"And all of this because of some project from twenty years ago?" Major Barrymore sounded torn between disbelief and annoyance.
Sherlock nodded. "That, and a murder. Really, Major, I just explained it all to you, weren't you listening?"
The major glared at him. "Well, excuse me for struggling to accept that one of my most-trusted scientists was a murderer - and just after learning that he blew himself to bits on a landmine! You may not believe it but some people do find that kind of news upsetting, Mr Holmes."
Sherlock shrugged, supremely unconcerned by the man's demeanour. It was hardly the first time someone had accused him of being unfeeling. In his opinion, Frankland deserved what he got. A good scientist knew when an experiment was fruitless and would never have to resort to such methods as randomly drugging people in a forest just to cover up a murder. In fact, a good scientist would manage to conduct his experiments without having to murder anyone at all.
Next to him, Lestrade shifted his weight from one foot to the other, clearly uncomfortable in this place. Perhaps the realisation that these kinds of facilities existed without the public knowing about it had upset him. Still, there was nothing to be done about that - Lestrade's presence today was necessary. The entire explanation of the case would go over much better and be accepted more easily by Barrymore if an actual Detective Inspector of Scotland Yard was present to verify the facts. Privately, Sherlock rolled his eyes. Bureaucracy. What an immense waste of time.
As Barrymore turned to Lestrade for further explanations about the murder of Henry Knight's father and the subsequent drugging of the son to keep him silent, Sherlock turned away from them and moved to the window overlooking the laboratory. Part of him was itching to get a closer look at some of the experiments being conducted in there. All this data, scientific break-throughs no one would ever even learn about ... it was a shame to see them all go to waste, locked away in this underground facility where he couldn't get to them. Perhaps he should try to bully Mycroft into granting him unrestricted access. He dismissed the idea with a small twist of his mouth. Unlikely.
Something was wrong, he thought, studying the reflection of the room behind him in the glass. Something was missing ... no, someone.
"Didn't you hear him when he excused himself?" Lestrade asked. "He's gone looking for the loo."
Ah, that explained his absence. Sherlock frowned. He would have to have a word with John about his tea consumption. Surely drinking that much tea couldn't be healthy? His bladder barely got a chance to empty before he drowned it in tea again. Making a mental note to bring the subject up at the next opportunity, Sherlock turned his attention back to the scientists on the other side of the glass.
Small genetic experiments such as Doctor Stapleton was performing on glowing rabbits held no real interest for him - anyone could make a rabbit glow in the dark, provided they had a rabbit, a laboratory, the necessary equipment and a handful of glow genes. It was hardly a challenge.
What Sherlock was interested in, was the entire rest of what was going on down there. Cloning was fascinating and might one day be relevant to the Work, but the chances of a scientific breakthrough in human cloning, coupled with the odds of said human clone growing up to become a criminal, were barely above zero. He doubted he would have to worry about any such thing for the next thirty years at least and by then he might well be either dead or no longer interested in crime-solving.
Still, there were other experiments being conducted here, genetic improvements and augmentations of medicine, vaccinations, drugs, ... the list was endless. He had noticed that some of the animals appeared to have been tampered with in ways that went far beyond luminosity and he would be quite interested to take a closer look at some of the reports on these experiments.
Movement at the other end of the lab drew his attention and he watched as John stepped through the door, looking relieved and eager to go home. There was a wary expression on his face as he looked around the lab and Sherlock wondered if he was still upset about the whole drug thing. Oh well, all of that would soon be forgotten.
Catching sight of him behind the glass, John grinned at him and started making his way across the room, dodging scientists and lab tables as he went. He had just covered about half the distance when one of the lab assistants, immersed in reading a report as he walked, completely neglected to watch where he was going and ran straight into John.
Sherlock jerked instinctively, despite knowing there was nothing he could do to stop the inevitable as John lost his balance and got knocked into one of the smaller, moveable lab tables on wheels, which promptly slid away from underneath him. John tried to hold on to the edge and prevent a fall, but only succeeded in dragging the table down with him with a resounding crash.
The sound of dozens of instruments hitting the floor and several glass vials and dishes shattering on the tiles added to the horrified shrieks of the scientists.
Sherlock only became aware of the fact that he had left the room and raced into the lab when he was already shoving the first unlucky lab assistant aside.
"John? John! Are you all right?! John!"
A lab bench blocked his view and he jumped over it, using one hand to catapult himself across the cluttered surface and sending sheets of paper flying everywhere. He didn't give a damn about the mess, though, all his attention focused on John and the terrible things that could happen to him if he came into contact with any of the substances that had been in the glass dishes and vials. There may have been some unknown new virus or a very well known but dangerous virus in them, not to mention the very real danger posed by shards of glass and sharp metal instruments such as scalpels.
There was a pained yelp and then silence and as Sherlock whirled around he fully expected to see his best friend's unconscious form on the floor.
Well, he was not completely wrong. The body on the floor was certainly unconscious.
While all around him chaos erupted as other people gathered around the scene, Sherlock wrestled down his utter disbelief at what his eyes were showing him and did the only thing that seemed to make sense. He pulled out his phone and hit speed dial, speaking the moment someone answered.
"You can patronise me later, just shut up and listen. This is an emergency. There's been an accident at the lab. I need one of your cars at Baskerville ASAP, and possibly a vet. Your brilliant scientists just turned John into a dog."
The first thing John became aware of was the stench. That, and the noise. They assaulted his nose and ears mercilessly and he groaned, wincing at how weird it sounded. More like a whine, somehow. But god, the stench. Someone had definitely overdone it with the disinfectant. It burned all the way from his nose down into his lungs with every breath he took. How did other people stand that?
And the noise ... there were at least a dozen people all talking at once, their tones ranging from excitement to panic, and he vaguely wondered what all the fuss was about.
How had he ended up in this situation anyway? He carefully opened his eyes but closed them immediately as the blinding light stabbed at his retinas. Ouch.
Fine, time to take stock then, and try to recall what had happened. He and Sherlock had been investigating a case, he remembered. Out of London ... oh right, the Baskerville military facility. Underground labs, hallucinations, Bob Frankland blowing himself up. They had gone back to Baskerville to tie up some loose ends before returning to London. Judging from the smell and the light, they were still in the labs. So why was he lying on the floor?
It took a couple of seconds but the memory gradually came back. Someone had slammed into him, he had fallen, there was a table involved somehow and glass shattering.
'Oh bloody hell.'
He must have been knocked out, probably by hitting his head somewhere. He supposed there was a chance that he had come into contact with some kind of chemical.
"John? John! Can you hear me? John."
'Oh god, could someone please turn down the volume?' He squeezed his eyes shut as if that would somehow block out sound, and tried to cover his ears with his hands.
Immediately, he realised that something was very very wrong.
This didn't feel like his hands at all. Had he somehow lost control over his body? Were his injuries worse than he thought? Had he actually been in a coma and this was a hospital room somewhere?
And would Sherlock please stop shouting at him?
Admitting defeat, John opened his eyes again, blinking several times as the room swam into focus. Weird. The world looked slightly out of distortion, somehow. Perhaps he had suffered a concussion. Ignoring the discomfort for the moment, he tried to make sense of what he saw.
He was lying on the floor and there were several pairs of feet surrounding him. One of them looked familiar and their owner appeared to be wearing a long dark coat. Oh, good, that was Sherlock. John allowed his gaze to travel up the man's body until he found his face. The expression there made him reel back.
Sherlock looked ... completely shell-shocked.
Maybe something in his own face must have given away his confusion, because Sherlock crouched down in front of him, his eyes intent and piercing - and filled with a strange mix of fear and surprise and undeniable fascination.
Oh god, why was he shouting like that?
"John, I need you to stay calm," Sherlock said. "Can you do that for me?"
'Yes, anything, just stop talking so loudly,' John thought. He opened his mouth to reply but his tongue wouldn't work and a distressed whine was all that emerged.
Sherlock looked concerned and was actually reaching out for him now, very slowly. John watched the progress of his hand warily. What on earth was Sherlock doing?
"You've come into contact with one of the experiments during your fall just now," Sherlock told him, thus clearing up the question of their location. Still Baskerville, then. "Some of it has entered your bloodstream. The effects are quite... remarkable. I need you to remain calm while we try to figure out what to do. Can you do that?"
John wanted to reply, to ask what the hell was going on, but his tongue and larynx still refused to obey him.
"No, no, don't try to talk, I'm afraid you're not capable of speech at the moment."
Sherlock's voice was shockingly gentle, far too kind and calm for John's liking. He never sounded like that. Something had to be extremely wrong for him to take on such a tone now. His distress only increased at the thought. Calm? How was he supposed to remain calm? Why wouldn't anyone explain what was going on?
Sherlock's hand came to rest on his head just then and John all but jumped out of his skin in surprise. This felt wrong, too. Admittedly, Sherlock had never put a hand on his head before, so there was no real point of comparison, but John knew his body and this was not how being touched by anyone should feel. It was as if either Sherlock's hand or his own head was wrong. And since Sherlock looked fine, that only left John himself.
All right, that was enough. Time to get up off the floor and find out what the hell was going on here.
He shifted, tried to get his legs under him and push himself up with his arms - and failed.
Confused, he tilted his head and looked down on himself, trying to figure out what the problem was. A yelp escaped his throat as he caught sight of what looked like two thin, furry legs ending in paws. He tried to move his right arm and the right furry leg jerked in response. John yelped again, twisting his head this way and that to take in the rest of his body.
Fur. Four legs and fur and a tail and not a hint of anything that John would recognise as being his own body. His hands and feet - no, his paws! - slid and skittered across the tiles as he tried to scramble away, somehow certain that it would all turn out all right if only he got away from where he currently was.
"John! John, stop!" Sherlock ordered and he froze, his panicked thoughts stilling momentarily as he stared at Sherlock's face. "Listen to me, John, and try to stay calm."
'Calm? I can't stay calm, how am I supposed to stay calm? This is not my body!!!' John wanted to scream but all that came out of his mouth was a panicked noise somewhere between a howl and a yelp and he shrank back, startled by the sound.
"As I was just trying to explain to you, you came into contact with one of the experiments being run here," Sherlock repeated gently. "It appears that somehow, the oh-so-clever people working in this lab have turned you into a dog. Now please try to stay calm so we can try to find a way to turn you back. Your panicking isn't helping."
'I'd like to see you trying to remain calm when you wake up in the wrong fucking body', John thought. Then Sherlock's words caught up with him. A dog. He had been turned into a dog. This was insane. This was completely and utterly insane. If this was another one of Sherlock's jokes, if the mad bastard had somehow drugged him again ...
The sound of another familiar voice interrupted his furious thoughts.
"Sherlock, I don't think that's going to do much good." Lestrade. That was Lestrade. Greg wouldn't lie to him, John knew. He would never agree to take part in one of Sherlock's insane experiments, particularly not one such as this.
Lestrade moved to crouch next to Sherlock, who gave him an irritated glare but didn't say anything. "Unfortunately, Sherlock's right. Bloody hell, John, you should see yourself. I wouldn't believe it myself if I hadn't been there and seen it happen with my own eyes."
Well, that wasn't exactly helping, either. John glared at him, feeling even more off-kilter now. What on earth did he look like?
"Maybe we should show him?" someone else said and John turned his head in that direction, noticing that a whole group of people was gathered around them. "Seeing is believing and all that. Does someone have a mirror?"
Sherlock rolled his eyes. "Idiots."
He pulled out his phone, held it up to John and snapped a picture, then turned the device around and showed it to him. "There, does that help?"
Sherlock was about 98 percent certain that he had never before been so surprised in all his life. Granted, there had been that incident with the octopus at the London Aquarium once and the thing with the fire-extinguisher and the boiling eggs when he was younger, but nothing had ever surprised him quite as much as turning around with the full expectation of seeing John Watson and finding himself staring at a dog instead.
Maybe that was why his first reaction after ending his phone call to Mycroft had been to ask in a rather odd tone of voice: "What breed is that?"
Lestrade, who reached him in just that moment stared at him in utter disbelief. "Is that really the most important question here, Sherlock?"
He shrugged. "One of them, yes."
"How about asking 'What the hell happened to John?' instead?!" Lestrade snapped and turned his furious glare at an unlucky scientist who just happened to catch his eye.
Sherlock didn't bother looking away from the body slumped on the floor as he responded. "I thought that would be fairly obvious even to you, Lestrade. As you can plainly see, John has been turned into a dog. No doubt one of the many questionable experiments being conducted here is responsible. I suppose he must have cut himself on a piece of glass and the substance entered his blood stream that way."
He approached the body cautiously, but the dog - John - did not move. He was breathing, though, which laid at least some of Sherlock's worries to rest. Curiously, he picked up one of the front paws, examining it and the corresponding leg. "Just as I suspected, there's a cut. He's bleeding. Get me some bandages." The last sentence was barked at one of the lab assistants who scrambled to get the first aid kit.
By then, Major Barrymore had also joined the ever-expanding group of onlookers and been informed of what had happened. Sherlock ignored him and all his effusions on the subject and focused on John, who remained both unconscious and canine. The woman returned with the first aid kit and Sherlock found himself disinfecting and dabbing at the cut just above John's front paw on the inside of his foreleg. He must have cut his wrist as he fell, thankfully missing the major artery there. The wound was about two centimetres long and hardly more than a scratch, as far as Sherlock could judge. Even a simple adhesive bandage would be an exaggerated measure. All the more surprising that such a - rather superficial - injury had sufficed to turn John into this. The things science could do!
"Well?" he then asked, returning to his original question. "What breed is it? Don't claim you don't know, the parameters of any experiment on DNA would require absolute attention to detail about the breed and the specific animal in question."
The young lab assistant who had handed him the first aid kit was already leaving through papers. "Uh ... it appears to be a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, Sir."
Sherlock raised his head and stared at her. She shrugged and handed him the papers. Clipped to one of them was a picture of the very dog the DNA sample stemmed from - precisely the same dog that was now lying on the floor in front of him. Sherlock sighed. Well, at least one mystery solved so far.
Just then, the dog gave a low whine. After a second of silence, everyone started prattling at once, the scientists excited, Barrymore and Lestrade worried. Sherlock remained silent, waiting a couple of seconds and watching John stir. Then, leaning forward, he carefully nudged the dog's shoulder. "John? John. Can you hear me? John!"
John's initial reaction to finding himself on the floor and in the wrong body was not very promising, but Sherlock quickly abandoned all attempts to distinguish between "John" and "the dog" - mostly because they were one and the same at the moment and anything else would have been simply ridiculous.
Talking to him as if he were simply a person - and Sherlock hoped he still was - seemed to be the most obvious course of action, so that was exactly what he did. Lestrade's interference annoyed him but seemed to calm John somewhat. And the idea of showing John what he looked like seemed to have some merit, so he snapped a picture and showed it to him.
"There, does that help?"
John stared at the phone, apparently taking the picture in. Sherlock wondered what he thought of his appearance.
"If it makes things easier for you, I suppose you could have turned out far worse than this breed," he pointed out. "By the way, your fur is ginger. Dogs are colour-blind, aren't they?" he addressed one of the scientists.
"Yes, Sir, but we've been working on resolving that issue," the man said. "There's a chance he isn't afflicted with vision impairments."
Sherlock sighed and turned back to John. "There, you heard him. Bark once if you can see red and green."
John looked at him and made a kind of whimpery noise, but nodded his head.
"I don't think he knows how barking works," the scientist chimed in. "The vocal cords would have been completely restructured, it will take some time to adjust to all the changes. I'm afraid this includes his senses and ability to move."
"You are moving like a weak kitten, John. Well, puppy in your case," Sherlock told him, watching as John tried very hard to glare at him. How charming.
He snatched his phone back and googled information about the breed his best - and only - friend had been turned into. "Oh, this is fantastic, John! Looks like your breed was designed specifically for hunting ducks. Ducks, criminals, barely any difference there. Now tell me, what does it feel like?"
"Oh, right, you can't talk," he said, realising his mistake. "Can you bark Morse code?"
John chose that moment to discover how growling worked - it probably came naturally to him, considering how much of his human time had been spent growling at Sherlock's antics up to now.
"I'm going out on a whim here and say that he means 'no'," Lestrade commented, chuckling.
Sherlock rolled his eyes. "Yes, thank you for your input."
Just then, his phone chimed with a text message. "There is a car waiting for us outside," he said. "My brother is surprisingly fast at times. Probably had a bloody Quick Reaction Force waiting around the corner the entire time I've been working here." He turned to Lestrade and pierced him with his glare. "You would know, of course. He sent you here to have an eye on me, after all."
"Now, leave me out of this." Lestrade raised his hands in a defensive gesture.
"Sir, you can't just take the dog with you," one of the scientists interrupted what would have been a scathing comment on Sherlock's part.
"Oh really? And why not?"
"The specimen needs to be studied carefully - we've never turned a human into an animal before. This requires twenty-four-hour observation and detailed notes as well as regular examinations and responsiveness evaluations."
Sherlock stood and turned to face the man, taking in the eager glint in his eyes. "And after that? Are you going to put him down and cut him open to extract his brain, too?"
The scientist hesitated, apparently giving the idea some thought. That was a mistake.
Sherlock stalked towards him and came to a halt very much inside his personal space. "Over my dead body. I'm taking John with me and I'll be keeping an eye on him while you lot work on an antidote to reverse this. And if you try and stop me...," he paused and looked the man over from head to foot, "... well, I'd like to see what animal I could turn you into. A lab rat, perhaps?"
He waited until the scientist had backed off a step, then turned his attention back to John. "Come on, try and get up. You know how to crawl, this will hardly be different. Your body already knows how to move, all you have to do is listen to what this form is telling you."
John was looking around with wide eyes, gaze skittering from one person to the next, and clearly visible tremors wrecked his body.
"Too much input," Sherlock concluded, rounding on the people gathered around them. "Get out! All of you, now! Barrymore, you'll go ahead and make sure every door is opened the moment we approach. Lestrade, stay here and help me with John."
He turned back to the confused and obviously terrified creature on the ground, not bothering to look up and watch as the others quickly fled the lab. "All right, John, let's try this again. Your brain is already aware of your limbs, all you need to do is accept the knowledge and make use of it. If you want me to, I can give you a leg up, so to speak."
John tipped his head to the side and tried to scramble to his feet again, but coordinating four legs and a tail - which he wagged about rather aimlessly and seemed to be confused by - was not nearly as easy as the common dog made it seem.
Sherlock sighed. "I'll take that to mean that you can't get up on your own. Come on, then. And do try not to bite me out of reflex when I grab you, alright?"
John whined, but stopped his pathetic attempts to get up, allowing Sherlock to approach him and bend over him. He grasped the dog firmly around his chest and lifted him off the floor, grunting at the weight. According to his research, a fully grown Toller could easily weigh 18-25 kilograms. He'd guess John to be on the heavier side of the scale, which wasn't very surprising. In most species males tended to be larger and heavier, after all.
"There, all four paws on the ground now?" he asked, slightly breathlessly.
"Looks good from here," Lestrade informed him, having bent forward to get a better view of John's legs.
"Okay, try and put your weight on them and keep yourself upright," Sherlock instructed him, keeping his voice low and calm. "I'm right here, holding you up, but I won't do all the work and I will let go once you can stand on your own."
It took several attempts, but finally John seemed to have figured out how four legs and paws worked and was able to stand - still a bit shakily, but on his own.
Sherlock slowly removed his arms from around John's body - not a position he had thought he would ever find himself in. He stayed bent over him, though, ever watchful in case he lost his balance and fell again.
"Do you think you can walk? Try to decide on which leg to move first, the rest will follow along."
"This is crazy," Lestrade commented from where he stood several feet away. Disbelief was etched all over his face, as if he still hadn't come to terms with the situation. Sherlock wondered what it was like, taking this long to adapt to a new situation. Oh well, ordinary people and their ordinary minds. He would spend his time carefully watching John and making note of absolutely every tiny detail. As far as he was concerned, that was a far better use of his time than spending all day wrapping his mind around the idea that his best friend was suddenly no longer human. That much was a fact and he saw no reason not to accept it as such and move on.
He watched as John took a small step forward, stumbling slightly as all three other legs attempted to follow up at the same time.
"You're still in the mindset of someone walking on two legs," Sherlock observed, making a mental note of that as he caught John around the middle to keep him from falling. "Try to imagine yourself crawling on your hands and knees. How would you move then? The motion sequence should be very similar."
Another attempt was made and John seemed to at least manage to focus on Sherlock's instructions and tried to follow them. The stress about the entire situation still had him shaking from head to paw and he didn't dare move fast, but along with Lestrade's gentle encouragement as he kept several paces ahead of them, they finally made it all the way to the lift. Once inside, the doors closed and the cabin set in motion, promptly causing John to lose his balance again.
He made a sound very much like a whimper and ducked, instinctively tucking his tail between his legs and inching into one of the corners.
Sherlock and Lestrade shared a look.
"I bloody hope your brother has a solution for this," the DI said gruffly, gesturing at the shaking dog at their feet.
"If he doesn't, he'll find one soon enough," Sherlock told him. "And if he doesn't, I will."
The lift came to a stop, the doors opened and Lestrade stepped out and raised one hand to the motion sensor to keep them open while Sherlock coaxed John out into the hallway.
"There, come on, one of Mycroft's despicable cars is waiting for us. You have express permission to shed hair all over the seats." He grinned as he imagined the look on Mycroft's face when he saw the reddish dog hair all over the expensive leather.
Lestrade cleared his throat. "Sherlock..."
"You might at least try to sound like you're not excited about all this? Show some sympathy?"
Sherlock frowned. "Not good?"
"Definitely not, no," the DI confirmed.
It sounded wrong and he realised he had inadvertently been waiting for a 'bit not good' from John. But of course John couldn't talk right now. Sherlock looked from Lestrade to his best friend and back again and wondered if maybe this might turn out a bit less amazing than he had initially thought.