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Faerie-Touched

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Fire, Water, Air and Earth

Daemon, Undine, Sylph and Fey

Dance the Elements to your decree

For none can tell you 'nay'

But beware the one you cannot Touch

Lest all your power Sink away

--

John had known that Sherlock was part-Faerie the moment he saw him. Faerie-born always looked a bit...otherworldly (too pale, too perfect), so right from the start, John had suspected the bloke had some Faerie lineage somewhere in his family tree.

The fact that he'd summoned his notebook to his hand with a small gust of wind was also a bit of a give-away as well. It was true that sorcerers could cast similar spells, but only a Faerie-born would be so careless with the Elements like that.

Some people might be put off – Faerie-born tend to be relatively insular and distrustful of humans, sorcerers included – but John knew he had nothing to fear from the man. Sherlock seemed solidly on the unusual side, but every Faerie-born he'd ever met had their own set of foibles, usually dependent on the type of Faerie they were descended from.

Daemons were the Fire Faeries, Undine the Water, and the Fey came from Earth. John suspected Sherlock was part Sylph – the Faeries of Air – given his little display in the laboratory (his impulsiveness and general flightiness could be taken as a sign of Sylph blood, but John had never felt comfortable using personality traits to pin down heritages). And while Faerie blood could manifest down five or six generations, judging by the kind of power Sherlock's brother wielded, they couldn't be less than quarter-Faerie. Enough to lose the more physically obvious aspects of Faerie blood (green hair, blue skin, golden eyes, just to name a few), but for the sheer level of power to be essentially undiluted.

It was a shame he claimed to be married to his work, but John figured that was understandable; Faerie-born had to be careful who they invited into their beds. While full-blooded Faerie could rein themselves in enough to have sex with a human partner without risk, Faerie-born tended to become slightly uncontrollable in the grip of strong emotion, and orgasm tended to destroy their control. Which meant their partner had to be a sorcerer that was strong enough to be able to withstand that much magic being thrown around – John couldn't count the number of times a Faerie-born's partner had been wheeled into the emergency room because they overestimated their magical strength.

The doctors in the hospital called it being 'Faerie-Touched', because if you were a low rank sorcerer, then you had to be touched in the head to start rolling around with a Faerie-born.

Besides, John suspected it would take a tenth rank or above sorcerer to hold Sherlock's interest; someone with the power to meet him on equal terms and the intellect to keep up with his. And John was certainly no sorcerer, so he put that idea in the 'wishful thinking' pile, and did his best to abandon it.

--

An army surgeon returned from Afghanistan, where he'd clearly served in a prominent enough position to have got himself shot? Sherlock could admit he'd been expecting a fourth-rank sorcerer, at the very least. Maybe even a seventh or eighth.

But no; there was no residue of magic hovering around John Watson, no aura of power. He didn't even carry the talismans most humans used to protect themselves from those with magic. There were no wards to shield his mind from manipulation, no small bundle of spelled wood or earth that could shelter him from a magical attack.

In short, he was leaving himself surprisingly vulnerable for a seemingly-intelligent military man. Sherlock wondered briefly if something had happened during his service to make him distrust any protection that wasn't his own.

At least the limp wasn't magical in origin; only psychosomatic, and not very deeply entrenched, at that. He'd expected John to be limping on the walk home, not to keep up his sprightly gait even through the door.

Of course, as soon as Sherlock had stepped over the threshold he knew something was wrong. The wards that would lock out those that meant him ill were gone, and he could feel pooled magic radiating from the living room. When he and John entered, it was to find Lestrade and his detectives ripping the place apart; the ordinary humans with their hands, while the sorcerers were undoing every one of his banishment and concealment spells.

It was enough to make Sherlock want to summon a hurricane strong enough to suck every single one of them out the windows. Didn't they stop to think that, with a new flatmate to entice into something approaching a sense of security, there might have been a reason for the invisibility spell on the eyeballs?

Anderson's presence only made things worse. While his speciality were spells that enhanced his own senses (useful for a forensic analyst), he was also in the habit of constantly walking around with layers upon layers of deflection spells. Deflection spells were different from shields, in that they didn't stop the magic in its tracks, but more just made it...slide off.

It always set Sherlock's teeth on edge. As a Faerie-born, he had a keener magic sense than sorcerers, and when those senses slid around deflection spells it was like having a black spot in his vision. Not like John, who was just...blank, like an empty chair, but as though he knew the chair was there, but just couldn't see it.

Frankly, Sherlock didn't know how Lestrade could stand to work with the man.

Still, deflection spells also took far less concentration than actual shields, and Sherlock comforted himself with the fact that Anderson probably just wasn't capable of the mental faculties required to produce actual shields.

Considering that he'd been surrounded by only low-level magic all evening, Sherlock thought he could be forgiven for the way the cabbie had grabbed his attention. He hadn't exactly been on his guard, and the man had some of the strongest compulsion magic he'd ever seen.

But that was how it was in some people. They were technically low rank sorcerers, but displayed astonishing talent in just a few spells.

Really, in compulsion spells, the cabbie had been worthy of a twelfth rank. But his concentration had faltered when that bullet had blasted through the window, puncturing his lung and likely nicking the subclavian artery.

For a human being without a particle of magic in him, John Watson was really quite extraordinary.

--

“You're not magical, are you?” Sherlock asked over their very late meal of Chinese, magical residue still hovering about the room from the false 'drug bust'. “You didn't use a locating spell to find me.”

“Nope, just the phone's GPS,” John agreed. “Never had a drop of magic in my life.”

“Hmmm.”

“What?”

“It's just rather unusual to see a human serving on the front lines in a war,” Sherlock pointed out, the vaguest hint of scepticism in his tone.

John shrugged. “First of all, I was medical personnel, which hardly qualifies as 'front lines'. And I've got pretty good instincts – I know when to duck and run.”

“Evidently they're not infallible, though,” Sherlock said, nodding towards John's shoulder.

“This?” John jostled the limb in question. “This wasn't any kind of Faerie attack or spell – just a plain old bullet.”

Sherlock snorted, as if to convey his contempt for John being taken down by a mere bullet. But if John's hunches about Sherlock's strong Faerie blood were correct, it was likely he'd need a bullet made of cold iron before he was even mildly inconvenienced.

John's gun was full of cold iron bullets, mainly out of pragmatism. Ordinary bullets wouldn't harm a half- or quarter-Faerie, but cold iron bullets stopped humans just as easily as they did Faerie-born.

“And no one spelled the wound?” Sherlock asked.

John shrugged again. “Didn't take. It's not like we've got seventh rank sorcerers out there, you know.”

“Hmmm,” Sherlock said again, and that was the extent of his input on the subject.

--

“What do you specialise in?” Donovan asked one day while they were gathered around a crime scene.

Donovan was a sorcerer with an affinity for tracking and locator spells, but most of the police force tended to be gifted in some way. Lestrade didn't show it, but John suspected he had an Undine ancestor seven or eight generations back.

“Medicine,” John quipped, and grinned at her.

Donovan seemed surprised. “You're not a sorcerer?”

John shook his head. “My sister's one, but I've never managed a spell in my life.”

Some people believed sorcerers were the result of Faerie blood resurfacing after many generations, but John wasn't sure about that. It was true that sorcery seemed to have a genetic basis, in that many families were known for it but it occurred only sporadically in others. The royal family had deliberately bred themselves for generations to produce powerful magic-users, and a few nobility had done the same. It was also true that many sorcerers displayed an affinity for one of the four Elements above the others, but in John's experience that usually had more to do with their nature than their family history.

Take Harry, for example. The Watsons used to be one of those families known for producing immensely powerful sorcerers, but a steady decline in fortune, standing and arranged marriages in the last two hundred years ensured that very few of them manifested any powerful magic nowadays. Harry was only a fourth rank sorcerer (as opposed to that great-great-grandmother who'd ascended all the way up to twelfth rank), and she had an affinity for the Earth, while their mother (a second rank) had an affinity for Fire.

Harry was stubborn and set in her ways, slow to admit to being wrong, while Amelia Watson was lively and passionate with a quick temper. John's father wasn't magical at all – like John, he couldn't cast a spell to save his life.

Most doctors were schooled in Water spells, as they were useful in slowing bleeding and the like, but John had been a skilled enough surgeon that they'd overlooked his lack of magic. It wasn't as though all spells were foolproof anyway – the more complex they were, the greater the likelihood of something going wrong, and sometimes spells just didn't take, even when they were cast perfectly.

All in all, magic was a rather fickle mistress, and John was often glad he didn't have anything to do with it.

--

To Sherlock's frustration, the wards around Baker Street weren't taking well. Mrs Hudson kept banishing them every time she had friends over, saying it wasn't healthy not to socialise.

“If your friends don't mean us any harm, they should be able to walk straight through the wards,” he grumbled, trying to reinstall them for the third time that day.

“That may be, but you're a bit too strong with your wards, dear,” she chided. “They feel like a big 'keep out' sign to most of us – even normal people get nervous walking over them.”

“John's never complained.”

“Does he complain about much?”

Sherlock thought back, and grudgingly admitted he didn't.

For some reason, the idea that he might have made John uncomfortable walking through their door made guilt stir in the back of his mind. He shook it away – it wasn't his fault, how could he have known something was wrong if John didn't say anything? – but as soon as John got home from the shops, he asked him.

“Do the wards make you uncomfortable?”

“What?” John paused in the midst of setting out the groceries. “Are you saying you've got wards put up?”

“Yes – at the doorway. You've never noticed?”

John shook his head, and Sherlock smirked, reminding himself to bring this up the next time Mrs Hudson objected to the wards. John might not be a sorcerer, but that bit about them bothering normal people was clearly rubbish.

--

“He tried to glamour you,” Sherlock said, apropos of nothing, as they left the bank and Sebastian Wilkes behind.

John blinked, glancing back at the offices. “Sebastian?”

Sherlock nodded tightly. “He's not very powerful – only a third rank – but his glamours are usually very good.”

“Isn't trying to glamour me into liking him a bit unethical?” John frowned, feeling irritated that Sebastian had tried to spell him into trusting the tosser.

“The government is trying to make it illegal,” Sherlock said, throwing out an arm for a taxi. “But it's difficult, because the idiots can never agree where the exceptions should be. Policemen trying to get a suspect to confess? Doctors treating a difficult patient? And if you have doctors glamouring their patients, why not have lawyers glamouring their clients into trusting them? And from that point on it gets very sticky and ridiculous and tied up in standards and precedents and all that legal nonsense...”

He looked back at John, pausing as he registered John's expression. Then, in a tone of sudden realisation, “You didn't even feel it.”

“What, the glamour?” John shook his head. “Nope, I didn't feel a thing.”

“Fascinating,” Sherlock mused, staring at John a little too intently for the doctor's comfort. “I mean, I knew it didn't take – I was ready to shield you, and I felt it try to grab you then it just dissipated – people usually feel something when they brush off a spell.”

John was absurdly touched by the idea that Sherlock had been prepared to throw up a shield – barriers took a lot of concentration, and the idea that Sherlock was prepared to divert some of that important brainpower to protect him made him smile.

“The army guys used to call me 'Numbskull',” John pointed out. “A glamour hasn't worked on me yet.”

Then he laughed at his own private joke, and wondered why Sherlock didn't seem similarly amused.

--

The idea that John had no defence against glamours but his own will didn't sit well with Sherlock. Granted, it seemed to have worked against Sebastian, but what happened if a more powerful sorcerer or Faerie-born tried it?

“I could make a talisman for you,” Sherlock offered on the taxi ride to Van Coon's apartment.

John blinked, then smiled. “Thanks for the offer, Sherlock, but really, don't worry – I'm fine without it.”

He knew John was taken aback – making a talisman for someone was extremely personal, and usually limited to family members. But from what Sherlock could infer of John's relationship with his family, they weren't likely to be sending John talismans in the post.

“I don't mind,” Sherlock insisted. “It doesn't even have to be noticeable – I could make your watch a talisman if you wanted-”

“No,” John said firmly. “Sherlock, you're...you're Faerie-born, right? The means for you to make a talisman, you have to use your blood, and I...I don't want you to do that. Really, it's not needed.”

Making talismans was a time-consuming process for anyone, but because a Faerie-born's true power was in their blood they had to be willing to give up anything from a few drops to half a litre, depending on how well protected they wanted their talisman-holder to be. And talismans created with blood could often be used as a direct conduit to their creator, which was why most Faerie-born refused to make them, refused to open up a possible weakness in their defences.

Sherlock wondered if he could draw blood and freeze it over a period of weeks, possibly make a talisman for John with two or even three litres? Surely three litres of a quarter-Faerie's blood would protect him against almost every kind of magical assault?

“I don't mind,” he repeated.

“I don't want you to!” John snapped. “All right? You don't need to bleed just to keep me safe, Sherlock, it's...it's not needed, okay?”

“And I keep telling you, I don't mind!”

“It's not a question of 'not minding',” John hissed, looking honestly furious. “I don't want you hurting yourself just for something you 'don't mind'. And I don't need it anyway, so just leave it!”

The taxi pulled up in front of Van Coon's apartment complex and John leapt out. Sherlock could tell by the expression on John's face that this subject was closed for the foreseeable future, and if he brought it up again it would just make John more stubbornly resistant.

So he rang Van Coon's bell and swallowed back what he'd wanted to say.

'It's not that I just don't care if I'd bleed – I know the risks involved in making a talisman. But I'd rather be vulnerable and have you protected than the other way around.'

--

John managed to give the police the slip – most of them relied on compelling spells to keep their suspects with them nowadays, rather than handcuffs, so as soon as they'd turned away John had made a run for it and lost himself within the crowd outside the art gallery.

Of course, the fact that he'd avoided the ASBO didn't make him any less furious at Sherlock. And he'd had a long time to stew on the bus ride home.

“But I cast a camouflage spell!” Sherlock protested. “They shouldn't have seen you!”

“They're police, Sherlock!” John bellowed. “They cast those blasted true sight spells on themselves every hour they're on duty – you know, the ones that let you see through illusions? They saw all of us, and only grabbed me because I was the poor sap who didn't start running at the sight of them!”

“My camouflage spells are good enough to fool anyone below a seventh rank,” Sherlock snapped, clearly indignant. “I can't expect you to understand, given how disgustingly normal you are-”

That hurt. Because okay, John would never be able to understand magic the way that sorcerers and Faerie-born did, but it wasn't like he was completely ignorant. He'd had a sister and mother who were both low-rank sorcerers, and he'd served with Faerie-born – he knew more than a few things about magic.

And deep in John's heart, he might have been a little envious of Harry and Sherlock and everyone like them. The ones who could cast a spell to hide something they didn't want found, rather than just stuffing it under the bed. Who could cast spells to cook and clean rather than actually taking the time to do it. Who could make shields that would deflect bullets and even when they were hit, could heal themselves.

For all that he'd been on the outside of groups of his magical friends, no one had ever called his lack of magic 'disgusting' before. And that, above all, was what had cut into him like a jagged shard of glass.

Logically, John knew this was just Sherlock being ratty – they were dealing with someone who seemed to be able to sneak into buildings and through wards without magic, and it was confusing him – but it still hurt.

Even though Sherlock was quarter-Faerie and could probably tackle most criminals by himself, he'd never objected to John accompanying him. He was one of the few people who hadn't seemed to care about or even really register his lack of magic. To the extent that John had developed just a bit of a crush on him.

Though in his defence he thought it would be hard not to develop a crush on Sherlock, what with that face and that mad grin and that brilliant mind and gods help him, but even Sherlock's less agreeable quirks were starting to seem endearing to John.

Apparently Sherlock didn't feel the same way, though. If two people hadn't already died on this case, John swore he would have just up and left.

--

Sherlock was almost convinced that this could work. Granted, given that he was Faerie-born and John non-magical, they probably couldn't have sex, but that could be worked around. Sherlock knew about the concept of open relationships, and felt fairly certain he could tolerate John having sex with someone else provided it meant he stayed with Sherlock.

It wasn't ideal – Sherlock would prefer John had sex with him and no one else for the rest of his life – but he wasn't prepared to risk John's safety. Sherlock was planning to take John on a fact-finding date to the circus where he would explain just what kind of relationship he thought they could have, but apparently John had made other plans.

Apparently, John preferred a female, non-magical doctor, over a male, Faerie-born consulting detective.

Sherlock knew John resented the way he'd barged in on the 'date', but really, he should be proud that Sherlock had controlled himself enough not to let loose with a gust of wind that knocked stupid Sarah over on her arse. And it wasn't like he hadn't been tempted.

--

“All that over a hair pin,” John mused when they were back in the flat, Sebastian's cheque on the table before him.

“Not just any hair pin,” Sherlock pointed out. “It's pure jade, and was used as a power focus for the spell that created the Great Wall.”

John knew a power focus was much rarer than a talisman – it was an object many sorcerers or Faerie-born had imbued with their own magic, magic other people could then draw out of the object.

“If Amanda had been even a first rank sorcerer, she would have known what she had right away,” Sherlock continued. “Didn't you feel the power coming off it?”

John snorted, unable to keep the bitterness out of his tone. “Of course not. Disgustingly non-magical, remember?”

With that, he pushed his chair back from the table, fully prepared to leave his tea in his cup and indulge in the epic sulk that had been stirring ever since Sarah had told him she thought the conflicts involved in dating a colleague were too much for her to handle. But he was halted by something pulling on his sleeve.

When he glanced back, Sherlock was trying to look as if he hadn't moved, but John knew he'd felt that tug – just a quick pluck to arrest his movement.

“I didn't mean...” Sherlock's voice trailed off and his lips thinned. His eyes darted up to John's face once and then fixed on the kitchen table. “It's not disgusting. You...you could never be disgusting.”

And just like that, John's anger thawed, and he half-heartedly cursed himself for being so damn easy where this man was concerned.

“Don't worry about it,” he said, patting Sherlock on the shoulder as he sat back down.

Something in Sherlock seemed to relax. John grinned at him as he finished his tea and biscuit, thinking that this was a bizarrely domestic little scene, if you ignored the twenty-five thousand pound cheque on the table and the skull Sherlock had tucked behind the kettle.

--

“Mummy is half-Sylph,” Sherlock announced abruptly, not looking away from the television.

John, interrupted in his attempt to get out his latest blog entry, looked up. “I kind of guessed you were Faerie-born from the start, you know.”

“Sylphs are the air Faeries,” Sherlock stated.

Feeling a little perplexed, John nodded even though Sherlock couldn't actually see him. “I know – that old rhyme, right? Fire, Water, Air and Earth / Daemon, Undine, Sylph and Fey / Dance the Elements to your decree / For none can tell you 'nay' / But beware the one you cannot Touch / Lest all your power Sink away.”

“Oh god, that ridiculous thing,” Sherlock snorted. “As archaic as 'Ring a ring a roses'.”

“It's kind of scary that you know nursery rhymes,” John mused. “And hey, don't knock it – there's a lot of good lessons from that, after all.”

“Nothing more than a memory exercise to help children remember the Faerie attached to each Element. The first two lines are all that's needed, the rest is simplistic drivel tacked on to make it seem deeper than it actually is.”

“Anyway, was there a point to this?”

“I just thought you should know I'm quarter-Sylph. That's all. Are there any Faeries in your family tree?”

“I'm told there were a few Feys on my Dad's side, but that was a long time ago, Sherlock. Long enough for just about every trace of it to vanish.”

“'Just about' every trace?” Sherlock asked sharply, suddenly seeming a whole lot more invested than the conversation warranted. “What do you mean by 'just about'?”

John shrugged, feeling suddenly uncomfortable. “Well, Harry's got a bit of an affinity for Earth, but Dad doesn't have any magic and it's supposedly from his side, so-”

“But your mother used magic,” Sherlock broke in, still strangely intense.

“Um, yeah, but she had an affinity for Fire and cooking spells, and there were only sorcerers in her family, as far as we know-”

“Did you know most geneticists hypothesise that all magical ability is the result of Faerie blood? That every sorcerer has a Faerie ancestor, but most of them are so far back in the family tree that no identifiable characteristic remains apart from the magic?”

“I'd heard of that,” John admitted. “I know that Mum often thought Harry's affinity for Earth came from Dad's side, even though Dad wasn't magical.”

“Exactly! Even if someone appears to be completely without magic, other traits can survive and be passed on. Take sex, for instance-”

“What?” John blurted, blinking at the sudden change in subject.

Sherlock didn't seem to have even heard the interruption. “There are records of supposedly low rank sorcerers surviving sex with half-Faerie, because that resistance was inherited, but not the extreme magical talent.”

“Okay...” John said slowly, not quite understanding why Sherlock was looking at him like that.

It was an intense, focused gaze that was doing shivery things to John's stomach, and he looked away as quickly as he could. He didn't need to be thinking about sex in the context of Sherlock looking...like that. He'd done a very nice job of avoiding overly lustful thoughts thus far, and that was how it was going to stay!

So he cast around for a joke to diffuse the tension. “You know me, Sherlock – I'm the exact opposite of magical, remember?”

“Yes. Yes...of course.”

Sherlock didn't speak again and John went back to his typing, wondering if he'd imagined the disappointed tone in Sherlock's voice.

--

Sherlock had never seen spells like these before. Elaborate, circular fire wards, so complex they were dizzying, that exploded like a bomb if they were crossed. Drawn around hostages so they couldn't move, couldn't step outside the circle and trip the wards, could only stay where they were and follow the instructions they were given. Because one symbol, if erased, would neutralise the wards entirely, but the bomber never revealed it until Sherlock had solved the puzzle.

But that wasn't even the best part. No, the best part was that there were puzzles to begin with. The best part was that someone was taking the trouble to do all of this just for him. They had to be a master of fire and ward magic, ninth rank at least, though possibly all the way up to twelfth. If they weren't a full Daemon, that was.

And they did a nice job of taking his mind off that botched conversation with John. It was a slim chance, but Sherlock had been holding out the hope that John might have some kind of enhanced degree of resistance to magic, at least enough for them to kiss without Sherlock's magic trying to grab onto John and move through him.

No one was quite sure why Faerie-born's magic acted that way. Most scientists thought that, given Faeries' strong connection to their base Element, the power was more cut off in their children, which resulted in the magic becoming bottled up. There was no particular danger of an explosive release, but it meant that the magic sought an outlet whenever the Faerie-born was in intimate contact with someone. It was only a hypothesis, but it was generally assumed that the individual energies (and 'magic' didn't really apply, given that it happened with ordinary humans as well) clashed and tried to merge, resulting in the fallout that injured the non-Faerie-born participant.

But John hadn't said anything encouraging – hadn't mentioned any spells that should have hurt him but didn't – so Sherlock had resigned himself.

At least now he had something to take his mind off it. It was just a bonus that said something was so wonderfully fascinating.

--

John stood rigid inside the fire wards, willing to play the obedient hostage (no matter how much it rankled) as Sherlock and Moriarty hurtled towards the inevitable conclusion of the twisted dance they'd been doing.

As soon as Moriarty left, Sherlock dropped to his knees beside the wards, demanding to know which one of the symbols would nullify the spells. He sounded so distressed John automatically reached out to touch him, reassure him, but Sherlock literally screamed at him to stay still.

Moriarty's return put pay to any further discussion. The Daemon threatened to set off the fire ward, causing Sherlock to wave his gun around, threating to shoot him if he considered doing any such thing. John was about to end the whole silly charade when a swarm of sniper sights began hovering over Moriarty. Mycroft sauntered into view from a changing room on the other side of the pool.

“Each of those rifles is loaded with cold iron bullets,” Mycroft said, as placid as ever. “And as that fire ward turns inwards, and thus will only kill Dr. Watson and not improve your situation in the slightest, I believe you can determine the intelligent course of action.”

“Mycroft,” Sherlock said, a lot less grudgingly than John had expected.

Mycroft raised his eyebrows, as though surprised. “Come now, Sherlock, surely you realise posting the time and place of your meeting on your website wasn't conducive to privacy. I took the liberty of arranging this intervention with that Detective Inspector you work so closely with, who should be making his entrance within the next forty seconds.”

Lestrade appeared, right on cue. John found he was disappointed. Mycroft seemed to have perfectly benign intentions, but there was just something about his 'always right, always in control' attitude that rubbed John the wrong way.

With Lestrade came Donovan and two other detectives, all of them with shields so strong they were practically glowing.

“Down on your knees, hands on top of your head!” Lestrade barked.

Moriarty glanced at the policemen, at the glowing beads of red that were sniper sights hovering over his chest, at the way both Sherlock and Mycroft held their right hands away from their body, ready to throw an offensive spell hard and fast...and he started laughing.

He laughed as though he'd just heard the funniest joke in the world, and as he laughed runes around the pool began to glow, runes that glowed so brightly it almost hurt to look at them. And runes that, John realised as he squinted and shielded his eyes, were completely surrounding everyone in the room except Moriarty.

The policemen's shields flickered as their concentration wavered, and Mycroft sighed with the patience of a long-suffering saint, and made a complicated gesture with his hand...

Which did absolutely nothing. He frowned, and repeated the gesture, more slowly and precisely. Still nothing.

Moriarty was smiling, that same deranged smile he'd greeted Sherlock with.

“Oh no, that won't work,” he said. “I created these wards with the power focus that got Hannibal's army over the Alps – even if you all work together, I think it'll take at least twenty minutes to break them down. Which is about fifteen minutes more than you have.”

John wondered if the sudden temperature spike was his imagination. Given the Daemon's glee, he didn't think so.

The sniper lights on Moriarty's chest had vanished. John didn't really want to think about what that meant.

“I won't lie, Sherlock, this is disappointing,” Moriarty sighed, gazing at Sherlock like an infatuated teenager. “I'd only planned to kill your little puppy, but now that you've gone and brought these other people to our little tete-a-tete I really can't help you out.”

Sherlock didn't seem to be paying attention – he had joined his brother and Donovan in hurling spells at the wards and it seemed to be taking all his concentration, while Lestrade and the other policemen seemed to be debating something. In short, they were all acting like they were honestly threatened by this.

John blinked, bewildered, then it suddenly clicked, and he couldn't stop himself from bursting into laughter.

Everyone turned to look at him. Sherlock with the kind of concerned look that suggested he thought John had been drugged, while everyone else just looked as though they figured he'd snapped under the stress.

“Care to tell us what's so funny, Johnny-boy?” Moriarty sneered, clearly displeased with someone stealing the attention.

John managed to dial his amusement down to a broad grin. “Nothing, really, it's just...you really think this is going to work. I mean, when you brought me in with a gun rather than a spell I thought you'd realised, and I thought Sherlock had figured me out when he wouldn't let me in the flats when we were investigating those smugglers...”

John shook his head, and clamped down on the giggle trying to escape. But it really was hard to credit – everyone in the room thought that the wards were actually a threat.

None of them knew what he was.