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It took Sherlock two minutes, to find his phone.

Bad. Sloppy. Too long. Should've been able to track it faster.

But the room was pitch black, littered with sharp shards of broken lightbulb and splintered wood, and his head was all- stuffy. Dizzy and fluffy, like what a cloud looked like it would feel, while his hands felt like a cloud actually would; cold and wet and clammy.

When his hand finally curled around the sleek, smooth surface, buried in a puddle of his ruined coat coat, he picked up the both of them together, and went back to sit in the spreading puddle of blood.

He was still very cold, and it was still very warm.

A voice in his head wanted to call John Watson. It was a sequestered voice, one that was very neatly boxed away in a careful room of his mind palace; he shouldn't have been able to hear it at all, but the room was brand new and still fragile, it was speaking very, very loudly. Call John, it said. Call John, it said.

Please.

Sherlock scrolled through his mercifully uncracked screen, and clicked on the number for Scotland Yard.

The phone rang precisely four and a half times before it was answered. He'd woken him, but he was sleeping alone tonight. His wife was with the neighbor boy again. Their marriage was getting worse, if she was doing it while Lestrade was home. Divorce to be expected soon, and Lestrade knew it, was expecting it soon, was-

"Sherlock, it's bloody two AM; can this wait?"

Sherlock blinked, once. Pressed his hand down into the pool of blood.

That wasn't right. He was reporting a crime, not-. No, not good. No. He'd give Lestrade another go at getting it right.

"Hello, Detective Inspector."

"What-. Yeah, hello, Sherlock, what's the matter? What's going on?"

Sherlock's brow furrowed, again. Compared the words to what he knew procedure was. They rang close enough to true; must have, because the twist in his head loosened, the block that was suffocating his tongue, and he breathed and found that he could proceed on. "I've got a crime scene for you. It's the Florist. We were wrong about his pattern."

Oh, had they been wrong.

"Sherlock-" There, ah, there. He was awake, now. All of a sudden, the sleep was gone, evaporated like drops of water spilled in a steaming pan. It cracked sharp and wide-awake and urgent, and Sherlock's head cleared just a little more. "He struck again?! Are you sure? Sherlock, where are you?"

"I've said." Hadn't he? Hadn't he said that out loud? "The crime scene, Lestrade."

"But where- never mind that; Sherlock, are you okay? Is anyone hurt?"

Sherlock's mind stuttered a bit, at that. A record skipping, the needle jumping over a scratch. A glitch in the procedure.

No. Try again.

"I've said. The crime scene, Lestrade," he repeated. Word for word; that was important. "You'll have to trace my phone. Not quite sure of the address, I'm afraid." Another glitch, this one buried deeper in his Mind Palace, the same room that was chanting call John, call John.

Lestrade was quiet for another moment. Stupid, slow, average, incompetent Lestrade. Sherlock spread his hand in the blood wider, the heat leeching to cold. Blood chilled quickly. Perhaps an experiment would do. He was so cold. Why? It wasn't a cold night. He ought not be cold. Another glitch; Sherlock shook his head, dragging soaked wet fingers through his hair.

"Okay, Sherlock," Lestrade finally said. Proper detective inspector voice. Good; he was learning. "I've just got a trace started on your phone- it's your current address? But you didn't answer me before; is anyone hurt? Are you all right, Sherlock?!"

A third glitch. A glitch too many. He could feel them cracking at the safe box in his mind palace, brand new, this addition, and all the glitches were cracking the exterior, trying to get again. The pressure building from the inside out, trying to split a fissure, disintegrate and destroy. Lestrade, damn him, Lestrade.

No. Too many glitches.

He'd try again later.

"Yes, Lestrade," Sherlock said pleasantly into his phone, blinking to the darkness. "This address, please. It looks as if the murderer's next would-be victim got free and fought back. One injured, one dead."

Then he hung up, phone dropped back into his pockets and collar popped against the cold that came from the inside, and thought about warm, fluffy dogs, Mrs. Hudson's tea, and Baker Street, for the twenty-six minutes he knew the response would take.


It took twenty-seven.

Must have been traffic.

Flashing lights. Flashing sirens. Yelling, outside. Sherlock rolled his eyes. What if the murderer was still alive? Well, he was, in a sense. But what if the other was still alive? What sense would it make to announce police presence so prematurely?

(too much, too loud, stop it, stop it, stop it)

And then they were bursting inside, shouting some more, guns up, and oh, there was Lestrade. Stupid, slow, average, incompetent, dependable, steady, reliable, confident Lestrade. Sherlock obeyed the shouted instructions, holding his hands in the air to forestall any itchy trigger fingers, rolling his eyes skyward twice, though the voice in the back of his head screamed to cover his ears from all the noise. Too much sensory input, too much stimuli, too much- glitch, glitch, glitch-

"All clear! All clear!"

"He doesn't have a pulse- body's still warm-"

Warm? No. Stupid Donovan, stupid; the body wasn't warm. He was freezing. Stupid, stupid Donovan; she was always so stupid-

"Sherlock," and that was Lestrade, kneeling almost right in his face, not quite shouting, but almost to it. Wearing his Crime Scene Face. Pajama shirt underneath police jacket. His breath smelled like toothpaste. Shadows under his eyes. Hair stuck up on the left. "Hey, Sherlock, what the hell's going on-" he grabbed his still raised hands, starting to push them down.

He jerked to a halt.

And then, achingly-

He went bone white.

Another glitch.

Sherlock sighed. So incompetent. So slow. What was it like, to be someone so slow; in a head so quiet?

(screaming in his head, screaming, screaming, he could hear it all screaming)

"I told you on the phone," he explained, once again. Pulled his hand free to wipe at his hair, again, then hissed; his hair was so wet, why was it so wet? No rain, no leaking pipes, no water in the room- "The murderer tried to strike again. But the victim fought back, this time; he miscalculated. Fatally, clearly." He paused, allowing his face to arrange in a pleasant, joking smile. "Couldn't have happened to a nicer fellow."

Nobody - not one of the pale-faced, frozen crowd of officers- smiled back.

Sherlock wondered if the joke was a Bit Not Good, then, but didn't ask. John wasn't there to ask.

Lestrade shared a quiet look with Donovan. Wide-eyed, looking for confirmation, ashen and pale under the red and blue lights. Donovan, too. She hadn't even called him freak, yet. Perhaps she was tired. She'd spent the night with Anderson again. Anderson wasn't here, yet. Should've been glad for it, but in that moment, with Lestrade and Donovan staring at him and silent and pale, Sherlock found it only to be another glitch.

The glitches made his skin crawl.

There were paramedics, behind Lestrade. Good, that was good. He had said there was one injured. The victim would need medical attention. The victim had lost quite a lot of blood. Would require stitches, possibly a transfusion, and a blanket; looked to be going into shock. Possibly oxygen therapy, if hypovolemic shock did set in, and would need to be checked for a concussion; head wound, and-

The paramedics were walking to him.

A wire crossed, and something in his head howled.

"What are you doing? You're supposed to see to the victim. You're supposed to-"

Sherlock jolted.

He was standing. He was across the room., heart pounding violently and a cold sweat prickling the back of his neck and a panic crushed around his chest so tightly he had to choke to breathe. Back pressed to the wall, legs shaking, bloody hands curled to fists.

When did he get up?

They were all staring at him. The whole room, white-faced and wide-eyed, like a batch of terrified rabbits. Startled at best, frightened at worst. What had happened? What had he missed? What was-

No. Sherlock shook his head once, then shook it again, so vigorously the roar inside rattled with it. No, that didn't matter. None of that mattered. What mattered was erasing the glitch. "You're supposed to see the victim," he ordered again, pointing emphatically once. "There. Right there; don't you see? Idiots; must I do your jobs for you too?"

The group all stared between each other again. The paramedics, quiet and professional. Donovan, silent.

Lestrade looked almost ill.

Why weren't they moving? Why weren't they doing what he said?

Someone was panting. He could hear it. Who was panting? Why?

There was silence, again. Silence, and the dammed noisy, awful, stupid, screeching panting.

"Shut up!" he snapped at it, and it did.

Lestrade, finally, was the first to move.

His hands raised innocently, steps only but inches, as if he was trying to approach a spooked horse. Oh, but he was doing an awful job at it, because even Sherlock could see, he was scared.

If even I can see you're scared, you know you've really messed up.

"Sherlock," Lestrade ventured. Voice so soft, so careful; like a cushioned pillow thumping down onto his favorite sofa. "Where is the victim?"

What, was Scotland Yard even slower today than usual? Sherlock rolled his eyes once again. He really was going to have to do all their work for them, wasn't he? Not like that was any different than usual...

Once again, Sherlock pointed to the victim.

Lestrade continued to stare at him, blind, deaf, and dumb.

Sometimes, it really was so hard, being the only genius in the room.

"Oh, what is it?" Sherlock pointed harder; so the entire room had gone blind with Lestrade, now, was that it? "Why aren't any of you working yet?"

Why was Lestrade looking at him like that?

"...Okay, Sherlock." Lestrade's voice was a little odd, sounding, and the look on his face even odder, and Sherlock was left to simply stare in open befuddlement as the detective inspector began to creep closer, his hands still held out for him to see. "They- they're gonna get right on that. Let's sit down, though, mate, okay? Just you and me. Okay?"

Mate. Lestrade had never called him that before. Nobody had, in fact. Sherlock stared at him harder, the glitch catching, whirling, screaming in his ears. The panting was back. "Shut up," he hissed to it again, "will you shut up,", but Lestrade was slow and careful, and the wire trying to cross fought the one that remembered calling Lestrade's number because Lestrade was Safe, and when Lestrade gently gripped at his elbow, he was just careful enough for Sherlock to let him guide him to sitting down.

"Sherlock-" Lestrade started, then stopped. He licked his lips, then pressed a hand to his mouth. Why was he so pale? He looked like a rookie cop at his first crime scene. "Can you tell me where the victim was hurt?"

Oh. That. Yes. "Yes," he said, and smiled. Finally, a proper question! Proper procedure! Honestly, he'd been starting to think the whole world had lost its sanity except for him. "The killer got halfway through his ritual- you can see, by the amount of blood. Probably carved the flower tattoo on his chest, but hadn't made it to his back, yet. Then there was a struggle. The victim fought back. By the blood spatter, I'd surmise a head wound. Not severe, because the victim still managed to call the police afterward- but there's still no guarantee, of course, you know head wounds, tricky-"

Lestrade wasn't listening.

Lestrade moving.

Lestrade was reaching to open his coat.

A second wire crossed.

He'd break his neck. He'd break his hand first, then he'd go for the neck, break it with his bare hands with his knees pinning him down and he'd watch the light go out in his eyes. He'd break his neck.

Just like-

"-leave it! I'll leave it alone, I promise! Okay, Sherlock? Is that- Sherlock, you with me? Are you okay?"

The world gritted back to a stop, the warmth of fragile skin and thin bones under his hands vanished, and the crack of a neck came only in that little box that was firmly kept shut.

Lestrade was staring at him again. Lestrade's blood-smudged hands were raised in surrender, again. Lestrade looked ill or scared or both, again.

But wasn't trying to touch him, and the panting quieted.

"Yes?" Sherlock said, tilting his head. Then hacked and rasped, coughing out a wordless, guttural whine. His throat hurt; why did his throat hurt? "Of course I'm okay, Lestrade. Why do you keep asking that?"

The detective inspector strangled out a quiet, strange laugh, scratching the back of his head. "No- no reason," he fumbled, an obvious lie, and Sherlock wondered if his question has been a Bit Not Good.

His hair was dripping. Wet. Someone's chest hurt.

Panting, again.

He closed his eyes, thinking hard again about dogs, and, quite succinctly, he thought, told all the glitches to shut up.

By the look on Lestrade's face, there was a distinct possibility he said it out loud.

The world faded.


"...Dr. Watson, but that's twenty minutes further out than I was- we're in the bloody middle of no-"

Scarlet and sound bled inwards as water swirling down a drain, and once again, Sherlock could breathe.

"John?" He tilted, turning, and opening oddly stinging eyes. It felt like he was pulling the waterworks for a case, but that was odd, because he didn't remember deciding to do that. Or closing his eyes at all, actually. "Is John coming?"

Lestrade sagged left with such poignant relief, he looked about to melt into a puddle of formless goo.

"C- Christ, Sherlock," he half-choked, and had to cover his mouth with a badly trembling hand. "Don't-" He muttered something into his walkie-talkie, ending whatever conversation he'd been had before, then pushed back around to face him fully, eye-to-eye. "Don't do that to me again, you bastard, I- I thought-"

"Do what?"

"You weren't answering me, you were just staring into space, I thought you'd gone into shock or-"

"Hm. No. Don't be ridiculous, Lestrade. I was just in my mind palace." He didn't remember choosing to go into it, but that was where he had been, and more to the point- "Did you say John is coming, Lestrade?"

The detective inspector looked worse than before. A thin sheen of sweat on his forehead, and lines of stress deepening in his face all over. He looked aggravated, too, like he wanted to say something else, but something fragile in him seemed to give and with it, so did every last resistance that he had. "Yeah. He is. I called him on the way here. Just on a gut feeling... I thought you'd sounded a little off. Lucky I did," he muttered, and Sherlock didn't know what that last bit meant, but it wasn't pressing, because John was coming, and he was tired, so he let it go.

John was coming.

One less glitch.

Sherlock blinked, again. There was a blanket around him. That was new. Orange. Cotton. Thick. A wire connected. "Why do I have this?" He glared at Lestrade, pulling at the corner, but didn't cast it away, like last time. "I'm not in shock."

Lestrade gave him that strange look, again. The one that was unsettled and sad, and that Sherlock couldn't translate. He didn't like it. "Whether you're in shock or not, you look bloody freezing, Sherlock; keep the damn blanket."

A rare accurate deduction, from Scotland Yard.

Perhaps they weren't completely hopeless, after all.

He kept the blanket.

It was blessedly quiet, for a few more moments. Still the flashing lights, and Sherlock probably should've shut his eyes, to block out the unnecessary stimuli, but- no. No. Even with his back safely to the wall, even with Lestrade next to him, no. No shutting his eyes. Not yet.

Not yet, not yet.

Too much.

Too much.

"Hey, Sherlock?"

Ah.

Glitch.

Lestrade sounded kind. Patient. Gentle.

It made Sherlock need to snap something in half.

"Sherlock, you want to listen to some music? Just until John gets here?"

Another wire crossed. But this time, it crossed right.

It was a glitch, of course. Music at a crime scene? Lestrade didn't like that. Sherlock, really, didn't like it. It didn't help him focus, it distracted him. It ate up half his trains of thoughts as he analyzed chord structure, melody lines, theme development, because he just couldn't block it out to turn it off. But Lestrade wasn't letting him examine the crime scene, right now, and Sherlock really would protest but his legs felt numb and his head felt empty and the details of the room were already screaming in his head and wouldn't shut up.

Distraction.

Yes, god bless Lestrade, distraction.

He swiped the offered phone without sparing a second glance. Took one look at his music app, rolled his eyes, and closed it. Youtube instead.

"Here you go, Sherlock. I'll get you if we need you; for now, you can just listen with my-"

Sherlock pressed play, and the delicate strains of Mozart's violin concerto no. 3 blasted from absolutely dreadful phone speakers. Butchered to pieces, and Sherlock still knew every note.

"...headphones," Lestrade finished, miserably forlorn, and Sherlock let himself indulge in just one faint smirk as he already tuned him out.

Lestrade faded, just as his resignation faded, most curiously, into fondness.

Strange.

The hand offering headphones disappeared; then, just as swiftly, came back. First holding a water bottle, then a packet of crackers. Sherlock didn't like crackers. His head was empty and dizzy; perhaps a blood sugar crash, when was the last time he'd eaten-? He'd take chocolate. He knew Lestrade had some. Narrowing his eyes, Sherlock snatched the water away with one hand, the crinkle and swish and noise under his fist comforting, and knocked the crackers away with the other to delve into Lestrade's jacket pocket.

"What are you- oh, Christ, Sherlock... fine. No, it's fine." The detective inspector held his hands up, and was smiling, too, for some reason putting up with the blasting music and the stolen chocolate in one; he was smiling, as if Sherlock was a very good dog who had just done a very good trick. "As long as you actually eat it and don't just fiddle with it."

Well, that wasn't a glitch, at least- Lestrade was always trying to get him to eat something- but it was just such a minor piece of right in so much wrongness. Lestrade was acting incorrectly, and Sherlock didn't like it, and, once again, realized it was going to him to make the damn police follow their own procedures.

"What's your name?" he asked, and swallowed. Hazelnut chocolate. Disgusting. And, Lestrade was on a diet.

"...Sherlock..."

He groaned in his throat, rolling his eyes. "First name," he clarified, sighing, because Lestrade honestly looked as if he was about to have a stroke at the thought that Sherlock didn't recognize him. "G...raham?"

Exasperation sliced through then, the strain Lestrade's eyes fading to the longest of sufferings, and Sherlock felt his mouth twitch against a grin again. Sliced. Odd choice of words.

"Are you serious. Actually, actually serious? You really don't know my name?"

He shrugged. "Of course." The bottle trembled in his hand, and he stared at it instead, watching the waver the water made as it waved in his grip. He was shaking. Cold? No... "I delete your first name. Unimportant."

"Oh, but you remember Sally's."

"Of course." Sherlock started to raise the bottle, but his hand just would not stop shaking and- and- "I need a name by which to refer to her by, do I not?"

"But then why does she get a first name and I don't? She bloody hates you, Sherlock!"

Honestly, could the police be any stupider? Any stupider at all? God. So tedious.

So, so tedious.

Sherlock inhaled deeply, tasting something not hazelnut or chocolate or water but that rang faintly like copper, instead, and began.

"I remember your last name because it is easier to get in contact with you in that manner. If I ever require your assistance but do not have access to you yourself, then Detective Inspector G. Lestrade will get me much further than Detective Inspector... Gavin." He shook his head vigorously again, clearing the cobwebs, the glitches, the screaming. Wrong note, there. Out of tune. "Since, in the event that I require your assistance, such as tonight, it will likely be time sensitive, I saved only the name that would allow me to find you the quickest: Lestrade."

Lestrade was staring at him, again.

His expression didn't quite make sense.

Panic wrenched tighter around his chest, a suffocating, breathless panic, and Sherlock found himself ducking his head to stare at his phone rather than have to accept another glitch, gritting against the splintering box in his head.

"That's..." Lestrade coughed, his voice oddly thick, then snuffled, clearing his throat and steadying it all in one. "I think I should be touched."

Touched? It was a statement of fact. What was there to be touched about? Well, if he said so. "Hm." The concerto screamed on in his ears, and his hands were still shaking, so he took another bite instead of another drink.

Where was John?

Lestrade moved again, looking like he wanted to fidget with the blanket or smoke or something with his hands. Fortunately for him, he settled on not touching Sherlock. The music strained louder and Sherlock cursed under his breath, thumbing shakily for the volume button; couldn't it get louder? He needed it louder, needed it to block out everything else, needed it screaming until there was nothing else in the world, his hair was wet, why was it wet

"Wait a moment." Lestrade leaned forwards, still not touching, not touching. "Then why's my first name important now?"

Sherlock closed his eyes, breathing deep, and counted up to ten.

On six, another wire snapped, and this time, the connection broke with a burst of white-hot sparks that burned in his chest and set off a screaming in his head.

"Idiot. Idiot! Don't you see?! You're not following proper procedure!" And his hands were shaking but he laid it out with them anyway, because the stupid, incompetent police clearly needed him to and Sherlock needed this, he needed the constancy, he needed the familiar pattern, and they weren't fucking giving it to him. "You introduce yourself as Detective Inspector Lestrade in all professional contexts except when you are interviewing victims of a crime. You want to maintain formality and proper titles but not with victims of a crime; with them you want to establish a sense of intimacy and familiarity. You think it's comforting, somehow, so you introduce yourself as First Name, hello, I'm a detective inspector. Personally, I think it's ridiculous, first name or last name, it makes no difference, but what would I know, I'm a high-functioning sociopath. Although I feel a bit low-functioning at the moment; why is my hair wet, Lestrade, why is my-" He stared at his fingers, dragged through his sopping wet hair, and another glitch reverberated so violently inside him he threw his head back and shouted.

He poured the rest of the water, down over his own head.

Lestrade shouted something again. But Sherlock-

Ah, Sherlock was freezing, Sherlock was soaked from head to toe, now, Sherlock was dripping wet and red, but Sherlock was at last smiling, because the blood had now been washed away.

He'd cleaned the glitch.

"Fucking hell, Sherlock, why- why would you do that?! Sherlock-"

Lestrade was touching him, again. Yanking the bottle away, empty and useless, pulling at the blanket, taking his pulse. But he wasn't trying to remove his coat, and he knew why his hair was wet, now, so this time, it was okay. This time, Sherlock could let him.

He did wish Lestrade wouldn't bitch quite so loudly, but he could let him.

There was more fumbling. More fidgeting. Lestrade was shrugging off his own uniform jacket, yanking away Sherlock's blanket, now wet in patches and thoroughly ruined. Sherlock felt it vanish around his shoulders only for Lestrade's police jacket to replace it, and then the orange folds were back, rubbing gentle and warm at his sopping wet hair. "Sherlock," Lestrade groaned again, but the exasperation was tempered by something else, something high-pitched like fear, and Sherlock had to stop listening then before the crack in his box split wider.

Glitch. Glitch. Glitch.

Glitch.


John was there.

Ah, John.

Lovely, dependable John.

The cracks in his mind palace got a little smaller.

John was there, looking strangely, looking pale, looking odd. Like Lestrade. John was there, staring at him from across the room, approaching neat, precise steps, but slow, careful. He'd been sleeping, like Lestrade. Hadn't fully dressed. Hadn't slept well. Had told Mrs. Hudson where he was going before he'd left. John was there.

Sherlock smiled. One of his big, practiced ones, the one that was charming and made Molly blush and even Mrs. Hudson soften. "Took you long enough," he said, and waved the chocolate bar in hello.

John got paler.

Soon, John was all the way there. Kneeling across from him, a careful meter back, just like Lestrade; afraid to get too close. Oh, come on. He may've been a sociopath, but he wouldn't bite. Wait. Sherlock swished around his mouth, curling his tongue against the backs of his teeth. Bitter. Copper. He spat, then smiled again.

So, maybe he did bite.

But he wouldn't bite John.

"Sherlock?" His name came out quiet and warm. Like a sticky bandaid, plastered to his skin over a skinned knee. "Sherlock, you're hurt. Can I take a look?"

A nail twisted down inside his chest so deeply that he felt it in his stomach.

John was glitching, too.

He wanted to scream, wanted to break his neck, too, wanted to break the whole room until it was right, again. But somehow all that came out was one vigorous shake of his head, so hard the floor tilted and John blurred sickeningly into three. "I'm not hurt."

Even with the room tilting, and even with John now three blurred typecasts of himself and Lestrade two, he saw the look they shared between them.

"I'm not hurt," he snarled again, and in the back of his head, he could hear the sound of a neck breaking.

Water drip-dropped. Police lights flashed. Mozart played.

"Can I check to make sure?" John asked next, and-

Oh, lovely, dependable, silly John. There was no need to check. Sherlock was sure. There was no need to check. But that wasn't a glitch, that was John being careful, and John was a careful, good doctor, and it wasn't a glitch, so Sherlock gave a put-upon sigh, rolling his eyes, and, "Fine," he said, he meant to say that, but what came after it was, "please," and-

He.

He really hadn't meant to say that.

Sherlock swallowed bile.

Now the glitch is in you.

John, if possible, looked even paler, now. He was not relieved. He was not at ease. He was not a confident, steady doctor.

He looked frightened.

But, like the very good doctor that he was, he still pushed forward on steady feet with even steadier hands, and began.

Taking his pulse. A furrow at his brow. Feeling his temperature, hand to forehead. (Sherlock smiled proudly; he said, "I know why it's wet, John," but Lestrade looked so disturbed and John, so silent, he thought that was a Bit Not Good, so then he left it alone).

"When was the last time you ate?"

Sherlock waved the half-eaten chocolate bar, the chocolate bar he knew John had already seen. Another eye roll. That question didn't deserve a response, even if it did make John scowl.

"So. Borderline nothing in since dinner yesterday, got it. Does your head hurt?"

Glitch.

Nod.

"Dizzy, at all? Light-headed?"

"Of course I am. I haven't eaten."

"Did you lose consciousness at all, Sherlock?"

Shake.

"Are the sirens or lights bothering you?"

Nod.

"Any more than usual, I mean?"

Pause.

Nod.

"Nauseous?"

Shake.

A penlight appeared in John's hands, and Sherlock barely had time to blink before it had sang straight into his eyes. "Name? Current year? Birthday?"

"Sherlock Holmes, 2011, I'm not telling you, you had pasta for dinner and threw out my hand from the fridge, I don't have a concussion, stop wasting your time."

John all but tripped on a sudden, meager grin, the cold wrongness swept from his face by something familiar, and Sherlock had just enough time to breathe before the shadows were back, and the light vanished for John to sit back with a shuddering sigh. "No, you don't," he said, tugging a hand through his short hair. "Small miracles, huh?"

"No such thing as."

John rolled his eyes again, smiling still. But something was wrong. It wasn't his Sherlock-antics smile.

It was strained. Tight.

Not quite a glitch.

But not quite right, either.

The shaking sickness was closing back around his chest, again.

"Sherlock," John said, and stopped. "Sherlock."

"John~," Sherlock sang, and grinned. "John."

"You... god. Okay. Sherlock. Listen." Lots of one word sentences, but John was moving in closer, now, the words weighing with a careful gravity that suggested there was to be something more. "There's a lot of blood. Will you let me see under your coat? Just a little? Just to make sure that's not where it's coming from?"

Another screeching halt.

He panted- he was the one panting, wasn't he? Yes. That was him. It was coming from him. Shut up. Screeching in a second breath, mouth open, but no words came out.

John tried again. "Next time you play your violin at three in the morning, I won't even complain; promise. I'll. I'll clean it for you, I'll- I'll-" And oh, god, John looked honestly like he was about to cry.

Glitchglitchglitchglitchglitch

GLITCHGLITCHGLITCHGLITCHGLITCH

He tried to say don't you touch my violin. But he opened his mouth and what came out was, "Okay," a whisper, a pathetic, cracking whisper, and the cracks split wider but this time, he wasn't sure he should stop them.

What didn't come out was help me, John.

Oh, god, John, help me.

Slowly, inch by inch, like Sherlock was a sleeping infant who'd be set off screaming with one tiny wrong move, John and Lestrade came for him again. The looks on their faces made him sick, and all but against his own will, his eyes shut.

He was being moved, then. Careful. Sleeves being helped off his shoulders; smaller, steadier hands on his right, John, rougher, trembling ones on his left. Lestrade. Something choked in his throat, screaming, howling, and he knew his eyes were watering, but that made John make a small, desperate noise, and all Sherlock knew was that it had to stop.

His coat was pulled away.

Panting. Panting. Faster, faster. Panting.

"Son of a bitch. Son of a- son of a bitch, I'll kill him, I'll-"

"Greg." Hands on his shoulders, small and warm, bracing him even as he was laid down, supported, careful. "Sherlock, you're doing really well, but I need you to breathe, okay? There you go. Listen to me, you're okay, you're safe, now, we just need to take a quick look. Tell me if you want me to stop, Sherlock."

I am breathing, I know I'm safe, I know I'm okay, John, why wouldn't I be? I'm fine. I'm fine, I'm fine, John, everything's fine, why are you looking at me like that, stoplookingatme

John was touching him again. It was John's hands. Brushing feather-light along his chest, latex-gloved fingertips drifting. He apologized every time Sherlock twitched, voice restrained and choked and shaking, so he stopped twitching.

He was angry.

He could hear it.

John was mad.

The world drifted again.

His coat came back, sooner or later. Wasn't sure. The time kept slipping between his fingers like loose sand, pillowing at his feet, in his ears. "-job, Sherlock; you did good," John was murmuring, one hand doing up the buttons on his coat, the other, bewilderingly, stroking wet hair out of his face. "Sherlock, I'm going to talk to Greg for a moment. Just. Just rest. Please. Just rest. I'll be back before you know it."

Greg. Lestrade. Yes, that was his name. Greg.

Sherlock quietly locked Lestrade away, scratching it through with a line he'd erase later. Today, it was Greg. Greg.

The phone clacked closer to his ear, pushed neatly for Mozart to sing around him. Fingers trailed along his shoulder, and then, John was gone.

Sherlock kept his eyes closed, and listened.

"Greg, he needs to go to a hospital. Right now, he needs to go. You shouldn't have waited for me. He needs help now."

"But... but, what if-"

"No. He needs a blood transfusion, he's going into shock, and I am not comfortable stitching wounds that large in this dirty an environment. I am not taking him anywhere except a hospital."

Ah, so they were finally talking about treating the victim. Good, good. Taken them long enough.

"But he's upset, John, I'm worried that-"

"He's not upset, he's completely disassociated! Did you talk to him?! That level of depersonalization is not normal! I-" John blew out a great breath of air, one that scraped at the edges of Sherlock's head. "Just now, I tried stretching one of the cuts. I was testing his pain response; Greg, he did nothing. He didn't even feel it. He's clinging so tightly to this, this delusion, that it happened to someone else, he can't even feel pain. That's not normal, Greg, and I know, I know, Sherlock's not normal, but this isn't right."

"And you think a hospital will help?! That it won't make this worse than it already is?!"

Silence. Mozart. Panting.

Heart, pounding.

Pounding.

I'm in shock, a dazed voice whispered, you're in shock, Sherlock, Sherlocked, Shershocked, and he didn't realize he wasn't actually screaming until he panted in again and the sound didn't stop.

"I think he tried... I think he maybe tried to delete it. But it didn't work, not all the way, and now- fuck. God. Greg, call Mycroft. Please."

Brother mine, you're slow today. Brother mine, you're missing it. What are you missing, Sherlock, what are you missing?

"Are you sure?"

"Yes. Sherlock will hate it, but Mycroft understands how his head works and I- I don't. I just don't. He'll be able to provide some insight, but right now, Greg, no matter what, Sherlock needs to get to a hospital. The ambulance doesn't have the materials to safely treat him here."

Silence. Mozart. Panting.

Brother mine, brother mine, you're a pretty one, you're my prettiest yet, pretty like a girl...

John was back. Sherlock knew it before he said it; before he touched him. "Sherlock," John said- was saying his name, a lot, repeating it in that pained attempt at gentle, "We're going. We'll help you stand. Come on." Ah, interesting, yes; not giving him a choice, not asking if he wanted to go or stay, just we're going, and now Greg was on his other side, his hands being gripped, being pulled and tugged with huffs and puffs.

The world tilted and twirled and sang, his head as alarmingly empty as cotton candy and legs gone straight numb, and Sherlock toppled all the way down onto John's ridiculously diminutive height.

More shouting, Hands holding him tighter. John wheezing, "you're okay, come on, god, you're heavy," and Greg, "here we go, Sherlock, up you get," and the cracks were splitting wider and wider and when Sherlock opened his eyes the fissure snapped and the wires burned.

"No. No. We're not done yet. No!" He wrestled halfway free, glitchglitchglitch, wringing his hands to his own with a growl, flexed them, could feel bones snapping under his fingers. John and Greg approached, hands invasive, hands reaching, and Sherlock reeled back so violently he nearly toppled straight over onto his back. "I said no-"

"Sherlock-"

"We're not finished here, yet! I haven't looked at the crime scene!"

"You're not doing that, this time. We're going now, Sherlock-"

"No, I, I-"

"God, Sherlock, you've done enough, just let us help-"

"I said NO!"

The world blazed, and Sherlock's mind blazed with it.

"Here," he said, and his hand was steady when he pointed, because he was Sherlock Holmes and his hand was steady, god damn it. "Here, the murderer entered here. Of course he did, there's only one entrance; not even Scotland Yard is that stupid-"

"Sherlock-"

"-but the victim was awake. Here, you see, here, the struggle- we were right, he doesn't drug his victims, he takes them by brute force. This one was probably taller than him, but not too much, there was a particular struggle-" He toppled closer to the splintered doorframe, fingertips hovering along the smashed edges, the blood, the. Crack! "M-must've-" He blinked, vision gone blurry. His head hurt. "Must've-"

"Sherlock, stop-"

"-must've hit his head against the door, probably intentional, probably he was making too much noise, there could've been people nearby to hear; can't have that-"

Don't scream for me yet, pretty- we've only just begun!

Sherlock spun back around, still toppling on drunk feet, but his feet didn't matter, now, all that mattered was the Work, the Work. The answer was so close he could taste it in the mangled, dead body on the floor. "And while he was still dazed, the killer brought him over- here, yes. You see? Hands bound here," he pointed, "and here." Two unlocked cuffs, locked and tight against the jagged breaks of the broken pipe. Something clicked and shivered and shook, and his teeth gritted together like two rocks smashed against his head. " Separately, of course, he was smart- makes it all but impossible for the locks to be picked-" He jingled one of the dangling cuffs; so much blood, smeared all over, the cuff, the pipe, his wrist. "Yes, this was where he did most of the work, the blood spatter confirms it..."

His eyes were watering. Again. Sherlock sniffed irritably, then, on a whim, held out his hand to stare at it. Trembling. Trembling so badly it made the world under his feet tremble with it.

Ah, emotions. Troublesome things, weren't they? All physical, neurological responses; yes, even he got them- the adrenaline crash, yielding to tremors, and the severe chemical fluctuations and imbalances leading to watering eyes; such an irritant, so predictable, so-

"-here, they started here. He cut his clothes off like the others, see? Here they are. Honestly, Greg, not even you need me for this." He ducked and swiped, lifting up the red, tattered remains of a blue dress shirt and blazer, the even worse tatters of the slacks. They'd been cut a little, knife marks here, there, but they had not been cut. They had been torn off with the savagery of a wild animal. A missing button. Split breast pocket. Blood- "Tailored suit, expensive brand... money is likely not a concern, for the victim. A professional of some kind, where appearance is important."

He wanted to stop. He knew the end destination to the train, and now he wanted to get off.

But he couldn't turn it off, couldn't make his brain shut off under Greg's horrified stare and John's sad, sad eyes, and his head blurred and screamed and cried as the box split open, and the entire world spilled out.

"He would've been gagged. If he was screaming at the door, he would still be screaming now, must have... ah, yes." He plucked a scarf from the floor; solid black, like the blazer, silk. Soaked with blood. His favorite. "Bite marks, here, here, and it's torn here- he was gagged with this. Test it," he ordered, throwing it to Greg, who stood there as ineffectual as a frozen lump and let it fall. Honestly. "You'll find DNA," and it was meant to come out mocking, but his voice cracked into a cough and then silence.

He tasted fabric and blood.

There you go, there you go... you can scream all that you like, now.

Sherlock's legs went numb, and carried him down to sit down against the table.

He couldn't see.

"The killer would've taken his time, now," he murmured, and sure hoped he was saying this out loud, because he didn't think he had the presence of mind to repeat it. "The killer would've. Taken his time. He likes his victims to react, we've seen that- he only kills them when they've stopped- there, if you look at his hand, the pattern on his knuckles. He would've slapped him. Would've started his pattern-" his throat closed and Sherlock coughed, choked, half-wept to get the lump out. "Excuse me. He would've started his pattern on the chest, like we've seen before. Takes his time. An- ahhh- a buttercup, this time. That's the design, yes. It's got more petals, you see, so he has more cuts to make; he's getting more confident, like serial killers do-"

Stop looking at me like that, John, stop, stop, please, stop it, I can't get through this if you don't stop

Oh, you're gorgeous now! You were pretty before, but now you're gorgeous

"-would've taken- hours? He takes his time, you see-" And there was that lump again, choking in the back of his throat. What was that; why did his eyes sting, why did his chest hurt? "He goes slowly. Too big a wound too quickly, too much blood loss, and he risks ending the game too early. No, no, he wants it to end when he says it ends."

John choked something, too. His name, perhaps. Sherlock didn't know. Sherlock wasn't listening.

The game was still on. He wanted the game to end, but it wasn't ending, and for the first time he didn't know how to end it.

"He dislocated his shoulder. Trying to get away- trying to to loosen the pipe's hold in the wall, if he couldn't pick the cuffs. So the killer popped it back in- medical training, just like we thought-"

Oh, that hurt, didn't it? You don't want to let me see, but right there, on your face- you're so expressive, darling, oh, don't tell anyone, but you're just my absolute favorite-

"Shut up," he smacked his face, "SHUT UP SHUTUP! SHUTUP!" smacking his own face once, twice, three times, smacking the voices out of existence, smacking his out of control train back into alignment, smack, stupid, slow Sherlock, SMACK- "-but he had to let him go at some point, th. th. though. For. For his back. Yes?" Sherlock mimed turning an invisible body over in midair; there was no body, but he could feel it, cold and slick with blood and bones snapped. "He had to unlock the cuffs just for a moment, to flip him. The other victims, they didn't know he'd do that, but this one did, oh, this one had prior knowledge- it's brilliant, yes? So brilliant-"

Stupid Sherlock, stupid Sherlock, you missed his pattern, you were blind and slow and stupid, stupid, stupid

"I said shut up!" He smacked again, but it didn't work this time, the voices were louder, and Greg's panic and John's damn staring was louder, he could hear them thinking at him and it stole the breath out of his lungs. His hands leapt, clawing to clap over his ears, pressing in desperately tight against his own skull. "He kicked him!" Sherlock kicked once, a violent spasm that radiating pain to his hip and cracked with the hard crunch of bone. "He would've kicked him, the killer's focus on his hands, so the victim kicks instead; orbital socket, fracture- very disabling, buys him time, t-time. Time to, to..."

Pretty boy, pretty boy, BAD BOY, BAD BOY, I'll gouge your eyes out, you piece of shit, we'll see how gorgeous you are with no eyes in that beautiful face, Sherlock, Sherlock, Sherlock...

"I said shut up!"

"Sherlock, Sherlock, stop!"

-Sherlock, Sherlock-

"He kept kicking. He had good leverage; couldn't scream, but could keep kicking until he bought just enough time- he used his feet again, forced the pipe free." He could see it happening, feel the scream in his shoulder, his chest, the back of his head, feel it the way his strongest deductions were so real. The pipe tearing free; sliding, clinking musical chimes free from the cuffs. Hands free. Hands spreading. Oh, god, he hurt all over, he needed to get out, needed to tear it open to sunlight. Could feel the heat of his neck filling under his hands, the wicked, hot-blooded rush of enjoyment as his eyes went dull and his fucking throat gave a sickening crunch, and Sherlock stabbed him with the same knife that had stabbed him and cut a sheaf of his hair, and-

"-I killed him."

The tight, glowing box buried deep in his palace went dark, and together, its four walls fell.

John?


It took five minutes, after the faint, for Greg and John to wrestle the babbling genius outside.

He'd thrown up twice, on the way. The second time, when John had clearly miscalculated, and thought his stomach had settled after the first.

The first, when Sherlock had swayed sideways like a drunk, swung a hand aloft, and proclaimed he'd found the victim's hair that the killer had cut off.

Greg- he regretted it, now, felt it right there in his gut- had left the doctor alone to handle the taller, collapsing mess. It hadn't been fair, no. It hadn't been right.

But in that moment, watching Sherlock heave into a pool of his own blood, silky brown curls matted with blood into the curve of his fist, all Greg had known was that he was going to hit something, and if he didn't want to risk scaring Sherlock worse with it, he'd had to get out of the that room.

He was okay, now. Would be. Quiet. Out of words, and out of panic with them, as if he'd been bled clean dry and left sitting an empty, trembling husk. Sitting curled over in the back of the ambulance, long legs dangling and a new orange blanket pulled around his shoulders as he shuddered and heaved, John rubbing circles into his back, telling him to calm down, to breathe, pressing an oxygen mask to his face. The whole of him was bone white except his reddening face, bruises just starting to form from the slaps of his own hand, underneath the wet plaster of his hair and those wet splatters that tracked down his face, too much water and tears and pink blood to even tell the difference.

The flaps of his coat waved back and forth in the wind, wavering to reveal a bare chest underneath, and there, just there, the jagged red curve of the petal of a buttercup.

Sherlock pushed a shivering hand, shivering so badly it was vibrating, knocking the mask free. "Terribly-" he coughed- "terribly sorry. Must've- eaten something that disagreed with me-"

He sobbed. John did, not Sherlock; John choked. John gasped, in a splintered, shaking voice, "Yes. Yes, Sherlock, of course," but his smile fell to shreds as he tugged closer and pulled the taller man's hunched curl against him, chin rested on top his hair. His eyes were silently wet, and his mouth silent even as his lips moved: Oh, Sherlock.

Greg had to turn his back, then.

Before he broke something else important.


It wasn't until after the ambulance had left, carrying a frantic John and sickeningly pliant Sherlock away, and taking Greg's stomach with it, that he realized that calling Mycroft was going to have to wait.

Sherlock had never let go of his phone.