Chapter Title: The Game is On
Fandom: Sherlock (TV)
Wordcount: 3500 for this chapter, 8000 total
Genre: Alternate Universe, Drama, Romance
Fic Summary: Journalism AU. John is a former war reporter, newly returned from Afghanistan, who is assigned to work the local beat with Sherlock, a brilliant, but uncompromising photographer. When the two of them end up turning their assignment on the late Connie Prince into a solved murder case, however, they find themselves the targets of criminal mastermind, Jim Moriarty, who takes a dangerous interest in Sherlock. Inspired by the part in "The Great Game" where John pretends to be a reporter, and Sherlock his photographer.
Chapter Summary: A tedious assignment from Lestrade turns into an unexpected solution for Sherlock's boredom when local legend Connie Prince turns up dead and only Sherlock realizes the truth.
Two weeks later.
"Sherlock!" John blinked rapidly in succession in the hopes of dispelling the dark purple circles now lurking in his field of vision. "Would you stop that, please?"
"Bored!" was Sherlock's only response, though he did turn the camera away from John and toward other objects in the room. "Bored." The camera flashed on the skull on the mantelpiece. "Bored." Flash on a set of test tubes filled with liquids of varying colors. "Bored!"
"Well, maybe," John said sarcastically, "when you've finished shooting everything in the room, you might consider seeking elsewhere for inspiration."
"Inspiration?" Sherlock snapped, stepping down from where he had been perched atop the couch, "In this drab, stagnant city? Hardly likely."
Just as John was beginning to despair of getting Sherlock out of his bathrobe, let alone the flat, there came the sudden sound of footsteps on the stairs.
"Oh, Sherlock," Mrs. Hudson said, bustling into the room, "I do wish you'd respond to the chief's messages. Going up and down those stairs all the time is playing havoc with my hip!"
"His messages?" John asked, before turning to Sherlock to demand exasperatedly, "You mean to say that all this time you've been ranting about how you have nothing to do, there's been an assignment waiting for us at the office?"
"8:52 A.M. - Sherlock, just got a great assignment in for you. Stop by the office, and we'll work out the particulars, " Sherlock recited in a bored monotone, his gaze skimming over the screen of the slim, black mobile he had extracted from the pocket of his silk bathrobe.
"9:30 A.M. - Really need you on this one, Sherlock. I know you think I say this every time, but I promise you won't be disappointed." 10:08 A.M. - "Damn it, Sherlock, this is your job! I am your employer! Be in this office in thirty minutes or you're fired."
"Wait," John interjected, "He fired you?"
Sherlock simply rolled his eyes and kept reading, "10:45 A.M - All right, maybe I won't fire you, but I promise, if you aren't here in the next hour, there will be serious consequences. And, in a thrilling conclusion, 12:06 P.M. - God damn it, Sherlock, have you lost your bloody phone again?
"Now, tell me, John," he continued, returning the phone to his pocket, "do you really consider those to be the messages sent by a man with an inspiration-worthy assignment to give out? No, if he had anything I would be remotely interested in, he would have texted me actual details instead of vague promises."
"I suppose the fact that these vague promises were sent by a man who pays both our salaries is of no interest to you, then?" John asked sarcastically, crossing his arms.
"Oh, salaries," Sherlock said dismissively, "Salaries are of no use to me. Not when I'm this close to going completely mad from lack of adequate mental stimulation!"
"Maybe Lestrade's assignment won't be the most exciting," John ceded, "but it has to be better than sulking around here all day! Unless you think you're going to find adequate mental stimulation staring at that skull."
"Maybe I will!" Sherlock said vexedly, before crossing the room to the mantelpiece. He began circling around the skull, taking a series of pictures in rapid succession. "Maybe..." Flash. "I'll stay here..." Flash. "All day..." Flash. "And find out."
When he had apparently taken enough shots for his immediate satisfaction, Sherlock turned the camera around; judging by the dismayed expression on his face, what he saw in the viewfinder was not at all pleasing to him.
He looked between John, the camera, and the skull for a few moments, before grumbling a bit, thrusting the camera into John's arms, and rushing into the bedroom with a sweep of his dressing gown.
"Thank you, Mrs. Hudson," John said, letting out a sigh of relief and exhaustion before turning to her, "Crisis averted for the moment, I think."
"I would be obliged if you'd tell him this is the last time I'll be round like this," Mrs. Hudson said firmly, "I'm not his secretary, you know."
"And if you could let the chief know that we'll be in shortly," John called out as she turned to go.
"Just this once," Mrs. Hudson replied, popping her head round from the top of the stairs, "Not your secretary either, dear."
"A warning that he's on a bit of a tear wouldn't go amiss," John added, not noticing his apparent contradiction of Mrs. Hudson's previous statement.
It was mere minutes later that Sherlock stormed back into the room, shirt haphazardly buttoned and half hanging out of his trousers, and asked simply, "Belt?"
"Bathroom," John said, fetching his own shoes from beside the couch. "You ran out of places to hang those long exposures you were working on, so you strung it up between the shower and the sink."
"Oh," Sherlock said, freezing for just a moment before changing course for the bathroom. He emerged a few seconds later and, after shaking off a few stray clothespins from the article in question, changed the topic of his request to, "Scarf?"
John proceeded to cross his arms and inquire with annoyance, "Are you going to try and garotte me with it again?"
Sherlock sighed impatiently and exclaimed, "I had to, John - I told you that! Lestrade wouldn't print my edits to Sally's absurd article on the Van Coon death unless I had some sort of proof that he couldn't have been strangled by his scarf."
"And you naturally decided that I was an appropriate person to test this on," John shot back, narrowing his eyes. "Over breakfast. With no prior warning."
"Oh, are we going to stand around all morning arguing about accessories and who may or may not have strangled whom?" Sherlock asked exasperatedly, adding before John could object, "Or are you going to give me my scarf so we can go see the man who pays those salaries you profess to be so concerned about?"
John considered him for a long moment before letting out an aggravated groan, reaching into a nearby cabinet, and handing Sherlock the blue scarf he located there.
Sherlock snatched it from his hand with a flash of a smug smile and stormed down the stairs shouting, "Come, John! There's work to be done!"
Twenty minutes, one taxi ride, and a rather heated argument about how relevant it was exactly for journalists to know the identity of the current Prime Minister later, Sherlock and John found themselves strolling into the lobby of the Courier.
"Well, well," Sally said, sidling up to them, "And here was me thinking that you wouldn't show."
"Why wouldn't I?" Sherlock asked, narrowing his eyes at her.
Sally looked between them for a few seconds before letting out a surprised laugh and saying, "He didn't tell you, did he? Oh, this is too good."
"Didn't tell us what?" John asked with a frown.
"You'll have to ask him yourself," Sally called over her shoulder as she strolled toward the exit. "I, sadly, have a mysterious disappearance to investigate. Some bloke vanishes, leaving behind a sports car splashed with blood. Sounds quite mysterious - such a pity you local boys already have an assignment! Just wish I were here to see you get it." She laughed again before pushing open the double doors and disappearing from the office.
"Sherlock, what-?" John began to ask, but when he turned to his partner, was surprised to find him striding purposefully into the office.
John watched in amazement as Sherlock plopped on the edge of Molly's desk with an exaggerated sigh.
"Ooh, found out about the assignment?" Molly asked with a little grimace.
"I can certainly see why Lestrade didn't want you to tell me about it," Sherlock said, fiddling with the cup of pens on Molly's desk while looking distinctly unhappy.
Molly chewed at her lip for a moment, before a look of revelation came over her face and she began digging frantically in her second desk drawer. After removing a shockingly pink plastic skeleton, a leopard-print slinky, and a smaller than average wooden stake, she let out a small exclamation and extracted what looked suspiciously like to be a miniature plastic casket.
She flipped open the casket and extended it in Sherlock's direction, accompanying the gesture with a chirpy inquiry of, "Jelly Baby?"
"Sorry," John said, unable to stop himself from interrupting, "don't you think it's a bit...morbid to keep a casket filled with babies in your desk drawer?"
"Oh," Molly said, tilting her head to the side and blushing a bit. "I mean, they aren't real babies! That would make me some sort of psychopath..." She giggled nervously again. "I was just thinking...well, sometimes I like a bit of a nosh when I've had a disappointment."
Sherlock shifted as if to reach for one, then turned away, let out another theatrical sigh and said, "Oh, I couldn't."
"Look at it this way," Molly said, trying another tact, "It could be worse. You could have been decapitated by a cabinet."
"Was there ever a serious danger of that happening?" John asked skeptically, brow furrowing in confusion.
"Plumber in Kensington," Molly explained, "I've been typing up his obit. Bit of a tricky one, thinking of a delicate way to say it. 'His head, unfortunately for him, chose this moment to politely part company with his body' is the best I've come up with."
After she giggled again, causing both Sherlock and John to simply look at her oddly, she finished quickly, "I'm just saying, when you're interviewing Connie Prince, just remember it could be wor-"
"Prince, P-R-I-N-C-E?" Sherlock asked quickly, pulling his mobile from the pocket of his coat and running his fingers deftly over the keys.
"Yes, but don't you -" Molly began, her face growing a trifle paler when she realized. "The Chief didn't tell you...did he?"
Sherlock responded by hurling himself off her desk and toward the editor-in-chief's office, while shouting, "Lestrade!"
John hurried to follow after him, entering the office just in time to hear Sherlock snap, "No, absolutely not, I won't do it. Find somebody else."
"Oh, who told you?" Lestrade exclaimed, sounding distinctly frustrated. Though Sherlock did not answer, he took one look at the guilty expression on Molly's face through the door-frame and shouted, "Damn it, Molly!"
"I'm sorry!" she squeaked, before scuttling off to another part of the office.
"Anyway, you have to, Sherlock," Lestrade said, returning his attention to its initial object, "She'll only do the interview if you're the photographer."
"I'm sorry," Sherlock said mockingly, "I didn't realize that it was now the policy of the Courier to indulge the whim of every aging minor celebrity who thinks that an appropriately skilled photographer can make her look twenty-two again."
"Connie Prince is a beloved public figure, Sherlock," Lestrade insisted, "not to mention a major coup for this publication. I've lined up four new advertisers just this week on the promise of being published next to an interview with her. An interview which won't happen if you don't start co-operating!"
When Sherlock continued to stare coolly at him, Lestrade let out an exasperated sigh and shifted his attention elsewhere. "John, can't you reason with him?"
John shot Lestrade a brief, skeptical look before turning to Sherlock and beginning patiently, "Sherlock..."
When Sherlock merely narrowed his eyes and gave John a minuscule, but identifiable sideways shake of the head, John tried, "Well, maybe..."
Sherlock then raised his eyebrows and shot his partner what John had unofficially deemed his Really, John? expression.
"But if we..." John began again, but upon being given a seemingly final crossing of the arms, accompanied by an icy cold gaze, he turned back to Lestrade and announced, "Sorry, chief, there's me out."
Lestrade looked as if he dearly wanted to comment on the strange little exchange which had just taken place in front of him, but ultimately decided upon turning back to Sherlock and saying, "Now, Sherlock, I didn't want to have to do this, but..."
Here, Lestrade faltered a little, distracted by the beeping sound now emanating from Sherlock's pocket, but went on determinedly, "I know that I try to maintain a positive workplace environment, but the fact is, I am your boss and..."
"Yes, quite right," Sherlock said suddenly, slipping his phone back into his pocket after sneaking a discrete look at the incoming text message, "I'll do it."
"You will?" Lestrade exclaimed, trying to mitigate how thrilled he sounded with a firm, "I mean, damn right you will."
"Well, John and I had better get going," Sherlock said quickly, glancing in an exaggerated manner at his watch, "Miss Prince will be expecting us. Let's go, John! We're needed elsewhere."
When Sherlock reached the door of the office, with John following close behind, he was stopped by Lestrade's voice calling out, "Oh, Sherlock?"
In lieu of response, Sherlock turned and gave his boss a politely interested smile.
"There wouldn't be any sort of...ulterior motivation behind your sudden willingness to comply with paper policy, would there?" Lestrade asked, crossing his arms suspiciously. "Perhaps something to do with that text you seemed very intent upon hiding from me?"
"The text was from my brother," Sherlock said smoothly, "I know how much he upsets you, so I thought I would save you the annoyance."
"How...thoughtful," Lestrade said, his expression even more suspicious than it was before. "That still doesn't explain your sudden and, may I say, miraculous change in demeanor."
"What is it that they say about beggars and choosers?" Sherlock replied, staring coolly at him.
"Fair enough," Lestrade said, throwing up his hands, "Whatever you two are up to, just...try not to get on the front page of any other publication, hmm?"
Sherlock took this as permission to leave, and was soon striding purposefully toward the door of the newsroom, with John hurrying to keep up just behind.
"Sherlock?" John asked, trying not to sound as out-of-breath as he felt, "Why, er, did you change your mind about Connie Prince?"
"Because, John," Sherlock said, bursting into the hallway, "Miss Prince suddenly became infinitely more interesting."
"Really?" John asked, now curious, "How?"
"Simple," Sherlock said, turning to him with a giddy grin, "She's dead!"
"Oh, she's..." John stopped dead in his tracks. "Wait, what do you mean, 'she's dead'?" To John's dismay, the other man continued walking at a breakneck pace, forcing him to put more pressure than usual on his bad leg as he rushed after him shouting, "Sherlock! Sherlock!"
"Just got a text from one of my...sources," Sherlock said when John had caught up with him halfway down the sidewalk outside the office. "Apparently it's all over the Internet. 9-9-9 call received from residence of daytime television sensation Connie Prince at 1:15 p.m. The ambulances only arrived there a few minutes ago - if we hurry, we might just be able to get a few good shots of the body. Taxi!"
John barely had time to even begin processing this flood of information before Sherlock was shoving him into a taxi and directing the driver to "Curzon Street, Number 65, and step on it!"
"Hang on a minute," John shouted, raising his voice above the sound of screeching tires and angry voices as the taxi zoomed away from the curb at an alarming speed, "How could your source have possibly found out about the 9-9-9 call so quickly, unless..." John lowered his voice before hissing out, "Do you have a spy at Scotland Yard?"
When the corners of Sherlock's mouth twitched up into a mischievous smile, John hit him on the shoulder before whispering fiercely, "Sherlock! That's illegal!...probably."
Sherlock was still smiling as he admitted, "True, his methods may not be exactly...legal, but his results are hard to argue with."
"Ah! Speaking of results..." Sherlock's eyes lit up as he reached into his pocket to once again extract his buzzing phone, "Excellent, they're just bringing the body out now. With the projected light traffic on South Audley, we should just make it."
"Oh, well, fantastic!" John said, throwing his hands up despairingly. "So glad the untimely demise of our interviewee can bring you such joy! It really is true what they say about all you photographers being mad, isn't it?"
When he looked over at Sherlock in exasperation, John was shocked to see his eyes brimming with tears.
"Oh God," John said quickly, "Sherlock, I'm sorry. That was out of line, really, I...I didn't mean it. Honestly, you -"
Whatever he would have said next was pre-empted by Sherlock handing a bill to their driver with a quick, "Keep the change," before tumbling out of the only just stopped cab and shouting, "Wait!"
"Sherlock!" John shouted, running frantically after him in the direction of the ambulance parked in front of what must have been a rather expensive row house, concerned that his partner's fragile sanity had finally been broken. "Sherlock!"
Before John could stop him, Sherlock had shoved his way through the gathered crowd, shouting, "Please, I have to get through, please!" in a fragile, frantic tone that John had never heard from him before.
Whatever worries John already had for Sherlock's mental well-being were more than doubled by what he did next, for indeed, John could only look on in abject horror as Sherlock launched himself at the gurney being wheeled out of the house with a plaintive cry of, "Mother!"
"I beg your pardon?" exclaimed a portly man on the steps of the row house, who, up until Sherlock's interruption of the scene, had seemingly been seeking comfort in the arms of a handsome Hispanic man in a house boy uniform. "Just what do you think you're doing?"
"I'm her son!" Sherlock explained with a sniff, "She didn't want anyone to know. Oh, just let me see her, please!"
The tears fell freely from his eyes as he lunged for the sheet covering the body. Before either the paramedics or the portly man could stop him, Sherlock had pulled the sheet free, revealing the woman who, John saw at once, had once been Connie Prince.
"Oh God," Sherlock exclaimed tearily, his hand flying instinctively to his mouth and lingering there for a few seconds before he turned to the paramedics and asked. "How...how did it happen?"
"It, er, looks like a simple case of tetanus," one of them said finally, looking at Sherlock with considerable apprehension. "Symptoms are consistent, and there's a cut on her right hand. Probably snagged herself on a rusty nail - happens more often than people think, you know."
"Does it now?" Sherlock asked, the previously tearful timbre of his voice instantly replaced with his customarily brisk tone. "John, did you hear that? Happens all the time, he says - oh, it's Christmas!"
Sherlock clapping his hands together gleefully and whirling around in front of a circle of appalled onlookers was enough to send John waving through the crowd to get him. "Best get you home now, Sherlock," he improvised quickly, wrapping a firm arm around the other man's shoulders and guiding him firmly away from the body, "Been through a lot today."
"It's the, um, shock," he said to the still staring bystanders. "Out of his mind with grief, excuse us."
Since Sherlock was continuing to smile manically and seemed on the verge of bursting into hysterical laughter at any moment, John felt it necessary to whisper, "Sherlock, we can't giggle, it's a crime scene - stop it."
The second they had broken from the crowd, Sherlock gripped him by the shoulders and demanded, "Oh, John, John, John, don't you see?"
"No, I don't see, Sherlock!" John exclaimed, shaking him off. "What the hell were you thinking back there?"
Sherlock let out an impatient sigh and to John's amazement, pulled the button off his coat sleeve and stuck the USB drive at the end of it into his camera. "Look!" he said triumphantly, shoving the camera into John's hands and flipping through the taken shots until he found the one he wanted.
"What am I looking for?" John demanded, choosing to forego the obvious question as he was strangely unsurprised that Sherlock had a button cam incorporated into the design of his coat.
"Just look," Sherlock insisted, gesturing agitatedly at the camera again.
"Well," John said, his eyes sweeping over the viewfinder in the hopes of finding what had made Sherlock so happy, "All right, there on her hand - that must be the scratch the paramedic was talking about. So it was tetanus."
"Think, John, come on, think!" Sherlock demanded. "Tetanus takes two or three days to fully incubate - this scratch can't be more than a few hours old. Meaning..."
"Meaning," John said slowly, a shiver passing over him, "That someone gave Connie Prince this scratch after she was already dead...to make it seem like tetanus."
"Which means, in turn," Sherlock said, now taking the opportunity of their slight displacement from the scene to extract his customary, high definition camera from his bag and begin snapping shots, "That Connie Prince was murdered. Almost certainly by one of those people over there."
"Which also means," John said, unable to suppress his grin, "That we just got an exclusive on one of the biggest stories of the year."
When Sherlock finally finished with the camera and turned back to face him, he was grinning from ear to ear. "Now the real fun begins."