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
Part Four: Shadowed Archways
Shadowed Archways (contd.)
A week after their spot of excitement with the dæmon-fighting ring, John came to the conclusion that he absolutely despised chip and pin machines.
“And how do they save time?” he muttered to Amarisa as he stormed back home, shopping abandoned.
“They don't,” she agreed, though her tail was waving in a way that suggested she was laughing at him.
“Yes, I'm sure it's very funny – I'd like to see you handle them,” John grumbled.
“No fingers,” Amarisa retorted, her eyes gleaming and her tail now whipping vigorously from side to side.
“Exactly – you're in no position to criticise!”
“So...” Amarisa said as they stopped outside 221b and John fumbled in his pockets for his keys. “Who gets to tell Sherlock that we're broke?”
“You're so cheerful, you can do it,” John groused as they ascended the stairs.
Sherlock was reading a book in his chair, apparently not having moved since they'd left, but Raniel was now on the coffee table, his eyes bright with excitement.
Of course, as soon as he saw Amarisa, Raniel leapt off the table and flowed over the floor to touch his nose to the wolfdog's, chirping happily. Amarisa licked the top of his head, nuzzling the white fur. But Raniel was clearly feeling playful and darted away from her tongue, leading Amarisa to chase him around the kitchen table, laughing and wagging her tail.
Amarisa acted like an infatuated schoolgirl with Raniel, and John often found it more than a little embarrassing. He'd have liked to yell at her for it or stop her somehow, but it wasn't really her fault; she was his dæmon, she couldn't help expressing what they were feeling.
It wasn't Amarisa's fault John had somehow developed a ridiculous, unrequited crush on his flatmate; that was his own idiocy all the way. He was approaching middle-age, for heaven's sake – shouldn't he have been over those kinds of things by now?
John's plan was to say nothing and hope his stupid infatuation went away as quickly as it had come. It wasn't a very good plan, true, but he didn't see what else he could do. He'd hardly been subtle in his devotion, and he had a feeling the only reason Sherlock had refrained from disparaging comments was because John's affection barely entered his head. One of those 'extraneous data' things he sometimes went on about.
With anyone else, Raniel's behaviour might have given John hope, but he knew there was no possibility of reciprocation on Sherlock's part. Sex itself didn't seem to interest Sherlock at all, let alone a relationship, and as for his dæmon's behaviour...well, that was probably how Raniel behaved with anyone Sherlock was truly close with.
Which was why when they went to meet Sebastian Wilkes, John expected Raniel to be friendlier than usual. Except he wasn't.
Sebastian's dæmon was a spider monkey of some sort (John couldn't identify species at a glance the way Sherlock could) called Netheirya, who Raniel disdained with almost maniac ferocity. John barely even registered the man's usual assumptions about the nature of his and Sherlock's relationship, he was too busy looking at both Raniel and Sherlock for clues as to why they seemed to dislike Sebastian so fiercely.
Then Sebastian started talking and John thought he might understand. Not only was Sebastian a prick, there was a history there. He couldn't figure out what kind, and it was really none of his business anyhow, but it was there; in the past, something had happened to make Sherlock dislike the bloke with more fervour than his usual contempt for the less intelligent.
Netheirya had been trying to engage Raniel, with no success, and had eventually turned to Amarisa while Sherlock was dashing around the offices with his dæmon, bobbing up and down like a demented bird.
Amarisa was polite, of course she was, right up until they were leaving. Sebastian smiled – a smarmy, condescending, rich-banker type of grin – and Netheirya reached out to pat Amarisa on the head.
The response was immediate, and one John had been expected for several minutes – Amarisa snarled. And not the soft, warning snarl, either; her ears flattened against her skull, her lips drew back to show her teeth, and the growl was deep and piercing, savage in the extreme.
Netheirya leapt back in shock, seizing onto Sebastian's arm and clinging to her human almost desperately.
John smiled in a conciliatory way as his dæmon pressed herself against his legs, instinctively defensive. “Amarisa doesn't like being touched.”
It was true; while John and Amarisa were very tactile with each other, Amarisa tended to be reluctant to touch other people's dæmons. Except for Raniel, of course.
Sebastian smiled again, this time obviously nervous and placating, then his eyes dropped to the wolfdog once more and widened slightly.
John glanced down. Raniel had somehow ended up on the floor and was approaching Amarisa, who had stopped snarling but was still glaring up at Netheirya. The polecat nudged up against her front legs, and Amarisa's head jerked down, the aggression melting out of her stance so quickly it was almost frightening.
Raniel was looking up at her, seemingly concerned. Amarisa bent down and nuzzled the top of his head, her black nose ruffling his white fur.
“Shall we go?” John asked, keeping his voice deliberately bright and cheerful.
Sherlock could admit to a certain vindictive pleasure at Sebastian's and Netheirya's fright. Amarisa's reaction had been inevitable, of course; Sherlock had been expecting something of the sort since he and John first stepped into Sebastian's office. Some sort of confrontation was inevitable when men like Sebastian collided with men like John.
Sebastian was considered a powerful man. But that power came from what he was, from his money and connections...and if those were taken away, he would be nothing.
John, on the other hand...John was strong. Take away everything John possessed and he'd still be strong, because his strength came from who he was.
Sherlock had found that kind of quiet, innate strength made people like Sebastian uncomfortable, eager to assert their own power and dominance. And of course, neither John nor Amarisa would tolerate the kind of simpering condescension Sebastian and Netheirya had treated them with.
Still, just because Sherlock had seen it coming didn't mean he hadn't enjoyed it.
He wasn't the only one; Amarisa had a certain spring in her step as they walked away, and she was grinning.
From what Sherlock had observed, Amarisa's smile seemed to come in two basic permutations which he'd come to think of as her dog-grin and her wolf-grin. The dog-grin came out when she was happy and relaxed – her mouth parted, her tongue lolled, and it was often accompanied by a lightly waving tail. Her wolf-grin was different, and Sherlock usually glimpsed it when they were chasing a criminal – her mouth opened and her lips pulled back every so slightly, just enough for a glimpse of her teeth, and her tail didn't wag unless she was particularly excited.
It was the wolf-grin Amarisa was wearing now.
“I think you scared them,” Raniel giggled as soon they were out of Sebastian's earshot.
“They'll get over it,” John said, waving a dismissive hand.
Sherlock was looking at Amarisa, wondering if there was any truth to John's assertion. “Is that true?”
“Is what true?” she asked, tilting her head to the side so one golden eye was fixed upon him.
“That you don't like being touched.”
Though now that Sherlock was thinking back on Amarisa's behaviour he realised it was true that, as tactile as she was with John, she didn't make a habit of engaging other dæmons. Even Kai, who was always hovering over her and stroking at her ears, seemed to be tolerated rather than welcomed, as Raniel was.
“Not by dæmons we don't like,” Amarisa clarified.
The idea that Raniel alone was welcome to touch Amarisa made Sherlock want to smile for no clear reason he could discern.
“So you don't like Sebastian, then,” he mused aloud. It was something he did often these days, just to see John and his dæmon's reactions and hear their opinions.
Amarisa snorted softly through her nose. “Of course not – he's a prick.”
“Plus, Netheirya was a monkey,” John added, as though this was important in some way.
“You don't like monkeys?” Raniel piped up from Sherlock's shoulder.
“Stupid, right? The guy with a wolfdog having a prejudice against certain dæmons.” John grinned in a very self-deprecating way. “But I've never met anyone with a monkey dæmon who wasn't a manipulative, pretentious arsehole. Though that might be because you tend to meet a lot of monkey dæmons at medical school, learning to do surgery on dæmons...”
“It makes them the most arrogant, snobbish bunch of tossers you've ever seen,” Amarisa finished decisively. “As though opposable thumbs make them somehow better than the rest of us.”
Sherlock laughed, something he did surprisingly often since he'd met John.
John seemed able to laugh at anything. He laughed at himself as often as at Sherlock, he laughed at things others would take offence to, he laughed at chasing criminals through the streets, he laughed at crime scenes, and he'd even laughed minutes after shooting a serial killer dead.
Someone else might have found that disturbing. Sherlock found it fascinating.
He was actually looking forward to the case; there was a promise of money to stop John worrying about the bills, and a chance to show up Sebastian, just for old times sake.
Then he and Raniel found Van Coon dead in his apartment, and the case suddenly became much more complicated. Much more interesting, yes, but also complicated.
It was irritating that this case was apparently going to be investigated by the inspector called Dimmock, though. Sherlock hated working with new people; they always whined and doubted and were so difficult about letting him examine the evidence.
Still, it meant he saw proof of John's assertion first-hand. Most dæmons, when meeting for the first time, would touch each other briefly, like humans shaking hands. Raniel didn't do that, of course – he didn't pay any attention to Dimmock's dæmon, a blue-eyed, sable-coated Siberian husky (Canis lupus familiaris) called Kitra. But Amarisa didn't touch the dog dæmon either, only extended her nose towards Kitra's and sniffed at her. It was like a polite acknowledgement of the other dæmon's presence, but Amarisa's muzzle never actually touched the husky.
Sherlock wasn't particularly surprised that Dimmock's dæmon was a canine, as such dæmons were rather over-represented in the police force. A canine dæmon usually denoted respect for whatever pecking order their human served, coupled with a protective streak and an inquisitive nature. Obviously, such people were welcome in law enforcement.
And if Kitra hadn't been a canine with their sharp sense of smell, Sherlock doubted Dimmock would have believed there had been an intruder, at least not initially. But as it was, she could detect the foreign scent in the apartment as easily as Amarisa and Raniel could.
“They're right,” the dæmon whispered in low, urgent tones to her human. “I can smell that someone else was here.”
John could admit he was more than a little irritated with Sherlock for refusing to let him in the flat.
“What if the murderer had still been here, Sherlock?” he'd hissed while his flatmate was poking about in a dead man's pockets.
“We didn't know there was a dead body...” Raniel muttered, the dæmon sniffing around Van Coon's belongings.
“Exactly!” John snapped. “That's why you let me check the place out first – you know, the man who was actually trained in unarmed combat?”
“What if you disturbed evidence?” Sherlock interjected, and John was somewhat pleased to note he was actually paying attention to the conversation.
“I'm not going to go moving bodies or walking through blood trails-”
“Not those kinds of evidence!” Sherlock barked. “Any idiot with eyes can see that! I mean the kind of evidence I need, the kind that every one of you dullards seem to overlook as though you're all stone-blind!”
Maybe John should have been more upset by Sherlock's constant disparaging comments about his intelligence, but it was actually rather difficult to be offended by them. Perhaps because they always seemed so automatic – the insults were more reflexive and sweeping than targeted to John specifically. They were also quite offhand as well, as though it was really nothing more than a long-instilled defensive mechanism that Sherlock had never bothered defusing.
It might have also been because even as Sherlock was ranting at him, Raniel quite deliberately wove between Amarisa's forelegs, drawing the wolfdog's attention and pointedly glancing between Amarisa and the top of the bed.
With a roll of her eyes, she gripped Raniel gently by the scruff of his neck and lifted him like a puppy, depositing him onto the mattress. The polecat touched his nose briefly to the wolfdog's, his tongue swiping at the thin fur on her snout as if in thanks, before he began sniffing at Van Coon's trouser leg.
Frankly, Sherlock's insults sounded rather insincere when his dæmon was busy cuddling up to John's.
Then Detective Inspector Dimmock had come on the scene, and right away John knew he and Sherlock were going to butt heads. His dæmon didn't seem to display any of the usual wariness dogs had for Amarisa, but that might have been because Kitra was some variety of husky – large canines usually didn't feel as uneasy around John's dæmon, perhaps because she didn't seem to loom over them quite as much.
Although it was more likely that the lack of reaction was because Dimmock and Kitra served with the MET – they had to be tough and difficult to intimidate, or Dimmock wouldn't be an inspector.
At least Dimmock seemed to believe Sherlock's story about an intruder, after a little prodding from his dæmon, of course.
Kitra immediately set herself to tracking the murderer's path through the apartment, her human following along behind her. At first Amarisa was doing the same, trotting level with the husky, but while Kitra darted into the bathroom and out of it almost as quickly, Amarisa lingered by the sink, sniffing at the hand soap container in enormous, drawn-out inhalations.
“What is it, Risa?” John asked quietly.
“There was a woman here,” she muttered, her head dropping as she nosed at the corners of the bathmat. “But the scent's old, like she hasn't been around here for a while.”
Then she was loping swiftly into the bedroom, where Raniel and Sherlock were still digging through the man's closet and luggage. She sniffed at the floor, the bedside table, the corner of the mattress...
“What are you doing?” Sherlock asked.
“I smelled a woman in the bathroom,” Amarisa explained. “And in here, too. But it's faded, and there are a lot of scents on top of hers.”
The wolfdog took another deep breath, the edge of her nose tucked into the small gap between the bed and the floor. “And I can't shake the idea that the scent's...familiar.”
Sherlock's interest was piqued. “Familiar how?”
“I don't know,” Amarisa huffed, a short growl conveying her frustration. “I've smelled her before, but I can't remember where – it could have been down at the supermarket, for all I know.”
Sherlock was clearly thinking very intently, his eyes slightly vacant as he stared at the body lying on the bed. “Could it have been someone at the bank?”
Amarisa rolled her shoulders in a gesture that came close to a shrug. “Maybe.”
Raniel had been peering into the still-packed luggage, nosing at the rumpled clothes, when he suddenly spoke up. “There's a funny smell coming from this part of his suitcase.”
“Three days of unwashed laundry might smell a bit funny,” John pointed out, a teasing grin curling his lips.
“Not like that,” the polecat said impatiently. “Metallic.”
He was nudging at a shirt that was lying in the centre of the suitcase, crumpled in such way that seemed to indicate it had been packed around something heavy and circular, like a stack of discs. But John thought discs were made of plastic, not metal, so...what had Van Coon been carrying?
Sherlock, of course, was grinning at the news. “So Mr. Van Coon was carrying at least one item composed primarily of metal inside his luggage. An item that he removed recently, but which we have yet to find in his house.”
“You think it has something to do with him being murdered?” John queried.
“Very likely,” Sherlock replied, he and Raniel already sweeping out of the room.
Interrupting Sebastian's meal had been necessary, but irritating him had been an unexpected bonus. It was clear that both Sebastian and Netheirya remembered their last encounter with Amarisa – the monkey dæmon was going to great pains not to look at the wolfdog, and Sebastian's pompous attitude towards John had been tempered with wariness.
John was aware of the change in Sebastian's manner, and smiled blithely (and perhaps just a bit mischievously) whenever the man's eyes landed on him. Even though his expression was always perfectly innocent, something about it seemed like a deliberate goad.
Sherlock delighted in it. He let John ask most of the questions, just so he could more closely observe their reactions to each other.
It was intriguing to see John and Sebastian side by side, the object of a previous interest compared to...to John.
Sherlock reflected that if nothing else, his taste had certainly improved. Granted, there were some people who'd think a poor doctor invalided out of the army would be a step down from a rich banker with family money, but those people were idiots. There was a reason Raniel liked Amarisa far better than he ever had Netheirya.
Sherlock took note of the loss and return of five million pounds, which coupled with the missing metallic object from Van Coon's suitcase was painting a very intriguing picture.
But Sebastian lost patience with the discussion right after he received a message from the chairman about Van Coon's death being declared 'suspicious circumstances'. He'd actually seemed worried when he read the text, but then Netheirya murmured something in his ear and the concern vanished from his face as quickly as it had appeared.
“Suspicious circumstances isn't murder,” he said, tucking his phone away.
“It's pretty close, though,” John said, in the same amiable voice he'd been addressing Sebastian with for the entire conversation.
Anyone listening to them would have thought they were getting along well, but Sherlock didn't think it was a coincidence that Amarisa's smile revealed the edges of her teeth, startlingly white against her black fur. Netheirya was doing her best to pretend she didn't notice, and was instead glaring at Raniel who, of course, was watching Amarisa avidly and paying the monkey dæmon no mind whatsoever.
“But it isn't murder,” Sebastian repeated. “In fact, if I recall correctly, doesn't 'suspicious circumstances' just mean they haven't worked it out yet?”
“Seb!” Sherlock said urgently, seeing where the conversation was going.
Sebastian gave him a scornful look. “I hired you to do a job – don't get sidetracked.”
With that, he and Netheirya left the bathroom. As they swept past John and Amarisa, the wolfdog moved so quickly Sherlock could barely follow it, her head swinging around and her jaw opening...
Amarisa's teeth clicked together scant inches from Netheirya's tail, Sebastian's dæmon flinching away in reaction and making their exit seem much more like a hurried retreat than a dismissal.
Raniel muffled a snigger against the collar of Sherlock's coat, and the consulting detective could feel the beginnings of a smile pulling at his own lips.
“And I thought all bankers were supposed to be heartless bastards,” John deadpanned.
Sherlock lost the struggle he'd been waging with the muscles of his face, and was grinning broadly when they left.
AN: Thanks so much to my beta, ginbitch , who's been marvellously patient with me sending her ridiculously long chapters.
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