The safest place to be during Horde Season—The month or so that movement of the undead was most prevalent—was in the company of a nightwalker. The only safer place was to be in the company of many nightwalkers—which made the Nocturn Inn the ideal place to wait out the worst part of it. Of course, it would not have been so ideal if one did not already travel with a nightwalker. They tended to get very unsavory ideas around lone, unprotected humans.
Unsavory, homicidal ideas.
The Inn was a cement structure, eight floors underground. The only portion upstairs was a mere shack-looking entrance, and you wouldn't know what it was if you weren't previously informed. The bizarre design was as much to trick predators (The Hordes mostly, but also packs of Lycan) as it was for the benefit of the Inn's clientele. Nightwalkers were, of course, nocturnal by nature, but any room above ground was going to give some kind of natural light in; even should the building have no windows.
Besides; nobody ever said that there were not nightwalkers that stayed up well into the morning hours, especially where the pub on the first subterranean floor (S1, it said on all the signs) was concerned. Above ground it was nearly seven in the morning, in other words nearly dawn, and the place was still a bustle of business.
The Inn was incredibly busy, although in the context of the season perhaps it wasn't so full. It was the only place of its type for miles, and was a well-known place to wait out the month which, although not as much of a danger to nightwalkers as it was those with red blood in their veins, was unpleasant.
Hordes tended to bring with them the stench of decay, and although slow they had the uncanny ability to trample anything in their way.
"The barkeep recommends we stay inside at least for three days," Sherlock informed, sliding in across from him carrying two whiskeys. John took one with a vague nod of thanks. "There's apparently a Horde heading this way from the west, although if they catch the scent of the Lycan settlement to the north they'll probably redirect themselves. They're looking for food this time of year, and they're not going to find it in a building full of nightwalkers."
John rolled his shoulders and quirked his lips. "Could be worse. Three days isn't the longest we've spent cooped up indoors."
"Hmm. Could be worse, but not exactly ideal either." Sherlock frowned and stared at a nondescript portion of wall, sipping his whiskey. John had always wondered why the man indulged in drink when he seemed completely indifferent to human food, and especially why he drank whiskey of all things, but one only had to make the mistake of joking, "I pinned you as a Bloody Mary man," to a nightwalker once.
Choosing not to respond to Sherlock's statement, John returned to his book. There was really nothing to say; Sherlock was always like that, with his rabid need to keep moving. They were not expected anywhere, nor were they trying to get anywhere—they were wanderers. It didn't stop Sherlock from acting like they were operating on some kind of schedule. John had learned not to ask why. He only ever got vague responses such as, "Must keep moving."
"It's October," John said offhandedly.
Sherlock gave him a sidelong glance. "Yes."
"Years and years ago, before our great-great grandparents were born, people used to celebrate a holiday this month. They called it Hollow Eve, or something. Children would dress up as demons and go door to door asking for an offering to their families to assure substance for the winter. If they weren't given an offering, the children put curses on their neighbor's houses."
Snorting, Sherlock muttered, "Sounds pagan and stupid."
"What do you care if it's pagan or not? Nightwalkers have no sense of religion."
"Exactly. Paganism is offensive in that it exists as a religious facet. You would never see a Nightwalker sending his young out to foreign houses just to participate in some kind of ceremony. That kind of tripe is the stigma of sorcerers."
"Sorcerers aren't pagan, either," John pointed out. "We have no deity. We put our faith in our magic. Treat it right, and it will treat you right as well." He closed his book, because he could tell that Sherlock was in such a mood that he would not get much reading done, and set it down on the table. Absentmindedly trailed the toe of his boot up Sherlock's ankle. "It's wizards you're thinking of. They're polytheistic."
"I find it hard to make a distinction between the two factions of magicdoers," Sherlock muttered, waving a dismissive hand. "Besides, I wasn't talking about you. You're a healer. Not the traditional type of sorcerer. You're not so quick to submit yourself to the tyranny of religion." He sighed and remarked, "You're still human, though."
"You say it as though it's a bad thing."
"I won't pretend it's not a fault." He reached across the narrow table and pressed two cold fingers to John's pulse point. "You're so…vulnerable. Anything can be your predator. Your blood is so easily spilt, and has such seductive qualities." Sitting back, he licked his lips. "And yet you're still around…so you must do something right."
"Most sorcerers and wizards are human," John pointed out. "We've harnessed magic where other species have failed, and it's given us the upper hand. That must refer to some kind of predisposition for survival. We're adept to change…we tend to operate in typical family units, and that's somewhat a strength, although it isn't universal." He tilted his head to the side and murmured, "We may be easier to kill, but we've learned to defend ourselves to the best of our ability."
Sherlock finished his drink in a gulp. John said, "Do you know how to tell the difference between a sorcerer and a wizard?"
Frowning, Sherlock replied, "I imagine it has something to do with their spell languages." Sorcerers' spells were heavily based in verse, while wizards had their own tongue with which they cast.
"No. It's how they wave their wand." It was true, although it had been a dirty joke they used on the girls in school. John demonstrated with his finger, because his wand was safely in his knapsack in their room three floors below. "Wizards have a kind of…franticness to their casting. Jabbiness. Most of our movements consist of…sort of sweeping movements, and usually they're repetitive. Our spells take longer to cast than wizard's, but we can do more with a single spell than they can."
"You're saying sorcerers are better."
"No, I'm saying we're different." He rose from his chair and remarked, "Not everything is about better or worse, Sherlock."
They stared at each other for a moment, examining, before John gripped Sherlock's wrist. Ran his thumb along the prominent vein that ran the length of Sherlock's forearm and said, "Hungry?"
Sherlock smiled and murmured, "Starved," and John saw his sharp canine teeth extend.
Their room was on the fourth subterranean floor. The whole place was dark and smelled of mildew, but it was better than trying to fend for themselves in the open air—or worse, trying to hide from a Horde. Even if the bed was sunken and the carpet was a nasty grey color that John had the worst suspicion used to be white, it was better as shelter than no shelter at all. The stale scent of mildew was better than the stench of decay that hung around the Hordes like a cloud.
John clucked his tongue and pulled the duvet—navy blue gone ashen from dust and dirt being ground into it—and dropped it in the corner. The sheets were not in a much better state, but he didn't want to even consider sleeping on the bare mattress.
They would use their knapsacks as pillows.
Sherlock sat on the bed, and watched as John took off his shirt like one might watch their favorite meal being prepared. Licked his lips and inhaled as John came near and sat next to him. Pressed his thumb to John's neck, finding his jugular with practiced expertise.
"How much do you need?" John inquired, tilting his neck to the side to make the vein more prominent.
"A pint, or so," Sherlock murmured, and John felt his breath over his ear. Cold, much too cold to be breath from a human's lungs. He braced himself for the sharp puncture of Sherlock's teeth, and clutched his hand into the knee of his trousers when he felt it.
The venom in Sherlock's fangs numbed the sensation around the wound after very long, although most of it he had sucked back out—if he hadn't, it would have caused an allergic reaction in John and that would have been a Very Bad Thing. Nightwalker venom was the world's best known paralytic. Too much of it could even stop the heart.
After the initial pain, the sensation was rather like a fallen asleep limb. It spread from the point where Sherlock's mouth connected to his neck, across to the other side, and down towards his collarbone. The sound from Sherlock was reminiscent of wet kisses, and John rested his hand against the back of Sherlock's head, like a mother supporting her suckling babe.
Ten minutes lapsed in silence. Sherlock pulled back and began to methodically seal the wound, licking it until his venom had helped the blood to congeal. John knew that the wound would already be scabbed over by the morning, and tomorrow night it would only be two red pinprick reminders.
Sherlock rested his forehead against John's shoulder and hummed like a satiated cat.
"All right?" John asked against his temple. Sherlock hummed again and got up, proceeding to remove his trousers and fold them up to sit on the dresser. He always became drowsy after a feeding, which was why he didn't do it often—once every two weeks, three if he didn't exert himself too much.
John got up and retrieved their knapsack, removed all hard or sharp objects (His wand, gun, and other supplies, Sherlock's knife) and set them on the dresser. Placed the knapsack against the headboard. Laid down on the side closest to the wall and waited for Sherlock to lie down next to him. Felt drowsy from blood loss, and closed his eyes for a few minutes only to reopen them when Sherlock sat down next to him and held something against his lips, whispering, "Drink."
He opened his lips and accepted whatever Sherlock was offering into his mouth. Recognized the sickly sweet flavor of the blood replenishing draught he brewed and carried with him for such occasions. Taking it had completely slipped his mind.
The vial was small—contained only a mouthful, more or less. He took it and swallowed it, and Sherlock swiped his lips with the pad of his thumb. Was gone for a minute, John heard the tinkling of glass—Sherlock placing the empty vial back in the case John carried in his knapsack—before he returned. Felt him sit down on the bed and lay down.
They laid in silence for a few moments. John always found it hard to sleep in silence—it was disconcerting. Like the calm before the storm.
As though he knew what John was thinking, Sherlock scooted closer and turned towards him, lying on his side. They did not cuddle whilst they slept—Sherlock did not pillow his head on John's shoulder, and John didn't wrap himself around Sherlock or visa-versa. The closest they ever got was this; facing each other lying on their sides.
Sherlock said, "Tell me more about the pagan human holiday."
Drowsy and disoriented, John could only say, "What?"
"Hollow Day, or whatever."
"Yes, tell me more about that."
John gave a small smile and, with eyes still closed, murmured, "Well…they had many traditions for the holiday. People would cover their houses with ghoulish decorations to scare the children away, but it hardly ever worked. They also carved the faces of spirits into pumpkins, to ward off demons that might curse the next year's harvest…"
He talked until Sherlock fell asleep.
With the reassuring noise of Sherlock's breathing next to him, John surrendered to slumber.
Sherlock quickly exhausted all sources of amusement available at the Inn—not that there were many. He wasn't interested in card games, which was how most of the men passed their time, John included. They sat around a large, round table in the pub and played poker. They did not bet—most travelers did not have possessions they were willing to bet—but the game was a serious, solemn affair, as was the way of most nightwalkers.
Two days in, Sherlock smoked his last cigarette. The pub did not have any. He sulked for three hours.
John set up a small fire in the sink basin of the bathroom, and tried to show him how to brew. Even nonmagical people could put ingredients into a potion; they just needed a sorcerer or wizard around to do any wand-waving involved. Sherlock had no patience for it, though, and wandered away after only about fifteen minutes.
There were very few books. Reading was not a pastime that was incredibly popular to nightwalkers, mostly because many of them were illiterate. Nightwalker society had very little perfunctory education, mostly because they were a species of travelers. Children tended to spend the first few years of their lives wrapped close to their mother's bosoms, and after that their education consisted of how to hunt, and how to built shelters that let in very little light. They did not tend to go to schools, and even if they did very few applied themselves to their studies.
Sherlock was unique in that respect. He had gone to a school. His mother was half-human, and had been raised for the most part as one, and had raised her son as one as well.
Despite his parentage, Sherlock exhibited no human traits as far as appearance, but sometimes John saw his cold intelligence break, and he saw the deeply-hidden human inside.
Last night, for instance.
"I'm going crazy," Sherlock growled from the corner of the room. John stood in the bathroom, still brewing. The potion took two days. It was a kind of wound salve that was useful to have around and he'd found himself running low on. With nothing to do for at least three days, he had began to brew a new batch.
"You say that as though you had very far to go in the first place," John remarked, waving his wand in a circular motion over the pot. Watched as it turned scarlet.
"I could snap your neck in half without even using half of my strength," Sherlock snapped, although made no move to rise from the corner he'd wedged himself into, or even uncurl his legs from his chest.
John raised an eyebrow and glanced at him. "I could put a curse on you that would literally tie your muscles together." Poked his wand at the fire, reducing its intensity slightly, and left the pot to simmer. Exited the bathroom and leaned against the wall and said, "We could shag, if you wanted."
Sherlock rose from the floor. "Suppose I have nothing better to do."
"Oh, that makes me feel good. To know I'm a last resort."
The only response he received was a derisive snort. He came closer to John and pushed him against the wall, knelt in front of him and undid his belt.
"I said we could shag, not that you had to—"
"This will give me more amusement that simply 'sitting back and thinking of England,' or whatever you want to say." He pulled down John's trousers, exposing his flaccid penis to the air. He shivered. "If it makes you feel better, after we do this you can pin me down and do that thing were you gnaw on my ear and stick your hand down my pants."
John rolled his eyes, slapped Sherlock's hands away, and pulled his trousers back up. "You know, forget it. Forget I ever said anything. Just…just never mind."
He was half wishing Sherlock would stop him. He did not. Instead, he cried, "Humans!" and slammed the door in John's wake. It seemed like the entire building shook with the force of it.
Outside the room, John leaned against the wall. Rubbed his face and prayed they would get the All Clear so they could go above ground and continue their trek to God Knows Where. It was better than remaining cooped up here.
The third night (Or day, depending on how you looked at it), they were woken up by a scream.
John sprang out of bed, over Sherlock without even thinking about the fact that he was only in pants. Made it to the door before Sherlock had even stirred all the way, and was the first inhabitant of the hallway to open his door and look out.
More heads poked out as John continued to stare. Mostly men, pale heads with dark hair poking out of shadowy rooms. John said, "Did you hear where that came from?" to the nightwalker in the room across the hall.
"No," he said simply, and closed his door.
John sighed and exited the room, making his way down the hall. If it weren't for the other inhabitants poking their heads out, he would have thought he'd dreamt it. There was no further scream, no evidence of where it came from. The hallway was just as cold and damp as it always had been.
Finally, though, he came upon the source. Or, rather, the source came upon him. It was a human woman, small and diminutive. Skinny. She was in her nightgown—a full-length blue thing that hung almost to the floor due to her lack of height—and John could see that the shoulder on the left side was stained with something dark. John realized that she was human—possibly the only other human in the Inn—and she clutched onto John as if he were land and she was drowning.
"Help," she gasped.
Around the corner came barreling a man, a nightwalker. He had a crazed look in his eyes that John could see even in the dark hallway; and a dark trail of something from his chin. It didn't take a genius—or even someone with particularly good eyesight—to realize that it was blood and make the connection.
John pushed the girl behind him and stepped back. It wasn't good to engage a bloodlusting nightwalker, even to tell them to step away.
By this point everyone else had ducked back into their rooms. John and the girl, humans, were alone with a rabid nightwalker. It was not a good situation to be in. The nightwalker stalked them to the end of the hallway, and had them almost cornered when Sherlock's voice came from behind the crazed man.
"I wouldn't do that, if I were you." He was leaning overly casually against the wall, looking unconcerned. But there was a fierceness behind his eyes that was clearly visible. "He's my companion. I've fed from him many times. If you attack him, I would be well within my rights to burn you alive where you stand."
The stranger licked his bloodstained lips and replied, "Well the girl's mine."
"Oh?" John replied. The fact that the girl was shivering would suggest that she was not in any way this nightwalker's companion. "Doesn't look like it, mate."
Thus commenced a moment where John locked eyes with the crazed ones belonging to the bloodlusting nightwalker. It was still, like the calm before the storm, but it did not last. The stranger lunged for John, clawing at his arms. Growling, "Molly, you fucking bitch! I brought you here so you'd be safe and this is how you repay me, you goddamned whore?!"
Sherlock grabbed the man around the biceps and, using all of his considerable strength, threw the bloodlusting nightwalker against the wall, and pinned him there with an arm over his collarbone. He leaned in close, and only through proximity could John hear what he said.
"You have overstepped a boundary that you never should have," Sherlock hissed, voice deep and dark and dangerous. "I should tear every limb you possess from your body and leave your bleeding stump in the corner of the hallway as a message to anyone else in this God-forsaken place that you do not touch what is mine. But I won't. I'll let you go. And you'll leave this place with the knowledge that the Hordes move during the day and there should be one arriving any minute now. Perhaps, if you can run fast enough, you'll get a ten-minute headstart. But if they're hungry enough, they won't wait for a human or Lycan. They'll eat you, and there will be no one around to hear you scream."
Sherlock stepped back and removed his arm. The man did not seem inclined to move, simply glaring at Sherlock.
"Do you think I was joking?" Sherlock demanded, and when he opened his mouth, John saw that his fangs had extended. He snapped, "I'll count to five and if you're not halfway out the building by the time I get there, I'm going to tear your jugular vein out with my teeth."
The man continued staring.
Sherlock clenched his fists together and the man once again licked his lips.
He took a step.
John turned away and covered the girl's—Molly's—eyes.
Bracing for the sound of tendons and ligaments ripping, John sighed and muttered, "Cover your ears, love," to Molly.
A minute or so passed without sound, and John chanced to look up. There was only one nightwalker in the hallway—Sherlock, still clenching and unclenching his fists. John stepped away from the girl and turned to face her, taking her chin in hand and turning her head to the side. "How much blood did he take from you?"
"I don't know," she whispered, but the sway in her stance made John think it must have been too much. He wrapped an arm around her waist and encouraged her to follow him, murmuring that he had a potion to give her, that she could clean herself up and he might be able to get the stain out of her nightgown. Sherlock followed quietly, broodingly, and sat quietly in the bedroom whilst John sat the girl on the toilet lid, gave her the potion, and helped her into the shower.
Sherlock was perched on the corner of the bed. John knelt in front of him, rubbed both of his knees. "Go back to sleep. I'll get her back to her room and make sure she's alright. Shouldn't take more than an hour."
"I should have killed him," Sherlock hissed.
"Shh," John murmured, patting his cheek.
"Don't be so condescending," Sherlock snapped.
John did not reply, because he knew the only reason behind Sherlock wanted to snap was because he was trying to be angry rather than scared. He just squeezed one of Sherlock's thighs and stood up. Headed over to his vial case and placed the empty vial back into it.
Molly came shuffling out fifteen minutes later, clean in her nightgown. John had managed to remove most of the bloodstain; it only remained in the lace at the neckline. Lace was notoriously hard to clean, even with a spell.
"Do you have anybody we can call for you?" John inquired. "You won't be able to travel for a few days, but we can call ahead to the nearest village and see if there's anyone there that can make sure you get there safely."
"You're kind, but I'm fine," Molly replied. "My brother knows where I am. He's going to come collect me as soon as the Hordes pass." She stood there awkwardly, shifting from one bare foot to the other, and said, "I'll go now. Thank you very much for…your kindness."
"It's dangerous out there this time of year," John said. "Be careful."
Molly gave a tremulous smile. "I will."
"Humans are stupid."
With a sigh, John opened his eyes and checked the time—four o'clock in the afternoon. Middle of the night, for them. He groaned and buried his face in his knapsack. "Couldn't that declaration have waited until a more reasonable hour?"
Sherlock didn't reply, but he did crowd his body against John's back—closer than he ever got, except on the occasion that they had sex. He pressed his nose against the back of John's neck and muttered, "I don't think you realize how difficult it is for me to have a companion. I have no idea what possessed me to take you on."
"My blood," John muttered into his knapsack, "is tasty."
A nip to the back of his neck. Sherlock's fangs were not extended, but he could feel the sharp point of his canines just slightly. An involuntary shiver went through him. Sherlock said, "You're insufferable."
They laid in silence, and John was almost back to sleep when Sherlock whispered, "I worry about you constantly."
"It's good to hear it," John sighed, and Sherlock may have thought he was just being facetious—it certainly seemed that way, for he huffed and rolled away—but John was being entirely, painfully truthful.
"Here. Take this. Wear it."
John looked up as something was dropped into his lap. John stared at it, recognizing it as one of his small vials—it held only a few drops of liquid, and he used the size for incredibly potent potions. Sherlock had, for some reason, tied a string around it and filled it with something dark. At first glance it looked black, but upon closer inspection it was proven to be a dark brownish red color. He held it up to his eye and remarked, "What does this have in it? It doesn't look like any potion I have brewed right now."
"My blood," Sherlock replied.
"Why?" John said slowly.
"Because it will protect you." Tilting his head to the side, he said, "The scent of nightwalker blood is ten times as potent as human blood—to those who are attuned to scent. It's the closest thing to a cloaking device I can provide for you; anyone who gets near you, when you're wearing it, will think you are a nightwalker—or at least warn predators that you're not very tasty. It will protect you in a Horde, repel Lycan, and warn any other nightwalkers just whose you are."
John laughed and said, "It would seem that doesn't stop them," but pulled the string over his head and let the vial drop to rest against his chest.
"Yes," Sherlock remarked, seemingly fascinated by the light glinting off the vial. "But it will give me certain rights should you be found dead at the hands of another nightwalker."
Sherlock's fangs extended; a reflex to intense emotion. The only emotional reflex, to a certain extent, that Sherlock ever exhibited. He hissed, "The right to kill the bastard that harmed you."
Picking the vial up off his chest, John spun it around and around between forefinger and thumb. Smiled slightly and murmured, "This actually means quite a lot to me, Sherlock…so thank you."
"We've been traveling together for a year and a half," Sherlock said. "I figured I should mark you as my own somehow, and unlike humans with your silly ceremonies and vows of monogamy, nightwalkers don't have a predetermined way to do that."
John grinned and teased, "Are you saying this is the nightwalker equivalent of some kind of proposal?"
When a frown turned down Sherlock's lips, John grinned and scooted closer, pressing them together from shoulder to knee. He wrapped his arm around Sherlock's waist and laughed, "Kidding, kidding. God, you nightwalkers. Can't take a joke if you life depends on it." He pressed his nose into Sherlock's cheek, and felt the other man's mouth quirk up in a small smile. John pulled back, ran his thumb along the creases Sherlock's smirk made in his cheek, and said, "Give us a kiss?"
Sherlock deigned to drop a kiss onto John's lips, and even though he'd been mostly joking, John hummed contentedly.
"We should leave tomorrow," Sherlock said. "The Hordes have passed and I'm tired of being here."
"Alright," John replied easily. He paused, considered, and said, "It's the last day of the month."
"Well, it means winter will be here before long. Also it's Hollow Eve, if I remember correctly."
"Today is the day they used to celebrate Hollow Eve."
Sherlock frowned and said, "The pagan holiday with the children dressed as demons?"
"The very same." He lay back on the bed, widthwise so his feet were still on the floor, and pillowed his head on his hands. "They called the practice of going from house to house 'trick-or-treating' for some reason."
"Treat because of the offering. Trick because if they weren't given one, they cast curses on the houses."
"Maybe," John said with a grin. He looped one finger through Sherlock's beltloop and said, "Come here, you demon, and give me a treat or I'll trick you." Watched as Sherlock swung a leg over his hips, and said, "Where do you think we'll go once we leave here? Opposite the way the Horde went, obviously, but…any particular place?"
"I don't know," Sherlock said, clutching the vial of his own blood in his hand. "We'll know where we're going when we get there, I suppose…Not as though we'll be splitting up anytime soon."
John chose to hear that statement as, "It doesn't matter as long as we're together," and even though the blood in the vial and in Sherlock's veins was cold, John felt warm.
Notes: Thank you for reading! This was written for the Johnlock October Challenge, the prompt for which was 'spooky.' I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it, and will venture onto my page to read other stories as well!
For anyone who already follows my stories, I'll be taking a tiny break next week fore YOUMACON, and that means Peril may or may not be updated next week. I'll know a little bit better by Sunday, so if you want hop over to my Tumblr (Detective inspector narwhal, no spaces) to check that tomorrow.
Thanks again to my stand-in beta, Peonyvase, for betaing this on such short notice. I literally told her yesterday that I was writing something for the johnlock competition, and could she possibly beta? So, she's been wonderful.
Thanks once again for reading!