He ends up beside a swimming pool, with a jacket covering the black marks of the curse. John hardly understands the relevance of the place. He tries to reach across London for the chain that binds his fledgling to his borrowed heart, but there is too much noise. The curse twists around his ribcage and digs in, venomous icicles drawing lines across his lungs. He lets out a thin hiss.
'Oh, Dr. Watson, stop struggling,' the demon sings in his mind. 'It'll just make it worse.' Ghostly fingers tickle the back of his neck. Bile rises thick in his throat.
He needs his fledgling. This precious heart he carries in his chest is too pure to be damaged by these sickening chains.
'I saw what you did to that hellfire,' the demon continues to purr. 'I've made sure you can't play that little trick again. I'm afraid you've rather showed your hand there.'
He is the tar, thick and heavy, falling over John's fire, and he is gagging on the stench. He is clever, so very clever that even Sherlock's incredible mind cannot save them. The Good Soldier lowers his head, drops his arms, and closes his eyes. Oh, the chains hurt, yes, and the gag, but nothing hurts more than the fact that he failed.
It hurts more than the fall, more than the emptiness of a grey sky and the taste of blood, vomit, and mud.
The empty blank ripples with a shard of angry ultramarine. John forms his fledgling's name on his lips just as the door swings open, revealing the tall, familiar shape. He cannot speak. He cannot call. He can only do what Moriarty commands. Sherlock's gaze fastens on him immediately. The fledgling takes in everything - the way John is shivering slightly from the pain, the pile of curled ash at his side, and the rust forming on his bladed feathers - and his eyes narrow dangerously. Oh, oh. John can feel it, at last, this beautiful cascade outrage and possession coursing through their bridge. The darkness retracts. The Good Soldier's fiery heart is near, and thus the fire strikes up once more in John's blood. The bonds weaken and start to withdraw.
Yes. Yes. I will burn you, demon.
Elsewhere, Moriarty shifts uncomfortably.
But the victory is brief. The curse tightens, digging into his forearms viciously. John lets out a pained wheeze, and immediately his fledgling's face blanks with panic. The expression is gone just as quickly as it came, and Sherlock's wings sweep upwards into a definite threat, filling every space beside the pool. The shadows between each ripple quiver with barely compressed rage.
The fledgling lifts his chin, raising an eyebrow arrogantly. 'Well?' he calls, tipping his head slightly. 'I'm here.' His hand trembles slightly, and he clenches his fist even tighter. The Good Soldier knows how much this hurts his fledgling, to bow to Mycroft's intentions, to act as a pawn in this ridiculous war.
You can't outrun the storm forever. No one knows this as well as John.
There is a silence, filled only by the gentle sound of water lapping at the edges of the pool. Sherlock's gaze meets John, and there is a finality there that should not be worn by something so young and bold. John knows that look well. He saw it in lives past, in the slackening of the jaw and the death of brilliance, when boys that have barely become men know they will never go home again, when soldiers accept their fate. John remembers white scars on the inside of Sherlock's legs, and he wants to scream.
The doors behind him swing open, and polished shoes click smartly against the tiles. 'Sherlock!' a voice announces luxuriously. 'I'm so disappointed. So hurt.' He rolls the last syllable around his mouth, almost purring. He stops directly beside John, strenghtening the curse with his mere presence.
The shell Moriarty wears is small, with unassuming features, but he wears his power in the form of money and expensive clothing. He is meticulously dressed to the point of pained vanity, choosing the best not because it demonstrates power, but because he can. This sort of arrogance is terrifying.
'I thought you would play my game,' he continues, pulling his teeth upward in a grin made of too many teeth.
Sherlock's eyes travel over him quickly, efficiently collecting evidence and categorising it. His lips twitch slightly, and an eyebrow arches mordantly. 'I was under the impression that I was playing,' he replies curtly. John realises he is unimpressed and tries to smother his sudden rush of relief. His fledgling senses it nonetheless, throwing him a look of faint disappointment. 'I interpreted the pattern to your killings and located the third victim. He is now under police protection, including that of a certain Sally Donovan. I am informed that she is perfectly capable of warding off your -' Sherlock waves his hand as he searches for an appropriate term '- various accomplices.'
'That's not playing,' Moriarty whines, pouting. 'You're meant to give him to me.'
Sherlock narrows his eyes. 'What?' he says softly.
The demon places his forefinger against John's spine. White hot agony sears through his bones, ripping through his wings. Dashes of black drown out his vision. John bites back the howl of pain, digging his fingers deep into his palms.
Sherlock swallows. It is a minute response, but a response nonetheless, and Moriarty's leer widens impossibly. 'You take away my toys, I take away your heart,' he hisses. 'Useless, ugly little thing that he is.' He drags his forefinger up to the base of John's skull and taps it gently.
The pain disappears. John exhales through his gritted teeth.
The fledgling's jaw tightens. The shadows tremble - but not with fear. Why should the fledgling be afraid of anything? An old heart beats in his chest, a heart that has never been afraid of darkness or light, a heart that laughs at the beasts and strikes them down. Sherlock's shoulders draw a solid line within his coat, his eyes turn dangerously dark - black, but for a thin rim of angry sapphire. What was frighteningly beautiful is now magnificent power. Something akin to lightning, or perhaps the absence of it, screaming across the sky once that spark of energy has coursed through the hungry earth.
The Good Soldier shivers, and this time, it is not because of the demon or the pain. All this time walking in John Watson's shell, he almost forgot the warrior's delight. He looks up at Moriarty and smiles.
You don't stand a chance.
The water stills. The echoes die out. The aging smell of dried roses colours the air, smothering the stale smell of chlorine, followed by the sharp sting of gin. A lightbulb screams as it explodes. Shattered glass smashes against the tiles. Sherlock's eyes gleam in the dark. His lower wings gleam with a metallic sheen, blazing silver and onyx all at once. His higher wings are endless. They fill every vacuum in the world. They seep across the room, trickling down the cracks and filling the empty lightbulb with treacle thickness. The fledgling's hand hovers above his wings.
John's gut lurches. Sherlock is going to draw his weapon.
Moriarty's grin widens. 'Are you going to fight me?' he taunts gleefully. 'Really? Do you know who I am?' His features shift quickly in the manic light, eyes too big and teeth too square.
The fledgling smiles thinly. It is all menace and violence and so very dangerous it makes the Good Soldier roar within his chains. 'I assumed you were Moriarty,' he replies calmly, 'demon mastermind and grand puppeteer of the masses.'
The demon spreads his arms. 'I'm ancient,' he proclaims. 'Old as the sky, old as the sea. I was there before you, light-bearer,' he spits, whirling upon John. 'I was there when the so-called Mighty crawled out of the Mother's belly.'
The chained soldier looks into madness' eyes and is calm. He knew this before.
Disappointed, Moriarty turns to a more responsive audience. 'The ones that made you, Sherlock,' he jabs ruthlessly. 'Even they aren't as strong as me. As old as me. They don't know the secrets I know.' He presses his finger playfully against his lips, bats an eye almost flirtatiously.
The Good Soldier laughs at this, because he suspects the old demon does not know Sherlock is Everything.'You have no idea,' he grins devilishly, 'do you?' He spits a gob of black sludge on the floor. The gag is broken, useless in its spent form. 'You're going to die, and it won't be Mycroft or his hounds, it won't be me. It'll be Sherlock Holmes.'
The demon descends upon him, snarling. The binds tighten around him, cutting deep into his skin. Blood pools at his wrists.
The taint is so deep it is permanent. There is no cure. His wings are trembling stumps, blades rusted on the floor. John couldn't care less. He stares at his fledgling, face illuminated with eerie cyan fire, and remembers another love, millions and millions of lifetimes away.
Sherlock reaches into his wings.
Moriarty releases his grip on John's neck. A tendon in his neck twitches - just above his neatly pressed collar - as he prepares to turn.
Cold silver sings through the air before it is silenced. Moriarty's eyes widen. The pupils dilate, extend, and swallow the iris. Moriarty turns his head slightly.
The decapitated body slides to the ground. John stares at the figure and the blank eyes staring up at him, too dark, too large, the mouth still open wide in a horrific snarl.
'John,' whispers a soft voice.
Like a song you know the music to, but never the lyrics, never the steps.
John looks up at last. He whispers his fledgling's name on his lips, but he knows what stands before him is no longer that. He is old, yes, so he has seen fledglings become angels. This is different. This is so, so different. The shell is the same, the curve of his lips - the ones John once kissed in the dark - the sharp angle of his cheeks, the dark arch of his eyebrows, the concave resting between his collarbones. But this is not Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective, tortured fledgling. Not anymore.
This is the angel with eyes the shade of the ever-changing sky, immortal and fragile. This is the angel with wings that are no colour at all, but the ghost of all visions that ever pass the human eye. This is the angel that holds neither spear, sword or shield, but a silver scythe. This is the angel that is beautiful, because as life is ugly and terrifying, that which ends it must be wondrous, magical, magnificent. This is Endless, Everything, and End.
John swallows the sandpaper sensation from his mouth. It all makes sense. All of it. How could Mycroft create an angel, when it was the Mighty alone that could draw miracles from the universe? Of all things, how can an angel exist in a suspended reality and see only the souls of the fallen? How can Sherlock love a broken warrior with the stench of death at his heels?
'John,' the angel smiles, relieved. 'You aren't hurt. Good.' His expressions are the same. Even his rumbling voice is the same. He reaches out with his free hand. Blood glistens at the edge of his scythe.
The Good Soldier rises to his feet. He has no wings, anymore. His arms are covered in black spidery ink, his veins filled with tar. Moriarty may be dead, but his magic is old and strong. John smiles thinly. 'I suppose you understand now, don't you?' he rasps. His throat is raw. 'Do you understand who you are? Why they took you here? Made you Sherlock Holmes? Gave me to you?' He covers his face with his hand, smearing blood thick across his forehead.
That's fine. Not the first time. Breathe. Keep breathing, John.
'This was all a trick, all a trick, all of it,' he hisses. 'Mycroft wanted to kill two birds with one stone. Not to find Moriarty, no, that's easy enough. He wants to be found.' He glances at the severed head on the ground. 'Mycroft wanted Moriarty dead, but how do you kill something older than the Mighty? You find something older than that, older than all of that, something so ancient and endless it doesn't need an identity. You give it an identity, a purpose.' He is verging on hysterical, but that's fine. It's all fine. 'That's what I was, Sh-no, no. That's why I was brought to you. You would love me because, oh for the love of the Mighty -' he breathes in raggedly '- I would love you. And I love you. And this is where we are. Because you will kill for what you love, and you love me, and I love you, but I'm going to die.'
Ash piles at the Good Soldier's feet. His cheeks are wet with tears but he cannot stop speaking, even if the last words he ever speaks to this glorious creature is nothing more than drivel. They cannot touch. If they touch he will stumble and it will all be for nothing.
'I'm going to die,' he whispers again. There is fear in the angel's eyes, and the hand gripping the scythe tightens. 'So please, please. Humour me.'
The angel looks at him because there is nothing to say, nothing to do. They are both only capable of destruction. Neither can create. Neither can heal.
John lifts his chin, straightens his shoulders, and draws his heels together. 'My name is White,' he pronounces. 'I am God's light.'
Tilting his head slightly, the angel parts his lips. He closes his eyes, shakes his head slightly, and moves his lungs as though to draw breath. 'My name is Death,' he replies quietly, barely over a breath. John hears him all the same. 'God is my aid.'
The Good Soldier smiles broadly. Blood lines the inside of his throat. He cannot feel his fingers. It's fine, though. 'I had a bet, you know, with Morning Star,' he remarks to no one in particular. 'I knew you came for us too. I knew you would.' He falls then, but only because he can no longer stand. The curse is in his legs, too.
Soft fingers thread through his hair. Lips brush his forehead. He is home. He is home, in these arms, and he is so tired. The Good Soldier cannot fight anymore.
'Uriel, please,' whispers the angel. 'Stay with me. Please, please John. Stay.' Fingers flutter at his temples, desperate with panic. Rain falls. Rain? How can it rain indoors?
'Azrael,' the tired soldier whispers, closing his eyes. 'Goodbye.'
If his wings were anchor, then he is set free. Maybe he should have stayed in the place where he and Sherlock were safe, and time stood still. It's too late now.
Darkness comes with the scent of mulling wine, a kiss he never feels, a promise he never hears.
He wakes to rippling light, and a strange itching ache down his spine. His head pounds a manic beat and his tongue feels like lead. He knows he is not dead, because death could not possibly be this painful. That, and the fact that he is tucked up under his sheets, snug and warm. The window is slightly open, and a soft summer breeze sneaks in through the light curtains.
Oh fucking well, John thinks to himself faintly. Guess they weren't going to let me die after all.
He attempts to sit up and is rewarded with a searing pain down his ribs. He groans, falling back against the pillows. He stares at the ceiling in confused defeat.
Cold fingers feel his wrist while a palm rests against his feverish head. 'I wouldn't do that again if I were you,' advises a familiarly gentle voice. 'The toxin is still in your bloodstream, and if you disturb Michael's concentration you'll end up with your feathers in the wrong place. She's on enough whiskey as it is.'
John turns and looks up into Molly's beaming face. He notes the red rims of her eyes, the slight tremble in her smile, and the wilderness of loss in her wide eyes. He looks into her, and for the first time, realises how blind he always was. Why hadn't he recognised this perfume before? It had been the scent of the stars, after all. How else did she know how to heal, and to love, and to hold the world's sadness within her small bones?
He laughs weakly only to regret it after another jab of white-hot pain in his chest. Blinking away the tears from his vision, he covers her small hand with his own bandaged one. 'You're here,' he whispers.
She smiles blankly at him. 'Of course I'm here,' she reprimands, pretending to swat his shoulder. 'Where else would I be? Sherlock's been completely beside himself, and Mrs Hudson has been making too much tea, and don't even get me started on your sister.' She rolls her eyes. 'Honestly, you would think she's never treated demon wounds before, the way she's been carrying on,' she sighs.
John squeezes her delicate fingers once, shaking his head. 'No,' he says firmly. 'I mean you were always here. Watching him. When I couldn't.' He smiles at her, and in the depths of his scarred soul, a thousand weights are lifted. 'You always knew what I wanted better than I did, didn't you?'
Molly tries to retain her cheery smile, but her eyes are brimming with saltwater. 'John,' she whispers. 'John.' She shakes her head and glances away.
Painstakingly - because his bicep feels as though someone has run it through a grinder - he brings her hand up to his lips and kisses it. 'I'm so sorry,' he mumbles into her skin, 'Morning Star.'
She bites her lip, closing her eyes. Her fingers tremble against his lips. A single tear traces a crooked path down her cheek.
The child of the universe, forever saddened by the tragedy that is.
'Never,' she whispers, squeezing his hand once. 'Never apologise to me. Never.' She opens her eyes, and they are as full of secrets as he remembers. 'I'm so sorry for what I did to us. I'm, I'm so sorry. So sorry.' She drops down against him, her face buried in his neck. The tears sting in his wounds, but he welcomes them. 'I wanted you to be well. I wanted you to be well and I wanted you to be loved, because I love you, Soldier, I always have.'
Her hair feels like silk under his fingertips, and her eyelashes murmur against his skin. He remembers now why he loved her so. It was not for the beauty, nor her song, but it was for the tragedy she always understood. Maybe she fell first because she knew that they would all have to fall, someday. Maybe she always knew that John would need someone to protect his heart, when it was his turn.
So the Good Soldier forgives the silent moon that was once his radiant brother, and kisses her damp cheek. He tells her he loves her too, and that he always will. There is nothing to forgive, because she is finally here.
Harry visits him often to ensure that her reconstruction of the Good Soldier's wings is going accordingly. Molly calls her by her old name, and John's sister retaliates good-naturedly by calling Molly by hers. This ends in a brief session of bickering, while John stares at the door and wonders why Sherlock will not visit.
Eventually, he is well enough to walk down to the lounge. Sherlock is perched in his usual chair, the scythe lying nonchalantly across the coffee table, violin in one hand and bow in the other. His wings are folded neatly behind him, but his eyes have an inwardly vacant state to them. When John crosses the threshold, however, Sherlock's gaze fastens on him.
For a while, they just look at each other. John knows he looks harried, ten years older, even, and his feathers are a little too bright in the sun - Harry seemed to think a hue of green was appropriate - but he is walking and the curse is nothing more than a scar. Sherlock has dark circles beneath his eyes, and his clothes are uncharacteristically rumpled. A wall shivers between them, a million miles thick, and all John can think of is the angel that simmers under his lover's skin. Death will always be there under the surface, but the Good Soldier has always loved danger.
So he smiles.
Sherlock abuses his abilities. One moment he is by the fireplace, the other, his lips are pressed tightly against John's and his fingers dig deep into the still-tender feathers. Not that John cares. The pain can hardly drown out the savage pleasure tearing through his purified blood. He grabs a good handful of Sherlock's hair and drags him downward, relishing the taste of silver and eternity.
'I would never have taken you,' the angel whispers against John's tongue brokenly. 'Never. Do you understand me, John? Never. As long as this reality exists, I will never let you die.' He takes in one agonising, shuddering breath. 'I love you.'
John closes his eyes. He breathes in the scent of stale cigarettes and worry. He relishes the taste Sherlock leaves on the inside of his cheek. He has this day, this extra day. He has the miracle of a kiss, of a familiar touch and the particular note when Sherlock's voice breaks with emotion. He has the rise of skin against his lips, the soft sigh of relief, the touch of water when he feels like he has been walking an eternity through the desert.
It doesn't matter that another battle will inevitably arise. It doesn't matter how many days of darkness may follow.
Death has promised eternity. The Mighty can sod off.