A perfect balance is difficult to achieve.
Crowley finds John Watson fresh from a fight on the rugby field, wiping away the traces of blood from his nose before heading back to the dorms.
He's a good boy, and he will grow up to be a good man. A very good man. But Crowley isn't too fussed about morality, seeing as he's watched the boy beat the bogeys out of an arrogant classmate just because he slighted his sister. He needs someone loyal and strong, steadfast and a bit of a thrillseeker. Gallantry can go wrong so very fast.
John is perfect.
Aziraphale observes Sherlock Holmes nonchalantly head into his room, fresh stash of cocaine tucked neatly in his pocket.
He's a great boy, and he will grow up to be a great man. A very great man. Turning him good will be a lot of work, but, fortunately, Aziraphale has both time and the immense patience of an angel. He's confident he can channel Sherlock's brilliance and unrelenting energy into a better outlet than recreational drugs.
Sherlock is perfect.
John understands, but Crowley is curious.
"Aren't you going to ask why I'm sending you to fight terrorists? A hero's job?"
"No. You're a demon asking me to do a hero's job, which in your case means killing as many people as I can, experiencing war, coming home broken and making London that much more dour with my fucking face filling the whole place with anxiety over the poor sodding cripple."
Crowley shifts uncomfortably. "Well. So long as you're aware."
Sherlock understands, but Aziraphale is curious.
"You aren't at all wondering why I'm telling you to commit these petty crimes? See gruesome things?"
"No. You're an angel asking me to do wrong to try and defend the innocent. You're shoving me into the darkest corners of this city in order to protect it from underneath, without any sort of recognition for my deeds- in fact, more people will hate me than not. It's your idea of extreme humility. Your idea of 'greater good'."
Aziraphale discreetly coughs. "I suppose I should be thankful, dear."
An Apocalypse is averted, and no one clearly remembers it save a handful of people residing in Lower Tadfield, a demon, an angel, a doctor and a detective.
Some time later, the doctor is invalided home, and by sheer happenstance, he is introduced to the detective by a mutual friend.
At entirely the wrong time.
Aziraphale screws up his nose and straightens his bowtie, giving what he hopes is a light grin. "No, sorry, dear, I'm very, very sorry, but he's a bad idea. That John Watson character just won't do at all. Hm. You need another flatmate. Just not him."
Sherlock immediately perks up. Hopefully, he asks, "Why? Did I miss something? Is he a murderer with a penchant for going after his flatmates? Some sort of secret operative, or-"
"No, no! Heavens, no."
"Thought not, but it was worth a try. Someone that unwavering must hide something absolutely thrilling beneath such a plain exterior. He's not got anything to do with you at all?"
"No. Not to me. It's just. It's a bad idea. Trust me, dear, I don't want you tangled up in nonsense outside of my control-"
"Don't call me 'dear', Aziraphale."
"But I stand by my decision. He's a war hero. Do you realize what this means? He's a sharpshooter, and I'd bet anything he still has his gun. He's determined and strong and, most importantly, he's a good man."
"No! He's most definitely not!"
"He reminded me of you, you know. It might've been the eyes."
"I located the bloody child for you. Tadfield's records are possibly the worst-kept in Britain but I did it anyway. I don't come free, and I don't do favors for silly angels that can't respect my boundaries. No miracle-ing the idea out of my head, either, remember our deal about messing with my thoughts."
Aziraphale is helpless to do anything as Sherlock sticks his nose obstinately in the air. In all the years he's known him, Sherlock has never once given Aziraphale any indication that he will be easy to manipulate. Sherlock stubbornly ignores Aziraphale's hints to acknowledge the thankful families of the victims he's found justice for and any and all insinuations that he might be doing his work for the satisfaction of a good deed well done.
"I'm meeting him tomorrow, and there's really nothing you can do about it. Don't give him a cold or anything stupid, and for Heaven's sake, don't dare call Mycroft. Whatever you think can go wrong, I can handle it. Now please get out of my apartment and don't call me again unless it's a real emergency."
Sherlock neatly guides Aziraphale outside, but even when the door is shut, Aziraphale can sense the beginnings of the most dreadful emotion permeating from the residence that he could be detecting at that very moment, under those very circumstances.
He feels the very beginning stirrings of true love, and Aziraphale groans, realizing the incredibly huge mistake he has made.
Crowley looks haggard. "John, I am telling you, don't do this."
John, bemused, sits back on the bench and stares out into the Thames. "I killed a man for him, Crowley. Isn't that a bit your area? You should have seen it, the way he ripped through London like he bloody well owned it. I'm sure he does think he owns it. Jumped over rooftops like it was nothing."
"Yes! And now, haven't you had enough? Come on, you're my best man. Don't do this and leave me all alone with just the Satanists to help me with the little fiddly bits."
"What on Earth makes you think that living with Sherlock Holmes is going to make me any less your little harbinger of doom? Don't make that face, I know you think of me like that. And really, I don't mind so long as you leave me the hell alone when I'm not shooting people and getting into wars and getting my arse stuck in a miserable pit of a flat with a cruddy excuse for a pension."
"Yes! And I owe you a lot for Afghanistan, but, but. I'd be thankful- really, really thankful if you stayed away from Sherlock Holmes. It's for your own good."
Without even the slightest hesitation, John Watson gets up off the bench and gives Crowley a little quirk of the eyebrows. "See? No crutch. And now, goodbye. Call me when there's a lady you want heartbroken, or a patient to give bad news to. But leave me alone."
Crowley watches the figure of John Watson walk away from him, hands in his pockets, looking for all the world like a mind-bogglingly harmless man, knowing that this man has killed, and fought, and roared and screamed and wrung desperate, pathetically unanswered prayers from men under the dust and sweat and blood of the world.
John looks back after a few steps, beaming, looking like he's been fixed, just a little bit.
"He reminds me of you, you know. The cheekbones, I think."
Crowley, once John is a safe distance away, lets his mask of cool, collected calm slip off his face and he runs his pale fingers through his hair, sure that he's fucked things up good and proper. There's an unmistakable whiff of the very first bits of lust beginning to form around John, and it's terrible.
Later, in the back of Aziraphale's newly refurbished bookstore, Crowley and Aziraphale ponder over having a second bottle.
"Let's hope terrible, terrible things happen."
"What? It doesn't matter if we like them especially. They'll die, just like everyone else we've liked especially."
Two 'second' bottles materialize in front of the pair simultaneously.
Aziraphale mumbles, snatching the one he summoned and pulling at the cork, "It's fixable. We can do this without hurting either of them."
"But you don't mean to tell them?" Crowley asks, taking his bottle and simply wising the cork away.
"I couldn't bear it. Maybe if we break it to them now..."
"And what? What good would that do? It wouldn't stop them from seeing each other again. I know John. He takes orders, but never from me. That stupid pact won't let me stop him from doing what he wants. And what he wants is to make googly eyes at your..."
"My agent, Crowley. He's my agent. And same with me. I couldn't make Sherlock do anything if I tried. He's terribly clever, but even he won't be able to think his way through this one."
Crowley eyes Aziraphale over his cup. "John says Sherlock's a bit like me."
"And Sherlock tells me that John resembles me."
"A do-gooder, yes."
"Sherlock? Bit morbid."
"Proper English gentleman. Most times. Annoyingly so."
"Oh for Hea- Go- Chr- crying out loud. They'll go mad for each other within the year."
"I say within months. Sherlock hasn't had that kind of connection. Ever. He'll fall as soon as he manages to tell himself it's not so shameful to care." Aziraphale moans, head in his hands. "Is it too late to switch representatives?"
"I think so. Otherwise I'd have picked another one already."
The angel and the demon thump their heads against the wooden table, hyper-aware of the situation that looms over their heads, like an umbrella if an umbrella were made of resentment towards the workings of the Ineffable Plan.
After a while, Aziraphale clutches at his bottle and murmurs, "How long 'till the Heaven-Hell Negotiations Committees Meeting?"
"Not for a bit more than half a year, but we have a Popsicle's chance in Hell of nothing happening between your bloke and John in that time. And believe me, that's no chance at all. The brats there aren't above nicking desserts just for kicks."
"All we can hope for now is God's mercy."
Crowley looks at Aziraphale strangely. "No. All we can hope for is that when the time comes for the Human Representatives to fight each other in a battle of souls or whatever, neither of them will feel too terribly about killing their boyfriend for Hell."
"For Heaven, too, dear."
"Right. The Earth's as good as gone now. Want another glass? Ah, thanks."
John doesn't find it at all odd that Sherlock, when all seems lost, has the mysterious ability to conjure up an imperative clue at the last minute to save the day. He just goes on assuming that it's all just Sherlock's stupid good luck, and doesn't prod when Sherlock gets eerily good at finding some seemingly nonexistent footprint or stray thread on the ground. He will admit it's downright strange how Sherlock always finds the perfect excuse to get them into buildings, how he always manages to land on his feet during a fall, and how he can get a trail of women after his heels every time they go 'round town, but things like 'suddenly stumbling upon the final puzzle piece and saving hundreds of lives' happens so often that John supposes that that's just the way it goes.
Sherlock chalks up John's uncanny abilities to break the law at exactly the right time to sheer happenstance. Punches land in just the right area to incapacitate muggers that sneak up from behind them without knocking them out, and just the right amount of hearts are broken around John for the both of them to be seen as both rabid ladykillers and incorrigible sweethearts, therefore dissuading the annoying girls and encouraging the useful ones. He's just grateful that John, at random moments of striking foresight, remembers to bring his (illegal) gun whenever there happens to be an overenthusiastic runner with a gun that they hadn't known about before the pursuit. Having John there, beside him, is worth more than doubting how, exactly, John manages to be just dreadful enough all the time.
The pair scour London. They hide out in damp old warehouses and they stake out seedy nightclubs and they chase criminals through the streets and they feel absolutely together, absolutely alive, a hundred percent like a hundred percent of a whole. They find that they fit together.
Sherlock and John tumble into each other one night, dizzy and gasping and incredibly giddy.
The sheer amount of love and lust generated from that night permeates London so thoroughly that both Aziraphale and Crowley, miles away at the Ritz, simultaneously spit out their food.
"Ever make a bucket list?"
"No. I don't suppose I ever thought about it for more than a few days at a time."
"I did. 43 or 44 BC when that stupid rebel army down under was trying to organize a sneak attack. I always figured we'd be casualties, somehow."
"I suppose it's changed since then, that list."
"And gained new relevancy. Ever try and dance on the head of a pin before?"
"Why, Crowley. If I didn't know any better, I'd say you were asking me to-"
"Oh, tell the whole blessed world, why don't you?"
"Don't you think it'd feel rather silly?"
"You know you've always wanted to try."
Sherlock is in John's bed, sleeping off a ridiculously passionate shag while John, humming a tune that sounds suspiciously like the EastEnders theme, makes toast in the kitchen in his pants and nothing else.
John's been sleeping incredibly well. Afghanistan lies like a tamed monster in the back of his brain, sedated and cowed by the immensity of the love that now resides in it, threatening to push it out entirely but altogether too empathetic to evict it. The memories of Afghanistan used to claw at the inside of John's skull, roaring and snarling and spitting. Now, it's down to a halfhearted purr, drowned out by Sherlock's deep, rumbling chuckles and his breathy pants of "John, John!"
John liberally spreads the last of the good butter over the hot toast and stacks it all on a plate beside two mugs of breakfast tea, grinning like a madman. The EastEnders theme mutates into some silly ballad from the radio.
That particular morning, though he does not notice, he cannot hear Afghanistan at all.
Sherlock does not notice the slow change in the Earth's atmosphere. If he does, he chalks it up to strangely enduring post-coital hormones addling his perceptions.
If the weather feels more normal than usual, he frowns and blames it on John. The ability to cloud his senses with only a look belongs solely to him, after all, and it's no wonder he's somehow lost track of the weather when now he can shag John whenever he wants.
If people begin to move and behave in patterns that feel somehow scripted, he scowls and blames it on John. John spoils him with blessedly clever spontaneity every minute they spend together and therefore it's only natural Sherlock's become even more intolerant of others' dullness.
If he feels a slight tugging feeling of anxiety in his stomach every now and then, Sherlock bites his lip and blames it on John. Maybe he's anxious because being John's power of attorney isn't enough. Maybe he ought to propose. Maybe John would like that.
The day arrives.
Much to Crowley's chagrin and Aziraphale's absolute mortification, it is on an incredibly dull day. A normal day. The perfect day to decide the fate of the Earth.
Beelzebub hijacks Crowley's hi-tech sound system, he too unaware that one must actually have speakers plugged into the setup in order to actually hear, and therefore the sound works perfectly by the sheer power of his assumption that it should. The Prince of Hell takes a wicked pleasure in blasting his voice as loudly as he can through the stylish white walls of Crowley's stylish white apartment, warning him that if Crowley's Representative doesn't win Hell the Earth, Crowley is in for pain szzzooo eeexzzzcruciating that an eeeternity roooaaaszzzting in flaaames waiting for deeeaaath would be prefeeerable.
The Metatron, slightly more politely, contacts Aziraphale through a shaft of holy light, though his somewhat snide remarks about menial chores doing accounting in Heaven makes Aziraphale's lip curl.
Crowley picks up Aziraphale and the pair arrive at 221B Baker Street in Crowley's Bentley, a bit frayed around the edges.
Understandably, John's knuckles go white where they grip the armrest. He looks deadly calm, even as Aziraphale introduces himself to him, trying very hard not to look him in the eye. And not succeeding, because John's fixed Aziraphale with a glare that shouldn't be possible in a human.
Sherlock is, surprisingly, a bit more generous with his emotions. He goes positively livid, shouting long strings of curses at Aziraphale and Crowley, throwing his teacup and shaking and running his hands through his hair, until finally he goes quiet and folds himself into the little patch of floor directly behind John's armchair, leaning heavily, back-to-back with his flatmate, colleague and friend.
John looks deceptively calm.
'Like a bomb just before it goes off,' Crowley thinks distractedly.
"So that's it, then. We're going to decide the fate of the world." John stares dead ahead, voice light.
"Er- not really. Just- the higher-ups don't quite understand the nature of humanity, see. They wanted examples. Everything boils down to what you do today, yes, but all in all, it's God's decision."
"Why not a serial killer and a saint?"
"Too like both ends of the spectrum."
Aziraphale says, "Because... You both represent paradoxes. Opposites. Sherlock is my agent for good, but... well, you know him. And John Watson, you are Crowley's agent for evil, but, look at yourself. A killer but a good man. You two were perfect."
"And you let me fall in love, knowing this."
Sherlock suddenly flinches, still curled up in his place at the base of the back of John's armchair, but John hasn't moved at all, even in the moment of quiet revelation.
Crowley nods at Aziraphale, who squeezes his eyes shut, and then the pair of them quietly leave.
The air is still.
The whole world holds its breath.
John Watson states, matter-of-factly, "Well. Sherlock. You had better kill me painlessly, then."
And all of a sudden, all of the Earth's sounds come rushing back into existence. The wind shifts, subtly, existing not in one particular place but blowing everywhere, across space and time. Sherlock shoots up like a rocket and whirls around, eyes glinting dangerously. "No, you absolute idiot. The world is terrible, can't you see that? It's filled with pain and horror and it's brilliant how I will never be able to stop it no matter how hard I try, and isn't that just perfect, John? The world is nothing. It's rubbish, all of it. Hell had it already, but you can't see that. You utter imbecile."
The sound is deafening, but only Crowley and Aziraphale seem to hear it. The flat is tearing apart, little micro-filaments at a time, still the flat but not really, becoming a space inhabited by four figures that stand at the very edge of a precipice.
John stands up too, face hard. "No, Sherlock. It's good. It's not a lovely peachy warm happy place, but it's good."
"How is it good? How is it any good when I never did anything for y-"
"I met you. And I love you, Sherlock, and how. The world gave me you. It's too good for Hell to win it and bollocks it up. So kill me. Go on, do it. There's the knife on the mantelpiece. I'd like you to be the last thing I see, so do it now while I'm looking at you."
John spreads his arms wide, looking like a little man in a jumper, when all he is at that moment is a black hole, pulling and twisting and empty. John isn't thinking, 'Please, God, let me live,' because the time for that prayer is over. He allows the emptiness to eat him alive, but it never shows on his face.
"You never stopped fighting for the little bit of good you saw, Sherlock Holmes. You can lie, but never to me. So fight now."
"John." Sherlock's voice breaks, and he stares at the little empty hole that is John and he completely shatters, clinging in to the back of the armchair that is somehow no longer an armchair, becoming a little light, a light so incandescent it swallows up the shadows behind him, hot and blazing and sweetly whole. "John. A good world isn't good without you."
John smiles a bit at that, as sadly as he can allow himself to smile. "It will be."
The noise has whistled shrilly for an eternity at this point, vibrating the very essence of the world around them. Sherlock and John are now in a place that is the peak of existence, the place and time where everything is concentrated perfectly, fully ripe and buzzing and too bright and too cold and too dark and too warm. 221B Baker Street is a caricature of itself, a glamour over its true form that throbs more and more vibrantly, the fireplace slowly turning into the original idea of the fireplace, the windows each becoming the entire identity of a window.
John and Sherlock are now just the very wisps of their exteriors superimposed over quivering dimensions, men-shaped supernovas.
"It's not good."
"It's not evil."
And as the world stops turning and everything draws itself inwards, Sherlock and John whisper to each other, still unable to do more than stare into the other's face over the last shreds of the armchair in the middle of the very last remnants of their home, "I'll never be sorry for this."
Simultaneously, they reach for the knife on the mantelpiece- now the very first knife ever made by man, the original idea of the knife, the one knife left in all existence- with every intent to slash their own throats because the other is an idiot-
The world is quiet.
There are no sounds.
There are no colors, no lights, no trees, no buildings, no armies of Heaven or Hell washing over the land.
There is just a hand, and two things it grasps (Cards? Chess pieces?), and a face that smiles.
The hand gently places the things on the tabletop.
The body gets up and leaves.
Crowley and Aziraphale wake up to find that they can't make wine appear from thin air. They can't miracle away parking tickets or turn on broken machines. They can't unfurl their wings.
They don't have wings, anymore.
All they can do is let out short little gasps of wild-eyed laughter and grasp at each other.
One thing hasn't changed.
They are still more alike each other than anything else.
" Two sugars."
"I know. I remember."
"I don't think I ever told you. I do love you, you know. In case you're too stupid to realize it on your own."
"I'm not, Sherlock. I knew."
"Never doubted it."
There is no Heaven. There is no Hell. There is only the world, which has learned to be perfect.
Life remains terrible and wonderful. There are still grisly murders and liars and thieves, but there are still Chinese restaurants and bad telly and honest people. Moriarty is still around, starting fires and burning hearts, but so is Mycroft, silently stopping wars and monitoring the world from behind his desk and asking for nothing in return. There are still people like Anderson, but there are also people like Lestrade.
London is still soggy and cramped and full and alive.
In the middle of it all are two men.
There is a good man that desperately needs the bad.
And there is a man that does bad things but is learning, slowly, to be good.
The world is perfect at last.