Sherlock took a moment, then stepped forward and pushed open the rusted double metal doors to the pool. He curled his fingers tentatively around the flash drive from Mycroft- had to remember not to return it- in his suit pocket, and cast a cursory glance around the pool.
It seemed completely deserted, but that was likely Moriarty’s doing to give their first meeting the appropriate privacy it deserved. Unfortunately there were also far too many exits and entrances than he would prefer around the room, which was not aided at all by the overhead lights that hadn’t been replaced in approximately two years. The pool wasn’t used very often anymore by the public, at least in the past several years, but it had once been very popular for families.
A creaking noise from doors similar to the ones he had just passed through, also in need of oil on their hinges, came from off to his left several yards ahead. Sherlock turned, waiting for Moriarty to make his undoubtedly dramatic appearance.
Finally, here was the criminal mastermind he’d been chasing.
“Would you stop whistling already? You’re putting me off.”
Sherlock froze, feeling his suddenly overworked heart quicken to a pace that supposedly meant he was apprehensive. John? His mind stalled for a very brief moment. Why was John here?
“Well, whistle something else then.” John- if it was John- was in a doorway, accounting the echoes his voice was making around the pool. And, unless he was talking to himself for some reason- which Sherlock had witnessed John doing several times, John was on a mobile or possibly a handset. “Consulting detectives can’t always be on time.” There was a short pause, enough time to listen to the other person’s-likely man’s- reply. Then John said, in the same tone he used after discovering the experiments Sherlock left in the kitchen, “No, not like some certain criminal masterminds.”
With his limited experience Sherlock wasn’t completely certain what he was interrupting, but he took a determined step forward nevertheless. He then cleared his throat and called out, his voice not quite as level as he’d wanted it to be, “John?”
There was a not quite swiftly enough muffled curse, crafted with the creativity one expected from a soldier. Then John hissed to his companion, “Why didn’t you tell me he was here? … Well, I didn’t!”
After, there was what seemed like a never-ending period of silence, and waiting for something to happen.
Then finally Sherlock heard the echo of John’s very familiar footsteps, and a few seconds later his flat mate stepped out from a doorway that likely lead to rooms off the pool.
John had found time to change, because he wasn’t wearing the usual jumper and jeans his closet seemed to solely consist of. Instead John was wearing extremely well-fitted, fairly expensive dark trousers, and a green parka that enveloped him almost completely.
“Evening,” John greeted in a surprisingly level voice given he was currently in the middle of a stand-off between Sherlock and the oddly still absent Moriarty.
No. He had to delete that thought now. John was many things, including extraordinary, but he was not a criminal- or a mastermind. John was too human and emotional for all that, proven by how he constantly pestered Sherlock about doing the right thing. Annoyingly so. This had to be some trick of Moriarty’s to make him doubt John.
“This is quite a turn-up, isn’t it, Sherlock?” John asked in that same irritatingly level voice. He paused, his usually expressive face oddly blank, and then moved his head slightly to the left so Sherlock could see the wire in his right ear. “Bet you never saw this coming.” A small smile tugged at the corner of his mouth.
So it was just as he’d expected then, Moriarty really was using John as a puppet; just like the other hostages Moriarty had wired. That meant there was likely a bomb, possibly semtex, hidden under that ridiculous parka. If they both weren’t careful, there was a good chance Moriarty would set it off and they’d all be ripped apart.
Keeping a careful eye on John, Sherlock addressed the pool at large. “All right, I’m here. You can stop hiding now.” He paused when a quiet huff of laughter escaped from John- what could he possibly be laughing about? But then once he met John’s eyes again, his flat mate only shook his head and gave that small smile again.
Was there something he was missing? Sherlock glanced around the pool another time, but nothing seemed to have changed in the last few minutes. Moriarty still wasn’t anywhere in sight- he was obviously too clever for that- but with John wearing only a wire and this being his and Moriarty’s first meeting, Sherlock doubted Moriarty would be satisfied with staying behind the scenes for very long. This was a personal matter between them.
“I’m not hiding, Sherlock,” John parroted courtesy of Moriarty. “We’re just getting to the good part now.” There was an odd excitement, nearly glee, Sherlock could hear in John’s voice even if they were Moriarty’s words. John may be an ex-soldier, used to combat and high-tension situations, but was that the reason why he was acting so calm while being a hostage? Of course Sherlock didn’t expect John to break down and start sobbing like many others would in the same situation. But still, shouldn’t John be at least slightly frightened? Especially since this was Moriarty?
“And which part would that be?” Sherlock asked, not quite able to deny his curiosity. Just what was Moriarty playing at? He took a careful step towards John. “Where are you? I don’t enjoy talking to thin air.”
John chuckled again, with that same amused look on his face. But there was an odd light in John’s eyes Sherlock couldn’t remember seeing before, and he exasperatingly wasn’t able to read. “What are you talking about, Sherlock. You talk out loud to yourself all the time. To me and the skull.”
Sherlock treated John to one of his most disparaging looks, trying to silently advise John just to stay quiet. He was attempting to coax Moriarty out into the open so they could talk face to face, and also hopefully get him to free John. If John didn’t open his mouth again, it would hopefully keep Moriarty’s attention off of him.
“Oh, I’m everywhere, Sherlock. I’m right in front of you, beside you, behind you,” there was a strange echo now behind John’s words that didn’t originate from the walls, but more as if another- slightly higher- voice was speaking along with him. “I’ll always be with you, Sherlock.”
“Then let me see you,” Sherlock replied impatiently. “Let me see you and stop using John as a mouthpiece. He’s not a part of this.”
To his surprise, instead of looking relieved, John actually looked annoyed by his statement. Moriarty must have said something to John then, because he tilted his head a little as if listening. “Yeah, I know. He can be a right git sometimes,” John said quietly out of the corner of his mouth. He was talking softly but Sherlock was still able to hear him. “Of course. No, really. Yeah.”
Sherlock shifted his weight slightly, slipping his hand into the pocket with John’s gun. “If we could return to the main point…”
John’s eyes met his again, and then flickered down to Sherlock’s pocket as if he knew exactly what Sherlock was hiding there.
“Temper, temper,” Moriarty, through John, scolded cheerfully. “You need to be patient dear, because you’ll just love what happens next.”
He found it unnerving hearing those words spoken by John, especially since he was the one directly in the line of fire. Sherlock wrapped his hands around the grip of the gun; so far Moriarty had proven himself to be extremely unpredictable. “And what does happen next?”
Moriarty, or was it actually John, laughed delightedly. “Well, the real question is…” Moriarty began slowly, evidently building up to a dramatic moment.
“What,” as he spoke John’s hands slid out from the pockets of the parka, “would you like,” he raised his hands to either side of the parka zipped tightly across his front, “me to make,” John’s hands grasped the fabric, his expression strangely blank, “him say,” he began to slowly open the parka, revealing what was underneath, “next.”
On the last word, John pushed the parka open and then off his shoulders, letting it fall freely to the floor.
Sherlock had expected to see some kind of device strapped on John- likely a vest- holding the bomb endangering John’s life.
The expensive, dark and faintly striped collared shirt- very likely silk- John was wearing, instead of the beige jumper he’d left in, was not anything close to what even he had expected. He thought he had seen John’s entire wardrobe, yet he’d never seen these clothes before.
John gave him a sharp, searing smile as he lightly tugged his shirt into place. “Do you like it?” John asked with a curious lilt to his voice- and it was John now. He glanced shyly up at Sherlock, not quite meeting his eyes completely.
“I-“ Sherlock started, then quickly closed his mouth before he could speak his mind. He did, in fact, like it very much. Instead of those unflattering, eyesore jumpers and loose jeans, these showed off John’s figure spectacularly. They fit so well Sherlock suspected they were tailor-made.
Sherlock hadn’t said anything more, but John gave him another look as if he knew exactly what Sherlock was thinking. “It’s so nice to be rid of those horrid jumpers,” John commented with a relieved smile. He stretched a little and rolled his shoulders, “They’re so horribly plain.” John said the last word as if completely disgusted by it.
“But you look just so adorable in them,” a new voice commented happily, joining in. It was familiar to Sherlock, but he couldn’t place it at first. “Like a little beige teddy bear.”
John turned his head to look back over his shoulder at the doorway where he’d come in. “I’m not a teddy bear,” John grumbled as he fussed with his collar. “And these are much more comfortable.” He smirked a little, “and fashionable.”
“Mm, true,” the voice replied in easy agreement. Then there was the sound of footsteps, and Sherlock readied himself for whoever might appear. “And together we look just so perfect,” it added, rolling the ‘r’s a little.
Then a thinner and dark haired suit-clad figure stepped out from the same doorway as John had moments before. Once he noticed this, it took Sherlock only a few seconds to place the man as he walked over and stopped next to John. John didn’t look uncomfortable at all with this man being so close to him; in fact, he seemed to actually move closer on some unconscious level. To Sherlock’s more private horror, they did look rather perfect together- just as Sherlock had thought he and John fit.
The two of them smiled, and it was almost the same smile down to every element. The new arrival mocked, as if reading Sherlock’s mind, “Jim? Jim from IT?” The smile widened and sharpened dangerously. “Clumsy little Jim who left you his number, but you never called!” His voice raised by the end until he was almost shouting.
John reached over and lightly placed a hand on the back of Jim’s neck. The touch seemed to calm Jim down, and he quickly visibly relaxed.
“Remember, Jim,” John told the other man in a soft, calm voice. “He was preoccupied with solving the games we designed for him.” He lightly bumped his shoulder with Jim’s. “You couldn’t really expect him to call.”
Jim tilted his head a little in the same manner John had minutes ago, looking as if he was thinking this over. “Mm, true,” Jim finally agreed after a little more than a second. “But,” Jim said with a sly glance at Sherlock, “it would have been nice.”
John rolled his eyes, but he did so with an amused smile. “Nice for you is someone blowing up something, or kidnapping a person on your behalf. Not, calling after you’ve left them your number.”
“You would know,” Jim replied cheerfully, smiling as he stepped closer to John.
Sherlock finally managed to get a word in with the two men, although he felt like he’d been sideswiped with the fact that John and Jim seemed to know each other so well. “I take it you’re not just ‘Jim from IT.’”
“I told you he was a genius,” John remarked triumphantly, “Can’t get anything past Sherlock Holmes.”
Jim laughed shortly, apparently hearing the not so veiled sarcasm in John’s voice. “Obviously not.” He paused dramatically, and then slid his hands out from his pockets. “I suppose,” Jim began, drawing out the word, “I should reintroduce myself.”
He took a measured step forward to stand just in front of John, and then met Sherlock’s eyes with a predatory grin. “Jim Moriarty.” He clasped his hands behind his back. “Surprise,” Jim added, rocking back on his heels.
So this really was Moriarty. He was face to face with his real archenemy, finally.
Sherlock stared at Moriarty for a long time, observing all he could about the man while he could. Then he finally replied, “So you’re Moriarty then; the quiet, ‘gay,’ unassuming IT tech.”
“Mm,” Moriarty agreed, drawing out the word as he seemed to enjoy doing. “Not exactly,” he disagreed as he rocked back again.
Before Sherlock could respond or try to unravel that comment, John had turned to look at Jim while still facing Sherlock. “I told you arranging that meeting in the lab wasn’t a good idea. He could have figured it out then, and our entire plan would have been ruined. Or Molly could have given us away.”
Jim clicked his tongue disapprovingly then shook his head. “You worry too much, John darling. Molly knows better than to betray us. And I would never, ever give us away on purpose.” He raised his hand and toyed with John’s sleeve. “You know how much I enjoy my fun.”
A very strange, reminiscent smile tugged at John’s lips. “Yes, I do,” he agreed. “But it was still very dangerous.”
“I just wanted to spend time with him, and see him,” Jim explained, looking a few seconds away from stamping his foot. “It’s not fair you’re the one who has been with him all this time, while I was stuck staying in the shadows.”
John sighed tiredly, as if this was an old argument. Then he explained patiently, “We discussed this Jim. And we both agreed I was the one of the two of us who could most easily pass for an ordinary, boring bloke who Sherlock would suspect at all.”
He gave Jim one of the placating smiles Sherlock was used to having turned on him. “You’re the more brilliant, extraordinary one, Jim. You do your best work in the shadows; I’m the one everyone glances at and then forgets.”
Jim smiled, looking pleased and cheered by John’s words. “And that’s why you’re so precious, John,” he soothed, looping his arm through John’s.
Sherlock felt distressingly sick at the way Jim and John were smiling at each other. “John?” He asked, hating how uncertain his voice sounded.
John turned his head just enough to meet Sherlock’s eyes, his smile slipping only slightly. “Sorry, I suppose I should reintroduce myself as well.” He gave an odd, sarcastic bow. “John Moriarty-Watson. It’s a pleasure, I’m sure.”
No. No, no that couldn’t be right. He was dreaming; this had to be a nightmare. In a few seconds he would wake up to find he’d fallen asleep on the sofa, and John was in the kitchen making tea. This was just a very elaborate prank his mind was playing on him after months of searching for Moriarty.
Sherlock closed his eyes, and willed himself to wake up.
He heard John laugh and say mockingly, speaking to Jim, “look at his face. Have you ever seen a more pathetic sight?”
“I never would have suspected that Sherlock Holmes might actually have a heart,” Jim admitted, shifting even closer to John. After a short pause he said speaking rapidly, “Well, okay I did. But it seems I won’t have the chance to burn it out of him after all.”
John’s eyes were fixed on Sherlock’s face, taking in every single detail. “I’d say we were doing a fairly good job of it now.”
Sherlock finally opened his eyes again, reluctantly giving up the fantasy for the cold, painful truth he usually preferred. “You’re both Moriarty. That was why I could never pin all those crimes on just one person.”
Jim twisted his lips into a broken smile. “Mm, not exactly. No.”
He switched to beaming as John continued, with a smile Sherlock thought had only ever been for him, “You see, we have more of a partnership. We’re partners in crime, you could say. We each work the areas we’re the best suited for.”
“Johnny-boy here carries out our plans since he’s so good at tactics and making sure things get done correctly,” Jim explained in an overly cheerful voice. He was leaning against John now, looking up at him in a sickeningly sweet way as he spoke.
At this praise John straightened proudly, a smirk twisting his lips.
“And I, the criminal genius,” Jim continued with a dramatic flourish to himself, “have the pleasure of actually planning these crimes people come to us for.” He sighed wistfully, eyes closing partially. “You wouldn’t believe some of these crimes, Sherlock. There are the same boring, simple ones, of course. But some people in the world, they have such creative, delicious ideas.”
There was a manic gleam in Moriarty’s eyes that Sherlock didn’t quite trust. It made him wonder if that was how he looked when he had a brilliant revelation of his own. Was this why John had been so quick to move in after their first night and crime scene together?
“Don’t give away too much, Jim,” John scolded, although his smile showed he didn’t mean the reprimand. “You don’t want to make the game end too soon, do you?” He gently squeezed Jim’s arm. “I know how much you’ve enjoyed it.”
Jim smiled unkindly and leaned back into John’s touch. “Mm, I have,” he breathed softly. “All those wonderful riddles we thought of together. I only wish he’d gotten more of them wrong. You worked so hard setting up those bombs to be absolutely… killer.”
“You made those bombs?” Sherlock asked, put off-balance yet again. “What about all you said about ‘lives at stake’ and not letting innocents die?”
John’s gaze snapped to his, and there was a harshness there Sherlock didn’t recognize at all. “I had to play the part, didn’t I?” He said with an almost careless shrug. “Care about all the idiotic people in the world. You don’t have to worry about all the people we… took care of, Sherlock.” A small ironic smile flickered briefly. “They all deserved to die. Yet you managed to solve almost all our puzzles, so most of them got off free.” His nose wrinkled slightly, and John’s eyes hardened; “Except for that ancient sickly harpy in the block of flats.”
Jim let out a sharp noise- almost a shriek- and quickly pulled away from John. “John!” He whined, a hand clutching at the back of his neck. “What was that for?”
“She was a mistake,” John bit strictly, and it was the same look as when he snapped at Sherlock for not caring. A sign of the old army captain, if even that part of John’s past was true. All the army-created details he’d observed about John could very well have been just part of the act John had apparently been putting on for him. Sherlock wouldn’t be surprised by it any longer.
“Yes. Yes, I know,” Jim agreed sounding annoyed and as if he was repeating himself. “And I’ve told you, it’s been taken care of.”
“Good,” John replied with a sharp nod; then he held out his hand.
After a few seconds doubtful look, Jim reached out and took John’s hand in his.
All of a sudden Sherlock found himself feeling ill.
“You’re a doctor, John,” Sherlock specified plainly. “Aren’t doctors the ones who are supposed to save lives?”
An expression Sherlock had never expected to see on John’s face came to light. It was equal parts amusement, something twisted, and another sinister emotion Sherlock somehow couldn’t place at all.
“That’s one part of being a doctor,” John admitted in an obviously falsely jovial tone. “But there’s another side that no one really ever thinks about. And that’s how you get to hold people’s lives in your hands. You’re the one who gets to decide who lives and who dies.” His eyes widened, brightening with the topic. “And that power, Sherlock. It’s amazing.”
“And becoming an army doctor only served to sweeten your addiction,” Sherlock predicted calmly. This John was very different, capable of much more than Sherlock had predicted. Yet, Sherlock still found himself oddly fascinated by this darker, twisted side of John. It was something he’d never glimpsed even in the countless hours they spent in each other’s company. “Especially seeing as they were the ones to teach you your way around a gun.”
A broad grin spread across John’s face. “No, actually. They just gave me an excuse to use a gun. Jim’s father was the one who taught me how to use one.” He glanced slyly over at Jim. “He was good for a few things; including being the one to help us discover our… gifts.”
Jim nodded with a slip of a smile. “Mm, hmm. He was useful for a while, before he became too… boring.” He looked cheekily at John. “And then, well…”
“True,” John replied leisurely with a reminiscent look.
Sherlock studied the two of them carefully. “Do you two take care of everyone when they become too boring for you?”
“Not always,” Jim admitted with a light tug on John’s hand, “But whenever we need to.”
Sherlock focused in on Jim; “And how about me? Have the two of you become bored with me yet?”
Two twin expressions of shock and disbelief was his answer. “No, Sherlock! Never,” Jim exclaimed, actually sounding earnest.
“You’re much too interesting,” John added reassuringly. “I doubt we’ll ever become bored with you.”
All of those puzzles, the hostages; it really had just been a game to them. One to keep all three of them entertained. It was more to look forward to, even if without John’s company by his side since apparently John was already Moriarty’s; and seemed to have been for several years now.
“Well, this has been fun,” Sherlock began, sliding his hands back into his suit pockets. “It was a pleasure to meet both of you face to face. But, I had better be off now.” He half-turned away from the pair, “Things to do and all that.”
He froze at the echoing sound of a gun being cocked. “Not so fast, Sherlock,” John’s voice called from behind him, completely level.
Sherlock slowly turned back around to face the two criminal masterminds. And yes, just as he’d thought, John was holding that prized gun of his on him. “John?” Sherlock asked, his shaking voice betraying him.
But Jim was the one to answer, not John. “We still have some things to talk over, Sherlock. Now that you’ve seen us, we can’t exactly just let you go. And you also now know about Johnny-boy here.”
Sherlock looked between the two of them, carefully calculating his options. “So what happens now then? Are you really going to shoot me?”
The last comment was directed at John, who replied seriously, “Only if you choose to run.”
“And if I don’t?” Sherlock challenged, tightening his grip on the gun still in his pocket.
John smiled slyly at him, like he was private to some joke Sherlock didn’t know about. “Well, you can try to shoot me with the gun you’re currently fingering in your pocket. But I am a very, very good shot; so it’s likely you won’t even have time to get off the shot.”
Jim bounced excitedly in place, full of restrained energy. “He is an amazing crack shot. You wouldn’t believe what he can do.” He broke off to grin at John. “He can make any shot. That’s why I trust him with all the tiresome guns and weapons and clean up things. He’s just so good at it.”
“Well, I have been practicing since I was very young,” John admitted simply, still holding the gun on him. “And father was an excellent teacher.” He winked at Sherlock. “Taught me everything I know.”
“And you’ll use that to shoot me if I run,” Sherlock restated, watching both the gun and John. He didn’t think John would honestly shoot him, but if he was such a good shot then John would definitely hit his target.
“Or, if you try to shoot either of us,” John offered with a slight tilt of his head. “But think about it, Sherlock. There’s two of us, and only one of you. I don’t really want to shoot you; you’re just too much fun. But, I will if I have to. If you make me.”
“Are there any outcomes in this situation where I don’t get shot?” Sherlock asked, keeping calm. He glanced at Moriarty, who looked like he was enjoying a particularly interesting game.
John laughed cheerfully. His eyes glinted as he replied, “Of course there is.” He let a long, dramatic silence go by before he finally ended, “you can join us.”
He said it so simply, as if it was the most obvious solution. But Sherlock laughed it off. “Join you. You want me to join your partnership. The definition of a partnership is a force of two people.” He narrowed his eyes contemplatively. “You don’t really want a third.”
“Oh, but we do,” Jim chimed in, his posture relaxed as if he didn’t know there were two guns in the room. He sounded hopeful as he continued, “We all know how unhappy you’ve been lately, without any riddles to solve. But then John and I appeared, and you had all the games and crimes you could possibly want.”
Jim waved his hand lazily in the air. “So think carefully. You can either keep on how you are now, friendless, constantly bored, and just stumbling from high to high of each case. Or-“ Moriarty drew out the word carefully, “you can join John and I, and be truly happy. We can create crimes and solve them ourselves, or watch as the police chase their tails trying to solve them. We can show the world just how brilliant we are, and how pathetic the rest of them are. We’ll have so much fun together, Sherlock. You’ll never be bored again.”
He shared a look with John, who as a result lowered the gun a little. “We can promise you that entirely. The life you’ve always wanted, Sherlock; with no one, absolutely no one, to tell us no.”
“How about it, Sherlock?” John asked, finally joining the conversation. There was an odd, almost naively hopeful note in his voice. “Live with us above the rest of the world, the rest of those lowlifes. The three of us would be completely brilliant together. We could do anything we wanted. You wouldn’t have to hold yourself back anymore.” He smiled disarmingly, the smile one Sherlock had quickly gotten used to in the past months. “Holmes, Watson, and Moriarty; we would make history.”
Sherlock was silent as he first studied John, and then Moriarty carefully, weighing all his options and their consequences. This was the decision he’d been waiting for his entire life, he couldn’t make the wrong choice now.
After a very long time, with his fingers curled tightly around the grip of the gun in his pocket, Sherlock took a measured step forward.
I’m sorry. M.