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hdm_221b

Fic: Whiskey and Take-Away, John/Sherlock, PG

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Nov. 27th, 2011 | 09:41 pm
posted by: justwolf in hdm_221b

Fic: Whiskey and Take-Away
Fandom: BBC Sherlock and His Dark Materials (Philip Pullman)
Pairing: John/Sherlock (in a way)
Rating: PG
Summary: Cassius isn't like anyone else's dæmon. John's beginning to think he doesn't mind.
Warning: Alcoholism and PTSD-like symptoms mentioned.
Notes: Continues from my previous fic Panes of Glass. Cross-posted to johnsherlock.



John knew he had no particular deductive powers, but he could tell right away when someone was an alcoholic. It wasn't how they held themselves or how they spoke, because those could vary from person to person, it wasn't even a tremor in the hands or their pallor: it was a certain smell. Only alcoholics had that smell, though frequently it was not strong. It wasn't even a particularly bad smell, and it could probably pass undetected around people who did not recognise it. But John knew it, he knew it at once, had known it all his life. It made him think of home, of the steps up to his house and the way the hallway smelt when he opened the front door, the way his mother had always smelt when she came into his room to wish him goodnight. It was the way Harry smelt now, the way she smelt even when she swore she had not been drinking.

So for a moment he couldn't concentrate on the young woman in front of her, could not hear her description of symptoms, could only smell the scent she carried with her, and think of the broken crockery in the sink at home, and his mother singing softly in the hall, singing softly and in-key. John, at nine, had stood there, looking at the crockery and listening, and now he remember with painful clarity how much he loved his mother and how glad he was that she was singing. It was always a good day when she sang. They often went out to restaurants and bought too many things from the menu, and Harry came down from her room and went out with them and briefly her face was full of life.

Stella bit him gently on the wrist. She was sitting on the table next to the computer, maintaining her familiar bored stare.

“How long has this been going on?” John said, in answer to the woman's description of her stomach upsets, and he listened carefully to her answer. Her robin dæmon looked slightly agitated, but she was articulate, like Harry. So many people did not understand how sensible and articulate alcoholics could appear.

*

Stella had never liked it when John drank anything, and so he did it only rarely, though he knew he was not and would never be an alcoholic. Some people were and some people were not; some people had the potential and some people did not. John was one of the lucky ones. Still, Stella tilted her head away and nipped him at inconvenient times and would not let him stroke her at night, and he understood her distaste perfectly, so he did not drink much. He liked Tokay, which has been consumed sparingly at certain functions when he was a student, and he did not mind drinking red or white wine. His mother drank whiskey or vodka; he did not know what Harry drank most. He knew he should find the smell he associated with alcoholics unpleasant, but in truth, he didn't. He found it soothing; it reminded him of his mother, of the colour of the wallpaper in his childhood bedroom, of the yellow pattern on the dinner plates, and the sound the door made when it clicked shut behind him.

He had not thought of those things in a long time, had moved away from and dismissed them as unimportant, but now they rose up in his mind again, and he could not dismiss them. Waking up between three and four in the morning, his breath harsh and Stella pacing restlessly, he longed for the smell of home: the smell of alcohol on clothes and on breath, the smell of limes and musty sheets. He curled into a ball at the centre of the bed, away from the pillow, which suddenly and without reason reminded him powerfully of his nightmare. Stella hopped up next to him, and curled around him, pressing her face into his neck. He stroked her chin and buried his hand in the soft fur of her belly.

“You never used to like me to touch you like this,” he said softly. He could feel her dry nose just below his ear.

“We're not the same, are we?” Stella said.

This question did not require an answer. John knew he'd ache if he slept like this, curled up awkwardly on his bed because the old position seemed guaranteed to construct another nightmare, to have him trapped in a sleep full of swimming pools and gunfire and death. He was too tired to move; he wasn't working tomorrow; Stella was curled comfortingly around him: he slept.

He woke.

There was sunlight coming in around the curtains. The monkey twitched his bed covers, small black hands perilously close to John's shoulder, letting a draft of cold air into the warmth. Stella batted at him half-heartedly, and John shifted, aware that he was, as he had predicted, sore.

“Your sister rang,” Sherlock said. He was standing by the door, drinking what smelt like coffee from a chipped yellow mug. He had not brought anything for John.

“Oh,” John said. Stella stirred and sat up, twitching her tail.

“We told her you were out,” Cassius said. He moved up the bed, following Stella, reaching out one small black hand to touch her fur. She bristled slightly, but allowed him to stroke her. John felt her irritation and then felt soothed by the contact. “But we were pretty vague. You can say you've just come in if you like.”

“Mmm,” John said. He looked at Sherlock. Sherlock, as ever, seemed unaware of his dæmon, as if they were not attached as they should be. Then Cassius released Stella's fur from his paws and leapt lightly off the bed, and bounded over to Sherlock. Sherlock reached down with his left hand and brushed the top of Cassius's head vaguely, and then his ruff of white fur.

Cassius glanced up at Sherlock, and then said, “We thought you might not want to talk to her. We weren't sure.”

John thought that Sherlock did not want to give his opinion on what John's feelings might be one way or the other, and if he had a dæmon that kept quiet like a normal person's, John would not have known that Sherlock had thought about it at all. But he was strangely comforted by the knowledge that Sherlock had, and found that he felt less disoriented than he did most mornings, having been pulled from sleep before it could plague him with painful images.

“Thanks,” John said. “Yeah. I'll get dressed.”

*

The study of alethiometers had been attempted by students at various different universities all over the country at one time, but the field had grown smaller and smaller, until it was now taught at only one college in Oxford, and then only at post-graduate level. Sherlock, being the only person alive who could read the alethiometer, did not bother with this course; he did not even study experimental theology. He was interested in how the alethiometer worked, of course he was, but he was more interested in what it said, and what that told him about the world, about what Dust had to say about itself; how those tiny particles knew themselves and knew everything around him. How Dust loved the settled dæmons of adults, the awareness people had of themselves, how the world fit together controlled by its tide, and how its tide was in turn controlled by how the world fit. No one else understood Dust the way he did, but Sherlock was not interested in explaining it. It would take too long.

He often told Mycroft that reading the alethiometer was not difficult, but Mycroft never seemed to believe him; in fact, no one did. At least they did not think he was making it up. He had swiftly proven that he could read the alethiometer, unlike everyone else who could not even be prevailed upon to really try. (In their defence, Sherlock was a truly terrible teacher.) No one who could not read the alethiometer could understand Dust; so Sherlock considered himself to be the only person who really understood it.

He went to university, but he didn't finish the course. It was too easy and swiftly became boring. The other students were very trying. If he wanted to talk to someone, he had Cassius. If he wanted to talk to someone other than an extension of himself, he had the endless, vital conversation with the alethiometer.

And now he had John. Cassius was fascinated by John, and John's dæmon. This had happened before, once, but Sherlock had been very young then and he had not expected it to happen again. He tolerated it because he had to allow Cassius certain liberties; Cassius became intolerable otherwise. Cassius read books and texted people and read people's lives in their faces and their clothes and their dæmons. Cassius was never content to be still, so he turned the world into chaos around Sherlock while Sherlock sat still and read the alethiometer, or conducted experiments, or thought.

Now Cassius was restless because John was out.

“He's tired: he hasn't been sleeping well,” Cassius said.

“Hmm.” Sherlock didn't look up. He was stretched out on the sofa, reading the alethiometer. He could hear Cassius, though, rustling on the floor.

“And he's still having bad dreams. And seeing his sister makes him sad.”

“Hmm.”

“At least I think it does,” Cassius said. “They don't get on; we know that, don't we?”

“Hmm.”

Cassius scrambled up behind Sherlock on the sofa and then inserted himself between Sherlock and the alethiometer, curling his tail around Sherlock's neck, his soft fur tickling Sherlock's nose. Sherlock sighed and sat up, trying to dislodge him. Cassius clung, and Sherlock resigned himself to stroking Cassius's fur. Cassius reached out and stroked Sherlock's hair in return, small fingers soothing Sherlock's scalp.

“I was just figuring something out, you know,” Sherlock said.

Cassius fixed him with a familiar look. “No you weren't; you were stuck.”

“You were distracting me.”

“Hmm,” Cassius said in exactly Sherlock's voice. He softly stroked Sherlock's scalp just above his left ear, drawing Sherlock's hair between his fingers. Despite himself, Sherlock began to relax. His hand went slack on the alethiometer, and he shifted slightly, resting it on his chest, just below his collarbones. It was heavy there, the dull gold warm. It felt reassuring.

Cassius said, “I want him to touch me, you know.”

“I know,” Sherlock said. “He won't.”

“He will,” Cassius said. “Stella lets me touch her now. Will you mind?”

“It doesn't matter if I mind. You do what you want.”

“I know,” Cassius said, taking his hand out of Sherlock's hair, “But I'd rather you didn't.”

“I wouldn't mind,” Sherlock said.

Cassius made a tiny, triumphant monkey sound. It was almost startling in the small flat. “Good,” he said. Then, “Will you touch her?”

Sherlock picked up the alethiometer again. He held it above his face, his eyes out of focus. Then he brought it to his mouth, as if he was going to kiss it, but instead he just rested his bottom lip against its face, as if he wished to feel its coolness and smoothness with the sensitive skin there. “No,” he said.

“You might like it,” Cassius said.

“No.”

“It doesn't have to be foreplay, you know,” Cassius said. “People do it because it's intimate. Because it feels nice.”

“You think about it a lot,” Sherlock said.

Cassius shifted position, tail trailing over Sherlock's chest. “Well, I like you and everything, but sometimes I'd like to get close to someone else, too.”

“Dæmon aren't supposed to feel like that.”

“Sherlock,” Cassius said, his voice full of contempt.

“I know, I know, we're not like everyone else,” Sherlock said. He pushed Cassius out of the way and picked up the alethiometer again. He wasn't calm enough to settle into a state where he could read it, but he couldn't stop himself from trying. Cassius sighed and climbed off Sherlock, lifting up a book and a phone.

*

The smell was soothing, it was familiar, it shocked John by how soothing and familiar it was. He was reminded again, keenly, of home, and the reminders weren't just of sad things. You don't realise what your family does isn't normal when you're young. It's just how things are, and you don't see the ruin. You just get on with it, and you see the good things: the laughter, the songs, the flowers in the garden, the familiar smell of the sheets. The restaurants, the bars, the familiar face. It's only when you're older you realise you could have something different, and maybe that difference would be better.

In the Harry's flat, John breathed in deeply and thought about home. The familiar steps going up to a green front door that belonged to someone else now. The apple tree which grew a large crop of cooking apples every year, and which they never harvested because none of them knew what to make with cooking apples. John had liked the smell of them in autumn, the smell of them fermenting into the grass. He stood in Harry's flat and inhaled, and felt, for a moment, soothed.

Then he went and spoke to Harry.

On the way home, he worried he'd picked up the smell too, that he smelt like an alcoholic and people around him would know. Not everyone, but people like him, people who'd been touched by alcoholism, and he felt ashamed. His thoughts about home suddenly seemed shameful too: how could he remember any of it fondly when it had shaped Harry's life into what it was?

Stella, pressed against his legs on the tube, spoke to him directly. It was rare for her to speak in public, almost unheard of, and he hoped no one was listening. She said, “You know there's nothing you can do for her.”

She'd briefly tried to lick Harry's dæmon, Lucia, a Siamese cat, but Lucia had just spat at her listlessly. Stella had then remained aloof, radiating calm and indifference at John for his sake.

John buried his fingers in the thick hair on her head. “Nothing?” he said softly.

“Nothing,” she replied.

He went to have a shower as soon as he got in, not even bothering to greet Sherlock, or Cassius, who popped his head around the door. He stood in the hot water for a long time, letting it roll down his body and into his eyes. He usually showered at speed, but now he just stood there, letting steam build up around him. He began to feel very calm, and he supposed the shower was working on him. He turned it off, and opened the curtain. Cassius was sitting on the bathmat, stroking Stella, who was lying on her side and allowing him to scratch her ears and her belly. She was purring softly, and even drawing her claws in and out of her pads rhythmically. They seemed lost in each other; neither look up at John.

He'd never been naked in a room with a dæmon that wasn't his unless he was in an intimate relationship with the dæmon's owner, and he was not sure how to react. He thought perhaps he would be angry, or anxious, but Stella was so calm it was difficult to feel either emotion. He felt a little dazed. Stella purred more loudly, her eyes almost shut, and Cassius rested his head on her flank, face very pale against her bright fur, dark fingers still stroking her thick belly fur.

John realised he was getting cold, and stepped out of the bath, trying not to drip on either dæmon. He towelled himself off and pulled on his trousers and his jumper again. He felt sleepy, and dazed, but there was no point in going to bed. It was still early. He worried, then, for a second, that his clothes, too, would have that smell from Harry's house, but they seemed to smell only of laundry powder and smog. He sat on the edge of the bath, watching the two dæmons.

Then he said, “Can we do this somewhere that's not the bathroom?”

Cassius scrambled upright, but Stella just purred. John bent down and picked her up, and she flopped bonelessly against his chest.

“This is nice, isn't it?” she said, yawning. John chuckled, feeling deeply calm, almost forgetting why he had been upset before. The events of the morning suddenly felt distant, and he thought Cassius must have worked some kind of magic on his dæmon, because such a change did not seem possible.

He went into the sitting room and flopped down on the sofa. Sherlock was curled up at one end, the end closest to the bathroom, probably because being as close as possible to his dæmon would have made him the most comfortable. He was writing something rapidly in a little green book, a selection of symbols that did not resemble English, and he didn't look up when John sat down. Stella flopped in his lap, and Cassius sat beside her, stroking her face and her ears and under her chin. She began purring again, a low, soothing rumble.

Then Cassius did something very strange: he climbed into John's lap.

For a second, John felt absolutely overwhelmed by the strangeness of it, the wrongness of feeling the weight of another man's dæmon on his lap. There was also a strange, elated feeling running through him that he could not contain or make sense of.

“Sherlock,” he said.

Sherlock didn't move. His eyes were fixed on the little green book, and he didn't look up.

“It's fine,” Cassius said in John's lap. He pressed against Stella's tummy, and she drew him closer to her with one front leg. “We want this. Really.”

He looked at John with steady intelligence, and John did not feel he could doubt him, despite Sherlock's apparent indifference to the whole thing. John realised his hand was hovering close to Stella's flank, and, given their position, equally close to Cassius.

“Stroke me,” Cassius said. “Please. We want you to. I want you to.”

And, tentatively, and feeling as if he had been longing for it for months, though he did not think he had really considered it more than once or twice, John reached and touched Cassius. First he touched the ends of his fur, the thick outer layer of black and white hair, and then, as Cassius arched into his touch, he stroked more firmly, fingers burying themselves in Cassius's dark hair. His heart raced as he did, for he had only once before touched someone's dæmon, and then he had thought he was in love, and he knew doing this so casually was somehow wrong, but he couldn't stop himself now that he had begun, and Cassius's fur felt delicious against his fingers, and he felt himself slipping into a sort of sleepy reverie.

He leant his head back against the sofa and felt Stella shift and settle against his torso, and Cassius lolled against her, and now their fur was mingled, Cassius's melting into Stella's and he stroked them both, and though each dæmon's fur was equally fine and silky, John could somehow always tell when he was stroking Cassius's fur, and he liked knowing that, liked the intimacy of it all. He felt comforted, he senses full of the two dæmons: their weight, and their fur, and the soft, clean smell. He closed his eyes and breathed.

Then he opened them again and looked at Sherlock. Sherlock was looking at the book, and someone just glancing at him might think he was not at all affected. But he wasn't writing, the pencil was slack in his hand, and his mouth was slightly open, and their was a glisten of perspiration high on his forehead. John looked at him, and didn't say anything, and Stella sighed sleepily, her purr growing quieter but the feeling of contentment remaining, and he closed eyes again.

Eventually Cassius scrambled off John's lap, and John opened his eyes again. He had not fallen asleep, the electric charge of stroking Cassius keeping him awake, but Stella was in a deep sleep. He kept stroking her, her body still under his hands, her breathing very slow, and a part of John's mind felt deadened and unresponsive as well because his dæmon was sleeping so deeply. Cassius went over to Sherlock and climbed into his lap instead, and Sherlock wrapped his arms around him and drew him to his chest in a gesture of surprising tenderness and need.

He looked at John at last. “Cassius wanted to,” he said.

“Ah,” John said. He paused. Then he said, “And you?”

“I let him,” Sherlock said. He ran his fingers through Cassius's fur in just the place John had been stroking.

John closed his eyes. It was hard to think straight when Stella was so relaxed. He rested his hand in her fur. “Sherlock, I...” He bit his lip. He wasn't sure what to say; what the words were for this. He opened his eyes again. All possible words felt wrong. But still, he said, “Sherlock, I don't want to give you the wrong impression. I... I don't sleep with men.”

Sherlock wasn't looking at him; he was getting a sheet covered in small number and symbols out from underneath a pile of books and anbaric cabals, and yesterday's newspaper. “I know,” he said, sounding distracted. Cassius was still pressed close to his chest. “I don't sleep with anyone.”

John wasn't sure how to respond to that. “Ah,” he said.

Cassius looked over at him. “Don't worry about it,” he said. “Be relaxed again. You'll wake up Stella.”

John nodded; this was certainly true. He gave in to the feeling of relaxation and tiredness in his head again, and his eyes began to shut. Sherlock was fiddling around with papers and Cassius had got a phone out. John could hear texting. Texting. It was now such a familiar sound.

*

He woke, later, when Stella did. He felt confused and strangely satisfied, and nowhere near as nervous as he'd thought he would. Sherlock was taking containers of take-away food out of a blue plastic bag, fingers darting over the metal because it was hot.

“You got Chinese,” John said, surprised.

“I did,” Sherlock said. “We thought you'd be hungry.”

The smell did not in any way remind him of home—they'd never got take-aways when he was growing up—but it was wonderfully familiar all the same. He began to undo one of the containers, suddenly feeling very safe.

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Comments {14}

saeadame

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from: saeadame
date: Nov. 27th, 2011 11:18 pm (UTC)
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Wonderful! I quite like John with a feline daemon, I think canines fit him well too, but Stella adds an interesting dimension to his character. Sherlock and Cassius are also very interesting in this, and I'm hoping for more to see how the relationship grows and changes with this new "thing" of John touching Cassius =).

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this our chameleon

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from: justwolf
date: Nov. 28th, 2011 09:15 pm (UTC)
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Thanks so much, I'm really glad you liked it! I think canines work well for John too, but I wanted to show another side of him. I'm glad it worked for you!

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rojo3131

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from: rojo3131
date: Nov. 28th, 2011 12:12 am (UTC)
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I think it's quite interesting what you've done here; Cassius is practically the Sherlock we know, and Sherlock has this obsessive, misterious personality which suits him quite well.
On the familiar smell of alcoholics, it was really well written and though I imagine it must be hard to write about smells (it difficult to explain them in RL!) you did it succesfully. So congrats, and I hope you continue this, I'd like to know if the humans in here will get together at the end.

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this our chameleon

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from: justwolf
date: Nov. 28th, 2011 09:18 pm (UTC)
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Thank you, I'm glad you liked it. I was wondering about whether having a dæmon would change Sherlock's personality--it was one of the reasons I wanted to write this fic!

I love your icon by the way.

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Practically everyone is

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from: lindentreeisle
date: Nov. 28th, 2011 12:13 am (UTC)
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Lovely! I liked this a lot. And I liked the idea of demon-touching being turned into a sort of platonic intimacy. Indpendent-minded Cassius. :) It's interesting to see Sherlock's studiousness and his eccentric energy separated into two different beings. I don't think I've seen an HDM crossover do it quite that way before.

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this our chameleon

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from: justwolf
date: Nov. 28th, 2011 09:19 pm (UTC)
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Thanks, I'm really pleased you liked it! I was really curious about whether having a dæmon would alter Sherlock's personality, which was why I decided to write this. I'm glad you found it interesting!

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Stacey

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from: ivory303
date: Nov. 28th, 2011 03:31 am (UTC)
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Lovely. I feel quite peaceful myself after this!

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this our chameleon

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from: justwolf
date: Nov. 28th, 2011 09:19 pm (UTC)
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Thank you! That's the effect I was going for :)

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talimenios79

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from: talimenios79
date: Nov. 28th, 2011 09:27 pm (UTC)
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This was really beautiful.

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this our chameleon

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from: justwolf
date: Dec. 1st, 2011 08:54 am (UTC)
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Thank you! :)

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Poetry

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from: joking
date: Dec. 1st, 2011 05:14 am (UTC)
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This is really, really cool. I love this intimacy between John and Sherlock that neither can quite articulate; only their dæmons can truly express it.

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this our chameleon

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from: justwolf
date: Dec. 1st, 2011 08:54 am (UTC)
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I'm really pleased you liked it! Thank you.

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wrabbit

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from: whatifisaidno
date: Dec. 18th, 2011 07:00 am (UTC)
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Wow, this is great. I really like how different Sherlock is and so believably calm and introspective with a daemon to keep up with his other hobbies.

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this our chameleon

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from: justwolf
date: Dec. 18th, 2011 10:15 am (UTC)
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Thank you so much! I'm really pleased that Sherlock worked for you. I was thinking about him a lot, and whether having a daemon would make a difference to him, so I'm glad my interpretation worked.

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