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 8900, overall nearly 100k
Spoilers: None
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: Happy New Sherlock Eve everyone! Just advanced warning, next chapter the rating goes up to NC17. Will try and get that up Thursday.

Chapter 1 : Chapter 2 : Chapter 3 : Chapter 4 : Chapter 5 : Chapter 6 : Chapter 7 : Chapter 8






After three days of constant action it was odd how quickly things quietened down. There was a bit of a flurry the day after his return with the patient and staff transfers between Blue and Green Zones but after that a strange hush seemed to settle over Blue Zone.

It put him on edge, constantly feeling as though he was waiting for something. Perhaps it was simply because he was caught up in Sherlock’s investigation, which had stalled until the inside man made his move. Perhaps it was because he was still waiting for Sherlock to drop him, just as Seb said he would. Just like he had thought Sherlock had done when he didn’t show up for lunch the day before.

Not that Sherlock’s interest was showing any signs of letting up. The other man instead developed a habit of simply showing up at the Infirmary when he wanted John’s attention, refusing to leave no matter how busy John was, and insulted anyone who tried to get him to move on. John developed the corresponding habit of giving in and just going with the other man after about half an hour of being stared intently at. Still, there were worse fates than sitting put while Sherlock paced up and down, extrapolating on his latest experiment with wild gestures and plucked thoughts and conclusions seemingly at random from the air. Sometimes it was actually quite fun. Other times he was just grateful for the distraction.

Take, for example, the third day after their trip to Cranham. It was an unusual day as it wasn’t Sherlock who showed up at ten o’clock to drag him away, but Helen. It turned out he had remarkably managed to spend seventy-two hours in one place and his own quarantine was up. Now Tom and Jack wanted to show him the other infirmaries and introduce him to the medical staff he hadn’t yet been able to come into contact with.

He found he was quite looking forward to it as Helen led the way into Green Zone. He had never been one to shirk from new challenges and hoped meeting the rest of the staff would make it feel like he was finally part of a team again. It almost felt momentous to wave his newly updated wristband across the door sensor and have the green doors unlock in front of him. Then he opened them and the change was instant.

People. The first time he had seen Blue Zone it had seemed busy to him but compared to Green Zone the place had been practically deserted. It must have been a change of shift or the start of a school day or a holiday or a special occasion or something because there was no way this many people could be compressed into this tiny a space, jostling past each other, breathing in each other’s air for so long a time without going mad.

His breathing sped up, his heartbeat thundered, his brain felt like it was being attacked at all sides by the sense of wrong, bad, panic, danger and there was nothing he could do to stop it.

People were shouting; laughing. Children were screaming. Why were they screaming so loud? Running up and down the corridors and-

Suddenly he couldn’t see them anymore. He couldn’t see anything except a white shirt in front of him.

He realised he had pressed his hands against his ears and he eased them away but this time the sound of the crowd was being pushed out by a deep voice speaking to him.

“Did I ever tell you, John, about the time I saved twins from prison because I realised they were both in hospital while one of them was having a sex change operation at the time of the murder?”

Sherlock didn’t touch him, just stood in front of him blocking out everyone else, including Helen. John straightened up as the tale of the innocent twins wafted over him and his breathing evened out. When Sherlock moved backwards he followed, unwilling to let his shield get more than a couple of feet away. They continued at a slow pace as Sherlock reeled out the most ridiculous deductive leaps until he called him out on it at which point the other man just seemed pleased as punch for the opportunity to expound on them. They were in the middle of an argument that Sherlock couldn’t possibly have seen the distinctive brown flecks in the girl twin’s eyes after she knocked off her sunglasses for only a couple of seconds when he stopped in shock at the realisation they had they had reached the Green Zone Infirmary.

Suddenly he was overwhelmed with shame. How many people had seen him lose control like that? He was supposed to be a soldier and a doctor and he just had a panic attack because of a crowded corridor? Helen had witnessed it and had probably already told everyone. They were all looking at him warily. They were going to treat him like a bomb, weren’t they? Pity him. Fear him. Oh this was going to be awful. And then there was Sherlock. What must Sherlock think of him?

He was sure the crowd of people in the Infimary were staring at him as they entered. After what felt like a lifetime under their gaze one of the doctors stepped forward and introduced himself as Doctor Richard Worthing, Oncology. He tried to smile and act vaguely normal as Richard introduced him to the nurses who were also strangers to him and then his tour began.

As it turned out there were five subzones in Green Zone, each with its own infirmary. B and D Zone infirmaries were barely more than doctor’s offices. E Zone was the next biggest with a large ward and a selection of treatment rooms, much like the Blue Zone Infirmary. A Zone was where most of the families were located so the A Zone Infirmary was more like a family clinic with a paediatric ward and a specialised maternity unit – which, he was told, currently attended to five pregnant women and including one who was due in just a couple of weeks and would be the Enclave’s first birth. C Zone contained the biggest and main infirmary and as such was generally referred to as ‘the hospital’. There was a further infirmary in Red Zone, small but as well-equipped as the others so that in an emergency, when the highest quarantine completely isolated Red Zone from the rest of the Enclave, the inhabitants could still get proper medical treatment. Red Zone was apparently where all the VIPs lived. The ‘last vestiges of the British government’ Sherlock had talked about.

As John was guided around he was certain he wasn’t imagining that people were keeping a close eye on him. In case he made another scene, most likely. He got the feeling that the other doctors had intended to give him a proper and full guide of the entire Enclave but had been put off, either by fear of overwhelming or overtaxing him, or by the continuing presence of Sherlock who hovered constantly close to hand like an unsubtle bodyguard.

They finished off in Red Zone and Richard was just suggesting they go grab some lunch when Sherlock interrupted.

“If you’re quite finished then John and I will be getting along, we have plenty to do.”

Sherlock gestured towards John with an outstretched arm before walking in the opposite direction to the main entrance.

Curiosity piqued, John quickly thanked Richard for the tour, and gave the usual plaintive about how good it was to finally meet, then followed after Sherlock who had disappeared out a door at the back of the Infirmary.

What followed felt like an expedition through the labyrinth rather than a tour of a base as Sherlock took side doors, random corridors, seemingly hidden stairwells, short cuts and through ways across offices and labs, always staying a few paces ahead while pontificating on the surroundings so John had to run to keep up. At one point, with no explanation, he was made to dress up in a hazmat suit before entering a lab, saying a quick hello to Doctor Hansa Chandri who was examining irradiated animal cells then immediately leaving. Doctor Chandri had just shrugged as if it was a normal occurrence, which from what he had seen of Sherlock it probably was.

A yellow door led to a set of steps down into what was unmistakably a dairy. It was the glass door leading to a fridge filled to the brim with vats of milk that gave it away really. Although John would admit the odd moo coming from behind a side door helped a little.

Sherlock introduced Matt ‘Head of Cows’ and pulled up a stool. He followed suit and was surprised a moment later when they were offered ‘fresh’ cheese sandwiches. He genuinely couldn’t remember the last time he had had real butter and the cheese was the best he had ever tasted. Before he knew it he had eaten three large sandwiches and Matt was offering him more. While he ate, and Sherlock nibbled on a single sandwich, Sherlock and Matt chatted. Matt shared with Sherlock an enthusiasm for experimentation. He was, apparently, studying the effects of variables such as cow feed and music on the quality of milk. John suggested that Sherlock should play violin to the cows but Matt laughed and said they had tried that but Sherlock had gotten bored and then ‘experimental’ and was now banned from any face to face contact with the cows.

“With all the stuff I keep hearing about you,” John said after they had said goodbye and Sherlock had pulled him away, no doubt in the direction of more labs, “it was nice to meet someone who actually seems to like you.”

“We discuss experimental methods, the same as I would do with any of the scientists here,” Sherlock said disinterestedly.

“And do they all make you cheese sandwiches?”

“No, but then most don’t have a large supply of cheese to hand.”

John chuckled. “So where to next? Who do you know with a large supply of something for dessert to hand?”

Sherlock frowned and stopped. “If you wanted dessert Matt also does ice-cream-“

John held up his hands. “No, no, I’m fine. Just… where to next?”

“Not tired yet?” Sherlock asked.

“Not bored of me yet?” John shot back and instantly regretted it.

But Sherlock just smirked and took off once more.

Later he suspected that it was his ‘incident’ in the corridor that resulted in him rarely working at the other infirmaries, or it could have been that they simply preferred him where he was. Either way, he found he hardly left Blue Zone. Except for Tom’s football practices of course. Apparently he needed to do far more than have a panic attack to have any chance of interfering with the surgeon’s hopes for sporting glory.

Actually, although he would never confess it, he quite liked the practices. Not for the sport – rugby was definitely more his game – but for the company. Tom might have been a pain in the arse but Jack (Surgery with Tom, his two daughters and energy burst from an asteroid) seemed a nice guy, Richard (X-Ray, his life partner and he hadn’t really thought about it) was friendly enough and the fifth member of the team, a male nurse called Sam Drapper (The toilet, four brothers and aliens) was a joker and a good laugh.

Outside of the medical staff he didn’t speak to many people. He saw Lestrade from time to time, once notably when the ex-policeman had broken a toe playing football (“Just like David Beckham then!” “If only you could score like Beckham,” Sally Donovan, one of the few female players in the five-a-side tournament, had commented) but usually just in passing in the corridor. Then there was Seb, who he was beginning to be convinced was nocturnal.

Every morning, no matter how early, when nightmares woke him and drove him to the canteen in search of coffee, he would find Seb there, sat at the table closest to the drinks area with a far too bright for that time of the morning shark-like grin on his face. Every morning Seb would make some joke about how awful he looked, which to be fair in the mornings was almost certainly true, and then they would chat over glorious caffeine about life before the Event, life after the Event and all kinds of apparently random subjects. Naturally Sherlock came up fairly frequently.

“Himself still hanging around then?”

“Seems to be,” he replied, as astonished by that as Seb seemed to be.

“It’s strange,” the colonel said, as if musing aloud. “He brings in people all the time and usually he hasn’t been in the door five minutes before he’s forgotten their name. But you,” Seb shook his head. “He’s taken a shine to you. Must have seen something he likes. I don’t think you’re ever going to be rid of him until he decides it, whether you like it or not. Still,” Seb paused to take a sip of his coffee. “Try not to let him suck you completely dry. Once he’s moved on you can settle in properly. You might as well enjoy the ride while it’s there and Sherlock can be quite a rollercoaster, let me tell you.”

“You sound like you’ve got personal experience.”

“I just know the type,” Seb said, grin firmly back in place.

John was on the verge of asking who when Seb abruptly changed the subject and started asking about his time in Afghanistan. Figuring Seb probably didn’t want to talk about whoever it was he let the matter drop.

The main person he spent his days with, naturally, was Sherlock. There was no real escaping the man.

Without exception his afternoons began to fill up with Sherlock’s experiments, Sherlock’s investigations, stories of Sherlock’s old cases, dinner with Sherlock, DVDs with Sherlock, evenings in Sherlock’s presence just reading a book.

He tried going to a few of the evening events in Green Zone but found the crowds left him on edge and unable to enjoy himself. That was until Sherlock started to invite himself along and showed him the secret routes in and out of the other zones so they could make their way straight to the relevant hall while avoiding the masses. That was definitely worth putting up with Sherlock’s pithy comments about the talent of the musicians or the standard of the play writing. After a while he started to look forward to the comments as much as he did whatever the entertainment was. There was nothing like watching a group of zoologists put on an amateur dramatic version of Miss Marple while a genuine detective whispered faults, secrets and comparisons to real murders in his ear.

It was weird but it was fun. He knew he shouldn’t get used to it but after months of hell who could blame him for enjoying it while he could?

~


Sherlock knew John didn’t really mid when he scheduled their afternoon out to Anthony’s ‘DS’ on an afternoon when the doctor usually played football no matter how much John pretended to look annoyed. John was too kind hearted, that was the problem. No, he was certain John didn’t really want to be dragged away every other afternoon to play that moronic sport with those ignoramuses that called themselves medical professionals, especially when he was able to provide a much more interesting diversion. After all, John would always complain over dinner about being exhausted or how bad they were – which was true, he had been to their games. But no matter how many excuses he tried to provide John would always go so as not to upset ‘the other guys’.

It was equal parts infuriating and oddly endearing.

So he knew he was doing John a favour when they went out for the afternoon. After all, who would prefer to kick a ball around when there was the city to explore?

They spent a happy couple of hours rooting through the pillaged remains of a Gamestation and discussing which games Anthony would like. John laughed at his bafflement at how anyone could find a virtual dog entertaining then asked whether kids were ‘still into Pokémon these days’. He demanded an explanation then stopped John when after two words he could tell it was going to be deathly boring. He snorted indignantly at the ludicrous claims of the ‘brain training’ which made John giggle and first recommend a mystery solving game before suggesting that they should get a ‘DS’ for him as well so they could see who solved the mystery first, him or Anthony.

Because of the quarantine he couldn’t go to see Anthony as soon as they got back and John couldn’t go to whatever pointless activity he had planned for that evening, so the doctor suggested they watch a film together.

“Maybe I’ll see if they’ve got the Pokémon movie,” John said.

“It’s a film as well?” Sherlock said, horrified.

John laughed – something that still never failed to make him feel unnaturally proud – and said,

“Fine, fine, Bond it is.”

‘Bond’ turned out to be the most ludicrously plotted excuse for far too many explosions ever put to film, but sitting back on his bed, leaning in close enough to John so that they could both see the small portable DVD player screen while John expounded on his favourite bits and ate chocolate digestives, he couldn’t quite bring himself to be bothered. When he revealed to John that that had been the first ‘Bond’ film he had ever seen John threw a biscuit at him and then proceeded to use up a week’s worth of both of their entertainment allocations to get hold of more of the ‘Bond’ films.

Sherlock fetched some dinner back from the canteen – which wasn’t strictly allowed but he had never let a little thing like rules bother him in the past – and then they sat down to ‘Bond’ after ‘Bond’ until John was leaning so heavily against his side he thought the other man was on the verge of falling asleep.

John was remarkably warm. Almost excessively so. Not in a bad way, no, it was rather nice actually. Comforting. Perhaps there was something about external heat stimuli that relaxed the muscles on that side of his body; much like ‘deep heat’ packs were used on sore backs. Perhaps if he were able to measure the exact temperature John produced he could replicate it for later study and use it next time he felt tense. Unless he could persuade John to snuggle up to him next time he felt tense. The idea held a certain appeal.

He sunk down into John’s warmth then found it very difficult to suppress a groan of disappointment when John jolted upwards in an obvious attempt to forestall sleep.

“What time is it?”

“Six AM.”

John let out a low groan and rubbed at his eyes with the heels of his hands. “I have to be in the Infirmary in a couple of hours. I need coffee.”

“You should rest,” said Sherlock as a brilliant idea struck him. “You could sleep here if you want.”

John moved the DVD player off his legs and stretched. “Can’t. People to do, things to see.”

“Dull,” Sherlock said, leaning back on the bed then frowning at the rapidly cooling spot beside him.

“I’ll see you later,” John said, clambering to his feet.

“After I’ve spoken to Wiggins the third.”

John responded with a simple nod then walked out the door.

Sherlock twisted until he was stretched the full length of the bed and regarded the ceiling for a moment. He could still feel the residual heat from John down his left side. Surely it should have dissipated by now? Instead it tingled slightly. Should it tingle? Wasn’t that a symptom of a heart attack? Surely he would notice if he was having one of those? He checked his pulse. Slightly elevated but not to a dangerous level. How odd.

Tucking the symptoms away for further examination, he swung his legs off the bed and stood up. He still had some time until the quarantine ended and it was far past time that he updated the London Report.

Nine hours later and he was outside the main hall in A Zone – which, for the majority of the day, was used as the school – waiting for Anthony to get out of lessons. As soon as the boy appeared he signalled him to follow with a jerk of his head. Once they had retreated to a secluded spot, he had handed over the ‘DS’ and Anthony had made a small noise halfway between approval and surprise at the game choice, they got down to business.

“I’ve caught Fisher slipping away to make phone calls about three times in the last two weeks,” Anthony said. “Goes just round the corner from the wall, near that lab with the rose patterned glass panel in the door. Always uses a black Samsung phone. Think it’s an S five two hundred. Never makes the phone call from his room. Talks to someone called Petey. Except one time when he had to ask someone to put Petey on. Sounded really irritated until Petey must have come on because then he was all ‘Hey Petey, are you ok?’ like he normally is. After the phone calls he kind of looks… What’s the word? I dunno, like it’s all inevitable and he’s not happy about it.”

“Desolate?”

“’s good a word as any, I suppose.”

Sherlock nodded, letting the data process and filter through his mind.

“I need you to get hold of his phone,” he said, taking out his notebook and writing down a network address. “Make sure it’s the one he makes the calls from and use the WAP to connect to this.” He tore out the page and handed it over. “The tracking software will download automatically so you can give the mobile back straight after you’ve done that.”

Anthony grinned. “I assume you’re prepared to pay?”

“Games, like we agreed. Once I’ve got confirmation that it’s working.”

“They better be good ones.”

“I assure you a great deal of effort was put into their selection.”

Sherlock pulled out his phone and texted as he walked back to Blue Zone. John arrived after he had been standing at the wall for exactly two minutes, and one minute forty-six seconds after he had found the photo he was looking for.

“Private Aaron Fisher,” he said, showing John the picture of two young men, one early twenties, one late teens, and a woman in her late thirties. “And his brother, Peter Fisher. Probably half-brother. Hasn’t really been in contact since their mother died. This photo is a couple of years out of date but see where it’s been folded back? It was folded on the wall to hide himself but show his mother and brother so that anyone who saw the picture would be able to tell immediately who was the Peter Fisher written below. No name for the mother, she must have died already. He couldn’t just put up a photo of his brother alone because he didn’t have one, at least not a recent one. This must be the most recent photo he has so he’s been out of touch with his brother for some time before the Event. But someone else found Peter before Private Fisher could. That’s why Private Fisher has been passing on information; they have his brother.”

John was staring at him, mouth open a little and eyes blinking in a way that made the doctor look like a fish.

“That’s amazing,” John said.

Sherlock was almost certain he beamed at that. He didn’t smile but he could feel his pride like heat in his head.

John suddenly seemed to gain control of his expression and the other man’s face rearranged itself into a firm, soldierly one.

“So these collectors in… Thorpe or wherever. They’re holding Fisher’s brother to ransom for information.”

“Not necessarily. There’s a small possibility that Peter Fisher is one of the collectors himself and the Private is talking to him out of some sense of duty. I’ll know for certain when Anthony gives me more information but the brief description of the phone calls so far suggest the former.”

“So what do we do now?”

“Nothing. We wait for someone to make a move. That will happen very soon.”

He pulled out his phone and sent Mycroft a quick text.


Message Sent

Private Aaron Fisher = Fall guy. Expect him to be dropped very soon.

SH


He tucked the phone away and looked back at John.

“Coming?”


~


It was a dead end. There had never been a dead end before but then he didn’t even know where he was anymore. He had been in the Enclave, hadn’t he? He turned to go back the way he had come but it was blocked as well. He spun to head towards Chelmsford but there was a pile of rubble too high to climb. The way to London was blocked as well. He was trapped and the shadow men were starting to crowd in, mocking him, screaming, crying. He couldn’t get away. He didn’t know where he was. He beat at the walls, begging someone to let him out, get him out of there, crying and shouting as the men only got louder. Covering his ears, he begged them to shut up, to go away, to please please just let him go. He pounded and screamed and-

Light.

The change in air hit him like a hammer and woke him so suddenly he had to throw out his arms to steady himself. He was stood in the doorway of his room, hands braced against the walls, staring out into the light of the corridor into the indecipherable face of Sherlock Holmes. Behind Sherlock stood two women who he had spoken to a few times because they had rooms just down the corridor. They looked halfway between concerned and absolutely terrified.

His eyes slid shut and the only thing that kept him from staggering backwards was his iron grip on the doorframe.

Oh god, how much of that dream had he actually done? He had clearly been up on his feet. Had he been running around? Shouting? Pounding at the walls. Had they heard everything? He wanted to crawl into a ball and never been seen again. He wasn’t fit to be around humans. What had Sherlock been thinking when he brought him here?

He took a deep breath then was horrified when it came out shaking. No. He was not going to cry. Not in front of Sherlock.

He took another deep breath then let it out very slowly. Another and he was ready to open his eyes. Sherlock hadn’t moved but the women had started to shuffle their feet as if wondering if they could go yet. When he let go of the doorframe and straightened up his legs only shook a little.

He realised he should say something but he couldn’t get his vocal cords to work which was probably some form of irony right there. Sherlock appeared to pick up on this and turned to the women and said,

“Go away.”

One fled immediately. The other looked indignant and seemed like she was going to object, but quailed under a scathing glare from Sherlock. She left pretty quickly after that and Sherlock’s attention snapped back to him. He would have complained of the rudeness but was just relieved that they had left. Now he really, really wanted Sherlock to bog off as well so he could collapse and cringe himself to death.

“They fetched me because you were shouting,” Sherlock said, his tone low but neutral as if it was just an interesting piece of information rather than his abject humiliation.

That was exactly what he had been afraid of. He didn’t want to know what he had been shouting; whether it had been the pleading of the dream him or the screaming of the shadow men or something else altogether.

Why had they fetched Sherlock? Oh right, because he belonged to Sherlock.

He only realised he had said that out loud when an odd expression flickered momentarily across Sherlock’s face.

“I’m fine,” he said. “Go back to bed.”

“I wasn’t in bed,” the other man said immediately.

He frowned. “You weren’t- how long has it been since you slept?”

Sherlock opened his mouth but John wasn’t going to let any excuse, any pity, stop him with this. He stuck out his arm to point down the corridor and said, in his most commanding tones,

“Bed. Now.”

If he had expected Sherlock to retreat contritely he was sorely mistaken as instead Sherlock grabbed his wrist and held it securely. He was shocked enough that he didn’t pull it out of the other man’s grip before he realised what Sherlock was doing. The man was taking his pulse.

Sherlock gave a considering hum then abruptly dropped his wrist and walked away. John watched him go, too taken aback to do anything else.

He only got a grip on himself when the tiny craving in the back of his mind that always surfaced post-nightmare started to demand coffee.

Seb was in the canteen when he entered, as usual, with his wide grin. And there was the coffee, glorious in its caffeination. His eyes closed as the first sip sent a jolt of energy through his system. He knew it was impossible for caffeine to work that quickly but right now it felt like that and who was he to argue with something he craved so badly.

“You look worse than usual,” Seb said as he sat down.

“Has anyone ever told you that you’re such a charmer,” John replied.

The colonel threw back his head and laughed.

As much as he enjoyed his time with Sherlock – and he really had to admit he did enjoy it; there were times when he had never laughed so much – it was nice to just hang out with someone sane for a change. Besides, he and Seb had so much in common. There was the army, obviously, but there was also a shared love of rugby – union, not league – an enthusiasm for real ale – Seb called the demise of it the biggest tragedy of the Event – and the belief that The Godfather: Part II was the best of the series. Seb didn’t like Bond, this was the source of one of their few arguments with raised voices and two broken plates which John immediately apologised for; Seb didn’t.

Seb had grown up in a town John had only vaguely heard of but which, based on the colonel’s reaction to any of his throwaway comments, seemed a lot like Chelmsford. Their sisters sounded similar too. Both were older and pains in the arse about it, both had worked for the local council and both had gotten so drunk at their respective weddings they had ended up flashing the reception party. John had a feeling Harry would have liked Seb’s sister. Enough to have a go at any rate, despite the husband and two kids.

They didn’t mention the kids. It was a banned topic of conversation liable to induce a dark look and an awkward silence. The same with John’s nightmares. Their respective work wasn’t an off limits subject matter but they still very rarely brought it up. John because his work was either boring or subject to doctor patient confidentiality. He wasn’t sure why Seb didn’t talk about what he did all day. He knew when the soldiers went out on assignment - Sherlock would almost always get hold of the samples or the information they brought back – but Seb never brought it up. Except perhaps to say,

“Yesterday was a hellish day; I could sleep for a month.”

Or make some comment about the weather outside and the state of the survivors.

It was, therefore, a bit surprising when that morning, just as they were finishing their coffees, Seb brought up the subject of his team. What made it more shocking was just how awkward the colonel looked to mention it.

“It’s…” Seb stared at the empty mug on the table. “It’s probably nothing. I know it’s not paranoia if they really are out to get you but… well, maybe I’m just looking too hard for something that isn’t there. But… well, we’ve had a few close calls lately, and what with that ambush two weeks ago, well… No, I shouldn’t be saying anything.”

“What is it?” John asked, a little too eagerly.

Seb raised his eyes and narrowed them. “Do you know something? You’d tell me if you did, wouldn’t you, doc? Because…” Seb lowered his voice, “I’m not sure if I can fully trust my team. Do you know anything?”

John kept his face entirely straight. “Anything about what?”

“About…” Seb sat back. “I’m being mad aren’t I? Been shut in this place too long, I’ve got cabin fever. Seeing ghosts. Making up spies.” Seb shook his head. “No, forget it. Forget I said anything.”

John nodded and tried not to think about Private Fisher, destroying Seb’s team from the inside. The ultimate betrayal of a soldier. Turning on your country was one thing, but going against your fellow soldier, the people relying on you to watch your back and hold your life day in and day out, that was unforgiveable.


~


Ostensibly they were outside to get some cuttings. The first year after the Event was key to discovering which plants were growing and what affect the new conditions were having on them. As the seasons progressed the different stages of development had to be monitored to gain the full picture. A military team had been sent out of the city to collect samples from the countryside, with its oddly selective vegetation destruction, while Sherlock and John were getting the London samples. Supposedly.

They did actually have to get the samples, but the real reason they were outside was because it had been two weeks since the last time Sherlock had seen the city and that had only been the short trip to the shopping centre in Vauxhall. He needed a clearer picture to make sure the Report was fully up to date. That was why they were going through allotments and communal gardens in east London, rather than the more obvious parks in the West End.

It was raining, which tended to keep the collectors away and most of the gangs inside. It brought everyone else onto the streets though, taking advantage of the only running water they could get their hands on. Sherlock spotted one man, stark naked, standing underneath the downpour of a drain pipe, washing all over with shower gel. Others were collecting the rainwater in plastic containers, watching the two of them walk by with suspicious eyes, crouched low like animals, ready to grab the bottles and flee if they got too close.

They took a shortcut through a school and cut through what had once no doubt once been a light filled, modern building but was now an empty shell of debris and windswept detritus. They were just passing through a reception area with a sideless staircase leading up to the overhanging second level when a shot rang out.

John grabbed him and pulled him behind an overturned table beneath the overhang before he could triangulate the trajectory of the bullet.

“Stay low,” John commanded.

“Upstairs,” Sherlock said, “left-hand side, by the maths display. Double-barrelled shotgun.”

“There’s another on the right,” John said.

As if in confirmation another shot, this time from that direction, hit the floor just in front of their makeshift barricade.

There were two clicks, obviously both men reloading.

“We need better cover,” John said.

“We need them to stop firing. Hello!” he raised his voice. “We’re just passing through, we mean no harm.” He lowered his voice so only John could hear. “Two men, both with shotguns with ammo, so cautious. Not gang members, not the sort to start firing unless they were threatened. We weren’t threatening them- We weren’t threatening you,” he called out. “Why are you shooting at us?”

“You stay away from us, we’re serious!” Liverpudlian accent, young, early twenties from the right hand side.

“You could have let us just pass through, we would never have seen you.”

“Yeah and you’d nick all our supplies?”

“We’re not interested in your supplies.”

Two more shots rang out in quick succession.

“Not good?” he asked John.

“Bit unlikely.”

“Where did they even get double-barrelled shotguns in London? Why pick guns with limited capacity when they could have picked up an automatic weapon off of any dead soldier in London? Unless they were in the countryside. Farmers, or got them off of farmers, preparing themselves. But why didn’t they- Why didn’t you stay in the countryside?” he raised his voice again. “If you’re smart enough to arm yourselves then you must have realised that life in the countryside is far more sustainable, so why did you come back to the city? What did you come back for? Who did you-“

Another shot.

“Don’t antagonise them,” John said in an angry whisper.

Then something marvellous happened to the doctor’s face. A dawning look of realisation, cunning and confidence. It was fascinating and Sherlock had the strangest desire to put his hand to John’s face and feel the muscles move into such a brilliant expression.

“Or at least antagonise the left hand side one,” John said, glancing at a door just behind them. “Get him to dispel all his bullets then see if you can tempt the right hand one down.”

He needed more data.

“I hope they’re worth it,” he shouted. “Worth making the utterly moronic decision to come back into the city. I hope they appreciate what an utter idiot you’re making of yourself.”

Another shot.

“David! Stop it!”

Ah, approximately early fifties, not enough of a sample to properly define an accent but definitely not Liverpudlian.

“Yes, David, listen to your father. Not that he’s your father. Although maybe he gets you to call him daddy. I bet he likes that.”

“Shut it, you!” from the left.

“You lost them and it hurts but you found yourself a new piece to sooth that pain away. Young and exciting and oh so vulnerable, you had to have some of that-“

“I said shut it or I’ll shoot your face off.”

He bit back the urge to point out that he hadn’t actually said that and continued.

“I bet you drooled to see the poor lad. I bet you thought he was the perfect start to your very own collection-“

Two shots. John ran for it.

“Henry!” David shouted in warning.

“Okay, David,” Sherlock said. “I’ll leave Henry alone, I’m sure he’s a wonderful guy once you get to know him and he isn’t trying to shoot your head off with no provocation. Let’s talk about you. No, let’s talk about her. The one, your only. You’d risk your life to find her again so we’ll assume you have some evidence that she survived the initial Event and that you’re not completely bereft of brain cells.”

“Leave it,” Henry said, tone dangerous, effectively confirming either the she or that the words were having the desired effect in spite of the gender.

“But you left her here. You couldn’t get to her in time and now she’s vanished. You can’t find her, you’ll never find her. You’re just not that good.”

“Stop it!”

“David!”

Footsteps. Brilliant.

“She’s probably dead by now anyway. Starved, burnt, drowned, some nutter blew her brains out just because she looked at them funny.”

“You shut up, you shut up now!”

“Or maybe she was pretty enough to fall into some collectors hands and I bet she’s really pretty. Pretty enough that they would never put her in the fields, no, they’d tie her up and share her around and she’d be had again and again and-“

“Get up!” David charged down the steps. “Get to your feet right now so I can blast your damn head off!”

“David,” Henry’s voice was shaking.

Both Sherlock and David looked up to see a man in his early fifties with grey hair, a black jacket, an expression of both nerves and fury and a Sig Sauer P226 pressed up against his head. Behind the man – Henry – John’s expression was perfectly calm and composed.

Sherlock got out from behind the table and faced the younger man.

“Put the gun down, David,” Henry said with obvious reluctance.

“No way,” said David, turning back towards Sherlock. “I can get him.”

“David.”

David turned his gaze back to Henry, looking torn. Sherlock decided to take the decision out of the young man’s untrustworthy hands and, stepping forward, knocked the gun upwards so when David pulled the trigger out of shock the bullet hit the ceiling harmlessly. He grabbed the barrels of the gun and kicked out to hit David in the knee, then twisted the gun out of the young man’s hands. He turned the shotgun immediately to point it at David.

“On your knees, hands behind your head.”

Looking more ashamed than angry, David complied, wincing a little as the knee Sherlock had kicked made contact with the ground.

There was a clattering noise as Henry came down the stairs, followed swiftly by John pointing the Sig at the man with one hand and holding the shotgun in the other. The older man knelt beside David without prompting and John came to stand next to Sherlock.

“We were just passing through,” John said reasonably. “There was no need for this to get violent.”

“With what he was saying?” David said, incredulously.

Henry shot him a warning look and the younger man stared back at the floor.

“You were shooting at us,” John said. “And he’ll apologise.”

The two men stared at John disbelievingly and it took a moment before Sherlock realised he was doing the same.

“Won’t you, Sherlock?” John said with a pointed look in his direction.

He turned back to the two men on the ground. “I’m sorry your attempts to kill and or maim myself and my friend caused me to say things that were deliberately designed to upset you.”

Now the two men were gaping at him.

“And that’s about as good as you’re going to get,” John said briskly. “Now, we don’t want to hurt you and we don’t want your supplies; we just want to go. We’ll even give you your guns back. We’ll leave them outside for you.”

“But first I want to ask you a few questions,” Sherlock said. “You don’t normally get into this kind of confrontation; there’s no way you would have that much ammo left if you did. You could have let us come through and there wouldn’t have been this problem. So tell me, what’s changed recently to make you more nervous. What are you scared of?”

“We thought you were collectors,” Henry admitted grudgingly. “Come to get us.”

“It’s a fair assumption that has been made by better men,” Sherlock said and was pleased by the slight quirk on John’s lips this caused. “But why would you be scared of collectors? You’re two strong men with guns, not exactly the sort they would come after.”

“Didn’t stop them trying four days ago, did it?”

“Four days ago?” Sherlock dropped to sit, cross legged on the floor, the shotgun behind his back. “Tell me everything.” He waved his hand at them. “You can put your hands down now.”

Cautiously, David and Henry took their hands off their heads and rearranged themselves until they were more comfortably seated on the ground before launching into the story.


~


While Sherlock harangued Henry for more details, (“Yes I know you said armed to the teeth but what kind of weapons? Did they have extra ammo with them?”) John decided to chance asking for a cup of tea. David immediately declared that to be a good idea and showed him through to what once looked to have been the teacher’s lounge. John thought he would never stop being astonished at how a hostage situation had so quickly turned into a friendly chat once the other two men had managed to grasp the fact that they really did mean them no harm. Still, he made sure to keep the Sig within easy reach of him and out of reach for the other two.

The two men had a camping stove a lot like his old one set up in the lounge. David lit it, then filled a metal kettle with some water from a bottle hidden under a desk before placing the kettle on top of it.

“So how did you end up with him?” John asked to fill the space while they waited for the kettle to boil.

David looked back at the door they had come through and grinned. “He’s my father-in-law. Or will be once I find Becca and marry her.”

“Be hard pressed to find a vicar these days.”

“Plenty of rings around though,” David said. “We could even say the words in a church if she likes. I just want to find her.”

“How do you know she’s here?”

“She called, just after the Event, wanted to check I was okay. We both went to London Met, studied History. I was visiting my parents in Liverpool and she was still here. Her folks are from Derby. I said I’d come and get her. Told her to wait. Nicked a car and drove it down here. Well, had to switch cars now and then. Took me three days to get as far as Luton which was when she stopped answering her phone. So I called her dad. He met me on the road. He said we had to be prepared and we got a load of supplies and got hold of the guns. She was supposed to meet us at the uni but….”

But both campuses of London Metropolitan University had been destroyed in the same series of bombings as the Barbican and Weavers Fields distribution centres. A lot of people had said it had been a group of students. Some of those people were picky about what race those students had been. It hardly mattered anymore.

“I know she’s still here somewhere,” David said. “She’d never let me live it down if I left without her.”

The kettle whistled and David retrieved four mugs, a selection of tea bags, some sugar and even a flask of long life milk.

“What about you?” David asked as he poured out the water. “You looking for someone as well?”

Apart from Harry? And every other face on that wall he dutifully checked? “No, just following Sherlock around really.”

“Are you guys trying to take down the collectors or something?”

John shook his head. “I don’t know.”

Why was Sherlock so interested in the collectors who attacked these men? Did it have something to do with Fisher?

They took the tea through to the other room where Sherlock was still at it.

“You can’t just say they were all big and burly. That’s not a very apt description of eight men. They must have had individual identifiers. Ah, John, tea, good.” Sherlock took the cup from him and immediately sipped at it. “This is futile, I’m getting nowhere here. These gentlemen don’t appear to have the mental capacity to have retained any information that I could use to identify the group that attempted to take them. The only useful thing I have been able to discover is why they were selected.”

John frowned, that hadn’t been mentioned up to this point.

“Why?” Henry asked.

“Because you’re a mechanic,” Sherlock said, waving his hand vaguely in Henry’s direction as if it was hardly important.

“How did you know I-“

“Your hair, your shoes, your fingernails, the signs are all there. I’m sure they would have taken your son-in-law as well given the opportunity, just as a worker.”

“We never told you I was-“

“Anyway,” Sherlock downed the rest of the tea. “This is all irrelevant, if you’ll just show me the photo I’ll be on my way.”

John realised he was staring and he wasn’t the only one.

“Um,” David said tentatively after a few moments of silence. “What photo?”

“The photo of your fiancée and his daughter.”

“How the hell do you know all this?” Henry asked.

Sherlock merely held out his hand, palm upwards, towards David. Eventually David reached into an inside pocket of his jacket and pulled out a photograph which he tentatively put into Sherlock’s hands. Sherlock looked at it for a whole second before pushing it back towards the younger man.

“The Bull Pup pub down on Vine Street. Ask for Rosie, say Sherlock Holmes sent you and show her that photo, although if you have any others with both of you in it that would go over far better. Give her,” Sherlock dug around in his pockets until he pulled out a bottle filled with yellow-orange liquid, “this. Should smooth things along.”

“What is it?” Henry asked as David looked at the bottle warily.

“It’s orange juice,” Sherlock said in his ‘why am I surrounded by idiots’ voice. “Rosie loves orange juice. With a bottle of this she’ll do anything for you, including reveal that one of her new lodgers is in fact your fiancée.”

Both the other men’s faces lit up. David looked like he was going to clap with delight.

“She’s… that’s where she is? In Vine Street? All this time and she’s been at the bloody Bull Pup?”

Sherlock smiled, surprisingly sincerely. “Congratulations on the impending wedding. For a long and successful married life I suggest getting her then leaving London immediately. You only succeeded in scaring off those collectors; they might consider it worth another try.”

John realised he was still staring as Henry and David burst into declarations of thanks and shook Sherlock’s hand vigorously. David even went on to hug Sherlock then turned to John and appeared to do his best to squeeze the life out of him as well. Neither he nor Sherlock made any move as the two men grabbed the shotguns and with final shouts of thanks ran out into the rain.

“That was… nice.”

He hadn’t meant to say it out loud. But after everything he had been told, and everything he had seen for himself, to watch Sherlock do something nice for someone else that the other man didn’t need to was a little shocking.

“Yes, well,” Sherlock said, getting up and brushing down his trouser legs. “It was hardly the taxing missing person case I had hoped it would be.”

Of course, it was just the mystery Sherlock was after. Wasn’t it?

“Eight men,” Sherlock seemed to be talking to himself. “If it’s the same group then they’re learning. They still didn’t succeed but they didn’t fail as spectacularly as before.”

“Before?”

Sherlock turned and suddenly he was hit with the full force of the other man’s gaze. Even after all this time it still felt like he was going to be lifted off his feet by the brunt of it.

“Four days ago a group of collectors attempted to take, by force, a man fully able to defend himself for the sake of his profession as a mechanic. A useful person to have around these days. Four weeks ago another group of collectors attempted to take, by force, a man fully able to defend himself for the sake of his profession as a doctor. Coincidence?”

It took a second for that to sink in. Partly because he couldn’t quite believe it had only been four weeks since he had met Sherlock. It seemed like an age ago.

“Wait, me?” He closed his eyes as he remembered the scene in the office. “No, they were after you, weren’t they? They grabbed you.”

“They had no interest in me, they told me themselves. But they were looking for someone and the only other person there was you. Unless you have some connection to Henry, David or David’s fiancée you have yet to reveal to me then I can only conclude it was because of your use as a doctor.”

“Good thing you got there first.”

The muttered reply was barely audible even to him but Sherlock answered anyway.

“Yes, it was.”

He opened his eyes and discovered with a shock that Sherlock was only about an inch away, still looking intensely at him. The stare seemed to suck the breath right out of his lungs, leaving his mouth dry and a lump in his throat. He swallowed then licked his lips reflectively. The gaze flicked briefly to his lips then back to his eyes.

“We should,” he waved in the general direction of the door.

Sherlock whirled away so fast he felt dizzy.

“Yes, we’ve wasted enough time here. Come on, John.”


Chapter 10



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