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Title: Experiments in Living
Fandom: Sherlock (BBC)
Characters: Sherlock (lots of Sherlock), Mycroft, Lestrade and a cameo by Mrs Hudson. No pairing. Mentions of John and Moriarty.
Rating: R
Warnings: Drug use also possible triggers regarding the death of a child and car accidents. No spoilers for anything past Study in Pink
Disclaimer: This version of Sherlock Holmes is the property of Moffat and Gatiss. I lay no claim to him or his companions.
Author's Note: First real thing I've posted in this fandom, not counting things I've just typed out on the spur of the moment. Beta-ed by [ profile] lemniciate who is a wonderful human being and once again saived me from my addiction to ellipses. This was written before The Blind Banker so doesn't take much into account from either that or The Great Game.

Summary: Sherlock's life - in fragments.

Sherlock is five years old. He refuses to have his hair cut, because he can’t see the sense in keeping it so short when it will just need to be cut more often. His mother indulges him, mostly, but his brother rolls his eyes and calls him ‘urchin’ - the name doesn’t stick.

He is always moving, mentally and physically. He climbs right up over the porch one day and onto the roof, because he can see the route mapped out in his head like it’s begging him, calling to him to climb it.

He is right, though the way down is a little trickier and he twists an ankle, but he learns then that he always needs to plan a way out.

His parents have dinner parties sometimes, and he is dressed up in a shirt and tie. He likes the shirt; the buttons appeal, somehow. The tie, however, is too restricting for a child always turning his head, always watching everything. It disappears down the back of a sofa when no one is looking and it will never be found, but he will never forget where to find it.

Mycroft fares well at these events; he is at home with people. He alters himself to suit them and the situation, not a lot, but enough that Sherlock can see it.

But then, Sherlock sees everything. He sees how his mother’s friend is talking to another man rather than her husband, he can see the way she strokes his arm every now and then. It confuses him a bit. That is the sort of motion that his mother makes to his father. He sees how his uncle’s hands shake while he’s pouring the whisky, but when he’s draining the glass, they are steady as a rock. He files the little things away, the details. His mother says, sometimes, in a strange mood, that the devil is in the details. If that is true, then Sherlock feels a kinship with him because the details are everything.


When he is seven, his brother has a textbook of advanced chemistry and Sherlock reads it all in one sitting. He devours each page, fascinated by the idea that things change. One thing can become another, seemingly by magic, but really, underneath it all, there’s an explanation. The smallest thing can change something huge.

It is through chemistry he begins to understand people, begins to understand that people are just like the reactants in those books, changing when they come into contact with other people, or other things. Sometimes reactions are volatile, sometimes they are endothermic. Some people even repel one another, like identical magnetic poles. The things you have to know are the conditions: where to push, what catalysts to add, what to take away. People are just equations, really, and Sherlock learns how to manipulate both.

Mycroft is a catalyst. He moves between people and makes them react, but he never seems to be changed himself. Sherlock has a feeling that he could do that too, but then again, he prefers to be the scientist himself: putting things together, seeing how they work. He doesn’t want to get involved; just wants to see the results.


The first time Sherlock sees a dead body, it is a hit and run. He hears the screech of tyres, sees the girl crumple – in the uniform of the local school. He remembers knowing that she had done her hair herself that morning from the sloppy plaits and wiggling parting of her hair. Her shoes and skirt are new, but her shirt and jumper are older, faded with time. She has an older brother, she’s in his hand me downs. He remembers the car driving away, a red Ford, dent in the back bumper, so not someone for whom accidents are a strange occurrence. He can’t see a face, but the outline of a silhouette is tall, so probably a man.

But what really fascinates him is the girl, blood soaking into her hair, eyes staring out, and her face still open. She is nothing now but flesh and bones, broken on the pavement.

It is odd, he understands by now, to want to take things apart, to dissect and observe. But he has no emotions when he sees her lying there except for intense curiosity. What is it that makes her living one minute and dead the next? How did she work? What is the exact result of an impact by a car on a young girl?

The police woman tells him that he is brave. He tries to protest, but she gives him a lollipop and takes his statement. By the end of his description of the accident she looks less sympathetic and more unnerved by his clinical assessment.

He hears her talking to his parents later, “shock” she says, loud enough for him to catch and then, a few seconds later “psychiatrist”.


The squirrel dies of natural causes. It is not Sherlock who ends its tiny life, but he does make use of the opportunity afforded to him when he finds the small corpse outside, not yet touched by scavengers or the weather. His brother’s reaction to finding him dissecting it with a vegetable knife is loud and unpleasant.

“I wanted to see how it worked.”

“Read a book.”

“Books are other people’s opinions. You have to examine a problem in real life.”

“Books are written by experts.”

“That doesn’t mean they can’t be wrong.”

“Did you kill it?”

“No.” But Mycroft doesn’t look convince, and this is when it starts to become more difficult between them. Mycroft watches him like a hawk, monitoring his school, his teachers. The only reason he doesn’t monitor Sherlock’s friends is because Sherlock doesn’t have any. His name and his attitude make him a magnet for bullies and taunts. He doesn’t care, though, and their behaviour is just another variable, another thing to monitor.

Until his words aren’t guard enough anymore and he ends up with his own blood all over his face, and their blood all over his hands. Violence is not a problem; it is merely another example of applying power in the right places. Knowing how things work is more of a weapon than muscles and height. Two dislocated shoulders, one broken nose and a broken knee are the results of his knowledge. All they manage to achieve in return are a bloody lip and a dark purple eye.

The teachers are disapproving, but none of them has ever known how to deal with him. They have never been able to face his effortless knowledge of the things he is interested in and his utter indifference to matters he does not care about. His reports at the end of the year teeter between the sublime and the disastrous. ‘A’s and ‘F’s and nothing in between. What care has he of politics when that is such a wide, vague, illogical subject? All he needs to know about a man is written in his gait, his face and his clothes, his political allegiance is irrelevant.

In Chemistry, though, he shines. Here Sherlock learns that he too, can move like Mycroft, pushing the teacher’s buttons, endearing himself to her in order to get what he wants.


He hits his growth spurt late, at fifteen and two months he still hovers around the five foot mark, by fifteen and five months he is five eight and less than a year later he completely clears six foot. His voice deepens and suddenly the world changes again.

People look differently at a man just over six feet compared to how they look at a five foot boy. It’s not just that they often have to look up. Even without the bulkier muscles that some of the other students have, he looks imposing enough (a look that was not hindered by his unnerving stare and unknowing sense of presence) to avoid the worst of the bullies. He is left alone, and so he leaves the world alone, grateful for his new guard against imposition.

But his change in stature has some unexpected problems as well. While he can convince most of the world to ignore him, suddenly the PE teachers are fascinated. They ask him to run and jump and kick a ball about. It baffles his mind, for there is no point to any of it, and nothing to keep the games interesting. The rules of football are too simple, too menial, and what is the point of running with no real destination but a finish line? The challenge, he is told, but there is no challenge in something like that, animals and idiots can run and kick and jump.

But to make it an intellectual puzzle: to find his way through mazes and signs, to avoid the crowds or the heavy traffic. That is a challenge, and so he teaches himself to run in a different arena, finding shortcuts and different routes. The quickest route is not always the shortest route, he learns fairly early on, so he examines the problem until it is barely a challenge any more. He learns the city until it is a part of him, all plotted out in his head. It is a giant puzzle, a jigsaw that no one ever puts together properly. They think they know this place, but really, they are blundering around in the dark.

Taxis, he appreciates. ‘The Knowledge’ is something he respects. Taxi drivers know almost as much about the city and its ways as he does himself – not to mention that when you take a taxi you don’t have to be surrounded and inundated by the rest of London’s population.


When school becomes University, Sherlock is struck by how utterly limited the world is. He has imagined, thought, hoped, that outside that tiny little prison, with its tiny little minds, there would be something amazing, something incredible, just waiting for him. But he has forgotten the primary rules of life, nothing just comes, nothing waits for you. All reactions, whether minuscule or massive, have reactants or catalysts, and even those that happen in the natural world need something to bring them about.

So Sherlock decides that he will bring it about. He will not sit back and wait for life to react with him; he will make it react.

Lectures bore him, tedious hours of insignificant information with a few, bright points of insight that he wants to applaud – so he leaves. He reads the library, as much as he is interested in. He breaks into the labs and explores the things that they don’t teach in their stuffy classes and laboratory sessions. His fascination with death and the human body’s frailty returns in full force, and he plays with poisons and acids, learning how they react with the world. Sometimes he experiments on himself, sometimes on animals.

There is one day when every rat in the University labs is found unconscious in the morning, and Sherlock walks the campus with his pupils blown, his head fuzzy from the unexpected gas he had synthesised the night before. The locks are changed, new, electronic key pads installed and it takes him less than half a second to work out that the combination is the birthday of the professor’s wife. Tediously boring and predictable, and yet the man is published. These paradoxes confuse Sherlock.

He skips from house to house, asked to leave again and again when the dead animals in the freezer and the strange explosions and violin playing become too much for the ‘normal’ people. At least here, in the world of students, his sleep patterns don’t raise eyebrows, but that is one of the only bonuses. He returns to his college in the end, safer and more comfortable there, in spite of the dislike that is almost palpable from the other students.

Mycroft keeps an eye on him. He’s working in the government, something top secret, but Sherlock always knows, from the dust on his shoes, the ink on his fingers. Mycroft responds by reading Sherlock’s experiments off his cuffs and his trouser legs. They are at an impasse.

Sherlock imagines being forever under Mycroft’s eye, under his thumb, trapped in some office and following orders of people without the intellect to see the world around them properly, and he knows that he cannot follow that path.


University wanes. He has taken all he can from this place, none of it in the lecture theatres, so he leaves. Gets up one day and walks out. He takes a huge bag, only half of it filled with clothes, the rest is notes and random items he has collected over the years. None of it is useful, but it is all interesting and that is what matters, really.

Sherlock decided, years ago, that there is no true purpose to life. He fails to see the point of the daily rat race. After all, if the only purpose of going to work is to earn money so that you can survive to continue going to work every day, then there is no point to any of it. All that there is in life is staying entertained. If nothing has a point then you might as well enjoy yourself.

He gets on a plane and goes away, reading the passengers with an ease borne of long practice. The large man in the shirt has a nervous tic in his right hand; he’s looking around nervously. The destination of the plane (a known tax haven) tells Sherlock all he needs to know about him. The young couple engaging in more than a necessary amount of touching has matching shiny wedding rings. No prizes for guessing what they’re doing. Though he is cheating on her, Sherlock gets from the way the man follows the hostess’s legs down the aisle. If he hasn’t managed it yet, he’ll be an adulterer before the honeymoon is over. He’ll be found out, too; he’s not smart enough to keep it a secret. Sherlock sets a limit of three weeks on their happy marriage.

A young girl is on a plane for the first time, with her mother and step father. There are marital difficulties, mainly caused by the woman still being in love with her first husband.

Sitting next to him is a professional man, possibly a scholar if the clothes and reading material are anything to go by. He doesn’t attempt conversation, for which Sherlock is endlessly grateful, just keeps his face in his book.

There is not enough to do on a plane to entertain him for long, and hours later, Sherlock can feel himself itching under his skin. The boredom is returning, burying his mind in never-ending loops of nothing. He wants to get up, he wants to scream or claw his hands into something. He can feel his mouth pursing, his fingers clenching into the arm rests. There is nothing to do, nothing to look at. The inside of a plane holds no interest at all.

They cannot get down to earth fast enough for him. He grabs his bag and leaves, heading through passport control with no difficulty. He has no place to stay, no friends, but this place is new, it is fresh. It doesn’t follow the same rules as London.

He explores, finds his way to a guest house and endears himself to the lady in charge with a smile and some of the charm he is teaching himself. Admittedly, some if it is probably because he recognised her as expatriate immediately, identifying her place of birth to within almost ten miles. He’s a little disappointed at that, actually. If he had noticed the postcards of Manchester on the hall mirror more quickly, he could have pinpointed it to the exact hospital. It also helps that he resembles her eldest son a little, though, she insists, his manners are better. She gives him tea and asks him about England. It is one of the strange facts of life that people will feel nostalgia for a place they couldn’t wait to get away from. Sherlock doesn’t understand it; he does not miss England at all.

He is not even a little surprised when Mycroft calls that evening, though Sherlock had not told him where he was staying.

“What took you so long?” he asks, without waiting for his brother to greet him.

“I had work, and news of your little... escapade didn’t get through to me until half past.”

“The burdens of having to rely on other people,” Sherlock comments. There is a moment of silence, and he can imagine Mycroft taking a deep breath, preparing his ’Sherlock’ face. He is sitting at his desk, the files are open in front of him, the computer probably has information on the guest house and its owner, a print off of Sherlock’s ticket purchase is no doubt in his hand.

“You haven’t completed your degree.”

“I completed everything I needed to.”

“But not enough to get an actual qualification.”

“What do I need a qualification for? I know how intelligent I am.”

“Yes... yes you do.”

Mycroft tells him not to do anything stupid. Sherlock points out that ‘stupid’ doesn’t really apply to him and Mycroft sighs again. Sherlock is tired of sighing and hangs up without waiting for a reply. If Mycroft really wants to talk to him, no doubt some men in suits will usher Sherlock into a car with tinted windows at some point. He has no illusions about the length of his brother’s reach, and it’s growing longer every year.

Sooner or later, Sherlock is going to be the brother of the man who rules the world. He hopes that doesn’t cause too much of a problem for him.

It shouldn’t though. Mycroft is, after all, concerned with life on a macro scale, the rise and fall of civilisation, where Sherlock turns his attention to the minutiae. But it is inconvenient to be watched so steadily. He’ll just have to try harder... which means more of a challenge.

Sherlock’s mouth creeps into a smile as he realises that maybe that is exactly what he needs: an opponent. Mycroft will do, for now.

He travels for a while, earning money with odd jobs, leaving them as soon as he tires of them. Sometimes he earns rewards for piecing together small mysteries or calling in tips, especially in America, where that appears to be all the rage.

Eventually, he drifts back to London, his mind twitching with lack of activity. There is nothing left to do. Sherlock laments the idea that he has reached his mid twenties and run out of world, run out of challenges. Mycroft eyes him warily, and Sherlock has the strangest idea that the government will now judge him as some sort of major threat.

To be honest, he doesn’t doubt it. The boredom is settling into a dreary ennui, pulling him down, and he needs something new, something interesting. He has seen the world and explored all ideas of deduction and detection, piecing together his own, peculiar science out of it, more precise than biology or psychology. But there is no fun to it with no game, no challenge with no opponent.

He needs stimulation.

He needs something new.

It is curiosity that leads him to his first syringe of heroin. Fascination as he watches the needle pierce the skin, scientific interest that detachedly examines his responses to it.

The effect is amazing. It opens his mind, shows him places he had never thought to look before. It opens him up and clears the world into its parts. Everything makes more sense, the boredom lifts, like a curtain and he is alive again. He can feel the energy and the brilliance of it all.

The sudden clarity and the respite from the mind-numbing banality of life are too precious to give up. The world without the drugs becomes even worse and he knows he is addicted, but at the same time, he believes this is just another experiment, another game.

Mycroft finds him, high as a kite, in the rooms where he is living and confiscates his stash. Sherlock is barely aware of his presence until after he comes down again. There is nothing left and he is lost without it, shut in walls of grey and black. There is no colour, no interest in a world without his newest passion, so he sets out to find it again.

It doesn’t destroy his life, much to Mycroft’s disappointment, he still functions as well as he ever has. It helps to brush away the cobwebs.

Then he gets arrested for possession. It is only his quick thinking that helps him get off. Detective Sergeant Lestrade is not looking and somehow the evidence is lost. Sherlock learnt to pick pockets in Brazil, where some of the best petty thieves in the world live. He could steal a wedding ring from a finger and a watch from a wrist without making someone blink; an evidence bag is nothing.

He is sitting in the holding cell when he begins to notice the people around him. It is that, more than his quick fingers, which gets him out of that cell. Detective Sergeant Lestrade is unimpressed until Sherlock solves three of his cases in five minutes.

They let him go from lack of evidence, and he almost forgets the earnest face of the Sergeant, until he wakes from another of his drug stupors not to Mycroft’s face, but Lestrade’s.

“Why do you do this to yourself?” Lestrade asks.

“Something to do,” Sherlock replies, strangely honest in this moment. “There is so little of interest. The heroin provides a different view of the world. It makes things seem... clearer.”

“You do heroin because you’re bored?”

“There are worse reasons,” Sherlock replies. Lestrade’s face looks unconvinced. Inspector Lestrade now, he remembers reading in the papers. He had earned the man a promotion. Perhaps there is some convention of social interaction behind that. Maybe the gratitude is why Lestrade is not hauling him down to the police station again.

“I...” Sherlock reaches for another syringe and his rubber tubing, but Lestrade snatches them out of his hands. “Leave it!”


“Because I have something better than the bloody junk!” Sherlock’s eyes widen, his fingers are still itching for the syringe, but his interest is piqued.

“Tell me.”

“None of that,” Lestrade nods to Sherlock’s personal drugs kit, spread over the table, “until this is over.”

“Inspector,” Sherlock replies, placing just enough emphasis on the title that Lestrade knows that Sherlock knows just how he earned it. “You can hardly expect me to just...”

“None of that, or I leave you with your boredom.”

Sherlock sits up, his limbs are lethargic, but he manages to lever his long frame up. He has noticed that Lestrade looks unkempt, exhausted and frustrated. He is having problems with a case. There is a file in his hand. He is here to ask about a case. The Detective’s phone rings and Lestrade flinches slightly, but doesn’t pick it up. That means he’s here against his better judgement, he hasn’t told anyone. It’s an important case.

Sherlock’s mind is whirring again, the interest is back.

“I agree. Who’s dead?”

Lestrade startles easily. He flinches when Sherlock asks, his mouth falling open. “How did you...”

“Don’t ask boring questions.”

Ten minutes later and the heroin is all but forgotten, apart from a twinge in the bottom of Sherlock’s stomach, as Lestrade is taking him through the facts of a locked room mystery. There is a game, there is an opponent. For the first time in years, Sherlock can see reason to the madness of this mundane world.

It is over too quickly, and the lure of his heroin is too much again. He crumbles back into it, until Lestrade’s next visit and the next case.

“No more,” Lestrade says eventually. “I’m not doing this with you again until you’re clean. Completely clean, Sherlock.”

There is a moment of doubt, the first that Sherlock has ever really had, when he stands over the toilet with his collection of narcotics and debates whether he prefers the high of the heroin or the high of the chase.

He chooses the chase, but he looks back. That first year he looks back a lot. But staying above the addiction is a new challenge. He refuses to let himself fall. Instead, he decides to see the world again, get away from London.


He meets Mrs Hudson in Florida at a court house. He enjoys going in and listening to the cases. So far he has seen three innocent men convicted and one guilty man go free. He despairs at the juries, made up of people of such limited scope, and the lawyers who can’t piece things together well enough to prove them. When he walks into the trial of Mr Hudson, he is disgusted that any person in these court rooms considers himself intelligent.

The prosecutor in Mr Hudson’s case is ridiculously incompetent, although the man’s guilt is written all over his face. Sherlock mutters something to that effect in Mrs Hudson’s hearing and she turns to him with all the force of an avalanche.

“What do you know?”

“I know he’s guilty, and I know how he did it,” Sherlock admits, sighing. Her eyes widen.

“Prove it,” she says. So he does.

Mr Hudson goes to the lethal injection while Sherlock is finding his way without the heroin. The symmetry is not lost on him.

Mrs Hudson returns to London, leaving him with instructions to look her up if he ever goes back himself, and Sherlock goes on.

He relapses once, in Chicago, when he can’t find a way to make his mind kick start into action. When he wakes up he is disgusted at his failure and disposes of the drugs again. Normal people backslide, ordinary people get addicted to things and lack the control to stop. He refuses to be like them.

Sherlock heads back to London, knowing what he is going to do. He is going to become a detective, but not just a detective. The commonplace is not for him, and to group himself with the amateurs who run around in circles would be insulting to his powers of intellect. So he becomes a consulting detective and, as soon as he is back in England, calls Lestrade to offer his services.

He is told, in no short words, to get lost. But three weeks later (during which he has set up a website and had actual clients. He even has an office – it’s his living room, but that’s not the point) Lestrade comes through his door, looking determined and his eyes sweeping around for any evidence of drug use.

“I’m clean,” Sherlock says firmly.

“How long?”

Sherlock considers lying, considers saying three years, but no. He is a devotee of the truth, after all.

“I had a small hiccup three months ago, but two years.”

Lestrade looks him up and down as Sherlock steeples his hands and smirks. This, he knows, is going to be fun.

Consulting detective work does not pay as well as he had hoped. He makes it a couple of years, using Bart’s’ facilities to help his research, but eventually the financial issues become too important to disregard. Apparently too few people appreciate his genius, so he ends up having to sell his flat and move into something a little less... expensive. It is then that he remembers Mrs Hudson.

She has a few free rooms, left over from when her children left home, and she is more than happy to let him have one. The rent is still high, but manageable – if he gets a flat mate.

Therein lies the problem. Who would want Sherlock Holmes for a flatmate?


Sherlock has become used to thinking of life almost as chess, with people just pieces for him to move around. He has no opponent, not really, but he gets by.

John Watson shakes that up.

At first he just recognises a kindred spirit. He knows, as soon as he looks at the man, that here is someone else whom boredom plagues with its echoing, aching hollowness. There is something in that. They could ‘get along’. Sherlock doesn’t consider friendship. Friends are things that happen to other people. He has a network of acquaintances, some useful, some interesting, some rare few a combination of the two. He has Mycroft, but that is not friendship, nowhere near.

At first it is merely fun to see how the doctor reacts to his prodding and his poking. The first sign he gets that John is different is when the man compliments him in the taxi. There is honest praise in John’s tone. Sherlock doesn’t know when he ever got that before – not for just being himself.

It’s not until after the shot, though. Not until after that amazing shot, that Sherlock realises that he has underestimated this man. John is not just another reactant, he’s not a catalyst, but he changes the rules of the game with an ease that Sherlock is not used to.

Sherlock is so used to playing on his own that he’s not sure what this is, this partnership. John is not his pawn or his knight, John is another player in his own right. That’s an exciting thought.

And Moriarty...

So many years of nothing, hollow attempts to fill the world with excitement and in one night he has found a partner and an opponent. Things are looking up. The Game has changed, or maybe it has only just begun, but he is definitely looking forward to it.

Boredom suddenly seems very far away.

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