He could hear the shouting almost before the heavy door slid open. John beat Mickey and Martha into the Hub by half a step. Inside, he found pretty much what he expected: Sherlock, raging at high volume. Clearly it had been going on for some time because Greg wasn't trying to stop him or calm him down. Rather, Greg was leaning casually against one of the many desks, arms crossed over his chest in classic Lestrade style. He glanced up as the three entered. "He started twenty minutes ago. I gave up about five minutes into it. I hope you brought me lunch."
John thrust a box at him. "Fish and chips all right?"
Greg took the box and opened it. "No vinegar?"
John pulled a handful of packets of malt vinegar from his pocket and tossed them onto the desk next to Greg. "Here."
Giving only a short nod in reply, John walked past him, deliberately ignoring Sherlock's tantrum. John had dealt with him in this mood plenty over the years they'd known one another, and he'd found that sometimes the best way of handling it was by refusing to acknowledge the strop.
"Isn't he going to do something?" he heard Martha ask.
Greg replied around a mouthful. "What do you suggest?"
Sherlock interrupted his own rant and rounded on John. "Where are you going?" he demanded.
"Kitchen," John answered without stopping. He pushed into the kitchen and started opening drawers until he found what he wanted. He sat down at the table and opened the second box he'd brought from the pub. Inside was the dessert he'd ordered take-away for Sherlock. A Guinness chocolate brownie sundae with burnt caramel sauce, vanilla ice cream, and whipped cream.
Sherlock slammed into the room just as the first bite went into John's mouth. John chewed slowly, savouring the flavours and making sure Sherlock could see how delicious it was. It worked. He could see it in Sherlock's face, in the way he shoved his hands into his pockets as if to keep himself from reaching out, in the way he licked his lips and swallowed once.
"Still not hungry?" asked John.
John nodded, acting as though he believed him. He took another bite. It really was mouth-watering. If he weren't stuffed to the gills with lunch, he could happily eat the whole thing by himself. Well, most of it. It was ridiculously sweet and rich, to be honest, and it was huge.
"You can't eat all that on your own."
"I can try. The ice cream is at that perfect melty point."
"Melty isn't a proper word."
"No?" John licked ice cream from his spoon. "It's a proper texture, though."
"I know what you're doing."
"I'm sure you do." Another bite, this one laden with whipped cream and caramel.
Sherlock shook his head and caved. He snatched up the extra spoon John had left on the table, sat down, and pulled the box to him. He took a bite and John held back a smile. Smiling would not help his cause.
He let Sherlock get a couple of sugary bites in him before speaking. "I understand you want to edit our genetic files in the alien device."
Sherlock said nothing.
"But you can't figure out how. Is that right?"
A hesitation so slight that had he blinked, John would have missed it. Then, "Yes."
"It's all right, Sherlock."
"No, it's not."
"Why not? I figured you'd do anything to get those 22 years back. Even if it meant getting the rotten bits along with the good." He thought he'd been at least a little bit subtle, but the disgusted glare Sherlock gave him said otherwise. Then, to his surprise, Sherlock focussed his attention back on the sundae and said nothing more. His hair fell over his eyes, shielding him from John's gaze.
Several thoughts went through John's mind and he landed on the easiest: that hair. He could not get used to Sherlock's ginger hair. Of all the things he'd thought too bizarre for words after that Chula artefact youthened them, it was ridiculous that Sherlock's hair was the one thing that continued to shock him.
"I know what you're thinking," said Sherlock.
"Once you get those years back, your hair will be the right colour again. This ginger thing is really freaking me out." That garnered him another glare. John shrugged. "You said you already knew."
"If that's how you're going to be, I'll take that back." He reached for the box but Sherlock edged it out of range. John waited, and three bites later, Sherlock relented. John stuck in his spoon and pulled it out fully loaded.
"I know why you want to tweak the device's programming." It was as technical as he felt like getting and the drop of caramel that landed on his chin with his next bite of sundae utterly failed to help him feel more scientific. He wiped it away with his thumb and then licked the sticky stuff from the digit.
Mid-lick, John caught Sherlock watching him. His overgrown ginger fringe couldn't hide the yearning in his pale eyes. John dropped his hand into his lap and bit back an apology that would have been equally useless and unwelcome. He took another bite to fill the pause, although the sweet had lost its appeal.
He let Sherlock have the rest after that. John sat silently watching him and wishing it were real food he was eating, while simultaneously feeling grateful that he was eating anything at all.
When Sherlock was down to the last two or three bites, John asked, "Good?"
"Right." When the final bite was in Sherlock's mouth, he tried one more time. "I know why you want to reprogram the Chula device, and it honestly isn't necessary."
Sherlock swallowed the bite. "You think it's all about you."
"Prove me wrong."
"If I were, yes. But I'm not."
"Thought so. Sherlock, look at me."
"I won't have this conversation here."
It took a moment for John to understand, and then he remembered. Cameras. The Hub was under more surveillance even than Heathrow. At least he was confident that Mycroft didn't have direct control over the ones in here.
Well, fairly confident.
"Well we are going to have it," he said. "So, would you prefer outside? It's a nice day."
"I'm not going out."
"So you've said."
More silence. Finally, Sherlock rose from the table and left the room. It was easy to deduce his destination. John allowed him a head start, taking time to dump their dirty spoons in the sink and bravely chuck the take-away box into the mildly terrifying trash chute.
"He went upstairs, towards Jack's quarters," Martha informed him as he emerged from the kitchen.
"I know." He was surprised to see Gwen and Ace had returned, both looking flushed from the chill, fresh air. They also shared similar expressions of tension and urgency. John suspected that whatever had taken them to the weir that morning was their immediate priority. Torchwood's guests were rapidly overstaying their welcome.
"What's going on?" asked Gwen.
"One more hurdle to jump," said John. "Martha or Mickey can fill you in." He started up the stairs but Ace's sudden presence at his elbow stopped him.
"Oy, Baldwin," she said quietly. She tipped her head in the direction Sherlock had disappeared. "Everything okay?"
"No, but it will be. I think. I just have to convince him of it."
"Is there anything I can do?"
John looked at Ace. He took in what her outward appearance told him, and thought about what she'd revealed to him about her past, and then gazed into her eyes that had seen centuries and galaxies come and go. He felt that if anyone could understand what he was dealing with--both in himself and in Sherlock--it would be her.
He gave her a small, resigned smile. "I don't think so. Thanks."
"Okay. But if you need back-up, you know where I am."
A single nod of thanks, and he continued up the stairs.
Sherlock was sprawled in the leather armchair in Jack's quarters, waiting for him. He looked as sullen as he ever had, and John had been witness to some epic sulks.
John sat on the corner of the unmade bed and faced him, echoing the pose they'd held last night. He allowed Sherlock a few moments to continue to stew, but eventually, he knew, he would have be the one to break the silence.
"Are you going to make me drag it out of you?" he asked at last.
"As if you could."
"I will punch you in the face. I swear to God I will. Unless you man up and talk to me."
"There's nothing to say."
"Fine." John stood. "I can go back out there right now. Mickey said they're ready to go. Hell, for all we know, Greg's already stepped up as the guinea pig and at this moment is getting back the grey hair and the crow's feet and the scars." He saw Sherlock tense and knew he'd touched a nerve. "That's it, isn't it?" It wasn't the physical scars that marked John to which Sherlock objected. Nothing as mundane or obvious as that. But what had caused them, everything John had been through... That was another matter. He'd known for a long time that it bothered Sherlock to think of how close John had come to dying, but with nothing to be done about it, he'd always let the matter lie. Right now, he didn't have that luxury. They had to face the problem and go through it so they could move forward and get back to their lives.
John sat back down. His voice was kind but firm. "We can't change the past, Sherlock."
"You're sure about that?"
"Yes. I am. Torchwood's got a lot of stuff I don't understand, but I am certain there's nothing here to do that. And here's the thing, Sherlock. I wouldn't want them to. Not for me, at any rate."
Sherlock shot to his feet. "Why not?" he demanded angrily.
John held his place in the face of the sudden outburst. It wasn't entirely unexpected, after all. And at least it meant Sherlock was communicating with him. Time for John to jump in with both feet. "Now who's the idiot?" he said.
That was good. Force him to focus his anger. John had Sherlock's undivided attention now. "If I hadn't been injured, hadn't been sent home, where do you think I'd be at this moment? Still in Afghanistan, do you think? Or deployed to Iraq instead? Maybe retired from the military and working in private practice or a hospital. Or maybe even dead." That got another sharp reaction, but John didn't back down. "Wherever else I might be, the point is--"
"The point is, I wouldn't be here with you. So you see I wouldn't change a thing about where I've been or what happened to me before I met you, because changing any one of those decisions, those moments, or chance happenings, or whatever, could be the one thing that keeps us from meeting. And that is the last thing I would ever want to change."
Silence as heavy as blankets fell over the room. This time, John would not be the one to break it.
Sherlock stood there, staring down at him where he sat on the bed. John waited. He could wait as long as it took. He'd not been a patient man in his earlier life, but time and experience had taught him well--and those were things the Chula device hadn't touched.
"You really mean that."
It wasn't spoken like a question, but John answered it anyway. "Yes."
"What about after we met?" Sherlock hesitated, bizarrely, uncharacteristically uncertain. "What about...Moriarty?"
John inhaled sharply. The idea hadn't even occurred to him, and he felt a fool for not thinking of it. But in all fairness, he honestly thought they'd long since settled the matter. Clearly it still bothered Sherlock, and far more deeply than John ever realised.
"What about him?" he asked, buying time to think.
So much for buying time. If he hadn't already laid all his cards on the table, what John said next should do it. He took a breath and let it out in a short, resigned sigh.
"Would I go back and change how you handled it? Of course I would! But it's a moot point, Sherlock, and it's nothing to do with what's happened to us now. That weird, alien machine didn't erase our memories or our feelings, and frankly I'm thrilled about that because life without you in it was tedious, ordinary stuff." John rose and took a step towards Sherlock, pleased when the younger man didn't back away. "Life with you, even when you're a colossal ass and make all the wrong grandiose gestures for all the right reasons-- Life with you is worth living."
Seconds ticked past while he let that revelation sink into Sherlock's thick skull.
Slowly, almost warily, Sherlock reached out a hand. John looked at it, looked up into that familiar-yet-strange face, and took the offered hand in his own. In a heartbeat, tension fled the room.
"Ready?" He squeezed Sherlock's fingers encouragingly.
"Then let's get it over with."