Rating: NC-17 for this bit
Disclaimer: I do not own these characters, and am making no profit from their use, more's the pity.
Warnings: Slash, sex in this first part.
Summary: HDM AU. John's sensitivity demonstrates a near-supernatural facet, which may be the reason he will be a witch clan's downfall.
(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
Part Twelve: The Reader
The Reader (contd.)
Of course, by the time John got off the phone with Lestrade – and had showered, cleaned his teeth and brushed Amarisa’s fur – Sherlock and Raniel had left the room. Probably too eager to share their revelation that Moriarty and Carl Powers had been related to wait, and John had a fond smile on his face when he closed the door to their bedroom.
Amarisa was still sleepy, still learning the sounds and smells of the house, and John blamed her unawareness when they nearly ran over Sherlock’s father as they turned a corner.
Amarisa leapt back, instinctively bristling in surprise, and John tried not to blush. Was he cursed to always run into a member of Sherlock’s family whenever he and Sherlock had just had sex?
Grayson’s eyes widened, his gaze fixed on Amarisa, and his golden osprey’s wings started to open and then closed swiftly, as though she’d been about to launch into flight instinctively but stopped herself. Amarisa quickly softened her posture, her lips falling back over her teeth and flattening her fur – she even wagged her tail for good measure.
But John could see by Grayson’s startled expression that it was too late. He might have been aware, objectively, that Amarisa was a wolfdog, but he hadn’t seen it until now. John braced himself for the pity or wariness or whatever expression was about to cross Grayson’s face, and was completely shocked when the man beamed at them.
“Fascinating,” he breathed, with the exact same tone Sherlock used when he’d stumbled across an interesting facet of a case. “I knew she was a wolfdog, but I didn’t expect her to be quite so…magnificent.”
John was struck dumb, and Amarisa’s tail stopped wagging, standing straight up in surprise.
“I’m sorry, that was terribly rude of me,” Grayson backpedalled. “I study dæmons you know – their bonds with their humans and why they settle in the forms they do – so I’m afraid I don’t have a lot of boundaries when it comes to other people’s dæmons.”
In that moment, John could clearly see the man’s influence on his youngest son. No wonder Sherlock was so blasé about directly addressing people’s dæmons.
“It’s fine,” John said automatically. “Sherlock doesn’t have many boundaries about that, either.”
Grayson’s lips quirked into a smile. “I’m not surprised.”
There was a small pause where Grayson stared almost wistfully at Amarisa, before his dæmon nipped him gently on the ear.
“Oh yes,” he startled, coming out of whatever thoughts he’d been absorbed by. “Samieyah just reminded me – we came to show you to the kitchen for some breakfast.”
John absently noted the dæmon’s name – Samieyah – for future reference as he and his wolfdog followed Sherlock’s father down the hall.
“I like him,” Amarisa whispered.
John rubbed the top of her head to communicate his agreement.
But Grayson and Samieyah seemed agitated, the osprey constantly glancing over at John and then down at Amarisa. Their whole demeanour practically screamed self-containtment, as though they were just barely holding themselves back from an inappropriate outburst.
John just waited. If Grayson was anything like his son, he and his dæmon could only control themselves for so long.
“If I’m over-stepping, please tell me and there’ll be no hard feelings,” Grayson eventually blurted, speaking very rapidly as though he was afraid John would interrupt. “But I was wondering I could measure the two of you.”
John blinked, and put a comforting hand on Amarisa’s back as the fur there began to bristle defensively. “Measure how?”
“Nothing invasive,” Grayson hastened to assure them. “Just height, weight, that sort of thing. One of my areas of research is the comparative size of dæmons to the true animals of the form they settle in. While their shape is still mutable, dæmons can change their size to a certain extent, but they rarely exceed the size of their own human. My current theory is that it has to do with shared energies-”
John listened to Grayson ramble on with half an ear, glancing down at Amarisa with a question written in his face. The wolfdog rolled her shoulders and wagged her tail, as if to ask ‘why not?’.
Besides, it was a good idea to stay on good terms with your father-in-law…and damn if that thought didn’t sound strange even in John’s head.
“All right,” John interrupted gently.
“Really?” Grayson asked, his eyes wide and Samieyah all-but wriggling in delight. “Do you mind if we start right now? Oh, but you’ll probably want breakfast first-”
John couldn’t help smiling. “Now is fine. As long as it won’t take long.”
“Barely ten minutes, I promise!” Grayson enthused, practically chivvying John down the hall in his excitement.
Sherlock and Raniel were in the study, and they’d been asking their mother about why a clan child would have been introduced to his father. Mycroft was there as well, but that couldn’t be helped – he’d sent Tehayla off to communicate with some of the more remote clans, a subtle probe to determine if they’d received any word of this planned coup.
“It’s not unusual for a clan child to know their father,” Aeliana explained. “But it’s usually limited to short visits.”
“And we know Moriarty spent a period with his father’s family that was long enough to give him motive to kill Carl, time to conceive of a plan and opportunity to execute it,” Mycroft mused, paging through the book of symbols – still struggling to translate the alethiometer’s answer.
Because given the sheer number of symbols in the reply, it seemed likely the answer was much more complex than simply ‘Moriarty and Carl Powers were related to each other’.
Sherlock heard footsteps and managed to identify them as his father before the door flew out and Grayson burst into the study, looking ecstatic.
“Darling!” he cried, wrapping his arms around Aeliana and giving her an exuberant kiss. “John allowed me to measure him!”
Raniel’s head rose, turning towards them, and Sherlock found himself listening intently.
“And what did you find?” Aeliana asked, looking tolerantly amused by her husband’s child-like enthusiasm.
“Amarisa is actually larger than John,” Grayson exclaims. “Just by a little mind you, but she’s definitely larger than him. Heavier, too – she’s clearly much stronger than a wolf, there’s so much muscle mass on her.”
Sherlock hid a smile, and Raniel licked at his forepaw in a self-satisfied manner. It was good to hear John and his dæmon being appreciated for the marvel they were, rather than shunned by misunderstanding idiots.
“I think I surprised them when I came around the corner – his dæmon actually snarled at me! It’s certainly easy to see her wolf side when she does that. He’s really all you said he was.”
That was intriguing.
“What did you say John was?” Sherlock asked bluntly.
He thought he saw Mycroft smirk from the corner of his eye, but refused to react beyond Raniel hissing at his brother.
Aeliana smiled fondly at him. “I said he was a remarkable man. Lonely, when I knew him – he was human but people were often wary of him, simply because his dæmon had chosen to settle in an unusual form. But compassionate, in spite of that. And if you have his loyalty, there’s nothing he won’t do to protect you.”
Sherlock couldn’t help but scowl, Raniel bristling beside him as they remembered the pool and John’s desperate command for them to run.
“Where is John and Amarisa?” Raniel asked Samieyah.
“We left them eating breakfast,” the osprey replied, with a hint of almost-parental approval. “Healthy appetite, that boy.”
Raniel chittered and Sherlock smiled in satisfaction and pride as he recalled exactly why John would have such an appetite so early in the morning.
After breakfast, John wasn’t sure what to do with himself. For lack of anything better to do, he and Amarisa went looking for Sherlock and Raniel, the wolfdog tracking their scent through the house for their own amusement.
He found Sherlock in the study, debating with Mycroft about the circumstances under which a clan child would have extensive contact with their father’s family.
“Ah, John,” Mycroft greeted as soon as they entered the room. “I’d like you to try reading the alethiometer.”
John was instantly defensive. “You promised no tests!”
Mycroft blinked. “You let Father measure you.”
“Because he asked politely.”
Sherlock snickered, and Raniel giggled as Amarisa bumped her nose against the polecat’s.
“This isn’t a test,” Mycroft said, obviously trying to be conciliatory. “Witches are often more adept at reading the alethiometer, and one theory as to why is that it’s a result of their increased sensitivity to Stanislaus particles. If you ask the question, it’s likely you may be able to get a better feel for the answer.”
John was tempted to tell Mycroft to piss off and find his own lab rat, but it was only last night that he’d been wondering what he could do, how he could help, and if this was an opportunity to be useful…well, surely it couldn’t hurt to try, could it?
Sherlock and Raniel were silent, not even muttering impolite things to their brother, which was a sure sign they were curious too, just determined not to push John.
He took the golden disk from Mycroft with more than a bit of awe. It was heavier than he’d expected, as though made from something much denser than gold, and John could almost feel how old it was as he ran his fingers across the worn designs etched into the metal, ridges and swirls rubbed smooth by centuries of handling.
John knew it was ridiculous to feel as though the device was watching him, but he couldn’t help it. It was like something in him had recognised the alethiometer and been recognised in turn, and now it was just waiting for him to act on that recognition.
He could see why people were wary of alethiometers, if this was what they felt every time they picked one up.
“Just ask a simple question, first,” Mycroft coached. “One you already know the answer to.”
“Um…how?” John asked, staring blankly down at the instrument in his hands. Amarisa sniffed at the metal edge, wary.
“The three dials,” Raniel said, inching closer along the couch towards John, looking excited. “Point them at the symbols to ask a question.”
“But I don’t know what the symbols mean,” John said, tilting the alethiometer so Amarisa could have a better look at it.
“Just pick the ones that feel right for your question,” Mycroft offered, and though his tone was only mildly curious there was a strange intensity to his eyes, the same kind John saw in Sherlock’s when they were on a case.
“All right,” John said slowly, reaching for the dial on the left side first.
Mycroft had said to ask it a question he knew the answer to, so he decided to ask it what he'd had for breakfast. He turned one dial to point at the bread symbol, because it was food, the next to point at the sun, which he supposed could mean morning and thus breakfast, but how could he refer to himself? Eventually, John settled the final hand at the helmet, because he'd been a soldier.
The thin needle shivered to life, spinning around the dial and stopping at the bread, the honey, the bull, the tree and the cornucopia. It was simple enough to see that the first three symbols were indicating that he'd had porridge with honey and milk, and John supposed the tree and cornucopia together meant 'tea', though he didn't see how.
“Okay,” he said, looking up at Mycroft again. “That was easy enough – now what?”
“Did you manage to grasp the meaning of all the symbols in the reply?” Mycroft asked, looking honestly curious.
“Not really,” John admitted. “I could get what was referring to the porridge I had, and I'm going to assume that the tree and the cornucopia are referring to the cup of tea I had, but I don't see how.”
“But you were able to determine which symbols indicated the porridge?”
John shrugged. “It was kind of obvious.”
Mycroft an agreeable noise, looking pensive. “Now, try asking it...what Sherlock got me for my birthday this year.”
“Oh, really!” Sherlock scoffed, and Raniel bared his teeth at Mycroft.
Intrigued, John bent back to the alethiometer. He twisted the first dial until the hand rested on the symbol of a puppet, because Mycroft was a puppetmaster if there ever was one. The next symbol he chose was the hourglass, because that meant time, and he supposed it could mean 'birthday'. John debated over what symbol best fit Sherlock, but in the end he chose the thunderbolt, because he'd never met anyone more like a force of nature.
The thin needle whirled, spinning through the symbols of the baby, globe, snake, sword, garden, the alpha and omega, bird, dolphin and finally the bull, before it began the cycle all over again.
John stared blankly, wondering how anyone ever made sense out of all this. He couldn't see what the symbols meant, let alone how they related to Mycroft's birthday present – it made no sense at all.
But then, John started to see.
He started to see how the baby could refer to difficulty, how the globe could refer to the government or maybe politics...
It was like squinting at the outline of a landscape through mist – you saw shapes and blurred images – and as you kept staring and trying to determine what you were looking at, a breeze blew the mist away, revealing the world around you bit by bit until it was as clear as day.
John and Amarisa shared a glance, then burst out laughing.
“What's so funny?” Sherlock asked, looking bewildered.
“If that's your idea of a birthday present, never get us one!” Amarisa wheezed.
Mycroft had gone completely, unnaturally still. “What do you think the alethiometer said?”
“That Sherlock broke into your office and left a dissected frog on your desk? As an obscure reference to your difficulties with international health policy?” John hazarded. “Was that not right?”
“No, it was right,” Mycroft said, and his voice was actually faint and tremulous. “Perfectly correct, in fact.”
John became aware Sherlock had gone completely silent, he and Raniel staring at John and his wolfdog with an expression that could really only be described as 'bug-eyed'.
John took in the expressions of shock worn by everyone in the room, and could only sigh. “This is another thing people aren't supposed to do, isn't it?”
The first thing Mycroft did was have John ask several rather obscure questions, just in case his comprehension of the alethiometer was a fluke.
It was true that some people were better at alethiometer reading than others. Some had an almost instinctive grasp of the symbols, could ask questions much more quickly and get the answers within a day or so...but Mycroft had never seen anything like this. There was no hesitation, no pause for interpretation – John asked, the alethiometer spun, and John knew.
Mycroft's best time was eight hours between the asking the question and the final translation. But perhaps that was the key difference; John was reading, not translating.
Mycroft had suspected John might have hidden talents, but he'd never thought one of those talents would be reading an alethiometer as quickly and effortlessly as a children's book.
Once, back when the Magesterium ruled, there had been the rumour of a girl who could read the alethiometer without books. Mycroft wondered if it looked anything like this.
It wasn't that John's eyes went out of focus as he waited for the alethiometer's answer – quite the opposite. It was as though he and his dæmon focused so intently on the alethiometer that everything else disappeared, and he always blinked when he looked up from it, as though rising from a trance.
There were few things Mycroft feared, and even fewer that he didn't understand, but this...this was sending a cool sweat running down his back.
He could see fear in Sherlock's eyes too. Not of John – his brother probably only felt vindicated at this new proof of John's uniqueness – but because Sherlock knew what this meant, knew how valuable a tool John had suddenly become.
A man with an unprecedented level of sensitivity was intriguing, but hardly of consequence. But a man who could read the alethiometer was a prize people would happily kill to control.
AN: Thanks so much to my wonderful beta, ginbitch