John isn’t much of a drinker. It’s not that he can’t see the appeal to a quick nip now and then. He can. That’s the problem.
It runs in the family, the Watson penchant toward a liquid solution. Harry’s proof of that. His old dad was proof of that too and the ache that it’s left doesn’t ever quite fade. He reminds himself of it, warns himself with it: don’t ever forget what happened to Dad.
When he really needs a drink, he thinks it through. Sometimes three hours in advance, sometimes days. He never lets himself act on the impulse until the first three hours of the craving pass. When the wait only worsens the intolerable twisting in his gut, he gets his pint. Cold, the way he hates it.
Before the first swallow, he always thinks he might have to force himself to finish it this time.
By the last, he’s already telling himself why he can’t have another.
Harry tells him he’s overly cautious, but look at her. A destroyed marriage, her job at risk and the neighbours beginning to look at her a bit funny. They’re both susceptible. If John is too strict on himself – which he isn’t – it’s only because there’s no one else to keep him in line. As a doctor, he can’t help but see it as more than an act of indulgence. This is a moral issue.
All the same, when his patients at the surgery begin to show up anaemic and sporting someone else’s bite marks, John is more angry and possessive than he is sickened.
He may not hunt on his territory, but that will never mean he’s not ready to defend it.
Defending it on his own is a bit of a problem.
Not the act of defending, per se. He’s an intelligent man in possession of a firearm and excellent aim. He has his patients’ trust and, thanks to that, photographic evidence of the interloper’s signature. The bite wounds all match, a double puncture on the left side of the patient’s neck, as bitten from behind. He knows he’s looking for either a woman or a man of below average height, recently moved into London. The interloper uses a stalking technique and then relies upon the paralytic administered through puncturing. If the short height were an indication of youth, the victims would have been drained until dead. Leaving the victim alive meant drinking less than three pints, which means someone older, their metabolism slower. They’re fast, not strong, and John is both.
No, the issue lies in defending it on his own.
Namely, without Sherlock Holmes.
Because while John’s poacher may have been the first, they haven’t been the last. After a few days of Sarah shooting John increasingly worried looks at the clinic, the call had come in from Lestrade: bite-marked corpses turning up in Bart’s morgue. Different marks, a truly worrying variety.
With that, forced between mentioning the clinic’s patients and concealing information Sherlock would ultimately discover anyway, John had immediately offered a limited version of events. Not the full version, obviously not that. Sherlock would never have believed it.
John isn’t exactly in line with the modern concept of vampires. No one really is, fortunately. Too many centuries of the pale, anaemic and unbitten being accused of vampirism instead of recognized as unappealing prey, and no one seems to expect a stocky vampire with their teeth conveniently at neck-level. Tagging along on Sherlock’s investigations has shown him more than enough of what people assume vampires to be. That had been embarrassing. As if Twilight weren’t enough.
Though all of the patients-turned-clients agreed regarding the way in which they were attacked, Sherlock had refused to believe actual vampiric activity was on the table. All victims were drugged with a paralytic and, yes, drained of blood to an anaemic state. The point of drainage is that double puncture wound in the neck. That’s also been the case of the dead victims who have begun to appear across the city. The deceased have almost all been bitten from the front.
So, the crux of the problem: John needs to go out and kill someone – several someones – without Sherlock noticing.
“It’s meant to look like a vampire,” Sherlock said, keeps saying. “It has to be something else, John. A fantasist or someone impersonating one.”
“Right then,” John says, shrugging on his jacket and speaking to Sherlock through the mirror. “While you sort that out, I’m going to the dentist.”
“Yes, yes, fine. I’ll text if I need you.”
“You always do,” John replies, feeling more than seeing Sherlock’s answering smirk as John heads down the stairs and out the door.
“I’m here to see Dr. Travers,” John tells the young man at the desk. “I don’t have an appointment, but it’s an emergency. Tell her it’s Dr. Watson, I did text.”
The secretary studies John’s mouth as he speaks, watches the way John’s tongue peeks out when he pauses. “Bit of an invasion up in your side, too?” he asks.
The secretary doesn’t smirk, doesn’t rub it in, which is how John knows the man’s territory has taken a hit as well. The man’s much too young to have any significant amount of space, not in London. Even working with Dr. Travers, it’s unlikely he has a claim beyond a block and a half. The nametag clipped to his breast pocket reads Brian.
“You’re the one who lives with the detective,” Brian realizes. “Dr. Travers, she reads your blog. Is your detective on the case?”
“Him and Scotland Yard, for the ones who have died,” John confirms. “But no, I’ll not be typing this case up, don’t worry about that.”
“Your detective,” Brian says again.
“Didn’t send me, doesn’t know what he’s looking for. We’ve pictures of four distinct bites, though, maybe five. If I can get names to match, all of this goes away.”
Brian nods. “I’ll tell Dr. Travers you’re here, Dr. Watson.”
“Thank you, Brian.”
John sits down with his folder across his knees. Twenty minutes later, he clasps hands with Dr. Travers and follows her into her office. “Hello, Brigit. Anyone here look familiar?” he asks, offering her the folder.
“Someone isn’t losing time with pleasantries.” She takes it from him all the same, the line of her mouth giving the lie to the flippancy of her tone.
“Someone’s feeding on my ground,” John replies.
“You’re not the only one.”
They pull up the territory map and mark out every attack. Brigit has a number of them that he wasn’t aware of, and John has a number neither Brigit nor the police knew about, courtesy of Sherlock’s homeless network. Putting down the sites of the poaching and checking the bite marks on all victims confirms it: there are eight of them creeping onto established territory.
“I’ll make a few calls, I think,” Brigit muses. “Do you have Roger’s number?”
“I’ll call him,” John answers, mobile already in hand. “And Sarah – we’re still on speaking terms.”
“Shall we make it dinner?”
John considers Sherlock. John considers the odds of being able to make it through a meal against the odds of being able to explain away a territory council. “I’ll probably have to duck out halfway through, but sure.”
“Your detective?” Brigit asks. Rhetorical. It’s always rhetorical, these days.
“My flatmate,” John confirms, a warning curve in his lips. His flatmate, his flat, his territory. No one touches Sherlock, no one, not a single mark on that ridiculous neck.
“Would he out us?” she asks.
“I don’t know.” He holds up his hand as Roger picks up down the line. “Hey, Roger, hey. I’m at Brigit’s office and we’ve noticed a number of interlopers in your area. Yeah, thought you might have noticed that. No, we don’t know who they are yet – no dental records on file here. What? Yeah, I’ve photo evidence. Territory council tonight?”
As he runs the plan by Roger, Brigit does the same with the other major contenders of London. Their phone tree takes very few calls to activate, and within twenty minutes, they have five different reservations for eight on technically neutral ground. Each district will settle on their leader, then leave the matter to the head five. Though John counts as a newcomer these days, he’s been in London for as much of his life as he’s been able. Being a medical professional doesn’t hurt, territorially speaking. Though everyone is entitled to the block surrounding their residence, doctors able to treat their kind are few on the ground. There are very distinct benefits, enough to make the temptation of the operation table well worth it.
More territory and a stronger claim to it – even wounded, John had thought he could rest easy. Apparently not.
Brigit has Brian make copies of the photos and John takes back the original file. In the few hours until the dinner meeting, he patrols his territory. Just one man walking amicably through London, quick of pace, but normal. Just a normal man, walking. From the clinic to his flat, back and forth, enraged instinct beneath his skin. He does this, has always done this. Even wounded and limping, he had still walked.
As he walks, he remembers being young. He’s pushing forty now, too old to want an area larger than his short strides can devour. But he remembers the rush of first territory. The first time he’d stepped outside and looked up and down the street and thought: this is mine. It had been his until deployment, and now half of that block is Roger’s and the other half might be Julia’s. He’s not even sure about that. A lapse of attention over domain he might have once killed for.
He remembers his father, which is not something he does casually. Blooddrunk, unable to control himself, unable to hold onto the edges of his domain regardless of what John and Harry did to help him. What’s the point of territory if you don’t hunt? The unending question and lament of Harold Watson. What good are they if you don’t bite them? And their mum would shake her head and do what she could to calm him, to put him away where he couldn’t hurt anyone, and John had bent his life toward a career with access to blood banks.
In the end, Harold Watson’s territory had no longer been his own, but that of his wife and children. Not the joint holding it had once been, but gone. Anyone so irresponsible with their hunting ground would lose it; this was a lesson his children had learned from an early age. They’d thought their father would know it too.
But he hadn’t.
He truly hadn’t known it.
When he’d lost his hunting ground, he’d turned on their mum, and that had been that. He hadn’t been himself, not at the end – this is what the Watsons tell each other, what other families tell the Watsons. Too much hunting, that was the ruin of him. Too much thinking nothing could stand against him when, of course, there was little enough that didn’t.
Most Londoners don’t hunt, but territory is still territory. It is still important, so very important to be able to step outside and look up and down that street and to know it, bone-deep, blood-thick: this is mine. Cities have always been an issue for their kind, but people like them are rare enough and coordinated enough to carry it off. Compared to the expanses in the country, physical territory is tiny, but population density more than compensates. It’s regulated by force of will, the poachers treated as harshly as the rapists. Punishment is harsh, severe, the delivery of it enough to fulfil any hunting need.
John likes London for that reason, loves it. He likes to know exactly where the boundaries are, enjoys having it in exact terms. He likes to nip downstairs and eat at Speedy’s, looking out the window and watching the people who, for a few short blocks, are his. Each untouched neck is a matter of pride. His patients, Mrs. Turner and her married ones, Mrs. Hudson, Sherlock – no one touches them. No one touches John’s territory.
Not until now.
When the time for the impromptu territory council draws near, John checks his mobile and finds Sherlock still has yet to summon him. Ought to be safe to go. John walks to the edge of his territory and only then does he take the tube. Sherlock doesn’t take the tube, and it’s always possible Sherlock might be following him.
At the restaurant, John is on the edge of underdressed, but he manages it well enough. His table is the same as Sarah’s, which is a bit awkward, but it’ll make matters simpler if Sherlock calls him away mid-meeting. John will barely have to explain, if he does at all. At any rate, his friendship with Sarah has noticeably improved since this common threat appeared.
As he takes his seat, he catches Mike Stamford’s eye from across the room and gives a nod. Mike nods back, his jovial face turned serious for the occasion.
As always, there’s a disproportionate number of medical professionals gathered, but it’s good plausible deniability. As always, everyone orders their steak rare. There’s the preliminary chitchat about families, and then about health screening, and then about streets they’d be willing to swap. Then they get down to business.
There have been some sightings of the poachers, but not many. There’s someone present who has access to the CCTV network, and when John strains in his seat for a view of their government insider, he has a moment of almost bemused recognition. They all share what information they have, and people seem to know that information ought to be funnelled toward John these days. “Your detective,” everyone says, and they all say it in front of Sarah. More than a little agonizing, that, but he can live with it.
By dessert, there are roughly five plans in place for tracking suspects, investigating the newcomers to their territory, and checking through the bite records of everyone documented in the greater London area. Everyone present has been cleared of suspicion of poaching, which is a start. Everything else will take some time.
“I’ll see what Sherlock has,” John promises. “Keep me updated – you know my email, right? You can message me through the blog, that works too.”
They say their goodbyes and part, still on edge. No one asks what will happen if this results in a major leak. They’ve all considered it, all thought about it. A community best defined as fiercely territorial and prone to murder and rape – all true of their community, regardless of the measures they take against it – is not a community that particularly wants recognition. Disbelief is their greatest weapon, but these attacks have gone too far, provided too many corpses. There’s too much evidence.
“I think they want to hold us hostage,” John suggests to Sarah as he walks with her to the tube station. “They’ve been copying the existing territory maps. They could blame all of the attacks on us, get us locked up, and move in and take over.”
“It wouldn’t be that simple,” Sarah counters. Not with force, though. She’s considering it.
“No, but it would be a good way to begin.” John knows full well that his claim to territory is a result of his medical degree. Their people have health needs, just like everyone else, if not more. Drink once from the wrong person and that’s HIV for life, however much life there’s left to be had. If John can ever operate again, he’ll be a valuable commodity. Not many can resist blood the way he can, not with it hot under the nose. It’s why Mike had to fall back on teaching. The point is, a newcomer on the London scene, or even a returning player, can’t get a good foothold the way matters stand now.
Sarah knows this. They all know this. The longer Sarah stays silent, the more obvious it is that she’s begun to agree.
“You know whoever goes to the police first will have the better of it,” John adds.
“Why didn’t you bring this up at dinner?”
“Well, I’m still new. But I am making sense, aren’t I?”
“That’s what scares me,” she admits. They tap their Oyster cards against the reader and head down the escalator, Sarah first. She turns around halfway down, looking up over her shoulder at him. “When are you telling Sherlock?”
“Sherlock doesn’t believe in us,” John replies. “He’s sure it has to be something else.”
“Then he’s not going to stop them.”
“We can stop them on our own.”
“If we move quickly enough.”
“Well, yes,” John acknowledges.
“And Sherlock moves quickly.”
“Well, yes,” John repeats. “But.”
Sarah waits. They move onto the next escalator.
“I just...” John begins. “Have you ever come out to someone before?”
“Sort of,” Sarah says. “My dad was normal. So, my cousins.”
“How’d that go?”
“Bit awkward, but they already knew. I don’t have much in the way of thirst, so I guess they liked that I was looking out for them.”
“Sherlock is... different, Sarah.”
“Is he?” she asks dryly.
“I know, I know, sorry. Sorry.” He tries to start over, arranging his thoughts to the sound of the guitarist serenading this evening’s batch of travellers. The music echoes through the Underground tunnels, warped sounds under stale light. “I mean, his brother knows. First time we met, the man had my therapist’s notes. There’s no way he doesn’t know. He hasn’t said anything, just dropped comments here and there.”
“Like....” John looks down, fiddling with the folder he’s still carrying. “He knows that Sherlock’s mine. I mean-”
“John,” she interrupts, giving him that look. The one where she might deck him if he tries to explain further. “He knows Sherlock is safe with you.”
“Yes,” John confirms. “That, yes.”
“You could go to the brother.”
“Tell the brother,” Sarah repeats. “About what’s going on, about us being willing to coordinate.”
“I can’t do that. I’m new on the ground, Sarah.”
“I’ll share the clinic territory,” she says.
“You already do-”
“If they try to take it away from you,” she says. “I’ll share anyway.”
John... isn’t sure what to say to that.
“Thanks,” he answers eventually, belatedly. Once they’re already waiting for their train. It’s long enough a pause that she blinks at him a bit, needs to remember what they were talking about.
It’s crowded, so when they climb on, they both have to stand. He gives her the better spot, the one near the wall, and she leans and holds the arm of his jacket. It’s comfortable, and he’s glad for it.
“Have you considered just... doing it?”
“Him,” she finishes, which is exactly what he’d hoped she wouldn’t say.
“For the last time, I don’t want to shag my flatmate.”
“I didn’t say shag,” she corrects quietly. For all their speech is coded, they’re still in public. But John understands.
He’s considered it.
The second day he knew Sherlock, mere hours after meeting to view a flat, he’d more than considered it. Tall man, gorgeous neck at just the proper height for John – of course he’d entertained the fantasy. Unwinding the scarf, taking a handful of those curls, and sinking his teeth into soft, tempting flesh. The initial jerk before the inevitable surrender. Sucking thick warmth and licking it up where it dripped down, staining the tight crispness of his shirt wet and red. But that’s all it was, a fantasy.
Much more problematic than the fantasy is the reality: Sherlock is his flatmate. Sherlock is his territory. There’s no magic way to bite without wounding, to drink unnoticed, but, god, John wants to. The last time John had felt this way about someone, he’d driven the poor girl to tears. He’d hated himself, every unrelenting minute of it, but hadn’t been able to stop. The drive to possess and isolate had finally terrified him enough that he’d broken things off, and he’d never forget the way she cried with absolute relief. He’s never confused possessiveness with love since.
“Sherlock has a drug history,” John replies. “I don’t... not with a drug history.” He drinks by blood donation standards, which Sherlock certainly doesn’t meet. If John has to tell himself this more often than not, that’s simply John’s problem to live with.
Sarah considers for a bit. Or maybe she’s thinking about something else. He hopes she’s thinking about something else. “The cabbie?” she asks.
He meets her eyes. She’s read his blog, the story he invented for the occasion.
His hesitation is all she needs.
“John,” she says, as if, well, as if catching him in an absurd territorial display. “When I saw you at the circus, going for that swordsman,” she adds, then stops.
John sighs. He wants to say he can’t help it, but he knows he can. “He’s my best friend.”
“Now,” she agrees. “You’d known him a month then.”
He ducks his head, adjusts his stance as the train rumbles to a stop. They sway. “I’ll tell Mycroft,” he says. He’d call Anthea, but after the aborted chat-up, he’s never managed to get her number. “It’ll get taken care of.” Maybe only to keep Sherlock out of it, but John doesn’t doubt this promise to Sarah will hold.
“Thank you,” she says, and there’s trust in their hug, the way they tuck their faces into the other’s shoulder.
“Thank you,” John answers. “About the sharing thing.”
“You’d work harder to keep it than I would,” she points out, then steps out onto the platform without another word or wave or glance.
There’s a seat open now, but John stays standing, thinking.
As soon as John steps out into Baker Street, his mobile begins to chime. It begins to chime a great deal, delayed text after delayed text rushing in. None of them can be older than half an hour, forty minutes at the outside, and that thought allows John to check them without too much trepidation.
A minute later, he’s run the block between the Baker Street Station and 221B, unlocked the door, and mounted all thirty-four steps to his room. He tosses the folder onto bed before he goes for his desk drawer and confirms that Sherlock has taken his gun. He checks his ammunition – please, dear God, please – and Sherlock forgot to reload it, the idiot. Why the hell, why the hell does he think John keeps the gun loaded? Ever since the pool, he’s never risked leaving it lying around like that for his deranged flatmate to run off with.
John doesn’t waste time cursing, merely grabs a warmer jacket and hurtles back down all thirty-four stairs with a full magazine clip in his pocket. He hears Mrs Hudson yell something and hurriedly shouts, “Sorry, Mrs Hudson!” before locking the door behind him. It’s too late in the evening for many cabs on Baker Street, so he runs down to Marylebone. There, he hails a taxi on the first try, climbs into the back, and rattles off the address Sherlock has left for him, adding, “And, please, it’s urgent.”
“Got it, mate,” the cabbie answers, pulling out into the thinning evening traffic. “What’s the rush?”
“I’m a doctor – it’s my friend – please, just drive.”
“Right, yeah.” The cab speeds up a bit, which is the closest John is going to get to comfort for the foreseeable future.
He takes out his phone and texts Sarah and Mycroft the same message: SH just walked into a vampire den. He supplies the address. I’m en route. What now?
Remarkably, Sarah replies first. You’re facing up to eight. Telling the elders – don’t get killed.
Mycroft is only a second after: Keep him alive.
To both he answers: That was already the plan.
John pays the cabbie hurriedly, pays him probably too much, but he can’t be arsed to care. He’s too busy working out how to break into the empty office building. Sherlock’s already been in there an hour and hasn’t responded to a single one of John’s texts. Fat lot of good the gun did him. Either Sherlock can’t reply or he won’t, and the one is as bad as the other.
Sherlock entered through the back, John finds. The door is still unlocked. Cautious, careful, John enters. He comes up through dark back hallways and listens to the sound of voices and footsteps from above. He finds the stairs and climbs, careful of where they might creak. He has to guide himself with his hands against the walls, then spies a sliver of light spilling out from beneath a door. The closer he gets, the easier it is to hear.
John knows that baritone. That baritone is a good sign. The knot of possessive fury beneath his stomach begins to unclench, but fails to unwind.
He keeps his footsteps soft until he approaches the door, near enough to hear what they’re saying. Or, rather, what Sherlock is on the verge of yelling.
“No,” the detective is berating someone. “Your reasons. Your actual reasons. You can’t be that delusional.”
“Sherlock?” John calls through the door. “You all right in there?”
“Fine,” Sherlock scoffs.
John tries the door. No luck. Probably one of those safety locks. “Mind letting me in?”
The sound of deliberate footsteps and the door opens, Sherlock still aiming his gaze and John’s gun across the room.
Entering, John notes that their suspects have been herded against the wall opposite. Seven of them, three women and four men, none much taller than John. There should be eight. A single ceiling light illuminates the room. The floor is clear, the windows boarded over – this is a base of operations, not a residence. This is their neutral ground.
“John,” Sherlock says, gesturing slightly with John’s unloaded gun, “they actually believe themselves to be vampires.”
“Huh,” John says. “That would explain the biting.”
“But not the draining,” Sherlock insists. “They shouldn’t have been able to extract so much blood from the victims, not without equipment, but I can’t find whatever it is they’re using.”
“Huh,” John says again. “The police are on their way.” At least, John thinks they are. He’s not actually certain what Mycroft is up to.
Across the room, the vampires begin to show signs of panic. Increased signs. An hour spent in a room with Sherlock Holmes tends to result in panic, John’s noticed, even without the gun.
“Nobody move,” John warns.
They stop moving.
Sherlock immediately resumes rattling off his best theories of draining the blood from the victims, disparaging most, excluding others. He announces the connections between the victims, dismisses any clear pattern beyond susceptibility. He keeps gesturing with the gun but never takes his eyes off the vampires. Now and again, he breaks his own monologue to demand “Which is it?” of the men and women he has at gunpoint.
All the while, John memorizes their faces. None of them are familiar. “Sherlock, we’re missing one,” he interrupts, announces once he’s sure he could identify them if they escaped.
“How do you know?”
“Because....” John begins to say, which is when he realizes. The woman, shorter than John, and older. The others are young, younger. She stands out, conspicuous, and John knows.
By the widening of her eyes, she can see it in his face. The accusation, the declaration of what she is.
John steps forward, the word on his lips, the word mouthed and silently thrown, like a gauntlet, like a rock from a sling.
John steps forward, Sherlock catches at John’s shoulder, and John pulls away, still advancing, unable to stop, unable to want to stop. Sherlock is still saying something, but John can’t hear him.
The woman steps forward as well, and that’s when it happens. The moment when humanity isn’t quite so human. A human is as much or as little an animal as it cares to be, and their kind are as human as they can make themselves be. They are always just as human as they can make themselves be, and here, it tears, is torn, shatters and is shattered, because John has a list of names, John has his patients, Sarah’s patients, his territory, her territory, their territory.
“Kyle Chamberlain,” John growls. “Jessica Parker. Bhabesh Dhakal.” The woman’s eyes are wide, confused, utterly without recognition. As if every patient John patched up meant nothing, was nothing, wasn’t John’s. “Alison Peel. George McCandless.” Every name an accusation, every name a theft, and Sherlock won’t stop catching at his arm, won’t stop trying to pull John back from the poacher, from the threat, the thief, the invader.
“Sherlock!” John snaps, pulling free, pushing Sherlock back, away. Pushing Sherlock behind him, away from the threat, away from the threat Sherlock is protecting. “Stop defending her!”
Sherlock’s eyes: wide, alarmed, confused. “John, what are you--”
The woman lunges, an empty-handed threat, and John slams his fist below her sternum, just below. When she gasps, doubling over and eyes rolling back, he decks her.
John strikes her again, and again, and when she falls and her companions step forward, John lets his fury show. Six opponents. Six threats. John sees them now, his possessive wrath turned transparent but unfading nonetheless. The poacher is on the floor, hurt, stunned, possibly concussed and bleeding internally. Certainly bleeding from the nose. John’s knuckles burn, bones aching beneath scraped skin.
A slow choking pull gently takes John from behind, Sherlock’s hand on his shirt collar. The rage quiets, a force no less destructive for its silence.
“No,” Sherlock warns the remaining six. “You stay back, and I keep John from killing the rest of you until the police arrive. All of you. Yes, you with the nose ring, you as well. John, what do you think you’re doing?” A tug at his collar. “John.”
But the words aren’t working. The threat of the gun isn’t working. John has shattered the stalemate and the scent of blood is rising.
The vampires step closer. One by one, they bare their fangs.
Sherlock aims at the foot of the closest and fires.
In the wake of the blank shot, silence resounds.
The vampires charge.
John turns and shoves Sherlock out the door, then slams the door shut between them.
Sherlock shouts, his words distinct and meaningless. He rattles the lock as if it’s John who needs protecting.
Six on one. Largely untrained; stalkers, hunters; not fighters. Still six on one. John sets his back into that corner, limits them, keeps the door protected. John strikes one, strikes another, and pulls the first man against him, biting viciously though his shirt, through the neck, so close to the spinal cord. The man twitches and falls, overwhelmed by the paralytic long stored against the roof of John’s mouth, potent with age.
Five on one.
No, three on one, the three dragging John away from the door and the two others making a run through it, out and after Sherlock. John snarls, rages, blood fresh on his teeth, and the poachers have it wrong, still think they’re hunting. They can grapple, try to restrain him, but John can break free, can slam elbows and palms and the crown of his head into any soft piece of vulnerability within reach. This is about damage, about killing, and they come for him as if for a drink. Three on one is easier, is almost manageable as long as he can keep a hostage between himself and the two others. He breaks the nearest woman’s arm, using her for a shield.
Then he hears Sherlock yell.
When John can next think, he’s in the hallway. Down the hallway. Running, running down the hallway through the dark. The feeling in his right arm is gone, vanished from elbow down. His chin is warm and wet and sticky. He has a vague sense of having just killed someone.
He rumbles down the stairs, charges forward, and is almost too far gone to notice the gun, his gun on the floor. Thrown, not dropped, left for him in a spot of window-given streetlight. Sherlock. John staggers to a stop, reaching for it with numb fingers, dripping red, and fishes the loaded magazine from his coat pocket with his other hand. Some of the feeling is coming back but not enough. He fumbles, and fumbles, and curses beneath the sounds of a fistfight gone wrong.
He shoves the magazine back into his coat, grips the gun in his left hand, and runs.
There is a thud, a half-strangled shout, and John has never, not in all his life, known rage such as this.
With two men over him, mouths against him, Sherlock is on the ground.
Sherlock isn’t moving.
John growls his fury.
The pair look up, withdrawing their teeth from blanched, bloodied skin, and then, then it is safe to attack.
The gun is in John’s hand, gripped at the barrel, and the sound it makes against the first man’s skull is a satisfying, wet crunch. John strikes him again, beats him to the floor, and he has all of a moment to look down into Sherlock’s eyes, open and wide. Just a moment before the second man slams his fist into John’s ribs, just a moment before the gun skitters across commercial grade carpeting, just a moment before John is down and the man is on him. Just a moment where Sherlock is conscious and bleeding and John’s chin drips with blood not his own.
And then the assault.
Winded, on his back, John curls in, lashes out.
The man lunges in.
John’s arm, up, blocking, bitten, burning, the chemical burn worse than the punctured muscle.
Numb right arm, more numb now for the second bite, for the fresh surge of paralytic pumped into his system. His nerves blaze, then fail. His shoulder spasms, his back, and he writhes up, flips them over. The man’s head strikes the carpet, bounces, and John shoves him down with the blunt force of his unfeeling right arm. Forces his own flesh harder against that mouth, against those teeth, forces the man’s head at an angle and lunges down for the throat.
When he finishes, he doesn’t bother telling himself he didn’t enjoy it.
The pistol-whipped man is stirring, groaning, is crawling away, so John hits him again, until he’s still.
The man is breathing, not moving, and John waits for him to move.
The man doesn’t.
Reassured, John scrambles to Sherlock on hand and knees, a limping, three-legged creature.
“Sherlock,” John breathes, his first word since true combat began.
Sherlock’s mouth is as open as his pale, hazy eyes. The noise he makes is soft and low, muscles lax from the two, no, three bites he’s suffered. They sit there, in Sherlock’s skin, marks from the wrong mouths. They bleed, a rhythmic weep of red with every beat of the detective’s heart.
“If he dies, I’m killing you,” John informs the only other living vampire in the hall. “I don’t care where you are, what jail cell they put you in. If he dies, I kill you.”
As John says this, Sherlock relaxes under his hands. Trust or blood loss, John cannot say. John’s body sees it as submission; his mind recognizes the medical emergency. The combination steadies him to a state close to sanity, his rage a steadying rock rather than a thrashing wave. Even so, it’s a close thing.
Sherlock’s heartbeat is faint, fluttering, his colour poor, and John has already gorged on the carcass beside them, just downed his pints in record time. He’s full to bursting, almost sick with it and certainly woozy, but Sherlock. His Sherlock. His Sherlock on the floor, bitten and immobilized, each mark the illegitimate claim of a poacher. John wants to lick him clean, to drink him dry, to kill him and scream ownership over the corpse until the sound tears his throat. He wants to bite, needs to, needs his teeth piercing where their teeth sunk, to overwrite false ownership with his own.
Instead, the doctor pushes his thumb into the half-curled circle of Sherlock’s hand and says, “Can you squeeze? Can you move?”
Weakly, barely, Sherlock squeezes his thumb.
“Hold onto me,” John says. “I need you to hold on, all right?”
Sherlock does, grey eyes focusing on John’s face, his cheeks and mouth and chin. The strength of that gaze is no strength at all, the piercing laser of Sherlock’s eyes turned to fog-hidden starlight.
But Sherlock is trying, is obeying.
Sherlock is his.
“Okay,” John breathes. He wipes his mouth with the back of his bloodied sleeve, a flopping motion of his right arm. His stomach feels terrible, too much of the wrong sort of blood churning over a too-recent meal. The need to drink Sherlock still and tame, the want, the haunting desire, slowly becomes manageable. If John drank from Sherlock now, he’d vomit. He won’t waste his friend that way. “Okay. I’m going to take care of you. You’ll be all right. Sherlock, do you hear me?”
Sherlock squeezes his thumb.
“Good,” John says. “Now hold still – we need to stop the bleeding.”
John doesn’t have long. Backup arrives two minutes later, five minutes too late to be of any tactical assistance, but more than early enough to help Sherlock. The problem is, the rescue team is almost uniformly vampire. Be that Mycroft’s doing or Sarah’s, John isn’t sure, not until he sees Anthea. Mycroft it is.
Sherlock refuses to let go of John’s thumb the entire way to the ambulance, as if he knows John would rather kill him than let him let go. Sherlock’s had a large dose of the paralytic and the chemical, foreign to his body, is continuing its work on him well after John regains sensation in his arm.
They’re taken to Bart’s. John stays at Sherlock’s side, is somehow permitted to stay at Sherlock’s side until Sherlock is admitted into human care, with human caretakers. Only once John lets go does Mike Stamford appear at his elbow.
“Let’s get you cleaned up,” Mike says.
They get John cleaned up, the bites treated, the shots administered. They laugh a bit as Mike draws the blood sample from his arm, chuckling over iodine and needles. An x-ray of his forearm shows no bones broken, but the muscle damage is more severe than he’d like. Mike bandages him up as well as John’s restlessness will permit. He didn’t bite Sherlock, needs to bite Sherlock.
John cannot bite. For Sherlock’s life, he cannot permit himself to bite.
“He’s yours, mate,” Mike says, keeps saying every time John begins to twitch and fidget.
“You don’t need to prove it.”
“I know,” John promises.
“I knew he’d be perfect for you, if you could stand him and he took to you,” Mike goes on. “Solitary sort, no friends to compete with. Could tell from the start he wouldn’t be the kind to run from you. There’ll be some poking and prodding in your future, I’d bet.”
Mike attempts a smile and John attempts one in return.
Out in the hallway, Anthea and her Blackberry wait for him.
“There were only seven,” John says. “There should have been eight.”
“There are four now,” Anthea answers, typing on her phone. Hopefully telling Mycroft there’s a poacher on the loose, hopefully explaining what that means to people like them.
“Four left out of the seven, you mean?”
John thinks about that. He’s fairly certain he knows which three he killed, but he isn’t sure.
“Anything else?” John asks.
“You left something at the office building,” Anthea informs him without glancing up. “Mr Holmes is having it cleaned and returned to your desk.”
“Oh,” John says, remembering the hair and blood on the handle of his gun. “Thank you.”
Anthea and her Blackberry don’t respond. However much territory John has gathered, it’s far from enough to impress someone like her, someone whose domain may happen to contain Mycroft Holmes.
“Where’s Sherlock?” John asks.
“I’ll take you to him,” she says, and does, and leaves.
Standing in the doorway, John doesn’t watch her go. Instead, he watches Sherlock breathe.
He enters and sits. He sets the tingling fingers of his right hand against the limp fingers of Sherlock’s left.
Sherlock doesn’t stir.
John turns on the telly and waits until he does.
The sound of John’s name is a fading, floppy noise, half-drawled, half-gasped.
“Yes?” John asks. He takes up the remote and turns off the telly.
Sherlock lolls his head to the side, gazing placidly at John. “That was... different.”
“And what have we learned tonight?” John asks.
It takes Sherlock a moment, his mouth moving oddly around the syllables. “Vampires are real.”
John shakes his head. “Not the lesson I was going for.”
“No,” John answers. “Always check if the gun is loaded, you idiot.”
Sherlock’s mouth twitches, which is no different from what it’s been doing for the past minute. John sees a difference in it all the same.
“All right?” John asks, demands.
“Check the gun,” Sherlock confirms.
“Good.” And he squeezes Sherlock’s hand.
Sherlock squeezes back. His grip isn’t hard, isn’t soft from a lack of trying.
They look at each other, holding, gripping, until it’s enough.
“Turn the telly back on,” Sherlock tells him.
They sit and watch into the night, John’s fingers calm and steady on his flatmate’s pulse.
The first day out of hospital, Sherlock keeps dropping things.
“Don’t worry,” John tells him, picking up the shattered pieces of the mug. “That’s normal. You won’t regain full sensation until tomorrow, maybe the day after that. The twitching will take a few days longer.” It might have been two nights ago, but Sherlock had been triple-bitten. Even John is still worn out. Talking hurts a bit today, his jaw strained. Too much biting people of late.
“I didn’t want tea anyway,” Sherlock responds. “You left out the sugar.”
“Sugar dehydrates. Any chance you want the broken bits for an experiment?” John asks.
Sherlock considers, lips pursed. “Mm, no.”
“Right.” John bins them. “But you’re drinking something at least. Orange juice, plastic cup. I know we have one around here.”
Sherlock makes a face. Even when he’s bent down, mopping up the spilt tea and unable to see, John knows exactly which face.
“You also need iron, but I’m not making you eat your greens, Sherlock.”
Sherlock mutters something, then attempts to leave the kitchen table. This attempt ends marginally better than the first one, if only because he doesn’t have another mug to break. He stands, sways, and sits.
John tosses the cloth onto the counter by the sink. “Maybe I should make you eat your greens.”
The glare Sherlock levels at him could cut diamond, if only for an instant. After that instant, the intensity rapidly fades. Sherlock’s already pale skin has turned impossibly wan, blanched of the man’s typical unrelenting energy.
“But I won’t,” John continues, “if you let me help you to the sofa and put your feet up.”
There is a lengthy sulking stare.
After, Sherlock closes his eyes, too tired to protest. His head bows slightly, chin lowering over the bandages about his neck. John refuses to look there, can’t cope with the possibility of those forming scars. He’ll have to care for those properly. Sherlock can’t be trusted to remember or care.
“All right, then,” John says, and helps him up.
Laptop warming his thighs, John types in the otherwise silent sitting room. Sherlock is still on the sofa, fallen into a state deeper than sleep. The entire man is one lanky collapse into unconsciousness.
Given time, Sherlock begins not simply to twitch, but to tremble.
John puts down his laptop and crosses to stand over his flatmate.
Beneath their lids, Sherlock’s eyes flick, frantic.
“I killed them,” John reminds him softly. “It’s all right now.”
Sherlock’s breathing remains shallow.
John sits on the coffee table. He makes sure not to lean forward or hunch over the man. He forces down his instinct toward potentially unwanted touch. Instead, he raises his voice. “Sherlock.”
A groggy turn of the head. Slow to come, a bleary gaze. When Sherlock attempts to speak, his dry voice cracks.
John picks up the glass he’d set on the coffee table an hour earlier. “No need to sit up all the way. There’s a straw.”
For once, Sherlock is a compliant patient. It’s unnerving. Propped back up against relocated pillows, he lets his eyes fall shut as he drinks. Even after days awake on end, John’s never seen his friend so exhausted. He wants to pet the man’s hair and give him a blanket. He wants to do this to Sherlock Holmes. It’s that bad.
Instead, John simply sets the empty glass on the coffee table. He’ll refill it in a moment. “You all right?”
“How often?” Sherlock asks.
John blinks at him, tilting his head.
“You care for the bitten,” Sherlock clarifies. “You’re clearly practiced.”
“Blood loss can occur lots of ways, Sherlock. I used to be a surgeon – I do know these things.”
The pillows keep Sherlock’s head from lolling back. It’s certainly not his neck holding up him, the muscles tender and abused. “It’s more than that,” he says, eyes falling shut.
“Okay,” John says. When Sherlock doesn’t reply, he adds, “You can go back to sleep now.”
A moment’s waiting proves it: Sherlock already has.
While Sherlock sleeps, John double-checks the locks on their windows. Once certain of the sitting room, he locks the door to the hall, checks the kitchen and continues into the back hall. He confirms that all the windows are locked.
On this floor. All the windows on this floor are locked.
Downstairs, there is the front door and Mrs. Hudson’s back door. There are the windows over her bins.
John stands on the landing.
John looks at the door to the sitting room.
There’s no reason not to go downstairs.
He checks on Sherlock first. Still breathing.
Locking the kitchen door behind him, John returns to the landing.
He goes downstairs.
The front door is locked.
He stands in the foyer, trapped between the door and the stairs.
He checks the front door.
Still locked. This time, he keeps his hand on it. Long, even breaths. He wants to check on Mrs. Hudson, on her as well as the windows and locks. He needs to check on Mrs. Hudson, but he can’t leave the stairs undefended.
None of the poachers have been to Baker Street, he reminds himself. There is only one left and, again, 221 Baker Street is a meaningless address to them. No one is coming here. No one is going to break in and take Sherlock and finish what they started.
Of course they’re not. One dead, one hospitalized, neither of the men who’d taken Sherlock will ever do so again.
It’s possible the remaining poacher will come for revenge. If they were family to one of the other poachers, it’s more than possible.
Except they shouldn’t know about Sherlock. Sherlock or John – they won’t Google, won’t find the blog or the forum, won’t find their address. Mrs. Hudson will not be caught up in this. Their home is safe. Their home is safe.
John stands in the foyer for longer than he can stand, muttering obscenities. He’s killed people. He’s good at killing people. One more shouldn’t be a threat. Not this much of a threat. Except there are too many ways into 221 Baker Street. Too many ways in and John has two people to defend. Two people: one injured, one prone to fatigue and hip pain. Bad for running. Any additional venom would take Sherlock out of commission anew. Any strong dose on a woman of Mrs. Hudson’s stature and age could prove fatal, particularly a neck bite.
“Mrs. Hudson?” he calls toward 221A. His voice rises.
He pulls out his mobile. Dials. Waits. “Mrs. Hudson?”
“Yes, John, what is it?” she answers. She’s fine. Obviously fine, perfectly fine.
“I’m upstairs,” he half-lies, climbing upward. “The PTSD’s acting up again – would you mind checking your locks?”
“Oh, of course not, dear,” she’s quick to assure him. “And I’ll put the kettle on, how does that sound?”
“Up here?” John counteroffers. “I want to keep an eye on Sherlock.” He unlocks the door to the kitchen one-handed. The sitting room door will remain locked.
“I’ll be right up.”
He hangs up, pockets his mobile, and puts the kettle on. When Mrs. Hudson joins him in watching Sherlock breathe, her lips pursed and eyes full of worry, John nearly feels like a normal person.
By mutual agreement, they’re keeping Mrs. Hudson in the dark about the exact nature of Sherlock’s injuries. She knows there was a fight, and she knows Sherlock was hospitalized because of it. She does not know that John kills people and drinks human blood, sometimes at the same time. She does not know that beneath the bandages on Sherlock’s neck, there are suction bruises ringing dual punctures.
John hasn’t seen Sherlock’s neck bare since the attack, but he knows what the marks will be. He knows what they look like, and he knows how they heal. They need to be kept moist to prevent scabbing, which will prevent scarring.
He also knows that the moment he sees those marks, he’ll be unable to control himself. He has no idea what he’ll do, but he doesn’t want to find out. Scared and territorial are poor bedfellows, however closely they walk.
The complication here being that when it’s time to check the injuries and change the bandages, John can’t risk it. Still devoid of fine motor skills, Sherlock can’t manage it. Fortunately, John has other resources.
When Sarah arrives, it’s almost all right. She’s even brought take-away for the three of them, which is probably the most pleasant surprise John has had in days.
Sherlock doesn’t see it that way.
“What is she doing here?” he demands, the image of a child in need of another nap.
“Sarah is here to help,” John says and takes away the telly remote.
“Hey!” The protest is fairly forceful. Promising sign.
John sets the remote down on the coffee table. Sherlock stares at it, probably attempting telekinesis. He’d done the same to his mobile earlier, right before making John text Lestrade.
Sarah sets her jacket down on John’s armchair before asking, “John, have you got your kit?”
“In the loo. I’ll get it.”
John steps out into the hall, then freezes.
He turns around.
Sherlock’s arm is in sight, fallen dramatically from the sofa. Sarah remains across the room, still by John’s chair. Not near Sherlock’s chair, not near Sherlock. Nowhere near Sherlock, but still in the same room. Still about to be alone in the same room.
Clearly having been waiting for his moment of panic, Sarah catches his eye with ease. Her mouth curves, John ducks his head, and he forces himself to move.
Sarah begins to talk as John turns away. It’s exactly the sort of chitchat Sherlock hates, and she keeps it up while out of John’s sight, audible proof of her location. She won’t touch Sherlock, not without John present.
John fetches his kit and hurries back. “Here you are,” he says, standing at the end of the sofa. He holds it out to Sarah. Sherlock stares up at them as she takes it.
“Thanks. Would you mind getting dinner set out?”
“Sure,” John makes himself say.
“No,” Sherlock insists in his best arrogant drawl. “John can take care of me perfectly well. Sarah, I’m sure even you will be able to find plates in a kitchen.”
The insult doesn’t register on Sarah’s face, not even in the clench of her hands, and John’s twinge of appreciation and half-formed nostalgia calms him wonderfully. This is Sarah. Sarah, who shares her territory with him. He wants her to help Sherlock, which means he wants her to touch him, which means John won’t tear her throat out the way he did to that man that night. Sarah who uses a professional tone as she replies, “I have experience with bite wounds. It’s all right.”
“John has experience with bite wounds.” Where a long explanation would usually begin rattling, bouncing with jarring, unpredictable leaps between Sherlock’s mouth and his brain, Sherlock simply stops to breathe.
“Sherlock, just let her look,” John tells him, unnerved. He says it while walking away, unable to let himself look. He can’t, not yet, but he needs to do something, he needs Sherlock to be taken care of, and he needs to be able to cope with Sherlock in a room with Sarah. Sarah who couldn’t care less about Sherlock personally. Who, professionally, would never let harm come to him. If John can’t cope with this on his own territory, with someone he trusts, with his gun upstairs, he’ll never be able to survive Sherlock’s return to the land of the upright. The last poacher can’t be caught soon enough.
“No,” Sherlock calls after him.
“Maybe after dinner,” Sarah says.
“No,” Sherlock repeats, this time to her.
“All right,” Sarah says.
Tension drops from John’s shoulders, a weight disruptively large regardless of its silent crash to the floor. She won’t touch Sherlock. Sherlock won’t be touched.
John sags, hands on the counter and head hanging. Christ, it’s worse than he’d thought. He takes a breath, abruptly able to breathe, and lays out dinner. He brings Sherlock his tray first, then Sarah hers. Sarah drags John’s armchair to face the sofa and sits there. John sits on the coffee table between them, not eating. It’s a bit conspicuous, but then, Sherlock isn’t eating either.
“Why is Sarah here?” Sherlock demands. All the tact of a five-year-old, this one. “You’re not dating, your friendship is typically awkward from the failed attempt, and Sarah finds me pompous and annoying.”
“You are pompous and annoying,” John replies.
“Why is Sarah here?” Sherlock repeats.
Sarah clears her throat. “Sarah is here,” she says, “because this is exactly the kind of injury we’ve had to treat at the clinic over the last week.”
“Yes,” Sherlock feigns to agree. “You’ve both been treating it, well done, I’m sure you both know what you’re doing. John, why is Sarah here?”
“Professional distance,” John says.
“You can have professional distance,” Sherlock insists.
“Not- not right now.” John shakes his head. “No.”
“John, your guilt is becoming tedious.”
It’s not guilt. It’s not even the empty place where guilt would be if John thought he had done wrong.
“Sherlock,” John begins slowly. His words run dry after that.
Sherlock looks between him and Sarah.
“We know you’d rather have John,” she says. “You have the right to refuse treatment and drive John mad faster than you usually do. But John can’t treat you right now. That would be a very bad idea. I’m not going to come near you if you don’t want me to – recovery from assault is as mental and emotional as it is physical, if not more. But John needs to recover too.”
“John is fine,” Sherlock snaps. “Now go away.”
Sarah puts her tray aside, stands up with her coat in hand, and walks out the door without another word.
He follows, quick about it after the initial hesitation. He finds her still downstairs, stopped in the hallway for him and looking furious.
“I’m sorry,” he begins immediately, keeping his voice down so Sherlock won’t hear. “It’s not a surprise he’s worse than usual-”
“I’m not angry with him,” she says, still looking furious.
Her glare is very direct.
“I didn’t out you,” he says, he swears. “I promise, I didn’t.”
“You mean, two days after Sherlock was chemically paralysed and fed on by a pair of poachers, you thought it would be a good idea to have a vampire he doesn’t trust touch his neck while you stood in the other room trying not to kill us both. Without telling him what I am, or even that I was coming. That’s not informed or consent, John.”
John opens his mouth only to close it again.
Her glare softens as his shame grows. She’s almost apologetic as she says, “You’re still not thinking rationally.”
“I know,” he says. “I know, I just--” He breathes out, hard. “I didn’t kill all of them.”
Sarah rubs his shoulder, the right one. “You took care of Sherlock first. You did the right thing.”
“I know.” But he still wants to kill them, and now he can’t. He has Sherlock back in the flat, has him safely tucked away, but the moment Sherlock leaves John’s territory, John’s unshakeable claim on him shatters. John can dog Sherlock’s every step, but that leaves Mrs. Hudson undefended.
“You’ve never been poached before, have you,” Sarah doesn’t quite ask. “Not on a personal level.”
“Not part of my home, no.” He’s been threatened with that before, threats from his youth, but he’s never had Sherlock before. And before, there was Harry, ready to fight at his side, more than ready.
“You need to talk to him,” Sarah tells him. “Explain how this works. I’ve never seen you this territorial, and he’s only going to keep goading you.”
John needs the goading. John needs Sherlock rejecting and dismissing everyone else the way he always does. John needs Sherlock to need him and no one else, the way Sherlock ought.
That’s... no. He shakes his head, trying and failing to clear it. That’s not a good thought.
“I think,” John says slowly. “I think I’m still coming down from the bloodrush.”
The way Sarah looks at him, John’s just stated the completely obvious.
“Right,” John says. “I should....” He nods back toward the stairs, hands in his pockets.
“Be careful,” she says.
That’s why it’s so pathetic, neither of them says. Even so, mounting the stairs, John is sure they both think it.
Watching Sherlock attempt to feed himself isn’t quite as pathetic, but it’s close. With a clap of realization that has him wincing internally, John realizes just how bad an idea it was to have Sarah here. Even without the trauma of the attack, Sherlock’s pride and compromised dignity are reason enough.
“You hated leaving me with her,” Sherlock remarks without warning, which is more or less the only way Sherlock remarks on anything. John’s not sure why it still takes him by surprise.
“Sorry?” he asks.
“You didn’t want her here,” Sherlock continues. “She left very willingly, didn’t press for treatment, and obviously lectured you on her way out.”
“And?” John prompts.
Sherlock turns his head, the drag of his hair on the pillow audible. He narrows his eyes at John. He must be tired. He usually doesn’t peer unless he’s tired. “She knows about you from when you were dating,” Sherlock announces. “She knows bite treatment from this past week and--no, that’s wrong. How is that wrong? No, don’t tell me.”
Sitting in his armchair, John continues eating his dinner. His favourite Chinese take-away, sweet and spicy, and all he can taste is the bland quality of dead flesh.
His own tray abandoned on the coffee table, Sherlock shifts onto his side. Propped up by pillows and sprawling in his pyjamas and robe, his position recalls scantily clad women on pianos. “No, that’s not relevant,” Sherlock says. “You thought I’d find her safe. You thought....” No sooner does Sherlock finish trailing off, he groans loudly and flops onto his back. “John.” Waving his hand with absolute distaste, he chastises, “Don’t be so melodramatic.”
A giggle jumps out of John’s mouth, impossible to prevent. He nearly chokes on his chicken.
Sherlock glares at him.
Eventually, given time to breathe, John stops laughing.
“Sorry,” he says between the remaining giggles. He sags back in his armchair a bit. “What is it I’m doing?”
Sherlock rolls his eyes. “I’m not afraid of you.”
“I didn’t think you were.”
One lofty eyebrow rises.
“I didn’t,” John repeats. “I know there are limits, that’s all.”
“I can’t be your doctor right now.” The words hurt, but there they are.
“You’ve been a suitable nurse,” Sherlock counters.
“Sherlock, I’m serious.”
“Your bedside manner is effective,” Sherlock continues over him. “Your capacity for unarmed combat is also very reassuring.”
“Sherlock, I could hurt you.”
“You’re presenting this as new information. Why?”
John takes a quiet moment to fume. Then he says, “You didn’t know. About me. Before.”
“I knew you were dangerous,” Sherlock replies. “I knew you were acclimatized to violence, have an unfaltering nerve, and illegally possess a firearm. I also knew you were willing to kill a man in cold blood to save my life. Even Mycroft approves of you. Your presence in my life is unquestionably beneficial. What else is there?”
“Well,” John says, “I do happen to be a vampire, there is that.”
“And you still yell at me for body parts in the fridge,” Sherlock replies, as if this is the piece that doesn’t make sense.
“They’re unsanitary.” Besides, vampires technically aren’t cannibals.
“And the congealed blood is unappealing?”
“Yes,” John says. “Congealed blood is unappealing. That’s not a vampire thing, that’s an everyone thing.”
“You have very limited contact with blood splatter analysts,” Sherlock dismisses, waving one hand before steepling his fingers. “The point remains, you’re a doctor, my care is in your hands, and we don’t need anyone else. Except for Mrs. Hudson – she brings us sandwiches.”
John rubs at his eye with the palm of his hand.
“What?” Sherlock demands. “I am being perfectly reasonable.”
“No,” John replies, “because I can’t look at your neck right now. That would be a very, very bad idea, Sherlock.”
Sherlock pauses. He shifts himself up, straining to see something, to see John’s plate. “Oh,” he says. His eyes are very round, and when they return to John’s face, they express Sherlock’s equivalent of sympathy: merciless understanding. “You’re in withdrawal.”
John clears his throat. He wants to stab at his food, but cheap wooden chopsticks don’t lend themselves well to skewering. He makes himself eat.
Sherlock watches. “I see,” he murmurs, a pair of words that can’t be anything but redundant coming from him. “It’s optional, then. An indulgence, not a necessity. That’s how the phenomenon manages to remain as unnoticed as it does.” His hands shift, fold, and he points both index fingers at John as a child might aim an invisible gun. “The list of names you gave before attacking that woman. Those were all the victims attacked near here and the clinic. You attacked her for drawing attention to you and potentially framing you for the attacks. That was an element of their plan. At least, they said it was. I didn’t believe them at the time, but now I’ve reconsidered.”
John shakes his head.
“That wasn’t their plan?”
“No, it was. It was, it’s just not why I...” He looks for the word, tongue between his lips and teeth. “Why I lost control.”
Sherlock watches. Sherlock waits.
“Attacks near my home are attacks on my home,” John tells him quietly.
“And the clinic counts.”
Slowly, Sherlock’s hands turn. Pale fingers point to a bandaged neck.
“You’re part of my home,” John confirms. His voice does something not quite low and not quite rough. He clears his throat before adding, “I mean, you know. You live here.”
“Is that what Sarah meant?”
“Meant by what?”
“You needing to recover. You’re in withdrawal, therefore exposure to blood is to be kept to a minimum. Beyond that, the sight of my injuries is actively traumatic for you,” Sherlock explains, gesturing here and there, laying bare John’s condition with no sentiment beyond satisfied curiosity. Then he looks to John, looks again and in full, and he frowns. “No? What am I missing?”
“Vampire psychology,” John answers.
“Go on, then. Out with it.”
“No,” John says. “I don’t think you have.”
“You feel threatened because someone else bit me,” Sherlock responds without hesitation.
“Sherlock, I killed a man with my teeth and pistol-whipped another into a coma,” John tells him.
“All right, ‘threatened’ isn’t the right word. ‘Vengeful’?”
“And territorial.” Sherlock shifts again, the robe sliding off his legs. “It’s not just the withdrawal, then.”
“No,” John confirms, his voice gone wrong once more.
Sherlock nods, then closes his eyes.
John waits a minute to be certain the conversation has ended.
When Sherlock’s mouth begins to droop open, John’s sure. He stands up and puts away the remnants of their dinners. He texts Sarah a thank-you and a sorry. Dating her or not, he seems to do that fairly often.
With their leftovers as close to safe as anything can be in their fridge, John stays in the kitchen as long as he can force himself. He makes tea. He reads this morning’s untouched newspaper. He texts Anthea to ask about the remaining poacher and glares at his mobile off and on until she replies. The woman is attached to her Blackberry – there’s no reason for her to take half an hour to respond.
His mobile chimes, John reaches for it, and Sherlock groans for him from the other room.
“What?” John asks, suddenly standing beside his flatmate. He doesn’t remember moving.
“Laptop,” Sherlock instructs.
John fetches it.
Sherlock attempts to type.
John attempts to not smile.
“Shut up,” Sherlock tells him without looking up. “Your best is hardly better.”
They don’t speak again for hours, John reading and listening to the sounds of frustrated one-handed typing. The sounds fade on occasion, Sherlock reading or fighting off sleep. In those moments, John watches. Anthea had texted back in the negative – their missing poacher is still missing.
“Tonight,” Sherlock says loudly, not looking up.
“Should I lock my bedroom door?”
“Sherlock, I’m not going to attack you!”
Sherlock rolls his eyes into a glare. “Don’t be an idiot. Would you calm down if I locked my bedroom door? Or would you be paranoid about a threat through the windows? The way you keep checking them is grating.”
John takes a moment to think about that. “I’d rather you just drink the orange juice,” he answers.
“But there’s pulp in it.”
“My name is not a convincing argument, John. Stop using it as such.” With great concentration and the utmost dignity, Sherlock resumes his typing.
John goes downstairs, makes a quick visit to Mrs. Hudson and her fridge, and returns. He sits on the couch by Sherlock’s hip, the screen of the laptop against his elbow. “No pulp, you spoilt brat.”
Sherlock makes a face.
“That’s not much of an argument either,” John says.
“Fine,” Sherlock huffs. His fingers curl uneasily about the glass and John keeps his hand on the bottom of it.
“Don’t spill on my laptop,” he warns once Sherlock is already drinking. Their hands block John’s view of Sherlock’s throat, the motions of which would be still visible beneath the careful bandages.
Sherlock swallows the last of the juice but doesn’t relinquish the glass. He readjusts his grip around it, seemingly oblivious to how this traps John’s hand.
“What?” John asks.
“The texture and temperature feel as if they vary.” Sherlock readjusts his grip yet again. “It’s my hands, not the glass. Curious.”
“Sensation returns to the extremities last in cases like this.”
“So I’ve noticed.”
John takes the glass and sets it down. In unspoken, mutual fascination, they map out the borders of Sherlock’s sleeping nerves. Sherlock’s fingers twitch at certain touches, curling in before relaxing. The palm of his right hand is sensitive down the blade of the hand, more numb toward the thumb. The scrape of a fingernail over the trapezium and scaphoid makes Sherlock frown slightly, brows creased. The same scrape up each phalange makes Sherlock reflexively curl his fingers around John’s.
The left hand is much more responsive. Sherlock doesn’t twitch as much, but he does frown less.
“That’s good,” John tells him.
Sherlock shifts his hand, tapping his fingertips against John’s wrist. “When will I be fit for the violin?”
“Soon,” John promises.
Sherlock doesn’t reply, merely closes John’s laptop with a definitive click, both hands on the plastic. He looks at the space where the screen had stood.
John belatedly puts his hands away, sets them safely on his thighs.
“Have you received word on the missing vampire?”
“The poacher? No.”
“Poaching implies established territory.”
John says nothing.
Sherlock shifts his head on the pillow. His curls drag against it. His chin rises, a display of bandage over once unblemished skin. He regards John for a long moment, too long a moment.
“I was poached,” Sherlock pronounces.
He simply states it, nothing close to a question, but John nods all the same, a sharp jerk of the head.
Sherlock’s lips don’t quite curve.
John realizes he’s holding onto his own thighs. He forces his hands to relax, his eyes to lift from the swath of white beneath Sherlock’s arrogant chin, across his offered neck. Beneath the threadbare T-shirt, within the parted robe, Sherlock is sloping abdomen and defenceless stomach. John’s laptop sits warm across pyjama-clad thighs.
A swallow catches in John’s throat. The roof of his mouth itches over the tip of his tongue.
Unmoving, unblinking, Sherlock observes.
John looks away. He stands up. He does so before he does something stupid and bloody. A momentary stoop for the empty glass, and he takes it into the kitchen. There’s a small clatter from the other room. Sherlock’s put the laptop to the side.
When John returns, Sherlock is gradually forcing himself to his feet, looking strained and wary of his own body. Carefully, John puts his hands in his pockets and does not move from the doorway.
“Going to bed?” he asks rather than drawing near.
“To my room, yes.” Sherlock’s steps are slow but certain. The way he moves makes his underfed body appear heavy far beyond its weight.
“Right then,” John says. He doesn’t move.
Sherlock makes a noise closer to a scoff than anything else. He moves out of John’s line of sight. A moment later, John hears a door open and close. He wonders if Sherlock locked it.
He spends the night forcing himself not to check.
Come morning, John is exhausted. Nightmares. His and Sherlock’s both. He could hear Sherlock downstairs through the vent. More shifting than vocal noises. The faint sound of typing, eventually. Sherlock must have given up on sleep.
Before the sun is properly up, John gives up on it as well. He debates going downstairs until he hears the shower running. Time for breakfast.
True to form, Sherlock interrupts him halfway through his toast.
Also true to form, John makes the mistake of looking at him.
The pyjama bottoms ride low on sharp hips, the way they always do. John finds himself looking at the knot of the drawstring, his eyes drawn downward by a dusting of hair leading from the navel. John flicks his gaze higher, above the towel carefully wrapped and draped about Sherlock’s neck and shoulders.
“Yes?” John asks. He pops the rest of the toast into his mouth in an attempt not to be parted from it by some Sherlockian antic.
“I took the bandages off to shower,” Sherlock informs him. “I can’t put them back on by myself. You have supplies in your room, yes?”
Before John can reply, Sherlock exits the kitchen and starts up the stairs.
Chewing furiously, John follows. He swallows his dry mouthful. “Sherlock!”
Hand tight around the railing, Sherlock continues his climb. The shift of his scapula beneath his skin is fluid, obvious beneath the towel, and his spine shines damply. “Coming?”
John is, if only to make sure Sherlock doesn’t have one of his dizzy spells. Can’t have the man tumbling down the stairs.
Once safely up, Sherlock enters John’s room and sits down on the bed without preamble. He looks at John expectantly. “Shut the door,” he instructs. “It’ll help.”
John shuts the door. He locks it as well.
“Have you checked your email this morning?” Sherlock asks.
“I did. They caught the last poacher,” Sherlock informs him.
John still can’t bring himself to unlock the door.
Sherlock shifts backward on the bed, no longer sitting with his bare feet on the floor. His motions tug the crisp lines of the tucked duvet askew. He keeps one hand on the towel, keeps it secure about his neck. The other hand rests lightly on the duvet, palm upward.
John fetches his kit from his desk. He opens it on the bed and pulls on a pair of latex gloves.
“Not like that,” Sherlock tells him.
“Who’s the doctor here?”
“You should be closer,” Sherlock continues. “I’d lie down, but that would be impractical.”
It takes John a moment to be certain of what Sherlock means, if only because what Sherlock means is too much what John wants. When John understands, he doesn’t ask if Sherlock is sure.
He climbs onto the bed, walks across it on his knees. He sits, heavily, just above Sherlock’s knees. Sherlock’s back isn’t close enough to the wall for John’s taste. Sherlock is in the middle of the bed and he could attempt to move in any direction, regardless of John’s weight on his legs.
“Do you want to look at them individually?”
“Individually.” John slides his hand under the towel, over air-chilled skin, and finds the first of the marks by touch alone beneath the damp cloth. It isn’t particularly hot. His fingers brush the edge of the forming scab. He’s neglected this, neglected Sherlock, much too long. “Did any of them look infected?”
“No.” Sherlock’s hands shift. A pair of light touches, each appearing on the outside of John’s knees. As John lifts the towel from his shoulder, Sherlock curls his fingers, anchors his hands in John’s jeans.
The bite is... there. A ring of teeth crowned by dual punctures, the bruises dark and purple and indented, a sweep of red spreading from the scabbing wound. There’s some pus, slight drainage. This is the shoulder bite, the mark of the man John bludgeoned.
“You cracked his skull,” Sherlock reminds him. “He’s in critical condition.” He doesn’t tug the denim in his hands, merely pulls, a slow and steady draw. He keeps his head down, eyes lowered, but the angle of his neck makes the position of his chin anything but defensive. “I haven’t thanked you for that, have I.”
“You can thank me when he’s dead.” John doesn’t trust himself to move.
“The other one is,” Sherlock replies. He closes his eyes, the very picture of trust. “Thank you, John.”
Without looking away from his flatmate, John reaches for his kit, one-handed. The petroleum moisturiser is cold in his hand, grows warm against Sherlock’s skin. He unwraps the dressing to Sherlock’s right shoulder. Tegaderm should do wonders for the healing, might still prevent scarring. Problematically transparent, it does little to conceal those marks. He keeps his breathing steady. “He had no right.”
“He had no right,” Sherlock echoes. “Not like you.”
“Sherlock, stop-- You don’t have to--”
“Is it helping?” Sherlock interrupts. His body is tense, nothing close to languid trust, but each line is laid out in deliberate submission.
“I think so,” John answers. It unnerves him even as it reassures. “I can’t tell. You’re lying, but you mean it – the mixed signals are a bit much.” The show is unnatural, almost entirely feigned, but that almost can’t be ignored.
He finishes with the dressing for the first, smoothing it down to Sherlock’s bony frame. “The neck will be the worst,” he tells him. The bite is on Sherlock’s left, John’s right, and the towel still covers it. “Ready?”
Sherlock tilts his head, wincing with the motion, and John pulls the towel aside.
Three nights ago, John disabled four people and killed three more within five minutes. His state was one of fury, nearly frenzy, and the possessive rage had boiled through his skin, had set his nerves screaming with the need to scald himself with fresh, hot blood.
Three nights ago, the man pinned under John’s hands was pinned by two others, poached and paralyzed. The evidence is there, vivid and revolting, the mark of foreign teeth, of someone John hates, a vampire whose face John can barely remember, but John hates him, longs to kill him anew, and Sherlock thrashes on the bed where John has thrown him down, pulse visible in his marred neck, a heart’s cry of stolen blood.
“Stop! John, stop!” His wrists are thin in John’s hands, his arms weak under John’s strength. All protest, resistance, rejection. He’s not still, not how he should be, but John can fix this.
“Hold still!” John urges, a snap of chastisement as Sherlock tries to twist away. “It doesn’t need to hurt so much.” He pins him anew, harder than before.
“You’ve already marked me,” Sherlock protests with panicked eyes, flat on his back and helpless. “John, you’re a doctor. You take care of what’s yours. Take care of me, John. I asked you to, I want you to, John, please--” He shakes at the hot breath below his ear, a tremble of muscle over bone. “Don’t.”
It’s the scent, not the words, that stops him. Breathing in, expecting the scents of violation, of competition and invasion, and inhaling instead the scent of his own shampoo. John halts, his breathing shallow.
He pulls away.
Moves away, or tries to.
Feet on the floor, sitting on the edge of the mattress – this is as far as he can go.
“Don’t move,” he begs, face in his hands. “I need you to not move. Can you do that?”
Rapid, shallow breathing. Both of them. John’s hands are trembling. All of him seems to be shaking.
“You’re going to cover these up,” Sherlock tells him, breathless, voice thin. “Put the bandage high up, where anyone could see it. You need to mark your territory. This is how. That’ll be yours, John. You are my doctor. You are going to treat me.” A long, panting pause before the demand: “All right?”
John nods, tries to nod. He means to agree, but all the words he seems to have are “I’m sorry. I am so sorry.” He can feel Sherlock behind him, tense and wounded. He could keep going. He wants to keep going. “God, Sherlock, I’m so sorry.”
Behind him, Sherlock shifts.
“Don’t,” John snaps. “Don’t, I’m not ready yet.”
Sherlock’s hand settles against his back.
John stops breathing.
“What...?” he asks.
“Put the towel over your neck.”
Reaching back, John confirms this manually before he looks.
Lying on his back, Sherlock looks up at him, his gaze more analytical than afraid.
“I’m sorry,” John repeats.
Sherlock rolls his eyes. Irreverence pushes back the fear. Not very far. John can still see it.
“Come here,” Sherlock instructs. He opens his arms slightly, as if for a hug. Which is ridiculous. This is Sherlock Holmes.
Sherlock Holmes, who continues to stare at him insistently.
John reaches for him in kind. Lies down half over him, one arm across his flatmate’s chest where the towel covers it. John’s forehead falls against the duvet, presses there. He breathes. His mind slows from the speed of panic, not calming, but slowing, and he can see it, Sherlock planning this, formulating gesture after gesture of submission. The gestures are lies, but the acceptance is real.
As John stops moving, Sherlock turns limp. Exhaustion, not trust. All the while, Sherlock’s heart pounds under John’s arm.
“I told you this was a bad idea,” John mutters, given time.
“Yes, but I was curious.”
John pushes himself up to better stare down at the man beneath him. “Bandages, now,” he instructs. “Sit up. Before I rip your throat out.”
Sherlock sits up. “Would it be ripping?” he asks as John applies the dressing. His voice thrums beneath John’s fingers. “How strong are your teeth? I image the fangs tuck away. They must, they’d be horribly obvious otherwise, even to normal people.”
John finishes with the neck bite, then does the same duty with the remaining bite on Sherlock’s left shoulder. It’s not bad, barely there, a shallow bite from behind that must have been the first wound, taking him as he was standing. Reasoning this out is enough to make John’s hands begin to shake, too much anger to fit beneath his skin, so he quickly turns to the bandages, wrapping and winding until there’s something clinical, almost pristine, about the injuries. The bandages are entirely unnecessary, as effective over the Tegaderm as they would be over an ordinary plaster, and the excess of it is pleasing. The neat application is very much a signature, John’s signature. Sherlock was right.
“There,” he says. “All finished for today.”
In unspoken accord, they both let themselves topple over, sprawled on their sides in joint exhaustion.
“That was... eventful,” Sherlock admits.
“Eventful,” John echoes.
“Tell me we don’t have to do it again tomorrow.”
“We don’t have to do it again tomorrow.”
“God, John, you’re a terrible liar.”
John laughs weakly, a bubbling giggle. The corner of Sherlock’s mouth tugs to the side.
“We don’t, actually,” John adds. “Leave that on for a few days. Should be fine in the shower now and you can check yourself for infection through it.”
Sherlock makes a vague sort of hum.
They lie there for a bit.
“Christ, I could use a nap,” John confesses.
“I could use a shirt.”
“Then go get one.”
Sherlock shakes his head, his curls close to John’s pillow. “And risk being mauled? No.”
“Mm.” They lie there for a bit. “Can I take a look at your wrists?”
Sherlock offers them.
John inspects them. After, he doesn’t let go. “Sorry,” John says, not really meaning it.
“Something to show you the next time we do this,” Sherlock says.
John would rather simply bite him. He doesn’t say this. “Did you research all of that online?”
“Mm. I can also stay in your sleeping area.” Sherlock says this much the way he says everything, a casual statement of the inner workings of reality.
“I might have nightmares.” Or Sherlock might. It works both ways. Sherlock’s more likely to, threatened after an assault.
“Then you’ll want me close,” Sherlock says.
John considers resisting. He considers telling Sherlock to find somewhere safe, somewhere far away from John. “True,” he says instead.
Sherlock nods, rolls over, and scoots backward until he can fit himself awkwardly against John’s front. John laughs into the bandages, his handiwork, and tugs Sherlock closer. Sherlock doesn’t relax, but then, John hardly expects him to, so soon. This is the most they’ve ever touched. John can’t seem to stop staring at gauze and medical tape. He touches, stops at Sherlock’s flinch.
“It’s warmer under the duvet,” says John, and Sherlock sighs and says, “All right.”
Hours later, once John has dozed and Sherlock has grown impatient beyond belief, John realizes he hadn’t worried about Mrs. Hudson at all this morning. Too fixated on Sherlock, most likely.
It’s a start.
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.