No one knew where the virus came from; some blamed the government, others blamed disease warfare from the fascists/communists/what-have-you, and still others said it was a plague sent by god. It could very well have been a mutation of an already existing disease, perhaps something zoonotic, leaping from mad cow to mad human. But no matter the cause, there were only three ways to survive in the post-zed world: One, ruthlessly protect your living space and food supply by killing anyone and anything that crossed your path; Two, be the dependent of one of the ruthless killers; or Three, find one of the government run safe havens on the old military bases—and be one of the fortunate few let inside the gates. There was no fourth option. One could not get by on luck; luck didn’t exist in a post-zed world.
John Watson had been a major in the Royal Army Medical Corps before the outbreak of the virus. He had served two tours in Afghanistan, and had been on base when the first cases were reported to the World Health Organization. That saved his life. If he’d been one of the poor bastards stationed in a war zone he never would have made it back to Britain.
Still, the whole world went to shit pretty fast because the virus took about 72 hours to gestate, more than enough time for people to get on planes, trains, and busses and bring it everywhere in the world before anyone even knew about it. Africa was hit worst: no broadcasts had come from there in over six months. Some claimed that northern islands, like Iceland and Greenland were relatively zed free since the climates and lack of space would not support their survival, but no one had proof.
Zero Day, the day before the virus surfaced, was precisely 147 days ago. On Day 1 John had been deemed high priority survival status—along with agriculturalists, engineers, and children over the age of ten, and just below healthy women of reproductive age—because he was a doctor with a lot of surgical experience under stressful conditions. This meant he had been given charge of the base hospital and was kept far away from the perimeter. It also meant most of his food came prepackaged, boiled, or half-burned. On Day 147 he wanted nothing more than to go for a stroll through a garden and eat a crisp apple, but his days eating fresh fruit were long in the past until someone managed to find a cure or all the zeds died.
Day 147 held significance because Haven Base Salisbury received its first incoming aircraft in nearly three months; each of Britain’s military controlled bases had enough food to support its population for nine months under the strict rationing schedule they followed, so outside of medical supply runs no air traffic was necessary. John had been summoned by a lieutenant on orders from Colonel Davison to meet the helicopter, and he’d tugged on his dark blue beret as he exited his quarters and strode out to the landing pad, ready to tell an uppity government official or marine that he didn’t have any supplies to spare.
Upon reaching the helipad, John waited at attention for what would likely be a superior officer with demands. Then, contrary to every possibility he had foreseen, a tall man wearing very possibly the only tweed suit remaining to civilization appeared in the doorway. He stepped down and crossed to John. “Major Watson, I presume,” he said.
“Yes, sir,” John answered, “And I can assure you that I don’t have any medicines or vaccinations for you to take Mr…”
“Holmes. Mycroft Holmes, MP. And I haven’t come here to raid your stores Major Watson. I am here because you are the best living surgeon in Britain—you were one of the best even before this outbreak killed off the majority of the surgeons in Britain. I require your services as such.” Mycroft Holmes, MP then walked back to the helicopter, gesturing for John to follow. Looking in the door he saw a man with dark curls strapped to a gurney, his face contorted in pain even though his breathing told John he was unconscious.
“May I ask what happened, Sir?” John asked as he leaned against the door frame.
“He fell from a watchtower about an hour ago; it appears he’s punctured a lung,” Mr. Holmes said. “Can you be prepped for surgery in ten minutes?”
“For a punctured lung? Just dealing with the internal bleeding will be difficult enough, but I don’t have the staff for it.”
“I know, but can you do it?”
“Yes. At the very least I’ll do everything I can to bring him through.” He then turned on his heel and started back towards the base hospital at a run to start his surgical prep and find as many qualified support staff members as he could.
Hours later, John emerged from the operating room after pulling off his blood covered gloves. An expectant and exhausted Mycroft Holmes sat in a metal folding chair just down the hall, waiting for him. “And?” he asked, his voice little more than a whisper.
“He’s stabilized. I managed to set the rib and stop the internal bleeding, but the treatment for a deflated lung will take a good while longer. I wouldn’t recommend moving him for the next six weeks at least.” John sat down in the chair next to this strange, powerful man, keeping his gaze directed at the ground. “So would you mind telling me whose life I’ve just saved?”
Mr. Holmes coughed, clearing his throat before answering. “He is one of the most brilliant biochemists in the world. He’s working with a team to isolate the virus, synthesize a vaccine, and hopefully a cure one day.” He then turned his gaze to the double doors leading to the operating room. Rubbing at the corners of his eyes he added, “He is also my younger brother.”
John shrugged his shoulders as he stood and crossed in front of Mycroft Holmes and down the hall. “I knew he had to be somebody special,” he murmured. “He’s been moved to recovery; he probably won’t wake up for a few hours yet, but you can see him now if you like.” The tall, tweedy man rose to his feet and followed close behind John as they made their way down the hallway, and together they turned into a dimly lit room filled with beeping and whirring machines.
The younger Holmes lay in the bed, his body covered in tubes and wires as he took slow, shaky, shallow breaths. John quickly checked the read-outs on the monitors behind him while running a rudimentary diagnostic, checking pulse, body temperature, and respiration rate with a few small touches. Then John turned to ponder the man who had pulled a chair up to his brother’s bedside and placed his fingers lightly along the back of a pale hand. Mycroft Holmes’s brow had knit together in worry and frustration, but his eyes remained soft and caring.
“I know he doesn’t look it,” John volunteered, “But he should make a full recovery.”
“Thank you for that, Major Watson,” Mycroft Holmes said glancing up before returning his attention to his brother.
“Of course, Mr. Holmes; I was simply fulfilling my oath, to serve Queen and country while first doing no harm.” This drew a smirk from the MP. John moved towards the door, ready to return to his quarters and put on clean clothes. “I’ll leave you to your privacy then, Mr. Holmes.”
This drew Mycroft’s attention and he looked up, turning his head as he said, “Major, you will continue to oversee my brother’s treatment, yes?”
“Yes, Mr. Holmes.”
Later that evening John was making his rounds and checking on the few patients he had before moving to Holmes’s recovery room. Mycroft Holmes looked to have fallen asleep at some point by the rumpling of his shirt, but he was upright and awake in his chair when John entered. “Has he woken up yet, Mr. Holmes?”
“No he hasn’t.”
“That’s quite to be expected,” he said, stepping over to do his diagnostic check and as his cool hands touched the warm flesh above the younger Holmes’s pulse point he heard a soft moaning. “Well, it looks like I showed up at the right time.”
“Where am I?” the prone man asked, his baritone coming out as little more than a wheeze.
“Sherlock,” Mycroft said, “There was an accident. You fell. You fell and you needed emergency surgery. You hit your head pretty hard, and you’re being treated for a punctured lung. We’re at the Salisbury Base right now. You’re going to be fine, Sherlock, and once you’ve recovered you can return to your work.” He took hold of his brother’s hand as he spoke.
“Why Salisbury?” Sherlock Holmes murmured, fighting to keep his eyelids from closing again.
“Because the very best surgeon is here,” Mycroft said waving his hand so John would move closer. “This is Major John Watson. He saved your life.”
“Thank you, Major,” Sherlock whispered.
“Please call me John, you’ll still be here for a good six weeks, and I think we can forego formalities for the duration.” Then John took hold of Sherlock’s wrist, counting his pulse, and asked, “How are you feeling, Mr. Holmes? Other than groggy, which should be expected; how does it feel to breathe?”
Sherlock drew in another shaky breath so he could answer, “Painful… breathing is painful. I feel very heavy… and stiff… right now. How long have I been… unconscious?” Beads of perspiration formed on Sherlock’s brow with the effort of speaking.
“I’d guess somewhere around nine hours,” John answered, casting a look towards Mycroft who nodded in confirmation. “And it looks like you’re about to go right back to it.”
“It appears you are correct, John,” Sherlock said as his eyes drifted shut.
Mycroft managed to stay with his brother for the next five days before he received a transmission and had to return to Edinburgh, the current seat of the British Government. “John,” he said as the two men walked to the helipad, “I will return in five weeks. I know you’ll take marvelous care of my brother, but he will get bored and eventually become intolerable because of it; when that happens, feel free to sedate him.”
“I’ll keep it in mind,” John replied. “Take care of yourself, Mycroft,” he added while shaking the other man’s hand. Then Mycroft stepped back, moving to depart.
“Same to you, Major,” Mycroft said with a smile as he stepped into the helicopter. John saluted just before the MP turned his back in order to sit down and Mycroft raised his hand in acknowledgement; a simple farewell between friends in a complicated world.
As the rotator blades roared to life, John could faintly hear the screams of zeds in a frenzy. This was news, as their perimeter had been zed-free for nearly a fortnight. Wishing to escape the sound, John returned to the hospital at double-time, passing a guard squadron on its way to the wall. A part of him longed to pick up his Browning and follow them, get a chance to use his skills as a marksman. Another, darker part was tempted to hurl through a gate into the open and take his chances at a dead run through the countryside until he found somewhere new to hide. He knew he’d never make it more than ninety meters without getting killed or infected by a zed. But the temptation remained, just so he could get away from this base, with people he could no longer stand, food he hated, and stifling rules that made him long to rebel.
Upon reaching his office, one of the few luxury spaces permitted on base, John heard his intercom buzz and responded quickly, “Yes?”
“John, Mr. Holmes is asking for you. He doesn’t appear to be in any excessive pain and his respiration is normal, but he says it’s urgent,” said the slightly tinny, female voice from the black and silver box.
John smirked and shook his head. “Tell him I’ll be there in a moment, Christine. I hope he hasn’t been too much a bother; his brother said he can get… difficult when he’s bored.”
“Oh, no, not a bother, he’s only just become quite insistent that you come now.”
“Alright, I’m on my way.” From everything he’d heard from Mycroft, John knew it was best not to keep Sherlock waiting so he hurried through the hallways, managing to come into contact with four of his orderlies, most of whom belonged on the guard line but had been transferred to cope with the lack of medical technicians on hand on Day One. He nodded as he passed each of them, and they each gave a quick salute, pausing briefly before continuing to their destinations.
When he reached the recovery room John saw that Nurse Chapel had already left and Sherlock was sitting upright, his long fingers steepled in front of his face. His eyes were closed, but they snapped open as he turned to face the door and say, “Hello, John.” He smiled as he said it, a brief flash that quickly returned to his deadpan stare.
“Hello, Sherlock, can you tell me what was so important?” John crossed and settled into the chair that Mycroft had occupied for much of his stay. He looked at his patient expectantly, lips pursed and eyes wide.
“John, I’m bored. As far as I have seen, you are the only person on this base worth talking to, and I wish to discuss a theory with you.” His grey eyes closed again as he turned to face forward.
“Sherlock, you’re five days off surgery to repair a punctured lung. You have the follow-up surgery in two weeks. How do you even have the strength to sit up, let alone be bored?” John shook his head as he touched his index finger to his temple, marveling at Sherlock’s strange predicament even though Mycroft had warned him this would happen.
“Doesn’t take much energy to be bored, John,” Sherlock said, his tone clearly saying for a doctor you are quite dim, please try to keep up. “My brain needs work or it will atrophy. Do you want to be responsible for that, Major?” His lips quirked into a half-smile as John scowled at him. “Now, may I put forth my theory?”
“Yes, alright. I can’t guarantee I’ll be able to keep up with the brilliant mind of Sherlock Holmes, but I’ll listen.”
“It’s not that complex and it involves you; I think you’ll do just fine following my reasoning.” Sherlock then twisted at the waist to face John, his eyes focused with inhuman clarity as he spoke, “From what I’ve observed, you are just as bored here as I am, John. You’re very good at playing normal now, but you want more than the protection of concrete walls and three pre-packaged meals a day. Your eyes are distant when you converse with your staff, and you’ve been spending far more time in my room than necessary. I can only conclude that you are terribly bored with this place.”
John’s lips quirked as he spoke, “So what if I am? Life as a high priority survival status citizen on a base is boring for most people.”
“Yes, but most people are fine with maintaining their safety, no matter how dull their lives.” He tilted his head forward, “But you, John, you are bored to death with it.”
“Yeah,” he said, “I guess I am.” The answering grin on Sherlock’s face was almost terrifying.
John found that admitting to his hatred of everything about his life on base on Day 152 lifted his spirits. He didn’t feel quite as dead inside either now that he had Sherlock to talk to every day. For the first time since the virus, John had a real friend, and somehow, he wasn’t nearly as intolerable as Mycroft had claimed.
Sherlock and John spent most days together, working through Sherlock’s observations of and theories about the rest of the staff and personnel that he had encountered. He underwent the follow-up surgery to remove the tube from his once deflated lung and began recovery with little trouble or interruption to his conversations with John. Then, on day 183, six days before Mycroft was due to return to collect his brother, Sherlock told John he had come to some very important conclusions regarding his injuries.
“John,” he said shifting his position on the chair that he took great pleasure in sitting in since the doctor had given him the go-ahead the previous week, “My brother told you that I was injured falling from a watchtower; were my wounds concurrent with that explanation?”
John hesitated before answering, confusion furrowing the lines on his forehead and around his eyes. “Yes, they were,” he said, “A fall from standard watchtower height could very easily have caused the damage you sustained.”
Sherlock rolled his eyes. “No, you aren’t looking at all the facts, John. Why was my head injury so easily written off as not being a concussion? Why didn’t I sustain any injuries to my forearms from attempting to brace for impact? Why were my only serious injuries heavy bruising on my torso and the breakage of two ribs, one of which punctured my left lung? Why weren’t there any others?” Sherlock paused for breath, letting John gape at him before he continued. “You are obviously more observant than most people, John, and a highly skilled doctor, but when it comes to noticing what is quite importantly absent you are just as blind as everyone else.”
“But why would Mycroft lie about how you were injured? And don’t you remember what happened yourself?” John asked. He rubbed at the back of his neck, still puzzling over what this could possibly mean.
“There, now you’re catching on, Major. So tell me, in your experience, what could have caused an injury like mine?” He smiled again, this one firmly affixed on his face, his expression almost gleeful as he spoke.
John closed his eyes, dragging a palm down his right check before answering with, “I’ve bandaged enough guys after bar fights to recognize someone who’s been pummeled. From the severity of the bruising and breaks I’d say someone either took a few swings at you with a cricket bat or kicked you around for a bit.”
“Yes, that’s what I expected too, until I found this,” Sherlock said as he pulled at the waistband of the scrubs John had allowed him to wear in place of a hospital gown and revealed a neat row of stitches running over a jagged, parabolic scar just above his hip. John wasn’t surprised he hadn’t seen it before; he’d been far more concerned with Sherlock’s chest and hadn’t had reason to look lower. “I can’t explain my memory loss, but I do remember that Molly and I had made a significant breakthrough; we had a serum ready for rodent testing. Everything after that get’s…” he trailed off, searching for the word before producing, “Blurry. And there’s quite a bit of blur; I don’t know how much time I’ve lost.”
John leaned forward to tentatively touch his fingers to the thread-closed wound. “Sherlock, don’t get hasty, a scar like this could have been caused by any number of things.”
Sherlock shook his head, “I’ve seen enough marks like this, and I’m guessing you have too, John. You know the most likely scenario.”
“But it’s not possible. No one is immune to the virus, and a serum for rodent trials isn’t a working cure. There’s no way you’ve survived a zed attack. Besides, wouldn’t Mycroft have at least taken the possibility you would start deteriorating into consideration?”
“Why do you think he stayed as long as he did!” Sherlock snapped. John slouched in his chair as his mouth went slack and his eyes narrowed almost imperceptibly. Sherlock shifted, drawing his knees up to his chest and wincing as his leg brushed the surgical scar on his side.
“Feet on the floor, Sherlock,” John said, letting the doctor in him overshadow his concern and confusion for a moment. “You know the rules, sit normally or back to bed.”
“I don’t need your mothering right now, John. We have something far more important to worry about,” Sherlock said, long arms wrapping around his legs in defiance.
“No, we don’t, because I don’t have the appropriate equipment to test this, I don’t even know what I’d be looking for in the blood work, or if any of it would still be there more than a month later.” John stood. “Speculation won’t do us any good, and I still need time to get my mind around all of this.” He moved towards the door.
“John, wait,” Sherlock blurted. John turned to see him lower his feet to the floor. “You’re right; I can’t prove anything without getting back to my lab. But could you stay? I don’t have anything to do until I can leave this room, and I can’t leave until you give me the okay.” He pressed his lips tightly together and looked upwards in a pathetic attempt at looking pitiable.
“Don’t act like I don’t know that you’ve been wandering the halls at night. My staff might be too slow to realize you shouldn’t be moving around, but that doesn’t mean I am.”
“If you know, then why won’t you just take me off of bed rest?”
“Because,” John said, exasperated as he crossed back to his chair and sat down, “I’m still your doctor, Sherlock, and I can’t take you off bed rest until I can tell you’re healing properly.”
Sherlock pouted, his full lips curving downward as he stood, leaning most of his weight on the arm of his chair. His breath hissed out as he took a step towards his bed, with its freshly done hospital corners mocking him as he did. He looked back at John who had previously rushed to help him move from place to place; now he remained in his seat, arms crossed over his chest, a look of complete serenity on his face. Sherlock huffed out another breath, this time in frustration. “Fine,” he said, “No more walking around without permission.”
“Good,” John said, standing and quickly crossing the room to assist him, letting Sherlock lean against him before steadying his descent to the bed. “I’ll stay here as long as I’m able, Sherlock, to stave off your boredom or whatever this is, but no more talk of a possible cure, if someone were to overhear us there’d be mass panic.”
“Of course, I understand, John.” Sherlock let his lips quirk into a smile before asking John if he had found anymore mystery novels around the base. He’d already read the five that John had managed to procure from colleagues, but he needed more to handle the long hours when John was gone, either doing his rounds or sleeping. John hadn’t managed to track anymore down. Sherlock grimaced at the prospect of another night counting the primes as high as he could when there was a knock at the door.
John answered it to find a private standing at attention. “Orders from Major General Stewart, sir!” he said as he held out a folded sheet of paper for the doctor. Taking it gingerly, John dismissed the private who saluted before leaving.
His eyes going wide as he read, John turned to Sherlock and asked, “Did you know about this?”
“Know about what?” Sherlock asked, confused as to how he could possibly be aware of orders from John’s superiors.
“I’ve been transferred! No one has been transferred off this base in almost five months, not since the reshuffle towards the beginning of this mess, and now I’ve been transferred to Edinburgh. I’m to leave with you on Wednesday.” His hands were shaking as he passed the paper into Sherlock’s outstretched hand. His expression went stony as a new thought occurred to him, “You’re brother isn’t going to have me locked up for knowing what happened to you, is he? Or killed?”
“John, you said yourself that we cannot be sure as to the cause of my injuries, and I highly doubt Mycroft would waste so useful an asset,” Sherlock scoffed. “I’m sure your transfer was orchestrated on your merits as a superior surgeon and the need for your continued assistance in my recovery.”
“Yes,” John said, his voice pitching up ever so slightly, “I’m sure that’s all. Nothing to worry about then.”
On Day 189—a bright and clear day with only the slightest whiff of decaying flesh blowing in from beyond the walls—John stood by the helipad with his duffle and pack, along with Sherlock, now dressed in a spare pair of fatigues since he refused to wear his scrubs any longer. He had consented to wait in a wheelchair in order to appease John. After a great deal of noise and wind blowing their hair about, the CH-47 Chinook landed and Mycroft exited, walking to his brother with a muted smile on his thin lips. The Holmes’s shared a nod before Mycroft turned to John. “It’s good to see you again, Major Watson. I hope you aren’t disappointed to be leaving Salisbury,” he said jovially.
“Not at all, Mr. Holmes; I’m looking forward to the change in scenery,” John responded, keeping his tone even and warm.
“May we skip over the rest of the formalities and social niceties, Mycroft,” Sherlock asked, “And just get back to Edinburgh? I have work to do.” His mouth was drawn into a hard line and his eyes were hooded with boredom.
Instead of speaking, Mycroft simply walked behind his brother and pushed him to the door instead of waiting for an aide. John followed; just under an hour later they had landed in Edinburgh.
A woman with mousy curls and dark eyes was waiting for them, a smile blossoming on her face when Sherlock emerged from the helicopter. John observed their reunion with a smile and a little confusion. Sherlock smiled when he spoke to her and she flushed as she bent to awkwardly plant a kiss on his cheek, but Sherlock had said on more than one occasion that women weren’t his “area” and that he cared far more for a good puzzle than for people.
John turned to Mycroft, ready to give him a final thank you before seeking out the base hospital or a superior officer to give him his new orders, but the other man stopped him before he could form the first word. “Come along then, John. We have some very important work to do this morning, and it may very well change our lives for the better.” He strolled on ahead with his much longer legs, leaving John to trot after him.
Together they caught up to Sherlock and the curly-haired woman, who Mycroft introduced as Dr. Molly Hooper. “Pleasure to meet you, Major Watson,” she said as she shook his hand, “Mr. Holmes said you’d be joining us. He’s told us quite a bit about you.” Her eyes were doe-y and wide as she spoke, and John could feel her appraisal crawling over his skin.
“Thanks, I think,” John said, a little taken aback at both her words and her actions.
“Don’t worry, everything has been good. Your service record is impeccable and you’re quite the doctor, repairing a punctured lung without a proper support staff and in an under stocked hospital is amazing” she said in a hurry. Sherlock made a sharp gasping sound in the back of his throat and John had come to know him well enough to realize he was holding back a laugh. John glared daggers into the back of his head, but shook off his irritation as they reached their destination.
Upon entering the dull, grey, windowless building Dr. Hooper took the lead, taking them through a series of hallways until coming to a lab that would have been state of the art before the fall of civilization and bordered on futuristic in the post-zed era. As soon as they entered, Dr. Hooper went about prepping Sherlock’s arm and drawing several vials of blood.
“I take it you’ve worked everything out,” Mycroft said as he sat in a chair opposite his brother, “And that you have shared your findings with John.”
“Most of it,” Sherlock said, his face even paler, any hint of color drained from his face. “But I don’t remember any of it,” he added, his insanely bluish, impossibly pale yet colorful eyes staring directly into his brother’s. “What happened?”
Dr. Hooper stepped forward then, “We had a lot of it worked out, and the rodent trials were promising, but we didn’t have any stellar results, maybe thirty percent immunization success. Then, nearly three months ago, a man came to the gates, covered in bites and badly injured. But he was still perfectly cogent. He could speak, and the first thing he said was, ‘I think I’m immune.’ We ran some tests, and there was a mutagen in his blood that prevented the virus from affecting him. He ended up dying a week later from the damage to his internal organs, but he stayed sane, he wasn’t infected.
“You managed to turn the mutagen into a serum, which we tested again, and this time the results were very good, but we didn’t have any suitable candidates coming forward for a viable human test, so you volunteered yourself. God, Sherlock, you were so certain it was correct. And you took the vaccine injection, waited a week and a half, and then injected the virus. Seventy-two hours later you were fine. But you didn’t think that was good enough.” Her face flushed as she finished.
Then Mycroft chimed in, “You came to me, asking to be exposed to the infected we were holding for study. But when we went to their bunker, the guards informed us they had finally killed one another the previous night, and no patrols would be leaving base for a few days.” His tone was somehow both harsh and gentle as he passively told Sherlock of the days he had lost from his memory.
“So you insisted on going beyond the wall to tempt a zed into biting you,” John said to Sherlock, his voice tight with shock and his hands clenched into fists at his sides. “That’s what it was, wasn’t it,” he said turning to Mycroft, who nodded. “God, you honestly have a pathological need to prove you’re brilliant, don’t you?” he said, attention returning to Sherlock, staring down with an icy fury at this strange man he had come to care for over the past month and a half. “Why couldn’t you just wait?”
“I’m stubborn about these things, John. About everything really,” he said, the slightest hint of an apology laying over his tone.
“Either way,” Mycroft said, “Sherlock is living proof that his vaccine works. If we can get a few more trials, these ones more controlled, then we may be able to get this shipped out across the country, try to contact other emergency seats of power. Take our world back.”
“And then what?” John asked, almost unable to imagine what real society was like after years in the army and six months after the end of civilization.
“Who knows,” Sherlock responded, a glint in his eyes as he pushed himself to his feet, “We need to take a few steps before we get there anyway.”