The night is dreary and cold. Thick waves of clouds engulf the sky and raindrops beat against the windows. Inside, it’s warm and the atmosphere is thick - suffocatingly so. William has never been a particularly warm person, but right now, all he can feel is heat. Even through his gloves, he can feel the heat of freshly spilled blood staining through the black fabric. Staining onto his calloused hands which are trembling as he removes his blade.
He sheathes the dirtied weapon back into his cane and turns on his heel. He doesn’t spare the corpse another glance, nor does he listen to the shrilling screams of his victim’s children. He doesn’t look back, there isn’t enough time.
When he exits the room, Moran is leaning against the wall to the left of the door. William meets his eye, and tries not to acknowledge the somber glint. Neither of them wince at the yelled promise of revenge on Moriarty, they’ve heard it enough.
“We’re finished here.” William mutters, brushing past Moran to make his way to the winding stairs.
Downstairs, multiple servants are unconscious and strewn about on the floor. William doesn’t blink, merely glances towards the shadows to see Fred cleaning off his knife. Fred wasn’t supposed to be here tonight, but William isn’t surprised that he is. He doesn’t need to possess a genius level intellect to see that people are worried about him.
It’s evident regardless of his sharp observational skills.
He regards Fred with a curt nod, before pushing through the door and stepping outside. He’s met with an onslaught of rain, pattering against his face and dampening the fabric of his cloak.
He welcomes it, appreciating the way it washes away what he knows is stained red.
He rounds the corner into the nearest alley - except he’s not sure why he does it at all. Taking a life has never once proved to be a significant problem for him, but tonight, it feels wrong. It feels different, and his hands are sweatier and shakier than usual. He leans against the wet brick wall, fumbling in his coat to procure a cigarette.
Truly, he feels absolutely pathetic. He’s not one to typically smoke, and resorting to it now only makes him feel worse. He can hear the door open and close once more, followed by footsteps colliding with puddles.
Fred and Moran will be walking the other way, assuming they believe William’s already headed home. It gives William time to light his cigarette and hiss when he almost struggles to bring it to his lips. He should really remove his gloves, but he can’t look at his hands right now. He doesn’t want his vision to be flooded with nothing but scarlet.
He can feel his breath stutter, and for the first time in years, William feels like crying. His throat has tied itself in a knot - and he suddenly feels too hot, his clothes feel too tight. He swallows it down, mentally reassuring himself regarding his position. He’s been destined to do this since he was young, he knows that. He willingly chose to become the necessary evil needed to fix this country for the better. Sometimes he wishes it hadn’t ruined his life in the process.
How incredibly selfish of him, to want.
He’s never allowed himself to want anything, people like him didn’t deserve that luxury. But William desperately wants his brothers to survive this, and he wants to be with them. He wants to meet fascinating people like Sherlock Holmes, and hold stimulating conversations with them. He wants his occupation as a mathematics professor to be his only occupation, no title of crime consultant attached.
He could fake his death - he knows Sherlock is wondering why he won't. He knows the detective has already pieced everything together, and has realized at some point since they last met what William intends to do.
Only, William can’t fake his death, it would go against everything he stands for. His job was to abolish the evils that plague London, to exterminate any demons left, and he’s done just that. All except for one. In order for his plan to truly work, and have the fullest effect it can, William needs to die.
He’s had a lot of time to ponder about his own death. He does want to die, he does believe that it’s the right course of action. He only wishes he had just a little more time. With tears prickling at his eyes, he watches as the smoke from his cigarette floats up and intermingles with the rain.
He inhales deeply, dropping the smoke and snubbing it out with the heel of his foot. With that, William turns a switch off and draws his hood up over his head. He abandons the alleyway, along with any lingering doubts, and returns home.
His clothing and hair are soaked by the time he opens the large mahogany door and steps inside. He feels exhausted, but he’s not quite sure why. He toes his wet shoes off - Louis would throw a fit if he trekked mud inside the house - and makes his way into the kitchen.
The dim lights are on, and William peers through the doorway to see his brother sitting at the counter. Louis’ long fingers are curled around a teacup, and he seems to just be staring at the liquid as steam rises up to fog his glasses.
Louis raises his head immediately, and he frowns deeply when his eyes fall on William’s drenched form standing in the doorway. He stands and grabs a towel, moving over to William to fuss with his wet hair.
“You’re going to catch a cold, brother.”
William remains still as Louis wipes at his face and dries the strands of his hair. His movements are a bit rushed, and there’s a tenseness to his shoulders, a tightness to his countenance.
“I’ll be okay, Louis,” William manages a small smile, “You needn’t worry about me.”
Louis stops what he’s doing and studies William with narrowed eyes. Two identical matching sets of red meeting. Louis sighs then, discarding the towel and folding his arms. It’s silent in the kitchen without their words, save for the harsh weather from outside.
“You should change into something warmer. I’ll prepare you some tea.” Louis mumbles, turning away from William before he can respond.
William blinks at the bitterness to his tone, but makes himself scarce. It’s not like Louis to be so withdrawn from everyone - let alone William. As William trudges his way upstairs, he ponders the many potential causes for Louis’ behavior. The most logical one being that the Moriarty Plan is nearing its end. William is ripping the book away, keeping it to himself, and signing off the last few pages before shutting it permanently.
No one has a say in anything, they’ve known the end goal for years.
Louis must be having trouble coping with the idea that William won’t be at his side as he’s always been. That William chose to walk this final path alone, to take his own life in place of anyone else’s. He dragged everyone into his mess, and he will not let them pay for his sins.
Even if they were accomplices, every idea and plan was William’s own, and no one would ever dare to doubt his word. It was both a blessing and a curse. Does he wish someone would have stopped him? Would he listen if someone tried to stop him?
He decides to take a hot shower, something that always provides a false sense of security. It always feels like he’s washing the blood away, like it hasn’t already tainted his hands and seeped deep into his skin. On particularly bad days, he’ll scrub and scrub until it leaves his skin irritated.
He lets the steam help clear up his throat and his head as he runs his hands through his hair and thinks about what he needs to say to Louis. They haven’t spoken about it yet, but the conversation is inevitable. William doesn’t want to hurt Louis more than he already has, and he certainly doesn’t want his brother thinking that William’s decision is any reflection of Louis himself. Or any of them for that matter.
It then dawns on William how little time he has left, and he’s right back to square one. He turns the water off and shoves those thoughts away. He combs through his hair with nimble fingers and dries the dripping ends off with a fresh towel. He changes into something soft and much warmer than his previously soaked attire, then proceeds to shut the lights off and make his way back downstairs.
When he pads into the kitchen again, Louis has set a cup of steaming tea next to his own, and is preparing a few slices of toast. William takes a seat where his designated cup has been left, takes a sip and hums appreciatively. He hadn’t really stopped to consider his own thirst or hunger, and he was always grateful when Louis was there to remind him.
Louis sets a plate in front of him and joins him at the counter, taking a slow sip of his own beverage. It’s comfortably silent as they eat together, and William could honestly fall asleep if he wasn’t so aware of Louis’ presence next to him.
“Brother,” Louis begins carefully, setting his cup aside, “May I ask you a question?”
William swallows a bite of his buttered toast and nods. “You can ask me anything, Louis.”
“Are you happy?”
William blinks, unsure of how to respond to such a question. He hadn’t been expecting that, and he’d had about a hundred ideas of what Louis could possibly have to say to him. He’d played out how he thought this conversation was going to go so many times in his head. This was not the direction he thought it would go.
“That’s - a rather tricky question, don’t you think? Happiness comes and goes, just as every other emotion. To ask someone whether they’re happy simply doesn’t seem specific enough.”
Louis’ gaze is cutting when it meets William’s. “You didn’t answer my question.”
“I..” William starts, then stops himself and looks down. “I don’t know.”
Louis frowns, then he reaches out to place a firm hand on William’s shoulder - it grounds him into the present moment. Right now, none of this feels real as they sit in the secluded kitchen under one dimly lit light. The pouring rain outside drowns out any remaining sounds from the outside world.
“Please don’t do this if you’ve never experienced true happiness.”
“You speak as though I’ve never–”
“You’re deflecting again, brother. You’re not listening.”
William falls eerily silent. His toast and cup of tea are long forgotten as they lose their warmth sitting on the counter untouched. Louis makes a sound of frustration, removing his hand and tangling it in his hair.
“You’re always smiling,” he mumbles, removing his glasses, “But you’re never happy.”
“As you said yourself, happiness comes and goes. It always has been, and always will be fleeting for you. You don’t let yourself enjoy anything to the fullest, because you know it’ll never matter once you’re dead.”
William swallows, aching to reach out and comfort his brother. Right now, he’s not sure what to say. Louis isn’t wrong either, but William never wants to admit defeat for someone he’s always tried to set an example for. He can never let himself fall apart around Louis.
“I won’t deny anything, then.”
Louis gives a single nod, rubbing at the bridge of his nose. “I just wish you’d think about the effect you have on others around you.”
“Louis, I’m doing this so you don’t have to. I never intended for you or Albert to follow me down this path. Someone needs to shoulder this burden, and I’m fully prepared to do so.”
“I don’t want to lose you.” Louis whispers, and his voice breaks.
William moves forward without a second thought, wrapping his arms around Louis’ stuttering form. His brother buries his face into his shoulder, muffling his soft sobs. William cups the back of his head and lets Louis cry, rubbing small circles between his shoulder blades. His brother’s arms circle around his back and hold on tightly.
William can’t find it in himself to cry, he’s not sure why. He gently cards his fingers through Louis’ hair and mumbles a few reassurances - even if they’re empty.
“I’m sorry,” William mutters into his hair, “I’m so sorry.”
William is still awake well past midnight, seated at his desk. The quill he’s holding glides along the paper in practiced cursive, neat and tidy. The only source of illumination comes from a few candles lit nearby, and the only sound is the beating of rain against the window.
His earlier conversation with Louis is still repeating in his head, over and over. Has he known happiness? True blissful happiness? He shouldn’t dwell on such trivial matters. Though the more he tries to shun his thoughts, the louder they become. He can think of moments where he’s forgotten about everything he’s ever stood for, and has laughed genuinely.
In those moments, he was often accompanied by a certain dark haired detective. Not all times, but most of the more memorable occasions. To have such feelings towards him, it’s a foreign concept William isn’t quite sure what to do with. Perhaps, if things were different.
Only, they weren’t different.
Every urge to lean in towards that gravitational pull needed to be ignored. That was how everything must remain; from a distance, or William fears he might just give in. Is it so wrong to simply want to speak with him? To act as true friends do, rather than begrudging rivals.
They were never rivals, and both of them knew it.
When William proceeds to visit him, Sherlock will ask him the following: why? He’s sure of it. William sets the quill down and sighs deeply, for the answer is unknown even to him. He could bend the truth. He could say that it was only ever meant to be Sherlock’s position, and there was no one more suitable for the title than he, London’s greatest consulting detective.
William supposes it’s not entirely a lie. Yet, Sherlock will want him to look past that. Past the theatrics and the extensive game of cat and mouse. His question will not be directed towards the Lord Of Crime, it will be directed towards William.
There’s many ways that William could word his feelings, but he wants this to capture his most earnest feelings. He’s not sure what to label them as, but they’re strong. For once, William decides to be honest with Sherlock, and to be honest with himself. His impending death will make the genuineness pour out of him.
He inhales sharply as he writes the first three words:
Dear Sherlock Holmes,