow at my temple, but I was already gone: I threw my whole body into him and down, on top of the arm that held my other hand. His grip broke, and we tumbled from the couch to the floor, rolling apart.

I knew where I would head next, and I was certain that his senses were as good as Holmes', which meant that he knew it too. In a flash, we were at the fireplace mantle, with its janbiya bookends on either side. The scabbards of ceremonial daggers had been mounted so they could support the assorted travelogues and memoirs that my parents kept on the shelf, but the blades were the genuine article. I tore mine free, its ivory handle smooth under my hand. I shifted the blade from left to right to left hand again, holding the curved dagger as a Yemeni noble would have, blade high and curved toward my opponent. I could thrust and hack, bringing more power to bear. Moriarty held his like a knife fighter, in a reverse left-handed grip with his thumb toward the pommel. He would be lightning fast and have supreme control.

I saw a trickle of blood running down his nose and over his lip. He tasted it with his tongue, and smiled at me. "First blood's to you, then. Lay on, Holmes, and damned be she who cries, 'Hold, enough!'"

"My name is Gwendolyn DeGrace." I spat at his feet. "Holmes can sit this one out."

He began to circle toward me. I knew how his mind was working: plotting all the angles, mapping out every surface, aware of each texture and how it would impact his traction. He could see every path to me and pick the one that presented the greatest advantage.

Let him come, said the voice inside me. He can't see what comes next.

He obliged with a lunge forward and a quick slash aimed for my midsection. I parried up, deflecting the blow, and he twisted in a downward hack at my shoulder. Again, an easy parry, as was dodging the right-handed strike he threw with his hand at my temple. I returned the favor: a thrust, high slash, and low slash combination that he blocked and evaded.

We separated and circled. My knife danced in front of me in a defensive pattern, cutting off possible futures as quickly as he could come up with them.

“Bonetti's Defense? Did you learn that in a book? If Austen Bagger could kill old Bonetti while drunk, I hardly think his defensive techniques are going to help you." He spun inside my guard like a snake and sent a vicious upward slash toward my throat. I threw myself back and out of the way, letting my feet fly off of the floor in a standing backward somersault. Apparently I could do a standing backward somersault!

Moriarty looked suitably impressed, and didn't press the attack as I landed on top of the coffee table, guard instantly in place again. "Bonetti seemed appropriate, given all the furniture around. He was light on his feet."

"Where'd you learn that, Holmes? I'm going to have to try it!" His eyes sparkled with excitement. "I don't know how you're doing this, but I'm going to make you tell me... while I'm inside you. Oh-ho, no hurry, my dear!"

I stabbed at him, but he hopped lightly to the left and drove forward onto the table with a rush of his own. I stepped backward and parried his blows, but my right heel hung out in space on the edge of the table.

Seeing my predicament, his grin widened. “Ever heard of Capo Ferro?”

He surged forward, but as he did, I threw myself to the right. The force of my movement spun the coffee table beneath Moriarty, and he toppled to the floor as I landed with a bounce on the couch.

"I find that Thibault cancels out Capo Ferro, don't you?" I grinned down at him. With a snarl, he rolled to his feet and charged at me, hurling himself through the air like a spear. It caught me off-guard, and I flung myself desperately backward, barely parrying his strike in time. We both fell over the edge of the couch, and he landed better than I did. Poor old Thibault would have been ashamed.

"I've studied Agrippa," he said, rising to his feet and slashing down at me as I did likewise. I brought my janbiya up and blocked with both hands, and we locked together for a moment. I saw a trickle of sweat run down his brow, and with a primal howl I surged up, throwing his blade to one side and spinning back away from him.

"Agrippa's not all that," I smirked. "What else have you got?"

He showed me: a feint, which I fell for, and a gouge for my eyes that came so close that I'd need some serious eyeliner if I wanted long, luscious lashes. I thrust forward but he spun outside of the blow. I turned it into a backhanded slash that caught the fabric of his shirt, tearing it open.

He backed away a step. "You really are magnificent. If this goes on much longer, you might actually stick me with that thing. You’re better than I am.”

"Then why are you smiling?"

"Because I know something that you don't know," he snarled. I slashed forward again, and he dropped low into a crouch, letting go of his weapon. It seemed to hang there in the air, barely drifting downward as he sprang back up to meet it with his right hand.

"I'm not left-handed." He surged forward with a furious blitz that sent me reeling. We dueled madly, blocking and parrying with every breath. The blows started to rattle me, and my guard began to falter.

I gasped for breath. "Do you really... not know what's going on here?" I asked between exchanges.

He smirked. "The inevitable. I get to win, Holmes. I'm finally going to beat you." He hooked his blade down on top of mine and shouldered into me, slamming both of us into the wall. His weight bore down on me, but I couldn't help it: I burst out laughing.

"What's so funny?" His eyes narrowed as he fought through our clinch.

“There’s something I ought to tell you.” I smashed my elbow up into his chin, and he staggered away. Deliberately, I switched my grip to my right hand as he watched.

"I'm not left-handed either."

He lunged, and I sidestepped, scoring a ragged line down his left arm. He hissed in pain.

Realization dawned. "You're not Holmes anymore." He feinted, then spun in.

I met him in a clinch, and we locked blades. “Not since last night. You must have suspected that could happen."

He tried to use his height and weight against me, but I kept my feet moving, keeping him too off-balance to bring those weapons to bear. “Who are you?"

"No one of consequence." Having led him around for a moment, I shifted suddenly in the opposite direction. He wasn’t ready for it, and stiffened. I shoved hard, and while he rocked backward, I lashed a path of crimson down his right arm.

He staggered back. "I must know."

I remained rigid. "Get used to disappointment."

He shrugged, and lunged forward again. "There's still only one way this ends, Ms. Of-Consequence." I fought him off as he mused, "Though I suppose raping you will be less rewarding if Holmes really isn't in there. Ah, well. I'll satisfy my disappointment in other ways."

Suddenly, he was all over me: it was as if his strength had redoubled. He was a blur. In a flash, I caught a slice in the left shoulder, and then another in my right. I cried out and backpedaled frantically. He feinted and kicked, and I was suddenly on my back, with him standing over me, blade at the ready.

There was... more blood than I had expected. My sides were heaving. Right-handed or no, I was now injured in both arms and I was flagging. He could see it.

I was also afraid. Moriarty was terrifying enough, but he was also Lancelot, the unbeatable knight. Only one person had ever bested him, someone pure of heart. That sure wasn’t me. By rights, I was doomed from the start.

But I was more than afraid: I was angry. And I was not done yet.

Westley had passed on the title of Dread Pirate to a Spaniard.

"Hello," the words hissed out of me, “my name is Gwendolyn DeGrace. You killed my father. Prepare to die."

"Are you still trying to win?" he laughed. "I'm going to hamstring you and leave you in chains for the rest of your miserable life. And then I'll find the new Holmes and do the same thing. Every heartbeat, you miserable bitch!"

The fact that I wasn't Holmes didn't matter anymore. He was out for more than blood. He was out for revenge for every single time Holmes had ended his madness. He was taking this to the pain.

He cut brutally down, but I was faster. My janbiya clanged against his as I swept it in an arc, slashing the blade out and away from my leg. I continued the movement in a spin to my feet, a wide slice sending him ducking back to avoid the blow.

"Hello," I panted. "My name is Gwendolyn DeGrace. You killed my father. Prepare to die."

His answer was an animal cry and an underhanded strike that I cast away with ease. I was feeling stronger by the second. He saw it too. He couldn't read me, but I could read him. He was thinking that I shouldn't be able to do what I was doing. I shouldn't be able to do this, not to him.

He was thinking that he was going to lose. I saw desperation in his eyes.

"Hello! My name is Gwendolyn DeGrace. You killed my father. Prepare to die!"

"Stop saying that!" he cried, grabbing his weapon in two hands over his head and driving it down toward my heart. I rocked back, avoiding the strike, and then forward, lashing low across the knuckles of his right hand. The janbiya dropped from his fingers and clattered to the floor.

He froze, holding his hands up in surrender. I thought of my parents, and delivered a quick slice that split his left cheek open, leaving my blade outstretched in the air between us.

"You can't kill me," he said, "not for real. You know where I'll wind up next if you use that thing? Inside your mother. Can you imagine what I'll do to her?"

I snarled, and cut him across the right cheek.

"Who are you?" he hissed. "What do you want?"

I started the cut high, and he leaned back to protect his neck, but it was only a feint: I spun the blade in my fingers and drove it under his exposed sternum and through his heart.

I want my father back, you son of a bitch.

He clawed at the hilt sticking out of his belly, dropping to his knees. Then his face. Then he lay still.

I looked down on his body. "Holmes said the only game you played was chess. You should have known that the most powerful piece on the board is the queen. You should have changed the game sooner."

I sagged as the adrenaline left me, and felt the Dread Pirate Roberts go with it. I was woozy, half naked, and covered in blood, much of it my own. I sagged back against the wall.

That was when the windows exploded in. All of a sudden, they were everywhere: a half-dozen men in inky black tactical gear, shotguns and semiautomatic rifles covering every direction at once.

“I got one!” one of them shouted, training his rifle on me. I didn’t move.

“Clear!” came the answering shout, followed by four others. The men spread out through the room, checking everything.

“Man down!” one cried, seeing the corpse. “Jesus… it’s Lancelot.”

I heard the front door click open. Arthur stood there, silhouetted by night, wearing the same suit he’d had on for our date. Unhurriedly, he eased the door closed behind him.

He looked at me, but there was no warmth behind his eyes. He might as well have been walking into a bombed-out building in Yemen, or watching a video feed from above; he wasn't looking at me like the man who'd driven me home last night, or even as the man I'd punched in the jaw. He was looking at me like the Director of the Counterterrorism Center, and I was the terrorist. He was looking at me like King Arthur, and I was an enemy knight.

He didn't say anything as he came over. I was now flanked by two knights covering me with assault rifles. My back was to the wall, and I was standing, but exertion was out of the question. My arms felt like someone had exchanged my blood for Icy Hot. I had nothing left, not even a witty retort for aspersions as yet unsaid.

He rolled Moriarty over with a toe, careful to avoid the pooling blood. He looked down at Lancelot’s handsome face for a long time. Then he met my eye.

"It turns out that your friend Vivian is really my friend Vivian. As for you..."

He turned away, and whispered, “Take her.”

A second later, a black hood dropped down over my head. I heard an electric sizzle, and felt a jolt of pain as my whole body seized up at once. I toppled to the floor. Then: a pinprick in my neck.

Then, nothing.