Sherlock peaked his fingertips and closed his eyes to process everything. The Doctor had told them the entire story from top to bottom and explained even more his Time Lord heritage until the consulting detective's brain was in danger of exploding from too much data.
John spoke first. "Doctor, while I am sorry, truly sorry, to hear about your wife, I don't think we can help you. We're not cut out for interstellar adventure or whatever you require. But we wish you the best of luck."
"No, Sherlock, you can't possibly take this case!" John said defensively. "There is no way you're ready for this sort of thing."
"You doubt my mental capabilities?"
"Doubt you? No, Sherlock, I'm bloody worried about you. You've just come back from a two-year mission and you're bruised and battered. You need rest! And you could go off on this case and get yourself vaporized by some alien gun—or worse, erased from existence!"
"Certainly not," Sherlock frowned. "You would come with me."
"I would not."
"Yes, you would," the Doctor assured him, crossing his arms. "You're worried that you're going to lose someone you care about. You'd do anything to help him."
"And how exactly do you know that?" John grumbled, matching his crossed arms. "Mr. Time Lord Whatever. Since you seem to know everything and make us humans look so ignorant."
The Doctor fixed him with one of his infamous glares—the kind that had stopped armies in their tracks. "I've lost the one person in the world I care about more than anything, the one person who understood me. You happen to still have that person in your life, Watson."
He was dangerously close to poking The Line with a stick, and the men from 221B knew it. John tried to save face. "It's Sherlock's decision."
"No, it's not. It's the both of yours. Face it, Watson," the Doctor said angrily, "there isn't a place in this universe you wouldn't go for him. Stop pretending you're not a part of this."
John stood up off the couch. "I need some air."
He bounded down the stairs and grabbed his coat. Sherlock made no move to follow, but he opened his eyes after John left. "He's a bit defensive of me."
"And you say it isn't obvious," the Doctor said, leaning back in his chair.
"Do I? What else do I say?"
The Doctor shook his head. "Spoilers. I've said too much. Er…why is he defensive of you?"
Sherlock shrugged. "I don't suppose you know about the time I faked my death?"
"You've told me. In the future. So, yes." He stretched out of the chair and dunked a biscuit into his tea. "So, this is just after you've come home?"
"It's been two weeks."
"Well, I suppose it's no wonder. He's not usually this angry, from what I know of him—usually he's all jumpers and tea and jam. It's just…"
"Right now. I know." Sherlock fumed. "He's protective of me now that I'm home. But I can't imagine why—I'm alive and I can take care of myself."
"I think we both know you can imagine why."
Sherlock looked a little rumpled at that. "We're…friends. Close friends. He cares about me."
The Doctor decided not to push it any further. "Well, Mr. Holmes—can I count on you for help?"
"Yes. I'll take the case." He bit his lip. "Though, I would prefer to take my partner with me. If you could convince him. I don't think I could go without him."
The Doctor nodded and got in the TARDIS, replying as he went, "I'll be back soon—back a bag and prepare for the trip of your life." He quickly entered the coordinates of the nearest dock, an old haunt of John's that he happened to know well as a result of knowing him. The TARDIS quickly materialized there, and sure enough, John was sitting on a bench, watching the sunrise.
John didn't even acknowledge the wheeze of the time machine, keeping his eyes on the horizon. The Doctor walked over, pulling on his suspenders nervously, and sat down next to him. "John, John, John. I'm sorry. You just got him back, I should have known."
"Known what, exactly? You're a stranger to us. You don't know anything. You pop out of nowhere a few hours ago and expect us to believe this fantastic story and run away with you on some journey against powerful aliens. It's bloody ridiculous."
"You also know it's true. But I know it's not the adventure that's keeping you. It's the risk." He watched as the sun streaked the grey night with rays of blood red. "He took the case. But he doesn't want to go without you."
"He can shove off."
"You don't want him to. John," he pleaded, "what do I have to do to make you trust me? In the future, I promise you, we are friends. Good friends. What do I have to say to make you believe it?"
"Say that he'll survive."
"He will. He's there, in the future, too."
John hesitated. "So, if we go on this case with you, because you've met us in the future, there's no chance that either of us die?"
"Well, it's all a little wibbly…there might be a paradox or two involved, but the chances are good that we will all be together in the future. But it will be the first time I've met you, and the second time you've met me."
"Timey-wimey," he said with a small smile. "I need your help, John. Not just because he won't do it without you—it's because Sherlock will try and understand where I'm coming from when I say how much I need River back, but he won't get it. Not yet. Not really. But you understand."
"What it's like to lose someone you…" The Doctor avoided saying the actual word. "…care about. Deeply. Someone close. I need someone who can understand the emotions going on here and someone who can calm me down. Besides, it's good to have a doctor on board."
John's forehead wrinkled in confusion. "You're the Doctor."
"Not that kind of doctor. Well, yes. Sometimes. On fifty-three planets, I am registered as a doctor, but on twelve of those, I'm a doctor of philosophy, and on two, I'm a doctor of cheese-making."
John laughed out loud. "What?"
"It's the highest art form on Cheddar Planet."
"There is not a Cheddar Planet."
"Is, too. Big universe, John. Don't make him travel it alone." The Doctor got up off the bench and held the door to the TARDIS wide open. "He'd be lost without his blogger."
The Doctor's direct quotation of Sherlock shook John for a moment, and it was the one thing in the end that changed his mind. Maybe it was because it was another piece of evidence that the Doctor knew them, but part of John thought that the reason he'd said it…was because he not only knew that Sherlock had told him that once, but also because that was the first time John realized he never wanted to leave Sherlock.
John bounded into the TARDIS and gasped on entry. "Wha—it's—how is that?"
"Bigger on the inside, Johnny-boy!" the Doctor grinned. "There's a great big universe out there, and you're about to see a slice. Get used to being amazed."
The Doctor pulled at the console controls while John stood shocked. After a few seconds of motionlessness, he broke into a huge smile and ran around the control room like a child on Christmas morning. "This is fantastic! Are there rooms in here, too?"
"As many as you like, or don't like. It tends to have a mind of its own, this thing," the Doctor said affectionately. "Your room's already here from the first time we met."
John ran down the corridor to find his room as the Doctor hurriedly reprogrammed his room to have two separate beds replace the king-sized bed that had originally been there.
The TARDIS whirred on and landed in the middle of a messy 221B. John and the Doctor opened the door to find Sherlock trying to cram beakers and bottles into a carpetbag. "John, they won't fit!" he exclaimed. "Fix it."
John ran out of the TARDIS. "You're not going to need those—there's plenty of stuff in here already. I bet the Doctor has a lab on board."
"Yeah, I have loads of equipment," he reassured them. "You'll just need some clothes. And if you have any Jammy Dodgers, bring them too! I'm running low."
Sherlock flopped onto the couch. "Dull."
John rolled his eyes. "I'll pack for him."
The Doctor watched John trudge upstairs to grab clothes for Sherlock, whistling as he went. "He is so whipped."
"Nothing. Don't you want to come in?" he said, ushering the consulting detective into the blue box.
"We're not all going to fit in that. It can only fit two people, tops," Sherlock groused, not even looking inside the TARDIS.
"Then it's your lucky day, Holmes. You get to be pressed up against Watson all you like," the Doctor said under his breath.
"Don't think I didn't hear that. Why does everyone always assume that John and I are a couple? I am married to my work."
"Right, of course. Entrez-vous, mon petit cabbage, " the Doctor said, presenting his time machine to Sherlock. Sherlock choked on his own spit two steps in and ran back out, examining the size of the TARDIS.
"Not possible. This isn't possible." He felt for a trick wall on the back of the police box. "It's bigger on the inside."
"So it is."
"That's not physically possible. Physics itself defies the existence of this box."
"I'm having a hard time telling if you're fascinated or terrified."
Sherlock gulped and ran upstairs. "John. We can't go with him. His paradoxical machine is going to kill us."
"It is not going to kill us. Besides, you already said yes to him, and we can't very well refuse him now. We have to save his wife and baby."
"But John," he pleaded, "it's bigger on the inside. There's no way that box can exist."
"You're going to have a rough time on this trip, old boy, if you keep discounting everything that doesn't fit into the logical parameters of your mind," the Doctor shouted after them. "John! Bring the Dodgers!"
John shrugged at Sherlock and handed him a bag. "Here. There wasn't room for shoes, but the ones you're wearing are fine. Bring your coat and your scarf."
Sherlock's eyes widened. "Are we really doing this?"
"Traveling through time and space on a suicide mission to save an alien's family from some powerful, mysterious enemy?" John bit his lip to keep from laughing. "It was your idea."
He began to walk down the steps to the living room when Sherlock called out softly, "I'm sorry."
He turned around. "What for?"
"You didn't want to go." Sherlock looked a little panicked. "We don't have to if you don't want to."
John grinned. "Are you just saying that because you're scared of the TARDIS?"
Sherlock denied it too quickly. "I'm not scared."
"You bloody well are. And frankly, it's adorable." John put a comforting hand on Sherlock's shoulder. "The box won't hurt you. Come on, we're going on an adventure. Like in the Hobbit. It'll be fun, I suppose."
Sherlock just stared at him like he was insane. John ignored the look and gave him an encouraging smile. "The game is on!"
The taller man rolled his eyes and they walked downstairs together, finding the Doctor gaily brandishing a flashy metal thing with a green light and sporting a fez. "Are we ready?"
"Where'd you get the fez?"
"My collection. Geronimo!" he shouted, bounding inside the TARDIS and getting started on piloting the machine away. John and Sherlock shrugged at each other, took a deep breath, and joined him inside the blue box.
And they were off.