Rating: Might be verging into M (15+)
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 seek employment (and try to get over Sherlock and Raniel) as the investigation into the mysterious cipher continues...
(Title page by birddi )
Part One: The Architecture of Our Lives
Part Two: Stepping Stones
Part Three: Foundations
Part Four: Shadowed Archways
“You probably shouldn't have done that,” John murmured to Amarisa later that night, when they were curled together in bed.
There was no need for her to ask what he meant. They both knew he was talking about the fright she'd deliberately given Netheirya when she pretended to take a snap at the monkey.
“I wanted to,” Amarisa muttered.
“I know,” John said quietly, caressing her ears gently in a way she usually found soothing.
And he did know – he'd had to contain a far bit of resentment himself. Resentment which, if he was being honest with himself, was probably fuelled by more than a hint of jealousy.
John still didn't know Sherlock's exact history with Sebastian, but he had a feeling it might be sexual. He couldn't pinpoint exactly what had given him that idea, but the impression had developed slowly over the two brief periods he'd actually seen them interacting.
Hence the jealousy and resentment. And the small, self-pitying voice that in his head that was wailing that if that was Sherlock's 'type', then John didn't have a hope in hell.
Realistically, he'd known he never had much of a chance, but there was a difference between knowing abstractly and knowing because you'd seen the evidence with your own eyes.
John supposed Sebastian was the kind of person he'd expected Sherlock to go for; attractive, powerful and important. Intelligent as well, and the kind of person who could play other people like pianos, or he wouldn't have risen through the ranks as quickly as he obviously did.
In short, the kind of person who would have more in common with Sherlock than an ex-military doctor who, aside from an unusual dæmon and an unhealthy lust for excitement, wasn't anything special.
His leg twinged at the thought.
“Snap out of it!” Amarisa barked.
“Out of what?”
“That self-pitying sulk you were working yourself into – snap out of it!”
John felt irritated to hear his perfectly justifiable disappointment dismissed so blithely, but when he glanced at Amarisa and saw her drooping ears and tail and downcast eyes, he realised Amarisa had really been talking to the both of them.
“Come here,” he muttered roughly, winding his arms around her neck and yanking his dæmon on top of him.
Amarisa wiggled a little, as though unwilling to accept comfort, but within two seconds she had gone limp, her chin resting on his shoulder and her nose tucked under his ear, her body pressed against the length of his.
“It'll be all right,” he said gently, one arm wrapped around his dæmon's ribs to feel her heartbeat as the other scratched softly at her head.
“I really thought Raniel liked me...” Amarisa whispered, her voice mournful. “I mean, he's always looking at me, or touching me...I thought...”
“As soon as Sherlock said he was married to his work, we should have known this was going to end in tears,” John sighed, determined to try to be philosophical about the whole thing.
“Yeah...” Amarisa sighed wistfully. “But they're so-”
“No, enough,” John said firmly. “We're not going to debate over whether someone 'likes' us – it feels far too much like some lovesick teenager mooning over an unrequited crush.”
“Are you saying you're not?”
“A teenager? I'd hope so-”
“Not lovesick? Not mooning?”
“...whether I am or not isn't the point.”
“No, we're going to get past this,” John said determinedly. “Plenty of fish in the sea and all that.”
And there were more for John than most – it was one of the advantages of being bisexual. So when he went for the job interview the next day and the woman, Sarah, seemed to be flirting with him, he was much happier about it than he would have been two days ago.
“You're a bit overqualified,” she pointed out.
“I could always do with the money,” John admitted.
Sarah's dæmon looked like a pigeon, but John had never seen a pigeon of that colour before. The bird was pure white, but the ends of his feathers were tipped with a rich, coffee-brown colour, leaving him with a delightfully freckled appearance.
“Well, we've got two away on holiday this week,” Sarah went on, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear in a gesture John had always found strangely endearing on both men and women alike. “And one's just left to have a baby...”
She trailed away, half-glancing at Amarisa, and John waited expectantly.
“Might be a bit mundane for you,” she said at last.
“Ah, no, mundane is good sometimes.” Maybe 'mundane' would get John to stop thinking about Sherlock for a while. “Mundane works.”
Sarah gave a small smile, and her dæmon preened his chest feathers. “It says here you were a soldier.”
“And a doctor,” John nodded, feeling they should be very clear on that point. He'd met people who thought those two different professions somehow cancelled each other out.
“Anything else you can do?” Sarah asked.
There was just the barest hint of flirtation in her tone and smile, and John couldn't resist adding playfully, “I learned the clarinet at school.”
Sarah had laughed, and John left the interview much more pleased with himself and the world than he'd been when he woke up that morning.
“She seems nice,” he remarked to Amarisa on the way back home.
“Her dæmon, too,” Amarisa agreed.
John could admit the bit of flirting had been just what his ego needed, especially seeing as Sherlock and Raniel didn't even seem to have noticed they'd been gone. They were still absorbed in the bizarre cipher that had been left in the bank, and Raniel barely glanced at Amarisa when they entered.
While it was far from unusual for Sherlock's dæmon to ignore the wolfdog when he was absorbed in a case, today it just seemed to underline the fact that John and Amarisa were nowhere near as important to Sherlock and Raniel as Sherlock and Raniel were to them.
John's mind wandered back to Sarah, and he blamed that for the telling slip of his tongue when Sherlock asked asked how his interview had gone.
“Great, she's great,” he replied, and only noticed the mistake when Amarisa nipped at his fingers reprovingly.
Raniel's head snapped up, pinning John and his dæmon with a hard glare. “Who?”
“The job,” John tried to recover.
“She?” Raniel repeated stridently, obviously disbelieving.
John did his level best not to flush. “It.”
To John's surprise, Raniel actually seemed to be bristling. Looking concerned, Amarisa began to approach him, when Sherlock suddenly spoke and drew their attention to a news article he'd brought up on the laptop (John's laptop, of course).
Before John knew it, he and Amarisa were following Sherlock all over London – at least, that was how it seemed. They dropped in on Inspector Dimmock, poked around the dead journalist's flat and finally trotted off to the library where they found the same cipher from the bank painted on the back of a shelf.
Sherlock actually admitted to needing help (which John couldn't resist needling him for), and they ended up in a some back-alley talking to a graffiti artist. He seemed like a decent bloke, and for a while it looked like everything was going just fine.
Then the police came on the scene and Sherlock and Raniel, the bloody traitors, just up and abandoned them!
“What if they're in jail?” Raniel said, his voice a little higher than usual.
“They won't be put in jail over a bit of graffiti,” Sherlock muttered darkly, staring at the cipher and trying to resist the urge to pace up and down in front of it.
“It's all your fault!” Raniel hissed. “They'll hate us now!”
“No, they won't!” Sherlock spat defensively, refusing to look at his dæmon.
This, exactly this, was why Sherlock was married to his work. Because his work would never make his dæmon behave like a prepubescent with a crush. His work would never complain about the bills or that he hadn't noticed it was gone. His work would never come back home mooning over some woman at the surgery and show Sherlock just how extraneous his presence was...
Sherlock closed his eyes and took a deep, calming breath. No, no point in getting worked up over it now. If John and Amarisa didn't need them, then Sherlock and Raniel would show them just how little they needed them in turn.
So he ignored John and Amarisa's vocal complaints and bundled them off to track the journalist's – Lukis' – whereabouts, while Sherlock and Raniel went to talk to Van Coon's personal assistant.
The PA in question was a blonde woman by the name of Amanda, and her dæmon was a common starling (Sturnus vulgaris vulgaris). She herself was quite composed but her dæmon looked ragged, as though he'd been neglecting his grooming, and Sherlock knew she was much more upset about the banker's death than she was letting on.
The hand lotion on her desk caught his eye, the same type as the lotion in Van Coon's bathroom.
“Remember what Amarisa said?” Raniel whispered in his ear. “That she smelled a woman in the apartment, and that the scent was familiar?”
It seemed very likely Van Coon's PA was that woman. It would explain why she was so upset but felt she needed to hide it (he doubted their relationship would have been common knowledge), and also why Amarisa had recognised her smell. The wolfdog would have picked up her scent in passing when they came to see Sebastian, but as she hadn't been specifically tracking the woman she hadn't taken note of it, though that passing whiff was still enough for the dæmon to feel it was familiar.
Sherlock probed into the matter cautiously. “What kind of a boss was he, Amanda? Appreciative?”
“No. That's not a word I'd use,” she said, glancing down. “The only things Eddie appreciated had a big price tag.”
So they'd broken up. It explained why Amarisa had said the scent in the apartment was faded – it had been some time since Amanda had last been there.
“Like that hand cream,” Sherlock observed, then turned and pinned the woman's dæmon with his eyes, addressing his next remark to the starling. “He bought that for her, didn't he?”
He didn't bother waiting for a reply – the brief, frantic flutter of the bird's wings was answer enough.
Sorting through the receipts took barely two minutes; Van Coon had taken a taxi to an unspecified location in the West End, the tube back (he'd clearly dropped off a package on the way, a package that likely had something to do with the metallic scent Raniel had detected in his suitcase), with lunch in-between. It was child's play to find where he'd eaten, but much more difficult to discover where he'd delivered the mysterious package.
He was surprised when John and Amarisa had turned up with the address, but it turned out to come from the journalist's diary. It soon became clear there were few legitimate reasons for a banker and a journalist to visit the shop, and certainly not one that involved dropping off packages – Sherlock had suspected something shady ever since Sebastian had mentioned Van Coon making five million pounds in a week, and while he'd considered several possibilities he was now certain it was smuggling.
He informed John of his suspicions as the man tucked into spaghetti at a nearby cafe. Amarisa was at his feet, stretched out below the windowsill with Raniel curled up between her forelegs.
“But why did they die?” John mused between bites. “It doesn't make sense. If they both turn up at the shop and deliver the goods, why would someone threaten them – and kill them – after the event, after they'd finished the job?”
This was why it was good to have John along with him. John kicked Sherlock's mind into gear, and made him think in new directions much more quickly than he usually would.
And sure enough, the answer came. “What if one of them was light-fingered?”
John's mouth was full, so Amarisa asked the question they were both thinking. “How'd you mean?”
“He stole something,” Raniel piped up. “Something from the hoard.”
“And the killer doesn't know which of them took it,” John finished, understanding lighting his eyes. “So he threatens them both.”
Sherlock was smiling when he glimpsed the damp package of the Yellow Pages across the street. Given that it seemed to be intended for someone living above the Emporium and that it hadn't rained since Monday, it was certainly worth a closer look.
A quick glance around the back only made the situation more suspicious – the resident might have gone on holiday, but not with their windows open.
They needed to take a look inside.
Raniel leapt for the fire escape first, launching himself from Sherlock's shoulder. His human followed quickly, both of them clambering up the metal staircase and making for the open window.
“Sherlock!” John hissed.
“Raniel!” Amarisa growled.
Sherlock paid them no mind, letting Raniel scramble in the window first before swiftly following his dæmon.
He hadn't been the flat for even a minute before he realised someone had been here before them; the position of the vase – easily knocked over by someone climbing through the window – and the damp patch on the carpet below it told him that. Raniel's nostrils flared as he sniffed the air.
“The scent's very strong,” he whispered. “They were here quite recently.”
John was ringing to be let in but Sherlock quite deliberately busied himself with examining the flat – he was still feeling a touch resentful, and he liked being the one with the power in their relationship for once. He supposed an outsider would think that between him and John, he was the one in control, but that wasn't strictly true.
John was with Sherlock because he wanted to be. No one could make John do something he didn't want to, and he certainly didn't do this to please or impress Sherlock. The same couldn't be said for himself, though – he was beginning to suspect he'd go to ridiculous lengths to impress John.
“We should let them in,” Raniel muttered, darting guilty glances at the staircase.
“If they're bored, they can go play doctor with that woman at the surgery,” Sherlock said bitterly.
But he did feel the need to yell down information, just to make sure John and Amarisa didn't walk away. As Sherlock collected more data on the mysterious intruder, his dæmon made a pertinent observation.
“Why didn't he close the window when he left?”
And then Sherlock realised. “He's still here.”
He surveyed the room with a critical eye. The only place where someone could be easily concealed was behind the screen, and Sherlock began to creep towards it.
“No!” Raniel hissed. “We need to get John and Amarisa!”
Sherlock didn't pay him any attention, sweeping back one panel of the screen to reveal...
For a moment Sherlock wondered if he'd miscalculated, if the intruder wasn't here at all or if he was hiding in the bathroom. Then a band of cloth was abruptly slipped over his neck and tightened like a noose.
Sherlock reeled backwards and fell to his knees, his hands scrabbling at the cord that was throttling him, instinctively trying to ease the pressure on his throat.
“JOHN!” he could hear his dæmon screaming. “John, we need help! JOHN!”
There were squeaks and scrabbling sounds close by, and Sherlock knew Raniel was struggling with his attacker's dæmon. His eyesight was blurring and dimming, his brain struggling to function on too-little oxygen, when a crunching, splintering sound reached his ears.
Sherlock had seen enough police raids to recognise the sound of a door being kicked in. The terrible constriction of his airway eased a fraction, the person strangling him apparently caught by surprise.
“Sherlock!” came John's bellow, accompanied by Amarisa's snarl.
But it wasn't a snarl Sherlock had ever heard from her before, not even when she was facing down that wolf dæmon. It was somehow louder, deeper, a hundred times more menacing – like a she-wolf when her pups were threatened.
Even though Amarisa didn't actually speak, the message was loud and clear: 'run now, while you still can'.
The attacker was gone before John had even finished climbing the stairs, obviously not wanting to face a man whose dæmon made that kind of sound. Sherlock was left on the floor, gasping and choking as his starved lungs greedily sucked in air.
He felt Raniel nudging at his cheek, licking and gentling him, and he nuzzled at the crease of Sherlock's jaw in a way Sherlock suspected he'd learned from Amarisa.
John and Amarisa burst into the room, and for the first time Sherlock understood why gods of war and vengeance were depicted with wolf dæmons. Amarisa's hackles were up, a line of raised fur running down her spine like the blade of a knife. Her mouth was open, a red tongue writhing between teeth that could slice through flesh like a razor through sun-warmed butter. Her feet were planted wide apart, braced to spring, and not for the first time it struck Sherlock just how large Amarisa was.
Sherlock's instincts for self-preservation had never been particularly strong, yet now – in spite of the fact that this was John and Amarisa, the two beings least likely to harm him – he felt them stirring. Felt an urge to back away slowly and carefully, ensuring he wasn't seen.
He didn't listen to it of course; the almost primal thrill in his gut that came from seeing John's dæmon like this was much, much stronger than any petty fear reflex.
John's eyes flickered about the room, automatically noting exits and places of concealment – making sure there were no more enemies to be dealt with – before he dropped to his knees beside Sherlock. Warm, strong hands tore away the cord around his neck, and gentle fingers probed the bruise.
Sherlock managed to drag himself to his knees, and made a token attempt at pushing John away.
“Laundry's starting to smell and the milk's gone off,” he rasped, trying to gain his feet. “Someone left in a hurry three days ago.”
“Sherlock, stop talking and sit down,” John told him, in the firm, no-nonsense tone common to all doctors.
“Now,” John said, voice intent in a way that suggested if Sherlock didn't sit down under his own power John was going to make him sit down.
Just to be contrary, Sherlock sat down on the floor instead of the chair. John rolled his eyes and knelt in front of him, his hands bracketing Sherlock's throat as his thumbs nudged against the line of his flatmate's jaw, urging him to tilt his head. Sherlock did so, hoping John wouldn't notice the way his pulse spiked at the feel of those warm, calloused palms against his skin.
In an effort to avoid looking directly at John, Sherlock's eyes sought out Raniel.
It looked like the polecat had been bitten by the hostile dæmon – there were several small, scattered patches of blood across his chest and throat. Sherlock quelled the urge to reach out for him; Amarisa had it well in hand.
Just as Sherlock was submitting to John's examination, so Raniel was submitting to Amarisa's. He was on his back on the carpet, one of Amarisa's enormous paws resting gently on his belly as she licked at the injuries.
“You see?” she was scolding between swipes of her tongue. “This is why you let us in as well!”
That, right there, was why it was John and Amarisa who were truly in control. Because when they demanded something, truly demanded it...Sherlock and Raniel couldn't help but give in.
Noticing his human's gaze, Raniel spoke up, “His dæmon was Arvicola amphibius.”
Sherlock nodded, filing that information away.
John sighed. “For those of us who don't know the Latin names of every single animal on Earth?”
“I believe they're commonly referred to as water rats, though the animal is actually a vole,” Sherlock explained, his throat still raw.
“You sound awful,” John pronounced, leaning back on his heels. “But there doesn't seem to be any permanent damage, though you'll have one hell of a bruise. Still, if you seem to be getting short of breath, or if your throat starts to feel tight, for god's sake let me know, okay?”
Sherlock made an agreeable sort of noise, glancing around for any clues that attacker might left in his hurry to escape John's wrath.
“Sherlock, I'm serious about this!” John snapped, in the same intent tone that dragged Sherlock's attention back to the man like it was being pulled by a wire. “If your throat's bruised badly enough to swell, it could block off your airway and kill you, do you hear me?”
“We hear you,” Raniel said, sounding surprisingly obedient.
Sherlock didn't reply – he'd seen a spot of black on the carpet, one that definitely hadn't been there when he'd first entered the room. He brushed John's hand away and strode over to pick it up, realising that it was black paper folded into the shape of a flower, practically identical to the one he'd found stuffed into Van Coon's mouth.
John blinked at it. “Is that their calling card or something?”
“Very likely,” Sherlock said, pocketing the origami.
John snorted with laughter. “Sorry, it's just...a black flower? I mean, really?”
“I suppose it is a bit melodramatic,” Sherlock mused.
“If by 'melodramatic' you mean 'suited for a bloody Bond film', then yes, it is.” John chuckled to himself for a few moments, then sighed and changed the subject. “So, this Soo Lin Yao person hasn't been in for a few days...you think she's still alive?”
“It seems likely, but I should check to see if any unidentified bodies have been brought into the morgue recently,” Sherlock said, gathering up Raniel on his way out.
“Hold up, Sherlock – I'll have to call someone about the door...”
Part Five: Buried Labyrinths (contd.)
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