John descended the stairs to 221B with an uncommon bounce in his step, elated. He and Sherlock were fresh off unraveling a gnarled set of crimes, he was about to see Sarah, and Sherlock had actually offered- of his own free will- to get groceries.
It was a crisp night, he noticed. Maybe he should have grabbed an extra layer like Mrs. Hudson was always saying. He jammed his hands in his pockets and started off towards the Tube stop near the end of the street, fingers closing around the mobile in his left.
Given the events of today, he wasn't entirely surprised when he noticed a man peeling off an alleyway like a shadow and following a few meters behind. Intrigued more than nervous, John kept his pace and used closed and shuttered storefronts to steal glances back.
The man was tall- taller than John, but shorter than Sherlock. His arms swung freely at his sides, which was curious. Usually muggers kept their hands in close or in their pockets, clutching their knives and readying themselves for the attack. This bloke was brazen, actually- his gaze fixed on John, obviously keeping pace, slowly but surely closing the distance.
John was so occupied watching the man following him that he didn't notice the one in front of him until the burlap bag was around his head and strong arms pinned his own to his sides. Still, John went along, since the men weren't hurting him and seemed to be taking care not to. Brusque hands pushed him down and over, and he felt the seat of a car beneath him. He scooted in and an exasperated smile found its way to his lips.
"Is all this really necessary, Mycroft? What happened to Anthea opening a door for me?"
John was met with silence, and the first inkling of doubt wormed its way into his stomach.
Still, he kept up his lighthearted tone of voice, babbling about nothing in particular to gauge the mood of his kidnappers, aiming to become more than just a mark or a name or information to be had. They did not reply. He reached a tentative hand up to lift the sack, and someone slapped it back down with a harsh, guttural "No." After that, John fell silent.
He tried noticing as much as he could. There was someone on either side- the men from earlier. At least three people, then, including the driver, maybe a fourth in the front passenger seat. The seat beneath him was slick and pebbly leather, and he could smell it and that new-car-smell through the residual graininess of the burlap bag. The car rode extremely quietly- it took a bump or a stop light to remind John that it was moving. Luxury vehicle, at least- hopefully not a Janus rental. After what seemed like ages (and was more like half an hour), he felt the car rock , as they turned left into a bumpy parking lot, and then slow to a gentle stop, hearing the grinding crunch of gravel under the tires. John steeled himself, ready to run as soon as his feet touched ground. The man to his right had a solid grip on his arm as the door opened and he was yanked out rather more roughly than he was pushed in. Still, once they were outside and he heard the car door shut, John abruptly stopped supporting his own weight, wrenching free of the man's grip and pitching forward. His fingers touched damp gravel and he pushed off, launching himself into a dead sprint. He made it about five steps before someone crashed into him, slamming him back into the still-warm bonnet of the car and down onto the ground, amidst curses and his own breathless gasping. A pair of hands on either side hoisted him to his feet and half-guided, half dragged him inside creaking doors as he tried to catch his breath.
The smell of chlorine and a little bit of mildew was almost overpowering. They were at a pool- he suddenly knew with a creeping sort of realization, the pool; where Carl Powers had drowned.
He was sat down in a changing stall, gauging from the sudden brightness seeping through the burlap and the stronger smell of mildew and plasticky curtain. He heard footsteps, and primed himself to meet the man who'd blown up an elderly woman and a block of flats as a sick game. The footsteps stopped in front of him, and he felt a hand on his head grabbing the sack. He shut his eyes tight to avoid being blinded as the sack ripped away and then-
"Hi, John Watson." It was a little bit singsong, a little bit mocking. And too familiar. John opened his eyes to see Jim from IT. Poor Molly's 'boyfriend', who was more interested in Sherlock than in her.
Who was more interested... John swallowed, and looked away. Jim was dressed in a much nicer outfit than before. Even John could tell the suit had cost a significant amount of money. Jim had some sort of vest hooked on his fingers and hanging over his shoulder that didn't match his suit. He was staring down at John with a wolfish gaze; intelligent, but more importantly, hungry.
"Sherlock has offered me something, and you're going to help me get it." It was a statement, not a suggestion, or even a request, John noted.
"And why do you think I'll help you, Jim?" he said, emphasizing the name. A subtle threat, but one nonetheless. I know you, he'd said. I'll remember you.
"Because," Jim said, drawing out the vowels, "we'll all just die if you don't." Jim brought his arm down with a flourish and the vest fell into view. It was identical to the ones worn by the bombing victims, and John swallowed hard.
"Jim, I'm not putting that on," he said, his voice steady, low, and reasonable, as if he were telling someone to put the gun down, or step down from the ledge.
"Yes, you are," Jim insisted, mimicking his voice. "I'm afraid it's non-negotiable." He pulled a face that would have been pity, if it weren't so exaggerated.
John bit his tongue, and pressed on. "Why can't I just stay like this? I'll stay where you put me, I'll follow your directions." If he could get Jim to trust him, he might be able to make a break for it, or at least warn Sherlock. Speaking of- he kept his hand in his pocket and gingerly slid the screen out so he could type by feel, never letting his eyes leave Jim's face.
Contacts- Sherlock Holmes
New text-Pool is trap dont c
"Oh, I know you will, I'll -" Jim stopped as he watched the slight movement in John's pocket like a cat scenting its prey, and a slow smile spread. "Unless you're enjoying this even more than I am, you're not inspiring very much trust in me," he said, chiding John. He moved suddenly, digging his hand around in John's pocket and tearing the mobile away as John flinched involuntarily. Glancing over the half-written text, the mirth dropped from Jim's face, and he shoved the vest into John's chest decisively. The mobile chirped suddenly, signaling a new text message, and Jim flipped through to view it.
"Hey, I thought you were coming round tonight. Did I get the day wrong? -Sarah," he read aloud in a falsetto. John let his head fall back against the damp wall. Bad enough he was in the hands of this madman, but things had already been a bit rocky with Sarah. Standing her up wouldn't help matters. Assuming he made it out of here at all, that was. And it was looking less and less likely.
"Not tonight, dear. You have a headache," Jim said as he turned John's phone off and flung it into the adjoining stall. John tried not to listen as it clattered far, far away from him.
Jim turned his attention back to John, more authoritative than before. "I have a sniper here, you know. And if you try anything, he'll put a bullet right... here." Jim pushed an index finger none-too-gently into John's left shoulder, right above his heart, and old fear sank iron claws into John's spine. "Now put it on."
John took the Semtex vest with steady hands and slipped it on slowly, only zipping it halfway. Jim gestured to the heavy, bulky overcoat hanging on the hook above John's head. The doctor stood up to get it, his hands out and open, asking permission with a look. Jim's expression was impassive, but he watched John intently. Not out of wariness, it seemed-his posture was too relaxed for that: arms folded casually, one foot crossed over the other, leaning on the door frame like he was waiting for a friend to finish trying on clothes. He was analyzing John. Studying. Calculating. It was like Sherlock's gaze, only malevolent, somehow. Apparently satisfied that John was subdued, Jim stalked away.
There was an earpiece threaded up along the inside of the overcoat, hanging across the collar, and John reluctantly settled it into his ear. It too was identical to the other bombing victims. He tried not to flinch when Jim shouted in it to test it. He began to sweat, though from overheating or adrenaline, he couldn't tell.
He sat quietly back down in the changing stall, feeling the icy, puddled pool water beginning seep through his shoes. He chewed on his lip, thinking, trying for any way out of this. There wasn't any time, it felt like. It was 11:45 and Sherlock would probably be on time or even early, if he'd been the initiator. No- a little late, then, in an effort not to appear too eager. Sherlock was too proud to be seen as 'eager'.
...Which is why he'd offered to buy groceries, John realized. It came to him in a flash, and he was a little disbelieving and a little disappointed he'd been shuffled out the door for... this.
That mystery solved, John returned to planning, only to hear Jim's footsteps returning. John sat back and up in an effort to appear at ease. Jim assumed the stance he had before, staring without saying anything.
Jim spoke first, more at John than to him. "I know all about you, John Watson. All about your loyal military service and your boozy family secret. I know all about Sherlock too- he's always been there, juuust out of frame, but close enough to notice me. He should have noticed me. You're dull. Ordinary. Positively angelic."
"My apologies," John said, attempting some humor. There wasn't much to say to that anyway.
"So why does he hang around you?" Jim snapped, ignoring the joke. 'And not me' was practically screamed, though it went unspoken.
"There's only one living room?" John ventured. Even if Jim knew as much as he claimed, John wasn't about to provide him with anything useful.
It was the wrong approach, however. Jim's expression darkened considerably. "You'll repeat what I tell you to. Trying to warn him or escape will be death. For you at least, possibly for him."
Jim sounded almost bored as he spoke, and John's heart sank as he realized there was absolutely no negotiating with someone who thought of him as a programmable, talking wind-up doll. To Jim, he was a toy taken away to get Sherlock's attention. He swallowed the fear that might have choked him and met Jim's gaze evenly.
"Understood." It wasn't compliance; it was a threat.
Jim didn't acknowledge him, but he dropped his gaze, even as John stared on. He checked his watch with a flourish, then pushed off the door frame. "Well, it's time," he said, with a wide, almost genuine smile. "Wait here until I tell you to move."
Jim's footsteps faded away, and John was left alone, never wishing harder in his life to have had his gun on him. If he made it out of this, he wasn't leaving home without it again.
John steadied himself with a few calming breaths until he heard Sherlock calling out, and then his heart was jackhammering in his chest and he gripped the low plastic seat until his knuckles were white.
"Brought you a little... getting-to-know-you present," Sherlock was saying. "That's what it's all been for, hasn't it? All your little puzzles, making me dance, all to distract me from... this."
At Jim's command, John forced himself from the now-familiar confines of the changing stall, to see Sherlock holding aloft the little black jump drive.
But that didn't make sense! Sherlock had told him that he'd already handed them back in to Mycroft. He felt a pang of betrayal, but there was no time.
"Say 'evening'." Jim's voice crackled over the earbud. John complied. "This is a turn-up, isn't it, Sherlock?"
The betrayal John felt washed away as he saw utter disbelief and hurt etch themselves on Sherlock's frozen frame.
"John. What the hell-"
"Bet you never saw this coming. What... would you like me... to make him say... next?" John hated this, being a puppet, listening for his next line as the telltale red dot of a sniper's rifle appeared over an old scar, hidden by the cloth of his shirt and the Semtex vest.
"Grottle o' gear."
"Grottle o' gear."
"Grottle o' gear," John whispered. The only thing more humiliating than being a puppet was being the dummy of a crap ventriloquist who couldn't pronounce 'bottle of beer', he realized. Jim was deliberately mispronouncing it, a twist of the knife.
"Stop it," Sherlock hissed. He whirled, scanning the pool room. His eyes were flickering everywhere, as if he could see whomever was doing this if he just stared hard enough.
"Nice touch, this. The pool... where little Carl died. I stopped him. I can stop John Watson too- stop his heart." John blinked. He still wasn't used to being a bargaining chip. Or a boast.
"Who are you?" Sherlock was still turning, looking over every inch of the room.
Jim stepped out now, introducing himself as Jim Moriarty. "I gave you my number," he drawled. "I thought you might call."
He droned on about how he'd arranged everything, from his IT job at the hospital to the puzzles he'd set for Sherlock to solve, from Connie Prince, to the rental cars, to the forged painting.
John, for his part, had a hard time keeping his feet when he heard Jim had tossed thirty million quid aside as a "game." For this meeting, actually. But John didn't matter anymore, now, if he ever did at all. He was forgotten; once Jim had skulked out from the shadows, he was consumed with Sherlock, circling, feinting, squaring off and slowly advancing, forcing Sherlock to pay attention to him.
Sherlock, though, was in a bad way. Everything about him was just as intensely interested in Jim as Jim was in him- He had a gun leveled on him, sure, but Sherlock was rigid, riveted, and the doctor was pretty sure there was a healthy amount of fear there, though Sherlock didn't let on.
"A consulting criminal. Brilliant." There was a sort of admiration in Sherlock's voice and the slightest waver in his stance as he said it, as if he was reconsidering.
John clenched his fists in his pockets as he felt a pang of something and immediately squashed it. He was not jealous. Not of Jim. They didn't have time for this.
"Are you all right?" It was quiet, directed at John.
Before he could respond, though, Jim was in his ear-
"It's all right. You can talk, Johnny-boy!"
John forced himself to stand still and just nodded, pointedly ignoring Jim.
This was rapidly going off the rails. Underneath all of Jim's posturing and insinuations, there was a very real threat to Sherlock. For all of his friend's grandstanding, he wasn't a sociopath like Jim. He couldn't possibly go far enough with a clear conscience to win, if it came to that. Things would have to end here. Now.
Jim and Sherlock were squared off now, and there was precious little time left.
John didn't want to die here. Not like this, not strapped into a Semtex vest and trotted around like a dog performing tricks. Nothing good would happen once Sherlock was gone, and it wouldn't be quick. But Sherlock would escape, he would live, and that was absolutely everything.
Jim was distracted with the missile plans and John made his last move. He rushed forward, trapping an arm behind Moriarty's back with his right, wrapping his left around the slightly taller man's neck.
Thank you again to The Death Frisbee (nee tfclvi) for her grammatical prowess and general awesomeness :3
-Of course, after Sherlock comes in, I've borrowed (with love!) the dialogue and actions from the actual pool scene.