Mycroft was brilliant! Six A-levels. Top in his class at Harrow. Going to Uni in a few months—Oxford! Sherlock was going to be just like him when he grew up.
Mycroft always read the paper, so Sherlock did, too. He read every newspaper he could find.
Which was why he took a taxi to New Scotland Yard and demanded to speak to a detective inspector. He eventually settled for a sergeant.
"Carl Powers, sir. I read about it in the Evening Standard."
"Young kid? Swimmer?"
"I read it too, son, but it wasn't in our jurisdiction. It wasn't even a suspicious death."
"But it was, sir. They didn't find his trainers, did they?"
"So he must have been murdered."
"That doesn't seem to foll-"
"It's not a non-sequitur!"
"It does follow, sir."
"Well, tell me how."
Sherlock had his evidence, but he didn't have enough knowledge to interpret it yet. If he had, the sergeant might have listened to him!
Maybe that was why Mycroft had said "Knowledge is power"?
Sherlock was determined to fill his head with as much knowledge as it could hold.
In his continuing quest for knowledge, Sherlock decided to take seven A-levels—Ancient Greek, Latin, Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics, English literature, and Music—as well, of course, as educating himself on the side. His most recent personal study (for obvious practical reasons) was memory:
"The average human memory in visual matters is only 62% accurate…"
The statistics were all rather depressing. But then, he was not an average human. He studied every mnemonic aid in the books to help him revise—he even invented a few himself.
He went to Mycroft, who must have known all the tricks, considering his success. But when he listed off his methods of revision, Mycroft just stared.
"That sounds like a lot of work."
"Of course it is. You should know."
"No, I don't. I never revised for any of my exams."
"I studied during the term, attended lectures, and asked some of the chaps in the years ahead of me what the exam was really like. But I didn't need to revise. Surely you don't either?"
Mycroft was a prat.
He was twenty-five when he first realized that he needed to delete.
He'd been sitting in the lab, searching his memory for the chemical that matched the readout he was getting on the IR Spec, but when he finally narrowed it down to one, up popped unbidden...
"Yeah, a real creep. Smart alec, too."
"You know the other day he saw Seb and Mandy in the library and asked Mandy if she didn't mind that Seb was seeing Alice on the side."
"Did he really? What a freak! Too bad he doesn't seem to notice that everyone hates him. Wasted observational skills, eh?"
"Well, I always assumed he noticed but didn't care."
Victor had been right and wrong.
On the one hand, he hadn't noticed that everyone hated him. Naturally, Seb was angry, but Sherlock had assumed that Mandy was grateful. He had also assumed that he and Victor were friends in light of the amount of time they spent revising Chemistry together.
But on the other hand, Victor was absolutely right. He didn't care then, and he didn't care now. And yet that memory took up space in his brain.
What if one day he remembered this insignificant conversation, but forgot how a phenyl group looked on the IR? There had to be a limit to his memory. It was like a hard drive—it would fill up eventually if he wasn't careful.
So… a systematic deletion of…
…pointless personal interactions
It wasn't too hard to delete them. And once he had, it was much, much easier to access the important facts of chemistry, biology, human psychology, history of crime, and London-specific geology and geography.
He could not be the world's only private detective, but he would be the best.
He'd been hired for another private detective job.
Sometimes he wondered if spying on desperate housewives and men in midlife crises wasn't worse than lying in bed staring at the mottled ceiling of his run down flat. But then a particularly clever unfaithful spouse might provide his brain with a few moments of relief… even if there were very few deceptions he hadn't seen after his twenty-sixth (twenty-seventh? twenty-eighth?) adultery case.
Besides, bills had to be paid. Mycroft kept tantalizing him with interesting little problems. But he refused to live at the whims of his arch-enemy. And he knew full well that his brother's offerings were barbed with the reminder that he could be doing something more… respectable.
It had taken Sherlock less than an hour to work out that Rebecca Eames-Fitzwilliam was carrying on an affair with her gardener, but Charles Fitzwilliam wanted photographic evidence.
Sherlock could blend into any setting, so he got his pictures at the pub in short order. Once he had, he decided he needed a drink… If his mind was going to waste away, he could at least dull the pain with alcohol…
When Russell clapped him on the back and said "SHERLOCK!" it was too late to escape into the quiet of his own brain…
…and when he led him to a table of others from his college—Martin, Andrew, Seb, and Jack, all looking quite smart (if rather tipsy) in their business suits—he couldn't help but interpret their cheerfulness as false bravado when he recalled that (no-longer-deleted?) memory of them all hating him again. He wondered why he put on an equally false exterior and joined them. Maybe the two pints he'd already had?
He may or may not have said something about that un-deleted memory before the soused company parted for the night. Frankly, he couldn't remember anything the next morning.
That evening found him clientless, but back at the bar.
The first time it happened he'd been trying to collate data on Moriarty. He was sifting through the facts of the serial killer cabbie's case—Hope's motivations, everything he'd said about Sherlock's "fan" before revealing the name "Moriarty," the moment Sherlock realized who had shot him…and then…
"One order of beef chow mein, one order of prawn fried rice, a bowl of won ton soup, three spring rolls, and you're having…?"
"Kung Po chicken."
"Thanks… You ordered a lot."
"Haven't eaten in three days. And this is good Chinese."
"That's not healthy."
"Thank you, doctor. But I've done this all my life."
"You must have driven your mum mad."
"Yes, I suppose it's more common to have only one, but not a single one would stay long, no matter how much compensation my father offered."
"Should've hired Mary Poppins…"
"Nothing… They must've hated you."
"A few stayed long enough to fear me. But I was an undersized boy with far too much curly brown hair. No woman in her right mind could truly hate me."
John's giggle was as contagious as it was frequent.
He was ten minutes into the recollection of his and John's first tentative steps towards friendship before he remembered that he had entirely forgotten about Moriarty.
The second time, he was he was filling a pipette with methyl green to stain a sample of Dendrobates azureus muscle tissue, when suddenly he heard a Watsonian caterwaul in his mind's ear:
"All that sweet green icing flowing dooooooooooooooooown."
If he'd ever known the full song that came from, he'd deleted it during one of his bi-monthly disk cleanups.
Unfortunately he had somehow forgotten to delete "musical travesties that emanate from the bathroom when John Watson is showering."
And he couldn't concentrate because his memory (or likely John himself) never played to the end of the bloody song, and his brain kept cycling back to "someone left the cake out in the rain"…
The third time he was distracted by personal memories, it was partially intentional. His body demanded more sleep than he would allow, and when he was on a stake-out, its demands became… importunate. He would recite chemical formulae, mathematical sequences, taxonomies of bacteria, digits of pi—anything to distract him from sleep, but not from his quarry.
The rain poured down on him as he crouched next to the door from which Ted Flaherty—known to Londoners as a hotelier but to Sherlock as a pimp and murderer—would emerge in less than an hour. He had not slept in three days. Pi was no longer enough to silence his absurd body. So instead he brought up a case during which he had been warm and dry, sitting at a bar, observing as John attempted to chat up the suspect:
"So, can I buy you a drink?"
"Sure. I'm not promising anything, though."
John's cue to try far too hard…
"You know… I… I'm an actor. I could get you into film."
"Mr. Gable? Familiar name… You don't think I've heard that one before?"
"Well, I really am an actor."
"And what have you acted in?"
"You, Mr.… Gable… are a sad little man if you think that a preposterous story like that is likely to get my attention."
Sherlock's cue to step in…
"Is he boring you, Ms.…?"
"You can call me Jo. And you are?"
"Jim Davenport. Why don't we leave this little… GP, I'm guessing…? Thought as much… and dance."
"I'd love to."
John had been livid when he learned that Sherlock had planned for him to fail spectacularly, so that he could sweep John aside before sweeping the target off her feet.
Sherlock was so busy chuckling at the memory of John's (two hundred and eighty-seventh) threat to knock him senseless that he didn't hear Flaherty until he walked out the door. Sherlock was able to catch him anyway, but he decided that during future stake-outs he would confine himself to pi.
One slip would have been fine—John was his only friend, after all.
Two might have been annoying, but he would have coped.
But three constituted a pattern. Something had to be done.
He could not control his memories, so his only recourse was deletion.
If only he could delete the memories that clearly fell into the category of "pointless personal interaction" without getting caught up in them…
…like John's face when he forced him to play his gay boyfriend in Disneyland… or John's face all twelve times he lost embarrassingly badly at Scrabble… or John's face the last time they played Monopoly (why was he smiling?)…
… or… he wanted to delete the Bond Marathon… and the Star Wars Marathon… and the six Rocky films. (Fortunately, John never commented on the fact that his Rambo DVDs were warped. Sherlock flattered himself that they looked very much as if they had been stored too close to the radiator.) But he had an intense fear that if he deleted these movies, he would be found out, and forced to suffer through them again.
And then there was the fact that John himself was involved. John was the one who dealt with hysterical women (and men) when necessary. John was the one who was surprisingly ferocious in hand to hand combat. John was the one who could be prevailed upon to do… almost anything, from making tea, to pretending to be blind, deaf, and mute so that Sherlock could speak with the director of a special care home whom he suspected of embezzling thousands of pounds. John, conveniently, had military obedience instilled in him by ten years as a career soldier, and was remarkably transparent and easy to manipulate. Sherlock was certain he'd discovered almost all his weaknesses.
Most importantly, though, John appreciated him for the genius he was. Not many people did.
He strongly suspected that deleting all of these memories would annoy John quite a bit more than usual. And it would be very inconvenient if John were at some point not to be around.
Besides, if he did delete them, they'd only be reinstated… but as John's own far less accurate, maudlin, beer-induced romanticizations.
He couldn't delete these memories. He'd just have to defragment his hard drive.
He had done everything he could be reasonably expected to do. He'd argued rationally when John came to ask him to be his best man:
"She's boring! You can't want to spend your life with someone that boring."
"Now, Sherlock, that's not very fair, considering how you first met her."
"Sarah survived your first date! That makes her alive, not interesting… And why would she want to marry you anyway? You're… boring… and can't seem to hold down a job… even when your girlfriend-turned-fiancée is your boss."
"She's too boring for me and I'm too boring for her?"
"What is this really about, Sherlock?"
"Nothing. I just don't think that you should marry Sarah."
"Well, I think I should."
"John, if you don't want to have anything to do with me, then say so. I have never forced my company on you or anyone. You are welcome to leave whenever you like. But don't expect me to aid or abet your excuses when the reality is that you feel threatened by and begrudge me my natural talents."
John had left the flat for a few hours. When he'd come back, Sherlock had refused to acknowledge him at all. But after a day or two, he'd sent a text:
"Handford and Smithson Tailoring—Mention my name. Can't have you worse dressed than your best man. -SH"
And he had been a good best man. With his help, John had arrived at the church on time. He had remembered the rings. Granted, he'd run off for a case mid-ceremony, and taken the rings with him, but he had come back before the reception was over, and John and Sarah had put them on while he made the traditionally humiliating best man's speech. He'd even danced with Sarah—and hadn't stepped on her dress, which was more than could be said of her new husband.
But where had it got him?
John and Sarah had gone off to Bermuda for three weeks. John "forgot" his mobile phone, physically disconnected the landline in their hotel suite, and did not check—or at least did not respond to—his email in all that time.
When they came back, John made rules that Sherlock was not allowed to call or text after certain times. That Sherlock was not allowed to barge into the Watsons' flat, much less their bedroom, at any time, no matter the reason. And that John's work hours were now sacred.
This, Sherlock thought, was incredibly selfish. He didn't see how John and Sarah could expect him to accept their dinner invitations, or how John could expect to be allowed to stop by Baker Street whenever Sarah was working late, if Sherlock did not have the same rights. He was not some toy to be picked up when wanted and then thrown aside.
After several ignored invitations and several more rebuffed visits, John gave up. Which just went to show how selfish he was. And now he lingered as an irksome memory—the ghost of an expectation that perhaps today Sherlock would hear the familiar tread on the stairs and the clatter of the lid of the teakettle as John filled it with water.
There was only one recourse, and that was to delete John Watson completely.
Naturally, that selfish individual wouldn't even give Sherlock his memories. When it came down to it, John—somehow—wouldn't allow him to delete the moment when he first handed Sherlock his phone.
He grudgingly partitioned his hard drive and put John in the secondary partition. If he needed memory space at some point, he would know what to erase first.
Sherlock recounted the stack of five Christmas dinner invitations he had impaled on the mantle, before adding a sixth. That made it the sixth year in a row in which he'd received a handwritten invitation from the Watsons, the fifth year in a row in which John had not been bothered to call him about the dinner, and the fourth in which John had not even sent a text.
It was also the sixth year in a row in which Sherlock hadn't deigned an answer.
The morning of December 25th dawned foggy and snow-less. Sherlock considered his options for the sixth Christmas Day he would spend entirely alone.
He would not go out for Christmas dinner, as he and John used to do after their first year's disastrous attempt to cook their own in the dangerously overcrowded kitchen of 221B. The other people in the restaurants on this day were always so hideously cheerful.
After Mummy died, Mycroft never mentioned Christmas dinner. (Sherlock wished he could have deleted the holiday as his brother seemed to have done.) So, eating with family was out.
He could make his own Christmas dinner in the kitchen downstairs. (Mrs. Hudson had sold him 221 Baker Street when she moved in with her son and daughter-in-law in Clapham.) He often cooked elaborate meals to stave off boredom now, so he had a pantry, freezer, and refrigerator stocked with non-poisonous foodstuffs. But then, preparing one dinner could only take so much time—no matter how complicated it was.
If he made his own dinner, then, he would waste another December 25th on crap telly, food, and no drugs. (He had given them up for good—even thrown out the syringe—because he feared they would damage his brain permanently. Not because of the stray undeleted memory of a face torn between pain, anger, and disappointment when its owner caught him with needle in hand.)
His Christmas Day was going to be unbelieveably boring.
Perhaps John had suffered enough for his selfish behavior? Sherlock didn't have to hold a grudge forever—not if he didn't want to.
All things considered, forgiving John was the least of several evils. He would go to the Watsons' flat for dinner.
He put on his coat, walked outside, and flagged down a taxi.
Sherlock supposed he'd also have to remove the partition from his hard drive on his way over. He and the Watsons would need something to talk about.
Sherlock chuckled to himself as he flipped through the channels. The last time he had done it, John had yelled:
"Sherlock! That's not your remote! You don't even like telly! And I want to watch the match."
"So why can't I watch the match and you go… take a walk. Find some more insects to examine. Solve the mystery of my missing socks!"
"Your missing socks are all under your bed. This experiment is much more interesting."
"How many times can this 'experiment' entertain you?"
"How many times can this sport entertain you?"
"Well… each match is different…"
"… Couldn't you play on your computer? There is plenty of crap telly there, and you can scroll through the internet sites more quickly than you can here."
"This is much more interesting."
"I'll take it from you—I'm stronger than you are."
"You always say that, but you've never proved it."
"If I take it from you, will you let me watch the match?"
"No. But I will tell you the score."
"Here on my phone… let's see… ah, yes! The Wasps made… Hey! Turning off your hearing aids isn't fair!"
"I'M NOT LISTENING. Give me the remote or turn the match back on!"
"Fine. I'm going to cook dinner. And the match is recorded. I just paused it."
John glared at Sherlock as he tossed the remote back across the room, and then he giggled.
When had that been? Yesterday? Two weeks ago? It was hard to date specific incidents of John-being-grumpy, because John was always grumpy. Especially when he didn't get any sleep.
"You were doing what?"
"Experiments in sleep deprivation."
"Do you have any idea how miserable I've… never mind. I'm sure you know exactly how miserable I was. And wrote it in one of your notebooks."
"Yes, I did, actually. But I need to repeat the experiment while you are aware that I'm doing it—to see how that affects my results."
"You think I'll volunteer for this?"
"Well, not 'volunteer' precisely. 'Accept my invitation' would be more accurate."
"I'll think about it."
"We start tomorrow, then."
"I said I'd… Why do I even bother?"
John had agreed, of course. But only after Sherlock promised to go to that Christmas party at Lestrade's…
Lestrade had said something to him once…
"Kid! Here is the deal: I'll ask you for help when I need it, if you ask me for help when you need it. Okay?"
He should have asked John what Lestrade had meant by that… but that had been before John. What had Lestrade meant? He never needed help. He hadn't needed help to prank Mycroft, and Mycroft was much older that he was.
Well… Roberts had helped a bit—just with the things that were too heavy. He occasionally did need help with things that were heavy. Like John.
When John had fallen out of his chair and started twitching, Sherlock had needed help. Because John was too heavy to carry. The man from the ambulance… Roberts? No. Roberts died years ago… He had helped to carry John to the ambulance. And the nurses helped to lift John up to eat, or to change his clothes. Maybe that's what Lestrade had meant…
Strange that there had been no orange blankets in the ambulance, though. Lestrade said they helped. John had said there weren't any orange blankets when Sarah was declared DOA after the accident.
He'd wondered then how John's hard drive worked that he'd felt the need to say that.
And now his hard drive was making him say the same thing. Odd.
But where was he? He was watching telly… Yes… He was watching telly for a reason. Some important reason that all these memories were obscuring. Some fact. What was it?
Most of the memories pointed to John, somehow. Something about John?
Oh! John was dead.
Hadn't he deleted that? Why did it keep coming back?
Think about something else.
The telly. Crap telly. John said it was dangerous getting him into crap telly. But that didn't stop John from watching loads of crap telly… watching crap telly with Mrs. Hudson… and with him.
Where was John? He usually yelled when Sherlock flipped through the channels like this…
Hard drive reformatting