"Sherlock..." John asks quietly, "how close is this going to be to what you did? Did you really kill a child?" He's not sure he wants to know the answer. It's not as if he imagines the moral distinction would have any meaning to the man, but... he doesn't like to think he would go that far.

Sherlock is sitting cross-legged on the sofa, his fingers steepled under his chin, nicotine patches dotting his arm. His eyes flicker open at John's words. "No," he replies. "That at least is all Moriarty's invention. But I have no doubt the other particulars will all be accurate. It is not a particularly pleasant death. I was in the mood for getting my hands dirty."

John rubs at his forehead. He has had too little sleep with these cases, and a headache is threatening. A certain degree of moral conflict is not exactly helping. It's only been two weeks since the kill Sherlock set up, and he's not... he's not quite come to terms with all this yet. "And... have you ever...?"

"No." Sherlock's eyes close again. "When children die, it draws too much attention. I do this because I have to, because there are never enough engaging problems in London to keep my mind occupied. I don't take risks. I might enjoy the challenge, but I enjoy not being in prison far more. Can you imagine how dull it must be in there?"

It is a surprising weight of his mind to know he's never... even if Sherlock's reasons are more logical than moral. There's just something about the idea of hurting kids that doesn't sit right. John would like to think he still has some standards, poor though they might now be. He knows he's a bit of a sick, sadistic bastard these days, but he could be worse. And so could Sherlock. That's what makes him different from this Moriarty. It's a thin line, oh so thin, but when you're the kind of people they are, it's all you've got. Even if only they would see it that way.

"So, what should we be expecting?" John asks, fiddling with a piece of somewhat questionable toast. It's just after midnight by now, and while Sherlock may not be subject to the weaknesses of ordinary mortals, John is another matter. There's fuck all to eat in the flat though, and the last of this week's takeaway money went on sodding taxis.

"A mugging gone wrong." Sherlock cracks a hint of a smile. "I know, it's not really me is it. But it's a common enough occurrence in the city that the police don't think anything amiss of it. I don't believe anyone was ever even charged." John's blood runs cold.

"And... that's going to happen to some poor kid if we don't stop it. Christ! He's not more than twelve!"

"Mmm, as I said, it got a bit messy. Knives. Much more intimate than a gun. You should try it some time, it might strike your fancy."

"I don't think this is really an appropriate time," John says hotly. There's a little part inside of him that perks up at the idea, of really feeling it when their life slips away from them, as they choke out their last breath and the light goes out of their eyes, but he forces it down. Not. The. Time. Some kid could die, and he wants to... No!

"Nothing at their home," Sherlock says, thinking out loud. "Taken on the way from the bus stop to the flat, no obvious signs of a struggle that would tell us exactly where. Moriarty has men working for him, he must do, too much to do alone. Clues, he said there were clues, but where?"

John drops his head into his hands. He hates being able to do nothing, but this is what Sherlock does. There's nothing he can say that Sherlock won't have though of already. He just has to sit here and act as a sounding board.

"You can go to sleep if you want," Sherlock says. "I have an errand for you to run in the morning in any case."

"And let you stay up all night? I don't think so. Sherlock, you need to sleep as well, you'll end up collapsing from exhaustion. You've done it before. No, I'm not going to bed until you do."

"Then perhaps I should join you there," Sherlock says, raising an eyebrow. "Sexual release has, in the past, been beneficial to my thinking process."

John stares at him with a mixture of embarrassment, surprise and lust, but he really can't say no to an offer like that, dammit. He can never say no to Sherlock. "Riding crop?" he suggests hopefully.

Sherlock gives him a look dark with want. "Why not?"

He forgets to ask about the errand.

Sherlock's skin is ghostly pale, the long planes of his back stretched out against the sheets. Unmarked. Flawless. John trails the tip of the crop down the length of his spine, teasing. Sherlock's breath hitches. It's a beautiful sound. His hands twist in the rope around his wrists. John lets the anticipation grow. He thinks, secretly, that Sherlock likes not being able to quite predict this. That that's one of the reasons he gets off on this.

He raises his arm and brings the crop down hard. The sound of leather smacking on flesh is fucking gorgeous. Sherlock lets out a little whine of pleasure, arching under the blow. John lays down the strokes methodically, criss-crossing up his ribs, striping his shoulder-blades, leaving red marks in his wake. Not enough to raise blood, not yet. He wants to take his time.
The repetitive movements, and Sherlock's muffled cries of pain, act together to lull him almost into a trance. His mind is quiet of stray thoughts, concentrated on Sherlock alone, on the impact of the crop, on the welts rising on his perfect, pale skin, on the sounds he make that go straight to John's cock.

It's the pain, John knows that he gets off on inflicting pain, but it's not the same as taking a life, and he wouldn't want it to be. He wants this power, this control, but he wants it so he can protect Sherlock. Take care of him. Give him what he needs. Make him fall apart in his hands and surrender that iron will. Maybe it all comes from the same place, but he would never take Sherlock further than he wanted to go.

He puts the crop down on the mattress and leans forward, digging his fingernails into the marks he has made, raising blood and making Sherlock cry out in what sounds like near ecstasy. John can't help but dip his head and lap at the beads of red, tasting it, soothing the hot skin. Sherlock twists his head to look at him. He looks drugged on the endorphins.

"John. John. I want you to fuck me," he says softly, stretching underneath him, rubbing himself against John's hard cock. Well, John thinks, it would be rude to refuse.

He doesn't bother with too much in the way of preparation, just slicks himself up with a little lube, and pushes in slowly. It feels glorious, sinking himself into Sherlock's body, feeling him clench around him and push back towards him, letting out breathy moans that choke a little with the burn he must be feeling. It is hurting him just right.

He begins to move, long, patient thrusts, Sherlock's body pulled tight against him, streaks of blood smearing from his back over John's chest. He bites down on the point between neck and shoulder, and Sherlock shouts, wordless, needy. Love, John thinks to himself, I love him. Maybe he has loved him since the moment they met, or since he first saw Sherlock at a crime scene, explaining the particulars of death with a calm voice and no pause for breath, or since Sherlock showed him what it was to kill because you could, because you wanted it, enjoyed it, loved it.

Whatever it is, whenever it was, he knows, he's sure, he loves him. He whispers it into Sherlock's curls, damp with sweat, with a hand around his throat that is possessive, not choking, with his nails scoring lines in his skin, and as he comes, buried balls deep in him.

John closes his eyes, but only for a moment, before he pulls out and flips Sherlock over, just enough slack in the rope to manage it, and brings him to completion with the heat of his mouth and the skill of his tongue. He doesn't need Sherlock to say the words back to him. He knows anyway.

Sherlock sprawls out on the bed, muscles relaxed and buzzing pleasantly, the pain from his back a comfortable warm burn. John is asleep next to him, curled into his side, a possessive arm thrown over his waist. It will be something of a pity to leave, but there is a problem that needs solving, and not all that long to solve it in. And so far he has no leads. Moriarty promised him clues, but he hasn't yet seen them. The thought that this man might actually manage to best him... It's infuriating. But he is determined, and he knows where he must go next.

Once, some years ago, in the time between leaving Cambridge and discovering the fun that could be had as a consulting detective, Sherlock had lived on the streets. It had been a logical choice, or so he had told himself at the time. Mycroft was busy working his way up through the ranks in Whitehall, and he didn't have the pull or the time to keep as close a meddling eye as he would probably have liked, so it only made sense to Sherlock to take the money he sent for rent, and use it to buy cocaine. What use was a place to stay to him when his mind was stagnating through sheer, crippling boredom? The drugs were the only thing that made his existence bearable. They were the only thing that was important.

Being a homeless junkie was certainly less dull than being an unemployed student. The people were more engaging for one, and being forced to find places to camp out when his body obliged him to obey petty human impulses like sleep did marvels for his knowledge of London's back alleys and other hidden places. At the time, he hadn't anticipated how useful these connections would become in his line of work, but as it is, he can't really find it in him to regret those months, and what he learnt in them.

Peter Thomson's flat was in a rather average area of London, but it had its seedy side, and there were always the homeless. Sherlock kept up his contacts within London's underbelly, and though he didn't know anyone in the area personally, he knew how to get people talking. If anyone had seen anything, it would be them.

Careful enquiry until two in the morning eventually found him a woman who claimed to have seen something. She is thin and twitchy, paranoia, certainly indicative of some form of mental illness, but she is lucid enough when she speaks to him. She saw a man pulling a kid through an alleyway to a building site where a white van waited, bundling him into the back. He must have given the kid something, because he wasn't crying out. It does not entirely surprise Sherlock to find out that the site belonged to Taller & Sons, the same company that owned the flats in Moriarty's first case.

He gets a description of the man, 5'11, red hair, wearing jeans, working boots, a leather jacket and gloves. A faded scar across the right cheek. Sherlock thanks her, pays her well, and leaves. Well, he has something to go on at least. Certainly a career criminal, so he will probably be in Scotland Yard's database, but there isn't enough time to trek halfway across London at this time of night and be hassled by the lethargic reaction times of the police. No, Moriarty won't have chosen this man at random. He knows what can be done in the time given, and solving it will be possible. He just has to think.

Oh. Oh yes. Red hair, the scar, the mugging, even the original area it had taken place in. Put them all together... Jacob 'Stabber' Wilson, a small time thief he had helped but away for assault with a deadly weapon some time near the start of his career. He had worked that same area of Soho. He has to give Moriarty this; the parallels are rather pleasing. Well. He has a name as well. Find Wilson, find the child, solve the puzzle. He gets out his phone to call Lestrade.

Three hours later, at six in the morning, and with three hours left to go on the clock before Alex Thomson is worked over with a switchblade and dumped behind a skip somewhere, they have made infuriatingly little progress. Wilson has returned to the same address in Soho, but he hasn't been back there since midday yesterday, and no-one has seen him since. Of course, Sherlock wasn't really expecting to find him hiding the child in his flat, no, that would be too easy. And he can get a lot done in three hours, if he has the data to work with. However Wilson appears to be unnervingly good at hiding his tracks. It has to be Moriarty's doing.

In a spare moment, Sherlock takes the time to text John with a wake up call. Mycroft will send a car round at quarter past six, since he has been persuaded that settling for John's 'help' in solving the Bruce-Parrington case is better than no help at all. Legwork. It is beneath Mycroft's sense of dignity. But it will give John something to do, something to take his mind off this case.

Message sent, Sherlock tucks his phone back into his inside pocket and takes another look around the flat. Something, there must be something here that will tell him where the man has gone. Bedroom spartan, some fold-out posters from Nuts magazine on the walls – how puerile – clothes in the wardrobe recently laundered, no scents or fibres or dirt to give him any clues. Takeout menus in one of the kitchen drawers, foil cartons in the bin, so a possible place to start at least, though it's unlikely anyone will know him well enough to predict his movements, and even a man as lazy as Wilson won't be ordering in breakfast. Stacks of DVDs – pirates – by the 40" TV – stolen – in the living room, two threadbare old sofas, a bag of marijuana left lying on the coffee table.

Sherlock frowns in annoyance. All the haunts he recalls from the last time he encountered Wilson have drawn a blank. Lestrade and his men are checking out all the deserted buildings in the area, those they don't need warrants for, but so far they have turned up nothing. But it won't be that obvious. Either Moriarty has provided somewhere for the man to go to ground, or he is with one of his criminal friends. There isn't enough time to search all the possibilities. Not without help, and even Lestrade can't get warrants that fast.

Think, think, think! There has to be something, there has to be.

Three hours left. But pressure, that's good. He always thinks better under pressure. He won't give Moriarty the satisfaction of letting him win.

Things do not turn out as planned. Sherlock realises this at half past eight when he runs up against yet another dead end, a blind alleyway that is too carefully constructed to be anything but planned. Moriarty has made good on his promise to make things harder for him, and now... well now, there's a chance that he might just get the better of him.

It's not something he would like to even admit is possible. It's hard enough when Mycroft catches him out, and at least then he has the comfort of knowing they share DNA. Unless Mummy has been up to something none of them know about, Moriarty is a different beast altogether. An unknown constant, a free radical, silent and deadly as polonium. Perhaps they won't kill him, when they catch him. He's entertaining. It might be playing with fire, but when has Sherlock ever been afraid of getting burnt? Maybe they can take this game further, stretch it out longer. But he has to be cautious for now. He still doesn't know if there's a deeper motive than fun behind all this. He has John's safety to think about now, not just his own.

The problem is there are too many places in Soho to dump a body. Even accounting for the parameters which have to be roughly the same – he'd shared the clippings of the original murders with Lestrade an hour before, just to give some kind of impression that he still knew what he was doing, he hates feeling powerless like this, when there's no safe-word to make it all go away – it still leaves too much ground for them to cover. And white vans are too common to look out for.

30 minutes. Wilson may already be in position with the boy. He's not going to solve it in time. Well, it is galling, but he can let Moriarty have this one. He's got two out of three, and two more to go. Getting angry now would just give his enemy an advantage.

But he's not going to give up quite yet. Half an hour is longer than it seems. Even a near-win is better than none.

There's blood everywhere. It's the first thing John notices. The dawn light shines through the clouds, illuminating the pools of red running along the depressions between the cobblestones. Ten pints of blood in an adult male, seven or eight in a boy. It's still enough to paint swathes of ground crimson. It's not the worst thing he's ever seen, but it certainly ranks pretty highly. He should feel... horror. Sorrow at the least. He ought to know by now those feelings aren't coming back. Not even for a kid.

Sherlock is waiting for him by the police tape, tense with something like anger, eyes blazing, fists shoved deep into his pockets. Of course, it won't be because a child is dead, oh no, John knows him better than that. He's angry because Moriarty beat him. Because he couldn't solve the problem in time. That's all. It should make John sick. But how can it, when he's shared a bed with this man, shared his heart, shared his darkest self, the self that wants to trail fingers through this blood just to see what patterns it would make, to track spatter he has seen many times before, while people he knew died beneath his hands, from bullets, from shrapnel, deaths he couldn't control like he controls these new ones...

He puts it out of his mind. Later. Later. When this is all over, he and Sherlock will have time to do whatever they want. Whatever they need. But for the moment there's a little huddled body poking out from behind the hulking metal skip, someone they – he – couldn't save, and in an hour or two there will be another picture on the pink phone, and someone else's life on the line.

"He's smarter than I initially gave him credit for," Sherlock says quietly. "I've been chasing his ghosts all night."

"You'll catch him in the end though," John says, trying to reassure him. Sherlock makes a non-committal noise.

"We shall see. In the meantime, do you want to have a look at some of his handiwork?"

John stoops under the tape, and they walk over. A queasy-looking Anderson is checking over the body, and John doesn't have to have Sherlock's powers of deduction to work out that he's been pulled out of bed for this, from the messed hair and unshaven stubble. Anderson with a beard, now there's a frightful thought. "What do you mean his handwork?" he asks. "You said in your text it was some guy named Wilson."

"He was certainly instrumental in the kidnap and the drop-off, but I find it highly unlikely that he killed our victim. The wounds are nearly identical to those in the original case, and I don't credit the man with such a degree of skill or meticulousness. No, it must have been Moriarty."

Getting a closer look at the body has more of an effect than it did at a distance. Perhaps John isn't as numb as he thought. Even in Afghanistan seeing dead kids wasn't all that common. It happened, yes, but not often. It's strange, feeling some genuine sorrow instead of the usual blankness. Children... children are different. He looks very pale, now most of the blood has drained out of him. Whatever colour his clothes were originally, they're sodden with blood, and sliced up in too many places to count.

"That's just... vicious," John says softly. Sherlock's face twists with an emotion he can't quite place.

"Unfortunately he has left us with very few clues to work with," he says coolly. "Some brick dust from the building site where he was taken, the scent of marijuana from the house where he was kept. The tox screen will undoubtedly show some form of sedative; they would have wanted him quiet and passive until the time came."

John feels... frustrated, more than anything just now. What use was he to this kid? He didn't spend any time helping Sherlock over these past few hours; instead he had been sleeping, and then stuck in an stifling office with Mycroft Holmes. He should have tried to do something more. His hand itches for the feel of his gun. He wants to feel that power again, that control. Or a knife, like Sherlock suggested. He would gladly take the opportunity to carve Moriarty's skin off inch by inch right now.

"So what do we do next?" he asks.

"We have to wait. He will send us our next case soon enough."

"God, it can't come too soon," John sighs. He is suddenly starving. He hasn't eaten since that slice of toast last night. He wants out of here. This blood is not his kind of blood, not really. "Let's go. We can wait for his call somewhere else."

Sherlock nods. He is not looking too great himself. Not that this will persuade him to eat at all. He is stubborn, and that is one of the reasons John still has high hopes for the outcome of this whole affair. Sherlock may have been beaten once, but he will not allow it to happen again.

"How did your meeting with Mycroft go?" Sherlock asks casually, once they leave the crime scene. John has insisted on finding somewhere for a proper breakfast. Sherlock may be capable of surviving on air and nicotine, but he needs actual, solid calories.

"Well," he says. "It went well." Sherlock gives him an amused look that says he doesn't believe a word of it, but doesn't actually contradict him, thank God. It's too early in the morning to start their usual back and forth, and he's not in the mood for it. He has no idea how Sherlock is so chipper, even if he is a sociopath, and that is not even counting what they got up to last night. No-one would ever guess he'd been whipped hard enough to draw blood not nine hours ago. It must still hurt, surely. He's not showing it though. Not even a wince. Nothing seems to affect him.

"What about in here?" Sherlock suggests, pointing off to the side. The place looks clean and cheap and it does tea, says the board in the window, though probably not very good tea. It'll do.

They take a little table next to the wall. John orders a full breakfast and a mug of milky tea, and Sherlock orders nothing. John gives him a reproving look. "You ought to eat something you know," he says. "Running on empty like this isn't good for you."

"I'm fine," Sherlock says dismissively. He is playing with the pink phone, turning it over and over in his hands. Waiting impatiently for the next call. John hopes there is a delay. So many cases, one after the other with no time to rest... Sherlock will burn himself out if he's not careful.

"What should we be expecting?" he asks while they wait. "For the next one, I mean."

"Nicotine poisoning," Sherlock replies somewhat dismissively. John's eyes widen in surprise.

"I think I saw that on an episode of Midsomer Murders once."

Sherlock gives him a withering look. "I don't watch crime dramas," he says icily. "Murders that any half-wit could solve in ten minutes are prolonged for hours, and all so often the evidence is suborned to the narrative. And then there are abominable pieces of excrescence like the CSI franchise. I managed to get through eleven and a half minutes of that before I was forced to throw a book through the television screen."

"Ah," John says. "Sorry I brought it up."

"Yes, well." Sherlock settles down again like a raven with all its feathers ruffled. "Posing as a pharmacist, I infused the steroid cream of a post office worker suffering from psoriasis with increasing doses of liquid nicotine, which I synthesised from my patches in the lab at Bart's. The initial symptoms are rather like the flu, leading slowly to death. Nicotine is eliminated rapidly from the body, so it is difficult to detect on autopsy, and as the man was a smoker anyway, small amounts of the drug would be expected."

"Brilliant!" John doesn't even realise he's thinking it until the words come out. He shouldn't be impressed by the matter of fact way in which Sherlock just described how he'd killed a man, but he is. He really is. It's not even his kind of murder, far too impersonal, but he can't deny the ingenuity. Or the thrill he gets from it. He can imagine what it would be like, having Sherlock whisper into his ear murder after murder while they fucked. The idea is unbelievably erotic. He'll have to suggest it to Sherlock the next time he gets a chance. He has to think about Margaret Thatcher in the nude to quell his rising erection.

Sherlock smiles. "Thank you John. And I believe this is your breakfast coming now."

It is, and he suddenly regrets the earlier mental image. Still, when the smell hits his nose his hunger comes back, sharp as before. John tucks in ravenously. He is absolutely starving. It reminds him of back when he was a medical student, after a long morning in the dissection theatre coming out stinking of formaldehyde, and famished. It was a strange phenomenon that, but he was hardly the only one it happened to.

Sherlock watches him eat, conversation stalled. His impatient fidgeting has started up again. John is halfway through his baked beans when there is a distinctive beep. You have one new message. Sherlock stiffens, and opens it up.

Beep. Beep. Two pips this time. Countdown. And then a photograph. Sherlock looks confused. "That could be anyone!"

John shakes his head. It's nice to know something Sherlock doesn't for once, although there are some implications here he doesn't like... "Lucky for you I actually watch the news from time to time." He checks his watch. "One of the breakfast shows might be talking about it, just let me see..." He goes over to the counter and picks up the TV remote with a smile at the waitress. When she doesn't tell him off, he turns it on and has a quick flick through the channels. News24 would be useful right about now, but it's not like this place has a digital box.

"Here with us today to talk about the recent death of top civil servant Robert Carlton, political editor for The Guardian Simon Wheeler..." John puts the remote down and looks back at Sherlock, who has gone very still and focussed. Then suddenly he gets to his feet and, motioning for John to follow him, sweeps out of the cafe. John runs after him, cursing Sherlock's long legs and hurried pace.

"God you're in a hurry!" he says when he manages to catch up.

In answer Sherlock merely hold up the phone so John can see the text on the screen; 12 hours, starting now. Who killed Mr Carlton? Have fun! 3 3

"But why would Moriarty have told us to look into a murder that's already happened? It's not as if you can stop it, it's too late! It doesn't fit the pattern!"

"Then someone else's life is at stake here. But more importantly," Sherlock muses, "why hasn't Mycroft mentioned anything about this? A civil servant? It is impossible that he doesn't know that this wasn't a natural death."

"Well maybe he's looking into it himself?" John suggests. "I mean, you said he doesn't like legwork, but he wouldn't have to go far to look into this, would he?"

"This man has been dead for a week. Mycroft would have the discovered the culprit and had him taken care of within two or three days, depending on how lazy he was being. If there is still a case for Moriarty to give us..." He trails off, looking thoughtful. John's heart sinks.

"You don't think your brother... might have some kind of connection to this?"

"I don't know," Sherlock says carefully. "But there was a reason he gave me the Bruce-Parrington case and not this one. Perhaps solving them both will lead us closer to an answer. In the meantime though, this is the one we must focus on. We have a deadline to make."

John nods. Yes, best not to consider the possibility that the Holmes family have turned out two uncatchable serial killers... or whatever else Mycroft might be doing. "So," he says, "where to first?"

It all comes back to that bloody pink phone. Lestrade has spent the past 48 hours – minus catnaps whenever there was time – running around at Sherlock's command while the man refused to tell him a single fucking concrete thing. Who was the man behind this? What were his motives? What was the relevance of the crimes he picked to re-enact, the model of gun? Why Sherlock?

And it was all for Sherlock. Lestrade would have had to have been blind not to see that this was exactly the kind of case the detective always leapt to investigate. Someone was designing this for Sherlock, and he's sure the man knew who. And in typical contrary style, he wasn't going to tell anyone. It really astounded him sometimes how irritating he could be. Half the time he couldn't wait to spout off the most infinitesimal details of the killer immediately on seeing the crime scene, and the other half he kept the whole story to himself until he decided it was time to take pity on them all and reveal the apparently blindingly obvious truth.

Lestrade scrubs his fingers through his hair. He needs a shower, and his bed, but he's not about to get either of those things any time soon. Sherlock has just sent him a text message saying that they were investigating the murder of that civil servant who had been in the news recently. Everyone had said that it was natural, cause of death unknown. Now it turns out it's a bloody murder!

Sherlock has been acting oddly though, even for him. John Watson, too, has been a bit twitchy. Nothing he can really put his finger on, but he trusts his instincts. There's something. Something in Sherlock's eyes like recognition each time they got to a crime scene. The odd phrasing of some of what this 'M' had said in the Skype chat logs. The lack of Watson's reaction at the kid's murder. He doesn't know what it is. It may be nothing. But if it's there, he intends to find it.

God help him when he does.

"We need to find out how the killer introduced the poison into his system," Sherlock explains to John during the taxi journey over. "That will allow us to deduce his or her identity, and save the life of whomever Moriarty has chosen as his hostage." And he is certain of how that hostage will be killed if they fail. It is hardly chance that the same model of gun has been reoccurring during these cases. And yet other than proving that Moriarty knows about John – something he would have taken as read anyway – Sherlock can't fathom the purpose of it. But perhaps his enemy is showing that he thinks of them as a unit, now that John has become so very close to him, his partner, his lover, his friend... He has never had someone make up such a large part of his life before.

Sherlock puts it out of his mind. It is important, but the current case is more so. Mycroft has been acting very strangely of late. Bringing him mundane cases, dropping hints about Sherlock's extra-curricular activities, ignoring this latest death... Mycroft has to know about Moriarty. But does Moriarty know about Mycroft? Perhaps Mycroft is giving Sherlock this as some kind of gift, one of those 'big brother' overtures of familial feeling he so likes, no matter how many times they are thrown back in his face. It seems the most likely possibility. Especially if Mycroft turns out to want something from him later.

He calls ahead. Members of the public cannot simply walk up to the doors of government offices and ask to speak to reception, no matter how much more convenient that might be. It isn't what he would like, but Mycroft's name is what will get him through the door. After that, getting any further will be a matter of bluffing and acting. Luckily, he is very good at both of those things.

"This is the Cabinet Office sir, office of the Cabinet Secretary speaking."

"I am sure you are acquainted with my brother, Mycroft Holmes," Sherlock says, in his best public school drawl. There is a long and rather nervous silence on the other end of the phone while the call is put through to the man in charge.

"Ah the junior Mr Holmes," the Secretary says, with clearly false warmth. "I regret I am not as familiar with yourself as with your brother. However, I would be very happy to help you with anything Mycroft needs."

Sherlock smiles. Oh yes, junior civil servant indeed. If Mycroft wanted, he could be master of most of the globe. But Sherlock suspects he'll be happy with the Commonwealth. "My brother has instructed me to take a look into the death of Mr Carlton," he says, though the lie does not come easily. Mycroft orders him nowhere he doesn't already want to go. "If you could make the way clear for myself and my associate, I am sure he would be much obliged."

"Of course, Mr Holmes, of course," the man says. "I shall instruct the door to let you in the moment you arrive."

The journey to Whitehall is not long, even in the morning traffic. John pays the cabbie, and Sherlock leads them through the doors of the Cabinet Office, which as promised, open up before them, and into the inner sanctum of government. Of course, this is the second time today that John has been here, although if Sherlock knows Mycroft, they will have come in by much less obvious route.

He ignores the suspicious stares of security. They are paid to be suspicious, after all, even if one glance can tell him which are very, very, bored, and which actually do this job out of some sense of patriotism, and are therefore the most dangerous. Dull. They probably think they're subtle as well, in well cut suits, carrying on low conversations like perfectly normal civil servants. Ugh. Idiots. He can think of five ways to bring a weapon past them already, and he's not even trying.

"Sherlock Holmes. Mycroft sent me," he lies easily to the man who meets them in the hallway. "I'm here to talk to some of Robert Carlton's... colleagues. This is Dr John Watson, an associate of mine. He may be trusted as I can." John raises an eyebrow at that, but otherwise doesn't give anything away to the casual observer.

The man nods, and leads them up the stairs to the offices of the deputy director. Of course they didn't check Sherlock's claim, even though Mycroft said nothing of the sort, but anyone who is acquainted with his brother is far too afraid of annoying the man to contradict his younger sibling. It wouldn't be the first time that Sherlock has used his name to get in to places, and it generally gets ratified afterwards. Generally.

"Was Mr Carlton particularly close to anyone here?" he asks, as they ascend.

"No more than any of the upper brass to their subordinates. But of course, he will be sorely missed. I am told he was pleasant to work for. And he was very good at his job."

"Water cooler gossip eh?" John says under his breath. Sherlock risks a hint of a smile in return.

"How many people had access to him every day, or could be in his office without an appointment?" Sherlock asks their guide. Narrow the pool of suspects. They only have twelve hours, and if this is anything like the last one...

"Not many. He has two secretaries working shifts, plus his security detail, and a couple of people on research and whatever else needs doing. Obviously Mr Carlton was a very busy man, and he had many requirements on his time, but anyone else was only allowed in by appointment." He has very calm body language, this man, Sherlock notes, but it isn't enough to fool him. He has been trained to control himself, but a little worry slips through anyway. Not the sort of worry that would make him a suspect, merely the everyday kind of worry – why are they here, does this mean there was something suspicious about Carlton's death? Not unusual questions.

They are shown down a corridor and through into a group of offices. Work continues much as usual, despite the recent loss of the man in charge. No doubt Carlton's successor will be moving in soon enough. Sherlock takes everything in, all the little details that most people are too stupid to see. Female secretary at the first desk they see, late twenties, frequents a very exclusive BDSM dungeon on the weekends, owns a snake, when bored, likes to fantasize she secretly works for MI5. Her male counterpart, standing talking to her, younger, recently started working in the Cabinet Office and a little too arrogant because of it, shares a flat with a friend from college. Nothing suspicious or surprising yet.

"I need you to go through their desks while I talk to them," Sherlock says to John under his breath.

"What? That's an invasion of privacy Sherlock!" John looks affronted, though Sherlock can't imagine why.

"One of them is likely to be our killer. Come John. You've done far worse things."

John glares at him. Still, he can hardly deny it. "Alright, you git," he says. "But I hope you know I can't pick locks."

"If necessary I will deal with that later." He motions their guide over to set things up.

Once all the members of the team have filed into Carlton's office one by one and Sherlock has been allowed to talk to them, and poke around a little bit, the case is almost laughably easy to solve. Carlton had been having an affair with one of his researchers, stringing her along with the usual promises of leaving his wife for her, and then, once he had gotten bored, dumped her rather cruelly. And then presumably she had somehow run into Jim Moriarty, who had told her how to poison someone without anyone figuring out it was murder. Unless a certain criminal mastermind decided to point it out, that is.

It's too easy. There has to be more to it than this. He still has ten hours left, and Moriarty has a strong enough estimate of his mental powers to know this won't have taken him long to solve. So what else is he meant to be doing here? What part of the puzzle has he missed?

Ah. The hostage. A person whose identity is still a mystery, along with their location. But there must be a connection, something that will lead him to them. A friend of the researcher's, perhaps? Someone else from the Civil Service?

No, he's still missing something. Maybe he's been missing something for a while, considering how he failed to solve the last case before the boy's death. Connections, connections... He can't think here. He has to go back to Baker Street, and the hastily assembled mind map covering up the holes in the wall. His violin and his skull and his nicotine patches. He calls for John, and they leave in a hurry, Sherlock offering excuses about his 'ongoing investigation', which is true enough, for a given value of true.

Moriarty is good at playing this game. This is the first real challenge Sherlock has had in a long time. But he's not going to loose a round again.

John can't help but feel a little bit like he's being run ragged this morning. Despite getting some sleep last night, which is more than can be said for Sherlock, they have still been darting here and there and all over London for the past... God, it feels like a week, but it's only been 46, maybe 47 hours all told. Still, Sherlock seems to be taking it as an opportunity to show off his frankly inhuman levels of endurance, and enjoying it all the while.

"You need to finish off the case from Mycroft," Sherlock says, during the cab ride back to Baker Street.

"What? Don't you think we have bigger problems to worry about?" John says, once he's got over the initial sense of affront at being sent off on his own again. Sherlock shifts round in his seat to face him more comfortably.

"John, while I appreciate having you as a sounding board, Mycroft is in a position to prove very... inconvenient for the both of us. Believe me, I am not happy, but those are the facts."

"And you really think I can solve this? Me?" John asks. Sherlock gives him an enigmatic smile and nothing else. It makes him immediately suspicious. He thinks he knows Sherlock well enough by now to tell when he's being obtuse. Well, if he wants to go off somewhere and be mysterious about it he's welcome to, and it isn't as though John could stop him.

"Just..." He sighs. "Well, I'm sure you'll find the hostage before the time is up." It's a bit harsh, he realises once the words leave his mouth, considering how the last one turned out. But Sherlock doesn't take it that way, thankfully.

No, Sherlock's lips twitch upwards; the faint ghost of a smirk. It's a familiar look – I know something you don't. It actually hurts a little, that he is still keeping secrets after all this, after how close they are too each other now. But John supposes he never really expected Sherlock to change that much. Kill a man together, and what do you get? Well, a rather stimulating sex life, obviously, but apparently not the kind of emotional closeness that would usually come with. Maybe Sherlock isn't truly capable of it. But it would be nice.

In any case, John now has this damn errand to run, and he's going to do his best to solve it. It's a terrible thing to try and impress a genius, but he'll give it a bloody good shot.

John is crouching over the rails, creating pictures in his head of all the blood that ought to be there but isn't, sticky and clotted blood brown with time and stinking in a way that would remind him of the war, when he is startled out of his thoughts by Sherlock's velvety voice calling out to him. He stands up quickly. Sherlock wouldn't be here if he hadn't found something.

"Good, you've worked it out. West wasn't killed here, that's why there's so little blood." Or not. John narrows his eyes.

"Yes. And you've known this for how long?"

Sherlock ignores the question. "We've got some burglary to do. Come on." So Sherlock wanted him out of Baker Street? Or for some other reason. What's he playing at?

"Burglary... regarding Carlton or West?"

"West. Moriarty can wait."

"Sherlock!" John has to near run to catch up with him, as usual. He hates having shorter legs at times like these. "What do you mean he can wait? Someone's life is on the line!"

"He gave us 12 hours. We have nine left. There's time."

"You've worked something out haven't you?"

Sherlock smiles, looking pleased. "Connections, John, it's all about connections. Hurry up, I'll explain on the way there."

"The copies have been connected to the originals all along. More than the obvious," Sherlock explains, eyes flashing with typical animation and excitement at solving a case, at being able to show off his brilliance. "Stupid! If I had been coming at this blind, if I had not already known the reason behind the choice of crimes, I would have seen it. Number one, domestic murder, the woman was a distant cousin of the original. Number two, asphyxiation, Thomson used to work with the man at the Bank of England. Three, mugging, Wilson was the original suspect for the crime before he provided an alibi, it never appeared in the case notes. And four, poisoning. The hostage will have something to do with the man I killed."

John's heart is beating faster; he can feel it thumping in his chest, caught up in Sherlock's excitement. God, it's so intricate, it must have taken so much planning, how long has Moriarty been setting all this up? "So... you know who it is? The hostage?"

"It is only a matter of elimination," Sherlock says. "It's drudge work, so I gave it to Lestrade. No, this case is what interests me now. Do you think it's coincidence that Mycroft gave it to me now, when we are in the middle of Moriarty's game? It could have waited. The drive can't have left the country yet or my brother would have picked it up, and if the thief hasn't tried to move it, it is unlikely he will any time soon. It could have waited."

"You think Mycroft is trying to distract you from solving the cases?" That... makes no sense whatsoever.

"No, I am saying that they may be linked." Sherlock turns his head to peer at the street through the cab window. "Here we are."

It's all plans within plans within plans, and it is making John's head hurt. Sherlock might think it would be boring-slash-restful to have a normal-person brain, but John can't even imagine how stressful it would be to have a Sherlock brain. This is insane, all of it. But honestly? He wouldn't miss it for the world.

Overconfidence. That is the only reason Sherlock can think of that excuses his oversight. Connections! Moriarty had even told him so in the Skype conversation. It is practically unforgivable, to be so blind. But he has it now, and Lestrade is thorough, if not clever, and case number four will soon be wrapped up. He has the missile plans in his pocket, and he is ahead of the game. He has the luxury of time.

Moriarty knows him very well. He knows about the murders, he has a sure grasp of his psychology, he knows what gets him off. Speaking mentally, of course. He has no desire to cheat on John, who is a continually satisfying conundrum of his own, and so delightfully twisted by the war. Not to mention his skill with a riding crop. He can't imagine this mysterious criminal mastermind doing that. This is a match of wits between equals, anything sexual about it is merely inconsequential.

It seems Sherlock has built himself something of a reputation amongst the criminal underbelly of the city. It is somewhat gratifying, he has to admit. It is clear Moriarty heard about him a long time ago. Long enough to have watched and waited and planned. But so far there is little to be divined in the opposite direction. There simply is insufficient data, and he hasn't the time to get any. When they meet – and it is when, this is inevitable – he will be going in mostly blind. Still, they have many similarities. It ought not be too much of a setback.

Seven minutes past four. Lestrade comes to him with a stack of paper; all known associates of the original nicotine victim. It doesn't take long to isolate the most probable individual. Mary Heath, grandmother, 87, inexplicably missing from her care home. Woman, man, child, geriatric. Moriarty likes patterns. And as to location, it just so happens there is a Taller & Sons building site nearby.

Four down, one more to go. And then they will meet. Sherlock still isn't sure whether he wants to kill him, or if they should play some more. He knows what John would say. But it's so much fun! He suspects he won't be able to make a decision until he sees him, face to face. He is so looking forward to it.

"We're out of milk," John calls from the kitchen. Sherlock makes a noncommittal noise in reply. The hostage has been saved, and there should have been another call by now, something, but there has been silence. Five pips. There has to be one more left, otherwise it doesn't make sense.

"I'll just pop to the store and get some then. Tescos down the road is open 'til eleven." Sherlock tracks John's progress by the noise he makes, putting his coat on, checking his keys and wallet, setting off down the stairs, and finally the muted sound of their front door closing.

As soon as John has left, Sherlock reaches for his laptop. Yes, Mycroft will get his plans back, but it was easy enough to make a copy, and now he has something to bargain with. Now he can meet Moriarty.

I have the plans. Meet me at the building where your man tried to play a poisoned game with me.

He doesn't have to wait long for an answer. Sorry Sherlock, but I'm not dumb. I get to set up the meet. How about... right where you first taught little John Watson how to be a monster. I think that will do nicely. See you at midnight. Don't bring any friends. xxxx M.

The warehouse. It will do as well as the college would have. No one around, and plenty of open space. He's not afraid of a set up. Moriarty has no reason to kill him, not like this. No, that would be no fun at all. The game isn't over yet. There's still one more thing to come, something he can't deduce yet. It's hard to surprise him; it hasn't happened in years, but it seems Moriarty may have managed it.

He has three hours. This is time he should take to prepare, but he already has everything he needs. There is no research that will tell him anything new, no need for plotting convoluted plans, and to look the place over before his enemy arrives would only be likely to scare him off. There are rules to this game, of a sort, and going in blind like this is one of them.

Three hours. Sherlock leans back in his chair, his mind ticking over. He can't ever stop thinking, he isn't capable of it, but it is galling to have to wait. Moriarty set it for midnight, so he needs the time for something. Hopefully something fun. He can't even distract himself until their meeting, he is too focussed on it, it would be impossible to concentrate on anything else.

He will have to find something to get John out of the way when the time comes. Too dangerous to bring him, and after all, he isn't necessary. It's not about him. It won't take John very long to get milk. Perhaps he can be persuaded into an early night. The past few days have not been very easy on him, and he must be tired. Yes. Let him sleep. This is between Sherlock and Moriarty.

Nothing has changed in the warehouse since he was last here. The same boxes and packaging stacked up in tall towers and covered with plastic wrap, the lights turned down low, cold, deserted. Perfect for a little murder, or in this case, a meeting of minds.

"Moriarty!" he calls out, "I'm here!" There is no reply but the silence. It would be eerie, if Sherlock was affected by such petty human fears. He slips the memory stick with the copied plans from the pocket of his suit and holds it up in the air, confident the security cameras will pick it up. The last time he was here he had disabled them himself, but Moriarty strikes him as the type to prefer to keep them active, to keep watch.

Moriarty, wherever he is, still does not speak, but Sherlock becomes aware of muffled noises coming from further in, deep within the passageways between the blocks of building materials and boxes. Well. Number five, perhaps? He follows the sounds, wending through the baffling maze until he turns a corner and...

John. His heart stops. Terror and anger pierce his bowels like cold knives. John's eyes, frightened and angry but trying not to show it – for his sake, he knows – stare at him pleadingly from above a gag, his hands secured behind his back, sitting in a perfect mirror of the man he killed in this very spot. Sherlock feels like being sick.

"John," he says, brokenly, taking a step towards him, but John shakes his head, gesturing with a flick of his eyes upwards. They are being watched. And, as if to prove it, the tiny red dot of a sniper's laser sight settles itself over John's heart.

"What do you want?" Sherlock shouts to their unseen watcher. "If it's the plans you're after, you can have them!"

"Oh, no." The voice seems to come from all sides, echoing off the walls of merchandise, playful, and with no clearly discernable accent. "I can get those anywhere." Sherlock glares around, not daring to move, searching the shadows.

"What is it Sherlock?" Moriarty taunts. "Afraid for your little pet? Your attack dog? You've been training him up to do your dirty work, haven't you." He tuts, mock disappointed.

"What. Do. You. Want?" Sherlock spits out each word as though they are burning his tongue.

Someone steps slowly out of the shadows. Height somewhere between Sherlock and John, expensive suit, face half hidden behind the digital camcorder he is holding up to his eyes. "Smile!" he says, showing white teeth in anything but. Predator, Sherlock's mind throws up. Killer without remorse. Kin in spirit, if not by blood.

"Let him go," Sherlock says. "This is between you and me."

"Well, it should have been," Moriarty replies. "I had everything worked out, and then you had to go and spoil it by finding some runt to adopt. Still, I can see he's had his uses. Vicious little mongrel."

Sherlock says nothing. He still doesn't know what Moriarty wants, what his angle is here, and it is all right in front of him, he ought to be able to deduce it, but nothing. He can't think straight, not with John right there, only the finger twitch of a stranger between him and death.

"Don't you want to know what this is for?" Moriarty asks teasingly, tapping the side of the camera slowly. His accent slides all over, chaotic. Appropriate. Sherlock ignores the question.

"I should congratulate you on your attention to detail," he says instead, locking his emotions away. He can't afford them right now. "It must have taken some time to put everything together."

"You want to know how I did it." He is pacing up and down, moving like a panther, as though he simply can't bear to be still. The camera is still recording, little red light blinking. "The famous Sherlock Holmes can't figure something out!"

"It seems you have known about me a lot longer than I have known about you."

"You've made quite a name for yourself! At first I admit I thought you were just a dull do-gooder, but dig a little deeper and oh! The things I found! Such a prolific serial killer Sherlock! I am impressed, and I don't say that often." The mercurial grin is back, mocking. "I've been watching you Sherlock, very closely, for a very long time."

Something in the way he says it makes Sherlock narrow his eyes in suspicion. "And how long is that?"

"Remember a boy named Carl Powers?" His voice is softer now, reminiscing, perhaps. "My first kill. And you were there, asking questions. And then you pop up again in London, just as I start to gain some ground in my own work. Fate! There's nothing like it!"

Oh, Sherlock remembers. He remembers very well. It is nice, to be vindicated after all these years, even if it is his nemesis giving him that gift. "Why now?" he says.

Moriarty's free hand inscribes circles in the air. "Our worlds, coming together again. The cabbie, the Tong, it was only a matter of time. We're coming into competition. And everyone knows what to do to competition." You eliminate it, Sherlock fills in.

Sherlock chances a glance over at John, who is bearing up extraordinarily well. Most of the fear has been replaced by cold fury, and his arms still twist behind his back, trying to get free. The skin of his wrists must be rubber raw, but still he keeps at it. Sherlock honestly... he doesn't know what he'll do if something happens to him. He's gotten used to their life together, to the new and alien feelings John has brought out in him and which he simply can't face loosing. He is going to save him, whatever it takes.

"It all comes down to this," Moriarty says quietly. "You and me and John Watson getting in the way. So here it is. Get rid of him, and we can work together, kill people together, even go back to playing games with one another, whatever you want. Don't his little spasms of pretend morality irritate you? Doesn't his dull little brain annoy you? You've enjoyed these few days, haven't you, you can't deny that. Think of how much better it could be! You would never have to be bored again."

Before John, it would have been easy. He would have leapt at the chance. But now... now there is no choice at all.


"Oh well!" Moriarty says, sighing in a very fake way. "Didn't really think you'd go for it. So here's choice number two. John, or your freedom. Talk into my little camera here, a nice full confession of all your crimes for your little police friend, and John goes free. You don't even have to mention his part in it. Or, and I don't think I have to spell this out for you..." He mimics a gun shape with his hand, still smiling the same psychopath smile. "Bang!"

Oh yes. He sees it all now. It won't even be such a big stretch for Lestrade to believe it; he has had all the evidence he needs handed to him on a plate. All it would take is for someone to show him how the jigsaw pieces fit together. But... for John...

Moriarty must see the defeat in his eyes, because he lets out a little laugh and dances closer, thrusting the camera into Sherlock's face. For the first time, he gets a good look at the man. There is something... oddly familiar about him. But he can't place it, and he won't have the chance to investigate after this.

"Alright. I'll do it."

John watches with mounting horror as Sherlock begins to recite into the camera. If it weren't for the gag he would be shouting at him, telling him not to do this, not to give up his freedom like this. John's life isn't worth it. It isn't. What is his life anyway since the war? His only real connection to another human being is to Sherlock, the only person who would be really, truly affected if he died, and as for himself, well, maybe London would be better off without him. The murder rate would certainly go down. And he just can't bear to see the pained, defeated look on Sherlock's face. Sherlock is a genius, he should be free, and happy, and not bored...

The blood is running without restraint from the rubbed-raw skin around his wrists now, offering some small lubrication to the cable ties binding him, but he already knows they are on too tight. It would take a knife to get them off, or for him to break most of the bones in his hands... there's nothing he can do. He's helpless to stop this.

"... 13th November, Miranda Jones, East End..." Sherlock is saying, cold and sharp against the power of Moriarty's grin when all of a sudden that grin drops and he raises a hand to his ear where John can just see the plastic of a communications ear-bud, a hint of a frown forming.

"Moran," he says quietly, "Moran, is there a problem?" John stops his struggles and pulls himself up, alert. Has something gone wrong for the little psychopath? God, let it have. Evidently so, for Moriarty shuts the camera off, flipping the screen away and holding up one finger in what John thinks looks a rather strained gesture. "We appear to be having some technical difficulties at this time, your program will resume shortly..."

Sherlock look as confused as John feels. Moriarty turns away as if to disappear down one of the passages between the crates, and then there is the unusually soft bark of a rifle, and a tufted tranquiliser dart appears in his neck. He stops, reaches up with one hand to tug it out, fumbling at it a bit, looks at it disbelievingly, sways, and goes out like a light. The digital camcorder slides away along the concrete with a clatter.

For a moment Sherlock doesn't move, staring wide eyed at Moriarty's unconscious body, but then he's running over to John, crouching and pulling the gag out of his mouth, holding his face in his hands and looking into his eyes with a burning intensity.

"God John, please tell me you're alright. I couldn't bear it otherwise, please."

"I'm fine, I'm fine," John says, forcing it out through a throat dry with trying to shout. "He had someone break in to Baker Street, came down from the roof I think, got me as I was about to get into bed. Knocked me out, but they only tied me up like this, that's all, I promise. I'm okay."

Sherlock leans forwards to rest their foreheads together, his eyes fluttering closed. It hits John then, how deeply Sherlock feels for him, and if he had ever had any doubts he could lay them to rest; Sherlock is in love with him, as deeply as John loves him in return.

"My, this is all very touching," someone says.

Sherlock's reaction is immediate, jumping to his feet and whirling to face the newcomer, expression and posture fierce despite his lack of a weapon. Then... "Mycroft."

John tries to twist himself to see past Sherlock. And... yes, there he is. John has never been so glad to see the man in his life. "I suppose we have you to thank for that," he croaks, nodding his head in Moriarty's direction.

Mycroft gives them a small smile in reply, very causal and unruffled as always. Sherlock glares at him but doesn't say anything, presumably caught between natural distaste and unavoidable gratitude.

"How long have you known about this?" Sherlock asks.

"Long enough," Mycroft says. "Moriarty has been on our radar for a while, but I confess, I didn't take much notice until my surveillance teams saw his."

"You could have stepped in before, why now?"

Mycroft looks down at his umbrella, twirling it idly. "I confess my motives were not all out of brotherly concern." Sherlock's eyes narrow.

"What do you want?"

John looks back and forth between them, unsure if he ought to butt in. Still, he has a bit of a sinking feeling about this. After all, Mycroft is for all intents and purposes the government, and governments don't usually take too well to prolific serial killers roaming around their capital city.

"I have a proposition for you."

"Oh god, not you too," Sherlock says dismissively, but John knows better. He is worried, he can tell.

"Oh, I think you'll find mine rather more to your liking. Haven't I always said you should be utilising your talents in some more productive capacity? You're wasting your life Sherlock, I mean, really."

"I refuse to become some bureaucratic pen pusher stuck behind a desk for the rest of my life," Sherlock says acidly, "so you may take your offer and insert it..."

"No Sherlock, you misunderstand me," Mycroft says before he can finish the sentence. "I am very clear on your distaste for my kind of work, believe me. No, this is an offer to you and John. People with your... specialised talents can be very useful."

John has to admit he's lost. He has no idea what Mycroft is trying to hint at, but clearly Sherlock does, because he goes very stiff. "You want us to be your own private little assassins."

"There are some unfortunate individuals in the world who would benefit from, shall we say, untraceable liquidation." John would have been appalled, a very long time ago, but he's learned to expect nothing different from Holmes stock. He looks over at Sherlock, eyebrows raised questioningly.

"And if we say no?" Sherlock asks.

"Then DI Lestrade will get all the information he requires."

"You're really going to blackmail your own brother?" John says, the words surprised out of him.

"Dr Watson, I think you forget, it is my civic duty to prevent two dangerous murderers from escaping," Mycroft replies, tutting. "However, two employees of the Crown may be given significantly more leeway. And I can promise you Sherlock, you will never get bored."

There isn't really a choice, and everyone here knows it. Finally, Sherlock nods slowly. Mycroft beams at them, all smiles. "Now, that wasn't so hard, was it," he says. "Since that has been taken care of, I'm sure Dr Watson would appreciate being let out of those ties." He produces a penknife from the pocket of his three piece suit and tosses it to Sherlock, who catches it easily, setting to work immediately. It is bloody heaven to be out of the cable ties, John thinks, standing up and rubbing the flaking, drying blood from his wrists.

"And now there is just one thing to clear up, your friend Mori..." Mycroft stops, staring at the place, now conspicuously vacant, where Moriarty had been. He frowns. "Number One, are you sure you took out the sniper?" A pause. "Well check, if you would be so good."

"Are all your people this incompetent?" Sherlock says snappishly, wrapping his arm tighter round John. "No wonder you're so eager to get us on your payroll." John knows he ought to be more concerned about this disappearing act, but the night must be catching up on him, because his head is fuzzy, and he feels almost dead on his feet.

Mycroft sighs. "Well, think of it as your first assignment then."

"Oh, we will," John says earnestly. He can't wait to get his hands on the bastard that hurt Sherlock. This is going to be very enjoyable.

Jim opens his eyes and blinks as the world swims back into focus. Cold... he's cold. And his head is just killing him. It takes some effort to drag himself up off the floor onto hands and knees, his skull pounding like someone has taken a hammer to the back of it. What was the last thing he was doing... he can barely remember it... oh, yes, Molly. Molly. Stupid bitch had drugged his tea. How dare she! And Sherlock must have put her up to it. Well, it had been a risk going back, he would have figured it out eventually, even if they never formally met... He raises his head, trying to get a better look at wherever they have put him. Sebastian, he'll get him out. Where is he?

Oh. Damn. There is a body hanging by its heels from the ceiling, throat cut like a pig, fingertips just brushing the ground. It's a bit difficult to tell with all the skin missing, but he'd stake his favourite Westwood suit that it's Seb. Fuck. Fuck. He's not going to feel bad about it, he's not. He is Jim Moriarty and he doesn't get attached! That is for lesser men like Sherlock Holmes. But still... Sebastian was useful. And deadly, and attractive, and good in bed, and...

No, he can't think about that now. Sherlock and his little attack dog could be back any minute, and while a little pain can be a lot of fun, that's not going to be the kind of game the pair of them have in mind. Fuck Mycroft, that lazy bastard, they had had an understanding. So much for the honour of the English gentleman! Well, perhaps going after his brother had been a bit much, but they hadn't even liked each other for God's sake.

Jim pushes himself to his feet and tries to take a step forward, but he is immediately brought up short by the unexpected tug of a manacle around his ankle. He looks down to see the chain leading back to a massive metal ring set into the floor, and right beside it, a rusty hacksaw.

"Oh very original!" he snarls. "I've seen this movie too you know!" No answer. Well. Looks like the newest game has begun.