## Preliminaries

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“I have been bested by a woman of such singular intelligence and skill that I should hate her with every fibre of my being. Strangely, I find that I cannot. Were I capable of such an emotion, I might describe my deep admiration and respect for her, as something as commonplace as love.”

John stares at the update on Sherlock’s website for a good ten minutes before he can even begin to think of an explanation.

“Sherlock! You’re website’s been hacked.”
“Oh, that.” A shrug.

Sherlock simply goes back to reading the paper, a look of disinterest painted across his features.

“It’s about… you might want to look at this.”
“If you’re trying to find a subtle way to suggest that my post does indeed refer to Ms Adler then yes, you are quite correct.”
You posted that?”
“Of course.”
“But she’s-“ John bites his tongue in a scramble to stop himself saying what he’s most definitely not meant to say.
“She’s not.”
“What?”
“She-“
“My brother is a liar.” Sherlock continues to read the paper.

John closes his laptop and rubs a hand across his face. Of course he’s never been one to question Sherlock’s logic before, but this time, even with an already established death and resurrection, seems like the one time that Sherlock might in fact be wrong. He’s kept the phone after all. By his own admission then his judgement is impaired.

“The phone means nothing.”
“Then why keep it?” John doesn’t pretend to misunderstand.
“I haven’t.”
“What?”
“It was a peace offering. Something to keep me entertained while Mycroft… did what he wanted with the results.”
“But she-“
“The chemical composition of the acid solution was quite fascinating. And the mechanism to trigger the release. All fascinating little puzzles in their own right.”

All of which seems like sound logic. John can’t deny it. Except, John was there. He saw how Sherlock had behaved. Sherlock must obviously be in denial of some sort.

“I’ll make some tea.”
“John.” The newpaper lowers.
“Yes?”
“I’m not mourning for her because she isn’t dead. Mycroft lied to you, he lied to me as well. And Ms Adler when it comes down to it. My brother isn’t fond of deduction for its own sake: he always plays to win.”
“Right.”

John hears the paper rustling behind him as he busies himself making the tea. Sherlock lets out an exasperated huff once or twice but, other than that, doesn’t comment further. Even if Mycroft has lied, even if Irene Adler is still alive, then Sherlock is still behaving rather oddly, all things considered.

“There! See. Hopefully that’ll be proof enough to shut you up.” Sherlock has opened John’s laptop and is pointing at the screen triumphantly.

Underneath Sherlock’s latest post is a comment:

“Gracious in defeat. A fine and most laudable trait.”

There is no signature.

“Is that…?”
“Obviously.”
“Alright, so she’s alive. What does she mean?”
“I lost, John. It’s rare but it does happen.” Sherlock seems amused as he says it.
“You… lost. But you figured it out! You-“
“And I allowed her to escape. I even stepped in and saved her.” Sherlock makes inverted comas with one hand.
“She knew you would?”
“Of course. Ms Adler may not flaunt her intelligence, but when she plays the game, she plays to win. She used everything against me and found the one flaw, the one mistake I’d make, and used it ruthlessly.”
“You don’t make mistakes.”
“John… your faith in me is gratifying but, this time, at least, you’re wrong.”
“How? You said that she used everything against you. But you-“
“You’re familiar with the method of brute force cracking with passwords?”
“Uh, yeah?”
“She employed a similar tactic. Try everything, all at once, and see which piece of the puzzle finally fits.”
“I don’t get it.”
“She had to find a solution before time ran out. Before the Sword of Damocles fell and silenced her for her hubris.”
“Her- for what? Being a woman and a sex worker? Come on now.”
“What does that have to do with anything? No, don’t answer that.”
“Fine. Classical education aside, what hubris?”
“She thought herself capable of usurping Dionysius’ place when, in all actuality, nobody in their right mind would want to.”
“Alright, and who’s Dionysus in this? You?”
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
“Who then? Wait- you mean Mycroft?”
“Of course. It fits, don’t you think? The god of wine, theatre and ecstatic madness.”
“Not when we’re talking about Dionysius the Second.”
Sherlock laughs. “Well, perhaps not then. I should come up with a better analogy.”
“I still don’t understand.”
“More tea? That might help things along. You always seem to catch on faster with a cup of tea in your hands. Why is that?”

This time it’s Sherlock who makes the tea, bustling about the kitchen and muttering to himself under his breath.

“Sorry, but you’re going to have to explain.” John cradles the fresh mug of tea in his hands but its little help.

Sherlock glances at John’s laptop screen.

“Ah.”
“Sherlock?”
“Take a look for yourself.”

Sherlock’s post and the comment in reply have vanished.

“Tidying up loose ends.”
“You or Mycroft?”
Sherlock smiles brightly at John.
“No, it’s not the tea, I was-“
“Deducing the obvious from the evidence. Brilliantly, I might add.”

John sips his tea and refrains from arguing. If Sherlock wants to believe that tea makes John more insightful, then John is just going to be stuck with the presumption.

“Mycroft then?”
“Of course. Not that I have any idea what his… what’s the term? You should know this. Clausewitz’s fog of war.”
“Operational plans?”
“No, higher up than that.”
“Grand strategic?”
“That’s the one. I have no idea what his overarching game plan is, not that it matters, but he appears to be… recruiting, for lack of a better word.”
“And he’s recruited her?”
“Not without…” Sherlock bites his lip evidently trying to think up an analogy.
“Not without running her through the… PRMC?”
“Exactly! This was the trial run to see if she met his criteria.”
“Sherlock, why do you even know that abbreviation?”
“It’s not as if Mycroft’s ever done it.”
“Mycroft-“
“Hereford, John. Boring. Anyway-“
Hereford? Mycroft was-“
“Of course. All very boring.”
“Boring? Sherlock, they’re… they’re… the rest of us get actual orders! They just get told to go out there and save the world!”
“Fine, yes, I know. Go out there, do whatever it is, make it home in time for tea and then get on the phone to harangue your little brother for neglecting his violin practice.”
“I don’t even…” John shakes his head in disbelief.

The revelation of Mycroft’s hitherto unmentioned military service negates just about every other revelation of the day for John. It explains a lot really.

“Christ, your brother must be hard as nails.”
“I believe that the operative phrase is: so hard he clangs.”
“Jesus. And he’s recruiting. For what?”
“I have no idea.”

Sherlock’s lack of insight is no comfort and John clutches his cup tight in apprehension.

“How did she win?” John asks quietly, at length.
“She tricked me into saving her when she didn’t, in fact, need saving.”
“But you figured out the code. You got the data so she… I don’t know.”
“She’d factored that into her game plan. Lose the code to me and what difference does it make? She can gather more data, live to fight another day. But be seen to be defeated and she wins everything!”
“Okay, how?”
“Who’ll chase after a failed spy? A flawed woman who is dependent on the charity of others? What possible threat is she to anybody? She only has herself left to trade for protection.”

John frowns. Sherlock is evidently expecting him to draw some conclusions from the declaration but so far John is drawing a blank.

“Formlessness, John. Everybody thinks she’s failed, that she’s overreached herself and been brought low through her own hubris.”
“And she hasn’t?”
“No! Of course not! She’s slipped out of sight and out of mind. And she’s far more useful to my brother that way. She played a trade off against him. She knows what his weakness is, and offered him up Moriarty. In return, he gains a capable officer.”
“She needs Mycroft’s… protection?”
“No. Don’t be simple, John. She wants direction, an objective, a framework within which to exercise her powers. The problem of limitless possibility is that sooner or later you grow bored with it. There are too many things to choose from and in the end they bore you with their tedium. She needs a challenge: Mycroft can give her that.”
“So, let me see if I have this right: she wanted structure, a corps, if you will, and Mycroft can give her that? And Mycroft is recruiting for some upcoming endgame?”