Rating: Maybe PG-13? At least at the moment...
Disclaimer: I do not own these characters, and am making no profit from their use, more's the pity.
Warnings: Eventual slash, Sherlock/John.
Summary: HDM AU. John and Amarisa are injured in Afghanistan, Sherlock and Raniel need a flatmate, and Mike Stamford makes a fateful introduction.
(Title page by birddi )
Part One: The Architecture of Our Lives
Really, a little knowledge of dæmons could tell you so many things about people. Sherlock was surprised the police didn't make a habit of identifying every dæmon they came into contact with during a case, and told Lestrade so.
“Because not all of us have a bloody encyclopaedia in our heads, Sherlock,” the inspector snapped, Zarania glaring at Raniel from her perch on a nearby shelf. “We see a dæmon that looks like an ant, we're going to assume it's just an ant!”
Sherlock scoffed – how could they not have noticed the difference between between a true weaver ant and a Myrmarachne plataleoides, a spider that mimicked a weaver ant in order to deter predators? A dæmon like that indicated a deceptive nature, and while it was true a person could have a deceptive nature and perfectly benign intentions, it had certainly warranted a closer look at the woman.
And sure enough, she'd been the one to poison her friend because she was sleeping with her husband. Petty, stupid and dull.
“Things would be more interesting if people's dæmons weren't so obvious,” Sherlock complained to Raniel when they were back in their tiny flat. “That Myrmarachne plataleoides, now that was interesting.”
“Doesn't happen nearly often enough,” Raniel agreed. “Took us ten whole minutes to work it out, and we were only looking in the first place because the smell was wrong for an ant.”
Sherlock smirked, briefly reminded of how useful it was to have a dæmon with a keen nose. Other people had to rely on their own eyes to identify dæmons, but Raniel could often pick them out by scent alone.
Sherlock picked up his violin and began to play, so that when the shouting match between the couple next door started (five thirty-five, a little late this time) he was already trying to drown them out.
Still, even his violin couldn't help him, not when he felt bleak frustration already creeping through his brain. Why did people's dæmons have to be so obvious all the time? Insect dæmons were the least expressive, and even they fidgeted and waved their antennae and suddenly burst into agitated flight and in general possessed a hundred gestures that could betray their human. Only the most self-possessed people and dæmons could remain calm and collected while being quizzed about a murder.
Robberies and fraud were actually more interesting in comparison, as people were less likely to feel guilty about them – especially if it was in pursuit of something they thought they were entitled to – so their dæmons were less likely to betray them. Of course, even in a murder Sherlock rarely knew who did it from the very start, but the people with the most agitated dæmons were always the ones he looked into first.
For a moment, he wished he hadn't gone off the drugs; at least they'd be a distraction.
“No!” Raniel said loudly from his perch on the sofa arm.
“No!” the dæmon repeated. “We've been clean for three months, and that stuff always makes me act like an idiot – no!”
Sherlock was about to retort, but then the shouting match started up again.
“We need a new flat,” he sighed.
No matter how many retrieval missions John went on, the method never varied; run like hell, and stay behind the armoured bear.
“Oh, wonderful, there's witches,” Amarisa groused, briefly glancing up at the sky as she bounded along at John's side.
John didn't bother looking; his eyes were fixed on Ragnvald, following the path the panserbjørne was cutting through the battlefield. “You know the drill, Risa.”
“I know, I know – ignore them, if they fire at us they'll hit whether we see it coming or not.”
John had asked Aeliana about the kinds of spells witches would put on their arrows, and she had told him that a simple one for accuracy was by far the most common. It didn't allow the witch to specify exactly which part of the target she would hit (if it had, they'd all have been dead with arrows to the throats within fifteen minutes), but it did ensure they hit their target somewhere. There was also a spell which would ensure the arrow caused a grievous wound, but – as two spells could not be held on the same arrow – they thankfully didn't see much of that one.
John had also been worried if it was possible to put some kind of a spell on the arrow to induce instant death. Aeliana had confirmed it was possible, but rarely done.
“It requires that your own power – in essence, your will for them to die – overcomes their own life force and their own will to live. As you can imagine, it is difficult to muster that much conviction to see someone perish; death-spells are used only in the most bitter vendettas.”
That hadn't exactly been comforting, but John had found it reassuring to know that he wouldn't have to deal with death-spells.
A soft whizzing sound broke John's concentration, and something drew a line of ice across his right hip as he and Amarisa hurdled a small ditch. John stumbled and went to one knee, feeling blood dampening his trousers as he turned and aimed his gun into the sky.
He pulled the trigger twice and a small figure clad in black silk plummeted to the ground, her branch of cloud pine slipping from her grasp. But in the next instant, another arrow slammed into his left shoulder.
The force behind it drove John onto his back, and he could see the witch diving towards him, shrieking in triumph...
But the plunge took her within range of Ragnvald. Perhaps she simply forgot about him in her elation, perhaps she thought a bear contracted to fight the war wouldn't concern himself with a lone human soldier...whatever the reason, she ignored Ragnvald.
It was the last mistake she ever made.
Ragnvald let out a roar that made John's bones shake, and swatted her out of the air like a fly. Her tern dæmon vanished before she'd even hit the ground.
John told himself to get up, to get back in the fight...
Except he couldn't. Numbing cold was spreading from the wound like poison, and the world went dim and soft before John's eyes, like a picture fading out on a television.
He was so cold. So cold and so tired, and he could just close his eyes and slip away...
“John!” There was a sudden burst of sensation in his left earlobe – Amarisa had nipped him.
“Risa...” he murmured, his tongue heavy and thick.
He couldn't raise his hand and bury his fingers into her ruff like he usually did. He couldn't open his eyes. He felt disconnected from his whole body – it was worn and empty, like the husk of a snake's skin, and he could just cast it away and move on...
Except no, because where would that leave Amarisa? At the thought of his dæmon – her bright golden eyes, the rich black fur that was always so warm – the coldness ebbed somewhat. Ragnvald was still roaring, and as John prised open his eyes to see the gleaming metal that covered his friend's belly, the bear braced protectively over him, the coldness eased yet again.
Amarisa was lying beside him, panting heavily and trembling, and John felt certain that calling his name had taken the last of her strength. The arrow must have been poisoned, likely with one of those hellish concoctions that managed to affect dæmons as well as their humans.
Slowly, John's eyes dragged to the arrow embedded in his flesh. It had pierced deeply; only the feathers and a few dozen centimetres of the shaft could be seen, the cloth around it already heavy with blood.
'Pull it out,' was the only thought that ran through John's head. 'You need to get it out of you.'
He knew witches often used barbed arrows that did more damage coming out than they did going in. He knew he shouldn't touch it – the presence of the arrow could be putting much-needed pressure on arteries and veins to prevent him bleeding out – but something in John's gut, some deep, primeval instinct told him he needed to pull the arrow out.
And in situations like this, John trusted his gut above his head.
John's right hand crept across his chest slowly, fingers wrapping tightly around the arrow. It probably should have hurt – he could feel his grip shifting it in the wound – but there was no pain, only the numb chill that had seeped into every cell.
He didn't brace himself; he couldn't tense his muscles, or it would only be more difficult. He took a deep breath, felt Amarisa press her nose against his neck, and then yanked with all the strength he could muster.
The arrow tore free with a wet sucking sound, and John cast it aside. But the terrible cold didn't ease, and within moments John was trembling as though he were lying on permafrost instead of sun-warmed sand.
Amarisa crawled onto his chest, lying across the length of his body as though she were trying to warm him. John knew it should have hurt – her paws had tugged at the skin around his injury more than once – but the pain was dim and distant, as though he'd been drugged.
A huge paw slid under his body, lifting him and Amarisa as though they were newborn kittens, cradling them against an enormous, metal-clad chest. Ragnvald's low growl quivered through John's ribs as the bear began to move, turning away from the battle.
Moments before he slipped into unconsciousness, John felt Ragnvald break into a run.
“Why are all the acceptable flats so expensive?” Sherlock spat, closing the laptop in disgust. “You'd think we could find at least one that's in a high crime area or supposedly haunted or something that would lower the price.”
“We need a flatmate,” Raniel said, distaste in his voice as he spoke the fact neither of them wanted to acknowledge.
“No,” Sherlock said, his tone hard and flat. “Absolutely not.”
He didn't want to share his living space with someone else. Someone who would undoubtedly be ordinary and pedestrian and so dull it would make him want to scream. And they'd be put off by Raniel's complete disinterest in them, or else disturbed by the fact that it was Sherlock who talked to their dæmon, not Raniel, or they'd insist on not having body parts in the flat and he'd have to bow to their wishes (at least in part) because without them he'd have to move again...
On top of the table, Raniel rocked back on his hind legs and stood up, looking Sherlock in the eye. “Then we have to either stay here or settle for a place that's just as awful.”
“No!” Sherlock said again, opening the laptop again and starting a new search. “There has to be something...”
“We'd have to go out of London to find something decent in our price range,” Raniel continued ruthlessly. “Unless you ask Mycroft to help out.”
Sherlock's lip curled. “Fine, we'll get a flatmate.”
As soon as she saw Ragnvald, Aeliana had known something was wrong.
The bear had been running on three legs, his left front paw tucked up against his chest as though he clasped something precious. And John and his dæmon were nowhere to be seen.
Ragnvald had bypassed all the human doctors and come straight to her, and it was only then Aeliana had realised it was John tucked into the crook of the panserbjørn's arm, unconscious and shivering, his dæmon lying atop him and shuddering just as violently.
“He was shot with a witch's arrow,” was all Ragnvald said, before gently laying John and Amarisa on the ground at Aeliana's feet.
The witch had passed her hand over the ugly wound in John's shoulder before yanking it back abruptly, a sickening numbness rising from the injury like heat from a forge.
A death-spell. John had been shot by an arrow with a death-spell on it.
Aeliana's first thought had been 'why?' John was a doctor, a mid-ranking soldier, a human – he was about as far removed from witch-clan politics as it was possible to be. Why would a witch want him killed so badly they put a death-spell on their arrow?
And it had been two witches, not just the one – the deep gash on John's hip had emanated the same terrible numbness as the wound on his shoulder.
She would have been perfectly happy to work under the stars, but humans felt cold, so she asked Ragnvald to take John to his tent. Ragnvald had done so, and then planted himself outside the entrance, clearly intending to stay where he was until he had news on John's condition.
Then Aeliana had set to work. There was little she could do to truly help John – overcoming a death-spell relied purely on the subject's will – but there were potions and spells that could ease the way. And John had already proved himself formidable; most humans and witches afflicted with a death-spell died at once, as soon as the arrow pierced their skin. John had not only remained conscious for several minutes but he'd actually managed to pull the arrow out, which meant his own will was far stronger than that of the witch that had cast the spell.
But death-spells lingered like poison, and John's health could be permanently affected if Aeliana didn't counteract it.
So here she was, mixing potions and dribbling them between John's lips, breathing spells over herbs and rubbing them over the oozing wounds.
And through it all, John lay unconscious, motionless save for his constant, low-level trembling. Amarisa lay next to him on the thick sleeping bag that was serving as his bed, and they often reached for each other in their delirium, John's fingers clutching at his dæmon's fur or her nose pressing into his side.
It was only when the sun had begun to rise again that John stirred, his eyes opening slowly, as though even his eyelids were stiff.
“Ae...liana?” His voice had the slurring, disbelieving quality of the not-quite coherent and Aeliana lay a cool hand on his brow, hoping it would soothe him.
“It's all right, John,” she murmured. “You were hit by an arrow, but you're going to be fine.”
“He's fine, John – he's just outside, in fact. Shall I tell him you've woken up?”
But there was no response; as soon as the words 'he's fine' had passed her lips, John's eyes had slipped closed almost immediately.
Aeliana sighed, and brushed some of his sweat-slicked hair away from his forehead. It was a maternal gesture, but she couldn't help it – John was quite close in age to her own sons, after all.
The fact that he'd regained consciousness said a great deal about the progress he'd made, so she left the tent to inform Ragnvald.
A human would have spoken, would have prompted her with a demanded 'well?' or an impatient 'so?', but Ragnvald simply turned his attention to her and waited.
“If he was a different man, I'd still be worried,” Aeliana admitted. “But knowing him, and now that he regained consciousness for a few moments, I think we can safely say the danger has passed.”
Ragnvald nodded. “That is good.”
With that, the bear rose to his feet and padded away.
Aeliana shook her head – humans she could grasp, but she was convinced she'd never understand the panserbjørne.
Mycroft was only mildly surprised to find his brother waiting in the office. It was true that Sherlock usually avoided Mycroft's offices (both the real and the decoy) as though he were in danger of some allergic reaction to them but now, with Mummy in Afghanistan, Sherlock had to come to Mycroft if he wanted any hope of news.
“Sherlock,” he greeted, nodding at his brother to sit down and not surprised at all when Sherlock remained standing. “To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?”
Sherlock, of course, didn't bother with so much as a polite greeting. “How is she?”
Mycroft toyed with the idea of pretending not to know who 'she' was, before discarding the idea – he just didn't have the heart to, not today.
“What makes you think I would know?” he asked, voice cool and deliberate.
Where another dæmon might have shifted, might have fidgeted, might have betrayed their human, Tehayla was as disciplined as Mycroft himself was and remained perfectly motionless.
“I know you have an alethiometer, Mycroft!” Sherlock snapped, Raniel bristling on his shoulder. “Cease prevaricating!”
It was true that Mycroft did possess an alethiometer, one of those strange devices that could answer any question posed to it via the thirty-six symbols inscribed on its clock-like face. Each symbol had thousands of possible meanings, and the reader of the alethiometer posed a question by manipulating three hands via dials to point at the equivalent symbols. The answer was obtained by observing the fourth hand and the symbols it pointed to as it rotated about the face.
The alethiometer had been invented in the seventeenth century, and the exact specifics of the device were still unknown. Only six had ever been made, and only three had survived to the present day.
One had been destroyed in WWI, and two were now lost (though Mycroft made sure his networks were always alert for news of them, just in case). Of the three that were accounted for, one belonged to a private collector in Zurich (who Mycroft had under close survelliance), one was on display in the Louvre, and the last one was in Mycroft's possession.
But he didn't use it often. In part because, while many experiments had been run, no one yet knew exactly what powered the alethiometer, or what enabled it to answer every question so accurately. And if you didn't know how a device worked, you couldn't know if it had been tampered with.
It was true that no one had ever found any substance or device that was capable of affecting an alethiometer, but Mycroft knew better than to take anything like that for granted.
Still, the main reason Mycroft didn't use his alethiometer was that, with so many thousands of meanings for each symbol, every answer was vulnerable to misinterpretation. And it was far better to work with no information than wrong or misleading information.
However, for Mummy, Mycroft had made an exception. He'd asked what she was doing, and the needle had swung to the symbols of the camel, the beehive, the moon, the helmet, the lightning bolt, the serpent, the helmet again and then the hourglass. Of course, the symbols were only the first, easiest step of reading the alethiometer – the real test came in interpreting them, in trying out the various combinations of meanings until you hit upon one that seemed sound.
Mycroft believed the camel referred to the desert, indicating that Mummy was still in Afghanistan. The beehive could indicate either work or company, he wasn't sure. The moon was the way the alethiometer referred to witches, which said she was either working with or in the company of witches, there was little difference either way. The helmet could mean fighting or war, which seemed obvious, but the addition of the lightning bolt symbol after it seemed to indicate another meaning. The lightning bolt was often used to represent a force of nature, and together with the helmet often referred to armoured bears. As panserbjørne had been dispatched to Afghanistan, that much seemed relatively straightforward.
However, the serpent still puzzled him. It could mean cunning or deceit (though that was usually referred to via the chameleon), or it could be a way of indicating reptiles in general. One of its deeper meanings was poison, and it was also a way of referring to medicine and sometimes doctors. It could mean that Mummy had been treated for some kind of injury, which was disturbing when coupled with the final two symbols.
The helmet and the hourglass together seemed to indicate that she was fighting death.
Though of course, Mycroft wasn't going to tell his brother that. Not purely based on the response of a subjective device that by its very nature was open to multiple interpretations.
“It was very oblique,” he said eventually, with just the right amount of grudging frustration in his voice. “All it told me was that Mummy is still in Afghanistan, working with her clan and armoured bears.”
Sherlock, of course, scoffed and demanded Mycroft describe exactly what symbols the alethiometer had stopped on, invented a dozen different explanations, and eventually swept out again with a parting shot about Mycroft's weight.
Tehayla clacked her beak resentfully as the doors closed. “Siblings can be such a trial.”
“Indeed,” Mycroft agreed, absently running the tips of his fingers down her chest.
They sat in silence for a few moments, both wondering how to progress from here.
“I could go to Afghanistan,” Tehayla said at last, hopping down from his shoulder and onto the desk.
Mycroft pursed his lips. “No – it would take you far too long to get there.”
“I would have been informed if she'd truly been hurt,” Mycroft said, trying to convince both himself and his dæmon.
Tehayla shifted her weight, opening one wing and preening it, a sure sign she was uncomfortable. “So where do you want me to go?”
Mycroft usually liked to have Tehayla perform surveillance during the day; it was one of the more tangible benefits of their separation. He had to be seen entering the office with her – it wouldn't do to let people think he and Tehayla were in any way unusual – but she usually departed mere minutes afterwards. However, today he found he didn't want to send her away.
He knew it was ridiculous – he'd never fully trusted the answers the alethiometer gave him, and he wasn't about to start now – but the idea that Mummy might be injured, might be dying, while he was sitting at this desk...
He didn't want to be alone today, childish as it sounded.
“You're staying with me, today,” he announced, his eyes casting across the desk for an excuse. “We'll work on this little economic problem.”
Tehayla knew exactly what he was doing, of course, but refrained from commenting. She merely took her usual place on his shoulder, shifting close enough for her folded wings to brush the side of his head every time she breathed.
It was the first time John had actively sought Ragnvald out instead of just waiting for the bear to turn up in his own time. His arm was still in a sling, and the crutch he'd been given was rather dodgy, but it had got him up and moving, and John refused to lie in bed for any longer than he had to.
Amarisa at his side, as always, John made his slow progression across the camp until he reached the panserbjørn, Ragnvald buckling on his armour with a dexterity that always amazed the doctor. Somehow, even though he knew that those huge paws were as deft and delicate as his own hands, it was always a surprise to see it.
Ragnvald, of course, didn't waste time with meaningless pleasantries. He took one look at John's limp, at his still-healing arm, and he knew.
“You are leaving.”
“Yeah,” John sighed, wondering if he should be more enthusiastic. Most people were happy to be sent away from war zones.
But then, most people wouldn't be leaving the only place they'd ever felt accepted. It was true that most people didn't know Amarisa was a wolfdog – they usually thought of her as a very large dog – but when they did, they inevitably started to give John strange looks. Even his family had never been entirely comfortable with them, which had stung in more ways than one.
He wished there was some way for them to remain, but he was pretty useless in his current condition. Although the death-spells had been counter-acted by his own will and Aeliana's ministrations, there would be side-effects; if John was feeling sad, or scared, or dreading something, the wounds would twinge and flare with pain. And even putting the death-spells aside, he'd still had a large chunk of wood jammed into his shoulder, which meant there was a long recuperation time and a lot of physical therapy in his future.
Ragnvald nodded, and though John wanted to thank the panserbjørne for having carried him and Amarisa to safety, he held his tongue. Bears rarely accepted gratitude for such actions; in Ragnvald's mind, he had simply done the duty he owed John as a comrade-in-arms.
“It has been good to fight with you,” Ragnvald suddenly stated. “If you had been born a bear, you would have been a good one.”
John knew that was probably the highest compliment a panserbjørne could give. But as Ragnvald wouldn't want any kind of effusive flattery, he settled for nodding in acknowledgement as Amarisa wagged her tail.
Then Ragnvald bent over, pressing their foreheads together just as he'd done when they'd burned Aaltje's body, gazing straight into John's eyes with an intensity that still rather intimidated the doctor.
“Strength and victory, John Watson,” Ragnvald said clearly, bestowing the traditional blessing of the armoured bears.
“Strength and victory, Ragnvald Finnurson,” John replied.
Ragnvald grunted in satisfaction and drew back, leaving John to turn around, and slowly limp away.
“Well,” Amarisa said quietly. “That was one of the nicest, simplest goodbyes we've ever engaged in.”
She was trying to cheer him up, and John smiled weakly at her, appreciative but not yet able to look at his discharge as a good thing.
They found Tamsyn, Hasna and Aeliana towards the edge of the camp, and John was grateful all three witches were present – he'd rather do the farewells all together.
Hasna saw him first. “John?”
“Hey,” he greeted as he shuffled up to them, wincing when he moved a little too quickly and pain sparked through his hip, Amarisa giving him a chastising growl.
“Are you all right?” Tamsyn asked, looking as though she was torn between putting out an arm for him and respecting his pride.
“I'm fine – it's just my leg...”
Aeliana looked uncomfortable. “That's likely my fault. I concentrated most of the spells on your shoulder, as it was so badly injured. I could try to do something about it now, but so much time has passed...”
“It'll be all right,” John said, trying to smile for her. “And thanks for what you did – I don't think I'd be here, otherwise.”
Aeliana had informed him he'd been hit with death-spells as soon as he was coherent, though the two of them were still baffled as to why. He wasn't exactly a witch clan's greatest enemy, and he was fairly certain no witch should have a vendetta against him serious enough to justify a death-spell.
But Aeliana seemed uncomfortable with his gratitude, so John changed the subject swiftly. “So, what about you? And Tamsyn and Hasna – are you going to stay with this company for a bit longer, or are you going elsewhere?”
The witches glanced at each other.
“We're thinking of withdrawing,” Aeliana admitted. “You know why we involved ourselves in this war, don't you?”
John nodded – Tamsyn had explained it to him several weeks ago.
“Well, the more I see of this war, the more I think we aren't going to find any answers here.”
“We think the mystery will be unravelled closer to home,” Hasna put in. “We're not learning anything here.”
“Well, good luck with that,” John said. “I'm leaving, tomorrow, so-”
“I'm going with you,” Tamsyn interrupted.
Confused, John blinked at her for a moment. “What?”
“Two witches thought you worthy of a death-spell, John,” Aeliana reminded him, her voice hard. “Tamsyn will go back to England with you, for your own safety.”
“You don't need to do that-” John began, protesting automatically.
“But we do,” Tamsyn interrupted. “If they want to kill you that badly, they won't simply give up.”
John was starting to feel a little alarmed now – the idea that an entire clan of witches wanted him dead wasn't exactly a pleasant thought. Amarisa leaned against his good leg to reassure him.
“Don't worry,” Hasna said, reading John's trepidation. “It's only until you reach England.”
“Is England some kind of safe base or something?” John asked, trying to inject some humour into his voice. “They can't kill me there because it violates some sanctified law or something?”
Aeliana smiled, small and secretive. “Not quite. But suffice to say, they won't dare touch you in England.”
Hasna nodded. “And in the meantime, we'll try to find out why they were so desperate to kill you.”
John couldn't argue that – he'd wondered the same thing himself many times. After all, he wasn't particularly high-ranked in the army, he wasn't some sort of genius doctor, and he certainly wasn't the sort of person who changed the course of a war...so why had the witches suddenly decided to kill him?
Sherlock made a habit of staying in touch with people he'd assisted. Or perhaps not 'staying in touch', as that implied it was a mutual communication – more like he was aware of where they were and what they were doing, in case he ever needed to call in a favour.
For example, due to a few small problems here and there that he'd cleared up, almost every Gyptian on the waterways would be willing to help Sherlock in any way they could. Sherlock had used them several times to locate missing people or to obtain information he wouldn't have been able to otherwise.
And now a flat in Baker Street had opened up, and Sherlock knew the landlady. He'd helped out Mrs. Hudson in America, and remembered her as one of the few people he could tolerate in extended close proximity. It helped that her dæmon – a red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) by the name of Kai – was never made uneasy by Raniel's lack of attention. Kai never expected Sherlock's dæmon to interact with him, and was never offended when Sherlock addressed him instead of Mrs. Hudson.
His previous acquaintance with the woman meant she'd presented him with an offer substantially lower than what she should have demanded, which meant he'd only need one flatmate to help him pay the rent. That was good news; as there were only two bedrooms the only other option would have been to rent it with a couple, which would have been much more unpleasant.
Now, all he needed to do was find a flatmate who wouldn't demand any consistent social interaction from him, and who Sherlock could stand to be around.
John's shoulder had improved in leaps and bounds, and John thought he had Aeliana's spells to thank for his speedy recovery.
But that was only his shoulder. John's leg still twinged at odd intervals, and he still needed a cane to get around. Tamsyn had told him he could combat the pain the same way he'd fought off the death-spells – by thinking of life, why he wanted to live it and what made his good.
Except while that had been easy in Afghanistan, it was much more difficult now. He'd been useful in Afghanistan, he'd had purpose, while back here he was just another crippled ex-soldier. He'd had friends in Afghanistan, people who understood him, who accepted Amarisa – and thus, himself – while here people began to edge away any time his dæmon displayed her more wolf-like characteristics.
At least John had managed to stay in touch with his friends; Caedmon had come to visit him twice, checking in on him and informing John of the progress the witches had made. They were no closer to finding out why he'd been a target for not one but two death-spells, but the swan dæmon had told John that the enemy witches seemed to be withdrawing their support from the Afghani forces – at the very least, they weren't nearly as involved in the conflict as they had been.
Of course, Caedmon also told him other, less important news. Such as the fact that Hasna had fallen in love with one of those combat journalists that had been tagging along with the company. John had first wished her luck and then, when Caedmon had told him they were in the beginning stages of a serious relationship on his second visit, had passed along his congratulations. Aeliana had reunited with her family (apparently her husband and sons were current, not long in the past) and John was happy for her. Tamsyn was still unattached, but was making overtures towards another witch (John had vaguely suspected that Tamsyn was a lesbian; not through anything she'd done or said, but simply because living with Harry through their teenage years had given him a decent gaydar).
Because they were so small now, the remnants of their clan had been absorbed by one of their allies, and Aeliana was now on that clan's council – John had been rather shocked when Caedmon had informed him Aeliana had been the clan queen.
Ragnvald was still fighting in Afghanistan, though the unpopularity of the war (and the subsequent scarcity of funds for it) coupled with the withdrawal of the enemy witch clan made it likely the government might cut back on the number of armoured bears sometime soon.
And while he was certainly concerned about his friends, John had problems of his own to worry about. His therapist, for one; like every other human on the face of the planet, she seemed to think that Amarisa being a wolfdog meant they were hiding some terrible childhood trauma. John resented such an implication and made no secret of the fact – but of course, she only thought his defensiveness was proof she was striking close to home.
John's other problem was that he didn't have the income to stay in London without a flatmate. Not that he was particularly attached to his current set of rooms; they didn't feel like home, and the only personal touch John had brought to them was his photos.
He didn't have many – only four. One of his family, taken when he was seventeen. Another of him and his university friends, and one of the platoon he'd served with. The most recent addition was one taken by a combat photographer that John had ended up keeping for himself, and it showed himself and Amarisa with Ragnvald, Tamsyn, Hasna and Caedmon.
John didn't have a picture of Aeliana, which he supposed was a pity but hardly something he could change now.
The point was, attached to his rooms or not, John couldn't live in London and certainly not in any decent apartment without someone to help him pay for it. But that was easier said than done – people didn't want to live with someone with a wolfdog for a dæmon, and John was self-aware enough to know he'd probably make a terrible flatmate at this point. Aside from a host of lingering battlefield reflexes (John was still uncomfortable with people coming up behind him, for example) and a sense of paranoia – though he felt this was at least partly justified, as he had a witch clan out for his blood, after all – there were the nightmares.
It might have been bearable if he'd dreamed about the war, about the battlefields, but he didn't. His nightmares were always about the death-spell. Night after night, he revisited the all-consuming cold, the creeping numbness, the feeling that he was sinking into darkness, alone and away from everything he loved, away from even Amarisa.
So, he doubted anyone would want to share a flat with him. Harry might be willing to put him up, but John was determined that would be an absolute last resort.
So he didn't think anything of mentioning his problems to Mike Stamford when they stumbled across each other in the park, and was bewildered by Mike's sudden chuckle.
“You're the second person to say that to me today.”
Amarisa's ears pricked, and John couldn't help asking, “Who was the first?”
Sherlock glanced up from his experiment as the door opened, Raniel doing the same from his perch on the table, sniffing the air.
Mike Stamford and his pig dæmon (Sus domestica) entered the room, followed by a man Sherlock assumed was a prospective flatmate. He'd deliberately mentioned his housing troubles to the man earlier, hoping he would spread the word – Stamford's circle of acquaintances was likely to consist primarily of doctors and researchers, and Sherlock needed a flatmate who wouldn't be squeamish.
It was clear the other man was both a doctor and a soldier, so Sherlock and Raniel turned their attention to his dæmon.
Sherlock's first thought was 'dog', but that didn't quite fit. While the dæmon was obviously canine, the shape of the skull was wrong for a dog, the snout too long and the head too low. There was something wrong about the way she moved as well; much too predatory to be a dog. His next thought – with more than a hint of interest – was 'wolf', but that didn't fit, either. The dæmon couldn't be a wolf, because no true wolves had black coats or dew claws. That she was some kind of canine was obvious, but what kind?
Raniel actually scurried the length of the table to stare down at this strange dæmon, sniffing intently.
People usually became uncomfortable beneath Raniel's scrutiny of their dæmons, but it didn't seem to bother the military doctor at all. Raniel himself was usually enough to unsettle people, or at the very least warrant a second glance, but the man just looked at Sherlock's dæmon for a moment before he began glancing about the lab.
Intriguing. It seemed either that this doctor was surprisingly accepting of strange qualities in dæmons, or Raniel was not the strangest dæmon he'd ever seen. Possibly both.
Raniel bounded back to Sherlock, scrambling up his sleeve to curl around his neck.
Sherlock turned his face away so the other men wouldn't see him speaking, and kept his voice low so it wouldn't carry to the ears of their dæmons.
“What does she smell like – dog or wolf?”
“I don't know,” Raniel whispered, practically trembling with excitement. “I've never smelled a dæmon like her before.”
Sherlock turned his gaze on the mysterious dæmon again, wondering if he'd missed something. But she was definitely a canine of some sort...a strange kind of wolf? A particularly exotic dog breed?
He didn't know. For the first time since they were eleven and that woman's hoatzin had puzzled them, Sherlock and Raniel were honestly confounded by a person's dæmon.
How very interesting.
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: Structrual Integrity
Part Twelve: The Reader