Author's Note: Wrote the majority of this at the same time that I wrote "Bearing Arms." I got bricked by author's block at one point and it has been sitting on my hard drive since. Today I finally got around to finishing. Turned out pretty well considering the fact that when I started it I had no idea exactly what I was writing. It probably needs to be edited by someone other than me, but the friend I usually bother for such things is dealing with a death in the family right now, so that's definitely a no go. Let me know if you see any truly obnoxious issues.
The Scabbing Effect
Sherlock was the type of child to pick at his scabs.
Not because they were irritating him, or because he liked to pick at things (though he did) but because he was curious. He wanted to know, wanted to see what was happening underneath.
After a while, when he understood the purpose of scabs, what they did, and how they worked, his picking became methodical, planned (if he removed the scab at this time what was the effect on the end healing compared to that time. At what point could he remove the scab and have the wound not bleed? How much irritation would turn a small, easily healed cut into a scar?)
He never really grew out of this habit, though he'd long since learned all he needed to about physical scabs and their associated scars.
Of course, it wasn't physical scabs that he picked at anymore at all, was it?
He'd discovered, at some point in his pre-teens or maybe just before then, that people – people who weren't him and Mycroft, anyway – tended to create a sort of emotional scabbing too. A kind of crusty layer meant to hide the wounds underneath until they were healed enough to bring out in the open. Except – and this was the wonderful part – sometimes the wounds didn't heal and the scabs got bigger and crustier and didn't go away at all.
People were fascinating like that.
And Sherlock found that he couldn't quite help but pick at these too.
Of course, since Sherlock himself didn't seem to have any (of course he didn't, they required emotions) he had to pick at other people's scabs.
This was something of a revelation for the young boy. Something new and interesting. And something that required work. Because you can't very well pick at a scab effectively unless you knew exactly where it was, how deep it went and what angle it was best to attack it from.
So Sherlock took his observational skills, already naturally strong and impressive, and made them better. And then, when just observing wasn't enough, because no matter how hard you try not everything can be seen directly, he started to deduce. And began testing.
And that, that was just brilliant. He learned that if you said this in just that tone to people with these traits then they'll burst into tears. But the same thing said in the same tone to someone with a different set of traits got anger and defensiveness. Maybe even physical retaliation.
It was about then that Mummy took him to see a psychologist and Mycroft started talking about "proper outlets" for his curiosity and introduced him to chemistry, biology, pedology, and a host of other scientific pursuits that Sherlock found nicely distracting in a completely different manner than the violin he'd been made to learn in order to "better access his emotions." Or so the psychologist said. Sherlock just liked the utterly reliable way in which the instrument reacted. And maybe, just a bit, the way Mycroft had cringed while he was first learning had something to do with it too.
It didn't stop him from picking at people's scabs. And learning.
He learned and learned and learned more until he was just brimming with the stuff and couldn't possibly contain it all. So what if he could no longer remember useless things like how a rainbow was made? Or whether the Earth went around the Sun or vice versa? He knew things that were far more interesting and important.
It kept his mind busy anyway. For a while at least. Until he got bored and had to move on to the next thing.
The next thing didn't always go over very well.
To be fair to Sherlock the first body was not at all his fault. How could anyone reasonably expect him to study biology and not want to perform a dissection? And it was just a rabbit for goodness sake. And he hadn't even killed it, it had been dead when he found it, and how was he supposed to know it was the live-in maid's pet? Or that things like that tended to bother people?
His psychologist was exchanged for a psychiatrist at about this point.
Mycroft started talking about the importance of appearances and not alienating people. Sherlock listened with half an ear and while he didn't exactly agree with Mycroft's points he could see how some of it could be useful in his ongoing study of human emotional scabbing. Plus Mycroft offered to get him other things to dissect that were more... acceptable... than the hired help's pet.
So Sherlock began studying psychology.
He was remarkably good at both. He'd even briefly considered acting somewhat normal for his psychiatrist but then dismissed the idea as not worth the effort.
The psychiatrist declared he was a sociopath.
Sherlock found he didn't care much, but was astounded by the changes this brought about in his teachers. Teachers who thought him weird and troublesome were forced to make accommodations. Because all of a sudden they weren't allowed to get mad, since Sherlock "had problems."
It was ridiculous the things he could now get away with.
Though it was a little less fun when the other students found out. They couldn't seem to appreciate the fine differences between a sociopath and a psychopath and it irritated Sherlock to be called something he wasn't.
Mycroft sighed, deeply, when Sherlock told him this.
It was in this manner that Sherlock made his way into Second Form.
Second Form was utterly torturous. Admittedly, Sherlock learned an awful lot; though none of it from his teachers. Things about lust and human relationships and people's stupidity and even more about emotional scabs. He didn't really get a lot of it but he certainly grew adept at using it. Puberty, however, was every bit as annoying as he'd expected it to be and hormones – particularly his classmates' inability to deal with them the way he did – were impossibly irritating.
Mycroft threw up his hands in despair and put his attention into university and politics so he could take over the world or whatever it was Mycroft wanted to do. His psychiatrist, meanwhile, admitted defeat and Mummy didn't bother hiring a new one. Sherlock mourned the loss only because the prescription pills had interesting effects on the animals he studied (he certainly wasn't going to take them, he'd tried just once and found they made his brain unbearably foggy).
Uni, as it turned out, wasn't a whole lot better than Second Form. People were even more insipid and idiotic than he'd thought and now it was Sherlock's turn to give up in disgust and throw himself into his other studies, putting his as-yet incomplete study of people on hold.
He picked up odd courses in this and that, learning about anything that promised to be vaguely interesting.
Most of it wasn't.
But Sherlock did find he now knew so many things that a viable way of organizing and accessing them was an absolute must. He found it in a Philosophy course that made a brief mention of the study of rhetoric, and, more specifically, the category of memory. The method of loci, the mind palace, was ideal. And to make it even better Sherlock found that he could use the streets of London (something he taken to learning for the sake of sheer boredom between semesters) as loci.
Eventually, though, he got bored. And in his boredom went back to picking at scabs.
One of his classmates, a Victor Trevor, was particularly promising in that regard. So Sherlock put in some effort and made, for the first time in his life, a friend.
Sherlock wasn't very good at the whole friendship thing, yet Victor was possibly the best decision Sherlock had ever made in his life.
Especially when it turned out that his father was an embezzler.
He gave up on the attempt at friendship, but Sherlock's attention was caught by his first proper criminal case (not, though, his first ever, that distinction went to the business with Carl Powers back in his childhood). For once in his life Sherlock was completely and utterly engaged, his mind working at full capacity.
It was a heady, addictive feeling.
He wanted more.
His studies became far more focused after that. Not that anyone but Sherlock could tell.
Criminology, law, forensics, anatomy, body wounds, poisons, tracking, chemistry, psychology, sociology, computer science, accounting, a smattering of medicine, everything and anything that could possibly be of aid came to Sherlock's attention. He studied on his own time (meaning, all the time), at his own pace (which was considerably faster than any of his university courses). He picked through the material already in his mind palace, discarding anything not useful to this new, interesting area of study, added new loci and new information. He even picked up boxing and learned to shoot a hand gun with the thought that he wouldn't be much use if he up and died.
Sherlock found his attention pulled back towards people as well. Their habits, their clothing, their family, their friends, their careers... all things that could be of use in solving the ultimate puzzle that was crime. In fact, it was the very need for both breadth and depth of knowledge that drew Sherlock to it. That and finding an actual use for the deductive skills he'd been honing since childhood.
Yet... the more he looked the more he realized he was missing something. Something vital.
Sherlock had grown up in the upper echelons of society. He was, at best, only peripherally aware of how the lower classes lived. And that just wouldn't do.
He dropped out of university.
Mycroft threatened (he could do that now, apparently he hadn't managed to take over the world yet but was doing reasonably well, if a little slowly, on taking over Britain) and Mummy looked worried and disappointed but Sherlock let it all sail past him, ignoring the both of them.
He spent the next three years living on the streets.
And, oh, it was worth Every Last Second.
Sherlock came out of it with more knowledge than he'd ever dared hoped of accumulating from the experience. Practical things. Things about survival, about functioning with little food or sleep, about fighting dirty, about picking locks and pockets, about how to not be noticed, about ways of gaining information that others would never even dream existed.
Mycroft had the British Secret Service. Sherlock had his network of homeless people.
And there was even more! Information about the London gangs and how crimes actually happened and about the criminal classes in general. He'd even spent so much time people watching that he gained extra fodder for his regular deductions.
Mummy highly disapproved of his new smoking habit when he came back; insisting Sherlock quit and take up using the patch in the interim. Not a huge loss; it was impossible to keep up a good smoking habit in London proper nowadays anyway.
Sherlock knew he was still missing information. He'd quite possibly have to keep experimenting for the rest of his life (not at all a bad thing.) He did have enough to at least get started with the Work though.
But not working for the police. They'd made a bad impression when they'd refused to look into Carl Power's shoes way back when. Besides, he'd seen an awful lot of the police in his time on the streets. They were incredibly ineffective and often downright stupid. Oh, he knew he'd have to work with the police in some capacity but certainly not for them. He'd rather work as a detective. A consulting detective as he put it to Mycroft.
Mycroft raised his eyebrows and 'hmmed' a little. And Sherlock exploded.
Their relationship had never been quite normal but this, this was the first time they'd ever really, truly fought and it was over the one thing Sherlock truly desired.
Sherlock never forgave him for it.
Especially when it turned out the interfering bastard was right.
The police laughed when he went to talk to them. And arrested him when he promptly deduced every last person in the room, ripping into their personal scabs with no regard for Mycroft's warnings on alienating people.
Mycroft posted his bail.
He had the money from his trust fund. He didn't need money. What he needed was cases. He would make this work.
So he settled into a tiny apartment, made a website and went looking for work.
He found it. Small cases. Tiny, easy things. Things that won him supporters amongst the working denizens of London. And the police may not have liked it but they couldn't ignore his evidence.
For a short time it was almost enough.
It didn't take long for Sherlock to grow bored. The cases were too easy, his violin not engaging enough and his ongoing experiments – even the one on different types of ashes – weren't enough.
And when the ennui hit it was beyond excruciating.
He needed something, anything, to make it go away.
Benzoylmethylecgonine, more commonly known as cocaine, was that thing.
He'd thought about it before. But life on the streets had actually been so engaging that he hadn't been in need of something to stimulate his brain. And life before that had never gotten quite this bad. Now he needed something. Needed it desperately.
He wasn't stupid. He was aware that cocaine was additive and potentially dangerous. Honestly, he was a chemist. Of course he knew.
Sherlock also knew that his mind was going to ground to a halt and never start up again if he didn't do something. And cocaine was a stimulant. One that he knew where to find.
And find it he did.
There was some question, at first, as to the best way to administer it. That led to a number of relatively interesting experiments in which Sherlock discovered that his need for immediate relief outweighed all other concerns making injection the most logical solution. And so Sherlock began using regularly.
It was in this stage of his life that Sherlock happened across Detective Inspector Lestrade.
At the time Sherlock hadn't been high. Sheer coincidence really. A small, somewhat dull case had taken a sharp turn towards interesting and Sherlock had found himself at the scene of his first live murder (well, not precisely live as such, but it certainly caused Sherlock to come alive).
They ran into each other twice after that and in a third instance Sherlock texted Lestrade when he realized that he would need a police presence on his current investigation. Lestrade was somewhat competent and not entirely without a brain even if the rest of his team made Sherlock want to tear his hair out. (And, dear lord, Anderson... how had the moron ever completed his forensics degree? Sherlock had been tempted to delete everything about the man but then how would he complain about him?)
The fourth time Lestrade called him.
Sherlock had been only slightly stoned that time and it had gone unnoticed, though Lestrade had frowned at him more times than in their previous encounters. The case also involved a trip to the morgue at St. Bart's and a subsequent introduction to a Miss Molly Hooper who Sherlock immediately classified as useful, if a bit tedious.
Sherlock made quite a number of trips to St. Bart's after that for research, shamelessly making use of Molly's access.
None of this was enough to starve off the boredom for more than a short period of time.
So Sherlock kept using the cocaine.
And kept using.
And found it wasn't quite enough.
It was five weeks into a lull between cases when Lestrade found him overdosed on his own couch. Sherlock woke up in a hospital with Mycroft frowning at him disapprovingly and with an ultimatum from Lestrade: get clean or no more cases.
Sherlock couldn't care less about Mycroft's disapproval, but he did care about the cases. The ones that Lestrade brought to him were, by and large, bigger and more interesting than the ones he could find on his own.
Getting clean was hideously painful. But it did come with one upside: Sherlock took up his never-quite-finished study on emotional scabbing again. Apparently people are more apt to attempt to ignore you if you are a recovering addict no matter how vicious you are.
His first case after getting clean was for a Mrs. Martha Hudson. An interesting one, thank god, which involved ensuring that Mrs. Hudson's brute of a husband landed on death row in Florida. Sherlock found himself to be more than usually keen. He rather liked Mrs. Hudson and that was unusual enough to be remarkable. The case ended with Mrs. Hudson hugging him and making him promise to call her if he ever needed anything. Sherlock made noises of vague assurance and thought nothing more of it.
Until he got kicked out of his flat.
Really, what was the problem with landlords these days? A few small explosions and a body part or two and they go all to pieces?
And Mrs. Hudson did have that extra flat... but he couldn't quite afford it on his own. Not after Mycroft stomped down on his accounts after the 'overdose incident.'
Sherlock was still thinking over the problem when Mike Stamford stopped to chat one day.
And that was how Sherlock ended up meeting an ex army surgeon.
When Sherlock first laid eyes on John Watson he was intrigued. Here was something he hadn't gotten to deal with before. A new layer to add to his Ongoing Study on Human Psycho-Emotional Responses to Stressful Stimuli (ie: The Scabbing Effect). The man had a psychosomatic limp. An actual physical manifestation of human emotional scabbing. And PTSD on top of it.
And then, before Sherlock could even begin the process of ripping away the scab, the simple army man surprised him by declaring his deductions brilliant.
Sherlock, for the first time in ages, was caught wrong-footed by someone.
Then, after he'd fixed the psychosomatic limp (easy, so easy), he found himself laughing. Actually sharing laughter with this man. It was... enlightening. And vaguely disturbing. So he put the incident aside, continuing on with the case.
And what a case it was.
Everything, from the dead woman, to the cabbie, to the pills was magnificent. It was thrilling and interesting and to make it even better when Sherlock walked away it was with a new question.
The question of Moriarty.
Something new! Finally!
And, apparently, he had something else.
He had John. Who'd killed a man for him. Who could surprise him and make him laugh. Who giggled at a crime scene and agreed to Chinese after. And who apparently wasn't intimidated by Mycroft.
John Watson, who was completely normal and utterly abnormal at the same time.
Perhaps Sherlock could finally leave aside picking at people's scabs altogether.
Life was finally starting to get interesting.