Twisted Black by AndromedaMarine
A/N: For my readers waiting on chapter 37 of His Greatest Wish—I assure you I have not abandoned it; I'm simply at an HP roadblock and writing for Sherlock is helping to loosen it.
That's all it takes. Keep going. Keep walking, Watson. One foot in front of the other. Soldier on.
The cane squished into the wet ground and popped back up reluctantly, repetitively, boringly, insistent that the good, broken doctor be walking in the other direction. He could see the cab fifty feet away, waiting at the curb beyond the cemetery gate. Sherlock's tombstone glistened black behind him, calling out with a silent voice for him to return.
Almost there. Don't cry, Watson, keep it together.
Four and a half weeks had already slipped through John's fingers by the time he mustered the courage to return to the grave for the first time since the funeral. He had no wish to burden any of the others with a request for company; in fact, this solitary visit seemed to be all he could handle. The tears waited patiently behind his eyes for that moment to come in the cab when the unwanted memories flashed in front of him. Fortunately the cabbie understood this grief-ridden visit for a grief-plagued man had no room for an intruder, so he had simply asked for their destination and left the radio silent.
They turned smoothly onto Baker Street and slowed to a stop in front of the flat. John absently handed the notes to his quiet driver and struggled to exit the car without tripping over the cane or his own feet.
He didn't know which would be worse: falling down upon exit, or the cabbie trying to help him back up.
When John managed the last stair to 221B, now just his flat, he opened the door only to stop in his tracks. A man stood by the window, looking out, his arms crossed, a great mop of curly, vibrantly black hair atop his head. John didn't need him to turn around to know his identity. But despite the fact he knew this wasn't real, John Watson felt obliged to speak to the specter.
"Sherlock," he acknowledged warily, his cane gripped tightly in one hand, his keys in the other.
The tall figure rotated on the balls of his feet to face John. He inclined his head but didn't speak. John couldn't see his eyes from this distance, but the longer John looked at him, the more he noticed how off something appeared. Sherlock turned back to the window. John stared, unblinking, and then he saw them fade in, gain clarity, manifest. Wings. Great, massive, elegant white wings attached at the shoulder blades, poking through the grey of his suit, rising up past his head by at least a foot, the tips barely brushing the wood behind Sherlock's shoes. The wingspan would be enormous. John's keys and cane clattered to the floor and suddenly he felt himself go dizzy. He leaned on the doorjamb for support.
"Bloody hell," John whispered. "Is this...are you..." he closed his eyes and paused for a good length of time before running a hand over his face and blinking up to find this winged version of his best friend now perched on the arm of his usual chair. "Are you real?"
"That would depend," the beautifully baritone, familiar voice replied softly, gently.
John eyed the wings again, fascinated, curious...scared. "Dep—depend on what?" He swallowed.
But Sherlock dropped his gaze from John and slowly observed the room. "Yes and no."
"Sherlock, what do you—" he stepped forward and reached out with the hand that dropped the keys, but before he could finish his question the angel had gone, disappeared from right in front of him. John didn't move for nearly ten minutes as he stared with wide eyes at the chair Sherlock had just vacated. "I've gone mad," John whispered to himself, running both hands through his hair, before he shook his head and stooped to retrieve his keys and cane from the floor.
Forty two days later, John stumbled into the flat after a long evening at the bar. He'd only had four beers, but the misery he continually felt compounded the effects and left him unbalanced as ever. He didn't like to think he'd become a drunk; he was still trying to forget the image of a winged Sherlock Holmes standing in his living room. Yet every time that picture formed in his mind John could feel his stomach drop and his heart pound.
Had it been real?
John conveniently forgot to mention the apparition to his therapist, sure that it wouldn't happen again. After all, he had just returned from a sad visit to the cemetery. Weren't angels supposed to watch over the ones they love? He avoided the cemetery ever since that day, unwilling to put himself through the pain again. But it didn't matter; the pain stayed with him wherever he went, unceasing, constant, a dull ache in his heart.
He closed the door loudly behind himself and limped into the kitchen, rummaging around for the kettle. After four beers he wasn't exactly thirsty, but the idea of a nice cup of tea with perhaps a biscuit appealed to him. His cupboards were stocked full, courtesy of Mrs. Hudson, and John knew that a modest deposit entered his account on the first of each month. He'd not enquired after the source, because he knew that Mycroft now felt a tad responsible for John's welfare and refused to see his little brother's best friend waste away due to financial troubles. John didn't have the heart or the courage to even speak to Mycroft anymore, not after Sherlock's fall. But he appreciated the help nonetheless, despite how much he felt he didn't deserve any of it.
A few minutes later the kettle began to whistle, and John limped over to pour the boiling water into his mug.
Politely, Sherlock waited for John to relinquish the kettle to the stovetop before speaking. "Hello, John," he whispered softly.
John whirled around, unsteady on his feet, cup of tea forgotten on the counter behind him. "Sherlock?" he gasped, eyes wide, jaw gaping. "I thought—I thought—"
"Hmm," Sherlock replied, his wings rustling as he turned to sit in his chair. "Indeed it has been a while."
John stared, gulping for a good-sized breath of air.
Sherlock settled into the chair, his wings folded neatly into his back, fingers steepled. "Do stop, your resemblance to a fish quite detracts from the usual cadence."
John slammed his eyes shut and rubbed them, hard. "Are. You. Real," he demanded before opening up to look at him. The tea remained forgotten as John rounded the kitchen table to approach this strange vision.
"Yes, and no," Sherlock repeated.
"Explain!" John almost bellowed. "You're dead! I saw you fall, I saw your body carted off—I identified you in the morgue, Sherlock, I was a pallbearer at your funeral—"
Sherlock sighed. "Truly I am not alive if that is the answer you seek."
"Brilliant. I really am seeing things," John lamented before sinking into his own chair across from Sherlock.
Sherlock frowned. "No." Again, John stared at him, unable to help himself from glancing up at the wings, which Sherlock didn't fail to observe. "Magnificent, aren't they? They surely would have been useful two and a half months ago—but sadly not everything goes according to plan."
John steadied his breathing by using a technique Sherlock himself had taught him. "So you're real, but dead. How can you be real? Aren't you just a figment of my imagination?"
"No, John, I am not," Sherlock answered in his soft baritone. "Surely the wings are a clue?"
John breathed hard through his nose. "You're an angel, then?"
"Indeed," Sherlock expounded.
John glared at him. "What gives you the right to show up like this and get my bloody hopes up that you're coming back?"
"Nothing 'gives me the right,' other than the fact you have not even begun to move on and seeing your life go wasted concerns me."
"You're dead," John repeated pointedly.
Sherlock shifted in his seat, the wings swaying behind him. John could see the muscles in the top of the scapulars and the marginal coverts of the wings ripple. "And you are most certainly alive. I should hope you would want to stay that way."
"You know what, Sherlock? I'm not so sure I want to. You're gone, I have nothing left here, and the little hiccup that you're actually, really, absolutely dead kind of makes me want to throw in the towel." John got to his feet and hobbled into the kitchen to retrieve his lonely tea. He downed it in three gulps before turning around to look at Sherlock again. He now stood only a few feet away, his wings flexing in the still air. "This isn't fair."
"Life never is," Sherlock replied, slipping his hands into the pockets of his trousers.
"What's—" John searched for the words, and unable to find sufficient ones to his feelings, he continued, "Am I the only one who can see you? Have you appeared to the others?"
Sherlock's gaze drifted across the room like it had all those weeks ago. "I would be surprised if they walked in and could immediately see me," he murmured. "It took you a month to notice my presence."
John gaped again. "You've been here this whole time? What about six weeks ago? You just disappeared when I was talking to you!"
"Six weeks ago did you trust what you saw? Did you believe it was real as it happened?"
"Of course not! I thought I was hallucinating, which wouldn't bloody surprise me after everything you've put me through!"
"Yet you've questioned that belief ever since. You wanted me to be real."
"I—" John stopped mid-sentence, his eyes welling up with tears. "Oh God yes, of course I wanted you to be real, Sherlock, I'd give anything to have you back."
Sherlock gave John a sad smile. "So would I, however the rules are very strict and that particular miracle has only been performed four times in all of history. I cannot return to a flesh prison."
"What am I supposed to do?" John pleaded.
Sherlock wondered if he could touch John. Sitting in the chair hadn't been a problem, supporting his infinitesimal angelic weight effortlessly. But before he reached out to try, he thought better of it. "Haven't you figured it out?" he asked, watching John's face for a reaction. But John just looked up at him, tears starting to drip down his cheeks, his eyes red and sad. "No?"
"What am I supposed to do?"
"You need to let me go, John."
At this, John let out a sob. "No, I can't, it's too soon—"
"I know," Sherlock soothed. "But you need to live, John, you need to be vibrant and beautiful and scarred, you need to become more than what you were, better, stronger. You need to be brilliant…for us. Take your time, my dear Watson, but take it. Eventually you will wake up and it will hurt less, the ache will be duller, the pain but a memory."
"You're wrong," John argued. "You never knew what you meant to me, what you did for me, how you changed me, Sherlock. I can't go back to how it was before. I'd die before I went back to that life."
At this the angel in front of him frowned. "Why do you feel you have nothing to live for?" he asked in the lowest voice he could muster.
The rumble of Sherlock's tone flowed through John and briefly soothed his pain. But the question caused new tears to spring up. "How can you not know?"
"Oh," Sherlock breathed, his eyebrows pinched together in realization. "Oh, John…"
"Do you know how much it hurts? To wake up every day knowing your best friend killed himself without any reason or warning? Do you know how much I want to join you?" He said these last words with difficulty, choking them out between sobs. He staggered past Sherlock and half-threw himself into Sherlock's chair.
Sherlock followed John over to the chair but didn't sit. Instead he began to pace slowly, vaguely aware of John's gaze following the graceful motion of his wings. "There is still so much that you do not know," he muttered. "Do you realize the impact it would have? Your death? The suffering that you'd put Mrs. Hudson, Lestrade, and Molly through? Mycroft?"
"Did you?" John shot back, angry and incredulous.
Sherlock sighed. "You…you do not understand. Not yet. It wasn't supposed to end like this."
"Now I don't know for myself, but jumping off a building four stories high usually ends with the jumper cracking his bloody head open and dying," John retorted scathingly.
"John, please just listen!"
He crossed his arms and sank further down into Sherlock's chair, anger etched into the lines of his face.
"The suicide was supposed to be faked. But something went wrong, something didn't happen that was supposed to, and…and here I am. With wings." His voice grew bitter at the end.
"You expect me to believe that you accidentally killed yourself while trying to fake killing yourself?"
Sherlock nodded, and for the first time since appearing to John his expression gave away unadulterated regret.
"Are you solid enough for me to punch you?" John asked, his tone a hair lighter, but still laced with resentment. Sherlock's silent heart gave a little leap.
"I'm…I'm not sure, really," Sherlock replied, coming to a halt in front of John. He looked down at his living, breathing best friend. "I thought I might be, but I can't pick up the violin." He'd tried that after a week of being dead, hoping to slide the bow across the strings and pull a sweet, sad melody from the wood. But all for naught.
John snorted, but he didn't laugh. "Of course. Still can't give me what I want, even in death, you big sod." His lips pulled into a tight line and he glared up at Sherlock. "Why are you here?"
Surprised and a bit hurt, Sherlock took a few steps back and settled into John's chair. "To help you," he insisted.
"A lot of good you've done."
"It's been more than two months. You've shown no signs of moving on, John, not one!"
"I don't want to move on."
Sherlock gazed sadly at John, the oft skirted emotion plain on his chiseled face. "It's better to live than to die and wish for life. Trust me."
"You just don't get it, do you?" John asked wearily. The clock now read past one in the morning. "Going through this…it's not just a struggle, Sherlock. It's hell."
"It will get better—"
"No, it won't. And I know it won't because you were the most important person in my life. And you just fell out of it without telling me why." He stood and stretched, yawning. "Now, unless you're going to get that out in the open at this particular moment, I'm going to bed. You've given me enough material for a few nightmares tonight."
With that John left the angel Sherlock Holmes standing in his living room, his exquisite wings forming a lonely silhouette.
Eighty seven days later, after spotty and short, but silent, visits from the angel Sherlock, John found himself in a deep pit. He hadn't left the flat in a couple weeks, barely surviving if not for the pity-ridden deliveries Mrs. Hudson had taken upon herself to make sure John didn't starve. Empty glass bottles littered the kitchen counters and table, the floor by the rubbish bin, his dresser in his room, the coffee table. He didn't know how to deal with the angel, because nobody else could see him.
Usually he stood by the window, gazing out for several minutes at a time, his wings still and beautiful. John would watch him until he inevitably faded away, never speaking.
He popped the top off another bottle of beer and took a swig. Sherlock's form flickered for a moment before he faded completely in, ever staring out the window. John sat in Sherlock's chair and stared forward, unmoving, as his sluggish thoughts played through the last conversation he had with the angel.
John always asked him the same question, but never received a reply. "Why did you leave me?" John inquired for the thousandth time.
Sherlock slowly glided from the window to John's usual chair. Before sitting down, however, he stretched his wings out to their full breadth, causing John to inhale sharply. The distance from tip to tip reached just over twelve feet, the width of the wings over half of Sherlock's height. The whiteness shimmered in the shadows of the flat, as it was nearing midnight and the only light in the room came from some streetlamps outside.
"You've never done that before," John commented in drunken awe.
"You've just never seen me when I do," Sherlock replied. He folded the wings back in and sat.
John watched him through bloodshot eyes. "Why won't you tell me why you jumped?" he implored again, a desperate edge to his voice.
Sherlock steepled his fingers and leaned back into the armchair. "John...I gave my life for yours." He paused for John to comment or ask for something—anything—but he just stared, the bottle clenched so tightly his knuckles were turning white. So Sherlock continued. "Moriarty had men ready and waiting to kill you, Lestrade, and Mrs. Hudson if I did not take that fall. Molly and Mycroft helped with the preparations and plans for faking it...so you can imagine how they reacted when they realized something had gone terribly wrong."
Well, John thought, this certainly explains why Molly hasn't come by or spoken to me, and why Mycroft is paying my bills...
"I didn't even know something had failed until I found myself looking on the scene—seeing you rush forward to find any sign of survival...feeling these perched upon my back." He gestured to the wings. "Please believe me, John; I had no intention to truly leave you."
John didn't speak for several minutes. In the meantime, Sherlock simply sat and observed his only friend, his brows furrowed, fingers steepled, his wings still. When he did speak, his voice betrayed strain and heartbreak…but by some unseen strength he was able to keep his voice low and steady, unwavering. "If I had one last thing to say to you, if I knew I was going to die…if I could just give you one morsel of hope to cling to…can you deduce what I'd say, Sherlock? Can you?"
Reluctantly, Sherlock slowly shook his beautiful head. "You know me, John. And you've always known that I do not fully understand sentiment."
John looked down, his tongue between his teeth. "I would tell you how much you meant to me. How much I loved you. How you were the best, most complicated, most infuriating and wonderful thing to come into my life. And I'd tell you to keep strong and continue being great, because you don't know how to do anything else. You would be…my last thought. Not Harry, not my parents…you. Because I wouldn't lie to you, Sherlock, not in my final moments. I wouldn't keep it bottled up, hoping that by some miraculous happenstance I could get a chance later… And you couldn't even give me that." John pinched the bridge of his nose, tears cascading down his cheeks, the bottle of beer dropped, its contents leaking into the floorboards.
Sherlock reached out, forgetting that he couldn't touch John.
"Answer me one thing. And if you can't…" he left the statement hanging, knowing Sherlock could deduce the rest for himself. "Tell me the truth, Sherlock Holmes. Do you really, truly, honestly believe that anything short of a miracle from God himself could pull me past the pain of losing you?"
Sherlock sat in silence for a moment before dropping his gaze to the floor between them. "No."
"Then it seems we're at a crossroads. There are only two things that could possibly come from this. One, you cannot give me, and the other you do not want. So tell me, which do you choose? Because to tell you the truth I don't know how much longer I can go without picking for myself, and we both know which one I'd take."
"John, I would move heaven and earth—"
"Then move them!" John burst angrily, his hands clenched into fists. "For the sake of all that is good and precious to you, move them."
Pain coursed through Sherlock's silent heart with more strength than any fear he'd felt in life. "I can't," he whispered sadly. "I don't have the power or the authority to do that, as much as I want to. John. I cannot."
"Just go. The agony I'm feeling intensifies whenever I look at you, so just go. I don't have the strength to deal with this right now."
So the angel Sherlock rose to his feet, his features drawn in sadness. "I never really left you, John. I'll always be here if you need me."
John shook his head. "No, you won't, because what I need is to be able to touch you."
Sherlock faded away.