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Title: Uncontrolled Variables
Author: [livejournal.com profile] spacemutineer
Rating: PG-13
Warnings: Self-harm, violence, h/c
Word Count: ~2000
Summary: Not ever variable can be controlled.
Author's Note: Written for this prompt about Sherlock's experiment with John and the fear drug in the laboratory in the episode The Hounds of Baskerville:

John reacts very badly to the drug. Maybe he’s allergic, or maybe his PTSD is a factor. He flashes back to Afghanistan or has some kind of full-blown Devil’s Foot hallucination: something that makes Sherlock feel guilty for (he believes) exposing John to it.


Like the lab rat in a maze that he is, John scurries across the tile floor at the sound, running for safety and refuge he will not find. It's inelegant, a downloaded audio file of a snarling dog played through Sherlock's mobile speaker into the laboratory's PA microphone, but it turns out to be an even more effective control for the variable in this experiment than he had hoped.

Now for the real question: what will John see? The detective's hypothesis is strong and his results imminent. Imminent results always make his heart beat a little faster.

The experiment's subject eventually chooses to hide himself inside one of the larger animal cages, away from the security camera's sight.

A pity. Ah, well, such is science. Not every variable can be controlled. Time for the call, then.

John's voice is haggard on the line when he answers, breathing hard in that rasping, almost asthmatic way he does when he is in fear for his life. Funny that Sherlock knows that sound so well now.

"It's here. It's in here with me," he says, whispering, trying his best not to attract his imaginary canine pursuer.

"Where are you?" Sherlock punctuates his question with another growl from the mobile. The feral cry echoes through the darkened laboratory.

"Get me out, Sherlock, you've got to get me out." Begging. From John. This drug has incredible power.

"Stay calm. Can you see it?"

"I can hear it. Did you just hear that?"

"But, John, can you see it?" The results are so close. Just a little more.

Another snarl plays through the speaker, and John cries out.

"No. No. No! No! No!"

*BANG*

What was that?

"John?"

He doesn't respond to the inquiry. All he says, repetitively and endlessly, is "No." The negatives are punctuated at intervals with hard clanging noises, the unmistakable hollow echoing sound of metal.

Metal and skull.

"John..."

*BANG*

"John!"

*BANG*

"Listen to me!"

*BANG*

"John, there is nothing-"

*BANG*

"-there. You are safe!"

*BANG*

"I promise you."

*BANG*

"John!"

It's no use. The sound of bone on steel continues unabated. John is going to crack his skull open if this panic attack is allowed to continue without intervention. He's more than likely already given himself a concussion at this point. Every additional impact is causing more damage.

Sherlock bolts out of the security room towards the lab. As he runs, his phone stays connected and he keeps talking, probably to the floor, he thinks. The odds of a man in the midst of a drug-induced psychotic break remaining listening on the line are low indeed. Still, it's worth trying.

"John, I'm coming to find you." For no rational reason, he adds, "Stay where you are."

As if John could go anywhere else.

*BANG*

*BANG*

*BANG*

---

Sherlock can hear John before he can see him. The clashing sound of his head smashing into the metal plate bounces and echoes through the huge, sterile laboratory room. No amount of shouting makes the noise stop.

Inside the cage, John looks small and fragile, his knees curled up into his body and his eyes crushed shut. The side of his head is already bruising, the skin burst and bleeding, but he continues to crash it into the cage again and again.

Creeping inside with him, Sherlock wedges his hand between John's head and the steel wall, leaving his knuckles to take the heavy impact of John's last blow.

"John. John, it's me, open your eyes."

When John's eyes do flash open a second later, they are empty, his pupils as gaping and black as abandoned wells. If John is seeing anything with them, it's not his friend. He screams, an almost unearthly noise, a roar more than anything else. His hands pop up out of nowhere, grabbing madly at Sherlock's face, clawing and lashing in uncontrolled violence.

It's a fortunate thing for Sherlock and his sight that the doctor keeps his fingernails so neatly trimmed, he thinks as he takes John's wrists and holds them tight. That fleeting moment of relief is short-lived, however, because his focus on John's hands leaves Sherlock's temple exposed and vulnerable. John slams his forehead into it and Sherlock sinks to the floor in pain. Dazed, he attempts to drag himself away, out of the cage, anywhere else, but John follows, ferocious. He is fighting for his life.

John's attacks are powerful and difficult to counter while still reeling from a blow to the head and without hurting his friend/opponent. Sherlock struggles to think of a way to subdue him. There must be a way, surely. But his haze makes him try for far too long. He should have given up and simply knocked John out when the chance existed.

Because now, John gets a hold of Sherlock's throat and the world dims quickly. Years of military and medical training mean John knows where to put his fingers for maximum effectiveness, even drugged and without any benefit of higher thought. It is instinctive for him. Impressive. But rather inconvenient in this case.

As Sherlock fades out of consciousness, he manages to eke out a few last choked words. "John... please... stop..."

In the grey twilight, Sherlock watches John's eyes blink, blink again, and finally refocus themselves.

"Sherlock? Sherlock! Oh, God!"

John's fingers pull away from Sherlock's neck instantly. He jumps off of him and away, huddling himself against the wall. For his part, while the sensation of blood rushing back to feed his brain is welcome, the detective finds the return of air through his trachea to be far less pleasant. The coughing and gagging that follow cannot be prevented.

Pressed and curled against the wall, John stares at Sherlock sputtering for breath on the floor. More than anything, it's clear he wants to stop seeing what lies in front of him, but he can't manage to bury his head into his folded arms until Sherlock's breathing eases from desperate heaving to merely a grating wheeze. Then his eyes disappear into the crook of his elbow on his knee.

"John."

Just saying the word, croaking it, is enough to wrack Sherlock with more shuddering coughs. After the bout passes, he crawls, hands and knees on the floor, over to John and drops himself at his side. Next to him, John emanates heat and a raw, wild energy.

"S'okay," Sherlock says. It's barely intelligible, but John gets it immediately. He leaps to his feet to stand and shift his weight side to side. His arms stay crossed around himself in a tight and protective embrace.

"No! No, it's not! It's not okay! It's not okay! Jesus Christ!"

Out on the open floor, John paces like a captive animal, running his hands across his face and raking his fingers through his hair. The doctor pauses his anxious flurry only long enough to get a better look at Sherlock on the floor and the way he breathes and swallows through the rising bruising and swelling of his neck.

"It was the hound," he says, convincing no one, especially not himself. "I saw it. I know I saw it! I saw something. You... How did you... Jesus, Sherlock, Jesus." He shakes his head and returns to stalking the floor.

Too tired to do much else, Sherlock just waits, gathering his strength and watching John wander the room, trying and failing to process what just happened between them. When he finally stops pacing again, he is shaking all over. His words tremble too when they come.

"I could have killed you."

"You didn't."

"I could have killed you." He says it again, still with the same timbre of shame and fear.

"John, stop it."

"That's what you said! That's what I finally heard. I heard you... I heard you begging for me to stop."

"John..." There is warning in the tone.

"And then I looked down and my fingers were wrapped around your throat. I was squeezing, trying as hard as I could to crush it. Jesus Christ, Sherlock, I could have killed you."

"This isn't your fault."

"The hell it isn't! I'm- I'm unstable. Dangerous. It's PTSD, got to be. I need help. I'll just go. I'll just go and have myself admitted, take care of this before anything worse happens."

"Nothing is going to happen! You're fine." He's not fine. His head is still bleeding.

"Fine? Sherlock, five minutes ago, I was trying to strangle the life out of you with my own hands. Right there, right over there on the floor! I'm not safe, do you understand? You're not safe around me."

"John. Nothing happened here. It was a mistake. Let's just let it go. Let's go find someone to look at your head."

"Those bruises on your neck will last for days. The next time, they may well be permanent." He rubs at his arms nervously, almost as if he were cold, his eyes wide and staring. "I have to go."

"No, you don't. John, stop! Stay here!"

But he's gone. Gone, rushing out the door and down the hallway. Behind him there is only silence.

Sherlock swears and drags himself with difficulty to his feet.

"John! John, wait!"

Running through the hall and shouting are murder on his injured throat. He is interrupted in both by another painful and extended coughing fit. In between heaves, he sees John approach again cautiously, his hands hidden, stuffed deep into his pockets.

"Are you alright?" John is pale, as white as the clean laboratory walls. But it isn't John talking. It's Doctor Watson.

"I told you, I'm fine." A few more rasping coughs and Sherlock admits it all. "None of this was real."

Ignoring the second part of the statement completely, John goes after the first instead. "You don't sound fine. You need a doctor."

"I already have one."

John whimpers, a soft wounded noise. "Sherlock..." He reaches for Sherlock's bicep and squeezes with imploring fingers. "Sherlock, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry." John's eyes glisten and shine. "Please forgive me. Can you do that? I didn't mean to hurt you. I would never do that to you. I know I did, but... Sherlock. I can't... I don't know how... Sherlock, please." The first of the tears he'd been trying to prevent slips past the corners of his eyes, and John drops his forehead against Sherlock's chest. He cries there quietly for a few moments, kneading Sherlock's arm and begging without words for absolution, for forgiveness, for mercy.

The softest wisps of John's hair tickle against the tender skin of Sherlock's neck, and the detective realizes he has absolutely no idea what to do in this situation. John looks up at him, desperate for any kind of response, and Sherlock says the first and only thing that he can think of in that moment.

"Your pupils are two different sizes."

John sniffles. "What? Really? Oh, that's... that's not good."

All at once, his energy leaves him, and the adrenaline that had been keeping him standing at last drains away. He slumps against Sherlock, who eases him gently to the ground.

"I think I may need to sit down for a minute," he says, half-dazed.

"You sit. I'm going to fetch one of the doctors."

"No, wait. Stay with me." He tugs on Sherlock's coat sleeve from his seat on the floor. "I can't leave you alone, not when your breathing still sounds like that. Don't. Don't go."

"As you wish, Doctor." Without a fight, Sherlock surrenders and sits next to John in the long monochrome hallway. John rubs at the wet trails on his cheeks with the backs of his fingers and Sherlock turns to his mobile to give him some amount of privacy. "I'll text Mycroft. His goons should be down here for us in about five minutes, I'd think."

"I'd take the under on that one, government building and all." John tries to smile but it never really sticks. His breath catches again, almost a sob, but he shoves it back down along with his mounting dizziness. He leans into Sherlock's shoulder, half for balance, half not. His grip on Sherlock's knee certainly doesn't seem to be helping to keep him upright, but he doesn't let go.

The stern men in lab coats and their attendant security guards follow just over four minutes later. The under wins.
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