rubberbutton: sherlock (pretty!sherlock)
[personal profile] rubberbutton
Title: A Priori
Rating: R
Words: 7,000
Notes: Thanks so much to kaazei, strzyga and sasskitten for their excellent beta and/or Brit-picking skills. As for remaining errors, you know who to blame.
Summary: An AU in which vampires have enslaved humans and control, well, everything. Vampire!Mycroft insists his little brother get a slave -- even though it didn't work out with the dog -- and Sherlock chooses the one guaranteed to irritate his brother the most: an unassuming little doctor with an ugly past and absolutely no style to speak of.

I.

John shifts his weight from foot to foot; he's been standing since the fair began at sunset and his feet are beginning to hurt.

“Stop that,” his handler says in a bored tone, flipping through a magazine. She has an electric prod on her belt, but he hasn't seen her use it. She really has no reason to; her charges are all skilled slaves destined for decent placements and disinclined to risk being sent to the rendering plant. “And put on a smile, would you?”

John stops fidgeting, but refuses to try for a more cheerful expression. The handler shrugs; she doesn't work on commission and so doesn't care whether he fetches a good price or not.

Traffic is picking up in the hall, and vampires stroll through in ones and twos, looking over the rows of slaves standing against the walls. A few of the more select slaves – great beauties, skilled artists – will go to auction, but most of the slaves here are sold on the spot after a little understated haggling.

“Come now, Sherlock, you must see something you like,” a loud voice says to John's right, catching his attention. A sharp-nosed vampire is using an umbrella to indicate the long line of slaves. Another vampire, presumably Sherlock, trails after him, tall, pale and wearing an extremely sullen expression. “You mustn't be so picky. You spend too much time alone. You ought to have some kind of companionship.”

“I had the dog and that didn't work out well,” the Sherlock says. They're almost to John now. He knows he shouldn't stare, but curiosity overrides his sense of self-preservation.

“Yes, that poor thing. But you've come so far since then; I think the responsibility will be good for you. So stop your whinging.”

“What about this one?” Sherlock says, pointing at John. For a long moment pale eyes hold John's, sending a shiver down his spine. The handler gives him a sharp poke and he obediently drops his gaze to the floor.

“Good evening, lords,” his handler says, the obsequious note in her voice surprising John. She must know something about these two that he doesn't; not that he's up on vampire politics. “You've a good eye. This one's not much to look at but he's got a wonderful disposition. Clever boy, too.”

The one with the umbrella takes out a scanner and John holds out his left hand, palm down, so the microchip implanted under the skin of his wrist can be read.

“Hmm,” the vampire says, studying the scanner screen when the file pops up. “I don't know why you'd need a slave with a medical training. If you had a houseful of humans, that would be one thing, but I don't want to pay extra for an educated slave if you're never going to need one.”

“You can afford it,” Sherlock says and leans in to examine John. It takes all of John's self-control not to pull away.

“That's not the point,” says the first vampire. “Besides which, he's knocking on a bit, isn't he?”

“You'll be wanting a bit of maturity for a starter slave, though,” the handler says. “Much calmer. He won't give you any trouble, this one.”

“Why's he being sold?” Sherlock asks. John keeps his focus on the middle-distance, even as he can feel the vampire's breath on his cheek.

“His current owner doesn't want to sell him, but there's been restructuring at the hospital he belongs to and they just can't keep him.”

Sherlock, who has John's hand and has been inspecting the nails, looks up. “Do you really expect anyone to believe that?”

“I–” the handler says, taken aback.

“It's clear he's suffered abuse.” Sherlock straightens and gives John the once over. “The scars speak for themselves. Here on the arms and just visible at the base of the neck: bite marks that should have faded long ago if the vampire who gave them to him had taken least amount of care. They'd all be hidden under the hospital uniform, though – so not the hospital administrator, probably one of the overseers who wouldn't want the boss to think company property was being misused.

“More interesting are the scars on his knuckles. He got in at least a few good shots himself; this deepest one is from where his fist connected with someone's fangs.” Sherlock takes John's hand again, pointing out the white scar tissue to the other vampires. The hair on the back of John's neck stands up. He hadn't been able to use the hand for a month while he healed. “Why take a shot at all? He knew he couldn't win and that the punishment would be severe. His record states he belonged to the hospital for over a decade, but all the fighting scars are less than a year old.”

“Perhaps it took years of abuse before he finally cracked,” the other vampire suggests.

“He hasn't cracked. Did you see the way he forced himself to calm when I touched him? His self-control is excellent. No, something changed a year ago. He wouldn't fight back for himself, but he would to protect someone else – and he would keep doing it no matter what the cost to him personally. Management couldn't have a rebellious slave, and he's too expensive to just send to the rendering plant. And here we are.” He made a little voilà gesture.

“Sherlock...” says the first vampire in an admonishing tone. “Are the theatrics really necessary?”

“I want him,” Sherlock says. “You promised I could have any slave I wanted and I want this one.”

“Are you sure?” the elder vampire says, flipping through the programme. “Oh look – they've got a ballerina, fresh from Prague. She would be lovely.”

“What would I want with a ballerina?”

“Something more aesthetically pleasing then? A pretty young thing always brightens up a room–”

“This one,” Sherlock says stubbornly.

The other vampire sighs very heavily. “As you wish.” He turns to the handler, who already has the contract brought up on the screen. “But I'm not paying full price; he's damaged goods.”

–-

They leave the fair immediately after the deed of ownership is transferred. His new owner's name is Sherlock Holmes, younger brother of Mycroft Holmes – and that name John recognises as a member of parliament and a personal advisor to the queen.

He sits as still as he can on the ride to his new home. It's strange to think of living in a private residence, rather than the hospital's dormitories. The vampires ignore him entirely, alternately bickering with each other and furiously texting.

Sherlock lives by himself in a townhouse in central London. He's out of the car and up the front steps before Mycroft has even got the car door open.

“I'll just see you settled then, shall I?” Mycroft says, the first time he's addressed John directly. He smiles in a way that puts his fangs on clear display.

John dutifully follows him up the stairs and over the threshold. Sherlock is nowhere to be seen. The interior is grand but badly in need of tidying, cobwebs hang in the corners and every horizontal surface is covered in bits and unidentifiable bobs. There is a stuffed fox mouldering on the steps up to the second floor.

“The place could do with a good cleaning. Sherlock has a very independent streak, but sometimes the more mundane details escape him. Which is where you come in, of course.”

John nods, careful not to meet Mycroft's eyes. He hasn't been asked a direct question, so he doesn't say anything.

“Keep track of the details. And also, I may now and again have questions about my brother – his habits and interests, things of that nature. You may include any other information as you see fit.” Mycroft pauses for what John thinks is dramatic effect. “You won't be trouble, will you, John? Because you may have been trouble in the past, but you will not be trouble here. Understood?”

“Yes, sir,” John says.

“Good!” Mycroft says brightly. “Then I'm off. Have a good night, Sherlock!” he adds loudly enough that Sherlock will hear wherever he is in the house. “Oh and I'll have some clothes sent over for you.”

John glances down at the thin grey shirt and drawstring trousers that had been his uniform at the hospital. Mycroft hoists his umbrella in a salute and is gone.

II.

For a week, John barely sees Sherlock, who leaves the house as soon as the sun sets and doesn't return until dawn, at which point he shuts himself in his room. John can hear him moving around, ranting to himself, with an occasional thump of a thrown book or knickknack for punctuation. He says nothing to John, except on the occasion when John bins a collection of dead things in shoeboxes, which turn out to be an experiment of Sherlock's.

The vampire's rage is ferocious, and John feels oddly relieved as Sherlock closes in on him. He's been waiting for things to go pear-shaped. But Sherlock doesn't hurt him, merely calls him a moron and threatens to chuck him out on the street.

He spends the rest of the night slamming doors and pouring a litre of bank-blood on John's freshly scrubbed kitchen floor.

–-

The clothes Mycroft had promised arrive in elaborate boxes and garment bags. Everything fits, but John doesn't feel at all comfortable in the fashionable clothing; all of the shirts require complicated cufflinks.

Sherlock takes one look at him in a shirt that is a blueish-purplish colour with a stiff white collar and says, “Mycroft?”

“Uh, yeah.” John tugs at a cuff.

“You look ridiculous.”

“I know.”

“Take my card; get anything you like off the internet.” Sherlock begins sorting through the parcels, wrinkling his nose. He pulls out a light blue box tied with white ribbon, flat and about the size of a dinner plate. He yanks the ribbon off and opens the box. A circlet of dark brown leather lies on velvet, wide as his thumb, with a silver simple clasp. There is a matching silver key. Sherlock snorts and tosses the box back onto the table. “He's such a traditionalist.”

“D'you want me to … um,” John says, suppressing a shudder. He's been collared before.

“If you want to,” Sherlock says. “I could care less.”

So John orders a number of sensible jumpers online and packs up the things Mycroft had sent, carefully tying the box back up and stashing the collar at the bottom of his dresser.

–-

Sherlock has his feet up on the coffee table, a book in his lap.

“John,” he says, as John stands in the hallway, out of his line of sight. “Come here.” Something about his tone makes John's gut clench in fear. Still, he makes himself move, one foot in front of the other until he stands just behind the sofa.

“Yes?”

Sherlock turns a page. “Do you have a preference?” He makes a vague gesture and it takes John a moment to interpret it.

“Right arm,” John says when he has, his mouth very dry.

“Yes, of course; your non-dominant arm.” Sherlock slings an arm over the sofa and makes a little beckoning gesture. John puts his wrist in Sherlock's hand and steps closer, until he's pressed against the back of the sofa. Sherlock gives a little tug on John's arm, positioning him, and pushes up the sleeve of John's jumper. For a moment he just inhales. “B negative?”

“Yeah,” John says, taking deep, steady breaths. He focuses on the patterned wallpaper, which seems to swim just a bit before his eyes.

Sherlock licks a patch of skin midway between wrist and elbow and then bites, lapping at the welling blood absently as he turned another page of his book, something about architecture; John can make out a great many diagrams of load-bearing structures.

It isn't bad.

Vampire saliva has analgesic and antiseptic properties, and can have an almost narcotic effect on humans. A vampire can make it … enjoyable, if they want to. It makes feeding so much easier if dinner doesn't put up a fight, John supposes. Of course, there are some vampires who prefer it when their prey struggles.

Sherlock is finished quickly, one last neat lick and he releases John's wrist; he's taken no more than a few spoonfuls of blood. John doesn't even feel light-headed.

“Too much and I can't think clearly,” Sherlock says, in response to John's unasked question. “Which is Mycroft's problem, if you ask me.”

“Ah,” John says, pressing his fingers to the two small cuts. The bleeding's stopped already; he won't even need a bandage.

“Make some tea, will you?” Sherlock says in a way that is clearly a dismissal.

John goes to put the kettle on.


III.

They fall into a routine of sorts. When Sherlock is out on business, John tidies, learning to differentiate between rubbish and experiments. When Sherlock is in, John keeps him company as he pursues his research. John never feels like he contributes much to their discussions, but that doesn't seem to bother Sherlock. He has John make tea or heat a packet of processed bank-blood, which he has with a bonemeal biscuit.

Sherlock begins taking John along with him when he's working on a case. John realises it's because he likes an audience, rather than because he genuinely requires help, but it's more interesting than dusting. Perhaps a bit more interesting than he'd like – they seem to end up on the wrong end of a gun more often than not.

Sherlock feeds on John, but not much and not often, usually preferring the packets of blood John picks up from the bloodgrocer twice a week. The habit surprises John. Most vampires prefer fresh blood and keep stables of humans to ensure they get it, only turning to the packaged stuff when humans are unavailable or depleted.

–-

“Does it taste different?” John asks, pouring a packet of bank-blood into the double boiler. “Than fresh, I mean.”

“Hm? Oh, yes,” Sherlock says blinking up from his microscope which is set up on the kitchen table. “Well, it's not the taste so much, if the temperature is right. Thirty-seven degrees precisely this time, please, if you don't mind.” John gets out the candy thermometer and hangs it over the edge of the pot. “The real difference is the connection.” He motions to his own head with the splayed fingers of both hands. “It's too noisy up here as it is. I can't stand hearing other people think; it's bad enough hearing them speak.”

John stops stirring. “What?”

“Once the blood is rendered, it no longer has the psychic imprint. It's better straight from the source, but then it makes me foggy and I can't think straight. And I must be able to think straight, John.”

“Vampires can hear their donor's thoughts?”

“Not all vampires, obviously. It's a family trait. A damn nuisance, too.” Sherlock shudders a little. “Like ringing in your ears.”

“You can hear what I'm thinking?” John's voice hits a shrill panicked note.

“I always know what you're thinking; I don't need to read your mind. You've no gift for dissembling. Like now, for example, your horror and anger are written all over your face.” Sherlock sighs in irritation. “It's not as though I've been doing it intentionally. Really, I'm the injured party.”

John takes a breath, schooling his features into a neutral mask. The blood has reached the required temperature and he takes it off the heat, pouring it into an over-sized mug. He sets it before Sherlock, so hard he nearly spills it.

Sherlock ignores it, and John kicks himself. The last thing he wants is to send Sherlock into one of his moods.

“You've no right be angry,” Sherlock says.

“I'm not angry,” John says, and it's true. The bright flash of anger has already subsided, leaving him feeling nothing more than tired.

“What do you want?!” Sherlock cries in frustration. “Most vampires don't concern themselves with their slaves' wishes, you know.”

John shrugs, crossing his arms. “In future, I will be more mindful of my place.”

Sherlock is watching him very closely, his eyes sharp and pale.

“Reading my mind?” John asks.

“I can't,” Sherlock says. “It's been too long. And I never take enough to do it well, in any case. Not without taking more.”

John swallows, his throat dry and scratchy. “Have you ever wanted to?”

Sherlock is quiet long enough that John wonders if he's lying when he finally says, “No.”

John turns on his heels and marches out of the kitchen, half expecting to be grabbed before he can reach the door, but he makes it to his room unmolested.

–-

Once or twice a month, Mycroft visits. John comes to dread these occasions as they always put Sherlock in a foul mood.

“Really, you can't imagine what a nightmare work has been lately. Just last month Lord Havers was sentenced to death by exposure. He was nearly as old as I am; it took him nearly a week to die. Oh it was pathetic to watch him, wasting away from sunlight poisoning, swearing to the last that he was innocent. Thank you, John,” Mycroft says as John sets the tea service out. It's clear that Sherlock, now draped so far over the arm of his chair that his hair brushes the floor, isn't interested in serving, so John pours the cups of tea – three lumps of sugar for Mycroft. “It's been an absolute zoo. I loathe election decades, I really do.”

“How interesting,” Sherlock says. “Absolutely fascinating.”

Mycroft continues, unfazed. “And if that weren't enough, these human-rights fringe groups are trying to make him into a martyr. A perversion of the natural order and they want to honour him.”

Sherlock yawns, displaying the sharp points of his teeth. John retreats from the room, taking up position in the hallway. Both vampires doubtlessly know he's there, but at least he doesn't have to pretend not to look at them.

“And how have you been getting on? I heard you solved another case.” Mycroft takes up his teacup and sips delicately. “And how is John settling in? The place is looking ever so much better. He's really doing wonders.”

“He helps a great deal with my research.”

“Is that so?” Mycroft says. “I'll have to ask him about it sometime. I'm sure his would be an interesting perspective.”

“I know you've ordered him to spy on me.”

“Spy is such a strong word.”

“But nonetheless, an accurate one.”

“I may have asked him to keep an eye on you. I'm your elder brother, Sherlock. Looking after one's little brother rather goes with the territory.”

“I don't need looking after.”

“Of course not.” The slight creak of the chair is all the warning John gets that Mycroft has risen, and John just manages to duck into the drawing room before Mycroft steps into the hall. “I must away; I have another appointment.”

“Always,” Sherlock says, not bothering to see his brother out.

“And do tell John I haven't forgot that I owe him a chat.”

–-

The Times is delivered just before sunset every day. Sherlock never reads them, preferring tabloids and scientific journals; they collect on the table in the foyer, occasionally spilling onto the floor in small avalanches. John recycles them, and the headlines on the newest edition catch his eye:

Havers Executed in Wake of Human Relations Scandal,
Lord Holmes urges tightening of regulations

John sweeps it into the bin with the others.
 
On to Part Two
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