prettyarbitrary: (Fuzzy Cthulhu)
[personal profile] prettyarbitrary
Characters: John Watson, Sherlock Holmes, OCs
Rating: Mature/R
Tags & Warnings: Vampire John, Angel Sherlock, Religious Themes, Demons, Vampires, Angels, Fallen Angels, Unhappy Ending, Revenge, Hell, Spiritual Corruption, John's life being all terrible all the time
Notes: A prequel to Graceless by belladonna_q, with her kind permission.

John learns, with clawing, bloody slowness, how to fend for himself. He learns the capacity to love wasn’t taken from him, or the need for it. He learns what it is to starve. To need things that aren’t given to him.





Hell is not a place, but a state.

Once, John can almost remember, the cosmos had been filled with light. He had been filled with music, made of it, his spirit a ringing, chiming note in a great joyous chorus of being.

There is no light here, nor music either. Humans refer to dirt when they speak of ugliness, but they can’t feel the radiance of earth, the brimming life of a swamp or cavern. But the beauty of life is in its meaning, in the love poured into it. That was gouged out of John’s eyes in the long burning fall, torn dripping from his memory. His Creator left him with the memory of a memory of having ever been loved, just enough to know that once, he felt something other than this eternal silent cold.

John learns, with clawing, bloody slowness, how to fend for himself. He learns the capacity to love wasn’t taken from him, or the need for it. He learns what it is to starve. To need things that aren’t given to him.

The humans are here, and he learns to love them in ways he’s fairly sure are new to him. With them near, he isn’t all alone. The bare, small song of their voices is an infinity better than silence. He learns that they can feed him. They’re sacred cattle with a worth and purpose beyond anything his blinded eyes can still see, and he can take it from them, and be warmed for a few minutes by the fire of their souls.

He loves these beautiful brief creatures savagely, helplessly, with a frightened need.

“They don’t deserve this,” he mutters. He and his de-winged sibling watch the bound human cry while the other human leans over him with a knife.

“It’s their fault,” his sibling says. Her voice roars with a furnace of envy. “This is all because of them.”

John can understand her envy, but what’s the point of hating them? They’re trapped here with him. It’s not their fault the sight of beauty was gouged from his eyes. He shakes his head. “They aren’t the ones who threw us down.”

“What does it matter to them?” his companion demands. “They suffer for a moment, and then their souls fly back into His arms.”

And He takes them. It’s true. They beg forgiveness, beg for love, and it’s granted. It stabs as deep into John as it does into his sibling. He’s far past humiliation; he’s tried begging and regret, but no amount of it has ever gotten him anything.

He and his sibling watch the man sob and beg and twist against the ropes that bind him to the stone, watch the woman cut him, his living blood welling forth under her knife like a fountain called forth by a prophet. John bows down to drink the offering, hot and complete and beautiful on his tongue and in his throat.

For a moment, he can remember what grace felt like. He sees through the lens of the man’s life, sees the beauty in the earth, the loving craftsmanship with which each bit of matter was made, hears the music of the stones and organisms surrounding him.

The man’s song falls silent, and with that John falls back into the dark. Mouth and chest smeared with blood, he looks at the woman over the empty vessel. She stares back, unable to see the truth of him, but her eyes are wide and afraid. He can see the black blots of fear and sin spreading behind her eyes, her readiness to take another life if that’s what it will take to win his power and stay his hand from drinking her as he did her offering.

Pleasure ripples from his fallen sibling over that spreading stain of corruption. To her, each act of corruption is a retribution. John only sees the destruction of one more of the tiny slivers of beauty that are still left to him.

The Prince of Light and his cohort offer him camaraderie in their shared bitterness. But their aims won’t bring him peace or belonging. This stupid, corrupted girl is not what John hates. Her suffering does nothing but carve the void inside him that little bit wider.

He declines his sibling’s offer, and sends her away.

***

He tries not eating.

He doesn’t need sustenance as humans do. It’s...’addiction’ is their word for it. He doesn’t eat for a very long time.

“You look cold,” the human says.

He is. He’s been bereft for so long that it’s a struggle to remember language. He has probably gone a bit mad. She unwraps her mantle from her shoulders to tuck it about him before he can find words to answer her with.

Her compassion is warm. Little rays of it caught in the folds of her cloak push back the numbness to let the pain return, biting into his bones. Her blood is warm. He twists, lunges for it with a dying man’s panic before he even knows what he’s doing.

He understands too late, when the blood begins to flow into his mouth. The warmth of her love pours between his teeth until the the last drop has gone. It beats back the cold, and in the sanity of her love he feels her die, and the permafrost of cold and death return.

It’s the first time he cries. He discovers his tears are hot. They leave burn marks on his face.

They aren’t delicious. It isn’t like that. It’s a terrible, hollow thirst for life that gnaws and swells until all he can do is slake it, just to make it stop for a moment.

It isn’t the last time he tries this, but they all end the same way.

***

He brings down an angel. With whispers and sweet breaths and promises of sensation none of their pure, rarified kind could fathom, he coaxes his sibling to him.

It’s easier, he tells himself, if someone is there to catch you. He can make it hurt less for Saefrael than it did for him.

When Saefrael stands before him, clothed in flesh with the world still shivering at the force of his landing, John can barely contain himself. He wants to press up against him; someone warm in all this raw cold, someone who understands. He wants to show him all the flavors and scents and beauties and horrors of this insane, shivering world their creator made, the things to be found in human souls, all the things he has known and had no one to share his knowing with. A list begins to clatter together in his head as he conceives of it.

Saefrael looks at John with wide, mad eyes—“It’s all empty, it’s all rotting, how can you bear this?”—and then he dies.

John flinches back from the the pyre of flame. Not holy, not anymore, but it burns with the white-hot lifeforce of an immortal, and that’s a fire hot enough to burn even John.

Even standing back from the heat, his skin blackens and peels. It’s still better than the cold. When nothing but a pile of ash and a few tattered feathers remain, John turns and walks away. His footsteps scorch the dirt behind him.

Let God notice that.

***

Rome.

It’s far from the first city humans have built, or the first empire, but it is something new. John loves it. He loves the raucous life that rattles through the stone of the paved streets. He loves the conflagrations of emotion that sweep through the people like storm squalls. They worship anything that presents itself to them. They worship John.

Rome is full of everyday gods, of hearth and home and profit and threshold. Gods that walk under the sun with the humans and dwell with them in their mundane living spaces. John is not one of them. He is a god of the night places. His supplicants come to him in extremis, when hate and helplessness threaten to eat them alive.

“He beat her to death, lord.” The woman kneels before his altar and claws her need into patterns in the air. He can taste the venom in her. “He killed my sister, and our master took his money and his apology instead of justice. Let him suffer as she suffered.”

They know instinctively when to call on a power like him, when only blood can wash the poison from their souls. Revenge is caustic, John knows that better than anyone. Humans are all will and so little power; sometimes their bright emotions and little lives aren’t strong enough to excise the hate. John has the power. He can burn the rot away, make them whole again, spill the blood they beg him for and take it as his payment. If there’s a cost to him, he has nothing left to feel it with.

He loves them fiercely. Nurtures them, protects them, teaches them, answers them.

And when the patrician’s body is found, mauled and empty of blood, his worshipper comes back to him, grateful, shamed and frightened of the death her prayers summoned. He basks in the roiling radiance of her emotions and feels like he belongs here, as he hasn’t for as long as he can still remember.

***

Sherlock. Wings mantled, sword out. Ablaze with a light that burns John’s eyes.

He lifts his hand to shield his sight. Heat stings across his knuckles. He’s not made for this kind of light anymore. It will kill him if he stays here. “Why are you here?” He already knows why. God did notice. Heaven doesn’t move on human time, but it’s sent its answer.

Sherlock. John had never expected to see him again. He had thought that no Hell he was ever exiled to could include Sherlock.

He had been wrong.

“You’ve become a monster.” Sherlock’s beautiful smooth face twists with disgust and hurt.

Maybe John should be grateful that Sherlock still feels something for him. But no; he really isn’t. The air ripples with his barely restrained desire to blast this entire encounter off the face of time.

But that would send Sherlock away again. Sherlock, drinking him in with that old analytical sharpness John had thought he’d never see again, bright with the shining glare of intellect as he notices John’s every corrupted detail: the smell of old fear and festering grief soaked into the walls; the points of John’s fangs pressing against his lips; that void of gnawing hunger that forever makes up his core, gnawing in Sherlock’s direction.

So much warmth. So much beauty. So much love. Surely that, at last, would fill him.

He stays where he is and smiles at Sherlock, pretending it’s not a grimace of pain. “For you.”

The reminder doesn’t seem to please him. The last time John saw him, he’d still been too innocent and unearthly to think of how lush that mouth was, how it might feel against his own. Now Sherlock’s lips pull back to bare his teeth.

The hypocrisy is too much. John laughs. “Do you remember?” He lets the bitterness etch his voice like acid. Let him feel it. Let the truth pour down on them both and eat Sherlock alive, the way it has John. “That’s why I fell. I didn’t make myself into this.”

Sherlock’s mouth tightens in a flinch. Something hateful inside John clenches in victory. And then Sherlock speaks, and destroys him all over again. “Yes, you did.”

Time stops at John’s command. Not even the sound of dust settling cracks the perfect silence.

John lets his face fall to rest and his eyes slip half-closed, into the expression of mocking seduction he’s become so used to wearing. “Because I chose not to die like Saefrael?” His voice rasps off the walls, dull and hoarse. Saefrael burning, blue-white flames of his own making, because this world was too polluted for him to bear it, because final oblivion was better than an existence with nothing but a crater where God’s love had been. Because he’d become too tainted and monstrous to deserve to live. “Is that what you wanted?”

Sherlock flinches. John laughs at him, a sound like old rust ripping apart. For a moment, when he’d first seen Sherlock, he had been poised at the top of the void inside him. Now he remembers all over again what falling felt like. Black and blank and screaming. The pain of having his wings torn off, being burned and scarred by holy fire into a hollow monstrosity.

“Or do you mean, because I chose to take the fall instead of you? Are you here to cleanse your own guilt, Sherlock? Am I your own little sin, waiting to be purged? The nasty little reminder that it was your fault?

Sherlock takes a step forward, wrist stiffening to pull his sword into a more threatening position. “They were right. You have no virtue left in you at all.”

“THEY.” It’s a roar so loud the walls crack. Suddenly John is moving sideways, the ground bubbling under his feet in the radius of his fury, leaving a trail of molten glass as he circles Sherlock. He has no blade, but his hands rise, wicked claws glinting obsidian black at the tips. “They sent you. Why? Wasn’t I suffering enough? Were my agonies not amusing enough—” Words fail him, air superheating in his throat before he can shape it into speech.

How could you?

Sherlock hears it, slamming through the matter of the world with the force of John’s betrayal. His head jerks back.

I did this for you. Became this for you. Every moment of my exile on this godforsaken dirtball was made worthwhile because it meant you were still where you were meant to be.

Of course Sherlock had to do as he was instructed. To do otherwise would mean being cast down, undoing everything John sacrificed for. Of course they sent Sherlock to finish John off when his suffering was no longer enough. It’s the perfect final touch to John’s damnation.

But youagree with them.

In this moment, he would burn Sherlock into Hell if he could. He would, he would. “Sitting in judgment on me,” he hisses. Nothing human is left in his voice. “You absolve yourself of all wrongdoing, do you?”

Worst of all, Sherlock’s silence.

Sherlock lifts his hand, and the frozen moment shatters, splintering into shining diamond facets of holy light.

It’s not enough to kill John, but he burns for a very long time. Even that long agony isn’t enough to make him forget the sound of Sherlock’s silence.

***

“Have I not served you?” The general shakes his fist, pacing like a caged lion before the altar. “Have I not been your loyal servant? I have cared for my people, protected my lands, been a good husband, raised my children honorably!” He seizes a chair and hurled it at the altar, smashing to bits against the stone.

John isn’t cold anymore. He burns now, always, with the holy fire Sherlock lit in him, turned corrosive and poisonous on the fuel of John’s spirit. Have I not served you? He wants to laugh. As though service counts for anything. They’re so small to be able to feel so much. A mercy, John often thinks, that their lives are too short to be able to fit the fullness of all possible experiences into them. But not mercy enough for this loyal, brokenhearted general to escape his fate.

“I can give you what you want,” he says, and lets the words ring through the room’s vaulted arches.

The man twists, cloak unfurling around him as he seeks the source of the voice.

When he turns back to face the presbytery, John is waiting there, watching him. He waits for the man to speak. Seduction, even a nearly certain one, is always about showmanship.

The man’s eyes rake him up and down, find the woman’s body he wears, draped in white samite, both unthreatening and appealing. “Who are you?”

“It isn’t God who answers prayers for revenge.” John starts slowly down the steps from the dias, gown trailing behind him. “I can’t bring your wife back to you. Her soul has passed. But revenge… That I can grant you.”

Truly, it would be his pleasure. He has looked for a man such as this, with the honor and grief and betrayal to exact revenge for them both.

John lets the mantle of his sincerity drape him; even with paltry human eyes, the man can see John shares his pain. He faces John square, shoulders broad and tree-trunk legs planted. John halts a few feet away and raises his hands gently, framing the air around the man’s face. “Strength to rend, speed to tear,” he murmurs. “Invincibility. Immortality.” His lips quirk at the light that kindles in the man’s eyes. Mortals think these are things to covet. “The power to destroy an army with your own hands.” One more step brings his breasts to press against the man’s chest plate, and when he tips his head back, his lips part invitingly inches from the man’s.

“You know what it will cost you,” he whispers, letting the words brush over the man’s mouth.

The man crushes his mouth to John’s in answer.

John kisses him, and then pulls his head to the side to sink fangs into his strong neck.

This soul will never return to Heaven. Tonight he’ll rise a damned undead, with all the power John promised him and the will to bathe fields with the rust and entrails of human lives. He will be grateful to John for his gift...at least for a while.

Do you regret casting me out yet? You will.

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