Two Steps Forward...
Sherlock hadn't spoken to him since before breakfast. John didn't mind. It wasn't unusual for them to go hours, occasionally days, without exchanging more than a few syllables. Sherlock would be wrapped up in a case, or exploring his "mind palace," or running some experiment or other that took all of his concentration, and for the most part John would leave him to it.
Today, for a change, Sherlock had two other people working with him. People he couldn't just shut out like he could John or Lestrade, because for once those people had expertise that he lacked.
John had hovered on the fringes all morning, reading through what medical technology files he'd been granted access to while keeping half an eye on Sherlock in case he exploded. Across the Hub, Sherlock, Martha, and Mickey had put their heads together and worked every angle of the Chula device problem. And they'd made progress, too. What snippets of their conversation John had caught gave him hope that Torchwood would be able to return him, Greg, and Sherlock to normal, and sooner rather than later, at that. He had mixed feelings for himself, to be honest, but he was glad for Sherlock, who'd been miserable since this whole mess began.
Unfortunately, inevitably, things began going downhill. It was around lunchtime. Sherlock grew particularly snippy and belligerent; Martha's voice rose in pitch and volume; and Mickey spewed some truly creative profanities. John wished that Greg were there. He had the feeling he was going to need help breaking up a fist fight at any moment. But Greg had disappeared into Torchwood's subterranean shooting range shortly after arriving that morning. Nor were Gwen and Ace there to back John up, having gone off to investigate what they called Rift energy fluctuations centred at the weir. He looked around for Lois, hoping she was either paging Greg through some internal communications system or possibly digging a tranquilizer gun from Torchwood's armoury. Just in case.
"You're an idiot! Mickey the idiot!" barked Sherlock.
"You don't get to call me that!" Mickey shouted back, rising from his chair and getting right up in Sherlock's face. "Not even the Doctor calls me that any more, and he's far cleverer than you'll ever be!"
John braced himself to dive into the impending fray. So intent was he on the brewing fight that he didn't consciously notice when the music began. It crept in like tendrils of fog and wrapped itself around his thoughts. The tune was familiar and when it resolved into words, he almost laughed. He found himself swaying with the gentle, classic melody.
"Feed the birds, tuppence a bag, tuppence, tuppence, tuppence a bag. 'Feed the birds,' that's what she cries, while overhead, her birds fill the skies."
It went on until it was the only sound in the Hub. The others ceased arguing and fell silent. Even the constant drone of computer fans and air recyclers seemed to hush themselves in deference to the music.
When the song ended, the peace it had brought remained. He looked and saw Lois standing at Gwen's desk, her hand on the computer's keyboard. She looked at each of them in turn. "Better now?" she asked, and received four slightly stunned nods in reply. "Good." She tapped a series of keys and let her hand drop to her side. "Excuse me. I have work to do." She turned and headed upstairs.
Calm but curious, John hurried after her and caught up about half way up the long staircase. "Was that you?"
"With a bit of enhancement, yes."
"You don't mean just the amplification." There'd been more behind the song than could be accounted for with an ordinary microphone and speakers.
"No. It's a program based on Ood physiology and future-Earth tech."
"Um, right." Because, really, what was there to say to that? "You have a lovely voice."
Lois smiled. "Thank you. I used to do shows in school."
"But then you answered the call of top secret office administration," he joked.
"Something like that. Excuse me. I really am very busy."
Lois continued up and John turned and went back down. He was pleased to see that the others remained quiet and composed.
"Look," Martha said, her tone authoritative but not adversarial. "We'll try, all right? But you've seen what we're dealing with here. If one of us comes up with a brainstorm in the next couple of hours, we'll give it a go, but barring that, we need to proceed with the plan we have now. Agreed?"
Sherlock frowned at her, but gave a single nod of assent.
"Fine by me," he answered.
"Good. I'm going to get lunch. I'll be back in an hour. Anyone's welcome to join me," Martha rose as she spoke and pulled her stylish leather jacket on over her purple top. Secretly, John envied her the change of clothes. If this went on much longer, something would have to be done about his own lack of wardrobe. Surely, with everything else, they would have laundry facilities on site, right? He shook off the thought. He was getting too comfortable with things as they were if that was what worried him. He couldn't allow himself the luxury of "comfortable".
Martha paged Lois. "Lois, I'm going to lunch. I'll be back in 60."
"Thank you," came Lois's response through the speaker on the desk.
"Me, too," called Mickey before Martha closed the connection. She looked questioningly at John and Sherlock.
"I'm not hungry," said Sherlock.
John met Martha's raised eyebrow glance and was surprised to hear himself say, "I'll go with you, if that's all right."
He looked at Sherlock, who'd bitten back whatever else he might have said. "Yeah?"
The briefest of pauses before: "Nothing."
John told Mickey and Martha to go ahead. "I'll meet you outside. I just need my coat."
The others nodded and left, giving John and Sherlock a moment alone. Which Sherlock utterly failed to seize.
"I thought you were getting your coat."
"I am." John went quickly to Jack's quarters and fetched his jacket, pulling it on as he returned to the Hub's central room. Sherlock was seated at Mickey's desk, eyes glued to the figures and formulae on the computer screen. John gave it one more try. "Sherlock?"
Sherlock didn't glance up. "What?"
John shook his head at himself. "I'll bring you something to eat."
"Give it a rest, Sherlock. I'll see you in an hour."
Martha was waiting for him when he emerged into the crisp afternoon air. Fall had arrived in Cardiff and it wasn't shy about announcing its presence.
"Where's Mickey?" he asked.
"Gone ahead to grab a table. You okay with grub at the local?"
"I could murder a cheeseburger right now." He shoved his hands into his pockets against the chill and they started down the road. Late lunchers and early afternoon shoppers filled the streets and the square. A breeze picked up the earliest of the fallen leaves and swirled them about John's feet.
As promised, Mickey was waiting for them, pint in front of him, at a corner booth in the pub. "The ginger toothpick didn't change his mind, then?" he said as the others sat.
John considered defending Sherlock, and then deemed it pointless. "No."
The place was busy, but it was clear the Torchwood people were regulars. The waitress took their order and delivered it in something like record time.
"So," John asked between bites of what was quite possibly the best burger he'd ever tasted. "What were you all arguing about earlier? When Lois did...what she did."
Martha and Mickey exchanged a look that John couldn't quite decipher. It was almost like they were playing a psychic round of roshambo. He wasn't sure who'd won or lost, but it was Martha who answered him.
John stopped with a chip halfway to his mouth. "Me?"
"Thing is," Mickey said, "we could turn all three of you back to normal any time now. One at a time, mind you. Your genetic code files are all isolated, and even the matchstick agreed there's no point risking crossing the streams."
John sat up straighter. "You've worked out how to reprogram the device to reverse the process?"
"Yeah. Well. Pretty sure, anyway."
"Why haven't you said so before? What's the problem?"
"Sherlock." Mickey shrugged. "It's not good enough for him, is it?"
"I don't understand." Sherlock was the most anxious of them all to get back to himself. Why wouldn't he have jumped at the opportunity?
"It's you, mate."
Martha took up the explanation--sort of. "You were shot in Afghanistan."
"Yeah, and?" prompted John.
"You were so badly hurt that you were invalided out of the army."
Not the whole story, but near enough. "Yes. What's any of that got to do--?"
"We can only reverse the full effects of what the Chula device did."
"All right. That makes sense. But I still don't--" But then he did. John understood exactly why Sherlock had fought with them that morning. Why he hadn't immediately turned the device on himself and then on John and Greg. He let out a small, frustrated sigh. "I'll speak to him when we get back."
"Good luck with that," said Mickey and washed down the sarcasm with a swig of beer.
"Thanks." John had a feeling he was going to need all the luck he could get. In a moment of inspiration, he grabbed the card that listed the pub's pudding options and sought out the most decadent one to take back to Sherlock. It never hurt to go into a negotiation with a bargaining chip.