"Don't disappoint us." The words were out of Ace's mouth almost before she'd crossed the threshold into the Hub. "What's the news?"
The energy in the place was fraught. Everyone was so tense it was a wonder none of them had snapped. John looked at Sherlock, trying to gauge his mood over all the others', and came up empty.
Gwen nodded at Mickey. He looked like he'd been tethered to his desk since the dawn of time. "Put it up on the screens if you think it'll help."
The largest screen was suddenly filled with data points, graphic depictions of god-knew-what, and columns of numbers.
"I trust that will make more sense when you explain it out loud," said Lestrade. He leaned on the corner of another desk, arms crossed over his chest, regarding the confusion of facts and figures. John almost smiled. It was a classic Lestrade pose. He'd seen it countless times at the Yard or at a crime scene. The authority rolling off him at that moment was that of the man he was in real time, not the youthful figure he currently appeared. The juxtaposition was striking.
Again, there came a nod from Torchwood's commander to her computer expert. "Go ahead. Make it simple. I'm too tired for finicky technical details, and I imagine our guests are much the same."
"Okay," Mickey began. "Turns out that the device doesn't simply erase the signs of 22 Earth years--"
"Why 22?" Sherlock shot John an annoyed glare for causing the delay. John didn't back down. "It's been in the back of my head and I want to know."
"Why not 22?" countered Martha. "It's Chula technology. I don't know how long a Chula year is, but there's no reason it would match up with ours."
"Oh. Right." John nodded once at this obvious answer and counted himself lucky that Sherlock had chosen not to berate him verbally in front of the group over his stupid question. "Go on."
"The device has a database in it. A memory bank, like, of what it's done. There are individual records for each of you. We can see every change that was made." Mickey did something on his keyboard and the images on the big screen changed. John didn't follow all of what he saw, but there were enough familiar symbols--DNA helixes, protein strands, and what have you--that he got the gist of it. Mickey shot a wary glance at Sherlock. "That's the good news."
"And the bad?" asked Lestrade.
Martha answered him. "We don't know yet if we can do anything with the information."
"Meaning you don't know if you can reverse the process," said John. He rolled his bad shoulder, stretching phantom pain and stiffness from the healthy joint.
"But we've gotten this far," added Mickey hastily with another of those glances at Sherlock. John didn't know what had gone on in his brief absence, but he knew his partner well enough to make an educated guess. He could hardly blame Mickey for his caution. "If it can be done at all, we'll figure it out."
"That's a hell of an 'if'." Lestrade unfolded his arms and stood up straight, yawning.
Gwen nodded. "We all need a rest," she said, with a nod at the DI. "Mickey, Martha, do what you need to do with your systems to secure them for the night." She glanced at the heavy watch she wore around her left wrist. "We'll reconvene at 0900. I know that's not much time for sleep, but we've all done with less."
"Is there somewhere we can bunk for what's left of the night?" asked Lestrade.
"I've got room on a couch for one of you," offered Mickey. He finished what he was doing on the computer and the large screen went dark.
"I've got a proper spare room with a bed in it," was Ace's counter-offer.
"I'm not going out." Sherlock spoke up for the first time since John and Ace's return.
Gwen's eyes darted from Sherlock to John to Lestrade. John took the cue.
"You need to sleep."
"I'll sleep here. The sofa upstairs is acceptable."
Gwen cleared her throat. "Nothing personal, but you are not staying in the Hub by yourself." Her meaning was clear. She didn't trust him to stay out of trouble without a chaperone. John had to agree. The computer systems alone were like candy to a sugar addict. He could only begin to imagine the mischief Sherlock could get into if he got his hands on some random piece of alien technology. His natural curiosity and propensity for taking things apart and/or blowing things up could only end badly.
Sherlock was implacable. "I'm not going out."
"I'll stay with him," John said. "I'm not touching any of this." He gestured around him at the array of equipment, only a fraction of which was even identifiable to his layman's eyes.
"I don't need a nanny," snipped Sherlock.
"Maybe you don't, but you're getting one." Gwen looked at John. "I'm trusting you." He nodded once in understanding. He hoped he didn't let her down.
"Is there another couch somewhere for me?"
"No need for that. I'll show you where you can both stay."
Ace grabbed her motorcycle helmet from where she'd dropped it when they first came in, and tipped her chin at Lestrade. "You going with me or him?" she asked with a nod towards Mickey.
"Ah, you, I think. A proper bed trumps a bachelor couch."
With the sleeping arrangements sorted, the others headed out. Gwen led John and Sherlock upstairs and into an office.
"This is your solution?" Sherlock sniffed disdainfully.
"Clever lad." Sherlock bristled and Gwen ignored him. She flipped what looked like a light switch and a panel in the floor opened. "There's a room beneath. These were Jack's quarters. They haven't been used in quite a while now, but they should be plenty comfortable for the night." She led the way down and John was shocked at the simplicity of what he saw. After all the gadgets in the main section, this room was a relief to his overloaded senses.
Art deco lines and wood-grained panels. Large bed with a plain coverlet. Nightstand with a lamp on it. Leather armchair with a reading lamp beside it. Analogue clock on one wall. Built-ins on another. Officer's quarters, he thought abruptly. Nothing but the necessities--although the nicest of those. And all roughly 1940s or '50s in design. He felt like there should be a vintage gramophone in the corner with 78s of swing music in yellowing paper sleeves stacked underneath.
"I hope you don't mind sharing. It won't be the first time two blokes spent the night in that bed," she joked. John sensed a hint of sadness behind her amusement. He wondered who those blokes had been and what they'd meant to her. One was undoubtedly this Jack she'd mentioned, but the other was a mystery.
She cleared her throat and went on. "Toilet and shower are through there." She pointed at what looked to be the only other exit from the room. "You'll find linens, too. Help yourselves to whatever you need. You're free to move about the Hub as far as you're able. Certain areas are, of course, secured. You don't want to go down to the cells. Trust me."
"Of course, should we choose to look around, our every move will be captured on your internal cameras," said Sherlock.
Gwen smiled, a little sweet, a little superior. "Of course."
"And in here?"
"The one place without monitoring equipment. You have my word. These were Jack's private quarters."
"Sherlock, let it go. I'm exhausted." John turned to Gwen. "Thank you."
"You're welcome. I'll be back at 0900." She ascended the stairs and Sherlock immediately found the switch that closed the trapdoor behind her.
Silence fell. John could barely make out the ticking of the clock and the sound of air flowing through vents. The constant drone of electronics was blessedly absent. He let out a relieved sigh. "Thank God for that."
"You didn't have to stay."
John looked at Sherlock where he'd thrown himself like so much laundry into the armchair. "If I didn't, neither were you."
Sherlock only harrumphed and looked away.
"Have it your way. I'm having a shower and going to bed."
Again Sherlock didn't answer. He shifted awkwardly in the chair.
"Take your coat off, at least. I can't believe you've kept it on all this time."
John was used to Sherlock's silences. Pensive. Stroppy. Contented. There was an unusual quality to this one. Uncomfortable?
The question got him a glare more eloquent even than the silence.
"Aside from the obvious," he amended. He took off his own jacket and tossed it on the bed, sat down beside it facing Sherlock. "I thought you'd be pleased with the progress Torchwood's made."
"Of course I am. Don't be stupid."
That was better. Words were much easier to interpret than looks and silences.
"Then what is it?"
"I'm surprised you didn't take Ace up on her offer of a bed. You two were cosy enough."
"I wasn't going to go without you. Besides, she already knows I'm not interested." At Sherlock's challenging glare, he revised his statement. "All right. She knows I'm not available."
That got him another harrumph.
He was going to drive John mad if this kept up much longer. "Sherlock. What. Is. It?"
Sherlock fought with himself. John could see it in every expression, every emotion that crossed his face. He finally ground out an answer through gritted teeth. "I can't control it."
"This body!" A quick flash of his eyes down at himself and then away tipped John off at last.
"Ah." Under normal circumstances, John would have provided an easy answer. He wanted to do so now. But--
Sherlock looked at him accusingly. "You're afraid to touch me."
John took in a deep breath and let it out slowly, accompanied it with a reluctant nod. "You're fourteen."
"Thank you so much. I'd forgotten," snapped Sherlock, sarcasm dripping from every syllable.
"Am I that unappealing?" he asked bitterly. "No. Don't answer that. I know."
"That's the trouble, Sherlock. I still think you're gorgeous. You're just--"
"Well, yeah. And I know it's not...not real, but it is." John didn't know how else to put it. He wanted to wrap his arms around Sherlock. Hold him close. Kiss away the anger and frustration. Ease his tension and desires. "Do you realise how frustrating this is for me, as well?"
"Are you saying you've had a hard-on for the past six hours, too?" Sherlock sniped.
John clamped down on his own temper. Snarking back wouldn't help matters. "No. I'm saying I have never been more ambivalent in my life. I want you as much as I always have. But everything I've ever been taught is telling me you're off limits."
It was useless telling him to stop sulking, so John didn't bother. He stood. "I'm showering. Do what you like with that information." He turned without another glance and went into the bathroom. In contrast to the warmly wood-toned bedroom, the bath was all white tile, chrome fixtures, and shining glass. Similarly, though, it maintained the clean lines and simplicity of the adjacent room.
John started water running in the large shower stall and stripped out of his clothes. A quick search in the cupboards netted him shampoo and soap and towels. He stepped into the multi-directional jets and let the hot water soak his hair and course over his skin. God, it felt wonderful!
A corner of his mind was aware of the moment Sherlock entered the room. He gave no response. He was torn, unable to encourage or discourage Sherlock towards or against whatever he intended.
The glass door slid open enough for Sherlock to slip in behind him. John felt his presence in the absence of one wall of jets as much as anything else. Despite himself, he was hard in moments.
"You don't have to touch me," Sherlock said.
John started to turn to face him.
"Good. I understand, you know."
"Touch yourself, then. I'll take care of me."
John let out a small snort of amusement. He'd watched Sherlock take care of himself on many occasions and he always enjoyed it. He'd have to rely on his imagination this time. Fortunately he had a lot to go on.
To his surprise, Sherlock began to narrate his own actions. "I'm taking my cock in my dominant hand," he began. "I'm slowly stroking its length."
With Sherlock's narrative to guide him, John took his words as direction as well. Everything he said he was doing, John did, too. He closed his eyes, the better to picture his lover--his adult lover--in his mind's eye. The way he would roll his hips and thrust into his hand. The way he would bite his lower lip as if daring John to resist kissing the blushing flesh. The way he would shake his often shaggy, dark curls back from his pale, fathomless eyes.
They reached their climaxes together. John knew because he was told. Because he could hear it in Sherlock's voice. As rich and deep as ever it had been, it carried them both over the edge of passion into release.
He pressed his free hand against the smooth tiles of the wall as his orgasm shook through him, spilling come onto the shower's floor to be sluiced down the drain. Eventually, he felt the water around him redirected as, presumably, Sherlock washed himself and then stepped out of the stall.
John finished showering alone. When he returned to the bedroom, wrapped in a robe he'd found in the cupboard, Sherlock was already tucked into one side of the big bed with his back towards him.
"Sherlock? Are you still awake?"
John dropped the robe on the foot of the bed and slipped naked under the covers. He kept scrupulously to his own side, wondering if sleep and habit would find him waking in Sherlock's arms.