John placed his newspaper on the side table and closed his eyes. A steaming mug of chai tea wafted the scents of cinnamon and clove, intermingling with the light but distinctly dusty odor from the pile of books he'd been working through over the past few weeks. The sun had been up for at least an hour now, he more than a few, but lazy rays were still spreading themselves over new territory of the flat. He exhaled, grinning both at the fact that he had no need to check the clock and that his life would return to its normal frenzy tomorrow.

Sherlock was spending the better part of January in the German countryside, having resigned himself to a month of studying beekeeping and performing experiments on certain samples of soil and vegetation only available in the region. The choice was partially his own, the work apparently necessary for both his blog and future work, but the so-called holiday wouldn't have happened if Mycroft hadn't insisted. John wasn't privy to the details, but he'd gathered that, after returning from his four-minute exile and swiftly dealing with the Moriarty scandal, Sherlock's options to deal with his cocaine addiction were a) moving into Mycroft's residence under strict surveillance, or b) retreated to a family cottage to work, get fresh air, and, to quote Mycroft, "think about life choices."

The latter was quickly chosen, but John's remaining in London was essential; clients needed to be sorted into waiting lists, he was still half-committed to the clinic, and, besides…people might talk. More than that, though, Mycroft and Lestrade both felt that the time away from what Sherlock cared about most would force him to consider whether cocaine was more important. They had longer experience dealing with the detective's drug problem, so John reluctantly agreed.

With January drawing to a close, though, Sherlock would be coming home tomorrow morning. Their Baker Street days would resume, perhaps with Sherlock on a shorter leash, but the bachelor adventures were quite welcome. Mary was away, called up on a secret-service ordeal at the suggestion of Mycroft, and would likely be gone at least several more months. John wondered if Mycroft selected Mary because of her skillset or because it meant he could focus all his attention on Sherlock, but his suspicions were never voiced aloud.

He checked his watch, knowing the day would drag. He was surprised how much he'd missed Sherlock; it wasn't the adrenaline that his body lacked so much as the constant attraction of making sure the younger man wasn't destroying himself or being destroyed. The little eccentricities, too, were missed; he found himself putting on violin music to help himself sleep, or neglecting to tidy up the equipment in the kitchen. In twenty-four hours his best friend would return, and they could get on with their marvelously unusual lives.

He reached for a book as the door's latch clicked.

"You know you promised Mycroft a full month," he said, already on his feet.

"Oh, hello. It appears you're familiar with my brother; returning a day early will annoy him sufficiently, but not enough to motivate scolding." He placed his bags on the floor and undid his scarf. "Sherlock Holmes. Pleasure."

John stared at the extended hand. "Excuse me?"

Sherlock frowned. "Ah, I see. You are the man who agreed to look after my flat for the month, are you not? I didn't mean to offend you with my early arrival; I assure you lodging won't be a problem, doctor. Tell me, did you serve in Afghanistan or Iraq?"

"Sherlock." John blinked a few times and waited for their eyes to fasten together. That bloody innocent look. "What is this, punishment for me not going with you? We discussed this—"

"Sorry, what?" He looked the doctor over, eyes shifted back and forth along the different lines of the body, until his eyebrows were raised. "Oh! You're saying we know each other?" He fumbled into his coat jacket and pulled out a yellowed strip of paper. "Tell me, what's your name?"

"Sherlock! Enough!"

Sherlock extended a hand. "Now look, please, are we quite familiar? If so, perhaps I've explained the hard-drive-like ways in which my mind functions. It is possible for one to construct a memory technique—mind palace if you well—in which certain facts can—"

"Sherlock, I'll bloody punch you. Knock it off."

He huffed, impatient but also seeming a bit wary of the threat. "You're not listening to me. Are you…" he glanced at the list. "John? Redbeard? Christopher?"

John snatched the paper away. Also written in thin, cursive ink were Coffee, 17, and Silver. "What is this," he asked, voice gruff.

"Just answer me, are you on here?"

He threw the list back. "John."

"Ah." Sherlock removed his coat and sat himself on the couch, purposely giving his "I'm harmless but you ought to listen to me" look that John often got when he begged for cigarettes or another case. "This clears things up. Please don't take this personally, John, but I've deleted you."

John looked directly at him and didn't let the pang he felt in his chest spread. "You what?"

"Deleted you. It's quite simple, I can explain it some other time if you'd like over email. I've been away eradicating a drug problem—you know this? The process turned out to be a rather emotional one, so I deleting the data that was making it harder to function properly. I've done it before; it's quite harmless, but I've found that if I don't note what I've deleted, I can end up in difficult situations. Like now, for instance. Now. No details, please, but who were you? No, let me…" He looked around the flat. Two chairs, decorations he wouldn't have chosen for himself, unfamiliar mugs and odd brands of tea. "Oh. Um." He shuffled in his seat. "I see. I am sorry to terminate our relationship in such a way, John; I'm sure you weren't deficient in any way, and I have every confidence that you will find someone far more stable to commit to."

"Hang on, no, we're not—" John felt himself sit down, felt sweat gathering on his neck. "You're not making this up, are you? You actually deleted…oh my…I…" He looked at the list in Sherlock's hands. "First off, we're not…that, we're flat-mates. We lived together for—"

"No, no, I'll have to stop you there. I obviously chose to delete you for a reason, Dr.…" he consulted his writing. "Dr. Watson. It appears you contributed to some emotional toll that made the last month difficult to endure. I must trust my former judgement; if I decided to terminate whatever we are, I must stick to it. Do hope you understand."

John felt his eyes grow wet and something rise from his gut. "This is ridiculous. This is…Sherlock, okay. Um. Yeah, no, listen, you can't just delete the years we've…I don't know what reason you would have! I've been helping you get clean, Sherlock, not the other way around, and you aren't in a position….you can't just…"

Sherlock rested his chin on steepled fingers. "Please don't take my lack of emotion as offensive, John. As I've explained, the emotions, whatever they were, must have been quite powerful for me to delete them in the first place."

They sat in silence for a while. John didn't know what to say.

"Did you make another list?" he finally asked.

"A list of what?"

"Everything."

Sherlock's face paled. "How do you…only Mycroft knows about that."

"We are…we were pretty close, Sherlock."

The detective cleared his throat. "No. No, there was no need. I deleted everything early, so the temptation was never there for long."

"You don't crave anymore, then? Since you…"

"No."

"Oh." John turned away.

"John—"

"No, it's…I'm sorry. I didn't know I was part of the problem. I would have…"

Sherlock looked down, rubbed his hands against his knees. "It seems we live together, yes? I'll leave, as the decision was mine. Allow me to stay the night and I will be out of your hair for good." He stood and grabbed his suitcase.

"A week."

"What?"

"A week. Stay…just stay a week." John cleared his throat, never before feeling so exposed. "Give yourself time to find a place, and get…get to know me. Just a bit? If you feel the same way after a week, I'll respect your decision."

A pause. "Alright."

"Alright."