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Theory and Practice

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When she had settled, it had been without the unpredictability and excitement so needlessly common to daemon maturation.

For recent events, the memory was all the more fresh. They had been quite young, yet not so young as Mycroft. Infuriated at the inept handling of the Powers case, he had stared her down in their bedroom late that night, said "just something sensible."

Both of them knew they would never be taken seriously; not by the police, not with an immature daemon. Yes, they were laughed off anyway when he went in--nothing more amusing than a boy hardly a head taller than his daemon--but even so, he'd always been proud of himself for it.

As a young child, he had thrilled in the fluidity of her, the multitude of vicious and clever forms she would take. For a year after the settling, they dealt with laughter and classmates fancying themselves witty, until he reached his growth spurt and she no longer appeared quite so poorly matched.

But from that day on, he always thought, I could do this. I can master my daemon.

Initially, he thought she settled on the form as a show of rebellion. There were dozens of forms he could imagine far more sensible than hers--snake, hawk, stoat, even Mycroft's annoyingly specific Pallas cat--but after twenty years he'd grown used to her. Her form was convenient enough. Perhaps, he thought at times, even elegant.

Now in their kitchen, she was restless and harried, stretching her overlarge wings. She could hardly do so for the amount of evidence that had accumulated in the past few days, and she angled her head back to glare at him with a baleful yellow eye.

"You can do as you like, Sherlock. I am not staying in here, pretending nothing occurred," she hissed, pacing another circle.

He had long heard she was unnerving, even beyond what was said of her early maturation. Most bird daemons, save for a few lucky genera, are perceived so by the placid masses. There was a reason Mycroft could get by in politics--felidae, anura, arthropoda, dull--and Mummy had remarked on that first morning how these things skipped generations.

"Too much of your grandmother," she'd said. Meaning, the French one. Meaning, the one with the severe-looking cormorant that everyone said flew too far afield.

Ardea cinerea. Wingspan of roughly 200 centimeters, height of 107. Once, in an alley with an individual who felt rather strongly Sherlock should take on his case, he saw her nearly lance through the leg of a fox-daemon with her beak.

On those few occasions when he was the target of her annoyance, he understood all too well those who were unsettled by a grey heron. Occasionally, he knew that he was wrong. Another of his weaknesses, like having a heart--at times even he had to admit his daemon was well in control of him.

"Thriaemis," he began, voice low. He hated to be overheard speaking to her in any situation, but it was particularly distasteful when she was about to win an argument.

Even more so when in the next room--

She flapped her wings again, hard enough now to knock over a beaker. "I do not care if he hears us having a row. I care even less that Geta hears us, she'd at least have a laugh." Pacing around the glass, she pointedly ignored his look--the one that said, just 'Geta,' is it now--and carried on.

"It's not as if they are apt to think us any more mad. A slight disagreement between human and daemon is hardly indicative of insanity. What's madness is you, Sherlock. You, not dealing with this entire night. You, hiding in your own kitchen, pretending you have ever been capable of a half-decent cup of tea. You, taking nearly an hour while they're laying out there, miserable--"

"Really fine without the tea, Sherlock," John called from the couch.

"See?" Thriaemis said, softly now. "The theory we have is a sound one."

"The theory we have isn't done, Thriaemis." It was a poor excuse, certainly. Thriaemis was no idiot. He was obviously avoiding John, and he knew his daemon's reasoning was sound. There was little argument against the experiment beyond flimsy social norms.

All the same, he had seen the rationale behind the taboo before, many times. After tonight, far too many.

"Such things rarely stop us," she chided.

She began neatly sorting the broken glass, small shards into the mostly-intact bottom of the beaker. Old habit, not very convincing. Act occupied to feign distraction.

Suddenly she stopped and angled her head at him, as if seeing him in a new light. "It is different, you know. When it's--"

"Thriae, for god's sake, we are not," he searched for the right word, came up blank. "He said we were colleagues."

"You were watching Sebastian," Thriaemis replied, "I was watching Geta."

As if that decided the argument, she brushed past him to leave the kitchen in her loping stride.

Irritated, he finished rinsing out the least-hazardous mugs. While John had lived here long enough to stop being irrationally concerned by the distance Thriaemis could wander, Sherlock did not trust her to be in a room with those two on her own. The sort of mood she was in, she was likely to do something stupid. Propose to them, for all he knew.

Daemons. Most found it abhorrent to consider, but surely there was a way to survive without them, as panserbjørne lived. Life without countless restrictions and taboos and being sized up every morning by pompous waterfowl. Heaven.

Thankfully, she was only sitting in his chair preening a wing with studied indifference when he brought the tea out.

John was only half-watching the television. Stretched out on the sofa, leg propped up, he still appeared far too pale. It was surprising the leg--fifteen stitches, exploding pool tile--was the only physical injury save for a few bruises on the both of them.

Geta--Anageta, he corrected, no need to encourage Thriaemis--was sitting against John's chest, long foreclaws kneaded through the weave of his jumper. John sat up, expressed surprise at the tea, fussed about in a general effort to convince Sherlock all was well.

Anageta only glanced up once.

While not exactly forbidden, staring at the daemons of others is not considered proper etiquette. That was what your daemon was for--intimidating and studying others. However, from the first he had seen John and his daemon, it had been difficult to ignore Anageta.

John had seemed so unassuming, standing there with that prop cane. A cursory glance at Anageta, and she was also placid, leaning quiet and still against John's good leg. An idiot might take her as harmless. Considering the number of people Sherlock had seen dismiss her, apparently most did.

Sherlock could not see how. She was impressive, truly remarkable.

Unlike politicians, janitorial staff, and Northern witches, doctors did not have a particular type of daemon. In his interactions with the medical profession--which, given his line of work, had been a few--he had seen everything from goats to geckos. Perhaps in such a varied field, she was overlooked as one more some-sort-of-weasel.

Once, a few days after they had moved in, he asked John. Asking a person to identify their daemon was, again, not proper form; and naturally Sherlock already knew her species. He just wanted to hear what John would say.

"What? Oh, Geta. She's just a kind of badger. Look, is it really important to the case?"

A kind of badger.

Sherlock had only ever met one other person with a ratel for a daemon, and she was responsible for the murder of fifteen defrocked priests in New France.

Understandably, Anageta became a puzzle to work on when crime was slow. He could not talk directly with her without violating more tiresome social mores, so he would ask Thriaemis. It was convenient at first, the way Thriaemis and Anageta got on. Talking in that quiet manner of daemons at a crime scene, Thriaemis with her head cocked down and Anageta up on her hindlegs. Lounging in inactivity, Anageta laughing at something Thriaemis mentioned during one of John's enforced film nights. Anageta, hackles up, bearing vicious teeth at a puma daemon three times her size as she guarded a crime scene. He could ask Thriaemis anything, and if it was possible she would find the answer.

"What did he think, when she settled to that?" he asked once. They were lying in abject boredom in bed, around three in the afternoon. Thriaemis had laughed. "Believe me, Sherlock, I want to know the same thing. All she will say is, 'it's a story John tells better.'"

Thriaemis made for a willing spy. Anageta was dependable and tenacious, as useful to have on-hand as John's Browning. What Sherlock had not accounted for was the outcome of encouraging his daemon to become so close to another.

Having passed the mug to John, he glanced down at Anageta again. Her silvery head was turned away. While he was rarely this close to her, he could not help thinking she seemed smaller somehow. Exhausted.

This was a bad idea. Ignoring John's concerned look, he started to head toward his chair, thankful John had also lived with him long enough so as to not expect anything in the way of social niceties.

He had barely turned away when he heard the one thing he was praying not to hear--the rustling of feathers.

Indoor flight was rarely practical when one had a wingspan beyond two metres, but Thriaemis often indulged. Naturally, in settling beside Sherlock she had also made certain to land unsettlingly close to John. Sherlock glared; John spilled some tea in an attempt to back away.

Unconcerned, Thriaemis cocked her head at each of them in turn. She regarded them in her cold manner, then focused her attention on Anageta.

"We have a theory," she said, addressing the back of the ratel-daemon's head.

John blinked up at Sherlock, an expression that clearly said "Is your daemon feeling all right?"

Sherlock toyed with the idea of strangling her.

Tilting her head back comically, Anageta answered. "I'm sure we're very happy for you. I'm also sure it'll keep til morning, so." She pointedly looked the other way again, and John put his hand over her silver-furred back.

Those with daemons of mammalian form are 87% more likely to initiate physical contact with said daemons, Sherlock thought. Did the form create a closer relationship? Or did the relationship create the form? A ratel was a deadly creature, to be sure, but he had often seen John scratch her head when troubled or thoughtful.

Would she feel the same as Thriaemis had, playing badger long ago?

"Of course it will," he said, thinking only of fleeing the room.

"Anageta," Thriaemis tried again, "It concerns you."

It was like watching Anderson and that oafish spaniel try to investigate a scene--painful though it may be, it was impossible to look away.

When Anageta growled and burrowed deeper into the couch, Thriaemis turned her head suddenly up at John.

"I suppose this concerns you as well, so I will propose to you while Anageta is so apparently indisposed," she said, rapid-fire.

"Uh, Sherlock? I think your daemon is proposing to me, you might want to--"

"I can hear her perfectly well, John, and whatever you may think I have no control over what insanity comes out of--"

"It's a theory, not a damn engagement, you imbecilic humans," Thriaemis interrupted. "Now, John, I'm sure you understand--unlike our sheltered friend Sherlock--the normal course of human-daemon relations."

To John's credit, Sherlock thought, he barely flinched. "Yes, I do. And you, talking to me? Not exactly in that course."

"John," Sherlock began in an attempt to take some control, "we sincerely apologise--"

The situation and Thriaemis were evidently uncontrolable. "We do nothing of the sort. If you're so concerned, John, tell Geta to stop acting in such a completely childish fashion."

The entire conversation, John was studiously trying to look at Sherlock, not Thriaemis. Geta?, he mouthed. Sherlock had little use for the international zeppelin schedules, but he was furiously attempting to recall the time of the next flight out to the Pole.

But Anageta--sensible, dependable, and not prone to becoming fixated on the daemons of others--finally sat up, turning her stocky body.

The suddenness of the manouver made John wince. "Geta, injured here, remember?"

"Yes, sorry," she said, not looking at him.

"Well, Thriae?" John and Sherlock exchanged another bemused look--it was apparent the matter was quite out of their hands. "You may as well out with it, I want to get some rest this week."

Thriaemis spoke quickly, as if certain Anageta would soon withdraw the invitation. "What happened tonight was an abomination, though we needn't tell you that. It should not have occurred, and we should have predicted Moriarity's actions with greater accuracy. I was overconfident," here, Anageta snorted, but Thriaemis carried on as if uninterrupted, "We cannot undo what has happened, but I can say that based on research regarding daemons who have experienced unsolicited human contact that--"

"That many state 'lessened distress' after the touch of his or her human's partner. Yes, we've read the bloody studies, Thriae. In case you haven't noticed, you've interrupted nearly every time I've spoken to Kiedeir, which makes matters a little... hold up," Anageta gestured at Sherlock, a sharp movement of one of her dark long-clawed paws. "Is he volunteering?"

"Certainly not," Sherlock began, but John was also speaking. "Geta, I thought we talked about this."

Sometimes, when working a case, it seemed there was no amount of data one could collect to ensure a tidy report for the Yard. Sometimes, all you could wait for was one slip of the suspect.

Thriaemis no longer seemed quite so intolerable.

"Anageta," he said, drawing John's "good, now we've all gone mad" and her attention, "naturally, we're depending on your judgment in this matter."

It was a strange sensation, to finally address her. Though he never gave much attention to propriety, some boundaries are nevertheless difficult to cross. He had never lived with anyone aside from his parents and Mycroft--who, through virtue of familial ties, had daemons which were approachable--for any length of time prior to John, and it had been oddly disquieting to ignore a tenant of his flat. Speaking to her, looking at her directly rather than through tricks with mirrors and wastebins, was almost liberating.

She looked at him, long and hard, her black eyes searching. He wondered how the Yard daemons ever survived it, her scrutiny. Thriaemis had moved to stand against his side, and he was tempted to put a hand down to her.

Whatever it was Anageta was seeking, she finally nodded once.

"Don't I get a say in this?" John asked, looking resigned. Anageta angled her head back to say something quietly to him, something Sherlock and Thriaemis were apparently not to hear. Thus far he had found lipreading daemons wholly impossible--mainly as they did not often have lips--and he could only hear when she spoke of "losing nerve forever."

Watching a person and their daemon interact was often, to Sherlock, a painfully tedious experience. Now, watching John stroke Anageta's back, hearing him ask her if she was certain, and yes, it was all fine by him, it was almost intimate.

And for all her certainty, when Anageta turned to face him again--John's hand still on her side--she was visibly steeling herself.

Sherlock stepped forward, glanced again at John, who also looked as if he'd volunteered as a ballistics target. Yet both of them were agreeing to this. Desperate, he wondered, or merely foolish?

He had never considered doing this. What he had heard from others--parents, teachers, perpetrators, victims--was more than enough to dissuade him from even imagining the experience. Now, confronted with it, he had remarkably little data to understand what it was like when one had not been a victim of, as Thriaemis put it, "unsolicited contact."

Without knowing the best method of initiating this theory, he decided the most sensible action would be to mimic that which he had often seen John doing to settle his daemon. Cautiously, half-certain he was about to be bitten, he reached over to gently pet Anageta's head.

The results were instantaneous and spectacular.

There was simply so much to process. Her fur, more bristly than he had recalled Thriaemis being. The shock of something like anbaric energy running up from his fingers, merely from brushing over her. The sound of John and her gasping, once, in near unison. The sight of John, closing his eyes, no longer looking guarded but rather something indefinable; open, surrendered.

Anageta gripped his hand with both paws when, overwhelmed, he tried to pull away. The talons were not as sharp as they had always appeared; the pawpads soft and strangely graceful.

"Geta," he murmured, the nickname strange to his voice. He rubbed over her long claws, enthralled. He knew they could kill; they may have killed. They were curious. Beautiful. The anbaric sensation did not cease, only intensified, and he did not notice the flutter of wings behind him.

"Sherlock," John's voice sounded strained, "God. Can I... Sherlock, listen."

It would be necessary to remember the potential danger of this--it was nearly impossible to snap out of such sensory overload. He did not attempt to take his hand from Anageta's neat paws, glancing momentarily at John.

"Listening," he claimed, now studying how John's hands would twitch slightly as he was held by Anageta.

"I'm certain," said Thriaemis, who had--at some time Sherlock had apparently missed--perched on the couch, "that the permission is more than implied."

John was as cautious as Sherlock had felt. Unusual, as John had never seen Thriaemis lance a daemon with that beak. The trepidation was completely uncalled for, Sherlock thought, until John's hand brushed hesitantly over the arc of a wing.

Like a completed circuit, the inexplicable sensation intensified, a swell of energy and sensation and a raw uncontrollable need for John. Sherlock gasped, wrenched himself away from Geta.

"Sorry," John panted, quickly moving away from Thriae. He was flushed.

"No, it's quite... It's not a problem. Just."

"Need some time, yeah."

John moved his injured leg awkwardly, clearing room for Sherlock on the couch. They sat for a long moment, attempting to catch their breath.

"Incredible, John. Mellivora capensis. A ratel," he said eventually. It was still wondrous to him.

Anageta seemed to grin, and John said, as if rehearsing a long-familiar line, "you'll find 'honey badger' sounds less vicious."

"Honey badger," he repeated. Useless--she had no less teeth, was no less capable, for a more pleasant-sounding name.

"Whatever she is, John, she's glorious."


The next morning when he awoke--frowning momentarily when he found himself pressed against John's side with an arm thrown over; he'd slept well on the other side of the bed to protect that leg--he glanced around for Thriaemis.

Her head popped up from below the foot of the bed. She looked down and back up pointedly, and he glanced to his side. A wordless conversation of "be quiet," and "no need to state the obvious." Sitting up carefully, so as not to disturb John, he moved to perch on the edge of the bed.

Thriaemis had a wing over Anageta. Geta had all her claws gripping feather, and had just answered his question regarding daemons and snoring.

"Preliminary results?" he asked, quietly.

"Promising," she said, glancing down again, dark fur striking against her plumage.

"We will find him, Thriae."

It is often difficult to read the expressions of bird daemons. Unless, of course, it's your daemon. It is simple, then, to see a cold smile on a heron.

"Yes. We will."