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Fallen

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When angels love it’s pure, simple, ethereal. When humans love it’s messy, complicated, and illogical. Perhaps that is what John wondered about the most. The differences between God’s two sentient creations. His fellow Guardian Angels all loved their charges, but like living, breathing pieces of art; ephemeral and fleeting, destined to a short life, some shorter than others. Some were beautiful and elegant, others ugly and twisted; all of them were flawed.

Their human’s choices were not judged, or if they were, certainly not publicly. That was neither a privilege nor a burden that angels had to carry. They guided their humans away from harm as best as they were able within the constraints of the Rules, gave them as many opportunities as possible to make good choices, but in the end they attended to their charges in an almost desultory fashion. Love without emotion, as cool and clinical as the edge of a knife.

John was for some reason becoming… different. He knew this, did his best to hide the fact, but it was clear to him that for some time now his caring for his charges was becoming less and less like an angel’s love and more and more like a human’s. Or at least, so he believed. He could never truly understand what it was to be ‘human’, he could only observe their actions and choices as he had for centuries upon centuries. But more and more often he found himself experiencing things that could only be called ‘emotions’ – anger, frustration, disappointment, protectiveness, loyalty, and, well, love. At least he was pretty sure it was love. It’s a hard thing to know when all your peers are nothing like you. Or, rather, you are suddenly nothing like the rest of your peers.

John wasn’t entirely sure how long this change in him had been growing. Perhaps it had been a century, perhaps only a few decades, slowly shifting, uncoiling, manifesting itself. Or maybe it was his current charge that had brought about this inexplicable difference in him. After all, his human was perhaps the most beautifully flawed human being to come into John’s care.

At the moment of pondering all of this, John was perched upon a ratty chair in the flat of his charge. Feet on the cushions of the seat, he sat along the back of it, wings slowly furling and unfurling as he studied the man lying on the couch before him, one arm flung dramatically over his eyes. Sunlight slid into the room sideways, catching upon motes of dust that swirled and floated lazily through the air, unaffected by the beating of John’s wings. In the world, but not of the world. In a moment irrational desire, he flexed his feathered appendages more fiercely, but the tiny specks of dust paid him not the slightest heed. With a soft sigh his eyes returned to his current charge.

Sherlock Holmes. Not only the world’s only consulting detective but something more and, just as equally, rare. An Adept.

Most humans these days were utterly unaware that the beings of myth and of old were not just fanciful beliefs of their ancient ancestors, but still existed, living below and above and around them. The birth of science, a wondrous utterly human thing, had shifted their focus in a different direction and slowly but surely they forgot how to see the magical forces surrounding them, how to use and shape them and recognize others who could do the same.

Sherlock once more distracted John from his thoughts as he sat up, running his long delicate fingers through his dark curls, pulling at the roots as he shifted restlessly. Equations, rituals, incantations, formulas, observations, information, deductions all jockeying and jostling for a place in his mind till it was fit to burst. Snapping up to his feet, Sherlock stomped over to the windows and harshly drew the blinds, as if the gentle sunlight were an anathema to him. The room was smothered in hazy darkness and with a frustrated groan, John’s human tossed himself back down on the couch, the coffee table before it shuddering slightly with the impact, the scientific equipment thereupon clinking softly in protest and causing John to softly smile for a moment.

That was what was probably the most remarkable thing about Sherlock Holmes; he embraced both worlds. He was as much a man of science as he was a man of magic. He performed experiments and spells with equal grace and ease and even, on occasion, combined these two supposedly opposing forces and crafted them into working in harmony with one another. Even now, beakers and Bunsen burners are surrounded by an elaborate containment circle and sitting next to a spell book. No other Adept has managed to merge magic and science except for Sherlock. He is, quite simply, brilliant.

Well, not so much at the moment. Right now Sherlock is preparing to give himself a hefty dose of morphine.

John watches helplessly as Sherlock draws out an all too familiar black wooden box and opens it, revealing his two drugs of choice and a plastic wrapped syringe within. John’s wings beat the air sharply and silently as slender fingers float over the two options. Bring the mind to focus or turn the mind off? He doesn’t even realize that he is holding his breath till Sherlock chooses the morphine and prepares the needle, plunging it into the bottle and drawing out the fluid within. Not that angels need to breathe.

“That’s too much, Sherlock. You know that’s too much,” John murmurs softly, but intently, as if he could will Sherlock into injecting some of the solution back into the bottle. He isn’t speaking to the man. For all his brilliance and talent, Sherlock is in some ways as blind as most humans. He cannot see John, cannot hear him. His Guardian Angel isn’t speaking so much to Sherlock as he is to a miniscule part of the man, well buried beneath layers of obsession, deduction, determination, and boredom. A small spark that often gutters like a flame in the face of a fierce wind, nearly going out. That tiny part of Sherlock that says ‘I want to live!’

Most humans have a rather high level of self-preservation. Sherlock has barely any. Being his Guardian Angel is a full time job and it is never, ever, boring.

Sherlock’s hands hesitate as he studies the fluid within the syringe in a way that is strangely both dispassionate and adoring. Mercurial silver eyes blink as he weighs the noise in his mind against the contents of the syringe. This last case was a brutal one, the sort that taxed Sherlock to his physical limits and exposed his mind to both situations and magic of the most brutal variety. He’s raw. He’s hurting. He just wants it to go away for a little while. And a tiny part of him rather wants it to go away… forever.

Taking a deep breath, Sherlock places the needle against his arm and slides it home with easy practice. Another breath and he’s pressing the plunger down, down, all the way down.

Bursting off the chair in a flurry of feathers, John barks out, “God damnit, Sherlock!” and just as suddenly becomes completely still and silent. Taking the Lord’s name in vain. That’s new.

He shivers, his body filled with the sort of energy he’s only felt in times of battle… not that he’s raised his sword against any demons in thousands upon thousands of years now. Not since the earth was new. But this is different. This… hurts. Angels don’t feel pain. Not when they are struck and injured in battle, not ever. But John feels what he can only guess is pain, surrounding where his heart would be if he were human. Sherlock is already gasping and wilting, unfolding his long frame down the length of the couch as the drug penetrates his system in a haze of deadly bliss.

Kneeling down next to him, John lifts his hand to stroke it through Sherlock’s hair gently, watching with a sense of sorrow as the drug courses through the human’s system, subsuming the man before him. Of course, there is no tangible connection. He can no more feel Sherlock than Sherlock can feel him. But by God, John feels for this man, whether he’s supposed to or not. And after a second he knows that if someone doesn’t find Sherlock, and soon, he might not make it this time.

He leans forward to press a kiss to Sherlock’s forehead before rising up, his wings snapping open once more. John thrusts up and out of the dingy little flat, soaring as he reaches out to touch the minds of those who might care enough to come to Sherlock’s aid. So few. So damn few.

His brother Mycroft is first, a thought carefully slipped into his many complicated and busy thoughts that it’s been awhile since he’s checked up on Sherlock and perhaps he should consider giving him a call? Or better yet, drop by and take him out for lunch? The poor boy has gotten so thin lately. Emaciated, really. Pity he’s so unreasonable, but Mycroft did promise Mummy he would look out for him.

John waits to see if the idea takes seed and grows, pacing the elegantly attired office where Mycroft sits studying files. A brief nod of acknowledgement is exchanged with the up-and-coming official’s own Guardian who is as calm and placid as his charge. They meet as rarely now as the two brothers do, which is to say, hardly ever. The man glances at his watch and sighs. It’s a packed day. Meetings and debriefings straight on till nightfall. And it’s not like Sherlock will welcome his presence or his interference in his life, no matter how benign and well-meaning the intention.

Tomorrow, he tells himself. He’ll go visit Sherlock tomorrow.

With a growl of unrecognized frustration, John takes flight once more to the other mind that might just care enough to do something.

Lestrade is likewise occupied, but his mind is in no small part fixed upon Sherlock as he goes over the case file before him, making small but crucial changes to the report that would otherwise get him thrown into the loony bin. Has to make it sound actually believable to those who are not in the know.

The Detective Inspector is almost as rare a human being as Sherlock is. He’s not an Adept or a Sensitive but he is far smarter than the consulting detective gives him credit for. However, more impressively, he is able to accept that when the impossible has been eliminated, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. Even though he cannot see the demons and monsters and beings that inhabit this earth alongside humans, he can recognize that they exist. And, even more unusual, recognize when he is out of his depth and needs help. So in cases where the perpetrators of the crime seem to be beyond the bounds of human abilities, he swallows his pride and calls in Sherlock to unravel that improbable truth and then does his best to hide it once it’s been dealt with.

Nodding to Lestrade’s Guardian Angel in silent greeting, John strides through the small and simple office to reach the man’s side. Normally he would take the time to talk to Luthiel. He and his fellow angel have spent a great deal of time together in each other’s company since Lestrade and Sherlock started working together. But right now he has more pressing matters to attend to.

He reaches out a hand and lightly brushes his fingers over the Detective Inspector’s silvery hair in a gesture not unlike the one he gave Sherlock before he left. If John had to choose a human to protect other than the one he is bound to, it would be Lestrade. He is as good a man as any that John has encountered. One deserving of great care. He glances up toward Luthiel for moment, hesitating, but the silent nod of assent gives him all the permission he requires.

It’s so easy to slip the thought, the niggling concern, into Lestrade’s mind. The Inspector already carries a healthy dose of worry for Sherlock, knowing about his dependence on drugs to ease his abilities and his tendency to work himself to the edge of collapse. It’s almost obscene really, how easy it is to manipulate him. Once the seed of concern is planted, it quickly blooms into action. Picking up the report with a slight frown, Lestrade pushes back from his desk and taps it a few times against the wooden surface before reaching a decision.

He pulls his jacket from the coat rack and swings it over his shoulder on the way out of his office, Luthiel and John following behind. He pauses for a moment at his Sergeant’s desk noting, “Just going to pop out for a bit, go over a few last details with Sherlock before filing the report.” He doesn’t even wait for Sally’s look of disgust, that niggling hint of concern blossoming into outright worry as he heads to his car, his walking stride shifting into a quick jog.

John watches as the D.I. disappears into the lift before sighing softly in relief, wings flaring once more as he ascends up and out, winging his way back to Sherlock’s side to offer him what little comfort he can till Lestrade finds him.

Chapter Text

Sherlock is running. Sherlock is always running it seems, dashing this way and that through buildings or traffic, either a target himself or targeting someone. So why should tonight be any different?

All right, that’s not strictly true. He does also spend a great deal of time sitting or lying down as still as a statue, deep in thought with his fingers steepled beneath his chin. He can also move with infinite grace and patience when working on a spell or an experiment. But just as often he’s pacing with a frenetic sort of energy or rushing to some location or another. And when it’s time to track down a killer, chase down a lead, or race against time to stop a crime before it can be committed, Sherlock has never been one to sit back and, Heaven forbid, let the police handle the matter.

John still isn’t sure if it’s a matter of pride for the consulting detective or the irresistible allure of the adrenaline that causes him to hurtle head first into trouble and danger at the least provocation.

At least he’s gotten his drug habit under control. Mostly. That last “accidental” overdose was almost two years ago now. Both Mycroft and Lestrade put their hypothetical feet down after that and made some arrangements to try and rein Sherlock’s dangerous habit in. And if the Detective Inspector had a little help on knowing just exactly when to drop by on a friendly personal drugs bust, who’s to say that he didn’t have a bit of a sixth sense about him when it came to such things? It certainly seemed to improve Sherlock’s opinion of his policing abilities. As well as royally piss him off.

But at the moment the danger in question comes in the form of a young man wearing jeans and a sweatshirt, running south along the tree-lined edge of Victoria Tower Garden, closing in fast on Lambeth Bridge. And Sherlock is closing in on him.

John follows. John always follows, but that’s his job isn’t it? Wouldn’t really do to sit back at the flat and just wait for Sherlock to return, though truly, for all that a Guardian Angel is allowed to do, it sometimes feels like the result would be about the same.

The skies have opened up and rain is pouring down in a torrent. While Sherlock is nearly soaked to the skin, his coat flapping behind him heavily as his long legs extend further and further to make up the distance, John flies behind him, perfectly dry and unaffected by the storm raging above them. He follows at an almost leisurely pace; wings beating the air slowly as he takes in the scene laid out before him, assessing the risks, the situation, taking in the literal bird’s eye view.

“Duck,” he tells Sherlock mildly, just as the wind whips a tree branch toward his head and, for once, Sherlock obediently does as he’s told, his mind more open and aware in the middle of a chase, more susceptible to John’s gentle hints and nudges than when he’s deeply buried in his own thoughts and concerns. But in retrospect, it would have been better to not warn his charge of any dangers of incoming branches or even incoming cars. Not when John knows what is ahead of Sherlock, just what it is that he’s chasing. After all, it’s not a man they are pursuing tonight but a demon. A demon with, of all things, a gun. A gun. What will they think up next?

The ground shifts from grass and dirt to pavement as Sherlock hits the bridge and gains more traction, his pace increasing as the distance between him and his quarry grows shorter. Between the lateness of the hour and the vile weather, there are few cars driving over the bridge tonight. They are, for all intents and purposes, on their own.

Lestrade and his people are following behind, but not nearly close enough. A blessing and a curse. They’re too far behind to help Sherlock, but also too far behind to come to any harm. Because the problem is, Sherlock doesn’t know it’s a demon that he’s chasing. Hell’s bells, he doesn’t even think it’s a man with a gun. Not that it would honestly stop him if he did. No, he’s in hot pursuit, eyes on the prize, fully determined to catch this seemingly young and innocent quarry that has been responsible for at least ten murder/rapes in parks of London so far. Not that he committed a single one of them personally, but that doesn’t make him any less responsible for the fact that they happened.

John can’t help but feel a sickening sensation in his stomach as Sherlock reaches out with his fingertips to snag at the hood of the sweatshirt before him, fingers curling into the fabric and pulling backward just as he continues to surge forward. The two bodies collide and go down in an untidy heap.

Fluttering to the ground, John’s wings twitch restlessly as the two ‘men’ struggle before a sharp jab to the stomach leaves Sherlock rolling on the ground in pain while his opponent surges back and up to his feet, gun drawn.

He’s a minor demon, not much power, but enough to fool the eyes of mortal man, enough to taint the hearts and minds of souls already on the edge of corruption. He’s a ladder-climber, with the potential to be very powerful if he simply has the patience for it. But he’s greedy. Greedy for more and wanting it all now. And he sees Sherlock as quite the bonus prize in his current string of pilfered souls. There’s something of a bounty on the Adept’s soul down in Hell. They’d prefer him alive, of course, and wreaking havoc on Earth for their side ‘til he dies and his soul is theirs, but honestly they’ll take him either way they can get him, if for no other reason than to be done with his infernal interference.

Sherlock has gotten up to his feet as well, hand on his stomach, still trying to catch his breath as he leans against the railing of the bridge and stares at the gun in disgust. “A gun. Really? How far the damned have fallen, that you have to rely upon the weapons of man…” Blinking, John turns and stares at Sherlock to realize that he’s ‘looking’ at the culprit now. His third eye is still weak, a newly gained talent for seeing what is magically hidden, but this demon is not particularly adept at secreting away his true nature. His dark hair is plastered to his head, his eyes narrowed in concentration, a faint hint of power behind those irises as he studies his foe.

Stepping closer, John receives confirmation that Sherlock still cannot see him. No great surprise there. Angels are the hardest of supernatural beings to be seen unless it is their duty to be so. The demon sneers even as John lifts his wings up in threat. Of course he sneers. John can look as threatening as he wants, but they both know that Guardian Angels do not interfere.

They can hear shouts as Lestrade nears the end of the bridge. The demon pays the approaching humans as little heed as he does John. They are, like the angel, impotent. Gesturing with his gun the demon snorts, “I was hoping to bring you in alive, but honestly I’ll take you any way I can.” Ambitious and smart. Smart enough not to gloat about his success or taunt Sherlock, allowing the Adept time to reach into his pocket for a protective spell or weapon. Without hesitation, he points the gun at Sherlock and shoots.

Things happen so fast that they can barely be seen, but to John, everything feels like it’s moving in slow motion.

The bullet flies through the air, striking Sherlock in the shoulder and flinging him backward with such force that it pushes him back onto the wide railing of the bridge. He teeters there for a moment, flailing in shock and pain before gravity makes the decision for him. His long lanky frame tilts over the edge of the railing and falls down, down, down toward the frothing surface of the Thames.

At nearly the same moment, a sensation of pure fury and fire blossoms within John. Reaching down to his hip, he draws the sword of his spirit and charges the demon without a second thought to things such as consequences. Leaping into the air, wings flared, John descends upon the demon in a flash of burning light, the skies above booming and roaring in a reaction of thunderous shock. The minion of Hell doesn’t have more than a second to look up at John in pure astonishment, his hand futilely rising to try and ward the angel off before he is struck down in a white blaze of righteous rage.

With the demon slain, John pivots and flies, surging down, down, after Sherlock, arms wrapping about him protectively, wings narrowed, as they plunge beneath the surface of the Thames together.

It is no effort at all to pull them both free of the freezing grasp of the water, and John knows that he has precious little time now. He’s broken the Rules. He’s interfered. And Sherlock is still dying in his arms.

Not on his watch. Not this time. In for a penny, in for a pound, and damn the price.

Sherlock’s body is utterly limp in his arms, head lolling back, his frame boneless, his face as white as a corpse. Cradling his charge in his arms by the edge of the Thames, John places his hand over Sherlock’s left shoulder. He can feel the bullet where it has come to a stop, imbedded in the shattered remains of Sherlock’s scapula. He pulls the lump of metal toward his palm like a magnet, weaving it backwards through the path it has already carved through tender flesh, until it rests within John’s grasp, still hot and dripping with blood. The offending object is thrown violently into the river before John places his palm once more against the open wound.

Brow creasing in concentration, he uses his powers in a way he hasn’t needed to for eons; to heal the wound, reknitting bones, mending torn flesh and opened arteries. In turn, John feels like his blood is singing in his veins, the power within him that he is so often forbidden to yield deliciously sweet and rich. This is what it must feel like to take in a deep breath of pure fresh air, or eat a delicious meal after too long a fast. It’s invigorating. For the first time in longer than John can recall he feels truly alive. If angels could cry, his eyes would be filling with tears for the pure joy of doing what he has been yearning to do for years now; use his power to heal and protect what is his.

Drawing away his hand, John silently studies the once again perfect and unmarred flesh of Sherlock’s shoulder, a tiny smile gracing his lips. His body is still lax and unresponsive, lips tinged with blue from the cold and the blood loss. He can’t replace the lost blood, but he knows he doesn’t have to… that Lestrade will find Sherlock shortly. Reaching out with his senses, John feels the frantic panic coming off of Lestrade and gently sends out a beacon to the man. Here. Look here, along the river's bank. Come find us. He shifts, cradling Sherlock against his chest, embracing him as he waits for Lestrade. Waits for judgment to fall.

Sherlock’s eyes slowly flutter open, his body weak and sodden in John’s arms. His pale gaze is unfocused and scattered, in shock, his body starting to shiver with cold. Wrapping his wings around them, cocooning Sherlock from the elements, John increases his body temperature to try and warm his charge while he still can. Give him a better chance of survival. And all the while he gently rocks his human and murmurs softly, “It’s alright. I’ve got you. You’re going to be okay. I got you. I won’t let anyone hurt you.” He reaches out once more, that small smile growing broader as he can sense Lestrade drawing closer, walking along the edge of the Thames now, heading in the right direction.

His palm curves over Sherlock’s cheek as he gazes down into his human’s pale silver eyes, whispering, “Lestrade is coming. You’re going to be fine. Just stay with me Sherlock. Stay.” His lips twist sadly as he drinks in his fill of the man before him, ocean-blue eyes flickering over those fine elegant features for the last time, fingers trailing through the dark wet locks upon his brow. The bittersweet irony is not lost on John. After all, it isn’t Sherlock that is leaving.

He could have sworn that those eyes of light and mercury met his and actually saw him for the first time, and the last, just before he felt himself torn away and whirled off into darkness.

Chapter Text

At first he can’t tell where he is. A street, somewhere in London, empty and abandoned, half the lights out and unnaturally quiet. He surges up, opening his wings to rise, and immediately crashes down to the ground on legs barely willing to hold up his weight. He has never felt like this before because with brutal abruptness John can actually feel. He can feel the cold of the night air upon his skin. He can feel the weight of his body, a baffling weakness in his limbs. Beneath his hands he can feel the rough surface of the road, the grit, the wet. Against his frame he can feel the gentle fall of the rain as the storm starts to subside.

John feels at once lighter and heavier, both physically and spiritually, and with suddenly trembling fingers he reaches behind his back to feel the truth. His wings… are gone.

“You have been cast out. You are Fallen, John. You know what comes next,” calls a voice before him, cool and firm.

Panting, down on one knee, John glances up at the Archangel hovering over him and shakes his head in astonishment, droplets of water scattering to and fro as they flick free of his hair. “Michael. I’m surprised that they felt it necessary to send you to deal with me.” Slowly, unsteadily, he regains his feet, swaying slightly from side to side as he tests gravity and finds his balance. He has to learn in seconds what most humans have years to attain. “I don’t know if I should feel honored that He thought I would be too much of a match for anyone else, or shamed that He didn’t think I was worth the time to smite Himself.” What is this he’s feeling? Bitterness? Anger? It tastes sharp and acrid in his mouth. It lights a fire in his belly.

Michael’s beautiful face is peaceful, impassive, as he intones mildly, “You should feel neither, and for that reason alone it is clear why He felt it was time for you to be banished.” Within the Archangel’s hand his sword glows a brilliant white. But he doesn’t move to strike John. Instead he asks, “He wants to know why. Why did you betray the Rules, John? Why did you intercede on your human’s behalf?”

Time. Whether it is intentional or not, he’s been given time to adjust, to learn this body, master these sensations, before putting them to the test. His lips curl into a smile, but without any pleasure. “Oh please, exactly whom are you trying to fool? I might not sit at His right hand as you do, but even a child brought up in church knows about God and sparrows. It is you who wants to know because you cannot understand.” His head tilts slightly as he looks up at the angelic figure before him, teeth baring fiercely as he asks, “Am I your apple, Michael? Do you truly wish to take a bite from me so you can experience the knowledge for yourself?”

The Archangel doesn’t reply in words, though his lips form a thin line of displeasure and the grip upon his sword tightens at the implication of John’s taunt. Shaking his head, John breathes out a breath, an actual breath. Maybe it starts here. New ideas. Questioning tradition. Maybe he is the pebble that begins the landslide. Either way, it’s almost a relief to be able to finally express out loud what he’s been holding inside for so very long. Perhaps this is what confessionals are like. Perhaps this is, in fact, an act of kindness on the part of the Archangel, to allow John to unburden his soul, as it were, before departing forever.

“Because they deserve our help. Because the scales are unbalanced, with Evil allowed to do anything and everything while we sit by the sidelines and haplessly cheer our charges on to make good choices and avoid temptation. Because those charges who fight for justice, for mercy, for goodness and against violence, cruelty, and brutality deserve more than a smile and a pat on their proverbial heads. They deserve our support, our strength, our action. They are the true angels. They’re the ones doing the work that we should be doing.”

Michael seems to consider those words for a moment, turning his head away as if looking at something unseeable before turning back and pointing out, “But your human. His motivations are not what one would call altruistic. He does not do what he does for the betterment of mankind. He does not pursue those that would perpetuate evil because he cares about their victims or concerns himself with what harm might come if they are unchecked. He does it because he is bored. Because it entertains him and interests him to do so. It sustains his ego and his pride and gives him pleasure. His motivations are purely selfish and it would take little effort to shift his talents from being arbitrarily ‘good’ to being actively ‘evil’. In that regard,” he deigns to offer, “I must compliment you, John. You helped him to make good choices in the face of great temptation and darker opportunities. But your work now is done.” The sword is raised up high as Michael intones mildly, “Prepare yourself.”

Prepare himself? Prepare himself for what? There will be no Heaven, no Hell, not even a mortal life or Purgatory for a Fallen one. After the mistake with Lucifer, angels are never left to simply ‘fall’; they fall and are then destroyed. Utterly, completely, and forever. How does one prepare for the end of everything? For nothing? Does Michael truly expect him to go like a lamb to the slaughter after breaking his bonds of service?

He doesn’t have a chance, and he knows he doesn’t. Not against God’s greatest warrior angel. But the fire burning in his belly has risen up to engulf his heart and his head, a tingling in his hand causing his gaze to drop and then stare in confusion. There, much to his shock, is the impossible in his hand. He didn’t remember drawing it. He couldn’t draw it, could he? His wings are gone. He is Fallen. No longer an angel. And yet there it is, his sword in his hand, glowing fiercely and pulsing with his newfound emotions.

Slowly his head lifts to stare at Michael, the Archangel standing there with infinite peace and grace, prepared to do his duty with the same dispassionate calm as all of his brethren. John doesn’t have a chance, but by God if he is going to come to his end here he will leave this world, this newfound life, feeling everything he can and fighting until the very end.

As the sword of the Archangel descends, John is spurred into action. With a heave and a roar he flings himself forward, bringing his sword to bear and crashing it against Michael’s. Blocking the blade he pivots around, sliding his blade free and then charges back in. There is a brief surge of pride as his attack forces the Archangel backward, sparks and fire flaring up from where their two swords meet. Michael yields another step back and looks almost puzzled before charging John, who manages to block the strike of the oncoming sword and spin out of the way again, driving his blade toward an exposed flank.

While Michael’s sword glows with a cool and steady white light, John’s sputters and flares with all the colors of the rainbow; an oil spill of power and energy that meets each slash and thrust of his opponent’s blade with matching strength and speed. But it does not last. John’s body struggles to keep up with Michael’s swift attacks and more and more he finds himself on the defensive, retreating in the face of the strength and confidence of the Archangel.

It is with a sense of shame that he feels the hilt pull from his fingers, Michael’s glowing blade blocking his attempt at an attack and then circling around and beneath to slap the sword up and out of John’s grip. He leaps to try and capture it, only to feel a line of fire and ice slash over his right thigh, the pain like nothing he has ever felt before. Angels feel neither pain nor pleasure. Collapsing, John clutches at the wound that doesn’t bleed, only burns, gasping for breath as these new sensations fill him, overwhelm him. This is it. This is the end. At least it was a good fight. At least he was able to save Sherlock one last time. At least he got to remember, even if only for a brief moment, what it was like to be truly alive again.

He waits, head lowered, for the final blow, and when it doesn’t come, John lifts his head up again and stares in confusion. Michael’s sword is lowered to the ground, the tip of it touching the asphalt beneath his feet, scorching it. He should have his sword raised. He should have split John in half, destroying him utterly and completely. But instead of smiting him, Michael stares at John’s sword resting on the ground a few feet away, still glowing with power.

“Come on,” John manages to rasp. “Finish it.”

He doesn’t understand at all when Michael sheathes his sword. He understands even less when his own sword is picked up by the Archangel, flaring and sputtering in the hands of one for whom it was not made. And when Michael takes the weapon and plunges it into John’s left shoulder all comprehension vanishes in a burst of agony and then darkness.

Chapter Text

Where he is is painfully obvious, even with his eyes closed. The beeping of monitoring equipment, the powerful scent of disinfectant, the bustle of nurses and doctors beyond a closed door, the subtle weight and pull of the tape from the IV in his wrist, the pathetically low thread-count sheets beneath his fingers and the positively anemic blanket covering his frame. A hospital. How dreadfully boring. Now if he can only remember why… that’s sure to be more interesting.

Flickering his eyes open, Sherlock breathes a small sigh of relief as someone has at least had the decency to turn off the florescent lights overhead so he doesn’t have to painfully squint in an overly bright room. He takes a moment to assess his transport, his body feeling weak and tired, his eyes fastening onto the IV feeding blood and plasma into his system before moving on. At least the room is quiet and dim and free of annoying doctors and nurses poking and prodding at him. The small amount of pleasure gained from those facts dissolves when his eyes alight upon the individual responsible.

“You,” he manages to rumble with a tone of disgust. “What are you doing here?”

Glancing down at the floor, as if studying the perfectly polished tip of his shoe, Mycroft chides mildly, “Really, Sherlock, I should think that would be painfully obvious, even in your…” and he takes a moment to find just the right word before lifting his head and smiling condescendingly at his younger brother. “ …diminished state.”

His umbrella lightly taps upon the linoleum floor as he crosses over from the wall to stand at his brother’s side, noting, “This is the second time in two years that I’ve had to come to see you at the hospital. If you will only allow one familial social visit per year, couldn’t you at least choose Christmas or some other holiday? And a more suitable location?” His head turns to take in their surroundings, nose wrinkling as he points out, “The food and the atmosphere are so much nicer at Mummy’s house, and she misses you so.”

Turning his head and closing his eyes, as if that would be enough to make Mycroft disappear, Sherlock intones archly, “Go away, Mycroft,” the fingers of his right hand lifting to make a small complicated gesture that is rather reminiscent of a shooing motion. With a small scoffing noise, Mycroft notes, “If you think a pathetic warding spell like that is going to work on the likes of me, you’re in even worse condition than I thought.”

There is a shrill scraping sound as he pulls a chair up to Sherlock’s bedside and sits down, taking a moment to make himself comfortable as possible before asking, “So why aren’t you? In worse condition, I mean.”

Sherlock turns back, scowling at his brother as he rumbles angrily, “What do you mean, not in worse condition? I was shot!“ His fingers lift to touch his left shoulder only to find… nothing. No bandages, no wound, only smooth, unmarred flesh.

“Yeeeeeeeeeeessss, exactly,” Mycroft concurs dryly as he takes in the look of surprise that crosses his brother’s features, quickly followed by disgruntled confusion. “You were brought in covered in blood and with a bullet hole in your clothing and yet… no bullet. Strange, no?” His gaze has wandered again, studying the tip of his umbrella now as he idly twirls it, as if by averting his gaze he might cajole his brother into being more open with him, or at least not fighting him for each and every sentence.

“Even though you are a respectably powerful Adept, even you do not have the capability of removing a bullet from your body and healing the damage, so the question becomes, what became of it? Additionally, with the rate and direction at which the Thames was flowing this evening, you should have been washed up on the opposite shore much further down than you were, if you were to land ashore at all. In fact, your body was found practically cross-current.” His head lifts to study Sherlock’s features to see what he might give away in this moment of weakness, but his brother’s eyes are staring straight up at the ceiling, his gaze turned inward and introspective as he tries to re-enact in his mind the events of the evening.

“What is most intriguing, however, is the rather irrefutable proof that you were, as you indicated, shot.” Sherlock offers up no reaction to the statement, so Mycroft indulges him with the unrequested facts. “Upon arrival at the hospital you were suffering from extremely low blood pressure and the effects of cold and shock. Perfectly normal for having taken a dip in the Thames in January. However, your heart rate was highly elevated and there was no improvement in your condition once your environment and body temperature were stabilized. A closer look revealed that your blood volume has somehow been… reduced. Somewhere, somehow, you lost nearly three pints of blood. No internal injuries, no obvious wounds. The blood was just…gone.” His gaze shifts down to the floor once more, hiding a slight frisson of worry as he remembers what it looked like, what he thought, when he first saw Sherlock surrounded by doctors, looking for all the world like one of the corpses his younger brother so loved to poke and prod. “That, coupled with the rather blatant damage to your clothes would indicate that you were, indeed, shot.”

He taps the tip of his umbrella upon the ground as his eyes lift to meet Sherlock’s. “Quite miraculous, don’t you think?”

For once his brother’s gaze is unusually vulnerable, hazy with confusion, his brow creased in concentration as he tries to remember what happened under the aegis of shock and pain. His fingers continue to rub over his shoulder, as he finally rumbles in vague annoyance, “You’re repeating yourself. I assure you, I am in full possession of all my faculties and can readily predict your story’s progression to its rather obvious conclusions.”

“Except for the part where we still don’t have any answers as to why you’re not drowned in the Thames with a bullet hole in your shoulder.”

Sherlock’s lips curl in a small wry smile as he mumbles to himself, “Solve a mystery only to gain a mystery. Must be my lucky day…”

With a sigh of frustration, Mycroft points out, “If you’re going to drag me out of emergency meetings in the middle of the night because you’re involved in something you can’t handle, the least you could do is tell me what you remember.”

Sherlock snorts softly as he retorts, “I didn’t drag you anywhere. If you came out of a sense of familial duty that is your problem, not mine. I didn’t ask you come and I don’t need you to be here. And for the record, I don’t remember anything after being shot.” His hand waves once more, this time in a dismissive sort of motion. He needs to think and Mycroft is like a gnat buzzing in his ear. A distraction. His eyes slowly close once more, but this time in self-reflection rather than active rebellion, his hands folding beneath his chin as he adopts his ‘thinking’ pose. The silence between them is ominously loud, as it seems that Sherlock is not inclined to say anything more.

Rising up to feet, Mycroft sniffs and replies, “Fine. The Detective Inspector is waiting outside and he’s most eager to speak with you. Do you feel well enough to see him?”

Sherlock’s eyes remain closed, but his chin dips once in silent assent.

Striding over to the door, Mycroft’s hand reaches for the knob and then stops, resting there for a moment. Turning back to study his brother, his face gentles, frustration giving way to concern as he gazes back at the fragile form lying on the hospital bed. “You know my offer still stands. You could come and work for me. We could use your talents, Sherlock. You’re wasting yourself with this whole silly consulting detective thing. You could be making a real difference, saving lives you know. We still haven’t been able to magically enhance the CCTV system into being able to record and reveal Otherkind. With your abilities we could revolutionize technology, bring the hidden to light.”

His eyes open, flicking to one side disdainfully as Sherlock snipes, “What, and be your trick dog so you can move further up the government ladder? It’s not enough that you’re a powerful Sensitive, is it, Mycroft? Oh, no, you want me as your puppet Adept so you can control the world. No thank you, Mycroft. Now go away.”

Frowning, as if dealing with an intractable teenager, Mycroft’s voice adopts an arch and condescending tone. “You really need to cease and desist with this childish feud. You are an Adept without the ability to sense Otherkind and I am a Sensitive. Face it, Sherlock, together we would be an unstoppable force.”

Glaring at the ceiling, the younger Holmes huffs angrily, petulantly retorting, “The answer has been, is now, and forever will be no! Now please kindly bugger off!” And with that, Sherlock rolls over, presenting the long line of his back to his brother. The message is clear: this conversation is over.

Lips drawing into a thin line, Mycroft opens the door and steps out into the hallway, closing it softly behind him. His eyes rest upon the floor for a moment as he composes himself, and once his expression is calm and controlled he steps over toward Lestrade and reports, “He’ll see you now,” before making his way down the hospital corridor, umbrella tapping against the ground with each step.

Rising up to his feet uncertainly, DI Geoffrey Lestrade stares at the retreating figure for a moment before shrugging his shoulders and knocking lightly on the door to Sherlock’s room before entering it. The figure on the bed turns his head to ensure that it is, in fact, the Detective Inspector standing there before shifting to face the door again, studying the bloodied and rumpled figure of the man.

“You look like hell.”

“That would be your fault,” the police officer points out dryly, but his hands do tug at his clothes, straightening them as best he can. Crossing over to the bed, Lestrade takes the seat that Mycroft abandoned and asks directly, “So, what happened tonight?”

Sherlock’s expression turns introspective for a moment before he shakes his head and counters, “Tell me what you saw.”

Blowing out a breath, Geoff rakes his hands through his silver hair and leans back in the chair. “All right, let's see. You were chasing the suspect that you encountered in the park because you couldn’t be bothered to wait for my team.”

Sherlock waves a hand dismissively, interrupting to point out, “He would have got away…”

“Right, and you could have got yourself killed. Hell, we all thought you did get yourself killed.”

“Mmmmm, and I’m sure Anderson and Sergeant Donovan were so disappointed to be wrong. Again.”

With an impatient snort, Lestrade wrests back control of the conversation. “Anywaaay, so we followed as soon as we got a bead on the pair of you. By the time we made it to Lambeth bridge you were stopped more than half way across I would guess.” He rubs his face at the recollection at what came next, all of it just a little too strange to be believed.

“And? And?!”

“Right, just hold your horses, I’m getting to it,” huffs the Inspector Detective, “Do you want me to tell you the rest or do you want to guess at the rest?”

“I never guess,” Sherlock corrects archly, his mouth opening to comment further before Lestrade cuts him off.

“Right, and since you weren’t there and you don’t guess then you can just bloody well shut up for once and let me finish.” He waits to see if Sherlock will interrupt him again, and for a moment it looks as if the younger man will, an irritated and petulant expression coming over his features before he waves a hand to indicate that Geoffrey may continue.

“Thank you. As I was saying, as far as I could see, the suspect pulled out a gun and shot you in the upper chest or shoulder region. You went over the railing. But you know that bit. Seconds after you went over the edge there was a massive flash of lightning and a fuck-all loud crash of thunder. By the time we had caught up to where you’d been, you were nowhere in sight and the ‘suspect’ was little more than a blackened husk.” His hand covers his mouth, rubbing at it slightly as he shakes his head. “It was like nothing I’ve ever seen before. I mean, I’ve seen people who have been struck by lightning. Burns at the strike point and exit point are not abnormal but this… going to have a devil of a time explaining it all in my report…”

His gaze flickers over towards Sherlock. He already suspects, but he asks anyways. “That wasn’t lightning that we saw, was it?”

Sniffing disdainfully, Sherlock notes archly, “I wasn’t there, remember? But no. Probably not.” His head turns to study Lestrade’s face as he adds, “It was a demon. He was responsible.”

Sputtering slightly, the detective snaps, “A demon? And just how, exactly, am I supposed to investigate and prosecute that?!”

“Well, seeing as it’s dead, the prosecuting part is rather null and void I should say…”

“Sherlock, seriously, how…”

His long fingers flick through the air as he replies, “The parks were his base of power. The place he had the most control over people. Perhaps he made a deal with some nature spirits or the dryads there. No telling now. That was his way of collecting souls. Finding relationships that were unstable, goading and convincing the men that their girlfriends or wives were unfaithful. Bringing them to the point where they couldn’t think straight, to where they turned on the ones they loved in a jealous rage. Then offered them a deal; make all the evidence disappear for their souls. Convinced them that they were damned either way, not a particularly hard task to pull off, before convincing them that it would be better to remain free than to be in prison for the rest of your life and your afterlife. If they even truly believed they were signing over their souls in the first place…”

“How could you possib… but that’s… that’s diabolical!”

One brow arches up superciliously as Sherlock gives Lestrade a look and replies drolly, “Well, it was a demon.” His gaze wanders, turning introspective again before he murmurs, “As for the investigative part, I recommend testing the evidence again. It’s entirely possible, now that the demon has been destroyed, that his influence has been nullified. Retesting DNA samples might yield you matches to the men in question. It would be easy enough to claim that the samples were all sent to the same lab initially and the first set of inaccurate results were due to diagnostic failures. Even if they were being manipulated, they still each made the ultimate choice and committed the acts. I think, faced with hard evidence, they’ll crack under the pressure.” He breathes out a sigh and turns his head to look at Lestrade. “So… what happened after that?”

The DI takes a moment to consider all that Sherlock has related to him before running his hands through his hair restlessly again and continuing on. “I wasn’t really sure what to do. Assumed you’d been shot and were probably drowned, if not dead before you hit the water. Called for backup and wetsuits, had the others start walking the Thames just in case you decided to wash up onto the bank somewhere.” His head tilts down for a moment as he recalls frantically yelling into his radio, eyes searching in vain to try and spot anything within the dark swirling water below. “Then I, well, I guess I just had this hunch. That’s what it felt like. Crossed the bridge and started walking the river’s edge and found you about 500 meters down, splayed out on the ground looking like death just barely warmed over. Course you know the rest, I imagine.” He glances away uncertainly and then back again, staring at Sherlock’s shoulder now, likely wondering the same thing that Sherlock has been this whole time.

“So, what do you remember? Anything?”

Closing his eyes to help himself concentrate, Sherlock allows himself to relive the experience, slowing it down frame by frame in his mind so that he might examine it thoroughly. “I tackled him. He kneed me in the diaphragm, pulled away, and pulled out a gun. I mocked him..”

“You mocked him? You mocked a demon that was holding a gun on you? Jesus, do you have a death wish??”

“As someone once said to me, do you want me to tell you the rest or do you want to guess at it?” At Lestrade’s frustrated, yet yielding, sigh, Sherlock carries on. “He didn’t waste any time gloating, which was honestly what I had been counting on. The ambitious ones are always so eager for an audience…”

“Not that I don’t know what that’s like,” Lestrade muttered under his breath, only to add when Sherlock shot him a nasty sideways glare, “So sorry, please do continue,” his words lacking any real contrition.

Huffing, Sherlock rumbles, “So like I said, he didn’t waste any time, just shot me. It felt like someone took a sledgehammer to my shoulder, lifted me partially off my feet. I suppose that’s why I went over the railing. I remember teetering there, clutching at my shoulder and then falling.” His nose wrinkles as he confesses, “I don’t recall blacking out on the way down, but I must have, because I don’t remember hitting the water. The next thing I can remember was that I was wet and cold and, I presume, in shock.” Brow creasing, he notes, “But I wasn’t coughing or gasping for breath. Odd, wouldn’t you say, for someone who fell into the Thames unconscious?”

“Bloody miracle, the whole thing, if you ask me.”

His steepled fingers lightly tap his pursed lips, eyes narrowed until Lestrade asks, “And?” At Sherlock’s questioning look, the detective shrugs and notes, “You’ve got the strangest look on your face, like you’re about to say something but aren’t sure that you should. And since we both know that you don’t have any sort of filter when it comes to saying what’s on your mind, you must be seriously doubting your sanity right about now.”

Sighing, Sherlock’s gaze rolls away from Lestrade’s dramatically before coming to rest on the ceiling again. “I wasn’t alone.”

“What, you mean someone pulled you out?”

“MmmMMmmm, someone. Or something. I could have sworn that when I came to there was someone there, holding me. I thought I saw his eyes. I felt,” and he hesitates for a moment before mumbling almost inaudibly, “…safe.” There’s a soft awkward clearing of his throat before Sherlock shrugs, noting, “But I could have just been hallucinating the whole thing. Because the very next second I was alone and freezing my arse off. Until you showed up a few minutes later.”

Lestrade folded his arms over his chest and leaned back in his chair, silently whistling to himself. “Somebody up there must really like you, that’s all I can say.”

With a soft snort, Sherlock spears Lestrade with a sideways glance. “No one likes me down here. Why would anyone up there?”

With a soft huff of laughter, the detective shakes his head and confesses, “Damned if I know…”

Sighing in annoyance, Sherlock’s fingers return to his left shoulder, rubbing it curiously as he lets the inquiry drop and asks instead, “So, how long do I have to stay here?”

Straightening up, Lestrade eyes Sherlock uncertainly, drawling slowly, “Welllllllll, there’s the rub, isn’t it? Because your condition was so unusual, they want to hold you at least 24 hours, just in case you’re internally bleeding or have some other complicating factor that might explain for the blood loss and all.”

“24 hours?!” Sherlock surges upright only for the room to start spinning.

“Right, none of that,” Lestrade replies, a gentle but firm hand pushing Sherlock back down onto the bed. “It’s not so bad. Just the night and most of tomorrow. You’ll sleep through it and be back to your flat come the following morning.”

“I don’t sleep, and that’s only if they don’t decide to poke and prod at me some more in the hopes of writing some diagnostic paper on some hitherto unheard of blood disorder,” Sherlock grouses discontentedly.

“If you ask me, some enforced rest could do you a world of good.”

“You know what would do me a world of good? My laptop. Oh, and the stack of books I left sitting beside it. And, no, damn, I don’t think there’s enough room on the side table here for the lab equipment. I suppose the computer and books will just have to do. Be a good fellow and pop on over to my flat and pick those things up for me, won’t you Lestrade? Seeing as how I’m stuck here all night and I did just help you crack open a supposed serial murder case. Just think of all those people feeling safe going to the parks at night again for their illicit little affairs.”

Eyeing Sherlock dubiously, Lestrade lets free a highly put-upon sigh as he rises up to his feet, adding, “And if I don’t go, you’ll just bugger off home when no one’s looking, won’t you.”

Sherlock’s smile is far from kind as he smirks up into Lestrade’s face and purrs, “Why Detective Inspector, that was an unusually perceptive deduction on your part…”

Chapter Text

When he awakens, it is a shock. For one, angels don’t sleep and cannot be rendered unconscious, but he has clearly been dead to the world for some time now, considering the gently lightening sky above. Secondly, he’s supposed to be, well, dead. Not just dead. Destroyed. No soul, no afterlife, no nothing. So what is this?

Ever so slowly John sits upright. His left shoulder burns and throbs as if someone had shoved a hot poker in it and left it there. Or so he guesses. This whole pain thing is still most unpleasantly new to him. His fingers lift to touch it tentatively, causing him to hiss in reaction, the wound still raw and bleeding. Craning his head about to look at the injury, he can tell that it isn’t life threatening, even by human standards. The fire of his sword seems to have cauterized most of the wound, but it doesn’t make it any less painful. His leg also burns, but with a cold and stiff ache, no obvious cut to mark where Michael’s sword slashed him. Strange, that. He groans and leans his tender wingless back against a hard brick wall and feels…. Everything. It’s both amazingly wonderful and astonishingly awful. Blinking as he gently cradles his left arm, John cranes his head upward until he can see the night sky through what must be two buildings, barely visible stars winking down at him. An alleyway, then. He can smell the garbage and refuse, feel the dirt and grit beneath him.

Is he human? He honestly doesn’t know. But he can feel his heart beating in his chest. He can feel blood trickling down his arm. His lungs expand and contract with each necessary inhale and exhale. So far the sensations that are wracking his body all coincide with human experiences that he has witnessed. The ache in his middle is what he is starting to suspect is hunger. The dryness in his mouth must be thirst. The pain in his shoulder and leg are from wounds both visible and invisible. The unpleasant sensation running through his entire body, making it shiver and quake, must be a reaction to the cold.

He needs food and water. He needs shelter. He needs heat. The question now is, where to find such things? John searches his mind for solutions. Sherlock, of course, is not an option. He wouldn’t know John from a hole in the wall and even if he was inclined to help him, which is highly unlikely, he can’t. Most likely he’s in a hospital now being tended to himself.

A hospital? That seems a bit risky as well. No identification, no clothes, no money, bizarre wounds, and no guarantee that any tests they might perform on him wouldn’t prove that he is something other than human. The last thing he wants is to have miraculously survived the wrath of Heaven only to become fodder for some sort of experimental study here on Earth.

He certainly cannot turn to any of his fellow Guardian Angels. For one, he’s supposed to have been destroyed. Who’s to say that they do not have orders to finish the job that Michael for some reason left undone? For another, if he’s human, even if they wanted to, they could not interfere for him. Not even Luthiel, the only fellow angel that John has ever even thought of as a ‘friend’, could break the Rules for John. No, he is well and thoroughly on his own.

Resting for the moment, John’s thoughts turn once more toward Sherlock as he starts to wonder and worry about his charge. Did Lestrade find him? Is he alright? Did he go the hospital or back to that shoddy little flat? Does he have a newly assigned Guardian Angel that is even now looking after him? Ahhhh, another sharp pain, this time in his chest again. John rubs at it absently, frowning as he wonders what this new pain means. He knows that Sherlock is alive. For some reason, he can still feel him. Feel his life force, weakened but still of this world.

Suddenly knowing the answers to these questions is far more important than any other concerns John might have for himself. With a low groan he heaves himself up to his feet shakily and starts to limp his way along the alley, using the wall to help support himself. Staggering out, he looks around at the deserted street, frowning until he realizes that he isn’t that far from Lambeth Bridge, on Hercules Road between Centaur Street and Virgil Street. Staring up at the street signs, John releases a weary sigh and continues to limp his way along. Home isn’t very far away when one has wings or proper transport, but walking over two miles, wounded, in January? Not exactly the most ideal situation.

A broken broom becomes his makeshift cane and a ratty old blanket makes for some protection against the elements. John creeps his way along, keeping to backstreets and alleyways as much as possible, trying not to draw too much attention to himself. Fortunately the lateness of the hour and intimate knowledge of this city helps with such matters.


*****


He arrives at Tooley St, right along the border of Southwark, to find the building that used to house Sherlock’s apartment on fire. It is not too terribly difficult to go unnoticed, what with all the chaos of people watching and firefighters struggling to control the blaze before it overtakes the structures on either side and spreads out of control. John’s nose wrinkles at the stench of it, knowing instantly why it is that the firemen are having such a bloody hard time putting it out.

Hellfire.

He steps back a few paces into an alley across the way and watches as the blaze hungrily devours everything that Sherlock and the other tenants in the building owned.

“Oi, watch where yer steppin’!

Glancing down toward his bare feet, John blinks and then slowly crouches to bring himself closer to the level of the diminutive figure standing beside him, watching the fire with a sad shake of its head. The brownie turns to look up at John, recognition mixed with confusion coloring his eyes before he blinks and whistles. “Blimey! Wot ‘appened to you??” The little creature takes in John’s ragged appearance, his left arm hanging uselessly at his side, feet bloody and bruised, all over disheveled and roughed up. “Yeh ain’t shiny no more! Lost yer wings an’ everythin’!”

There’s no point in agreeing with the obvious, so John says nothing, his gaze canting back toward the fire, his lips drawing into a thin and worried line. The small fae stares at him for a while longer before it begins to pace and wring its hands together, distracted once again by the hellfire across the street. Can’t help it, the poor thing. That’s his home as well as Sherlock’s, going up in flames. “Everything’s gone pear shaped,” he wails unhappily.

Dropping his gaze down the brownie, John sighs and nods. “It’s been a rough night all round it would seem.” His head tilts slightly before he asks for confirmation of what he already knows. Or feels. But everything is topsy-turvy now, and John isn’t going to take instincts that he shouldn’t even have any longer as proof. “Tuppence,” a hint of trepidation coloring his voice, “he… he wasn’t inside, was he?”

“Oo? Mr. ‘olmes? Oh no. Not in there ‘e’s not. The tall silver one came round to gather up a few things for ‘im, muttering about ‘ospitals and not bein’ an errand boy. Good thing too. Not a minute too soon.” Turning to watch his home blacken and crumble, the Brownie sniffles and wipes a tear from his eye. “Course if 'e’d been a bit later 'e might 'ave been able to stop all this.”

“Or he might have got himself set aflame along with it,” John points out evenly. Whoever did this probably did it in retaliation of what happened tonight. The question now was, why? Sherlock had certainly thwarted worse before, but then again, none of the demons he had routed paid for his cleverness with their lives. A small shudder ripples through his frame. It never even occurred to John that by killing the demon in vengeance he might have unwittingly put an even bigger target on Sherlock’s back.

But for now, a sense of relief floods John’s system as he considers what Tup has said. Sherlock is safely ensconced in a hospital. And if Lestrade was grousing about the fact that he had to pick things up for the consulting detective, then his condition cannot be too serious. Otherwise the Detective Inspector would have been far more grave and concerned. “Did you see what happened?”

Tuppence shook his head and shrugged. “I was all comfortable in an old shoe, fast asleep when I smelled the brimstone. By then it was too late. Barely got out by the seat of my pants I did.”

Placing a palm down onto the ground, John turns his head and rumbles, “Come on. Hop on board.”

The brownie sniffs, either out of sadness for the loss of his home or suspicion, it was hard to say which. “And why should I?”

“Because right now you’re my best chance at surviving the night and figuring out what I’m going to do, and I’m your best chance at finding a nice comfy new home with guaranteed offerings of honey and porridge. I realize that living with Sherlock was no treat. Never a decent bit of food in the house, the mess, all those experiments…” he cajoles with a smile conjured up from somewhere within his nearly depleted stores.

Sniffing again, this time thoughtfully, Tup nods and grabs onto John’s thumb before swinging himself up into the palm of his hand. “Yer right there, you is. Wasn’t really a proper ‘ome. I could do better. Much better.” He eyes John slyly, as if trying to judge his character, asking, “Porridge and honey you say?”

Rising up slowly, John smiles at the small fae with genuine warmth and nods. “As much as you can stomach. You help me and I’ll help you. Is it a deal?” He offers the brownie his finger. The digit is given a long and solemn look before it is taken between two tiny hands and jerked up and down in a crude approximation of handshake. “You got yerself a deal, Wingless. What is it that you be needin’?”

Stepping back further into the shadows before turning around and leaving the destroyed remains of Sherlock’s home, their home, behind, John hesitates. His first urge is to see Sherlock, but realistically it’s simply not practical. He has no way to get to him in his current condition without being spotted and stopped. And even though he’s been pushing through the pain, ignoring it, he realizes that he has to actually take care of this body if he wants it to keep working for him. And this body needs to recover before he does anything else.

With a rough sigh, he unhappily concedes, “First things first. I need a place I where I can get warm and, if possible, clean and patched up. After that? Some clothes, if you please. Pretty soon someone is going to notice that I’m not exactly dressed.” He breathes out a rough breath, cataloging once more all of his ills as he adds, “And some food and something to drink.” He looks a trifle chagrined at the long list of needs. Human bodies are so incredibly frail! It’s amazing they can survive at all. “Let us start there, if that’s not asking for too much, and then we’ll figure out the rest.”


*****


As it turned out, Tup was more than true to his end of the bargain. The thing about brownies is that there are millions of them in London and they know everything about everybody, if you can get one to talk to you. They have little to say to human folk, but anything fae or othernatured, well, you can barely shut them up. By dawn, Tuppence had managed to get John clothed, fed, patched up, and warmed up. And in that time John had managed to figure out what he needed. And Tup knew just the person to help him.

Limping up to the bar door, John stared at the sign that said, most decidedly, ‘Closed’ and glanced down to where the brownie was tucked into the pocket of his coat, yawning fiercely. Nocturnal by nature, once the sun is up brownies have little interest in much of anything other than sleeping.

“Tup.” No response. “Tup,” he reiterates, shaking his newly acquired coat to awaken the brownie. “The sign says they’re closed.”

Yawning again, Tup reluctantly rose up, curling his tiny hands around the edge of John’s coat pocket to peer at the door. “Pffft. Nonsense. ‘e’s always open fer business, just not the sort where others be necessarily doin’ the drinking…”

With a dubious look at the small sprite, John sighs and places his hand upon the doorknob, honestly shocked when it yawns open with a creak and a jingle. Closing it behind him he looks about, but it is Tup who clambers out of his cozy nest and up onto John’s right shoulder, pointing toward the empty bar.

Carrying the brownie over to the polished mahogany surface, John lays his palm against the counter and lets the fae roll down his sleeve to land on his feet and look about. And in a voice far, far bigger than a creature of his size has any right to possess he calls out, “Oi! Cheval! Cheval, you here?”

There’s a cough from the doorway behind the counter. A beaded curtain is pushed aside as the dark skinned man emerges from the back of the store and eyes his two new customers. “Ahhh, Tup! What brings you and your friend to my humble establishment today?” The man stares at John with eyes so dark they seem almost pure black. His gaze is assessing, as if he were wondering just how much the man before him was worth and how he could extract that value out of him. It was not a particularly friendly regard, despite his warm greeting.

Oblivious to such undertones, Tup steps forward and gestures back toward John. “We are in need of assistance for a most unusual problem. Is Eshu available?” Cheval looks John up and down slowly before noting, “He don’t look like he has much to offer Eshu, but I’ll see if the Big Man is in and willing to talk.” However, Cheval doesn’t call out the name or go to the back from whence he came. Instead he walks to the front of the shop and slips the bolt on the door and draws down the shades.

Walking back he reaches behind the counter and draws out a piece of chalk and a bottle of wine. Clearing a space on the floor he draws an elaborate design with such casual ease as to suggest that he has done this many times before. The faint hints of chalk dust imbedded in the wood of the floor suggest this as well. He takes a seat on the chair in front of the design and pours some of the wine into a bowl, which he then places before the chalk lines. Closing his eyes, Cheval lifts the bottle and takes a good long swallow before wiping his mouth on the back of his hand and setting the bottle down by his side. His long, finely braided hair falls forward and he places his elbows upon his knees and begins to mumble softly in Yoruba.

Leaning closer to John, Tup explains in hushed tones so as not to interrupt the ceremony, “The design is Eshu’s Vedu, the symbol used to call him down in the Vodun tradition. The wine is an offering, of course, and Cheval is a ‘horse’ for…”

“…for Eshu, the Orisha, or loa if you prefer, of communication, who is going to ‘ride’ him, yes, I’m aware of that Tup,” John interjects equally softly. “But do you really think this is the best idea? I mean, no offense, but Eshu is a bit,” and his right hand waves about before he decides upon, “…dodgy. Rather amoral and rather fond of playing tricks and causing mischief…”

“Aye,” returns Tup, hands on his hips, “But with Eshu, yeh ask one God and get help from many. Besides, 'e’s one of the few that will actually come down and talk to humans, one-on-one. Do you really fancy praying to a whole slew of deities and spirits and jest ‘opin’ that one of ‘em will take pity on yeh? Besides,” he notes with a small snort, “all yeh want to be doin’ is talkin’. It’s not like you’d willingly pray to any others than yer own.”

John takes a moment to consider that truth before he returns wryly, “This is the only trick you have up your sleeve isn’t it?”

“Oi! I resent that! Fount of knowledge I am! I could get any number of creatures and spirits to ‘elp, but if you be findin’ my services aren’t up to snuff…” Now he’s got Tup’s dander up, the little brownie literally hopping up and down at the affront to his honor.

Lifting his hand, John smiles gently as Cheval’s voice continues to drone on softly in the background. “No, no,” he assures the fae, “I couldn’t ask for a better helper. Thank you, Tup.”

With that, the brownie calms down. Nothing like a compliment to please a faery. Well, that or something delicious. Or shiny. Turning to watch Cheval as he rocks back and forth on his chair, Tup gives John a sideways glance and confesses, “I’m s’prised you know owt about Eshu. You Christian creatures been lookin’ down on the rest of us fer centuries now, actin’ like their ain’t no other Gods save the One. I figured you dinnae know a deity from a demon. Glad t’see yer a little more broad-minded than some of yer kin. ”

Chuckling softly, John replies, “Come now Tup, you know as well as I do that all paths lead to God. He/She takes many forms to accommodate all of His/Her children.”

“Hmph! Tell that to yer followers then. Taking every word out of that book they wrote as the gospel,” points out the tiny fae with a stamp of his foot.

“It is the gospel,” John retorts defensively before sighing and reluctantly conceding, “Alright, fair enough. But that’s only because it has been in the hands of man for a very long time. But yes, it could use a little updating and some, ahhh, corrections. Between politics and cultural mores, biases and translations issues, a number of crucial points have been lost or altered…”

“It’s verra rude, you know, to be speaking about the Christian word when Eshu is in attendance,” utters the man on the chair in an entirely different voice, his head lifted now, and his eyes fixated upon John. Those dark dark eyes are now disturbingly light blue. “I have been told that you have come for a favor.” His head tilts as he considers the unassuming man before him, assessing him thoughtfully before he asks, “What do you have to give as an offering??”

Clearing his throat, John steps forward and shoves his hands into his coat pockets. “Honestly? Not much, I’m afraid. I’ll give you what I have to give, but I don’t know what that might be or if it is enough.”

The regard of the man, no, the Orisha before him is daunting; power burning in his eyes and his body, causing the all too frail human form that it inhabits to shake and shiver in reaction. He rises up and stumps forward to John, rumbling, “Well, lets take a look at you.” He stares into John’s eyes, places a hand upon his forehead, over his heart, turns him about in a circle. But when his hand comes to rest upon John’s wounded shoulder they each cry out. John takes a full step back while Eshu jerks his hand away as if it had been burnt. Clutching his arm, John watches Eshu warily, the god pacing back and forth before him, mumbling to himself, glancing on occasion at the supplicant before him before straightening up.

Eyes narrow as he gestures to John and rumbles in a voice that will brook no opposition, “Come closer…”

John glances at Tup, the brownie’s eyes wide and fascinated by the proceedings, but not alarmed. Confused, John sighs and then obediently takes a step closer to Cheval/Eshu. The possessed man lifts his hand again, fingers hovering over John’s shoulder, twitching and jerking spasmodically like a dying spider as he closes his eyes in concentration. After about a minute of this his eyes snap open and his hand jerks away once more, a wickedly gleeful smile coming over his lips. “You have enough for an offering. What is it that you want, John?”

Licking his lips, John’s gaze wavers over toward Tup again, wondering just what this little brownie has got him into, before returning back to Eshu as he explains awkwardly, “I need a life. A human life. Not just the paperwork, though I’ll need that too I suppose. I need to ‘exist’. I need a history. Memories. People who know me, or at least remember me, who think they know me. But not too many,” he adds hastily. “I don’t wish to… burden anyone, interfere in their lives, or alter them.” He raises a hand abruptly, noting fiercely one last caveat. “And I will not take a life. I cannot have a human life sacrificed so that I might have one. That is unacceptable.”

“What for?”

“Excuse me?”

“What do you need this life for? Why do you not have one of your own?” demands Eshu with narrowed eyes that pinion John where he stands.

The question now, of course, is how much to admit. John glances at Tup sideways, the brownie shrugging uncertainly. Big help there. Lifting his hand to cough into his fist, John chooses to be bold as he replies, “I do not believe that it is necessary for you to know anything more. Suffice it to say that I lived a different life before I took on this one and I do not yet currently know what the path before me is. And if I am to survive in this mortal world long enough to determine what that is, I need to take on its mantle in the meanwhile.”

Eshu tilts his head, staring at John sideways, a dangerous smile curling his lips as he ponders the response before nodding in agreement. “What about a life that is already gone? Hmmm? A life already destined to die, yes? Would that be acceptable?” His body continues to shiver and quake even as those eyes study John with a steady and cool intensity. "That is a much easier thing done than creating a new life from nothing. It will cost you much less as well.”

Shifting his weight from one leg to the other, John grits his teeth and considers the offer. Even though the possession is consensual, the fallen angel still finds it hard to watch as Cheval’s body struggles to contain the spirit that rides it. He doesn’t like it, not the offer or the situation, but he can’t go on as he is, a non-entity. Blowing out a breath, John nods and asks, “What is the price?”

“A favor,” is Eshu’s simple reply. But the smug look on the man’s face, the god’s face, is not the most reassuring.

“A favor? What kind of favor?” John asks in return, his features closing off and becoming more guarded.

With a rough laugh, Eshu waves a hand in John’s face and replies, “Nothing you will find repugnant or that would compromise your integrity. I so swear upon Ogun and your own Creator.”

John still is uncertain, but what else can he do? He extends his hand and shakes Eshu’s, agreeing, “It’s a deal…”

Chapter Text

“I’m sorry, but Mr. Holmes checked himself out this afternoon.”

The nurse’s words ring in John’s ears, his fingers digging into the counter as he blinks and stares at her for a moment before repeating, “This afternoon? But he was still here when I called just an hour ago. Is… is he alright?”

The woman looks at him a bit oddly and adds the familiar official line. “I’m sorry, but I can’t release any information about our patients. Are you family?” John shakes his head and the look on his face must be shell-shocked, because the nurse’s own expression softens sympathetically. “If he checked himself out, then I’m sure he’s just fine… excuse me,” she adds as she picks up the ringing phone beside her.

“Not necessarily… not when it’s Sherlock…” John breathes softly to himself. He manages to give the woman a polite, if tight-lipped, smile and nod before limping down the corridor, leaning heavily on the borrowed cane in his right hand. He waits until he’s outside before pressing his back to the exterior of St. Thomas’ Hospital, watching the steady stream of doctors and nurses, patients and visitors, move past him on their way in and out. Pushing off, he slowly wends his way toward the Lambeth Palace gardens, patiently waiting to cross the street, his gaze lifting up to study the utterly beautiful residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

He thought there would be enough time. The guilt and frustration feel like they’re gnawing a hole in his gut. He steps out, crossing Lambeth Palace Road during a gap in the traffic, muttering softly, “I’m so stupid. I should have come to the hospital first. That should have been my first priority.”

There’s a restless wiggling in his pocket as Tuppence shifts into a more comfortable position, countering, “Maybe. But wot would you ‘ave done? Not like yeh can just drop in and say ‘ello to ‘im, now is it? Don’t know you from a ‘ole in the wall, does ‘e? All kinds of awkward, that. Not to mention downright suspicious, you all injured, ‘anging around watchin’ ‘is room? Get arrested more like than not, wot wi’ that brother of ‘is…”

John doesn’t bother to reply. It isn’t logical, and he knows it, but somehow he feels like he has failed Sherlock. Stepping off the pavement and into the park, John takes in a deep breath and lets it out slowly, the tension in his body easing upon entering the holy grounds.

Tup has a similar but opposite reaction, jerking sharply with a muffled oath within the confines of John’s pocket once that border is crossed. With a sound of disgruntlement the brownie pops out his head and looks around, sniffing disapprovingly as he mutters, “Figures you’d ‘ave to pick a Christian garden to go roaming ‘round in…”

John chuckles softly and shakes his head, even though the small fae can’t see the gesture. “It has nothing to do with its holiness, Tup, and everything to do with its location.” Though he’d be lying if he said he didn’t feel a little bit better for the powerful emanations of the place. It’s familiar and surprisingly soothing, two things he could use right about now.

John’s leg and shoulder still ache unbearably, and without any money everything has to be walked to. The food he had at dawn is not enough to keep this body going all day. What John needs right now is someplace peaceful and quiet to rest. His mind turns toward more practical matters, head tilting to one side before he asks, “How much longer can we stay with your friends?”

A thoughtful ‘mmmmm’ emanates from his pocket as Tup considers the matter. “I think, if need be, we can stay a fortnight. But that would be pushin’ our luck a bit. Teaspoon and Twaddle said their ‘umans were off visitin’ relatives to the north. But yeh never know. ‘umans are a fickle bunch. Could ‘ave a row, be back by brekkie.”

John hobbles his way over to one of the stone benches near to the massive palace before setting himself gingerly down, gazing about at the wintering landscape with a soft sigh, wishing absently that it was spring. He sits for a long time, resting, quietly thinking, ruminating over the events of the past night and day, and pondering the future.

Softly, uncomfortably, he asks, “What if I’ve lost him, Tup?”

The brownie peeks out of John’s pocket once more before glancing about. Surreptitiously he slips out and makes his way up John’s arm, slipping into his breast pocket and staring up at his face before gently patting his chest. “There, there, Wingless, it’ll be alright. Not like ‘e’s leavin’ London now, is ‘e?” His head tilts a little before he asks, “Can you still feel ‘im?”

With a soft sigh, John concentrates before nodding. “In a manner of speaking. I get the feeling that he’s alive. That he exists. But what do I know? I’m not an angel any more, Tup. Used to be I could tell where he was, how he was, at any given moment. For all I know, what I’m feeling is little more than wishful thinking. Human folly.” His head turns as he looks about the nearly abandoned gardens quietly, noting worriedly, “I don’t even know where he’s living any more. The flat’s gone. I seriously doubt he will stay with Mycroft or Lestrade. I haven’t the faintest idea where to go looking for him.”

His pocket snorts and in surprise John glances down at the brownie glaring up at him. “Poppycock! You know all sorts of places that ‘e might be and where ‘e might go! Y’were ‘is Winged One after all! Stop bein' a maudlin prat and go find ‘im!”

One brow lifts as John echoes dryly, “Maudlin prat?”

“Aye, that’s wot yer bein’. Lettin’ the worst of bein’ 'uman get to yeh.”

With a soft chuckle and a determined grunt, John pushes up to his feet and pats his breast pocket affectionately. “Quite right, Tup, quite right. What would I do without you? Now, if I were Sherlock, where would I go?”

*****

It’s only a day later that it happens.

The rest of the previous day was spent walking through the streets of London, stopping by Sherlock’s favorite cafes and restaurants, looking for him in every passing cab, sometimes just sitting in the places where his homeless network tended to congregate in the hopes that he might come by looking for some information.

All of it was for naught.

Today has been a repeat of the previous one, sans Tup who opted to sleep in, nocturnal creature that he is. John quietly watches as the sky starts turning shades of rose and amethyst as the sun sets. At the moment he’s sitting on a bench in Regents Park, minding his own business staring out at the people walking by on the off chance that Sherlock might be one of them, when it hits him. An explosive flood of memories causes John to gasp and lean forward, clutching his injured leg as his mind is suddenly processing tons of information that wasn’t in it before. The life and memories of one John Hamish Watson, Captain, late of Her Majesty’s Army, killed in the line of duty during the war in Afghanistan while trying to save the life of a fellow soldier caught in an ambush.

He remains bent over double, fingers digging into his jeans spasmodically as he tries to process it all. A lifetime in minutes. Eshu did a good job of it, though. A man with few friends and barely any family. Parents dead and the only living sibling estranged. Recent friends either dead in the war or still overseas. Older friends lost over time and distance and to the natural changes in personality and temperament that occur as one ages. Heck, he even managed to let John keep his own name.

He sits there quietly for a while, sifting through the new information in his head before he realizes something. It’s not so much that he has John’s memories as he has the data of John’s memories in his head. He can see them, recall the dialog of various moments in time, even have insight into what John was thinking at the time. But there’s a distinct disconnect. There is no emotional connection. He can observe that John was excited and nervous about his first kiss, much as he would with any of his charges, but he does not experience these sensations as he studies the memory.

The separation between memory and emotion is a confusing one. Is it because emotions are part of the soul, and that departed upon John H. Watson’s demise? Or is it that, having no soul of his own, he cannot truly experience human emotions, only some feeble approximation of them?

John is in part disappointed and in part grateful. Disappointed, because it means he still doesn’t understand what it is to be human, what it means to have feelings. Grateful, because if he could feel what Watson felt, it would be the utmost theft of the man’s very being, something he is bound by duty and so much more to protect. Even if John Hamish Watson was not his charge, John wishes to honor and respect the man whose life he has stolen.

It’s only a moment later that he realizes he feels… different. His clothes are suddenly too large, as if he shrank by many inches. He studies his hands first, bemusedly; finding them tanned and scarred, imperfect. His hands then lift to his face, registering short hair and an upturned nose along with other altered features. Glancing around, he cannot wonder if it was the magic that kept others from seeing the transformation, or if people are simply truly that blind to the world around them.

Standing up, he hobbles his way through the park until he reaches Albany Street. Crossing over to a fancy townhouse hotel, John peers into the window of its restaurant to discreetly study his oh so human and normal features in the reflection without garnering undue attention. A seasoned, craggy, and tanned face looks back at him; a curious mix of gentle and strong. His gaze looks beyond it for a moment, to the elegantly dressed patrons within dining on beautifully crafted food that must cost a small fortune. A crooked smile touches upon his lips as he refocuses on the face before him, pressing his fingers against the image and intoning softly, “Hello, John H. Watson. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

*****

By the time he reaches the tiny apartment that he and Tup are squatting in there is a package with his new name on it waiting, leaning against the frame. Unlocking the door with a quick glance about to make sure no one is watching, he slips inside and softly closes it behind him before walking over to the kitchen table. Tup is nowhere in sight, likely still sleeping off his previous day’s excursion. John seriously doubts he’ll see the fae again ‘til nightfall.

Opening up the large envelope, John tips it downward to see what falls out. His dog tags, or rather John Watson’s dog tags, passport, wallet, and a single key fall out first, the heaviest of the items within the plain white wrapping. Reaching in, he pulls out papers, eyes scanning them briefly before a grim smile touches his lips. It would seem that everything has been taken care of. Memories re-arranged, documents either eliminated or forged. He even has a small temporary bedsit, a psychiatrist, and a pension.

Fingering the tags quietly, John studies the tiny pieces of circular metal before slipping the chain over his head, dropping them beneath his shirt to rest against his chest. He rubs the imperceptible lump thoughtfully. This will be his dedication to the man who gave him a life. It’s the least he can do.

Rising up to his feet, he opens the wallet to find both cards and cash, a soft sigh of relief escaping him. Good. He can replace what he’s eaten and get more. Sorting through the rest, he tucks the paperwork and passport back into the envelope before tossing it down on the table. A quick glance in the closet reveals that, yes, all of the brownies are cozily sleeping in a laundry basket. Which brings John back to the living room, where he stares about aimlessly for a moment before dropping down onto the couch he’s been sleeping on like a good guest, sitting there rigidly.

As soon as Tup is up for the night they’ll set things here aright, thank Tup’s brownie friends for their generosity, and be on their way to their new ‘home’.

Reaching past buttons and the fabric of his shirt, John strokes the now puckered scar on his left shoulder. The wound that killed John Watson in Afghanistan, leaving him to bleed out in the sand. He lingers over those memories with something that must be guilt, eyes filling with an unfamiliar moisture. It’s the same shoulder that Michael stabbed him through with John's own sword. How bitterly poetic. The scarred joint aches, but John honestly is not sure if the pain is from his own wound or from Watson’s. Perhaps now their pain is intermingled and has become one, much like they have?

Leaning forward with his elbows resting on his knees, John folds his hands together and prays. He’s never prayed before. Angels do not pray. They sing, they honor, they exalt, but they do not pray. Why would they? They have no sins to beg forgiveness for, no requests for help or good fortune, no hopes or dreams to express. But tonight, the memories he's inherited tell him to pray, not to God necessarily so much as to anyone who might be listening. Pray to give thanks for this second chance at life as a human. Pray for John Watson’s soul. But most importantly to pray for forgiveness for taking John Watson’s life and making it his own.

John honestly isn’t sure that any amount of prayer will atone for that sin.

*****

The move goes smoothly. How could it not? It’s not like he or Tuppence have anything to bring with them, save the clothes on John’s back. Another day passes in a fruitless search for Sherlock, interrupted only by a most inopportune meeting with his new psychiatrist. John could barely sit still, saying nothing for the most part unless prodded to do so, focused entirely on the fact that he was wasting precious time talking to her, or rather, not talking to her, when he could have been out and about looking for Sherlock.

Really, he shouldn’t be so surprised that nothing’s turned up. London is a huge city and Sherlock is only one man. Granted, he’s a distinctive and unique man, but there’s honestly no telling where he might be or what he might be up to, and John quite simply cannot be everywhere at once looking for him. It’s going to take time. Time and a great deal of luck, since providence is not something John can trust in any longer. Normally time is something that he doesn’t have to concern himself with. Life as an angel is timeless. Life as a human, however, is short and fleeting. For the first time ever, John is filled with a burgeoning sense of impatience.

There’s a knock on the door and both John and Tup turn to stare at it dubiously. The Chinese delivery came ten minutes ago, and no one else knows that they’re here. Swallowing his mouthful of sesame chicken, he glances toward the fae, who has a long length of lo mein hanging from between his pursed lips.

“Better get out of plain sight, just in case,” he warns as he wipes off his mouth with a napkin and rises up from his desk, the chair scraping softly on the floor. The knocking has kicked up a gear into pounding.

The noodle is slurped up with a quick whiplash of movement before Tup is jumping down and slipping beneath John’s bed so as to have a clear view of what is to come.

Hesitating with his hand on the doorknob, John asks warily, “Who is it?”

“Goddamnit, John, open up the God. Damn. Door!”

The cursing alone is something of a surprise. He knows that Watson took the Lord’s name in vain a fair amount, but it’s something that still doesn’t come naturally to John. It takes him a moment, between the slurred words and the muffling of the door, to rifle though the memories in his head until he comes up with a match. An unsteady breath is taken in as he braces himself for impact and opens up the door.

A small blonde figure stands there, hand raised in preparation to start hammering upon his door once more. The woman looks up at him, eyes and nose red, either from crying or from drinking, it’s hard to tell. Possibly both. She has his, Watson’s, eyes.

“John…” she breathes softly, staring at him for a moment before surging forward to wrap her arms about him in a powerfully hard hug, causing John to rock backwards at the impact. The hug lasts barely a second before she pulls back and throws a wicked right hook at his jaw. Even drunk, she packs a mean wallop, one that John was definitely not expecting and is utterly unprepared for. He tastes blood on his lip, raising one hand to touch it uncertainly as he stares at his sister, no… Watson’s sister, in astonishment.

“You fucking BASTARD! You got back to London and you didn’t even think to TELL ME?!! Do you know how worried I’ve been? Do you know how upset I am?”

“Clearly, by the punch and the hug, I’m guessing… very?”

She pushes him back further into the room, her gaze roving over him as she asks, “Are you okay? They said you were shot! They said it was bad!”

Blinking owlishly, John replies blandly, “Then why are you hitting me and shoving me?”

“Because you’re an arsehole, that’s why!”

Pushing her way past him, Harry glances about the tiny bedsit with a scowl on her face. “Jesus, don’t you believe in possessions, John? This place is so spartan even Spartans wouldn’t live here.”

“How did you find me?” That is, of course, the question of the hour since John certainly had no intention of letting Watson’s sister know he was back in London. Best to leave that connection lying dormant for as long as possible.

Glaring at him, Harry snaps, “Some friend of yours from the army called and left a message on my machine. Eshu Cheval? What kind of name is that anyways?? Said he wanted to know if you got his package and how you were settling into your new digs. Apparently you don’t have a phone, so he called my place. I just about swallowed my tongue. I called directory inquiries for your address and here I am, whether you like it or not.”

Rolling his eyes a little, John echoes in irritation, “Eshu…” his gaze flickering to the point under his bed where Tup is hiding. He should have known the Orisha wouldn’t be able to stop himself from indulging in some mischief.

Harry is practically glaring at him from over her shoulder. “Yeah, yeah, glad to see you too. Stop whinging.” Glancing about the empty space with a dubious expression she asks, “Don’t suppose you have anything to drink, do you?”

“By the smell of you, don’t you think you’ve had enough already?”

The words just are there, coming out of his mouth without thought, causing John to blink in surprise. Where did that come from??

Whirling about, Harry eyes John like she’s going to punch him again, but only a second later she deflates and sits down on his bed with a whump. “Yeah, well, I have every right. It’s been a total shite day. First I come home to find Clara’s up and left and then I find out that you’ve been in London and you couldn’t even be buggered to give your one and only sister a bleedin’ phone call!”

Gingerly taking a seat next to Harriet, John sits stiffly, awkwardly, uncertain really of how to deal with the small storm that has settled in his flat. He wants to reassure her, to comfort her, but he honestly hasn’t the faintest idea how to do so. So instead he offers, “What happened?”

Throwing up her hands, Harriet snaps, “The same thing that always happens! She asks me to stop, I promise to stay sober, I break my promise, she gets pissed off, I get pissed. Only this time she kept her promise. This time she left, just like she said she would.” She sniffles and rubs the back of her hand over her nose before glaring at John, “Don’t say a word.”

John holds his hands up in a placating gesture of surrender before dropping them again to his lap, which causes Harry to stare at him even more suspiciously. “What, you’re not going to read me the riot act? You’re not going to berate me and tell me what a damn fool I am, that I’m killing myself with the drink?”

“No. I could, if that’s what you would like me to do. If it would help.” He honestly stares at her without any idea of what the right course of action in this case might be. “Should I?”

Sniffing again, Harry rubs at her face and barks out a sharp and distressed laugh. “Who are you and what have you done with my brother?” her tone only half-joking.

John sits there, utterly still for a moment before he realizes that she is not, in fact, actively accusing him of possessing her brother’s body. Even then he barely manages to relax.

Frowning, Harriet reaches out a hand and places it over one of John’s as it tenses against his thigh. He can’t help but jerk a little in surprise at the gesture, which only causes Harry to grip his hand tighter, staring at him with surprisingly perceptive eyes.

“What happened to you, John? Are you okay? Do you need to talk about… about the war?”

Shaking his head, John can’t bring himself to look into the woman’s trusting and hopeful eyes, his own gaze dropping down to the floor. “I’m sorry. I can’t… I mean, I don’t think I can be what you need me to be. That’s why I didn’t want to tell you. That I was in London.” His head turns slightly to study Harriet sideways, the hand beneath hers flipping over so that he can return her gentle grip. “I’m sorry, Harriet. I just… I need some time.”

Damn, she looks like she’s ready to go on another bender before she’s even sober from this one. Tears have started to leak from her eyes unnoticed as she sniffs and pulls her hand away, muttering, “Yeah, right, of course. Traumatic shit, war. You need time. Away from me. To wrap your head around it.” Standing up, she wipes at her face with impatient fingers, eluding John’s reach as he tries to stop her.

“No, Harriet, it’s not you, it’s just …”

“Harriet? Since when do you call me Harriet? Only Mum and Dad called me Harriet, John.” She holds out a staying hand as he rises up and takes a step forward again, noting, “No, please. Clearly you didn’t want me to know you were back and I shouldn’t have come tonight.” Digging around in her pocket she thrusts her hand out toward him, insisting, “Here. Take this.”

Reaching out his hand tentatively, John watches as she drops a mobile phone into it before heading toward the door and opening it. Glancing back over her shoulder, she gives it a significant look and a nod saying, “Keep it. Y’know, so you can call me when you’re ready.”

“Harriet… Harry,” John tries again, taking a limping step forward. “I’m sorry, I just…” He takes a deep breath. She deserves the truth, but he can’t give it to her. She wouldn’t believe him, couldn’t handle it. So he gives her as much of the truth as he can. “I’m not the same man as I was… before.”

“No, no, it’s okay. I know you’re alright, and that’s the most important part. You need time alone, I get it. Not stupid. Just,” and her ocean-blue eyes lift to meet John’s, swimming with unshed tears as she mumbles, “Just, keep in touch, okay?” She blinks and looks away, embarrassed.

He takes another step forward, but her hand lifts again, forestalling both action and words. “I’m glad you’re home, John. You have no idea.”

Before he can say or do anything, she steps out the door and closes it behind her, feet rapidly heading down the hall and rattling down the stairs.

“Well. That went well,” is Tup’s droll response to the scene. Glaring at the brownie, John walks back over to the desk and starts to pack the Chinese up again. He’s lost his appetite.

“I hurt her.”

“Looks t’me like she was ‘urtin’ ‘erself…”

His shoulders shrug. “She’s an alcoholic. Started when she was young. It’s a long standing fight between her and John.” Again, the memories are there, the fights and arguments, the slamming doors and tears. Just none of the emotion. With a soft sigh, John leans an arm against the door jamb and presses his forehead to it. “I’m not very good at this human thing yet, am I?”

“Ehhhh, practice makes perfect.”

*****

The week passes by in a haze of frustration and exhaustion. Every single day John goes out and searches for Sherlock, only to come home briefly, grab a bite to eat and Tup for company before going out and searching for most of the night as well. Whenever he’s not searching, he’s doing one of those aggravating, endlessly pointless things that humans have to do all the time, it seems. Shopping for groceries, going in for therapy sessions, looking for work, eating meals, sleeping. It’s all just so pointless!

The day after Harriet dropped by, a number of boxes arrived with ‘John H. Watson’ written on them. Opening them revealed all of Watson’s belongings from before he went to Afghanistan. It was almost painful, to go through the dead man’s effects, knowing the stories behind each one, memories without meaning. In the end he kept nothing but the practical choices. Clothes, a laptop, basic necessities. Anything personal or family related he boxed back up to give to the sister at some point. More appropriate that she have them anyways. That’s what one does with the personal property of the deceased, isn’t it? Give it to the nearest relative? The rest, meaningless, useless things, are bundled up and donated to the nearest local charity. That was a fairly small box. Seems Watson was not a man enamored of possessions. Just as well.

The next day John got a small box. An urn of ashes. It made him turn cold, to hold the remains of John Watson in his hands. He was grateful to have them, to know that they were not buried in the ground somewhere, in some unmarked grave, unnoticed and unmourned. At least this way someone knows. Someone can honor them.

He spent the night praying once more for John Watson’s soul and forgiveness.

On Tup’s insistence he tried taking the sixth day ‘off’ to just be human. To see how the shoe fit and what he might find interesting. After all, as they both realized fairly quickly, the small pension would not allow John to stay in London for very long before he was flat broke. He was going to have to be human, in every dour, dreary, detail of that title, if he was going to be able to afford to stay. In short, he would have to find a job.

One day was all it took.

He should have known. He should have known that this wouldn’t be enough. He can’t just ‘have’ a life. He can’t just be human. He has a calling. He has a duty. He… he wants to see Sherlock. No. No, he needs to see Sherlock. It’s like a gnawing ache in his body, devouring him from the inside out. He has never been away from Sherlock for so long, and it’s like a crucial part of him has been torn out and is still bleeding. He can feel Sherlock. Sense his presence in the city. But he has no idea how to find him.

And if or when he does, what exactly is he to do then? Show up on Sherlock’s doorstep and say, ‘Hi there, don’t you remember me? I’m your Guardian Angel, come home to roost. Saved your life the other day, remember now?’ Yeah, right, that would go over well. Tup had already told him that his ‘light’ was gone. He wasn’t an angel any more. He wasn’t anything, really. Not quite human, but far from divine. He still had his senses. He could see Otherkind, he could feel spells and power, but he was powerless himself. He could no more wield magic than any other, average human.

On the seventh day, John returns to searching for Sherlock. Rising up to his feet, he grabs his cane angrily and starts hobbling toward the door. He has to get out! Doesn’t matter where, just get out and move about and try to figure out how he can possibly bring his path to cross with Sherlock’s.

He would pray to God for guidance but somehow he doesn't think he can expect much help from that corner…

*****

“John!” a voice calls out behind him, but John doesn’t bother to turn around, let alone respond. The person in question couldn’t possibly be addressing him. He is all alone, after all. No one knows him in London. No one at all. Well, almost no one.

“John Watson!” That causes him to stop and turn around, a heavy set man stepping up to him and reaching out to take up and shake his hand, informing him, “Mike. Mike Stamford. We went to Uni together, remember?” John does not, but Watson does, the memory rising up to the surface slowly and indistinct over years of other experiences. “Ah, yes, sorry, sorry, yes, Mike, how are you?” he bluffs.

“Awww, not so bad. Got fat, but that’s the way of the world, isn’t it?” His voice trails off, however, as he realizes that John did not, in fact, get fat; though he is clearly worn and aged in other ways. Mike’s head tilts to one side as he asks, “I thought I heard you went off to fight in Afghanistan, is that right? And now you’re back in London, eh?” He glances down at the cane and offers John an apologetic smile. Tactfully he doesn’t ask what happened, which is good. John prefers not to dwell on the true answer to that question more than he has to.

Taking a deep breath John replies, “For now, yes. Can’t afford it, though. Going to have to move soon.” Oh my, this is awkward. Watson and Stamford were close friends throughout their years at University, involved in many pranks and much mischief together. Watson was very fond of Stamford. John shifts his weight back and forth uncomfortably as he can not conjure up such feelings himself.

“Oh? Why not take a flatmate or something? Surely you could find a way to stay in the city?”

Shaking his head, John shifts his weight slightly, anxious to move on rather than get buttonholed into a long conversation full of reminiscences about the ‘good old days’. “Not really an option. Don’t know anyone and I can’t see anyone wanting to live with me, what with all of my issues from the, ah, war.” That and the fact that he isn’t exactly human either and would rather that no one cotton onto the idea.

Chuckling under his breath Mike jerks his head to one side and replies, “Come on, let me show you around Barts for old times sake. There’s someone I think you should meet…”

Chapter Text

As they entered into one of the labs, Mike laughs softly, clapping John upon the shoulder for what feels like the hundredth time since he clapped eyes on him. Either John is doing a very good job of pretending to be happy to see him, or Mike is so pleased to see John as to be blind to anything else. It’s not a comfortable sensation for him, pretending to be someone he’s not, trying at once to be polite and friendly toward one of Watson’s friends, when all John really wants to do is look for Sherlock.

“You’ll find it’s much changed since when you were here,” Mike warns as he waves an arm at all the computers and equipment. But John isn’t listening any longer. Instead he stands there in astonishment, allowing Watson’s military training to keep him upright and focused, trying desperately not to stare at the man seated in front of a microscope, ignoring the two of them.

Dear God. Sherlock.

Every cell in his body is rejoicing and it takes every ounce of willpower for John to stand steady and look away again, as if he didn’t know every intimate detail of the man sitting just a few meters away from him. To act as if he didn’t know him at all. A soft ring of a cell phone helps to distract him, Mike offering him an apologetic expression before calling out, “I’ll be right back… just need to take this…” Stamford steps out into the hall, leaving the two of them alone.

Turning back to Sherlock, like a piece of metal irresistibly drawn to a powerful magnet, John simply stares before forcing his eyes to drop to the table before him. There’s a dissection tray sitting there, and for a lack of anything better to do he takes a hobbling step forward and starts to rearrange the tools on it.

The silence is almost deafening, John’s mind racing a mile a minute as he cautiously takes in everything he can without making it too obvious. For one, there is no one else in the room with them, which is significant. Sherlock has not been assigned a new Guardian Angel. John’s shoulder flares up abruptly, forcing him to take a deep breath and then deliberately relax, gently rolling it to ease the ache. He’s angry, yes, that Sherlock would be abandoned simply because John overstepped his bounds, but he also feels a peculiar sense of… relief? In this strange way, Sherlock is still… his. No one else is looking after him. Now, if John can only figure out a way to resume his duties.

For another Sherlock looks well. Rested, even. So clearly he has recovered from his swim in the Thames and has been taking care of himself. Or, more likely, someone else has been. One brow lifts as John wonders just who that someone might have been…

“Well,” Sherlock’s voice rings out unexpectedly in a wonderfully rich timbre, “shall we get on with it then?”

John’s ocean blue eyes lift, startled and confused, as he blinks and honestly inquires, “Excuse me?”

“Oh, come now. It’s obvious that the reason you’re here is to meet me.”

The rush of panic and adrenaline that fills John’s veins at the idea that he’s been caught out on something wished for rather than intended immediately fizzles out as Sherlock continues.

“Mike clearly brought you here to meet me. Now, he could be thinking of playing matchmaker, since he’s so disgustingly determined to believe that everyone has a soul mate just waiting to be found and takes great delight in trying to match people up. But he knows that I’m married to my work and that I wouldn’t tolerate such interference, never have, so the more likely reason you’re here is because you’re in need of a flatmate.”

“I am?” asks John, not because he’s trying to be dense but because Sherlock is talking to him. Sherlock is talking. To him. It’s all too delicious. Even the look of utter irritation at John’s perceived stupidity is delicious.

“Yes, of course you are. After all, you’re recently invalided from the military. Pension can’t be very much, but here you are, in London, which means that you must be in need of a flatmate because I only just mentioned to Mike earlier today that I was in need of a flatmate and, like I said, Mike is a natural born matchmaker. So! If he can’t match me up with a date, naturally he’ll want to match me up with someone who can help pay the rent.”

“And how exactly did you deduce that?” It’s one thing to watch Sherlock do this to others. It’s something else entirely to have him perform his talents on oneself. John can barely keep the grin off his face, relying entirely upon the skills of Watson to keep his expression neutral with just a hint of wariness.

Sherlock gives him one of those oh so familiar looks that says ‘oh, please it’s so obvious’ before explaining it to John.

“You served in the war. I’m guessing Afghanistan, but it could have been Iraq. You were a doctor there, but also a soldier going by the hammer bite callus on the webbing between your thumb and forefinger, so you’ve used a gun regularly. You also have a soldier’s bearing and haircut still, but you rearranged the medical tools on that dissection tray into the correct order for a surgeon, ergo, doctor. Your clothes are a bit too large, but they’re new. Not something you would buy for yourself, naturally, so more likely bought for you as a gift from someone who didn’t realize you’d lost weight. Sudden weight loss, when linked to your military service, suggests you’ve recently spent a fair amount of time in a hospital, most likely recovering from injuries that got you remanded from the front. You favor your left shoulder and were rolling it cautiously when you entered the room, so most likely you were shot there in the line of duty and that’s what brought you home. You’re also limping of course, but that’s not the real problem. You stand perfectly steady and without any apparent pain, it only appears to be a problem when you walk, so most likely psychosomatic. Shall I continue?”

John simply nods before adding, “Yes, please.” He continues to delve into Watson’s muscle memory, adding a dose of confusion and astonishment to his features. Sherlock would expect those reactions.

One brow lifts, as if surprised by John’s affirmative reply, but Sherlock indulges the good doctor.

“You’ve been to Barts before, but not for a while according to Mike’s comment about things being different so, not since University. You and Mike are of an age and he clearly feels like he can be physically close to you, but he’s never mentioned you before. Now, Mike knows that I’m a difficult sort of person to get along with, let alone live with, so he wouldn’t set me up with just anyone, which means based on his memories of you he thinks we’d be a good match. Ergo, you studied together. Were clearly once good friends, or at least Mike considers you a good friend, though you seem a bit indifferent to him now, or perhaps your affections have waned over the years. And for all his faults and proclivities, Mike does tend to be a decent judge of character and realistic about one’s flaws. Do you like the violin? Because I tend to play it when I’m thinking, often in the middle of the night. I also tend to have a number of experiments going on at any given time, I hope that won’t be too bothersome for you. I certainly have no intention of stopping.”

John smiles, glancing down to hide the expression of pleasure on his face. “You…. that was… incredible.” Really the words that were on his lips were ‘you are incredible’, but that would be showing his hand a bit much at this stage of the game. He needs to win Sherlock’s trust, but too much flattery and the consulting detective would close himself off out of suspicion.

Sherlock expression shifts subtly, a hint of surprise and uncertainty touching his eyes as he glances away for a moment, glances back briefly, then drops his gaze down as he leans forward to peer into the microscope once more.

“That was… different.”

“What was?” inquires John blithely.

“That. What you said.” Pale silvery eyes lift, brows creasing as he asks abruptly, “Did you mean it?”

“Of course I meant it,” John replied pragmatically. “Why wouldn’t I? It was, in a word, amazing.” All of it, at the very core, wrong of course, but that’s not really Sherlock’s fault. He can only work with what he can see, after all.

Sherlock lifts his gaze and stares at John for a moment longer before the corner of his mouth quirks. Drawing a pen and a card from his pocket he jots something down and then turns about, pulling on his long black coat and wrapping his blue scarf about his neck. Striding over he hands the card to John, noting, “The address is 221B Baker Street, I wrote it on the card there. Come by this evening, round 5:30, see if the place suits you.” He’s gone in a whirl of black before John even gets the chance to say ‘alright’.

Blinking he stares at the card, turning it over to read where it says, 'The Science of Deduction' along with Sherlock’s name and number. A slow smile spreads across John’s face until he is positively grinning.

And he didn’t even have to pray.

*****

Walking up to the door in question, John rings the bell at 5:30 sharp. Glancing left and right, he can’t help but notice that the neighborhood is a distinct improvement over their last flat. It’s probably more of a combination of convenience, opportunity, and timing, though, rather than an actual desire to improve his conditions. Physical environments, actually physicality in any sense of the word, have never been of much importance to Sherlock. With a huff of air that he can actually see, John waits for someone to open the door, with dwindling hope. He can’t help but wonder if Sherlock will actually be here or if he will have forgotten.

When the door does finally open, it’s not Sherlock standing there but an older woman with silvering hair and a warm smile. “Can I help you?”

Glancing about once more, John fishes the card he was given out of his pocket and studies it again, murmuring, “I’m terribly sorry, do I have the wrong address? I’m looking for 221B Baker Street…”

“Oh, no dear, you have the right address, come in, come in,” she offers, stepping aside to allow John entrance before closing the door and calling up the stairs, “Sherlock! Your young man is here!” A violin is playing, unabated by either John’s ring or her call. Shaking her head she turns to consider John for a moment before offering her hand. “I’m Mrs. Hudson, the landlady, dear. Pleased to meet you, Mr….?”

“Watson. John Watson,” John replies, taking her hand and shaking it politely while looking around.

“Sherlock’s flat is upstairs, 221B. I suppose you must be the young fellow he’s going to be sharing it with then, yes?” She considers John again before dimpling and noting, “There’s an extra room upstairs, should you be needing one...”

John gets the distinct sense that Mrs. Hudson is fishing for something, but what exactly that is he’s not quite certain. Blinking, he offers her a somewhat confused smile and notes, “Well, I suppose I best take a look first, see what is what, and we can move forward from there?”

She gives him a broad, pleased smile and pats his arm. “Right. Off you go then, just right up the stair and give the door a good pounding. He’s like that sometimes, off in his own world somewhere. If you need anything, just give us a call. Be right downstairs.” She opens the door to her flat, pausing to glance up at John as he begins his assent. “Oh, hang on a minute.” She picks up a bundle of mail from a small stand and hands it up to John. “Be a dear and take that up for me.” Her hand pats lightly against her side as she confesses, “I’ve got a hip… but then I see stairs are not exactly your friends either, hmmm?” her gaze coming to rest on his cane curiously. “Oh, and just to be clear on things, I don’t do any cooking or cleaning. Just the landlady, as I said. Rent is due the first of the month.”

John gives the woman a quick smile and nod, watching as she departs, catching sight of the edge of a wing inside her flat just as she shuts the door. Turning he stares at the flight of stairs before sighing, working his way awkwardly up them. Arriving at Sherlock’s door, he knocks lightly at first and, when that doesn’t seem to work, harder.

The music stops abruptly and seconds later Sherlock opens the door, holding the instrument in his left hand. “Ah, John! You’re late,” he notes, even though it would be more accurate to say that Sherlock was a tad late in his response.

Lips twisting, John gives the tall man before him an ironic smile and offers, “Sorry ‘bout that. Damn leg and all,” tapping at the side of it with his cane, offering the mail with his left hand.

Sherlock’s gaze drops to the offending limb and offers a dubious, “Mmmm, yes. Well, come in,” as he takes the mail with a small nod of thanks. Turning about Sherlock carries his violin over to its case, carefully putting it away first before examining the small stack.

John steps into the apartment, drawing to a surprised halt at the fact that it’s filled with stuff. It’s only when he takes a few more steps inside that he realizes that he’s being faced with all of Sherlock’s stuff. His… stuff. The belongings that should have gone up in flames along with his old flat. How is this possible?

The next thing he realizes is that there is a strangely acrid smell to the air. Sniffing curiously, John’s gaze comes to rest on the back of Sherlock’s head as he notes bemusedly, “Smells rather… have you been smoking?” John realizes the slip the moment the words leave his mouth, but fortunately Sherlock is currently too preoccupied with sorting through his mail to take notice.

“Can’t keep up a smoking habit in London these days, and Mrs. Hudson, the landlady, complains about the smell,” Sherlock rumbles as he ends up just taking the mail to the mantle and pinning it into place with a knife before glancing about at his sundry possessions. “Yes, well, that is what happens when one’s previous flat burns to the ground. No matter though. Everything that was important got saved. Every once in awhile boredom is a surprisingly useful catalyst.”

Boredom?

Glancing around John looks at the objects around the room before he breathes, “You protected them…” as the realization strikes.

Just because you’re a Guardian Angel doesn’t necessarily mean you know what your human is doing or thinking at any given moment. Unless they’re the sort to talk aloud to themselves or doing something obvious, sometimes their actions can be quite curious and elusive. But John remembers now. A day when Sherlock was in a bored fit and searching through spell books to pass the time until one caught his attention. That day when he went through all of his belongings, tossing them this way and that as he “sorted” them, to use the term generously, into piles of ‘boring’ and ‘not boring’.

Nothing in the room is from the ‘boring’ pile. Sherlock was enchanting them, putting protection spells on them.

It’s not until he notices that Sherlock is staring at him that John realizes that he’s said that earlier statement aloud and that it was entirely the wrong thing to have said. A normal person would have made some sort of exclamation about the fire, words of condolence perhaps or concern? Sherlock is looking at him with shrewd and keen interest that indicates that John has done something unexpected and surprising. It’s not a look that one sees on Sherlock’s face very often.

It only takes the consulting detective a moment to deduce the answer. Fortunately, for once, he’s asking himself the wrong question. “You’re a Sensitive.”

John’s weight shifts as he turns to face Sherlock, cane thumping on the floor as he decides there’s no point in denying it. His chin lifts up slightly, almost aggressively, as if he were admitting to something less than savory.

“Yes. Yes I am…”

Sherlock continues to stare at him with cool, slanted eyes, before a slow, almost wicked smile curls his lips as he replies with relish, “Excellent.”

Sherlock is all about using whatever is at hand for his own purposes, treating people like disposable tools left and right. He’s staring now at John as if he just discovered a brand new Leica scanning electron microscope in his living room. However, this pleasure at his newfound discovery, and whatever personal gratification it allots him, is just as quickly forgotten as his gaze shifts toward the window. Familiar red and blue flashing police lights can be seen reflecting on the curtains, though no siren accompanies them. The smile on his lips grows even broader as he repeats again, with even more pleasure, “Excellent.”

Turning their heads as one, both men look toward the open door as the familiar figure of Lestrade bounds up the seventeen steps to the flat, giving John only the most cursory of glances before locking all of his attention and focus on Sherlock.

“There’s been another one.”

“And?”

“And what?”

“What’s different? Why are you here?”

“Other than the fact that I have four, count ‘em, four apparent suicides that somehow are linked, even though there’s nothing to connect the four victims together and I have no leads whatsoever on this case?” He stares back at Sherlock, meeting the cool, dispassionate gaze before huffing out a breath. “This one left us a message. And this has gone far enough. I need your help.”

Sherlock lips curl into a small, satisfied smile as he replies, “Yes. Yes you do. Right then, go on ahead and I’ll meet you there. Text me the address.”

Lestrade glances over at John almost apologetically before he tilts his head toward Sherlock and murmurs under his breath, “Thank you,” then heading back down the stairs.

Spinning around in a circle, Sherlock at least has the decency to wait before the door downstairs closes before he exclaims, “Finally! He should have brought me in after the second case, but at last there is something to do! Four suicides! Serial suicides! No pacts, no secret societies, so just what compels four perfect strangers to commit suicide for no reason?!” He swirls on his coat and starts reaching about for various items in the room - a small spell book, a talisman, a box of chalk, and a variety of items he uses to help with the more supernatural deductions - before he suddenly seems to remember that John is there.

“Make yourself comfortable, I should be back in a few hours!” And with that he is off in a whirl of black, feet thumping down the stairs excitedly like a kid on a snow day.

John almost goes to follow Sherlock without even thinking about it. He’s always followed Sherlock. It takes a moment to realize two things.

One, he doesn’t have to follow Sherlock everywhere. He could, you know, get a life. Except for the part where he’s already decided that probably isn’t an option for him.

Two, he hasn’t been invited. And although that certainly has never stopped Sherlock before, John knows enough about human nature to realize that it’s not normal to follow after someone you’ve supposedly just met when they’ve been invited by the police to examine a crime scene and you have not.

Very not normal.

With Sherlock gone, the ache in his shoulder and thigh return with a vengeance. So, with a frustrated grunt, John flops himself down into a comfortable armchair and stares about their new flat, wondering just what the hell to do with himself now.

He doesn’t even realize that Sherlock’s returned until the impossibly tall man re-enters the room with a dramatic swish of his coat, staring at John, his voice deep and silky smooth as he reiterates, “You’re a Sensitive. And a doctor.”

Glancing up at Sherlock, John’s brows knit for a moment before he confirms the obvious. “Yes, yes I am.”

“Are you any good?”

“At which? Sensing or doctoring?”

Sherlock gives a tiny shake of his head and his hand, as if the distinction is irrelevant. “Either.”

“Then yes. Very.”

His eyes narrow as Sherlock tugs his gloves on and points out, “You must have seen some fairly horrific things over the years. The sorts of things that cannot be unseen.”

John almost smiles, thinking to himself, ‘Ohhhhh, Sherlock you have no idea.’ Somehow he manages to keep a straight and sober face. “Yes. Indeed. More than you can imagine.”

Sherlock’s brow quirks in a mix of amusement and annoyance at what he takes as both a slight and a challenge, for he can naturally imagine quite a bit.

“Good,” he notes decisively, “then I’m sure you won’t mind some more. Hop to John, there’s work to be done!” he exclaims with a gleeful clap of his hands as he turns and rushes down the stairs without even glancing over his shoulder to see if John is behind him.

John follows. John always follows.

Chapter Text

While Sherlock does what he does best, which is to simultaneously astonish and aggravate everyone one around him, John is doing his best to be as inconspicuous as possible. Not from the police, who questioned why he was there and then dismissed him as somehow part of Sherlock’s whole peculiar process, but from the other beings in the building.

John has had a very difficult time trying to pretend that he cannot see what he sees. Even the most powerful Sensitives are rarely able to see angels. But he can. And curbing the urge to avoid bumping into one of the many Guardian Angels scattered throughout the building is no easy feat. He has to brush past them, in a few cases brush through them, letting them react to him and not the other way around. It’s quite… disconcerting.

Fortunately, there’s only one in the room with them at the moment, but in some ways that’s almost worse because it’s Luthiel. Lestrade’s angel. And despite John’s best efforts to not look at him and pretend that he can’t see him, John can feel Luthiel’s gaze crawling all over him curiously. He can tell there’s something not right about John. Perhaps, due to their close association, he can sense something about him that the others cannot? Perhaps it’s because Sherlock brought him along at all, which is certainly unusual. More likely, though, it’s the fact that he doesn’t have a Guardian Angel of some nature. But then, neither does Sherlock any more.

Focus on Sherlock. If he stays focused on Sherlock, he’ll stop being so twitchy and careful and start acting like a normal human being. He hopes. John directs his attention back to the debate at hand. Fortunately Sherlock is very watchable. John’s been watching Sherlock for his whole life and has not yet ever become bored of doing so. His motions are precise, calculated and remarkably graceful. When he speaks, his hands move fluidly and expressively, illustrating his words, emphasizing them. His face comes alive with expressions and subtle nuances, eyes shining with the pure pleasure that he derives from the act of deduction. John quickly catches up on the conclusions reached thus far.

According to Lestrade, the woman’s name was Jennifer Wilson and she hadn’t been in the building long.

According to Sherlock, the woman in question was traveling on business from Cardiff, planning to stay in London for one night. She was caught in a fierce rainstorm, had a marriage of ten years that was on the rocks, was a serial adulterer, and had a small piece of luggage that is not currently in the room but must be somewhere in the building and, like the three others before her, took some kind of poison. Oh, and she liked pink. A lot. But then anyone could have made that final deduction. Didn’t take a genius.

“What doesn’t make any sense is that message,” Anderson crows from the door smugly, certain that it will make as little sense to Sherlock as it has to the rest of them. The woman had tried to write something, scratching with her nails into the wood floor, her hand lying close by, limp and bloodied, nails ravaged by the effort. Carved into the floor are the following letters:

C O N D O N C

“Condonc doesn’t mean anything, So she clearly died before she finished writing it. Only word that makes sense is “condone”, and who would condone this? Committing suicide for no reason, in a place like this? It’s ridiculous, it’s pointless, it’s…”

“…enough,” finishes Sherlock who after a sigh and a roll of his eyes has actively risen to his feet to shut the door in Anderson’s face.

“Well, you have to agree Sherlock,” Lestrade points out, “it’s a damn odd thing to write.”

“It would be, if the word in question that she was writing was, in fact, condone, which it is not.”

Screwing up his face, Lestrade asks, “How can you tell?”

With disapproving look, Sherlock counters bluntly, “How do you write the letter ‘e’, Lestrade?” And then, with one gloved finger, he draws the letter in the air, sketching out a straight line and then a semicircle around it. He points down at what the dead woman managed to write. “She wouldn’t have taken the effort to do the circle first and then go back to make the straight line. That would have been considerably more work. No, the word you’re looking for is decidedly not ‘condone’,” he notes before crouching down next to her again.

“So what is it then?”

John can’t see the thoughts as they race through Sherlock’s mind, but he can imagine them, imagine Sherlock ticking through all the possible variations and permutations of the word before him until he finds the one that fits. The change that comes over him, when he finds the matching piece, is always a pleasure to watch. The way his already pale regard lights up with inspiration, the subtle change in the angle of his eyes. The slight softening of his mouth, the almost smug quirking of his lips.

Reaching toward the woman’s neck, Sherlock fingers the gold necklace there for a moment before reaching into his pocket to pull out a pen, sliding it beneath the chain and then angling it up so as to get a better look without disturbing the body. Hanging from the gold links, hidden from their view before, dangles a small, but expensive, cross.

“Lestrade,” Sherlock asks in a thoughtful drawl, “what was the religious affiliation of the other victims?”

“What? How is that relevant to the case?”

“Because it could be the answer to why these people were murdered.”

“Murdered? But they’re suicides!”

With a disgusted snort, Sherlock lets the chain slip from the pen. “Serial suicides? Come on, Lestrade, even you aren’t that stupid.”

John winces, even as Lestrade does the same, his face closing down as he waits yet again for Sherlock to enlighten him. John can’t help but wonder just how many more times the Detective Inspector’s pride will have to take a hit before he doesn’t have any anymore.

“The fact that she was traveling on business, had just arrived, her care with her state of dress, none of these things correlate with someone having the intention of committing suicide. In every case so far, the suicide has been unprecedented and the circumstances surrounding it illogical. But with this case we finally have something to work with. In short, she left us a clue.” His hand hovers over her neck as he points out, “She’s wearing a cross. It certainly isn’t something that someone would choose to wear for either fashion or business purposes, so the clear indication is that she considers herself to be a Christian. If we take it one step further and propose that she is, in fact, Catholic, then the word makes perfect sense.” Sherlock rises and draws his hand along the visible line of the words. “She was desperate to write this before she died. It was important enough that she went to a great deal of trouble and a fair amount of pain to do so.”

John realizes what the word is before Sherlock finishes his explanation, but he keeps a dull and confused look on his face, playing the part he’s been cast in. Watson would not know this word. John Watson was not a Catholic.

“The last letter is an ‘O’. Condono. Latin for ‘forgive’. She’s a serial adulterer who has, for unknown reasons, most likely been forced to commit suicide. Those are some hefty sins to have on your soul. She wanted God to forgive her before she died, not to send her soul to Hell.”

“But why write it? Why not just say the word?”

Turning, Sherlock fixes Lestrade with pinioning eyes. “She’s a well-traveled, erudite, business woman. She managed to have a string of affairs and not get caught. Based on the frankly alarming shade of pink, she must have worked in media. So, she clearly kept up with current trends, which means she would have read all the relevant papers and magazines. She wrote it because she knew about the other murders. She knew that the police didn’t have a clue about what was going on. And, because the written word has power. In one word, she hoped to absolve herself and give you the motive for her death.” His brow arches, the answer so obvious. “If the other victims were also Catholic, there’s your link between the murders.”

Lestrade’s eyes are flat, wounded, but he simply nods and notes brusquely, “I’ll see if there’s anything in their files,” before turning and leaving the room, the door left open in his wake.

“That was brilliant.” There’s a look of surprised pleasure that crosses Sherlock’s features before John’s next words douse it. “Bit harsh, though, don’t you think?”

“What?”

It’s the first thing that John’s said since he’s entered the room. And it’s the first time in all of his years with Sherlock that he can speak the thoughts that have been on his mind and know that Sherlock can actually hear them for once.

“That,” he explains, straightening and squaring his shoulders now that he has Sherlock’s attention. “With Le…. with the Detective Inspector. It was rude, and unduly harsh. He’s not stupid. Not so much as you think he is.”

“Everyone is as stupid as I think they are,” is his instant retort before Sherlock’s eyes narrow once more, asking John in ponderous tones, “How would you know what I think?” as if no one could possibly fathom the way Sherlock’s mind works, let alone this unassuming looking little man. Soldier. Doctor. Sensitive.

Shrugging, John covers for the tiny slip with a hint of censure in his voice. “Seems rather obvious, based on the way you just treated him.”

Sherlock’s eyes narrow again with suspicion before he apparently dismisses the matter as an anomaly with a wave of his hand. “It doesn’t matter. Only the work matters. John, I want you to take a good look at her. Do you see anything unusual?”

Hear, but not heed, apparently.

With a disappointed sigh, John draws closer and crouches down next to the body awkwardly. “What am I looking for? Cause of death?”

“Mmmm, no, I think we’ve got that covered. I’m more interested to know if anything supernatural might be involved. Catholicism, mortal sins, suicide. It positively reeks of soul collecting. I want to know if there was a demon or some other spirit involved.” There’s a moment of hesitation before he notes dryly, “Of course, if that’s beyond your abilities, I can always…”

“Yes, yes, I mean, no, no that’s not beyond my abilities, just wanted to be clear on what you were asking me to do. Doctor and Sensitive, remember?” Sherlock gives him a tiny smile to indicate that of course he remembers.

In a way, John’s oddly grateful that Sherlock’s retort has forced Lestrade from the room. Though he wouldn’t really mind if the DI knew of his ‘talent’, he would be a little more concerned if a related party were to know as well. With Lestrade off, checking on Sherlock’s request, John can use his one lingering ability without Luthiel witnessing it.

Sitting back on his heel, one knee upraised, John intently studies the woman in question for a long moment, one hand lifting to hover over her, trailing up and down her frame before dropping down to the ground again. His brow creases in bemusement as he lifts his gaze to study the room in turn.

Frowning, John cranes his head this way and that, almost sniffing the air as he finally offers succinctly, “There are no obvious signs of magic. She’s definitely human. She hasn’t been attacked by magic, she doesn’t have a spell on her, and there are no traces of ritual marks or summoning ones on her body or in the room. No signs of possession. But there’s… something. I can’t quite put my finger on it though. Like, something lingering in the air. A perfume.”

“Perfume?” Sniffing the air, Sherlock wrinkles his nose and points out, “Other than her rather obvious choice of Jimmy Choo fragrance and the overall mustiness of the building from all the mold and decay, I don’t smell anything out of the ordinary.”

“Not an actual perfume,” John corrects, laboriously rising up to his feet and cursing Michael’s name silently as he rubs at his aching thigh. “But like magic was done in this room at some point, and the scent of it is still lingering in the air. Not enough to know what was done though. Could be completely unrelated.”

“Hmmmmm,” is Sherlock’s only response, but by the look on his face John has just downgraded himself from an electron microscope to a Meade ‘made-for-children’ microscope. Fantastic.

Crossing the threshold again, Lestrade enters to report, “No mention of religious affiliation in two of the three victims so far. The third has a notation of being Christian, but not the specific denomination. Have to wait until we can get a hold of relatives to confirm that information. Oh, and no suitcase.”

“What?” Sherlock turns around sharply, eyes narrowing.

Blinking and shifting somewhat awkwardly beneath that demanding regard, Lestrade clears his throat and repeats himself. “No suitcase. It’s not in the building. You must have got it wrong.”

A wonderful, horrible look comes over Sherlock’s face as he crouches down next to the victim again, reaching into his pocket for a moment before tweaking up a corner of her coat as he chastises Lestrade, “I’m never wrong. Except when I am. But not in this case! She most definitely had her luggage with her which means… he’s made a mistake!”

“Who’s made a mistake?”

“The killer, of course.” Leaping up to his feet, Sherlock positively beams at the Detective Inspector, his hand slipping into his pocket once more. “Smile, Lestrade, we just got our first break in this case!” His eyes flick to John with a nod before he surges past a confused Lestrade who turns to follow, barking after the already dashing detective, “Wait, what? What break?!”

Pausing on the stairs, Sherlock looks back up at Lestrade, shaking his head and repeating, “The suitcase, don’t you see, the suitcase! If she doesn’t have it, and it’s not in the building, that means the killer has it. And if I can work fast enough, we just might be able to find the killer before he realizes his mistake and ditches it!”

He doesn’t take any more time to explain himself, just hurtles his way pell-mell down the stairs, the various police and forensic specialists pressing themselves against the wall rather than be trampled in his rush.

With almost perfectly matching sighs of exasperation, John and Lestrade stare down into the stairwell as Sherlock disappears from sight and then turn toward one another. Shrugging sympathetically, John does what he does best, clumping down the stairs awkwardly in Sherlock’s wake, offering apologies the whole way down. Someone should.

*****

Reaching the street it takes John a little while before he finds the consulting detective. At first he thought Sherlock had just taken off and abandoned him, something that John can picture his charge doing all too readily. Heck, he doesn’t have to imagine it, he’s seen Sherlock do it many a time before when working with someone not fast enough to keep up with him. Sergeant Donovan certainly indicated as much when he asked her where Sherlock went, pointing down the street that he flew down before shaking her head sadly as John went after him.

He finds Sherlock crouched down on the road around the nearest corner, far enough away that the police and the flashing lights are no longer a distraction. The consulting detective has had his day, as it were. Now it’s time for the Adept to play. He’s pulled out all of the objects from his pockets and is currently drawing a circle on the ground with a piece of chalk, adding symbols and markings into the border with practiced ease. John slows down and quietly walks up until he’s standing beside him.

Magic. Power. Miracles. Divine Will. Call it what you like, it all boils down to the same essence. Energy. Some beings have it, some don’t. Some can control it, others cannot. There’s big trouble when you have the former of the former, combined with the latter of the latter. Fortunately Sherlock’s obsessive perfectionist nature makes it impossible for him to be anything but in full control of his abilities as an Adept.

John knows all about magic and the beings that wield it. But just because you were once an angel doesn’t mean you know how magic works. Because it’s not about the existence of the power, it’s about how you manifest it, mold it to your will, or are molded by it. When John was an angel, he simply was magic. It was him, and he was it. The idea that it might be separate from him, something he has to find, capture, and tame to his will is too alien to even conceive.

It’s like comparing flying a plane to riding a bicycle. Or riding a perfectly trained dressage horse to riding an untamed bull. Each vehicle of magic requires different skills, different understandings of how it works. Just because John has seen Adepts use magic over the years doesn’t mean he actually understands what is involved beyond a basic concept of it, or, more importantly, how to wield the power that way himself. As such, he can’t help but find himself captivated whenever Sherlock is working on a spell. It’s always fascinating to him to watch him capture and mold the aether about them to his determined will.

Course, he hasn’t the faintest idea what Sherlock is up to now.

“What… what are you doing?”

“What does it look like I’m doing? I’m going to track down the location of the suitcase.” Glancing over his shoulder, Sherlock frowns slightly, though his expression is more one of mild bemusement than criticism. “Isn’t it obvious? I’m an Adept, you’re a Sensitive. Surely you’ve sensed Adepts before? You recognized the spells on my belongings, you’ve talked to me briefly, if inadequately, on the magic or lack thereof at the crime scene. This can’t be all that surprising to you.”

“Yes, yes, but how are you going to find the suitcase? You don’t have anything to go on?”

Lips curl into a delighted smile, a genuine smile, which more than takes the bite out of his words. “Don’t be daft, John, of course I do.” Sherlock looks up at John, his dark hair wild and disarrayed, his features flushed with excitement. “Pink!” he exclaims, as if it were the most apparent thing in the world.

John blinks. “I’m sorry, what? Pink? How is pink supposed to help?”

Blowing out a breath of great, if tried, patience, Sherlock pulls a piece of something bright pink out of his pocket and waves it at John.

“Wait a…. is that what I think it is? Where did you get that?”

“John, really, we don’t have time for this.” Turning back to the task at hand, he counters dryly, “Are you deliberately being dense, or are you even more stupid than I thought? Her suit, of course. What else have we been in contact with lately that is this particular shade of pink?”

His arms fold over his chest. It is not a defensive reaction to Sherlock’s slight, he tells himself. “Are you trying to be a git, or does it come naturally to you?” he grumbles before gesturing at the scrap in Sherlock’s hand. “What, don’t you think they’ll miss that? That forensics won’t make a note that her coat or suit has been torn, take it down as evidence?”

The small slight rolls off of Sherlock like water off a brolly; doesn’t even earn a response. “Oh please, Anderson would miss his nose if it wasn’t fastened to his face.”

Rolling his eyes, John takes a step closer and hunkers down next to Sherlock, his gaze focusing on those nimble hands as they draws the elaborate design on the tarmac before them. “Alright fine, I’ll bite. How exactly is that supposed to help?

“Simple. They’re linked. Empower the link and find the suitcase. Child’s play.”

“I’m sorry, linked? Linked how?”

“By intention.”

“Intention?”

Hands stop moving as Sherlock’s shoulders twist, his head jerking up to face John as he growls, “God, must you repeat everything I say? Yes, intentions, John. Do please keep up. The road to Hell is paved with them, after all.”

John can’t help but stare into those pale grey eyes, so close in proximity to his own darker blue ones. Even though he’s being berated like a child, Sherlock is talking to him. The novelty of it all still hasn’t worn off, apparently. The irritation evaporates, leaving him smiling as he chuckles softly. “I thought that was only the good ones?“ Then, with a shake of his head, John gestures once more to the scrap and offers penitently, “Sorry, you lost me on that one. But I promise I’ll keep up from here on out.”

Sherlock’s regard shifts back and forth between John’s eyes, his usual poise momentarily thrown by John’s sudden shift in temperament. After a moment, Sherlock holds up the tiny scrap of fabric, waving it at John, explaining the logic for him.

“Her outfit was carefully thought out and crafted. Intentional. It’s doubtful that it came ready made that way which means that she must have spent a significant amount of time searching for each part of it. Shoes to match the dress suit, nail polish to match, luggage to match. It took time. It took effort! That kind of effort takes energy, and that energy in turn imbues the objects with the significant emotional power of intention. By activating that energy in this scrap of her clothing I can connect the lines of energy that her intention imbued into them. In other words, I can use this scrap of fabric to locate her suitcase. If we’re very lucky, her killer may not realize that he still has it. And if he has, then it can’t have gone far. Most likely he would have realized his mistake fairly quickly after leaving her body and there’s no way a man could get away walking around with a bright pink suitcase without drawing attention to himself. No, he would have had to ditch it somewhere out of sight. I could spend a few hours checking every alleyway and skip within a mile radius, but this will do the trick much faster and infinitely easier.”

John shakes his head with a delighted smile, staring into Sherlock’s eyes like they were the sun and the moon. “Brilliant”

Sherlock’s gaze drops to the ground them up again, one brow arching as he asks curiously, “Do you realize you say that aloud?”

“Do I? So sorry. I’ll stop.”

“No, no.” Sherlock stares, a small, secretly pleased smile touching just the corners of his mouth. “It’s fine.”

John’s mouth opens and closes a few times before he smiles and shakes his head replying, “Right. So what do you want me to do?”

Turning back to the spell before him, Sherlock replies, “Keep quiet and don’t get in my way.”

John deflates a little but, really, he shouldn’t have expected any different. Not from Sherlock. In a voice a bit smaller he repeats once more, “Right…” and moves off to stand a little behind Sherlock and to the side, so as not to be in his line of sight and distract him, but still be able to watch.

Kneeling before the chalk drawing, Sherlock places the tiny piece of pink fabric in the center of it and with a softly murmured word closes the circle, a small flare of power sparking up briefly as his will is made manifest. Sherlock continues to murmur softly, shaping the magic before him like a potter at a wheel, long delicate fingers stroking the air with significant gestures and motions until, with a soft hum the scrap of cloth begins to ever so subtly glow.

Resting his hands on his thighs, Sherlock turns his head to smile up at John, flushed with success. “How’s that leg of yours doing? Feeling well enough for an evening constitutional?”

He can’t help it. John grins at Sherlock and steps closer as the Adept breaks the circle with a rub of his finger over one line and snatches up the pink swatch. “Can’t think of anything I’d rather be doing…”

Chapter Text

Their efforts were both a success and a failure. The tiny piece of pink fabric was better than a GPS. Sherlock held it in his hand and followed the sensations that it gave off, turning this way and that as they followed the trail. They were successful in that they did manage to recover the suitcase. But they failed to find the killer, who had indeed noticed his mistake and had dumped the case in a skip under the cover of darkness.

Now that same bright pink case sits open on a chair in the living room of their new flat, its contents in disarray from the detective having pawed through them, muttering under his breath over and over again, “Where is it? Where is it? Where is it??”

“Where’s what?”

Lifting his head, a lock of dark hair falling over his eyes, Sherlock exclaims, “Her technology. Any technology. On a business trip with no cell phone? No laptop? I hardly think so.”

John leans forward to stare into her case thoughtfully. “Maybe the killer took the laptop? Maybe there was some evidence on it that he needed to hide?” he ventures uncertainly. Just like watching an Adept does not teach one how to wield magic, studying a consulting detective doesn’t really make one a genius at deduction. Add to that the fact that Guardian Angels are there simply to protect their charges and serve their mutual Creator. Sadly, there’s not always a prodigious amount of independent thought being done.

Silver grey eyes flick up, a quick quirk of Sherlock’s lips indicating that John is onto something. “Laptop, no. Her case was perfectly packed, undisturbed. If the killer had been through it, it would have been in disarray, a mess. He didn’t have the time to be delicate and discreet enough to carefully repack her case just the way it was. Not if he was just going to dump it in a skip a mile away. No, no laptop. Which means she had a mobile on her, but not just any phone, a smart phone. She would have used it for business, used it instead of a computer.”

“She could have lost it? Or-rrr…”

“Or?”

“Or the killer has it. Took it? Or maybe it was accidentally left behind, like the suitcase!”

“Excellent John, see? You’re getting the hang of it.”

A small warm glow starts in the middle of John’s chest and expands in rushing tingles outward, the sensation wondrously strange. “Don’t you think we should call the Detective Inspector?”

Sherlock’s gaze is focused blankly on the suitcase in front of him, his mind elsewhere, running through various permutations and possibilities. His tone of voice is distracted, unconcerned as he replies, “Hmm? Why?”

“Oh, I dunno, because this is a piece of evidence in a suspected murder case?”

Sherlock waves a dismissive hand, his attention still on the case, eyes narrowing on the handle of it before he leans forward. “Details, details. Besides they’re not going to get anything useful off it. The killer isn’t going to be stupid enough to leave any traces of DNA for them to pick up on. I’m sure he wore gloves and wiped it clean before he ditched it.” Flipping the tag on the luggage over with one of his own, gloved, hands, Sherlock stares at it for a moment before ordering, “Pull out your mobile.”

John obeys even as he asks curiously, “What for?”

“I want you to send a text, and my phone’s in my coat pocket across the room. Ready?”

With a huff of breath, John turns on the device and after a moment of searching for the right application replies, “Right, alright, what do you want the message to say?”

Tilting his head to one side, Sherlock considers his answer for a moment before replying, “Checkmate. Want to try again? 22 Northumberland Terrace. Come soon.” He pulls out the slip of paper held within the plastic grasp of the tag and puts it on the table next to John. “Send it to the number there when you’re done.”

John pokes at the tiny device in his hands laboriously, the process of texting ridiculously unfamiliar to him. Sherlock’s waits and watches, leaning forward, fingers twitching with the urge to pull the phone out of John’s just to speed up matters. When John finally finishes and hits send he looks up, ocean blue eyes bright and curious. “There. Done.”

“Finally. Remind me never to ask you to send a text again…”

“Gladly.” And then the niggling thought in the back of John’s mind surfaces to the front unpleasantly. “Hang on a minute…” His eyes dart to the card in question as he registers for the first time the name written on it and where Sherlock pulled it from. “Did you just have me text her murderer?”

Sherlock smirks, eyes gleaming. It’s answer enough.

“Are you completely mad?”

“Others have certainly said so, but I prefer the term ‘sociopath’, though granted I’m a high functioning one. Far more accurate, really. Madness encompasses such a wide range of diagnoses. Best to be specific whenever possible. As you’re a doctor, I’m sure you’ll agree.”

John’s silence is expected. So is a reaction of shock or disgust or some other negative response. But John isn’t going to play this particular game with Sherlock. Time for the Guardian Angel to do a little deduction of his own, even if he does have the unfair advantage of having known Sherlock all of his life.

John’s voice is mild, his gaze steady and direct as he meets Sherlock’s sardonic and provocative regard. “Actually, the term ‘sociopath’ is a bit outdated. Was replaced with ‘Antisocial Personality Disorder’ back in 1994, I believe? But I can see how you might have been diagnosed with that term in your youth, likely by some psychiatrist that your parents took you to rather than taking the time to actually talk to you. And, of course, you realized it was easier not to care what anyone said about you if you beat them to punch. Use the very thing people judge you for as a shield, identify with it, even though we both know it’s not as simple as all that.” John cocks his head to one side, still holding Sherlock’s eyes. “After all, it’s hard to pick on someone when they fully accept who they are. Makes those slings and arrows hurt just a little bit less, perhaps? Or are you just hurting yourself instead?”

For the first time in as long as John can remember, Sherlock seems speechless. He’s too proud to let his gaze drop or shift away uncomfortably from John’s, but depths of his silver eyes flicker with hints of heavily banked emotions, his features shifting fractionally, almost twitching. Unsurprisingly, the wall goes up a few seconds later, a small smirk touching his lips as he gives John a look as if to say ‘touché’. Sadly, Sherlock’s nature protects him from kindness as much as cruelty. “Yes, well, sociopath sounds so much better. Antisocial Personality Disorder. Bit of a mouthful that.”

The phone in John’s hand rings, silencing them both, and redirects their attention back to the case.

“What should I do?”

Leaning back, eyes heavy-lidded in contemplation, Sherlock stares at the mobile, his mouth curling into a subtly smug smile. “Let it ring, don’t answer it. We don’t want to give the game away too soon.”

“The game, is it?”

“Of course. It’s a game of chess and I’ve just made the first move. Think, John. If she’d lost the phone, anyone who found it would likely ignore a text like that. Doesn’t mean anything. But the murderer? It would place a hint of doubt. Did he make a mistake? Did she somehow survive? Anyone else would think nothing of it. The murderer… would panic.” He flips the suitcase closed just as the phone stops ringing.

Leaping up to his feet, Sherlock strides across the room, once again grabbing his coat and scarf, pulling them on. John watches him in bemusement as he swirls about the flat once more, picking up objects here and there and stuffing them into his voluminous pockets.

“What, we’re off again?”

“Of course John, shake a leg! It’s only a short walk, but no telling when our killer might show up. He is, of course, driving after all. We don’t want to miss his first move of the game, now do we??”


*****

Sitting across from Sherlock, with his back to the window, John patiently chews a forkful of Penne Arrabiata with pleasure. He’s not exactly sure why food is suddenly a delight, rather than a bother. Perhaps it’s the company. Or perhaps it’s because he’s eating something actually cooked and well made. Being an angel didn’t exactly prepare John for bachelorhood, and Tup certainly didn’t know how to cook anything. Most of what he’s eaten, well, let’s just say that perhaps more of it was devoured cold than should have been, the rest simple and plain fare. But this? This is delicious.

He can’t help himself. Between the food on his plate and the fact that Sherlock is sitting across from him, looking so brilliant and perfect, if impatient, John could not be more content. For the third time he lifts up a forkful to the consulting detective, insisting, “Really, you have to try this. It’s incredible.”

For the third time, Sherlock’s silver eyes flicker from their intent study of the flat across the street to John’s face, a faint frown of uncertainty marring his brow. “One would think you’d never eaten food before, the way you’re carrying on. And no, thank you, I’m fine.” Nothing more than a glass of water is before him, and even that only got a sip.

“Sherlock,” John rumbles with a tilt of his head and a considering expression. “You need to eat, y’know.” The fork bobbles in the air between them in an effort to tempt.

Sherlock eyes the fork, and then John, before noting impatiently, "I do eat. When it's necessary. Right now, it's not necessary. Food just... slows me down." John's expression shifts to one of disbelief and concern, but Sherlock cuts him off before he even gets started. "It's just transport, John. Not important."

He’s still so untutored, still so new in the ways of being human. Honestly, with the way his eyes never stop watching Sherlock and the way that he looks at him, it’s no wonder Angelo put a candle on the table between them. More romantic, he said. Between concern for Sherlock's well being, and a genuine urge to please the man seated across from him, John's fervent regard could be easily misconstrued as smitten. Pursing his lips, Sherlock picks up his glass of water with a frown and takes a sip before putting it down again. He seems to gather himself together slightly, as if he were making a concerted effort to be tactful for a change, rather than just speaking his mind.

“John, I’m flattered, but I think I should remind you that I’m married to my work, and as much as I appreciate your assistance and think you’d make a good flatmate, I’m really not interested.”

“Not interested?” John’s expression is one of pure innocence and curiosity, mixed with a hint of worry. What is Sherlock saying? He wants to be flatmates, but not friends? The very idea causes a twinge in John’s leg and shoulder. Not iInterested in what?”

Sherlock’s eyes narrow in disbelief. “In any kind of… romantic liaison. Don’t be offended. It’s not you, per se. I’m just not interested… in anyone. Distracts from the work.”

“Oh? Oh!” Sitting back in surprise, John’s eyes widen, a blush rising up, unbidden, to his cheeks. “No, no, I didn’t mean… that is to say, I wasn’t suggesting… dash it all. No, no, of course not. I wasn’t, ahh, hitting on you?” At Sherlock’s dubious expression, John assures, “Really. It’s fine. Not to worry.”

Those pale eyes squint slightly in faint suspicion before Sherlock nods, folding his hands one over the other as his gaze shifts back to the street beyond. “Good. That’s… good.”

John turns his attention to his food in a feeble attempt to cover for the awkward moment, his mind turning the implications of Sherlock’s words over and over again thoughtfully. He was just happy to be here, right? Sherlock was his charge, his human. He’d been growing fond of him for some time. And yet, this was decidedly different. He always felt connected to Sherlock, bonded to him, but he would never have described this bond as ‘pleasurable’. Yet, suddenly, here are all these other emotions and sensations mixing in. He recognizes a few of them readily enough. Contentment. Happiness. Affection. A sense of being and belonging that he’s never experienced before. The others are a bit more… nebulous.

His head lifts, eyes able to drink in as much as they like now that Sherlock’s attention is fully focused on the street again, hands steepled beneath his chin. John always thought Sherlock was beautiful, but there’s something different about his appreciation of the man now. Something, for the lack of a better term, ‘earthier’ about it. Frowning slightly, he considers the difference. Is this a part of him? Or is this coming from John Watson? Watson certainly had a physical appreciation for both men and women, and his assessment of Sherlock, based on the memories available, would certainly be one of admiration and attraction. The Adept’s appearance is so very striking and unusual. Even if one found him strange or off putting at first, over time they would come to appreciate the subtle slant of his eyes, the chiseled bone structure of his face, the pronounced cupid’s bow of his lips.

Frowning harder John drops his gaze to his plate and shakes his head. This is… confusing. And complicated. There are too many thoughts, too many memories, and too many strange and unfamiliar feelings stirring about in his mind and churning in his stomach. With a soft clink, he places his fork down onto the plate and reaches for his glass of water, his appetite suddenly gone. Time for a change of topic.

“So tell me, what makes you so sure that he’ll come? And even if the killer does, how will you know it’s him?”

Sherlock’s pale gaze flicks to John briefly before returning to watch the street. “It’s simple, really. I’m surprised it took me this long to figure out.” He ticks off the victims on his fingers. “A man returning home from a business trip. A teenager caught in a rainstorm. A drunk woman at a party. A business woman arriving in London for one night’s stay. What do all of these people have in common?”

Thinking for a moment, John finally shrugs and confesses, “I dunno…”

“Transport. They all needed transportation, John.”

Frowning, he mulls that over and offers, “So you think the killer is a friend who gave all these people a ride?”

“Logical, except for the fact that none of the victims had any friends or colleagues in common. All complete strangers.”

“And what if someone just came up and offered them a lift? Like a Good Samaritan? Or the opposite, abducted them?”

Flicking his gaze back to John, Sherlock shakes his head, “Didn’t your mother tell you not to talk to strangers? Who would be daft enough to get in a car with someone they don’t know? No. Aside from the fact that someone bent on murder can hardly be called a Good Samaritan, that was definitely not the murderer’s modus operandi. As for being abducted, none of the victims had any signs of violence or being forced against their will. No marks, cuts, abrasions or bruises. No, there’s a much more obvious choice.” He hesitates for a moment, looking on the street for something before announcing, “There,” pointing out the window.

Twisting in his seat, John catches sight of the rear of a cab as it passes by, going completely still as apprehension spills over him.

“It’s the perfect cover,” Sherlock offers, watching as John’s features shift from surprise to grim comprehension. “Everyone trusts a cab driver. They are your safe ride out of a dodgy part of town. Your designated driver when you’ve had a few drinks too many. The reliable friend who never says no when you need a lift to the airport. No one thinks of them, no one sees them. They are virtually invisible. What better mode of transportation could a killer ask for?”

“But… there are cabs everywhere. It’s London. How on earth are you going to know if the one with the killer in it comes by?”

“I’ll know….” he drawls softly, before his eyes narrow as a taxi pulls up to the curb at the correct address. Sherlock waits and watches until he’s satisfied, pushing his chair back slightly and tossing his napkin to the table. “Finish your meal, my ride has arrived.”

“What? You’re going?” Turning in his seat to look outside, John immediately turns back when Sherlock hisses softly, “Don’t look. We don’t want to scare him off, now do we?”

Staring up at Sherlock, John frowns and asks, “But how do you know it’s the right cab?”

“I don’t. But the odds are good. It’s waiting at the corner. No one has got out, no one has got in, and he’s already brushed off one customer.” Dropping his gaze to John, Sherlock’s lips curl into a satisfied smile. “Our quarry has taken the bait…”

Reaching over to the table next to them, Sherlock offers the couple there an insincere smile and offers, “Terribly sorry,” before picking up the man’s glass of white wine and splashing it over himself.

“Now see here!” the man begins to protest…

Frowning introspectively at the glass in his hand, Sherlock waves it dismissively at the outraged pair. “Mmmm, actually I take that apology back. You should be thanking me. An American Chardonnay? Coupled with Angelo’s Brasato di Manzo?? Terrible choice. Send it back and order a Brunello instead. Brunello di Montalcino, to be specific. A far superior vintage, which will beautifully complement your meal rather than utterly ruin it.”

The couple gape as Sherlock, placing the glass back down, pivots on his heels and bumbles past their table as if he were drunk, pushing open and then practically falling out of the front door of the restaurant, leaving John to apologize and make amends.


*****

Stumbling off the kerb, Sherlock very nearly gets hit by a car, one hand coming to rest on its hood as he slurs out a mock-angry protest. Wobbling his way across the street, he leans against a lamppost for a moment before tripping his way over to the cab in question.

He thumps on the roof and shakes the door handle before protesting, “Awww, come on mate!”

“Can’t yeh see the light? Off duty!” returns the cab driver, his eyes focused on the door of 22 Northumberland Terrace like a hawk.

Sherlock hides the smile that touches his mouth by tilting his head back, as if rolling out an ache, and then ducks down to peer through the window at the small, unassuming, older man sitting inside. “Come on, I got cash… don’t be a git.”

“I said…” and turning his head the cabbie glances out the window to look up at the apparently drunk man. His words die off, only to be chased by a wicked, knowing smile. “Well, well, well, this is an honor,” he announces, eyeing the man at his cab up and down before asking, “Taxi for the great Sherlock ‘olmes?”

Sherlock is, quite frankly, dumbfounded. He’s been taken by surprise, twice in one night! And despite his expertise at pretending to be what he is not, something of that shock must show in his gaze.

“Awww, don’t feel bad Mr. ‘olmes. I’m one of yer biggest fans.” His shoulders shrug as the cabbie adds, “I ‘ave to admit, tho’, I didn’t think I would be meetin’ the likes of you ‘ere tonight. But then I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. Coppers weren’t ever gonna figure it out on their own. It’s only natural they’d end up ‘avin’ to call you in t’elp.” Opening up his door, the cabbie gets out, causing Sherlock to back away uncertainly. But he only smiles and opens up the back door. “Let’s go fer a drive.”

“And why would I do that?”

“Cause it’s all part of the game, innit? You want to know ‘ow all those people died, and I want to tell yeh. Isn’t that the way with geniuses? We all want to be seen, to be recognized. But then you know all about that, seein’ as yer a genius yerself. Seems only fair I get my chance to shine too. So ‘op on in, make yourself comfortable.”

Sherlock stares at the open door as if it were a trap. “Is this how you killed them? Gave them a ride and then forced them to take the poison?”

“Awwww, Mr. ‘olmes, I’m disappointed. You know as well as I do that they took the poison themselves, each and every one of ‘em. Willingly.” Shaking his head tragically, the cabbie protests his innocence, but the smug smile on his lips belies his words. “I didn’t kill those people. All I did was talk to them for awhile… and they killed themselves.”

Sherlock hesitates for a moment before ducking into the back of the cab and sliding onto the seat, closing the door behind him.

Returning to his own seat, the cabbie shifts the rearview mirror a bit to better see his passenger, offering him a disturbingly cheerful grin. “That’s the way of it! Tell you what, I won’t even run the meter. Free ride for you, Mr. ‘olmes. So just sit back, make yourself comfortable, and we’ll ‘ave ourselves a nice little chat.” The taxi is shifted into gear and pulls away from the kerb.

Half a block away John watches the interaction unfold, watches Sherlock drop the drunken act and then step into the cab. His brow creases with concern as the cab pulls away, the pain in his shoulder suddenly growing sharper.

Chapter Text

A hand drops onto John’s shoulder, startling him, his head turning around and pivoting up to look at the heavy-set Italian man standing next to him.

“Don’t worry. It’s Sherlock,” intones the thickly accented voice, as if the name were sufficient reason not to worry. Sadly, John knows better. “Sherlock always knows what he’s doing. He is a genius.”

Ocean-blue eyes shift from Angelo’s reassuring smile and warm brown regard back to the now empty space across the street, a deep and abiding sense of distress permeating his entire body. “Mmmmm, yes he is. But he’s also impulsive, irresponsible, erratic, headstrong, and more than just a little prone to getting himself into trouble…” John murmurs fretfully. The pain in his shoulder is growing more and more intense with each passing moment, a new discomfort tugging at his breastbone, urging him once again to follow.

“Excuse me.” Pushing back his chair, John fumbles for his pocket to pull out his wallet, but Angelo’s heavy hand on his forearm stalls the motion. “No, no, no, it’s on the house. For Sherlock and his dates, everything here is on the house.”

John flushes and mumbles, “I’m not his date,” and “thank you,” somehow both at the same time before glancing over at the other table that Sherlock so rudely interrupted. “What about…?”

“Not a problem. I set them up with a nice Brunello, like Sherlock suggested, and they are happy as clams. Sherlock helped me escape a murder charge, now it is my turn to help him. Besides,” he adds sotto voce, “What he ordered? A Chardonnay? With my Brasato? Mamma mia, that should be a crime!”

John offers Angelo a crooked smile and a nod, dashing out the door of the restaurant before stopping dead.

What does he do now? He doesn’t know where they’re going, he doesn’t know the cab number or its license plate, so he can’t call Lestrade to search for the cab. Sherlock is in danger. He knows Sherlock is in danger, he can feel it, and it’s his job to protect him, damnit!

Wait...

Taking a deep breath, John closes his eyes and concentrates on the sensation of pain and pulling in his chest. He knows, unequivocally, that Sherlock is in danger. It isn’t a hunch; it isn’t even an educated guess. He knows, just as he has always known when Sherlock was in peril. He takes a step off the kerb, eyes jerking open abruptly at the blare of a horn, the car bearing down on him swerving slightly to avoid clipping him. Waiting for a gap, John sprints across the street and stops again, eyes closing, focusing on the tugging sensation that pulls him north. It’s like a string is connecting him, growing longer and thinner, tugging uncomfortably along his breastbone, urging him to move, to follow, to close the gap between him and the opposite point. Between him and Sherlock.

Eyes snap open as John whirls about, lifting his hand and calling out loudly, “Taxi!!”

 

*****

 

The drive begins in silence, two opponents sizing one another up quietly as the cab travels down streets and through intersections. Finally, the cab driver speaks up. “I suppose congratulations are in order.”

“Oh? What for?”

“Well, for figuring it out so quickly. P’lice certainly ‘aven’t made any ‘eadway. Four victims and not a clue. None of my fares realized what I was. Not even the ones wot killed themselves. But you knew before you even saw me. Put the pieces together right quick, realized what all the victims ‘ad in common…”

“In part,” Sherlock counters with surprising honesty. “Still working on the last bit,” he adds distractedly, his gaze taking in every detail he can deduce from the simple environs of the vehicle’s interior in order to do just that.

An overly pleased smile curls the older man’s lips. Nodding amiably, as if Sherlock were no more than another fare, and he nothing more than a ordinary cabbie, the man begins, for the lack of a better word, chatting. “It’s a right proper opportunity, I must say. No one thinks to question or distrust a cabbie. ‘Ell, no one really notices a cabbie. Nothing more than a floating ‘ead. What was that line from that lovely film with Audrey ‘epburn?”

“I really wouldn’t know…”

“Sabrina, that’s it,” the cabbie drones on, as if Sherlock hadn’t interrupted him in a voice dripping with sarcasm. “There’s a seat in the front and a seat in the back and a window in between,” he quotes with a bob of his head. “That’s all people think when they see me. A nothing. A nobody. Certainly nobody important. Somebody beneath ‘em. Course,” he notes gleefully, turning his head to glance back at Sherlock, “that’s where they got it wrong. They’re the ones ‘oo are beneath me.”

While the cabbie chats on as cheerful as a little bird, Sherlock studies everything that he can, his eyes flitting here and there within the cab, fastening onto a photo pinned to the dashboard, a book on the seat next to the driver, a ring winking brightly on his left hand. “So this is just a cover for you then?”

“Oh no. I’m a legitimate cab driver. Passed The Knowledge and everythin’. It’s a proper job. Well, when I say ‘proper’ I suppose I should say an honest one. Been drivin’ a cab fer ages now. Decent money, drivin’ a cab. Nothin’ to write ‘ome about, but it pays the bills.”

The conversation stalls out briefly as they reach a red light, Sherlock’s gaze flickering slowly about himself once more before he turns his head back and inquires, “So… you’re a fan?”

“Oh, yes. Well, per’aps ‘fan’ isn’t quite the right word.” The cabbie’s milky blue eyes meet Sherlock’s pale gray ones within the confines of the rearview mirror. “I think now I would consider m’self more your competitor, really. But I’ve been t’your website. ‘The Science of Deduction’. Very nice. Very impressive. Certainly refreshing t’see I’m not the only one with a brain in me ‘ead. But honestly? It was your other website that I found most interestin’. The Science of Magic! Now that’s proper thinking! It’s bad enough that everyone is so incredibly dull and stupid. But they’re all so wrapped up in their little worlds and their little ideas. It’s amazin’ ‘ow blind people are to the world around ‘em. They can’t even see the everyday obvious things, let alone the sorts o’ things that folks like you and me see and deal with every day.”

Sherlock’s head tilts back against the cushion, eyes lifting to the ceiling as he intones disparagingly, “Ohhhhhhh, so you’re a proper Adept too then?”

“Don’t look it, do I? You’re much more suited for the part. Tall, angular, brooding, temperamental Adept. Perfect really. But me? ‘Oo would ever think I was an Adept? I mean granted, most people don’t even think we exist. But even those that do wouldn’t give me a second glance. Not even you.”

Those disturbingly blank eyes peer at Sherlock through the mirror once more, his mouth a straight line of disappointment. “I can see what you're thinkin’. Written all over your face. ‘No threat’. Not one you can’t ‘andle, at any rate. But you’d be wrong, Mr. ‘olmes. Dead wrong.” But then he’s smiling again, just as nice as you please, shoulders shrugging, as if what Sherlock thinks of him is of little consequence. “I was ‘opin' for better from you, but in the end, you're no better than the rest.”

Sitting back, arms folding over his chest, Sherlock’s eyes narrow at the implied challenge. The cabbie wants to be impressed? Sherlock will impress. “Empty threats are just that. Empty.” His gaze doesn't need to shift to the license displayed on the window between them. He saw that when he first sat down. “You are not the mystery you think you are, Mr. Jefferson Hope.” Tilting his head, he asks, archly “Shall I tell you something? Tell you your life story? I think you were always a little man. Small at birth, always shorter than the other kids at school, picked on and bullied ‘til you learned how to fade into the background and avoid being noticed. That turned out to be your greatest trick and your greatest flaw. Learned how to be invisible, but left you fully convinced of your inadequacies. Never stood up for yourself. Stuck to the shadows in life, stayed out of the spotlight. Until the day you realized that you were special. Until the day you figured out you were an Adept. Problem is, you have the knowledge, but not the power. And without the power, well, not much you can do, is there?”

Hope has an excellent poker face, his gaze focused on the road at the moment but still visible within the rearview mirror, expression blank. At least the smile and smug pleasure have faded from his features.

“You’re educated, I’m guessing self-educated,” Sherlock carries on smoothly. “The spell book on the seat next to you, it’s one of the best published. Complicated bit of writing, especially considering it’s written in ancient Egyptian, the hieratic form rather than hieroglyphs, of course. Not just anyone could read it, but you clearly can. The book is a recent reprint by a small press, but it is well worn and used. So you’re smart. Not public school smart, didn’t have the money for it, but you had libraries to access, found someone in the know who could point your toward all the right sources, teach you the ancient languages.”

Surging forward, Sherlock finds satisfaction in the slight twitch of the man before him, but merely calmly folds his hands together, arms resting on his knees as he leans closer. “But like I said, knowledge is only half the equation. You can know how to craft any spell you like, but if you don’t have the ability to access the power, and have the power to control it, it’s just about as useful as knowing a dead language. Academic at best. The ring on your finger,” he continues, gesturing with a wave of his hand. “You’ve had a symbol for potency carved into it. Not something an Adept with power and control would need, only a very weak Adept. Something to help you amplify your abilities, then, give you better control over spells and incantations. It’s not enough to make you truly stronger, but it helps make smaller spells easier and less tiring.”

“And then there’s your son. You have a picture on your dashboard of him in the wheelchair. Picture is torn, though a woman’s hand, his mother no doubt, is still visible resting on his arm. You’re divorced now. Fairly recently, going by the faint lines still visible on your left hand from the ring. She left you. If it had been amicable, you would have left her in the picture, perhaps continued to wear the ring, but it wasn’t. Which means that she took him away from you. But you still love your son. The photograph was taken fairly recently, yet is already faded and worn from handling, looking at it often. Yeeeeees, you love your son and would probably do anything for him. With the loss of hair, even eyebrows, we’re looking at chemotherapy, which means cancer. Even if the treatment was seemingly successful, there’s no guarantee. What percentage did they predict? 60% chance?”

“50%,” the cabbie corrects with a bitter little half-smile. “I’m sure you already know what that means. If the cancer doesn’t come back in the next five years, then my son made it into that 50% of patients that survive cancer. ‘E’s in remission now. But even if ‘e seems perfectly fine, it could come back.” His eyes flick up to the mirror to meet Sherlock’s gaze. “You know wot the worst part is, Mr. ‘olmes? The worst part is, ‘is mum might not realize it until it’s too late. Could be that a tiny piece of the cancer was missed. Could be it metastasized and ‘as settled somewhere else in ‘is body. For the next five years every cough, every ache, could mean that the cancer is back and then it starts all over again, maybe this time with an only 40% chance of survival. Or less. Maybe no chance a'tall.” His eyes are quietly angry, simmering with frustration as he argues, “I could ‘elp ‘im. Even as I am now, I could likely tell if the cancer were to come back, get ‘im treatment before it becomes too late…”

“Mmm, yes, magic could help,” Sherlock smoothly interjects, “but I think you want to do more than just be able to detect if the cancer returns. I think you want to cure him. You have the knowledge. The book in question is one of healing spells and charms, and as I mentioned before, well worn and studied. But the magic there is beyond your abilities. You aren’t raising him, so even what little power you have is useless. So. You need more power. Somehow all of these murders are tied into that.”

The conversation comes to an abrupt end as the cab turn around a corner and arrives between two buildings. Hope pulls the cab over and shifts it into neutral, announcing, “We’re ‘ere.”

Leaning to look out the window, Sherlock studies the building before them, noting dryly, “Nice isolated spot for a murder…”

“Suicide, please. I prefer to use the correct terms.” Sherlock’s door is opened for him, the cab driver smiling amiably once more as he gestures toward the building and invites, “Come, Mr. ‘olmes, it’s much warmer inside. If you’ll just follow me, I’ll tell you everything you want to know. ‘Ow I got all those people to kill themselves and even why. I’ll even be a good sport and do it before you do yourself in. Promise.”

Before he realizes it, Sherlock finds himself stepping out of the cab, the door closing behind him. The driver turns and begins to walk toward the building on the right, confident that Sherlock will simply fall in line and follow.

Pausing for a brief moment, Sherlock struggles with the vague sensation that he's missing something important. But as the distance between them stretches Sherlock shakes his head dismissively before yielding to the compulsion to follow, calling out, “You’re stalling.”

Glancing over his shoulder, Hope smiles, almost delighted. “I’m not stallin’ Mr. ‘olmes. Like I said before, all part of the game. And believe me, the game ‘as started. Started the moment you came up to my cab, thinkin’ you could fool me into thinkin’ you was someone other than ‘oo you are. You’ve been playin’ and you ‘aven’t even realized it yet…”

As they reach the door of the building, Sherlock feels a rush of power run through him, not unlike receiving a small electrical shock, his body shivering in reaction as he looks back, pausing for a moment. “A containment spell?” he asks, turning his gaze back to the cabbie, one brow lifting curiously. “You didn’t use containment spells before.”

“That’s right. I want to ‘ave a little time with you, Mr. ‘olmes. Relish the moment, as it were. I set up a containment spell a while ago, fer a rainy day as it were. Just in case a real challenge arose. And ‘ere you are!” He offers a cheeky smile as they reach the stairs and begin to climb up. “It’s just to make sure we aren’t interrupted by no one. After all, I did promise you I’d explain everythin’. Then we’re gonna ‘ave a nice little chat and you’re gonna decide to chuck it all in. I definitely want t’see that. I’ve never managed to best another Adept before. Don’t want to rush through the experience, now do I?”

Reaching one of the classrooms, the cab driver gestures magnanimously with one hand and offers, “Take a seat. Make yourself comfortable.”

Sherlock glances about before choosing a chair in the center of the room, sitting himself down and watching with narrowed eyes as the cabbie settles himself down across from him. “Alright, fine, let’s have it then. How did you do it? How did you convince them?”

Smiling with an almost humble shrug, the cabbie folds his hand on the table before him. “We’re exactly alike, Mr. ‘olmes. You deduce people, and so do I. It’s amazing wot people will say in front of a cabbie. It’s like you’re not even there. Shocking, ‘ow much personal and private information they’ll let spill before a complete stranger. But then we’ve discussed that already.” With an astonished shake of his head he notes, “Between what they say and what I can figure out about them on my own, I can use it to twist ‘em to my will. Make ‘em see the error of their ways, and ‘ow they should fix it. And so I talk to 'em and the rest? The rest is, as they say, 'istory.”

Sherlock's eyes widen fractionally, a sharp breath drawn as that niggling question blooms into a disturbing realization of what is going on. What’s been going on since the first moment he sat down in the killer’s cab.

His words. God, his words.

 

*****

 

Sitting in the back of the cab, John’s eyes are closed, his hands resting against the seat in front of him as he concentrates on the bond connecting him to Sherlock, following it, drawing ever closer to his charge. The cabbie didn’t know what to think of a fare that didn’t appear to know where he wanted to go, but was willing enough to go along with the strange passenger so long as he got paid.

“Make a right, here.”

“Sorry mate, one way street.”

Eyes snap open as John growls, “Well, then bloody well make the first right you can then!”

The driver snorts and makes some comment under his breath about loonies and nutters and his luck, but John is already tuning him out in favor of tuning Sherlock in. He can sense that the level of danger has increased, not to the point of being life threatening, but enough that he fears that every minute apart could be a minute too late. Fingers dig into the upholstery as fear flutters anxiously in John’s belly, the angel relying in part on Watson’s training and experience to clamp down on the unfamiliar emotion and keep it from raging out of control.

He has to concentrate. He has to find Sherlock. Nothing else matters.

A soft sigh of relief escapes him as the cab finally make a right turn, the painful pull of the bond easing as they once again are heading in the right direction.

“What now, mate?”

Tilting his head slightly, like a dog trying to hear something far away, John finally answers, “Keep going straight, but stay to the left…”

Closer… closer…. God, how much of a lead does the other cabbie have? But the line of connection is growing shorter, which means… the other vehicle has stopped moving. John’s shoulder flares as the sense of danger increases ten-fold, causing John to gasp and roll forward, clutching onto his thigh as the cab driver glances back and asks, “Y’alright back there?”

“Just keep driving,” John bites through clenched teeth. “Faster. As fast as you can, I’ll pay for any speeding tickets…”

 

*****

 

“You weren’t lying.” Despite himself, Sherlock is surprised, but he hides it behind a calm mask and an indifferent voice. There were no runes, no markings, on the interior of the cab. The driver made no ritual gestures, spoke no incantations or spells. Adept magic doesn’t work without the ceremonies and tools, so how exactly is he doing this?? “You did just talk to them… and in doing so convinced them to kill themselves. How?”

“Wot, you can’t tell? The great detective, Sherlock ‘olmes needs an ‘int?” Shaking his head, the cabbie glances back and replies, “It was easy, really. They already ‘ad set the fire all by themselves. All I ‘ad to do was add a little lighter fluid and give ‘em the match.”

A frisson of adrenaline starts to wend its way through Sherlock as he abruptly realizes that up till now he’s offered the cabbie no resistance. Hope told him to follow and he followed, without question or hesitation. Lifting his hands, his fingers begin to dance through the air to craft a warding spell of protection, but the cabbie just smiles and clucks, “Tut, tut, Mr. ‘olmes, we’ll ‘ave none of that,” his voice firm and commanding. Instantly Sherlock’s fingers stop, freezing in midair, unable to complete the gestures, trembling impotently until he brings them down to drop helplessly upon the surface of the table, curling in frustration.

Huffing contemptuously, the cabbie points out, “See? You’re just like the rest of ‘em. Think you’re better than me. Underestimated me, y’did. Didn’t think I was that powerful, didja? But now y’know the truth. Now y’know better. And soon? Soon they’ll all know better.”

Lips curl back from Sherlock’s teeth in a show disgust and derision, which is certainly better than the now full-blown panic that is starting to run rampant through his system. “Brute force? Mind over matter? You just told them to take the pills and they did, is that it? Can’t say I’m terribly impressed. You might as well have held a gun to their heads. Nothing clever about that.” Of course, Hope never said this was about being smarter. This is all about power.

“Ahhh, but that’s the beauty of it all. Sure, I could weasel my way into your brain, make you dance a jig or whatever I like, but I won’t. Free will. It’s important. Can’t order ‘em to do nothin’, that’s against the rules. I promise you, I never told ‘em to take the pills. I never forced ‘em.” The cabbie gestures to Sherlock’s hands, noting, “I can’t ‘ave you workin’ your little spells and ruinin’ my moment of glory, but I’ll give you a fair chance, Mr. ‘olmes. Your mind against mine. Take your best shot.”

Think Sherlock, think! His mind races while his features hold steady, offering Hope nothing more than a collected and calm front, fingers rising up to steeple beneath his chin. “No Adept can simply use their will to work magic. No. Will is part of the equation, but the tools, the rituals, are essential. Only supernatural beings of higher, and lower, status have that particular knack. You could have turned to any number of beings for help. The Fae, for one, often desire to meddle in the affairs of mankind, but you don’t have anything to offer them. Simple fact is, there’s nothing really remarkable about you. You have no chips to bargain with, save for one,” and then after a brief hesitation the light of deduction flares within Sherlock’s gaze, a small smile touching his lips as the answer becomes apparent.

“I’m thinking that you literally made a deal with the devil, so to speak. But you were too smart to just sell your soul for your son’s well being. No, you saw a chance to not only give him a better life, but give yourself a better one as well. And why give up your soul when there are so many others ripe for the picking? Your victims. They were all Catholics, whether actively practicing or not, and they were all sinners by Catholic accounting. But what was important for you is that they all still had a deep-seated sense of Catholic guilt…”

The cab driver bobs his head in assent, pleased by Sherlock’s response, pointing out magnanimously, “Ahhhh, see? You knew the answer already, Mr. ‘olmes. You saw it for yourself, just needed the last piece of the puzzle. Take Jennifer Wilson, for example. Devoted wife and mother of two children. Didn’t take much to remind ‘er of the fact that deep down inside she still loved ‘er ‘usband, that she took a solemn vow to love and cherish ‘im ‘til death did them part. Took even less t’convince ‘er that ‘e’d found out about all ‘er affairs, ‘ow it was destroying ‘im inside. ‘ow this very minute ‘e was planning on filing for a divorce. How it was going to ruin ‘er children’s lives. ‘ow they were going to blame themselves for their parents getting divorced, ‘ow their father would get custody of ‘em. ‘ow they would ‘ate and shun ‘er for what she’d done. She’d lose everything. Everything she wanted and then forgot about in ‘er pursuit of lust and physical pleasure. And wouldn’t it be better? Wouldn’t it be the right thing to do to just end it all now?”

Sniffing dubiously, Sherlock counters, “That’s completely illogical. Clearly committing suicide would be a far more devastating course of action than a divorce…”

“Course it’s not logical! The ‘eart doesn’t think rational like. Of course committing suicide would be more destructive than a divorce. But the guilt of all those affairs? Of ‘urting the man that she used to love and that a part of ‘er still loves? The fear of being left all alone? Losin’ ‘er children? Losin’ their love? I made her feel those things like they’d already ‘appened. I brought ‘er to the very edge of despair. I didn’t ‘ave to push her a’tall. She was already prepared to jump. I just showed her ‘ow…”

“Just like you’re going to show me how, yes?”

“That’s right. No point in resisting, Mr. ‘olmes. I’m already deep inside your ‘ead. My words are already your reality. Don’t much matter that you know what I’m doin’. You can’t escape it either way.”

 

*****

 

“Here! Stop here!” John yells as the cab pulls up between two buildings of the Roland-Kerr Further Education College. Scrambling for his wallet, he pulls out enough money to cover the fare and practically leaps out of the back seat. His shoulder is throbbing furiously as he studies the two buildings for a moment before heading toward the one on the right, the one that contains one Sherlock Holmes.

He gets within five meters of the structure before he slams into a brick wall. Well, at least it feels like a brick wall, though there is nothing there to the eye except air. Blinking, John steps back and casts his gaze about before lifting his left hand and pressing it against the air before him. He can feel it now. A containment spell, subtle but powerful. Cursing viciously, John takes another step back and then throws himself forward once again, bouncing off the invisible barrier, just barely catching his balance. He has no magic. No spells or counter spells, no angelic powers. Nothing that can get him past these wards and to Sherlock’s side.

Closing his eyes, John searches along the thin bond that connects him to Sherlock, concentrating as he tries to sense exactly where Sherlock is. Heading away… away from John and… up! Eyes snapping open, he pivots and dashes toward the other building that runs parallel, bursting through the unlocked doors and dashing down the hall in search of the nearest staircase.

All the while, John can only think of one thing, one word, pounding through his brain as his heart pounds in his chest.

Sherlock, Sherlock, Sherlock, Sherlock, Sherlock…

Chapter Text

So this is what it comes down to. Logic versus emotion? Sherlock cannot help but give the cabbie a condescending smirk. Logic always trumps emotion. On this playing field, it is Sherlock who has the advantage. The adrenaline in his system drops down to a manageable level as his gaze meets Hope’s with complete assurance. He might not be the master of his body at the moment, but Sherlock is always the master of his mind. All he has to do is play Hope a little longer, wait for the opportunity to make a countermove, and then it will be check and checkmate.

“So it’s all about power, is it? Finally being the big man for once? You think it’s a fair trade? All those lives just so you can maybe help your son, just so you can finally push other people around instead of being the one pushed?” Sherlock pushes, goads, his voice mocking and scornful. “Is it worth it, Hope? You do realize there’s no deal with the devil that doesn’t end with you getting burnt…”. It’s a calculated risk, making Hope angry. Could end up with the cabbie deciding to toss the ‘rules’ and just go for the kill. But if he’s angry, he might make a mistake. He might forget to pay attention. One finger strokes over the surface of the table, seemingly absently. “For every soul you manage to dispatch you get, what? More power I assume? Abilities beyond what normal Adepts are capable of?”

“I’ve already got abilities beyond normal Adepts. You’ve already felt it fer yourself, Mr. ‘olmes. I don’t need no runes or rituals, don’t need to cast no circles to make you walk around in one if I want to. And this is only the beginnin’. Pretty soon, wi’ enough souls under m’belt, I’ll be able to do any spell, any magic, just wi’ the will of m’mind.” Hope leans forward, adjusting his glasses fractionally as he faces Sherlock down, doing exactly what the consulting detective wanted him to. His anger is getting the better of him; he’s not paying attention.

Sherlock has to distract him, keep him talking or, better yet, just keep talking himself. Anything to delay Hope from making his next move, which no doubt will be, somehow, to convince Sherlock to kill himself. So long as he keeps Hope off his target, he has a chance of catching him unawares. Sherlock still has his mind and his magic, he just has to outsmart and outplay the madman before him. Already he’s trying an experiment, drawing out the runes and patterns on the table of a protection spell with his finger tip, concentrating all of his will into the invisible markings left there by sweat and natural oils. He’s never heard of it being done before, without chalk or charcoal, pen or ink, but it isn’t that the markings aren’t there, per se. Perhaps it might work, only lose some potency for its discernable presence? All that he needs is the smallest of barriers between him and Hope and the game will be his.

“You don’t ‘ave any idea what it’s like. Born into money, bloody silver spoon in your mouth I bet. You’ve never known what it’s like to struggle to get by. You’ve always been the big man, figuratively and literally. But I’ll be straight with you, Mr. ‘olmes. What I care about most is my son. ‘E’s what’s important. The power? All the rest? Just icin’ on the cake, that is.” The cabbie shifts forward, his eyes focusing with intent, mouth opening to change the tack of the conversation.

A new diversion. “So, how does it work, then? Come on, dazzle me with your genius. Just because you made those people commit suicide, doesn’t mean their souls were damned. There’s no Saint Peter sitting at the pearly gates with two rubber stamps, one marked Heaven and the other Hell, but there’s still arbitration, a chance to stand before the powers that be and repent in order to gain forgiveness and entry.”

“Ahhhh, see, that’s where you’re wrong, Mr. ‘olmes. But don’t feel too badly. It’s all about choice, supposedly, but that doesn’t mean that the powers that be don’t like to rig the game a bit. If people knew the truth, well, they probably wouldn’t make the right decisions. But in a nutshell, this is ‘ow it is. People get pretty much what they believe in. You believe in reincarnation? You get to come back. You believe in reincarnation, karma, and were a right bastard? You get to come back as a slug.” His shoulders shrug as he explains, “That’s why I ‘ad to go with Catholics. They believe that if you commit suicide, it’s a mortal sin and you go straight to Hell. They believe that if you die before you’ve ‘ad the chance to confess your sins and repent, that you’re damned. Because they believe, that is what they get. Most of ‘em never even realized what was goin’ to ‘appen. Most of ‘em didn’t realize that deep inside they ‘ad takin’ those teachin’s to ‘eart. And, of course, none of them realized wot it was that I was doin’. Too focused on the pain of the moment, the anguish and despair, to consider an eternity of it lyin’ a’ead of ‘em.”

“And who told you that?” challenges Sherlock with a steely gaze. “Your demonic sponsor?” His eyes roll ever so slightly. “Really, now. Like that isn’t a biased source…”

For a moment the cabbie looks thrown, but he recovers quickly and smirks, gazing up at Sherlock as he muses, “Y’know, ‘e told me to be on the look out fer you. Said you might try and interfere. Seems you’re rather famous down below, Mr. ‘olmes. But don’t worry. I’m enough of a match for you and…” his gaze drops to the table idly before his light blue gaze catches onto the movement of Sherlock’s hand. Eyes flashing with rage, Hope rises up so fast his chair tips over behind him, clattering to the floor. “I said, none of that Mr. ‘olmes! No more spells or counter spells or protective wards!”

Once more, Sherlock’s hand freezes, curling into itself and shaking as he struggles to resist the command, cursing softly under his breath.

It takes Hope a moment to regain his composure. Sherlock was close, so very close to turning the tables on him. Best to nip things in the bud now, rather than continuing to indulge both himself and his quarry. “I think this has gone on long enough. I’ve lived up to my end of the bargain. I gave you the answers. Now, Mr. ‘olmes, it’s time for you to get a taste of your own medicine, as it were.” Reaching into the pocket of his cardigan, the cabbie removes a small bottle; a few capsules filled with tiny red and white granules rattle inside. He slides the bottle over to Sherlock and nods in satisfaction, a cruel smile curling his lips.

Sherlock’s first inclination is to push back from the table and leave. But he already knows that isn’t an option. He can’t go back and he can’t move forward. All that’s left is to stand pat and face the challenge. His head lifts ever so slightly, determined not to let any of his uncertainty show. One brow and the corner of his mouth quirk upward. “Well. You can’t blame me for trying…”

The cabbie stands for a moment before offering Sherlock a wolfish smile in return, chuckling softly as he takes his seat. “Indeed, Mr. ‘olmes, indeed. My apologies for overreacting. I would ‘ave been disappointed if you hadn’t try to give me the slip.” His head tilts to one side as he asks almost cheerfully once more, “Shall we talk?”

Sherlock braces himself for Hope’s first volley. Quite frankly, he has no idea what to expect. He’s never had another Adept or supernatural being use his own mind and body against himself. The experience is utterly without precedent. So far Hope has proven that he can stop Sherlock from doing things physically, but does he really think he can deduce Sherlock and break him? Controlling his body is one thing, but he has to work with the truth, with facts and reality, if he is to convince Sherlock to so much as reach for those pills, let alone take one. Surely he will not be capable of such a task. Those other people were not smart enough, didn’t realize what they were up against. But forewarned is forearmed, and Sherlock is not going down without a fight. His chin lifts fractionally, eyes narrowing down to hostile slits as he stares across at the cabbie, wordlessly daring him to do his worst.

“I think, in many ways, we’re much alike, you and me, Mr. ‘olmes. I mean, there’s the obvious stuff, both of us bein’ proper geniuses and Adepts. Either one of those is rare enough, but to ‘ave both of ‘em together? Remarkable, really. And yet,” he muses, leaning closer, his arms sliding across the table between them, hands peacefully curled about one another. “I think we ‘ave much more in common. You already figured out parts of my story. I’m a loner. ‘ave been for most of m’life. Just like you. Never fit in, did we? Parents either too busy or too ‘ard to please. Too different fer other people to really understand us.”

“Course we diverged along the way. As we’ve both said, I was the small man, you were the big one. I decided to become invisible. Seemed easier some’ow. I already was naturally overlooked. You though? You choose to make it worse. You wore your strangeness, your solitude, like you wear that coat. Proudly and with style. But it didn’t make you any friends, did it? If anything, made it worse. And your parents? Didn’t know wot to do with you. Sent you to shrinks ‘oo gave you labels like autistic and Aspergers at first, sociopath and psychopath later. Bad enough to be invisible, but at least my family didn’t expect nothin’ of me. But you? Bein’ as ‘igh profiled as you are? Bet everyone expected more from you. Better. Couldn’t see ‘ow brilliant you was, made that more of a detriment than an ‘elp. And of course there you are, makin’ it worse, not better. Pointin’ out to everyone around you just ‘ow much better you are than them? Makes you vilified. Despised. People don’t like bein’ made the fool. Your pride, your arrogance, it’s your two-edged sword, ain’t it Mr. ‘olmes? Keeps the others at bay, but all the while it’s cuttin’ you, cuttin’ away at your ‘eart and soul…”

An actual snort of derision escapes Sherlock at the cabbie’s boastful claims. Alike? Pfft! Sherlock is nothing like this little man, or, rather, Hope is nothing like Sherlock. For one, he hasn’t proven himself to be nearly as masterful at divining the truth about people and situations that Sherlock has. Where is Hope’s website? Where is Hope’s proof?

A tiny voice murmurs softly inside his mind, Well, yes, but then again he has managed to kill four people so far. People who had no apparent guilt or compunction about what they were doing, people whom everyone around them reported as being happy, content, fulfilled. You don’t change your mind at the drop of a hat and decide to kill yourself just because someone talks to you for five minutes. Whether you like it or not, Sherlock, Hope has power.

Yes, but it’s not his power. Not like mine. I was always brilliant, always a powerful Adept…

But also flawed. Smart about facts, things, but not people. Never could understand other people, why they were angry with you, why they were mean. Decided it was because you were smarter than them, that they were jealous. But the truth is, you were broken. Mum and Dad saw it. That’s why they took you all those psychiatrists when you were young. And then, of course, there’s your magic. When you were little you could see things, just like Mycroft did. You were an Adept and a Sensitive, just like you were supposed to be. But then you lost it. That’s when it all started to fall apart. Mycroft was always so nice in the beginning. Teaching us, caring for us, but when you lost the ability to see, you were so hurt, so upset. Mycroft said he would be your eyes, but that wasn’t good enough. So what did you do? You pushed him away. Just like you pushed everyone else away. You thought they were jealous, but it was you who was jealous. You wanted to fit in, you wanted to be cared for, you wanted people to like you…

No, no, that wasn’t how it was at all! Mycroft was jealous of me! What is the use of being a Sensitive? So you can see things. A convenience, nothing more! Doesn’t allow you to affect or change anything. More of a curse, really, to be able to see but not do. I pitied Mycroft! Mycroft knew I was better than him, and once I started to stand up for myself, when I didn’t need him any more, that’s when he drew away. He resented my power, resented the fact that I was the Adept and not him!

Still lying to yourself? Listen to Hope, Sherlock. Everything he’s saying is the truth and you know it. You’ve hidden it, forgotten it, deleted it, twisted the facts to support your theory. And who can blame you? You were a child after all. You needed someone to understand you, to love and cherish you, but you were so afraid to let people in. When you let people in, that’s when they can hurt you, isn’t it? And since you couldn’t see the cues, couldn’t understand the clues then, you got hurt. It was safer, easier, just to close yourself off, wasn’t it? It’s not your fault. You did the best that you could with the tools that you had. Problem is, you never grew up, did you? You never grew out of those behaviors. Oh, yes, you can see the cues now, you can clinically dissect the emotional reactions and actions of people now, disparaging them as weaknesses and foibles. You could change your ways now that you understand, but you won’t. Because you’ve convinced yourself that your way is better. That having a heart of stone will save you from heartbreak. That’s why you still don’t have any friends, why you still are alone, why you’re still pointlessly fighting with Mycroft. You’re never going to change. It’s too late now. You probably don’t even know how to love, how to care for someone other than yourself. It’s like you said, all you care about is the work, but it isn’t enough. I know it, and you know it…

Abruptly Sherlock comes back to himself to find his gaze has dropped down to the table, his eyes staring at nothing. Somehow, at some point, he lost focus, lost what it was that the cabbie was saying to him, Hope’s voice droning on, unheard, forgotten. Except for the fact that it isn’t. Jerking his head up with a gasp, Sherlock struggles to concentrate on what Hope is saying, blinking dazedly.

This is like nothing he has ever experienced before. Everything that Hope has thrown at him since he first stepped into the killer’s cab was so subtle that he never even realized what was happening. Never even felt the Adept’s influence tugging his actions this way or that. But now it’s even more insidious and irresistible. The words aren’t being heard so much as they are being absorbed. Hope isn’t speaking to Sherlock; he’s speaking to Sherlock’s subconscious, rousing the normally dormant beast, awakening it like some primeval, nocturnal creature, hungry after its long rest, teeth and claws sharpened by Sherlock’s own intellect and spurred on by Hope’s dark, whispering words.

Normally it is the streets of London that serve as his battlefield, his intelligence his weapon of choice. But now it is Sherlock’s mind that is under siege, his intellect and cunning turning against him.

Blinking again, Sherlock tries at once to both listen to what the cabbie is saying while at the same time fervently resist the poison slowly being dripped into his ears. Like Claudius to the King. He thought he would be fighting emotion with logic, an easy battle. He never suspected that emotion would be wearing logic as both its shield and its sword…

Hope doesn’t even pause for a moment in his assault, his gaze focused on Sherlock, watching as the genius Adept’s gaze drops away and turns inward, grinning as he resurfaces, floundering like a drowning man. He’ll be a greater challenge compared to the others, a challenge that Hope thoroughly intends to enjoy. He’s spent so many years looking up to the younger man, impressed by him and, yes, naturally, jealous of him. If he manages to defeat Sherlock Holmes? Hell, it’s almost worth it just in and of itself. The fact that his sponsor will give him enough power to save his son? Icing on the cake. His lips curl into a sadistic smile, eyes glittering with an unholy sort of pleasure.

*****

Dashing down the hall, running full tilt, John abruptly jerks to a full stop, arms wheeling as the heart string linking him to Sherlock suddenly tugs him to the right and through an open classroom doorway. He runs through the room, winding about desks in his path until his hands are plastered against the window, staring in horror at the scene across from him. Sherlock sitting at a long table, motionless, and before him the cab driver, his lips moving, and between them power, magic, the words like a poisonous vapor, dark and twisted, seeping into Sherlock’s ears, shadowing his mind with loneliness, despair, weariness.

John slams his hands against the glass, screaming Sherlock’s name helplessly, trying in vain to draw his attention away from the cabbie, from those words. Oh God. Oh dear God…

*****

“…and then, of course, there’s the boredom. Mind like yours, impossible to keep it sufficiently occupied. Too much redundancy in the world. Society is going to ‘ell in an ‘andbasket. Everything is just a waste of time, really. Nothing really challenging left to do, is there? It’s why you’ve got the work, isn’t it? You don’t catch killer’s cause it’s a noble cause. It’s just somethin’ to ‘elp keep your mind busy. But it’s not enough is it?” The cabbie’s head tilts to one side as he notes, pulling at his collar, “Lordy, but it’s ‘ot in ‘ere, dontcha think? Why don’t you take your coat off, Mr. ‘olmes, roll up your sleeves and relax?”

Trembling, Sherlock’s hands lift, shoulder shrugging his coat off and pushing it back over the chair behind him. The motions are slow and jerky, Sherlock’s mind resisting the pressure of Hope’s as best as he can, but hobbled as he is, he has no leverage against this kind of magic. His voice comes out tight, rough, as if the effort of speaking his mind were almost too difficult. “This is hardly what one would call a fair fight,” he points out coldly, fingers now shaking violently as he unwillingly undoes the cuffs of his shirt and begins to roll up the sleeves. “I thought you wanted a true challenge. Your skills against mine…” It’s a reprieve, a moment for Sherlock to try and gather his wits once more, for Hope to gloat over his perceived success.

“Oh, you ‘ad your chance, Mr. ‘olmes. If you’d done wot you should ‘ave, realized that you were up against a real adversary, you’d ‘ave taken precautions. Been prepared with talismans and spells. But you failed. You failed to see ‘oo I really was, you failed to protect yourself. You ‘ave no one to blame for this situation but yourself. Ahhh, that’s better isn’t it?” he asks as Sherlock’s hands fall away from his clothes. Reaching across the table, Hope grasps Sherlock’s forearm just as he tries to pull it away. The struggle is brief, but long enough for the cabbie to glean what he was looking for.

“Just as I thought. You ‘ad to find a little ‘elp just to be able to cope with it all, didn’t you? A little injection of something to take the edge off? Calm the mind, or sharpen it, no doubt. But it’s not enough is it? Noooo, not nearly enough. You can’t escape it, can you? All the noise in your head, between your deductions, your magic, your cases and websites and work. Clear indicators that you’re the sort of man that can’t find the off switch. Doesn’t know ‘ow to relax, ‘ow to just sit back and enjoy life. No, that would be the mouth of madness fer you, wouldn’t it? Doin’ nothing? Drive you right up the walls. So when it gets bad, you give into the temptation, don’t you? Been awhile I see. Easy to guess why. But I bet you long for it, don’t you? Something to help you forget the work, forget the boredom, even forget the loneliness. Cause when it gets right down to it, what you ‘ate, more than the boredom, more than all the noise in your ‘ead, all the cheap shots and bitter remarks, is that you’re all alone and friendless. No one understands you. No one likes you. No one will ever love you. You scoff at love, at emotions, because you think it makes you strong. But you know that’s a lie, Mr. ‘olmes. Cause deep down? You want to be loved. We all do, no matter ‘ow much we deny it…”

No, no, don’t listen to his words. No! Wait, listen to them, concentrate on them, their shapes, their syllables, their meaning. Dissect his words, render them useless. They’re just words, nothing but words. How does that children’s rhyme go? Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me? God, how utterly inane and obvious. How is it I haven’t deleted this yet?

Because you know it’s not true. You thought you could close yourself off, but words do hurt, don’t they Sherlock? Of course they do. They hurt then and they hurt now. You’ve got better at pretending that they don’t, but we both know that they do. John was right, wasn’t he? You try to beat everyone to the punch now, draw your own blood first rather than have someone else draw it. But whether you cut yourself or something else cuts you, it still hurts. Cutting yourself just allows you the comfort of control. Same with the drugs. You choose. You’re in control of when and how much and what drug for what effect. You hurt yourself, not someone else. And what a lovely little hurt, isn’t it? It takes the pain away, makes it easier to forget, easier to be distracted by the work, makes the mind quieter on those days when all the noise is just too much. When all you want is to curl up into a small ball like you did when you were little, have a kind hand stroke gently through your hair, tell you that it’s alright, that you’re safe, that you’re home and protected and loved. When did that stop, Sherlock? When your mother died? When your father turned to his work to stop the pain? Is that where you learned how to do that?

Emotions that Sherlock hasn’t felt since childhood rise up like a tsunami wave, the sound of the cabbie’s voice the initial shockwave stirring everything up, his own voice, words, memories surging through him like a massive body of water tainted with the bitter sediment of the past. It’s staggering, beyond logic, beyond comprehension. So much that Sherlock though dead and buried, so many things he ‘deleted’ are rising up from the bottom of his mind under the strength of this tidal wave of emotion. For the first time in what seems like such a long time, his foundations crack and shudder, his logic falters and flails.

God stop, just stop… please, please stop…

Shhhh-hhhh, it’s alright Sherlock. You’re not alone any more. I’m here. Even if everyone else thinks you’re horrible and heartless, even if everyone else shuns you and hates you, I’ll still be here. After all, I’m you and you’re me. It’ll be alright. Hope knows what to do. He was right all along. It’s so obvious now. You’ve already thought about it, you know you have. That last time, with the morphine. You’re too intelligent not to know what the correct dosage is. You’ve done it dozens upon dozens of times. And yet you took too much. If Lestrade hadn’t shown up in the nick of time, that would have been it. It would have been good. Peaceful. Finally at ease. Finally able to rest. And then it will just be you and me forever. And no matter how ugly or awful you are, I’ll always love you. I’m the only one who ever will…

Sherlock’s whole body is shaking violently, his hands clutching the edge of the table so hard that his knuckles stand out white. Eyes snap open, his gaze wild and frantic as he shouts, “NO! Just STOP! For God’s sake, STOP IT!!” Hands lift to dig through his hair, his head falling forward as his voice breaks a little, gasping, “Please, please… just… no more….”

But Hope’s voice doesn’t stop, his words prattling on, tossing salt into the wounds already cut into Sherlock’s soul, his expression supercilious as he watches Sherlock fall apart right before his eyes.

“…so ‘ere you are, alone and friendless, unable to love or be loved because you been pushing everyone away fer so long you’ve forgotten ‘ow to care for someone, ‘ow to let someone care fer you. And that’s ‘ow it’s goin’ to end, ain’t it? You’ll die on some case, tryin’ to ‘elp someone ‘oo doesn’t even know ‘oo you are, let alone care. And for wot? ‘Thank God, the freak is finally dead.’ That’s what they’ll say. Good riddance. ‘Bout time.”

Clucking sadly, Hope reaches over, his hand gently stroking over Sherlock’s hair, his pale blue gaze waiting until Sherlock releases a soft sob and lifts his head to stare back, his silvery eyes shell-shocked and dazed. Hope smiles sweetly and gently, patting Sherlock’s hands as they drop to the table before him. “It’s all for naught, Mr. ‘olmes. You know it. I know it. All you know is a life of pain and misery. You’re so un’appy, so desperately alone and starved for affection, for mental stimulation. And it’s just gonna go on and on and on, isn’t it? But it doesn’t ‘ave to, now does it?”

Releasing Sherlock’s hands with a gentle pat, the cab driver unscrews the cap of the bottle before pushing it over toward Sherlock, his voice gentle, soothing, the voice of someone who understands, who cares.

“Aren’t you tired? Tired of it all? Tired of being unloved, unappreciated? Tired of all the insults, the nasty looks? Tired of dealing with all those stupid, petty, people? They don’t understand you. They can’t understand you. Really, what ‘ave you got left that’s worth livin’ for? Nothin’, that’s what. No one to love, no one to love you, and a mind that won’t give you a moment’s peace. But you ‘ave a choice. You always ‘ave a choice…”

Staring down at the open bottle, Sherlock slowly reaches forward with a trembling hand, fingers gingerly encircling the glass before he pushes back his chair slowly and rises to his feet, eyes transfixed by the red and white pills within. Hope rises as well, watching Sherlock, studying him to see if the trap is truly sprung or if the consulting detective requires a little more ‘convincing’. Once the younger man’s back is turned, the tender smile turns cruel once more, even if his voice remains sweet and soothing. “It would be so simple, wouldn’t it? It could just be over…”

Sherlock’s hand grows steadier as he reaches into the bottle and draws out a single pill, staring at it, rolling it back and forth between his fingertips.

*****

John screams Sherlock’s name again as he watches in horror, watches as Sherlock, the most calm, poised, and controlled human he has ever met starts to literally break down. Watches as the poison invades Sherlock’s mind, twisting logic into an endless Moebius strip, turning everything inside out and upside-down. His hands dig at the window, muscles straining uselessly against the painted-shut wood and glass. He’s utterly helpless to do the one thing that he must. His heart is pounding, his shoulder is burning, his breath hitching with exertion and panic as he watches Sherlock, holding the pill, the poison pill, up in the air, staring at it as if it held all the secrets of the universe in its tiny gelatin casement. And all John can do is stare at Sherlock as if he held all the secrets of the universe in his frail, mortal frame.

 

“SHERLOCK!”

 

Agony rushes over John like a flash fire, as unexpected as it is excruciating. Screaming in shock, he curls forward, doubling over, his right hand grasping desperately at his left shoulder, as if somehow he could pull out the hot poker burning there so intensely while his back feels like something is about to burst out of it… and then it does.

Behind him wings of gold and brown explode outward, unfurling in a flare of power, beating powerfully, instinctively.

The fingers of his right hand curl against something bulging out from his scarred shoulder. Still screaming, John pulls and pulls and pulls… until a sword, his sword, has been wrested free, burning with every color imaginable, blazing with power.

He has only a second to be awestruck before he can feel the level of danger reaching a piercing pitch, Sherlock’s hand starting to lower the pill inch by inch, lips open, tongue reaching, ready for the taste of death and release.

There’s no time to reach him. Even with his wings and magic. No knowing even if the spell that barred him before will hold or yield against his attack. The sword in his hand is useless. He needs a different weapon, he needs….

John Watson knows exactly what he needs.

The man within the angel steps in abruptly, as much as if the man himself were there, pushing John out of the way to do what needs to be done. His arm raises without thought, body shifting position even as the sword flickers and ripples with his will, changing shape and form, writhing as if in pain until it rests steady in his hand, the grip of the Browning solid against his palm, finger resting easily on the trigger. Eyes narrow, focusing down the barrel of the gun as he sights his target, wings flaring as he adjusts his aim fractionally… and fires.

Chapter Text

Sherlock stares up at the pill between his fingers, mesmerized. All of the fight has drained out of him. No more trembling, no more fighting, no more fear or resistance. Who was he kidding? He’s wanted this for as long as he can remember. To silence the cruel taunting voices, to quiet the endless cacophony of his mind, to ease the constant struggle to survive one day to the next, forever searching for the perfect crime, the unsolvable problem, the ultimate experiment just to keep the endless loneliness and emptiness at bay. It’s all so boring and tedious and painful and pointless. His hand lowers the pill down, resting it lightly on the tip of his tongue, feeling the gelatin begin to soften in reaction.

I could just let it all stop here. No more struggling. No more just existing through each day just to be faced with another, all alone. Alone is better when no one understands you, but human beings are social creatures. It’s not natural, it’s not right. It’s not… normal. I’m not normal. I’m wrong. I’m a ‘freak’, an aberration. How long before deducing crimes isn’t enough? How long will it be before I’ll have to kill just to keep it all at bay? It’s not like I haven’t been here before. A needle. A pill. What’s the difference? Last time I said that it was an accident, that I didn’t mean to overdose, but I know the truth. At that moment, I just wanted it to be over. I wanted all the noise to just go away. I wanted my head to stop ringing and pounding. I wanted to just be able to turn off for once. Turn off and stay off. And now’s my chance…

The sound of the shot breaks through Sherlock’s thoughts, through the spell, just as powerfully and explosively as it does the glass and Hope’s body. As the older man falls, rationality returns, the pill nearly crushed between Sherlock’s fingers as he jerks his hand away from his mouth and tosses it violently to the floor, shivering in reaction. It takes less than a second to determine that Hope is going exactly nowhere, so in a flurry of movement, Sherlock vaults himself over a table and rushes toward the pierced window, eyes crinkling as he stares out toward the parallel building to search for his savior. No one on the rooftop, no balconies, no, wait, there!

He can just barely make out the room directly across from him, all pale shadows and suggestions of shapes thanks to the light spilling in from outside the building and the light slipping in from the hallway beyond. But he can make out the broken glass panel from whence the shot was taken, eyes narrowing as he watches for a figure, for any kind of movement, but can see none.

A feeble, gurgling cough brings his attention back to room behind him. With a frustrated frown, Sherlock turns and storms over to the cabbie, pulling out his phone and quickly texting Lestrade before crouching down next to the man.

He’s not going to make it, that much is clear. Even if Sherlock were inclined to help him which, quite honestly, he is not. Hope’s jumper is already heavily stained with blood and there’s a small pool forming beneath him. His mouth opens and closes like a fish as his eyes search desperately for Sherlock. Blinking rapidly, struggling to hold on, the cabbie gasps out, “Mor…. Moriarty!”

Sherlock’s eyes are cold and dispassionate as he stares down at the dying man. No pity, certainly no regret, and not a hint of the emotionally desperate man he was just a few moments before. Anger is all that is left; the rest Sherlock has been banished from whence it came. But his confusion is betrayed by the creasing of his brow at this apparent non sequitur.

“What?”

Dragging in a wet and wheezing breath that indicates one lung is filling up with blood, Hope rasps desperately once more, lips trembling, “Mor-iarty. My sp-sp-sponsor….” His hand suddenly grasps Sherlock’s arm, holding on with a literal death grip as he forces himself to continue. “You… have to ss-stop him. Please! My son… my son…”

Sherlock’s silvery eyes are only clouded with confusion for a brief moment before comprehension clears their depths. “Your contract,” he deduces abruptly. “If you fail, it’s not only your soul, but your son’s as well.”

Hope doesn’t have to nod to make the truth as apparent as his panic and remorse for the terrible mistake he has made, for the jeopardy he has placed his son in. Sherlock tries to shake off the hand gripping him, Hope’s very touch making his skin crawl, but the cabbie refuses to let go.

“Ss-stop ‘im, Mr. ‘olmes. Please! F-for my son’s sake…”

“This Moriarty. Who exactly is he? What is he? Tell me everything.” Not that Sherlock gives a damn about Hope, or his child, but this demon who uses humans, uses Adepts for his purpose. Clever. Unique. A challenge.

A violent coughing spasm wracks Hope’s body, a thin stream of blood escaping his mouth before he drags in one final gasping breath, eyes slowly glazing over as his body goes limp. Jerking his arm free, Sherlock hesitates for a moment before reaching over, resting his fingers against the man’s throat. No pulse. Cursing softly, he rises up to his feet and starts to walk back to the chair he had been sitting on earlier when his legs suddenly wobble and give out beneath him. Now that the adrenaline has stopped pumping through his system, he feels completely drained, physically and mentally. Since no one is there to witness the momentary weakness, Sherlock just sits for a moment, sprawled inelegantly on the floor, palms resting against the cool linoleum, head hanging down.

He just stood up too fast. That’s all. Should have eaten something at Angelo’s earlier after all. How long has it been since he last ate? That’s all it is. Nothing more. He’s fine, he’s fine, he’s always fine, right? He waits for a moment, shoulders tensing, half expecting his other voice to counter his thoughts… only to be met with silence. Shifting up onto his knees, Sherlock takes his time getting up, grimacing in irritation with himself, glaring at his hands which have begun to shake uncontrollably as he rolls his sleeves back down.

Get a hold of yourself! It was just Hope playing with your mind, controlling your thoughts. None of that was real. Another pause, waiting for a biting retort…

Nothing.

Buttons are apparently impossible, and with a muttered oath, Sherlock leaves off the cuffs and simply pulls his coat on before sitting down at the table once more, his head falling into his hands, fingers clawing into his dark hair. The faint sound of sirens is audible now, growing closer. Sherlock calculates that he has approximately eight minutes in which to pull himself together before the Detective Inspector and his troops come through the doorway. Wouldn’t do to give them the satisfaction of seeing him act like a normal human being, now would it?

*****

John doesn’t remember much after taking the shot. He saw the glass shatter, saw Hope go flying back and then down, and the next thing he knew he was crouched on the floor on his hands and knees, shaking violently and weak as a kitten. Rolling over to the side, he presses his back up against the wall next to the window, panting and confused before he suddenly realizes two things.

His sword and his wings are gone again.

Eyes widen as he reaches back to feel for appendages that have magically disappeared with the same abruptness as they had first appeared. He casts about frantically for a few moments for the gun, or sword, or whatever it might be now, but the room is as dark and empty of things mysterious and magical as it was before John entered it. His right hand lifts up tentatively to touch his left shoulder. It doesn’t hurt now. Nothing hurts. For the first time in a long time neither his leg nor his shoulder pains him. But as he reaches beneath his jumper and fingers the scarred wound, he can feel it. The power. His sword, somehow sheathed within his flesh. His hand drops away to lay limp on one thigh as he realizes that he feels perfectly human once more, save for the power lying dormant in his shoulder, and his link to Sherlock.

Wait.

Sitting upright, John focuses on the bond between them, sensing through it that Sherlock is no longer in danger, but still in the room across the way. If everything else is gone, why has this remained? Too many questions with no answers. The urge to peek through the window is a powerful one that he resists. Best if Sherlock doesn’t know who shot the cabbie. That could lead to too many questions with too many complicated answers.

Lifting his hands, a part of John that is Watson studies his fingers, surprised at the lack of powder burns. But then again, that was no gun he held in his hand. He somehow doubts that the forensics team will ever find a bullet. It likely vanished when the gun did.

And then it finally hits him and John goes still with shock.

I killed. I killed a human being. I, John, a Guardian Angel of eons, sworn to cherish and protect mankind took a human life intentionally, without hesitation, and if it were to happen again, right this very second I would do nothing different.

The realization shakes him to his core.

It isn’t until his ears register the ever-louder sound of approaching sirens that John realizes that he can’t just sit around in shock, waiting to be found. Time to get out of here, now.

*****

Words were exchanged between Lestrade and Sherlock, quickly and softly, while the rest of the Detective Inspector’s team closed off the building and began to collect forensic evidence. Only Lestrade would know the truth. Between him and Sherlock, they would come up with something to write in the report.

For now, he kept it simple. The cabbie had made a deal with a demon – power in exchange for souls. He had used mind control to force the victims to poison themselves. No point in bringing up how it worked. That would only lead to questions; questions Sherlock has no intention of answering with regards to how Hope had managed to convince him to commit suicide.

Well, almost commit suicide.

Sitting in the back of the ambulance, Sherlock’s ignored the weight of the orange blanket the first few times it was dropped upon his shoulders, shrugging it off, but when Lestrade returns upon the fourth time, he stares at the man bemusedly and asks, “Why do they keep putting this blanket on me? I am wearing a coat, and it’s not that cold out tonight.”

Staring at Sherlock with amusement, the DI explains. “It’s for shock. Not that you have any experience with that, ahhh, experience.”

“Not true. I was in shock when you found me by the Thames.”

“Well, yeah, but that was different. You were in physical shock. This time the blanket is for emotional sho…. Oh forget about it, I forgot who I was talking to. You don’t do emotions, do you?” he finally sighs as Sherlock’s expression only becomes more and more bemused.

Sherlock turns his head to stare back at the building across the way. He is most definitely not hiding his face from Lestrade. To wit, he asks distractedly, “No idea then, who the shooter was?”

“Nope,” Lestrade returns with a shake of his head. “Hell, we can’t even find the bullet. Not in the body; clean through and through. No sign of it imbedded in any of the walls. Going to be damn tricky to prosecute anyone if we can’t find it. No way to get a ballistics match and we know next to nothing about this Jefferson Hope fellow. Hopefully, no pun intended, we’ll have something more to go on by tomorrow, but I’m not holding my breath.”

Looking up at the broken window himself now, Lestrade rumbles, “It would be a lot easier if this whole mumbo jumbo stuff wasn’t involved. We have a hard enough time catching the human criminals without having supernatural ones that can do magic and control minds making a mess of things.” That seems to make Lestrade suddenly consider something for the first time, his eyes narrowing as he stares at Sherlock and asks, “You can’t do that, can you? Control people’s thoughts?”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Lestrade. People are so stupid I don’t need magical abilities to make them do what I want…”

Snorting, Lestrade shakes his head, running a hand through his silver hair and chuckling, “Right, of course. How foolish of me.”

“Indeed.”

Glancing out toward the small group of police cars, Sherlock’s brow creases as his eyes alight upon Dr. Watson’s small frame. “How did John get here?”

Glancing over as well, Lestrade cocks his head, shoulders shrugging. “I dunno? You texted him I imagine, just like you did me. Probably got a cab or something…”

“But I didn’t…” Sherlock begins to say before silencing himself, staring at John now intently, upgrading him from a mere electron microscope to the Hubble telescope. John’s face flushes slightly when he catches Sherlock’s look, his head turning away abruptly to stare at nothing absently.

Catching the strange expression, Lestrade glances back and forth between Sherlock and John, brow creasing as he asks, “What? What is it?” a dawning idea coming into his mind as he looks back at John and murmurs, “You don’t think it was…”

“No, no of course not. Don’t be preposterous, Lestrade. I took off in the taxi by myself and then texted him after, as you said. I just remembered that we haven’t finished discussing the flat agreement yet…” Sherlock drops down from the back of the ambulance and tugs on his clothes, noting pointedly, “Well, if that is all…”

Lestrade catches his elbow. “Now hang on, I’ve still got questions and we have a report to hammer out that actually makes sense for a change.”

Shrugging free of the DI’s grip, Sherlock blows out a breath and snaps, “What? What now? Look,” he points out, tugging on the blanket about his shoulders, “I’m in shock. I need to go lie down, or… something. Whatever questions you have, surely they can wait till tomorrow. Besides, I just helped you catch a serial killer. Sort of. I think I’ve earned the rest of the night off.”

Eyeing Sherlock for a long moment, Lestrade finally throws up his hands, muttering, “Fine, fine, but if you’re not in tomorrow morning I’ll be sending a squad car to pick you up, in handcuffs if necessary.”

“Of course, Detective Inspector.”

Strolling up to John, Sherlock tugs the blanket about himself, taking in the doctor’s body language and facial expressions. John’s gaze can’t seem to steady itself, shifting from the buildings to the police cars to Lestrade to Sherlock and then back again. Stopping before him, Sherlock’s stare forces John’s to meet it, albeit not entirely comfortably.

Both men open their mouths at the same time, saying the same thing.

“Are you alright?”

There’s a brief moment of awkwardness, juggling who should go first, but finally with a gesture of his head, John indicates that Sherlock should. “Yes, of course I’m alright. Look, I’ve got a blanket. According to Lestrade, it eliminates shock, so there you have it. Medical science at its finest.” Naturally the last thing Sherlock is going to admit to is the fact that Hope managed to reduce him to a shattered, emotional, mess. No one ever need know that. In fact, Sherlock firmly intends to delete this evening’s events from his mind just as soon as practically possible. “And you?”

“Course I’m alright.” John’s chin lifts up fractionally, trying to look more calm and confident than he currently is. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

Sherlock gives John that look. The look that says, ‘don’t be an idiot when I know you’re not’. “You have just killed a man.”

It’s a shot in the dark, but Sherlock is a decent marksman himself. John just barely prevents himself from flinching at those words, his ocean blue eyes and expression admitting his guilt in a brief flash of discomfort before he looks away, composing his features. Turning back, he offers Sherlock a crooked, pained sort of smile.

“Yes, yes I suppose I have.”

Sherlock’s gaze holds John’s, willing him to continue.

“But he wasn’t a good man,” he rationalizes. Not that that is reason enough for an angel to kill. But then, John isn’t an angel any more, is he? God, what is he now, that he could do that??

Sherlock is somber and quiet for a moment, his gaze a touch haunted as well. “No, no he wasn’t a good man.” But the momentary weakness is banished, his eyes narrowing down to slits as he asks softly, “What did you do with the gun?”

“It’s not a problem. Disappeared.” Ironic, but true. Looking up at Sherlock, John tilts his head to one side, his gaze unusually piercing before he asks, “Are you sure you’re alright?” To Sherlock, John is a virtual stranger. On the other hand, Sherlock is in many ways more familiar to John than he is to himself. Others might not see the carefully hidden vulnerability in the consulting detective’s eyes, but John can. Moreover, he cannot help but want to ease that pain.

“Yes, of course I’m alright. I said I was alright, didn’t I?”

“I wasn’t….” John fumbles for the right words. Sherlock has a right to know. “I could see it, you know, him speaking to you, his words like a poisonous mist, pouring right into your head.” He’s quick to reassure, “I don’t know what he said, but I know that whatever it was, you were going to take that pill. Weren’t you?”

The tiniest flicker of panic flashes within those silver eyes until John confesses not know what Hope actually did to him. And Sherlock is not about to explain it. He reins in his fear, along with the disconcerting desire for a kind word, a gentle touch. “I’m fine.” His tone brooks no further discussion. He turns and starts to walk away from the crime scene, heedless of whether John will follow or not. But John is at his side almost instantly, falling into step, matching Sherlock’s pace.

“Right. Okay. Well, how did you know it was me?” That’s safer ground. Give Sherlock something to think about, something to brag about.

“Didn’t. Not at first. But then I saw you here, and I hadn’t texted you to tell you where I was. You didn’t find out from Lestrade, so you had no way of knowing where to find me after the fact, unless you were already here. Then, considering your years of service, it doesn’t take a genius to realize that you could potentially be a crack-shot, acclimatized to the pressure of the field, thus able to cleanly hit a target at that kind of a distance.” His brow crinkles as he notes, “Still haven’t quite figured out how you found me though.”

“Followed you, in another cab.” No need to point out how long it took to actually do so. “Realized I couldn’t get into the building, so I took a chance by going into the other one. Damn lucky for both of us that you happened to be in a facing window. How did Lestrade manage to get in by the way?”

Sherlock’s brow lifts curiously, wondering to himself just how that was ‘lucky’ for John. “The spell was designed to keep people out until I was dead. Well, technically until someone was dead. Hope just never considered the possibility that it might be him.” Glancing down Sherlock watches John walk for a few more steps before smiling smugly.

“See, I was right.”

Now it’s John’s turn to look confused, his head tilting up to gaze at Sherlock. “About what?”

“Your limp being psychosomatic. Somewhere along the way you seem to have lost your cane, but you’re walking just fine.”

John blinks, his hand rubbing at his thigh for a moment before he smiles and shakes his head. “That was bloody stupid, you know. Going off with that cabbie without a word to me. You’re just damn lucky I decided to follow the pair of you. You really need to stop doing that, risking your life to prove your clever.”

“Is that what I’m doing? Hmmmm. And why exactly would I do something like that?”

John can’t help but smile up at Sherlock, his affection for the man coloring his words. “Cause you’re an idiot.”

Sherlock gives John the smallest of appreciative smiles before snorting softly. “Fools rush in where Angels fear to tread, is that it? For the record, I did not rush in. My pace was practically leisurely, with no haste or rushing involved. You, on the other hand…”

There’s brief moment where panic washes through John’s already overtaxed system. Does he know? Has he figured it out? But no, studying Sherlock’s expression proves that the quote chosen is merely surprisingly prescient. “Alexander Pope. Alright fine. I’ll bite. Who is the greater fool? The fool, or the fool who follows him?”

Bemusement flutters over Sherlock’s features, his expression turning inward for a bit before he finally gives up. “Who said that?

“Obi Wan Kenobi.” At Sherlock’s blank expression, John prompts, “Sir Alec Guinness? From Star Wars?” Still nothing. “Oh come on. You must have seen Star Wars!” John knows Sherlock has. He can remember Mycroft showing it to him when he was a child. But Sherlock shakes his head and dismisses the point with a wave of his hand. “If I did, I must have deleted it.” With a soft snort, he glances sideways at John, pointing out, “You do realize that that implies you are the greater fool, don’t you?”

“Oh, yes, I’m fully cognizant of that fact.”

“Excellent. So, when are you moving in?”

“Who said anything about me moving in?”

“You just shot a man to save my life.” Sherlock shoots John an almost flirtatious look. “I think moving in together is the next logical step, don’t you?”

John can’t help himself, a small giggle escaping him before he covers his mouth to muffle it. “Mmmm, point taken. Tomorrow too soon?”

“Hmmmm, I don’t know. I do have to meet with Lestrade tomorrow to go over the case and help him write up the report. Knowing him, and how dull he is, could take all day…”

John’s gaze studies Sherlock’s profile curiously as he strides along, long legs eating up the pavement. Could it be that for once Sherlock would rather not be alone? That after what he’s been through, he would feel more secure if John was there as well? That would be just like him, not to simply outright ask for what he wants. Not when it’s personal. John puts on the pretence of mulling the matter over, glancing at his watch. “Well-lll, it’s not terribly late yet. How about right now?”

Turning his head to look back at John with an approving smile, Sherlock concurs. “As it turns out, I’m conveniently free at the moment...” And if there’s a hint of relief in the curve of his lips, the tone of his voice, who is John to complain about a little manipulation?

Chapter Text

It's been a few days now since John moved over his meager pile of belongings into the flat that he once again shares with Sherlock. It feels like coming home. He would probably spend most of his time grinning like a fool if it weren't for the fact that something is clearly wrong with Sherlock. Tactful inquiries only gain him impatient looks and snapping retorts. Sherlock spends hours upon hours searching through massive books of names; names of all the known gods, goddesses, angels, demons, fae, creatures, an endless cavalcade of titles, monikers, nicknames, some with detailed descriptions next to them, others with nothing more than 'unknown' notated. He spends hours upon hours scouring the web, going to strange and obscure websites for those who are in the magical ‘know’.

What exactly Sherlock is looking for, or why, John has no idea. He suspects it has something to do with whatever it was that Hope said to him, but any time he tries to bring the topic up, Sherlock either shuts him down or, when he's not quite so cranky, distracts him with some other topic.

Climbing up the stairs slowly, laden with grocery bags, John calls up cheerfully, "I'm back!” his voice triumphant. Sherlock's gaze has flickered from the computer before him to the door, but his brief interest vanishes when he sees it's just the shopping. He doesn’t even have to say what he’s thinking. It’s obvious from the disappointed droop of his lips, the faint irritation of his eyes. Boring. His gaze shifts back to his computer, fingers dancing over the keys nimbly, silver grey eyes raking the screen back and forth, reading whatever it is that he has looked up.

Glancing over, John offers Sherlock a smile anyways, even if he can’t see it, and heads into the kitchen to put things away, calling out pleasantly, "Have you eaten? I could make you something?" Getting Sherlock to eat has been something of a challenge, even though one might think that being in the “flesh” would make that sort of thing easier. Doesn't seem to matter how often he asks or offers, how often he cooks something, how often he suggests going out or ordering take-away. Sherlock is always either too busy, too bored, or on his way out. He constantly gets the lofty replies of, 'I'm not hungry' or 'I'll get something later' or 'don't bother me, I'm working'.

But John is nothing, if not both constant and persistent.

Sure enough, Sherlock’s bored voice, the one that says ‘can’t-you-see-I’m-in-the-middle-of-something-important-so-why-are-you-bothering-me-with-such-inane-questions’, calls back, “Working.”

“Working on what? Lestrade hasn’t called since…” but his voice dies away before it breaches a topic that he already knows is unwelcome. On opposite sides of the flat, both men find themselves, unbeknownst to the other, stiffening slightly at the unspoken reference. John tries again. “Lestrade hasn’t called with anything new, has he?”

“Not yet.”

Still no explanation then as to what it is that Sherlock is so feverishly working on. Perhaps John was mistaken in thinking that the consulting detective had taken a liking to him. That he might consider opening up a fraction. With a soft, frustrated sigh, John finds his own appetite has vanished and been replaced with what feels like a cold hard stone resting in his belly.

Well, there’s at least one person in this household who he knows will be glad to see him and happy to eat. He starts a pot of water boiling on the stove and reaches up for a box of oats. A short while later, when John steps out of the kitchen with small bowl in one hand and a cup of tea in the other, Sherlock glances up, frowning slightly as he asks, “What is that?”

“Porridge with honey.”

Scowling slightly, Sherlock rumbles with a hint of mild distaste, “I certainly hope you didn’t make that for me?”

Shaking his head, John’s lips curl into a wry, almost secretive smile. “Certainly not.” He’s almost disappointed when all he gets is a terse nod, Sherlock’s gaze returning to his computer screen. Ordinarily, such a look would provoke curiosity, questions. But perhaps it’s for the best. John prefers not to lie; it’s just not innate to his nature to do so.

With another wan smile, John tips his head and offers politely, “Well, goodnight…” before heading up the stairs to his own room. Once there he closes the door and places the two bowls onto a small stepstool, calling out in a soft voice, “Coast is clear.”

The laundry basket rustles slightly, the small creature crawling out from inside the sleeve of one of John’s jumpers, yawning and stretching and scratching at himself shamelessly as he ambles over toward the offering. John’s voice murmurs mildly, “Careful, it’s hot.” Drawing closer, Tup sniffs at the bowl appreciatively before stuffing his face greedily, slurping and gulping and gobbling the contents down, seemingly unfazed by the eat of the porridge. While he feasts, John starts to undress, pulling down the bedcovers and putting away clothes that are still clean while placing those that are not in the hamper. He takes a seat on the bed, watching Tup devour his promised meal, a book pulled from his bedside table resting in his hands, but unopened.

He hasn’t told Sherlock about Tup yet. For one, he doesn’t wish to indicate the Brownie’s existence without the Fae’s permission, and thus far it has not been granted. Furthermore, John isn’t quite sure what Sherlock’s reaction might be upon finding out there is a Brownie living in the flat with them. It’s a toss up between whether he would liken such a guest to vermin or wish to capture it in order to perform all manner of disturbing experiments upon its tiny personage. Either way, best to keep such things on the down low.

His thoughts turn back toward Sherlock, his reticence and obsessive behavior in particular. Which leads to him thinking about the incident that brought this particular bout of manic research on and, more disturbingly, his own role in the conclusion of the serial ‘suicide’ case. He should have gone with Sherlock. He should have stopped him before he even entered the building. Then, whatever happened to him would have been simply avoided. Whatever Hope said, those words would never have been spoken. And then John wouldn’t have had to…

His brow becomes more and more furrowed, a crease forming between his eyes and above his nose, his lips turning ever downward and pensive as he silently relives the events of that night.

With his belly visibly rounded and full, Tuppence unrepentantly burps and licks his fingers clean. Clambering up the side of the bed, he gives John an appraising look, tiny hands on his hips, before ordering, “Alright, out wi’ it.” It would be more impressive if he barked the command, but instead it is spoken softly. Both Tup and John have agreed that conversations need to be kept to whispers whenever Sherlock is in the house. Tup doesn’t wish to be revealed to a human, and John doesn’t want Sherlock to think he natters on to himself.

The introspective frown that has taken over John’s features flickers into confusion. “Out with what?”

“Ever since we got ‘ere, yeh been mopin’ and angstin’ somethin’ fierce. Since I doubt yer gonna share wi’ that woman you got t’see every week, yeh might as well unburden yer worries t’me. So come on then, wot’s got yer knickers in a twist?”

John’s silent for a long time, his eyes affixed to his bedspread, fingers lightly tracing over the pattern there before he murmurs, “I killed a man.”

“Right, I knows. Did it t’save yer charge. And?”

Head snapping up, John hisses, “Don’t you understand?! I killed a human! I murdered someone! Me! A servant of God, an ange….” But he can’t finish that word, his hands lifting to scrub at his face, as if somehow that would make everything clearer. “Tup… I don’t know what I am… I don’t know who I am. Am I John, former Guardian Angel? Or am I John Watson, doctor and soldier?”

John gazes out across the room, his thoughts going back to that defining moment. “That night, in that classroom, I didn’t know what to do, and then suddenly I did, or… it was more like Watson did. And since I couldn’t do it, he stepped in and did it for me. He transformed my sword.” His gentle blue regard shifts, sharpening, bearing down on the tiny Fae as he rasps, “Tup, that’s impossible. The Sword of the Spirit is always pure in both color and form. Yet mine is neither.”

Rubbing at his face with his hands, John stares once more down at the bedspread, his voice confused and troubled. “I have emotions and free will, wants and desires; things that no angel is supposed to have. I have thoughts that aren’t my own, ideas that aren’t my own. If I am no longer an angel, then what am I? Why do I still have my sword and wings? Why is it I cannot control them? What am I that I cannot control myself?”

Tup listens silently, his head bobbing up and down, black gleaming eyes studying John till he talks himself out. Only then does the tiny Fae open his mouth and shrug, replying philosophically, “Yeh are who yeh are. No less, no more. Do the details of that really matter so much? Yer mortal now and, like all mortals, yeh want to know why yer ‘ere. Yeh want my advice? Stop tryin’ so ‘ard to figure it all out and just be.” Folding his thin arms over his chest, Tup puts on his very best indignant face for John’s benefit. “I ‘onestly don’t know what yer whingin’ about. Yer a bloody, once-‘olier-than-thou Guardian Angel. Show a little backbone.”

John can’t help but crack a tiny smile. The Brownie is right, of course. John has been a holy angel all his life. Granted, the lack of emotions and free will certainly made his existence much easier in many ways, but regardless he’s faced far more impressive enemies and suffered through greater trials than this. He could certainly draw from those years of experience in order to approach this new dilemma with a little more grace.

Eyeing John quietly, Tup smirks as he sees the thoughts and revelations alter the somber lines of the human’s face. Rubbing at his rounded belly, he grouses, “Cor blimey, all this talk ‘as given me indigestion. Ruin of a perfectly good meal, I tell yeh….” Clambering unapologetically over John, Tup reaches the lamp and casts a glance back. “Jest need a bit o’a rest methinks. Go on, lie down, make yerself comfortable.”

“Yes mum….” Chuckling softly, John lowers himself down to the pillows and, per instructions, makes himself comfortable. Tup waits until he’s settled before turning off the light and then turning in himself. He settles himself on pillow close to John’s head, tucking himself beneath the cover of it. “Try not to think t’much. Never does a body good,” he offers as his last bit of advice before he reaches out to tug a strand of John’s golden hair. “Sleep well, Wingless.”

“Night, Tup.” John lies there quietly, waiting until the tiny Fae has fallen asleep, soft snores peppering his slumber. “What would I do without you?” he whispers softly, so as not to wake his diminutive companion. The Brownie already has a big head. Best not to let it get any bigger. Sherlock won’t be able to miss Tup if his head gets any bigger. Closing his eyes, John wills himself to sleep. And thirty minutes later, he finally drifts off.

*****

Pale silver eyes flicker up to the ceiling as Sherlock listens to the sounds of John settling in for the night. He continues to wait, quietly, patiently, hands pressed together beneath his chin, till the sounds quiet down to stillness.

In a flash, Sherlock is on his feet, striding silently across the room to push some books on one of his shelves aside, piling them up on top of one another until he exposes a book hidden behind them. Old, ancient, the thin book is wrapped in leather the color of blood and oil mixed together, rolled and tied shut like a scroll. Despite its age the cover gleams, as if oils were oozing from its very pores, coating it, protecting it. Sherlock picks up the tome gingerly, hesitating for only a moment before opening it up and quickly flipping through the heavy pages made of hide. He doesn’t spend much time thinking about the potential source of said material, though on occasion he has considered running some tests. He bought it years ago, during his darkest period. Even then, he never used it. Just held it, contemplated it, occasionally scanned through it before putting it away.

Once he finds the page that he's looking for, he strides across the room, pushing the coffee table aside to flip up the rug, exposing the floorboards beneath. Earlier today he made the first circle - a protective circle to mitigate the magic aura of anything done within it. Now that there is a Sensitive in the house, he needs to be careful. No. Now that John is in the house, he needs to be careful.

Sherlock has never cared what anyone thought of him before now. But for some reason, he cares a great deal of what John might think. John, who saved his life, who not only realized that Sherlock was in grave danger, but cared enough to follow him, to kill for him.

No one has ever done that before. Mycroft might say that he cares, but he leaves Sherlock's safety to the care of CCTV cameras and minions who report on his actions. Sherlock is a valuable commodity to be protected and maintained, rather than actually loved or cared for.

Folding the book open, Sherlock leaves it lying on the floor before walking into the kitchen and opening the fridge. His ongoing experiments make hiding this act easy. He can just tell John, "Oh, that's for an experiment I'm doing..." John might wrinkle his nose, but so far he's been surprisingly amenable to the matter, merely insisting that Sherlock keep 'experimental' materials in the kitchen drawers and bins, rather than interspersed amongst the food. Reaching into said bin, Sherlock draws out a human heart and a jar of blood.

Kneeling within the circle, he unscrews the bottle of blood and dips a long finger in. It's a laborious process, drawing a summoning circle out of blood rather than chalk, but he needs something stronger for this. Something that will truly bind. It requires patience. But assiduity of this sort is something that comes to Sherlock naturally. Besides, as the saying goes, haste makes waste. If Sherlock were to make a mistake, his blood would cover the floor instead of this nameless person's.

He tells himself that this is the only option left to him. That he has no choice. He’s asked every mystical contact, every Adept and spiritualist. He’s consulted all of his usual websites and forums for people who have actual magical abilities and credentials, not wishful thinking. Nothing. No word of a Moriarty, mention of a Moriarty, and when asked, no one has so much as heard of the name Moriarty.

So, it’s time to go to the source.

Once he's done, he carefully wipes off his fingers, studying the circle in the book, comparing it minutely with the circle that he has drawn, making sure it is flawless. Once he's certain, he places the heart inside the circle.

Standing up and back, Sherlock lifts the book once more, rolling the words on the page about in his mind before he rolls them out upon his tongue. Rough. Guttural. Crude. Sherlock's naturally deep voice adds a sense of importance and majesty to the proceedings.

And then it happens. The space in the circle within the circle, for the lack of a better term, dims, as if an anti-spotlight were draining away all color and light. Slowly an actual shadow forms, nebulous and shifting, like a patch of smoldering darkness, blackness roiling impatiently, angrily, bouncing and smashing against the confines of the circle. Once escape proves impossible, it settles reluctantly in the center. Two slits emerge, slivers of red, and the shadow shifts, a concave circle forming a 'mouth' as it speaks.

"Why have you summoned me, mortal?"

Sherlock stands tall, calm and assured, even if his heart is pounding in his chest. "I have a task for you."

The darkness shifts, bobbing up and down. "What do you offer in payment?"

Gesturing to the ground in the center, Sherlock replies, "I offer you payment in blood and flesh."

The shadow descends like a swarm of wasps, the blood drawing up, mixing with the darkness in a swirling vortex before disappearing. The heart is torn apart, amorphous hands and teeth tearing at it, devouring it ravenously before the spinning mass of black quiets once more, billowing like India ink poured into a glass of water.

"What is your demand?"

"You must answer my question. And if you do not know the answer, you must learn it and report back."

The 'eyes' blink slowly, the dark mist undulating for a moment before it replies, "Continue..."

"There's a demon called Moriarty, who is using humans, Adepts, to gather up souls. I want to know everything about him."

Sherlock isn't sure how he can tell that the billowing demon within his summoning circle is grinning maliciously, but he can. The gaping maw curls in a disturbing manner but it's the simple menace of the thing as it blankly stares out at him.

"Moriarty. That is a name of legend, a name that no one speaks, that is bandied about in whispers… but the one called Moriarty no longer exists…"

Sherlock steps forward, stopping just short of the edge of the outer circle, hands curling into fists. “Then you are mistaken. He lives, or another has taken his name. I was told that he bargains power for souls…"

"Mortals lie. You were deceived.”

His brow creases in frustration, but shaking his head, Sherlock rumbles, “Either way, it does not matter. Go forth and confirm the truth, bring back everything that you learn. I will summon you again in a week’s time.”

The darkness flares, the blood-drawn markings turning black as the demon tries to exert power past them. But Sherlock was careful. The circle holds. No demon likes to be summoned or controlled, especially not one this old and powerful. Given half a chance, they would devour those who are so foolish or arrogant to do so. The very fact that Sherlock has summoned him, and will do so again, clearly rankles with the creature. But a pact has been made; his freedom only granted if the deal is sealed.

Blazing up, like flames of ebony, the demon growls, “Agreed!” before abruptly dissipating in a sudden flash of red light.

Taking a few steps back, Sherlock’s calves collide with the couch and he allows himself to drop down heavily into the softness of the cushions, blowing out a rough breath. Slanted eyes glance upward slyly, listening for any sounds from above to suggest that John is aware of what he’s doing. But all he can hear is his own mind, turning that name in his head over and over again, as it has since the cabbie first spoke it.

Moriarty, Moriarty, Moriarty…