Pairing(s): Sherlock/John, Moriarty/Moran, Sherlock/Irene UST
Warnings: Gore, bodily mutilation, amputation, serial killers, murder, mentions of torture
Summary: Sequel to The Most Dangerous Game.
Pain is a familiar friend, a flame that consumes the body but not the mind, not unless it is permitted access. Moriarty has no intention of letting it do any such thing. He must keep his brain free of useless damage signals if he wants to have any hope of outwitting his enemy, of getting out of here. This is a lovely little trap Sherlock has built for him – not the pet, no, the dull little soldier, the tame wolf, claws all wrapped up snug in woven wool, he doesn't have the imagination. A gift straight from Sherlock, just for him, a deadly present from genius to genius. Even if they think they can kill him here, at least this is still between him and Holmes.
He will not be getting out in one piece though, that much is clear. Jim lets himself wallow in his rage for a few moments, a fire of quite a different sort. To trick him, trap him, using such a disgustingly mundane creature as Molly Hooper... it sets his very blood aflame. But for all he burns – and he is a creature of fire and does nothing but – he does not let it rule him in any of its forms. First he tries to slip the trap, scraping his skin raw as he attempts to force the manacle over his foot. He's always been thin, fine boned, slippery as a snake, but in this case it seems not slippery enough. But there are always other options. Other methods. He and Sherlock, they're the same in this, seeing what others can't. And right now he is aware he can't risk the blood loss the most obvious course would cost him. He doesn't really like to be practical – it's so boring – but he would like being dead even less.
Breaking bones is something he normally leaves to Sebastian, but Sebastian is a little busy being a corpse right now (and that is a kind of flame too, burning the heart and the back of the throat until he banishes it again with a soft shake of his head). Bones take too much time, fists on flesh, or the use of something nice and heavy, solid, metal perhaps, and it isn't really all that original as a method of inflicting pain goes. Moriarty prefers interesting chemicals, electricity, exotic fauna, unless there's a need for the resulting corpse to look normal, to look all pretty (he thinks flesh looks more beautiful when it's been marked, but don't listen to him, he's a psychopath). He is careful and methodical with the unfamiliar task, using extreme force and the solid handle of the saw. He switches off the pain. Under other circumstances, and were it not a signal of potentially irreparable damage to his body, he might have taken the time to enjoy it, the unfamiliar flavour of it, but now his only concern is with escape.
Eventually he can slide the cuff over the mangled remains of his foot. Sherlock and his pet are certainly watching him, and he does so enjoy playing to an audience, so he gives them his best smile as he pulls himself upright, one promising to revisit every moment of pain and weakness back on them a hundred fold once he has wriggled out of this mess. Nothing he hadn't planned to do already, but this deserves something even more special. He will have to think about it.
"London Bridge is burning down, burning down, burning down," he sings softly to himself.
He limps over to the door, careful not to put any weight on his damaged foot. It leads to a corridor running both ways, lots of other doors, thick ones. A converted warehouse, perhaps on loan from his treacherous once-ally Mycroft. Yes, that sounds about right. And cold, still. He's wearing his suit from the last, much more fun, warehouse he was in, minus jacket, shoes, socks. Nothing in the pockets, he can tell by the weight. There had been a knife, lock-picks, cash sewn into the lining of his jacket, which is why it was taken. Sherlock would have had to have suffered brain damage to miss them (though love, sentiment, is a kind of brain damage isn't it?). A pity, but he has done more with less in the past.
There are no traps in the corridor, it doesn't take more than a glance to see that, and the doors are all locked. Impossible to force them. He's being herded, and it's infuriating. He has to hop along, leaning on the wall for support, and as he goes he considers what sort of games might be waiting for him. There's plenty of material in the endless run of movies in this franchise – things he'd seen for the gore not the plot, well, what other reason could there be? If only more people had the will to slake their vicarious bloodlust in reality rather than through a voyeuristic fantasy, the world would be a much happier place, Jim thinks. He does despair of it rather at times (better to burn it really, much better). But he has enough respect – well, respect, fascination, lust, intrigue, hate... it's a complicated cocktail of emotions he feels about the younger Holmes – for Sherlock that he's sure he will have come up with something more personal, more suitable than some faceless, pointless repetition. He can excuse the too-predictable start of the game as creating context. No, the truly interesting part will be further in.
Finally he finds it. Thankfully; for damage is damage and the body merely a body, subject to animal weakness, and pain takes its own toll despite any mental blockades against it. The fire that flares bright as sparks when bones grind together is growing colder outside the little shelter of his mind, he shivers, sweat beads his brow and there is a poisonous weakness in his limbs. He would be in shock, if he permitted himself such weakness.
The tall, wide room is full of wires; tripwires, razor wire, cheese wire, and as he examines the puzzle, details making shapes and patterns of meaning in his head he can see where the infra-red beams must be too. There are a lot of explosives packed under this room, but in small, individual groups, not enough to kill, just enough to maim. He grins. It's enough to give him hope for Sherlock – there's a calculated cruelty that is just so much better than any of his previous kills, the ones Moriarty has been keeping careful track of over the years. Even if it's directed at him, which is less than ideal, it's a start to making the man see that this is superior in every way than the so-called 'right' side of the law.
Except he's not sure the game is such fun anymore. Not with Sebastian dead, all flayed and hung up like an animal, like prey, not the tiger he is (was). Jim wants revenge for it, wants to tear Sherlock and his pet into itty-bitty pieces, wants to douse them in petrol and set them on fire, wants to rip their skins off and stitch them back onto his dear assassin, as though that would bring him back through some kind of dark alchemy. Simply handing him over to the police a broken man is no longer broken enough.
The maze would be far too much for him in his present state, so it's a good thing he doesn't plan on going that way. This room is big enough to have windows, blacked out tiny things, small enough that most people would discount them as an escape route. James Moriarty is not most people.
With cameras on him he will only have a limited amount of time before Sherlock notices what he's doing, but equally he and his pet can't be too close by, not if there are any more of their tricky little traps around after this one. And he is almost certain (wouldn't do to be overconfident) that they had underestimated the lengths he is capable of going to, to escape. The window is not far off the floor, and he has only a few wires to navigate to reach it. He strips off his shirt so that he can wind it around his fist to break the glass. It shatters after a few heavy blows, and he peers out into the night as he breaks off the remaining jagged pieces carefully. He's relatively high up – it must be a good fifteen to twenty feet, but he knows how to fall (learned from Sebastian), and he doubts it will kill him.
After he puts his shirt back on he has to dislocate both his shoulders to squeeze through the narrow space, but what is that when freedom is so close. He can feel the broken edges of glass cutting into his skin, but fresh air and the night are sweet and full of promise. He lets himself drop.
The fall is bad even though he rolls with it; onto hard concrete with the snap of ribs and agony bright as fireworks from his foot. He moans, half delirious, not entirely sure whether he's feeling it as pain or pleasure at this point. He spends a few long moments lying on his back before the knowledge that Sherlock and his pet must be swiftly headed his way spurs him into action. He pushes himself onto his front, rises to hands and knees, possible safe houses flashing through his head. He's going to need a doctor, he knows a few his organisation has used in the past, but now Mycroft has turned against him. The elder Holmes is a spider in a web, he likes to give himself the illusion of perfect control (Jim found him useful, but he was never under his control), and he can't take the chance. Back in the old days when he still used to get himself a bit banged up in the course of his business dealings Sebastian had been the one to take care of him, but that's no longer an option (never will be, he wants to scream, of course people die that's what they do but he and Seb were meant to go out together in one last blaze of chaos and destruction, years from now with the world at their feet and nothing left to burn but themselves).
If he cannot trust his old connections, it will have to be a new one. She'd been sending her feelers out trying to get in touch for months and nothing has been finalised between them yet. She is smart, he's watched her enough to know that she is no common woman, perhaps even good enough to play the Great Game with Mycroft. A good ally to have.
Not that he trusts Irene Adler. But she needs what he can give her, and she won't get that if he's dead. She will do.
"Moriarty escaped from your little game?" Mycroft's raised eyebrow taunts him with an unspoken 'again'. Sherlock bristles. He had rather more important things on his mind in the warehouse with John's life at stake, and as for this occasion... well, he'll accept the blame for not considering the escape route. He'd underestimated their enemy's resourcefulness.
"He dislocated both his shoulders to squeeze out of a second story window," John says. "Amazingly the fall didn't kill him, though the blood loss might have if he didn't get himself to help in time. It cut him up pretty badly to get out of there – we found a trail on the ground, though it didn't lead anywhere. "
Mycroft hums, a small sound of displeasure. Sherlock is less than pleased as well. If it wasn't for what he'd tried to do to John, Moriarty might have been an interesting man to work with, but now he only cares for vengeance. John is very precious to him, something still startlingly new and unexpected, and he will not allow any harm to come to him. John is his.
"I am sure he will turn up again eventually," Mycroft says, his umbrella inscribing slow, lazy arcs in the air. "I understand if you wish to undertake this personally, but you may be assured that I will offer you any assistance you desire in tracking him down."
Yes, I'm sure you'd take great joy in making us even more indebted to you, Sherlock thinks. No. Bad enough he's agreed to work for his brother, bad enough John is forced to do the same, but Mycroft's so called 'help' is never freely given. They are beholden to him too much already. "I think we can manage on our own, brother dearest," he says.
Mycroft's expression is faintly disbelieving but Sherlock has no intention of starting to listen to his disapproval now of all times. "In that case I will leave you to your... investigation. I shall be in touch with your first assignment in the near future."
"Yes, yes." Sherlock waves him off. He's sure it will be very tiresome. Mycroft might have promised him puzzles and John blood, but he suspects John will be getting the better end of the deal, although he may have to learn quickly that the government's definition of 'bad people' may differ quite considerably from his own.
"So where do we start now?" John asks as they leave Mycroft's latest out-of-the-way meeting place. "We only caught him so quickly last time because of Molly."
Sherlock allows his lips to twitch upwards into a small smile. "The list of contacts on his phone might be a good place to start." For John, he can leave off the 'obviously, you idiot'. "I'm sure you will enjoy persuading them to shift their loyalties."
"I can get imaginative," John says, smiling softly. Sherlock can think of nothing more perfect than having him here by his side, ready and willing to share the dark and the light both. In that way they are stronger than Moriarty, for they may call on both sides of the law, both sides of morality, whichever fits the situation. "After that sniper, I have a few ideas I'd like to try."
"Then we should not keep your knives waiting."
Most of what Moriarty remembers after Irene comes to pick him up is pain, and then the hazy and hallucinatory quality that comes with very good drugs. He floats for a time, caressed by soft flames that tickle instead of burning, envisions floating on his back in a river of blood as it carries him gently down to the sea. Sebastian looks down at him fondly, cups his face in his hands as he kisses him and murmurs, "I didn't mind dying for you, I didn't betray you before the end," and "Kill them for me Jim, make them hurt like I did, I'll never forgive them for tearing me away from you." Jim lets himself drift, starts to link strands of thought together through the haze of morphine, starts to plan.
They should have been a trifecta, a trio, with him at the top and Sherlock on his left hand, sinister, as the brain, the mind, the intelligence, Sebastian on his right, dexter, as muscle, emotion, love, if such a thing can exist between creatures such as they. But Sherlock denied it, shattered the mirror, twisted the image, replacing one hound with another and now everything is wrong. He will have his revenge, whatever the cost. Anything. Anything.
He slips through sleep uneasy, dreams of dark things, wolves that devour children, blood on the snow, the shadowed eaves of primeval forests as dark as the heart of the most human monster. He dreams in fairytales that end the way they should, under the wide wings of death.
One week later John is sitting in their kitchen at Baker Street sharpening his knives when Mycroft comes to call. Over the past seven days he and Sherlock have delved deep into the criminal underworld, making their methodical way through Moriarty's phonebook, and he has seen more of the insides of people than he has at any other time since the war. He has not lost his skill as a surgeon, and it is not so very different to hurt instead of heal, to control death instead of life. These are not nice people; he has no compunctions about killing them, and enjoying himself as he does so. Perhaps it is Mycroft, the sanction of someone 'official'. Perhaps he simply can't deny any more than he came back from Afghanistan broken.
"Your brother's here to see you Sherlock," Mrs Hudson says from the door. John peers round and sees her looking at the flat in exasperation – it is even more of a mess than usual with bits of information about Moriarty's empire, his employees, his potential boltholes and safe-houses spread out in some kind of room-sized mind map. Sherlock, who is sitting staring at it all, looks up with a snort of disgust.
"I do admire your sense of décor," Mycroft says, ascending the last of the stairs into view. John slides his knives back into their protective case and turns the chair to face him, wondering if he should make them a cup of tea. He hasn't met the man enough times to work out how long he plans on staying, though he has no doubt that even if they weren't related Sherlock could do so with typical ease.
"Come to send us off on our first 'mission'," Sherlock says, not even deigning to look at his brother. It's at times like these that John wonders exactly what happened between them to make Sherlock resent him so much, whether it was something big, or just many little infringements on Sherlock's pride, his fierce independence.
"Nothing too far from home just yet," Mycroft says, holding out a thin folder. "Internal troubles in MI5."
Sherlock doesn't look like he plans on moving so John gets up and goes over to take a look. He flicks through the file, skim reading and speaking out loud as he goes. "Rupert Quinn, 46, respected operative, various little things that apparently add up," he raises his eyebrows, "to him selling government secrets to Iran."
"He is placed in a position to be familiar with the majority of our usual operatives, which makes you the perfect option. I think it would be best if you made an example of him, pour encourager les autres, you understand."
"Dull," Sherlock says. "I thought you promised me challenges Mycroft."
"Don't forget that you still have to devise a cover-up for his death."
Sherlock groans, but says, "Fine. It isn't as though we have any choice in the matter."
"No." Mycroft's smile is cold, and a little smug, in John's opinion. "Have you given any thought to your names?"
"Names?" John asks.
"Your designations for our files."
"John is the Surgeon," Sherlock announces with a lazy wave of his hand. "He's already put some work into that identity over the past week. And I shall be the Deducer."
"The point is to conceal your identity," Mycroft says, sighing. "Not announce it via an easy internet search and your own personal website."
"Fine. The Analyst. You've got plenty of those running around haven't you?"
"It will suffice." Mycroft nods to them both. "Very well. I shall leave you to your work."
"Good riddance," Sherlock says, but he takes the folder when John proffers it.
The cuts are shallow; they heal quickly and add to the patterns of old scars littered across his skin, lines of learning, lines of lust. The ribs take longer - they make it hard to breath, leave bruises like ink over his chest – Adler's pet doctor explains the pattern of his wounds in between doses of drugs, when he rises clear-headed to meet the pain and take stock of his broken body. At least a month for those, bed rest, nothing to do but lie there and think, plot and plan, still needing painkillers too often to do anything productive. Jim would snap and snarl at the oh so patronising way the man speaks to him, as though he is some dull, average patient who is too boring to be bothered by weeks of nothing, but he's too weak, and it isn't really worth it. He cannot seem to take any pleasure even in contemplating it.
He doesn't remember when they took the foot. He knew it was inevitable, that it was too damaged to keep, no chance of fixing it up nicely with tiny wires and Meccano, nudging the shattered jigsaw of bones back into place. He would have liked to see it as it went, a more concrete reminder of what he owes Sherlock and his pet, but the absence is enough of a memento. There is something hypnotizing about it, like a trick done with mirrors, sleight of hand. He wants to touch it, run his fingers over the skin and scars and neat pad of muscle over shorn-through bone but it isn't ready to be seen yet, still raw, healing, becoming.
"You'd better be worth all the inconvenience," Adler says to him, sometime between the weeks, padding in and out of the spare bedroom in her nice big house to check if he's rolled over and poked his ribs into his lungs by mistake in the night. She doesn't know the story yet, he hasn't told her, he knows she assumes it was some other criminal from the circles he runs in, which is irony enough to make him laugh. He'll tell her in time. When he needs her to play her part.
Later there is physiotherapy, repetitive exercises to rebuild unused muscle, enough to drown him in ennui like thick black treacle, like tar to fill all the corners of his insides up until it comes oozing out his eyes. He does not like to be patient, but he likes the bed even less after a month of nothing but. The low-banked embers of his rage are the comfort of hot coals swallowed into his stomach, and he meditates on that whilst he goes through the process of rebuilding himself. Sherlock must be wondering where he's got to after so long.
This weakness is of the body, and therefore unimportant. His mind is scalpel sharp, as hot as the sun and as cold as the depths of space, and it is the only weapon he needs.
"Do you want to know who really did this to me?" Jim asks, limping into Irene's room and sitting on her bed. It's been two months and he's up and on his feet (hah, foot) at least, using a crutch because he can't be fitted for a prosthesis for another four weeks yet. The stump has to settle down, find its shape. He likes to think of it as something separate from him, some strange new symbiote that hasn't quite adapted to its new home yet. Or perhaps it's a piece of meat that's simply not done cooking. He lets his fingers trace over his knee, trailing patterns down to empty trouser leg pinned up to itself.
Irene leans back against her armoire, puts down lipstick the colour of flesh sliced down to the muscle. "I don't recall giving you permission to come into my room."
Jim smiles, ignores her words. "There is a man who is very much like me, but in some ways far less honest. He claims to be on the side of the angels, but he's just a devil who likes to play pretend. We were playing a game, Sherlock and I, the best kind of game where the bets are all made in blood, and then he stopped playing fair." He pouts, though the emotion is so much deeper. (Won't show her that, won't let her see a weakness.)
"Do you expect me to feel sympathy for you?" Adler asks. "The only reason I helped you is because you're going to help me in return."
Jim lets his eyes widen. "Don't you want to catch a monster Irene? Don't you want to put down an animal who's killed scores of people for the thrill of it? Who pretends to be a detective, to solve crimes, when really he's nothing but a hypocrite."
"I have a monster right here in my room." She tilts her head and smiles a little. "Though why do I get the impression that it's his hypocrisy that bothers you the most?"
"It did," Jim says, showing his teeth. "But then he killed my favourite enforcer and tried to play Saw with me. You can understand how that makes it personal." He can tell from the way she shifts her stance, coy, almost seductive, that she's considering it. "He has a brother too, the spy type. We had such fun together, tit for tat, a mutual agreement. But he betrayed me. And from a business point of view, well! That's just. Not. On!"
"What would you like me to do?"
"Beat him. Show Sherlock he isn't as clever as he thinks he is. Burn him, and his brother too. You've enough secrets in your phone for that."
He knows he has her. Like him, she can't resist a challenge. It's the thrill of the game, and it never gets old. Irene picks up her lipstick again, red as the kill.
"I've always wanted to be a femme fatale."
Despite the work Mycroft gives them, they still find time for ordinary cases in between. Mostly these are the things Lestrade sends them, but for whatever reason, perhaps just the hope that casting a wider net will reap a greater number of 'interesting' cases, Sherlock makes the decision to open his services to the general public. The response is varied, from minor problems like cheating partners to the truly bizarre, like the case of the comic book characters coming to life that John writes up on his blog as The Geek Interpreter.
Continuing the blog, well, perhaps John just likes to boast about Sherlock. It started as just something to do for fun, but then people outside of their little circle of friends began to show an interest, and he felt he couldn't disappoint them. Besides, he enjoys crafting their adventures into a proper narrative. Only the ones that are suitable for public consumption though. He's not the kind of killer who secretly wants to be caught, after all.
God, he's a serial killer now. It's such a strange thought. There's a bit of a thrill in having a secret like theirs, their very own licence to kill. John never feels his leg hurt, there's no trace of a tremor in his hand. All the danger and excitement he could ever wish for is within easy reach. From a certain point of view, he's serving his country again, taking out the trash and enjoying it. He might not write them down, but he keeps his own mental scrapbook of his kills, of the ones where Mycroft said, 'make an example', the heat of fresh blood pouring over his hands, the twitch of terrified muscles unable to get away, the rabbit-fast beat of a heart sitting in a chest laid open, ready to be grasped in his fingers so he can feel it when they bleed out, or go into shock, simply slipping away at his prompting.
It's nice. He's happy. And Sherlock is too.
And then he finds out that he seems to have accidentally made them famous.
There are journalists waiting for them when they come out of the theatre, cameras going off right, left and centre with an overload of stimulation that brings Afghanistan back in a flash of desert-heat and a shock of sympathetic pain in his shoulder before he can get it back under control. He breathes hard, tucks his head down into Sherlock's paltry disguise and tries not to panic. Internet famous isn't like real famous, they'll be forgotten in a week, and even if not, Mycroft can pull some strings. There's no need to worry that the tabloids will find out something they shouldn't.
Why oh why did he think writing a blog was a good idea?
Six months have passed since the warehouse (since Sebastian's death), and Jim is still getting used to his latest prosthesis (another of many, customisable for every occasion!) when Adler calls. He smiles. Oh yes, he's seen the papers as well. Fame is a foolish step for that pair to take, so easy to turn, so easy to twist and change, the tabloid rags with their fangs out baying for blood, unfussy over the source. Idiots. They have too much to hide. Better to slink in shadows like him.
"Yes. It's time."