Rating: Might be verging into M (15+)
Disclaimer: I do not own these characters, and am making no profit from their use, more's the pity.
Warnings: Eventual slash, Sherlock/John.
Summary: HDM AU. Sherlock and Raniel puzzle over the prophecy as a mysterious bomber draws them into a deadly game. Meanwhile, John and Amarisa take a hard look at their relationship with the intriguing man and his dæmon...
(Title page by birddi)
Part One: The Architecture of Our Lives
Part Two: Stepping Stones
Part Three: Foundations
Part Four: Shadowed Archways
Part Five: Buried Labyrinths
Part Six: Crossing The River
Glimmers In Darkness
On occasion, the most irritating thing about John and Amarisa was how well they took things, how they seemed to accept strange happenings with barely a qualm.
Sherlock had been left reeling. John was not only being attacked by death spells but also had the gall to keep this fact a secret. And to cap it all, Nostrepheus was going on about doom and prophecies.
“A prophecy that says you will be their doom.”
It seemed there was more to John Watson than even Sherlock had suspected.
John stilled with a piece of toast halfway to his mouth, and Amarisa froze in her attentions to Raniel.
Then they did something even Sherlock hadn't expected – they laughed.
“You're joking, right?” John said, grinning a little uncertainly. “That's why they wanted to kill me?”
Sherlock spared a moment to hope that he wasn't gaping at John the way Raniel was gaping at Amarisa.
“I assure you, this is not a joking matter,” Mycroft said.
“Well, it's obvious they got the wrong guy, isn't it?” John said, still chuckling. “They definitely misunderstood something about that prophecy.”
“We've had no indications that's the case,” Nostrepheus said, a hint of disapproval in his voice.
John made an effort to moderate his amusement, perhaps sensing that every other occupant of the flat disapproved of how blithely he treated threats to his life. Raniel nipped at Amarisa's forelegs to show his disapproval, and the wolfdog retaliated by gently biting at the scruff of his neck.
Two months ago, Sherlock had watched a nature documentary on the mating habits of various animals so he would be better able to detect when two people were engaged in a relationship by their dæmon's behaviour. Strangely, watching Amarisa and Raniel triggered a memory of the narrator describing the courting habits of mammals.
Resolutely, Sherlock turned his face away, and ignored Mycroft's disgustingly smug, all-knowing look.
“Do you really think I'm capable of being some witch clan's doom?” John was asking Nostrepheus.
“Don't sell yourself short, John,” Raniel muttered, and Sherlock wished his dæmon would just shut up right now – Mycroft was looking smugger by the second.
John grinned at the polecat. “Nice of you to say so, Raniel, but Risa and I aren't important enough in the grand scheme of things to make problems for witches.”
“So speaks the man who befriended an armoured bear,” Mycroft commented, voice deceptively light.
John blinked. “How did you...oh, Aeliana told you, right?”
“John...whether you believe in the prophecy or not is irrelevant,” Nostrepheus said. “The important thing is that they believe it. They joined the war in Afghanistan because they knew it would give them an opportunity to kill you.”
At least that seemed to startle John. It startled Sherlock, come to that.
But then, infuriatingly, John laughed again. “You're telling me the entire clan joined a war just on the off-chance that they'd find the person the prophecy was talking about? And then they somehow mistook me for that person, so that's why they're withdrawing now?”
“That's exactly what we're saying.” Nostrepheus sounded a little frustrated, and Sherlock could sympathise. “The prophecy is clear on that point – as long as you are alive, their downfall is assured.”
Under normal circumstances, John's conviction that he and Amarisa were in no way important would be rather fascinating, but as it stood it was just irritating, not to mention short-sighted.
“So why didn't they go for me immediately, then?” John asked. “I was there for quite a while before the death-spells made an appearance.”
Mycroft sighed theatrically. Under normal circumstances Sherlock would be making his violin screech horribly right now to drive his sibling out of the flat, but he wanted to see this through. He had no interest in whatever petty government problem Mycroft was bringing him, but John...John was another matter.
“They needed time to determine who you were, John,” Mycroft pointed out. “They did not know you on sight.”
“And once they did, they tried to kill you,” Nostrepheus reiterated, as though unable to understand why John couldn't grasp the concept.
Sherlock could feel Raniel's agitation, but with Amarisa's paw still around his chest the dæmon was restrained from expressing it, and so was practically vibrating on the spot with outrage.
“So couldn't they have got it wrong somehow?” John pressed.
Mycroft shook his head minutely, apparently giving up on John's inability to comprehend his own importance. Tehayla shuffled on his shoulder and tapped his ear gently with the tip of her wing, as though in reminder, and Mycroft produced the file that had been the true purpose of his visit and attempted to hand it to Sherlock.
Sherlock, of course, didn't so much as glance at it or raise his hand. Tehayla clacked her beak reprovingly as Mycroft moved past Sherlock's chair to deliver the file to the disgustingly agreeable John.
“Don't take it!” Raniel snapped.
John sent the dæmon an exasperated look, and Sherlock wondered if he was imagining the definite tinges of fondness in the doctor's expression.
He tuned out Mycroft's explanation about the man and the death in favour of rosining his bow. Though he couldn't resist smirking at John's snort when Mycroft said the plans for the new missile defence system were on a memory stick.
“That wasn't very clever,” John said, in the calm, placid tone that meant he was privately amused by something.
Sherlock managed to stifle his outright grin into a close-lipped smile, and Raniel chittered in amusement.
“This is serious, John,” Nostrepheus admonished.
John sent the owl a chastising look. “Don't pretend – I know you're smiling.”
Sherlock froze with the rosin in mid-stroke over the hairs of his bow. Mycroft didn't blink, but Tehayla's feathers suddenly ruffled. Even Raniel had gone still between Amarisa's paws.
John and Amarisa seemed to realise something was wrong. John was glancing awkwardly between Nostrepheus, Mycroft and Sherlock, while Amarisa's ears were pricked and her eyes were darting around the room.
“How did you know?” Nostrepheus asked.
John shrugged, obviously uncomfortable with sudden scrutiny. “Something in your eyes, the way your head tilted...oh, I don't know, I can just tell. The same way you can tell someone's smiling even if you can't see their mouth.”
By and large, dæmons settled in animal forms – save the rare few who took human shapes – so their expressions were constrained by the form they'd settled in. While mammals and some reptiles could make an approximation of a smile, birds were a very different matter; beaks just didn't bend that way. People with bird dæmons usually said they could tell when their dæmon was smiling by some nuance of expression like the way their eyes looked or how their head moved...but it was always their own human who made that distinction. People with bird dæmons themselves had a certain measure of success in deciphering other bird dæmons' expressions, just as someone with a lizard dæmon was more likely to understand the communications of a snake dæmon.
Sherlock had grown up around bird dæmons and had trained himself to be able to determine what all varieties of dæmons were expressing…but he'd never met anyone who could 'just tell'.
It was made all the more eerie by the fact that John hadn't been given any other indication as to Nostrepheus' mood. The dæmon's tone had been disapproving, and there certainly hadn't been any other verbal cues. It had taken Sherlock almost a full second to determine that Nostrepheus was reluctantly amused by John's quip, and he'd been raised with the dæmon. Yet John, who didn't have a bird dæmon and had apparently never made a great study of them had just glanced at the owl, and he'd known.
But this had happened before, Sherlock reminded himself. John had always had an unusually good grasp on people's moods and their dæmon's state of mind. He was just exceedingly empathic, that was all. Nothing more than a natural gift for understanding people.
“Interesting...” Mycroft mused.
But Mycroft seemed willing to let it go, and continued describing the problem he'd decided to dump on Sherlock's doorstep. In spite of himself, Sherlock was somewhat intrigued, but of course he would never let Mycroft know and instead lifted the violin to his shoulder.
A few moments of truly horrific bowing, and Mycroft and Tehayla were out of the flat, Nostrepheus departing along with them.
John was looking mildly puzzled. “What was-?”
But Raniel interrupted, scrambling free of Amarisa to jump onto the coffee table. “Now you're going to tell us exactly why you kept it a secret that you'd been shot with death-spells!”
“We thought you knew,” John replied, sounding bewildered. “I mean, you worked out everything else.”
“Strangely, 'being shot by an arrow with a death-spell placed on it' didn't enter into my calculations when I was considering the source of your limp,” Sherlock hissed, feeling incensed for no clear reason he could name.
“We're sorry,” Amarisa said, in a move obviously meant to placate them. “But it's not like there's much to tell. One moment we were running along behind Ragnvald, and the next...”
Amarisa rolled her shoulders in a shrug.
Ragnvald sounded like a Norse name, and Sherlock assumed it referred to the armoured bear that towered over John in the photo on his bookshelf.
“We don't remember much about it,” John finished. “I mean, being hit by the arrow was pretty unpleasant...”
Both he and Amarisa seemed to suppress shivers, and Raniel scurried to the edge of the coffee table to nudge at the side of the wolfdog's head, obviously trying to comfort her. Amarisa turned and briefly touched her nose to his, and Sherlock wondered if it was entirely logical to be jealous of your own dæmon.
“But Ragnvald carried us back to base, and then Aeliana – your Mum – put a bunch of spells on us to put us back together.”
John sounded so unconcerned Sherlock was gripped by the irrational urge to grab him by the throat and shake him.
“So what was Mycroft on about?” John went on. “What was 'interesting'? Should I expect men in black suits to come and take me away to secret testing facility?”
Raniel sniffed, as though to express what he thought of that. “No. It's just...well, that degree of sensitivity to other people's dæmons is unusual.”
“Really?” John asked. “You're not having me on?”
“You never thought it was anything special,” Sherlock realised. Which, really could be said for a lot of things about John.
“We've always been able to do that,” Amarisa said. “And did you know your brother has a magic umbrella?”
Raniel chittered, and Sherlock grinned to himself; this was more like it. John and Amarisa tended to be much more restrained when someone else was in the room – Amarisa was less likely to address Sherlock and John was less likely to talk directly to Raniel – as though these free, easy conversations were something private. Something restricted to their own little world.
“Mummy enchanted it for him,” Sherlock explained. “Being a Witches' Consul and also being in politics isn't easy.”
Raniel nibbled at one of his forepaws broodingly, and Sherlock knew exactly what his dæmon was thinking on. Though the conversation had drifted from the original topic, their minds were still consumed with two questions – what kind of prophecy would induce the witch clan to kill John, and would they try again?
Sherlock doubted they'd ever be able to determine the exact wording of the prophecy; Mycroft and Nostrepheus would have supplied it if they'd uncovered the actual text, which meant their information had come second-hand, more from rumours and whispers than any concrete informant.
When Lestrade called with an interesting problem it was pleasantly diverting, but some part of Sherlock's mind was still ticking over those questions, and he knew Raniel was doing the same. He couldn't help glancing up at the sky, wondering if the clan would someday decide eliminating John was worth the risk of Mycroft coming down on their heads.
Logically, Sherlock knew that his knowledge of the clan wouldn't affect whether or not they came after John. But it was still there, a niggling urge to watch any woman on the street with a bird dæmon if only because John and Amarisa weren't watching them and dammit, why were they so careless with their life?
But then they reached the police station and Sherlock’s attention was thankfully consumed by the mysterious phone addressed to him. Though it was slightly infuriating to learn that most of Scotland Yard apparently read John's blog, especially with Zarania who, instead of glaring at Sherlock and Raniel, now spent most of her time snickering at them.
And when that voice sounded from the pink phone...Sherlock knew this particular mystery went far deeper than they'd suspected.
“Do you think it's Moriarty?” Raniel whispered as they poured over the trainers in the laboratory.
They'd long-since hypothesised that Moriarty and the anonymous poster on his website (and John's blog) were one and the same.
“Very likely,” Sherlock mused, adjusting the microscope to give him a better view of the pollen grains he'd scraped from the tread of the shoes.
Which made it likely these shoes would be the most fascinating puzzle they'd ever received. They were used to solving crimes that had been committed to serve other people's motives, as had the ensuing cover-up. But this was a mystery addressed to directly to them, and they'd never been so excited about a case, never.
This was why the drugs could never really compete with the cases. Oh, they'd passed the time, stopped the incessant boredom from gnawing their brains into shreds when there wasn't a case on but when there was...
There was nothing better.
John and Amarisa came back – they'd left to get a coffee, as they'd had difficulty sleeping last night (probably due to the noise of the emergency services outside) – and even though their presence made no appreciable difference to his deductions, Sherlock was glad to have them in sight again, all the same. Ridiculous, really, but there it was.
Raniel leaned over the edge of the table to touch noses with Amarisa, and Sherlock resisted the urge to scoop his dæmon up and pull him away from the wolfdog. He was always uncomfortably aware of how much that greeting looked like a kiss, and felt vaguely embarrassed every time Raniel did it, as though some secret had been given away.
But Amarisa only held the contact for a moment before dropping her head and loping around the table. John seemed similarly restless, pacing up and down the room, and while it could be the influx of caffeine, Sherlock suspected there was something more behind it.
“So who do you suppose it was?” John asked eventually.
“Who?” Raniel asked.
Sherlock didn't look up from the microscope.
“The woman on the phone,” John clarified. “Remember, the one who was crying?”
There was a certain sharpness to his voice, almost impatience.
“Oh, she doesn't matter, she's just a hostage,” Sherlock murmured carelessly. “No lead there.”
They weren't dealing with someone who'd choose someone known to them. No, this person would be clever enough – and cunning enough – to pluck a complete stranger off the streets, someone with no connection to them whatsoever.
Amarisa bristled. “We weren't thinking about leads.”
“Then you're not going to be much use to her,” Sherlock pointed out.
John looked as if he wanted to say something in response to that, but settled for asking, “Are they trying to trace the call?”
“The bomber's too smart for that,” Raniel said.
The polecat was perched on the very edge of the table, alternating between looking up at John and down at Amarisa. There was perhaps ten centimetres of space between Raniel and the edge of John's fingers, and it would be so easy for John to lift his hand and just touch...
The chime of an incoming message interrupted Sherlock's thoughts. “Pass me my phone.”
He wasn't entirely sure why he'd said that. Now that he had, he'd see it through, of course, but the order had been pure impulse. He'd seen John near Raniel, and he'd just wanted the man to touch him in some way, however small...
“Where is it?” John asked, glancing around. Amarisa even appeared to be sniffing the air, as if she could find the phone by scent.
“Jacket,” was all Sherlock said, resolutely keeping his eyes buried in his microscope as Raniel skittered nervously across the table.
“Are your arms painted on or something?” Amarisa groused.
John practically stomped over to Sherlock's side, shoving his hand into the jacket and jostling Sherlock's chest sharply.
“Careful!” Sherlock reprimanded.
The hands gentled almost immediately – even when John was angry and frustrated, there was no malice in him – and pulled out Sherlock's phone.
Sherlock had been expecting the text from Mycroft about the missile plans, and told John to delete it. He already had a very strong suspicion about who had his brother's precious USB, but there was no reason to act quickly – after all, if any move was made to sell it, the Secret Service would be able to get their hands on it without Sherlock having to go to the bother.
“Why is my brother so determined to bore me when someone else is being so delightfully interesting?” Sherlock sighed, commiserating with his dæmon.
Raniel huffed in agreement, then suddenly snickered. “Do you think he's texting because they had to numb his mouth during his dental appointment?”
“Try to remember there's a woman who might die,” Amarisa muttered.
John didn't say anything, but the skin on his face was slightly stretched as though his muscles were clenched tight.
“What for?” Raniel asked loudly, now staring avidly at the computer screen as it scrolled through various pollen spores.
“There are hospitals full of people dying,” Sherlock said, looking directly at John and his dæmon for the first time since they'd re-entered the room. “Why don't you go cry by their bedside, see what good it does them?”
Honestly, he would have thought that John and Amarisa, of all people, would understand. Yet the wolfdog growled, low and almost sub-sonic; it wasn't a snarl, but there was a definite warning tone to it. It almost sounded as though they…disapproved? But why – surely they didn’t shed tears over every patient they treated?
The computer sounded an alert as the search completed itself, and Sherlock made note of the results before he began examining the laces beneath his microscope. There seemed to be flakes of skin attached to the material, and he boosted Raniel up to the eye-piece so the polecat could see.
They were so absorbed they barely glanced at Molly's new boyfriend, not even to identify his dæmon – it seemed to be some kind of spider, and both he and Molly were carrying the reinforced glass boxes that were used to protect delicate dæmons in bad weather or heavy crowds.
Admittedly, Sherlock and Raniel might have been able to spare Molly and 'Jim' a few moment's notice if they hadn't been working on two problems at the same time. The puzzle in front of them was their foremost consideration, of course, but in the back of their minds they were still thinking over what Mycroft and Nostrepheus had said.
“A prophecy that says you will be their doom.”
But how? John and Amarisa were dangerous, yes – no sane person would dispute that – but how could they be such a threat to an entire clan of witches? A dozen, maybe, but over a hundred or so? It would have been a consideration if John and his dæmon had some reason to want all of them dead, if they'd actively wanted to hunt the clan down and pick them off one by one, but they didn't. The witches had deliberately tried to murder them and they still hadn't borne a grudge, at least not the kind that drove people to mass murder.
Sherlock knew they shouldn't be thinking about it. As much as it absolutely galled him, there was little they could do. Thinking about it wouldn't help, so he should stop doing it – he'd given that advice to John and Amarisa only moments ago.
So why was he having so much trouble following it himself?
Part Seven: Glimmers In Darkness (contd.)
Part Eight: Perdition's Bridges
Part Nine: Building The Republic
Part Ten: Lit From Within
Part Eleven: Structrual Integrity
Part Twelve: The Reader