John couldn't believe his ears. What the hell was Sherlock doing? Only two days ago the vampire had vowed that he'd never try to change a human, as there was no guarantee that the result wouldn't be disastrous. Was he merely stringing Moran along? Playing with a dying man's desperation in order to cultivate an escape opportunity?
Sherlock kept talking.
"Even if Moriarty does change you, you won't be like me. He would never create a vampire with enough intelligence and residual humanity to potentially turn on him. John told you the truth: you'll exist only to kill, and murder more people than you ever healed as a doctor. And since you don't fit the profile of a casebook psychopath, that outcome must trouble you. I'm offering you an alternative."
Moran cast an uneasy glance over his shoulder at the two vampires hovering in the doorway. Sherlock made an impatient gesture.
"They can't understand us but they will become curious any minute now, so be quick. What's your answer?"
A loud growling cut him off. The guards were standing at attention, misshapen heads cocked and nostrils consuming the air like hunters scenting prey. John and Lestrade stepped back while Moran paled so much that his facial cuts and bruises stood out even more.
"You're fucking sure they didn't understand us?" he hissed.
"Yes," Sherlock snapped. "Something's happening. I hear a commotion."
John didn't hear anything, so he watched with trepidation as Sherlock tilted his head and inhaled deeply through his nose. When his face fell, John demanded, "What is it?"
"Molly and Sally are now here."
John's heart sank. "Jesus Christ. Are they- are they all right?"
"I can't smell much blood. But Molly might have a cracked rib: her breathing sounds-"
Before he could finish, one of the guards lunged into the room and grabbed Moran's arm. It barked something into the bewildered doctor's face before dragging him out into the hallway. The door slammed shut so violently that John felt the impact in his gut like a physical blow.
"They need him to see to the new arrivals," Sherlock said grimly.
"Bloody hell." Lestrade wiped his forehead. His fingers came away dripping. "What the fuck are we going to do?"
Having no answer to that one and preferring not to dwell on it, John faced Sherlock. "Listen, what was that all-"
But Sherlock wasn't paying attention. The vampire was now pacing, hands pressed together from palm to fingertip.
"Even if Moran doesn't accept my proposal, there's still hope. Moriarty wants the entire team here before he carries out his plan, and he doesn't have Mycroft."
"Yet," Lestrade reminded him.
"My brother is annoying, but he's practically untouchable. Mycroft lives and works behind locked doors and surrounds himself with people who carry anti-vampire weaponry. Any initial attempt to seize him will assuredly fail. He'll try to call us as soon as it's over, and when we don't answer our mobiles, he'll go straight to Baker Street, where Mrs. Hudson will tell him that John and I have not returned yet. He'll deduce that we went after Moriarty a day ahead of schedule, and organize a rescue."
"And if Moriarty decides he doesn't want to fanny about and wait for a chink in Mycroft's armour?" Lestrade queried.
"I believe he will. He's been waiting a long time for this insidious little entertainment. Next to me, Mycroft is his most formidable adversary. If both of us aren't present, his victory won't be complete."
"Let's hope you're right." John couldn't hold back any longer. "Sherlock, what the hell was that about? That offer you made to Moran?"
"I thought it was obvious. I was attempting to bargain with him."
"You've never turned anyone before, and you told me that you couldn't predict what your venom might do. So was it just an empty promise to get his cooperation?"
"No. If we make it out of here with his help, I will keep my word."
"What the hell?" John hurried after him and seized his arm, forcing him to halt. "What's the matter with you?"
"I saw a chance and I took it. I'd be foolish not to."
"But you don't have to go through with it afterward," Lestrade protested. "You have no way of controlling what Moran will become."
"No, but I do know that he's dying anyway." Sherlock jerked his arm free. "I prefer to think of this as an experiment. With a willing test subject."
John shook his head. "I can't believe I'm hearing this."
"Don't be hypocritical. You're a doctor: surely you're aware that the medical profession tests new drugs on terminally ill volunteers all the time."
"That's because they're looking for a cure, Sherlock! It's not the same thing at all."
"Isn't it? I understand that some participants experience adverse effects and die in these clinical trials. But it's a risk they embrace as an alternative to a slow death in a hospice bed." The vampire resumed his pacing. "I would rather not do it, but I gave my word."
John willed away the image of Sherlock burying his teeth in Moran's neck. "You said that you never wanted to risk making a man into a monster, no matter how ill they were. You felt so strongly about it that you wouldn't go along with Mycroft's plan to test your venom on dying soldiers. So why the change of heart?"
Sherlock stopped and slowly turned around. "I now have an incentive to assume that kind of risk."
"What are you talking about? What incentive?"
"The other night, you asked me if I'd ever thought about the fact that I'll outlive everyone I know. I believe my response was that such thinking is pointless. I stand by that answer, but there was also the simple fact that I had no one whose loss I'd truly feel." He said the word 'feel' with faint wonder, like he was surprised to find he had such an ability. "That's changed unexpectedly, and now I'm rather interested in discovering if I can create a… conscientious… immortal."
He didn't elaborate on what -or in this case, who- the incentive was. He didn't have to. Even Lestrade clued in immediately: the policeman eyed John with undisguised intrigue.
John's throat tightened. Once again, an initial anger toward Sherlock morphed into gentle affection once the doctor understood the motive behind an apparently callous act.
"Sherlock, I'm sorry if I implied that you were being heartless just now. But this experiment could go seriously wrong."
"I'm well aware. And so is Moran."
"But what if Moran turns into a monster?"
Sherlock's lips tightened. "Then I'll correct my mistake."
Footsteps thudded out in the hallway, cutting the highly charged conversation short. They stopped outside the door, which was unlocked and hurled open. John and Lestrade moved closer to the wall while Sherlock darted in front of them, teeth bared.
Four vampires- all of them female- herded Molly and Sally into the room. Both women were filthy, wore torn pyjamas, and had enough bruises and scrapes to indicate that they hadn't made abduction easy. John noticed with concern that Molly's palm was pressed against her left side, and her breathing was slightly laboured.
When she saw Sherlock, John, and Lestrade, Sally Donovan's eyes bulged. "Fucking hell!" she exclaimed. Rounding on her escorts, she bellowed, "You fucking bitches!"
One of the she-vampires snarled and sent her sprawling; her head would have collided with the concrete wall if John hadn't lunged forward and caught her in time. Undaunted, Sally shrugged him off and rushed at her assailant with both fists flying. This time Lestrade intercepted her. He grabbed her around the middle, immobilising her arms, and dragged her back several feet.
"Stop it, Donovan! Now!"
She stopped struggling but her eyes blazed. "Bloody slags aren't going to bleed me dry without feeling pain for days!"
Molly limped over to Sherlock and John. "What's happening?" She was clearly trying hard to be brave. "Why are we here?"
"Moriarty has made his move," Sherlock said.
"Oh, my God."
John touched her shoulder. "Your rib- it's troubling you?"
She nodded, the pain causing tears to appear. "It's not broken. A bloke –must be a day walker- had a look just now, before we were brought here. Said he was a doctor, and it's just a case of bad bruising."
"He's likely right, but I'll check it in a bit."
Sherlock growled at the vampires, who were watching the reunion with mixed curiosity and contempt. They sneered back before leaving and locking the door behind them.
Lestrade released Sally, who pushed her hair off her face and took several deep breaths. "Why aren't you joining your friends out there, Freak?" she railed at Sherlock. "Are you supposed to be guarding us?"
"Are you blind?" John snapped. "Look at him: he's got more bruises than the rest of us combined."
"Are you telling me he's not part of this?"
Sherlock regarded her with mingled pity and disdain. "Lestrade, how exactly did she merit a promotion to Sergeant? Her deductive ability is somewhere between pathetic and nonexistent."
Sally glowered. "Then how did those bloodsuckers know where to find us? Who told them?"
"Actually, you did," Sherlock said with relish.
"What? You're mad."
"Perhaps, but I'm also correct. Your carelessness is the reason why we're now prisoners awaiting execution."
She turned to Lestrade. "What the hell is he talking about? And why are we here?"
"Perhaps I'd better fill you in," John said. After he finished talking, Sally moaned and buried her face in her hands.
"I wondered what happened to my mobile. Oh, dear God."
Molly was trying to remain calm. "What's this game then? The one Moriarty talked about? Does anyone know?"
"We don't know, and to be honest, we're trying not to think about it," Lestrade said. "We're hoping that Mycroft will get here first."
"Nothing's certain, but we may also have inside help soon. Moriarty's grooming someone to be his new day walker. That doctor bloke who assessed all of us, actually." John told the two women about Moran, omitting Sherlock's offer for obvious reasons. "If we can convince Moran that Moriarty has no intention of making him into anything but dinner, he might help us."
"And why would he run a risk like that?" Sally countered. "It sounds like he's desperate. He doesn't want to die from cancer, so he's going to be deaf to any suggestions that Moriarty isn't some fucking vampire version of a fairy godmother."
Sherlock stopped. "They're coming back," he reported, striding toward the door.
John felt his stomach go into knots. "God, don't tell me Mycroft has been-"
"No. He's not with them." The vampire clenched his fists. "But Moriarty is. And Moran."
The door opened yet again. This time a heavy squad –eight vampires- entered the room. Four of them surrounded Sherlock, two more backed the human prisoners against the wall, and the remaining two took up sentry positions on either side of the door frame. Once everyone was in position, Moriarty glided into the room, followed by Moran, who was carrying a black leather doctor's bag.
Mere hours had passed since John had seen the injured Elder, but the amount of healing that had taken place during that time was unbelievable. His skin had lightened from lobster-red to dark pink, and his hair and brows were fully restored. He moved stiffly, hinting that beneath his black silk pyjamas, muscle regeneration was still a work in progress.
"I rarely miscalculate," he announced, "but I must now admit to a serious oversight. I assumed that once Sherlock was my guest, the Holmes threat would be contained, and all I had to worry about was making a delightful mess afterward." He smiled, but his eyes glittered with barely-contained fury. "Your brother rudely declined my hospitality an hour ago, Sherlock. Three of my children were murdered, and the one who made it back here died before we could heal her."
Sherlock rolled his eyes. "You actually sound like you care."
"Okay, so I don't." Moriarty groaned dramatically and lifted both hands in a 'you got me' gesture. Moran remained silent, but John noticed that he seemed rattled by that declaration. "Playtime's still on the agenda, boys and girls, but there's going to be a change of venue. I'm informed that Mr. Mycroft Holmes is on his way, and we need to leave this paradise."
"Fuck you," Sally said.
The Elder arched one brow. "You're welcome to stay behind, my dear, but I'm afraid your throat would have to be torn out first."
Moran came out from behind his master. "Please kneel. All of you," he ordered in an unsteady voice.
"Why?" Lestrade demanded.
"Just do it. Please."
John slowly went to his knees. "Do as he says, everyone."
One by one everyone knelt on the grimy floor except for Sherlock, who was seized by three of the vampires surrounding him and held firmly. When the fourth picked up the chains and bar gag from the floor and re-applied them, he did not resist or even react: his eyes were on John, who gave him a smile meant to be reassuring.
Moran went over to Lestrade first. He set the bag down, took out a small case, and opened it. John could see four syringes inside, and guessed that they were sedatives. His theory proved correct when Moran took one out and injected the contents into Lestrade's neck. The policeman's eyes rolled back into his head and he collapsed onto his side. When Moran went to check his pulse, Moriarty made an impatient noise.
"He's not moving or making irritating noises: that's all you need to be concerned about, Sebby. Carry on: we haven't got all night."
"Yes, Jim." Moran moved on to Sally and Molly, laying each of them carefully onto their sides after they went limp. When he approached John, Sherlock growled around the bar wedged between his teeth and Moriarty said, "Wait."
The Elder winked at John before addressing one of his minions. John couldn't understand his words, but Sherlock did, and his response was climactic: he roared and charged at Moriarty, who laughed and made a sweeping gesture. The vampires surrounding Sherlock dragged him to the floor and held him immobile while the one Moriarty had spoken to pulled John to his feet and hustled him over to its master.
"Johnny-boy," the Elder beamed. "I'd like you to fall asleep in my arms, if you don't mind. And if you do, too bad."
Before John could protest, he was whirled around and pressed tightly against Moriarty's chest. He didn't bother to struggle, knowing it was pointless and would only entertain his captors.
"I can see why you fancy this one, Sherlock. He's so delectable: I could hug him until his eyeballs pop out of their sockets." Moriarty's hold tightened; John gasped for air while Sherlock nearly broke free from his assailants. One of them kicked him in the stomach, stunning him. "But I won't. It would be too quick, and not as much fun as what I have planned for him. Would you like to hear what that is?"
His grip relaxed enough to let his victim breathe again. John sucked air into his lungs and fought down the urge to vomit.
"You've been responsible for destroying many of my followers, so I've decided to return the favour. Only not personally. I'm going to make you do it. I can see that you're due to feed soon, so let's see what a few days of deprivation will do to cure this disgusting affinity you have for humans. While we're waiting for your true nature to emerge, my children will be playing with your friends here. Getting them ready for you to break your fast."
John saw it all then. He, Lestrade, Sally, and Molly would be tortured until Sherlock was maddened enough by hunger to rip any red-blooded creature apart. Then they'd all be reunited: for as long as it took for Sherlock to slaughter everyone.
"Then, after you've had time to… ahem… digest what you've done, then you and I will play. I'll be as good as new by then, Sherlock, so don't delude yourself that you'll survive. Okay, everyone, spoiler alert is over. Seb, if you please?"
Moran swallowed heavily before approaching John, something Moriarty noticed.
"Now, Sebby, only weak humans have misgivings. You want me to believe that you're stronger than that, don't you? In order to join us instead of Johnny-boy and his friends, you must convince me that you're a natural fit."
Moran nodded, his expression hardening. "Yes, Jim," he replied, but he refused to meet John's eyes as he pierced the other man's neck with the last syringe and injected the drug.
John stared at Sherlock until everything dissolved into pools of darkness. As he slumped in Moriarty's arms, he wondered feebly whether he was really feeling teeth against his neck.