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The Vapor Variant

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In the heat of pursuit, John could only focus on keeping up with Sherlock’s dark form as he chased Doctor Frankland; his dark mop of hair and fluttering coat silhouetted in the moonlight. John’s torch was on, but they were running too fast to aim the beam in any meaningful way. He tried to make sure he kept his footing in the dark -- the forest was full of granite boulders and gnarled roots and it would be easy to twist an ankle. He knew Sherlock had sight of Frankland, and that was enough direction for now. Sherlock’s height often put him ahead of John when they were in pursuit. Ducking and weaving, jumping and breathing -- it wasn’t the first time they’d done this, and it wouldn’t be the last.

John knew Lestrade and Henry were close behind him, but he didn’t notice they’d run to the edge of the minefield until he found himself skidding to a halt in the face of a huge inferno. Heat and noise and blinding light and the shockwave of the explosion vibrated through him and it was all so close. So sudden.

They stood, silent and horrified, catching their breath, watching the fire lick at scraps of grass and fallen leaves and what little remained of Doctor Frankland. Small bonfires scattered beyond the barbed wire, tiny blazing fireballs streaking lazily through the dark sky.

John tried to suppress the wave of panic he felt rise in him, but the situation was so sudden and unexpected; he was back in Kandahar in a blink. He had seen enough explosions to last him a lifetime while in the RAMC, blinding infernos dissolving everything and everyone in an instant. The sound, then the absence of sound, the smell of petrol and burning flesh, the immediate fight or flight response that overwhelmed rational thought. Just as quickly, he was in London, standing in a bomb-damaged 221B, relieved to find Sherlock unharmed. Standing helpless as Sherlock’s call with the old woman was cut short, her flat and her neighbors’ decimated in a heartbeat. Looking down at himself, human kindling in a blinking Semtex vest, guns trained on his heart, wondering which method of execution would hurt least.

“Well … shit,” Lestrade quietly swore in between ragged breaths, but it was enough to bring John out of his trance. There wasn’t much else to say. John felt guilty at the relief that washed over him.

 


 

As soon as Major Barrymore appeared on the scene, Sherlock began to break down the situation, barely waiting for the man’s questions before launching into his deductions and how he’d arrived at them. John could tell Barrymore wasn’t thrilled that he had to deal with Sherlock on top of the rest of the mess. As the Major walked briskly amid the scene barking orders, Sherlock matched his pace and inserted his opinions. Still, Barrymore held back his disdain well enough to allow the detective to get through the major details.

Military descended around the minefield, covering it and the surrounding woods with troops in hazmat suits, bomb disposal gear, and the ever-present fatigues. They set up huge spotlights, tents, and generators, and attempted a clean-up of what remained of Frankland. A team was sent out to explore Dewer’s Hollow and begin planning the immediate dismantling of the pipes that were pumping the gas into the moor.

Barrymore insisted on a medical team escorting Sherlock, John, Lestrade, and Henry off for exams, but told them he’d be back to get official statements once they were cleared.

The men were begrudgingly shuffled to two military ambulances and put through a quick triage there in the field. The ambulances sat back to back, doors open, so someone standing between them could see into both. Despite arguing that they felt fine, all were submitted to physical exams including blood pressure measurements, pulse oximetry, and cognitive assessments, overseen by a very tired Doctor Stapleton.

She quickly ushered Henry into one of the ambulances, and a medic began taking more vitals and hooking him up to monitors. Lestrade was next, and seemed to show no signs of distress, so he was instructed to sit on the bumper and handed an oxygen mask to wear. Sherlock was much the same, to his rage.

He slumped next to Lestrade in a huff, holding the plastic mask in his hand like it was a dirty nappy. “If we’re fine then why do we have to stay? Please do see to Mister Knight but keeping the three of us is pointless,” he challenged.

Stapleton had moved onto John at that point, and her expression was more concerned. She didn’t respond to Sherlock at all, frowning as she noted John’s racing heart. He’d been trying to slow his breathing and regain control, with little success. Over an hour had passed since the explosion and he still felt the grip of panic around his chest. Although he wasn’t surprised, John was annoyed and a little embarrassed when he was directed to sit down on the stretcher inside the empty ambulance.

“Just a precaution,” Stapleton had assured him. “I’m sure that was quite a shock.” She knew the truth. He was still in the end throes of an anxiety attack, and it wasn’t letting up.

Nevertheless, after what they’d just witnessed, the whole thing felt surreal and frivolous. Sherlock was too caught up being ornery to the medic taking his blood to notice John being hooked up to a monitor in the other ambulance.

“Sherlock …” Lestrade admonished him, wearily, pulling his oxygen mask away from his face to speak. “Just relax and shut up so we can get this over with, yeah? The more you argue, the longer it’s going to take. They don’t know for sure what was in the gas. Better safe than sorry, right?”

“It’s a waste of time and resources. We know Henry’s been exposed to the gas multiple times and he’s had no lasting detrimental effects.” He rolled his eyes when he saw Lestrade’s jaw drop incredulously, and waved a hand dismissively. “Well, I’m perfectly fine —”

“Yeah, I know. Nothing stops you, heaven knows. But we’re not getting out of this so just … just take a break, will you? Just cool it.” Lestrade allowed his oxygen mask to snap back over his mouth, put both his hands behind his head, and lay back against the ambulance door with his eyes closed.

Sherlock clenched his jaw and glared at the grass, but said nothing more. Lestrade was definitely not new to scolding Sherlock, but it didn’t escape Sherlock that John normally would have chimed in by now. Practical Doctor Watson should be insisting they all relax and submit to the exams. Realizing he’d lost track of him, Sherlock finally located his blogger in the other ambulance. Although John was looking toward Sherlock, their eyes did not meet. Instead John sat dazed on the gurney, eyes locked in a thousand-yard stare. He just about jumped out of his skin when his mobile buzzed in his pocket.

 

All right? SH

 

He looked up and met Sherlock’s worried eyes, which were combing over him with such scrutiny John felt like squirming. He tried to infuse his expression with reassurance, and nodded, plastering on a smile under the hiss of the O2 mask. Sherlock’s eyes narrowed slightly, then he nodded back, unconvinced, and squinted as he tried to read John’s monitor from four metres away.

Although he didn’t have a full blown panic attack at the blast like he might have a year ago, John was on edge, fighting with intrusive thoughts and memories of suicide bombers and roadside IEDs and Jim Moriarty blowing people up for fun. His heart rate, blood pressure, and rate of respiration were still too high, the remnants of panic still threaded through him. He kept his hands at his sides and pretended they weren’t trembling. He focused on the breathing techniques and calming mantras he’d learned in therapy, and they started to work -- albeit slowly.

It took nearly an hour for his vitals to return to normal, and Doctor Stapleton decided to keep them all detained during that time for observation. It reminded John of boot camp, when the whole team was punished for the blunders of an individual. Lestrade seemed happy enough to doze in his uncomfortable position on the ambulance bumper. John tried to close his eyes but the gruesome images were too overwhelming and he couldn’t focus on anything else. Even if he did fall asleep, he feared it would end in a nightmare and embarrassment.

Sherlock was nearly tearing his hair out by the time Stapleton cleared them, desperate to be part of the action. Still, for all Sherlock’s restlessness, John had looked up many times to see him watching, eyes passing between John and the screen showing of John’s vitals with barely concealed concern.

Nevertheless, once he was released and unhooked and fully dressed, Sherlock was tearing through the woods looking for Barrymore, who quickly passed him off to an underling. Sherlock’s explanation of Frankland’s past and the HOUND project did cause quite a stir, and they finally heard murmurings around half one in the morning that evidence had been found in the labs at Baskerville to corroborate.

“I'll get someone to take you men back,” Doctor Stapleton had said, as she dismissed them, but then Major Barrymore returned, scowling.

“There will be a formal inquiry tomorrow. An investigative team of MPs is being assembled and they’ll want to speak to all of you.”

Beside John, Henry let out a tired sigh. Lestrade’s shoulders slumped. The only one who seemed excited about the prospect of being on the witness side of an interrogation was Sherlock.

“No doubt,” he said airily. “What time do you need us?”

Barrymore’s lip curled in distaste at the prospect of spending another day with Sherlock. He looked at his watch. “0900 hours. And trust me, Mister Holmes, this is only because the investigative team has ordered it. I’ve got all the information I need from you.” He quickly turned and strode off. Sherlock was unfazed. 

 


 

They arrived back at the Inn around two in the morning. John couldn’t remember the last time he had been so exhausted. By the time they’d finally gotten back in the car, his mind felt as weary as his body.

They didn’t speak a single word when they got back to the Cross Keys Inn, just shuffled to their room, peeled off their shoes and clothes, and climbed into their respective single beds. Even Sherlock went straight to sleep, and both men slept solidly, waking a little after seven when the grey clouds of Dartmoor parted and streaks of sunlight filled their room.

John was surprised to find he hadn’t dreamt at all, but had risen to find himself sporting a beast of a headache, a stuffy nose, and a throat that felt raw when he swallowed. He took some paracetamol and had a shower, to no real change. Maybe he’d feel better once he had something to eat.

“Sleep all right?” Sherlock asked, giving him a fleeting once-over as John emerged, clean and dressed, from the bathroom. John thought he saw a flash of concern, and remembered Sherlock’s worried eyes watching him in the ambulance last night.

“Yeah,” John replied, sitting on the bed to put on his shoes, “I don’t even think I rolled over. I was exhausted. You?" 

“Fine,” Sherlock replied dismissively, threading his belt through his bespoke trousers.

 He left Sherlock to finish getting dressed and headed out to order breakfast.

 Sherlock joined him soon after, and brought him a hot cup of coffee, black the way he liked it. Suddenly, the pieces came together.

“Oh, God. It was you. You locked me in that bloody lab.”

“I had to. It was an experiment," Sherlock admitted.

“An experiment?! I was terrified, Sherlock. I was scared to death.”

“It was all totally scientific, laboratory conditions, quite literally. I knew what effect it would have on a superior mind so I needed to try it on an average one.” John wanted to throttle him.

“Any long term effects?”

“None at all. You’ll be fine once you’ve excreted it. We all will.” 

“Think I might have taken care of that already," John smirked.

 


 

“You’re sick,” Sherlock commented as John watched countless tors zip past the car window. The rock outcroppings really made the landscape quite stunning, peppering the fields and woods of Dartmoor with stone monuments big and small.

John would have been happy to head back to Baker Street after breakfast, but they still needed to meet with the inquiry board back at the base. They’d checked out of the Inn though; Barrymore had assured them they could head back to London this afternoon. At least he’d be in his own bed tonight.

Sherlock hadn’t hesitated to scramble to the top of a huge tor when they’d arrived, using the height to assess the landmarks in the area. For all his posh manners and professionalism, John saw the spark of boyish glee in Sherlock’s eyes when (after some grunting and a near slip as expensive Italian leather shoes scrambled for purchase on the stone) Sherlock stood victorious atop the giant rocks. He remembered Mycroft’s comments that Sherlock had once dreamt of being a pirate, and the dramatic, victorious pose he’d initially taken upon standing was straight off of a bottle of Captain Morgan.

“Hmm?” John asked, wiping the smile from his face, surprised to find it there in the first place. He looked over at Sherlock, whose eyes hadn’t left the road. The sun cut through the tufts of grey clouds in sharp, bright beams, making the landscape look rippled in saturated and desaturated tones.

“Sick. Your nose is running and you’ve been wincing when you swallow. You're ill.” 

“Oh. I’m sure it’s nothing, probably just allergies from all the … you know … traipsing about the forest last night.” He swallowed and realized Sherlock was right; he had been wincing. “I do have a hell of a headache, though. You feeling all right?”

“Fine,” Sherlock replied, glancing from the road to John, and giving him a skeptical once-over. “You’re not going to vomit, are you? I don’t think the rental agency would much like us returning the car with a full English breakfast sprayed about the passenger footwell.” 

John rolled his eyes. “You have such a wonderful bedside manner,” he replied, purposely slathering on the sarcasm.

“I’m not the doctor. And you’re avoiding the question,” Sherlock’s eyes flicked to John suspiciously.

“No, I’m not going to vomit,” John responded tersely, and looked back to the window. Sherlock made a noncommittal noise and turned them down the road to Baskerville.

 


 

Although Sherlock, John, Lestrade, and Henry had all been requested to speak with the investigatory panel from the RMP, John knew Sherlock’s findings on the HOUND project would be more important than the witness statements he and Lestrade could offer. He was sure Henry would have a long history of events to go through, and wondered briefly if Doctor Mortimer would continue seeing the poor young man even after he’d almost shot her.

John knew Sherlock was also hoping to find a way back into the labs and maybe even Frankland’s office to poke around and see what else he could uncover. That morning, standing in the doorway between the en suite and the bedroom cleaning his teeth, Sherlock had been lost in thought, eyes narrowed but focused on nothing. John had been packing his bag, and looked up to see Sherlock had stopped brushing completely. He stood, toothbrush still in his hand, foam all about his mouth.

“I think for the sixty seconds to count, you’ve got to be moving the bristles,” John remarked, cocking an eyebrow.

Sherlock’s eyes snapped to John, and he seemed to shake himself out of his reverie. He turned back to the sink, spit, and ran the tap. A moment later he appeared back in the doorway, mouth clean and eyes narrowed.

“Seems strange, doesn’t it? The gas you inhaled in the lab was leaking quite liberally. You’d think that would have affected the pressure in the moor. Those pipes were at least a kilometer away from the base.”

“Maybe Frankland fixed it after we left the lab?” John said, winding his phone charger around his hand and stashing it in one of the outside pockets of his overnight bag.

Sherlock hummed noncommittally and walked back to the bathroom to finish getting ready.

 


 

They arrived at the base ten minutes before nine. Corporal Lyons escorted them to a building with conference rooms and offices for the initial meeting with the investigative panel. Henry and Lestrade were there already, and after going over some basics of the case, the men were split up and questioned individually.

John’s interrogation had been easy and straightforward. After the initial dubious questions about why John and Sherlock had been on base to begin with (and how they’d initially gained entry, which earned John a tight-lipped grunt of disapproval from the stern looking interrogator), tension eased and it became more of an interview than anything. He kept his answers straightforward and simple, and told the truth. For the scope of this investigation, John and Sherlock hadn’t done anything of real offense, so there was no reason to be vague or deceptive.

Lunchtime came and went without notice. Sherlock rarely paid attention to mealtimes unless he was days past his last one. Everyone else was too wrapped up in the investigation to stop for even a bag of crisps from the vending machine, which incidentally was what John ended up eating. Now his stomach had begun to feel uneasy, and he regretted the salt and grease. His head ached worse now than it had that morning and his entire body was sore. His throat was rough and his nose was running.

Sherlock was right. He was sick.

Of course Sherlock is right, he’s always bloody right, John thought begrudgingly, then set about wondering what detail had clued him in. Probably something like the viscosity of John’s snot in relation to sniffles indicating illness rather than allergies.

Lestrade, Henry, and Sherlock (accompanied by a livid-looking Major Barrymore) joined John soon after, their interrogations complete. John was relieved they’d finally be able to leave, when the door to the conference room opened and Doctor Stapleton stepped in, holding a clipboard. Barrymore looked up at her and stood. “We’re done here,” he said, clasping his hands behind his back. “They’re all yours.”

“What? For what?” Sherlock huffed, incredulous, eyes darting between the two of them.

Barrymore was smug. “It’s imperative we run more tests, to examine any long-term effects of the gas.”

Sherlock rolled his eyes in aggravation he didn't even try to disguise. “There’s no need for more tests; you got everything you needed last night. We’ve already wasted time with this inquiry. I need access to Frankland’s lab, which I should have had hours ago.”

“Mr Holmes, you’ve been informed MULTIPLE TIMES that you will have NO access to ANYTHING on this base,” Barrymore fumed, and flushed an infuriated shade of red. “Your brother has assured me you will comply with any and all requirements we have of you, and if you do not, I am authorized to detain you for contempt.”

Sherlock clenched his jaw at the mention of Mycroft, and John could see the rage building quickly. This wouldn’t end well if it went any further.

“Sherlock,” John sighed wearily. “Let’s just get it over with and go home, all right?” He stepped closer and ducked his head near Sherlock’s ear, speaking so only he could hear. “There’s nothing Barrymore wants more than to throw you in a military cell, and I’m sure you don’t want give Mycroft the satisfaction either, right?”

Sherlock’s nostrils flared but after a moment his shoulders sank in frustrated resignation.

Doctor Stapleton looked from Sherlock to John, who nodded subtly to indicate she’d have no further fights and the situation was in control. “We’ll do our best to get you through this quickly. This way,” she said, turning toward the door and leading them out of the conference room.

The medical lab they were brought to was set up like a mini triage center at A&E. The room was square, with beds lining two opposing walls, facing each other, privacy curtains between each. A nurses station lay at one end near the door, and more doors along the far wall indicated an operating theater and a supplies room. White linoleum tile shone in the fluorescent lighting. The whole place smelled of antiseptic. 

Each man was ordered to the loo to provide a urine sample, then directed to a bed staffed with a military medic; Sherlock and Lestrade next to each other along one wall, Henry and John across the room facing them.

“Hi, Doctor … er Captain Watson,” the medic said, reading John’s name off of a clipboard. He was medium height and solid build, shaved head shiny as a cueball. He was professional but his smile seemed genuine. John liked him instantly. “Which would you prefer?”

“How about John?”

The medic smiled, a look that seemed natural to him. “All right, John. I’m Lieutenant Carlton, but you can call me Nick if you’d prefer. I’m just going to be running a few tests on you today, as I’m sure Doctor Stapleton explained. You can keep your trousers on, but I need your shirt off,” Nick informed him, preparing a syringe and vials for blood work. John noted the EKG leads on the tray.

The thought of removing his shirt and jumper was hateful to John, who was already freezing, but he reminded himself the faster they got this over with, the faster he’d be on his way back to his own bed. He grimaced as he stripped down, removing his jacket, thick wool jumper, purple button-up, and vest. He immediately started to shiver.

Carlton frowned and pulled a temporal thermometer from his pocket, and quickly ran it across John’s forehead until it beeped.

“Hmm … 38. That’s technically a fever.”

“Yeah, I think I’m coming down with a bit of a cold,” John said, clenching his fists and trying to stop the small tremors running through him.

Carlton nodded but his brow furrowed. He proceeded with the initial assessment tests, which returned results of slightly elevated blood pressure and pulse as well. John jumped at the cold stethoscope and shivered again as he took the requisite deep breaths. Carlton turned back to the tray, looking uneasy. “How long have you felt like you’re coming down with something?”

“I guess I really noticed it this morning when I woke up,” John said, realizing what conclusions that might draw when Carlton's eyes narrowed. “We’ve been out in the woods a lot these last few days, it’s been cold,” John started, then realized how much he sounded like a patient. The common cold wasn’t a result of being cold, he’d known that since he was a kid. People got sick because of bacteria or viruses; only pneumonia could sometimes be attributed to cold conditions, and he knew he didn’t have that.

Carlton jotted something down on his clipboard. “What are your symptoms?”

“Just the typical … headache, body aches, chills, sore throat, runny nose. Nothing I haven’t been through a hundred times before.”

“Sure,” Carlton nodded as he continued to write. He placed the clipboard on the tray and turned back to John. “Let’s get these leads hooked up and then I’ll get you a blanket.”

“Ta,” John said, and tried to smile. His eyes drifted across the room. Unsurprisingly, Lestrade was peacefully submitting to similar treatment in his bed, and Sherlock radiated indignation from every pore in the bay beside him. 

Sherlock glared into the middle distance and clenched his jaw as his medic leaned over him to place the EKG pads on his smooth, alabaster chest. John was pleased to note that Sherlock’s ribs were a little less defined then they had been even six months ago. Sherlock wouldn’t admit it, but John knew that constantly pestering him to eat was at least partially responsible and resolved not to let up.

Sherlock snarled at the medic, and John ducked his head to try and catch Sherlock’s eyes, pursed his lips and gave him his most reprimanding look. With a resigned sigh, Sherlock looked away from John and after a moment, said something to the medic in a much nicer tone with the hint of a forced smile. She smiled back in surprise and stuck another lead to him. Sherlock looked back at John, raising his eyebrows in a silent is that better? and John smiled and nodded once before Nick began decorating him in a similar fashion.  

Nick drew four vials of blood, then attached the EKG wires to the pads on John’s chest. He turned the EKG machine on, gathered the blood samples and his clipboard, and walked off, returning a few moments later with a thin hospital style blanket.

"Ta,” John replied, wrapping the blanket around his shoulders as best as he could. It barely took the edge off, and John continued to shiver. 

Nick smiled at him warmly. “Just a few quick questions for you, Doctor Watson,” he said, adding a new set of pages to the clipboard. They went through the normal barrage of full name, birthdate, today’s date, and Prime Minister. John flew through them with ease. He followed Nick’s finger, then touched his own fingers to his nose with his eyes closed, like a sobriety test. His reflexes were checked, and his ears, nose, and throat inspected with an otoscope.

“Yeah, you’ve definitely got some inflammation starting,” Nick noted. “Can you briefly describe what you remember from last night?”

“Sure,” John began, but then stopped short. Images of a burning car, blood in the sand, leaking diesel. Men screaming, thick black smoke, fire and fear. Blue light rippling across Sherlock’s face, red laser lights dancing on his forehead. The weight of a bomb vest he’d been forced into, the cold sweat of terror running down his back under the stifling winter jacket. John’s pulse grew thunderous in his ears.

“Doctor Watson?” Lieutenant Carlton put his hand on John’s arm, and John flinched violently away from him, but then his vision cleared and he shook his head, reorienting himself. Nick stared intently at John’s eyes, checking his pupils, then looked back at the heart rate monitor, which had been inching toward alarm.

“Can you tell me what just happened there?” 

John blinked rapidly and cleared his throat. “Sorry about that, I …” he pursed his lips and looked down at his hands. He was speaking to a fellow soldier. He could be honest. If anyone would understand, it would be someone who knew the ins and outs of war zone combat.

He inhaled deeply and began again. “What happened at the minefield last night … the explosion … it brought back some things from … similar situations … active duty and ... ” John trailed off. What he’d seen in Afghanistan was enough. Nick didn’t need to hear about Moriarty.

“Ah,” Nick nodded. “That’s understandable. From what I hear it was pretty … catastrophic. I would be surprised if you didn’t have that reaction. I’ve seen men be triggered by much less.”

John was grateful for the empathy.

“Let me get you some paracetamol and some water, and you can get a bit of rest, how does that sound? We’ll get the blood tests run and talk again in a bit. I think you lot will be staying a few more hours at least.”

“That’d be great, thank you,” John said, grimacing internally at the reaction that news would undoubtedly get out of Sherlock. With the curtain closed, John couldn’t see his friends anymore, but for the most part the room was hushed.

The idea of sleep was heavenly to John, except he was still absolutely freezing.

“I hate to be a pain, but is there any way I can put my clothes back on? I’m sort of in the chills stage of this thing and I could use the extra layers.”

Nick stood contemplating for a moment. “It’s against procedure, but I know these thin blankets don’t really help at all. You do understand if something were to happen to you, we’d have to cut it all off, right? You can’t get upset with us for ruining your favorite jumper in an emergency.”

“No, no of course not,” John agreed quickly, desperate for the warmth. He was due for some new shirts anyway, and Harry had given him a Marks & Spencer gift card for Christmas that he still hadn’t spent.

“Okay,” Nick agreed, and handed John his clothes and jacket, “let me know if you need any help. And let’s keep this between us. Stapleton’ll have my head!” he said with a wry smile.

“I really appreciate it,” John said as Nick ducked around the curtain in search of the promised paracetamol.

John dressed quickly, making sure the wires and EKG monitor were untangled where they now lay in his lap. Nick returned with the meds. Swallowing felt like sandpaper. 

Nick checked the EKG monitor. “One of the lines seems to have detached,” he said, frowning. “May I?” he gestured to John’s shirt. “It’s the highest lead, I can get it from the top.” John stretched his neck up a bit, and Nick reached down through John’s neckline to reclip the lead. As he drew his hand back, a drop of red landed on his gloved wrist. They both stared at it in surprise for a moment when another landed, and John realized his nose was bleeding. Nick grabbed a piece of gauze and held it out to John, frowning again. John held the gauze under his nose and pinched to stop the flow.

Nick pulled out his thermometer and ran it back across John’s forehead. “38.4,” he said, more to himself than to John.

“Well, the paracetamol will help with that,” John offered, and Nick hummed noncommittally. John checked the gauze. The bleeding had stopped already.

“Just get some rest. I’ll be back to check up on you in a bit.”

John lay back, closed his eyes, and was asleep in minutes.

 


 

Next to the nurses station, Sherlock lay in bed with his eyes closed, ready to do some mind palace spring cleaning to kill time. If he was going to be stuck on this miserable military base, he might as well make use of the wait. His mobile sat in his pocket, useless. There was no signal in this medical dungeon.

The privacy curtain had been drawn between Sherlock and Lestrade, and John and Henry’s curtains across the room were completely closed. He’d heard soft snoring coming from at least one of the beds at random intervals.

Since it had been so quiet, Sherlock was vaguely aware when voices started speaking on the surface as he worked through the clutter in his animal room, clearing out details of the murderous hounds that he now knew didn’t exist.

“Doctor Stapleton, can I get your opinion on something?” a male voice asked.

“Of course, Lieutenant, what is it?” replied a feminine one.

“I’m concerned about some of the symptoms Doctor Watson is exhibiting.”

Sherlock’s attention shifted quickly upon hearing John’s name, but he remained utterly still, keeping up the illusion of sleep as the doctors spoke, oblivious to the fact that they had an eavesdropper.

There was a rustle of papers. “Flu-like symptoms?” Stapleton questioned.

“Yes, and just now a bloody nose.” Sherlock concluded the man must be John’s medic.

“Not all that odd this time of year,” Stapleton countered. “How is he now?”

“Resting. His fever has gone up in the hour he’s been here. It’s currently at 38.4. I gave him paracetamol and he’s going to try and sleep.”

“None of the others are exhibiting any symptoms at all. I can’t think of an airborne hallucinogen that incites delayed fevers and flu symptoms. It’s possible he’s just caught this year’s bug.”

“He had a bit of a dissociative episode too, and I looked in his NHS charts; he’s been diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Said the situation last night triggered it.”

Sherlock tried not to frown. He had known something was off with John last night: the elevated heart rate and the thousand yard-stare. Why hadn’t he realized the explosion would prompt John’s PTSD? Of course it would. 

“Yes, I witnessed it last night as well.” Stapleton replied. “He struggled to get his heart rate and BP back to normal.” She sighed. “I’d like to keep them a few more hours anyway. Coordinate with the medical team and the lab, let them know Doctor Watson’s symptoms, and we’ll keep an eye out for the others … see what develops. We’ll know more when the blood work gets back. But it’s possible he’s just a little under the weather and a little overwhelmed with what happened to Frankland.”

Footsteps moved off in different directions. The conversation was over.

Sherlock replayed every symptom John had exhibited these past few hours, and took inventory of his own body looking for anything similar. He felt perfectly fine. If John had been exposed to the gas at 3pm yesterday and was showing symptoms this morning at 9am, Sherlock should be feeling at least something by now, accounting for the delay in exposure.

He headed back to his mind palace. Time to get out everything he had on the delayed effects of airborne hallucinogens.