Disclaimer: I do not own these characters, and am making no profit from their use.
Warnings: Vague implications of child abuse in some sections, assumptions of child abuse in others, vaguely slashy towards the end.
Harriet Watson's daemon, Saphelon, settles at twelve. The school library has an entire corner devoted to identifying daemons, complete with scales and measuring tape, so the very next day they sequester themselves in that corner and spend half an hour finding out what Saphelon is. Eventually, they determine she's a spotted salamander, upon which Harry snatches her up and goes off to tell their friends.
Twelve and thirteen are about the age people expect daemons to settle – though one of the boys in the school had his daemon settle when he was only nine – so when John's daemon still hasn't settled at fourteen, Harry makes a game of guessing with Saphelon what she'll settle as.
"I don't think monkey, do you?" she asks, looking out the window at John and Amarisa playing in the garden, Amarisa in the form of a chimpanzee to help him practice his rugby.
"Definitely not," Saphelon says from where she's sprawled on top of the desk. "Fox is much more likely."
Amarisa had spent most of the past week in the form of a large red fox. Before that, it had been as a dog – a Doberman – and the week before that, it had been a clouded leopard.
Harry wonders what that says about her brother, that most of the forms his daemon seems to like are wild and dangerous in some way.
"I dunno, I keep thinking she's going to be a dog."
Saphelon looks up at her. "No," she says, in that clear, simple voice that says she knows she's right. "She won't be a dog."
But Amarisa takes on more and more canine shapes as the year goes by, as though she's feeling them out, and Harry privately gloats to Saphelon. Even if she's a bit unsettled by the way Amarisa seems to prefer the forms of a jackal or coyote (and once, a dhole) to those of the domestic breeds. Still, some part of her is convinced that John's daemon is going to settle as a dog, though she acknowledges it will probably be one of the larger breeds, like a pit bull or a Rottweiler.
Until that stupid bully Thomas waylays Harry and John on the way back from school, his bobcat daemon spitting and hissing at Amarisa (currently an African wild dog) in an effort to intimidate her while Thomas tries to persuade Harry and John to part with the money in their backpacks.
Harry's blustering, attempting to stand up a guy twice her size and probably three times her weight while keeping her little brother out of the line of fire, when suddenly John speaks up.
"Leave us alone," he says, in a voice that's soft and quiet but still ringing with confidence.
Thomas, of course, laughs and pushes John roughly aside.
And in that moment, Harry hears a snarl that makes every hair on her body stand on end. Thomas pales and staggers back, as a high, frantic squeal splits the air and Harry spins around to find the source of the noise, half-expecting to find Amarisa changed into a large dog to fight off the bobcat...
She's half-right. Amarisa has changed form, but not into a dog.
She is a wolf.
Close to two metres long, with a dark grey coat that fades to white on her underbelly, she looms over the bobcat, who is now beginning to look like it's casting about for a way to retreat. Amarisa's lips are wrinkled back, exposing deep red gums and teeth as long as Harry's fingers.
Unsurprisingly, Thomas and his daemon leave swiftly. Harriet waits for Amarisa to change back...but she doesn't.
John reaches over and strokes his daemon's head, watching the triangular ears fold back under his hand.
'Oh my god...' is all that runs through Harry's head. 'She's settled. My baby brother's daemon is a wolf.'
But no, because Amarisa is shifting, almost restless, as though uncomfortable in her own skin.
"Not quite," Harry hears her say to John. "Just a little bit..."
And then Harry sees her brother's daemon change for the last time.
She's expecting Amarisa to shrink, still believing that she will turn out to be a dog, but the daemon doesn't shrink. If anything, she grows larger, her frame filling out as muscles swell beneath the skin. Her fur changes colour from graded grey to deep, pitch-black, and her eyes from hazel-brown to a bright, golden yellow.
Harry tells herself the shiver running up her spine is just her imagination. She tells herself that the wolf-like appearance of John's daemon is just her paranoia.
"See?" she whispers to Saphelon. "She's a dog."
Saphelon shakes her head, pressing her cool skin against Harry's neck as she shifts closer to her ear. "She's not a dog."
Harry doesn't think so, but manages to contain her questions until John has visited the daemon corner of the library the next day.
"So...what is she?" Harry asks. "I mean, she's obviously a dog, but what kind of dog?"
John looks up at her and then away, and Amarisa presses herself against his leg.
"She's not a dog," he says quietly.
"She's not a dog. She...she's only half dog."
The hairs on the back of Harry's neck prickle. A hybrid? She's read somewhere that, while ten percent of people have daemons that are the same sex as themselves, only point-four percent of daemons are hybrids...
"She's a wolfdog, Harry," John goes on, still only looking at Amarisa. "That's what they're called. She's half dog, half wolf."
It's all she can say.
Roy Watson likes to think of himself as an accepting father. He has no problem with Harry being a lesbian, so long as his daughter is happy. He might disapprove of Harry's partying lifestyle, but he's a parent – it's practically his duty to disapprove of this – and he knows Harry will more than likely settle down as she gets older.
He tries to be an accepting father, supportive of his children...but Amarisa unnerves him.
Roy hates himself for it, but can't help it. The daemons of his family have always been, well, relatively harmless. His mother's was a robin, his father's a vole, and his older sister and younger brother have an otter and a nightingale, respectively. His wife's daemon – Rashaan – is a tree frog, and his own Ficilia is a border collie. Even Harry's daemon is a salamander, a small and entirely non-intimidating amphibian.
But John's daemon...
Amarisa is one of the largest daemons Roy's ever seen, and a wolfdog, of all things. Most of the time she seems nothing but a very large dog, but occasionally her more frightening aspects come out, and people suddenly become wary of John.
Roy tries to tell himself that some friction is inevitable – it's their nature. His daemon is a border collie, a creature that tends its flock and protects them from the creatures of the wild, while John's daemon...is a creature of the wild.
He tries to tell himself that there is nothing wrong with Amarisa, that it only shows John's soul is strong and magnificent. But while his son's daemon is striking, it's in the same way a tiger is striking; she draws the eye because you're afraid to look away.
It used to be a game between them; their daemons ferreting out mice in the old shed out the back. Ficilia would sniff around and Amarisa would take a canine or feline shape to help her...
Now that Roy thinks about it, the shapes his son's daemon took were only rarely a small dog or cat. Amarisa was more likely to become a serval or an Irish wolfhound than a tabby cat or terrier.
Ficilia is trying to act like everything's normal, trying to jump and scurry about the shed like she normally does. But she keeps shooting sideways glances at Amarisa, the enormous dark shape that seems to slide over the ground in a way no dog has ever been able to match.
John is smiling, obviously not seeing anything wrong – and why would there be? Amarisa is just acting in her nature, or so Roy tells himself. Just because the most prominent historical figure with a wolf daemon was Genghis Khan, it doesn't mean anything; he's sure there are plenty of people with wolf daemons all over the world who are perfectly nice people.
Or so he tells himself.
Amarisa obviously catches a scent, but instead of barking or wagging her tail – like a dog would – she instead goes perfectly still, her ears flicking forwards, her lips curling back just enough to show the gleam of long fangs...
Ficilia whines in fear, and Roy can't hold it in anymore.
"Stop acting like a wolf!" he thunders, his voice echoing off the thin metal walls.
As soon as the words are out, he regrets it. Amarisa has whipped around to stare at him, and John...
John looks like he's just been slapped.
Stricken, Roy tries to reach out for his son. "John..."
The boy's shoulder jostles his as John pushes past him and runs back to the house, Amarisa at his heels.
Roy and Ficilia follow, tentatively. John's bedroom door is closed, and Roy's hand is raised to knock when he hears the muted but unmistakable sound of sobbing.
"I'm sorry," Amarisa is murmuring, her voice low. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I didn't mean...I was excited, and I forgot...I'll do better, John, you'll see. I'm sorry..."
"No!" John says, loud and defiant even though his voice trembles. "If Dad and Ficilia don't like us, they don't have to be around us. What do they know anyway? They're stupid! Stupid and mean and..."
Roy wants to open the door and make this better. But what can he say? He can't say he didn't mean it – he did, he's been choking back those very same words for weeks now. He can't say Amarisa is beautiful, because she's frightening. He can't say Amarisa is the perfect form for John, because she isn't – Roy rather wishes his son's daemon had settled as a collie or a beagle.
In the end, Roy says nothing. He leaves his son and the wolfdog in their solitude, and goes to make himself a cup of tea.
Roy vows that from this moment on, he will try to be a better father. He'll try to be more accepting, try not to stare so much at Amarisa. Ficilia will ruthlessly suppress any indications of uneasiness around John and his wolfdog.
But Roy knows that his relationship with his only son will never truly recover.
Gillian Holbrook is a school nurse, and she likes to think she's good at her job. Her own high school experience was something of a nightmare, and she chose this profession in the hopes that she could make that confusing, frightening time even a little bit easier for someone. She's taken courses in body language and active listening, and it's a rare student that won't spill their problems by the second appointment.
But John Watson is a tough nut to crack.
Gillian knows there's something wrong – his daemon is a wolfdog, for heaven's sake! – and while wolf daemons flourished in warrior cultures like the Spartans and the Celts, if a child's daemon settles as wolf now, it's practically a neon sign screaming that they suffered some form of abuse. But neither John nor his sister have ever come in with suspicious-looking bruises, and he doesn't skip school or play up in class or generally act like someone being abused.
This makes it likely that the abuse isn't current, but something that happened in his past. And whatever it was, John absolutely refuses to talk about it.
So Gillian has stopped scheduling appointments with him. He's not going to tell her, and her pressuring him is only making him more withdrawn by the day. His grades aren't slipping, he isn't starting fights…she has no legitimate reason to keep him on the counselling roster.
For the first time, she has to give up on a student.
Her badger daemon presses his nose against the palm of her hand, trying to comfort her, and Gillian cards her fingers through his scrubby fur.
She hopes that someday, John will be able to talk to someone about what happened to him, even if it isn't her.
Sergeant Amelia Trilling has not had a nice life. She knows that's what they say about her, whispering in the mess hall and between bunks, that her daemon is an Arabian wolf because her home life up until she took off at sixteen was the stuff horror movies are made of.
Shapiran settled when they were twelve, into one of the most frightful-looking daemons either of them had ever seen. Amelia likes that though – it makes them unapproachable, and keeps a healthy barrier between them and the rest of the world.
She was pleased when they made her a sergeant, partly because there was no concern about her having to mentor some of the new recruits. She knows how things work in the army; your daemon needs to be trained just as much as you do, so you're mentored by a sergeant with a similar daemon. Of course, when Amelia and Shapiran joined, there was no sergeant with a wolf daemon, so they were stuck with the rest of the dogs.
Both Amelia and her daemon were confident they'd never be asked to mentor anyone. Then John Watson came along.
John's daemon is…interesting. At first glance, your mind thinks 'dog' – a big dog, yes, but just a dog. But Amelia and Shapiran knew that was wrong from the very beginning.
Most dogs tend to submit to Shapiran instinctively. It's nothing overt; giving way for her, not quite meeting her eyes, but John's daemon…didn't. Amarisa was friendly enough and certainly respectful of Shapiran's higher rank, but she certainly wasn't unnerved by the wolf. So, really, it wasn't a surprise when they were told that Amarisa was a wolfdog.
So Amelia and Shapiran mentor John and Amarisa grudgingly, and can't help but wonder what happened to them to make Amarisa settle in that shape. Most wolves generally look rough and slightly haggled, supposedly symbolic of the fight they've had to endure or some such rot, and it's true that photos of wolf daemons always have them looking scraggly. They've never seen one look as sleek and healthy as Amarisa does.
Really, it's almost as though there's no hidden trauma in John's past.
Ragnvald knows that most humans consider John's daemon to be a dog, which really demonstrates how easy it is to trick humans.
Not so with bears. They knew Amarisa had wolf blood from the very beginning – they see wolves often enough, after all.
And wolves are the only predators bears respect. The leopard seal is no threat to them. The wolverine is merciless in his attacks, but not intelligent enough to present a problem. The snow leopard is fierce, but he comes alone and is no danger to anyone out of cubhood.
But the wolf comes with his allies, comes with cunning, and defends his pack to the death.
Ragnvald knows humans look at John and Amarisa and think 'dog' because their eyes trick them. They do not see the way Amarisa walks as a predator does, the way each step is silent in a way a dog's would not be.
Most humans have puny daemons. Small lizards and insects, creatures that would never survive in Ragnvald's home. Birds with fragile bones, able only to retreat from danger. Dogs and cats, domestic and soft, easily crushed with an off-hand blow.
But when Ragnvald first sees John, Amarisa at his side – a large, lethal shadow – he knows that here is something different.
Here is a daemon to be respected. And in time, he learns that here is a man to be respected as well.
Mycroft knows that John's daemon is a wolfdog. He knows she is large and intimidating, but there is a difference between knowing something through surveillance photos and seeing it in the flesh.
There has always been something of a size limit for daemons – those whose daemons settle as a horse or bear or elephant are smaller than a true animal would be, though it is still a mystery as to why. Mycroft knows that Amarisa is not the biggest daemon ever recorded, but she is the largest daemon he has seen with his own eyes. Most never exceed one and a half metres in length, while she is only a dozen or so centimetres shy of two metres.
Most daemons are chilled by Tehayla's gaze (his assistant says it's because she looks like she's about to lunge and pluck out their eyes), but Amarisa doesn't seem disconcerted in the slightest. On the contrary, she looks like she's calculating what angle Tehayla would come from and how to snap her neck if she did.
And if both Amarisa and John can face Tehayla and Mycroft with such equanimity, maybe they'll be able to endure Sherlock.
He can only hope that John's loyalty will be just as fierce and undying as his daemon's.
Dr. Watson seems nice, Anderson can admit that. Polite, considerate – in short, far too nice to be hanging around Sherlock.
"How long before he runs screaming?" he muses to Izeah as they drive the forensic evidence back to their lab.
"I don't like them," Izeah mutters.
"Why?" Anderson frowns.
He'd been able to feel his daemon was agitated, but he'd chalked that up to Sherlock's presence – the man has no respect for social boundaries, talking to other people's daemons like that. It never crossed his mind that Dr. Watson is the source of Izeah's disquiet.
"He has a dog daemon," Anderson goes on. "I thought you'd like him."
After all, Izeah is a beagle, and Watson's daemon seems to be some kind of exotic husky – dog daemons usually like each other.
Izeah shakes her head vigorously, her ears slapping the air. "She's not a dog."
"Then what is she? Looked a bit too big to be a coyote-"
"She's not a coyote, either," Izeah interrupts, looking out the window. "I don't know what she is."
Izeah is a scent hound, which means when she catches a whiff of something out of the ordinary, she follows it to the ends of the earth. Anderson knows he's the same; she's his daemon, after all.
They try not to let it bother them, but they can't help it. They're scientists – they're used to knowing how and when and why, and not knowing what Watson's daemon is bothers them, like an itch they can't quite reach.
Sometimes Anderson wonders if that mystery is why Sherlock's polecat seems so smitten with the canine.
And then there's a nasty confrontation at the house of people who've been fighting daemons (which, frankly, makes Anderson want to be sick), and the next thing he and Izeah know, there's a rumour going around Scotland Yard that Watson's daemon is a wolf.
Frankly, they don't believe it, which is why the next time Anderson is giving his report to Inspector Lestrade, he tries to subtly probe the truth of it.
"Oh, and you might want to watch how much the new officers drink on their lunch breaks – one of them was saying Watson's daemon is a wolf, if you can believe it."
"Wolfdog, to be precise," Lestrade says. His voice is unconcerned, but his daemon's gaze has zeroed in on Izeah like a laser. "Or so Sherlock informs me – will that be a problem?"
Anderson replies automatically, the usual 'certainly not, sir', but he can't deny that he and his beagle are slightly stunned as they leave the office.
"Well, at least now we know why she didn't smell like a dog," he tries to joke.
But if he's not feeling humorous about the situation, his daemon certainly isn't, and Izeah just looks sadly up at him.
Anderson can't help but sigh. "The poor sod."
Anderson knows about wolf daemons – everyone knows that they're the warrior's daemon, the traditional daemon of the ancient samurai and the berserk fighter alike – but he has no inkling of the kind of life someone would have to live to have their daemon settle as a wolf in this day and age.
Whenever he sees Watson after that, he can't help but feel sorry for the poor man. He and Izeah try to hide it, of course, but they know Watson and his daemon see it anyway.
He understands it might not be welcome, but can't understand why Watson always seems so...angry. It's not like Anderson and his daemon can help what they know.
They know his daemon is a wolfdog, and they can't help but pity him for it.
Sherlock understands John and Amarisa are discomforted by compliments, but can't understand why they look so astonished. It's not like this is the first time Raniel has called Amarisa beautiful, though he supposes it's the first time they've heard him say it.
Raniel has turned away and is frantically grooming himself on Sherlock's shoulder, as though embarrassed. Sherlock can feel heat in his cheeks that he fervently hopes isn't a blush – they have nothing to be ashamed of, after all. They only spoke the truth.
Amarisa is beautiful, and they can hardly be the first to say so.
Still, she and John might do them a favour and stop looking so dumbstruck about it.
"Close your mouth!" he snaps at John. "You look ridiculous."
"Sorry," John said, obeying automatically. "It's just...no one's ever said that before."
No one has ever called Amarisa beautiful before? Here is further proof of humanity's stupidity, not that Sherlock needed it.
"No one?" Raniel echoes, as disbelieving as Sherlock.
Sherlock thinks daemons are, in essence, people's souls. In might be an overly romantic idea, but he think it's true. People with ragged daemons have faced hardships in the formative years of their life, people with crippled daemons are usually warped and twisted in some manner...
And for all Amarisa's fierceness, there's a reason her form is, at its most basic, big and warm and magnificently loyal.
"You really think I'm beautiful?" Amarisa murmurs, looking up at them.
"Of course," Sherlock snorts, unable to see why either she or John should need such reassurance.
Of course Amarisa's beautiful.
She's John's soul; she could never be anything else.
AN: Thanks to my beta, ginbitch, who's been very good about me bombarding her with stories even though she's very, very busy!