Some musings on what it means to be a sociopath. Or not.
In the end, the case is disappointingly simple. Insurance fraud. Nothing more interesting than grubby financial gain. What a paltry reason to die; what a paltry reason to kill.
The tedium of it makes his head ache and he sits in Charing Cross Police Station with his eyes closed, head resting against the wall as he waits to sign the inevitable paperwork.
Reception is crowded, thick with people and their insignificant little problems. If they would all stop talking, it would be easier to breathe. But they don’t, and he’s overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of mundane concerns that slip out when they aren’t paying attention. The middle-aged accountant furious that his car has been stolen, hiding the daily devastation of his wife’s drinking; the boorish girl with the bruised face who won’t tell anyone that her brother’s the one who hit her – their lives are laid bare to him, whether he’s interested or not. And he’s not. Their dull, unremarkable existence suffocates him. How he despises them.
How he envies them.
“Freak, over here.”
He doesn’t move, holding his breath for a slow count of three before peeling open his eyes. Donovan leans against the counter, challenge in her cocked hip and cold eyes. But not much of a challenge. Nothing to interest him. Much to her disappointment, no doubt.
He gets up and walks over, saying nothing. Behind him, he senses John’s bristling anger and turns to caution him. Too late.
“You can’t keep calling him that.”
“No, I’m sorry, Sherlock, but she can’t.” Arms folded, he turns on Donovan. “He just solved this case, alright? He saved a woman’s life. So how about you leave off?”
Donovan smiles, an unpleasant expression. “Sticking up for your boyfriend? That’s nice.”
“He’s not—” John shakes his head. “Okay, fine. Whatever. I don’t know what your problem is, but—”
“I don’t have a problem.” She tosses her head, breaks eye contact. Liar, Sherlock thinks.
Apparently, John agrees. “Oh, yes you do. You—”
“John.” This time there’s enough warning in Sherlock’s voice to have an impact. John glares at him. “While I appreciate the sentiment,” Sherlock says, “I don’t need defending.”
“Then why do you let her do it?”
Ignoring him, he turns to Donovan. “Show me.”
She shoves the forms toward him, sullen and wary. She’s afraid John will discover her secret. And she’s right to worry, John probably will. The idea provokes half a smile and with a flourish he spins the forms the right way up and holds out his hand. “Pen.”
Someone obliges and he signs on the line. Four times. Because he’s bored, he chooses four different scripts; cursive, D’Nealian, italic, and, for fun, Sütterlin. Then he slaps the pen down on the counter. “Always a pleasure, Sergeant.”
Her smile is sarcastic. “Freak.”
John snorts but says nothing until they’re outside and walking toward the Strand. Then he wedges his hands into his coat pockets and says, “Well?”
Sherlock avoids the question, scanning the road for a taxi. “You’d think at this time of night—”
“No, tell me,” John insists. “Why do you let her talk to you like that?”
“Come on, John,” he sighs. “I know exactly where her mouth’s been. Do you really think I care what comes out of it?” He spies a cab, steps into the road and lifts his arm. The taxi cuts across traffic and pulls up. “Baker Street,” he says, getting in. “The Marylebone end.” Then to John, who’s still standing on the pavement, “Coming?”
John pretends to hesitate, then follows him. “You’re paying,” he says. “I’ve got an Oyster card.”
Sherlock smiles and settles back into the seat, sinking into his coat. Outside, the city lights fly past and he lets them blur in his vision until it’s just a glowing stream of amber. “Lang Lang is playing at the Festival Hall tomorrow night,” he says into the silence. “Tickets are like gold dust, but a man in the box office owes me a favour. If you’re interested, I could get us in.”
After a moment’s pause John says, “She thinks you’re a psychopath. She actually thinks you’re going to murder someone.”
His eyes don’t leave the night-dark city. “I know.”
“And that doesn’t bother you?”
“She also thinks you’re my boyfriend.” He glances over. “She’s not always right.”
John crowds into the corner of the seat, turning to face him. “Come on, she calls you a freak. Doesn’t it piss you off?”
“I’ve been called worse.”
With a flick of his fingers, he dismisses the inconvenient subject. He doesn’t want to think about Sally Donovan, it makes him feel uncomfortable.
But John’s like a dog with a bone. He leans closer, head cocked in disbelief. “Hang on, what was that? Was that guilt I just saw?”
Sherlock fixes him with a long look, the kind of look that sends police officers scrambling for cover. John doesn’t even flinch. In fact his eyes are sparkling. “What did you do to her?” he says. “Were you two—?”
“No. At least…” He sighs, dramatically. “Oh, very well. If you must know. It was a case.”
“And I needed access. To certain restricted police evidence.”
“Which Donovan could get her hands on?”
Sherlock casts a speculative glance at his friend. It’s really far too tedious to explain. But John’s waiting, expectant, and Sherlock recognises his dogged expression. He won’t give this up. So instead of explaining, which is boring, he abruptly seizes John’s hand. “Forgive me,” he says, looking deep into his eyes, lacing his voice with enough emotional resonance to convince. “I can’t help myself when I’m near you. Can’t you feel it? This chemistry we share. Oh, Sally, I’ve never felt anything like it, I—”
John snatches his hand back, shooting an embarrassed glance at the cabby. “Yeah, yeah, I get it.”
With a shrug, Sherlock settles himself back into the seat. “I saw the evidence,” he says. “But she’s never forgiven me.”
“Can’t imagine why not.”
“Huge ego, easily bruised.”
“No,” John says, arms folded across his chest, angry now. “That’s not it.”
His disapprobation is irritating, but more irritating still is the fact that Sherlock cares. He drums his fingers on the seat next to him. “I’ve disappointed you again.”
“You can’t use people like that, Sherlock. You can’t go around manipulating people’s feelings. It’s wrong.”
“Is it?” It’s a genuine question, but John doesn’t answer. “I solved the case,” Sherlock points out. “Particularly nasty kidnapping of a four year old boy.” He slides a look at John, but he’s glaring at the back of the cabby’s head. “They found him alive. Wouldn’t have done, if I hadn’t taken matters into my own hands. He’d be dead.”
“You could’ve asked Lestrade.”
“I did. He couldn’t help.”
John shakes his head, turns to him at last. “Don’t you even care that you hurt her?”
“No.” He holds John’s look with his own, unflinching. “Sociopath, remember?”
“Hmm,” John growls and turns to stare out of the window.
The traffic on Regent Street has slowed to a crawl and Sherlock toys with the idea of getting out and walking. It feels oppressive in the taxi. He feels exposed and he doesn’t like it. John has no right to judge him, no right to dig into matters of conscience that he neatly closed off years ago. It’s so much easier this way. Easier to work, easier to live. John should know better than to question him. But that ‘Hmmm’ hangs in the air between them until Sherlock can’t bear it. He’s forced to snap, “What?”
John glances over. “What…?”
“Hmmm,” Sherlock says. “What does ‘hmmm’ mean?”
“It means,” John says, with exaggerated patience, “all that stuff about you being a sociopath is a load of old bollocks.”
Sherlock rolls his eyes. “I am a sociopath, John.”
“No. You play a sociopath, Sherlock. You play one quite well.”
“I have a diagnosis.”
“Really? From Dr Google, was it?”
He looks away, too late. John’s already seen right through him – a talent Sherlock finds both disturbing and appealing. He’s never known anyone else who could do it.
John barks a laugh. “Yep. Thought so.”
“I’m perfectly capable of diagnosing—”
“No.” John shakes his head. “No you’re not. Sorry. Genius detective you might be, but a psychiatrist you are not.”
“Neither are you.” He sounds petulant, even to his own ears.
“Yes but, unlike you, I am a real doctor and I have studied psychology. At medical school, not on Wikipedia.”
Sherlock sinks deeper into his coat. “Go on, then.”
“Go on what?”
“You have your own diagnosis, I presume. So let’s hear it.”
John wipes at the condensation on the window, his fingers squeaking against the glass. “You really want to know?”
“I’m on tenterhooks.”
He can feel John shifting on the seat, turning away from the window. And his voice changes, it’s subtle but Sherlock notices. It’s his professional voice, that calm bedside manner he adopts with patients and crime victims. It’s infuriating. “I’ve met men like you before, you know. Socially isolated, unable to emotionally attach. Contemptuous. Obsessed with work, distrustful of women.” He hesitates. “Prone to substance abuse. The officer corps’ full of—”
“John, are you diagnosing me as upper class?”
He smiles. Sherlock can’t see it, but can hear it in his voice. “Boarding school from when? Eight?”
He hesitates. “Six. I was precocious.”
“Nice.” The cab inches forward and John sits back in his seat, satisfied. “I rest my case.”
Disappointed, Sherlock puffs out a sigh. “That’s it? Boarding school is your theory? Please, John, spare me your middleclass anxieties and try to come up with something marginally more interesting.”
“You’re a textbook case,” John says, ignoring the provocation. “And I bet you didn’t fit in there, either. I bet they called you a freak too.”
He sniffs and doesn’t answer; he hasn’t thought about that since he left and doesn’t intend to start.
“Much easier to bury yourself in your books, to detach and pretend you don’t care.”
“But I don’t care, John.”
The cab turns onto Wigmore Street and the traffic begins to move faster. John says, “And at some point there was probably a girl.”
“No there wasn’t.” The denial comes out too fast and he winces at the mistake.
“A boy then,” John amends. “Doesn’t matter. Someone got to you and you got burned.”
John falls silent and Sherlock knows what he’s thinking, what he’s about to realise. “Very good,” he says, hoping to interrupt John’s methodical joining of the dots. “Completely wrong, of course, but a good try. The truth is that—”
“Wait,” John holds up a hand. “Wait – that’s what he meant, isn’t it? That’s what,” he lowers his voice, glancing at the cabby, “he was talking about. You said something about not having a heart and he said, ‘We both know that isn’t true.’ He knows something, doesn’t he?”
Sherlock looks straight ahead, but denial is impossible; John’s far too incisive for that. “It doesn’t matter,” he lies.
“I think it does.” John draws closer, almost whispering. “What does he know, Sherlock? What does he know about you?”
Through the glass that separates him from the driver, he can see the man listening. He turned off the radio six minutes ago, his head is tilted slightly to the right as he tries to hear. He’s probably just a nosy London cabby, nothing more and nothing less. But maybe not.
“You realise,” Sherlock says, pointedly changing the subject, “that your diagnosis of class privilege doesn’t preclude sociopathic tendencies.”
John follows Sherlock’s gaze to the cabby and, of course, understands at once. “No,” he agrees mildly, “but guilt does.”
“That’s why you let Donovan call you a freak, because you feel guilty.”
Sherlock permits a small smile. “Believe that, if you like.”
“I will,” John says, glancing out of the window as the taxi pulls up to the curb.
“Nine pound fifty, mate,” the cabby says, looking back over his shoulder. He’s unexceptional, bar the scar at the corner of his left eye – childhood injury – and the suggestive fact that his hair has recently been cut, he’s wearing contacts for the first time, and his cheap leather jacket and earring are brand new. As is the phone on the dashboard. Sherlock sees nothing to indicate that the man has any connection to him, which is a meaningless observation given that he would make sure there was nothing to see.
He pulls a tenner from his wallet and hands it over, John is already resolutely standing on the pavement clutching his Oyster card like a talisman. “Keep the change,” Sherlock says as he steps out, waiting for the disgruntled snort from the cabby. When it comes he pauses, one foot on the pavement, and looks back. “Oh, and go home to your family, Mr. Brookes; the girl you’re going to meet tonight is planning to get you drunk and steal your wallet – and, probably, that phone you bought yesterday to hide her texts from your wife.” He smiles at the man’s dumfounded expression and gets out. “Have a nice evening.”
John is staring at him as he slams the cab door. “What was that?”
“The best tip he’ll get all night.”
John tries to scowl, but there’s laughter in his eyes and his lips twitch toward a smile. Together they watch as the taxi lurches away into traffic, narrowly missing a bus, and is swallowed by the city. “So go on then,” John says at last, digging out his key and turning to the front door. “What’s he got on you? What does he know?”
“Difficult to say, precisely,” Sherlock muses, as the hall light spills onto the pavement. It looks yellow and comforting. How odd.
“Something,” he allows. Then he smiles, sweeping past John and into the house. “Which is what makes it so exciting.”
Behind him the door closes and he waits for John to say it.
But he doesn’t. Instead, he says, “I know what it is. I know what Moriarty’s got on you.”
Halfway up the stairs, Sherlock turns and looks back down. John is leaning up against the front door and watching him with an indecipherable expression. If he were fanciful – which he never is – Sherlock might describe it as fond. “He knows,” John says, “that you’re not like him. That you’re not a freak, or a psychopath, or any of that. He knows you’re not capable of doing the things he does.”
“Then he knows my weakness.”
John shakes his head, pushing himself away from the door. “No. He knows you’ve got something he’ll never have.”
John brushes past him, heading up the stairs. “A friend,” he says. “Could come in handy.”
Sherlock doesn’t move, watching him until he reaches the landing. “He’ll use you against me. He already has, and he’ll do it again.”
John nods. “I know.” And for a moment their eyes meet and hold. There’s no angle to John Watson, no side; he’s exactly as he appears. Brave, honourable. Loyal. And a much better man than he. John jerks his head toward their flat. “I’ll put the kettle on, shall I?”
Sherlock lingers a moment on the stairs, listening to John’s footsteps above, to the slow roar of the kettle and the burble of the TV. Ordinary, he thinks. Dull.
He can’t explain why it makes him smile.
A/N: Thanks for reading my first dip into Sherlock fandom. I hope you liked it!
Regarding John’s diagnosis of boarding school as the root of Sherlock’s dysfunctional personality, the information came from a number of articles and sites, including Boarding School Survivors . They describe the psychological impact of boarding school on young children as including ‘difficulties in relationships and parenting, workaholism, inability to relax, isolation, being experienced as a bully, substance abuse, a sense of failure, as well as physical, sleep, and sexual problems’. Just my spin on it, but I thought many of those symptoms fitted Sherlock. And I think there’s little doubt that he and Mycroft were public school boys. ;)