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Swallow You Whole

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Basically the whole thing was down to bad timing.

If John had arrived just a few seconds later, he wouldn't have been in the doorway of the curry shop when the blond boy pushed frantically past him; wouldn't have been looking down at the smears of blood on his jumper when the kid was legging it up the street; wouldn't have been kneeling over the bloodied counterman feeling for a pulse when the police arrived.

He sat alone in the interrogation room for better than an hour before an officer joined him. Detective Inspector Lestrade, according to the warrant card he'd shown John when he arrested him. The DI dropped a folder onto the table, along with a plastic packet containing John's jumper. "So," he said once he was seated. "Why don't you tell me what happened."

John recited the story again. It didn't take long.

"Convenient," Lestrade said, flipping the folder open. "That this mystery suspect is about your height and build, with the same color hair." John didn't say anything. "Where were you on the night of January 7th?"

John shrugged. The days tended to blend together when you never did anything with them. "Probably home."

"January 2nd?"

The dates jogged John's memory. "Hold on, aren't those the dates of the takeout robberies? You think they're linked to this?" John remembered reading about the incidents in the paper.

"Where were you on the evening of January 2nd?" Lestrade asked patiently.

"Home." Lestrade raised an eyebrow. "I don't get out much," John admitted.

"Is there anyone else who can corroborate your whereabouts on those two nights?"

With a sinking feeling, John had to admit that there wasn't. "I live alone," John said simply. This was humiliating enough, no need to tell the DI every detail of his pathetic post-discharge...well, he could hardly call it a life exactly.

Lestrade flipped over a few pages in the file, and his left sleeve rode up and revealed a wide band of metal wrapped around his wrist. It was an unusual enough piece of jewelry that John canted his head in an attempt to see it better. There was an engraving on it, which looked like a name. John jerked back a bit. Typically a seamless bracelet on the off-wrist, engraved with a name, meant that the wearer was a thrall, but: no, surely not. "What?" Lestrade said testily.

"Nothing!" John looked away. It was highly unlikely that a police detective of Lestrade's rank was a vampire's plaything, but it was impolite to ask in any case. Better to pretend he hadn't seen anything.

The door suddenly slammed open and a tall, pale man in a posh greatcoat marched directly up to the table. "Lestrade," he said irritably. "I've been texting you for ages."

"I'm busy, Sherlock," Lestrade said, tipping his head back to look up at the man. "With this terribly pedestrian robbery turned murder that you wouldn't deign to sully your hands with."

The taller man- Sherlock?- seemed immune to sarcasm. He looked at John for about thirty seconds, during which John felt himself to be the focus of the most intense scrutiny he'd ever encountered in his life. Then he glanced at the evidence bag and snorted. "It wasn't him," he said. "Look at the placement of the prints on the jumper, specifically the thumbs, consistent with a man pushing past, not a man pushing away in self-defense. The level of the blood indicates a person at roughly the same height, rather than taller as the shopkeeper undoubtedly was, given this man's lower than average height. And look at his hands, for God's sake! Blood all over his hands, but not under his fingernails? There's no way he handled the knife during that stabbing. How old would you say the suspect was?"

John startled as Sherlock directed this last barb at him. "Ah, twenty-ish."

Sherlock was nodding. "Young, inexperienced, stupid. He'd have panicked and abandoned the knife as quickly as possible. Most likely in a skip, check all the alleys nearest the shop. Lestrade, find someone to process this man's release and meet me out front in ten minutes."

"That was amazing," John blurted out.

Sherlock, already turned halfway to the door, paused and whirled back around. "Really?" he asked, narrowing his eyes at John.

"Yeah," John said. "So, you know, thanks for that." Sherlock flashed him a quick, tight grin, and then John saw the fangs. Oh. His expression must have changed, because Sherlock suddenly snapped his lips shut and glared.

"Problem?" he demanded.

Oh shit. John did not want a vampire angry at him, that was not what he needed to round out this day. "No," John said. "Sir," he added belatedly, when Lestrade shot him a warning look.

But apparently the vampire didn't have any further interest, as he just turned back toward the door. "Ten minutes," he called back over his shoulder.

Lestrade looked after him- apparently the thrall theory was back on the table- and John leaned forward daringly and read the name off his bracelet: Sherlock Holmes. Well. That explained that.

***

John found himself noticing a lot of vampires over the next couple days: taking cabs that other people had hailed, stepping to the front of queues without a murmur of apology, acting as if the humans that surrounded them were natural inferiors when they weren't ignoring them altogether. John had seen vampires since his return to England, obviously- there were a disproportionate number of them in London- but like everyone else, he tried not to notice them too much. And he never had anything they wanted, so they never bothered him.

But something about the encounter with Sherlock Holmes had shifted John's perception sideways, and now he was seeing vampires everywhere. It was more than a little unnerving.

John was waiting in line at the chippy; he should have waited till after the dinner rush, but he hadn't had a proper lunch and he was starved. So he braved the line just after the early winter dusk had fallen over the city. He was staring at the menu board posted on the wall behind the counter, so he only noticed the tall figure jumping the queue because of the fuss it didn't cause: people fell silent and turned away when they saw the person, which meant vampire. Most vampires wore signet rings for a major or minor House, and even those that didn't were recognizable in close quarters. They were mostly tall and slender and pale- John had once seen an African vampire, whose skin was the color of milky tea- their arrogance was unmistakable, and of course if they opened their mouths you saw the fangs.

John wondered what a vampire wanted here- not to eat, certainly. He seemed to be talking to the man behind the counter, whose responses were surprisingly enthusiastic, given that the vampire was at the very least preventing him from doing business during his busiest hour. John shifted from foot to foot, feeling hungrier and hungrier as he waited. When the vampire turned from the counter, John didn't jerk his eyes away quite fast enough to keep from seeing his face: it was Sherlock, the vampire from the Yard.

"You!"

John's response to the tone of command was instinctive: he looked up, and so couldn't miss Sherlock looking straight at him, crooking one finger imperiously. The vampire had stepped away from the counter and was standing in front of the door, seemingly oblivious to the people who were attempting to enter the shop, then seeing what was blocking them and scurrying off again. John felt his face twitch as he tried to keep irritation out of his expression.

"Come here," Sherlock said. The humans in the shop were surreptitiously watching John now, probably so they'd know which way to scramble if trouble started. John could tell Sherlock to fuck off; there was no law that said he had to obey some random vampire. But it was best to avoid annoying them. They could make an ordinary bloke's life pretty unpleasant even if they weren't big shots in the government, which the vampires you met in London often were. John sighed heavily and stepped towards Sherlock, giving up his place in line.

He stopped when he was standing a couple feet from the vampire, who still blocked the doorway. Sherlock waited expectantly for a moment, then sighed and seized John's left hand. John immediately yanked away, but succeeded only in wrenching his elbow; the vampire's grip was like iron. He raised an eyebrow at John. "Which was the secessionist, your mother or father?"

John glared angrily, but there was something dangerously ugly in Sherlock's eyes that hinted at consequences for silence. "My mother," John said. "Sir."

Sherlock pushed John's sleeve up, then lifted John's wrist up to his nose and inhaled deeply. That's right, you were supposed to offer a vampire your wrist, instead of a handshake. Like John met that many bloody vampires. Like John cared a wit what stupid social customs you were supposed to engage in when meeting your alleged betters.

Sherlock made a quiet humming noise to himself before he released John's wrist. "You smell incredible." He cocked his head at John with an air of expectation, as if he thought John was going to thank him.

"Was that a compliment or a threat?" John clamped his jaw shut and reminded himself, you do not need a vampire angry with you. But that was an easy concept in the abstract, much harder when one was actually in your face. "Sorry," he said through gritted teeth.

"I find insincerity annoying," Sherlock remarked. "You're a secessionist, don't pretend you care about offending me."

"I'm not," John said. Sherlock raised an eyebrow with an attitude of skepticism that somehow pushed John into explaining. "It's pointless, isn't it? The Secessionist Party and the Loyalist Party- that's theater, just like the rest of human politics." John lifted his chin. Mum had been a bit of a dreamer, but it seemed obvious to John that if the anti-vampire radicals posed any serious threat, the vampiric council which did most of the real governing would wipe them out.

"And yet you signed up for the Army and went off to risk your life in the Middle East over what is ostensibly a human political problem," Sherlock said.

"How the hell did you know that?" John demanded.

"Military haircut and bearing, tan lines, and of course your injured shoulder. You favor the left." Sherlock rattled this off mechanically, as if bored by the exercise. "From the degree of fade in the tan I'd say you were invalided home two, perhaps three months ago. Your clothes are ill-fitting and several years out of fashion, but not worn out- therefore brought out of storage from before your time in the military because you can't afford new. That means you're unemployed, living solely on your pension."

It's as accurate a picture of his situation as John could have put together himself, and it was done without a single question or answer. "Fantastic," he muttered to himself, and clapped a hand over his mouth as soon as he realized he'd spoken.

Sherlock smiled slightly, without showing his fangs. "Why did you enlist?"

"To help people," John said. It's one of the reasons, so the vampire should read it as the truth, but it also isn't the entire reason. This posh, self-absorbed lord of the earth doesn't need to know everything about him. "I've saved a lot of lives." Also true.

"Ah, an Army doctor," Sherlock said. John nodded tightly. "What's your name?"

"John," he said weakly, then reminded himself that he was a soldier damn it. "John Watson." He remembered what Sherlock had said about insincerity and took it as license to omit the sir.

"Where do you live?" John told him, something like fear stirring in his gut as he wondered why the vampire would possibly want to know all this about him. "Ye-es, I know it. Vile little bedsits." Sherlock was nodding now. "It's all you can afford. No extended family, no friends, no support network, or you wouldn't have to rely solely on the pension."

"Yes, exactly right," John said. Then he frowned, irritated at his own gullibility. "I don't know why that impresses me. I know you can all look at us and know what we're thinking, when we're lying."

Sherlock glared at John. "Not true," he growled. "A medical man ought to know that truth-sounding is mere heightened sensory perception, not any sort of mystical trick. Besides, any idiot with fifty years out of sunlight can truth-sound. That is not what I do."

"What do you do then?" John challenged.

"I observe everything," Sherlock said archly. "And from that I deduce everything." He gave John another long, protracted look, one that made the hair rise on John's arms. "You hate your flat. I have a spare room in mine. You're going to move in with me."

"What?" John sputtered, his stomach dropping down somewhere around his shoes.

"You heard me perfectly well. I despise repetition," Sherlock said. "The address is 221b Baker Street. Pack your things, be there at dusk tomorrow."

No no no no no. A vampire did not invite strange humans into his home, not for work or for entertainment or even to feed. There was only one reason a vampire would ask- no, order- a human to move in with him, and Sherlock couldn't mean that. No vampire would make a thrall of an ex-army medic with a bad shoulder who dressed in shapeless jumpers and lived in a terrible bedsit and knew next to nothing about vampires. But then, before yesterday he'd have said no one would make a thrall of a forty-something police detective, and he'd met Lestrade, who wore Sherlock's name and followed his orders.

"You can't-" John started to say, and then cut himself off even before he saw Sherlock's sardonic smirk. Every county had to give up its quota of humans; the practice of picking them out of secondary school and training them to service was only a custom, not the law. John shut his mouth tightly. Mum had said enslaving only a select few people was the cleverest thing the vampires had done, because as long as most people could live their lives free of interference, they wouldn't rebel for the sake of the few.

"Don't make me send someone for you, John," Sherlock said pleasantly. "You won't like what happens." John nodded stiffly, and fixed his eyes on the wall straight ahead as Sherlock walked briskly past him and away.

***

John left for the train station when the sky was just beginning to pink with dawn. He stopped at the nearest cash point to his flat and withdrew as much as he could, then took a cab to the station, to limit the time he was visible on the street. He paid for his ticket in cash and waited on the platform with his duffel at his feet, clenching his hands in his pockets and making an effort not to pace.

The train still hadn't pulled into the station when John saw two uniformed transit police moving up the platform. Shit. They were checking IDs, which was bad enough when his whole plan was to avoid being traceable, but they had a sniffer dog with them, which was worse. John made a show of looking at his watch and then peering up the track before picking up his bag to wander in the opposite direction from the police.

Someone grabbed him by the forearm. John jerked away, but the grip was solid; he looked at the man's face and recognized DI Lestrade. "Shit!" John said. He twisted free of Lestrade's hold, only to be seized by the front of his jacket. For the first time in his life, John gave very serious thought to assaulting a police officer.

"Don't," Lestrade said sharply. "I'll have to arrest you, and then he'll really be angry." John glanced back over his shoulder and saw one of the transit cops was looking directly at their little tableau. Temporary cooperation was the only sane option right now. He nodded once, clenching his jaw in anger and frustration.

"Turn around," Lestrade told him, relaxing his grip on John's shirt, and spinning him round by the shoulder when he wasn't quick enough. Handcuffs snapped closed around John's wrists.

"I thought you weren't arresting me?" John asked bitterly, his vague plans to run once they got outside disappearing.

Lestrade lifted John's bag in one hand and took his arm with the other. "I'm not," he said. "But I'm not stupid, either."

The awkward ducking motion needed to get in a car with cuffed hands was almost becoming familiar. "Can I get my hands cuffed in front?" John asked.

Lestrade cracked a smile. "Nice try," he said. "Watch your feet." He slammed the rear door of the patrol car and got in the driver's seat.

"I can't wear a seatbelt like this," John pointed out. If he had the use of his hands he might be able to get the car door open, or escape some other way. "Your patron's not going to be happy if I get killed in a traffic accident, is he?"

"I'm an excellent driver," Lestrade said wryly. "I'll take my chances."

221 Baker Street was in central London- an expensive area to live in. Of course, vampires rarely had problems with money. Lestrade took a box of files from the front seat into the building before he came back for John and his bag. He let go of both once they were inside the first story lounge.

"Have a seat," Lestrade advised, settling himself at a table by the front windows and clearing some room for the contents of his box. "We're going to keep each other company until Sherlock wakes up."

The room looked like a combination of a ransacked bookshop and a mad scientist's laboratory. John knew fuck-all about vampires, but did they usually have so much chemistry equipment? The items Lestrade shifted on the table to make room for his files included what looked like most of a vivisected bat. Lestrade kept a steady eye on John, but didn't try to stop him wandering through the flat, so he had a look around.

"You don't live here, do you?" Lestrade didn't seem like a man who was at home in this kind of mess. Plus the kitchen was appalling; surely someone who ate actual food wouldn't countenance it.

"I have my own flat," Lestrade said. That was bizarre. Didn't thralls usually live with their patrons? Wasn't accessibility sort of the point?

The possibilities of hands-free examination exhausted, John returned to the sitting room and sat gingerly in an armchair facing Lestrade. He found himself staring at Lestrade's bracelet. "How long have you been-" He couldn't finish the sentence. It still felt strange to ask about, although surely he was entitled at this point.

"About five years," Lestrade said.

So Lestrade had been well into adulthood too, albeit with a lot more to lose than John. Now he had to live every day knowing that everything- his flat, his career, his friends- could be snatched away on Sherlock's whim. "Did you try to run too?"

"No," Lestrade replied. "I tried to fight him." Lestrade looked up and saw John trying not to smile. "No, you can laugh. It was bloody stupid. Luckily he didn't kill me or have me sent up for assault, just had a hell of a laugh. I probably would have been better off running."

"I guess he didn't have any tame police inspectors to follow you," John muttered, looking away. He was trying not to resent Lestrade- it wasn't the man's fault he had to do what his patron told him- but it was difficult. After all, without Lestrade on his trail he would have been well out of England before Sherlock even woke up.

Lestrade gave him a strange look. "I didn't follow you," he said. "Sherlock told me where you'd be."

"He can't have," John said. "I barely knew myself what I was going to do till I bought the ticket."

Lestrade shrugged. "He worked it out from what he saw, what he knew about you. It's what he does. You should have tried the bus, I bet it never occurred to the posh git to consider you might have gone that way."

John smiled faintly. "Is this you offering advice for future escape attempts?"

Lestrade gave him a very long stare. "If you're as smart as I think you are, Doctor Watson, there aren't going to be any future escape attempts," he said. "Where did you think you were going, anyway? Even if you made it out of western Europe, all he'd have to do is track you down and put in an extradition request."

John hated to admit that he hadn't really thought about end goals; all he'd thought of was the need to get the hell out of Sherlock's reach. "We don't have extradition treaties with Russia, or with-"

"That's for criminals, Watson,” Lestrade said patiently. “Not thralls. It's practically an act of war to refuse to extradite a thrall, treaty or no treaty."

"I guess I thought if I got far enough away, he'd- I don't know. Lose interest," John muttered with his head down. John still didn't understand why Sherlock was interested at all, really. He was nobody, a washed-out Army doc with no prospects, a nasty scar marring his body and the creases of premature aging marring his face. What the hell use was he to a vampire? But Sherlock told him to come, and he wanted him badly enough that he ordered Lestrade to stop him from fleeing.

Lestrade busied himself with his files for most of the day. With his hands behind him, John could find nothing to occupy himself. He couldn't open a book or turn the pages, and he certainly had more pride than to ask Lestrade to entertain him. The best he could do was try to nap a bit in the squashy armchair where he sat with his hands trapped behind him, but he was too nervous and uncomfortable to sleep properly. Nerves and planning had kept him awake the night before, so by the time dusk arrived John had been awake something like thirty-six consecutive hours without more than a few minutes' sleep.

John heard the noise of locks opening upstairs, but that was all the warning he got before Sherlock swooped into the room, as impeccably dressed as he had been the previous evening. "Excellent," he said, rubbing his hands together as he looked at John. "Was it Folkestone or Dover?"

John shot a glance at Lestrade, realizing that he had been telling the truth about Sherlock telling him where John would be. "Folkestone. How did you know-"

"Simple," Sherlock said, cutting him off. "You were born and raised in West Lothian, but as we previously discussed you do not have any family resources there. It's also difficult to get rural lodgings on short notice. Given your lack of experience with vampires, you would have reasoned that the ease of retrieving you decreased the further you went from London. One cannot get very far from London within England itself, so you would try to leave the principality." While Sherlock talked, Lestrade produced a key and removed John's handcuffs, which he put back into his coat pocket. John stretched out his wrists and shoulders while he listened to Sherlock's monologue.

"You're an educated man with enough knowledge of politics to be aware of the heavy level of monitoring in airports. Therefore you would take the train. You would leave at dawn, the soonest you could be sure I was incapacitated, in order to maximize your lead time. You had two options in leaving England by a means other than flight: the ferry at Dover, or the tunnel from Folkestone. Which you chose was largely an academic point since either journey would begin at the rail station closest to your flat, but personally I felt Folkestone was the more likely."

"How did you know I would run at all?" John demanded, feeling rather shamed. When Sherlock laid it all out, his decisions seemed obvious and childish. "And if you knew, why did you leave me the opportunity?"

"It was a test," Lestrade said from back in his chair.

"Of my obedience? My stupidity?" John didn't bother to govern his tongue. He crossed his arms over his chest. "I suppose I failed, then."

But Sherlock was still smirking. "Hardly," he said. "You haven't complimented my deductions, John. Are they less impressive when you see that what I do goes beyond the level of a parlor trick?"

John thought about lying- the vampire's ego was obviously monstrous enough already- but what was the point? "No," he said.

Sherlock paused a moment, as if awaiting something further. "I suppose I'll just take the admiration as read, shall I?"

"Fuck you," John snapped without thinking.

Sherlock looked back at Lestrade, finally. "You can go," he said. Lestrade hurriedly rose and gathered up his already-packed file box, as if he'd been waiting for that signal. John watched Lestrade out the door, biting back his impulse to beg, Don't leave me alone with him. He turned back at the sharp sound of a zipper to see Sherlock pulling things out of his duffel bag.

"Hey!" Sherlock stopped John's rise out of the armchair with a hard look and a flash of fang.

"You're a man of few vanities, John," Sherlock said. "So your reaction begs the question: what is in here that you're afraid of me finding?"

"Why does it have to be something specific?" John asked. "Maybe I just don't want a stranger sifting through my pants."

"I don't see why," Sherlock said, depositing a handful of said item of top of John's laptop, which he had pulled out of the bag first. "You haven't packed dirty ones, surely, so I can't see what you have to be embarrassed about." He felt in the inside pocket of the bag and turned out John's phone. "Unless it's this mobile, which is utter rubbish. It doesn't even have a keyboard." The scandalized look Sherlock was giving John while he held the phone between two fingers was enough to make John chuckle despite his increasing tension.

"What would I need a keyboard for? I barely have anybody to call, much less text," John pointed out. "Practically everyone I know is still in Afghanistan."

Sherlock dropped the phone and went back to pulling John's possessions out of the bag as John helplessly scowled. A couple jumpers and a pair of jeans joined the other things on the sofa, and then John saw Sherlock's face change when his fingers touched metal: recognition, excitement, and what seemed like genuine pleasure as he lifted John's handgun out of the bag. "Oh," Sherlock said, a little breathlessly.

John sat up a bit straighter, waiting for the hammer to fall, but Sherlock seemed to forget John was there for a moment. He checked the safety and popped out the magazine, cleared the chamber and inspected the gun minutely before popping the magazine back in with quick and easy motions. "Sig Sauer P226," Sherlock said. "Not British Army issue. Second hand, but well kept and frequently cleaned. Fired before, but not recently. Have you ever used it?"

John licked his lips. "Test-fired, when I bought it," he said. "Otherwise, no."

Sherlock set the gun on the arm of the sofa and swiftly finished emptying John's bag, finding nothing but clothes. Just as quickly, he tossed the clothes back in and crammed the laptop down the side of the bag. The phone he put in his pocket. Then he picked up the gun and with one more check of the safety, dropped it back into the top of the duffel. He shoved the bag to the floor so he could sprawl over the length of the sofa. "All acceptable," he said. "Except the crap phone, obviously."

"But-" John was flummoxed. "You're not taking the gun?"

"Why should I?"

"They're illegal," John pointed out.

Sherlock flapped a hand dismissively. "Because they're dangerous in the hands of untrained civilians, and easily misused. You're not untrained, you're not a civilian, and if you haven't shot anyone in a murderous rage yet, you're unlikely to start now."

That was close enough to John's own rationalization that he didn't have any reply to it. Then, totally unbidden by his brain, John's mouth blurted, "I could shoot you." It was very possible to kill vampires. Sever the spinal cord in the cervical vertebrae, scramble the brain stem, or completely destroy the heart: enough bullets could do it, but safest to remove it from the chest entirely and burn it. Oh my god, shut up! John berated himself. He could be arrested just for suggesting it, unless Sherlock punished John himself, which he would be perfectly within his rights to do. Taking away the gun would be the least of it.

Sherlock rolled his head to the side to look at John, still ensconced in the armchair. "You could," he said, apparently unperturbed by the idea. "But you won't, because in spite of the obviousness of your conversation you are a relatively smart man, and in spite of your penchant for self-destructive behavior you are not suicidal."

Both true. Capital punishment was outlawed now for human on human crimes, but for killing a vampire they hanged you out back of Pentonville Prison, and cut your head off afterward to display to the public. Vampires liked grand, symbolic gestures.

"I'm not going to shoot you," John conceded.

"Then I see no reason to take the gun away," Sherlock said. "It may prove useful in my work to have a trained marksman at my disposal."

"Your work?" John sat back, blinking. "Vampires don't work, do they?" They were all richer than God, unless they were newly made, and infant vampires didn't need money because they were supported by their Sire. Vampires had a reputation for being even more idle than the aristocracy.

"I work," Sherlock said. "I'm a consulting detective; I exercise my skills on the more puzzling cases that come before the local authorities. Primarily human crime, because vampires tend not to die very often." Sherlock made this sound as if it was a source of intense personal disappointment for him.

John was bemused, despite himself. Sherlock sat up and lifted a tiny laptop off the coffee table and onto his knees. "Oh, how fortuitous," he said, clicking away with the mouse buttons. He addressed John off-handedly: "Take your bag upstairs; you're to the left, bathroom to the right. Shower, change, and be back down here in fifteen minutes."

"What? Why?" John hedged. He wasn't averse to listening to orders if he saw the sense in them, but he wasn't going to jump to just because this arrogant bloodsucker had a passing fancy.

"Because I have work to do, and I like company when I go out." Sherlock's tone was matter-of-fact.

Here we go, John thought. "I haven't slept in thirty six hours," he said.

"Not my fault," Sherlock said. "If you hadn't been occupied with plotting your ill-conceived flight to the continent, you would have slept last night, napped this afternoon, and arrived here perfectly well-rested. Why should I let the result of your disobedience become my problem?"

John's instinct was to argue. After all, Sherlock had just admitted to manipulating him.

Sherlock looked up at him. "Are you really about to berate me for allowing you an opportunity to escape?" John closed his mouth, feeling foolish all over again. Sherlock had mastered the art of the disdainful look. "Your logic strains credulity, John. It's not my fault you didn't make the most of your resources."

"You were toying with me," John said.

"I was confirming my initial judgment of your novelty," Sherlock said.

"My novelty," John said flatly.

"I wanted to know how interesting you were." Sherlock smiled patronizingly, as at a dog who had done a mildly amusing trick.

"And how interesting am I?" John crossed his arms over his chest, glaring.

"Marginally." Sherlock looked back at his laptop. "You're down to twelve minutes, twenty seconds, incidentally."

John hissed a long breath out through his teeth, then marched over and seized his bag. He tried not to stomp on his way up the stairs.

***

John took closer to twenty-five minutes than fifteen; Sherlock was practically vibrating with impatience, but he didn't comment on John's tardiness beyond a glance at the clock and a derisive snort.

On the street outside, Sherlock hailed a black cab and hustled John inside. The cabbie sat bolt upright in his seat and drove like the devil himself was whipping him on; John had never crossed London faster. The cab dropped them in front of a stately building whose marble-block sign declared it to be “The Diplomat.” Very vague as to purpose, but undoubtedly fancy.

“Stay close to me,” Sherlock directed as they climbed the wide stairs. “Unaccompanied humans aren’t allowed in.”

They were met in the lobby by a tall, poised man with a receding hairline and a suit that was perfectly conservative but clearly bespoke. John would have recognized him as a vampire even if he hadn’t been wearing the signet of a Minor House: he wore the expression of smug disdain that vampire lords always affected on the rare occasions they appeared on camera. “What’s this?” he said, his near-smirk making it clear that he was referring to John, despite his failure to look directly at him.

“He’s mine,” Sherlock said at once, snatching at John’s wrist. John immediately jerked away from the touch, and Sherlock opened his hand and let John step away. He resisted the urge to rub his wrist where Sherlock had touched him, and put his hands in his pockets instead.

“Oh, really, Sherlock.” Now it was absolutely a smirk. “Your taste is appalling. He’s too old by half, he obviously has no training-“

“Mind your own business, Mycroft,” Sherlock said. “If I wanted one of the tedious automatons you favor, I know where to find them.”

“But to pick up strays off the street,” the other vampire complained. ‘It’s- unbecoming.” The sniff of disdain as he glanced down his nose at John was the last straw.

“I’m not a dog,” John snapped, lifting his chin in an attempt to stare the vampire in the eye. “And I’m not deaf, either.”

This made Mycroft smirk even harder, but he glanced back to Sherlock, refusing eye contact. “You know, I think he does rather suit you. The intransigence is- oddly familiar.”

John started to take a step towards the vampire, but Sherlock’s hand shot out and gripped his elbow. This time John failed to dislodge the iron hold, so he stopped moving and simply glared instead.

“As I recall, you insisted that this little problem of yours brooked no delay,” Sherlock said. “So why don’t you stop wasting my time and tell me about it.”

Soon Sherlock was poking his nose into everything and trying to figure out why the suite of a Spanish diplomat had been garlic-bombed. John felt nearly superfluous, tagging at Sherlock's heels as he swanned around the hotel doing his level best to infuriate or terrify everyone he met. In under two hours he'd disproved Mycroft's theory about secessionist sympathizers and proved that the culprit was a member of the Spanish vampire's own staff, covering up the theft of a valuable diadem by his lover.

“Boring,” Sherlock sniffed, but his eyes still lit up when he explained how he unraveled the plot. John found that he was smiling in genuine pleasure at the moment of the grand reveal- watching Sherlock deduce everything from seemingly nothing was amazing in spite of everything. When Sherlock turned and smiled back at him, John forced the expression into a scowl.

"Don't go to sleep," Sherlock said when they got back in. "I may need you again tonight, and a nap will only make you sluggish. Best to just stay up."

"Best for who?" John snapped. For Sherlock, obviously, who didn't even deign to answer.

Sherlock installed himself on the sofa again, and John went into the kitchen to see what they were like for food. Naturally enough, there wasn't anything even remotely edible stashed among the chemistry equipment and what looked like a few biological specimens. "This flat is a right mess, you know," John said disapprovingly as he righted a jar with a hand preserved in formaldehyde that he had almost knocked off the drainboard. He walked back into the sitting room so he could glare his annoyance at Sherlock.

Sherlock somehow managed to shrug with one shoulder while lying down and make it look graceful and natural. "Clean it up, if it bothers you so much."

John's jaw tightened. "Are you ordering me to?" Housekeeping was one of the functions thralls served, if John remembered correctly.

"No," Sherlock said, folding his hands under his chin. "I don't care what the flat looks like, so obviously it doesn't matter to me whether you clean it or not. Just be quiet, whatever you decide to do."

"I'm going to go get some dinner, then," John said, and headed back out to the landing. If Sherlock didn't care where he was, then he could take some time away from him and maybe get his head back on straight. He was feeling more and more of a mess. The sleep deprivation was obviously part of it, but hunger was playing a role too, he was sure.

John checked his wallet out of habit as he reached the front door. All the cash he had withdrawn before going to the train station was gone. "Oh, fuck," he said. He pulled the billfold wide, as if it was possible a few hundred quid had just slipped out of sight in the vast confines of the wallet. He felt in his jacket pockets. He tried to remember to breathe. That had been a lot of fucking cash. His bank card was gone too. "Sherlock!" he said, thundering back up the stairs. "Sherlock, I've been-"

"No you haven't," Sherlock said, lounging as calmly and disdainfully as a prince. "I took it. I'll redeposit it when I register my LPA with your bank."

"Your what," John said flatly.

"Power of attorney," Sherlock said. "It authorizes me to make financial and health care decisions for you. You don't need to carry that much cash, or it is going to end up stolen."

"I didn't give you my power of attorney!" John snapped.

Sherlock finally emerged from his contemplation to give John a rather pitying look. "Have you even read the laws you despise so? It's automatic- I just have to inform the bank. You also can't sign contracts without my countersignature."

John hadn't felt this powerless since he was a child. Perhaps stomping his feet and screaming would get Sherlock to pay attention? Actually, on reflection, probably not. He'd just look at John with that expression of watchful blankness, then go back to whatever he was doing. "Lestrade has his own flat," John said. "Surely he doesn't have to run to you every time he needs something."

"Technically Lestrade is a secondary tenant on the lease I signed," Sherlock said. His mouth was twitching slightly, as if he found John's obvious attempts to remain calm funny. "And most of his bills are paid with direct debit. Really, John, don't take on so. It's just technicalities. If you need money, you'll have money."

Was Sherlock really this obtuse, or was he deliberately taunting John? "But only through you."

"The cash is in my wallet," Sherlock said, nodding absently towards the table by the front window. "Over there somewhere. Take twenty quid, go get some food if you like, but for God's sake be quiet."

John walked slowly to the armchair and sank into it, rubbing his temples. Somehow, he no longer felt that hungry.

His shame and simmering anger kept him awake for an hour or so, but after that he began to drowse, despite himself. He came awake with a start when Sherlock loudly said his name. “Come on,” the vampire said. “We're going back out.”

They went to the bank, where John stood impotently by while Sherlock put his own name on John's account. John's input was not requested or required; the bank employee didn't even look at him. They went back outside and John trailed in Sherlock's wake as he strolled the streets apparently at random. Sherlock finally paused, stopping dead in the pavement so John almost ran straight into him, then crossing the street and pushing into a Chinese restaurant. They sat down on the same side of the table and Sherlock sat still just long enough for the waiter to pour water, glancing repeatedly at the young blond man who was the one other customer in the room.

“Stay here,” Sherlock said, standing abruptly. “Eat something. I'll be back.” And he whirled out the front door.

John was operating on fumes, and far too weary to do anything other than what Sherlock had suggested. He wolfed down sweet and sour soup and crab rangoon without stopping to taste them, and had begun to work his way steadily through an order of beef with broccoli by the time he noticed that the blond man was staring at him. He was leaning casually back in his chair, but he didn't appear to be eating anything.

John focused on his food, but he could feel the eyes. He tried glaring back, but the man's gaze never wavered. John slowly put down his fork. The man kept staring. John stood up, not entirely sure what he was planning on doing, but before he could do it the man was suddenly in his face.

"Hello," he said, his low, rumbling voice practically a purr. "See anything you like?” He moved fast, too fucking fast, and John was immediately wary.

"I'm waiting for someone," John said honestly, and took a step back. Forget confrontation, he wanted to put as much distance between them as possible.

The blond followed his retreat, grabbing his wrist and sniffing appreciatively at it, and that's when John realized why the man was so alarming: he was a fucking vampire. John jerked his arm away reflexively, and the vampire laughed and let him go. "Someone's been teaching you very poor manners. I could teach you better, I expect." John's skin was crawling. The vampire leaned in closer still and said, "You smell decadent."

"Not interested," John said tightly. "Piss off."

The vampire seized John's chin in one hand and fisted the other in his jumper, so that he could not even attempt to pull free. "My dear, you have no idea-"

Fabric tore and nails dragged against John's face as the vampire was suddenly yanked backward and flung up against the counter. Sherlock, his eyes large and dark and empty of emotion, went after him and punched him solidly three times in the face, pulling his hand back bloody.

"You fucker!" the vampire screamed at Sherlock, who stepped away to stand solidly between John and the other vampire. "You interfering fucker!"

"You touched my thrall," Sherlock said with a dead, flat voice.

"He's not marked!" the vampire bleated, mopping at his face with both hands. The blood was flowing freely from his nose and mouth. This wasn't even close to the worst fight John had seen, but it still felt strange; it was the first time he'd seen Sherlock display any of the strength and violence typical of his kind. "You mad bastard! I'll have the Council on you, you can't just assault me. Do you know who I am?"

"You have the seal of the Privy Counselor worked into the design on your cufflinks, but you don't wear the signet of even a minor house, which means you're his assistant, not his childer," Sherlock said. "Your bespoke clothes are skillfully-mended and at least a year out of style, yet your extravagant jewelry indicates you're conscious of appearances and need to appear more affluent than you are. So, fallen on hard times and trying to hide it. There's chalk dust in the creases of your trousers, and at the knees, which means you've been down at the quarry. I happen to know that a very exclusive gamblers' club meets there in the early hours of the evening."

"So I enjoy the occasional wager," the vampire snapped. "What of it?"

Sherlock's eyes were glinting dangerously, uncaring of the growing agitation of the other creature. "Clearly you've been losing, hence your decrease in affluence. But your jewelry indicates an influx of money, which you keep in portable form and on your person at all times- no one wears that kind of finery just to go to the shop. If the money isn't from gambling, where is it from? You've been embezzling from the Privy Counselor."

If the vampire wasn't already so pale, John thought he might have turned white then. "That is slander, of the vilest sort!"

"Yes," Sherlock said. "Truth usually is." He leaned in close, then, speaking in a low and dangerous voice. "Listen carefully," he said. "You got what you deserved today. Report me, and I'll ruin you. Touch John again, and I'll kill you." The vampire paused a moment, swallowing convulsively as if nerving himself. He opened his mouth, then snapped it shut without saying anything, turned on his heel, and quickly walked away.

"Jesus," John muttered.

Sherlock dropped a couple notes on the table and took John by the wrist. The grip was loose, but this time John didn't shake him off. His nerves were jangling and he was keyed up with no outlet for the tension. Feeling rescued was a very strange sensation indeed. “Let's go home,” Sherlock said.

Back at Baker Street, Sherlock went to the sofa and cracked open a book. This time he didn't give John an order to stay awake, but John still wandered about the room for a few minutes, hesitating. He could feel Sherlock giving him half his attention in a way that made the hairs rise on the back of his neck. "Well," John said finally. "I'm for bed."

Sherlock flipped a page in his book. "Go to mine," he said.

John froze, halfway through his first step towards the stairs. There it was, the thing he had been fearing since Sherlock first roped him in.

Sherlock licked his finger and turned another page. "Problem?" he said, still not looking up.

John had to clear his throat to ensure his response would not come out as a croak. "I'm straight," he said.

"I don't see how that's relevant," Sherlock said, because of course it wasn't, all that was relevant was what Sherlock wanted. John wasn't even worthy of his gaze, was he? He stood for a moment, clenching his fists at his side, and tried to muster a response. Words wouldn't come. So John didn't answer; just started walking towards the stairs.

John brushed his teeth, washed his face, used the loo, all numbly and expecting any minute to hear Sherlock's tread on the stairs. He stripped his clothes as usual, without thinking about it, then paused as he reached into the drawer for clean pajama bottoms. He was furious at himself for considering whether Sherlock might want him to stay undressed. This...creature...had taken over his life, forced him to move in, ordered him about, told him to go wait in bed as if he was some kind of whore. Who gave a shit what he thought?

John gritted his teeth and snatched the pajamas. His steps were hesitant and as quiet as he could make them when he was dressed and couldn't think of any other stalling tactics he could add to his nightly routine. Sherlock's door was ajar very slightly, and John pushed it open further. The act of stepping into Sherlock's room for the first time was so impregnated with significance that John almost expected something to mark it, the door creaking dramatically perhaps, but the hinges were utterly smooth and silent and nothing startled or jumped out at him. John felt on either side of the door for a light switch, and found one. The single bulb that lit in response was very dim, maybe 40 watts at most. It illuminated a room that was surprisingly bare, given the mess Sherlock maintained in the sitting room and kitchen. Suits and shirts were hung in precise alignment in the closet. The desk held one neat stack of books. The top of the dresser was entirely bare. The only other piece of furniture was a double bed opposite the desk, made up neatly by civilian if not military standards.

Sanctuary, John reminded himself. It was one of the staples of vampire lore, that to vampires the idea of an ordered and private hiding place was extremely important. The main purpose of this room was not for working, or relaxing with a book, but for sleeping, and it showed. The window at the back of the room was covered by blackout curtains. When John walked over and checked behind them, he saw that there was a shade as well, already pulled down to cover the panes. Sherlock wasn't cautious by any stretch of the imagination, but there were some things no vampire could afford to be blase about.

John paced anxiously around the room for five minutes before he could suppress his nervousness enough to get into the bed. He eschewed the covers, simply sitting down on the duvet and crouching there with his knees pulled up to his chest and arms wrapped around them. Then there was nothing to do but wait, and anticipate, and fear.

Sherlock was going to bite him. Would it hurt? How much? No question that it would be uncomfortable, but how uncomfortable? John had given blood before of course, every citizen over the age of 18 had to make bi-annual deposits at the National Food Bank, but he imagined that a vampire putting his teeth in your throat was a far cry from a sterile needle in the arm. And then there was the sex. It wasn't something that was talked about, not even among kids in lavatories and locker rooms, the way ordinary sex was. Nobody really knew details because even if you met a thrall, what would you ask exactly? "Hello, I know we're barely acquaintances, but would you mind telling me what it's like when your patron gets his blood up and fucks you? Is it as rough and violent as the rumors say? Does it hurt? Does he hold you down and put marks on you and make you scream yourself hoarse?"

John dug his nails into his palms and listened for Sherlock to come up.

Of course, when he did, John didn't hear anything at all. Sherlock acted so human at times that even now John was forgetting what he was capable of. Silent movement, preternatural speed. He appeared in the doorway like a wraith and John jumped. Sherlock ignored it, simply shut the door behind him and turned to secure it. The door was white-painted metal, not wood, and it had multiple locks. They were operated by simple sliding levers, not keys; the point was not to keep anyone in the room, but to keep people out. John hadn't looked at the window glass before, but he was willing to bet that it was shatterproof and also elaborately locked. Vampires needed safety during their daily sleep; that was the point of sanctuary, after all.

Sherlock crossed to the desk and set his Blackberry on the surface. He undressed, dropping his clothes into a hamper between dresser and desk, except for the suit itself which he hung neatly on a hangar on the opposite side of the closet from the clean garments in their plastic cleaner's bags. He moved without any self-consciousness, as if John was not there, watching. His skin underneath his clothes was unsurprisingly pale, and his body as well-muscled as John would have imagined from seeing him move. He moved as casually and gracefully nude as he did fully clothed. John couldn't help feeling another irrational pang of alarm as Sherlock came directly to the bed without dressing in nightclothes, and began to pull the covers back. He gestured at John to move, and he shifted so that Sherlock could pull down the duvet and sheet on his side of the bed as well.

Sherlock crawled onto the bed and knelt at an angle, facing John. John's whole body tensed, although he managed to stop himself from flinching when Sherlock reached out and grasped his chin in one hand, moving it so that John was looking into his face. "Don't be so nervous," Sherlock said. "It's off-putting."

"Fuck you," John said a bit hoarsely. "If you wanted enthusiasm, you picked the wrong person." At nearly forty-eight hours awake, he was losing his ability to dissemble, and even his motivation to try. He just wanted to sleep.

"It won't hurt," Sherlock said calmly. "You'll enjoy it, in fact."

"That's not the point," John said. The vampire was so calm. It made him seem more alien than ever, this total lack of emotion. Even gloating or anticipation would be less unnerving, because they'd at least show he had some investment in what he was doing. "Do you not care about this at all?"

"Not especially," Sherlock said. "It's just biology. Feeding causes my energy level to spike, the energy needs to be expended, and sexual intercourse is a much more efficient method than tearing apart my room or murdering the food source. And of course, it's a bit more enjoyable."

"So rape is marginally more enjoyable than murder," John said. "That's fantastic. Very reassuring."

Sherlock rolled his eyes, then used his grip on John's chin to push his upper body back, so that he was reclining against the pillows. Sherlock crawled across the bed after him, leaning down to press his nose against the side of John's neck and inhale deeply.

John shivered, and this time he wasn't able to prevent flinching away. "Be glad I've restrained myself this long," Sherlock said sharply. "This could have been on the street, in a restaurant, in the back of a cab. Do you think anyone would have batted an eye? Luckily for you I do see the value of discretion in some arenas." He opened his mouth against John's neck and bit him, suddenly and hard.

And it did hurt. It felt...like an animal had taken a bite out of his neck. Not only that, but it activated something in John's primitive hindbrain, so that he was seized by a deep and primal terror that he couldn't control. He was being murdered. Fuck what he knew about vampires, an unnatural, predatory creature had bitten John and was sucking his blood out and he was going to actually fucking die. He jerked desperately in an abortive attempt at struggle, but Sherlock's hands had closed around his wrists at the same time he had bitten, holding them immoveable on the bed. His body pressed down onto John's, so that he couldn't throw himself sideways or attempt any such escape maneuver.

John had no ability to count in this state, so he couldn't say how long he felt that horrible fear and pain, but as Sherlock pulled away from his neck it kicked over into something else. Instead of throbbing with pain, as he would expect, the bite wound felt pleasantly numb, like the injection site for anesthesia. And rather than pain and fear, John now felt rather drunk: a bit dizzy, a bit detached, a bit uninhibited, a bit happy. And a lot aroused. Sherlock leaned down again, but this time it was simply to kiss John on the lips. He pried John's mouth open, and John let him employ his tongue. He tasted his blood in Sherlock's mouth, coppery and thinned with saliva.

Sherlock made a satisfied noise as he pulled back. "Better?" he asked, almost solicitously. John nodded agreeably. The tension had melted out of his limbs, and instead of fearful anticipation he now felt a sort of dull acceptance. Sherlock made a satisfied humming noise and began to undress him. John obligingly moved his arms and his hips when needed to allow Sherlock to tug off his t-shirt and trousers. When his pajama bottoms cleared his thighs, his prick sprang up, already hard. He lay back, still feeling that unnatural relaxation, and let Sherlock examine his body with his nose and fingers, pausing to taste briefly at various points: armpits, nipples, groin. His touch was almost clinical, and the close examination did not make John anxious. Dimly, in the back of his mind, he realized that whatever chemical Sherlock had injected into him was what was causing this reaction, but in this state it was mightily hard to care.

Sherlock finally sat back a bit. He groped with one hand under a pillow and emerged with a tube of lube. He tapped it pointedly on John's right thigh. "Spread your legs," he said, when John failed to read his mind and obey the gesture. John barely hesitated before he spread his legs and let Sherlock kneel between them. His fear and hesitation were pretty much gone, and without them the only one of his emotions left from before was resignation. This was happening; he couldn't stop it. It was more sensible to do what he was told than to fight the inevitable.

Sherlock prepared him slowly and carefully, feeling out the inside of his arse with slender fingers which he considerately stroked against John's prostate, wringing out strained gasps and an abundance of pre-come. The sensations were novel, peculiar, rather than panic-inducing as they might have been if John had been in a normal frame of mind. Finally Sherlock pulled his fingers fully free, and used another handful of lube to slick his own long and curving cock, which John only now noticed had become fully hard during some point in the prep.

Some deeply ingrained instinct made John mumble, "Condom," as Sherlock aligned his cock with John's arsehole. Sherlock leaned forward and pinched one of John's nipples with slippery fingers, making him gasp and jerk back slightly.

"Hush," Sherlock said sharply. "I'm being exceedingly obliging. Don't test my patience." And he lined up again and slid himself in. It was smooth and easy, for all that John could feel Sherlock's prick fantastically deep inside once he was fully seated. John still felt that preternatural acceptance, as if it didn't matter at all that a vampire was balls deep in his arse or that John didn't want this, even though he was feeling a low and gentle buzz of arousal and pleasure at the sensation.

Sherlock leaned forward and bit him again, an inch or so above the first site. And this time it didn't feel at all like someone ripping open his neck. He still felt the pressure of Sherlock's mouth, even fancied he could feel the steady suck of blood being withdrawn, but it didn't hurt and it didn't fill him with panic, either. Instead he felt mildly euphoric, and his arousal spiked higher still, making him want to wiggle against Sherlock's body as it pressed against his. He made a noise of protest that was stifled by Sherlock's hair, when he realized that between Sherlock's cock spearing him and his teeth piercing him, he was unable to move. But he still didn't panic at being pinned; he was just annoyed because he was convinced that moving would intensify the sensations, and he couldn't move. Sherlock's hips were damnably still against his.

Finally, Sherlock gave one last long, sucking pull and withdrew his fangs from John's neck, leaning back a bit. His pupils were wide, and there was something wildly manic in his expression. His movements were abrupt and jerky, and John fancied he could almost see the suppressed energy crackling off Sherlock's limbs. If he had moved like a hunting cat before, now he moved like a bird of prey, quick and darting and ready to pounce.

Sherlock's first thrust was sudden and fierce. He pulled his hips back quickly, almost completely withdrawing his cock in one jerky movement before he slammed back in to the hilt. John gasped at the suddenness of it, but it didn't hurt. Rather the opposite, as the thrust back in grazed his prostate and send an answering slap of pleasure arcing up through John's body.

The sex was absolutely nothing like the long, slow exploration or the thorough preparation: it continued as it began, with Sherlock simply pounding away. It was hard and rough but- thanks to the prep- not painful, and certainly not mindless. Sherlock pushed John's knees up into his chest, so that his hips rolled up and cupped his arse against Sherlock's groin. Sherlock's cock fucked deep into him, and the way it hit his prostate on every single stroke could not possibly be an accident. John was soon beyond the capacity for analysis as he was battered over and over again by the stabs of pleasure. They came so close together that he he was overwhelmed by sensation almost to the point of discomfort. He couldn't have said later whether he was grunting or screaming or saying actual words or whether he was absolutely dead silent, because he had no awareness or control of what his own body was doing outside of the overwhelming sensation of Sherlock driving into him repeatedly.

Sherlock was making noise if John wasn't, no real words, just grunting and growling. His eyes were still dark and lost, and his movements hard and jerky. It was fierce and demanding and over in a matter of minutes, with Sherlock shuddering and jerking through climax with his eyes closed and his chest heaving, body hovering so close over John's that he could feel the heat radiating from Sherlock's skin. Sherlock withdrew abruptly, his cock already going soft, and John whimpered, still half out of his mind with an almost ecstatic pleasure because he was so fucking close. Sherlock glanced at his face with hooded eyes and wrapped a hand around his cock. Five rapid strokes, a tug at John's balls with his free hand, and John was coming hard, gasping with the strength of his orgasm.

Sherlock released him as soon as he started to come, and when John had come back a bit from the white-out bliss, he saw Sherlock wiping off his own groin with John's t-shirt. He folded the cloth over and mopped up John's come as well before tossing the t-shirt off the side of the bed. Sherlock's movements were smooth and measured again, the jerkiness gone from his muscles and the mania from his eyes. Apparently whatever excess energy had been generated was now expended, and Sherlock was yawning. It must be close to dawn, although John had no way of knowing with the blackout curtains and the room's lack of timekeeping devices.

"I forgot a cloth," Sherlock said as he slid under the covers. "Put your trousers back on, I don't want any more of a mess in the bed than there has to be."

John couldn't help feeling somewhat stung by the dismissiveness. "I could go get-"

"No," Sherlock said, flipping to his other side so that he could look at John's face. "You don't touch the door once I've locked it, understand?"

"Yeah, okay," John said. He got up briefly to slide back into his pajama bottoms and shut off the light, and hesitated before he crawled under the covers. The euphoria had faded, leaving his arse somewhat sore, and he could feel his natural panic emerging from beneath the stifling blanket of acceptance that Sherlock's intervention had laid over John's mind.

Sherlock grunted in annoyance. "Sleep now," he said. "Have your identity crisis this evening, I'm tired." The command seemed to shift a lever somewhere in John's head, and he felt almost immediately overwhelmed by his own exhaustion. It was no trouble at all to put his fears aside and drift into sleep.

* * *

John awoke a good bit before Sherlock, checking the time on the Blackberry to find that it was about four in the afternoon, well before sunset. He used the glow of the phone's screen to find the light and turn it on, but quickly grew bored, finding that the books were a mix of chemistry texts and dry technical treatises. He finally sat back on the bed and quietly finished having his freakout while he watched Sherlock sleep.

Okay, so it hadn't been terrible. If you used strength of orgasm as a measuring rubric it was probably the best sex John had ever had. But the fact that despite his reluctance and his fear, Sherlock had been able to make him lay back and accept it calmly; that was terrifying. John didn't like having his thoughts tampered with, whether directly or chemically, and it seemed that was the vampire's specialty. Excellent sex was hardly worth it if he had to give up that level of control over his own body and mind.

But then, why was he weighing it as if he even had a choice? He was a thrall now, well and properly. If he tried to leave, Sherlock would find him and bring him back. John harbored no illusions, he knew that it really would be as simple for Sherlock as coming and fetching him. He remembered how easy it had been last time. If he tried to protest or to fight, Sherlock could overcome him by brute force, or he could simply order John to do what he wanted, and John would have to obey. Now that Sherlock had bitten him, filled him full of whatever chemicals his body produced, John was compelled to obey. The way he had gone to sleep this morning the moment Sherlock ordered him to, despite stress that should have kept him awake all day, was proof of that.

So he waited until Sherlock woke up and let him out of the room, and he got dressed and followed him to a jeweler's at the end of Marylebone Road without a word of protest.

The jeweler knew and greeted Sherlock by name, and he let his assistants take care of the other customers in the shop while he waited on them personally. It took the man less than ten minutes to engrave Sherlock's name on the simple stainless steel band he selected, and a matter of seconds to fasten the bracelet on John's right wrist using a hand-squeezed riveting tool.

It wasn't a brand, but it was as good as: a mark that told anyone who looked at John who he belonged to.

Sherlock took him home after that- apparently crimes to solve didn't crop up every night- and lost himself in some kind of experiment. John paced awkwardly for a while, looked through Sherlock's books, but he couldn't seem to settle down. Finally it occurred to him that Sherlock hadn't said he needed to stay in the flat. “I'm going out,” he said experimentally, but there was no response from the kitchen other than the soft clinking of glassware. So he got his jacket and took a couple bills out of Sherlock's wallet, which was still in the pocket of his coat.

Being out by himself felt reassuringly normal; John was able to forget the thing on his wrist, and the vampire skulking back in the flat, and just feel like a person. The girl who took his order at the coffee shop smiled at him, and John couldn't help smiling back. This was what he had been missing when he followed Sherlock about. With the vampire in the room, John was an incidental figure, an accessory that no one paid attention to. The girl was a decade too young for John at least, but he was happy enough to exchange a bit of banter with her anyway, it felt so deliciously normal and right. He got about sixty seconds to bask in the warm glow of human contact before he reached to hand over his money and it went to pieces.

In an instant, her open expression slammed shut and her eyes slid away from John's. He didn't understand what was happening at first, but when he reached for his change she jerked her hand back as if she'd been burned, letting the money fall to the counter. That's when John realized that she'd seen the bracelet. The fucking, fucking bracelet that was instantly recognizable because nobody wore anything like it except a thrall. John clamped his lips shut and picked up the coins one by one in silence.

He sat in nearby Regent's Park sipping the coffee until the nausea receded. He tried to tamp down his shame and anger. It wasn't his fault his life had been co-opted by a vampire, and he didn't see why anyone should look at him as if there was something wrong with him. The girl at the coffee shop was young though, just a uni kid. Maybe she knew someone who'd been taking for training as a kid, maybe she had a younger sibling, maybe she'd had a bad experience with a vampire. By the time he had finished drinking his coffee, John had managed to persuade himself that it was a one-off.

It wasn't.

He went to a cafe, a supermarket, a chemist. Everywhere people glanced at his wrist and then refused to meet his eyes. Even on the street, John noticed people giving him a wide berth, darting furtive looks at him, or simply staring at him only to glance away when he caught them at it. John stared back at them, and he glared at the ones who whispered behind their hands when he passed. But it was exhausting to be so aware of people staring at him like a freak, averting their eyes like his existence was somehow embarrassing, avoiding him as if he might be contagious.

Something in him broke when a woman trailing a little boy crossed the street to avoid him. John walked back to Baker Street with his hands crammed as deep into his pockets as they would go.

He went to bed when he got in, in the room Sherlock had told him was his, but he was still lying sleeplessly on his back when Sherlock came up to bed. His soft footfalls paused outside John's open door, and after a long moment John rolled over to face the vampire.

You miserable fucker, you've made me almost as inhuman as you, he didn't say. But John didn't doubt that at least some of his unhappiness was written in his expression. Sherlock's nostrils flared.

"Do you need me?" John asked, his voice as flat as possible.

There was another pause. "No," Sherlock said.

John rolled over to face the wall. After a moment, he felt the bed dip as the vampire's weight settled next to his hip. John viciously stomped on his urge to cringe away, but he still felt the muscles tense all along his back and shoulders. At first Sherlock didn't do anything, but then John felt gentle fingers brush through his hair. John huffed out a breath, but otherwise didn't react.

Sherlock began to stroke his head, massaging his scalp with deft fingers. John found himself relaxing into the soothing touch. It made him feel grounded and connected, where everything else today had made him feel alone and adrift. It's almost enough to make John feel grateful- despite Sherlock's inhumanity, he could still give John this bit of kindness when he so desperately needed it.

But it suddenly occurred to John: if his day was hard, if he missed human contact, it was Sherlock's fault. Sherlock had done this to him, had taken his life away and tried to turn him into this pliant, quivering thing lying on the bed, feeling thankful for its master's touch. No, damn it, John was not going to be grateful. He refused to be grateful, like a starving dog begging for table scraps.

John's had all the training. He'd taken classes in psychology, he'd dealt first-hand with survivors of kidnap and capture: men and women so overwhelmed and confused by their ordeal that they were ready to believe whatever their captors told them. It was just plain embarrassing how long it had taken John to realize what was happening.

“You're brainwashing me,” John said aloud.

Sherlock didn't answer him, which was confirmation enough; he would have delighted in telling John he was wrong, if that was the case. It was almost insulting that Sherlock was so confident of his ability to warp John's mind that he didn't care if John caught him out. John pulled away and turned back over, sitting up and backing up against the wall to get away from Sherlock's touch.

“Come back here,” Sherlock said petulantly. He reached for John, who shuffled even further away. Sherlock hesitated slightly before he continued reaching forward and put his hand on John's belt buckle.

John's mind was moving very fast now, parsing what he had seen of Sherlock and making conclusions. John had thus far done whatever he was told based on the threat of being caught if he ran and the implicit threat of force. He'd had an actual demonstration of that force, even, when Sherlock sprang on the vampire who'd touched John last night. Although now that John seriously thought about that encounter without the haze caused by two full days awake, the whole thing seemed awfully peculiar. Sherlock had led him past countless restaurants before suddenly picking that one. He had looked directly at that vampire, and there was absolutely no way that with all his observational power he hadn't anticipated what might happen. He had recognized the vampire and deliberately left John alone with him. But why?

The answer was obvious: so that he would have an opportunity to rescue John, and at the same time demonstrate his strength and ability to fight. More manipulation, more brainwashing. John's anger was steadily stoking itself into rage.

Still, Sherlock had shown no real inclination to hurt John. So if he refused to submit to Sherlock- what then? Would Sherlock hold him down and fuck him anyway? John had just assumed he would...but he was quickly realizing that between exhaustion and outright manipulation, most of his prior assumptions were suspect. The very attempts to persuade and maneuver Sherlock kept engaging in, and his hesitation just now when John resisted, suggested that John was wrong, that Sherlock wouldn't force him.

"Don't touch me," he snapped. He stiffened his back and raised his chin, but Sherlock didn't move to penalize him, just paused for a long moment while John grew more and more tense, waiting for the coin to drop.

Sherlock scrutinized John's face, his expression radiating surprise for a moment before it abruptly shuttered closed. He finally said, "All right," and stood up. He left the room, and John heard the door to the vampire's sanctuary thunk closed and the bolts slide home. John just sat for a moment, suffused with relief and a rising sense of triumph.

John was up again when Sherlock woke- the vampire slept from sunrise to sunset, and John didn't need that much sleep- and sitting in the living room with yesterday's newspaper. To his surprise, Sherlock went directly to his coat and took it off the hook, then left without a word.

Victory was sweet, but John quickly found himself bored. Following Sherlock because he had to was emasculating, but watching him work had been really interesting. Still, John had plenty of experience keeping himself entertained; he was an adult after all. He did some tidying in the living room and the kitchen- not servile, he told himself, just common sense. It's my home too, after all. He went out to the shop to lay in some supplies, and resolved to glare down anyone who looked at him funny because of the bracelet. He kept his back straight and his head up and felt like he was beginning to cope.

Sherlock returned just before dawn and went to bed without acknowledging John's presence at all. When he woke at sunset, John was sitting on the sofa eating eggs and bacon that he had cooked himself, reading a newspaper he had bought down at the corner. Sherlock swanned in wearing a fresh suit and deigned to address John directly. “Move over,” he said, and flung himself onto the sofa without pausing. “Give me your wrist,” he said.

John's heart sank. Of course, it couldn't have been as easy as all that to put off a vampire. “Why?” he asked, stalling.

“Well it's a bit less intimate than the neck, so I thought-” Sherlock only then seemed to notice John's expression of revulsion and dismay. “Really, now, I still have to eat, John. I've not nearly the altruism required to starve myself for the sake of your sensibilities.”

John frowned. “I thought you couldn't feed without sex or violence. Am I going to have to choose between being raped or being murdered?”

Sherlock rolled his eyes in a surprisingly human gesture. “It's biology,” he said. “An appetite can be controlled. Now give me your wrist. Unless you're suggesting I go out and pick up someone else?”

A small part of John insisted yes, God yes. The rest of him thought, you bastard. Because he didn't doubt for a moment that Sherlock would. He should tell Sherlock to fuck off, that what he did was his own affair and he could go to the Food Bank if he was that starved. If he went and victimized someone else, that wasn't John's fault any more than it was his fault if a homeless man he didn't give spare change to went and robbed somebody. Sherlock was responsible for his own damned decisions. The argument was cold and clean and logical in John's mind, but he opened his mouth and couldn't produce it. Because at the end of the day, John knew the consequences his decision would have, and that would make him partially responsible. Even the thought of suggesting Lestrade, who was already a thrall and presumably used to it, made John's stomach churn with shame and guilt.

John knew he was being manipulated. But he couldn't trade his own safety for someone else's. He just couldn't.

He proffered his wrist.

Sherlock fed quickly, impassively. Unlike the previous feeding, so intimate and thick with emotion, this was nearly as impersonal as a Bank donation. Sherlock was clearly doing something, because the pain and fear from the first time was almost entirely absent, but so was the pleasure and arousal. It was very nearly bearable in the end. When Sherlock pulled back, his eyes were alight with mania and his movements were quick and jerky. It was clear he was feeling the same preternatural energy as before, but he looked away from John and swallowed once before standing up from the sofa.

John huffed a sigh of relief when the vampire was out the door.

***

The following days were like something out of the sixth circle of hell.

John straightened the flat, he shopped, he cooked, he read the paper and watched the telly. He watched Sherlock whirl in and out of the flat on his way between work and sleep without giving John a word or a glance. He tried not to care, and he was too proud to ask Sherlock what he was working on, or if he could come along. It was as if he'd had a window into some bizarre and fascinating other world, and now it had slammed shut and left him trapped in boredom and mediocrity.

When he first came to Baker Street, if Sherlock had told John he would be ignored except on the rare occasions when Sherlock needed to feed, and otherwise left to go about his business, John would have been pleased. He didn't want the vampire's attention, he didn't care what the arrogant bastard thought of him, and he would just as soon be left alone. But that didn't seem to be the case now. Somehow he felt...slighted when Sherlock looked past him. Offended, because he had been set aside like a toy bought on a whim that had now ceased to be entertaining. He hadn't felt this useless since he'd first been discharged.

Except it was worse than that now, because wearing Sherlock's bracelet cut him off from the whole damn human race into the bargain. People treated him as if his very existence was a disability or deformity, something that shouldn't be looked at directly or commented on. He could stand in a crowded shop but feel totally isolated from everyone there. It was as if he wasn't the same species any more; he wasn't human, he was a thrall.

He went on a job interview, just once. Dr. Sawyer, who ran the surgery, was frank, smart and had a good sense of humor. She would have been John's type even if she wasn't extremely pretty. They didn't flirt, they were professionals, but they teased one another a bit. John had a feeling that somewhere down the road, he could be in with a chance.

Locum GP wasn't the most exciting job. But it was work, useful work. And a way to be independent, to do something out of Sherlock's sphere of influence, even if the vampire would still control his paycheck. Dr. Sawyer didn't have to know that. Dr. Sawyer didn't have to know about Sherlock at all.

But when she reached over her desk to shake his hand, he forgot for just a moment. His sleeve rode up, her eyes locked onto his wrist, and both their smiles died. He sensed the rejection coming and released her hand quickly, already turning away.

“John, wait a second,” she said. The look of open pity on her face was almost as repellent to him as disgust or fear would have been, but he tamped down his shame and anger. She was trying to be kind. “I would have found out anyway,” she said quietly. “It'll be in your NHS file now.” He hadn't thought of that.

His face burned. “I'm still a doctor,” he said. “I'm a damned good doctor.” There was no heat in it; she was shaking her head, not really listening.

“There's too much of a conflict- time, loyalties, everything. It wouldn't work,” she said. “I'm sorry, truly.”

John wasn't sure how long he spent wandering the streets after that. It wasn't as if he had anywhere to go or anything to do. It wasn't as if it mattered. In the end he found himself leaning over the guardrail on Waterloo Bridge, staring blankly at the murky waters of the Thames until well after sundown.

“You all right, sir?” John was so deep in his reverie that the voice made him start. He turned his head and saw that the speaker was a cop, young and uniformed and frowning.

John managed half a smile at him. “I'm fine, yeah,” he said, and looked back at the water.

“How about you come away from there now, sir?” The new voice belonged to another beat cop, who was standing in front of the first. He was older than the first officer, older than John, with hair well into gray.

“I'm fine,” John said in clipped tones.

“You must be cold, at least,” the man said, smiling slightly. “Constable Edwards says you've been standing there hours, not moving, and you're certainly not dressed for it.” John had to allow that this was true. The light jacket he was wearing had been fine for 3 in the afternoon, but was less so for the middle of the night, especially with the breeze that had blown up. He hadn't been aware that he was shivering slightly.

“Why don't I give you a ride?” said the older constable. “Or maybe there's someone I can call for you, someone that would be worried?”

Not likely, John thought, suppressing the urge to laugh. “I'll be all right,” he said.

The constable still didn't cease his pleasant smiling, but there was a hint of firmness in his voice. “Please. Only I shouldn't like to have it on my conscience, sir.”

John suddenly realized the kind of picture he must make: a lone man, inappropriately dressed, leaning on the bridge rail for hours in the middle of the night. John tucked his hands, which he now realized were ice cold, up into his armpits and turned away from the rail. “I'm fine, honestly. I can walk from here.”

“I'm sure, sir, but the car would be much more comfortable, don't you think?” John shrugged. What the hell did he care, anyway? Potential suicide wasn't the worst someone had thought of him today. He let the constable usher him into a marked car, and leaned his head against the cool glass once he was ensconced inside. He found himself playing unconsciously with the bracelet, and looked up to met the constable's eyes in the rearview mirror. John narrowed his lips and looked back out the window.

It did not come as a surprise to him when he ended up at Scotland Yard instead of back at Baker Street. What did surprise him was who sat down across from him in the interview room where the constable left him warming his hands on a styrofoam cup of coffee.

“Are you my personal police officer or something?” John asked Lestrade.

“Just the presumed expert on thralls,” Lestrade said wearily. “Mason said you were on the Waterloo Bridge, looked to be nerving yourself for a jump.”

John shrugged at his coffee. “I don't think I'd thought that far,” he said honestly. “I was just...there.”

Lestrade cracked his knuckles. “Then he saw the bracelet and he thought- well.” Lestrade set the folder he was carrying on the table and slid it across to John. “Have a look.”

John flipped it open, and only his previous experience with battle medicine kept him from cringing. The man depicted in the photos had lacerations and bruises across the face, clearly caused by fists. There was an abundance of long, upraised white scars across the back and legs, overlaid with fresh, bloody marks. The genitals and anus were marked and torn, the clear target of violence. But the worst damage was to the neck and to the forearms, which were covered by large bite marks, one laid over another. Many of the cuts were puffy and inflamed, clearly infected. John turned over each photograph carefully, and looked up at Lestrade when he had closed the folder on the last.

“That's what it looks like when a vampire abuses a thrall,” Lestrade said.

John smiled bitterly. “Would you even believe me if I said he was abusing me?” They locked eyes, and John tried to stare Lestrade down; it quickly became obvious that he was not going to look away.

“Yes.” Lestrade's tone was one of absolute conviction: a reminder that this was not just Sherlock's thrall that he was talking to, but an experienced detective.

John believed him. He lowered his eyes and pushed the folder back across the table. “He's not.”

“I know it's hard,” Lestrade said haltingly, his voice low. John wanted to snap back, but he restrained himself because Lestrade did know what it was like, he knew exactly. “It's an adjustment. It changes how you think, how you look at the world.” It. Him. Sherlock.

“It's not right.” John found to his shame that his eyes were pricking with angry, frustrated tears. He blinked them back, furious at himself.

“No, it's not right. But it's the way things are.” Lestrade picked up the folder and sat silently for a moment. “You don't have to stop being yourself,” he said finally. “He won't punish you for disagreeing, for resisting, for asserting yourself. And he'll treat you like a person, not like a doll or a dog.” Lestrade's lip curled, as if he was thinking of something unpleasant. “Most vampires don't even do that much.”

“But?” John asked, his voice harsh.

“But you have to accept that he's the boss.” Lestrade scratched the back of his head. “Try thinking of him as your commanding officer, if it helps. You've got to follow his orders, but you don't have to like it, and you don't have to like him.”

“But you like him.”

Lestrade looked away. “Not all the time.”

They sat in silence for another minute, while John thought it through. He wondered if this could be him in five years- grudgingly accepting, occasionally bitter, but generally content with his life. He wondered if he wanted that.

“He's-” Lestrade began again, then stopped. “Fuck. I'm not going to tell you what to think, Watson. You have to get there on your own.” He stood up and opened the door, holding it open and gesturing at John with the folder in his other hand. “Go home, all right?”

* * *

Sherlock didn't say anything when John came back. He lounged on the couch: first thinking, then answering his e-mail, then watching video clips with the sound turned so low that it was barely a murmur to John's ears. John pretended to read the newspaper, but he was really just watching and thinking. Sherlock was undoubtedly aware of John's gaze, but he gave no sign that he noticed.

At four, Sherlock snapped his laptop shut decisively and left the sitting room. Sherlock's step was very light, but John could still hear the settling of the floorboards overhead as Sherlock moved about his room. Then, silence. John felt unnaturally tired. There was something oddly exhausting about spending an entire day- or night, as it were- idle. Without Sherlock in the room, there was no point in pretending to read the paper, so he gave it up and went to bed. He lay in the dark for a long time, unable to stop thinking.

He wondered if this was how Sherlock felt, his brain constantly set on something so that he was unable to just pull the lever to shut it off. Dawn must be a relief, shrouding him with exhaustion so that he could settle into sleep. Or did Sherlock find it irritating, the long sleep a waste of time that could be better spent solving puzzles? Probably the latter. Probably any minute not spent on his work was wasted space. Maybe that's why he didn't bother with John unless he was hungry. He probably couldn't abide the waste of time.

John curled on his side, twisted in his sheets, and tried again to be glad to be ignored. Glad his life was much the same as it was after his discharge, before Sherlock. But it really wasn't the same, was it? It was harder and lonelier here in Sherlock's flat that in had been in that wretched little bedsit. Even though there was another person ten feet away, on the other side of the wall.

John was out of his bed and in the hall before he fully realized what he was doing; had knocked a hollow, clanging cadence on Sherlock's door before he thought about why. When he heard the bolts slide back and the door opened on Sherlock, entirely and unselfconsciously nude, John curled his bare feet against the floor and fisted his hands in his pajama bottoms. He opened his mouth without having the faintest idea what to say. "Please," he found himself saying. "Please, Sherlock."

Sherlock looked him full in the face and stood aside without saying a word. John stepped into the room, faltering when the door shut behind him and the room plummeted into near-total darkness. Then Sherlock's hand was on John's lower back, guiding him forward until his knees bumped against the bed and he could lean down and maneuver his way onto it by feel. The bed dipped and the springs squeaked a bit as Sherlock settled behind him, stretching out his legs to cradle John between them. He bent forward, his naked torso touching John's from neck to waist. The wet press of lips on his ruined shoulder almost undid him; the feel of Sherlock's hand stroking gently through his hair did undo him.

A deep gasp shivered his body against Sherlock, and he closed his eyes and relaxed into the petting. Like his fucking dog, something hard inside John whispered cruelly, but John viciously kicked the thought away because he didn't care, he didn't care, it felt too wonderfully gentle and reassuring to be shameful. John was nearly humming with pleasure by the time Sherlock sat up and his hand dragged John's head back to rest against his shoulder, then went on to rub broad ovals across his chest and stomach. John settled into a haze of sensation. The firm, but gentle, presses of Sherlock's hands were intense points of sensation, lighting up his nerves. Their effect was all the more pronounced in the total darkness, where all John could do was hear and feel the slide of skin on skin.

John had no idea what Sherlock was thinking, what he was planning, but he had somehow dropped into an almost zen-like state of mind, a place where he could calmly accept Sherlock sliding his pajama bottoms down his hips and thighs without a single concern. He even kicked them off when they were down to knee level and Sherlock could no longer reach, and he let Sherlock's gentle touches urge him to slide backward on the bed and lie down on his left side with his back still pressed along Sherlock's chest.

When Sherlock pulled away momentarily, John nearly panicked: he didn't think he could bear to be abandoned in the locked and darkened room that way. But Sherlock's hand on his hip anchored him, steadying his breathing as Sherlock guided John's upper leg forward and bent it at the knee, then slotted back into position behind him. John knew what to expect after that, and Sherlock's fingers probing at his anus did not surprise him in the slightest.

There was no hard, rough efficiency to the prep work as there had been in the past. Instead Sherlock opened him with slow and gentle strokes, as if he had no more pressing business and no ultimate end goal beyond sliding his fingers into John as deeply as possible, with feather-light brushes against his prostate. By the time Sherlock had worked him up to three fingers, John was hard as flint and leaking pre-come, pressing himself back onto Sherlock's fingers and making small and ridiculously needy noises. When he tried to bring up his hand to muffle them, Sherlock immediately withdrew his hand and seized John by the wrist, guiding his hand back to its default position, resting against his belly.

John had somehow got so caught up in his own world of sensation that he hadn't noticed Sherlock becoming hard as well. That changed when Sherlock withdrew his hand again, and replaced his fingers with his cock, filling John with one long, achingly sweet slide. Sherlock stretched a bit when he was fully seated, so that John could feel every inch of him spooned up against his body. He brought his right leg up along the outside of John's thigh, cradling him as he had when they were sitting on the edge of the bed, and deepening the angle of penetration. John could not hold back a groan.

It was the first time John had been fucked by Sherlock without the mania of feeding, without the haze of drugged pleasure clouding his own sensations, and it was absolutely incomparable. Sherlock's thrusts were slow and smooth, with a slight pause after each so that both of them could savor the feeling of being so absolutely physically close, nearly every possible inch of exposed skin touching. Every movement felt sharp and clear, and John couldn't see Sherlock in the dark but he could feel how absolutely he was the center of Sherlock's attention, and every second of it was such a fucking gift that John almost teared up over it.

His orgasm was almost an afterthought in the face of that generosity, but John took it gratefully when Sherlock started to stroke him in time with his gradually-quickening thrusts. When Sherlock had coaxed him through the aftershocks, John lay quietly while Sherlock finished, tilting his head down to press his cheek against Sherlock's left arm, stretched out beneath his neck. When Sherlock slipped out of him, he didn't move for some time, simply stroking his free hand along John's side.

There was no epiphany, no blast of crystalline thought, no "aha," but John realized that he had discovered something: a need or a desire that he hadn't known about before, and that he felt obscurely grateful to Sherlock for helping him uncover. He sighed softly, relaxed in Sherlock's hold, and thought that if he could, he would live in this moment forever.

"Good, John," Sherlock murmured, less than an inch from the shell of his ear. "That's very good."

* * *

Corpses had the annoying habit of being discovered during daylight hours, so it was a couple weeks before John saw Lestrade at a crime scene.

"All right?" Lestrade asked as John joined him under the streetlight. John nodded, and they stood companionably close and watched Sherlock flit excitedly around the body.

John could feel Lestrade watching him, too, out of the corner of his eye, but it didn't bother him. He felt open, relaxed. There was a freedom that came in not caring what anyone thought, because you knew where you stood with the one person whose opinion actually mattered.

"John, come have a look at this!" Sherlock hadn't fed from him in a couple days, so the imperative was weak; just a warm, gentle tug at John's center that he was coming to quite like. A reminder that he was useful. Needed. He took a step toward Sherlock, but turned back when Lestrade put a gently restraining hand on his arm.

For a moment, Lestrade just looked closely at his face, as if studying him. "You seem- happier," he said finally.

"You know," John said as he gently shook Lestrade's hand off. "I think I am."