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BBC Sherlock

Rating: 15 (pre-slash, references to self-harm and suicide)

Spoilers: all 3 episodes

Summary: for the Dorothy Parker fans among us, a riff on one of her poems

Sherlock had been 12 when Mycroft had accused him of being in love with death. That had been in reference to his collection of rat skulls, of course. And Sherlock had come up with a snappy comeback: 'I'm a sociopath, don't you remember? I don't know what love means", which had shut Mycroft up, at least temporarily. It hadn't, though, affected the fact that he was right.

Razors pain you

At 13, he had discovered cutting and it had been entirely accidental. He'd been unable to concentrate properly during the dissection, distracted by the pain in his head, the remembered voices that kept repeating 'gay weirdo, freak, idiot'. That was why his hand had slipped, and the scalpel had skidded into the base of his right thumb – maybe he shouldn't have been practising been ambidextrous while in that emotional state - and he'd seen the blood start to drift out from the neat, almost invisible cut. And then a few moments later, the physical pain flooded in, clearing his mind of all its confusions, its frantic turning in on itself, and leaving only the simple, basic message: that really, really hurts.

It had taken him months to learn the details of how and why cutting worked. In the pre-internet age, and with the media barely conscious of self-harm, it had been frustratingly difficult to gain access to the observations of others. He didn't, however, lack empirical data of his own. He quickly taught himself how to disinfect the knife, where to cut so it wouldn't be visible even in a short-sleeved T-shirt, and how to cut so he could claim, if necessary, that it had just been a freak accident. Even so, he though Mycroft knew something was up.

His parents, of course, would have been oblivious of anything short of him hacking one of his arms off with a machete. Which was probably why, he supposed, he'd ended up in the bathroom that night, running the bath into which he would step before carefully slashing both wrists – he'd known being ambidextrous would come in handy, one day.

Mycroft, though, had somehow been able to tell, and had started banging on the locked door. Sherlock could still remember their conversation:

"Sherlock, stop what you're doing right now!"

"I'm just having a bath."

"You've been reading about Petronius killing himself, haven't you? I found the volume of Tacitus open in your room. I am not going to let you do this, Sherlock."

"How are you going to stop me? I don't think you can break down the door, Mycroft, not in your shape."

"Maybe not, but I'm sure Mr Hodges could. But it would upset Mummy very much if the lock got broken, or the bathtub got stained. So you have one minute to open this door, Sherlock, or there will be serious consequences."


Mycroft had outwitted him, of course, after he'd reluctantly opened the bathroom door, by insisting so fervently that Sherlock had to have the bath anyhow, because otherwise it would be wasting hot water. Which meant that by the time Sherlock got back to his bedroom, Mycroft had already ransacked it and found all seventeen dangerously sharp objects.

"I'm not prepared to do this on a regular basis," Mycroft had said. "it's too much effort. You need help."

"I'm not going back to that psychotherapist," Sherlock had replied angrily. "And I don't think he'd have me back anyhow."

"No, and it would upset Mummy to have you sectioned or even under treatment again. I have a better idea."

Which was why, a week later, Sherlock was having 'additional science lessons' with Dr Hans van Rhijn, who had an unfortunate taste in red braces, but was not just a clinical psychiatrist, but also an extremely talented researcher. And, because Mycroft was good at things like that, just the right person for Sherlock. How could Sherlock not have warmed to, or at least enjoyed being with, a man who had announced at their first meeting:

"I don't care about your relationship with your parents, Sherlock, or if you once got your head pushed down a toilet. Cognitive behavioural therapy is about teaching you to give an accurate account of yourself and the world around you. So you need to learn to tell me what you observe about others' behaviour, not what you imagine about it."

Rivers are damp

At 16, since the CBT had worked, it hadn't been depression that had made the thought of dying young appealing, but poetry. Shelley drowning, of course; not even in his most ludicrously Romantic phases did Sherlock think dying of TB would be cool.

A slightly more realistic appraisal, however, made him realise that his options were limited. He was far too strong a swimmer to be able to drown himself at all easily – why had he tried to compete with Mycroft on that? What was worse, flinging himself in the Thames would probably end up with him either dying of some unglamorous infection, or else having his brains bashed out by a bridge, and it wouldn't be satisfying to be an ugly corpse.

But there was the exchange trip to Switzerland coming up, he could do it then, find somewhere picturesque. He could disappear mysteriously, his body never found, leaving only the traces of his footprints on the path down to the Alpine river to tell of where he had tragically fallen, jumped, been pushed to his doom.

It took him half of the trip, but he found the perfect place at last, the drama of the waterfall beating down, not just the smooth, swift river, but this exhilarating, ferocious violence. He'd looked at it, and looked at it...and then suddenly thought: now I've got a place at Cambridge, it would be a waste not to take it up.

Acids stain you

At 17 he'd gone up to Cambridge. Mycroft had appeared in his room on his second day at college, having somehow got the day off from the Foreign Office, or whatever dreary government job he was in now.

"I've been having a little talk with the Master about you, Sherlock," Mycroft announced.

"Didn't know you were...chummy with him."

"We know each other quite well. In fact he recruited me to my current post."

"Is there a point to this, Mycroft, other than name-dropping?"

"The point is that I persuaded him that given your unusual and cross-disciplinary scientific interests it would help your progress if you were given extra lab access, beyond what the first years normally have. He'll sort it out with the various faculties."

"That's...thank you, Mycroft." It was worth even the extreme smugness of Mycroft's smile for that.

"There is one condition, of course."

"I should have guessed. What have I got to do this time?"

"It's more what you're not to do. The condition for extra access is that there is absolutely no removal of hazardous substances from the laboratory. This college has survived intact for over 600 years, and the Master wants to keep that way. If you start keeping strange acids in your room, for example, or pharmaceuticals, or biohazards, or well, anything beyond some slightly off milk, I will find out, believe me. Now, have a good term and don't sign up to anything rash at Freshers' Fair."

And drugs cause cramp


At 18, he realised the limits of CBT. It was all very well ridding yourself of inaccurate perceptions about other people disliking you and finding you strange and creepy. That didn't help if your perceptions about other people disliking you and finding you strange and creepy were entirely accurate.

He'd made his plans carefully, and he knew no-one suspected. He wouldn't leave a note, that might upset Mummy, but he'd send a cryptic e-mail for Mycroft that would let him work out afterwards what had happened.

Except, of course, his e-mail wasn't cryptic enough, and Mycroft had descended on the flat he was sharing far too early. Sherlock had carefully hidden the pills though, and he was confident that even Mycroft couldn't find them easily.

Mycroft, irritatingly, didn't bother searching. He merely enquired of Sherlock's flatmates whether Sherlock had done anything out of character recently, and on hearing of Sherlock's trip to the supermarket, demanded the receipt, since he was, as he pointed out, helping subsidise Sherlock. Sherlock handed it over sulkily, hoping Mycroft wouldn't notice-

"Four packets of paracetamol," said Mycroft. "That's rather a lot of hangovers. I think I'd better take you to the nearest A&E department. Addenbrooke's, I suppose."

"I haven't taken them-"

"Yet," said Mycroft. "Which is why you need to talk to someone now, who will explain to you clearly what an overdose is actually like. Do you know how stomach pumping is carried out, Sherlock? You might also like to see the effects of organ failure. Though I think you might find being on dialysis for life a little boring."

Guns aren't lawful

At 21 he had got his firearms certificate. At 24, Lestrade had revoked it, the bastard. After he'd solved the Gloria Scott case for him, as well. Of course, the ending of that had got a bit messy...

"Sherlock, you may be a genius," Lestrade had said, "but that does not mean that you know anything at all about appropriate armed responses. Opening fire is always, always the last resort in a situation like that. It's a failure if a bullet is fired. But you could have got yourself killed, which would have been irritating, because you're obviously going to be useful to have around. And you could have got Donovan killed, which would have got you up on a charge of involuntary manslaughter at minimum."

Sherlock hadn't really recognised the toughness of Lestrade till that point; he might be stupid, he might not be able to see a clue when it was in front of his face, but he was surprisingly shrewd about people.

"Let me make this clear, Sherlock," Lestrade had continued. "Once you have lost your firearms certificate, it is illegal for you to have a gun in your possession. You're looking at a prison sentence if you're caught."


"I am able to obtain a search warrant if I have reasonable grounds for suspecting that you have a gun or any other illegal material in the property where you're currently living. Am I starting to get through to you, Sherlock?"

"You can search all you like, I'm clean now." Sherlock had said defiantly.

"The Met also have the right to stop and search you on the street for weapons, at any time, as part of our anti-terrorism activities."

"Do I look like a jihadist?"

"We don't just stop and search brown men with beards, we're not allowed to. If we stop and search you a few times it gets our racial quotas more balanced. Do you understand?"

"That you're an instrument of fascist repression?"

"Yes, and we can be quite an effective instrument, when we choose. Mind how you go."


At 34, therefore , he hadn't had a gun in his hand except at the shooting club for ten years. Which was why, one of the reasons why, he'd been so pleased when John had moved in. And he hadn't thought John would mind if he borrowed it now and then, didn't flatmates share stuff?

He hadn't expected John's fury after the events at the swimming pool, well not about the gun, as opposed to the getting them blown up aspect. The confrontation back at 221B, when they finally got there, had been brief, but it was still burned in his mind. John staring up at him, arms folded, eyes cold – how could such a physically insignificant man sometimes command  one's attention so? – and telling him, ordering him:

"Do not touch my gun again. Do you understand that? Hands off."

Sherlock was tempted to say that he'd saved both their lives as a result, but it wasn't strictly true. So he said nothing and just tried to imply it silently.

"Sherlock, if I can't trust you to leave my gun alone, I will have to get rid of it." John said at last. "And that would be seriously bad news, because sometimes you need someone behind you, watching your back, who's...a bit handy with a gun."

"I...I'll remember to keep my hands off in future," Sherlock said. "Your property, I mean." And even John had started laughing then.

Nooses give

At 12.35 that day, Mycroft had called, and his voice had been bland on the phone: "I must congratulate you on your work, Sherlock. A very significant piece of research on your part. You even made the pages of New Scientist, didn't you?"

I don't know what you're talking about," he'd replied cheerfully. "I haven't yet finished my paper on the identification of hash residues."

"I meant the one analysing the precise mechanisms of death in cases of suicide by hanging. Of course, it's just the Canadians named as the authors, but I can recognise your hand in some of the details, and even academic prose can't entirely conceal your writing style."

"I didn't know you read the Journal of Forensic Sciences."

"Sometimes I feel like a change from the FT. Are you doing any more research on that area at the moment?"

Gas smells awful

"There's a man at Bart's I've been helping out," Sherlock replied, "looking at the epidemiology of suicide and its relation to environmental changes. He wants to know if the congestion charge has made it harder for people in central London to sustain a carbon monoxide habit, now fewer of them have cars.  That reminds me: did I ever tell you what they found out about the gas explosion further up our street?"

"I heard it through other channels," said Mycroft. "The tenant who hadn't realised that domestic gas was no longer toxic, but was still flammable. Some people are so ignorant. Well, I must get off: I've got a select committee to mislead. Goodbye."

You might as well live

It was only several hours after Mycroft's call that Sherlock realised what had been odd about it. Mycroft hadn't been worried that he'd been researching hanging techniques. He hadn't even reminded Sherlock that he was currently under enhanced surveillance and not to do anything reckless. Somehow he had recognised the change in Sherlock, almost as soon as he himself had. That he wasn't even a little bit in love with death now, not since John.

He had presumed, at first, that John had shot the cabbie because he was a moral man and murderers needed to be stopped, even if they were just murdering idiots who would voluntarily swallow possible poison. But then there had been the time at the museum, when John hadn't stayed with Soo Lin, as an ordinary, moral man would, but come chasing after Sherlock to protect him. It wasn't then, humanity in general that John would kill or die to protect. More a few specific people.

And the pool, of course, had made Sherlock realise why. When he'd seen John in the bomb jacket, it hadn't just been a game anymore, like with the other targets, even the boy. He'd been terrified at what might happen to John, that there might be a world in which there was him and no John...

Or a world in which there was John and no him. If it hurt even him so much to face the death of a...friend, what could it be like for someone like John to see someone he cared for die? Someone normal like John who felt things, who had these strange, incomprehensible emotional ties to people, some people. It would hurt John unimaginably if Sherlock died, even he had deduced that now. And he did not want to hurt John...

It was ridiculous to have found that he really did want to keep on living when he'd chosen a profession that imperilled him, them, on such a regular basis. Probably a worse safety record than miners - Chinese miners. Although, obviously, there were as yet no definite statistics on the life-expectancy of consultant detectives, and their...colleagues. Maybe he could alter the data, keep going to a ripe old age. Or at least he, they, might manage to make it through to retirement.

Notes on Mycroft's reading (but I fear he believes in hacking paywalls on principle): http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20727754.300-macabre-details-of-suicide-hangings-revealed.html, http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1556-4029.2010.01435.x/abstract


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 2nd, 2010 04:28 pm (UTC)
this was a hard one to read because of the subject matter, but I loved what you were doing with the Dorothy Parker poem, and I find your account of S's mind very persuasive. loved also many details (Mycroft warning S not to sign up to anything stupid at the Freshers' Fair, for example).
Oct. 4th, 2010 09:35 pm (UTC)
I've got another fic coming up that has self-harm/suicide attempts in as well, but I'm trying to make sure that any references are not too detailed and don't glamourise such behaviour in any way. In fact, I feel I should maybe have a special icon for some of my fics, saying 'good mental health is sexy'.

There are also several more vignettes of Sherlock and Mycroft at university coming up, though they do slip in a disconcerting way between attending Oxford and Cambridge according to the needs of the particular story.

Oct. 4th, 2010 11:06 pm (UTC)
I like the sound of that icon! and I know what you mean about not glamourizing - a difficult line to walk.
will look forward to seeing the new fics.
Nov. 27th, 2010 10:51 pm (UTC)
This was so beautiful! :( The ending was very touching. Weird, though, when it was such a dark fic, but I loved it anyway. :) Thanks for sharing.
Aug. 6th, 2011 07:29 pm (UTC)
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )