Sherlock hated to admit it, but he was having trouble concentrating, and at a time when he could not afford to be distracted.
All he could do was wait for Moriarty to strike. He knew he was going to. Sherlock had rebuffed his advances and that was not something Moriarty would take lightly. So, something was coming, something big, devastating … but there was nothing he could do until it arrived.
He kept an eye out for unusual events, coded messages in the papers, signs of trouble … anything out of the ordinary, but for several weeks, there was nothing. Just tension which was starting to wear down John, whose eyes were looking haunted.
That was what worried Sherlock the most—that John would likely be a target again. Moriarty seemed to have shifted his focus to Sherlock, but that didn't mean he would ignore John. The man was far too tempting a target, after all.
And, of course, Moriarty had no idea that the gift he was lusting after was actually John's.
That was one of the things that worried Sherlock most—how much had Moriarty seen in that surveillance video? What had he deduced about John's gift?
It didn't surprise Sherlock that Moriarty had immediately assumed the gift was his. The man continually underestimated John in every way (pet, indeed!), so naturally he would assume the extraordinary gift was Sherlock's.
It led to an interesting (terrifying) line of speculation on what Moriarty's reaction would be if he knew it was John. He certainly wouldn't want to be John's partner. No, he would try to subvert John, to turn him into a tool or "pet" of his own, which was utterly unthinkable. It would be better for John to work for Mycroft (shudder) than be turned into something Moriarty would find useful.
Sherlock couldn't even think about the possibility that, in his ignorance, Moriarty might kill John as some kind of "lesson" for Sherlock, thereby eliminating John's gift from the equation altogether.
No, Moriarty believed that the gift was Sherlock's, that only Sherlock could be fascinating and talented enough to warrant his attention. Fine. Except Sherlock had already told him no, and Moriarty had not taken it well. Sherlock had no illusions about the likely response—it would be violent and vicious. From what he had seen of the man, he judged that he would be given one more chance to come play nicely—but that it would only be presented as a final choice. Moriarty would do whatever he could to eliminate all other possibilities from the board.
1. The police. Moriarty knew about his occasionally rocky relationship with Scotland Yard. Sherlock knew he was not popular or even liked by the officers and Moriarty would not hesitate to use that against him. Given any reason at all, they would happily turn on him. Donovan and Anderson were halfway there already.
2. The press. John had already warned him that the press and the public was fickle. They know him less well than Scotland Yard, and so they would be even faster to disavow him were things to go bad.
3. The proof. And, therefore, Moriarty didn't need actual evidence against him—just the appearance of it.
4. The archenemy. Moriarty knew Mycroft. As little as Sherlock liked to admit it, his brother's connections had often been … convenient. Having spent the last months in Mycroft's custody, though, Moriarty would know this. He might not know the full breadth of Mycroft's powers, but he knew OF Mycroft, which was more than most people. His plan—whatever his plan would be—would depend on Mycroft being taken out of the picture.
5. The heart. John. Sherlock's greatest strength and his greatest weakness.
It always came back to John.
John was just leaving Mycroft's private room at the Diogenes Club when his phone rang. Worried about another repeat of the earlier scene ("What? Am I invisible?"), he looked guiltily around as, this time, he tried hard to be as invisible as possible while he fumbled for the volume controls. Being thrown out had been embarrassing enough the first time (though he still felt Mycroft could have warned him about the no-talking rule).
He was concentrating so hard on not being noticed, he almost missed Sherlock walking through the room.
But, weren't he and Mycroft not speaking to each other? Why else would Mycroft have dragged John here just to tell him about a frankly scary gathering of international assassins just so he could pass the news on to Sherlock? Was this another of Mycroft's kidnappings, or had Sherlock come voluntarily?
Without a thought, he hurried after Sherlock, just slipping in the door behind him, concentrating hard on don't see me, I'm not here, just ignore me, nothing to see. He knew how hard it was to fool Sherlock, but something told him this was important.
"This is a surprise, Sherlock," Mycroft said smoothly. "If you're looking for John, I assure you, he is not here. He just left. In fact, I'm surprised you didn't bump into him in the lobby."
"He was here?" John was surprised to see that Sherlock hadn't expected that. The detective hesitated a moment and then paced over to the door, opening it abruptly as if expecting to find John lurking on the other side—not realizing how close he came to punching John in the stomach with the doorknob as he dodged out of the way (still concentrating hard). "You're certain he's gone?"
John watched in amusement as Mycroft's eyebrow lifted. "Several minutes ago. Would you like me to call up the CCTV footage for you?"
John's mouth went dry for a moment—why hadn't he thought of that?—but Sherlock shrugged it off, intent again on his original purpose. "No. It's best that he not know we've spoken. In fact, you can't let him know, Mycroft."
John watched Mycroft's face sharpen as he took in the distress mostly-but-not-entirely masked on Sherlock's. "Of course. What do you need, Sherlock?" His voice was softer than usual.
"You know the game Moriarty is insisting I play." It wasn't a question. Sherlock knew that John had forwarded the video footage of Moriarty's visit. "It's going to escalate. It's going to get bad. I need …"
"Yes, Sherlock? What can I do?"
John watched as Sherlock paced the room—not an unusual behavior by any means, but this time the action seemed unconscious, as if the man had no control. "He knows about John's gift—or suspects it, I'm not sure. But he does not know that it's John's. He thinks the gift is mine and … Mycroft … he's going to try to use John against me, you know that."
"John's safety has always been at risk in Moriarty's 'game,' Sherlock—as has yours."
"Yes, but …" Sherlock spun around to lean on his brother's desk. "Moriarty wants John's gift. He will do anything to gain it, which is why he is … wooing me. And when he cannot win my cooperation willingly, he will apply pressure. He's already doing it. But he's working with incomplete data."
Mycroft's expression cleared. "And you're afraid he might hurt John, not realizing that he holds the gift he wants."
"Yes," Sherlock breathed the word, sinking down into the visitor's chair as if suddenly boneless.
Mycroft nodded. "Yes, but Sherlock, that doesn't put the doctor at any more risk than he already is. Moriarty may not know the realize how John is important, but he knows that he is. He won't hurt him unless he feels driven to it by your refusal."
"The man is hardly rational, Mycroft. We cannot be sure of that. This game … the rules have changed."
Mycroft tilted his head, considering. "Obviously telling him of John's gift would be a mistake."
"Fatal," Sherlock said. "If coerced to his side, he might treat me as an equal partner, but John? Moriarty would only ever consider him a tool to be used … and broken. I can't let that happen."
"I agree. The doctor's gift is far too valuable…"
"Not his gift, Mycroft. Him. John is far too valuable to let Moriarty anywhere near him."
The merest twitch to the lips. "Of course. I value him also, you know."
Sherlock just scoffed. "Yes, he's a valuable asset for you, but he's …"
"Your friend," Mycroft said gently.
Sherlock's face twisted into a grimace and John felt guilty, suddenly, for witnessing this. "He's suffered enough for me. I can't let Moriarty get his hands on him. I can't let him hurt him. I'll do anything."
"Why not tell him, then? You know he's trust-worthy."
"Yes, but a terrible liar, Mycroft," Sherlock said with a hint of a smile. " Him I trust completely, but not his acting ability."
There was a long, endless moment of silence. "So, the original plan…?"
"Still in effect. Moriarty will want to strip me of all means of support so that I'm left with no choice but to join him."
"Still a plan fraught with pain for John."
Sherlock ran his fingers through his hair. "I know. Moriarty's plan depends on alienating everyone who believes in me, and John will bear the brunt of that. If I exclude him, though, push him away, at least he will still be alive."
John couldn't believe his ears. Did Sherlock really think his loyalty was so fragile? Mycroft was obviously thinking along the same lines. "You underestimate his loyalty if you think that is possible, Sherlock. After Baskerville, he knows how you feel about him."
Sherlock's head came up. "What? You think that will … no, Mycroft. My so-called friendship almost got him killed at Baskerville and he knows that. If anything, that fiasco will work in my favor. He has had incontrovertible evidence that I am inept at friendship. My failure in that area can't possibly come as a surprise. If creating distance between us will keep him alive and out of Moriarty's hands, so be it."
"At what cost to you, Sherlock?"
Sherlock just shook his head. "That doesn't matter, My. No matter what happens, you have to promise me you'll keep him safe. Nothing else matters."
Mycroft just watched him for a moment and then said, "Your safety matters to me, Sherlock. To John, too."
John saw a flicker of some unfamiliar emotion cross his friend's face. "But you'll follow the plan?"
"I will, but I'd rather keep you both safe. You know Mummy will never forgive me if something happens to you."
Sherlock breathed a long exhale. "I think she gave up on your controlling me years ago. She'll understand."
A tight smile. "Easy for you to say, Sherlock. You won't be the one being scolded."
Sherlock was back on his feet. "It'll make a change, anyway. You know you were always her favorite." He looked at his brother for a long moment. "Until soon, Mycroft."
"Until soon, Sherlock."
And Sherlock was breezing through the door, coat flaring behind him as John was left standing in shock.
He started to follow Sherlock when Mycroft said, "Did you catch all of that, John?"
John blinked, considering the possibility of pretending, but what was the point? He relaxed his concentration and asked, "How did you know this time?"
"CCTV cameras, John. I didn't see you leave and the timing was so close—naturally you'd be curious when you saw Sherlock. And, of course, there are the heat sensors."
"Heat sensors. Of course there are heat sensors," John said, crossing to the nearest chair and sitting down. "So, what was all that?"
"I hope you don't expect me to break my brother's confidence, John."
John just looked at him, taking in the bland politician's face. "Yet you let me stay."
There was that tiny, smug smile he knew so well. "I have no control of what you may or may not overhear, of course, or what conclusions you may draw, though it never hurts to have full information from which to work."
John studied him for a moment. "You and Sherlock are playing some angle against Moriarty, something that requires subterfuge, and he doesn't trust me with it." He snorted a brief laugh. "You'd think he'd know better by now. My entire life is about subterfuge."
"Perhaps, but that's not the same as lying, John. You're a remarkably honest person, and Sherlock knows that. If things fall out the way we fear, we need to rely on your reactions being completely authentic. It's not about keeping a secret. In that regard Sherlock trusts you implicitly. It's about being as real as possible—and nobody is better at that than you. Nothing less than total honesty will be convincing."
John thought about that a moment. He considered Mycroft's love of security, secrecy, and covert ops. He thought about his own ability, and how often he'd been told he had no guile, no knack for subterfuge. Yet, the people who said that had no idea how many secrets he had—his own gift being one of them. Just because he chose not to lie did not mean he was bad at it—just that he was assumed to be bad. (Though he had to admit his lies were less believable when he was flustered.)
Yet, Mycroft had let him stay. He wasn't telling him details of Sherlock's plan, but he was letting him know that a plan existed.
From Mycroft Holmes, this was … extraordinary. As in, completely outside the ordinary.
Mycroft was counting on John's honest face to keep Sherlock safe in the face of … whatever the two of them were planning.
John met his eyes. "You know, you told me that you'd like me available for freelance jobs. It seems that this is one I'm ideally suited for, don't you think?"
"I already told you I won't break his confidence, John."
"I'm not asking you to. I'm not asking what the two of you are planning, and I won't tell him we talked about any of this. But that doesn't mean my skills won't come in handy, Mycroft. You already know that I have his back—but think how much more effective I will be if I know what I'm watching for."
Another smug smile. "I already know both those things, John—but it's your open face that we need to keep him safe. Too much information will influence that, which I cannot risk."
John set his jaw, marshaling his arguments, but Mycroft continued, "I already know you will protect him, John. Believe me, it's the only reassuring fact in all of this."
"But what if it's not enough?" John asked, hating how uncertain his voice sounded. "What if I don't know enough, can't do enough?"
"Then it simply was not humanly possible," Mycroft told him firmly. "I trust you, John. I'll give you what data I can—like the names and faces of your new neighbors—but for the rest? Trust your instincts. From what I've seen, you can accomplish almost anything when you need to. If anyone can protect Sherlock from Jim Moriarty and his own worst instincts, it's you."
And with that, John had to be satisfied.