Chapter 22: Death

Moriarty: case file: X; synopsis: death; vulnerability: none


Over the next quarter-second, a lot of things did not happen. I didn’t get punched in the face, after I sensed a motion in the air and ducked. I didn’t duck, after catching a roundhouse kick to the face when Moriarty anticipated my dodge. I didn’t get kicked, after I chose not to duck but to sidestep. I felt a nerve strike on my shoulder as Moriarty was a step ahead of me again.

She’s faster than anyone you’ve faced before.

Of course she was. Because she was the real deal. She had been, all along.

Instead of all those things that didn't happen, I greeted her as I entered the room. “Hello, mother.”

I felt the puff of air in my face as she checked her strike. A slight rustle, and the lights clicked on. My mother stood a pace away from me, smiling warmly.

“Hello, my dear. Would you like to play a game?”

The pistol in her hand was not warm at all. It gestured casually to a table set up in the middle of the otherwise empty room. There was a chessboard on it. I walked to the white side, and she joined me opposite.

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.

“Your move, Gwen.”

I opened. “It’s been you, all along. Ever since the first body turned up. That’s why you’re faster than Kay, than any of the others. You’re the true Moriarty. You always have been.”

She set the pistol down and answered my opening. “Very good. Moriarty has always been faster than Holmes. Smarter.”

I pursed my lips, considered the board, and responded. “I believe you. Yet Holmes always seems to beat you.”

“Not always.” We played for a few moves in silence. She was aggressive, taking first blood with one of my bishops. Then she shrugged. “But I concede, Holmes usually kills me. You’ve done it repeatedly now, though on poor shadows only.”

“Lance Haran. Eric White and Ashley Oakley. It wasn't even me who got Kay Taggart and Senator Rance.”

She sighed as she took a pawn. “You have no idea how hard it was for him to stand there and wait as Arthur killed him. Arthur. Who murdered little Qadir. He had to watch that silly pen drift through the air and into his neck. He even moved so that it would definitely sever the vein. Even Arthur’s aim isn’t that good.”

I trapped a black knight and slid my rook into its space. “Wasn’t. But he was fast.”

She raised an eyebrow. “I hadn’t thought it in you. Perhaps I’ve been successful raising you, after all.”

“Don’t get your hopes up. He died nobly, saving me from Watson’s drone.”

“The drone that Arthur built.” She shook her head. “Nobility. He wasn’t strong enough to face the truth of his story.”

I bristled. “Or you misjudged him. People aren’t black and white, mother.”

She laughed, devouring my rook with her queen as I backpedaled across the board to defend my king. “Oh, daughter. You, who know so much at eighteen. Maybe he was as noble as you say. I’m still glad he’s dead. He deserved it.”

I had no answer to that. I remembered a happy laugh, and flames.

I took a deep breath, pushing back against her on the board. “When did you know who I was?"

"The same moment I became Moriarty, and a mother. The moment you were born.” Her lip twisted bitterly. “Our predecessors killed one another in the last moments of my labor with you. I suddenly remembered it all as if it had happened to me personally. Can you imagine? It’s supposed to be the most wonderful moment in your life, seeing your baby for the first time. You look down at her, this magical mixture of your soul and another’s, life, created from your very flesh! Instead, I looked into your eyes and remembered them as they murdered me, just moments before. I knew that you would kill me, if I didn't choke the life from you instead of nursing you at my breast. That was my entry into motherhood.”

She trembled. "What did anything, or anyone matter, after that moment?"

I shivered. “Did you try to kill me in the hospital? After I was born? What happened?”

She shook her head firmly. “I couldn’t. Perhaps you can credit your life to postpartum hormones, but I couldn’t even allow myself to imagine it. But the... the idea of it... it never went away. It never does, even now. I nearly had a nervous breakdown."

“You’ve been Moriarty my whole life? You could have killed me a thousand times over, but you only started recently." Something slithered up my spine. “What have you been trying to turn me into? What were you raising me to become?”

“Focus, my dear.” She took my other bishop. “I’ve been trying to kill you for a while now. Haven’t you noticed?”

I riposted, eliminating a pawn. “You have a gun, and I don’t. You could kill me right now. You could have choked the life out of me when I was born. I don’t have the memories that you do, but I know Moriarty well enough to know that you’re playing a deeper game. You want something from me.”

She didn’t answer directly. “You’re my daughter. Whatever else we are, I am mother and you are daughter. You came from my flesh. Our kind follow certain rules, but there are other laws that are more fundamental. The next generation always sees the first to their graves. That's how it's supposed to be.

"I may be fated to kill you - or die trying. But that doesn't make me want to."

"Could've fooled me," I retorted. "What changed?"

"You grew up," she said. "As you got older, it became increasingly difficult for me to hide the truth from you. And you weren't ready for that yet. You're my daughter: I had to make the best decision I could to protect you, even when all the options were awful. So I took measures to hide the truth from you."

She sighed. "But you are a born detective. By the time you were twelve, misdirection wasn't enough. You'd be onto me in a second. So you needed... obstacles."

I rolled my eyes. "Like the guy with the chainsaw?"

"Poor Sven," she agreed. "But you did save the kitten. At any rate, yes, some of the obstacles were more... consequential than others. Not at first, of course. I... I wasn't ready to try to kill you."

She shrugged again. "But none of the lunatics I put into your path seemed to have the chops to come close. So I escalated. You needed challenges worthy enough to hold your attention."

"To keep my attention off of you, you mean. The florist?"

She nodded.

"Ugh. The pornographer? No!"

She smiled, and nodded. It was so genuine… affectionate. She was giving me a hard time. “Ever the virginal one. Have you even kissed a boy? That’s a secret even I could never pry out of you.”

Pecking Roger and Arthur on the cheek didn’t count. I blushed. “I’ve… wanted to.”

“You did beat Hercules to death with a steel dildo. I was so proud.”

"I am going to shower for a week after we are done here. So you're the most homicidally weird mother ever. Okay. But you said you were resisting Moriarty after I was born. Obviously you fell off that wagon."

She sobered. “You were two when I first murdered someone. I denied what was inside me for that long: it was too cruel. My daughter, my nemesis? It couldn’t be. But I knew better. Neither of us is built to lie to ourselves. So I sought a way out.

"Do you have any idea what it’s like, being an intelligent woman in Yemen? Then to add Moriarty’s genius to that woman? My words barely mattered. I could have my way with a man if I clobbered him to his knees… or went down on mine.”

“Mother! Ears! Bleeding!”

She smiled slyly, and took a pawn. "I might not have been able to get men to hear me, but I knew how to listen. To get others to talk.

“I learned everything that I could about the Personae. I learned about concordance, about acting against what you were to try to lose your connection with the strange spirit inside you. I told myself that I could rid myself of the demon Moriarty. I cherished you and helped you grow. I was kind and generous to others. I pledged zakat and fasted. I denied his imperatives wherever I could. Most of all, I wouldn’t let him kill.

“Then a friend of your father - your biological father - started talking about marrying you, when you were old enough. He laughed about it, because he’d settled on thirteen. He could wait eleven years for you. He figured he had two wives left to get bored of before you were old enough to fully appreciate.” She swallowed, looking as if her spit were squeezed from lemons. “He was an imam… your father couldn’t say no to him. Even then, he was starting to grow more conservative; what was he going to say to his spiritual leader? He agreed with a laugh. Didn’t even hesitate.

“No one questioned when he had a bad reaction to the qat they were chewing that night. Just like no one would question, years later, when your father blew himself up in his own basement.” She shuddered.

I felt a hard ball in my stomach. “You killed for me. To protect me.”

Her shrug was bone-chillingly casual. “What’s a mother to do? You are my child. Always. Everything I’ve done has been for you."

She took my other rook. “I love you, my dear. Please believe that.”

"Did you love daddy?"

She sighed wistfully. "No, but I liked him very much. After the circumstances of your birth... I've found love elusive. But your father made me laugh. And we did some atrocious things to one another between the sheets. And on the floor a few feet away from them. And hanging from the-"

"Dear god, please stop. Believe me, I knew. I could hear you."

"Yes, dear, I made sure of it." The Moriarty smile was back, but when I thought about it, she'd always had that smile when she thought I wasn't looking. "I wanted to show you healthy adult sexual expression. It wasn't like you were going to talk to me about it."

"Well, nice going, Mother of the Year. Some of it did some structural damage to the house, and to my impressionable psyche. Why do you think I never kissed a boy, knowing what came next?"

"Gwen, Gwen... you've read enough to know that most sex is vapid and inconsequential. I assure you that your first time is likely to be horrible, just like everyone else's. It's just that it gets so much better than that, and you're a fool if you don't enjoy what pleasures this life has for you."

"Curious? What was I supposed to do, search the internet for 'my parents are fucking and it sounds like it hurts'? Oh, yes, congratulations: you stumped even Sherlock Holmes."

"He was going to be no help to you in matters of the loins, my dear. A mother must do what she can." She laughed. "Are we having the sex talk? Now? Stop stalling. You're better than that."

I fumed. She was right, but I wasn't stalling on purpose. She dangled even a weird, unsettling morsel of my father, and I'd chased right after it. As if to punctuate my distraction, she took a rook and knight in rapid succession.

“He loved you, you know. It was true and genuine and as pure as any love that I've seen in this world. And I saw that you loved him. I wanted you to have that: someone that you loved, just because you could not help but love.”

I knew what she was about to say next. It wasn’t that I had any Holmes-like insight into the physics of the future: I’d simply read too many books. There was only one reason that Moriarty could want that for me.

“You wanted me to have someone to love… so that you could take it away from me?” It came out a question, and I hated myself for it, because I knew it to be true. It was a statement. It was a fact. I just wanted it to be a lie.

Her eyes glittered. “To give you a motive! Sherlock Holmes has always been analytical, indifferent. It had to be personal this time. You have to want me dead. You have to want it deep down where you are more than the sum of Holmes’ parts. Where you're a woman. Where you're a human. You have to need it, to prove your humanity. If you don’t need me dead, you don’t deserve to live.”

Her eyes were bright, and wet. "You've got to end this, my dear. You can't let the cycle continue. You can't just kill Moriarty. You've got to end me."

“You made me watch my father die twice… to motivate me?” I raised my voice. “To make me hate you? Well fucking done!”

“I will do it again. And again and again and again, unless you stop me. Right here. Right now. I raised you to end this nightmare cycle once and for all. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t figure out how. Moriarty may be smarter, but Holmes is more creative. I always believed you could do it. Looking at you now, seeing the woman you've become, I know you can. But when the moment comes, you can’t hesitate.” Her eyes sliced into mine. “I won’t.”

"You'll kill everyone else I care about, if I don't stop you right here? Tough choice, mother. I should have let you swing on that rope."

"No. Because then I would have died and the next Moriarty would just be worse yet. One of us Moriartys is going to figure out how to win, one of these lives. To change the game. To beat Holmes forever. Do you understand what that will mean? What it will be like to live in a world where one person's whims mean life or death for everyone you know?" She paused, seeing the memory of a happy laugh and flames flickering in my eyes. "Yes. Yes, you remember your brother. Good."

"I'm not just Holmes anymore," I replied, swallowing my temper. "You're already beaten. You just don't know it yet."

We traded queens, and played for a while longer in silence. The board was starting to empty. I realized that I had never played chess with my mother before.

I had so many questions. "The Diogenes Club... what was that? Kay murdered two hundred Personae, in one fell swoop. Why?"

"Because nothing else worked," she spat, suddenly vehement. "I was desperate."

She took a deep breath. "Do you know why we are human?"

I wasn't sure where this was going. "Billions of years of evolution?"

"Don't be smart, or I will shoot you in the kneecap." She paused. "My god, do you know how many times over the years I've wanted to say that? Your fourteenth birthday party, you have no idea..."

Shrugging, she continued. "Stories. Animals can communicate, some quite clearly. You can teach an ape sign language. But stories, the things that explain and teach and warn and make us feel and make us raw and expose us to worlds that we cannot imagine for ourselves... those are what make us different. They make us human."

Her eyes glittered. "They've failed us. I started picking them off, one by one, a decade ago. By now you've figured out that it wasn’t Kay who murdered those Personae, years ago. It was me."

"That makes sense," I replied. "You would travel for symposia and whatever - it all sounded terribly boring. And Kay would've been something like ten when you murdered Caesar."

"I had hoped that the murder of a generation of Personae would be enough," she replied. "Someone had told me once that the Personae could influence the telling of our stories, just as our stories influenced us. I wanted to change all our stories: to change the story of the Personae. I reasoned that a blank slate could be rewritten... but I was too slow at it. As one slate was wiped clean, another would start to fill again. I couldn't work fast enough. Not by myself.

"Kay... A week ago, she was a normal college student named - I swear to you - Judy. Ever since I first met Bill Adler and learned of his machine, I knew that I would need Kay. I couldn't wipe the slate alone... but with a partner, someone of my intellect, whose mission in life was to gather the disoriented Personae of a generation together, so that they could be cleared from the board in one fell swoop... together, she and I could begin our story anew.

"I began building her from my memories over a decade ago. She was undoubtedly the most perfect of my little clones. To be true to Moriarty, they all had to believe themselves the original article: she and the rest knew nothing of me, and they acted out the scripts that I had written for them. But I could feel them in Moriarty’s memories, and Kay had a genius in her. There was something in the combination of genius and love... because she did love you. All Moriartys do, in their own way.”

For a moment, she looked weary. She looked down from the board, and pinched the bridge of her nose. "When you were very young, I was still looking for an answer. A solution to the problem of Moriarty and Holmes, of mother and daughter. I was a literature professor; I was well-versed in the ways of our kind. We are made of stories, we Personae. Mankind tells itself stories to explain, to predict, to teach. But there are other stories out there, characters that have no names. We seem to know them instinctively: 'snakes are bad,' 'be afraid of the dark,' 'women are other'. Carl Jung called them archetypes.

"I saw something there that I couldn't explain with what I knew of our kind. There was another story, a deeper one. Joseph Campbell's monomyth, perhaps, or something even more profound. There would I find my answer! So I sought out the mother of stories: Scheherazade, who told tales for a thousand and one Arabian nights. If any knew more about us than I did, it was her."

She paused. "It was... arduous. She did not want to be found." In between her words, I heard the wail of sandstorms and the empty moan of ancient sepulchers. "You were already starting to come into your own, with a mind and memory that I couldn't count on to forget as you grew older. I left you with your father for months while I searched. It was the last time you saw him."

I nodded. "I do remember. I remember missing you."

She blinked in surprise. For a moment, there was... something. Then she carried on. "Scheherazade had... numerous stories to defend her. Many people died. I should say: I killed them, to get to her. But I did it." My mother's eyes sparkled. "She was right to fear me. She wanted to protect our kind. I wanted to destroy us. And as I peeled through her layers of deception-" I could not help but shudder at the way my mother said 'peeled' - "I found that there was another truth to our world. Personae are not the only stories who walk the Earth.

"In times of great strife, when many of our kind die, only to be reborn and to die again, sometimes one of us rises from the ashes, to tell some great new truth to the world. They do not have a name, like we think of names. We call them The King, or The Martyr, or The Mother. You see their echoes in a new generation of Personae who rise, embodying traits of The Woodsman, The Scientist, or The Detective. The Personae of whole generations wind up as pale reflections of their deeper truth. Through history, the stories we tell pivot and change, sometimes suddenly. The stories of humankind must change because humanity changes. These Icons bring with them the destruction of the old order, because there can be no change without death."

I felt a rustling inside me. Sherlock. Tom. Jack. Wendy. Odysseus. I had begun to think, after what happened at the Diogenes Club, that I was somehow carrying their spirits with me. But what if that wasn't it? Were they in me?

Or was I in them? What had Achilles called me?

The clever one? Or The Clever One?

Yet again, I shivered. "You killed all of those Personae, hoping that it would be me who rose… who became an Icon. To get me to... evolve."

"I had thought long about the killing. I had so much blood on my hands. And I had seen no sign of any change in us. Finally, I realized why: no story defines an era. A single character's death is tragic. It is not iconic. To rewrite the rules and unwrite Moriarty, I had to think bigger.

"Kay thought she knew the real reason. But immortality did not suit my purposes at all. The Diogenes Club was a blood sacrifice. I needed you to become something more. Like the Icons who had preceded you, you needed a blank slate. Kay's job was to wipe away the ugly stories of today in the hopes that we can find something new.

"The stories of this era... they are dangerous, Gwen. They are not our stories, yours and mine. They are men's stories. Holmes and Moriarty, locked in a winner-takes-all duel to the death. Nothing is cherished, except war, and victory. There is no room for community, for compromise, for empathy... for any of the things that have actually kept this nuclear-powered species from eradicating itself in a holocaust of antagonism.

"I don't mean to say that men's stories are worthless. I'm living one of them, and I've enjoyed its many privileges. But just look at the mother that I've been. I haven't nurtured you: I've challenged you. I've failed you a million times over. You deserve better. I want to give you that.

"But I don't know how. Personae... we're trapped in the antagonism of the age. We can't do anything but live out the stories that we've been handed. I can't give you what you need. I can't just hug you and hold you and stroke your hair and have it be enough. I don't know how. God, I've tried. But I always see the flaw in it, just that one more thing that has to be fixed..."

She choked back frustrated tears.

"I'm not the only mother to share these anxieties. And there are so few of us who have any idea how to overcome them. We stumble about in the dark, helpless, trying our damndest to write our own stories, because there aren't any to help us."

She was breathing fast. "It's not just you and me, Gwen. For the whole world, something has to change."

"I thought you wanted me to end you," I said.

"Oh yes. I want you to end this feckless spiral of conflict and escalation. It's not a game that Holmes and Moriarty play, no matter how their testosterone makes them think it so. It's just war."

She swallowed. "So here I am, mother asking of her daughter what she should be able to give. I want you to tell me a bedtime story. I want you to help me sleep at night. I want you to make me believe that the sun will come out tomorrow."

"I want a new story. Something that will give us a future. Something Iconic."

She steepled her fingers and looked at me across the chessboard. We had still been playing, but somehow, I hadn't processed the fact that there were only three pieces left on the board. Two kings, and one white pawn.

It was my move. And the pawn was on the seventh row. One step away from reaching the end. One step away from becoming...

"A Moriarty does not hope, my dear. She plans. Take my fear away." She held up the white queen.

I pushed the pawn forward. My mother replaced it without a word.

“Checkmate,” I whispered.

She lowered her eyes. “How are you going to do it?” she breathed.

I blinked. “I told you: it’s already done. Lancelot told me that he wanted to change the game, but here we are, still playing chess. It's the only game that Moriarty ever plays. Knights, kings, castles... you're right. It's not a game: it's war. You've been waging war from the get-go because you don't know how to tell a bedtime story.

"I don't, either. Good grief; I didn't play with dolls, I played with the bottom of a Coke bottle I found in a ditch and made into a magnifying glass. Children have made me grind my teeth since I was eight; I may have inherited my mother's maternal impulses. But I've had to do a lot of faking it until I make it in the last few days.

“After the last few days of Senators losing their minds, mass-murders, and domestic drone attacks, there are going to be a ton of new facts coming out about all sorts of things that have been in the shadows for a long time. Arthur Drake this, Senator Rance that. But people don't give a damn about facts. People need a story to make sense of it all. So we’re giving them one.

"While we were on our way over here, Robin and Doyle were publishing every last scrap of information regarding Personae they could get their hands on. Robin has tons of contacts in the media, and Doyle, well… a million dollars puts a lot of ads into your social media feed and writes a lot of sponsored blog posts. We've got things scheduled to trickle out over the next few days, all across the web, and even to go out in response once articles with certain themes are published in major news outlets. The information will come out piecemeal, with seeming contradictions and untrustworthy sources and the need to really dig to put together the whole story. As soon as people start to lose interest, there will be another tantalizing bit to grab their attention again. As far my teenage attention span can tell, we can string this along for a couple of months.

"And since Kay killed so many the other day, there's a personal twist. Everyone who reads about it is going to ask, 'Could this be me? Am I a Persona?' Even if they don't believe. Even if they think it's a total crock of shit... they're going to ask. Because you can't not ask. You can't not look at your life and go, 'Man, I've totally had that feeling where I thought I knew someone but they were a stranger. I've had weird feelings or thoughts that I can't explain, that didn't make any sense... until I heard this story.' Because that's how our brains work when they're exposed to stories. Facts are impersonal. Stories never are."

"But I didn't like the source material, so I did what any good storyteller does: I took a few liberties. Concordance shouldn’t define our destiny. It should be a gift, a thing we can aspire to, not a death sentence. Just look at the lengths we'll go to in order to cheat fate: Bill Adler dropped bombs on a field full of civilians, and you..."

I swallowed. "In my version of the story, anyone can become like Sherlock Holmes, or King Arthur, just by doing what those characters do. You can learn the lessons that they have to offer, and you can make your life better, and yeah, maybe you can really work it with a magnifying glass better than other people while you’re in the zone. Maybe someone really gets it right, but it’s not unique. No one is the Holmes, or the Moriarty. It's more of a cult of personality than some kind of lottery.

"And you can just stop. If you don’t want to be Moriarty anymore, you can hug somebody or work in a soup kitchen or adopt a puppy, and, bam, you’re out of concordance. What you tried after I was born: now it’ll work. The world isn’t out to force you into making bad choices anymore. You make your own choices. You define your destiny.”

“You’re changing the rules,” she said.

“Whose rules? I sure as hell never agreed to them. Breaking their rules is what we do. We've been breaking rules since the very first of us."

“Personae?”

"Women,” I grinned. “Fancy an apple?"

She raised a wry eyebrow as I continued. “But you… the true Moriarty. That's still a thing, now, but it's going to fade in the next few days. You’ve got a choice now, mother, but can you take it? You can't tell a bedtime story, and I'm expecting you to give up the power to see the world six moves ahead and unwrite the future before it happens? When you've been willing to murder your way across a decade so that you could control your fate? No, you're not just going to trust me. You're not going to listen to the bedtime story and be reassured by it. You'll need something more concrete.”

“That’s good,” she swallowed. “Once upon a time... you might have gotten me to hope. Now, I need guarantees. How do you know it will work?”

”Oh, it'll work. You know how Guinevere's first and only infidelity was with Arthur's nephew, Mordred?"

”That was only in early versions of the story. Everyone knows about Lancelot now."

”Because we told new stories!" I exclaimed. ”The new stories became the new truth. Now, Guinevere can't keep from re-enacting the new love triangle, rather than sleeping around on Arthur while he's off at war. Truth changed. It can change for Personae, too. Soon, she won't have to sleep with anybody. Stories will stop being straitjackets and start being what they are supposed to be: ways of learning about ourselves and bettering ourselves."

She frowned. "I've had crazier plans. They haven't worked."

“That’s why I’m going to use your machine on myself.” I let that hang in the air for a moment. “Kay described it to me like a hive-mind: you can see into the heads of all the other Moriarty-types out there. They can hear you. Well guess what, mother? All your parenting dreams have come true: I’m finally listening.”

“No,” she paled. Her fingers trembled near the pistol. “This isn’t… I can’t… not you!”

Me,” I replied. “While there's still a chance, I’m going to be the next Moriarty. I’m going into your hive mind, and I’m going to break it apart. I’ve got Sherlock Holmes in here. And Eowyn of the Riddermark. And Odysseus. And Tom Sawyer. And Jack. Any one of us, you could beat. But not all of us.”

“You don’t know that,” she said flatly.

“Would Lance really have raped me to death? Were you really going to kill me back there with the bone saw?”

She nodded ruefully. “Lance and Kay… they were always their own creatures. They were Moriarty, but they weren’t me. I love you, and they… they were each obsessed in their own way. They would have done just as they promised. As would I. You had to be strong enough to stop me.”

I am.

We glared at each other for a long time, across the chess board. Both of us were breathing heavily, as if we’d been in hand-to-hand combat this whole time. A trickle of sweat ran down my brow. But I sure as hell wasn’t-

She blinked. Then, slowly, she reached across the board and toppled her king.

“Checkmate,” she agreed. Her eyes were full of tears. She hugged her arms tight to her chest.

“I’m so proud of you,” she whispered. “You are… you are my daughter. My sweet baby with the golden laugh. I love you so much.”

I swallowed hard, past the huge lump in my throat.

“Will you…” I began, and stopped. I looked at her. She was… she was so many things. Killer. Victim. Woman. Man. Villain. Wife. Widow. Powerful. Helpless.

She was my mother. I started again. “Will you hold my hand? While I do it?”

She covered her mouth, and choked out a sob. Tears were flowing freely now, and her shoulders rocked as she cried. She mumbled something that sounded like English, but couldn't get it out, so she switched to Arabic.

<<Oh, my wonderful little girl. My beloved daughter. I will. I will be with you until the end.>>

Part of me felt like I should hug her, but I... I couldn't. She’d done her job too well. She was my nemesis. But she was also my mother.

So I lay down on the floor, and she got down on her knees next to me, and I put my right hand inside the two of hers. I felt her wet tears falling on my face.

I took a deep breath.

I bit down on the tooth.

Light flooded my eyes, and strange noises filled my ears. Images and words pushed themselves into my brain: visions of pain and terror and unending loss and death and death and death… I heard the rushing of water, as if I were standing by a waterfall… or toppling over it.

Sherlock? Are you here?

I felt fingers slide over my left hand, the hand that my mother wasn't holding. To the very end, Gwen.

Will you... before it's too late, will you remember him for me? My dad? I just want one... more... second...

A laugh. I felt a hand ruffle my hair.

I-