Disclaimer: I do not own Sherlock.
John was cleaning.
Yes, the flat was usually disgusting, but it did get cleaned on occasion, thanks, and it was never Sherlock who did it. As a doctor, John liked conditions to be sanitary. Or at least as sanitary as possible. He drew the line at trying to keep the place organized, though. Nothing was going to get Sherlock to live under those conditions and John wasn't even going to try.
The detective in question was out for the day. He would almost certainly be gone for another twelve hours. He would, of course, notice upon his return, but by then the damage would be done.
He was going to clean Sherlock's room.
His room wasn't off-limits or anything. Sherlock always said his secrets kept themselves and anyway John knew most of them by now, one of the perks of being the man's best friend. However, that room was the exact opposite of the rest of the flat: neat as a pin but filthy. John knew for a fact that Sherlock had never once vacuumed it himself and he was quite fond of dust (as Mrs. Hudson was aware) resulting in many of the surfaces in his room being thick with it, seemingly by design.
Well, not for much longer.
Armed with a duster and a vacuum with a fresh bag, as well as his Browning (one never knew, and really it was more for courage than anything else, like a security blanket... No. Not like a security blanket. Like a gun. A big, tough, murderous weapon), John entered Sherlock's bedroom.
Not for the first time, John wondered how a man who turned desktops into disaster zones had a bedroom that was so perfectly organized, but that was Sherlock, in the end. All contradiction.
He would start with the dusting. He knew from experience that if he vacuumed first he'd just have to do it again as a result of all the dust that would be kicked up by the duster. To ease himself into the horror, John started with the top of the dresser, which at least wasn't actively cultivated. He had it done in short order, only slightly traumatized in the process. He bustled on to the little bookshelf, the end tables, the top of the molding. Once he had dusted everything, he vacuumed.
The room was already easier to breathe in, and John liked to think that this would improve his flatmate's overall health. Pleased with himself, and badly wanting a shower, John headed out.
He took a last look at his work from the doorway, then decided that the unmade bed offended him so he replaced his cleaning supplies and returned, fixing up the bed with military precision.
He was surprised when something fell out of the twist of the quilt.
John ignored it to finish making the bed. It sounded like a notebook, and Heaven knew Sherlock had plenty of those. When he was done he scooped it up and deposited it on the foot of Sherlock's bed, glancing at the label...
Personal Backup Drive
John stared at the notebook in confusion. It was clearly not a drive, an electronic device of any kind. It wasn't like Sherlock to label things, period, but if he did they were sure to be painfully specific. One time, John had returned home to find the fridge full of one container, very large, labeled "Left Leg, Right Arm, Portion of Right Shoulder of Adult Female." To this day, John was impressed that Sherlock had managed to fit it all onto the label.
Curiosity piqued, John opened up the notebook to the front page. It was an index.
It was listed in Sherlock's "good" handwriting, the relatively-legible one he used when accuracy was important, or when he was writing to someone who wasn't John. The doctor spared a brief moment for guilt that he was being invasive, but it passed quickly because he was fully aware that Sherlock would do the exact same thing in his position. Minus the moment of guilt.
He turned to the first page. It was labeled with an A.
Forced to go apple picking with my father when I was eight.
Incident with Uncle Hanes' television antenna. Got in trouble.
There were a few more pages of A, then it went on, of course, to B, after a few blank pages where presumably more entries would be placed. John scanned the B's as well.
Cousin Beatrice put pudding in my hair and told Mother that I'd done it as an experiment. Got in trouble.
Unnecessarily graphic description of my birth, highly disturbing.
Cousin Annabel forced me to watch Babe, useless film about a pig, and cried when I told her I didn't like it. Got in trouble.
Put batteries in Uncle Horrace's dog when I found it dead (age three). Got in trouble.
Following a hunch, John flipped to "M." That part was surprisingly thin, only one page and one entry:
Mycroft's Birthday: February 12th
"Family" well-established, John opened to the "Injuries" tab. He was a doctor, after all, and Sherlock was his patient, and this appeared to be a record of Sherlock's life. He felt much less guilty digging around in this file, because it was all stuff he should know anyway but Sherlock was unlikely to tell him. This section was sorted by body part and with a good chunk of pages for "Illness- minor" and "Illness- major." Each entry had a description of the cause, treatment, and whether or not there had been long-term effects, like scars.
To test his theory, John picked an injury that he had witnessed Sherlock acquiring and had treated himself: a significant knife wound to the back. He turned to the "Back" section and scanned it, cringing when he saw that Sherlock had once, at age fourteen, cracked his spine. Eventually he found the entry with the date.
Knife wound, obtained chasing suspect for case 7.340.2682. Three inches, sixty stitches applied by John, scar remains, located between shoulder blade (right) and spine. No complications.
John was pleased. That was how he remembered things happening, too. Also, there was something about seeing his name there, in the record of Sherlock's memories, that made him... what, happy? More like warm. Yes, warm. No "Doctor" or "Watson," just John. He had such a common name that he was used to having a qualifier. Unless he was the John to someone. John liked being the John to Sherlock.
He flipped around some more until he come upon "Arm." There, an entry caught his eye.
Horizontal cut across left wrist, obtained when attacked by suspect from case 1.47.9111. Overnight hospitalization, minor infection but no further complications. Scarred.
John remembered seeing that scar when he was patching up some other part of Sherlock's arm. He was trained to always be on alert for signs of self-harm, so when he saw a deep cut over such an area, one that either was intended to bleed a lot or intended to bleed all the way, he'd simply had no choice but to ask about it. The Sherlock he knew would never do it, but he didn't know teenage Sherlock or drug-addict Sherlock and the little he did know made him think it was... possible. When he'd asked, though, Sherlock had promptly said he didn't know. He'd seemed honest and, when pressed, admitted that he'd deleted it and wouldn't have deleted a suicide attempt, thanks.
John had been satisfied with this, and hadn't brought it up again. But here it was, proof that Sherlock hadn't really...
John could have smacked himself for how long it had taken him to understand the meaning of Personal Backup Drive.
Okay. So this was a record of Sherlock's deleted memories. Personal memories, not facts he could easily look up again on the internet. It was the perfect solution to the flaw John had always found with his "clean up the hard drive" system. He wrote things down here before he deleted them, likely in enough detail that he could recover the memory by reading it again.
The guilt came back, then, because this was even more invasive than he'd originally thought. He fought a quick battle against himself, won, and turned the book open to the part of Sherlock's life John was most curious about and about which Sherlock was the most closed-mouthed: University.
He promised himself that primary school was next, because there was likely nothing cuter in the entire world than little Sherlock.
He leafed through page after page, in alphabetical order again, of what Sherlock's life had been like for those four years. There was rather a lot, and most of it wasn't pleasant. Sebastian hadn't been lying when he'd said they'd all hated Sherlock. From this, Sherlock hadn't liked them much either, and... hadn't cared a lot, but he'd cared at least a little. Enough that some of the entries appeared to have been lingered over, a bit more detailed than the others as if in an effort to make sure all the tendrils were deleted as well. Those were the particularly cruel ones.
Then, under "O," was an entry that John swore almost stopped his heart:
To be deleted: Details concerning accidental overdose in April of last year of University. Jeremiah was out of town, purchased cocaine from someone else. Purity was unexpectedly high, combined with an indulgent dose. Seizures, blacked out. Speed-dialed Mycroft before complete loss of consciousness. Woke up in hospital. Two-week stay due to nearness of death and complications with some contaminant in the drug.
John stared for a while, trying to imagine Sherlock seizing. He couldn't. All he could do was superimpose Sherlock's face on the countless patients he'd seen have a seizure, and it was very wrong. None of them had the build of Sherlock, the grace of Sherlock, because no one had his build or grace. And he could not, no matter how hard he tried, imagine Sherlock's body— always so controlled, dominated by his mind— betraying him. Couldn't imagine him still, Mycroft's face when he found him (would he have looked worried? Afraid? Impassive? Unsurprised?), him in a hospital bed, pale and barely alive. He could imagine the bustle of doctors and nurses trying to save him, but when his mind's eye got to the bed, someone else was in it. Not Sherlock. Did Mycroft stay at Sherlock's bedside? Did their mother come? Were there any friends, any at all, that existed or came to see him?
Captivated, John turned to the "J" section to find "Jeremiah." As he'd thought, he was Sherlock's dealer. His second, apparently, at least his second regular. The entry briefly listed some demographics about him, how they'd met, their last interaction, and how much money had been exchanged (and holy fuck, how did anyone afford a drug habit?). A name caught his eye, though: Victor.
Sherlock had said the name, once. Only once. John had done something, some little thing, and Sherlock had observed distantly that 'Victor' used to do that thing the same way. Something like how John had been holding his mug and book, or something.
John didn't make it a habit to memorize every name that came out of Sherlock's mouth, but something about the way he said this one stuck with him. Made him not ask who Victor was, but pay attention from then on. But Sherlock had never said the name again, and John was certain he'd never said it (around John) before that. John would never miss such a change in Sherlock's tone... whatever the change was.
Maybe Sherlock would tell him if he asked. He was sometimes surprisingly forthcoming with John. But when he'd said it that time, he hadn't really been in the room, and John had a feeling he hadn't been aware he'd said it out loud.
So John flipped to "Victor."
Other than injuries, this was the thickest part of the notebook John had seen so far. It was an information dump, all written at once in a heavy hand in no obvious order. It detailed how they'd met, by bulldog apparently, when the animal introduced its teeth into Sherlock's calf for no evident reason. Victor had felt horrible about his dog's behavior and after getting Sherlock sorted out at the A&E, had insisted on buying him a coffee. In Sherlock's words, "I didn't want coffee, but we had spent three hours talking in the waiting room and he wasn't boring, and he was clever, and he was handsome, so I went." Sherlock went into detail about what could only be described as a first date. And then the day after.
Victor showed up at my flat, which I shared with three other students, bright and early the next morning.
"Victor?" I said, confused that he was there but not nearly as displeased as I would have liked to have been. He simply grinned and nodded. "Hello," I said when he didn't say anything else.
"Hello," he replied cheerfully.
I was stunned. Not only had someone spent a day with me without incident, but he had returned after not twelve hours for more. And he was handsome.
"Do you want to come in?" I asked, at a loss.
Victor shook his head.
"Well what do you want, then?"
He said, simply, "Coffee."
"You had coffee yesterday," I pointed out, "and you said you don't even like it."
"No," he admitted. "But I dolike you."
The rest of Day Two, Date Two was rendered fondly, like a memory to protect, and John was really struggling to understand why Sherlock had deleted this. He struggled more as he read Sherlock's account of their first kiss, which was that evening, and the many that followed over the next months. He struggled mightily when he read (unashamedly) about the first time they slept together, the first time Victor said he loved him, the first time Sherlock said it back. Even if the breakup that was sure to follow had been awful, did it really warrant deleting all of this? Some of it was, frankly, beautiful. Tender descriptions of the texture of his hair, the sounds he made when they touched, some of the gentle things Victor had said to him, some of the surprisingly gentle (but still very Sherlock) things Sherlock had said back. Other tiny things, too: the way Victor turned his head, the way his eyes softened when he saw Sherlock, the way his ears turned red when they argued, which was predictably frequently.
Things only someone in love would notice.
John couldn't identify the exact point at which it changed, but he was willing to bet it was near the first time Victor and Sherlock had done cocaine. The reason for this adventure was not listed, perhaps Sherlock didn't want to delete that, but there was a detailed description of it.
Although the small amount we used is laughable to me now, at the time it was the most we were likely to be able to handle. I inhaled, and it hit my brain like electricity, shorting everything out and silencing my mind, for the first time, to something bearable, while brining every sense into focus. The same feeling as the moment I solve a case. I believed I was capable of anything in that moment, and I looked over at Victor only to find that he had become even more beautiful and razor-sharp than the last time I'd looked at him. He'd become an angel. He was gaping at me, looking at me as if I were a god. I felt like one. And then he scrambled over to me and seized me and suddenly I had to have him, so I did.
After that, things slowly began to spiral out of control. The drugs became more and more important to both of them. They fought more (each fight recorded carefully), they had sex more, talked more but about less and less. Sherlock mentioned as a side note that his grades began to suffer, sounding thoroughly indifferent about it. Then there was a brief tangent about Victor's hands, apropos of nothing, how they had looked and felt and how Sherlock had loved them. Then, abruptly:
I came home from class that day and found him dead, syringe hanging from his arm, sitting on the floor, propped up against the sofa, limp, bottle at his side. It was not his first overdose, nor mine, but it was his last. I knew he was dead, but I placed two fingers on the pulse point of his neck anyway. He was cold. I walked away.
A police investigation had followed, and although Sherlock certainly could have figured it out himself, he let the police do it. Suicide. Intentional overdose. Sherlock's description of the police report was clinical, brief, and brutal, and if John hadn't just seen incontrovertible proof that Sherlock had loved Victor Trevor, he wouldn't have believed it.
John swallowed the lump in his throat, trying to imagine this day as well, but when he turned the page he discovered he didn't have to. Sherlock had taped in the police photograph.
It was a gruesome photo, the blank, lifeless eyes and hanging mouth, staring into nothing. Shirtless, only in jeans, not even socks, the needle still in his arm. Addict's sores on his face, infected track marks on his forearms where Sherlock still had his own.
It was a typical sight. John had seen it before, and he'd also seen far, far worse. It was the image of Sherlock returning to find this scene that made him ill. The thought of walking into your flat and finding the one you love simply dead on the floor.
In a brief and graphic flash, John's brain put him where Sherlock stood and Sherlock where Victor had... slumped.
He put the notebook on his lap and rubbed his face with his hands.
Not many people were capable of sneaking up on Captain John Watson, but to John's frequent displeasure Sherlock was one of them. So, when John looked up and found his flatmate standing in the doorway, he was startled but not surprised. He also didn't apologize.
What he did say was, "I shouldn't have."
Sherlock nodded, likely noting the lack of apology. "If I wanted to keep it secret I should have hidden it better," he replied simply.
John wasn't sorry, but he was relieved that Sherlock wasn't mad. "So you keep a diary," he attempted to tease. "Imagine, The Great Sherlock Holmes keeping a diary."
His voice was still hollow from what he'd read, though, so the humor fell flat. Sherlock took a few steps into the room, glancing around. He sighed. "John, do you occasionally hallucinate that you are a cleaning lady?"
Any other time, this would have earned Sherlock a hearty glare and, if John could think of one, a top-notch comeback. This time, though, he just shrugged and said with absolutely no venom, "At some point, as your doctor, I'm obligated to intervene when you live in filth."
Sherlock smirked. "So long as you're not hallucinating."
This got a flicker of a smile from John. He looked at Sherlock for a while and then, with a deep sigh, set the notebook aside. He leaned forward, resting his forearms on his knees and setting his gaze on Sherlock.
"Ah," Sherlock said. "Which part of my little melodrama were you reading, then?"
"You don't remember," John reminded him idly.
"Give me the category and the letter."
"So you remember the gist of it?"
Sherlock came the rest of the way into the room. He sat down on his bed because it was, after all, his, and took up the notebook. John considered protesting— obviously Sherlock had deleted these things for a reason— but he figured Sherlock knew what he was doing.
The detective flipped through the portion of the "V" section that was Victor. His fingers picked up the corner of the last page, but he didn't turn it to see the picture.
"It is as I thought," he reported eventually. He closed the book and put it between them. "I remember everything."
Alarmed, John said, "Wait, did that trigger it? Will you be able to delete it again?"
Sherlock was shaking his head before John even finished. "Deleting it 'again' implies that I deleted it at least once before."
John watched Sherlock watch the book. After a long time of this, he carefully asked, "Wouldn't go, then?"
He could have sworn that was approval on Sherlock's face. "No."
"So, what?" People are harder to erase?"
"That makes good neurological sense, but while it's more time-consuming to delete emotional memories I would not say it's harder."
"Then," he said simply, "the ones that are hard or impossible to delete are the ones that I don't really want to forget."
Oh yes. Obviously a sociopath. Clearly. This man next to him on the bed was unfeeling, soulless, heartless, and a freak, and John was going to kick Anderson in the shin next time he implied anything of the sort.
"Can't imagine anyone wanting to forget the love of their life."
Sherlock was quiet for a lot longer than John was comfortable with. Maybe he had overstepped his bounds, said too much. Or made incorrect assumptions. He hadn't exactly read the rest of the book.
"Um..." John said, trying to backpedal, "or... your first love. Or just. Someone you loved. Or... was he? Your 'great love,' so to speak?"
He made himself shut up. That wasn't backpedaling.
Again, Sherlock was silent for long enough that John wanted to just awkwardly leave.
"I don't know," he said finally.
"Oh." John blinked at his flatmate. How could someone not know he was in love with someone? It was obvious. You were happier with them, captivated by them, you worried for them...
Seeing John's face and apparently misinterpreting it, Sherlock added, uncomfortably, "But it doesn't matter."
Suddenly, for John, it really, really did. This was not a convenient time to be having a life-changing revelation. "Why doesn't it matter?" he managed eventually
"Because he's dead," Sherlock said bluntly. "And-" he stopped.
Yes. Keep the conversation going, away from his sudden realization that he was madly in love with Sherlock-sodding-Holmes and fuck. "And?" John prompted.
Sherlock fidgeted. That was unlike him, John noted. And yes, he was now apparently going to devote his life to noticing every little thing that Sherlock did and said and every time he twitched.
Oh. Wait. He'd already done that.
"You didn't get to the "Baker Street" tab, did you."
John jumped when Sherlock spoke, having gotten lost in his own head. "Um, no, I didn't."
"You have my permission, at your own risk," Sherlock said, standing. With sarcasm that was softened slightly by a small smile, he added, "Not that you need my permission."
Then he hurried out in a way that John could only describe as fleeing.
John had seen as many romantic movies as the next guy, generally when a girl made him. He also knew that Sherlock Holmes had a flair for the dramatic, didn't seem to like to keep his life noticeably different from movies with arch enemies and tailored suits. John was fairly certain that, if he could do it without looking ridiculous, Sherlock would have a cape.
But still, he thought, was this really about to happen?
John turned to "Baker Street, J."
The fact that there was a tab on him hurt a bit, but Sherlock couldn't have deleted everything about him because he knew who he was and regularly used information about him like his background, the way he took his tea, and other little things John had told him over time.
As he started to scan the pages, his first reaction was relief as he confirmed that, yes, things like his name, age, and tea were not written down.
His second reaction was to notice what was there.
John has brought home eight different women. They vary in age, height, weight, hair color, race, temperament. Main similarity is a common feminine air and looking nothing like me.
He touches himself in the shower.
He keeps a shirt on in bed with his women because he doesn't like them either paying attention to or ignoring his scar.
He smiles when I make him tea.
His face lights up when I deduce.
I would be able to curl my top knuckles over his fingertips if our palms were pressed together.
Mole on his collarbone, only visible when wearing my blue robe, which he steals as revenge when I take his laptop.
Striped jumper brings out his eyes.
Doesn't like ketchup.
Giggles when I make a rhyme.
Does not mind the finger gelatin experiment.
Thing he does with his nose.
Put a Father Christmas hat on the skull.
Curls his toes when he first sits down.
Sometimes sits with his feet touching soles.
Stares at my neck.
Licks his lips when thinking.
Walked in on him in the bath.
Called me beautiful on accident.
Saw him passionately kissing Jeanette.
Jeanette broke up with him because she thought he was in love with me.
Held my hand to put a bandage on it.
Don't like when he's not here.
Can't sleep if he's not home.
Pages and pages of idiosyncrasies. Little things, sweet things.
Things only someone in love would notice.
He brushes my hair as he passes me when I lay on the sofa.
Sherlock was in love with him. Judging from some of these entries and the sheer quantity of writing, he had been for a while. He'd tried to delete things and failed, and he only ever failed to delete things that he didn't truly want to forget. Sherlock loved him.
So it was good that John had been hit by the truck of realization less than twenty minutes earlier.
When the last entry came and went, John very, very slowly put the notebook on Sherlock's pillow. He straightened it and smoothed the blankets under it. Then he left Sherlock's room.
Sherlock was flopped onto the sofa, and his eyes were closed.
John crossed to him.
Gently, deliberately, John ran his fingers through Sherlock's hair.
Sherlock opened his eyes, and their gazes locked.
Wide and sincere, Sherlock smiled.