John Watson has never proclaimed and will never proclaim, on pain of death, to possess the same powers of deductive reasoning as Sherlock Holmes. He isn't a fool. However, on this particular occasion, he doesn't need to be Sherlock Holmes to deduce that something is quite spectacularly amiss.
The first sign that everything is not as it should be is that there is a strange man in the bathroom. This is made doubly worse by the fact that John is in the process of getting out of the shower when he notices.
"Bloody buggering hell!" he shouts, grabbing the shower curtain in shock. "Who in the name of arse are you?"
The stranger – who appears to be wearing a trenchcoat, which does not do much to abet John's fears that this man is some sort of sex pest – blinks. John shudders and wraps the shower curtain around himself to salvage as much dignity as he can, which is precious little.
"Castiel," the man replies after a short pause, and John wonders why, after years of chasing down the scum of London city, he's fated to be murdered in his bathroom by a man with a name like Castiel.
"Right," John manages to say after a few moments. "That's... OK. Right. Fine." He draws the shower curtain around himself more tightly, still standing half in the shower. "Why are you in my bathroom, exactly?"
"I was in a heated discussion, and in the heat of the moment, he banished me to the other side of the world," he replies. "This happened to be the other side."
John breathes in deeply. He isn't sure whether he's about to be murdered or not. He'd quite like the clarification. He hears a clattering sound from downstairs and, with no small amount of relief, remembers that Sherlock is still here. He looks at Castiel, who doesn't appear to have blinked in quite some time, and affects what he hopes is a reassuring smile. This man wouldn't be the first mentally ill patient he's dealt with, after all.
"The other side of the world, hmm?" he says, voice low and soothing. Castiel tilts his head to the left, and John swallows. "Well, that sounds nice. I'm just going to call for my associate, if you don't mind. SherlockI"
He hears footsteps on the stairs, the fear in his heart slowly draining away, and then the bathroom door pushes open and Sherlock walks in, sleeves rolled up to his elbows. His pale forearms are covered with soapsuds, and John raises an eyebrow.
"Have you been doing the washing up?" he asks. Sherlock sighs.
"It has been known to happen," he responds curtly. "Is something wrong?"
"Not this bloody century, it hasn't," John counters. "And yes, actually. There's a strange man in the bathroom. I don't know if you noticed."
Sherlock narrows his eyes, pityingly. He turns to look at Castiel, who is watching the two of them with a rather amused expression on his face.
"Well, John," says Sherlock, eyes firmly locked in a rather intimidating staring competition with the intruder. "Obviously, he's an angel of the Lord."
"The Lord," he repeats. He closes his eyes. "Jesus Christ."
"That is correct," the stranger - Castiel, John reminds himself - says, and John takes a deep breath, pinches the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger and exhales as deeply as he can in the hope that the odd American will be gone by the time he's opened his eyes.
He opens them. Castiel regards him coolly, in much the same way Sherlock regards a toenail under a microscope.
"I do not understand," says the stranger.
"That makes two of us," mutters John. Sherlock sighs.
"I wonder sometimes how you manage to pull together enough resources to respire," he says. John splutters.
"As do I," Castiel agrees, and Sherlock almost smiles. John wonders why he's standing in his own bathroom, wrapped in nothing but – he realises with no small amount of shame – a translucent shower curtain, whilst two dark-haired walking dictionaries gang up on him.
He'll kill Mike Stamford. He'll forge a doctor's note, put him on a vegan diet. That'll teach him.
"Sorry to drag down the average IQ of this room," he says. "But I really don't have a bloody clue what's going on here."
Sherlock steeples his fingers under his chin, and Castiel huffs.
"If you had been listening, I explained - "
"We are not entirely alone, John," Sherlock interjects. John blinks.
"I realised that," he says. "There's a man in a cheap suit in the bathroom."
Sherlock raises his eyebrows in that way that John understands is meant to convey pity and irritation.
"I don't mean... for the love of God, John."
"How do you know - "
"It's an expression," John cuts in before Castiel can muscle in on this conversation. He isn't sure that the stranger has much of any use to say.
Sherlock regards the two of them with cool amusement, and John digs his nails into the shower curtain.
"As I was saying. Despite the apparent illogicality of the situation, there is in fact a reasonably logical explanation," Sherlock begins. Castiel blinks, and John realises that he's been staring at John for a good few minutes. He feels himself blush.
"Do go on," he says. He's never wanted a cup of tea more desperately. "Although if we're going to have an actual conversation, could you pass me that towel? I find it easier to be blinded by your stunningly impressive deductions when there isn't a strange lunatic staring at my nutsack."
Sherlock's lips curl in a smug grin, but he does as John asks. Wordlessly, John accepts the towel and wraps it around himself, managing not to get too entangled in the shower curtain. When he's satisfied that he's covered most of what remains of his dignity, he steps out of the shower.
"Right. Go on," he says, gesturing for Sherlock to continue. Sherlock looks at Castiel, who is watching John with a look on his face that can only be bewilderment, and does so.
"It is a scientific fact, albeit a little known one, that humans aren't exactly the dominant species. We aren't even close, in fact. There's a myriad of other species, floating about in the ether, who are far more important in the grand scheme of things. We're pond scum compared to them." He pauses. "Well. You are, anyway."
John scoffs, begins to argue back, but Sherlock gestures that he isn't finished, and John sighs, folds his arms and awaits the rest.
"The fact of the matter is that there are some things that most people can hardly hope to understand," Sherlock explains. "Particularly people like you, John, who have been taught one concept of religion and - "
"Now hold on a minute," John interjects, because this morning has not gone to plan and he hadn't factored in an argument with his flatmate and a stranger whilst clad in a small white towel. "People like me? I'm an atheist!"
"Atheist, Christian, Muslim," Sherlock says loftily. "It's all the same. It's all based around the knowledge of certain doctrines written after the fact. Doctrines that are not, I may add, based in fact."
"Pretend I'm an idiot," John says, after a short pause. "As hard a leap as I'm sure that is for you to make, humour me."
Sherlock sighs, as though he's the most put-upon man in the world.
"Angels do exist," he states. "But not in the form you're used to. I doubt that our friend here has even seen a harp."
John looks at Castiel. Castiel looks at Sherlock. Sherlock looks at John.
"I don't get it," John says, and Sherlock throws his hands in the air with a cry of irritation.
"It's not that complex!" he expostulates. "I'm trying to tell you – as delicately as possible – that our world is inhabited by corporeal beings who employ some sort of control over our lives, and that this man here is not really a man at all, but a physical manifestation of the grace of one such creature! How could you not understand?"
"Well, if you'd only put it so simply in the first place," John says sarcastically.
"There are also demons," Castiel pipes up, and John suddenly misses Afghanistan. He grits his teeth.
"Right. Angels and demons. Of course. Where's sodding Dan Brown when you need him?"
"I do not understand that reference," Castiel says.
"Lucky you," John mutters. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to put some clothes on."
John comes downstairs to find Castiel sitting alone on the sofa, a mug of what looks like rather watery tea clasped in his hands.
"Where's Sherlock?" asks John.
"He has gone to see a man about a dog," Castiel responds. He cocks his head slightly. "Although I do not know how a canine could assist in this matter."
"Are you serious?" he asks. "Like, really. What's your angle here?"
"Jesus Christ." John rubs the bridge of his nose in exasperation. He wonders if 11am is too early to start drinking. He thinks it probably is. "What are you hoping to achieve with all this? Is this some weird way of getting an exclusive scoop on the greatest detective in London?"
"I have no such aim," Castiel assures him. "I have merely been banished here. I could not return if I wanted to."
"Ah. Yes. I remember you saying." Gingerly, John sits next to Castiel. "If I may ask, what exactly did you say to your friend to cause him to... erm, banish you?" John asks. Castiel looks at the mug of tea cupped in his hands, sheepish.
"I had been away for quite some time," he begins. "I was fighting in a war that he knew nothing about. The war only lasted for a month in Heaven, but on Earth, it equalled approximately 18 months."
John nods slowly in understanding. He knows too well the burden of a soldier, remembers the time he'd been called up for a six month stint that turned into two years with only a few sporadic weeks of leave here and there. Harry had refused to speak to him for nearly a month after he returned. When she finally called him, she was drunk. John shivers at the memory.
"I eventually returned," Castiel continues. "But I had changed. I had witnessed the glory that redemption could bring, and my grace was singing with the desire to return to Heaven. I could not; I owed a debt to Earth."
John has no idea what he's talking about, but nods anyway.
"And I take it your friend didn't take it too kindly when you told him that?"
Castiel shakes his head.
"He said that I had become - " he scrunches his face in an attempt to remember the words, and John laughs at the gesture, at how human it is. " – I believe his exact words were 'Cas, you promised you'd serve us until we'd sorted it out'."
"It was an unfortunate turn of phrase," Castiel agrees. "In hindsight, I do not believe he meant to use that exact word. However, I had no way of knowing this, and I reacted... poorly."
"What did you say?" he questions. "Must have been bad if he, y'know, banished you. To England."
"To the other side of the world, in fact," Castiel corrects shrewdly. "I told him this; 'I learned my lesson while I was away, Dean. I serve Heaven, I don't serve man. And I certainly don't serve you'. Those were my very words."
John is beginning to understand.
"I see," he says. Castiel looks up at him.
"I do not," he states.
"Truly. I meant no offence. I was merely stating a truth."
John looks at Castiel. His dark hair, ethereal blue eyes and complete disregard for tact are so suddenly familiar that he can't believe he hasn't noticed it before. He can't help the grin that spreads across his face as he finally makes the connection, and Castiel narrows his eyes in wordless confusion. John shakes his head, trying to reassure him.
"You just remind me of someone, that's all."
Castiel's eyes widen.
"You know of another angel?"
Perhaps there's a slight difference.
"No, no. Nothing like that."
Castiel regards John, face neutral, and opens his mouth as if to say something when the door to the living room bursts open and Sherlock walks in, eyes wide and excited. He practically bounds over to the chair opposite John and folds himself into it, an odd bundle of limbs and not-quite-right, sitting on his haunches.
"Speak of the devil," John says, and if Castiel's eyes widen a little further at that, John knows to ignore it. "You look cheerful," he adds, and Sherlock grins, slightly manically.
"How do you feel about banishment as a concept?" Sherlock questions, looking at Castiel. Castiel tilts his head slightly.
"I am not enamoured of it," he responds.
"But it's not dangerous?"
Castiel shakes his head. Sherlock beams.
"Then I believe I have the answer to your problem. It's ludicrously simple, really. I didn't even need the priest to confirm my suspicions, although I did enjoy the Communion wine. I think that may be the main appeal of his parish."
John rolls his eyes.
"What is your answer?" Castiel asks cautiously, and Sherlock spreads his hands like some kind of deity. John finds the gesture endearing in its ridiculousness.
"We banish you back," Sherlock answers.
Castiel looks contemplative.
"I suppose that could be effective," he says. "If you were to perform the same ritual and banish me to the other side of the world, I should be returned to Dean."
"Wait, wait," he cuts in. "Ritual?"
"Fortunately, the banishment ritual is rather simple," he says. "It is perhaps its main flaw. It requires a strike from your soul."
"Oh, that simple?" John asks. Castiel nods, either ignoring or remaining oblivious to John's sarcasm.
"All it requires is that you truly wish me gone," he clarifies. "And that you utter words to that effect."
"A simple 'go away' won't suffice?" John questions. Castiel shakes his head.
"It is hardly strong enough."
"Perhaps it would help if we knew what this Dave said to you," Sherlock suggests. Castiel turns suddenly.
"Dean," he says quickly, and John could swear he sees Sherlock smile.
"My apologies," says Sherlock. "Dean. What did he say to you?"
Castiel looks mildly aggrieved.
"He said that I should 'fuck off as far away as possible'," he answers anxiously, the swearword sounding foreign on his tongue, and John can't help the small splutter of laughter in the back of his throat at the realisation that he's just heard an honest to God angel of the Lord say 'fuck'. "I suppose that logistically, while I am in this vessel, this was as far as I could go."
"Right," says Sherlock. "I apologise, then, for what I am about to do, but rest assured that it is in your best interests. You have been a most excellent houseguest."
"Thank you," he says, warily. Sherlock grins.
"My pleasure. And I really do apologise." He turns to John. "John, I love you."
John's heart feels like it's curling in on itself.
"I love you."
John looks at Sherlock. Sherlock looks at John.
"No, you don't," John disagrees. "You're not interested, remember? That's not your cup of tea."
"I can assure you that you are very much my cup of tea." His voice is low and full of intent, and John is suddenly finding it very hard to swallow indeed.
"Oh," he manages to say, throat dry and heart racing. "That's... good. That's good."
"Good?" Sherlock asks, stepping closer to John, who instinctively takes a step backwards before stepping forwards again, flustered.
There's the sound of a throat being cleared.
"I don't - " Castiel interjects, and John groans.
"Get lost!" he hisses. Sherlock grins.
"And there, the banishment is complete," he announces, and John turns to face Castiel, only to find that he isn't there.
He looks at Sherlock, who no longer has the predatory gaze he'd affected only a mere few seconds ago, and the penny drops.
"Oh," he says. "Right. OK. Excuse me, then."
Without waiting to hear an explanation that he knows he won't like, he hurries out of the room.
He spends the night on Sarah's couch, feeling like a teenage girl who's been rather unceremoniously dumped on prom night. Sarah takes one look at him before sighing understandingly and opening the door for him, offering her lilo. John knows better to accept, instead plumping for the sofa.
"You knew he was a psychopath, John," says Sarah, handing him a cup of decaf coffee. He's never been a fan of coffee, has always preferred tea, but he takes it anyway and sips it grudgingly.
Sarah sighs at his lack of response.
"Sleep on it," she says. "If by morning you're still hell-bent on forgiving him – don't look at me like that, you know you'll forgive him anything – then I promise to let you leave."
She stands up, patting him reassuringly on the shoulder, and closes the door behind her. The last thing John thinks before he falls into a sudden deep sleep is that it would never have worked out with Sarah. She's always been too sensible for him.
"I noticed the parallels as well," is the first thing that Castiel says to him. John starts. How is Castiel here? He'd been banished back to the arsehole of America.
"You are in a dream," Castiel adds by way of explanation. He looks a little proud, John thinks. "It is one of the abilities of an angel. We can enter the consciousness of a human."
John thinks back to Thursday. Things had seemed so normal then. His biggest problem had been the eyeballs in the fridge. Now it's all angels and declarations of love and ex-girlfriends' sofas.
"And why have you entered mine?" John asks. Castiel sits at the end of the sofa, and John wonders why he's dreaming about being in the room he's actually in. He's never been a particularly imaginative dreamer.
"I recognise that we left things on a... somewhat sour note," he responds, choosing his words carefully, and John flushes hotly as he remembers telling Castiel to 'get lost'. It's amazing what a case of blue balls will do to your etiquette, he thinks. "But I was made of aware of a fact before I left that I realised I could not ignore."
"Go on," John says.
Castiel shifts slightly, and John can tell he's trying to be delicate. He sighs. "Out with it," he tells him.
"You told me that I reminded you of someone," Castiel starts. "I did not know of whom you were speaking at the time, but I recognise now that it was Sherlock. You are right; there are many similarities between the two of us. We are both dark-haired – at least in this vessel – and I have been informed on several occasions that my people skills are rusty." He makes inverted commas with his fingers and John tries not to laugh. "But there are other similarities that run far deeper, parallels that are too significant to write off as coincidence. I believe I was destined to meet you both."
John's never been much of a believer in destiny. He's seen too many innocent people die to subscribe to that system. He nods anyway.
"I know you are sceptical," Castiel continues. "But have faith in this. What I saw written upon Sherlock's soul was not false. What he said to you was not a lie."
"No, you don't understand," he says. "He said that to get me to banish you. That was it. It was a plan. He's good at those, Sherlock is. He's less good with consequences."
"I cannot force you to believe me," he says. "But I can assure you that I speak the truth. Just as I can enter your consciousness, I was able to read Sherlock's. I know his thoughts and his feelings towards you, and I thought you should know."
John doesn't really know what to think about this, so he doesn't. Instead, he asks a completely irrelevant question.
"And how does that parallel your existence, exactly?"
Castiel smiles a little shyly.
"It could be said that Sherlock and I both harboured a similar secret," he answers. "And that it took similar measures for it to be revealed."
"Oh," he says. "Well, tell Dean I said hello. I think I'd better get some real sleep now, seeing as it looks like I'll be having the most awkward conversation of my life tomorrow."
"As you wish," acquiesces Castiel. "Good luck."
"Thanks," John says, and then Castiel is gone.
Sarah takes one look at John as he scrambles into yesterday's clothes.
"You're a lost cause, you are," she tells him, but she sounds more fond than annoyed. "What made you change your mind this time?"
"Call it a change of faith," John replies, and gives her a kiss on the cheek before rushing out the door.
Sherlock is standing in the kitchen, teatowel in hand, finishing the last of the washing up when John finally arrives.
John blinks at the sight, and suddenly everything clicks into place.
"You love me," he breathes, and Sherlock huffs.
"Don't be ridiculous, John. It's hardly a difficult deduction. Of course I love you. I did the washing up for you."
"That doesn't mean anything! It's hardly a romantic gesture, is it? People do the washing up every day. You can't buy 'I'd do the washing up for you' cards in Clinton's. I bet you've even done the washing up for Mycroft before!"
Sherlock grimaces, and John laughs, slightly giddy.
"That's obscene, John. It's practically blasphemy."
"Sherlock, we just banished an angel of the Lord. To Kansas. If anything, that's blasphemy."
Sherlock waves his hand airily.
"Semantics," he says. "Not of importance. And needs must."
John grins, his heart actually swelling a little, and he wonders if this is how they feel in romantic comedies, just before they stand on benches and start singing about love and feelings.
"I saw Castiel again," he says, and Sherlock frowns a little.
"Yeah. He and Dean? They made up. More than made up, actually, if you get my drift."
Sherlock narrows his eyes, obviously not seeing the relevance, and despite his elation at having discovered Sherlock's true affections, John can't ignore the smug joy he feels at watching Sherlock try and fail to connect the dots.
"He reckons that him and Dean are like us, you know," he carries on. "Reckons that we're kind of intertwined, linked by destiny and all that."
"I see," says Sherlock, and John thinks he does.
"So, you see, we should probably..." he gestures inarticulately, and Sherlock rolls his eyes. John is about to comment on the fact that he's not quite as eloquent as Sherlock and Sherlock should be used to that, but then there are hands – and surprisingly strong ones at that – on the nape of his neck and the curve of his spine, and Sherlock is looking at him, and then he's not because they're kissing, and it's not like John thought it would be, kissing Sherlock, not so dissimilar at all to all the other people he's kissed, and yet immediately completely different.
Sherlock pulls away first, and John doesn't think he's ever seen the other man look so unsure. It makes him smile, oddly, and Sherlock returns it, looking a little less uncertain.
"Haven't you got washing up to do?" John asks, because he's just kissed Sherlock and has no idea what to say, and Sherlock actually laughs, moves his hand to John's cheek and rubs small circles with his thumb.
"I've just finished, as a matter of fact."
"Ah. Right. Got any plans for the afternoon, then?"
"I didn't, no."
"Well. We can probably sort that out, if you want."
Sherlock's mouth is mere millimetres from John's, and John can feel the other man's breath. It instills an odd sense of confidence in him.
"Unless, of course, you wanted me to check that you'd done the washing up properly," he adds.
Sherlock doesn't dignify that with a response.
"Thank God for Castiel," says Sherlock the next morning, when he's gloriously naked in John's bed. John hopes Castiel can hear it (although seeing it is another matter entirely). He's pretty sure he can.