AN: Based on a prompt I saw on instagram (possibly originating from tumbler) of Sherlock deleting John and neither one of them noticing until Mycroft happens to mention him. Hope this does what you had in mind justice guys :)
As usual, I own nothing.
Sherlock is uncomfortable.
Not physically of course, he doesn't pay much attention to his transport's minor concerns, but mentally. He has the niggling sensation that he has forgotten something important. And given that he gave his mind palace a spring clean just recently, it is very possible that he did get carried away deleting things.
But it never usually bothers him like this.
The feeling is particularly strong in the flat, though he's been round it twice and everything is exactly where it is in its mind palace counterpart. Well, other than a few things slightly out of place where Mrs Hudson has been dusting, but that's quickly rectified, and does nothing to ease the angry buzzing in his mind.
It's also fairly strong at crime scenes, though Sherlock has no idea why. He's been to a variety of scenes since the feeling began, nothing linking most of them except the presence of Scotland Yard, the usual officers all of whom have been present and correct in his mind palace files.
It also keeps popping up at random locations around London; Angelo's, Bart's, Chinatown, a fancy restaurant down Marylebone Road, Battersea Station, Buckingham Palace, the park opposite St James The Less, several takeaways... He'd ended up running off around London mid-case just to try and find all the places that made the feeling surface - a surprisingly large amount - to try and identify a pattern, a clue to this obviously important thing that he had deleted. But it soon became clear that the only thing (most likely a person, given the data he now had) that linked the places was The Deleted, and having been deleted he had no idea who that was. It was excruciatingly frustrating!
No closer to an answer, Sherlock put it to the back of his mind, or rather tried to ignore it as the niggling sensation was already a constant in the back of his mind.
"No Mycroft, I'm not interested." Sherlock drawled lazily, slumped in his chair in his pyjamas and blue silk dressing gown.
"Sherlock! You text me asking for a case, and I'm giving you one! I came all the way down from my important business at the office-"
"Don't pretend you were giving me this out of the kindness of your heart, Mycroft, we both know you don't have one, and you only brought this to me to save the legwork of doing it yourself. But I'm. Not. Interested. I'm already bored as it is, I don't need your political scandal to make me even more bored. Let's play Jenga!" He suggested with a maniacal smile.
"I don't have time to play games with you, Sherlock, and what have you done to your ribs?" He added, noticing that Sherlock wasn't fidgeting as much as usual and narrowing down the location by his posture.
"Probably bruised them, tackling a rather large antagonist on my last case. They're fine." Sherlock shrugged, attempting to hide the wince as he did so.
"Has John looked at them?" Mycroft enquired. He didn't trust Sherlock's definition of fine, but would if -
"John?" Sherlock asked in confusion.
Mycroft froze. He took a long, deep breath, blinking slowly in what would appear to be exasperation, but was in fact him replaying the conversation in his mind palace, confirming that he had in fact heard what he thought he heard, and contemplating how it could be possible. Then he remembered the date.
"You gave your mind palace a spring clean recently?"
"What of it?" Sherlock replied, though the niggling in his brain burst forth again with a vengeance, knowing where this was going.
"Please tell me you did not delete John Watson from your memory?" Mycroft asked with forced calm, almost wishing for a sarcastic response from Sherlock assuring him that such a suggestion was ludicrous.
"Evidently so, as I have no idea who you are talking about." Sherlock replied with feigned casualness, ignoring the sudden pounding in his heart, excited to be finding out the identity of The Deleted, and clamouring in his brain to grill Mycroft for information about this one.
Mycroft took another big give-me-strength breath, and turned for the exit without a word.
"Wait, where are you going? What about Jenga?" Sherlock called after him.
"Nevermind Jenga, Sherlock. You won't be bored much longer when John hears of this." Mycroft replied without looking back as he made his way down the stairs, wondering how best to break it to John, without the ex-soldier finally snapping and murdering his little brother.
He pulled out his phone the second his driver pulled away and typed in John's number - he didn't keep any numbers on his phone in case it fell into the wrong hands, and didn't need to since he could recall them all perfectly - and decided trying to plan for a response from John Watson was futile; the man could and would always surprise him.
"John" he greeted soberly as the phone was picked up.
"Mycroft. What's the great pillock done now?" Because if Mycroft was calling him and using that tone of voice it could only mean one thing.
"Something terrible. Are you sitting down, John?"
"Just tell me, Mycroft." John insisted, but when his request was met with silence he sighed, throwing himself down into his armchair with a great 'ploof' noise, which he knew Mycroft would hear on the other end of the line.
"He's deleted you from his mind palace"
Whatever John was expecting, it wasn't that. He felt like all the air had been knocked from his lungs and though he wouldn't admit it, was glad Mycroft had insisted he sit down. Sherlock had deleted him. Sherlock deleted things all the time, he deleted Greg's name practically the instant he heard it, but John never thought he would delete him, and it hurt. It hurt like hell. Besides the adrenaline rushes the main thing he'd missed when he'd returned from Afghanistan was the camaraderie; he would never forget his army buddies and knew they would never forget him either, and he thought he had found that again in Sherlock, but Sherlock... Sherlock had meant more to him than any of them, and he had deleted him.
"How could he?" He gasped in a broken whisper.
"I do not believe he did it on purpose, John. As I understand it he was trying to free up some space in his mind palace and must have deleted you by accident."
"You don't just delete things from your memory by accident, Mycroft!" John spat through gritted teeth.
"Sherlock does." Mycroft replied evenly. "I remember years ago, before his final exam for his Masters degree, he managed to completely delete all he knew about advanced chemistry. He was up all night reading every textbook in the house, trying to re-memorise it all."
John just breathed deeply for a couple of seconds, trying to regain control of his emotions again, anchoring them to the thought that Sherlock didn't do it on purpose, before he risked speaking again.
"When?" He asked, still trying to understand.
"I don't know. When did you last see him?"
"A month... Month and a half? Not since the plane..." John admitted with a wave of guilt "I... I meant to go see him but... I had work and Mary and the Baby and it's hard to find the time to go see Sherlock knowing it could potentially get me swept up in a case. I mean I had no choice at 221b, it was so much easier to just go along with it... I guess I was waiting for him to come drag me away. I had wondered... Thought maybe he just needed some time after the Magnussen thing, I never thought-" John trailed off his rambling, overcome with a wave of guilt. He had some idea from living with Sherlock how time ran in that man's head, how an hour without a case felt like forever to him. Had it felt like forever since John had visited him - He hadn't even text for goodness sake - had it felt like John had forgotten him? Had he decided turnabout was fair play?
"No, John." Mycroft told him firmly, reading John's dragging seconds of silence with pinpoint accuracy "We've already been over this, Sherlock would not delete you deliberately for any reason. It's far more likely that he deleted you some time ago and that has been the reason for his absence."
"Yeah... Yeah you're right." John agreed, thought the guilt didn't subside at all. "So... Okay, how much has he deleted? I mean... All those cases I was with him for, everything we did together... Is it all gone? Or am I just... Not in them anymore?"
"Again John, I have no answers for you. I suggest you ask the man himself."
"He doesn't know who I am! I can't just go round there and grill him with questions that he's probably deleted the answers to!" John burst out, waving his hand dramatically despite the fact Mycroft couldn't see him.
"Of course you can. He knows from our conversation that he has deleted someone, and will be expecting you. How else will be able to relearn you if you don't go round there?"
"Relearn! I'm not a textbook Mycroft, I'm his friend!" John all but shouted "You don't just relearn friendship, it takes years to build that kind of trust and-"
"As I recall it took but a day the first time around." Mycroft reminded with an audible smirk.
"That... That's not the point, that's not the same thing at all! We've been through so much together since then... I can't... It won't... How can it be the same when he doesn't remember all that and I still do?" John asked in anguish, his composure quickly slipping away again as it fully sunk in, his mind supplying the image of Sherlock's eyes as he played dead on the pavement outside Bart's, wondering if they'd be just as empty when they looked at John now, without recognition, and any less painful.
"John." Mycroft called him back from his panic with surprising gentleness "Nothing is ever forgotten, not completely. And if something can be remembered, it can come back."
The line went dead, and John sat numbly for a minute, his hand slowly sinking back down to his lap, still clutching the phone. Then he took a big breath, nodded once and stood up, marching across the room just as Mary appeared in the doorway.
"I'm going to Sherlock's, he's-"
"I know. I could hear you shouting from upstairs." She assured him, with a sympathetic smile, passing him his jacket.
He was halfway there by the time he realised Mycroft had been quoting Doctor Who.
Sherlock was waiting, or rather experimenting at the kitchen table and pretending not be waiting, when he heard a key turn in the lock downstairs. Unfamiliar footsteps climbed the stairs, both soothing and agitating his buzzing brain. Moving silently so as not to block out the sound, he matched the footsteps to with his own, as his crossed the room back to his chair, sinking into it during his visitor's momentary hesitation at the top of the stairs. Then his visitor stepped into the room, allowing Sherlock to see him.
"John" he greeted.
And John smiled. "You remember?" He asked hopefully, but his face soon dropped as Sherlock shook his head and opened his mouth. "Of course, Mycroft said you'd be expecting me, and I did let myself in... Only a few trusted individuals have keys to this flat and you'd know by my footsteps I wasn't any of the others."
Sherlock's eyes widened at Johns use of deductive reasoning. He wasn't mockingly doing an impression of Sherlock as others had in the past, he was acknowledging Sherlock's method, and proving himself capable of keeping up - at least at a basic level. If he knew nothing else about this man,that would be enough to convince him that deleting John Watson had been a terrible mistake.
"Yes." He confirmed, feeling he should say something, but not sure what. He was just considering whether an apology would be required, when John spoke up again.
"So... Mycroft said you would want to 'relearn' me. What have you got so far?"
Sherlock couldn't help but smirk.
"War veteran, by your stance, practically parade rest. Army doctor in fact, going by the visual examination you gave me upon entering; lingering on my injured ribs, which Mycroft earlier inquired if you had seen. Save your fussing, I'm fine. Your age suggests you had to leave the army early, more likely due to injury rather that dishonourable discharge. Possibly your left shoulder going by the tension in it, though that could be from a more recent injury, I suppose. Married is obvious from the ring on your finger, and expecting, judging by the way your hand hovers over the phone in your trouser pocket. Yes, the one in your trouser pocket, not the one sticking out of your jacket pocket, with the inscription clearly visible on the back. Harry, who's Harry? Previous owner of the phone, obviously, some kind of close relative, probably brother, although... Something is telling me sister, not sure what. The fact you're carrying two phones, and that the second is clearly on show implies you brought it to test me. No not test, you already know what I'm capable of, to remind me. So you had the phone on you the day we met and I deduced you from it then. That phone is nearly six years old, so we've been acquainted somewhere in the region of 5 years. How'd I do?"
Sherlock thought it was a pretty good deduction himself, but John only frowned.
"What do you mean, 'that's it?'?"
"You could have told me that much about just anyone who walked off the street." John pointed out.
"Well, right now, John-"
"No! Don't say it, don't you dare. You may have deleted me but that doesn't make me-" John cut himself off, looking away and taking a few deep breaths to get his quickly rising temper under control. He spotted Sherlock's laptop over on the desk and stormed over to it, flipping it open, typing for a few seconds, then thrusting it onto Sherlock, the page open on his blog.
"Read it." He said "The record of our time together. If you want to relearn me, read it, because I can't do this."
Speechless and remorseful, Sherlock just nodded, taking the laptop and opening the first entry. He glanced up again when John turned back for the door, but even as his mouth opened John answered for him.
"I'll be back later."
And then he was gone.
So Sherlock started reading. He could vaguely remember the cases outlined, the memories becoming clearer as John took his rightful place in them by means of his blog. Not that the blog was as detailed as Sherlock would have liked, but he could read between the lines well enough to pad them out. The more he read, the quicker and easier the memories flowed, until he had to stop in the middle of 'By Royal Appointment' to go into his mind palace to organise the flood of information re-asserting itself. It played out like a movie in his head, every moment with John Watson, every detail catalogued, not in a single file like many of the Yarder's, or even a small flat like Mrs Hudson, but a whole wing of his mind palace. Sure he took up a lot of space, but Sherlock wouldn't delete a single thing again.
He opened his eyes to a dark flat, having been in his Mind Palace for most the day, and half the night by the looks of things. He sighed, assuming he had missed John, and got to his feet, headed for the kitchen. He was halfway across the room when he heard a movement to his left and the table lamp clicked on, revealing John, having clearly just woken up from napping on the sofa, a question in his eyes.
One familiar smile was all it took, and John broke into a wide grin, getting up from the sofa and stretching.
"Chinese it is then."
They both pulled on their coats.
"Well thank goodness you didn't delete anything important like takeaway closing times." John grinned at Sherlock's grimace.
"And I thought you were letting me off lightly."
"Not a chance."