The Death’s-Head Hawkmoth was not the most subtle of forms, but it was at the same time decidedly inconspicuous. The paradox was attractive to Sherlock, and he sat with his hand curled beneath the round worklamp on his desk, watching Lethe work her way across the pads of his fingers.
“You’re pleased,” she said, and he smiled very slightly, leaning closer into the light.
“It’s a good form,” he said.
“What if it had been a jungle cat? Or a codfish?”
“That might have presented a problem.”
It was a good form. She was small and easily hidden. It was a trustworthy shape, with her wings folded back; who could have a bad word to say about a plain brown moth? But with her wings spread - and she did it then, against the palm of his hand, spread her wings to reveal the white skull - with her wings spread, she looked absolutely dangerous. She was pale, like a bleached specimen, and light, and perfect.
“You aren’t allowed to pin butterflies to the walls anymore,” she murmured, with humor. “I honestly don’t think I could stomach it.”
“I make no promises,” he said. But they both knew he wouldn’t.
The dorm room door opened and rebounded against the wall in the wake of Victor Trevor, whose daemon clung to his arm in the shape of a marmoset. “Holmes!” he cried, as though surprised and delighted to find Sherlock in their own dormitory. “There’s mischief about.”
Sherlock leaned back in his chair, canting his head lazily to look at Victor. “I take it you mean the good kind of mischief.”
“Is there a bad kind?”
“I’ve yet to find one.”
They shared a grin, familiar.
The marmoset made a clipped sort of noise, then swung up to Victor’s shoulder. She whispered something quickly in Victor’s ear, and Victor frowned as he heard it.
“Your daemon’s settled?” he asked. “Since this morning?”
Sherlock was curious as to how Trevor’s daemon could tell. The nature of daemons was a subject which had been consistently interesting to him; they spoke so much to who a person was, and a proper understanding of the personality of each type of animal was invaluable in evaluation of a person. But he was sixteen, and the social taboos written into his brain had yet to wear away, and so he did not ask how she knew. “Yes. Is it so surprising?”
“It’s just a bit sudden, is all,” Victor said. He was watching Aletheia flutter from finger to finger on Sherlock’s upturned hand, while attempting to appear as though he was not staring. “She was a cat at breakfast. What is she?”
“Acherontia lachesis,” Sherlock murmured.
Victor laughs. “You’re Greek all over,” he said. He was right. Sherlock smiled.
Victor’s daemon was changing shape every few seconds, as though to prove she could do so -- now a canary, now a geko, now her own form of dusty moth. Sherlock could feel that she was almost taunting them, but Lethe was serene against his hand, self-satisfied and quiet, and Sherlock could not help but feel the same. They didn’t need the constant shift of form. There was something powerful in a settled daemon.
“She won’t be much help in a fight,” Victor added, reaching up to take his daemon from his shoulder and hold her, now in the form of a large brown rat.
“I don’t plan on being involved in many of those,” Sherlock said. He lowered his hand and allowed Lethe to flutter about his head, turning his eyes on Victor. “Now. You said something about mischief.”
John’s daemon interested Sherlock immediately. She was a distinguished-looking Labrador-Australian shepherd mix, mottled white and black and brown. She kept at his side with a precision which could only come from military training. Her eyes were quiet and serene as she took in the world moving around them, following the people walking out on the pavement through the window of the restaurant.
“I can find out myself,” Lethe told him quietly from his shoulder.
Yes, Sherlock thought. But where’s the fun in that?
“Your daemon,” Sherlock said. “What is her name?”
John looked up from his black bean beef in shock, eyes wide and eyebrows raised. An embarrassed blush began to spread across his face, and he reached down to slide his fingers into the fur of his daemon’s ruff, an entirely automatic gesture. He hadn’t reached for her at all in the last hour, even after shooting a man in the chest and getting away with it. But now he did. Sherlock was amused, even as John breathed, “That’s - a bit of a personal question, isn’t it?”
The side of Sherlock’s mouth lifted with a derisive half-smile. “Would you rather I find out some other way?”
John’s fingers relaxed fractionally in the dark fur. “Most people would wait until they were told,” John said. He shook his head. “Although I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. I didn’t exactly volunteer the fact that my sister is an alcoholic, or that I was invalided home.”
Sherlock folded his hands on the table. “Her name?”
John looked down at his daemon, and she met his eyes, conferring silently. She put her head on his knee, and he set his hand between her ears, and looked back at Sherlock. “Erinys,” he said. “It’s the Greek name for--”
“The Furies,” Sherlock said, intrigued. “Interesting.”
John hummed noncommittally, looking back down at his food, keeping his eyes carefully away from Lethe, who fluttered down from Sherlock’s shoulder to settle on the back of his hand. He turned it over, and she crawled into his palm, her wings lifting and lowering slowly and out-of-sync. Despite the fact that John had his attention politely focused elsewhere, Erinys was watching them intently, silently, her eyes following the smooth brush of Lethe’s dark-pale wings against Sherlock’s skin.
When she felt Sherlock watching her, she lifted her eyes to meet his. She was rigid and hyper-focused, unflinching. She was entirely unreadable.
“Very interesting,” Sherlock repeated, his lips curving into a small, slow-burning smile.
John was fascinated by Sherlock's daemon. He would have been embarrassed by the interest, but Sherlock was so blindingly rude about such things that John could hardly bring himself to be suitably private about it. He was, in the end. Living with Sherlock hadn't entirely scrubbed him of the norms of society - at least, not yet. And anyway, an interest was more interesting when it was subtle. Catching Sherlock staring at him while he reads the paper or speaks to a stranger wasn't intriguing. It was just unnerving. A surreptitious approach to observation, though, never got old. A tingle on the back of the neck.
He knew that Sherlock knew, but when it was unspoken, it was more fun.
Erinys had asked her name the night that Sherlock had so boldly come out with his own question. The night after they met, although it hadn't felt like that at all. It had felt like days, months. He’d felt like he had been following Sherlock for years at that point. So they’d quietly spoken on the walk home from the restaurant, and Erinys told him later that her name was Aletheia. Lethe, like the river. The one that made you forget. It was strange, and interesting. Truth or oblivion.
He watched, sometimes, while Sherlock was distracted with other things. Toes in acetic acid or four left hemispheres of bovine brains. He looked over his paper as Lethe fluttered around Sherlock's head, or lay flat against his shoulder, less like a perch and more like a brooch, her wings stretched wide and the pale skull visible on her back. Or sometimes she would settle in his hair, when he was particularly absorbed in some problem, and they would confer quietly, in some strange language known only between them.
Erinys was amused by his interest, and understanding of it. It fascinated both of them, that his daemon was largely comfortless. It said so much about the person who he was, that she had settled into a form that couldn't protect him, or provide him with warmth, or serve as someone to hold onto. She was amazingly fragile. But she was perfect for him; small, easily hidden, too compact to give much of what they were thinking away, with that morbid design that matched them perfectly.
Still, John's hand trailed to Erinys's fur by its own accord at the thought of having a daemon who could not press her body against yours, or curl up next to you as you slept, or growl low in her throat when she sensed something wrong. The war had made him so relieved and dependent on the fact that Erinys was all comfort and protection.
"I worry about them," she admitted to him one night, while he changed to sleep and she lay on the bed with her head between her paws, watching him. "It can't be comfortable to be so fragile. They'll hurt themself one day, with the things they do."
John pulled a t-shirt over his head, letting out a breath. "I know," he said, tugging it down. "But we've met people with daemons who were less touchable than her." He sat on the edge of the bed and ran his hand down Erinys's back absently. "It fits his personality. He doesn't need it the way that we do. He isn't really very tactile." John smirked. "Except for when he's out to annoy me."
Erinys's own lips curled in response, and she turned her head to nudge his hand with her cold, wet nose. "I like them, though," she said. "You know that. We needed someone like this." She closed her eyes when he smoothed the fur on her nose with his fingers. "We were wasting in that old flat."
John couldn't help but agree. Despite the trouble it got them into.
"It really isn't too much to ask, Sherlock," John said hotly, sitting up on the sofa. "You could have been killed."
Sherlock waved a hand, distracted, then turned a page in the book he was reading. "Hardly killed. Maimed, perhaps." Lethe was crawling in his hair, and the sensation of her legs against his scalp was extremely pleasant and relaxing. He settled further back into the armchair.
"The building was four stories tall!" John shouted. "You were hanging on by your fingertips!"
"And you pulled me up." He turned another page. The life cycle of the honey bee was less absorbing than he'd like, at the moment. "Crisis averted. Well done."
There was a rumble across the room, deep in Erinys's chest, a sound of annoyance as John ran his hands through his hair, frustrated.
“I know this means nothing to you,” he said, “but you need to be more careful. Or at least attempt to be more careful. What would you have done if I wasn’t there?”
“It’s hardly worth thinking about, as you were. I imagine I would have fallen to my death.”
“To your maiming,” Lethe murmured, and Sherlock smirked.
“Do you take nothing seriously?” John asked, exasperated. “I honestly have no idea how you’ve lived this long without someone chasing after you and pulling you back. Don’t you understand how dangerous it is? If I hadn’t been there, you’d have nothing looking out for you. You’re practically on your own!”
Both Lethe and Sherlock froze on the other side of the room. Sherlock, after a moment, slowly turned his head to look at John, lowering the book. There was something hard and icy in the pit of his stomach, and it forced itself into his voice. “I believe you are implying that my daemon is inadequate.”
John, slowly coming to the realization that, yes, this was exactly what he had been implying, opened and closed his mouth, gaping, eyes huge. Sherlock was already up out of the chair, moving for the door, stopping to pick up his coat, which he had thrown unceremoniously on the floor earlier in the evening.
“Sherlock, wait, I--”
“There is nothing to say,” Sherlock said. Altheia was fluttering after him, flustered and as annoyed at the implication as he was. “I’ll be out getting myself in dangerous situations with my useless moth daemon. I would recommend that you don’t wait up.”
John was just standing off of the sofa when Sherlock was crossing the threshold, apparently in an attempt to stop him, which was laughable, because he was strong, damn it, and perfectly capable of pulling himself back up on to a ledge or fighting off a gang of attackers or curling his body around Lethe to protect her always because no matter what John thought, it didn’t have to be the other way. But he stopped one step beyond the doorway. He could go no further.
It felt like a low, tight pull at the base of his spine, in the organs tucked away in his lower abdomen, and a half-overwhelming sensation in his mind, a wave of something not as frightening as interesting. He and Lethe had experimented, as all children do, with how far they were able to separate. Perhaps their experiments had been slightly more clinical than others, with charts over years measuring whether it got easier the older they became, but that was because it was a point of interest for them. It wasn’t because they desired separation. And it had stopped when they were nine, when Mycroft took out his uncontrolled childish frustration and attempted that separation himself. Then, it had felt as though his heart was going to be pulled out of his chest and fall in a bloody heap on the floor in front of him as he attempted to crawl toward the jar in Mycroft’s hand through the haze of painkiller, nothing in his mind but touching her again, the overwhelming horror in his brain almost causing him to pass out.
This was nothing like that. It was like neither of those things; his own experiments, or his brother’s. This was something new. He looked over his shoulder.
Erinys had Lethe caught gently between her paws.
She was lying Sphinx-ish on the carpet, her eyes canted up toward Sherlock. And, very, very carefully, she had trapped Lethe between the rough pads of her two front paws, not in any way to hurt her. Just to stop them leaving. Sherlock was honestly speechless. Had anyone ever touched his daemon this way? Had he ever known another person well enough, been comfortable enough, that his daemon and their daemon could form this kind of tactile relationship, past the initial touches of greeting or, when he was a child, the snaps of dominance or fighting? He was so distracted with the realization that he forgot why he was leaving, until Erinys spoke.
"We didn't mean it that way," she said, her eyes (always so calm and personal and practical) attached to his as if by a taught thread. "John said it wrong. We're sorry. We just love you, and we worry about you. We aren't used to it."
Sherlock raised his eyes to John, who was standing, the traces of an embarrassed blush visible on his face. He nodded once, quickly. He glanced away.
"It's—" Sherlock said. He could still feel what Lethe felt, feel the callused paws, the warmth of them; she was so comfortable, she wasn't afraid at all of what John's daemon might do to her in that position. She trusted them implicitly. Both her and Sherlock must have done. "It's fine," he said, almost breathlessly, trying to regain whatever hold he had on himself. The fight had left him. There were so many more things to argue, but he couldn't bring himself to, not with the waves of realization being such an excellent distraction.
Erinys parted her paws, and Lethe paused for just a moment before fluttering up, and toward Sherlock. The pulling sensation stopped as she came closer, and he held out his hand for her, palm-up. She landed there, light and soft, and he ran his fingers down the back of her fuzzy thorax, relief rushing through his body — inexplicable but still present, despite the known absence of danger. He knew she felt the same way, and it confused both of them.
"Sherlock, I—" John said, and cut himself off. His face had a complex mixture of emotions, like he didn't know which avenue he wanted to venture down first.
Sherlock didn't want to venture down any of them, not at that precise moment. "I'm going to bed," he said. He hung his coat up, then started out for the kitchen door.
"Wait, are you—"
"It's fine, I said." Sherlock looked back over his shoulder. He still felt dazed, and the way John looked, he must have felt the same way. "Good night."
John hesitated, then called faintly, "Night." But Sherlock was already through the kitchen, into the hallway toward his room.
When he entered it and shut the door, he leaned back against the rough wood grain. Lethe hovered at the level of his face, taking in the boneless way he held himself up.
"That was interesting," she murmured.
He ran a hand across his brow and let out a breath. "Further study is needed."
"I did it without thinking," Erinys murmured later, curled beside John as he tried to sleep.
"I know," he said, without opening his eyes.
"They were leaving, and you were being an idiot."
John turned his face and spoke directly into the pillow. "Thanks much, Erin."
"Don't call me that," she grumbled. She lay on her side, watching the side of John's head, her tail swishing slowly back and forth with her agitation. She let out a doggish huff of frustration. "We still need to speak to them about it."
"He said it was fine."
"He was trying to leave the room as fast as humanly possible."
"Doesn't mean it isn't actually fine."
"John," she said, exasperated. She wormed her muzzle under the arm beside his head to see his eyes shut tight, as if keeping them closed would make him fall asleep faster and get him away from this conversation. "It wasn't fine. You saw his face. He was stunned. Aletheia was shaking, and it wasn't because she was afraid of me."
"Sherlock's unfamiliarity with being the recipient of affection is really not my problem."
"It is now." She pressed her nose against his cheek. "This could be a good thing for both of you."
"Or it could bollox the whole thing up overnight. There's a wide margin there."
"Keep thinking positive, John," Erinys said, her smirk evident in her voice.
John turned his face toward her, finally. He was too tired to suppress the amused smile on his face. "May I go to sleep now?"
Erinys pulled her head out from under his arm. "By all means," she said. She laid her muzzle over the back of his neck, instead, the way she used to in the desert at night, when John would shake from both cold and fear. He relaxed immediately beneath her, and she let her eyes slip closed, as well. They drifted off together.
John was halfway through the preparations for tea when Sherlock appeared in the morning in one of his many and various dressing gowns. His eyes were still half-closed, as if he had actually slept through the night, which was certainly something different. "Tea?" John asked him, shaking the half-full kettle in his hand. Sherlock only nodded and went to sit at the table. Lethe fluttered after him and landed on his chest as he rubbed his face with his hands, as though the feeling of recovery from sleep was unfamiliar and uncomfortable. Which it probably was.
When the kettle started singing, John took it away from the heat and made two cups in mismatched mugs, from the cupboard labeled with a sheet of A4 and a black permanent marker, CLEAN ONLY. So far, Sherlock had been keeping to the rule, but he washed them out anyway out of habit. He picked up both mugs and a plate of toast, then crossed the room and placed Sherlock's mug in front of him before sitting down himself.
Sherlock reached over and picked up the newspaper, then his tea, and they settled into something like a companionable silence. The lie would have been perfect, but for Erinys sitting perfectly still at attention with her eyes cast carefully away from Sherlock and Lethe. She was keeping herself from pressing her body against John's legs in comfort for the roll of nerves in his stomach, which would be an obvious tell as to their mental state. But the military stance wasn't much better on that front, and both of them knew it. She couldn't help it. He tended to do the same thing.
John took in a breath. "Sherlock, I—"
Sherlock turned the page in the newspaper. "When I said it was fine, I meant it." John couldn't see his face, and couldn't read his expression from his voice, which still sounded tired. "So you may stop worrying about it."
John relaxed fractionally. Put off again from the conversation, he knew they were never going to have it, and that was fine with him. Erinys was caught somewhere between relieved and disappointed, knowing that now there would be no cathartic release of tension, but the slow ebb back into something normal — or what passed for normal, in their lives. The cathartic release would have been better. Even with shouting, it would have ended all right.
But then, Lethe lifted and lowered her wings for a second against Sherlock's chest, and fluttered into the air. She hovered for just a moment, Sherlock still seemingly absorbed in the paper and not looking at her. Then she flew down to Erinys, and settled softly there, on her muzzle.
At the touch of Lethe's short legs against Erinys's fur, both daemon and man relaxed automatically. Erinys closed her eyes and lay down on the lino, letting Lethe stay where she was. John sat still for a moment, getting used to the touch. It was never something he'd noticed before, with other people. With Harry or with his mates from school, it was just something their daemons did, touch and fight. Mostly as children, but even as adults, when he would meet someone, Erinys and their daemon would circle and sniff each other, or nod, or bat playfully at each other. Sherlock and Lethe had never done that. But he could see, when Sherlock lowered his paper slightly to steal a piece of John's toast, that it was having the same effect on him; he looked languid, and strangely pleased with himself, even while his eyes were still tired and his hair was mussed from bed. He caught John's eyes for a fraction of a second, and his lips quirked just a fraction upward. Then he disappeared again behind the pages, and John reached out with both hands to drink his tea.
And things were better. It had ended all right.
A singsong, "No you won't."
With the sound of the door swinging shut on Moriarty's heels, Sherlock was moving, towards John, towards Erinys, her maw bound with a muzzle and a lead keeping her tied to John, close enough to restrict both of them from going anywhere without making the other lose their balance. The thing he was most focused on, though, the thing he grabbed first, without thinking, without the power of thought, was the explosive vest. He knelt and released Erinys and unzipped it with his hands shaking and his breath coming in rough little spasms as he managed to gasp out, "All right? Are you all right?" He had the possessive need to touch, to reclaim him as though John was ever Sherlock's to begin with, to know that he was still the same and physical and unharmed. He kept it controlled, but Lethe couldn't, hovering around Erinys, checking her, alighting and taking off again and again.
John was limp with relief and the adrenaline rushing out of him. "Yeah - yeah, I'm fine — I'm fine — Sherlock." He was roughly pulling the coat off of him, off of his shoulders. "Sherlock!" Erinys moved out of the way as he swept the explosives away from them, across the pool floor. When it was suitably distant, he looked at John, trying to catch his breath. Then he grabbed the gun and ran out in the direction Moriarty went.
Nothing. Not a trace. Up and down the street, across the way, nothing but useless pedestrians failing to notice him and the fact that he was armed. He went back inside.
John had collapsed against the changing rooms, his legs too weak to hold him, and Erinys was attempting to lick his face and hands through the muzzle as he worked the strap open. When it fell away, she buried her head in his chest, and his arms went around her neck, his face pressed against her fur, and they breathed together. Sherlock paced up and down the side of the pool, agitated, Lethe in his wake, too riled to settle, too frightened and angry and half-heartsick to speak.
John looked up at them. "Are you okay?"
"Me?" Sherlock asked, still pacing, scratching his head with the gun without realizing what he was doing. "Yeah. Fine. I'm fine." He slowed. "That, uh — thing that you — that you did, that you offered to do. That was, um. Good."
John leaned his head back against the wall. "I'm glad no one saw that."
"You, ripping my clothes off in a darkened swimming pool. People might talk."
"People do little else."
They both almost laughed. John started to stand.
Then the dots reappeared on his chest, and on Erinys's back, and the fear slammed back into Sherlock as though it had never left at all.
The door clanged open. "Sorry boys! I'm so changeable! It is a weakness with me, but to be fair to myself, it is my only weakness. You can't be allowed to continue. You just can't. I would try to convince you, but — everything I have to say has already crossed your mind!"
Sherlock looked at John. John looked back up at him — both of them did, John and Erinys, looked up at him with frightened but resigned expressions. Erinys, particularly, was steady. She met his eyes. He nodded.
Sherlock turned and pointed the gun at Moriarty. "Probably my answer has crossed yours."
Then he lowered it to point at the bomb.
There were ten eternal seconds.
Before he even heard the shot ring between the echoing tile walls of the pool, Sherlock felt the full weight of John slam into his side and send them both tumbling into the water. He hit it with a shock and went under, the shockwave from the blast pushing the air out of him and disorientating him. He lost track of up and down, held his breath only through that automatic human response, and his eyes stung and blurred in the dark from the chlorine and from the agonizingly slow loss of consciousness that was creeping over him. There was nothing. He'd felt movement nearby, but that might have been seconds ago, might have been minutes. Time was threaded together with loose, childish stitches in inappropriate places.
And all the while, constantly, the only constant, was the pull in his chest and his abdomen, in his brain and heart and hands and feet, the pull in his skin that told him Lethe was far, too far away, above the surface of the water in agony because she could do nothing, because she would drown immediately if she tried to come closer to him. He knew if the lack of air in his lungs or the injuries from the blast or the building coming down didn't kill him, this would, this feeling of separation, the all-over desperate pain of it. And of course, his fate, to die like that — if he was going to die, he needed her with him, cupped between his hands. He imagined her fading into gold dust he had seen so often in his life, and a weak cry carried itself out of his lips and bubbled into the water.
His eyes closed.
And opened again, with a pain in his arm, and he flailed, warding off his attacker. But the pain didn't fade, and he looked through the dark water to see Erinys, her eyes wide and determined, her jaw clamped over his arm. He passed out.
He came to again with his body half-over the side of the pool, the air against his face cold from the open roof above him and hot from the fire raging nearby. He pulled it into his lungs, conflicting and wonderful, and coughed out chlorinated water. The hideous pull was gone. He noticed that before anything else; he moved the fingers of his right hand and found the smooth, powdery wings of his daemon. She was radiating relief and stupor identical to his. They were together.
He felt something above him, and then he was being pulled again, slowly, bit by bit in short, aborted jerks. Wet fur against the side of his face, teeth closed over his collar. Erinys again, pulling him out of danger. Breaking the taboo. He tried to move with her, but she stopped and snapped at him, "Don't." So he stopped.
He heard John breathing somewhere nearby. Then the world was gone again.
It was very quiet. There was the soft beeping of a machine, somewhere, and the muffled noise of people beyond a door. Sherlock took in one long, slow breath, and blinked twice up at the speckled grey ceiling. Hospital. Obvious. He could feel Lethe on the back of his left hand, flat against the sheets, with her wings spread flush against his skin. Her movement and her mental processes were as sluggish as his.
He turned his head to the right — with a little difficulty, but not as much as he had been fearing — to see John asleep in a chair between the bed and a window, his arm set in a cast and strapped against his chest. Erinys was at his feet, her ears twitching slightly, her back rising and falling with deep, even breaths.
He turned his head back to once more look up at the ceiling and exhaled.
John jerked in his sleep, then woke up, blinking in the dim light of the room, with the sky dark beyond the window behind him. He sat up straighter in the chair, rubbing his eyes and rolling his shoulders — then he noticed Sherlock looking at him. His eyes widened with surprise, and he leaned forward, disturbing Erinys, who sat up quickly, alarmed, only to look with equally wide eyes up at Sherlock.
"You're awake," John said.
"Well deduced," Sherlock rasped.
John leaned to the side table and poured water out of a small pitcher into a plastic cup. He passed it over to Sherlock, who took it and sipped slowly from it, looking with interest at the plastic tubes running from his left arm to an IV tree above him.
"Three days," John said. "That's how long you've been out. We weren't sure—" He broke off. Erinys pressed against his leg, her head butting against his knee.
Lethe stirred on Sherlock's hand and lifted sluggishly into the air to move and settle herself against his chest. He set the cup back down on the side table and ran his fingers down her back, slowly.
"You broke your arm," Sherlock said, eyeing the bright, lime green cast against John's chest. "You couldn't choose a better color?"
"They chose for me," John grumbled. It was obviously still a point of contention between him and the hospital that they had given him a ridiculous cast color. Sherlock smirked.
"You're all right, besides having been unconscious for three days," John said. "A few lacerations from blast debris, minor burns."
Sherlock nodded. Lethe lifted from his chest and fluttered down to Erinys, moving with an agitated air around her head. Erinys tried to follow the moth with her eyes for a moment, then became annoyed with the fluttering movement and snapped at her. Lethe returned to Sherlock and settled in his hair, satisfied.
"Erinys is all right," Sherlock said, looking at her.
John colored, a match for his expression the first time Sherlock had ever addressed his daemon, and his hand once again found its way to her ruff. "She's fine," he said. "She wasn't hurt."
Sherlock flicked his eyes to John's face. "It isn't just lacerations," he said. "Or burns." His lips lifted very slightly. "There will be bite marks. Won't there?"
John colored more deeply, but his eyes didn't waver from Sherlock's. Erinys, too, kept her gaze steady, and looked entirely unapologetic.
"We protect you," John said, maybe a little more fiercely than he intended to. "Whatever that requires. We protect you."
Sherlock paused for a second. Then he let out a slow, complex breath. "This is going to be strange to me for a time."
John shrugged. He looked caught somewhere between a laugh and something more complicated. "I'm not asking for reciprocation."
Sherlock held a hand over the side of the bed, in the space between them. "You have it," he said.
John looked surprised, for a moment. He hesitated, in the face of something so unexpected. But then Erinys nudged his leg, and he reached out and clasped Sherlock's hand in his.
Lethe flew down to Erinys and settled between her ears.
Everything was right, all at once.
Later, in the dark, they spoke. Lethe and Sherlock. John was gone, sent home, another night of sleeping in that ridiculous chair in no way necessary. It was only them, and the light from the streetlamps thrown up through the window, painting itself over the bed. He sat up with the blankets pooled in his lap, his elbows on his knees, and Lethe held in his cupped palms.
"I can't imagine a worse feeling," she told him, antennae rubbing against his palms, taking in the familiar patterns there, all of the many lines and scars. "I felt like it would have been better to follow you, than to watch you get further away from me."
He rubbed his thumb over the fringe of her wing. "It wouldn't have been better."
"I know that."
He watched her lift and lower her wings. "Are you angry that Erinys touched me?"
"No," she said, immediately. "I want to ask John what it felt like."
Sherlock smiled at her, pleased. "I would suggest further testing, but I don't know that he would agree."
"There are a lot of things we don't know about him yet. We'll learn."
"We will," he agreed.
They fell into silence for a while. Sherlock watched the fall of light over her, over the skull on her back, casting her shadow against the sheets.
"Are you jealous?" he asked, finally. It wasn't hesitant, but was maybe as close as he could get. "Do you regret your form? Do you want to be able to protect me the way Erinys can protect John?"
She took a moment to form her answer. "No," she said, simply. "This is what we are. Do you regret it?"
"Not at all," he said. He raised her to his eyes. "You're beautiful."
Lethe laughed. "I am happy, though," she said. "We found someone else to protect us."
"That wasn't my intention when I invited them to see a flat," Sherlock murmured, smirking. "We've never really needed it. But it's convenient."
"It's very convenient."
Sherlock sat back against the bed and looked out of the window, at the city, bright and close and loud beyond the glass. He felt Lethe flutter once again from his hands to settle, finally, over his heart.