Summary: Sherlock has a complicated relationship with drugs, but John gives Sherlock an ultimatum. What John doesn't realize is what lengths Sherlock might have to go to in order to replace them. What Sherlock doesn't realize is that John is okay with that.

Graphic depiction of drug use. Some BDSM themes, some intellectual angst, but at heart I write love stories. Sherlock/Cocaine, Sherlock/John.

"But dreaming builds what dreaming can disown.
Dead fingers stretch themselves to tear it down.
I hear those voices that will not be drowned
Calling, there is no stone
In earth's thickness to make a home
That you can build with and remain alone."

from Peter Grimes

Composer: Benjamin Britten

Librettist: Montagu Slater

I Hear Those Voices That Will Not Be Drowned

Sherlock was sitting in front of a box, pensive. It was a gorgeous little thing, glowing umbers and interesting grain highlighted by scrolled metal. Wood was a tactile material that invited touch, but Sherlock sat back from it, observing it like he would a suspect, analyzing potential behaviors to see if the suspect might bite. He was in the middle of the sofa, in the little dip his arse had carved over the past 4 years of owning it previous owner elderly sofa a gift hated it had blind dog son still living with her leaning back into the seat with his chin to his chest and his legs splayed wide. Steepled fingers occasionally tapped against his chin to hide the slight tremble that threatened to arrest them, but he didn't take his eyes off the box, despite their deep bruised look from lack of sleep.

John was out. Sherlock hoped that his flight from 221B wasn't permanent, but over the months John had lived there, Sherlock had come to realize that he had a very tenuous grasp on how John Watson would respond to things. John, despite, or perhaps because of, his emotional sentimentality, was a constant surprise in word and deed, which made him fascinating at most times.

In this instance, it was an unwelcome wild card.

John was rather chameleon-like. He could be hard enough to shoot down a stranger that inadequately threatened a man that John hadn't even known for a day. He could be sweet enough to choke down Mrs. Hudson's biscuits even though he loathed butterscotch. What was he to make of a visually non-threatening man that cured his emotional ills by fighting crime with a nutter in London?

In the beginning John would laude his abilities, and within the same half hour call him to task for not feeling emotional enough over a death, or his bloody stalker of a brother, or a head in the refrigerator. Lately, since their last contact with Moriarty and the debacle at the pool, John had quieted the heartless accusation, and the biting words about his sociopathy. Silent as a deprivation chamber, in fact.

Sherlock worried at the reasons for this like an abscessed tooth, but preferred to study John and come to his own conclusions rather than ask him about it and get put off with a banal smile and an "I don't know what you are talking about, and by the way, would you do something about that mucus you left in the bath?"

He didn't know if John would be around to complain about mucus anymore, and that disturbed him, because he should know after so many months of concentrated association. He usually knew everyone's tells within days, (at most weeks) but none of the predictors of John's behavior, that Sherlock had been able to pinpoint, were accurate within a comfortable margin of error.

The problem was that John could be so oddly conservative in some ways, creating a marked dichotomy between thought and action, what he wanted mentally and what his body was starved for. He had no problem lunching with a suspected killer and leaping rooftops to track a witness, and what he'd been able to deduce about some of John's past sexual exploits would make Mycroft blush, but his clothes, his recent girlfriends, even his day job, seemed to advertise a quest for a normal life to balance the much more exciting abnormality that had dominated it lately. It baffled Sherlock, because the abnormality of the chase was obviously what the doctor needed, and John was just as obviously grasping at it with one hand and pushing it away with another. He supposed the push was a knee-jerk reaction to win approval from ghosts either long dead or neglectful, by trying to fulfill their idea of normal.

The abnormal, if fleetingly enjoyable, wasn't supposed to be a permanent state of affairs, apparently.

Locum GP, bland candy-box girlfriend that kept her knees firmly together, please and thank you and good day. That's what he was supposed to have, so he pursued it doggedly. Give him a few years and he'd be psyching himself into proud C of E. A normality apologist.

Sherlock didn't hate whatever her name was. She wasn't vile, or hateful, or a killer, or unpleasant. She didn't call up at awkward times and demand attention. She didn't bother Sherlock at all, and was very understanding of his demands on John's time, but Sherlock still loathed her with casual ease, because she'd committed one of the most grievous sins of all.

She was boring.

But John bought her dinners and stayed in her front room, and wore the ugly jumper she'd given him all in an effort to appease normality and perhaps one day get his end down.

Normal. Expected. Married. Respectable flat no, probably a house away from London considering her shoes and the novel in her handbag. Two kids with boring names that would grow up to be condescending CPAs or stockbrokers that didn't come home for Christmas and would eventually put John in a home while calling him an old dear. John would move out of the flat and call Sherlock every few weeks, then every few months, tapering off into holiday cards until one day the second little sprog found an old news clipping and John said "Sherlock who?" not even realizing how much he had died inside, despite how much his leg pained him.

It wasn't just baffling, it was frustrating. John's little conservative streak with its random petty hang ups and tiresome moral judgments was threatening to rip their comfortable, useful work relationship apart.

Threatening to overwhelm them, end them, with his quest for normal.


John had found a needle.


didn't take it well.

Bit of an understatement, that.

He'd tried to explain it to John, but this must have been another of those bit-not-good moments that Sherlock had trouble parsing, because John was having none of it, angry at Sherlock's blasé attitude.

The look on John's face.


He'd ignored him the first time, guessing that John had found the viscera in the sink. The second call had him look up from his science journal, because it had risen into a register that meant he was trying to suppress anger. "Sherlock."

John was in the doorway, wearing a look that vacillated between bitter disappointment and absurd hope, like mummy had worn after his first arrest. John'd just come in from the street, muttering about food and Tesco good mood, light coat, wind brushed hair had come through the park then and…Sherlock looked down at his hand. Oh.

"Sherlock, I hope that these are for an experiment." He was holding an eraser that had three needles stuck in it. Sherlock had put them in the kitchen junk drawer weeks ago. He had unscrewed them from the syringes and placed them in the rubber intending to sand the dull points to a new sharpness since the rest of his hypos had run out. He hadn't gotten around to it, and had eventually gotten new syringes to replace them. He must have deleted them as unimportant.

"They are. I use them for an ongoing series of tests."

John's face was impassive, except for a little tick under his right eye. "And these experiments, would they be using a human guinea pig?"

"Guinea pigs are poor substitutes for use in hum "

"Are they being used on you?" John was having problems modulating his voice. Perhaps Sherlock had underestimated the impact his occasional dabbling would have on his flat mate.

"Sometimes. Not for several weeks. I fail to see "

"How!" John finally snapped, frown pulling down at the corners of his mouth, but the facial tick was gone. "How do you fail to see how bloody absurd this is? I thought you were a genius!"

"I am."

"Stephen Hawking does not shoot up to get his jollies."

"He might if he could. And you can't use a group of two to make a valid statistical analysis of "

"Shut up."

"This is dull, John. And your inability to let me finish a sentence makes it even more boring."

"Boring? You think me finding out that my flatmate is a junkie is boring. I worry about you, you big tit! I have to deal with my sister's addiction crises enough to know that I don't want to deal with my best friend doing the same thing."

Sherlock gave a small start at that, but he covered well and didn't think it showed, not when John was so preoccupied with Sherlock's extracurricular activities Still, he'd never been someone's best friend before. He found the idea interesting.

"Are you even seeing a doctor?"

"I see you every day."

"Another doctor. Your doctor."

Sherlock just stared at John with steady eyes until John shook his head.

"You. Are unbelievable."

"It isn't a problem. Not for me, and certainly not for you. I do it rarely, but it's occasionally necessary to fulfill my full cognitive function."

"It is a problem for me. A very big problem." This time John was pacing the width of the kitchen entrance. "I can't watch this Sherlock. Why do you think I was living in a crap bedsit and looking for a flat share? I can't live with Harry and watch her do that to herself. What makes you think I want to see the same self destruction from you?"

John turned at the end of a long stride, glaring. "Do you have any in the house at the moment?"

Sherlock thought of prevaricating, but John in this mood was too hard to read, and his reaction to a lie couldn't be predicted. "Yes."

John seemed to deflate.

"I'm sorry, John." But Sherlock knew that was no good even as he said it. It sounded too much like a child apologizing even though they didn't know why, voice raised in question at the last syllable.

John shook his head, shook his shoulders, looked down at his shoes with a frown for a moment. He nodded decisively for a moment before snatching his keys off the coffee table and tossing the embedded needles to Sherlock, who gripped them reflexively.

"You." John pointed with a hard finger as he walked to the top of the exit stairs. "Get rid of that. Get rid of the drugs. Get rid of whatever you need to." John's back was to him now, and John's hands were white on the door frame for a moment before he let go. "When I get back, I want them gone. And I want a promise."

"An ultimatum? Really?"

"A promise Sherlock. Promise me you won't do them any more."

Sherlock closed his eyes. "I don't "

"Your promise. Or I'm gone instead."

There was the sound of feet pounding down the stairs. When Sherlock opened his eyes, he was alone. He hopped to his feet, stepping over the low table on the way to the window, but by the time he'd pulled back the curtain John could no longer be seen.

John had told him to stop. Not just the drugs, but everything that made the lulls in action bearable.

John just didn't understand, and Sherlock had no way of making someone who wasn't himself understand.

It really wasn't a problem. He wasn't an addict. He was perfectly capable of going weeks without touching a drug. He'd thought that after Lestrade's joke of a drugs bust that John would have realized that it was a fixture in Sherlock's life, one that he'd take in stride like the skull, and the indoor marksmanship, and the acid eating into the linoleum. As much a fixture as John had become. John, who couldn't leave over some infantile misunderstanding.

He wasn't an addict in the physical sense. His real addiction was to the working of his mind, a precision instrument that needed to work at its full potential. He'd always mocked the people that assumed he did the drugs to slow his mind down and allow himself to forget. Why on earth would he do that? Ennui was a lethargy of the mind that drove him mad. Cocaine jump started the systems that were languishing. Moderately smart people, those that weren't total morons, could solve math puzzles or crosswords, or join groups like Mensa so they could do the same with a self-congratulating audience, but Sherlock needed something more. Mycroft had world domination done from the safety of a desk, well buffered by a legion of people and communications, but Sherlock needed something hands on and immediate, because as much as he had tried to train himself otherwise, he was devoted to the rush of instant gratification.

The problem was that gratification through his work was not always available.

Muscles atrophied from disuse, and his brain was no different. Too long without a case, and he could feel wretched stagnation take hold, creeping like a black mold across his mind. He'd not lied to John, when he said that it was his hard drive. He'd been able to see the internal architecture of his mind since he was eleven, and just coming into the realization of how unbearably idiotic everyone else not father not Mycroft not [redacted] was. Stacked drives of information neatly ordered and regimented inside cool grey metal stacks. Serene, almost Japanese in their minimalist formation. The system was perfect for quick retrieval and rapid deletion. Large cabinets were created to store the larger, messier parts of himself that seemed indelible, muffling their input till they were a whisper instead of a chorus.

It was probably the only thing that had gotten him through his teen years, and the nightmare that was university.

But disuse, boredom, dreary expanses of nothing meaty to feed it, those moments took their toll, and the rapid fire of his interface began to stall, and he could not take that. It became a physical ache in his stomach pleasing synchronicity that he and John should have psychosomatic pain in common and for similar reasons that was an outward manifestation of an internal mental agony. Pieces out of proper alignment, too scattered, defying the natural order, which could lead to user error.

Division by zero.

His mind needed defragging, and that was where the coke came into play.

He'd snorted it before. Freebased it. The effects were a slight sharpening of his senses, and greater endurance. He ceased optimal function after 36 hours awake, and snorting coke helped him push that number to 48. Then one day, in the spirit of scientific inquiry bloody stupidity said Mycroft he'd shot it. It was a smaller dose, and he didn't achieve a distinctly different high, but there was difference enough to tantalize him with the possibility of more, so the next time he shot it, he upped the dose to a seven percent solution of the same cocaine he had previously shot at three percent.

His brain caught cold fire, like light through a prism. Super fast processor, restored order, information refracted with efficiency, everything placed with chilly crystalline clarity. Short lived effect with obvious audiovisual side effects, but profitable.

It was good. Not great, but good. He could amp his own mind up onto that plateau, especially during a case, so it wasn't quite like discovering new territory, but this had been an easy in, and a respite when boredom was threatening to degrade the information fortress he had worked on so diligently.

Further experimentation with the drug revealed its limits, and how to exploit it for the best results. His conclusions were surprising at first, but not after he considered the fact that of course most people couldn't be arsed to use the drug to its full potential. The underachievers.

The secret was that it wasn't just about the drug that was only a small part of it.

Cocaine hyper-focused his mind, kept it from feeling neglected, true, but drugs weren't the only way to accomplish that. Altered states of consciousness had been chased, historically, since the beginning of civilization, and Sherlock was no stranger to that chase either. The trifecta of drugs, pain and ritual could be pursued singly or combined to school the mind into the desired arrangement. Common knowledge.

Drugs: drugs created an artificial disconnect, and depending on the drug, the mind could be slowed down into a stupor, or concentrated into a precise laser. He preferred cocaine due to the upsurge in neurotransmisson. Heroin left him...dull. It made him feel as if he were approaching the level of everyone else, an event horizon of mediocrity, as his thoughts were muffled and smothered. He'd once liked the smothering effect, but that was a long time ago, in [redact]…another place entirely; couldn't bear it now.

Pain: pain was a powerful foci, too. Practitioners of the Native American Sundance and Hindu Kavandi Bearing proved its efficacy, but a cost/benefit analysis of Sherlock's forays into sadomasochism had shown that it was usually not worth the effort expended, even though he had experimented with pain first and best. It had been small things in the beginning, in his early teens when he could still occasionally be ruled by hormonal imperatives. Clips on the nipples. Rough masturbation. Lines of clothespins attached to string, then affixed to the tender skin of his inner thighs before being pulled away one by one in a cascade effect. He'd even attempted autoerotic asphyxiation, but stopped after a blackout episode that could have permanently damaged his brain, or killed him.

He'd gradually upped his threshold, increased his set of practices, but lone sadomasochism was…lonely. Even as socially backward as he was considered, he still realized the difference between touches from himself and the theoretical touch of another. He didn't discount the power of touch, it was just easier not to require it. Unlike cocaine, touch was too addictive, and it was too hard to procure a steady supply that wouldn't be yanked away just as he'd come to depend on it. Gradually, he'd come to see the need for another participant- nights spent on knees choking on cock uncut start soft long lean pleasure thrust blood bloody sublimating anger at [redact] hard too hard scar - but he had eventually come to the conclusion that mental focus through pain and submission was not for him.

Victor had shown him that.

Practicing alone ruled out many of the most effective forms of reaching the desired mental plateau, and the addition of another person, while physically having better impact - don't think about how good it could be don't remember the early trials before things went [redact redact redact!] - was …mentally distracting. Sherlock didn't do people.

Not anymore.

So that left ritual. Ritual to achieve an altered state was the hardest to cultivate, but also the most rewarding in terms of payoff. And when combined with drugs or pain the result was stunning. Ritual worked when the user created a series of actions, or words, and applied them during the mental state they wished to achieve. The human brain made the connection due to repetition, a Pavlovian response to those actions in the future. A chant made during a state of heightened mental acuity, and practiced during those states, would eventually lead to the chant creating the heightened mental state when called upon. Religion was based upon ritual.

His violin was a ritual that guided his mind through mental mazes, one that had become so ingrained in his behavior that he feared what would happen if it was ever taken away. That was the main reason why he had never allowed things to get so bad that he was on the street he'd never be able to protect his most prized possession if he were homeless.

The complexities of Sarasate and Wieniawski unfolded like a mathematical proof and seduced him into that higher mental plane. He'd learned the piano first, like Mycroft, but had picked up the violin later. They had all learned an instrument or two, he, Mycroft and…

He played well not as well as she had but he'd built upon what she'd taught him, practiced her favorite composers doggedly, even knowing that he lacked that elusive thing that would make him a truly great violinist.

When he needed quiet meditation he switched to more modern pieces, like Arvo Part's Fratres. He'd also listen to Part's choral work, just like he listened to Purcell, and Handel, and Berg, and Britten, but he no longer…no longer…

When he needed sharpening outside of a case…when it'd become an almost desperate ache…

He didn't want to taint the violin and all it meant to him. He didn't want to taint music, as fraught as his relationship with it already was. He wasn't sentimental, but he allowed himself this small thing.

He needed other ritual means of attaining zero point.

And shooting up was a ritual his ritual for the things music wouldn't touch. Everything about it had been crafted with the express purpose of focusing on the self, and particularly his mind.

The box was stored behind the front fabric of the speaker that sat next to the sofa. The speaker looked untampered with, but a small loop of black ribbon could be pulled to make the whole fabric frontispiece detach. He'd replaced the actual speaker with a smaller version so that the box could be hidden and the sound retained. He'd crafted the beautiful box himself, having read about the IKEA effect, which stated that the things we create or assemble ourselves are perceived as more valuable and precious than the things we merely purchase- people valued the cheap melamine IKEA table because they had a hand in putting it together. Part of creating a ritual was fetishizing the accoutrements involved, so he made sure that every aspect of the design of his ritual had layers of meaning. He made the box, and this box wouldn't just have meaning.

He wanted a masterpiece.

The box itself was long and slender, like a large, expensive pencil box. The auburn mahogany case was an antique that had once held a set of fleams and a bloodstick, used by some early Victorian snake oil doctor to bleed the foul humors from nervous wives. The fleams were long gone, and the inside was in red velvet tatters when he first brushed his hand over it in a third rate antique shop. He hadn't been able to keep his hands from it, fingering its parts until he lifted it from the shop. The petty crime made it even more personal, more valuable as he took it home, where he contemplated it for a number of weeks before deciding how he would proceed.

He'd stripped the red velvet with careful hands, savoring the slow rip of cloth that parted for him almost before he tore it. Cloth redolent with mold and decay as it came apart, revealing the papier mache underneath it that had previously formed a cradle for the missing instruments. The paper itself was like a mummy, brittle enough to crumble under the slight abuse given to the fabric, and flaking away into a dust when a more direct pressure was applied. The dust of it caught some air current, making the room smell old and stale, but in the comforting way of old bookshops with no air conditioning. The wood underneath was dry and dull, still riddled with flaking adhesives. He rubbed at the wood with oil, smelling of lemon and cedar, glistening pure on his long fingers, beading on the gloss of his nails, then a gentle lubrication and stroking movement with a soft cloth to get rid of the elderly scents and the tenacious pulp that still wanted to cling to the grain.

He'd had an old typesetter's drawer laying about that had come in handy for storing the small minutiae of his experiments. The large rectangle with its Edwardian hardware had multiple slots made to hold typeface for printing. It was in rougher condition than the wood of the fleam box, but there were a few areas that were not battered, a few areas where some typesetter had stroked the case again and again, softening the rigid rectangular ends of the dividers into something rounded and soft. It was these well worn areas that he couldn't resist covering with his hands, so it was these areas that he cannibalized for wood, cutting them to measurement with a fine craft saw, and smoothing away the rough edges with varying degrees of sandpaper, finally wet sanding with a 1000 grit that glided like butter in a meditational repetition, a Buddhist sutra, a nam myoho renge kyo of flesh and bone as he stroked back and forth. The pieces were carefully spaced and glued into place with mathematical precision, creating compartments that he tested with finger widths, eyes closed to concentrate the power of touch as he searched every surface for the smallest rough, finger pads knowing and clever as they caressed.

Only then did he line it. He searched his personal ephemera for something appropriate, something with the right aesthetic. The book was old, from the late 19th century, slightly naughty then, but absurdly sedate by today's standards. It was falling apart at the spine and the crease, gilding faded from the edges due to too many grabbing hands, and parts of the lower right corner were eaten away by time and scavengers. He'd kept it because it had a dramatic red cover, gilt titles and thick octavos that looked appropriately deconstructed and tragic next to his skull, but the marbled boards on the interior were just as dramatic, and more than once he had opened the cover just to get lost in the delicate, complicated swirl of ink, spinning like a prototype steampunk Mandelbrot set.

The boards were affixed by a simple starch adhesive, easily steamed off over a pot of water in the kitchen. The loosened sheets were carefully prised away with a little sculpting spatula, only to curl gently in his hand, warm and hydrated from the steam that engulfed it. The compartments were traced on onion skin, and the exact dimensions were cut with the wicked sharp tip of a utility knife until the perfect measurements were met. He'd nicked himself during the cutting process accidentally or on purpose? Even he didn't know a drop of blood hitting the paper, adding more of himself to the red, gold and purple that now graced the wood and the bronze fixtures. A little drop of chaos. An artist deliberately marring a work of art so that they could not achieve perfection. It was there, the bottom right corner, a faint blush of rust and salt and every time he saw it he would remember the taste of himself as he sucked the red away from his index finger.

Such a beautiful box, but the components themselves had a story as well.

The spoon was silver, a smooth bowl that swept up in a lush curve, terminating in an elaborate flourish. This one was filched from mummy, and had graced his plate at more than one Christmas dinner. He kept it polished, and bent to lay on the table at an angle that would allow the cocaine solution to sit in a placid little pool, and support a syringe laying against it. A dedicated spoon meant that the mundane spoons in the kitchen remained unbent, and that meant Lestrade would no longer give him those long looks on the rare occasions he came to the flat. So tedious. He'd use the spoon, and after sinking into the drug he'd lick it clean, letting his tongue go numb from the solution as he warmed the metal against his palate. He'd withdraw it slowly in a move that was not quite fellatio.

The lighter was vintage, inherited, and he liked to think that the use he put it to had his father rolling in his grave.

The dual cigar holder was an aesthetic compromise. Antique medical instrument boxes were always elaborate affairs that hid the chilly practicality of the tools within. He personally liked the easy, disposable simplicity of the modern syringe, but it did not mesh with the rest of the box. The juxtaposition of removing the very modern clear and orange plastic from the antique aesthetics of the cigar holder was another step in the ritual, meant to shock the mind into a higher state of awareness. The cool phallic length of metal that swiveled and spread so neatly to dispense it was almost like jacking off, stroking that metal, a flick of his wrist at the tip, withdrawing the sharp that held nothing but memories of orgasmic experience.

The vintage oral medicine tin box held the plastic baggie of cocaine. The straight razor was a vintage folding model with an abalone handle, ammonite imbedded towards the bottom. The vial of green glass had a rubber stopper. The Syringes. 29 gauge needles. 30 units.

The ritual itself:

He always wore the same thing. Comfort of the body allowed focus on the mind, so he wore his pajamas as a uniform. The silky grey t-shirt was a gift from Mycroft. He usually burnt Mycroft's gifts, but in this case he took pleasure in using the gift in an act that Mycroft disapproved of. He'd stroke his own chest, barely chasing over nipple, a little thrill chasing as well, knowing that what he was doing would stick in his brother's craw. The blue robe was even silkier, an affectation, but a sensual one that felt fantastic against his skin when his nerve endings became over sensitized. He tried the drugs while naked once, wearing only the smooth robe, but the sensation was too much, too good, distracted his mind, could not be contained so he settled for wearing it over cotton knit.

He'd removed the box from its hiding place in the speaker and sat it on the table in front of the sofa, next to a glass of water, a glass board, clean gauze, witch hazel extract and a cigarette. He smoothed a hand across the box's wooden top, polishing the bronze corners and their greenish patina with his fingertips, taking extra care, extra time- making this last time something special. He'd tacked in ribbons on each side to catch the lid so that it opened to 100 degrees instead of 180 degrees. Each piece was removed, always in the same order. The drugs in their ironic little tin. The razor. The spoon. The vial. The cigar holder.

Sherlock laughed, then started singing under his breath. "Rasoi e pettini, lancette e forbici, al mio comando, tutto qui sta, V'è la risorsa, poi, del mestiere…" A viewing of the implements, like the factotum laying out his tools. If John had a bit more sense of the perverse and fewer scruples he'd enjoy that analogy. "Bravo Sherlock. Bravo, Bravissimo."

The tin was opened and the little baggie of the type only used by jewelers and drug dealers was pulled out. The cocaine was tipped onto the glass and evaluated for color to try to deduce the cut. A small taste helped with the same, and let him know the strength of the drug, and how much he should use in the solution. A bit of white on the end of a finger, touched to tongue then a slow suck in. His taste buds searching for information, the cocaine, vitamin b-12, ephedrine, something else practically flavorless, until the taste was gone and all that was left was the slow suckling of his index finger and the gentle hollowing of his cheeks.

Razors weren't really necessary when you were using it intravenously, but the motions involved- opening the razor with the arc of his thumb, shaving the cocaine with precision to make fine powder of the larger granules, the repetitive tink tink tink against the glass was just another way to draw out the ritual and make the moment significant. He would cut the coke in one direction, scrape it into narrow lines, and approach it from the other side until chopping any more became a lesson in futility. It was almost...soothing. Then he would withdraw the razor, bringing the blade to his mouth to lick clean, the flat of his tongue against one side of the blade, and then the other, like a living strop. He hadn't cut himself yet, and he wasn't quite sure if that was a disappointment or not.

Then, his favorite part.

He opened the hinged end of the cigar case, pulling out one syringe before closing the case and putting it back in the box. The syringe still had its plastic cover, a medical condom that crinkled beneath his fingers. Clean sterility and variable symbolism that he loved to get dirty, the penultimate in thumbing his nose at authority, making the moment giddy and jittery with anticipation. It wasn't quite a fetish, he was familiar with his own psychology in a way no one else was, but it did inch pleasure down his sternum in a warm push that left him flushed, expectant and half hard. The orange cap, a lurid color that he looked away from in different contexts, was removed and put in a bowl that peeked out from under the sofa, to join more caps, shell casings and other dubious detritus left over from boredom and experiments. The needle pierced the water in the glass with a ripple and visual displacement, that first pull back on the plunger always slightly sticky at first then the smooth glide as it lubricated, five, ten, twenty units sucked up and squeezed into the vial like a whirlpool.

Cocaine was scraped off the edge of the glass in a thin line, into the vial where it sank like granules in a snow globe. He topped the vial with the rubber stopper and shook the solution to dissolve the drug, stopping to turn it and watch the powder disappear into fog, frowning at some of the non soluble particulates that swirled around.

He unwrapped the paper from the cigarette and tore off a small amount of the filter, its synthetic strands tearing away in a long hank. The filter piece was placed in the center of the spoon to catch the non-soluble particles and limit the chances of cotton fever. The cocaine solution was poured over it, emptying the vial, then vial to mouth where it was licked, tongue running along the edge, then dipping down to explore as much of the glass as possible, sucking up every bit of the bitter, medicinal liquid it could find as he tilted his head back and closed his eyes. He could feel the curious numbness of his teeth and gums, throwing the sharp spike of sensation he felt in his chest into a harsh chiaroscuro that kept time with every beat of his heart.

The lighter was mostly there to brass off his father, and perhaps as a nod to convention, because you didn't need to cook coke. You didn't need to cook heroin either, but the heat helped break down the stickiness of the tar, and a junkie in need of a fix wanted nownownow instead of time wasted pushing little brown bits around in a spoon. Cooking cocaine changed the nature of the high, took the edge off and twisted it into something softer and lest like a fist in the gut. If he cooked it before he shot it, it would be a smoother ride, but there would be no auditory distortion, no sharp shock of a moment where his brain went oh. The difference between a rough bareback fuck and making love.

Unheated was so much more. If this was going to be his last high, he wasn't going to use the lighter, he was going all the way.

So the lighter is bypassed and he goes for the syringe, running the cool plastic of the barrel against his lips, not a kiss, but a secular benediction. He places the needle against the filter, sucking up the solution, filling the void - a metaphor he is fully cognizant of. And he holds the needle up to the light, flicking it with a finger, watching air bubbles effervesce like carbonation fizz. He knows that the bubbles aren't dangerous, but he likes to see them burst into nothing, until the liquid is still and silent in the calm before the storm.

He doesn't tie off.

Some people do. They like the strip of rubber that wraps around and pinches the skin as it's pulled taut, or a belt tightening down notch by notch to plump the skin and the blue veins pulsing underneath, but his mind shies away from using anything that holds him like that. No straps, no [redact]…He has good veins, obvious veins that are close to the surface. The pump of an arm, the thump of a finger, and a hard grasp of his inner arm are all it takes to make the vein prominent enough to use.

The skin of his inner elbow is so thin, smooth and so pale that it barely pinks as he stimulates it to get a vein. He can't help but lightly run the pointed tip up the forearm, slightly indenting and stroking the flesh there, sometimes leaving a little red line in its wake, like a Wartenberg wheel testing for sensation. He knows which vein he'll use. He usually jumps around so he won't collapse one, but the little bump of flesh just inside his inner elbow, the median cubital vein, is his favorite, and since this is his last time it doesn't really matter if he's doubled up on it. There's a moment of anticipation as the needle rests against the blue that stands out against the pale. He draws it out, but not for too long, just enough to make that first slide extra delicious.

When the needle slides in, that initial breach of skin, relentless penetration of metal doesn't hurt never hurts good god is so right, so good and it's only force of will that keeps his eyes from rolling up, rolling closed on a yesyesyes, because he is so close, wants it too much.

He'd told John that he was married to his work, and let John assume that he was something close to asexual, because it was easier than explaining this. The truth was that he was a Kinsey four, but any sexual impulse that he had was completely subsumed by the drugs. Detection may be his wife, but the ritual was his mistress, and the drug itself destroyed his previously normal sex drive. He could get an erection, but he didn't need sex when this mimicked sex so completely. In moments of blacker humor he would think that he was fucked by a three inch dick on a regular basis. He tried to stay away from the blacker moments he didn't want to think about why sex had become anathema. He didn't…

He uses the 29 gauge because it is small enough to make entry easy, but large enough to take a thick solution if he wants it.

The needle slides in slippery and feels right, but he pulls back on the plunger by one or two units, watching the beautiful backwash of blood into the chamber, a sexy parabola of red that tells him he has a vein. Golfballing, missing the vein and injecting anyway, means a painful, large lump and no high, and no completion, so he is careful there.

Sometimes, he is confident, and plunges it all at once. Sometimes, that's how he wants it, hard and fast, wants it so much that he's shaking with it. He sends it home with a quick jerk of his thumb, reveling in the way the tension of the plunger dissipates as the solution enters his bloodstream with a whoosh, and if the solution is thick enough, he can watch it travel up his arm, time it exactly when it will hit his heart. That's why he picks his right arm, because he can't see the impending explosion in his left, can't feel the drug crawling its way to climax.

Sometimes, he doesn't know the drug as well as he would like, and chasing that high is like playing chicken. It is a fine line to straddle. Too much of the drug can lead to death, but too little is a vicious tease that doesn't take care of the craving and leaves him mentally blue-balled and aching. On those occasions, he pushes home ten units, waits. Ten units, waits. Then the rest as he can take it.

Both are good. Both can be right. But right now he needs it hard, fast now, fuck, and he doesn't care that the solution might be a little too strong, a bit too much, because that's adding another level of sensation, adrenaline dumping into his system, heartbeat escalating before the drug can trigger its own tachycardia, and playing chicken had never felt so good before. That needle, drawn back before the drugs hit, placed on the table. A finger in the crook of the elbow, placed against the entry site, and then the arm folded over it before raising the entire forearm/finger/bicep sandwich into the air.

He felt the drug traveling, median cubital vein, draining into the axillary vein, and he could no longer feel it, but he could time it, and the drug was suddenly like the thrum of a bass and a hand tightening his heart to the music, then it was there in his head. Tinnitus kicked in and the real audio track fluxed the room moving like a jitter in the horizontal of an old tube TV as he slumped back, spine going liquid and soft as the hot rush of the injection spiraled through him like a waterspout, removing the structural integrity of bone and muscle. Andante, Andantino, Moderato, Allegretto, Allegro. He sucked in a breath, then another, waiting on the exhale. Waiting on the full force of the tidal wave that was building and building to a huge crest maybe too much, so much heart thundering now, eyes blinking against the visual distortion, blinking against the need to clench them because it was coming, coming…

Waiting for everything to coalesce...

The implosion of thought, vision briefly inverting into photo negative before the explosion outward that enveloped the room in light; the tense exhale like he'd choked on ether; the iron taste exploding on his tongue as he bit the inside of his cheek, biting down on a whimper as the dopamine flush penetrated every part of his mind, synapses connecting, firing like rockets, like a star going nova. Data lining up and slotting into place like a perfect game of Tetris.

It was…acceptable.

When John came back to the flat it was only half lit, the lamp in the corner casting a yellow light on Sherlock, who was slumped into the sofa, staring at the ceiling with his fingers steepled. It was a common position to find him in, but there were some small differences that told John that this was different, small differences that made a dent in the anger John was trying to shed, and the hurt that still lingered. The room, the room was different too. Some things were shifted on the shelves, a sheaf of papers that butterflied across the carpet where they fell. The front was pulled off the speaker, leaving an empty cavity. The knife from the mantle was embedded in the sofa table next to a claw hammer.

And there was a box.

He could tell that the box had once been a pretty thing. Long dark wood with fiddly metal bits attached. It was in parts now, two larger parts that had been ripped apart at the hinges with the claws of the hammer probably acting as a lever, leaving a twisted mess. There were rectangular wood slats, splintered and broken, scattered over the rest of the table, pieces of a semi-familiar paper shredded and torn around them.

It was destruction of a symbolic kind that John couldn't follow completely, but he could find the underlying meaning.

"All gone, then?"

"I asked Mrs. Hudson to take out the trash."

"I'm sure that went over well."

"I think she thought I was ill."

John considered that for what it was. A statement of fact? An admission? Looking at the trash that was scattered, he couldn't bring himself to care. "Are you?"

Sherlock didn't answer immediately. He tapped his fingers against his chin as he considered the question. "I'm not…sick."

"I never said you were."

"Thank you for that."

Sherlock seemed to have more to say, but was taking his time over what to say, which was strange, because words usually just poured from his mouth with no filter. His face was blank, so there was no help there. John just sat, sensing that this moment had weight, and not wanting to push.

"I'm not sick, but I do need…"

Sherlock trailed off, searching for the right word. The man was a walking thesaurus, and he couldn't find the right word.

"I'm going to need your help, John."

It was an admission of weakness, one that John had never expected. Not from a self-proclaimed sociopath. Not from Sherlock. "Anything. Whatever you need, you know that."

"I know," said Sherlock, who scowled in annoyance anyway. "This is very tiresome, John, you have no idea." The scowl almost made John smile, because he suddenly had an inkling of what a five year old Sherlock might have looked like. "I don't do people."

"Ha. Good thing I'm not people, then."

"Yes. Quite."

"Also, good thing that I didn't say the first thing that was going to come out of my mouth."

Sherlock just quirked an eyebrow in question.

"I was going to say something like 'well you can do me instead."

Sherlock grinned but went back to contemplating the ceiling and didn't say a word.

John stood up and stretched his arms, his right extending further over his head than his left. The wound didn't twinge any more, but his range of motion, while not seriously impeded, was slightly stunted. He rolled his head on his neck, trying and failing to get it to crack.

He made his way to the foot of the stairs before Sherlock spoke again. He didn't turn around because he sensed that this was not something that Sherlock wanted to say face to face, so for the second time of the night Sherlock spoke to his back.

"You said anything."


"Which means to any extent."

John shrugged his good shoulder. "I know what it means." He could practically hear Sherlock's eyes roll in his head.

"When I said I needed help, I meant it. And it won't be sweetness and light."

"Not exactly sunshine on your best day, are you?"

Sherlock ignored him like he hadn't spoken. "I need to know, John. When you said anything. I need to know how far you're willing to go."

John thought about Kandahar, and his shitty little bedsit. He thought about a gun sometimes left in a desk drawer, and sometimes removed in the middle of the night. He thought about pink, and a cane, and being able to run and laugh, actually laugh, for the first time in forever. He thought about five pips, and a pool, and a friend too stubborn to leave.

Honestly, he didn't really have to think about it at all.

"I think," he said, as he started up the stairs, "that you already know."

(Thank you for reading my first Sherlock fic. Reviews mean a lot to me, so please take a moment to leave some feedback.)