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
Part Eight: Perdition's Bridges
Sherlock waited until he heard the door shut behind John and Amarisa before he put the blatant invitation on his website. He made the deadline midnight, as a few hours would certainly be enough time for the bomber to make their way there from wherever they were in London. And Sherlock knew the bomber was in London – they wouldn't go to all this trouble without sticking around to see the results. They wanted to play, after all.
He spent the next several hours pacing around the flat and counting down the seconds. Raniel was restless as well, jumping up on the coffee table only to jump down against almost immediately, running back and forth underneath the windows.
“Do you think we should have told them?” the polecat asked, perched on Sherlock's chair and staring at the pink phone as though the dæmon was willing it to ring.
There was no need to ask who 'them' referred to. “No, it's better if they sit this one out.”
Largely because John and Amarisa didn't seem to appreciate the game the way Sherlock and Raniel did. And also because the bomber had tailored these brilliant little puzzles to Sherlock and Raniel alone, and might react badly if someone else was brought into it.
It was easy enough to get to the pool, to pick the locks and slip inside. Raniel was practically shivering with delighted anticipation on Sherlock's shoulder when they entered at last.
The tang of chlorine filled the air, and even through their excitement they didn't forget that the bomber was dangerous – Sherlock glanced around, checking for people hidden in the shadows, and Raniel scented the air, searching for a whiff of explosives.
It seemed there was nothing, and Sherlock was about to flourish the USB stick and make his entrance when Raniel suddenly went still on his shoulder.
“John...” he whispered, disbelieving. “I can smell John...”
Sherlock froze in place, thoughts and plans momentarily derailed. Why would John's scent be in this pool? He hadn't known what Sherlock was doing, he didn't visit this place, so how could Raniel be smelling John?
A side-door opened and shut, the sound echoing off the tiles. Sherlock turned automatically, ensuring he and his dæmon were facing whoever was entering.
It was John. John dressed in a thick green parka and his usually expressive face carefully – calculatingly – blank.
Amarisa was nowhere to be seen.
“Evening,” John greeted, his voice as flat and cold as his expression. “This is a turn-up, isn't it, Sherlock?”
“John...” Sherlock breathed, not even realising he'd blurted the other man's name in his confusion until he heard it echo back to him.
“What the hell...?” Raniel whispered, his nose twitching and his eyes darting from side to side as he sought out Amarisa.
“Bet you never saw this coming.”
John's voice was still bare of inflection or emotion, but he was blinking quite rapidly. That might have meant something, Sherlock wasn't sure, he couldn't think past the conclusion being presented to him, a conclusion as inescapable as it was improbable.
John had come to meet him.
John had come to meet him.
John was the bomber.
John and Amarisa had fooled Sherlock and Raniel, completely and utterly. But how, how could they have...?
But no, this was okay, because John and Amarisa hadn't left any evidence. There'd been nothing tying them to the crimes, nothing to arouse even the slightest suspicion, which meant Sherlock and Raniel could cover up their involvement. They could take them away, could teach them how to restrain their impulses, and anyway those hostages were probably horrible people if John had done that to them – that old blind woman must have been a monster.
Then John took his hands out of the parka's pockets, the fabric shifting across his chest and affording a glimpse of wires and lights and white packaging.
There was a bomb strapped to John's chest.
Raniel whimpered, and his paws tightened convulsively on Sherlock's shoulder, tiny claws puncturing his clothes to dig deeply into the skin above his clavicle.
Sherlock didn't even feel it.
“What would you like me to make him say next?” John said, and finally Sherlock recognised in his voice the dead, emotionless recital of someone parroting lines.
John had spread the lapels of the parka, displaying a black vest with several kilos of Semtex attached to it, wires twisting through them like dead snakes. A single laser sight from a sniper rifle shivered on the block of explosives that rested over his heart.
John was a hostage. That was all Sherlock could comprehend, as though it were all his mind could process. John was a hostage and where was Amarisa?
He and Raniel approached with slow, measured steps, glancing behind them, tilting their heads to scan the dark rows of seats above them. The sniper was somewhere in this building – if they could just find out where they were...
“Gottle o' geer,” John said dully, the resignation in his voice making Sherlock's chest feel tight, and he could feel Raniel tremble against the urge to go to John and comfort him.
“Gottle o' geer. Gottle o' geer.”
On the third repetition, John's voice broke and he went pale, swaying slightly on the spot. There wasn't any particular logic behind it but in that moment Sherlock knew that something was happening to Amarisa, and that John was feeling it.
“Stop it!” he snapped, even as he tried to keep his voice low and calm. It wouldn't do to alarm the sniper, after all.
“I can't see them,” Raniel breathed into his human's ear, and Sherlock could feel his dæmon's mounting fear. “I can't see the sniper and I can't...I can't smell Amarisa.”
Logically, Sherlock knew that the chlorine would overpower any scents from outside, which was probably why his dæmon couldn't detect the wolfdog's scent. It didn't stop Raniel's statement from raising his blood pressure several notches.
But then John was speaking again and in spite of himself, Sherlock listened. “Nice touch, this. The pool, where little Carl died. I stopped him.”
John grimaced suddenly, half-turning his head and closing his eyes as though he didn't want to say whatever was being fed into his ear. Raniel actually rocked forward on Sherlock's shoulder as though preparing to leap towards him.
“I can stop John Watson, too,” John said, his voice still a careful monotone as he glanced down at the laser sight on his chest. “Stop his heart.”
“Who are you?” And now Sherlock was shouting – there was only so much he could take.
Because this wasn't the way the game was played. No, it was played with delightfully twisted cases and people he and Raniel didn't give a damn about, not with a puzzle already solved and John and Amarisa's life on the line. Sherlock was calling time out or game over or something – however this was stopped, he was stopping it now.
“Oh, but you know who I am,” came a jaunty voice from the opposite end of the pool. “We've met before, remember?”
Frankly, Sherlock was less concerned with the man's appearance and identity than with the fact that he was dragging Amarisa on what seemed to be a choke chain. And even though the wolfdog was bristling and showing her teeth, she wasn't audibly growling, and actually seemed to be cringing away from her captor.
Sherlock didn't want to contemplate what kind of threat or abuse could make Amarisa frightened of someone.
“...Risa...” Raniel whispered, the name echoing in the sudden silence.
Wanting to divert the bomber's attention from his dæmon's obvious distress, Sherlock drew the gun. No matter what people liked to say, he and Raniel weren't completely without a sense of self-preservation, and coming unarmed to a confrontation with a known killer would have been idiotic.
But the gun meant nothing, really. An empty menace next to the far more potent threat of John strapped to a bomb, of Amarisa chained.
“But I suppose we weren't properly introduced,” the bomber mused, and something about his appearance, his voice, was niggling at the back of Sherlock's mind.
“Jim Moriarty,” he announced. “Hi!”
Raniel hissed, and while some part of Sherlock's brain was noting that revelation, the name 'Jim' had finally prompted the memory he needed. 'Jim' from the hospital, Molly's new boyfriend, the one he hadn't even glanced at because he was too busy (stupid, stupid) and why hadn't he just taken the time to classify the man's dæmon, surely that would have told him something?
Moriarty was sliding along the edge of the pool, and Amarisa was becoming more animated the closer she came to John. She was twisting her shoulders and head as though she was trying to slide the silvery chain off her neck, shifting her weight restlessly and straining against Moriarty's hold now and then, as though she were making an effort to control herself but wasn't able to stop trying to reach her human.
“Don't,” Moriarty said, his voice as mild as if he were scolding his own pet. “You know what happens to bad dogs.”
Sherlock expected that to provoke some response – a snarl, a pithy comment – but to his surprise Amarisa went still and silent, and John swallowed audibly.
Sherlock did his best not to think about exactly how long Moriarty had held John and Amarisa for. About how many hours they'd been alone and at his mercy and what might have happened in that time.
“I've given you a glimpse, Sherlock,” Moriarty went on as though picking up a conversation they'd already started. “Just a teensy glimpse of what I've got going on out there in the big bad world. I'm a specialist – like you.”
So that was how they were going to play it, was it? Moriarty wasn't even glancing at either John or Amarisa, and that was good – the less attention he paid them, the less likely he was to hurt them.
“Dear Jim,” Sherlock mused, even as he wondered if he should raise a hand to Raniel to try to still the polecat's trembling. “Please will you fix it for me to get rid of my lover's nasty sister? Dear Jim, please will you fix it for me to disappear to South America?”
Moriarty smirked. “Just so.”
He was moving ever-closer and dragging Amarisa with him. Sherlock found himself feeling thankful that the distance between John and his dæmon had decreased to something that would be approaching comfortable.
“Consulting criminal,” Sherlock hissed. “Brilliant.”
Because it was, he had to admit that. He and Raniel had been having the time of their lives solving Moriarty's puzzles, and would have been quite happy to continue their little dance indefinitely – they would never have been bored again, never.
But John Watson and Amarisa were sacrosanct. John Watson and Amarisa were not to be touched, and when Moriarty had crossed that line he'd engineered his own destruction.
“Isn't it?” Moriarty all-but crowed. “No one ever gets to me...and no one ever will.”
Sherlock released the safety on the gun – a sharp, metallic snap. “I did.”
“You've come the closest,” Moriarty allowed. “Now you're in my way.”
“Didn't mean it as a compliment.”
“Yes, you did.”
“Yeah, okay, I did,” Moriarty shrugged, and beneath his genial tone Sherlock could hear an edge of annoyance, and he had a very clear idea of why it was there.
The bombs, the cases, the shoes...from the start, this had been about attracting Sherlock's attention. And while his banter had given the appearance of attentiveness, Raniel's gaze – darting between John and Amarisa, never resting on Moriarty for an instant – showed where his attention truly was.
“But the flirting's over, Sherlock – Daddy's had enough now.” Moriarty practically sang the final word, which should have made the whole statement seem ridiculous but somehow only made it more unsettling.
What did he mean by 'had enough'? More specifically, what did that mean for John and Amarisa?
“I've shown you what I can do,” Moriarty went on. “I cut loose all those people, all those little problems, even thirty million quid just to get you to come out and play. So take this as a friendly warning, my dear – back off.”
He began to move forward again, and there was a restrained eagerness in Amarisa's movements as she followed. She was clearly desperate to go to John, but trying not to telegraph it.
Moriarty was still speaking, but now there was a tight eagerness in his voice. “Although, I have loved this, this little game of ours. I really shouldn't, considering, but there you go.”
Something flickered in John's eyes, something that looked disturbingly like comprehension – as though John was seeing a layer to that statement that was hidden to Sherlock.
“People have died.” And right now Sherlock didn't know what to do to ensure John and Amarisa wouldn't be among them. He couldn't think of anything to do but play along, and Raniel was no help – his dæmon had been useless ever since John opened the parka.
“That's what people DO!” Moriarty snarled.
Then, as though determined to punish someone for the lapse in his self-control, he jerked on the chain in his hand, tightening it ruthlessly for one moment before letting it fall lax once more. John choked as Amarisa did, and as soon as the throttling ended, Amarisa growled reflexively – a warning that she wouldn't tale such abuse lightly.
Sherlock had expected Moriarty to ignore it, or maybe mutter the same warning he'd used before about the fate of 'bad dogs'.
He certainly hadn't expected Moriarty to actually touch John's dæmon.
He reached down and twisted Amarisa's ear as casually as if he were disciplining his own pet. Amarisa yelped pathetically but barely struggled – she was stunned and shaking and limp, as though the choke chain was all that was keeping her on her feet. John paled and trembled, looking as though he were inches away from vomiting or passing out himself.
Sherlock felt sick and horrified, as if he'd walked in to find Moriarty raping John on the tiles. His own emotional reaction was so extreme it locked Sherlock's body and wiped his mind blank as John swayed and gasped and Amarisa whimpered.
“Stop it!” Raniel cried, his voice thin and brittle.
Seemingly pleased at getting a response from Sherlock's dæmon at last, Moriarty released Amarisa. Released her entirely, in fact, dropping the choke chain and not even trying to stop her as she flew to her human's side.
John dropped to his knees and clutched at her, heedless of the bulky bomb or the laser sights dancing over them as he hugged his dæmon close, stroking and whispering to her as they both let out little shaky gasps and sobs of relief.
Sherlock felt detached from the scene, partially absent from his own body as though the horror of seeing Moriarty touch Amarisa had made part of his mind withdraw into itself. He didn't even realise he was speaking until he felt his lips and mouth working.
“I'm going to kill you.”
Raniel was quivering on Sherlock's shoulder, his lean body as tense as a coiled spring, and if Moriarty's dæmon had been in the vicinity Sherlock knew Raniel would have ripped it apart.
Moriarty snorted. “No, you won't.”
Clearly, he didn't know Sherlock as well as he thought he did, but that wasn't Sherlock's main concern.
“You all right?” he asked, clearly directing the question to John and Amarisa.
They were so caught up in each other – Amarisa's head tucked into John's chest, John's face lost in her fur – that at first Sherlock wasn't sure if they'd even heard him. But then they shifted minutely, enough for John's face to be visible and for one golden eye to peer out from under John's arm.
Moriarty leaned over them, and Sherlock's hands tightened around the gun. If Moriarty tried to touch Amarisa again...
“You can talk, Johnny-boy,” he said, his voice dripping with derision. “Go ahead.”
But John didn't say a word, just nodded silently.
At that, Raniel – previously wound so tightly he seemed in danger of vibrating off Sherlock's shoulder – suddenly relaxed so completely and abruptly he practically melted into his human's suit.
Sherlock wanted to touch him, to at least attempt to comfort him, but he couldn't drop the USB and he couldn't risk taking the gun off Moriarty. Instead he tilted his head just slightly, so the edge of his ear brushed the polecat's haunch, and hoped Raniel would understand.
In the same moment, he shoved the USB in Moriarty's face. “Take it.”
It wasn't ideal, but if the man was mollified by Sherlock's offering he might let John and Amarisa go.
Moriarty's pleased grin and the kiss he pressed to the dark plastic gave Sherlock a moment's hope, but it didn't last long.
“Boring,” Moriarty sang, flicking the USB into the pool. “I could have got them anywhere.”
Sherlock didn't even see John move. One moment he was on his knees, arms wrapped around his dæmon, and the next he was on his feet with one arm locked around Moriarty's neck.
Raniel sucked in a startled breath, and Sherlock re-adjusted his aim, but neither of them made any move to turn away or flee.
Amarisa growled low in her throat, sounding frustrated, as though she and John had actually expected Sherlock and his dæmon to turn tail and leave them with an insane criminal who'd already shown no compunction about violating them.
“Good!” Moriarty hissed, almost admiringly. “Very good.”
The laser sight was jogging around on their bodies, clearly trying for a shot that wouldn't also hit Moriarty.
“If your sniper pulls that trigger, Mr. Moriarty, then we both go up,” John gritted out, voice as intent and dangerous as one of Amarisa's snarls.
“He's sweet, I can see why you like having him around,” Moriarty cooed to Sherlock as though completely unaware of the dangerous man who had him in a headlock. “But then, people do get so sentimental about their pets.”
John yanked viciously on Moriarty's throat as though trying to shut him up. Unfortunately, it didn't seem to work.
“They're so touchingly loyal,” Moriarty sneered, twisting his head to look John in the eye for a moment. “But – oops! You've rather shown your hand there, Dr. Watson.”
John suddenly froze.
“Sherlock...” Amarisa gasped, her tail dropping and starting to curl between her legs.
Raniel twisted on Sherlock's shoulder, and then abruptly went still.
Sherlock couldn't see the laser sight, but he could guess it was hovering somewhere in the region of his cranium. He shook his head, willing John to hold his ground. The ex-soldier had the advantage now – he couldn't give it up, not for Sherlock.
But John's arms were loosening, slipping off Moriarty's body as John stepped back into something approximating his original position. The laser sight returned to his chest even as Amarisa crept to his side, pressing her head against his leg.
Moriarty smirked and gloated for a few moments, then abruptly returned to business. “Do you know what happens if you don't leave me alone, Sherlock? To you?”
“Oh, let me guess, I get killed.” It seemed rather obvious, and Sherlock felt a measure of relief that Moriarty was now threatening he and Raniel directly, instead of John and Amarisa.
But Moriarty only cocked his head.
“I should,” he mused. “I really should, but...” The sigh he gave sounded like an infatuated teenage girl. “I think I'd rather save it for something special. No, if you don't stop prying...I will burn you.”
Moriarty's face twisted then, vicious with hatred and envy and longing. “I will burn the heart out of you.”
'Don't look at John,' Sherlock ordered himself, and made his voice cold and intent when he replied, “I have been reliably informed that I don't have one.”
Moriarty smirked, the kind of expression that said he was disappointed to see Sherlock mouth so transparent a lie. “But we both know that's not quite true.”
'Don't look at John,' Sherlock repeated. 'You've given Moriarty enough ammunition tonight. Do. Not. Look. At. John.'
He turned the impulse into a blink, and hoped Raniel had similar success in controlling himself. Though really, he suspected it didn't matter – if John had shown his hand tonight, then surely they had too.
“Well, I'd best be off,” Moriarty suddenly announced. “So nice to have had a proper chat.”
He glanced back at John and Amarisa, and though they didn't flinch or shift backward it was clear that they wanted to.
Fury twisted in Sherlock's gut like a living thing. Moriarty had hurt John, had touched Amarisa and now he thought he could just walk away? Unacceptable.
“What if I was to shoot you now?” Sherlock hissed, Raniel bristling on his shoulder. “Right now?”
“Then you could cherish the look of surprise on my face,” Moriarty's expression morphed into a ridiculous caricature of shock. “Because I'd be surprised Sherlock, really I would. And just a teensy bit...disappointed. And of course you wouldn't be able to cherish it for very long.”
As much as it burned, he was right. However much Sherlock wanted to shoot him, he couldn't risk it while John was still strapped to that bomb.
Moriarty was moving towards the exit – slowly, as though he had all the time in the world. “Ciao, Sherlock Holmes.”
Sherlock stepped closer to John, feeling an urge to throw in one last taunt just to cover how shaken he was. “Catch. You. Later.”
“No you won't,” came Moriarty's jeering rejoinder just before the door clanged shut.
Both humans and dæmons held themselves still for the space of a breath. Then Sherlock dropped to one knee in front of John and began yanking at the straps and buckles that secured the vest. Raniel leapt to the floor and streaked across the tiles to Amarisa's side, teeth closing around the choke chain and tugging it off her neck.
“All right?” Sherlock and his dæmon spoke at the same time.
At the edge of his vision, Sherlock could see Amarisa press her nose against Raniel's, offering silent reassurance. But John was panting heavily, his head thrown back so Sherlock couldn't see his face.
“Are you all right?” Sherlock repeated.
“Yeah, I'm fine, I'm fine,” John breathed as Sherlock worked on stripping the vest and parka from his shoulders. “Sherlock? Sherlock?”
Incredibly, John sounded worried about him. Worried about Sherlock, even after all that he'd endured.
But there was no time to dwell on that, just as there was no guarantee Moriarty was truly gone. Sherlock snatched the gun from the floor and went to check, but soon found he couldn't go far because Raniel hadn't followed him. When he re-entered the pool John was crouched against the wall of a cubicle, one hand clenched in Amarisa's ruff, and he was actually asking Raniel if the dæmon was all right.
“We're fine,” the polecat muttered, licking and nudging at Amarisa's muzzle as though trying to comfort her, but his movements were too frenetic to really be called 'soothing'.
Sherlock could sympathise – he couldn't help pacing up and down, filled with nervous energy, the vestiges of horror and bone-deep terror jangling along his spine.
He remembered Moriarty's hands on Amarisa with a fresh surge of bile, and wondered how many times she and John had been subjected to that in the hours before he and Raniel came. He remembered John tackling Moriarty without hesitation, and wondered how many people would have shown the same courage.
“That, uh, that thing that you did,” Sherlock muttered, knowing that he was being far from coherent but feeling the need to say it. “That you offered to do, that was, um...good.”
Amarisa seemed to be smiling, and the corner of John's mouth gave a weary twitch.
“I'm glad no one saw that,” he sighed.
“Glad no one saw what?” Raniel asked.
“You, ripping my clothes off in a darkened swimming pool,” John clarified with a tired smile.
“People might talk,” Amarisa finished, her dog-grin clearly in evidence.
A joke. John and Amarisa were joking moments after having been abused and how did they do that?
Sherlock tried to muster himself to respond. “People do little else.”
John smiled again, and to his surprise Sherlock found the muscles of his cheeks pulling his lips into a similar grin. Amarisa whuffed and nipped playfully at Raniel's ear, and the polecat chittered as he nudged sharply at her chin.
Snorting with amusement at their dæmon's behaviour, John began to push himself to his feet...then suddenly ground to a halt.
A spot of red light was dancing over his shirt. It was joined by others, and a single glance confirmed Sherlock's worst fears – a swarm of laser sights covered all of them, hovering over himself, John, Amarisa and even Raniel.
He could feel himself tense, his muscles winding tighter as his hand took a firm grip on the gun once more. John was tense as well, preparing for action even though he clearly didn't know what that action could be, and Raniel had gone completely still, pressing himself back against Amarisa as if he believed his much-smaller body could somehow shield her.
Amarisa was the only one who spoke, in a statement no less crass than it was a neat summary of the situation.
AN: Thanks toginbitch , for beta-ing this chapter for me!
And there's some more art up on my master image post – check it out!
Part Nine: Building The Republic
Part Ten: Lit From Within
Part Eleven: Structrual Integrity
Part Twelve: The Reader