It was three on three: Torchwood to the left and London to the right as they sat around the conference table in the room above the main Hub. It wasn't much, but John appreciated the minor change of scenery. And the chairs were more comfortable than those downstairs, as well. Sherlock had been given a clean bill of health from Torchwood's resident doctor, and John had backed up her assessment. Other than the bump on his head, Sherlock was as he'd been the day they were hit with the Chula energy wave.
Now it was time for the next man to take his turn.
"I can't say I'm looking forward to it," Greg said. "But it has to be done, so let's get on with it. I'll go next."
"Hang on. Why you?" protested John.
"Why not me?"
"Are you sure it has to be done?" put in Ace. "That part is totally up to you, you know."
Greg looked at her across the table. "I know that," he said. "And I've made my decision. I get little enough respect from my superiors as it is."
John was impressed at how Greg didn't glance at Sherlock when he said that.
"How d'you think they'd react if I showed up to work tomorrow looking like I'm fresh out of training?" Greg shook his head. "Let's just say it wouldn't be pretty. I've made up my mind, so let's do this."
"Will it work on an unconscious subject?" Sherlock's question surprised everyone. He looked at Martha for an answer.
It was the sort of thing John would have expected Sherlock to know already, considering the time he'd spent with the others studying the device. So for whose benefit had he asked the question? And why now and not earlier?
Martha thought about it for a moment. "I suppose so," she said. "It's essentially battlefield technology; it would need to be able to perform its intended function on unconscious or semi-conscious patients. Logically, I see no reason the reversal process wouldn't work that way as well."
"What?" John demanded, silently cursing himself for not thinking of it himself. "You mean we could have spared Sherlock that ordeal with the simple application of a sedative?"
"Probably. Although there's no guarantee of it."
"Why not?" asked Greg.
"We don't know how the device would react to any tranquilising drugs in a subject's system. It's coincidental enough that it works on human physiology at all."
"I wouldn't have allowed it anyway," Sherlock said flatly. That answered one of John's internal questions. John would have tried to talk Sherlock into taking something. By not bringing it up, he had avoided an argument. For a little while.
"Even with what you just went through, you still say that?" Martha asked.
"Of course. It was an opportunity to collect data."
"Not all data is worth its cost." She put on a concerned frown that was half-mocking. "Either that or you hit your head harder than we realised."
Sherlock didn't dignify her comment with a response and John almost smiled, despite his annoyance. It was more evidence that Sherlock was feeling like his normal self again.
"What are we waiting for? I'm ready now," Greg stated flatly. He stood.
"You're sure about that?" Martha asked.
John piped up again. "Wait a minute. I still haven't agreed to--"
"John?" Sherlock cut him off.
"May I have a word with you? In private?"
John's eyes narrowed with suspicion but he rose and followed Sherlock out onto the metal stairway. They stopped only a few steps from the glass-walled conference room.
"This is private enough for you?" John asked doubtfully.
"For this, yes. Look at Lestrade. What do you observe?"
John took a breath and let it out, shelving his irritation for the moment. He peered through the tinted glass, trying not to be too obvious as he "observed" the DI.
"He hasn't sat back down. He's worried, obviously. So am I."
"That's what you see."
John concentrated. There was the tension, clear in Greg's face, his shoulders, his whole body in fact. John could see the hint of perspiration that dampened the other man's brow. None of that was surprising. John was anxious as well. Who wouldn't be? He was tired of waiting, tired of wasting time. He wanted to get the job done. Greg naturally felt the same.
No. That wasn't it at all. The answer struck John in a flash.
Greg wasn't racing into the gate because it was what needed to be done. He was pushing for it because he was scared. He wanted it to be over with. He was terrified and doing his damnedest not to show it.
John had rarely seen Greg afraid. Perhaps that was why he was so slow to recognise it now. Or perhaps he'd been so caught up in his own problems that he'd failed to pay fair attention.
"Do you understand now?"
"He just wants all this to be over and done. I don't blame him. All right." John let out a sharp breath and gave a single, swift nod. "Let's get him in there. The sooner we do, the sooner we can move on."
"You're sure you don't want a sedative?" Martha asked for perhaps the dozenth time. This had to be the last one, though, as Greg was already sealed into the lead-lined room.
"I'm not taking any chances this doesn't work properly." His voice was narrow through the aged speakers but his resolution could be clearly heard.
"All right. Just try to relax."
"Will it help?"
Martha shrugged although he couldn't see it. "It can't hurt." She nodded to Mickey who sat beside her at the control console. John and Sherlock stood behind, eyes glued to the screens that showed Lestrade alone with the Chula device. Ace had opted to wait in the corridor, to be ready should they want quick access to the room again.
Greg shifted in the plain metal chair he'd been given to sit in. It didn't look like much support to John, but at least if he fell from it, he didn't have far to go to the floor.
Mickey spoke into the microphone. "I'm activating the device. Energy wave building. Discharge in four…three…two--"
Purple light flared from the device and struck Greg. His jaw clenched shut. He gripped the arms of the chair with such force that John could see his forearm muscles straining under his skin. Sweat that had only glistened on his face before now shone wetly, instantly dampening his hair. Hair that, John noted, was rapidly threading with silver.
Despite his efforts, a scream of pain tore from Greg's throat. This time, though, someone must have turned off the speakers because while they could see him crying out, no sound came through. Then he collapsed like a marionette without a puppeteer.
"Open the door!" Martha called ahead to Ace as she rose from her seat and hurried into the corridor only slightly less frantically than on the previous occasion. John and Sherlock followed close behind her.
Ace had the door open by the time they reached it and John accompanied Martha inside. Sherlock stood back a step, for once observing without interfering, while Ace hovered in the doorway.
Greg was draped grotesquely over one arm of the chair. His head hung at an awkward angle and one dangling arm brushed the floor.
Martha and John righted him carefully. Martha knelt before him and lifted his head in both hands. John took comfort in the familiar lines he saw etched in Greg's face. "Greg, can you hear me? Can you open your eyes?"
Greg's eyes opened slowly and John could see him willing them to focus on the woman in front of him. His voice was rough with returned age and strained with the stress of its abrupt arrival. "You could maybe not shout."
She hadn't been, but she lowered her voice to a near whisper. "Sorry. How are you feeling?"
"Did you get the license number of that lorry?" he groaned.
Martha let out a soft chuckle. "Let's get you to the medical bay." She looked at John who immediately moved to Greg's side. They each got an arm around him and helped him to his feet. "Clear a path, please," Martha said. Ace shifted out of the doorway, but Sherlock stepped up.
"Let me," he said, and took Martha's place at Greg's side. She relinquished the spot gratefully.
"I'll go on ahead, make sure everything's ready," she said. Everything had been set-up before, but John didn't blame her wanting to reconfirm it. She disappeared down the corridor.
Greg was in shaky shape after the reversion process. Shakier even than Sherlock had been despite his fall. John wished for a proper gurney or at least a wheelchair, but even Torchwood didn't have everything, it seemed. It occurred to him to wonder how much physical damage and healing Greg had taken in the past 22 years. John had only known him for a fraction of that time, and his illnesses and injuries had been few and fairly minor. Maybe he could get a look that gadget Martha had used on each of them when they'd first arrived. If he used it on Greg now, that would tell him. Not that it was any of his business, he reminded himself as they made their awkward way from the lead-lined room to the Hub and finally to the sunken medical bay. But it would be nice to have a bit more reference for what he would be facing when he went into that room.
"All right," Martha said. "Can you help him onto the table?"
"I can manage," said Greg--and almost did. John caught his arm as he wavered and then sat on the exam table. "Thanks." He lay back on the table and closed his eyes.
Sherlock spared half a glance for Martha and her patient. "You don't need us for this part, do you?" he asked without intending to listen to any answer. He was already headed up the stairs by the time John could voice a protest.
"It's okay," Martha assured him. "Just don't proceed with the next reversion until I'm done here. We need at least one doctor on call."
"Absolutely," John agreed, and taking the steps two at a time, followed Sherlock back up into the main Hub. Anticipating Sherlock's argument, he said, "I'm going through with it."
"I accept that."
"Honestly, Sherlock, you're beginning to sound like a broken record. ... Hang on. What did you just say?"
"I said I accept your decision."
"Oh." That was a mild surprise. "Good. Then what did you want?"
"Have you considered the option of a sedative?"
Ah. Here was the argument Sherlock had avoided before his own reversion, only it was tables turned. "Yes."
A split second silence passed as Sherlock observed him. "You've decided against it. Why?"
"Why take the chance? Martha said it might affect the results."
"She doesn't know that for certain."
Ace came around the corner then, but Sherlock didn't even slow down his argument.
"What do you hope to gain by refusing?" he demanded.
"Myself, Sherlock. Just myself. Same old John H. Watson I was before we went on this science-fiction carnival ride."
Ace managed to get a word in then. "The device is programmed. It's ready whenever you are, Baldwin."
"Thanks," John replied with a tight smile. "We're under instructions to wait." He tipped his head towards the medical bay.
"Right." She crossed the Hub and looked down into the bay. "Hey, Martha? How long are you going to be?"
"Nearly done," came the disembodied answer from below.
"That's it, " snipped Sherlock, turning an angry look on John. "You can't resist the opportunity to play the hero. Or should I say the martyr?"
"What the hell is that--? No. Never mind. I refuse to discuss this any more," John replied just as sharply. "Excuse me." Leaving Sherlock to wait, he huffed off, passed Ace at the top of the stairs, and descended into the medical bay to re-join Martha. "Can I help at all?"
"I'm fine, really. Thanks. He's asleep, actually. I shot him up with a quick-acting analgesic and he conked out. Can't blame him. It's got to be exhausting. Fortunately, I didn't need him to be alert for any of these tests."
"You're sure there's nothing I can do?"
She looked at him curiously and he could tell she knew he was up to something. "What is it you need?"
He didn't hide his chagrin. "That scanning device you used to identify our past injuries. When we first arrived?"
"Have you used it on him since the reversion process?"
"May I see the results?"
She stood up straighter and pierced him with her gaze. "Why?"
"I'd prefer it yes."
"I want a basis for comparison. I know what I went through in the past two decades. I know what I saw Greg go through just now."
She nodded in understanding. "You want to know if you're in for worse or better than he had it."
"If this was a proper hospital and he was my patient, I wouldn't do this," she said, turning to the computer console next to her. She typed in several keystrokes and then stepped back. "But since these are special circumstances…"
John took her place. Some of what he saw on the screen surprised him; some of it he already knew. None of it gave him an ounce of comfort. He turned away from the data. "Thanks."
"I'm trusting your discretion."
"You can count it."
Martha smiled. "I thought so. I'm done here. We can let him sleep for now. He'll be fine on his own."
"Okay." John took a deep breath and squared his shoulders. "I guess that means it's my turn."