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 part.
Summary: HDM AU. John and Amarisa put their command of the alethiometer to good use, and Sherlock and Raniel...worry.
(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
Sherlock and Raniel watched John and Amarisa read the alethiometer, and tried very hard not to betray their fear.
Sherlock couldn’t deny that some part of them was almost excited – they knew that John Watson and his dæmon were completely unique, and now they had proof – but that was muted and drowned by a feeling only comparable to seeing John covered in explosives.
If even a vague rumour of John’s ability slipped past these walls, he would be sought by innumerable people across the globe. People who wanted to manipulate him, coerce him, would do whatever it took to sway him to their cause…people who would kill him if he refused, rather than see him work against them.
Mycroft tested it, of course, over and over again. Asking ever-more complex questions, with answers John could not possibly have known but delivered nevertheless, and never in the hesitant, unsure tone of someone who was waiting to see if they’d guessed correctly. His voice was always steady, confident, as sure of his replies as if Mycroft had been quizzing him on anatomy.
Whatever question he was asked, John could answer, provided he had the alethiometer in his hands. The alethiometer seemed to work via a physical connection – it was no good Mycroft holding it and simply reading out the symbols. Sherlock would be fascinated if he wasn’t so nervous.
Not that it wasn’t eerie. Sherlock and Raniel prided themselves on being fascinated by subjects that made ‘normal’ people uncomfortable, but it was still unnerving. John and Amarisa looked like they were drugged each time they read the alethiometer; their breathing slowed, becoming almost meditative, and their eyes became sharp and very focused, but almost somehow…distant. As though what they were focusing on wasn’t visible to any eyes but their own.
The necessity of John’s physical connection with the device told Sherlock and his dæmon that this was something much deeper than just having good instincts. It said that something was happening on a level they weren’t aware of, that there was some kind of connection between John and the alethiometer, a strange channel of communication that only he could tune in to.
Finally, John asked the question that had stymied Mycroft and Mummy and everyone at the dinner table last night – who was Moriarty.
The symbols were the same – glancing over John’s shoulder, Sherlock and Raniel could determine that. The same sequence that had been completely incomprehensible last night, but that John was now absorbing as if someone were speaking the meaning in clear, concise English.
Then John blinked as though coming out of a deep reverie, and Amarisa shook her head as if she were trying to clear it. She leaned against John’s leg as her human rubbed at her eyes, and Sherlock suddenly wondered if reading the alethiometer exhausted them in some way.
Raniel made a soft, chirruping sound of concern, skittering down Sherlock’s sleeve to the arm of the sofa. He nudged Amarisa’s muzzle with his nose, butting his head against her whiskers, and the wolfdog licked him under the chin.
“Moriarty and Carl Powers were half-brothers,” John said, sounding weary. “Moriarty’s conception was something of an experiment – his mother’s clan wanted a child who was a British citizen, and they were also hoping he’d be highly sensitive to Stanislaus particles. Moriarty’s father was a sensitive as well, you see. They were disappointed with the sensitivity thing, but if they wanted him to be a British citizen, he had to spend time in the country. Which was how Moriarty and Carl Powers came into contact in the first place.”
Of course, the clan would have needed a child that was a British citizen to have any hope of establishing them in the government…but why had sensitivity been deemed important? Had they hoped to get a child with something like John’s talent?
John rubbed briefly at his temples as though he had a migraine
“Are you all right?” Sherlock asked.
“Fine,” John said quickly. “It just…kind of takes a bit out of you, you know?”
Amarisa licked at her human’s hand soothingly, and John dragged his fingers through her ruff. They looked tired, like they’d been up for days following Sherlock and Raniel through London as opposed to fiddling with a temperamental bit of metal.
The fact that they know so little about the alethiometer’s function only increases Sherlock’s worry. Given John’s obvious gift with it, it seemed likely that it was indeed connected to Stanislaus particles. But how? Was John’s exhaustion just a product of the strange state of concentration he slipped into, or did the alethiometer somehow feed off its reader?
“Well, I think that’s enough for now, in any case,” Mycroft announced, trying to look calm and composed even though Sherlock could tell he’d been genuinely rattled for the first time in over ten years. “Thank you for your efforts, John.”
Sherlock was rather irritated that Mycroft managed to make a feat never achieved by anyone in living memory sound as though John had merely spent the morning organising an office. But Mycroft was leaving, so he didn’t say anything that might make his brother actually want to respond. Raniel’s lip curled over his sharp teeth, of course, but the dæmon stayed silent until the door shut.
“He’ll want to tell Mummy and Father himself,” the polecat scoffed. “And make the announcement as dramatic as possible, of course.”
Amarisa laughed, and John’s face adopted the set, focused expression he used when he was amused but trying not to show it.
“What?” Raniel asked, the beginnings of indignation creeping into his voice.
Amarisa nuzzled him fondly behind the ears, chuffing softly. “It’s always rich to hear one of you critise the other for being dramatic.”
Sherlock opened his mouth to point out – loudly – that Mycroft was much, much worse than he could ever dream of being, but instead found himself sighing softly as Amarisa rubbed the thin fur of her chin over Raniel’s head, licking gently at his neck. Raniel made soft, contented noises and arched his back. John smiled at their dæmons, and then abruptly yawned, Amarisa following her human, red tongue curling.
“It sounds lazy, considering I just got up a few hours ago, but I kind of want a nap,” John admitted.
Raniel and Amarisa were still gently nuzzling each other and John leaned back into the sofa and closed his eyes, his expression relaxed and peaceful. The lines on his forehead were gradually smoothing out, and Sherlock didn’t bother resisting the urge to lean over and follow them with his fingers while they could still be seen.
John made a contented noise in the back of his throat, turning into the touch without even opening his eyes, and for no reason he could fathom, Sherlock felt his breath stutter in his throat.
He’d wanted to follow Mycroft, to be there when he and Mummy discussed the alethiometer…but Raniel seemed perfectly content to groom the fur around Amarisa’s face, and Sherlock didn’t feel like watching Mycroft’s theatrics.
Staying with John was a much more sensible option.
“What’s it like?” Raniel asked, looking up at John. “Reading the alethiometer, I mean?”
John frowned slightly, looking as though he was mentally searching for the right word. “It’s…strange,” he eventually settled on. “It’s a bit like switching between mindsets – like when you proofread English and then have to do maths. It’s like my brain is somehow switching between gears.”
“It’s tiring,” Amarisa muttered, sighing softly as John scratched at the base of her ear. Then the wolfdog laughed. “Kind of fun, though – it’s…interesting.”
John grinned at Raniel and tugged at his dæmon’s ruff, and all in all looked very blasé for a man who had just demonstrated a skill thought to be purely mythical.
“You don’t seem very frightened,” Sherlock pointed out.
“Should I be?” John asked, the easy smile not leaving his face for a moment. “Though I must admit – given how surprised your brother seemed – for a minute or two I was half-expecting men in black to come take me away to a lab somewhere.”
“We wouldn’t let that happen!” Raniel said, indignant.
“I can’t help but notice you didn’t say Mycroft wasn’t capable of that,” Amarisa pointed out, her mouth open in her dog-grin.
John suddenly sobered, and not for the first time it struck Sherlock just how attractive it was to see John go from ‘genial, sunny-natured doctor’ to ‘sharp, calculating soldier’. Amarisa’s dog-grin had vanished from her face, her mouth closed and ears swivelled to catch their conversation, her eyes alert and focused and with a kind of cunning dogs never displayed. It was like some kind of invisible switch had been flicked.
That fact that it wasn’t even as conscious as a switch – to John and Amarisa, it was just what came naturally – made it all the more thrilling.
“In all seriousness, we do have some idea of what a problem this is going to be,” John said, the beginnings of a frown creasing his face. “The alethiometer itself isn’t very frightening – a little eerie, maybe, but it’s hard to be frightened of it, you know?”
Sherlock and Raniel didn’t know, but they refrained from interrupting.
“I doubt we can really know how many people want someone who can read an alethiometer and what they’d do to get them, but…” John shook his head. “But I can imagine, and what I imagine isn’t pleasant.”
“No one else will find out,” Sherlock assured him. “It will never leave this house.”
“You can’t actually guarantee that,” John pointed out. “And if I’m going to be doing this on a regular basis-”
Raniel looked as horrified as Sherlock felt. “You can’t possibly be thinking of-”
“Using my talents to help people?” John finished, glancing down at the polecat.
“You’re an idiot!” Sherlock spat reflexively. He could see it all unfolding in his head – John would use the alethiometer whenever it seemed to be needed, even when it wasn’t needed, and stories about his talent would leak out because that was what inevitably happened when someone demonstrated such a unique skill often enough, that was simply human nature, and then people would want him out of the way…
“It won’t be nearly as useful as you imagine!” Raniel was all-but shrieking. “You have to be very careful to ask the right questions, as even a tiny difference would-”
“Calm down,” Amarisa said firmly, lightly nipping the back of Raniel’s neck. “We’re not going to be stupid about it. We’re not going to pick up the alethiometer over every little idle mystery – just the important ones.”
Sherlock and Raniel shared a dubious glance, and privately wondered what John and Amarisa’s definition of ‘important’ was.
John could admit he’d been rather excited to learn he could read the alethiometer. After all, it had been the first real proof that he and Amarisa would be useful in the fight against Moriarty, that they could contribute something besides being Sherlock and Raniel’s bodyguards – not that they didn’t need bodyguards (and sometimes, babysitters) but it was nice to be playing a larger role than protection and intimidation.
Mycroft had tested them over and over again, and John and his dæmon might have resented it if they hadn’t been able to see just how much their reading unsettled Mycroft. And that was when their bubble of pleased pride had started to deflate.
Because Mycroft was looking at them the way most people looked at them when they first realised Amarisa was a wolfdog. Surprise, puzzlement, and just a hint of fear.
Dinner had been an exercise in endurance. John knew that Grayson and Aeliana and the other witches had only been curious, with perhaps a bit of awe alongside, but having everyone staring at them had given them unpleasant flashbacks to high school when Amarisa had first settled. Back when they’d felt like freaks, as though what they were – not what they were doing, but what they were – was somehow wrong and unnatural.
Sherlock and Raniel obviously knew something was wrong – Sherlock kept a hand on his leg through the entire meal, eating one-handed, and Raniel curled himself around Amarisa’s foreleg like a very small and aggressive guard dog.
Still, John and his dæmon escaped as soon as they could, back to the room they shared with Sherlock and Raniel. He had a shower, brushed his teeth and Amarisa’s fur, and tried not to think too hard on the implications of…anything.
“It feels weird,” Amarisa whispered, hopping up into John’s lap as soon as he sat on the bed.
She was so large she was more draped across John’s lap than sitting on it, but John had always found it comforting.
He knew what his dæmon was talking about, of course. They’d gone their whole lives without feeling like they were anything particularly extraordinary, and to suddenly discover that they could do something thought to be only legend…well, it was unsettling. It was almost like they’d never really known themselves, and that wasn’t a comfortable feeling.
John scratched the wolfdog’s ears, trying to be comforting, and they both spent fifteen minutes wondering how one awkward dinner could send them right back to being an insecure teenager with a just-settled dæmon.
Then Sherlock and Raniel walked in.
“Do you think we’re a freak?” Amarisa blurted out before they’d even closed the door.
Raniel’s tail twitched, but Sherlock didn’t even blink.
“Yes,” he said, bluntly and completely without inflection, the same way he recited facts about a case.
Amarisa went stiff, her hackles rising automatically, and John tried to smother what he knew was a ridiculous feeling of sudden, unexpected hurt. But he had to remember that to Sherlock, freak was probably a compliment, right?
“The definition of ‘freak’ is something that is markedly unusual or irregular,” Sherlock continued, already opening his laptop and not even looking at John and his dæmon. “So yes, I’d certainly say you’re a freak. You’re also unusual, exceptional, unparalleled, atypical, unique-”
John suspected that Sherlock probably had about twelve other similes lined up, but as soon as ‘exceptional’ had come out of his mouth, Amarisa had hopped off her human’s lap, John had shuffled over to Sherlock’s little corner of the bed, and kissed him.
John had intended to keep it light and as non-distracting as possible – a bit of spontaneous affection never hurt anyone – but his fingers, coming up around Sherlock’s nape, brushed against Raniel’s tail. The shock of contact was like an electric current running straight up his arm, along with the kind of warm, relieved pleasure you felt when you opened the door to your home after a long and tiring day.
Sherlock gave a shuddery sort of sigh and the polecat moaned in pleasure, his grip on his human’s shoulder relaxing so quickly he actually fell off the side. John automatically moved his arms around Sherlock to catch the dæmon in his hands, and the full-body contact made both Raniel and his human go completely limp, the polecat mewling softly. John lowered Raniel to the bed, where Amarisa licked and nuzzled him. He was planning on leaning back, on giving Sherlock a bit of breathing space, but as soon as he started to move away Sherlock practically tackled him, flattening him to the bed and crawling on top of him.
If anyone else had tried that without advance warning, they’d have been on the floor nursing a broken wrist, at the very least. But with Sherlock, John’s only instinct was to pull him closer. He put his lips to the hollow of Sherlock’s collarbones to coax that little breathy whimper out of him that got John’s cock responding like he was a horny teenager.
Amarisa whined with pleasure somewhere near the foot of the bed, and Sherlock seemed to take that as some sort of cue to begin wrestling with the buttons of John’s shirt. Not quite sure if this was actually going to lead to sex or just some very heavy petting, John nonetheless applied himself to returning the favour – starting from the bottom so he could slip his hands up Sherlock’s tight shirt and rub his thumbs against the undersides of Sherlock’s nipples.
He’d expected some sort of reciprocal groping as soon as his shirt was undone, but Sherlock merely attacked his pants, as if he needed to have John naked as quickly as possible. John wondered if he was imagining the shades of desperation in Sherlock’s kisses, the way his hands kept skimming John’s body as if checking for some kind of injury, the way his mouth was set and his eyes were hard, as though he was preparing for a blow.
On a hunch, he flicked a glance towards Raniel and Amarisa, and saw the polecat licking and nuzzling feverishly at his dæmon’s muzzle as Amarisa tried to calm him.
And John realised that he and Amarisa had frightened them. Again. But this time, their fright had nothing to do with Moriarty and everything to do with John and Amarisa themselves. John and his dæmon weren’t stupid – they had an idea of what people would be willing to do to guarantee the services of someone who could read the alethiometer. Or to remove him from playing field altogether.
Suspecting that addressing Sherlock and his dæmon’s concerns verbally would only make them close down and retreat, John settled for wrapping an arm around Sherlock and simply holding him close, his other hand coaxing Sherlock’s lips away from his neck and back up to his mouth. He kept the kisses soft and undemanding, feeling tension slowly bleed out of Sherlock’s shoulders.
But he didn’t want Sherlock relaxing too much, so he dropped the hand from Sherlock’s face and instead reached for his belt buckle. He managed to undo it one-handed, which John couldn’t help feeling smug about – such a feat of dexterity was something to be proud of when you’d managed it with Sherlock sucking on your tongue at the same time.
Sherlock leaned back to remove his trousers, and John was relieved the tight, almost grim expression had been replaced by Sherlock’s most dangerous smile. He looked fully prepared to pounce on John like some kind of hunting cat, but John held up a hand.
“Hang on, there’s something I want to get.”
But he had to get up off the bed to find his suitcase, and even though Sherlock hadn’t touched his cock he was still so hard it was almost embarrassing. Not to mention a bit uncomfortable, and he dug hastily through his folded clothes, trying to remember where he’d put the lube…
“Side pocket, in the plastic bag with my shampoo,” Amarisa prompted lazily, her eyes thin golden slits as Raniel rubbed his nose against the base of her ear.
John found it right where she said it would be, of course, and returned to the bed feeling absurdly triumphant.
Sherlock didn’t show any reaction to spotting the lube – but then again, this was Sherlock, and he probably knew what John had been about the moment he’d said he had to get something.
At that thought, John couldn’t help but smile.
“You might have to patient for a little bit,” he said as he climbed back on the bed. “Shocking concept, I know, but it’s been a while since I’ve done this.”
“I know how to be patient!” Sherlock objected.
John snorted and Amarisa gave a soft ‘whuff’ of amusement.
“What’s so funny?” Raniel asked, sounding indignant.
“Patient? You?” Amarisa snickered. “You shot at the wall just because you were bored.”
“That was different,” Sherlock insisted, with the kind of lofty dignity that usually got him his way at crime scenes, but was difficult to pull off when he was stark naked and very obviously aroused.
John made a disbelieving noise, and then told himself not to laugh because that would only tense his muscles. He opened the lube, prepared to slick his fingers up, but Sherlock snatched it from him with surprising speed.
Then he hesitated, seeming to belatedly realise this was something he should probably ask for. “Can I-?”
“Yes.” John knew he was grinning as he lay back, and made no effort to hide it.
It might have been his imagination, but Sherlock seemed a little uncertain. “Are you sure you want-?”
“You to fuck me?” John finished. “That would be nice, yes. If you’d like.”
Amarisa chortled loudly, as amused as her human was, but Sherlock didn’t even seem to notice the sound – he was busy staring at John with the intensity he usually reserved for dead bodies. Perhaps John should have been a little unnerved, but if Sherlock’s scrutiny had bothered him, he wouldn’t have lasted a week in Baker Street. As it was, he often found it oddly flattering, that some part of Sherlock’s fantastic brain seemed to consider him as intriguing as serial suicides.
“Is this your preference?” Sherlock asked eventually, sounding honestly curious. “Do you have a preference?”
John shrugged. “Not really. Depends what I’m in the mood for.”
Sherlock made a considering sort of noise, rubbing the lube on his fingers. John opened his legs as Sherlock moved between them, and the first touch of cool wetness between his thighs made him shiver. Sherlock was slow and careful, drawing slippery circles on John’s sensitive flesh as he watched John’s face, his tongue occasionally darting out to wet his lips as though enthralled by whatever he was seeing.
When one long finger finally did probe inside, John took a deep breath to contain the urge to clench down around it. He couldn’t contain his soft moan, though, and he watched goose bumps prickle across Sherlock’s arms in response to that sound.
“You’re very tight,” Sherlock muttered, a small furrow of concern appearing in his brow as he darted a glance down John’s body.
“I told you, it’s been a while,” John panted, trying to form coherent sentences past the burning pleasure and slight ache of penetration and god it had really been far too long…
Amarisa whined, low and long, echoing her human’s need.
Sherlock was still frowning, and the finger inside John hadn’t moved an inch. “I don’t want to hurt you.”
“That’s sweet, Sherlock,” John managed through gritted teeth, trying to suppress the urge to rock his hips up. “But I’m a lot sturdier than you seem to believe.”
Sherlock’s eyes widened with indignation. “I am not sweet.”
Amarisa snorted again, her mouth open and panting. “We don’t believe you, you know. You just don’t want us to tell everyone at the MET you’re really a big teddy bear when it comes down to it.”
Raniel – nipping at the side of her muzzle – suddenly reared back in horror. “You wouldn’t dare!”
“No, I wouldn’t,” John agreed ruefully. “But only because they’d think I’d gone stark raving mad and have me sectioned.”
Sherlock’s eyebrows lowered, but he finally deigned to actually move his finger, and if he made any kind of rejoinder John couldn’t hear it over his own stuttered, splintering groan.
John knew a lot of men didn’t like anal sex, but he’d never been one of them. He was telling the truth when he said he had no particular preference – for him, sex was sex, no matter the positions – but it had been a little over three years since he’d been on the receiving end, so to speak, and he’d kind of missed it.
Though he’d like it better if Sherlock could get a move on. John certainly appreciated slow and thorough preparation, but Sherlock’s seemed interminable. John had to growl ‘come on!’ at him twice before he even added a second finger, and he was fairly certain Sherlock was deliberately avoiding his prostate. John swore the way he’d learned in the army – loudly, vociferously and with real heart in it – as he wiggled his hips and ground down onto Sherlock’s fingers, trying to find the right angle.
Of course, that only seemed to encourage Sherlock, and the fifth time he pulled his fingers away when they were just shy of exactly where John wanted them, Amarisa’s growl echoed her human’s frustration.
“If you don't get a move on,” John hissed, his voice sounding like he’d swallowed bitumen. “I swear I'm going to-”
“Strangle us?” Raniel finished, sounding breathless.
“Not one of our kinks, thanks,” Amarisa quipped. “But I’m pretty sure if Sherlock doesn’t get a move on, John’s going to turn the tables and see how he likes it.”
John felt an urge to point out that he and Sherlock were still in the room, thanks, but Sherlock curled his fingers and oh Christ yes, finally!
“That's singularly non-threatening,” Sherlock remarked to John’s dæmon – and having him talking to Amarisa with his fingers still inside John shouldn’t be anywhere near as hot as John’s libido apparently decided it was. “After all, to be a threat, the prospect has to be something distasteful or unpleasant.”
John made a frankly embarrassing noise as Sherlock’s fingers twisted, dragging over his prostate and just like that, Sherlock’s attention was riveted on him again.
“Are you ever going to get a move on?” John managed to gasp. “Or are you trying to find out if I can come from prostate stimulation alone?”
“Can you?” Sherlock asked, looking intrigued.
John supposed he should have known better than to give him ideas.
Amarisa, picking up on his alarm, stammered out a denial. “No, we can’t – it won’t work!”
Sherlock looked speculative, but almost strangely excited. “I think you’re lying. I don’t think you know if you can or not.”
“Oh, god,” John groaned.
“Though I suppose that’s an experiment for another time,” Sherlock allowed, and John might have believed his pretence of disinterest if he hadn’t been able to see Sherlock’s cock throbbing in time with his pulse.
Sherlock withdrew his fingers, smearing the leftover lube on his own cock, then seemed to hesitate. “Are you-?”
“I’m ready, I’m sure, for Christ’s sake, just fuck me!” John hissed, only barely managing to rein himself in enough not to shout.
Sherlock laughed, but he was looking strangely enchanted – the way small children did when they saw the hired Santas at shopping centres.
Part Fourteen: God Killer