The first afternoon John comes home from the clinic, Sherlock isn’t in the flat.
John checks thoroughly.
His search as complete as it is fruitless, John stands in Sherlock’s bedroom, heart pounding. For reasons he’would rather not explain, he’d looked in his own bedroom before venturing into Sherlock’s. His mobile is warm in his fist by the time he attempts to text.
Where are you?
He paces while he waits. When his mobile chimes, he nearly drops it.
His pulse still racing, John purses his lips and forces himself motionless.
“Stop it,” he whispers. “Stop it, you’re being ridiculous.”
Sherlock’s bedroom responds with pristine silence.
He takes a deep breath, goes up the stairs rather than down, and stays on his computer until the urge to handcuff Sherlock to the banister fades. Or to put the man on a leash. Fit some sort of wide, leather collar around that vulnerable expanse of neck and secure him somewhere safe. Or pin him somewhere by the scarf. John’s over-active imagination doesn’t seem to be picky.
This is going to be a problem.
The third time Sherlock is elsewhere when John returns home, there is no longer any chance this isn’t deliberate.
The pattern is a hint. The way Sherlock ducks out Mrs. Hudson’s back door when John goes downstairs, this is confirmation.
“He just stepped out,” Mrs. Hudson apologizes. “Something about an experiment. I didn’t ask.” She reaches for the cabinet where she keeps the mugs. “Oh dear, that’s not a very happy face. What’s he done now?”
“Nothing,” John answers. Christ, he sounds like a lying child, abandoned on the kerb and denying it. “Nothing, it’s fine.”
“You don’t take sugar…?” she half-asks. “That’s Sherlock, he’s the sugar, you’re the milk.”
“No, no thank you, I don’t--”
Mrs. Hudson continues on, undeterred. She presses the mug into his hands. “You look like you need it.”
He ducks his face, instinctual. Mrs. Hudson doesn’t know what it means when John seems thirsty. “Thank you,” he mumbles. He takes the tea, hot liquid thick with milk.
“He’s not usually one for giving space, is he?” Mrs. Hudson muses. She moves along to the next cupboard and pulls down an unopened roll of Digestives.
“So he is avoiding me.”
Mrs. Hudson hands him a biscuit.
John eats his biscuit.
“Not the usual domestic, then?” Mrs. Hudson asks.
John drinks his tea. Small sips. Small, intent sips. They stand like that for a while, two people and their tea. After a minute or so, Mrs. Hudson makes a noise of dissatisfaction and sits down, hand on her hip. A few moments longer and John joins her. There are more biscuits.
“They could have killed him,” John says, finds himself saying.
“More than the usual?”
“More than the usual.” The words sit on the table between them, heavy between scattered crumbs.
“I’m not sure....” John shakes his head. “Sorry.”
Mrs. Hudson leans back in her chair, using her mug to warm her fingers. She’s quiet. Not muted, but soft.
John spends longer than he ought staring at the table and the crumb patterns that come of breaking large biscuits in half. “Did he say when he’d be back?” he asks.
She shakes her head.
After, he does the washing up.
After the washing up, she offers a hug (“Not that I’m saying you need it, dear, just that I feel the need to.”) and he accepts.
After that, he goes upstairs and looks to where Sherlock’s coat ought to be.
Come eleven at night and no response to any of his texts, he can hunt down his flatmate or he can call Harry. He already has his mobile in his hands anyway, has kept it in his hands the past six hours while pacing the entire floor. The sitting room, the kitchen, Sherlock’s room, and back. Knowing that Sherlock has some martial arts training doesn’t prevent John’s imagination from predicting a multitude of ways Sherlock could be killed without John beside him.
Forcing himself to sit down in his armchair, he rings up his sister. “Harry, hi.”
“I can hear it in your voice.”
“Yeah, well.” After that, there’s little more to say. Harry understands.
“You need me to talk you down?”
It’s the usual conversation, if reversed from its usual direction. In the end, they’re talking about Dad. At least, John thought that would be the end. Maybe not the usual conversation after all.
“Mum’s a bit nuts too, you know,” Harry says.
“Mum could pass for normal,” John answers.
“Yeah, I know,” Harry says, as if that’s proven her point. “But it’s like we’re not allowed to have any problems, ever.”
“Harry, you’re thirty-four. ‘Allowed’ doesn’t come into it.”
“Uh-huh. Sure. So we’re going to tell Mum the reason I left Clara? Or that you, I don’t know... drank from one of our own?”
“I was within my right,” John tells her immediately. “He took Sherlock, I took him down, I was within my right, Harry.”
The silence down the line is long and loud.
“Christ,” John swears, rubbing his hand over his face. “Did I really just say that?”
“Yeah,” Harry says. “But... well. You were. Within your right. Poachers are fair game.”
“That’s not helping.”
I want to kill him.
If I kill him, no one can ever take him.
He closes his mouth.
He closes his eyes.
“How did you leave Clara? I mean, how did you... without doing anything crazy, how did you give that up?”
The silence is longer this time, lengthens beyond what seconds ought to hold.
“I think,” she says, “I realized I could kill her. Unintentionally, I mean. You know how fetishists can get.” She makes the last a joke. They share a low laugh.
“Oh, I know.”
“Always nice to be wanted.” A giggle there.
“You know, I don’t think I’ve ever been that objectified since,” John tells her.
“Ooh, ooh, can I see your teeth?” Harry simpers in a dreadful, oddly roaming accent. “Why are you so short? Why aren’t you pale? Where’s your coffin?”
“You like Italian?” John counters. “But you’re out in daylight.”
“Are you sure you can go swimming? What about moving water?”
“Oh, I find uncontrollable jealousy a turn-on.”
“But only in the bedroom,” John clarifies.
“Because where else could anyone possibly be jealous?” Harry agrees.
“No idea whatsoever.”
“Hm,” Harry hums.
“Hm,” John confirms.
John nearly does.
They sit in silence for a bit.
“I nearly did kill her by accident,” Harry says.
John nods. They’ve been over this. “I know.” Quiet acceptance.
“No,” Harry says. “You don’t. I mean, accident-accident. I didn’t lose control or anything. I was still in control of myself. In control of her, too. She was eating well, hydrating. I’d always prop her feet up, afterwards. I was taking such great care of her, John. Even you would have been proud of me. We were working. And then she just went into shock like that and I couldn’t....”
“I know,” John says. “I know what shock looks like.” He doesn’t mention the emails from Clara, doesn’t mention the begging, the pleas that he convince Harry to take her back.
“It was so scary. She... and I couldn’t-- I just couldn’t. On purpose is one thing, but that... no.”
“I’m sorry,” he says. He listens to his little sister blow her nose. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have asked.”
“Sherlock’s still out, isn’t he?”
And just like that, John can’t breathe.
“An alert’s been put into the system,” Harry reminds him. “That boss of yours, what’s her name, the one with the name like the snakebite kit.”
“Right, Sawyer. Anyway, Sherlock’s an official territory claim now.”
“Couple hours ago.”
Even provided Sarah started that immediately for him, it’s still been rushed through. That, or John’s gained a better reputation than he’d thought in killing those poachers. It’s probably Anthea, though, doing this for Mycroft’s sake. “I haven’t checked my computer.”
“Well, do it, because he’s all yours now.”
“Oh yes, of course,” John says. “Because it’s not as if anyone’s asked him about it.”
“Uh, no. Because that’s your responsibility, idiot.”
He trails off, hoping Harry will interrupt.
No such luck.
He chews on his lip a bit.
“You can’t just say that,” John tells her. “He may not be normal, but he is... normal.”
That’s not particularly helpful.
John doesn’t say this.
Instead he clears his throat and says, “Anyway.”
Like a drawn wire, silence is a smoothly stretching line between them. They have nothing else in common, really, just this. They say good-bye and hang up.
John waits a bit longer. Without his sister down the line, his body begins to itch once again. His limbs think they’re falling asleep, demand motion to wake them. The venom sacs beneath his sinuses are noticeably swollen, so long ignored and so recently active.
With nothing else he can do, he goes upstairs, slams his door shut, and nearly goes into cardiac arrest.
Sitting on John’s bed, laptop open on his knees, Sherlock glances up at him.
“Yes, what?” Eyes on the screen.
“You--” John begins. Stops. He flexes his hand rather than seize his flatmate by the throat. “My bed, my laptop. What are you doing?”
“Joining the rest of your possessions, apparently,” Sherlock remarks, bland as can be, and turns John’s laptop around. “Interesting email.”
John’s mouth works. “That’s....”
Sherlock watches him.
“I can explain,” John says instead.
“No,” Sherlock dismisses. “It’s a very straightforward message. Or do you mean the part where Mike and Sarah are also vampires? Or Harry, I had assumed Harry as well. Your condition is genetic, not contagious – otherwise I would have likely observed changes in myself by now. Oh, if you mean the part where the vampire underworld helps you kill anyone who hurts me, you needn’t bother.”
John clenches his jaw, forces his folded fangs against the roof of his mouth with his tongue. “Or I could kill you and they’d help me hide the body,” he adds.
“Is that your way of telling me to do the washing up?”
“Good. It’s not very effective.”
John strides forward, slams the laptop shut, and returns it to his desk. He sits down in his chair.
Sherlock shifts on the bed. Legs crossed, cuffs unbuttoned, he sits with his arms over his shins, palms upturned. Bruised wrists on display fall between accusation and offering.
John’s fangs press against his tongue, bidding his mouth to open, to close against skin.
“How much longer could I test your limits?” Sherlock asks.
Sherlock shrugs without moving.
“I’m not going to attack you,” John says.
“No,” Sherlock muses. “You won’t, will you?”
“That should be a relief, shouldn’t it?” John demands, sharp against the neutrality of Sherlock’s gaze. “After what they did.”
Sherlock’s eyes narrow.
“Can you say it?” Sherlock asks.
Sherlock rolls his eyes. “‘What they did.’ ‘What happened.’”
John places his hands carefully on his thighs.
“You were attacked and bitten by two men.”
“Passive tense, John. It doesn’t suit you.”
“I tore a man’s throat out with my teeth,” John says. “I drank until I almost vomited. I could have helped you instead, but I drank first.”
“And now the guilt,” Sherlock drawls. “Boring.”
“It’s not guilt.”
“No.” He means that.
When Sherlock sees this in John’s face, he tilts his head, dark curls falling across his brow.
“Those are my priorities,” John tells him. “I can’t change them. That’s how this works.”
“It really isn’t.”
Sherlock looks down at his own wrists. He touches one, thumb pressing into the fading purple-green of the bruise. His expression does not change. He touches his neck. His fingers press. His expression does not change.
John clasps his hands together and leans forward.
“This territory system of yours,” Sherlock says, nodding toward the laptop. “What’s the basis behind it?”
“Use,” John says. “Medical professionals get top-tier these days. Unless it’s someone high up enough in the police or government.”
“If a client comes to me about a territory kill, will you stop me from investigating?”
“I can’t help you,” John says.
Sherlock considers this. “If I ask you the identity of another vampire, will you say?”
“You are aware how poorly you lie to me.”
Sherlock’s fingers circle his wrist. His other hand lies palm up and open. His eyes remain on John’s face. “You’re in withdrawal.”
“Poor lie number one.”
The corners of John’s mouth twitch. It isn’t a smile.
“You should go downstairs,” John tells him. “Right now.”
“What happens when you lose control?” Sherlock asks.
John looks at the other man’s wrists.
Sherlock pulls down his cuffs.
John feels his hackles rise.
John holds for as long as he can.
He holds longer still. It ought not to be possible, to keep holding, but he does, small teeth biting his own bottom lip, face turned away. He sets his eyes into the door, into his closed door, the door he closed without so much as a thought to keep Sherlock contained. He reminds himself of his own speed. His gun is within reach, but it’s not what he needs.
Sherlock stands up.
John is on him before he can take a step.
Shoved onto the bed, shoved onto his stomach, arm wrenched behind his back, Sherlock doesn’t struggle.
Not the usual laugh, the silent grin. Not the scoff. Something else, something shaking, breathless. It rattles through his thin shoulders, huffs against John’s sheets.
John rolls him over, keeps him between his legs, has to knee-walk to the side to keep the man trapped. “What the hell?” he demands. “Sherlock, what the bloody hell?”
Eyes bright, face flushed, Sherlock laughs on. “I’m not frightened.” He grins wide and sharp. Vicious.
John’s mouth mirrors, the echo unwitting.
“John, look,” Sherlock urges. “Really look.”
He looks, is looking, hasn’t stopped looking. “You’re an absolute lunatic.” It comes out rough and wrong. It comes out fond and wondering.
Sherlock lifts his chin in proud submission. “And I’m brilliant. I am. Go on, tell me I am. Or should I tell you why, first? You do like to hear why.”
“Pushing my buttons to see if I’ll kill you is not clever. Not even close, Sherlock.”
“You wouldn’t kill me.”
“I would,” John corrects. He doesn’t mean to correct. “God help me,” he adds, too late to retract, soon enough to amend.
“If someone tried to take me from you,” Sherlock reasons. “If you needed to reclaim me. I’m familiar with the mindset, a killer owning their victim.”
You’d be mine forever, and I’d never have to fret over you again.
John shakes his head. A half-solution at best, not even that. A last resort, maybe. Willingly given, a suicidal gift, it would be the most precious act John would ever partake in. Forced, it’s nothing more than simple murder. God, why can’t this be simple?
“The solution is obvious,” Sherlock continues. “We’ll find other, nonviolent means of claiming. It’s that or we part ways entirely. I read the escape clause on being a territory claim, and I only need to fear abuse to invoke it – no problem there. However, considering that you are my best friend and it annoys me when you’re not here, I’d like to avoid that option.”
Slowly, John’s hands loosen around Sherlock’s wrists. He’s holding them again, isn’t sure when that resumed. Can’t imagine stopping.
He forces it all the same. Sets his hands on his knees where they frame Sherlock’s ribs.
Sherlock’s hands follow his, pale spiders trailing by invisible threads. They alight on the sides of his folded legs, thumbs upon thighs, fingers upon shins. They hold without gripping.
“How do territory claims work outside of London?” Sherlock asks, chin lifted. To look up at John, he looks down his nose. Impossibly arrogant, this man, even pinned on his back. “The PDF was limited in that respect.”
“Where do you mean? Still inside the UK?”
“Bit more difficult when things get rural – less clearly cut, more no man’s land between claims, depending on the area.” The denim beneath John’s hands fails to satisfy his skin. He needs to feel a pulse.
“But as a doctor, you’d have a good claim anywhere?”
“Better than most.” His hands shift lower, wrap around thin wrists. He ignores, can’t ignore, Sherlock’s smug grin. “Why?”
“Because I’m going to retire someday, obviously. So are you. I know you favour Devon, but how do you feel about Sussex?”
John gapes at him.
“Sitting on me instead of kneeling might help,” Sherlock adds, apropos of nothing. “Try that.”
Sitting down is easier than planning their now apparently joint futures. John sits across his thighs.
“No, not like that. Higher, on my stomach.”
“Breathing can’t be that boring, Sherlock.”
“Shortness of breath and limited mobility are effects of your venom,” Sherlock needlessly informs him. “Recreating those symptoms should have a reassuring effect on your subconscious.”
Rolling his eyes, John shifts forward. Slowly, mindful of the rise and fall of Sherlock’s chest, he lowers himself down, transferring his weight from his thighs and knees to the softly masked vulnerability of a clothed underbelly.
Sherlock’s breath shortens.
They hold like this. They stay very still.
When John’s thighs begin to tremble, he sits, his weight pressing the air from Sherlock’s lungs.
“This is good,” John murmurs. “It’s good, I like this.”
Sherlock nods, a lifting of his already lifted chin.
John looks at him. Simply looks.
The need for further sight brings him to reach.
Button by button, Sherlock offers no resistance. His calm gaze turns the moment oddly casual.
“Can I check?” John remembers to ask. “How you’re healing.”
Sherlock’s eyes flick down to his half undone shirt. He rolls his eyes up to John, his expression one of such absolute derision that John laughs despite himself.
John lifts up to unbutton the shirt fully, to tug it from its tuck into Sherlock’s trousers. Sherlock’s unbound hands ride John’s thighs. John settles back down. He spreads the shirt wide.
He watches, works his way past comfort:
Skin too tight over bone.
Heartbeat, the rapid side of normal.
The light sheen of the Tegaderm over healing skin.
This is where John touches, the healing wounds. Largely faded now. Shouldn’t be any scarring after all. Even the bruises have turned, their yellow-green dissolving into the palest pink.
“So,” John says. “Sussex.”
“What’s in Sussex?”
“Really? A house you’d like?” It doesn’t fit his image of the man, but everyone has dreams, he supposes.
“A house I may inherit,” Sherlock corrects. “A very grateful client.”
John tries and fails to wrap his mind around this idea.
“Oh, come off it,” Sherlock protests. “You’re a vampire. That is far more unlikely than real estate.”
John laughs, and then Sherlock laughs, and then they’re simply grinning at each other.
“You’d be all right with me moving in, then?” John asks. Sherlock’s skin is chilled under his hands but warms quickly.
“Someone has to take the rubbish out.” Sherlock tries to look at John’s hands, tries to keep his chin high when his downward glance makes John tense. Tilting his head to the side works, tilting toward the wound as if offering the untouched side.
“Not your housekeeper, dear,” John reminds him.
Sherlock’s grin warps his mouth. At this angle, it looks idiotic. It is possibly the most endearing thing John has ever seen.
“Is this all right?” John asks.
John shakes his head, because Sherlock still doesn’t understand. He slides his hands higher, leans forward. One hand on the duvet, the other fisted in dark curls. His body covers pale, exposed skin. His mouth settles against Sherlock’s pulse. It leaps against his lips. The natural tension of Sherlock’s body grows, tightens, trembles. When John sets his teeth to skin – not his fangs, merely his small teeth – his flatmate’s entire body twitches. His breathing stops. His pulse turns absolutely wild.
Sherlock still doesn’t try to escape. This is still a surrender response, still acceptable.
“Is this all right?” John asks, this time rhetorically. This is cruel, he knows it’s cruel, just as he knows Sherlock will forgive him for making the point. Sherlock’s head may understand what John is, but his body knows to greet John’s kind with terror. “That bit about not being frightened, how is that working out?”
It takes Sherlock more than one attempt to say it. “Traumatic experiences can... alter behaviour. This isn’t... this fear response, it’s...” He sucks in a deep breath, his chest rising beneath John’s. “The danger zone has passed. The more your body recognizes surrender, the safer I am.”
“I don’t need to be kept calm,” John tells him. All he can smell is Sherlock’s skin and the fact that his flatmate is still borrowing his shampoo. “I need to own you.”
Actually saying the words, growling them, Christ. Between their bodies, his cock gives a twitch. More than a twitch. Because the situation clearly isn’t inappropriate enough.
“This is good,” John adds. “God, it’s good. More than good. ” He rubs his lips, his nose, his cheek against tender skin. “But I’m going to need more, eventually, and it’s going to drive both of us around the bend. Blood, it’s... intimate. And stupid. It messes me up.”
Sherlock’s hands, the one John isn’t actively restraining, this hand touches John’s nape. Fingertips first, then the curve of a palm.
The nuzzling turns to licking, broad stripes of the tongue, again and again, reddening skin with pressure. God, that pulse.
Fingernails dig into the back of John’s neck.
John doesn’t stop.
Sherlock doesn’t stop him.
A scrape of teeth, the resulting twitch.
A bite, small teeth, no blood drawn. The mark left.
He sucks and licks, damp smacks and wet pops.
His saliva escapes across Sherlock’s neck, catches in his hair.
Throughout all, Sherlock’s hand rides his nape.
When John finishes, worn out, forearms falling asleep from the pressure at his elbows, Sherlock’s neck is a mess. It looks as if he’s been mauled in bed, which he has. John sits up, stays on him. He’s sitting on an erection, isn’t sure if that’s a good sign. Adrenaline and close physical contact can be problematic in combination.
Sherlock looks up at him, eyes focused, refocusing, confused, bewildered. His brow keeps furrowing anew, uncertain as to the degree of uncertainty. He reaches up, takes John’s pillow, and awkwardly wipes the side of his damp neck with it.
“I was never actually going to bite you.”
“Obviously,” Sherlock dismisses. The word is calm, dismissive. Jarringly normal, all told. “There’s a difference between claiming territory and marking it. I suppose I should count myself grateful you didn’t piss on me.”
“No, that would be werewolves,” John corrects.
Sherlock’s gaze is its own form of interrogation.
John schools his face into the most deadpan expression he can manage.
“As I was saying,” Sherlock resumes, “my observations over the past week have led me to a variety of conclusions. First--”
“Meaning you’ve been experimenting on me.”
Sherlock rolls his eyes. “John, you’re unexpectedly a vampire – of course I’m experimenting on you.
“As I was saying, I first discovered that you find a specific set of submission indicators very reassuring. Neck bared rather than the head ducked. You prefer eye contact, extremely sustained eye contact. So, intimate connection as well as domination. Bared or exposed stomach also seems to work wonders. Ditto the upturned palm. You respond better to scent than to sound.
“Second, if I remove myself from your presence, you do your utmost to provide me with additional space. If I ever feel the need to run from you and begin by walking away, you will ensure my attempt is successful. However,” Sherlock adds, stressing the word, “that will not be necessary.” He holds John’s gaze, every inch of him deliberately owned, and John’s skin writhes with it, with not knowing. A show for John’s benefit, all of it, a thorough manipulation, but is it sincerely meant?
“Third, you will never be comfortable near me until you are convinced I am yours. Tedious. Pointless. The marking helps. More than verbal confirmation or invitation. You respond best to a visible alteration of my appearance. Possibly, we could modify our morning routines. Grooming habits in particular. You could shave me, see how that affects you. As scent marking has proven very effective thus far, I should probably borrow your aftershave, at least until we’ve both stabilized from the attack.
“Fourth, until the nightmares stop, we ought to sleep together. Our nap last week was the best sleep I’ve had since and the same is true for you.
“Fifth, as neither of us wishes to terminate our friendship, the logical conclusion is to continue. We will live here until retirement, then move to Sussex. If you want a vacation in Devon, make it interesting or go alone. As for the time being, you will accompany me into any and all dangerous situations that may arise, regardless of convenience. In return, I will no longer take your gun. Any questions?”
John’s tongue slowly withdraws back into his mouth, dry from its time spent between his lips. “Um,” he considers. “You do realize I could, you know. Have my own life?”
Sherlock rolls his eyes. “Yes, but do you want to? Meet someone, move out, suffocate from boredom for the rest of your life – you can’t actually want that, John.” He lifts his chin as he says it, unconscious this time, all wounded pride. “I’ve never had a best friend before, and now that I’ve grown accustomed, I won’t do without. You want to hold my life in your hands and potentially drink my blood. John, I do not say this lightly: I am willing to compromise.”
While John thinks about this, his knees finally complain loudly enough for him to move. He climbs off Sherlock, careful of their lower bodies and where his knees could hit. He sits between Sherlock and the room proper.
Sherlock begins to button his shirt.
John takes over for him. The visible progress of it immediately soothes rather than irritates. “I think you’re right about the grooming habits idea.”
“It’s similar enough to the bandages,” Sherlock explains.
“Are you planning on sleep soon?”
“I am,” John tells him.
“Fine,” Sherlock answers. “I’ll get my pyjamas.” With that, he sits up, climbs over John, and walks out of the room.
John spends a confused moment wondering if this means he’s in charge of dressing Sherlock now, before he realizes he just let Sherlock leave.
He realizes this, and nothing else happens. No rage. No terror. Nothing. Only the awareness that Sherlock is downstairs and coming back. That Sherlock will always be coming back, lunatic that he is.
When Sherlock returns, pyjama bottoms and threadbare t-shirt over his arm, he closes the door and bolts it behind him as naturally as breathing.
When they sleep, the bed is full of far too many elbows and no nightmares at all.
When John wakes, it’s to the sound of typing. His laptop is open, balanced on sharp knees. “You weren’t using it,” Sherlock justifies. His voice breaks from disuse.
Tightening his arm around a too-thin waist, John grunts the permission of indifference. He sleeps anew, calm at last.