He shouldn't have been surprised. Of course Torchwood had a lead-lined room in their subterranean warren. Why wouldn't they?
"Do you have any real reason to believe that lead will stop the device's energy field?" asked Greg, voicing the more practical question that should have been on John's mind.
"No." Mickey settled the device in one corner of the room. "That's why Lois and Gwen aren't around. We know this thing has a limited effective distance, plus we've done what we can to focus the energy wave. But why take extra chances? It didn't affect Martha, Ace, and me the first time, so it's reasonable to assume it won't affect us now. The others--" He shrugged.
"The others never time-travelled," John finished for him. That earned him rolled eyes from Sherlock and a startled look from Greg. The three of them stood outside the door to the room, watching as Mickey made some an adjustment to the device.
"Right," agreed Mickey. Martha stood behind him, looking over his shoulder and double-checking the settings with the read-out on the laptop she carried.
"Time-travelled?" Greg echoed. "You're not serious."
Ace crossed her arms over her chest and leaned her back against the wall. The posture echoed Greg's, who leaned a single shoulder against the thick door frame. "He is. We're not sure of the exact science of it, but best guess is that our times spent outside of linear time confused the Chula programming."
"Who knows what it made of me," said Mickey with a grin. "I lived in a parallel universe for a couple of years, as well."
Sherlock's patience snapped. "Will you all please stop talking nonsense?"
"All right, all right. Keep your hair on, ginger."
Sherlock snapped and dove for him. If Greg hadn't already been physically between Mickey and Sherlock, he'd have been too late. As it was, he caught Sherlock round the waist and wrestled him back into the corridor. He kept fighting until he had Sherlock pinned against the opposite wall.
Greg had to put his full weight into the arm he pressed across Sherlock's chest. "Back off!" he barked. "You're not helping any of us like this! And you--" He shot the words angrily back over one shoulder toward Mickey. "You do whatever the hell it is, and keep your damned commentary to yourself!"
"Yeah, all right. Sorry." He sounded like he might actually be, too, if only a little.
A moment passed before Sherlock stopped fighting and Greg felt confident in letting him go. He took a step back and dropped his arm. "Just keep it together a little longer, okay?" he asked in a tense undertone.
Sherlock nodded sharply, lips pressed into a thin, bloodless line.
Greg turned back to watch the work being done and John stepped into the space he'd vacated in front of Sherlock. He spoke quietly, although he hardly expected complete privacy given the constraints of the narrow corridor and Greg's and Ace's close proximity. "Are you okay? And don't give me some bullshit line about it. Just answer me."
Sherlock took a long breath in through his nose, and exhaled it slowly. John could see the tension in his face, in the set of his jaw. He took another slow breath and let it out. Finally, he spoke. "I'll be fine."
It was the best John was going to get, and he knew it. He nodded. "All right. Good." John turned around and took up a place with his back to the wall beside Sherlock. He couldn't see more than a small bit of the lead-lined room's interior, but he didn't have to watch to accept that Torchwood were doing what needed to be done.
Minutes ticked past.
Martha, computer still open and resting on one forearm, poked her head out of the door. "Nearly there. We just need to know who wants to go first."
"I do." Sherlock's answer was so swift, his words overlapped her enquiry. It was safe to say no one was surprised. He stepped forward. "I'm ready."
John and Greg exchanged a charged look, and John could only guess that the DI was having similar thoughts to his own: Should I really let him be the test subject in this situation? What if something goes wrong? Could I possibly talk him out of it? What am I going to do if I lose him?
Okay, John admitted, that last one was probably just in his own mind.
Martha looked at the three of them. "You're all good with that, then?"
John nodded. "Sure."
"Go ahead," Greg agreed, resignation in his tone.
"Okay. Give us one more minute to load the appropriate data file." She ducked back into the room and shortly returned with Mickey behind her. "We're all set. If you'd just step inside?" she added to Sherlock.
Before he could move, and uncaring that he had a handful of witnesses, John reached out and grabbed Sherlock's hand. Sherlock looked at him in surprise, but John didn't let go. He squeezed Sherlock's hand--an echo of the encouragement he'd given earlier in Jack's quarters. "I'll see you soon."
Sherlock said nothing, only nodded and went into the room.
"Stand in this corner here," Martha instructed him. "We've narrowed the beam's focus in order to maximize the probability of success. No point wasting energy, and potentially data, by emitting an omnidirectional energy pattern."
His terse reply gave John hope. Not enough to make him smile, but he would take any positive sign he could get.
"Right. Close it up." Martha nodded to Ace, and the older woman shut the door and secured it.
John's stomach sank sickeningly.
"We can monitor everything from the next room," said Martha, and led the way into a small control room of sorts. There, amidst a bank of equipment, John saw two angles of Sherlock's image on a pair of video screens. He was standing diagonally opposite the Chula device, staring it down with a look John hadn't seen since the Moriarty days. John shuddered involuntarily.
"You all right?" Ace asked him.
Martha toggled a switch on a panel and spoke into a surprisingly old-school microphone. "Sherlock, can you hear me?"
"Yes." His voice sounded narrow and tinny through the speakers.
"We're going to activate the device remotely. The energy will take a few moments to build, then the wave will release like it did back in London. The effects should be immediate."
"Unless you're explaining this for the others' benefit, you can shut up any time and get on with it."
"I'll take that as a thumbs-up," Martha replied. She gave Mickey a go-ahead nod.
"Activating the device." He keyed in a sequence on the panel before him. "Device active. Energy building."
John held his breath and stared at the dual images of Sherlock in the windowless room. The flash when it came wasn't particularly bright. Just a beam of purple light that pulsed briefly as it cut through the room to its target.
Sherlock's scream lasted longer.
John pushed past Greg and dashed into the corridor. He reached the door to the lead-lined room and yanked at it. It wouldn't budge. "Fuck! Someone get this open, now!"
Confident hands reached past him. "I've got it." Ace's face was a mask of concern, brows drawn together in a frown. She released the latches and swung the door open. John was through it the moment he could fit in the widening gap.
He fell to his knees next to Sherlock, who had collapsed where he'd stood. "Sherlock?" He checked for a pulse and felt a wave of relief when he found it, strong and steady. He took Sherlock's head carefully in his hands and turned his face up to the light. That was when he realised: that hair. That beautiful dark hair.
John brushed back the curls, exposing the already purpling bruise on Sherlock's forehead. John ran his hands over Sherlock's limbs and torso, glad to note nothing else seemed damaged. They would need to do a full medical scan on him, though, to be sure.
Sherlock's eyes fluttered open and he flinched, highlighting the tiny lines at their outer corners.
"You hit your head when you fell. Are you all right?"
Sherlock put a hand to his head and sat up. John got an arm around him, supporting his weight as he shifted position. Sherlock looked at his hands, took a deep breath. "I'm me again. Aren't I?"
"Seem to be, yeah. We should get you to medical to be sure."
"Agreed," said Martha, surprising John. He hadn't noticed her come in. She knelt in front of Sherlock. "Can you stand?"
The two doctors helped him to his feet. He stood unsteadily for a moment before indicating he was ready to go.
Martha went ahead of them. They knew the way, and her head-start would give them a little privacy as they walked.
"Lean on me," said John, and was glad for the heavy arm Sherlock laid over his shoulders. It was the most physical contact they'd had since this all began, and even in these less-than-ideal circumstance, John relished it. "That sounded unpleasant," he said, making idle conversation as they manoeuvred through the Hub to the sunken medical bay.
"I can safely say that was the most physically excruciating thing I have ever experienced."
Knowing what he knew of the things Sherlock had endured in his life, John smiled grimly. "Something for me to look forward to, then. Great."
Sherlock stopped walking, and John was forced to stop with him.
"You all right? Do you need to rest?"
"I don't want you to have to go through that."
"The only way back is through, Sherlock."
"I know that."
John met his gaze and saw the depth of his lover's concern for him in those pale eyes. He chose to ignore it. "You just want a trophy boy-friend and you know no one but me will put up with you."
"No, Sherlock. I am going through with it, and you're not going to argue with me about it. Got it?"
A long moment of silence passed before Sherlock nodded. He winced and raised a hand again to where he'd bumped his head.
"Come on. Maybe Martha has some magical alien machine that'll fix that, too." They started on their way again.
"Do me one favour, John. When you go into that room with the device."
John snorted a laugh. "I was planning to."