While Sherlock hates a good deal things in the world, there is really only one thing that he truly despises. Not being bored as one might think, though that does rank very high on his list. No, it was feeling trapped, stuck between tons of problems that no one can solve, that grinds at his mind. It reminded him of detention rooms from when he was a child; the rehab room Mycroft stuffed him in many years ago, the pool, where despite the mass amount of space, there was no easy escape.
Maybe that’s why he despised being locked in inside the long barbed wire gates of Liberte so much. Or maybe it’s the name; so ironic to his mind that he refuses to call the city that. Or perhaps it’s the constant moans of the undead that really are bothering him, adding more noise to his frantic mind.
Surprisingly, the leading reason is the hardest to pick up. Even Mycroft takes a while to notice it. How on after his brother gets off of work looking for a cure he stands by the gates, examining the zombies who struggle to reach their hands inside to get a taste of his flesh. How he isn’t watching them for behavior like most would suspect, but is simply scanning every face he can find, lips tight with a mixture of hope and dread. How on after he was done watching the faces from the wire he would walk away, shoulders lifted as if eased from some sort of burden.
The thing that really tips Mycroft off, however, is how Sherlock has a bad habit of rubbing his fingers over an inscription on his phone he was gifted his last birthday. There was only man besides the Holmes family and Lestrade who would give Sherlock a gift, let alone work to find out his birthday. He checks the words on the back cover anyway.
“Happy birthday, you idiot. Now stop stealing my phone”- JW
Shockingly, the discovery on why his brother sulked so much from being torn from his apartment in the early hours of the morning to be put in a safe house during the outbreak, does not make Mycroft feel any better.
If anything it makes him feel worse.
Sherlock upon his arrival at Liberte is assigned immediately to start researching the cure of a virus that had managed to affect 50% of Britain’s population within four hours. Mycroft assures him that he has men who were sent to find John who had been out of town for his sister's funeral.
Sherlock had not offered to go with. He wished that he had.
Weeks later, when Sherlock is no closer to finding a cure, Mycroft’s men are found. Found being a loose term, considering that it’s their undead bodies reaching through the gates on the lower east end of the city.
After that, John Watson is considered missing to most.
To Sherlock he is considered late.
Most of the yard managed to end up in the safe city, though most of them aren’t cops now. They are much too precious to be guarding the streets from criminals. Instead, they are sent on border duty, told to shoot at any undead outside the line.
A good handful of them quit a few hours in. Sally and Lestrade stay, however, holding back vomit as they watch body after body of the once innocent fall.
Athena works the gates as well. In fact, she runs the place, handing out crew assignments. She, shockingly to most, is a fantastic shot. Sherlock had been expecting it.
One day after work, Sherlock volunteered to work gate duty. He managed to last for ten minutes when he put down his gun and walked away in a rush. Sally assumed it was because the freak got bored. Lestrade assumed that the amount of gore proved too much even for Sherlock.
Neither is correct.
Sherlock has always considered his powers of deduction a gift most days, despite a few fleeting moments in his childhood. But when he looks out to raise his gun to a head and is able to know that said head was married, had an infant daughter, a son on the way, volunteered for a high school anti-drugs program, planted da- no lilies, he can’t help but think it’s a curse.
He never volunteers to do gate duty again.
Mike Stanford, Martha Hudson and Dave Anderson had little in common, really. Not even the Holmes brothers could really connect them together in the instance of a crime unless knowing Sherlock was a common trait. The really had never even known each other’s name.
It’s surprising how easy it is to connect them together now. Sherlock doesn’t even have to try. All he had to do is scan the list posted in front of the makeshift city hall that seems to stretch across the whole building.
The confirmed dead title is so tiny at the top, it’s hard for ever Sherlock to see.
Anderson working in forensics was an easy target to be infected. He was shot by Sally right after he turned. It was the first time anyone had ever seen Sally cry.
Sherlock is not exactly sure how Stanford died but he heard he was bitten by his wife. All he knows is that his son escaped to write both of their names on the increasingly long death list.
Mrs. Hudson died by fending off the zombies while trying to get Sherlock to his brother’s car. She shot herself before they could bite her.
It was the first time anyone besides Mycroft saw Sherlock cry.
The list of the dead is intimidating; the list of the missing is indescribable.
Maybe that’s why it doesn’t exist.
There are too many lost faces, too many vanished names, too many which haven’t been seen to be written down on crisp white sheets of paper and posted. The missing list is just held by those who are missing the missing. Some personal lists contain only five, others almost a hundred.
Lestrade has Molly, Gregerson and Dimmock on his personal list. Athena has her girlfriend. Sally has her two brothers, Molly and various other yarders. All of them have John.
Sherlock has no one.
To him John is not missing. He is still just very late.
Sherlock hates the heat once it starts, having to give up his few remaining suits for t-shirts and cameo shorts. There is no such thing as air conditioning anymore and all his experiments are done on ice as long as they can be kept. Mycroft is working on a system but until the end of the month shade is the only way to cool down.
Sherlock can’t help wonder as he stares at himself in the mirror with clothes ripped and torn that if this is what it was like for John in Afghanistan.
The zombies despite being shot down day after day just seem to be getting worse and worse. There is a small gated village now installed at the front of the city to let in any survivors. All survivors have to stay in the village for two weeks until entering the city to keep out any chance of the virus leaking in.
Mycroft is anything but careless.
The cure is still bounds away. With no electricity any progress Sherlock and the various other scientists were making flushed down the metaphorical drain. Sherlock spends his time hunting down various pickpocketers to ease the dullness of the prison for his own safety.
The rest he spends learning songs to play on his violin. He performs concerts sometimes at the bar down the street for the yard when they get off duty from shooting the walking dead. He doesn’t do it for their sake he says; he claims that without music he will go mad within a week.
That and secretly, ever since John had been complimenting him on his playing, preforming without an audience seems much too wrong.
After the first few performances Sally calls him freak less. After a few more she stops calling him freak all together.
Eventually, she only calls him Sherlock.
On the first day people from the village are allowed into the city gates, Sherlock stands on the balcony of the gates with the rest of the yard watching for a glimpse of blond hair, a military posture, good shot, any sign, please.
He finds nothing of the sort.
He does however find a mortician who is highly skilled at her practice and a scalpel, and a lack of effort being put into her brown mousy hair. He also happens to spot a once DI with short black hair, decent with a gun.
The yard welcomes Dimmock and Molly with open arms. Sally hugs her tight. Lestrade gives Dimmock such a tight handshake that you can see his veins. Sherlock just simply nods at the two of them and says a short “Congratulations on the relationship.”
Molly slaps him. The yard looks shocked. Hell, even Sherlock looks shocked. Dimmock just grows red.
“You ruined my surprise you, git,” she says with a playful glare. “Anyway, I’ve always wanted to do that!”
Everyone bowls over laughing. Dimmock kisses Molly’s cheek. Sherlock simply just rubs his face.
He reminds himself to tell Dimmock of all the things he can do to a man without getting caught if he would happen to break Mrs. Hooper’s heart. He retracts this thought when he sees Molly’s knife in her belt, warn down with use.
He deduces she is perfectly capable of doing that herself.
After their arrival Molly and Dimmock are told three things they have to know about life now. The first, is to eat sparingly since food is still being grown and stored for winter. The second is that keeping away from any undead is a necessity.
The third is to not bring up John Watson like he is dead around Sherlock Holmes. They had already seen one of Sherlock’s few emotion outbursts on the subject on that matter. It was enough for a lifetime.
So when Molly sees Sherlock stroking his hand over the inscription on his phone she says nothing but continues to ask on how she can help with the cure development.
Thanks to Mycroft, they get electricity in the early days of September. Sherlock begins working on the cure again, Molly helping along with the other researchers.
In his time off, Sherlock takes up another job raising bees at the west end of the city. They’re trying to stock up on honey for the winter months since it seems like they are going to be stuck inside the locked gates for a long time.
Sherlock doesn’t care about the honey, really. The bees are what he finds fascinating; giving him puzzles to unwind that are solvable unlike the virus that awakens the dead outside the gates. He manages to triple honey production within a few weeks.
They give him an extra jar of honey as a thank you, despite Sherlock’s protests that he doesn’t eat much. He keeps the jar in one of the cabinets for John in his small cabin that every resident has. It looks a good deal like Baker Street but more worn down. There are two chairs in front of the makeshift fire place, a picture of Mrs. Hudson and a British browning gun.
He wishes John had it instead of him. He could use it.
Every Monday and Friday, Sherlock is not present at the bar to play violin. Instead he waits at the gate for the most recent village folk cleared of being virus free to come through.
He still hasn’t seen John.
He however notices an Asian girl, around in her teen years with long black hair that stands there every day as well. He’s managed to deduce she was born in Japan, but moved to England when she was a toddler. He had found from her boots that she had a dog, from her fingers that she used to play guitar in a band most likely, from her eyes that she too is looking for someone.
He is trying to deduce who, when she talks to him.
“Girlfriend,” she says, tilting her head to the mass of people. “Been out here every day since I’ve arrived. You?”
Sherlock pauses for a moment, working out what to exactly call John. Flatmate seems like too little now, as does colleague. Friend fits, but it doesn’t seem to fit the hole large enough. Not boyfriend; Sherlock doesn’t view him in the way of someone you would find considerable for mating with. Plus, boyfriend sounds horribly childish. At last he decides to go with the simple answer.
The girl doesn’t ask him what that means. She just leans out to scan the crowd with him like she understands perfectly.
There is a man who lives right next to Sherlock who ends up getting bitten. He shoots himself right in the head before any of the various gatekeepers manage to figure out what to do. They hold a funeral for him the next day.
It’s the first death to be added onto the list that didn’t happen before.
Sherlock still stands outside when the new arrivals flood in, despite the fact that most days it’s only three new people at best. The girl does as well and to Sherlock’s surprise, they talk.
Not about themselves, of course. Sherlock could deduce that all from the girl herself and the girl knows better than to try. No, they tell stories about the people they are looking for. How the girl’s girlfriend was a redhead, loved to run, played paintball to the death. Sherlock talks about John’s various reactions to various body parts in the fridge, how he would wake up on the sofa and find John had put a blanket over him, that time John shot a gun out of a man’s hand.
One of the days the girl asks what John was to Sherlock. Sherlock can’t find words because he still doesn’t really know.
The girl only gives him a sad smile, pats him on the arm and says if John was as amazing as he says than he should show up any day.
Sherlock only says that he knows.
When the month comes to the end, people start holding services for the missing now presumed dead. The yarders make one for their people, Gregerson, one of the forensics, a few other cops. While none of them like it, they add John on the list as well.
They decide that they might as well tell Sherlock. Sherlock stands stone faced through the speech and when they ask if he could come to say a few words he walks off in a flurry of his coat.
They are really all rather shocked when he shows up with a photograph at the service to put at the small memorial alter. He stands there for few seconds watching the candles flicker and hisses at the photograph.“John you are goddamn late and don’t you dare prove me wrong about that.”
Lestrade checks on him later that evening to find him playing violin again. He recognizes it as a song John used to hum.
"Solider, Solider, won't you come back home? Solider, Solider, I'm fighting this war alone."
The next time they see Sherlock at the bar playing, they all buy him a round and some food since he’s gotten so skinny.
He doesn’t drink any of the booze. He does eat a few rolls though.
They count it as a victory.
Molly and Dimmock get married at the end of the month. It’s a small affair but everyone shows up, even Sherlock who’s late.
It’s a Monday, after all. He still has to make sure he’s waiting for John just in case.
In December the list of the dead only gets longer and longer.
The flu, the common cold, simple little viruses once easily beat out of ones system by simple drugs, now takes hold of the body and grinds it to ashes. Almost no one is ever outdoors and the streets are so silent you can hear the moans of the undead from the gates.
Late one night, at the height of the flu season Sherlock is called to see his brother. He almost refuses before he sees the anguish in Athena’s eyes.
Mycroft lies on his cot, skinnier than Sherlock has ever seen him. His body shakes in the grasp of the fever and Sherlock can’t help but pause by the door like a startled child.
“I see the diets working,” he manages to choke out at last. Mycroft just simply laughs dryly and points to the chair next to him.
Sherlock sits in another one. To the end, he is determined to be his own man.
Sherlock is in Mycroft’s house for at least five hours talking more than they have in years. He learns Mycroft has a newborn son, named Alexander after his father, which shocks him so much he goes whiter than usual. Mycroft learns Sherlock is unsure if he will ever be the same without John which does not have the shocking effect that Sherlock would have hoped.
They stop talking early in the morning. The same morning Mycroft is buried.
Lestrade checks on Sherlock again afterword to find the man as ill as his brother, not even bothering to take care of himself.
It’s the saddest sight the man has ever seen.
Sherlock does not manage to leave his bed until a week after he became ill. He is not able to walk around town until two weeks.
He needs a cane to get down to the village now. He understands why John hated it so much.
He tries visiting the bees to keep busy, only to find all the hives frozen over. He still plays at the bar, all of his music soft and low for those drowning their sorrows. He has gotten so thin that the yarders, even Sally, have started inviting him to dinner so they know he has some food in him.
Sherlock still ends up going to the village launch even though no one emerges these days. The girl has stopped going as well. He first assumes that it’s because she died.
Later as he sees her walking around the city with dead eyes he realizes it because she lost hope.
He finds that so much worse.
He really isn’t even watching the gates when it happens.
He’s inspecting his cane as he hears them creak open, looking at all the indents to deduce the previous owner. He’s wondering if he can find a way to carve in his name so at least he’ll had made an imprint on the thing. So people might know his name.
He doesn’t even look up until he hears a voice so familiar call his name.
His eyes are wide with shock he takes the man in. Blond hair now long and messy without a trim. Eyes caked with soot. A slight wince as he walks from a real injury in his leg. Hands worn with taking care of the ill.
He doesn’t stop taking him in until the smaller man is right in front of him. He looks down at Sherlock’s cane with a raised eyebrow.
“Have you gotten even skinnier on me? God, Sherlock, I swear-“
He doesn’t finish because the taller man is hugging him like John’s heartbeat is the thing keeping him alive.
John doesn’t happen to mind.
When he pulls back, his eyes still as big as saucers he lays his hands on the smaller man’s shoulders and says very carefully.
“You, John Watson, are very late.”
John just laughs.
The sound is just enough to make the city feel less like a prison and more like the liberty it advertises.