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Triune

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John was not offended that Sherlock gave him the "let's be friends" speech about three hours into their acquaintance. Hell, the man was bloody gorgeous, he was probably fending off admirers with a stick, and John wasn't such a prize if it came to that. So he and Sherlock were just flatmates, and then they were friends, and that was plenty dangerous and brilliant and exhilarating enough, thanks.

But at the start of April there were the five pips, and the swimming pool, and Moriarty sneering Burn the heart out of you, and Sherlock frantically ripping the Semtex off of John and gasping "Are you all right?" like he wouldn't have enough air to breathe if John didn't put it there. And then there was the way Sherlock kissed him, after the explosion, after John found him buried under a pile of wrecked changing stalls and heaved them off with mainly adrenaline-fueled strength, after he leaned down with his ear next to Sherlock's mouth to see if he was still breathing. That was fairly suggestive.

There was no courting as such. But there were Significant Looks, and then there was more kissing, and there were Pointed Remarks, and then there was more kissing, and eventually after several eternities that were probably technically only days, John was stretched out on the sitting room sofa with Sherlock draped all over him. John was fairly certain that this time they would advance beyond the impassioned groping phase to the groping naked phase. In fact, from the way that Sherlock was sucking on his neck and nudging his thigh against John's hardening erection, John was even hopeful that they might end the night at the getting off phase.

"Want you," Sherlock murmured against John's throat, and John hummed assent and stroked his hands up Sherlock's sides. Oh yes.

But then Sherlock shivered, drew a deep breath, and suddenly pulled away from John. His eyes were wide, not hooded with arousal, and he looked almost frightened. "I can't," he said simply. He stood up and backed several steps away.

John sat up, frowning. "Can't what?" He tried to struggle out of his arousal to review the last few minutes; what had he done to spook Sherlock? He couldn't find anything immediately obvious.

"I-" Sherlock carded his hands through his hair. "I need to think." He strode back through the kitchen and John heard the door to his room slam.

John lay on the sofa a long time before he went up to bed, letting his erection fully subside and thinking about all the possible reasons that could have gone wrong. Sherlock was scared of commitment. He was afraid of ruining their friendship. He had been conducting some kind of experiment on John and didn't want to admit it. He'd had a traumatic sexual experience before. He just didn't like sex. John finally managed to fall asleep sometime after 1 am, without having figured it out.

When he woke up in the morning, he forced himself to go down and face Sherlock before he could wake up enough to chicken out, but Sherlock wasn't in the flat. He didn't come home all day, which wasn't unusual, but given what had happened the previous night John felt compelled to text asking if he was okay. He got an immediate one-word reply: "Thinking." But that was all he heard or saw of Sherlock until nine pm, when he looked up from the journal he was trying to read and saw Sherlock perched on the back of the green armchair.

"Jesus Christ!" John yelped. "Could you make some noise when you walk?"

"I'm sorry about last night," Sherlock said, and John immediately forgot his annoyance.

"You don't have to be sorry," John said.

"Only what we were about to- that's not what I wanted," Sherlock said.

John sucked in a breath of air. He knew it. Damn it. "That's...fine," he said. "We don't have to do anything you're not comfortable with. I still- care about you. That doesn't change, right?"

Sherlock looked startled, then confused. "I-" He stopped.

"What do you want, Sherlock?" John said, trying to sound gentle and nonthreatening. "Just tell me."

"I want your blood," Sherlock blurted, and then put one hand over his mouth, as if he was shocked by his own words.

John blinked. He had been expecting Sherlock to say that he was asexual, or that he didn't want a relationship with John at all. The "married to my work" speech again, maybe, if John had really botched things badly enough last night. But this was just...bizarre. "Okay," he said, almost automatically. He counted to ten, slowly, in his head. Then he counted back down to one. "Okay," he said again. Blood. Right. He could work with that...somehow. "You have a kink," he asked cautiously. "You like bloodplay?"

Sherlock was shaking his head. "I don't know how to explain it," he muttered. "Usually by the time I try, I've already bitten the person, and-" Sherlock stopped and looked closer at John, probably noticing the way his brow was drawing into worried creases. "I didn't!" he said, almost frantically. "I didn't bite you before I tried to explain, John, I didn't! I knew you would be angry if I did."

"Well spotted," John said. "Yes, if you had suddenly bitten me while we were snogging, I am certain that I would have been very, very angry."

Sherlock looked vindicated at this. "But it's harder to make you understand this way," he said, as if that made this whole scene any more sensible or less fucking weird. He suddenly slid down onto the seat of the armchair and flicked on the desk lamp next to him. He tilted it so that the light hit his face. "I want to show you something." He beckoned John over.

"All right." John set down his journal and walked over to Sherlock, standing just in front of his knees. Sherlock's head came up to John's chest, and his face looked oddly sallow in the light of the desk lamp. He opened his mouth and tilted his head back so that John could see inside. "You want me to look at your mouth?" John said, confused.

"I want you to observe my mouth," Sherlock said. He gaped said body part open again and used one finger to push his upper lip back, and then John saw what Sherlock was talking about.

John had seen inside a lot of mouths in his career, and he knew that in between the narrow-edged incisors and the blunt premolars were the canines, whose edges met in a sharp triangle just below the line of the incisors. Sherlock's canines extended well below the incisors, slightly overlapping the bottom row of teeth, and they ended not in triangles but in perfect points. In fact- John looked closer, and he saw that all Sherlock's teeth were sharper than normal, although they were shaped approximately the way they should be. John stepped back, frowning, as Sherlock released his lip and raised an eyebrow.

"Vampire fetishism?" John said. This was fairly mind-blowing, as revelations went. Sherlock was- well, not sensible, God no. But logical, even if he lacked for common sense. He was not at all someone John would have predicted indulging in body modification, especially not something this extreme. Sherlock would likely greet the notion of even a tattoo or piercing with honest puzzlement, not seeing the purpose unless it was for some disguise. But here was the evidence. "You had your teeth filed."

Sherlock made a huffy noise, as if John was being deliberately obtuse. "I did not," he said.

John's frown intensified. This was the first time he'd ever known Sherlock to persist in a deception beyond the point when it had been recognized. "Human teeth don't develop that way, Sherlock. Except in some forms of ectodermal dysplasia, and you don't have any other symptoms."

"I'm not human, John," Sherlock said. "I'm something else entirely. I'm Ina."

John wanted to go back to a minute ago, when he thought this was about a weird sexual kink. Apparently that was too normal for John's life, so instead what he got was Sherlock suffering from some kind of massive delusion. "Ina," he said questioningly, stalling and fishing for information at the same time.

"We're another species," Sherlock said quite calmly and matter-of-factly. "Some people say an alien species, but the evidence suggests that we evolved alongside homo sapiens, from a separate branch of the primates. Humanity's vampire legends are mostly inaccurate, but they developed over time as a result of limited interaction with Ina individuals. We do in fact drink blood, although we don't have to kill to get it. We are stronger and faster than humans, and live longer, but we're not omnipotent or immortal." Sherlock's face was absolutely straight while he gave his little speech, and John was so overcome with dismay and anxiety that he had to take a step back and momentarily cover his eyes with one hand to hide it.

"John, please, I'm not going to hurt you," Sherlock said urgently.

Oh Christ, it was definitely a grandiose delusion. Not a new one, he must have had the dental work done some time ago, so maybe Mycroft knew about this? John would have to ask. Maybe there was medication or something Sherlock was supposed to be taking. John tried to calm himself. It didn't have to mean schizophrenia, there were other delusional disorders. Sherlock was perfectly functional- well, mostly functional. But what was he going to do when told he needed treatment? Would he need to be sectioned? John didn't think he could handle that. He took a few more steps back, unconsciously putting distance between himself and his friend, struggling to get his expression under control.

"Damn it, John!" Sherlock said with frustration. "I am serious." The sudden anger made John move his hand and look up, just as Sherlock put the point of the pocket knife into his palm below the middle finger, and dragged it down to the wrist.

John's anxiety was absorbed by a new terror as he dove for Sherlock, snarling, "You stupid, stupid bastard!" He ripped the knife from Sherlock and flung it away, then grabbed Sherlock's hand and looked at the cut. It was straight and neat at least, the knife must have been sharp; not deep enough to hit the bone, but deep enough for sutures, the blood already welling up. With luck he won't have hit the tendons or severed any nerves, but they'll have to go to hospital just the same, and there'd be risk of infection because that was the knife Sherlock used to nail his post to the mantle and God knew where else it had been. John let go of the hand and lunged for the kitchen, where he kept a backup first aid kit under the sink, but he was stopped by Sherlock's good hand, locked around his wrist.

Stopped, absolutely. He jerked hard, but Sherlock's hand didn't move at all. "John," Sherlock said quietly. "Forget the kit, John. Look at my hand again." Sherlock turned the injured hand palm down for a moment and wiped a wide smear of blood onto the knee of his trousers, then flipped the hand back over for John's inspection.

The wound had narrowed. The edges were no longer gaping quite so far apart, and blood was not welling up so fast. He was mistaken, John told himself. He had panicked and looked too fast and thought the cut was worse than it was. But as he watched for five seconds, ten, fifteen, he could see that the wound was actually healing in front of him. Slowly, fractionally, the tissues were knitting back together and the cut was growing thinner and shorter. At forty seconds after John had started watching, Sherlock wiped his palm again, this time on his thigh, and at one minute thirty seconds the cut had resolved itself into a slender, upraised line of scar tissue. Sherlock flexed his fingers and then closed them into a fist, showing John that his range of movement was completely unhindered.

"Oh my god," John finally said, his voice raspy with shock. "You're not human." Sherlock finally released his arm, and John staggered back to the sofa and dropped onto it. Sherlock flicked the desk lamp off, not renewing his eye contact with John, who thought back over the past few minutes and tried to reevaluate everything Sherlock said with the understanding that it may actually have all been true.

"Okay," John said after some moments. "So, um, I think I'm caught up now." He cleared his throat. "You, uh. You want my blood."

Sherlock pulled his legs up onto the chair and wrapped his arms around them. "I want a- relationship with you. It can be sexual, too, if you like. But we can't try that without- this. I don't think I could control myself, not if we were that close."

John ran a hand through his hair; this was still not making a great deal of sense. "What do you do for- for food? When you're not in a relationship."

"Strangers," Sherlock said flatly. "I bite them, and afterward I tell them to forget me. I secrete a chemical that makes those I bite highly suggestible, and they forget if I tell them to forget."

John swallowed. "Is that how it would be, for me?" he asked.

"No," Sherlock said. "No, no- I would never- I don't want you to forget me, John, that's the whole point."

"Okay then," John said. "Okay." They sat in silence for a moment. John breathed very slowly and deliberately.

"You smell amazing," Sherlock said in a low voice, cutting into his attempt to think. "God- I- your scent is so- receptive. You're lonely, you want me, I can tell. You smell right for me." Sherlock's babbled confession was oddly endearing, John decided. It was nice to be told you were wanted, and Sherlock definitely wasn't wrong about John wanting him. Even now, God help him.

"What happens," John said slowly, "If I agree. If I let you- If I let you."

"If it's only once or twice, nothing," Sherlock said, speaking too fast. "If we keep on after that-" Sherlock's voice died off.

"What, Sherlock. What are you not telling me," John said, flat. He recognized the signs of evasion by now.

"I was getting there," Sherlock snapped, then he paused and took a deep breath, renewing eye contact. "My venom is psychoactive. After several exposures, it instills physical dependency."

"It's addictive," John translated. "Christ."

"There are benefits," Sherlock said, his tones neutral. "Long-term exposure would increase your life span and boost your immune system substantially, helping you resist most disease and heal faster from injuries. Your memory would improve. The addiction- you can walk away at any time. But the withdrawal is...quite painful. Very occasionally fatal." Sherlock looked away. "If you don't want- things can go on as before. We'll never discuss it again. I promise you that I can control myself. I swear." Sherlock was almost pleading, and John realized that he was ready to be rejected; not just as a lover, but as a person. He expected that if John turned him down, he would move out and abandon Sherlock entirely.

"Stop a second," John said. "I just need to think, all right?" So he sat back on the sofa and thought. "You know, a sane person probably would move out after hearing that he lives with an actual vampire," John said finally. "But the thought of moving out and never seeing you again does not appeal. Frankly, it bloody horrifies. What does that mean, do you think?" Sherlock fractionally raises one shoulder, then drops it again. "I think it means that I'm already addicted to you." Sherlock looked up at him, startled. "Come here, you daft bugger," he said.

Sherlock seemed to take less than an instant to cross the room to John and drop to his knees between John's feet. He leaned forward and rested his forehead on John's stomach, and John wrapped his arms around Sherlock's shoulders and pressed a kiss to the top of his head. Yes. There wasn't the same urgency that John had felt last night when he and Sherlock had been headed- or so he thought- to sex. But there was the same sense of presence, of being in the moment, as if John was exactly where he needed to be, doing exactly what he should be doing. Maybe this was a decision that should be given more thought, but John was generally speaking a man who didn't waffle when he had figured out what he wanted. And he definitely knew what he wanted now.

John pushed Sherlock away with a hand on his shoulder, so he could shove his right arm in front of Sherlock, wrist up. "Do it," he challenged.

Sherlock shuddered and closed his eyes, turning his face away. "Don't, John," he said in a low voice. "Don't tempt me, not unless you're sure. I just told you, my self-control-"

"Bite me, I want you to," John said, and Sherlock moved so Goddamn fast that he didn't even see it happen. Sherlock just suddenly had John's wrist in both hands and then in his mouth, oh fuck that stung when his teeth broke the skin. But then John gasped, because it felt incredible; like the tail end of an orgasm, the low, pulsing waves of pleasure ringing outward from the initial crisis. His cock hardened almost instantly in the wash of euphoria and desire, and he unconsciously jerked his hips. His wrist jerked too, not away from Sherlock's mouth but up into it, as if his body was trying to thrust more blood down Sherlock's throat. Somehow the image of Sherlock bowed over his wrist, cheeks hollowing as he sucked, was unbearably intimate. Beautiful. He could hear himself whimpering and moaning, "Yes, yes, Christ Sherlock, yes."

He had no idea how long Sherlock was actually attached to his wrist, but finally he released John and fumbled his belt buckle open. John felt far too euphoric to either help or protest, and Sherlock simply thrust his hand into John's trousers and pants. It only took three firm strokes of Sherlock's hand for John to come, gasping. The orgasm left him shaking and dripping sweat and added a strange, harsh edge to the afterglow caused by Sherlock's bite. "Oh Christ," he said again, as Sherlock removed his hand but made no move to get up. He bent his head and licked off the come that had ended up on his hand, and fuck that was hot enough to make John groan helplessly. He leaned forward and rested his forehead on top of Sherlock's head; one of Sherlock's hands came up to cup the back of his neck, while the other lifted John's wrist to eye level for inspection. John felt Sherlock's tongue begin to gently lave the bite. When he was done with that, Sherlock released him.

"Okay?" Sherlock asked, almost tentative.

"Oh my God," John said breathlessly. "Why didn't you tell me that was going to feel so fucking fantastic?"

"It seemed unfairly suggestive," Sherlock said. "I wanted you to make an unbiased assessment."

John just started laughing, because vampire or not, that was so incredibly Sherlock. "My God I love you," he said.

"And I want you," Sherlock said fiercely, possessively.

"Bit not good," John said lightly, bringing up his hand to play with Sherlock's hair. He would have to sit up in a minute, his shoulder was going to cramp from hunching over like this. But just now, it was nice to be sated and content and be pressed this close together.

"I mean I want you with me," Sherlock clarified. "Forever, if I can manage it."

John hummed his assent, and decided that was close enough to "I love you, too" to be going on with.

Chapter Text

Sherlock and John's first near-breakup happened less than twelve hours after they officially got together.

John was standing in front of the mirror, with the first aid kit open and balanced on top of the sink. He had applied antiseptic to the bite wound on his wrist the previous night; Sherlock had rolled his eyes and emphatically repeated, "I'm not human," when John discoursed on the danger of infection from such injuries, but had not otherwise tried to stop him. Now he reexamined the mark with a sense of astonishment.

There were no signs of infection at all. There were no signs of bruising at all, which was even stranger. Wounds from biting were never that neat, there were always livid bruises where capillaries had burst under the assailant's jaws. But John had no bruising. The area wasn't even sore. But what really had John staring was the fact that the punctures from Sherlock's canines, and the cuts where his other teeth had broken John's skin while gripping, were reduced to small, red lines in his flesh. There had been actual wounds, the punctures gaping very slightly, although already scabbed over. John had seen them. But now John was sporting a wound that was clearly well on its way to being entirely gone.

"I told you," Sherlock said from the doorway, making John jump slightly. "Not human." He wedged himself in between John's back and the wall, dropping a kiss on his left shoulder.

"It's almost healed already," John said. He closed the first aid kit, because it was clearly unnecessary at this point.

Sherlock wrapped his arms around John's torso. "It won't scar, either." He hooked his fingers into the neck of John's t-shirt and pulled it askew so that he could kiss his way across John's bare shoulder toward his neck.

John felt a pleasant laziness steal over him as he simply enjoyed the sensation of Sherlock's lips on his neck and his body pressed up against his back. He wasn't actually aroused, not yet, but he could see himself getting there in the near future. He didn't have work today. He could go back to bed. Judging from his current activities, John suspected he could persuade Sherlock to join him, which would be very nice indeed. Sherlock distracted him from this train of thought by lightly grazing John with his teeth in the hollow just below the curve of his jawbone. It didn't draw more than a drop of blood, but it gave John a sharp, fleeting lash of pleasure. He gasped and Sherlock chuckled.

"Hey, keep it below the collar," John warned. Because he might not have to go to work today, but with Sherlock it was always a good idea to articulate boundaries early and often. Sherlock didn't reply, but he did restrict himself to more kisses as he worked his way around the front of John's neck and started tracing the vein down. John wondered idly how much blood Sherlock actually needed. He had to have taken quite a bit last night, as John had been absolutely ravenous afterward, and very slightly light-headed; after he'd taken care of his wrist, he'd gone to the kitchen and finished all the leftovers from the dinner he had eaten only a couple hours before Sherlock got home. Did Sherlock need several meals a day, or- Oh. "Stop, Sherlock," John said warningly, and brought up his hand to press against Sherlock's forehead.

"What," Sherlock said irritably. He didn't move his head, but he did stop mouthing John's neck.

"How much blood did you take from me last night?" John asked. "Because the average adult male has only-"

"5.6 liters of blood, yes, I know," Sherlock said, lifting his head but not releasing John from his bearhug. "I took about a pint and a half. Which may have been a little excessive, but in my defense, you are delicious." His reflection smirked back at John from the mirror.

"Sherlock-" John began.

"John," Sherlock echoed, mockingly. "I was only going to take a taste. I am not an idiot."

"Red blood cell production," John muttered to himself, remembering. "Replacing lost blood volume takes about three to five-"

"Days," Sherlock said. John frowned at him in the mirror, because the correct answer was actually weeks. "Trust me, doctor, that this is one area in which my medical knowledge equals or exceeds your own. In addition to psychoactive and hypnotic substances, my venom also contains erythropoietin, in amounts that will greatly accelerate your body's replacement of lost red blood cells."

"Okay, so how often do you need to eat?" John asked.

Sherlock sighed. "Daily," he admitted. "I'm going to have to continue grazing on strangers much of the time, regrettably, as I don't intend to render you anemic."

That was not good. At all. John froze.

"What?" Sherlock said. Then: "You're angry. Why are you angry?"

"Why am I-" John cut himself off. "Sherlock, have you at least heard of informed consent?" Sherlock's face in the mirror looked puzzled. John pinched the bridge of his nose. "Let's back up. Last night. You said you wanted us to be in a relationship."

"Yes."

"I said the same."

"Yes."

"And now you're essentially telling me that you're polygamous? Polyamorous? You don't see how that would be a problem for me?"

"That's a rather inexact metaphor," Sherlock said disapprovingly.

"How the hell is it a metaphor?" John turned sideways and slipped out of Sherlock's embrace. It was hard to be properly angry at someone when you were yelling at their reflection in the mirror. While they pressed their gorgeous, lanky body against you. Damn it, he needed to focus.

"We had sex, Sherlock!" John said heatedly. "For some value of sex, anyway. Please tell me we are not having an argument about whether or not a handjob counts as sex."

"I don't understand why we're arguing at all," Sherlock said. "I said we could have sex if you wanted, but it's not an essential part of- it's not about sex."

"Not about- you bit me and it gave me a fucking hard-on!"

"You said it wasn't about sex for you either," Sherlock reminded him. "You said you cared for me, regardless."

John hissed out a breath. "I said it was fine if you didn't want to have sex with me. Not that it was fine if you wanted me to stand by while you had it off with other people."

"I didn't say I wanted to have it off with other people." John wished Sherlock would stop looking so honestly confused, it was really making him angry.

"There was a hell of a lot else you didn't say!" Sherlock tried to touch John's arm, but he jerked back out of reach, bumping up against the towel rack. "Don't. Were you afraid I'd say no to you, if you told me you intended to go on- I don't even know what to call it."

"Subsisting?" Sherlock raised an eyebrow. John continued glaring. "I told you, it's different with you. Why are you being so stupid? Is it deliberate?"

"Oh, I see," John said icily. "It's my fault, is it? If only I was smart enough to keep up with you, I would have known the right questions to ask."

Sherlock seemed to realize he had misstepped. "John-"

"Get out." Sherlock narrowed his eyes at John for a second, but he went. John kicked the door shut behind him and put the first aid kit back under the sink. He brushed his teeth and shaved; his hand was steady, but his anger was so distracting that he nicked himself twice anyway. The tiny droplets of blood gave him a vivid image of Sherlock on his knees with his mouth fastened on John's wrist; he flung the razor back into the medicine cabinet with such violence that it bounced out onto the floor.

John passed through the sitting room on his way upstairs. Sherlock was curled up on the sofa, evidently deep in mid-sulk. His hair was still sleep-tousled, and for half a second John imagined tugging at those curls while Sherlock looked up at him with John's cock halfway down his- God damn it!

John went upstairs and got dressed, self-consciously putting on a long-sleeved shirt despite the promise of warm weather. He resolutely did not look at the mark on his arm. He was so angry that he was starting to lose his mind. Clearly it was advancing insanity that made him keep wanting to jump Sherlock, because John was pretty sure you couldn't actually fuck the selfishness out of somebody.

Sherlock hadn't moved when John returned to the sitting room for his mobile. "Where are you going?" he asked, tilting his head so he could see John without actually facing him.

"Sod off," John suggested. He pocketed the phone.

"When are you coming back?" His voice was plaintive: obvious manipulation, it was probably on page two of Sherlock's personal playbook.

"When I stop wanting to put your head through a wall," John snapped. Or when I stop wanting to fuck you against a wall. "So it may be a while."

"I'll just lay here and starve then, shall I?"

"Do what you bloody like!" John slammed both doors on the way out. It was surprisingly cathartic.

John was waiting for a light three blocks away when the a black car pulled up to the curb next to him. "Hi," said 'Anthea' through her rolled-down window.

"Hi," John said. "Look, don't take this personally, but I'm really not in the mood to be kidnapped today. Tell your boss thanks, but no thanks."

Anthea gave him her polite little smile, then unfastened the top two buttons of her blouse. The half-healed wound just beside her clavicle was an exact match for the one on John's wrist. John stared at it for a moment, then looked back at Anthea's smile. You can't hit someone just because she works for a prick, John told himself firmly. He was going to be polite. He counted up to ten, got halfway back down to one, and decided he'd be damned if he was going to be polite.

"Fuck off," he told Anthea. "And tell him he can stop looking in our windows, too."

Fifteen minutes later he was sitting in a diner drinking coffee and perusing the menu when two men in suits walked in and stopped next to his table. John looked up and assessed them: fit, not obviously armed. The restaurant wasn't crowded, but it wasn't empty, either; people were going to notice an attempt to kidnap him, especially if he resisted. A waitress dropped a glass off to the right side of the room, and both men flinched- the younger one actually shifted his attention from John to look over. As threats went, this was not really up to Mycroft's standard.

"Doctor Watson? I'm Detective Sergeant Bivens," said the one man, sitting down across from John. "This is Detective Constable Livy." The younger man stood next to John's chair, blocking him in, so at least they weren't completely incompetent.

John set down his menu. This ought to be good. "Really."

Bivens took a flat leather folder out of his pocket and flipped it open to display his warrant card, which looked...perfectly genuine. "We have a warrant for your arrest," he said.

"Really," John said again. "I'm sorry, which branch are you with?"

"Counter-Terrorism Command," Bivens said. He put the warrant card back in his pocket and removed a folded sheaf of papers, which he slid across the table to John.

It was, in fact, a warrant for John's arrest. On charges of- "Preparation for terrorist acts? You have got to be joking." They didn't look like they were joking. John flipped to the affadavit and skimmed it. The phrases "221b Baker Street," "chemical weapons," and "Security Service information" leaped out at him. Did Mycroft control MI5? Apparently he did. John set the papers down and pinched the bridge of his nose. How was this his life?

The loud, sustained vibration of a mobile across the table made him look up. Bivens pulled the phone from his pocket, flipped it open, and held it out to John. "It's for you," he said, straight-faced.

"Congratulations," John said as soon as he got the phone to his ear. "I left home this morning thinking that Sherlock Holmes was the most self-absorbed prick in the universe, but you've proved me wrong."

"My assistant is outside," Mycroft said.

"Are these even real policemen?" John demanded.

"I'll see you shortly." Click. John silently passed the phone back to Bivens, who also retrieved the warrant and neatly refolded it. Levy stood aside so John could get up and dump change onto the table for the coffee, and both officers followed him out of the diner. He walked straight to the black car and got in without looking back.

"For the record," he told Anthea as he put on his seatbelt, "I would still like you to fuck off." He turned to face the window so he couldn't see her smile, and didn't speak to her for the rest of the ride.

When John walked into yet another of Mycroft's endless assortment of warehouse meeting spots, he found him seated at a card table laden with a linen tablecloth, silver tea service, and approximately half a pastry shop. "Have a seat, John," he said, gesturing minutely with a teacup. His ever-present umbrella was balanced against his knee.

John stomped over and dropped into the chair opposite Mycroft with poor grace. "Don't call me that," he told Mycroft. "Only people I like get to call me by my first name."

"Help yourself. I recommend the almond brioche, I'm told it's quite good." Probably the most irritating thing about talking to Mycroft, if John could narrow it down to just one thing, was his habit of completely ignoring you whenever you veered off script.

"I'm sorry," John said. "Did you gin up a phony arrest warrant and divert a pair of special operations officers just to offer me breakfast?"

Mycroft looked down at the table. "Well it's not here for my benefit," he said mildly. John gritted his teeth. The thing was, he was actually starving again. Did doping with EPO make you hungrier? He'd have to look it up. In the meantime, he decided that a cheese danish would not unduly compromise his principles.

"So you're- well. One of them, too," John said vaguely.

"Ina," Mycroft agreed, politely pouring John a cup of tea and adding milk and sugar without asking. He got the proportions exactly right, of course. The bastard. "You do realize I don't actually look in your windows?"

"I'm sure you have people to do that for you," John said. "But you can't deny that you're taking an unhealthy interest in your brother's love life."

"On the contrary," Mycroft said. He took another sip of tea. "I am taking an entirely healthy interest in my brother's general well-being."

"I don't follow," John said. He finished the cheese danish and selected a chocolate-filled croissant.

"Most Ina have from five to eight symbionts," Mycroft said. "I have seven. Sherlock may, depending on what you do next, have one."

John raised an eyebrow and tore off a chunk of croissant to dunk in his tea. "I don't count, do I?"

"Not at this stage," Mycroft said. "You are completely free to walk away. Doctor Watson."

"And you brought me here to tell me not to, I suppose," John said snippily. "Do you have more constables hiding behind the pallets? Or is this the part when you attempt to bribe me? I always enjoy that bit."

Mycroft just laughed, which John found absolutely infuriating. He gritted his teeth and tried to smile back, because he knew that the mockery was just as much a put-on as the politeness. Everything Mycroft did was calculated to manipulate. "Do you know what Sherlock will do if you go home right now?" He only waited a beat before continuing, "He'll apologize."

John almost choked on his croissant, laughing. "Sherlock doesn't do apologies."

"Nevertheless," Mycroft said. "You are rather the most important person in his universe right now. He knows you don't have to stay, but he ver badly wants you to." He drained his cup and set it back on the saucer. "The car's ready whenever you want to go."

John dusted the crumbs off his fingers. "That's it? No threats, brainwashing, large sums of money?"

Mycroft smiled very slightly. "Really, I think my brother's incessant paranoia must be catching," he said. "Rest assured that I am a firm believer in...informed consent."

When John went back to the black car, he quickly determined that it must be a different, although identical, black car. Because instead of Anthea, the backseat contained a tall ginger man in a designer suit and a blue tie with tiny ducks on. He was sprawled on his back and appeared to be playing Angry Birds on his mobile. "Hi," he said, smiling brilliantly. "I'm Simon, and I'll be your escort for the last leg of this Mycroft Holmes Adventure."

"Let me guess," John sighed, getting in the car as Simon moved over to his own side and buckled up. "That's not your real name, either."

Simon laughed. "Good guess, blondie. You can think of me as the mirror universe version of Anthea, if that helps." He stuffed his phone in his pocket and laced his fingers together.

"I'm not sure that works," John said. "You'd have to be stupid, for one thing, because I'm fairly certain she isn't."

"She isn't," Simon said. "And I'm not either. So the hell with that metaphor."

John narrowed his eyes at Simon. There was a reason he was here. Some game Mycroft was playing. "I didn't know Mycroft had any other assistants," he said. "I'm so used to seeing Anthea."

"Maybe it's time to expand your social horizons," Simon said, smirking and raising one eyebrow.

"What are you implying?" John said.

"Just that I know it's difficult to be first," Simon said. "Not only because you haven't got any established boundaries to work with, but because you don't have anyone to help you. I think I'd go spare if I had to manage Mycroft by myself."

There it was. John swallowed. "You the two of you. Are you-?"

"The question you're groping for," Simon said, "Is 'are you and Mycroft fucking,' and the answer is yes." John flushed. "Oh, sorry, was that gauche of me? We're both too old for this blushing maiden crap, so let me just tell you something else up front, cupcake: when it comes to humans, I am straight." He smiled in a slow and predatory way at John.

"Why are you telling me this?" John demanded. "I don't even know you."

"No," Simon said, and there was now a hint of steel under the cheerfulness of his voice. "But I know Sherlock. I like him. So I am helping Mycroft to send you a message, which is this: it is not. About. Sex."

John's phone pinged with a new text notification.

Message received
Lestrade has a case. NSY, at once.

John gritted his teeth. This was his chance to ignore Sherlock, just go home and spend some time by himself thinking this through.

Message received
Your services essential. Work is more important than your unreasonable jealousy.

John messaged his temples. "Can you-"

"New Scotland Yard," Simon called up to the driver. He flashed his grin at John, who steadfastly refused to be impressed. The car pulled to a halt a short time later. "Your stop, sunshine," Simon said. "See you around."

John woodenly unfastened his seatbelt and exited the car onto the pavement outside the Yard. Sherlock appeared next to him as if conjured, his face thunderous. "Bugger off, Simon!" he snapped.

Simon merely smiled, kissed the first two fingers of his right hand, and then used them to flash a V-sign at Sherlock before the car pulled away.

"Mycroft," Sherlock said, as if pronouncing the name of some loathsome tropical disease- no, this was Sherlock, he thought loathsome tropical diseases were brilliant, much more interesting than the ordinary kind. It was more the tone he'd use if he was summoned to a particular clever and gruesome murder, only to find that the crime scene was actually a television set they were using to film an episode of Law & Order UK.

"Mycroft," John agreed. "Look, Sherlock-"

"I'm sorry," Sherlock said, turning to face him. Oh Christ, Mycroft had been right. John thought he might be about to lose his mind, just a little. But then, according to Mycroft this was primarily a placating gesture. So.

"Are you sorry for what you said and did, or are you sorry because you know I want you to be?"

Sherlock hesitated. John could see him running his tongue across his teeth, behind his upper lip. "I'm sorry you're angry," he said tentatively.

"That's what I thought." John sighed. "Do we have a case, or what?"

The light was suddenly back in Sherlock's eyes. "Come on," he declared, and led the way into New Scotland Yard.

As the case wore on, it quickly resolved itself into a fairly mundane matter of home invasion gone wrong, although the burglary squad would be able to close the books on at least half a dozen of their cold cases thanks to Sherlock's work. They tracked down the perpetrator through his fence, and actually managed to speak to him, but he slipped the police net and John and Sherlock lost him in the evening Tube-station crush. Fortunately Sherlock was able to tell Lestrade the name of the diner where the man habitually ate his breakfast, and predicted that he would be easy to apprehend the next morning.

John and Sherlock interacted about as they usually did; it was like everything was compartmentalized, work and personal, and they could banter easily on a crime scene, then go back to silently ignoring each other in the cab afterward. The one anomaly was on the ride back to Baker Street once the case is solved, when Sherlock suddenly turned towards John and announced, "Oxytocin and vasopressin encourage pair bonding in humans, but do not compel it."

John looked blank. Sherlock was eying him with expectation, as if he had just uttered a profound insight. "Okay?" John said. Sherlock sighed and turned back to face his own window, looking disappointed.

The evening was spent in more awkward silence. John made pasta for dinner and didn't offer Sherlock any. Mycroft implied that they didn't eat food at all, and offering might precipitate a conversation about what Sherlock did eat, which John did not want to discuss just then. Sherlock updated his website and harangued trolls on his forum, using his own computer for a change, while John went back to the journal he had abandoned the previous night. At about 10:30, Sherlock glanced at his cell phone and abruptly snapped his netbook closed and stood up. "We're going out," he declared. "Case. Come on, John!"

John was after him down the stairs before he stopped to think. Some things were just automatic: following Sherlock into stupid situations was one of them. So it was that John found himself standing halfway into an alley in what Sherlock assured him was a CCTV blind spot. Sherlock stood at the mouth of the alley, watching the street in the side mirror of a lorry parked alongside the curb. The reason for the camera-blindness became clear when Sherlock lunged at a man passing by and dragged him back into the alley. Sherlock had the man's shirt open and his teeth buried in his throat before John, much less the hapless victim, had time to protest.

"God damn it!" John snapped. He grabbed Sherlock by the arms, to pull him away, but he was impossible to move. "What is this!"

Sherlock pulled back and licked the blood from his lips. "An object lesson," he said mildly. "Stay there. Be quiet," he told the man, who seemed to be trying to say something.

"This is Devries," John said, his anger subsiding slightly as he looked more closely at the man and realized he wasn't an innocent bystander after all. "The killer, from the case today. What the hell, Sherlock?"

"I've taken about half a pint," Sherlock said calmly. "Don't look so offended, John. He isn't a very nice man, you know."

"This is still deeply weird," John said. "And a long, long way from the apology I was looking for, I hope you realize."

Sherlock redirected his attention to Devries. "I want you to answer my questions," he said. The man nodded. "Did you kill Melissa Hinton?"

"Yes," Devries said. "Not on purpose, I swear to God!" The man was frantic, his eyes darting everywhere.

"Did you like that, what I just did?" Sherlock asked. His voice was perfectly even and conversational.

"For God's sake-" John started, but Sherlock just angled his head at him and raised an eyebrow. John stopped.

"Yes," Devries whispered. "It felt good. God damn it felt good." John's face twisted and he felt bile rising in the back of his throat. Why was Sherlock doing this in front of him? What the fuck about their earlier argument made him think that this was remotely okay with John?

"Do you want me to do it again?" Sherlock asked. John flinched. Devries opened his mouth, then shut it. He looked almost pained. "You're conflicted," Sherlock said. "Tell me what you're feeling."

"Scared of you. You're a monster," Devries said. "A- a vampire, or something. But I want you to do it again. I don't want to want it, but I do. What the fuck did you do to me?" Devries clutched at his head and looked as if he was about to throw up.

Sherlock ignored the question. "Do you find me sexually attractive?"

"No!" John followed Sherlock's gaze as it slid down and sideways to Devries' groin. The man was adamantly not aroused.

"Do you want to have sex with me?" Somehow Sherlock managed to sound perfectly at ease while asking these ridiculous questions.

"Oh God no, please don't," Devries whimpered, cringing even further away from Sherlock.

John couldn't take any more of this. "That's enough," he said harshly. "Just- enough, Sherlock."

Sherlock studied John's face for a moment and nodded. "All right," he said. He turned back to Devries. "Go to your diner for breakfast tomorrow," he said. "You're not going to remember this conversation, but you're going to remember to do that." Sherlock leaned forward and buttoned Devries' shirt back up, concealing the bite; he quietly told him to forget the details of this encounter, that it had not happened, that he had merely had a nightmare brought on by his near-apprehension earlier in the day. The man nodded dazedly a few times, and didn't resist when Sherlock turned him toward the mouth of the alley and gave him a light shove. He wandered back out onto the street as if he hadn't a care in the world.

John took a long, long moment to decide what to say. "It's not about the sex," he finally decided on, and was surprised to see that Sherlock had the good grace not to say I told you so. "The- feeding. It enhances the emotional connection that's already there, but it doesn't create one. That's what you meant earlier, about oxytocin and pair bonding," John said thoughtfully. If Sherlock bit Devries repeatedly, he would become addicted to Sherlock's venom. But he would never like it or be happy about it. And John had the feeling that Sherlock would not like it or be happy about it either. "You're emotionally and sexually monogamous."

"In practical terms, yes," Sherlock said.

That reminded John of what Mycroft had said about the necessity of multiple symbionts. "I won't be enough for you," John said. "Biologically. By definition."

"Bollocks to biology," Sherlock snapped. "I can't stand to be around most people for an hour at a stretch; I'm hardly going to put out an open call to the idiot masses. And I'm not going to bring someone into our relationship without consulting you."

"Is that what being your first means?" John asked. He thought of Simon saying you haven't got any established boundaries to work with.

"That's what it means to me," Sherlock said quietly.

"Apology accepted," John said. "But you're using mouthwash before you get to kiss me again."

Chapter Text

Lestrade watched John and Sherlock as if he was waiting for them to commit a crime: perhaps the murder Sergeant Donovan was so convinced that Sherlock would perpetrate someday. He had watched avidly, furtively, ever since the pool, and it creeped John out.

Of course it was after the pool that John and Sherlock started snogging, and they had soon moved on to...other things. So it wasn't hard for John to make the connection. Still, he wondered how Lestrade could possibly know. It's not like he and Sherlock were making out at crime scenes, or at the Yard; in fact, Sherlock's ill-conceiled impatience with any attempt by John to so much as touch his wrist when they were working was beginning to grate on John's nerves. It seemed annoyingly coy of Sherlock, especially when he was doing things like snogging John senseless up against their front door. And while John certainly felt rather different since he started this thing with Sherlock, he had to admit to himself that his tendency to flatter Sherlock, to egg him on, to follow his barked orders, was nothing new. It had been present since the day they had met, which come to think was the same day John and Lestrade had met. So what the hell was Lestrade staring at?

He was nearly on the point of asking one day, at the scene of what appeared to be a particularly bizarre accident at a formal dinner which of course was nothing of the kind. He put his hand in the small of Sherlock's back, trying to direct his attention, but Sherlock instantly shied away and went on talking as if it hadn't happened. John pulled his arm back and caught Lestrade watching him from the corners of his eyes, as if the daft bastard thought John couldn't tell he was looking. He wanted to go over and ask if it was nosiness or if he had money on when the two of them would start shagging, or what; but then Sherlock was in Lestrade's face demanding access to everything that had been on the table when the victim keeled over and John's train of thought was derailed.

"Okay, so you need to explain these rules you apparently have," John said when they got home after. "We can snog on our front steps, you can grope me in a cab, but I try to hold your hand on the street and you act like I've got bubonic plague."

"Our relationship is no one's business," Sherlock said. He was carefully dripping various corrosive substances onto samples of the late Lady Margaret Arbington's flatware. Something about poisoned salad forks, John hadn't quite followed it.

"Does that mean it has to be a secret?" John said. "Not that I have that many people I want to talk to about my love life. But it's going to be awkward breaking up with Sarah if I can't tell her who I'm throwing her over for." He considered. "Not that she wouldn't guess anyway."

"I don't care if Sarah knows," Sherlock said, then looked up. "Why would you be breaking up with her?"

It took John a second to process that. "Because," he said slowly, "it's generally considered good manners to break it off with your previous romantic partner when you've entered a new relationship."

"Oh, of course," Sherlock said, looking back at his flatware. "Your preoccupation with monogamy again."

"More a preoccupation with common courtesy," John said. "Do you think I shouldn't break up with her, then?"

"It doesn't matter to me one way or the other," Sherlock replied.

John frowned. "So you don't care if I sleep around?" John found the idea unexpectedly upsetting. "Not that I plan to," he added.

"It doesn't make a difference who you date, or who you shag," Sherlock said in a perfectly reasonable tone of voice. "You know who you come home to."

The self-confident possessiveness of that proclamation warmed John and brought a flush to his face. God help him, that should not turn him on, but it absolutely did. He walked over to Sherlock and bent to kiss the back of his neck above his collar. "You smug tosser," he said. He dug his fingers into Sherlock's shoulders, and pressed his thumbs against the tight muscles in a way calculated to make Sherlock's inherent stiffness dissolve. Instead of melting, however, Sherlock grunted in annoyance and shrugged John's hands off.

"Working," he said. "Don't distract me."

Of course. John mentally weighed the likelihood of persuading Sherlock to temporarily abandon his efforts and the long-term consequences of distracting him during a case, then sighed and retreated to his armchair in the sitting room. He opened up his laptop and tried to write up an account of the exploit with Devries without a, being boring and b, mentioning the part where Sherlock dragged the man into an alley and bit him. The task was absolutely impossible with the lovely rear view of Sherlock framed between the open kitchen doors. He kept glancing up and noticing how perfectly defined Sherlock's arse was. It was the way he was perching on that chair that did it, with his trousers caught under his thighs where he leaned forward, making the fabric snug up against his cheeks. And then when he stood up and leaned far across the table to pick up a beaker of something- oh God.

"I said don't distract me," Sherlock said, not looking round.

"I'm just sitting here," John said. "I didn't even say anything."

"You're aroused, I can smell it, it's distracting." John didn't bother to sniff the air for telltale odors; he knew there wouldn't be any. Ever since he had revealed his nature to John, Sherlock had spoken very freely about scents and smells; John suspected that his sense of smell was at least as good as a bloodhound's. It suddenly made sense of Sherlock's ability to recognize and label emotions without apparently having any understanding of the people feeling them. Who needed empathy when you could smell chemical markers?

"I can't control how I smell," John said reasonably.

"You can control your arousal," Sherlock snapped. "Do so, or go upstairs."

John rolled to his eyes- wasted gesture, since Sherlock still hadn't looked at him once- and went up to his room. He flung himself on his back, undid his belt, and slid his trousers halfway down his thighs. He should have the noisiest wank on record, just to show him. But then, if he really did want to distract Sherlock, it would have been more satisfying to jump him in the kitchen. A spitefully loud masturbation session was hardly an adequate substitute, so he might as well be quiet and reap the eventual rewards of an appeased Sherlock.

So John limited himself to a soft sigh as he slid his hand into his pants to squeeze his half-erect prick. He reached beneath to cup his balls and gently squeeze them too, then brought his hand back up to slide up the shaft of his penis to the head. He gave himself a few long, slow strokes and concentrated on the look of Sherlock's arse as he leaned across the table. The soft firmness of it under John's hands when Sherlock had grabbed him by the shirt and kissed him on the front steps. John's hands had automatically gone to Sherlock's arms, then boldly stroked down his back to seize handfuls of his well-muscled cheeks. Whether it was men or women he was looking at, John Watson was quite frankly an arse man.

His cock was fully hard now, and the pants were becoming annoying, so John pulled down the front and tucked it back under his balls to be out of the way. He let his hand linger there, softly gripping his balls and rolling them a bit. He massaged the head of his cock with the thumb of his free hand, rubbing in expanding circles with a slow, uninsistent sort of pressure. He let himself groan softly. There was a crash of cutlery from downstairs, which John was just going to ignore. He was not in any particular hurry, and he could let this go on for as long as it needed to. Then go back downstairs smelling of sweat and come, and see if Mr. Control-your-arousal found that distracting.

Back to Sherlock's arse. As John's off hand changed to stroking his shaft once again, John moved out of reality and into fantasy territory. He imagined gripping handfuls of that arse to pull Sherlock in closer as he pounded his cock into John, forcing him down onto the mattress with every vicious shove. Or what if it was John doing the pounding- if John had walked back over to Sherlock when he bent over the kitchen table? He could have pinned Sherlock's hands to the table in front of him, and of course his own arms were so short that to reach he would have to lean alllll the way over Sherlock, pressing his own cock right up against the cleft of Sherlock's arse. He'd thrust against him a few times, rubbing his dick up and down along the crack, before he released Sherlock and undid his trousers. He'd bare that lovely arse to his view, and then he'd bite those cheeks, suck on the marks he made, form livid bruises if he could.

He'd take his time getting there, but finally he'd spread Sherlock wide, revealing his hole, and blow cool air against it. Sherlock, gripping the table over his head of his own accord, would growl a protest at this tease, and John would smirk. Then he'd have mercy, and extend his tongue to lap lightly at the upper rim of Sherlock's arsehole. He'd have Sherlock gasping under his tongue, breathing as hard as John was now in bed, before he moved on. And then he'd produce the lube, and generously slick the first finger of his left hand. He'd spend several minutes just probing at the edge of Sherlock's hole, massaging the muscles there and just barely poking the tip of his finger inside, before-

The door to John's room slammed open and hit the wall with a crash. The lamp on the nightstand jumped and shivered with the aftershock, and John immediately whipped both hands away from his cock in an instinctive reaction. He put his hands beside his hips so that he could prop himself up and glare at Sherlock, who stood framed in the doorway. The detective looked severely aggravated, and John matched him glare for glare.

"Do. You. Mind," John snapped. It was really, really hard to maintain a proper level of offended dignity when you were sitting in bed with your fully erect cock sticking out of your pants and slapping you on the stomach. He must look a complete idiot.

"Yes!" Sherlock hissed at him, his cheeks red and eyes narrowed. John lost a bit of his focus and his cock jerked out a bit of pre-come, because fuck if that flush he was wearing wasn't almost as hot as his arse. "I could hear you, John."

John just stared for a second. He was actually an extremely considerate man, especially when you factored in how much of Sherlock's bullshit he had to put up with. He had barely made any noise at all, and what he did make wasn't above a whisper. "Oh for the love of Christ," he swore, flopping down on his back and rubbing his face with both hands. "Fucking vampires."

"Ina," Sherlock said automatically. He practically leaped at John, and hit the bed so hard that John bounced upward and the springs squeaked protests at them. He knelt between John's thighs and bent himself nearly double with a ridiculous flexibility that allowed him to lick the pre-come from the head of John's cock. John gasped, much louder than he had before, and flailed his hands vaguely at Sherlock.

"What are you doing?" he demanded, because Sherlock had gone from furiously angry to licking John''s cock with far too much speed.

"John," Sherlock said in world-weary tones, "That question demeans us both." He played his tongue around John's opening, and twirled it down around the head, much quicker- wetter, warmer- than John's own thumb had been. Then he abruptly sat up and grabbed John by the thighs. "Move," he said, shoving John around the bed like a wheelbarrow. He rearranged John diagonally across the too-narrow bed, with his head poking out by the nightstand. This let Sherlock lay between John's thighs with only the bottom half of his legs hanging entirely off the bed.

Sherlock made a pleased noise upon discovering this, then wrapped one hand around the base of John's cock and went back to tonguing the crown. He paid special attention to the opening before running his tongue all around the edge of the head. John made breathy little gasps and moans, fighting to avoid jerking his hips off the bed. It would hardly be considerate to forcefully ram his dick into his partner's mouth, and John was nothing if not considerate.

Sherlock plucked at the frenulum with lips carefully folded over his dangerous teeth, and John arched off the bed, whining inarticulately. His hands clutched uselessly at the duvet by his hips, and Sherlock released his cock for a moment to seize John's hands and settle them in his curls. John cradled that head in his hands as it went back to work teasing the head of his prick. He ran his hand through Sherlock's hair, just stroking, not tugging; not wanting to abuse the privilege. Sherlock's hand returned to John's shaft, and he now brought his other hand into play, squeezing and rolling John's balls as John had been doing for himself earlier. Once settled into the rhythm of that movement, Sherlock slid his mouth down over John's cockhead and gently suckled it.

"Fuck," groaned John, finally managing to find a word. "That's- more. God, more."

Sherlock somehow managed to smirk around John's cock, and slid his mouth down even further, taking in part of the shaft. His tongue continued to play, darting under to stroke while Sherlock slowly bobbed his head and sucked. With the first glide of Sherlock's lips down his shaft, John threw his head back so violently that he almost strained something in his neck. "God," he said again, gasping. "God, that's- Fuck."

Sherlock pulled off entirely for just a moment. "Really, John. This is beneath even your low standards of articulability."

"It's a compliment, you ponce!" John retorted. "Only you would stop in the middle of a blowjob to-" The rest of what he was going to say was lost to some very inarticulate whimpers when Sherlock dove back onto his cock and took in more than half of it. He resumed sliding John in and out of his very warm and welcoming mouth with what John might describe, had he been capable of speech, as fervor.

Sherlock squeezed his balls and pressed them up against John's body; he grazed his thumb against John's perineum and brushed it teasingly against John's arsehole before palming his sac again. John's thighs tightened and he panted, feeling his orgasm building with a tight and steady burn. And then Sherlock abruptly pulled off, tilted his head sideways, and dragged his mouth up the shaft of John's cock, almost to the head. It was so quick that John had no time to anticipate or pull back, and he couple barely comprehend what Sherlock had done.

He had nicked John with one canine and drew a long scratch up the dorsal vein of his penis, and for a split second John felt like he had been butterflied open and his back was arching and he was making some kind of high animal scream like a rabbit being butchered. And then Sherlock's tongue dragged wetly up the scratch, pushing his saliva into what felt like a gaping wound, and John's brain fucking exploded. The euphoric quality of Sherlock's venom combined with his own body's flood of endorphins and hormones and the resultant chemical reaction created a new molecule, a new form of pleasure so intense that John almost blacked out when it slammed through him. The aftershocks pulsed through him like a series of smaller orgasms, and John was left panting and practically vibrating by them. He was dimly aware that Sherlock had slid John's cock back into his mouth and was competently swallowing him down. He still didn't really perceive that he was clenching his fists in Sherlock's hair and practically pulling it out by the roots until Sherlock gently squeezed John's fingers with his own hands.

John released Sherlock's head, and felt all his muscles unclench and go loose and pliable with release. "You bit me," John managed to gasp out. It turned out wounded dignity was even harder with his limp cock in Sherlock's mouth than with his erect cock sticking out of his trousers.

Sherlock remedied part of the problem by sliding John out of his mouth and leaning his forearms on John's thighs. "You liked it," he said smugly.

John had let one of his hands stroke across Sherlock's cheek and drift round to the back of his head. He abruptly seized a handful of the hair there and jerked back hard enough to make Sherlock hiss. "Nonetheless," he said. "If you ever bite my prick again without my express, advance permission, I will actually murder you."

Sherlock winced and again brought up his hands to John's. "I have just given you a mind-shattering orgasm," he complained. "I am not an expert on human sexual mores, but I would think thanks more appropriate than threats and abuse."

John gave him another punishing yank. "Sod human sexual mores," he snapped. "It's my penis. Clear?"

"Yes," Sherlock said, somewhat sulkily, and John released him.

Sherlock stood up abruptly, trading his annoyance for an air of brisk efficiency. "You can come back to the sitting room if you shower first," he said. If John hadn't still been riding the endorphin high, he might have punched him. But Sherlock did pause to run his fingers through John's hair before he stalked back out the door and down the stairs. So there was that.

John lay on his bed feeling his sweat cool for a bit, then got up and finished undressing. He took fresh clothes down to the bathroom with him so he didn't have to come upstairs to dress when he was done. Sherlock was still at work with the trays of forks and spoons when John walked back into the kitchen.

"So Sarah can know," John said. "Who else?" Sherlock did this to him enough- restarting conversations minutes or hours after they had concluded- that John was starting to pick up the habit. It was fun to see if he could manage to confuse Sherlock with the tactic as thoroughly as the Ina managed to confuse him. This time it didn't work. Maybe if Sherlock had just had an incredible orgasm, it would be more effective. John thought he really needed to sit down and have a talk about that. It was beginning to worry him that Sherlock seemed to view orgasms as something that John was owed, and appeared to have absolutely no investment in having any of his own. He never actually seemed to be aroused, although he was hardly disinterested in John's own arousal. One serious talk at a time, however.

"Anyone who's not with the police or working with them on a regular basis," Sherlock said.

"That's practically everyone I know!" John protested. "I don't like your rule."

"It's not their business," Sherlock repeated. "I am told a desire to keep one's work and personal life separate is quite normal. I see no reason for you to disapprove."

"If they don't know we're together, those DCs of Lestrade's will keep flirting with you," John said, with an unexpected surge of jealousy. It hadn't bothered him as recently as two weeks ago, but if it happened now that Sherlock was his....

Sherlock chuckled and prodded at a fork with the end of his pen. "Pay no attention," Sherlock said. "They're dull. You surely can't think I would waste my time on one of them any more than I would on Molly Hooper."

"So you do realize when people hit on you," John said. "I didn't think you noticed." Sherlock never, never responded, either with reciprocation or with a rebuff. It was no wonder people (John included) had assumed he didn't give a damn about sex at all.

"John," Sherlock said, offended, because for Sherlock Holmes an accusation that he didn't notice something was the basest sort of slander.

"Sorry, silly of me, of course you noticed." John said. "All right. You are ridiculous, and your rule is silly, but if it's important to you, I won't let on to the Yarders."

"It is," Sherlock said.

"Fine, then."

Chapter Text

The trouble was that for John, who actually aspired to have a social life, work and personal were not entirely separate to begin with. Unlike Sherlock, John liked talking to people for their own sakes, not just for what they could tell him that was useful. He liked being invited to Ted Raum's birthday dinner even though he was only locum at the surgery; he liked joking with Sally Donovan on the periphery of crime scenes while Sherlock and Lestrade argued about procedure; he liked the fact that people generally considered him friendly and likeable and a good man to have around. And most especially he liked pub night with the Murder Investigation Team, which mostly consisted of between one and two dozen off-duty detectives getting drunk and exercising their completely inappropriate senses of humor.

They called him John. It was all first names on pub night. But then back at the Yard, or on a crime scene, it was all last names. Some people might have found this weird, but John was used to it. He had been Watson on the rugby team, and at Bart's, and then in the Army of course. He was only Doctor Watson to outsiders, civilians, and he was only ever Captain Watson on formal occasions or when he was in very serious amounts of trouble. So a few months into his- partnership? assistantship?- with Sherlock, having the Yarders call him Watson felt a lot like belonging, and it felt good.

So it should have raised a red flag for him when Lestrade tapped him on the shoulder and said, "Hey, John? Can I talk to you for a second?"

John had been leaning against one of the half-walls that framed the cubicles of Lestrade's subordinates, reading an autopsy report. He automatically looked for Sherlock, and saw that he was still by the corkboard full of crime scene photos, having a furious argument with Donovan about something. So John shrugged and followed Lestrade into his office.

"I think I told you I'd known Sherlock for five years?" Lestrade began, and that's when the alarm belatedly went off in John's head.

"Yeah, you did." Lestrade was visibly nervous, kept glancing toward the ceiling-high windows that blocked them off from the rest of the office.

Lestrade ran a hand through his hair. "He was, ah, basically a junkie when I met him. High-functioning, as addicts go, but you can always see it, if you know how to look."

John nodded, because a doctor knows how to look as well as a police officer does. Especially if he has an alcoholic sister. "He's clean now though," John said. He really hoped that Lestrade was not about to tell him he was wrong. Was that what all the scrutiny was about?

"Yeah. About a year, when he met you. Before that, it was off and on. Mostly off, in 2007." Lestrade cracked the knuckles of his right hand, one at a time. He wasn't making eye contact with John. "I thought he was a git when I first met him."

"He is a git," John said promptly, and Lestrade chuckled.

"Yeah, all right. But he's a genius, too. A great man, like I said. Only a bit less so when he's high out of his mind. And when he wasn't high- well. You almost had to respect him. Maybe even like him a bit." Lestrade was looking at John now, examining his face as if searching for something.

John wasn't quite sure where this was going. "Donovan doesn't think so," he said, just to have something to say.

Lestrade shrugged slightly. "Sergeant Donovan isn't blind. She can see that Sherlock has poor impulse control, and it frightens her. He affects people that way." The word control tugged at something in John's memory, but he couldn't quite think of what.

"Some people," John said.

Lestrade nodded vigorously. "But not all. For some of us, whatever madness he's got is- catching." Another furtive glance at the windows. "It gets so you almost want to catch it."

John smiled slightly, thinking about the Study in Pink and chasing across the rooftops to apprehend a suspected serial killer, all on the word of a man he had just met. That was no longer the most ridiculous thing he'd ever done. "Yeah," he said to Lestrade. "He's reckless, and it makes you want to forget your common sense too."

"Exactly," Lestrade said, with great emphasis. Again, he paused as if expecting something more from John before he went on. "Well," he said. "I guess I just wanted to...let you know. That I know how he is." Lestrade starts speaking more rapidly, again not quite looking at John. "And if you ever- if he's ever too much, if you want out, you can talk to me."

All right, now that was pretty damn clear! John felt a surge of irritation. All the insinuations that he was shagging Sherlock were bad enough- never mind that he was, that wasn't the point- without the suggestion that he must be somewhat out of his mind to want to do so. That Sherlock might be "too much" for him, that he might- what exactly? All right, he'd wondered if Lestrade had guessed, from the way he was watching them, and it wasn't like he expected a congratulatory pat on the back or anything. But he absolutely hadn't expected some kind of "he's too dangerous" talk, either. Well, from Donovan maybe. But Lestrade?

"Right. Thanks," John said icily. "Are we done?"

Lestrade's eyebrows went up. "If you like. Yeah."

John dropped the autopsy report on Lestrade's desk and went straight to Sherlock, who had just finished one tirade and was about to launch into another. "Are you quite through?" he said abruptly to Sherlock. He knew for a fact that he was entirely bored at this point, having already explained the whole sequence of events to Lestrade. He just enjoyed being given free reign to tear into Donovan; usually Lestrade prevented it, and John was now able to see that he had only allowed it this time to keep Sherlock distracted.

"Hardly," Sherlock said, curling his lip. "Oblige me by explaining to these cretins why it's so obvious that this much blood could not have been shed by-"

"Well I'm through," John said, ignoring the question. Sod Sherlock then, he'd leave by himself. "Donovan." He nodded tightly to the sergeant, who looked surprised and taken aback, and walked briskly to the elevator.

Sherlock was waiting for him in the lobby, breathing slightly heavily. He must have taken the stairs, running all the way, and he looked slightly alarmed. "What's wrong?" he demanded as John shouldered the front door open.

John ground his teeth. "Lestrade offered to help me leave you," he said flatly.

"Oh," Sherlock said, in the same tone. After a moment, he added, "I suppose we can assume he's worked out that we're in a relationship, then."

"That seems a safe assumption, yes," John said.

Sherlock sighed heavily. "Now you see why I did not want anyone to know," he said. "People are forever misinterpreting the evidence."

John grumbled his agreement, and only began to feel properly himself again when Sherlock took his hand in the cab.

It was only later that evening, when they were in John's bed again and things were just starting to get interesting, that John realized what Lestrade was actually trying to tell him.

Sherlock was sucking wet kisses along John's collarbone, and he was making extremely appreciative noises, when Sherlock growled out, "God, the things I want to do to you. It's enough to make me lose control of myself entirely."

The word, rumbled out low in Sherlock's voice, snapped a switch in John's brain and he suddenly remembered where he'd heard it before- Sherlock had said it twice, on the first night he'd taken John's blood. I don't think I could control myself, if we were that close. Lestrade had also mentioned control- specifically Sherlock's lack of it. Why was Lestrade preoccupied with that? What had he been dancing around? Why was he alarmed at the mere suggestion that John might be developing a closer relationship with Sherlock?

Lestrade had implied that he personally liked Sherlock. He had said us when he spoke about Sherlock's recklessness being catching. I know how he is. Lestrade distracted Sherlock so he could talk to John and nervously tracked him while they were speaking; clearly he had been trying to pass a message to John, one that he thought Sherlock might disapprove of John hearing. John's own words from that first night that he knew what Sherlock was suddenly came back to him: a sane person probably would move out. Sherlock had said usually at this point he had already bitten the person to whom he was speaking, implying that the conversation about symbiosis was one he'd had before. The epiphany was so dizzying that John wanted to stop and put his head between his knees, just breathe for a while and regain his balance.

"Holy fuck," he said aloud without intending to. "You bit Lestrade."

"What?" Sherlock said. John remembered that Sherlock had not been privy to his thought process, and that this was for him a rather sudden change of topic.

"You bit him, and you asked him to be your symbiont," John said. "And then he ran like hell, didn't he?"

Sherlock didn't move. His face was frozen in an expression of impassivity. "How do you come to that conclusion?"

The lack of reaction, the failure to tell him he was being absurd, was enough to tell John he had deduced correctly. "He seems to think we're in an abusive relationship," John said.

"And from that you determined that he had been involved with me, that I had frightened him, and how exactly it had happened," Sherlock said wonderingly. "You are extraordinary, John." He leaned in for a kiss, and John fended him off.

"Stop it," John said. "That's really, really not good, Sherlock. It's the polar opposite of good, in fact."

"It was a mistake," Sherlock said stiffly. "I did not repeat it."

John believed that; he believed that Sherlock had internalized the lesson after Lestrade rejected him. But the idea of Sherlock forcing himself on Lestrade, of Sherlock not realizing why it might be a bad idea, still made him feel sick. Sherlock had bitten Greg, pumped him full of hormones and endorphins and then explained what he had done and what exactly he wanted- Jesus. Sherlock was lucky Lestrade hadn't left and come back with a weapon. John might have. His anger and disgust were welling up hot and poisonous, but he did not want them to spill out where they could burn Sherlock. Not until he had it under control and could talk about it rationally. He turned on his side so he was facing away from Sherlock, and hoped the Ina couldn't tell how he felt from his scent.

"I think you'd better go out tonight," he said.

Sherlock was very still for a moment, and then the bed rocked slightly as he stood up. "All right," he said quietly. He paused a moment. "I would never hurt you," he said, his voice still low. "Please tell me you know that."

John paused. He didn't want to lie, and not just because Sherlock could tell when he did. After a long moment, he said, "I know you would never hurt me intentionally."

Sherlock drew his breath in sharply, and then John heard his footsteps retreating out of the room and down the stairs. In the utter silence of John's room, the sound of the front door to 221 clicking shut was very loud indeed.

***

Sherlock hated feeling this way. Righteous fury was good, frustrated rage was all right, but he simply did not know how to cope with this nauseating, impotent anger. He wanted to shout and sulk, but if he did it would upset John further, and that would feel even worse. He hadn't planned for John to learn about his past with Lestrade, and certainly not in this way. But Sherlock had been so sure that once John found out, he would be- well, not pleased, but reassured that Sherlock had realized his error and corrected it. When he reminded John of the fact that he had chosen to approach him quite differently, John seemed more tense than before. And John sent Sherlock away before he could even point out that he exercised perfect self-control in keeping his promise to never approach Lestrade romantically again.

Lestrade. Lestrade was an interfering prick. He had been ever since Sherlock met him, always badgering him. Thinking that a bit of assistance on his cases gave him carte blanche to meddle in Sherlock's life. "Stop harassing the victim's family, Sherlock." "Fucking eat a sandwich, would you, you look like a corpse." "I am going to keep conducting random drugs busts on your flat until you stop showing up at my crime scenes high." He was as bad as Mycroft. If he hadn't smelled so completely goddamned intoxicating, Sherlock wouldn't have managed to put up with him for an hour, much less the two years it took to get to the point of propositioning him.

And now he was prodding at John, worrying and incensing him. Trying to turn him against Sherlock. God, it was hateful. Perhaps he should go shout and sulk at Lestrade. That might be fairly satisfying. Sherlock stopped pacing aimlessly through back streets and turned towards New Scotland Yard.

Sherlock could tell Lestrade knew why he's there, from the way the inspector narrowed his eyes at Sherlock before asking, "How's John?"

"He kicked me out," Sherlock said, slamming Lestrade's office door behind him. He did not want any idiot passer-by overhearing. He was being somewhat disingenuous, implying that John had kicked him out of the flat or possibly out of the relationship, when in fact he had merely kicked Sherlock out of bed. He hoped he was being disingenuous.

"Good for him," Lestrade said levelly, and made a neat check mark on one of the sheets of paper in front of him. It was probably just some dull bit of bureaucratic nonsense, but for a moment Sherlock fancied it was a to do list and Lestrade had just placed a check next to ruin Sherlock's next relationship. "Tell him that if he wants to file charges, I can help." CID officers do not direct domestic violence investigations, and Sherlock would never pass on such an absurd message anyway. Lestrade was just digging the knife in.

"He's not upset over something I've done to him, you cretin," Sherlock snapped. "He's upset over what I did to you."

Lestrade jerked his head up, all pretense of nonchalance gone. "You told him?" An angry flush began to heat Lestrade's face. Neither of them talked about it to anyone. It was part of the arrangement, a part which neither of them voiced explicitly because it was unnecessary to do so.

"He deduced it," Sherlock said, feeling a curl of smug satisfaction despite his hurt and anger. "He's not nearly as stupid as you and your squad of imbeciles."

Lestrade, inoculated by years of daily insults, shrugged that off. "Fine. I'm willing to take the embarrassment if that's what wakes him up," he said. He flung down his pen and ran a hand through his hair. "Fucking Christ!" he said. "Watson, Sherlock. I can't fucking believe you."

There he went, being judgmental again. He was angry, but- there was something else there too. Sherlock narrowed his eyes and flared his nostrils, but he couldn't pick up a good scent. The room smelled far too much of Lestrade's aftershave, he must have practically bathed in it. Or perhaps he spilled the bottle that he kept in the bottom drawer with his spare shaving kit. He had worked through the night more than once before.

"We had an agreement," Sherlock said.

"Yeah," Lestrade snapped back. "I keep my mouth shut, and you keep your fangs out of my team."

An irritating rule, but one Sherlock felt impelled to keep. Alienating Lestrade would have ended his access to the cases, and that would have been intolerable. Would be intolerable. Still, Lestrade demanding further concessions at this point was ridiculous. And John was his, not Lestrade's. "John's not part of your team," he pointed out. He resisted the urge to bare his teeth; a vulgar gesture, and rather meaningless to someone who wasn't Ina.

"No. He's my friend, which makes it worse," Lestrade said. "What's more, he's your friend, and you're cocking it up. He's maybe the best thing to ever happen to you in your long, miserable life, you utter bastard."

"Of course he is," Sherlock said. "He's my symbiont." Lestrade flinched minutely, but visibly, and Sherlock smiled. "Mine," he repeated, to drive the point home.

"He's not your property," Lestrade said venomously. "And I swear to Christ, if I hear that you've hurt him-"

"I haven't done a thing to John that he didn't ask for," Sherlock said sulkily. This was true. Why was it that no one gave him the credit he was due for his forbearance? It was maddening. Then he cocked his head, considering the sentence he had interrupted, perhaps too soon. "Are you threatening me?"

"You know, I think I am," Lestrade said. He met Sherlock's stare coolly. "Not sure what form it would take, mind. Maybe I'd just spread word round a bit. I know how you lot like your privacy."

Sherlock raised one eyebrow. "And you know that we have ways to maintain it." Easy enough to manufacture a cover story when all you had to do was bite the right person and tell them what to say. "My brother always said that I was a sentimental idiot for letting you retain your memory. I could always remedy that."

"Are you threatening me, now?" Lestrade said flatly. Sherlock was merely prodding him, but Lestrade had always been ridiculously sensitive on this subject. It was one of the reasons he had insisted that Sherlock not bite anyone on his team.

"You know, I think I am," Sherlock said mockingly.

Sometime during their conversation, Lestrade had lowered his right hand very casually into his lap. Now, one swift movement of hand and wrist and thumb and Lestrade had a Glock 17 pistol pointed at Sherlock, with its safety off and its grip braced against the desk. "I can pull the trigger faster than you can come over this desk at me," Lestrade said.

That was very true, but Sherlock still laughed. Because this, this was why he had let himself care about Lestrade, why he had eventually given in to his attraction to the man. This wonderful, nonobvious streak of insanity, that would drive him to anticipate Sherlock's actions and respond by obtaining a firearm- no doubt through a contact in homicide squad's armed response unit- to threaten him with. Of course Sherlock had no real intention of harming Lestrade, and this episode renewed the respect which would not allow Sherlock to bite him and alter his memories. Sherlock's delight was only impeded by a slight twinge of disappointment, that Lestrade saw him as primarily a threatening figure.

Was Lestrade actually afraid? Sherlock drew in a noseful of fresh air but the scent was still choked by the noxious aftershave. Oh! "You scent-bombed your office," Sherlock realized. Of course, obvious now. It hadn't occurred to him before because he didn't expect Lestrade to want to threaten him. Delightful! "So I wouldn't smell the gun oil."

"Yeah," Lestrade said. Sherlock frowned. On further reflection, he didn't like that Lestrade had anticipated his visit. It meant that Sherlock had behaved predictably. He considered what John had told him, and realized that this visit had served to further cement Lestrade's belief that Sherlock was manipulating John out jealousy and a need to control.

He abruptly stood. The gun didn't waver. "I'm going," he announced.

"I'll be watching," Lestrade said quietly. "I'll know what it means if he stops talking to me."

Sherlock scowled. "John can talk to whomever he likes," he said. "If he stops talking to you, it probably means he's grown tired of your idiotic presumptions." Sherlock slammed his way out of the office without waiting for Lestrade's reply.

Sherlock walked out toward the bridge, rather than back home. He hunched his shoulders against the unpleasant itch crawling beneath his skin. It had been a long time since he'd felt this way; a damned long time. When he was subsisting just by grazing, he felt a constant dull ache that he had been irritated to learn had no biological term attached to it; describing this hard-wired need for the greater intimacy of symbiosis as loneliness seemed so utterly pedestrian. He had learned to ignore it, but now that he had a symbiont it was gone; replaced by a completely different need. Sherlock wanted, needed, to taste John, to touch him, to reassure himself as often as possible that John was there and his and not going anywhere. John needed it too, but he was proud and independent and stubborn. And if John asked him for distance Sherlock would sacrifice his own contentment to give it, because it was vitally important that he not drive John away as he had driven away Lestrade.

Lestrade he had barely touched. John was very nearly his, and if he lost him now it would be unbearable. Devastating. It made Sherlock breathe slightly faster and begin to panic even to contemplate it. He was hungry, and he found a man urinating in the alleyway behind a pub and took a meal from him. He was young and healthy and his scent was appealing enough, in its way, but Sherlock was barely interested. His blood was nourishing, but it wasn't what Sherlock wanted. He finally returned to the silent flat at about three in the morning. He stood at the landing outside the sitting room and listened to John's breathing upstairs. John was asleep, so he went into the sitting room and ensconced himself on the sofa.

He must have dozed off for some period of time; between one blink and the next, sunlight had begun to glow faintly against the window glass, and and there was a mug of tea sitting on the coffee table in front of him. He was never terribly fond of tea, before, but it was different when John made it. John made tea all day long, drinking cup after cup of it faintly sweet and full of milk. Tea, tea, tea: Sherlock was convinced that John was made up of 60% tea instead of water. Drinking tea, especially when it was tea that John made him, was a bit like drinking John.

He took several sips: it was dark and sweet, just as he liked it. He took it with honey whenever possible, because refined sugar always played merry hell with his digestive system. John had been buying organic honey for Sherlock's tea for better than a month. Sherlock lingered happily over this knowledge, and it was thirty unforgivably long seconds before it occurred to him that John's jacket was not on the hook. He made a point of listening, but the flat was totally silent.

Sherlock very nearly panicked. He took the steps two and a time and barged into John's room. Everything was neatly in place: the clothes all accounted for in the wardrobe, the gun in its drawer, the laptop closed and centered on the desk. Not gone then, just gone out. Sherlock breathed again. Foolish. Leaping to conclusions without data.

What day was it? If it was Thursday, John had a day at the clinic covering for a doctor attending a wedding. Sherlock checked his mobile: it was Thursday. But the phone also told him that it was far earlier in the day than John usually left for work.

The bed was unrumpled, but that told him nothing. Sherlock returned to the kitchen, where he examined the sink and found John's RAMC mug half-full of water, but no breakfast dishes. He had risen early, made tea, but had not eaten. Still anxious and out of sorts, then, but he had stopped to make Sherlock tea, so not actually angry as such. He never went out for breakfast, and the clinic was not open yet. Logically, Sherlock had to conclude that he had left early to go visit someone. Unfortunately, given the circumstances and John's current state of mind, Sherlock could think of only one person whom John could be going to see.

Chapter Text

John left the flat early so he could make two stops on his way to work. The first was at a coffee shop across from New Scotland Yard.

John did not miss the way Lestrade's eyes widened slightly as he opened the door to his office. He only had to stand there for about half a second, a cup of coffee steaming in each hand, before Lestrade's expression cleared.

"Sorry," John said, depositing one of the cups onto the desk. "Donovan said to go right in."

"It's fine," said Lestrade. He massaged his forehead with one hand; there were bags under his eyes.

Jumpy, hadn't slept...John's lips pursed into a grim line, and he cursed his own observational skills. "He came here last night, didn't he." Lestrade shrugged. "Shit. I'm sorry, Greg. I didn't mean to sic him on you. Just...sometimes I forget he doesn't have an iota of common sense, and I didn't specifically tell him not to come harass you, so- can I sit down?" John shifted awkwardly from one foot to the other. He felt a right idiot standing here, babbling.

"Help yourself." Lestrade gestured at the guest chair in front of the desk, and John sat. "Sherlock said you kicked him out, but I assumed he was being dramatic."

"Yeah," John said. He rolled his eyes. "We had a- not a fight. I don't know. A moment of disconnect?" A lot of those, lately. But strangely, they didn't make John feel like something was coming apart, but that it was coming together. "Look, I'm sorry for yesterday, period. For storming out like that."

Lestrade smiled, just a tiny bit, and picked up the cup of coffee John had brought. "My mistake, probably. You're a grown man."

"Sometimes I don't act like one," John admitted. Lestrade chuckled a bit at that. "I didn't realize what you were actually saying until much later."

"I probably could have been clearer," Lestrade admitted. "Old habits. And- well. What happened...it's not something I talk about." Lestrade looked out the window, not making eye contact again.

More pieces snapped together in John's head. "Did Sherlock threaten you when he was here?" he said, frowning. "Because if he did-"

"No. Well, yes. But it wasn't exactly one-sided," Lestrade said. He shifted in his chair and looked back at John. "The offer still stands, just so you know. I mean, if-"

"Stop," John said. He massaged his temples. "Just stop there. Because we're friends, or I like to think we are, and if we're going to stay friends I need you to understand something."

"Okay," Lestrade said evenly, his face impassive.

"Sherlock is a prick with an immense ego who probably should have failed primary school on the basis of poor socialization," John said. "But he's not a sociopath."

"I know that," Lestrade said.

"I trust him," John said firmly.

"You're insane," Lestrade said. There was a longish pause while he sipped his coffee and looked up at the ceiling meditatively. "But then, I said that when you moved in with him, too."

Last night John had realized that as reluctant to listen to him as Sherlock usually was, Sherlock listened when John told him stop, don't touch me, get out of the room. He listened and he complied immediately, without argument or hesitation. And that had to mean something. "I think," he carefully told Lestrade, "that if I told him to forget the whole thing and never come near me again, that he would do it."

Lestrade suddenly looked very, very distant. "Yeah," he said. "He would."

"Well," said John, rubbing the back of his neck. "Subject closed then, I think." Please God let it be closed. This was probably the most unbearably stilted conversation he'd had since he was a teenager.

"Right." Lestrade chugged more coffee and ran his fingers over his lips, looking as awkward as John felt. "Fuck," he said. "What I wouldn't give for a cigarette right now."

"You don't smoke any more," John reminded him.

"Seven months," Lestrade acknowledged. "But now I really fucking want one. That's how awful that conversation was."

John couldn't help laughing.

**

The front door opened at precisely 6:03 pm. It took John 11 seconds to climb the stairs, which was 3 less than normal. Sherlock was focusing on the display of his mobile, so that he would not be staring at the sitting room doorway when John came in.

"Hi," John said, going straight into the kitchen. Sherlock said nothing in return, pretending a deep and abiding interest in the mobile. "I don't suppose there's any curry left? Well, all right, I want Chinese anyway, I think." Most people were annoyed by Sherlock's occasional abstention from conversation; John simply carried on as if he didn't notice. Sherlock found it rather endearing.

"Where'd you put the menu last time we ordered from Great Wall? I fancy their spring rolls. Ah, here we are." Sherlock kept his eyes on his phone and considered John's scent and his voice. He was calm, utterly calm. That could be very good- it could mean that John's conversation with Lestrade and his day at work had gone well, and he was not angry with Sherlock. Or it could mean that he had nerved himself to sever things with Sherlock and had put the calm on in order to get through it. Damn his soldier's nerves, anyway.

John finally wandered into the room and flopped into his armchair. "Do you want anything?" he asked. Direct question, probably he should answer. Sherlock finally sneaked a look at John, who was studying the menu and digging his mobile out of his jacket pocket. "Some of those teriyaki chicken things, maybe?"

"No," Sherlock said. "I'm not hungry."

John hummed briefly in the back of his throat. "Really. That's a shame." His lips quirked up and he darted a look at Sherlock that was almost- teasing. Sherlock was flooded with relief so vast he almost shivered with it. John was fine, he had forgiven Sherlock. He wasn't just calm, he was relaxed, he was displaying fondness.

Then Sherlock had to spoil it by daring to say, "Does Lestrade still think that I'm abusing you?"

To his surprise, John took that in stride. "I think Lestrade now has a better understanding of the situation," he said delicately.

"You should know," Sherlock said slowly. "That you're almost bound to me, but not quite." So very, very close though. Once more, one more proper meal from John, and he would belong to Sherlock. He would smell like Sherlock, he would crave Sherlock, and Sherlock was sure that once they'd reached that point he could make John stay, make him happy. He was positive. But now, this moment, required John to consciously choose.

"You can still leave without serious physical consequence," Sherlock added. "I could assist you with the psychological aspect." He could, though he felt that it might well destroy him to help John leave. He would do it, if John asked. He would do virtually anything that John asked, short of giving up his work.

"I'm not leaving," John said, and even though Sherlock had known already, hearing the words unexpectedly filled him with a sweet pleasure that made him smile. Sherlock wanted to go over there and rub his hands across John's face, using his thumbs to press the crow's feet back to smoothness and trace the edge of his lips. Sherlock's fingers twitched and he schooled them to stillness. "I do want dinner though. I'm starving."

"Order extra," Sherlock said, pitching his voice lower than normal because he enjoyed the flush that crept up John's cheeks as a result. Sherlock knew John took his meaning, because the blush stayed on his face as he ordered twice as much food as he could reasonably be expected to eat. He went upstairs and changed into his night clothes before he met the delivery driver at the door.

Sherlock crossed his legs and watched John impatiently while he plowed through his cashew chicken. He didn't bother to put up a pretense that he was doing anything besides staring. "You're creeping me out," John complained, shifting in his chair.

"Well, then." Sherlock stood up and put his hands in his pockets. He arched an eyebrow at John in a very suggestive way, and sauntered back towards his room. John was happy and vaguely excited and not at all fearful or displeased; Sherlock could afford to tease a bit. He didn't need a light in his room but he had a lamp on the desk, for the look of the thing, and he flicked it on so that John would be comfortable. He stretched out on the bed to listen to John moving around in the sitting room and enjoyed the deep twisting of pleasurable anticipation in his gut.

He did not have to wait long for John to finish his meal and take the leftovers to the kitchen to be stored away. His footsteps were even and unhesitating as he walked to Sherlock's room, but his smile as he paused in the doorway was a little shy. "Hi," he said. His scent had been muted when he was in the kitchen, but now that John was mere feet away, it was so powerful as to be overwhelming. He smelled so sumptuous that just inhaling made Sherlock feel more full; he almost thought that he could become intoxicated, just on John's scent. And beneath and around the smell of his blood was John's arousal, which was now exciting Sherlock in a very specific way. He began to feel a purely sexual desire for the first time in many, many years.

John stepped into the room and approached the bed, but Sherlock moved much faster to get up and go to him. He virtually pounced, wrapping John in his arms and pressing a hard and insistent kiss to his mouth. They had not kissed very much since that first aborted attempt on the sofa, and Sherlock found himself wondering why not. He very much enjoyed the intimacy involved in this sort of kissing, the interplay of tongues and lips and teeth that could be soft and sweet or hard and invasive. John evidently did too, because he was quick to open his mouth when Sherlock probed with his tongue. Sherlock kissed John thoroughly, possessively, and John eventually rebeled because he could never be entirely passive. He fought his way between Sherlock's lips, and Sherlock managed to deepen the kiss still further by nicking John's tongue very slightly with one of his canines.

John gasped very prettily, Sherlock found, so he slid his hands down and squeezed John's arse to see if he could be compelled to do it again. He pulled back from the kiss, as they were both panting for breath, and began to press slightly more chaste kisses against various parts of John's anatomy: behind the ear, under his adam's apple, the join between neck and shoulder. As he did so, John shifted his hip against Sherlock's groin, where his trousers did little to restrain his erection.

"You're hard," John said with surprise.

"Problem?" Sherlock asked, eyes narrowing as he tried to gauge John's feelings from his scent.

"Of course not," John said. Sherlock's eyes drifted half-closed as John gently ran his fingers across the bulge in Sherlock's trousers. "It's just- you haven't been, before. I thought maybe you didn't get aroused by this."

"I'm aroused because you're aroused," Sherlock said. "I can smell your pheromones."

"That doesn't even make sense," John protested. "We're a different species, and the same gender."

"Of course it makes sense," Sherlock said, reaching down to fondle John's cock through his pajama bottoms, as much to distract him from this ridiculous line of questioning as anything. "It's not a generalized response, but a specific one. I'm especially sensitive to your scent." He sucked on John's pulse point for a moment and teased it with his tongue, encouraging another one of those lovely gasps, before speaking again. "I told you the first time, we can have sex if you'd like."

"Not if you don't want it," John gasped as Sherlock stroked him more firmly. "If it's just some kind of- Christ- reaction, like waking up with a hard-on or something."

"Don't be dull, John," Sherlock chided, restraining the urge to roll his eyes. He thought he had made it perfectly clear just how eager he was for this encounter; his erection should provide confirmatory evidence, not cause for doubt. He released his grip on John's erection so that he could drag John's t-shirt up over his head, then started unbuttoning his own shirt as he kissed and sucked at John's nipples. He sucked the right nipple to hardness and then nipped it sharply, drawing a single drop of blood and making John arch his back and shout. Sherlock took advantage of the moment to shed his shirt and kick off his shoes, then went back to sucking on the tiny bite mark while dexterously unfastening his own belt and trousers, He switched to the left nipple and bit that one too; John's hands, stroking firmly up and down Sherlock's sides and sometimes sliding around to brush the very top of his arse, gripped so hard in response that a human man would have received severe bruises.

Sherlock simply slid free and took advantage of John's moment of distraction to push him back onto the bed and divest him of his pajama bottoms with a swift yank. He smiled in satisfaction at the sight of John's erection bobbing up against his stomach; he had barely touched the man, and he was already achingly hard. Sherlock waited until John's eyes refocused before he slid his trousers and pants off his narrow hips and down to the ground, where he could simply step out of them. His own cock stood out long and lean and flushed.

John squinted at him. "You're- shaved?" he said.

Sherlock huffed a laugh. "I don't grow pubic hair. Species trait, not individual. Try not to get distracted." He could smell John's arousal spiking, so Sherlock took a moment to tease, sliding one hand down his nearly-hairless chest to the base of his cock, and then brushing the first two fingers gently along the underside from root to tip. John's pupils widened and he sucked air in through his mouth and nose at once. "Look how hard I am, John," he said, dropping his voice even lower than normal. "Look what you do to me."

Sherlock knelt up on the bed, straddling John's calves. "No one else could arouse me this way. No one else could even hold my attention." Sherlock could tell he had judged John's responses correctly, his cock was leaking pre-come onto his belly now.

"I'm glad you find me so- ah- interesting," John grated.

"Interesting," Sherlock scoffed. "Not hardly." Sherlock bent over and gently mouthed the underside of John's cock, extremely careful not to graze with his teeth. "Engrossing. Tantalizing." Sherlock lapped up the drops of liquid splashed across his stomach, and John groaned, his hands coming up to card gently through Sherlock's hair. He rather liked that sensation, and he badly wanted to take John in his mouth and suck him again, while those hands stroked his scalp and tugged his curls. But that was for another time, because in this state it would bring John off too quickly. He wanted John to remain aroused during what came next.

Sherlock shifted himself upward so their hips aligned. John brought his hands up to touch, but Sherlock pinned them to the duvet with his own. He leaned forward again, this time to murmur next to John's ear, "I want to fuck you. Will you let me?" John gasped and rolled his hips upward, sliding his and Sherlock's cocks against each other. They both groaned at that, and the sensation apparently distracted John so much that he forgot to answer. Sherlock nipped his ear lightly to focus his attention, and repeated, "Will you let me fuck you?"

"Yes- christ- yes," John panted, apparently having forgotten any earlier suggestion that Sherlock might not want to engage in sex with him. Sherlock did not mind at all, since making John forget was in fact the entire point of the exercise. Sherlock stretched out one arm to open the bedside table and fish inside, then drew out the bottle of lubricant that he had himself placed there the previous week. He was not optimistic by anyone's rubric, but he was generally quite well-prepared for contingencies.

Sherlock popped the lid open and coated the first two fingers of his right hand, then braced with his left so he could shift and resettle with his knees between John's thighs. John obligingly spread his legs. He reached again to touch Sherlock, who slapped his hands away. "Stop that," he said.

"I'm not allowed to do anything?" John asked, raising one eyebrow. He looked absurd, lying there flushed and hard and panting, with his legs spread wantonly but that expression of polite disbelief on his face; Sherlock felt a surge of affection.

"Not just now, no," Sherlock said, and slid his forefinger into John's arsehole up to the first joint.

John gasped again, and his cock jerked against his stomach. "Christ, that's cold, you bastard!"

Sherlock chuckled and eased his finger out slightly, then moved it from side to side, stretching and playing with his entrance. "Have you been penetrated before?" he asked, deeming John sufficiently relaxed to allow the finger in deeper.

John canted his hips to improve the angle. "Surely you can deduce," he said cheekily, and Sherlock responded by sliding his finger in far enough to press against John's prostate. John whimpered.

"Yes, then," Sherlock said, taking John at his word. "But not for some time. Not while you have lived here." Sherlock steadily mapped out John's rectum with his probing finger before withdrawing it and adding a second. "Unless perhaps it was penetration in some less orthodox manner." He thrust the fingers in a few times and then spread them slightly, massaging John's prostate. "Manual stimulation? Dildos? Root vegetables?" He raised an eyebrow and John laughed, until Sherlock thrust fully into him with three fingers and he threw his head back and made a noise like a man being strangled.

"Why are you fingers so long?" John gasped as Sherlock withdrew them. Sherlock thrust back inside and stroked as far inward as he could reach with the pads of his fingers. "It is ridiculous."

Sherlock smirked to himself and gave John several more thrusts before he withdrew his hand entirely. He sat back for a moment and took up the bottle of lubricant again. He slicked his own cock, keeping his touch light and breathing slowly to center himself and maintain control. His hunger was growing more pronounced, and John smelled absolutely incredible. It had been four days since Sherlock had taken a full meal from him, and his odor was rich and heady. Sherlock was struck by an absurdly fanciful image of red blood cells hanging thick and plump like ripe fruit, ready to burst juicily under Sherlock's teeth. He moaned softly and drove the image away with a savage effort of will.

Then he leaned forward and guided his cock to John's entrance, lining up the tip with precision.

"Wait," John said. He grabbed Sherlock's other hand, still braced on the bed, and squeezed the wrist warningly. "Condoms. Are you- I mean, STIs aren't usually zoonotic, but-"

"I don't have anything," Sherlock said simply. He inhaled slowly, filtering John's various scents; there wasn't even a whiff of anxiety. The question was pro forma then, John following a long-established personal protocol.

Sherlock drew his cock up across John's perineum and rubbed the tip against the underside of his balls. John groaned and his cock jerked out another small stream of pre-come. "Stop thinking about biology," Sherlock said, and lined himself back up.

"But what about-" John seemed to lose his train of thought as Sherlock slowly and smoothly pushed his cock in until he bottomed out. "Sherlock. Sherlock. I- ha." Sherlock put his right hand back on the bed and released his breath in a long sigh. He discovered that he loved the sound of John lost and incoherent with Sherlock's cock buried inside of him. But even better was the way John forced himself back into lucidity to squeeze Sherlock's wrist again, this time also bringing up his left hand to brace against Sherlock's chest. "I haven't been tested," John gasped out, and now Sherlock did smell the sharp tang of worry emanating from his partner.

Sherlock had to restrain a laugh because John was still not thinking clearly, even if he had recovered his power of speech. "Idiot," he said fondly. "We've been exchanging fluids for weeks. I can estimate your red blood cell count from the way you smell right now. You think I can't tell that you're healthy?"

Comprehension, then embarrassment on his face. Sherlock pulled up John's left leg and wrapped it around his waist, leaning into the new angle to distract him. Then he drew back and began to slowly, smoothly thrust, grazing John's prostate on every third stroke or so and trying to touch his cock as little as possible.

John's arms were too short for him to grip Sherlock's hips from this angle; he grabbed for Sherlock's shoulders instead, and tugged as if trying to drag him closer. Sherlock resisted and John grumbled in frustration, "Can't you go any faster?"

Sherlock smirked again, knowing how maddening the intermittent stimulation must be. Enough to be interesting for John, but not enough to make him come. "I could," he admitted, but he kept the same steady pace.

"Then bite me," John urged. He tipped his head sideways and tensed his neck so that the veins stood out even further. It was a move calculated to incite Sherlock, and it made his heart rate speed up even as he grinned to himself at the obviousness of it.

"Soon," was all he said. He released John's hip to teasingly drag one finger across the tip of his cock, collecting pre-come. He licked his finger, curling his tongue around the tip, and returned his hand to the bed.

John's head thrashed on the pillow. "Hate you," he groaned.

Sherlock just laughed. "Patience," he said lightly. John cursed at him. Sherlock was quite enjoying this anticipation: the slow build of his own orgasm and the decadent scents rolling off John. But teasing aside, his hunger pangs were becoming a distraction, and he was almost ready to begin this properly.

He shifted position again, pushing his knees up beside John's hips so that the shorter man was practically in his lap. He bent over John so that their chests touched and John's cock was trapped between their stomachs. Close enough to reach John's throat now, Sherlock licked his neck and then blew on the cooling saliva while his hips made several shorter, quicker thrusts. John's grip on his shoulders tightened even further.

"Now," John said, panting. "Please, please, now." His voice was both commanding and pleading, and the mixed signals were dizzying.

Sherlock bit deep.

Blood welled in his mouth and John tasted as fantastic as he smelled, perhaps even better. He was warm and sweet and salty and rich; like eating a gourmet five-course dinner after three days of sub-standard takeaway. Sherlock drank and drank and wished that he could have this from John every day; he knew that John wouldn't say no to him if he asked. He would give of himself to Sherlock until he was pale and weak and his heart stopped functioning, which of course was why Sherlock would never ask. He'd just savor these meals all the more for their intense, brilliant rarity. John groaned- creating a vibration that Sherlock could feel through to the roots of his canines- and ground himself against Sherlock, which reminded him that he was meant to be fucking John as well.

He divided his attention somewhat, so that he could work his cock in and out of John with short, rapid thrusts that hit his prostate on every inward trip while he continued to drink. John muttered nonsense- mostly Sherlock's name, and variations on the theme of "fuck yes, do that some more"- while he squeezed Sherlock's shoulders in his grip. Sherlock was certainly developing bruises, but he did not care; they would be healed within a few hours anyway. Even if they had lasted days, it wouldn't have stopped him from taking as much pleasure as he could from having his teeth and his cock both sunk into John at once. If Sherlock had been able to speak and drink simultaneously, he would have been chanting John's name.

John's breaths came faster and shorter, and finally he was climaxing, shuddering with it as Sherlock's continued thrusting pushed their stomachs together and smeared them both with John's come. The steady pleasure of the feeding and the squeezing of John's muscles around Sherlock was abruptly too much stimulation for him to bear, and he came himself. His thrusts degenerated and became juddering and uneven, and he involuntarily tried to cry out with a mouthful of John's blood and almost choked. He pulled back from the wound and licked it a bit to retard the blood flow while he fought his breathing back under control.

Orgasm over, Sherlock forgot his cock entirely, leaving it to slip out of John on its own when it became too soft to stay inside. He returned his mouth to John's neck: no teeth, just gently sucking at the bite wound now. Finishing his meal. The tight, hot euphoria had subsided in the aftershocks of orgasm, but the taste was just as satisfying. And it was very fine, if not as intense, to lie there relaxed and pleasantly sore in his thighs, drinking ambrosia while John wrapped his arms around him and murmured quietly into his hair.

Some well-trained internal censor alerted Sherlock that he had taken a full pint now. He forced himself to disengage, with a groan of regret at having the feeding end. As he returned to a closer awareness of himself, he realized that he was lying heavily on top of John, and shifted himself off to one side. "Sorry," he muttered. He tilted John's head to examine the bite mark critically, then laid his head on John's right shoulder with a satisfied sigh.

John chuckled a little. "S'allright," he said, slurring a bit with exhaustion. "I can forgive a lot after sex like that, I think." He was rubbing his fingers over Sherlock's side, feeling the notches of his ribs. His touch was just firm enough to avoid being ticklish. Sherlock rested one hand over John's heart, so he could feel it beat as well as hear it.

"You belong to me now," Sherlock murmured, half to himself. John tensed up slightly at that, and Sherlock was quick to add, "And I belong to you."

"But you're not physically addicted to me," John said, the lightness of his tone masking concern in a way his scent couldn't hide.

"Just psychologically," Sherlock said to John's shoulder.

"Oh," John said in surprise, relaxing again. "Well. That's all right then."

Chapter Text

All John wanted to know was how damn old Sherlock was. It had started out as an idle question, but Sherlock had somehow turned it into his usual passive-aggressive mind game, and now it was the principle of the thing. John was going to tear the answer out of him or die trying. He finally decided passive-aggression could work for him too, and stalked over to Sherlock's coat to root for his wallet.

"You'll never learn anything that way," Sherlock said. "You were invited to deduce, not go through my things." He obviously didn't care that much, however, as he made no move to get off the sofa.

"I'm gathering data," said John, extracting a driver's license. "This says you were born in 1980. That's obviously bollocks."

"That's just guessing," Sherlock said disapprovingly.

"Not guessing. Logic. You suggested that your species lives for hundreds of years. You're obviously sexually mature, which would mean you've spent something less than 10% of your lifespan as a juvenile. The longer a species' lifespan, the later it tends to mature sexually. The fact that the world isn't overrun with vampires suggests that you follow the pattern." John crossed his arms over his chest and gave Sherlock a triumphant look.

Sherlock opened his eyes. "Ina, not vampires. And at least part of your reasoning there is specious. But you are getting closer."

John paused for a few moments, trying to think his way around the problem the way Sherlock would. What was the question Sherlock wanted him to ask, the one he would actually answer? John couldn't imagine what he was supposed to have observed that he didn't. So he cheated. "I should just ask Mycroft," he said. "He'll tell me, especially if he thinks it will wind you up."

"Your manipulations are exceedingly transparent," Sherlock said, but he relented when John got out his phone. "Oh fine, be tedious then. I was born in 1918."

"You wear it well," John said, straight-faced.

"Thank you," Sherlock said sarcastically. "I've been sexually mature for about two decades, as it happens, and I should live for another four centuries or so."

"Huh." John sprawled in his armchair. "How long has your birth date been 1980, then?"

"Not long. Mycroft changes it now and again- as he'll do for you when it becomes necessary. At least until he grows tired of playing governments in Whitehall."

John sat up straighter. "What do you mean as he'll do for me?"

Sherlock turned his head to look at John with an indolent smile. "Well people are going to wonder when you continue to chase criminals over rooftops well past the age where you should be doddering."

"You said my lifespan would increase," John remembered. He had no idea why he remembered that, actually, but it was something Sherlock had mentioned in passing when he first explained what his venom would do to John. "By how much?"

Sherlock rolled over and faced the back of the sofa. "I caught you late. You'll probably live another hundred years, perhaps one hundred twenty at the outside. And I think we've had enough of this line of inquiry."

"Why?" John said. "It's interesting. Amazing, really." He'd thought about immortality and longevity before; everybody did, everybody wondered what it would be like. And John was a doctor, not to mention a soldier, so he'd probably spent more time thinking about mortality than most. He wasn't even the researching type, but even he was curious to know the methodology by which human life could be chemically prolonged, and Sherlock ought to find the whole thing fascinating. Why didn't he want to talk about it?

"I just gave you the data, John," Sherlock said, his voice slightly muffled by cushion. "Deduce it."

John thought for a moment. He was 35 and might live to be 155. Sherlock was 92 and- oh. "Good God," John said. "You'll outlive me. You'll outlive- everyone, really."

"Always last to realize the obvious," Sherlock said nastily. John immediately read it as defensiveness; that was how Sherlock always reacted to feeling emotionally vulnerable.

John had a sudden insight into something that had been nagging at him since Sherlock first revealed himself. "I don't think this is your first relationship. You can't have gone your whole life without having symbionts. Is that what happened to-"

"Stop," Sherlock growled, flipping over and sitting up to glare at John. His voice was strangely resonant. "Don't say another word about that. The topic is off limits."

John's jaw involuntarily snapped shut and he was forced to swallow the rest of his sentence. It wasn't the first time Sherlock had ever told him to do something, certainly, but it was the first time he felt physically compelled to obey. He tried again to speak the question, but when he opened his mouth nothing came out. He was gripped by terror at his voice's refusal to emerge, but when he framed a different question he found that he was able to speak again. "What the fuck was that?" he snapped.

"What was what?" said Sherlock. His innocent tone was a fake, and a bad one; he answered too quickly and his eyes flicked to his right before he answered, so he was lying. And since Sherlock was probably the best liar John had ever met, he was either deliberately not hiding his tells, or he was so agitated that he wasn't paying attention to what his face was doing. John's terror snapped over into cold fury.

"You know what! You told me to stop talking, and I didn't want to but I had to." John was practically snarling. "You said- people you bite become highly suggestible." Another factoid that John hadn't even realized he remembered. He could see from the look on Sherlock's face that he was on the right track. "You were trying to control me."

"I just-" Sherlock pulled his knees up and tucked his toes over the edge of the sofa. "I don't want to talk about that. Please, John," he said in a low voice.

"Sherlock, there has to be a certain level of trust here," John said, running a hand through his hair and trying to calm himself. Fuck, he was angry. It was terrifying, knowing that Sherlock could give an order and he had no option but to follow it. "If you don't want to talk about something private, that's fine, just say so. I'll respect your boundaries. But I need to be able to trust you, and I can't if I know you're going to be giving me orders I can't disobey."

"I didn't mean to," Sherlock told his knees, quietly. "I was upset and I- pushed." That was surprisingly close to a direct apology, for Sherlock.

"You don't get to do that," John said, his voice hard. "Ever. Do you understand?" If Sherlock couldn't understand that, then it was going to have to end right now. The very idea of leaving Sherlock made him feel sick and lonely and a little afraid, but if they couldn't have a relationship built on trust, on equality- yes, John evaluated himself and found that he was capable of leaving.

"What if it's to save you?" Sherlock asked. Always, always pushing. John hissed out a breath and reminded himself that if Sherlock was the type to just do what was expected without question, John would not have fallen for him in the first place. He should probably be happy that Sherlock didn't just do what he would with 99% of people: tell them what they wanted to hear and then do what the hell he wanted to anyway. The fact that he was pushing meant that any guarantee he made John, he was going to take seriously.

"Then you tell me in your normal voice and I get to decide if I should listen," John said. "You know I do what you want anyway most of the time, God help me. But it's my choice. You don't own me."

"I know," Sherlock said.

"Can I trust you?" John demanded, locking eyes with him.

"Yes," Sherlock said at once, and John decided that he believed him.

"Good," John said. "Fine." He resisted the urge to flounce; he was still tense and angry. It was better not to have the sort of fight with shouting, really; far nicer to have a reasoned discussion like adults and come to an agreement. But sometimes being childish could be very cathartic, and John was left with all this vitriol and nothing to do with it.

"John-" Sherlock said hesitantly, and stopped for a moment. "Come here." The order, if it was one, was wholly different from Sherlock's previous barked command. That had been hard and forceful and irresistible. Now it was just- normal. Sherlock's normal voice, making a normal demand, with perhaps a bit more hesitance than usual, a bit less certainty that John would automatically comply.

John gave Sherlock a long, slow once-over as he paused, making it clear that he recognized the difference. Then, because he wanted to, he went and sat on the sofa next to Sherlock, instinctively leaning into his side. Sherlock reached an arm around his shoulder to pull him closer, then laid his cheek on John's head and snuffled at his hair. He could feel the tension dissipating. He felt like he should hate himself for how easily he let himself be soothed out of justified anger, but he enjoyed the feeling far too much. Sherlock was warm and comfortable, and it was just plain nice to sit with him this way. "Dare I ask why you're smelling my hair?" John asked after a moment.

"I like how you smell," Sherlock said.

John sighed contentedly, letting the muscles in his neck unknot. "Do I smell lonely?"

"Of course not," Sherlock said into his hair. "You still smell wonderful, though. Only now you smell like me. Like...mine."

"Don't own me, remember," John warned sharply.

"Not like that," Sherlock said, and ran his hand soothingly up and down John's arm. "My scent is mixed up in yours now. Any other Ina will know that you're with me. Off limits."

"My God, you're possessive," John muttered. Again, he ought to be annoyed, but he felt oddly pleased, instead. Wanted. Treasured.

"You like it," Sherlock said.

John chuckled. "It's unfair, you know, how you can always tell how I feel."

"I can't control my sense of smell," Sherlock said reasonably. He took a deep breath, then released it. "Ask me about my past symbionts, if you really want to," he said, with that strange, compelling resonance in his voice. Then he paused, and returned his voice to normal. "But I'd really prefer it if you didn't," he added.

John shrugged one shoulder, and said the only thing he could say to a request like that. "Okay."

***

Lestrade could force himself to stop speculating about the dynamics of John and Sherlock's relationship, but he couldn't stop seeing that there was one. Once he had opened his eyes to what was happening between them, and moreover had his suspicions confirmed (by both parties, no less), he couldn't close them again. He couldn't stop observing.

If this turned out to be an actual, diagnosable mental illness, it was probably called Sherlock's Curse.

They did a decent job hiding it, they never kissed or engaged in any obvious displays of affection where Lestrade or his people could see. They didn't speak to each other any differently; John still let Sherlock run roughshod over him, Sherlock still looked at John as if he had split the atom when he made an observation that proved correct, John still made an effort to rein Sherlock in when he got too nasty with witnesses or coppers. They didn't use pet names, or talk about their plans for outside of work. Lestrade suspected that he had only got any hint of the thing in the first place because he knew what Sherlock was and had been looking for the right tells: faint red ovals on John's neck or wrist, sneaky and apparently innocent touches, extra possessiveness.

Sherlock had treated John as if he was private property almost from the beginning, but to Lestrade's surprise he seemed to become less protective of John, not more. Oh, he still kept John in view- except when he got over-excited and ran off after a lead without him- but he didn't flinch or even look askance when one of the newer forensics techs did her level best to talk John into a date. John, on the other hand, was clearly irritated whenever anyone expressed an interest in Sherlock. Which was often, because most people found him stunningly attractive until he opened his mouth and showed them what an utter ass he was. Sherlock ignored flirting entirely, as per usual. John had frequently responded to it in the past, before the Moriarty incident at any rate, but now he was all polite smiles and deflection and gentle let-downs.

Lestrade also observed that John had become more direct in his handling of Sherlock; he had always made attempts to talk him down when he started to become frustrated or angry, but now Lestrade frequently caught him putting a casual hand on Sherlock's shoulder, or tapping his arm to gain his attention, or physically dragging him back from verbal altercations. He was good at making it seem unobtrusive, but Lestrade noticed that Sherlock's tension and ill-temper almost immediately ratcheted down, every time. And Lestrade was hardly about to complain on that score. If it couldn't be him that had the magic touch, at least someone did.

It seemed so obvious to Lestrade, after a while, that it amazed him that no one else guessed. When bitching about Sherlock or bullshitting about a case, the team still occasionally meandered into speculation about whether Sherlock and John were shagging, but with no more certainty than before. No one seemed to notice that the unresolved sexual tension was now just...regular sexual tension. It was sometimes tempting to answer the question- something about hearing people debate about Sherlock's possible sex life made Lestrade grind his teeth- but even if he didn't give a fig for Sherlock, there was John to consider. And damn it, he did care about Sherlock, despite himself. Neither of them deserved to have their private life become gossip for the whole Yard, when they so clearly considered it nobody else's business.

Even stranger than being the only person who noticed the relationship was being the only person who noticed what it was doing to John. Sherlock hadn't been entirely forthcoming with Lestrade, back when- back when it happened. But he'd hinted that the bond he'd proposed would have other physical effects beyond addiction.

Clue the first came the night Sherlock had led them all to a vacant warehouse on a mission to corner a pair of serial bank robbers turned killers. Lestrade, reluctantly towed along in advance of his team, was not wearing street kit and had to call for backup with proper torches. Sherlock, of course, ran inside alone. John stomped up and down the curb muttering for about ninety seconds before snapping, "Right. Sod this," and darting after him. Lestrade, feeling bound to protect civilian lives even when the civilians in question were bleeding idiots, followed.

A warehouse with no electricity on a foggy London night turned out to be damn dark. The barest trace of light from the street lamps seeped in through the windows near the ceiling, but it didn't illuminate a damn thing as far as Lestrade could tell. He stopped two steps in and listened; there was a faint shushing of fabric off to his right, so he headed that way and promptly bashed his knee on something. He bit his lip to avoid cursing and shifted along with his hand on the edge of the object to prevent further incidents. It took him perhaps five minutes to navigate around and resume movement in his original direction. Just when he was deciding that this was really, really stupid and he was just going to back up the way he came and wait for backup, John muttered in his ear, "You shouldn't be in here."

"Fuck," Lestrade couldn't restrain at the sudden appearance of the man. "Neither should you." He at least managed to keep his voice low.

"Sometimes you're worse than Sherlock," John retorted.

"Me?" Lestrade demanded indignantly. He remembered that he had a tiny penlight in his pocket and fumbled for it as John started to move off again without any hesitation. "Hold on, wait." He managed to get the light out and flicked the tiny beam to life. It barely cut the gloom at all, but as he angled it forward he caught a glimpse of John's face in its feeble glow. Startled, he flipped the light up for a better look at what had caught his trained eye.

"Jesus, Watson," he said as John flinched and turned away from the light. "Are you on something?" He never would have expected it of John, of all people. But his pupils were blown so wide that he didn't appear to have any color to his irises at all.

"Thanks a lot, you bastard," John hissed, looking back at him. "That's my night vision gone." His pupils had constricted back to normal. Not drugs then. Just...weird.

Much later that night, Lestrade turned off the lights in his bathroom, let his eyes adjust to the dark, and then used the penlight to examine himself in the mirror. His pupils were nowhere near as dilated as John's had been.

Clue the second came a week later, when John was the one who ran headlong into a dangerous situation without backup- something the doctor was wont to do when he thought it would stop Sherlock doing the same- and caught a knife across his forearm for his trouble. Lestrade supervised the loading of John's assailant into an ambulance, then went looking for John and Sherlock. He found them together, naturally: John sitting with his back against the tire of one of the cruisers, and Sherlock crouched beside him, bent over his injured arm. The two were on the opposite side of the car from the coppers working the scene, and seemed to be sharing a private moment.

Still, Lestrade didn't quite realize what was happening until John jerked his head up with a wide-eyed and guilty look. Lestrade's lecture about taking stupid risks and waiting for backup flew entirely out of his head, to be replaced by a new topic. "What the fuck-" he began.

"He's cleaning the wound," John said quickly. "It'll help prevent infection." The emergency dressing the paramedic had given him was on the ground, and John was holding his arm steady on top of his knees while Sherlock laved it with his tongue.

Lestrade was pretty sure he meant to continue telling them off for this weirdness and for fucking around with a fresh, deep wound like that, but instead what came out was, "Doesn't that hurt?"

John hummed noncommittally and closed his eyes for a moment. "Feels quite nice, actually." Lestrade almost shivered. Okay, he had asked. Sherlock lifted his head and rolled his eyes at Lestrade. "Ah," John said, "You've got a little-" He gestured vaguely at his face, and Sherlock used the back of his hand to wipe smears of blood from the corner of his mouth. He licked his hand clean fastidiously.

"The second ambulance will be here in five," Lestrade said, glancing away. He was not quite sure how to process the queasy sensation in his stomach.

Sherlock said, "I really must re-register my objection to-"

"We discussed this," John said wearily. "I need sutures. I'm not doing them half-arsed with my off hand, and no I'm not letting you do it, so don't even ask. There are perfectly competent professionals available." Sherlock muttered something about competence but John chose to ignore it.

"You realize," Lestrade said, finally getting back to his original topic, "that you have been utterly reckless tonight, and that you are lucky that was the worst you got."

"I told him that," Sherlock said, sounding aggrieved.

"You're one to talk," Lestrade said. Sherlock being sensible was probably one of the harbingers of Armageddon, and he did not need that tonight in addition to everything else.

"Yeah," John said to Lestrade. "I also realize that when I jumped him, he was about two seconds from remembering the gun in his back pocket and causing some real damage." Lestrade frowned, because they had recovered a gun when they scraped the distinctly unhappy perp off the pavement where John had laid him out. "Give me some credit, Lestrade, I wouldn't have done it if it hadn't been necessary. I don't enjoy being stabbed, believe it or not."

"You're an idiot," Sherlock told John.

"Takes one to know one," John said back. Lestrade walked off shaking his head.

When he went to the hospital to check on John after he finished processing the scene, Watson had received his sutures and checked out AMA without a tetanus shot or any medication. John didn't pick up his phone, and Sherlock replied to calls with a text that John was sleeping. By the time Lestrade crawled out from under his paperwork the next day, it was the middle of the evening and he just went directly to Baker Street.

Mrs. Hudson let him in, and he found Sherlock lounging in the sitting room with a book and John typing one-handed on his laptop. He was wearing a t-shirt and his knife wound was no longer covered. Lestrade could see that the line of sutures now looked like a severe overreaction to what was clearly a shallow cut.

John caught him staring and smiled ruefully. "And that," he said, "is why I left the hospital. I'm not really interested in being a medical miracle."

By day three, when they came down to the station to give their reports, the sutures had been removed- by John himself, Lestrade was guessing- and the knife wound was nothing but a thin white line.

Lestrade stopped numbering the clues after that, but he couldn't stop seeing them. John and Sherlock trawled the edge of the Thames for a severed foot without protective gear; three of Lestrade's team- who had been wearing hip waders and gloves per regulations, thanks very much- came down with some sort of gastrointestinal death 'flu, but John and Sherlock were fine. John outpaced a 22-year-old detective constable- former track champ from the west country- in a foot chase. John developed an ability to recall and repeat bits of conversations with almost eidetic precision; he was especially accurate in remembering Sherlock's pronouncements. John was able to kick down a heavy reinforced door without breaking all the bones in his foot; Lestrade didn't witness that one, but the damage to the door was distinctive and Lestrade had enough experience to see that he would have needed a ram to get through it.

He took John aside and tried to warn him. "You're going to get caught," he said. "You're making yourself too bloody obvious by half."

John shrugged. "You only see it because you're looking for it. To everyone else, I'm just as normal as I've always been." He smiled brightly, falsely. He had a point, Lestrade thought. If he hadn't known what Sherlock was, he still would have thought the consulting detective peculiar. But would he really have suspected anything out of the ordinary about plain, unassuming John Watson? Probably not, he had to concede. Nor would he have suspected that the two were engaged in a relationship that involved sex, blood-drinking, and frankly impossible alterations to John's physical abilities.

Some days, Lestrade wished to hell that he was as unobservant as Sherlock often accused him of being.

Chapter Text

Sherlock was not omnipotent or immortal; John knew this, because he was a doctor and an intelligent man, and because Sherlock had said so himself. If an egomaniac said that he lacked something, you could generally assume he was telling the truth. But somehow, John found himself forgetting that Sherlock's general failure to get killed in any of the ridiculous situations he got them into was due primarily to extraordinary luck.

And nobody was lucky all the time.

They had chased a suspect through what seemed like half the back alleys in Lambeth, with a particular focus on the ones used as dumping grounds and public loos. This particular man also favored them for disposing of bodies, which Sherlock had seized on as both sloppy and as the means by which he would catch him; there were few things Sherlock despised more than sloppy murders.

John had chased him into one of these delightful alleyways, and was not especially concerned with the knife he was holding, which he didn't really seem to have any clear confidence in. He was mostly desperate at this point, and John was unarmed but confident that he could take the man down. Sherlock came around from the other side and surprised the suspect, which in theory should have made him realize he was outclassed and give up the chase. Except that would require a modicum of intelligence, which the suspect clearly did not have. Instead, he did what any cornered and frightened and stupid animal would do, and jammed his knife hilt deep into Sherlock's belly.

It was hardly an expert move, and the way he twisted the knife as he pulled it out was almost certainly unintentional. But Sherlock's internal organs didn't know that. John was there just half a second too late to slap the knife out of the fucker's hand and put him on the ground with a broken knee. He kicked the knife up the alley while the suspect warbled in pain; knee injuries are wretchedly painful and never heal right, and so help him if Sherlock bled out in this fucking alley John was going to go back and break his other knee too.

"Oh hell," Sherlock said distinctly from behind him. "That's this suit ruined." John didn't find this remarkable at all; in his experience the victims of traumatic injury often didn't feel the pain immediately. A few seconds later, as John turned back towards him, Sherlock staggered back against the wall and gasped. John didn't bother trying to pull Sherlock's hands away from where they pressed at the wound. He just dragged off his own shirt, fumbling the buttons in his rush, and wadded it up.

"Show me," John said briskly in his best trauma surgeon voice. Perfectly calm and professional, not at all freaking out, nope.

Sherlock wasn't fooled. He obediently removed his hands from his stomach but said, "Stop panicking, John, it's not that serious."

John's near-panic attack was momentarily derailed by honest surprise. Instead of being absolutely soaked in blood as he would have expected, Sherlock's clothing was only stained with liquid right around the wound itself. John shifted Sherlock's suit jacket aside and gently tugged the shirt out of his trousers, lifting it up so he could examine the damage. The stab wound was as wide and as messy as John had feared, but it was merely oozing blood, rather than gushing as it should have been. "You're hardly bleeding at all," John said.

Sherlock hissed as John probed with his fingers. "I rarely do," he said through gritted teeth. "Must have missed the major veins, in any case."

"That'll take sutures," John said, his calm voice now completely sincere. It was tremendously reassuring to realize that your best friend/lover/partner was not going to bleed to death in a filthy alley while you uselessly performed first aid and waited for an ambulance.

"Don't be so insufferably dense, John," Sherlock snapped. "Remember my hand. I will be fine. What I need is to eat, and then to sleep."

John did remember Sherlock's hand. And he really wasn't bleeding that much, which made Sherlock's version of first aid sound almost plausible. If a deep cut in Sherlock's palm could heal itself in about 90 seconds, John would bet that the stab wound could be closed before they could be seen at an A&E. But eating and sleeping were both tricky, given that they were in an alley, in the company of the unsavory character who had caused the wound in the first place. "What are we going to do with this mess?" he muttered aloud.

"Simple," Sherlock said. "I eat. You call Lestrade."

It took John a moment to realize what Sherlock meant; to realize Sherlock remembered as well as John did that he had taken a full meal from him the night before, and it was way too soon for another. "No," John said. "We've been through this, Sherlock, it's weird. I don't want to watch you."

"Go find a cab then," Sherlock said. "We'll need that next." He stumbled over to the suspect, who was still lost in his own very private- and painful- world on the floor of the alley.

"Hell no. I'm not leaving you here," John said.

Sherlock apparently thought further discussion would be unproductive because he eschewed it entirely. For one terrifying moment John thought Sherlock was about to ask John to hold the suspect down for him, but as it turned out Sherlock was perfectly capable of pinning the man whilst simultaneously rolling up his right sleeve. Sherlock clapped a hand over the man's mouth to muffle his shocked cry at having fangs messily sink into the crook of his elbow.

John firmly turned his back and tried to not think about it while he dialed Lestrade and told him where to find his murder suspect.

"I'll see you in a few," Lestrade said.

"No," John said immediately. The one thing they absolutely could not do was be here when the police showed up, Sherlock was right about that. "The man got Sherlock with a knife. Just a- a graze, but I want to get it taken care of right away."

"I can call you an ambulance," Lestrade offered.

"Are you fucking insane?" John hissed. Was Lestrade actually listening to what he was saying? Yes, please, absolutely call an ambulance for the actual functioning vampire, and they could lay bets on what would clue the hospital staff in first, his inhuman healing ability or his request for several packets of donor blood to suck on.

"Sorry, instinct," Lestrade said.

"The killer's incapacitated," John said. "He'll still be here when you arrive." John wondered if Lestrade could read between the lines, or if there'd been many other crime scenes featuring suspects who were oddly compliant or sporting strange wounds following their encounters with Sherlock Holmes.

When he turned back around, Sherlock was finished and the suspect had stopped struggling. Sherlock rolled down his sleeve, then leaned over to mutter in his ear a bit. The man closed his eyes and Sherlock staggered to his feet with difficulty. John ducked in beside him to provide a shoulder to lean on, which Sherlock made heavy use of.

"All right?" John asked inanely, not sure what else to say.

"In rather a lot of pain, actually," Sherlock said tightly.

In the cab back home, John carefully angled himself to block the driver's view and checked on the wound. It was noticeably smaller, but still oozing. Sherlock was looking rather gray and pinched by the time they arrived at Baker Street, and John had to help him up the stairs. "Sofa," Sherlock tried to command, but John overruled him and dumped him into his own bed. John checked the wound again. Still closing, still oozing.

"This is so unreal," John muttered. "They sure as hell didn't train me for this in medical school." Sherlock chuckled breathily. "Okay, you're the Ina expert in the room. What do you need now?"

"Sleep," Sherlock said. "Twelve hours or so of sleep, while my body repairs itself. Then I'll be hungry again."

"It'll be the middle of the day," John protested. "You can't go hunting then."

"Shut up," Sherlock said. "I'm too tired to explain things just now. When the shops open, go to a grocery- not the Tesco Express, it has to be one with a butcher. Take my card, get me about five pounds of round steak, have them cube it. Put it in the fridge, then go upstairs and stay there."

John followed everything except the last part. "Why?" he demanded.

"Just do it," mumbled Sherlock. John had never seen Sherlock like this: fighting to stay awake and failing. It made him seem almost normal. It seemed cruel to force him to stay awake answering questions, so John shut up and in another fifteen seconds Sherlock was dead to the world.

John couldn't bring himself to leave the room, in the end. He got a few hours of sleep himself, but he got them curled up against Sherlock's back, listening to his heart and lungs. Eventually morning dawned, and he got up and went to the shop. John put the squashy bundles of meat in the fridge and checked on Sherlock, who was still deeply asleep. Nothing now remained of the nasty wound on his stomach but a bit of redness and an upraised white scar. Based on the incident with Sherlock's hand, John guessed the scar would be gone by the end of the day.

Reassured, John went to the sitting room and answered his voice mail and e-mail; Harry had been up late posting dirty limericks in his blog comments again, and Lestrade wanted reassuring that Sherlock wasn't dead and would be coming down to the Yard at some point to give his statement. After that, John just settled in and waited for Sherlock to get up.

It was almost noon when Sherlock finally emerged from his room. John looked up when he heard him stumble into the kitchen. Sherlock was standing in the doorway, looking at John. His nostrils were flaring, and he had a strange and slightly scary expression on his face: muddled hunger and greed. For some reason, it almost frightened John when Sherlock took a step into the sitting room.

"Sherlock," John said evenly. "Sherlock!" he repeated, louder, when Sherlock took another step. That time Sherlock stopped and cocked his head, clearly intent on John's voice. That gesture helped John determine why Sherlock's expression was alarming him: it was blank of intelligence, the eyes somehow flat. All that was left was a sort of animal attentiveness, like a hunting bird examining its prey. "Sherlock, the fridge," he said, not moving an inch. "The beef, remember? It's in the fridge." Sherlock twisted his upper body around, looking back at the fridge, then turned back and looked at John again.

Oh, fuck. If he came in here, was John going to be able to stop him? Sherlock was stronger than John, at least when he was healthy. Running probably wasn't a good idea, Sherlock could be on him before he hit the door. John decided that he was not going to run, he was going to face Sherlock down, because there was nothing else to be done. He very slowly, carefully closed his laptop and set it aside. Sherlock started to take another step toward John, but froze and put his foot back down when John barked out, "No, stop." Seeing that reassured John; it meant that Sherlock was definitely still in there, still at least semi-rational. "Don't come in here," he continued. "The fridge, damn it." Sherlock looked at the fridge again, then hesitantly walked towards it. He got the fridge door open and John could hear paper rustling as he found the two packets of meat.

Sherlock turned and dropped them onto the table so he could tear the first open with both hands. He left the fridge door standing open behind him. The way he tore the paper apart was almost frenzied, and the instant the meat was exposed he began to grab fistfuls of the raw, cubed steak and cram them into his mouth. John watched with fascination. He'd rarely seen Sherlock eat actual food, and when he did it was always with utensils and small bites; completely normal dining, in other words. Now he was eating like a starving wolf, without pauses for chewing or, apparently, breathing. He managed to choke down two and a half pounds of raw meat in under five minutes, then paused and took several deep breaths. His face and hands were smeared with blood, and it had dripped all down the front of his shirt.

Sherlock pulled the second packet open with slower and more deliberate movements, finding the taped edges and lifting them up rather than simply ripping the paper apart. He ate the second half of the meat quickly, but he put one piece at a time into his mouth and chewed it before swallowing. John could see his rationality returning minute by minute, and it was clear that Sherlock was completely himself when he had finished the meat and looked up at John; the most peculiar expression of horrified embarrassment crossed his face, and then he turned his back and quite simply fled into the back hallway. A door slammed and John heard the shower start up.

John put his palm to his mouth to stifle a snort of laughter. He couldn't help it; Sherlock embarrassed was quite simply the most hilarious thing John had ever seen. The look he'd given John was the one you'd give your mother if she walked in on you tossing off. Still trying not to chuckle, John went into the kitchen and closed the fridge door. He cleared up the mess on the table and wiped up that and the floor where Sherlock had dripped, and was back in the sitting room by the time Sherlock came in wearing fresh clothes and looking utterly normal except for the look of fury on his face.

"I told you to go upstairs and stay there!" he snarled. This was probably as angry as John had ever seen him.

"And I chose not to. Calm down," John said reasonably.

"You're an idiot," Sherlock snapped. "You saw what I was like when I woke up. I wasn't myself, you have no idea what it's like to hurt that way."

John gave Sherlock an absolutely scathing look, raking him with his eyes and raising one eyebrow, because now who was being an idiot?

Sherlock caught it, clearly, because he rolled his eyes. "Not the pain, John, the hunger. I was starving, my body used all its resources healing. I'm like an animal in that state, not even rational." Sherlock's voice was thick with disgust.

John couldn't suppress his chuckle. "I noticed," he said. "I know you're proud, Sherlock, but seriously. You have nothing to be embarrassed about."

Sherlock looked at him as if he couldn't believe how impossibly stupid John was. "This is not about-" Sherlock was shaking, actually shaking. "I walked out here and you- you smelled like food, like meat."

"Oh Christ," John muttered, understanding. "Come over here." When Sherlock just stood there looking sick and angry, John walked over and simply hugged him. He silently willed Sherlock's panting breaths to slow and become even with his own. Sherlock didn't hug him back, but he did stop hyperventilating. "You recognized my voice," John said, pulling his head back and sliding his hands to Sherlock's upper arms. "I told you to stop, and you did. You were still you, and you wouldn't have hurt me."

"You couldn't have known that," Sherlock said tensely. "I might've killed you."

"Bollocks," John said, suddenly angry. And his therapist had thought he had trust issues. This was what fucking trust issues looked like. He wasn't sure if he was more furious at Sherlock for not trusting his own innate- for lack of a better word- humanity, or for not trusting John's ability to look after himself. "I'm not some delicate flower, Sherlock, for God's sake."

Sherlock's eyes snapped and he brought up his hands lightning fast, fisting them in the front of John's shirt. He bent his head to growl into John's face, "Compared to me? You are. You really are." He shook John once, hard, giving John a feel for just how much stronger Sherlock was. He shoved John back, releasing him, and John staggered back several feet with the force of the push and almost fell over the coffee table.

"Do you get it?" Sherlock said in that low, angry voice, stalking towards John, who didn't move. He swung a punch too fast for John to completely deflect it, and it glanced off his forearm and hit his right shoulder. It hurt like a bastard, but John ignored it and got his hands back on Sherlock, pressing them flat against his chest as Sherlock stepped still closer. Sherlock, clearly interpreting it as a defense gesture, laughed mockingly. "I am extraordinarily dangerous, John, and whatever you may think, you are not immune." He brought up his hands and grabbed for John's shirt again.

John didn't hesitate. He seized Sherlock's clothes in his hands and jerked him forward, sliding his left leg forward and around so that it hooked behind Sherlock's knee. Just as Sherlock began to shift his stance to maintain his balance, John abruptly shoved him back and to the left. Sherlock leg caught on John's and thanks to John's direction, the stumble landed him flat on his back on the rug. John followed him down and kneed him in the diaphragm for good measure. Sherlock didn't stay surprised for long, he almost immediately started grappling; but his advantages were counterbalanced by his inability to breathe and John was able to eel out of his clutches and flip him onto his stomach, wrenching his shoulder into a vicious armlock. Recognizing that he could not escape without breaking something, Sherlock submitted to the lock and John stopped twisting his arm.

Sherlock, his breath regained, began to make stifled noises against the carpet that John quickly identified as laughter. John scowled and suppressed a petty urge to pop Sherlock's shoulder out of the socket. "This isn't funny," he said testily. Then he thought about it and realized that no, he and Sherlock beating each other up to prove how much they could trust each other actually was screamingly funny, and he giggled a little bit himself. His thigh was starting to ache unpleasantly, and when he slid his leg into a better position it wound up pressed right up against Sherlock's groin, which was-

"Sherlock," he said. "Are you turned on?" John was sure he hadn't meant to sound that much like a scandalized maiden aunt, but somehow that was how it came out.

Sherlock laughed again. "As if you aren't," he said, muffled by carpet.

John was turned on, he realized. It was probably a little bit because of the adrenaline pumping through his system, which tended to have that effect. And he had to admit to himself, it was probably a lot because it was deeply satisfying to have got the better of Sherlock Holmes. "All right," he acknowledged. "I'm man enough to admit it that I like having you face down on the floor."

Sherlock didn't quite hide a sharp intake of breath. "I think you've proved your point," he said.

"Have I?" John said consideringly. "What is it then?"

"I wasn't aware there'd be an exam," Sherlock said tartly, then gasped again as John shifted slightly against his balls and then pulled his leg back. "I think I was meant to be learning that you're not afraid of me," he panted. He jerked his hips back slightly, looking for more contact, but he couldn't reach with his upper body stuck under John's control.

"Close enough," John said, and pressed a kiss to the knuckles of the hand he held in his grip.

"Going to let me up, then?" Sherlock asked.

"Not feeling especially inclined, no," John said. He shifted so that he was straddling one of Sherlock's thighs, and pushed one knee up against Sherlock's groin as he ground his own erection against the back of Sherlock's leg. Sherlock groaned and his hips jerked back again. John desperately wanted to get both their trousers off, but there seemed no way to do it without returning control of Sherlock's arm; the lock took both his arms to effectuate, although one hand and forearm was free. Ah. John was able to lower his hand enough to pick at the buckle of his belt until he got it open, then drag the length through the belt loops until it was free. John took a firm hold on Sherlock's wrist and released him from the lock, gently rotating his shoulder back into a better alignment and pulling the arm behind his back in a simple right angle.

"Give me your other arm," he said in a low voice, and was surprised at how quickly Sherlock complied. Freed from the lock, he was able to turn his head so that his cheek was pressed against the carpet and he could look at John out of the corner of his eye. John carefully wrapped the belt around Sherlock's wrists and cinched it shut. "All right?" John asked softly when he was done. Sherlock just laughed. "I ought to gag you, too," John muttered. "Smartarse."

"A gag wouldn't stop me laughing," Sherlock pointed out. Now that he wasn't at risk of seriously damaging his shoulder, he was free to grind himself back against John.

"Fuck," John said feelingly, and set his hands to work unfastening Sherlock's trousers and tugging them and his pants down past the curve of his arse. John took a moment to indulge himself, smoothing his hands over the taut cheeks and curving his fingers around the surprisingly knobby hips. Not being a contortionist of any renown, he had to slide further down Sherlock's leg to get his face as close as he wanted it. Sherlock wiggled a bit as he lost the friction against his groin, then gasped as John nuzzled into Sherlock's cleft and planted a rather wet kiss there. John tasted Sherlock's skin, licking and sucking and nipping across the expanse of both cheeks in what he considered to be a fine spirit of scientific inquiry. He found that the experiment did not disprove his hypothesis that each part of Sherlock's arse was equally delightful. He completed the study by fastening his teeth on Sherlock's right arsecheek and sucking a sizable love bite onto the skin there. Sherlock moaned and thrashed slightly, but stilled when John gave him a slightly sharper nip with his teeth. He lay very still while John placed a matching mark on the left side.

Finished with that, John placed another soft kiss at the top of Sherlock's cleft. "Touch me?" Sherlock asked hopefully.

"Soon," John promised. He grabbed Sherlock's trousers and pants and sat back to drag them down his legs. He had to crouch on his heels to finish pulling them off, and then Sherlock lay looking deliciously debauched with no bottoms and his shirt and jacket rucked up under his bound arms, displaying his arse and a sliver of lower back. John started unbuttoning his own shirt as he walked round Sherlock to stand a few feet from his face. Sherlock tilted his head and watched John disrobe quickly and efficiently. He wet his lips with his tongue when John pushed his pants down over his hips and his cock bounced up, rock hard and shiny at the slit.

Sherlock pushed his cock down against the floor, eyes closing in pleasure at the friction. "Hey, none of that," John said sharply, sinking back to his knees at Sherlock's shoulder. Sherlock opened his eyes again, and John grabbed the base of his cock and brushed the head gently against Sherlock's lips. His tongue flickered out to taste the pre-come that John left there, and when John went in for another pass, he put out his tongue again and lapped gently at the head.

John sighed at the feather-light caress of Sherlock's tongue and resisted the urge to shove his cock into Sherlock's admittedly talented mouth. He left his cock where it was and ran a gentle hand through Sherlock's curls. "I'm going to step out for a moment," he said firmly. "You are not to move." Sherlock made a small noise of displeasure as John shifted backwards, away from his mouth. He tried to wiggle after, but John held his head in place with one hand. "Do you know what happens if you do?" he asked in his sweetest tone of voice, but didn't give Sherlock a chance to register a response. "I will go straight upstairs and have the noisiest orgasm in the history of England, while you lie down here working your way out of that belt and knowing you had nothing to do with it. Understand?"

"Yes," Sherlock replied sulkily, hissing the 's' a bit more than is perhaps strictly necessary.

John stood smoothly and padded back to Sherlock's bedroom. If he were less impatient, he would go all the way up to his own room, draw it out, keep Sherlock desperate and panting on the floor for as long as possible. But he's only mortal, and he was hard as steel and wanted to fuck Sherlock so badly that he could barely keep himself at an even pace as he returned with the lube in his hand. Sherlock hasn't moved at all; he didn't even move his head to see what John had brought. He'd probably figured it out from listening to John's movement in the bedroom, the prat.

John sank back to his knees between Sherlock's invitingly spread thighs, and took care to warm the lubricant between his hands before he worked the first finger into Sherlock's arse. By the time he got up to three, Sherlock was panting and obviously making a deliberate effort not to grind himself against the floor. "If you touch my prostate once more, I may actually explode," he said snidely. "So would you kindly just fuck me already." John laughed, because it kind of amazed him that Sherlock had managed to stop himself talking for that long.

John paused and considered the angles involved. "How strong are your thigh muscles?" he asked thoughtfully. Sherlock was already bracing his chest against the floor and trying to struggle to his knees before John finished the sentence, so John grabbed him by the hip and the shoulder and helped him sit up and turn to face John. Sherlock's face was beautifully flushed; one side was red and imprinted with the weave of the carpet, and his pupils were ridiculously wide. John considered positions and decided lying down was probably better, so he lay back and balanced Sherlock with a palm against his stomach while he shuffled into position, bracketing John with his knees. John grunted and seized a wad of someone's clothes to stuff under his shoulders, then grabbed Sherlock's arse, spreading him apart and guiding him as he lowered himself onto John's cock.

Sherlock's breath hitched as he pushed himself down and ground his arse against John, and John couldn't hold back a groan. "God damn," he said reverently, squeezing Sherlock's cheeks as he began to lift himself up again. Sherlock went slowly at first, giving John plenty of time to feel the exquisite pressure gripping him and sliding along his shaft. To judge from his slightly vacant expression as he levered himself up and down on John's cock, Sherlock was also feeling the experience rather intensely. Eventually he began to increase the pace, very gradually at first, then faster. Dissatisfied with the amount of calculation John could still detect in his expression, he grabbed Sherlock's hips and brought the two of them together at a slightly different angle, pushing his own hips up. Sherlock cried out brokenly and his cock jerked, spattering a few droplets of pre-come across John's stomach as it bounced with the force of their movements.

John loosed one hand and began to briskly stroke Sherlock's cock. Sherlock jerked one shoulder forward and his arms shifted, as if he wanted to swat John away. "Stop," he panted to John. "You first, I can't keep it going otherwise." John could feel Sherlock's muscles starting to tremble under his other hand and realized he had a point. So instead of arguing, John put his other hand back on Sherlock's hips and helped him slam down onto John's cock faster and still faster. John felt the sparks of pleasure building, but he was so intent on the force of his thrusts that he slammed into his orgasm like a car hitting a bollard. His thrusts immediately degenerated into vague and wandering things, although Sherlock kept riding him hard, and John immediately grabbed for Sherlock's cock and began stroking it again. He was through coming and he'd be soft in a moment, but he ground the last of his erection into Sherlock hard, angling for the prostate by muscle memory alone, and knew he succeeded when Sherlock doubled over, gasping, and came in long spurts across John's chest.

Sherlock was still shivering in the aftershocks when John disengaged and grabbed him by the shoulders to pull him down to lay on his chest. "Most satisfactory," Sherlock murmured, nuzzling against John's throat but making no move to bite him. "Are we done now?" How he managed to sound slightly peevish and completely sated at the same time, John had no idea, but it made him chuckle.

"I'm thirty-five, Sherlock," he said. Sherlock just lifted his torso slightly and arched an eyebrow, clearly not taking John's meaning. "God, yes, we're done," he huffed. Sherlock's smirk twisted into a look of concentration for a moment as he jerked one shoulder up, and then he was placing one hand beside John's chest and tossing away John's belt with the other.

John started laughing. "You wanker," he said. "Thank you." Sherlock rolled his shoulders a few times, propping himself up over John on knees and elbows. "I didn't hurt your shoulders, did I?"

Sherlock rolled his eyes. "If my shoulders had hurt, I would have taken the belt off sooner." He pressed his chest against John's and rubbed slightly, apparently enjoying the sensation of his come sliding between them.

"Prat," John said fondly. But when he leaned up and captured Sherlock's mouth for a gentle, thorough kiss, he made a point of pricking his tongue on Sherlock's fangs, to show how much he actually approved.

Chapter Text

John spotted the black car at once when he walked out of the surgery. Resigned to the inevitable, he walked over and got in.

"Hey, shortarse," Simon said cheerfully. Today he was wearing a navy suit and a white tie with a pattern of...unicycles. John squinted at them as he fastened his seatbelt.

"What's the name today?" John said.

"For you, Simon," he said. "That's my "home" name, most people call me that outside of work."

"And yet it's not your real name," John said. "That's really, really bizarre."

"You don't know from bizarre, pork chop," Simon pointed out. "Besides, I hate my real name." He fell to furious thumbwork on the keyboard of his Blackberry; John wondered if he was working, or playing games again.

"Does Anthea work on her Blackberry?" he asked Simon. "Or is she secretly an Angry Birds fanatic too?" She never let John get close enough to see the screen.

"She prefers word games, actually."

"I never seem to see her any more," John noted aloud. It had been Simon the last three times Mycroft had sent a car to abduct/chauffeur him somewhere, and it was starting to seem like a deliberate pattern.

"Boss figures you're less likely to hit on me," Simon said.

John flushed bright red. "My God, that was one time!" Simon tried without success to suppress his laughter. "I hate you all, I really do."

"Liar!" Simon sang out.

***

The car dropped him off outside a building with large white signs in the windows advertising the availability of office and retail space. John wondered if the step up from warehouses was due to the change in his relationship status. If he married Sherlock, would Mycroft start meeting him in newly-constructed blocks of flats?

Inside, Mycroft was leaning against a broad, bare reception desk. It was the only piece of furniture in the room. "Doctor Watson," he said formally, inclining his head.

"What, no tea service?" John asked. "Should I be insulted? Or were the pastries last time just a bribe to get me to stay with Sherlock?"

Mycroft shrugged John's questions aside, as per usual. The Ina was powerful and dangerous in more ways than one, but John had realized early on that nothing he said caused Mycroft anything more than mild irritation. "I just wanted to have a brief chat."

"There's something I've been wondering," John said. "You must be aware that I tell Sherlock every single time I meet with you. Yet you keep dragging me to these out-of-the-way meeting spots, like you think it's an actual secret. Do you have some kind of complex?" Mycroft technically could destroy John in a fit of pique, but he wouldn't because he didn't actually care what John thought of him. John should find that insulting, but really it was quite liberating, not having to be so cautious, and he took a sort of quiet glee in prodding Mycroft. Sherlock played the same game, of course, but John got the sense that he actually was insulted by Mycroft's failure to react.

Mycroft tapped his umbrella twice against the floor and looked ceiling-ward, as if seeking divine intervention. A point to John. "I would like to invite you to dinner at my home on Saturday," he said.

"What?" John said. He can't have heard that right. "I mean, seriously: what?"

"Our mothers are going to be visiting, and they would very much like to meet you," Mycroft said blandly.

Was that the royal our? No, our meaning Mycroft and Sherlock's, obviously. Meeting the parents. A little quicker than in most standard relationships, but then there was nothing at all standard about this relationship, was there? The small leap of panic John felt was reassuringly normal, at least. "Isn't it more traditional for the significant other to broach this topic?" John asked.

Mycroft gave him a deeply pitying look. "Do you genuinely think that Sherlock would ever consider extending such an invitation? Or accepting it, were I to approach him?"

That was certainly true. "So you're inviting me. Not Sherlock."

"I am inviting both of you, but you are the only one I expect to be interested," Mycroft said. "Beside which, we've certainly all met Sherlock before. My mothers are interested in meeting you." John chewed his lip. Mycroft probably already knew that John had Saturday off, so it wouldn't be easy to make an excuse. Did he really want to make one? It would definitely be interesting to meet Sherlock's family, although God help him if they were all as irritating as Mycroft. Still, if they were it would be useful information to have, he supposed. But if Sherlock really didn't want to go, shouldn't they at least discuss it first? "I'm sure it seems intimidating," Mycroft added.

John bristled. "Of course I'll come," he said before he had a chance to really think further. A small smile played across Mycroft's lips, and John knew he had been had, his knee-jerk refusal to be intimidated used against him. Now it was too late to take it back without a lot of stammering and blushing and embarrassment. Fucking Mycroft!

"Lovely," Mycroft said, smiling pleasantly. "I'll send a car for you, about six thirty?"

"Thank you," John said through gritted teeth.

"My pleasure." Mycroft politely extended one hand as if to shake John's. It was somewhat of an unusual gesture from Mycroft, but nonetheless John reached for Mycroft's hand without really thinking about it. John felt a fleeting moment of edginess; when he grasped hands with Mycroft, he couldn't suppress a gasp. The contact wasn't painful, but it felt deeply, desperately wrong in a way that caused an irrational jab of fear. The back of his neck prickled and he felt the need to pull his hand back, as urgent as an itch in the back of the throat.

John jerked his hand abruptly away from the contact, and the feeling immediately disappeared. He examined his hand, both sides, but saw nothing out of the ordinary, so he turned his glare on Mycroft. "What the hell did you do?"

Mycroft raised an eyebrow. "Absolutely nothing," he said. This was the only reason John had to still be wary of Mycroft to some degree; the damn head games. This was how the bastard got his own back, for the cheekiness and the veiled insults.

"Put out your hand again," John said. Mycroft obliged, smiling, and John reached for it again, this time moving slowly and cautiously. The feeling started when their hands were perhaps six inches apart and grew stronger the closer they came to touching. It started as discomfort and wariness, and became a sense that touching Mycroft could be dangerous in some way. He braced himself before touching Mycroft's hand, but it still felt jarring, alarming. It raised gooseflesh along his arms. John waited a moment or so, until he could no longer withstand the discomfort and anxiety, then withdrew his hand.

"I thought a practical demonstration more efficient than an explanation," Mycroft said, returning his own hand to the handle of his umbrella. "What you just experienced was the effect of a newly-developed- Well, I would call it an instinct."

"Newly developed...since I became a- a symbiont?" John still stumbled a bit over the word.

"Yes," Mycroft said. John felt a surge of irritation. He had walked willingly into this, he reminded himself, and he had been warned about the biggest effect of Sherlock's venom- the addiction. It was still unnerving to find all these little ways in which Sherlock had managed to alter him, as if his body had become an extension of Sherlock's.

"Why?" John demanded, then clarified, "Why are you telling me about at all?"

"Why not?" Mycroft said. Which was of course ridiculous; Mycroft always had a reason for the things he did, he just didn't want to tell John about it in this instance. "It's always good to learn new things about oneself, isn't it? Have a good evening, John."

Sherlock was lounging moodily on the sofa when the car dropped John off outside the flat. "What did Mycroft want?" he said irritably, crossing his arms over his chest.

"To invite me to dinner at his house on Saturday, apparently," John said. Better to out with it now and get what he suspected would be an epic tantrum over with. He had already decided he was going to own this decision, not admit to Sherlock that he'd basically been trapped by Mycroft.

"No!" Sherlock said, clearly horrified. "John, no. He wants to show you off to my mothers, it's a trap."

"Not a very good one then," John said. "He told me they'd be there. Your parents are gay, then?"

Sherlock glared. "I don't want to talk about my family," he said. His voice held the same sharpness as when John had asked about his prior symbionts. Interesting.

"Okay," John said, shrugging. He hung up his coat, thinking uncharitably that there could be entire documentaries made about subjects that Sherlock would publicly deduce about other people but refused to talk about in relation to himself.

"If you really want to know about Ina families, I can get you a book," Sherlock said.

John laughed. "What, seriously?"

"That's how I learned about human relationships," Sherlock said.

"Wow. That's-" John turned from the coat hook and was about to say frighteningly plausible but stopped dead at the look of irritation on Sherlock's face. "Um, never mind." He wandered into the kitchen and filled the kettle for tea. "Fine," he said after a moment spent mastering his own annoyance. "Whatever. I just don't want to make an idiot of myself. Because I'm not, even if I can't deduce your entire family structure from the fact that you have two mums."

"I know you aren't," Sherlock said from the kitchen doorway. "You don't have to go."

"Nor do you," John said. Was Sherlock really this bad at reading John, or reading human nature? Surely he realized that every protestation made John more curious to see what Sherlock was trying to keep from him?

"I'm not letting you go into that cobra's nest alone," Sherlock retorted.

"For God's sake, Sherlock, I don't need a chaperone," John said. "Or a mongoose, or a herpetologist, or whatever you fancy your role is in this metaphor."

Sherlock glided across the kitchen- or teleported, John was never sure which when he moved that fast- and pressed a kiss to the back of John's neck. He wrapped his arms around John and laced his fingers together just above his belt. "John," he said, his voice rumbling so that John could feel it through his back as Sherlock pressed against him. "Saturday is your day off, John."

"I'm aware, yes," John said, rinsing out mugs. "Hence the invitation, and my acceptance."

"Surely," Sherlock said, "You can think of better ways to spend your free time?" And in case that was too subtle, Sherlock pressed his hips up against John.

John bit his lip to keep from laughing. "Are you trying to bribe me with sex?" he asked.

"Possibly. Is it working?" Sherlock's voice was muffled by the back of John's collar.

"My God," John said, "You really did learn about relationships from a book, didn't you?" Sherlock pulled away, and John turned back to face him, which was a mistake; he could no longer hold back his laughter when he saw Sherlock's miffed expression. Sherlock glided out of the room on a wave of offended dignity, to lie in state on the sofa. He ignored the tea when it finished steeping and John brought him the mug.

The sulk lasted until mid-afternoon on Saturday, when John was shaving in the bathroom, and it had become clear he would not be deterred. John was mentally reviewing his clothes, trying to decide what the right balance between casual and formal was. Was there an etiquette guide for meeting your sort-of-boyfriend's non-human parents?

"Wear your khaki trousers and the blue herringbone shirt with the breast pocket," Sherlock said, appearing in the doorway.

John narrowly managed to avoid slitting his own throat. "Are you sure?" he said doubtfully, once he recovered. Sherlock had finally changed out of his pajamas and dressing gown, and was wearing one of his usual ensembles. Which, of course, looked effortlessly elegant and significantly more formal than khakis and a button-up.

"Positive," Sherlock said. "My family won't care how you look, and I like you in that shirt. If I have to endure this evening, I may as well have something pleasant to look at."

"Flattering," John noted as Sherlock squeezed past him and perched on the edge of the tub.

"You're welcome." Then, regally, as if he was doing John a great favor, he said, "All right, ask."

John hummed noncommittally and paused to gather his thoughts. "How many mothers do you have?" he asked, because he'd had time to think and he had a feeling it was best not to rely on assumptions here.

Sherlock's mouth quirked up slightly. "I have three."

Ah, right question. A point to John. "Why?"

"Ina practice polygynandry. Same-sex siblings mate as a group, and children are considered the product of the union as a whole, rather than the individual biological parents." John hadn't even known that was a thing, but trust Sherlock to know the word for it.

"So how many fathers do you have, then?" John asked. He immediately knew he'd asked a bad question, because the half-smile disappeared and Sherlock's whole body tensed.

"None," Sherlock said flatly. "Next question."

"Do you have any siblings besides Mycroft?" John hurriedly shifted the subject back to hopefully safer ground.

"Four sisters," Sherlock said. "I also have two living eldermothers in the female line, my mother's mothers."

"Do you see much of them?" John asked cautiously, not sure what else might upset Sherlock.

"Enough," he said. "They live out in the country. Most Ina prefer rural areas, there are fewer questions. Not to mention the fact that cities can be rather overwhelming."

"Let me guess," John said. "You find rural areas boring."

"Dreadfully," Sherlock agreed. He had relaxed somewhat, so this line of questioning seemed to be safe. "Mycroft and I are unusual in our preference for London," he offered. "Also because we don't live together any more."

"You used to live with Mycroft?" John asked, stopping his razor in its trek down his left cheek. "Oh my God."

"Exactly," Sherlock agreed, with great satisfaction.

***

To John's surprise- he had begun to think that Mycroft had underlings for everything- Mycroft met them at the door himself and ushered them into an elegant foyer with multiple doors opening to either side. As Mycroft was still greeting Sherlock, one of the doors to the right flew open to admit a stranger who proceeded to swoop down on John.

The woman was nearly as tall as Sherlock. Her face was a bit more rounded, softer and without his prominent cheekbones, but she shared Sherlock's pale skin and dark, curly hair. In addition, she was wearing a smile that John instantly recognized as Sherlock's shamming-normal one. Her faux-cheerful, "Hi, I'm Sherlock's sister," did not come as a surprise, although her extended hand certainly did. The smile was Sherlock, but the gesture was pure Mycroft: she was trying to unnerve him.

John looked her in the eyes, then unhesitatingly grabbed her hand and shook it once. He held on for a fraction of a second longer than politeness would normally demand, just to prove the point, then let go. He didn't let a flicker of his discomfort show in his face. "Nice to meet you," he said.

She dropped the fake smile and narrowed her eyes appraisingly. "I like him," she announced after a moment. "Well done, Sherlock."

"You," Sherlock said. He stepped forward to stand directly behind John and grabbed his shoulder so hard that John winced. The grip instantly relaxed but Sherlock's attitude of looming menace didn't wane. "Mycroft! You didn't say she'd be here."

"Change of plans," Mycroft said, also sounding distinctly unhappy. "She is not staying the night, however."

"That's no way to treat a guest, My," she said sweetly.

"Unwelcome guest," Sherlock said.

"She snuck in on Mummy's coat tails because she knew if she came alone I'd have slammed the door in her face," Mycroft said to Sherlock, still ignoring their sister altogether. John got the sense that this is someone whose petty jibes Mycroft would extract vengeance for.

"You're not still cranky about that September Dossier thing, are you?" she asked, raising an eyebrow. Mycroft pretended not to hear.

"Piss off, Cenwyn. John isn't stupid enough to fall for that," Sherlock snapped. "And if you touch him again, I'll cut your hand off at the wrist."

"Sherlock," John said warningly. He sounded alarmingly as if he meant it.

"Children, could we perhaps have one conversation which does not degenerate into threats of violence?" The woman who owned the very cultured, very proper voice that spoke that line walked in through the same doorway that had admitted Cenwyn. Like her children, she was pale, willowy, and dark-haired, though her hair was shoulder-length and dead straight.

"What about actual violence?" Sherlock asked, but his voice had already lost its heat. He released John and stepped around him to meet her.

She walked right up to Sherlock and patted him fondly on the cheek. "Best not," she said. Sherlock leaned down slightly to kiss her lightly on the temple and she smiled winningly. "Thank you for coming. I know you didn't want to." She turned her head toward John, and Sherlock stepped back out of the way. "I won't shake your hand, but I'm pleased you came as well."

"Mummy, may I present Doctor John Watson?" Sherlock said. "John, I have the honor of presenting you to Marion Ramsey."

John smiled and bowed his head slightly, feeling a little unnerved by the unexpected formality. Not shaking hands felt surprisingly awkward; it was hard to overcome a lifetime of social conditioning. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Ramsey."

"So formal, Sherlock? That's a change," she said teasingly. "Please call me Marion, John."

"Let's go back into the sitting room, shall we?" Mycroft said.

John felt somewhat overwhelmed by the sheer number of people he was introduced to, but everyone seemed perfectly friendly and casual; despite the opulence of the house and the elegance of Sherlock's mothers, no one struck John as arrogant or dismissive. If John was any judge of character, they were all as honestly pleased to meet him as they seemed to be. John was introduced to Emma, whom Sherlock addressed as Mother, and Alice, addressed as Mum. That brought the total of Ina in the house to six.

Most of the people there were actually symbionts. Anthea and Simon, to begin with, and John met most of the rest of Mycroft's symbionts: Rana, Grady, Amelia, and Sam. John gathered that the seventh of them, Martin, was away for reasons of government business and was the eldest, having been with Mycroft for over fifty years. All of Mycroft's symbionts lived and worked in London, although Sam apparently chose to live outside Mycroft's home and paid regular visits; she was an endocrinologist on the opposite side of the city and it was more convenient for her to live in a flat close to her office.

John learned that typically Ina only traveled with as many of their symbionts as they thought they would need while away from home; usually one for each night they intended to be away. The frank discussion of feeding was enough to make John blush, but all the humans were perfectly matter of fact about it. Cenwyn, who was emphatically not staying overnight, and Emma, who intended to return home with her after dinner, had not brought any symbionts with them. Alice had brought two, Preeti and Todd, and Marion had brought one, Edward.

Sherlock was extremely clingy at first, holding John's hand or shoulder much of the time and sticking to his side when using his hands for something else. Eventually Marion managed to pry him away to go talk with her in the corner, and by the time dinner was ready Sherlock seemed significantly more relaxed.

It turned out that Ina participation in a dinner party depended on the individual. Mycroft and Alice helped themselves to roast and potatoes, although they assiduously avoided the greens. Emma picked at a serving of the roast, and Cenwyn drank the broth of the soup and ignored everything else. Sherlock and Marion confined themselves to wine. John joined the other humans at the table in sampling everything and found it excellent. There didn't seem to be a great deal of rhyme or reason to the way they were seated, and John found himself across from Sherlock and between Edward and Grady.

He also found himself reevaluating his assumptions. Grady and Amelia, it transpired, were married and carrying on a fully traditional relationship with each other, despite each having a committed relationship with Mycroft. It drove home the fact that Ina didn't really regard human relationships the same way as Ina-human ones in a way that even Sherlock's explanations to John hadn't done. He also learned that the sort of working relationship he had with Sherlock, and Mycroft had with Simon and Anthea, was relatively rare. It was far more common for symbionts to pursue their own independent careers, like Sam did. Grady reported that Amelia was an artist who worked from home, and he had enjoyed a successful career as a chef before deciding to take an open-ended sabbatical. He and Amelia were home more often than the rest of Mycroft's family, and had made themselves responsible for most of the running of the house. They had in fact planned and prepared the dinner.

Grady and Amelia looked about John's age, so he was surprised to learn that they were in fact several decades older. Grady's chef career had begun in the 70s, and he confessed that part of the reason he dropped out of the culinary scene was because despite switching restaurants every few years, he tended to keep running into the same people; people who had begun to find his youthful appearance very suspicious. Edward, too, was very much older than he appeared. He looked to be about 60, with scores of wrinkles and a dignified head of white hair. But he spoke of Sherlock and Mycroft's childhoods with fond reminiscence, and if he watched them grow up than he had to be well over a hundred years old. He told John that he'd had a half dozen professions, most recently stockbroker, but he had decided to retire and was spending his free time writing historical fiction.

Interacting with other symbionts was strange, but almost a relief. It was reassuring to see other people who were living what were in many ways perfectly normal lives, with the addition of a relationship with an Ina. It wasn't that John was unhappy or dissatisfied- he liked his life with Sherlock, he really did. But it satisfied an urge that he didn't even know he had to realize that he was actually part of a society, a community. And it was nice to be able to talk about his life with an honesty that he couldn't expose to most of the people he knew. John found himself relaxing and truly enjoying the chance to get to know the people around him.

Which was of course, how Sherlock managed to catch him completely by surprise.

Mycroft, Sherlock and Emma had been having a rapid cross-table conversation about living in London, during which Emma had managed to suggest no less than three times that her sons move out of the city. Sherlock was growing progressively more irritated, and when John inserted a question about other Ina living in or near London, Sherlock leaped at the chance to shift the topic sideways.

"It depends on your definitions," Sherlock said. "For example, James Moriarty works within London, certainly, but he may not actually live here."

John's urge to yell was so great that he forgot he had a mouthful of wine and aspirated it. Most of the liquid ended up sprayed across the tablecloth and John's napkin as he coughed violently. He swatted away someone's well-meaning attempt to pat him on the back, wiped his mouth and his streaming eyes, and finally hauled in a lungful of air.

"I'm sorry, what?" he wheezed.

Sherlock gave him a scorching look. "You heard me perfectly, John, I loathe repetition."

"It's an expression, you wanker!" The tiny part of John's brain that was not consumed with fury was thinking, Oh Lord, I just called Sherlock a wanker in front of his parents. But he was in too deep to stop. "When were you planning on telling me that Moriarty is Ina?"

Sherlock blinked slowly and set down the knife he had been toying with. "When it became relevant."

"How was it not relevant when you were arranging a secret meeting with him?" John demanded.

"I didn't know then," Sherlock said. "And it hasn't come up since then, as we haven't encountered him again."

"You've been actively looking for him!"

"Yes, but I haven't found him yet," Sherlock said sourly, as if it pained him to admit it.

"And when you do, how am I supposed to help you if I don't know what we're up against?" John demanded. "I'd say it's fairly important to know when my opponent can take a shot to the chest and still have the time and strength to tear my head off with his bare hands." Sherlock had his mouth open to reply but John was well into his tirade. He didn't dare look around the table to see how their unwitting audience was interpreting this.

"Were you planning on telling me at any point before we ran into him again? Or-" John narrowed his eyes suspiciously. "Were you planning to run off on your own? Because that was such a spectacular success last time, wasn't it? I swear to God, Sherlock, if you go after him and try to leave me behind again-"

Sherlock's patience finally broke. "I was planning no such thing!" he said hotly. "Your assumptions are completely erroneous, and I do not at all understand why we are having an argument over something this trivial."

"You're being obtuse," John snapped.

"You're being irrational!"

"Who's Moriarty?" Marion asked. Her voice was perfectly calm and innocently curious, but it somehow managed to slide smoothly through the furious tension between John and Sherlock.

"No one, Mummy," Sherlock said, at the same time John barked, "Never mind!"

Sherlock leveled a glare at John that so clearly said Don't speak that way to my mother that it brought John back to himself. He flushed bright red.

"Sorry!" John said. "I'm so sorry, ma'am." Fabulous. He'd been making a complete ass of himself, plus he'd been unspeakably rude to someone whom Sherlock obviously valued quite highly.

"Call me ma'am again, young man, and you will be," Marion said sternly, but she was smiling. "Who is Moriarty?" Jesus, was the whole family as single-minded as Sherlock?

"A criminal, Mummy," Mycroft said.

"Shut up!" Sherlock hissed at him. Mycroft merely smiled and dabbed his mouth with his napkin. Anthea, seated next to him, looked at her Blackberry with a matching smirk.

"Sherlock, don't speak to your brother that way," Emma said. "And it sounds to me like he's more than just a criminal, Mycroft."

"He's a criminal mastermind, Mother," Sherlock said, casting Mycroft a smug look. "Responsible for a great deal of the criminal activity in London- seventy percent, in my estimation."

"Seventy-five," muttered Mycroft. Sherlock cast him a withering glare.

"And you decided to confront him on your own?" Marion asked. She took a measured sip of her wine and looked thoughtful. "That wasn't very clever, was it?"

The expression on Sherlock's face was beautiful.

***

John offered to help clear the table, mainly because it gave him an excuse to corner Amelia and Grady in the kitchen. To his surprise, when he began profusely apologizing for wrecking an otherwise lovely dinner, they both started to laugh.

"Sorry?" Grady gasped out. "For what?"

John must have looked as flummoxed as he felt, because Amelia smiled and patted his arm. "Oh honey, you didn't wreck dinner."

"Hell, you probably saved it," Grady added, taking John's stack of plates and dumping it into the sink. "With this bunch, there's always a blow-up, and if it hadn't been you and Sherlock it would have been Sherlock and Mycroft, or Sherlock and Emma, or God help us, Mycroft and Cenwyn."

Amelia was nodding. "As it was, you managed to deflect...three near arguments, by my count."

"Really?" John thought back through the conversation, trying to find the points Amelia was referring to. "I'm not sure I was doing it on purpose."

"That's even better," Amelia said. "You and Sherlock are just so tuned into each other. You're adorable." John flushed, because he was not adorable, damn it. At least not in the way Amelia seemed to mean it. She laughed fondly. "Don't be embarrassed. It's completely natural." She patted his arm again and went to tip washing up liquid into the side of the sink that Grady was filling with water.

"It reminds me of Martin and Mycroft," Grady said. "They know each other so well that it's indistinguishable from telepathy. I bet that's what you and Sherlock will look like in a few years."

Simon pushed into the kitchen with a plateful of silverware in one hand and three wine glasses careful cradled in the other. "You know, the table isn't actually clear yet," he noted. Grady helped Simon unload into the sink, and Amelia laughed and went back to the dining room for more dishes. "Stop feeling bad, fruit cup," Simon said to John, and boosted himself up to sit on the edge of the center island.

"You were listening to our conversation?" John asked, wishing that he could be surprised.

"Yes," Simon said. "And Amelia and Grady are right. That?" He gestured at the door to the dining room. "That was hilarious."

"Of all the people in this house tonight, Sherlock only listens to Marion- and that's on a good day," Grady added. "So seeing him take a chewing out without shouting or walking out-"

"It's something of a treat," Simon finished, grinning.

"You people are crazy," John said. He paused to consider. "I'm crazy. We're all lunatics." The other symbionts just laughed.

The dinner party became a bit more scattered after that point. There was more wine, and a lot more conversation in Mycroft's posh sitting room. At one point Simon, Amelia and Alice slipped outside for a smoke; Sherlock shot a very readable glance at John, and then confined himself to looking after them wistfully. The conversation John had been having with Edward came to a natural conclusion, and he wandered out of the sitting room and into the library across the hall. He had enough wine to get buzzed, though not properly drunk, and he was starting to feel rather tired as the feeling wore off. He was about ready for the evening to be over, really, and that made him feel just so incredibly old.

"Having a nice time?" He turned and saw Cenwyn leaning against one of the bookshelves, holding a glass of wine in one hand. She was smiling that smile again, the fake one, and John was instantly wary.

"Yes, actually," he said. "I'm glad Mycroft invited me."

"Good," she said. "I know you aren't used to this sort of...setting." She was watching John avidly, and he wondered if that was meant to be a dig.

"You could say that," he replied.

"Mycroft does have rather garish tastes," she said, running her free hand along a row of thick, leather-bound volumes. "Just as Sherlock has rather simplistic ones." She stood away from the shelf and wandered a bit closer to John, her posture and face projecting innocence.

John stifled the urge to giggle. Was she really this transparent? Or was it just his exposure to Sherlock and his methods that made it so easy for John to see through her? "Sherlock and I seem to fit well together, actually."

"So I see," Cenwyn said, tilting her head slightly so that the curls of her fringe tipped appealingly into her eyes.

John couldn't stop himself from smiling at that. "You're not very good at this," he said pleasantly. She arched an eyebrow in response and he went on, "If you wanted to know something about me, you could try asking." She was manipulating him the way Sherlock did when he wanted information, and John thought he'd hit the mark based on the way her eyes narrowed speculatively.

"I'm just making conversation," she said, but she dropped the smile. "I wasn't insulting you, you know."

"I'm sorry?" John asked.

"When I said Sherlock had simplistic tastes." She smiled again, but it was shyer and a bit sweeter, more closely resembling one of Sherlock's pleased expressions. The ones only John usually got to see. Her face was different, but her hair and color, her height and posture and mannerisms, were so very hauntingly similar to Sherlock's that John couldn't help comparing them. Every move she made was like an echo of something he had seen in Sherlock.

"If that's an apology, I suppose I have to accept it," John said lightly.

She took a long swallow of her wine, then swirled what was left in the glass. The move was somehow endearing, and it tugged at something in John's memory that he couldn't quite place. He smiled at her. She wasn't actually so bad as she had first appeared- probably John just found the sociopath-like tendencies more jarring when they weren't coming from Sherlock. She drained her glass, then took a couple steps closer to set it down on the table next to where John was standing.

"Thank you," she said. She trailed her fingers along the side of the wineglass as she let it go, and John suddenly remembered why the way she had swirled the wine in her glass a moment ago had looked so familiar. Sherlock had done the exact same thing an hour ago, during dinner. All her mannerisms were far too familiar, too obviously copied from Sherlock, which could only mean that she was doing it deliberately. She had not stopped looking at his eyes through the entire conversation: making an emotional connection? No: watching his pupils to gauge the effect of her actions. Son of a bitch.

"Are you trying to seduce me?" he asked abruptly. The corner of her mouth twitched slightly, and John knew he was right. "Jesus Christ," he said. "You are a real piece of work, aren't you?"

"You need to learn to relax," she said, her voice even. She wasn't smiling at all, not even the shamming-normal smile she'd used earlier. That had probably been a ruse too, John now realized, letting him think he'd uncovered her game in order to give him false confidence and deflect his attention from what she was actually playing at. She took a step closer, edging into John's personal space, and he fought the urge to back away. His instincts were screaming at him to move out of her range, but it would feel too much like retreat.

"Fuck you," he said flatly. "I really hope you're not planning on touching me. Because if you do, I'll have your hand off at the wrist." The way she looked at him made John think that she was considering how serious he was. He looked at her wrist, determined almost immediately the easiest and most painful way to fracture it, and glanced around the room for possible weapons.

Cenwyn stood back out of his space. "I do like you, you know," she said.

"The feeling is definitely not mutual," John told her. He turned and walked out of the room as calmly as he could manage, but he thought that the stiffness of his spine probably betrayed his anger.

He hesitated in the foyer, not quite wanting to rejoin the rest of the group. His anger and anxiety were probably blatantly obvious to Ina senses, and he didn't want Sherlock to know what had just happened. He had a feeling that the evening really would be ruined if Sherlock and Cenwyn got into it.

Apparently his feelings were obvious to humans as well, because Simon came in through the front door and did a double take upon seeing John. "Something wrong, deadeye?"

John considered carefully before he opened his mouth. "No. I was just talking to Cenwyn."

"Oh?" Simon asked. Then, apparently realizing something, "Oh. You mean Sherlock didn't- no. Of course he didn't, the twat."

"Didn't what?" John said, a bit snappishly.

"Warn you," Simon said frankly. "Cenwyn's a poacher."

"A what?" John asked obligingly, but he had a gut feeling that he already understood the sense of that term, if not the technical definition.

Simon fingered the cigarette packet in his trouser pocket and made a disgusted face. "She goes after other Ina's symbionts. New ones, that aren't fully bound yet, so they can be converted without sending them into withdrawal."

"She shook hands with me when I got here," John said, realizing that had been part of the game as well. "God damn it. I thought she was trying to intimidate me."

"Yeah, no," Simon said. "The sick thing is that half the time she doesn't even bite the sym more than once. She seduces people and fucks up their relationships with their Ina, then walks away."

"Why?" John demanded. "What's wrong with her?" Sherlock couldn't be the only possessive one. Even in the human world, people did not react well to someone "stealing" a spouse, and Ina seemed to feel a good deal more strongly about their symbionts than that.

"As best I can tell, she just thinks it's funny," Simon said darkly. "Four of her symbionts were with other Ina first. Even by Ina standards it's immoral, but she usually gets away with it because she's slick, and because she's Emma's favorite."

"The way Sherlock is Marion's favorite?" John asked.

Simon chuckled. "Now you're getting it, jack-o. Gotta love it, right? I always say, Ina families are ten times more fucked up than human ones."

When John did walk back into the sitting room, Sherlock flicked a glance at him and then away. Mission accomplished. John very carefully didn't look at Cenwyn when she returned to the room a few minutes later.

John insisted on taking Sherlock's hand when they walked up the sidewalk away from Mycroft's house. "I'm glad you came," John said. "Your mothers are very nice. Also very forgiving, as evidenced by the fact that they didn't chuck us both out after the spectacle we made of ourselves."

Sherlock narrowed his eyes when John turned back to see why Sherlock had stopped walking. "You know that there's no need to dissemble, John; it's all right if you're not fond of my family. I don't like them either, most of the time."

"Wrong," John said. "You dote on Marion. And what makes you think I'm lying? Granted, I'm not sure how often I want to sit down to eat with an entire platoon's worth of people, but it was a very nice evening on the whole."

Sherlock frowned uncertainly. "I can see the tension in your neck," he said. "And you turn your right shoulder to me when you're hiding something."

John rolled his eyes. "Oi, turn it off, would you?" He continued up toward the main road, tugging Sherlock along with him. Sherlock continued to look perplexed while John flagged down a cab.

"Something happened," Sherlock said. John pretended not to hear. He'd already decided he was going to tell Sherlock about Cenwyn cornering him, but he wanted to do it when they were well away from Mycroft's. He pulled Sherlock into the cab. "You were absent for twenty-one minutes after dinner."

John waited until the cab was several streets away before he said, "You'll notice I said your mothers are very nice."

Sherlock got it instantly; his eyes widened. "Cenwyn," he snarled.

"Sherlock, don't you dare," John said. "Get your hand off the damn door handle! For God's sake!" Sherlock sullenly obeyed. "I handled it, right? I think I'm old enough to look after my own virtue."

"That's not the point," Sherlock said. "I know you wouldn't- she just-" He slammed the side of his fist against the door so hard that the molded plastic cracked under the impact.

"Oi, less of that!" the cabbie interjected.

"Sorry!" John said automatically. "Look," he added to Sherlock in lower tones, "The hell with her. It's not a big deal, and the only reason I didn't tell you before is because I don't want you to make it one." He paused for a moment. "Is that why you didn't want me to come tonight? Because of Cenwyn?"

"That was one of the reasons," Sherlock admitted.

John picked up Sherlock's hand again and kissed his knuckles. "Has she ever...poached...from you?" he asked, not sure how to phrase the question.

Sherlock chuckled. "I can see you've been talking to Simon; that's not a very polite term. Did you know Mycroft found him in a strip club?"

John laughed too. "What was Mycroft doing in a strip club?"

"John," Sherlock said very seriously. "That is the second greatest unsolved mystery of my career." John found himself leaning up against Sherlock, both of them giggling like lunatics.

Sherlock never did get around to telling him about the other reasons he hadn't wanted John to meet his family.

Chapter Text

John seethed quietly all the way home from their most recent crime scene; he desperately wanted to call Sherlock out, but he couldn't do it until they were off the street.

"You need to stop," John told Sherlock as soon as their sitting room door was closed behind them.

"Oh, what now?" Sherlock said.

"Stop being such a prick to Lestrade. He hasn't done anything-"

Sherlock cut him off. "Nothing except wipe out half the scene with his usual incompetence and inability to manage his lackeys. How can I be expected to work when-"

"And how can he be expected to manage his team or work the scene when he has to spend all his time placating you like the giant infant you are?" John retorted. This was far enough outside of John's normal bounds that Sherlock actually paused long enough for him to take a breath without jumping back in. "You always get in a certain amount of sniping, but you've been absolutely ridiculous lately. And frankly it's just embarassing. For me as well as for you. And just how far do you think you can push Lestrade before it becomes not worth the trouble to call you out for his cases?"

"He wouldn't stop calling," Sherlock muttered. "He needs me."

John snorted. "I think you're underestimating Lestrade's ability. And overestimating his patience. Just because you haven't found his tipping point doesn't mean he hasn't got one." John sighed and dropped into his chair. "Look, just tell me what's going on, would you?"

Sherlock scowled at the wall above the fireplace for a moment. "It's his scent," he muttered.

"Okay," John said after a pause. "I hope you don't think that's self-explanatory, because...it's really not."

Sherlock walked over to the window and stood with his back to John. "I told you your scent is one of the things that made me want you as a symbiont," he said. "Lestrade's is similarly...attractive. After he rejected me, he smelled less receptive, but never stopped being appealing. I ignored it, of course." He ran a hand through his hair. "Over the past two weeks, he has become increasingly enticing. But he still doesn't- I promised. Why is he doing this?"

John sighed again. "Sherlock, he's not doing it on purpose. He can't control how he smells any more than I can."

"Oh, thank you for the reminder, John," Sherlock said nastily. "I suppose the problem is all on my end, then. I'll just learn how to stop using my sense of smell, shall I?"

"No, just keep being a prick to me as well as to Lestrade. That's sure to solve the issue," John said.

Sherlock finally turned round and stalked over to throw himself down on the sofa. "He'd better hope no one comes across him whilst hunting. Any Ina looking for symbionts would snap him up in a second."

John felt a sudden burst of alarm. "Really? How big a risk is that?"

"Not a very great one," Sherlock admitted. "There are few Ina in this area. Most of us avoid cities whenever possible, and the odds that a traveler would find him by accident are low. But it's a possibility, which is why I always mark him."

"You what?" John barked, sitting bolt upright.

"No no no no," Sherlock said hastily. "Not like that, John. Scent marking. I touch his bare skin, usually a hand, every time I see him. My scent lingers for a day or two. Smelling a strange Ina on a human is usually enough to make a person leave that human alone. Courtesy." Sherlock smiled humorlessly. "And of course I go by his flat every two weeks and mark the windowsills with my blood, which lasts longer."

John's jaw dropped. "Why?" he asked.

"Because he wants to be left alone," Sherlock said sullenly. "Obviously."

***

Lestrade had known from the beginning that Sherlock was trouble. Hell, the first time they met was when Lestrade was on the drug squad and he caught Sherlock rifling the pockets of a drug dealer's corpse. Annoyed at the Met's idiocy in thinking there was anything remotely suspicious about that set of facts, Sherlock had speculated aloud on the reasons Lestrade's boyfriend had just left him. Lestrade slammed Sherlock against the wall so hard that it almost fractured his cheekbone. Not the most auspicious beginning.

These days their relationship was really just a series of Arrangements. Calculated bargains, like hostage exchanges between hostile nations, everyone wary and ready for things to go to hell at a moment's notice. Access to crime scenes in exchange for solutions to cases and a modicum of cooperation. Lestrade's silence about the Ina in exchange for Sherlock keeping his hands off his squad. Lestrade's restraint in not shooting Sherlock in the face for Sherlock keeping the hell away from him. That last one, Lestrade wasn't sure about; Sherlock was a creature of superhuman strength and speed who generally thought physical threats were hilarious. And after that conversation with John, Lestrade had a feeling that Sherlock's distance was something he got for free, just because Sherlock actually did like him.

There was some time in the middle, when Sherlock was clean and brilliant and Lestrade was lonely and naive, when things were different. Detoxed Sherlock was still lean and angular and sharp, but he was also attractive in a way that Junkie Sherlock wasn't. Lestrade's eye would catch on him, and he started to wonder, idly, what those long fingers would feel like on his body, how those perfect lips would look around his cock. And Sherlock was obviously more than just a pretty face, he was the smartest person Lestrade had ever met, a man that people would be talking about for decades after he died.

Lestrade never said or did anything of course, he was a professional and they had a professional relationship. And Sherlock was very, very subtle when he wanted to be. Lestrade didn't realize that Sherlock seen him looking, and moreover had been looking back; until one night Lestrade was leaving a crime scene in the patrol car, and Sherlock slid in the opposite door, grabbed the back of Lestrade's neck, and snogged him within an inch of his life.

There was a lot of kissing and a lot of groping in the days that followed: always away from the Met and the crime scenes, both of them insisted on keeping work and personal life separate. Sherlock was still a prick, but he seemed to soften around the edges when he was with Lestrade, and he could be astonishingly accomodating when he wasn't playing to an audience. Lestrade was happy and excited, and he thought he might be falling in love with Sherlock just a little bit. So of course that's when Sherlock fucked it all up.

It was Tuesday, Lestrade's not sure why he remembered that so clearly. It had been his day off, and Sherlock just showed up at his flat around seven in the evening as he was wont to do. Lestrade ordered pizza and ate most of it while Sherlock drank his beer and wandered around the flat. Eventually he got tired of waiting and dragged Lestrade onto the sofa for an extended kissing session. At which point he bit Lestrade on the neck.

He shouted, and tried to fight, but Sherlock pulled back to tell him, "Be still," and his body relaxed into Sherlock's grip without any input from Lestrade. He couldn't even panic properly because what Sherlock was doing to him was just so bloody good. When Sherlock let him go, Lestrade was light-headed and so hard that he ached, and the first thing he did was knee Sherlock in the balls and black his eye. There was a lot of yelling, mostly from Lestrade. Sherlock explained himself with wide eyes and rapid words, and at the end of it Lestrade told him to fuck off.

He didn't want to be a feeding source. He didn't want to be part of some kind of harem. He didn't want to know any of this shit, but Sherlock offered to help him forget and the thought of his memory being erased was even more terrifying than the facts that Sherlock had imparted. Lestrade wasn't sure who he hated more, Sherlock for what he did, or himself for enjoying it so much, for wanting it to happen again.

The hatred eventually faded. Sherlock was a son of a bitch, but he kept his promise and his distance, and Lestrade managed to feel a sort of grudging respect for him again. He was a genius, you couldn't deny that. What never quite faded was the wanting. That wasn't to say he pined, or anything so pathetic; but somewhere in the back of his mind was always a memory of that night that would never quite fade. He pushed it out of his conscious mind entirely, drove Sherlock Holmes out of his wanking fantasies, and if he had the occasional dream about fucking Sherlock; well, you couldn't control what your brain did while you slept. He had nothing to be ashamed of.

He had several relationships after Sherlock, one fairly serious. A couple more one-night stands, although he decided after the second walk of shame that he was far too old for that kind of shit. But none of them felt entirely comfortable, entirely right. Had he always been this way, or was it just since Sherlock that he couldn't be happy in a committed relationship? Lestrade didn't know.

Lestrade didn't see the exact moment that John and Sherlock became a couple, but he saw the aftereffects of the shift and he watched carefully; torn between his promise to stay silent, his desire to avoid messing up John and Sherlock's friendship (which had been good for both of them and for the Met generally) and his concern for John's safety. He had to watch them a while to be sure, but to his surprise the first thing he felt when he confirmed his suspicians wasn't anger or worry, it was a sharp stab of jealousy. Where the fuck did that come from?

He had a talk with John- and Jesus, wasn't that awkward- and as best he could tell, John wasn't lying. Things were fine. He was more comfortable than ever with Sherlock, he was friendly with everyone, he was insufferably healthy, and Lestrade was going to guess from his air of general satisfaction that the sex was probably great. Lestrade should be happy for John, but he wasn't, and he couldn't delude himself into thinking that the twist in his stomach when he thought about them together was worry on John's behalf.

He woke up from another embarassingly erotic dream about Sherlock, feeling as angry at the bastard as if he had caused the dream, and said to himself Grow up. He stood in front of the mirror with his toothbrush in his mouth, looking at his gray hair and the lines on his face, and said aloud, "Grow up." He was 44 years old and behaving like a teenager. He was 44 years old and Sherlock was gorgeous and Lestrade had no idea why he'd been interested in the first place, and damn it this was all irrelevent and besides the point! Nothing had changed. Sherlock was still a prat and Lestrade had no better reason to say yes to him than he did two years ago.

Plus, now there was John. Sherlock had said his sort were naturally polyamorous, but John was not; John was fiercely possessive, and he was Lestrade's friend, and friends don't steal friends' insane vampire boyfriends. So it was all moot, even if Lestrade was interested in changing his mind. Which he wasn't.

***
John loved Pub Night, he really did. And after a day like today, which he primarily spent chasing Sherlock all over the place and apologizing to everyone he managed to offend- more than his average- he thought that he bloody well deserved to relax away from the git for a few hours. So. A dozen or so detectives from the Yard, the match on the telly above the bar, and a few companionable pints. Bliss.

The waitress set another pint in front of John, and jerked her head at the bar. "From the lady," she told John, and wandered off.

"Hey, wait!" John called after her, but she didn't look back. John looked in the direction the waitress had pointed, and saw a tall, pretty blonde looking straight at him. "Oh, damn it," John said. She looked damn good; if John had been on the pull, he wouldn't have thought twice.

"What?" Sally asked, and craned her neck to see what John was looking at. "Is that her? With the legs?"

"She's hot," added Jake, one of Dimmock's DCs, who's also sitting at their table. "Go for it, mate."

"Quit staring," Greg said, keeping his eyes on his drink.

"I'm seeing someone," John said. He was pretty sure Sherlock's No Yarders rule still applied, even though Lestrade already knew what was going on. Greg snorted into his pint. "What the hell am I supposed to do? It seems wrong to drink this."

Sally laughed. "The last of the true gentlemen," she teased.

"Your boyfriend won't care," Greg said. "Probably do you good." John shot him a warning look.

"Boyfriend?" Sally asked, looking between Greg and John.

"I'm bi," John said, barely stopping himself from telling Lestrade to shut up. He wasn't closeted, but Jesus. "It's, um, basically an open relationship." True. And Sherlock wouldn't care. "But that's not the point," he said, aloud and to himself. "I don't want to lead her on."

"For God's sake, John, it's three pounds worth of beer. Just drink it," Sally advised. "If she comes over, you just put her off. I can play the role of your angry girlfriend, if you like."

"Yeah, that'll be plausible," Greg said, smirking.

"Hey, up yours, sir," Sally told him.

"Sod you lot, I'll drink the damn pint," Jake said, and snatched it from in front of John.

The blonde was still watching. John raised his eyebrows in what he hoped was an expression of apology, mouthed 'sorry,' and shrugged. Then he ignored her. The message apparently took, because she didn't approach or send any more pints his way.

John was tired, so he called it a night not too long after eleven. He walked up the street alone, feeling pleasantly warmed by the alcohol and the comraderie.

He was thinking distractedly about Tube schedules when something snaked out of the alley he was walking past, seized his wrist, and spun him into the brick wall. More jarring than the impact of the wall on his back was the tingling sensation emanating from his wrist. The sense of alarmed wrongness was familiar, but so far out of context that it took a moment for John to place it. By then, of course, he was grappling with the blonde from the bar, who was at least six inches taller than John and most definitely stronger, if the grip she had on his wrist was anything to go by.

As John tried- and failed- to free his arm from her grasp, he managed to elbow her in the throat, then in the face; that blow made a crunching sound that told John he had fractured something. He brought his heel down hard on her instep and tried to kick her in the kneecap, but the angle was bad. He gave up using his free hand to pry her fingers from his wrist and rained punches on her face and upper body. The sensation of being touched by her was making him feel moderately nauseous, and John suddenly recognized what that meant: the woman he was fighting was Ina. The realization did nothing to reassure him. She might have made a mistake in the crowded bar, but there was no possible way she could now avoid smelling that John was another Ina's symbiont. And that meant she wasn't here to feed on him...she was targeting John, specifically, and that couldn't mean anything good.

John fought like a demon, but she actually was a demon, or the next best thing, and it was hardly a fair contest. She managed to knock John's wind out and bend him over with a few well-placed blows. A vicious slap to the side of his head disoriented him and made him lose his focus, and she used the grip on his wrist to flip him around so that he smacked his face into the bricks. In a second she had his wrists in metal handcuffs, so tight that they cut into the skin. She grabbed John by the back of his shirt and flung him face down on the ground, then stepped back out of the alley. John had only managed to rise as far as his knees when a car pulled up to the curb. The Ina grabbed him by the back of the shirt again and jerked him up, not waiting for him to get his feet under himself as she half-dragged him to the car.

She yanked open the door with her free hand and flung him across the backseat with such violence that he almost broke his head open on the handle of the opposite door. "Shit!" he swore involuntarily.

"Shut up," she snapped, ducking in beside him and closing the door. "You should have taken the pint, not my fault you had to make things difficult."

The driver immediately pulled off. "All right?" the driver said. John could tell it was another woman by the voice, but he couldn't see her, folded up and unable to catch his balance as he was.

"Little fucker broke something in my cheek," the one next to him said. Her upper class accent was quite at odds with her word choice. John's head was tilted such that he could see her sitting back in the seat, prodding gently at her face, just below the right eye.

"Hope it hurts, you bitch," John said unwisely, struggling upright. His wrists hurt like hell, especially the one she'd grabbed him by.

She reached over easily with one of her long arms and grabbed him by the scruff of his neck, bare skin on bare skin. It didn't hurt, but it felt weird, weird and uncomfortable and almost frightening. He unconsciously arched his spine, trying to shake her off, but her grip was iron. "I said shut up," she repeated, and jammed a hypodermic needle into the side of his neck.

***

Sherlock returned from hunting shortly before two and was surprised to find that John was still not home. Based on his known patterns of behavior and his level of activity during that day, he would have expected John home before midnight. Yet he had clearly not been in the flat since Sherlock had left. He paused briefly to consider the repercussions of sending John an inquiring text- possibility of annoyance at Sherlock's perceived clinginess outweighed by likelihood of affection at perceived protectiveness- and then did so. John's median response time for such messages was four minutes. Sherlock took advantage of the delay to double check the closing time of the pub where Lestrade's section frequently gathered.

No response to his text. Sherlock recalculated the repercussions and fabricated a rationale for a second text- Need medical opinon re: cause of death. SH- then waited another four minutes. It was 2:07. The Ship and Shovel closed at two. It was possible that John had stayed until closing, but typically the gathering of police broke up by 1 at the latest, and John never drank in pubs alone. For the same reasons it was unlikely that John had moved to another pub. John would not spontaneously visit an acquaintance at this hour of the night; even intoxicated he was far too courteous for that. It was possible that John had left the pub with an unknown party for a casual sexual liaison, but extraordinarily unlikely. Despite Sherlock's explicit permission, he had yet to express any interest in such an encounter.

Sherlock was swiftly eliminating all the mundane reasons why John was not yet home. He scrolled down his contacts, hesitated, and sent another text: Need to contact John. Urgent. Is he with you? SH. Lestrade did not respond, so Sherlock gritted his teeth and placed a call. The phone rung out and clicked over to voicemail. Sherlock dialed again. Again.

He was pacing the room, listening to the ring and considering whether to go to the pub or to Lestrade's flat, when the man finally picked up. "I'm going to kill you," Lestrade said. "I am going to actually murder you, you sodding git."

"You're at home," Sherlock said, drawing the obvious conclusion. Then, before Lestrade could interrupt with something irrelevent, he continued, "Where is John?"

A pause. "He went home before I did. Sherlock, if you are calling from out on the street somewhere-"

"When did he leave? Which direction did he head in?" Sherlock barked. He was already clattering down the steps.

"It was- fuck, I don't know. Elevenish?" Lestrade sounded distinctly more alert. "So he's not home yet? Where did he go?"

"I'm becoming increasingly suspicious that he didn't go anywhere," Sherlock said. He jogged up Baker toward Marylebone, looking out for a cab to flag down. "Who did he leave with? Who saw him last?"

"Um. I did, I suppose. He was sitting with us- Donovan and Posner. DC Posner, from Dimmock's squad. He said he was tired and he left. Alone. Sherlock, have you called the police?"

"I'm speaking with the police." The first cab didn't stop; Sherlock considered that perhaps his manner was a bit too agitated, modulated his behavior, and persuaded the second cab to pull to the curb.

"I mean properly. Where are you?"

"On my way to the pub," Sherlock said. "The Ship and Shovel," he told the cabbie. "Don't be tiresome, Lestrade, I can obtain far more evidence than whatever patrol officer would be sent."

"Christ," muttered Lestrade. He would not object further; Lestrade was sensible enough to realize that Sherlock was right, after all. "I've got to get dressed. Don't leave the pub till I get there, I don't fancy trying to hunt you down." Lestrade hung up before Sherlock could tell him not to bother. Well, if he got to the pub while Sherlock was still working, he could provide additional details about John's departure, perhaps.

Sherlock began at the door. The scents were muddled, of course. Dozens and dozens of people- patrons, passers by, men, women, animals. Sherlock tried to focus, concentrated on his memory of John's familiar smell, and managed to separate it out. Nearly impossible to follow. He grimaced, glanced about for observers, and finding none he dropped to his knees and gloved hands to test the scent closer to the ground. He hated this, it was uncomfortably doglike and terribly undignified; but the scents were always easiest to pick up from solid objects, in this case the pavement. It still took about five minutes for him to determine which direction John had taken. There were a couple people visible from the corner, so Sherlock had to use trial and error to figure out which way John had turned.

When he reached the little alley a block or more away from the pub, following the scent stopped being a problem. The alley reeked of John- moreover, John's sweat, John's adrenaline, John's distress. And something else- someone else. Ina. Female. Sexually mature, mated. For a moment Sherlock's reason was overtaken by blinding, incoherent rage. An Ina, another Ina had accosted John. His John. To deliberately attack another Ina's symbiont was a violation of one of the strongest taboos they had, both immoral and illegal in the extreme. Under Ina law she would be punished by amputation without anesthetic, the extent of the loss of limbs determined by how much damage she had done to John. But Sherlock was not planning to make use of Ina law; when he found the female that had dared to lay hands on his John, he was going to amputate her head.

He carefully scented the street and sidewalk around the alley in a semicircle with a radius of ten meters. Neither John's scent nor the female's extended past five meters in any direction but the pub. So either the female had followed John here or she had preceeded him and lain in wait. They struggled, and departed the scene in one or more vehicles. None of this gave him any idea who the Ina might be or where she would have taken John. He was not aware of any Ina traveling in London at the current moment, but he would follow up with Mycroft to see if he had heard anything from his contacts. The directness of the attack and the obvious premeditation involved meant that John was a deliberate target. Sherlock could not escape the conclusion that this was somehow related to Moriarty, the only Ina who had reason to target Sherlock or his family.

Sherlock was so absorbed that he did not notice the cab approaching until it screeched to a halt in the street across from the alley and Lestrade climbed out and hurried across to him. "Did anyone leave the pub directly before or after John?" Sherlock demanded.

Lestrade hesitated a moment, thinking back. He was dishevelled and sleepy-eyed, and his scent was tinged with anxiety and alcohol, as well as traces of the pub. "Not that I remember, but....shit, Sherlock, it was a pub. People were coming and going a lot."

"Did anyone there pay him any particular attention? Not Yarders, strangers."

Lestrade pursed his lips. "He only talked to our group. So I don't think- no, wait. There was a woman, sent him a pint."

Sherlock tensed. "Excellent. Describe her."

"Sherlock, what did you-"

"Describe her!" Sherlock's voice was practically a snarl, and it made Lestrade rock back on his heels slightly.

"Tall, very tall: over six feet. Skinny, almost flat-chested, but great legs. Blonde hair, waved but not curly, just past the shoulder and pulled back behind her ears. Very pale skin, not much makeup. Um."

Sherlock cut him off with a hand gesture, thinking furiously. The description could not be a coincidence; she had to be Ina. "Did John drink the pint?"

"No. No, Jake Posner ended up drinking it."

"You may want to talk to DC Posner; I suspect he will be waking up with a very nasty headache, and probably some memory loss," Sherlock said.

"You think that woman tried to drug John?" Lestrade was always quicker on the uptake than your average DI.

"Yes. And when it didn't work, she attacked and subdued him in this alley," Sherlock said. He had his phone in his hands, already composing a flurry of texts to Mycroft. He certainly didn't relish having to ask the busybody for assistance, but his love of surveillance might actually be useful in this instance. Normally Sherlock would rather have cut off his own arm than ask anyone for help, least of all his brother.

He was not at all surprised to find that in this, as in everything else, John created an exception to the rule.

Author's Note: Canon suggests that if an Ina bites you and doesn't make you forget it, you're never quite able to forget it. Councils of Judgment are taken from the book, as is the fact that Ina punishments typically consist of amputation without anesthesia. Fun fun!

Chapter Text

Mycroft had no information to suggest which Ina had been abroad in London. The cameras focused on the Ship and Shovel and the alley where John had been abducted all had been inconveniently turned in the wrong directions. There had not been a single whisper from Moriarty since John had been taken. Sherlock thought that he might be going mad.

He threw himself back into his investigation of Moriarty's activities with an unholy fervor. The best lead he'd had since the Pool was an arms smuggler named Marcus Reardon. Sherlock had painstakingly climbed through a tangled web of informants and owed favors before uncovering the name, and had held it in reserve because some faint tremors along the strands of the web indicated that Reardon might be one of Moriarty's lieutenants.

Once Sherlock truly focused his search, it took less than two days for him to figure out where Reardon was basing his operation. Too, too quick: if it had been that easy all along, he would have had the situation sorted weeks before. It was almost as if Moriarty was taunting him, waving the man in his face, and when he conducted his raid on the location he discovered why.

Reardon was a symbiont.

It made sense, of a kind. Who else could Moriarty fully trust to execute his most important orders? It was a risk to his safety, of course, but the symbiont was protected by many layers of subterfuge and many smaller fry; only Sherlock could have wormed his way into the organization so quickly. He had killed or disabled ten lesser pawns on the way into Reardon's sanctum sanctorum, and now he was almost stymied. Why was Moriarty risking his sym in this way? Reardon wasn't afraid, either, and not just because of the gun in his pocket. The deduction was obvious: Moriarty did not expect Sherlock to take action against Reardon, once he realized that the man was a symbiont. Did Moriarty think that having John hostage would prevent Sherlock from hunting Moriarty down? Did he believe that this was a line Sherlock wouldn't cross in his pursuit? Did he really think that Sherlock would not cross every line of etiquette and morals he had to in order to get John back? More fool, him.

Sherlock was on Reardon faster than he could blink, tearing the gun out of his pocket and chucking it across the room. With no audience, and with prey that knew what he really was, he was free to be as fast and strong and dangerous as his nature allowed. Reardon was fundamentally incapable of beating him, and in mere moments he was subdued. Sherlock searched Reardon's files with great care, and found the last of the records he needed to prove the case against him. The abuse Reardon had hurled against him as he worked had grown more and more frantic, peppered with promises of vengeance which Sherlock calmly ignored.

It was a cover for terror, clearly; the acrid scent of fear emanated from Reardon's every pore. Sherlock thought of John, who would be braver than this man, but still secluded and facing the unbearable torment of withdrawal, and felt an uncharacteristic urge towards kindness. "I'm not a needlessly cruel man," he told Reardon. "Your withdrawal will be medically supervised. The doctors will ensure that you receive pain medication, and that you are asleep during the worst of it. You will emerge healthy and intact."

"Fuck you!" Reardon screamed. His hate and fear were palpable. "Fuck your doctors! He's going to come for me. He'll come for me and he'll destroy you!"

"He's not coming for you," Sherlock said scornfully. Moriarty wouldn't personally risk himself when the effort was doomed to fail. He would bide his time.

"You're wrong," Reardon snarled. "Just because you're rubbish at protecting your syms-"

Sherlock's rage swelled, and he stood up and walked out, leaving Reardon bound on the floor. Sherlock told himself that he was not going to hurt a symbiont because he couldn't reach the man's Ina. He was better than that. He stood in the hallway and took several deep breaths. He could still hear Reardon shouting of course, but the distance helped him calm his fury.

Obviously he could not simply call the Yard on this matter. Even laying aside the damage he'd done to Moriarty's other men inside, provisions had to be made for Reardon, and Lestrade was not capable of making arrangements. Sadly, there was only one person who could. Well. Needs must. "I've run down Marcus Reardon," he announced to Mycroft.

"Good for you," Mycroft said. "You haven't called me to boast, surely."

"He's a symbiont."

A pause. "Ah," Mycroft said, consideringly. "Your raid may not have been the most intelligent course of action, then."

"It's brilliant," Sherlock said. "He was sure I wouldn't touch Reardon. That was a mistake, and I caught it. Now he'll be unbalanced."

"That's an unusual choice of words," Mycroft said. "Given that James Moriarty doesn't seem to have been terribly balanced to begin with."

"Don't be pedantic," Sherlock snapped. "Or are you refusing the opportunity to meddle, when it would actually be of use for once?"

"Very well," Mycroft said. "Reardon counted a number of unpalatable organizations among his clients, I suspect. It will be simple enough to write your intervention off as a sanctioned counter-terrorism effort. Reardon himself will be....taken care of."

Sherlock scrubbed his forehead with the back of his hand. He wanted to turn to John and hear him make a joke; he wanted them to laugh together, he wanted to watch him eat Chinese and take him home to bed and have sex and fall asleep after with his nose buried in John's hair. But he couldn't, because John wasn't there. Bringing down Reardon should have felt like a victory, but all Sherlock felt was hollow.

***

John woke in stages, first barely conscious, then woozy and stupid, then slightly blurry. Finally he had his shit together enough to open his eyes without throwing up, and he could sit up and look around. He was lying on a bare mattress sitting on a metal bedframe, in a cement room perhaps ten by twelve feet. The bed was the only piece of furniture, but there were cardboard boxes stacked by the heavy wooden door: a case of bottled water and several cases of meal replacement bars. There was a small alcove on one side of the room which contained a toilet bowl- prison style, no visible mechanisms- as well as a showerhead, and a drain in the middle of the floor. There were two cameras: one pointed into the shower alcove, and one with a commanding view of the main room. There were no windows.

John's pockets had been emptied, and his belt and shoes removed. That this room had evidently set up to contain someone for an extended period was in some ways reassuring; it suggested that they did not intend to murder him immediately, nor to torture him to death. The room was practically luxurious in John's experience of kidnappings. So why was he here? To be used as leverage against Sherlock, that seemed the most likely explanation, and it didn't narrow down the possible culprits at all. But his kidnappers were Ina, and John knew of only one Ina who had it in for Sherlock.

His mouth was dry and cottony, most likely as a side effect of whatever they dosed him with, so he cracked open the water and downed about half a bottle. A case wasn't going to last long- No, don't be dense, he could hear Sherlock's acerbic voice saying in his head. Water was a non-issue, he had the shower and the toilet. He finished the bottle in his hand. He occupied himself for a short time by counting the protein bars, working out how many per day he needed to prevent malnutrition, and then working out how long the supply would last him. The answer seemed to be roughly two weeks.

Time passed slowly and unmarked; they'd taken John's watch as well. He napped a lot, in between his "meals." He exercised, jogging in place next to the bed and doing situps and pushups to keep himself from going stir crazy. He tried screaming, which elicited no response, and banging on the door, equally ineffective. He couldn't reach the ceiling and he found the bedframe was bolted to the floor, so there was nothing he could stand on to reach the cameras. He tried chucking full bottles of water at them, but they just bounced off without doing any damage. He had no tools to attempt to disassemble the toilet or tear through the mattress to reach the springs. He laid his ear along every inch of floor and wall that he could reach, but he could hear absolutely nothing outside the cell. It was quite extraordinarily boring, all told.

John lay on his back in the bed and performed complicated surgical procedures in his head. He thought about books he had read, tried to recall the words to poems he'd had to memorize in uni. He even let himself think about Sherlock, but not about anything especially titillating; he did not want to give that kind of show to the cameras, although he was matter of fact enough when he stripped down to shower in the alcove. The only thing he would not let himself think about was Jim Moriarty, and what he might be planning.

After 14 protein bars- John's only available standard of time-keeping- he began to notice a distinct feeling of nausea. He would suspect food poisoning, but- well, things being what they were, it didn't seem likely. When his head began to throb deeply and his limbs to ache, John's next guess was 'flu. Because wouldn't that just be his luck all over, to be incubating a virus when abducted so that he didn't start to show symptoms until a couple days into his captivity. John took off his long-sleeved shirt and lay on the bed in his undershirt, sweating and feeling bone-tired. He had to stop counting protein bars because he didn't eat again for some time. His running nose and watering eyes seemed to confirm his self-diagnosis of flu. In the end, it took him a ridiculously long time to come up with the correct answer. Sherlock would have been disdainful.

John was withdrawing from the drugs in Sherlock's venom.

He lay face down on the mattress and giggled when he realized. He had never had to quit an addiction cold turkey before, never had an addiction in the first place. He'd developed a mild dependency on morphine after his shoulder surgery, but he was weaned off that and the actual pain of the injury provided quite the distraction from the process. John had never fully understood what addiction meant, before this room. Once he had thought of Sherlock, that was all he could think of. Sherlock touching him, Sherlock biting him, the desire not in the least sexual but more like the burning need to scratch a painful itch. John had an entirely new sympathy for Harry, if this was how she felt when she was longing for a drink. John wondered how long this was going to go on. He remembered Sherlock telling him that withdrawal was "quite painful...very occasionally fatal" and had a feeling that he wasn't anywhere near the end of the drying-out period.

He had been laying awake for some hours, staring at the ceiling but not really seeing it at all, when his captors finally came. John was snapped abruptly out of his reverie by the sound of several heavy bolts being shot back. He ignored the protests of his body at being forced up off the bed and shifted over to the side of the opening door. His abortive dash at the gap was met by the stiff forearm of another tall, blonde woman, similar to but not the same as the one who had abducted him. The door was whipped the rest of the way open and then there were two of them. John grappled desperately, but was hindered by the numbers, by their physical strength and speed, and by the withdrawal. When the female Ina had touched him before, it was repulsive, but his reaction had been controllable. Now, physically and mentally weakened, John couldn't subdue the deep, instinctive panic he felt when they put their hands on him. Any sense of tactics evaporated in the desperate desire to get away.

They forced him back to the bed and working together, tied him face down and spread-eagle to the frame. John's struggling neither strained the ropes nor caused the bed to move. The women left, ignoring John's torrent of abuse. John would have felt better about his abortive attempts to resist if either of them had looked the slightest bit mussed or uncomfortable. As it was, he felt utterly helpless in a way he hadn't since he was recovering from his gunshot wound in hospital. He turned his head so he could pant without obstruction, and that's when Moriarty walked in.

He strolled to the bedside, a bare two feet away from John, and stood looking with his hands in his pockets. He was dressed again in designer clothes, but his jacket was missing. Also gone was the calm, playful manner he had worn at the Pool. His face was twisted with anger and- was it grief? It couldn't be grief, surely? "Hello, Johnny," he said. He reached out and made to stroke John's hair; John jerked his head violently away. Moriarty smiled quite nastily and seized him by the hair, lifting his head off the mattress. John could see in his peripheral vision that someone was setting up a camera on a tripod at the foot of the bed. His eyes went to one of the ceiling cams.

"Oh, some things require the hands-on touch," Moriarty said sweetly. "We're going to make a little home video, aren't we, Seb?" The man fiddling with the camera had a smile almost as nasty as Moriarty's, the same frighteningly flat expression that said psychotic killer. John had an idea about what was about to happen, given his positioning, and it filled him with a vast sense of calm. The slight shaking that his body had begun a few hours before subsided, as adrenaline kicked into his system and John nerved himself for what was coming.

Moriarty took a few steps back and began to unbutton his shirt cuffs. "He was warned, you remember," he said, no longer making eye contact with John. "He ignored me." Moriarty pocketed the cufflinks and began to roll up his sleeves. "My most recent message to him was even more explicit. And yet he persists. He tries to get me back." Moriarty paused for a moment. "I don't think Sherlock Holmes really takes me very seriously," he said confidingly. Moriarty stepped back over to the bed so he could carefully tear John's undershirt open from the neckline, then spread the halves apart, baring John's back so he could run one smooth hand over it. John involuntarily flinched. "You take me seriously though, don't you, Johnny boy?" Moriarty said softly, almost crooning.

John said nothing, and Moriarty struck him, a glancing but nonetheless painful blow on the back of his head. "Yes," John hissed.

"Good," Moriarty said, moving back again. "That's good." He unbuckled his belt and threaded it through the loops in his trousers; John's stomach clenched, but Moriarty made no move to undress further, just doubled the belt in both hands and examined it critically. He dropped it to the floor at his feet. "Seb, be a love and give me your belt."

The man who stepped to Moriarty's side to hand him a narrow, brown leather belt was a hair shorter than Moriarty, muscular and casual in t-shirt and jeans. John remembered him as one of Moriarty's henchmen at the pool, forcing him into the explosives vest and fitting the earpiece to his ear. Moriarty accepted the belt and examined it, then ruffled the man's hair with a casual fondness that made John immediately think symbiont. This was one of Moriarty's, had to be. Moriarty jerked the belt tight between his fists so that it made a flat smacking sound of leather on leather. He smiled again.

Goal-setting was a useful strategy that applied to a broad spectrum of bad scenes: hostage situations, interrogations, kidnappings, torture sessions. The primary risk was that of dying, of course, but barely secondary was the risk of losing your damn mind. And to avoid that, what you did was decide what your goal was and fixate on it; you bent the situation towards the goal however you could, and when you could do nothing you thought about the goal to the exclusion of pain, anger, fear, whatever. It helped you remember that you were human. It helped you endure.

Sometimes the goal began and ended with don't die. With interrogations, it would be don't break except that everyone broke eventually, so it was better to give yourself a concrete time period instead: how long you could hold out before you broke, how long you could avoid saying anything, then stall with half-truths and bad information and negotiating.

Last time John was with Moriarty, the goal had been very simple: get Sherlock out alive. They'd never discussed it, but given the kiss and all that came after he had a strong feeling that Sherlock's goal had been get John out alive. Sherlock surely knew the importance of goal-setting. He had never been in a war zone but he did get kidnapped, taken hostage, or trapped in a room with a killer on an average of once a fortnight.

Moriarty had already made his expectations for this little scenario perfectly clear: he wanted to punish Sherlock, and he was going to use a video of himself hurting John to do it. It was actually fairly vanilla by Moriarty's standards. Where was the game? He had just flat-out told John what he was up to. 90 percent of torture was the mindfuck, and Moriarty had made it clear how much he enjoyed that 90 percent. Maybe this was different because there was no goal beyond causing John pain? He wasn't sure. But he wouldn't complain, because if Moriarty's plan was simple, that meant John's goal would be even simpler.

He was going to remain silent. For whatever reason, they had positioned him with his head away from the camera, which would make it easier to hide his reaction. He had the mattress to muffle any involuntary noise he made, if it came to that.

So when Moriarty wound up and slammed the belt into John's back for the first time, John just jerked slightly against the ropes and told himself, Don't react. His mind flitted about at first, trying to measure the pain and compare it to something. The belt was long enough that it went across the entire width of John's back and the tip wrapped around the right side of his torso. It felt like the tip cut deeper than the length; at least Moriarty was holding the buckle in his fist, that was something. Moriarty was on his left, which meant that the heaviest part of each stroke was missing his injured shoulder. John wondered disjointedly if that had occurred to Moriarty.

John didn't try to count the blows, it would have taken too much concentration. As the beating went on, each whack stopped being individually painful and blurred into a sort of extended burning sensation, as if his entire back was on fire. Moriarty was doing a nice job spreading it out from the tops of his shoulders to the base of his spine. John wondered if he was bleeding yet; he couldn't tell. He gritted his teeth together and thought Don't react. Say nothing. Don't react.

After some interminable period, Moriarty paused so he could double the belt over. That doubled the thickness of the leather striking John's back, but somehow it resulted in a quadrupling of pain. John couldn't hold back a gasp when the first of those blows hit him; he turned his face into the mattress to hopefully muffle any further noise, but again he gritted his teeth and managed to keep quiet. He told himself that he was doing it, he was managing, he was going to make it. If he took it as a given that Moriarty didn't intend to kill him, there was only so far the Ina could realistically go.

John couldn't help relaxing his shoulders when the beating suddenly stopped. He didn't move his head to look at Moriarty; focused as he was on simply maintaining his silence, he felt that actually looking at the face of the Ina might make him unleash the torrent of cursing and abuse that he had allowed to build up in his head. Besides, criminal lunatics got edgy when you looked them in the eyes. Or was that bears? Was there a difference, practically speaking? John thought the accumulated effect of all the pain might be making him somewhat stupid. It didn't matter anyway, because Moriarty dropped into a crouch next to the bed. His face was perhaps a foot away. John briefly considered spitting, and decided the benefit to his self-esteem would be negligible. Better not then.

"Oh, Johnny," Moriarty said softly and sweetly. "Look at you, all quiet and accepting. Stoic. I knew you would be."

And just like that John's strength stopped being his act of defiance and became Moriarty's joke. Oh yeah, there was the psychological game that Moriarty was so fond of. John just barely stopped himself speaking. I hate you, he thought, as if the words were psychic bullets. I hate you more than I have ever hated a person, and if you let me up now I would choke you to death with that belt and not feel a second's remorse.

"Such a good little soldier," Moriarty cooed. He whipped his arm back and the doubled belt fell with brutal precision right across the back of John's left shoulder. Shocked at the sunburst of pain that exploded in his vision, he couldn't stop himself from gasping and hunching his shoulders. Moriarty laughed, high and mad, and behind it John heard the clink of the belt buckle striking the floor.

Moriarty bent over John and whispered distinctly, "That was just foreplay, sweetheart. Are you ready to scream for me?" He raised his voice without turning to face the camera. "Have I got your attention now, Sherlock?" He crouched over John, not quite touching his back, but the closeness added an extra layer of discomfort to the fire rolling up and down John's spine. The urge to buck him off grew even harder to resist as Moriarty leaned closer, and John clamped down hard on it. Moriarty exhaled across John's shoulder, close enough that his breath stirred John's hair, and John began to get just an inkling of what he intended, but before John could think to act Moriarty seized the initiative.

He touched his tongue to one of the welts on John's back.

Agony blasted through John and he had absolutely no ability to stop the scream that tore its way out of his throat. He couldn't compare it to being shot, but only because nothing can really compare to being shot. He could say it hurt about a thousand times more than the belt had hurt, that it felt like Moriarty had driven a knife so far into the wound it hit bone. He could say that when Moriarty slowly licked his way along the entire length of the cut, it felt like he was being flayed open, and when Moriarty put his mouth over the far edge where the tip of the belt had cut him on one of those early blows it felt like salt being rubbed in the wound.

And then the Ina shifted slightly, and he put his mouth on the next long, long cut.

John had at some point in the recent past moved beyond the capacity for rational thought. His body, which even through the beating had been his, was completely beyond his control. He screamed and had no idea whether it was just inarticulate yelling, or whether he was actually speaking real words. He arched his back and writhed and fought the ropes until they lacerated his skin and wrenched at his wrists and ankles. Every atom of him that wasn't taken up with absolute agony was urging stop move get away now. Because in addition to being horrifically painful, the attack was pushing some kind of panic button deep in John's hindbrain, and the only thing he wanted more than a cessation of pain was to put as much distance as possible between himself and this Ina who was not his Ina. Later, John would have time to appreciate why being a symbiont had caused him to develop an instinctive aversion to the touch of other Ina. Now, he had no ability to appreciate anything.

There was no way of knowing how long it took Moriarty to work his way down John's back. When he finally rose from the bed and said curtly to the cameraman, "Pack up the camera and leave," John's throat was raw from screaming. John was able to feel the inherent pain of the welts and lacerations from the belt, but that was almost a relief. The nerve-searing pain of Moriarty's saliva seeping into his bloodstream dulled with the removal of the source, but the lines of the wounds still throbbed and John fancied he could feel the wet slickness of his tongue still. John shivered uncontrollably and tried not to think You failed, you idiot, so much for not reacting.

Moriarty smiled as he picked up his belt and put it back on, while Seb retrieved his own belt and packed up the camera. "I can still see you thinking," he told John, unrolling his sleeves. "Thinking 'kill me and be done with it.' I could, of course. But I won't." The smile disappeared, and Moriarty was sharp, intent, and terrifying. "You're going to sweat out your withdrawal, Johnny. And then I'm going to bite you properly."

"Fuck you," John whispered, no longer bothering to fight for control.

"Maybe later, honey," Moriarty said. "After all, once I've made you mine, we're going to have to make Sherlock another little film. A very special film." Moriarty replaced his cufflinks, then sauntered over to the bed. With a knife he extracted from his pocket, he quickly cut through the ropes securing John to the bed and gathered up the pieces.

John felt far too shattered to move as Moriarty left the room and secured the door behind him. He lay for long minutes before he could bring himself to try to stand. John's back lit up with pain every time he shifted, but the urge to get the residue of contact off his skin was stronger than that. He fought his way to his feet and staggered the short distance to the shower alcove, shedding his bottoms and the remains of the undershirt. When the stream of water hit his back, white spots exploded in his vision and his knees went out from under him, so that he almost whacked his head on the tile. Stupid, stupid, he was a doctor and he knew better. But he swore he could still feel the saliva clinging to him, working its way into his wounds, Jim Moriarty snaking his way through every pore and getting mixed up in his body's chemistry.

He stood under the spray as directly as he could manage and tried to feel clean. The water that sluiced down the drain was tinged pink. John wasn't sure whether he wanted a mirror or not; surely there was no point to seeing the damage since there was nothing he could do about it. He could see the marks on his side where the tip of the belt had curled around, and they looked pretty nasty. If he was still full of Sherlock's venom, he would heal quickly and cleanly, but Sherlock hadn't bitten him in days now and John didn't know how long the effects persisted. How long was it going to take for Sherlock's venom to clear his system? And then on the heels of that thought, the even more terrifying one: how long was it going to take for Moriarty to convert him?

He could imagine being Moriarty's symbiont: obeying his orders, sharing his bed, perhaps even taking pleasure in his use of John's body because he was physically, chemically addicted. John was Sherlock's partner, but Moriarty wasn't Sherlock. Moriarty was going to fucking own him. John's stomach twisted sideways, and he vomited water and bile- the only things in his stomach at that point- into the metal bowl of the toilet. He couldn't seem to stop shaking.

Chapter Text

Sherlock lay on the sofa, imagining he was lying in a tomb. Someone had once shown him some vampire films, just to see how he'd react. He didn't delete the films because the pop culture detritus had frequently proved useful when he needed to play off someone's fears. He was generally glad that he didn't go dormant during the day as vampires did; it would be a tremendous waste of time, if nothing else. But sometimes he couldn't help thinking that the coffins might be a nice idea. A heavy, sound-proofed coffin would shut out external stimuli and give him a place where he could think. No interruptions from the outside world...and especially not from his family.

He cracked one eye to glare at Mycroft, who had entered the room almost silently. "Why are you here?" He eyed Mycroft a moment before he sat upright. "What has he done? Tell me."

Mycroft hesitated fractionally. "I intercepted a package directed to you this morning."

"You're reading my mail again?" Sherlock resisted a strong urge to throttle Mycroft.

"It was hand-delivered. The courier has been...questioned. He knew nothing." Meaning Mycroft had bitten him. If it was anyone else, Sherlock would be annoyed because the questioner would not know what to ask, would make a hash of the whole thing. With Mycroft, he couldn't use that excuse for his anger. Sherlock simply had to accept that he hated being kept out, especially when the matter directly pertained to him. He quivered with fury.

Mycroft drew a white paper sleeve containing a DVD from inside his jacket. "This is a video."

"You interfering-" Sherlock almost choked on his rage. Moriarty had sent him a message, and Mycroft had intercepted it, had screened it. As if Sherlock wasn't perfectly capable of assessing the threat himself. "You already watched it." It was a flat declaration of fact.

"Yes," Mycroft said. "I- hoped to protect you." Sherlock narrowed his eyes at this unusual admission. Mycroft very rarely explained his actions so baldly; it was the closest he ever came to apologizing for his meddling. Sherlock still wasn't going to forgive him, of course. But it was an extraordinary gesture.

It took Sherlock perhaps two seconds to consider what might be in the video that could cause such a reaction in his brother. Sherlock hadn't eaten since the night John was taken, but this was the first time that he had felt faint. "Moriarty won't have killed him," he said aloud, half to get confirmation and half to reassure himself. All the probabilities were against it. If the goal had been to kill John, Moriarty would have done so immediately. John was collateral, an opportunity for revenge. But short of killing him, what might a furious Moriarty have done to avenge the loss of one of his symbionts?

Sherlock had to see what was on the disc, instantly. He scrabbled on the desk for John's laptop, which had a bigger screen than his own, and set it on the coffee table. Normally he would spar with Mycroft over his aversion to physical activity, but he had no time for arguments or power struggles now; he stalked over to Mycroft and snatched the disc from his hand without a word.

The video began abruptly without dialogue or any other preamble: just an image of John, bound face down on a bare mattress. Sherlock knew every bare inch of John's skin, and most especially he knew the scar on the back of his shoulder. It was a medium shot, with enough distance that Moriarty, standing to the left of the bed, was well within frame. He already had a belt in his hands and one did not have to be a genius to know what was coming.

John was brilliant. Sherlock had a high tolerance for pain and exquisite self-control when the situation warranted, and he could not have done better. The beating turned John's back bright red with welts and broken capillaries, but John did not make a sound, even when one or two of the harsher blows drew blood. Sherlock could estimate based upon the damage how hard and painful the beating must be; he suspected that the reason Moriarty handled this task himself, designer suit and all, was that being Ina, his greater strength would cause much greater pain. Sherlock ground his teeth.

Moriarty paused for just a moment and smoothly doubled the belt, flecked with sweat and a little blood, over in his hand. With the first strike, John gasped brokenly, arching against the ropes, and Sherlock snarled in fury. "I am going to end him," he said aloud. He watched silently but with increasing tension as Moriarty beat John raw and bloody, the only sounds on the tape the wet crack of leather striking skin and John's labored breathing. By the time Moriarty stepped back, Sherlock was shaking with anger again. The Ina on screen squatted to whisper something to John, then gave him a solid thwack directly across his bad shoulder that made him gasp again. Moriarty's responding laugh as he threw the belt to the ground was frighteningly unhinged.

Sherlock was beginning to have a clearer picture of what it meant to unbalance Moriarty.

"Have I got your attention now, Sherlock?" Moriarty asked quite distinctly. The sudden acknowledgment of the camera after so long ignoring it unnerved Sherlock slightly. He was in no way prepared for Moriarty to bend down and place his mouth on John's back.

John's wrenching scream tore something apart inside Sherlock. His whole body cringed in reaction to the almost unspeakably obscene sight of another Ina taking blood from his symbiont, exposing John to his own venom. Sherlock wanted to destroy Moriarty, would have done it instantly if he could, but even stronger than the possessive rage was horror, revulsion, and- surprisingly- empathy. He had never heard or seen John in the kind of pain he was clearly feeling, and his wild, animal screams made Sherlock want to tear off his own ears and tear out his own eyes so he would be incapable of perceiving this torment. Sherlock could only stand a few seconds before he lashed out one hand and stabbed desperately at the mute button on John's keyboard.

Even the image of John suffering, fighting desperately against his bonds until his wrists bled and trying to buck Moriarty off, became too much after a few seconds. Sherlock put his face in his hands and tried to breathe deeply. His cheeks stayed resolutely dry, but after a moment Sherlock became aware of a repeated keening noise and realized that he was the one making it as he rocked back and forth slightly.

"Sherlock," Mycroft said gently. "Sherlock, you don't have to watch any more of this."

Sherlock swallowed convulsively until he could control his voice. "Did you watch it to the end?" he asked flatly.

"Yes. I can assure you-"

"Shut up," Sherlock said flatly. If John was strong enough to endure it, Sherlock could be strong enough to witness it. He took several deep breaths, then used the mouse to carefully resume the video where he had stopped watching. He watched until Moriarty stood up from the bed and the film stopped as abruptly as it had begun. He did not turn the sound back on. He sat back and took a number of deep breaths. When he was again capable of speaking moderately, he said, "I have changed my mind. When I catch Moriarty, I am going to take him apart piece by piece; and then I am going to put him back together so that I can destroy him again."

Sherlock felt an entirely childish fury at the unfairness of it. Moriarty had started this game, taking John, and Sherlock had made his own move by seizing Reardon when Moriarty had clearly expected him to leave the symbiont alone. But he hadn't harmed Reardon at all. Quite the contrary, he had ensured the man's separation from his Ina would be properly mediated by medical professionals, so that the risk to his health would be practically nil. And Moriarty's response had been to brutalize John.

At the same time, the rest of Sherlock's mind was running along a different track, correcting his assumptions about Moriarty's personality and behavior based on this new data. He had known Moriarty well enough to see he would not be willing to simply trade John for Reardon. But he had made an unconscionable error in judgment by thinking that Moriarty valued his symbionts the same way Sherlock did.

Acquiring and protecting symbionts was a biological imperative, but caring for them was not. What had driven Moriarty berserk was not any harm that Sherlock did to Reardon, but the removal of Reardon from the Ina's control. Reflecting on his meeting with Reardon, Sherlock now saw the clues that he should have treated with greater significance: Reardon's lack of planning, his clear psychological dependence on Moriarty's control.

"I need to question Reardon," Sherlock said aloud.

"No," Mycroft said at once.

Sherlock slammed the laptop shut and shoved it away from him; it slid to the other side of the table and almost fell to the floor. Sherlock instantly felt regret: it was John's laptop, he shouldn't damage anything of John's while he wasn't here. "Damn you!" he said. "That film tells us practically nothing about where John is being held. Reardon may be my only link to Moriarty now, and it's clear that I can't wait for him to make another move."

"Obviously," Mycroft said. "And he will be questioned. By competent interrogators with no personal investment or bias."

"Reardon is mine!" Sherlock retorted. "I caught him."

"And handed him over to me," Mycroft said. And oh, how Sherlock was starting to regret that now. He simmered with fury. He wanted to be the one to question Reardon, to drag out what he knew of Moriarty. And if it had to be done, if the only way to rescue John was for someone to bite Reardon and order him to give up what he knew, then Sherlock wanted to be the one who-

"No," Mycroft said sharply. "I can see you thinking it."

"I wasn't," Sherlock said. Damn Mycroft and his attentive gaze.

"No one is biting Reardon," Mycroft said firmly. "I will protect you from yourself when I have to, Sherlock, as I always have. Do you think John would thank you for doing that to someone else?" Sherlock gritted his teeth and turned his face away; knowing Mycroft was right didn't make it any easier to bear. "Besides which, your venom will not be enough to overcome Moriarty's to the extent needed to force obedience. In all likelihood, the conflicting commands would cause a brain aneurism. No, little brother, best leave this to more human and humane methods."

"What am I supposed to do," Sherlock said, turning his face away from Mycroft.

"Figure out another way to find Moriarty," Mycroft said. "And eat something. Take care of yourself, or John will have precious little to come home to."

***

The next day, Mycroft visited Sherlock again. He climbed the stairs to Sherlock's flat almost silently. Sherlock would still hear, of course, but Mycroft could hear a second person in the flat and he did not want to interrupt the conversation. It was most illuminating.

"I know what this is," said the foreign voice. "You haven't been eating." Sherlock didn't reply. "You need to fucking eat, Sherlock."

"You lost your chance to have any input into my dietary choices," Sherlock said snidely.

"It doesn't mean I want you to starve," said the other person, keeping his tone neutral.

Mycroft considered hesitating, because he did so want to hear where this would go next. But loitering in the hall eavesdropping was most unbecoming. So instead he stepped around the corner into the sitting room.

Sherlock was sprawled on his battered sofa wearing naught but pajamas and dressing gown; from the scent he hadn't stirred himself to wash or change since he had captured Reardon. Mycroft recognized the man standing over him as Detective Inspector Gregory Lestrade. Mycroft had ordered an extensive dossier prepared on Lestrade when Sherlock was considering taking him as a symbiont, which provided much factual and background information about the DI. But they had never actually met, and Mycroft took a moment now to breathe the man's scent and size him up.

Mid-40s, healthy, fit. He carried himself with confidence and authority, and he was obviously observant and alert: his eyes were on Mycroft when he entered. He gave Mycroft a quick assessment and then focused back on Sherlock, but kept Mycroft within his peripheral vision. Prudent. His tone and posture said frustration, but he smelled vaguely anxious. For Sherlock, or for John? Inconclusive. Not to mention the fact that despite his age, Lestrade's scent was delightfully alluring. If Mycroft was in need of more symbionts, he might almost be tempted.

Sherlock looked sharply at Mycroft, as if sensing the thought, and bared his teeth. Mycroft stifled his urge to laugh. How typical of Sherlock, possessive of everything and everyone, even what wasn't his.

"The good Detective Inspector raises an excellent point," Mycroft began. "You look ghastly." He did, unfortunately. He was cadaverous, looking much as he did at those times in the past when he was using drugs and not taking any care to hide it. It made Mycroft's stomach want to cramp just looking at him; it simply wasn't healthy for him to starve himself in this way.

"If you aren't here with information on Moriarty, you can take yourself directly back down the stairs," Sherlock snapped.

Mycroft decided it would be unkind to rise to the bait. Sherlock was hardly himself. "I have brought you the access keys for the land registry database for Greater London, and a certain continually updated satellite link," he said.

"You could have e-mailed me," Sherlock said sullenly.

"Can't I show concern for your well-being?" Mycroft said, trying for a reasonable tone. "You haven't left the flat in two days." He probably hadn't left the sitting room, for that matter. All manner of papers were scattered across the tables and the floor of the room. One couldn't stir a step without treading on something.

"You're looking for where they might be hiding John," Lestrade said, eyes darting between Sherlock and the paper which Mycroft is offering him.

"The package was hand-delivered to the courier service at seven o'clock yesterday morning, at their office at King's Cross," Mycroft said.

Sherlock made a small noise of comprehension and his eyes lit for the first time since he had seen Moriarty's dreadful film. "The disc was created that morning at four thirty," Sherlock said. "He didn't bother to hide the time stamp. The timing suggests that he was equally careless in dispatching his messenger. I was right. I did unbalance him."

Mycroft resisted the urge to ask Sherlock if it had been worth it; such a jibe was unworthy of him, and his brother did love his puzzles. Small wonder that he was excited.

"And that will tell you where this package was sent from?" Lestrade asked.

"No, of course not, but it narrows the field considerably." Sherlock snatched the card from Mycroft's hand. "Excellent," he said.

"I can help search," Lestrade said. His anxiety was on an upswing; concern for John, definitely. His eagerness to be of use was most touching.

"I'm afraid those are restricted databases, Detective Inspector," Mycroft told him. "You haven't the security clearance."

Sherlock was already opening up his laptop. "Lestrade, this is my brother Mycroft. He runs the British government."

"Sherlock does like his little jokes," Mycroft said, smiling faintly and reassuringly at Lestrade. The man looked distinctly credulous. Mycroft's emphasis on the word jokes was a warning; Sherlock was in a position to know how true his statement was, having lived in Mycroft's home twenty-odd years ago when Mycroft was sinking his hooks in. Martin had been his teacher then, and Sherlock had spent a good deal of his free time slouching in a nearby armchair, reading a book and listening in for want of anything better to do. He could be a powerful force in his own right, if he cared a wit for politics.

Then, perhaps it was for the best that he did not.

"Gregory Lestrade," the man said guardedly. "You're- like him, are you?"

"Ina, yes," Mycroft acknowledged.

"If you want to make small talk, go outside," Sherlock snapped, scrolling furiously. "I have work to do."

***

All of John's perceptions blurred together.

At first it was his back that screamed the loudest, but gradually the pain in the rest of his body overtook it. John swore he could feel every individual cell in his body, and they all hurt. He spent hours at a time curled into the fetal position, unable to think of anything except the pain and how much he wished it would stop. And, of course, Sherlock. Sherlock through a haze of pain wasn't a concrete thought, just a name and a vague sense memory of an embrace and pressure on his neck, but John longed for it with a deep ache that he was sure he'd never felt for anything before. His head pounded. He sweated and shivered, sometimes alternately and sometimes both at once, feeling as if he was trapped in the throes of fever; beyond the immediate sensations of his body, everything was quivery and unreal, and there was nothing to focus his attention on. His muscles quivered and jumped so that he shook almost constantly; it quite put his nerve-damaged hand tremor to shame.

John fought through the pain to care for himself as best he could manage. When the sweats hit him, he dragged himself into the shower and put the water on; he tried to keep his back as clean as he could without soap or antiseptic or a method of really examining or cleaning up the wounds; he kept returning to the shower long after he'd really lost a clear sense of why it was important. When he was too shivery, he wrapped himself back in his shirt, the only source of warmth he had. When he had a period where the gastro symptoms didn't have him bent over the toilet bowl, he made himself eat in hopes that some of the nutrition would have time to be absorbed, and he forced himself to drink as much water as he could stand because dehydration could only make all of this even worse.

It was all a dark, messy blur of nausea and fatigue and itching skin and pain, pain, pain. John's tracking of the passage of time, already compromised, became nonexistent. He could have been suffering for hours or days or weeks, for all he knew. The only logic he had left was dream-logic, which seemed appropriate enough since everything felt rather like the dreams one had when sick with a fever, half-real and half-not.

John was dragged out of the fog by the sound of the door opening again. He stumbled off the bed and got as close to the wall as he could without his back touching it. Hopefully that way he could keep the enemy in front of him and make himself more difficult to subdue.

"Don't get up on my account," Moriarty said, walking into the room. Seb walked in behind him and shut the door. He was holding a gray metal folding chair in one hand, which he opened and set up facing the foot of the bed. Moriarty studied John for a moment. "Sit," he said, pointing at the bed.

John refused to respond or drop his gaze, and after a moment Moriarty sighed in disappointment. John was expecting Moriarty to come at him, but it was still almost too fast to follow. The Ina slid through his attempts to block and grapple and nailed John with four precise and very painful punches: left shoulder, kidney, kidney, left shoulder. While John was temporarily debilitated by pain, Moriarty grabbed him by the back of the neck and pushed him down onto the bed. He then sat down in the folding chair, straightened his jacket, and waited patiently until John uncurled and sat up.

"I thought that I should get to know you," he said pleasantly. "Given how much time we'll eventually be spending together." John hoped he didn't look as sick as he felt at that remark. "So here's how this will work. I'm going to ask questions, and you'll answer. A fun little game for you." Moriarty's smile was monstrous and gave John a sudden sense memory, a whiff of chlorine in his nostrils. "There's even a reward, if you do well."

"And a penalty if I don't?" John speculated. His voice was hoarse from disuse. His body still hurt- God how he hurt!- but Moriarty was giving him an anchor, something to focus on, and he could at least make a pretense of functionality.

"Naturally." Seb held up a thick, black baton and stepped forward to the foot of the bed, standing within range of John.

"First question," Moriarty said briskly. "How would you describe me, Johnny?"

"Sadistic," John said at once, which made Moriarty grin as though he'd been paid a compliment. He made a 'go on' gesture. "Twisted."

Seb lashed out with the baton and John ducked; too late, he realized that the man was jabbing at him rather than swinging, and the end of the baton made contact with his side with a flash of blue light. Pain stabbed into him, all the muscles along his side spasming and then freezing for a moment, leaving a profound ache as the initial sensation dissipated. "No, that's a synonym," Moriarty said as John gasped. "Try again."

"Controlling," John said. He glared at Moriarty but was careful to keep half of his attention on Seb with the shock baton.

"One more," Moriarty coaxed.

John gritted his teeth. He was not going to say anything that could sound even vaguely complimentary. He had his pride, after all. Then, remembering Moriarty running his hand through Seb's hair, he blurted, "Possessive."

"Ah," said Moriarty. "A hint of perception." He rubbed his hand along his jawline and eyed John for a moment. "Tell me, Johnny, why did Sherlock bind you to him?"

"You already know the answer to that," John said hoarsely. Burn the heart out of you.

"Yes," Moriarty said. "But I want to know what you think the answer is."

John ground his teeth. "He- cares for me." He was not about to have a discussion about love with Jim fucking Moriarty. Moriarty jerked his head and Seb gave John another poke with the stun baton. John hissed in pain.

"Ill-defined terms," Moriarty said.

"I would think you'd understand the concept of caring for someone, even if only academically," John said.

Moriarty didn't seem to take offense, despite John's snappish tone. "Be more specific. For example, would Sherlock kill for you?"

"Probably," John said. Then, slightly more honestly, "Almost certainly."

"Would he die for you?"

"Yes," John said. What exactly did Moriarty think he was learning? He certainly looked satisfied enough as he stared at John.

"Would you die for him?" Uncharacteristically stupid question. John had already tried.

"I think we've already established that my answer to that is yes," John said.

"Do you love him?"

John hesitated a moment too long and got shocked again. "Ow, fuck, yes, clearly."

"Loyal, faithful John Watson." Moriarty smiled at him almost gently. "Do you know why I'm asking you these questions, Johnny?"

Because you're a twisted fuck who enjoys taunting people? "No," John said.

Moriarty leaned forward, as if about to confide a secret. "Because a month from now, we're going to have this conversation again, only it will be about me, not Sherlock. You're going to agree that I don't care for you, I wouldn't kill for you, and I wouldn't die for you. But your answers to those last two questions, regarding myself...they will be exactly the same." Moriarty leaned back in the chair.

"I doubt it," John said flatly.

Moriarty beamed. "Very good. Do you think he deserves his reward, Seb?"

"I suppose," Seb said, curling his lip in a sneer.

"I think he does," Moriarty decided. "You've been a reasonably well-behaved pet, Johnny, so I'm going to do you a favor." John had the feeling that the deliberate pause there was meant to give his imagination time to run wild in. He willed his face to remain blank. "Your red blood cell count is far too high."

He was probably right. A lot of the symptoms were masked by the general misery of withdrawal, but John had been aware of the danger and he recognized the itching skin and bruising as signs of something worse happening. He had read up on the problem when Sherlock told him that EPO was a component of his venom, and had accepted that with the chemicals and regularly losing blood to Sherlock, he'd have to make an effort to keep himself healthy. The increase in red blood cells, without any corresponding blood loss, caused the blood to thicken, which created a high risk of blood clots. That could mean heart attack, stroke, muscle death. John hadn't had any venom pumped into his system in a while, but those extra blood cells lived for weeks and they weren't going anywhere.

"What's the treatment for polycythemia, Doctor John?" Moriarty said sweetly, and John had to swallow back the bile that rose up in his throat as the answer immediately sprang to mind.

"Drug therapy," he said, stalling.

"And?" Moriarty prompted. Seb tapped his baton meaningfully against his thigh.

"Phlebotomy." John tried to keep his sick fear off his face. Moriarty was going to touch him again, was going to bite him. He'd trade John's blood for his venom and it would be horrible and oh fuck help please Sherlock.

Moriarty smiled like a man who'd just won a very large wager and pulled two slender packets from the inner pocket of his jacket. He showed them to John, one in each hand: left, scalpel, right, syringe. Both disposable versions, clean and new in their sterile packets. "This is your reward," Moriarty told him. "You get to choose. Blood-letting the ollldddddd-fashioned way. Or an injection of my venom cut with heparin and cyclosporin."

An anticoagulant and an immuno-suppressant, lovely. The latter would stop his body from freaking out at the presence of Moriarty's venom, so the pain would be a great deal less. But it meant Moriarty's venom in his veins again, and that was- no. No no no. On other hand, the scalpel wasn't much fun either; given the choice John would simply open a small cut in his arm but he had a feeling that's not what Moriarty had in mind. Putting a knife in the hands of a psychopath wasn't smart at the best of times. "What," John said slowly, "if I don't want either."

"Then I bite you," Moriarty said, still smiling. "You can consider that option three, if you'd like." John swallowed hard and fought a surge of nausea. The headache was not making this any easier, and his vision started to blur as he stared at Moriarty's hands. Probably Moriarty would bite him anyway, at some point, but John wanted to stave it off as long as possible. If Moriarty wanted him, he was going to have to fight. So if John had a choice, a real choice here- "Pick something," Moriarty said. "I'm growing bored."

"Scalpel," John said. He'd rather have straight pain.

Moriarty chuckled. He pocketed the syringe and put out his hand for the shock baton, which Seb gave him. "Get your shirt off and lie face down on the bed." He stood up and kicked the folding chair back toward the door. John hesitated a moment and began to unbutton his shirt. Not fast enough for Moriarty, who pressed the end of the baton against John's hip and laughed at John's strangled cry. "Let's go, he said. John pretended not to hear him and went on unbuttoning his shirt with shaking fingers. He discarded it to the floor.

"Here, Seb." Moriarty tossed the packaged scalpel to Seb, who neatly caught it. "You can do the cutting, I'll watch you." Seb smiled with apparent pleasure as he stripped the plastic off the scalpel and went to the opposite side of the bed. John, stuck between them, wasn't sure which threat to keep his eyes on. Moriarty snapped his fingers impatiently. "Down, boy."

John gritted his teeth and slid himself backward on the mattress, then leaned forward and levered himself into position, face down with his head towards the foot of the bed. Moriarty brushed an open palm over his lower back and John couldn't restrain a gasp. He felt a heavy weight settle on his legs, and Seb climbed onto the bed beside him, balancing on his knees.

"Where should I start?" Seb murmured.

"Oh, you pick. You know I like to watch you work," Moriarty said. "Johnny will keep his hands to himself, won't you, pet?" John flinched away from a second application of the exploring hand, and Moriarty chuckled.

Seb ran a finger along one of the healing welts on John's back, tracing the arc all the way across. Oh, shit. John slide his hands up to grip the edge of the mattress, so he'd have something to hold onto when the scalpel- John yelped, and Seb dug the blade into the welt and dragged it across the arc. The sensation was a bright line of fire across his back, but Seb immediately set the scalpel into another welt and opened that back up too. After a few more lines, he wiped his free hand through the mess of John's back and showed John his dripping hand, as if John wasn't already well aware that he was bleeding. Seb laughed and wiped his hand on John's cheek, and went on slicing his back to ribbons.

John gasped and hissed and shouted through it until Seb declared himself finished. "Such steady hands," Moriarty purred. "Better let it bleed a bit, Johnny, you wouldn't want to waste all that effort, would you?"

Chapter Text

Sherlock Holmes was not given to physical excess. He ate as necessary to fuel his body, but didn't over-indulge. He slept when exhaustion began to cloud his faculties or when he had been seriously injured, but never over-slept. He rarely imbibed alcohol and never enough to become drunk, and now that he had passed through his unfortunate narcotics phase, he no longer indulged in opiates either. He tended towards asceticism when he was working; it simply flew in the face of logic how people banged on about trivialities like food and sleep when there was a case on. Especially since when he hit about the twenty-five hour mark, even the urge to rest was gone and his mind kicked over into higher gear and flew.

So naturally, he owed no lesser attention to the search for John, which might be the most important case in his entire career. And there was so much work to do in pursuing this lead, his only lead thus far. Records to be searched, potential targets to be identified by proximity and usage and public accessibility, sales histories to be checked for potential links to Moriarty. Tedious and endless. Sherlock never logged out of the databases, and he made notes upon notes across every piece of paper he could reach after he ran through the stack of notepads that Mycroft had sent over with Anthea. He gave up making tea because it took him away from the work too long at a stretch, and anyway it didn't taste like John's tea and he didn't need it.

People came and went infrequently. Mycroft sent his minions with more notepads and once a package of beef that he ignored until it went off and Mrs. Hudson came tutting in and disposed of it. Lestrade came by to shout at him about calories; obviously Mrs. Hudson must be letting him in, that woman was far too susceptible to the waving of warrant cards. Really, Sherlock had no idea why everyone insisted on being so damnably distracting. It's not as if he'd been working that long. Surely no more than a day or two, anyway. The human- or Ina, for that matter- brain did not require glucose intake to function at optimal; even severe malnutrition took weeks to result in cognitive impairment. And Sherlock was, of course, his brain. If he fell when he got up for a glass of water, that was merely a moment of distraction. If his vision blurred unpleasantly when he looked away from his computer, that was simply an aberration.

Lestrade came to the flat again, but he didn't yell any more. He was dragging Sherlock up and pushing him onto the sofa. Conclusion: Sherlock had been on the floor for some reason. How did he get on the floor? Irritating. Lestrade forced a glass of water into his hand, which he drank agreeably enough, as his throat felt dry anyway. He turned back to the laptop on the coffee table, and Lestrade slammed the lid shut with a great deal more violence than Sherlock thought was strictly necessary. The latches on the side were sticking for some reason. Why was everything conspiring to aggravate him?

Lestrade went off somewhere and came back with one of John's many first aid kits. John was very keen on first aid. Sherlock wasn't sure what the source of Lestrade's sudden interest was; nor was it entirely clear what he was intending to do with an alcohol swab and a scalpel.

Oh. He appeared to be cutting a hole in his wrist. That was rather stupid. Sherlock focused on Lestrade's voice and tried to make sense of the words that kept spilling out of his mouth, because he was very curious to know what the hell Lestrade thought he was playing at.

"-care, you daft bugger," Lestrade snapped. He slammed a coffee mug onto the table with, again, a good deal more force than was reasonable or necessary, and put his wrist over it. "I talked to your brother- and your phone was almost out of charge, I plugged it in, so you're welcome for that- and he said this isn't as emotionally satisfying, whatever the hell that means, but as long as it's fresh it'll still do you good." When the liquid was almost to the rim, Lestrade slapped a gauze pad over the cut and used two fingers to push the mug slightly toward Sherlock. "Well, go on then."

Sherlock blinked at the mug, which actually did smell rather engaging, but wasn't he meant to be maintaining focus? He seemed to recall some ambitions about not being distracted. But while it was easy to avoid going out and wasting an hour or so hunting, this food was right here and there was no pressing reason not to just reach out and- oh, bugger.

Sherlock emptied the mug in three long swallows, and oh dear God was this the best thing he had ever tasted in his entire life, or was his memory faulty? The latter, obviously. Skewed perceptions? He really had let himself go. He plumbed the depths of the mug with his tongue and managed to clear most of the residue from the sides.

Lestrade was watching him carefully. "Here, give that back. You are hopeless. I swear to Christ I have no idea how John puts up with you." Sherlock let him take the mug away, and he dropped the gauze and filled the mug up again before he pressed a clean piece of gauze to the wound and bandaged it properly. Sherlock drank the second mugful more slowly, savoring it, and when he was through he turned it upside-down to get the last few drops out of the bottom. He went to the kitchen tap, finding it much easier than before, got the remnants of blood off the bottom of the mug with a quick blast of water, and drank the lot. He left the mug in the sink.

"Better?" Lestrade asked him, and Sherlock nodded grudgingly. He did admittedly feel slightly more clear-headed, and when he sat back down in front of his laptop it was no trick at all to get it open. "Right," Lestrade said, cracking his knuckles. "Now. What can I do to help?"

**

The pain in John's back had again overtaken the pain in the rest of his body. For a long time after Moriarty and Seb left him, he didn't move; everything seemed especially unreal, and John eventually realized that he had blacked out several times. The temptation was to lie where he was and let whatever was going to happen, happen. But something inside of John nagged at him incessantly that he needed to get up, clean the wound as best he could, drink something. He was terribly thirsty. What eventually budged him was the need to empty his bladder, which he absolutely refused to do in the bed. He had not yet sunk that low.

John pushed himself up on his forearms and gasped at the pain that stabbed through his back. He took several deep breaths, steeling himself, and then pushed himself fully upright. He locked his elbows to brace himself while he rode out that wave of pain, then carefully levered himself into a standing position. He unfastened his jeans and pushed them as far down as he could without bending, then almost collapsed when he tried to tug them off the rest of the way. Finally it was easiest to remove them while sitting on the bed, working them down carefully and bending over as little as possible. It took what felt like forever, and he was panting with effort and pain by the end. He got himself up with the power of sheer determination, and put himself under the shower: face to the nozzle, letting the main force of the water strike his face and shoulders before sluicing down his back. It still hurt- fuck it hurt- but he thought if he let the water hit his back directly he'd probably pass out. He drank the lukewarm water beating down on him until his belly couldn't hold any more.

When he could no longer stand the water, he staggered back to the bed. His jeans, he could now see, were damp with blood at the waist. Nice. The mattress also bore streaks of blood which had dripped down his sides during the cutting. There was nothing to be done about it; John slid his jeans back on by painful stages and lay back on the bed.

John had absolutely no idea how long it had been when Moriarty returned. It could have been a few hours, or a day. Probably not more than a day, since he had only been up to piss once more. He got himself up again when he heard the door- it was almost a point of pride, to face his enemies upright when they first came in. No folding chair and no shock prod this time, just Seb and Moriarty, the latter holding out his hands full of black-lettered plastic.

"Choose," Moriarty said, sounding if anything more cheerful than the last time.

John felt an insane urge to close his eyes and pretend this wasn't happening. So this was Moriarty's game: to break him down until he begged for the needle? Well fuck that. Fuck that! "Scalpel," John said through gritted teeth, and he lay back down on his stomach without being told.

This time it was Seb that settled across his legs. Moriarty knelt at the foot of the bed and held John's hands- his touch was still abhorrent, but less than before; did that mean John was growing acclimatized? Was the effect of Sherlock's venom fading? Was John just too racked with pain to properly react to Moriarty's touch? John's entire will focused on remaining still, but he still shook involuntarily, muscles quivering and twitching beyond his control. Seb slipped several times as a result, each time cursing John's inability to stay motionless. Moriarty squeezed his hands, which was tolerable, and murmured in his ear, which was not.

"Pretty pet," he cooed, and freed a hand to stroke through John's hair. John twitched but didn't dare jerk away when Seb's knife was stuck in his back, carefully carving open one of the numerous cuts that had only just scabbed over from the last time. "So brave, so obedient. I like soldiers, they're so easy to bend. Seb was a soldier too, you know. A very good soldier, in some ways, but his potential was unappreciated. Then he came to me and I made him what he is."

John didn't doubt it, that Moriarty could take a seed of psychopathy or cruelty and nurture it into true insanity. The kind that made a man take sick pleasure in carving someone open. Seb chuckled behind him, low and dark, as he reopened another wound.

"What will you be when I've remade you?" Moriarty whispered. "I'm still deciding, but I know you'll still be obedient. So, so biddable." His hand stroking John's hair, over and over, and John still couldn't get away. "Binding you to me is only the first step, Johnny. I am going to empty you out and fill you up with myself."

Moriarty leaned forward over the low footboard and licked at John's cheek. He did flinch, then, there were no wounds for Moriarty's venom to enter there, but the touch of Moriarty's tongue on his face still felt unbearably disgusting. Polluting.

"Delicious," Moriarty whispered, and lapped again at his cheek. And that's how John realized that he had started crying.

The third time, John felt stiff and old when he pushed himself upright. He hadn't gotten up to shower after the second time they cut him open, it seemed like too much effort for too little result. Besides which, he was positive he would pass out on the way to the shower. He could tell from what little of the wounds he could see- mostly the ones on his side- that at least some of them were already producing pus. He wondered just how infected they would get, how far Moriarty would let it go; would he let John die of sepsis? John wasn't entirely sure he cared at this point, which might frighten him if he had the capacity left to feel anything besides pain and despair and the desperate longing for what he couldn't have.

John didn't stand, it felt like too much effort, just kneeled up on the bed. Moriarty was barely through the door before he said, "Scalpel." He closed his eyes as he lay back down, so that he wouldn't have to see Moriarty's answering smile. His control was slipping, piece by piece. This time it wasn't his tears that betrayed him, but his vocal cords. Halfway through Seb's ministrations he was choking out a stream of begging words, stop and don't and please. It was the please that cost the most, but John couldn't stop the words from spilling out.

Moriarty, hand in his hair, kissed him gently on the temple. "Shh, shh, pet, it's all right," he said. "Would you like to change your mind? You can choose again, if you like. Just this once."

For a second John actually considered it; he wanted to gasp out Yes, the needle, I can't do this any more. But he wasn't totally broken yet, because his will roared back from where it had been coiled deep down inside, and gasped out through his mouth, "No. No. No." Moriarty laughed and nodded, and Seb went back to work. John bit his lips until they bled to hold the traitorous words back.

The fourth time was different.

John was lying face down on the mattress- now rather messy- so entrapped in his fevered shaking that he could barely bring himself to look up when the door opened. Moriarty sat on his legs, though he hardly needed to, and Seb stood by the foot of the bed, neatly stripping the plastic from a fresh scalpel. Then the third man came in.

"Jim," he rasped desperately.

"Marcus?" Seb said, clearly astonished.

"You absolute fucking moron!" Moriarty screamed, and reached over John's head to snatch the scalpel from Seb's fingers.

John had seen a lot of people die, but he'd never seen one die with quite that look of horrified betrayal. Moriarty put the scalpel through his throat before he yanked the blade clear and plunged the makeshift weapon into the man's face over and over. It only stopped when the blade lodged against a bone and Moriarty let him drop, gurgling, to the floor.

"Fuck," Moriarty said, sounded more annoyed than distressed. He wasn't even breathing hard. Jesus.

"Jim-" Seb started, but Moriarty cut him off with a gesture and stalked out of the room. Seb followed, stepping over the corpse by the door. John was barely coherent enough to realize that something had gone seriously tits up, much less work out what it was about or how he could take advantage of it.

When the door opened again, some undetermined period of time later, it admitted two human men that John had never seen before. They didn't waste time trying to give him orders, just grabbed him by the arms and dragged him upright and out of the room. John didn't try to fight them. By the time he had gathered himself enough to possibly take action, they were already out the door and John was alight with the shock and wonder of being outside the bloody prison cell for the first time in forever.

They dragged him along a hallway and up a flight of stairs, out, out, out into the twilight. He was surrounded by wide-spaced houses, somewhere in the country with the smell of cut grass and a cool breeze and the stars just coming out overhead. John was sure he'd never seen or felt anything so beautiful in his entire life.

The place had the sense of being abandoned, it was so utterly quiet. John was dragged over to a circular drive before a massive house, where two vehicles sat idling: a black car with tinted windows and a blue panel van. Moriarty was reading a map spread against the side of the van, while Seb paced and argued furiously behind him.

Moriarty turned as John was brought closer, and his eyes were glittering with fury. He hadn't stopped to change out of his blood-spattered clothing. "Put him in the van," he said sharply, and the men dragging John obliged, hefting him up over the lip. One got in and dragged him into the back corner, while the other went around and got in the driver's seat. John quivered and felt his thoughts fragmenting, but he could still hear the voices outside.

"This is a stupid, stupid risk," Seb was ranting. "Just leave the little bastard. Or for fuck's sake, at least don't go in the van."

"It's my decision to make, and I've made it," Moriarty said coldly. "Remember your place."

"God damn it, Jim, I-"

"Shut the fuck up." Moriarty's voice was low and impregnated with command. "I'm done indulging you. Get in the car. You have your instructions."

Moriarty climbed into the van and shut the doors. "Go," he ordered the driver, and he came to sit on a bench next to where John slumped on the floor. John knew that this was the best opportunity to escape he'd had yet, might be the best he'd ever have, but his reason and his will were in pieces and he was so crippled by pain he could barely move, but for the shaking of his limbs. He curled into a ball and hated himself for his weakness.

The world changed again in a sharp jerk and a scream of metal, and John was thrown violently up against something. His body first, ribs cracking under pressure, and his head bouncing hard off a metal surface. He blacked out, woke to screams and the smell of blood and Moriarty's voice cursing, "Fuck, fuck, fuck!"

And then it was just John, in the dark with his pain and fear and confusion.

Chapter Text

Sherlock was alone again with his laptop, Lestrade having gone home to change his clothes and possibly get some sleep. Sherlock tried not to hold it against him, although as it turned out having an extra set of hands and eyes in his search had turned out to be very useful. The phone rang: Mycroft. Sherlock picked up, hopeful as ever that his brother had news about John and not just another whinge about Sherlock not taking proper care of himself.

"Reardon is gone," Mycroft said.

Sherlock stood up so suddenly that the coffee table overturned, sending the remains of that afternoon's curry- Lestrade had insisted- spilling over the carpet. "You idiot," he hissed venomously.

"We have a weak spot, clearly," Mycroft said. "Believe me, no one is more displeased about this than me. With the possible exception of Martin."

"How," Sherlock demanded.

"Not relevent, Sherlock. The key thing is that he seems to have acted without any outside aid or interference."

Moriarty wasn't involved in the escape. Of course, it was far too reckless a move; Sherlock knew that Moriarty would not risk it all for this man, symbiont though he was. "Was he through withdrawing?"

"No."

Sherlock could hear the smile in Mycroft's voice. Reardon was stressed, hurting, and badly in need of his Ina. Biology was going to do what all Mycroft's most skilled interrogators had not been capable of: lead them directly to Moriarty. "Excellent," Sherlock said. "Where did he go?"

"Regrettably unclear," Mycroft said. "He stole a car and took the A111, at which point we lost track of him."

"Northwest," Sherlock practically shouted and began to frantically shuffle through piles of notes. They had been organizing the possible targets by region and rail access. Sherlock flipped rapidly through the proper stack, discarding all the locations that weren't directly accessible by the A111 and the railway from King's Cross. "Two possibilities," Sherlock said. "Elstree, or North Mymms."

There was the click of someone else picking up a line on the conversation. "This is Martin. Addresses, please." Sherlock gave them.

"What can we manage at this hour?" Mycroft asked, sounding damnably calm. Sherlock felt ready to vibrate to pieces from the tension.

"They have to be men you've bitten, so one recovery team to each location," Martin reported. "It would be best if you and Sherlock split up, I think."

"Obviously," Sherlock said scathingly. "I'll take Elstree. Send a car."

"Five minutes," Mycroft said, and hung up. One thing Sherlock could say for his brother, when it came to a crisis and time was of the essence, he never faffed about. Moriarty was not involved in Reardon's escape; he wasn't an idiot. But because he wasn't an idiot, the instant Reardon reached him he would realize that his position was compromised and take steps to decamp. They had to locate Moriarty before he had time to disappear. Sherlock grabbed his keys in one hand and his mobile in the other, and hit the stairs running.

***

Mycroft hung up the phone and sent a rapid text to both Simon and Anthea. It was just this sort of possibility that had kept the four of them camping in Mycroft's office for much of the last week or so that Reardon had been in custody. It was inevitable that something would happen to merit quick action, and Mycroft had wanted his best people within reach at a moment's notice. Now it was time, and he had them. Martin was already on the phone calling the selected team leaders- Mycroft's picked men, loyal to a fault and willing to take any necessary measures. Martin made a good coordinator, ruthlessly efficient and so atuned to Mycroft's strategies that it compensated for his somewhat lesser intelligence. Mycroft swiftly delegated the task of monitoring Sherlock to Anthea, and ordered Simon to stay at base and monitor all the participants in their little venture, not to mention all emergency, police, and military radio traffic for suspicious activity. One could not presume to know what form Moriarty's panic might take. Mycroft would have liked to have more resources available, but there were only so many people one could covertly control without having to launch a coverup of truly massive proportions. The two response teams and his three symbionts would have to do.

"Got a suggestion, boss," Simon said, as Mycroft stood to follow Anthea and Martin down to the garage.

Mycroft nodded for him to go on. Simon's preface was just a habit from his public role as a personal assistant; like all Mycroft's symbionts, he knew that Mycroft would always listen to any suggestion or assessment he made.

"We should bring DI Lestrade in," Simon said. "If Sherlock finds John first, no problem. But if we do- he's going to be a complete mess, and seeing you is sure as hell not going to calm him down. He knows Anthea and me, but I think it's better to have someone there he really trusts."

Mycroft frowned, doubtfully. He knew Lestrade and John interacted frequently, and spent no small amount of time in pubs together. Was there something additional going on there? John did meet Lestrade far more frequently than his other social contacts, true. But Lestrade could cause additional complications due to his knowledge about the Ina, and Sherlock's stubborn refusal to allow the man to be bitten. Mycroft found that impressions of relationships were unreliable unless observed personally.

Simon read his doubtful look. "Trust me, if we find John first, you'll want him here."

"I'll pick him up then," Mycroft said, and turned to go. He deferred to Simon's judgment perhaps 45% of the time- the boy was still young, after all- but the figure rose to 85% when the matter in question involved human relationships. There was only so much one could learn from study, even the sort of prolonged and intense study Mycroft excelled in.

Mycroft gave his driver Lestrade's address and dialed the man's number. "This is Mycroft Holmes," he said as soon as the man picked up. "We may have located John Watson. Intelligence is directing us to two possible locations; I am about to proceed to the first, in North Mymms."

"That's not my jurisdiction," Lestrade said, his voice carrying a trace of tiredness. "I don't know what good I'd be."

"This call is personal, not professional, in nature," Mycroft said. This was a man who always thought first of his duty; very interesting how the men Sherlock were drawn to shared that trait. "You are one of the few people Dr. Watson considers a friend, and the only one familiar with his rather unique situation."

"I'll come," Lestrade said immediately. "How do I get there?"

"Look for a black sedan outside your flat in-" Mycroft glanced out the window and calculated. "Eight minutes' time."

When they pulled up outside Lestrade's building, he opened the door and slid inside before the driver could exit the car or give any signal. He was wearing rumpled jeans and a leather jacket, his hair tousled and face unshaved; he had obviously dressed in a great hurry and spent at least part of the time on another task...Searching for something, given the comparatively faint odor of sweat laid over older traces of soap and shampoo. Ah, there was an outline visible in the stiff leather of his jacket pocket; searching for his police-issued ASP. Preparation for danger, prioritization of tasks, and of course the the calm that the man was radiating. Mycroft resisted the urge to smile. Oh yes, Sherlock did have interesting tastes.

The driver pulled off and headed in the proper direction. Mycroft directed his attention to the radio resting on the floor of the car, which he picked up and turned on. Their chosen band was mostly quiet, but for periodic check-ins.

Martin had sent the team to North Mymms already, and it arrived well ahead of his car. Martin reported a sprawling compound full of multi-family houses, a small village that appeared utterly deserted. Under Martin's competent direction, they went room by room in every house. Empty, empty, empty, the reports came back.

When Mycroft arrived on the scene, he checked in with Anthea and Martin, who suggested to Lestrade that he join the search team clearing the houses. Meanwhile, Mycroft set to work using his own more specialist abilities; he could immediately smell traces of John. He poked around the circular drive in front of the largest house in the compound, and sorted out the scents. A vehicle, most likely a van from the tracks, had departed here carrying an unknown male Ina, two male humans, and John. He pulled out his mobile and dialed Simon. "Watson was taken from the scene in a panel van," he said. "Monitor the emergency and police frequencies. They will be traveling at speed and there may be errors." He hung up and called Anthea. She was within his line of sight, but he didn't want to leave this promising scent trail. "Tell Sherlock that John was here," Mycroft said. "He'll want to come here directly." She nodded once and her fingers danced across her phone's keypad.

He backtracked the scent to what was clearly a guest house, smaller than the larger, sprawling country homes, and newer too. It took almost no effort at all to find the room where John been kept. Mycroft instantly recognized the bed from the video, now decorated with traces of John's blood. There was a small bathroom and a small heap of cardboard boxes, protein bar wrappers and empty water bottles. Mycroft ignored them, taking a much greater interest in the corpse which was slumped by the door in a pool of tacky blood. Much of the man's face had been obliterated by repeated stab wounds, but Mycroft could easily recognize him by the smell: it was Reardon.

He stood in the center of the room and breathed deeply, tasting the various scents still left in the room under the overpowering stench of fresh death. There were several Ina, several females Mycroft didn't recognize and one male: the one he had scented outside. It matched the traces from Reardon, which Sherlock had confirmed as belonging to Moriarty. Were the females relatives of his, then? More data was required. The male's scent was stronger than the females', everywhere in the room. There was also a trace of the male humans he had scented at the drive outside. Of course no scent was stronger than John's, the whole room reeked of it, and it was strongest in the mattress. It was primarily the stink of fear- sweat and adrenaline. And John's blood, of course, the odor hung in a miasma over the room. Naturally, given that this was the room where they had tortured him.

Mycroft grated his teeth. That torture had been an unspeakable perversion, which Moriarty would deserve to be brought to justice for even if his chosen target had not been John Watson. For that fact, Mycroft intended to take justice in hand himself. It would not be a Council of Judgment that destroyed Moriarty, but the Holmes family. To hurt John, to hurt Sherlock, the way that Moriarty had done called for vengeance of the harshest kind. Mycroft had not yet decided how to handle the female family who had helped Moriarty abduct John, he needed more data on their involvement; but the fact that John had been held and tortured in their home compound and that their scent was in this room did not bode well for them.

The room was relatively sound-proofed, so Mycroft stepped back outside to listen to what his people were doing. The team was combing the last house but evidently finding nothing. Mycroft could hear their calls of "clear." He exited the basement and rejoined Anthea and Martin outside. Anthea was tapping on her Blackberry, liaising with Simon as well as monitoring Sherlock's location and activities. "Nothing at his location, he's on his way now," she reported quietly as Mycroft approached. He nodded.

Lestrade jogged up to join them. Martin left off speaking into his handset to look at Lestrade. "Well?"

"Nothing," Lestrade said grimly. Mycroft could smell the frustration and anxiety rolling off him.

"This is definitely the right location," Mycroft announced. "John was kept here until very recently. I located the room where he was held, and where the video was filmed."

"Well there's definitely no one here now," Martin said. "No humans or Ina, some personal belongings but no incriminating paper and no computers. What shall we do, Mycroft?"

What indeed. The compound had obviously been abandoned very recently, but with enough care that it could provide no clues as the owners' identities or their retreat. His people would trace back the paper trail from the deeds and other government records related to the property, but nothing on site would yield any further information. Mycroft felt a rush of anger that these enemies had so comprehensively eluded him. Perhaps there was a simple way to alleviate his displeasure, as well as warn these Ina of whom they were challenging. "Burn it," Mycroft said. "Anthea, see to it. Martin, get the men back in the vans and return to base. Leave Kramer and Wellington with Anthea, she knows how to use them." Martin scanned his face, nodded, and jogged back towards the vehicles parked some meters distant.

Lestrade jumped. "What?" he said.

"Yes, sir," Anthea said promptly. "The house where Watson was kept?"

"The whole compound," Mycroft said. Yes. A warning, and a small piece of his own regained.

"Hold on, you're talking about arson," Lestrade protested. "I know I'm here in an unofficial capacity, but I'm still a police officer. You can't just-"

"Detective Inspector, John Watson was abducted and held against his will on this compound, where he was tortured for nearly two weeks with the full and active participation of the owners of this property. When they got wind of our approach they fled this location, taking Dr. Watson with them. He is still missing; he may be dead or irreperably damaged. I hope he isn't, not least because his prolonged mistreatment has already driven my brother half-insane. The least, the very least, that the Ina responsible for this deserve is mutilation and torture, which they would receive under Ina law. That the only power I have to hurt them right now is to destroy their home is deeply dissatisfying to me, but I must make the most of what little leverage I have." Mycroft was somewhat surprised; he heard his own voice thick with rage, and he hadn't full intended to say that much about the situation. Apparently he was more perturbed than he had thought.

"There is nothing further to be done here." Mycroft turned and strode back to his own car, and after a second Lestrade hurried to catch up.

"That's it?" Lestrade demanded.

Mycroft paused with one hand on the car door and passed the other over his face. "There is nothing further to be done here," he repeated, his voice under control again. The phone in his pocket rang, and Mycroft picked it up and answered sharply, "What, Simon?" He instantly regretted his tone; he worked hard to never take the stresses of his job out on his symbionts. But this matter was unraveling him, as family matters always seemed to. He could not view an operation with calm detachment when Sherlock was involved.

"Northwest again," the voice from the phone said. "They took the A1. There's a report just outside of Hatfield of a one-vehicle traffic accident, a blue panel van overturned. Emergency services are already on scene, they're reporting multiple dead, wounds suggestive of violence."

Mycroft bit down hard on his urge to gasp. "How far?"

"Ten minutes if you push it," Simon said.

Mycroft was already flinging himself into the back of the car and barking orders at the driver. Lestrade piled in after and fastened his seatbelt as the car peeled out. Mycroft flicked his radio back on and snapped into the handset, "Martin, are you monitoring?"

"Already on it," Martin's voice replied from the radio. "Scrambling our crew for clean-up."

"Where is Sherlock now?" Mycroft demanded of the radio.

"Still en route to North Mymms, twenty minutes away," Anthea replied. "Shall I divert him?"

"No," Mycroft and Lestrade said at once. Mycroft gave Lestrade a grim smile: if Sherlock got to the scene and God help them, John was dead, Sherlock was going to go berserk. Mycroft wanted to be there first to get things under control. Sherlock might never forgive him, but it had to be done. Evidently Lestrade knew his brother well enough to realize the necessity, which was interesting. But a matter for another time.

Their driver moved like a fiend, breaking traffic regulations of all kinds and pushing the speed limit to its utmost. The tense journey before they arrived at the scene of the accident still clocked in at eleven minutes. It was impossible to plan with his current data, and there was little else to do but fret as the car sped up the highway. Mycroft was not used to being in a position of helplessness, and he found it exceedingly unpleasant.

The panel van was turned on its side against the guard rail. A police officer in a fluorescent-edged vest was setting up road flares to warn off passing vehicles, as this patch of road was rather poorly lit; his partner was not in sight. "There'll be a second officer, probably with the patrol car up ahead of the accident," Lestrade said as they coasted to a halt. Mycroft nodded.

An ambulance was parked well back from the van, and two paramedics were leaning against it sharing a cigarette. 'Fuck," Lestrade muttered. "That's no good."

"What's going on here?" Mycroft demanded in his most official tones, flashing an ID too fast to be properly read. Lestrade pulled out his own warrant card and showed that to back up their aura of authority. Biting all these people would be messy and complicated; better to rely upon old-fashioned obfuscation and authority.

"Nasty accident," one paramedic said.

"No survivors?" Mycroft said. He felt a childish urge to cross his fingers.

"One, yeah," the other paramedic said. "But he's crazy, won't come out of the van and won't let anyone in. I told the cops, I'm not going in there again till he's unconscious. I don't get paid for this shit."

"Me neither," the first agreed. "Bastard bit me. God knows how many jabs I'm going to need, and for all I know the fucker had hep C or something." He brandished his right hand, which bore a fresh dressing up by the wrist.

Relief, relief, relief. It must be John, crazed with pain and withdrawal. Must be.

"We're waiting for some backup," the second man chimed back in. "Till then..."

Mycroft was already running towards the van. One door had been entirely torn off its hinges and lay half-crumpled on the ground; the other gaped open. The light was extremely poor, even with the torch someone had turned on and left sitting on the edge, aimed into the interior, but Mycroft could see two bodies with their throats torn out. The interior of the van was sprayed with blood.

John Watson was crouched on his heels, huddled into the back corner of the van like a cowering animal; he was shaking violently and sweating profusely, and as he looked up at Mycroft his pupils were blown wide. He looked scruffy and unshaven, and the hair on one side of his head was matted with blood.

His scent was more appalling than his appearance. Last time Mycroft had seen John, he had smelled healthy, content, his scent inextricably wound through with Sherlock's. He still smelled of Sherlock, but it was significantly fainter and overlaid with fear and loneliness and anger and desperate desire. It was an agony to absorb this much suffering with his powerful senses, and Mycroft practically staggered with the force of the aromas involved. The smell of the bodies and their blood, the lingering scent of Moriarty, were barely noticeable in comparison.

John was hurt and he was frightened, but he had survived, and that meant Sherlock was going to survive this as well. He needed to step back and tell Anthea to contact Sherlock, send him here with all speed, but first he needed to calm John and reassure him. He needed to get him outside to where the paramedics would help him. To that end, Mycroft stepped up into the van and began to slowly approach, one hand extended as if to coax a startled animal or a frightened child. Once he had settled this, once he saw John and Sherlock reunited and safe, he could set his mind to tracking down and crushing Moriarty.

"John-" he had just begun in his most soothing voice, when John suddenly sprang upright at him and seized his hand and arm. Mycroft instinctively grabbed John by the neck, ready to shake out his spine like a dog killing a rabbit, then froze as he realized what he was doing. Mycroft's pause was long enough that it gave John time to neatly snap his wrist. John immediately released Mycroft as the Ina retreated to open door. He ignored the pain, horrified at his own loss of control. He had been so caught up in his own emotions that he had almost killed John, killed his brother's first- and currently only- symbiont. Careless, stupid! He had approached a hurt and withdrawal-stricken symbiont who had been viciously abused by another Ina, with his hand outstretched as if to touch. Unforgiveable.

He jumped down from the lip of the van and faced Lestrade, who was standing there looking somewhat confused. Of course; his eyes were not that good, just under baseline human norms, so he was not able to see exactly what had happened. His eyes widened when he saw Mycroft's oddly-angled wrist.

"Jesus Christ," Lestrade said, staring.

"Detective Inspector," Mycroft said formally. "Your assistance, if you would be so kind. Please see if you can convince John to come out of there." Lestrade looked wary. "He knows you and may find your presence reassuring. I doubt very much that he will hurt you."

Let him be right, let Simon be right, let John not be so out of his mind that he would perceive even a close friend as a threat. Lestrade's jaw tightened and he nodded once before he strode over and boosted himself into the van. "John," he said in a low, calm tone. "John, it's Greg. Greg Lestrade. Do you know me?"

"Yes," John gasped after a long pause. "Please," he moaned. Lestrade glanced back once at Mycroft before scooping up the torch and crawling over to John.

Mycroft walked several meters away before he placed the call to Sherlock. He picked up at once. "You bastard," he swore at Mycroft. "You've lit the compound on fire, I can see the smoke. Where are you? Where is he?"

"Alive," Mycroft said at once. There were games and there were struggles, but Mycroft loved his brother and he would not, could not, leave him in doubt of John Watson's safety a moment longer than he had to. "We are at the Hatfield exit on the A1- tell the driver. He was being transported in a panel van which overturned. Moriarty is gone, but John is here and he is alive."

Sherlock's response was a low groan of relief, undoubtedly an unconscious reaction.

"Sherlock-" Mycroft hesitated, remembering Sherlock's frightening gauntness and Lestrade's disturbing description of his blank expression and nervous tics. "You should eat before you go to John," he said. Hunger did strange things to Ina minds. Ina in starvation mode had been known to attack symbionts, even their own.

"Shut up," Sherlock said sharply. "I'm not going to hurt John. He needs me, and I swear to you that if you try to stop me from-"

"Yes, yes," Mycroft said. "Stop threatening me, Sherlock. I merely offer advice, you don't have to accept it."

"As long as that's understood," Sherlock said, and hung up the phone.

***

Lestrade didn't know what to think when Mycroft called him, other than Holy shit. At first he was confused, wondering what strings Mycroft was trying to pull, but then he realized that Mycroft was asking him to come as a personal favor. Then it made sense of course: John had little family, few close friends, besides Lestrade and Sherlock. When he saw John sweating and shaking and freaking out, it became even clearer.

Lestrade remembered Sherlock explaining that people they fed off regularly became addicted to the venom and experienced withdrawal if they stopped getting it. Lestrade had seen junkies in detox before, but he wouldn't have thought to connect those memories to John Watson, one of the steadiest and most sensible men Lestrade knew; at least the most sensible when you didn't figure in his relationship with Sherlock. Now he was falling apart. This was what John had agreed to subject himself to when he hooked up with Sherlock, what Lestrade had declined to be a part of. This was the other reason Mycroft called him: Lestrade is really the only other friend John has who could be exposed to this scene.

John put out his hand in a warding gesture when Lestrade was only a couple feet away, and Lestrade obediently stopped moving. He set down the torch, and sat down on the metal next to John. There was blood fucking everywhere, but that was frankly the least of his concerns just then. "Where are you hurt, John?" Lestrade asked.

John made a choking sound that might have been a laugh. "Everywhere."

"There's an ambulance just outside," Lestrade said. "The paramedics can help you, John. You should let them come in and help you."

John was shaking his head minutely. His fringe clung to his forehead with sweat and his teeth were chattering. Lestrade wondered if he was cold, he was wearing nothing but jeans and he was quivering all over.

Lestrade reached out to John, wanting to comfort him somehow, but the man flinched away. "M'sorry," John mumbled. "I can't. I can't, Greg."

"It's okay, mate, it's fine. I won't touch you, all right?" Lestrade retracted his hand. "Are you cold? You want my jacket, would that help?" Lestrade was already stripping his jacket off. It wasn't very warm, but it might help some.

"Get blood on it," John murmured, but he didn't object to Lestrade draping it over his shoulders, and once it was there he clutched the lapels with white fingers.

"It's okay," Lestrade said again. "I don't mind, John." He didn't know what else to do but talk, and maybe talking would help distract John from the pain a bit. "Why no ambulance?" he asked.

"It won't help," John said at once. It still wasn't a very good answer, but John was obviously not entirely rational right now.

Lestrade had seen people in withdrawal before; he had seen Sherlock in withdrawal before, even. Sherlock usually curled up in a ball and suffered in total silence, except for when he was throwing up. Of course maybe John was feverish as well. Hard to tell when Lestrade couldn't touch, and Dr. Watson was most definitely not on call right now. John was muttering to himself, random phrases and whole rambling narratives of which Lestrade could only make out a few words. Lestrade found himself listening intently and sometimes answering back, just to keep John talking.

"You're a good man," John told him, more than once. Lestrade didn't feel like a good man, he felt like a useless idiot.

"You're the good man," Lestrade said. "Putting up with all of Sherlock's shit. You wouldn't be in this mess if not for him." This mess meaning the withdrawal, getting kidnapped, all of it.

"Not his fault," John growled, his voice harsh. "Take it back."

John was so fiercely insistent, glaring at Lestrade, that he conceded and said soothingly, "All right, mate, I take it back. It's not his fault." This was probably not the best time or place for that discussion anyway.

"He should have more syms, but he doesn't want more," John said. "No one else I'd want to share him with. Except you, maybe." Lestrade's jaw dropped open at that one, and he thought maybe he'd misheard. Until John went on, "Why'd you say no, Greg? You never said. It's not like this happens often. The kidnappings." John smiled crookedly, and it looked ghastly on his ashen face. "Not very often, anyway."

Lestrade's mobile began to ring, saving him from an unbelievably awkward silence following a confession he had no idea how to process. He dug it out of his pocket, mostly to shut it up. But the screen was lit with an incoming call from Sherlock.

"I'm with John," Lestrade said immediately upon picking up.

"Is he all right? No, stupid question, of course he's not. Is he intact? Is he rational?" Sherlock was barely rational himself; there was something panicked and unbearably human in his tone of voice.

"He's had a nasty knock on the head and he looks like shit, but he's talking and making at least a marginal amount of sense," Lestrade said.

"Give him the phone," Sherlock rasped.

"I don't think he could hold it up," Lestrade said, watching John shake and mumble and fall apart.

"Then hold it up for him! For Christ's sake, Greg!" Sherlock's voice broke on his name.

Lestrade stretched out his arm. "Hey, John, hey," he said softly. "Sherlock wants to talk to you."

"'S here?" John said, jerking his head up. His eyes were wide and he looked absolutely crushed when Lestrade shook his head.

"No, mate, he's on the phone, see?" He was about to offer to hold the phone up to John's ear, but the man snatched the phone and dragged it up himself, Lestrade's hand and all.

"Sherlock," he said at once. There was a lengthy pause, and John whimpered, actually whimpered. "Sherlock, Sherlock. Please." Lestrade cautiously released the phone, but John seemed perfectly capable of holding it up, so he withdrew his hand, too.

So Lestrade sat and listened to John talk to Sherlock on his phone. More accurately, Lestrade listened to the tinny, largely incomprehensible mumble of Sherlock's voice from the phone's speaker, and John's too-rapid breathing as he simply listened. John jerked to attention when a car pull to a rather screechy halt outside. Lestrade made it to a count of three before a tall, gangly figure appeared at the van doors.

He got an instant's glimpse of Sherlock standing mussed and wild-eyed and crazy in the doorway, before the Ina spotted John and barreled right through Lestrade to get to him. Lestrade was knocked over on his back. There were few places to retreat to given the unwelcome presence of the corpses, but Lestrade backed up towards the other rear corner of the van to give them some space. Sherlock was on his knees in front of John, cupping his hands to his cheeks and stroking his sides. John immediately ceased leaning on the wall and changed to leaning on Sherlock instead, curling against him and fisting his hands in Sherlock's shirt. John's voice was so muffled by the shirt, which he was pressing his face against, that it took Lestrade a moment to work out that the word John was sobbing over and over again was Please.

Lestrade had rarely seen Sherlock, normally the most detached and composed man alive, lose his cool. But there was Sherlock running his hands over every part of John's body as if to reassure himself that everything was there, looking completely lost and vulnerable. Lestrade had seen John as calm as could be five minutes after killing a man- well, Lestrade was pretty sure John had killed him- and had seen him face everything Sherlock could throw at him without batting an eye. But there was John, shaking and begging. It ought to be pathetic. It ought to be terrifying. Lestrade ought to be looking at the scene thinking, "Thank God I'm well shut of that."

But somehow what Lestrade was actually thinking was that he'd never seen two people who needed each other so badly. And for just a split second, he thought of the empty flat he left to come here tonight, and the fact that most of his friendships ended with work hours, and he wished that someone wanted him the way John and Sherlock clearly wanted each other. Like they were each other's whole fucking universe.

Mycroft appeared in the doorway and Lestrade jumped. He hadn't even heard the Ina coming. Sherlock turned on him with an angry snarl, teeth bared. He was quite animalistic, and Lestrade realized that he seemed as badly affected as John. He wasn't shaking or crying, but he looked as gaunt and emaciated as the day Lestrade had to pick him up off the floor where he'd passed out, and with his fangs showing like that he was frankly fucking scary. Especially when he was looking at Mycroft as if he wanted to murder him. Mycroft held up both hands placatingly. "Go away," Sherlock growled. Mycroft darted a look at Lestrade, who started to get to his feet. "He can stay. Get out, Mycroft." Mycroft backed slowly away from the van, and Lestrade wanted to laugh at the look of consternation on his face. He lowered himself back to his rear and wondered just what the hell he was doing.

This was weird. This was weird and wrong, and why did he sit down just because Sherlock said he could stay? Why did Sherlock say he could stay? He seemed to have already forgotten about Lestrade's presence, as wrapped up in John as he was. John tilted his head then, and Sherlock leaned in and accepted the unmistakeable invitation by sinking his teeth into John's neck.

Chapter Text

The rush of endorphins hitting John's bloodstream was so intense that he nearly passed out. It wasn't pleasure, exactly, and definitely not arousal- this was probably in the top five of the least sexy situations in his life- more like simple relief. His stress had eased the minute he saw Sherlock. But when the Ina bit him, something in him that he hadn't exactly realized was tight and hard unclenched, and every thought in his head was blown out by the sensation of Yes, this, exactly this.

The pain was easing too: the powerful, whole body ache and the shivering that made him feel like he was about to break apart at the joints. He was barely aware of his body at all in fact, except for the points where he could feel Sherlock's skin against his. Sherlock's face was pressed against his neck, and John could feel his throat moving as he swallowed; John couldn't see his face any more, but that was okay because Sherlock's hands were still pressed tightly against John's ribs. John managed to loosen his hands from Sherlock's clothes; they were already cramping from the tightness of their grip. He slid one hand over the back of Sherlock's neck and gently rubbed the skin there.

He wanted to touch Sherlock everywhere. Sherlock was still fully dressed, his clothes scratching against John's bare chest, and John wanted to strip them both down and stretch out against Sherlock and melt into him. Sherlock was taking his blood and that felt unbelievably right. John was going to be inside Sherlock, as close to him as it was possible to be, working through his veins and his heart and his brain. He squeezed the back of Sherlock's neck in silent encouragement. He could take all John's blood and leave him a drained husk, if he needed; John wanted him to.

He felt Sherlock withdraw from his throat. No, what was he doing? Sherlock removed one of his hands from John's side and pried John's fingers from his neck. "No, John, that's enough," Sherlock said, sitting up.

John experienced a moment of total panic as he felt Sherlock pulling away. "Don't," he said fervently, fisting his hands in Sherlock's clothing again. He squeezed his eyes shut as he suffered a sudden rebound of pain. Localized this time: his head pounded brutally, and there was a sharp, stabbing pain in his chest every time he breathed. His back felt like it was on fire. Sherlock bent to lick at the bite on his neck, which brought a few seconds' relief, but the pain quickly crashed back in. John's thoughts were sluggish and vague, and he felt like he was wandering through a mental fog. He opened his mouth, but wasn't sure what he wanted to say, how to express how much he hurt, how much he had hurt, how lonely he had been, the way he wanted to crawl inside Sherlock's skin so that nothing could ever separate them again. He rested his forehead on Sherlock's shoulder.

Sherlock touched the side of his head, prodding in a way that made bright spots flare behind John's closed eyelids. He hissed, but made no attempt to stop Sherlock's examination. "You hit your head," Sherlock said. A startlingly obvious deduction.

John giggled, and it felt like a knife in his side. "Fuck," he said.

"Trouble breathing?" Sherlock asked. "You probably have some broken ribs, too." John shouldn't need Sherlock to tell him that, but everything is still so slow.

Sherlock cocked his head as if listening, and then said, "Fuck off, Mycroft," in a conversational way.

"What?" John asked blearily. Sherlock still had one hand on his side, rubbing slowly in little circles, and John was almost entirely focused on the sensation. It was an anchor, helping him emerge from the fog despite the clouding effect of pain and exhaustion.

"He wants to send you to the hospital," Sherlock said. "We're going home."

"For God's sake, Sherlock," Lestrade said, making John start. He had almost forgotten Lestrade was there, wrapped up as he was in Sherlock's presence. "It's bad enough you play silly buggers with your own health, but John's just been in an accident, he has a head injury- don't be a stubborn arsehole."

John badly wanted to be home, at Baker Street, in his own bed with a mug of tea. He was so close, and still so impossibly far away he could almost cry. But Lestrade was right, he needed the hospital. He needed his head checked, his ribs...oh God, his back. John swallowed. "The hospital," he said. "Then home."

"All right," Sherlock said with an alacrity that surprised John. He grasped John by the hips, and already had him in motion before John realized that Sherlock meant to carry him.

"Fuck- Sherlock, stop," he said. Sherlock released him at once. John pushed himself to his feet, drawing on his last reserves of strength in a way he knew he'd regret later. He used Sherlock to brace himself, but it still sent pain tearing through his chest and back. Lestrade immediately moved towards him as well, and John flinched at the hand on his shoulder. "Stop!" he said, viciously suppressing the urge to hit Lestrade. John closed his eyes for a moment and got his breathing under control. "Just- let me lean on you," he said.

He realized that he was not going to be able to put up his arms and still keep Lestrade's jacket over his shoulders. His choices were to put it on properly, or to take it off, and he hesitated as he tried to decide. He wasn't really cold, but he felt hot and sick at the idea of removing the jacket and revealing the mess that he knew was carved into his skin. Still, they would need to see the wounds at the hospital- he was just delaying the inevitable. John gritted his teeth and shrugged his shoulders out of the jacket.

Lestrade tried to be subtle, but John could see him craning his neck to get a look at John's back. John leaned sideways to offer him the jacket back, and Lestrade exhaled noisily as he saw what was there. John glanced back to Sherlock, whose jaw was set and lips pursed to a narrow line. "Christ," Lestrade said in a low voice. "John, do you-"

"Just get me out of this fucking van," John said, more harshly than he meant to. John wrapped his arms around his friends and leaned on them as they made their way to the door of the van and then outside, but neither of them tried to grasp his shoulders or back again.

When they exited the van, John saw Mycroft standing a distance away, by the waiting ambulance. "John wants to go to hospital," Sherlock said in his direction. Mycroft nodded, despite Sherlock having spoken in a normal conversational tone. Mycroft raised his left hand and beckoned; John's eyes shot to his right hand, which Mycroft held cradled awkwardly against his chest. It was wound with what looked like a necktie. John had a sudden, vivid sense memory of seizing someone's arm, pulling and twisting it beyond the breaking point- he flushed in embarrassment. "Your wrist," he said to Mycroft when they were only a couple meters away. "I'm-"

"Think nothing of it," Mycroft said airily. "Under the circumstances, your actions have been more than reasonable." John was in no mood to debate, but he was sure there had been nothing reasonable about the spike of terror that had made him hurt Mycroft. Even now that he was more aware, Mycroft's nearness was making him uneasy. He could feel the tension in Sherlock's shoulder beneath his hand, and glanced at his face, surprised to see the hostility there. Sherlock was lifting his lip slightly to bare his canines at his brother, something John had never seen him do before tonight, for all their antagonism and sniping. Mycroft was ignoring Sherlock's attitude as well as John's, but John couldn't help feeling rather silly. Obviously Mycroft wasn't dangerous to either of them, so why did they object so strongly to his being here?

"I have instructed the ambulance driver as to destination. The hospital will be both secure and discrete, and I will join you there. Detective Inspector, if you would care to accompany me? I believe the ambulance will only hold so many."

"Okay?" Lestrade asked in a low voice, and John nodded. Lestrade slid cautiously out of his grasp, and when John didn't immediately collapse he followed Mycroft as he retreated to his car.

Sherlock easily took John's weight during the last few meters' journey to the back of the ambulance. John winced as every step closer jolted his ribs unpleasantly. Two paramedics were waiting inside, and they both eyed him warily for a moment. John was momentarily thrown, until he saw the bandage one of them was wearing. "Shit," John said. "I did that, didn't I?"

They both seemed to relax. "You bit me," the one with the bandage said. John wasn't sure if he was reading the tone of accusation into the man's voice, but either way hearing it made John flush bright red. He remembered now, sinking his teeth into the person reaching for him; striking out in a panic like a trapped animal.

"Of course he bit you," Sherlock snapped. "He had just been concussed in the course of a serious accident. Naturally he was going to feel disoriented and threatened. Perhaps this experience will teach you to speak to your patients before you-"

"Sherlock, shut up," John said. "I'm sorry," he said to the paramedic. The man probably would have been more mollified by the apology if he hadn't just been sneered at by Sherlock, but John was too tired for advanced reconciliation techniques.

His head wasn't bleeding any more, and the wounds on his back were obviously not fresh, so the one paramedic went up front to drive while the other mostly focused on checking John's pupils and quizzing him about his injuries. Not feeling up to lying on either his front or his back, John sat on the trolley with one arm around Sherlock's mid-section. He fancied they were rather clinging to each other, but at that point John didn't give a good God damn what they looked like or what anyone thought. Sherlock wisely didn't try to put an arm across John's back: instead he just planted his hand on John's thigh and refused to move it. The stroking of his thumb might, under other circumstances, have seemed erotic; right now John just found it a soothing reminder of Sherlock's nearness.

John's next few hours were blurred by exhaustion and pain. X-ray, CT scan, spirometer, more annoying questions- this time by a neurologist- and something lovely in tablet form that a nurse brought to John before they went to work cleaning and bandaging his head and back. John had no idea what the drug was, he was far too strung out for thinking. But that was all right, because Sherlock was there through all of it, watching every doctor with suspicion and moving away from John's side only grudgingly and when it was absolutely required. He snatched up the tablets and examined them minutely before he put them in John's hand. John swallowed them down at once.

It didn't occur to John till much later how odd it was that no one even tried to separate Sherlock from him. It was never clear whether the staff were simply assuming that Sherlock had a right to be there, or whether Mycroft had pulled strings, and if the latter whether it was done by paperwork or manipulation or simply informing the staff what kind of mayhem they would have on their hands if they tried to send Sherlock away. John wasn't quite sure that he wouldn't pitch a fit like a three-year-old if they did; in the ambulance, in the exam room, on the table before they put him in the CT scanner, John felt like Sherlock's hand was the only thing tethering him to reality.

Sherlock was the one who pitched a fit instead: he was almost a full minute into his tirade at some poor unsuspecting neurologist before John caught up to the conversation enough to realize that Sherlock was strenuously objecting to John being admitted for further observation to make sure he hadn't scrambled his brain. "I'll stay," John announced, when he realized. "I'm bloody exhausted." John was startled to find that once again, it took only a handful of words from him to completely settle the matter in Sherlock's mind. If he hadn't been so wrung out, he might have enjoyed his newfound powers more. As it was, he could barely muster the energy to change out of his filthy jeans into a pair of hospital-provided scrub pants and gingerly manuever onto the bed, wincing every time he twisted his torso. Sherlock, who had been forced to take his hand off John's wrist to allow him to change, hovered fretfully behind the bed as John tried to make himself comfortable.

"Bloody ribs," he muttered to himself. The least painful way to lie seemed to be on his uninjured side. Finally he settled down, and Sherlock dragged the visitor's chair to the bedside and set up shop there, leaning his forearms on the side of the bed and taking John's hand in his own. "You're not usually this clingy," John said, then realized that this was one of those blindingly stupid statements you could only make when tired beyond all reckoning. He flushed a bit and closed his eyes so he wouldn't have to see Sherlock's look of exasperation.

"Idiot," Sherlock said, so tenderly that it was almost an endearment. John felt Sherlock give his fingers a gentle squeeze.

Even lying here in hospital, with Sherlock so beautifully present, and weariness dragging at every cell in his body, John found he couldn't get to sleep. He'd been pushed past exhaustion, into the zone where he was too tired to sleep, and his thoughts were simply cycling from one stupid idea to the next. He kept thinking of Moriarty, and every time he did the cuts on his back would ache and his neck itched as if someone was sneaking up behind him. He kept having to resist the urge to look over his shoulder. After long, uncountable minutes of this, Sherlock shoved his chair back and stood up. John opened his eyes, tamping down panic as Sherlock let go of his hand.

"Shh," Sherlock said. "Don't move." He circled round the other side of the bed. John quickly realized what he meant to do and shuffled forward so that there was enough room for Sherlock to climb onto the bed behind him. Sherlock slotted his legs in behind John's and eased up behind until the dressings on his back were just touching Sherlock's chest. For once Sherlock's freakish height worked in John's favor, as Sherlock was able to shield the entire length of John's body with his own, and still bury his nose in John's hair, well clear of the spot they'd had to shave to dress his head wound. Sherlock levered his shoes off and kicked them firmly off the foot of the bed, then returned his legs to their proper position. He looped his left arm over John's side and groped until he found his hand, then grabbed hold.

"Problem?" Sherlock said, almost solicitously.

"Nope," John murmured. He dragged Sherlock's hand up to where he could reach to kiss the knuckles, then slid it back down and clasped it to his chest. Sherlock rubbed his face in John's hair like a giant, gangly cat; John was surprised he didn't start purring. He giggled weakly at the image, which sent a spasm of pain through his chest.

"Just sleep," Sherlock told him, rubbing gentle circles on his chest. And this time, John didn't have any trouble dropping off.

***

Mycroft’s car arrived at the hospital only moments behind the ambulance. Lestrade still found himself waiting for a lengthy period before he got a chance to see John or Sherlock. The hospital didn’t have an accident and emergency department, but that didn’t seem to matter. Lestrade had no idea what Mycroft did for a living or how he achieved his pull, but his power at this facility was evident. Upon arrival they were ushered into a waiting room, and Mycroft established himself in a chair along with a thick manilla folder he'd carried in from the car, and didn’t budge for hours. Nurses and doctors danced attendance on him, approaching with forms to be signed, updates on John’s progress through various departments, and on one occasion, a brace and proper sling for his wrist.

Lestrade had raised an eyebrow at that, but Mycroft read his expression at a glance. “A cast would be pointless,” Mycroft said with faint amusement. “The break will heal within a few hours.”

Shortly after that, a tall ginger man- Lestrade's junior by at least a decade- breezed into the room with the jacket of his navy suit slung over his arm. There was something of Sherlock's manner about him that struck a chord with Lestrade. It wasn't aloofness, and there was nothing arrogant about the brief smile the man cast him before going directly to Mycroft. It was more like an air of self-assurance. Mycroft walked the same way, as if he was fully prepared and fully in control of whatever he was walking into, and knew it. Lestrade wondered if this was another Holmes- it wasn't out of the realm of possibility, he had known Sherlock for two years before finding out about Mycroft.

The man draped his jacket over the back of the chair next to Mycroft's without looking; his eyes were fastened on the wrist brace, which he probed gently with the fingers of his free hand. "Broken," he said in a voice that was half-questioning, half-certain.

"Of course," Mycroft said. His smile cleared some of the grimness from his face.

"You didn't mention that and neither did Martin, so it happened at the scene of the accident. Who'd you let get the drop on you? John?" The man made a huffy noise, and Lestrade resisted the urge to jump in and defend John's honor.

"He is an ex-soldier," Mycroft said mildly. He was still smiling slightly.

The man turned and sat down on the chair with his jacket, crossing his legs and dragging a Blackberry out of his trouser pocket. "With all due respect, boss: you're an idiot sometimes."

Mycroft made a noncommittal humming noise and went back to reviewing the contents of his folder page by page. Lestrade rather envied him the distraction; he had been passing the time with flipping through trashy magazines, watching the telly bolted to the wall, and staring at the clock. It was almost enough to make him wish for his own office and the piles of paperwork that he cursed on a daily basis.

The ginger finally made eye contact with Lestrade, and smiled again. "We haven't technically met," he said. "I'm Simon."

"Technically," Lestrade said levelly.

Simon's smile broadened. "I prepared your dossier for Mycroft, sunbeam. But I'm the first to admit watching somebody on cctv is not the same as meeting them."

"Ah," was all Lestrade could say to that. He probably ought to be angry at the confirmation that Mycroft had been spying on him, but honestly he was too tired to be anything but resigned. Besides which, there was nothing in Simon's face or voice to indicate that he was mocking Lestrade or trying to show he was one up on him. Simon was simply stating a fact.

So this was one of Mycroft's lackeys. Lestrade remembered that Mycroft had addressed the person who called to tell him about the accident as Simon, so he was a highly-placed lackey, very trusted to be cut into this particular operation. Lestrade still didn't connect all the dots until he saw Simon, texting furiously with his left hand, reach over to Mycroft with his right. Simon's hand formed a loose circle around Mycroft's left wrist, and Lestrade immediately recognized the gesture: it was one he'd seen John employ many times when Sherlock was unusually agitated. If Mycroft had been agitated prior to Simon's arrival, Lestrade certainly hadn't been able to tell from his placid face and unruffled manner, but when Simon touched him his shoulders immediately relaxed and some of the lines in his forehead smoothed out. Simon's eyes flicked back to Lestrade for a second, and the DI tried to pretend he hadn't been staring.

At last, one of the doctors came over to report to Mycroft, “Doctor Watson has been settled in room 317.”

Mycroft immediately set his folder aside and looked up expectantly. The doctor glanced at Lestrade uneasily, but Mycroft waved an impatient hand. "Yes, yes, go on."

"His condition is generally good. He was slightly dehydrated, but that's sorted. Fractures to the 7th and 8th ribs, left side, but no flail chest and no bruising to the lungs. The head wound is superficial; the damage to the back is rather more severe and there is some infection, so we're going to prescribe a stringent course of antibiotics."

"And the concussion?" Mycroft demanded.

"Moderate to severe, but there's no sign of traumatic brain injury," the doctor said. "He'll probably be cleared to check out tomorrow, but we want to keep him under observation tonight." The doctor licked his lips. "About your brother, Mr. Holmes. I know you said-"

"I also know what I said," Mycroft said sharply. "It still applies. If you attempt to remove him from Dr. Watson's room at any point, he will make you sorry, and then I will make you even sorrier. Do you understand?" Mycroft's glare bore holes into the doctor, who fidgeted uncomfortably with the edge of his jacket.

"Yes, sir," he replied rather meekly. Mycroft flicked his fingers and the doctor scurried away. Lestrade couldn't help feeling unnerved by the display of authority and the doctor's pathetic response. It wasn't entirely clear what was going on here, but Lestrade didn't think he liked it.

The hard expression dropped from Mycroft's face as he looked over at Lestrade. "Well then," he said. "Shall we?"

***

John was apparently asleep, lying on his side with his eyes shut and a sheet pulled up to his waist, when Lestrade entered room 317. Given what John had been through tonight, it only surprised Lestrade that he had managed to stay awake long enough to jump through the doctors' diagnostic hoops. What was bizarre was Sherlock, who rather than sitting at the bedside as one would expect, was lying on the hospital bed behind John. Sherlock had propped himself up on one elbow so he could peer down at John’s face, and had his other hand spread possessively over John’s belly.

His eyes skipped over Lestrade entirely and went directly to Mycroft, who entered after Lestrade and stood by the wall next to the door. Sherlock’s lips lifted to display his fangs and he outright hissed at his brother.

“Sherlock, Jesus!” Lestrade said, trying to pack his irritation and disgust into a mutter so as not to rouse John.

“Your possessiveness is unbecoming,” Mycroft said reprovingly, putting his free hand into his pocket. “You know I haven’t the slightest interest in John, except as his well-being affects your own.”

“I don’t care,” Sherlock said, glaring. “You’re disturbing him, and I don’t want you here.” John did indeed seem to be stirring slightly, frowning.

“It’s your own behavior that’s disturbing him, Sherlock,” Mycroft said.

“Your presence is still the root cause,” Sherlock snapped. “Go away.”

“Very well,” Mycroft said. He shrugged and walked back to the door. On his way he paused to touch Lestrade's arm and opened his mouth to say something, but his voice was cut off by Sherlock's rumbling snarl. John twitched a bit, but didn't wake: they must have him on the really good painkillers. Mycroft glanced from Lestrade to Sherlock and smiled: this time it wasn't the broad, glad smile he'd given Simon, but a sly, sardonic one. He said something completely unintelligible, and Sherlock replied in the same manner. Except that Mycroft's voice was still lofty and insincere, even in a foreign language, and Sherlock's was all furious vowels and staccato consonants. He had pushed himself up even further so he was practically draped over John's torso, pushing his head forward to glare at Mycroft. Lestrade wondered if he even realized he was doing it.

Mycroft squeezed Lestrade's elbow lightly and said something else, and Lestrade's irritation suddenly overcame his exhaustion. "I'm right here," he snapped, jerking his elbow free and stepping away from Mycroft. Sherlock settled back on the bed and Mycroft shrugged and returned his hand back to his pocket.

"Irrational," Mycroft said with a queer little smile at Sherlock.

From the furious look on Sherlock's face, Lestrade would be willing to be that irrationality was a cardinal sin in the Holmes family. "Piss off!" Sherlock replied.

Mycroft paused once more before stepping through the doorway into the hall. “I’ll just arrange a ride home for tomorrow, shall I?”

“Do what you like, as long as you do it outside this room.” Sherlock's voice had returned to its normal level of pique, and Lestrade felt the tension in the room suddenly fall. What the hell had that been about, then? Lestrade let Mycroft stroll his way out of the room before he walked over to the bed and appropriated the visitor's chair that Sherlock was pointedly not using.

“How is he?” Lestrade asked.

"Tired," Sherlock said simply. "It's hard to gauge, given his exhaustion and the after effects of the concussion. But-" Sherlock trailed off suddenly and looked down at John.

There was something uncharacteristically vulnerable in Sherlock's expression. For a moment he seemed almost normal. "The doctor said he could probably check out tomorrow," Lestrade said abruptly. "He'll be okay."

"I know that!" Sherlock snapped. His face shifted back into a petulant expression; so much for normal.

All right. "You want to tell me what that argument just now was about?" Sherlock gave Lestrade a sharp look, but if he wanted to act like a git than Lestrade wasn't going to pull his punches.

"Not especially," Sherlock said. Lestrade glared at him, and after a moment Sherlock amended, "It's nothing to concern yourself with."

"Really," Lestrade said. "Because I could have sworn it was about me. And I have a vested interest, especially since I'm still half-afraid your brother is going to decide it's simpler to make me disappear than trust me to keep my mouth shut."

Sherlock was giving him a very strange look. "That's-" Lestrade hoped he was about to say ridiculous. "Uncommonly perceptive of you, Lestrade." So much for that wish.

"The way everyone here defers to him," Lestrade said, ignoring the implied insult, as usual. "It's- wrong. Unnatural. Like they're afraid of him, but-"

Sherlock was nodding. "He has half the staff in thrall, and the other half are simply cowed by his political clout," Sherlock said. "That's his idea of 'secure and discrete.'" There's a sneer underlying the words.

Lestrade's previously unnamed concern twists into a sick, angry fear. "In thrall- you mean he's bitten them."

"Of course," Sherlock said. "He's unlikely to take the chance that simple manipulation will fail, when it comes to matters of Ina security. The foremost concern is always that no one will know about us unless they need to."

"And what about me?" Lestrade can't help saying. It makes him feel a bit of a coward. His first thought is for the poor sods Mycroft has doing his bidding against their will, but it makes him ashamed that his immediate second thought is for his own safety. He doesn't like to imagine being bent to someone else's will, especially not Sherlock's creeper brother. And of course, Lestrade has seen more than enough tonight to be counted as a security risk. "Am I need-to-know?"

"Of course," Sherlock said nonchalantly, as if he missed the motivation of Lestrade's question entirely. "Even Mycroft recognizes that you're off-limits." There's something very self-satisfied in the way he says off-limits. Lestrade decides not to dwell on it. He rubs a hand over his face, and when he looks up Sherlock is still staring intently at him. Maybe he didn't miss anything after all. "If Mycroft bites you," he said deliberately, "I'll- well, I won't kill him, my mothers would be dreadfully upset. But I can make his next several years exceedingly painful without ending his life."

"Is this you being protective?" Lestrade asked. It's fairly horrifying, and it's exactly like what you'd expect if a vampire fancied you a bit. Oh God. What was wrong with John, that he was so in love with this maniac? What was wrong with Lestrade, that he was actually finding this offer of maiming on his behalf kind of sweet?

"Shut up," Sherlock snapped, and the moment was over, Sherlock's expression and voice back to their baseline irritation with all of humanity.

"Is that what you've been thinking about, holed up in here?" Lestrade asked, raising an eyebrow. "How to butcher Mycroft?"

He was going for levity- he knew Sherlock was not going to discuss his feelings about what had happened to John directly and it was insane to try- but from Sherlock's expression it wasn't a joke. “I’ve been considering how to kill Moriarty,” Sherlock said calmly. “It isn’t complicated, but it does require special effort.”

Ah. He got to Sherlock's feelings by the roundabout route after all. “He’s one of you lot, isn’t he?” Lestrade asked carefully. “Moriarty?” Lestrade wasn't stupid, but it still hadn't been explicitly spelled out, even when Mycroft was delivering his barely-controlled rant back at the compound.

Sherlock looked at him sharply, narrowing his eyes. “In the same sense that Jack the Ripper was one of you.”

Lestrade shrugged one shoulder- perhaps that was a bit unfair, although from what he'd seen Sherlock and Mycroft were hardly sterling examples of sanity and peace. “Point, I suppose. So how would you kill him?”

“Decapitation, clearly,” Sherlock said. “It’s the only real way. We just heal otherwise.”

“No stake to the heart?” Lestrade asked.

Another failed attempt at humor. Sherlock just gave him a scornful look. “Please. And if you suggest holy water or garlic next, I’ll know you’re every inch the idiot I persistently accuse you of being.”

“What about burning?” Lestrade asked. He had done quite a bit of reading on the mythology of the undead, even if he was never quite forward enough to start questioning Sherlock about it until now, with John both the focal point of their attention and the one thing Sherlock was desperately trying not to talk about.

“Limited effectiveness,” Sherlock said. “Even severe burns are survivable, so the fire would have to consume the body entirely. Decapitation is more sure, although we do use fire to dispose of the pieces when we kill each other.”

Lestrade raised an eyebrow. “Does that happen often then? Killing each other?”

“No,” Sherlock said shortly. “Our legal system, such as it is, was established primarily for the purpose of forestalling feuds.”

Lestrade repressed a snort. Kidnapping, murder, arson: yeah, clearly the modern bloodsucker was well beyond anything so petty as using violence to resolve interpersonal disputes. “Your brother mentioned the law earlier, but I didn't realize you had a system. I thought vampires were solitary creatures.”

“Ina,” Sherlock corrected irritably. “Of course we have a legal system, we’re not savages. Well, some of us aren’t.” His eyes glittered, and Lestrade repressed a shudder. For a moment, he wasn't sure if Sherlock was referring to Moriarty, or to himself.

***

When Lestrade stepped out of the hospital room, Mycroft was nowhere in sight. Simon was leaning against the wall opposite, frowning with concentration at his phone. "All right?" he said, looking up at Lestrade.

"Knackered, actually," Lestrade admitted, scrubbing his hand through the hair. "I suppose I should find somewhere to kip, no point in getting a cab back to mine when I'll just be coming back in a few hours anyhow." Not to mention the fact that he had no bloody idea where he was.

"I can find you a place to sleep," Simon said. He waved a dismissive hand when Lestrade just stared at him. "Oh, for fuck's sake. Trust me, butterfly, if I was coming on to you, you'd know it."

Lestrade sighed and rubbed his forehead. He might have taken it that way. He might have been sizing Simon up just a little bit. He might be very, very tired. "Sorry. Don't you have to look after-" he groped for the right form of address. "Mr. Holmes?"

"Nope, I've been told off. Anthea claims to be further ahead on sleep than I am, the lying bint." Simon's tone is affectionate, despite the insult. "So I'm to go back to Mycroft's parents' place and get at least six hours of sleep, and I've decided to get even by kidnapping you." Simon smiled winningly. "Trust me, night jack, it's a lot closer than your flat or my house."

Simon could have fooled Lestrade about needling sleep- he looked and acted as perky as if he just drank a pot of coffee, whereas Lestrade felt like he'd been run over by a lorry. Somewhere in the back of his mind, Lestrade was still paranoid about Sherlock's megalomaniac brother disappearing him for convenience's sake. But really, there would be no point in bringing Lestrade into this in the first place if Mycroft was worried about him blabbing, Mycroft had given no sign of wanting to silence or even threaten him, and fuck he was tired. Too tired to turn down a free ride and a free bed.

Lestrade rubbed his forehead again, right between his eyes, where the headache was building. "All right," he said.