A/N: This is intended to be a sequel to mad_maudlin's incredible story, "A City on the Head of a Pin." Unfortunately, I can't put an actual link to it, but it can be found at http:/10leaguesbeyond *dot* livejournal *dot* com/41366 *dot* html.
My story doesn't really make much sense unless you read that one first. Also, while you're there, read everything else that she's ever written. It's all fantastic.
"How Many Angels Can Dance…"
John stopped keeping a list of winged people long ago. There were just too many, and besides, it didn't really matter. Wings were a part of his life now, one that he could barely remember being without. He can't help continuing to keep note of the more fantastic ones in his mind, though. For example, those belonging to the man in the light brown trenchcoat standing in front of him in the queue at John's favorite chippy.
They're unlike any John has ever seen before- shadows of wings, the absence of them, not the almost tangible ones that he has gotten used to. These are huge and menacing, but almost shielding too, not like the boney monstrosities that he sees sometimes on the criminals that he helps Sherlock catch. And, when John looks closer, he can see that the wings are also somewhat tattered, like the man himself, whose shoulders are hunched and is glancing around nervously.
John knows he shouldn't- how do you ask someone what's wrong with their wings-but he's overwhelmed by curiosity. He taps the man on the shoulder.
The man instantly spins around faster than is humanly possible, a blade suddenly appearing in his hand and a look of desperation and terror on his face. A girl sitting by the window screams, and suddenly everyone around them is panicking and running out the door. John ignores them, his attention focused inescapably on the shining sword that has come to rest on his neck. He raises his hands and smiles a little to show that he means no harm. The man stares at him for a moment, not seeing, face twisted in fear and rage. But then his eyes flicker over John's shoulder, to where John imagines his wings are curled protectively over him with fear. His face clears, and the blade disappears. "What?" he asks, oblivious to the chaos he has just caused.
His voice is gruff and deep, and his accent sounds American. He's no tourist, though. And his gaze is intensely piercing, as though he is looking through John's body and deep into his soul.
"Erm," John says, unsure how to ask, suddenly worried that he's just gotten the attention of a serial killer, or worse. "You can see them?" he asks hesitantly.
"Yes," answers the other man.
"Why are yours…?" John trails off, unsure how to describe the stranger's wings, so resorts to gesturing to them instead.
"I am an angel of the Lord," the other man says, his face completely serious. "My name is Castiel."
John's first response is to snicker in disbelief. He wants to reject this Castiel's statement out of hand. For one thing, he's never really believed in angels, even when he went to church on a regular basis. For another, there is no way that an angel would be queuing to get a parcel of fish and chips. But then he thinks about the way the man looked through him, and the grave wisdom behind his eyes, and the peculiarity of his wings, and believes.
"Can you fly?" he asks.
"Yes," Castiel answers.
John's breath catches as a long-forgotten dream comes back to him. "Can I?"
"No. The wings of humans are nothing more than remnants from a time long ago. They are shadows, nothing more."
"But yours look…" John begins, but Castiel interrupts.
"You can see only the silhouette of mine. My true wings would burn out your eyes."
"Oh." John is disappointed. He doesn't dare ask why the angel's wings look so ragged, but the question that he's been asking himself daily, despite Mrs. Hudson's suggestion drags itself out of his lips unbidden instead.
Castiel stares at him again. "Because you were hurt," he answers. "We couldn't help then. But we can help now."
He cocks his head to one side then, listening, and a moment later John too hears the sirens of at least a dozen cop cars closing in on the store. He turns his head to look out the window. When he turns back, Castiel is gone. John sighs and slips out. He runs all the way back to 221B, and pretends that he can feel the wind make his wings billow.