Sherlock intercepted his brother at breakfast the next morning. Mycroft raised an eyebrow when he saw him at the table, and Sherlock scowled when Mycroft and John shared a smile that he was perfectly aware was about him. They had been talking, probably planning some way to force him to eat more. John in particular seemed to worry unduly about his eating habits. He expected nothing less than plotting and manipulation from Mycroft, but it annoyed him that his brother would involve John.
It annoyed him that his brother had anything to do with John at all.
"What have you found on Gardner?" he demanded.
"Good morning to you, too," Mycroft replied, leisurely stirring his coffee. He'd given up toast again, Sherlock noted with satisfaction.
"Tea?" John asked, handing Sherlock a cup without waiting for an answer.
Sherlock obediently took a sip before he set it aside. He wasn't going to let himself be distracted before he'd forced Mycroft to talk to him.
"You've been talking to Lestrade. What has he turned up?"
"Toast?" John asked, handing him toast smeared with jam. Sherlock frowned at the jam but took a bite anyway, his eyes never leaving Mycroft's face.
"Has he found other doctors? Other pills?"
Mycroft sighed wearily. "Although I appreciate the interest, Sherlock, I thought we'd agreed that you wouldn't be involved in this investigation. While John may believe you can help this case without leaving the house, I know you better. You can't do anything in moderation, and you can't convince me that this time will be different."
Sherlock scoffed at that. "As if you knew the first thing about me."
"He can do this," John said quietly. He looked at Mycroft pleadingly. "It means so much to him."
Mycroft frowned at Sherlock, as if he had done something to make John take his side. He tried to stamp out the vicious thrill it gave him.
"Gregory has turned up a few leads, and the Taskforce has turned up a few more," Mycroft admitted reluctantly. "There have been some enquiries made about where the pills may have been produced on a large scale–"
"–Domestic production is unlikely but not impossible, and if they have been coming from overseas, how have they been getting past customs?" Sherlock mused.
Mycroft nodded. "Indeed. If, as we suspect, this is a large operation, there would have to be some trace of the pills being either produced or shipped. Our own labs have already been under scrutiny, and we're reasonably sure our chemists haven't been up to anything on the side."
"Your surveillance has always been substandard," Sherlock argued. "It would be far too easy to outwit your investigators."
"Nevertheless, we're confident in our findings," Mycroft told him shortly.
"If we can't find the pills, we need to find the doctors," John cut in, "and stop them."
"We need to find out what they know, more like." Sherlock took another sip of his tea. "Someone must know something. Not what the pills actually are, but where they come from, or some mid-level delivery or contact person. No one higher in the chain then that, I shouldn't think. I doubt that the mastermind of this particular plan has put themselves at any risk whatsoever. They would never be that stupid."
"As I said, we've been following a few scattered leads to doctors, extrapolating from the characteristics of Gardner's office."
"There have to be more than a few."
"Well, we've turned up a few, Sherlock. Might I remind you that we have limited resources at our disposal? Especially as we're trying to keep rumors from spreading about this very issue. You'll have to be patient."
"You should be looking at medical staff who have had a series of professional complaints filed against them. Who else would risk everything to give illegal suppressants to omegas?"
"You think the doctors were desperate?" John asked.
"Perhaps giving out the pills was the only way they could keep their jobs."
"Maybe they honestly thought they were helping the omegas," John suggested.
"Beta doctors have no reason to care about omegas," Sherlock said dismissively.
"They do if they're human," John pointed out. "Relations aren't not always as black and white as you think, Sherlock."
"Betas have no real reason to risk their lives to help omegas, John, that's a fact. They don't benefit the same way that alphas would. It makes no sense at all."
"Maybe not to you," John sighed.
Sherlock ignored him. "You need to focus your efforts," he told Mycroft. "Finding out where the pills are coming from would give us far more information than any of the doctors."
"Yes, Sherlock, I'm aware. We do know how to handle an investigation of this magnitude, you know." Mycroft's tone was sharp.
"Obviously not, or you would have made more progress by now."
John put a warning hand on his arm and Sherlock swallowed the rest of what he'd been planning to snap at his brother.
"I would appreciate it if you would keep me in the loop," Sherlock said, his tone deliberately mild. "Otherwise I'll just ask Lestrade."
Mycroft eyed him skeptically. "I will see what I can manage," he told him.
Sherlock knew him well enough to realize that was the most he was going to get. When Mycroft was determined to be difficult he was impossible for Sherlock to unravel. He stomped up to his room and slammed the door behind him. He did, at least, bring his tea. John would be happy.
Sherlock had never been good at being patient.
He drummed his fingers on the desk, trying to decide which line of inquiry would be the most useful. If the pills were being produced in the country, what facility could possibly do so? And, more importantly, where were they getting the chemical components? That would be the easiest thing to trace.
He was still going up one blind internet search alley after another when there was a quiet tap on the door.
"I brought you another slice of toast," John said, holding up the plate.
Sherlock sighed without looking up. "I wish I knew a hacker. You're not any good with computers, are you? No, of course not."
"I'm surprised you're not good at that sort of thing as well as everything else."
"I can't be good at everything," Sherlock complained. "I need to focus on certain things, and hacking has never been one of them. It's better left to real experts."
"Probably for the best, anyway," John admitted. "You have access to too much data as it is."
"There's no such thing."
"Of course you'd say that. What are you trying to hack into?"
"Corporations that do a lot of shipping."
"Well, that doesn't narrow it down much, does it?"
"Corporations that do a lot of shipping of certain items. I have a few ideas, but most of them hinge on finding characteristics to the shipping logs that I clearly can't access. If I could talk to someone there…"
"You know you can't," John said firmly. "Find another way."
Sherlock went back to drumming his fingers. Finally he closed his laptop with a satisfying bang.
"You really shouldn't take your frustration out on your electronics," John told him.
"There's nothing to be done. I need to go back to Bart's."
"I promised Mycroft –"
"I'm only going to Bart's," Sherlock protested. "I need to examine the pill bottle. It's most likely made in China, but there might be something about it that will give us a clue. Something. Anything."
"I said I wouldn't let you out of my sight," John reminded him.
"I'm hardly going to be breaking into any offices. I won't be in any danger."
John reluctantly nodded. "Tell Mycroft where you're going. And promise you'll be careful, all right?"
"I'm always careful," Sherlock shrugged, which somehow didn't seem to make John any less worried.
Being frustrated at Bart's was slightly better than being frustrated at home, though not by much.
The pill bottle had proved less helpful than he had hoped. Entirely generic, even the fingerprints had been smudged off, which was partly his own fault.
Still, it always felt better to blame someone else. Mycroft was always an excellent target.
Frustrated, he sealed the pill bottle back into the clear evidence bag he'd gotten it in from Lestrade. It wasn't going to tell him anything he didn't already know. It was incredibly annoying.
He left Bart's and stood indecisively out front for a moment, trying to decide what to do next. He'd sworn to John that he'd come directly home as soon as his experiments were done, but the thought of admitting that he hadn't found anything, to John of all people, rankled immensely. He liked it – loved it – when John looked at him as if Sherlock were the most brilliant person he'd ever met. Admitting he had failed to Mycroft was bad enough; admitting it to John was nearly unthinkable.
There were just a few leads he'd like to check out, and unless they paid off spectacularly, neither John nor Mycroft would ever have to know he'd done it. It would be easy.
He'd put his hand up for a cab when a familiar voice spoke up behind him.
"I'm surprised you're out and about on your own."
Sherlock whirled around in surprise and came face-to-face with Moriarty, who was leaning nonchalantly against the side of the hospital, wearing sunglasses and a pinstriped suit. He was holding an open newspaper.
"I rather thought you and your little omega friend were just about inseparable," Moriarty went on. "I hope you haven't had a row. Young love does seem to burn brightly."
Sherlock gaped at him. "You…"
Moriarty folded the paper smartly. "It's time to make things happen, I'm afraid. Tell your brother I'm ready to chat."
Sherlock's eyes narrowed. "He won't meet with you."
"I didn't think it would be easy. When are you going to learn, young Mr. Holmes, that I'm always one step ahead of you?" Moriarty smirked. "I arranged to get my hands on a little leverage about an hour ago. I'm sure your brother won't want him back missing any parts."
Sherlock felt panic blossom in his chest. "What did you do to John?" he demanded, taking several steps toward Moriarty without even thinking about it. "Don't you dare hurt him!"
Moriarty chuckled. "You have a lot to learn, apparently. I really expected better." He stepped past Sherlock and opened the door of a waiting car. "Tell your brother to meet me in the same place we met last time. Midnight tonight. I like a bit of symmetry, don't you? And to come alone, of course. Surely he's smart enough to know that." He gave Sherlock a grin. "Ciao, Mr. Holmes."
Sherlock watched the car pull away, noting the license number absently. He hardly expected it to matter; Moriarty would have planned for that, surely. He felt completely numb. Moriarty had John. Again. If he could just…
As soon as the car pulled into traffic Sherlock had his phone in his hand. He fully expected to get voice mail.
"You answered," Sherlock said, surprised for the second time. He was so relieved he felt dizzy. "They let you keep your phone?"
There was a pause. "What are you talking about? What's going on?"
"You're at home?"
"Of course I am."
Sherlock thought fast. "Is Mycroft still there?"
"No, he left for the office hours ago. Why?"
"I have to go."
He disconnected without a second thought.
"What have you done?" Mycroft asked as soon as he answered.
"I saw Moriarty," Sherlock said quickly. "He wants to meet with you tonight. He said he had John, but John's fine. He was playing with me."
He heard Mycroft catch his breath. "What, exactly, did he say?"
"That he had leverage to make you come, and that you wouldn't want him back in pieces. But obviously–"
"He has Gregory," Mycroft said shortly, and hung up.
Sherlock was left staring at his phone in the middle of the street.