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. John and Amarisa resign themselves as Sherlock and Raniel delight in matching wits with the bomber, but the confrontation at the pool doesn't go as planned...
(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
On occasion, there were some things that Sherlock and Raniel just did not understand. John and Amarisa’s insistence that they should care about the hostages, for example.
They were just aspects of an equation, really, and could be horrible people for all they knew. Had John and Amarisa ever stopped to consider that the world might be better off without these people?
“Don’t make people into heroes, John, heroes don’t exist and if they did I wouldn’t be one of them.”
That was only partly true – Sherlock knew heroes existed. He and Raniel hadn’t believed in them for most of their life, true, but a scientist had to adjust their views when confronted with first-hand evidence. And evidence of heroes walked around the flat every day, living and breathing and eating and grumbling about body parts in the fridge.
But they were terribly frustrated right now – why didn’t John and Amarisa understand? They usually seemed to grasp Sherlock and Raniel so well, better than anyone else they’d ever met in fact…so why were they slipping? Why care now?
But of course, John and his dæmon wouldn’t see it that way. There were times when Sherlock, in one of his rare flights of fancy, wondered if John and Amarisa were the product of an experiment to turn pure goodness into a weapon.
Still, it wasn’t fair of them to hold everyone to the same standard.
“You’re angry with me, so you won’t help,” Sherlock drawled, putting as much scorn in his voice as he could. “Not much cop, this ‘caring’ lark.”
It was a petty dig and he knew it, but really, he and Raniel couldn’t be expected to care for everyone. John and Amarisa were about as much as they could stand.
John's face was blank as they descended the stairs, but Amarisa's tail was drooping. Sherlock didn't know why that should be, only that he didn't like it. Raniel was so concerned that when they got into the cab, he actually scrambled off Sherlock's shoulder and dropped to the floor beside the wolfdog, standing on his hind legs (awkward in the moving car) to rub his nose on hers for a moment.
Amarisa's tail gave a weak flick, then dropped again. Raniel shared a glance with Sherlock, human and polecat equally unsettled at this strange mood that seemed to have descended on John and his dæmon. The doctor's usually-expressive face was hard and very still, giving away no clues.
Something about it told him speech would most definitely not be welcome. Usually, Sherlock and Raniel would have ignored that as they ignored most other social cues, but they'd never seen their friends in this kind of mood before, and didn't know what would happen if they pushed the limits of their tolerance now.
So they stayed silent, though Raniel didn't take his usual place on Sherlock's lap. Instead, he wriggled closer to Amarisa, tucking himself against her side. She glanced at him, then bent her neck and slowly, carefully passed her tongue across the top of the polecat's head. Just once, before she straightened once more and rested her head on John's knee.
It felt oddly like a goodbye, and Sherlock and his dæmon spent the remainder of the taxi ride trying to convince themselves the disquiet niggling at the back of their brains was nothing important.
The body was simple enough, because the puzzle wasn't the body, but that lost Vermeer painting all the newspapers had been banging on about. At least John and Amarisa seemed to cheer up a little when Sherlock and Raniel walked them through their reasoning.
He knew who the murderer was – the man known as the Golem – but the problem would be in finding him.
Sherlock got word out to the Gyptians. Living in narrow boats, they travelled up and down the Thames and the various canals and they knew everything. Not even Mycroft's surveillance could compete with the Gyptians, and fortunately Marge Costa was moored close by at this time of year.
Marge Costa was far from his only contact among the Gyptians – there was a tremendous sense of community among them, and if you did a favour for one they'd all be willing to do a favour for you in turn (marvellously useful, that) – but she was certainly the one he found most helpful. Because while most Gyptians would agreeably give him the information he requested in a succinct, helpful report, Marge always gave him more than he asked for, and it usually turned out to be good.
Even if it wasn't strictly relevant to the case at hand, it was useful to know underground gossip.
Sherlock and Raniel had hypothesised that Marge was always so willing to speak with them because Gyptians were an inherently gregarious people, and she rarely socialised outside her own clan because her dæmon had settled as a human. Apparently some people became uncomfortable around human-shaped dæmons, which Sherlock found frankly ridiculous. It was unusual, yes, but far from freakish – what were humans but another species of animal?
Sherlock had determined John was perhaps the most accepting person on the planet when it came to oddities in other people and their dæmons, but he'd never seen his and Amarisa's response to a dæmon in human form, and so deliberately neglected to inform them.
Upon seeing Marge for the first time and realising that the man beside her (looking to be in his late twenties, vaguely Spanish and exotic with tanned skin and dark green eyes) was her dæmon, not her boyfriend, John didn't disappoint. Amarisa's nose worked frantically as though confirming through scent that Orian was, in fact, a dæmon, and John looked momentarily surprised, but there was no hint of discomfort or judgement in his face.
Raniel chittered softly with pleasure, following Amarisa as John and Marge's husband went to the opposite end of the boat, discussing fishing, of all things, while Sherlock was left to explain the situation to Marge.
“I've heard that a very strange man's been seen around the city,” she said as she dried the collection of dishes stacked in the sink. “Apparently no one's sure where he's from, and it isn't good to cross paths with him – I could see if anyone knows where he is, if you like.”
“That would be appreciated,” Sherlock said absently, staring at Orian.
The human dæmon was sitting in a corner, his knees tucked up to his chest as he whispered to the Atlas moth (Attacus atlas) resting in his cupped hands. The moth was Marge's husband's dæmon – the narrow boat small enough for the human to leave his dæmon in another room without any ill-effects.
Orian was stroking one of the moth's wings, his touch as careful and gentle as if he were handling some rare, precious artefact that could shatter beneath his fingers. Sherlock could understand the need to be delicate – insect wings were incredibly fragile, after all – but his attention was arrested by the reverent expression on Orian's face, easily recognisable on a human countenance.
If Raniel had settled as a human, would that be what he looked like when he pressed himself against Amarisa?
He raised his eyes to find Marge smiling at him in a way that looked far too knowing for his tastes. She glanced to the side, out the door to the deck where John and her husband were chatting amiably, Amarisa sitting in the doorway with Raniel curled between her forelegs.
“It's good that you've got yourself a nice man,” was all Marge said.
Sherlock didn't respond.
John and Amarisa went to Alex Woodbridge's home and talked to Andrew West's fiancée, and tried very hard not to dwell on their earlier argument (if it could even be called that) with Sherlock and Raniel.
Their anger had quickly evaporated, leaving only the residue of bitter disappointment and resignation. But John knew they couldn't hold it against Sherlock and his dæmon – he and Amarisa fell in love with them for who they were, sharp edges and ugly sides and all. That wasn't going to change just because those edges were a bit sharper than they'd first thought.
John wasn't fool enough to expect anything from them, though. It wasn't Sherlock and Raniel's fault he and Amarisa felt the way they did, and to expect them to somehow change to accommodate it would just be...well, selfish, really.
So John and his dæmon tried to play the good sidekicks, running off to the Vauxhall Arches with the man and dæmon they loved, taking on a man that looked like he'd jumped straight out of a horror film, standing by in silent support while they rushed to deduce why the painting had to be a fake even as a child's voice recited the grim countdown.
They'd even held their tongues when Sherlock exulted in those few, tense moments before he'd shouted the answer, Raniel chittering and squirming happily on his shoulder.
“This is beautiful,” he'd exclaimed to the polecat. “I love this!”
John couldn't help the small, mean-spirited thought that wondered if Sherlock would enjoy it quite so much if the hostages were people he knew. Would he and his dæmon feel concerned in any way? Or did they have so much control over their emotional responses they wouldn't feel anything even if it was Lestrade or Molly or even John himself on the other end of that phone?
And then Andrew West turned out to have been murdered by the man he would have eventually called his brother-in-law, which was really the perfectly depressing end to a very depressing day. It was good that they'd found the killer, but John couldn't help but think of the women he'd talked to only yesterday; she'd lost her fiancée, and now she was going to lose her brother.
The living room was chilly at night – the windows hadn't been replaced yet – so John was wearing a jacket and scarf while he tapped on his computer. Amarisa was leaning against his leg, letting him warm his hands on her fur whenever his fingers started going numb.
Sherlock was curled up in his chair and shouting at the telly, Raniel resting on the arm, sprawled out and looking very pleased with himself. John knew they were still anticipating the final 'pip' – the so-called 'game' wasn't over yet, that's why they were so happy to lay around doing nothing.
John knew some people might question why he was still staying with Sherlock instead of looking for a new flat and a room mate who wouldn't scorn his loyalty and affection, but John and his dæmon had just never been able to do that. They couldn't lock their emotions away, couldn't turn their backs and pretend they didn't care about someone...they simply soldiered on.
It was what they did.
Of course, that didn't mean they had to be miserable, and John wondered if Sarah would want to go for a drink. He could admit he hadn't really given her his full attention when they were dating, but now that he'd had just how hopeless it was to care about Sherlock hammered into his skull, he thought he could do better. If she was willing to give it another shot.
“I'm going to Sarah's,” John eventually announced. Then he felt compelled to add, just in case Sherlock got hungry, “There's still some of that risotto left in the fridge.”
Sherlock made a non-committal noise and Raniel nodded absently.
“And we need milk,” Amarisa reminded her human as they stepped out of the living room.
John was nodding and making a mental note to pick some up on the way back when Sherlock suddenly called out.
“We'll get some.”
John and his dæmon stopped in their tracks, turning around to fix their flatmates with a disbelieving look. Had Sherlock really just offered to do the shopping?
“Really?” John asked, looking for a hidden trick. Was it going to be another of Sherlock's weird bargains – 'I'll get the milk if you let me put something hideous and unsanitary in the oven?'
But apparently not, because Raniel simply said, “Really.”
John felt like pushing his luck. “And some beans, then?”
Sherlock nodded, but didn't so much as glance up from the telly. It seemed suspicious somehow, like there was some aspect of this John and Amarisa weren't detecting, but right now John didn't care. If they had some kind of ulterior motive, John couldn't see it and frankly, he and his dæmon could do with a breather. They'd get away from Sherlock and Raniel for a little while, sort themselves out, and hope that the fifth 'pip' wouldn't come for a while.
“I don't think they know,” Amarisa murmured as she loped down the street at John's side. “Raniel asked me why we were in a strange mood when Sherlock was talking to that Gyptian lady – I don't think they know how we feel.”
“Well, thank heaven for small mercies and all that,” John sighed.
It wasn't that they were ashamed of being in love with their flatmates – John had never felt ashamed of his feelings, and wasn't about to start now – but he didn't want Sherlock to sneer at them for 'caring' the way he had yesterday. They could deal with being mocked over their loyalty to their country and their compassion for faceless victims, but not over this; there were some humiliations they could live without.
John turned the corner, lost in thought, when Amarisa suddenly nudged his palm with her nose. Surprised, John halted and looked down at his dæmon.
“What is it, Risa?”
“Someone's calling you!” she said, nodding down the street.
Sure enough, a man was approaching, swiftly and with a barely-contained sense of urgency. “Dr. Watson! Dr. Watson!”
It took John a moment to recognise him – it was Molly's boyfriend. “Oh, Jim...erm, hi.”
As Jim hurried closer (Amarisa wincing as her nose was once more overwhelmed with cologne), John realised that his spider dæmon wasn't on his shoulder, and the reinforced glass case swinging from one hand was empty.
“It's my dæmon, she's stuck!” Jim blurted.
In an instant, John slid into 'crisis mode'. “Where?”
“Back here, come on!”
He led John back into Baker Street, to the side of the building that had been blown up, and stopped in front of a gaping hole in the brickwork, only a foot or so off the ground.
“I told her not to go in,” Jim was babbling, obviously feeling his dæmon's fright and anxiety. “But she's always been so curious, and I can't fit and I was wondering could you – could your dæmon...?”
John glanced at Amarisa, and she nodded, dropping her head so it was in line with her shoulders and carefully, slowly, creeping in.
“It'll be all right,” John told Jim, putting a hand on his shoulder – years of being a doctor had given him a certain knack for comforting someone. “Amarisa will find your dæmon-”
“But what if she can't get her out?” Jim blurted, his eyes round and his lower lip trembling just a little.
“Then we'll call for help,” John went on, his voice low and soothing. “Don't worry, everything's going to be fine...”
He could feel Amarisa – concentration, determination, and a slight edge of worry for the trapped dæmon. She was moving cautiously forward, unable to rely on her nose after it had been blasted with Jim's cologne (and really, did the man have some kind of body odour problem or something?), and then...
John felt a flash of something like relief, then confusion, which morphed into comprehension and horror so swiftly it took his breath away.
“John!” Amarisa called. “John!”
Her fear and panic drove him to scramble forward and drop to his knees, some crazy idea of crawling after her floating in his head...but then he heard the distinctive click of a pistol's safety.
“Quiet and still, Johnny-boy,” came a slow, pleased drawl, and it was so different from Jim's high, frantic voice that it took John a moment to realise it was actually the same man speaking.
Amarisa's terror and pain had subsided into creeping, constant anxiety and grim resignation. John slowly swivelled his head, taking in the four men ranged behind Jim, each with a gun, and each holding it in such a way that it wouldn't be visible to a passer-by.
For a moment, John wondered why Amarisa hadn't smelled them, then remembered the sickly-sweet scent of Jim's cologne, and he knew this had been planned down to the smallest detail.
“Stand up,” Jim (if that was even his name) gestured, and John obeyed.
Five men against him, four with guns – the odds weren't good, and John wasn't about to try anything until he knew what had happened to Amarisa.
John had a sinking feeling that Sherlock's final puzzle was coming up. This obviously-meticulously planned kidnapping, the 'pip' that was still to come...it was too much to be a coincidence.
“Who are you?” John asked, staring into the eyes of the man who now seemed anything but harmless.
“Jim Moriarty,” he beamed.
Something cold ran the length of John's spine like a bead of sweat.
There was a snarl and the sounds of a scuffle to the side, and John's heart pinched when he saw Amarisa dragged from the ruined building. She was being held with one of those devices animal services used to catch dogs – a long metal pole with a loop of wire at the end.
“You know, I really didn't think it would be that easy,” John could hear Moriarty saying as he and Amarisa were hustled into a van that seemed to have appeared from nowhere. “But give you someone in trouble, and you jump at the chance to be a hero, don't you?”
The mocking lilt to his tone when he said 'hero' was almost identical to the one Sherlock had used, and John scowled.
“You know where to take him, boys,” Moriarty practically sang out. “I'll meet you there – I need to wash up before my big date.”
John spent the next hour being driven around in the back of the van with four men holding guns on him. He conjured up a dozen ways to derail whatever Moriarty was planning, and was forced to discard them all as none of them worked with Amarisa tied up like that.
His dæmon was clearly resenting the wire pulled tightly around her neck, but her golden eyes were steady on his and her body was still, as if she was willing him to be calm and rational about their situation.
When the van finally stopped and they were ordered out, John was surprised to find them in front of a public pool. He'd expected some out-of-the-way place where Moriarty could tuck him while he gave Sherlock another case to solve, or even some kind of hideout...but a pool?
Moriarty was waiting, dressed in an impeccable suit and for once without that smothering cologne. His minions dispersed to...somewhere, but if John had any ideas about resistance or escape when they took that demeaning leash off Amarisa, they died when the red laser sights began to meander across his dæmon's body. A single glance down confirmed he was in the same predicament – one sight on his right thigh, one on his abdomen and one hovering over his heart.
Snipers. Of course there were snipers.
John remembered Sherlock's breathy whisper of 'elegant', and hoped he could pass off his shudder as a reaction to the cold wind biting through his clothes. Amarisa moved to his side and the feel of her body against his leg – warm and heavy and as solid as dependability itself – eased the knot in John's chest.
“What do you think, Johnny-boy?” Moriarty asked, gesturing to himself. “Much smarter than before, I thought. And I won't lie, I'm glad I could finally abandon that awful cologne, but I couldn't let your dæmon pick up my scent now could I?”
John couldn't see Moriarty's spider dæmon, but that didn't truly surprise him; if he was a criminal mastermind, he'd hide his dæmon whenever he could as well.
As Moriarty came closer, John realised he was feeling it again – the weird sense of something nudging at the edge of his senses that he always experienced whenever there was an active spell nearby. He wasn't sure where it was coming from, either. Usually, John and Amarisa could work out where the spell was, the same way you could work out which object was boiling hot in a cold room without touching it – it just radiated out, but there didn't seem to be a single point on Moriarty where the magic was coming from. It seemed to be coming from...well, from all over him.
Moriarty grinned, with a look in his eye that said he knew exactly what John was thinking. “Like the clothes? My mother made them for me.”
Realisation hit John with a little jolt. “Your mother's a witch.”
“Oh, very good,” Moriarty praised with layers and layers of condescension in his voice, as though John was a pet that had performed an amusing trick.
If John were Sherlock, he might be able to make something of that fact. As it was, he just worried at Amarisa's fur where his fingers were sunk into her ruff and tried desperately to put it all together. The fact that Moriarty was the son of a witch was important somehow, he could feel it...he just didn't know why.
“They told me you were special...” Moriarty mused, slinking ever-closer. “But I think they got it wrong.”
John quelled the urge to retreat, determined to stand his ground even as Moriarty leaned in uncomfortably close.
“He will walk the fringes and his dæmon will set him apart,” the criminal said, in the high, absent voice of someone reciting something they'd memorised. “He will find a home with the outcasts and his soul will be unique. A witch will raise him and the witches will protect him. He will forge his own path and he will answer his country's call. Loneliness will know him, death will touch him, he will see what others are blind to and he will know what others cannot see. And he will be our destruction. And he will be our downfall.”
Something cold and hard twisted itself around John's intestines. He was no expert, but that sounded like...well, it sounded like...
“That's the prophecy of my mother's clan,” Moriarty said, seeming to revel in John's shocked surprise. “You know, the one that says you'll be their doom. And my doom, come to that, considering.”
He laughed then, as if he'd said something particularly funny. “As if you could ever be my downfall! No, I think it's much more likely someone on the council made a dreadful mistake – the prophecy doesn't refer to you, Johnny-boy.”
Another grin, smug and triumphant. “It refers to Sherlock.”
The coldness in John's gut was creeping up his spine and wrapping around his heart. He wanted to deny it, wanted to say that Moriarty's stupid prophecy was so vague it could refer to a hundred people in London alone...
But it was making a sickening kind of sense. He will walk the fringes and his dæmon will set him apart? If anyone could be said to hold themselves above society, it was Sherlock. He will find a home with the outcasts? That Gyptian woman, Angelo...Sherlock seemed to have a habit of befriending people on the outskirts. His soul will be unique? Well, Raniel certainly was that and there had already been that line about his dæmon setting him apart...
“No,” Moriarty said, drawing John out his thoughts with a near-audible snap. “I don't see anything particularly special about you.”
Amarisa tensed as he leaned still closer. John held himself still, the way he would if an adder had slithered across his path.
“I really don't understand why Sherlock is so obsessed with you,” the man breathed, sounding honestly puzzled. “I mean, just look at you.”
John made sure he didn't so much as twitch when Moriarty's fingers reached out and cupped his chin. The hand tilted his face from side to side, as though Moriarty was inspecting him.
That was too much for Amarisa, and John felt her warning growl shiver through his leg where it was pressed against her side.
Moriarty blinked, as though startled out of some reverie, and to John's relief the fingers on his chin fell away. Moriarty actually took a step back – a small step, but it put a good ten centimetres of space between their bodies and allowed John to breathe a little easier.
But then he glanced down at Amarisa, and his lips quirked. “Bad dog!”
Then Moriarty's hand shot out and he grabbed – he touched, he actually touched – Amarisa's right ear. And twisted.
It was like nothing John had ever felt before. There was pain, yes – he felt it clearly through their connection, and vaguely heard Amarisa yelping over the roaring in his ears – but it was nothing compared to what it felt like to have Moriarty touching his dæmon.
It was nauseating and wrong in a deep, vital way. It was disgust and horror and fear and every negative emotion all rolled into one searing blast and shoved through him like a bullet. It was a violation beyond comprehension.
John and Amarisa had always been a little wary of touch. John wasn't physically demonstrative with other people, and Amarisa didn't nudge or lick dæmons in greeting. They'd known some people let their lovers touch their dæmons, but they'd never felt comfortable with the prospect. And now to have Moriarty...
The touch withdrew as swiftly as it had been inflicted, and John realised that he'd dropped to his knees without realising it, his hands on the cold pavement and his head hanging like a beaten-down carthorse. His shoulder and hip burned like dry ice, the wounds throbbing as if newly-inflicted.
Amarisa was whimpering, pressing up against him like a newborn puppy; blind and helpless and instinctively seeking its mother's warmth. John curled his arms around her and pressed her into his chest as much as he was able, burying his face in her neck. One hand was clenched tightly in the thick fur of her underbelly, the other ran feverishly over her still-tender ear, trying to erase the chilling imprint of Moriarty's fingers.
“Bad dogs get punished,” came Moriarty's voice, soft and chiding.
Somehow, John found the strength to raise his head, the courage to glare straight at Moriarty, hating the man standing above him more than he'd hated anything before in his life.
Moriarty only smiled, drinking in John's murderous look like it was applause. “Oh, now I'm beginning to understand what he sees in you.”
John locked his muscles to stop himself flinching. Amarisa pressed herself against him as though she was trying to crawl inside his chest.
A laugh, low and thick with venom. “Oh, Johnny-boy, this is going to be even more fun than I thought...”
Part Eight: Perdition's Bridges (contd.)
Part Nine: Building The Republic
Part Ten: Lit From Within
Part Eleven: Structrual Integrity
Part Twelve: The Reader