Rating: Probably PG-13 for this bit
Disclaimer: I do not own these characters, and am making no profit from their use, more's the pity.
Warnings: Slash, mention of sex in this part
Summary: HDM AU. Two visitors calls on Baker Street and another aspect of John and Amarisa's sensitivity is revealed...
(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
Part Nine: Building The Republic
Lit From Within
John was surprised that Sherlock fell asleep before he did. To tell the truth, he was surprised Sherlock fell asleep at all – John had been expecting Sherlock to cuddle for maybe a few minutes before losing interest and going off to do something else.
It wasn't that he thought Sherlock didn't care about him – after tonight, he'd never make that mistake again – but Sherlock's abhorrence of boredom meant he was often incapable of just relaxing and doing nothing. Not to mention his usual disdain for sleep.
But no, Sherlock was dead to the world, and even seemed to be snoring lightly against the back of John's neck.
But then the whole day had been a bit of a roller-coaster, and emotional exhaustion was probably a new concept to Sherlock.
“I can feel you thinking,” came Amarisa's soft mutter from beside him.
“Sorry,” John whispered. “Won't happen again. It's just...they're really dead to the world, aren't they?”
“Yeah...” Amarisa licked gently at the top of Raniel's head, prompting a sleepy mewl of contentment as the polecat snuggled closer.
John tried to shift to get a glimpse of Raniel, but was halted when Sherlock's arm – previously content to lie limply on his chest – suddenly tightened around him, the other man making a displeased noise. John stilled, wondering if he'd woken Sherlock up, but as soon as the doctor stopped moving Sherlock relaxed, his face smoothing out.
“Awww,” Amarisa cooed. “You two are just adorable.”
“Oh, shut up,” John said, ruffling the thin fur on the top of her head in retaliation.
“I will if you'll go to sleep.”
“Deal,” John sighed, closing his eyes.
All things considered, it had been a very long day, and he was only too happy to drift off.
When he woke up, he and Amarisa were alone in the bed, but John had rather expected that. He stretched languidly, yawning, and then grimaced as his collection of bruises made themselves known. Most of them had darkened overnight as the crushed capillaries leaked blood beneath his skin, and now there was no adrenaline rush or endorphin high to mediate the ache.
“You okay?” Amarisa asked.
“Fine,” John sighed, carefully mobilising tender joints. “Just a bit rough around the edges. How about you?”
“I'm fine – you were in front of me, remember?”
John nodded, and wondered idly why dæmons often seemed to be more resilient than their humans to physical injury. It was hypothesised that because their bodies were constructed in different ways to their humans, it was more difficult to damage them.
“No heavy thoughts before breakfast,” Amarisa grumbled, her tongue curling on an enormous yawn.
John seriously considered going down for breakfast without bothering to get dressed before he remembered that the windows were still strips of paper. While a glance at his alarm clock told him he'd slept straight through the morning and into the early afternoon, it would still be pretty chilly down there.
Amarisa rolled about the bed as he got dressed, wriggling the kinks out of her back and legs. As soon as John had pulled a jumper on, she bounded down the stairs so quickly John felt an uncomfortable tug on their bond.
“Hey, watch it!” he called good-naturedly, hurrying to follow her.
Sherlock was at the computer – John's computer, but by this point John had rather given in to having his possessions appropriated – and Amarisa was rubbing her face against Raniel's so hard she'd butted the poor dæmon over onto his back.
It was like nothing had changed. John couldn't help grinning at the idea because really, he didn't think anything was going to – they were still Sherlock and John, much the same as they'd ever been, just with kisses and sex now.
Even if it still seemed slightly unbelievable. Not so much the sex, though that had been pretty amazing. But more the incredible, improbable, wonderful fact that they had touched each other's dæmons.
John freely admitted he hadn't known what was going on when Raniel had scrambled onto his lap – he'd been frozen in place, dimly wondering what on earth Sherlock and his dæmon were playing at. But there had been an expression of such yearning on Sherlock's face, and Raniel...
Then he'd known. He'd looked straight into Sherlock's eyes as his hand lowered, trying to tell him he knew what this meant, that he was ready.
Touching Raniel had been...well, John had never experienced anything like it. The feeling of the polecat's white fur against his palm produced the kind of satisfied pleasure John usually only felt from a very absorbing kiss, but there was more to it than that. Sherlock's eyes had practically been rolling back in his head and Raniel was trembling under his fingers – they were so utterly helpless that John had felt a swell of protectiveness in him, a deep need to somehow be worthy of the trust they were placing in him.
And a desperate longing for reciprocation, for Sherlock to touch Amarisa.
John's dæmon had climbed to her feet and was gazing longingly at Sherlock's hands, resting limply on the arms of the chair, as though Sherlock was too drugged with pleasure to move. She'd glanced at John, almost whining in her eagerness, and John had nodded.
He couldn't say they hadn't been a bit wary. They couldn't help but remember what it had felt like for Moriarty to touch Amarisa, and some part of John was terrified that it would feel the same even with Sherlock.
But he'd trusted Sherlock. Enough to tell himself that it would feel completely different – it had to – and that even if he and Amarisa didn't like it, Sherlock would stop.
Except it hadn't been unpleasant. It had been wonderful.
John didn't think he'd ever be able to describe the sheer intimacy of it – it was just so far beyond anything he'd ever known before. Even beyond sex, though John had certainly had no objections to the way the evening (well, morning, as Sherlock had insisted on reminding him) had ended.
He usually didn't sleep with people he was serious about straight out of the gate, but after that...John had craved it, had needed that physical connection with Sherlock.
“Does sex usually put you in this good a mood?” Sherlock asked, jerking John out of his reverie.
John realised the kettle was well past boiled, and that he'd been standing at the wall grinning stupidly for at least three minutes.
“Well, you'll find out, won't you?” he retorted, his smile stretching even wider.
Amarisa giggled, and John tweaked her ear.
Sherlock and Raniel were staring at them as though John's response had surprised them somehow.
“What's wrong?” Amarisa asked, frowning.
“Nothing,” Sherlock said quickly, though he still had that look on his face, a strange mixture of incredulity and satisfied pleasure.
John made his tea and took a few tentative sips. Then, secure that his morning breath had been replaced by the taste of tea, walked over to Sherlock and kissed him. He made sure to keep it light and undemanding – just a brief press of mouth to mouth – with the barest flick of tongue as he pulled away.
Sherlock looked pole-axed, and John shifted his weight, wondering if that had been a mistake.
“I like kissing in the mornings,” he explained lamely. “Will that...be a problem?”
“Not at all,” Sherlock said softly, still looking a little dazed.
Then he seemed to come back to himself as John stepped away, and something in him relaxed. John couldn't have explained how he knew it – Sherlock didn't slump, didn't sigh, but a tension that been in him before suddenly dissipated. He turned back to the computer, but not before his mouth quirked in a satisfied (and strangely, almost relieved) smile.
Raniel chittered and rubbed himself against Amarisa's forelegs. The wolfdog made a soft, almost sighing sound of pleasure and lowered her muzzle to lick and nudge at the polecat.
It was almost as though Sherlock and his dæmon hadn't known John and Amarisa were in this for the long haul before this morning, but John dismissed that thought as ridiculous.
“What are you looking at?” he asked as he went back to making himself breakfast.
“How much Semtex is needed to kill someone,” Sherlock answered promptly. “It's very frustrating – reports seem to vary greatly.”
“That's because it's dependent on the situation, Sherlock,” John told him, pouring museli into one of their clean bowls. “If there's shrapnel about, you don't need much force to make an explosion potentially lethal. And even if you're talking about purely concussive force only, it can still depend on a lot of factors – why do you want to know?”
“We want to know if that bomb jacket could have killed you,” Raniel said from the floor, curled between Amarisa's forelegs.
“Oh, definitely,” John nodded at the dæmon. “If it was strapped to my chest when it went off, it certainly would have given me the white butterfly.”
“The white butterfly?” Sherlock echoed.
“It's when a concussive force turns all the internal organs of the chest cavity into soup,” Amarisa explained. “It makes a chest x-ray look like a white butterfly on a blue background.”
“And the bomb jacket would have done this to you?” Sherlock pressed.
“Probably,” John nodded, digging a spoon out of their cutlery drawer and sitting down at the kitchen table to eat his breakfast. “Remember how the explosion knocked us on our arses? Well, imagine that much force turned in on my chest, with no space in-between to cushion the blow.”
“So the bomb was certainly intended to kill you,” Sherlock said, looking ever-so slightly disconcerted.
“That's partly why John ran up behind Moriarty like that,” Amarisa chimed in. “We knew there was something wrong with the bomb, and figured he should be really close to make it a real threat.”
“And you're never to do that again!” Sherlock snapped, glaring at them from over the computer.
“Which part of it?” John asked. “Because if you mean we're never to get strapped to a bomb again, we're right with you-”
“No, you idiot!” Raniel growled. “You're never to tell us to abandon you ever again!”
Amarisa huffed, and John scowled, feeling his dæmon's irritation mingling with his own. “Well, excuse us for trying to save your lives!”
“You could have died!” Sherlock hissed, then – apparently recognising how emotional he sounded – pressed his lips together and turned away.
“We know,” John said wearily, remembering what he and Amarisa had felt when he'd tackled Moriarty. “But...well, as soon as he put that bomb on me, we figured we were already dead – the only thing left to worry about was how we could get you out. We might not be anything special, but-”
Raniel interrupted with a snarl. “If you ever say something so patently stupid again, we'll...”
The dæmon broke off with a noise of frustration and Amarisa licked soothingly at the top of his head, making a crooning noise low in her throat.
Sensing that this was something of an important moment, John abandoned his museli and made his way into the living room. Sherlock was scowling at the computer, and his hands were clenched into fists on top of his thighs.
John would have liked to be angry at being dictated to and yelled at not twelve hours into their new relationship, but he just couldn't – not when he and Amarisa had so clearly terrified Sherlock and Raniel with their sacrifice. Or more specifically, their offer of sacrifice, because they hadn't actually died and John wanted to make sure Sherlock and his dæmon remembered that.
He laid his hand over Sherlock's clenched, whitened knuckles, his fingers gently stroking tendons and prodding muscles until Sherlock's hand had relaxed enough to allow John to slip his own beneath it.
Then he tugged on Sherlock's arm to make the other man lean against him and looped an arm over his shoulders.
“What are you doing?” Sherlock ask, voice somewhat muffled by John's jumper.
“You're concerned and unsettled – I'm prescribing a hug.”
“You do have a fondness for them, don't you?” Sherlock's voice might have been acerbic, but John didn't miss the way Sherlock's arm crept around his waist – carefully, as if Sherlock didn't want him to notice it.
“Yep,” was all John said.
It was true, he was fond of cuddles – they made him feel connected. Because while sex was always enjoyable, just holding someone seemed much more intimate, at least to John. It had always been something of a marker in his relationships, and John knew he and his partner had turned a corner when he was eager to hug them, perhaps because he wasn't usually fond of prolonged physical contact. At least, not with people he didn't trust.
“And I'm not concerned. Or unsettled,” Sherlock added, as though belatedly realising his 'sociopath' title needed to be defended, if only perfunctorily.
John heard Amarisa scoff to herself, but both he and his dæmon let that one pass without comment
“Okay,” John said quietly. “Now I know you're not the best with this empathy stuff, but try to imagine what you would have done if you'd been in our position. If you'd been sure you were going to die and the only thing up in the air was whether or not we'd die with you.”
“That's not fair!” Raniel hissed.
“Why not?” John asked.
“It just isn't,” the polecat huffed.
Still, by the way the dæmon curled himself into a tight ball, hiding his face in the thick fur where Amarisa's foreleg joined her body, John knew he'd given them something to think about.
He patted Sherlock's shoulder and then, just because he'd always wanted to and now he could, gave the man's dark curls a light, affectionate tug before he moved away.
Sherlock was frowning, but not in the sense that John had done something bad, more as though he was puzzled by something. “You've never been this tactile before.”
“Yeah, well, I never had permission before,” John grinned.
While neither he nor Amarisa liked unsolicited physical contact, they'd always found it pleasant to touch people (or in Amarisa's case, dæmons) that they cared for. But relationships were all about compromise, and if Sherlock was bothered by it...
“I can stop, if you want,” he offered.
John grinned to himself.
He went back to his (now very soggy) museli, leaving Amarisa in the living room to answer Sherlock's questions about the bomb.
“We knew something was off with the bomb from the beginning,” the wolfdog said. “It didn't smell right, and the weight was all wrong.”
“So you knew there wasn't as much Semtex attached to you as there appeared to be,” Sherlock surmised.
Amarisa wrinkled her nose. “Not really. We knew something was different, but we didn't really know what that might mean. We're not entirely sure that the explosives he used were even Semtex, come to that.”
“Why?” Raniel asked.
“Wrong colour,” John's dæmon explained. “Semtex tends to be reddish-brown, but those bricks were white, like C4.”
“Likely whatever chemical combination produced the smoke,” Sherlock cut in, tapping away on the keyboard once more. “The reaction was instantaneous and seemed to be triggered by the bullet – though of course it could have been on some sort of timer and the bullet merely a diversion – so it's possible it bears some resemblance to the mechanism found in a car's airbag. But the odour didn't match, so-”
Sherlock broke off as both dæmons' heads swung towards the door, their ears pricking. They'd obviously heard footsteps, because moments later there was a knock from below.
John wondered if it was Lestrade, come to scold them about the pool, but when he went to open the door, it was Mycroft standing on the step.
“Good afternoon, John,” he greeted, stepping through the doorway so smoothly it took John a second or two to remember he hadn't actually invited the man in.
Mycroft's eyes flickered up and down John's body just once, and his raven dæmon suddenly began cackling madly.
Amarisa growled softly, irritated, and John tried not to feel as though he had 'just had sex with your brother' embossed on every inch of his skin and clothes. It wasn't that he was ashamed of it, it was just that Mycroft could probably deduce what they'd done down to the exact positions and oh god no, no, no – why did his brain think those things?
John preceded Mycroft up the stairs into the living room, striving to maintain a neutral expression. They were followed by Mycroft's assistant, who was carrying something that looked a bit like a laptop bag, except that it was too bulky for any laptop made within the last eight years.
“What are you doing here?” Sherlock snapped.
Mycroft offered him an insincere smile. “Does visiting my brother have to come with some ulterior motive? Perhaps I simply wanted to make sure you were unharmed after the debacle at the pool last night.”
Sherlock's face showed very clearly what he thought of that, and even John had to stifle a disbelieving snort. Sometimes he got the feeling Mycroft only kept up the 'pretentious government official' persona because he knew it annoyed Sherlock.
“I'm sure your minions have told you everything there is to know about what happened last night,” Sherlock scoffed.
Neither Mycroft nor his assistant had made any move to sit down, which was making John uncomfortable for no reason he could articulate. Raniel, as usual, ignored both the raven and chameleon dæmon from where he was curled into the thick fur on Amarisa's underbelly.
Mycroft's dæmon started cackling again, and John hoped his flush wasn't as obvious as it felt.
Sherlock was glaring at the bag as though it had personally insulted his deductive capabilities. “Why have you brought that?”
“I need to take a picture,” Mycroft answered placidly.
Sherlock's eyes narrowed. “Why?”
“Comparison purposes, of course.”
“Why do you need that to take a picture?” John asked, eyeing the enormous case sceptically. “And of what?”
“You, John, if you are agreeable. I suppose it was presumptuous to bring it over without first obtaining your consent.”
John had the feeling Mycroft was only tacking on that semi-apology because it was the socially acceptable thing to do, not because he meant it.
“Why?” John asked levelly, suspicious.
“He wants to subject the negative to the Asriel procedure and compare it with the standards for Stanislaus particle visibility,” Sherlock explained.
At least, it would have been an explanation if John had understood that sentence at all.
“Sherlock...” he sighed, exasperated.
Raniel snickered to himself, and Amarisa batted him lightly on the top of his head in remonstration.
It might just be John's imagination, but “Anthea's” chameleon dæmon seemed to be smirking.
“There is a method by which Stanislaus particles can become visible on photographs,” Mycroft interjected. “It's known as the Asriel procedure, and unfortunately requires a photograph to be taken with one of these devices.”
“Anthea” opened the case as though on cue, revealing a wealth of instruments and parts that meant absolutely nothing to John, but as she assembled it the device began to resemble a turn of the century camera.
Sherlock was still scowling, and John wasn't sure if it was a reaction to his brother's high-handedness or the prospect of the photograph being taken itself.
“You said 'compare',” John pointed out. “What-”
“Stanislaus particles become attracted to people once their dæmons settle,” Sherlock interrupted. “But they seem especially attracted to sensitives – a photograph of a sensitive put through the Asriel procedure will show significantly more Stanislaus particles.”
Amarisa blinked, and John couldn't help but ask, “You know that, but not the solar system?”
The mention of the solar system had Sherlock making an expression disturbingly close to a pout. “It's useful to know that people sensitive to spells exist, and that there's a way of identifying them.”
“Indeed,” Mycroft said, smiling. “Now John, if you could just stand over there...”
“Hang on,” John broke in. “How do you know I'm sensitive?”
“Because he doesn't know how to keep that over-large nose out of other people's business,” Sherlock muttered but John ignored him, waiting for Mycroft's answer.
There was a little voice in the back of his head saying that he probably didn't want to know, but John was honestly curious. It wasn't the sort of thing that went in your medical records, after all, and he certainly hadn't put it on his CV.
“You knew Nostrepheus was smiling,” Mycroft said.
“Really? That's it?”
“It's well known sensitives demonstrate above average empathy, both for other people and other people's dæmons. To the extent that it's debated whether the unusual empathy somehow causes the sensitivity, or whether said empathy is merely a subset of sensitivity.”
“Okay,” John said, beginning to understand what this was about. “And you want this kind of photograph to see whether I come up as a sensitive, right?”
“Correct. And the photographs often give a general idea of the degree of sensitivity as well.”
John took the photos “Anthea” offered to him, sitting down beside Sherlock so he could see them too.
“The first is of what we might call a normal person – that is, someone without any degree of sensitivity,” Mycroft told them. “The next is of a sensitive, and the last is of a woman who is believed to be the most sensitive person in the world...for the moment, at least.”
John didn't pay any attention to Mycroft's addendum – he was too busy looking at the photos.
First there was a picture of a man seemingly bathed in golden light, and it would have looked over-exposed if not for the fact that his surroundings were so dim in comparison. The golden light was much more prominent in the second one – beginning to wash out details of the face and clothing – and it seemed to be coming from inside the person, as though there was a neon light beneath their skin.
The woman in the third picture was like concept art of what an angel should look like. Light seemed to spill from every pore, to the extent that it was difficult to spot the buttons on her shirt, and the features of her face were only vague shadows.
“All right,” John said eventually. “You want a photo, I can do that – what do you need me to do?”
Sherlock remained uncharacteristically silent as “Anthea” directed him to stand against the bookshelves and took a picture with an eye-piercing flash and a puff of chemical smoke. He was probably intrigued as to how the picture would turn out but didn't want to admit that his brother might have had a good idea – John was rather curious about the photo himself.
“Has anyone tried to photograph a witch like this?” John wondered.
“They show up like sensitives,” Raniel said as “Anthea” left with the camera and the negative.
“I suppose they would,” Amarisa mused. “After all, they can feel spells, can't they?”
“And now that little curiosity is taken care of, I thought we could get down to business,” Mycroft said, watching the dæmons with something close to amusement in his eyes.
“Your minions not as reliable as they once were?” Sherlock sniped.
Mycroft gave him the kind of look that suggested he was being difficult on purpose. “Many of them were preoccupied informing a host of concerned citizens that you and John are, in fact, alive.”
“Shit!” John blurted, the mention of people being worried about them having jump-started his brain. “I was supposed to meet Sarah last night!”
Amarisa was just as alarmed as John grabbed the phone. “She probably thinks we're in the morgue by this point!”
“Sarah has been notified,” Mycroft interrupted.
“By who?” John asked, already dialling her number. “Because let me tell you, some random government mook calling to say someone you know isn't dead is not as reassuring as you might think.”
Both Sherlock and Mycroft were looking as though they didn't quite realise why that would be.
John declared them both hopeless as he held the phone to his ear and listened to it ring.