Title: Not The Hands That Kill
Fandom: Sherlock BBC
Summary: Having wings does not make Sherlock Holmes a guardian angel, not in the way that John Watson is his.
Warnings: slash, fluff, some contemplation, xenophilia (for wings and wingless), kissing, wing fic, drug use, surgery, implied sexual content, ooc characters
Notes: for emerald_embers on livejournal as a late entry into the five acts round six prompt organized by toestastegood. Thanks so much for the Charles/Erik fic! Title inspired by a chapter of the Fullmetal Alchemist manga.
To be wingless is to be nobody. Even Sherlock knows this when he is six years old, staring out of the window of their family’s limo, looking at the grubby looking, (naked, that’s what the slang dictates them to be) homeless that blend into the pavement and backdrop of street corners that they pass. They are the failures of society, Mycroft (wings the deepest black, lined with blue, that he’s ever seen) often tells him, and they are the ones who allowed their mental health and aspirations to dwindle into nothing, until their wings moulted and fell apart, leaving behind (disgusting) bare backs.
Sherlock shivers in the backseat when he thinks of this fate. He never wants it. His wings are beautiful, pure black like the shine of a raven’s feathers. They stretch down to his knees and Mycroft assures him that they will continue to grow until he is an adult, until he is ready to fly.
(He dreams of it, sometimes, of flying over London watching the city in its dark corners that whisper of mystery and puzzles, thinking that this city is mine when he takes to the air.)
His wings are special, one of the few that are completely coloured. It distinguishes him from the other children (brainless, slow, all of them, why can’t they just think?) and he revels in being different (even if sometimes his chest feels a pang when they call him a freak, even if he sometimes grins at someone who isn’t there, at an empty space.) He has his wings, he has his mind and he has his brother and it is enough.
The first time he stretches his wings and takes to the sky, it is before his parents, his brother, have given their approval. Sherlock sneaks out of the mansion in the middle of the night and goes into the family grounds, deep into the grove of trees. He stares up at the winking stars, focusing on the empty black spaces in between. He’s not nervous yet his pulse is rushing (adrenaline, he’s excited, the way he is about a challenging puzzle.) He’s calculated everything, he knows he can do this; he is Sherlock Holmes after all.
And so he lets his wing unfurl, observes how they blend in with the darkness like a fresh coat of black paint. Sherlock lets them flap in two powerful waves and then...
...He’s a few inches off the ground, he feels his palms growing sweaty, the choked laughter escaping his lips and then he’s higher, higher than he’s ever been before, up above the tops of the trees, reaching upwards towards the spaces in between the stars like Icarus.
Sherlock is flying and it’s the most amazing thing he’s ever experienced in his ten years of life.
The Carl Powers case happens.
He’s frustrated. No one is listening to him, not even Mycroft and it hurts. They jeer at him. The officers, at first, try to treat him like another plebeian child. But when they are exposed to his manner and speech, they jeer in their own ways, flaunting their superiority. They ignore the facts, the evidence, everything and Sherlock hates them so much, he just wants to all to go away...
He starts running out into the field again, flapping his wings. His feet almost hover off the ground, the tips touching the blades of grass when suddenly Sherlock is falling. His face burning with scrapes and his joints are screaming with pain. The ground tastes unpleasant but Sherlock barely registers it. Instead he is stuck in a loop of endless thoughts. His mind palace is temporarily shattered, broken into a few shattered rooms, all echoing with the same question.
Insufficient data, he thinks, need to perform several more trials in different environments. Test the hypothesis, carry out the procedure.
He tries again.
And every time...
It’s the first time Sherlock remembers crying and when he notices how ragged his wings have become, stained with dirt and pebbles, when he sees the line of feathers falling from them like tears, he does not try again.
Mycroft leaves for higher education. Sherlock has never forgiven him for the Carl Powers case so he doesn’t say goodbye, does not see his brother off.
More black feathers fall to the ground and Sherlock does not bother to pick them up this time.
University is a blur. All boredom with pointless lectures and the same boring professors forcing their dull and limited opinions upon masses of susceptible and stupid students. The same faces. The same personalities. Dull, dull, dull, until Sherlock stops pretending to be one of them, stops trying to integrate himself into society and just lists off everything he observes and sees, lets himself be hated.
It’s better to be alone. Everything else is transport, useless.
Yet the ache, the missing space, won’t go away. His wings are as immobile as ever, raining more feathers day by day. He realizes that he’s stopped looking forward to tomorrow. Everything is pointless. If this is life, than what is the point? The same thing, always, forever, he can’t deal with this, needs something new, something inspiring, needs to think again, needs a case (but no, he thinks of Carl Powers, they won’t listen, they never listen and then—)
His roommate Sebastian introduces him to cocaine.
He is lost on the waves of euphoria so close to high of flying that he doesn’t stop. Everything fades away until he can’t see his wings anymore, only the formulas and details dancing in front of his eyes, only the game.
His brother starts calling, trying to interfere. He ignores the calls. He doesn’t graduate, but its fine, because he’s smarter than a majority of the human race anyways. Sherlock has a trust fund. He decides to live off of that instead. There’s really no point in life unless he can feel the game.
He wanders into London, searching for puzzles, is driven out of different flats for his drug use or his attitude or both. Most of the time it’s both.
One night, he is so lost in his high that he stumbles onto a crime scene, begins to rattle off all the deductions he can when he spies the bodies lying in the living room. The police are trying to pull him back, holding on to his arms and careful not to touch his decrepit looking wings (wings he hasn’t looked at in years) because its taboo to touch another person’s wings without permission.
One of them (married but the relationship is beginning to crumble, ambition to become the inspector, has a dog, could potentially become an alcoholic if pushed too far—) sits Sherlock down in a police car and begins to yell at him for walking into jurisdiction of the yard, for being high on the scene, etcetera, etcetera. Sherlock has heard it all before and continues to shout at the man (what was his name again? Lawrence?) who the real culprit is.
He is knocked out and then taken home.
The next day, Sherlock is lying on the couch, suffering from withdrawal. He has run out of cocaine and is too exhausted to find his dealer. Everything is spinning, it hurts. He wants to roll over and drop down into nothingness. Wants to feel something again, the euphoria...
His head is pounding and Sherlock realizes that the ringing in his ears is not a hallucination but his doorbell. It’s annoying, but he makes no move to answer it (not Mycroft, obviously, as his brother would just get one of his minions to break down the door; not the landlord, he has a key; not his dealer, Sherlock makes sure that no one can tail him back to his residence.) They’ll go away eventually (predictably). He just wants to lie there in his chaotic mind.
The ringing doesn’t stop though. Sherlock is too weak to throw something out the window (the crash will chase them away, it usually does.)
Eventually his door is slammed open (so the idiot outside had finally figured out that Sherlock didn’t actually lock his door last night) and there is the same officer (wings white and stained grey from the bottom up) from the other night, glaring down at him with reluctance and pity. Normally such a stare would irk him, make him list the offender’s shameful secrets in public but he doesn’t care at the moment. Only wants his next fix.
The officer is saying something but Sherlock is hardly paying any attention, instead listing off all the chemical reactions he can think of with sodium when he hears, “...hate to admit it but you were bloody right about the murderer’s identity... We were, well, I was wondering what other opinions you might have of some other cases... once you sober up, of course...”
What’s-his-name is rambling onwards but it doesn’t matter because all Sherlock can hear is, you were bloody right... you were bloody right... you were right, and he has shot up on the sofa, eyes alert and demanding the officer his best cases at once.
It’s the start of something and for the first time since Carl Powers, Sherlock feels like he could fly if he wanted to.
He doesn’t. But it hardly matters. He’s found something almost as good as flying. He finds cases and he solves them, they excite him, they make his whole world grow bright with spots of colour and brilliance and—
Sherlock pauses in front of the mirror one morning, frozen by the sight that he’s overlooked for the past few years. His wings.
They are drooping, resembling an old punch of feather dusters all tied together rather than the strong raven like wings they used to be before. He feels as if someone has torn them off of him, has a moment of pure fear (what if they keep moulting? What if they fall off? What if he becomes one of them, the naked, the lost in society, no, no, not Sherlock, he’s special, surely not—)
He stops using, reverts to nicotine patches.
Though he interacts regularly with his homeless network, takes care of them, he never stops viewing them as pawns in his web of information. He will not become like them.
To be wingless is to be nobody.
Sherlock Holmes is not nobody.
They (that is, Sally (green wings) and Anderson (pigeon wings)) call him new things besides freak. They call him the raven or the grim reaper. They call him a sadistic psychopath and future serial killer. They sometimes call him wingless (because he never flies on a case, they’ve never seen him try) and that’s when Sherlock’s countenance becomes lethal, when his words truly cut and his threats are true to their word.
No one dares to call him wingless again.
John Watson is an ex-army doctor invalided from either Afghanistan or Iraq (need more data), went to St. Bart’s for medical school, old acquaintance if not friend of Mike Stanford, mild-mannered, psychosomatic limp, likely shot in real life, a writer, older alcoholic brother who recently divorced (more data) and he is... wingless.
Sherlock’s first instinct is to treat Watson as one of his agents in the homeless network, a client and pawn. But then the information is processed in his brain, the images catch up to him and Sherlock realizes that John Watson can’t possibly be wingless. How can he be a qualified doctor if he was always wingless?
During Afghanistan then, Watson likely moulted after he was invalided, from depression.
Yet those eyes, the posture, the trembling hand which is not the result of PTSD but longs for adrenaline. Those are not the signs of a man who has given in. Watson is searching for an outlet, a reason to live again. Someone like that wouldn’t have moulted his wings off completely.
Torn apart? No. No one survives when their winged appendages are ripped from them. They have a few hours to live. Options include wing transplant (or slow death) but a living donor is required (dead donor wings will crumble as the victim passes on) and those are as rare as having five serial killers running through London in one day.
Hidden then. This explains the horrid and plain sense of clothing. The jumpy was bulky, likely covering whatever wings that Watson has. But why? It’s more advantageous for Watson to have his wings out, better to find other potential flatmates to live with.
Need more data.
He watches when Sally raises an eyebrow at Watson’s bare back when they enter the crime scene for the fourth suicide. He sees Anderson’s grimace of disgust, Lestrade’s wide eyes. He waits for a reaction.
But Watson just carries on, a mild expression of curiosity (and then awe when he praises Sherlock, so genuinely, so openly) on his face.
It makes Sherlock want to shout at the all of Scotland Yard to turn their eyes down in shame, to tell them that they are unworthy of looking at this man who is just as winged as they are, only hiding it.
(Sherlock wants to desperately to ask why, but no, not yet. He needs to wait for the perfect moment...)
They’re laughing like two schoolboys who’ve performed a good prank after they’ve left the crime scene. Sherlock can’t stop grinning, especially when he thinks of John (wonderful, amazing, unexpectedly interesting John) shooting a man to save him. It’s unheard of. It’s... it’s even better than flying to have someone so unquestionably loyal to him for the first time.
The Chinese place serves delightful dim sum, just as Sherlock knew it would. He smirks when he hears John moaning with gratitude for the food in his belly. They exchange glances every now and again, only to burst into giggles or tease each other over nothing in particular.
It’s the perfect moment, staring at John and knowing that there’s nothing that the doctor would hide from him (and that the doctor doesn’t even care; is this what having a friend is like? He saves that thought for later, when he needs further contemplation.)
Sherlock slowly takes something out of his pocket and puts in on the table, next to the container of chopsticks.
It’s a pure white feather, taken from the building on the other side, hidden from Lestrade’s prying eyes (and for Sherlock’s alone.)
John pauses. His shoulders are tense but his face shows no surprise. Instead, he has a resigned smile.
“I figured you knew about this already,” he explains.
Sherlock doesn’t remove his gaze. “Why do you hide them?”
John looks down, hands clenched, but he still gives an answer.
“I can’t fly, Sherlock.”
The spoon he was holding splatters when it falls into his won ton soup. Sherlock doesn’t try to fix his expression, knows that he is betraying his shock.
“Psychosomatic then,” he proclaims tersely, “like your leg—”
“No, Sherlock,” John says gently, as if he is the one in need of comforting, “ever since I got them, I couldn’t quite figure it out. Flying, that is. Still can’t. Its fine, all fine,” John says quickly, when Sherlock’s gaze grows hard, “I’m used to it, so it wasn’t that hard to hide my wings. Actually makes things a lot easier. In the army, winged soldiers are easier targets for the enemy. Most people are too busy looking up for attacks to be watching their fronts when I snuck up on them.”
Sherlock says nothing, doesn’t know what to say. There is something growing in his chest and he thinks that... that it might be respect and that’s something he hasn’t felt, ever, this strongly.
Appearing wingless makes people underestimate him. The jumpers, the short stature, the mild mannerisms... you would never suspect John Watson of being an efficient killer, he thinks.
John is shifting back in his chair (nervous, apprehensive), “So... we’re fine, then?”
For a moment, Sherlock almost forgets what the subject of their conversation was. He leans forward, “We’re more than fine, John...”
He doesn’t pause, doesn’t bother to keep it a secret.
“I can’t fly either.”
He wishes he could say that its over rated (like breathing) but it really isn’t. But at the sight of John’s smile, Sherlock doesn’t care.
Things begin to change, only, Sherlock doesn’t know it yet, doesn’t realize it until he sees bombs strapped onto his doctor, like the devil (he doesn’t believe in such things anymore) showing his hand of cards.
The yarders learn not to insult John in Sherlock’s presence, else their significant others might find out that they were cheating on them with a relative/stranger/dancer/insert-here or a seedy secret of theirs may end up in the internet. The more obtuse yarders get a warning in the form of a beating in an alley, when Sherlock pays his homeless network to target them.
When he is about to introduce John to Sebastian and he sees the disdain in Sebastian’s eyes at John’s back, Sherlock calls John his ‘best friend.’ The grateful look in John’s eyes is worth more than all of Sebastian’s humiliation (it gives Sherlock a warmth he hasn’t experienced before, that someone was glad to be called his friend.)
When John comes back from his job interview with a face of rejection, Sherlock deduces that he was turned away because of his apparent “naked” state. He quietly gets Mycroft to create trouble for the woman (Sarah, was it? Sherlock would make sure she couldn’t walk home safe, not if he could help it.)
Sherlock begins to learn the names of his homeless agents, instead of referring to them in his mind palace as girl number one or old man number forty nine. He takes more care to introduce them to John because he knows that John provides what medical services he can to the wingless.
It’s fascinating for Sherlock, watching those hands that could kill so easily, heal so many wingless lives with compassion. No one he has ever met has looked at a naked, at a wingless, like they were a human being.
(No one he has ever met has looked at Sherlock like he was amazing, like he was human. And even though he’s positive he doesn’t have a heart, he does not deny that it feels good to have this.)
John does not reveal his wings in public but in 221B, he walks around with chest free of any of his jumpers. Only Sherlock can see how beautifully kept John Watson’s white wings are. It’s a secret he values (and hoards) for himself; that John Watson’s wings are for his eyes alone (and they will stay that way.)
He cannot stop looking at them, comparing them to his own black feathers. At night, when John is sleeping, sometimes Sherlock takes out the feather from a Study in Pink, traces the bristles with his fingers, thinks of how it might feel to trail his hands through John’s wings, if John would let him.
Would John moan and sigh if Sherlock stroked through the blanket of white? Would John ask Sherlock to keep going, would he beg for Sherlock’s touch?
Sherlock’s wings tremble in response.
They are healthier than they’ve ever been since he was eight.
Part 2 here