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Sherlock had decided he was going to be a genius at the age of seven when he'd read a Reader's Digest book about inventions. He just hadn't been quite sure how you went about becoming one. When he asked Mycroft, Mycroft had firmly told him that you were either born a genius or you weren't, but that there were more important things in life, such as sound judgment. Sherlock deduced from that that Mycroft wasn't a genius, but wasn't yet entirely certain whether or not his younger brother was.

By twelve, he had a more tangible definition of a genius: someone with an IQ over 140. It was therefore fairly straightforward to prove, at regular intervals, that Sherlock was a genius. He'd even joined Mensa in a fit of enthusiasm. And then realised, after a few meetings, that that didn't offer anything much to do with the kind of genius he really wanted to be, the definition he'd memorised from the dictionary: 'a person of exceptional ability, especially of a highly original kind.'

But he knew now where he had to go to find that kind of person, to become that kind of person, because Mycroft was at Oxford, and he could see what Mycroft was becoming. He was going to have the same success that Mycroft had, but more so, because he was cleverer than Mycroft, and he was a scientist, not just a classicist, but someone who would change the world, who would matter to the world. It was that that kept him going through school, and the horrible bloody-mindedness that was other humans, or at least other teenage boys en masse. It didn't matter if they called him names, or stole from him or even injured him. He just had to endure it, wait out his time. He knew that university would show him what it meant to be a genius, and it did.

***

What genius meant, Sherlock realised at Oxford, was Pat Taylor. She was tall and solid, and had a desperately unflattering haircut, and she'd said so little at the first meeting of the college's chemists that he wondered if she'd been given her place by some kind of administrative error, and there was a very disgruntled Patrick Taylor now occupying some lesser university. He'd sat next to her at lectures though, and even agreed to be her tutorial partner, because statistically speaking she was more likely than he was to be able to cook and do laundry, and he suspected that a little kindness could soften her up enough for her to volunteer to help him. His plan was going swimmingly till they received their first problem sheet.

For three delusional weeks, Sherlock had then attempted to kid himself that Pat wasn't really cleverer than him. Yes, she was a whizz at the calculus they'd got landed with, but probably not the actual chemistry. Yes, she might be brilliant at theory, but she'd come to grief in the lab. Then he had to admit it. It wasn't just that she was better than him, but that she had a brilliance that was eternally beyond his reach. However quickly he grasped a concept, however many hours he put in, he could never, except fleetingly, hope to match her. She could see the chemical structures in her head, twisting and melding them together effortlessly. She could play with equations and have the right answers fall out like a fruit machine jackpot. She had the steady, patient precision of hand and mind that could always, eventually, get the experiments to work. He didn't think of asking her to cook once he'd seen her in a lab, it would have seemed a blasphemous waste of her talents.

There were times when he longed to be Pat more than anything else in the world. There were times when he wondered if she was deliberately destroying him via her own superiority, even though Pat would never hurt anyone. She was kind to Sherlock, she wanted to help him, because he was her friend. There was a point at which he had realised that he had to switch subject, find some safe place with no Pat to overshadow him. He'd e-mailed Mycroft: he would know what strings to pull.

Mycroft's reply had been succinct:

Dear Sherlock,

Whatever subject you choose, there'll always be someone cleverer than you at Oxford. Also someone richer or more sexually successful. You must either adjust to these facts or give up on university. I should, however, mention that leaving without a degree would disappoint our parents.

Your affectionate brother,

Mycroft

PS: You should get involved with Oxford Friend and find yourself a nice boyfriend. It'll make you happier, and I can then explain to Mummy about you. Do not go to Gay Soc, or whatever they're calling themselves now, there are a lot of unsound elements there, judging by some recent vetting reports.

***

Sherlock had stuck with chemistry, but ignored the rest of the e-mail. Even if he was gay, and he wasn't sure he was, he wasn't yet ready to come out. There was no point in being a marginalised outsider if you weren't a brilliant marginalised outsider. Also, if he was gay, he couldn't sleep with Pat Taylor. And of course, if he could just understand Pat, get inside her, inside her head, maybe he'd know the secret, maybe her genius would rub off on him.

The first time he and Pat had slept together had been about as disastrous as he'd expected from two novices, although he hadn't expected her bleeding on his mattress. But it didn't matter: they could practice with one another, and by the time they were through, he'd be a lot more experienced and confident, and...so would she, so he was really helping her out as well. He already knew at least five things he could do better next time.

Except there wasn't a next time, because he'd managed to freak out Pat so much the next morning that she wouldn't speak to him anymore. He'd lost Pat, he'd lost his enthusiasm for chemistry. So he'd shrugged, and told himself it didn't matter, and gone off to Gay Soc, and found Sebastian.

***

Sexually, his relationship with Sebastian lasted two embarrassing and painful nights. Sebastian, however, appeared to consider 'all the buggers I've buggered' as his friends for life. He had also announced that Sherlock was going to be his new project, a Pygmalion-like transformation. Sherlock had been privately sceptical, once he'd looked up the reference. It didn't seem to him quite so hard to transform someone if your raw material was a public schoolboy with a trust fund and decent bone structure, as compared to a uneducated flower seller. On the other hand, he was learning a lot from Seb and his friends, and some of it was useful. He learnt how to dress, how to move, the right haircuts, the right places to go. He also learnt how to protect himself in a world where the weapons of choice were indirect putdowns rather than crude name-calling. How to appear a genius, whether or not you were one. How to work out what other people had been illegally up to, so you knew their weak points. How to charm people at parties, or at least the people you decided were worth charming. How to be unobtainably alluring to both sexes.

It was actually quite easy being unobtainably alluring, because it allowed him not to sleep with anyone, just lead them on for ever. His mistake had been to break that rule and actually end up in bed with someone. After a Piers Gaveston Society do. With a video camera on the premises. He'd watched the tears of laughter running down his friends' cheeks when they screened the tape. And five days later he'd tried to kill himself.

It had been Mycroft who had taken charge then, who had prevented Sherlock getting locked up or sent down, who had got the tape destroyed, and an awful lot of mouths shut up. And who had then sent Sherlock another e-mail:

Dear Sherlock,

On your current rate of progress you are set to become an upper-class layabout, which is deplorable, and a candidate for the Pass School, which is unacceptable. You have a brain, and I expect you to use it. Professor Bell, an acquaintance of mine, is working on a more reliable test for haemoglobin on clothes that have been bleached. He will send you details of the lab work required. I expect you to carry it out.

Your affectionate brother,

Mycroft

PS: Considering what happened to the original Gaveston, I'd say you got off lightly.

***

Sherlock had spent days on the lab work sent to him. And nights. By the time he'd worked for thirty-eight hours without stopping, his vision was starting to blur, which was why he hadn't realised who was standing beside him till she spoke.

"What are you doing here, Sherlock?" Pat's voice was still deep and unmusical, and her new hairstyle was no more flattering than the old one, but up close he could see now she was thinner, and she sounded more confident. "It's not one of the normal practicals, I can tell that. And if you're making drugs, it's not something that I've come across before. "

"It's just a favour for a friend," Sherlock said.

"It must be something important if it's taking you so long. You've been here every time I've come in for days. Can you let me have a look?" It was the longest conversation she'd had with him in more than a year.

Sherlock handed her the lab notes and she scanned through them. "No wonder you're stuck," she said at last. "Look here, page 3. Decimal point's wrong, should be 3.55 millilitres, not 35.5. An easy mistake to make, but it screws everything up."

"You're sure?" said Sherlock and then remembered. This was Pat, she'd know. "OK, I'll give it a try."

"I'll help you," said Pat. "My stuff's got to be left to precipitate, so I can give you, say, about fifty seven minutes."

"Sounds good," said Sherlock.

***

Sherlock didn't tell Mycroft about Pat's role in his success, but he did make sure that the version of the report he sent to Professor Bell gave her the proper credit. Besides, he didn't have time for any more external problems to solve. He had four skived terms of study to catch up with, under the determined gaze of Pat. She had clearly decided that he had potential as a chemist, if not in bed, and that he was not to let that go to waste. You didn't need genius to get a first, she told him, or even to have worked hard for three years. You just needed a very good memory, stamina and a talent for question-spotting.

He'd gone into finals knowing a good first was within his grasp, and almost able to cope with the fact that Pat's results would be better. And then it all went to pieces on the last day of the exams, and he ended up hyperventilating under a oak tree in the Botanic Garden, unable to take his final paper. By some complex and obscure university procedure, he ended up with a second and an offer to stay on for further research, but he turned it down. It was ungracious, but his nerve was gone. He wasn't good enough, he was never going to be. He said his good-byes to Pat and headed to London, to see how a young man with enough money not to need a job, a talent for practical chemistry and good cheekbones could enjoy himself.

To his surprise, Mycroft had left him alone, even when he'd started taking drugs. It must have required a certain ruthlessness, Sherlock realised afterwards, to decide that Sherlock could only get drugs out of his system once he'd had them in his system. And it also showed incredible self-control for Mycroft to wait for Sherlock to come to him, to trust that Sherlock would come to his senses before he damaged himself irreparably.

Mycroft had, of course, calculated right. It had taken Sherlock a bit under three years to realise that coke was not only failing to make him feel more than momentarily better or glamorous, but was also making him increasingly boring. And if he hadn't been quite an addict, he'd been getting dangerously near to the point of no return, and it had been bloody hard stopping.

But Mycroft had helped him, sorted him out...and then told Sherlock he was coming to work for him.

"No," Sherlock had replied, "I am not signing up for forty years service and an index-linked pension."

"A life of leisure doesn't suit you, Sherlock. If you don't get a job you probably won't make it to thirty-five, let alone sixty-five. I can show you the actuarial tables, if you like."

"I don't want to work for you or with you. You can't make me, they abolished the press gang centuries ago."

"Technically, yes, but the Service can be very persuasive." Mycroft replied, "But I won't insist, if you can find something you prefer. You have a month to find a job for yourself, or I'll expect you to turn up at my office and sign the Official Secrets Act."

Sherlock's options were limited by how few of his friends...acquaintances even, had jobs that were even vaguely legal or desirable. His effective network of contacts, Sherlock learned, after a few painful hours, extended to two. First up was Sebastian, who had ruthlessly inned himself and was now rising through the ranks of the City. Before his meeting with Sebastian, Sherlock had planned to observe him secretly for two days. It was an unusual interview preparation technique, but he suspected it might pay off. Ten hours into the surveillance, Sherlock decided that even to spite Mycroft, it was not worth getting involved with Seb's crowd again and cancelled the meeting.

Which left only Pat, who was astoundingly prepared to help a prodigal chemist yet again, though she said she wasn't sure how much she could help.

"I'm just off to America," she explained, "so I'm not really up with the UK market currently. And it's a bit tricky with only a second and no subsequent experience. No subsequent experience with legal chemicals, I mean." You did have to pay Pat now, Sherlock had discovered, but her currency was unusual scientific data and he'd acquired quite a lot of that testing his own drug supplies.

"Actually, though," Pat added, "that's given me a thought. Do you remember Joe Bell from UCL? You, we, did some bloodstain analysis for him years ago. He was looking for someone to do forensic stuff. Fairly dogsbody role, but you'll learn a lot. Joe's brilliant."

It sounded, if not wonderful, at least better than Mycroft. "But there'll be huge competition for something like that, won't there?", Sherlock said.

"I can probably pull a few strings and get you an interview," she replied. So Pat was a string-puller now, was she? "It's just," she went on, "you're probably a bit rusty on some aspects currently, aren't you? If you've not been doing any study recently, I mean."

"You're not...you're not offering revision classes, are you? Pat, I love you." said Sherlock, and for once he was entirely sincere.

***

Two weeks of Pat ruthlessly getting him up to date on research, and her talent for question spotting got him the job. He lasted eighteen months in it, and then quit, because he was in danger of taking up drugs again just to cope.

He'd learnt a lot in that time. Bell wasn't a run of the mill forensic scientist, but a medico-chemical genius who could read a corpse like a book. It was just the living he couldn't handle. Sherlock had known that he wasn't a team-player from the age of eight, but he hadn't realised how vicious lab politics could get. Or how much, he, as the obvious recipient of favouritism, and with a non-existent research record, was going to get targeted. He left on the day that a copy of a referee's report on an article he'd submitted had been plastered up all over the building with the phrase Not a significant contribution to the literature highlighted.

So he'd gone back to Mycroft and started working for him, as he'd been expected to all along. Technically, he wasn't a civil servant; as a special concession he was a 'consultant'. But he'd been sucked into Mycroft's machine and he knew it.

And then the miracle had happened. Joe Bell had phoned him, because he knew Sherlock was interested in peculiar things, and he had an odd case where the forensics all hung together, but didn't mesh with the rest of the police case. Two gruelling weeks later, Sherlock had the case solved, Lestrade impressed, and a new career as a consulting detective planned. Mycroft accepted his resignation with resignation, and Sherlock settled into the hard graft of finding cases.

It helped that he had a lot of dubious contacts in high and low society from his partying days, and a flair for publicity, and good tailoring. Soon he was making a name for himself, appearing in the papers: Sherlock Holmes, detective genius. It was everything he'd ever wanted, and he'd had no idea how awful it would be.

Because once you were a genius - once people thought you were a genius - you had to stay brilliant. If he failed now, everyone would see, his humiliation would be complete. So every case was both exhilarating and terrifying, because every case was different, and however many cases he'd solved in the past didn't matter, it was the current one that counted. And even if he solved cases with 99% accuracy, that meant one failure every sixty-nine cases was more likely than not.

And when he didn't have cases and the adrenaline thrill was missing, it was worse. The fears that he would never get more work, that his mind would start to leak information, that the sudden power down would burn out the flickering of his synapses. No-one would care anymore about him but the obsessives. And they were only interested in his sound bites and cheekbones, not about the logic of his deductions. He'd had letters and e-mails sent to him that made his skin crawl at the effect of lust on humans. Mycroft had got "foxycop789" put under a restraining order, but there were sentences of hers – hers? – burned into his mind that he couldn't fully erase, however many times he reformatted his laptop's hard drive. He'd found new ways to deal with the pain in his mind, but it was getting harder.

If only there had been someone to talk to, but talking to Mycroft about emotions was like trying to explain quantum physics to a rather dim poodle, and Lestrade wasn't interested in Sherlock's emotions any more than those of a sniffer dog. While Anderson and Donovan and the rest of their team just hated him as an arrogant weirdo. His fault, of course, for getting his first encounters with them so badly wrong.

He'd been so worried about going to his first crime scene –would he fumble looking at a corpse in situ, not in a morgue, where should he stand, what should he do? – that he'd reached back for the whole of his old Seb-era persona. Public school and Oxbridge genius choosing to slum it with the ignorant plebs of the Met, the ignorant badly-dressed plebs of the Met. He'd taken care to put Sally Donovan down before she could put him down. He knew her type; he was her type. And it was only later that he'd remembered why it was so stupid to antagonise the people you worked with.

So he was a genius on a tightrope walk, with a lot of people longing for his downfall. A lonely genius. And then the second miracle had happened: John. John was everything he'd ever wanted, and he'd had no idea how awful it would be.

He'd recognised the peculiar brand of gentle toughness in John almost at once: a man who could break your wrist with a single wrench, but would then feel duty bound to reset it. He hadn't believed at first that someone like John could be his friend. He'd felt obliged to test him, push him away, make his life uncomfortable, ruin his dates. But he'd stopped that quickly, because he'd realised that he couldn't do without John. But what if John realised he could do without Sherlock? What if something he did made John go?

John could cope with the experimentation and the peculiar hours, which were essential for Sherlock's work. And he hadn't left even when Sherlock had made mistakes, ones that had almost got them killed, so there was a safety net beneath the tightrope now, as least in private. But there were other things that John must never, never know about him and that seemed to bubble to the surface ever more frequently in Sherlock's mind and body, till one day they would betray him, just as a chemist could detect a drop of blood in a bucketful of water.

The worst was...the worst was literally unthinkable, because there were thoughts he deliberately had to keep out of his head for his own safety. But the thing he knew he was most likely to betray were his feelings towards John. His personal feelings, his desires, sexual desires.

Since he found intimacy so difficult, it was a help that stress, and lack of sleep, and half-starvation all depressed one's libido. But John made him relax, and go to sleep at the proper time, at least occasionally, and eat. And while John's body was nothing compared to Sherlock's, of course, the shortness and the toughness were somehow appealing, like having an armour-plated teddy.

And yet sometimes he almost hated John for going around being small, and slightly battered, and badly dressed, and not worrying about it. Of acting as if hard-won aesthetic style simply didn't matter. Of being successful with women.

Well, not so much successful as persistent. John's emotional life verged between triumph and disaster and he coped with both extremes without cracking up. Sherlock still wasn't sure whether John only went for women, but there was no way to investigate that didn't potentially lead to major humiliation. And John had backed off immediately when Sherlock had used his standard excuse about being married to his work, which suggested that even if he did like men, Sherlock did nothing for him. He wished that he could confirm John's desire or lack of it for him in the way he could read John's other thoughts, but his own emotions always got in the way. It was like having grit in the sensitive circuit-board of his mind.

And finally, if by any fluke he and John did ever find themselves together, and naked from the waist down, there was the problem of the tiny knife in the sheath by Sherlock's ankle, which could be concealed by trousers or socks, but would be visible without either. The knife which he had to keep handy at all times, in case he needed it.

But still, Sherlock told himself, it didn't matter, did it? Because he was Sherlock Holmes, the world's only consulting detective, and he could keep all the balls in the air: Mycroft and Mummy and John and Lestrade and the Met and Mrs Hudson and the fangirls. Just let him prove his genius at solving cases and it would all still be fine.

***

It wasn't even a particularly difficult case that ended it all. Lestrade had only let Sherlock get involved because there was a duke lurking in the background to the case and Lestrade didn't like talking to toffs other than Sherlock. Alexander Holder had had some extremely valuable jewellery stolen from his inadequately secured house. Extremely valuable jewellery that didn't actually belong to him, but was government property. Holder's son Arthur was sitting in a police cell now and Lestrade had given Sherlock thirty-six hours to come up with an alternative solution before Arthur was officially charged.

"You could make it twenty-eight days, it's always possible they're using the proceeds of the jewel theft to fund jihadis." Sherlock pointed out.

"Or I could charge him right now," said Lestrade, "given he was caught red-handed."

"Thiry-six hours," said Sherlock.

He'd thought he could do it easily when he'd found the footprints outside the house: faint, but readable to the expert, and easy to connect to the ill-concealed personal secrets of the two younger women in the house, Holder's niece and the au pair. He just had to track down their respective lovers, one of whom would have the stuff, or know its location. And he fancied it would be the tall man with the Converses, rather than the one with the leg injury and the Russian galoshi.

But he hadn't been able to find him yet, no-one among Mary Holder's acquaintances fitted, even though they must do, and he was running out of time, thirty-four hours gone now, and he couldn't work it out, why wasn't the logical answer correct, was his mind ceasing to function? So he was back at the house in Streatham with the crime scene team. If he could just show them how far he'd got, maybe Lestrade would give him a little more time.

"You've seen the footprints," Sherlock announced, as they stood in the dining room of Fairbank, "well at least, you noticed them once I'd pointed them out. The unmistakable traces of two men coming to the house on the evening in question."

"It's not illegal to come to a house," said Lestrade, "It's not even illegal to stand and look through someone's windows, though it is rude."

"Yes, but I've tracked down one of the men who came. His name is Michail Zhirkov and-"

"-he's the boyfriend of the au-pair and an illegal immigrant." said Lestrade. "And if you'd been a bit more patient in questioning her, she would have told you about him herself."

"Which leaves," said Sherlock very rapidly, "Mr Converse trainers, who I suspect is well-connected enough to be able to dispose of the jewellery, but clearly still fit and athletic. Late thirties to mid-forties most likely. Obviously Mary Holder's lover, but I haven't been able to trace him yet."

"Why her lover?" asked Anderson. "Have you considered the gay options, Holmes? Alexander Holder's lover, for example?

"Not Holder's taste. He likes women and the kind of women he likes wouldn't wear trainers under any circumstances."

"Why not Mrs Mitchell, the housekeeper?" demanded Donovan. "Or did you ignore her because you thought she was too old?"

Fifty-eight and thirty-five, thought Sherlock despairingly, fifty-eight and forty-six. He grasped desperately for some reason why it wasn't, wasn't, couldn't possibly be the right answer.

"Why should Arthur keep quiet to protect a woman who-" Oh God...

"Who's been housekeeper here since he was born and has looked after him ever since his mother died?" Donovan said, "No, there's no reason at all for loyalty there that a sociopath could see."

"Not X or Y or Z, but A," said Sherlock. "A, A, A, A..." Donovan had seen it and he hadn't. Donovan, Mrs Mitchell, his mind had stopped working, and he hadn't eaten for days, and his legs were buckling, and he was collapsing on the floor, and Donovan was staring down at him in contempt, and this was the end of it all...

And then suddenly, there was John kneeling beside him, a reassuring hand on his back, and when Sherlock flashed a look that begged for help, John's eyes flickered in recognition, before he said:

"Lie still, you're OK." And then John turned and announced to the police team standing round them: "Carbon monoxide poisoning."

"What?" Anderson demanded.

"I noticed there was something wrong with him this morning at the flat. I've been having terrible headaches for days as well. Fatigue, dizziness, confusion, irritability, it all fits."

"No sign of nausea or vomiting," said Anderson. Sherlock tried to retch, but his stomach was empty.

"Sherlock doesn't eat properly," John retorted, "of course he doesn't vomit properly. Look, can I have a bit of privacy for my patient?"

"The rest of you out," said Lestrade, "but I need a word with you first, John." Oh God, thought Sherlock, Lestrade may be hopeless with clues, but John's not a good liar.

"Lie still," John told him, squeezing his hand, "or I'll have to put you in the recovery position. Just stay there and don't panic. You're going to be OK." Sherlock closed his eyes and heard John go over to Lestrade.

"What the hell is going on here?" asked Lestrade, "Is it really carbon monoxide poisoning?"

"I honestly don't know what's wrong with Sherlock," said John.

Oh, that was beautiful. The patent sincerity of a truthful statement that could hide a string of lies in its wake.

"But I think it's connected to the flat," John went on, "there must be something there that's been affecting us."

"One of Sherlock's experiments gone wrong? Do you want me to get some of my guys over there, check it out?" Oh God, no.

"No," said John hastily, and then more slowly, "The thing is, you remember Sherlock was in Minsk in the spring?"

"Yeah, but I don't see what that has to do with it."

"He was only there for a few days, but Sherlock can make enemies very quickly and I think he got involved with some ex-KGB men, maybe not that ex. Not the kind of people you'd want tampering with buildings, your flat."

"OK", said Lestrade, "I know those sort of things are possible, we've had them before on our watch. Though Sherlock hasn't got radiation sickness, has he?"

"The symptoms are very vague. Could be lots of things."

"So presumably you don't want us ordinary plods looking at your place, but some of Mycroft's men?" Lestrade being helpful, thank God. "And Sherlock off to the hospital for tests." Not helpful. Oh God, no, no.

"I don't want to go to hospital," Sherlock yelled, trying to stand up, "I'm OK, I'm not sick, I'm fine..."

"Lie down and shut up," said John, absent-mindedly. "If I take Sherlock to hospital, Lestrade, it's all going to get official and I'd prefer to avoid that. I don't think he's that seriously ill, if it is carbon monoxide poisoning it's chronic rather than acute. If I can get him somewhere quiet for a bit, Mycroft can have one of his doctors look at him and we'll know what we're up against. Maybe we could go to a hotel?"

"Wouldn't Mycroft have a safe house or two?" said Lestrade, "If you might have some KGB buggers at your back, it would make sense." Lestrade being helpful twice in one day. Amazing.

"Good idea." John's voice sounded cheerful now. "I'll phone him, but..."

"But I need to go," said Lestrade, "because it's going to get hush-hush. OK, but let me know when Sherlock's going to be fit for purpose again."

Sherlock waited till Lestrade had left and started to get up, but John pushed him calmly but firmly back down. "Just stay there till we've got this sorted out."

"Carbon monoxide poisoning?" Sherlock couldn't help muttering.

"At zero minutes notice it wasn't that bad. I'd suggest you don't say anything more till we're out of the house."

"OK," said Sherlock, "but please, please, not the hospital."

"I'm making no promises," said John, but we'll try the safe house first."

***

Sherlock was barely registering anything by the time they got to the safe house. In a moment of panic, he realised he wasn't even sure exactly where in London they were. But as he tried to protest, John bundled him upstairs into the flat. He stood, slightly dazed, in the living room, while John rapidly explored.

"One room with double bed, one with single bed. You take the double bed, it may be too short, but you can sprawl out. You'd better go to bed now, before you collapse."

"I-" Sherlock began.

"Follow me." Sherlock didn't have the energy to object, so he stumbled after John.

"OK. Jacket and shoes off, rest up to you, lie down, I'll draw the curtains."

He was probably going to wreck his clothes by sleeping in them, thought Sherlock, but it hardly seemed to matter, and he wasn't sure he had the coordination left to undress. It was very dark once the curtains were drawn and surprisingly quiet for London. Double, no, triple glazing? It meant he had no clues to where he was, but he could work it out tomorrow, surely he could? If, if his mind was working tomorrow, if he could just think, see the patterns, turn the puzzle piece till it fit...

"OK," said John's calm voice from the darkness. "Are you lying down? Then try and relax your body."

"It's not my body, it's my mind," Sherlock found himself yelling.

"Then let's try and switch your mind off, or at least distract it. Any mental imaging techniques or mantras you know?"

"No."

"Me neither. Music? I'm not sure if there's anything here in the flat, but Mycroft's got a bloke on call."

"No! I can't take music, not at the moment."

"OK." Sherlock could hear John thinking, see the crease in his brows. "An old chestnut, I know, but counting sheep."

"It's not distracting enough."

"Right. There's only one thing for it. List the elements."

"What?"

"The periodic table. I expect you know it backwards, but forwards will do."

"You want me to recite the periodic table?"

"You need something to think about that isn't you. Something you can almost do automatically, but not quite."

"It won't work!" Sherlock protested.

"Hydrogen, helium, lithium, beryllium...carbon, nitrogen, oxygen..." John's voice chanted out, rather uncertainly.

"You left out boron."

"I'm just an ignorant medic, you're the bloody chemist, you do it then."

Sherlock distinctly remembered getting to arsenic afterwards, but the rest was pretty much a blank.

***

He only realised it was morning by looking at his watch, those curtains were thick, weren't they? And by the fact that John was bringing him breakfast in bed.

"I don't need you to do that," he protested. He wasn't actually ill, just missing in action.

"You haven't eaten for I don't know how long," John said, "and you probably don't know either. If you get up before you've got something in you, and you collapse, I don't guarantee I can lift you on my own. So have something, at least. Anything."

Sherlock forced himself to concentrate on eating toast. Bite, chew, swallow. Bite, chew, swallow. He could master his body, except...no, if he ate anything more, he'd be sick.

"I can't take any more." he said, when he felt it was safe to open his mouth.

"You've managed most of a slice, that's fine. You've been buggering up your digestive system, so little and often is probably best. OK, pills now."

Sherlock looked dubiously at the small pile. He was too tired even to try and deduce their contents.

"What are they?" he croaked.

"Mostly painkillers." Sherlock swallowed them systematically. "What now?" It didn't seem strange that John had taken over his life, what was left of his life. Sherlock no longer knew what to do about himself, but maybe John did.

"Try to listen to your body for once. You remember, it's the bit wrapped round your tortured soul. Do you want more to eat?"

"No."

"Are you restless? Do you want to pace up and down, get out of the flat?"

"No!"

"Do you want to, need to sleep?"

"Yes."

"OK, I'll bring you more food later, try and keep drinking as well, because you're probably dehydrated." John picked up the tray and vanished.

***

Sherlock couldn't remember most of the rest of the day clearly: presumably he'd had lunch, because his stomach was digesting something that wasn't itself now, but he couldn't remember the details. John was waking him up again and things were suddenly slightly more in focus, less unreal.

"I think you should have a shower and get changed." John said. "It's about five, and I'm aiming for supper around six. Some routine is probably going to help."

"Have we got any clean clothes?" Sherlock asked.

"We've got quite a lot of new clothes. Mycroft's doing."

"Why?"

"Because ours are at 221B, being decontaminated."

"Decontaminated? What the hell did you tell Mycroft?"

"The absolute truth," John smiled. "I wouldn't think of lying to Mycroft. But I gather that using a government safe house because your brother is having a breakdown is a fairly severe breach of official regulations. Putting two valuable contacts in a safe house because their flat may have been contaminated with unknown biochemical agents, however, is just fine."

"Mycroft's using that as a cover story?"

"As you said yourself, carbon monoxide poisoning is a fairly feeble excuse, the symptoms don't match that tightly. But I'm sure a hazmat team can find something in our flat that could semi-plausibly have caused your collapse – mould, discarded reagents, dead things generally. So that end's sorted, and there'll be enough official bumf created that it'll give even Anderson pause for thought. I'm afraid we're not going to be able to blame it on the KGB. Even for your sake, Mycroft wasn't prepared to go that far."

"It's OK," said Sherlock, at last. "Having accidentally poisoned us both is not that much worse than what Lestrade and the others assume about me already."

"But it means," John went on, "we're stuck with a strange wardrobe. I think Mycroft's chosen your clothes, so you're probably reasonably OK. But I'm really not sure who to blame for mine."

It had finally registered with Sherlock that in a flat marked by the pallid inoffensiveness of its decor – quite soothing really – the one garish element was John, in a virulent emerald T-shirt at least a size too big for him.

"Do I have to look at you?" Sherlock asked.

"This is one of the better ones. I have this really horrible feeling that I'm wearing Anthea's castoffs. But I'll take my offensive clothes away and leave you to get dressed in monochrome refinement."

***

"I was going to go out a bit later," John said after supper. "Get some fruit and veg, and I could do with some exercise as well." He paused. "If you're OK on your own?"

"I'll be fine," Sherlock said, and realised how pathetic he sounded. Needy.

"If you do need someone, there's a phone on the wall in the kitchen, and one of Mycroft's lot at the end of it at all times. If you need an outside line, you'll have to go through them. Oh, and Mycroft said our mobiles won't work within the flat, there's too much shielding. And yes, I did check, and he's right. The good news is that every camera and bug in the flat is locked down tightly, so there are no onlookers. Anything here stays here."

"They want to keep this flat sewn up very tightly, don't they?"

"Yes, but it being a safe house means you're safe, sort of by definition. And I won't be that long." John paused and then asked. "Is there anything you'd actually enjoy eating at the moment? As opposed to tolerating as a necessary fuel supply?"

A sudden wave of nostalgia swept over Sherlock. "Doughnuts" he announced. "Not the stupid ring ones with chocolate, but proper ones filled with jam. Red jam."

John rolled his eyes. "OK, a few empty calories probably won't harm you, but remind me not to eat too many of them."

***

"What are those pills you're giving me? Knock-out drops?" Sherlock enquired at breakfast. " I didn't hear you come back in at all. And did you get the doughnuts, by the way?"

"Yes, but no, you can't have one for breakfast, I have certain standards to maintain." John said. "The pills are mostly vitamins and minerals, because God knows what kind of deficiencies you may have given yourself. But there's also diazepam."

"You're giving me Valium?" Sherlock demanded. "It's addictive, isn't it?"

"Very short courses are OK. A week or so, and then we can sort something else out after that. But there's not much anyone can do with you till you're vaguely functioning. So today is practising normal life. Are you up to a trip out?"

Sherlock found his skin crawling at the thought of leaving the safe house. People would look at him, they would be able to tell...He shook his head.

"OK," said John, "I'm afraid our entertainment options are a bit limited, though. TV, a few DVDs, and the CDs are just pop."

"I don't want noise today," Sherlock said, "It, it amplifies certain feelings." He'd once generated a panic attack in himself by means of the Carmina Burana.

"Right," John said. "In that case...most of the books are in foreign languages, which might be fine for you, but is a bugger for me. I might ask Mycroft to send something round later. Oh, and there's also these."

He handed Sherlock a pack of cards. "All the solitaire games on the computer? This is the low-tech version. I think you're supposed to be able to solve FreeCell with all but 10 combinations of cards. Today could be a good day to test that theory."

The old Sherlock would have sneered at the incredible tedium of a single day in this flat. The new Sherlock, the ex-Sherlock, still had no idea of any other options, even of who he really was. He shuffled the cards and started to deal, again and again.

***

Embarrassingly, Sherlock wasn't even sure whether it was the third or the fourth morning at the flat. The lack of external cues, especially given his desire to keep the curtains closed for much of the day, and the unchanging routine had left him weirdly unsure of exactly how long this respite was lasting. Maybe he should start marking lines on his bedroom wall. No, work it out from John's T-shirts. Green T-shirt the first day, orange the second – God, he hoped he had just dreamt John wearing a peach T-shirt. Today it was purple, drawing the eye as John sat across from him at the kitchen table. Its colour did absolutely nothing for John, even if it had fitted him properly.

"OK," said John, once they'd finished breakfast. "What do you want to do today?"

"You're asking me, not telling me?" Sherlock said.

"You're eating properly, you've got a vaguely normal sleeping pattern, you're can make eye contact. Your body's starting to heal itself, so your mind can cohere again. You could spend some time today reading, if that would help you. Mycroft sent round some more books last night. If Dan Brown and Zane Gray are beneath you, there's a copy of A Brief History of Time."

"I saw that. The copy I gave Mycroft for his last birthday. Which he hasn't read."

"And you know that because...because you put a hidden marker at page 16 and it hasn't been disturbed, or something like that?"

"Well yes, but he removed that, obviously." Sherlock replied. "I know he hasn't read it because I knew he wouldn't find it interesting."

"And yet you gave it to him as a present. Your family's birthday parties must be so much fun."

Sherlock couldn't help smirking.

"OK, " said John, "you're more than functioning, you're starting to sound like you. Which means we need to talk."

It was suddenly very quiet. Sherlock could hear all the tiny noises even in that sound-proofed flat: the buzzing of the fridge, the drip of a tap in the bathroom, the shuffle of his own nervous feet on the carpet beneath the kitchen table.

"Go ahead," he said at last.

***

Ten minutes later, despite John's best endeavours, they were rapidly winding one another up. Sherlock knew his own self-control was approaching the edge, and John's hand was starting to shake. John was still trying to be reasonable, though.

"Psychiatric help is the obvious solution," he was saying yet again, as if repetition alone would hammer Sherlock into submission. "It's not a sign of weakness, I'm having therapy myself. But you need someone who's an expert in these matters."

"I don't need it," Sherlock retorted, equally doggedly. "I am fine, there is nothing wrong with me."

"OK," said John abruptly. "In that case we go back to Baker Street. This morning, or as soon as the flat's been given the all-clear. How does that sound?"

"Fine," Sherlock lied. "I'm pleased about that."

"Then why are you trembling?" John asked, quietly.

"You're shaking too!" Sherlock yelled.

"Yes, but that's normal. Normal for me, at least. You can't face going back to 221B, to the world outside, can you?"

Sherlock forced himself to look directly at John. He had courage enough for that, at least.

"No," he said more quietly. "I can't do that. Not yet."

"We could get someone to come here then."

"No, not here, to the safe...house."

"In that case," John said resignedly, "you're going to have to talk to me. I know it's not a good idea, because I'm no expert, and we're probably too close, but there's no-one else to do it. And I have to know why you could no longer cope before we can figure out what to do about it."

"I collapsed at Fairbank because I was overtired and underfed." Sherlock said. He was not going to let John expose him like this.

"OK. Well you're neither now, so tell me who's got the jewels now. Give me the solution, right this minute, if you can. But you can't, can you?"

It was like being kicked in the stomach. I am being bullied by a small ex-soldier in a horrible purple T-shirt, thought Sherlock, and I can't get control of the conversation anymore.

"God, that was a nasty thing to say, John," he said at last, unclenching his fists.

"I don't claim to be a therapist, I'm just pointing out a few basic facts. You are not OK and you cannot get yourself back to OK even with a bit of TLC."

"No," Sherlock admitted at last, "there is something badly wrong. But..." He ground to a halt. It was really no good lying to John in this mood, he'd just point out the contradictions ruthlessly. "But I can't talk to you about it." That just sounded hopeless. He leaned back in his chair, stretching his arms up behind his head, in a probably futile attempt to seem nonchalant. "I don't want to talk to you about it."

John was staring at him now, but not with frustration, but something akin to horror. And he was looking, not at Sherlock's face, but to the side, at his arm, the top of his left arm. Oh shit, Sherlock thought. He was in a grey T-shirt as usual, but it was not one of his own, with their tightly concealing sleeves, but this new, baggier one, the sleeve flopping open as he'd moved, revealing the telltale marks...

John strode round the table to him. "Stand up," he ordered. "Take off your T-shirt." Sherlock hesitated.

"Do it," said John, " or I will get some scissors and cut it off you. I need to know what you've been doing to yourself."

Sherlock stood up and removed the T-shirt with trembling hands, displaying the criss-crossing red lines on the inside of his triceps.

"Could I persuade you that I had a freak accident with a jellyfish?" he asked.

"This isn't the South Coast, this is London," said John, whose professional manner had kicked in disconcertingly. "If a jellyfish got up the Thames it'd have been captured, sold and eaten long before it stung anyone. Let me have a look at your arm." Strong fingers reached up and brushed briefly against Sherlock's skin.

"OK, "John said resignedly. "You're a cutter."

"I believe the technical term is self-harm," Sherlock said through gritted teeth.

"Yeah, I'm sorry," John replied. "That was unprofessional of me. Now, can you show me the insides of your arms, wrists. Both wrists, please, take off your watch. Now turn round slowly so I can see your back."

It was weird being the object of such scrutiny, rather than being the one applying it. Weird, but somehow calming. John knows what to do, Sherlock thought, I can trust him.

"OK," John said at last. "I can't read bodies the way you can, so tell me if I've missed something, or...just answer questions at least, it will save time and be more accurate. Your veins are OK, and so is your nose, so no injecting and probably not too many years of cocaine use."

"Two, two and a half years of cocaine," said Sherlock. "I've been clean for longer. The drugs in the flat are for use as bribes only."

"Anything else you've used? Cannabis, ecstasy, anything else that could have caused a delayed reaction in the last few days?"

"Nothing for years," said Sherlock.

"Good." Sherlock felt a short-lived burst of pride, but then remembered: he was still a cutter.

"What else?" John went on. "You couldn't have alcohol problems without me spotting the signs. Surprisingly few scars on you. I take it you didn't open up your own stomach?"

"I got shot with an airgun, aged fifteen. No, not self-inflicted."

"I'm pretty sure I don't want to hear about that one." said John. "Your wrists are OK, which is surprising."

"I've never tried to kill myself," said Sherlock. "Well, only once, when I was twenty. Second year at Oxford. Magdalen Tower. May Day."

"As in first of May?"

"They have a choir singing on the roof at dawn and lots of people jump in the river from Magdalen Bridge for fun, it's a sort of tradition. They sometimes break their ankles."

"The joys of an Oxbridge education," said John sardonically. "And you tried to kill yourself with an insufficient drop? Rather inefficient of you."

"No, I was up on the top of the tower and it would have been spectacular, if I'd done it. But I was just too long psyching myself up on the edge, and got myself wrestled to the ground by a very strong man in a cassock." It was suddenly funny when he told John that, not the aching humiliation of it, and the successive painful scenes with Sherlock's moral tutor, and the college nurse, and the chaplain, and the Master, and finally Mycroft.

"So one attempt ten years ago, and the cutting isn't parasuicide, and you've been very, very careful not to damage yourself permanently, which is something. How recent is that lot? Last week?"

"More like three weeks ago. There are ways of slowing down the healing." Sherlock closed his eyes. He couldn't bear to see John's reactions to that.

"The details don't matter," said John gently. "But...I've got other deductions, if you want to hear them. So we know where we are."

"OK." Sherlock opened his eyes and looked down at John warily. He shouldn't have let him observe his methods so much, should he?

"You're not waxed, which I'd somehow expected, given the overall look. And your skin is very pale, and I've never seen anything of your chest, now I come to think of it. You're literally buttoned up. That's not just about hiding the cuts, is it? You're embarrassed about your body, which is peculiar."

"I feel more confident fully clothed." Sherlock said. God, it wasn't as bad as he'd expected exposing his skin to John, but his mind as well?

"Fair enough but most people would consider your body attractive, which suggests there's something wrong with your self-image."

"Most people?" said Sherlock, trying to sound casual.

John sighed. "I'm sure the whole world thinks you are gorgeous."

"But not you?" he couldn't help blurting out. This was dangerous, but Sherlock had to know.

"Oh, hell! Look at me," said John, and Sherlock forced himself to meet John's kind, appraising grey eyes.

"I don't know quite how to put this," John said slowly, and he was licking his lips now, in the way he only did when he was worried. "Objectively, your body conforms to currently fashionable standards. God, that was pompous, wasn't it?"

"Yes. I look like I'm supposed to, you mean?"

"Like a civilian's supposed to, yes. I'm used to seeing soldiers' bodies," said John, "and they're frankly in rather better physical condition than you are. You're slim from diet more than exercise."

"We're not all bodybuilders, you know." said Sherlock, frantically trying to buoy himself up with the thought of all the other people who did find him desirable, even if John didn't.

"No, you're naturally slenderly built. But I've known some thin soldiers and they were more sinewy, whipcordy than you. I know you can run, but I think you'd find climbing hard at the moment, your upper body strength isn't what it should be."

"Sorry I don't meet your aesthetic standards," said Sherlock, forcing himself to smile.

"Yeah, but I'm an aging short arse with too much scar tissue, so I'm not one to criticise, am I?"

"And a horrible taste in T-shirts." Sherlock's smile became genuine.

"The only other clean one, " said John, "is black. Plain black. I would look like the world's oldest goth."

"Or a paramilitary."

"Yes. Anyhow, to get back to you. Leaving aside the appeal or not of your torso, you're clearly not anorexic, which is a big help. And I can't believe you're bulimic, because you couldn't cope with all the trips to the supermarket required. Anything I've missed?"

"No, I don't think so." said Sherlock. "I'm quite easy to read, aren't I?"

"I wish you were," said John. He paused, and then added cautiously: "You've noticed that I'm not asking you to drop your trousers?"

Sherlock had been trying quite hard not to think about that, because being topless was one thing, but underwear only (and not even his own underwear) left him appallingly vulnerable. But he had to avoid hyperventilating, because blowing into a paper bag dressed in only pants and socks was an even worse prospect.

"I'm also not planning to ask you to do that," said John hastily. "Just tell me you're not cutting or injecting yourself below the waist, and there aren't any meaningful tattoos."

"No cuts, no needle-marks, no tattoos, and I don't shave my legs." It wasn't technically lying, because John hadn't asked about him any weapons he might be carrying. "But I can write with my feet."

"Good for you," said John cheerfully. "I can make rude noises with my armpits. OK, the exam's over, can you sit down? I would like to be able to loom over you, just this once." He waited as Sherlock sat and then added. "Look, if we're not going to get you to a psychiatrist right this minute, I need to be certain about two things. One, no suicide attempts. I can't cope with having to keep a watch on you all the time, and frankly I think I need to have some paracetamol handy."

"I promise," said Sherlock. He knew what was going to be number two. "And no cutting?"

"Or any other kind of self-harm. You don't need to do it all the time, do you? You can go for periods without it."

"Yes, most of the time I manage."

"That's good. I have to get you out of here in one piece, or there will be consequences." said John. It suddenly dawned on Sherlock that even if no-one could phone out of the flat, that didn't mean no-one could phone them.

"Mycroft is out there hassling you?"

"With a SWAT team of mental health professionals ready to storm the place. So you've got to tell me something. I know you don't want to talk about things, but if I try and guess I may get things badly wrong. Ignoring all the finer details, why, broadly speaking, do you hate yourself?"

"Who says I hate myself?" Sherlock reached desperately for the effortless arrogance that was his normal cloak. "I'm a genius, after all, aren't I?"

"Yes, well the self-love may be evident, but the self-hate is actually quite noticeable as well sometimes," John said calmly. "You're not just running away from boredom, but from something else and that something else must be yourself, because you've pretty much run away from everyone and everything else by now."

"Did that make sense even to you?" Sherlock found himself replying, because he couldn't help attacking as his immediate form of defence.

"I'm thinking out loud here," John replied, "Try to be a little more skull-like, will you? You're a genius, and you want people to love you for that. Or at least admire you. Or pay some attention to you, because otherwise you are not the centre of the universe and your existence is pointless."

"Yes? Narcissism, I believe? Not very original of me, is it?"

"A narcissist at this point would be sneering at me for not appreciating you, not yourself for wanting to be appreciated," said John. "Well, I think so, at least. OK, so low self-esteem, overlaid with justified arrogance, hence fear of rejection, so you reject people first. Inability to cope with failure, which presumably is what triggered this meltdown..." He paused. "No, it's not just actual failing, is it, because I've seen you get stressed out in the middle of a case as well. Fear of possible failure, that this time you won't be able to pull the rabbit out of the hat?" He paused. "Have I missed anything major out?"

I have just had my character laid out on the table for surgery, thought Sherlock, let's at least get the first incision in.

"Cruelty," he said. "I humiliate other people before they have a chance to humiliate me. Or just for the hell of it, because I can."

"And then guilt about that afterwards, when you've realised you've been a shit, but you can't apologise because the great Sherlock Holmes never makes a mistake." John made his behaviour seem weirdly, transparently reasonable.

"I'm a sociopath, we don't do guilt."

"You're not a sociopath. I didn't get an ASBO for being a graffiti artist. When I turned up at court they couldn't find the paperwork for my case. Or the computer files. Or the backup disks. They told me to go away and stop wasting police time."

"Sounds like Mycroft."

"Too small-scale for him. You knew I'd have hated standing in court, being considered as a criminal."

"John, you'd shot a man dead two months before. You didn't worry about a criminal record then. "

"That was... different. You knew I would have found it humiliating to have an ASBO, you fixed it so I didn't. And you didn't tell me."

"You'd have been grateful to me for something that was my fault in the first place." Sherlock forced out. "I want admiration, but justified admiration." He was going to lose it any minute now, he could not self-dissect himself like this without buckling, he'd never been able to.

"You need your head examined." John smiled down at him. "Literally. But I'm still trying to work out about your body, where presumably all your insecurity and arrogance meet in some horribly sticky mess."

He couldn't lie anymore, he couldn't conceal the pain anymore. "I can't escape!" he yelled. "I'm beautiful, but am I beautiful, and if I'm beautiful people will love me, but do I want people to love me because I'm beautiful and not because of my brains? And what happens if I'm no longer beautiful, and what if I made myself no longer beautiful, so that I wouldn't have to wait and find out, and, and...oh God, John!" He ground to a halt and waited dumbly for a response. Patient and clinical labelling, sympathy, pity?

"Such a lot of thoughts in that pretty little head," said John, smiling, and reached out and patted his hair.

"Fuck you, John!" he yelled on a wave of pure adrenaline. "You...you...small person!"

John's broad grin disappeared almost as soon as it had come. "OK," he said, "the jokes may help, but this is beyond me. I can't sort this out. I'll probably just make it worse if I try."

"But I respect you, I trust you," Sherlock said, suddenly desperate, "and-"

"And if I don't agree to help you, you'll feel rejected, and if I do and you can't work this out, you'll feel a failure, and even if we do get somewhere, you'll just be doing it to try and please me, so I keep liking you." said John. "You have got us royally screwed, haven't you?" He paused, and looked again at Sherlock, and Sherlock felt as if his thoughts had somehow become visible, text messages scrolling across a screen.

"And I'm making it worse," said John. "You 're thinking about cutting yourself right now, aren't you?"

"Not so much the cutting," Sherlock said slowly, "but your reaction to it, yes."

"Because if I tell you not to cut yourself, and you get stressed and feel the need to, then there's the extra guilt of not being supposed to, and it hurts you to just to think what cutting yourself might do to me, and what I might then do to you, because I might walk away and reject you, and the only way for you to blot out the pain of the hurt inside is to inflict pain on yourself outside, and...," John's voice was bleak now, "and you are starting to get me thinking like you, and speaking like you, and I really, really do not want to do that."

John was looking at him in silence now, and all Sherlock could hear was the thudding of his own heart in his ears.

"We stay here in the flat," John said at last, "because you can't face leaving now, and you'd probably end up on a locked ward if you did. But we can't talk about your problems, because we mess up each other's minds. An eternity stuck in an enclosed space with you having panic attacks. It'll be worse than the bloody Northern Line."

John paused, and Sherlock could suddenly imagine his mind working, not the lightning bolts of Sherlock's thoughts, but the slow, patient building up of an idea, atom by atom. "For the moment, John said, at last, "if you cannot manage without physical pain, you feel you have to harm yourself, come to me before you do it."

There was a sudden exhilaration, but also terror in Sherlock. What were they doing to each other, what was he doing to John? He couldn't make John cut him, he couldn't.

"I-"

"Because," John went on inexorably, "I will then do something to you that will leave you in agony, and there won't be a mark on your body." He smiled a smile that was simultaneously reassuring and faintly worrying.

He was in a safe house, and he was safe with John. He had to cling onto that, because that was all that was left.

***

"I've got a plan," said John, a few hours later. "Probably a stupid one, but slightly less stupid than staying in this flat for the rest of our lives. But I need to go out and find out if it's realistic first. Can you stay here and not panic?"

"I'll be all right," said Sherlock, "But we have got a pen and some paper?"

"You can have my pen, but I don't think we've got any paper. You could ask Mycroft to send over a ream or two."

"Doesn't matter," said Sherlock. He hoped A Brief History of Time had decent margins. If he couldn't think straight in his own head, he could at least do it in writing. He couldn't leave John to work everything out. Once John had gone he started on the first syllogism:

It is rational to undergo psychiatric treatment to treat low self-esteem

I do not wish to undergo psychiatric treatment

Therefore I am not rational.

FUCK

The career of consulting detective requires a mind of the highest rationality

I am not rational (see above)

Therefore the career of consulting detective is unsuitable for me.

FUCK

Options if I cease to be a consulting detective:

1) Do nothing and live on the trust fund

2) Kill myself

3) Find another job.

Constraints: JHW does not wish me to kill myself, eliminates 2. From previous experience, 1 is a degenerate case of 2, as simply a slower way to kill myself. (Note: technically, living is also just a slower way of killing myself, but JHW may not agree). By elimination, I am left with 3.

Constraints and requirements for job:

1) No superiors

2) No subordinates

Conclusion: implies freelance work

3) Varied work

4) Not stuck at desk all day

Conclusion: eliminates IT and writing

5) Not required to be polite to clients

Conclusion: eliminates most forms of consultancy

6) Chemicals involved

7) Elements of danger required

Remaining career options:

Freelance spy (but hard to keep out of Mycroft's way)

Drug dealer (JHW would not approve)

Options remaining:

1) Job centre

2) Ask Mycroft to arrange job for me

3) Kill myself

Constraints: 1 and 2 reduce to 3, JHW would not approve.

FUCK FUCK FUCK

Best available long-term alternative to suicide: Stay in safe house for ever

NB: ask Mycroft for chemistry set to be delivered.

Best available short-term alternative to cutting:

1) Channel inner voice of disapproving JHW

2) Recite periodic table

3) Play game of solitaire

4) Eat doughnut

5) Repeat steps 1-4 as necessary

***

"I don't know if this is going to work," said John, when he got back, "but unless you've got any better solutions, hear me out. You don't want anyone exploring your mind, correct?"

"Apart from you," said Sherlock, licking sugar off his fingers.

"Which, as has been demonstrated, is not a good move. However, there is a close connection between the mind and the body, and we've also established that your mind works more effectively if your body's in a better state. Therefore, if we can work on your body, we can possibly indirectly give some kind of nudge to your mind. I'm not expecting miracles, but having you more than one harsh comment away from meltdown would be nice."

"This getting at the mind via the body isn't going to involve...electric shocks, is it?" says Sherlock cautiously, "Or drilling into my skull?"

"Nothing so drastic. I've got a pal called Roger who came out of the army a few years ago and set himself up as a freelance fitness trainer. Organises lots of different courses here in London. Boot camp style, has a couple of ex-sergeant majors yelling at people, getting them going over assault courses and so on."

"Varied outdoor work, bit of danger... any access to chemicals?" asked Sherlock.

"What?"

"Never mind," said Sherlock. "I've heard of this kind of thing – I believe Mrs Hudson's copy of Heat magazine mentioned it once. They have celebrities running round pretending to be soldiers."

"Most of it's pretty phony," said John, "but Roger does do one that's a lot more authentic. Runs it for the DIS, the Defence Intelligence Service. They have all these civilians working for them as intelligence analysts and they want to give some of them a taste of what actual soldiers go through. So they do something that's a lot more like the start of basic training – six weeks, 9-5, proper army PT, no drill, but some weapons training. I thought maybe you, we could go on it."

"You're trying to cure me with a boot camp?" Sherlock asked incredulously, "This is psychiatry army-style, is it?"

"I'm trying," said John patiently, "to find something that will get you out of this damn flat and thinking about something other than your own fears. And talking to someone other than me."

"I-"

"There'll be other people on the course, all young and bright-eyed and competitive, I'm sure, but they're used to sitting at desks all day, not to the kind of exertions you put us through. And you'll never have to see them again after the six weeks are up, and if they cause too much trouble, Mycroft can probably get them seconded to South Georgia. And...and if you think you're the most hopeless piece of shit in the history of creation, that just saves some breath for the sergeant majors."

John paused. "You don't have to do it, but it's the only idea I've got at the moment. And... there will be chasing people, and climbing things, and shooting."

"Shooting?"

"They've got special use of the Houses of Parliament rifle range."

"Mycroft's never let me near Parliament," said Sherlock.

"I've cleared it all with him, and DIS will let us on the course, even though it takes them over the normal limit on numbers, and-"

"OK," said Sherlock, "I'll give it a try." There was a strange exhilaration in agreeing to something so obviously, completely mad. "When do we start?"

"Next course starts in two days' time, which gives us today and tomorrow to get out kit sorted out. Running gear, footwear, that kind of stuff. I've got a list so we can get Mycroft's lot onto it, if you tell them sizes."

"You're expecting Mycroft to choose shorts for me?" said Sherlock. "That doesn't bear thinking about. And someone needs to explain to you the basic principles of colour theory. No, John, you're right that we've stayed in this flat too long. So I think it's time to do a bit of shopping."

***

"Trainers," John said doggedly the next morning. "You have to have some suitable footwear. I know it's against your aesthetic principles to wear trainers, but you can't do an assault course in brogues."

"You said it was boot camp," Sherlock replied, "so I've been getting Mycroft to track down where I left my boots. He found them in Mummy's loft last night, they should be bringing them round any minute now. Ah good, here they come with today's supplies."

"These are climbing boots," said John, as Sherlock unpacked them. "They're going to give you trouble if you haven't worn them for a long time. And those look like they haven't seen daylight for years."

"A bit over ten years, I suppose. Still traces of the mud they had on them from their last use. Do you know where that mud came from, John?"

"No, but given you can presumably remember where you last wore them, I'm not going to be that impressed by your detective ability when you tell me."

"Snowdonia. I was with the university mountaineering club in my first year. For one of our early trips out we had a race up the mountain. I got the second best time ever for a novice."

"And promptly gave up climbing because you hadn't got the best time ever."

"How well you know me, John. Well, we've got the equipment now. So," said Sherlock, "the boot camp is on."

***

It was all too like the first day of school, Sherlock decided at the start of the boot camp. Twenty-one of them milling around, eyeing each other up; Sherlock had already recognised the probable class bullies. But there hadn't been girls at his school, and he'd been on his own there. Now he had John on his side.

He'd wondered beforehand whether John had planned this whole thing mainly for his own entertainment, nostalgia for the army, but he rapidly realised he was wrong. They'd only just started on the first lot of press-ups when there was a scream from behind him. It was rapidly cut off, but when Sherlock looked round, John was sitting on the ground clutching his shoulder, ghost white, and the trainer was haranguing him about idiots with undisclosed injuries. John, however, was retaliating with ever lengthening medical descriptions, and it took ten minutes of complex negotiations to work out exactly which of the exercises he was now barred from doing.

***

The resemblance to school was only enhanced at lunchtime when John signalled to Sherlock to come with him away from the main group. Sherlock followed, trying not to look as if his feet were killing him.

"I hope you've got an illicit pack of ciggies for us to share," Sherlock said.

"You're going to need all the lung function you can get." John said absent-mindedly. "But what we do need to do is start making allies fast. I'm not sure I'm going to make it through the course and you could do with support." He paused.

"I should perhaps have mentioned," he went on at last, "that boot camps can get a bit rough, so it's always important to work out who the mad bastards are who you don't want near you with a rifle. And to have someone to help you out if you do get in a jam."

"So you've stuck us both in St James' Park among several sociopaths with access to guns?"

"Thought it would make you feel at home," John said. "So who do we get on our team? Basically it's public school versus the rest, isn't it, with you as a class traitor?"

"You don't need to worry about all the upper classes," Sherlock said rapidly. "George, Simon Masters, Nick, they may not be your type, but they'll play nicely. It's Crispin and perhaps Tony who are your real Sebs, the ones to beware of. There are others who may follow them, but they'll be the instigators."

"OK," said John. "that leaves us with a reasonable defensive bloc if we can get people behind us. Tamjid, Simon Lo, Andy – though if Andy makes it through this week, I'll be amazed – and Ted. Plus Donna, Crystal, Lisa, Mina and Jenny, of course. We should be fine."

"John, not even you can get five women to fall for you simultaneously in six weeks."

"Not fall for me, but on my side. Do you know how to make a good impression with a fit woman, Sherlock? I mean a really sporty one?"

“Do I want to know?”

“Wait till she beats you in a race, fair and square, no letting her win. Then tell her how impressive she was and ask if you can race again next week.”

“And that works?”

“Almost every time,” said John. “With women. With some mad bastard men, that’s practically an invitation to them to rip your throat out. Talking of which, what about Rhodri? Crispin and Tony are probably only minor league nasties, but in real basic training, Rhodri would be the one you be watching for any signs that he was planning a massacre.”

“I’ll talk to Rhodri,” said Sherlock.

“I’m not entirely sure he can talk.”

“I know Rhodri’s type. I’ll talk to him and keep an eye out for the sociopaths,” said Sherlock. “You go and make us some friends.”

***

“Before we climb these stairs,” said John, as they got back to the safe house that evening, “you need to know the procedure we follow once we get up to the flat.”

“There’s a procedure?” asked Sherlock, trying to distance himself from the ‘climbing these stairs’ aspect.

“Definitely. Do not sit down immediately when you get in, or you’ll never be able to get up again. First, you take some painkillers, then you put some food in the oven to cook, then you get the icepacks from the freezer and sit down and apply them. That way, by the time the food’s ready, you’ll be able to move enough to get up and eat it. Then you have a hot shower to ease the muscles a bit more, and then you go to bed and sleep like the dead.”

“We haven’t got icepacks,” said Sherlock.

“Oh yes, we have. I got a shed load of supplies delivered today by Mycroft’s lot, I just decided not to tell you before in case it worried you. But I’ve been medical officer for more boot camps than you’ve had hot... meals of any kind, so we’ve got everything we need. All we have to do is get up those stairs. Do you know how many of them there are, by the way?”

“Twenty-three,” said Sherlock.

“Oh bugger. OK, hold onto the wall, and one and two and three and four…”

***

The procedure was slightly interrupted by John falling asleep on the sofa while eating. He was still out when Sherlock returned from his shower, and he decided he should leave him a bit longer. Which meant he needed to deal with his feet himself. He wasn’t going to touch John’s medical supplies, he knew by now the rows that would cause, but there were a few plasters and some antiseptic cream in the bathroom, so he just had to pop the blisters first. He didn’t have a needle, but the little knife in his ankle sheath had a very fine blade, which would be the next best thing. He went into the kitchen, sterilised it quickly, and then sat down, trying to work out how best to get the right angle.

He’d just decided when John burst into the kitchen, yelling, “No!” Sherlock looked up, and then John’s elbow was driving into his stomach, and his other arm was wrenching Sherlock’s wrist till his fingers let go of the knife, and now John’s hands were both on Sherlock’s, clamping down on them, and John’s face looked down at him, as bloodless as after the press-ups, and he was yelling:

“You promised, you said you wouldn’t! I know I was asleep, but you could have woken me up, you should have said-“

“Not that,” Sherlock gasped, “I didn’t… let go, that hurts!”

“I thought that was the point,” John said grimly, “but not a mark on you.”

“Please,” said Sherlock, “it's not… what you think it is. I’ll tell you, just... sit down first… before you pass out.”

John gazed suspiciously at him, but then went and sat down till Sherlock had enough breath for a full sentence.

“Blisters. I have blisters on my feet. I was trying to deal with them.”

“You sodding idiot!” John exclaimed.

“I know.”

“No, not you, me. I ought to have checked that earlier, but I was just too tired. And I’d forgotten your urge to self-medicate.”

“OK,” John added after a moment, “give me five minutes for my hand to stop shaking and I’ll show you the approved medical corps way of dealing with blisters.” There was silence for a short while, except for Sherlock surreptitiously trying not to wheeze.

“But first," John said, “let’s have a look at this.” He went and picked the knife up from the floor. “Not from here,” he said, examining it. “Have you been carrying it all along?”

“Yes,” said Sherlock. “In an ankle sheath.”

“And it’s the one you use when you…harm yourself?” Sherlock nodded.

“Right,” said John. “Then I’d better... you’d better go and put it somewhere safe, because concealed weapons at a boot camp are a really bad move. I’ll go and get the stuff for your blisters now.” He handed the knife to Sherlock and went out of the kitchen without a backwards glance.

***

Sherlock was running across the roofs of London, and climbing up a wall, and he reached down to pull Pat Taylor up, because she had to come to identify the drugs, but it was John’s hand he was grasping, and it was wonderful. But then the hooded figure they’d been chasing turned round, and Rhodri brought the gun up. Sherlock felt the bullet hit him, he was down and John was bending over him and shaking him by the shoulder and telling him to stay awake…

“Wake up,” said the actual, not dream, John and Sherlock cautiously looked around. Safe house – good start, John there – also good, John not in a horrible T-shirt – even better, John in running shorts – O God -

“Day two of boot camp,” said John and pulled the duvet off him. “Rise and shine, soldier.”

***

There were several times Sherlock had expected to die in the first week of training, but by week two he was starting to feel he could get to the end of the course. And the shooting practice had started, which meant that some of the people who had been patronising John earlier on were a bit more cautious now. The networking was starting to pay off as well: more and more often there was someone helping to hold up a scramble net and make sure Crispin didn’t “accidentally” boot them in the face. Crystal, in particular, was keeping an eye out for John.

Crystal was twenty-three, and black and two inches taller than John and Sherlock suspected that John would regard all these factors as purely arbitrary limits on his desires. Not that John could have much spare energy for lust. Apart from Sherlock, the others were all at least ten years younger than John and it was showing. He hoped he could get John out of this thing safely.

***

More than halfway through the six weeks now. Sherlock ought to have been bored, but there was a certain mindless simplicity in the life. You ran, you climbed, you shot and you observed the power plays within this human zoo. And you kept an eye out for John, who was somehow managing to keep going. They were down to seventeen now, but John was still hanging in there, pacing himself, mysteriously having just enough in reserve to get through each exercise. And now there was always someone there to boost John over a wall or run beside him on the circuits, which gave Sherlock more freedom to concentrate on keeping up with Crispin. His competitive spirit was coming back, and he was looking forward to the tournament on the last day. He wasn't going to win overall, that would probably be Rhodri, but he was going to give Crispin a run for his money.

A week to go, three more days and then the accident happened. They were heading home, both tired, Sherlock had rushed out into the road to try and grab a taxi, and John, following, had somehow misstepped off the pavement, and ended up lying in the gutter.

As Sherlock helped him up, John explained, with a lot of swearwords as punctuation, that he had sprained his ankle and did not to go to hospital or see a doctor, because he was a doctor, and they had everything they needed at the flat if Sherlock could just get his arse into gear and find them a sodding taxi. Back at the safe house, Sherlock half-carried John up the stairs – that was easier than it would have been six weeks ago, wasn't it? - and deposited him on the sofa. He then rapidly iced and dosed John to his meticulous instructions.

***

"OK," said John eventually, "The next step is you phoning Roger and telling him that the camp's now down to sixteen."

Sherlock had forgotten all about the boot camp. "You're sure?"

"I now have a dud shoulder and a dud leg. That doesn't leave me with much else useful I can do."

"Then I'd better tell them they're down to fifteen." said Sherlock," You need someone to look after you."

"Mycroft can get someone in. You've got this far, you ought to finish the course. I would... like you to finish it." John said. "And you've got other people there to watch your back, and you've still got to beat Crispin, haven't you?"

"He's better than me," said Sherlock, "faster and a more accurate shot."

"Yes, but you're more cunning. If you can just beat him in a couple of events, that will let Rhodri pull ahead of him in the final standings."

"This really matters to you, doesn't it?" said Sherlock.

"Of course it does, and to you too, you're just better at hiding it. I just wish that I hadn't been such a bloody idiot and got myself hurt at the last minute." John grinned. "Pretty daft, isn't it? I've been climbing six foot walls for a month and my downfall is three inches of kerb. I'm going to get a lot of stick from Roger for that."

"You don't have to tell him how you injured yourself," said Sherlock. "You could say... say I was dragging you across the rooftops on a case."

"No, that kind of lying's pointless. It's not the most embarrassing thing that's happened to me, far from it. So could you please phone Mycroft's lot and explain the details to them, and then get them to patch you through to Roger."

"Do you need to speak to them?"

"Land line's in the kitchen, mobiles don't work inside, I don't want to move. You do it, but just don't tell lies. I can't cope with remembering any more cover stories."

***

"Roger sent his sympathies," Sherlock reported on his return, "but also that it was quite useful, because he had bet against you finishing the course. Can you imagine they're betting on something like that?"

"God, really? That is weird," said John. The pain was obviously slowing down his reactions, he didn't sound remotely convincing.

"You knew? How did you know? You're involved, aren't you?" Sherlock demanded, "Who have you been betting on? Me?"

"I'm not telling you the details, Sherlock, you'd just try and fix the match. But I haven't bet against you, I'd never do that. I'd like you to win every damn race if you could."

"Which I won't!"

"Which you won't," said John calmly, "but you're still going to do a hell of a lot better than you would have six weeks ago."

"I'm probably going to end up last," said Sherlock, in sudden panic. "Or not finish at all. Which will be humiliating."

"Even if you do, there are far worse ways to make a fool of yourself. Like being unable to cross the road safely."

"But you said that wasn't the most embarrassing thing to happen to you," said Sherlock, suddenly remembering. "So what was?" He didn't know why, but he had to know.

"Oh, that's an easy one, " said John promptly, "Throwing up on a date."

"That doesn't sound too bad," Sherlock said cautiously.

"No, on a date, as in over him. I was nineteen, nervous as hell, and so drinking far too much. The problem was, he was on my course, so I had to sit next to him in lectures for another five years. That was the embarrassing part."

"I once slept with my lab partner," said Sherlock. "She freaked out the next morning when she woke up and found me trying to estimate the size of her cranium. She said I was looking at her as if I wanted to open up her skull and scoop out the contents." He'd never told anyone that before.

"That would not be a good move," said John. "I didn't know you'd dated, dated women, I mean."

"A bit at college, men and women. Disastrous, and not even in a funny way. But Pat was the first. Professor Patricia Fisher-Taylor of Stanford now, probably the most brilliant chemist I've ever met. She forgave me eventually, she even sent me a copy of her first publication, thought I'd be interested."

"And you read it, and sat there for half an hour wondering why you hadn't been able to solve the problem first, and then you burnt the paper."

"I didn't burn the paper," said Sherlock, "but yes, I did spend days in agony because Pat was the genius, and I wasn't."

"I gather from the last Bart's newsletter that the bloke I threw up on is now a consultant heart surgeon. And a father of four. I was probably personally responsible for turning him straight."

"I didn't know you'd dated men as well as women." Sherlock said cautiously.

John smiled. "The psychologists would say bisexual, I'd say unusually susceptible, Harry would say undiscriminating. Which is not true, because I make it a rule now not to date lesbians."

"What happened before that rule?" Sherlock asked. He wasn't normally interested in people's emotional lives, but this was John, and there was a certain horrifying fascination in hearing about his lurid past.

"The second most embarrassing bit of my life, and the only time I was properly engaged. I was twenty-three, Emily was twenty-two and was trying to hide the fact she was gay. Owing to some extremely poor communication between us, she was under the impression that I was exclusively gay, and I was under the impression that she was straight, but very, very repressed. So I was extremely restrained till the engagement party, at which point I thought it was time for us to go a bit further. She panicked and locked herself in the toilet for the rest of the night, which was difficult to explain to the guests."

"That doesn't sound much fun." said Sherlock.

"I cried for a week afterwards," said John, "but put it in a sitcom and people would fall about laughing. When things like that happen, you either have to make a joke about them afterwards or forget them." He paused. "But you remember everything, don't you?"

"Not quite, but an awful lot."

"That's hard. And you think five times as fast at the rest of us, so of course you haven't got enough to occupy your mind sometimes, and it goes back over the past again and again." John paused and then asked: "Is there... is there anything specific? Because there are some things that you can't forget and you can't make a joke of, and you can't talk about even with your closest friends."

"Afghanistan?" said Sherlock, suddenly figuring it out.

"Maybe one day I can tell you about it, but not now. Is there anything for you? I don't need the details, just a rough idea."

"There's nothing like that," said Sherlock.

"The airgun wound?"

"Some mad bastards shouldn't be allowed near you with a gun. But that wasn't down to my weakness, that was his viciousness. The things that aren't my fault don't haunt me, it's the self-inflicted wounds."

"There speaks a man who's never been in battle, " said John. "But I know, ordinary humiliations, commonplace, boring humiliations still hurt. But they don't kill, and they don't have to leave scars if you learn to manage them."

"Which is the idea of the therapy?"

"Yeah. I can patch up your self-esteem, well I can try, but it's easier if you can treat yourself."

"I thought you didn't approve of self-medication?"

"Only the dangerous self-medication. Drink, knives, drugs," said John. "Talking of which, any chance of more codeine?"

"You're not supposed to have any more for an hour." said Sherlock, "But if you need it-"

"Having more doses than the packet says is not a good habit to get into," said John. "OK, then food would help."

"I'm sorry," said Sherlock, "I should have thought of that earlier." He headed to the kitchen. Maybe all John's lectures on quick nutritious meals were starting to rub off on him after all. Salad, baked potatoes in the microwave, muesli. He went back to John. "Five, ten minutes," he said.

John's head was back against the sofa, and his eyes were closed, and he was biting into his bottom lip.

"Are you OK?" Sherlock hurried over to him.

"Just moved the wrong way. OK in a moment, a distraction would help."

"Hydrogen , helium, lithium, beryllium-"

"My mind doesn't work like that. Conversation's better."

"Why do you do it, John?" Sherlock burst out.

"Comprehensible conversation would be even more helpful."

"Why do you put yourself through all this? Not the boot camp, the humiliation. The humiliation with relationships."

"Not all my dates have ended disastrously, you know." John said firmly, "But those that don't are less suitable for discussing with you."

"But why do you still keep on doing it, at your age? God, I didn't mean it, John, I swear I didn't mean it like that!" Sherlock reached out his hand.

"Don't touch me!" John burst out.

"I didn't-"

"I know, but every bit of my body hurts right now, and I don't want you making it worse, that won't help either of us. I... you can stroke my hair gently, that's probably safe."

John's short back and sides was vaguely fuzzy right at the back of his neck, Sherlock found, almost cat-like. Quite satisfying to the fingers.

"Is that helping?" he said after a minute or two.

"That's... nice," said John looking up at him. He still sounded tired and stressed, but not actually in agony. "You were asking why I kept on pursuing relationships even at my advanced age."

"It's not the sex, is it?" said Sherlock, "I mean, yes it is the sex, and you're still entirely capable of that, and, and, and do you want to shoot me now? You could ask Roger for a gun." His hands dropped from John, and he started to walk away.

"Sherlock, look at me!" John said. There was a sudden focus and clarity to his voice now. "You don't die of humiliation. That's the point. You don't die even from lack of sex. You can, however, die from lack of love, it's a statistically proven fact."

"And you're looking for love?" Sherlock asked, turning to look at him.

"Most of the time, not always. But I fell in love with a boy when I was seventeen, I'd been with a few girls before then, nothing serious. But Graham... I adored him body and soul." There was an expression on John's face now of remembered desire and pain that Sherlock had never seen before. "And we were together for three months, and he left me for someone taller and better-looking-"

"And it broke your heart," said Sherlock. "I've been reliably informed that you have a heart to break."

"I couldn't think about anyone else for months, a year more like. And then I told myself that I could either brood for the rest of my life, or try and see if there was someone else I could be happy with, who I could make happy. And there was this really sweet girl I met at swimming club-"

"Who you let win a race?"

"Who was always faster than me however hard I tried. And that lasted... well, never mind."

"You wanted it to last?"

"Oh yeah. I'm just pretty crappy at that bit. But it's hard. Even with people who you think really fit together, it's hard. I thought Clara was exactly what Harry needed, and then after all the promises, it just didn't work."

"You fancied Clara, didn't you?" said Sherlock, "Loved her, I mean."

"Yeah, but the don't date lesbians rule is a good one to stick to." John paused. "I think," he added slowly, "that I do desperately need some food right now, and then you'll have to help me get into bed, because my body has just had enough." He closed his eyes as the microwave started to beep.

***

Sherlock was still on enough of an adrenaline rush after the tournament that he ran up the stairs to the flat."

"You did it?" John smiled up from the sofa.

"I did it," Sherlock said, "Got through the whole thing and beat that smug bastard Crispin."

"Come here and tell me all about it," said John. "Or do you need some icepacks and codeine first?"

"No drugs, no icing, but I need a hot shower right now, because I have mud in places you wouldn't credit. And then I will get some food going and tell you of my triumphs."

***

"I gather it's rather superfluous to tell you what happened," Sherlock said when he came back into the living room. "You've been checking with Roger?"

"Don't know what you mean," said John, barely bothering to sound convincing.

"Chair up against the sink, plate rack been moved, kitchen window still fractionally open. You were lying on your stomach on the draining board, with your head out of the window trying to get a mobile signal. That can't have been good for your leg."

"Better than having to go downstairs...OK, I wanted advance warning if anything went wrong. Not that I expected it to, but...just in case. But I only got the outlines. George won overall, because Crispin comprehensively fouled up the shooting, you-"

"Did well on the shooting, and the assault course, and even on the gym tests, but the shuttle run was...not good. And I failed to win the steeplechase, which I suspect was the one you were betting on me for."

"Yes, but it doesn't matter. Roger told me why you didn't win it. Because you were helping Rhodri get over the line, despite the fact he'd damaged himself at the last hurdle. And that you were extremely competent at dealing with his suspected sprained ankle afterwards. Roger said he was impressed by your sportsmanship and initiative."

"Not sure those are quite the terms I'd use." Sherlock said. "I did rather owe Rhodri. Because though I put the blanks in Crispin's gun, it was Rhodri who did the actual switching of the rifle."

"We have a pretty flexible interpretation of sportsmanship in the army," said John. "Well done. Oh, and how did Crystal get on?"

"Best of the women. Mainly because someone had finally taught her to shoot straight."

"That's great," said John. "I must phone and congratulate her. Though possibly not for a day or two, because I'm never at my best talking to a woman while lying on a draining board."

"You have Crystal's number?" said Sherlock. "John are you sure you know what you're doing? She's a bit...tall for you."

"You mean she's twenty-three and I'm thirty-nine, and no, I am therefore not dating her, because-"

"That's one of your other rules. Could I have a complete list of them sometime?" Sherlock said. "OK, so what did you spend weeks going off talking to Crystal about?"

"She was trying to decide whether she should join the army, not just stick in the DIS, she came on the course to see what the training would be like. So I was telling her stuff about selection boards, possible career paths, that kind of thing. She was a bit worried that having a criminal record was a problem, but I think I've worked out a way round that one."

"John Watson, universal problem solver."

"Yeah, except I'm not, am I?" John said, looking up at Sherlock. "You've got through boot camp impressively, and you're more relaxed, and I pity the crook who tries to run away from you now, but I don't know that it's really changed anything. And... I am getting a bit too old for this sort of thing. Even five years ago you wouldn't have stood a chance against me, but not now."

There was a rawness in John's voice that he was unable to conceal, but they were a tag team in defensive humour now, and Sherlock knew exactly what to say next.

"Good job you weren't trying this five years ago then. Because it wouldn't have achieved anything if I'd stormed off in a huff after the first day because I couldn't beat you."

John grinned.

"But anyhow," Sherlock went on, "you don't need to worry about what to do next, because freed of the distracting pressure of your thinking for the past few days, I have worked that out. Firstly, I am remaining a consultant detective, since it is a career for which I am ideally suited and which I also enjoy. Secondly, as a consequence of this, I require premises from which to work. This safe house is sadly inadequate, since it has neither an outside line, nor a skull, and Mycroft doubtless won't let me shoot holes in the wall. Therefore, we need to return to 221B Baker Street.

"Thirdly and finally," Sherlock went on, "although I enjoy my consulting work, it produces unusual emotional stresses. Just as prior physical conditioning can increase my bodily fitness, certain forms of mental training can strengthen my emotional resilience. It is therefore rational for me to undergo some form of psychiatric therapy, and since as a consultant detective I am supremely rational, it is the obvious course of action for me."

He watched the delight spread across John's face as he took in what he was saying and he braced himself for congratulations, uplifting, sugary sentiments. John deserved some emotional indulgence, after all.

But though John might be sentimental, he was never sugary.

"All sounds eminently sensible," he said, grinning at Sherlock. "Shame it's taken you so many weeks to work it out, but we can't all be quick thinkers. Don't throw that cushion at me, I am a wounded man! Besides, you've got to go and pack for us both."

***

Sherlock sat in John's bedroom, thinking. Well, technically it was his bedroom at the moment, because John was obviously better in the room downstairs till his ankle healed, and Sherlock had somehow managed to get it clean and tidy enough that John didn't think it was a health risk to sleep there. Otherwise, things were getting back to normal. Mycroft had somehow failed to see the interesting and dangerous potential of one of cases he'd accepted on Sherlock's behalf, and Lestrade had promised him an immediate call on the next big case, "because you have may have been wrong on the Holder case, but everyone makes mistakes." Sherlock had smiled graciously, and not reminded Lestrade of any of the Met's top ten blunders of 2010.

The other different thing, of course, was the therapy. Was going to be the therapy. He wasn't looking forward to it, but he'd do it because of John. Well, not because of John, but because it was a rational idea which John had happened to suggest first. He just hoped it did work, because there were limits to what he ought to put John through.

Except he was going to have to put John through it again, wasn't he? There were some things he didn't trust anyone but John to be able to sort out. Like his sex life. He'd presumed that John would have picked up that that was at the heart of his problems with his own body, but maybe not even John could read him that well. Or had, but hadn't thought he could do anything about it. Because Sherlock wasn't looking for a talking cure for this one, but some practical demonstrations. And his body didn't turn John on.

At least, he thought suddenly, it hadn't. But six weeks of press-ups and sit-ups and bloody, bloody long runs, had had effects, he could feel that. Maybe make him look a bit less civilian. And there had been a few odd moments at the boot camp when he hadn't been sure John's gaze on him was purely comradely.

He had to know, now, he decided, just so he could work out his next move. But how did you sidle up to a man in an armchair with an icepack on his leg and persuade him to tell you whether or not you were sexy?

This was John. You made him laugh, and then he'd forget himself and tell you the truth, and then laugh it off again, so you knew, but didn't have to know if you didn't want to. So he had to make John laugh. While, of course, being simultaneously smoulderingly gorgeous. God, thought Sherlock, I'm starting to sound like him now. And that gave him the idea.

He rummaged briefly around the room till he found the clothes he was looking for, in a bag labelled 'Take to charity shop'. He pulled out the purple T-shirt and carefully put it on. Too small for him of course, but that was part of the point. He went silently downstairs and got within six feet of John before being spotted. John's look of mingled horror and hysteria alone made it worthwhile.

"I thought I would try a new image," Sherlock announced, "A little less formal."

"I didn't know sudden onset colour blindness existed," John replied. "And you'll get sunburn in some very peculiar places if you go out like that. If you don't get arrested, that is."

"Lots of people go around exposing their navels in public, I believe."

"Yes, but they're normally under twenty."

"Well I am feeling young at heart. Besides," said Sherlock, trying to work out how far he could take this. "I have abs now. It would be a shame to let them linger unseen."

"OK, come here and show me your abs," said John, giggling. "Do you want to flex your biceps at me as well?"

"If I do, something will rip," Sherlock said.

"And you'll look like an albino version of the Incredible Hulk. Oh, never mind, it doesn't matter. You do realise you're going to have keep on with the sit-ups if you want to keep those nice muscles. don't you?" John paused and then added, his voice suddenly sober. "I wasn't sure that you'd get through the boot camp, but I was impressed that you did. Would you... would you mind taking the T-shirt off so I can see your arms?"

John hadn't asked to see his arms again since the first time at the safe house, and he hadn't confiscated Sherlock's knife. He owed John more than he could say. Very carefully, he pulled off the purple T-shirt and came to stand beside the armchair, raising his arms behind his head so that John could see the unmarked skin.

"Well done," said John smiling, and he reached up as if to pat Sherlock on the back, and Sherlock wasn't sure for a moment whether it was the accident of John's lack of reach, or his own surreptitious twitch that made it end up as a pat on the backside. Then he looked down at John's face, which had the same blazing intensity as when he'd talked about having his heart broken at seventeen, and he knew this was no accident.

"Do you want me to say it?" said John. "That you are gorgeous, and I have always thought that, even though you're not really my type."

"And the abs-"

"Are nice, but strictly speaking unnecessary. Though your arse is even more wonderful after six weeks of squat thrusts."

"I did wonder why you always ended up running behind me," said Sherlock.

"Well it also meant I could overtake you when you slowed down, but that was one reason, yes."

"So why didn't you say that you fancied me the last time you saw me with my shirt off? Because I'm a cutter?" Sherlock asked.

"Because I couldn't say I liked your body without you knowing I meant it, and you didn't need any more things messing up your mind at that point."

"Why not before, then? You've been running behind me for months."

"I thought you weren't interested in sex, and one of my dating rules is to steer clear of people who don't like sex."

"Who says I'm not interested?" said Sherlock, and he dragged John's hand round, till it was resting on the bulge of Sherlock's crotch that John had resolutely not been looking at.

"OK, you're interested," said John, and then added more cautiously. "Before we go any further, I probably need to check whether you've seen me without my shirt on. I mean, under normal circumstances, not in hospital, or when you've been distracted by the prospect of sudden death."

"I'm sure I have, you don't have the same inhibitions-" Sherlock broke off. It probably didn't help your body image being shot. Or spending six weeks with a bunch of younger and fitter people. "But maybe you should show me what boot camp has done for your abs."

"My abs were fine even before that. My shoulder, however, has been known to alarm or disgust civilians." John was unbuttoning his shirt now, straining clumsily forwards in the armchair.

"Let me," said Sherlock, "or you'll hurt yourself." He gently pulled John's shirt off his shoulders, got his arms out. Yes, John's shoulder was a mess - several lumpy ridges and odd hollows – how exactly had those happened? Perhaps if John had been bending down when he was hit-

"At some point," John said, with a slight edge to his voice, "I will explain in detail to you the explanation for every single mark. Generally, however, it is considered polite to be interested in more than just a potential partner's trauma history."

"I'm sorry," said Sherlock, and sliding his eyes hastily further down, said rapidly." You're not really that lop-sided, are you? Oh God, that didn't come out right. Your left arm muscles are...good."

"Took a lot of work regaining the strength," said John, "but if I was going to be able to shoot properly, I had to do it. I can do most things now, with a bit of adaptation. Just not press-ups. OK," he went on, "so you've seen me without my shirt, and whatever your mind may be thinking, your body's OK with that. Which is handy, because it would be sweaty to have to wear a T-shirt when we're having sex."

Sherlock's flinch was only momentary, but of course, of course, John had chosen that moment to look up from Sherlock's groin to his face, and spot it.

John sighed. "I knew this was too good to be true. So now we get the complications."

"What complications?"

"You tell me, Sherlock. there's bound to be some reason why this is currently mucking up your mind, there always is. Besides," John added, "if had been straightforward for you to grab me, you would have done so long ago."

At some point, Sherlock thought, he was actually going to have to learn to tell John things. It just always seemed impossible to know where to start. But John apparently had mental checklists for every conceivable occasion.

"Right," John said, "you have urges, but you're scared about sex. There are various physical causes for sexual problems, so-"

"Stop being a bloody doctor, John! It's not my body, it's my mind. And no, I am not going to a sex therapist, I don't want that, I don't need that."

"Then tell me what you do need."

"Experience. I don't know what to do, and I'm clumsy and I tense up, and I don't do it right, and it is so bloody humiliating."

"And... you need someone more experienced to show you how you can enjoy it, make them enjoy it," said John calmly. "But someone who you trust, because it's not just your body getting naked on these occasions, and you don't want anybody who's going to laugh at you or reject you if you get it wrong... or give you marks less than ten out of ten. Because it's not just sex you want, is it, but being the world's greatest lover?"

"No," said Sherlock. "Well, maybe yes, but I'd settle for not absolutely disastrous."

John was looking up at him again. "I think," he said at last, "I probably am actually the right person to do this, because it’s mostly bodies and only a bit of minds. We obviously can't do much in my current state, but we could try a bit of kissing."

"Kissing?"

"Yes. Kneel down, and we'll be about on the same level, though you'll have to twist around a bit. OK, now kiss me."

Angles, thought Sherlock desperately, pressure, but where? Dry lips, wet lips?

"All right," John said, "then I kiss you. " He reached out for Sherlock's face and guided him towards him, and John's mouth was warm and firm and moist, and the angle was right, but he ought to do something more, he had to, or John would get bored – maybe he was bored already, but just too polite to say – put his arms round John, no, the chair was in the way, tongues then, no, dear God, not tongues... He pulled away from John's embrace.

"If I was less experienced and you weren't you," said John patiently, "I might think you'd done that because I was a lousy kisser. But I'm not a lousy kisser, and it's you, so something's obviously spooked you."

"Tongues," Sherlock forced out.

"No tongues," said John, "not for several weeks at least."

"You're planning this already?" Sherlock demanded.

"Think of it as a sort of sexual boot camp," said John. "With less of the yelling at you and telling you you're hopeless, obviously. But it's the same basic principle. You get the body used to doing something, and it boosts your confidence generally."

"But I, I can't do it. I can't even kiss you, I can't do it right."

"It was a very nice kiss. And there's no right or wrong. It's not a lab experiment, Sherlock, there's no set method you have to follow."

"Then how do you know what to do?"

"You try something, see if it feels good, if the other person likes it. If not, you try something else, till you get something you both like. Think of it as an experiment, a sort of suck it and see approach – no let's not use that metaphor, given your tongue issues, absolutely no tongues required – a bit of trial and error. Go on, try kissing me again, see what you find, this bit of me won't break."

Sherlock cautiously moved into towards John. He knew the angle now, if he could just work out what to do with his hands, and then... Oh yes, of course, if I slide my hand down here, I can support John's head, pull him closer and the mouth goes here, and my thumb stroking his ear, and... oh, this is good, isn't it? This is amazing...

"You are a very quick learner," John said a few minutes later," and I think we had better stop the lesson there before things get completely out of hand. I'm really not up to more at the moment."

"I understand," said Sherlock, standing up, "Do you want a cup of tea?" He turned and headed for the kitchen, so John couldn't see his face. He'd forgotten that John had spent the last six weeks behind him.

"Oh hell!" said John. "OK, we don't stop, because you need to get this sorted now, so we'll have to try and take it further."

"You can read my back?" Sherlock demanded, turning round.

"There's a tilt in your body, when you're not sure how much longer you can go on for. I recognise that one by now. But...do you think you can get me some tea? Because this is going to need a bit of thought to get right."

***

Two months ago, Sherlock had found it frustrating to watch John think things through, his brow creasing, muttering to himself, chewing his right thumbnail occasionally – always his right, even though he was left-handed, something to do with brain hemispheres, perhaps? Now, when he knew that John could find answers to problems Sherlock never could, he found watching John fascinating. Well, he had found watching John fascinating for a long time, but this was in a slightly different way.

"Your mind works a bit like a Swiss army knife, doesn't it?" he suddenly couldn't help announcing into the silence.

"What do you mean?" asked John.

"It is like that, isn't it? You have a set of tools for solving problems and you go through them and see if any of them can be made to work for this particular situation. And if not, you go onto the next thing."

"I'm not a genius like you. I can't see solutions in a flash of inspiration, the way you can."

"Well I certainly can't solve this one. We'd better leave it, John," said Sherlock, trying extremely hard not to sound disappointed.

"No," said John, "we can sort this out." The note in his voice suddenly reminded Sherlock that the British army believed that entirely unrealistic physical challenges could nevertheless be mastered.

"The problem is," John went on, "that almost all the things that would avoid damaging me further risk freaking you out. But there is one possibility that I can see that shouldn't cause physical or mental scars."

"Are you sure?" asked Sherlock, "I mean for you?"

"Might be a bit painful, but no pain, no gain, as we've been told repeatedly for the last six weeks. So first of all you need to help me into the bedroom, and then finish the job of getting us both naked."

***

"Gently," said John, as Sherlock eased his pants down his legs. "This is the bit that always tends to hurt."

"I hadn't realised it was so hard for you to get dressed and undressed with the ankle," said Sherlock, "you should have said you needed help."

"I thought even you might have noticed something about my reaction to you at that point," said John, "which would have been embarrassing for us both."

"And now?"

"It counts as medically indicated, and thus by definition not embarrassing on either side. Now, if you can put a pillow between my ankle and the wall, I'm less likely to bash it. Good. We're sticking to touching only today, because it's easier to stop if you get uncomfortable. But you're OK at the moment, aren't you?"

"I'm fine," said Sherlock. If he hadn't been worried about hurting John, he'd have got his clothes off far more quickly.

"There's some lube in my bedside drawer. Get that and then come and lie down beside me." As Sherlock came over, John added: "And by the way, when I said undressed, I also meant no weapons. Fingernails and teeth are fine, in certain clearly defined situations, which we'll discuss in a few weeks' time, but knives in bed creep me out."

"I've taken the knife off," said Sherlock, lying sideways – it was going to have to be sideways – next to John. "And I...I have absolutely no idea what to do now."

"Of course not," said John calmly. "But this is where the homo bit is easier than the hetero bit. Similarly arranged bodies, so if there's somewhere where you like being touched, it's a reasonable starting point for trying on your partner."

"What do you do with heterosexual encounters?" Sherlock couldn't help asking.

"Then you use the two other basic methods, which are asking and observation. You, however, should avoid talking at the moment, because as you've just demonstrated, it distracts you far too easily. Stick to observing the other person's reactions. I suspect that's been half your problem in the past. You're too self-conscious about your own body on these occasions to spare any attention for your partner. And the first, the most basic rule of dating is that you pay attention to the other person."

John's treating this as a date, is he, Sherlock thought, that was something to think about – but not right now.

***

Sherlock was excited to begin with, but it rapidly turned to frustration. The bed was too narrow, John's ankle made him immobile, the height difference didn't help. It wasn't going to work, was it?

"It would have helped," John muttered, "if you'd mentioned this a couple of weeks ago when we had a double bed to hand, and I was still fit," and after six weeks Sherlock could tell from his voice just how close he was to collapse. They had to do something different, and... and his mind was working now, the gears suddenly meshing together.

"Not consecutively, but sequentially," Sherlock said, "You lie still and let me give you a hand-job. I can do it, I want to. Don't worry," he added, "I'm used to working with all sorts of biological materials, so you know nothing will panic my hands."

"OK," said John, "we'll give it a try."

And now, thought Sherlock, some careful touch and pressure and a bit of observation. His hands were skilled - he could pick locks, he could play the violin - he could solve this one. Slide there, thumb round, it wasn't just pain that was making John grit his teeth now, was it, almost there...

John groaned in pleasure as he came, and then in pain, as he somehow managed to jar his ankle.

"That was good," he said at last. "Well, mostly. But I think after tonight we do really need to wait till I'm in better shape. Now, give me a minute or two, and we'll see what I can do for you. Maybe if I lie on my side..."

"John, you'll hurt yourself more if you try and do that," Sherlock protested. "It's OK, I can wait till another time." He knew how to make his own body submit, to abandon its desires. But as he sat silently, trying to calm himself, he looked down, and suddenly there was a grin on John's face, the grin of the crazy bastard that lurked within the sensible doctor, an expression that Sherlock hadn't seen for several months.

"I've worked it out," said John. "We can do it."

"It's not sensible to try," said Sherlock.

"Yes it is, because I've remembered what my friend Nigel told me, who came back from Afghanistan with only one leg."

"You've dated amputees?" Sherlock asked incredulously.

"As it happens, no, but I've spent a lot of time in military hospitals. Amps find it hard to get laid, so when they have a chance they want to make the most of it, despite the physical constraints."

"Amputees sit around in military hospitals discussing sexual positions?"

"In between admiring each others' biceps, obviously. So what you need to do is come and sit on my stomach - don't worry, my muscles can take it – with your legs forward, almost sit-up position. And then brace your arms against the wall on one side, and the edge of the bed on the other. Do you reckon you can do it?"

"I'll give it a try," said Sherlock, "but won't it hurt you?"

"I'm fine as long as you don't topple backwards onto my leg. OK, you need to sit just here..."

It took a lot of positioning by John to get Sherlock where he wanted him. Which was probably half the plan, Sherlock realised, an excuse for John's sturdy, slippery hands to explore all kinds of unexpected areas of Sherlock's body, getting him turned on again. It wasn't going to take much to send him over the edge, Sherlock knew. Lean back a bit, so John could fondle his balls more easily, but remember not to fall backwards and then...John's fingers on his erection moved rapidly and confidently, there was no time for subtlety here, and yes, it was going to happen if John did that, that, that!

Sherlock came over John's chest, and –shit- he was toppling backwards, and he somehow managed to twist himself off the bed with the leverage of his right arm and leg, and thud ungracefully onto the carpet.

"Ow!" John yelled, but it was ordinary discomfort in his voice, not agony. "You got your foot in my face. Can you be a bit more careful next time, please?"

"I'll try and remember," Sherlock gasped, gradually disentangling his limbs. "That was...amazing, wasn't it?"

"Yeah," said John. "I don't know how it compares to cocaine, but I can't believe that cutting's better than this."

"Cocaine was never this..nice." Sherlock said at last, once he'd stood up. "And the cutting was just to blot out my thoughts and...and is my mind starting to dribble out of my ears?"

"Don't worry, genius, there's no long term damage to your brain from sex." John grinned. "You just don't know what to do next, because you don't yet know the procedure."

"There's a procedure?"

"Has to be modified a bit because of the state I'm in, obviously. You clean yourself up, you get dressed, you clean me up, get me into some pyjamas, because I'm not going anywhere else tonight, than an icepack for my leg. You didn't damage yourself falling off the bed, did you? Which was bloody stupid, by the way."

"I'm fine," said Sherlock. "And after I've done all that, anything else?"

"Bring a chair and sit beside me and stroke my hair."

"Is that medically indicated as well?"

"No, but the bit about paying attention to your partner? It applies afterwards as well."

Sherlock smiled. "I see. Well that in case we modify the procedure and get you sorted out before I get dressed, because you're the one got wounded in action."

***

John's fringe didn't quite have the textual appeal of the back of his head, Sherlock thought, but it did mean he could look across and see at least something of John's expression as he lay back wearily on the pillow.

"Do you really mind about the knife?" Sherlock asked. "I mean when we're not in bed? I promise I won't use it on myself or my blisters, but it's sometimes very handy to have a concealed sharp edge, especially if I get tied up."

"Which happens to you, us, quite frequently, " said John. "It's fine, just not in bed, because you're safe with me there. But I don't see how you can actually use it...Oh God, you said you could hold a pencil with your foot, didn't you? You can use a knife with your toes as well?"

"Takes a lot of practice, and it's not very effective, but better than nothing. Do you want me to show you?"

"I'd have to be feeling a lot stronger to want to see that," said John. There were a few more moments in silence, peaceful silence, this stilling the mind effect was good, wasn't it, thought Sherlock. But there was one more thing he had to do, before he lost his nerve.

"You were telling me about the rules for how to treat your partner," he said slowly. "Does that mean...you consider we're dating?" He was momentarily so distracted by the discovery that you could read someone's emotions via their scalp, that he didn't register why John's brow had creased. Till John started to speak, in the agonisingly controlled tones of someone trying to avoid precipitating an emotional meltdown in anyone:

"I was not making any assumptions. You are looking to gain experience, in a safe environment...which I can offer and would enjoy doing, but after that-"

"I didn't mean that!" Sherlock yelled.

"Then for once can you just tell me what you do mean?" John demanded.

Sherlock stood up and turned so he could look down squarely at John, John, who had his concerned doctor's look on, and was managing not to lick his lips, but whose hand, Sherlock knew, even without looking, was trembling.

"I want something that lasts longer than a date," Sherlock said. "I hope you might do as well."

It was as if John was transparent, and when he smiled, Sherlock could see the confidence and the vulnerability surging up in a man who was always ready to let his heart be broken again. Sherlock didn't know what else to say, and nor, he realised eventually, after they'd gazed at each other for a while, did John.

"Aren't you, we supposed to say something at this point?" Sherlock said at last. "I mean, you've got an extremely eloquent face, John, but I thought on these occasions we were supposed to make romantic speeches or something like that."

"I'm not good on romantic phrases, I'm afraid," said John, "I'm a bit wary of talking about eternal love, and making big promises. Because, as I've said, I'm crappy at making these things last, and you definitely haven't got experience of this."

"But in the last six weeks I've done things I wouldn't have believed are possible," said Sherlock, "and you've shown it's not just your abs that are made of iron, but your will."

"And," said John, smiling up at him, "you're not a lesbian, and I haven't thrown up on you, so it's already well up there in the list of my more successful encounters. And I won't get freaked out if you want to estimate the size of my cranium...except you've done that already, haven't you?"

"Average cranial capacity of men is just under 1450 cubic centimetres, slightly higher for officers than ordinary soldiers, but you're shorter than average, so I was reckoning maybe a bit lower. But it's not the size that matters, it's how you use it."

"I don't claim to be a genius, Sherlock."

"I think maybe you are," said Sherlock, "by one definition at least. I never understood till I met you that phrase about genius being an infinite capacity for taking pains."

"I suppose I do," said John, "In all senses. Speaking of which, I really do need to rest if I'm going to get better quickly."

"Do you want me to go?" asked Sherlock.

"No, you can stay, I'd like you to stay, if you don't mind me falling asleep in front of you. But if you could put the icepack back in the freezer and turn out the lights..."

Sherlock did so, and then sat down beside John. In the dark, he could hear John trying to relax, forget the pain in his leg, still his body and mind. Almost without thinking, Sherlock started reciting the periodic table, slowly, just loudly enough so John could hear it, be distracted from himself into a different world. A list of the bones of the body would probably be better for John, he thought, but this would do for tonight.

He could tell from John's breathing that he was asleep by the time Sherlock got to iodine, but he kept on all the way to ununoctium. And then, very, very quietly and much faster, he repeated the sequence backwards down to hydrogen. Because he was a genius, and always had been. And now, for almost the first time in his life, a contented genius.