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Mutual Parasitism

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John is waiting for Sherlock when he finally arrives home. He has clearly been worrying. "Sherlock!" he exclaims as soon as Sherlock pushes open the door. He crowds close, close enough for Sherlock to bare his teeth at him. "Are you all right? Did Moriarty hurt you?"

Sherlock's arse is sore. His jaw is sore. He has several bruises and the cuts on his body sting where they're pressed against the fabric of his clothes. He wants, very badly, to strip naked and wrap himself in a nest of his blankets or to sink into a warm bath. He wants to lie down and close his eyes and go over every moment of his encounter with Moriarty, recording it indelibly in his memory.

He doesn't want to talk about it or put up with John's protectiveness.

"I'm fine," he says. "I want to go to bed."

"You hate sleeping," John says flatly and reaches for his wrists. "Let me see," he orders.

Under normal circumstances, Sherlock would complain half-heartedly before giving in because John in a dominant mood is somewhat distracting. He'd pout, or he'd scowl, and John would catch his wrists anyway and tug on them, just firmly enough for Sherlock to feel the strength John rarely exercises. It'd be pleasant, relaxing.

But not now, not when he's still wearing Moriarty's claim (blood and bruises and dried semen against his belly) on his body. He's still holding that feeling -- of peace, of submission, of being cared for -- carefully at bay, allowing it neither too close for him to be functional nor far enough to let it dissipate. He wants to lie down somewhere safe (somewhere alone) and let it wash over him.

Sherlock pulls his sleeves over his wrists as far as they'll go. "No. I'm going to bed."

John catches his arm when he walks past him. "Just let me look you over first," he insists. His hand just barely misses a bruise Sherlock can still feel.

Sherlock shoves him off. The surprise gets John to let go of him with startled eyes. Sherlock's not usually very physical, not in a violent way. "Leave me alone," he repeats firmly. "I'm going to bed."

--

Sherlock says in bed well past the time John would have to leave for work, first sleeping, then prodding carefully at the marks on his body when he gets bored of lying in bed. None of the bruises are very deep. The cuts have already scabbed over cleanly. Moriarty's a careful dom. He hadn't expected that.

He uses his phone to take pictures of the more interesting marks -- the cut at the hollow of his throat, the one on the inside of his thigh. Most of the bruises are from the floor, from falling poorly, but he thinks he spots one on his hip in the shape of Moriarty's fingers and he takes a picture of that as well.

He wanders, still in his pajamas, out of his room to take a shower. He is somehow not very surprised to see his brother sitting in the living room, waiting for him. Mycroft's weight is on a downswing right now; he's several pounds too thin to fit properly into his suit. He wears an expression of deep gravity.

Sherlock blinks. John must have called him. "Go away," he says plainly. Maybe, he thinks, if he's blunt enough, Mycroft will actually listen for once.

Mycroft has already seen the mark at the hollow of his throat (just a scab and if he's careful not to scratch it, it won't even scar), and the way he's limping slightly. His lips tighten. "Sherlock," he says, very gently.

Sherlock rolls his eyes. "I'm fine. I'm taking a shower. Leave me alone." Mycroft looks like he wants to protest but can't find the correct words. Sherlock pretends he doesn't notice.

He spends more than half an hour in the shower, breathing in the warm, wet air and letting the water patter against his body. He brings himself off idly, remembering the evening before, remembering the way Moriarty's mouth had looked, full and lush and slack with pleasure. He regrets, briefly, not biting them when he'd had the chance.

He takes his time shaving, drawing the razor over his skin until it's perfectly smooth, then follows it with a splash of John's least offensive aftershave.

When he gets out of the bathroom, feeling much cleaner and refreshed, he is disgruntled but not terribly surprised at finding Mycroft still waiting for him. "Don't you have better things to do?"

"We didn't find him," Mycroft says, ignoring him.

"Moriarty? He's too clever by half to fall into one of your traps. But I can find him," Sherlock says and collapses comfortably on the sofa. He wonders if he's hungry. There are biscuits in the cupboard. He's not sure he wants them enough to actually fetch them,. Maybe Mycroft would get them for him.

"You don't have to." Mycroft's voice is gentle. Too gentle. "I can take care of it. You've been through a traumatic experience and --"

"Is that what you think? I told you I'm fine." He stretches and it makes his bruises twinge pleasurably. He rubs his cheek against the arm. The texture feels nice against his skin.

"He raped you."

"I thought you couldn't rape subs," Sherlock comments lightly.

"That's not true and you know it. Sherlock, I'm sorry. I sent a team as fast as I could, but by the time they arrived, you were both gone. He won't -- this won't happen again. I've increased your security detail and I assure you, I'll know as soon as he steps foot within the city again."

Boring.

"I can take care of myself," Sherlock says. He waves a dismissive hand at Mycroft. "You can go now."

Mycroft stands but instead of leaving, he approaches the sofa, mouth turned down at the edges. Sherlock slaps Mycroft's hand when he reaches out. Mycroft opens his mouth to say something, then closes it.

"I'm here," he says finally, after Sherlock has turned pointedly away from his brother, face towards the back of the sofa. His hand touches Sherlock's shoulder, then squeezes it briefly. "If you need me for anything."

"I don't," Sherlock says.

--

When John gets home, he insists (firmly, forcefully, letting his words wrap around Sherlock's spine and will him pliable) on looking over Sherlock's injuries. His hands are cool and professional on Sherlock's torso as they examine his bruises and trace the fine pattern of the fading cuts on Sherlock's skin.

His fingertips stop at Sherlock's waist, resting over the spot where a cut ducks under Sherlock's trousers. "Do you mind taking your trousers off?"

When Sherlock looks at him, he sees only the focus of a doctor intent on his task, so he does, then sits back down on the sofa. John's hands falter when they trace the marks towards the inside of his thighs. Sherlock lets his legs fall apart.

John presses his palm lightly over the bruise on Sherlock's hip, the bruise Moriarty had left there not twenty-four hours earlier. "He fucked you, didn't he?"

Sherlock shrugs one shoulder. The evidence is enough that he can hardly lie about it. "It doesn't matter," he says, looking away. "It's just a body. It's just hardware."

John bites his lower lip. Sherlock catches a glimpse of his teeth, small and white. "We're already looking for him -- you are, but Mycroft is too, isn't he. He won't get away with this, I promise."

"Really," Sherlock insists. He bats John's hand away then presses his own thumb into the bruise. It hurts. He likes it. "It's fine. I'm fine. I don't care. Stop suffocating me."

John looks at him dubiously, but subsides.

--

Later that night, long after John has gone to bed (late enough that he's considering sleep as well), he receives a text from a phone number he doesn't recognize.

Did you like being on your knees for me? it asks, and Sherlock's eyebrows raise.

Moriarty, contacting him now, with a phone that can be traced and while the security about Sherlock's person is higher than it's ever been in the past. But why? As a taunt? A threat? Or something else? Is it the beginning of another one of his "games"?

Moriarty's phone number is valuable. Every bit of information he can get on Moriarty is valuable, another step closer to tracking him down and stopping him, especially when all of Sherlock's normal contacts know next to nothing about the criminal mastermind behind so many of Sherlock's more challenging cases.

But that's not what first came to mind, when he'd seen the words on his phone.

He turns the phone over in his hand several times, considering his options, before letting impulse take over. He kneels and uses his phone to snap a quick photograph of his knees against the floor, then sends it off as a reply before he can have second thoughts or question what he even means by responding.

His phone vibrates with a response while he's still staring at the number on its display, wondering if he wants to save it (a pointless question; he's already memorized it).

Pretty. Take off your shirt.

Sherlock hears it in Moriarty's voice, in the tone he likes the most -- the sure one, the low, intimate one that spoke of confidence and dominance and danger. A thrill of anticipation tightens his chest, because he'd been thinking, off and on, ever since arriving back at Baker Street, bruised and sore and marked.

About Moriarty, about his voice and his mouth and his fingers, painful but perfectly controlled, tangled in Sherlock's hair.

He shouldn't. He really shouldn't. John would be angry. Mycroft would be livid.

But Moriarty would probably be pleased. Or, well. It's not his pleasure Sherlock cares about, so much as his arousal, about forcing Moriarty to remember the sounds he'd made, shocked and desperate and wanting, when he'd said Sherlock's name.

So Sherlock sets the phone on his bed and unbuttons his shirt, letting it drop to the floor with his other discarded clothes. Then, he kneels (Moriarty would recognize the angle if he didn't, Sherlock's sure), and takes another picture.

After a noticeable delay (long enough for Moriarty to analyze the message, to make a decision, to make himself comfortable; Sherlock's mind whirs with the possibilities), Moriarty responds with more commands.

Sherlock follows those, too.

--

John doesn't notice for nearly two weeks (nearly two weeks of orders and photographs and once, a phone call Sherlock hadn't bothered to answer), until he reaches curiously for Sherlock's phone. "Who are you texting?"

Sherlock covers the screen with his palm. He scowls and twists out of the way. "Don't do that," he says.

John looks surprised. Immediately, he pulls his hand back. "Sorry. It's not for a case? You've never minded before."

He hadn't had anything to hide, before. "It's not," Sherlock confirms. He slides the phone into his pocket, text unsent. His computer, open on his lap, is already turned to his email. He clicks through it curiously to see if anything interesting had happened while he'd been distracted.

"So..." John rocks back on his heels. "Who was it from, then?"

"An enemy." Someone has sent him a ten-paragraph long missive regarding their missing poodle. What Sherlock can't quite figure out is why anyone would think him interested in reading something that long. Worse is that he's already managed to read it by accident, just by scrolling through the text. Ugh. One of the downsides to speed-reading.

The text composes itself automatically in his mind: Someone sent me ten paragraphs about their missing, poorly-bred poodle. I ended up reading it before I realized I didn't care to know. I'll have to delete it now.

Moriarty would understand; he's probably found himself in the same situation several times, having to deal with uninteresting cases by people interested in the most mundane of things. Would-be criminals were horribly predictable.

"An enemy? Someone we should be worried about?"

"Nothing to worry about," Sherlock answers. "It's personal."

--

"I'm having the lamb," John says. He closes his menu definitively.

"Hmm. That's nice," Sherlock murmurs automatically. Murder, a body stabbed to death in a living room, is boring. He's got his hopes set on the victim being part of something bigger -- human trafficking, maybe. Arms dealing. Something to do with organized crime. Organized crime is always fun.

If it were an execution, an execution instead of a jilted lover or enraged coworker or whatever else it was that made people kill other people, hmmm.

Their waitress arrives. Mid-twenties, red-rimmed eyes, tan line around her throat where her collar had been removed. She looks at Sherlock first, then turns to John.

The victim lived with his brother, who should have been at home. Perhaps he'd be the one to have ties to something interesting. Maybe whichever group he was involved in had decided that the victim's presence in his brother's life was too dangerous.

John orders the lamb.

Moriarty would know. He has much closer ties to the criminal underworld than Sherlock does. It'd probably be impolite to ask. So the victim's brother habitually spent evenings at home, but didn't on the night of the murder.

"And for your sub?" the waitress asks.

Lestrade wouldn't have bothered calling him if he didn't think the case was somehow beyond Scotland Yard's ability to figure things out on their own. He might not have any proof, but maybe a feeling; Lestrade's gut instincts were right more often than not. Or perhaps he was withholding something -- some tiny piece of evidence that hinted at --

"He'll have the chicken parmesan," John says. He smiles at the waitress and hands her his menu. Sherlock doesn't have a menu. He'd dropped it off on an unoccupied table when he'd sat down. Only now does he realize the implications.

Right, of course. He waits for the waitress to leave before speaking.

"You ordered for me."

"You like chicken parmesan," John replies mildly. He sips from his glass of water.

"She assumed I was your sub."

"Everyone assumes you're my sub," John points out. He's not wrong and Sherlock's always considered it too much effort for too little reward to deny it and explain the truth.

"Yes, but you normally correct them."

John shrugs. "I didn't think you'd mind. Besides, you need to eat more. Does it bother you?"

Moriarty will probably be pissed if he finds out. When he finds out.

"I don't mind."

Sherlock takes a couple bites of his chicken when it arrives. John looks pleased, at least until Sherlock uses it as an excuse to complain about the food and send his dish back, which gets them an audience with the chef, the brother's ex-dom who appears in reality to be an enforcer for the money laundering ring that the restaurant is a front for.

And then they're off.

--

They bust the money laundering ring and solve the murder. In the process, Sherlock collects an interesting array of bruises on his side, as well as a cut on his forearm that will need stitches and several other miscellaneous scrapes he only notices when he tries to move and they burn in protest.

"What are you doing?" John asks at home, when he returns from his room with his medical kit only to find Sherlock snapping a picture of his bruises.

"Documentation," Sherlock replies simply. He examines the photograph on his phone; it's the best by far, catching all the bruises in sharp relief. They're an interesting shade of purple right now but they'll lighten soon. The cuts are still bright red with blood. Most of the bleeding has stopped.

He texts a copy to Moriarty. Thinking of you, he adds.

"You scraped the back of your shoulder pretty badly when you fell," John says. His fingertips skirt the edges of the scrape, only sometimes getting close enough to sting. "Hold still and let me take care of it."

Sherlock cranes his neck to look. "It doesn't hurt so much. Will it leave a mark?"

John's other hand closes over the back of his neck and squeezes. "Hold still," he orders, and Sherlock abruptly notices his voice, gone low and confident with command. "You'll be fine. I'm going to clean you up, then I want to check your ribs and make sure nothing's broken."

Sherlock goes still. He hisses in protest when John rubs a stinging antibiotic into the wound. John hadn't told him to be quiet, only still. John's hand returns to the back of his neck briefly when he does so, squeezing it again before letting go.

"Don't worry," he murmurs, close enough that Sherlock can feel the warmth of John's breath on his ear. "I've got you. Just relax. I'll take care of you."

Sherlock relaxes, letting his mind go calm and silent because he can. The case is solved, it'd turned out to be more interesting than he'd expected, and now he has someone he trusts, someone to clean his wounds and check his ribs and step in so Sherlock can step out.

John's got him. John will take care of him and let him know when he needs to come back. John's hands are warm and gentle on his skin, and the pain is just an afterthought, a flare of dull sensation, not even as vivid as the rough scrape of John's gun calluses against his skin.

The next thing he's aware of is John's hand tugging on the hair at the back of his head, tilting his chin back. "Sherlock," he says. "I'm done."

Sherlock blinks into awareness slowly. John lets go of him when he looks over to his shoulder. "You put a bandage on it," he comments. "And the other ones too." He runs his fingers over one of the bandages curiously; it doesn't hurt anymore. His arm hurts, but not as much. He can't see the stitches, as they're also covered by a bandage, but he has no doubt they're perfectly neat and tidy.

"I don't want you getting fabric in any of your wounds," John says. He runs a hand through Sherlock's hair again, more quickly this time, as if afraid Sherlock will pull away. Sherlock doesn't. "Your ribs aren't cracked, but they're definitely bruised. Take it easy tomorrow. Don't go anywhere."

Sherlock hadn't been planning to, but he says, for the sake of being argumentative, "What if I get a case?"

"No cases. Bed rest."

"Bed rest is boring," Sherlock complains as he takes the shirt John hands him and shrugs into it. He leaves it unbuttoned.

"So go online or read a book," John answers, completely unmoved. "Stay inside all day tomorrow. Sleep, watch the telly, harass your brother by text, I don't care. Just don't make anything worse. If you rip your stitches or wreck your bandages, I will be very angry with you." He presses his index finger against the center of Sherlock's forehead and levels a stern look at him. "Do you understand me?"

Sherlock's mouth goes dry. "Yes, sir."

John looks first surprised, then embarrassed. A dull flush crawls up his neck. "Right," John says, dropping his hand.

When John takes a step away, the world rushes in again, bright and demanding.

--

By the time Sherlock goes to bed (goes to lie in his bed, at any rate), he has six unread text messages from Moriarty. He makes himself comfortable in his bedclothes and reads them in reverse order.

Is your pet finished taking care of you yet?

I looked at the picture again. One against three, was it? I hope you gave as good as you got. You must have. Home already and sending text messages, hmm?

Who was it? Are they dead yet? If not, I'll kill them.

Was someone trying to hurt you? Did you get this during one of your cases?

How did this happen? I thought you didn't have sex with doms. Present company excluded, of course.

Mmm. I'd do worse to you. ;)

Sherlock taps his fingers on the screen of his phone. He imagines Moriarty receiving the photo he'd sent, imagines his face shifting from pleased to worried to irritated. He touches the timestamps -- the first is sent two minutes after he'd sent the photo, but the last is from only twenty minutes ago.

His arm twinges when he taps out his response.

The case is solved. Everything else is paperwork and giving statements to the police. Boring. My arm hurts. I'll show you the stitches when John lets me take off the bandage.

His phone rings immediately. It's from a blocked number. Moriarty, almost definitely. Sherlock answers it this time.

"What?"

"Why is John telling you when you can take off your bandages?" Moriarty demands, and the voice is familiar but the tone is not, yet another slight variation that Sherlock adds to his memories. He seems annoyed.

Sherlock, in turn, makes himself sound bored (not very challenging -- his laptop's on the nightstand and he can't reach it without having to get up, but there's nothing else to read). "He's my doctor. It's what they do. Why?" he asks. "Jealous?"

There is a brief pause on the other end. It's nearly unnoticeable, but Sherlock is very good at noticing things.

"Don't be silly," Moriarty says with a giggle, and now he's putting on an act, playing coy and flirtatious. "Of course I'm not. I just wanted to know, that's all."

"I hate that one," Sherlock complains, groaning in disgust. "The simpering one you do. It's so camp."

It's gone instantly. "Do you," Moriarty says flatly. "Because you'd rather I threaten you?"

"You know my preferences." Even if their only contact since the pool has been by text, it's no secret that Sherlock prefers force, is never so aroused as he is when wrestled violently to the ground and genuinely frightened.

"I'm coming for you, Sherlock," Moriarty says. His voice is a low, menacing purr. "One day, your big brother isn't going to be there to stand guard at your flat. John won't be enough to stop me. I can be patient. I'll wait, until one day when you're not expecting it, and I'll get you."

Sherlock slips a hand into his trousers; he's half-hard already, and his prick hardens further when he presses his palm over it. "And then what?"

"Then I'm going to hurt you. I'll blindfold you first, so you can't see what I'm doing. And I'll gag you too -- I have a ball gag that would look so good on you, shut you up so you can't mouth off to me."

Sherlock closes his eyes, imagining it -- the stretch of leather against his cheeks, his jaw forced open, the ball against his teeth and tongue and -- "Rubber or silicone?"

"Silicone," Moriarty answers immediately, without needing to ask why. "And then I'll whip you -- I have plenty of floggers, and I'll use them all on you, until your entire back is covered in welts. I'll hurt you until you cry."

"I'd fight you," Sherlock breathes, thinking about the regular flares of pain on his back, about it burning like being too close to a fire or too long in the sun. "I'd struggle and yell, even if I can't form words."

"I know," Moriarty says. "I like it when you fight. But I'd tie your hands -- in front," he clarifies, before Sherlock can ask, "and I'd tie your ankles and I'd tie them together, over your knees. And I'd make you beg."

"When I'm gagged?"

"Well, you'll just have to get creative then, won't you? I won't stop until you convince me. I'll probably draw blood."

"And if I begged? If I convinced you?"

"Then I'd take off your gag and make you do it again. I'll have you on your knees begging to suck my cock. I'll take you and I'll hurt you and you'll beg me to go further."

"Please, please, Jim," Sherlock begs softly, fingers wrapped around his prick. "Stop, stop, I can't take it." He pauses. "Do you prefer Jim? Or Moriarty?"

"Jim is fine," Moriarty replies, and in the silence that follows Sherlock can hear him breathe, can hear the slick, wet sound of flesh against flesh. "Beg me," he orders and it doesn't matter how soft his voice is, doesn't matter that Sherlock can hear Moriarty's need matching his own. The command wraps around Sherlock's thoughts like iron bands.

"Jim," Sherlock says and doesn't suppress the slight hitch in the voice, the way the pleasure of his hand moving rhythmically along his prick makes his breath quicken. "No, no more. I can't. Please -- my mouth, use my mouth instead."

"That's not good enough. Ask to suck my cock. Ask me to fuck your mouth. Convince me you want it."

Sherlock presses the heel of his palm against one of his bruises, hard enough to make himself gasp with pain. He closes his eyes. "Please. I want to suck your prick. I want you to fuck my mouth." But that's not enough -- not convincing, so he adds, "I want to feel your fingers in my hair, I want you to pull my head back and force my jaw open and fuck me until I choke. I want your prick down my throat and I want you to come in my mouth and I want to taste it when you do.

Please. Please, Jim, let me suck you. Let me lick you."

Moriarty groans on the other end, has been groaning, making soft, increasingly urgent noises that part of Sherlock has been recording to remember later when he's alone. "Yeah -- yeah, that's good," Moriarty pants. "Keep talking."

"I hurt and it makes me think of you," Sherlock says, stroking himself, thinking of Moriarty -- somewhere else but it doesn't matter where, alone and touching himself to the sound of Sherlock's voice in his ears. "I kept the pictures of what you did to me. I think about it when I masturbate. I'm thinking about it now."

Moriarty groans once more before going abruptly still, the only noise the sound of his breath -- held during his orgasm, then gradually slowing. Sherlock strokes himself more quickly, bringing himself --

"Stop," Moriarty orders.

Sherlock stops almost before properly registering the words. His eyes snap open. "What?" he demands.

"Start again, get as close as you can without coming. Let me know when you're close again."

Sherlock wants to protest, but that won't get him off, so he does as he's bid. He fucks the loose circle of his fingers until he's close again, until he can feel the dull pleasure building in the pit of his stomach. "Now," he says, "Now, I'm close. Let me come."

"Not yet," Moriarty says.

Not yet, so Sherlock squeezes his balls, hard enough to hurt, and it's good but a different type of good. He rubs his palm against his skin and squeezes his shaft and rubs his thumb against the head of his prick. He twists his hips and fights to keep his breathing quiet, and murmurs, "Jim, Jim please."

And Moriarty says, "Now."

--

He spends the first half of the next day being really, really bored, because John had locked him inside (not literally, but it may as well have been). He texts Moriarty and when he doesn't get a response, sends another text.

I'm in a meeting. Stop it. Isn't it just past noon in London? Go eat lunch, Moriarty responds after the fourth message, sent when Sherlock had looked through his library and decided there was nothing he really felt like reading at the time.

I'm not eating today, Sherlock replies. It isn't that he deliberately skips meals so much as it is that he prefers only to eat when he's hungry and he'd already had something to eat the night before after Moriarty had hung up but before he had gone to bed.

Don't be stupid. Make yourself a sandwich and eat it.

Sherlock is fairly certain he doesn't even have the materials for constructing a sandwich in the fridge. He says as much.

Then go somewhere and buy them. I told you what to do. I don't care how you do it.

I'm not allowed to go outside today, Sherlock taps into the phone, knowing that he shouldn't, or that if he had to, he could have at least phrased it more delicately. But that's not any fun, and he does enjoy doing dangerous things.

When an hour passes and Moriarty still doesn't respond, not even with cruel remark or threat of punishment (or even an actual punishment), Sherlock reluctantly forces Moriarty out of his thoughts and turns on the telly instead. It's the right time for terrible daytime telly programmes anyway.

Sherlock has run out of interesting facts about the show's participants (how Jeremy Kyle managed to make "My Sub Left Me for My Other Sub!" so mind-numbingly boring, Sherlock has no idea) and started analyzing what he can about the camera crew when the doorbell rings.

He ignores it. John has a key and he doesn't care about anybody else who can't pick a simple lock. On the telly, the dom who'd been dumped and his remaining sub look about ready to come to blows. Sherlock's hoping for bloodshed, or at least a suitably dramatic uncollaring.

The doorbell rings again. Someone shouts through it, "Your dom sent me to check on you!"

What?

Occasionally obeyed or not, John is not his dom and he is not a child who needs to be checked up on. Sherlock swings open the door and says angrily, using his height to full advantage, "Well, you can tell John that --"

He stops. He's looming over a dom, a slender, dark-haired dom with closely-cropped hair, startled dark eyes, and half a day's worth of stubble.

John wouldn't send a dom, especially not one that looked like this. He'd send a sub from the hospital, one of the pretty, simpering ones that flirted incessantly with him. He'd take them aside during their lunch break, and smile at them, and wrap his fingers around their wrist and say, "My flatmate got hurt last night. I'd like you to go check on him, make sure he's okay."

But Moriarty would send a dom, would even be narcissistic enough to send one that vaguely resembled himself. Moriarty did, because the dom has a bag from a sandwich shop half a mile away, the one Sherlock doesn't go to anymore because he'd had an unfavorable altercation with the owner.

"Sorry," Sherlock says insincerely. "I thought you were someone else. You were sent?"

The dom holds out the bag. "Here," he says, and it's not an offer. It's an order. "Eat it."

Sherlock looks incredulously at him. He doesn't take the bag. "Don't tell me what to do." He pauses and takes a step back. He can't see any sign of his surveillance detail, but that doesn't mean they aren't there. "You should probably come inside," he offers reluctantly, because if Moriarty sent him, the two are linked, and he needs to ensure Mycroft knows as little about that as possible.

"Your dom sent me," the young man repeats, stepping inside when prompted. His expression becomes increasingly uncertain as he comes to the realization that Sherlock has a few years and several inches of height on him, and also doesn't look particularly cowed or interested in doing what he says.

"Yes, yes, I'm sure that's what he told you," Sherlock says. He makes an impatient gesture with a hand. "And what did he say?"

The dom shuffles his feet. "That I'm supposed to give you this sandwich and make sure you finish it." He offers the sandwich again, and this time Sherlock takes it. "All of it," he adds, when Sherlock peels back the paper wrapping and touches his tongue to it.

Turkey with mayonnaise and lettuce but no tomatoes. Huh. He actually likes turkey. He nibbles a corner of it. "And if I don't?"

"He didn't say."

Well, all right.

Sherlock eats the sandwich while standing in the hall, watched by Moriarty's minion the whole time. He licks his fingers clean when he's done and disposes of the trash by handing it back. "Anything else?"

"No," the dom (Sherlock doesn't bother to learn his name) says, hands in pockets. He shifts his weight. "That was it."

Moriarty's text arrives after the dom leaves and Sherlock has been alone for several minutes. From now on, you'll eat a minimum of two meals per day for four days of the week and at least one meal on each of the other days.

It is not wholly unreasonable. Theoretically.

And if I don't? Sherlock asks.

I'll break a finger for each meal you miss.

Sherlock's fingers curl against his palms involuntarily as he thinks about it -- because he can see it, Moriarty taking his hand in both of his and bending each finger back slowly, deliberately, until the bone snaps.

Sherlock's broken his fingers before. It hurts. The pain lasts ages and makes writing awkward and he just knows that Moriarty would start with his right hand, with his thumb, to leave a lasting reminder of what happens when Sherlock doesn't do as he's told. Sherlock's pain wouldn't stop him, would only make it worse.

Even if Sherlock begged, apologized, promised to do better next time, Moriarty wouldn't listen. He'd say... what would he say? Something harsh, something amused, something like, "I told you what would happen. If you disobeyed me, it's because you wanted this."

Maybe he'd laugh.

Sherlock's hard. He adjusts himself, feeling foolish and flushed.

Obviously, Moriarty wouldn't actually follow through on a threat like that. To start with, he'd probably get shot in the head by one of Mycroft's snipers the second he came within fifty yards of Sherlock.

But more than that, Sherlock knows he'd never actually allow it.

He needs his hands to be in optimal condition, not just for the cases, but for everything else as well. His violin, his experiments, his computer -- all these need a certain level of manual dexterity. He'd never be willing to risk permanent damage to his hands, not for something as ultimately futile as getting off.

Still. It's a nice thought.

Well. Not nice, but pleasing nonetheless. Thrilling. Exciting.

--

If John notices anything about Sherlock's changed eating habits (and he must, because Sherlock has begun eating meals with him more often than not), he doesn't say anything about it.

He wonders why not.

--

"Are you sure you want to do this?" John asks, a handful of Sherlock's curly hair caught between his fingers. His other hand holds the hair clipper.

"Obviously, I'd rather not," Sherlock responds testily, staring at himself in the mirror. "But it hardly matters. Pletcher won't talk to a sub and you don't know enough to go on your own. And I can't pretend to be your sub because -- well, mostly because I don't want to," Sherlock admits, "But I don't want to risk being sent away before he reveals a critical piece of evidence, either. There's no room for error if we're to get in, find proof of his involvement with the arms shipments, and rescue Lestrade."

John turns on the clipper and Sherlock bows his head to give him better access. John clears his throat and doesn't yet press the clipper against his skin. "Um. Is this going to get you in trouble with whoever it is you've been talking to on your phone?"

Sherlock glances at John in the mirror. So he has noticed. Some things, at least. He's missed the obvious (just who Sherlock has been talking to on his phone), of course.

"Less so than if I pretended to be your sub," Sherlock admits. "But it's not his business what I do with my hair."

John shifts uncertainly. "If he's your dom, shouldn't you --"

"He's not my dom," Sherlock interrupts. "We just -- " have sex, and talk, and sometimes I let him tell me what to do, "It's not like that. Just cut it. It'll grow back."

--

Sherlock doesn't expect to look so different with short hair, but he does, because it'd been the only thing that'd really marked him as a sub when he'd been still. No collar, no bracelets, no makeup, and when he clears the expression from his face and stands in front of the mirror, he looks like a dom.

Changing his body language is more difficult than pretending to be an old man but less difficult than pretending to be a woman. It's the small things he'll have to be careful of -- not ducking his head and looking up through his lashes when he needs to flirt, angling his body this way instead of that way, letting himself get caught looking appraisingly at subs.

He practices on John first because John is closest.

When Sherlock comes out of his room, mimicking the cadence of Lestrade's strides, John's steady, confident presence, and Mycroft's gaze, arrogant and powerful and needing everyone to know it, John double-takes and spits a mouthful of tea onto his keyboard.

"Sherlock?" he asks, incredulous.

Sherlock smirks. He drops his voice several notches lower than his natural register. "Good, aren't I?"

It's just body language, just codes, each belonging to a role, taught to children by example and mimicked until it feels natural. He'd learned them both for his cases and uses barely any of it outside the bedroom.

It comes in handy more often than one would expect.

He tosses his phone at John, who catches it. "Take a picture," he orders, thinking of the way John sounds when he gives an order. "I'll want it later."

Still staring, John obeys.

--

Everything goes more or less according to plan. That is, only the criminals get shot and they manage to capture Pletcher alive, albeit with several more holes in his body than he'd started with.

Sherlock would be pleased, except that people keep staring at him -- first Lestrade, who had double-taked nearly as incredulously as John had when Sherlock cut through the ropes tying him to the chair, then the entirety of Scotland Yard when they arrive several minutes too late to be useful.

"It's just a haircut," Sherlock snaps, when Anderson steps out of a police car and stops dead, staring at Sherlock instead of collecting the evidence he and John had so kindly fetched for them.

Anderson scoffs at him. "Just a haircut, right," he mutters as he passes, giving Sherlock a wide berth. He steals an uncomfortable glance at Sherlock over his shoulder. Sherlock bares his teeth at him.

John nudges Sherlock with his shoulder. Sherlock closes his mouth. "They think you're a switch," he comments casually, and puts a hand on the small of Sherlock's back, pushing him away from the empty office building in which they'd found Lestrade.

Sherlock looks at him blankly and allows himself to be guided towards the street. "I'm not," he says and lets his body lean towards John, lets the challenge leech out of his body, until he no longer feels like he's trying to push other people down through sheer force of will. "Being a dom is tiresome. I've no idea how you do it."

"I think it's easier when you're actually a dom," John murmurs, and pulls out his phone to call for a cab. "Hungry? We missed dinner."

"I ate lunch. What day is it?" Sherlock rubs his hand palm over the back of his head, against the direction of his hair. It feels strange, prickly against his skin like a brush and leaving the back of his neck cold in the night air.

"Friday."

He'd eaten twice on Monday, and Wednesday. The week ends on Saturday. "Dinner it is," he says. He curls his shoulders and ducks his head and looks up at John through his lashes. He leans close and offers John a small smile. It feels strange for a moment, foreign, before the feeling fades and it becomes merely unnecessary, because he already knows John knows how to care for him. He makes his voice soft. "Anything I like will do."

"I'll have the cab drop us off at the Chinese place a few blocks from home," John says when he gets off the phone with the cab company. "You know it's creepy when you do that, right?"

His hand is still on the small of Sherlock's back. Sherlock stands up straight. "Creepy when I do what?"

"When you flirt like that to get what you want. It's weird."

"Is it?" Sherlock frowns. "No one else seems to mind."

"It's insincere," John says. "It's nothing like how you normally act." His hand sweeps up Sherlock's back, until it reaches the back of Sherlock's neck. He squeezes firmly, just enough that Sherlock can't tell if it hurts, then maintains the pressure there.

Sherlock's eyes fall closed and he arches into the touch, pressing against John's hand.

"That's better," John says, and lets go.

--

I had to cut my hair for a case, Sherlock complains, when Moriarty next sends him a text (nothing important -- a complaint about executives who can't spell, which Sherlock knows plenty about because most of his clients come by email and email tends to make people even stupider than they already are). Pretended to be a dom. How tiresome. It'll take months to grow back.

Oh? Show me! :)

He does, sending Moriarty the picture he'd had John take.

No response. None, not even a sly taunt or another one of those stupid punctuation faces.

It can't be that bad, Sherlock sends after ten minutes have passed in silence. Moriarty normally responds sooner than that when he's not away.

He tugs at his fringe then runs his hand through his hair. It's too short to curl and still feels strange against his palm. He hadn't thought it'd looked bad, per se, just strange. But maybe Moriarty hates it. Maybe he prefers his subs looking as submissive as possible. It'd take months to reach its normal length, but less than half as long to start looking longish again.

His phone buzzes in his hand.

No, it looks good. I like it. You should unbutton your shirt and take another picture.

He looks like a dom. A lot like a dom.

Moriarty doesn't usually say "should" when he tells Sherlock to start taking off clothing. Sherlock would know; it's one of Moriarty's tells, for when Sherlock should find somewhere private to be, because he's perfectly polite otherwise.

Interesting.

He calls Moriarty. He wouldn't, normally, but he has a hypothesis to test. Moriarty picks up on the first ring.

"Hellooo?" Moriarty asks, inquisitive and flirtatious.

"Get on your knees," Sherlock orders coldly.

Moriarty inhales sharply on the other end. Shortly after that, Sherlock hears, quite clearly, the sound of his knees making contact with the floor.

"Fascinating," Sherlock breathes. "You're a switch."

"I prefer to top."

"But you don't always," Sherlock says. "Sometimes you -- no, wait, that isn't right. You rarely bottom, but sometimes you want to. Do your minions know you're a switch? They wouldn't, would they. Not something that comes up often, I expect. Do people still care about that sort of thing?"

"Very clever," Moriarty says dryly, "But I can do that too, you know. It's not hard."

It really isn't.

"You're still kneeling, aren't you?" Sherlock asks.

The pause this time is slightly embarrassed. "You didn't give me permission to stand," he mumbles, but Sherlock hears him getting up anyway. And from the sound of it, lying down in a bed. Their time zones must be aligned, for once (or off by half a day). "You, on the other hand, are exclusively a sub."

"That's hardly a secret," Sherlock says, and lies down as well.

"How's this, then? You don't flaunt your submission unless I'm there or you think I'll hear about it. You haven't told your brother where I am or that you're in contact with me, even though he's chomping at the bit to put me down. If you don't know where I am, it's only because you'd rather not know. You could find me now, if you wanted to.

You're a masochist and like to be frightened. Convenient for me, since I'm a sadist and like to see you in pain. You like knives, you like orders, you like threats even when they're unrealistic. You don't trust me, which is good for you. You shouldn't. I'm going to hurt you badly one day, just to keep things exciting.

Your brother doesn't know. Your doctor doesn't know. But me, the things I know about you," Moriarty continues, but more softly, like he's no longer talking to Sherlock. "The things I want to know about you. The things I want to do to you."

Yes, Sherlock thinks. Yes, please, tell me.

--

During the questioning, Pletcher reveals a connection to Moriarty and Mycroft steps in, bringing him to what Mycroft calls a "secure location" that Sherlock secretly thinks is more likely to be torture chamber.

He mentions it to Moriarty nearly a week after he hears about it. Plenty of time to give Mycroft a head start.

We found Pletcher's arms dealing ring, by the way. He revealed you were guiding him. Mycroft has him now. You may want to watch your back.

I know. He missed a payment three days ago. You won't get anything worthwhile out of him. Also, I haven't been to Toronto in months, but thanks for thinking of me. xx

Sherlock doesn't know what's in Toronto, but he assumes Mycroft will find out soon. Be careful. My brother's more clever than he lets on, he types, but stops with his thumb over the send button. He shouldn't.

He doesn't.

What's in Toronto? he asks instead and Moriarty doesn't reply.

--

Meet me in Lahti, Moriarty tells him.

So Sherlock agrees to hear the next case he's offered in Finland and books a flight accordingly. John doesn't bat an eyelash; Sherlock goes out of the country to see about potential cases often enough that it isn't an unusual occurrence.

Mycroft is harder to deal with. He sends a car to collect Sherlock as soon as he steps out of Baker Street with his things. Sherlock is forced to get in or risk the inevitable confrontation dragging out long enough to make him miss his flight.

"What do you want, Mycroft?" Sherlock demands as soon as he is deposited, unceremoniously, in one of the abandoned car parks that Mycroft so favors for his clandestine meetings.

"A wealthy dom who suspects her ex-sub stole a couple hundred thousand worth of jewels? Not your usual case," Mycroft says, emerging from the shadows dramatically. Sherlock's not impressed.

"Maybe I felt like a change." Sherlock knows, even as soon as the words leave his mouth, that it's pointless -- Mycroft always, always knows more than he lets on.

He's proven right when Mycroft frowns at him and says, "I know you're planning on meeting with Moriarty."

The thing Sherlock hates most about Mycroft is that he can tell when Sherlock's lying.

"It's none of your business. I can take care of myself."

"He wants you," Mycroft says, still frowning, looking more concerned than he has a right to be. "You'll be putting yourself in danger. For what? I already know you aren't going there to put an end to him. I know you've been in contact with him."

Has Mycroft been monitoring his text messages? No -- he can't have been, or he'd be angry, not concerned. "Again, none of your business. I can handle him."

"John doesn't know," Mycroft says. To anyone else, his tone would sound light, casual. But Sherlock recognizes it for the warning it is. It's not a threat yet, but it could be.

"He doesn't have to know," Sherlock replies.

"You found him before I did. He told you where he was hiding. Why?"

"We're going to have a chat."

Mycroft stares at him, but Sherlock's used to that. He keeps his expression impassive. Mycroft's influence doesn't extend to Finland. Anything he tries, anyone he sends, will be easy for Sherlock to dodge. They both know this.

"I can't stop you," Mycroft admits finally, a frown tugging down the corners of his mouth. "But you can't keep secrets from me. I'll find out what you're doing eventually."

"Maybe. But not now."

--

When Sherlock arrives at his client's estate just outside Heinola, it takes him all of twenty minutes to figure out his client's driver stole the jewels and used the breakup between his employer and her submissive to cast suspicion away from himself.

Sherlock tells her so and she refuses to believe him, making a snide comment about how "I'm sure it was him. Subs are always so petty" because she's assumed, rather incorrectly, that Sherlock is a dom. It forces him to spend another hour explaining every little thing that had contributed to his conclusions.

It feels like trying to use a length of thread to drag a boulder achingly slowly up a hill, constantly looking back to make sure it isn't about to snap the thread and roll back down because it's too stupid to follow the chain of cause and effect.

He gives up in the end, frustrated by her inability to see what's right in front of her. He triples his usual "this is too boring to do for free" fee and tells her to contact him with her payment if she changes her mind and actually wants his assistance in retrieving her missing jewels.

In the taxi to Lahti, he texts several of the photos he'd taken to Moriarty, as well as a brief summary of the case. Several hundred thousand pounds worth of jewels missing in total. Culprit?

One of the help. If they're not stupid, they'll frame her ex for it, quit as soon as possible, and be out of the country by the end of the week. That was easy. If you're trying to test me, I'm insulted. Give me more of a challenge, pet.

The driver has already booked passage out of the country, for some time within the next fortnight or so (but Sherlock doesn't think he's particularly clever, so that explains the delay), judging from the state of his suitcases.

Obvious, isn't it? Sherlock taps in response. But she didn't believe me. The driver wasn't in today so I couldn't question him. What a waste of time.

You know where I'm staying. Come here. I'll put your time to better use.

Sherlock's already on his way.

--

"You haven't got any guards," Sherlock says when he opens the door to Moriarty's room with a master keycard he'd palmed from one of the maids.

"I don't need any," Moriarty says coldly, and when Sherlock looks into the room his blood freezes, because Moriarty is pointing the barrel of a gun straight at the center of his forehead. He looks like a stranger, someone unfeeling and implacable and merciless. "Get inside. Close the door."

Fuck.

Moriarty matches him step for step, keeping the same distance between them as Sherlock steps forward slowly, heart racing. Moriarty makes an impatient gesture and Sherlock shuts the door with his elbow. It is several more seconds before the whirlwind of his panicked thoughts slows enough for him to realize, "The safety's on."

The transformation is instantaneous.

Moriarty spins the gun in his hand and grins, easy and boyish. It makes him look familiar once again. "It's not loaded either," he says affably, as if they are friends sharing a joke. "But I got you for a few seconds. Did it feel good?"

He offers Sherlock the gun, grip first.

It's a real gun, a Glock, heavy and metallic in Sherlock's hands. The metal is warm, not cool at all near the grip. Moriarty had held it long enough for his body heat to sink into the metal. The safety is on. When Sherlock checks, he finds the clip empty and nothing in the barrel. There is a square of translucent tape on its back. It's invisible when looking down the barrel but jarringly obvious when Sherlock lifts his arm and points the gun at Moriarty's chest.

Sherlock's heart has stopped pounding. His mouth is still dry. He's physically aroused but he thinks it's from the fear. He can't be sure. "It surprised me."

"You like that sort of surprise."

He does. Sherlock feels the edges of his attention narrowing, his awareness sharpening to just the two of them in this one room. He hands the gun back to Moriarty.

Moriarty shoves it, not gently, against his mouth. "Down," he says.

Sherlock feels his knees bend until they touch the floor and Moriarty's shadow falls over his face. The gun grinds into his lips. Sherlock opens his mouth and lets it press against his tongue. It tastes like gunpowder. He wonders who Moriarty shot with it before bringing it here.

"Good boy," Moriarty murmurs. His tongue darts out quickly to wet his lips.

With anyone else, Sherlock would have an idea of what comes next. There would be some sort of hint, in the equipment set on the bed or the direction of his partner's gaze or a dozen other small things that, when put together, form intent. But Moriarty is nearly as observant as he is and reveals nothing.

Nothing but the bulge in his trousers, the avarice in his eyes, and his hand, steady and merciless as he shoves the barrel of the gun further into Sherlock's mouth. Sherlock refuses to back away from it, forcing his spine straight even as the metal scrapes painfully against the back of his throat.

Moriarty runs a possessive hand through Sherlock's hair once and then again, petting him. His palm rubs against the still-prickly hair at the back of Sherlock's head. It lingers there for a moment, and something about the way Moriarty looks at him makes Sherlock take the gun from Moriarty's hand and out of his mouth. He blurts out, "I can be a dom, if you want."

"You're not a dom," Moriarty replies. His brows knit together in confusion. "You don't want to dominate me."

"Then you'll just have to win, won't you?"

Moriarty flashes a grin at him. It's gone so quickly that a lesser man would have doubted it was there at all but Sherlock has, somehow, made an unconscious habit of monitoring Moriarty's facial expressions. "Okay."

Sherlock takes the time to more carefully examine his surroundings as he toes off his shoes and empties his pockets on the nightstand.

There is a suitcase on the other side of the bed and an open laptop on the table in the corner, plugged into the wall. A jacket hangs from the chair, and an empty glass sits to the right of the laptop. There is a towel on the floor of the bathroom, but the bedclothes haven't been slept in yet today.

He wonders if Moriarty's in town for business or if he'd chosen the city arbitrarily to lure Sherlock out from under Mycroft's watchful eye. He's not sure which he'd prefer.

The drawer of the nightstand, when Sherlock opens it to put away the gun, holds a bible, a pair of cheap plastic handcuffs provided by the hotel, and the handful of loose bullets that must have been in Moriarty's Glock before he'd used it as a toy.

"Do you have another gun?" Sherlock asks curiously.

"I don't usually use handguns. They're too boring," Moriarty says from behind Sherlock, standing close enough for Sherlock to feel his body heat. He drags his hand down Sherlock's back. "I want to come inside you. I had my bloodwork done, if you want to see it. And a knife." He taps his fingers over Sherlock's spine, then bites Sherlock's shoulder lightly. "Don't worry, I'll be careful."

"You're going to leave a wet mark on my shirt," Sherlock complains, shrugging Moriarty off. He accepts both knife and paper when Moriarty hands them to him. The knife isn't too large but the blade is sharp, dangerously so -- enough to cut off his clothes, if that's what Moriarty wants (enough to slit your throat, he thinks to himself). The paperwork is standard, albeit from a clinic in Ireland. Sherlock raises an eyebrow. "Is your name really James Moriarty?"

Moriarty shrugs. He bounces on the balls of his feet, wearing an expression of eager anticipation. "Might be. Anything else before we start?"

"Be careful with my face. I return to London in three days." He licks his lips. "Sustained discomfort bores me. I don't -- I prefer to be forced. If you take pictures, don't let anyone else see them. My safe word is 'Stradivarius'." Sherlock hesitates. "You can ignore any other ones."

I enjoy fear, but Moriarty already knows that.

"Five syllables?" Moriarty asks. "Do you ever manage to say them all?"

Sherlock shrugs. He doesn't, usually. He can't even think of the last time he'd needed to. He licks his lips and focuses his thoughts, thinks of power and control. Himself, if he were a dom. "How do you want me?" he asks, and is caught off-guard by the way Moriarty changes, becoming the man who had pointed a gun at him.

"Struggling. Afraid," he says. He grabs Sherlock's right wrist as quickly as a striking snake, twisting it brutally behind his back.

Sherlock twists with it to avoid spraining his wrist, letting out a surprised cry of pain. "Let go of me," he growls, and drives his free elbow into Moriarty's gut. Moriarty grunts but doesn't let go, twisting further until white-hot pain spikes through Sherlock's arm. "Stop!" he cries in alarm. "You'll break it."

"You say that like I care." Moriarty laughs, and suddenly there is the cold metal of a blade pressed against the underside of Sherlock's chin.

Sherlock holds very, very still. No one knows where I am, he thinks. He could kill me now, he thinks.

Moriarty tugs on his wrist again, pulling up, and now his shoulder screams in pain as well. Sherlock wouldn't put it past Moriarty to dislocate his shoulder just for fun. He wouldn't put it past Moriarty to do a lot of things, just for fun.

"Maybe," Moriarty drawls, "you should have been more careful."

"Stop," Sherlock orders desperately, as the knife traces down his throat and drags across the fabric of his shirt. "I don't want this."

"You don't give the orders here," Moriarty says, and slashes open Sherlock's shirt with a rough downswing. His breath is moist against Sherlock's throat. "I don't care what you want."

He can't get free without dislocating his arm, can't do anything with the blade against his belly. It'd be easy -- too easy -- for Moriarty to get bored and decide to eviscerate him instead, to get rid of the problem of Sherlock Holmes once and for all.

"Okay," Sherlock says. "What do you want? What will it take for you to let me go?"

"Not until I break you," and Moriarty's knuckles press against Sherlock's groin, grinding against his prick. "Not until you can't go a day without remembering the feel of my hands on your body. I want to carve you open and make you bleed for me."

--

Sherlock thinks he notices the ringing phone first -- after taking advantage a momentary lapse in Moriarty's attention and wriggling out of his grip -- but Moriarty is the one who actually cares about it.

"Safeword," Moriarty gasps after it rings six times, and Sherlock stops trying to slam his skull into the carpeted floor in favor of sitting on his stomach. "I think it's important."

"The phone?" Sherlock asks incredulously, looking over his shoulder at the vibrating, ringing phone on the nightstand. How could it possibly be important? "You've got to be kidding me."

"Pass it to me, there's a good boy," Moriarty says, and he looks so different again, warm and easily affectionate.

All but one his personas has got to be a lie. Sherlock's still trying to figure out which is one real.

Moriarty frowns at the phone. There's no caller ID, but he obviously recognizes the number because he answers it with a curt "what" and silently orders Sherlock off him with a pointed eyebrow. Sherlock obeys only reluctantly, moving to lie naked on the as-of-yet pristine bed.

"How long are you going to be on the phone?" he asks when Moriarty's frown deepens and he doesn't hang up within the first ten seconds.

"A few minutes. Don't break anything," Moriarty orders before disappearing into the bathroom.

Naturally, the first thing Sherlock does once the door swings shut is make a beeline for Moriarty's open laptop. If he's not getting what he wants, he might as well look for something else he wants.

Ten minutes later, he hasn't even gotten past the login screen despite trying every password he could think of and several that seemed too implausible to be correct. Plus, he's starting to get cold. He's examining the laptop for hardware faults when Moriarty finally steps out of the bathroom.

He doesn't look very surprised to see Sherlock trying to break into his computer. "You aren't going to get anywhere trying to guess my password, you know."

Sherlock glances at him and admits defeat by pushing the computer away and getting up again. He stretches. Moriarty's eyes drop to his body, raking down Sherlock's chest and stopping at his prick, soft now but rousing slowly from the attention. "What's your password? Has it got something to do with your family?"

Moriarty laughs. "Don't be stupid. I didn't choose my password, I memorized it. It's just a bunch of nonsense characters generated by the computer. Unguessable. Don't you do the same?"

He does, actually. But he'd thought he'd been the only one. "Of course. What was your phone call about?"

"I can't tell you that."

No, he supposes not.

--

"I can't get my wrists free," Sherlock complains, neck straining as he watches Moriarty tie his wrists securely to the headboard. He can't see any way to untie the knot from where he is now. He tugs on the rope. It doesn't tighten. It doesn't give, either.

"I know. Does it hurt when you roll over?" Moriarty pushes Sherlock onto his stomach, not ungently; it crosses his arms and makes his shoulders feel strange, but it doesn't exactly hurt, and Sherlock says so.

"Good."

Moriarty smiles like a shark.

The sense of uneasiness comes back, taking root in Sherlock's chest.

He's not sure how he ever thought Moriarty could be trusted. He's not sure why he agreed to this in the first place, why he didn't walk away as soon as Moriarty took a gun and pointed it at his forehead.

Because he's naked and tied up, and Moriarty's fully clothed, and he's looking at Sherlock in a way that sends a chill down his spine. Like he looks at Sherlock and doesn't see a person, just a warm hole to stick his prick in.

Sherlock's had people look at him like that before. But somehow, he'd never expected it from Moriarty, all the affection and respect falling away like a discarded mask. He has to struggle not to cringe away when Moriarty kneels on the bed, and when he puts a hand on his thigh, Sherlock's leg twitches away involuntarily.

"I think you should let me go," Sherlock says firmly, searching Moriarty's face for -- for something. He doesn't know what, and he doesn't find it.

Moriarty's nails scratch when he slides his hand up Sherlock's leg and over his side. "And why in the world would I do that?" he asks, sounding genuinely puzzled. "When I've gone through all this trouble to lure you here? I've got you," he says. "Now it's time to enjoy you."

"No," Sherlock protests, and tugs on the ropes again. All it earns him is the burn of fabric against his wrists. "No, I don't want this."

He kicks out and Moriarty catches him by the ankle, twisting it until he yelps in pain.

"Feel free to keep fighting," Moriarty says cheerfully, forcing Sherlock's legs apart and insinuating himself between them. "I like it when you struggle."

Sherlock has no leverage in this position. He can't even kick, because Moriarty's too close, heavy and on top of him and panting with excitement. He spits in Moriarty's face and gets his nipple twisted painfully, and it's not fun.

It's just terrifying, because he's trapped.

"Don't be a little bitch," Moriarty hisses in fury, "or I'm really going to hurt you." The sound of Moriarty opening his zip and the suddenness of his erection sliding against the cleft of Sherlock's arse make him redouble his efforts to shove Moriarty off.

"Come on," he mutters in Sherlock's ear when Sherlock tires himself out, when his muscles are sore and he's panting from the exertion and Moriarty's still on top of him, rubbing up against him. "Why don't you ask nicely? 'Please, Jim, won't you be gentle with me?'"

Moriarty's prick presses against his hole, without lube.

Sherlock grits his teeth. "Please, Jim," he growls. "Won't you be gentle with me?"

"See? Was that so hard? Don't fight me or I'll just go without it. It'll hurt you more than it hurts me," Moriarty says and licks the sweat from Sherlock's throat, making him shudder.

Sherlock forces himself not to flinch when Moriarty uncaps the lubricant and rubs it over his cock, but he can't stop the wince when he feels slick, invasive fingers between his cheeks, circling and rubbing against his hole.

"Oh, don't be so shy," Moriarty says, wrapping his slick fingers around Sherlock's half-hard prick. "You know you're enjoying this."

His body betrays him, prick hardening as Moriarty strokes him, and Sherlock twists his hips as he tries to get away. "I'm not. Stop it."

It hurts like hell when Moriarty thrusts into him without bothering to stretch him out. Moriarty's not huge but Sherlock hasn't had anything but his own fingers in his arse in months, and it feels like more than he can bear.

"Safeword," Sherlock mutters, then repeats it louder when Moriarty doesn't seem to hear. "Safeword." His voice cracks the second time, and he clenches his eyes shut to block out the greedy lust on Moriarty's face.

Moriarty pauses. His fingers rake down Sherlock's chest. "No," he says, in a cold, merciless voice that makes Sherlock cringe inside. "I don't think so."

--

Sherlock feels a pathetic rush of relief when Moriarty finally comes, cock pulsing inside him. The relief is short-lived, however, because Moriarty's thinking when he looks at Sherlock. When Moriarty finally climbs off him, it's only to return moments later with a blindfold that he ties over Sherlock's eyes.

Sherlock blinks against the sudden darkness. His tongue feels clumsy in his mouth. He struggles only weakly as Moriarty turns him onto his stomach. His arms cross. It pulls dully at his shoulders. "What are you doing?"

"I have a friend coming to visit," Moriarty says playfully, parting Sherlock's cheeks. He presses a fingertip into Sherlock's loose hole, and Sherlock feels a trail of fluid (come, Moriarty's come) slide partway down the back of his thigh. "I thought you'd show him a good time."

Sherlock shakes his head and clenches his fingers around the rope. "I don't want to. I want to stop."

"I wasn't asking for permission."

--

"Safeword," Sherlock whispers into the darkness when Moriarty's "friend" runs a hand down his back, fingers rough and calloused. It's not like being touched by Moriarty at all. It feels wrong, even though Moriarty's standing right next to him, sometimes brushing against Sherlock's shoulder.

"Safeword, stop, please, please don't. Please don't make me," he begs, when he hears a zip being undone and the crinkle of tearing foil. Fear prickles down his spine, making him cringe towards the bed, pulling his knees towards him.

"No, keep going," Moriarty orders, low and throaty.

Sherlock pulls uselessly against the ropes when the man behind him spreads his arse cheeks. He kicks too, and his foot connects with firm flesh just once, before his face is pushed against the pillow and he feels a blade against his throat.

"That's not how to make new friends." Moriarty hums with pleasure when Sherlock goes still, trembling. The blade goes away, leaving just the phantom sensation of something cold against his throat.

The man slides into him easily because Sherlock is already slick with lubricant and Moriarty's semen. The bed dips as he leans over Sherlock's back. One of his hands holds Sherlock's hip. His fingers don't hurt, but when he begins thrusting it burns, too much friction against already sensitive nerves, working Moriarty's seed deeper inside him.

"Safeword," Sherlock cries brokenly. "Safeword, safeword, please. It hurts."

Moriarty keeps speaking but Sherlock stops listening, struggling weakly to -- he doesn't know what. He can't get free but he fights anyway, trying to throw the man off him.

"Yeah," Moriarty murmurs when the man manages to get the right angle and Sherlock is too late to hide the involuntary twitch of his body. "Like that again, Seb."

Sebastian, who has large hands and is a dom and had been Sherlock's dom once, until Sherlock had decided he'd rather be a single sub than his. Sebastian, who had been stupid and cruel but mostly smug, in an entitled way that had driven him mad.

Sebastian, who had gone to uni with Sherlock (and that's not a secret, someone as clever as Moriarty could easily find him), who could be baited with the promise of this, of taking Sherlock against his will and having him even when Sherlock had said "no" and left.

"Stradivarius," he says and thrashes with renewed vigor, as hard as he can. He jerks hard against the ropes. They're not too tight; if he dislocates his thumb and is willing to sacrifice a little skin, he can get his hands free.

Fabric scrapes against his face. Sudden light blinds him; a hand catches his wrist in a firm grip.

Sherlock stops.

A stranger stands near the foot of the bed, hands held up in surrender. His trousers are pulled down, but his shirt is on. Military training. Dominant. Defers to Moriarty but isn't afraid of him. He recognizes Sherlock but doesn't know him. He is looking not at Sherlock, but at Moriarty.

He is also not, obviously, the same Sebastian.

"Oh," Sherlock mutters, feeling foolish. The adrenaline in his system makes him feel jittery. "I thought he was someone else." Obviously not. He would have known, if it'd been someone who recognized him. They would have said something if nothing else. He hadn't been thinking clearly.

"He's not." Moriarty still holds his wrist. His other hand holds a pair of safety shears, which explains how Sherlock had managed to struggle free in the first place. Moriarty lets go and reaches towards Sherlock's face, then pauses. When Sherlock doesn't lean away, he runs his fingers through Sherlock's sweat-slick hair, smoothing it down. "Do you want to stop?"

Moriarty's voice has changed again. His voice has changed more times than Sherlock has bothered to count and he sounds gentle now, almost tender. Sherlock doesn't much care if it's an illusion or not because he likes the cadence of this one. He likes the way Moriarty's tongue curls around the sounds, wrapping around each phoneme.

Sherlock leans into the touch. He takes a deep breath, followed by another. He looks at Sebastian, at his eyes darting between him and Moriarty, expression neutral. He looks at Moriarty, who has a slowly-blossoming bruise on his jaw, put there by Sherlock's hand.

He thinks about fear, about the thrill of it, about the adrenaline and pain and the way it makes him feel alive.

Sherlock shakes his head. He turns onto his stomach again, crossing his free arm over the bound one, as it'd been before. He closes his eyes,

"No," he says, voice muffled against the sheets. "Just give me a moment to get back in the mood."

--

When it's over, Sebastian leaves but Sherlock stays, loose-limbed and exhausted. They order room service. Moriarty shoves Sherlock into the bathroom and when he comes out, freshly showered, the sheets have been changed. The old ones are in a pile at the foot of the bed.

Sherlock lies on the bed while Moriarty traces his fingers over each of the marks left on Sherlock's body and hand-feeds him bites of mediocre grilled fish. He stretches out on his side and lets Moriarty arrange him into ridiculous, provocative poses. He captures each one with a photograph and Sherlock finds he doesn't mind that at all.

Sherlock checks his texts while Moriarty signs into his laptop. The dom from before has reconsidered his words and wants him to meet with her to explain his reasoning again. He tells her he'll send her an email instead and Moriarty watches over his shoulder, pressed against his back.

When they're both finished and Sherlock is wondering if they're at the stage where he's supposed to make an excuse to leave, Moriarty snaps the laptop's lid shut and eyes Sherlock through his lashes.

"If you spend the night," he says, "we can go again tomorrow morning."

--

Suffice to say, Sherlock spends most of his trip to Finland inside a hotel room.

--

"How was Finland?" John asks when he gets home.

"Uneventful."

--

Sherlock is used to doms coming onto him. His usual response is to simply make it clear that he's not what they're looking for, with varying degrees of rudeness.

But when a dom wraps her fingers around his wrist without asking (and Sherlock hates when strangers touch him without permission), instead of snapping a cutting remark at her he finds himself saying almost pleasantly, "My dom would gut you if he saw that."

She lets go, but Sherlock is so surprised by his own words that he barely notices.

He mentions it, later, to Moriarty (You seem to be my dom.).

Moriarty responds with a picture of tears drying on Sherlock's cheeks and the words, You aren't very introspective, are you.

--

Later, Sherlock fetches John to help him investigate something potentially interesting and ends up tracking him down to a restaurant, where he's having a very boring dinner with a very boring sub.

"John," Sherlock says when he stops at their table, "I need you."

The sub (female, makeup, bracelets but no tan line) looks between the two of them. John doesn't have many places he can meet subs, so he must have met her at work.

When Sherlock meets her gaze with his own, she drops her eyes and toys uncomfortably with the stem of her wine glass. She thinks he's John's sub, that he's more important to him than she is. She's wrong about the first part but not the second.

John looks pointedly at his half-eaten dinner then at his dining partner. "Sherlock," he says. "I'm on a date."

"Obviously, but I don't see how that matters. You've been on four dates in as many weeks. I need you now. Missing just one won't matter."

"Four?" his sub asks, head jerking up. "But this is our third date."

"He wasn't compatible with the first sub. She liked whips; he didn't. Doesn't." To John, he jerks his head towards the exit and says, "We have a stakeout. Let's go."

From the uncertain look John gives his date, Sherlock can tell his resolve is weakening. "Is it important?" he asks, which is how Sherlock knows he's won.

"Everything I do is important," he answers with a grin. "Ready?"

John sighs but he's suppressing a grin when he says, "Let me grab my coat."

--

The stakeout lasts three hours and is ultimately unsuccessful. When they get home, John hangs his jacket up and asks, sounding annoyed, "Did you really need me there for that? Nothing happened."

"Ah," Sherlock replies, throwing himself on the sofa. He leans his head back against the armrest. "But if something had happened, your proficiency as a shooter would have been very useful."

"I was in the middle of a date."

Sherlock waves a hand dismissively. "Dates are boring."

"Not to me!"

"It's fine. Your date didn't mind. You'll see her tomorrow and apologize, she'll accept your apology and say something suitably submissive to indicate she's willing to forgive you, and the two of you will undoubtedly have another date in the near future."

"But why did you even ask me to come with you? All we did was sit on a roof and watch the street. You didn't need me at all. You weren't even in danger."

"I needed you to keep me company. I get bored when I'm alone and I don't send unimportant text messages when I'm working. And, of course, there was always the chance that I'd get caught, and you're invaluable in a fight. Besides, if I hadn't invited you and ended up hurt, you'd become angry at me for leaving you behind."

"Oh." John seems to be at a loss for words. Sherlock watches his expression change curiously, eyes and mouth and eyebrows, until he finally says, "Can you at least let me know ahead of time, unless it's a matter of life or death?"

"It could have been a matter of life or death."

"You know what I mean," and his voice has an edge to it, not a threat but something close.

"Of course. It won't happen again."

--

Naturally, it happens again several weeks later.

But this time John refuses to come with him and Sherlock is forced to investigate on his own. Yet, John is the one who is angry when Sherlock finally gets home some time later.

"Where've you been?" he demands when Sherlock opens the door to their flat. "I've been worried sick! I was about ready to call Mycroft to make sure you were okay!"

Sherlock stares at him. He shrugs out of his coat and lets it land in a sorry heap on the floor; it'll need dry-cleaning, as will his shirt and trousers. Sleeping on the ground doesn't agree with his clothing anymore, even if his back handles it just fine. "I told you. I needed to follow a suspect."

"You told me that on Friday. You've been gone all weekend!"

"Have I?" He hadn't been paying attention to the date. It's entirely possible. "I got the information I needed."

"And it took you all weekend? You haven't answered any of my calls."

"I was checking up on my homeless network. It's been months since I last had the time." He hesitates, then adds, "I didn't mean to worry you, if you were worried."

John catches his wrist when Sherlock starts into his room. Sherlock looks at his hand. He lets go. "Sorry," he says. "I know I'm not -- I'm not your dom or anything, and I don't have the right to know where you are at all times. But can you at least try letting me know when you're not coming home so I know you're not bleeding to death in a dark alley?"

It hadn't been on purpose. He'd lent his phone to one of the teenagers he hadn't met before. The young sub had managed to drain the battery while playing with it, and Sherlock had decided it wasn't worth the effort of fetching his charger just to check his texts.

He isn't used to having people other than Mycroft worry about him (and Mycroft had never depended on Sherlock's responses when he'd wanted to know where his little brother was and how he was doing).

That might have been a miscalculation but it doesn't stop Sherlock from saying, "You wouldn't have worried if you'd come with me."

"I would have come if you hadn't texted me when I was already at her place. She's my sub, Sherlock. When I'm with her, I can't just drop everything to go running off with you."

"It was important!"

"Not so important it couldn't have waited until tomorrow. Or I could have met up with you on Saturday."

"But I left on Friday," Sherlock complains. "The work should come first."

John pauses then reaches out carefully, circling his fingers around Sherlock's wrist again. This time, it's deliberate. "Is that what you want? For me to put you first?"

Sherlock looks away. "I should charge my phone," he says, and pulls free.

--

From: M
Tell your brother to stop looking for me. If he doesn't, he'll regret it.

From: Sherlock
I'm not your lapdog and he doesn't take well to threats. SH

From: M
But you're so pretty when you're on my lap. Where are you?
Attachment: 0083

From: Sherlock
I'm at the flat. John has another date. Same sub. I'm surprised he hasn't tired of her. She's boring. SH

From: M
Are you jealous? You know he'll never be able to give you what you need.

From: Sherlock
No, that's what you're for, isn't it? Giving me what I "need". SH

From : M
There's no need to be difficult. What are you wearing?
Attachment: 123

From: Sherlock
Attachment: 276

From: Sherlock
He refuses to come on cases when he has a date with her, unless it's a matter of "life or death". Apparently, he'd rather get off than solve a crime. SH

From: M
Trying not to think of your pet right now. Take off the shirt.

From: Sherlock
I'd stop if I had to attend to a case. SH
Attachment: 277

From: M
Trousers now, but slowly.

From: Sherlock
Attachment: 278

From: Sherlock
Do you think he gets bored? She's so transparent. I don't see why he likes her. The sex can't be that good.
Attachment: 279

From: M
Christ, Sherlock, can't you shut up about your crush on John Watson for one goddamn hour?

From: Sherlock
You don't have to be jealous. As you said, he'll never be able to give me what I need.
Attachment: 280

From: M
Shut up. No more typing. Just do as I say. Pants off, now, and lie on your bed.

From: Sherlock
Attachment: 283

From: Sherlock
If I did want him, I'd already have him. I could take him from her if I wanted to.
Attachment: 284

From: Sherlock
Attachment: 285

From: Sherlock
Well?

From: Sherlock
Are you there?

From: Sherlock
Did I upset you?

--

From: Sherlock
Are you still angry? Don't be petty. I wasn't trying to provoke you. Well, only a little. I'll make it up to you.


--

"Are you expecting a phone call?"

Sherlock drops his mobile back into his pocket. No new messages. "No."

"You've been checking it obsessively for the last hour," Lestrade says. "Waiting on information from one of your contacts?"

Sherlock shakes his head and flips to the next page in the old case file he's skimming. It's an unsolved murder. Maybe there'll be some evidence in it, buried in an evidence log, that holds the key. He doesn't expect to find anything but he's bored and looking through Scotland Yard's cold cases is always a decent way to pass the time. "No, my contact won't get back to me for at least another day, most likely by email. I'll forward his results to you when they arrive."

"Someone else?"

"No."

Lestrade gives Sherlock a sympathetic look. "Had a fight with John?"

A good guess, though inaccurate. "No. He's on a date. Not that I have any idea why he's continuing to waste his time. She doesn't like me. She's become increasingly possessive of him and soon she'll make him choose between us." If that happened, John's decision would be obvious and Sherlock would have several weeks before John was back to chasing anyone who ducked their head for him. "Boring."

"Jealous?"

"No. Not worried either," he adds, because he knows that's what Lestrade was planning on asking next. "It's only peripherally to do with John, I think."

Only if Moriarty was deliberately ignoring him and hadn't simply been called away by his work. Sherlock gives it even odds, and isn't that embarrassing, that he'd misjudged Moriarty's possible reaction so badly?

Lestrade glances at him again several minutes later, when Sherlock checks his phone once more. It's stupid, he knows, but maybe he ought to check to see that Moriarty isn't hurt? Or he could send a text asking, but that might be too forward. He doesn't want to be one of those clingy subs that gets in everyone's way.

"I'm sure things will be all right," Lestrade offers, unsolicited. "They must have known what they were getting into when they took you as a sub."

"What makes you think I'm anyone's sub?"

"You cut your hair for a case months ago and have been keeping it short ever since. And it's not because you care if people think you're a dom or not, because you haven't cared about that for as long as I've known you. I know you've been eating daily and it's not John who's been making you do it. You've been less tense lately but you -- oh, you don't have rope burns and you're always available when I call. Is it long-distance? That's always hard, yeah?"

Sherlock stares. "Why can't you do that on a crime scene? If you could do that every day, you'd only ever need me for the really hard cases."

Lestrade blushes faintly under the praise. He rubs a hand over the back of his neck. "It's not the same, is it? I can do people, sometimes, during questioning. And it's easier when it's someone I've known for years, like you. It's things that're hard."

"People are things too. They have more possibilities and a couple extra variables, but they're really just collections of reactions and weighted probabilities."

Now it's Lestrade's turn to stare. "People are... a bit more complex than that."

They aren't, but that's an argument Sherlock knows he'll never win. "The distance isn't a problem," he says.

"So what is?"

Sherlock shrugs a shoulder. "He's jealous of John."

"If you were my sub, I'd be jealous of John too," Lestrade points out. "Should he be?"

Sherlock doesn't know.

--

Sherlock is not pleased to be escorted into one of Mycroft's black cars, no matter how politely the doms Mycroft sends force him into it.

"No PA today?" he asks. He's seen neither hide nor hair of her by the time he takes a seat in the uncomfortable chair in front of Mycroft's desk.

The corners of Mycroft's mouth twitch downwards. He doesn't look happy and the skin under his eyes is dark from lack of sleep. His hair is messy -- not unkempt, but it looks as if he's been touching it more than usual. "That's why I brought you here."

"Why? You have more resources than me and, loathe as I am to admit it, if she's missing you'd be better at finding her." Sherlock examines his fingernails, feigning indifference. "Surely you care enough about her to do your own legwork for once."

"I know what you've been doing with Moriarty."

Sherlock's chest clenches into a painful knot. He goes still, only flicking his eyes up to look at Mycroft and his careful, unreadable expression. "Do you."

"Yes."

What do you know? But he can't say that. Every conversation with Mycroft is a chess match, and he doesn't want to give away any pieces of information Mycroft doesn't already have. "And that is?"

Mycroft smiles insincerely at him. "I pulled your phone records. Every text you've sent in the past six months. I know about Moriarty. I know what you really did with him in Finland. I'm disappointed, Sherlock. What would Mummy think?"

"She'd think you should keep your fat nose out of my business." But there's only one reason Mycroft would bring up Moriarty now instead of keeping it as later ammunition. "How do you know he has her?"

He catches the folder Mycroft tosses him. In it is a photograph of Mycroft's PA. A hand and half a forearm hold a newspaper dated two days ago, sticking into the shot. There is a tan line around her throat and a bruise high on her cheek but her expression is fierce and unafraid.

"I thought her collar didn't open," he comments.

Two more things land in Sherlock's lap -- two curved semicircles of thick gold wire, pinched at the ends from where it'd been cut with something. He recognizes it immediately.

"It doesn't," Mycroft says grimly. "They cut it off. He's going to kill her."

Moriarty is clever, clever and ruthless, more so than anyone else Sherlock has met that isn't related to him by blood. This, then, explains why Sherlock is here, in Mycroft's office while his older brother asks him for help rescuing his wayward sub.

"The only way to save her is to convince him to let her go," Sherlock says.

Mycroft nods. "Which is where you come in."

"And if I don't?" Sherlock asks more out of curiosity than anything else.

"Then I tell John that you turned down a chance to kill Moriarty because you'd rather be subbing for him. I may have come to accept your self-destructive habits," and here Mycroft grimaces slightly in distaste, "but I'm sure he has not."

"I haven't spoken to Moriarty in over a week. I don't know if he'll listen."

Mycroft smiles thinly at him. "You'd be surprised."

--

Moriarty picks up on the seventh ring. "A phone call? How unlike you," he comments, sounding delighted.

Sherlock cuts straight to the chase. "You have my brother's sub. A bit extreme, even for you, wouldn't you say?"

"Well," Moriarty says. "I didn't know she was his sub when I took her. I thought she was just a secretary. Imagine my surprise when I got her and realized just how very special she was."

Sherlock takes a breath then holds it as his mind spins out dozens upon dozens of possible actions and their possible outcomes. Every single one of them that ends satisfactorily depends on factors outside his control.

But ultimately, he narrows it down to two fundamental choices -- should he beg or should he order? Which would work? Would either work? And if he failed, if Moriarty laughed at him and slit her throat, would it be because he'd made the wrong choice?

"James," he begins. He licks his lips. "You know you can't --"

"I can't what?" Moriarty asks dangerously. "I know I can't what, Sherlock? Kill her? Because trust me, it'd really be very, very easy for me to kill her. And it'd be fun."

"No," Sherlock says, and forces command into his voice, forces it to be an order. "You're going to let her go."

Moriarty's silence stretches out -- one second, then three, then five, but Sherlock can hear the steady cadence of his breath. There's no need for him to ask any obvious questions -- what if he doesn't, what if he does, how does this change everything -- because they are both geniuses and they can both follow the paths to their obvious conclusions, each domino-chain of cause and effect.

"She's too important to kill." Because she's not just a secretary. She's not just some drone, a pawn in the game between them. She's -- she's Mycroft's sub and she can't die. Not like this. "He's my brother. If you kill her..." He trails off.

If you kill her, whatever we have dies.

"This isn't fair," Moriarty mutters and for a split second, he sounds different again, like the mask he wears has slipped, giving Sherlock a glimpse of the man beneath. "Give me -- give me ten minutes. I'll call you back with my decision."

He hangs up and that is how Sherlock knows he's won.

Moriarty calls back in exactly ten minutes. As soon as Sherlock picks up, he says, "Fine. Let's make a trade. Your brother's sub for someone else. Anyone else, I don't care."

Done, easily. Mycroft is not known for his morals. "What's the catch?" Sherlock asks but now it's a formality as Moriarty goes through the necessary motions to save face in front of his minions.

Moriarty makes a disinterested noise. "He has to kill them with his bare hands and send me proof. And I'll show it to her before I let her go."

Sherlock's not sure his brother's sub would care about that. She'd always struck him as nearly as cold-hearted as his brother. And the government certainly doesn't give a damn about how many lives their golden boy takes. "Done. I'll let him know your conditions."

"And after I get the photos, I want him to beg me. I want him to beg, prettily and convincingly, for me to give him back his sub. I want him to say, 'Please, please, Moriarty, can't I have her back?' And make it good."

"Done." And because they haven't actually spoken in a while (ten days and 19 hours), and because Sherlock knows why, he adds in an undertone, "You shouldn't feel threatened by John, by the way. He'll never be my dom."

"I don't feel threatened. I just --" Moriarty makes a frustrated sound, and when he speaks again, his voice is quieter. "I want to own you. I want to take you and keep you, but there are parts of you that he has that I will never, ever be able to touch. And I hate that, and I hate every time you decide you're going to rub my face in it."

Sherlock is not sure how to react to Moriarty's words -- is not sure how to feel about them, about the intensity he hadn't been expecting -- so he does what's always worked well in the past: he changes the subject and pretends it didn't happen. "Right. Well, I should let my brother know his sub is safe."

Moriarty barks a harsh laugh. "You do that."

--

As expected, Mycroft doesn't bat an eyelash at Moriarty's demands, not even when Sherlock says, "He wants you to beg him for her." Of course he wouldn't. Mycroft always has been good about doing what needs to be done -- at everyone's expense but his own.

I told my brother your demands. They should be satisfied shortly, Sherlock texts. I'm confident you have his contact number for the verbal component.

Good boy. Call me when you have some time free.

So after John goes to bed but before Sherlock is tired, he closes and locks his bedroom door. He calls Moriarty and does as he's told and refuses to think too hard about the feeling in his chest that might be relief.

--

Sherlock stops bringing up John during his and Moriarty's conversations but the shadow of his demand and Moriarty's subsequent concession, persists. He can feel it in the periphery of his awareness. It -- it bothers him, but only because he knows Moriarty feels it too.

It makes him want to crawl, to grovel, to beg for forgiveness. It makes him want to promise he'll be good, that it'll never happen again, that he's sorry.

He won't, of course.

It's not true and he isn't that sort of sub.

But he makes concessions, small ones, little inconveniences that make Moriarty hum in pleasure when he finds out about them (Sherlock never tells him but he finds out anyway).

He stops digging into Moriarty's spheres of influence. He cites Mycroft's superior resources and claims to have passed the investigation onto him when John asks. John is so grateful that Sherlock's no longer putting himself in danger that he doesn't pry any further.

He and Moriarty don't talk about the work anymore, and the lack feels like a timer counting down.

--

John's sub finally breaks up with him, one and a half weeks into a case that ultimately takes two weeks for them to finally solve -- and another week after that before the murderer is caught and actually behind bars. John, on the other hand, doesn't seem to properly realize it until after the case has concluded, when they have finally, exhausted, returned to London for some much-needed rest.

"Janet broke up with me." He seems too tired to be angry.

"Finally noticed, have you?" Sherlock asks. "She sent the text ages ago."

"Shut up. You don't get to sit there and be smug about it. This is your fault, you know."

"My fault you can't keep a sub? Boring." Sherlock stretches out on the sofa and tilts his head back. "Relationships are boring. You're better off without one."

"Really. Says the man who's been seeing someone for longer than my last three subs combined."

"What I have isn't a relationship. It's just sex. And barely even that. It hardly counts."

John sighs. "I just -- I was really hoping she'd understand. About the cases, about the work."

About you, Sherlock hears, because she had lasted longer than his previous subs. Sherlock had seen the tentative hope in John's eyes, each time he'd had to reschedule a date and she'd said all right.

"Most people don't." Sherlock closes his eyes.

"Yours does, doesn't he? How long's it been since you talked to him?"

Three weeks -- as long as the case had lasted and he owes Moriarty the rest of his night as soon as he has showered and shaved and made himself suitably contrite. But Sherlock doesn't want to talk about Jim Moriarty to John Watson. Even thinking about him, when Sherlock had pushed Moriarty so firmly from his thoughts that it comes as a revelation to realize there is someone waiting to hear from him, makes Sherlock's chest feel strange.

He has a handful of missed calls from Moriarty but only a few texts -- flirtation, confusion at his lack of response, followed by an acknowledgement of his case. Anyone else, any other dom, would probably be livid at being pushed aside for weeks. But Moriarty understands.

"Do you want another sub?"

"No," John says, "it's fine." He sounds as if he wants to say something else.

But he doesn't.

--

"Keeping your hair short doesn't make you a dom," Anderson says.

"Oh, thank god," Sherlock replies sarcastically. "I'd hate for something to look at me and think I was like you."

He fakes a shudder, then rolls his eyes. Why does everyone always think he cares in the slightest about being a dom? He only keeps his hair short because Moriarty had expressed a clear preference for it.

Though the way Mycroft so obviously hates it -- not out of any interest in Sherlock's appearance, but because it reminds him about Moriarty -- is entertaining too. If Mycroft must know about him and Moriarty, then Sherlock wants to make that knowledge as unpleasant as possible.

John touches the small of his back. "Don't be rude," he chides. "Ignore him."

"I hate imbeciles," Sherlock complains.

"Yes, I know."

Later, before they leave, Sherlock catches one of the constables staring at him in bemusement. It's one he recognizes -- a dom whose face is familiar but whose name he'd never bothered to learn -- and he has just opened his mouth to observe something interesting when John's hand is around his wrist.

His fingers wrap easily all the way around Sherlock's wrist, shocking him into silence. His awareness of John flares as brightly as a bonfire.

"Don't," John says.

Sherlock doesn't.

--

How do you feel about the Ivory Coast? Moriarty asks.

I can't, Sherlock replies with genuine regret. I assume my brother's monitoring my passport.

--

Sherlock has a hidden folder of images under two levels of encryption on his laptop's hard drive. Most are of Moriarty, of his hands and his body and his groin. Several are of himself, taken without his noticing, with his eyes closed or his face turned away from the camera.

He barely recognizes the man in those images. He's different from the man Sherlock sees in the mirror, different from the man everyone else knows. There are layers upon layers stripped away that Sherlock recognizes only when they're gone -- shields of words and breeding and courage, each of them dashed to pieces.

Sometimes there is an extra hand in the shot -- in his hair or cupping his chin or just touching him, fingers brushed against his skin. And when he sees those images he wants, wants the feel of the cold air on his skin and a hand anchoring his thoughts in place, wants the attention-demanding sensation of fingers in his mouth.

The images make him feel hollow inside. They make him feel wistful and empty and sad.

But for some reason, those are the ones he looks at most.

--

There is a black car outside Sherlock's flat. When he goes inside, he finds Mycroft sitting on his sofa.

Sherlock hasn't seen him since he'd gotten Mycroft his sub back, though he's sure Mycroft has seen him. He's a bit disappointed his peace didn't last any longer. Forever, preferably. "What do you want?"

"When are you going to tire of your games?" Mycroft asks, drawing his umbrella across his lap. "Aren't you bored yet?"

"No. Aren't you bored of interfering with my life?"

Mycroft smiles thinly. "Don't be silly." He examines his nails with false nonchalance. "You and Moriarty are still communicating, I see."

"I know you have my phone records. Doesn't that violate some law?"

"National security. Where's Moriarty?"

In a large city in eastern Spain, in a rental house he'd arrived in sometime within the last eight days that's large enough to house at least four people. The city doesn't have a direct flight from Greece but is relatively close to one that does.

He will remain there for at least the following two weeks and has just purchased an internet connection, a rental car, and several materials used in making explosives.

"I don't know," Sherlock answers and assumes a bored expression. "Don't you have people for that?"

"You are my 'people for that'. He's dangerous, Sherlock. And I'm not talking about to you, or to strangers we both know you don't care about. People are dying. He needs to be put down before something happens."

"If you care so much, why don't you do it?"

"It'd be easier if you would cooperate with me. What would John think, if he knew?"

"How's your sub, these days? Still alive, I notice."

Mycroft bows his head slightly. "Touche."

"John's coming home soon. I want you out before he arrives." Sherlock throws himself on the sofa and turns his back to his brother pointedly. He hears Mycroft stand.

"Difficult as ever," he murmurs and Sherlock knows he's meant to hear it. "Don't think this will last forever. He's in my way and you know how I hate having things in my way."

"Fuck off."

--

"Do you fantasize about submitting to me?"

Moriarty laughs on the other side of the line. "Oh, Sherlock, you have no idea of the things I fantasize about. Or the things I want from you."

"Why don't you tell me?"

"Should I? Is that what you want?"

"Yes. Do it." He strokes his fingers down his chest and lets Moriarty's voice drag over his senses like a warm breeze.

--

In theory, Sherlock knows how to dominate someone. He knows the surface layer easily. The voice and words are no more difficult than any other disguise. And he's subbed often enough to have a body of knowledge in the form of memories to draw on.

Still.

Sherlock sits down at the table when John is eating breakfast. "So, what do you actually do with your subs?"

John chokes on his toast. "I'm sorry?"

"With your subs," Sherlock repeats patiently. "What do you actually do with them?"

"When we have sex?" John looks confused.

"Obviously. What do subs like?"

"Aren't you a sub? Shouldn't you know?"

"A sample group of one is hardly accurate. What would you do if you were going to have sex with someone for the first time? How would you know what to do?"

John stares at him. "I'd ask. That's what normal people do: ask."

"Out of the question. What else? Do you just tell them what to do? What do you say?"

"I don't know! I just do what comes naturally."

"But what if it doesn't come naturally? What would you do then?"

"I don't know. What are you -- what's this about, exactly? Why do you want to top someone if you're a sub? It's not for a case, is it? Because that's a terrible --"

"It's not for a case," Sherlock interrupts impatiently. "It's for -- I thought it'd be interesting. My dom is a switch, and he's expressed interest in submitting to me, so I thought I'd try it."

"Oh!" John's face breaks into a wide grin. "Oh, I see now. Have you ever topped someone before?"

Sherlock lifts his hand palm-down into the air and wobbles it from side to side. "Once, at uni. It was underwhelming." It hadn't exactly been terrible but everything he'd done had felt boring despite being interesting from the other direction. He tilts his head and examines John's expression. "But you've never subbed before."

"I never wanted to," John explains with a simple shrug. "And I've only ever dated subs."

"Will you help me?"

John laughs, but not mockingly. "Sure. Why not?"

--

Sherlock dominates Moriarty the next evening while John is at a pub with his rugby mates. He alternates commands and praise, pulling them from memories and research and the way Moriarty had sounded, sometimes, when he'd masked what he really wanted with playful teasing.

As a sub, Moriarty is nothing like Sherlock. He yields spectacularly the moment Sherlock makes it clear what's going on, making only a single teasing comment ("Oh? So it's going to be like this tonight?"). He follows Sherlock's commands without resistance, sounding pathetically eager, nearly desperate, to please.

It's less boring than he'd thought it would be. His last attempt at playing a dom had left his curiosity satisfied but his libido uninterested, and this is no different except that Moriarty's reactions through it all are fascinating.

It's something Sherlock notices every few days, each observation of it as striking as if for the first time. Moriarty is versatile, changing voice and tone and personality as quickly as the wind. A small part of Sherlock that he rarely notices wants to pin Moriarty down and map out everything about him, every one of his thoughts and desires, until he is as familiar as the face Sherlock sees in the mirror.

Terrifyingly enough, Moriarty seems to want him to.

Afterwards, Moriarty yawns into the phone and makes an uncharacteristically small and kittenish noise of contentment. Sherlock hears the rustling of blankets. "That was nice, thanks. You're not half bad," he murmurs, sounding half-asleep already. "Do you mind if I take a nap?"

And Sherlock realizes that he wants, with a suddenness and intensity that takes him by surprise, to be there to. He wants to to nestle with Moriarty in his blankets and wrap arms around him and press his whole body into Moriarty's, absorbing his warmth. He wants to bury his face against Moriarty's skin and curl up in his arms and feel --

owned.

Well. That's certainly different.

Sherlock is still examining his emotions -- prodding at them the way he imagines bomb squads must prod at suspicious briefcases left behind in airports, when Moriarty makes an inquisitive noise. He sounds slightly more alert when he asks, "Sherlock? Did you want me to stay up?"

Sherlock shakes himself from his thoughts. "No," he soothes. "It's fine. Go to sleep."

--

John leaves to visit his mother in the country. Before he leaves, he ruffles Sherlock's hair and says, "I'll be back in a week or so. Be good. I'll know if you aren't."

"I'm always good."

John snorts. "Right. I'm taking my gun. Try not to burn down the flat while I'm gone."

"Please," Sherlock says. "Give me some credit. I've never accidentally burned down a flat in my life."

"I'm not worried about 'accidentally'."

--

John has been gone for 39 hours before he finally calls Sherlock, which is neither surprising nor alarming. Sherlock balances his experiment -- one of the many John had barred from the flat, which means now is the best time to perform them -- carefully on the table.

"How's your mother?" he asks.

"You answer him as soon as he calls but not me? I'm hurt," Moriarty says. The words are playful but underneath it, Sherlock can detect an undercurrent of genuine fury.

His blood runs cold. John. "What are you doing?" he demands. "Why do you have John's phone?"

Moriarty makes a sharp, angry noise. "Wrong. You don't ask the questions anymore, pet. I've sent you an address. You have 24 hours to get here and pick him up or your dog dies. Well, 22 hours. In the meantime, he and I will be getting very friendly, so hurry if you want him back in one piece."

Then he hangs up.

--

Sherlock calls Mycroft immediately. It gets him a ride on a private jet and diplomatic immunity.

He is in Switzerland within three hours and the address he was given within four. The house is guarded but the guards must recognize him because he tries to break in and gets a rifle pointed in his face for barely five seconds before he's told they're expecting him. They escort him at gunpoint into a room near the back.

His phone vibrates. Two minutes. JM the message says, sent from John's phone.

And exactly two minutes later, Moriarty strides into the room, face dark. He glances at the two guards at the door; they leave hastily.

Sherlock is ashamed and vaguely horrified to realize the first thing that occurs to him is that he and Moriarty haven't physically been in the same room together since Lahti. He looks better in person than he does in photographs. He's gained muscle and a tan. It suits him.

The next thing Sherlock observes is that there are remnants of dried blood on Moriarty's hands. He doesn't know whose blood it is, but he hopes, for Moriarty's sake, that it's not John's.

Moriarty hits him in the jaw. He doesn't pull the punch and the force of the impact sends Sherlock reeling backwards.

Sherlock touches his face incredulously. It hurts. "You hit me."

"You're lucky I didn't shoot you," Moriarty snaps. His hands remain balled into fists. "I'm not your fucking dog. You can't just get in my way because you think that putting my cock in your mouth means I'll let you do whatever you want."

Except that it does, because John came here and John failed in his mission. And instead of a quick, brutal execution Moriarty has called Sherlock to return him, as if he'd found a lost dog and called the number on its collar. Exactly like finding a lost dog and calling its owners.

Sherlock's not stupid. He's had hours in the jet to figure out what happened, to see how John had gone from his mother's house to Moriarty's flat in Switzerland (to see how he'd never gone to to his mother's in the first place). They've both had hours to figure it out. Mycroft's deft fingerprints are all over John's path.

"I want him back," Sherlock says.

"We both know I'm giving him back. If I weren't, he'd be dead by now." Moriarty makes another frustrated growl. "I fucking hate you."

"No you don't."

"I wish I did! If I did, if I didn't have you under my skin like a fucking infection, I wouldn't have this problem! If it weren't for you, he'd be dead right now and your brother's sub would be dead and I wouldn't have any nosy little detectives sniffing around after me and ruining my projects!"

"I'm sorry." Shelrock's chest hurts and he doesn't know why. Moriarty doesn't want him and it shouldn't matter because Moriarty can't have him, but all Sherlock can think is what if. What if he'd been better, what if they'd never been on opposite sides, what if he'd never met John, what if what if what if.

Moriarty's rage is masked as quickly as it'd appeared. He closes the gap between them then wraps his palm around the back of Sherlock's neck. He pulls Sherlock's head down and presses their foreheads together, gaze serious and intent. "I know."

But that's not enough, because if Sherlock were in his place -- if it were his life being threatened --

"So let's trade," Moriarty says with an eerie calm. He's planned this. Not all of it, but this part, the "what happens next" part. He's made his decisions and all that's left for Sherlock is to go along for the ride. "Him for you."

"You have me. I'm right here." This is as much as I'm willing to give you.

"No. I never really had you. Your brother has you. John has you. But. Not. Me. Don't pretend. You know it's true, that if it ever came down to me or them, you'd choose them in a heartbeat. So let me cut you. Let me scar you. I want you to remember me every time you look at yourself in the mirror. I want you to remember this."

It should sound like a threat but it doesn't. It sounds like a declaration and a goodbye and something else that Sherlock doesn't have words for, because he thinks he wants it.

It's hard to breathe; there's something in Sherlock's throat, choking him. He swallows. His voice stumbles over the words when he says, "Yes. Yes, all right, yes."

This is it, Sherlock thinks as he wraps his hand around Moriarty's and helps guide the knife to his skin. This is their countdown hitting zero, because here are John and Moriarty and Sherlock is choosing (has chosen, will always choose) John.

He lets out a soft gasp when the blade sinks into his flesh. Moriarty shushes him tenderly, then twists, and the intensity in his eyes burns so brightly and with such fierceness that for a moment Sherlock genuinely can't tell if what he feels next is pain or pleasure.

The blade clatters to the ground and then Moriarty's fingers are there, fumbling at the tear in his clothes, pressing into his flesh until spots of white light flare in his vision. His world explodes in pain, in bright, beautiful, all-encompassing pain.

"Please," Sherlock gasps, fingers scrabbling at Moriarty's hand. He wants this, wants more, wants Moriarty's mark on his body, permanent and ugly and real.

Moriarty steps away. Blood (Sherlock's blood, his life spilled by and onto Moriarty's hands) coats his fingers. The look of wonder on his face as he stares at it is the most beautiful thing Sherlock has ever seen.

"All right." Moriarty touches his fingers to his lips and Sherlock is stunned breathless by the sight of his blood splashed across Moriarty's mouth. "You should go now."

--

Moriarty directs him to where John is, hogtied and blindfolded in the basement. There is a crude bandage, soaked through with blood, wrapped around his thigh. He thrashes when Sherlock reaches for the rope wrapped around his wrists. Sherlock narrowly avoids getting a chunk bitten out of his wrist.

"John!" he says urgently, shaking John by the shoulder. "John, it's me!"

"Sherlock?" John breathes. "Sherlock, how did you -- it's only been hours. How did you find me so fast?"

"Mycroft," Sherlock grits out. He saws through the loops of fiber and grabs John's arm when he's free. When Sherlock pulls him up, John's injured leg buckles beneath him. Sherlock tucks his shoulder under John's arm and takes on some of his weight. "I've got you. Let's go. Can you walk?"

John can limp, albeit badly. He tugs his blindfold off with his other hand and blinks rapidly in the light. "Moriarty?"

"We traded," Sherlock says. "His life for yours. We should go before he changes his mind."

John's gaze drops to Sherlock's chest. Sherlock follows it. A patch of dark red soaks the fabric of his shirt. "You're hurt."

Sherlock twitches away when John reaches to touch it. He pulls his coat closed. "It's fine. Leave it."

The guards don't stop them on their way out.

--

When they emerge onto the street, Mycroft, an ambulance, and a dozen heavily armed men in Kevlar are waiting for them. Paramedics descend on them as the armed men exchange hand gestures and run towards the building, guns held ready.

Sherlock recognizes these men, by shape if not by face, from the shadows around his brother and the smug, self-satisfied curl of his fingers around the handle of his umbrella. He's surprised to see them but he knows he shouldn't be. He should have expected them, distraction or now.

Over John's shoulder, Mycroft smiles thinly at him. It reminds Sherlock of when they'd used to play chess together as children, before he'd come to accept that Mycroft would always beat him. "Thank you for your assistance in finding Moriarty," Mycroft says, but his eyes say this is for your own good. "I'll take care of it from here."

Sherlock's chest hurts. He feels cold. It might be the blood loss. It might not. He forces a smile that feels brittle and false on his face. "Think nothing of it."

The paramedics are trying to talk John onto a stretcher but he struggles free for just a moment. He grabs Sherlock's wrist and yanks his head down, cupping Sherlock's cheek with his other hand. "Hey," he says firmly, staring into Sherlock's eyes. "You saved me. You did good. You were good."

Sherlock feels his own gaze slide sideways, breaking the contact. "I know," he replies, staring at the building they'd just emerged from.

His chest hurts. He wonders what the scar will look like when it heals.