It was during the Second World War that the existence of vampires first entered mainstream awareness. A young army private, dirty and disheveled in the blood-soaked aftermath of the Normandy invasion, was photographed biting the neck of his dying comrade. It turned out the private was a vampire, and rather than allow his friends to perish in the forsaken sand he opted to turn as many as he could possibly manage before succumbing to his own grievous wounds.
The propaganda press in the allied nations lauded the action as an example of unerring bravery and compassion, and for a time public opinion seemed almost welcoming to the idea of vampires in their midst. Why not, when there existed a creature that could save their battle-worn sons from death? A number of vampires in the allied forces revealed themselves openly, and they were swiftly greeted as valuable assets and heroes. Vampires possessed faster reflexes, greater strength, and keener senses than most humans, and soon vampire-only platoons were wading into the most dangerous fighting in Europe.
After victory was declared in both Europe and the Pacific, public sentiment quickly changed for the worse. Known vampires returning home after the war were openly derided as monstrosities and perversions of humanity by traditionalist associations. Vampires were shunned and murdered out of fear they would wantonly devour or seduce the innocent.
Hundreds of years of mythological prejudice collided violently with reality; demonstrations and riots choked peaceful urban streets, and angry citizens called on the various governments of the free world to isolate them from the remainder of society. They decried vampires as communists, or child predators, or unacceptable dangers to any community in which they lived. The only real problem was recognizing them amongst normal humans - when their fangs were retracted, vampires looked identical to everyone else.
Things changed in the seventies when vampire rights became all the rage. Once the general population overcame their primordial fears, they exhibited a deep fascination with the species. Vampires were not undead, medical professionals explained in television interviews and magazine articles. They were simply a separate, if parasitic, variety of human that deserved the same basic rights as anyone else. Extra-sensitive to sunlight, yes, and violently allergic to silver, but not the monsters that folklore made them out to be.
Few vampires required enough life-sustaining blood from a single person at any given feeding session to kill them outright. They exhibited extraordinarily long life spans (well into the six hundred year range) and proved difficult to kill by traditional means, but when correct methods were applied they were as mortal as anyone else. Doctors tidily reduced vampirism to a mere medical condition, and one that could be managed quite successfully at that.
Governments soon passed laws regulating vampirism. Blood banks transformed into corporations overnight, harvesting blood for cash and selling it in established marketplaces. An illegal trade of alcohol and drug-imbued blood became a common scourge of the streets alongside the cocaine and heroin dealers.
Turning regular humans was strictly regulated as well; a clan that wished to expand endured a lengthy interview and adoption process amongst the terminally ill who wished to be transformed. Illegal turning or turning against someone's will was punishable by severe penalties. A delicate harmony emerged between the two species, neither one openly attempting to destroy the other. They coexisted in a distant, if wary, truce.
Most of the older families of Britain quietly revealed themselves as long-standing vampire clans. Vampire society, though a common target of wide speculation, remained shrouded in intense secrecy. The old guard of vampire leadership chose to maintain the customs of the past, even as rumors swirled endlessly about what they did behind closed doors.
Some humans still regarded them with fear and apprehension, declaring them devil-worshippers or practitioners of magic. No one quite knew for sure. Vampires went to great lengths to avoid unnecessary contact with humans, usually spending their lives within the confines of their clan households. Some of the younger ones, however, opted to venture amongst the humans and build a life of their own.
And so, it hadn't come as much of a shock when, one month into their flatshare, Sherlock revealed to John that both he and his brother Mycroft were vampires.
John took it in stride, considering that he had been unknowingly living with an imbiber of human blood. More than anything, it was reassuring; at least there was a reasonable explanation for Sherlock's atrocious lack of eating or sleeping regularly.
When questioned why Sherlock hadn't told him straight off, the detective admitted that he had wanted to wait until he knew for sure that John was trustworthy. Too many people were still prejudiced against vampires. John felt pleased at that, knowing he had been elevated to a rank known only by a select few in Sherlock's life. Lestrade and Mrs. Hudson knew as well, apparently, making it a rather small club, indeed.
Life barely changed after the revelation. Store-bought bags of blood now chilled in their refrigerator next to the various fingers and other body parts. John experienced one brief moment of alarm that the human bits weren't being used for strictly scientific purposes, but Sherlock was quick to assure him that dead humans were just as unappetizing to vampires as anyone else. Sherlock's lack of sleep no longer bothered John, as it seemed vampires required as little as two or three hours' rest in a forty-eight hour period. They continued solving murders and other mysteries much as they had before. John never spent much time musing on Sherlock's status.
In fact, the only drastic change occurred almost a year and a half into their association when, after a lengthy and overly-dramatic process, John finally surrendered to the natural progression of his relationship with Sherlock.
Getting there wasn’t easy. Things advanced in fits and starts, despite John's self-imposed denial regarding the matter.
The first hint that something might be off arose when John noticed that he often preferred spending time with Sherlock rather than the women he was dating. The women were, to be fair, often funny and smart and quite easy on the eyes. But, whenever a text from Sherlock chimed on his phone – at abnormal and inconvenient hours, usually – asking for John’s accompaniment in some hazardous errand, a thrill of excitement shot up his spine and he was out the door in minutes.
After his fifth forgotten date (thanks to a rather complex array of serial murders that lit Sherlock with unprecedented excitement, so of course John couldn’t miss out on it) and the realization that he’d been dumped three times in as many weeks, the issue forced itself and John could no longer pretend he wasn’t biased towards his flatmate. It was easy enough to dismiss as an addiction to adrenaline and risky behavior, though, or simply a normal symptom of a close friendship. His dating life slowed, if only to save himself the extra headache of apologizing for his oversights on an almost daily basis.
Then it was the subtler things: the extra unnecessary second of eye contact that sent an odd sensation through John’s body, how every casual brush stood out like a beacon for his attention, or the way they unthinkingly leaned toward or hovered near one another. John rationalized it away as tiredness or overexcitement, although the incidents happened with disturbing and increasing frequency.
Another milestone emerged the night John preemptively shot a suspect in the leg simply because he hinted at a desire to harm Sherlock. Scotland Yard undoubtedly knew exactly who had caused the man's injury, although Lestrade had done an exemplary job of keeping things quiet. Afterward, John spent an uneasy half hour pacing between the patrol cars trying to decipher why the man’s empty threats had flustered him so badly. He reluctantly concluded it was indisputable evidence of a growing protectiveness he felt toward Sherlock, an instinct proven to be disconcertingly powerful. One that he obviously needed to get under control, as well, or else he would end up shooting half their acquaintances.
It didn't help that most people they met automatically assumed they were already a couple. The outside pressure created a knee-jerk defensiveness in John and significantly delayed any sort of useful self-reflection. His responses became a rote script, ready for recitation at a second’s notice. He brushed off the insinuations as water droplets from his coat, carefully rejecting the idea as preposterous.
But when John was alone with Sherlock, during slow moments in cases as they wandered through London or late evenings in 221B, the lingering tension between them itched in the back of his mind. It was an unspoken magnetism buried by soft glances and diverting humor. A distance never breached, but ever-present and unsettling as a cliff edge underneath John's feet. On some evenings Sherlock would watch him with those impossibly pale eyes, mouth curving downward into a calculating frown as if John were the living embodiment of a baffling chemistry problem. He looked as if he was about to say something, the room stifled by an air of anticipation desperate to be broken by his words.
He never said anything, in those moments. John guessed that whatever was waiting to come out would have been a surprise to them both.
The truth of John’s feelings toward Sherlock fell into place like a cascading row of dominoes. He caught himself staring at the detective’s hands as he delicately poured caustic liquids between beakers for use in his experiments. At crime scenes, John was consistently distracted by the graceful lines of Sherlock in his great coat as he berated witnesses and policemen alike. After several weeks of lost sleep and anxious over-analysis, John mentally acknowledged his attraction to his flatmate. It took a bit longer before he was ready to actively re-examine his sexual identity.
The night he finally knew - really knew - was due, in part, to the failure of the detectives of Scotland Yard. That evening, Lestrade had called them to the scene of a suspected gang-related murder.
Sherlock had run off ahead by himself, as he was wont to do when overly excited, leaving John behind with Lestrade. Not feeling up to wandering the dark streets in the slim hope that he would happen across the maniac detective, John waited at the scene of the crime while the forensics crew and patrol officers slowly caught up with Sherlock's lightning-quick train of deduction. A dozen unanswered texts and an hour later, they realized he had headed to the wharf several streets away.
John was remarking to Lestrade that he hoped Sherlock wouldn't contract another bout of hypothermia by falling into the river again when the D.I.'s radio crackled to life. What followed was the worst thing John could ever recall hearing in his life.
"Suspects apprehended..." an officer reported through a garbled electronic whine punctuated by choppy static. "Requesting ambulance for two casualties. One officer with minor facial lacerations. Civilian resource reported deceased."
Numbness crept through John as he and Lestrade stared at one another. Sherlock was a vampire, and wounds that would kill normal humans were most often nonfatal to his kind. Surely, it looked worse than it appeared?
"Repeat that, please. Are you sure civilian is deceased?" Lestrade asked into the radio.
"Without a doubt, sir," the officer replied. "Caught a silver knife through the heart. Did you know he was a vampire?"
With that confirmation, John’s world fractured. Impossibly so.
The race to the scene was a blur as Lestrade drove, all the while attempting to console John with vacant words.
It was useless. John had seen friends and fellow soldiers killed in front of him in Afghanistan. He'd seen his own family break apart from substance abuse. In comparison, those events were trifling matters. Without realizing it, a single improbable person had become the stabilizing force of his universe. He didn’t cry, or even shout, but sat in silent quivering fear as the weight of it tried fruitlessly to sink in. It was the longest and most terrifying drive of his life.
So, naturally, John was shocked beyond imagining to find Sherlock alive and watching the clean-up of the scene with impassive boredom when they arrived at the riverside. A younger officer had misreported the identities of the casualties. The dead person was, in fact, a vampire - but they were simply a civilian that wandered too close to the standoff. The only similar feature was his long coat.
Still, John's earlier panic was slow to recede. He checked Sherlock for injury with tense efficiency, brushing along his body while the detective stood, mystified, in impatient compliance. Once convinced that the vampire was sufficiently unharmed, John sat on the curb next to him, shaking from relief.
"What's the matter?" Sherlock asked, brow creasing in rare concern.
John stared back with what was surely a traumatized expression. He was riding high on the fear of the moment, utter terror fresh in his veins. It was crystal clear. There was only one diagnosis. Amidst the flashing emergency lights and criminal corpses cooling nearby, John finally accepted what was happening to him.
"I'm in love with you," he told Sherlock with awed revelation. The words were strangely easy, like slipping on a well-worn pair of gloves.
Sherlock watched him motionlessly for a long moment, uncertain how to react. He narrowed his eyes as if trying to deduce what manner of alien creature sat before him. He then blinked a few times, gaze shifting subtly as he intensely studied John's face. And then, to John's infinite surprise, Sherlock took his hand.
"I love you, as well, John," Sherlock replied in a brittle voice, low and achingly honest.
They said no more, only sitting and waiting for Scotland Yard to wrap up the scene. The avoidance was tense and slightly awkward for the next hour as they answered questions for Lestrade’s team. Sherlock barely looked at him, and John began to wonder whether he had imagined the entire exchange.
Soon, though, the adrenaline faded and the surreal scene gave way to the privacy of their flat. Sherlock quickly made it very clear that John hadn't been hallucinating. Admittedly, being shoved against the wall and desperately kissed by the only consulting detective in the world wasn't the worst way to end such a stressful evening.
Surprisingly, it was Sherlock's idea that they attempt a formal relationship. John suspected Sherlock simply saw it as a way to secure exclusive access and prevent him from dating anyone else. He was remarkably adamant, though, and it only required two days of hesitant introspection before John agreed to move forward.
It was slow, and new, and John was more than happy to take all the time in world, if need be. Sherlock held some alarmingly antiquated notions about relationships, which required several patient discussions to head off any potentially disastrous temptations to turn to the internet for advice.
Sherlock seemed unsure yet pleased with John's initial tentative tries at physical affection during their first week. John was mindful to slowly increase his overtures to help Sherlock adjust to the change in their relationship. He didn’t seem to quite know what was allowed, now. After a few days, Sherlock felt comfortable enough to initiate his own hugs and grabs. Every time the detective sought him out, a small thrill of affection warmed John's chest.
John waited for that feeling of regret to surface: the one he'd often felt after asking a woman out and realizing the fiction in his head was far more alluring than actually dating her. But there was none of that. No mental warning flags, no wishing to go back to the way things had been. On the contrary - everything seemed right, for once.
It was, quite simply, the best thing that had ever happened to him.
Even then, John never thought about the ramifications of Sherlock's vampirism until, one week into their relationship, he informed a very unsurprised Lestrade of their new status and received a mild joke about Sherlock probably wanting to drink his blood now.
During the entire cab ride back to the flat, as Sherlock ranted about the appalling procedures used by the Yard, John dwelled on the potential vampirism problem. Would Sherlock want to drink his blood? How old was Sherlock, anyway? They never really discussed his state after that first initial conversation. John never saw him interact with other vampires besides Mycroft, and he suspected Sherlock was either purposefully uninvolved or on poor terms with the rest of the vampire community. Both, probably.
Upon entering their flat, John shed his coat and sank heavily onto the couch. He watched Sherlock pace between their armchairs, still on a high from the day's events.
"Sherlock," John said finally, trying to gain his attention. "I think we should talk."
"-but obviously it was the wrong brand of sanitizer! I have no idea what the forensics team was thinking," Sherlock concluded, waving his arms to emphasize the point. He paused a moment, then snapped his head towards John. "Did you say something?"
"Yes, I said I think we should talk," John reiterated. "About... um. Well. About your vampirism."
Even to John's ears, it sounded bad. As if he was asking after some intensely private chronic illness. Sherlock shifted, growing defensive. "What about it? Are you upset by it now, John?"
"No, it's fine. I just think we should clarify a few things. I have some questions."
The detective paced a few more steps, frowning. Was it rude to ask about this sort of thing? John had no idea what vampire etiquette might entail. Sherlock certainly never seemed eager to discuss it.
"For one, how old are you?" John began. "You're not actually in your thirties, yeah?"
Sherlock sat down in his armchair. "One hundred and fifty-seven."
God, and John still thought of himself as the adult in the room. His eyebrows rose in shock as he attempted to absorb the fact that he was involved with someone more than one hundred and twenty years older than himself. If that wasn't cradle-robbing, he didn't know what qualified.
"And... how did you turn, exactly?"
"I don't see how that's relevant," Sherlock retorted dismissively, folding his arms.
"Don't start that," John said in a warning tone. "It's important to me to know these things. If you don't want to talk about it, fine, but don't belittle its relevance."
"Then I don't want to talk about it."
"Fine. Good." John wrapped a hand uncomfortably over the side of the couch, flexing it automatically.
Sherlock narrowed his eyes. "There's more you want to ask, John. Don't think I can't see it there. Lurking."
John wasn't sure what would and wouldn't be offensive to Sherlock's vampire sensibilities. Then he remembered that Sherlock didn't even bother submitting himself to human sensibilities.
"Spit it out. You're thinking far too strenuously," Sherlock complained.
"It's just something Lestrade mentioned in passing. I wasn't sure... um. I don't know how vampire relationships are supposed to work, so if there's anything you think might be relevant... that would be helpful. I think."
Sherlock nodded as if he understood. "You're concerned about the blood thing."
"Yeah. The 'blood thing'." John scratched the back of his head. "Do you ever drink directly from humans?"
"If I wanted fresh human blood, I only need go to one of those disturbing fetish clubs. But I don't particularly enjoy feeding from strangers. I tried enough of that back in the old days."
"So, you don't. Anymore."
"Why are you asking, John? Would that constitute a form of cheating?"
"I suppose. No. Maybe, though." He raised his eyebrows inquisitively. "If you wanted fresh blood, would you want mine?"
Sherlock looked askance at him, surprise in his features. "You would allow that?"
"Would it be meaningful?"
Setting his jaw, Sherlock's eyes focused in a way that John had only seen just prior to feeding from one of his blood bags in the evening. "Yes, John, that would be very meaningful. Human-vampire relationships are more widespread now than in the past, of course, but I can see why it is not common knowledge. If consensual, feeding is considered a very intimate act and one of great trust. I hadn't anticipated mentioning it for several more weeks, at least."
John nodded slowly. They hadn't had sex yet. They hadn't even spent the night in the same bed. John knew Sherlock was rather unused to that sort of thing, and he himself was still adjusting to his newfound bisexuality. Truth be told, he had been fretting about how to progress with this side of their relationship beyond basic physical touching. Feeding seemed like a relatively safe first step in that direction.
John smiled. "Well. If you wanted to, then that's fine. I think I might be interested."
Sherlock stood in one smooth motion. John still didn't know whether that was a vampiric trait, or if Sherlock was simply that elegant. Mycroft never moved that way, but, then again, Mycroft rarely moved more than was absolutely necessary. If it was inherently vampiric, John could certainly understand the old wives' tales of vampires as seductive demons of the night.
He drew closer, and God, his eyes were intense. John identified it, with a minor amount of apprehension, as the laser focus of a predator approaching its targeted prey. He straightened against the back of the couch.
Sherlock stepped over the coffee table and proceeded to fluidly move into a straddling position on John's lap. His eyes were still unnaturally alert as he leaned inward, one hand caressing the side of John's neck. Their gazes met and Sherlock slid his other hand to the button at the top of John's shirt. At his touch, a prickling wave of interest washed through John, creeping heat developing in his lower abdomen.
Clearly enjoying the effect he was having on John, Sherlock smiled widely and provided a decent glimpse of his descended canines. Nothing John hadn't seen before, as a doctor, but somehow they seemed particularly long and sharp with the knowledge that they would soon be impaled in his neck.
"Relax," Sherlock told him in a low voice. John cleared his throat.
He felt the collar of his shirt pulled lower for ease of access. Sherlock's head bent inward, sniffing lightly above the densely-packed veins and arteries concealed by the skin of his neck.
"I can sense your heartbeat," Sherlock said slowly, close to his ear as if sharing a secret. He moved a hand to the other side of John's jaw, keeping his head still. “Don’t move.”
John shifted slightly under the intimate weight of Sherlock on his lap, ignoring the spreading tingle in his body and rising heart rate. Christ, if Sherlock kept on as he was, this might end in more than just feeding…
Sherlock's cool breath was on his neck. Two sharp points of pressure formed over his jugular, gradually increasing in intensity. Finally, John felt his skin break under Sherlock's fangs. His mouth closed in.
Suddenly, the fangs vanished as Sherlock pulled back in a movement far too rapid for any human. He whipped his head aside and violently spat the tiny amount of blood he’d drawn towards the floor in flecks of red. Sherlock turned back to John, expression completely aghast.
The abrupt reaction had shocked John, and he returned the stare. "What was that?"
"John," Sherlock said, horrified.
"What, is my blood not good enough?" He'd never seen a vampire react that way to blood and, frankly, he was a little insulted. John put a hand to his neck to test for bleeding. There was none, as expected. Vampire saliva contained a very strong coagulant.
Sherlock crawled off John's lap, settling adjacent to him on the couch. His previously seductive body language was replaced by cold, stiff movements.
"Are you going to tell me what happened?" John asked.
"This is very, very important, John," Sherlock said, deadly serious. "Were you ill while in Afghanistan, ever?"
"Yeah, sure, yeah. Loads of the soldiers were, at one point or another. What's wrong with my blood?"
"I need you to think of specific incidents, and how you might have become sick."
John considered it for a moment. "I contracted malaria, about a year before I was shot. Not entirely common in that region, but we were camped at an outpost near some rather questionable water sources. Mosquitoes there probably got me."
Sherlock watched him with a strange intensity. "John, your blood is poisonous to my kind. You're fine, you're healthy, but I can't drink it."
"That seems... odd." John found himself feeling unaccountably disappointed.
"Yes, it is. It's very odd. This happens to very few people, but your natural resistances were augmented by your illness in Afghanistan. If it even was malaria. Which it probably was not."
"So what do we do?"
"Nothing. We do nothing," Sherlock replied in an uncharacteristically strained tone. "I won't be feeding from you, but otherwise everything is fine."