John stumbles into Sherlock's life by chance, and he is, surprisingly enough, a good man. Actually a good man, not just a man who considers himself good, or one who does good things in order to impress others.
But Sherlock is very experienced at pushing good people to do bad things, and it takes him less than twenty-four hours to have John shoot a man dead in cold blood.
And yet. When Sherlock shifts his focus, letting him see what things are rather than what they appear to be, he sees that John is still a good man, still firmly belonging to the side of Heaven, inasmuch as mortals ever could.
John doesn't even believe in God. He's surprised when he curses something on the telly and Sherlock says, idly, "Blasphemy, John."
Sherlock always takes notice of sins, no matter how minor or common.
John looks at him blankly. "I don't believe in God. It's just a figure of speech."
"You don't believe in God?" Sherlock asks.
John stares at him and says, "Wait, do you believe in God?"
Well, it isn't as if he has a choice. Sherlock knows God is real just as much as he knows he's been cast out of Heaven (not that he cares; he much prefers having free will, as much as something like him is able to have free will). He can feel the emptiness in his world, where what was once light is now a cold, firm rejection.
Heaven might not care about him, but that doesn't make it any less real. He's never once doubted Heaven's existence, only its motives.
"Why wouldn't I believe in God?"
"I don't know. I always thought, since you're so -- so analytical, and scientific, that you it wouldn't be your thing. I've never seen you go to church."
The best thing humans have ever done on their own was trick themselves into thinking that science and religion were mutually exclusive. Sherlock still has no idea how that happened (though as he's the one responsible for Hell's operations on Earth, he'd gotten the credit for it).
"I don't worship God," Sherlock says. "And I don't actually care if you blaspheme."And science doesn't make God less real, he thinks, but he's hardly going to say that bit out loud.
Except that John stops blaspheming for a while after that, aside from the occasional slip-up or two, which he apologizes for. When Mycroft finds out, he sends Sherlock a smug I see you're doing my job for me again. text.
Pride, Sherlock types viciously back, And also gluttony. How's the diet going?
Living with a mortal is significantly more complicated than Sherlock had expected. Because apparently, bodies need to eat (boring), and sleep (more boring), and not do drugs (apparently more difficult to go off of when one can't just turn off addiction).
John notices when Sherlock skips meals or goes all night without sleeping, even if he hasn't stuck around long enough to realize that nothing bad would happen if Sherlock didn't eat for six weeks.
So Sherlock finds himself eating and napping on the couch and watching films whose endings are insultingly predictable, simply because John expects him to. He hasn't pretended to be human like this for a long time; it's a lot nicer than he remembers, and he assumes electricity and hot water have something to do with that.
Or maybe it's the company.
Mycroft and he have an Arrangement, of sorts.
They both know that nothing they do really matters, in the grand scheme of things. One day there will be a final battle, where Heaven and Hell will compete for their final victory. And it will be a really big deal, they're sure. But until that day comes, both sides are in and will remain in a holding pattern, able to shift the line a little bit towards good, or a little bit towards evil, but never out of vague ambiguity.
Mycroft says ineffable, and predestined, and points out that anything they do was already planned out from the start, so whatever they do is as things were meant to be.
Sherlock says who would bother to find out, and the others haven't been on Earth in centuries, and missed all the worthwhile parts, and comments that it's really against his nature to follow the spirit of a command rather than the letter of it. Or even the letter of it.
So every century or so, he and Mycroft will meet up -- at a restaurant, or on a tower, or at whatever location strikes their fancy, where they will quite civilly divvy up the events of the last century and write their reports side by side. Well, except for last century where Sherlock had offered to do a few good deeds for Mycroft if he'd write the report for him, and Mycroft had accepted.
Sherlock gets a commendation for that report -- Mycroft's better at manipulating the bureaucracy than he is, and in return, he discovers and turns in a ring of serial killers to the authorities. It's more fun than he's had in centuries.
They tell both sides that they're winning.
Everything can be spun in his favor if he tries. It's all a matter of perspective.
Sherlock solves crimes because solving crimes is interesting and he gets bored easily. He doesn't commit crimes because committing crimes is boring. He doesn't have to have fingerprints if he doesn't want to, and even if he got caught, who cared? He could change cities in the blink of an eye, if it mattered.
And, as long as people stop remembering demons are real, he's in no danger of getting discorporated and getting stranded Below for a few decades.
It's just a way to pass the time.
But the thing is, he isn't actually used to running with a human. He's forgotten that people who matter to him can be hurt. It's not a pleasant realization.
"I wasn't expecting you to follow me," Sherlock says, when they are locked in the small room together, both lightly bruised (John more so than Sherlock, as Sherlock's already willed away anything that isn't superficial). "I didn't tell you where I was going."
"Weren't expecting me to follow you? You bloody -- of course I'd follow you. What did you think you were doing, messing about with the Mafia?" John demands.
Spreading hate and the lust for vengeance, Sherlock thinks, because it doesn't matter if they're criminals. Every brother or son or lover he puts in jail is still someone else's pain and bitterness. And he'd been able to play on both sides -- putting them in jail and then promising to get them out, for a price.
It'd started to feel a bit too much like playing chess against himself, so he'd stopped a few years ago, but apparently they haven't yet forgotten him. Nor do they seem pleased. "Perhaps I shouldn't have testified at the trial," Sherlock agrees thoughtfully.
John huffs a laugh, but he's frightened. He reeks of fear. "I don't suppose you know how to get us out of here?"
If Sherlock had been alone, he'd have willed himself away by now. Or opened his wings and talked his way out, and possibly claimed a few more souls for hell while he was out it. Neither of these are possible, however, without revealing his true nature. But -- there is one thing. Mycroft.
He slips out of the rope they've looped around his wrists and takes out the knife at his waistband (it hadn't been there before, but John doesn't notice that).
"I don't think we should fight our way out," John comments.
Sherlock shushes him. That isn't what he's doing. He scratches each rune into the ground carefully, ancient symbols that have been lost in time. When he's done, he slices his palm open and presses his bloody hand to it, making it surge with power.
"What are you doing?" John asks, over his shoulder.
"Nothing. Just a superstition for good luck. I've texted Mycroft already," a lie, "and hopefully he should be able to extract us in due time."
John looks skeptical, but Sherlock refuses to elaborate.
It takes ten minutes for the rescue mission to arrive.
"Only ten minutes?" Sherlock asks, when Mycroft walks into the room, not one hair out of place. "You're cheating again."
Mycroft made a tutting noise. "There's nowhere that says I can't. I'm sure you're authorized to do the same thing."
"Lying. Misuse of resources."
John elbows him. "Shut it, Sherlock, and thank your brother for getting us out of a tight scrape."
"We weren't in any real danger," Sherlock mutters rebelliously (explosion runes can be drawn just as easily as beacon ones, and he has a surfeit of angelic blood, unholy it may be). "But thank you, Mycroft, for putting your war games on pause to come visit. I'm sure it had nothing to do with the half-dozen men you've gained to put in your secret prisons."
Mycroft smiles peaceably at him. "And I'm sure you really needed my help to get out," he says, in the same tone.
John looks at Sherlock suspiciously. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Nothing, don't mind him."
Once, Sherlock had been an angel.
His feathers had been as pure white as freshly-fallen snow, and he had resided in Heaven with his brothers, all of them happy and content under the surety of their Father's love. He'd had faith -- faith in his Father's will, and in His love. He had spent all his days in Heaven, because there had been nothing else, then.
There had been no war, no strife -- only love and brotherhood and peace.
He doesn't remember it, because that had been once of the prices paid when his Father had struck him down to Hell.
"I don't remember Heaven," he says once, at the end of the eleventh century, he and his brother high above the ruins of Jerusalem while humans -- just people, normal people, under no influence but their own, willingly committed atrocities on each other that neither side had ever imagined. "I don't remember what the gates look like, or the melody of the songs. I used to sing, I think, but I can't anymore."
"I know," and his brother's voice is so full of sorrow that it makes his heart clench. "I used to sing with you."
He hadn't known what it was to be alone, until he'd felt the absence of his Father's love and had Heaven torn from him. Before, he'd taken comfort in what was holy; now, it burns him -- too much light to his darkness.
"Do you want me to tell you about Heaven?" his brother offers, and brushes the edges of their wings together.
"No," he responds, watching the flames burn. "It was a long time ago."
"Sherlock," John asks, "Why is there a pile of wet feathers in the bath?"
Sherlock freezes. He'd unfurled his wings in the shower earlier today, because he was moulting and the impact of the warm water had made it easier to remove the loose ones. "I thought you'd gone to Sarah's."
"I did, and now I'm back. Feathers?" John's holding one in his hand -- one of Sherlock's shed secondaries, longer than his hand and black as sin. Exactly as black as sin, if sin had color.
"They were wet," he says, eyes caught by the sight of his feather in John's hand, and the way he trails its tip against the palm. "I'm going to burn them when they dry."
"For an experiment? That seems a shame," John says, and Sherlock's heart skips a beat when John runs Sherlock's feather against the underside of his chin. "They're pretty."
"They need to be burned," he repeats, and wills away the blood rushing to his cheeks. "Leave them be."
"I'm moving them to the middle of your bed if they're not gone when I need to take a shower," John warns.
"I'll keep this one, though, if you don't mind," John says. "If you were planning on burning it anyway. Alright?"
There are a lot of things one can do with the feather of a fallen angel. And even more with a willingly-given feather. And it wouldn't be hard to say no -- aside from outright refusing, Sherlock could just mention the feathers being dosed with a powerful contact poison, and John would drop it in an instant.
But when Sherlock opens his mouth, what comes out is, "Of course."
"You really should just tell him," Mycroft says casually, appearing in the armchair while John is at work. "I told my assistant."
"You're an angel. It's not the same. If you tell someone you're an angel, they're awed. Tell them you're a demon, and, well." The only ones who want to stick around are sociopaths and crazies.
"John cares for you. He's tried to save your life. Multiple times, I might add."
"I don't need him to save my life. I can't die. He puts himself in danger just being around me."
"He'd be in less danger if you weren't hiding who you were."
"He'd be gone if I wasn't hiding who I was," Sherlock retorts. "He can't be allowed to find out."
Mycroft's phone buzzes. He looks at it, then at Sherlock.
"I have to attend to something, but before I go: You might be a demon, but that doesn't mean you aren't allowed to feel love," he says finally, and disappears, leaving Sherlock to wonder what in the hell he'd meant by that.
It isn't that John doesn't commit sins, because he does. His soul is as tarnished as any other human's, dinged up and worn down. It's that the sin never gets further than that, never slides tendrils of darkness into his core. Never taints him.
Sherlock can see the spark of wanting (lust) in John's eyes when Sherlock steps out of the shower with only a towel on, and has no problems encouraging John to spend an evening relaxing on the sofa with him (sloth). But that's just part of life. None of it sticks.
It's not a policeman accepting a bribe because no one would find out, or a husband taking out his anger on his children because they can't fight back.
"Do you even care?" John had asked him, when he was toying with Moriarty.
And Sherlock hadn't cared. What did a handful of lives matter? He's seen more deaths than he could count, viewed countless atrocities lost to history. They were just souls, little things used to keep score between he and Mycroft.
Except, he cares now, because John cares.
"Ritual murder," Sherlock says as soon as he walks into the basement. Power -- twisted and improperly channeled, clings weakly to the walls.
"We think it's a cult," Lestrade agrees. "This is the second one in two weeks."
"Not a very good cult," Sherlock comments, and bends over to examine the body strapped to the table. "Cause of death?"
"She bled out," John says. "Obviously." The victim's throat had been cut, and her blood was in a bowl on an adjacent table, humming faintly with power. "But it looks like she was drugged first; there's no signs of a struggle."
It's been a long time since Sherlock's seen a ritual murder, but he doesn't remember them ever being done this sloppily. "Do you have the book they were reading from?"
"What do you mean, a book?" Lestrade demands. "We didn't find any here."
"She's lying on runes," Sherlock says, pointing at the slight amount of black paint that could be seen beneath the victim's hips. "They must have been copied from somewhere. Runes, blood, and a murder. Demon summoning. They tried the first time, and it didn't work, so they tried again. It still didn't work. We should hopefully have a week before the third attempt."
"We're working on getting an ID for the victim. What else can you tell me?"
"The book must have been passed down for centuries; they're very rare." Getting rarer, because it's on the list of things he and Mycroft had agreed humans didn't need to know anymore, and every time they find one, it's either stored in a secure location (Mycroft), or burnt to ashes (Sherlock, naturally). "We're looking for a group of at least a dozen people, tied to a cult or related to someone who was a prominent cult member. Hmm."
Sherlock looks with his true sight for a moment, seeking out the paths left by the ritual, the residue that will lead him to the killer, and sees -- nothing. Not the lingering pain of a violent death, not even the shimmer of power he can still taste in the air.
Someone who knows how to cover their tracks, who is killing girls (they're not pure, why are they even trying?) to summon a demon, who has access to power that should have been long hidden.
"What?" Lestrade asks.
"I need to call Mycroft."
Mycroft is just as displeased to hear about this as Sherlock is, and within the hour, the case has been transferred to a special task force that very politely tells Scotland Yard to go sit in a corner and stay out of the way.
Sherlock makes himself scarce -- Mycroft will be insufferable at Sherlock's having called him for help, and his men have a tendency to use holy oil in quantities that make him nervous.
"Leaving already?" John asks, as Sherlock hails a cab. "I thought you'd be more involved."
"Mycroft will gather the information for me, and I'll take care of the rest."
"And, demon summoning? Really? You can't believe that."
Sherlock shrugs. "I don't have to believe it for it to be true. The runes and sacrifice were clearly meant to summon a demon. They might have succeeded too, if they'd used someone more pure. She might have been a virgin, but she was hardly innocent."
John stares at him. "You know how to summon a demon, but you don't know that the Earth is billions of years old."
"And yet, here's a cult trying to summon demons, so I think I remembered what was important, thank you very much."
"Unbelievable," John mutters, but there is laughter in his eyes.
Except that apparently the third time's the charm, because three days later at the stroke of midnight, Sherlock feels a deep wrenching sensation in his chest and the world blurs around him.
When the world stops spinning, he is standing in a clearing in the middle of the woods. There is the body of a woman -- pure of heart, death voluntarily given, blood pooling on the ground, on a stone slab in front of him.
A semi-circle of cloaked, hooded figures stand before him, chanting in truly terrible Hebrew. Sherlock counts twelve figures in all. At the sight of him, they stop, and there is a nervous murmur.
Interesting, Sherlock thinks. Some of them didn't expect it to work. Out loud, he says imperiously, “You called me."
The hooded figures look at each other before their leader, a tall, slender woman with blood-red hair, whips off her hood. "We summoned you, demon."
Her name is Claire Simmons, and she is thirty-one years old. Her natural hair color is blonde. She was abused by her step-father when she was a little girl, until she ran away from home, at the vulnerable age of fourteen. She hurts -- she misses her mother, wonders constantly if her stepfather had turned her temper on her mother when she'd disappeared. But more than that, she's bitter, because she doesn't understand why bad things had happened to her, when she hadn't deserved them.
"Yes, I can see that," Sherlock says. He presses his fingertips to the blood on the stone slab, drinking in the released power -- it's a rush better than cocaine, like taking a deep breath of lightning and having the energy spread throughout his body. He'd spent most of the fourteenth century charming innocents into dying for him, to get this rush. "What do you want?"
Discreetly, he uses a touch of that power to send a text to Mycroft from the phone in his trousers pocket: Demon-summoning succeeded. Send team to my location at once. SH
This is not, apparently, what they were expecting when they finally managed to succeed. There is another whispered conversation. Sherlock hears his own name -- Sherlock Holmes, not the real one. Someone has recognized him.
"We want you to teach us," says Claire, when the whispers die down. "Teach us how to wield power and bend people's will to our own."
"Boring," Sherlock says scornfully. "A good actor can teach you how to do that. Wouldn't you rather I told you about your mother?"
She goes pale, and her yearning is there in every atom of her body, visible even without his true sight. Too easy. He uses that yearning to find the truth, lets the answers to what she wants to know bubble up in the forefront of his mind.
"Annabelle Roberts -- she changed her name back, after she divorced your stepfather. She's fine -- working as a receptionist for a law firm, but she misses you. She never remarried, never had any other children. I can give you her address."
Please, her soul says, even though she doesn't say it aloud.
"Your soul, if you visit her," Sherlock says, and summons the address, written on a torn sheet of paper, into her hand.
She's startled, but she slips the paper into a pocket. His. Maybe not now, but some day.
The smell of fear sharpens, but there's anticipation now too, and eagerness. Sherlock claps his hands together. "Brilliant. Who wants to go next?"
By the time Mycroft arrives, Sherlock is up three more souls and two promises of firstborn children, in exchange for money (easy), a wife (more effort, but still nothing impossible), and vague promises of power (easy, boring, and not creative in the slightest).
The murderers go without a struggle -- mostly because they're surrounded, but it may have to do with the way Sherlock's tongue has become just slightly forked.
"Three ssoulsss and two firssstborn," he says, when Mycroft joins him at the body. He looks away when Mycroft murmurs the prayer that frees her soul. "And that one. Sssuicide is sstill a --" Sherlock stops and pushes himself more firmly into his human shape. "Still a sin."
Mycroft nods. "You have her, and you can keep the ones who were already going to hell. For the children and the girl who wants to see her mother, I'll forgo divine intervention or moral epiphanies for anyone involved here."
"The girl too? She'll be one of ours -- it was her idea to summon demons in the first place."
Mycroft smiles at him -- Sherlock hates that smile. "Release your claim on her. I'll write your next report if neither of us interferes and she still goes Below."
"You think she can still redeem herself, even after she's killed and hated. You have too much faith in humanity."
"There's no such thing as too much faith. Our Father is merciful. You'll see."
Only for his favored children. Not for us, Sherlock thinks, but the bitterness of the thought has faded a long time ago. That part of his life is over now. He releases his claims anyway, save for three of the souls promised to him; they already belonged to Below.
John will be waiting at home for him, so Sherlock comes in through the front door instead of taking the more direct route.
"Where were you?" John asks. "I didn't hear you go out. You left your coat here."
Actually, Sherlock hadn't had time to put it on. He's glad the summoning hadn't happened when he'd been in his pajamas. "I found the demon summoners. The situation is handled. Mycroft took care of it."
"How did you find them? Where were they?"
Actually, Sherlock's not sure -- he'd gone there directly, then gone to the flat just as directly without taking the time to find where exactly he was."Boring. Obvious."
"Why do you smell like sulfur?" John asks, when Sherlock peers over his shoulder -- John's writing an email to his sister, talking about his week. "What were you doing with sulfur?"
“I needed fertilizer for an experiment. The scent will dissipate in a few minutes."
"You're lying to me," John says, and turns his head to look Sherlock in the eye. "But why are you lying to me?" His eyes widen. "And there's blood on your sleeve."
John catches Sherlock's wrist before he can pull it away and turns it over, revealing the splotch of dried blood on his cuff. "Sherlock," John says, and when Sherlock licks his lips he can smell John's rising anxiety. "Whose blood is this?"
If he'd wanted, Sherlock could just remove John's memory of this night. But it's not something he does often, and memory manipulation is better suited for Mycroft's softer touch. But he still considers it.
He ends up going with the truth, however, because he likes John, in a way he hasn't liked a human in a long time. "The third victim's. I didn't kill her, but I was there. I arrived too late to save her."
John's fingertips are soft as he spreads Sherlock's fingers. "There's blood under your fingernails. You dipped your fingers in it, right?"
Sherlock nods, and John rubs his thumb against the pads of Sherlock's fingers. The motion sends unexpected sparks of pleasure up his arm, and the sight is oddly mesmerizing.
"You touched her blood and caught your sleeve in it by accident. You cleaned your hands, but not with water, because there's still a little bit of blood between the grooves of your fingerprint. Handkerchief?"
"Mycroft's," Sherlock agrees, feeling warm.
"You didn't stick your whole hand in it, just your fingers -- you were touching it, maybe checking the temperature. No dirt on your hands, or on the rest of you, so you probably didn't have to hide anywhere. Um, what else?" Sherlock stares, fascinated, as John sucks his lower lip into his mouth. He looks up at Sherlock. "How much did I miss?"
His hand is still in both of John's. It distracts him enough that the truth slips out. "I revealed myself to them. I distracted them while waiting for Mycroft to arrive with his team."
John's grip tightens. "Was that safe?"
"They thought I was the demon they summoned," Sherlock says. "I was perfectly safe. Mycroft was only a few minutes behind me."
"They thought you were a demon?" John laughs. "Why? You don't look much like a demon. No pointy tail or forked tongue."
"Demons don't have pointy tails," Sherlock informs him. "They possess the bodies of humans, and look fully human unless they manifest their powers."
"So you've seen a demon then."
"On occasion." Aside from in the mirror, he hasn't seen one in decades. Below is boring.
"But how do you tell they're a demon?"
Because they're damned and their aura feels like the Pit. "There are ways. Holy water or holy oil is usually most effective. The Lord's Prayer can be used as a mild deterrent." At John's amused expression, Sherlock narrows his eyes. "You're mocking me."
"You can't seriously believe in demons."
"I don't see why not. They're just as real as angels and the Lord."
"If God's real, then why does He let bad things happen?"
Sherlock rolls his eyes. "Not relevant. Ask Mycroft."
"Because he has faith in the Lord. I don't."
Sherlock hadn't meant to Fall.
He wasn't Lucifer, proud enough to challenge their Father's will, jealous of their Father's greater love for his new creations and the precious gift he'd given them but never his earlier children. He hadn't meant to defy.
But he had asked questions, rather than accept the answers he was given, because those answers had not been good enough. Because their Father had told them to take up arms against their brothers, and he had asked, Why, and he had been told, Because it is My will.
And then, he had responded, No, because he did not want to do it, and did not see why he should.
Things had only gone down from there.
"Why did He create us, only to throw us down?" he asks afterwards, when his beautiful white wings are stained black with sin and his memories are of fire and darkness instead of Light. "How could He allow this to happen, if he knew we would Fall?"
His brother sighs, and puts a hand on his back -- because they are brothers first, and sworn enemies second. "Because this is how it's meant to be. It's part of His ineffable plan."
Later, Lucifer will say to him, Go. Go to the garden in Eden, where his new creation lives. Hide your true nature, and take them from Him.
And he will ask, Why? You are not my Lord.
And Lucifer will respond, Because he cast us away, and I do not want them to experience Paradise if we cannot.
And he will think about this answer, and decide how he feels about it, and eventually he will say to Lucifer, Yes. I will perform this task and return when I am finished.
And after that there will be a garden, and a serpent, and a woman.
"John, do you still have the feather I gave you?"
"The black one? I keep it in my room, why?"
"I know you don't believe. But if you're ever alone and you need help, snap it in two."
"If they're supposed to bring help, why were you burning them?"
"They don't work for me. They'll work for you."
"Just promise me."
"Are you going to tell me why?"
"If I'm ever in danger and by myself, I'll break the feather you gave me."
Mycroft has had an assistant since the mid-sixteenth century. The same assistant.
She'd been a nun, first, and her faith had been so strong that when Sherlock had come looking for his brother during the seventeenth century (wanting to know who Milton was, and why exactly he was writing poetry when he was blind, if he'd been one of Mycroft's because he certainly wasn't one of Sherlock's), she'd managed to discorporate his body.
It'd taken two decades to get a new body crafted for himself -- made to his specifications, able to shift to his truer forms without damage, and by the time he'd gotten back, his quarry had died (this didn't prevent him from claiming his works in the report, of course).
And when he met Mycroft again, she'd been at his side, faithful, attentive and not a day older than when he'd first shown himself to her.
"Brother, you seem to have a pet," he says when he realizes it.
"I prefer the word 'assistant'," his brother replies calmly, and puts his hand on hers when she begins to pray, stilling her. "He may be Fallen," he says, "But he's still my brother. He won't hurt you."
"Humans are awfully fragile. How do you take care of her?"
"I find they're largely capable of taking care of themselves once you provide them the means," his brother says, and turns to her. "Cecily, this is my brother. Brother, this is Cecily."
She smiles politely at him. "It's a pleasure to meet you, sir."
"You're protecting her from Death," he accuses when they are alone, flying above their city. London is neutral, because they both like it too much to to let either side take it from them.
"He doesn't mind," his brother says. "What's one human in the grand scheme of things? She's more use to me here than up there."
"Do you love her?" he asks curiously, because the only love he'd ever felt was the one burned into him at his creation. He can't imagine anything like that growing naturally, an absence of feeling turning into feeling.
"I love her as much as I love all living things," his brother replies. "But I enjoy her presence more than most. She's useful, and it keeps me from getting lonely."
"Why would you be lonely? The world's full of people. You could talk to any of them."
"Sometimes it's nice to talk to someone who already knows you. Not that I don't enjoy your company as well, brother, but we don't spend much time together now, do we?"
"Hmm," he says, and pretends to be distracted by the clouds.
She is with him still, in the twenty-first century, as youthful and healthy as ever. But now, she has her own desk, and his brother has his own office, and a job, and even a national insurance number. "I'm looking for Mycroft," he says, and she pauses in her texting to look up at him.
"I'm sorry, sir?"
"Mycroft. My brother. I need to speak to him."
"Yes, Mr. Holmes. He's in a meeting right now, but he'll be with you as soon as it's over," she replies, and drops her attention back to the shiny gadget in her hands. He doesn't blame her; it's fascinating how far civilization has advanced in the past couple centuries.
Her name is Anthea now, new name chosen when Mycroft and Sherlock had chosen theirs. As of yet, she shows no signs of being sick of the way things are. He wonders if she knows how much effort Mycroft goes through, finding new things that will entertain them both.
"You kidnapped my flatmate," Sherlock says flatly when he is finally allowed in Mycroft's office.
Mycroft raises an eyebrow at him. "Your flatmate? Is that what they're calling it these days?"
"You tried to convince him to spy on me."
"It didn't work. Admirable loyalty. He's not one of mine, but he could be."
"He shot a man in cold blood. He's mine. Don't interfere with him, brother."
"Yours, perhaps. But he doesn't belong Below." And then Mycroft smiles, and there is genuine pleasure behind it. "Nonetheless, I'm glad you've finally met someone."
"I'm just passing the time," Sherlock dismisses. "He's not as bad as most. We might, eventually, become friends, that's all."
"I love you, Sherlock," Mycroft says, "but without your tricks, you're truly terrible at understanding people."
If Sherlock looks, properly looks, he can see sin as a dark stain on the surface of a mortal's soul. He can smell the darker emotions -- fear, guilt, hatred, all the things that lead people Below. Most of the time, he doesn't bother to look past the topmost layer of a person's soul, avoiding the things they want to keep hidden.
Mycroft avoids looking because he hates to be disappointed, and Sherlock doesn't because he simply doesn't care enough to bother. He doesn't particularly want to know that Anderson commits adultery only because his wife had cheated on him first, or that Sally doesn't like him because he acts almost exactly like her college roommate's abusive boyfriend.
There are things he knows about John that he pretends not to know, as well -- that he gets a thrill from seeing the light go out of an enemy's eyes, that he lies to his therapist because he doesn't trust her, that he speaks to Harry partially because he still feels guilty for sleeping with Clara that one time when they'd been broken up.
But he knows those things because John's interesting, and sometimes Sherlock can't help but peer inside him to see what makes him tick (he hasn't found it yet, but still doesn't regret the time spent).
With clients, Sherlock rarely bothers to skim more than the surface layer of their thoughts, picking up facts about the case that they didn't fully remember or recognize as important.
Which is why he's taken completely by surprise when he goes to meet a prospective client and instead meets three tranquilizer darts to the chest in quick succession.
Sherlock wakes, first groggy from the drugs, then abruptly alert as he purges it from his body. His hands are tied behind his back, but it takes only a moment's concentration to free himself, and he rises to his feet. John isn't here, which means he can get himself out the easy way.
Except Moriarty is standing in front of him -- James Moriarty, who Sherlock had tolerated and played with in amusement, until he had broken the rules and taken John.
"I let you live last time, James," Sherlock warns, "only because John was unharmed, and your technique, in other matters, is inspired. But I'm not interested in playing games with you anymore."
"Uh uh," Moriarty sing-songs cheerfully. "That's not how it works, Sherlock. I choose how long we play, not you." His expression darkens. "You wouldn't believe what a little birdie told me. About you. About who you are."
"I don't care in the slightest," Sherlock says, and turns to walk away -- only to find that he can't. His legs refuse to take more than the first two steps, and when he reaches out with a tendril of power, he hits a wall.
He looks down. He's standing in the middle of a proper summoning circle, drawn in chalk, reinforced in blood, and imbued with holy oil. Symbols decorate the outer ring -- runes for strength, power, and control. He can't suppress the snarl that escapes from his lips at the sight.
Moriarty grins broadly. "Do you like it? I found it in a book I got for a pretty little girl who wanted to feel powerful. She tried to summon a demon, and surprise! She got you!"
This... may be a problem. His phone isn't in his jacket. He's bound inside the circle. He doesn't know where John is, and he should probably let Mycroft know about what's happened. But while Sherlock doesn't make a habit of getting himself caught in summoning circles, it's nothing that hasn't happened before. Things used to be more dangerous, when humans believed in beings that stalked the shadows. "What do you want?"
"I said it before, and I'll say it again," Moriarty says. "I'm going to burn the heart out of you. And you're going to sit here and watch, trapped in your own little bubble." He claps his hands together. "Doesn't that sound fun? I've got people already waiting to collect him."
As a rule, Sherlock's found, people have edges. Little edges, secrets they've never told anyone because they're ashamed of themselves, because they'd rather forget. Places he can dig his metaphorical fingernails into and peel to leave them vulnerable and bleeding. James Moriarty is not an exception to this rule.
"He's never going to be proud of you, you know," Sherlock says, because he is a demon and while John may not know it, and Mycroft may try to forget it, Sherlock always knows. "He left your mother and never looked back for a reason."
"You don't know anything about that," Moriarty snaps, but it's just a little bit too late, because Sherlock's seen the crack in his armor, and underneath it all, Moriarty's just a man. He feels and he wants and he hurts, just like everyone else on this plane, cold and alone.
Not like Mycroft. Not like Sherlock.
"Jimmy," he says, pulling the deep, gravelly voice from Moriarty's memories and laying it over his own. "Jimmy, boy, what are you doing? No son of mine's gonna be a common criminal. I can't believe I wasted ten years of my life lookin' after you and this is --"
"Shut up!" Jim screams, and shoots him -- three times, hitting him in the torso with each shot.
Sherlock laughs. His tongue darts out and he can smell the sudden spike of Jim's anxiety. Not yet fear, but it's close enough. "Bullets don't work on demons, Jim."
Jim reeks of nervousness but gives every outward appearance of calm. "Maybe," he says, rallying admirably, "but they'll work on John Watson. Not even demons can bring people back from the dead."
Sherlock moves as close to the boundary of the circle as possible and brings up his hand, making a scratching motion in the air, as if clawing at a glass panel. He mimes tapping on it. "You can't keep me here forever. And if you harm one hair on his head, then when I get out, I'm going to kill you. There is nowhere in the world you will be safe from me."
He cocks his head. "But if you let me out now," he says persuasively, smiling, "Then we can forget this ever happened. I've seen your soul, and it's black. You know what that means."
"Nice try, but I'm not stupid." Moriarty backs away to the door. "We'll see what you say when I've got ol' Johnny boy here."
And then the door closes, and Sherlock is alone.
He swings at the barrier in frustration, but of course his arm stops before it'd pass over the boundaries of the circle, and there is no satisfying impact of his fist against something solid. He makes an inarticulate noise of fury, and his tongue darts out, tasting the air.
There are no guards. There are no guards because if there were, Sherlock would be free by now.
Mycroft will notice he's gone when the surveillance team Sherlock slipped reports that he hasn't returned. The chances of Moriarty being prepared for a demon and an angry angel with a truly frightening amount of access to government resources are basically nil.
He lies down and waits.
That keeps him occupied for the first ten minutes, before the boredom gnawing at the back of his mind becomes too much, and his muscles itch to move. He snarls and begins to walk along the inner edge of the circle.
Moriarty wants to hurt him. Moriarty wants to hurt him. Sherlock hardly knows why; he'd thought they'd been getting on brilliantly until he'd taken John. Moriarty set up puzzles, and Sherlock solved them, and he would go to jail as soon as he was beyond saving or Sherlock got tired of his freedom, whichever came first. He'd forgotten how personally humans took things.
And for now, he's trapped -- he has to wait for rescue, or sit here for as long as it takes for the circle to weather away on its own, and he doesn't have that sort of time. Not when Moriarty's going after John -- beautiful, good, mortal John, who doesn't deserve to be caught up in this matter, or put in danger so often (Sherlock lets him come along anyway, but only because he's selfish and doesn't much care what people deserve).
By the thirty-minute mark, Sherlock has tired of pacing, and turned to fantasizing about what he'll do to Moriarty's soul when he finally gets out (tearing it to shreds sounds like a good idea, or maybe driving him mad by haunting his nightmares with scenes from Below).
After another 48 minutes, Moriarty comes back.
"Sherlock! Did you miss me?"
"No," Sherlock replies. He is lying on his stomach in the middle of the circle -- with his arms folded under his head, he has just enough space to do so. He rolls onto his back to look at Moriarty. It's only a matter of time before Mycroft finds him, so in the meantime, all he can do is wait.
Moriarty pouts at him.
"You act deliberately flamboyant because your father hates queers and you still resent him from walking out on your mother when you were a boy," Sherlock says. "You aren't queer, but sometimes you wish you were, because then you could tell yourself he left because of that, rather than because he saw what you did to the neighbor's kittens when they were born."
"I didn't tell anyone about that," Moriarty says, and Sherlock can see the boy he used to be, can see where pain and rejection has carved him into the man he is now. "But I guess I didn't need to for you to know about it, did I?"
"No," Sherlock agrees, and closes his eyes. "Are you done?"
"I know what I want from you," Moriarty says darkly. "Your wings."
Sherlock snorts. “They're not transferable. You're mortal, and that's all you'll ever be. 'For dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.'"
"Oh, no," Moriarty laughs. "I don't want to have your wings. I want to destroy them."
That's different. If he loses his wings, he loses what he is -- becomes human, mortal and simple and blind. And then, he'll die. Sherlock looks at the ceiling thoughtfully. "You're more than welcome to come in here and try."
"No, I don't think so. I'll trade you -- your wings, for John Watson's life."
"Just think about it," Moriarty says, and disappears again, before Sherlock can say something about the nightmares Moriarty still gets sometimes, where his little sister's blood is on his hands and no matter how hard he washes them, it doesn't fade away.
When Moriarty returns, three hours have passed. He is angry and frustrated and carrying a bucket of holy water. John is nowhere in sight, Sherlock notices with fierce glee.
"Change of plans! Look what I've got!" Moriarty scoops up a double-handful of the water and flings it at Sherlock's face.
The holy water burns, but weakly. It's almost insulting. He's not a corrupted spirit causing mischief, something that can be destroyed with a flicker of Light. He's from Before, forged from fire. There are echoes of God's love carved into his bones and his wings and whatever it is He'd given angels in place of a soul.
He'd walked away intact with worse when fighting Mycroft, before the Arrangement.
Sherlock doesn't bother to contain his scornful laugh, and allows the water to pull his demonic nature to the forefront. "You're pathetic. I've had worssse. Thisss isss child'sss play."
Sherlock walks as near to the circle's edge as he can get, pulling evil around him like a cloak in a way he hasn't bothered to do in centuries. He snaps his wings into existence, spreading them out only halfway because the circle is too small to contain them, and lets his aura seep through his mental shields. "Let me out."
But for all of Moriarty's unease -- the edge of fear, the creeping uncertainty, he's bolstered by the fact that Sherlock is still in the circle, trapped, for as long as its edges hold.
"Oh, Sherlock," Moriarty says patronizingly. "I'm just getting started."
Moriarty graduates from holy water blessed by a not-very-devout priest to holy oil worth more than its weight in gold, consecrated by someone who was actually an agent of Heaven.
Sherlock, accordingly, graduates from bored irritation to fury.
"I will tear your sssoul from your body and ssshred it!" he shouts when the first splash of oil lands on his arm, and it doesn't burn but instead saps at his strength. It is not unlike throwing a cup of water on a roaring bonfire, except that the water doesn't evaporate away.
Sherlock throws himself at the circle; its power forces him to pull back just before he goes over the line, and his momentum dissipates abruptly. "Jamesss Moriarty, I will not ressst until you're in Hell. You will burn for eternity!"
He flickers through different tactics, moving between threats and persuasion and mockery as quickly as he changes the channel on the telly. None of them work, though he spends a few minutes wearing the voice of Moriarty's mother, begging him to stop hurting her. It doesn't work, but it makes Moriarty feel cold and shaky inside, which is almost as good.
Moriarty's thoughts are as easy to read as a crime scene, and they both know there is no way out but forward. If Moriarty doesn't manage to permanently disable Sherlock, then Sherlock's going to kill him, and he's going to enjoy it. He can't stop now.
By the time John Watson shows up, dragged in struggling by two large men, Sherlock and his wings are liberally soaked in holy oil (it feels cold, like being slowly smothered in a wet blanket) and he has switched from using English to cursing Moriarty in Enochian, where the words have real power.
The men -- Moriarty's men, take one look at Sherlock -- wings out, teeth sharp, eyes golden-yellow and slitted, and freeze like mice caught in a serpent's gaze. One of them starts to pray.
"Free me and you'll live," Sherlock promises that one, who is here only to protect his family and still goes to church on Easter and Christmas. The man crosses himself. He has to let go of one of John's arms to do so, and John wrenches free, driving his fist into his other captor's groin and lunges at Moriarty.
Moriarty goes down, John on top of him, and Sherlock's heart leaps into his throat when he sees the gleaming flash of a blade.
John holds the upper hand only briefly, because one of John's guards throws himself into the fray (not the one Sherlock's tempting, who is frozen to the spot), and between the two of them John is quickly overwhelmed.
John reeks of blood, not all of it his own. When Sherlock's tongue darts out, tasting the air, he smells fear and pain and evil.
Moriarty is holding a blade that shouldn't exist, that should have been destroyed, that holds enough untapped power to level cities, over the pulse in John's throat. John goes very still. "Your wings," Moriarty says, and Sherlock stops breathing.
Because it's John, his John, and if Moriarty slits his throat, he's going to bleed out and Sherlock will never see him again. Because humans don't come back, and how had he let himself get so close to John that he'd forgotten about that one, vital fact?
And Sherlock is stuck in this fucking trap, and all he can do is feel John's fear, and read his thoughts, all his petty little human regrets as he prepares to die.
A thin line of blood appears along the line of John's throat.
“Wait! Wait." He needs more time. There has to be something -- there's always something. “I'll do it. Then you let us go."
Moriarty's eyes gleam with triumph, and he hands the consecrated blade -- it's a relic now, a fragment from a plane so far removed from this one that its edges blur in Sherlock's true sight, to the guard. He has, of course, another blade (dagger, stainless steel, boring except for its location), which goes back to John's throat.
It takes effort not to burn the guard to ash the moment he crosses the circle (stepping over it, careful not to touch a single line). Anything you want, he whispers psychically, easing the tendrils of thought into the guard's mind. Free me, and you can have the world at your feet.
But there's nothing he wants but pain, the joy of slaughter, of making other people hurt and knowing he was the one to cause it. Everything else has already been burned away. Some people are like that -- permanently, subtly damaged by some event in their lives that happened when they were vulnerable.
Sherlock is viciously envious that Moriarty found him first.
A meaty hand closes over the top of one of his wings, fingers wrapping firmly around the bone. And Sherlock could pull free. Even with his power limited, even trapped, a single human is no match for him. But Moriarty's arm is around John's shoulders, blade tucked under his chin.
John's eyes are wide, frightened.
And if he had to choose. If he really had to choose.
All Sherlock needs is to be able to leave the circle, because then he can summon Mycroft, and John will be safe.
He can do that without his wings.
The blade draws closer, close enough that Sherlock can feel the searing pain of its presence. Of their own volition, his wings quiver. The words come unbidden to his mind. Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be --
There is a sound like a thunderclap, and Sherlock finds himself abruptly ten feet away, putting him right in front of John and Moriarty. In the stunned silence, John withdraws his hand from his jacket pocket and opens it, revealing a crushed, black feather. The shaft is neatly snapped in two.
"I love you so much right now," Sherlock breathes as it flutters to the ground, because he is outside the circle.
He kills Moriarty first. He glows with the weight of the dozens of curses Sherlock's laid upon him, and it takes no time at all to fling Moriarty against a wall and activate one, turning Moriarty's myriad of sins into a fire that will consume soul and body both.
Next is the guard who had touched his wings. He is already slated for Below and Sherlock is not in the mood for finesse, so he stops the man's heart, and he collapses. Easy.
One more. Sherlock strides to the second guard, who backs away from him until he hits a wall. Sherlock puts his hand out, throwing out a rope of power, then stops. Not ours, his senses tell him. “You don't mean to be here," Sherlock says, and mutely, terrified, the man shakes his head.
This one's not his to take. This one doesn't belong to him.
Sherlock presses his palm against the man's chest and sends him into a deep sleep; he catches him when he falls and eases him onto the ground.
When he turns around, John is pointing Moriarty's gun at Sherlock's chest. His hands are perfectly steady.
"I don't care if you ssshoot me," Sherlock says, and takes a step forward. "The sshirt's already ruined."
"You killed them. Murdered them," John says, and Sherlock realizes the truth with a stunning clarity. John is willing to put him down like an animal if he thinks Sherlock is a danger to others. It doesn't matter how he feels about Sherlock or whether he, personally, is safe. John will do whatever he thinks is necessary
John is glorious, and in that moment, Sherlock feels a ferocious love he hasn't felt in ages, not since that love had prompted him to say No and lose everything he'd ever known.
"Moriarty had to be ssstopped. He was tampering with things he had no right to attempt."
"And the others?" John demands. "You looked at him and he died."
"I took his sssoul early," Sherlock dismisses, "But he already belonged to Hell. The lasst one is ssleeping. He'll wake up in a few hoursss."
"You're not human." The gun starts to tilt downwards. "Where's Sherlock? Are you possessing his body?"
"Don't be ssstupid. I'm Ssherlock. I'm the sssame man you met at Bart'sss. Put down the gun."
John laughs weakly, and his outstretched arm falls to his side. "I can't stop you anyway, can I?"
"No, probably not," Sherlock replies.
"What are you?" John sits down on the ground, and after a moment's pause, Sherlock joins him there, kneeling.
"I'm a demon. Well, fallen angel, to be more accurate." Sherlock wipes his hand over his feathers, smearing off as much of the thick oil as he can. The runes, not the sort he normally uses, but similar enough, come easily -- another beacon, but he can't activate it. Not when it's holy and he's weighed down with so many blessings that he can barely see past their glow. "I need your hand."
After a moment's hesitation, John holds out his hand. He twitches when Sherlock opens a cut in his palm and the blood begins to well up, but doesn't try to get away. Sherlock presses it flat against the runes, then lets go and heals the cut with a touch of power. "Mycroft will be here sssoon."
John brings his hand to his chest, and traces his fingertips over the unbroken skin. "What did you do?"
"I told Mycroft where we were."
"And is Mycroft a fallen angel too?"
"No, jussst an angel," Sherlock says.
Mycroft chooses that moment to finally arrive. He appears alone, in a burst of heavenly grace that has Sherlock wincing and covering his eyes by reflex. He looks around, taking in everything from the demon summoning circle on the ground, to the holy oil plastered across Sherlock's body, to the corpse of the guard and the ashes that are all that's left of Moriarty.
"I was wondering where you'd gotten off to," he says finally, and delicately breaks the circle with the tip of his umbrella. Mycroft picks up the dagger in the center of the circle with a moue of distaste. It'd been created by humans, and works on angels just as well as it does demons. Remarkable, the things humanity got up to when unsupervised. "I suppose this will have to be melted down."
"Of course." Sherlock nods and rubs unhappily at a feather. His wings look like they'd gotten caught in an oil spill. "Bring us home, will you? I can't travel until I've cleaned up."
John stands warily, and Sherlock sees him touch his waistband, where the gun he'd taken from Moriarty resides. "Evening, Mycroft. Nice of you to come by. So you're an angel, then?"
Mycroft smiles at him, and reveals his own wings -- large, feathered, and pure white. They glow radiantly, because Mycroft is a show-off. "You're a good man, John," he says, and walks closer. "And I see my trust in you to take care of my brother was not misplaced."
Mycroft puts a hand on John's shoulder, and the air around them becomes charged with power for a brief moment, before John is fully healed and clean.
"Holy fuck," John mutters.
"You should have told him earlier," Mycroft chides Sherlock. "I did tell you to."
"Shut up, Mycroft. Give us a lift," Sherlock demands, and stands up. The oil clings to him unpleasantly, and all his supernatural senses feel muffled and cold. He wants a shower. A long, hot shower.
Mycroft touches John first -- he disappears, sent back to their flat. "Self-sacrifice, Sherlock?" Mycroft asks, and beams at him. "I'm proud of you."
"He summoned me out of the circle. I didn't sacrifice anything."
"But you would have. That's charity," and Mycroft smiles at him, and there are echoes of Heaven's grace in it.
"No it's not," Sherlock mutters and stares fixedly at the ground. "I wouldn't really have let them hurt me. I would have stopped them at the last second."
"You decided to give up your wings for him. Even if you changed your mind, the decision is still there. I didn't think you'd ever feel that way again." And right as the power crackles around them and the world fades out, Mycroft adds, "I know you can't see it, but he loves you too."
Sherlock still remembers the Garden of Eden.
It is only a little bit like Heaven, just enough that when he goes there in the form of a serpent, he is vividly reminded of what he's lost. He had lived somewhere more beautiful and more glorious than this, once, but all he has of it now is faint echoes of light and the knowledge that he is no longer welcome there.
It takes only a few moments to find one of His new creations, the woman, and when he asks his questions, she answers. She tells him what she has been told, and he asks her more questions, and she answers them, until suddenly there is a flaw, a glittering shard of falsehood that pings his senses with wrong, wrong, wrong.
Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.
But that is not why, because the Tree is not dangerous, nor is the fruit. He tells her so. Because he touches the Tree and does not die, and when she finally lays her palm against the bark, neither does she.
Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.
So she eats the fruit from the Tree, and shares it with the man, and knowledge blossoms across their features, chasing away the blank innocence. He watches, fascinated, and feels proud, because there is a spark in them now. They hold a potential that makes them different, that sets them apart from the other beasts in the Garden. He doesn't recognize it now, but he'll be able to identify it later, when the Tower of Babel rises too high and is struck down.
Yes, he thinks, because he knows it means change, and change is interesting. Change is magnificent.
But then she says, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.
And he thinks, No, because he had told her the truth when she had known a falsehood. Because it hadn't occurred to him to lie, nor had he ever pretended that God hadn't marked the Tree as forbidden. He'd just told her what the fruit actually did, and she had chosen to see for herself. That was the whole point, and she'd thrown it away because she'd hoped to not get punished.
God punishes them anyway, and he doesn't understand why. Surely He'd already known what would happen?
But it doesn't matter, because the change is wrought, and will not be undone.
Later, much later, the land will be ruled by man and the skies will be ruled by man and the seas will be ruled by man, and the first rocket -- a thing, just a thing, a lump of metal and chemicals and humanity, will rise shakily from the earth because humanity had looked up and thought, What's out there?
And Sherlock will be there in the crowd, following its path with his eyes, and he will remember the Garden, and the woman, and the fruit, and that spark.
And he will wonder, Is this why?
With each bit of holy oil Sherlock washes down the drain (it's immune to his powers, of course, so he has to do it the mundane way), the horrible, cloying sense of being pushed under an ice-cold lake fades, until it's only an annoying, niggling chill in his bones, centered on his wings.
Except he can't reach half of his wings, nor can he hide them -- not until they're clean.
He's dressed but for a shirt, and standing in front of the mirror, trying to figure out a solution (perhaps if he poured liquid soap over them and rubbed his wings together?) when John knocks on the bathroom door.
Sherlock glances at the glass. His eyes are still serpentine (golden, with vertical slits), his tongue thin and forked. His wings are a sodden, pitiful looking mess, and he folds them sullenly. They drip on the floor.
"What do you want?" Sherlock asks, choosing his words carefully to avoid any sibilant sounds.
"You've been in there for more than an hour. Are you okay?" John turns the door knob -- Sherlock never locks it, though John's only finding that out now, but doesn't open the door. "Do you mind if I come in? Are you hurt?"
When Sherlock doesn't answer, John pushes the door open. He gets one step inside, then stops, staring. Sherlock has never been ashamed at not being human, but there is something in the way John looks at his eyes that makes him feel undeserving of John's regard. He's a demon; John shouldn't be looking at him like that, like he's something precious, something that should be kept safe forever.
Sherlock stares back, and after a moment, John flushes and looks away.
"The holy oil won't let me change back," Sherlock says, and gives his wings a light shake, scattering droplets of water onto the floor. "And I can't reach."
John swallows heavily. "Oh," he says, and extends his hand, palm up. "Do you need some help?"
He won't be able to clean it off on his own, not easily, and he'd rather it be John than Mycroft. Sherlock hands the wet towel he was using to John. "I got most of what I could reach. You'll need sssoap to clean it away."
Sherlock braces himself on the sink as John drags the wet cloth over his feathers, sending a hot rush of pleasure through him, infinitely more erotic than it'd been when he'd done it himself. "Um," he says when John buries warm fingers in his scapulars, and Sherlock catches sight of his own eyes in the mirror, golden-yellow and so dilated that the pupils are nearly circular.
"I feel I ssshould let you know," Sherlock says, and his wings tremble as John strokes the feathers, smoothing them out. "My wingsss are --" He swallows, and his cheeks are flushed lightly, and John must know, must know what he's doing to Sherlock, but just in case, "My wingsss are an erogenousss zone."
John stops. "Am I making you uncomfortable?"
"I don't mind," Sherlock replies honestly, and can't hide the way he shivers when John works a handful of liquid soap -- cool at first, but warming gradually at John's touch, into his feathers.
"Christ," John breathes (blasphemy), and Sherlock realizes abruptly that John, too, is aroused. He's thinking about Sherlock, about bending him over and pulling down his trousers and taking him. About how Sherlock's feathers would feel against his bare skin, and Sherlock on his knees, mouth wrapped around his cock.
"I can read your thoughtsss," Sherlock says. "When they're sssinful," and John stops, one hand still buried in the lesser coverts at the top of Sherlock's left wing, fingers stroking small circles against the bone.
When John doesn't reply (guiltshamelust), Sherlock widens his stance and bends over a little more, leaning on the sink with his forearms. “You have lubricant in your bedside drawer. I can bring it here."
John's thoughts become truly, triumphantly, filthy at that, creative and greedy in a way that's thoroughly human, and he steps close until Sherlock can feel the heat from his body against his bare back. Hands come to rest on Sherlock's hips.
When John mouths, hungrily, at the top of Sherlock's left wing, Sherlock groans.
"Yes, please," John breathes, and Sherlock spreads his wings wide.