A/N: Well, I'm back. Truth to tell, I'm a bit embarrassed about posting this here – for all the readers who are familiar with my "Lord of the Rings" work, this is quite a bit different. It's a new fandom, for one thing: the BBC's Sherlock, featuring a modern day recasting of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson set in 2010. I've been a fan of Sherlock Holmes since I was twelve years old, and I love this show. If you haven't seen it yet, do yourself a favor and check it out. It's awesome.
Disclaimer: The characters in this story are taken from the BBC's modern day recasting of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes. The plot is loosely derived from an episode of Smallville, of all things. So I own even less than usual here.
Beta and Brit-pick done by the amazing Melaszka, who tirelessly corrected all of my American failings to make this story into something that hopefully even native Londoners can enjoy.
The Burning Game
"If you are clever enough to bring destruction upon me, rest assured that I shall do as much to you."
– James Moriarty, The Final Problem
Sherlock was seriously beginning to re-examine his preference for taxis over other modes of transport. Although the expense had never been a concern for him as it was for John Watson, and although they were versatile, quick and convenient, there remained some significant downsides to the London taxi that were nonetheless becoming more and more difficult to ignore.
At this moment, in particular, the downside preying most heavily on his mind was that stepping into a cab necessarily put one, however temporarily, into the power of a stranger. This had not concerned him in the past, even in the aftermath of the murderous cabbie and the serial suicides when John had decreed that Sherlock could not as much as take a taxi to New Scotland Yard unaccompanied. That bout of nannying had lasted a grand total of three days. Sherlock had put an end to it when the annoyance of having his footsteps dogged finally outweighed the amusement of seeing Dr. John Watson, decorated captain of the Royal Infantry, play mother hen. He had ended it by simply disappearing for an afternoon – not long enough to really worry John, but sufficient to prove the point that, having spent his adulthood dodging Mycroft Holmes and the combined power of the British government, one psychosomatically lame army doctor was not going to slow Sherlock down.
The demonstration had been a success. John had grumbled, but backed off. Now, though, as Sherlock tugged vainly at the rear door handle, he couldn't help but wonder if John had had a point.
It was not cabs themselves that were dangerous, Sherlock decided, testing the locking mechanism again. It was electronically sealed, that much was obvious. Even if he ripped the lock from the door it would not open. No, it was not cabs that were dangerous. It was this particular cab, which was, of course, not a taxi at all, for all that someone had gone to tremendous lengths to make it look like one.
Sherlock had realised this approximately two seconds after he'd sat down, the instant he'd had his first real look at the car's interior. It was too clean – someone had tried to conceal that fact by scattering the crumbs from a bag of crisps on the floor, but the lack of corresponding grease prints on the door handle gave the ruse away. It was too new – the model was three years old, but the lack of wear on the seats and floor mats said that it had never been used. And then, of course, there were the windows. They were tinted exactly the same shade as all cabs were, but that did not quite conceal the delicate web of lines running through the glass, lines that blared the message for anyone with the wit to see it: bullet proof glass.
By then, however, it had been too late. They'd pulled away from the kerb, and as the cabbie merged into traffic Sherlock constructed a decision tree.
Fact: Car built as prison, disguised as cab.
Conclusion: abductor is wealthy, and thorough.
Fact: Not-cab sent to Baker Street/same-time/Harlow case accepted.
Conclusion: Harlow case a lure.
He knew it. He knew it. It was just too good to be true. Weeks of stagnation broken only by what paltry few cases Scotland Yard had managed to dredge up, barely worth the ten minutes it took to crack them, and then this had come in on the website. The Harlow case had promised an actual challenge, a puzzle worth thinking about, and of course it was a trap. Sherlock spared a fraction of a second to mourn this loss and then returned to focus.
Summation: well-planned abduction; self known/monitored by abductor; money/resources evident.
Hypothesis 1: Mycroft.
Data 1a: Mycroft interactions ≤ 1/week per mutual agreement (ref: The Piano Incident, 1997/06/18).
Data 1b: Mycroft visited 4 days ago (cross-ref: The Vine Files (dull)).
Conclusion 1: Hypothesis false, discard.
Hypothesis 2: Moriarty.
Data 2a: Moriarty in Bolivia (ref: Mycroft)
Data 2b: Moriarty file incomplete/inaccurate (ref: Mycroft averted gaze, touched tiepin when questioned by John, 2010/06/08. Well done, John.)
Data 2c: Moriarty statement/promise/vow re: self, burning heart out of.
Conclusion 2: Hypothesis true.
Conclusion 2a: Mycroft WAS WRONG! Cross-file, save. To be retrieved for future reference: self/Mycroft interactions; Christmas dinners – expiry date: 2 years. To be retrieved if/when Mycroft mentions Piano Incident – expiry date: never.
Watching his 'cab driver' in the mirror (tan on neck and hands, heavily muscled, 9mm revolver in left coat pocket, scar below right eye inexpertly concealed by makeup: conclusion 1 – hitman, obvious, dull. Conclusion 2 – Moriarty unconcerned that self realises abduction. Conclusion 3 – escape not possible.) Sherlock tried opening the lock of his door. Then, in the spirit of making the experiment complete, he tried the window. Neither budged.
They were traveling west, he realised, sparing a glance out the window. For a moment he wondered if Moriarty intended to take him outside the city entirely, but the driver pulled off Western Avenue just before Hanger Lane. The Park Royal Industrial Estate, then.
Sherlock considered his options.
Option 1: Choke driver until unconscious.
Result: car crash.
Self injury/death probability: medium. Driver body/seat shields self from crash. Angle of attack minimises target for gun.
Bystander injury/death probability: high. Car trajectory variable/uncontrolled during struggle. Sherlock was rather proud of himself for remembering to factor this into his calculations. John would have been pleased.
Escape probability: low. Car bullet proof: force of impact at 70 km/hr reinforced steel breaking point.
Rescue probability: low. Car tailed by Moriarty's agents.
Sherlock could see them, two cars back: a 2004 Toyota, blue with a scratch on the driver-side door, had been following them for the past three minutes. They'd reach him long before any ambulance or police car did.
Option 2: text John/Lestrade/Mycroft.
This was, undoubtedly, the course of action that John would prefer. They were passing through the Industrial Estate now. The traffic thinned out until it was just the two cars travelling through the pothole-ridden streets, the Toyota twenty feet behind the ersatz taxi and not even trying to pretend it wasn't following them.
Definitely Moriarty, Sherlock concluded. Mycroft would never tolerate that kind of sloppiness from his agents, even when he knew that Sherlock knew they were there.
Texting John would unquestionably be the safe thing to do. John would claim it was also the sensible thing to do. John had a whole lexicon of words that sounded the same as the words Sherlock used, but on examination had an entirely different meaning. Words like sensible, safe, good and normal were very different in John-speak than they were in Sherlock's world.
Texting John or the police and telling them where he was (driving north on Levine Road, crossing the junction with Mill Road, broken traffic light, railway crossing a quarter mile ahead) would be the sensible thing to do, in John's world. It would lead to rescue, and Sherlock would then be safe. It was what any normal person would do, and Sherlock would be an idiot (another John word) to do otherwise.
And he would miss the chance to confront Moriarty, and he would never know what brilliant madness he'd come up with this time.
Sherlock's phone remained in his jacket pocket, untouched. He gave up trying the door latch and settled back against the seat, content to wait and see where the car took him.
It was better this way, he told himself a few minutes later as they approached the tracks. The last time he'd met Moriarty, John had nearly died. This way he was well out of it, and safe. The memory of those explosives strapped to his friend's chest still had the power to make Sherlock's throat tight, and he wondered absently if John would consider this a good thing, a normal reaction to have. He decided that he would. He also decided to award himself full points for putting John's safety above his own (impulse for self-sacrifice/regard for others + context: friendship = normal), and never mind that it had come a distant second to his driving curiosity about Moriarty.
The car bumped over the railway tracks and stopped. Sherlock glanced up as the engine switched off. In the next instant he lunged forward and launched himself at the driver's side door, but he had to scramble over the seats and the door slammed shut again just as he reached it.
He didn't need the sound of the lock activating to know that he was well and truly trapped. He also didn't need to look outside to know what happened next. The blue Toyota pulled up behind him and his driver climbed in. Its engine revved as it executed a fast three-point turn, and then it roared away with a spatter of gravel, leaving Sherlock imprisoned alone in a car that was parked directly across the railway track of the London-Oxford line.
It was Thursday, which meant that the next train was due to pass through here (Sherlock checked his watch) in 12 minutes.
His phone beeped.
Sherlock couldn't quite suppress the smile that came to his lips. He breathed in, acutely aware of the rush of air in his lungs, the pounding of his heart as he drew the phone from his pocket and slid a finger across the screen to unlock it. The adrenalin was coursing through him, firing his senses, sharpening his mind. Breathing was boring, existence was boring, but this, this was being alive. It was better than nicotine patches, better than cocaine. This was what he lived for.
His voice, when he answered, was perfectly steady.
"Sherlock, my dear," and it was James Moriarty, speaking with his own voice for a change. There was no hostage between them this time, no broken gasps or sobs or hysteria to be filtered out of Sherlock's calculations. Of course. They had finished with that sixteen months ago, at the pool. Jim had nothing left to hide from him.
"I suppose you're wondering why I brought you here," Jim continued.
"Not really," Sherlock said. "I dispatched Sebastian Moran six weeks ago. That's your second in command gone, two-thirds of your London network dismantled, your operations in China, Russia, and Dubai suspended, and over 100 of your operatives jailed, killed or actively informing against you. It was only a matter of time before you struck back."
"Is that what you think this is?" Jim was smiling. Sherlock could hear it in his voice. "Me striking back?"
"The evidence is suggestive." Sherlock lowered the phone as he rolled onto his back and brought his feet up. He took aim and kicked as hard as he could. His feet hit the driver's window with such force that the ricochet jarred painfully up his spine, but the reinforced glass barely shivered in response.
When he picked up the phone again Jim sounded annoyed. "Oh, don't be tedious. I told you, I'm not going to kill you. At least, not without giving you a sporting chance."
"Ah." Sherlock sat up and smoothed the wrinkles from his suit jacket. "So that's what this is. Another game."
"Of course!" Jim giggled, sounding far from sane. "That's all it's ever been between us, Sherlock. A game."
Sherlock grinned. He couldn't help it – the delight was bubbling up inside him, and John would be horrified, would say that happy excitement was not a normal reaction to being locked in a death-trap at the whim of a homicidal madman, that it was definitely not good – but Sherlock's mind was racing and his nerves were humming, and he hadn't been bored for almost thirty minutes now and this was wonderful.
"All right," he said. "Your move."
There was a beep, and the digital display of the faux cab's meter changed. It switched to a black screen, blank but for a series of ten dashes and a rudimentary gallows drawn in white. Sherlock blinked.
"Hangman? That's the game? Hangman?"
"You needn't sound so disappointed," Jim's voice was petulant. "This is just the beginning. It'll get better, I promise."
Sherlock sighed. The last time he had played hangman had been with Mycroft, during an interminable flight from London to Melbourne for one of Mother's mandatory family holidays. Mycroft had hanged him with loquacious, and Sherlock had sulked for a week. Then he had memorised the Oxford English Dictionary, at which point Mycroft had declared hangman to be a child's game and beneath his dignity to play. Sherlock had been eight.
"If you say so. E."
The display changed. _ _ _ E _ _ _ _ _ _
Sherlock narrowed his eyes. "A."
Jim giggled. "Ah, ah, sorry, my dear." A crudely drawn head appeared on the gallows, complete with two eyes, a downward turned mouth and curly hair.
"The face and hair don't come until last!" Sherlock protested.
"My game, my rules," Jim sing-songed. "Besides, I like your hair."
Sherlock rolled his eyes. "I."
The screen changed again, this time with a more satisfactory result. _ I _ E _ _ _ _ _ _
Sherlock glanced up the track, the short distance before it curved around a bend and out of sight. Six minutes left.
"Oops, sorry!" The hanged man's head acquired a stick line body.
"S." A leg attached itself to the body. Jim made a noise of regret.
"D." Another leg. The figure was half-hanged now, with five minutes to go. Sherlock hissed between his teeth.
"T." This time two letters appeared. T I _ E T _ _ _ _ _
A train whistle sounded in the distance. "Uh oh," Jim said.
"What?" Sherlock snapped.
"Well, it seems that the 4:15 from Oxford is running a bit early today," Jim said. "I'd have taken that into consideration, but my contacts have been rather curtailed of late. You know how it is."
The gates of the level crossing were lowering, blocking off the empty road. "Sorry," Jim said.
Sherlock sat back in his seat. The train was less than a hundred yards away by the sound and coming fast. He couldn't do a thing about that, so he ignored it. And he concentrated.
Thus far he had been using the letters that were statistically most likely to occur in the English language, given the presence of the E that he'd first established. It was a method that worked, but it was slow. But this was James Moriarty, and he was Sherlock Holmes. It wasn't just a game, it was a message.
"U." Another letter appeared. T I _ E T _ _ U _ _
"Burn," Sherlock murmured to himself. Then, aloud, "It isn't a word, it's a phrase. 'Time to burn.'"
"Oh, well done," Jim said, and the car door clicked open as the letters flashed on the screen. T I M E T O B U R N
Sherlock barely saw them. The glow of triumph had vanished as the import of the message hit him, and he was throwing himself out of the door and rolling under the gate even as the train roared around the bend.
Then he was on his feet and running, racing up the empty road while the train slammed full force into the car behind him. There was a deafening crash and a long scream of metal. A wall of heat hit his back and sparks showered around him, stinging his neck, but Sherlock didn't look round.
The thought was hammering in his mind, in his gut: Burn. I will burn you. I will burn the heart out of you.
Time to burn.