The flat was not quite what John had been expecting. It wasn't that he was used to luxury – Army barracks would certainly never be known for their comfort or cheerfulness – but even the field hospitals in Afghanistan usually had a window or two. Certainly the flat was well-lit with florescent lights everywhere, but that didn't stop him from feeling trapped as soon as he stepped inside. No windows, a thick iron door and walls reinforced with concrete: it was more a bunker than a flat, and he supposed that was how it was meant to be. A bunker designed to keep something in, rather than out, however. The iron door's locks were all on the outside.
It was only a minute's work to explore the entire space. There seemed hardly to be anything to it, really. Two bedrooms, separated by a tiny hallway. A kitchen with several new but cheap appliances, a main room with a small dining table at one end and a sofa and telly at the other. A bathroom stocked with the same military-issue, micro-thin towels he'd been using in combat.
Honestly, when he'd pictured life at home in England, it had always been a bit better than this.
Then there were the cameras. They were everywhere in the flat, including the bathroom, which made John more nervous than he cared to admit. It wasn't so much the idea of being watched – being in the Army for any length of time tended to do away with most of the need for personal privacy (you weren't going to get it in any event,) so he felt like he could live with the idea of the cameras. They made him nervous because there didn't seem any good reason for them to be there – certainly he wasn't dangerous or interesting enough to inspire all of this security, so what could it mean?
His latest orders had been incredibly vague, and he was beginning to think he might know why.
His right hand moved to press unconsciously at his left shoulder.
He still sometimes had nightmares about the bite, which the therapist they had assigned to him in Kabul had been only too happy to make him discuss in vivid detail. In the end he was declared unfit for combat, though if that was a result of the nightmares or possible infection he had never been sure. One long plane ride later and he was in London, assigned to a new CO and a very odd jailhouse of a flat that was right smack in the middle of a sprawling military facility in Hounslow. It had the feel of a prison cell that had some carpeting thrown down hastily.
At least his life wasn't boring.
He dropped his rucksack in one of the bedrooms and went down the hall to use the loo, alternately staring at the camera in there and trying hard to pretend it wasn't there. He wondered how long it would take him to get used to them. He briefly debated taking a shower, but in the end went just as he was to his first meeting with his new CO, a Colonel named Dennis Oliver.
The flat's front door opened not to the street, but to a clean and antiseptic-smelling hallway that reminded John a lot of the corridors at Bart's. He took a left and then another left, noting with increasing frustration that every corridor looked exactly like every other. He wandered until he found someone to point him in the right direction, past rows of iron doors which abruptly changed over to rows of wood doors. Oliver's office was distinguishable only because his door was cracked open. John took a moment before knocking, taking a deep breath.
A squat older man was seated behind the desk. He looked John over and nodded to him once. "Captain Watson, I presume." He returned the salute, watching John stand before him with a guarded expression. "All settled in?"
"Er, yes. The lodging is… interesting. Very secure." That seemed safe enough. "Do you know if I am going to be assigned there permanently, sir?" He was trying not to complain, he really was.
Oliver folded his hands in front of him. "For at least the next four weeks, yes. After that..." he trailed off with a shrug. "We'll see how you do, Captain."
John had no idea what that meant, but it was pretty definitely not a good thing. "I noticed there are cameras, sir. Is someone afraid I might steal the towels?"
"The cameras aren't for you," Oliver said dismissively.
John was not at all reassured. "Oh," he said.
"Tell me, Captain, what did you think of Afghanistan?"
"It was hot and dry and full of vampires, sir." John shrugged. Everyone knew that.
"Did you ever go into the caves yourself? Did you ever see what was inside?"
John swallowed. "No, sir," he said. "We were close, but all the medical staff was commanded to stay well back."
A quirk of thin lips. His eyes never left John's face. "Did you ever see any of them alive? Besides the one that bit you, anyway."
"I didn't really see that one, sir. It came out of the dark and was on me in a flash. I never saw anything."
"But you shot it."
"Yes, sir. It was... it was feeding. I was able to shoot it while it was distracted."
"A point blank shot to the base of the skull. No other shot in the world would have killed it."
"No." John knew that well enough.
"Did you know, Captain, that very few vampires are actually killed by guns? We train all of our soldiers extensively on exactly how to do it – to let them bite, wait until they're feeding – but hardly any of them manage to actually do it. Why do you suppose that is?"
John remembered the moment of absolute, bone chilling terror, the sensation of tearing flesh and the absolute certainty that he was about to die. "I imagine because it's harder than it sounds, sir," he said mildly.
"Yes, I imagine it is. But you managed it, didn't you?"
"So it obviously is possible."
"Yes, sir." John tried to keep the impatience out of his voice. He really wished he knew where this was going.
"Do you think you could do it again?"
"...sir?" John looked at him uncertainly.
"If there were a vampire just here," he gestured toward the corner of the room, "and you were ordered to kill it, could you?"
"Yes." There was no question of that.
"Good, good. There are some disturbing reports in your filethat seem to indicate that you were rather bad off after the attack. We need to know that you're still capable of performing your duty, Captain Watson."
John drew himself up to his full height. "I am fully capable, sir."
There was a silence as Oliver eyed him closely. "Perhaps you are," he said finally. "I imagine we'll soon find out. In any event, you've never seen any of them alive, is that what you're telling me?"
"Yes, sir. Just dead. There were a lot of dead, sir."
"Hm, yes. Both theirs and ours. Did you see what they did to ours?"
John remembered ripped out throats and worse, blood and viscera everywhere. The ones with no blood were always worst, though. Those were the tricky ones."Yes, sir."
"We you the one who had to cut their heads off?"
John tipped his chin up, trying for calm. "Sometimes, sir," he admitted.
"And checking for infections – also you?"
"And you must have autopsied their dead, too?"
"Yes, many times during training, sir." The autopsies had never been as enlightening as he wished. Organs so similar but still different and subtly wrong.
"And in Afghanistan." Not a question.
John just nodded once.
"You know their physiology."
"Excellent. You'll find that will come in handy."
John was thrown. "You want me to autopsy them here? I thought England was declared free of vampires at the turn of the last century, sir."
Oliver's smile turned smug. "No autopsies, Captain, at least not yet. You'll be working with a live specimen."
"What?" John was astounded. "A live vampire, in London?"
"Yes." Oliver paused, letting that sink in. "We have obtained a captive here in London that has proved incredibly intransigent in giving us the information we want."
John's head was spinning. The idea of a live vampire turning up in London was terrifying indeed. England's pride at being vampire free had always been so ballyhooed that he had never thought to question it.
"I see," he said faintly. "What exactly am I meant to do, sir? Kill it?"
"Oh, no. No, no. Just the opposite, actually. Your medical training combined with your experience with vampires is considered invaluable. Everyone at this facility understands vampires in theory, but none of them has much idea how vampires work: how they process blood or what they can withstand before they die. And of course, most of them have no idea what to do in the event they were ever attacked. I wouldn't bet a fiver on most of them coming out alive even if the vampire's hands were chained," he added, with some disgust.
"But you, Watson – you stand a bit of a chance, should that happen. Your mission here will be simple enough, I think – you'll be its keeper. It wasn't, shall we say, responding well to the cage in the lab. Tedious hunger strikes that terrified our technicians. They really thought it was going to starve itself to death. We had to hook it up to an IV and force blood into it in the end, and it's never been done before so even that nearly killed it." He rubbed his eyes tiredly. "Well, it's not like anyone's ever researched how to keep them alive, have they? All we've ever tried to do is kill them. So, obviously we need to try something else."
"And I'm... something else? Sir?" Suddenly the secure nature of the flat and the cameras made a kind of sense. John hoped fervently that he was misunderstanding the situation, because the idea that was forming in his head was absolutely repellent.
"In a manner of speaking. We're assigning it under your care, Doctor. It will be your job to keep it alive. You'll be responsible for it, staying in close proximity to it. Make sure it eats. Make sure it doesn't do any more harm to itself."
"How?" John was completely at sea.
"That's for you to work out. We'll provide you with drugs, and I suggest you use them. Generally we try to keep it drugged – it nearly escaped from us quite a few times before we sorted that out. You'll be armed, of course, and the flat will beconstantly monitored. Should it attack – which is unlikely if you keep it drugged – there will be RMPs there immediately."
Immediately would never be fast enough. John would be on his own, and he and Oliver both knew it. His jaw worked as he considered his options and realized he didn't really have any. He wondered how long it would be before he was dead. A day? A week? Surely not longer than that. "I see, sir."
"Go back to your lodging and finish unpacking, Watson. You have about sixteen hours until your patient arrives. I suggest you make a list of things you may need – we'll be sending some food and other necessities tomorrow morning. You'll want to rest well tonight."
John swallowed hard as he was dismissed.
The next morning he was awakened by the sound of people in the flat. He rolled over and looked at the clock – 6am. The Army was the Army, he supposed. He had rather expected that the Army in London would be somewhat more laid back then the Army in the active combat zone of Afghanistan. Apparently not so much.
He pulled on trousers and a shapeless grey t-shirt, scrubbeda hand over his face and felt rough stubble. He didn't suppose his visitors would be kind enough to wait while he shaved. Sighing, he opened the bedroom door and peered at the two corporals hauling bags of food into the kitchen. Food and what looked suspiciously like packets of blood.
"Good morning, Watson," Oliver said from the doorway. "Things are moving ahead on schedule. I probably should have mentioned it yesterday: you'll be confined to the flat with it for the first week at least, while it gets acclimatized. We're not taking any chances with it."
John felt a hot surge of fear at that. "I'll be locked in with it, sir?"
"Just for a week, if that. Our scientists will be bringing it to the laboratory to work with for at least a few hours every day. While it's not in the flat you don't need to be; but while it is here, you are ordered to be as well. Is that clear? It shouldn't take us very long to break the vampire once we can concentrate on it properly. After it tells us what we want to know, we will look into moving it to other accommodations."
That response was not as cheering as John had hoped it would be.
Later, once John had showered and dressed and was investigating the contents of the fridge (it was blood; blood packets now took up half of his refrigerator, which was not the sort of life experience he had expected the Army to provide him with, way back when he had first signed up), the door to his flat opened again. A younger man with light brown hair, not in uniform, came in carrying a rather large box with an open top. He eyed John with readily apparent doubt.
"Colin Winter." He set the box on the dining room table and offered his hand coolly. "I'll be supervising this project from the scientific side."
"Oh, I see."
"I imagine you've been given instructions for treating the subject already?"
"Not really," John admitted. "I've been ordered to make sure it stays alive, but that's a bit vague, really."
Winter sighed. "Right. Well, that’s not going to be particularly helpful. You must keep it fed. If it doesn't ingest at least two blood packets a day, you'll have to force them down its throat. Vampires don't need anything else, not really. I imagine you'll keep it restrained somehow?"
"Don't ever let it get its hands on you, obviously. It'll kill you as soon as it can. It's obviously intelligent, and quite frankly I have my doubts that it won't run circles around you mentally. If the military would just let us – but they always have the need to control everything. Bringing you in is just another power play."
"I know how to handle myself perfectly well, thank you very much," John said stiffly.
Winter snorted in disbelief. He reached into the box, pulling out wrapped syringes and small glass vials filled with a cloudy brown substance. "You'll need to keep it drugged. One shot every twelve hours will leave it perfectly conscious and able to move about unaided but too weak to do much damage to you. A shot every eight hours will leave it conscious but bedridden for much of that time. Anything more than that will invalidate the work we're doing in the lab. You do know how to give shots, don't you?"
"I am a doctor," John said, more sharply than he'd intended.
"An Army doctor, yes." Winter rolled his eyes. "Your job is simple: keep it drugged, keep it fed. I'm sure even you can manage that much."
He left without saying goodbye, leaving John looking rather bemused at the ridiculous amount of drugs he had brought with him. There was enough for a month at least, which gave him pause. Did they really expect him to have to drug the vampire so very often?
John stood in the middle of the living room, listening to the grunts of the two RMPs dragging in the chained prisoner. His first view of a living vampire – he would never have believed it would be in London itself. The vampires that had been flushed out of the Afghani caves had varied in size and shape, but they had all had a certain indefinable alien cast to their features, if you looked long and hard enough; were all taller and longer-limbed than average humans. John was never able to quite put his finger on what made them stand out, but there was definitely something if you knew what you were watching for. The thin form dragged between the RMPs was shackled at its wrists and ankles and was at least six inches taller than either of them. There was a black hood over its head so John couldn't see its face, giving it the air of a condemned man.
The RMPs pulled it to a spot on the side of the living room with metal hooks in the wall that John had puzzled over for a little while the day before. Now he saw what they were for as the RMPs clipped the shackles to them, forcing the vampire down on its knees. They withdrew, leaving it leaning against the wall in a way that told John it was obviously strongly drugged.
One of the RMPs handed John a ring of two keys for the shackles as they passed him on the way to the door. John blinked down at them at his hand. "Anything else you need, sir?" one asked, briskly.
John shook his head. "No, thank you." He took a steadying breath as they shut the iron door behind them, the sound loud and echoing as they slid the bolts into place.
John stood with the keys in his hand and watched the figure in the corner for a full minute, but it didn't move at all. Finally he walked slowly over, knowing it could hear his footsteps (and his breathing, and his heartbeat) and hoping it was not too drugged to sense he didn't mean it any particular harm.
He crouched down so that he was more or less at eye level with the vampire, three or four feet away. "Hello," he said softly. "Um. I'm going to remove the hood now, all right?"
Silence.No movement. It was unnerving, given the circumstances.
Reaching out slowly,John grasped the bottom of the hood and pulled it off slowly, revealing a pale face with grey eyes that seemed to bore directly into John with a ferociousrage the likes of which he had never seen before.It made him swallow, but he resisted the urge to get to his feet.
"I'm John. Do you do you have a name? Or something you'd like me to call you?"
The vampire ignored this, his eyes flicking away from John to take in the rest of the room.
"Okay. Right. Well, I'm going to unshackle you now." That brought the gaze swinging back to him.
John said a tiny prayer that this would work as it was supposed to and inserted the key into the ankle shackles.He undid them, removing the metal half-circles from terribly thin ankles. The vampire held himself stock still, even after both of his legs were free. Bracing himself, hardly daring to breathe, John gently wrapped a hand around one of the fragile-looking wrists and turned it over, positioning the shackles so he could insert the key. The skin felt cool against his own, close to room temperature and strange ,and though he only touched it for a second he felt immediate relief when he let it go.
He opened the shackles and dropped the metal onto the thin carpeting with a dull thud. The vampire was free.
It didn't move.
John stood and stepped back, never taking his eyes from it. Him, he mentally corrected. They were taught not to think of them in human terms, but the vampire was so male and almost human-looking that it was impossible not to do so anyway.Not human, obviously, but still .Not horribly bizarre, either. There was nothing truly unpleasant about him at all, so long as his mouth remained closed and his fangs retracted. Thinking of fangs made John curious: he'd never seen a vampire's fangs properly extended, and the one opportunity for it he had spent being bitten. There was a part of him that was extremely curious about the process. He couldn't help a quick glance at the vampire's mouth. The lips quirked up as if the vampire could tell exactly what he was thinking, making him feel a quick stab of embarrassment.
The vampire still didn't move as he stepped further away, any fascination he felt completely dwarfed by the fearful need to put distance between them. John backed up until he had nearly crossed the room. The vampire seemed far more in control of his faculties than John had imagined he would be, which was a thoroughly frightening thought indeed. John had no idea how he was going to get close enough to drug him without getting killed for his trouble.
The vampire had refocused on him and was watching him with an intensity that wasunsettling to say the least.
He looked back and let the silence stretch out, becoming uncomfortable. He fell back to politeness. Politeness he understood and could do. "Would you like some tea? Or, or some blood?"
No answer. The intent look didn't shift or fade.
John took a deep breath and turned his back on him, pivoting on his heel and walking into the kitchen determinately. Foolhardy, turning his back on a live vampire, even a drugged one, but they were locked into a small flat together. He certainly wasn't going to do everything with his back literally to the wall for the next week. He put on the kettle and took a blood packet out of the fridge, all the while feeling eyes staring into him. It was terrifying, but he didn't turn around.
After a moment's consideration he dumped the blood packet into a saucepan and set it on low heat. He'd never tried to heat blood before and had no idea what would work, but putting it in the microwave seemed like rather a bad idea. It was not the sort of splatter he really wanted to have to clean up.
By the time the kettle was boiling he still hadn't been set to from behind, so John was beginning to relax. Slightly. All the time, he knew, the drugs were wearing off, meaning he was actually more likely to be attacked as time went by, not less. The fact that it wasn't happening was enough to make him feel better, though, false as the feeling might be. He stirred the contents of the saucepan warily, unsure how warm the vampire would want his blood. That wasn't exactly something they covered in combat training. Body temperature would be best presumably, but John didn't exactly have a thermometer. Finally guessing it was close enough, he pulled it off the burner. After considering and rejecting a glass (the last thing he wanted was to actually see the blood being drunk,) he poured the viscous liquid into one of the coffee mugs, pouring his tea into another. He carried both out to the dining room table and set them down.
The vampire hasn't moved. He was still huddled in the same position against the wall, taking in everything. John watched his nostrils flair and wondered if he could smell the blood across the room. He assumed he could.
"I heated some blood for you," he told him anyway. "I wasn't sure if you were hungry or not. You'll have to tell me how you prefer it; I wasn't entirely sure. I can pour you a cup of tea, too, or there's other food, if you like food." He gestured toward the kitchen, impatient for some kind of response.
Any response would be nice, though he'd prefer it if it didn't end with him getting his throat torn out.
"I – it's not poisoned or anything, the blood. Or – or drugged." He didn't think it was drugged anyway. Certainly no one had mentioned that to him, but he had long since realized he was not important enough to actually be told much of anything in this situation, even though he was the one who was possibly going to be torn apart.
Still no response, so he pulled out his chair and sat down to drink his tea, facing the vampire on the other side of the room. The vampire didn't look away and didn't blink, which made John even more nervous. It was the little things that reminded him how inhuman this creature was, that wouldn't let him relax.
The soft sounds of him drinking and swallowing were the only noise in the room.
When he finished his tea he went back into the kitchen to put his mug in the sink.He stood there for a moment, his hands braced on either side of the sink, deciding what his next move would be. Finally he strode back through the living room and into his bedroom, shutting the door firmly behind him.He wished there was a lock, but what would be the point? The door was only wood; if the vampire wanted in, he could get in.
He checked one last time to make sure his gun was loaded and under his pillow. One in the chamber. Ready.
It took him a long time to fall asleep that night.