trillsabells: (Slash)
[personal profile] trillsabells
Title:The Prize
Author: [livejournal.com profile] trillsabells
Beta: [livejournal.com profile] jupiter_ash
Rating: This Chapter R, NC17 overall
Length: This Chapter 6500, overall nearly 100k
Summary: On 29 January 2010 an unknown Event wiped out 98% of the population. This is the story of the survivors, four months on. Based on this prompt here
Warnings (for entire fic): Starts with the death of over 6 billion people and goes downhill from there. Death, destruction, disease, violence, fire, plane crashes, slavery, graphic sex and serious consent issues
Author's Note: Merry Christmas from me as the next chapter won’t be up till Boxing Day (that’s 26th December for those of you who don’t box). Hope it's a lovely one! Your Christmas, not my chapter...

Chapter 1 : Chapter 2 : Chapter 3 : Chapter 4 : Chapter 5 : Chapter 6





“Six Billion people die and the first thing the survivors do is swipe all the condoms,” Sherlock muttered as he shifted through the wreckage of the pharmacy. “That just seems counter-productive.”

“I thought we were looking for nicotine patches?” John said as he upended a collapsed shelf.

“We are,” Sherlock said, scooping up an entire box of cough sweet packets and putting it in the pink rucksack.

They had taken several bags from the house as well as a tennis bag of children’s toys and all the alcohol they could find. They had then broken into another house further down the road. This one had looked like it had already been raided but further investigation showed it was just messy. Sherlock had picked out two large bags of ‘funsize’ chocolates and half a dozen packets of chocolate digestives. Somehow Sherlock managed to balance all of this on the back of the scooter although John had had to work hard not to giggle at the sight of him with a pink rucksack slung over the top of the long dark coat.

“How is this payment?” John had asked.

“After four months on a centrally controlled diet, you’d be surprised what people are willing to do for a chocolate biscuit.”

The pharmacy had already been raided. Every metal shelf was turned over, every packet and leaflet was torn, everything useful had been stolen and everything else had been flung about the shop. They had picked their way across the rubble and gone straight into the stock room at the back in the hope of finding untapped supplies.

John was just going through a crate of what seemed to be mostly boxes of earplugs when Sherlock froze beside him. A few seconds later he heard it as well; the distinct sound of a car coming slowly down the street followed by footsteps.

John double checked that both he and Sherlock were out of sight of the door and then started to worry about the scooter being spotted. When he heard the footsteps approach the pharmacy and crunch on the debris that littered the entrance he tried not to breathe. His hand moved to smoothly remove the gun from his pocket. There were five seconds when all he could hear was the drumming of his heart and then the footsteps moved away.

He let out the breath he had been holding then sucked it back in again when the footsteps paused once more. Another few seconds and the feet paused again. John realised whoever it was wasn’t coming back but was checking all the shops in the street.

He remained as still and silent as possible until he could no longer hear the car engine. After a quick look towards Sherlock – after all if Sherlock had heard them first perhaps he could tell if they were still around – he gingerly made his way to the front of the shop, getting close enough to the wide gap where the full wall glass window used to be to see out but far enough back to remain in the shadows of the building.

On the street, heading away from them was a heavy duty Land Rover and four heavily armed men on foot.

He went back to Sherlock who had resumed the search.

“I think it’s the men from the house last night,” he whispered.

“Of course it is,” said Sherlock dismissively. “But why are they looking for us? What’s so important that they would do that instead of heading back to their base? And who told them to do it? Aha! Sweet nectar!”

He picked up a box with a calculating smile on his face.

“Nicotine patches?” John asked.

The box was shoved towards him. “Put that in the bag. And the earplugs. We need to hurry but you’ll have to drive carefully. I need to keep my helmet off so I can listen out for those collectors.”

Sherlock’s definition of hurrying turned out to involve at least three more stops on their way back to central London. Standing guard while an almost certainly insane man snuck into a school and purloined a few dozen notebooks and packets of coloured pens when heavily armed collectors, who were already angry that he had shot at least seven of their number, could come around the corner any minute, was not an experience he would like to repeat.

But at the same time he was… well, if he was honest, he was having fun. Sherlock managed to keep them out of sight of the collectors and it was entertaining to watch the other man run around on their stops getting excited about little discoveries. Not to mention that seeing Sherlock in that pink rucksack never stopped being funny. Add that to the moment when, after they had stopped off at a clothing warehouse and Sherlock had broken into several of the crates, the other man had found a long red dress and held it against himself as if debating trying it on. John had found it impossible to keep a straight face and said,

“Definitely your colour. Bet it would show off your legs very well.”

Sherlock had given him a mildly nonplussed expression then turned back to the dress looking almost speculative. John had burst out laughing, if only because the mental image of Sherlock in the dress had crossed his mind and the other man had actually looked surprisingly fetching in it.

Sherlock had packed up the dress and picked out a few others as well. Then had turned his attention to the men’s clothing, choosing a wide selection, most of which, for some reason, seemed to be in John’s size.

All in all, John was actually a little disappointed when Sherlock eventually made them pull over so he could call the Enclave and warn them of their impending arrival. It was almost like the end of a holiday even though it had only been one day. No holiday lasted forever though. John had the distinct impression he would be working hard once he got back to pay for it. No one ever got anything for nothing.

“Five minutes, S two three,” Sherlock barked down the phone the instant it connected.

Sherlock then sighed and rolled his eyes which John took to mean whoever was on the other end was saying something pointless.

“We’ve been shopping as well,” Sherlock finally said, a little loudly as if talking over someone. “Do try and look after our bags, won’t you? Particularly the pink one?”

Whatever the reaction that produced from the person on the phone it caused a very smug expression to cross Sherlock’s face. He hung up without another word.

Entrance S two three was at the very bottom of an underground car park in Stockwell. It was impossible for garage doors to loom, wasn’t it? He wasn’t sure why he felt so nervous about it all. This was his home now. He wasn’t trapped there, he was needed. He had work and responsibilities. And, perhaps if he worked hard enough he might earn himself another trip out with Sherlock. He’d enjoy that. It had been a hell of a day.

The doors rolled up and they drove into a room that looked for all the world like an ordinary concrete garage that might be attached to a normal house, except without the usual detritus of bottles of car oil, half empty cans of paint and boxes for electronics they didn’t even own anymore but were keeping ‘just in case’. Instead there was a line of cabinets at the far end of the room including one with a green and white cross painted on the front. Next to the cabinets was a simple white door.

Sherlock dropped the bags at the foot of the cabinets and tugged open the door. It revealed a long corridor with doors evenly spaced along one wall. There were arrows marked on the wall in white paint pointing to the left. John followed as Sherlock led the way, ignoring all the doors until they reached a final one at the end of the corridor.

“Secondary entrance to short route decon,” Sherlock said as he opened it.

The room it revealed was identical to the disrobing room from the first time John had been through the whole decontamination process. Even the clothes basket looked the same. Although he told himself it was only because the whole place was designed to a standard scheme with generic furniture he couldn’t help but find it slightly eerie.

He turned to Sherlock who was swinging off his coat.

“You’re not going to wander off on me again, are you?”

Sherlock frowned. “No.”

John nodded. “Good,” he said and lifted off his jacket.

Only once he had dropped the last of his clothing in the bin did he let himself look back at Sherlock, being certain to keep his gaze directed upwards, focused on Sherlock’s top half for propriety’s sake.

The first thing he noticed was that good god the man was pale. Sure it was always going to be hard for someone who spent most of their time living in an underground bunker to get a tan, but Sherlock looked like he had never seen the sun, ever. Even the smattering of hair across Sherlock’s chest was so fine it might as well not have been there.

The second thing he noticed was that the man was ridiculously skinny. Of course he had spotted that the other man wasn’t exactly on the plump side but without the coverage of clothes Sherlock didn’t appear to have a spare ounce of fat anywhere. At least not from what John could see, there was, after all, a whole second half to the man John was most definitely not going to look at. Nevertheless Sherlock looked fit. Although not obviously muscled the other man looked wiry. John couldn’t be completely certain he could take him in a fight.

The third, fourth and fifth things he noticed in very quick succession. Unlike his own, Sherlock’s skin looked remarkably smooth with barely any visible scars or blemishes. He wondered if he would feel any if he ran his hands along Sherlock’s chest. It was at that point he noticed he had just thought about running his hands across Sherlock’s chest and, on top of that, he was definitely staring. Admittedly he had been successful in keeping his eyes in a safe place but staring was undeniably happening.

His fifth observation was that Sherlock was staring as well and unlike him, was not keeping his eyes at head level.

He coughed but made no move to cover himself up. You didn’t go through rugby team showers, medical school and the army without seriously denting your sense of shame.

Sherlock’s gaze snapped up to meet his. “You did have an injury to your leg then?”

“Oh.” Sherlock had been looking at his thigh? Thank god was the right thought to have right now, wasn’t it? Not… oh. “Yeah. Accident. From when I was a kid. Stopped me playing rugby for a month. I dunno, decided to reassert itself after I got shot.”

“Yes,” said Sherlock, taking a step towards him with an outstretched arm. “You were shot from behind, while bent over. Attending to a patient I assume.”

Sherlock’s hand hovered towards the scar on his left shoulder. John took a step backwards involuntarily. He could hear his heart pounding in his chest.

“Shouldn’t we,” he gestured towards the door that obviously went through to the next part of decon. His voice shook slightly.

Sherlock dropped his hands and said, “Of course,” before turning sharply and walking through the door.

John took a deep breath to regain control of himself and followed behind.

The next room was bigger than the shower room from the long route. This one contained several cubicles and had towels lined up on a rail along one wall. He could already hear water running from behind one of the curtains. There were also much fewer chemicals in the cubicle, with only one bottle of ordinary looking soap on display. John had planned to shower quickly and make sure Sherlock didn’t get the opportunity to run off again but as soon as he turned the water on he couldn’t help but pause and luxuriate in the spray. He was quickly getting the feeling he was never going to get used to this. He rubbed the soap into his skin and exhilarated in the sense of the sweat and dirt falling away. Nope, never.

He didn’t hear Sherlock’s shower turned off so he only realised the other man had already finished when he turned his own shower off and heard silence. He quickly grabbed a towel and dried himself before wrapping it around his hips and heading into the next room leaving damp footprints trailing behind him.

Sherlock was waiting for him, leaning against the wall of the next room dressed in the uniform scrubs and socks. John hoped his exhale didn’t sound too relieved.

He found some scrubs in his size in the piles on the shelves against the walls and got dressed, turning his back to Sherlock in a half measure for privacy. Finally he stood up straight. Sherlock nodded and opened the next door along. John breathed another sigh of relief knowing that there was only one more stop to go and then they could finally relax.

Then Sherlock’s deep growl threw that idea out the window.

“Bugger.”


~


The last thing, the absolute very last thing, Sherlock needed right now was to see his brother.

He had known that seeing John without clothes on would give him data, that’s why he had looked so carefully. He had wanted to know about the scars, to see them and deduce how they happened with his own eyes instead of through the mindless pixels of the computer screen. He wanted to see the muscles of a soldier and find out what four months of food deprivation had done to them. He had wanted to know it all. But he had been taken aback by how much data had hit him in that moment.

He hadn’t just picked up everything about John he could read in the other man’s flesh, he had also been bombarded by information about himself and the effect of seeing the other man naked. Then there had been John’s reaction to his nudity which was in definite need of cataloguing. Not to mention his own reaction to John’s reaction which he couldn’t quite qualify but was certain was part intrigue and part flattered. It was too much. It was almost an overload of information. He needed to shift through it, sort it, file it, analyse it. He did not need to face Mycroft right now. Especially when it was absolutely plain by the expression on his brother’s face that Mycroft knew exactly what was going through his mind right at that moment. Add that to the fact his brother was clearly angry about him defying those commanding text messages and Sherlock really did not want to have the coming conversation. Certainly not in front of John. Oh and that medical student was here as well, excellent.

“I brought him back in one piece,” he said, almost shouting it as if raising his voice would make the tightness of Mycroft’s eyebrows go away. “What more do you want?”

He heard a tiny groan behind him and turned his head slightly to see that John had leaned around him and was now looking at Mycroft with a reluctant expression. It sent a triumphant thrill through him to see John so disappointed to see Mycroft after having met him only two days before. Perhaps if more time passed John would loath Mycroft as much as he did. Then there would be no chance of Mycroft turning John into his pet soldier.

“Guess we’re not going to make it to Lestrade’s football game then,” John said.

“We were out less than twenty-four hours and had no contact with the general population,” Sherlock said, glaring back at Mycroft. “That only requires a twenty-four hour quarantine.”

“That rule only applies to people who actually managed to complete the initial seventy-two hour quarantine they started with,” Mycroft said. “You’ll be restricted to Blue Zone for another three days.” Mycroft sighed with false exasperation. “And I was so hoping to get Doctor Watson settled into routine at the main Infirmary.”

“And moved rooms to Green Zone,” Sherlock said.

Mycroft tipped his head as if considering the concept. The drama queen. As if Mycroft would ever get into a conversation where he hadn’t already thought through every variable, every come back and every possibility.

“I was thinking of having him permanently assigned to Red Zone actually, after the considerable skills he showed yesterday.”

Sherlock took a step forward. “You wouldn’t.”

His tone must have sounded truly threatening as it actually caused Mycroft to raise an eyebrow. It shot down again when John used the space Sherlock had given by moving forward to sidle into the room. John stood by his side giving him a wary look. Sherlock returned it with a determined one to let John know that he wasn’t about to let him be swept away where he couldn’t have him.

“John,” Mycroft said, his tone light.

Sherlock broke the locked gaze with John to glare at his brother.

Mycroft gestured towards the examination table. “I believe you have one more Lorimpoxate injection before you have finished the course? It’s a good thing you weren’t out any longer otherwise your health would have seriously suffered.”

Sherlock intensified his glare at the low blow; it was almost a wonder that John didn’t burst into flames as he walked across the divide between the brothers. How dare Mycroft insinuate that he had forgotten about, or even didn’t know about, John’s medical treatment? Of course he had known. He had been perfectly aware of how much time they had had to spare and Mycroft knew it. This was all some childish attempt to undermine him.

John hopped up on the examination table and, offering his arm to Helen, asked after one of the injured soldiers. Helen babbled on about them as she gave John the injection, then was silenced by Mycroft pointedly clearing his throat.

“Miss Webber, please don’t let my brother’s behaviour interfere with standard procedure.”

Helen looked chastised. John looked worried with an undercurrent of annoyance, which was pleasing.

“Right,” said Helen, sheepishly.

She fetched a clipboard from the side and started asking the standard questions. Where had they been? Who had they had contact with? What kind of flora and fauna had they been in contact with? Had they been within twenty kilometres of a power station or broadcasting tower? Had they consumed any food or drink? If yes than what?

“God knows,” Sherlock had answered to that one. “It was pink and lumpy. Tasted quite nice.”

John flashed him a quick grin but disappointingly didn’t chuckle. Sherlock was certain the other man would have done if Mycroft hadn’t been there. Some kind of reflex obedience to authority figures left over from the army no doubt. Sherlock wanted to be the only person John obeyed, not Mycroft.

Once the questionnaire was done Helen got out their new wristbands. Sherlock didn’t move from the position near the door, merely extended his arm so that Helen could put it on for him.

“You can attend to your patients now, Doctor Watson, Miss Webber,” Mycroft said, eyes still fixed on Sherlock’s.

Helen fled. John visibly bridled at the dismissal and looked towards Sherlock.

“You okay?”

“I’m fine, John,” he replied. “I’ll see you later.”

John seemed doubtful, glancing warily between the two of them, but eventually turned and left, shutting the door slowly as if hesitant to leave the two of them alone together. Sherlock appreciated the sentiment, he didn’t exactly want to be left alone with his brother either, but there were some things better done without witnesses.

Mycroft leaned back against the counters. Sherlock waited for the opening play.

“Before dark, I said.”

Mediocre hit at best, Mycroft was gearing up for a long game.

“I hadn’t finished.

“I also said no confrontations.”

“Since when have I ever done what you told me to?”

Predictable shot but sooner than his brother was expecting it; forcing Mycroft to respond by picking up his reserve tactic sooner than his brother had clearly anticipated.

“I would have thought you would be more careful given your additional responsibilities.”

“It was John who took out seven of our attackers; he was hardly an additional responsibility, more an assistance.”

“I could consider his enabling of your antics as trouble.”

An empty threat, Sherlock moved forward in his advantage.

“Would you rather argue about my friend or find out what I discovered about the collectors?”

Mycroft raised an eyebrow and Sherlock braced himself for the hard knock back.

“Your friend? That’s a bit premature, isn’t it? Especially for you.”

Dammit, foolish slip up. Mycroft didn’t pause to let him come back but instead pressed his attack.

“You’ve known people for years and not considered them any more than acquaintances but this man you consider a friend? What’s so special about him?”

Again Mycroft didn’t let him reply, as if he knew Sherlock didn’t have an answer – of course he knew, he was Mycroft. He had known everything about Sherlock since he had been born. Damn him and his seven year head start.

“Are you absolutely sure after an association of less than seventy-two hours he holds you with the same kind of regard?”

“Of course he does,” Sherlock said, trying not to snap. “He killed for me, he cooked for me, and you saw the way he looked at me. He trusted me enough to come here in the first place, that’s plenty of evidence from which to deduce a friendship.”

“Not everyone sees the world as plainly as you do.”

“And not everyone is as cold hearted as you are.”

It was a weak blow and Sherlock knew he had lost the round but it was enough to keep him in the game. He could never truly win against his brother, he knew that. But he had never been knocked out yet.

A slow blink from Mycroft decreed an end to play.

“Now I believe you have some data to impart?”

Sherlock’s mind immediately leapt to a rather different set of data than he knew Mycroft was referring to. He was fairly certain nothing showed on his face but the twitch of Mycroft’s eyebrow told him his brother knew exactly where and to whom his thoughts had drifted to.

Damn him.

An hour later – after Sherlock had changed out of those horrible generic scrubs and into one of his suits – they were both sat in front of the computer screen in Sherlock’s lab looking at the newly updated London Report. Neither of them had said anything since leaving the medical room; words were unnecessary when both of them were perfectly capable of interpreting the evidence in front of their eyes. Sherlock could input and correlate the data straight into the program, safe in the knowledge that his brother would deduce everything he had. The motives of the ambusher, the likely location of the collectors’ hideout and the identity of their inside man. He knew Mycroft would already be making plans on feeding the inside man just the right mix of correct and incorrect information so as to turn the situation around to their control. His brother had probably already formulated a dozen plans to ensure next time there was an ambush their team would come out on top, not just survive. He also knew with absolute certainty that soon Mycroft would know exactly what Sherlock wanted to do about it all.

“You’re not going, Sherlock.”

As expected; Mycroft was so overprotective.

“Scope out the area, confirm our calculations. Shouldn’t take more than a day or so. I won’t even go anywhere near, just observe from afar.”

“No.”

“I should be able to get us as much information as we’ll need to take them on from a safe distance. I’ll even persuade John not to shoot any of them if you like.”

“We won’t be taking them on.”

Sherlock gave him a sharp look and couldn’t keep the shock out of his voice as he said, “What?”

“They’re not a threat to us as long as they believe we are not a threat to them,” Mycroft told him quietly and calmly. “As long as they remain ignorant of exactly how much we know then we should be able to co-exist in peace.”

Sherlock jumped to his feet but kept his tone cool as he said, “You’re going to leave them out there.”

“We can’t ‘take on’ everyone you take a fancy to,” Mycroft replied in an almost sing song voice. “We just don’t have the resources.”

“Take a fancy to?” Sherlock couldn’t keep the revulsion out of his voice.

Mycroft seemed to ignore him. “For the moment there is a kind of equilibrium. We need time to build up our stocks and our plans for the future. The winter will kill off most of them anyway; we’ll deal with the rest in the new year.”

Sherlock shook his head. “So you’ll leave the collectors to rule the streets?”

Mycroft tipped his head. “Don’t pretend you care, Sherlock. Not to me. This has temporarily piqued your interest but tomorrow you’ll be back to cloning bees or you’ll find another stray that catches your attention.”

“This is not about that-“

“Of course it is.” Mycroft’s voice was soft and almost caring now. “You have a tendency towards the most dangerous obsessions. Right now is no different and I’m not about to let either of them harm you.” Mycroft stood up and his tone became business-like again. “Besides, I have the wellbeing of this institution and its people to consider and I won’t let even you interfere with that. Good day, Sherlock.”

Sherlock deliberately turned his back as Mycroft headed for the door. He had just grabbed his violin and was getting ready to play a few notes while he let his thoughts rearrange themselves when he overheard Mycroft speaking to someone in the corridor.

“Doctor, Colonel.”

Sherlock put his violin down and bolted for the door only to be greeted by a corridor completely bereft of John Watson.


~


John hadn’t particularly wanted to leave Sherlock. True, no matter how severe Holmes had looked, he was Sherlock’s brother. And true, Sherlock had been talking about him, and indeed looking at him, like he was an object rather than a person. But the way Sherlock had been glaring at his brother with so much venom, he couldn’t have been happy to be left alone. He had wanted to stay and maybe waylay some of Holmes’ concerns that they had been perfectly okay after the confrontation with the collectors and that it was at least partially his fault that they got caught anyway so not all of the blame was taken out on Sherlock. But Sherlock’s calm dismissal had made it plain John had to leave, so he had gone to check on his patients.

They were all doing well. Three had been discharged in his absence and Hedgely was progressing as expected. Lewis was doing remarkably well and would be up and about sooner than John had initially hoped. He would have praised Tom Wearing for the good work if a, the surgeon’s ego wasn’t big enough already and b, the man wasn’t currently furious with him.

“I can’t believe you just walked out in the middle of everything and then got yourself quarantined here for another three days. Three days!”

“You’ve coped perfectly fine without me,” John pointed out reasonably.

“It was all organised,” Tom said in what was probably supposed to be a threatening growl if John couldn’t at that moment list about six hundred and fifty-eight- no, fifty-nine things he had personal experience with that were scarier than Tom. Bunny rabbits for example.

“Shifts, rotas, time off.” Tom counted each one on his fingers as he waved his hands wildly in John’s face.

John had fallen into standing at military rest, only half listening. It was almost like being on parade; except with a toddler giving the commands instead of an officer. Now if Tom Wearing could meet some of his old commanding officers, he’d learn the true meaning of a dressing down.

“And now you’re not going to make Thursday’s football practice!” Tom said. “I had a hall booked and everything.”

“Oh, what a shame,” said John, trying to sound at least slightly concerned but was pretty sure he had failed.

In the corner of his eye line, which was just to the left of Tom’s shoulder, John saw the doors open and Seb enter. He forced himself to suppress a smile as Seb took in the situation, rolled his eyes in an exaggerated way then feigned falling asleep.

“If you are not going to even pretend to respect my authority here then you might as well be on the outside.”

Good god this man had his head shoved firmly up his arse, didn’t he?

“And next time you try running off-“

“Oi!” Seb called from the doorway. “Is someone going to look at my bloody stitches or can someone get me a chair? I’d hate to bleed to death where I’m standing, I might block the doorway.”

Before Tom could answer John started towards one of the beds.

“Come over here so I can see what the problem is.”

“Finally,” Seb stopped leaning against the doorframe and walked to the same bed as John had gone to. “Honestly, the service here is atrocious. See if I come here again.”

“Give it here then.”

Seb offered his arm. John looked it over and pushed it back towards the Colonel.

“So no problems at all then?” he said, tipping his head to one side.

Seb grinned. “None at all, you stitched me up fine, doc. I just thought you needed rescuing.”

“Thanks, but I can take care of myself.”

Seb’s grin faded and his eyebrows rose. “So I heard. Five men killed and another two injured? You have had a busy night.”

“Well, they weren’t very nice men.”

Seb laughed. “You’ve got that right. And I’m sure there’s plenty from the team that would buy you a drink. Not that they could get one around here.” Seb winked. “Although I can help you out with that if you liked.”

John smiled and didn’t mention the four bottles of brandy buried underneath a small mound of cuddly toys at the bottom of the tennis bag they had brought back.

“Listen,” said Seb. “I was going to go look at the memorial wall. People appreciate it if you give it a once over after you’ve been outside. Why don’t you come with me? See if you recognise anyone?”

John shook his head. “We didn’t see many people apart from collectors.” He paused as the memory of two gunshots went through his head. “And some collectees.”

“Come see if you recognise them. Hell, see if you spot any of the collectors. No one said the people on the wall had to be ‘nice’, just that they were loved.” Seb jumped to his feet. “Now?”

“Why not? I’m sure they can get along perfectly well without me.”

There was a humph from the direction of Tom Wearing and Seb and John shared a smile.

As they strolled along the corridors to the memorial wall John was pleased to note that he recognised most of the way; the place was already turning into less of a maze for him. Less overwhelming.

“So, did you put a picture up?” Seb asked, almost hesitantly, looking straight ahead instead of at him.

He nodded. “Yeah, my sister. How about you?”

Seb seemed to hesitate then nodded tightly. “Yeah. I’ll show you it.”

When they got to the wall, however, Seb made no move to pick out one picture in particular but instead starting browsing all of them. Business first, John thought and followed the other man along.

He was almost concerned that he would see a picture of the young woman and be forced to break it to a loved one that she had died. He had given bad news before, of course he had, but he didn’t think he could destroy someone’s hope so completely like that. To be so uncertain whether your loved one was alive and then be told they had died would be… if it had happened to Harry he wasn’t sure he could cope with the guilt.

None of the faces on the walls matched up with those of the collectors or the collectees he had seen the day before. Thank goodness.

The new arrivals from the day before had obviously been there. He was certain one more picture from the mass was missing that had been two days before. There were also more pictures added to the end so Harry’s wasn’t the last one on the line anymore

Seb hesitated when he got to Harry’s picture and for a second John’s heart leapt up into his throat. Did Seb recognise her? Did he know where she was? But no, a second later he realised it was her name that had caught Seb’s attention, not her face.

“This your sister then?” Seb asked.

John sucked in a deep breath then released it slowly. “Yes. Harry.”

Seb turned to look at him. The colonel only ever seemed to have two modes from what John had seen; shark like grin or serious and focused. This was Seb’s serious face.

“You never know,” he said. “She could still be out there. There was a lot of chaos just after the Event. I’ve seen people reunited after just missing each other on the day or their phones being out of battery or simply them not realising anything had happened until hours later. She might still be found.”

John couldn’t speak, his throat had contracted, but his head seemed to move of its own accord giving a small shake.

“You never know,” Seb said insistently. “I mean where was she?”

“Chelmsford.”

It came out impossibly small, like he wasn’t the one saying it at all. As if maybe it wasn’t true. As if it was just a nightmare like the ones he had every night. As if the planes hadn’t fallen. As if the town hadn’t burned.

“Oh.”

There really wasn’t much more to say to that.

Seb walked a few feet back down the wall and nodded towards another picture. John obediently followed and looked at it. It was of a dark haired woman in her mid-thirties with a shy open mouthed smile as if she had been caught in the middle of laughing.

“That’s my sister,” Seb said, his voice sounding distant as if he was reading from an invisible script. “You know I was gutted when I realised I didn’t have a picture of her with the kids. Her git of a husband I couldn’t care less about but I felt like I should have one of her with the kids. Even though I know it would be pointless.” Seb pulled his gaze away from the picture and dropped it to the floor. “I met someone from their school a while back. Caretaker or something. Had been in a cupboard. He told me there were no survivors.” Seb paused, momentarily too caught up in his own memories to keep going. “But her, she could still be out there. After all there are thousands of people out there. Who’s to say she’s not one of them.” He turned and fixed John with a cold and focused stare. “Who’s to say your Harry isn’t one of them either.”

The words rang in John’s ear as, together, they walked back to… actually he wasn’t certain where they were walking to. He had been too distracted, his head too filled with the faces of the strangers on that wall who might be out there, the people he used to know who weren’t out there and the survivors on the streets and at the farm who would probably be better off if they weren’t out there. He hadn’t noticed where his legs were taking him and the same appeared to be true of Seb. It was only when he overheard Sherlock’s raised voice that he realised they had drifted, apparently unconsciously, in the direction of Sherlock’s lab and were right outside.

John stopped in his tracks and beside him, Seb also came to a halt, seemingly jolted out of his thoughts by the sudden stop.

“You’re going to leave them out there,” Sherlock was saying in a flat tone.

That matched up so closely with John’s thoughts he gasped. He took a step closer to the door out of curiosity and heard Seb do the same behind him.

“We can’t take on everyone you take a fancy to. We just don’t have the resources.” That was Sherlock’s brother. They were arguing about taking people in?

“Take a fancy to?” Sherlock sounded appalled by his brother’s words. John didn’t blame him.

“For the moment there is a kind of equilibrium. We need time to build up our stocks and our plans for the future. The winter will kill off most of them anyway; we’ll deal with the rest in the new year.”

Holmes said it plainly, as if talking about the weather or the latest football scores instead of the chilling statement it was.

“So you’ll leave the collectors to rule the streets?”

How did Sherlock sound so calm? How was he not shocked at his brother’s words?

“Don’t pretend you care, Sherlock. Not to me. This has temporarily piqued your interest but tomorrow you’ll be back to cloning bees or you’ll find another stray that catches your attention.”

That would be why. John felt sick.

“Hey,” Seb whispered, putting a hand on his shoulder.

John threw it off automatically and Seb withdrew it sharply. He couldn’t hear the Holmes brothers anymore, they were speaking too softly. Then he heard the elder Holmes very loudly, as if he was approaching the door. The door they were hovering very conspicuously outside of.

“Besides, I have the wellbeing of this institution and its people to consider and I won’t let even you interfere with that. Good day, Sherlock.”

Seb didn’t touch him this time but gestured very obviously for him to get away from the door. John backed away sharply just as Holmes appeared.

“Doctor,” the man said, giving first him a small nod, then Seb. “Colonel.”

As soon as Holmes started to walk away Seb jerked his head in the opposite direction and ordered,

“Let’s get a coffee.”

Chapter 8



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Trillsabells

January 2012

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