The lift of his voice when he says, "That's incredible," and the way that makes you feel, as if you were an empty balloon suddenly buoyed up with heat and pride and you could fly -- delete
The smell of his tea in the morning, the sound of his throat clearing and his content sigh as he takes a sip, and the way that you, lying as still as the dead on the couch, feigning sleep, find your mouth watering for one too many reasons -- delete
The feel of his hand in yours when you pull him to his feet, the warmth and solidity of it, and you feel the callouses and lifelines as clearly as if they'd been imprinted onto your palm with a branding iron and you didn't even notice back then, did you, that you took off your glove before extending your hand to him -- delete
The shape of his lips as they frown at you in exasperation and fondness (was it? yes, it must have been), as they purse in frustration, as they stretch into a smile, as they're licked by his tongue and then by yours, as they open to form your name ("Sherlock, the brain in the pickle jar--" "--yes Sherlock, if you'd like me to come--" "Sssherlock, Christ, you feel so, fuck, more, mo--" "SHERLOCK, WATCH OUT!" "Sherlock, I love you, just wanted to say it once; hey, don't worry about me, you idiot, I love yo--") -- delete DELETE DELETE
SYSTEM REBOOT Y/N
Sherlock opens his eyes.
He is prostrate on a couch located in 221B Baker Street, London, and from the direction of the sunlight shining through the window, it is approximately 4 in the afternoon. He is uncertain of the exact date, but the last time he was conscious he remembers it being summer, June; the heat indicates that it still remains so. He is hungry, needs to empty his bladder, has a raw throat, has blood under his fingertips, his scalp tingles in thin lines (ah, that explains the blood), and there are a total of six nicotine patches on his forearms.
He doesn't have a headache, but his head feels hollow, buzzing with an emptiness that indicates that he recently may have suffered from a very large one.
Sherlock reaches out his hand, palm up, and waits.
Two minutes later, nothing has happened, and Sherlock turns to his stretched out arm with a curious gaze. What on earth is he even doing? He'd wanted his phone, yes, but had he expected that by putting out his hand, his mobile would magically just appear there, as if called? Ridiculous. He must have suffered from some kind of delirium in whatever sickness he'd just recovered from. Flu? Migraine? Poisoning (although there are no smells of vomit in the vicinity)?
He gets up and finds his phone on the ground, by the breakfast table, framed by seemingly hundreds of shards of broken cups and a smashed vase. There is a crack clear across the screen and Sherlock barely reins in his fury -- so he had been ill, that is no excuse to be throwing his tools around like a child having a tantrum. At least the phone is still working. The date is June 24. Sherlock has been out of commission for over 48 hours.
There are 25 new messages waiting for him, mostly from Mycroft and Lestrade. As Sherlock scrolls through them, the phone chimes with a new one.
I see that you're up. I will arrive in sixteen minutes.
Do not leave the flat.
It is a marked sign of how much the mystery illness has weakened Sherlock's physical and mental faculties that Sherlock complaintlessly follows Mycroft's instructions.
"Are we once again ready to participate in the chore of living, then," is what Mycroft says, once he lets himself in.
Sherlock has once again lain down on the couch, but has taken the time to peel off the old nicotine patches and has applied two new ones. The heels of his hands are grinding into his eye sockets so he can't see Mycroft's insufferable expression -- not that Sherlock needs to. Mycroft's repertoire of faces has always been astonishingly low.
"Are you aware of how long you've been unconscious?" Mycroft asks, sighing.
"I'm sure if I wasn't, you'd promptly inform me," Sherlock says.
"Just over two and a half days, as a matter of fact."
"I'm sure it must have been, for your brain to go offline for so long. You have always been so dramatic, Sherlock--"
"All this dithering about, Mycroft, I would think you--"
"--although I suppose in this case, needs must."
Sherlock removes his hands and opens his eyes.
"Not illness, then." he murmurs. He knew it. Illness wouldn't account for nearly half his symptoms. It had to be trauma of some kind (directly applied to the head?) -- a concussion, likely, although strange that Sherlock's head isn't in much pain. Still, something must have happened. Something big, something that caused his brain to overload. Sherlock turns his head, interested.
Mycroft's face is a picture perfect example of confusion. "Illness?" he asks, frowning. "Sherlock. If this is some kind of game that you're playing, rest assured that I have neither the patience nor the sympathy for it. Not this time."
"Tell me what happened," Sherlock demands, sitting up.
Mycroft's eyebrows rise, then lower, just slightly. "What is the last thing you remember, before you blacked out?"
Sherlock had, of course, asked that question himself long ago. In the sixteen minutes that it took for Mycroft to get here, he thinks he's finally managed to formulate an answer, disjointed though it is.
"I remember water, and the sound of rapids, staring down a cliff, a fight, and someone falling," Sherlock says. "I'm assuming that I'll recall more soon, as I recover."
"Do you remember who fell?" asks Mycroft, words very soft.
"Moriarty," Sherlock announces triumphantly. His voice cracks as he lips stretch out in what he thinks must be the most vicious grin he has ever given in his life. "He's dead."
For a long, long moment, almost a full minute, Mycroft remains silent. Eventually, he says, "You are correct," sounding, of all things, very sad. He continues, "Have you deduced how you got home and your condition that preceded the return?"
"I'm working on it," Sherlock snaps, Mycroft, always so pushy. It had taken so much effort just to remember Moriarty's name. "I haven't had time to look thoroughly around the flat yet."
"You haven't," Mycroft repeats, not so much a question. Sherlock would accuse him of patronizing him, if he didn't already know that Mycroft needn’t bother faking emotion to patronize Sherlock.
"I've been -- occupied."
"With what? You've never let physical limitations stop you from investigations before."
"With--" Sherlock stops. "I--" Again, he stops. His throat is not working. He forces out a breath, but no sound escapes him save for a pinched, wet grunt.
Mycroft says nothing, but walks closer, holding out a white handkerchief in front of Sherlock's clenched fists.
"Here," he says gently. "Wipe your eyes."
Against Sherlock's better judgement, nature, and all laws of logic, he allows Mycroft to talk him into staying with him until Sherlock's brain regains its equilibrium and control of Sherlock's traitorous body. The situation is unprecedented -- Sherlock out of sorts (he refuses to use the term "confused"), and Mycroft kind. Worse, his so-called brother insists on keeping information from Sherlock, citing that Sherlock's health would recover at a more manageable pace if Sherlock filled in the missing gaps of his memory by himself. Sherlock couldn't even put into words how little he appreciated that gesture -- as if "more manageable" was somehow something to aim for.
The doctor that Mycroft arranges for is horrid at his job. His grip is too stiff, his fingers too cold, and he wipes antiseptic across Sherlock's scalp as if he were sanding a wall. Sherlock can barely stomach being touched on the best of days, and it feels like this strange man is leaving a trail of oily fingerprints on every part of Sherlock he peruses. It feels wrong. Sherlock's skin is crawling by the time the examination ends, but at least he is pronounced in relatively adequate shape, physically. No signs of concussion, although there were some bruises on his neck -- interesting.
Sherlock forces himself to eat, bathe, and lie down in the extravagantly large bed in Mycroft's guest bedroom. He takes a deep breath (even the air smells smug here) and closes his eyes.
He loses track of time, thinking, but when he once again becomes aware of his surroundings, Sherlock has managed to piece together his puzzle that was previously in disarray.
Moriarty had found him in Switzerland, followed him to Reichenbach Falls, and there had been a confrontation. The fight was still a blur to Sherlock, but he had evidently escaped mostly unscathed, while Moriarty had fallen to his death over the cliff. Good riddance, Sherlock thought. Finally, after months locked in a metaphorical war with the other man, Sherlock had won. He'd won.
Curiously, there is no sense of victory from that thought, no rush of pride or accomplishment. There's no emotion at all. Which is fascinating on its own. He'd rid the world of a highly dangerous criminal, and while Sherlock had never been ruled much by morals, he'd thought that there would be some pleasure derived from "doing good," for once. Instead, what does Sherlock have? A secret-keeping brother and a confiscated phone.
None of this explains why Sherlock had passed out back at Baker Street.
Sherlock sleeps. He dreams of someone screaming his name, of windblown sandy brown hair, and a blood red smile. A single gunshot echoes between his ears, waking him. He automatically tries to grasp at those lingering scenes in his mind, but as he reaches out, they dissolve into nothing, and Sherlock opens his eyes to scorching sunlight.
"I presume that you know what happened to me, how I got back home," Sherlock states flatly, over breakfast.
"Of course," Mycroft says, adding a thick slab of butter to his toast.
"You brought me back from Switzerland," Sherlock says.
Mycroft's gaze darts up to his and return to his toast, quick as a flash. "Yes," he allows. "You were incapacitated."
"I'd blacked out there, then."
"But?" Sherlock asks impatiently, drumming his fingers on the table.
Mycroft takes a delicate bite of his bread. "Can an unconscious man lay waste to his own flat?"
Sherlock didn't think so either. Barring no other visitors during the hours of Sherlock's unconscious stint (highly improbable, surely Mycroft would have informed him if so), logic dictates that all the broken glass and torn books and general destruction of the living room at 221B -- it must have all been done by Sherlock's own hands. So. Awake when he got back, trashed the entire flat, and then passed out from -- exhaustion?
"Drugs?" Sherlock asks.
"None I'm aware of," Mycroft answers. "And certainly not while under my supervision."
Sherlock tsks in annoyance. "You must have been monitoring me. Did I look under the influence of anything?"
"Indeed," Mycroft says succinctly. "Very much so."
"What then? Just tell me already, I'm sick of this hemming and hawing."
"If you're feeling up to it, you may see the footage yourself," says Mycroft.
Sherlock does. And as he watches a silent image of himself topple chairs, rip books, throw down glassware, scream into the air, pull handfuls of hair into his own fists, he gets his answer.
Passion. Suffering. Loss. Significant loss.
He doesn't recognize this Sherlock. He's not sure he likes him.
Sherlock presses a few buttons on the computer keyboard, clicks the mouse. Deleted.
He suddenly feels very tired. At his elbow, a maid has placed a cup of tea, long since cooled. Sherlock takes a sip of it with a trembling hand and immediately pulls back, offended at the taste. Something entirely is missing, but he can't put his finger on what.
He catches the tail end of Mycroft's phone call later that afternoon. "Thank you, detective, good bye," he's saying as Sherlock storms into the room.
"That was Lestrade," Sherlock says. "Have you told him I'm to unwell for cases? You feed him lies like you feed yourself biscuits."
Mycroft's lips twitch downwards. "Quite the opposite on both counts. I was merely making arrangements."
"Surely not on my behalf," Sherlock snarls.
"Directly and indirectly, brother mine."
"Go straight to hell. I'm going back to Baker Street."
"Ah, how disappointing. I'll just call back Inspector Lestrade and tell him that you've changed your mind about taking the case he offered, then."
Sherlock whirls on his heel and leaves the room. "Get me a car!" he shouts back at Mycroft, unable to stand a single second of Mycroft's self-satisfied smile. Work, he chants to himself. Ideal. Work is just what Sherlock needs right now to get him out of this disagreeable, unclassifiable, unjustifiable mood.
He's wrong. Lestrade walks around him as if Sherlock's surrounded by mines, Anderson has been suspiciously and uncomfortably silent, and Donovan, impossibly, looks as if she is feeling sorry for Sherlock. It's disgustingly obvious that they're all tiptoeing around the same taboo subject, but even after Sherlock tells them, point blank, that Moriarty has been taken care of, the elephant in the room doesn't clear out.
Sherlock hates this fucking planet and every single human being infected upon it.
The dead bodies are an especially gruesome set, but Sherlock finds himself startled at his own apathy: the prospect of serial murders doesn't stir his heart the way that it should. He's unbalanced. He finds himself tipping to his right sporadically, for no discernable reason (both his feet are planted on the ground; he has no limp), and he even turns to that side without volition, and cannot help the sharp prick of shock each time he sees no one there.
Something's off. All Sherlock can think is wrong, wrong, wrong.
"Whatever it is you're keeping from me," Sherlock spits out, watching gleefully as Donovan visibly flinches, "tell me now before I force it out of you in ways that you will come to regret."
Anderson starts to open his mouth, but Lestrade cuts in. "It's nothing," he says quickly, and before Sherlock can call him out on his lie, adds, "We were just discussing that we should hire you on to find the rest of Moriarty's men. There's still a lot of work to be done, yet. And I think that it would give closu-- it would put a close to all this nasty business."
The thought of it sends a jolt of -- of something through Sherlock, and for a brief instant, it's as if his entire core has been lit on fire, and Sherlock is burning, from the inside out.
"Fine," Sherlock agrees, and waits until Lestrade looks away before he places a hand to his jack-hammering heart.
In his absence, 221B Baker Street has been cleaned. Swept out. Aired.
Mycroft's done it incorrectly. Surely there hadn't been this much empty space before? Everything looks so... asymmetric; his furniture is too small for the rooms, like trying to fill a fireplace with only a few twigs of wood. Other details: the gun that Sherlock must have used to shoot the smiley face on the wall is no longer in the flat, the door to the upstairs bedroom is locked, and Mrs Hudson had become instantly teary the instant she'd laid eyes on him. The latter two are likely irrelevant.
Sherlock lies down in his bed and stares up at his ceiling. On it, there are three crooked words shot out in angry bullet holes:
NOT WORTH IT
The disjointedness doesn't go away. Sherlock valiantly tries to ignore it by focusing solely on his work, but certain types of cases exacerbate the feeling (ones involving crack shots, ones involving cabs, ones involving pools). He finds himself frequently shaking out his arm, or checking his hands, or staring at himself in the mirror, just to ensure that all his limbs are still attached. News about astronomy sends Sherlock into a panic attack; seeing someone walk with a limp pulls him into week-long depressions. Sherlock grits his teeth and endures it all, though. It's only when he's miserable that he feels as if he's where he should be.
He begins to lose track of himself. He'll wake up in an alleyway, wearing a moth-bitten army jacket. He'll pick the lock to the second bedroom and bury himself under the cold blankets of the bed, nose to the sheets, searching desperately for a smell he has no idea of what. It's as if he's split into two jagged halves: his body, acting out impulses that have neither rhyme nor reason, and his brain, needing this behaviour to stop and yet still revelling in it, because it was painful in a way that made Sherlock feel more alive than crime scenes did, because it was harming him and there was a dark, dark spot deep in Sherlock's mind that cried, "You deserve this."
He downloads a James Bond movie out of boredom one day and is violently ill before it finishes.
There are recurring nightmares of Moriarty laughing, of their last fight, of Sherlock's name being screamed (in rage? no, fear, it sounded like fear), of an impact, of a gunshot, and of an all-consuming maelstrom that had overtaken Sherlock, causing his vision to blot out and lips to pull back and hands to clench like a vice on cold, colder flesh. In these dreams, Sherlock can feel the push of his palms on Moriarty's chest, pressure yielding as Moriarty tips, arcs, falls. Sherlock wakes from these dreams seeing blood on his hands, but he knows it not to be Moriarty's -- he hadn't bled at all.
The only thing he lives for these days is the promise of closing Moriarty's case. For this goal, Sherlock's energy is endless; it is his only oasis in a world of desert. Whether Sherlock can reach it before his sanity gives out is a question that often keeps him up at night, his fingers trailing up and down his skull, but attention on the secret panel in the wall that hides his Moroccan case.
He thinks it would be nice to die after the case is finished. It would be a relief, really. Sherlock would go happily. Anything to escape the screaming in his head, which has now become incessant.
It takes nearly three years to catch everyone, and when Sebastian Moran is apprehended (alive, even), Sherlock gives Lestrade his statement, lies about his health, and heads straight home, mind intent on oblivion, waiting for him in a neat line on his coffee table.
The items on the coffee table are no longer there by the time he gets back. Instead, sitting on his couch, is a complete stranger who is holding onto a cane with trembling hands.
"You're such an idiot," the stranger says. He sounds very tired, his voice hoarse and low, as if he has become used to not speaking.
"Who are you?" Sherlock demands. "How did you get in here?"
The stranger removes his shaggy hat, his large overcoat. "It's just me," he says softly, and something in his eyes sings to Sherlock.
"And I'm supposed to know you?"
The stranger purses his lips. "Of course you do, you arse. My beard doesn't make me look that different, does it? Or are you just doing this because you're bloody pissed at me? I don't blame you, you know. I'd be yelling at you if our situations were reversed. But at least like this, you understand why I had to do it, yeah?"
He might as well be talking gibberish. Sherlock puts his hands in his pockets and feels around for his switchknife. He's learned to carry it around after one too many close calls courtesy of Moriarty's confederates, and he hates using it, depending on it, but right now, it's a cause of comfort.
"Sherlock, sit down please. I'm making tea, if you'll have a cup."
Yes, Sherlock can hear the kettle boiling, but only in his periphery. All of his senses have narrowed down onto the man on the couch, tracking every movement, every breath the man takes. Thin Caucasian male, around 5 foot 7, military background (sits with his back ramrod straight, belying he worn slump of his shoulders), old and sturdy clothing (used to travel), trimmed beard with greying hairs (stress, age, dye? thick eye bags -- stress), tan lines around his neck (recently flew in from warm climates), unsteady hands and cane (PTSD plus old war injury), notable bump on lower back, under jacket (handgun).
"What is it that you want?" Sherlock asks. The man had come directly after Moran's arrest, come into Sherlock's home, cleaned up his drugs, and had waited for him. Had started making tea. Sherlock had thought Moran had been the last one. Damn, damn, damn. "If you've come to kill me then I'd advise you to get on with it, I'm incredibly busy at the moment."
The stranger blinks at him uncomprehendingly. He gets to his feet and lumbers over to Sherlock, brown eyes squinted in worry. "Actually, uh. I wanted to take you out to Angelo's in congratulations of the closed case, but maybe you're not quite up for it after all? Sherlock, Jesus, hey--" he dashes forward the last few steps, and catches Sherlock right as Sherlock's knees buckle and collapse.
Sherlock's knees had given out as soon as he noticed the heavy limp in the man's right leg.
Sherlock remains motionless as the man leans closer; his hand is very steady as it strokes across Sherlock's face.
"You're even more beautiful than I let myself remember," the man whispers.
Sherlock hisses, "Who the fuck are you?"
"It's John," the man says urgently, squeezing Sherlock's shoulders. "It's John, Sherlock. I'm not dead. I'm alive, I'm here."
"John who," Sherlock nearly shouts, and reads the stranger's dawning expression of horror like a slap in the face. "John who?"
"So he's deleted me, is what you're saying. Wiped me from his brain? Just like that?" There's a short, pained laugh. "Bloody incredible. Astounding, when you think about it."
"I understand that you must be feeling hurt and overwhelmed, Dr. Watson--" Mycroft's voice is placating.
"Hurt? Hurt and overwhelmed? You've got to be joking, that's the least of what I'm feeling right now, coming back all these years later and he doesn't even remember who I am!"
"If you would care to realize the reasons why he would feel it necessary to delete you, I'm sure you would be a little more sympathetic--"
"He tried to knife me, Mycroft."
Sherlock sluggishly opens his eyes. Couch, 221B Baker Street, mysterious individual, Mycroft, headache. "You were about to slam my head against the wall," he slurs out.
"Oh, for-- you fainted, Sherlock," replies that man, not missing a beat. He appears over Sherlock and picks up his wrist, measuring his pulse. "I was trying to keep your head up. Hold still." Sherlock holds as the man (John, he'd said) trails fingers around Sherlock's head, down Sherlock's jaw, then stretches opens Sherlock’s eyelids to check his pupils. Sherlock shivers when John (the man) pulls away.
"You are a liar because I don't faint," is what he says when he can manage his voice better. "Also, you're a liar because I don't delete people, just like that, not unless it was an absolutely dire situation with no other recourse, and such a situation would never befall me because I do not take partners in that capac--" his words dry up in his throat, because this man, John, is looking at him, looking at Sherlock with the saddest, most heartbreaking expression Sherlock has ever witnessed in his entire life. He has the face of a hundred-year old seeing death for the first time.
The screaming in Sherlock's mind has stopped, replaced by a dull, muted sobbing.
"Well," interjects Mycroft. "I believe introductions are in order?"
John H. Watson, M.D., says that he used to be Sherlock's friend, before.
John Watson says that he used to live with Sherlock, here, in 221B Baker Street, before. That he would sometimes help Sherlock on cases, and that on the day after they'd met, he'd shot a serial-killer cabbie for Sherlock. That he was there, at Reichenbach. That he'd seen the metal gleam of Moriarty's gun before Sherlock had and had leapt in the path of the bullet. That Sherlock had thought he'd died, and had gone berserk, pushed Moriarty off the cliff, and had collapsed onto John's body afterwards, trying to stem the blood. That Sherlock had screamed like a madman once the paramedic helicopter arrived, and that his last sight of John's face must have been during the two and a half minutes when John had been legally dead.
That it was John's own decision, to go away, ferreting out every single one of Moriarty's men and funnelling them towards London, to Sherlock. Three years, it'd taken, and the day that John knew Sebastian Moran would be caught, he'd come back home. To Sherlock, he'd said.
Sherlock doesn't know if he believes any of this, but John tells him that it's okay. That it's fine, that he's sorry he'd hurt Sherlock so badly that he felt he had to resort to this. That he'll stick around for a bit, if Sherlock doesn't mind, because he can't afford to live in London by himself and there's already that second bedroom upstairs, and well, he is still on good terms with Mrs Hudson, even though she'd shrieked so loudly upon seeing him again. Sherlock agrees, and doesn't even protest when John's first action as Sherlock's roommate is to throw out Sherlock's drugs.
When Sherlock looks at John, his brain feels warm, as if it's metal alloy that has been melted, poured out, remoulded, and forged into a gleaming, faultless blade. Sometimes, it feels too much to handle, and Sherlock has to shut himself away in his room and take several hours trying to calm down his breathing. But when he emerges out again, John is still there, and it gets easier to take, every time. Sherlock doesn't know if it's a good thing, getting used to John, because the words shot into his ceiling serve as a warning, regret gleaned from past mistakes, and Sherlock admits that he is very afraid of repeating history.
But he’s not a stupid man, and only a fool would fail to notice how perfectly John fits himself into Sherlock's broken, pitiful life, pushing himself into the cracks and holding the pieces together so they form something whole and useful and worthwhile.
He still doesn't remember John, but he's learning new things all the time. Things like John's taste in jumpers, his need to constantly have milk in the house, his disdain for Sherlock's liver experiments. Sherlock would not say he knows John, from any of this data, not like he apparently did in the past, but --
John Watson makes an achingly perfect cup of tea and smiles when Sherlock asks to borrow his phone.
Sherlock thinks that's enough to be going off of.
Once upon a time, Sherlock Holmes had known happiness, and had then proceeded to lose it. It is a dangerous thing, for a man of Sherlock's nature, to have happiness ripped from him. Imagine a bird finally learning to fly and then having his wings torn from him midair, leaving him to plummet down, down, down, hit the hard, icy earth, and then survive, of all things.
Would the bird ever be happy again, knowing that the sun was still up in the sky, and it now would never again be able to reach it?
Or would the bird keep his eyes to the ground, and try to forget that it had even known the sun at all? What use is having memories of flight, if thinking of it only brought feelings of anguish and futility? What does knowing height achieve other than to highlight the lowness of the ground?
But. If birds are born to fly, then they will always know how to fly. It's instinct: inerasable. That little bird can deny it ever had wings, but it cannot deny the holes in his skeleton where his wings used to be.
Sherlock Holmes might have deleted everything about Doctor John Watson from his hard drive, but hard drives can be backed up. Hard drives log everything that has ever been saved onto them, somewhere. If the information had existed, the traces of it can be found, lingering bytes of data that maybe, with enough skill and care, can be put back together again, in a way that might not be as good as the original, but nearly so.
How can a person forget his heart, after all? You need it to survive.
The day that John Watson cups Sherlock's face and covers Sherlock's quivering, smiling mouth with his own, is the day Sherlock remembers that this is not the first time this has happened.
RESTART FROM LAST SAVE Y/N
When they pull back from the kiss, they stare at each other; the light in John’s eyes shows that he is both thrilled and apprehensive.
"Was that all right?" he asks.
"John," Sherlock breathes, and thinks, Yes. Yes, this, yes. John, John. In that single, simple, glorious word is everything Sherlock has ever needed to know.