John stopped keeping a list of winged people long ago. There were just too many, and besides, it didn't really matter. Wings were a part of his life now, one that he could barely remember being without. He couldn't help continuing to keep note of the more fantastic ones in his mind, though. Like, for example, those belonging to the man in the light brown trenchcoat in front of him in the queue at John's favorite chippy.
They were unlike any John had ever seen before- shadows of wings, the absence of them, not the almost tangible ones that he had gotten used to. Huge and menacing, but almost shielding too, not like the boney monstrosities that he saw sometimes on the criminals that he helped Sherlock catch. And, when John looked closer, he could see that the wings also seemed somewhat tattered, like the man himself, who stood with his shoulders hunched, glancing around nervously.
John knew he shouldn't- how do you ask someone what's wrong with their wings?-but he was overwhelmed by curiosity. He tapped the man lightly on the shoulder.
The man instantly spun around faster than was humanly possible, a shining blade appearing from nowhere in his hand, and a look of desperation and terror on his face. A girl sitting by the window saw and screamed, and suddenly everyone around them was panicking and running out the door. John ignored them, unmoving, his attention focused inescapably on the gleaming sword that had come to rest on his neck. He raised his hands and smiled a little to show that he meant no harm. The man stared at him for a moment, not seeing, face twisted in fear and rage. But then his eyes flickered over John's shoulder, to where John imagined his wings were curled protectively over him in fear. His expression cleared, and the blade disappeared. "What?" he asked shortly, oblivious to the chaos he had just caused.
His voice was gruff and deep, and his accent sounded American. He was no tourist, though. And his gaze was intensely piercing, as though he was looking through John's body and deep into his soul.
"Erm," John said, unsure how to ask, suddenly worried that he'd just gotten the attention of a serial killer, or worse. "You can see them?" he asked hesitantly.
"Yes," answered the other man.
"Why are yours…?" John trailed off, unsure how to describe the stranger's wings, so he resorted to gesturing to them instead.
"I am an angel of the Lord," the other man said, his face completely serious. "My name is Castiel."
John's first response was to snicker in disbelief. He wanted to reject this 'Castiel's' statement out of hand. For one thing, he'd never really believed in angels, even before Afghanistan, when he went to church on a regular basis. For another, the likelihood that an angel would be queuing to get a parcel of fish and chips... But then he thought about the way the man looked through him, and the grave wisdom behind his eyes, and the peculiarity of his wings, and believed.
"Can you fly?" he asked.
"Yes," Castiel answered.
John's breath caught as a long-forgotten dream came rushing back to him. "Can I?"
"No. The wings of humans are nothing more than remnants from a time long ago. They are shadows, nothing more."
"But yours look…" John began, but Castiel interrupted.
"You can see only the silhouette of mine. My true wings would burn out your eyes."
"Oh." John was disappointed. He didn't dare ask why the angel's wings looked so ragged, but the question that he'd been asking himself daily, despite Mrs. Hudson's suggestion, dragged itself out of his lips unbidden instead.
Castiel stared at him again, assessing. John nearly gagged at the a sharp tug as his memories of the pool, the explosion, were abruptly dragged to the surface of his mind, and reflected in the angel's sympathetic eyes. "Because you were hurt," Castiel answered. "We couldn't help then. But we can help now."
He cocked his head to one side then, listening, and a moment later John too heard the sirens of at least a dozen cop cars closing in on the store. He turned to look out the window. When he looked back, Castiel was gone. John sighed, and slipped out through the kitchen door at the back just in time to see the police screech to a halt at the building's entrance. He ran all the way back to 221B, and pretended that he could feel the wind make his wings billow.