Rating: 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. John meets up with some old friends, Mycroft unravels the secret of the prophecy, and Sherlock searches for more information on Moriarty.
(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
Part Ten: Lit From Within
Part Eleven: Structural Integrity
Structural Integrity (contd.)
“Where did you two go, anyway?” Amarisa asked, looking up at the polecat. “You just disappeared and we didn't see you again until now.”
Raniel pulled a face. “Mycroft wanted to talk about some possible developments, so we left you to your little social rituals. Believe me, you were better off.”
John smirked. “Anything interesting?”
“You could say that. Mycroft has made a tentative link between Moriarty and a group called Traditional Values for a Bright New Britain.”
“I think we've heard of that lot,” Amarisa mused. “Aren't they the nutters that basically want to resurrect the Magesterium?”
“Essentially, yes.” Raniel agreed. “We didn't think much of it – groups like that have been buzzing around since the Magesterium fell and they've never managed to really do anything. It's like how white supremacist beliefs survived the abolition of slavery and the fall of the Third Reich. You're always going to have idiots latching onto something that justifies their belief that they're better than the rest of their species.”
“But if this particular group is linked to Moriarty...” John commented between bites.
“Then they might actually pose a threat, yes.”
The Magesterium had been the name of the theocratic government that had existed a few centuries back. Back then, government and law and the Church had been inextricably intertwined, to a scary extent. No one held a government position without being active in the church, and even the most minor of the biblical 'sins' were things that you could be legally punished for.
Then they overreached themselves. The discovery of Stanislaus particles, and in particular the discovery that they were more attracted to adults than children, was held as the proof of original sin, and that those particles were somehow the manifestation of that. It had culminated in government-sanctioned abductions of children and transport to a place that came to be known as Bolvangar, where intercision experiments were performed on them.
Just the word 'intercision' was enough to make the food in John's mouth turn sour.
“Does Mycroft think it's a serious link?” Amarisa wondered, subtly rubbing the side of her muzzle against John's hand as she felt his flash of distress. “I mean, is he actually invested in their goal, or is he just playing consulting criminal for them?”
“Given that his contact with them seems to be more extensive than his usual business deal, the former seems more likely,” Sherlock cut in.
They'd been keeping their voices very low in an effort not to disturb anyone at the table, but as Sherlock was sitting right next to them and his own dæmon was involved in the conversation, he'd obviously heard everything.
“And it's not so much the humans that we have to be worried about as the witch clan,” Sherlock went on. “Or possibly clans, plural, depending on if they have allies they trust enough.”
“You think the witches are in on this too?” John frowned. “But why – I thought witch clans in general didn't think much of human politics? What do they have to gain by getting involved in something like that?”
“In the past, witches didn't care about human politics, that's true,” Raniel said. “But that was only because human government never affected them. Witches could go anywhere they wanted and no one could see or stop them, so they never bothered with whatever the humans in their country were doing. But nowadays, with fighter planes and radar...they can be monitored, and laws can be enforced.”
“What sort of laws?” Amarisa asked, looking up from the book.
“Witches can only be punished for serious felonies,” Sherlock explained. “Some sort of treaty with the UN. Murder, kidnapping...crimes at that level. But it's still a lot more than they used to answer for – why do you think that the habit of killing men who scorned them has gone down in the past fifty years?”
John shrugged. “We just assumed it was because human and witches were interacting a lot more, and they were accepting that we weren't a lower class of being that should automatically be flattered when one of them displays interest.”
Sherlock snorted, clearly expressing what he and Raniel thought of John and Amarisa's optimistic beliefs about people's natures.
“There are also rules they have to follow for moving between countries,” Raniel added. “Some witches – well, a lot of them, really – resent the restrictions they're being placed under.”
“And maybe they resent it enough to try to change the government itself,” John finished, scraping the last bits of potato off his plate. “I get it.”
Sherlock nodded. “It's likely that Moriarty's clan is seeking to establish a government they can rule through. And as the Magesterium's stronghold was originally in England, England is where it's likely to gain a new foothold.”
“What about The Vatican?” Amarisa pointed out. “I mean really, if any place is the most susceptible to a religious-based government...”
“But that wouldn't work,” Sherlock interjected. “This is hardly a purely religious government they're planning – they want the witches (and likely Moriarty) at the top of the proverbial food chain, something that would be difficult to wrangle in a place so saturated with people sitting on the highest rung of the religious ladder.”
John had a nasty feeling that this was probably why the witches had attacked Aeliana's clan. Because they never could have managed a coup of this size with England's native witch clan around.
Sherlock hadn't even paused in his hushed, rapid-fire narrative. “Of course, the prophecy about you being their downfall clearly worried them enough to shoot at you, which concerned Mummy enough to enlist Mycroft's help in watching over you-”
John blinked. “Say again? Mycroft was watching over us?”
“I just said that, John – pay attention.” Sherlock's mouth was scrunched and Raniel appeared to be pouting, as though disgusted by the idea of Mycroft watching John and Amarisa before they met them.
“But Moriarty didn't kill us,” John said. “Why? Not killing you, I could sort of understand, but he didn't seem too fond of me or Risa, so-”
“Clearly, he's playing a different game,” Raniel interrupted, looking disgruntled. “But what? Is he really that certain that the prophecy refers to us? Or is he just waiting to see why you're so important before he makes his move?”
“Don't discount the 'he's batshit crazy' theory,” Amarisa offered. “He seems the type to leave us alive just because it amuses him.”
Sherlock made a thoughtful noise, then dismissed the matter with a wave of his hand. “In any case, re-instatement of the Magesterium will require people in the government, especially as the movement hasn't attracted overwhelming support from the general public. Mycroft will have to find those agents and clear them out, which will be difficult – if they haven't slipped up already, they're not likely to.”
John couldn't deny he was feeling a bit daunted. Not scared, exactly (at least, not yet), but rather unnerved at the dizzying prospect that Moriarty might have people in the government. Because for all Sherlock's and Raniel's talk about the grand plan of the witches, something in John's gut told him that Moriarty was the mastermind in this, all the way.
And bringing him down wasn't going to be easy. He had at least one very substantial witch clan behind him, along with a network of criminals extensive enough to keep him hidden until he'd chosen to reveal himself.
Though if John was being honest, he'd admit the prospect of a long struggle with Moriarty didn't intimidate him so much as how that struggle was going to play out. Moriarty dealt in espionage, with string-pulling and networks of contacts and that wasn't the kind of war John was equipped to fight. Give him a gun in his hand and an enemy to kill or subdue and he was at home – ask him to ferret out a traitor within a certain group, and he was completely lost.
Only years of army training kept John from jumping at Mycroft’s exclamation. Everyone else around the table jerked in surprise, and Raniel hissed in displeasure as the book in Sherlock’s hands bumped him in the chest.
“Mycroft!” Aeliana scolded. “Don’t shout at the dinner table – I taught you better manners than that!”
But for once, Mycroft seemed unaware of his surroundings, scribbling frantically on the paper in front of him as his raven dæmon preened, seemingly particularly pleased with herself.
“Well?” Sherlock demanded impatiently. “Are you going to actually say anything? Or were you only trying to look clever?”
Hasna's eyebrows rose at the acerbic note in Sherlock's voice. “And here I thought you'd exaggerated their rivalry, Aeliana.”
“Oh believe me, she hasn't exaggerated anything...” John groused.
Both Aeliana and Grayson sighed, as though resigned to the endless in-fighting of their children. Amarisa giggled to herself, quietly at first, then louder and wilder when Raniel leaned over and nipped her ear in annoyance.
Mycroft's raven (John would have to remember to ask Sherlock her name) clacked her beak at the pair of them, glaring disapprovingly.
“We were too narrow in our approach to the prophecy,” Mycroft was explaining. “The pronouns are identical, true, but there's nothing to suggest they refer to the same person. If the prophecy is split in half, then-”
“Wait, are you saying the prophecy refers to two people?” Tamsyn broke in, frowning. “Not just John?”
“That's exactly what I'm saying. In fact, I believe it refers to both John and Sherlock.”
John thought it was a reflection on what his life had become that his first impulse wasn't to just laugh out loud at the idea that he and Sherlock were the object of a witch prophecy, but to give it serious consideration.
“Both of them?” Hasna echoed, surveying the pair of them as though weighing the thought in her mind.
“It certainly has potential,” Grayson reflected, his golden osprey dæmon looking over his shoulder from her perch on the back of his chair. “And you're right, Mycroft – there's nothing to say that 'he' can't refer to two different men.”
Raniel looked disgruntled, and Sherlock's eyes had narrowed as he glared at his brother. “And what makes you think it doesn't refer solely to John?”
“The line 'he will forge his own path',” Mycroft explained. “With no slight intended upon you, John, a doctor in the army is hardly an original profession.”
John nodded amiably, but Sherlock seemed to take it as a personal insult. “Have you ever considered that it might refer to something other than his career choice?”
“Look at the evidence, Sherlock,” Mycroft said, in the tone of someone who wanted everyone else to know exactly how patient they were being. “'He will walk the fringes and his dæmon will set him apart' – John has hardly spent most of his life on what we would call the fringes of society, but you have. And Raniel's behaviour towards other dæmons has often proved alienating, at least until...”
He nodded tactfully at Amarisa and Raniel, Sherlock's dæmon having climbed on top of the wolfdog's head and seeming quite content to stay there, pawing idly at Amarisa's ears. John's dæmon grinned her dog-grin, her tongue flicking out from the side of her muzzle to swipe at Raniel's tail.
A squirmy feeling of semi-embarrassment crawled up John's chest (their dæmons were all-but making out in front of Sherlock's parents!) and he hoped he wasn't blushing.
Mycroft was far from finished. “The second line speaks for itself. 'He will find a home with the outcasts and his soul will be unique' – that certainly applies to John-”
“Hang on a sec!” John interrupted. “How does the 'home with the outcasts' bit apply? Because it-”
“Oh, do wake up, John!” Sherlock snapped. “You became friends with three witches and you're on first-name terms with an armoured bear – hardly people widely accepted by human society.”
“Moving on,” Mycroft said, just the suggestion of raised volume in his voice. “'A witch will raise him' is obviously Sherlock, while 'the witches will protect him' refers to John. Sherlock's consulting detective business certainly constitutes forging his own path, while John's military service may be construed as answering his country's call.”
“What about the 'loneliness will know him' bit?” Tamsyn asked.
Aeliana and Grayson looked a little uncomfortable, while Sherlock's expression could best be described as 'defiant'.
Mycroft seemed to hesitate, before saying diplomatically, “My brother has never been particularly talented at endearing himself to others.”
“Why bother?” Sherlock muttered. “Normal people are so dull we'd die of terminal boredom if we had to spend time with them recreationally. Ordinary jobs, ordinary lives, duping themselves into believing they're special when they're just like every other Homo sapiens on the planet-”
“Hey!” John interjected, feeling as though he should defend himself.
Sherlock gave him an exasperated look. “John, you are as far from ordinary as it is possible to be.”
John refused to acknowledge that something in his chest might have fluttered at what, from Sherlock, was probably the highest compliment he could give someone. Amarisa ducked her head and nuzzled John's side, making Raniel squeak and clutch at her ears to keep himself from tumbling to the floor.
“Don't do that,” the polecat chided.
Amarisa laughed, then tilted her nose to the ground and deliberately shook her head until Raniel slid to the ground in an undignified heap of ruffled white fur. But before he could sulk too much, her left paw shot out and yanked him close, so she could nuzzle and lick at every inch of him.
Though the polecat was grumbling, John didn't miss the way his small claws had curled in Amarisa's thick chest fur, keeping himself pressed hard against her.
“I assume 'death will touch him' refers to John's encounter with the death-spells,” Hasna said, her voice dragging John's attention back to the people around the table.
“It seems likely,” Mycroft agreed. “'He will see what others are blind to' pertains to Sherlock-”
“Would it?” Tamsyn asked. “No offence intended, Sherlock, but John's sensitivity does seem to fit that better. From what I understand you just observe things that other people overlook or don't realise the significance of. Would you say that they're 'blind' to it?”
“Yes,” Sherlock said rudely.
John nudged Sherlock's knee with his own, a silent admonishment of, 'she's helping, be nice!'
Sherlock nudged back, which John took as a reply of, 'I am being nice – I didn't announce details of her sex life, did I?'
“Besides,” Mycroft cut in smoothly. “It's far more likely that John is referenced in the second part of that line. 'He will know what others cannot see', remember? John's sensitivity is closer to 'knowing' than 'seeing'.”
“And then those bits about destruction and downfall refer to each of us separately,” John surmised.
John digested that for a moment. “Are you sure it doesn't refer to someone else?”
“Oh, for fuck's sake!” Sherlock spat. “What will it take to open your eyes to the fact that you're special!”
“Language!” Grayson barked, and John was surprised to see Sherlock look momentarily chastened.
“We always assumed the prophecy referred to John, and now we know it refers to Sherlock as well,” Aeliana mused, looking concerned. “But we're no closer to finding out why.”
“That puzzled me, too,” Hasna admitted. “When we thought the prophecy only referred to John, I couldn't see how he could possibly be a witch clan's downfall. And I still don't see it now. Your sensitivity is certainly impressive, John, and unique, but I just...”
“Don't see how it's meant to work against them,” John finished. “Me too. I mean, it's kind of handy to sense where spells are, but so what? What good does that really do me against them?”
Sherlock's fingers were steepled in front of his face in what John had come to consider his 'thinking pose'. Sherlock had clearly checked out of the conversation, his brain going along at its usual screaming pace – even Raniel was now limp in Amarisa's grasp, the dæmon muttering to himself.
By general consensus, everyone left them to it and resumed flicking through the books of symbols in an effort to decipher the alethiometer's message.
Sherlock and Raniel were still pondering the question of exactly how he and John were going to be a witch clan's doom when they went up the bed that night. Not to sleep, of course, but Mummy had harried them out of the library.
“These all-nighters can't be healthy,” she'd fussed. “At least let me pretend that you're getting some sleep.”
Sherlock and his dæmon had been reluctant to admit it, but Mycroft's theory about the prophecy referring to both them and John made sense. How Sherlock could assure the downfall of the witch clan's ambition seemed obvious – he could stop Moriarty.
And it would be Sherlock that stopped him, both he and Raniel knew that. Mycroft might be close to their intellectual level, but he had other duties, couldn't devote all his energies to it...and didn't have the raw, visceral motivation Sherlock did to see Moriarty brought down. But if Sherlock's role was to disable Moriarty, then what was John's role? The prophecy suggested that it was something to do with his sensitivity.
So Sherlock had been speed-reading through Sensitive: Examination of the Stanislaus Particle Theory, a treatise on Stanislaus particles and why certain people might be sensitive to them. Officially, it was still a theory – no one had ever managed to capture and examine Stanislaus particles to determine once and for all whether they were responsible for these phenomenon – but it was widely accepted as fact, if only because it explained so much.
He hadn't really learned anything new, though. Stanislaus particle sensitivity was estimated at about thirty percent of the population (in varying degrees depending on the individual), but it was hardly an accurate estimate. Given that so few of the population came into contact with spells, it was believed to be vastly under-reported. Children were often more sensitive to Stanislaus particles than adults, but that sensitivity seemed to disappear or dim as they grew older.
Sherlock had left the book in the library, as there was little point in finishing it – he'd already been on the epilogue-like attachment about the alethiometer. No one knew what ran alethiometers, but one tenuous theory was that the alethiometer was also somehow linked to Stanislaus particles.
But by and large, the general consensus was that some kind of immensely complex spell had been cast on the alethiometers, one that was now lost accidentally or had been deliberately abandoned after their creation. Given that witches were often slightly better at translating then humans, this seemed the most likely explanation.
They found John and Amarisa in the ensuite bathroom of their room, preparing for bed. Amarisa's front paws were resting on John's shoulders to keep her balanced upright, her lips wrinkled back as John brushed her teeth. It was a familiar sight – though Amarisa didn't eat, she used her mouth to handle objects, and liked John to get out the fine particles stuck between her teeth before she went to sleep.
Raniel took the opportunity. “You saved Mummy's life?”
“It wasn't anything special,” John said, now rinsing the toothbrush in the sink. “While we were in Afghanistan, I happened to look up and spot her having a bit of difficulty with three other witches. I managed to shoot two of them, and she took care of the last one. Anyone else would have done it.”
“Unlikely,” Sherlock pointed out. “Most people make an effort not to get involved in the struggles of witches for fear of supernatural reprisal.”
John's expression said that he doubted that (and had there ever in the history of humanity existed someone so completely blind to their own qualities?), but apparently decided to let it pass without comment. “It was good to talk to everyone again. And I even got to ask them about Ragnvald – he's in line for leadership of his clan now.”
Sherlock made a non-committal noise, even as he and Raniel took note of that. It wasn't likely, but if it ever came to outright war with Moriarty's witch clan, a panserbjørne clan leader who considered John a friend could come in handy.
Not for the first time, Sherlock reflected on just how unusual that was. Three sentient species existed on the planet, the most numerous of which were humans (Homo sapiens sapiens). There had been debate about the classification of witches (Homo sapiens mulier), as they couldn't reproduce by themselves, but in the end, no one could argue the fact that witches and human women were very, very different. Though well aware of their existence, most humans would never meet a witch in their lifetime – the two cultures were simply so far removed from each other. Ursus sapiens, the armoured bears, were even more distant; by necessity, they were restricted to the colder areas of the world, and when there was contact with human society it tended to be wary and fractious.
Most sentient beings would only rarely interact with a member of another species, and almost never form an extended acquaintance. But John...John counted at least one friend in each species.
“What were you guys looking for anyway?” Amarisa asked. “You went to the library and never came back.”
“We were looking into Stanislaus particle sensitivity,” Sherlock replied.
“Oh. You were wondering how we're going to be that witch clan's doom too?”
“And we found out there's been a burglary at the Yad VaShem Holocaust museum,” Raniel announced. “They took the Maystadt guillotine. Mycroft believes Moriarty might have had a hand in it.”
John and Amarisa didn't shiver at the name, but they did go momentarily still. Understandable, really – few people could discuss anything to do with the Maystadt procedure without discomfort.
The Maystadt guillotine referred to an intercision device designed by scientists in the pay of the Magesterium, and later used by Mengele in the concentration camps. It was a blade of magnesium-titanium alloy with an electrical current running through it which, when brought down between a human and their dæmon, severed their bond.
John was actually looking a little ill. “Do you think he's...”
Sherlock shrugged. “Who knows?”
Sherlock had taken a glance at the case, and though he'd admitted to Raniel that it could very well be Moriarty's handiwork, he wasn't going to leave the country. At least not until they had more information, and could be adequately prepared for a second confrontation...
“Are you all right?” Raniel asked, and Sherlock realised Amarisa was pressed against John's thigh, licking his hand the way she did when they needed comfort.
“Fine,” John said automatically. “It's just not pleasant to think of Moriarty experimenting with intercision. I mean, we've seen people after that, and they're just...”
He trailed off, but the expression on his face was a contorted mixture of horror and pity.
“You've seen severed people?” Sherlock repeated, curious.
'Severed' was the term used to refer to those humans and dæmons whose bond had been sundered.
John nodded. “I worked in some nursing homes while I was getting work experience, and there were a few of them – survivors of concentration camps, you know? And they walk and talk and act completely normal, but they're just...off. They'll ask how your day's been or what's for dinner, but they have no real interest in the answers. I mean, I was dealing with people suffering from advanced Alzheimer's and dementia, and they never unsettled me as much as severed people did.”
“It's hard to explain, but I'll give it a shot,” John said, and spent several moments thinking it over before, “Give someone with dementia paper and crayons and they'll draw. Probably not very well, but they'll still do it – scribble lines on paper, choose different colours, that sort of thing. Give severed people the same materials, and they won't touch them. They'll spend hours staring at a blank sheet of paper without making the slightest move. They're just...missing something – whatever part of us that gives us ambition, interest, that makes us want to create something, that makes us passionate about things. We can't really quantify it or measure it, but when you see them...you feel its absence.”
There was a distant, slightly haunted look in John's eyes, and Sherlock was reminded of the theory that myths of zombies came from stories of severed people.
John and his dæmon blinked, shook themselves, and moved into the bedroom. They were obviously exhausted, having spent most of the night looking through the books of symbols and writing down possible meanings; Amarisa heaved herself laboriously onto the bed, and John was stripping down to his underwear with a lot of yawning and blinking. Raniel chittered in amusement when the doctor's foot caught in his trousers.
“You shouldn't laugh at the man with the illegal gun,” Amarisa muttered drowsily as her human slid under the covers.
Which, of course, only made Raniel laugh harder.
“Do you want to have sex?” John asked, in the same tone of polite enquiry he used when offering tea or food.
His train of thought momentarily halted, Sherlock considered the question. The idea was tempting in an abstract way, but Sherlock's mind was fully engaged at the moment, which meant his usual appetites fell by the wayside.
“Thinking,” was all he said.
From his position on Sherlock's shoulder, Raniel's tail slapped the back of Sherlock's neck as the polecat hissed reprovingly. Belatedly it occurred to Sherlock that his response had been a bit brusque he probably should have done it more gently – the last thing he wanted was for John to feel offended or rejected. After all, the fact that he'd even considered sex while so absorbed in the puzzle of the prophecy was a real first for Sherlock.
But John's response was simply, “All right.”
He rolled over, closing his eyes as Amarisa snuggled against his back.
“You can leave the light on,” the wolfdog yawned. “Just try to keep it quiet, okay?”
Her eyes were already shut, and within a minute both her and her human's breathing had adopted the deep, even pattern of someone in the beginning stages of sleep. Sherlock had always been slightly dubious of people who claimed they could fall asleep instantly, but it seemed that was exactly what John and Amarisa had done.
Sherlock glanced at his dæmon, shrugged, and opened their suitcase, pulling out the laptop, intending to search for more information on Carl Powers. Even Mycroft had agreed that Carl Powers was the most likely route to Moriarty – he'd even resorted to asking the alethiometer, hadn't he?
They were intending to sit on the chair, but...well, the room could get a bit chilly, and it seemed a waste to get a blanket or turn up the heating when John and Amarisa were already under the blankets, undoubtedly radiating warmth. Sherlock made himself comfortable slowly and carefully, half-expecting John to startle and wake up, but the other man didn't stir. Only Amarisa's eyes opened to peer at them for a moment, unfocused with sleep, before she nudged her nose against Raniel's and settled back down.
Sherlock opened the laptop, and he and his dæmon settled in to get as much work done as they could before breakfast. Mycroft, the lazy bastard, was probably sleeping like the rest of the household, and Sherlock couldn't deny he wanted to be gloating over information his brother didn't have by morning; it was only what Mycroft deserved for keeping John's encounter with Mummy and the death-spells from Sherlock for so long.
“We should probably turn off the light,” Raniel whispered.
Sherlock glanced over at his dæmon. Raniel was sitting on top of the bedspread, his forepaws resting on the edge of the laptop with his attention on the sleeping figures on the other side of the bed. Amarisa's head was buried beneath John's arm, and the man's hand was flung over his face, as though subconsciously shielding his eyes.
Sherlock was half-surprised that his first impulse wasn't to ignore Raniel and get back to work. But instead, he rose and turned off the light before returning to the bed by the light of the computer screen.
“Now,” he murmured, keeping his voice low and soothing so as not to disturb the sleepers. “Back to Carl Powers...”
AN: Thanks to my beta, ginbitch, who helped me through some tricky bits in this chapter!