Sequel to "Invisible" and "Still Invisible."
With his gift of being invisible, John has always worried about being locked away in an experimental government lab ... but what do you do when it's your best friend who locks you up? Baskerville is quite literally John's worst nightmare-and the Hound has nothing to do with it. It's all Sherlock's fault, but will he realize that? Yep, it's an emotional rollercoaster, folks.
As always, I own nothing but my own plot. The characters and world belong to ACD and the BBC. I just like to play here. Not beta'd or Brit-picked-all errors are my own.
The months after the Adler affair were fairly uneventful. John and Sherlock solved cases for Lestrade and even took one or two for Mycroft, despite Sherlock's complaints.
To John's relief, though, Sherlock's usual between-cases mania was tempered by an onslaught of fresh experiments on John's gift. Since the fiasco with Irene Adler, he was determined to see just how far it could go—and, more importantly, just how accurately it could be recorded. Until Mycroft told them, John had had no idea that his gift left any sign on digital recordings at all, and with the plethora of cameras planted by Irene Adler … well, both of them wanted to find out exactly how dangerous those cameras were to him.
It turned out that, while digital video cameras (like Mycroft's beloved CCTV) could capture what John still thought of as a heat-shimmer, night-vision cameras usually didn't have enough definition to record anything damaging. Heat-sensitive cameras acted much the same way as ordinary video. Traditional video on film or tape caught nothing at all, and neither did still photos. He was recorded on those as he always had been—just no telltale effect to show anything suspicious was going on.
John was getting better at diverting the attention of anyone watching cameras in real time, so that now he was able to manage not only people watching the cameras but people around him at the same time. His fine-tuning was getting better, as well. If he needed to, he could direct his gift only at specific people on the street, rather than just the "ignore me" bubble he'd been able to form his whole life.
He also discovered that he was able to vary the strength of his gift. Well, he'd known that in a vague way for a while. There was a difference between thinking "Move along, nothing to see" and "Don't look at me!" He'd even come close to fooling Sherlock once or twice, by concentrating particularly hard. But he'd found that it was possible to have actual conversations with people that didn't seem to register with them, just by pushing them a bit toward ignoring him.
Once he realized he was doing this, though, he stopped and refused to continue. It felt too much like brain-washing, or some sci-fi mind warp thing, for him to be comfortable. It was one thing to walk past someone and encourage their brains not to notice him. It was entirely different to be able to make someone completely forget they were talking to him. That was just creepy.
Honestly, it moved his gift in a direction he wasn't comfortable with. Part of him was curious as to what else he could affect—emotions? Thoughts? Physical actions? But John was a good man and knew that too much experimentation in that direction could go very, very badly. Keeping himself (and Sherlock) safe and unnoticed was one thing, but actual manipulation was quite another.
Not surprisingly, Sherlock didn't feel the same way. He felt any scientific query was worth the cost. It wasn't like he was hurting people, after all, he told John on the train to Dartmoor, but John stood firm. "It's not right, Sherlock."
"I don't see why not. If you can walk right past a person who's looking for you, why would you balk at making him forget he'd seen you? Isn't it the same thing?"
"That's not the issue. You want me to be able to interrogate people for you and then walk away without them remembering, Sherlock. That's … like stealing! I don't use my gift to sneak into people's houses, after all, I just use it to stay unobtrusive. It's like camouflage. You're trying to turn it into something with offensive stealth capability, and I'm not going to do it."
"But what if my life were at stake, John? Or yours?" Sherlock leaned forward, eyes intent and steely blue. "If we were trying to escape a locked facility and needed to get an access code to bypass the security system and it was the only way to survive … wouldn't you want to know that you could do it? That it would work?"
John picked up his newspaper and unfolded it, leaning back in his seat. "I'm not going to ask about that highly specific question, Sherlock, and I'm not having this conversation. Let's just keep it simple—camouflage is good, stealth spy brainwashing techniques are bad."
"But you're saying you could brainwash if it were necessary?"
"What? No, Sherlock. Just … no. We're not even going there."
Silence from the other side of the compartment. The only noise was the train whizzing down the track, but the silence was positively aggressive. He looked over his paper to see Sherlock staring at him intently. "What? This isn't a rhetorical question, is it? Is this about Henry Knight's case?"
"Very good, John," Sherlock told him.
"Wait, Baskerville? You're talking about Baskerville?" John was already shaking his head. "No, Sherlock, positively not. I am NOT going to try to sneak us into one of the government's highest security, most top secret labs. It's not happening."
John could think of few things that terrified him more than the thought of being trapped in a lab being studied for his gift. There was no way he was risking this.
"Don't be silly, John," Sherlock told him. "I'm not asking you to sneak us in. I'm asking if you could sneak us out if things go wrong."
"And why would they go wrong?" he asked in his coldest, most steely voice.
"They won't, of course, but I thought you liked having backup plans."
John lifted his newspaper and gave it good shake. "We're not having this conversation, Sherlock."
"I don't know how you talked me into this," John muttered under his breath as they followed the young corporal into the building. They had already passed multiple security check points and weren't even inside yet. He didn't even want to go inside. The size and weight of the outer door alone made him very happy to stay out here, thank you. He'd be glad to scale the barbed wire, even, to get out if that made everybody happy. He very much did not want to step foot into that building.
But … Sherlock was swiping Mycroft's pass and the door was opening. Mycroft's pass. That Sherlock had stolen. Because that couldn't possibly go wrong. John just knew he was going to end this day locked up somewhere—either in one of these labs or in a deep, dark prison cell. There was no way this was going to end well.
And yet, John had helped get them here. He'd pulled rank, even, to stop the questions that would just slow them down. (He had to admit, it had felt oh, so good to pull rank, too. He hadn't realized how much he missed it.)
This, he told himself, is exactly what gets him into trouble. Every time. Sherlock proposes something totally insane, John protests it as rationally as he can, but they end up going through with it anyway. He doesn't know how Sherlock does it, unless he's got some kind of secret mind control ability of his own. It was like he was surrounded by his own magnetic field and John was helpless to pull away. He could no more stop following Sherlock Holmes than the moon could stop circling the earth.
He hid a smile as they walked down the (scary, intimidating, sterile) hallway. Of all analogies to pick, he used the solar system—how ironic. Sherlock would never understand the joke.
Besides, he admitted himself, he wouldn't give up the adrenalin rush for anything. Nothing compared to following Sherlock, knowing that things are likely to go bad but that the other man trusted him to have his back.
John had spent enough time in laboratories to be impressed with this one. Clean, well-organized, and very … secure. From a security standpoint, he found it entirely admirable, but it gave him the willies.
He had no idea how Sherlock knew that Dr. Stapleton was involved with little Kirsty's missing bunny, but sincerely hoped it wasn't just the rabbit that had brought them here. They were risking life and liberty because of Henry's father's mysterious death, right? Not for a little girl's missing pet?
And that's when things went … bad. Sherlock got a text from Mycroft asking what they were doing, and then the sirens started to wail and doors started closing… John had never realized how claustrophobic he was. (When the hell had that started?) He kept his face straight as he and Sherlock headed calmly—outwardly, at least—for the door, but his brain was screaming "Help!" the whole time as he tried to keep calm and not let anything slip that their high-tech, high-security cameras might record.
No matter how small and invisible he wanted to be right then.
It was like a miracle, then, when Dr. Frankland introduced himself and pretended to know Sherlock as Mycroft. The two of them chatted a moment about meeting at some W.H.O. conference while John tried to remember to breathe and sought ways to lower his blood pressure. What the hell was wrong with him? He'd lived through a war, for heaven's sake, not to mention daily life with Sherlock Holmes. A little thing like breaking into an ultra-secure government lab shouldn't affect him this strongly, should it?
Except he knew that this was exactly the kind of place he'd end up in if the government ever decided it wanted to study his gift. The kind not just with a few bars on the windows, but massive magnetic doors and multiple security checks and ultra-secure levels with white, padded rooms and … you have to breathe, John, he told himself. God, this was a nightmare. This was his worst nightmare. This was worse than Afghanistan.
But no, look, see? You're out. Frankland and Sherlock got you out and the car's right over there. Hurry, but try not to look like you're hurrying.
Try not to insult Sherlock for being the worst kind of idiot until you're at least on the other side of the gates. You can always punch him later. Just ignore the way he's looking so smug and pleased with himself as he turns up his coat collar. It's not important. Just … get out of here.
"You were worried." Sherlock glanced at his friend as they drove away, noting the rapid breathing and pale skin.
"You think so?" asked John. "What gave me away?"
"I told you we'd manage. Mycroft's pass is always reliable, though I suppose he'll deactivate this one now."
He expected a short laugh or an ironic response from John, but instead his friend just sat and concentrated on breathing. Curious. John so seldom resisted a chance for a good quip, especially when he thought Sherlock had done something reckless. Why, then, was his reaction so severe? "What's wrong?"
"What's … Sherlock! We just broke into a top-secret government lab and were almost caught!"
"Yes, I know. The key word being 'almost.' Everything's fine, John. See? You didn't even need to use your gift. Frankland must really be a fan of your blog."
His attempt at conciliation was a failure, though, as John just glared at him from the other side of the car. Apparently he thought Sherlock had missed something. Usually that implied a social interaction of some kind, but there had been so few of those, here. Unless John was offended that he hadn't paid more attention to his odd panic attack earlier? Weren't friends meant to comfort each other when in distress? But surely John knew that he had had to concentrate on the security situation? There had been no time for coddling.
But, still, they were out now and he supposed it would be remiss of him not to tend to John's needs. Tea, at the very least, since he always found that so comforting. Ah, they could combine that with a visit to their client. Perfect. John would relax and everything would be fine.
Satisfied, Sherlock turned his attention back to the road.