Rating: PG. Gen. I'll do better next time, really.
Spoilers: The Great Game. General spoilers over the first series.
Summary: "Either he will waver at the sight of you, or he won't. Which do you think it will be, John?" John. Moriarty. A missing scene for The Great Game.
The difficulty is not so great to die for a friend, as to find a friend worth dying for.
In retrospect, John should have seen this coming.
He hasn't gone more than four blocks down from the flat when he first noticed he was being followed, and by then, of course, it was already too late. It's rather baffling why he hasn't expected this turn of the event. For one, there was still one bloody beep left, so the final game hasn't been played yet. For another, this business of getting kidnapped at a gunpoint isn't, disconcertingly enough, exactly new, ever since a chance encounter had him deposited in the orbit of one Sherlock Holmes. He really should have foreseen this.
Though he doubts having seen it coming would have helped much in the end. John doesn't expect omniscience from himself. Only Sherlock ever does.
John winces at the thought. Sherlock. This is going to be, at best, spectacularly disastrous.
He tests the plastic cuffs binding his wrists to the arms of a metal chair and wearily eyes the men covered in black ski-masks and armed with matching semi-automatics. There seems to be precisely very little John can do at this point. Even if he weren't currently trussed up like a particularly undignified turkey ready to decorate a Christmas supper table, he’s been issued a quiet assurance that any ill-advised move on his part would lead to swift reprisals, starting off with his legs and ending with the residents of Sarah's building, including Sarah herself. There is no way of knowing whether they would go that far, but given what's occurred in the last few days, John has no desire to put that to the test.
Five men armed with semi-automatics, he thinks, is definitely an overkill, just to guard a man like him. And they appear to be professionals, mercenaries possibly, though he can’t be sure. John collects the surrounding details, hoping to form some sort of a comprehensive picture, but it's beginning to feel like a strained effort of a toddler who's just learned to crawl deciding to test his steps by trudging around in a mud puddle. Still, he can at least tell the weapons are definitely not military issue, and definitely not something that would be circulating the streets of London with impunity. He's also picked up a slight trace of German accent when one of the men addressed John and issued the warning. The men haven't spoken a word to each other, though. There doesn't seem to be any need. To say this lot is well-organized is a staggering understatement.
They are, as far as he can tell, waiting for something. Or, someone.
At least at that, John can make a decent guess.
So, options. There's only one door into the basement, and it's correctly locked solid, so there's no other way out even if he somehow manages to fight five well-armed men, an idea admittedly too ridiculous to consider.
He wonders, idly, if these concrete walls could contain blasts from an explosion, and how much damage such an explosion may cause the surrounding buildings and the people inside.
That last time, twelve people died.
All right, so. Options again. He still has his phone in his back pocket. He may still be able to reach it if he breaks the cuff, though then he would have to risk nerve damages to his right wrist. Whether the men would notice his move and whether there would be a reception signal underground are two potential problems with this option. Then again, there isn't much in the way of other options, either.
He's in the process of giving this option its due considerations when the door to the basement flings open.
"John, really, do you honestly think you would still be left with the phone if it still works here?"
It's rather unsettling how the bored, imperial and irritated tone of this new voice is the exact same replica of the one John has - may as well just admit it now - grown inexplicably fond of hearing everyday.
Not only that, there is something else about the voice that ungraciously tugs at his memory. As in, he actually has heard it before. Because, the person sauntering in through the doorway, wearing an impeccable suit and a smirk that goes with it, is Jim. Molly's Jim.
For one stunned second, John thinks, quite distinctly, Poor Molly.
Sherlock would disapprove of this, probably. He would think it imbecile to be preoccupied with feeling pity for the lab girl rather than attempting to think through this somewhat catastrophic predicament, but one can't help where one's thoughts wander to in these types of moments. It's not terribly dissimilar to some moments in John's past - for instance, when he realized an artie that landed at his camp turned out to be a dud, or when he found out it's been friendly fires that had his units effectively pinned down for hours. In both occasions, John had been preoccupied with the status of his water kettle, whether it'd been left boiling hours before the shootouts. There are oddest things that stick to one's mind at the moments of crises.
So. Molly's Jim.
"Well, hi there, John. Again." Jim approaches John, rubbing his palms together with the level of enthusiasm that usually belongs to a four-year-old who's just allowed a free reign over the first Lego sets. John thinks twirling the goatee might actually be more appropriate given their occasion, but he doubts this Jim can actually grow any semblance of a beard.
Jim stops in front of him, and of course he's not really the young, nervous, gay IT John's seen back at Bart's. John wouldn't have thought a complete transformation of one's persona is actually possible at a moment's notice - that is, before he's seen Sherlock pull on a persona more quickly than it takes him to put on one of his ridiculous scarves. And now, here's Jim. No, Moriarty.
Moriarty looks affronted when John doesn't respond to his presence. "What, nothing to say? Not even a hello?"
John considers for a moment. There are things he would like to say, but none of them are all that appropriate, probably. "Hello," he says instead.
"We've met before, John, if you remember," Moriarty points out helpfully. “Jim Moriarty.”
"Yes, we've met," John readily agrees. It seems safer. "How's Molly?"
"Ah, good old Molly," Moriarty drawls, and even the accent is vastly different. And when he flashes a fond grin, it feels awkward and unnatural, like his muscles don't know quite how to form it properly. John cannot see how he could've missed this back at Bart's, though Sherlock hasn't noticed anything amiss either, which means Moriarty had one over Sherlock, which...is, well, a problem. "Molly is, at the moment, attacking a tub of ice cream with abandon. She got stood up, you see. It's unfortunate, really, but it could not be helped."
John hopes being stood up isn't a euphemism for being blown up into bits and attacking a tub of ice cream has nothing to do with ending up a corpse in the Thames somewhere. "You stood her up? That's not quite gentlemanly, is it?"
Moriarty shrugs, all casual and slick and unconcerned. "Na-ah. For that to follow I would have to be a gentleman in the first place."
"Right," John concedes the point, "there is that."
"And, to be fair, I believe you're standing up your lovely Sarah right now."
John doesn't want this man, if he can even be called that, to think about or mention Sarah in any way. Ridiculous, John thinks. Moriarty can bloody well think of whatever he wants to think of, regardless of what John wants. "If I'm right, and I think I am at least, I've been kidnapped by a criminal mastermind," John argues somewhat reasonably, "which is as decent an excuse as anyone can muster; whereas you are that said mastermind, so you don't quite have the same excuse."
Moriarty cocks his head, considering. "Good point, though it is entirely unnecessary - the argument rather largely hinges on the fact that you'll be alive to provide your well-prepared excuse, and frankly, that doesn't look very likely, does it."
"There's that, too," John agrees. Mycroft is not wrong; John's hand does not tremble, even now. "So, what now, then? Care to share?"
"Oh, now now, even you should be able to guess what's coming next."
John blinks. "What, that old thing again? Strap me to a bomb and wait around until Sherlock solves yet another asinine mystery you lay on him? It isn't, I don't know, exactly ingenious, is it?"
Suggesting to Moriarty that he should be able to come up with even worse mayhems to inflict on Sherlock and the world at large may not be the best idea John's had, but this whole goading and lording over other mere humans routine is wearing thin, and at least he hasn't called the plan boring, exactly.
Moriarty isn't affected by John's barb in the least. "Well, that has been the general plan," he admits rather amiably, "but to my great disappointment, it's going to have to be revised now. I'll be honest with you, John. Can I be honest with you?" For a moment there, Moriarty looks like an eager, over-sharing puppy.
"I cannot possibly think of anything that I want less, but do go on."
Moriarty's petulant look seems disconcertingly familiar to John. "I had this rather well thought-out plan set up for the grand finale, you know, right down to colour of the wires to strap you in, but Sherlock, in his infinite wisdom, has given me an ultimatum. When one receives such an invitation, it's only polite to take up on it, isn't it."
Ultimatum? How could Sherlock possibly know already that he's been -
John stops. Milk. And beans. Yes, I will get the beans and milk and whatever's needed, John. Of course. You go have fun with Sarah, I will be right here watching crap telly.
Right. Oh, he's going to kill that lanky, mop-haired bastard. That is, if neither of them gets murdered tonight. At least that chance is quite slim, which is not a line of thought that works to make John feel better.
Moriarty reads the look on John's face and seems delighted. John doesn't regard himself as a violent fellow, the army doctor bit notwithstanding, but he briefly contemplates bashing the man's head into any near stone wall. John might’ve given it a try, if it were at all within the realm of possibility.
"Of course he waited until you were well out of the way to contact me," Moriarty says, wiggling his fingers as if that makes some elusive points clear when in fact it doesn't. "One has to appreciate this delicious irony. Just to think if he hasn't cared at all for you, you would be with him right now, and you would've been safe."
As are many things happening in his life recently, this moment rather feels like silliness and nightmares in equal measures, and John cannot tell which he's supposed to be feeling. "Well, that's really not true though, is it." It's not a question.
Moriarty flashes him a Cheshire Cat grin. "Aw, shucks, yes, you caught me. Safer, then, relatively speaking, and not for long. So you are indeed correct - in the end it matters quite little."
"Right," John says. "That’s, well, wonderful. Right, then, what am I doing here, exactly?"
At that, Moriarty brims with disturbing giddiness, like all of this is a child's play and he’s the director behind the town hall puppet show. "You, Dr. Watson, are assisting me with testing a theory on Sherlock Holmes, who, minds you, despite my best effort - all right, maybe a mediocre effort at best - still remains somewhat of a mystery, which pretty much happens, well, never. And I can assure you, John, you will enjoy this."
Fantastic. John tries not to sound too dubious. "And how much, pray tell, will I be enjoying this trying process, exactly?"
"Oh, very much, I should think. You'll finally be convinced he does, in fact, care for the lives of others, especially for yours." Moriarty is mockingly benign. "You did want to know, yes?"
Something in John goes cold. "I'm sorry, what?"
"Either Sherlock will waver at the sight of you, or he won't. Which do you think it will be, John? Wouldn't you like to find out?"
- Will caring about them help save them?
- Then I'll continue not to make that mistake.
- And you find that easy, do you?
- Yes, very. Is that news to you?
For a second, John thinks - surveillance. But then again, probably not. Not that the man's above such tactic. Far from it, really. But not so unlike Sherlock, Moriarty doesn't need to be listening in on their conversations to know who John is, what he thinks, and what he is.
For the first time, John comes close to understanding why Sally Donovan reacts to Sherlock the way she does, why Sherlock causes such violent and vitriolic reactions in many others. John thought he's understood such reactions before, but that understanding existed only in theory, he realizes now - it's uncanny, frightening, and a good dose of irritating, the way Sherlock takes you apart a piece by a piece and unearths all your secrets without an ounce of sensitivity, but John's never felt this sense of wrongness about it, this violation of innermost thoughts stripped bare to all to see. As if all he is and what makes him who he is can be whittled down into a tiny little marble of nothing, to be picked up like a toy whenever Moriarty wants to.
Fear has been low-simmering and all encompassing ever since he's ended up on this blasted chair, but it hasn't been a hindering, gripping presence, until now. The very idea of Sherlock interacting with this maniac - he cannot predict what it will happen when these two collide. He shivers just to imagine it, to feel that Sherlock, his changeable nature, and his volatile mind, crashing with Moriarty's, feeding into each other.
No. No. Calm down. That's not it.
John stops himself in time. Neither of them really gets it. No, Sherlock didn't understand John within the first three minutes they met. He knew things, yes, but it was a far cry from understanding. They might know, but they don't understand. There's a difference.
And John knows his answers.
"I don't need to find out what he will do," John says, finally. His voice is calm again, and he feels almost at peace. "Because I already know. Thank you for all your efforts, but all this is not necessary, not for my benefit, at least."
Moriarty's eyebrow goes up, a pale parody of disappointment tugging at his lips. "That's really a startling lack of curiosity there, John."
"And yet, amazingly enough, I still manage. So, what, that's it, then?" John furrows his eyebrows. The geniuses may probably never understand a regular, fairly normal person in the way that matters, but it does go both ways. "You take a gun to my head and threaten Sherlock until he admits defeat? All this, all of this, just so you can gloat over him?"
"What," Moriarty looks positively scandalized, "you mean to say you don't approve?"
John's fairly sure he's heard more ridiculous things in his life, but he can't think of one at the moment. It's possible this is Moriarty's brand of sarcasm, but John cannot read him, and he doesn't particularly want to, either. So. "It does seem a tad bit wasteful," John admits. "It's more than likely I'm not seeing the big picture like you can, though, so I wouldn't be discouraged if I were you."
Moriarty shakes his head sadly. "John, I had hoped for a little more from you. Insight, understanding into human nature, and all that from a medical doctor and a soldier."
John thinks for a second. He's currently irked, yes, possibly grated, by this maniac, but maybe one should not go out of his way to offend a rather powerful and rather insane criminal who's brilliant at dispatching people at an alarming speed. But then again the cuffs are cutting off his blood circulation, there's a sharp stretch of pain on his bad shoulder, which is a sign muscle spasms may soon follow on his left leg, and really, John can handle only one megalomaniac in his life at one time. Although “megalomaniac” may not be a fitting label if one's omnipotence is not actually a fantasy. John can imagine the fit Sherlock would work himself into over the definition of that particular label. And John does not want to get into the definition of a sociopath right now.
"Nope, no insight from me," John offers blandly. "I mean, other than my belief that this is a potential or full-grown form of idiocy. But that's neither here nor there, isn't it? Terribly sorry."
"Ah, there's never any need for apologies between us." Moriarty does a fairly good imitation of being grandly magnanimous. If he's seething mad, he's not showing it, or John still can't read him. "But you understand, John, that I will elicit your assistance, one way or the other."
That sounds fairly ominous, which is at least something more in line with what John’s been expecting, so he feels a little more comfortable. "Oh, you made your intentions abundantly clear, really. I'm merely expressing my preference. I mean, Sherlock can be a bundle of frustration sometimes, but he's my friend, and I'd rather not subject him to your scrutiny if I could help it." He pauses. "Well, no, I don't wish that on my enemies, either, really. Not that I have any. Except for you, now, I should think."
"Friend," Moriarty tests out the word. "How...pedestrian of you, John. And of Sherlock."
One would suspect the word pedestrian is meant to be hideously insulting. Well, John thinks, it may be to Jim Moriarty. As it may be to Sherlock Holmes.
John's not a psychologist. He wouldn't presume to know what makes and breaks the men like Moriarty and Sherlock, but this casual disregard for everything, everyone, and what other people value - he cannot help but feel sometimes that a well-placed and well-timed arse thumping or maybe a hug at some points in their childhoods may have changed things and the world would have been a better place for it.
"I cannot speak for Sherlock," John clarifies, meeting the dull, dark, lunatic eyes of Moriarty's staring into his, "but he has my friendship, regardless. Pedestrian or not."
An amused grin graces Moriarty’s face, though it doesn’t actually reach his eyes. He slips his hands into his trouser pockets, rocking back and forth on his heels. “Well, fat a lot of good it’s doing for Sherlock now, isn’t it, this friendship thing.”
This man is the one behind all the unsolved crimes that had everyone puzzled, even Sherlock, to a degree. Here's a man who blows up a building full of people and orders assassinations, not due to revenge or greed, but just because he can, just because he's just that clever. Here's a man who kills twelve people on a whim just to prove a point, nothing else.
It's not fear John feels, though fear's still low-simmering somewhere in his chest, sustaining him and keeping him steady even when exhaustion is lurking at the corner, ready to trip him over. What he feels is his own, little, trivial rage, at the man who considers lives as nothing but trivialities. The man who seems to negate any decency that others try so hard to maintain. The man who seems to ignore the worth of everything that a man like John himself holds so dear with every moment of his own life.
This theory of his Moriarty would like to test, in which John is supposed to play a grand role. Well.
Even with their rows of petty arguments and petulant fits, they’re friends. Sherlock has John's friendship because Sherlock wants it, even if, and maybe even despite of the fact, it might become his weakness. Will this Moriarty ever understand that? Will he care?
Pity would be absolutely fatal, even John knows that, but staring at Moriarty in the face, to see this juvenile caricature of a mad genius, seeing how it is not understood at all, John cannot help himself. "How is it, Mr. Moriarty, you’ve never learned there are some things you just don't do to others, to your friends?"
For a moment that seems longer than possible, there's nothing but a blank look on Moriarty's face. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, John can read the emotion behind his eyes for the first time tonight. John stares back at Moriarty, his youthful face that’s all so more frightening because of the lack of emotion masking the fury so well.
Still, there’s as much pity in John as there’s fear.
Moriarty sees through John; how can he not, what with his massive intellect that rivals Sherlock’s? Probably the only reason keeping John alive is Sherlock. The game cannot be, unfortunately, played without the pawn. But it seems to have affected Moriarty only momentarily, or maybe once the fury’s compartmentalized, Moriarty can dismiss John’s thoughts on the matter as easily as one would with those of a fly’s, because soon enough, Moriarty's wearing that alarmingly cheerful grin once again.
“Well!” Moriarty clasps his hands together and makes a show of checking the time. "It has been an absolute blast, John, but it simply won't do to make Sherlock wait, now, will it?"
Right. Well. "I have no problem making him sweat a little, but I suppose we all need to be polite."
Moriarty is all smooth grins when he nods at one of the guards, and off comes a vest tightly wrapped with enough C-4s to bring down the house. No, not C-4. John recalls that each explosion was made to look like a gas leak, so it may be a special compound of sorts. Still, John has witnessed what even the lowest grade IEPs can do to a human body, and one vest of this has been enough to destroy several floors in a single building, so this will be a pleasant and rather special experience.
Well, John thinks. At least he's seen this coming.
John's freed from his binding, which is only a fleeting relief. Now that his wrist cuffs are gone, his shoulder pain feels more pronounced, and he can feel the fine tremor going through his knees. The vest, once strapped on, weighs heavily against his chest, impeding his breathing.
"How does it feel?" Moriarty hovers over him, congenial and good-humoured. "Too snug for you, is it? I needed to compensate for your stature, but the measurement may not have been perfectly accurate. What do you think, John?"
"I think," John answers calmly, "that you deserve a solid thrashing."
Moriarty barks out laughter. "Really, John, I can almost see what he sees in you. I’m almost sorry about this, really."
"No, you're not."
"No, I'm not," Moriarty agrees. "Here are the rules, though I suspect you're already familiar with them, yes? You do what I tell you to do, say what I tell you to say. Say or do anything not directed otherwise, the bomb goes off and the snipers trigger, invariably, aimed right here." Moriarty points at the triangle made by the collar of the vest and John’s neck. "The vest is equipped with sensors. Mess with it, the bomb goes off. And please be assured when I tell you that you'll be utterly, irreversibly dead when it goes off. Questions?"
"Yes, I've got one." John looks down at the vest, and looks up again. "What would possibly induce me to follow your directions? I'll be dead either way."
"Well, because if you don't, everything within five hundred meters of you goes boom." Moriarty positively exudes boredom with each of his words. Obviously previous victims have asked the same question. "And I will kill Sherlock the second he steps into the pool compound, not a second later."
John decides to ignore the first part of the threat for the time being. "Right, because you actually think Sherlock's going to meet you, alone, unprepared."
Moriarty regards him with a look usually reserved by a teacher restraining himself from expressing disgust at a particularly slow student. This look isn't entirely unfamiliar to John, either. "You're not even trying now, are you, John?"
Right. All right. It wouldn't do for Sherlock to do something logical and sensible like bringing loads of coppers and Lestrade with him. John would really like to murder that lanky, mop-haired friend of his. At the first available opportunity. Really.
So, then. Options. At this point, the rule of diminishing returns applies. John tugs at the binds of the vest as surreptitiously as he can. He picks at the binds. Neither gives an inch.
"Careful, Johnny-Boy," Moriarty sing-songs, returning from giving his men instructions. "You know you don't want it to go off."
John ponders on this for a second. "Well, I don't know, actually. What makes you think I would let you and your lot get anywhere near Sherlock?" John asks, his fingers lightly over the solid explosives hanging off the vest. He's not an expert, but he knows enough to be able to sabotage this, right here and right now.
Moriarty narrows his eyes. "How exactly does he put up with you?"
"Not well," John admits.
The utter lack of concern in Moriarty's face is rather disheartening. "Dear Johnny, there's still a chance, a miniscule one at that but a possibility nonetheless, that your Sherlock would outsmart me and rescue you just in time. You wouldn't dare to rob him of that opportunity, now, would you?"
John breathes in and shuts his eyes.
No, John wouldn't dare to rob him of that chance.
Sherlock. Brilliant, maddening flatmate, friend of his. But there's no way out, and John’s about to get him killed.
Moriarty isn't wrong: even John knows by now where this is heading and what the possible consequences will be, maybe even better than Sherlock does at this point. Either Sherlock will waver at the sight of John, or he wouldn't. And either way, it would be a loss for Sherlock. John isn't sure which way it would go, but he hasn't lied to Moriarty, either. He already knows that it truly doesn't matter what Sherlock does, as long as John knows what he himself will do in the same situation. It's something Moriarty would not understand. Predict, yes, but understand, no. But even knowing all this, John's not brilliant enough see a way out, too pedestrian to weave their way through.
He's never wanted Sherlock's particular skill sets, not if they come with the package of being Sherlock, but now, he would beg and steal and possibly murder if he could borrow a sliver of that brilliance and spare Sherlock of consequences John knows that are coming at the end of this.
"Oh," Moriarty says, after a thoughtful pause, "and there's always a chance I'm not the real Moriarty, the man behind the curtain and all that. So you can't be too careful."
John isn’t too inclined to dignify that with a reply, but he does eventually, with a wave of his hand. "Oh, you are him."
Moriarty imbues him with a proud smile. "Very good, John. Now, listen." He leans over the chair, both of his hands over the handles, right next to John's arms, and suddenly there is no trace of smile anywhere on his face. Only a few hours ago, John's wrestled with an infamous assassin twice his size, with a rather intimidating name like Golem. That experience, somehow, hasn't been as apprehensive as this, trying to meet these insane eyes on him and not to flinch.
"This has been, well, illuminating, for the lack of a politically correct word, but John, please just do anything and everything I tell you to do. One thing, one thing out of line, and I kill Sherlock, you, the sweet Mrs. Hudson, Harry, Sarah, the illustrious Mycroft Holmes, and everyone you've ever come in contact with in your entire life. I can and I will. Do you doubt me?"
John has to think this one through for a moment, but he answers honestly, "No, I don't."
Moriarty lets go of the handles, apparently satisfied. "So you can learn. Excellent. Shall we, then?"
The men gather tightly around him, as if John would break into a run, already weighed with the vest and tied for a good measure. John gets up, stiff and broken and bone-tired, and tries not to let fear take over. It’s not easy.
There was a time when he wasn't afraid for his life. The monotony of life whirling in nothing but pain of nightmares and pain of waking life. There was a time, not so long ago, when he hasn't simply cared enough to live.
Now, unfortunately, he would rather live, and this change of heart is all Sherlock's doing.
Moriarty would probably enjoy the irony.
"He will stop you, you know,” John tells Moriarty, who is leading them out. “One way or another." There may have been a small chance this could have been let go by either party, but not after tonight. At least, Sherlock would never let him go - one way or another.
Moriarty stops and turns around. His face gradually twists into a facsimile of a smile, and, for the first time, John thinks it might actually be genuine. "Of course. Oh, I truly look forward to seeing him try."
This, too, is entirely familiar, that manic glint belonging to someone who recognizes a challenge when all that's surrounding him is a dull, everyday monotonous existence that's subpar to his own intellect. And each of them has met the match, obliterating everything else on their path.
John needs to look for a wedge to throw into that path. A monkey wrench, maybe.
He checks the vest, once again, and watches Moriarty as he is led out of the basement. Nothing short of natural disasters, and likely not even those, is going to prevent Moriarty from confronting Sherlock face-to-face. That much, John knows.
So that will be John's chance to be that wedge, that wrench. Maybe that’s all he can do, all he can offer.
That's one thing, he thinks, that Moriarty may not be counting on. Self-sacrifice has to be a foreign concept to him. He may be able to predict it, and still not see it coming. Because it’s too human.
Or, so John hopes. This is a flimsy plan, liable to fail horridly, and he has one chance, maybe less.
Still. Maybe. A chance.
- I've disappointed you.
- It's a good deduction, yeah.
John regrets that moment, what's been said and what hasn't been said. He can only hope Sherlock knows that disappointment does not mean anything other than a chance to change it, for the better. As much Sherlock has changed his life, he's equally intruded upon Sherlock's and it cannot be undone, even if it becomes, as Moriarty claims, Sherlock’s weakness. It's too late to be taking back this friendship, too late to undo.
And John wouldn’t take it back. Even if it costs his life. But Sherlock’s, he hopes to spare.
A morose thought, really, even pedestrian. John smiles to himself. It’s a curse and a blessing.
Mostly a blessing.
He will take that chance.
And in the end, he does.