Over the next few months, all of John's hopes for a quiet bit of time with just the two of them plummeted as Sherlock's popularity skyrocketed. He could do no wrong as far as the media was concerned. Cases that would have been largely ignored not all that long ago were now being lauded as proof of Sherlock's intelligence. Reporters started camping outside of 221b and following them both to crime scenes. Lestrade invested in a few more officers to control the press and keep evidence from being contaminated, but he wasn't happy about it and he made no effort to pretend that he was. Every time that Sherlock showed up with the press in tow, he looked more worried. John knew exactly how he felt.
Sherlock enjoyed the attention for the sole reason that it brought more cases his way, and he solved every one eagerly. It was adorable, in a way, because Sherlock truly didn't care about the media the way most people would have: the only thing that mattered to him was having an interesting case to sink his teeth into, and now that everyone wanted a piece of him he had more interesting cases to choose from than John had jumpers. It took serious effort to make him stop for five minutes and eat something, never mind sleeping. John was grateful for their bond over those weeks, because little else would have been enough to make Sherlock get the occasional good night's sleep.
It all came to a head in exactly the way John was most concerned about, when they received word about Moriarty breaking into those three places simultaneously. Unsurprisingly, Sherlock was an arse during the first day of court and got himself arrested briefly before Mycroft stepped in. He seemed to be strangely calm about it, unmoved by his brief stay in prison alongside Moriarty and god only knew how many of the men that were working for him, but John didn't have that ability. Adrenaline made him restless as they got into the cab that would take them home, too aware of the fact that they had no idea what Moriarty's end game was. This game, with the rules that hadn't been explained, was one he wasn't sure that Sherlock would be able to win.
"I don't like it," he said the instant that they were back inside of 221b with the door shut behind them. Sherlock glanced at him, blinking lazily, and removed his coat and scarf. As he moved past John to search the room for any electronic recording devices, John frowned at his back and repeated himself. "I don't like this, Sherlock. He's playing with you, baiting you, and there's no way to tell what he's planning. How can you play a game that you don't understand?"
Sherlock did not respond, not even mentally, until he had thoroughly scoured the room. Only then did he turn and look at John. His eyes were strangely bright in the dim light of the room. "You were right."
"I was - what?"
"Right before we met Moriarty the first time, you asked me what would happen if I messed up," Sherlock said quietly.
John remember that night, almost against his will. It was back before he and Sherlock had become lovers, before they had even shared their first kiss, back when everything between them had been new and confusing. He licked his lips. "Yes."
"I told you I wouldn't."
The implied 'but I think I have' lingered at the end of his sentence, twisting John's heart. He wanted to go to Sherlock and offer him a hug, but he didn't. He wasn't sure it would've been welcome right then. "You made a mistake," he said wearily, because there was no point in saying something as ridiculous as 'I told you so'. That would not improve the situation, nor do anything to dissipate the tension between them. "Everyone does, sooner or later. What matters is that we have to focus on figuring out what Moriarty wants and how we can stop it."
"I'm not sure that he can," Sherlock replied. "He's... craftier than I expected." Once there would have been awe or even respect in Sherlock's voice, but now he just sounded resigned. It was awful. "That night at the pool, Moriarty wanted to beat me. He wanted me to watch as you died before he killed me. That was important to him. Things have changed."
"Changed how?" John couldn't get anything from their bond; Sherlock's thoughts were too confusing and muddled. Just trying made his own head begin to ache.
"He wants to prove that he's better than me," Sherlock said after a pause.
"I don't see how that's different."
"This time he doesn't care what he has to do to make it happen."
Now John's head really hurt. "Sherlock -"
"I don't know what's going to happen, John."
And wow, John had never heard Sherlock sound this lost before. Not even when he saw the hound for the first time. It scared him, and he could tell by the way Sherlock twitched that Sherlock was picking up on it. "We'll figure it out," he said, attempting to sound confident and knowing that he was failing miserably. He did approach then, reaching out for Sherlock. He was relieved when Sherlock allowed the embrace, even lifted his own arms to wrap around John's waist. It didn't take long for his grip to become so tight that it left John breathless, but he didn't protest. The pressure, bruising though it might have been, felt good.
Now that they were in physical contact, the chaos in Sherlock's head actually slowed down a little. Became more manageable, so that John could actually sort through it all. It didn't take him long to be able to pick out the strands of thought that were at the core of Sherlock's unusual display tonight: he was worried that Moriarty would lash out at certain people, notably Mrs Hudson and Lestrade and John and maybe even Mycroft or Molly, in order to get a full set of revenge on Sherlock. John had to admit that he hadn't actually contemplated that before, and it was a chilling thought. He instinctively smoothed his hands down Sherlock's back in a calming gesture when the detective shivered.
You're worried he's going to attack the people around you, he said, unable to contain his surprise. Because there was a time when those thoughts wouldn't have even crossed Sherlock's mind, not with the thrill of the chase and a mind that just might well have been his match to compete against.
Not everyone is intelligent enough to be able to keep up with us, Sherlock said.
John smiled in spite of himself. Ha ha, you're funny. Don't worry, okay? We can fix this.
That one word held so much pain and desperation that John's heart broke just a little bit. He swallowed roughly and held Sherlock tighter, relieved that they weren't speaking out loud because he wasn't sure he would have been capable of doing so. We'll get Mycroft to send Mrs Hudson away somewhere safe. She can take a nice vacation, maybe with a couple of her friends. Molly too. And you know Lestrade will be well protected, Mycroft's always got some sort of security detail on him, and Mycroft's got his own personal bodyguard in Anthea. There's no way they'll agree to leave.
I'm not leaving either, John replied immediately, resolute and firm in this alone. Whatever happens we're going to face it together.
Sherlock tensed, like he wanted to say something more, and John caught a few flickers about Moriarty's web and how vast it was, and how much time and effort and travel it would take to bring it down under the radar, before those thoughts cut off and Sherlock sagged against him until he could press his face to John's shoulder.