It was bad enough that he'd lost track of where Sherlock had run off to.
Not only was he getting incredibly winded, John had absolutely no idea where he was. Or where that deranged murderer was, for that matter. And, really, being lost used to make John Watson a little nervous, but nothing compares to being lost somewhere with a dangerously clever evil-doer lurking about, with proven dubious moral standards. Especially in this dimly lit warehouse -- why was it always the creepy abandoned warehouse? Even the smallest echo made him spin around so fast it made his neck hurt.
John slowed down, his breath jagged; sweat beaded his brow and made him feel sticky all over beneath his black jacket.
The sound of running made him immediately jerk his head up. Ah, there was Sherlock's familiar lanky silhouette, his coat flapping behind him and making him appear twice his normal size. Here comes the avenging hero, cape and all, coming in to save the day.
Then, his head registered rather sheepishly that Sherlock must have been sprinting towards him for a reason - and by the time he turned around, it was already too late.
There was a sharp pain in his arm - a piercing knick that penetrated three layers of clothing. "W-what - " he stammered dumbly, clutching his bicep in surprise. Then, he heard a gunshot -- and then the floor tilted at an impossibly steep angle -- and then the world swallowed into blackness before he even hit the ground.
For just a few moments, John was mercilessly dragged back to reality from the sweet, sweet calm of unconsciousness. There wasn't much he could register - only that he was breathing, his eyelids were incredibly heavy, and that his entire body ached with an almost alarming sort of hollowness that crept into his very bones. Just as he made an attempt to open his eyes, he slipped back under.
The next time John gained consciousness, the pain was extremely apparent. Very, very horrifyingly apparent. It began in his head - an insistent, stabbing pain that pulsed at his temples, and as he slowly registered the rest of his body, he felt as though every single inch of him was bruised - even his insides. Especially his insides. In fact, it felt as though he'd been through a very large blender.
This was a very strange sort of pain. Even through the haze of his consciousness, John understood that this was a different sort of pain than any he'd ever encountered. It was wrong - the pain was coming from the inside. How could that be?
He wondered briefly what happened, and then the memory of the sharp pain in his arm brought everything back with an onslaught of panic.
His eyes fluttered open. The simple act of doing so took quite a deal of strength - they felt heavy. So incredibly heavy.
There was a sudden movement at the corner of his eye. He couldn't exactly make out what it was, at first, because everything was blurry and too bright. His eyelids were getting heavier, too, which made things all the more difficult. In fact, his entire body felt heavy. He felt as though he was struggling to stay on the surface of some deep, deep ocean, after swimming nine thousand miles to get there.
Despite the blurriness, he saw and recognized the familiar silhouette of Sherlock's face - his curls, his sharp cheekbones, his long face and chin. The light from behind his head made his face look quite heroic indeed - maybe even angelic.
When Sherlock turned away to look at something, John thought he saw something very curious - something small, like an extra bone, reaching out from between his shoulder blades. Actually, two small bones, reaching outward behind him. Suddenly, with a burst of dark - what were they, feathers? - he thought he saw two long shapes suddenly surging outward and expanding from Sherlock's back, unfurling and filling the room, blotting out the light. John struggled to say something, but the darkness proved stronger than his will, and he fell away, nine thousand miles under the surface -- away from reality, and away from Sherlock.
"-- just eat, starving yourself won't bring him around any sooner - "
"I had tea, earlier - "
"Mr. Holmes, you and I both clearly know that isn't adequate - "
"I actually believe tea is quite sufficient enough for me, thank you. And it seems to me that my friend has come to. If you would allow us some privacy, please."
There was a long pause, and then the sound of footsteps leaving the room.
John opened his eyes. It was easier, this time, and the glaring, bleached lights of the hospital proved disorienting for only a few moments before he adjusted. His vision was slightly blurry - he blinked a few times in an attempt to clear it. It was quite an effort turning his head - it took him several tries - and when he finally managed to look at Sherlock's silhouette, he was abruptly thrown off guard.
His silhouette was strange. It was all wrong, in fact. He'd seen enough of Sherlock to memorize precisely every line and angle of his person. He'd come to learn the nuances of his body -- it wasn't especially difficult, as he was a visibly expressive person, and his wardrobe was quite limited. Now, it was blatantly clear that there was definitely something very different about him. It was difficult to see, though, frustratingly enough.
"Glad to see you back, soldier," Sherlock said, his voice a full-bodied rumble that John could feel in his very flesh. He had a sudden bout of deja vu - back to the moment he opened his eyes after getting shot, and the familiar face of a fellow soldier swimming into view.
"Glad to be back," John responded faintly, his voice cracked and brittle from lack of use. He didn't quite know what to say, so he decided to say what he'd said back then. "How long was I out?"
"Nine days, tonight being the tenth," Sherlock said, glancing over at the blinking screen that listed John's vital signs. He touched John's forehead lightly with the back of his fingers, his eyebrows knitting together momentarily. Sherlock stood up, walking towards the door. John blinked and gaped at the enormous outline of - well, now this was very curious - wings, now present on Sherlock's back.
John blinked again, painfully moving to rub his eyes.
When he opened them again, Sherlock had disappeared.
That night, John dreamt of his childhood.
"Mom," Harry said, a split second before Mrs. Watson opened the door to go to bed, "are angels real?"
John left his bed to sit on Harriet's when Mrs. Watson came to sit back down.
"Oh, my darlings," she said, wrapping her arms around the two of them, "you know, they say that, when someone meets somebody worth dying for, they earn their wings."
"Do you have wings, mom?" John piped up, craning his neck to peer at her back suspiciously. She chuckled. "I guess you two can't see them yet," she said, smiling down at her son and ruffling his hair, "but I definitely do have wings. I have huge wings, because I love you, and your sister, and your father more than anyone can ever love, and they're big enough to wrap around all of you."
"What happened to me?" he had asked, while Sherlock was absentmindedly reading the newspaper. When Sherlock looked at him, his face looked vaguely venomous.
"Jacobsen had injected some ridiculous cocktail of poison into you," he said, his eyes flinty. "It took quite a bit, getting the antidote out of him."
John suddenly noticed how very weary Sherlock looked.
"Is he in jail, now?" he asked curiously. The corner of Sherlock's lips twitched. "No," he said simply.
Up until that moment, he'd forgotten that Sherlock had wings. But they suddenly unfurled with a sharp jerk, as though he were trying to shake away a memory. John glanced at a wing, for a fleeting moment, and noticed how they were a deep obsidian black, with stark streaks of red underneath, with a shine all over like the surface of motor oil. They were sleek, but rather large; they reminded him of vulture wings. The feathers looked sharp - sharp enough to cut through air, slice his fingers.
"Have you been on any cases since I've been out?" John queried one day, sitting up in bed and leafing through a magazine. Sherlock looked at him, looking genuinely surprised.
"No, of course not."
"Well - " John began, "I mean, you didn't need to be - " he cleared his throat awkwardly, "here, I mean, there are proper doctors to - "
"John, I can assure you that my staying here was not only for your benefit, but also for mine."
John blinked and noticed how Sherlock's wings seemed to expand a bit, making him look bigger - casting his shoulders in shadow.
"Oh," he said.
He winced a bit when the door suddenly opened and the doctor swept in, and the first thing he saw was the doctor's wedding ring, but he wasn't sporting a pair of wings. John frowned, wondering if - well, it couldn't be that he didn't care for his wife. Or his possible children. A nurse bustled in after the doctor, and he noticed curiously that she didn't have wings, either. In fact, throughout the day, he hadn't seen anyone with a single pair of wings. Only Sherlock.
When the doctor asked him how he was feeling, it took him a few moments to respond, and he could feel Sherlock's eyes boring into him.
"F-fine," John stammered, holding his arm out so the doctor could draw blood.
When John left the hospital the next day, he couldn't help but notice how close Sherlock suddenly was - physically. He had even offered a hand for him out of the cab, something he'd never done before. When they walked to the doorstep of 221B, they were almost brushing arms. John had taken note of how the wings should have been brushing against him, but they simply didn't have any weight or substance. They were merely there - existing, like a ghost, but looking completely and utterly solid.
They walked into the flat in silence, when Sherlock suddenly spun around, cornering John between his body and the door. His wings unfolded, stretching outward, as though he were ready to take flight. It was quite frightening, really - for once, John couldn't quite place Sherlock's expression, but it was intense - as though he were trying to push an emotion into John from his head straight into his heart. He looked nothing like an angel, now - in the dim darkness of the hallway, his wings black and glistening with scarlet, he looked like a great big predatory bird. His eyes were bright - extraordinarily bright.
John's heart hammered nervously in his chest.
"Yes, Sherlock?" he asked, his voice weak and tight. Sherlock frowned, as though he were struggling with words to say. John barely stifled a smile just in time. Sherlock, at a loss for words. Neat.
"I'm sorry," Sherlock said slowly, his words dropping like stones. His eyes tightened.
"For wha - "
"You know for what," Sherlock spat, his voice taking on an edge now. His wings snapped outward, completely filling the hallway and smothering them in shadow. "For letting the excitement of the chase get to me; for leaving you behind like that and putting you into danger while I was carried away. I should have known, John, I should have known that he would find you, and - I can safely say that this is one of the more idiotic mistakes I have made, and I very rarely make mistakes at all, so this particular one carries quite a bit of weight."
He swallowed painfully and then spun around, his wings whipping behind him. John flinched back to avoid being slapped in the face by several feet of black feathers, but the pain didn't come. Of course it didn't.
"Sherlo - "
Sherlock swept away, his wings folding down tightly against his back, and John couldn't bring himself to follow him. He heard the door slam.
I may be on the side of the angels, but don't think for one second that I am one of them.
That night, John dreamed of Sherlock suddenly sprouting wings and lunging towards him, like an owl swooping in to kill.
John's dream self cringed in fear when Sherlock landed and wrapped his long arms around him. But instead of being crushed to death, as he had expected, Sherlock hugged John close to his chest; John felt warm all over.
Then Sherlock flew - and John flew, too.
Sherlock had decided to take some time off crime scene investigations and do some experiments at home. He hadn't explained to John why, but John deduced the reason for himself.
His health was slowly improving, though at times he found himself inexplicably nauseous and bone-wearily weak. He would sit on the couch, massaging his temples until the worst of it went away. John was getting restless, though, being cooped up in the flat - last time he had offered to buy groceries, Sherlock gave him a smoldering look that obviously meant, no. Stay. He took down John's grocery list - which John couldn't help but grin at, because he just seemed so absurdly domestic - and then he glided out the door, in that graceful way of his.
As for the wings, John supposed there were times he thought them impressive and even perhaps beautiful - but most of the time, they were quite frightening. He made sure only to look when Sherlock could not catch him staring - he knew Sherlock would drill him with questions that he couldn't quite answer.
The wings were especially expressive, but they also added a threatening aspect to Sherlock's silhouette, now. John found it hard to get used to. In the past, he didn't have a difficult time deciphering Sherlock's emotions, but now they seemed to double the intensity of them, and that made everything about Sherlock almost overwhelming.
They were huge, and they were the darkest black he'd ever seen. The red that occasionally showed through the feathers looked curiously like blood. The movements of the wings were sharp, almost violent, and they interrupted the familiar outline of Sherlock's shape, and made him look massive.
John caught himself wishing that he could touch them, though.
A few weeks later, John was working a shift at St Bart's. He was fortunate enough to encounter a beautiful thing - a woman's husband had just woken from a coma.
He politely turned his head when he walked into the room, allowing the two of them their privacy as he scribbled down information onto his chart. They were murmuring to each other - John knew to tune them out - but he couldn't help but start in surprise when he abruptly heard,
" -- big, beautiful white wings -- "
"I don't know what you're talking about, sweetheart."
He could hear the smile in her voice, though, and she leaned forward, and he heard her kiss his cheek.
"My angel," the man sighed, and she laughed through the sound of tears. John closed the door behind him quietly, his mind racing.
"Mrs. Brown, could I have a word with you?"
The woman looked up at John, then back at her husband, and she stroked his hair fondly before getting up and leaving the room.
"Is there something wrong, Doctor Watson?"
John smiled comfortingly, "No, not at all. But I just had a question to ask you - would you have time for a quick cup of coffee?"
She nodded, looking curious, and they went to the small coffee shop across the street.
He appraised her over his steaming cup, trying to figure out the words to say. He noticed, apologetically, how she looked uncomfortable, and he knew she must want to return to her husband soon. He was trying his best to phrase his question so he didn't sound like a straight up loony.
"I - er," he began, frowning. "I couldn't help but hear a fragment of your conversation with your husband, the other day." His words were rushed.
"Oh?" she asked, uncrossing and then crossing her legs again as she took a sip of her coffee.
"I, um - listen, I don't want you to think I'm a - a git, or something, but - I noticed that your husband mentioned that he could see you with.. wings?"
Her eyebrows raised in surprise. She seemed at a loss for words herself, now. John took this opportunity to awkwardly sip his coffee, burning his tongue a little.
"Erm, yes - yes he did," she said, clearing her throat. "Why do you ask?"
John leaned forward, glancing about him surreptitiously. He swallowed. This was so strange. He felt so silly admitting this strange - strange thing, to this stranger.
"Do you believe him?" he asked quietly.
She frowned, biting her lip. "There's really nothing wrong with him," she asked slowly, "is there?" Her eyes were hazelnut, and she looked a little pale.
"No," John said, tapping his fingers on the table thoughtfully. "No neurological damage, nothing of the sort.
"I do believe it."
John was quiet for a few moments.
"Why do you ask?"
John was quiet for another few moments.
"Because I can see wings on someone, too."
It was her turn to be quiet, now. All in all, this was a very awkward conversation.
"Doctor," she began hesitantly, "have you ever heard the story of - "
" - of people gaining a pair of wings when - "
" - when they find people worth - "
" - dying for?"
They both looked at each other, their eyes wide.
"Yes," John breathed. He took a sip of his coffee.
"Can you see wings on him? Surely he must have wings - "
"I don't know. I think - this is just a theory, but - I think.. I mean, this is based off of children's stories, of course - but I've heard that it's something that happens when you're close on the brink of death. Something you.. you bring back with you. After you've nearly crossed.. the line. So to speak."
She took a long draught of her coffee, looking very embarrassed. John, however, put his hand on hers.
"Your husband is a lucky man," he said gently.
"I'm sure your wife has very beautiful wings," she said, with a small smile.
"Er, I'm not… married."
"Then you are an incredibly lucky man, to have somebody who cares so much."
He thought back to that blurry memory, the first time he noticed Sherlock's wings. Actually - wait - had he actually seen Sherlock gain his wings, right before his very eyes?
John sat back in his seat, looking past her and out the window.
"Yes," he murmured, "I guess I am."
A few years later, Sherlock and John are back on the job, back on the battlefield. When Sherlock feels a sudden pain in his side, he falls to his knees. Then, he hears a gunshot -- and then the floor tilts at an impossibly steep angle -- and right before he hits the ground, he looks up to see John catching him, and then he sees a pair of beautiful golden-brown wings stretching out before his eyes, wrapping around him, until all he can see is white.
When Sherlock opens his eyes, his mind immediately sets on the task of deducing the reality and possibility of these newfound wings on John.
When John sees Sherlock glance at a point right behind his shoulder, he turns around and smiles to himself, and he wonders what his own wings look like.
It was only fair for Sherlock to have his own guardian angel.