The room looks very cosy. Filled with books, rugs, pictures, various knick-knacks, comfortable-looking furniture and earthy colours, it’s the perfect depiction of warm domesticity. A bit messy, maybe, but really that only makes it seem more lived in, more like a home.
The thing is, the room shouldn’t be a room at all. Not this kind of room, anyway. It should be a chamber, or a basement, or possibly a laboratory; it should not be a place normally used for napping and watching telly. Who’s ever heard of anyone performing a demon summoning in their lounge, the demon wonders as he absently glances down at the summoning circle that brought him here-
-and has to bite his tongue almost hard enough to draw blood to stop himself from bursting out laughing.
“You are not what I was expecting.” The voice interrupts his woolgathering.
That makes two of us, the demon thinks, finally looking up at his summoner (Sherlock Holmes, the magic surrounding him whispers helpfully) – a striking, if not conventionally handsome man, taller than him (though that isn’t saying much) and dressed to his nines in an expensive-looking suit (not that he’s an expert).
“Sorry,” he says. “I don’t get summoned very often. Keep forgetting a dramatic entrance is supposed to be part of the deal. Would you like me to sprout a few spikes? Grow wings? Or hey, I can call up some smoke and lightning and ominous sound effects, if you prefer.”
An amused smile stretches Sherlock’s lips. “No need. This is far more interesting, considering. Every demon on record is described as either monstrously terrifying or breathtakingly beautiful. I have never heard of a demon with a forgettable face and a propensity for ugly jumpers.”
The demon looks down at his jumper. Okay, so it might not be the most flattering article of clothing in the world, but it sure looks a hell of a lot more comfortable than Sherlock’s two-sizes-too-small shirt. “To be fair,” he replies, “so far every demon on your record has been either a seducer or a destroyer. Drama is kind of part of their nature.”
“And you are neither.”
“Of course not.”
“Then what kind of demon are you?”
The demon blinks. Then he frowns. “If you don’t know that, then you must either be a novice, which you seem a little too old for, or you’re not a professional magic practitioner at all.” The latter would certainly explain the unusual setting.
The man smirks. “Why, because I refuse to take anything the books might have to say at face value? I already know for a fact that the fools who wrote them got at least one major detail completely wrong. Why not this one as well?”
“So you are a Mage?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“Are you physically incapable of giving a straight answer?” the demon asks exasperatedly.
“The books are quite clear on the importance of not giving away any more information than absolutely necessary to your kind.”
“Thought you didn’t believe the books.”
“It can’t hurt to be cautious.”
The demon raises a sceptical eyebrow. “A non-Mage summoning a demon, when the last known successful binding was performed over two thousand years ago, and most of the attempts since, thirty four by my count, have resulted not only in failure but in the death of the summoner. You don’t sound very cautious to me.”
“Didn’t say I wasn’t a Mage, either.”
Of course that’s the part he would focus on. “No, but my instincts did.”
The summoner snorts derisively. “Nothing but a guess, then.”
“My guesses are right nine times out of ten,” the demon points out.
“That just makes you lucky. Hardly a dependable skill.”
“No more lucky than someone who was born a genius,” he retorts. Sherlock glares. The demon grins. “You never did say,” he goes on before Sherlock can reply. “What is it that you want?”
Visibly forcing himself to relax and rearrange his features into something resembling pleasant neutrality, Sherlock walks over to the fireplace and gestures at one of the armchairs. “Excuse my manners,” he says. “Please. Sit. There is no need for either of us to be uncomfortable while we have this discussion.”
The demon lets out a surprised laugh. “Seriously?” he asks. “You’re inviting me out of the circle? You really think freeing me before we’ve come to an agreement is a good idea?”
“Technically I already did that when I called you here. Whatever the so-called experts might say, I am well aware that summoning circles only have the power to summon, not to contain.”
For someone who’s just admitted to knowing – or at least believing – that there is nothing protecting him from the supernatural being standing a few feet away from him other than said supernatural being’s whim, he appears unreasonably smug.
The demon looks down at the red hula-hoop surrounding his feet.
“Well, I can see why this one wouldn’t,” he says, stepping over it and moving towards the armchair he’d been offered. “A hula-hoop? Really?”
He almost feels offended.
“It’s a lot less messy than salt and blood, and a lot cheaper than those iron monstrosities the rich and pompous seem to prefer. You should be glad I didn’t buy the pink one.”
“Right. How considerate of you.”
Sherlock waits for him to take his seat before sitting down himself.
“So what do I call you? Do demons really not have names?” he asks once they’ve both settled in.
“Not ones that can be pronounced in any human language,” the demon says. “You can call me whatever you like.”
Sherlock hums, thoughtful. “John, then.”
The demon blinks. “Strange choice for a demon name, isn’t it?”
“It’s the first name that popped into my head.”
Okay, now he’s definitely offended. “Good to know you’ve put so much thought into this.”
“It’s only a name. If you don’t like it, pick one yourself,” Sherlock says impatiently. “Now, back to the matter of your nature.”
It takes the demon – John now, apparently – a moment to remember what Sherlock is referring to.
“Ah,” he says. “That’s one thing your books did get right.”
“The demon who answers your call is the one most suited to fulfilling your request,” Sherlock quotes.
“So you are something like a… facilitator.”
“Something like,” John agrees. “Something like a healer and guardian, too. What is it that you need to have facilitated?”
Sherlock slides lower in his seat, lifting his hands to tent them under his chin. He studies John through narrowed eyes. “I am seeking an assistant,” he says.
John boggles at him. “An assistant,” he repeats, when Sherlock doesn’t go on. “You summoned a demon because you needed an assistant. Have you not considered – oh, I don’t know – hiring someone?”
Sherlock snorts. “People are idiots. I have never met a human being I could stand to spend any great amount of time with without being driven mad. I’m sure a demon summoned specifically to fulfill my particular needs would make for far better company.”
John opens his mouth. Closes it. Lifts a hand to rub at the bridge of his nose. “Fine,” he says. “I’ll bite. An assistant to assist you with what?”
“With my work as a consulting detective, obviously.”
John tilts his head. “You mean a private investigator?”
“I do, on occasion, take on particularly interesting private cases,” Sherlock says, “but most of my time is spent consulting for the police.”
“The police don’t consult amateurs.”
“Would an amateur know that demons cannot be contained?”
“You still don’t know that,” John says sharply. “You invited me out.”
“Did I?” Sherlock inquires in mock-bemusement. “From what I remember, I only asked you to sit. You may have misconstrued that as an invitation, but we both know that had you really been confined to begin with, your misinterpretation would not have been enough to override the power of the circle.”
John winces at his blunder. There is a reason they’ve been hiding this fact from the humans. If it became common knowledge… well, he’d just have to make sure that didn’t happen.
“How did you know, then?” he asks.
The sudden manic light in Sherlock’s eyes is the only warning he gets before the man launches himself out of his seat and proceeds to pace around the room like a caged tiger.
“All those failed summonings, John,” he says excitedly. “None of the demons had any trouble breaking through when a summoner refused to take no for an answer. Not most. None. The blame was always placed on imperfect circles and weak magic stones, combined with sudden spikes in the demons’ power triggered by their rage. However, the circles would only work in the first place if your kind came from a different dimension.
“That is the currently accepted theory. But a different theory, one that didn’t gain much of a following and was soon discarded altogether, had once been brought forth by a little-known Greek philosopher – a theory stating that demons come not from the outside, but from the life force permeating our own planet. That your kind are pieces of this life force that have acquired a sort of consciousness and self-identity by staying too long in an area of high magical concentration, and which then have gone on to roam the Earth as either incorporeal observers or hidden passengers inside human minds.
“If this theory were true, then being summoned would not bring a demon into this world from another, rather it would provide the demon with a link back to Earth’s magic field and all its power. More than enough power to create your own body. Enough power to destroy the world, even. It’s a good thing your kind are not interested. In part because your origin is a neutral force, I would think, and in part because you remember what it was like to be inseparable from the whole.
“You come when called because you want to experience drive and motivation, and you can only get that from humans. That’s why you maintain the fiction of the circle’s power over you. Because you don’t want to scare us off. Yet you refuse to make deals and accept contracts. Why? Because natural forces are not meant to be confined. And then you leave when your summoner is gone because without an accepted purpose, you have no reason to stay.
“I admit it was still a shot in the dark, no matter how well the theory fit, but you provided the final proof yourself by leaving the circle with neither express permission nor reason to be angry.”
The last statement is punctuated by Sherlock dropping back into his armchair and fixing John with an expectant stare.
John stares back, speechless.
“That… was amazing,” he says when he manages to unglue his tongue from the roof of his mouth.
Sherlock smiles. “You think so?”
“Yes. That was… incredible. Absolutely incredible.”
“Then stay with me, John,” Sherlock says, leaning forward to take John’s hands and hold them between his own. “I won’t ask for any guarantees, and I promise I won’t try to confine you should you choose to go, so for as long as you want, will you stay?”
John pretends to think about it, but can’t hold back his grin when Sherlock’s patient expression starts morphing into a scowl.
Some time later, Sally Donovan says: “You’re not his friend. He doesn’t have friends. So who are you?”
His demon, John thinks. But they’ve decided that for now it would be best to keep that a secret, so, “I belong to him.”
When Sally looks at him like he’s insane, John allows a small bit of his nature – not nearly enough to give away what exactly he is – to show through. She pales.
“Here’s a bit of friendly advice,” he says. “You can insult Sherlock all you like. He doesn't care. But try not to make a real nuisance of yourself, alright?”
He turns and walks away without waiting for her answer.
Some time later, Mycroft Holmes says: “Sherlock, do you have any idea what the British government could accomplish if it had even one bound demon in its employ?”
“And by British government you mean yourself.”
“This is too important for you-”
“As usual, you are refusing to listen,” Sherlock interrupts peevishly. “Binding a demon is impossible.”
“Obviously that’s not true.”
“If you really believe that, then you are a bigger fool than I imagined.”
“He’s telling the truth, you know,” John cuts in.
“Then how do you explain your own presence here?” Mycroft demands.
“I have no reason to explain anything to you. I do have reason to keep my Master happy, which includes getting rid of annoying company.”
Mycroft narrows his eyes, but doesn’t push his luck.
“This discussion is not over,” he says as he stands to leave.
After the door closes behind him, there is a brief but charged silence.
“Master?” Sherlock inquires, straight-faced.
Some time later, Jim Moriarty says: “You can’t be allowed to go on. You just can’t. I would try to convince you, but everything I have to say has already crossed your mind.”
“I doubt my answer has crossed yours,” Sherlock replies. “John.”
John rises from his crouch, wrapping his power around the snipers at the same time. The red dots disappear. “You shouldn’t have returned,” he says. Although really it's quite appropriate, for the man's self-proclaimed 'only weakness' to be what kills him.
Moriarty stumbles back. “No,” he breathes. “This is impossible. It’s been thousands of years!”
“I’m afraid your information is a bit outdated,” John says. Then he triggers the bomb.
Some time later, Sherlock says: “You’ve been keeping me from growing older, haven’t you.”
“Since two months after you summoned me,” John confirms.
“Didn’t think you’d appreciate being forced away from your work by a deteriorating mind and aging body.”
“Completely altruistic, then.”
“Because I think I want to keep you. Or because I want you to keep me,” John says, putting down his newspaper and looking over at the kitchen, where Sherlock is currently bent over the microscope he doesn’t know John knows he stole from Bart’s. “Maybe for a very long time. Maybe forever.”
Sherlock’s lips quirk into a pleased smile. “Good,” he says without looking up.