Well well well... looks like we've got all sorts of people trying to make things work in their favour here. Nice to see Moriarty again, innit? Things appear to be coming to a climax. Hope it's a satisfying one!
Chapter Twenty-Two: No Final Round
I am you. Prepared to do anything. Prepared to burn... You want me to shake hands with you in hell - I shall not disappoint you.
Sherlock knew that he had to move quickly if he was to keep John out of the picture; the longer he waited, the more likely it was that his flatmate would be on the lookout. He knew John too well to trust that his friend would stay away even if ordered to do so, especially in light of the potential circumstances. And then there was Moriarty himself - the longer Sherlock abstained from action, the more time the criminal mastermind would have to consider what the other man could do.
With this in mind, Sherlock seized the first opportunity he got to leave the flat on his own, the very next evening. John had apparently gone out somewhere, and wasn't expected to return for a while. For a brief few moments, Sherlock pondered the possibility that his friend was making yet another check-up on Miranda Allen, which could prove a slight problem; but then he shook the idea from his mind. Even if John was at Bart's, he wouldn't likely be wandering around.
The consulting detective hailed a cab, absently giving his desired destination to the driver as he pulled out his phone. Unable to suppress a sense of grim satisfaction, he sent off a quick message that was sure to give the recipient a jolt of deja vu.
Come and play.
Bart's Hospital rooftop.
For old times' sake.
The pause that came before the reply was just long enough for the answer to have been carefully considered.
And here I thought you'd be tired of playing.
Sherlock stared at the message for a moment, and then let out a soft breath of satisfaction as the corners of his lips twitched upward. Moriarty had no idea how truly he had just spoken.
Sherlock carefully pushed open the door that led out onto the flat roof of the hospital. The glint of the sinking sun shone briefly into his eyes before he turned his head to glance around, appraising the area. He took a few steps forward, clasping his hands behind his back, turning slowly in place before pacing away again. Good... the guest of honour hadn't arrived yet, which suited Sherlock perfectly.
He moved closer to the edge of the roof, leaning slightly to look down at the street below. It was all so keenly familiar, almost hauntingly so. But, as Moriarty had put it... oddly appropriate, at the same time. He lifted his head again into the rush of a cool evening breeze. Closing his eyes, he exhaled slowly, and waited.
It was perhaps a quarter of an hour later when the rooftop door was pushed carefully open again, by a hand that shoved almost contemptuously at the heavy metal. The figure stepped deliberately, and yet delicately, onto the roof and let the door shut with an audible sound behind it.
Moriarty's face was inscrutable as usual, though as he stepped into the light he did cast an oddly appreciative glance at their surroundings. Only when it seemed that his eyes had taken in the entire cityscape did he flick a glance toward Sherlock, and it was brief and appraising. It was the kind of look that took in everything in a moment without even seeming to.
"This is new," Moriarty remarked absently, tilting his head to glance up at the darkening sky. "Okay, not new, exactly, but –" He gave Sherlock a sudden, sharp look that might have been slightly amused, though it was hard to tell. "I wasn't expecting to be able to say thank you in person."
Sherlock turned slowly to regard the other man, dragging his gaze almost with reluctance from its contemplation of the panoramic view of London as the city fell under shadow. His expression was strange - hard, but at the same time looking as though he was struggling with some inner turmoil. He stared at Moriarty for several long, silent moments before speaking.
"Would it make any difference, really, if it's in person or not?" he asked quietly.
Moriarty shrugged, slipping his hands into his pockets and pacing forward a few steps more. "A little text message can only say so much. It isimpersonal." His tone was rather bored.
Sherlock watched the other man move closer, feeling the light wind tugging insistently at his coat and hair. "Would you prefer a more eloquent method of communication, then?" he said, his voice deceptively easy, while his body had already begun to tense.
Moriarty sounded as though he were struggling to hold back a laugh, and indeed when he looked back to Sherlock, he was smiling in that odd half-surprised way of his. "I have be honest with you, Sherlock, I'm dying of curiosity to know what this is all about. You should be pleased."
It was that game of his, that pretense of relaxation and familiarity, each word delivered entirely without self-consciousness. He had stopped walking again, this time holding his position by the very edge of the far wall. Seeming very much at ease, he regarded Sherlock expectantly.
"Oh, I am pleased," said Sherlock softly then, turning slightly so that he was facing the other man again. An icy little smirk found its way onto his lips. "After all, I did help you - so it's rather nice to know that you've decided to return the favour and show up here." He tilted his head. "Very obliging of you... I'm grateful."
The smile dropped almost instantly from Moriarty's face, and suddenly he was regarding Sherlock with a cold, burning calculation. "Least I could do," he answered slowly, his narrowed eyes never leaving the other man's face.
Sherlock couldn't help but feel a ripple of satisfaction. Always before, it seemed, Moriarty had held the advantage in any encounters between the two of them, marginal though it may have been. But not this time.
"So," he said after a moment, raising his voice to a conversational level again. "Have you figured it out yet?" The smirk was still there, but it was tighter now, and more ominous.
Moriarty had gone very still, his features hardening further as he held Sherlock's gaze. "If I haven't, I'm sure you'll be willing to oblige."
"Go on," replied Sherlock, deliberately looking away, his voice almost teasing. He began pacing slowly back and forth. "Surely you can't have missed something so..." He halted suddenly, turning his head to glance at Moriarty as he finished, "...obvious." He started pacing again.
This time, Moriarty said nothing, though his head turned, very slowly, as he followed Sherlock's movement. A tightening of something beyond annoyance was beginning to show in the lines around his eyes and mouth, but he hadn't lost control. Not yet.
Sherlock raised his eyebrows, pivoting again to face the other man. "No?" he asked lightly, taking in the signs of irritation beginning to show in Moriarty's face and poise. "Pity." Almost without his realising it, the smile disappeared from his own features. "Shall I tell you then?"
There was a definite spark of anger in Moriarty's eyes now, but he censored it well. "You do know how to take your time about these things," he responded, in a voice ominously low.
Sherlock regarded him for a moment, eyes narrowed. He couldn't deny having enjoyed this little banter, knowing that, for once, he held the higher cards. But he'd had his fun. It was time to end the charade.
With one fluid, easy movement, Sherlock pulled the handgun from under his coat and leveled it at Moriarty. His grip on the weapon was steady, and he raised his chin slightly, staring at the other man impassively.
Moriarty's gaze flickered in time with the handgun as he watched it come up; he straightened, staring at the weapon, and it was difficult to tell whether his expression was anger, surprise, disdain, or some strange combination of all three. "Oh..." he said softly. "Oh, this..." He seemed to be speaking to himself as a line appeared between his brows.
"I did tell you," said Sherlock quietly. "When you first came to Baker Street all those weeks ago - I told you there would be no final round." His voice took on a steely edge. "Did you honestly expect me to keep playing with you after this latest escapade?"
"It was almost too easy." Moriarty's glance slid from the gun to Sherlock's face. "One clue, a few threats... and this" - he gestured carelessly at the weapon aimed towards him - "this is your reaction?" An eyebrow went up. If he had been taken off-guard, he did not show it, but there was a warning tone in his voice that had not been there before.
"What were you expecting, then?" Sherlock reached up to steady the gun with his other hand, watching Moriarty through calculating eyes. "Something a bit more in line with how I may have reacted previously?"
"Sherlock, if you're anything, it's predictable." Moriarty took a step forward, and then he laughed. "I'm still not sure you actually realise how easy it was - all of this. Doyou realise it, Sherlock Holmes?" He spread his hands, but did not wait for an answer before continuing, and when he did, it was with an air of self-congratulation and mockery.
"Well, let's see. You've been gone for - what, six months now, bit longer? That's a long time, Sherlock, a long time with no games, no puzzles, no anything. Honestly, you did half the work for me just with that. You were ready. You just needed someone to set the board for you." Moriarty tilted his head toward Sherlock with a smile. "You've got to admit I did that pretty well." Now he began pacing back and forth, hands in his pockets, never moving closer or further but always threatening to do so.
"I'm not going to waste my time trying to deny your obvious talent," replied Sherlock, his lip curling slightly. "I merely invited you here to point out an extension of that - your overconfidence."
Moriarty merely laughed again. "It's nothing compared to yours, though, really it's not. Watching you running from one little hint to the next - and John was so worried, wasn't he? That I'd set someone to watching your flat... it was utterly brilliant."
Sherlock clenched his teeth, his previous grim joviality all but faded. "Only to a point," he gritted out, tightening his grip on the gun. "You've overstepped things this time."
"Oh, have I? And how does it feel, Sherlock Holmes, now that you've actually helped me? There were other ways I could've done it, of course, but when I realised who she'd talk to - oh, that was too good to pass up."
"Enough!" snarled Sherlock, and without even thinking he cocked the handgun in his grasp. "Trying to get me to help you was your last mistake, Moriarty." His voice was harsh, menacing.
A wind buffeted past them, dark and chill, setting both men's coats flapping about their legs. In the dimming light, Moriarty's features became even more surreal, and the glint of his eyes still held something strange and threatening despite the obvious odds against him. Even now, he did not appear greatly troubled, and his pacing continued, back and forth, along the edge of the rooftop.
"OK, so you shoot me - maybe even kill me." Moriarty spread his hands, looking pointedly around at the rooftop. "What then, Sherlock? What happens to you when the game is done?"
"Doesn't matter," Sherlock retorted, keeping his gaze fixed on Moriarty. "You won't be around to care either way." Even though he had expected as much, the other man's casual manner was beginning to irritate him.
"And neither will you."
Almost with a smile now, Moriarty took yet another step forward. His eyes were boring into Sherlock's - hard, knowing, almost fearless, and flickering with that peculiar brand of careless, world-weary mockery that was so distinctive. "You didn't really expect that I came here tonight with no precautions," he went on, more loudly this time. "Please tell me you weren't that careless. I do have expectations, you know."
"No, of course not," answered Sherlock, forcing his voice back to cordiality and, shifting position slightly to as to keep Moriarty in full view. "I wouldn't be so rude as to demean your intelligence that much."
"But you're willing to take that risk." It was a statement, but with the vaguest suggestion of surprise behind it.
"Obviously, otherwise I wouldn't have asked you here in the first place." Sherlock continued to eye the other man calmly, though not casually by any means. He could feel his pulse quickening in dreadful anticipation.
Moriarty frowned slightly, as though trying to straighten it all out in his head. "So... you're willing to die as long as I do, too," he said quietly, musingly. "You will shoot me, knowing that you'll be only seconds behind me." He glanced up again. "I don't know if I should be appalled or flattered."
"Knowing?" repeated Sherlock. "Suspecting, perhaps, but I have yet to see any proof that your part of this is anything but a convincing bluff. Not that it really matters, I suppose," he added thoughtfully. "Bluff or truth, it's not going to change my mind." His voice dropped to nearly a whisper. "You should have known better than to cross this line."
For a few tense seconds, there was only the sound of the wind whistling between them, and, muffled in the background, the steady drone of the London commuter population. And then, seemingly out of nowhere -
John's voice was hard and steady as he suddenly pushed open the rooftop door, gun held in both hands, and moved with swift practice to stand only a few feet from Sherlock. There was a grim, deadly look on his face as he kept the weapon trained on Moriarty's head.
He had known, when he saw Sherlock abruptly hail a cab outside the flat, that his friend was making his move – the final move, as he probably thought of it. John also knew that Sherlock underestimated him in some respects, and he had seriously doubted, as he watched the cab slide away, that the detective expected to be followed.
That was when he had called Mycroft.
Regardless of what had happened with Victor Allen and his daughter, Mycroft had never wanted to see his brother endangered any further. In less than twenty minutes, he and John had put together the rudiments of a counteraction, and though John was less than pleased with the final result, he knew, after going back over in his mind exactly what Moriarty had done to them, that it was the only way.
All the same, it had been hell standing there, forcing himself to stay calm, to keep quiet and just listen to the two great minds engaging in their verbal duel on this terribly familiar site when all the while he knew Mycroft's people might be just a second too late. But it wasn't unexpected. Whether Sherlock had meant it or not, John had seen the look on his face the previous night, and he had known then that his friend would consider even death a fair price to pay for Moriarty's demise.
John was not going to let that happen. Not again.
Sherlock's had eyes widened considerably when he heard John's voice; but the look he threw was directed at Moriarty, and it was one of suspicious calculation. Quickly, he turned his head back to see John approaching, the other man's face as dark as Sherlock had ever seen it. Forcing himself to maintain his steady composure, the consulting detective watched stonily until his flatmate was only a few feet away.
"John," he gritted out, still keeping a wary eye on Moriarty, "what are you doing here?" He had to fight to suppress a flare of fury at his friend's interference; because whether John knew it or not, his sudden appearance had effectively destroyed Sherlock's plan. There had been several very specific reasons why Sherlock had wanted to ensure that this little rendezvous was a two-man party - but no longer.
John let out his breath very slowly and chanced a quick look at his friend. "Saving your life."
"It's not your life to -" Sherlock started to snarl, but then he broke off suddenly. Across from them, Moriarty had remained quiet, but from the way his eyes were moving, he had missed nothing of what had happened. When John looked his way, he suddenly smiled again, mockingly, and mouthed thank you before turning his gaze expectantly back to Sherlock.
Sherlock let out a harsh breath, narrowed eyes darting between John and the consulting criminal. Was Moriarty's thanks just due to the other man's blundering in and upsetting the delicate balance of the situation - or was there something more substantial behind that innocent phrase?
The detective set his jaw, trying to shake away the sudden flood of doubt and dark suspicion threatening to overtake his thoughts. This all depended on Moriarty now, on whether or not he had been bluffing; and Sherlock found that he didn't really care for the new odds.
Looking suddenly much more relaxed, Moriarty spread his arms wide. "Go on, then," he called out. "You were going to kill me, weren't you, Sherlock?"
Sherlock made no reply, only glared at the other man, refusing to turn his head again and look at John. John, who had ruined it all... The gun was still held steady in Sherlock's hands, but now he wasn't sure he could risk pulling the trigger, not with his flatmate standing so vulnerable beside him...
"Admit it, Sherlock - you've lost this round." There was something bizarrely close to sympathy in Moriarty's tone and expression. "You pull that trigger and John will die. That's simple enough, isn't it?"
John looked between them, forcing down another wave of panic. How they were going to get safely out of this one he wasn't sure; his eyes kept darting involuntarily to the rooftops opposite, as though sight alone could tell him the location of Moriarty's gunmen that, this time, he knew were there. He flashed his friend a tight, anxious glance that probably wasn't even noticed. He knew one thing, though: Sherlock would not shoot now.
Sherlock clenched his teeth and shifted deliberately so that his aim was centered. "Slight correction," he hissed. "I pull this trigger and you will die." He saw the look John gave him, but couldn't bring himself to care; the fury he had felt the previous night was surfacing again.
But Moriarty simply continued to smile and shook his head. Then, very deliberately, he reached beneath his coat, and a moment later there was a sleek handgun aimed directly at John.
"The best thing you can do," Moriarty said, softly and distinctly, "is to know when you are beaten." His lips parted in a sudden smile. "Checkmate, Sherlock."
Just couldn't resist another cliffhanger, especially when it helps our readers to come back ready for more! Thanks in advance for your comments! May the Force be with you.