Note: The author does not own any aspect of Sherlock and is making no profit from this work of fan-fiction.
A/N: This is a retelling of my previous fic, A Slight Misunderstanding, but told from Sherlock's perspective. They may make more sense if you read them together, although they are both intended to stand on their own. They do not repeat the exact same scenes.
This one starts about a week before the other.
Confused? Everybody with me? Okay, onto the fic!
-Do u ever think about how ur going 2 die?
Sherlock scowled at the screen and deleted the text. Sometimes Moriarty's messages gave him hints that were useful in the game, but more often than not lately they were just meaningless threats.
A faint buzz; he glanced down in spite of himself.
-Ru looking 4ward 2 it?
Sherlock snorted. What a frightful waste of brain cells that would be - to contemplate his own mortality. Death was nothing to think about, something like shutting off a hose, that was all: one minute a rushing stream of thoughts and perceptions, and the next minute nothing, empty and blank. What was the sense of worrying, when there would be nothing left of the brain capable of conceiving of its demise? He was a consulting detective, not a philosopher.
Also, since both he and presumably Jim had unlimited texting plans, there was really no need for these annoying abbreviations.
Against his better judgment, he typed a quick response - if he never answered, Moriarty would eventually start sulking, and for the next few days the texts would stop.
-What an absurd question. Of course not. SH
Sherlock flipped the phone face-down on the table and then immediately found himself waiting for a new message, hoping for something more helpful next time.
There it was.
-Ull B all alone.
-Ur pet will go first of course.
Another empty threat against John. Moriarty was no closer to killing him than he had been at the pool, and nobody had died there.
-You're boring me - SH, he typed back.
He almost switched the phone off, but stood up instead to collect another nicotine patch from under the sink. Once he had applied it, he found himself turning back to the living room; one never knew when Moriarty would throw him a clue to his location, and certainly Sherlock could tolerate some meaningless prattle for that.
But there was no text waiting for him.
"Sherlock?" John came downstairs looking sleep-mussed and rumpled. The state of his hair indicated restlessness; the creases on his shirt and boxers were evidence that he had been sitting up for some time. "Are you still awake?"
That was a ludicrous question. Obviously Sherlock was awake. He was sitting in plain sight of John, with his eyes open.
"No," he said.
John snorted. "Tea, then?"
"Any leads on Jim?"
Sherlock had declined to inform John about his ongoing text conversations with Moriarty, and he was careful to delete them as they came in. "No," he said. "Nothing."
"Ah well," John said understandingly. "He'll have to surface eventually, and then we'll be rid of him. Here." He placed a hot cup of tea, complete with saucer, in front of Sherlock. Just how he liked it; no milk, teabag on the side. Because John was not particularly observant, it made the times when he did pay attention rather touching.
As he turned away, Sherlock checked the phone in his hand again.
-Y havent u told the pet about us, luv?
-Secrets secrets hurt sum1
There was no good reason not to tell John, except that Sherlock knew he wouldn't like it – wouldn't want to hear that he was carrying on a correspondence that didn't seem to be leading towards Moriarty's capture. John did not appreciate the great rarity of a truly challenging opponent, somebody of Sherlock's own intellect, or close to it, to match wits with. Given the chance, John would just shoot Moriarty if he could. And he wouldn't like that Sherlock didn't entirely feel the same way.
"I'm going up," said John. "Try to get some sleep, eh?"
Sherlock nodded, not meaning it. He glanced down at the phone: -Goodnight, duckie, it read.
-I watch u constantly, said tonight's text.
"Sherlock? Everything alright?" John was looking at him oddly. "Did something happen?"
Blast, he evidently wasn't concealing his reactions as well as usual. He whimsically imagined that this was how a cheating husband might feel. "It's just Mycroft being a prat," he muttered.
-Its not mycroft said the phone.
-Ur such a liar.
-Poor pet doesn't even know how u dont trust him.
Clearly Moriarty had them under some form of surveillance, but Sherlock did not know exactly to what extent. It almost seemed like he could hear their conversation, or was he perhaps lip-reading through the window? Sherlock glanced outside and saw nothing.
The texts came from an unlisted number, and there had been no point trying to track them back to the source as they were routed, at random, all over the world.
He suspected that Moriarty preferred this method of communication because the messages were so completely unrevealing: no sounds in the background, no smells, not even inflection. Just the words, floating on the blank screen, with no accompanying data.
He hated it.
-I watch u constantly, said the phone, again.
-Ur like an animal in the zoo surrounded by idiots.
-They can all c u and poke u and they can't know what ur thinking.
Very poetic, thought Sherlock, more puzzled than ever, but what the hell was the point?
-They think they know u. Ur pet thinks he knows u. But they cant understand.
-Why are you saying this - SH.
-What do you possibly hope to gain with this drivel? - SH
There was a long spell of silence – long enough for Sherlock to devise three separate experiments to reveal the presence of fingerprints on fabrics like wool.
-I know u. The text said. That was the last thing he sent that night.
"Sherlock, did you sleep down here?" It was John, stepping over him where he lay in the hallway. The most interior space he could think of – no windows, no place to hide a camera.
"No," said Sherlock, attempting to maintain his dignity. You did not technically classify a few hours of dozing as sleep.
"C'mon up, then," said John. "No lying on floors around here." He offered a calloused hand, and Sherlock swallowed his pride and accepted. Since Lestrade had called to warn them that "that mad bomber from the pool" had been spotted at the Underground station closest toBaker Street, neither of them had slept more than a few hours at a time … yet he noted that it was always him that John worried about. Was Sherlock sleeping enough, had he eaten, would he please take a shower, for Chrissake? Sherlock didn't understand it, but he found that he enjoyed it, just a little.
He always enjoyed being the center of attention.
As John headed off to the kitchen Sherlock reluctantly reached for the phone to check for new texts, wishing that he could just switch the damn thing off and sit with John over a cup of tea, made up the precise way he liked it, instead. But he couldn't afford to ignore even one of Moriarty's texts, as any of them could contain a critical clue.
-Theyll stone u 2 death, said the most recent message.
Puzzled, Sherlock scrolled back through the missed texts: there were seven of them.
-What do u think will happen 2 u, said the text message,
-with ur great brain?
-In this wretched, ridiculous world?
-The ants cant understand any1 different from them.
-Theyll eat u alive
-& do u know what commoners do 2 witches?
-Theyll stone u 2 death.
Sherlock shuddered. Sometimes Moriarty had a very unfortunate knack for metaphor, and rather ominous timing.
"Sherlock, toast!" called John, from the other room. "And if you say you're not hungry, I'm going to stuff it down your throat."
When they went outside Sherlock felt as though everyone's eyes were drawn to him, and he suddenly recalled Moriarty's words – like an animal in the zoo. He shuddered unwillingly and forced his well-trained mind to other avenues, to the various pieces of the puzzle that could lead him to Moriarty. There had to be something.
Of course he suspected that Moriarty's purpose in writing the texts was some form of psychological attack, but this was clearly a miscalculation on his part: Sherlock had iron self-control and very little imagination, which he hoped rendered him unsusceptible to that type of manipulation. He was not at all suggestible.
Jim clearly failed to understand his opponent.
"Sherlock!" John's hand whipped under his arm and tugged him abruptly back – he looked up to find that he was right on the curb of a busy street.
"I know your mind is going a million miles an hour," said John, with exasperated patience, "but could you not just wander into traffic?"
"Sorry," Sherlock muttered. He shrugged instinctively away from John's hand on his elbow – he didn't like to be touched, didn't like physical contact that he didn't initiate. But in the next moment he realized that John's concern had broken whatever spell Moriarty seemed to be trying to cast. He felt normal again, focused. He wished he hadn't rejected the touch so quickly.
"Right," said John, apparently not offended at being shrugged off – of course he wasn't offended, nothing Sherlock did seemed to irritate him, unless some innocent third party was involved. "Well, are you having any breakthroughs?"
Sherlock was rather disturbed by the breakthrough that John seemed to be capable of banishing Moriarty's influence from his mind. He would have liked to test the theory further, but it seemed difficult to replicate. "No," he said, "nothing. We'll have to wait for him to make contact."
"He usually makes contact by threatening to kill someone," John muttered, fretfully, steering Sherlock without touching him towards the tube, by switching to walk on his far side. Herding him like a sheepdog with his flock.
"It is a challenge," Sherlock acknowledged.
"John?" called Sherlock, as he came in to set his coat over the kitchen table. "Mycroft says he might have something on Jim's latest victim. We ought to take a look."
There was no answer.
Sherlock put the kettle on for tea (unthinkable – John was domesticating him) and dug about in the breadbox for a biscuit. "John?"
His phone buzzed in his pocket.
-Hes upstairs, said the text, innocently neutral.
"John!" Sherlock dropped the phone and flew up the stairs. "Answer me, damnit!"
"Sherlock?" A familiarly rumpled blond head popped out of the shared bathroom. "What's all this, then?"
Sherlock paused on the top step, feeling his heart thud painfully against his ribs. John was fine; he was in the shower, that's all. Moriarty was simply messing with him, taunting him with what he could do.
"Sherlock?" John had come so close that he was eye level with Sherlock, who was one step below the top flight. It was an unusual angle, and Sherlock found his eyes hungrily drinking in the features of John's face. His evident concern was strangely soothing.
One of John's hands reached out uncertainly towards his shoulder, but Sherlock ducked away and hurried back downstairs to seize the phone.
-Fooled u, read the text.
-Poor little Sherlock, whats going 2 happen 2 u?
He knew Jim was enjoying the opportunity to get into his head, perfectly aware that Sherlock was forced to read every trivial missive in case he revealed something important. Knowing that Sherlock was unable to ignore him.
-Shall I come visit u in the psych ward or the gaol - wherever u end up?
Clearly Moriarty's words were meaningless, yet they were unsettling nevertheless; the texts were so flatly devoid of emotion, that it gave them a strange ring of truth.
In spite of himself, he shuddered just a little at last text:
-ull die all alone :)
He hated the chill that had crept into his limbs; ridiculous, he was being ridiculous. Perhaps he should fetch himself more tea.
He didn't want tea.
"Sherlock?" John's voice came from behind him, and Sherlock whirled about, startled. "Oi, jumpy much?" He came closer. "What are you up to lately, anyway - you're like a cat in a room full of rocking chairs."
Of course, he knew nothing. There was no way he could possibly know. Sherlock had made sure of that. "It's just the case," he said unwillingly, after a pause.
"You need to take a break," said John. "Give that great brain of yours something to something to work with, eh? Even machines need to be kept in proper order." There was a fondness in his voice that Sherlock found … thawing.
"Perhaps, for once, you are right."
He headed reluctantly for the settee, willing himself to be calm. John tutted over his hollow cheekbones and went to fetch a packet of digestives, which he had found Sherlock to be somewhat susceptible to, as long as they were the plain ones. John himself preferred the kind with chocolate, but he never bought them anymore. Contemplating this obvious sign of consideration seemed to smooth over of the rough places in Sherlock's brain.
Of course John, when given license, could be a terrible fusser; sensing that he had the advantage, although he did not understand why, he fully exploited Sherlock's momentary acquiescence and insisted that he sit on the couch and have a hot tea and two (two!) digestives, and even submit to having a blanket tossed over his lap, as though he was gone into shook again. It was shameless of him, really, but Sherlock found himself going along with all of it, just to burn away the ice of Moriarty's last lingering words.
-We'll find out soon enough, duckie.
He had to time his next move very carefully. John usually left work between 5.30 and quarter-of, and there was a brief window before then for Sherlock to get to him.
"John," he hissed.
"Jeesuz Christ, Sherlock!" John spun around from where he was attempting to relieve himself, as he usually did at this time of day, due to the influx of fluids with his lunch.
"Keep it down!" snapped Sherlock, irritably. "We don't know who could be listening."
"Why the hell are you in here?" John looked around as if he expected to find himself at Baker Street, instead of in the washroom at the surgery where he worked.
"I do not believe this location to be under surveillance."
John blinked. "Well, good," he said. "That's nice to hear. Is this a, er, Mycroft thing, then?" With unnecessary modesty, he carefully turned his back before tucking himself away and zipping up his pants.
"No. Listen, John. I have reason to believe that Moriarty will soon be contracting me with his location."
"What? Why would he do that?"
"You're not listening," Sherlock insisted. "He will contact me. He will want me to meet him, and he will want me to come alone."
"Well, you're not going to meet him. You're not going, right?"
"There's no time to argue," said Sherlock, "When he calls there will likely be very little time to plan. We need to be ready."
"How do you know all this?" asked John, brow furrowed as he tried to understand.
"Just trust me," Sherlock said. "There's no time to talk. It's possible he is having us followed, he may already be able to hear us."
"But Sherlock …"
"I know him," said Sherlock, hurriedly. "I know how he thinks. He'll want me to come alone to some remote location. He believes it will be easier to affect me, if I'm isolated."
"Well, that's classic creepy serial killer mentality," John acknowledged. He seemed relatively un-phased by this development, which came as unexpected relief. "How is planning to affect you, exactly?"
Sherlock paused. "He has – some kind of misunderstanding about me," he said. "Thinks we're going to, I don't know, run a criminal empire together, or something."
He risked a glance up at John's face and found that his lips were pressed together tightly, tight enough to turn them white.
"Well, he's like you in one way," said John finally, his tone so welcomingly light that Sherlock felt his whole body warming in response. John really was excellent at the application of humor to difficult situations.
"You're both idiots," said John. "Come on, then, tell me the plan."