Richard steps inside the dark, wooden, upright structure and finds a seat in the darkness. The young Irishman inhales the smell of incense, the grain of the wood, thick polish and thin, thin paper. The smell is so strong and so singular, it’s almost nostalgic.
The priest takes his seat too, smoothing out his robes and waiting patiently for the voice to come over the other side.
“Blessed me father, for I have sinned,” Richard starts, and then stops.
“When was your last confession, my son?”
“I don’t know,” comes the quick, quiet reply. His mind is blank. His throat is dry. And his stomach is full of dread.
“What’s your name?” the priest prompts gently, aware of the other man’s weak, panicked lilt.
“Richard,” he answers, voice cracking because it’s not his name, but it’s the only name he knows.
The priest tells the Irishman to take his time, that he is safe in the house of God and he has nothing to fear.
Richard, after a long, suffocated pause lets go of his breath in strangled sobs. He doesn’t remember when he last confessed, he doesn’t even know his sins.
He’s not a young man originally from Dublin who moved to London when he was young to pursue an acting career – he’s not a children’s television presenter. He doesn’t have a flat constructed almost entirely from an IKEA catalogue. His favourite colour isn’t green. He doesn’t have any friends.
Everything he knows, everything he is, everything he’s ever felt is pure and utter conjecture because Richard Brook is just a name, a mask worn by a mad man – the mad man – Jim Moriarty.
He can’t be saved.
He can’t be saved because he doesn’t exist.
The door is flung open, sound ricocheting up into the rafters. Colonel Sebastian Moran, 0879535, male, blood type A positive, swallows up the entryway. He takes up the Irishman in his arms, and in large, bow-legged strides, takes him out into the street. Richard cries into the fabric of his shirt, swallowing pieces of lint and smelling leather.
Sebastian walks away from the church, away from his memories of his time at Eton and all those insufferable chapel services, and into the nearest cab. “You’re alright, love. You’re alright.”
“I’m not even real, Seb,” the Irishman is grabbing his shirt in fistfuls big enough to stretch the fabric.
“Ye are to me, you git,” he replies, staring at the cabbie in the mirror long enough, and hard enough, that the man behind the wheel decides not to offer his advice. The colonel didn’t know how to explain that what Richard was feeling was absolutely real. So he kissed his brow and holds him in his impossible arms.
Afghanistan was easier than this. Chasing a tiger down a drain was easier than this.
The cabbie drops them at a train station, and from there, they go out of London, and find a little spot by the sea side where Sebastian used to holiday as a wee one. It’s nearly night by the time they get there.
They sit together, for hours, on the dock, until Richard finally says something.
“What am I going to do, Seb?”
“Start over. S’all you can do, like. S’what I have to do every time I come back from a tour,” he offers gently, hoping the other man will at some point decide it’s too cold to be outside any longer.
“…M’still your friend, you know. Never liked church anyway.”
Richard runs over the thoughts in his mind. He didn’t have a past, or a background, or a sense of self, but he had the second most dangerous man in London for a friend.
“You’re still an idiot. I can’t ever go back there now. We’ll have to find another church. Again.”
“I know,” replies Seb, grinning because he can’t help himself.