The boy was waiting on the doorstep when John Watson left for work. He paused, his hand still on the doorknob, and he tilted his head. The boy, who had been seated on the step, sighed and slouched lazily to his feet. He was, John perceived, about sixteen years old, with straight, fine, brass-blond hair that fell over his eyes and past his shoulders. He shifted his weight onto one foot, jammed his hands into the pockets of his white jeans, and stared with an indolent sort of disinterest that was entirely too familiar.
"Hey," the boy replied, his voice as lazy as his expression and his posture were.
It was very off-putting, this youth's attitude. "You're here for Sherlock, then," John said, frowning. "He's upstairs."
"Thanks, boss." While John gawked, the boy slouched through the door and up the stairs.
Well. Just another Monday, after all.
"Your mate let me in."
Sherlock opened one eye just enough to glare at the intruder before he returned to the important business of lying uselessly upon the sofa. When the adolescent helped himself to a seat, Sherlock's eyes snapped open.
It was annoying.
More annoying by far was the fact that the boy did not seem to have a purpose for being in the flat, other than that John had let him in. When the irritation in his living space kicked booted feet up on John's ottoman, Sherlock sat up.
"My time is very valuable."
Birdlike shoulders rose and fell in a careless shrug. "I don't really have any money, so you can go ahead and pretend I'm not here."
The odds of that happening were precisely nil.
"You want something." Not a question. The boy was here, which meant he wanted something.
That response was new. Sitting forward at the edge of the sofa, Sherlock pressed his hands together. "You're not stalking me, are you?"
His visitor laughed. "I suppose yes, but only for a week. This is more fun for you if I don't explain, isn't it?"
The boy had a point; Sherlock wasn't bored now. He was prepared to give the matter more thought when his phone chimed. Text message from Mycroft. Uninteresting. When Sherlock glanced away from his phone, he saw that the boy had gone, leaving a green blazer draped over the back of the chair he had occupied.
"Don't you have any coffee?" the intruder complained from the kitchen.
Didn't they? "John was going to buy more."
Why was a stranger going through his kitchen?
"Looks like he hasn't yet." Cups clattered, and the microwave beeped. Just as Sherlock started up from his seat, the boy added, "I've moved your jar of worms to the countertop, so don't panic and come running in here to save them."
He hadn't been set to do precisely that. Sherlock scowled. Oh, bloody hell, who was he kidding? He flung himself back on the sofa and silently resented the boy in the kitchen.
Presently, the youth in question returned, a cup in each hand and a pack of biscuits clamped firmly between his teeth. Without so much as a grunt, he thrust one steaming mug toward Sherlock, who accepted it out of curiosity. Milk, sugar, chocolate, assorted spices, and black tea. No...
Oh, good. The boy had spat the biscuits into his hand.
"Yes, of course." Sherlock eyed the tea with suspicion. High-quality tea, all new clothes, vague manner... "This is low, even for Mycroft." The complaint left his lips before he could quite stop it.
Sherlock burst out laughing even as he reconsidered his assessment. "Well, if you're not a spy intern, you're a runaway cadet fleeing the rigors of military school, but that doesn't explain what brought you to my door."
The boy's face fell. "Dammit. What told you I'm a cadet?"
Smugly, Sherlock pointed. "Your boots. They're the only thing you've got on that isn't brand-new, and though they've taken a few scuffs since, they were polished to a mirror-like shine, and fairly recently." -What told you I'm a cadet?- Am a cadet. Not a runaway, then.
"They're comfortable." With a bit of a smile, the cadet ripped open the biscuits. "Too bad for that. I should have bought a pair of trainers."
Sherlock was really rather glad he hadn't. Nothing else in the boy's appearance or manner-or lack-indicated military in any way. If the youth really wasn't training to be a spy, perhaps he had missed his calling.
John Watson returned home to find the sofa occupied by Sherlock and the boy from that morning. The coffee table was a mess, with two mugs and the milk - God knows how long it had been out of the fridge - standing amid a wreck of junk food packets. As for the pair on the sofa, they passed Sherlock's phone back and forth between them, each commenting "real" or "fake" before handing it off again.
John frowned at the disaster on the table. "So, er, no case then?"
Two faces stared at him with identical expressions of blank innocence that he knew better than to trust. Sherlock Holmes did not take social calls. Especially not ones that lasted all day.
"This," Sherlock said with an emphatic gesture toward the boy, "is Raaqiel. He's lazy, disrespectful, left-handed, caffeine-addicted, and a quick eye at identifying altered photographs."
Real or Fake. The implication struck John so forcefully he became a bit dizzy. Holy God, the two of them had been playing a game. Sherlock Holmes had found someone with whom to play games. That could not be otherwise than Very Bad.
"Right." John looked at the boy. Raaqiel. "Shouldn't you be getting home soon?"
Lazily, Sherlock stretched his legs out and planted his feet on the coffee table. "Boarding school, John."
John frowned. "Isn't school still in session?"
Raaqiel smirked. "I'm on assignment." From the sudden arch to Sherlock's brows, John assumed the statement was news to him as well.
"Assignment? What sort of assignment?"
Raaqiel pointed at Sherlock. "Him."
Raaqiel spent the night on the sofa, and the morning found him sprawled with one leg and one arm dangling off the edge. His green blazer covered his head, but soft snores issued from beneath it. Why, why, why had God made two of them? With a shake of his head, John headed into the kitchen for some caffeine.
Sherlock's door slammed open, and he swept purposefully for his coat and scarf. "No time for coffee this morning," he announced.
Raaqiel started upright, green jacket falling away from his face as he mumbled, "Wasn't staring at Lord Ba-" His words stopped as he came fully awake, and he blinked blearily at Sherlock.
"Right," John said cautiously as he headed for his shoes. "My spider sense tells me you're needed at a crime scene."
"Your what? No, never mind." Sherlock waved the question away. "Lestrade texted me. Called it a bloody cock-up murder, whatever that means."
Naturally, Sherlock Holmes was determined to find out.
Raaqiel managed somehow to get out the door ahead of them, despite having started from a dead sleep. He slouched to the curb and flagged down a cab, but he didn't get in.
"Go on," he said to Sherlock. "I'll catch you up."
Sherlock shot a dubious glance toward the boy. "With four and a half quid in your pocket?"
Raaqiel shrugged. "It doesn't really matter to you if I do, does it?"
But he did. Somehow, when the cab drove away and Sherlock examined the ground approaching the crime scene, John spotted the adolescent loafing nearby. Raaqiel leaned against the corner of a building, steaming paper cup in hand. How had he managed to stop for coffee?
Sighting Sherlock, Raaqiel meandered toward them. "Hey," he said, his voice toneless. "Did you know the wankers down the street charge 50p. for hot water?"
Tea, then. The stem rising from the cup smelled strangely lemony. Sherlock frowned.
"You raided someone's garden."
He sounded almost admiring.
"Hmm." Raaqiel examined traces of green caught beneath his fingernails. "Melissa officinalis. Want some?" He offered the cup to Sherlock.
The consulting detective sent a glance toward the lemon balm tea. Then, with a dramatic swirl of his coat, he turned away. Raaqiel shrugged and sipped his tea.
As they approached the perimeter, Sergeant Donovan stared in dismay. Sherlock stepped past the tape, and Raaqiel followed.
"Hold it." Donovan's hand shot out in protest.
"What, him?" Sherlock cocked an eyebrow toward Raaqiel. "He's my intern."
"You're not serious."
John sighed. It seemed he was doing that a lot recently. "Have you ever known him to joke?"
Not really, no.
Lestrade met them with more aplomb and a dry wit. "What's this?" he objected. "It's not Bring an Obscure Family Member to Work Day."
"He's my intern," Sherlock repeated, and John suspected that he might be getting to like the sound of it.
"God save us all," Lestrade grumbled. He led the way into the tiny flat where the victim lay in a thick pool of blood. A middle-aged man, he had been completely stripped, and his clothing left in a tidy pile by the door. His torso had been carved open, and various organs displayed around the room. As for the room itself, it looked as though someone had done fingerpainting in the blood. Signs, symbols, and writing covered the walls, the floor, even the ceiling. 'Do not rebel like that rebellious house' it read above the door.
Sherlock paced carefully around the room, his feet skillfully avoiding the bloody graffiti. Raaqiel moved in the opposite direction, his gaze moving rapidly over every arcane marking.
"John." Sherlock jerked his head toward the body. Reluctantly, John threaded his way across the bloody floor.
"Well, he was dead before all this damage was inflicted..."
"Obviously." Sherlock wore his best get-on-with-it frown.
Every head in the room turned toward Raaqiel.
Sherlock caught the boy by the arm and spun him about. "When were you planning to share these hidden talents?"
"I just did," Raaqiel replied, unblinking.
"What about all of this?" Lestrade gestured to the mess on the walls.
Sherlock looked to Raaqiel. "What do you make of it?" Testing him.
The boy circled the room, gesturing as he spoke. "Sanskrit, Greek, Hebrew, Latin, Arabic, Hieratic..." Another circuit, and he elaborated: "Vedic text, bits of the Qur'an, the Egyptian Book of the Dead, and this here's directly from one of the Dead Sea Scrolls." Coming to a stop, Raaqiel shook his head. "The guy's got a serious hard-on for the book of Ezekiel."
"That makes two," Sherlock said with satisfaction. "The murderer folded the victim's clothing-no one takes his kit off to get poisoned. He stood on a three-legged stool to get to the ceiling, and must have taken it with him." He was speaking to Raaqiel, as though no one else existed. "Of course we're looking for a man. Most women wouldn't crack through the ribcage to get at the heart."
He was actually intent on teaching the boy.
Lestrade cleared his throat. "So what we have here is a religious nut with upper body strength and a penchant for writing scripture on walls."
"Crudely stated." Sherlock crouched before the heart. It rested upon a messy drawing.
"Like canopic jars," Raaqiel observed, indicating the extracted lungs and the graffiti that corresponded to them. "I don't know why he took the heart, too."
Sherlock sprang upright and turned is not inconsiderable energy on Lestrade. "He's not just a religious nut. He's a very well educated religious nut who can write scripture accurately in more than half a dozen languages. You're looking for a professor, or perhaps a scholar of theology. Look for one who's suffered a recent stressor, loss of job, maybe. He's ambidextrous as well. That ought to narrow your search."
It occurred to John that Sherlock was less interested in the crime scene than he was in observing Raaqiel. Understandable, as the boy had, in a single morning, displayed knowledge of common garden herbs, toxicology, and multiple languages and theologies. To top it all off, he had arrived at the crime scene ahead of them.
"You were holding back in there."
Raaqiel gave a start. "I was?"
Sherlock's eyes narrowed. "What didn't you want to say in front of Lestrade?"
"Ezekiel." Raaqiel's gaze skimmed the sky, as though the clouds might arrange themselves to help him find the right words. "It's a favorite of doom-prophets and... people who think they're suffering demonic possession."
"So our murderer may believe he's possessed by a demon."
Sherlock frowned. "You could have told that to Lestrade."
"Yeah?" Raaqiel stopped walking so he could properly arch one eyebrow at the consulting detective. "How am I to be certain he'd take me seriously?"
"Lestrade will surprise you sometimes."
Raaqiel shrugged. "Sure. Anyway, you weren't entirely forthcoming either."
Sherlock also shrugged. "It's not that difficult, and Lestrade isn't completely useless. He'll work it out eventually."
"I think he already knows that you know where to look for the killer."
The cab left them at West Norwood Cemetery. For a moment, Sherlock surveyed the area with satisfaction. This was the place.
Raaqiel broke away from them at a trot, heading for the old chapel. "Text Lestrade," Sherlock said to John. He gave Raaqiel a bit of a lead before following.
The boy circled around to the locked door into the crypt, and in moments he had opened it. He slipped inside. Again Sherlock waited a moment before following.
Within the catacombs, darkness closed around him. Sherlock's phone gave him enough light to pursue the strange youth soundlessly. Raaqiel headed unwaveringly toward a faint muttering sound. As the muttering resolved itself into a crude mix of Latin and Hebrew, Raaqiel's voice cut sharply through the darkness.
"You've chosen a clever one this time. He's taken refuge on consecrated ground."
The muttering ended in a hiss. "Is this what they think of me?" rasped a voice as dry and toneless as wind through autumn leaves. "They send me a whelp? A child not half-trained?"
Sherlock could visualize Raaqiel's careless shrug. "I was in the neighborhood. Thought I might drop by and tell you that you're not welcome here."
"Salvation comes too cheaply." The raspy voice broke, sounding almost human for a moment. Sherlock peered around a corner. Just barely, he could make out two shadowy figures. Raaqiel's wiry frame stood, his back to Sherlock. Beyond him crouched another, a man of large build who huddled like a child in a corner of the crypt.
"Is that it?" Raaqiel's voice was sharp, mocking. "Is that where you gained your foothold, you pathetic parasite?"
"You would know pathetic, wouldn't you? I can smell your weakness on you. Your filthy blood."
Raaqiel laughed mirthlessly. "You think you could take me?"
"I know I can."
"Come and try." Raaqiel stood with his arms outstretched at his sides. For a moment, all was silent. Then both shadowy figures collapsed.
Fallen to his hands and knees on the stone floor, Raaqiel bent his head to the ground and arched his back like a cat. "Aren't you going to call for your master?" the raspy voice taunted, suddenly coming from Raaqiel's throat.
Then Raaqiel's voice answered. "What, to deal with you? Didn't I already say you're pathetic?"
A growl split the darkness, echoing from the crypt walls. Raaqiel's thin frame shuddered, and his back arched still higher.
"What use are you?" rasped the strange, dry voice. He was beginning to sound winded. "Nobody likes a halfbreed. Your weakness. Your curse. That's all your mixed blood is."
"Hah," Raaqiel replied quietly. There was a note of triumph in his voice. A pair of wings erupted from the boy's back. Sherlock blinked hard, but when he opened his eyes, the wings were still there, emitting a soft white light.
Raaqiel lurched to his feet and threw his head back defiantly. "Yes, sometimes mixed blood can be a burden, but I am not the only one to bear it."
A strange, grating wail rang through the crypt, followed by an icy wind. Then all was still.
Slowly, Raaqiel turned toward Sherlock. "Hey." Apologetic, he scuffed one boot on the floor. "If you'd prefer, I can arrange for you to forget what you just saw."
Ignoring the idiocy of that remark, Sherlock continued to stare at the boy's wings. "You're not human," he lamented. "There's always something."
"Well, almost entirely not." Raaqiel sounded sheepish, and he may have even blushed.
"That's how you got to the crime scene ahead of us," Sherlock complained. How annoying.
"Your mates are here." As Raaqiel turned, his wings faded away. "And this one needs a hospital."
Footsteps rang out in the catacombs, and soon torch beams danced on the walls. Sherlock could have called out to the police. Raaqiel could have called to them. Instead, they stood in silence, shoulder to shoulder, contemplating the unconscious murderer.
Raaqiel left on Friday afternoon, having given no more explanation for his visit than that he was required to follow a 'person of interest' for the duration of the week, then write a report on the subject of his observation. He had taken no notes during his entire stay.
After he had gone, John remarked to Sherlock, "I couldn't quite place that boy's accent. Canada, maybe?"
"Could be Canadian," Sherlock agreed too quickly and too vaguely. John cast a suspicious glance toward him.
Sherlock had curled his long limbs into one corner of the sofa. Between his fingertips he twirled an uncommonly long white feather.
"Where'd you get that?"
Sherlock gestured toward the sofa. "It was caught between the cushions." A faint smile played across his lips, as though he might be enjoying a private joke.