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 are asked to investigate a break-in at the bank, John and Amarisa recieve a visit from a friend, and Lestrade realises Amarisa's not all that she seems...
(Title page by birddi )
Part One: The Architecture of Our Lives
Part Two: Stepping Stones
Part Three: Foundations
John mumbled something and tried to roll over. Whatever Amarisa wanted, he was certain it was far too early.
“John, wake up!”
Grumbling, John dragged his eyes open. “What is it, Risa?”
Amarisa just nodded towards the window. John sat up and glanced over, surprised to see an albatross dæmon perched on the sill outside.
“Oh, sorry,” John said, clambering out of the bed and making his way to the window. “I'll just-”
He opened the window and the albatross hopped from the sill into the room. There was no one in sight. So this was probably a witch's daemon.
“Good morning, Dr. John Watson,” the albatross greeted.
“Call me John,” he said automatically
The dæmon bobbed her head in something that might have been agreement. “I am Percila.”
If that name was supposed to ring a bell with John, it failed. One glance at Amarisa confirmed she didn't know it, either.
“Tamsyn Talitha's dæmon,” Percila elaborated.
“Oh!” Understanding dawned at last, along with the vague feeling that he was being a bad host with Percila standing on the floor and talking up to him.
John cast about for something that could serve as a perch in his small bedroom, and settled on the bedside table. He put the lamp on the floor, tossed his alarm clock on the bed, and passed his hand over the table's surface to clear away any dust.
“Please, sit,” he said, gesturing. “Or, well...um, rest?”
Obviously, Percila didn't smile – as a bird, her beak simply didn't move that way – but John got the distinct feeling she was amused as she hopped onto his bedside table and made herself comfortable, nestling down on the wood.
Amarisa leapt off the bed and placed her heavy forepaws on the top of the window, closing it before a draught could sneak in. John neatened his covers by force of habit before he sat down on the bed, facing Percila but with enough distance between them to be polite.
John's dæmon returned to the bed, extending her nose to Percila and sniffing but not actually touching the albatross, the way she usually greeted strange dæmons.
“So..how's everyone?” John asked.
“Much the same,” Percila replied, idly extending one wing as though she were stretching it. “Still concerned about you.”
“Me?” John echoed. “I'm fine. I mean, apart from a clan of witches trying to kill me for no clear reason we can determine, but they haven't been much trouble lately.”
“At first, we suspected a witch scorned,” the albatross admitted. “We can be very hot-blooded about our passions, you know, and it wouldn't be the first time a man suffered for rejecting a witch.”
John frowned. “I don't think I've ever rejected a witch. Unless Daniela Cooper was a witch – she was the cousin of one of my army mates.”
“She reminded us of Harry,” Amarisa explained. “It would have been weird.”
“Felt creepily like incest,” John nodded.
Again, John had the distinct impression Percila was amused, and wondered how he knew that – was it something in the dæmon's eyes?
“No, Daniela Cooper is not a witch,” Percila agreed. “We always knew it was an unlikely theory, given that you were shot by two witches, not one.”
John nodded absently, then almost started as he remembered Mycroft. “Oh, I almost forgot, there's a bloke that knows about that – the death-spells and all. His name's Mycroft-”
“Yes, we know,” Percila interrupted, sounding a touch impatient. “He's been charged with helping us discover exactly why those witches deemed it to necessary to eliminate you; he holds a position in the Witches' Consul.”
“He does?” John shook his head, sighing to himself. “What am I talking about – of course he does. Of course a bloke who mucks around with CCTV and public phones is going to have an in with the witches as well...”
Amarisa whuffed softly in amusement, and John tweaked her ear in retaliation.
“Have you ever considered that maybe I'd just done something to offend those two witches?” he queried. “I mean, no one else has come after me, so maybe assuming the whole clan was out for my blood was a bit premature.”
Percila shook her head. “And how would you have offended those witches? We aren't like the panserbjørne; insults mean nothing to us, nor dispersions on our honour or moral character. Death-spells are a rarity because there is almost no crime a witch will kill for.”
“So...what would you kill for?” John couldn't resist asking. “Hypothetically speaking, I mean.”
Percila's head tilted to one side, and regarded John with an impenetrable look in her dark, liquid eyes. “If someone tortured or murdered our lover, or our children, or one of our sisters. And I do speak of murder, not simply killing – if a witch falls in battle...no vendettas spring from that. We can often be philosophical about our sister's deaths, simply because most of us live so long in any case. But the mortals we love? No.”
“We get so few years with those we care about as it is,” Percila went on. “That when their already short lives are made shorter by sheer malice...we became angry, we become jealous of the time we didn't have...we become vengeful.”
She sighed, and stretched her other wing. “If you were struck down, John, if you were murdered on the streets of this city you call home...we would take up the vendetta for you. And it is likely Hasna and Aeliana would do the same.”
“What?” John snapped, Amarisa bristling and growling with the alarm of their violent reaction. “No! No one is going on a quest for vengeance for me – I'm not messing up anyone's life like that.”
“Why not?” Percila asked, and she sounded genuinely curious. “If someone murders you, they're clearly someone who needs to be removed from society, wouldn't you agree?”
“If I'm murdered, my new flatmate would probably find the killer within a week,” John said honestly. “And then they'd go to jail, which would satisfy that 'removed from society' bit. So if I'm murdered, everyone's to keep on living their lives, thanks very much. Anyone takes a vendetta on my account, I'm coming back as a very annoying ghost and haunting them, is that clear?”
Percila was amused again, and John finally figured out how she showed it – it was to do with the angle her head tilted and the way her eyes squinted just slightly at the same time.
“There is another reason a witch would put a death-spell on her arrow,” Percila went on softly. “And that's if the protection of the clan demanded it. If a person or witch was so powerful they threatened the clan itself.”
“Well, that's obviously not me, “ John sighed, feeling more than a little frustrated.
“So...” he began, trying to turn onto other topics. “Is that clan still in Afghanistan?”
He'd heard rumours that there were now no witches fighting in the Middle East, but the media often got conflicting reports.
Percila rustled her wings, almost like a shrug. “Some are staying; those who now have friends and lovers amidst the soldiers. But the clan itself is officially withdrawing.”
“Well, Ragnvald will be happy if he at least has some witches to fight,” John mused.
The armoured bear had never exactly complained about fighting foot soldiers, but John had known Ragnvald appreciated the challenge the witches represented. After all, ordinary humans needed a tank, grenades or rocket launchers to even come close to injuring a panserbjørne.
Percila made a non-committal noise. “We're more concerned about what their withdrawal means. If they're abandoning the conflict now, it means one of two things. Either they're unable to obtain whatever they wanted from it in the first place, which seems unlikely – there's certainly been no significant upheavals, at least none that we're aware of. The only other reason we can determine is...”
“They've got what they wanted,” John finished. “And now there's no reason to stick around.”
Percila nodded. “Which, of course, begs the question of what they wanted in the first place.”
“What do you think, Risa?” John asked his dæmon.
“Well, it's not territory,” Amarisa mused. “Aeliana explained to us about witches and territories. And probably not wealth, because witches trade favours, not money. But I can't think of anything else.”
Witch clans didn't recognise states or countries as John knew them. Aeliana had told him witches drew their own boundaries, and though each clan had what would be considered its homeland, it wasn't uncommon for witches to go hundreds of years without setting foot in their own. They travelled where and when they would, and rarely interfered in another clan's business – which had made the massacre of Aeliana's clan all the more unusual.
As for money...John supposed when you saw ten different kinds of currency come and go in your lifetime, money probably seemed kind of stupid.
“We can't decipher what it might be, either,” Percila admitted. “There were once rumours that one of the missing alethiometers had surfaced in Afghanistan, but that was over ten years ago.”
“And if they didn't move then, why do it now?” John surmised.
“Exactly. We have discussed the problem with our new clan, but no one can conceive of what they could have gained. Nor can we comprehend why they would have struck at us as they did.”
John's eyes automatically darted to the drawer his gun was hidden in. “Doesn't it concern you? To know that the people who killed your clan are still out there? That they might come back and finish the job?”
Percila was silent for a long time, and John wondered if he'd overstepped, if he'd brought up something the dæmon would rather not think about.
“I think what is truly unsettling us and our sisters is that we simply don't know,” Percila said eventually. “We don't know if they will attack us again, because we don't know why they struck in the first place.”
“Well, if I can ever give you a hand, look me up,” John said honestly.
And he meant it – if Tamsyn or Aeliana or Hasna or any of the clan needed his help, it was theirs. Granted, he didn't know what help he could really give them, but he was willing.
“We will keep it in mind,” Percila said, looking almost affectionate.
Her tone was gentle and doubting, as though she didn't think he could be of much assistance but was grateful for the offer.
It so closely mirrored what John himself had been thinking that he couldn't resist laughing, and the remainder of Percila's visit was much more light-hearted.
Sherlock wasn't particularly surprised that Amarisa's true identity seemed to escape the police – John's easy demeanour left people unwilling to even entertain the idea that she was a wolf. Certainly Lestrade, Donovan and Anderson seemed to be under the impression she was some variety of dog, even taking into account Izeah's wariness of her, and on this occasion Sherlock was perfectly willing to let them continue in their ignorance. It was strangely thrilling to watch Amarisa trot at John's side, her tail wagging, and know that he and Raniel were the only ones in the room who saw her for what she truly was.
But their ignorance came to an end eventually, soon after the body of twenty-two year old Lisa Marks was found abandoned on a side-street. There was no injury or mark to indicate how she died, and the autopsy revealed she hadn't been poisoned.
Incidents like these were usually a result of the dæmon dying, with their human following instantly. And of course, as dæmons vanished when they died, there was rarely any evidence left behind.
Sherlock loved cases like these. The absence of the dæmon's body always made it so delightfully complex, and it was always difficult to determine whether the death was murder or accident or a complicated suicide.
However, as Lisa's dæmon had been a common northern boa (Boa constrictor imperator), it seemed unlikely that such a dæmon could perish by mere accident. Added to the fact that bruises on Lisa's wrist and scuff marks on the heel of her shoes indicated the body had been dragged, and it was likely foul play was involved.
Two days worth of investigation had led Sherlock to a loosely-organised group of people (primarily aged between sixteen and thirty-two) who made a habit of meeting in deserted areas and setting their dæmons to fight each other. It sounded masochistic in the extreme, and Sherlock thought it would be interesting to probe the psychology behind it. Lisa's dæmon, of course, had been seriously injured in one of the fights and died, Lisa following, and the other members had moved the body away from their usual haunts in an effort to divert the investigation.
John had likened it to a movie known as 'Fight Club' and, when Sherlock had expressed his ignorance of said film, had threatened him with a movie night.
It had been easy to identify the ringleader as soon as one of the members had mentioned her dæmon was a grey wolf. Wolf dæmons stood out (there were perhaps four in all of Great Britain, counting Amarisa), and from there it was only matter of time before they tracked down Sharon Ellis, a twenty-five year old retail worker, and her boyfriend, Lionel Bedrook.
Lestrade and Donovan had expected them to come quietly – after all, they were quiet, upstanding citizens apart from their one illegal activity. Sherlock had invited himself and John along to scoff at that attitude; these people had their dæmons fight other dæmons on a semi-regular basis, there was no possible way they were the type of people to 'come quietly'.
Which had led to the current confrontation in Bedrook's kitchen.
Sharon Ellis had been cutting cheese for a sandwich and was now armed with a knife, but Sherlock knew that was the least of their troubles; he was more concerned about the dæmons currently spitting and bristling on the linoleum.
Ellis' dæmon was indeed a Eurasian wolf (Canis lupus lupus), and Bedrook's was a margay (Leopardus wiedii), a spotted cat that bore some resemblance to an ocelot. Both creatures had placed themselves in front of their humans, clearly intending to cover their retreat out the back door. They wouldn't actually go anywhere, of course – Lestrade, John, and one of the policemen Lestrade had called in for back-up were moving around the house to cut off any escape – but it could become difficult and messy.
While dæmons of children often engaged in scuffles and fights, it was something people by and large grew out of. Even if their human was being arrested, it was very unusual for their dæmons to outright attack the dæmons of the police officers – growl and bristle and look fearsome, yes, but physical struggles between adult dæmons were rare.
Sherlock knew this would be one of the exceptions, and felt a prickle of apprehension beginning to creep up his neck. Matriel – Donovan's wildcat dæmon – would be capable of taking on the margay, but Amarisa was the only dæmon in the party capable of taking on a wolf. Zarania would do the best she could, but there was only so much help a falcon could give, and the two other policemen had dæmons that were ill-suited for a physical confrontation.
The blonde man (recently engaged, fiancee worked in a library in some capacity) had a European paper wasp as a dæmon (Polistes dominula), and the red-headed woman (new to the department, not yet settled but eager to prove herself) had a grass snake (Natrix natrix). The snake might have been of use if it was an adder, but as a non-venomous species, there was little it could do.
The margay dæmon was making a strange bubbling wail, obviously tensing to spring, and Matriel hissed in response, his tail lashing.
“Drop the knife!” Donovan ordered, her voice low and commanding.
Both Ellis and her boyfriend began to sidle towards the back door, but that was when Lestrade and the red-headed policewoman appeared in the doorway, John and Amarisa standing behind them.
“Come on, Bedrook, Ellis, let's be sensible about this,” Lestrade said, his voice quiet and reasonable even though Zarania, on his right shoulder, was poised to launch herself into flight at any moment.
Ellis' dæmon snarled, deep and menacing, his lips pulling back to show his long teeth. Every dæmon in the vicinity froze for a moment, and even Raniel's heartbeat jumped – Sherlock could feel it against his neck.
Sherlock found it intriguing; there was no appreciable difference between a dog's snarl and a wolf's, but every dæmon immediately knew. Knew that wasn't the sound of an animal domesticated for thousands of years, but of something wild and dangerous.
He saw a triumphant spark flare in Ellis' eyes, and knew she took pleasure in how intimidating others found her dæmon. The woman grinned broadly, almost gloatingly, but her smiled died in the next instant.
Amarisa had stepped into the kitchen and snarled in response, guttural and rumbling.
Sherlock could tell everyone knew instantly it was not a dog's growl. It reached that same deep, primitive part of the brain that the wolf dæmon had touched, but while Ellis' dæmon had merely brushed it, Amarisa's snarl seemed to reach every flight instinct the mind possessed and light them up like neon signs.
The wolf dæmon had looked enormous and intimidating standing alone in the kitchen, but next to Amarisa he looked skinny, underfed...weak.
Lestrade and Donovan were staring at John and Amarisa as though they'd never seen them before, as though they were surprised at the glimpse of John's savage, dangerous side. Sherlock found it slightly ridiculous – how could anyone ever think John was non-threatening? He had a small stature for such a strong presence, true, but there was a reason Amarisa was one of the largest dæmons Sherlock had ever seen.
Raniel's heartbeat was now thundering against Sherlock's skin, and he could certainly sympathise. If this devolved into a fight, Amarisa would stand alone against the wolf dæmon.
Zarania, of course, knew just as well as Raniel how the situation was leaning. “Amarisa...”
“Help Matriel,” was all Amarisa said in response, never breaking the stare-off she and the grey wolf were locked in.
Lestrade shot a glance at John, but the doctor only nodded, looking as placid and confident as if the suspects were already in handcuffs. He trusted his dæmon.
As though John's nod had been some kind of signal, the hostile dæmons attacked.
Sherlock was only dimly aware of Matriel and the margay spitting and scratching, Zarania leaving Lestrade's shoulder to arrow into the struggle. The two feline dæmons were struggling face to face, leaving the falcon unable to dive for the margay's face in case she caught Matriel, but she raked the spotted cat's back again and again, seizing the dæmons' tail and tugging it, doing anything she could to force the margay to split its attention between her and Matriel.
He was aware that Lestrade and Donovan were moving to subdue the humans, but all Sherlock's attention and focus – and all Raniel's, come to that – went to the pair of wildly struggling canines.
They had lunged in same fashion both wolves and dogs did; the swift rush that curved just slightly, their forelegs coming off the ground at the very last second as they tried to gain height on their foe. They met chest to chest, Amarisa's solid, heavier build rocking the wolf back on his heels. He recovered swiftly, of course – he was accustomed to physical fights – and their heads twisted like snakes, teeth flashing, each seeking the vulnerable flesh of the other's neck.
They hit almost in perfect unison, teeth closing in the thick fur and folds of skin that protected their throats. Wolf and wolfdog braced their feet, each trying to use the grip on the other's throat to toss their enemy aside. It was contest of pure strength, and as the muscles in Amarisa's neck corded and bulged beneath dark fur Sherlock knew who the winner would be.
As expected, a flick of Amarisa's powerful head tore the wolf free, her teeth ripping through the other dæmon's flesh as he slid out from under her. But where wild animals would have retreated and tried to rush again, Amarisa and the wolf dæmon were conscious of the close quarters of the kitchen and didn't back away, snapping at each other's faces so quickly Sherlock could barely track their movements.
Blood stained the wolf's fur a vivid crimson and though it was difficult to see injuries against Amarisa's dark fur, a line on her neck and a patch above her eye were glistening as though wet. For a moment, it was impossible to tell which dæmon had the upper hand...
Until Amarisa reared up on her hind legs and dropped the full weight of her body onto the wolf dæmon. She'd done it at a slight angle as well, so the wolf's legs slid out from under him and he went over onto his back. Amarisa came down on top of him, pinning him to the lino as her teeth closed around his throat.
The wolf dæmon stilled instantly, Amarisa's fangs resting threatening close to his jugular vein and carotid artery, her sheer weight preventing him from scrambling away.
It was only when Ellis was in handcuffs and being led out that Amarisa released the woman's dæmon, edging carefully away, obviously wary of another attack. But the dæmon seemed subdued as he followed his human out the door, and Amarisa relaxed. Her tail wagged once, as though she were pleased with herself, and she ambled over to Matriel, sniffing at the wildcat to ensure he wasn't badly injured.
Lestrade and Donovan were darting surprised, surreptitious glances at John's dæmon, and the two strange policemen had edged away from Amarisa, likely thinking they were being subtle. Sherlock found it ridiculous; they had been perfectly at ease with Amarisa earlier, and now their opinion of her altered just because they found out she was part wolf?
People so rarely looked beyond the surface, assuming that a wolf dæmon meant a wild, intractable nature, meant the person was savage and dangerous. And in a sense that was certainly true; Amarisa and John were formidable enemies...but they were also fanatically loyal to those they perceived as their friends.
John made to go to his dæmon, to examine her injuries, but Raniel was already streaking across the floor.
Amarisa lowered her head to his level, and Raniel nosed briefly at the wound in her neck, his white muzzle coming away stained with red.
“I'm all right,” Amarisa told him, her voice low as Raniel's attention transferred to the gash above her eye.
Raniel didn't reply, slowly raising himself on his hind legs, his forepaws on Amarisa's nose to balance him. It was easy to guess at what he was trying to do, and Sherlock wasn't at all surprised when Raniel began to lick at the cut above Amarisa's eye, cleaning away the congealing blood that had begun to stiffen in the dark fur.
The dæmon's face came away red from nose to throat, and he seemed about to back away. But Amarisa extended her muzzle and carefully, delicately, cleaned away her own blood until Raniel's fur was china-white once more. For a moment the two dæmons didn't move, staring at each other as though unable to see anything else.
Then Amarisa glanced down and away, retreating to John's side as though embarrassed. John knelt beside the wolfdog, probing gently at her wounds, one hand rubbing soothingly at the uninjured side of her head. He looked flushed, and seemed reluctant to look at anyone, and for a moment Sherlock wondered if John had felt what Sherlock had when their dæmons touched – that soft bubble of warmth in his chest that seemed to expand slowly the longer Raniel and Amarisa remained touching.
Lestrade and Donovan were staring at Raniel as though he'd tried to touch them, and Sherlock suspected his reputation at the MET as a sociopath was over. A sociopath's dæmon would never have so obviously fussed over another dæmon, and he was feeling more than a little resentful as he scooped Raniel off the floor and replaced the polecat on his shoulder.
Lestrade liked to think he was pretty observant man – maybe not up to the standards of Sherlock bloody Holmes, but still a notch or two better than average; he wouldn't have got far in his career if he wasn't.
So when Amarisa stepped into the wolf dæmon's path and snarled the way she did, Lestrade didn't need the gentle squeeze of Zarania's claws on his shoulder to tell him what was going on. Didn't need her hasty whisper in his ear to know that this dæmon they'd thought they knew was not a dog, but something much more dangerous.
Now that he realised it, Lestrade wondered how it had ever slipped him by. It had been easy to think of Amarisa as a dog – a very large dog, but still a dog – when she stood alone at John's side, but now, when she was facing down a wolf, the similarities were staring him right in the face. The shape of their heads ran along the same lines; the long snout and sharply triangular ears. The body that had a slight difference in proportion to a dog's, the legs that were just a bit longer than they should be.
Except Amarisa was bigger. It was in a subtle way, but her chest was definitely wider, her shoulders thicker, extra layers of muscle all down her body. Under normal circumstances, extra bulk would make the dæmon slower, but Lestrade had seen Amarisa move, and knew she could be as quick as lightning when she wanted to be.
Lestrade knew who was going to win the fight before it had even started. He didn't even glance at it, as his attention was taken up with trying to subdue Bedrook. Zarania was helping Matriel, and he knew it was going well – there was no pain or fear coming through their connection.
The whole thing was over in a few minutes, and he directed Evans and the rookie, Smithson, to take the suspects back to the station. It was for the best, as both of them were looking downright frightened of Amarisa.
In some ways, Lestrade couldn't blame them. The last person he'd heard of having a wolf dæmon had been that American serial killer, Ted Bundy.
But on the other hand, he also had a strong urge to slap them around the head. Because this was still John Watson, the man who – by virtue of having put up with Sherlock for a flatmate for over a month – was probably the nicest, most patient person in the northern hemisphere. He certainly had a crazy side – tagging after Sherlock the way he did proved that – but on the whole he was the sort of man you were glad to be friends with.
After all, the first thing Amarisa had done after the fight was give Matriel a once-over for injuries; hardly the behaviour of a wild, savage beast. In fact, now that Lestrade thought about it, he wouldn't be surprised if Amarisa wasn't all wolf – there had to be a reason it was so easy to mistake her for a dog.
Frankly, Lestrade found Amarisa's form less surprising than the way Raniel acted around her. He'd become accustomed to Sherlock's bizarre behaviour around dæmons; the man's own dæmon paying them no attention while he paid them far too much. Even when Zarania lost her temper with Raniel and screeched at him, the polecat never did anything apart from stare disdainfully at her.
But with Amarisa...well, Raniel was even now licking at the gash on her head, cleaning it slowly and meticulously, ensuring no blood would drip into her eye.
Lestrade had never entirely bought Sherlock's claim to be a sociopath, but it was always vaguely believable, given Raniel's self-absorption and Sherlock's attitude towards...well, towards the whole world. But since John and Amarisa had come on the scene, Sherlock's 'sociopath' claim not only didn't hold water, it leaked like a sieve.
Sherlock seemed to recognise that, because he was scowling when he snatched up Raniel with more haste than was strictly necessary. At first Lestrade thought he was embarrassed to have his dæmon demonstrate such a wealth of affection for his boyfriend's dæmon in front of himself and Donovan. But then he saw the way Sherlock looked at John, longing and confused and almost angry, as if he didn't understand what he wanted or why he wanted anything in the first place.
And then Lestrade knew; Sherlock and John weren't lovers. Sherlock hadn't said anything, probably didn't understand how to even begin to speak, if he'd even realised there was anything to speak about. And of course he seemed so disinterested in anything sexual that John would never make the first move, regardless of how affectionate their dæmons were with each other. For a moment, Lestrade felt depressed – he was a romantic at heart, and the idea of...this...continuing indefinitely was certainly saddening.
But then he made himself cheer up; Sherlock was the most intelligent person he'd ever met, so it was surely only a matter of time before he and John sorted everything out.
And for now, Lestrade could enjoy the satisfaction of having figured something out before Sherlock Holmes did.
Part Four: Shadowed Archways (contd.)
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