The problem with being a genius was that he couldn't control himself. Sometimes he felt it was all but there, then something happened—he never knew what why how where—and it disappeared leaving him to his thoughts and everything he could see. He could see too much.
Lestrade didn't understand that. Wouldn't understand that, couldn't understand it, there was no difference. Mycroft understood but Mycroft was older and being the older one had been forced to develop more self control for the sake of their mother and maybe even for the sake of Sherlock. Sherlock was his mother's baby, Sherlock was his brother's younger, and when he was feeling particularly cruel and uncontrolled he would blame them for the state of his mind not because he wanted control but because he didn't care so what did it matter. Otherwise he had no problem with the way his mind worked he never had a problem with the way his mind worked it was others' minds he had a problem with and he would never trade his intelligence for the dim world of likes of Lestrade. They said he was crazy but they didn't know anything except the cool and comfort of a mind as soft as a blanket.
He was constantly searching. A mind that thinks needs things to think about so he was constantly searching for new things to look at, new ideas to consider, new ways of seeing. That was the appeal of puzzles, of course, the way they engaged his mind for a good portion of time and kept him away from the white noise that constituted existence. Left to his own devices he was liable to go down some very twisted and dark paths because minds that thought were more often attracted to the depths of things unseen and things people thought unthinkable than the stability and order and tidiness of good, right, moral. It was the difference between staring at the ocean in the pitch dark wondering if one would drown if one jumped into the water and staring at the little suburban houses decaying with tedium lined so neatly like ceramic dominoes. At least that was his opinion but Mycroft always claimed that he simply used it as an excuse. That was rich coming from the man who'd invented the fifty-seven classifications of conspiracy. They were a pair: Mycroft loved conspiracy, Sherlock loved crime.
Crime, because it was one of the few things that seemed to have an uncompromising hold over him. That, and computers, and his addiction. If someone were to ask him what his idea of an ideal life was, he'd say that it was a dark, cold room humming with a thousand processors, a glowing screen and a needle on the side. For a time, that had been the entirety of his existence, staring for hours at the code streaming and imagining the sound of the chips screaming and his mind flying through digital space that he could touch, that he could smell and taste and feel in the back of his eyes. His greatest moments came when his hands were shaking on the keyboard and his eyes darting from screen to screen to screen and the wires tangled under his feet and his face burning but his mind cold, mind focused, mind unlocking all the secrets of an architecture made in thousands upon thousands of lines of code. Those days his university days he was pale, skin almost translucent and his eyes seemed to take on the color of the glow. He forgot to eat, he lost track of the days and slept only when he was unspeakably exhausted, and consumed fifteen varieties of energy drinks, and barely spoke to anyone. Considering that had been his life day to day on and off for upwards of three, six, four years, he thought he was doing comparatively well in the 'act like a normal person' bit with Lestrade.
When he'd had both arms cut off because he called the drugs and the computers the arms of his existence when Mycroft had processors shut needles disposed flat emptied for a trick he'd pulled with MI5 digital security he fell into apathetic stupor. Anyone would fall into a coma sitting in a cell with the days bleeding by and his brain succumbing to rot and mold and mulch and mildew. Mycroft had never been one for chemical addictions. He was passably fluent in computers but he was more interested in networks. Mycroft thought he was doing Sherlock a favor, he thought he was saving his brother from himself, he thought he was being the brother Sherlock needed when he forced him to break his habit, get clean, stay away from the temptations of crashing the LSE. Mycroft thought the impulse control Sherlock had never learned could somehow be taught but Sherlock would have none of it. Lestrade had thought that Sherlock threw tantrums and acted like a child—he hadn't seen Sherlock in the days before.
And he hated it, he'd always as long as he could remember loathed and despised and spat on it, that Mycroft cared for him and always tried to do right by him but always hit the wrong buttons and never made the right mistakes. His brother, who could manage the British government and their intelligence agencies, thought Sherlock was somehow damaged but he couldn't fix Sherlock, couldn't find anyone to fix Sherlock, and became an utter imbecile when it came to anything related to Sherlock and Sherlock never thought he'd been broken to begin with so why on earth did he need to be fixed? He was fine, everything was fine though a bit boring and if Mycroft would just leave him be mind his own matters to go save the world from Russians or terrorists or Indonesian pirates for all he knew Sherlock would not think that he was damaged but feel that he was not. It was a strange conundrum. Mycroft remembered their father. Sherlock did not, nor did he care to. He didn't feel it as any sort of loss because he'd never known what he was missing and Mycroft was an absolute boor about it with his sticky sentimentality and awkward recollections. When they were younger Sherlock recalled seeing Mycroft sneak out of bed to go stare at the photos their mother kept on the mantle. Mycroft would stare at them with such intensity that it looked as though he was trying to commune with the ghost of their father.
Sherlock had never been remotely inclined to join Mycroft's nighttime hauntings and the only time he'd been interested in the figure of their father was when he took it into his head that perhaps his father had been murdered, and that perhaps Mycroft had murdered him. Wasn't that a clever idea? He'd invented an entire and vaguely Oedipal story around it though he knew it to be false. He did it because he wanted to torment the Mycroft simulacrum that inhabited his mind—it sounded too much like a conscience. The Mycroft-of-his-mind (didn't that have a ring to it, like Stratford-upon-Avon) would tell him he should not steal the taffies when he could pay for them with his pocket money, he should not tell the Morrison boy his father was a homosexual sleeping with the gardener's son because it wasn't polite, he should not skin Rachel Cartwright's pet rabbits because cruelty towards animals was frowned upon by society and besides which they was not his rabbits to skin. Sherlock managed to evade such admonitions by telling Mycroft-upon-Avon: "that's quite admirable coming from you—didn't you murder our father?"
It worked every time. Sherlock found that in the eyes of society, nothing was so terrible as murdering one's own father, the man who gave life and flesh and blood. He excused himself from a thousand petty crimes saying it wasn't patricide. Therefore, it couldn't be all that bad no matter what Stratford-minding-Mycroft might say. The few times the real Mycroft caught him, Sherlock looked at him with his unspoken accusation shining in his eyes. Mycroft correctly guessed that the gleam had something to do with their father, but thought it more along the lines of Sherlock resenting Mycroft acting as their father's replacement. Which he did. After Sherlock had read Shakespeare, he took to calling the Mycroft-of-his-mind Claudius and for a time, told all his would-be female admirers to get themselves to nunneries. It drove his mother spare—he was such an odd, uncontrollable child.
When primary school began he became the insufferably smart child who was constantly showing up his instructors. He was always quite popular because he was loud, arrogant, and the pretty sort of boy that would later grow to be handsome. Sherlock had a natural charisma that at once attracted and repulsed people—their reactions depending largely on how he chose to present himself. He always managed to make friends in the sense that he always found other children who were willing to be led by him and play the games he invented, but he was liable to forget their existence at the drop of a hat. There were very few emotional connections—it didn't matter to him the particularities of his companions so much as the fact that someone was there. Ruth, Jim, Catherine, Michael—they were interchangeable. Granted, Ruth was more squeamish than Michael, and Michael had less imagination than Catherine, but Catherine tended to be bossy while Jim was altogether too noisy. His schoolmates were attributed different characteristics in relation to how useful they were to him, but that was the extent of it. He never learned out to interact with people because in some ways, his friends were never people. They could never be his equals in intellectual development, and later he would realize that he was unable to relate to them emotionally except on a superficial level. He was clever, so he hid it, and learned how to use them.
As he grew older and observed better the social rules that governed his world, he often became impatient. It seemed inefficient and more than that, useless. Yet he found that more often than not, he'd say or do something people considered insensitive, abrasive, rude, intrusive, and that such behavior led to considerable difficulties in getting him what he wanted. And it seemed he wanted a lot of things from people all the time—he wanted to borrow Collin's new penknife because he'd had to dispose of his own; he needed George's jacket for the evening—they were similar height and build and Sherlock didn't want anyone to recognize him; Richard had seen something and while Sherlock doubted that the boy was smart enough to understand what he'd seen, Sherlock needed him to keep quiet. The list went on. He had to become more adept at masking his emotional deficiencies, so he studied people intensely. Their faces, their expressions, the intonation of their words, their affect, accents, posture, figure, walk, habits, ticks, reactions, speech, idioms, clothes, accessories, hair, fingernails—everything. He'd always been a gifted observer with sharp eyes and an uncanny understanding of which details were important. As a child, however, he'd never thought to systematize the process. As a teenager, he made it scientifically rigorous.
He became so good at it that people began to think that he was normal and that whatever cutting remarks he'd make were out of an exaggerated opinion of himself. He was Sherlock Holmes, the arrogant berk, rather than Sherlock Holmes, the up-and-coming psychopath. Mycroft was pleased. Their mother was relieved that she no longer got concerned calls from Sherlock's teachers referring to her son as though he were a potential cancer to society. Some of them, well intentioned, had hinted that she take him to see a doctor. One man with absolutely no expertise but enough authority whom Sherlock had somehow crossed told her outright that a bit of shock therapy, or something with heavy sedatives would knock out the twists in the boy, a la Clockwork Orange. Mycroft never forgot his name.
But as good as he was at aping emotions, there were some he could not fake, and moments when he slipped. Anything truly deep—grief, for example—he could not muster. They were impossible because they were what he called 'long emotions'—they lasted for a long time. He could mimic for short periods, like a mockingbird singing forty different songs, but sustaining one state was impossible. Inevitably, the façade would break. For a while his inability to do long emotions bothered him—it was a deficiency in his skill set. In the end, he found that it usually didn't matter. By the time someone might discover that he'd been acting—which wasn't often—he already had what he'd wanted. Besides which, people usually reacted to his acting as a breach of trust. He saw that they felt hurt, angry, used. Sherlock, as was typical, didn't care. There had only ever been air between them. He was incapable of anything more.
Still, the show and dance was tiring. People who did manage to get closer to him and know him better were inevitably disappointed with him, or felt betrayed by him. They always wanted something more, as though it were a matter of him not trying hard enough. They couldn't fathom how it was possible that he couldn't feel remorse, or concern, or guilt. He could feel frustration, couldn't he? And happiness? He felt anger and annoyance. They knew he felt satisfaction, interest, desire, worry. So why couldn't he feel discomfort, or heartbreak? The problem was he felt satisfaction with puzzles, not people. Annoyance over logically incorrect answers. Desire towards mind, interest in ideas, fleeting moments of happiness when all his thoughts came in perfect alignment. These emotions were rarely, if ever, in relation to other human beings. He could not identify with them.
When he discovered computers, it was almost a godsend. Finally, a place without people. Likewise for the drugs. It stimulated his mind and there were no people. If there were, they were just as lost in their respective mindspaces as he. They had a perverse, blunted understanding of each other—they could relate in as much as they had the capacity to relate. As for crime—he was a natural born criminal. He realized that society's laws weren't in place to protect him from people. They were in place to protect people from him.
Was it surprising, then, that he didn't care about justice? When he found himself close enough to Lestrade to realize that he actually liked him (it was a minor miracle, he wasn't quite sure how it had happened), he tried. Justice was clearly very important to Lestrade, Sherlock wanted Lestrade to like him so for his sake, he tried. He wanted to want to care about justice. But it seemed pointless to him—he didn't understand why it mattered so much whether a person was punished for the crime they commit. Crime was simply an action that people had decided to define as criminal, and the criteria by which they decided on something as criminal seemed rather arbitrary. Case and point: a century ago sodomy was a crime for which a person could be taken to trial and punished by the might of the law and today who would ever think to govern the sexual proclivities of people? Therefore, what exactly was it that justice was made of? There were philosophies, there were histories, there were religions and theories of morality, there were ideas about how society would go to pieces if there was no rule of law, if everyone killed each other, theories based on evolutionary biology about how humans as a gregarious species found their survival increased if they lived in groups, which necessitated a code of conduct, which meant murder was off the list, which bled into anthropology and the development of rites and trials and ideas of justice, and sociology, and criminology, and the entire three ring circus of the mechanics of government and law enforcement. It was all so very involved and unsatisfying.
He pointed out that while Lestrade thought of justice as some sort of universal and immutable ideal removed from the subjectivity of human society, the human conception of justice had changed radically over time and it was nothing if not subjective. Justice was predicated on the idea of the rightness and wrongness of actions and that idea, he argued, was merely a complicated rationalization of human emotional reactions. It was a feeling—they felt it was wrong, they felt the criminal should be punished, they felt it was fair. The codification of the feelings in the form of laws came afterwards. It stood to reason, then, that if there was no feeling, there was no wrong. The easiest people to kill were those who had absolutely no one who cared for their continued existence—the crime could never be personal so the perceived wrongness could never match that of, for example, a patricide. The execution of justice was left to the government because society deemed it the system's responsibility to feel indignant on their behalf. Strange, because society also relied on that system to be objective and not to feel, for the sake of passing the correct judgment.
Sherlock could only see actions as having happened. Whether something was fair or unfair didn't change the fact that the act had been completed and there was the body. Sherlock wanted to know how it got there, who put it there, perhaps even why it was there in the first place, but he did not see how any of that affected what happened afterwards. The right and wrong was in whether he correctly identified the killer, the means, the motive. The thrill of catching the criminal was in the chase, not in the conviction and the trial and the sense that it was another victory for the side of law. Which was why it puzzled him some days that he found himself working for Scotland Yard and why, when Lestrade had put the question to him, he didn't know.
Lestrade thought he was a good man. He vouched for Sherlock among his colleagues and superiors at the Yard, he granted Sherlock access to all sorts of facilities and information. He challenged Sherlock's line of thought, but he was willing to listen to what he had to say. Lestrade was sensible—he was forgiving, but he was by no means a fool. He got angry at Sherlock for lying, stealing, cheating, faking, crossing the line, being a right bastard, but he never held it against Sherlock for being unable to function like a normal human being. He rarely took Sherlock's insults personally—he wrote it off as another part of Sherlock's strange personality. It didn't take much to make Lestrade react, and sometimes react explosively, but it took a lot for him to be unforgiving. It was, Sherlock reflected, part of what allowed them to work together. Lestrade thought Sherlock was extraordinary, and extraordinarily human. With extraordinary people came extraordinary problems, and Lestrade was willing to take the whole package and work with it.
No one had ever done that. No one had ever thought to throw Sherlock off his intellectual perch and in the same motion, offer a hand to help him up as though it was all in good fun. Lestrade could deliver a scathing criticism of Sherlock's line of thought (it always surprised him, the depths Lestrade hid under that utterly ordinary exterior of his) and a moment later, say something for which Sherlock had to make a concentrated effort not to laugh. They had jokes. They had in-jokes. They shared interests—well, one interest, but since they were both married to the job that one interest took on greater significance. They went out for drinks. Lestrade had a key to Sherlock's flat—there had been one too many mornings with Lestrade banging at his door telling him to get his arse out of bed, they had a murder. They had in-jokes. The mind boggled.
Sherlock's impulses were completely divided with respect to this development. His first impulse was that he wanted to preserve it. He wanted it to last forever. He was well aware that it was a precious thing, rare and not to be squandered. In his experience, people like Lestrade were exceptional. Intelligent, unassuming, open, accepting. Astoundingly patient. With a sense of humor—for god's sakes, it sounded like the perfect advert on a relationships website. But his other impulse—the one he could not control, the one that drove him and drew him and the one he always fell to—wanted to see how far he could push Lestrade before he left. Before something Sherlock did was beyond the pale. His other impulse that made him a manic genius wanted to know exactly how much Lestrade was willing to stomach before Sherlock had well and truly crossed the line.
He tried. He really did. There were so many times, too many to count, when he gave into his impulses and Lestrade became unspeakably angry with him. Afterward he always pulled back, behaved, apologized without apologizing. It thrilled him to see the moment Lestrade took him back, and he basked in the pleasure of Lestrade's seemingly unshakeable faith in him.
But as always, Sherlock slipped. As good as he was at aping emotions, there were some he could not fake, and friendship was a long emotion. Because he was not a good man—merely an extraordinary one who could see too much but could not see justice.
When Lestrade finally understood that, Sherlock was surprised by how it affected him, emotionally. He knew the feeling would pass—it always did. Sooner or later, he'd forget he ever cared, wonder why it had ever mattered. It's how he was built, it was the way his mind operated. But in that moment, while he still felt, he wished desperately that he could remember. That for once in his life, he could have the long emotions of grief, remorse, heartbreak for a friendship that he'd broken. He saw how much Lestrade had lost. Sherlock wished he'd had more to give.
It couldn't be helped.
Time passed. People were murdered.
All was well.