Sparks of electricity, red and burning, jumped through the air. The sharp sounds echoed after the radiating light in the pitch black. A long, loud cry sounded out as a low howl filled with pain reverberated against the theatre walls. The echoes of pain spread through every inch of the darkness.
A soft, merciless laugh, barely audible, followed the cry into the night.
"Could you get that, Sherlock?" A strained voice asked.
"Hmm," Sherlock hummed, "get what?" He replied distractedly.
The knocking came again and John huffed a sigh before placing down the wooden props he was battling with and walking past his friend lounging and over to the back entry. "Detective inspector," he nodded at the grey haired man on the other side of the door.
"Evening Dr. Watson," inspector Lestrade greeted. He angled his head forward "may I come in?"
"Course, of course," John stepped back to let him through to the interior of the theater. "What brings you here?"
"Isn't it obvious?" Sherlock's sneering voice chimed in. "He's here because as always Scotland Yard is incompetent and needs my help."
Lestrade sighed, "I've never asked for your help, Sherlock. And this visit isn't about that,"
"Oh?" Sherlock raised a doubtful brow. " You don't have a case?"
Lestrade sighed again, running a hand down his tired face. "I have a case. And you, Sherlock," he paused, "you're the main suspect."
"What?!" John shouted. "What do you mean he's a suspect?"
"He's the suspect, John. The only one we have at the moment,"
"So you've come to cart me away?"
"You can't do that," John started but Greg stopped him with a raised hand.
"That's not happening quite yet. Your brother would kill me." Sherlock rolled his eyes at the mention of Mycroft. "I do need to ask you some questions though. Like where were you last night?"
Sherlock rolled his eyes and sighed dramatically but turned towards the detective. "Well, Gary, I was here at the theatre for the show just like I am every night. John can tell you that."
"What about after the show? You stayed here all night?"
"It isn't unusual for me to spend the night here,"
"No," John said uncertainly, "it is not unusual, but you didn't stay here. You said you were going to head back home to baker street for the night."
Greg eyed Sherlock. "Did you go to Baker Street? Could your landlady confirm it?"
Sherlock fidgeted slightly. "I didn't go to Baker Street. I was meeting Wiggins."
John's face fell.
"Who's Wiggins?" Lestrade questioned.
"His provider," John said with a glare aimed at Sherlock.
Greg released a long suffering sigh. "I don't want you to be the murderer, Sherlock, but that will hardly stand up as an alibi. I can't rule you out."
Sherlock's eyes lit up. "Murder?" He smiled gleefully. " You didn't say it was murder. Tell me what happened. I'll prove my own innocence and do your work for you inspector. I'll find the real murderer."
Lestrade grimaced. "I can't give you the details,"
"Yet you still will no matter what silly rules you're trying to follow."
"It was your rival. Moriarty. He's dead."
John Watson stuffed his gloved hands deep into the pockets of his coat, a shiver running through his body. He waited as Sherlock hurried across the street to meet him.
"Gareth, quite like the rest of London, is incredibly inept."
John had long since given up on his friend ever remembering the man's name. "What did you find out?"
"Samuel spends his nights outside the theater in that back alleyway. He hears everything that goes on. On the night of Moriarty's death there had been a change to the act. Moriarty had argued with his assistant and kicked her out of the show. He replaced her without any qualms it seems. I can't imagine the woman would go quietly though."
"How are we going to find her?"
"We already have, Watson"
Sherlock Holmes turned and entered the theatre they stood in front of. It was the very theatre that James Moriarty had died in merely 3 days earlier.
Watson followed as Sherlock silently made his way to behind the stage and knocked on a closed door of one of the dressing rooms hidden there before entering at the welcome of a female voice.
"Miss Adler." Sherlock acknowledged solemnly.
The woman turned on her stool to face the two men instead of her own reflection. "Why Mister Holmes, I wasn't expecting you," she smiled at them with shark's teeth and devil's lips. "It is, as always, my pleasure, of course. Have you finally come to try to poach me? Did you think it'd be easier now with Moriarty dead? I can assure you that I would have gladly left his act at anytime if only you'd asked."
Sherlock offered a tight smile. "My act gets along fine without an assistant, Miss Adler."
She smirked and turned back to her own reflection. She licked her lips and grinned at her own image. "So to what do I owe this pleasure then?"
"You didn't appear in Moriarty's last performance. Why?"
She laughed. "Can't a girl have a night off?"
"You've acted as Moriarty's assistant for two years. You never miss a show. So why weren't you there at the show the night he died?"
Sherlock watched her face in the mirror. Fire burned in her eyes. "James Moriarty was not an easy person to work with. His whims were quite changeable. And Moriarty always followed his whims. He simply decided an hour before the show that he'd give another girl a chance. Sweet, innocent little thing she is. I don't know what he was thinking. She hardly has the appeal an audience is looking for. But he was fond of her I suppose."
"You were alright with this?" John interjected.
Irene Adler looked at him as if she hadn't even realized the man was there. "She was such a poor thing. Worked as a dresser here back stage. I always thought she was in love with him, with Moriarty." She spoke with false sympathy.
"And you said he loved her?"
Irene smiled. "As much as a man of his kind could I suppose,"
"A man of his kind?" Sherlock questioned the wording with a frown. "What kind is that?"
Irene chuckled softly. "Do you not know? The Marvelous Holmes, the Great Deducer, doesn't know?" She grinned evilly again. "Why," she whispered conspiratorially as she revealed her late employer's dirty secret, "he was a homosexual."
Sherlock seemed unfazed as he added this new tidbit to his knowledge of Moriarty.
John spluttered. "How could you possibly know?"
"You, sir, have struggled to not ogle my breasts since the moment you walked in. A hundred women, a hundred naked women, could walk past James Moriarty and he would be utterly unaffected. Yet, similarly to yourself, he did not have the resilient strength to refrain from pursuing his own perverted desires. Moriarty was not a man who denied himself anything and that included a lover."
"And who would this lover be?" Sherlock spoke directly as John still stuttered behind him.
Irene made eye contact with his reflection. "It wouldn't be right to reveal the dead's most guarded secrets."
Sherlock stared for a moment, keeping eye contact with her. "Thank you for your time, Miss Adler." He turned to leave but paused. "One more thing, Miss Adler. Why are you here? Why prepare for a show when there's no longer the magician?"
"The theatre is not closed Mister Holmes. Money still needs to be made. The show must go on as they say. A new magician has already been hired. Almost all of the rest of the crew is staying on."
"A man just died here," John said, indignant. "Have you no respect for the dead?"
"This is a business and a dangerous one at that. People die.
"Do you know what Moriarty said when one of the crewmen died after having a prop crush him to death? A man had just died and all he said was 'That's what people do'. Moriarty knew what kind of business he was in. There is no mourning here."
John felt disgust rise inside him. He was a part of this same business. He'd acted as Sherlock's stage manager since they'd met. Would Sherlock mourn his death? Or would he just find someone new to replace him?
"You said almost all of the crew is staying on. That means someone is not. Who?" Sherlock demanded.
"Pitiful little dresser, Molly was her name I think. She was only here because of Moriarty. The stage manager as well. He and Moriarty engineered all the show. He'll be difficult to replace but has insisted upon leaving once someone else is found."
Once Watson and Holmes left Irene Adler it didn't take them long to find the stage manager. Sherlock could easily determine it was him.
He was a slim man dressed too elegantly for a stage hand but did not exude the wealth that his companion, likely the owner of the theatre, portrayed. The two men were arguing and as Sherlock walked closer the topic of conversation confirmed that the blond must be the man they were looking for.
"I came here as part of James's act. I wasn't hired like the rest of them. James and I were the act together. That's the way it always was. I never agreed to work with Charles. James was the only magician I worked with. Charles can find his own workers. I'm not going to be part of his hellish performance. He has no taste."
The other man looked frustrated but resigned. "That's why we need you, don't you see? We need the finesse that you and James brought to the stage. Our audience is expecting a Moriarty and we're giving them a Magnusson. Without your help, we'll be doomed. The whole theatre will go under, Sebastian."
Sebastian looked coldly at the man. "Then I guess it will go under. This is my last show. I'm not doing this without James."
He turned away and marched down the same way Sherlock and John had come from and still stood. Sebastian bumped into John as he didn't watch his surroundings. "Pardon me," he began with slight annoyance but startled when he looked at the other man. "Doctor Watson?" He said with slight surprise.
"Colonel Moran?" John queried, confusion apparent on his face.
Moran laughed hollowly. "The same. Look where our service has wrought us. The theatre is such a lucrative business is it not?" He chuckled sardonically.
"You were Moriarty's stage manager?" Sherlock interrupted the reunion.
Moran looked at him. "Yes. We were partners. And who would you be?"
"Sherlock Holmes, consulting-"
"The Great Deducer," Moran muttered spitefully, cutting Sherlock off. "Can't say I've seen the show. The reviews are almost as flattering as ours though."
Sherlock glowered at the other man.
"Moran, I'm terribly sorry to find that you're the one affected by this awful murder."
He scoffed. "Is the police finally calling it that? They seemed quite convinced it was suicide last they spoke to any of us." Anger simmered just below the surface of Moran's pale skin.
"Us?" Sherlock interjected.
"The act, the theatre. We thought of ourselves as a family of sorts. Once the police declared that they no longer suspected any of us, they decided it had to be suicide. They are absolute bastards."
"So you don't think it was suicide?" John questioned.
"I know it wasn't," Moran responded fiercely. "James got a thrill from risking his life each night in the act. So sure, he liked to push the limits. He found death fascinating. Our act was based on mixing the macabre and the elegant. But James valued himself above all else."
"Even the others in the act? Even you, his partner?" Sherlock pushed.
Moran's anger seemed to spike again but he held back. "James was not a sentimental man. He took care of us all and really turned this group into something. But at the end of the day, Moriarty was the one necessary piece and James knew that. He wasn't shy about letting people know it."
"Did you have a fight?" John began.
"Of course not," Sherlock answered before Moran could. "Mister Moran is thinking of the argument between Moriarty and Miss Adler. Isn't that so, Mister Moran?"
Sebastian looked at Sherlock uncertainly. "You talked to Adler? Did she tell you about that? Make James out as some kind of villain?"
"We spoke with Miss Adler," John answered, "but she made it out to be more of a spat than a real fight. Blamed a lot of it on a woman named Molly."
Moran shook his head tiredly. "Adler is a snake. She had been selling off James's secrets for months. James knew and he finally confronted her about it. She tried to convince him that she was the act and that the audience only came to see her, not his illusions. So he replaced her just to prove how expendable she really was."
"Replaced her with this Molly?"
Sebastian nodded. "Molly Hooper. James has known the girl for ages. Young thing and pretty enough with some paint on her face. James spent an hour after the show raving about how perfect an assistant she was and how it must have been his best show in years. Molly was in. Adler was out. Just like it should've been."
Sherlock tapped his chin. "It now appears however that it is yourself and Miss Molly that are out."
"Molly and I were here for James and his act. We're not going to play along with the new show. It's time to move on." His face was tight. He nodded at both men and moved to walk away. "I should be going. I need to pack up my things."
"Of course," John smiled sadly at the man. "Good luck Moran,"
Sebastian Moran walked away from Sherlock and John into the dim light of the curtains and pullies tucked behind the stage.
Sherlock's eyes followed Moran's back. "Well, John, we've found out who Moriarty's lover was. Shall we go interview Miss Molly Hooper?"
John gaped at Sherlock. "You think Moran was - that he is - It simply isn't possible Sherlock,"
Sherlock turned to John, a frown on his lips. "I know you not to be a religious man John, yet you seem to cower at the idea of an unholy union even as I know your sister to lie with other female lovers."
"Harriet's exploration prepares her for a future marriage." John hissed at his friend. "Two men together is criminal, Sherlock. Surely you know this."
Sherlock tilted his head. "Criminal? Really? Huh, perhaps Gilbert is even more unaware of his profession than I previously believed,"
Sherlock headed for the door, leaving John stunned and spluttering. "Gregory Lestrade is married Sherlock," he called after the taller man, "married to a wife, Sherlock!"
"I've inquired after Molly Hooper," John said. "Word is she used to live with Moriarty. It was all considered very improper and now she doesn't have many prospects."
Sherlock shrugged. "As long as we find her,"
Molly Hooper was not quite what Sherlock Holmes or John Watson was expecting.
She was thin and pale but with dirt smudged skin, clearly far from wealthy. She was as Moran had said, 'pretty enough'. She seemed almost severe like a stern matron and not the youthful woman she truly was since she was dressed in mournful greys and blacks. Sherlock believed she was probably barely 18, perhaps even 17 still.
"May I help you?" She asked timidly, eyeing the two strange men with a touch of fear.
"I -" Sherlock was caught off guard for a moment. It was clear the young woman had been crying recently, her red eyes and tear stained face were clear indicators even to someone with a lesser intellect than Sherlock Holmes. He started again. "May we come in? We'd like to offer our condolences."
John looked at his friend, surprised.
Molly was also surprised but opened the door wider to let them into the town house.
The interior like the exterior was not opulent but clearly worn and old. It certainly had come from wealth at some point though and not Molly Hooper's.
"I'm surprised you even know of my association with Mister Moriarty. Or that you, Mister Holmes, would care."
It was Sherlock's turn to be surprised. The girl knew who he was. "I've begun an investigation of sorts," he told her.
"Really?" She sniffled but smiled at him, "how interesting."
"We'd like to find out who really killed him,"
Her face seemed to brighten. "Please, if I can be of any help just ask. The police have done nothing. Jim deserves much more."
"We just want to ask you a few questions,"
"Oh," Molly looked between John and Sherlock, surprised, "do you suspect me of something?"
John hesitated. They did. Or at least he did.
"No, no, Miss Hooper," Sherlock hurried to reassure the girl. "I have already ruled you out. It would be severely unlikely that you would have killed Moriarty,"
She shook her head furiously. "I never would have. Nothing could have given me reason to hurt him,"
"Because you loved him," John said softly.
"Yes," Molly nodded with a small smile. "We loved each other."
"Miss Hooper," John began, a grimace across his face and apology lacing his voice, "I'm afraid James Moriarty did not return the sentiment."
Molly released a teary laugh. "What?"
"Well, you were in love with him and he -"
"No, John," Sherlock cut him off. "She loved him. She was not in love with him. There is a difference."
She looked kindly at Sherlock. "Yes there is."
There was a silence between the three of them but it lingered mainly between Miss Hooper and Mister Holmes as he looked upon her and her shining eyes.
"He was your brother." Sherlock said with certainty.
"Yes. Perhaps not in blood, but in any way that mattered we were family,"
"You gave up your entire life for him?" Sherlock began to realize how damaging this relationship had been to Miss Hooper's reputation and how little she had gained from it.
Seeming to read his mind, Molly responded, "He gave me so much. He gave me a home, a job, friendship, protection. I didn't do so much in return for all of that."
"But did you know," John began but stopped, not knowing how to say it. "Did you know that he had - That he and -" John stopped again with a frustrated breath.
"Did you know of the relation between Mister Moriarty and Mister Moran?" Sherlock clarified.
"Oh," Molly looked taken aback. Surprise cruised her face but then she withdrew back into herself. "I really don't know what you speak of. Moran is a friend."
"Molly," Sherlock said softly, more kind than John had seen him before, "we will not bring any harm upon your friend. We just need to know what was going on" Sherlock reached out and grasped the girl's hand.
Molly looked down at their intertwined fingers and then up into his mystic eyes. "Jim and Seb were both a bit funny. Seb visited here often. They'd both sometimes call it their 'Molly house' and everyone knew I lived with Jim so they never really questioned the meaning. They liked to tease. Jim was always one to show his hand if just to watch how oblivious the rest of the world was."
"But you weren't oblivious,"
Molly shrugged. "I'm part of the act. I know the secret."
John glanced at the clock uneasily. "Speaking of act, Sherlock, we have a show tonight. We've sold tickets. You need to get back to the theatre."
Sherlock hummed. He stood suddenly. "I find myself in need of an assistant and, Miss Hooper, I have heard you're quite good at what you do"
"Wait- what-" John looked between the two, startled by his partner's actions. "What are you -"
"I don't have much experience," Molly started.
Sherlock waved his hand. "Not important,"
"Well then, yes," Molly said, excitement slipping through her sorrow.
"I can't believe you did that," John growled at his friend as Sherlock retied the black cravat around his neck.
"Please, John, the girl needs a job and who knows - perhaps she'll be helpful with the case,"
"Miss Hooper does not seem to know anymore than we do," John argued.
Sherlock turned a glare on the shorter man. "Miss Hooper is quite a bit more than she seems,"
"You really think so?" a quiet voice interrupted. It was Molly Hooper.
"Glory be," John murmured when he caught a look at her.
Molly Hooper was no longer the shy, mousy girl from the house. She was something spectacular. Her plain brown hair was loosely pinned back and fell in long chestnut waves. Her dress was entirely black with the rare silver accent, it fit tightly and was similar to the more scandalous styles for magician's assistants in how short it was and the pull of the large bustle which began a short ruffled train behind her pale legs.
Sherlock found he couldn't speak.
"I hope this looks alright," she tugged at the dress.
She couldn't have possibly looked better. She may have even outshined Miss Irene Adler.
The audience had loved her. Molly didn't shy away from the stage or the catcalls. She worked well with Sherlock. The act that had never needed an assistant before now seemed to have a permanent new fixture.
The three sat together backstage after the show. Sherlock had thrown off his hat, coat and cravat as soon as he was off the stage as always. Molly sat in front of a looking glass and was carefully removing the crystal earrings and hair pins as she spoke with the boys.
"That went surprisingly well," John chuckled.
Molly smiled. "There were a few moments while I was up there that I didn't miss him so much. It doesn't last, but maybe someday it will."
"Does all this remind you of him?" John asked.
"I don't know. It must. But it seems everything reminds me of him. I see him everywhere. He's there on the street. He's watching in the crowd. Everywhere I look, I still see him."
"What?" Sherlock sat up straighter suddenly interested in the conversation. "You see him?"
"I-," Molly was startled by Sherlock's intensity. "I'm sure it's just my imagination. It's from the grief."
"No," Sherlock said, "people don't just see someone who's dead."
"Sometimes they do, Sherlock," John sighed. "If you're grieving, your mind can play tricks on you involving the deceased. It's not uncommon."
"No, not this time. Moriarty was the master at illusion. He's still alive."
"What, but that's not possible," Molly's face was filled with grief.
"You saw him in the audience?" Sherlock said gruffly.
"No, well yes, but I just imagined it,"
"No," Sherlock grabbed Molly's hand and pulled her alongside him and out the theatre door and into the street. John quickly followed after them.
"What are you doing Sherlock?" John spoke up behind him.
"Looking for him," Sherlock's eyes hurriedly scanned over each person on the street hoping to catch a glimpse of Moriarty's dark hair and devilish eyes.
"There," Molly breathed as she raised one thin hand and pointed to a man walking away from them wearing a tall top hat and long black overcoat, he was facing away from the trio.
"How do you know?" John questioned, but as he did the man turned his head back over his shoulder to look at them. A gasp fell from the doctor's lips.
Pale lips spread into a wide, smirkng grin across the man's pale face. He reached one gloved hand up to the brim of his hat and tipped it in acknowledgement at Holmes and Watson before turning away and continuing to walk through the street as if nothing were amiss. As if he were not believed by the world to be a dead man.
"My God," Molly breathed, fright evident in the tremor of her voice. "You see him too?"
"How can it be?" John whispered.
"Watson," Sherlock said, "Hooper," he added with a glance at Molly, "this case just became more interesting." He turned back to the theatre and stopped in the doorway, reaching up to the hook by the door.
Sherlock tugged the deerstalker hat onto his head over his greased back black hair.
"The game is afoot."