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 try to survive their abduction, Sarah takes a long, hard look at her relationship with John, and Sherlock and Raniel want to take a significant step in their relationship with John and Amarisa...
(Title page by birddi )
Part One: The Architecture of Our Lives
Part Two: Stepping Stones
Part Three: Foundations
Part Four: Shadowed Archways
Part Five: Buried Labyrinths
Part Six: Crossing The River
“Hey, Sherlock,” John began, breaking into the near-silent conversation. “Is there any way to track an alethiometer?”
“How do you mean?”
“You know...like with a Geiger counter or something. Do they give off some kind of weird radiation?”
Raniel chuckled, and Sherlock snorted. “Alethiometers aren't radioactive, John.”
“Yeah, but they must give off something you can track it with. Or why carry it in a metal case?”
Sherlock shrugged. “Just to conceal it from view. I'm sure a cloth bag would have worked just as well, but it wouldn't have cushioned the device against impacts. Hence, a metal case, no doubt with some kind of padding inside.”
“That makes sense,” Amarisa agreed.
“Alethiometers were created when Galileo Galilei tried to create something that would respond to the alignments of the planets,” Raniel said, always eager to show off for John and his dæmon. “He failed, but no one could deny that the alethiometer was responding to something. Scientists have been trying to discover exactly what that is ever since.”
John nodded. “So what do they think it is? I mean, you said they don't know for sure, but there must be some theories, right?”
“I suppose you're aware of the various attempts to determine what dæmons are constructed of?” Sherlock asked, but it wasn't really a question.
As a medical man, John would be well aware of the research being done – what created dæmons was the foremost question in the fields of biology, physics and even philosophy. A dæmon could be injured or killed like any other animal...but they never needed to eat. While alive, samples taken from a dæmon would appear under the microscope as cells and tissues identical to that of the form they'd taken on...but when they died, they dissolved into something resembling golden mist that vanished within minutes.
Efforts had been made to contain that substance at the moment of death, but thus far, all attempts had been futile. Even capturing it in sealed radiation flasks didn't work.
“I know some of the basics,” John said. “At the moment it's almost universally agreed that dæmons are constructed from some kind of undiscovered element – they've nicknamed them Stanislaus particles.”
Raniel nodded. “After Stanislaus Grumman, the man who first postulated their existence.”
Amarisa was frowning. “So, let me see if we get this – you're saying that people think Stanislaus particles power the alethiometer?”
“It's just one theory,” Sherlock shrugged. “Some people also believe that the manipulation of these particles are what allows witches to cast their spells, and that it's possible some people are more sensitive to it than others. Approximately thirty percent of the general population can detect when a witch has cast a spell on an object, though some of the studies documenting this phenomenon are rather spurious.”
“I don't know about that,” John mused. “I made friends with some witches back in Afghanistan, and some of their arrows, well...”
“We could feel they were different,” Amarisa finished.
“Really?” Sherlock was intrigued. “Different how?”
“It's like something...pushing outwards,” Amarisa said, clearly searching for words. “Like heat, but not exactly...something compacted and concentrated.”
Sherlock hummed pensively – that could certainly be useful.
Stanislaus particles were currently the most widely-accepted theory, largely because it explained so many points of contention. Stanislaus particles also explained why dæmons could detect the presence of other dæmons, and why people could tell a bird dæmon apart from a flock – something in Stanislaus particles recognised their like, and so dæmons could distinguish other dæmons from mere animals.
It had been heavily experimented on within the last century or so, largely for spies. No matter what disguise a spy wore, their dæmon remained the same, and some enterprising people with small dæmons such as a mouse or insect wondered if they could hide their dæmon on their person and use a cat or dog to imitate their dæmon. And while it was true that such facsimiles fooled people at a distance, they were useless if the person was within ten metres – their dæmon could always detect a counterfeit.
It was also claimed that interactions with a foreign strain of Stanislaus particles was why people said that touching the dæmon of someone they loved was so...intense.
Sherlock had only once seen someone touch another's dæmon. It was when he was at university – the head librarian and his lover. They were kissing softly, their dæmons entangled...and their hands on each other's dæmon.
Sherlock had known it wasn't their own dæmon from the way they shuddered and gasped at each touch, each stoke. He'd seen people fucking in alleys, had visited sex clubs of all varieties and descriptions (usually for a case but occasionally to sate his own curiosity), and that remained to this day the most intimate thing he'd ever seen.
He and Raniel had considered trying it, curious as to what it would feel like, but in the end they had never been able to. Sherlock had never been able to trust someone enough to let them put their hands on his dæmon, on his soul, and Raniel hadn't been able to stomach the thought of feeling someone else's fingers in his fur.
Now, though, everything had changed. Sherlock knew he could trust John with Raniel, knew those wide, capable hands would be kind and careful, would never take advantage of the power he had over Sherlock in those moments. He knew that Raniel wanted it too, knew because of the way his dæmon watched John's hands as they moved over Amarisa's dark pelt, knew because of the whispered conversations held in his bedroom.
“He's a doctor,” Raniel whispered that night, curled on the pillow beside Sherlock's head as his human stared at the ceiling. “He'd be gentle, but firm as well. He wouldn't be timid and just touch me with the tips of his fingers or anything silly like that – he'd make sure we could feel it.”
A shiver skated up Sherlock's spine at the idea, and he raised a hand to rest it on Raniel's back, slowly petting him. Touches between him and Raniel were usually light, absent, and brief – not like John, who would scratch Amarisa behind the ears when they were bored or in need of reassurance, who would spend hours in front of the telly with Amarisa draped over him, his hands traversing her body in long, slow caresses.
Sherlock tried to mimic that now, tried to stroke Raniel as they imagined John would; firm yet gentle sweeps that started at Raniel's head and followed each dip and curve of his spine. He wondered what it would be like to touch Amarisa like this – would her fur be fine, or coarse? Was her coat smooth or rough? Would she simply tolerate his caress or would she arch into it as Sherlock had seen her do when John was particularly attentive? Would she prefer him to rub at the thin fur on her ears, or would she like him to sink his fingers into the dense ruff on her chest?
“What does she feel like?” he asked.
Raniel understood of course – he was Sherlock's dæmon, after all. “Like rough-spun silk. Smooth, but thick and slightly coarse at the same time.”
“A wolf's coat,” Sherlock mused. “Meant for braving the elements, so wind and rain won't penetrate to the skin.”
The idea was appealing on a very visceral level.
When John rose that morning, Sherlock looked at the man puttering around the kitchen, Amarisa lying in the doorway, still blinking the sleep out of her eyes, and had to subdue the sudden rush of want. He wanted to stride over to where Amarisa lay and reach down to her, wanted to ask John the question that had burned on his tongue for days...
“Would you touch Raniel? Would you let me touch Amarisa?”
But, as with so many times before, he didn't dare. John and Amarisa were surprisingly accepting of his and Raniel's quirks and disregard for the usual dæmon etiquette, but touching...that was a very different matter.
It was slightly sickening to know that for all they'd faced, they weren't brave enough to face John and Amarisa's horror and rejection.
John understood that Sherlock had 'moods'. Or at least he tried to, but there came a bloody limit!
“We told you we'd be like this,” Raniel hissed resentfully.
“You said you might not talk for days on end!” Amarisa snapped. “At no point in time did you mention indoor target practice!”
Sherlock cut in with some disparaging comments about his blog, and within minutes John was well and truly fed up, so he left.
“Self-obsessed, arrogant jackasses!” Amarisa growled as they strode along the street.
John could move quite rapidly when he was angry, and was already several streets away and seriously considering not returning to the flat for the rest of the night. Even though they weren't dating any more, he and Sarah had remained on friendly terms, to the extent that she'd offered him the use of her sofa when Sherlock got too crazy.
A loud thump and a bang reached his ears, as though a car had backfired. At first John was ready to dismiss it, but Amarisa had gone completely still beside him, her ears pricked.
“That was an explosion,” she said, her nose twitching. “I heard glass shatter, and there are car alarms going-”
“Lead the way!” John ordered, following his dæmon as she loped through the darkened roads.
They were practically re-tracing their steps, and John became more and more uneasy. He told himself he had no reason to be, but he was uncomfortably aware that if anyone in the vicinity had blown a flat up, it was most likely to be Sherlock.
“They'll be all right,” Amarisa was muttering, half to herself. “They surely have some concept of personal safety if they've managed to survive this long...”
They swung into Baker Street, and at first all John felt was an absurd relief that it was the building opposite them that had exploded. Then anxiety surged again as he realised that the windows in the flat had been blown out and what that could mean.
He took the stairs two at a time, in spite of the throbbing in his leg. “Sherlock? Raniel? Sherlock?”
Sherlock was lying on the sofa, looking as though exploding windows and glass scattered across the carpet was beneath his notice. But John wasn't fooled – Raniel was curled up on Sherlock's lap, both paws clutching his head.
John told himself the relief he was feeling was ridiculously out of proportion to the actual danger.
“Give us a look,” he demanded, grabbing Sherlock's head and tilting it towards the light. He left Raniel to be dealt with by Amarisa as he examined Sherlock's pupils and checked his ears.
“Is this really necessary?” Sherlock drawled.
“It's a bloody miracle your eardrums didn't rupture,” John groused. “Any dizziness, ringing in your ears?”
Sherlock opened his mouth, but it was Raniel that answered. “Our ears are ringing.”
“Not much we can do about that,” Amarisa admitted. “Take two aspirin and call us in the morning.”
“Sorry, couldn't resist. But really, it'll fade.”
“If you say so,” the polecat groused, scratching roughly at one of the ears in question.
“So...what happened?” John asked, stepping into the kitchen for a broom and dustpan.
Sherlock shrugged. “Who knows? Gas leak, most likely, going by the force and localisation of the explosion.”
“You don't think...you don't think anyone was in there?”
“Unlikely – that building was closed for renovation, and few construction companies work at ten o'clock at night. Observation, John.”
“Well excuse us for not noticing every little detail of random buildings,” Amarisa muttered – she'd remained in the corner while John swept up the broken glass.
John fastened sheets of paper over the destroyed windows in an effort to keep out the chill, and attempted to restore some semblance of order to the flat. Not that there was much he could do – the place was chaotic at the best of times, and Sherlock got snappy if John rearranged the mess he called his records.
“By the way, Mrs. Hudson spotted the wall,” Sherlock said, sounding far too pleased with himself for John's taste. “She says it's coming out of our rent.”
“No, you got that wrong,” John said firmly. “You meant to say it's coming out of your rent.”
“It was your gun.”
“But I'm not the one who used it to shoot holes in the wall, am I?”
Sherlock sniffed disdainfully, but the lack of verbal response meant John had scored a point. Still, once he'd cleaned up, there wasn't really anything he could do. The prospect of storming off to Sarah's was less appealing now that his anger had lost momentum – and besides, he wanted to keep an eye on Sherlock and Raniel. But they wouldn't tolerate John and Amarisa hovering over them, so in the end John and his dæmon simply went up to bed, after extracting a promise that if either Sherlock or Raniel developed any other side-effects, they'd call.
Of course, John didn't sleep very well, given that various emergency services were swarming the street within minutes of the explosion, but he and Amarisa gave it their best shot. In the end, they roused themselves only when Mycroft's voice began to drift up the stairs, and only because John wanted to have a chance at averting hostilities before Sherlock did something drastic. Like actually blowing up the flat in an effort to get his brother to leave.
Only when he came down, Mycroft wasn't alone. There was a tawny owl dæmon perched on the coffee table, watching Sherlock and Mycroft's stand-off with something quite close to disapproval.
“John,” Sherlock said blandly in acknowledgement.
Mycroft smiled one of those insincere, polite-greeting smiles that on anyone else seemed annoying, but on Mycroft seemed vaguely menacing.
“Good morning, Dr. Watson,” the owl greeted, bobbing his head. “I am Nostrepheus.”
That seemed familiar. John racked his brain, wondering where he'd heard that name before...then suddenly it clicked.
“Oh, you're Aeliana Isidyor's dæmon!”
Sherlock, who'd been plucking at the strings of his violin, suddenly froze, and Raniel turned to stare at them.
“Nice to finally meet you,” John went on as Amarisa sniffed politely at the witch's dæmon. “And it's just John – 'Dr. Watson' always makes me feel like I should be diagnosing someone.”
“You know each other...” Sherlock said slowly, looking as though he was thinking something over very rapidly.
John had no idea why Raniel was glaring so viciously at Mycroft's raven dæmon, nor why the older brother looked so smug.
“Sort of,” John said, opening and closing cupboards in the kitchen as he wondered what he could rustle up for breakfast. “I met Aeliana in Afghanistan – how is she, by the way?” This he addressed to Nostrepheus. “Still going strong on that clan's council? And how's her husband and kids?”
John got the distinct impression that the owl was puzzled. “John...these are her children.”
For a moment, John was certain he'd misheard. He glanced back at the siblings in the living room – Mycroft still smug, and Sherlock starting to look angry.
Amarisa snorted, and John echoed her sentiment. “You're joking, right?”
“No, he is not,” Mycroft said, a hint of a smile lingering in the corners of his face. “Aeliana Isidyor is indeed our mother.”
John blinked. But now that he was looking for it, he thought he could see the family resemblance. Sherlock had her high cheekbones and dark, curly hair, Mycroft her aristocratic nose...
It felt very weird to know that he'd met Sherlock's mother and hadn't actually known she was the famous 'Mummy' until right this moment. But John supposed stranger things had happened.
“Well, small world, isn't it?” he mused, turning back to his search for breakfast.
Amarisa whuffed softly in amusement.
Sherlock, however, still seemed to be stuck on 'surprised' and 'indignant'.
“John knows Mummy?” he asked stridently, glaring at Mycroft. “And you knew about this?”
“Of course,” Mycroft said, smiling genially. “Given my position as the Witches' Consul, it was necessary for me to be aware-”
John tuned out the bickering as he made himself some toast, one slice with honey and the other with strawberry jam – he had a feeling he'd need the energy the sugar rush would give him.
He passed close to Mycroft's umbrella on the way back into the living room, and John blinked as he felt the emanation of energy that signalled when a spell had been laid. It was dim – John had found he usually needed to be within a few inches or so to feel anything – but still stronger than anything he'd felt from an arrow; the umbrella was literally seething with spells.
Well, that certainly explained why Mycroft carried it around everywhere.
John shook his head as he sat down on the sofa, opposite Nostrepheus on the coffee table – he still found it a bit bizarre to think Sherlock and Mycroft were the sons of the witch who'd saved his life.
The siblings were still trading barbs (they'd moved on to Mycroft's weight and Sherlock's social skills), so John engaged Nostrepheus in conversation instead.
“So,” he said loudly, trying to talk over the verbal fencing match. “Are you here to check up on Sherlock and Mycroft? Or have you finally found out why a couple of witches wanted to stick me full of death-spells?”
There was a sudden piercing, discordant note from the violin, as though Sherlock had plucked a string a little too hard.
The consulting detective was staring at John looking almost...upset?
“Death-spell?” Raniel screeched incredulously from the carpet. “Death-spell?”
Somehow the polecat had moved from the arm of Sherlock's chair to the floor, directly in front of Amarisa. Raniel was on his hind legs, his face centimetres away from Amarisa's nose as he shrieked.
“Erm...yes?” John hazarded, glancing between Sherlock and his irate dæmon. “The second arrow was a direct hit to the shoulder, but the limp came from the first one – it just grazed my hip.”
“And you didn't think this was something I should be informed of?” Sherlock hissed.
But before John could even start to construct a defence for that, Sherlock had turned on Mycroft.
“And you knew?”
“Of course I knew,” Mycroft sniffed. “Mummy wanted me to look out for him. I'm sure you realise that if they thought he was worth the bother of two death-spells, they won't just give up and go away.”
Sherlock was sitting very, very still, but Raniel was grumbling and turning in tight circles, betraying their agitation. Amarisa rolled her eyes and pulled him into her chest with a paw hooked around his waist, nuzzling the top of the polecat's head until he calmed down.
Tehayla gave a funny, strangled squawking noise, her eyes fixed on the two dæmons, and Mycroft raised his eyebrows in a rather pointed fashion. John didn't know what the man was trying to convey, but Sherlock refused to meet his brother's eyes.
“About that...” John began slowly. “The death-spell thing...any progress? New information?”
Mycroft's face became grave once more. “That's partly why I came to talk to you. John...those witches tried to kill you because of a prophecy involving their clan.”
“A prophecy?” John echoed. Because, really? A prophecy?
Nostrepheus nodded gravely. “A prophecy that says you will be their doom.”
AN: Thanks, as always, to my beta, ginbitch , who went over this with a fine-tooth comb during the holidays season.
Also, since there's been some lovely fanart done for this story, I've created a master image post – check it out!
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