John was desperate to rinse away all traces of Baskerville from his skin and, while waiting for Greg, insisted he felt well enough to take a shower.
The hot water was blissful, beating away the aches he hadn't realized he even had, they had been so outclassed by the pain in his head. He stood there for countless minutes until he realized that he heard voices outside the door. Greg was back with the food, and he was hungry.
In fact, he was starving. Now that the pain had dropped to reasonable levels, his stomach was making it clear that it felt neglected. John dried off in a hurry and threw on the pajamas he'd left hanging on the back of the door … was it only yesterday? Two days? He opened the door to be met by the scent of tea, eggs, bacon, toast … his stomach grumbled even louder.
"Greg, you're a saint," he told him.
The inspector grinned in reply. "I think they're still afraid of me from our chat. They were more than happy to help."
"Curious that they have bacon," Sherlock said, "Their claim to vegetarianism really is questionable."
"Don't be silly, Sherlock," John told him as he reluctantly climbed back into bed and accepted a tray in his lap. "Bacon counts as its own food group. Everything is better with bacon."
Silence reigned for a time as all of them (even Sherlock) concentrated on eating. It wasn't until they'd all appeased their hunger that John asked, "So, how did you know I was in trouble?"
Sherlock's face lit up as he began to spew all the deductions that had let him to the realization John was in trouble and his subsequent actions. "You called Mycroft for another favor? Twice in one day?" John was unexpectedly flattered.
"Mmm." Sherlock swallowed a mouthful of toast. "Luckily, he was so incensed that they would treat someone visiting under his auspices so poorly, he was really quite amenable. Baskerville may be highly secure and protected by the strongest secrecy measures possible, but I'm sure he'll make Dr. Stapleton pay for … overstepping … though she claims everything in Baskerville comes under her purview for 'non-invasive' research or something. Once you were safe, I got bored. Mycroft will sort it out."
"So, does he own my soul now, or what?" John asked.
"Don't be silly, John. You can't sell someone else's soul," Sherlock told him.
"It sounds like you know," Greg said with a grin, "And I don't want to know how. What I do want is to know more about this gift of yours, John. If you wouldn't mind."
John sighed. He had known this was going to come up. It wasn't that he didn't trust Greg, but … He glanced up and realized he'd let too much time go by. "Sorry. It's just weird to talk about it, yeah?" At the other man's nod, he continued, "It's something I've been able to do for as long as I can remember. I just make myself … unremarkable, easy to ignore, so that people don't see me."
He sipped at his tea and carefully concentrated (very carefully, considering his healthy respect for the headache he'd woken with). To his relief, though, it was easy—easier than usual, almost. He slipped into his gift as if he were putting on his slippers after a long day.
Greg's eyes grew wide. John knew he'd accidentally used his gift this morning when he'd had that nightmare, but the deliberate disappearance obviously made more of an impact. (Or Greg just hadn't believed the evidence of his own eyes earlier—who could blame him?)
He let go and just enjoyed the look of utter amazement on Greg's face as he reappeared. (How did that look to people, he wondered? Until Sherlock, he'd never had anybody to ask, and anyway, had always been careful to be subtle.)
"John. That's … that's … I don't even know. Amazing." Greg's face was alight with wonder and John couldn't help but smile back at him as he gently reached over to Sherlock and hid him, too, just as Greg turned to say something. "Sherlock!"
John couldn't help it. He burst out laughing, and relaxed his concentration to let Sherlock ease back into view. "Sorry. I couldn't resist."
"But … " Greg was sputtering. "I thought it was just you!"
"The gift is John's, Inspector," Sherlock told him, amused, "But over the years he's learned how to extend it to others."
"Which came in handy in Afghanistan, as you can imagine," John said, still chuckling. "And naturally Sherlock's been eager to experime…" His voice trailed off abruptly. For a brief moment he'd almost forgotten what had happened yesterday. (The day before? He kept forgetting he'd lost an entire day.)
An awkward silence settled around the room then, until Greg said with a grin, "That's typical Sherlock. Did I ever tell you about the time he blew up my squad car?"
John looked up, diverted. "Really? He didn't!"
Greg dove into the story of when he was still a Detective Sergeant and a junkie-who-would-be-nameless had mixed a unique blend of chemicals just before his stash was confiscated, but neglected to mention that it would likely end in a burst of chemical gas that would cause the boot of his car to explode. Sherlock protested that he was exaggerating, but he was smiling and John felt the tension draining. It was just Sherlock being Sherlock, after all.
"…And, of course, when I tried to ream him for it, he told me that I would have known it was going to happen if I'd just observed," Greg was saying.
"If I had a nickel for every time I've heard that," John said, "For a man who doesn't like to repeat himself, Sherlock does have some favorite sayings."
"Words to live by."
John was laughing by now, and so was Greg. He even thought the sour look on Sherlock's face was leavened by a hidden smile playing at his lips. John lifted his tea cup in a toast. "He's reliable in the most unreliable way. You never know what he's going to do, but you can count on him to be there."
"Yes," agreed Greg, "Usually telling you everything you've done wrong."
"If you gentlemen are quite finished?" Sherlock asked, his voice biting, and John and Greg just laughed even harder.
John sobered after a minute, though. "I really am, you know. Grateful. To both of you. For getting me out."
Greg looked almost embarrassed and made shooing motions with his hands, but Sherlock unexpectedly glanced away. After a few moments of awkward silence, Greg said he really needed to get back to London, and before long, it was just John and Sherlock.
Sherlock watched the door close behind the Inspector and turned back to John. He had slid back down between the sheets, curled away as if hoping he wouldn't be seen. Sherlock frowned, wondering if that's exactly what he was doing—since it never worked on him, he was never sure when John was exercising his gift.
"About the experiment, John," he said, feeling it was best to get it out in the open.
"Don't worry about it, Sherlock," came the response with a sigh. "I know it was just you being you. Rescuing me from Baskerville afterwards makes up for it, so just … leave it, all right?"
Sherlock nodded briefly, and then felt stupid, knowing John couldn't see him. "All right. But … I wanted to ask…."
Another sigh as John rolled back over and looked at him. "What, Sherlock?"
Sherlock sat back in his chair, picking up his cooling tea. "You weren't afraid of the hound. You were afraid of doctors. And your father"
John nodded. "I'm amazed I didn't have worse nightmares last night."
"You can probably thank the morphine." Sherlock saw the surprise on his face and nodded. "Yes. You were in that much pain. I was … relieved … when you woke up lucid this morning. But … why doctors?"
"You're not going to let this go, are you?" John traced the pattern on the sheets nervously, Sherlock thought. Stalling. "My father … beat me. When I was a kid. You knew that? Right. Well, my mother would bring me to the clinic when it was … bad … and, nobody ever…."
He broke off in frustration, obviously looking for the right words, so Sherlock suggested gently, "They didn't do anything to stop him. They just treated your injury and sent you on your way with a lolly and never actually helped."
He couldn't believe the rage he felt, but John was nodding. "Yeah. It got so that I didn't trust any of them, and just sitting on the examination table just … continued … whatever Dad had done, made me feel less important than ever. It almost made it worse because …."
"Because they were supposed to help. It was their job to help." Sherlock could picture it so clearly. A young John Watson, battered by his father, sitting stoically while his injuries were tended to, knowing that he was just going to be sent back to face more of them. "No wonder you joined the army," he mused aloud. "You've spent your whole life on the battlefield."
"That's one way to look at it," John told him with a tiny smile. "Or I just wanted to learn as many ways to kill him as possible in case he ever came after me again."
Sherlock was relieved to see a gleam of humor in his eyes—no matter how dark. "And you became a doctor…?"
"To show those bastards how it's supposed to be done," John said, his voice flat. "Mind you, I never particularly wanted to work with … with battered kids. But a doctor is supposed to take care of his patients, not forget them the minute they leave the office. You can't stop the horrors from happening, but you're supposed to at least try help the ones in front of you."
Sherlock eyed him with something like awe. "You never cease to amaze me, John. You are absolutely extraordinary." He saw the skepticism on his friend's face and hurried on. "A healer and a soldier who can fade into the background, ready to leap forward to attack or defend, whatever it takes to protect those who need protection. Absolutely extraordinary."
He saw the skepticism on John's face and leaned forward. "You don't believe me? John, I spend my life observing others and solving puzzles, and you … you are one of the most fascinating puzzles I've ever come across. You are deceptive—not on purpose. You are far too forthright to be able to deceive … except that you do. You can be deadly, yet you hide under these cozy wool jumpers with this bland look on your face, and people don't see it. They see your compassion and your good nature, but they don't see YOU.
"Your very gift, John. You use it to hide from people, yes, but for so much more. Camouflage, you called it? Fine, except, you're a soldier. You don't use camo so you can hide. You use it so you can launch an attack without being spotted. Look at the other night—they thought you were defenceless, but you weren't. The whole time, you were planning a counter-attack and they never saw it coming."
John was staring at him, stunned. "But that's not … my gift isn't … it's not meant to be used that way. That's why I passed out, trying to twist it to call attention to myself. I've never done that before."
"Wrong." Sherlock shook his head. "I can think of at least three times in the last 48 hours alone."
"You think things went bad because you were twisting your gift?" Sherlock tried to infuse as much assurance into his voice as possible. "No, that wasn't the problem. It was the scanner making your brain overheat that caused trouble. You used your gift to call me earlier that day, too."
John shook his head. "No, I would have known."
"Not necessarily, John, not if it's instinct," Sherlock told him. "When I found you hiding in the lab, you were muttering, "No, Sherlock, Please." At the time, I thought that you were asking me for help, but in retrospect I realize you were calling me. I didn't realize because I was focused on you anyway because of the … well …"
"Because you were using me as a guinea pig in your experiment, yes," John said, his voice dry. "But that doesn't prove anything."
"Perhaps, but what about the day before when I was using Mycroft's pass? You were calm enough as we went in, but after the sirens started, you were almost claustrophobic. You weren't quite panicked, but think about it. WHY would Frankland have stepped forward to help? Just because he reads your blog? He killed Henry's father and was systematically driving Henry insane—not exactly a compassionate individual. Yet when you called for help—help came."
John just stared, mouth agape. "That's … no, Sherlock. That doesn't make sense. My gift has always just helped me hide."
"And yet you were found on the battlefield after you were shot. Even the blind banker affair—I used logic to solve the cipher, yes, but still—black tramway? Not that obvious, yet I almost instinctively knew where to go to rescue you and Sarah." Sherlock leaned back and steepled his fingers. "You may have needed to hide from your father when you were a child—and he's just fortunate he's no longer living, incidentally, or we would have words—but you are not a coward. You are a fighter, and so your instinct is to both hide and attack—and your gift reflects that. It's fascinating, John. It seems to be able to do whatever you need it to do. It's really quite annoying."
"From a scientific standpoint, it makes no sense, John. Psychic abilities are illogical to begin with—just as impossible as huge, glowing hounds—and yet there you are, doing the impossible."
He watched John's face carefully, trying to judge his reaction. "If only I had a pound for every time you've called me illogical," John finally said. "You can't prove any of that, Sherlock."
Sherlock couldn't help the smile spreading across his face. "I'm a scientist, John. The only way to prove or disprove is to …"
"Experiment," John finished with him. "How am I not surprised?"
"Not until you're well again, of course," Sherlock assured him.
"Oh, of course. Ta." John's voice was calm, but Sherlock saw his eyes darken slightly.
"You've admitted you usually enjoy my experiments."
"More than being strapped to a chair and tortured? Well, I suppose that's true. Because we're not doing that, Sherlock."
"Definitely not. I much prefer willing participants." John just looked at him, one eyebrow raised, and Sherlock almost felt himself blush, reminded of his experiment in the lab. "I do prefer them, John, but sometimes it skews the data. And I knew you'd say yes if I'd asked."
John drew a deep breath. "Yes, well … none of that, for a while at least, yeah? I've had enough involuntary experimentation to last me for quite a while."
Sherlock nodded, relieved. "Agreed. On the plus side, I got copies of all of Dr. Stapleton's results. They're fascinating, John. I wonder if the stimulation caused by that scanner is lasting, or if it only worked while the scanner was running."
And he proceeded to explain why, telling John what the scan had shown, and quizzing John as to what he had been doing. He ignored John's groan and melodramatic burrowing under the covers. He knew John Watson wouldn't hide under the covers for long. His hard-learned first instinct might be to hide from trouble, but his second … well, that was when he attacked, and woe betide anyone who wasn't prepared.
Because John Watson could be terrifying and deadly. It was just that most people never saw past the mild-mannered façade.
John Watson was fascinating, and for a moment, Sherlock pitied all the people who never saw it, and counted himself lucky, because, after all, John Watson was his friend.
Which is why Sherlock didn't mention the text message he received from Mycroft an hour later, while he was packing his things for the return to London. It wasn't something he could (or would) keep secret indefinitely, but it could wait until they were home and John was well.
After all, John would need to be well rested for whatever was coming. He glanced back at the phone, trying and failing to think of this as a continuation of a game, rather than something to be dreaded.
NOTES: (And, yes, I am trying to work this AU into the Reichenbach canon, though I haven't quite finished it yet. There WILL be at least one more piece to this series, just … I need to figure stuff out first.)