Chapter 3

Mary had left long ago for work. It was his day off, so he had amused himself for a while with watching crap telly and trying to imagine what Sherlock would say (pathetic), and somehow he had fallen back asleep. It was about half past noon, according to his phone, when the knocking came at his door. Can't be Mary, he thought groggily, and answer the door.

It was a stranger, hunched over inside his hooded anorak, with masses of gingery hair and beard that all seemed to flow together. "Can I interest you in a magazine subscription?" he asked in a nasal Cockney accent, shoving a sheet of prices at him. John was trying blearily to think of a polite way to say he did not, in fact, want a magazine subscription when the salesman shoved him into his flat. John tried to fight back, but hand-to-hand fighting was not his forte and, standing straight, the salesman had a distinct height advantage. They struggled, John losing ground rapidly, until the salesman hissed, "John, stop it, it's me, Sherlock."

John let go so quickly he ended up sprawled on the floor. Sherlock crouched next to him, tugging off the fake beard. His grey eyes, visible now without the shadow of Sherlock's hood, seemed to rake over him. "Are you all right, John?" Sherlock whispered, concern in his voice.

"I'm fine, Sherlock. A word of advice, next time you want inside a friend's flat, just ask."

"I couldn't be sure there weren't people watching. No one can know I'm here." Sherlock helped John to his feet and shut the door. As soon as it was closed, John found himself, quite without any sort of conscious decision, laughing and hugging Sherlock. Sherlock simply stood stiffly for a moment, as if shocked – John didn't blame him; Sherlock tearing the Semtex-rigged jacket from his body at the pool had been, possibly, their most intimate moment – but then he wrapped his arms tentatively around John. It lasted only a moment (breathless, on John's part), and then Sherlock stepped back and said, in a low voice, "My life is in danger."

"I got that," said John, "Lestrade told me. What sort of danger? What do you need me to do? Sherlock? Sherlock."

Sherlock was staring at the floor, motionless. Finally, he looked up, his bright eyes suddenly shadowed, and said, "I can't tell you."

John frowned, but was careful to keep his voice quiet. "Sherlock, you're not going off alone again. For God's sake, look what happened last time, not to mention the time before that."

"You came for me, both times," Sherlock said, with a hint of a smile. "John, this is one secret I cannot tell you."

John found himself whisper-shouting into Sherlock's face. "You bloody well will tell me this secret. I just found you, d'you think I want to lose you again already?" He stopped and tried to move back – he'd said too much – but Sherlock's hand, cupped around the back of his neck, stopped him.

"Don't you understand? I can't tell you," Sherlock said in his ear, in a voice that made John shiver, "but you've always been irritatingly adept at following me when I try to leave you behind."

John wasn't sure who bridged the gap first. All he knew was that Sherlock's lips were on his and it was just…more than he'd ever thought it would be. His hands closed on the ridiculous mass of fake ginger hair Sherlock wore, and he laughed into the kiss.

When Sherlock pulled back, his eyes like mirrors, he said – in a voice John recognized as the one he used whenever he was contemplating a fascinating experiment – "Just think, we wasted so much time not doing this. I'm glad I had the chance before I – ah." He stopped, closed his eyes, and kissed John again.

It was some time before John managed to pull his attention away from the frankly mind-melting feel of Sherlock's lips and hands and body (albeit muffled by the anorak) against his. When he did, he whispered sharply, "Before you what?"

"Leave," Sherlock said flatly. "Which reminds me, I really must."

Despite John's protestations, it seemed he was all no-nonsense detective on a case now. He replaced the fake beard, retreated under his hood, and slumped back into the stance that hid his height somewhat. He was nearly out the door when he turned and said, almost as an afterthought, "Remember what I said. I've always thought you had a talent for holding on stubbornly and refusing to let go. Don't prove me wrong."

And he was gone, before John could voice any of the thousand things he wanted so desperately to tell Sherlock.

He only allowed himself a moment of regret before dashing to his room to grab his gun out of the bedside table. In another minute he was out the door after Sherlock.

Sherlock led a merry dance through London, and John had to wonder if that was for Mycroft's benefit or his. He still wasn't sure where Mycroft fit in, or what he was supposed to do, but all he knew was that he had always been willing to risk his life to save Sherlock's.

Eventually Sherlock stopped and shed his disguise, carefully positioning himself so none of the CC cameras could see him, and John followed him a little way farther to Paddington Station. Mycroft appeared then, and Sherlock greeted him with what John can only imagine is coldness (or, more likely, petulance). The woman who was not named Anthea stood passive between them, tapping away at her BlackBerry. John remembered the only time he ever saw her without it, and a jolt went through him. He'd promised to forget about "all of it." Had he somehow signed away his memories of Sherlock without knowing it?

He pushed the idea away – it was interesting, but there were more important things to attend to just now – and slipped into the crowd, trying to get closer without being seen. He wished he'd thought to disguise himself, but it wasn't as if he had anything lying around that would work as a disguise.

He did, finally, manage to get closer, just as Sherlock left Mycroft and his PA, striding quickly towards the ticket office. John followed, hoping neither of Sherlock's companions would see him while his back was turned. He purchased the same ticket as Sherlock – never mind the cost, some things were simply more important – and kept on his tail, surprised to find that when Sherlock met back up with his brother, Lestrade, Donovan and Anderson had joined the group. Mycroft and the PA, Sherlock and Lestrade's team, and John boarded the train at Platform Three, a strange, staggered procession.

When he was properly on the train, he found that Mycroft and his assistant had disappeared, and he, Sherlock and the police officers were the only occupants of the train car.