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. Sherlock and Raniel investigate what appear to be serial suicides, with John and Amarisa along for the ride.
(Title page by birddi )
Part One: The Architecture of Our Lives
Part Two: Stepping Stones
Part Three: Foundations
Sometimes – not very often, but sometimes – Sherlock was honestly astounded by the workings of the world and the coincidences that drove it. He never would have guessed that his search for a flatmate he could tolerate would lead him to...to this.
'This' being rapidly cooling Chinese takeaway, he and John eating in their chairs, Raniel sprawled across the padded back of Sherlock's and Amarisa sitting beside John's. 'This' was complete unprecedented in Sherlock's experience.
Not to mention that Raniel's behaviour was only growing more unusual. Aside from actually talking to Amarisa and John, he'd even held a full conversation with the other dæmon. While they were on lookout at Angelo's, with Amarisa lying beneath the table, Raniel had forgone his usual place on Sherlock's shoulder or the chair beside him and had leapt down to the floor as well. Sherlock and John's ensuing conversation had been slower than usual and slightly stilted, their attention forced to split between their own conversation and their dæmons'.
It hadn't been a particularly involved conversation, just the sort of overtures strange dæmons made to each other all the time, and Sherlock was quite sure neither John nor Amarisa knew how unusual it was for Raniel to be making them to another dæmon.
And then John and Amarisa had followed them out of the restaurant, leaving the cane behind, even though Sherlock hadn't really expected that to work. He'd felt the need to try (though why he did was still a mystery), but he hadn't anticipated such immediate success. Obviously the hold the psychosomatic injury had on John's mind had been fragile at best, which raised all sorts of intriguing questions.
When they got back to the flat it had been invaded by the police, Anderson's dæmon sniffing around and trying to stay out of Amarisa's way. The faux drug bust had been irritating, to say the least, especially the split-second of fear in which Sherlock wondered if John wouldn't want to share a flat with an ex-junkie, if he and Amarisa would leave.
It had been slightly disconcerting to realise that he hadn't even known the man for a full day, yet was honestly perturbed at the thought of him leaving the flat.
And then...then the cabbie. That had been brilliant, truly brilliant, because who suspects the cabbie? Even his dæmon was forgettable – a red fox of the European subspecies (Vulpes vulpes crucigera). But Sherlock and Raniel knew the red fox was distinguished from other fox species because it represented a more progressive carnivorous form, and could adapt rapidly to its surroundings.
Then came the game, which was brilliant as well, and the shot and as Sherlock gazed through the hole in the window into the darkened and empty room opposite them (Raniel keeping watch on the dying murderer), he remembered that though red foxes were the largest of the true foxes, they were vulnerable to attack from predators such as wolves.
He didn't have any idea why his mind should have fixed on that fact, not until he was standing in front of Lestrade in that ridiculous blanket and his eyes wandered over to John standing behind the police tape. John looked perfectly innocent, a mix of curious and bewildered, but Amarisa...
Amarisa was standing at his side, but there was something wrong about her stance. When dogs were relaxed, their heads were held high, their tongues lolled, and there was a sort of slouch to their posture that said they'd be quite happy to lie down right where they were. Amarisa's head was low, parallel to her back, and she held her tail perfectly straight and angled away from her body. Her ears were pricked and attentive, but they weren't flicking from side or side and she wasn't fidgeting – her whole being exuded a sort of predatory stillness that Sherlock had never seen any dog display.
Then Sherlock knew. He and Raniel had put Lestrade off the scent (he wasn't sure if they'd done it very successfully, but he was determined that in a few hours there would be no evidence to find in any case), and re-joined their new flatmate and his dæmon. At which point Mycroft had shown up, John had lingered to clarify something, and then run to catch up to Sherlock and Raniel.
And again, Amarisa didn't behave like a dog. She didn't run the way dogs did, feet overlapping and body bounding and jolting along. She moved the way wolves did; the long, loping stride, almost a trot, that kept their back level and allowed them to glide over the ground.
It was, quite frankly, fascinating. Both of them were. John Watson's history was written on him like calligraphy, but for all that was obvious about him there was a hint of mystery, of depths not yet touched. And his dæmon...
For the first time in years, a dæmon honestly confounded both Sherlock and Raniel.
Of course, they could only take the mystery for so long, and when they were back in the flat, finishing up their meal, Raniel finally spoke up.
“What are you?” he asked bluntly, staring at Amarisa.
She and her human tensed almost imperceptibly, and John glanced up from his food and said, “Figure it out for yourself.”
With that, both he and his dæmon retreated upstairs, the solid thuds of John's shoes on the stairs a counterpoint to Amarisa's near-silent, padding footsteps.
Sherlock and Raniel were up all night googling various wolf species and flicking through their index of canine dæmons. At this point Sherlock was certain Amarisa was a species of wolf; it was true that no pure wolves were black, but at this point he was assuming Amarisa was a colour variant. John had been unusually uneasy when the question of Amarisa's species was raised – it could just be people's usual discomfort in the face of questions about their dæmons, but Sherlock thought there was something more to it – and having a wolf dæmon would explain why. The only question was, what type of wolf was she?
None of the species he saw fit. Their skulls weren't the right shape, their proportions were incorrect, and while a grey wolf might come close to matching her size the body was too lean, the chest too narrow.
In the early hours of the morning, Sherlock finally found it. When you eliminated the impossible whatever remained, however improbable, must be the truth, and this was the only solution that fit all of the data.
A disgustingly unimaginative name, but certainly very descriptive. Half wolf, half dog, and Sherlock could certainly understand why John didn't want to advertise that fact.
Wolf dæmons were rare, yes, but hybrid dæmons even more so. It indicated an instinctive dichotomy of the person's soul, a divide that was nonetheless smoothly reconciled and integrated...
Like a doctor who was also a killer.
Something thrilled in Sherlock at that thought, and Raniel shivered on his shoulder. They read on.
By the time John and Amarisa were stirring the next morning, Sherlock and Raniel had what they needed. Amarisa was undoubtedly a wolfdog, and her sheer size made it likely that her wolf half was that of a grey wolf – Canis lupus – though he didn't know which subspecies it was.
The dog half was much harder to determine, but Sherlock suspected something along the lines of a husky or a malamute, something thickset but still close to the ancestral wolf form.
A wolf dæmon would have been interesting. But a wolfdog was fascinating.
Because while the information Sherlock found claimed that wolfdogs could be domesticated (some people kept them as pets, but more often they were used by the police or the military), everything he read pointed to the fact that in the wild, wolfdogs were more dangerous than wolves. They formed larger packs, were capable of greater speed and stamina when chasing down their prey, and were far less likely to flee from humans as true wolves did.
Feet and paws descended the stairs as John came into the sitting room, Amarisa at his heels. The glance they shot towards Sherlock and Raniel on the sofa was wary, as if they expected both of them to run screaming.
“If you're making tea, I'll have some, too,” Sherlock told him.
“If you want tea, make some yourself,” John groused, but Sherlock could hear the relief in his voice, as though John had honestly been expecting Sherlock to throw him out of the flat as soon as he learned what Amarisa was.
Amarisa's tail waved happily, and Raniel made a pleased chittering noise in response.
John, however, kept looking at Sherlock out of the corner of his eyes, as though at any moment the doctor expected him to suddenly retract his acceptance. Sherlock wondered how many people had been uncomfortable around John once they discerned Amarisa's true nature.
Perhaps in a world without dæmons, John Watson would have looked quite unremarkable – people would pass him in the street with no idea of what had slipped them by. But the prescence of Amarisa ensured that John was seen for what he was by those who knew what she was; unique and dangerous.
John could admit that at this point, he'd probably made a friend even stranger than Ragnvald.
Even aside from Sherlock's deductions, the way his mind seemed to be operating on a different wavelength and his dæmon's bizarre interest in Amarisa, they seemed to have somehow missed the memo on normal social interaction. Like calling John back to the flat from halfway across London just to obtain his mobile phone, for example.
John knew most people seemed to be discomforted by Sherlock's habit of talking directly to their dæmons, but he and Amarisa weren't particularly bothered by that. Perhaps it was because they were used to conversing with Caedmon without Hasna present, so Sherlock speaking directly to Amarisa was more a semi-endearing quirk than the affront other people seemed to take it as.
They'd ended up chasing down the cab, and for the first time in months John had forgotten all about his leg. Even when he'd realised what had happened when they got back, still gasping and laughing in turn, and his leg tried to twinge and spasm, all he had to do was remember the chase. Remember how excited and breathless and alive he'd felt, and the pain scurried away.
Then Sherlock had to go and be a complete idiot and follow a serial killer out the front door. John and Amarisa had followed the phone's coordinates, had gone looking in the wrong building, and he'd ended up shooting the murderer through the window.
John had known the man was dying; he never missed, and the fox dæmon was already beginning to evaporate into golden smoke when he and Amarisa turned around and left as quickly as they could.
Sherlock had known of course, but John had been half-expecting that. Then the supposed nemesis had turned out to be Sherlock's brother (and John had thought his family dynamics were bad!) they'd ended up getting themselves some Chinese, and Raniel had asked the question John had been dreading.
He thrown them a challenge, daring them to work it out themselves, and then he and Amarisa had retreated to his bedroom.
John had lain on the bed with Amarisa curled against his side, trying to tell himself that it didn't matter.
“They probably won't care,” Amarisa tried to reassure him. “I don't think they actually know how to care about stuff like that.”
“Yeah, but what if they do?” John couldn't help asking.
At least Amarisa didn't apologise for what she was any more. That had stopped years ago, when they'd finally realised that other people's reactions and prejudices weren't their problem.
John had swiftly learned not to actually tell people what Amarisa was. He'd become an expert at dismissive brush-offs such as 'isn't it obvious?' or 'can't you tell?' or 'oh, some kind of dog'. None of them were lies – it was rather obvious when people trusted their instincts, they just preferred to think of her as a dog, and being only half-wolf, Amarisa was technically a type of a dog. A hybrid, true, but still a type of dog.
“I'm surprised Sherlock's dæmon didn't figure it out right away,” John admitted. “He certainly spent enough time staring at you.”
Amarisa grinned, and her tail thumped against the mattress. “Raniel was just curious – I don't think they usually come across dæmons they can't figure out right away.”
John chuckled, then sobered immediately. “You think they'll be all right?”
“Probably. I mean, Murray was weird about it for a while, but he came around.”
“Yeah, but I never had to live with Bill,” John pointed out. “You know how people are; they're fine with something if it's at a distance, but once it actually comes into their lives...”
He shrugged. Amarisa wiggled closer, licking him under the chin in an effort to be reassuring.
John pulled a sheet over them – he rarely needed many blankets, even in the winter, as having Amarisa next to him was like sleeping with a radiator – and tried to get some sleep. It had been a very long day, after all.
When he awoke, John was honestly surprised he'd fallen asleep at all. The clock on his bedside table told him Sherlock had been given more than enough time to figure it out, and he was unable to completely quash his dread as he and Amarisa descended the stairs.
Sherlock had his laptop open on the table, and Raniel was hanging onto his human's shoulder, leaning over towards the computer with an air of barely-contained excitement.
Not entirely sure what was going on – this wasn't a reaction he was familiar with – John went about making himself a cup of tea and seeing what he could scrounge for breakfast.
“If you're making tea, I'll have some, too,” came Sherlock's demand.
There was no wariness in his voice, no hesitation – nothing about Sherlock's attitude had changed overnight, and John almost sagged against the kitchen counter, he was so relieved.
Of course, it didn't mean he'd actually give in. “If you want tea, make some yourself.”
Amarisa was wagging her tail, just as relieved as John, and the doctor could hear Raniel making a happy chirruping sound over his shoulder, almost as though the polecat was delighted at Amarisa's reaction.
John couldn't quite believe it. It seemed almost too good to be true. Sherlock and Raniel knew Amarisa was a wolfdog...and they didn't seem to care in the slightest.
And if John was smiling as he made Sherlock a cup of tea, he didn't think anyone could really blame him.
Over the next month, Sherlock and Raniel gathered enough data on John Watson and Amarisa to make conclusions of varying importance and validity, all of which were essentially only frills around their original impressions.
John Watson was one of those people who got into medicine because they felt a need to help people, to make a difference, and he'd joined the army for the same reasons. Amarisa had an abundance of wolf-like characteristics, but played up her dog-like behaviours to put people at ease. John and his dæmon were gentle and caring at heart, but thrilled at the chase in the same way Sherlock and Raniel did. They trusted their instincts, and were loyal to the point of killing to protect those close to them. They'd kill to protect even those people who weren't close to them – they'd known Sherlock and Raniel less than twenty-four hours when John shot the cabbie.
In short, John Watson and Amarisa were possessed of depths even Sherlock and Raniel had yet to grasp.
It didn't stop them trying, though. Sherlock observed John and Amarisa at every opportunity, in their interactions with other people and dæmons and in their interactions with each other.
You could tell a lot about a person by the contact they had with their dæmon. Sherlock and Raniel went through their day with absent, almost impersonal touches – Raniel's usual position on Sherlock's shoulder or around his neck was more convenience than anything else. And because he was a small dæmon, at those times when they slept he usually did so curled up on the pillow beside Sherlock's head.
John and Amarisa, however, were a different case entirely. When he sat down at the table to read a book or tap away at his laptop, John would reach down to scratch at his dæmon's ears at least once every fifteen minutes. He curled a hand in her ruff whenever they were waiting for something, be it a cab on the corner or for food at a restaurant.
Most people with large dæmons tended to have them sleep at the foot of the bed or beside it. But Sherlock had charged into John's bedroom to wake him up on more than one occasion, and knew that Amarisa slept beside John, both of them tangled together beneath the sheets. When John was in his armchair, Amarisa usually curled up on his lap – she was far too big for it to really work, and it should have looked hideously uncomfortable, but instead just looked...cosy.
It showed that John valued contact – not necessarily physical contact, but certainly social contact. He also valued bonds with other people, which was already made obvious by Amarisa's form; both wolves and dogs were known for their loyalty to whatever and whoever they considered 'pack'.
His constant contact with Amarisa also suggested that John and his dæmon had been through many hardships with each other as their only support. Sherlock assumed few people had been able to determine what Amarisa was, and even fewer would have been accepting.
Sherlock's family had been supportive all throughout his life – even if Mycroft was a comprehensive prick, he hadn't tried to shove Sherlock in a neat little box and make him conform to society's expectations. He suspected John had endured the exact opposite, which provided a plausible reason for his attachment to Sherlock; he was never going to demand John be normal, that Amarisa act like a dog – he much preferred John and his dæmon exactly the way they were.
He knew Raniel felt the same. Sherlock had expected Raniel's interest in Amarisa to wane once the mystery of her form was solved, but if anything, the revelation that she was a wolfdog had the exact opposite effect.
The polecat's attachment to Amarisa had been utterly unexpected, and in her presence Raniel completely departed from his usual behaviour. Raniel spoke to Amarisa. He spoke to John even, which of course the other man had taken in stride as calmly as he did everything else. Sometimes John even addressed questions and statements and jokes to Raniel now, rather than Sherlock, and talking to each other's dæmons was usually the purview of lovers rather than friends.
And only very intimate lovers at that – Anderson's and Donovan's dæmons never paid any particular attention to each other, whereas Raniel practically fawned over Amarisa. He still rode on Sherlock's shoulder, but now he wove through the wolfdog's legs when they were at crime scenes and sat down beside her when they ate at restaurants, close enough to press the length of his body against her flank.
Even now, with John dozing in front of the television – Amarisa at his feet this time – Raniel left the sofa to nudge against her side. Golden eyes flickered open, looking puzzled but not offended.
“It's cold,” was all Sherlock heard Raniel say before he burrowed himself into the thick fur on Amarisa's chest and belly.
Amarisa blinked sleepily down at the bundle of white fur that had anchored itself to her side, and Sherlock half-expected her to nudge Raniel away. But Amarisa simply yawned, tucked herself around Raniel, and went back to sleep.
Sherlock watched them, the black wolfdog and the albino polecat, curled together on the carpet like a bizarre yin-yang symbol, and wondered.
Raniel had never been so tactile with any other dæmon in Sherlock's life, even when they were very young. Largely due to their own nature – Raniel had never shown much interest in other dæmons until Amarisa – but also partly due to the fact that other dæmons seemed to find him off-putting in some way.
But something told Sherlock that this was more than just Amarisa's easy acceptance of him; that Amarisa and John were special in some way.
With a snort of derision at both himself and his dæmon, Sherlock put it out of his mind and turned to other, hopefully more interesting matters.
John thought most of the misconceptions about his and Sherlock's relationship could be blamed on their dæmons. Or, more precisely, the way they acted with each other's dæmons.
They'd never been particularly bothered by Sherlock speaking to Amarisa as often as he spoke to John, and the doctor was becoming accustomed to having a question he'd addressed to Sherlock answered by Raniel, and often found himself speaking directly to the dæmon.
Of course, he never engaged in that behaviour with anyone other than Sherlock – he had manners and actually respected other people's boundaries, even if the consulting detective didn't.
Still, for the dæmon of a supposed sociopath, Raniel was surprisingly affectionate. Like Sherlock, he possessed a near-complete disregard for the usual rules of dæmon-human interaction, and seemed as careless about addressing John as he was about talking to Sherlock. When John and Amarisa had first met them, it had seemed like just another quirk, but they'd spent enough time around them at this point to know that was rather unusual; Raniel snubbed everyone else, human and dæmon alike. He ignored Zarania, and even Kai didn't get much attention.
So for Raniel to talk to Amarisa, let alone talk to John, was a complete departure from the way the dæmon usually behaved. John knew that, but he still needed to work out what that meant. With anyone else, he'd think it was because Sherlock was interested in him, but the conversation in the restaurant had killed that idea (more's the pity).
In the end, John had simply told himself that Sherlock didn't have many people he considered friends and that this was probably the way Raniel acted around anyone Sherlock was truly close to.
John liked to think he and Amarisa were getting used to Sherlock's and his dæmon's particular brand of weirdness, but their flatmates could still surprise them.
Like when John's forage for some bread (he wanted toast for breakfast) was interrupted by one of Sherlock's more bizarre requests.
“Amarisa, I'll need to take a picture of you.”
“What?” John snapped, spinning around as Amarisa began to bristle. He knew their reaction was probably ridiculously out of proportion, but they'd been treated like a science experiment once too often.
Sherlock raised a careful eyebrow, clearly startled by their defensive reaction. Raniel scurried from the table he'd been sprawled on and approached Amarisa warily. The wolfdog dæmon had stepped in front of John, an instinctively protective gesture, and Raniel stood on his hind legs to tentatively touch his nose to hers.
At such a plainly conciliatory action, John felt some of his anger leeching away as the raised hairs on Amarisa's back flattened.
“Why do you need a picture?” John asked, significantly calmer.
“Because I keep an index of species to identify dæmons,” Sherlock explained. “With visual references. It took me so long to identify Amarisa because I had no entry on wolfdog, and that should be remedied immediately.”
His attention switched to John's dæmon. “Which is why I need a picture of you.”
Still a little wary, John quit the kitchen for the living room. “You keep indexes?”
Sherlock waved a hand dismissively in the direction of the bookcase, and John thought he was gesturing towards a pile of folders on the bottom shelf. Curious, he pulled out the top of the stack and opened it up.
Dominating the first page was a picture of a snow leopard, accompanied by notations about the animal's size, its basic physical description, with highlights about how a snow leopard was distinguished from other feline species. There were notes on the behaviour that continued to the next page, most apparently clippings from magazines or articles printed off the internet. At the very bottom, there was a name scribbled in Sherlock's handwriting.
John paged through the rest of the folder; it seemed to be a compendium on felines that Sherlock had cobbled together from whatever scraps of information came his way. It wasn't in alphabetical order – cheetah followed immediately after lynx – and every entry had a picture of the animal, a written description, notes on its behaviour and the same for any subspecies.
Most entries had a name written at the very bottom, often more than one, and John didn't know why until he came across the page on African wildcats.
Sally Donovan was scribed in the margin, and John realised Sherlock was keeping notes of which person had what dæmon.
“So you need an entry for wolfdog,” Amarisa surmised at last, having read over John's shoulder as he crouched on the floor.
“Exactly,” Sherlock nodded, apparently pleased the dæmon had followed his reasoning.
“It's kind of exciting,” Raniel chimed in from where he was stretched out on the floor. “We haven't needed to add a new entry for years.”
Amarisa glanced at John, and he shrugged.
“All right,” she agreed.
“Excellent!” Sherlock exclaimed, producing a camera from somewhere. “I need a shot of you in profile, to start with.”
Amarisa obediently turned side-on, extending her nose slightly and holding her tail away from her body. The camera flashed and beeped, and Sherlock glanced at the display with interest.
“I need a look at your teeth,” was his next demand.
Amarisa rolled her eyes and wrinkled her lips back.
In spite of Sherlock's complete lack of concern, John half-expected him to blanch at the sight of Amarisa's teeth. A dog baring its fangs was unsettling enough, but there was something about Amarisa's teeth – too sharp, too big – that put an extra edge on that fear.
But Sherlock, of course, simply made a sound of interest as Raniel scooted across the carpet to get a closer look.
“Her teeth are bigger than a dog's,” Raniel offered. “Especially her canines.”
He sounded fascinated rather than repelled, and John couldn't help it – he laughed. Because only Raniel would look at Amarisa's teeth and simply remark on how large they were, rather than running back to his human.
Sometimes, his life was so far removed from what it had been barely a month ago that it seemed ludicrous. Who would have guessed meeting Sherlock could have changed so much?
AN: Thanks so much to my beta, ginbitch , who spent a lot of time and effort making this chapter smoother!
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