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
Part Seven: Glimmers In Darkness
Amarisa had tried to contain herself while Jim and Molly were in the room, but as soon as the door swung shut, she was sneezing vigorously and shaking her head. John scrubbed at her nose with his shirt – he was never really sure if it helped, but at least it let his scent overlay whatever had so taxed his dæmon's senses.
“Are you all right?” Raniel asked.
John was a little bewildered at how Sherlock and Raniel could swing from being so caring with them to being so, so...sociopathic with everyone else. Hadn't they been expressing their disinterest in a woman strapped to a bomb only minutes ago? And now Raniel was hovering over Amarisa like a hen with a single chick?
“Jim was wearing far too much cologne,” Amarisa explained, still rubbing at her muzzle with one of her paws. “He was practically drowning in it – I don't know how Molly can stand it.”
“I'm sure her nose isn't as sensitive as yours, Risa,” John reminded.
Though he had to admit she had a point. Even John had been able to smell it, and he'd been halfway across the room. He suspected the only reason Raniel hadn't noticed it was because the polecat's nose was right up against the computer screen and his concentration was as unbreakable as his human's when something interested him.
He and Amarisa made a mess of trying to deduce things about the shoes, as usual, but Sherlock and Raniel always seemed so pleased when they tried it was almost impossible to refuse. Even if they were derided almost immediately afterwards.
Still, Sherlock and Raniel did seem to come to a realisation as they were trumping John's and Amarisa's observations with their own. The polecat dæmon suddenly went still, hissed the name 'Carl Powers', and then the next thing John and Amarisa knew, they were in a cab on the way back to Baker Street, the trainers accompanying them.
“1989, young kid, champion swimmer, came up from Brighton for a school sports tournament, drowned in the pool,” Sherlock explained, speaking rapidly as though he was being timed somehow. “Tragic accident, you wouldn't remember it – why should you?”
“But you remember?” John pointed out inanely.
“Anything fishy about it?”
“Nobody thought so,” Raniel sighed, as though disgusted with the intelligence of every other human and dæmon on the planet. “Nobody except us – we read about it in the papers.”
“Started young, didn't you?” Amarisa mused.
While Raniel was sitting comfortably in Sherlock's lap, holding onto the plastic bag that contained the shoes, the wolfdog's sheer size meant that she was sitting on the floor, leaning against John's legs to steady herself against the motion of the car.
“The boy, Carl Powers, had some kind of fit in the water,” Sherlock went on. “His dæmon screamed for help, but by the time they got him out, it was too late.” He hissed through his teeth, as though in frustration. “There was something wrong, something I couldn't get out of my head...”
“What?” John asked.
John and Amarisa shared an exasperated look before the wolfdog prodded for more information. “What about them?”
“They weren't there.”
“We made a fuss,” Raniel chimed in. “We tried to get the police interested, but no one seemed to think it was important. Nobody but us.”
“He'd left all the rest of his clothes in the locker,” Sherlock elaborated. “But there was no sign of his shoes.”
“Until now,” Raniel said, deliberately nudging the trainers.
“Hang on a minute!” John exclaimed, suddenly struck by something. “You said his dæmon got help?”
“Well, most kinds of seizures usually affect the dæmon as well.”
“Do they?” Sherlock drawled, looking thoughtful.
“I mean, it tends to vary,” John hastened to qualify. “But usually, the only seizures that don't affect dæmons immediately are ones triggered by poisoning or something similar.”
“Interesting...” Sherlock mused.
His face took on the intent, focused expression which meant there'd be no point talking to him for the next two hours or so, and as soon as they were back in the flat Sherlock and Raniel shut themselves up in the kitchen.
John and Amarisa stayed in their bedroom, trying to pretend they weren't as useless as they felt.
“Carl Powers was the first crime they were really interested in,” John mused. “And his name was on the envelope...”
“It's slightly disturbing to think this rigmarole with the hostage and the bomb is specifically targeted to Sherlock and Raniel,” Amarisa finished.
The whole business gave John a very strong urge to clean his gun and count his bullets, and he didn’t bother resisting. But at this point he was so familiar with the firearm it didn’t need any thought at all, and he and Amarisa seen needed something more absorbing to distract them.
They tried to busy themselves with reading, fiddling with the laptop, and trying to figure out some of the more sophisticated functions of John's phone for an hour before they finally admitted defeat. They couldn't concentrate on anything but the case, not now, so they went down to see if there was any way they could be of help.
The chime of an incoming message told them Mycroft had resorted to texting John about the plans now, and he reminded Sherlock and Raniel about it...only for him and Amarisa to get scoffed at for their sense of duty.
“You can't just ignore it!” John snapped, Amarisa beginning to bristle beside him.
“I'm not ignoring it,” Sherlock replied, his voice perfectly even and calm. “I'm putting my best man onto it right now.”
Which, of course, meant he was putting John onto it.
“Brilliant, just bloody brilliant,” John muttered as he and Amarisa made their way to Mycroft’s offices. “’Best man on the job’ – more like only man…”
“Come on!” Amarisa encouraged. “We see them do that deduction thing all the time – given a chance, I’m sure we can solve this mystery!”
John laughed in spite of himself and ruffled his dæmon’s fur as they sat down to await Mycroft’s coming. Sure enough, barely five minutes had passed before the man himself was striding through the door, umbrella swinging at his side…
But his dæmon was nowhere to be seen.
John tensed, remembering the medical lecture of ‘dæmon pulling’ and the adverse side-effects of having your dæmon deliberately held away from you. Amarisa sprang to her feet, as though determined to track down the raven dæmon right away and find out whatever was keeping her from her human.
Mycroft, apparently correctly interpreting their tension, spoke quickly, “I assure you, Dr. Watson, I'm in no danger – Tehayla and I are separated.”
“Oh!” John relaxed, and Amarisa sat back down. “Oh, okay.”
As the name implied, ‘separation’ referred to the condition in which dæmon and human could be separated by great distances with no ill-effects. It was an ability usually seen in witches, though a few (very few) people chose to undergo it themselves for various reasons. People with aquatic dæmons – like that man whose dæmon had settled as a reef shark – usually underwent separation so the human wouldn’t be forced to linger constantly at the water’s edge.
As far as John knew, it was unusual for a non-witch to separate from their dæmon when it wasn’t strictly necessary, but Mycroft and Tehayla seemed happy enough, and it was hardly his place to judge their choices.
So with that understood, John got down to business. “What can you tell me about Andrew West?”
Mycroft tilted his head to the side in a manner very much like his dæmon, as though John and Amarisa had said or done something puzzling. A little unsure as to why the older man was staring at him like that, the doctor shared a confused glance with his wolfdog.
“You're very accepting of people's little quirks, aren't you?” Mycroft mused.
John wasn't sure what to say to that. Fortunately, Mycroft didn't seem to be expecting a reply, as he then began to list everything known about the dead man. John made sure to jot it all down, even facts he was certain were included in the file Mycroft had given them.
Dæmon – Nahara, female meerkat
Clerk at Vauxhall Cross, MI6
Involved in project in minor capacity
Secruity checks clean
Last seen by fiancee, 10:30pm
Oyster card, unused, no ticket on the body
It seemed the big mystery (apart from how he'd ended up dead and what had happened to the Bruce-Partington plans) was how West had got from his home to the train tracks at Battersea.
John and Amarisa were still mulling that over when they arrived home, entering the kitchen just in time to catch Sherlock's moment of triumph.
“Clostridium botulinum!” he exclaimed, hitting the table with enough force to jolt Raniel and rattle the teacups.
“It's one of the deadliest poisons on the planet!” Raniel said as he turned to Amarisa, apparently unperturbed by the fact that he'd nearly tumbled from the table.
John knew he and his dæmon weren't unintelligent, but sometimes they required a few extra moments to catch up with the runaway locomotive that was Sherlock and Raniel's train of thought. This was one of those times.
“Carl Powers!” Raniel cried, when Amarisa's blank stare hadn't cleared.
“Wait, are you saying he was murdered?” Amarisa clarified. “And you're certain?”
“Remember the shoelaces?” Sherlock prompted, gesturing to the pieces of the shoes that had been strung around the kitchen.
John nodded and Amarisa made an agreeable noise.
“The boy suffered from eczema, it'd be the easiest thing in the world to introduce the poison into his medication,” Sherlock explained, prowling around the kitchen and gesturing wildly. “Two hours later he comes up to London, the poison takes effect, paralyses his muscles, and he drowns.”
John was frowning. “How come the autopsy didn't pick that up?”
“It's virtually undetectable,” Raniel told him. “And nobody would have been looking for it. But we found tiny traces of it inside the trainers from where he'd put the cream on his feet.”
Sherlock was busy at the laptop, typing something up at the kind of speed John envied – why had he never quite been able to grasp touch-typing?
“That's why the shoes had to go,” the detective finished.
John nodded once to show he understood. It seemed Sherlock intended a slightly cryptic message on his website to be the bomber's cue, to let it be known that he'd solved the case.
“The killer kept the shoes, all these years...” Amarisa mused, nosing at one of the low-hanging laces.
Sherlock nodded jerkily. “Yes.”
There was a moment's pause, and both he and his dæmon seemed to be waiting for something.
“Meaning...?” Raniel prompted.
John and Amarisa connected the dots at exactly the same time.
“He's our bomber!” they exclaimed together, their voices matching in tone and cadence almost perfectly.
Sherlock grinned and Raniel chittered as though they were somehow amused.
The pink phone rang in the next instant, and the poor woman was finally released. When they invaded Lestrade's office the next morning, he told them that she'd been forced to don packages of Semtex and made to read out from a pager. If she'd deviated by a single word or if Sherlock had failed to solve the case, a sniper would set off the explosives.
John was so perturbed by this development and caught up in wondering if it was going to happen again that he almost missed Sherlock's breathless whisper.
Amarisa turned, the hairs along her back beginning to stand up, and John reflected that it was times like these that made Sherlock's claim to sociopathy seem believable.
“Elegant?” he echoed, unable to entirely disguise the disbelief and vague stirring of anger in his voice.
Lestrade wondered aloud why someone would ever do something like this as Zarania shifted uneasily on her perch, and Sherlock gave some pat dismissal about being bored. Moments later, a message came in on the phone – a picture of a car – and a call came for Sherlock in the voice of the new hostage.
The car in question was discovered at a construction site with blood puddled in the driver's seat and smeared liberally across the gear stick. John and Amarisa hung back, letting Sherlock and Raniel poke into the glove compartment and check the mirrors and whatever else they were doing
“Still hanging around him?” Donovan asked, Matriel up on her shoulders like a fur scarf in an effort to keep his paws out of the wet.
“Yeah,” John said shortly.
He was cold and grumpy and really not in the mood for this. His gloved hands were buried in Amarisa's thick ruff to keep them out of the biting wind.
“Opposites attract, I suppose...” she mused.
Oh, god, not this again. He’d become somewhat resigned to it in the beginning, but after meeting Sebastian and realising just how much he wasn’t Sherlock’s type, these comments just seemed like cruel digs.
Sherlock and Raniel emerged from the car as Donovan was suggesting alternative hobbies. The detective and his dæmon put on a show for the widow, pretending to be a grieving friend, and John reflected that it was more than a little unnerving the way Sherlock could just do that. Amarisa flattened her ears in disquiet and John tried not to let his face give anything away – it was difficult, as the idea of Sherlock honestly crying over something was just…it just didn’t happen.
Sherlock figured it all out, of course – Mr. Ian Monkford had faked his death with the help of Janus Cars – and soon enough, the poor sod draped in a bomb was being rescued. But by then John was in desperate need of food and, seeing as the only things in their cupboard were a jar of pickles, some suspicious-looking bread and a bloodied finger in a zip-lock bag, they went out for some food.
John wondered how it was that Sherlock and Raniel could not give a damn about those poor hostages and then turn around and go out to a noisy, crowded diner – something they hated – just to ensure John and Amarisa got some food.
But of course, with the way their luck had been going, they were barely halfway through the meal before another ‘pip’ came in.
“I’m worried,” Amarisa admitted on their way to see Connie Prince’s brother. “Did you see Sherlock’s face when we said what the bomber was doing was all for them?”
John nodded. Sherlock had smiled – that faint, barely-there smile that meant he was truly pleased – and Raniel had actually wriggled on the spot with delight.
John and Amarisa had always known their flatmates were enthusiastic about crime, but this time…there just seemed to be a much more sinister undertone to it. They could almost feel them pulling away, and it was ridiculous to feel like an old housewife competing with a young and gorgeous mistress, but this bomber was leading Sherlock and Raniel to some very dark places.
John and Amarisa would follow, of course they would, and they’d try to keep their friends from going too far down the rabbit hole.
Sherlock and Raniel determined Connie Prince died by botox injection, but it didn’t save the old woman. She’d started to describe the sound of the bomber’s voice, and had died for it.
John watched the news feed detailing the explosion (which had been given out as a gas leak), the fact that twelve people had died when the block of flats went up, and tried to ignore the sinking feeling in his gut.
Outside of a war, most people baulked at that kind of careless massacre. Those who did, those people who attacked schools and workplaces…it was always their own school, their own workplace – there was always some kind of motive to it, however pathetic and convoluted. But this bomber didn’t do that – he chose people and locations apparently at random. The explosions were incidental, the people unimportant…
In short, there was a deliberate coldness to it, a distance that somehow seemed far more chilling than any case they’d dealt with before.
“Well obviously I lost that round,” Sherlock said. “Although technically I did solve the case.”
He punctuated that petulant mutter with a jab of the remote control that turned the television off.
There was something in the way he said it that John didn’t like. If he was asked, he couldn’t have said exactly what it was, only that it was there, creeping under his skin. He knew Amarisa felt the same – the hair along her spine was beginning to stand up.
“He killed the old lady because she started to describe him,” Raniel remarked from Sherlock’s lap.
Sherlock nodded absently, staring off into the middle distance, his brain obviously going a thousand kilometres an hour. “Just once, he put himself in the firing line.”
“What do you mean?” John asked.
“Well, usually he must stay above it all. He organises these things but no one ever has direct contact.” Sherlock still wasn’t looking directly at him, and John tried not to feel like it was a deliberate slight.
Amarisa, sensing his discomfort, licked at his hand for one brief instant before she spoke up.
“What, like the Connie Prince murder – he arranged that? So people come to him wanting their crimes fixed up, like booking a holiday?”
“Novel,” Sherlock breathed.
Raniel was practically vibrating on his human’s lap. Sherlock’s fingers were clenched in the polecat’s pale fur, and both of them oozed pure, joyous excitement.
As John stared, hoping he’d imagined the admiration in Sherlock’s voice, Raniel glanced at the phone sitting prominently on the armrest.
“Taking his time…” the dæmon hissed.
He sounded disappointed. John knew Sherlock and his dæmon got excited about murders – truth be told, he and Amarisa got a little excited about them now as well – but this wasn’t a body. This wasn’t someone who was already dead and wouldn’t be suffering anymore; this sounded almost as though they were eager for another hostage to be grabbed and strapped into Semtex. This had an undercurrent of heartlessness that John and Amarisa were desperately trying to ignore.
There was a brief back and forth about Carl Powers – the only person the bomber had admitted to killing himself – which John barely paid attention to, still unsettled by Sherlock and Raniel’s blatant fascination.
“So why is he doing this then?” John wondered aloud. “Playing this game with you? Do you think he wants to be caught?”
The barest hint of a smile twitched at Sherlock’s lips. “I think he wants to be distracted.”
There was only so much John could take. He smoothed a hand down the stiff, ruffled fur along Amarisa’s back and heaved himself out of his chair.
“Well I hope you’ll be very happy together,” he muttered, trying to keep the bitterness out of his voice.
His comment seemed to draw Sherlock out of some reverie. “Sorry, what?”
“There are lives at stake!” John snapped, gripping the back of his chair in an effort keep himself under control. “Actual human lives! Just so I know, do you care about that at all?”
Sherlock’s head tipped back slightly, as though John was a particularly fascinating specimen of bacteria and Sherlock wanted a better view. “Will caring about them help save them?”
“Then I’ll continue not to make that mistake.”
There had been a measure of contempt in Sherlock’s tone that set John’s teeth on edge. As a doctor, he knew a certain distance was required between yourself and your patients, as with Sherlock and the victims of whatever case he was investigating…but you still felt something for them. Didn’t you?
“And you find that easy, do you?” he asked before he could stop himself.
“Yes, very!” Sherlock replied, sounding indignant. “It that news to you?”
“No,” John admitted, his voice abrupt.
Both dæmons were quiet. Raniel, still half-curled on Sherlock’s lap, only looked irritated, as if John and Amarisa were being the obtuse ones. The wolfdog, however…
Amarisa’s ears were low – not flattened, but certainly drooping – and her shoulders were hunching even as her tail stood defiantly straight.
“I’ve disappointed you,” Sherlock said in a more moderate tone, as though he’d only just realised it.
“Good deduction, yeah.” There was an undercurrent of venom in John’s voice that surprised even him.
“Don’t make people into heroes, John,” Sherlock scoffed. “Heroes don’t exist and if they did I wouldn’t be one of them.”
Another ‘pip’ interrupted the escalating argument, and the tension didn’t exactly defuse but it did crack and flatten, like a glass door hit with a mallet. It no longer obstructed the way, but it left sharp shards scattered about, glittering and painful underfoot.
At least, that was what it was like for John and Amarisa – Sherlock and Raniel didn’t seem to care.
John and his dæmon were feeling battered, almost shocked. They’d thought they were at least friends with their eccentric flatmate and his albino dæmon, but this had them questioning everything they thought they knew. Because surely if you cared for someone – anyone – you’d understand why people in general were considered important? Surely you’d think more of their lives than just as pawns in some madman’s game?
But apparently, Sherlock and Raniel didn’t quite grasp this, so John and Amarisa were stuck loving a man and his dæmon who thought caring was a mistake.
Sherlock told him to check the papers, as though John was a trained monkey or something, not a friend whose thoughts and opinions he might at least pretend to respect. For several moments, John didn’t move, toying with the idea of just walking out the door and coming back when he didn’t want to strangle the man quite so badly.
“Oh,” Sherlock drawled, a tone of understanding overlaying the definite sneer in his voice. “You’re angry with me, so you won’t help – not much cop, this ‘caring’ lark.”
At that, Amarisa’s tail finally wilted, dropping between her legs. John didn’t say anything – he didn’t want to draw Sherlock or Raniel’s attention to it, but he rested his hand on the top of his dæmon’s head, giving comfort and taking it at the same time.
They ended up checking the newspaper anyway, and accompanying Sherlock and Raniel to the crime scene, of course they did. Because they loved them. And god help John and his dæmon both, but it simply wasn’t in their nature to abandon someone they loved.
AN: As usual, thanks goes to ginbitch , my wonderful beta.
Also, my master image post has been updated with some wonderful art for this story including more by birddi , who made the title page!
Part Eight: Perdition's Bridges
Part Nine: Building The Republic
Part Ten: Lit From Within
Part Eleven: Structrual Integrity
Part Twelve: The Reader